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The Original "Getting Real"

The Original "Getting Real"
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Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Thank you for visiting this blog throughout the year. A sincere wish from my heart that, wherever in the world you might be, your Christmas is filled with joy, peace and beauty!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

"The Earth is the Bow"

The poet and saint, John of the Cross, whose feast day is 14th December, is probably best known for his intense 'Dark Night of the Soul' poems. This, however, I think is very beautiful and also quite appropriate for today which is also the anniversary of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's Consort, and their daughter, Princess Alice, who was such a spiritual seeker and died (as did her father) so young....

You let
my sufferings cease,
for there was no one who could cure them.
Now let my eyes behold your face for you are our only love.

My spirit’s body is rising near – this earth a bow
that shot me;
now lift me into your arms as something precious
that you dropped.

My only suffering, from this day forth,
will be your divine
and you will constantly cure my blessed sight each time
you bring your face so near to mine
and call me bride.

Do not be sad, my old friends; look,
these wings are finally stretched and laughing.
Our souls are rising near to you - this earth a bow that shot us;
now lift me into your arms, dear God,
like something precious that
you dropped.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010


It seems so short a time since we were shovelling snow in the interminable winter last year, and yet already, with no summer to speak of in between, here we are again. Nowadays snow is seen so often as nothing but a nuisance and yet, as Robert Bridges wonderful poem – London Snow - shows, in our clamour for ‘efficiency’ it’s easy to overlook the beauty of the season....

When men were all asleep the snow came flying,
In large white flakes falling on the city brown,
Stealthily and perpetually settling and loosely lying,
Hushing the latest traffic of the drowsy town;
Deadening, muffling, stifling its murmurs failing;
Lazily and incessantly floating down and down:

Silently sifting and veiling road, roof and railing;
Hiding difference, making unevenness even,
Into angles and crevices softly drifting and sailing.
All night it fell, and when full inches seven
It lay in the depth of its uncompacted lightness,
The clouds blew off from a high and frosty heaven;
And all woke earlier for the unaccustomed brightness
Of the winter dawning, the strange unheavenly glare:
The eye marvelled—marvelled at the dazzling whiteness;
The ear hearkened to the stillness of the solemn air;
No sound of wheel rumbling nor of foot falling,
And the busy morning cries came thin and spare.
Then boys I heard, as they went to school, calling,
They gathered up the crystal manna to freeze
Their tongues with tasting, their hands with snowballing;
Or rioted in a drift, plunging up to the knees;
Or peering up from under the white-mossed wonder,
‘O look at the trees!’ they cried, ‘O look at the trees!’
With lessened load a few carts creak and blunder,
Following along the white deserted way,
A country company long dispersed asunder:
When now already the sun, in pale display
Standing by Paul’s high dome, spread forth below
His sparkling beams, and awoke the stir of the day.
For now doors open, and war is waged with the snow;
And trains of sombre men, past tale of number,
Tread long brown paths, as toward their toil they go:
But even for them awhile no cares encumber
Their minds diverted; the daily word is unspoken,
The daily thoughts of labour and sorrow slumber
At the sight of the beauty that greets them, for the charm they have broken.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


It’s that time of year again....poppies, recollections and reviews of the horror of war and, in the mists and dank nights of November, vague recollections from childhood of elderly relatives speaking of the wars with a melancholic look in their eyes as they remembered lost brothers and friends.

The terribly tragic story (made into a wonderful film) of Rudyard Kipling’s eagerness to enable his son to enlist, followed by the death of his son, did much to tarnish the reputation of that great writer. Interesting that he was one of the ‘names’ to believe in the Cottingley Fairies – perhaps the loss of innocence that came with the First World War and the agony of feeling in some way responsible for his son’s death, led him to seek a return to a more mystical age.

Regardless of what happened with ‘My Son, Jack” – and Kipling was no different from any other father of that age – this poem, which was once voted the favourite English poem of all time, remains a tribute to his brilliance.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Friday, 5 November 2010

Masked Ball

Blogging and the countless forums on the net are rather like a masked ball, aren’t they? People strike up conversations with others anywhere in the world and some conversations lead to removing the masks, while others are merely brief exchanges with someone appearing behind a mask of anonymity or the persona they choose to portray.

It strikes me often that everything in life appears more and more like dance in which we sometimes sit a day, a month, a year, a decade out, then return to the dance with greater gusto but it never really dawned on me before how much of life is like a masked ball. People appear in different places at different times with different masks – sometimes they have their ‘work mask’ on, sometimes their ‘weekend mask’ or their ‘father/mother/sister/brother/friend’ mask on. I used to think the world would be so much happier if everyone just spoke their minds and we were all mask-free all the time, but life doesn’t seem to work like that and perhaps part of being alive is the fun of playing the masked ball, the masquerade. And if we’re going to dance, we might as well dance with gusto, like the dancers in the wonderful Hillaire Belloc poem, “Tarantella”:

“Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom.”

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Correspondence Of the Empress Alexandra of Russia..."

It's exciting to know that a new book of previously unpublished letters of Russia's last Empress is about to be available! No matter how many biographies appear, nothing ever quite compares to the feeling that comes with reading the actual letters exchanged between people. Queen Victoria’s letters to her daughter are far more interesting than any biography, as are the original letters of any other historical person. This book is entirely new as these letters have not been seen before. The book is: The Correspondence of the Empress Alexandra of Russia with Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore, Grand Duke and Duchess of Hesse. 1878-1916 collected, edited and compiled by Petra H. Kleinpenning. Below is a description of the book, which will soon be available on Amazon:

As young people, Princess Alix of Hesse and by Rhine (1872-1918) and her brother, Hereditary Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine (1868-1937), were always together. They remained on close terms when Alix married Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and became the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. This book presents the complete collection of letters and postcards, written in English and German, that Alix wrote to her brother over the years 1878-1916, from moving children's notes to poignant letters written during the cataclysm of World War I. Also included are Alix's letters to Ernst Ludwig's second wife, Grand Duchess Eleonore, some letters from Tsar Nicholas II to Ernst Ludwig, and the few letters and postcards from Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore to the imperial couple that survived the days of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Alix's letters to Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore focus on the weal and woe of her family and friends, on official receptions and military manoeuvres, the concerts and performances she attended, her charities and her war work. This unique private correspondence between Alix and Ernst Ludwig and Eleonore provides additional first-hand details about the everyday lives of these important people in the history of Russia and Hesse and increases our understanding of their characters, interests, and relationships.”

(I am afraid that the links are not showing up on this page - please cut and paste the above link to find out more...)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

From the Sublime to...Botox

In my opinion, two of the greatest actresses alive today are Maggie Smith and Judi Dench and, while watching ‘Downton Abbey’’ last week, realised that what is so brilliant about them is that they can say so much without speaking. Their expression is everything! They say more through a glance than could be said in a whole Shakespearean soliloquy. Maggie Smith in ‘David Copperfield’ was utterly superb and, in Mrs. Brown’ Judi Dench captured Queen Victoria so beautifully (almost as beautifully as Irene Dunne, in the much earlier film, ‘The Mudlark’)

I wonder if younger actresses will ever have the same ability if they continue to paralyse their faces with Botox. If eyes cannot smile and lips cannot show disapproval, but everyone is cloned into the idea that in order to be beautiful one must look identical to every other actor or actress, how are they ever going to portray, with nothing more than a glance, the true beauty and brilliance that comes with age.

