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.

On Life and Living

On Life and Living

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Oscar Wilde

To live, to really live, what does it mean? I guess that depends on each one of us, our backgrounds, our education, our culture. W. H. Davies wrote one of my favourite poems “What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” To know how to live is also to know how to stand and stare, how to make time for oneself, how to take joy in the simple things.

But what if the simple things are no longer accessible or ‘within easy reach’ as my poet friend, Jane Tims, would phrase it? When the cost of living rises, when we cannot afford to heat our homes, when we have to choose between eating or heating, or between food and medicine, can we truly be said to be living? Then, like it or not, existence, in the words of Sartre, precedes essence, and the very act of existing, surviving, maintaining body and soul together, takes over from any thoughts that may strike us, any time we may have to stand and stare.

Do the little things in life, said St. David of Wales, Dewi Sant. But what happens when so many of these little things are taken away from us? Some of us are lucky, privileged, blessed – and we are able to heat the house, run the car, meet a sudden unexpected bill. We do not have to choose between heat or eat, between food or medicine. Others are not so fortunate. They may have lost their homes. They may not have a car, or they may be living in it. Their transport may be a metal trolley, ‘borrowed from a shopping mall before it was lost’. Their only unexpected bill may be the Old Bill, coming to arrest them for loitering, with or without intent. For these people, on a daily basis, an hourly, basis, life’s hard choices are upon them. They are faced every day with a very different choice in answer to Hamlet’s question – ‘to be or not to be?’.

I see them, the people making those choices, sitting on the sidewalk outside the super-market, plastic coffee cups before them. Heads down, eyes closed, scarcely able to look me in the eye. I see them at the traffic lights, holding up their cardboard signs. I look at them as they sit there or stand there or walk up and down, sitting, standing, staring at the traffic.

They also give a new meaning to the last couplet of W. H. Davies’ poem – “A sad life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” They have the time to sit, and stand, and pace, and stare – indeed they do – but do they live, or do they just exist? And for how long? These are the real questions.

Be Yourself

Be Yourself

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.

One of my favourite authors. A creator of bons mots and a specialist in renewing the meaning of meaning within words. And yes, within the witticism is a pearl of great price. We must indeed be ourselves. But who are we? That is the question. And how do we find ourselves, or know when we are lost, or know when we are found? Alas, all of us must seek those answers for themselves. No one size fits all.

Re-reading Robert Bly’s The Sibling Society, I am struck by his description of a lost generation that looks sideways for knowledge and ignores the long-held traditions of those earlier generations who brought us here and led us to where we are now. Lost people living in a lost world of instantaneous, shallow distractions. Deflect, distract, don’t think, gaze in awe and wonder, and let the show go on.

The Romans, towards the end of their Empire, had words for it too – bread, wine, and circus. Wrap yourself in an invisible cloak of instant pleasures, think no negative thoughts, do nothing, indulge, enjoy, envy, and climb that ladder as fast as you can. Onwards and upwards into the clouds of unknowing and uncaring.

Up there the Wizard of Oz performs his magic, his illusions, his trickery. Only believe and thou shalt see – whatever it is that the Magician wishes to show you. Don’t think. Don’t doubt. Be like someone famous. Copy them. Imitate them. Smoke like them. Drink like them. Be like them. Try to be them. There are some wonderful role models out there. Only believe ….

And forget about the Fall of the Roman Empire, forget about Oscar Wilde, forget about Robert Bly, forget about me. Above all forget these words – “Be yourself. Everybody else is taken.”

Forget them – or carve them into your heart and follow the Delphic Oracle and “Know thyself” or Shakespeare “To thine own self be true”. And remember – you can always make each day a good one. It’s up to you.

First Post of 2023

First Post of 2023

There is nothing to say, except that I have lost my way. Every poem posted to this blog is unavailable for publishing elsewhere. I may not submit them to journals, to editors, to competitions. This is one of the reasons why I have been silent for so long. It’s the same thing with Flash Fiction and stories. ‘Must be unpublished – no social media’. Alas – this blog is ‘social media’. So – I have lost my way, my reason for blogging. What can I blog about?

The weather – we have hardly seen the sun since well before Christmas. Snow, rain, icy rain, ice pellets – ofnadwy a diflas – disgusting weather. The sun shines in my heart. I also have bottled sunshine – sol embotellado – brought in from Spain. But who wants to read wet weather reports, day after day after day? Come to that – who wants to write them?

The news – this is even more depressing than the weather. I sometimes think that the papers deliver as much bad news as possible so we will be happy with the few items that do brighten our lives. Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos – when everybody falls on hard times, only fools take consolation from it.

Politics – spare me from politics and politicians. There is little good to say about any of them. Politicians are treacherous and their policies are worse. I remember the restaurant in Avranches with its sign on the wall – un jour sans vin est un jour sans soleil – a day without wine is a day without sunshine. Well, a day without politicians is a day full of sunshine – no matter what the weather is like outside.

