Invitation to deceive

hoodies

Hoodies

 

It leaps out at me from a regular e-mailing from an outdoor clothing store:

FLEECE HOODIES!

(they’re naive and trusting).

 

I Reject

broken-chain-1024x768

 

I REJECT

 

24 June 2016

 

I reject you, my country.

You who used to be my country, I divorce you.

You have become mean and full of hate

You look over your shoulder for immigrants

And complain even where there are none.

You have no vision for the world

You have no love for the world

No knowledge of other worlds

Resentment is your life.

 

Don’t worry. I’ll still pay my taxes and vote.

We have a business arrangement. In return

You care for me disdainfully if I’m ill

You send a policeman if I’m burgled

And sometimes clean the street. There’s no need

To revise the social contract. But you are not mine.

I know you.

 

 

India, India

Indian rail image

I promised to say more about my trip to India, especially on the wildlife. There is too much to say. My foremost interest was the birds and they were utterly fantastic, the numbers, the colours, the variety. At this time of year India has not only its resident birds, but many winter visitors, some familiar to the British birder (Hobby, Tree Pipit, Little Stint) and others less familiar from Siberia (Siberian Rubythroat, Marsh Sandpiper, Black Stork). I was interested to see many Indian birders. At the main wetland reserve, Bharatpur, most visitors go round in rickshaws (the rider/drivers really know their birds) and I saw one very attractive young Indian woman with binoculars leap from her rickshaw, guided by the driver, to see the Siberian Rubythroat.

 

Sinerian Rubythroat

The tiger reserve – Ramthambore – was similar in that there was a mix of European and Far Eastern tourists with Indians among the visitors. This is obviously good for conservation. We did see a pair of tigers, but since about twelve vehicles – jeeps and boneshaker ex-army trucks – were clustered round them, there was a bit of circus about the drama. The leopards sighting was entirely different. No-one else was there. The leopards – an unusual unit of dominant male, young female and hanger-on male – seemed unaware of us. I don’t think we felt like peeping Toms when the couple proceeded to have sex.

The politics? In the small towns and villages, I noticed many banners hung up with head-and-shoulders pictures of series of people, maybe ten to a banner. I had my suspicions, but I asked the tour leader. They were for local elections. Bad point: the party lists were either all-male or had one woman included. Good point: in a village, I saw a poster for what appeared to be an independent candidate whose appeal, judging by his symbol, appeared to be agrarian. He included his website address and email.

Oh, I haven’t even started.

Back to literary matters next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Christmas!

Christmas is about many things:

CAMELS:

 

Sopwith_F-1_Camel_USAF.jpg

WISE MEN:

Hansen

CHURCH:

Charlotte_Church_by_Law_Keven

TURKEY:

Turkey

And, of course, a child born at just the wrong time to parents struggling to deal with an unhelpful government and soon to be refugees.

 

HAPPY CHRISTMAS, anyway!

Night Trains

 

 

 

NIGHT TRAINS

In daytime, a train journey is anchored by the scenery,
Visible river and industrial estate.
You might see an ornate narrowboat edging forward
Or a small red car manoeuvring into a tight space;
At least if some station names flash by in a blur
There were letters, they exist
The details work hard
Holding you back from flying off into
The unknown or Iceland. You are where what you see.

And the regular commute, even if sliding
Into the night, is clamped dead straight by habit,
The endorsed rule of office or home

But enter into an unfamiliar train at night,
Passengers silent or shouting, not even dark showing outside
But a mirror image of the train’s interior
Patterned seats, bland tables, preoccupied passengers
Trapped by their smartphones into writhing worlds,
But no sign of yourself, and you wonder
Where you are going , if anywhere, in what world if any.
No wonder the retreat into laptop homelands.

So different is the plane, where there are only two options,
Lesvos or death, the first being much more likely.

Night train

The Quiet

At 8:30 precisely on Christmas Eve, the family next door fell silent. The loud music had been belting out for nine hours, interspersed only by yelling over the thump of the music and the sound of something heavy falling on the floor.

