Sunday, 28 February 2021

Bridal Red






                                                                                          Maasai Women
 

                       

Dear Reader,

This poem 'Bridal Red' is one I often think about because I was so moved by the story it told. 

I had watched a documentary about a young girl from the Maasai tribe in Kenya.  I have never forgotten it and still think about this girl sometimes, even now.  She lived in a village, keeping watch over the cattle, playing in the river, loving and being loved by her mother, father and many brothers and sisters. But then, when she was about fourteen, men from a neighbouring tribal village, about eighteen miles from her own, came looking for a bride and, after hard bargaining, she was sold.  The girl was devastated and cried racking tears.  But she was covered in red sand, decorated in elaborate beads, and was made to walk over the mountains to join the man she was to marry.  The documentary did not show her in the village, but informed us at the end that she had died after being there only six weeks.  It did not tell us what the young girl died of, but I suspect of a broken heart.

The poem is one I wrote later, in great sorrow.

                                                                                  *

Bridal Red


I saw
a young girl smiling,
laughing, threading beads, minding goats,
chasing chickens, pulling feathers from their tails,
holding hands with sisters, friends,
chattering, gossiping, rough and tumbling
in bright sunlight.

I saw
scrub-plains, white rocks and blue,
blue mountains, straw huts,
men on haunches, chewing,
and thin dogs, fat babies,
loving families, happiness.

I saw
men, suddenly, appear from a distant village,
offering cows and sheep as an exchange
for a shepherd in need of a woman, a wife.
The girl was chosen,
a bargain was struck.

I saw
her stand silently, acquiescent,
red ochre paste and mud
plastered on her shaven head
necklaces of golden wire
wound tightly round her neck,
ankle bracelets in profusion.

I saw
her sisters, her friends, not laughing now,
offering presents,
a carved stick, a beaded purse.
At dawn she would leave as the sun rose,
to walk over the mountain pass
to an unknown bridegroom,
an unknown life.

I saw
as she left
her grief, her tears trickling,
then flooding through the paste and mud.
I saw her sorrow as the colour red
and a crown of thorns her maidenhead.


                                                                     *

Very best wishes, Patricia





Sunday, 21 February 2021

England dear to me






 Dear Reader,

Awake last night I started to think about Prince Harry and how he must be feeling now he has his identity, his medals and all that represents, taken away from him.  And he lives in California and, it is said, will very rarely come back to England.  And I bet he will be homesick for us, left here in these damp islands of Great Britain.

I mean, what is it that pulls at our heart strings when we are away abroad for any length of time?    After all, some of our habits are distinctly strange.  For example we like to go to the beach when it is raining, and have our picnics. We like eating, when settled into a damp sandy spot, cucumber sandwiches and Penguin biscuits and a cup of tea from a thermos.  And then thoroughly wet, we like to walk in our wellingtons  along the sea shore, gathering shells to take home and put in the bathroom.

If we were on a French beach or Spanish beach in the sunshine we would be munching on baguette with local cheese, washed down with a bottle of cool white wine. A bit different.

And we like visiting tea rooms.  Having a good chat with a friend with a slice of drizzle cake and a cup of tea. And we like going for walks in muddy fields in the middle of nowhere. And we don't catch birds to put them in cages, we feed them in our gardens and grow attached to them. And we like brass bands and rousing anthems to bring a tear to our cheek, which makes us feel proud to be British.

You can probably think of lots of things that mark us out as English. But there are a few.  Harry is English, traditionally so, and I am sure on quiet reflection he misses his homeland and his English friends and family. 

We miss him too.


                                                                                *

England Dear to Me

It is the robins, blackbirds, blue tits,
hopping and grubbing in the garden
that lurch my heart
make Eng;and dear to me.
It is the velvet of green moss,
oak trees, old with history,
the first cowslips,
hedgerows filled with dog rose, foxglove,
and shy sweet-peas in china bowls.
It is finding tea rooms in small market towns,
enticing with homemade scones and strawberry jam,
or suddenly glimpsing church spires
inching their way to heaven.
It is finding a Norman church,
full with a thousand years of prayer,
and a quiet churchyard mothering its dead.
It is small country lanes, high hedged,
views of mauve hills stretching skywards,
sheep and lambs dotting the green,
and bleached Norfolk beaches,
silence only broken with a seagull's cry.
It is the people,
their sense of humour,
their way of saying "sorry" when you bump into them,
their fairness, and once or twice a year
their "letting go",
singing "Jerusalem" with tears and passion.

It is these things
that lurch my heart
make England dear to me.

                                                                                     *


With very best wishes, Patricia


Sunday, 14 February 2021

I glimpsed a child





                                                                                    Gold Finches
 

Dear Reader,

We put the bird feeder back in the garden last week and the  gold finches came aplenty.  We have a little tray for seeds underneath the feeder and the birds love getting into it and swinging.  The squirrel came to see if he could climb up the pole but we foxed him.  Francis made a hole in an plastic tub which he put upside down on the pole so the squirrel could only climb so far and then he had to turn back.  He was furious and whisked his tail about before leaving in a huff.

