Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Alien Profanity

I've been watching Farscape again and I love the way they handle profanity.
If you haven't seen it they have a neat little mcguffin to handle the fact that all the alien species speak different languages but understand each other with perfect clarity. All the characters are infected with "translator microbes" that enable them to understand any language spoken to them. They are also quite consistent with it in that uninfected characters can't understand each other.
As for us, well we understand everyone except for when the plot works better if we don't understand.
Simple.
The interesting thing is that swearwords are NEVER translated so we hear a constant stream of "dren", "boll-yotz", "farbot", "fekkik", "hazmot", "tralk" and "frel".*
The only other things that don't translate tend to be units of measurement. Obviously they can't include the swearwords or they would never get on air but the context makes the meanings of the substitutions clear.

Moral little beasties those translator microbes.

(*in English, that's shit, bullshit, crazy, ass, bitch, whore and f**k)

A River of Stones: Interlopers

30 June


half of these houses are
as I remember them
from my childhood,
fifty years shabbier and
fifty years greyer
but unchanged in their essence

but half of them are interlopers
absent in my memory

Getting Closer

Well they aren't great offers but they are offers. People finally seem to want to buy my house and that's the only piece of the puzzle that's been missing. It seems that I've taken another step towards reaching China. Now that I have offers, I have a sense of things moving again.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

I heard something this morning that initially sounded plausible but the more it niggled away at me the more I decided that the speaker was just another I-think-I-know-better-than-you (but I'm wrong) pundit.

It was another of those TV discussion shows that only people (like me) who are either currently unemployed or actually mentally ill (you can make your own mind up about me) would ever watch. This particular show as they run into the advertising breaks always asks the audience a multiple choice question. This multiple choice question was along the lines of (and I'm making up the specifics, though not the intent)

How many people think the current exam system is a failure?
a) 25%
b) 37%
c) 63%

The host, when the show resumed, made a comment to the effect that he understood the difference between a number and percentage and the people who wrote the question clearly didn't. But I think he's wrong. Yes, it's true, a question beginning "how many" normally requires a numerical answer and a percentag answer normally requires a "how much" question. Normally, but not always.

Grammatically it's a well formed question but would anyone, anyone at all, expect an answer along the lines of 23,617,321?

Of course not. It would be utterly ridiculous.

On the other hand the alternate formulation of the question would be either,

"How much of the population thinks," or
"What percentage of the population thinks"

both of which sound rather more clunky and inarticulate than the actual question.

So, the question is, can a "how many" question be answered with a percentage and I think that, though it may depend on the question it certainly can be.

So, all that remains to ask is how many of my fellow (slightly more informed) language pundits agree with me.

Enunciation

From tonight's Apprentice, or more precisely from the after show analysis, came my favourite enunciation problem of the week.

"I've never heard such a stupid pitch."

I'll leave the pronunciation up to you.

A River of Stones: To The Cemetery/Getting Closer

I'm in that part of my leaving process where everything becomes a series of lasts - last visits to favourite haunts, last meetings with friends, last tidying of the garden and  - the most melancholy last of all - the last time I am able to take flowers to my parents' grave.
I have bought some artificial flowers, there is no point in putting fresh ones on that will die so quickly and then remain, looking sadder and sadder on the untended grave for at least a year and a half.
Today I took them to the cemetery and replaced the flowers that had been there. They look bright and cheerful and though they will fade it will take time.

Today's River of Stones Poem was written when I returned. It's a cinquain (a word the spell-checker apparently doesn't recognize), a form I haven't used for some time.

29 June 2011

red and
orange flowers
artificial and bright
carried through the rain they do not
require

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

A River of Stones:Refuse Collection Day

Tuesday 28 June

outside every house:
one large black bin
one large green bin
one medium green box
one small green box
one smaller grey box
one large white sack

all filled with the pre-sorted pre-washed
detritus of the last week

why does modern rubbish
have to be so complicated

Blogger Problem

I've logged in today to find that I can no longer see followers on my blog.
I'd like to ask a favour of anyone reading, can you add a comment to this post and let me know if you see any followers on the right of the blog. It is apparently a "known issue" but none of the suggested solutions on blogger help have made any difference.

Getting Closer

My entire collection of furniture now consists of four dining room chairs and one stool, one table, one TV, one DVD recorder and one bed. You can't count the ironing board.
I no longer have a car.
The future is still getting closer and I must confess that as my possessions diminish I am starting to feel a bit more nervous about it all, starting to wonder if these were the right decisions to make. Intellectually I'm sure it will be great but there are definite wobbles in my gut feelings about the future.
I've had them before though...before I quit my twenty year career in IT to go travelling ... before I decided not to return to IT and go instead into teaching ... before I decided to take the redundancy payment.