It’s a trivial thought but I don’t think Botox bodes well for the future of film.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

"...And all that mighty heart is lying still."

In spite of my unnatural antipathy to Wordsworth’s later works, I really, really love this poem! It captures autumn and awe of London – or any city! - so beautifully! Any morning, waking up before everyone else is awake, and looking at the surroundings...the last two lines say it all. Still more, it captures the sense of pre-Victorian London, when industry was thriving and the ships were busily trading all over the world. I know that the Victorian and earlier 19th Century London - primarily as depicted by Dickens - was filled with squalor and deprivation but it was also giving birth to the many, many advances we enjoy today. Nostalgic, beautiful and just so lovely....

“Upon Westminster Bridge”

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of heart who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a mantle wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky,
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air

Ne'er did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Miners

I don’t tend to follow the soaps on TV but this evening happened to catch some parts of 3 of them, after following the fabulous story of the Chilean miners. For two days the news, normally so depressing that it’s best to avoid it since it only reports that dark stuff and seldom the all the good that is happening, has been dominated by this wonderfully uplifting story of human spirit, love, dedication and euphoric outcome!

The news is normally depressing and other TV programmes are meant to be light relief, I think. However, the 3 soaps that I happened to glance at tonight were the most depressing things ever!! The first (Emmerdale) centred around a young man lying in a coma on a life-support machine; the second (Eastenders) was about some young boy who had died; and the third (Coronation Street – which used to be good for a laugh!) was about a man dying of cancer.

Good grief! If this is the state of the art, no wonder the NHS is stretched to the limit and people get depressed. Entertainment isn’t meant to be about doom and gloom. People can create enough of that in their own lives so why would anyone want to watch it for entertainment? If art/entertainment is meant to reflect realty, then why not focus it on the finest, most uplifting aspects of reality?

Hurrah for the Chilean miners! And hurrah and congratulations to the people of Chile who know just how to celebrate and express themselves fully and so inspiringly! It was lovely to see the miners, as they emerged, fall to their knees in thanksgiving....more lovely to see the beautiful smiles on all the people’s faces!

Monday, 4 October 2010

Francis of Assisi

Today the sky was bluer than I have ever seen it in my life, I think, and the leaves are just turning with their myriad of shade of amber, orange, green and gold! What a perfect day for the feast of Francis of Assisi and what could be more appropriate than the beautiful lyrics by Donovan, for the wonderfully joyful film "Brother Sun and Sister Moon"?

If you want your dream to be
Build it slow and surely.
Small beginnings, greater ends.
Heartfelt work grows purely.

If you want to live life free,
Take your time, go slowly.
Do few things, but do them well.
Simple joys are holy.

Day by day, stone by stone,
Build your secret slowly.
Day by day, you'll grow, too,
You'll know heaven's glory.

Monday, 27 September 2010


For many, many years I loved a particular prayer written by John Henry Newman. It is such an exceptionally beautiful prayer but one that I now see a little differently. Perhaps that is because it was written over a hundred years ago and, if one believes in any form of Divinity/God, everything evolves into something still more beautiful.

The prayer begins as evoking something separate from ourselves: it is 'your' fragrance and depends upon the external idea of God/Jesus and then involves such total self-abasement as to be unseen so that the person praying is insignificant. There's the rub. If the person praying is so self-abasing, how can he/she love the glory of the person or people for whom they are praying? How can one pray that people no longer see the you, but see only God, unless one sees that the perceiver is also God? Is not every single being an expression of God/Life? Why then debase ourselves in our prayers?

I love this beautiful prayer, and I think it would be even more beautiful if the line: "Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul..." were to read: Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come into contact with, may feel the power within his/her own soul..."

It's so clear that the more one delves into the essence of life, the more one sees that any form of evangelisation is merely ego-centricity or fear. If people believe God is omnipresent, then surely every life is Divine and there is no need to correct or change it.
Dear Jesus,

Help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Your presence in my soul...

Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus!

Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others;

the light, O Jesus, will be all from You;

none of it will be mine: it will be You shining on others through me. Let me thus praise You in the way You love best: by shining on those around me.

Let me preach You without preaching, not by words, but by my example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for You.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Secret Garden

What sheer beauty is Agnieszka Holland's 1993 version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Secret Garden". The scenery, the gorgeous animals, the beautiful shots of flowers and the brilliant casting (right down to the Yorkshire accents - which are so often too exaggerated or missed completely in attempts at films about Yorkshire!) not to mention the brilliant adaptation of the script with it's wonderful, wonderful message all make it for me one of the most beautiful films ever.

This was the first book we read as a class when I first started Grammar School and I am ashamed to say I missed to much of its wonders at the age of 11. Now, though, its wonder shine through so clearly! The way in which it is the angst of adults which makes Colin remain ill, and Mary's absolute denial of his illness that gets him walking again is so apt. The way the garden comes alive in all its beauty and how it is necessary to discount all that has been taught and perceived in order to restore that beauty....right down to Mary's words about the universe being within our own so movingly true! The incredibly gifted actress Maggie Smith epitomises all that is confining and all that keeps people in their belief in illness and it takes a child's more powerful belief to throw her world into disarray but, by the end of the story, Maggie Smith's character is standing in awe.

From the book, I think this wonderful extract says so much about the whole nature of the story which was wasted upon me as an 11-year-old but what joy to understand it now!
One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun—which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so...And it was like that with Colin when he first saw and heard and felt the Springtime inside the four high walls of a hidden garden. That afternoon the whole world seemed to devote itself to being perfect and radiantly beautiful and kind to one boy. Perhaps out of pure heavenly goodness the spring came and crowned everything it possibly could into that one place.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Robert Graves, perhaps best known for "I, Claudius" wrote some wonderful poems and this is one of my favourites for its fascinating understanding of interaction between friends:

"In Broken Images"

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.
He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images,

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


Tears are so strange. I seldom cry but know several people who often do, in all kinds of circumstances. When things move people immensely, many weep. When things move me immensely, I withdraw and often smile...but every now and again, for no apparent reason, something quite ordinary appears extraordinary - the love of a mother for a child; the beauty of an animal or the sky or the ocean...the passing of seasons....Tennyson's poem is so self-indulgently pleasing at this time of year:

Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn-fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more.

Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,
That brings our friends up from the underworld,
Sad as the last which reddens over one
That sinks with all we love below the verge;
So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more.

Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns
The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds
To dying ears, when unto dying eyes
The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;
So sad, so strange, the days that are no more.

Dear as remembered kisses after death,
And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned
On lips that are for others; deep as love,
Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;
O Death in Life, the days that are no more.

(Photo by Andre Hilliard:

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

"My Grandmother" by Elizabeth Jennings

What an absolutely brilliant, brilliant poem by Elizabeth Jennings. I am sure so many people can relate to this....

