St. Ostwald’s, Lower Peover: Gently Bentley

The “Bells of Peover” pub (pronounced “Peever”) (“Peover”, that is, not “pub”), St. Ostwald’s church and the nearby 18th. century school house are three of the attractive features of this quiet Cheshire village. The order cited will probably vary according to one’s views on Life, the Universe and pretty much everything. I’d opted to go there to attend the funeral of one of our local characters, David Bentley, who died on 5th. March, just short of his 76th. birthday. Read on (apologies if you find it overlong) to find out why.

St. Ostwald’s, Lower Peover: Gently Bentley

I can feel it wriggling to get out

like a ferret in a trussed sack.

 

Within the ancient timbers of St. Ostwald’s church,

my mind buzzes with half-finished phrases,

little flashbacks of the half dozen times we met

interspersed with odd snatches,

latched on to from the pew behind,

whilst we wait for you and your family to arrive.

The subdued tones of my neighbours match the occasion

(unlike my brown slip-ons) :

“A brisk walk from the Emirates to Euston…”;

“My wife’s having a new knee next Tuesday.”

(just one nudge and that’s a new “me”

from the soccer-indifferent spouse);

“… and we’ve 2 home games coming up…”

 

On arrival, I’d exchanged friendly nods of recognition

with an ex-colleague. He looked the picture

of sombre propriety in this second career

of pall bearer, whilst I remember him perspiring, in shorts,

fresh from his bike, irrespective of the outside temperature prevailing

or whichever company potentate might be

presiding at the scheduled project meeting.

“We seem to keep bumping into each other,”

my wry comment, our shared mortality being implied

and understood.

We both smiled.

 

Strange to feel these waves of emotion welling up.

I’m here neither as family nor strictly speaking friend.

I’m here because I was fond of you,

your gentle demeanour, soft voice, good humour, generosity,

the unfailing offer of coffee as we sweated to fill our sacks

(and boots) with that precious, inodorous, earth-like manure,

bursting with goodness that “follows us all the days of our lives.”

(half an ear bringing the poetry of Psalm 23

to the brink of my subconscious).

 

I’m not surprised to learn of boyhood escapades,

of a period in Assam where you met and married Sam,

(you may even have been in India when Derek and I

briefly passed that way in ’66 and ’67)

that you’d been a policeman, (I see you, pre-promotion,

as the archetypal bobby on the beat, a Dixon of Dock Green,

never the hard-nosed cop from “The Bill” or “Z-cars”),

a very affable Training Manager as the last

of Macclesfield’s Silk Town days faded away,

You were good with people,

very much in your nature, I would guess,

volunteering post-retirement to teach

budding hippophiles how to master the art

of the horse-drawn carriage on the narrow Cheshire lanes.

That’s where the hat comes in, a must for

the delicate skin of a “coconut head”,

your nickname in Assamese due to that

flamboyant crop of red hair, which I had never even guessed at.

 

We follow you out into the harsh bite

of a sunny, March midday and slowly gather

to watch the traditional, larger than Life casket

lowered into the ground, a few yards from

a magnificent, flowering cherry, towering in full blossom

above its attendant flock of graves.

Of this and the annual display, very likely

you will be unaware, unless your forward thinking

had included choosing this lovely resting place.

Despite the vicar’s reiteration of assurances

regarding resurrection and the Life to come,

I hope you and Sam had booked ahead.

I shuffled forward and sprinkled

a generous “adios” on the coffin and the hat at your feet.

 

From your Welsh village to Assam,

to Allostock and the Congleton Road,

handy for the tip and for the “Rising Sun”

and for quiet corners of Gawsworth,

whip and reins in hand, you devised and rode your route.

I grabbed a quick coffee and a handful

of crisps at the Bells of Peover,

communion wine and host, the blood and the body,

before dashing off towards my own destiny

with my fellow passengers around the bridge table

aboard Titanic Earth.

 

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St. Patrick’s Day “Sonnet”

No preamble with this one, other than to say that this Thursday, 21st. March is World Poetry Day. Time to give your favourite poem an airing or maybe discover a new one!