It's all natural. It's still wobbly though.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Holes

I wasn't very happy with the first aros piece I wrote today. For one thing it was too long and for another it wasn't, in any real way, observational.

So I have written another, more in keeping with the spirit of the project.



there are holes in the house where my furniture was
and a hole in the street where my car was
leaving is difficult

00:23:30 Calling HM Revenue and Customs

27 June 2011

dial
three minutes: getting through menu system
hold
five minutes: looking out of window
five minutes: drumming fingers on desk
five minutes: playing hearts - left handed
five minutes: changing channels on a silent TV
pick up
thirty seconds: getting answer

A River of Stones: Head To Toe

26th June 2011

he sits in the corner seat
of the metro

unkempt hair
white goatee
stained jacket
cream trousers

sandals with socks

he sits in the corner seat
of the metro

talking to an imaginary friend

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Poetry Reading #4

video



Although this poem is not from the Spoken Worlds set, it is a piece I do fairly frequently which always goes down very well.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

A River of Stones: And Found

Saturday 25th June

in among the dirt and dust,
on the floor of the car
under the rubber mat
I find the watch
minus the lug
that holds the strap
that keeps it on

A River of Stones: Lost

Back in January I took part in the River of Stones project in which every day writers from all over the world posted a tiny, minutely observed, piece about the world around them.

In July the project is running again and I shall once more be taking part.

My observations will be appearing both here, and on the blog I've set up specifically for that project - Stones From The Road. 

The project starts properly in a few days but I thought I'd get a bit of practice and start now.

Friday 24 June

Already running late, things go wrong
flat battery, too many roadworks,
and then I look at my wrist and discover
that my father's gold watch is missing.

Poetry Reading #3

In the final section of the Spoken Worlds I did three poems about lost love. This is the rehearsal.

video

A lifetime ambition achieved


I always wanted to throw a mattress onto a skip.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Poetry Reading #2

This is the rehearsal for the second section of the recent performance at Spoken Worlds. In that I moved away from the humour of the first section and did a couple of serious travel pieces followed by a slightly less serious short poem.


video

Bilston Voices 23 June

Two weeks ago I did my final review of City Voices and last night came the time for my final review of Bilston Voices and it was a splendid one for me to finish on. The venue, Cafe Metro in Bilston, has always been a friendly place ideally suited to both new and experienced performers and last night gave us both.
To kick off the evening we had Jack Edwards making his Bilston d├ębut. Jack, as he told us before he started, has only been writing poetry since September and is still trying to develop his own style. He's doing a fine job of it too. His poems have strong descriptive quality that draws the listener in while describing commonplace, everyday things and events. His opener, The Red Bike was description of an abandoned bike. Clear Crossing was a short poem about a woman too nervous to cross the road. Fog-lights was exactly what it sounds like, a description of driving in fog. He has a fine turn of phrase that lends these descriptions a deeper metaphorical quality. It would be damning with faint praise to suggest that he did a great set for a newcomer because he did a fine set by any standards.
Jack was followed by Lucy Jeynes who described her set as "quite dark" but that was a bit misleading. Certainly bits of it were dark but it was a well structured and varied performance that started with The Invitation a poem about an invitation to a coffee morning in Hades; rattled through The Business of Waiting which perfectly captured the rhythmic boredom of office work; handed us a group of poems that gave a cynical feminist twist to familiar fairy tales; suggested in Den and Angie that we watch soap operas to learn how to behave in domestic situations; described the human heart in what was perhaps the only truly dark poem of the set and finished with a humourous pastiche of the Lord's Prayer in "A Prayer for World Facilities Management Day". It was confident and thoroughly entertaining.
The following act was an old favourite, Ray Jones, who always manages to please the audience with his well-crafted and superbly read short stories. Last night's Thick Barry, a tale of childhood trauma told by an adult who had never learned to read and write kept the whole venue in rapt silence. You could hear the scratching of my pen, so intense was the concentration he was given. The voice of the character was perfectly realised as he recollected the bullying of his history teacher and the taunts of his classmates. Excellent stuff.
After the break Madge Gilbey took us into the realms of Black Country dialect poetry. It's the kind of stuff that can be tricky to pull off but the great secret is that the poems have to be strong enough to work without the dialect element which then just adds a new layer to them. Madge's certainly were. She started strongly with Man Boobs, a funny piece suggesting that men are gradually changing sex. Bare Facts described how shaken her husband was at the sight of someone's naked backside. Other poems took us through the trauma of washing cricket whites with coloureds, a state brothel for pensioners, receiving a first ever Valentine's card in later life and even closed with a farewell to the audience in rhyme. All the poems were clever and funny and thoroughly appreciated by everyone there.
The final act of the night was the remarkable Richard Tyrone-Jones. He gave us a very polished twenty minutes in lively style with wonderful poetry and witty intelligent introductions. His opener was a short and very pithy piece about receiving an odd party invitation. Most of his pieces were similarly short and clever, delivered as the poetry equivalent of fast paced one-liners from a top comedian. He even gave us a few fast and funny limericks. 
There were a couple of forays into more serious territory as he described having a heart attack in his thirties and they were intense and powerful and every bit as good as the humour that made up the bulk of his set before he returned to making us laugh for the finish. He is a truly original and excellent performer.