My Grandmother

She kept an antique shop - or it kept her.
Among Apostle spoons and Bristol glass,
The faded silks, the heavy furniture,
She watched her own reflection in the brass
Salvers and silver bowls, as if to prove
Polish was all, there was no need of love.

And I remember how I once refused
To go out with her, since I was afraid.
It was perhaps a wish not to be used
Like antique objects. Though she never said
That she was hurt, I still could feel the guilt
Of that refusal, guessing how she felt.

Later, too frail to keep a shop, she put
All her best things in one narrow room.
The place smelt old, of things too long kept shut,
The smell of absences where shadows come
That can't be polished. There was nothing then
To give her own reflection back again.

Monday, 6 September 2010

"Gone From My Sight"

This beautiful extract from the American poet Henry Van Dyke was read recently at a family funeral and I think it is one of the most beautiful readings on the subject I have ever heard.

It's interesting that Van Dyke was also the author of 'Joyful, joyful..' - the beautiful lyrics added to that most beautifully joyful work of Beethoven 'Ode to Joy'. I knew little about the author before, and simply from reading his words, he sounds like such a brilliant man.

"I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch until at last she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, 'There she goes!'
Gone where? Gone from my sight ... that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at the moment when someone at my side says, 'There she goes!' there are other eyes watching her coming and their voices ready to take up the glad shouts 'Here she comes!'"

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Ragamuffin Sun

The Ragamuffin Sun is a collection of 32 of my poems together with an appendix of brief selections of lyrics from the musicals 'Branwell' - based on the life of Branwell Bronte - and 'Tsaritsa' based on the life of Alexandra Feodorovna, the last Tsarina of Russia. A few of the poems in the collection are taken from my earlier volume 'Child of the Moon' (Downlander 1986) but most are previously unpublished or have been availble only in magazines.

Since the poems were written over two decades, I do not see the world in the same way as I did when I wrote all of them though, of course, some things remain the same.

The collection will be available on Amazon Kindle within the next 24 hours.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Virtual real reality

Funny, isn't it, that millions and billions of pounds and dollars are made and lost everyday at the touch of a button in some stock market or by holding a small rectangle of plastic in a shop, and we all 'know' money is real even though, for the most part, the big money is never a physical thing. Yet people are so unconvinced by what goes on in the spiritual arena because it's not visible.

Once, a long time ago, I was an R.E. teacher and I said to a chemistry teacher that I never understood chemistry because it was 'all about things that you know are there but can't see...." He replied, "And you teach R.E.???"

I regret a lot of what I once taught in R.E. because I was living by a system which no longer rings true to me but I know that those whom I did attempt to teach had their own inner lives which were far more powerful than anything I said. Nowadays, so many people spend such a lot of time in virtual reality games and others spend a lot of time in virtual money worlds on stock exchanges, clicking buttons and making or breaking fortunes, and it might not be such a bad thing. Perhaps it's just more 'proof' that everything begins in our own minds as a thought that, when enough people start to believe it, eventually becomes a reality. That being true, when we turn our attention to anything it becomes our reality.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Bright Star

In August a 'new' star always appears - not being an astronomer, I don't know its name but I always see it appear so brightly at this time of year and, though I have quoted this beautiful poem by Keats elsewhere on this blog, just have to write it again because it seems so appropriate to this beautiful star....

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art-
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No- yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever- or else swoon to death.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Small Sheep

A small sheep wandered over to the fence today and lay down and pressed her face to the cold stones around the edge. Her mother came hurrying over to check she was okay and, seeing that she was safe, was happy to continue nibbling the grass round about. The gentle love between them was so beautiful and it was wonderful to be there.

And people say it's okay to eat lamb and mutton as though these beautiful creatures have no feeling???

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Dover Beach

On the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, Matthew Arnold's poem, "Dover Beach" seems particularly appropriate:

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Great Lover

Rupert Brooke, better known for his most famous poem "The Soldier", is one of my favourite poets of that era. Unlike Owen, who brought to light the horror of war, Brooke seemed to remain 'on the higher ground' even in the midst of the slaughter. Imagine writing something as beautiful as this while in the midst of the rat-infested trenches. What an amazingly beautiful description of the beauty that is to be found in the ordinary things of life...

These I have loved:
White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;
Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust
Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;
Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;
And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;
And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,
Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;
Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon
Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss
Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is
Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen
Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;
The benison of hot water; furs to touch;
The good smell of old clothes; and other such
The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,
Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers
About dead leaves and last year's ferns...
Dear names,
And thousand other throng to me! Royal flames;
Sweet water's dimpling laugh from tap or spring;
Holes in the groud; and voices that do sing;
Voices in laughter, too; and body's pain,
Soon turned to peace; and the deep-panting train;
Firm sands; the little dulling edge of foam
That browns and dwindles as the wave goes home;
And washen stones, gay for an hour; the cold
Graveness of iron; moist black earthen mould;
Sleep; and high places; footprints in the dew;
And oaks; and brown horse-chestnuts, glossy-new;
And new-peeled sticks; and shining pools on grass;
All these have been my loves.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

World Cup 2010

"Summer time and the living is easy...."

The World Cup has been such a lovely distraction from minor irritations in my life and it amuses me when people speak crossly about how much footballers are paid for their poor performances. Okay, England did really badly, despite our 'triumph of hope over experience' but at least for a little while we had something fun to latch on to. It's interesting that people here feel good when they can display the English flag without appearing to be a member of some nasty racist group; it's more interesting that the sun shines around the time of most World Cups, so people are already feeling good ad if FIFA planned it that way - balmy summers of football and feel-good-factors, they even outshone Simon Cowell's marketing! More fascinating is the way that the World Cup (every four years) coincides with warmer summers - isn't it clear how the mass consciousness creates the atmosphere in the country?

It's still 'bread and circuses' and we fall for it every time because we love it! We love being entertained and taken through the catharsis of angst, injustice, disappointment, hope, success; if we fail it's someone else's fault and if we win, we're all in it together...and when it is over, like watching a play at the theatre, we can feel drained and cleansed and step outside and say, "Oh, none of it was it's okay..." And, basically, it's fun.

The Germans, I thought, were the most entertaining and brilliant team in the whole tournament (even when they made England look like amateurs!) and the Dutch were pretty close in their entertainment value! Tomorrow night, I'd love the Netherlands to win but wish Spain well too!

The loveliest thing of all, though, is that this is the first World Cup I can ever remember where there has been no mention of the 'yob mentality' or fans causing trouble. South Africa has really set a standard for the rest of the world and raised international relations to a new level! Thank you!

Friday, 2 July 2010


The weather is beautiful and sometimes, no matter what appears to be happening in life, there are times when everything somehow shifts to a happier place, Walt Whitman's poem captures it all so perfectly! Trees have immense power - they withstand storms and changes; the older they grow, the more beautiful they become. Young saplings are frequently blown over by storms but the old trees are so wise and emit such beautiful strength and loveliness...especially at this time of year when everything is so green and so beautiful:

As to me, I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach, just in the edge of the
Or stand under trees in the woods...

Monday, 28 June 2010

Thank You!

