30 August 2010

Heaney


Blackberry Picking
by Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it

Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

Picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

Sent us out with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots

Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

We trekked and picked until the cans were full

Until the tinkling bottom had been covered

With green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

Like a plate of eyes. Our hands were peppered

With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard's.

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.

But when the bath was filled we found a fur,

A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.

The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush

The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.

I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair

That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.

Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not.


27 August 2010

Brambling

The Rivelin Valley on the outskirts of Sheffield (Click to enlarge)
Last Sunday, I took a constitutional walk in the Rivelin Valley. Just a stone's throw from the city proper, it is characterised by ancient dry stone walls, old country properties of various dimensions, meadows and green pastures. Tumbling along the bottom of the valley and guarded by woods is the Rivelin stream itself. Once this sweet little river powered at least eight watermills en route to the larger River Don which it meets and enlarges at Hillsborough. Today the evidence of those mills has been cunningly disguised by Mother Nature who has a rare talent for healing the wounds that industry invariably leaves behind.

West of Sheffield there are many paths - public rights of way. Some are well-trodden but others retain an air of secrecy and you will often find stiles hidden by summer vegetation with no sign that anybody has climbed them for months. I guess some walkers will imagine that our country paths have been devised for city strollers with rucksacks, flasks and Gortex boots but this network of footpaths is in reality a legacy of past times when country people in a pre-motor vehicle era had to get from a to b - usually for a purpose - delivering eggs, going to church, visiting friends or sweethearts, driving sheep or pigs, paying bills, buying manure or hay. There was much more purposeful walking in past centuries.

On Sunday, I came across one of these secret paths and as I scrambled over the be-nettled millstone steps that led through a small fallow field, I noticed such an abundance of brambles in briary tangles that I made a mental note to return and pick a container full for jam-making and crumbles. Sadly, the weather this week has been rather unsettled so it wasn't until I got up today that I felt confident the late morning would be summery and rainfree.

For almost two hours I picked but I was well-prepared with garden gloves, secaturs and suitable clothing to get right in amongst the thorny runners and nettles. Nobody passed by apart from one solitary walker whom I startled as he emerged from the bushes at the bottom, no doubt lost in his own thoughts and not expecting to see a soul.

Eventually, I tottered up the grassy slope, with a bramble-brimming Tupperware cake container to the dead-end lane where I had earlier parked my trusty Astra. It had been a lovely late summer morning with butterflies and swallows in the air. No sign of the rabbits I saw on Sunday with their debilitating eye infections that reminded me of mixamatosis. Perhaps it was that. They had loitered a couple of yards along the path chewing leaves, clearly unaware of my size elevens plodding along. Maybe, mercifully, I should have killed them.

Back home I weighed my booty. Ten and a half pounds of juicy black brambles. Co-incidentally that was my birth weight though I should point out that I am of course not a bramble... I'm a banana!

25 August 2010

Poem

Waziristan

Had you forgotten me?
Still here where contour lines swirl
Into impenetrable defiles
Where sparrowhawks spiral
And mountain streams tumble
Down to the Tochi River and beyond
Last night an aroma of palawoo
Wafted through the pistachio grove
Below our cavern and I thought of home
The compound in Riyadah
And Nona in the kitchen wreathed in steam.
Oh I know what is happening my friends
And all about my demonisation
It's there on my Toshiba laptop
I see it all the time
But the word of Allah is as crystal clear
As Shawal's sweet springs -
"Cast into Hell every hardened unbeliever...
Hurl him into the fierce tormenting flames!"
I'm sorry
Had you forgotten me?
I am
أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن
And like these mountains
I endure.

Notes:-
defiles - very narrow mountain valleys with single file paths.
Tochi - one of the principal rivers of Waziristan which eventually feeds into the Indus
palawoo - a goat stew much prized in the region
Riyadh - in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden's childhood home
Shawal - one of the high hill ranges of Waziristan
أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن‎ - Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden

23 August 2010

Wight

Jimi Hendrix August 30th 1970
It's hard to believe that this coming weekend will mark the fortieth anniversary of the famous 1970 Isle of Wight music festival. It was one of the highlights of my teenage years and memories of that long, wonderful weekend are still stored near the front of my brain.

