Sunday, 31 May 2020

Will,








                                             
In a Devon Valley, now and then

Dear Reader,

I was watching a DVD about the beginning of the 1914/18 war. In it was this young lad from a rural community in Devon.  I suppose he left school at about fourteen and knew very little about life in the wider world.  He thought going to war would be an adventure, was excited at the prospect of going overseas.  And, so he was told, was coming home by Christmas.  Little did he know poor chap.
And it was the same story for thousands of young men seduced into a uniform to fight the Hun.
Not only did thousands die, impaled on the wire on their first day at Pachendale, but they left behind a whole generation of young women with no one to marry.  My own nanny, Agnes Ellen Turner, who  I thought of as my mother, had a beau called Henry before the war.  They were courting
for two years, then she waved him off at Plymouth to sail to France.  But he didn't return. He was killed. And Nanny remained unwed all her life.

                                                                                             *

I often wondered what 'mind your own beeswax' meant.  Now I think I know, and will share this with you.   The use of beeswax in the eighteenth century was used to fill small pox marks on the face.  If you sat too near the fire the wax would melt and run. So you might not look your best.

                                                                                              *


Will,

a young Devon lad
from the valley,
sunburnt, strong,
worked on the land,
rode the horses,
fed the pigs.
That was all he knew.

Then the war came.
He enlisted
for a few shillings,
excited at the thought of France,
the apple orchards,
beating the Hun,
being home for Christmas.

What he didn't know,
and wasn't told,
was the horror of it all.
The fleas, the rats, the noise,
the mud, the incessant rain,
the lice,
and, of course, the bombs.

On the second day out
scared, wet and cold,
he was impaled on wire,
had his head blown off.

                                                  Did Will die a hero
                                                  in that horrific war?
                                                  Or was it all lies
                                                  he gave his life for?

                                                                                             *

With very best wishes, Patricia

Top photograph of Devon taken by Kaye Leggett.



Sunday, 24 May 2020

The Man from Middlesbrough

                                                                            
The North Sea


Dear Reader,

I hope you will like the poem: The Man from Middlesbrough, which I am putting on the blog this week.  I wrote it in a rage when I heard that the shipyard there was being closed.

Once upon a time shipbuilding thrived on the Tees.  For over two centuries the river Tees was among the most productive shipbuilding regions in the United Kingdom.  The company, William Gray and Furness built ships of many types sailing under a multitude of flags and owners.  Smith's Dock, another ship yard on the Tees, launched more than 900 vessels from South Bank, ranging from tugs and trawlers to warships, tankers and bulk carriers, between 1908 and its closure in 1987.

I think some shipyards were closed as being associated with the risk of asbestos exposure.  Well whatever the reason for shutting down the ship yard in Middlesbrough, hundreds of men were made redundant when it closed.

I heard the man in the poem speaking on the radio with such despair in his voice, I sat down and wrote this poem straight away.

                                                                          *
                                                                      

The Man from Middlesbrough

ordered another cup of tea
lit another cigarette

He held his head
in his history-stained hands,
nicotine fingers clutching
tufts of dirty grey hair.
He stared, not-seeing, at
the plastic tablecloth,
his mind numb.

His father, his grandfather,
worked in this shipyard,
watched ships lovingly grow
from steel plates to proud traders,
built to sail from the Tees estuary,
into the North Sea
and the world's great oceans.

In his head the man heard the noise,
music to him, of drag chains,
when a ship pushed along
the greasy slipway, slid into the sea.
The the man thought of his mates,
of shared experiences from school days,
first girlfriends, first kisses,
walks in the Cleveland hills.
And he thought of the old canteen,
warm with steam from the tea urn,
from brotherhood.

The man wiped his eyes
with the back of his hand,
ordered another cup of tea,
lit another cigarette.

                                                                                *


From DH Lawrence, 1916,  in Cornwall

'The country is simply wonderful, blue, graceful little companies of bluebells everywhere on the moors, the gorse in flame, and on the cliffs and by the sea, a host of primroses, like settling butterflies, and seapinks like a hover of pink bees, near the water.  There is a Spanish ship run on the rocks just below - great excitement everywhere.'


With very best wishes, Patricia



Top photograph of the North Sea by Kaye Leggett

Sunday, 17 May 2020

A Valediction








Dear Reader,

I think I have told you before now that I absolutely hate mice.  They terrify me.  I am the sort of joke woman who jumps onto a chair and screams if I see one.  So I was interested to read about a WREN serving in the 1940/45 war.  She had been on duty all day and although exhausted, she met a boyfriend and they went dancing at an expensive club and restaurant.  And then it was hit by a bomb.

The part of the evening she remembers most was seeing mice literally jumping out of the walls where presumably they lived.  I didn't know mice lived in walls but I did read about a woman in the Tudor Age, who rode to London from Stratford, and stayed the night in an inn.  She couldn't get a wink of sleep as the mice in the walls were skittering about for hours keeping her awake.

