Summer is Ice-Cream

I can’t put a real ice-cream up here,
it might melt and spoil the computers,
yours and mine,
so here’s a cardboard one instead!

… after my grandfather died I slept with my grandmother in her large double bed when I was there on my own … but when all the cousins were there we shared a double bed and three or four of us slept at the top and three or four of us slept at the bottom and we were so small and short in those days that our feet never touched in the middle and the bed was like an earth worm … an octopus earth worm with several heads and no feet … or all the feet in the middle … like a centipede … and sometimes my parents would have to snuggle in with us too … though we scarcely woke up when they arrived or departed … and with tears we would go tired to bed … and the grown-ups would promise that it was only for an hour or two … for a little rest … and we were so far north that the summer sun was in the sky until late at night … but sleep we did and they never woke us up … and we didn’t wake up until the dawn chorus of birdsong … bird after bird chirping and singing in the hedge with its bluebells and primroses … the hedge that divided one bungalow field from the other …

… and we were in the first bungalow field, which was the best one, obviously, because we lived in it … and there was another bungalow field behind us and we could look through the gaps in the hedge and occasionally there were gaps we could crawl through … but they were well guarded because there was an all out war between the two fields and we didn’t like the boys in that second field and they didn’t like us … and we fought our skirmishes through the hedge and at the gaps in the hedge and the people in the field behind us would rent out their bungalows to boys with strange accents who would be instant enemies the moment they opened their mouths or heard us talk and vice versa, the other way round … and it was the silent arrow or spear shot or thrown through the hedge … and the long trailing root set out to trip the unwary, and once we tied a rope across the field, a trip wire to trip those foreign warriors, and we meant to take the rope down before it got dark, but we forgot and we missed the enemy but we caught my father and all the uncles walking back home in the dark from the local pub … and didn’t they trip and all fall down in a great big squealing piglet pile … and the aunties thought it very funny because once they were down, they couldn’t get up again … and the aunties said it had nothing to do with the rope … that they were all falling down anyway, falling down all the way home from the pub they were, and stumbling … but we had hoisted our allies with our own petard and next day we were brought to justice and the justice was severe … and what, they said, if we had caught one of the farmer’s cows … and if it had broken a leg … then who would be responsible then, to the farmer, for payment, and we all hung our heads in shame for those days everyone was big on responsibility and being responsible was a big thing … and even the dog, our scout and protector, our war horse and chariot, for we were Ancient Britons that summer, sat there silent and serious and hung his head in shame at the hot bitter words and he wasn’t even wagging his tail … and the adult jury, twelve sober uncles, tried men and true, all pronounced us guilty and sentenced us to a day without cricket, a day with no jam on the bread, a day in which we must eat up all the greens, a day with no puddings, a day with no sweets, no treats, no ice cream …

… but summer was ice-cream! Who wants ice cream in winter when the hands are cold and the ice wind blows straight down from the Arctic? But in summer, to rob a child of ice-cream is to commit a capital crime against childhood … and the ice cream was miles away, and to run to get it and to bring it back before it melted was a rare adventure that had to be carefully planned … go to the end of the field, run through two sets of lanes, stop at the first ice cream shop and if there was no ice cream there because it had all been eaten by that awful foreign army, run another mile to the next shop … and if you were lucky there would be some ice cream there … and no we didn’t want cones … cones were for the babies … the tiny children who couldn’t control their ice creams … we wanted wafers, like the big boys we were, although we were all still in short trousers … and there were three penny wafers and six penny wafers, and even chocolate bars with thin chocolate on the outside and the ice cream inside … and there were lollipops and other marvels … like Cadbury’s ’99’ … but that day all this was forbidden … forbidden because we had set a trip wire for the enemy and caught, by accident, our very own men … oh the injustice, the burning injustice of it all …

Conkers

Autumn mists in Island View
and maybe, just maybe,
there’s a conker tree out there,
somewhere.

