Saggy-tarians’ Birthdays

Sharing a birthday with Mady makes it (almost) impossible for me to forget to say, “Bon anniversaire!”, but it didn’t stop me having to scrabble an improvised card and commemorative ditty on the morning of the 9th. I’m only adding this to the website now as an excuse to remind folk that “Macclesfield Writers Does Christmas” again this Thursday, 14th. December from 7.30 to 9.30 pm in the King Edward Street chapel in Macclesfield (admission £4, includes hot drinks and mince pies). We’d love to see you there.

Failing that, “Raspin'” Mark Rawlins, “Heckler’s Nemesis” Nick Degg and myself are the guest poets at “Write Out Loud” at the Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, on Tuesday, 19th.  December at 7.30 pm. It should be a really good night.

Saggy-tarians’ Birthdays

The days have passed by and we’ve gone with the flow.

Since we were like Casper* seems ages ago.

We’ve slowly matured and almost grown up

since you were a kitten and I was a pup.

Together we’ve garnered 1 44 years.

In old numbers, that’s gross and might bring on tears,

but just by good fortune, they’re now 1 for 2,

which means 36 each, we’ll go with in lieu.

Sit back and relax. You feel better I’ll wager.

Next week, 1 for 4 and you’re back to teenager.

Best stop there before we take too far these dreams,

ending up in our Dads’ eyes the merest of gleams!

*Casper is Estelle and Laura’s new baby, Mady’s new grandson, born 27th. November, 2017

Christmas Flier_171214

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The Great eSkype

I began this poem with the title back in 2013 after a visit to the Glen Coe region with our  Australian friends, Ian and Louise Whyte, whom we first met on the Gibb River road in 2001 and with whom we have shared some great moments. This time I was truly amazed by how the marvels of modern technology have somehow simultaneously shrunk and expanded our world.

The Great eSkype

We found ourselves in Glen Coe with our Aussie mates, the Whytes,

so no surprise to be outdoors and reaching heady heights.

We set off up a winding track towards our first Munroe,

the four grown ups and Timmy and his Tazzie friend in tow.

 

We old folks were all zonked out by the time we broached the crest

and at the summit plonked right down to grab a well-earned rest.

The day was clear. The clouds were high. We had a brilliant view,

a moment to be treasured. With the Whytes we’ve shared a few.

 

We settled back to savour our precious solitude,

high above that glen renowned for massacre and feud.

We watched the clouds go scudding by when Tim’s friend took his ’phone

and Skyped his folks in Tazzie. My, how small the world has grown!

 

Through modern day technology, the view we saw unfurled

was on his parents’ i-pad screen on the far side of the world.

They saw the cairn, the eagle swoop, the dipping sun’s display.

We shouted, “How ya goin’, mate?” and waved and said, “G’day!”

 

We’d set our sights on one more hill before we headed back,

along the rock-strewn ridge and up the purple heathered track,

then wound our way down to a pub, played pool and downed a dram.

and almost before we knew it, there we were on Instagram.

“Preparatory” School

Last Tuesday, Jude D’Souza announced to the enthusiastic, but numerically sparse Speakeasy faithful that the next session would be the last and that the theme would be Mistakes (a note of unintended irony here?). This will be on Tuesday, 19th. December, kicking off at 8.30 in the Park Tavern with its excellent range of beers, though it ought perhaps to be renamed “The Last Chance Saloon”!

It would be great to send the Speakeasy off with a good turn out, so pop this in your diaries now!

Meanwhile, for this month’s theme of School, I had several old poems ready to air, but decided to revisit my first few tottering steps on education’s tightrope. Here’s what sprang to mind.

“Preparatory” School

Mrs Ranby, Mrs Booth, Mrs Eales, Miss Hughes,

all warmly remembered, all urging us tots on

in the scramble for enlightenment,

up the ladder of education and out of the mines;

less so the formidable headmistress, Miss Rogers,

with her distinctly hairy upper lip and smart red dress.

