written and posted by members of Lancashire Dead Good Poets' Society

Saturday 2 December 2023


Wonderland! No contest, as far as I'm concerned. It's bookshops and what you find within, which is books (obviously) and what you find within them, which in turn is entry into a limitless world of imagined experience.

I love books, have done since I was very young. I can still remember a time when I couldn't read (aged three plus). I have a vivid memory of looking at a book with pictures of tigers and rows of black symbols. I was intrigued by the latter, for they meant something to people who could decipher them. I also felt thwarted. It was fun to be read to, but how much more convenient to be able to do it for oneself without having to ensnare a grown-up or wait until bedtime! Being a determined little fellow, and with the help of the recently published series of Janet And John reading primers, soon I was reading for myself, taking the first steps on a lifelong adventure that is the love of literature. My favourite Christmas present, aged four, was  A.A. Milne's 'Winnie the Pooh '.

My dad, bless him, used to take me to a bookshop every month (aged five onwards) and let me choose a book from the Puffin range (the children's imprint of Penguin books). Consequently, I love bookshops too and will rarely pass up the chance to enter one, have a browse, often make a purchase. Books expect it. They don't read themselves, after all. They are all hoping to go to a good home and be a source of delight to whoever adopts them.

wonderful - Livraria Lello (Porto)
Some bookshops are splendid and stunning affairs in their own right. I think of Hatchards on Piccadilly in London (founded 1797), Livraria Lello in Porto (founded 1869 and pictured above), even Shakespeare and Company, located on the Left Bank in Paris (founded 1951). They are worth a visit for the ambience and the architecture.

Bookshops have been with us since the days of Ancient Greece. The founding of the first libraries in the 4th century BC was the catalyst for booksellers to spring up in Athens and other Greek cities. Rome and the key cities of the Roman Empire followed suit a few hundred years later. Possessing a personal library of books was quite the status symbol. Obviously in those times all books were hand-written, providing employment for skilled copyists and scribes. Moorish Spain saw the next wave of book-making and book-selling in the 10th century AD and this was followed by France, Germany, the Low Countries and England, and by this time (early 15th century) the invention of the printing press had revolutionised the production of books. The oldest extant bookshop in Europe was founded in Orleans in France in 1545. No doubt the Librairie Nouvelle d'Orléans has one eye on its 500th anniversary (if we're still here and books are still being sold in 2045).

Quite a lot of the books in my own library (if that's not too grand a term for a collection that doesn't have a room of its own) were acquired second-hand because they were no longer in print when I wanted to read them. Many is the visit I made to the cluttered second-hand bookshops that used to line the Charing Cross Road, absolute Aladdin's caves or treasure troves (pictured below), and as wonderful in their ways as the stylish repositories of new books mentioned earlier.

equally wonderful - Charing Cross Books (London)
Nowadays online sellers of second-hand books have changed the landscape. They are useful for the sheer range of what is available via the portal of a computer, but I miss the browsing experience along row after row of higgledy shelves and the possibility of alighting upon a true gem.

I am happy to have passed on my love of books to my own children. Everybody who is dear to me will be receiving at least one book this Christmas. 

To conclude just about on theme, here's the  latest (yet another narrative) poem, based on the recollection of a random surprise week-end visit I received early in the summer of 1972, because I happened to be in the right place at the time, owned  a copy of Stephen Stills' debut solo LP and was reading Herman Hesse. It comes with the usual caveat that I might revise it if I can see ways to improve how it reads. Let me know what you think...

Serenity (Between The Covers)
With a lived in skin like Janis Joplin's
and a daddy in the diplomatic corps
or so she claimed, Poppy drifted 
through my door from Lebanon
looking for the guy who had my room before,
was hoping maybe he'd score, give her
some cash, a bath and a floor to crash on.
So young to be so seeming worldly wise
with her trippy clothes and hippy bag,
she made herself at home, clearly knew 
the lie of the land, so had a bath
and then brewed us mint tea to accompany
a smoke or two. She looked all through
my records and books, loved that I read Hesse,
was thrilled to discover Stephen Stills.