And then it was all over. Before the next Bilston Voices I shall have left the area and before the one after that I shall have left the country. I'll be back eventually and when I am I look forward to visiting it again. For the moment, I couldn't have hoped for a better line-up to send me off.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Poetry Reading #1

Friends in America have occasionally said that they would like to hear me performing some of my poems so I've decided to record some of my rehearsal performances and put them here.

The first three are the rehearsal performances for my recent set at Spoken Worlds. Spoken Worlds is in three sections. For the first section I did this brace of pub poems.

video

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Limerick Book

I've just finished editing the new collection of limericks from Wordcraft.
It occurred to me that if you include the anthologies I've appeared in I've built up a decent collection of work now.

I'm in all of these!

Monday, 20 June 2011

A review

From "Behind The Arras"

 Old Cottage Inn, Burton upon Trent
This was the third event at this new venue, which I suspect means that it is no longer new, and should no longer be described as such.
A first time performer at Spoken Worlds, but a seasoned veteran of the Birmingham/Black Country circuit was Bob Hale. An English Teacher by profession, Bob was making his first and last ( for a year) appearance as he is soon to teach summer school at Harrow and then English in China, so any victory speeches in Black Country English from the Chinese Olympic Team in London next year are down to Bob.
Wisely his first two poems, “On Being Joined in the Pub by Two Female Colleagues whose limited range of Conversational Gambits had Previously Been Remarked Upon” (“I forgot you’re not a girl Bob”) and “Dave” were set in a pub, unsurprisingly they matched the audience’s mood perfectly. “Other Childhoods” reminded of those in other countries less fortunate than ourselves whilst “Waiting for a Holiday to Begin” was a short, sharp reminder of the perils of embarking upon any holiday.
But he left his most impressive poem till last, ”Chaos Theory”, from the eponymous second collection of his work, “The smallest of lies betrays the greatest of truths. . .  ”, a poem of love and loss, taut, anguished and well executed. A fine set, and well worth the three slots, he will be missed, but equally welcomed back in a year’s time with, no doubt a rickshaw full of new poetry.

 The review of the full event can be found here.


Saturday, 18 June 2011

Spoken Worlds

I finally made it up to the Spoken Worlds event at the Old Cottage Tavern in Burton Upon Trent last night. I've been promising to go for months but things have always cropped up to prevent it but as last night was my last possible chance I made special effort.
My last experience of an open mic poetry event was so bad that I didn't post my review of it. It was a truly depressing experience of listening to some of the worst poetry and prose I've heard in my life. So I was approaching Spoken Worlds with caution.
The signs were good. It was in a comfortable private room in a pub with eight real ales and the people were friendly, welcoming and - unlike that last one - normal.
The format was, in the words of the organiser, in "three halves". You could sign up to appear in any or all of them, getting about five minutes a time. I signed up for all three and am pleased to say that the mix of poems I read went down very well with a crowd that are obviously all regulars at the event.
What of them, though? What of the regulars? I didn't take any notes or even write down the names so I can't review them individually but I'd say there wasn't a poor turn among them. Whether it was poetry, prose, a song or even a short play it was all well written and well performed. At least one of the poets was truly outstanding. I left a little before the end to get my train and I was sorry to have to do it as it meant missing a few performances.
A couple of excellent pints, a whole bunch of great writers and readers and the chance to try out my own material to an unfamiliar audience. What could be better?

Well there are spoilers and SPOILERS

I just read a review of the Green Lantern movie that started by saying that it contained "some spoilers". Fortunately I had seen the film this afternoon because what it meant by "some spoilers" was that it would spend a dozen paragraphs giving what amounted to a scene by scene description of the film followed by a fifty word review.

Glad I didn't read it before I'd seen the film.

So, here we go.

WARNING: ALTHOUGH NOT CONTAINING PLOT SPOILERS WHAT FOLLOWS CONTAINS MY OPINION OF THE FILM. IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO KNOW MY OPINION STOP READING NOW!

