Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Cottages

Can you picture the scene?

The cottage nestles below a mountain. Honeysuckle climbs the front wall and the name of the cottage mirrors the flower. Upon opening the door, you discover a stripped pine floor leading to a Lakeland flagged floor to the rear. There is a window seat with a cosy cushion and just enough room for two to snuggle. Your eyes are drawn to the log burning stove which is roaring hot and the rag rug in front aids the ambience.

Is it a romantic scene?  A cosy scene? A picturesque scene?


It is none of the above. It describes the cottage I lived in for 14 years in Windermere. Appearances, as they say, can be deceptive. The reality is stone cottages are cold, damp, dark and cramped. They can harbour insects of many kinds and small livestock such as mice and rats.

Log burning stoves are hard work to manage with the ordering, storing and replenishing of wood a constant necessity. Also, they are proving to be unhelpful for the environment.

So, cottages are cool? Not really. My preferred style of house would be Victorian or Edwardian, with red brick, high ceilings, period features and a light and airy feel.

Blackpool has an abundance of such property at very reasonable prices. Cottages? Having experienced one, I prefer Art Nouveau style and space. What about you?

Thanks for reading

David Wilkinson

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Cottage - I Belong in a Crofter's Cottage

 Isle of Barra


There’s something very appealing about escaping to a crofter’s cottage in the north of Scotland.  It is good for me to break away from the rat race and the negative trappings of modern living from time to time.  I would love to spend all winter up there with snow and freezing winds then come indoors to the warming glow of a peat fire and wholesome, home-made food.  Wishful thinking, I know, but I’m fortunate enough to have stayed in some sympathetically renovated ones with electricity and running water and nothing could be more perfect.

Years ago, driving westward along the north coast of Scotland, not too far from John O’Groats, I came to Dunnet Head and what I would call a living museum, Mary-Ann’s Cottage, which is open to the public for guided tours at limited times. The crofter’s cottage is exactly as Mary-Ann left it and is a fascinating insight into her life. If you like social history, I strongly recommend a visit if your travels take you anywhere near.

I like to be ‘off the beaten track’ and Harbour Cottage on the Isle of Barra (my photo) certainly provided everything I wished for in May this year. A wonderful, stone built cottage with ground floor walls at least three feet thick and a fireplace, not that we needed to make a log fire in the unusually warm climate.  Lovingly renovated and extended to make three first floor bedrooms and a sun lounge, Harbour Cottage was a delightful holiday home. I have the same opinion of the fabulous, tiny crofter’s cottage in Lochboisdale, South Uist last year, (my photo). I would happily return, but there are other places to see first.
 
South Uist

My favourite lodges in Dumfries and Galloway are a home from home and somewhere I go to for a break at least twice a year. This year it will be three visits and would have been four if one of my chosen times hadn’t clashed with work. They are not exactly cottages, but get unpacked and settled, and the feeling is just the same, relaxed, cosy and free.

My poem, written after a stay at a cottage near Gairloch, North West Scotland,

 

I’ll Take the High Road

 

Sun-yellow gorse meets a bright blue sky

Where mountains seem low and clouds are high.

Single track, crumbled edge, shared with sheep,

The drop is sharp, the climb is steep

Then dips to touch the shore of the loch

Where gentle waves lick tumbled rock.

Then swift ascent and a chance to pause,

Admire the view and brown-heather’d moors.

Mile after slate-grey mile and some more,

Then, at last, we reach our cottage door.

The road ends where the loch becomes sea,

Dolphins are playing and I feel free.

 
 
                                                                      Pamela Winning.  May 2014

 

 Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Tribalism

I hadn't planned to write a blog today, as I'm still in holiday mode, only recently returned from beautiful Rhodes. However, here we go, a short rant on the allotted topic of tribalism.

Syria. The Assad reign corrodes relentlessly. Not much left of that country now. The Basher, ably assisted by his Iranian and Russian allies, has all but put paid to those who had the temerity to take up arms against a corrupt and vicious regime. It's called a 'civil' war but it's a bloody genocide, a ruthless crushing of the pro-democracy movement that sought an 'Arab Spring' for Syria in 2011.