She put him on repeat play while she spun
her life story (one version of it anyway)
as we lay nailed to the carpet contemplating
how I'd painted the ceiling rose to resemble
a lotus flower which complemented
the Buddha in the grate. Spying my camera,
she cajoled me into taking photographs
as she posed smiling, rolling, pouting
in various stages of coquettish undress.
Eventually the midnight munchies struck 
so we made cheese after cheese on toast 
topped with aubergine pickle, then sated
curled up cosily in bed like we'd been 
comfortable friends for years, still listening 
in the dark to Love the one you're with.

Next morning while she slept on, it being sunny
I sat out happily among the ranks of bright weeds
in our ramshackle back garden and read
The Glass Bead Game while plaintive strains 
of the Rolling Stones' Wild Horses sounded
softly from a neighbour's open window.
I was lost between the covers as Magister Ludi
told of the splendour of serenity: the secret 
of beauty and the real substance of all art.
It was past midday when I realised with a start
the hours I'd been sitting out, a neglectful host.
But my room was empty, unruly bed neatly made
and Poppy gone, along with my camera and
Stephen Stills LP. She'd left a scribbled thankyou
and a twist of stems and seeds. I could only smile.

As a bonus, here's a link to a blog from Boxing Day in 2015, containing a Lewis Carroll pastiche I wrote. Just click on the bold title to activate the link and take you down the hole: Alice's Adventures In Sunderland

Bless you, thanks for reading, Steve ;-)

Friday 1 December 2023

Wonderland: Imagination and Words

When I think of ‘Wonderland’, I plummet down a dark hole with Alice into a curious land of the small, the tall, talking animals, and other strange oddities. This is the world forever etched in Western culture conjured up by the Rev Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll (1832-1898).

Alice and the Pool of Tears (Illustration: John Tenniel)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland c 1890 W.B. Conkey Company, Chicago

Dodgson was a multi-disciplinary master of his imagination creating an upside down world the Victorians believed in and escaped into. His brain was filled with juxtaposition working in diverse languages of words, numbers and the visual. His wide skill-base included not only that of a writer but also logician, puzzle maker, mathematician, photographer and ordained deacon of the Church of England.

It was, or so I thought, that it was with great thanks to Dodgson, the compounding of the words ‘wonder’ (to feel or express great surprise at something or to ask yourself questions) and ‘land’ (a country/particular area of the earth’s surface) found its way into the dictionary however, this is not the case. The earliest known use of this word seemingly is documented in the late 1700s embedded within the writing of ‘P. Pindar’, whoever that was.

Delving deeper into the ‘Wonderland’ word where Alice is concerned, I’m not convinced the dictionary definitions of a place full of wonderful things or an imaginary place of delicate beauty or magical charm is totally applicable considering the threads of Grimm’s fairy tale-like unsettling scary episodes throughout the two stories Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Incidents include a near drowning incident, claustrophobic conditions, disorientation, a swarming of bats and an irate Queen of Hearts threating death by head chopping. Therefore, perhaps it might be useful to add to the overall ‘Wonderland’ definition a curious place to question elements of surprise where one can get lost, at times marvel at the twisting of a strangely familiar environment and known reality (however one defines this).

Moving on, I began to wonder (see definition of word above) how many editions have been published of the story in question. Well, since November 1865 over 7,500 editions have been published of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland also known as Alice in Wonderland. It has also been translated into nearly two hundred different languages! I have at least four different versions in my own collection including one that was my grandmother’s from the 1890s.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland c 1890
W.B. Conkey Company, Chicago

Where there is a popular story, merchandise is sure to follow and Alice in Wonderland is no different. For well over a century, manufacturers have been coming up with all sorts of products to offer ranging from ceramic figures, Christmas ornaments, dollhouse furniture, teapots, toast racks, stuffed toys and games, the list goes on. I am particularly fond of the Misfitz mix and match card game as pictured below.