Let me take out the box, dust it down and blow the cobwebs away. What do we see? There's me aged sixteen with my little ex-army rucksack and a rolled up sleeping bag onto which I have had my mother sew a small union jack flag. And there's Lee Dalley aged eighteen from our village. We're standing just outside Hull on the A63 with thumbs raised skywards. By the early evening we're at Lymington on the edge of the New Forest, waiting for a ferry over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.

We pitch up our ancient two-man tent in an area nicknamed "Desolation Row". It is already becoming busy with festival goers - united in our love of music with knowledge of Woodstock, flower power and the peace movement fresh in our minds. If we had gone back in time just ten years to 1960, such a festival would have been absolutely unthinkable but by 1970 youth culture was strong on both sides of the Atlantic. We were redefining what it meant to be young and we had our heroic troubadours to provide the theme music to this cultural groundswell. Nothing could stop the music.

Lee and I quickly made friends with a bunch of Welsh lads and a couple of London girls from the next tent. How we laughed! The weather was gorgeous and remained so throughout the festival which is contrary to the description given in the Guinness Book of Popular Music but records verify that only on the very last morning, as the "hippies" drifted away, did a thin rain begin to fall. On the Friday morning, I recall walking over the grassy down that overlooked the festival site to Freshwater Bay to see hundreds of naked young people swimming or basking in the sun. We simply had to join them. It was as if we were stripping off the prejudices and hang-ups of postwar Britain. We felt not only young but also free.

And then the music began. I was lost in it. It was stupendous. Most sessions we were very close to the stage. I remember the brass section of the band Chicago - like an engine making the music motor along. And there was the New Yorker - John Sebastian, formerly of the Lovin' Spoonful singing "Do You Believe in Magic?" and we did. I discovered a new hero - Richie Havens strumming his guitar with such wild abandon, his eyes closed as he sang "It Could be the First Day". Another vivid memory is of Tiny Tim, one of Bob Dylan's first buddies when he arrived in New York City in 1960. Accompanying himself on a ukulele, Tiny Tim sang "Tiptoe through the Tulips" in a weird falsetto. It went down a storm as bubbles drifted across the vast crowd - estimated at 600,000.
Aerial view of the 600,000+ crowd
The festival's bountiful line-up included Mungo Jerry, the raunchy English band Free led by their brilliant frontman Paul Rodgers, the lovely simplicity of Donovan Leitch, the marvellous yet fragile Canadian songstress Joni Mitchell, Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, The Who, Miles Davis, Joan Baez, The Doors led by Jim Morrison and then as the last night bled into the following day on to the stage came the legend who was Jimi Hendrix. Little did we know that within three weeks he'd be dead. He stood there in the cool night air, in a colourful silk poncho, his amplifiers turned to "max" as he made his plectrum deliver an ironic slow version of "God Save the Queen" with wailing electrical feedback and wah-wah. England had adopted him and built him into a huge world star and now he was playing our anthem just as he had played "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.

As dawn approached, Leonard Cohen's words mingled with stars and pale wisps of clouds over in the east. I knew every song and had read every word he had ever had published. How could anyone describe this man as "morose" or "funereal"? He was a communicator, an intellectual, a wordsmith, a vulnerable realist. When Richie Havens finally put down his battered guitar, in the dawn of Monday August 31st, the festival was over.
Leonard Cohen at The Isle of Wight 1970
The site cleared rapidly and in the thin rain some people huddled under plastic sheeting like desperate victims of a natural disaster in the Third World. Lee and I headed to the steam ferry at Yarmouth but by night-time we had only made it to Winchester in Hampshire. A man noticed us standing forlornly outside a chip shop and invited us back to his house for the night. Things like that happened back then. He was a doctor at the local hospital. He said he'd be gone in the morning and we were just to push the keys through the letterbox when we left. "Make yourself some tea and toast".

There are tales of anarchists and fence breakers, people intent on disrupting the 1970 festival but I swear that as a music lover in the middle of it all, I was absolutely unaware of any such happenings apart from when some idiot jumped on the stage and grabbed Joni Mitchell's mike. The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 was brilliant no matter what lies are told about it. I know because I was there.

21 August 2010

Endcliffe

The cafe
Sheffield's industrial development owed a great deal to its five little rivers. They powered water wheels at the end of the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. Without them there would have been no steel production, no cutlery industry and therefore no city at all.

