Archive for December, 2008

Alistair Cooke

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Radio 4 is running some repeats of Christmas editions of Alistair Cooke’s “Letter From America”. What struck me in listening to one of the broadcasts was the breadth of subject matter he could draw on to write about. He was talking about people dying in the snow at Christmas time during the Klondike gold rush. They were buried anonymously in makeshift graves at the side of the road. Nobody knew who they were. It was dramatic.

Now Alistair Cooke was not alive during the Klondike gold rush but he certainly lived through some momentous times in history. The Second World War, the assassination of President Kennedy, etc, etc, etc.

Most of us don’t get exposed to these experiences. This isn’t to say that historic events aren’t going on around us and in my lifetime. Collapse of the USSR, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the death of Princess Diana, 9-11, and so on and so forth. These days however our experience of these events is limited to what goes on on the television, which we typically see in real time.

My father recalls that during the Second World War he was in hospital in Swansea having his appendix removed. He was released from hospital early because they were clearing the decks for the D-Day landings. Swansea Bay was filled with warships as far as the eye could see. He was born in a wollen mill in South Wales. His own father died of a mining related respiratory disease in his early fifties. It was the fate of most miners in those days.

My mother grew up in a place called Mohil in Ireland. She used to take the milk  from the family’s sole cow to the dairy,  in a donkey and cart. She attended a convent school where the nuns were classic bitches, beating an education into the children. She was one of seven children who had to be farmed out to relatives because they didn’t fit into the two bedroom cottage.

These days peoples’ experiences are far more tame. They go to school, get a job, find a partner and have 2.3 kids, or whatever the latest number is. Often they lose their job. Over this they typically have no control. They will find something else, good or bad. The take their holidays, watch their inane television programmes and sink into a routine that slides deeper and inexorably into anonymity. Then they die.

Of course Alistair Cooke died. In that he is no different to the other anonymous people mentioned here. He did make a mark though and I’m sure enjoyed the process of doing so. How long the mark will last doesn’t really matter. What matters is that he made it in the first place.

Peas with Honey

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

I eat my peas with honey,

I’ve done it since I was one,

You may think it’s funny

But it’s actually really yummy,

I could eat it by the ton.

The Fork’n Knife Club

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Members must have
Ageless beauty
And inner strength,
Be hard working
And fun loving
With a positive outlook to life.
A net source of love
They will have kids who
Are often a joy
Though a constant worry.

Membership is by natural selection

For Mam.

A few days to Christmas

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Six sorry looking taxis standing in a rank
Five days to go but
Only four small turkeys left at the butchers.
Three ducks scooting across the water, surely cold.
Two bag laden Christmas shoppers, heads bowed into the drizzle
A grey December day, never in sight of the sun
And there’s the traffic, why do they do it?

 There is really only one place to be
And that is at home in front of the fire

The cards are dispatched, logs piled up by the back door
Plenty of time yet to get the big shop done,
Turkey ordered and a couple of parties to come.
The chink of glasses and the cheery sounds
Open that bottle of malt and pass it round
Mince pies smell of brandy

Inside the hornpipe

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

It starts off slow

We smile because we know

For now we’re safe.  The show though

Will soon start to go with a little more flow.


Back to the beginning

The tune starts going

More quickly. People start looking

Some even start clapping

In time and stamping.


We’re still smiling,

But back again to the beginning

It’s now about trying

To keep going

As people keep clapping, and stamping

And singing and pushing and speeding

And shouting.


And with one big flourish it’s over

We’ve done it again, it’s always a winner.


Friday, December 12th, 2008

I sit in the window enjoying breakfast at my leisure,
Taking in the traffic on the pavement outside.
It is cold out there and
The anonymous scurriers are
Wrapped up against the biting December wind.
They have been up early to get there
Though I am now just sitting down to start the day.
Full English, tea and toast and then
I leave the warmth of the hotel and venture forth
Looking for my destination,
Unsure of my options.

Heading for Victoria Station I swim against the flow of office fodder,
Miserable looking people subjected daily to discomforts of the commute,
Crushed into compartments,
Standing within sweat smell of strangers
Trapped on the treadmill of the city.


I take the taxi option.
It is the only one available
As the voluntary queue for compression
On the Underground looks longer than the taxi rank.

A good meeting and later I do take the tube
For a lunchtime get together.
Plenty of time to people-watch.
A mother speaks Spanish to two young girls
Who reply in both Spanish and English
As they see fit, lucky girls.
Otherwise few speak.

A busker enters the compartment
Complete with bedroll and survival gear.
Tattooed, with shorts and worn leather gaiters
He entertains poorly with a penny whistle.
The carriage ignores him with a practised survival instinct.
But I give him a pound as I leave at the next stop
Poor pickings, and all he got.

Homeward bound
On the train a phone sings out “swing low sweet chariot”
And a voice answers “hello?”
Others doze or are sucked into their laptops,
There is little talk as the chosen ones
Head home after a long day at their machines.