As I say I saw it this afternoon. Unlike Thor the bits intended for 3D weren't so in your face that they bothered me. I hardly even  noticed them. So that's a plus. Sadly it's one of the few pluses I could find. The CGI effects were well enough done. So that's another. If I think of a third I'll let you know.
The movie is inescapably and undeniably dull. It's about as uninvolving a movie as I've seen for a very long time. I'd say that the plot has holes but it's more a case of there being so many holes that it's hard to locate the plot at all. There are frequent bits that look as if they might have made sense in earlier drafts of the script but make little or no sense in what reached the screen. Even the CGI sequences lack any sense of drama and the bits that fill the gaps between the CGI are trite, cliched and unconvincing.
Nobody actually turns in a bad performance but then again nobody turns in a brilliant performance either and it would take a staggering performance to overcome the shortcomings of the script. I'm always suspicious of movies that do great wads of exposition in the form of a voice over or as characters delivering lectures rather than dialogue and this one does both.

So, a major disappointment all round.

I'll go off now and re-watch the famous faux-trailer on You Tube

Now that would have been a great movie.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Well that's a bit more than I was expecting...

Just got a quote for medical insurance for one year working in China. Without going into too much detail, the quote for insurance was more than three times my total salary for the year. I'll get others but I'd be surprised if any of them get down to below my salary. Looks like I'm going to have to take a chance on not having insurance. So far, adding everything I'm having to spend together, for every pound I earn in China it will cost me about three. I'm looking forward to the job but on a purely financial level it's going to be a disaster. And that's without any insurance. With insurance included, for every pound I earn, it will cost me six.

Doesn't look as if it was my best ever plan, does it?

Guest Post

Roger Noons, who is himself a fine writer, has today sent me this review of my two books.


I have completed my initial readings of Bob Hale's two books of poetry, Chaos Theory and The Hitting The Road Again Blues.
He and I come from a similar background (albeit Bob is a few years behind me), so I can understand his respect for his parents and his desire for their pride in, and admiration of, his achievements. Interestingly, his mother and mine shared the same first name.
In Chaos Theory, he shares with us his life, loves, dislikes and political opinions. He does so in a range of styles and forms, from haiku to longer pieces. The verses show variety, depth and novelty, with forms appropriate to the subject matter. I am aware that he has a dry sense of humour, although here it is little in evidence. That is not a criticism, but a recognition of the importance and seriousness which he awards to his subject matter. I particularly enjoyed :-
Away From The Crowd,The Lost City,The Teddy Bear House, and Dave.
In THTRAB, Bob shares with us his love of travel, often to 'off the beaten track' places. We visit a number of countries in several continents. I read about many places which I shall never visit, but through Bob's words, I can feel that I have been there and experienced something of the culture and life of it's people.
He concludes with Alice In The Underpass, a moment in Birmingham, almost his home city. For me that is the most touching example of Bob's skill as a writer, as a conveyor of place and mood. I also particularly liked The Devil's Carousel, DPRK, and The Perfect Moment.
 
If you enjoy poetry, reading and travel, you should obtain copies of these two books.
 
Roger L. Noons.

The books are available from www.lulu.com.

Why people shouldn't use tools they don't understand

I'm a teacher.
I teach English which, of course, includes teaching reading and writing. Like all teachers, whatever their subject, I have a toolbox that contains lots of different tools and techniques that I mix and match according to the circumstances. I have a pretty good idea about how to do my job and which techniques work for me and my students.
One such tool is phonics. In ludicrously over-simplified terms phonics is what you are using when you teach your kids that "cat" is "ku... a... tu". It's a single tool in the box and not an uncontroversial one, primarily because every few years the Government does a back flip and demands that teachers who were using it stop or that teachers who weren't start. Personally, and I suspect this is true of most teachers, I like to have all the tools available to me.

Last night though, I witnessed a perfect example of why people shouldn't use tools they don't understand. Phonics is a particular teaching technique but it's a technique that should only be used by people who have more than a rudimentary idea about what it is.

There was a woman at the Metro stop with her seven-year-old son. I know that he was seven because I heard her say, "Come on, you're seven. You should know this already."

That one sentence says all you need to know about her caring, nurturing attitude. If not actually angry, it certainly came over as sounding irritated. From my observation of the situation he did have reading difficulties, with a reading age more like four or five than seven. 
She showed him a word and read it out loud.
"Holly."
At her insistant urging he tried to follow it in the page and sound it out.
"Hhhhh...  oh... ul... ee."
It was, I thought, a fair enough stab at it. His mother disagreed. She instantly told him he was wrong and "corrected" him.
"Hur... oh.. ler... ler.. yuh".

The kid was clearly utterly bewildered. Her attempt to sound it out had sounded out what she thought each letter, in isolation, should sound like and bore no resemblance at all to the way the word should be pronounced. The kid tried again - his way - and she corrected him again. She went on to similar nonsense with the words "baby", "lady" and "fairy".

