Real Friends

Real Friends
Thursday Thoughts
23 September 2021

A good friend of mine wrote to me the other day. “Have you noticed,” he asked, “that you have less REAL friends the older you get?”

In my reply, I said the following. “Oh dear yes, and triply so since Covid set in. I have a few remaining friends who correspond regularly on e-mail, a couple of friends who talk regularly on the phone, and the rest, in spite of all the Covid-19 promises of TLC for the aging, have been AWOL for the best part of two years. Mind you, I have kept myself to myself. In fact, I have become rather anti-social in face to face / mask to mask situations!”

This question-asking friend, now lives in another province, in a care home for the ageing. Over the ages, such homes have had many names. In South Wales they were called the Workhouse, and that’s where the broken old men from the mines and the industrial smelters ended up. Places of shame. Places to be feared. Then we had Old Folks Homes. Some were called Sanctuaries. Others are now called Hospices or Care Homes and the Hospitals themselves have been forced to take on the task of looking after our old and frail senior citizens. Some of our seniors were lucky, fell into good homes, and were blessed. Others were cursed, poor things, fell into hopeless surroundings, and lost all hope. As for the homes themselves, some were run by religious groups, others by charities, a few by the state or local health authorities. Some were non-profit, others, well, we are having a debate, here in Canada, about some of the more unscrupulous and unhealthy care homes that are run for healthy profits right now.

And that debate was caused by Covid-19. Under-paid employees, working several care homes, not just one, travelling from home to home, and the pandemic entering those homes and settling in there, causing immense suffering, damage, and death. I look on this as CCD. Originally, the initials spelled out Colony Collapse Disorder, the death moth that entered the bee-hives and caused their buzzing to end in silence. Now, for me, they stand for Covid Collateral Damage. And that form of CCD is everywhere.

You can see it in families that are breaking up. One partner loses their job, their self-respect, and goes out looking elsewhere for comfort and for pastures green. Another is forced into excessive overtime because other members of their team, now working from home, all of them, cannot cope with home-schooling, house-work, partner, and children present all day long. They break down under the stress, can function no longer, and society starts to fall apart.

Mind you, it has been falling apart for years. When I lived in Spain, I was adopted by a family in Santander who owned and lived in a huge house. The grand-mother was the matriarch and she shared the house with three siblings, two unmarried, and one divorced. The parents lived there, on and off, as they had jobs elsewhere. A country cousin, same age as the grand-parents’ generation, also lived there and did the cooking and cleaning. And the grand-children settled in there too, during term time. When the family gathered for the Sunday meal, there were 22-24 of us around that dining-room table. In such a large family setting, there were baby-sitters at hand, somebody was always employed, somebody always knew the solution to a problem, or could find one pretty quickly.

When we lived in Swansea, two sets of grand-parents were close, as were aunties, uncles, cousins, and a network of friendly faces, all of whom gathered round in an emergency. But, bit by bit, that family disintegrated. Some went to London, others to Bristol, a few to Birmingham, we moved to Cardiff. In Cardiff we went from a family network to a nuclear family, consisting of my mother, my father, and I. Both my parents worked and I was at a boarding-school, term-time, but a latch-key kid during school holidays, cooking for myself, looking after the house, waiting for my parents to come home. When I, in my turn, left for Canada, my parents were left as a family of two, then, when my mother died, a family of one. Of course, there were Social Services. Social Workers visited every so often, but the gaps got longer, the loneliness grew, and a terrible isolation took over every aspect of my father’s life. When I flew back from Canada to Wales to visit him in Wales one year, I found no food in the house, my father totally uncared for, unwanted and, by this stage, unwilling to cooperate. he wanted to stay in his home. He wouldn’t move. In truth, he had become a miserable old man who wouldn’t change, wouldn’t accept help, and could no longer look after himself.

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I called him from Canada. He did not pick up the phone. I called his brother, who lived in another town some forty miles away. He’s like that now came my uncle’s reply. He’s fine. Don’t worry. But worry I did. Three days later, his brother called me back. My father had suffered a heart attack and a stroke on the anniversary of my mother’s death. He had lain on the bedroom door for three days, no food, no water, no visitors, until his brother had finally got worried and decided to come round and see what was happening.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We all know that phrase. Unfortunately, many are not that tough. They get going all right: they go right out through the door and vanish into the sunset. So, my thoughts for today: what exactly is a friend, what do friends actually do, what is a fair-weather-friend, what are friends for, how many real friends do we really have, and yes, the question that started me on this rant, do real friends diminish in number as we grow older?