 

Only in Junior School did men teachers make an appearance:

the loathsome, sarcastic Mr Crooks

who took an instant dislike to me,

introduced me to the word “conceited”

and, when I was pushed up to the year ahead,

wouldn’t have me back for the trip to Lady Bower dam.

(It was 40 years later before I drove past there,

shuttling step-daughter, Estelle, to and from her studies in Sheffield

and found myself transported back to that early 50s classroom);

the firm, humorous, upright figure of the lovable Mr Lawson,

with his faint whiff of tobacco and twinkling eyes

who, after our two schools merged,

brought a new approach with his gentle discipline

and homework and coached us through the fearsome 11+,

the school’s success rate rocketing, year by year.

(A 0/10 for confusing “its” and “it’s” clarified that distinction

long before I had heard of Lynn Truss).

At first he called me Jeffrey (as only hospital staff now do)

and had a dunce’s cap and a “kennel” for the class clown.

What a furore this would cause in today’s world,

but was considered perfectly acceptable back then;

the rotund, besuited, patriarchal headmaster,

Mr… Mr… Mr Allen. I struggle to recall his surname,

but how clearly I still see the magnificent flourish

of that “Frank S” in his signature on our final year report.

 

Of course, it’s the humiliations I remember most vividly,

relive most easily: in a poem,

the word “porpoises” I mispronounced

“poor Poysers” (and felt exactly that!);

as I had, after chattering in class once too often,

finding myself hauled before my classmates,

desk contents clasped, “Double or Drop”-like,

tremulously to chest, Miss Rogers’ finger

stabbing the top and bottom rungs

of a vertical ladder chalked on blackboard,

making it abundantly clear where, respectively,

she and I stood and how I was to return

to Mrs Ranby’s infants’ class to begin all over again.

I shed hot, 8-year-old’s tears,

overwhelmed with contrition, then relief,

as the carrot of a second and final chance

to reform was presented.

 

Two years earlier, impressed by my voracious appetite

for the array of books on the shelves of the class library,

the kindly Mrs. Booth had held me up as a rather different example.

“This boy will go far! Mark my words!”

Many years later, perhaps post-University,

I dropped by to see her

and as good fortune would have it,

found her returned in the role of relief teacher.

At first, to the general amusement of the class,

she mistook me for the man she was replacing,

but some recognition soon dawned

and I was able to express my gratitude

for her encouragement to tread the undulating path

which took me on my journey here tonight.

So far, so good.

For Stephen and Ann-Marie

Very occasionally, it’s an interesting challenge to put an artificial constraint on a piece of work, follow your nose and see what happens. Last Thursday’s Macclesfield Creative Writing Group workshop, led by Jacqueline Spry, involved dispensing with the letter “e”, cf. Georges Perec’s novel “A Void”, written in French and, even more astonishingly, translated into English, with ne’er an “e” in sight.

In a much less ambitious vein, I wrote the following birthday tribute to our friends, the Josephs, restricting it to 2 rhymes (one each?).

For Stephen and Ann-Marie

With the ticking of the clock,

the general public generally ages,

but not Ann-Marie and Doc.

For them it’s just the turning of Life’s pages.

 

They’re as solid as a rock

as they pass through the sequence of its stages.

Nor is either one a crock,

which at least in part our fretful thoughts assuages.

 

Vital to St. Alban’s flock,

where “elders” is another word for “sages”,

they reflect, when taking stock,

they do their very best to skirt Sin’s wages.

 

Knights and ladies don’t defrock,

or they’d hear how the congregation rages,

but they’d put themselves in hock,

at last to make their Holy Land pilgrimages.

 

You will never hear us mock

for our friends in Life Studies are both majors,

but we too hear that tick-tock

and, as poets, scuttle back into our cages.

Resistentialism

In Macclesfield Creative Writing Group’s workshop yesterday afternoon, Simon Robinson introduced us to the concept of “Resistentialism”. This neologism turns out to be a bit of a mouthful, which covers the concept of inanimate objects being spiteful to certain members of the human race. (Well, all of us really). Our first task was to come up with a word for the much rarer phenomenon of the benevolently disposed variety. The best I could do was “Objectianthropophilia”, but “Beneficencialism” was another suggestion. Here’s my paranoid take on the resentful version. Bel;ieve me, it’s form the hjeart.

