Antenna

Antenna

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Sunday, 19 December 2010

STARVING

We're drowning in information, we're starving for knowledge.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

SPONSORED SWIM IN THE SNOW

rolling back the years since a blond nine-year-old
swam several lengths of the local swimming baths for charity
over the last couple of weeks
i've been galvanising support
for hannah's sponsored swim
which is in aid of 'save the children'
it started off with the modest target of raising ten pounds
and has ended up with h securing a yet unknown three figure sum
to my surprise
this slightly old-fashioned fund-raising initiative
really seems to have captured people's imaginations
donations accumulating ever faster
like a snowball rolling down a steep hill
until finally one of mum's badminton friends steps up with fifty quid!
today as we were asking h's swimming teacher if he wanted to contribute
we even had a pound thrust upon us from a family we'd never met
i never thought it would be this easy to support a good cause
we've been in training for a couple of weeks now
but this morning is the big event
as h prepares for the off
i become coach, crowd and tv commentator all wrapped into one
applauding and cheering each width
advising on which stroke to use
urging her on
keeping up the tv voiceover
hannah's fifth width (her target)
brings a lump to my throat
and a tear to me eye
it's one of those rare proud parental moments
but she's not done yet
she insists on completing another couple of widths for good measure
a personal best
nice one woodle!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

WATERSHIP DOWN

beyond self-employment
i find myself stuck between a rock and a hard plaice:
elm-filled house
like cowslip's warren
where the rabbits are fat, sleek and well-fed
the wide empty corridors recall the spacious burrows
the church-like atmosphere
fed by saudi oil revenues
and the chinese economic miracle
the invisible shining wire that throttles...
born-vile collage
like efrafa
a vast teeming overcrowded multi-tiered warren
in the iron-grip of a tyrannical dictatorship
home of the downtrodden
where big brother and his spies are always watching...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

THE WAR WE DON'T SEE

we have to wait an hour and a half after the 9 o'clock watershed
after most weary viewers have turned off
and switched on their electric blankets or filled their hot water bottles
but the wait is nothing compared with what we see
shocking and harrowing images fly thick and fast
iraqi civilians in the crossfire of an apache helicopter gunship
moments before they are ripped to pieces by gunfire
a us soldier carrying a critically wounded 7-year-old from the scene of the incident
as the murderous pumped-up apache crew mocks and sneers
our brave british soldiers abuse iraqi detainees in some rotten hellhole
forcing their chained blindfolded captives to sit agonisingly with their backs to a wall
as they moan and wail sickeningly
'torture by stealth' as a lawyer approprately describes it
we see the mass graves in afghanistan after a us air strike
unidentifiable disassembled and mangled body parts buried together in one giant pit
PR is revealed as little more than a sophisticated war on the public
politicians as professional liars
journalists as niaive and gullible hoodwinked accomplices
miserably failing to hold power to account
what comes across is the numbing desensitising bludgeon of war
unending, sprawling and uncontrollable
casualties become little more than numbers
fuel for the propaganda game
an extra-legal source of vast profits
guantanamo provides a way of laundering people
arms sales are state-sponsored tax evasion footed by the taxpayer
the pre-eminent superpower somehow remains in a permanent state of war
obama approves the largest war budget in history
likewise at the british armed forces memorial in staffs
there is a constant record of war in 'peacetime' since 1948
with the names of the victims missing
john pilger's message is that journalists don't have to risk their lives
but they do need the bravery to uncover the truth
and that means always challenging the official version of events
"never believe anything until it is officially denied"

during the commercial breaks
it is interesting to see what market itv is selling to its advertisers
we want a new laptop for christmas
we warm to jamie oliver
while we'll be heating up frozen christmas snacks courtesy of iceland
was there something about a sony camera?
i honestly can't remember...

Monday, 13 December 2010

PIANISSIMO

not stuck in staccato
not pissed off with pizzicato
not constipated with syncopation
i continue to explore the beatles back catalogue of piano songs
picking up simple playing techniques en route
and feeding them into my latest batch of compositions
mid to late-period beatles songs are fertile territory
case studies in interesting harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment
while being simultaneously accessible to the humble untutored player
and of course great fun to play
i've been through a few now:
strawberry fields forever (originally played on mellotron)
a day in the life
hey jude
imagine (a lennon solo number)...
the latest is penny lane
one of the high points of the beatles' career
the woodle and i have been listening to anthology 2 a lot recently
and i am delighted to report that woodle digs the beatles
she can distinguish and name the four distinct cartoon faces
on the front cover of my philip norman shout biography
she's also curious as to which beatle is singing
though she can't yet tell the voices apart
i tend to be more of a fan of lennon songs
but around the time that penny lane was written
as lennon dozed in his lsd-inspired reverie
mccartney was really coming into his own
as writer, performer and co-producer with george martin
one of the interesting things about penny lane
is the way it's based entirely on simple 4/4 piano crotchets
despite the overlay of all sorts of fancy studio overdubs
and the application of every manner of abbey road production trickery

after labouring for a while under my own steam
trying unsuccessfully to work out the subtleties of the chords
i seek assistance by looking up a piano tutorial on youtube
as i did when i was struggling with day in the life
my pal piano john comes up trumps again
with a step by step dissection of the song
he nails the elusive major-minor chord changes
but there's a problem
although piano john is playing the song in the key you hear on the record
the chords move rapidly from b major to c sharp minor seventh
to f sharp seventh to b minor seventh and so on
hardly the most straightforward thing to play
with black notes (sharps and flats) everywhere!
and there's another problem
piano john fingers the chords with up to four or five digits on each hand
making what he's doing practically unplayable for the layman
the beatles fan in me immediately starts to think uh oh
are these really the chords a self-tutored rock and roller like mccartney
would have chosen for his latest pop number?
fortunately i have one advantage over piano john
something which helps me to compensate for my lack of technical skill
i have access to ian macdonald's revolution in the head
a volume that brilliantly documents
the ins and outs of the beatles' recording process in meticulous detail
sure enough macdonald has an important insight to offer
like many other beatles songs of the 1966-67 period
the various piano parts for penny lane were recorded in a different key
and then varispeeded to match other instruments
my guess is therefore that mccartney actually composed the song
a semi-tone higher in c major
and that his piano part was then slowed down slightly after recording
this simplifies the chord shapes a great deal
suddenly we're back in the familiar harmonic territory
of c major and g seven
as with day in the life
the other key issue seems to be what the left hand is up to
because the left hand provides the harmonic interest and rhythmic motion
day in the life taught me a basic but indispensible left-hand technique
the little finger and thumb alternate in quavers an octave apart
once i start playing i soon discover the same thing works for penny lane
with the help of a little variation in the thumb to add syncopation
and by gradually paring down piano john's elaborate chord suggestions
i start to get in touch with the essence of the song
another nice thing in common with day in the life
is the lovely descending left hand pattern
best of all is the upward surge in the chorus
at the point where it goes 'penny lane is in my ears...'
from an orthodox b flat to the same chord with an underlying low d
played by the left hand
i've no idea what chord this is
(perhaps it's a polly chord)
but it's all part of the magic
little by little
thanks to john, paul, piano john
and some perseverence
i am belatedly beginning to uncover the secrets of this new instrument as a songwriting tool

Sunday, 12 December 2010

CAN'T CUN

the death of kyoto
it seems to have precious little to do with preventing climate change
and much more to do with money
and the future of capitalism
all the horse-trading behind closed doors
configures the economics of future decades
the growth at any cost
the corporate profits needed to stop the whole damn system from imploding
as one high-profile delegate is rumoured to have said
of the peasant protesters excluded from the conference proceedings:
"no prawns?
let them eat lobsters!"

CONTROVERSY

If journalism is good, it's controversial.

- JA

Saturday, 11 December 2010

WHOLE POPULATION ON A DIET

Dear Harriet Sherwood

I am writing on the subject of Israel's current policy of near-starvation for Gaza as outlined in independent media watchdog Media Lens' latest 'alert', which can be read in full at: www.medialens.org.

I was encouraged to see that, unlike a number of other journalists, you went to the trouble of responding to Media Lens' concerns about the plight of Gazans. However, I must agree with the editors that your casual response was inadequate and entirely incommensurate with the enormous levels of suffering deliberately being imposed by the state of Israel on the people of Gaza.

I also believe that you have a clear duty to the public to report on the brutal and inhumane nature of Israel's policy as revealed in the documents obtained by Gisha rather than allowing the courageous work of this human rights organisation to be merely swept under the carpet.

Yours sincerely

A concerned member of the public

ANONYMOUS

be warned
this post may well infect your computer
and automatically be forwarded to all of your contacts
its purpose is to hack into the servers of those corporations
who have withdrawn their support
for a well-known transparency activism organisation
so do not read this post
and if you already have
close it down immediately
or you may be liable to arrest by the us government...!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

JULIAN

Julian, Julian
Tell me was it a set-up?
What is it like in Wandsworth?
Will there be no let-up?

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power

Julian, Julian
What have you set in motion?
As the wounded beast bears its teeth
Among the commotion

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power

Fighting for transparency
Courting more controversy
You sacrifice your liberty
To save the sins of humanity

Julian, Saint Julian
Tell me is it a witch-hunt?
Will downing you on the ducking stool
Prove that your innocent?

