Washington Bear

 

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Washington Bear

Washington Bear crosses the Potomac in a boat filled with Christmas oranges. Well, that’s what it looks like. Though of course they may be tangerines, or clementines, or mandarin oranges. It doesn’t really matter, because Christmas is now over, the Potomac is crossed, and world and wold have returned to whatever normality is currently available.

Brave Washington Bear. He was the first to pose for my pre-Christmas present: a new small Canon Camera. Hand-size, it fits in a pocket but takes the sharpest of pictures. It’s a Wifi camera, so they say, but we spent the largest part of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day trying to set up the Wifi connection, without success. When we checked trouble-shooting online, we found about 400 links complaining of the difficulty of linking Windows 10 with the Wifi Canon cameras. Oh dear: all fingers, thumbs, and steamed up glasses, with miniscule codes thumbed onto Lilliputian screens. How frustrating and, as we grow older and sight and touch grow frailer, and brain power for new things lessens, and new things encroach more and more and faster and faster onto our sensibilities … how triply and quadruply and really bigly, big league frustrating. As we slow down the world and the increase in daily innovations speed up. It is only now, that I begin to understand the frustrations of my grand-mother: “Thread the needle for me, Roger, for I cannot see too well and my hand is shaking.” Little did I know then that I too would be making the same and similar pleas when my turn came around, as it is coming.

The optometrist scheduled three eye operations. all minor, for me in October. I have had one already, the removal of a cyst, and now have two more to go: cataracts in both eyes. It will be good to see clearly again. Perhaps I will be able, once more, to thread my own sewing needles. I like sewing. I find it very relaxing. I have a wire needle threader (from Spain), an automatic needle threader (from my time quilting in Moncton), and I have my own sense of direction, corrupted now both by vision and shakiness. I guess that, like Washington Bear, I will be crossing my own Potomac soon, not to mention my Rubicon.

Not that it matters. Not that much matters in the enormous scheme of this world that rolls onwards and onwards, perhaps to its own inevitable end. Others have become extinct before us. We too are faced, once more, with our own extinction. Washington Bears, one and all and all for one, we must stand together in the prows of our boats laden with oranges and step forward, bravely, into whatever awaits us. Fortune favors the brave or so they say. But don’t be too happy about it, for they also say that “those whom the gods would destroy, they first make happy.” So bravery, yes, but with a little pinch of doubt and a peck of cynicism, please. Enjoy the old year. Welcome in the new. But don’t be too happy, not just yet. Let’s see what’s ahead of us first.

 

Xmas Trees

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This year we have abandoned real, once living trees in favor of plastic trees with LED lights. The house doesn’t smell the same, nor did cool air fill the space beneath the tree. No more watering the tree. No more collecting dry pine needles. No more worrying about the cat climbing the tree or the dog pulling the tree down as it chases the cat or tugs and worries at a string of lights. Nor do we have to worry that the puppy might chew its way through the electric cord and electrocute itself. And no more electric eels in the fish tank, even though they are the current thing.

That doesn’t mean to say we are in for a bleak mid-winter, not at all. We have strings of lights, music on the stereo, and even  peces en el rio que ven a Dios nacer, as they sing in Oaxaca (the fishes in the river who come to see God born). And who could not be merry at Christmas time with a fire in the fireplace, a Charlie Brown Christmas on the stereo, and guelaguetza music from Oaxaca waiting to be played and warm the party up. Nobody, but nobody, not even the meanest Scrooge or the most insistent Grinch, can resist the Oaxacan pineapple dance, played at full volume by the state orchestra or a local village band, at midnight, in the zócalo, when the rockets climb skywards to knock on the front door of the gods and the Virgen de la Soledad parades in all her mystery and glory through the candle-lit city streets.

Add to all of this a small miracle: the reappearance this year of the Christmas tree Clare’s auntie used to place every Christmas upon the counter in her shop in Cheap Street, Frome: one of the most famous and eligible streets in Merrie Olde England. We have placed auntie’s Christmas tree on the table in the hall by the front door and surrounded it with lights. What joy: the old and the new, hand in hand, in this new found land that is itself, so very, very old and where we now live together with our memories of a distant past.

And for those who still wish to decorate their very own Christmas tree, you can do so online, adding toys and lights, and an angel on the top, whenever you wish. And remember: where there’s a will there’s always a way.

