Saturday, 27 August 2011

Sepia Saturday: Libyan Lament

After seeing the horrendous news footage from the Abu Salim hospital in Tripoli, I was reminded that my late step-father spent time in the region during WW2. His experiences affected him until the very end of his 89 years. I never heard him brag about his exploits, nor did he glorify war. Rather, he was irreparably damaged by the human cost of conflict. So, although his accounts could sometimes be funny, more often that not, they were heart-rending.

He told of his time in Tobruk, shortly after the Allies had retaken it in November, 1942. "I buried a young officer," he said, "I'll always remember, his hands were soft and small, like a woman's." Arthur was only 22, but war made certain he was seeing life from a point, way beyond his years.

The images I see today, horrify me, but I'm not actually there. I am only qualified to give a distant reaction. I've never been called up to fight for my country, and although it's been said many times by men of my generation, it's worth repeating, we owe a huge debt to the likes of Arthur. He was at the sharp end. All I can do is write a poem. You can read it at Poetry24.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Home is Where...

I've been feeling uncharacteristically 'down', these past couple of days and at first, I wasn't able to put my finger on the problem. A nagging sense of loss, like an exaggeration of that feeling you get when you know you've left the house without all that you need.

Yule Cottage, the place of my birth.

On rare occasions like this I tend to seek refuge in the shelter of better days, where I carefully count my treasured memories and check them for signs of wear. Yesterday, it was becoming clear to me that I was drifting unpleasantly on a sea of nostalgia. No mal de mer for me, but I was nursing a spot of homesickness. A mild pining for the place of my birth. There had been no obvious trigger, I just needed to revisit a simple, settled and secure marker in a terrain that's been shaped by a flood of unpredictability.

Yule Cottage, today, courtesy of Google Maps

It doesn't take long to cover the twenty or so miles that lay between me and the village where I first drew breath. Years ago, I unconsciously planted my flags of reminder. They still fluttered in the lanes and cast shadows on the flint. And, as I passed familiar cottages, sympathetic new-builds, all the way to the Church of the Blessed Mary and beyond the overgrown coppice my grandfather worked, the proverbial weight of uncertainty began to lift. This section of my past was still here...and somehow, I knew it wouldn't let me down.

Regular visitors will know that I have often waxed lyrical about Cornwall, and how it still remains very special to me. But I think what I'm beginning to realise is, there can be only one true place where my body and soul feel perfectly at ease. It's a force of attraction that's impossible for me to deny, an invisible, unbreakable tie that holds me fast as the world changes around and about. It may not be where I live, but it's home all the same.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Piglets and Posers

Our daughter tells us that shortly after the Radio Four news, yesterday, Speckly Woo was deep in thought, then came the inevitable question.

SW - So, how are things with Olivia?

Mum - Olivia?

SW - Yes, Olivia. Are they still fighting?

Mum - (pausing for thought) Olivia, the piglet?

SW - No…the man said something about fighting and Olivia.

Mum - (another lengthy pause) Oh, you mean Libya?

SW - (silence)

Mum - Is that what you meant, Libya?

SW - How are things, are they still fighting?

Oh to be four years old, with a head full of questions, and no fear of failure.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Elevations and Celebrations

Yesterday we had a lovely picnic lunch with our daughter and our grandchildren, at Danebury. It was one of those relaxed family outings. Food and drink in the sunshine, slow steps into the afternoon and lungfuls of fresh air.

The countryside slides away from the Iron Age hill fort on all sides, and it really does feel as though the world is at your feet. Perhaps, because of the elevation, the mind is apt to turn a bit philosophical. As when looking up at the night sky, the realisation comes with ringing clarity, that we are rather minute in the scheme of things. So it didn't come as any great surprise when our daughter mentioned something she'd heard recently, about life plans. Straight away, I'm thinking, how on earth does anyone even begin to plan their life?

I mean, at what point does a life plan begin? Is it something your parents draft up and present you with when you come of age? Is it something you do after dragging yourself from the depths of despair?

Answers on a very large postcard, please.

Young Mags, with no particular plan in mind

Today, we're all going to Dorset, as part of Mags' birthday celebrations. I suppose, statistically, life becomes a little more predictable for life planners over a certain age, but whenever I'm in the company of our grandchildren, I'm reminded of how sweet life can be, without thinking too far ahead.

I'm grateful to Tony for introducing me to this beautiful cover of Buddy Holly's 'Words of Love', sung by Patti Smith. This one's for you Mags. Happy Birthday!

Friday, 5 August 2011

Time and Tide

There are seafarers in my blood, but so diluted with time, I can barely taste the salt.

Benjamin, buried in All Saints Churchyard, St Thomas, West Indies. Swallowed in a sickly squall of yellow fever, aged 28. His son John, Master of pilot's cutters, 'Deerhound' and 'Jessica'. Quoted as being "a sailor-man of the W.W.Jacobs type." "…affectionately known in port circles as ‘Old Jack…"

Do these characters hold the key to my affinity with the sea? From the shoreline, my eyes are set on the two blues of their horizon. My ears strain for a whisper of a tall tale, from somewhere beneath the shrieking of gulls.

Me and the Sea
(from 28th March, 2010 - above photograph, layers of Cornwall 2009, and Hayling Island 1950s)

For all the hours, my wide eyes scanned
The unfamiliar streets and signs
That led the way to what you’d planned
Against my huffs and puffs and whines.

Until, in time, a swollen blue
That grew with each new sweeping bend
And, colour-washed in summer hue,
A day I could not bear to end.

For all the sweet salt, glint and foam,
The well-worked spade and painted pail,
I rested all my thoughts of home
And felt my racing heart set sail.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


The eldest (by 10 minutes) of our two year old twin granddaughters came up with this yesterday. Suddenly I thought, good grief, surely can't be...can it?

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up - Pablo Picasso