Brexit 2

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So, I called Mrs. May, the British Prime Minister, this morning, in search of clarification and she very kindly agreed to send me the road map she had drawn up for Brexit. As you can see from the above photo of the road map, it is very simple: the truth of the matter is that in Brexit ‘the truth points the way’. So, just follow the arrows and you will arrive at a satisfactory solution that will please all parties.

Thank you so much for this road map, Mrs. May. It reminds of the RAC maps that led us through France to Spain by following one straight line that never deviated. I remember trying to follow that one straight line through Bordeaux one year, in the rush hour crowds that followed the end of a soccer match and a rugby match. Marvellous. I can’t remember how many times we got lost in the twisting turning narrow streets we encountered when we once took a false turning, away from the packed streets of revellers, while looking for our RAC booked hotel.

In the end we  picked up a street urchin and he drove with us for another half hour tour of the city before we realized that he too was ‘just taking us for a ride’, so to speak. In the end, we stopped outside a large, five star hotel, unbooked, and spent the night there. My my father and I were in the elevator, going upwards to the Nth floor. The elevator stopped and three large, husky, obviously foreign men walked in. They looked at my father in great surprise and one of them spoke to him.

“Tis the map of Ireland written all over your face,” he said in a thick Irish brogue. The other two nodded their agreement.

“Yes,” said my father in an even thicker Welsh accent that he had picked up working in the Rhondda Valley, “I am Irish, but I was born in England.”

Ah, road maps: they lead you anywhere and everywhere. You can always trust them. And they always turn out just right in the end. All you have to do is follow that one straight line for page after page and never deviate from it. Ask the RAC: they will tell you.

 

Naval Gazing

Bistro Cartoon Naval Gazing

 

Naval Gazing

Of course I haven’t spelled it incorrectly. Just look at those three ships, not to mention the ‘bell-bottom blues’ jeans my alter ego wears in this apology for a selfie. And yes, of course, the protagonist is navel gazing, too. We all do it from time to time. We have to. We need to know who we are and what we are all about. As Cesar Vallejo wrote, a long time ago: “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no s锑there are setbacks in our lives, I don’t know.’ How do we deal with these sudden setbacks? That depends on each of us: our background, our culture, our ability to bounce back from nowhere and nothing to set ourselves upon the true path again. Man is stronger than he thinks he is, while woman is even stronger than man. Strength: it exists in many forms and holds many meanings. Sure, it means the amount of weight we can lift. But it also means the amount of weight and cares we can carry and how long we can carry them for. And that is where women are so strong.

Every so often, we must all navel gaze. We must look at ourselves, not in the mirror, but in the depths that live within us. I am in navel gazing mode right now. To a certain extent, I have lost my way and I feel very strongly I must find it again. So I sit and think and look inside myself and search and wait with great patience for the light to arrive and  enlighten me once more. It will come. I am sure of that.

Yesterday

Yesterday, a lovely lady read me
my biopsy results.

She poured a bitter drink
into a poisoned chalice
and offered it to me.

It was my personal Gethsemane,
a cup from which I was forced to drink.

I sat there in silence, sipping it in.
Darkness wrapped its shawl
around my shoulders.

‘Step by step,’ she cautioned me,
‘it’s like walking on stepping stones.’

I opened my eyes, but I could no longer see
the far side of the stream.

This poem opens my book A Cancer Chronicle (available on Amazon). It refers to the moment, three years ago, when my urologist confirmed that indeed I had prostate cancer and that, yes, it needed treatment. “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”. The cartoon, I hesitate to call it a painting, was completed on the ninth day of September, two months after my treatment ended. I sat in the kitchen at home, looking out at the mountain ash, watching the birds as they swarmed the tree in search of nutritious berries. Then I made the cartoon. I called it Naval Gazing. I might just as well have called it  “Hay golpes en la vida, yo no sé”.

How we deal with  such golpes / setbacks / blows defines us as human beings. I have spent much time recently encouraging others, and they must all remain anonymous, to confront their demons, call them out, and overcome them in as fair a fight as is possible. Today, I too sit in the dark, watching the snow fall, watching the birds scurrying to and from in search of sustenance. I too am searching, once again, for meaning, for light, for the energy to continue. It will come. When it does, I will embrace it with both hands and start all over again, picking up life’s threads from where I left them. Then, once again, I will see the far side of the stream.

