It's well over a year since I dipped into the vaults and showed you just what a lousy poet I was thirty years ago, so it's a long overdue treat.
Maybe "treat" isn't the word most would choose. I've been transferring some of my (slightly) less terrible stuff from the hand-written notebooks to disc and decided to show myself up again. This selection of poems were all written at the same time. I was about nineteen - perhaps a couple of years older. Then, as now, I loathed discos but was persuaded by a couple of friends that we should try visiting clubs for a few weeks instead of just going down the local pub. It was a salutary experience, and one I have steadfastly avoided ever repeating. It did however give me something to write about. They go under the generic title of New Songs For Hollow Faces. The revisions that have been made to them are very slight. A word or two added or removed for metre, a verse dropped because I couldn't work out whatever the hell it was meant to be about and a few spelling corrections.
1. Excursions Into Hell
We visit ever more outrageous worlds,
Searching only for novelty.
We ignore the claws that catch at our skin.
They do not impede our descent.
Bizarre creatures pirouette around us
Beneath the garish lights of Hell.
The fractured sound murders all thought of speech
The heat steals breath from our bodies.
A storm of light breaks apart in our eyes,
Further dissipating sanity.
This is an excursion into Hell.
Following the terrible Maelstrom down
We chase the thrill of the new.
We surface amid mirrored laser beams
And satin seductresses.
We cannot reach into their souls and hearts
For they have none to be reached.
We become the future.
We become ourselves.
We join the revellers.
On excursions into Hell.
2. Faces Without Names
Faces without names
Words without voices
All around me are ghosts.
Sins without shame,
Futures without choices
3. The Sin Of Solitude
Solitude is silence
And silence is a sin.
Wait in anticipation
For the music to begin.
When they peak in rhyme
And you do not understand,
Ignore the singers words
Feel the rhythm of the band.
Not even in your fantasy
Allow silence to intrude
For silence is a sinful
The interact in mime
Together but for ever
Bound by their isolation.
For solitude is silence
And silence is a sin
Wait in anticipation
For the chaos to begin.
4. Part of the Heat
Like suicidal moths On kamikaze paths into the flame We plunge through the doorway And into the heat. Sweat stains our elegant clothes. Our eyes hook upon other eyes As other eyes hook upon us With passionless fire.
We do not compete. We will not join the dance. We will choose no partners. We will not become part of the heat. Instead we slake our thirst On draughts of cynicism.
5. Lies of Consent
Finally the manic mood catches me. Off guard for a moment, it strikes at me And pours poison into my mind.
It does not go unnoticed.
Eyes turn. Fingers Point. My laughter balloons out Visible but silent amid the furious sound, Skittering like an animal Through the mirror ball confusion. I am lost. There is no longer safety in unity. There is no more deceitful truth. There are only lies of consent And more, and ever greater pain.
As you can see from the new link to the right I have decided to participate in the River of Stones, a project for writing very short, but perfectly formed pieces. You can see what it's all about by clicking the image.
I may link it to my "Ongoing" project which has been a little slow of late. Of course it doesn't mean I won't be adding longer, though hopefully just as perfectly formed, pieces to that project too. Enjoy.
I'm due to fly to Prague on Friday and with more bad weather forecast I have no idea whether or not I'll be able to. Pictures of stranded tourists at Heathrow are doing little to lift my spirits. Official statements that BA may not be operating services until Thursday, or even later, are just downright depressing. The biggest problem is that they keep saying that you shouldn't start out for the airport unless you have a confirmed seat on a plane that is operating. My journey to Heathrow takes over six hours. I have a confirmed seat but how can I possibly know before I set out that the service is operating? By the time they know I'll be on a coach halfway down the motorway. It's not possible for me to confirm at a time that would still allow me sufficient time to get to the airport if they say it is flying. All I can possibly do is cross my fingers and go and if I have to come back then I have to come back. It's going to be one hell of a Christmas if that happens followed by having to try to get my money back from the insurance company. I suppose a crumb of comfort is that I have an open dated return ticket on the coach so if I have to come back it won't cost me any extra.