Christmas presents

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

What do they want for Christmas ?

Every year the same

Thinking about gifts for others

A book, some socks, a game ?


It’s better to think of others

Than always to think of me

But getting it right at Christmas

Is never a certainty.


Have they already got one ?

Perhaps they’ve got two or three

Will they want chocolate golf balls ?

I wouldn’t if it were me.


Whatever you give at Christmas

And when the excitement mounts

Remember to think of others

It’s really the thought that counts.

The Cuddle

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

A couple float horizontally in mid air. His right arm is around her shoulders, holding her close. Her right leg is over his and her right arm is spread over his chest. A state of bliss.

Weekend away

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Friday morning.  I got up earlier than I would have done on a normal weekday, and didn’t mind.  Packing the car up mostly with things that I wouldn’t need, but nevertheless wanted to take, I remembered that I ought to check the oil.  It’s not something that I often do, but the last service was back in March, nine months ago, and I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere at the side of a busy road waiting for assistance.  Assistance, I might add, for which I would have to pay extra, not having renewed my membership last time it lapsed.


It was still dark as I grappled with the bonnet release catch to get at the engine.  Getting the dipstick out was easy; it was getting it back in which was problematic.  After some minutes of trying I headed back into the house to find a torch.  I keep one in the airing cupboard upstairs because it’s always too dark to find anything in there.  There was enough oil.  There always is.  It was time to go.


My leaving-the-house routine is always the same when I go away for more than a day.  It starts upstairs always with the same questions. Are all the windows shut, and are all the taps off ?  The fact that it’s winter and I know the windows haven’t been opened in the first place is irrelevant.  Then there’s the decision about the central heating.  Off or timed.  The downstairs routine involves checking the oven about three times, and wondering whether to leave lights on, to make it look like someone’s in.  This time I decided to switch the central heating and the lights off.  It’s actually the same decision every time, but I still have to make it. 


Before I left the house, I rushed back upstairs to make sure I’d switched the alarm off properly.  I’ve gone off before and left it on snooze.  It makes an awful racket, and I didn’t want to annoy the artists next door.  I closed the font door behind me, locked it, and rattled the handle a couple of times just to check the door really was locked.  It was still dark, so the usual mental chime to clear the fallen leaves from the garden didn’t happen.  It would, though, on my return.  I drove away casting the usual backwards glance to check the padlock on the gates.  Lincoln Christmas Market weekend.  Messiah CD.  Tradition.

A tale of two markets

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

Lincoln Christmas Market was fun. At each turn there were interesting stalls full of wonderful goods to buy. Black Yak hats and candle powered steamboats stirred it with Lincoln Red burgers, dodgems and mulled wine. Festive music and flashing lights, mesmerising, mixed in with hot and spicy seasonal smells. The noise of the stallholders competing for attention. Children clutching their helium filled Father Christmas balloons, momentarily appeased. Fingers sticky from sugary doughnuts and lips brown with hot chocolate. The warm glow from sitting in the pub, snug with a pint of beer. A favourite date in the calendar.

The other market was different. It was bitterly cold and it was crowded. Movement was reduced to a shuffle. There was a limited range of attractions for children and some of the old favourites were no longer there. The big wheel was four pounds per person. That’s a pound per revolution. Dad can you buy me this, can you buy me that drowned out the calls of the vendors pushing their wares. I passed a pavement cafe that in the summer we had sat at sipping refreshing drinks. Now it was bitter, windchilled and uninviting.

Home now. Next year I will have forgotten the second Market. Blanked it out. I am programmed only to remember the good.

Christmas Tree Lights

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

I bought some new Christmas tree lights from Woolworths during the week. Woolworths is closing down so I thought I’d see whether there were any bargains to pick up.

There was nothing in the store that I was interested in buying. Quite possible one of the underlying reasons they have gone bust. This isn’t totally true because I did buy some Christmas tree lights. 50% off and then 3 for the price of 2. Bargain.

I unpacked them and switched them on. Perfect flashing lights. Unfortunately after taking 15 minutes to untangle them they stopped working. Not perfect. Reading the instructions they suggest that you replace each light one by one until you find the one that is a dud. There are 200 of them!!!!!

Bath Christmas Market

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Crisp, crunch, cold. Twinkly lights.

Sugar-dusted waffles, warm spices.

Hats, gloves, scarves, thick woolly tights

This year’s Christmas delights 


Goldfish bowl horses yellow red green

Up down round up down round

Cameras flashing, laughing, keen,

Go again if you pay your pound.


One-legged fire-wheels, cap on ground,

Tall, double-green, Christmas tree.

Elbows, toes, lost, found,

Bath Christmas market memory

Tea Ern ?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2008

Terry’s on the urn; it’s his turn.

Tea for two ?

More like two hundred and twenty two.


It’s Tref’s turn too; he’s volunteered to do

The washing up

Of two hundred and twenty two teacups.


Sue’s out in the hall, collecting back all

Of Terry’s teacups

For Tref, in turn, to wash up.