Alice in Wonderland Misfitz Card Game 1900-1925 C W Faulkner & Co Ltd (publisher)
V & A Collection, MISC.321-1986

A romp with Alice and her friends is always an adventure. I do hope you’ve enjoyed it. Before we climb out of the rabbit hole and take leave, here’s some poetry and writing from Wonderland and beyond:

Appearing in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Chapter 7 and recited by the Hatter, age ?

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
      How I wonder what you’re at!
   Up above the world you fly, 
like a tea-tray in the sky.     

Appearing in The Tower, an elementary school publication, written by Katy Eggleston, age 7

Blackout Poetry November 2023, p
age 167 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,  by Kate Eggleston-Wirtz, age ?

Thank you for reading.

Alice-in-wonderland.net, 2023. About the book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. https://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/background/alices-adventures-in-wonderland/ Accessed 12 November.
Cambridge Dictionary, 2023. Land. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/land accessed 19 November.
Cambridge Dictionary, 2023. Wonder. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/wonder accessed 19 November.
Carroll, L., 1890. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. W.B. Conkey Company, Chicago.
Harper, D., 2023. Wonderland (n). https://www.etymonline.com/word/wonderland accessed 6 Nov 2023.
Victoria and Albert Museum, 2023. Alice in Wonderland Misfitz. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O26776/alice-in-wonderland-misfitz-card-game-c-w-faulkner/ Accessed 12 November.

Wednesday 29 November 2023


Oh my fur and whiskers! I thought this was going to be a straight forward look back at the story through memories of my own family’s dog-eared copy of the book. But I made the mistake of checking a fact online and down I went, straight down through multitudes of err...white rabbit holes.

I expect you think you know the story or even just parts of it, I certainly did, but it seems I was completely missing the point or points. These are just four of them.

1 Drugs (slightly odd)
A very popular theory is that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a thinly veiled allegory about drug use. There’s the slowing down of time, expanding and decreasing space, the hookah, the mushrooms, hallucinogenic animals and objects. There is no evidence of Lewis Carroll taking drugs that would induce such a reaction but there certainly is of a post 1960s generation with lyrics such as Jefferson Airplane’s Remember what the Dormouse said / Feed your head, feed your head from ‘White Rabbit’.

2 Spirituality (very odd)
The story can be read as a journey of spiritual awakening, a quest for enlightenment. A way to explore the self without resort to logic.

3 Sex (completely barking)
Some readers have wondered if the book reveals more about Lewis Carroll. Psychoanalytical types love it. Types such as William Empson who pointed out that Alice is “a father in getting down the hole, a foetus at the bottom, and can only be born by becoming a mother and producing her own amniotic fluid”. I think that WE needed his head examined.

4 Maths (off the scale) 
I’m going to leave other interpretations such as Colonisation, Empire, Jesus and Disciples and politicians etc as I want to come to my absolute favourite and for that I need to switch to LC’s real name of Charles Dodgson (pictured below).

The following is taken from Melanie Bayley writing in the New Scientist who is quoting from various mathematicians:

‘The 19th century was a turbulent time for mathematics, with many new and controversial concepts, like imaginary numbers, becoming widely accepted in the mathematical community..... Outgunned in the specialist press, Dodgson took his mathematics to his fiction. Using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, he picked apart the “semi-logic” of the new abstract mathematics, mocking its weakness by taking these premises to their logical conclusions, with mad results. The outcome is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland...

Take the chapter “Advice from a caterpillar”, for example. While some have argued that this scene, with its hookah and “magic mushroom”, is about drugs, I believe it’s actually about what Dodgson saw as the absurdity of symbolic algebra, which severed the link between algebra, arithmetic and his beloved geometry.

The first clue may be in the pipe itself: the word “hookah” is, after all, of Arabic origin, like “algebra”, and it is perhaps striking that Augustus De Morgan, the first British mathematician to lay out a consistent set of rules for symbolic algebra, uses the original Arabic translation in Trigonometry and Double Algebra, which was published in 1849. He calls it “al jebr e al mokabala” or “restoration and reduction” – which almost exactly describes Alice’s experience....’