Even tho it was Xmas

 

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Even though it was Christmas

I am as free as my father was free. He was free to walk on his walker, as far as he could go down the street. Free to walk in the wind and the rain. Free to sit on his neighbor’s wall when his legs and back got tired. Free to sit there, although it was raining, until he had recovered his strength and energy. Free to get soaked so badly that he caught a cold. And the cold was free to turn into bronchitis and the bronchitis was free to turn into pneumonia and the pneumonia was free to perform its assassin’s work as it tried to kill him. But my father was still free and strong enough to call the doctor and the doctor was free enough to call at the house and visit my father and write him a prescription for a free anti-biotic that would free his body from the pneumonia that was free to leave when it’s time was up and it felt ready to go. Pneumonia, the old man’s friend, they used to call it, sitting there, in my father’s lungs, muttering away to him, day after day, louder at night, and my father slowly getting stronger and the pneumonia growing weaker until one day it felt free to leave and freed my father from his immediate ills. Then my father was free to get up or to stay in bed. Being a free man, he chose to stay in bed all day and to listen to the radio and to read a book and when he got bored with reading he just lay there and counted the dots on the wall “one, two, three…” and “seventy five thousand, one hundred and forty three,” he told me one day when I was free to visit him, “though I have lost count once or twice and have had to start again from the very beginning. And the sun gets up at seven-oh-three, and strikes the third dot at seven fifty-three … and goes round the wall thirty-three dots to the minute; and leaves that third dot from the right at a quarter past three …” And there he stayed, day after day. But he was free. And sometimes the home help came and sometimes she didn’t, for she too was as free as the birds in the garden. And sometimes she remembered to buy him some food and sometimes she didn’t. And she was free to come and go, free to remember or forget. And my father was free to mumble or complain or grumble, though he rarely did. And he was free to eat, so long as there was food in the house. But when I went there to visit him I often saw that the cupboard was bare and my father had neither milk, nor eggs, nor bread nor cereal, nor tea nor butter. And all those people, those acquaintances, those friends, they too were as free as the sea-gulls in the sky. But to find the time to set my father free from the hunger and thirst he seemed predestined to freely suffer, they were never free enough for that.

Neither was I. Even though it was Christmas.

Even though it was Christmas
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This story is dedicated to all who spend time alone this Christmas, be they street people, homeless, or merely forgotten and neglected. Please consider sharing this story. And if you know someone who is alone at this time of the year, please phone them or visit them.

 

Death’s Angel

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Death’s Angel, also known as the Angel of Death, or the Black Angel, is probably the most important figure that we will meet, face to face, here, in the evening of our lives. He appeared at my bedside the other night, and spoke to me. Bright moon. The Angel stood there, haloed, blazing in a spotlight of glory.

“Everything you have, I own,” he announced, taking my hand. “Your house, your wife, your children, your cat, your dog, your car, your books, your flowers, your garden, they are all mine. And one day I will return and take you  from them.”

Cold, the moonlight. Frigid, that waking from my dreams. My hand burned with his fire, yet I shivered.

“When will you call for me?” I asked?

“Soon,” he said. “Very soon. And remember: it will always be much sooner than you think.”

“What can I do?”

“Nothing. I will lend you all these things that you think you own, for a  little while longer, but you must never forget that I am lending them to you. You do not possess them. They are only borrowed.”

“And then?”

“And then they will be mine As you will be mine.”

“There must be something I can do to …”

“There is always something. Embrace me now. Hold me. Breathe in my breath. Know me for who and what I am.”

I did as he asked and his warmth filled me. I looked into his eyes and no longer knew fear.

“There is no past,” he said. “No future. All that you own is this precious moment, the magic of the now, this breath you inhale, this air you release. That is what you own. Understand that, and let everything else go. Live in the moment, for the joy of the day. Seize each second, as you live it. Enjoy it, for that alone is yours. Knowledge, foreknowledge, and understanding: these are my greatest gift to you.”

Then, for a moment, I knew and  came to terms with the gifts he gave me.

“Sleep now,” he said. “But remember, I will be back.”

I fell asleep and dreamed of the man who met Death in Cairo. Death looked surprised to see him. “What are you doing here?” he asked. Fear filled the man. He ran, packed his bags, left Cairo with its vision of Death, and traveled as swiftly as he could to Baghdad. where he met again there with Death, who welcomed him.

“Why were you so surprised to see me in Cairo?” the man asked.

“Because we had a meeting here in Baghdad, tonight,” Death replied. “And I didn’t know if you’d show up.”

When I awoke, a joyous sun illuminated the world. What I had heard and seen rang out with splendor of church bells calling across green fields and leafy woods on a summer morning. I also knew that what the Angel told me, was not for me alone. It was for everyone I knew. A message, not of sorrow, but of joy, not of despair, but of hope.

This wine I sip, this bread I break, this ray of sunshine, this raindrop glistening, that nervous deer peering shyly from the woods, that chickadee feeding, those crows that bring the world back to life with their daily chorus, each is instant of life held, for the briefest of moments, and then released.