Yesterday is the opening poem in my book A Cancer Chronicle. It is available on Amazon.

Yesterday
audio recording

Cooking

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Cooking

My Welsh grandmother, not my Irish one, taught me how to cook. At the time, I was the only grandchild. Whenever she cooked and I was in the house, she would take me into the kitchen, stand me on a stool by the gas stove, and encourage me to stir as the mixtures swirled and bubbled in pan or pot. I also helped her shell the peas, slice the carrots, whatever. When the preparation was ready, she would set aside a small portion that was mine. This might be a cake in the oven, a pair of biscuits shaped awkwardly by my own hand, or a small side pot of soup. “There’s nobody else,” she would whisper to me. “The old ways will die if I don’t teach you.” She was the one who taught me the exact moment when Welsh Cakes were ready to be molded, and there’s only one way to learn: place your hands in the mix. The right texture, as they say in the cookbooks, is ‘fine grain sand’ but you have to experience it to be certain what those words really mean.

I was a latch-key kid, as they now call them. Both my parents worked all day, leaving the house at 7:30 in the morning and not returning until 4 or 5 at night. Being able to cook meant that I never starved and I remember cooking soups, Cawl Mamgu among others, at a very early age. When I started traveling to France and Spain, I often ended up in various kitchens where I listened to the women as they prepared the food. Language and cooking went hand in hand and I learned how to roast coffee beans in a cast-iron frying pan, how to vary my range of soups, how to prepare casseroles, how to scramble eggs the continental way.

When I studied in Santander, Spain, my landlady left me, every night, one onion, one potato, and one egg. This was for the Spanish omelette that I ate most evenings. She cooked the first one for me, supervised me as I cooked the second one, and then abandoned me to my own devices. I often heard her snoring as I lit the gas, warmed the pan, and started to prepare my tortilla española. I still make Spanish omelettes, and they are delicious, but here in Canada they are never quite the same as they were in Spain. The ingredients look the same, olive oil, egg, salt and pepper, potatoes and onions … but the eggs are not Spanish free-range eggs from country hens and the oil, the potatoes, the onions, the salt … everything looks the same, but tastes vastly different.

Two days ago I bought a pound of fresh hake, merluza in Spanish. I cooked it in butter, half poached, half-sautéed. We ate half that night. Next day, I struggled with my thoughts: should I make fish cakes from the rest of the fish, or should I make a fish soup / sopa de pescado? Fish soup won. I put some truffle flavored olive oil into the frying pan, sliced small a tomato fresh from the garden, added a finely chopped onion, spiced it with sea salt, and added a small pinch of pimentón picante / hot Spanish paprika from La Vega in Spain. I let this simmer for a few minutes, then added some sherry. Into this mixture I put the rest of the hake together with the butter sauce that remained from the night before. The dish looked inviting, was very colorful, but appeared to be small and insufficient for the hungry eyes that followed the process. I added four large shrimp, sliced into four pieces each, a large scallop, thinly sliced, and sufficient water to thin the gathered liquids. Then I chopped up some sugar peas and added them as well. My sopa de pescado had undergone a sea change and become a sopa de mariscos / a sea food soup. The colors amazed: reds, yellows, oranges, and touches of green. On the spur of the moment, I named it New Brunswick Autumn Foliage. I tested it regularly as it simmered and it was ready when the sea food was done. Delicious.

I don’t know when my grandmother was born, or where, other than somewhere in Wales. I celebrate her birthday every time I cook something special, and my last two meals were very special. I don’t know where you are, Nana. You left us a long time ago. But wherever you are, thank you so much for the gifts you gave me. And Nana, I love you. You have traveled with me from Wales to Canada, and I celebrate you and your birthday every time I cook.

Ruins

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Ruins

There are many types of ruins, ruined castles, ruined churches, ruined monasteries, old stone circles fallen into ruins, barns alongside the highway, backs broken, roofs caved in, old people beg, still clean and proud, outside the supermarket, proud, yes, but still more or less ruined. And then there are unkempt gardens that fall into ruin when summer crawls to the burnt out embers of  its heat.

When I came back from my week’s creative retreat in KIRA, our garden lay in ruins. The hollyhock still stood, but it was on its last legs, drying up. It didn’t imitate the dead sticks of the yucca plant, four flowers this year, nor the dried up foliage of summer flowers. Nevertheless, wind and rain have now brought him close to his end, poor thing. I want to remember him in all his glory. I want to see beyond this bent, withered stick of a plant that slowly bows its head to look down at its roots. My hollyhock, please, in all his glory!

