Dreamers

Dreamers

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” Oscar Wilde.

“The dreamers by day are dangerous people, for they are the ones who make their dreams come true.” T. E. Lawrence.

Two interesting and contrasting quotes on dreamers. They seem to contradict each other – but do they? How do we dream? What do we dream of when we dream? What does the word ‘dream’ really mean? How can it change, that meaning when a person announces in a sharp, sarcastic voice: “In your dreams.”? Were the Everly Brothers right when they sang their version of dream, dream, dream?

There is no right and wrong with dreams. Some dreams come at night. They rise from deep within our resting – restless minds, asking questions, answering questions, doubling down on what we did, or didn’t do. Some dreams are obsessive and occur again and again. These are individual to each sleeper and cannot be interpreted, en masse, by a dictionary of dreams. Other night dreams creep in through the bedroom window. These may not be our dreams – they may be the dreams of other people, come to disturb us as we sleep. These can be dangerous dreams, disturbing moments, and that’s why the indigenous have created dream-catchers that will snare those dreams and prevent them from entering.

Other dreams come by day. Day-dreaming is a rite of passage for many young children, trapped in boring school rooms with an ageing teacher droning on and on. “Knowledge is that which passes from my notes to your notes without going through anyone’s head.” I woke up enough from my day dream during that particular first-year lecture to note those words in my notebook. They were the only notes I took in that class and I day dreamed my way though a year of that man’s pseudo-lectures.

But the dreams we dream by day – yes, they can indeed be dangerous – because we can make them happen. One person dreams of being a doctor and, against all the odds, that person becomes one. Another visualizes – another form of day-dreaming – breaking a world record. And does so – such people fulfill their day-dream. Some, like Don Quixote, dream the impossible dream. These are fantasists whose dreams will never come true, for they are based on unrealities, and not founded on the essential truths of real life.

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight.” Much as I love this quote, I am disturbed by the adverb ‘only’. It is so limiting. Dreamers, as I have tried to show, can find their way by day as well. “His punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.” This, too, I find enigmatic and disturbing. Why should dreamers be punished when they can also be rewarded? Why is seeing the dawn a punishment? Why is seeing the dawn before the rest of the world a sort of double punishment? And why does the dawn punish people? In order to answer that question, we must define the dawn! Maybe we’ll do that in another post.

Warm in the Kitchen

Warm in the Kitchen

This early morning, the only warm place in the house is the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains from the Second World War are still in place and hang languidly over ill-fitting windows that let cold air into the house. They must be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. Your elders move in and out, letting in the cold air as they open and close the doors at either end of the warm space where the fire is just taking hold.

Your grandfather banked it overnight with black sea-coal and then he raked the fine, grey ash, with its still smouldering lumps of charcoal, into a warm mound, ready for paper, kindling, coal, and the match. He has also placed a newspaper over the fireplace to create a draft. If the fire doesn’t catch soon, he will throw some sugar onto the embers to aid the blaze. The fire will suddenly flare into life and the room will be quickly warmed. In the meantime, the kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, is still slightly chilly because the damp night cold has invaded and made everything wet and slick.

It’s great when you’re at your grandparents’ house, but when we are back in ours, my father and mother always leave early, to go to work.

When I was younger, they had to feed me, but I soon learned to make my own breakfast from whatever I found in the fridge. Now I can use a frying pan. I fry bacon first, and then, when I have plenty of bacon fat, I fry bread, eggs, sausage, black pudding, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and anything else I can find, including laver bread.*

Before I know it, I have become a latch-key kid and, when I am hungry at home, I fry myself an all-day breakfast: eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on doused in HP sauce for lunch, all washed down with tea to which I add condensed milk and sugar.

But this morning, they have made breakfast for me: porridge. “Porridge, porridge, skinny and brown, / waiting for breakfast when I come down.” And I hate porridge, especially burnt porridge, with a passion, and yes, they’ve burned the porridge again. I hold a cup of hot tea in my hands. I breathe in the steam and it loosens up my chest. The china cup warms my fingers. I prod at the porridge, feed some to the canine mouth that dwells unseen beneath the table, and stuff myself full of toast. Whatever I eat, when the food is inside me, I feel much, much warmer and now I am ready for the rest of the day.

*Laverbread Bara lawr in Welsh: edible Gower sea-weed, a delicacy often called Welsh Caviar.

A Winter Awakening

A Winter Awakening            

You hate the Christmas holidays. You always have and I expect you always will. Broken promises litter the ground like so many new year’s resolutions, made and then set aside in a jumble of wrapping paper, party hats, and empty, smelly beer bottles. So vicious, these early morning calls, your father pinching your ear or tugging your hair, then stripping back the clothes and leaving you lying there, the cold air invading your bed, shocking your toes, tweaking the small hairs on arms and legs.

