Almost Quiet on the Western Front

I took a turn to run the Macclesfield Creative Writing Group workshop this afternoon and chose to concentrate on the new month and its associations with the past, particularly the Armistice Centenary. Thomas Hood’s “No!” and Carol Ann Duffy’s “The Wound in Time”, spanning 200+ years, made an excellent starting point, followed by an alphabet of prompts, one of which led me to write:-

Almost Quiet on the Western Front

A hundred years from now, I’ll freely take a punt,

some bloke’ll say, “All was quiet on t’Western Front.

11th. November, hostilities will close

and we’ll be friends again, not bayonet-wielding foes.”

 

Both sides are drained, exhausted. No-one gives a damn,

desperate to get home to warm tea, fresh bread, roast lamb

–         and Jerry will head back for sauerkraut and schnitzel.

I wouldn’t touch the stuff, but I’m damned sure Fritz will –

and to see the missus and the kids, to walk where trees

aren’t stark and crippled skeletons, devoid of leaves,

where zephyrs kiss the topmost boughs and nesting birds

roost safe where cosy, verdant canopy engirds.

 

One final foray for the sarge. Lads, here we go.

No bullets got my name on. Crouch down, head low,

then home to Blighty, sure as eggs is eggs.

What was it all about the question begs:

four years of endless, unrequited, nightmare hell,

entrenched, entombed, endured, spent listening for that shell.

 

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Mist at Monk Coniston

We’ve just returned from a long weekend in the Lakes resplendent in their Autumn colours and had clear, blue skies and sunshine – apart from the day and the half day we actually walked when the Mellow Fruitfulness welcomed back its old friend Mist. As the weather improved on the Sunday, we were taking the steamer from Brantwood  (John Ruskin’s house) to Coniston and views of the hills and the Old Man reappeared together with a stunning rainbow arching from the centre of Coniston itself. Mady and I made our own way back from there to the HF house and muggins decided not to return by the same way we had come down with the rest of the party. Mistake! We ended up on the road with Hawkshead Hill between us and our destination. Mutiny on the Mount-y! The poem below actually refers to the easier walk on the previous day. Mady is French remember if you’re puzzled by the line ending each verse.

Mist at Monk Coniston

It’s October when the leaves turn brown and quit their lofty boughs.

At home, we’ve cancelled doorstep milk and said, “Goodbye”s and “Ciao”s.

We’d headed up to Cumbria which world famous views avows.

Next day, we frog marched Mady through the mists around Tarn Howes.

 

We love our HF weekends and the Healthy Life espouse,

though we’re not averse to wine and beer and love to chat and souse,

but when weather turns inclement, it’s our spirits we arouse

and then we frog march Mady through the mists around Tarn Howes.

 

When the clag is down all day and rain drops hang upon our brows,

we wouldn’t dream of letting this our enthusiasm dowse,

even when we meet a herd of bellicose and stubborn cows

as we frog march poor Mady through the mists around Tarn Howes.

 

That’s it from me. I’m out of rhymes. I’d be a big girl’s blouse

if on your patience I imposed, more than courtesy allows.

I’ll refer to Alfred Wainwright, my little book of Chairman Mao’s:

He OK’s frog marching Mady through the mists around Tarn Howes.

 

“Windfall” and advance notice of a poetry evening with Mark Rawlins, myself and Nick Degg, “Macc Town 2, Port Vale 1”

I can’t believe that it’s been more than a month since I showed signs of life. I even let National Poetry Day (Thursday, 4th. October: theme “Change”) pass without comment or loosing off a “Loose Change” pun or two. True, I haven’t been especially productive on the poetry front, birthday tributes apart, though I shall finish with a poem written today. Before I do, I just wanted to let you know that on Wednesday, 14th. November at 7-30 pm at the Silk Heritage Centre (Whitaker Room, The Old Sunday School), I will be joining Mark Rawlins and Nick Degg in an evening of unrestrained and entertaining poetry (see Nick Degg’s Youtube “Regional Accent Syndrome” for a taste of things to come). £5/£4, includes refreshments, pay at the door.

Windfall

Autumn has breezed in with its flurry of transient finery

of russets and scarlets and golds

and beneath the heavily laden apple trees,

the wind has harvested a premature crop

of bruised treasure, a feast for mice and slugs.

 

And I think of how ideas, maturing slowly,

hang in mid-air, awaiting that nudge, gentle or brusque,

from tousled-haired, round cheeked cherub

–         Pffft – and down they tumble,

coming to rest, causing scarcely a ripple, nearby:

wind felled, precious windfall,

something to value, to muse on or to discard.

 

First Prize in the Cute-cumber Category

Brookfield Lane Allotment Association (BLAA) had its Annual Show on Saturday, August 18th. and very successful it was too: well-attended by the enthusiastic plot holders and by family and friends. Cups (including one for best newcomers – congratulations, Plot 6B) were presented by the mayor and after the auction of produce and the raffle, a tasty menu of meal choices was on offer to round off proceedings. Thanks to the Committee for an excellent afternoon. Here’s a poem inspired by the afternoon’s competition.