This goes on for a few pages and is wonderful and includes: the base-10 number system, to survive in Wonderland Alice must act like a Euclidean geometer keeping her ratios constant, projective geometry, discovery of quaternions in 1843 and pure time.

In 2015 it was the 150th anniversary of the book’s publication. A lot of people used that fact to write poems. This is one of them, it’s mine and, oh my dear paws, it is awful.

Alice is over there

Said the woman with a white badge
pointing to row upon row of Wonderland
where some books were short and fat
some long and thin
some looked heavy some looked fun
and one was all of those things

“This isn’t right,” exclaimed the Customer
“There’s only one Alice”

“That is not so” said Alice in a pink dress
“She’s correct” said Alice in a hat
which set off a deafening chorus
of girls’ voices that right had been left
but they were not, absolutely not,
some kind of cheap copy
except for a slim volume on the top shelf
who proudly bristled that that’s exactly what she was
until an old hardback demanded SILENCE then exclaimed
“Do not choose them, I am the original Alice,
these are copywrongs,
so you may pick me as it is my anniversary”
which caused a huge fluttering

“That’s quite enough, Sir,” said the Assistant firmly
“we’ve all been Alice since 1907, so please leave.”

She fussed around the shelves calming them all down
muttering to herself about consequences
before disappearing down a corridor marked
To Science and Natural History.

Thanks for reading, Terry Q

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Wonderland - My Happy Place

I’m privileged to be in my happy place in this season of Winter Wonderland and witness again the splendour of the Dumfries and Galloway countryside. An ice-cream in August by the Solway Firth seems like a million moons ago to me now. Lush green has given way to shades of copper and rust in hedgerows and woodland and every view is simply stunning. It is nature at its best.

I was nine years old when my family and I moved into our pub on south promenade. During that first summer of settling in and exploring, we went to the Pleasure Beach. Candyfloss, rock, hot-dogs, fried onions, burgers and seafood. Imagine all these strong scents mingled together and this is the all-round smell I grew up with, including beer and tobacco closer to home, but this was my first impression of the Pleasure Beach. I remember going on the Alice in Wonderland ride and being scared. It was the falling down the rabbit hole bit. Very effective nearly sixty years ago and I can’t say if any changes have been made as I haven’t returned. In those days, there was no charge to walk round the Pleasure Beach and no such thing as wristbands. Rides were paid for individually. The current way of doing things and the costs prevent me from taking my grandchildren any time soon.

Snug in a cosy lodge, outside white with frost, I’ll make the most of the rest of our stay. I’ll top up the bird-feeders every day and enjoy watching them being emptied. Red kites are fascinating and entertaining, gracefully circling, looking for prey. This unspoilt simple life is my chosen wonderland.

My Haiku

Surrounded by trees,
A cosy and peaceful lodge
Is my wonderland.

Beyond evergreens,
Rhododendrons, firs and pines,
Acres of farmland

Glisten in the frost
Of early winter morning,
Waiting for the sun

To rise above hills.
Gentle clouds streak a blue sky.
Beautiful daybreak.

Admiring red kites,
Gracefully soaring above,
A roost of hundreds

Watching and waiting
Whistling their high pitched shrill call,
Then swooping to feed.

A short drive away,
The quiet of the forest
Brings tranquillity.

PMW 2023

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday 25 November 2023


Welcome to this dancing, sparkling, late-night  Sugaree  Saturday blog. Sweet liberties will be taken herein, not (I hasten to assure you) to browbeat anyone about the iniquities of sugar, though our over-consumption of it is becoming problematic, but rather to explore the origins and true meaning of a curious and intriguing phrase found in certain popular American songs. 

I've long loved the music of Fred Neil and Jerry Garcia/Grateful Dead and they both sing songs (audio links appended further on) which contain such lines as "Shake it sugaree " and "Didn't we shake sugaree ". What's that all about? I've often wondered. Very well, this Thanksgiving week I determined to play lyric detectorist and get to the bottom of the mystery. Read on, Macduff.

cutting sugarcane
I assumed, not unreasonably I think, given the geography and the phraseology - sugar and dancing?-  that this might have something to do with the deep south cane industry: plantations, slavery, hard graft, harvest time, a bit of celebration and light relief for poor, exploited black folks. Sadly, the anecdotal evidence is scarce. 