My greatest joy, gained from reading Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements,  is to pass his wisdom on to you who read my words, for this message will change your life, as Don Miguel Ruiz’s message has changed mine.

Carpe diem: seize the moment. Deus est in nobis: it is the world soul alive and living within us, unique to each of us. While it is with us, our joy will live forever, and, even though we perish, that joy once shared will never die.

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Cricket

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Cricket

            Street cricket. Played on ancient, cracked tarmac. The wicket: three sticks whitewashed on to the high stone wall of the cul-de-sac where my grandmother lived. It backed onto the wall that cut us off from the railway yards that led into High Street Station. That wall was the boundary, as were the neighbor’s front yards. Six and out if you hooked the cricket ball and hit it behind the wicket and over the railway wall. And you had to retrieve that ball. Lost ball stopped play and play stopped until you went across the bombed buildings at square leg, for a right-handed batsman, climbed the railway wall at its lowest spot, looked down at the rail yards forty feet below, and shouted until someone emerged from a workman’s hut to find the ball and threw it back.

            No worker … no ball … no game. Then you had to run out of your street, down the main road, up the hill for two streets, beg permission at the locked railyard iron gates: “Please, mister, can I get my ball?” Then run all the way back to where the waiting cricketers hung over your own street wall, by those bombed buildings, shouting and cheering. Search for the ball among shiny rails, shunting rails, rusty rails, dandelions, thistles, and nettles. Avoid the occasional shunting engine, with the driver leaning out of the cab and screaming warnings as the steam hisses out from the engine, brakes squeal, and wheels slowly clack on crossing tracks. Find the ball. Try unsuccessfully to throw it back over the wall. Try again. No good. Wall too high. Carry ball back to iron gates. Thank gateman politely so you can come back next time. Return ball to game. Game continues, rain or shine. Unless it’s real rain. The pissing down type. If so, run for nearest house and shelter by fire in kitchen.

            Other rules. Six and out over the railway wall. Two runs and fetch the ball yourself if you hit it into the bomb buildings at square leg, next to that railway wall. No fielders there. Too many loose bricks and too much scattered debris. Fragile walls still wobble or crumble warning you of cellars that might open up. Low walls that might collapse. You score four and out if you hit the ball into neighbor’s front yard. Some neighbors are nice and don’t mind. But watch out for the old witch whose fenced off garden is guarded by a gate.  If you hit her window, even with a tennis ball, she’ll be out quick as a flash, and steal your ball or stick a knitting needle in it, old spoil-sport. Otherwise, it’s single batsmen. You run your runs and walk back from singles. One hand one bounce, and tip and run once you’ve scored twenty. Much more difficult to stay in and everyone gets a chance to bat. One hand off the wall if you don’t clear it for a six and out. Dog stops play if your fox terrier gets the ball and runs around in circles, chasing its tail, with the ball getting soggy in his mouth. Damned dog. Damn difficult to catch. Lost ball stops match if dog runs back into the house and gives the ball you stole in secret back to your gran who was saving it for tennis.

            Cricket, in those days, was civilization. It had survived the bombing raids that missed the railway yards and bombed the bomb buildings. It had survived the machine-gun fire from the fighter-bombers that had strafed the street leaving bullet-holes, still unrepaired, in walls and shattering now-mended windows. It gave us a sense of rule and law, for the rules were strict and nobody broke them and stealing runs, touch and go, in tip and run was a skill and never a crime.

            Cricket: a small, bright window on the back-street where I lived, a window filled with happiness and light, even when it’s over the wall and six and out, or the dog runs away with the tennis ball, or the ball vanishes down a mysterious rabbit-hole in the bomb buildings and slides down to someone’s ruined cellar.

            Game’s over. The real Test Match is on, England versus Australia, though we live in Wales. The one primitive, tiny black-and-white tv screen in the street lights up with flickering figures and we sit around on the floor watching real men playing the real game on a sunny field in another world, the world, the world of black and white that many of us, us backstreet children from a ruined neighborhood, will never be allowed to know or see.

Anniversary

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Anniversary

Kicked him out, she did, just like that. Told him to sleep in the spare bedroom. She couldn’t take it any more. She couldn’t sleep. He had to go.  It was the diuretic that did it, mind, the diuretic.

After the radiation treatment, they gave him hormone injections, told him he’d put on ten to fifteen per cent of his current body weight, but not to worry. It was quite natural. It was the hormones, see?

He stood on the bathroom scales without a care in his heart. Watched his weight rise, five per cent, ten per cent, fifteen per cent. When he reached twenty per cent, he started to worry. Swollen ankles. Swollen knees.

At twenty-five per cent, he was really worried. Socks no longer fitted. Couldn’t put on his shoes. Couldn’t bend to tie his laces. Had to wear sandals and slip-ons.