              Autumn in Wales … well now, let me think: autumn was conker season and the national anthem overnight turned from Land of my Fathers to Eye-tiddley-onker… and singing or saying it first — : my first conker  — allowed you to challenge anyone who had a conker and that was always fun, but not so much fun as getting your conker from the conker tree, the horse-chestnut tree, with all its conkers spread across the upper branches, much too high to reach, of course, because all the lower branches had already been picked clean, so you had to throw sticks up high up into the tree at the loftiest conkers in order to bring them down to earth, but it wasn’t much fun trying to catch them as they fell because they came in their little brown autumn jackets with prickles all over them and if you grabbed them in the air, then you got the prickles in your hand and that wasn’t a great idea … though it didn’t hurt all that bad … especially if you wore gloves … so up in the air went the sticks and down came the conkers … then there was  a mad rush to pick them up off the ground and to prise open their bright, shiny jackets … and there they lay, the inedible fruit of the horse chestnut tree, a lovely, rich brown chestnut colour, young warriors dormant  in their little beds … and that was step one …

              … and step two was to prepare them for battle … and there were ways to prepare conkers, secret family ways, passed down from generation to generation … some of us baked our conkers in the oven …  others soaked them in vinegar … or oil and vinegar … before we baked them … and still others left them out in the sun or on a window ledge to slowly dry out until they were hard and vicious and great warriors which could conquer other conkers …

Summer Storm

No, it’s not a beach scene, sorry.
It’s the view from my kitchen window
when a major rainstorm blew through the garden
just a couple of weeks ago

… and suddenly, one day on the beach, it started to rain … one small cloud turned into a big one … and the sky became black … from out of nowhere, a great clap of thunder and the storm scene from Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, came resounding down in a shower of sound and everybody was running for shelter … into caves … under cliffs … under trees, on the far side of the rocks out  of the wind, and the water, and the horizontal tide of rain that brought relief from the heat … and some of us just stood out there … under the waterfall … enjoying the soaking … watching the water run over our hands, our faces, and our skins … 

… and that summer, like he storm and all the other summers, came to its abrupt end … we locked up the bungalow, walked up the lane laden with our bags and our packages … and when we got to the corner, we waited for the yellow and brown Swan bus that would carry us into town … and on the bus we retraced our steps, slowly and tiredly, away from the hedges, the sea shore, the sand and the beaches, and back to the red-brick houses and life in the cities from which we had come and to which we must now return …

…  and behind us, the salt sea, its bright sailor suit sparkling with waves and glee, waving us good bye from across the headland and away from the rapidly vanishing bay …

Laver Bread

I didn’t have a photo of a cow,
let alone a Welsh cow from Gower,
so I included a photo of a Kingsbrae Garden
alpaca instead.

Laver Bread / Bara Lawr             

… and we would all go down to the bungalow, at Pyle Corner, in Bishopston, and we would play funny games and we would roll in the fields, but we Welsh boys watched where we rolled, because we knew the cows came in and left cow pats … and we called the cow pats laver bread, because they looked like laver bread, bara lawr, the sea weed we eat that comes from Penclawdd, where the cockles come from … and wonderful it is, though it sticks between your teeth, and my London cousins rolled down the field, faster and faster, and then they couldn’t stop and they rolled right through the laver bread and were covered from top to toe in laver bread and we laughed so much, we local boys, who knew where the cow pats were, and when to stop, we laughed so much we cried, and then we were sick and the London boys, all covered in laver bread, had to change their clothes and be washed and bathed, and they were beaten soundly and called rude names and had to go to bed early … and I hope none of them are reading this … or they will be calling me rude names and I wouldn’t want that at my age … and perhaps they have forgotten all about this … but I haven’t … and oh! … there are so many memories in the Olde Curiositie Shoppe that is also known as my mind …

Snake

I don’t have a photo of Pwll Ddu.
Here’s the Beaver Pond at Mactaquac instead!

              … and once when we went to Pwll Ddu, to the Black Pool, in English, where the stone bank holds the river back and we can sail our boats on the pool and the water is warmer than the sea … and one day, a long time ago, we saw this snake swimming across the backed up river, between the banks of reeds at the end of the valley, of Bishopston Valley, where the trees meet the salt marsh which leads into the sea … and he was a big snake, though I don’t remember what sort of snake he was … and he didn’t have a care in the world, just swimming across the water in the sunshine, hissing to himself, then he climbed the bank with a slither and a slurp … and was gone as quickly and as mysteriously as he came and we were left there playing, paddling, building dams, throwing stones at lumps of wood and pretending they were enemy battleships, waiting to be sunk … and playing ducks and drakes … and making the flat stones, like pieces of slate, slip and skip across the surface, one bounce, two bounces, six, seven, eight, and nine bounces … and the little ripples on the pool’s surface moved slowly outwards and suddenly my cousin trod on a broken bottle and there was blood everywhere … because someone had used a bottle for a battleship and had broken it with a broadside of stones … and we had to stop everything and strap him up and take him home and then he went to hospital and they gave him stitches, eighteen stitches, in the sole of his foot,  and an injection … and suddenly what with the snake and the broken bottle, we cursed the pool at Black Pool, at Pwll Ddu, the name of which the boys from London could never pronounce, with their different accents and their capital styles, and though they were a part of us, like their mother was a part of us, they weren’t really part of us and they didn’t speak like us and they didn’t have our accents and they couldn’t pronounce the Welsh … and the neighbours laughed at them behind their backs …

Gower

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Gower

To be Welsh in Gower is to spell it funny
and pronounce it worse: Gwyr.
It’s to know how to say Pwll Ddu.
It’s meeting the cows in the lane to Brandy Cove
and knowing them all by name and reputation,
which one kicks, which one gores,
when to walk in the middle of the lane,
and when to jump for the safety of the hedge.