As my grand-mother told me, a long, long time ago, in the warmth of her Welsh kitchen: “Roger, a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Luckily, I still I have some real friends who are there when I need them. Thank you, real friends. You know who you are and I am very grateful to you. Covid-19 and CCD have not been easy.


A Speaker Bespoken

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

7

A Speaker Bespoken

They asked him to speak at her funeral
but he never knew who she really was.
He only knew she loved the whisky bottle
more than she loved life. “What can I say?”
he asked. “Say that you loved her.” “I didn’t.”
“Say how much she loved you.” “She didn’t.
And she loved her bottle so much more.”

Should he say how he found her, soaked in urine,
covered in vomit, naked on the kitchen floor?
Should he describe the blend of alcohol and body
scents, her personal perfume, flooding the bedroom?
Should he repeat the four-letter words, and worse,
she used when he tried to stop her drinking?
Should he tell how she took her rings to town,
pawned them, and left the slips on the table
where he would find them? He paid her debts,
collected her rings, returned them. Should he tell
how she sold them again and again?
How she would play hunt the thimble,
round and round the house until she found
where he had hidden them, then took them,
and pawned them once more?

The chaplain shrugged. “Say what you want,
whatever you wish, but you have to speak.”
And speak he did, so choked up with emotion
that he broke down and cried and never a word
emerged from his mouth. An audience of chairs.
The few friends who attended also broke down
and hugged him, and said he had spoken volumes
and they had understood every single word.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

A Speaker Bespoken

Change

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

6

Change

The wind of change will blow and change will come,
heralded not by brazen trumpets and a roll of drums,
but overnight in stealth and silence. The valleys will lose
their coal. The seams will shrink, smaller and smaller,
until even the tiniest child will not find room the kneel
at the coal-face and sweat in adoration, shovel and pick
in hand, prying and praying in praise of the black god.

Change will come. The mines will be closed.
The miners will go on unemployment. They will move
to other areas, where mines still flourish, for a life time
spent underground is not that easy to forget and change
is never easy. Who ever said it would be easy?

The men in grey suits bring change. They walk and talk
and plan the changes they will bring about. The pit-head
baths will turn into super stores, a new trading estate will offer
work to the workless who will be changed into worthy workers
once again with course after course of education and retraining.

Yes, change will come. Some will pack up and leave,
only to return as they cannot face the face of change
as once they faced the coal-face, on their knees all day,
praying. Some will go overseas, by boat or plane.
They need never fear for Australia is near. America is a siren
singing bedrock songs of welcome and freedom. Canada calls
and many arrive there to face the white face of winter
rather than that merry, coke-black face of Old King Coal.

Yes, change will come. You will change. Your children
will be born into change and only your memories will recall
life before change, that life everlasting that came
before the fall of coal and your immortality is now
a Post-lapsarian call to constant change, secuale seculorum,
for ever and ever, until that final change. Amen.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Change

Ash Wednesday

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

3

Ash Wednesday

Each of the select will be marked with a seal,
ash on the on the chosen one’s forehead
signifying all grief and guilt consumed,
reduced to the ashes of this burnt-out sign.

Dust to dust and ashes to ashes, for of dust
are we made, and though the embers may glow
for a little while, that ash will soon grow cold.
Words are quick forgotten yet memories linger.

They wander among celestial fields of glory
where nimbuses of nebulae crab sideways
to claw-crack veiled mysteries in an effort,
often vain, to reveal them and lay them bare.

Bird song, far below, flickering fading,
luminous confusion of son et lumière,
infused with the ineffable joys of paradise
and time eternal, successive yet simultaneous.

Birds in the branches of the Tree of Life
gather its fruits with multitudinous song.

Forgotten offerings litter the hidden path,
trodden by the few wise men who in the world
did live. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh may not
be accepted. The offerings are we ourselves, for a
broken and a contrite heart will not be despised.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Ash Wednesday

Time Beyond Time

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

7

Time Beyond Time

Time beyond time and the eternal
ever-present in the quotidian.

