Day 23 CV-19

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Day 23 CV-19
Codes and Coding

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words just yesterday [Day 22 CV-22]. The words are mine, but the idea belongs elsewhere. I have borrowed it and adopted it. I would willingly attribute it to a specific author, but I do not know who said it first. I offer my apologies to the to me unknown genius who first spoke these words.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of are common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&b,  c. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, dec., rsp …

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.

Dolphins

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Dolphins

Another life, another world, another dream …  dream of freedom perhaps. A great white shark, fifteen feet long, has broken into the peace of Passamaquoddy Bay. Yesterday, or was it the day before, he snagged a seal and devoured it before the eyes of tourists on a tourist boat. You can see the video on YouTube, but I won’t watch it. There’s too much violence in the world around me. Too much hate, illness, sickness, death, too many predators.

We have fallen in love with violence. Ketchup Violence I call it, because the victims get up after the shootings and appear next day on another eppy-sode, another video, another film. Except in real life, they really don’t. The shootings are real. The victims are really dead. And no, they don’t recover. Red blood is red blood and when we shed enough of it, and when the shock is violent enough, or the hit brutal enough, no, we don’t recover. Human blood is not ketchup spread on the french fries of old bones and recirculated later. It is ours, it is vital, and when it flows out, it does not flow back in.

Contrasts: the gentleness of the beginning, versus the harshness of the end. The hatred and tension that drives us on and on. Perhaps we should all join the army, for a year or two. “There’s no life like it.” We live in a bilingual country, at least, I do. “Pour ceux qui aiment la vie.” Or, as Socrates once said: “The unlived life is not worth examining.” So, join he armed forces: there’s no life like it. Pour ceux qui aiment la vie. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Crimea, Yemen, Syria … where next, where ever next?

As Pink Floyd once said: Is there anybody out there?

Bullfight

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Bullfight

The above photo shows novillos, young bulls, on a bull farm in Salamanca, Spain, bred for the bull ring. They are tested in the farm’s private bull ring and the best and bravest are saved for the bull ring. A series of computer programs tests them at six month intervals to see if they are bull ring material.

Spain is divided on bull fighting with Catalonia banning the bullfight while Castilla and Andalusia are ardently in favor of the three, thousand year old tradition. The Spanish flag, in Castille, comes with a fighting bull, in the centre, replacing the coat of arms.

Many opinions exist abut bullfighting, bull running, and the whole tradition of blood sports. I will not state my position. But I will leave you with a piece of flash fiction, perhaps a short story. Each of you, if you wish, may play the game, click on the Bullfighting link, and decide for yourselves where you, and I, stand. Warning: not for the faint of heart … go on, be brave, remember the toros bravos who have perished in the ring.

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Los Toros de Guisando, mentioned in the Quixote, prehistoric stone bulls, verracos, Celtic carvings from the Province of Avila, Spain. The Roman legions carved their names into these stone bulls. Below, a modern bull, also from the province of Avila. I must, at this point, mention my friend Juanra, who took me to see these monuments and encouraged my interest in his wonderful province. Juanra, te lo agradezco, no sabes cuanto.

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Keys

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Keys

“Thirty-four doors and a key for each door,
sometimes two, and that’s only for the outside.
No master keys back then. A key for each lock,
if you please, and each door locked every night.
It’s still quite the task, a real responsibility. They
kept a turnkey, in those days, a full-time employee
whose job was to keep the keys and remember
which key fitted each door. Was it a double turn,
a single turn, a dead-bolt? The turnkey knew them
all. He also understood the interior doors and had
to wind the clocks, open and close cabinets, cloak
rooms, kitchens, desks, cupboards, drawers.

Others kept their own keys, and we often dismiss
them as lackeys, especially if they were black,
but they held the key to everything. Locksmiths
too, they could remove locks, take them apart,
cut keys, no job for a flunky. It took a smart man
to be a turnkey. He needed training, patience,
skills, knowledge, strength. Huge railway keys:
he knew how to look after them as well. Have you
seen the size of those old, brass carriage keys?”