Religious tribalism has played a significant role in the seven-year conflict. Sunni Muslims are in the majority in Syria but Assad is a Shia Muslim and that appears to be the principle reason why Iran (a predominantly Shia Muslim country) has deployed thousands of troops and billions of dollars to assist Assad in his crushing of the (Sunni) opposition. The Russian tourists have provided air power in return for Russian bases on Syrian soil. Despotism is just another strand of tribalism, after all.


Today's poem is in impotent rage against the impending slaughter of thousands more Syrian civilians in the last 'rebel' stronghold of Idlib.

Diatribe
After Russian tourists visited Homs
you couldn't see them for dust,
but the Basher invited them back
to take a look at eastern Ghouta -
happy holidays, a must!
More bombs. Same result.

Now all who lived to flee
the Damascene destruction
are corralled in Idlib.
The writing's on that city's walls
in Cyrillic scrawl...
Wish you were here?

Thanks for reading, gang. Have a good week, S :-)

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Tribalism - Let's Be Individual


I’ve mentioned before about my childhood fear of the Nigerian tribal mask that used to hang on my father’s office wall.  This gift from his brother who spent many years working for a petrol company in Lagos in the 1950s was ugly and scary and moved with us from one pub to another. The mask and many items my uncle brought home had been given to him as souvenirs but they were meaningful to their tribes and culture and he was honoured to receive such things as gifts.
 
 Apart from the really scary mask, we had an ornamental boat made from brass that was always on the mantelpiece and fascinated me as a child, and a few other bits of bric-a-brac that had come from Africa. I don’t know where it all ended up. I can only guess it was lost over time, or discarded when my widowed father remarried.

I don’t think tribalism begins and ends in Africa, though. We all follow a culture of sorts, or a mixture of thoughts and feelings that define who we are and give us a sense of belonging when we are with like-minded people. Politics, religion, sport, entertainment; it all falls into specific boxes and some don’t or won’t mix.

 In my youth we had Mods and Rockers. Mods rode scooters, Lambrettas adorned with many wing mirrors and sometimes a fur tail. Rockers rode motorbikes, the bigger the better. Triumph Bonneville was loved and some of the Japanese motorbikes were getting popular, Honda and Suzuki. No one could afford a Harley Davidson. And Rockers never rode scooters.

There was the ‘either or’ thing in pop music. It was Cliff Richard or Elvis Presley, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones, rock/prog rock/metal or Tamla Motown. A person was not supposed to like both and live in both camps, but I did and I wasn’t alone. I like what I like.

My step-mother’s mantra was ‘be an individual, don’t follow the crowd’ and yet she complained because I was different from her and I didn’t conform to her ways. I didn’t fit in with her. I still don’t ‘fit in’ to a lot of things, including work, but not fitting in has never held me back.

Back to Nigeria, I found this poem:

     Tribalism is an identity
     Resulting to nepotism
     And a great animosity

     Tribalism is an identity
     Of no statutory backings
     Denting my nationality
 
     From existing as an entity
     Resulting to conflicts
     And the death of humanity
 
     Tribalism is an identity
     A scar on nationalism
     Degrading our community
 
By Onyeche Vincent Onyekachukwu
 
  
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Shells

I recently went to the beach with my kids and while they played, I decided to put together a collection of the tiniest sea shells I could find. The first few were larger, and the more I looked for them the ones I found became progressively smaller. As I challenged myself to find the smallest one I could see, I remembered a photograph of sand viewed under a microscope. The picture clearly showed tiny specks of sand which were not parts of shells, but complete, and it occurred to me that these tiny shells all once housed a miniscule creature. I was holding a tiny creature cover.



Protection
You cast yourself a fragile shell

To house your soft self

Keeping out perceived agonies


To seem strong and dignified

To keep out the hungry


But when waves cast you abeach

They see through your defence


To your softness.

They smash through anyway.


Lindsay

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Shell Cases

September sweeps in, the relentless year rolls on. Summer is almost spent and there is a tang of autumn in the air. A new school term is underway, the football season is getting into gear and in the jewel of the north it's 'switch on' week-end. Blackpool Illuminations light up the promenade and Britney Spears ("Baby One More Time", heaven help us) is in town to top tonight's big gig on the headland. She's probably gyrating and miming to her set as I write - thankfully the house on the strand is just out of earshot.

It's also the time when your Saturday Blogger's thoughts turn to a holiday in the Greek sunshine, a strategy to hang onto warm days for a while longer. Rhodes beckons. This, then, will be my last post for a couple of weeks. Its allotted theme is shells.

