Sunday, 10 December 2017

Not sure what Masefield would make of this?

‘Tis the season, and all that. And, having started playing with poems I can’t quite stop. So, given that most people are beyond thinking straight in the middle of this seasonal chaos, here’s another poetic effort, not to be taken seriously.

And sorry, Masefield.

I must go down to the shops again or I’ll run out of mince pies,
And all I ask is an empty aisle, and a trolley to steer it by,
And a sausage roll and chocolate log, I can’t be arsed for making
All this stuff at Christmas time when everyone else is sleeping.

I must go down to the shops again or I’ll run out of Christmas cards
For Auntie Nell and Uncle Jack, both need our kind regards
And Jim and Jill and Great Aunt Joan who cannot be forgotten
And all the kids because, you know, we have to spoil them rotten.

I must go down to the shops again, to the hectic Christmas mayhem
For stamps and sprouts and nuts and spuds and puds, but then ...
See, all I ask is a good book and a quiet night on the sofa

And a box of wine for me to drink when the whole thing’s over.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

I wandered lonely as a shroud - sorry Wordsworth!

Now I’ve started playing with poems I find ideas all over the place.

So here is A Host of Tinkling, with apologies to Wordsworth.

I wandered lonely as a shroud
That floats through salmon, chocs and cheese
When all at once I saw a crowd 
Of tinkling tinsel Christmas trees
Beside the gin, far from the peas
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle in the coffee shops
They stretch in never-ending line
From Marks and Spencer’s down to Boots
Ten thousand saw I at a glance
Tossing their heads in festive trance.

The box of wine beside them shone
Out-did the tinsel strands in glee
A shopper could not help be glum
Beside the tinkling Christmas trees
They seemed to say, with little thought
Look at all the tat you’ve bought.

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood 
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude 
Oh joy, I can lie back with ease

For I escaped the Christmas trees.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Playing with poetry

I had such fun playing with 'The Naming of Parts' a few weeks ago (you can scroll down or find it here) that I thought I'd share my reworking of Roger McGough's Let me Die a Youngman's Death. For those of you who don't recall the original, it's here.

It was written in the 1960s - when men didn't notice that they might not be speaking for women (I know, many are still like that) so I wanted to give it a feminist perspective. (Some of you may recognise it - it's been on my website for a while).
Let me die a young woman's death;
not an old, dribbling-in-my-tea death,
not a leaking-in-the-sheets death
not a hold-my-hand
and longing-for-the-end death.
But when I'm 73,
and with dicky ticker,
may I climb Kanchenjunga and
gasp my last in thin
Himalayan air.
Or when I'm 94,
in Soho, may I fall
and break my neck when dressed
in mini skirt and sparkly sandals with six inch heels
and fuck-me painted on my nails.
Or when I'm 104,
and banned from travelling
may I stow away with Queen Elizabeth
and be caught stealing
champagne and last night's canap├ęs
and made to walk the plank.
Let me die a young woman's death;
a let-us-dance-into-the-long-goodnight death;
a hey-hey, you-you
get-off-of-my-cloud death.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Annual grumpiness.

We’re well into November. Sorry to state the obvious but it means we almost a month away from the shortest day - in the northern hemisphere. Oh lucky people south of the equator! Here, 
light is increasingly precious at this time of year.

I know there are people who love the winter. (I know only because I have a good friend who loves nothing more than wrapping up like an Eskimo and striding out up a hill in any weather, and returning to a glass to mulled something by a roaring fire. She would live in Scotland if she could, and revel in the cold and the dark.)

Many of us struggle. And I think we need to distinguish between our winter struggling - whinging at the performance of putting on layers of woollies only to find you’ve lost your gloves again, the fact that evenings seem to begin at four o’clock when the lights go on - from those who suffer from SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a full-blown winter depression. It is very different from annual grumpiness. I am reluctant to get out of bed on grey mornings - but I can do it. I don’t enjoy being weighed down by thick coats and hats and gloves and scarves - but I can do it. It’s fine to not like winter, but we manage it even if it comes with obligatory grumbling. Many SAD sufferers even lose the impulse to grumble.

So next time I witter about hating the cold and the damp and the dark, and how I need to go away in January and February to escape the worst of it, you have my permission (metaphorically, of course) to stamp on my frozen toes and remind me how lucky I am. I have seasonal grumpiness. I am truly fortunate compared with those whose minds and bodies want nothing more than to hibernate for three months every year.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Dear Homeowner ...

It’s that time of year again. Not just the whole Christmas thing, the tinsel and carols and mince pies, the presents that must be bought for those we love and those we ought to love ... it’s that time of year when we are bombarded by pleas from charities.