Thank you to all the kind people who have continued to visit this apparently dormant blog during this absence! It is returning this week and will be back up to speed again!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010


At last a sense of summer! The woods at Temple Newsam are awash with bluebells and the scents are beyond beautiful!

The bluebell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air;
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit's care.

(Emily Bronte)

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thank you for calling by!

This apparently dormant blog is only temporarily on hold due to domestic circumstances taking up so much time. Please don't stop calling by because it will continue shortly and, in the meantime, may I wholeheartedly recommend Abraham-Hicks!


Tuesday, 6 April 2010


Isn't it amazing that some people who so delight in the beauty and refreshing joy of new-born lambs can then think nothing of seeing these beautiful creatures taken from their mothers, slaughtered and put upon their's inhumanity to man is one thing; man's inhumanity to creatures goes to another level!

Here's John Clare's lovely poem about the new-born lamb...

The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two—till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead—and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

All the Blessings of Easter-tide

Wishing you the loveliest of Easters and the resurrection of all that is finest in all of us in this season of new life!

Friday, 2 April 2010

"Behold I Stand At The Gate and Knock"

G.A. Studdert-Kennedy was a Leeds-born poet and Anglican priest who, during the First World War, became known as 'Woodbine Willie' as he handed out cigarettes to dying soldiers.

His wonderful poem: "When Jesus Came to Birmingham" is so approriate for Good Friday and, I think, suits well Holman Hunt's: Light of the World - 'Behold I stand at the gate and knock':

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, 'Forgive them, for they know not what they do,'
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Friday, 26 March 2010


A wonderfully fascinating article in the Times Literary Supplement describes the unhappy life of William Wordsworth's daughter, Dora.

TLS - Dora Wordsworth

Wordsworth never struck me as an attractive man; he always seems so self-absorbed and more obsessed with his reputation as a poet than any genuine brilliance in his poetry. His early works are brimming with wonder and beauty (some of The Prelude and Upon Westminster Bridge are so beautiful to me) but his later writings, once he realised he was part of the poetic 'set' of his age, are so clumsy, verbose, unrefined and read like drivel:

This thorn you on your left espy;
And to the left, three yards beyond,
You see a little muddy pond
Of water, never dry;
I've measured it from side to side:
'Tis three feet long, and two feet wide.

I have an ancient book of William Hazlitt's essays, in which he writes of Wordsworth making some mundane remark about the sunset, and Hazlitt seems in awe of it simply because Wordsworth is a self-professed poet, but it is so trite and and so 'expected' of a poet that it seems rather trivial to me.

What is most attractive about Wordsworth is his surroundings. His homes - Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and Rydal Mount - are stunning for the landscape in which they are set - far more stunning than the rather dull man who inhabited them! Anyone living amid such beauty could not fail to write something beautiful and I would imagine that, as Wordsworth grew older and lost his youthful zeal, it must have been a great trial to him to be forever living up to his ideal of what it meant to be a poet. All the same, at least he aspired to and wrote of beauty.

No wonder Dora went off the rails a bit!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

"At Parting"

As Spring returns, it seems an appropriate time for one of the most beautiful 'garden poems' - Edith Nesbitt's "At Parting" :

And you could leave me now
After the first remembered whispered vow
Which sings for ever and ever in my ears —
The vow which God among His Angels hears —
After the long-drawn years,
The slow hard tears,
Could break new ground, and wake
A new strange garden to blossom for your sake,
And leave me here alone,
In the old garden that was once our own?

How should I learn to bear
Our garden’s pleasant ways and pleasant air,
Her flowers, her fruits, her lily, her rose and thorn,
When only in a picture these appear—
These, once alive, and always over-dear?
Ah—think again: the rose you used to wear
Must still be more than other roses be
The flower of flowers. Ah, pity, pity me!

For in my acres is no plot of ground
Whereon could any garden site be found,
I have but little skill
To water weed and till
And make the desert blossom like the rose;
Yet our old garden knows
If I have loved its ways and walks and kept
The garden watered, and the pleasance swept.

Yet—if you must—go now:
Go, with my blessing filling both your hands,
And, mid the desert sands
Which life drifts deep round every garden wall,
Make your new festival
Of bud and blossom—red rose and green leaf.
No blight born of my grief
Shall touch your garden, love; but my heart’s prayer
Shall draw down blessings on you from the air,
And all we learned of leaf and plant and tree
Shall serve you when you walk no more with me
In garden ways; and when with her you tread
The pleasant ways with blossoms overhead
And when she asks, “How did you come to know
The secrets of the ways these green things grow?”
Then you will answer—and I, please God, hear,
“I had another garden once, my dear”.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Not Shocking But Demeaning and Childish

For six weeks David Dimbleby's wonderful 'The Seven Ages of Britain' took viewers on an artistic journey through the history of the country from the earliest civilizations to the modern age. Without shying away from the harsher aspects of life and belief - the paintings of heaven and hell, used by religious authorities to frighten people into submission; the vivid depictions of the effects of decadence as shown in 'The Rake's Progress'; and the brutality of weaponry and war - the artists and craftsmen managed to reach to the finest aspects of humanity, taking pride in their work and leaving a legacy of beauty for future generations.

Then came the final episode - "The Age of Ambition". After each of the previous episodes, I felt uplifted and inspired. After this episode, I felt only disgust, depression and almost despair at the depths to which the art world (and the world of literature) has sunk. No painstaking works of art, seeking out the best in humanity, but feeble and shoddy attempts to degrade and demean. After seeing the splattering of red wax on a wall and the so-called artist's agreement that it resembled to blood and that it was good for us to consider such taboo subjects, came the bizarre ugliness of men who painted themselves defecating as though this had some meaning in portraying real life. We were then treated to Damian Hirst's collection of dead flies, and watching him squirt paint onto a turntable (which reminded me of five year olds discovering paint for the first time) followed by Tracey Emin's meaningless comparison between women artists and women's sexuality. Claiming that she was liberated by Feminism, she presented a series of scrappy drawings of naked women in various poses (again, I was reminded of sketches drawn by pubescent boys and passed around classrooms to provide titillation) before her latest work which is basically pornography - absolutely demeaning to women and evidently the product of a mind which seems to wallow in all that is base.

As with so much music and the accompanying videos, and with a great deal of literature, art has descended into the mire of the most sordid minds. As today we can still be uplifted by the works of the great artists from the past, what will be handed on from this age to the people of tomorrow? Is this our legacy to posterity? The aim, it appears, is to shock. It isn't shocking. In order to be shocking, something has to be outstanding and 'different'. This, on the contrary, is merely childish and appears to be the work of emotionally stunted people who choose to dwell upon the dark side. It is said that such dross is a reflection of the age. In fact, it is not. It is merely a reflection of those who have the power to decide what is classed as art and what is not. All over the country, there are craftsmen and artists who produce work of real merit. Their work is visible in local galleries and displays originality and great skill. Seeing such work is uplifting and inspiring. Unfortunately these works are nowadays dismissed by the critics who seem bent on observing and promoting only ugliness.