I've conjured mentally with a number of ways that I could go with it - and you can almost guarantee that I'm not going to take the obvious route, especially as I only wrote about cockling a fortnight ago. The nearest we're getting to shells of the maritime variety is the photograph below that I took of a case of beautiful shells in dusty Crete a couple of summers ago.


As we approach the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, I'm sure we'll be reminded once again just what a cataclysmic event it was in European history, one of the deadliest conflicts of all time. Over ten million soldiers were killed in the fighting, along with two million civilians who were simply 'collateral damage' of the military offensive. On top of that another six million civilians died as a result of malnutrition and disease across the war-scarred territories of central Europe during the four years of the campaign. Over and above the eighteen million dead, there were another twenty-three million who were wounded. The numbers are simply staggering!

Regrettably it was followed only two decades later by an even more deadly sequel. In fact there hasn't been a single year in the last half-century when there wasn't a war being waged somewhere on the planet.

I've written several poems about the First World War and I'm adding to the number here with an oblique take on the week's theme. It was often said that the dead were the lucky ones; whereas for a percentage of the twenty-three million 'undead' who never properly recovered, their lot was an almost unimaginable suffering, living on as permanent victims of the war. It used to be called 'shell shock'; it's labelled post-traumatic stress disorder these days - more generic, more euphemistic.

I say 'almost unimaginable', because of course we make attempts to imagine it, in order to try and understand and empathise with the predicament of people who were exposed to horrors way beyond the comfortable pale of our own experience; and to suggest by the weight of words why such atrocities should never be allowed to happen again...

Shell Cases
Hold the line. Hold the line.
It will soon be medication time,
a numbing pill in a candy shell.

Once the awful shaking begins,
that's when you know.
Behind the hollow eyes
are scenes replayed
that have unminded
all these brave and honest souls.

This was a doctor, over there
a ploughboy and beside him
a blacksmith and two clerks.
The one who just stares at the floor
was a schoolmaster before the war.
Lawyers and labourers rub shoulders,
the majors and the miners
are neighbours in this new estate,
all cursed alike by warlike fate,
no larks for these good people anymore.

Hold the line. Hold the line.
This is retribution time,
the bitter pill of a living hell.

Truth to tell, although
they inhabit a common nightmare
yet they are disparate still,
for none would ever dare to share
with what sensibility they retain
the secret that unites them:
disgust, despair, and above all,
the toll of quite unhinging terror.

If you had known them then,
you would not know them now,
slow, scarred, vulnerable men.

They mill around in pain,
these human husks,
silently sick with the shock of shells
spat out at speed.
A constant rain of percussive seeds
has shredded every nerve,
has blown their very brains.
Most wish that they were dead indeed.

Hold the line. Hold the line.
It will soon be medication time.


Thanks for reading. Be kind to each other, S ;-)

Friday, 31 August 2018

Shells

   I think that everyone like seashells. Maybe because they come from places that we've not explored, they seem somewhat exotic. As a child we went camping a great deal and living on the coast we had trips to the seaside, so it was inevitable that I accumulated a vast collection of shells. Now the shells that I retrieved from the west coast were quite unlike those found on the east. At that time I wasn't sure why but now I know a bit more about the Gulf Stream Drift and the different seabed environments.

  To this day when I walk along the seashore I must pick up and examine the shells ( always pocketing one or two ). So I have a small collection in a flowerpot. however this small amount bears no relationship to the vast collection I had as a child. Using old 'chocolate' boxes I stuck my shells in and named them, then covered with plastic. These were stored under my bed ( along with the pupating caterpillars  in shoe boxes ! ). Possibly my mother wanted them all cleared out and so my collection went to the science department at school.

  Last year I walked down to the beach at Stranraer and it was composed entirely of cockle shells....millions upon millions washed up. I just sat for ages looking at them and pondering their life before they were cast ashore.

  My poem this week was written at a workshop where I had to delve into a box , and without being able to see ( being blindfolded ) , extract an object , then still being blindfolded had to describe what I felt. So this is it ....



                             Unseen Shell

          A worn winkle, colour unknown.
         Thin now with the wearing of the sea and sand.
         Empty --sounding hollow when I tap.
         Feel the sworls - the internal spiral
         Going to a soft point
         Where once a gentle creature lived,
         Secure upon a rock - holding tight.
         Gone now, lost to the sea
         Whilst it's home lives on
         As I tap, tap, tap.