The Jordanaires released a pop song in 1957 titled "Sugaree " but that appeared to be the name or nickname of a sweetheart, so I'm dismissing it as a red herring. The first significant mention in song is Elizabeth Cotten's "Shake Sugaree ". Cotten (1893-1987) was a self-taught African-American folk and blues singer/songwriter who began playing guitar and writing songs in her teens. She is most well-known for "Freight Train ", used recently as the title music for Wes Anderson's 'Asteroid City ' movie. It's not clear when she wrote "Shake Sugaree " as she was performing for decades before recording her material in the 1960s as part of the great American folk revival. Of the lyric, Cotten merely stated: "To tell the truth, I don´t know what got it started, but it must have been something said or something done."

"Shake Sugaree " was released in 1965 and once available in record stores and on the radio was soon covered by a roster of folk and blues musicians, becoming a staple of folk sets across the country, giving rise to the afore-mentioned versions, by Fred Neil in 1966 on his eponymous second LP, and ultimately the referenced lyric by Robert Hunter (Grateful Dead lyricist) on Jerry Garcia's eponymous debut solo LP of 1972.

The Cotten song is all about being poor, pawning everything worth pawning, and then shaking sugaree, which I took to mean having a good time regardless of tomorrow and the consequences. I assumed it was metaphorical... but then I dug up a couple of references that suggest plausible explanations. 

The first is that sugaree actually derives from the French "charivari " (or chivaree/shivaree), referring to a folk ritual of making rowdy, discordant music outside the house of newlyweds, a custom that French colonists would certainly have brought to the New World in the 19th century.

The second references a curious practice of sprinkling sugar on the floor and then dancing on it to make a percussive sound. "At house parties they used to shake sugar on the floor so it would crunch when stepped on, hence 'to shake sugaree' meant to have a good time dancing. Even today, there’s a dance step called the 'sugar step' which is an action like grinding sugar on the floor."

shaking sugaree
I'll settle for that second explanation, though I hold to my original instinct that shaking sugaree could not have been possible without cane plantations in the first place and the irrepressible spirits of poor, exploited black folks determined just to have a good time in the small off-duty hours.

Here's the Fred Neil version of the sugaree song. I always marvel at his voice: I've Got A Secret

And here is Garcia's more upbeat rendition as featured at many a Grateful Dead gig and more apt for the kind of hippy shaking those ladies above are rapt in: Sugaree

To finish, a strange new poem fresh from the imaginarium (and with the usual caveat that it is subject to revision). Kāmadeva is a Hindu god of desire, eroticism and pleasure. He carries a bow made of sugarcane and fires arrows of flowers. His is the sweet intoxicating dance of love.

Arcane Sugar
First the temple, ramshackle and rundown,
green with its glow of vegetation and open
to the winds of chance.  Then the template

intricate and sacred spread on freshly swept
old boards. Next the precious sugar, graded
from powdery white at this mandala's heart

through yellowed grains to coarsest browns
around the boundaries of the holy art where
ants fear to encroach. All waits in readiness.

With sundown, at the bidding of Kāmadeva,
revellers arrive, sweetened already with rum
to take positions on the floor, motionless in

graceful repose until the drums begin giving
permission for bodies to sway, feet to stamp
to the sweetest beat, eyes shine, hearts pump

inhibitions fade away, everyone dancing into
reverie, shaking sugaree, until there is no me
or you no yesterday tomorrow only evermore

this timeless whirling moment of affirmation
of liberation from the chains that bind as love
floods in waves upon the magic crystal shore. 

Thanks for reading. Shake it, S ;-)

Saturday 18 November 2023

Thursday 16 November 2023


When I consider the word 'solitaire' I remember a small wooden board, filled with indentations and small marbles. Although I am aware of this, I have no clue how the game is played. I know how to play solitaire with playing cards, I have played it for many hours on computer - it is extremely compelling - as is Scrabble - but that's a different story.