At thirty per cent, he started to cry. He was ugly, so ugly. He was down to one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals that fitted. He went to the pharmacy. The pharmacist took one look at his feet and gave him a long list of Latin names. Told him he’d need a perscription, from his doctor, to get pressure socks, and medical shoes that would help him walk.

“It’s the feet, see, the feet. Once they start to swell, you’re in big trouble. There’s nothing we can do. Go see your doctor.”

“I’ve seen the doctor.”

“Go see him again.”

So he did. Broke down crying when he entered the surgery.

“I’m down to one pair of shoes. You’ve got to do something, doc.”

So the doctor wrote him out a perscription for pressure socks, medical shoes, appointment with a psycho-something, attendance at a clinic, everything he wanted. Then, just as he was about to leave, the doc stopped him.

“Hang on a sec,” he said. Sat at the desk. Checked the computer. Wrote out another perscription. “New tablets,” he said. “Take these yellow ones. Stop taking those brown ones.”

He went away happy. Stopped at the pharmacy. Got the new pills. Went home. Took them. And straight away started to pee. He peed all day and he peed all night. Every 15 minutes. That’s when his missus kicked him out of bed.

“Go,” she said. “Every fifteen minutes. I can’t stand it.”

So he went. Grabbed his faithful Teddy Bear and went to the spare room with its cold, lonely bed. Except he had his Ted.

Lost four pound that first night. Twelve pound the first week. Twenty pound the first month. God, he felt good.  Tried to get back to his own bed. Missus wouldn’t let him in.

“Go sleep with your Teddy,” she said. So he did.

He’s looking pretty good now. Back down to ten per cent body weight up. Says he can live with that. Likes sleeping with his Teddy. Says it doesn’t snore. Or kick. Or punch him. Unlike his missus. It’s the first anniversary next week. He says he and his Teddy are doing fine. They’re going to have a Teddy Bears Picnic to celebrate.

No, sorry, I don’t know what his missus thinks about that.

Coat of Arms

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I’ve never yearned for a coat of arms. All those advertisements for this and that, DNA tests to prove your ancestry, where your family name comes from, how many famous people were in your past, how many convicts … and the convicts were often poorer family members, wallowing in poverty and forced into theft, money, a loaf of bread,  a chicken, a lamb, some eggs, something to feed the children, to pay the bills … the possibility of blue bloods and royalty outweighed by the probability of some dark skeletons swinging on gallows somewhere in the distant past.

Yet when I got my online advent calendar this year, there was the coat of arms game … make your own coat of arms. So I did. The choices were very limited, not too original, and came with a ‘clan history’ that has absolutely nothing to do with me. A bear and a dog … I can live with those, especially as the bear is apparently my Canadian spirit animal. A Welsh dragon draped round the top of the frame … wrong color and definitely not Y Ddraig Coch, the blood Red Dragon of Wales, but still a symbol I can happily live with. Down below, we have Sun and Moon, the symbol of Oaxaca and title of the first book in the Oaxacan Trilogy (first published in 2000). Unfortunately, I have reversed the symbols to give us Moon and Sun. Oh dear. Such things happen.

Then we have a snowman and a beer tankard. Sounds good to me. I have now lived in Canada for more than fifty years in Canada and I know all about snowmen, and the taste of beer, sometimes mulled, to take away the cold. I am not so sure about ‘my clan’ as I don’t really think that I have one. I feel it is a very foreign term  like Hi there, gang. I can take Robin Hood and his Merry Men, but Roger and his Merry Gang, no thank you, that’s not for me. Sorry. As for ‘throughout the land’, I wonder which land they are referring to: Wales, England, France, Spain, Mexico, Canada … I don’t really feel that any of these stand up as my ‘land’ … except possibly for Canada, and as for Canada, well, this land is enormous. I have certainly visited some of it, but by no means all, and there is so much more to see and hear.

‘In Battle’, well, I have never been in a battle. I dislike violence and fighting, and I cannot imagine how a phrase like that got in there. ‘Fierceness’ same thing, I am as mild as milk and very easy-going. ‘Loyalty’, yes: that’s what the bear and the dog are famed for. ‘Us bears never forget’, or words like it, from the Chronicles of Narnia. Oh dear, there I go … I can hear mother bear now … ‘Stop sucking your paw’.

Seize the day is goodCarpe Diem … but never in battle … in poetry, maybe, or else in gathering old age where every moment of every day seems more and more precious. I wold have preferred Horas non numero nisi serenas, but they didn’t have that one, even though, nowadays particularly, it is the happy hours that I count, and not all of them spent in a local bar, or home alone, with my own beer mug.