Friday, 19 December 2014

In Theory


The older I get, the more inclined I am towards developing theories. Some of them appear to hold water, some of them, like old socks, develop uncomfortable holes. The great thing about theories is, like old socks, they can be discarded when no longer viable. Darning is not an option.

 Artwork by Imogen (AKA Thing 1)

A few nights ago, we were able to visit the school and view the children’s work, on display. It was a fun and enlightening experience to witness the progress each of our granddaughters is making. But what I found interesting, was how they all gravitated to the classrooms where they had been taught in the year previous to this one. Similarly, there were children who had left for senior school last summer, also showing an enthusiastic presence.

Take the whole revisiting thing several stages further, and you will find adults like me who have travelled back regularly to the places where their formal education began. In fact, one of my aims is to look around my first school (now a public library) to see how much I can identify. Each time I’ve attempted to gain entry, it’s been closed. Must pay more attention. Where have I heard that before?

I think this fascination is born out of a need to see how far we’ve come. Whether it’s a child in Year 1 going back to take a peep at where they completed Year R, or a grandfather like myself, who ‘touches base’ occasionally, just to see how much of the tousled-haired, carefree boy still resides in the grey-haired man who is now developing the odd theory or two.

We put down markers, and to intimately know our route to the present, we need to check back from time to time, to make sure they are still where we left them.      

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Out of the Cold

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” - Albert Camus


In the hollow, dark wasted leaves were soft under the rime crust. I scraped at them with my boot, and they slid over the surface of one another like loosened fish scales.

The trees were mute and severe in the thin light. A small fire burned, smokeless and bright, sitting lightly on the humus, a smouldering crown. Around it, men stood waiting, waiting and whispering, their stories carrying softly into the stillness, on stuttering streams of smoky breath.

I cupped my hands and huffed into them. The short sighs pushed through my fingers and formed frail, momentary clouds around my wrists. I brought my knees up to hug them, and it was noticeable how the skin somehow mirrored the sky, with its indistinct blues and yellows surrounding the small bruised islands of boyhood. The healed wounds, the scars shrouded in secrecy and yet to shine pink and new.

The men had moved silently towards a mature ash, and at the first strike of the axe, the chill was shattered. It collapsed majestically, ringing around the woods and coming to rest at my feet. The pale and persistent head of winter was at once in the hollow with me, and amid the sparks and splinters, claimed what was rightly his.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Private to the End


For six weeks, our neighbour shut herself away in her tiny flat with her crippling pain for company. Polite, quietly spoken, but ultimately a reclusive person, she inhabited a confined world with her two cats. She made it quite clear that she preferred no interference with the solitude she had chosen, a private and precious space, behind her closed door.

We knew that she was recovering from an operation, having been diagnosed with breast cancer. Whenever our paths crossed, we asked after her and extended a hand of friendship. She would smile and say she was doing okay, and that sometimes she was grumpy and not good company. We left it at that.

A couple of weeks ago, she apparently phoned for an ambulance in the early hours of the morning. While we were sleeping, she was collected by the medics and whisked off to hospital.

Today, we learn that she died last Saturday. We’ve seen no friends or relatives, although there is some vague talk of estranged siblings living locally. The only visitors we’ve been aware of, are the two people who spent a day cleaning, shortly after one of the cats was found dead. Dressed in white overalls and wearing masks, the figures we could see working behind the thin kitchen curtains remain as anonymous as the two faintly mentioned daughters who currently live in Australia.

We are a close, friendly group, in our block. We keep an eye on one another, and gladly help out if needed. So we are shocked and saddened that one of us has suffered and reached a lonely end like this.

R.I.P. Toni.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Watered View

And when my eyes are filled with breeze,
the world becomes unwound.
Gold-studded crowns of trees
float way above the ground.