 

But suddenly – nothing. Not even footsteps.

 

Leroy looked at his girlfriend. They shared a tentative glance. He spoke:

 

“It’s quiet, Carruthers – too damn quiet.”

Not a poem

That ought to make a lot of people read it.

Well, I haven’t been writing much poetry lately, though this is something written for a small, friendly writers’ group that could easily be poetry.

I thought it best not to use a picture with this since it’d push people’s understandings in particular directions. Make your own mind up what’s happening.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Somewhere

Consciousness: a kind of moving light. Aware of the light moving in the darkness. I am the light. Am I?

I am. I’m conscious. I’m somewhere. I’m aware of my body, a dull, vague casing round the bits that see, the bits that hear, the bits that think, the bits that clasp.

I move my arm.

I’m lying on something. Lying face down. Not so dark when I move my head. My arm aches. I hear a regular sound, soft, rasping, reassuring. Cat purring, mother breathing. Waves. The sea. I smell salt tang. I’m lying on a beach. There’s sand stuck to my face.

What’s that? Something blurry. A building? It has meaning. I should get to it.

I don’t want to move.

I’m seeing clearer. I push myself to rise on my elbows and move forward. My elbows sink in damp sand. A pebble pokes at my thigh. I reach the thing. It has a message

EXTRA KRACHT BLEEKMIDDEL

Should I carry the message somewhere? Where, then? I was going somewhere.

Sand is sticking to my shirt. I’m wet.

Who am I? Stupid question, boy. I am me. I am that I am. I am the monarch of all I survey. Sand, pebbles, lost seaweed, a plastic bottle, a flip-flop rising out of the sand like a sinking ship.

The sand around it is smooth, then rough.

Something is angry. That’s a gull. More gulls. Raucous cackles and shrieks.

Something is pushing me into the sand.

I know that. It’s my heart beating. It beats much faster than the sea.

I can see a bit further now. This is a beach. But no girls in bikinis, no fat men, no yelling kids, no barking dogs. What time of year was it?

I’m not wearing shoes. Or socks. Sand rasps and tickles my feet. Why didn’t I notice that before? Sensations returning slowly, top to bottom. Front to back. East to west.

There is a big, dead animal on the beach, its stiff arms outstretched.

It’s a long way off. Can I stand up? Nothing broken, just this huge sensation of weakness, of everything I try to concentrate on slipping away.

Kneel.

That wasn’t so hard. I can see trees now, higher ground. Alternate universe. Alternative?

STAND. I’m standing. Careful. To walk, put one foot forward. Shift weight to that leg. Move other foot beyond first one. That’s the way to do it. Who said that? Edwards. Who was Edwards? Do I have to tell Edwards? I can repeat it: EXTRA KRACHT BLEEKMIDDEL. Good boy.

I can walk. The soft sand tries to stop me. My feet sink in. What I push against shifts. But I move. The dead animal is closer.

I can feel wind. It’s cold. It’s in my face.

It isn’t a dead animal after all. I know this: it’s a tree trunk. A tree that fell into the sea and drowned, its trunk picked clean of bark, its leaves fallen away. The pale grey wood is smooth, very smooth. I can hear the secret hiss of my fingers running along it.

Can anyone else hear it? I must be quiet. I must be invisible. If I sink in the sand I can disappear. The sand tickles. The sea is salt.

 

Book review: Stephen Done, “The Last Train”

I’ve been posting very rarely for a while. Partly that’s because I’m not writing much poetry at present and have gone through all the old poems I wanted to post, but partly it’s because of the U.K. general election – I’m a political activist – and that may also help to explain the shortage of poetry. It’s not a matter of time but of mental space to get into the right mood.

I think in my next post I might talk about different aspects of people that may seem to be separate and may surprise other people, and quote a few points about me that might get other people doing the same. But for now here’s a book review.

I’d not come across Stephen Done before, but the blurb told me this was one of a series of British detective novels and that it involved a ghost appearing. The fictional detective works in an equally fictional Railway Detective Department a few years after the Second World War. I imagine Done’s core audience combines detective story enthusiasts with railway buffs: at least, there are trains and railway lines even where the story doesn’t seem to need them, described in loving detail.