Sports – we are sports-logged. I have never seen so much sport on the TV. Well, to be honest, I haven’t bothered watching it. Event after event, and events running simultaneously all around the world. I am fed up with tennis, soccer, ice hockey, rugby, and all the myriads of championships being played out before us. And the scandals – and the money changing hands – and the grotesqueness of ownership and player trading?

So, what is left to say? I have lost my way and I am trying to find a path through the wilderness of wild words that besiege me. Siege Perilous, indeed. What can I write about? What can I say? Maybe I should start an agony column.

Agony column – send in your questions and maybe, just maybe, I will think about them and comment on them. No. That won’t work. I already have too much on my plate. “Don’t tell me your troubles, I’ve got troubles of my own. Leave me alone, go on home, tell them to a friend, I’ve got troubles of my own.”

The sun – maybe, when the sun returns from his winter vacation, I will actually find something to write about. Maybe not.

Birthday – meanwhile, it’s my birthday I remember my grandfather reciting to me in the kitchen back home in Wales. “Today it is my birthday and I have ten thousand pounds to give away.” He would pause for a moment and then continue: “On second thoughts, I think it best to lock them back in my old oak chest.”

Poems – so the poems will stay in my old oak chest until I publish them properly. Flash Fiction and Short Stories too. In the meantime, any suggestions for this blog will be welcomed with open arms. Including folding it, shutting it down. Maybe it has served its turn and become, like me, out of date and obsolete.

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.

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.

A Month Ago

A Month Ago

A month ago, on November 23, I posted my last message on this blog. Since then, nothing. Silence.

For thirty days and thirty nights the world has been as silent as the painting I posted above. It has been as silent as snow flakes circling. As quiet as the ribbons tied silently together. Nothing stirred. Nothing moved. Nothing.

Can an absence be a presence? Sometimes it is, for example, when we lose a tooth, a family member, or a friend. In their absence, we lament the loss of their presence. With a tooth, we run the tongue around the empty space, noticing the tenderness of the flesh, the hollow within the gum.

It’s the same with friends. They go AWOL. Move on. Forget their promises of eternal friendship. They become the empty space where the tooth once stood. At first we grieve. Then we become used to their absence. Then, one day, we realize that their voices have fallen silent and then they are friends no more.

Right now, there is a hollow in my life. An absence. I cannot put my finger on what is missing, absent, as always, without leave. Maybe it is the Christmas beliefs that dogged my childhood. Maybe it is the emptiness that warns of oncoming storms, each one greater than the one before. Maybe it is just the premonition, the suspicion, that all is not well with the world.

This year we gave more money than ever before to the Feed a Family Fund. Then we sent extra money to the local foodbank. Everywhere we see that the social ball of string is unwinding and ends no longer meet. It seems our society no longer has the will or the means to justify any ends, except selfish ones. Is it everyone for themselves, then, and the devil take the hindmost? Sometimes it feels like it.

I have seen the hindmost, human beings they are, just like you and me, except they are wrapped in blankets, begging at traffic lights, sitting outside the supermarket, a coffee cup at their feet, hoping for a penny to drop. Where have all the pennies gone? Gone to the smelters everyone. So they wait for a nickel to drop, or a dime, or even a quarter.

Covid-19 and all its subsequent derivations may well have been at the heart of all this. The isolation. The masking. The distancing. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the stranger in our midst. We have become used to living with those fears. We still have Covid-19 and its variations, some with long term complications. We now have a virulent flu as well. And there are various viral infections circulating.

The Apocalypse? Not yet. The Apocalypse has four horsemen and I have only mentioned three. So – where is the fourth one hiding? When will he appear? What will he look like? Maybe he’s lurking in a food bank, an unrepentant Grinch preparing to steal the food? Perhaps he hides in an unheated house? Can he be spotted at the dinner table, where the parent or parents are not eating, so that a child may eat?

I throw these questions out. Outside my window, clouds gather and snow starts to fall. I listen carefully. But all I can hear is the silence to which I have grown accustomed.

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

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

writing by candlelight
the flickering flame
casting shadows
over thought and word

tell me what are shadows
but the false promises
festering in Plato’s Cave
or a fake finger show
projected on an unwilling wall

yellow and red the flames
sweet scented the smoke rising
from melting wax
my mind alive with memories

this night of nights
when family ghosts
drift through the room
and my childhood clutches
the red bag of my heart
with death’s cold fingers

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor
Day of the Dead



Hall of Mirrors

Hall of Mirrors

You walk up the wooden stairs
and there you are, staring at yourself
in the fairground’s distorting mirrors.

Fatter, thinner, shorter, taller, a half-
and-half version, thinner at the top,
squat at the bottom, one of those Xmas
dolls you could flick, but never roll over.

What do we see when we look in the mirror?
Do we see our selves as we really are
or do we see the wretched deformations
of our diminishment?

So depressing to think that, back then,
I might have seen myself as I am now:
hair thinning, forehead larger,
shriveled shanks and wasted muscles,
breathless, when I climb the stairs,
and a butterfly heart that sometimes
flutters and stutters as it seeks the sun.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Hall of Mirrors