You reach out to the bedside chair, grab your shirt, socks, and pants and stuff them between your legs where it’s still nice and warm.  Then you pull the bedclothes up to your chin and your day clothes lie between your thighs, a teddy bear bundle gradually warming you up again. You wriggle down into the bed, and try to go back to sleep, but it doesn’t work.  A great shout from downstairs: “Breakfast is ready!”

Now comes the tricky bit: staying under the covers, wriggling out of your pyjamas, putting on your shirt, your pants and your socks while still staying warm beneath the blankets. Then, a porpoise breaking the surface, you burst out of bed, pull on your trousers and a sweater, and you run downstairs to the kitchen the warmest room in the house, where breakfast is waiting.

Boxing Day

They’re not Boxing Gloves – but they could be. Photo by my friend Geoff Slater.

Boxing Day


            By the time I get up, the gloves are really off and the sparring has begun in earnest. I hear angry, raised voices, walk downstairs to the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slice their menacing ways through the thickening atmosphere.
            Time for boxing: on my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her second packet of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from her bruised lips and a cloud of exhaled fumes crowns her head with a murky halo. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He breathes heavily, like a Boxer Dog in the mid-summer dog-days, snoring and snorting at a bitch in heat. In the middle, my grandfather, the referee. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating a tiny breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from those false Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round.
            I look around the heaving, seething, threshing silence of a room where conversation has suddenly ceased. The fire is burning merrily. Beside it, tongs, poker, and small shovel stand to attention. On the hearthstone, the little red brush, with its long handle lies in ambush. This is what my father uses to beat me when he can’t be bothered to take off his leather belt. Scorch marks from the hot coal fire sear the handle and back of the little red brush. I threw it on the fire one day, hoping to see the end of it. Of course, it was rescued from the flames, resurrected, and I got beaten for that act of rebellion too.
            “It’s all your fault!” My father breaks the silence, pointing at me. His red-rimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between us.
            “Go and see your granny,” grandpa tells me. “She’s in the kitchen. Go now!” He points to the kitchen door.
            I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again. My grandfather has evacuated me from no-boy’s-land and, for a moment, I am no longer trapped in the mud-filled, cratered, shell-holes between the trenches, the uncut barbed-wire barriers, the poached-egg eyes peering through periscopes and spying on me from the parental and priestly parapets above the wooden duck-boards that line the floor on the far side of the room and keep the enemies’ feet clear of mud and water.

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree

No Turkey, No Presents, No Tree.

And that’s how it is this year. Partly by choice. We decided against the stress of a turkey. Is it cleaned out correctly? Is it stuffed properly? Will we put bacon on top? Is it cooked to perfection? What about the trimmings? Stuffing (inside and out)? Bread sauce? Cranberry sauce? And the vegetables? And the Christmas Pudding? Will it be ready on time? Does it look nice? Have we laid the table properly? There are only two of us now. How much turkey can two people eat anyway? So we’ll have none of that this year. No stress. No cooking. No washing up. No leftovers. No turkey. The poem – The Twelve Days of Turkey – makes this clear.

As for the presents, well, that’s a sad story. We don’t really need anything. The house looks like a cross between a junk-shop and a museum gone mad. As Dylan Thomas said of Swansea Museum: it looks like a museum that belongs in a museum. And that’s what the inside of our house is beginning to look like. A crazy place inhabited by two crazy people and a crazy cat. Well, the cat would have loved some wrapping paper to play in, if it were a normal cat, but it’s not. So even the wrapping paper won’t be missed. No presents means no disappointment and that means that the Poem of Lower Christmas Expectations does not have to be written.

As for the tree, well, we don’t have a living tree, chopped down, and fed water daily, so that it can sprinkle its needles steadily over the carpet before it’s time to go. And the, on the way out, it drops the lot. Then we must vacuum clean, Hoover, Dyson, brush up, do the necessary, whatever it is, to make the place clean again. And oh, that cold January air when we open the sliding door to force the tree out. Force it out indeed – after 12 or so days inside, it doesn’t want to go out in the cold and freeze. And neither do we.

So, it’s a minimal Christmas. Three LED trees from past years. Clare’s Auntie’s artificial tree from her old shop in Cheap Street, Frome. Some strings of lights. Everything inside the house and nothing outside. And inside we have warmth, light, a fire in the stove, and for dinner, a tourtière, Acadian, all nicely spiced. With a selection of trimmings, to be determined later. Bread sauce and cranberry sauce probably. Oh yes, and we have a variety of puddings that can steam while we are eating. A minimal Christmas, then. No high expectations. The Christmas Mangers from Mexico and Spain all in place. And Christmas music, also from Mexico, on the disco and ready to go.