St. Patrick’s Day “Sonnet”

St. Patrick’s day, for goodness sakes!

He freed the Emerald Isle from snakes.

Now Ireland’s not quite paradise,

but of its share it has a slice,

where rivers flow with Guiness free

from Mounts of Mourn to Innisfree.

 

The Tree of Knowledge, apple-laden,

still prospers in Garden of Aiden,

untouched by Eve, all innocence,

no snake to aid her take offence.

Perhaps a helpful leprechaun

should show her where the shamrock’s worn.

 

Eve may not give a Brexit fig

if she’s allowed cross border jig.

 

PS 12 days from now UK must leave.

in haste and then at leisure grieve.

Leonardo and Icarus Dickorus Dropped

Despite it being World Book Day yesterday and International Women’s Day today, Jacquie Spry opted for “Inventions” as the subject of her workshop, starting with a lovely poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes called “The Opening of the Piano”.                                With 2019 being the 500th. anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, I was drawn to writing the following 2 pieces, the latter inspired by Carol Ann Duffy’s brilliant, caustic “Mrs. Icarus” (from her 1999 collection “The World’s Wife”).

Leonardo

They laughed. They scoffed. They called it daft

and though it never made it from the draft,

Leonardo did conceive the helicopter

with whirling blades to go alofter.

A few said, “Well done, Signor da Vinci.”

His missus said, “It won’t fly,” di’n’t she?

“Even when those blades go round and round,

your idea, cara mia, won’t get off the ground.

It won’t catch on in my opinion.

The air is not Man’s home dominion.

 

500 years on now since he died,

post-Wright brothers, flight can’t be denied:

propeller-driven or by jet

or helicopter (Leo’s pet).

 

Icarus Dickorus Dropped

Though look what happened to young Icarus:

waxed, feathered wings were just ridiculous.

The sun shone down as he climbed higher.

The rays made Icarus’ wings perspire.

Down, down he plunged into the sea

and the rest is mythology.

 

 

 

Spring Awakening

According to a couple of recent newspaper articles (e.g. “New Poets’ Society” in the Guardian “Review” section, Saturday, 23rd. February, 2019), there is a boom in poetry from a new, media-savvy generation of young poets. This is great news, even for those of us who don’t quite meet that description. I’ve somehow managed to let the whole of this most unusual February pass without posting a blog, despite the remarkable soaring temperatures, so, after Jen Campbell’s excellent “Poetry and Structure” workshop on free verse yesterday at the Macclesfield Creative Writing Group, here’s a poem written during my trip to London this week.

Spring Awakening

Basking in the unfamiliar rays of February sunshine,

the winter mercury nudges unprecedented highs,

whilst parks are carpeted in swathes of white and mauve

with crocus blooms agape and gasping open-mouthed,

busily harnessing the solar warmth:

20 degrees (70 in old money),

more reminiscent of a balmy Spring day

than fierce and freezing Februaries of yesteryear.

 

Last year’s feral blasts shimmer on the edge of memory,

not quite forgotten, maybe lurking in the wings

to stage a comeback tour in June!

I’m Reading Carol Ann

I was lucky enough to receive Carol Ann Duffy’s 2018 collection, “Sincerity” from my stepson, Hugo, at Christmas. (He also bought me “Does It Fart?”. I’m not sure who that says more about, him or me). It opened at two brilliant poems, “Gorilla” and “Swearing In”, whose juxtaposition added to both. It’s not been a prolific month for me for writing, but here’s what they inspired me to write.

I’m Reading Carol Ann

I’m reading Carol Ann.

Her words spring off the page,

playful, dazzling, yet dead pan.

She’s mostly in a mighty rage

where all the world’s a stage,

the politician-actors tossers to a man

who’ve never earned a living wage

and cream off everything they can.

 

From Grenfell Tower to Aberfan,

where trail is blazed or landslide ran.

The negligent and profiteers engage

their thirst, a greed we can’t assuage.

The View from Mid-Jan.

