Soundtracks and a guilty secret

Ennio Morricone, conductor, composer and trumpet-player, died yesterday. Amongst a long career of achievements he wrote the scores to over 400 films and TV productions. Westerns were a particularly successful genre for him. Many of his film scores are classics, (including those he wrote for Sergio Leone and Giuseppe Tornatore). They’ve been absorbed into our popular culture for over 60 years.

The husband is a man of endless resourcefulness, a combination of optimism and problem-solving ability. Recently, I have found myself in a virtual world of ebullient, noisy plumbers. Weekday lunches often have a soundtrack of YouTube tutorials, jolly chaps teaching all sorts of skills not normally on my radar.

We both had one very disturbed night over the weekend. He was fretting over some technical issue and had to get up to draw his way out of the glitch. He then stayed up, wide-awake, to watch a film. Probably involving guns and all things macho. Upstairs, I kept hearing a single plaintive ‘mew’, one note of anguished cat. It lacked Miss Baxter’s range, her ascending scale and volume. The sound occurred every ten minutes or so. I searched the house for an injured animal. Turns out it was a branch, scraping in the wind against a bedroom window, which made those feline-imitating calls of distress.

My current guilty pleasure is wandering through animal rescue websites. I had to stop myself from clicking ‘reserve me’ next to the image and description of a delinquent, anti-social goat. One bossy sheep, Gwilym, is quite enough.

I wrote a haiku or three yesterday…

Define spaniel?
Committed to living life
with limitless joy.

Your brother could have
had webbed feet. Instead, you ran
joyful – till you stopped.

Just an afterthought.
The cute pup chosen: how could
we leave you behind?

A hard act to follow? For now, I need to keep resisting the lure of unfriendly goats.

Flight and the jynx bird

Finding somewhere which feels like home has a lot to do with luck. This little farm has been our home for thirteen years now, the longest we’ve lived anywhere. Finding it was a rather odd process, and the ‘it’ we found wasn’t necessarily the ‘it’ we thought we’d find, or were looking for. But there were good omens on the day we found it – a hare, and then later, in early evening, dolphins.

In a way I envied the two of you,
the box lid farmyard prettiness, it all
unmarred by serial improvements
ripping it apart.

I saw the pristine canvas, past lives shed.
You arrived, cabin-bags-only, freshly
severed from your partners, your stories
scattered from the Bridge.

You were sold the dream of the new start, bought
your farm, while we turned up trailing baggage,
failing parents, ailing child, itching scabs,
partly mended souls.

We stumbled over tyre mountains, decades
of buried rubble, brambles which burgeoned,
a wealth of unconnected gutters,
mud, flood, persistent rain.

Last five years and you’ll stay forever!  Like
it was an ordeal or trial. That’s what
he said, the deal struck, some hay bought, lobbed
in the back of his truck –

as if weightless. City folk. I prickled.
He shrugged and left. Like we were strange, foolish,
like it was hard. That seen-it-all-before look
in our ramshackle yard.

As if he knew about winter, and the fact
of all we’d had before at the turn of tap,
the flick of switch. We learned to live with
unpredictability…

Yet the Jynx bird picked you, curdled the milk,
turned the hens off laying, drained the well to dust.
In that husk of a home the cracks widened:
you started to hope

for a new chance, another flight. But here,
us, despite all soothsayers, we put down
roots. This place, of all places, has hooked
us in to stay.

Earth, whisky and water

A month ago, just as we were all remembering VE Day, I was sent a wartime photo by Lisa, a cousin, of her grandfather. Derek was a fabulous man – a people person, fond of children and easy in his manner with everyone. This poem was loosely inspired by him…

At three a.m. wakefulness can seem a judgement.
In darkness, with owlhoots and wild, nameless
animal cries for company; am back at my uncle’s funeral
and before – whisky poured, he turned to ask his wife
of forty-four years what’s your poison,

turned back, dropped crumpled to the floor.
The paramedic, a family friend, blubbed plump tears,
said it’s a good death, a good way to go,
that he’d be much missed, a glass-half-full bloke,

whose face swims before me, misty, detail
coarsened, then falls back. So on, treading water,
to where I’ve buried scraps from his funeral. I peel
back the feeling, words said, readings, voices,

Jim Reeves somehow fitting. How they closed
the rainwashed pewter roads in that little town,
chapel filled, they filled the porch, trampled sodden grass
outside to hear his sending off broadcast, crackling out.