Here in the UK it is now illegal to send begging letters to named people - so I can no longer get the ‘Dear Jo, Here is a picture of a little deaf girl who will only ever be able to hear unless you send her £20 a month ...’ But they are allowed to send the same letter to ‘Dear Homeowner...’ and, since they have our names and addresses anyway, they can still target the same people year after year.

In times of austerity we depend on charities to fill the space that used to be filled by government or council grants. On top of that, organisations such as the lifeboats, the air ambulance, major medical research programmes, support for families where someone is dying from cancer, women’s refuges (the list is endless) have always relied on donations. The government’s contribution has always been a drop in the ocean of international need and so charities must pick up the slack there, too. (I’ve written about that, in ‘Everlasting’, by book about Malawi).

It seems that the charities have, collectively, decided that this season of goodwill and generosity is the time we are most likely to part with a little extra. If we can find £10 to buy socks for Great Aunt Nell then surely we can find a bit more to feed a starving child.

Many of us can - and do. We do our best, and wish we could do more. 

I am also sure there are some that have the money but who never give a penny to charities; they may have their reasons but I’m not going to guess. But there are also thousands, possibly millions, struggling to find enough to give Santa a hand this year and who simply cannot dip into their pockets to meet the needs of others. Smiles on the faces of their own children on Christmas morning must come first.

Which is why I struggle with this annual bombardment of Christmas appeals. I believe that most of us do the best we can on the charity front - and that means some can give more than others. That’s how it is. Nobody should be made to feel bad simply because they have fallen on hard times and don’t have enough to share at any time of year.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Deconstructing need.

I need a holiday. It’s been a long year, what with finding a new flat and trying to sell a house and then accepting that the whole Brexit shambles meant the house wasn’t going to sell but I was moving anyway so talking tenants and then moving to a new town ... it has been a bit stressful and I need to flop about somewhere warm for a week or few to recover. 

What is this ‘need’? I’m going to Nepal, where people ‘need’ to enough food to eat and homes to shelter them from monsoon rains. Last year I was in Malawi where ‘need’ drove men to fish in rivers full of hippos and crocodiles. Laotians ‘need’ decades of peace to recover from the trauma of years of unremitting bombing.

Here, in the relative affluence of the UK, there are thousands who rely on foodbanks because they don’t have enough money to pay for food. I know of one family caught in the delays to universal credit payments: illness has brought loss of employment and now lack of income has meant the mortgage isn’t paid and they may lose their house. (Where will they live then? Who knows ... they will need shelter from the winter cold as much as my Nepali friends need shelter from the monsoon rains.)

Yes, I have been hugely stressed this year and will no doubt be energised by some time away. But ‘need’? I must choose my words more carefully. For my misuse of the term is an insult to the millions across the world who struggle to meet their basic needs: enough to eat and a weather-proof roof over their heads.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Volunteers - and where would we be without them now.

Walk down any High Street and you can’t miss the charity shops - all staffed by volunteers.

Go to any surgery, and there are leaflets about this support group and that support group, and often a transport scheme for those needing help to get to hospitals - all run by volunteers.

Go to any community hall, and the likelihood is - it is run by volunteers.

Children’s sports clubs, youth groups - all rely on volunteers.

And where do they come from, these banks of volunteers? Some, of course, depend on the self-interest of the volunteer - support groups for people with a particular health condition are run by people needing connections with others who have the same problem. Cricket clubs are often run by people who want to play themselves.  Even so, if they want to encourage young people to join it means adults giving up their free time to teach them. 

But there are also armies of volunteers who simply give up their free time for no other reason than a general feeling of ‘needing to give something back’. I’m not at all sure what that means. But if it keeps the show on the road ...

For the show, given the lack of government investment or even interest in the way many people are struggling to get by, is a bit crumbly at the moment. Where once it was reasonable to assume that the council might invest in services for children or keeping the park clean or supporting the frail or keeping libraries open - but we’ve no hope of that now. 

I have a problem with these jobs being cut. Part of me would like to let the system collapse so that people could see the extent of the damage these years of austerity have done. But we can’t - because real people will suffer and resources such as libraries will be lost forever if we do.

So here I am, in a new town, trying to get to know people. And along came the opportunity to volunteer at the local Arts Centre, to support their work with children and young people. Ten years ago I suspect someone would have been paid, on a sessional basis, to do the ‘dogsbody’ tasks that underpin these projects. But the half-term painting project, completing wall after wall of pictures for the local pantomime, would have been almost impossible for one worker and one artist. 

It was knackering but I loved it. Three days with children, helping to mix paint, cleaning brushes, and somehow creating great pictures in spite of the chaos and the mess - it was wonderful. I know, in the current climate, I’ve not deprived anyone of paid work. But should things change then it’s essential that I withdraw ... or maybe apply for the job ...