Julian, what have you started?
Julian strikes fear into the heart of power

IMPERMANENCE

dust gathers imperceptibly
a silent decay
metal tarnishes
mould forms
tiny cracks open up
dirt collects on the mirror glass
impermanence is permanent

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

SHE TELLS ME

she tells me in a cheerful and spirited voice free of bitterness
she tells me she entered the uk as an asylum seeker
she tells me she has no passport or official status
she tells me she is not permitted to work in this country
she tells me she fled somalia at the age of 5 or 6
she tells me she saw things that a small child should not see
she tells me how piles of corpses littered the streets of the city
she tells me how heads were severed from bodies
she tells me how her mother tried to cover her curious eyes
she tells me how her father struggled to explain what had happened
she tells me how they reached the kenyan border on foot
she tells me how she went to yemen to train as a doctor
she tells me how it was too expensive to pay to remain there
she tells me how her parents live in a united nations refugee camp
she tells me how her father needs urgent treatment for parkinson's disease
she tells me somalia is a lawless state where violence is entrenched
she tells me she would dearly love to go back as a doctor to help her people

Thursday, 2 December 2010

TWO KINDS OF SNOW

as i always tell the woodle when she complains
there are two very different kinds of snow
first there's the fine powdery stuff that has been falling this week
it's crisp underfoot, relatively 'dry' and falls in colder weather
marvellous for sledging and hopeless for making snowmen
then there's the coarser stickier stuff
it crumples underfoot, is wetter and turns to slush more easily
not so good for sledging as the sledge gets stuck in it
but great for making snowballs, igloos and snowmen
because the snow naturally binds together
snow on the ground can move from one kind to another as the temperature varies
i wonder if anybody else classifies snow this way?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

HATE BREEDS HATE

i watched a disturbing documentary last night at ma and pa's
it traced the run-up to the may general election
when nick griffin and several local councillors stood for the bnp in barking
in opposition to the new labour candidates
including sitting mp margaret hodge
it was well crafted
it told its own story without the need for a voiceover
pieced together from short interviews with the major protagonists
occasional insightful off-the-record remarks
and fly-on-the-wall fragments
interspersed with footage of tense street scenes
full of aggro, unpleasantness and malice
bnp candidates being spat and sworn at by aggressive local youths
before eventually retaliating and weighing in with kicks and punches
amongst the nastiness there were some genuinely moving moments
the tearful father, a bnp supporter, who breaks down in tears
after he learns of the death of his nineteen-year-old son
killed while serving in afghanistan
two somali asylum-seekers, a mother and a son
tell of how they fled to britain after their husband/father was murdered
a mum permanently holed up on the umpteenth floor of a council tower block sobs as she talks of being forgotten
of how her small child has nowhere to play outdoors...
next to the nasty, petty, spiteful, crass thuggishness and ignorance on general display
and the sense of entitlement by dint of skin colour or genes
the new labour people look whiter than white
though one bnp policy does stick out from the general squalor like a sore thumb: the "bring our boys home from afghanistan" strapline
which sadly none of the main parties are willing to subscribe to
during the muted commercial breaks
the three of us exchange reactions
mum has a certain sympathy with elements of the bnp's rationale
the "we should look after our own" argument
it's a perpetual area of disagreement in our discussions
then there's a surreal moment during one of the breaks
when mum casually reveals that her father was briefly a member of the national front
(back in the late sixties or early seventies)
i guess there was a certain logic to this affiliation
as he lived and ran a business in an area of brum
largely taken over my the immigrant population from the fifties onwards
but it does make me wonder what he would have thought of a korean
(and potentially a burmese-indian) marrying into the family!

FLOW

at one with the flow of time
trimming the garden hedge
cycling sedately through a snowy landscape
typing steadily away at a computer keyboard
composing the melody to a new song at the piano
cobbling together a piece of poetry

NOWNESS

the present moment
always here
but so hard to find
a cinderella of the mind
a poor relation
relegated to the wings
as the mind pores obsessively over past events
interpreting and analysing what no longer exists
or projecting an imagined future onto its internal movie screen
a 24/7 running documentary of what is past
and what is yet to come
meanwhile in the backround
untroubled
a naked luminous presence remains hidden
buried under layers of winter clothing
waiting to be appreciated

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

RENUNCIATION

All the bitter enmity, all the pointless self-pity
All the blind stupidity, all the ‘I, me, mines’
All the senseless cruelty, all the spiteful mockery
All the negative energy that weighs upon my mind
Peel them away like the layers of an onion - and fly!

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s holding me back

All the dumb hypocrisy, all the petty jealousy
All the pride and vanity, all the wasted time
All the cold hostility, all the glib dishonesty
All the pain and the misery I search inside to find
Strip them away, these veils of the ego - and fly!

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s tying me down

Watch the glass of water become a shining lake
See the handful of salt I pour dissolve without a trace
Watch the caged canary standing at the door
See it soar into the sky – what was it waiting for?

Let me find simplicity, lucidity and humility
Give me the serenity to open up my mind

A renunciation of all these things
A renunciation of everything that’s holding me back, tying me down, hemming me in
Oh, a renunciation of all these things!

WHIZZ DUMB

i observe a number of positive and admirable qualities
which are regularly trumpeted in modern britain
we are encouraged and exhorted to be:
hard-working (as in "hard-working families")
responsible (as in "responsible parents" or "responsible drinkers")
patriotic (as in unquestioningly supporting government misadventures abroad)
loyal (as in brandishing our supermarket / department store loyalty cards)
status-conscious (good at keeping up with the jones)
credit-worthy (good at borrowing money to keep up with the jones)
entrepreneurial (having a good eye for making money)
wealthy (making money and giving it to the exchequer)
fun-loving (keen on spending money)
attractive, preferably sexy or ideally 'hot'
(the attainment of which is likely to involve moving more product)
youthful (not looking - or acting? - our age; ditto)
what all these qualities seem to have in common is two things:
obedience and conformity to society's pre-ordained goal
i.e. maximum growth by means of maximum profits
by means of maximum consumption
these qualities are carefully cultivated
at school
in further and higher education
and at work
but there is an attribute conspicuously missing from the above list
a quality which trumps all the others hands-down
an attribute attained by fully understanding the human condition
and the nature of things
a quality only achieved by cultivating conduct and actions
which bring deep and lasting fulfilment, peace and contentment
(as opposed to those that lead to misery, discord and chaos)
yes, our society fails miserably to cultivate wisdom
our leaders and elders
our greaters and our betters
those who should know better
only urge us to consume, hate, indulge ourselves and fan our egos...
and look on with satisfaction as we dumbly rush to oblige

Monday, 29 November 2010

THE MOUNTAINTOPS OF THE MIND

as summer turned to autumn
and the free mondays appeared in my calendar
auspiciously aligned with some fine weather
i jumped into the roomy people's wagon
and escaped the flat west midland plain
heading twice northwards to the derbyshire peaks
then south-westwards to the edge of the black mountains
these urgent day-trips to the hills
were fuelled by more than petroleum
they were inspired by a form of claustrophobia
that feeling of being mentally hemmed in
a longing to break free of the narrow confines
to explore wild untamed landscapes
to open up wide endless vistas
to free myself of my mental shackles
before i shuttled home to city and family life
i had good intentions but i was wrong
my freedom was the alluring cinematic open road of the car commercial
but my desire once sated
only left me trundling back
through the narrow congested streets where i had begun
i didn't understand
that true freedom is not about bolting to the countryside
a kind of weekend euro away-break on the cheap
the task is to break through the invisible glass walls of the mind
to remove the veils of the ego
to elude the clutches of desire, hatred and delusion
which imprison the individual like a caged bird
that hurls itself time and time again against the glass
to open up the mind to the giddy summits
and the endless vastness of the sky

Friday, 26 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

MISHEARD INSTINCT

we humans live in herds
we exhibit herd-like behaviour
we naturally crave the acceptance of others
we want to fit into the jigsaw
because being an outsider
the lone wolf without a pack
can be tough
but i've always been suspicious of the herd instinct
always sensed the dangers of the crowd mentality
the collective groupthink
my mother often repeats the story
told to her by my teacher mrs patrick
back at northfield manor primary
about the day when the wine cork popped
and all the children gasped...
except me, who showed no reaction
unimpressed by the incident
throughout my school days i rarely made friends
the pals i did have always had to make the running
i barely featured in school teams or groups
school with its clubs and cliques
its imposed rules
was an institution that held no appeal
like the lone wolf
i kept my head down
i accepted the deal
i played the game
i didn't kick up a stink
in fact i conformed to the whole hoop-jumping exercise
learnt to memorise and regurgitate as required
not to ask any questions
not to question the whole rationale
to lipsync or munmble the prayers and hymns in daily assembly
meanwhile the outsider in me patrolled the school grounds alone
restless
out of sync
whiling away the precious days of youth...
on those teenage saturdays i sometimes stood on the football terraces
cheering on my team
joining in with the communal singsongs
probably as close as i ever got to the herd
but i couldn't countenence the abuse merchants
who hurled a constant stream of vitriol
at any player who made a mistake
or maybe simply wasn't good enough...
as an adolescent i took a bizarre delight
in liking music too 'alternative'
for anyone else to have even heard of it...
perhaps travelling the world
becoming a foreign language teacher
also represented a desire to break loose from the herd
to cross borders and continents was a form of escape
from the blinkered horizons of the petty little englander
to the pickings of the late twentieth-century globalised dream...
veganism is hardly a diet that endears one to the herd
ditto an anti-consumerist stance
which sticks up a massive v-sign
to the posse out rampaging through the bullring
or browsing frenetically
among the virtual delights of amazon dot com
as time passes the herd seems ever more bewildered
ever more passive and stupid
whether it be the dumb electorate
voting in tweedledumb or tweedledumber
the tv addict gorging on strictly or ex-factor
the loyal shopper filling her obese supermarket trolley
with over-priced processed pap
the wage slave out there on a sunday washing his shiny new auto
the sun reader gawping at his 'cheryl is a chav' headline
herd instinct?
i must have misheard