It’s to know the difference between the twin farmers
Upper and Lower Jones.
It’s to recognize their sheepdogs, Floss and Jess,
and to call them with their different whistles.
It’s knowing the time of day by sun and shadow;
it’s knowing the tide is in or out
by the salt smell in the air
without ever needing to see the sea;

and now, in this far away land called Canada,
it’s hearing your stomach growl for crempog or teisen lap
whilst memory’s fish‑hook tugs at your heart
in the same way your father hauled in salmon bass
at Rhossili, Brandy Cove, Pennard, Oxwich, and Three Cliffs.

Commentary: I was checking Gwyr, the Welsh for Gower, where I was born, and found this interpretation of the name. <<G is for generous, your giving nature. W is for wise, more tomorrow than today. Y is for young, the years never show. R is for rapport, friends seek you.>> I don’t know if that’s me, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad set of descriptors to live up to.

 

Paradise Lost

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Paradise Lost
(1667 AD)

nobody answers
bewitched by your knock
ultimate betrayal
front door locked

cold finger elegies
devils ascending
rhythmic drumming
rain descending

knock again louder
nobody’s replies
ahoy there the house
nobody’s inside

memories flutter
life’s dead butterflies
doorstep-marooned
look around take stock

ghosts watch from windows
sockets open in shock
that key in your pocket
might open the lock

a mystical place
between heaven and earth
land of my fathers
house of my birth

Swansea Bay

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 Swansea Bay

            My childhood in Swansea: a mixture of seaside and sand. Walking over the bridge at the Slip to reach the dunes at high tide, the fish nets at low tide, the dog ever before me, running fancy-free, chasing yellow-beaked gulls that swoop low, mewl, and lead him on and on, past bundles of bathers’ clothes in summer, and the dog lifting his hind leg, visiting each pile, marking them, one by one, a squirt at a time, and us denying we know the dog, not ours, we say, then beg for the empty pop bottles, taking them back to the vendors, pocketing the cash back on the bottles until we have enough for an ice-cream, a grown-up wafer, not a childish cornet, or a go on the swing boats, and the dog comes with us, gets sea-sick, air-sick, hangs his head over the wooden sides drooling thick saliva as we wait for the bump and grind of the wooden bar that will slow us down in spite of us pulling on the ropes, harder and harder, until we swing higher and higher into the heavens, and the sands dwindle into nothing, and the dog throws up, and the man who handles the swing boats calls us bad names, as we run away, across the sands, ‘I’ll tell your dad,’ he shouts after us, but he never does, and the dog wanders loose across the sands to drink salt water and throw up again, and yes, I remember the starfish, their golden triangles winking wet in the sunlight as they hang from their netted firmaments, and we walk out along the concrete sewer pipes that pour the town’s waste, the town, and not the city, never for me a city, and how could it be a city when so many uncles and aunts lived on Town Hill and my father worked in Town Hall, and Swansea Town were the Swans, and they played soccer on the Vetch Field, the old hanging ground for the town jail, never the city jail, and the Mumbles Railway ran its electric trams out from Swansea Docks to the quarries by the Mumbles Pier, and we took that train, sat on the top deck, The Slip, Singleton Park, Blackpill, the Mayals, West Cross, Oystermouth, where last year, after a hundred years of absence, wild oysters finally returned, the pollution from Copperopolis, the largest copper mining and smelting town in the world, finally drained from Swansea Bay and the waters now clean enough to keep those oysters alive in their cultured oysters beds at Oystermouth, on Swansea Sands, below Oystermouth Castle with its ruined walls where we went once, but I remember nothing about it, nor Swansea Castle, in the old town centre by Castle Street, its ruined walls banned with their Keep Out signs and Danger, but the warnings themselves enough to invite us in, except we knew we’d be beaten if anything happened and we were caught and everyone knew everyone in Swansea Town then,  and somebody would surely bear the tale to our parents or grandparents,  but that’s enough of that, and its’ out of the tram and across the wooden planks of the Mumbles Pier, out to the end where the old men throw their lines into the sea and sit and wait and hope, pulling on cigarettes, Players Nay Cut for preference, as they watch swirling waters, taking sips, like old men everywhere, from secret bottles in brown paper bags that cause them to wipe their lips with the back of theirs hands and cough with pleasure, waiting for God knows what to come along and tickle the end of their line, and out there, at the end of the world, the lifeboat house with its slipway and the lifeboat, launched only in the roughest weather when the tall ships founder or the small boats are blown away, out into the sea, that twinkles now with its wrinkled old man’s face as it moves back and forth beneath wind and sun, and everyone is smiling in the summer warmth, though it’s cold where the wind blows off the sea, and it’s into the corners away from the wind, or into the pavilion where the arcade games wait for our money, and it’s ‘please, please, one more go’, as the small metal arms armed with their claws, clutch at toys and dolls, and furry animals, and the fighter planes come swooping down in their practice arcs and yes, I am a gunner again, fighting my Battle of Britain in a spinning turret with a mobile gun-sight, and time and my money run out and it’s ‘ please, please, one more go’, and my head is spinning, as the turret is spinning, and the world is spinning on its axis as memory’s spider spins its web of illusion, delusion, and time rolls backward on the station clock, as the tram rolls up and we track our tired way back home, past Oystermouth, West Cross, Blackpill with its little Roman Bridge, Singleton Park, the Recreation Ground, St. Helen’s, to the Slip, where we boarded in he first place, and home we go via the fish-and-chip shop in the road at the bottom of our street, and all adventures end as we open the front door, calling out ‘we’re home’, and the smell of warm salt and vinegar soaks through the newspaper binding the delicacies we have brought to placate the gods who wait in silence for our return.