They’d come to pay or show respect, the size
of the hole he’d leave, its shape and depth
measurable in that place he’d never left,
would never leave. Had never seen the need.

Gather ye roses

Alfreda Claire Mansell (nee Whitlock)

Today is the anniversary of my mother’s death. She died in unusual and tragic circumstances – quite suddenly and far too early. It doesn’t really get easier with time. I feel sad every June 5th about the years she missed and the time I’ve spent not knowing her.

There are no photos of my mother at my wedding and there are no photos of her holding a grandchild. She left us as my sister and I were on the cusp of adulthood.

It’s a sharp reminder, (as if any of us needed one), of mortality.

Poem about my mum’s singing!

Stardom, Elvis and a dream

Another May wedding which still stands out for me was in 2012. We’ve not had many with themes, but this was a rock ’n roll wedding. The evening’s entertainment was a pocket Elvis, from Malta, via Coventry.

E. P., an encounter.

Darkness over these ripe Welsh meadows,
las vegas, fretted
by strings of fairy lights, solar, blue,
along May hedges, elder-greening,
blossom-bursting,

by cigarette glow, (a rogue few),
by crackle and hiss of logs from the firepit –
where folks huddle warmed by blankets,
chat, whisky.

Well met by moonlight, proud incarnation,
thrusting the King’s torch, rocking ‘n rolling,
owning that suit, spritelike guest
at this night’s nuptuals, starblest,
incandescent, lighting up
the loin-lost gaze of his admirers,

who have seen a vision, divine
and otherworldly, (in fact from Malta),
shimmying gifts – lyric, liquidity
of hip, of lip, filling full his
luminous leathers.

Now, far from home, awaiting his team,
he shivers in built-up shoes –
I AM NOT COLD; I HAVE PERFORMED.

Elvis takes his leave, cash, applause,
his black truck back,
not loving us tender yet still shaking
some chill, silvery spell,
as tail-lights reveal
sequins shed on bluebell, cow parsley
and nettle at the field gate,
our lane pitted with stardust.

This was earlier in a May that was sunny and warm, but not record-breaking. The bluebells have almost gone now, and the tall nettles are to be avoided. Rather than being new and just there as a reminder of my rather haphazard foraging. Cow parsley miraculously renews itself every night, (after being consumed voraciously the day before). Jasmine still intoxicates, but clematis has been replaced by dog and climbing roses. Hot reds and foxgloves are popping up, and lavender is a few days away.

In dreams last night I was saying goodbye to a friend who was off on a space voyage a few days later…as a tourist. Not as a solo passenger, but I think there were to be just six of them. My adventurous friend and I were drinking tea and eating cheesecake outside. Wherever we were, the spectre of C-19 still lurked behind the arras. There was talk of ‘social distancing’.

I think I’ll set myself the task of making a list of all the words and phrases I didn’t know, or need, or use, pre-lockdown. I’d like, if it’s possible,  to ban them from my post C-19 vocabulary.

Devious cunning or a rare rant

Sometimes I am appalled by cats. So much carnage. Such cruelty.

It must have been a 3-kill morning. There are neat piles of indeterminate innards across the conservatory floor. Now of course, she, the culprit, is stretched out on a sofa, not a whisker out of place, catching the late best of the sun’s rays. Cats have no conscience or moral compass, but equally no subterfuge, no-self-justification, no bending of the rules, as she has none. She is what she is – a killing machine, but she’s our killing machine.

Dreams of trips to Durham and conspiracy theories. I spent a lot of time online yesterday, reading articles and signing a petition or two. The man has to go. I hope he will.

The first thought in my head this morning was that DC’s name, as well as that of Emily Maitlis, (and mine too), all have five syllables. Each one could form either the first or last line of a haiku.

Well done, Emily!
He’s made those who struggled to
keep the rules, feel fools.

Emily triumphs.
‘Deep national disquiet’
speaks for all of us.

Emily Maitlis
says it as it is. He takes
the country for fools.

Savage brilliance
from Emily. ‘Idiots’ –
that’s what the man thinks.

And an attempt at a tanka – why is a five line poem so much harder to write than one with three or six lines?

Gaslighting, I’m told,
is what politicians do,
changing black to white,
making false true, tales of pride,
a long car ride…no-one’s fooled.