People complain of the effects of violent video games, the amount of available pornography and the impact of such things on young people. What a disservice to young people - as well as to posterity - the art world is doing, if such trash as was seen in Sunday's night's episode is presented as art. If we wish to improve the way we live, it begins in our own minds. Minds filled with darkness produce dark actions. Let us, for heaven's sake, have a return to beauty. Let's be unafraid to state 'the king is wearing no clothes' when we are presented with this ugliness. Let us state that it is not representative of the age, but only representative of the few warped minds who happen to control art and literature at the moment. If we wish to improve our lives, our sense of cohesion and integrity, the way we treat other people and our sense of our own value and dignity, first and foremost we need a return to skill, to devotion to a craft or art, and, above all, to beauty.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mark Helprin

Surely one of the most outstanding writers of the age is Mark Helprin! What sheer brilliance that reminds me of some of the most amazing passages from Dostoevsky.

"To be mad is to feel with excruciating intensity the sadness and joy of a time which has not arrived or has already been. And to protect their delicate vision of that other time, madmen will justify their condition with touching loyalty, and surround it with a thousand distractive schemes. These schemes, in turn, drive them deeper and deeper into the darkness and light (which is their mortification and their reward), and confront them with a choice. They may either slacken and fall back, accepting the relief of a rational view and the approval of others, or they may push on, and, by falling, arise. When and if by their unforgivable stubbornness they finally burst through to worlds upon worlds of motionless light, they are no longer called afflicted or insane. They are called saints."


As long as you have life and breath, believe. Believe for those who cannot. Believe even if you have stopped believing. Believe for the sake of the dead, for love, to keep your heart beating, believe. Never give up, never despair, let no mystery confound you into the conclusion that mystery cannot be yours."

These are but the tasters of the wonder of such brilliant writing that really gives you the 'tingle-factor'.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Counting House - Chapter 1 part 3

“Let’s see your book,” James said.
“Suit yourself.”
“Come on,” I galloped back to the shed, “let’s capture Saladin.”
Jessica sat on the grass, “I’m bored with Crusades. It would have taken ages for you to rescue me.”
James leaned over her, “You were very brave. You deserve a medal for courage,” and, putting his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a bottle top tied to a string.
I stared in disbelief, “You said you….”
“Sorry about that, Georgie. I forgot I had this one.”
I didn’t argue. I drew a pattern in the soil with the tip of my sword and wondered why he loved her. She wasn’t brave or daring. I ran with him, dug trenches, built castles and slew enemies while she made her perfumes in jam jars and tied ribbons to his lance.
I swung on her shoulders, “Come on, it’ll be teatime soon. Let’s play something.”
I shook her and the book slipped from my shorts. I jumped to pick it up but Alan had snatched it and threw it to his brother.
“It’s mine!” I leaped up at them as they held it over their heads.
They ran about the grass passing it between them like a rugby ball until they came to the wall of the extension where they huddled in a scrum and fingered my poems:
‘A song for James’, ‘The Hero’ and ‘I love the Lionheart’ Line after heartfelt line of my most secret sacred dreams: his eyes, his hair, his smile, and my undying love.
They laughed at my spelling, my joined-up writing and forced rhyme. Alan shrieked with delight and read the lines aloud until I felt hot tears burn my eyes. I fidgeted desperately with the elastic in my socks and pretended to laugh.
“Listen to this!” Alan yelled.
“I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean any of it! It’s all just things that Jessica says. It’s Jessica! She’s in love with James. That’s why she cries all the time.”
James stopped laughing and glared at me with anger in his eyes, “That’s a nasty thing to say.”
“She does! She writes everything you say in her diary and she cries all the time so you’ll put your arm round her.”
He shook his head and turned away, “I didn’t think you could be so cruel.”
Alan flung the book into the bushes and I scrambled after it, trying to straighten the pages.
“It’s nearly tea time,” James said. “We’d better be going.”
He and Alan disappeared up the drive and Jessica followed Peter into the kitchen. I hoped I’d never see any of them again.
I lay down on the grass and rolled over and over until I reached a trench where I curled up and cried. I hated James; I hated his silly hair and sissy voice. I mouthed his words scornfully, “I didn’t think you could be so cruel.”
I picked up my sword and considered playing the Roman and plunging it through my heart. Then they’d be sorry. Jessica would cry at my funeral and James would kneel by my grave whispering that he had always loved me best of all.
The soft soil where Dad had filled in my moat trickled into my shoes and gathered between my toes. I climbed into the shed where woodlice crawled across the beams, and sat among the insects, wiping my tears on my T-shirt.
I saw my dirty shorts, my sand-scuffed shoes, my silly sackcloth tunic, “I hate me. I hate me! I’m horrid and cruel! Bloody poems, bloody silly girl who looks like a boy, bloody James, bloody Alan, bloody Jessica…BLOODY BLOODY BLOODY!”
The shed door opened.
“What are you doing?” Peter said.
“Are you crying?”
“I’ve got soil in my eyes.”
“It’s tea time,” he sounded sorry. “Mum told me to come and get you.”
“I don’t want any tea.”
“We can play out again later. You can have the castle and I’ll…”
“It’s not a castle, it’s a shed. It doesn’t even look like a castle,” I kicked the wall, “and they’re not swords, they’re sticks.” I snapped the cane across my knee, scratching the skin but concealed the wince. “You couldn’t kill anyone with them. You couldn’t really kill anyone.”
“It’s a game,” he said quietly, “you’re not meant to kill for real.”
“One day I’ll get a real sword and chop off their heads.”
“My head?”
“No,” I followed him to the house, “not yours. James’s and Jessica’s and Alan’s.”

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Counting House - Chapter 1 part 2