If I manage to get out of the country then I should have a good Christmas, but it's a big "if". If I don't get out of the country I'll be coming back to a cold, empty, undecorated house where I will have to spend my first ever Christmas on my own. This could well turn out to be the most miserable Christmas of my life. Right now my mood could not be described as buoyant!
And sometimes I am really, really, really, unbelievably slow-witted.
It's only just occurred to me that the web site address that is at the bottom of the screen at the start of the program is www.hignfy.net and that it clearly stands for the name of the program. Why have I not noticed that before? I've always tried to read it as a word.
This relates back to previous posts about inner-nerdhood.
When Ross Noble, one of the panelists, referred to the "Vulcan Death Grip" I found myself thinking, if not exactly shouting, at the TV - there's no such thing - it was something Spock made up in one episode , the Enterprise Incident, to pretend that he had killed Kirk.
Well, actually no I haven't but a number of things on the program have just caught my eye (and my ear) and I'd like to share.
Actually tonight I was due to be i nNottingham having dinner with friends visiting from Singapore. I'd been hoping to talk to them about working overseas. Ah well, the horrible weather that has trapped me in my home has, at the very least, let me sit here with a couple of drinks and watch the extend repeat of "Have I Got News For You"*.
The first thing that caught my attention was footage of Vladmir Putin singing Blueberry Hill. I can't work out what it is about the man but I can't see him without being put in mind of waking up with a horse's head in your bed. Watching him sing made me think that earlier in the week he'd been heard to say, "You know what I'd really like? I'd really like to sing Blueberry Hill." Minions, for surely if anyone in the real world actually has minions it must be him, probably spent the week rushing around fixing it for him.
* For those who aren't familiar with UK TV this is a weekly topical satirical news quiz.
Sometimes you see something that would make such a perfect photograph that you are annoyed that you don't have your camera with you.
My Metro stop overlooks some municipal football pitches and, as I was waiting this morning, I suddenly noticed that on one of the pitches a flock of geese had landed at the north end and were all lined up facing south. Meanwhile a flock of seagulls had landed at the south end and were all lined up facing north? It looked for all the world as if they were waiting for the referee's whistle to start the game. It would have made a great picture.
According to the official survey, the Philippines consists of 7107 Islands. Of these roughly 2000 are inhabited although only about 500 are larger than, for the sake of example, Wolverhampton Town Centre. The largest of the islands is Luzon where the capitol city, Manila, is located.
It is a city of startling contrasts. At one end of Manila's social spectrum there are millionaires who live in palatial mansions while at the other there is the Tondo - a grim slum of a shanty town which runs for mile after hideous mile parallel to the South Superhighway and the railroad tracks, and houses one and a half million people in poverty and filth.
We arrived about a week before Christmas and everywhere saw signs of civic festivity - enormous illuminated stars hanging above the street, multicoloured four-foot wide, flashing snowflakes like the displays on demented slot machines, giant snowmen painted on buildings in a country that has never even seen snow, Santa Clauses and Reindeer by the sleighful.
The next morning we took a public bus for Batangas, a port in the South of Luzon several hours away along the South Super Highway. The journey took us first past the Tondo. It was a horrible sight that the descriptions in the guide book hadn't prepared me for. The most horrible aspect of this 'city' was the mundanity of the life within it. People in this terrible place went about the normal business of living as if it were any other suburb. Dirty and torn washing fluttered from lines strung between the buildings. People crouched out of doors cooking in pots over fires that burned with a greasy green flame and left oily smoke like a smear in the air. At the back of the huts, rubbish was piled high. At one point there was a break where the road passed over a wide drainage culvert which was perhaps twenty feet deep. It was half filled with the ghastly detritus of slum living. Children were playing in the filth.
Here and there, though, there were small triumphs of humanity as some of the inhabitants had hung up home-made Christmas decorations that turned gaily in the wind.