If that's the way he's being encouraged at home then it's hardly surprising that he's having problems. Poor kid. I think it's terrific that parents get involved in their children's learning but they should try to do it in a way that isn't quite so counter-productive.

City Voices : 14/06/11

Well, it's been a long journey that I've travelled with City Voices since I first attended, and performed at, it way back when it used to be upstairs at the Clarendon. Last night was, at least for the foreseeable future, my final visit, as work will soon be taking me away, first to Harrow and then to China.
So how did it go?
Recently Simon Fletcher, the organiser of the event, has been mixing up the format slightly and last night was another departure with the whole of the second half being taken up with a folk duo, Billy and Loz. First though we had a three readers to entertain us for the first half, all of them regulars at City Voices.
We started with Yvette Rose, a quiet performer of personal poems. She started with several poems about nature - In The Garden, What A Blessing and Hibiscus - which she followed up with the slight but clever Love With Maths before moving on to the very personal poems about relationships, especially her relationship with her Grandmother. 
Yvette was followed by Dorothy Baruch, who read a single poem, followed by extracts from a work in progress, a novel that she is writing. The poem was a short and quite strong piece revealed to be about adoption only after she had read it. She introduced the extracts from the novel by telling us that some of it is quite dark but she had chosen the "less dark" sections for the performance. She has a strong expressive voice and a good ear for dialogue. On one hearing of this short section I found it quite hard to work out what was going on but the rhythm of the words and the authentic and convincing way that she read carried me along as she described a naming ceremony for a child in the Caribbean. It was a fine performance.
Finally for the first half we had Jane Seabourne who, as I've said before, is a very accomplished poet. Her set was a mixture of some things I've heard before and some that I haven't.She opened with a favourite, At the Family Fun Day, which contains the great line "it's rumoured there'll be Morris dancing". She rattled on through a fast-paced series of excellent poems - Wilfred and I Celebrate Our 40th Anniversary  - about how, as a teenager she discovered the poetry of Wilfred Owen, Note To a Non-Cooking Man - sharp and funny with a bitter twist in the last line, Wriggly Monkey - a well observed description of an old man who doesn't "want to be any trouble". She finished the set with two poems about school games lessons amd a gently observed one written for, and about, The Race For Life cancer charity.

After the break we had our folk duo, Billy and Loz, or Brian Dakin and Lawrence Hipkiss to give them their full names. Lawrence played the guitar well, adding occasional comments in the gaps between songs, while Brian alternated spoken word with song. Their songs and poems were all based firmly in Black Count history and were thoroughly entertaining. Drovers was introduced as being a Black Country cowboy song and was precisely that. Rag Time Roll was about old fashioned pub entertainment, The Bricklayers Daughter was a poignant and touching tale of a man bringing up a child alone and Hard Times was a bleak description of workhouses. My favourite though, my favourite piece from the whole night in fact, was the rousing Shut The Curtains, Gerald which told the tale of Queen Victoria visiting the Black Country and insisting on going through Tipton with the curtains closed so that she wouldn't have to see it.

Excellent stuff. I shall miss it.

Monday, 13 June 2011

So that's what it means...

In a news item yesterday Kate Middleton was described as "wearing a recycled blue coat that she had previously worn at a friend's wedding".

So that's what "recycled" means in royal circles - wearing the same item of clothing twice.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Getting Closer

Today I have received my Chinese working visa which means that everything is now in place for my new job. Everything except selling the house, that is. On that particular front there is still no progress but I'm of a Mr Micawber turn of mind. Something will turn up. I'm sure of it.

So, now that it's all in place how do I feel about it? Well about from that nagging worry about the house it feels rather as it did when everything was in place for my world tour but I still had to work out my notice and then spend a few weeks at home waiting. In short, we have now entered the period when everything feels rather flat. I want to be gone, to be on my way to my exciting new venture, to be anywhere that isn't here. I have been growing increasingly bored with my naval-gazing, thumb-twiddling life of idleness anyway and now that there is nothing actually preventing my departure the waiting game becomes even more tedious.
Still, it's only a few weeks until my Harrow contract, then six more weeks after that to my brief visit to my brother and then three more days until I'm sitting on a plane on my way to China. It's a tedium I can cope with knowing that what follows will be so different, so new.

It just keeps on getting closer all the time.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Sliced Bread Redux

A few days ago I posted a rather slight poem inspired by a rather slight BBC news story about bread. I linked to the story which was about the invention of the method that produces the kind of pasty, uniformly-sliced bread that is the most common form on sale today. (However good or bad that might be!)