The closest "river" to us is the Porter Brook. It flows down from the wild moors above Ringinglow descending to a flat flood plain half a mile down the hill from our house. Once this was farmland and in Sheffield Wednesday FC's very early history, it provided an occasional football field for the homeless club. However, as in many industrial cities, as municipal wealth and social conditions advanced during the Victorian era, our city fathers decided to purchase this land to create a park for public recreation. They called it Endcliffe Park after the sandstone cliffs that overlooked the area.

At first there was boating, a bandstand, a bowling green and a network of paths where Sheffielders could simply promenade. Today it remains a much loved public park and it is joyous to see it on sunny summery afternoons. There are picnics in progress, football matches, joggers jogging, frisbees being thrown, dogs being walked, children paddling in the Porter, the park cafe inundated with visitors, ducks being fed leftover bread, young lovers embracing on rugs, mountain bikers heading up the valley towards Forge Dam. It's how a city park should be.

In this park I taught our son Ian how to ride a bicycle. When Frances was a baby I would often take her to the play area in her pushchair. We have visited November 5th bonfires there, travelling fairs and circuses. Once - when Ian was ten - with a group of other schoolboys they had to enact a wartime football match for the BBC. They were telling the story of the American B17 bomber that came down in the park on the afternoon of February 22nd 1944. All ten crew members were lost following an abortive bombing mission to Denmark. A memorial stone called the "Mi Amigo" monument continues to attract wreaths and flowers to this day.

However, the most recognisable monuments were removed to the park from the city centre long ago. They were both purchased by the city to mark Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1887. There's her now well-weathered bronze statue (1905) and a marble obelisk (1887). Both stood in the very centre of the city close to the Town Hall at the top of Fargate. Let me share some more Endcliffe Park photos with you:-
The Jubilee Obelisk (1887)
Alfred Turner's bronze statue of Queen Victoria (1905)
The Hunters Bar entrance
The "Mi Amigo" monument
copyright Ian D B (Flickr 2010)

20 August 2010

Kate

Kate Rusby was born in Sheffield in 1973 - a true Yorkshire lass. Her singing voice proudly reflects her Yorkshire heritage. This YouTube clip shows her unaccompanied but in concert. The song is followed by some banter which I wouldn't have minded editing out. Her folk repertoire is wide and she has been a leading figure in our country's folk revival. She married in June of this year following the birth of her first child last autumn. To overseas visitors - "half a crown" was one of our pre-decimal coins. The clip made me chuckle so I hope you also enjoy it:-

19 August 2010

Etiquette

When I was a lad, there were plenty of "rules" surrounding the fundamental business of eating. I guess it was the same in many British households. It was somehow as if by dining correctly one would win brownie points on the nation's leaderboard of manners. I was lucky to grow up in a loving home. There was laughter and love and an absence of physical chastisement. However, at mealtimes - which were always taken round the dining table - there was an unwritten list of rules that you were expected to obey. Let me see if I can remember the main ones:-
  1. Sit up straight at the table and do not slouch.
  2. Elbows on the table are not allowed.
  3. Keep your elbows tucked by your sides.
  4. Don't talk with your mouth full.
  5. Close your mouth when eating.
  6. No burping or making other unpleasant noises.
  7. If you want something passed to you, always say "please" and then "thank you".
  8. The fork should be held in the left hand with tines facing downwards.
  9. The knife should be held in the right hand, with your index finger pressed down on the blunt side to assist any cutting required.
  10. Hold your fork and knife in your hands until the meal is finished.
  11. To show you have finished your meal, put the knife and fork together to the left of your plate.
  12. If you need to leave the table, ask to be excused by saying: "Please may leave the table?"
On a daily basis, these rules overshadowed our lives much more vividly than the ten commandments. As I say, we were never hit by our parents but our mother's expressions of displeasure at the dining table could be positively canine - nay lupine. "What do you say?" - "ELBOWS!" - "Close your mouth! We don't want to see what you're eating!" etc.. We all got the message and hence as we grew older most mealtimes were trouble-free.

We lived televisonless till 1960 - something that I remain very grateful for. I remember watching a black and white American show. Sergeant Bilko was eating with a fork turned upwards in an unholy fashion. He was using it as a little shovel to fill his mouth. "It's disgusting!" judged my mother peering up from her intricate glove-making. She had met several Americans in the early forties - before she was posted to India with the Women's Royal Airforce - and had observed their casual eating habits first-hand. The USA might have become the richest and most powerful nation on Earth but so what if its citizens didn't have proper table manners?