                 Thank you for reading, Kath

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Shells - Cockles and Mussels, Alive, Alive Oh


There’s something I’ve always found relaxing about a stroll on a beach and the sound of the sea. Most of the places I visit are coastal or within reasonable striking distance.  It is a strange thing that I live on the Fylde Coast with our wonderful expanse of beaches yet never set foot on them. I can’t remember last time I was on the sands at Blackpool but probably not since my children, now adults, were small.

The beach was my playground when I was a girl. We lived on the front, just the promenade and the tram tracks to cross and I was there, usually with others. After I’d grown out of making sand-pies and digging for water, my interests turned to marine life and I would go looking for creatures. A good place to search was in the rock pools around the outside of the old open-air swimming baths. My mother was not impressed with a collection of starfish I took home in a bucket to our pub and my father was tasked with taking them back ‘before any more climb out on to the stairs’. Starfish getting stuck on the stairs isn’t what you expect to see when you call in the vault for a pint, not even in Blackpool. I was given a lecture on sea-life needing a proper, natural habitat and those poor starfish would have been suffering. I’d done a similar thing with tadpoles in a jam jar a couple of years earlier, before we moved to Blackpool, and I clearly hadn’t learnt, but that’s another story.

These days I look for interesting shells and I’m not harming anything by keeping them. A few times a year my travels take me to the South and South West coasts of Scotland, where I will search for shells and watch our dog having the time of his life in the sea. Storage jars are great for keeping my shells safe and for display purposes. The large mussel shells are a beautiful dark blue in the sunlight and the mother-of-pearl shines on the inside. A couple of trips to the Outer Hebrides gave me the opportunity to find some whiter than white cockle shells. I keep them separate, with a couple of scoops of silver sand I brought home from the Hebridean Atlantic coast.

I’d like to visit the Orkney Islands and bring shells home from there, but maybe I should pay more attention to the coastline right here on my own doorstep, at least for the time being.
 
My own poem,
 
Seashell Keepsake
 
In the corner of a mem’ry box
I found the tiny shell.
It must have meant something to me once,
But now, I cannot tell.
Who wrapped it in some silver paper
Torn from a serviette?
It might be from one of the children
So why would I forget?
I can still recall all thirty names,
That class from ’99.
Those lively, summer-born four year olds
Learning to stand in line.
Just a small, pretty, pale pink spiral
Someone once gave to me,
Now back in the box where I found it
And wrapped up carefully.
 
PMW 2018
 
 
 
Thanks for reading, Pam x
 
 

 

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Byron, Keatsy, Shezza and Co.

Here we go. The Romantics! Just for amusement's sake I consulted 'Poetry For Dummies' to see what it might have to say about Byron, Keatsy, Shezza and their ilk. The entry commenced: "People in the Romantic period weren't any more inclined to love than those in other periods." That had me laughing into my breakfast coffee!

Actually, it continued in a more sensible manner to explain the label 'Romantic' in the following terms: "Romantic came to mean a new, often revolutionary outlook, emphasising the importance of personal emotions, innovation in ideas and the use of language, an appreciation of nature and a feeling for new beginnings. Some of these developments came about as a reaction to the industrial revolution."

That's a reasonable summation, though the latter phrase reminds me of "the industrious revelation", Philomena Cunk's tremendously funny malapropism from her spoof 'History of Britain' documentary.

What might the obtuse Ms Cunk have made of John Keats (dead at 25), Percy Bysshe Shelley (dead at 29) and George Gordon Byron (dead at 36)?  I imagine something like this:


All joking aside, your Saturday Blogger has a lot of time for the poetry of Keats in particular and to  a lesser degree Shelley, though not much for Byron. As to the other leading lights of the Romantic movement, the ones who didn't die young, it's perhaps heretical to say I'm not overly fond of Coleridge or old 'Father' Wordsworth either, but it's true.

Of the six who are generally labelled 'The Romantics', I hold William Blake (1757-1827) in the highest regard. He is one of my all-time favourites - artist, philosopher, poet, prophet, social campaigner and visionary. The poet and scholar Kathleen Raine, who has written about Blake extensively, calls him "our one national prophet" and "the supreme poet of his native city" (London, of course). I wouldn't argue with either epithet. Blake can also be seen as an early opponent of materialism (and its associated ills), the predecessor of modern psychology and an embodiment (two hundred years ahead of the curve) of 'New Age' thinking - quite a guy; and most people only know him for 'Jerusalem' and 'The Tyger' which is a great shame.