 

Apparently the weather this week in Britain has recorded its lowest temperature of the 21st century and in Braemar, in the Highlands, the temperature was the chilliest it has been for 25 years.  But spare a thought for the poor souls of the late 16th and early 17th century.  Documents unearthed by a team of researchers from Bristol University have given insight into the hardships people faced then: namely famine, starvation and mass unrest.  In 1603, according to one report, "this year upon the fourth of October was the greatest snow that ever was known by the memory of man".

                                                                               *

From D.H. Lawrence in Cornwall, 1916

'Here the winds are so black and terrible.  They rush with such force that the house shudders, though the old walls are very solid and thick.  Only occasionally the gulls rise very slowly into the air.  And all the while the wind rushes and thuds and booms, and all the while the sea is hoarse and heavy.  It is strange, one forgets the rest of life.  It shuts one in within its massive violent world.Sometimes a wave bursts with a great explosion against one of the outlying rocks, and there is a tremendous ghost standing high on the sea, a great tall whiteness.'

                                                                              *


I glimpsed a child

on the kitchen chair
feet dangling
legs swinging

large brown eyes stared
from a dusty pale face

she didn't smile or speak

about seven years old I thought
Syrian or Iraqi
her clothes once pink and green
now mud-stained and torn

her silver bracelets sparkling
in the sunlight

I made her Moroccan mint tea
offered her cake
kissed her cold cheek
dried her tears

I fetched more sugar
but on return I saw
the chair was empty
the child gone
dissolved in the morning air

                                                                         *

With very best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 7 February 2021

A Curse



                                                                                        Sacred Places
 

 

Dear Reader,

Francis and I watched a film this week called 'The Dig' about an Anglo Saxon ship burial excavation at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, 1939, which apparently was the most famous archaeological dig in Britain in modern times.  The discovery at Sutton Hoo changed our understanding of some of the first chapters of English history and at a time seen as undeveloped, was illuminated as cultured and sophisticated.

When excavation of the burrows began in 1938 archaeologists uncovered the imprint of a 27m-long decayed ship, thought to be the burial site of an Anglo Saxon king. A chamber full of dazzling riches was found at the centre of the boat and these artifacts are considered by many to comprise the greatest treasures ever discovered in the UK.

I wasn't really meaning to tell you the story line of this film but perhaps I needed to introduce my own feeling of disgust.   Dismantling of buried bones, and the treasures put there to help the souls of the bodies rest in peace with their own things around them is, in my opinion, a violation of the sacred.  On Shakespeare's grave it is written:

"Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbear, to dig the dust enclosed here.  Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones."

 

                                                                                *

A Curse

on those who plunder the earth,
and violate sacred places.....

A curse on those who disturb
and steal gently-bandaged skulls,
legs, arms, and finger-bones,
jewels: perhaps a pearl bracelet,
a coral ring, hair pins, or a mosaic plate,
set out lovingly with food
for the long journey home.
Who have lain there, at peace,
for many thousand years,
the sand, the desert winds, the rains,
nature's bed.

A curse on those whose
laughter and excitement
fills the air, stealing these remains,
transporting them to people
in white coats,
who dissect their dignity,
stick labels on them,
give them to museums
to enlighten an ice-cream-licking public.

                                                                                      *


With best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Safe Harbour




Harbour

Dear Reader,

I did write this last week but in case you have forgotten the pictures here of harbours are to do with the poem at the bottom of the page.

                                                                                 *

Last week my very dearest and oldest friend died and, because of Covid, there was a Memorial celebration for her on Zoom.  I barely knew what Zoom meant and was very sceptical about how it would be.  But, my friends, it was wonderful.  

Mark, her son, and Lulu her daughter had written to as many of her friends they knew of, and to members of the family to assemble on Saturday at 1 o'clock on Zoom.  To do this they sent us a way of connecting with Zoom just by pressing a button.  For oldies this was perfect.  And, hey presto, there I could see all the old friends that I knew and lots of family members.  Mark said a few timely words about his Mum and showed us lots of photographs of Jessica from early childhood right up to today.  She was always a beautiful woman, and looked marvellous in all the photographs.

Her brother read that moving piece from 1 Corinthians, verse 13 that defines love from the Bible, and a couple of her favourite songs were played whilst Lulu read one of her favourite poems.  Then it was the turn of any friend who might liked to have shared a memory for us all to enjoy.  

I thought an interesting memory I had to share was when I lived with Jessica in 1959.  She was at that time working for MI5 spying on the Russians in London.  I didn't really know what she did since she wasn't allowed to divulge her job in any way, but I did know that she had to seem invisible .  She bought an indiscriminate beige mac, sensible shoes and brown stockings, wore no makeup and sometimes a bobble hat. I hardly knew her.  She came and went at all hours, and many years alter she told me that she had had to sit watching the Russian Embassy from a hotel room opposite, all night.