It was an amber afternoon; the leaves were waving from the apple tree like a washing line of green socks above the chatter of children gulping blackberries on the grass.
“Guess what I did!” I dumped my bike and flew across the lawn with my arms outstretched in triumph.
“We know what you did,” Jessica flicked her curls with dainty fingers. “You dug a hole round the shed and you’re not allowed to play out.”
James, sprawling beside her, began to smile.
“A moat!” I said, “It was a moat, not a hole.”
“A moat without water? A moat around a shed!”
James’ brown eyes met Jessica’s and they sparkled. I stepped between them and stared into his face.
“I went into a Maximum Red Alert Zone on my own.”
He didn’t look at me. He reached to trap a butterfly floating to the purple-pink buddleia.
“I went into the haunted lodge.”
Alan grunted and Peter raised his head.
“I saw the devil!”
Peter’s eyes were wide with interest now.
“I’ve brought the candlestick to prove it.”
He stared, “You got the candlestick?”
“Look,” I lifted my T-shirt and pulled out the trophy, “and when I got it the devil saw me and chased me out of the house.”
Alan drilled his finger into a worn patch on the apple tree and prised off a piece of bark, “Liar!”
“Look!” I waved the candlestick in his face.
“That’s a different candlestick. The one in the lodge was gold. That’s just brass.”
I tugged my brother’s arm, “Tell him, Peter. It’s true!”
Peter took the candlestick from me and turned it around in his hand, “Yes, this is the one we saw through the window.”
“Can I have a medal?”
The sunlight shone on James’ jet-black hair and, shielding his eyes with his hand, he looked up at me, “Did you really do it?”
“Cross my heart.”
My ribs throbbed in anticipation of glory and the feel of his fingers as they placed the medal around my neck.
“Okay, you can have a medal but you’ll have to wait. I’ve not brought any with me today.”
Jessica looked at him and flicked her curls, as I flicked a greenfly from my leg, pretending not to care. He shuffled closer to her and his fingers crawled towards her like an insect through the grass. I looked away and wondered why he loved her.
He had loved her all my life. He loved her before I was born. He loved her since the day he and his brother, Alan, moved into the big house next door to my Great Auntie Lucy’s. And she told me he would love her until the day he died.
The sand inside my shorts prickled my bottom. I fidgeted with the elastic and waited for something to happen.
Suddenly James stood up, “Let’s play Crusades. I’ll be Richard the Lionheart.”
We ran to the shed for swords and arrows while Jessica leaned against the apple tree waiting for James to tie her hands, “I’ll be the hostage. You’ll have to rescue me.”
He couldn’t help but love her; she was so pretty and so dainty with red ribbons in her hair. In spring she made perfumes from pink blossom in a jam jar and their scent filled our bedroom. She dabbed it on her wrists and, carrying her little parasol, walked among the primroses humming songs she’d learned in school.
Peter threw out a pile of brown sacking from the underside of an old bed and we donned it as knightly tunics before scrambling in a box for shields and weapons. Jessica didn’t need a sword or costume; she already had the ribbons of a lady.
“Can I be a king?” I said, but James commissioned me as Captain of his bowmen.
“Follow me and I’ll tell you when to shoot.”
I pulled back the string of my bow and sent an arrow flying into the hawthorn, “For England and Saint George!”
“Help! Help!” cried the hostage in Hollywood tones.
I ran towards her; this time she wasn’t going to fall into his arms and burst into tears when the Lionheart saved her.
“Go away!” she huffed as I started to untie the rope.
The Saracens seized our castle and every man was needed to sustain our defence. I abandoned the hostage and fired my last arrow into the rhododendron bush before decapitating a few flowers with my sword.
“Come on,” the Lionheart cried, “let’s storm their drawbridge!”
“I’ll get my arrows,” I said and felt the wound of his angry glance.
“I said I’d tell you when to shoot.”
We pierced the air around Alan who stood motionless by the shed.
“Do something! There are enemies in the moat.”
“Shut up!” he flicked a woodlouse at me.
“Save me! Save me!” the hostage wailed.
King Richard abandoned his command and galloped towards her. I watched him go and, waving my sword, plunged the heathen horde into the moat.
The gate opened and the sudden intrusion of an Infidel wrecked the whole enchanted world. There were no more castles and knights, only children on the grass.
Peter ripped off his tunic and threw his sword behind the hedge.
“Hi, Uncle Max,” he walked across the garden, pretending he was too old to play, “are you looking for Dad?”
“No,” Uncle Max stuffed his hand into an inside pocket, “I’m looking for Georgie.”
“I found something of yours.” He crouched to my height and a gold tooth flashed from his smile, “I found it in our garden while I was cutting the grass.”
“She’s so hopeless,” Jessica said, slipping her hands from the rope, “she leaves her things all over the place.”
Jessica took care of her belongings; she was so neat and tidy that she drew an imaginary line across the middle of our bedroom to separate her neatness from my mess.
“You’re lucky it didn’t go in the motor mower.” Uncle Max said.
My heart sank when he pulled out my secret notebook. I hoped he hadn’t read it:
“I’m fond of poetry;” he said, wiping his hand over his bald head, “we learned them all by heart when I was at school, ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league and on…’” He smiled to himself then at me, “You want to keep it up! A bit hard to read your writing in places, but the bits I could make out were smashing.”
“She’s always in trouble at school for her untidy writing,” Jessica said, “she doesn’t take enough care over it.”
“There you go then,” Uncle Max handed me the book, “I’ll call in and see your mother. I’ve brought her some eggs.”
I lifted my tunic and stuffed the book into the elastic of my shorts.
“What’s in it?” Alan said.
“He said poems.”
“She tries to make up songs,” Jessica laughed, “but they all sound the same.”
At night when we took turns to sing ourselves to sleep, Jessica always chose a song she learned in school.
“You can join in the chorus,” she said.
She sang The Ash Grove slowly, pronouncing every word syllable by syllable to make her turn last longer. When she reached the line ‘streamlets meander’ she pretended to have forgotten what came next so she could sing it again: ‘stre…ee…am…lets mee…aa...ander.”
“If you forget it again, you’ll have to stop.”
“Don’t interrupt,” she snapped. “I’ll have to start from the beginning again.”
There was no chorus and I thought I’d fall asleep before my turn came.
“My song,” I said, “is a very sad song about the war.”
“Not Keep The Home Fires Burning again.”
“It’s a song they used to sing when Auntie Lucy was a little girl during the Wars of the Roses.”
Mum’s Auntie Lucy sang with a Lancashire accent which so impressed me I tried to imitate it,
“Keep the yome fyrres burrning.”
Jessica laughed.
“It’s not funny. It’s sad. There was a lady called Mary Ellen and she was in love with a handsome soldier called…James. He went to war in a place called Roses and was shot with three arrows. Mary Ellen was so sad that she died of a broken heart and as she was dying she sang this song. ‘While yerr ‘arts arrre yurrrning…’”
A snuffle came from Jessica’s bed. She was crying; my singing was beautiful.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Counting House

This novel was the result of some decades of half-hearted re-working. I began it when I was 18, trying to recapture the experiences of childhood and, although this is not my childhood and all the characters are fictional, the intention was to capture the intensity of the feelings and notions of a child. Children fear, love and hate to extremes, as people in the raw. It took so long to write this book because, I think, we grow so far from that as we are forbidden by mores to express emotion or to think honestly.

Georgie, the central character of this story, is a particularly 'religious' child but not in the usual pious way. The story begins with a sense of mere childhood happenings, but by the end of chapter one something will happen to change her life completely and lead her into the understanding of the nature of good, evil and accident. I would like to say a big thank you to the lovely people who have bought my other books so in return, over the next few weeks, the book will appear in full on this blog...