With a “read-around” pending yesterday afternoon at the Macc Writers’ Library session, I was feeling rather jaundiced about what is and what maybe in store for us in the year ahead and I’m afraid this might just have crept into the second poem of 2019! Happy New Year, everyone.

The View from Mid-Jan.

The seal on a new year’s been broken

and we’ve tidied our Christmas away.

The flutes of champagne were a token

and the fizz had gone flat New Year’s Day.

 

The tree lies awaiting collection.

Non-drop needles fall thick from the pine

I’m prone to some bleak introspection

which seems to emerge as a whine.

 

The baubles are back in the attic,

alongside them the Christmas tree stand.

For this year, I’m less than ecstatic.

(I’m beginning to sound like Jo Brand).

 

I’ll try to be bouncy and buoyant

and like Tigger I’ll aim for a smile,

but you don’t need to be a clairvoyant

to spot problems ahead from a mile.

 

At this point, the Brexit agenda

is demanding to have centre stage.

Common sense we’ve been asked to surrender

since Cameron let it out of its cage.

 

We’ve always had troubles aplenty.

Looking back we can see where we’ve been,

so my vision is less 20 : 20

and more blurred for this 20 19.

 

I don’t want the tinsel to tarnish.

We’ve recycled our cards ‘cos we’re green.

Can we find some covering varnish

and welcome in 20 19?

 

Are we heading for fortress Britain,

hoarding medicines and rolls for the loo?

I mull over these words I have written

and I’d rather stay in the EU!

Christmas Card Ditties 1, 2, 3

As Christmas fades into the middle distance, it’s still considered OK in France to send out one’s best wishes for the New Year in January, so here they are. It’s been one long winter whinge of colds and snuffling from me, but happily things are looking up on the footballing front and the light at the end of the (Channel) tunnel isn’t due to go out for at least another 12 weeks. I’m particularly hoping that you (you all know who you are!) enjoy the personal touch in Ditty 3.

Christmas Card Ditty 1

No little ditty in our card,

I’m lacking inspiration.

Just getting up was very hard,

brow dripped with perspiration.

The ravages of raw man ‘flu

(if I’d the breath, I’d hiss and boo),

nigh stopped me sending these* to you.

  • “Seasons Greetings”.

Christmas Card Ditty 2

Old Santa’s laughing, “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

The Special One just had to go,

the pain relieved with sacks of dough.

It’s time to show we’re “Simply Red”.

Our style of soccer isn’t dead,

a fact that we’d begun to dread.

 

Sideways passing, hear the clocks tick.

In dressing room, the mood was toxic.

We know the “Baby-faced Assassin” *

isn’t merely here to cash in.

Rashford’s buzzing. Pogba’s dancing.

Passing’s forward. Play’s advancing.

It’s fun again. It’s entertaining,

The future’s bright and it’s not raining.

“ ’Bye, Special One! ’Bye, Surly Bugger!

You nearly had me following rugger.”

* Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Christmas Card Ditty 3:

 To Whom It May Concern

Dear Sir or Madam,

This personalised ode,

hand-crafted for you at our exclusive abode,

by our highly skilled team, dedicated and trained,

who have, first and foremost, your interests engrained,

should reach you by Christmas, or if not, failing that,

should drop on the owner or occupier’s mat

as he/she emerges from their New Year’s excess.

Please don’t return it to the cited address,

but ’phone our friendly advisor with queries

and though the cost occasionally varies,

it’s generally speaking a standard rate call,

where queuing or holding scarcely happens at all.

(We’ll play electronic versions of classics, if so).

Your humble servants, Poyser, Kensdale and Co.,

remain at your disposition, dear Madam or Sir:

quality first, of cheap imitations, beware!

Judy B: Mum’s the Word

Last Monday was our “Macc Writers Does Christmas” seasonal reading at the King Edward Street chapel. It was well attended by an appreciative public and about 20 of us did 3 minutes (each) at the mike (which was tweaked up and down with amazing regularity and variable efficacy). Our chairperson is the formidably bubbly Zoe Quinlan who followed Jacky Spry’s rendition of suitably seasonal songs on the pianoforte with a summary of the past year. One of our number, known by everyone as Zoe’s mum (aka Judy Brocklehurst) re-introduced us to the word “wassailing” and for several weeks now, the seed of the following verse had been germinating.