I think some modern technology is amazing, I am so so glad I was able to be there, to say goodbye is such a wonderful way, to such a wonderful friend.

                                                                                       *

 

 

Safe Harbour

Old love settles for a quiet harbour,
a place of quiet embracing
rocked in a gentle sea.

Young love is daring, dangerous,
rich in its fullness,
sticky in substance, ripe with seed.

Old love has a slower pace,
enriched with years of touch.
No need to preen and strut the hour.

The rib cage joins,
the bone becomes one bone,
the breath one breath.
Calms waters still seduce.


                                                                                    *


With very best wishes, Patricia

Top photograph taken by Kaye Leggett.

Sunday, 24 January 2021

Throwing Away








 Dear Reader,

From now on every Sunday when I write this blog I will put a photograph or two at the top of the page,and it will partner the poem at the bottom in case you were wondering what the photographs  were all about. 

                                                                                      * 

A very old friend, Catherine Addison, has just written her memoirs so that her family will know about her life and her life's work, with stories of all the relatives they share.  It is an amazing book, full of interest and would be interesting to the public I am sure, should they have the opportunity to read it. I must say I couldn't put it down and last night I dreamt of the small village in Scotland she wrote about where she and her husband went to fish every year .  

But Catherine and I had a few blank years when we didn't see each other and I knew next to nothing about her or her life.  And having read the book I am so sad that this was the case.  She worked for the British Travel Association  in London where her role was to work with, and through, the overseas media at the start of a huge growth in overseas visitor numbers. In 1998 she was awarded the MBE for services to tourism.

The point of this story about someone you don't know is that my thought run like this:  we know very little about each other, either old friends or new ones.  People simply are not interested in other people's lives, unless perhaps it is a new romance, and then only in a cursory way.  I have lived here in this Cotswold small town for twenty years and could count on my left hand how many questions I have ever been asked about my life, either in Oxford or elsewhere. 

I must be guilty of this lapse myself, this lack of curiosity for the people I have met, but I do try to ask questions and find most people love to tell me about themselves.  Perhaps more people should write of their life's adventures to share with friends who would be entertained by them, maybe show a part of themselves until then unknown.

                                                                                *

From Jane Austen, 1801, in Hampshire


'How do you like this cold weather?  I hope you have all been earnestly praying for it as a salutary relief from the dreadfully mild and unhealthy season preceding it, fancying yourself half purified from the want of it, and that you now all draw into the fire, complain that you never felt such bitterness of cold before, that you are half starved, quite frozen, and wish the mild weather back again with all your hearts'.

                                                                               *

Throwing Away

the letters,
those billets doux,
the photographs,
the dance programmes,
the theatre tickets,
the postcards,
is a formidable task,
and weeping is not forbidden.

Before discarding
these once precious things,
the proof of special moments
lived in earlier times,
memorize them all with care.
And afterwards, relive
this solitary, remembered road,
and weeping is not forbidden.

                                                                               *

With very best wishes, Patricia

 


                                                                              

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Small Moments of Warmth






                                                                                      Pony and trap

 

Dear Reader,

The pony and trap photographs are to do with the poem below.

                                                                                              *

From 1655 a pint of rum was the usual ration handed to each sailor in the Royal Navy.  It was served every day, half at 12 noon and the second half at about 5 or 6 pm, (though the amount decreased in following years). The rum ration was known as 'Pusser's Rum' the name being a corruption of Purser, the person who issued the rum each day.

Legend has it that Pusser's Rum is sometimes referred to as 'Nelson's Blood', because after the great Admiral Nelson's death at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, his body was preserved in a cask of spirits on its way home. But sailors are said to have drilled holes into the sides of the cask letting the liquid drain away. The sailors essentially drank his blood during the long journey.

 

                                                                                              *

 From Gilbert White, 1791, in Hampshire 

"Rugged, Siberian weather.  The narrow lanes are full of snow in some places...The road-waggons are obliged to stop, and the stage-coaches are much embarassed.  I was obliged to be much abroad on this day, and scarce ever saw its fellow.'

From James Woodforde, 1790, in Norfolk

'The season so remarkably mild and warm that my brother gathered this morning in my garden some full blown primroses.'

                                                                                              *

Small moments of warmth


I remember a little warmth
Joey trotting the family through Norfolk lanes,
the small yellow trap swaying in the sunshine.

I remember picnics on Yarmouth beach
with enough blue sky 'to make a sailor's trouser'.
We ate cucumber sandwiches, Penguin biscuits.

I remember dark evenings,
the small warm flame from a Tilly lamp
lighting the kitchen, and sometimes for supper
we had chicken, chocolate mousse.

I remember a warm holiday in France
squeezed into the back of a car,
singing old thirties love songs.

But will these small moment of warmth,
at the end, be enough to heat and split
the heavy stones that circle the human heart,
allow salt tears to trickle through the cracks?

                                                                                                *


With very best wishes, Patricia