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

COMPROMISE

it isn't quite what nature intended
the regular four-in-the-bar plod of shanks' pony
the skip in the step
the opportunity for conversation and banter
the 'good morning mrs brown - how are you?'
the 'bit chilly today, isn't it'
the absent-minded daydream
the steady contemplation
the close-up and personal
the neck-craning
the head-turning
the jaw-dropping
the stop to stand and stare or admire...
but neither is it the dull antiseptic air-conditioned monotony
the alienating misery of steel-and-glass-caged isolation
a stale tomtom-assisted exercise in convoluted route-planning
a frustration-inducing
artery-straining
face-contorting
act of all-out warfare
a noisy
dangerous
anti-social
air-polluting
wallet-emptying
insurance company-subsidising
MOT-failing
modern nightmare...

all things considered it's a pretty good compromise
of course you need to keep your wits about you when not off-road
develop a decent road sense
concentrate at least some of the time
watch out for the nutters
get yourself seen
but there's plenty of time for thinking
taking in the scenery and the fast-changing images
there's a certain rhythm in peddling
which has something in common with walking
and offers definite poetry-songwriting potential
you are like a boxer
you can duck and dive
weave in and out of the stream of traffic
act on impulse
nip down a side street
cut through a park
join up a couple of cul-de-sacs with a short pedestrian path
follow your nose
bend the rules a bit
jump the lights without anyone noticing
fly near enough as the crow flies
indulge in at least some conversation
(limited mainly by the level of traffic din)
shout a hello and flash a smile at an acquaintance
get by with affordable and simple diy maintenance
do your own route-planning
get some exercise
and get 'out there'

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

LOVE IN A SHOPPING AISLE

The church closed down a while ago
So now I go to pray at Sainsbury's
They've built a little paradise
Of rainbow colours and pretty lights
It's my weekly sanctitude
Among the packages of frozen food
It gets me out of the house on a Sunday

I like to calculate my points
They are a token of my loyalty
The special offers are so generous
Buy two - get one free
It's a place where the community
Gets together communally
And I just might see one of my neighbours

It's love in a shopping aisle
It's love in a shopping aisle

One day I'm there on Aisle Thirteen
Casually filling up my trolley
When I spy the girl of my dreams
Among the pyramids of baked beans
She can't get to the tin she wants
As she struggles with her basket
So I summon up the bottle
To reach and grasp it

"Is this the one you wanted?"
I timidly enquire
And she flashes me a smile as if to say
"How very very kind!"

And it's love in a shopping aisle
Oh it's love in a shopping aisle

Now she glides on to Ready Meals
And I find my mind is racing
It's not the money-saving deals
But her I ought to be embracing
And I struggle to make some sense
As I stumble through the condiments
For she's an item that wasn't on my list

And I search for a chat-up line
As I follow her to the beer and wine
"Maybe you'd like to join me in the cafe?"

But as I turn the corner
My poor heart stops and sinks
There'll be no assignations
In front of the soft drinks
For waiting at the checkout
An arm around her waist
I see my dream girl's sweetheart
Standing in my place

Oh, it's love in a shopping aisle
It's love in a shopping aisle

I've never seen her there again
But every week I go and pray at Sainsburys

Thursday, 11 November 2010

VALUE

"point to the important and worthless in the world"
the mischievous zen master commands his pupils

hannah and i cycle to school
the paths and cut-throughs are slippery with fallen leaves
outside a converted old farmhouse-cum-stables
safely out of reach of the main road hullabooloo
i spot an ageing symbol of consumer society sitting sadly on the tarmac
a large grey bulky LCD television with a thirty-inch screen
almost exactly like the one someone recently gave us for nothing
(later tucked inside the operation manual
we came across the original receipt
the price a mere six years earlier?
a cool £1000!)
i wonder what fate awaits this once-luxury item...
a charity shop?
the scrap iron man?
a dowsing from the next passing shower?
in the blink of an eye
this consumer desirable once worth a grand
has become a burdensome white elephant
to be either given away or left out in the rain!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

DON"T KNOW WHETHER TO LAUGH OR CRY

1) us interviewer to dubya as relayed by radio 4 toady programme
(dubya is plugging his new auto-biography):
"was there ever a time when you considered apologising to the...
american people [for invading iraq under false pretences]?"
dubya: "no" (not even dubya could mess up that answer)

2) two o'clock news bulletin on radio 4 - main headline:
"prime minister david cameraman has raised the issue of human rights in his meeting with chinese premier hur jin tao"
(how on earth did the newsreader say that without cracking up?!)

Monday, 8 November 2010

BOOK REVIEW

Have you ever felt like Truman, the eponymous hero of 'The Truman Show', trapped in a meticulously simulated fantasy world which gradually stops making sense? Or maybe you have empathised with Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tin Man in the land of Oz as the curtain is drawn back to reveal a non-magical 'wizard' operating a giant console of wheels and levers?

Perhaps you have experienced nothing akin to either of these unsettling revelations in your own life. Perhaps you have never felt an urgent need to take off the blinkers and view the world as it really is. Either way, rest assured that David Edwards' brilliant first book will first unsettle you, then expertly guide you through the dense jungles of propaganda, illusion and false reality which encroach on all those who inhabit Western 'liberal democracies' in a thrilling search for that age-old Holy Grail which has eluded so many through the centuries - the freedom to be human.

Assembling the necessary tools and frameworks for such a daunting task in a readable format is no mean feat and here David Edwards has done an outstanding job, drawing on a range of insights from many of the finest historical and contemporary thinkers.

As Edwards says, 'we are only potentially homo sapiens'. This is therefore possibly the most important book any human will ever read!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

CLASS OF '79

(class 1W - seating positions, front left to back right of classroom)
adams, craig - supermarket manager
amos, neil - university academic (psyschology)
birch, paul - 'ring and ride' driver for nhs
carey, anthony - accounts manager
carter, andrew - civil servant
jackson, simon - accountant
efstaphiades, john - university academic (mathematics)
elkington, paul - council employee (parks)
evans, david - primary schoolteacher
graham, danny - biochemist
gray, richard - factory supervisor
hood, richard - production manager
levine, simon - furniture sales manager
mack, ian - runs own bus company
mann, gurminder - pharmacist
mytton, andrew - runs own delivery business
mytton, mark - secondary schoolteacher (pe)
parsons, david - cricket coach
passalacqua, edward - science teacher at catholic secondary school
phillips, stuart - male nurse
price, barry - unemployed
rainey, philip - retail manager
rebello, gavin - opthalmic optometrist
ricketts, david - local government employee
rogers, andrew - actuary
rollason, christopher - solicitor
simmonds, david - call centre manager
smith, paul - retail clothes salesman
stringer, simon - council employee (administration)
thompson, richard - architect
(last but not least, right by the classroom door)
fireseed - productive idler

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

BLANCMANGE

Jane finally struggled into the office twenty minutes late. It had been a nightmare commute through steady drizzle trapped in a never-ending queue of traffic. A roadworks sign read 'Delays expected'. But now she was finally here, where was everyone else? The whole place was eerily quiet. Surely she hadn't forgotten about a training event or away-day? Slowly she became aware of the quiet hum of computers switched on, the still-wet coats and umbrellas hanging from pegs. Then suddenly she made out the faint sound of voices carrying along the corridor from the kitchen at the far end of the office. Curious, she put down her bag on her desk, arranged her hair in her make-up mirror and crossed the office to the fire door.

The sound of laughter was emanating from the kitchen, but Jane was unprepared for the sight that met her eyes. Her office colleagues were scattered around the room involved in various curious tasks. Shaz and Jen were bringing two large saucepans of milk to the boil on the stove. Meanwhile, in the middle of the room, Claire and James were mixing what seemed to be flour and milk in a big bowl. To Jane's right, Steve and Emma were splicing what looked like pieces of vanilla on a chopping board. And finally Jerome, the office manager, was standing back, supervising the whole business, observing critically with his arms folded.

'What on earth are you lot all doing?" Jane erupted, a look of bemused incredulity on her face.
'We're making blancmange' replied Jen enthusiastically. 'What kept you?'
'Making blancmange? What on earth for?!'
'We got a memo from head office about it this morning - they want us to make as much of this stuff as we can by the end of the week.'
'I've already sent for more supplies,' interjected Jerome without a trace of irony.
'You're having me on?'
'Not at all. Go and check your emails if you like. Would you mind giving Claire and James a hand with the mixing?'
'But why? What's this got to do with selling office stationery?' asked Jane, shaking her head in disbelief.
'Beats me,' Jerome responded. 'But as long as they go paying us for it, I don't really care.'
'Is this a wind-up, Jerome?'
'Well, it did occur to me to give HQ a call to make sure that someone wasn't having a laugh, but no, that's our orders. Ours is not to reason why, as they say. We're on group commission for how much of this stuff we can make, so you'd better get stuck in.'

Jane did as she was told. The world was becoming more surreal by the minute. What surprised her most was the speed and willingness at which the others were getting down to the job! No questions asked. Perhaps they'd covered that ground before she got there.