Chapter 1

By day the churchyard was safe and free from ghosts but the lodge by the gate was a Maximum Red Alert Zone. It was old and dilapidated, waiting to be pulled down and the builders’ sign on the door warned trespassers to KEEP OUT. No one ever came or went and the grey net curtain in the upstairs window never moved.
I leaned my bike against a headstone and crept through the knee-high ferns, then throwing myself onto my belly to avoid being seen from the church, crawled like a commando through the builders’ gritty sand until I reached the window ledge. Brown paint had chipped away from the wood revealing traces of blue. It might have been a bright house once - a happy, children’s house - but now it held only ghosts and spiders weaving webs down the window pane.
I stood upright and on tiptoes pressed my face to the glass; torn newspapers littered the naked floorboards and a broken stool lay in pieces near the wall. Flakes of paint prickled the skin beneath my fingers as I raised myself onto the ledge and gazed at the candlestick on the hearth. This was the Holy Grail that would win me the prize of a bottle top tied to a string. It was a matter of honour: the glory of a medal and the treasure of James’ smile.
The door didn’t creak as it opened but a musty, dusty smell caught the back of my throat as I scurried into the room where the candlestick stood. Shaking, I dared myself to go forward and knelt to wrap my fingers around the cold metal.
Then I saw him.
I saw him and he was watching me. From the farthest corner of the room an ugly image in a wrought gold frame caught me in an evil stare. Dark demonic eyes bored through my body and followed me when I tried to move away. Drops of deep black blood dripped from his fingers where he held a splattered heart in an outstretched hand. Every muscle stiffened to a tight uneasy pain across my shoulders as I read the gold lettering at the bottom of the frame:
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus I place all my trust in Thee.
It wasn’t Jesus. It was Satan from the Children’s Bible.
“The devil is a master of disguises,” Auntie Philomena had said, “He comes like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We must always be on our guard.”
Clutching the candlestick, I flew through the hall leaving the front door wide open and a trail of sand trickling from me like blood. I jumped onto my bike ploughing tracks through the unmarked graves, and sped out of the churchyard, praying in each gasp of breath,
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, save me from the devil. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, save me from the devil.”
But the devil had seen me and now he would follow me home.

“The devil is a roaring lion,” Auntie Philomena had said when she came to baby-sit.
She stood by the door and waited for us to undress.
“Come on! Come on!” She clapped her hands teacher-fashion and hurried us into bed, “That’s right. In you get and then we’ll say our prayers.”
“We say them in our heads,” Jessica said.
“The family that prays together stays together.”
Auntie Philomena stood in the lamplight with her right arm outstretched, her left hand pressed to her flat stomach. “In the name of the Father and of the Son….”
I hated it. It was embarrassing. Jessica wouldn’t say the words and I glared at her when Auntie Philomena closed her eyes.
“Angel of God my Guardian dear,” I said it louder and bared my teeth at my sister. “Ever this night be at my side to light and guard, to rule and guide, AMEN.” I shouted the ‘amen’ as a definite full stop and Auntie Philomena opened her prayerful eyes. I closed mine and smiled piously.
“That’s better,” she sat down on the edge of Jessica’s bed, “always remember your night prayers. The devil is a roaring lion; you never know when he will strike. The greater the saint, the greater the temptations the devil throws in his way. Why should he bother to trap sinners when he already has their souls? But to watch a saint fall! That would be his triumph.”
Jessica sighed and rolled over, pushing her head beneath the blankets until all I could see was a mesh of golden curls.
“Like nits,” I said, “they only go on clean hair.”
“Like a roaring lion!” Auntie Philomena growled.
I thought of the devil’s horns in the Children’s Bible and fumbled beneath the pillow for my rosary beads, “If he comes in disguise, how do you know it’s the devil?”
“By his feet,” she said with infallible conviction, “he can’t disguise his feet! That’s why Our Lady always appears with her tiny feet showing beneath her dress. Now you go to sleep like good little girls while I check on Peter.”
She switched off the lamp and closed the door, shrouding the room in darkness. The devil, like a roaring lion, prowled under my bed. I trembled and tied the rosary beads round my hand.
“Jess,” I whispered, “I’m scared of the devil.”
“Don’t be daft,” she said, “go to sleep.”
If I were a sinner the devil wouldn’t want me. I hung out of bed and whispered through the darkness, “Bloody, bloody, buttocks and bosoms.”
He wouldn’t bother me now.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Swan by Mary Oliver

Rather like going for a walk in a wood and coming across a most unexpected treasure is the feeling of discovering a new poem from a great poet. I am almost ashamed to write that 26 years after Mary Oliver won the Pulitzer Prize, I only heard of her yesterday - and what a stunning writer she is! There is so much beauty in all of her poetry that it is impossible to say which is a favourite, and 'The Swan' is but a small example of her genius.

Perhaps it's appropriate after such a bleak winter that now, as we step into the overture of spring with the beginning of March, some new loveliness appears!

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

(I took this poem from the wonder 'Poet Seers' site - I trust that is alright by the creators of that lovely site)

Mary Oliver - Poet Seers

Friday, 19 February 2010


In spite of the frosts and cold, the first snowdrops appeared a couple of days ago and brought such lovely thoughts of spring. The birds have already begun their dawn and evening choruses and after this exceptionally cold winter, it feels like it could really be spring at last.

Wordsworth's poetry is, to me, too verbose and kind of 'cluttered'. Too many words that say so little as though he is attempting to express something simple but ends up complicating himself with silly phrases. The 'Prelude' has some fabulous lines, but his later works leave me wondering why he is ranked as one of the 'greats'. I mean take for example his poem 'To a Snowdrop' - it is almost as bad as Shelley's 'Skylark' - 'bird thou never wert....'

Ah well, the snowdrops have appeared and anyone who has ever seen snowdrops after snow appreciates their fragile beauty. It might have been better if Wordsworth had written far more simply than these clumsy lines ('harbinger' seems to be a particularly favourite word with poets of that era):

Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

"Seven Ages of Britain" and the Cheapside Hoard

The endlessly fascinating "Seven Ages of Britain", written and presented by the excellent David Dimbleby traces the history of Britain through art. So far the series has travelled through the ages of the conquests up to 1066, on through the era of the great Cathedrals and religious art and up to the extravagance of the Tudors. Some of the items shown are utterly beautiful. From his dangling from a wire to view a fresco of heaven and hell, to his trudging through the snow, quoting Beowulf in Anglo-Saxon, Mr. Dimbleby has presented one of the most beautiful series seen in a long time (haven't seen any documentary quite so absorbing since Jeremy Paxman presented the Victorians through their art). One of the most mesmerising moments was the display of the 'Cheapside Hoard' - a find of incredibly beautiful jewels displaying such a myriad of colour and such delicate craftsmanship. There is a wonderful article about the hoard here:

The Cheapside Hoard

Saturday, 13 February 2010

St. Valentine's Day

For St. Valentine's Day, some of the loveliest and best known love poems:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

I do not love thee!--no! I do not love thee!
And yet when thou art absent I am sad;
And envy even the bright blue sky above thee,
Whose quiet stars may see thee and be glad.

I do not love thee!--yet, I know not why,
Whate'er thou dost seems still well done, to me:
And often in my solitude I sigh
That those I do love are not more like thee!

I do not love thee!--yet, when thou art gone,
I hate the sound (though those who speak be dear)
Which breaks the lingering echo of the tone
Thy voice of music leaves upon my ear.

I do not love thee!--yet thy speaking eyes,
With their deep, bright, and most expressive blue,
Between me and the midnight heaven arise,
Oftener than any eyes I ever knew.

I know I do not love thee! yet, alas!
Others will scarcely trust my candid heart;
And oft I catch them smiling as they pass,
Because they see me gazing where thou art.

(Caroline Norton)

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

(William Shakespeare)

And some beautiful poetry spoken by Juliet in "Romeo & Juliet"

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale....

Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

At risk of becoming too mushy...a little of the cynical Dorothy Parker to lighten the mood!

A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.

I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.

Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.

