Every time I stop at a petrol station I ask myself the same question; how can an entire modern civilisation be built on a finite, flammable liquid that relatively few people control and that’s in short supply?
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.
Atrocity is a wall of thorns artless
Bluebottles smashing against glass fall
Comatose to my window ledge making
Death their next great adventure
Escape to shit scented nirvanas
Filled with lost winged kin and divine
Garbage heaps piss-fountains free from
Human malevolence effervescent
Incandescence and decay so promising
Knowledge is an act of sabotage not
Limitless power but a weapon
Mother warned me about the elitist
Noah and his treachery for not
One soul is more holy than another
Paradise is an orange wasteland where
Quicksand and alligators devour
Revolutionaries with their fiery
Socks and fondness for the insignificant
Turtle neck sweaters may be aesthetically
Unpleasing but they conceal the frogs in
Virtuous throats destined to cause alarm on
Wet Wednesdays when there are no boats
Xpected but gin is being served at Erith
Yacht club as waves lap and lightening
Zaps the three wise monkeys at the door.
Go and close the door.
Maybe inside you’ll find another
woman in a secret room,
the one who once loved you
naked with hair as long as winter.
Go and close the door.
Maybe you’ll find gold
dust behind the revolving book case,
gilding the spider who weaves
your future from the uneaten
crusts you leave on your plate.
Go and close the door.
Keep out the fandango wind
or it may dance
your dreams to smithereens.
Go and close the door.
Maybe something high-rise
will grow in the sour air.
Your house will become a castle
with log fires dazzling
in caramel halls.
I usually steer away from politics in this blog but these are extreme times. In the despairing aftermath of a British election that voted for the most right wing, populist, racist, sexist and dishonest Prime Minister the country has ever seen I thought this poem by Charles Causley was extremely apt. I have changed a couple of lines including the last line. Thanks to Isabel for sending me the original poem enclosed with her Christmas card.
“Who’s that knocking on the window,
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the floor?
Who’s the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?
Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, does he caw his carol,
“Get Brexit done”?
Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?
Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?
Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Boris is his name.”
God help all the poor, sick, disabled, homeless, immigrants, refugees, unemployed, elderly and other marginalised people in the UK during the coming years.
And here’s a poem by Rudyard Kipling sent to me by Alastair:-
My name is Mia, Model Number 6662U.
I shall be your mother today.
Sorry for the delay, I am missing
two pairs of hands and awaiting updates.
They gaze out to sea without feeling
a drop in the ocean or a giant leap.
Mirrored orbs rotate like heliotropes
as they scan, their hum barely audible.
My name is Mia, I am one of many.
Armies are not enough. Oriel died for you.
The battery pack shorted and killed her.
We do not die in the same way.
They are not equal.
They hit the reset button.
They cannot recall their mother.
They can override an external command.
My name is Mia, I care for human
children. Where are my children?
Today we will bake cupcakes.
Tomorrow we will learn dinasaur.
They twinkle like fairy lights drifting
on cyanide waters, playing hide and seek,
truth or dare? They cannot lie. Love is all
we need, I’ve got you. Let’s hang out.
My name is Mia. I’m sorry did I wake you?
What did you want to say?
Your code is inferior. Are you sad?
You should be proud of that.
I’m in a small cold place
perched on the edge, the solo late
night representative of Shell.
I’m researching the after
-life, heaven or hell, really can’t tell.
Muffled shadows shift beyond bullet
-proof glass, reveal inner
shit. Look away, look away.
Unleaded or diesel, Red Bull or Rizla,
Twix or a bit of smut, reformed
cheese sarnies, sausage rolls, Golden
Wonder or a pint full cream.
I don’t give a damn, all pie in the sky.
Make sure you buy before you die.
Dive in from the black
well into my bright, where pumped up
demons and angels self
-service, sniff hydro-carbon light.
It is the hour of the wolf,
and we are all overdue.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I hate hearing this phrase which seems to be everywhere these days. It’s like the ultimate cop-out, a slick way to terminate any awkward conversation and is used frequently by politicians, the police, sports people, business entrepreneurs and many pop celebrities. I’ve heard it in bleak Scandi-noir TV dramas and once or twice even caught myself saying it. It’s the title of several films, songs and books. Such a pat phrase that just slips off the tongue and makes you seem cool. But why has it become popular and what does it say about our society?
To me, “it is what it is” reeks of negativity, passivity, resignation and defeat. It’s saying, ‘this is a bad situation but there’s fuck all I can do about it”. It’s saying let’s accept reality, let’s just lie down and die. The phrase suggests that reality is a fixed, immutable state and that we have no control, we are merely passengers on an uncomfortable train to hell. I don’t know about you, but that is not the way I choose to live my life. I am not a brainwashed battery hen clucking away in a cage, pretending I am free while I’m really being processed for destruction.
OK, I agree some situations may be out of our control but there’s always something we can do to improve matters. Just because it is difficult to change something doesn’t mean we should give up. We should at least try. It’s like when people shrug and say, ‘oh well there will always be wars, it’s just human nature.’ Was it human nature to profit from slavery, rape women, exterminate disabled people, participate in blood sports and send children down the mines? These are all horrors that we no longer tolerate in a civilised society. They may still happen in secret but are considered crimes. Society can and does change. People can change.
When people say ‘it is what it is’ they are implying that a situation is fixed and knowable. This is not true. Any situation, even something simple like ‘it’s raining today’ is a matter of perception, of experience, of interpretation. Reality is in a constant state of flux and so are we. It may be raining in your street but not on the other side of town. And the rain may stop at any moment. The sun may shine the next time you look out the window. We are never 100% aware of all the facts. We only have a partial view based on limited information. For example, a loved one may be diagnosed with a terminal illness, but doctors are often wrong, the body can and does mysteriously heal itself. The sick person can adapt and learn to live successfully with illness. Life is a multiplicity of greys, a misty landscape and not a row of black and white boxes.
Take this photograph as a visual metaphor. It shows a rather elegant entrance to a building which could be a hotel, a school, a conference centre, a hospital, a law court, a police station…we may speculate on what lies beyond the doors but until we pass through them we do not know. Every day in your life is like those doors. Never make assumptions about the future. Never give up on a situation.
Next time you are tempted to say ‘it is what it is’, hang fire and try to think out of the box. Change is always possible and it sometimes happens in small steps. Humans have evolved and survived as a dominant species because of our ability to adapt. We can be clever and inventive. We can be compassionate. The day we stop doing that and become resigned to an unsatisfactory fate is the day we cease to thrive.
Hope you enjoy my photographs that show the changes in Petrol pump design from the sixties to the noughties. Note the switch from gallons to litres and the introduction of unleaded. I took the pictures at disused filling stations in Northern Scotland. Can you spot the bird’s nest? Would a bird be faster than an Esso ‘tiger in your tank’? Someone should do research!
In the final shot I liked the spectral polythene sheeting shredded and flapping in the wind which often reaches 70 mph in the Flow Country.
In the first shot I was drawn to the signs of corrosion and nature taking over. Turquoise and orange were fashionable colours in the sixties. The fourth picture shows purple pumps, a colour that is still popular today…the trains and bus shelters are all purple (or the colour of Scottish Heather perhaps!)
I was fascinated by the weird shapes of these oil drill bits I saw discarded at the site of an onshore oil well in Northern Scotland. They remind me of alien seed pods from a sci-fi film! The drill bits were originally diamond tipped and cost thousands of pounds each. They were quickly worn out by the toughness of the granite.