'How was the weekend?' Emma asked. 'Get up to much?'
'Erm...did a bit of cooking,' Jane replied, one eyebrow raised.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

AT A PARTY

we have been invited to a halloween party
at the house of one of woodle's new school friends
as the afternoon light fades
we enjoy carving a pumpkinhead lantern with a leering smile
then it's time for h to dress up as her current craze:
mildred hubble - 'the worst witch' in the school
i say she should dress up as a scary guinea pig
(h's much-wanted pet
which she currently insists on emulating by constant nose-twitching
but remember: 'a guinea pig is for life, not for christmas')
at the party the house is full of kids
schoolfriends of the girls
plus the families of some of dad's university colleagues
i am unfortunately rationed to one bottle of bishop's finger as i'm driving
i sip it slowly
mrs f gets embroiled in conversation
with the gregarious irish granny of two of the kids
over from dublin for a short stay
i get chatting to a bright and affable german linguist who was recently in korea
he fills in some of my many gaps about german history
occasionally pulling out his eye-phone to check his facts
woodle's classmate's dad and pals all work in the political science department
sounds like it should be quite radical
i ask them what exactly political science is
but am not much the wiser after the explanation
what about chomsky, i say
does he feature much in their courses?
i get a tepid response
academically he's best known as a linguist, isn't he?
doesn't he make normative judgements on us foreign policy?
guess i should have known better
the kids have strayed upstairs and are doing moonies at each other
it must be time to go
school day tomorrow
so we head home
through the haunted night

Monday, 1 November 2010

MENISCUS

I saw a tiny insect
Struggling in the meniscus
Its delicate wings fluttering
Its body weak and listless

Bound by surface tension
Fighting for its existence
Its energies diminishing
Trapped in the meniscus

I felt a surge of kindness
An urge to end the suffering
Of this tiny helpless creature
From me so very different

So I gently tipped the vessel
And drained the liquid from it
And as the creature struggled free
It made me weep to see it

I watched a tiny insect
Struggling in the meniscus

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

LUNAR

night walk home with the woodle
following the full moon
as it lights our way
across the long meadow
the craters are visible as deep shadows
we locate the plough
and the pole star
i vainly try to explain navigation methods to woodle
but she's not listening
the serenity is disturbed
by a a group of bragging teenagers passing by
then home to the glare of the electric lightbulb

Monday, 25 October 2010

THE HISTORY OF MY LIFE IN 100 OBJECTS

1) a plastic feeding bottle
2) a book of children's bible stories from my godparents
3) a pram
4) a sticklebrick
5) a leather caser football
6) a scrabble board
7) a black and white family photo album from the 70s
8) a silver jubilee commemorative spoon
9) a skateboard
10) a raleigh roadrunner bicycle
11) a silver survival swimming badge
12) a copy of 'shoot' magazine
13) a paperback copy of watership down
14) an olivetti typewriter
15) a practice 'intelligence test'
16) a leeds building society passbook
17) a jumbo cricket bat
18) a pair of size 3 new balance football boots
19) a 1963 bush record player
20) the beatles 1962-1966 lp
21) my mum's nylon-string guitar circa 1981
22) the beatles revolver lp
23) a bontempi electronic organ
24) an illustrated book of birds (3/4 completed)
25) a glass demijohn
26) a second-hand hi-fi system from rumbelows
27) the byrds fifth dimension lp
28) newspaper clippings from the birmingham evening mail letters page circa 1984
29) a uk driving licence
30) a letts a-level revision guide
31) a uk passport
32) a cassette of rem's murmur
33) a student union card
34) an a1 drawing board & t square purchased from jonathan emmett
35) a rotring ink drawing pen
36) a green woollen trenchcoat
37) a payslip from key personnel employment agency
38) a concert ticket to see u2 at wembley stadium in 1987
39) a black 'church' t-shirt
40) a university degree certificate in architecture
41) a round-the-world air ticket
42) a khaki & navy blue karrimoor backpack
43) a travel diary of the usa, canada and new zealand from 1989-90
44) a yha international membership card
45) a sony walkman
46) a praktika camera
47) a steel beer barrel from carlton's brewery in sydney
48) an ankh earring
49) a dog-eared sky blue address book from 1990
50) a PADI diving certificate
51) a lonely planet guide to south-east asia
52) a photograph taken with chris smith in march 1991 in a bangkok guesthouse
53) a pair of doctor marten's shoes
54) a nepalese waistcoat
55) a photo posing at the thorong la mountain pass high in the himalayas
56) a copy of 'how to teach english'
57) a spanish-english dictionary
58) a hiking guide to the basque country
59) a rough guide to spain circa 1994
60) a fostex 4-track portastudio
61) a hair band
62) a filter coffee machine
63) a carton of soya milk
64) a silver-plated seahorse brooch
65) a hardback copy of 'revolution in the head'
66) a beermat from the goat & tricycle pub
67) a clay kimchi bowl
68) a wedding certificate
69) a print of venice
70) a book of london walks
71) a blue waterproof anorak
68) a set of hanbok
69) a pair of metal chopsticks
70) a 10000-won korean banknote
71) a korean fender acoustic guitar
72) a cd-rom of 'sonar' digital recording software
73) a copy of 'the new internationalist' magazine circa 2003
74) a cd-rom of a computer scan of a 20-week-old foetus
75) a letter to tony blair protesting the imminent iraq invasion
76) a compliments slip from 10 downing street dated march 2003
77) a washable nappy
78) a promethean electronic whiteboard
79) a buddhist prayer bell
80) a family portrait from summer 2004
81) a cd of 'mustard seed'
82) a paperback copy of 'the compassionate revolution'
83) a marshall reverb electric guitar amplifier
84) a yoga mat
85) a personal notebook circa 2006-07
86) a black pilot v5 pen
87) an eyes-too-close-together teddy named 'george'
88) a 'green benefits' cotton banner
89) a nylon 3-man tent
90) a birmingham university id swipe card
91) a logo design for northfield eek-o-centre
92) a national trust membership card
93) a high-visibility jacket
94) a pair of steel toe-capped boots
95) a 'giant' bicycle
96) a pair of vegetarian shoes
97) a volkswagen passat saloon car
98) a pair of leather walking boots
99) a cd of 'artifact'
100) a piece of hannah elisabeth artwork from summer 2010

Saturday, 23 October 2010

HEATED

courtesy of the morning star...


RAINY DAY WOODLE #1

the woodle and i finally track down the party
down by the brook at the corner of the lake
the brief shower has cleared and the park feels clean and fresh
not that a spot of rain is going to put us off
well kitted out as we are in our waterproofs
this morning we have been to the swimming baths
where after woodle's weekly lesson
i demonstrated my prowess at the front crawl
by doing a width in just ten seconds
and then astonished my fellow swimmers
by crossing the baths underwater without coming up for air
(well the woodle was quite impressed anyway)
as we draw closer to the ranger's jeep i recognise adam
a familiar face from my nvq course earlier in the year
it's good to catch up
adam tells me how the cuts are biting in the ranger service
how all are being asked to sign new contracts
requiring them to be prepared to work any day of the week
without receiving the current anti-social hours premium
which will knock four or five grand off their modest salaries
of such "efficiency savings" are the con-dem cuts made
(our green spaces con-demed!)
today's job is to clear leaves and other debris blocking the brook
the woodle applies herself to this task with rather too much gusto
grabbing a rake and wading wildly into the water despite the warnings
almost immediately filling her wellies with water
i admire her pluck though
as i wring out her socks and empty her boots
she sits on the wall and grumbles
but she gamely puts on her wet boots again
and resumes battle with the elements
sockless and slightly less gung ho
everyone applauds the woodle's efforts as she carries on raking
through showers, midges and cold wellies
we toddle home happily having done our little bit for the big society
david and george please take note...

Friday, 22 October 2010

MENAGERIE

Come and see my menagerie
I’ll show you creatures great and small
You’ll see them all
I'll be your teacher

Just see what waits behind the gates
I’ll show you creatures
That I’ve acquired from far and wide
For their special features

Exotic birds with rainbow feathers
Prowling cats that bare their claws
Fireflies that glow and sparkle
Scaly fish with deadly jaws

Come and see my menagerie
I’ll share my secrets
Wondrous beasts you won’t believe
You will be speechless

Fierce fire-breathing dragons
Pegasus the flying horse
A phoenix risen from the ashes
A griffon and a sphinx of course

Come and see my menagerie
I’ll make you welcome

Thursday, 21 October 2010

TURNAROUND

in 1967 you could smoke anywhere you wanted to
but you couldn't be gay...
now it is the other way round!

TEARS OF SHAME

today a grown man well into his fifties
broke down in tears in front of me
this man was a trained doctor and pharmacist in his own country
a middle eastern nation that has suffered terribly
at the hands of invading superpowers
before fleeing to continental europe
to a country where his qualifications weren't recognised
where he was forced to work long hours as a taxi driver
to feed and clothe his family
now that he has come to britain
not content with the lowly part-time work he has found
he wants for nothing more than to work at one of his two chosen professions
he hates having to accept state benefits to provide for his children
it makes him feel like a beggar
as he tells me his story
i reflect on the media scare stories about greedy asylum-seekers
out to rip off our "over-generous" social security system
despite his years this man has pride and aspirations for himself
he wants to provide for the children
who will be part of tomorrow's britain

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

SELLING IT TO THE PUBLIC

during the daily ritual this morning
i caught a quite amazing discussion
notable for its bare-faced cheek
the conversation revolved around the best way of selling public sector cuts
to the ignorant massess...erm...the general public
to minimize the psychological impact and snuff out any possible protest or dissent
never mind the genuine misery that these decisions could cause many people
the concerns of the 'toady' programme are with how politicians
(and hence powerful interests)
can get away with culling public services!
bonfire of the quangos?
make that bonfire of the useful qangos
the ones that have held corporations to account are being swept away
the ones with the purpose of boosting corporate profits remain untouched
make no mistake
the "economic crisis" is disaster capitalism
- manipulating a crisis to reconfigure the economy in the interests of big business
myxomatosis
who could suppose this?
england is sleeping and nobody cries...

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

after too much time spent in the (taxi?) driver's seat
i am back in the slow lane with a vengeance
i have an eight or nine mile cross-city commute
to the badlands of lozells
scene of riots in 1981 that almost razed my grandad's shop to the ground
(miraculously price & oliver remained unscathed)
a car would be a liability on this rush-hour mission
so i leap onto my trusty giant and pedal romantically away
through the morning's anticipation
it's a few leafy minutes up hill and down dale to selly oak
where an eerily empty giant new roundabout guides me down and up
past the new QE spaceship-cum-hospital
to the green suburb of edgbaston
one of the few places in birmingham that has a london-like feel
luxurious detached houses set back from the wide curving avenues
recline like thirties dilettantes
their eaves sculpted with gargoyles
their porches large enough to shelter a saloon car
i sail past long queues of idling cars
then fly along monument road past perrot's folly
said to be the inspiration for tolkien's twin towers
now a short stretch on a couple of birmingham's notorious ring roads
which still strangle the city centre in a vice-like grip
under the hockley flyover
where the stone pelican surveys the endless traffic
and finally a bit of deft manouevring through some back streets
across a park and a children's playground
and up into the mean streets of lozells
forty-five minutes door to door is good going
it's time to meet my new class of refugee doctors and nurses
hope they'll be a nice bunch...