Cows

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Cows

Underneath the bungalow, we find a secret space so small that only the young ones can crawl there. We go after coins that drop through the floorboards of the verandah and we hide there, in that cool, dark grave space, when we wish to be neither seen nor heard. At the far end of the bungalow, in a larger space beneath the floor, Nana has her refrigerator. This space, similar to ours, is where she keeps the thick cream off the bottled milk when she wishes to turn it into Devon Clotted. Here, too she places the jellies when she wants them to set. We have neither running water nor electricity, just the cool beneath the floorboards. We do have two water tanks, one a square, red-rusted, cast-iron tank that collects the rain-water off the roof, the other an old iron-bound wooden barrel that connects to a downspout outside the backdoor.

They have built me a swing in the backyard and on sunny days I throw my head back, thrust my legs forward, and squint at the summer sky through half-closed eyes, as the old folk push me. “Higher,” I cry out. “Higher.” We don’t have a push lawn-mower, though we occasionally borrow one from the neighbors. We do have a scythe, a sharpener, and a pair of bill-hooks. I have never forgotten that head down, half-shuffle of the scythe man using his scythe: one step sideways, swing, feet together, one step, swing. I loved the sweet smell of the fresh-cut grass as I played the grim reaper in the backyard, always with a grin.

I lived in the bungalow for the whole of one summer. I guess my mother had been placed in some hospital or other for the duration of the fine weather. Nobody talked about her and I never knew what was wrong with her or when she was coming back. It was all a mystery, wrapped in stealth and secrecy. Her absence was a pain in my side, a thorn in my heart, and I still don’t know what happened to her.

I slept in the back bedroom with my Nana in her big double bed. I slept on the far side, next to the outside wall. At night I would often hear the cows as they munched away at the grass and wandered through our un-fenced yard. I say ‘I slept with my Nana’ but in actual fact I fell asleep long before she came to bed, often when the sun was still high in the sky. She always got up early in the morning to prepare breakfast for the men and lunch for my uncle, who worked in town and usually took the early morning bus.  My Nana was up and dressed by the time I woke up, so I rarely saw her in bed.

Some nights I woke up during the night, needing to pee. I never liked using the Royal Doulton chamber pot that squatted coldly beneath the bed, especially if she was in the room. We had no indoor plumbing, nor running water, as I have said, and apart from the rainwater the only tap was at the far end of the bungalow field, a long way away, and all but rainwater had to be fetched by hand in large tin cans that we ferried, empty, to the end of the field and brought back, full, at the end of our excursions to farm, local shop, or beach.

