Full moons, strawberries and a man with a passion

The full moon was last Friday, 5th June. It’s known as Rose Moon, Hot Moon or, more commonly, Strawberry Moon. It roughly coincides with the start of the strawberry picking season. Ours, growing inside a polytunnel, are just beginning. I checked on them earlier and only snaffled one. Which was pretty restrained I thought.

July’s full moon will be as a Thunder Moon, or Full Buck Moon. But let’s not wish the month away. It’s furlough payroll time again. Another fortnight has passed. There is a little more freedom, but not much. Wales is closed to visitors. We don’t know when business can resume, and in what form. So much we’re waiting to find out.

Recently I was sent some information about a distant cousin, whose existence I was totally unaware of. Theodore Ballantyne Blathwayt was born in England but worked in Cape Town and died in Johannesburg in 1934. It was his splendid name which drew me in to read and find out more.

He was the discoverer of three comets – c/1926 B1, C/1927 A1 and a third whose name I haven’t been able to establish yet. For each new discovery he was awarded a Donohoe Comet Medal and he was elected as a member of the British Astronomical Society in 1929. I came across articles he’d written where his enthusiasm and individuality was palpable.

He spent many nights ‘sweeping’ for comets. He writes that he made his finds using a four inch refractor and an eight inch reflecting telescope. I have no idea whether or not this would still be the kit of choice for a modern comet hunter.

Aunt Jane

My cousin Paul died of C-19 a month ago. His mother, Ruby Valerie Jane, my father’s older sister, was a favourite of mine. She was intelligent, rebellious, accomplished, a successful businesswoman and more than a little bit mysterious. Later in life, she painted, researched her mother’s family tree and was, apparently, a champion Scrabble player.

In her youth she was beautiful, an exotic-looking flower blooming in West Wales. There are conflicting family stories about her private life. I wrote this a few years ago about her and found it again recently. Some of it may be true. Or very nearly.

Aunt Jane

Guests at a wedding on a chilly March day, he stands behind her, leaning ever so slightly over her, head and shoulders and half a chest taller – a long, dark, solemn man with a lean-jawed face gazing at the photographer in the distance. No smile on his face but a hand, broad and bony, is resting on her shoulder, the spread of his fingers claiming  all and more of the space between the edge of the velvet collar and the seam at the top of her sleeve. Mine, he says, and aren’t I the lucky one?

The coat is fitted neatly to an obviously neat waist, fastened by a single oversized button. Dark shoes with rounded toes, their platform heels just visible. Gloved hands clutching the handle of a small bag: a hat set at a jaunty angle, perched on formal and elaborate curls. And her eyes are looking at nothing. Even from the distance of over half a century, they’re shiny, dark and unfathomable.

I know now that she married him soon after, that they emigrated to Australia  with her three almond-eyed children. Back home, he, her second husband, was seldom mentioned. She moved to Auckland, then back to Western Australia, was mentioned – the grown-ups whispered – in some scandal or other, and moved on again, this time shedding each one of my cousins in a different establishment – boarding school, art college, university – in different countries across the southern hemisphere.

When she returned, briefly, to the country of her birth, she had miraculously acquired money and respectability, along with an ampler girth and a lavender-coloured chignon. This was when I came to know and love her. Aunt Jane’s conversation oozed humour, a certain worldly, pragmatic wisdom, and common-sense. She was a small, powerful woman who was not to be trifled with!

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.

                                                                                *****  

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 .

                                                                                *****

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.

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.

Just one of 699 – Paul Hugh Derek

A cousin living in Pembrokeshire has been searching online for an obituary. No obituary is there. There may not have been one written. The death was on Tuesday 14th April in Edinburgh, one of the 699 total recorded (although we know figures, and reporting of statistics, vary) in Scotland up to 15th April.

The deceased was a widower, having married, in his middle years, a woman from the Isle of Mull. He left no children. He was half-Welsh, a quarter English and a quarter Indian. He was a former translator who worked freelance from 1979, translating from French, Spanish and Italian into English.

According to a website for the translator community – there are communities on the web for everything you could possibly imagine – Paul, the deceased, specialised in the legal, financial and mechanical engineering sectors, with expertise in reports and patents. He worked for companies and agencies including Renault, Goldman Sachs and the EEC.

He was my first cousin, another cousin, and he died of Covid-19.

I hadn’t seen him for decades. The retired and retiring professional man I’m reading about is not the 19 year old who blew into and through our lives, when he had been sent on a ship from the antipodes by his exhausted mother. She had hoped my father would be able to connect with Paul, talk sense to him and ‘sort him out’. Our little nuclear family admitted defeat after a year or two of trouble. According to snatches of rumour and anecdote I heard across my early years, Paul remained restless, rootless and unsettled for years until he found his vocation, his life partner, religion (again) and somewhere which felt like home.

We were in touch occasionally. The last time with any depth or meaning was a few years ago, when he flew to Western Australia to donate a kidney to his younger sister. This was not the act of the feckless chancer I recall from childhood. Paul outlived his sister.

He was my first cousin, a man of talents and contradictions,  and he died of Covid-19.