Judy B: Mum’s the Word

What’s that fair-haired lady’s name? Her? She’s Zoe’s Mum.

She’s born and bred in Macclesfield. Right here is where she’s from.

 

That woman with the fringe whose hair’s got a golden glister,

who’s she when she’s at home? Why that’s nowt but Sally’s sister.

 

Well, she’s got a very pleasant face, a cracking looking piece:

her, the one that’s smiling now. Oh, Alan Brocklehurst’s niece.

 

I hear the grapevine’s buzzing. The rumours have been rife.

Those in the know say t’jury’s out on her, yes, her, on Les’s wife.

 

She likes a laugh. She’s sociable, partial to a glass of sherry.

Who’s that? The quiet, pretty one, David’s secretary.

 

Well, me, I’m off to chat her up, see if I can make it fly.

Evening, love, great music. And what name do you go by?

 

What’s that? Well. Judy B., let me tell you what I think.

That glass is nearly empty. Time to let me buy a drink.

 

I’ve not seen you here before. I’m wondering who you are.

You have lots of different names as I’ve heard in this bar:

 

“I’m Zoe’s Mum and Alan’s niece and David’s secretary,

I’m Sally’s sister, was Les’s wife, but on the cake the cherry:

 

I’m my own woman, Judy B., the one and only Judy free.

I’m that very special entity known variously as me.”

 

Château

Gordon and Aileen, the next door neighbours on the leeward side, have recently erected a magnificent, wooden structure in their garden, which, if it really is a shed, as they claim, must have all mod cons en suite and several withdrawing rooms. I peer from my window practically salivating with undeniable garden accessory envy.

Château

There’s a château at the bottom of our garden.

Well, it’s next door if you want to be exact.

That’s one thing you can’t press the present bard on.

The said château is next door and that’s a fact.

 

Some would say it’s more a “shed-o” than a château,

a view to which I’m diametrically opposed.

It’s a château! Of doubt there is no shadow

and as far as I’m concerned that’s the matter closed.

 

Admittedly, no maturing moat surrounds it.

In nearby pond, the goldfish only number one,

though a few more fish and frogs would surely fit.

Alas, portcullis, drawbridge, turrets, are there none.

 

Scarce a cobbled courtyard could be catered

for within the confines of those timber outer walls.

Into the night, you’ll hear hotly debated

just where the heck would they put the banquet halls.

 

O’er my Lady’s chamber hangs a question mark:

would her ornate drapes and tapestries be red?

would she let her plaited hair down after dark?

 

OK, you win. It’s just a bloody garden shed.

 

Giant

The first of Mike Chisholm’s “Spoken Bars Poetry Workshop”s at the Treacle Tap, on Sunderland Street, Macclesfield, kicked off at 8 o’ clock last night with half a dozen of us in attendance. The aim is to spend a while writing on a theme, then read/perform the piece. There is time too to read a few poems written prior to the evening. The theme was loosely based on “crazy animals” and I managed to work it round to the recently reported example of rat gigantism. The 3rd. Tuesday in December we will each be bringing along one of our poems to pass on to another attendee to read out and then re-work as he/she feels fit. Should be good fun, as were last night’s pieces produced on the spot.

Giant

21 inches from its nose to its tail.

I can’t say for sure, but I guess it was male.

A record for Britain, it’s our biggest rat.

The Guiness Book of Records ratified that.

The poor murine bugger was doing no harm,

just hanging around for the Pied Piper’s charm.

 

It was quickly despatched by a Jack Russell,

stocky and small, but 100% muscle

and it needed to be to shake it and lift

and shake it again and give it short shrift.

I have mixed feelings re rat protection,

but somehow between us I feel a connection,

 

not nearly as strong as between you and me,

so here’s to Goliath the Rat, RIP.