Twisted grasses drowned in green,
chaotic chlorophyll.
Bristling bark and winters sheen,
perfectly cold and still.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Fifty Years From Ten


I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is.
― Alan Watts

50 years ago, today, I was on the cusp of a new life, and didn’t even know it. That’s so often true, when you’re a child. You sense the things that are directly affecting you, day to day, but the bigger picture is the province of grown ups. They call the shots, often with the best of intentions, and you have little choice but to fall into line. So, on my 10th birthday, I had no way of knowing that in a few short months I’d be leaving my grandparents’ home for somewhere that would never be my home, despite the best efforts of a new family and those naturally closest to me.

The Laurels, the house I was so sad to leave.
 
But that would be my future. In the meantime, I had presents to open. In those days, I was football crazy, football mad, so it wasn't too big a surprise to receive a pair of boots, some red and white hooped socks, and a leather ball. But I also received, a book from my mother, ‘A Pageant of History’.


Those short November days offered me the best of both worlds. Enough daylight, between end-of-school and teatime, to get the boots on and kick the ball about, before devouring the contents of my history book in the soft, yellow light of a low wattage bulb in what we called ‘the kitchen’. In fact, it was a cosiest of living-cum-dining rooms.


Each night, for several weeks, I roped my grandfather into a game of football in the unkempt field adjacent to his house. Me, variously playing as Moore, Greaves, Charlton or Paine, weaving around between the long tufts of grass and playing to the sound of a stiff evening breeze as it passed through the loosely strung power cables hemming the lane. My grandfather kept a makeshift goal, standing solid in his hobnail boots and blocking my shots with his huge splayed hands, fresh from the woods. Only when daylight finally drained away and the final whistle of my grandmother’s shrill call reached our ears, did we beat a path for home.

That particular birthday has remained fresh in my mind for so many reasons. My first in double figures, my last in the house I always regarded as my true home. It was the launch date for the next half century, a length of time I wouldn’t have got my head around as a 10 year old, except maybe, with the aid of my history book. I still have it. It’s a thing I cherish, a chronological record of the lives of others and the events that shaped them.

 The most poignant reminder of my 10th birthday. An inscription from my mother.

Now I have my own significant history to look back on, my own sequence of events that have shaped me. I’ve shared glimpses of that past here, from time to time. Perhaps I'll dig deeper, but for now I’m going to enjoy the day which I’ll spend in the company of my nearest and dearest. I hear tell that a special 'birthday' chicken casserole is being prepared in a house not so far away.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Aliens and woodland scenes

Exactly what goes through the mind of an eight year old, when she's wielding her paints and crayons may never be known for sure. SW has been very productive of late, and this picture, 'An Alien Party', caught my attention for a number of reasons. Who could blame the aliens for celebrating 100 years without having to endure a human invasion? Perhaps a little more worrying is the sign pointing to a risky looking asteroid ride. In case you can't see it clearly, it reads, "Asteroid ride this way. Warning: 90 - 100, because if you die, you don't lose as much of your life."


On the other hand, some pictures are inspired, and the source of the inspiration is revealed eagerly. This second work is based on a painting by SW's great great grandfather. I love it, and I know he'd love it, too.

A woodland scene by Speckly Woo.

A woodland scene by A.J. Gregory.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Ad Madness

The commercialisation of Christmas has long been a bone of contention on social media, but we now have two retail giants slugging it out on UK screens in a way that smacks of Strictly Come Dancing v X-Factor.

The John Lewis Partnership, and Sainsbury's, have produced pretty swish promotional videos in an effort to woo us through their doors in the run up to the festive season and beyond. Predictably, each film has caused sharp divisions among viewers. John Lewis has been criticised for being "mawkish" and Sainsbury's for being disrespectful to the millions who made the ultimate sacrifice in WW1.

After watching these advertisements several times, two things came to mind. Firstly, Don Draper and his marketing "creatives" in the hugely successful TV series, Mad Men. Secondly, a rather poignant and entirely pertinent quote from the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth, "I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?"

I'd be interested to know what your feelings are towards this kind of advertising, and whether you prefer the John Lewis, Sainsbury's, both, or neither.