Too hot to trot, or the blackbirds bathe

I’ve put two eco pond-clean sachets in the trough in the conservatory wall. Sadly, all is still green, gloom and murk. Not in any way fish-ready. Hoping for a miracle I checked again earlier and disturbed Mr and Mrs Blackbird, who were cooling off and enjoying their private ablutions. I’m not sure who was more startled.

The husband is walking the boundaries with someone who may be renting three fields to graze her horses on. It’s been over six months since the last ones moved away.

He called to the old spaniel, who was dozing on the quarry tiled kitchen floor, to see if he too would like to inspect the hedges. Enthusiasm – zero. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in a May when we had both spaniels, and they were young and full of energy. But still capable, very occasionally, of being underwhelmed and lacking in enthusiasm. That poem, ‘Against the grain’ was read on Radio 4 in an Ulster accent – surprising to me, but effective. The only time I’ve had one of my poems chosen to be included on ‘Poetry Please’ and a great honour.

Update. We will soon have three new four-legged guests. Their owner pronounced their new residence to be ‘lovely fields’. But we knew that already.

What’s in a name?

Sister Rosalie -(must have been Mary Rosalie but we missed out the Holy Virgin)- used to take us on a nature walk at least once a week in the Summer Term, but regularly throughout the year whenever the weather permitted. We always followed the same route, wore our hats and walked two-by-two. It was a real treat. Afterwards we emptied the trove of finds onto the nature table, where it was arranged, identified and labelled. Sometimes we’d do leaf rubbings with wax crayons while the lovely sister read to us.

Between then and now, I’ve forgotten many of the names of trees, wild flowers and all the finds I was so familiar with as a young child. So it was a real pleasure when we had a foraging walk and workshop here last year. We love hosting workshops here, whether for a couple of hours, a whole day or a few days. They don’t make us much money, but it is a joy to witness the pleasure they bring to people! By providing the venue and the refreshments, we are sharing, in some small way, the enjoyment felt by the students.

One of the plants we identified with the foraging tutor was very small, bright green, growing in dusty cracks in the yard and on paths. You could easily miss it. Apparently, it can be used to make a pleasant tea. It’s growing everywhere right now. For such an inconspicuous plant it packs an aromatic punch. The name is pretty good too!  

Pineapple mayweed,
pinch between fingers; release
the scent which names you.

Low unshowy plant,
an explosion of sweet scent,
pineapple mayweed.

pineapple mayweed in the farmyard

Earth, dust and the memory of ghosts

Earth, sand, mud – what’s not to like if you’re a young child? My daughter and son-in-law have just made their two children a mud kitchen for their newly created garden. There’s great excitement about this. A family friend left a box on their doorstep containing pots, pans and kitchen equipment she no longer needed. So the project is completed and ready for play.

One of the donkeys likes to roll anywhere there’s a loose surface – earth, sand, concrete dust. Her morning routine is two rolls in the farmyard. Down to the ground, onto her back, from there to her left side and then up onto her hooves again, with some effort. Now we have no need to keep the camping area donkey-free, the ladies have the run of the whole field. Over the last couple of weeks, Honey has made herself a grassless, dusty, shallow indentation, an earth bath, in the middle of the flat camping ground. She can now complete her ablutions there. Like Baloo the bear, she’s found her perfect place to scratch.

Earth clings beneath my nails. Over the last eight weeks or so, it’s become difficult to keep my hands properly clean, keyboard clean. My excuse for not wearing gardening gloves is that adult ones are just too big for me.

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If there are ghosts here, we’ve not yet met them. Or they’re extremely benign spirits, just minding their own business. We had no ghostly encounters in the last house either. But in the house before (two houses ago), where I planted that pittosporum, there were definitely presences. We all felt something.

When we left that house late in 2002, I planted, (or buried), a  glass bottle and this is the poem I wrote about it.

No knitting, but a little coherence

I will not be knitting my way out of lockdown blues. There will be no pots thrown nor will there be macramé potholders. No creations in crochet, embroidery, tapestry or tatting. Craft-wise I am challenged. As a child I was both very left-handed and rather clumsy. Dyspraxic might be the term used now. My mother gave up on me in frustration.

Two years after my mother died, I taught myself to knit plain squares. I was twenty-three. My first baby had a blanket made of knitted squares and a couple of little jackets…also made of knitted squares. All in red, white and blue. That was my first and last foray into knitting.

My daughter’s mother-in-law is a keen and skilled knitter. My mother was too. This poem was partly about her knitting but more about her fierce loyalty, her protectiveness towards family.

