Sunday, 19 October 2014

Another Way and a Few Puddles

I haven't posted here for a while, but I haven't been idle. Firstly, Ciara Brehony of Milkmoon fame, and I have just launched a new blog. It's called Another Way, and if you have ideas of how we might better educate our children, do drop by and join the conversation. There's an active group on Facebook, too. New members are always welcome.

Secondly, I've been stretching the lens on my iPhone, to see what I might achieve. The following shots were all taken hereabouts, usually when out walking. Trees, puddles, reflections. You know the sort of thing.

Puddle 1

Puddle 2
Puddle 3
The puddle source.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Power of invention and a chat with Anju

How quickly do you apply an imaginary face to the voice of a call-centre operative? I find I have to do it quickly, within seconds of hearing those first words, even if they are “can you confirm your date of birth, first line of your address, and a Nigella Lawson supper recipe of your choice” for security reasons.

But even with my newly created avatar clearly in mind, I find it hard to concentrate on the formulaic conversation. The to and fro, the scripted questions, the strong accents, all demand my closest attention, and I can soon be lost as the lure of invention wins out.

A rich Scottish tone will whisk me way beyond tartan shortbread, at great speed. Comedy ginger wigs, John Laurie crying “we’re doomed!” visions of Andy Stewart in full flight at The White Heather Club, rapidly give way to my wondering how the person at the other end of the phone voted in the recent referendum. Do they eat morning rolls regularly, and how do they rate Hamilton Academicals as a football team? No wonder I’m always asking the poor souls to repeat themselves, which they do without too much huffing and puffing, generally.

Now I have a new challenge. The ‘chat’ option is ever more popular as a means of contacting customer service departments. Recently, I had a pleasant but very circular conversation with Anju. I won’t go into the detail here, suffice to say that for 15 minutes, Anju basically repeated my sentences back to me with teasing caveats attached, ultimately resulting in a big fat zero at the bottom of my information column. My order would arrive, as and when, rest assured. However, in my invention column, things looked very different. For a start, I discovered that Anju is a Hindi name for girls, meaning ‘One who lives in heart’. Presumably, not Heart of Midlothian?    

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Myopia, my utopia

I invested in an island
where I stowed my things,
lived my days in tiny knots,
clipped my children’s wings.

I invested in a see-thru style
that fitted like a glove,
made me look much taller,
baggage-tagged my love.

I invested in a tightened grip
on all that I could hold,
symbols of a great success,
to keep me from the cold.

I invested in a hollow plot
where I could bury all,
a shrine to what I didn’t need,
an unheard wake-up call.

I invested in golden leaves
that fell in shortened light,
in heaps upon my island,
a preordained respite.

© Martin Hodges

Friday, 26 September 2014

Is grandad a feminist?

For all the criticism Facebook gets, it still manages to keep me onside with gems like An Illustrated Talk With Maurice Sendak, a life affirming video clip, just over 5 minutes in length.

This is the stage we find ourselves at with social media. It used be that bite-sized wisdom was the province of priests and advice columns, now we have unlimited access to five star guidance on how live our lives. Advice rains down, daily, from born-again hippies, to established and respected public figures.

I’m nowhere near 82 years old, as Sendak was when this interview took place, but I am at a stage in my life where considering my experiences is a bit like a visit to the opticians. Suddenly there’s an array of lenses that, if well chosen, will correct my focus and afford clear vision.

Part way through his moving dialogue, Sendak makes the point that in later years, we finally have time to spend reading the books and listening to the music that we’ve placed on ‘hold’ for so long. A sort of catching up before you’re finally caught out.

I’m not quite sure what any of this has to do with my own situation. Perhaps, in some obscure way, Sendak’s outlook on life makes some sense of a sentence I heard myself speaking a few weeks back, “Yes, I’m reading ‘How To Be a Woman’, and I’m really enjoying it." To those who don’t know me, this statement might sound like I'm embracing the revelation of a latent identity crisis. The truth is, women have always had a strong presence in my life and, in turn, I’ve tended to gravitate towards them. I enjoy the social company of women and I much preferred working in a mixed environment than a testosterone tombola where macho mash-ups promise so much, yet frequently only deliver booby prizes.

So, Caitlin Moran’s book, ‘How To Be a Woman.’ Well, it’s incredibly honest, utterly brilliant, and I believe it should be compulsory reading for all men. But then, I thought that about ‘The Female Eunuch’ too, although I did read it 25 years after the launch date.

SW has strong views on feminism. Mountaineers, artists, scientists
cake-makers, warriors, architects, builders - all women. 

Perhaps it’s because I have played a part in raising a daughter, and now have three young grand-daughters to worry about - actually, mum and dad have the real angst, I just dance around the edges of their lives with my heart and arms outstretched. In time, our three little girls will flourish and grow into women. Women who, I hope and pray, will feel confident, strong, and comfortable in their own skin.