Thinking about writing this week's blog I toyed with the idea of writing about loneliness. I know that is reaching epidemic levels especially among the elderly and various organisations, including Age UK who have opened a helpline and friendship call scheme for the elderly and housebound. I am very annoyed by automated checkouts in the supermarkets - if you are elderly or disabled and make one shopping trip a week, how upsetting must it be if no-one communicates with you. A machine can't say 'Hello' or 'How are you?' and that interpersonal interaction can be so important. I was deleted to hear that Booths are removing their automated tills because people don't like them. Amen to that!

Thinking about loneliness lead me to consider the experience of 'the long distance runner' - ha ha! That led me to a remarkable event of the 1960s that sticks out in my then, young memories. The experience of a remarkable man called Sir Francis Chichester.

In 1958, Chichester was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. (This might have been a misdiagnosis; David Lewis, a London doctor, who competed against Chichester in the first solo trans-Atlantic race, reviewed his case and called Chichester's abnormality a "lung abscess".) His wife Sheila put him on a strict vegetarian diet (now considered to be a macrobiotic diet) and his cancer went into remission. Chichester then turned to long-distance yachting.

In 1960, he entered and won the first Single-Handed Trans-Atlantic Race, which had been founded by 'Blondie' Hasler in the 40 foot ocean racing yawl Gipsy Moth III. He came second in the second race four years later.

On 27 August 1966 Chichester sailed his ketch Gipsy Moth IV from Plymouth in the United Kingdom and returned there after 226 days of sailing on 28 May 1967, having circumnavigated the globe, with one stop (in Sydney). By doing so, he became the first person to achieve a true circumnavigation of the world solo from West to East via the great Capes. The voyage was also a race against the clock, as Chichester wanted to beat the typical times achieved by the fastest fully crewed clipper ships during the heyday of commercial sail in the 19th century. His global voyage was the first to be commercially sponsored, with the International Wool Secretariat's Woolmark featured on the bows of Gipsy Moth IV and Chichester's baseball cap.

Can you imagine the experience he endured. The world's oceans can be a cruel master but the solitude must be the worst thing by far. During lockdown, we all, especially those with immune deficiencies, had a taste of enforced solitude - but 226 days is an incredibly long spell. I cannot imagine it - I would go completely doolally.


I embark in Gypsy Moth IV and sail to the Canaries,
there to catch the South Trades towards the Caribbean.
I fight the storms that lurch and toss me
around the Cape of Good Hope
then nip into port in Sydney for provisions
departing for South China seas
from Indonesia to Cape Horn.
I'm almost home now
longing for conversation
the companionship of friends.

Thank you for reading. Adele

Tuesday 14 November 2023

Solitaire - Alone

My mother loved her diamond solitaire ring and wore it all the time. It was a gift from my father, bought in Hatton Gardens on one of their trips to London. She was delighted with it and I watched it twinkling like a rainbow on her finger. It would have been dwarfed by Elizabeth Taylor’s diamond, but it was large enough to be the status symbol it was intended to be. Sadly, within the year, Mum became ill again and succumbed to the cancer she had battled off and on for three years. The ring was eventually passed on to my sister. It sparkles on her hand and looks lovely. I chose pieces of my mother’s jewellery for what they mean to me, yet I rarely wear them. There will always be the pain of loss and how life changed.

Singer Andy Williams cover of Neil Sedaka’s song, ‘Solitaire’. I can’t remember exactly when I first heard it, but for some reason I associate it with moving into the small bedroom – I think I’d swapped rooms with my sister – and sorting my belongings into the fitted furniture.  I listened to music all the time, records or radio and I really liked this song. For a week it was Radio Luxembourg’s powerplay, every hour, every show. To hear it now throws me right back to that moment in time and being seventeen.