Today the walk almost didn’t happen, but the spaniel initiated it, leading the way and smiling. His movement was laboured, but the tail wagged. It was gain above pain. We were remembering the oak and ash saying:

Oak before ash – you’re in for a splash. Ash before oak – you’re in for a soak.

Oak leaves are out earlier in the hedges, but does it mean anything? Or is the delay something to do with ash die-back? It’s hard to pinpoint why I feel so positive this evening. It just feels like somehow there’s a little coherence through and around the chaos. Or acceptance anyway.

A day of separate parts

A haiku is a form of poem, originally from Japan. It has three lines, with seventeen syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, and is meant to be read in one breath. Traditionally, haiku poetry drew from the natural world, or abstract concepts, for its subject matter and the haiku poet focussed on a brief instant in time, or sudden observation. There were other rules too, but I think that’s the basic idea. A modern haiku does not necessarily keep to the form.

 I’ve been trying to write a haiku or two today.

Crazed bumblebee, he
hurls himself at glass, at last
the open window.

Deathwish bumblebee
flings himself at glass;
at last, a window.

You get my drift. Enough already about glass and windows.

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One of my cousins was cremated in Scotland this morning. I’ve always felt, but rarely articulated it, that the end of life deserves a proper fanfare. A summing up and a sending off. These sorts of goodbye gatherings aren’t possible right now. I’ve been trying to write a haiku or four today.

9.30 today
a cremation; no mourners –
a life extinguished.

No funeral so
sixty seconds of silence;
respect for a life.

Just sixty seconds,
leave me these to sit silent
one minute, one life.

Socially distanced
mourning; one minute’s silence –
separate respects .

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This afternoon the sky is darkening. Rain is promised and the air feels heavy. I’ve chatted to an old friend in Cardiff; we’ve done a little gardening, a little paperwork and now the arthritic spaniel is fast asleep in the office next to us. It’s a day of disjointed moments, conflicting emotions…but yes, the bumblebee did escape unscathed.

Sweet serendipity, a kind of medicine

It was my daughter’s birthday on Thursday. Her daytime festivities comprised a walk and a picnic. In late afternoon we all came together to drink tea and squash and sing ‘Happy Birthday’. All eleven of us fellow inmates gathered on what we call the terrace, but which is actually a west-facing paved area between the former slurry pit, (aka the walled garden), and a converted farm building, (now biomass boiler shed number one).

As is customary at these events, lockdown or no, there was something sweet to put the candles in. But instead of cake, my daughter had chosen to celebrate with Bakewell tart. The two Bakewell tarts made for the occasion were indeed baked well. They were things of beauty and truly delicious. Those of you familiar with the above-mentioned English delicacy will know that there is an essential jammy layer.

One of Thursday’s tarts contained orange jam; the other – red jam. We naturally enquired what flavours they were. ‘Fridge jam’ was the reply. They had been made from surplus, from odds-and-ends of fruit, plus, naturally, sugar. And, because they were only designed for family consumption, there was no labelling – no list of allergens or ingredients. ‘Lucky dip’ jam was the name my mother used to give her equivalent creations. Small glass jars of serendipity, providing all of us with the perfect sticky excuse to try at least one slice from each tart.

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In the previous post I mentioned a convalescence watching movies on TV with my father. Here is the poem based on my memory of those times – ‘Medicine bears’.

Night skies, failure and fridges

The fridge is full, jam-packed to bursting, from the bottom two salad drawers to the top shelf, with tomatoes, and there are more puzzling things I can’t even describe. For the first few seconds I’m not sure if I’m sleeping, recalling fragments of dreams or even where I actually am. This has happened a lot in the last few lockdown weeks.

The fridge in question is the small old one which works. It is totally lacking in tomatoes.

It seems like the edges of sleep, dreams and being awake have blurred a little. I’m not getting any assistance from the fancy watch I was bought for my birthday – my laziness really. I’ve mastered the basics of how many steps a day and how my heart-rate fluctuates, but the sleep analysis part leaves me cold, confused, with cramp in my left foot and half the duvet missing. The fancy watch, in broad terms, seems to be all about circles, completing them and then colouring them in; it beeps happily when either of these is achieved.

Apparently, my differing sleep patterns have been noticed also by the husband; I am regularly found face down planted in the bed. And this has never happened before.