Mention of London (which I am visiting this week-end) leads neatly to today's newly-forged poem. In 1802, Wordsworth wrote a famous and much-loved work (because it's in 'The Nation's Favourite Poems' - as polled and published by the BBC) entitled Upon Westminster Bridge. Time to revisit the bridge, I think:

Upon Westminster Bridge (Again)
This is where Wordsworth stood one morning
Just as the nineteenth century was dawning
And wrote his rose-tinted sonnet (of sorts)
In praise of the greatest city on earth.

Actually, that's not strictly true.
For the bridge he then stood on (aged thirty two)
Barely outlived him. It was subsiding badly
And proved expensive to maintain. Sadly

A decade after Wordsworth died
It was pulled down brick by brick and replaced
By the seven-arched cast-iron edifice
Which spans the tide of the Thames today.

As for his majestic city, he'd be staggered
To see how wide, how high it's grown.
He might even find it beautiful still
Though its mighty heart never stopped lying!

I know it's not the sense he meant to convey,
But check out the last lines of his iconic verse*
And tell me if there's not an ironic twist or worse
That a post-truth interpretation can overlay
As scandal rocks the Royal Docks
And the Mother of Parliaments goes awry.


* Those lines read as follows:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

By the way, if you haven't discovered Philomena Cunk yet, you owe it to yourself to do so.

Thanks for reading, Steve :-)

Thursday, 23 August 2018

The Romantic Poets

I have never liked the Romantic Poets, yet they have followed me around for most of my life. I studied English at O and A level and they were part of the required reading.

I read English at University and they were there in the course, having a module all their own. What is it about Grecian Urns?

I studied for a Masters degree in philosophy and Coleridge cropped up, apparently being a philosopher/poet…and I thought Kubla Khan was about something else altogether. 

We lived in Windermere in the Lake District for many years and people used to say how wonderfully dreamy and inspiring the romantic landscape must be. It rained most of the time.
 
 
I was part of a poetry writing group called the Dove Cottage Poets and we met at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Surely it must have been an inspiration writing in the same place Wordsworth wrote? Actually no.

We even produced a radio programme about our poetry group, hosted by Ruth Padel and broadcast on Radio 4 from Dove Cottage. The theme was ‘Father Wordsworth’. I wrote and read my poem on air, but it wasn’t because of his influence.

One year ago, I finally ‘broke free’ from the Romantic influence when we arrived in Blackpool. Here is an inspirational place to write. There is something romantic and dreamy about the sea as I cycle along the promenade to Cleveleys and Fleetwood, gaining inspiration.

The old- world charm of Lancashire villages on the cycle route, Staining, Weeton, Wrea Green, Singleton. The Art Deco splendour of Stanley Park. The Art Nouveau style of the house we live in. These and many other things about Blackpool and The Fylde make for an inspiring back drop to writing.
 
 
I have written more poetry this past year than in the eleven years we lived in Wordsworth country.

So, I am happy to finally say ‘goodbye’ to the Romantic Poets and ‘hello’ to opportunity and inspiration for writing.

In celebration of this, I have written a poem which sums up my feelings:
 
The Romantics
I longed to say goodbye to Wordsworth,
yet I could always see him still,
floating like a floppy daffodil
below the surface of my consciousness.
 
I wanted never again to hear about Spring
as if it were a universal blessing.
God's kisses in the morning, lambs, new life,
green hope, all that sort of thing.
 
An 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' day
I could not imagine, nor could I say
I have ever seen a lonely cloud. They hang
out together, rinsing creativity.
 
I desired to be free of Coleridge and Keats,
Shelley, Blake, Byron and all;
hoping they'd slip away in shrouds and sheets,
as they kept coming around for tea.
 
What am I after? Space and silence;
a place where I can make myself
and then create a sort of carapace,
a shell for thinking and writing in.
 
Is it too much to ask? Well no,
I took my chance to get away to
Blackpool, that vintage archipelago,
where words blossom like an egg-plant.
 
I'm there, though it's been touch and go.
 
 
David Wilkinson