With our own children, we were rather more relaxed though some of the rules remained. Shirley had grown up with a very similar code for dining. We always had meals round the table - and still do - without distraction from televisions or radios. Our view is that people should relish their food and enjoy the business of eating. The dining table is a place where a family can come together and talk between mouthfuls - catch up on the day and one's immediate plans. We detest the idea of meals balanced on knees with eyes glued to the latest trashy TV programme. Eating like that, how could you possibly relish your food? And family conversation would disappear to be replaced by inane comments from the deplorable Simon Cowell or Scooby Doo.

17 August 2010

Og

Since I began this blogging lark back in June 2005, I have composed 647 different posts. This is the 648th. You'd have thought that I might have exhausted the medium and that there couldn't possibly be anything left to blog about but you'd be wrong.

I sat down at this keyboard this morning and thought to myself - right let's blog baby! But what to blog about? Perhaps I could blog about Aravind Adiga the author of two excellent novels I've read this year - "White Tiger" and "Between the Assassinations". Perhaps I could reflect on Hull City's abysmal performance at Millwall last Saturday or tell you about the time I was locked in a police cell during my student days. My recent dream about tackling a burglar, how to give up smoking or how to make black bean sauce from scratch. You see - the subjects one can blog about are almost endless. So - just for a change - let's make a very silly post.

Funny word "blog" isn't it? As regular visitors know, I sometimes wax lyrical and produce poems on different topics and of differing merit. It's something I have been doing since the age of seven. Occasionally, my poems might rhyme. Instead of hurting one's brain to dredge up possible rhymes one can now bypass that painful process by accessing websites that offer you possible rhymes. One such site is "Rhyme Zone".

I thought - well what does "blog" rhyme with? As well as "bog" and "fog", the search coughed up two words I'd never heard of - "haug" and "zaugg". As far as I can gather, the former is a Norwegian surname and the latter a Swiss family name. Such rich poetic potential! The search also brought up a long list of different dogs, including:-

attack dog, badger dog, carriage dog, chilli dog, devil dog, harpoon dog, hearing dog, hunting dog, little dog, maltese dog, monkey dog, prairie dog and sausage dog.

So hear goes:-
My name is Mr Haug
And welcome to my blog
I'm writing it in smog
With my faithful maltese dog
While following a hog
Across a wide Swiss bog
We encountered William Zaugg
With a flagon of strong grog
Amidst the swirling fog
As a tarahumara frog
Croaked beneath a log

Eat your heart out Simon Armitage! Seamus Heaney! Ted Hughes! That's real poetry. Can't think of a title for it though. Perhaps "Og" which according to "The Urban Dictionary" means "someone who has been around, an old school gangster". Very appropriate methinks.
Maltese puppy. Awwww!

14 August 2010

Emily

Clickable picture
from "Loud without the wind was roaring"

But lovelier than corn-fields all waving
In emerald, and vermeil, and gold,
Are the heights where the north-wind is raving,
And the crags where I wandered of old.
by Emily Bronte

13 August 2010

Pilgrimage

Stanbury Moor with Top Withins upper left
Yesterday I had a day out with two former work colleagues. There was Emma - a very dogged and hard-working young English teacher who I am proud to say I appointed four years ago - and Sofia, our "worth her weight in gold" English teaching assistant.

I picked Emma up and we headed to the northern suburbs of Sheffield to collect Sofia. Then it was up through Greno Woods to the A629 towards darkest West Yorkshire - where the Pennine moors vie with Victorian milltowns for supremacy. Shelley to Huddersfield to Halifax to Oxenhope and so to Haworth. Haworth - the home of the Brontes.

But we didn't stop there at first, instead we made our way to the little moorland village of Stanbury. Just beyond it, as my map research had predicted, there was Back Lane. We drove along this winding track as far as we could and parked up. We were really on the edge of the moors now - purple heather, summer-dried grasses and gorse, ancient stone walls painstakingly constructed by long dead moorland sheep farmers, billowing cumulo-nimbus clouds scudding over the horizon from Lancashire.