Astronomically speaking, the week thus far has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite two attempts of wrapping up warm and gazing attentively and patiently up at the night sky, the results have been failure. Nothing at all. We were hoping to spot either Lyrid meteor showers or satellite trains launched by a megalomaniac billionaire. Nothing, except a spectacularly bright Venus and close observation of space-sharing cat politics – Miss Baxter and Oliver.

But in the afternoon, there was good conversation with old friends, a slowworm discovery on our walk, and an amusingly slow amble with the donkeys, gathering mouthfuls of herb Robert, of dandelions and of willow on their unhurried stableward way.

The poem below is from a very slightly more successful stargazing night – it’s in ‘Cardiff Bay Lunch’.

 

 

 

 

Epithalamium (sort of) and chocolate sticks

Writing my last post was triggered by the NHS lantern suggestion. This reminded me of August 2008 when, for the first and only time, on the evening of my son’s wedding, Chinese lanterns were lit and released from the farm. Knowing what we now know, I naturally wouldn’t do it again. Whether or not it’s legal, it wouldn’t feel right.

I wrote a poem for that wedding (but it was for the couple, not specifically the bride, so not really an epithalamium). However, this is such a lovely and unusual word that I’ve borrowed it for the title of the post! The poem was in ‘Juice of the Lemon’ and I’ve popped it in below.

A word that does occur in the poem is ‘matchmakers’. In their human form, they’ve featured in the nuptial process for centuries, and they still exist in some cultures. In their confectionery form however they were invented and named some forty years before my son’s wedding – in 1968. They were packaged in boxes, (with gold sheen and black lettering), made to a slide and shell design, similar to the way in which boxes of matches are constructed. They were tiny, a third of the length of the current chocolate sticks, with about seventy of them placed into each box. They were launched originally as a quality ‘nibble’, intended for sophisticated late 1960s adults and for special occasions, not for everyday.

What has happened in the last few weeks in my home, and in others I know about, is that the normal, the everyday and expected have all gone into a giant melting pot with the treats, the unexpected, the celebratory and the special. The future is no longer mapped out or known with any certainty, but there is pleasure and comfort in family, in friends and in the little things. And that doesn’t just mean chocolate.

 

 

A trip, a poem and a theft

I seem to cross the bridge less often these days, and of course, it’s not possible at all right now. In Midsummer 2009 I drove from West Wales to Northampton in my little mini to collect a prize and to visit old friends. The prize was for the poem ‘On Meeting my Cousin’, in which the cousin is called Mark. The poem was inspired by the time my cousin Paul came to live with us when I was a child of five or six, just after we left Wales.

Looking back from the situation we’re in where an outing to the nearest little town to visit two shops and the vets for essentials becomes a brief respite from cabin fever, this solo outing to Northampton seems like an adventurous frivolity! I must have spent more on fuel than I won in prize money. I also got horribly lost, and to cap it all, the husband’s motorcycle ‘tomtom’ was pinched when I left the car to pay for fuel and chewing gum at a garage. Net loss then, chalked up to experience.

My last post was about Paul, who died last week. Here is the poem loosely based on the time when he was a significant figure in my childhood.

Cheating, scandal and milking the media

We’ve just been watching ‘Quiz’, a drama based on true events – the supposed cheating , mostly in the form of strategically placed coughs, which enabled someone, a Major Ingram, to win a million pounds in a TV quiz show Over three nights the story unfolded of the build-up to the contest appearance of Major Ingram, his win and the subsequent investigation, persecution, trial and conviction of the contestant, his wife and a co-conspirator, ( a man with a tickly throat irritation).

This furore dominated the papers and TV – headlines, gossip and editorial – late in 2001 and beyond. The flames of public interest were fanned further by an ITV documentary about the scandal.

What struck me, and the husband, yesterday evening was that this story wasn’t even glimpsed on our radar at the time.  In September 2001 we were staying at the airport in Atlanta when the Twin Towers were hit. There was a brief lockdown and our return to the UK was delayed. In the following weeks and months we were totally focussed on trying to deal with the dramatic downturn in the fortunes of our little airline-related business.

Did they do it, and does it matter were questions we didn’t consider, until last night

I won’t underline any parallels but here is a poem I wrote called “12th September”.

 

Born to Race

Technically, this was before lockdown but Covid-19 was the reason this year’s Cheltenham Festival almost didn’t go ahead. I was asked to write a poem for ITV for the start of the Cheltenham Gold Cup race in 2020. The poem which was broadcast on March 13th was a lot shorter than my original but…