Staying in old country inns from now on, if there are any open, I shall look with interest at the walls
of the bedroom I am appointed, and with some trepidation.

We all know, don't we, that we are never more than six feet from a rat .......

                                                                               *

May 20th, 1800 from Dorothy Wordsworth's journal.

'A fine mild rain.  After breakfast the sky cleared and before the clouds passed from the hills I went to Ambleside.  It was a sweet morning.  Everything green and overflowing with life, and the streams making a perpetual song, with thrushes and all little birds, not forgetting the stone-chats.'

 I think our countryside is 'green and overflowing with life' at the moment.  It certainly is here in the Cotswolds.

                                                                               *

A Valediction

To innocence
to childhood
to youth
to skipping about
to making daisy chains
to looking in the mirror
seeing someone pretty
to wearing gypsy clothes
feeling exotic in them
to flirting and being flirted with
to kissing someone new
drowning in that indescribable
feeling of lust and love
to smoking king-size cigarettes
to being passionate about something
daydreaming about a bright future
to changing the world
making poverty unknown
the poor rich.

But knowing now the truth
about old age being shite
hello to fudge and ice cold gins,
small pleasures and quieter things.

                                                                           *  


With very best wishes, Patricia                                                               
                                                                       

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Of Different Stuff

Dear Reader


 The Wailing Woman at Skellig Michael... - Wild Atlantic Way | Facebook

The Wailing Woman at Skellig Michael... - Wild Atlantic Way | Facebook

The Wailing Women





 Photograph of me taken on VE Day





I think I have a small theme this week. This is it.  In this lockdown I have been doing lots of reading of various things, and about people and places.  And I have come to the conclusion that there have been throughout history some astonishing, interesting and completely wonderful human beings but, in particular, that they have been so brave.

Whilst watching Civilization I saw Skellig Michael, a small island off the west coast of Ireland.  It is named after the archangel Michael and skellig is derived from the Irish language meaning a splinter of stone.

It is best known for its Gaelic monastery, founded between the 6th and 8th centuries.  No one lives there now but it has a variety of inhabiting species, such as gannets, puffins, a colony of razorbills and a population of about fifty grey seals.

The rock contains the remains of a tower house and a cross inscribed slab known as the Wailing Women.  The monastery can be approached by narrow and steep flights of stone steps which ascend from three landing points.

No more than twelve monks and an abbot lived at the monastery at any time.  The monastery was occupied until the 12th or early 13th century and remained a site for pilgrimage until the modern era.
The monastery was built into a terraced shelf (600ft) above sea level.  It contains two oratories a cemetery, crosses, cross-slabs and six domed beehive cells and a medieval church.

Why anyone would want to live there is a mystery to me but the historian Walter Horn wrote that  "the goal of an ascetic was not for comfort".  Just looking at the beehive cells made of dry stones
makes me feel cold and I am sure they were freezing inside, imagine living there.  And think of climbing up these rocky and dangerous paths to get to the top.

In fact in 1996 four people lived there.

                                                                      *

Of Different Stuff

The ATS, the WAAFS, the WRENS,
rode in battleships,
flew spitfires and mosquitoes,
decoded enemy messages,
nursed the wounded.

They tilled the land
drove tractors, fed the pigs,
birthed the lambs,
rose at dawn,
went to bed late
exhausted and often hungry.

The walked alone in London
late at night
in the dark and dangerous streets,
they slept in freezing dormitories
shared a lavatory and basin
with twenty others.

These women were made
of different stuff.
They were fearless,
they were brave.
                                                                       *

I am ashamed at my fearfulness
in the peace they fought for us,
gave us.
I am made, sadly, of different stuff.

                                                                        *

With very best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Katie's Angels and Stanmer Park




Dear Reader,

I read a piece in the Spectator magazine about the Rev. David Johnson, an eccentric vicar, which made me think of Robert Hawker, a 19th Century vicar of Morwenstow in Cornwall.

He was the eldest son of nine children and at the the age of ten was left in the care of his grandparents. At this age he was reading and writing poetry.  As an undergraduate, aged 19, he married a woman of 41.  The couple spent their honeymoon at Tintagel in 1823, a place that kindled his life long fascination with Arthurian legends.

He was an eccentric, both in his clothes and his habits.  He loved bright colours and the only black things he wore were his socks.  He built a small hut, which became known as Hawker's Hut, from driftwood on the cliffs over looking the Atlantic Ocean.  He spent many hours there writing poems and letters. One eccentricity attributed to him is that he excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays and another for dressing up as a mermaid.  He talked to birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pig as a pet.  I wish there were more people about like that today.
                                                                        
                                                                           

Katie's Angels

At dawn, driving eastwards,
mist still covering the fields,
trees ribboned in cobwebs,
sky blue and white,

she saw a rabbit, a pigeon,
and two hen pheasants,
but no cherubs, no bright light.