‘Solitaire’ is a card game to play solo. I learnt it as ‘Patience’ but it’s the same thing. Cards are set out in a row of seven, first one face up, others face down. The next row, miss the first card, place a card face up on the second card then place cards face down along the rest of the row. Repeat until the last pile has six cards facing down and one facing up. Remaining cards will come into play as needed. The object of the game is to place cards in sequence, King at the top, Ace at the bottom, and alternating red and black. If a face-up card is moved on to another, the face down card can be turned over. Only a King can move into a space at the top. The remaining pile of cards can be turned one by one as needed. Completion would be four columns going from King to Ace in alternate colours. I’ve never introduced myself to a points system, I’ve just taken it as far as I can then either started again or made it work out –no, it’s not cheating when you’re playing by yourself.

I found this poem by John Updike,

Black queen on the red king,
the seven on the black
eight, eight goes on the nine, bring
the nine on over, place
jack on the queen. There is space
now for that black king who,
six or so cards back,
was buried in the pack.
Five on six, where's seven?
Under the ten. The ace
must be under the two.
Four, nine on ten, three, through.
It's after eleven.

 John Updike 1932 - 2009

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday 11 November 2023

Compass Points

I didn't know that there are 32 compass points, each marking off 11.25 degrees of our happy planetary sphere and each with its official title as depicted in the 'compass rose' diagram below. Well blow me, where does that leave the classic 1959 spy movie North by Northwest ? 

It would appear there were seven legitimate options to choose from in the quadrant between north and west...and north by northwest is not one of them. Poor form that, Alfred Hitchcock, MGM and all. 😂

32 point compass rose
Seriously, who hasn't either owned or used a compass? Perhaps to orient yourself when Scouting For Girls, navigating Secret Water, possibly pursuing on a Journey To The East, maybe a  Flight To Arras, or even while Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy

Prior to the development of the compass you'd have had to attempt all such feats by reading celestial bodies, observing well-known landmarks or trusting in the flightpaths of migrant birds. However, the invention of the compass made it possible to determine a heading when the sky was obscured, no landmarks were in sight and migrating birds were out of season.

The first primitive compasses were created in China some 2000 years ago using lodestone (a naturally magnetised mineral) which was observed both to attract iron and, when suspended in water or oil (as was the common design at the time) would align itself with the earth's magnetic field. On account of this latter property, it was given the charmingly descriptive name 'south facing fish ' I paused momentarily to query why not north facing fish? But I suppose it's just a convention of heads and tails.

Interestingly, although the Chinese led the way in the understanding of magnetism,  those early compasses were used not so much for navigation as for geomancy (my word of the week), for assisting in the art of Feng Shui to literally ensure a house was favourably oriented (and why not occidented?) in relation to ley lines or the flow of powerful magic forces. And it was Arab travellers to China who first brought compass technology to the west (or occident) approximately 1000 years ago.

Compass needles by now were little strips of iron that had been magnetised by being stroked by lodestone, often still suspended in a liquid within a circular container marked with the four cardinal points N, S, E, W and used primarily on board ships for navigation.

500 years further along the timeline came the development of the dry compass with its three key components of a freely turning magnetised needle mounted on a pin above a calibrated 'rose', all enclosed in a small box with a flat base and a glass lid, the essence of the compasses we know and use today for taking bearings and orienteering, though plastic casings are the norm. 

As for the sophistication of those 32 points on the rose, that was the work of maritime engineers in the Mediterranean some time in the 16th century and the points were all named after winds (see below).

And there you have it. The only bit I've skipped is about magnetic north, which is a shifty blighter and best left for another day. Before  I get to the poem however, here's an on theme musical bonus from talented American guitarist and singer/ songwriter Molly Tuttle: Take The Journey  Enjoy.