Monday, 18 October 2010

RITUAL OBSERVED

there is a bizarre ritual that i carry out every morning
it involves a strong element of sado-masochism
and goes against all my better instincts
in my defence
i believe that the ritual encourages me to martial counter-arguments
against the stifling dross i must put up with in the course of the ritual
unfortunately mrs f and the lovely woodle are subjected to it too
although lately i've noticed that mrs f has also started to succumb of her own accord
the business i refer to was observed once again this morning
when i plodded reluctantly downstairs to the kitchen
and turned on the radio 4 today programme
my late appearance ensured that i tragically missed the 8 o'clock headlines
the ones that i perenially hope will feature a genuine glimmer of hope
among the catalogue of mis-information, distortion and delusion
a glimmer that sadly never arrives
and isn't likely to anytime soon
so i brew the coffee and set the porridge bubbling on the stove
and endure john "rottweiler" humphrys' 8 o'clock interview
with home secretary malteser may-not
on the prescient subject of "defence" spending
(for defence, folks, read "attack" in bbc / government doublethink)
the "interview" (time to dispense with quotation marks)
consists of a trivial game of cat-and-mouse
humphrys the rottweiler prodding whatnot to explain the gov's spending priorities
fighting cyber-crime?..."the war on terror"? (sorry!)...
building new aircraft carriers?...blah blah blah...
whatnot blustering and refusing to answer the question
she does helpfully confirm the government's number one priority
which is of course to protect its citizens from the danger of attack
the question begs as to how waging constant war on muslim countries
instead of seeking opportunities for dialogue and political agreement
might achieve the stated end
but the rottweiler fails to deliver
on issues of any genuine import nothing is said
honest discussion is as usual completely absent
mention is there none of geopolitical control
of maintaining a good corporate investment climate
at the cost of thousands of innocent lives across the globe
instead the rottweiler is revealed once again as a meek puppy dog
rolling onto his back to have his tummy tickled
letting whatnot off the hook with a playful lick
meanwhile in the region of 40 billion squid of public money is at stake here
dosh that will be subsidising the uk arms industry
and ensuring that private investors get a good return on their shares
daily ritual observed

Sunday, 17 October 2010

LATERAL THINKING

we're in the jalopy
on our way to croome park
capability brown's first project in worcestershire
inevitably we're low on petrol
so i pull into the shell garage
all petrol stations have their associations
for me the shell logo screams 'remember ken saro-wiwa!'
i will not be acquiring a shell loyalty card
but i'm not aware of any such thing as an ethical petrol on the market
(motoring = third world suffering = impossible to rationalise or justify)
as usual the right-hand pumps have queues
while the left-hand pumps are empty
(most uk cars, ours included, seem to have the fuel tank on the driver's side)
so i pull into a left-hand pump and try a little experiment
i pull the pump cable across the back of the car to the petrol cap on the other side
there's enough stretch in the cable to reach with ease!
as i empty a few gallons of black gold into the tank
i ponder the times i've sat like a lemming in the right-hand queue
it doesn't bring ken back though

Saturday, 16 October 2010

PROPAGANDA

Today I listened to the news report
They said it’s worse than anybody thought
They said the previous government
Were profligate in terms of what they spent
Now there’s a hole in the public account
And it seems there’s only one way out
Now we’ll all have to tighten our belts
Oh there’s really nothing else we can do

Oh propaganda - it seems you’re alive and well
Oh propaganda - everyone is under your spell

A spokesman came on with a plummy voice
He said the country faced a difficult choice
I couldn’t fathom half of what he said
But he sounded very sure of himself
He said our problems are the fault of the poor
He said it can’t continue any more
Paying them money for the jobs they shirk
Big benefits for being out of work

Oh propaganda - you’re on everybody’s lips
Oh propaganda – no, there’s nothing amiss

These are times of austerity
It will be painful inevitably
We all have to make a sacrifice
We all have to pay our share of the price

Today I listened to the six o’clock news
There’s going to be a public spending revue
There will be cuts left, right and centre
But at least we’re all in this together
They didn’t mention the bailed-out banks
Who gobbled up our money without a thanks
Of corporate profits nothing was said
I guess we’re just supposed to take it as read

Oh propaganda – you’re broadcast far and wide
Oh propaganda – you can’t be denied
Oh propaganda – you’ve got nothing to prove
Oh propaganda – you are the words of truth

IN DEFENCE OF THE BLOGOSPHERE

Dear Andrew

I was disappointed by both the content and tone of your recent attack on bloggers at Cheltenham Literary Festival.

As a former editor of The Independent and a senior BBC political journalist, you have carved out a highly paid professional career while acting as a prominent guardian of state-corporate power, a notable example being your performance on the BBC evening news in April 2003 when you lauded the then prime minister’s triumph as Baghdad superficially fell to the illegal US-UK invasion. However, it still comes as a disappointment that you should feel threatened by contributions and challenges from ordinary citizens with dissenting views.

The advent of the blogosphere has opened up a crucial space for dissent, making a genuine contribution to the democratization of societies across the world. This is certainly not something to be sneered at.

Best wishes

Fireseed

Friday, 15 October 2010

BACK ON THE CARPET

disgusted by my physical condition
shocked by the bathroom scales tipping thirteen stone
feeling like the tin man from the wizard of oz
this morning i am back on the living room carpet
for the first time in quite a while
fit body, fit mind
oh aint it the truth!
those ancient indian sages sure had it worked out
long before modern science came along
long before the dieticians and the physiotherapists
the fitness coaches and the shrinks
i was born with minimal natural ability in this area
my wiry frame has always helped me to get around a football pitch
but i've never had any flexibility in my long spider-like limbs
a few weeks ago at football i watched a japanese student limbering up before the game
as he stretched he was practically doing the splits
i was exhausted just watching him
but a wonderful thing about yoga is its non-competitive nature
the only person you compete against is yourself
so you can't lose!
yoga also works as a kind of meditation
uncluttering the cluttered mind
many of the poses require 100% concentration to execute properly
it aint easy to focus on your breathing, position and movement all at once
often the mind wonders off somewhere else
like a soldier stepping out of rank
and needing to be brought back into line
it's a constant battle
today i unfurl the mat
i set myself the immediate challenge of sitting cross-legged
like in primary school assembly
palms resting on knees
i hold this for a while trying to settle my attention defecit disordered mind
i stretch out my legs in a sitting position a few feet apart
i swivel my ankles so that my big toes are touching
hold and release
hold and release
i stretch out my left foot straight ahead and point my toe
i hold this for a while then bring my toes towards me to stretch my calf
hold and release
hold and release
repeat with the right foot
it strikes me that the uninitiated watching this would see very little happening
that's the beauty of yoga
seemingly inoccuous movements and changes in positioning and balance
are revealed as having huge impacts on joint, muscle and tendon
just as holding a bad posture can put the body out of kilter
damaging the spine
causing an uneven gait
so the tiny stretch in this or that direction can help to realign
therein lies the importance of absolute control
steady transition from one pose to another
so different from the wild lunges and hurried twists and turns of many sports
risking damage and injury at every turn
therein lies the beauty of the process
not that i can claim any mastery whatsoever of it
but i make sure that at all times i remain in control

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

BEHIND BARS

if you hold up a fork in front of your eyes,
you can pretend you are in prison.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

PIANO MAN

over the summer
mrs f purchased a second-hand digital piano
it's quite a posh one
and although i protested loudly at the time over the cost
it's been a good investment
it sure beats bashing away on a cheap insubstantial casio keyboard
so well done mrs f!
the woodle has been going to piano lessons for a few weeks now
and she's doing alright
the teacher recommended quite a good little book
the pieces are nice and short and gradually get more difficult
the main object is to coordinate left and right hands
and to learn to read music from the stave
as chief homework supervisor i'm following woodle's progress closely
while learning a few useful basics myself
i've always been pretty clumsy and uncoordinated
as far as playing the piano is concerned
the principal problem lies with my left hand
as a guitar player i'm just not used to striking notes with both hands
the left hand is only used for making chord shapes
('fretting the strings' in the jargon)
this has restricted me over the years to playing basic oompah block chords
in the vein of music hall and 'my old man's a dustman'
but a few simple tips have been quite a revelation
like the idea of grounding both thumbs on middle c
then working up and down the scale from there
left hand in one direction, right hand in another
as a songwriting tool the piano suggests different ideas
it turns me into a different composer
(though hopefully not into elton john)
lazy guitarists like myself and john lennon like guitar chords
which maximise the number of ringing unfretted open strings
(fret ye not!)
on a guitar you tend to get broadly spaced chords
because of the 5-semitone interval between strings
but on a piano there's no such thing as a fretted string
they are all essentially 'open'
and the keys are all only a semitone apart
instead the lazy piano player tends to work in scales
because this entails minimum movement and spread of the fingers
different possibilities and potentials arise
different clusters of notes
different limitations
(you can't strum a piano!)
i've just written a song on piano which exploits this potential quite well
i don't think i would have come up with quite the same thing on a guitar
not that i have any great ambitions for playing the piano
i just want to improve to a functional level
it would be nice to be able to lead an old-time sing-song or two
round the old joanna
but the main priority, as always, is the songwriting