The story involves a disappearance during the war, the ghost (apparently) of a young woman who looks and sounds like a live human but is just not there when someone stumbles into her, the discovery of body parts and an Indian jewel that apparently brings disaster to anyone who has it. This probably sounds like melodramatic pap. It’s actually done with skill. The reader is given information that pretty well rules out the ghost not actually being a ghost and it’s quite rapidly clear who the villain is, so in that sense it’s an odd detective story, but there is plenty of room for speculation about what exactly happened.

There is surprisingly vivid and poetic descriptive writing. I’m not entirely sure that this kind of fast-paced detective story is the best place for it, but I admire the author not only for his skill but also for his readiness to break away from bald, pared-down prose. The characters are entirely credible, but the dialogue, while it cleverly reflects  people’s preoccupations, character and misunderstandings, is sometimes rather stilted. The police detectives talk among themselves as if they were writing official reports.

I enjoyed it.

Spellcheck

Ex-ecutionerSpellcheck can save us from embarrassing errors – as long as the mistake isn’t a real word. But its vocabulary is quite limited. It’s American, for a start, and although I’ve finally convinced it that I want British English, its knowledge of this foreign tongue is limited.

Words that are common in some areas of life and work are unknown to it. If you’re involved in any kind of academic or public sector discussion about politics or administration, you’ll be familiar with the word DISEMPOWER (take power away from some people, usually with the implication that they have a right to the power). I’m writing a philosophical sort of book about Liberalism, UK version. I wrote something like,

“Unresponsive bureaucracies sometimes disempower citizens”. Spellcheck didn’t like “disempower”. It didn’t believe the word existed. It offered just one alternative: DISEMBOWEL.

 

Not in the UK, surely?

 

Now just a short poem I wrote recently on a short break in Norfolk.

 

THE STAR INN, LESSINGHAM

Over the vast pub fireplace hang the horse-brasses
So many I have never seen
Figures of horse, fox, crown
Snowflake, cross, shapes I do not know
All glinting from the light, wavering from the fire.
Cunning and care made them
Clever thought, steady hand
The landlady polishes them.

Outside the night sky is stark
Slow-burning bright in black
And I am off the land and out of time
And speak with a voice of others who saw the stars.

These things together tell me
I am human.

Horse brasses

 

T-shirts, T and poetry

Friends of the Earth inform me that it takes the amount of water to manufacture one t-shirt that would be needed to make 15,600 cups of tea. A thought-provoking statistic – but straight away, I start wondering if that’s why they’re called t-shirts. Or is tea named after tea shirts? Did British colonial officials once relax on the verandah having changed into a tea shirt to drink tea?

tshirt

Now I take t-shirts seriously, like them. I have quite a collection, many commemorating somewhere I’ve been (Georgia, Fair Isle Bird Observatory, the most south-westerly pub in England – The Saracen’s Head, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly – plus one printed with my own wording, “Ho, Johnny Wildman, where art thou?”).

Towards the end of a walking holiday, though, the dirty clothes do mount up and of course are dead weight to carry. Working on that FOE statistic, maybe I could convert a small fragment of a dirty, old t-shirt into cups of tea?

By the way, that personalised wording refers to a favourite snippet from my history reading. During the Commonwealth period when we were between kings, the radical Leveller group had fallen out with Oliver Cromwell, but one of their number, a Major John Wildman, had defected to Cromwell. His former comrades put out a pamphlet attacking him. You can imagine what this would be like today – a pamphlet or blog post from a far left group attacking someone who’d abandoned them. The Leveller pamphlet read,

“There was a great stone, and it fell in the sea, and it gave a great PLOP. Ho, Johnny Wildman, where art thou?”

 

Incidentally, I was at a reading last night by performance poet Luke Wright. I’d seen two of his poems before and thought one brilliant and the other rubbish, but this was all good. Few performance political poets have such subtlety and compassion, plenty of passion but nothing of bludgeoning you into assent.