Oh, and by the way, there may even be a Feminist Party in politics by the time they’re eligible to vote. The future of feminism is bright, and there are women debating the pros and cons of anchoring it to a political structure, here and here.

In his interview, Maurice Sendak repeated over and over, “live your life, life your life, live your life.” Of course he was right, and I’ll be passing on that very same advice to our three girls, with a strong emphasis on believing and trusting in themselves, as human beings.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Death of a shepherd

Give a young child a blank sheet of paper, some colouring pens or crayons, and ask them to draw a picture of the countryside, stand back and expect the unexpected.

The imagination of a five year old won’t be held or contained by a prescribed landscape. There may well be elephants climbing a mountain and a rocket ship in the farmer’s back yard. More importantly, there will be good reasons for both.

When we came across a shepherd’s mobile dwelling, in the grounds of Mottisfont Abbey, last weekend, the grandchildren were all over it like a rash. Instinctively, you want to inform and enlighten, but it’s so much more fun to hear what they have to say.

We climbed the steps and entered the tiny space where the shepherd would have sheltered when he wasn't out and about, tending his flock. At the far end of the caravan was a short bunk. “That’s where the shepherd would have slept,” I said.

Yes, and he died there too,” came the solemn response.

“Well, we can’t know that for sure, can we?”

I do. I know that.”

Later, when we were taking a final look from the outside, one of the twins tugged at my elbow. “You see those wheels, Ga?

“Yes, I see them.”

They’re on the shepherd’s house because he’s allowed to go on holiday.”

“Oh, I see.”

So nice to know that the poor chap managed to enjoy a short break before expiring in his bed.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Did you speak?

“Live by yourself and you bound to talk yourself and when ye commence that folks start it up that you're light in the head. But I reckon it's all right to talk to a dog since most folks do even if a dog don't understand and cain't answer if he did.”
Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark.

Talking to yourself, and talking to your dog, might be considered by some as one and the same thing. Others will justify an apparently one-sided dialogue, with the argument that the dog understands every word. My grandmother mastered the art of ‘conversation with a dog’, whenever she lost interest in what the human in the room had to say. An uneasy situation always ensued, where soliloquies ran simultaneously, eventually running into silence, via nonsense.

Even close, mutual affection doesn't guarantee that your twin sister will be listening. 

Yesterday, a woman – we refer to her as Mrs Mo, because she bears an uncanny resemblance to the Mo Harris character in Eastenders – walked her normal shortcut through the Close with her faithful companion lolloping along at her side. The dog, exhausted from a long walk, was obviously not in the mood for talking, but Mrs Mo wasn’t deterred. Actually, she was quite animated. Hand gestures, facial expressions, a full-on conversation with herself. I’ve no idea what she was talking about, as she had the volume turned down. Perhaps she was exercised about the Scottish referendum, who knows? The fact was, Mrs Mo was having a lively debate in the absence of any detectable respondent and, by the look of it, she was getting the upper hand.

Occasionally, I mutter to myself, usually when I’m looking for someone to agree with me. But, well, you know how it is…

Hey, excuse me! Is anyone listening to a word I’m saying here?

Monday, 15 September 2014

Summer Snap

We’re sliding into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and we’ll take a few snapshots of summer with us. They will be happy days arranged in layers of warmth, to be served up, sweet, behind drawn curtains in rooms yellowed with winter bulbs. "This was us," we’ll say, "multi-coloured, animated, young-at-heart." See what the sun did. It curled us into happy shapes and held us up. Our ears were retuned so that birdsong defied the rumbling traffic. Our eyes were, even though mostly shaded, focused on the freshly painted landscape. Even in the city, the stretched benefit of movement could be discerned with ease.

I’ve waited months for a snapshot to take with me into winter, and it came later than I’d expected, the form unpredicted.

We were walking. It was still early, but the sun was warm on our necks and shoulders. The sky appeared bigger than usual. It was as though the horizons were set lower, and the blue above more taut as a result. Something pulled on the outside of heaven, and the day resisted in the only way it knew how, by filling itself with light.

As we crossed a patch of common land, one corner of which, narrowed into a dried mud track, hundreds of swallows circled and dived around the canopy of a single oak tree. We stopped and watched, unblinking, until our eyes watered. The aerobatics were performed in quick shifts, the small birds wheeling and twisting before sending showers of their kind high into the air as they, themselves, came to rest on a swaying cable.

In the midst of all this activity, two skeins of geese offered a ‘fly-past’, eventually breaking into perfect v-shapes from the original heavily scored strips that had appeared just above the distant tree line. As they honked and hooted out of sight like a dishevelled gang of party-goers, I knew I had my snapshot, one for the album. A moment, simply labelled ‘Summer’.