Monday, 11 October 2010

ARIEL

as i climb the narrow spine of the cat's back
i am released from my earthbound destiny
instead i float on air
to my left the monumental hatterrall ridge rises up like an enormous cliff
almost blotting out the low-angled sun
which stands on tip-toes to peek over the ridge
an impregnable barrier between wales and england
an immense offa's dyke before offa was even thought of
far below the lovely secluded olchon valley bathes in hazy sunlight
to my right the undulating fields of rural herefordshire spread out
punctuated by tiny buildings and thread-like lanes
on both sides the hillside falls away precipitously
one slip and i'm a gonner
surely, i think, this must be one of the best panoramas in southern england
suddenly my reveries are disturbed by a huge black form
which sails over my right shoulder
momentarily i know how jason and his argonauts must have felt
when they first caught sight of the giant roc
but this is no mythical bird
it is a great black raven
hanging there on the thermals
croaking out its strange call
huge against the sky
before dropping down out of sight to a crag below
there are plenty of fleeces here
though not golden ones
they belong to the grazing sheep
which scatter when i abruptly appear from behind a rocky outcrop
rounding the cat's shoulder i traverse the spongey hilltop
and descend by a babbling brook to the enchanted olchon valley
where i am sadly earthbound once again

Sunday, 10 October 2010

NOTHING SEEKER

i pursued riches
but they only made me miserly
i sought possessions
but they only burdened me and cluttered my space
i strove for status
but it only made me anxious
i chased paper
but it only made me dizzy
i demanded fine food and wine
but it only made me bloated and nauseous
i coveted another man's wife
but she only filled me with disgust
i dressed myself in fine clothes
but i only became conceited and vain
i reached for the stars
but i grasped only thin air
now i ask for nothing
and i am content

Saturday, 9 October 2010

ROUND AND ROUND IN MY HEAD

the tunes and words in my head go round and round
keith richards once described himself as an antenna
tuning into some mysterious cosmic frequency, man
to write the riff for 'satisfaction' or 'jumpin' jack flash'
that's a little how it feels to me too
occasionally my fingers accidentally stumble
upon a magical cluster of guitar or piano notes
leonard cohen's sacred chord
but often a short phrase or rhyming couplet
suddenly springs into my head without warning
sometimes accompanied by a nagging little melody that won't go away
or perhaps it's the melody that comes first
or simply a richards-style riff
entwining itself sinuously around my skull
lately my muse has been stuck in the melancholic key of A minor
a little like a record needle stuck in the groove
A minor inevitably shifting to F major
sometimes with a G or a C or a B flat inserting itself
i have lost count of the number of my A minor / F major songs
You would think tht they would all sound the same
but they don't
somehow endless melodies can be weaved through these chords
then of course you can vary the tempo, the time signature
the number of beats in the bar
the instrumentation, the arrangement and so on
i always think that i am about to dry up
after all there can only be so many subjects and feelings to write about
only so many tunes out there
but the little worms show no sign of letting up
just when i think that i have cleared the backlog
out pop some more just to spite me
of course the inspiration is only worth 10%
which leaves the 90% perspiration
but i guess the pipe and slippers can wait for the moment...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

EPITAPH

After he's gone to a better place
How will his epitaph read?
How will he remembered be
Once his body has gone to seed?

"A great leader of charm and charisma
Man of the people, our deliverer from evil
A peace-broker, he chimed with the voters"
Fine words indeed

He lived his life by his principles
A man of strong faith
He did as he would be done by
The lines of integrity etched on his face

"A new statesman with a special relationship
An honourable friend, a real Godsend
Moderniser, best-selling writer"
A fine man indeed

Now he's departed from this mortal coil
What does his epitaph say?
Now that he's buried down deep in the soil
What lines does the chisel engrave?

"A warmonger, driven by hunger
For power and prestige, and a fitting legacy
Stirring up hatred, his hands stained with blood"
A fine man indeed

"A glib politician, no words of contrition
A cynical liar, a holocaust denier
Peddling his story, a tale of vainglory"
Fine words indeed

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

SCRAPBOOK

a heron looks out across the boating lake from atop an old oak tree
the tories are withdrawing child benefit from high-level taxpayers
- an ingenious distraction away from much more damaging cuts to public services
my pockets bulge with king-sized freshly fallen conkers
hannah is hysterical after squidging a snail during a night walk home
mrs f turns into the wrong lane and almost collides head-on with another driver
delia smith made the cake on the cover of the 'let it bleed' lp
our shower is leaking and a patch of furry green mould has spread across the wallpaper
h's teacher says she is shy but 'strong across the board' at our parents' evening
my saturday morning university classes have dried up and been given to someone else
new car sales were down 9% last month compared with september 2009
four heavy boxes of books arrive by sea mail from south korea
the woodle moans about why we can't take the car to school instead of walking
our front garden is full of weeds again
i'm writing a song called 'vendetta'
my rhyming dictionary suggests 'go-getter', 'bruschetta' and 'caburettor'
woman's hour features an insightful item on vaginal dryness
the bridge across the park has been mysteriously fenced off
and bears a 'DANGER - KEEP OUT' sign
mrs f began work yesterday as a trainee classroom assistant
she was largely ignored by the other staff
i'm planning a long hike through lathkilldale sometime soon
the courgette plants in my greenhouse have finally produced courgettes
our two-car-owning neighbours insist on parking opposite our drive
instead of on their own drive
i'm preparing an english course for refugee nurses and doctors
i see too many mangled foxes and badgers by the side of country roads
nick drake still holds the record for the 100-yard dash at marlborough school
jonathan emmett read my post the other day
it's far too long since i last did some yoga

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

THE UNEXPECTED

It is the unexpected that happens

THORPE CLOUD

i have walked eight long miles
across fields to ilam village bathed in warm low-angled sunshine
along the meandering banks of the surging river manifold
over soft sculpted hills past chewing cows to dark satanic milldale
hidden from the sun at the head of the dale
where izaak walton sat on the old packhorse bridge
and contemplated 'the compleat angler'
finally through the narrow twisting limestone gorge of dovedale
where the rocks have been forged into fantastic shapes
where the sun cannot penetrate
and the waters froth and foam
now the gateway to the dale is framed to my left by thorpe cloud
a conical hill that rises steeply from the valley bottom
with one last effort i skirt its slopes
following a rough stony track that winds its way to the summit
i meet a lone woman with a frisky dog halfway up
then i am alone with the hillside, the sheep and my thoughts
at the dizzy summit of thorpe
i float on clouds
master of all i survey
looking southwards the land falls away abruptly
towards the cooling towers of the staffordshire potteries
behind me the wooded interlocking slopes of dovedale
lock away their secrets
and the sun sets on impassive hills
as darkness falls
i must go now
i must leave behind my cloud cushion
to return to the anxious brooding midlands
where my family waits

Saturday, 2 October 2010

BLOATED

...my stomach after last night's dinner?
...the wobbling waistlines of the human wildlife stalking south birmingham?
...the bank accounts of City of London employees?
well probably all three
but i'm thinking of the adjective that the media loves to wheel out
to describe the public sector
a derogatory term in the vein of 'militants'
used to justify the coalition's attack on public services
it would seem that there is no alternative to savage cuts to our services
(not to mention a regressive rise in vat)
at least not if you listen to the mainstream media
but what these state-corporate-friendly commentators don't mention
are the alternatives to the proposed coalition carve-up
there is a long-term trend in the uk that we don't hear much about:
the steadily falling proportion of economic surplus spent on wages
to finance ballooning shareholder profits
why else does social inequality continue its relentless rise?
so tax these unequal incomes instead of punishing the poor
regulate the banking system properly
so that the current financial mess and taxpayer bail-out are never repeated
and stop wasting money on military folly in afghanistan
and red herring nuclear weapons
under the dire economic conditions of 1945
the uk government created the national health service
what will it do this time?

Friday, 1 October 2010

IN THE GUTTER

mrs fireseed has recently enrolled for some english study
to get a qualification she needs for the new teaching course she's doing
her classmates are an eclectic bunch
but several of them are asylum-seekers or refugees
some of the stories they tell bring tears to your eyes
there is a woman from iraq with three small kids
the younger ones are three and six
she put a trampoline in the garden for the children to play on
so the local yobs threw stones and rocks at them
the family went away on holiday
and when they came back the trampoline had been ripped to shreds
the yobs through eggs at the windows
the mother was relieved that they were only eggs
the police asked her if she liked living in the area
she told them she didn't
so they accused her of making up stories
so that she could get a move to somewhere else
so a family of uprooted refugees is victimised
by a mob of disenfranchised youths
egged on by the gutter press
dividing and conquering with with their malicious tales
of tides of greedy immigrants
who flood the country to rip off our welfare system
meanwhile away from the tabloid spotlight
in the sordid margins of the media
the wealthy and the privileged go on screwing the poor and downtrodden
and no one bats an eyelid

Thursday, 30 September 2010

THR STRANGE COINCINCIDENCE OF JONATHAN EMMETT

i only ever had a passing acquaintanceship with jonathan emmett
when i arrived as a fresh-faced eighteen-year-old in 1986
to study architecture at nottingham university
he was a second year student flogging his drawing board and t square
in order to buy a bigger, better model
it was me who bought his old board
and the t square with his name printed neatly on the handle:
J P EMMETT
a name which i never bothered to scrub off or change
after this brief financial transaction
i don't recall having anything further to do with jonathan emmett
our paths never crossed again...
until yesterday in a weird way they did...