Key Board’s Bored

“Here he comes, Mr Fingers and Thumbs,

plonks himself down in our chair.

He’s no idea, with his technophobe fear,

what he will access and where.”

 

Computer says, “Just how many ways

are there to have him freak out?

So, old Keyboard, let his efforts be flawed,

till he fills with self-loathing and doubt.”

 

“He’s scratching his head. (He’ll wish he were dead

the moment he touches my keys).

Now he’s started, 2 ticks and he’s martyred.

We’ll soon have him down on his knees.

 

Extra lettered, reversed and unfettered,

with errors and typos galore,

he’ll gnash his teeth, loll his tongue underneath,

but tomorrow he’ll be back for more.”

 

Daft Old Hills

Back Monday afternoon from a very blustery, wet weekend in the Lakes (Derwent Water, near Keswick). A surprising number of folk did not let the weather put them off, and like ourselves, braved Cat Bells on Sunday to get the views from the ridge top, clinging on when we emerged from the lee side of the hill into the (dis)-gusting winds. There was an age range represented of over 70 years, from myself to a baby snuggled (?) in a papoose carrier. So, that’s from a bit too old to very much too young!

The previous day we had walked/sloshed/waded near Castlerigg stone circle, Keswick’s mini-Stonehenge, leading me to write a Lakeland lament.

Daft Old Hills

Our walking weekend’s always been tried and trusted,

but not anymore, ‘cos my glasses have rusted.

We’ve tramped and we’ve trudged whilst the hill sheep all sheltered

and the wind lashed the trees and down the rain pelted.

We’ve squished and we’ve squelched and we’ve queued up for stiles

and repressed the impulse to ask, “How many miles

before we get back to HF’s haven and showers,

though there’s basil in the gin and it’s a bit Fawlty Towers?”

My specs don’t have wipers, so the views were all blurred

and without hearing aids, all the chat went unheard.

In St. John’s-in-the-Vale, we ate lunch and were warm.

Well, what’s that old saying? “Any porch in a storm!”

Please don’t get the impression I’ve not had a good time.

I’m a natural moaner, especially in rhyme.

Our walk leaders were brilliant, that’s Colin and Rose.

No-one got lost, no-one drowned and few came to blows.

Morale stayed quite high. There was real esprit-de corps.

If the sun shows its face, we’ll be back out for more.

National Poetry Day: Freedom

Last Thursday, 28th. September was National Poetry Day with “Freedom” being this year’s theme. Four poems of mine sprang to mind which touch on this subject, albeit tangentially: “Resistance is Futile?” was posted here on  January 6th., 2016; and the other 3 happen to be about seabirds or our hamster, Bev. “Seascape with Gulls” is in the “Eric Bloodaxe? And Other Verse” collection; and the two others are “Beverage Almond  Gnawwood Cleansetail”; and “Barnacle Geese: On a Wing and a Prayer”,  juxtaposed by chance in “Seconds Out”.

NB. I should mention that Bev was Hugo’s hamster and the name derives loosely from his impressive moniker (Hugo Armand Norwood Kensdale).

Beverage Almond Gnawwood Cleansetail

Our hamster’s in an awful rage.

She sits and fumes inside her cage.

She thinks this time we’ve gone too far,

our furry prisoner at the bar.

 

For every evening on the dot,

she exercises on the plot

comprised of landing, hall and stairs,

pausing to groom beneath the chairs.

 

It’s then she leaves her fur-lined nest

(about the time we get undressed)

her ears erect, her nose a-twitch,

(but first to soothe that nagging itch).

 

From time to time, we have a scare.

We glance away. She isn’t there.

For hours we scour the kitchen round,

anxious for the slightest sound.

 

If, like tonight, we are not there,

she’ll stare and think or simply stare,

or pull and tug her tatty cover,

yearn wistfully for hamster lover.