The weather forecast had predicted rain showers but thankfully they held off as we made our way along a section of the Pennine Way towards two remote farms - Lower Heights and Upper Heights - now upgraded countryside getaway homes. Outside the second I noticed a sign:"Please Respect our Privacy". I might have a similar one made for the entrance to our suburban semi.

Emma and Sofia are not great walkers so I was strolling in first gear. I didn't want to push them. We had just under two miles to go. But up ahead I could see our destination. Some dark specks near the bleak horizon - Top Withins. A farm that was finally abandoned and left to fall into ruins in the 1930's.

Why were we heading there? Well I know one or two of my revered readers will have already guessed. We were on our way to Wuthering Heights. It is said - though this may be fanciful speculation - that Emily Bronte the authoress of the wonderful Yorkshire novel "Wuthering Heights" modelled the Earnshaws' remote farmstead on this very place.
Top Withins - Wuthering Heights
Emily, daughter of Patrick Bronte - the vicar of Haworth, was born in 1818 but died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty, just a year after her masterpiece was first published. As a teenager, it is known that she was prone to rambling round the local area - visiting remote villages and farms, observing geographical features of the wild landscape around her. It is entirely possible that she knew Top Withins and I for one believe that it was indeed a significant ingredient in her creative thinking.

After the lovely walk up to Top Withins we returned to Stanbury and a pub called - yes, you guessed it - "Wuthering Heights" where we had what the menu called a "Walkers' Lunch" of homemade cauliflower and broccoli soup with fresh filled baguettes. Thunder rumbled overhead and rain lashed down but as we left the sun broke through again and we made our way into Haworth to visit the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

A wonderful day out with two lovely women and me - the brooding Heathcliff - glowering at the heavens - "Get thissens movin' else ah shall thrash thee!" (Translation - "I would be extremely grateful if you could possibly walk a little faster").
Sofia and Emma at Top Withins

11 August 2010

Population

Once the island of Britain was heavily forested. No wonder that we have inherited pagan tales of "green men" like Robin Hood who lived deep in the woods. Look at just about any British landscape today and it's hard to imagine that once those hills and valleys were wooded. Wisps of smoke appeared above the canopy, rising from clearings where villagers were living cheek by jowl with the forest creatures. Simply surviving from one year to the next. Paths and rough tracks wove their way to other settlements and it was upon these tiresome lines of communication that all news travelled.

In 1066 when the empire-building Normans arrived at Hastings there were an estimated 1,100,000 English people. That's about the number of people who currently live in the city of Birmingham alone. Now there are over fifty million of us. Fifty times more than William the Conqueror "conquered"! Imagine that. Apart from anything else this population explosion has required the building of millions of extra homes and the development of food production methods that would have astounded our ancestors.

As you know, I live in the city of Sheffield. Currently it's population is 535,500 but back in 1801 it was only 60,095 more than an eightfold increase in just over two hundred years! And if we look across the pond at the USA we see that in 1790 their population was just 3.9 million but by 1890 it had risen to 62.9 million and by 2000 - 281.4 million. What an amazing increase! So just what have those Americans been up to between their burgers, milkshakes and baseball games I wonder?

On to the planet as a whole. Demographic experts judge that in 1798 there were less than one billion people living on Earth. Now in 2010 the figure is estimated to be seven billion! A sevenfold increase in two centuries. That's an awful lot of people all needing food, water, shelter and reality TV programmes. And there seems to be no cessation - the numbers just keep getting bigger. When our friend Mr Brague was born, the population of the USA was literally half of what it is today.

During my brief research for this post I came across several websites that consider this question - "What if the world were only one hundred people?" Some fascinating figures emerge. For example:-
61 would be Asian, 12 European and 13 African - only 5 would be North American
17 would speak Chinese as a first language but only 8 English
76 would have electricity in their homes but 24 would not
Only 1 would own a computer so 99 would not
34 would have mobile phones so 66 would not
82 would be literate but 18 would be unable to read and write
31 would claim to be Christian, 21 Muslim and 16 would declare no religion at all

Statistics! Statistics! Damned lies and statistics! If I'm hoping you'll draw anything from this post it's to imagine a world where there were far fewer people, living much more harmoniously with Nature. Population growth was slight - even sometimes reducing as at the time of The Black Death in Europe. The rivers and seas must have teemed with fishes. Tigers would have been plentiful in the jungles of Asia and buffalo would have roamed the plains of America in herds as uncountable and endless as the wildebeest of Africa. Regarding population growth, in modern times, it has seemed like a snowball enlarging as it rolls down the hill and nothing will stop it? The question mark is deliberate.