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All our glories! I too am in decay and falling into ruin. I dug out an old photo of myself. Bristol University, 1964, running for the First Cross-Country VIII on the Bristol – Weston road relay. Hugh Arnold was just handing off to me and I was setting out on my 5 mile leg of the race. Young, fit, no grey hairs, no wrinkles, no limp, no stoop: it was a five mile leg that I would complete in about 25 minutes. Alas, slow is me: it takes me that long now to walk 400 metres. And I need rests and a stick to help me on my way.

Standing amidst he ruins of my life, yes. But I stand proud, my head held as high as I can hold it. I can honestly say I have done my best. And what more can anyone do? Athletics, rugby, coaching, research, publishing, teaching, facilitating workshops and retreats, travelling, editing, creative writing … it has been a crazy life, packed with fun and adventure and no, I do not regret a moment of it.

Come to think of it, unlike many people, I have actually lived many lives. My first took place in Britain and Europe. Then in September, 1966, I was reborn as a Canadian. Each subsequent Fall, at the beginning of September, as each new academic year began and the year’s cycle turned round to freshness and intellectual renewal, I was born again. Teaching, coaching, working with young people: what wonderful things to do. Now, I look at the ruined garden and remember the joys of summer. They will return. My hollyhock will also be back. He has sown his seeds throughout the flowerbeds and sooner or later he will return. I too have sown seeds: the seeds of joy, knowledge, learning, creativity. I too will live on in the many virtual children whose minds I have inhabited and helped to shape.  Winter is drawing near. The cold and the dark encroach: but, like my garden, I will be back.

Smurfs

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Smurfs at Mactaquac

There’s something special about our Fall, here in New Brunswick. At Mactaquac Provincial Park, just beside the Beaver Pond, a group of travelling Smurfs have avoided the hurly-burly of the camp ground and put up their houses in the woods. Lots of things handy: water, shelter, shade, and the Convenience Store just around the corner and down the road.

The New Brunswick Smurfs, if you can find them, are interesting people. This group has constructed temporary homes in different sizes for the adults and the little ones. We didn’t see Papa Smurf, or anyone else, while we were watching, but he’s probably in there somewhere, with the family, keeping them quiet and waiting till we move away. Then they can all come out again and nature watch in relative safety.

 

GBH

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GBH

Grievous Bodily Harm to some, but to others, Great Blue Heron. I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder. How about Grand Beautiful Harmony? Awesome is an overused word, especially when it comes out as almost an expletive: awesome. Awesome haircut. Awesome meal. Awesome tie. Awesome photo. Awesome heron. Or just plain, old awesome! With an exclamation mark of course, and the air punched up from diaphragm and out through tight lips.

That said, certain moments do fill us with awe: an awe of the wild, of nature’s bounty and beauty, awe of the elements, the stillness of the fall pond, the subdued rifle crack when the great wings first open, or the echoing slap of the beaver tail striking flat on open waters. Poetry in motion: that sudden catch of the breath as the launch into the air makes our hearts, just for a moment, first stop, then beat more quickly.

KIRA Video

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Kira Video

So, our July project, a video of the first KIRA poet reading his KIRA poem, is now completed. I read One Small Corner at KIRA and Geoff Slater, Jeff Lively, and Cameron Lively added video to verse in this blend of magic. Thank you so much: I really appreciate this visual rendition of my words. So much so, that for once, I am at a loss for words. I will just let the video speak for itself and myself. Just click on the link below and you will be transported to KIRA and Kingsbrae Gardens on a magic carpet. swift and smooth.

KIRA Promotional Video

Our September / October project is to inaugurate the first KIRA Boutique Retreat (Creative Writing). This will run from September 30 to October 6. I will be one of the facilitators, along with Geoff Slater, the artistic director at Kingsbrae and Jeremy Gilmer, this year’s writer in residence (July 2018). For a description of my own stay at KIRA last year (June, 2017), click on the first link. Click on either the second or the third link below for more information on KIRA and the Boutique Retreat.

KIRA: an intensive creative experience WFNB, August 5, 2017).

 KIRA – Kingsbrae Garden

KIRA Boutique Writing Retreat