during the day
i've been thinking about looking out that old drawing-board of mine
i bought myself a set of pastels and some nice paper a while back
and now i've got some free time on my hands
it's a good opportunity to give the pastels a go
maybe try a self-portrait

later, after dinner, it's time for the woodle's school reading book
she has to read the a story aloud with me as part of her homework
this tends to be an onerous chore
as woodle suffers the task unwillingly
and aims to get it out of the way as briskly as possible
despite her obvious talent for reading and words
she mumbles, skips items she doesn't instantly recognise
and generally races through with the minimum of interest and effort
a typical exchange goes something like this:
woodle: 'billy cried out...(mumble)'
daddy (in a helpful encouraging tone): 'cried out in astonishment'
woodle (accusingly): 'that's what i said!' (carries on reading)
on this occasion it's a curious book entitled 'doohickey and the robot'
which hannah actually finds pretty straightforward
we uncharacteristically surge through most of the book at one sitting
before i tell her she can stop and get ready for bed
as she puts down the book and i thumb absent-mindedly through to the end
i come to the 'about the author' page
something about the photo of the boyish-faced writer makes me look twice
i check the cover and see the name inscribed: 'jonathan emmett'
surely not?
the book's from the late nineties
but there's a reference to the author's website
so i dash upstairs to check it out
the site's no longer there but a quick search takes me to another page
where the now considerably greyer and older-looking author
pulls an animated sequence of wacky kiddy-friendly faces
i scroll down the 'about me' section
blah blah blah...
before alighting on a crucial piece of evidence
a passing reference to his architecture studies at university
that seals it - it has to be him!
by some weird quirk of fatherhood, woodle's homework and modern technology
i am virtually reunited with jonathan p emmett once again

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

LAZY

i am on autumn sojourn from paid employment
a welcome break from wage slavery
a much needed release from the prison of the nine to five
suddenly much of the daily grind has been stripped away
the family routines are all that remain
the daily walk to bournville junior school
the dropping offs and the picking ups
which accompany the woodle's varied after-school itinerary
the piano lessons and the swimming classes
spanish club and brownies
supervising her reading book and her homework
with work on the cd complete
with all those little green plastic boxes finally packaged up
and dispatched across the atlantic to the cd baby warehouse
it is a chance for a little down time
time for reflection
time to stand and stare
time to try out a few new things
time to suck and to see

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

IGNOMINIOUS FAILURE

back to harborne high street
with a set of shiny new guitar strings
maybe i can find a better spot this time round
a little less traffic noise
a few more potential punters
i notice a place near the pedestrian precinct
where the pavement widens out a little
outside thomas cook and h & b
i set up in front of the crash barrier
and start to play under a slate grey sky
"there's no mistake
i smell that smell
it's that time of year again
i can taste the air"
kelly jones eat your heart out son!
but the wind is up today
and it makes my fingers cold and stiff
people shuffle past eyes down
there's a melancholic air about the scene
the new strings are more dynamic
but they cut into my fingers even more than the old rusty ones
forty-five minutes of singing into the wind and the traffic
and i am cold and disillusioned...and poor
for not a single tip or even glance of recognition have i received
dispirited i retire to a cafe nero to warm my hands over an americano
and reflect on the hit and miss of life
some days you win
some days you lose
one minute the midas touch
the next the touch of a ten-foot bargepole
kipling's twin imposters
triumph and disaster
that despite everything
must be treated just the same

Monday, 27 September 2010

AS TONY CYNICALLY PEDDLES HIS NEW BOOK...

"...the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives...

“More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again."

http://killinghope.org/bblum6/aer85.html

Thursday, 23 September 2010

HARBORNE HIGH STREET ON A SEPTEMBER AFTERNOON

it's a bright sunny day
warm and generous like an old friend
i'm proudly sporting an 'elephant in the room' t under a brown jacket
flared jeans and veggie shoes
and a dylanesque peaked cap for authenticity
i have ventured to harborne
home to an electic mix of denizens
a place where the moneyed waitrose brigade
rub shoulders with the down-at-heel home bargains hoi polloi
i peruse the high street
choosing my pitch carefully
immediately the privatized corporatised 21st-century encroaches
the wide pedestrian precinct between sainsbury's metro and w h smith's
out of bounds - private property!
the clocktower adult education centre is draped in scaffolding
the pavements which border the shop frontages are mostly narrow
with insufficient space for passers-by to get past
finally i spot a small recess in front of a low wall by waitrose
plenty of pavement in front of me
although i wonder whether it's another privatised plot
inviting some jobsworth manager to emerge and move me speedily on
time will tell
taking some, i get set up
the music stand to hold my lyric and chord crib sheets
my guitar case on which i scatter four quid's worth of change
mainly 50ps and pound coins
to give the punters an idea of what to put in
and a couple of my recent cd's to boost my street cred...
...now i'm ready
i warm up with a few covers
- old favourites that won't tax me too much
mainly too obscure for anyone to recognise:
'america' by simon & garfunkel
'high & dry' by radiohead
'providence' by kilbey & mclennan
'under the milky way' by the church
the traffic roars past
drowning out my acoustic strumming and unamplified voice
there are in fact far more vehicles than pedestrians
'did dylan and woody guthrie have to put up with this?'
i wonder to myself
despite the acoustic competition, i'm oddly grateful
for the background noise serves two useful purposes
1) it masks my various errors and cock-ups as i stretch
into half-remembered chord progressions
2) it forces me to pipe up and project a bit more
allowing me to compare
the quieter numbers that float up into the blue yonder
with the louder, more punchier songs that are more likely to get heard
despite the steady flow of waitrose customers
the place i've chosen has an obvious flaw
it's not conducive to anyone actually stopping as there's nowhere to sit or lounge
people simply hurry past on their way to somewhere else
again this has its advantages
i find myself replaying botched sections of songs
to get them right the second or third time round
it's almost like rehearsing at home in the front room
but my spirits are almost immediately lifted by the first tip
quickly followed by several more
the demographic is hard to pin down
equal numbers of men and women
but a definite bias towards the middle-aged
happily no jobsworth emerges from waitrose
and to my pleasant surprise i get no aggro
as i relax into my own songs
i begin to take in the street scene
the bus passengers staring through the grimy windows
as if at an exotic zoo creature
the high-vis workmen
the pretty girls
the mutton dressed as lamb
the little gawking kids and their embarrassed mums
the disabled in their little battery-operated cars
after an hour and forty-five minutes
my fingers are red raw from holding down the high-capoed strings
for songs like 'octopus' and 'feels like summer'
it's time to pack up and collect the woodle from school
my ambition was to earn my usual holland and barrett lunch
a pasty and a flapjack for two quid
so how have i done?
i scoop up the coins to do a count-up
it all adds up to the grand total of...
five pounds and twenty-eight pence!!!!
an hourly rate of exactly three pounds
only half the minimum wage
but busking sweet melodies on a warm summer's day
beats shovelling chips in macdonalds by a very VERY long way
i will be back on the high street...
once my sore fingertips have recovered

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

THE SCHOOL WALK

it's rush-hour but we're in no hurry
the woodle and i are plodding happily down the lane
hand in hand
as we enter the park the dew-soaked grass sparkles in the sunlight
we debate the route:
straight on across the bridge and up past the kiddies playground
or around the lake and across the muddy patch by the motorcycle barrier
thinking of my shoes i bend to the woodle's request
and take the crunchy gravel path skirting the lake
keeping one eye out for freshly fallen conkers
it's time to start off a general knowledge quiz:
name four birds that we often see on the lake
woodle takes the question in her stride:
canada goose, swan, brown duck (mallard) and...
(just then we meet a small red-beaked bird hobbling painfully beside the path)
...moorhen
we stop to watch the injured bird with curiosity
then, unable to help, continue through the gap in the fence
we pass bill's house on the corner
and cross the soulless mock-tudor housing estate
where half the properties seem to be for sale or to let
the bristol road is a blur of impatient traffic
grimacing car-owners tightly focused on their school runs or commutes
we imperiously stop the traffic under the protection of the green man
before disappearing through another gap in another fence
back into the mysterious labyrinth of the bournville village estate
i belatedly resume the general knowedge quiz
even though the woodle's not really up for it today:
which country do volkswagen cars like ours come from?
(silence)
clue: it's a european country beginning with 'g'
(silence)
another clue: ivan and ruby's mommy grew up there
germany!
now we trip the light fantastic through bournville park
then a laurel and hardy moment:
a family of helmeted cyclists get amusingly tangled up with an elderly couple and their dog
the woodle's bag is getting heavy so i offer to carry it
the school entrance mills with well-to-do mums and their dawdling offspring
at the bottom of a steep flight of stone steps
under the watchful eye of the carillon
i kiss my darling daughter a fond farewell
and retrace my steps through the meandering green lung of bournville

Friday, 17 September 2010

RED SKY IN THE MORNING

blood red sky floods the horizon
leaking into my day
shepherd's warning melts the soft ice cream clouds
singeing the treetops
orange afterglow warms my skin
stirring me from heady sleep

Thursday, 16 September 2010

BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS

the sweat of the sun
drips from my brow
the tears of the moon
spill from my eyes
the dust of the stars
shines in my hair
the blood of the dark night
oozes from the pores of my skin

Sunday, 12 September 2010

PARADOX

a man's greatest strength is his greatest weakness
the more numerous his possessions
the more he fears their loss
the greater his talent
the less his application
the finer the bloom of his physical beauty
the greater the suffering of his fading looks
the more developed his perfectionist's eye
the more he misses the bigger picture
the broader his overview
the narrower his grasp of the fine detail
the higher his pinnacle of achievement
the more precipitous his fall from grace

Friday, 10 September 2010

LA VIDA CONTEMPLATIVA

i gaze through the glass into the middle distance
vaguely registering the little rivulets of rain
as they meander down my windscreen
half noticing the cars that ghost across my rear-view mirror
then pull in and park
the drivers who stumble untidily out, fumbling for umbrellas
the scruffy kids in badly-fitting green school uniforms who trudge past
the harrassed parents armed with lethal pushchairs
barking at their errant offspring
briefly they stray into the fringes of my field of concentration
then are gone
for i sit calmly on a faraway riverbank
watching the ripples cross the surface of the water
sipping wine from a tall slender glass
listening to the soothing calls of thrushes
and the sweet poetry that my companion reads to me