Those cows that wandered through our yard at night really frightened me. We would meet them in the lane some times, a noisy, dusty, flowing, multi-colored tide that flooded the pathway and forced us walkers into the next field, if there was a gate close by, or high into the hedge, if there wasn’t a gate. The one black and white cow in the herd really filled me with fear. She had a crooked horn, had gored a dog, and had kicked out at several of the local residents, injuring at least one of them quite badly, a broken leg, I think. That cow had an evil reputation, especially when, isolated from the herd, she meandered around on her own.

When I wanted to pee, I preferred to walk outside, to the outhouse, rather than use the chamber pot. I would grope my way out of the bedroom, turn right, drop down the steps into the kitchen, and slide back the bolts on the door. Then I would half-open that door and peep out, listening carefully for any sound of the cows tearing out the grass with their teeth, or rumbling gently as they chewed the cud, churning it over and over. I would sniff the night air, and if I sensed a cow in the vicinity, I would pee through the narrow crack of the open door and swear in the morning, when someone found the little puddle, that it wasn’t me, that it must have been the cows.

One quiet night, I walked bravely out into the dark and stepped right into a cold cow pat that lay just outside the back door like a landmine, waiting for my unwary feet. I still remember the cow-manure’s soft squish as it sifted upward through my toes and rose to assault my nose. After I had gone pee, I wiped my foot again and again in the long grass beside the outhouse, then placed it beneath the water-spout from the rain barrel, trying to flush it clean before I crept back into bed.

That was the night I left the back door open. Next morning, my Nana woke us all up with a series of long, loud screams and squeals. The black and white cow had wandered through the open door and ended up in the kitchen where my grandmother had come face to face with it in the early morning light.

A cow in the kitchen, that really spooked me and I still have dreams, nightmares, really, of a herd of cows invading the bungalow, breaking down the doors, and climbing in through the windows, and me all alone, trapped in my bed, shivering ferociously, squeezing myself, trying desperately not to go pee.

Wednesday Workshop: Voice Recordings

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Wednesday Workshop
13 June 2018
Voice Recordings

To be Welsh on Sunday

I am continuing today with my experiments with voice recordings, something that interests me very much. As I said earlier, my voice changes with audience and mood, and early morning, in Island View, with the microphone and Princess Squiffy as an audience, and the window open so the cool morning air can circulate before the heat of the day, is not the best way to induce mood, well, not in this reader anyway.

When I made the recording, I was reading from my book  Though Lovers Be Lost  (available on Amazon) my head was slightly turned away from the laptop’s built-in speaker, and, as a result, the reading is not as loud as I would have liked. It is also a little bit fast. I don’t mind the speed of it: when I was younger I would read this poem in a single breath, all 90 seconds or so of it. Now I need many breaths to get though it successfully. Ah, a young man’s fancy turned to dust …

I will do a retake of the poem, not on my laptop, but on my IMac, and I will add that later, below the first recording which will appear just below this introduction. Then I will add the text. Yesterday I offered text, then reading. Today I offer the reading first. That allows the listener to listen first and then read the text OR to start the audio recording and then follow the text as it is being read. This is a Wednesday Workshop and this is all part of my workshop experiments in reading. Wonderful fun and highly recommended. Thank you for being here with me and remember, your comments are more than welcome, they convert a workshop from a soliloquy into a dialog.

 

Second recording to follow

To be Welsh on Sunday

To be Welsh on Sunday in a dry area of Wales is to wish, for the only time in your life, that you were English and civilized,  and that you had a car or a bike and could drive or pedal to your heart’s desire, the county next door, wet on Sundays, where the pubs never shut  and the bar is a paradise of elbows in your ribs and the dark liquids flow, not warm, not cold, just right, and family and friends are there beside you  shoulder to shoulder, with the old ones sitting indoors by the fire in winter or outdoors in summer, at a picnic table under the trees or beneath an umbrella that says Seven Up and Pepsi (though nobody drinks them) and the umbrella is a sunshade on an evening like this when the sun is still high  and the children tumble on the grass playing soccer and cricket and it’s “Watch your beer, Da!” as the gymnasts vault over the family dog till it hides beneath the table and snores and twitches until “Time, Gentlemen, please!” and the nightmare is upon us as the old school bell, ship’s bell, rings out its brass warning and people leave the Travellers’ Rest, the Ffynnon Wen,  The Ty Coch, The Antelope, The Butcher’s, The Deri, The White Rose, The Con Club, the Plough and Harrow, The Flora, The Woodville, The Pant Mawr, The Cow and Snuffers — God bless them all, I knew them in my prime.

Photo Credit: Princess Squiffy, my favorite listener. She never complains, but she rarely stays awake.