If you read this, I wish you love and happiness wherever and whoever you are!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Grammar Matters

Is it pedantic to be irked by the commonly used expression, "You have two can do this or this..." ? It is said all the time and it is silly! That isn't two choices - it is one choice: an either, or! Two choice would be this and this or this and this! It is irksome on the same lines as the ubiquitous apostrophe in describing decades. It is common to see 1980's, 1990's (which means, 'of 1980' or 'of 1990'). The 1980s don't need that apostrophe, do they?? Of course, none of it really matters and language develops alongside grammar but, at the same time, the rudiments of grammar are part of our heritage and deserve to be preserved alongside historic buildings and national treasures, simply because they are beautiful!

Mathematicians find beauty in numbers and, though I do not understand numbers so well, their ability to see the musical perfection in equations and patterns is something like a work of art to me. I might not understand it but it's wonderful to appreciate people who do understand it. There is precision in it and 'God is in the detail'. It seems that the same is true of language and the use of words. Words are so precious and syntax and phraseology are so fascinating and developed through many centuries. It cannot be correct to throw them around and discard all the precision that has gone into the making of literature and wonderful poetry and prose throughout ages.

Grammar matters, just as precision in art or mathematics matters. In throwing out the basics of our language, we throw away eons of our history and the refinements of past ages.

Friday, 5 February 2010

By Any Other Name

Many years ago, I had a first-hand experience of meeting with an elderly lady who had been confined in a psychiatric hospital since her early 20s and was completely institutionalised and unable to live independently. At the time of her confinement, however, she had been a perfectly healthy young woman and the sole reason for her commitment to the place was that she had had a child and was not married. I believe this was not an uncommon practice in the first half of the last century and the hypocrisy that led to so many wasted lives is so tragic.

Although my first novel By Any Other Name was loosely inspired by this story, it is set in the late 1980s and has quite a different twist to it.

Excerpt from the opening chapter:

It occurred to Maria that even in death there could be no equality among the people of Farnleigh. On the western side of the church, tall white shrines of stone stood guarded by golden angels. Here, in the permanent shadow of the trees, unmarked mounds grew to waste beside rows of uniform grey headstones engraved with the names of eight or nine paupers of the last century. The workhouse graves, the penny graves, the sixpenny graves; the hierarchical burial system of deciding how near a body should lie to the church according to what the relatives were willing or able to pay.

Maria moved slowly from one stone to the next, pausing occasionally to clear away the moss with her finger before moving on. Sometimes she turned, startled by leaves falling into the undergrowth behind her, and she held her breath against the stench of decaying fruit and foliage emanating from the mounds of earth.

Available on Amazon Kindle: By Any Other Name

The Witness

This film is both uplifting and thought-provoking.

The Witness

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Beauty of George Eliot

It pleases me immensely to have been born in the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, though I know nothing about the place except the author after whom it was named! It is amusing to think that such a pillar of society as a hospital should be named after a woman who in her lifetime scandalised Victorian society, first by stopping going to church and secondly by running off with a married man!

Physically George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) was singularly unattractive according to the conventions of her day and she suffered greatly in early life from the unkindness of people who judged her solely by her appearance and who were not averse to telling her how plain she was. In later life, however, the power of her personality - unique, intelligent, with great depths of beautiful feeling and the power to translate those feelings into words - conquered such superficial considerations and all those who met her were hugely attracted to her.

Some of her writing is, to me, the most beautiful in the whole of English Literature. She had the ability to see beyond the superficial to the beauty in the lives of the most 'ordinary' people and created such strong characters that even those who had once condemned her for her 'scandalous' lifestyle (which, in fact, was not scandalous at all!) came flocking around her to be her friends. She was the J.K. Rowling of her day - someone who changed the face of literature and became, virtually overnight, the wealthiest woman in the country! And, as happened with J.K. Rowling, is was so well deserved!

The utter beauty of "Silas Marner" - the miser who takes in a little orphan child - is so uplifting and it is difficult to know which page to quote from as all of it is so lovely. Here is a small example:

"In old days there were angels who came and took men by the hand and led them away from the city of destruction. We see no white-winged angels now. But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child's."

How bizarre that dull people once considered that incredible person 'plain'.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Mozart's Birthday

On Mozart's birthday, it is interesting to consider that, while he was a prodigy and is rightly viewed as a genius, even he had to devote himself to his art in order to achieve such greatness.

"People make a mistake," he wrote, "who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over."

It often seems that much so-called art nowadays is simply thrown together without effort, and it often makes me question whether such 'artists' love their work at all since we naturally want to spend time with what we love. When a person loves something, s/he wants to perfect it and does so not only by concentrating on his/her own work but on the works of those who have mastered that art.

Perhaps this is what Mozart meant when he wrote: "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

St. Agnes' Eve

It's the eve of the feast of St. Agnes and though it's milder than it has been for the past couple of months, Keats' poem "On the Eve of St. Agnes" comes to mind.

St Agnes' Eve---Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limp'd trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold:
Numb were the Beadsman's fingers, while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seem'd taking flight for heaven, without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin's picture, while his prayer he saith....

I had this picture of St. Agnes (among countless other saints) when I was a small child and often wondered why saints always had that plaster cast look, which I tried unsuccessfully to emulate. St. Agnes, like most of the others in my collection, was a martyr who died some horrible death resisting someone who attacked 'her virtue'. Of course, that meant nothing to me as a child, all I saw was a saintly being who suffered horribly and died and was holy - and therefore equated suffering with holiness.

Funny, isn't it, how people talk about the horror of computer games set before children today! The only difference is that 'in my day' the suffering was imposed on one's self, and in those horrific games it is aimed at others. All of it is really most unpleasantly dangerous because it distorts young minds.

Thank heavens for the equilibrium of the less gory stories of childhood - like 'Watch With Mother', The Woodentops, Pogle's Wood and Tales of the Riverbank!!!

Watch with Mother

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Birds Singing In theNight

Although the night is very dark, the birds have been singing all evening in a most unseasonable manner! Perhaps they are rejoicing that the snow has finally (if temporarily) disappeared, or thinking because it has become a little milder it is almost spring. Whatever their reason, it is very beautiful! I doubt very much that they are nightingales, but they bring to mind the beautiful lines of "Romeo & Juliet" :

Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day:
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

and still more, Keats' 'Ode to a Nightingale'

...thou, light-wingèd Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

Where would we be without poetry to help us express what we feel!

(The image is taken from the beautiful RSPB site - I trust it's okay to post it here and if not, I will remove it!)

Monday, 11 January 2010

The Lovely Return of 'Lark Rise'

Amid all the bleakness of snow, what sheer delight was the return, last night, of the BBC's 'Lark Rise to Candleford' - every bit as beautiful as the last series. Apart from the endlessly entertaining characters and idyllic settings, the stories are always so gentle and so very 'human'. More than any other, this programme shows that real entertainment doesn't require violence or horror. One of the most amazing things is that there aren't even any 'baddies' in it. Those few characters who might at first be perceived as such, nearly always turn out to be 'good' in the end. A real character-driven drama with such unique individuals gathered together, their characters developing with every series. What a thoroughly beautiful programme!