Lockdown House

“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”

Henry David Thoreau

 

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Photo by the author

 

 

Gravel Roads

There was fire over water that night
we met, sparks aplenty. You were more
elegant than expected, curvaceous steel

with a hint of rebellion. Your body
enclosed me like a rocket on our way
to a mysterious planet. My heartbeat

quickened as I fondled the unfamiliar
instruments swathed in your green light.
Together we claimed space, unstoppable.

We shot across the Tyne Bridge without
looking back, headed north, crossing
borders and north – north – anticipating

the friction of car wheels on gravel
roads. There were torn rainbows, strings
of pearls, demons hiding in hedgerows,

lightning bolts and blinding spider mist.
There were herring seas, twisted forests,
and languid nights of Summer Isles. Lost

in the clouds we met only talking cats.
Fairy lights beckoned from peat bogs;
temptation lurking in each red window.

We were Bonny and Clyde, a foxy
duo kicking up shit in the badlands until
we broke with a whimper not a bang.

I feel the cold without you and I doubt
the presence of soul. Scars fade in sun;
nothing remains but moss, rust and bone.

 

 

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Original photo by the author

 

 

 

Noddy Speaks in Tongues

Break-time. The English sip milk through a straw, crunch crisps.
I am the foreign kid, cornered by Miss Blowers, stick the tip
between your teeth. The them there this. The they them, like this.

Her tongue protrudes from her mouth like a sliver of salami.
De dem dare dis. De dey dem, like dis, I repeat.

Miss Blowers holds Noddy and the Magic Rubber. Her sharp
fingernails tap the cover; rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Thwack.
I am crowned with Noddy. I detonate with pain and shame.
The they them there this. The they them! roars Miss Blowers.
My tongue strikes, three thunderous thumps, thanks.

Back home Mama prepares borscht, slicing beetroots, carrots,
Chop, chop, chop into small. Her knife slides through red
flesh with no resistance, taps as it hits the chopping board.
Don’t like bosh, says I. Not de bosh, but de borscht! says Mama.
Not de borscht but the borscht and out comes my tongue.

 

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A Light Bulb Moment- photo by the author

 

 

 

The Other Side

Somewhere in the Hambleton Hills
I took a right turn down a track not
on any map and edgy with yesterday.

Like Alice I plunged down a tunnel
of yellow gorse, silver birch and rocks
that had danced in the Book of Genesis.

A large pink dog, the sort that calls
a spade a spade was waiting by a stream
where the track vanished in a tangle

of weeping willows and a warning sign
Check depth before entering. Deep water
and shadows beckoned. The dog wagged

his tail in approval and I saw beyond
the ford; a fertile valley and sheep
like ballerinas in tutus and a rainbow

house on a hill in a dazzle of sublime
clouds. I saw a smiling face and a hand
waving, an orchard and a rose garden.

I smelled strawberries, fresh bread
and wood smoke. The whispers of leaves
and birdsong drifted on the breeze.

The dog waited, his eyes wary as hope
while I considered the darkness
of the crossing and judged it too deep.

 

 

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Notes on a Pandemic #4

A crisis is like an x-ray. It shows us who we really are. In the case of the UK government the Coronavirus crisis has revealed incompetence and deceit. In the case of the British public however, the picture is more positive. Communities have come to the rescue where the State has failed.

As individuals we are dealing with this new existential threat in various ways. Here’s a light-hearted analysis of the different strategies we are using to cope with strange times. So read on if you want to know if you are an Ostrich, a Doomer or a Happy Clapper.

The Hero

This group includes all essential workers including health and social care, cleaners, truck drivers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, police, community volunteers and the invisible people who maintain electricity, water and sewage systems. This group gain strength and meaning through helping others. They enjoy being busy and have a positive, practical attitude to life. Their hard work and self sacrifice must be rewarded and respected.