I also posted it on wordcraft where a fair bit of protest was raised from all quarters. Most humourously it was raised by Guy Barry.

Here then is a repeat of my poem, followed by Guy's reply.

On the fiftieth birthday of sliced bread

How could I not have known?
Why has no one ever said?
They really should have told me!
I'm older than sliced bread.
Sliced bread is only fifty -
In fact fifty years today -
And me, I'm fifty-four
And beginning to decay.

For four years from the start
Of my still enduring life
People went on cutting
Their bread up with a knife
They managed for themselves
The thickness of a slice
And most people I am sure
Sliced their fingers once or twice.

But four years after me
The sliced loaf was invented
And sandwich makers everywhere
Were happy and contended.
The best thing since sliced bread?
Many things are said to be!
But the best that went before?
Well, clearly, that was me.

                                    Bob Hale

How could you not have known?
No wonder no one said!
Now everyone has told you
You're younger than sliced bread.
Sliced bread is over eighty,
By quite a little way;
At only fifty-four, you seem
A long way from decay.

But four years after you
The folks at Chorleywood
Invented springy, spongy bread
Which didn't taste so good.
Why can't the supermarkets sell
The proper stuff instead?
A loaf from Chorleywood is not
The best thing since sliced bread!


                        Guy Barry

It's very difficult to argue with that.  Thanks, Guy for the permission to repost it.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

But there's nothing wrong with it...

I often wish people who make pronouncements on language would take the trouble to learn something about it.

One of the regular panellists on The Wright Stuff is Dominic Holland and Matthew Wright, the host, often suggests that Dominic's spelling and grammar could use some work.

He did so today showing this tweet that Dominic had made
I am doing The Wright Stuff all this week – with the inimitable host, Matthew Wright. It's a show I do do regularly and very much enjoy.

His complaint was the "do do" but, with the greatest respect, it's the complaint itself that is do-do.

If it's an error at all, then it's a momentary error of concentration entirely unrelated to either grammar or spelling. We all do do it from time to time and in a fast environment like Twitter the chances of such errors are magnified.

But it might not even be that. The sentence is a perfectly valid English construction. If we replace the second "do" with a synonym, say "appear on", then it's much easier to see:

"It's a show I do appear on regularly and very much enjoy."

We can, in English, use "do" as an auxiliary verb. It intensifies the main verb and contradicts a negative assertion.

"You don't read enough books!"
"I do read enough books."

"You don't want another beer, do you?"
"I do want another beer!"

"You don't do The Wright Stuff, do you."
"I do do The Wright Stuff."

I've encountered similar misguided suggestions in the past that there is something wrong with "had had", which is equally nonsensical.

I'm not saying that Dominic's comment was intended this way, the hundred and forty character limit of Twitter makes it very difficult to establish a context but even if it was, as seems likely, a lapse of concentration, it DID NOT result in an ungrammatical sentence.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

To Put Away Childish Things #29

I've been reading Dave Gorman's latest, Dave Gorman vs The Rest of the World, in which we get to read about Dave playing games that range from Cribbage to Cluedo, Table Tennis to Poker via a whole lot of games that you have almost certainly never heard of.
I know, as subjects for a book it sounds pretty tedious. It isn't. It has his usual good-natured silliness to it and is a diverting, if slight read.
I mention it because some of the games he's played reminded me of things I haven't mentioned yet in this series of posts - the most recent one being Monopoly. I'll save Monopoly for another day though and talk about one he hasn't played (so far anyway, I'm only just past half way through) - Dungeons and Dragons.
There were five of us - my Brother and his wife, my mate and his wife and me. (That kind of "there ought to be six" lopsidedness seems a common enough feature of my life but let's not get self-pitying about it.)
We were not what you would call hard core D&D addicts. We only met to play occasionally and we didn't get dressed up as elves or dwarves or wizards or anything. That would have been silly. On reflection though probably not much sillier than my mate, a solidly built and rather tall chap, playing a regular character called "Udup the Dwarf"*.
In the list of games I have played D&D has a unique position. There are other role playing games around which are probably much the same but I haven't played them. No, among the games I've actually played D&D is the only one I know where it's massively more fun for the referee than for any other player.
The way we played it was that one of us would labour for weeks creating a scenario, making maps of an imaginary temple or city or country - sometimes really detailed maps - running through "if they do this, I'll do that" what-ifs, basically creating a whole world. Then the others would come round, preferably carrying beer. We'd clear a table, lay down whatever information the characters were supposed to know and spend an evening or more rolling multi-sided dice, discussing what to do next, working our way around this new world.
And the referee, known as the Dungeon Master, got to be God of his own little world. He could role dice in secret behind a screen, nod knowingly and then tell you that the cavern you have so blithely entered contains half a dozen goblins and a troll and what are you intending to do about it?
He had rules that he was supposed to stick to but I know that whenever I was Dungeon Master I pretty much ignored them. My notes (available to the other players in retrospect) might show that you only get eaten by a dragon if I manage to role a one on the icosahedral die but hey, if I want you to be eaten by a dragon you can be sure I'm claiming that I rolled a one.