Monday, 6 September 2010

CULTURE CLASH

for the last couple of months
i have spent the long hours of my paid employment
cloistered in a classroom
with five fresh-faced chinese high school-leavers
they go under such cutesy monikers as flora, sky and...monica!
i wonder what these inscrutable teenagers must make of their experience
accustomed as they are to the invisibility of a class of sixty other
suddenly thrust iinto the full glare
of this prancing, grimacing, gesticulating foreigner
with his messy blond hair and big blue eyes
his pale skin and pointy nose
his penchant for flowery shirts and corduroy jackets
for tossing out awkward questions
and playing the devil's advocate with the answers
most of the time the default setting is bewilderment
they simply cannot detect my irony
although they are nice kids
and our senses of humour somehow manage to intersect often enough
for a little rapport to develop
for example in the cafe at winterbourne house
when i brandish a mini-tub of margarine with the flora logo
(i'd been longing to do that since the start of the course)
and everyone including flora gets the joke...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

FINISHING TOUCHES

a harmony vocal here
a guitar motif there
a touch of reverb or delay somewhere else
the vocals need a tad more volume in the chorus
the congas needs slightly more of a crescendo in the bridge
note by note
layer by layer
arpeggio by arpeggio
a minor chord by f major triad
my artifact is born at last!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

AUTUMN FALL

on the cusp
august merges imperceptibly into september
the chill is already returning
three days of camping has stiffened the bones
the dawn becomes a little darker
the dusk ever more premature

hot on the heels of the peregrine
a family of red kites preside over towersey folk festival
above the tents and marquees
over the muddy thoroughfares
high on the thermals they soar
low they swoop in search of their next meal
their mighty wings holding them aloft
poised in delicate equilibrium

the festival music swoops and soars also
melodeons, accordians and fiddles perform tricky manoeuvres
steep climbs and precipitous descents
loop the loops and smooth landings
the musicianship sparks and ignites
burning bright through the late summer night sky

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

PEREGRINE

one look over the plunging precepice turns my legs to jelly
we descend the steep path from the limestone pavement
where the flowers and ferns find sanctuary among the grykes
to the valley floor of this green and pleasant land
dry stone walled into minature fields
a group of men peer into several telescopes mounted on tripods
their cyclopean eyes peeled on a rocky ledge
just below the limestone pavement where we stood moments ago
it transpires that this remote eyrie is home to a family of peregrines
and one of them was in residence a couple of hours earlier
i take a peek and am astonished to see an unseen rock climber's backside
picked out in x30 magnification!
but no peregrines
i take a stroll along the babbling brook
which washes clean the rocks and stones
when i glimpse a dark shadow that bisects the rock face
and then is gone
i return to the cyclops men with the glad tidings
and lo and behold
one of them trains his scope upon the larder
where a stripe-breasted bird of prey sits in regal magnificence
as i gaze through the telescope
it seems to be staring straight back at me
its hawk eye fixed unblinking on this human spy

Thursday, 19 August 2010

FLAT BATTERY

jack arrives armed with a formidable array of tools
he whips out a battery tester and delivers the verdict
this 12 volt battery has a mere 3.5 volts left in it
in other words it is beyond help
it will have to be replaced
the next task is to remove the offending organ
but the design of the bonnet space is weirdly lacking in ergonomic logic
the big fat battery occupies the most inaccessible position
almost under the windscreen wipers
worse still it is hemmed in
betwixt the rubber shielding of a pipe and a rainscreen
taking our chances with leaking battery acid
the two of us painstakingly lever the thing onto its end
and then manoeuvre its 17-kilo bulk past the various pipes and other gubbins
up to selly oak we fly in jack's more reliable vehicle
to exchange it for a new model
reversing the previous process we reconnect the new powerbox
and to my delight we have ignition!
i feel that an envelope has been pushed

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

ARTIFACT

Buried in dust
Covered in sand
I cradle an artifact in the palm of my hand
Soiled with earth
Coated with grime
I stare at this artifact ahead of its time

Forged from a fire
Fashioned from gold
A craftsman so far away, such a long time ago
His race or his creed
I do not know
Who buried this artifact so long ago?

In the cold stinging rain
As the sleet turns to snow
I bury my artifact deep down below
For the future to find
For tomorrow to know
I bury this artifact deep in the snow

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

JUMP CHUMP

for the first time in my life i am a car owner
for years i have hired vehicles for the odd weekend getaway
as and when
but now that i am the unproud owner of a rusting metal leviathan
i quickly find myself out of my comfort zone
and out of my depth
not that this is necessarily a bad thing
there's no doubt about my discomfort
at making my personal contribution to ecological meltdown
but i'm talking about a different kind of discomfort
for the over-sized german people's wagon
inherited from some friends returning to korea
sits stubbornly on the drive
an immovable object
(if only i was an unstoppable force)
over the last few weeks
i have reluctantly been coughing up the readies
like an out-of-order fruit machine
the service
the insurance
the road tax
the breakdown insurance
into four figures already
finally yesterday i decide to take the new addition to the family for a short test-drive
problem one: the remote doesn't work
i have to turn the key in the lock the old-fashioned way
just to open the door
problem two: the car doesn't start
the engine is unmoved
i quickly come to a straightforward but unwelcome conclusion
the battery is out of juice!
perhaps five weeks of inactivity have taken their toll
what do i do now?
i've heard of people using jump leads
to charge the battery from another vehicle
(the mr bean episode i used to use in class
where he gives someone a heart attack immediately springs to mind)
but where can i get a pair and what exactly do i do with them?
i give my little bro a call
he suggests taking the battery out and getting it tested
but then starts warning me about the potential dangers of electrocution
by accidentally touching a terminal with a spanner
and closing the circuit
not exactly encouraging
i set off around the neighbourhood in search of assistance
the claridges at number 29 are away on holiday
i have to introduce myself to the chinese neighbour at number 25
who keeps chickens in his back garden
no, he doesn't have any jump leads
he uses aa homestart
i head up the road towards my parents' place
stopping off at the o'neills at number 83
they don't have any jump leads either
although mr o would be happy to help me if i can lay my hands on a pair
i'm beginning to detect a distinct lack of neighbourhood resilience
when i remember m & d's mechanically-minded neighbour, rob
unfortunately he's away on holiday too
suddenly i think of the hynds
who i know through governing at h's school
i get through to jack, who doesn't have any jump leads
but does have a battery recharger
he offers to pop round the following afternoon to take a look
and this novice breathes a tentative sigh of relief...

Monday, 16 August 2010

ROWAN

not at kinson
at the t-junction
of the front garden, our drive and the pavement
there stands a small mountain ash
twenty feet tall
its branches shading an area about four yards in diameter
shielding the house from north-westerlies
shading the kitchen window from low-angled evening sunlight
its pale grey bark is smooth to the touch
it has been chopped around a little
but its foliage hides a multitude of sins
in may it blossoms
small white cauliflower-like bunches
now these pretty white bunches have metamorphosed into juicy red berries
which attract eagerly pecking blackbirds and thrushes
and clumsy over-sized wood pigeons
who bend the slimmer branches under their weight
if you want to identify a rowan
the small pinnate leaf fingers are a dead give-away
very similar to an ash
but without the black buds or dangling keys
it's the first thing i see when i turn the corner from the park
standing polite sentry over our garden forecourt

Sunday, 15 August 2010

WAIT

to the aeropuerto to collect the girls
the elements fluctuate wildly
one minute sunshine
the next a torrential downpour
one minute squinting brightness
the next near darkness
a fierce spray flies up from the wheels of the constant overtakers
lights and windscreen wipers need constant adjustment
whichever setting i choose fails to deal with the weather conditions
at one dip on the other side of the chilterns
the motorway becomes a ford
great splashes of water everywhere
visibility is tenuous
ironic after this long dry spell
i'm actually on time for a change
but the aeroplane isn't
'expected 18:16' reads the arrivals board
it's running 45 minutes late
maybe time for the cloudburst to pass
time for an americano in the arrivals lounge
an inappropriate word for this stark, hard-edged fluorescent space
with its anti-ergonomic metal seats
as i people-watch i am reminded of my brother's comment
'i love heathrow
full of beautiful women from all over the world'
even in this globalised era
and spending my days in a multinational workplace
it's fun to speculate on the origins of this procession of human traffic
to strain for a snatch of lingustic evidence
tempting to take a peak at a tell-tale suitcase label
pretty portugese or brazilian beauty?
danish pastry or double dutch?
chinese, japanese or korean?
i wouldn't bet my life on it most of the time
in between the people-watching
and the fashion parade
i manage to catch up on a few days worth of notebook diary
but still no sign of j & h
it's half past six now
but the double doors leading from the duty free area
are conspicuously underemployed
as all eyes are trained on them from behind the barriers
as if on a catwalk
finally some signs of life
but it's the passengers off another flight from i don't-know-where
one woman emerges before the waiting onlookers
brazenly trolleying along her well-displayed improbably large cleavage
with an equally large grin on her face
there's the usual crowd of miserable-looking meeters-and-greeters
professional waiters
holding up their little placards printed in various scripts
a korean one catches my eye
'sun tours' it says humorously
'torrential tours' more like
at long last
after two hours of waiting
after seemingly two entire planeloads of seoul passengers
have disgorged themselves through the barriers
j & h emerge beaming into the fluorescent spotlight
we embrace in a family hug in the middle of the catwalk
before loading up and setting off back along the motorway
as we catch up on events
it's not until i see signs for reading
that i realize i've forgotten to turn off the m4
next thing i know we've turned into a dead end at some business park
straight out of the opening credits of 'the office'
i keep one eye out for wernham-hogg
as twilight falls
it's a lengthy cross-country stretch through berkshire and buckinghamshire
via a pub dinner at the evocatively named hare's hatch
before we reach the m40
j & h slumber while i count down the long miles
the signs for oxford, bicester, banbury and warwick slowly recede
and it's not long before midnight
when we finally tumble out of the jalopy at number 27
i just can't wait to hit the pillow