The Ostrich

Unlike the heroes Ostriches think only of themselves and their own needs. They have difficulty facing up to reality and are afraid of change. They admire Donald Trump and believe the virus is a Chinese Hoax. They often have narcissistic tendencies and think the world owes them. During the Pandemic they are out on the streets flouting lockdown rules or on Facebook posting photos of their dinner and complaining of boredom. They have a deep seated fear of death hidden beneath a superficial bravado.

The Happy Clapper

This group have an optimistic trusting attitude. They believe all will be well if only we listen to the authorities.  They spend lockdown time painting rainbows on windows, organising sing-songs on Zoom, doing sponsored knitting for charity and making masks out of cotton knickers for health workers. They clap so hard and so long their hands hurt. They are a contented bunch who never ask difficult questions. Sadly I am not one of them.

The Doomer

The Doomer is the opposite of the Happy Clapper. They are pessimists and give up on every project after five minutes. They believe the Pandemic is the beginning of the end of the world and nothing can be done to stop it so we may as well not try. They disagree with Lockdown, thinking they might as well die sooner but on a good hair day and in a nice restaurant. They brood indoors and do nothing constructive, spending time instead watching the 24 hour News Channel and drinking gin. They take their allocated daily exercise strolling around the local cemetery. Doomers are to be handled with caution as they can damage your mental health.

The Survivalist

This group are going strong while others struggle. They have been preparing for the Pandemic or some other existential crisis ever since they first saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. They may have an underground bunker in the back garden or a basement filled to the brim with essential supplies, hand sanitizer and Hazmat suits. They have an emergency generator in the shed and a very sharp axe by the front door. They are now smugly observing from a safe distance as lesser mortals fight for toilet rolls.

The Creative Revolutionary

This group sees the Pandemic as a chance to change the world for the better. They are idealists. They believe people are basically good and that a new order with humanist values will rise as the virus demonstrates the failings of capitalism. They are using Lockdown time to organise community groups and post provocative messages on social media. They believe art can bring change and they may be artists, musicians, writers or gardeners who leave boxes of vegetables or poems at the doors of needy folk.  This group are an inspiration to us all and we must hope they’ve got it right.

 

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Artwork by the author. Acrylic, household paint and collage on canvas.

Notes on a Pandemic #3

In the topsy turvy world of the Pandemic where social distancing is paramount, the news media and politicians are broadcasting from their home environment either by Skype, Zoom or other technological wizardry. This is fascinating as instead of a neutral studio backdrop we get a glimpse of the real personalities behind the public image. Or do we?

The funny thing is the majority of such broadcasters are careful to arrange themselves in front of their vast book collections reminiscent of a city library with thousands of resplendent volumes on custom-built floor to ceiling shelving. It’s as if they have to prove to themselves and to the audience just how intelligent and ‘expert’ they really are. I would love to know how many of those books they  have actually read and digested or are they merely status symbols signalling their supposedly superior social class. The tasteful middle class interiors with designer accessories  and original artworks are a universe away from the average person’s home, that is if they’re lucky enough to have a home at all. I have yet to see an ‘expert’ speaking from a cluttered bedsit or a small kitchen with dishes draining by the sink. Perhaps we would trust these people more if they showed their human side. They’re keen to prove how intelligent they are but books are not the only marker. There’s something called “common sense” which has fallen out of fashion in recent years. And there are different types of intelligence, not just the academic sort with its focus on science and rational thinking, there is also emotional intelligence, the intelligence of direct experience. There is intuition, gut intelligence, survival instinct, body intelligence.

 

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According to Howard Gardener, the American developmental psychologist there are nine different types of intelligence, all equally valuable. Which one are you? I am probably a cross between interpersonal and existential but perhaps that’s something for someone else to judge.

So back to the Pandemic crisis…perhaps we would be coping better with defeating Coronavirus if we relied on people with different perspectives on life, different skills and different types of intelligence. A footballer, a psychotherapist, a musician, a poet, a plumber, a mother of six, a gardener..they all deserve the same respect. Their insights and skills are just as useful as any so-called expert with an impressive book collection and a David Hockney on the wall.