9 August 2010

Pakistan

Torrential monsoon rains. The Indus and its tributaries overflowing. Dams bursting. Crops washed away. Homes washed away. Animals washed away. People washed away. At least 1700 citizens are already known to have died. Fourteen million people's lives are suffering different degrees of disruption. Electricity supplies interrupted and above all, very ironically, amidst all that mud-coloured flood water, no clean water for drinking or washing. Water borne diseases like cholera are already appearing, ready to inflate the casualty figures exponentially. Poor Pakistan. What a tragedy! Click on the picture below if you're British and you feel like donating to the Disasters Emergency Committee Pakistan Floods Appeal. I am sure all other western countries are raising money in support of our fellow earthlings in Pakistan. It's the least we can do.

8 August 2010

Background

Most of us rather like it when something unexpected happens during a live TV broadcast. There's surely a little anarchy in everyone. Don't we rather enjoy those idiots in the background jumping up and down, waving at the camera or pulling silly faces? Often their antics are in direct contrast to the serious content of the broadcast.

I don't know if you've seen the clip below shown on the BBC lunchtime news last year when an American tourist from Canton, Georgia tripped during his walking tour of the City of Westminster. Passers-by helped this confused old gentleman to his feet and sat him on a wall. They asked him what his name was but at first all he could remember was that it rhymed with "vague". Fortunately, he recovered quickly and returned to his homeland with a handsome tale to tell.
WARNING The embedding of this video clip required advanced computer skills. Such an operation should not be attempted by novices as any wrong move could result in hard-drive meltdown and the end of the western world as we know it.

6 August 2010

Symphony

On Yorkshire Day, I referred to Benjamin Till's wonderful "A Symphony for Yorkshire". In the days since then, the accompanying film has been shown in its entirety on BBC Yorkshire. Now it's available on YouTube. Though I offered you a snippet last Sunday you can now see the whole thing - around twenty minutes. The participants are shown in a range of Yorkshire settings - some famous and some rather ordinary. I really do think that this work captures something of the spirit of this amazing county.

My one and only criticism is that cultures of Asian descent could have been celebrated more obviously in the piece. People with Asian heritage form a sizeable population group within our cities and towns - especially in Bradford, Huddersfield and Leeds where their contribution to the rich tapestry of the county's cultural life has been remarkable. In an email from Benjamin Till to yours truly, he accepted that this was an unfortunate omission - simply because no suitable Asian musical groups responded to the initial appeals. Personally, I think he should have been rather more proactive in ensuring Asian ingredients to enhance the final mixture.

Nonetheless, it's still brilliant:-

5 August 2010

Lamentation

A Gathering

We were all there
Me and Shirley
Michael Neylon and Mick
Kay Vaughan from the pub with her hazelwood stick
Anthony Howley who secured the plot
And that fiddler from Doolin
Whose name I forgot
Derek and Gloria, Mary and John
The barman from Nagles - the miserable one.
And Aidan Malone - a smashing young lad
His mother Breda and Patrick his dad
Simon and Frances and the crowd from Lahinch
Donal, Young Connor and Margaret Lynch
A couple from Belfast who drove through the night
And old friends from Dublin who set off at first light
Kevin stone-faced in black suit and tie
Michael dressed likewise, too shocked to cry
Jo was wept out
Her face numbed by grief
The pain unassuaged
By religious belief
Father Ned Crosby led the applause
And the ceilidh band played
(Kilfenora of course)
Katie's fingers danced on her flute
With six fiddlers' bowing and we listeners mute
Clustering round that old hawthorn tree
Bent east by storms formed far out at sea
We were all there
Young and old
The people you knew
Yes, all were gathered
But where pray were you?
Ruined cottage in Kilfenora
Footnote: I wrote this on what would have been Paul's sixty third birthday - in place of the cards I sent each year.

4 August 2010

Poem

Of Memory

Seen as if through morning mists
Across marshes
We gild our lilies.
Is that how it was?
A tale of endless summer days
Edited so expertly.

On the cutting room floor
In swirling cellulose
Lie discarded scenes
And nameless faces
Lines once said
But since unheard.
Perhaps the truth is tangled there
Like ticker-tape
After the parade.