It was a phase we went through that didn't last long because fundamentally, as gaming experiences go, it has some problems. The objectives can be rather ill-defined. Strategy is more or less non-existent as what you are doing, in effect, is participating in a collaborative effort to write a story. If your character is killed early on all you can do is wander round the house and go through the Dungeon Master's record collection while the others carry on playing. It is, as I said, much more fun to create and control the game than to inhabit it. 
In many ways it's probably debatable whether it ought to be defined as a game at all. 
So, as a gaming experience it leaves a bit to be desired but as a social experience** it was pretty good. Especially with beer.

* Udup, he explained was so-named because everybody knows that any self-respecting dwarf walks around with his hood up.

**I did once spend some time developing a playable solo version, which shows what a truly sad individual  I can be when I put my mind to it.

Ongoing #75

This started life as a sunset poem. The illustration actually shows a turkey in the foreground but has a setting sun behind a fence in the background. The poem mutated in its creation into something rather different.

Cemetery Sunset

there are lights in the sky
above the cemetery gates
above the ranks of standing stones

the colours, as the day begins to die,
shroud its corpse in crimson
gold and purple, hide its bones

and slowly blacken into night
as down among the silent angels
the day is laid once more to rest

amid prayers that perhaps it might
once more be resurrected from the grave
and with its light the world be blessed

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

A new poem

Since I took my redundancy in January I have been able to go to my writing group, Scribblers, quite regularly again, though of course after one more session it will end again - China to Bilston is a little too far to come.
At every meeting we chat a lot but we also do a writing exercise dreamed up by one of the members. To be honest very little of what I ever produce there is a enough of a standard to progress with. It all stays in the notebooks but rarely gets developed. Tonight was different. Silvia gave us a whole selection of possible topics one of which was to describe someone by describing only his possessions. We usually have about forty minutes to do it. At the end of the forty minutes tonight I knew I had something - a little raw and unfinished true, but something. When I read it out the others thought so too.

So I've spent another hour and a half on it at home and now I really think I have something. 

This is another poem in tribute to my late father.

by his belongings

we cleared the house today
my brother and I
started with his clothes
filled plastic sacks without ceremony
talking about anything
except what we were doing

suits he'd always worn
suits he'd hardly worn
suits he'd never worn
suits he'd bought new
and suits he'd bought
in charity shops

shirts hung on hangers
shirts folded on shelves
shirts still in cellophane
old shirts secured with pins
new shirts secured
with plastic clips

three pairs of pyjamas
all striped and flannel
one of them unused
"in case I ever have
to go to hospital"
he'd always said

a suitcase full of ties
garish and bright and wide
some silk, some cotton
but he'd always worn
only one, the same one
narrow, plain and brown

we crushed them all into sacks
and moved on

in a drawer we found
nine assorted watches
four wind-up, four battery
one fob watch without a chain
all of them were broken
save that last one

every pair of glasses
he'd ever owned
in almost ninety years of life
and every pair my mother
had ten years ago left behind
never thrown away



more of my mother's things
old costume jewellery
a box of photographs
their wedding album
a pair of her gloves
too small and soft to be his

and then his papers
his army identification
with a cap badge from the HLI
a works ID from 1942
just before he'd gone to war
clock number 694

and still more papers
rent books from before my birth
my certificate for swimming
one width of the baths
my brother's school report
B-minus for his maths

there were a few books
all of them westerns
his progress marked
in precise corner creases
all of them started
none of them finished

outside we tackled the shed
every tool old, rusty, useless
and all the wooden boxes
he'd used the tools
to make the boxes
to store the tools

and then it was done
all the parts of his life
separated into piles
throw these away
give these away
keep these forever

and on top of that pile
the pile of things  to keep
that army ID card
an impossibly young man
with a short haircut
and a smile wider than his face

we cleared out the house today
my brother and I
and then we poured three beers
left one for him and drank
toasting him in silent
memory of his life

Ongoing #74

Another of the doodles in the book shows several pictures showing the procession of the seasons with space for the artist to add some more.
This poem not only follows the doodle AND the same experimental picture technique that the last one had, BUT ALSO is a follow up to my metaphor and simile workshop.

I don't think it works very well but I'll post it anyway.