And yes, this will be the best Christmas ever. Because it is taking place within our hearts. And all best wishes for a wonderful day and an even better year to follow, to all of you, too.

Annie Verse Airy

Annie Verse Airy

Some I remember, some I forget. This one I don’t forget. 56 years ago today, Clare and I got married in Ontario. She had been six days in Canada and the vicar asked us if she were a mail-order bride. We said ‘no’ – for we had known each other for five years at that point and had been officially engaged for 17 months.

Ontario snow-belt snow, they called it. Six feet had already fallen on the banks of Lake Huron, and six more inches fell on our wedding day. How do I know? Well, I guess I must have been there. And ar gwaeth a pawb a pophet, rh’y n’i yma o hyd – and in spite of people and things, we are still here.

I wonder how many are left to remember that day. Clare and I do, obviously. Our daughter does. How many others? I hesitate to count – and it would probably take only one hand. No names, mind. Our wedding was very quiet. A family affair. Clare and I and our Canadian family who emigrated here after WWI, in 1919-20. They offered us their hearts, their home, and their hospitality. They also made all the arrangements and, since we had very little money, covered most of the minimal costs.

Our honeymoon was very brief – two nights in the town’s only hotel, and then back to Toronto on Boxing Day. The reality of the need to survive sunk in very quickly. We have no photos of the ceremony – couldn’t afford a photographer. No honeymoon, other than that brief hotel stay. No palm trees. No Caribbean Island. No white sand beaches. And we were much better off without them for, from the very first day we had to work together to survive and make a success of our lives. Luck and hard work walked hand in hand with us, and here we are, 56 years later, still together, still going strong. We will celebrate very quietly. At the appropriate time, we will light a candle together and raise a glass of wine, as we have done, every year, on Christmas Eve.

Now, as we age, each day is precious. We take few photos. We still haven’t had a honeymoon, let alone a second one. But, as the old song says, “we have travelled the road, sharing our load, side by side”. And we will continue to do so, for as long as we possibly can.

Movement

Movement

Incoming tide, a sparkling sea,
waves dancing beneath the sun,
white-maned ponies prancing.

Summer light changing as a cloud
moves its shadow over meadows
where cows graze, their advance slow,
gentle their movements, browsing.

Autumn wind, the dry leaves
casting a red-gold rainfall
over the lawn, shuffling along,
in time to the whispered wind song.

Silent, the deer, soundless as they move
through the trees at garden’s foot,
walking the tight-rope edge
dainty, between kempt, and wild.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Movement

Silence

Silence

Words emerge from the silence
of wood and stone. They break
that silence when they are born.

Silence, once broken, cannot
be repaired. A word once spoken
cannot be recalled.

The greatest gift is to know
how to be alone amidst the crowd,
how to sink into silence.

A world of words smothered
at birth and that world, unborn,
dismissed, forgotten, still-born.

A lost world of words whirled
on the silent wind that fans
the unborn fire within you.

The spider web of the mind
blown clear by the wind
that blows unspoken words.

The sultry silence of wood and stone,
the hush of the tadpole swimming
into its own metamorphosis.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Silence

Movember

Movember

When we men threaten to grow moustaches,
walking unshaven, amid the leaves
that crackle and pop as they rustle,
wind-blown, against our feet.

But pity us, poor hairless ones,
whose youthful skin still bears no beard –
can we we force a moustache to our lips?

That said, a chain of purple lights
adorns the wall in front of me
and I type to its imperious, flashing
bulbs, a constant reminder of bygone days

when the biopsy proved cancerous
and my prostate threatened my body
but was prevented from entering my bones.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Movember

Comment: November is prostate cancer month. My heart goes out to any and all who are suffering from this form of cancer. Caught early, it is curable. Get checked out, as quickly as possible. The sooner you catch it, the sooner your medical team can be formed to inform and advise you as to your choices. And YES, you have choices. I will always be grateful for the help I received, from my own medical team, back in 2014-15, when I was first diagnosed and then cured. Cured, yes. But the nightmare of a possible return always remains, ticking away like a time-bomb at the back of my mind.

Gilt Trip

Gilt Trip

Last night, I packed up my troubles
in my old kit bag, but this morning
my back and shoulders buckle
beneath its ponderous weight.
I take care not to stumble,
especially on the stairs, for if
I stumble, I will surely fall,
and every fall is a precipice
that I will never be able to climb.

I want my feet to take root,
to sink solidly into the floor,
so that even when the wind of change
blows, it will not knock me down.
Downstairs, at my kitchen table,
the sun promises warmth and comfort.

I raise my gaze and rainbows sparkle,
dance on my eye-lashes.
I strive upwards, ever upwards,
and, turning towards the light,
its golden beauty creates in me
this morning hymn of praise.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Gilt Trip