The bus route wound on through an endless sequence of almost identical towns, the sort of places that look as if they were made from the debris when all of the real places had been finished. Buildings were jerry-built of wood, concrete and odd pieces of corrugated metal. Business in the towns seemed to consist mainly of Doctors, Dentists and Clinics mixed in with Auto Repair Shops with yards full of rusty gas cylinders. Eventually we reached Batangas.
Batangas is point of departure for the ferry to Puerto Galera on Mindoro. To my eye it had the look of having been thrown together hastily about ten minutes ago and of being likely to fall down again in ten minutes time. As the bus made its painfully slow way through the traffic to the harbour there was plenty of time to see it in all its glory. It seemed strange that many of the buildings had painted signs outside advertising courses in Word, Windows, PowerPoint and a host of other familiar computer products.
At the harbour we boarded the ferry to Puerto Galera. It was a short journey and we were soon approaching our destination through the beautiful Batangas Channel. The harbour itself is filled with bangkas, unseaworthy looking boats resembling canoes stabilised by long bamboo crosspieces ending in struts - parallel - to the hull which lie at the waterline.
The other ubiquitous form of transport in the islands is the Jeepney, a kind of stretched jeep which looks about as roadworthy as the bangkas look seaworthy. They are garishly painted and usually have religious quotations such as "Have Mercy On Us Miserable Sinners" featured somewhere prominently on them, to further terrify their already frightened passengers. We took one of these vehicles to Encenada Beach, the resort where we were to spend a couple of days before moving on. Inside our uncomfortable ride the roof was decorated with glued on Toblerone packets and empty yoghurt cartons. We bounced up and down the hills hanging on to our seats with dogged determination.
Encenada was a nice enough place but I'm not really a beach person so I was glad when the time came to move on. We were going to spend a couple of days trekking into and out of the jungle interior of Mindoro. We met our guides, who all looked tiny next to us, on a long curving beach between the ocean and the jungle and started off along an easy broad path that ran into the forest roughly paralleling a river.
Initially it was a pleasant stroll with the forest only sporadically thickening and with many large open areas of rice-paddies. Very occasionally the path became a little narrower and steeper and slick with mud. At about lunchtime we crossed a wide and fast-flowing, though fairly shallow river and paused for a rest break. Through the afternoon there were several more river crossings at faster and deeper fords each time. Eventually, in a clearing we came to a broken down bamboo and palm structure which we were told would be our 'hotel' for the night.
Some of the guides were already hard at work restoring the shelter. First they rammed four long bamboo corner pieces into the ground, jack-hammering them in with bare hands until they were wedged fast. To these, about ten inches from the ground, they attached four more pieces to form the edges of the floor. Further poles were laid across these forming the floor itself. A similar arrangement but with layers of palm leaves formed the roof. The whole thing was lashed together with tough and fibrous strips of bark, stretched and twisted into a kind of twine. I tried to break a piece and found that it was strong enough to resist my best efforts.
In one corner of the camp was table and benches also lashed together from pieces of bamboo. This was our dining room. The meal that we ate there was goat stew and chicken soup, both animals having been dispatched with a chainsaw delicacy that failed to distinguish the bone from the meat.
It was already dark and the rain was lashing in at the sides of our makeshift restaurant. After dinner we chose our spots in the shelters, unrolled our sleeping bags and tried to sleep. I found myself dozing in short bursts. The rain kept on getting faster and harder and more and more of it found its way through the roof until all of us were drenched. I lay in an increasingly sodden bag trying not to think about the fact that, allowing for the time difference, my work's Christmas party was now in full swing.
About two hours before dawn I had had enough. My sleeping bag was reduced to little more than a soaking sponge and I decide that I would be better sitting in waterproofs in the remains of the dining room.
When, shortly after the rain had finally stopped, dawn eventually came, creeping in slowly like thick honey spreading on a plate, we ate a breakfast of banana and coconut boiled in coconut milk and served with plates of fried aubergine and then set about retracing yesterday's route to the coast.