 

Some days she doesn’t sleep too well.

We’re noisy neighbours sent from Hell,

diurnal strange insomniacs

who wait for night-time to relax.

 

A self-respecting vertebrate

knows when it’s time to activate

once sun has dipped and darkness falls

and shadows steal along the walls.

 

By day she dreams a cunning plan

for Rodent victory over Man :

draw up petition which with paw would

be marked Cleansetail, Beverage Gnawwood ;

 

or (unhinged, alone and barmy)

Hamster Liberation Army,

with Foxy beret à la Che

or balaclava (IRA)

 

sit on haunches, raise clenched paw:

Today the hall. Tonight the door.

Tomorrow, so her reasoning goes,

… a noise disturbs rebellious doze…

 

… go placard-waving down the street :

“GIVE EVERY HAMSTER MORE TO EAT.”

“LET’S TURN THE TABLES, NOT THE WHEEL.”

“MINIMUM CHOW IS ONE SQUARE MEAL.”

 

“WE WON’T WAIT FOR EVOLUTION.

THE PET SHOP GIRLS WANT REVOLUTION.”

“STOP CHANGING CAGES TWICE A WEEK.

A LIBERTY ? A BLOODY CHEEK.”

 

But then again, all snug and warm,

she sees the case for slow reform

and, as she slips back into trance,

decides to give us one more chance.

Royhull-ium/The Roy Hull Chemical Society (R-HCS)

Yesterday, at the beautifully situated church of St. Saviour in Wildboarclough, we said our goodbyes to one of heterocyclic chemistry’s essential elements: Royhull-ium. He was a month short of 98 or 7 x 14. That these factors constitute the atomic number and atomic weight of Nitrogen would have been relished by Roy. What an enthusiast and what a great ambassador for chemistry and lifelong advocate for that of the heterocyclic persuasion!
Here’s a poem I wrote for Roy on the occasion of his 95th. birthday on 5th. October, 2014. I have (probably) taken liberties with the practicalities and intricate details of heterocyclic chemistry, but asked for the indulgence of Roy and anyone else who recognised or recognises this. Please don’t try these reactions at home!
Roy Hull of Heild End Farm, Wildboarclough,
b. 5th. October, 1919 / d. 6th. September, 2017

The Roy Hull Chemical Society (R-HCS)

When ICI seemed here to stay
from Frank Rose’ to McKillop’s day,
one man there is was never phased
by complex rings which left us dazed,
who rolled down lab coat sleeves with glee
when time came round for chemistry
of N, S, O heterocycles.
(Some routes used Fischers, others Michaels).

Roy Hull defined without a blink
each bond, substituent and link,
completely unambiguously,
spoke heterocyclic chemistry.
Safe behind protective glasses,
he squirted acids, bubbled gases,
problems foresaw and thus avoided.
Best strategy? That’s what Roy did.

So when he wished to synthesise
some arcane molecule, his eyes
lit up. He rubbed his gloves, reflected,
never once became dejected.
An imidazoquinoline?
Now which isomer did you mean?
“From pyridines I’ll make a start”
He was of course versed in the art.

He relished challenges like these
(though for him it was a breeze).
He’d prise apart those naphthalenes,
smash C-C bonds to smithereens,
insert an ‘N’, an ‘S’ or ‘O’.
Voila a cycle, hetero-.
Diels-Alder, Wittig, Hofmann, Prins?
Hey presto! Thenocoumarins.

Roy Hull, heterocyclotron,
it’s time to fire guns 21
to celebrate you’re 95
still on the ball, still have the drive:
in Heild End Farm in Wildboarclough,
the chemist who can’t get enough,
pied piperidinojethrotull,
the incomparable Roy Hull.

© Phil Poyser, Australia, 29th. September, 2014
PS Happy birthday, Roy. I have great memories of 1965 and my summer vacation training in Exploratory Chemistry with Paddy Mulholland and Bryan Haydock, of your visit to Reims and hearing la nomenclature heterocyclique rattled off en français and of course the years we overlapped at Alderley Park. I particularly treasure your final salvo (i.e Section Meeting) delivered eyeball to eyeball with Tom himself.