When the Seventh Angel sounds his trumpet,
time will be no more and this earth
will be pulped, like an orange,
in an almighty hand, clenched into a fist.

Thus it is writ, and sundry have read the words.
repetitive forms cycle and recycle themselves,
diatonic chords disassociated by duration.
Laud, bless and praise always the vivid joy,
light and color lighting up the skies
in an aurora borealis seldom seen.

Indefectible light, unalterable peace,
rhythmic repetition, time’s serpent
circling around itself and devouring its tail
in assonance and dissonance, the utmost beauty
of raindrop birdsong, its liquid forever decanted.
Infinitely slow, ecstatic is the message.

“Laud, bless, and praise him all thy days
for it is seemly so to do.”
Old One Hundredth.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Time Beyond Time

Crystal Liturgy

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

6

Crystal Liturgy

Here, in the abyss,
where song-birds pluck their notes
and send them, feather-light,
floating through the air,
here there are no tears,
no fear of shadow-hawks,
for all blackness is abandoned
in the interests of sunlight and song.

Here, the crystal liturgy surges,
upwards from the rejoicing heart,
ever upwards, into the realms of light,
where color and sound alike
brim over with the joy that, yes,
brings tears of release to head and heart.

Here, the seven trumpets will sound
their furious dance that will announce
the end of this singer, the end of time,
but not the end of song itself.

Here, seven-stringed rainbows reign.
Here, the harp is tuned and plucked.
Here, the everlasting music
cements the foundations of earth and sky.
Here, the master musician conducts
his eternal choir, their voices rising,
higher and higher, until they reach
the highest sphere, and song and voice
inspire, then expire, passing from our eyes
and ears into the realms of everlasting light.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading

Crystal Liturgy

Silence

A stopped clock: accurate twice a day.

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

5

Silence

Pain stops as the sounds of silence
break against the walls of the room
in which I sit.

Silence, yes, yet silence broken
by the renewed intrusion of the clock,
by the electric hum from lights
and heating, from a distant tv
suddenly breaking into my thoughts:
cheers from a tennis court,
the eternal advertisements
invading my innermost being.

What triviality now shatters
the Messiaenic mood that wrapped
me for a moment in a many colored
cloak of musical oblivion.

Now time’s teeth gnaw again
and the grandfather clock
nibbles at my soul, extracting
its essence in a surge of sound,
tick-tock, tick-tock.

Westminster Chimes now choke
life from the hour and ring
the tick-tock knell that files
my life away, second by second,
minute by minute, day by day.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.

Silence

Transitions

Meditations on Messiaen
Quartet for the End of Time

4

Transitions

Modes of limited transitions,
moods of time tapped in time
to time’s rhythmic piano.

Scales fall from the listener’s eyes.
A transitory awakening,
this glimpse of the composer’s vision,
each note a new version
extracted from abstracts
perceived in color,
each note a hue, and chords
a rainbow spectrum of light
glimpsed darkly through
a raindrop’s lens.

Birdsong and sunshine.
Notes perched
on the matinal branch,
each in tune with the other,
at times discordant,
yet the morning chorus
diluting the day
with the liquidity
of light and sound.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Transitions

The End of Time

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

3

The End of Time

A thin violin crying
its cat-gut heart out
in tears of sound, falling,
rhythmic raindrops,
down a grey-streaked face
tight with stress and pain.

Such concentration,
such soulfulness packed
into each mindful note.

An audience of one,
I sit, head bowed,
meditating on the meaning
of meaning and nothingness,
the nothingness of being condemned
to oblivion yet oblivious
of the how and when.

Each note a hammer-blow,
then, the piano hammering nail
after nail into this coffin body
I drag through the motions
of extracting meaning
from this meaningless life.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

The End of Time

Dark Angel

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

2

Dark Angel

He will come, the dark angel,
and will meet me face to face.

He will take all that I own,
for it is only temporary
and all my possessions are on loan.

My house, my wife, my car,
my daughter, my grand-child,
 my garden, my trees, my flowers,
They are not mine.
I do not possess them.

I only own this aching heart,
these ageing bones,
this death that has walked beside me,
step by step, every day
since the day I was born.

That indeed is mine,
and nobody else’s.
That is my sole possession.
That is the only thing I own.

Click here for Roger’s reading.
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Dark Angel