Long ago
I carved my name on a sapling
But healing bark and moss
And seasons churning
Have obscured the lines
Till I'm no longer sure
I gouged it.

And I think to myself...
Is that how it was?

2 August 2010

Darkest

Pond in Lees Hall Wood
This past year I have made several forays into what you might call darkest Sheffield. I love to walk when the weather is good. There's so much to behold if you just keep your eyes open - even in a big sprawling northern city like this one.

Here's a fact about Sheffield. It can boast more parkland than any other city in Britain apart from London which is of course sixteen times bigger than the Steel City.

Today I was exploring Gleadless Valley. I parked up and set off with a rudimentary map I had culled from the Ordnance Survey website. I walked for nigh on two hours without crossing a road and this was well within the city boundaries with high rise flats and council estates close by. Up until the mid sixties there was a farm here - a remnant of earlier times with farm tracks and a big stone farmhouse. Now you'd have to be an archaeologist to read the landscape properly but I found stone gateposts in the woods and a pond, close to the remains of what was once the farm's orchard.

The surrounding area tends towards poverty in terms of family income and much of the housing belongs to the local authority. Sheffield is a very divided city in socio-economic terms and Gleadless Valley is like a reservation for the "have nots".

Along the path came a tattooed couple with four kids in tow. Inappropriately for such a ramble, I noticed the mother was wearing high heels. How sweet - I thought - a working class family out for a nature walk. "Ey up bud!" grinned the young father as I passed him. Moments before, his six or seven year old son had emerged excitedly from the nearby brook with a baby frog in his palm. The mother said "Put it back Ethan!"

Ethan was clearly reluctant to obey. Perhaps this was the very first time he had ever held a frog. After I had passed, climbing up the banking to the unexpected wild open space beyond, I heard the young father's anger increasing till he was yelling - "I've telled thee Ethan! Put the f***ing frog back!" I thought - hey if that had been me - I'd like to think I'd have said something like "Look at the colours on his back. Aren't they wonderful? His mum and dad are probably waiting for him Ethan . Let me help you to put him back in the brook. Now where did you find him? Good boy!" Though of course we'd never have picked a stupid name like Ethan. Poor lad.

Later I drove into Sheffield's true "heart of darkness" - The Manor - which in comparison makes Gleadless look like Beverly Hills. As I may have said before - once this was a vast forested deer park with a lodge in the middle where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for fourteen years. How bizarre that in the twentieth century it became a sprawling low-cost housing estate with burnt out cars, teenage mums and poverty hanging in the air like a veritable fug of cigarette smoke. In the late seventies/early eighties I would sometimes drive through The Manor on a Monday morning and see a line of welfare claimants already queuing for their dues outside the now derelict post office.
View from Manor Wood to City Road Cemetery

1 August 2010

Gleaming

Today - August 1st - is a very special day. It's Yorkshire Day! Happy Yorkshire Day everybody! This year, sponsored by the BBC, a wonderful piece of music has been composed, recorded and filmed in celebration of this significant day when Yorkshire people all over the world give thanks for being born in these heavenly broad acres. We pity anyone who is unable to claim Yorkshire roots. The Symphony for Yorkshire was composed by Benjamin Till whose musical vision was eclectic and ground-breaking. There are brass bands, harpists, rock musicians, rappers all woven in and a lyric crafted by Doreen Brigham, a 98 year old Yorkshire lass. Here are Ben and Doreen together and below the picture you will find Doreen's verse:-
Yorkshire in verse

Sing a song of Yorkshire, from the Humber to the Tees
Of horses, wool and terriers, of pudding and of cheese
I know no other county where the land is quite so fine
England’s lovely county. And I’m proud to call it mine

Where shining purple heather stretches far across the moor
And the lapwing’s cry above me takes the place of traffic roar
And peace comes drifting gently, there’s no place I’d rather be
Than this land of hills and valleys, from the Pennines to the sea

So when I’ve done my roaming, and when my step grows slow
When heart and mind assure me that the time has come to go
Then let me rest in Yorkshire, for it’s there I want to lie
‘Neath sun and wind and heather, and a gleaming Yorkshire sky

Below, final film sequence shot at Hunter House Road, Sheffield - ten minutes walk from this keyboard:-