It was a couple of days later, the day before Christmas Eve, when we set off in Jeepneys for the point where we would begin main hike of the trip. The track, muddy and deeply rutted, wound up the side of a hill that was not quite big enough to count as a mountain. Days of heavy rain had reduced the traction to nil although our completely bald tyres could probably have accomplished that unaided. In places the road had eroded to the point where the driving surface was narrower than the jeepney's wheelbase leaving parts of the tyre right up against the edge. Once we were mired so deeply in the mud that we had to get out and push. All our efforts accomplished nothing more than getting us dirty. Eventually, after a dozen or more near suicidal runs at it the driver managed to bounce the jeepney round the edge of the worst of it and we could climb back in and continue.
We left the jeepney to continue on foot at a concrete hut on the hillside that looked for all the world like a bus shelter although no bus could ever have ascended such a road. Descending a path we joined the edge of a series of rice paddies which eventually became a muddy jungle track that wound up and down, sometimes quite steeply, through closely packed trees. We passed through several villages of thatched huts, to the total indifference of the indigenous population, before arriving at Batad, our overnight stop. Batad was the reason for the trip. Here the mountains rise around the village in the form of a huge natural amphitheatre and are completely covered in the stepped contours of hundreds of rice paddies which are one of the many wonders alluded to as the 'Eighth Wonder of the World".
The village was a couple of dozen buildings spread across both sides of the valley, supplemented by a few more substantial wooden ones, some of which were providing our accommodation - Spartan but comfortable enough.
I was the first to rise next morning, shortly before dawn, having spent a restless night. I sat alone out on the empty balcony watching dawn through the still heavy rain. It was a peaceful and reflective hour and by the time other people had started to move about I felt calm and content. As everyone emerged from their beds and looked unhappily at the weather, I found myself in a ridiculously cheerful and hearty mood which seemed set to last all day. We ate a simple breakfast and set out.
The day's walking was tricky. In dry conditions it would have been simple and straightforward but the conditions weren't dry. We climbed up the steep terracing by walking along the stone walls that edged the paddies. The pattern was constant. On one side of us was a six inch drop into a foot of cold and muddy water. On the other was a drop of twenty to thirty feet into similarly cold and muddy water. In between was our path, the top of what amounted to a wall about six inches wide and made slick and dangerous by the rain.
Finally, after an especially tricky section, we reached Cambulo which is a sizeable town with a large school, its own clinic, several churches, several 'guest houses' and a village square. At the school a spirited, if damp, volleyball game was going on watched by half the village. The town square was an open area surrounded by bamboo benches in a kind of parody of an English Country Village. In this weather there was no-one sitting there. After half an hour of poking around I went back to our 'hotel', dug out some slightly drier clothing and went down for a drink.
Our accommodation was split between two village houses. The 'dining room', such as it was, was in ours. It was a cramped space - not quite big enough for all of us - necessitating a rapid deepening of friendships as we struggled to fit onto the benches. I squeezed onto a narrow bench near the door with one of the other members of our party, Allison who I had been getting increasingly close to during the trip so far.
Before dinner had arrived a group of school children did. They stood outside performing a medley of Christmas Carols, endlessly and effortlessly running one into another until our resolve cracked and we paid up. Later I examined one of their school book 'song sheets'. Everything was written down exactly as they had performed it, a single continuous blending of Mary's Boy Child, Good King Wenceslas, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Silent Night and so on including, bizarrely, Christmas Time In Cambulo.
During Dinner a second group rehearsed outside but were hampered partly by their inability to agree on a selection and partly by our host who kept chasing them away. Credit to them for perseverance though. They moved further away and stood under a shelter and sang at us from a distance. The guide was trying to give us a talk about local customs but his voice was so quiet that it was too hard to follow him. After about fifteen minutes Allison and I gave up the effort went out and gave some encouragement - and some money - to this second group of singers. We sheltered under the eaves of one of the thatched huts while they sang to us. It was dark and wet and rather cold but standing there together listening to them it seemed like a marvelous enough Christmas Eve to me.