First Prize in the Cute-cumber Category

I can’t let this pass without comment in rhyme

Fly flags. Hang out bunting. Let’s hear church bells chime.

My big day had come. I’d been waiting for years.

I’m feeling emotional, almost in tears.

For Saturday last was the day of the Show.

We hopefuls turned up with our produce in tow.

30 p for each entry, so serious stuff,

and winning first prizes would be really tough.

Whether single sweet pea or trios of veg.,

how would we find that competitive edge?

 

The morning past quickly selecting our crops,

the pick of the bunch. There’d be no room for flops:

a monster tomato; 3 beetroot; 3 beans;

a white, frilly squash; and maybe some greens;

one pot of marmalade; one pot of bramble;

one rhubarb and ginger (a bit of a gamble).

and one final entry, last but not least,

an arrow straight cucumber, fit for a feast.

On the stroke of midday, the judging began,

Would the afternoon go according to plan?

 

3 o’clock soon came round. We scurried back in,

eager to see who had managed to win.

Laid out on the tables, the results were displayed.

Had any of my entries made the grade?

Yes, here I’d a third prize, there I’d a second.

That was lots more success than I’d reckoned.

The sponges and scones I sauntered right past

and headed for where the cucurbits amassed

and I swear that this all logic defies,

there was my cucumber sporting first prize.

 

“Yippee!”, I shouted, though just in my head.

(Showing you’ve triumphed is very ill-bred).

It wasn’t the longest. It wasn’t its size.

It wasn’t its girth that won it first prize,

but somehow it embodied perfection:

most rectilinear in the cucumber section.

Its skin satin smooth, a beautiful green,

a tiny bit shiny which gave it a sheen.

I’m over the moon. I’m chuffed as can be.

Maybe next year, “Best in Show” might be me!

 

Adieu to the “Yellow Peril”

I’ve hinted in previous posts that the days of my Yellow Orrell bike were numbered. Sadly, it has gone to the bike rack in the sky to be recycled thanks to Andrew Millest’s ministrations. My farewell tribute follows:-

Adieu to the Yellow Peril

We’ve been cycling buddies for more than 10 years.

We’ve been through a lot as I’ve changed through the gears.

You’ve been there for me like a pal I could trust.

I’ve seen the real you through the muck and the rust.

There has been the odd time we’ve gone sep’rate ways

with me on the ground in a bit of a daze

and you ending up in a terrible tangle

mudguards askew, handlebars at an angle.

No fault of yours, chuck, just me being dim,

putting at risk precious bike, life and limb.

 

Like the time on LEJOG: out of Keswick we “clumb”

My bag caught Dave’s front brake and down we did come.

I’ve skidded on diesel, I’ve bounced on a rut,

escaped with abrasions, bruised hip, the odd cut.

Worse still, with back tyre and ego deflated,

my mates stood around and the outcome debated.

They know I’m quite useless with technical stuff.

Why’s everyone else a mechanical buff?

I’m the exception. I don’t have a clue

and when they’re all watching, I get in a stew.

 

It will still be great to get back on a bike,

ride quiet country lanes with Stan, Dave, Bill and Mike.

We’ll ride single file when there’s traffic about:

“Car back”; “Coming through”; and such like we will shout.

So as you go past us, allow us some room.

Old geezers might wobble and even Chris Froome

has come to grief in the peleton’s scramble.

Overtake on blind bend’s one hell of a gamble.

The guy on the Orrell may be a right pest.

Just give him a wide berth. He’s doing his best.

 

Yellow Peril, your steel frame has had its last ride.

No more will you roam with this rider astride.

Your crank shaft is shafted. You head into the sun

and your days on the roads are over and done.

It’s time to dismantle and take you apart.

As you’re recycled, there’s a place in my heart,

a hollow, a void. Call me sentimental,

but when we have cycled in downpours torrential

or baked under skies as in 2018,

saying “Goodbye” is so hard. It’s obscene.

Oops!

I’m still trying to walk the tightrope (slack wire?) of outrageous optimism strung across the chasm of reality whilst keeping one eye on Nadal v Djokovic.

Oops!

Oops! The twice in a lifetime chance has been and gone:

Croatia scored 2 goals; whilst England managed 1.

Off to the perfect start, we couldn’t keep it up.

It’s the Team’s coming home, not Football or World Cup.

One more match to play, though little consolation

for those who dreamed of football glory for the nation.

 

At first kick off, we’d all have settled for third place.

We hoped for more, but third (or fourth) would be no disgrace.

We’d have come home almost happy, ghosts laid to rest,

knowing we had striven and given of our best,

but Gareth’s young team shows promise now aplenty.

The talent’s there. Bring on Euro 2020.