 

Dates: Figure This

Today is “el dieciocho”, the National Day of Chile where I lived for a year and a half from January, 1971 to July, 1972. On 11th. September, 1973, the democratically elected President, Salvador Allende, was killed in Pinochet’s military coup, so “9/11” has a doubly ominous significance for many Chileans. Last Monday was the 16th. anniversary of the 9/11 atrocity and I wrote the following poem a day or so before to mark the occasion.

Dates: Figure This

2 –  4 –  6 –  8 – … – … – … here’s a thought to contemplate:

next in this arithmetic series, what’s the date?

For 1 – 3 – 5 – 7 -… – … – … here’s my answer: Nine Eleven

 

It’s Tuesday, early afternoon, about 2-ish GMT.

We’re in the office, grafting hard or just passing time, maybe.

On Graham’s desk, he has a screen which all day’s illuminated

and brings hot press the latest news, so he’s constantly updated.

 

And then he calls me over. Something odd has happened in the States

There’s been a plane crash – “Strangest thing!” – the commentator insinuates.

“It’s flown into the north tower of the World Trade Centre building”.

We take this with a pinch of salt. He’s just the lily gilding.

 

It must be small, a private jet, and we assume the guy’s insane.

We’re casually dismissive until it happens once again..

Now we really pay attention. What the hell is going on?

Then we can’t believe our senses when we see the south tower’s gone.

 

A real life drama is unfolding, History’s happening as we gaze.

The whole world is in awe and shock. The whole world’s in a daze.

As we watch, the second tower crumbles like sand castles on the beach

and suffocating clouds of debris come rolling from the breach.

 

Rubber-necking’s over, spectators scatter, fearing for their lives.

Inside last words are shouted into phones by mothers, husbands, wives.

Some 3000 workers perished and three fifty firemen too.

and all the people on 4 planes, passengers, terrorists and crew.

 

So is this where it all went pear-shaped, where Apocalypse drew near,

where America and Britain opened Pandora’s box of fear?

Bush and Blair together went Desert Storming through Iraq.

It’s been a downward spiral since and the clock can’t be turned back.

 

Obama’s been and gone since then and with him common sense.

Trump’s in charge, a dreadful thought. There’s no sitting on the fence.

Bin Laden’s dead and Saddam too, Now Kim Jong-un is raving,

provoking with his missile tests. For an earlier time we’re craving.

 

So fingers crossed and holding breath, at the slightest straw we clutch.

We yearn to live to tell the tale and say, “Thank you very much”.

The clock approaches midnight when all Life on Earth’s extinct

We so stupidly played chicken! Which of us was it first blinked?

Burn

As Hurricane Irma wreaks her unprecedented havoc in the Caribbean, it seems petulant to be brassed off with the shortcomings of the English climate, but it’s difficult to suppress a slight moan as the rain beats down and the sky remains 50 shades of grey. So, to cheer myself up, I’ve trawled the archives and come up with a poem that spans the best and the worst of our insular climate. It was written way back in 2012.

Burn

The lido beach was a sun trap,

the sunshine guaranteed.

I drifted off, had a cat nap.

To my sad tale, take heed.

 

Sun loungers are a beach bum’s boon.

Stretch out and take your ease.

Avoid the hours approaching noon

Or wait to do striptease.

 

The sun beat down. I nodded off,

No sun block on my skin.

Oh, Worldly Wise, be smug and scoff.

I’ll take it on the chin.

 

I slowly cooked by ultra V.

My skin turned  infra red,

then reddened more, till visibly,

you might have thought I bled.

 

I glowed. No tan did I achieve,

shade: lobster thermidor,

Red Flag on chest, as well as sleeve.

It really was so sore.

 

And now we’re back where skies are grey,

so was the sun a dream?

We do not see a single ray.

I need rain-proofing cream.