Unlikely Descriptions of Time

time

rolls like a wheel down a steep hill
freezes like a statue standing still
bounces like a kangaroo
waves in the breeze, red white and blue
crawls slow as an insect on the ground
keeps us tied and tightly bound
displays its peacock progress proud
threads different speeds among the crowd
falls as hourglass grains of sand
breaks like eggshells in my hand
drifts like clouds across the sky

and
then
you
die

Happy Birthday Sliced Bread

On the fiftieth birthday of sliced bread

How could I not have known?
Why has no one ever said?
They really should have told me!
I'm older than sliced bread.
Sliced bread is only fifty -
In fact fifty years today -
And me, I'm fifty-four
And beginning to decay.

For four years from the start
Of my still enduring life
People went on cutting
Their bread up with a knife
They managed for themselves
The thickness of a slice
And most people I am sure
Sliced their fingers once or twice.

But four years after me
The sliced loaf was invented
And sandwich makers everywhere
Were happy and contended.
The best thing since sliced bread?
Many things are said to be!
But the best that went before?
Well, clearly, that was me.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Ongoing #73

Another picture in the doodle book I have used for inspiration shows a page full of blank faces to be drawn in. Only the first one is done and it shows an old man.
I have combined this with an experimental technique using a random section from the huge collection of picture prompts that I use in class.

The poem is called His Masks


he closes his eyes and remembers
all the masks he wore
when he was younger

he was an artist
.........................putting truth on canvas
.........................icebergs to sink complacency
he was a dancer
.........................plucking joy from motion
.........................and motion from joy
he was a musician
.........................trimming the shape of the world
.........................into topiaries of sound
he was a lover
.........................with the wildness of his youth
.........................and then the warmth of his age

he opens his eyes and he wonders
what mask he wears now,
perhaps an anticipatory
death mask

Like a simile...

I thoroughly enjoyed the poetry workshop I went to on Saturday, the awful journey I had to get there notwithstanding. The specific topic was the use of metaphor and simile and there was a lot of very lively discussion about what constitute good and bad examples.

We finished, as we always do at these things, with a writing exercise. There were several different tasks to choose from and I chose one based around writing several smaller observations of a single scene. What I produced on the day was sort of OK - I was probably less happy with it than others seemed to be - but nothing I would have kept in that form.

So I've now done some more work on it and the final poem is presented below. Before we get to it, a single note concerning the poem and the day. I said I had a terrible journey there, and so I did, my train was eventually forty minutes late and it was only because I had allowed a lot of time that I was a mere fifteen minutes late. When it came to the poem I decided to get something positive out of the experience.



So here it is.


Wolverhampton Station, 4th June

three teenage girls
bare-shouldered and bare-armed
huddle beneath the station roof
like ducklings beneath the river bank
watching raindrop static in the water

a tattooed man
his arms a map of his soul
chases a bouncing dog  and is
devoured by the open carriage door
before the train slithers down the track

a chinese boy
tries repeatedly to ask
the unresponsive station guard
the way to platform three but he
is grey and graveyard-statue silent

an elderly woman
with chin-high buttoned coat
pulls bulging shopping-trolley luggage
as a child pulls a wooden train
as if she has mistaken here for Tesco

a wire-spectacled man
with food stains on his jacket
and shirt tails bidding for freedom
follows crazy-paving paths
that no one but he can see

and I for my part
look to station board and track
in Wimbledon spectator motions
both inform me of the self-same truth
my train it seems is still delayed

Sunday, 5 June 2011

I can? Thank you.

On Wolverhampton station there is a facility where, if you have dog, you can fill a dog bowl with water so that your pet doesn't go thirsty. That's fine. What confuses me is the sign above it which reads


This facility is for the
use of our four-legged
friends.

Please quench your thirst
with our best wishes.

Even in Wolverhampton most of the dogs are unable to read so what I want to know is this... who exactly does the "your" in the second sentence refer to?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Bet he doesn't win...

BBC News 4 June, 2011.

"The jockey, Kieren Fallon, will today find out if he will be allowed to run in the Derby."

Shows how much I know, I thought the horses did the running.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Unambitious

One of the books on sale at the CAMRA stand at the Wolverhampton Beer Festival was "300 Beers To Try Before You Die".
Seems a little unambitious to me.

Struck me as a bit odd

Heard on the news today

"As hundreds are struck down by an e-coli outbreak, with eighteen dead in Germany, later we talk to a celebrity chef."

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Grand(iose)

The presenter on a daytime property program on TV described a house, apparently approvingly, as "grandiose". People often seem to not have much idea of the conventional usage of words. "Grandiose" is almost exclusively a disapproving term meaning "unnecessarily large and pretentious".
I find it mildly amusing that such a negative term can be substituted for the simpler and far more positive "grand" giving the completely wrong impression of the place.