Much later, lost, tired,
rounding a corner she saw
gathered in the road
twenty white, white doves

The flew up,
a breath of sunshine tipping their wings.
Ecstatic, she recognized the sign;
recognized her angels.

                                                                            *


I am putting a poem on the blog this week, Stanmer Park, which was written by Otis Teasley, my nine year old great nephew.  I find this poem very touching, it really speaks to me, which in my opinion, is what a poem ought to do.  "Emotion, recollected in tranquility" as William Wordsworth wrote.  So congratulations Otis.





 Ten Favorite Trees for Wildlife • The National Wildlife Federation ...



Stanmer Park, by Otis Teasley

There is a place near a farm
With bluebells.

I felt the soft leaves
Of the plants.

In the trees, I saw birds.
In the clearing, I heard rustling.

The taste of wild garlic
Was strong, sharp.

The sky shimmered.
The white clouds soared.

Some trees stood proud.
Others laid low.

Each time I arrive, I feel more energised.
Each time I leave, I feel calm.


                                                                            *
Thank you Otis.


With very best wishes, Patricia

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Realization and The Mind Cupboard



World War II Mosquitos

Dear Reader,

I have been reading such an interesting book about the young women who joined the services at the beginning of the Second World War.

I thought this small piece about the Mosquito, a wooden aircraft,  I would share with you, hoping you too will find it interesting.  One of the furniture industries in north-east London changed tack and instead of making chairs and tables started making the Mosquito. Sheets of paper-thin plywood and balsa-wood were glued together, heat-strengthened and then sawn, shaved and shaped into the plane's components. The result was a very light, fast, highly versatile fighter-bomber, and the Mosquito built a fearsome reputation not just as a fast unarmed and light bomber, but also as a U boat night fighter, as well as a path finder on large scale bomb attacks.

                                                                             *

This week and last I have found literally thousands of people looking at the poem : The Mind Cupboard" and I can't quite work out why this is.  Most of these readers come from Turkmenistan and I wonder, if you are one of them, could you write and tell me what it is about this poem that you like so much?  I do know it is difficult to write on the comments box in my blog but I would be so grateful if you could try.    I have put it on again this week.

                                                                              *

Realization

I am
part of the whole.

I am
in the first light,
the bird's first song,
the sun's first dart
through the curtain crack,
in the music of summer trees.

I am
part of the alpha,
the birth,
the awakening,
the growing and spreading,
the throbbing of life.

I am part of all suffering
hands blood-stained.
Part of the love
humanity shares and
of all good things.

I am
part of the omega,
the closing, the last light,
the call back from the dark
to the bright, eternal night.

                                                                              *

The Mind Cupboard

My mind cupboard overflows
with unwanted debris.
It needs a spring clean.

I will brush away the cobwebs
of cheerless thoughts.
Scrub out the stains of childhood.

I will replace the brass hooks
corroded with salt tears,
empty all the screams
hoarded through the years.

I will replace the accumulated ashes
from the worn shelf-paper,
with virgin tissue.

I will chase and catch the wasps,
relieve them of their stings.
I will refill this cupboard
with love, and learnt, brighter things.

                                                                                 *

With blessings and best wishes, Patricia                                                                

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Chapel




                                                                                      The Celtic Cross


Dear Reader,

We have been watching Kenneth Clark's television series 'Civilization' on DVDs. It is a wonderful stroll through thousands of years of what it means to be civilized and I have very much enjoyed it.  Unfortunately I left school when I was fifteen and so had a very patchy, short education.  Most of the things I have knowledge of and understand I have acquired through reading voraciously.

But what has dawned on me watching this series is what has been, and probably still is, important to intellectuals, academics, painters, artists, authors, the elite, is wealth and what to spend it on. Incredible jewels, fantastic ornate churches and cathedrals, castles and museums, art with life-size people in various states of undress and enormous statues in stone, inhabit the landscape.  Apparently this is what civilization is made of but for me it is all too much.

I want and have a very simple life.  The Celtic people got is right I think, their creed is my creed. This is one of their prayers:              
                                                      May you have
                                                      walls for the wind
                                                      And a roof for the rain
                                                      And drinks beside the fire
                                                      Laughter to cheer you
                                                      And those you love near you
                                                      And all that your heart may desire

                                                                            *



Chapel

Away with the cherubs
the angels, the painted ceilings
the high arches
the high ceilings
nudes male and female
the artifacts
the gold crosses
and ornate statues of the
Virgin Mary.

Give me a chapel with
whitewashed bricks
wooden pews
oak door with studs
daisies on the altar
in a china jug
a bust of St. Columba
and quiet peace
in God's house.


                                                                             *

With very best wishes, Patricia