I wasn't able to stay for all of City Voices last night as I had been unaware that it was providing a nice buffet and hence running a little longer than usual. Had I been aware I would have arranged to meet my friends in the pub round the corner a little later.
So I was forced to miss the final performer, Dave Reeves, though I am sure that he would have been as good as the previous occasions on which I've seen him.
The acts I did see were due to start with Roger Jones but he was unfortunately unable to appear. Simon Fletcher stepped in with a nicely observed memoir of childhood about preparations for Christmas. The introduction to it, as Simon talked about an elderly couple that he had known as a child was as interesting as the piece he read in which he described making a Christmas pudding and joining with his sisters to entertain the family.
The first billed performer to appear was Bridget Robertson who read the story that appeared in the recent New Writings From Wolverhampton anthology. Its evocatively written but I have to say that I've heard Bridget read it twice now and read it through a couple of times and I'm still not sure that I understand it. The ending seems a little obscure to me. Nonetheless the writing and the reading both flow very well.
Then it was my turn. I had edited down a much longer piece about Christmas in the Philippines. I have many reasons to remember that holiday fondly and the large number of complimentary comments I received afterwards have now given me another. I shall post a copy of the edited version here for anyone who may be interested.
After the buffet I stayed for Madge Gilbert who read a number of Black Country dialect poems, mainly about Christmas, some of which I'd heard before, others of which were new to me. Her performance was slightly marred by noise from outside the bar which combined with her quiet voice to make it quite a strain to hear properly. Nevertheless they were entertaining and well-crafted poems that were well worth hearing.
I felt a bit conspicuous leaving before Dave's set but I really didn't have a choice as by then my friends had already been waiting for me for thirty minutes. I hope that I'll be able to make it up to him by watching through next time, especially as he'd been nice enough to compliment my piece during the interval.
Funny how the sense of smell can suddenly evoke forgotten memories.
I was walking down to the garage to get my car, which had been in for some minor repairs, when I suddenly got a whiff of an odour that in an instant transported me back forty years and brought to mind a toy that I had completely forgotten.
It was the smell of burning polystyrene.
It reminded me of something I used to have. It was a U-shaped piece of red plastic with a thin wire stretched across the open end of the U and a battery inserted in the other end. Pressing a button caused the battery to heat the wire slightly. The toy came with some pieces of polystyrene with pictures printed on them. By heating the wire it could be manoeuvred carefully around the pattern, melting polystyrene as it went so that the shape could be cut out. They could then be painted with water colours that, memory fails me, may or may not have been included in the set.
I gather that similar toys are still available but, until I got that sudden momentary smell of polystyrene, they had vanished as completely from my memory as if they had never existed at all. Even now I find I can't recall what I actually made with them or what I did with things that I made or even how old I was at the time.
I do however remember owning it, and for now that will have to do.
At some time in the past few days a horse with severe bowel problems has wandered along our street. I know this from the great number of piles of manure he's left in his wake. It was quite startled this morning to see that someone has taken the trouble of gathering together a very large pile of this ordure and shaping it into a castle, just as if they were using sand at the beach. Ah, the simple pleasures of childhood.
Several times recently I've heard political pundits refer to the swingeing governmet cuts as "testing to the limit" whichever area they are talking about. Today I heard the phrase applied to the health service "efficiency savings".
The trouble with testing something to the limit is that you only find out where the limit is when you have passed it and by then you have broken the thing that you are testing. I have a horrible feeling that all this "testing to the limit" is going to result in a lot of very broken public services.
I'm not sure how it works but, for me, it's always worked the same way. When I have a decision to make I don’t actually make it. I sort out the options in my mind and leave them there. They float around like bits of carrot in a vegetable soup, occasionally popping to the surface before sinking again, until eventually I become aware of them.
At some point - often, I confess, when alcohol has been involved in the process - things become suddenly clear and I find the decision has been made without my needing to give it conscious thought.