Given that it is Armistice Day today and Remembrance Sunday tomorrow I've written something harking back to the First World War and imagined one of the thousands of lost and lonely deaths of young soldiers. In this case, specifically Americans, many still in their teens, who when the USA joined late in the war were dispatched up to the front lines in the summer of 1918 in northern France as part of the last great tactical gamble to repulse the Germans who had gained vast swathes of land in their spring offensive and to drive the enemy away from the outskirts of Paris and back to the east. There were 10,000 American casualties alone in the Battle of Belleau Wood.

lost forever in Belleau Wood (June 1918)
A Private Dying
The rain, the constant stumbling pain,
sound of sustained firing, friend or foe?
He'd taken some hits, he knew, compass
shot to bits, unsteady groping from tree
to sodden tree and tears too now. Why
did he think of Babes in the Wood? 

Murder in the Dark more like, though
he'd never imagined this as a child
an ocean and a short lifetime away
when he'd played out with  his pals
in the walnut orchard at twilight till
his mother called him in. Blood
rose in his throat, bubbling on his lips
tasty as copper, and shaken by a palsy 
of shivering his legs gave way. All lost, 
he thought, where did I go wrong? Some
son I've turned out to be. Forgive me
mother, father. Remember me at home.

No sooner had he kissed the earth goodbye
than his spirit slipped through patchy skies,
a sliver rippling into the circling shoal
of departed souls, south pointing fish all
twisting like an unruly silver tide at
the bidding of some wanton bloody moon.

Thanks for reading, S ;-)

Thursday 9 November 2023


The geographic North Pole is the northern point of Earth's axis of rotation. The North Pole is found in the Arctic Ocean, on constantly shifting pieces of sea ice. The North Pole is not part of any nation, although Russia placed a titanium flag on the seabed in 2007.

From the North Pole, all directions are south. Its latitude is 90 degrees north, and all lines of longitude meet there (as well as at the South Pole, on the opposite end of Earth). Polaris, the current North Star, sits almost motionless in the sky above the pole, making it an excellent fixed point to use in celestial navigation in the Northern Hemisphere.

Because Earth rotates on a tilted axis as it revolves around the sun, sunlight is experienced in extremes at the poles. In fact, the North Pole experiences only one sunrise (at the March equinox) and one sunset (at the September equinox) every year. From the North Pole, the sun is always above the horizon in the summer and below the horizon in the winter. This means the region experiences up to 24 hours of sunlight in the summer and 24 hours of darkness in the winter.

Birds are frequent visitors to the North Pole. The Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea), which has the longest annual migration of any species on the planet, spends its spring and summer in the Arctic, though rarely as far north as the North Pole. It then flies 30,000 kilometers (18,641 miles) south, to the Antarctic Circle. The Arctic tern makes an Arctic-Antarctic round-trip migration every year.

Like the Arctic tern, all other birds spotted near the North Pole are migratory. They include the small snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) and gull-like fulmars and kittiwakes.

Antarctica is the only continent with no permanent human habitation. There are, however, permanent human settlements, where scientists and support staff live for part of the year on a rotating basis.

The Antarctic Ice Sheet dominates the region. It is the largest single piece of ice on Earth. This ice sheet even extends beyond the continent when snow and ice are at their most extreme.

The ice surface dramatically grows in size from about three million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) at the end of summer to about 19 million square kilometers (7.3 million square miles) by winter. Ice sheet growth mainly occurs at the coastal ice shelves, primarily the Ross Ice Shelf and the Ronne Ice Shelf. Ice shelves are floating sheets of ice that are connected to the continent. Glacial ice moves from the continent’s interior to these lower-elevation ice shelves at rates of 10 to 1,000 meters (33 to 32,808 feet) per year.

Antarctica has a number of mountain summits, including the Transantarctic Mountains, which divide the continent into eastern and western regions. A few of these summits reach altitudes of more than 4,500 meters (14,764 feet). The elevation of the Antarctic Ice Sheet itself is about 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and reaches 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) above sea level near the center of the continent.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, 
 Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, 
 Silence the pianos and with muffled drum 
 Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. 

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead 
 Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead, 
 Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, 
 Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. 

 He was my North, my South, my East and West, 
 My working week and my Sunday rest, 
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; 
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong. 

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; 
 Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; 
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; 
For nothing now can ever come to any good. 

                                                                      W H Auden
Thank you for reading, Adele