England Expects…

A cautionary note: wild optimism may not necessarily prove to have been prescience all along

England Expects…

The quarter final’s over. We no longer fear

being flat-packed off home by the Land of IKEA.

Two more rounds to go before in the memory sticks

2018 alongside 1966.

For Harry, England and St. George and World Cup Sucker

I’ve not been writing much of late, but, unsurprisingly, here are a couple of poems related to the present obsession and which require posting before the 3 pm (BST)deadline! The one written today is first and they pretty much cover the options!

So, “Come on, my bonnies” (as one of the Mansfield Town supporters used to shout at Field Mill back in the 60s).

For Harry, England and St. George

The banners are flying, the pundits installed.

Could this be the year that the Lions don’t get mauled?

We’ve laid the old spectre of failure to rest:

those penalty shootouts with us second best.

We hover twixt gloom and wild optimism

Oh, for a clairvoyant’s crystal ball prism.

The vagaries of fortune, the chance of success,

seem stacked in our favour – well, more or less –

since Germany’s out and no Brazil or Spain.

Uruguay, Argentina can’t win again,

though “Old Enemy”, France, still lurks in the wings.

As long as Sweden don’t run round us in rings,

England’s boys will be men through History’s lens.

(Fingers George crossed it won’t end up with pens.)

The excitement is bubbling to fever pitch.

A bloke in the pub claimed there won’t be a hitch.

Here’s hoping we’ll all be glued to the screen

and dreaming of glory for 2018.

 

World Cup Sucker

Switch on the TV at the set or remote.

Whatever the channel, we’re in the same boat.

What have we in store and what will it usher?

It’s World Cup Football wall to wall from Russia.

 

The flags are out flying from roofs and high places.

They’re even painted on kids’ and grown-ups’ faces.

Whether cross of St. George or Union Jack;

bright French tricolore; (none of them is black);

 

a rising sun from Japan; Swiss cross white on red;

lots of other countries’ flags, I can’t get in my head.

We’ll wave them forever and loudly cheer, no doubt.

Well, maybe not forever, just until we’ve been knocked out!

No Hoper

At the Creative Writing Group a week or so ago, Beryl led a workshop on the plight of the homeless, starting with a word association exercise to try to get our heads round the problem. We each then tried to encapsulate it in a short prose piece or a poem. If I didn’t quite hit the sympathetic note I was aiming for, mea culpa.

No Hoper

You wouldn’t believe that I had a good job.

I was in with the in crowd, but I was a knob.

Now I’m down on my luck and need a few bob.

Yeah, walk right on past me. I’m not your prob.

 

I drank for England. I smoked dodgy snout.

I’d snort lines of coke. Any laws I would flout.

I pushed it too far and my boss kicked me out.

I was out of control. Now my Life’s up the spout.

 

My girlfriend, supportive, I pushed her too far.

She coaxed me and pleaded. She was really a star,

but I just got plastered and smashed up the car.

My family said, “That’s it” and that’s where we are.

 

So, here in my doorway, with blankets for heat,

head down, out of trouble, on a kind copper’s beat,

I’m cold and I’m hungry, so little to eat

and bugger all chance to start a clean sheet.

 

So, whilst you ignore me, down and out on my luck,

I’m in a quandary for here I am stuck

and you who don’t know me and don’t give a fuck,

you might be surprised just how little it took.

West Park

The incredible show of blossom in West Park has been a constant source of pleasure on my recent, sunbathed, circuits as convalescent and eventually led to the following lines, written with one eye to a submission for Margaret Holbrook’s forthcoming collection, “Landscapes”.  Once I had this poem on the computer screen, I remembered that, back in December, 2015, I’d written a quite different account of the park, one frothing over with metaphor. It’s called “Christmas Eva, Christmas Rhos” and can be found posted on the blog 3 years ago. My vocabulary palette of colours seems to have shrivelled and drooped post-op.!

West Park

Flames leap from the azalea’s burning bush,

whilst rhododendrons’ more subtle blooms

smoulder, pale alba, pink and red,

and hint at long forgotten, distant,

snow-capped Himalayan peaks,

not Shuttlingsloe.

 

The whites and purples of the crocuses are a memory

and the daffodils have brazened and blazed where now

their dead heads shrivel and droop, but it’s time for

pink blossom confetti to carpet the park’s paths,

tempting the dog walker and the toddler, the jogger

and the convalescent to scuff and shuffle a shoe

or scoop whole handfuls and hurl them skywards

to celebrate the marriage of the seasons.

 

And the fragrance, delicate, almond-tinged,

its source elusive, bathes our senses

just feet away from bustling, busy roads.

White clad bowlers launch their ovals across the pristine green

towards that target jack, half watched, half-ignored,

by clumps of youngsters, ice-cream cones a-drip.

Sumer is icumen in. Lhude sing cuccu.*.

 

*Mid-thirteenth century round, author unknown.