Just such a decision popped into my head about an hour ago. And, before you ask, yes, alcohol was involved in the process. A beer and two brandies to be precise. Not enough alcohol for me to actually tell you what the decision was but enough for me to realise that I had made it. What it is has to remain confidential for reasons that will be obvious when it no longer needs to be confidential. However, those who know me well enough will know enough to have more than an inkling.
I shall act upon the decision on Monday morning, the earliest possible opportunity.
Life-changing things are afoot.
It isn’t a done deal - sobriety has an unfortunate habit of dampening the enthusiasm - but, barring unforeseen complications, the decision has been made.
For those of you who may be able to deduce what it is, I have to remind you that this blog has comment moderation enabled and while it is sub judice I won’t be authorising any comments. Comment away. They will be authorised later if appropriate. Possibly much later.
Private email is an entirely different matter and will be answered. If you don't have my private email address, then, frankly, I shouldn't think you'd be terribly interested anyway.
I woke up this morning to find that I couldn't hear anything through my left ear and had only very limited hearing in my right ear. Of course I know what the problem is. It's nothing more than that old favourite - wax, but, as a teacher (especially a language teacher) if I can't hear I can't do my job. I managed to get in to see the doctor at short notice. (One benefit of the bad weather, I suppose - lots of cancellations.) He tells me that until I have softened the wax up with drops for a few days there is nothing to be done about it. That means I have several days to look forward to of walking around with my head tilted to the side and feeling as if my brain is wrapped in cotton wool.
I almost got run over a couple of times on my way to and from the surgery because I couldn't hear the traffic, though bizarrely I could hear a man scraping the ice from his windscreen when I was still a street away from him - though I couldn't have told you which direction it was coming from if my life depended on it.
I hope this condition can be cleared up soon. It's really rather unpleasant.
There were problems on the Metro this morning caused by a burst water main flooding one of the tunnels.
This afternoon I decided to find out before going home what the current state was.
I checked the website but could find no information. Clicking the link for problems caused by the weather took me to a page that was last updated early this morning. Clicking the further information link took me to a page that was last updated on the 6th October. Eventually I found the customer service number for Centro and called that. They told me that they don't operate the service and gave me the customer service number for National Express who do operate the service. I rang it. An automated menu system told me to press one for travel information.
I pressed one. A recorded message told me that this was the wrong number for travel information and that I should check the website.
I know that the problem was outside their control but surely this farcical run around is something they could fix.
Tomorrow night, weather permitting, I shall be appearing at the open mic session at the Margaret Rose Abri Cafe on Cheapside in Digbeth. I have a set of poems that are mostly about travel but with a couple of other surprises thrown in, assuming that the cold weather keeps enough people away to give me time to do them.
I will also be appearing on 14th of December at City Voices in Wolverhampton, at the City Bar in King Street. For that one I have a travel memoir about Christmas in the Philippines.
(And yes, Dave, you were right about the date. It is the 14th NOT the 12th.)
In conversation on the way home tonight "post-modernism" cropped up. It was in relation to comedy. Dave suggested that in this context anywhere the words "post modern" appear they can be replaced by "not funny" with no loss of meaning.
I took the more nuanced view that they mean self-knowing and self-referential, comedians in sit-coms who knowingly refer to the fact they are in sit-coms, for example.
Giving it some further thought I have decided to combine both our definitions into a new one.
A post-modern comedian tells you a thirty second joke and then spends five minutes explaining why it's funny. You don't laugh at all during the whole process.
Last year I had a rather successful lesson in sentence building in which I first asked the class to guess which facts were associated with Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the Queen and then to build sentences about them using the facts they had identified.
I want to teach a similar lesson tomorrow but of course I needed first to change the facts about Gordon Brown for facts about Ed Miliband. Naturally I hit Google to find things out. Of course there were the mundane facts such as when he was born and how many children he has but beyond that almost nothing. Thirty minutes intensive searching found not a single interesting fact about the man. I hadn't realised it before but he may well be the most boring political leader we have ever had.