The Joy of A New Book

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The Joy of a New Book

Very little to beat it actually, the joy of receiving and opening a new book, especially when it is one you have written yourself, in cooperation with a group of friends. In this book are the twenty-four (24) poems that I wrote for McAdam Railway Station.

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I went to McAdam to watch Geoff working on his mural and installation (diorama). While there, I heard stories about the railway and started to write them down in stanza form. While I did write them, most of them were based on stories and anecdotes heard or overheard while the guides were guiding the tourists round the site. This is indeed a limited edition. We originally intended to print only 50 copies, but when we heard that there might be up to 300 people at the unveiling of Geoff’s mural, in McAdam, at 1:00 pm, Sunday, 30 June, 2019, we doubled the number of books we printed. I will be donating the majority of the 100 to McAdam Railway Station Historical Association. They can either give them away or sell them to help fund and support the impressive restoration work they are doing.

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“We view history through the rear-view mirror of a rapidly advancing car” … and writing these poems was a veritable journey back into the past. Geoff left his glasses by his half-finished drawing, and that’s when the idea of linking McLuhan to Moore to McAdam occurred. Several of the poems focus on my own experiences of railway stations. Travel by train was a frequent choice in my childhood and  I went almost everywhere by train. A local in-town train ran from the station at the end of our road and I often took it when visiting friends, shopping in town, or following the local soccer team, Cardiff City, aka the Bluebirds. As a result, much of the imagery within the poems involves my own knowledge and love of trains, while the narrative structures themselves are often based on those overheard words.

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We wanted a photo of Geoff and me on the back cover and I discovered this one in my files. The portrait was done by Ruby Allan, my fellow artist in KIRA (June, 2107). She painted Roger Writing in the Red Room from a photo taken by another KIRA resident artist, Carlos Carty, the Peruvian pipe, as I was working at the desk in my room. Geoff framed the portrait and Mrs. Lucinda Flemer gracefully allowed it to be hung over the desk in the Red Room at KIRA, an honor for which I am exceedingly grateful. What a nice way to put our pictures on the cover of our book! If you are down McAdam way this Sunday, 30 June, drop in and see us. We’ll be there. Books and all.

 

 

Buried Alive

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Buried Alive
Anonymous we are,
never holding land or cattle,
lucky to own our own houses.Some castle
this rented row house
in a winding valley,
two rooms up
and two rooms down,

tin bath in the kitchen
filled with hot water
for when the shift ends.

After supper,
beer for a coal-dust throat,
then the wife, and sleep.

Next day,
a knock on the window,
a pulling on of clothes,
clogs clattering on cobbles,
a tin box sparse with food,
then down to the dark pit
of whatever mine has agreed,
at a price, to bury us alive.

Commentary: So much in this one. Very difficult to write. And a tribute to Rita McNeil’s It’s a working man I am,  two lines from the end. How long did it take me to write? Five minutes or less. Unless you count 200 years of coal mining (in South Wales alone), seventy-five years living and learning to write, and sundry workshops and exercises that have enabled me, just once in a while, to catch the butterfly as it flutters, although it never flies underground.

Bristol Temple Meads

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Bristol Temple Meads

Bristol Temple Meads

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
Passengers on the platform shuffle
rearrange themselves to get closer
to opening carriage doors. Steam
hisses out from the engine in great
white and grey clouds. He gets out
asks a porter, “Is this Bristol Central?”
“No, son. This is Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train.

Next stop, Bath. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol.
You should have got off at the last stop.
You’ve over-run your ticket mate.
There’s a fine for that and you’ll have
to buy a new one to get back to Bristol.”

“But I asked them if it was Bristol Central
and they told me it wasn’t.” “Playing silly
buggers they was, son. Bristol Temple
Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of.
And you’ll have to change platforms.
Go to the ticket office, over there, tell them
what happened, and maybe, just maybe,
they’ll let you take the next train for free.”

Commentary: Funny place, Bristol Temple Meads. I heard lots of funny things, all told in a West Country accent, or fluent Bristolese, while I was passing through there. Loved confusing passengers, they did, but more about that later. As for accents, well, the West Country accent and the Bristol accent are very different, but neither go well into prose, “coz, thee’ll never git a gurt big ‘ead like thine in a tiny l’il ‘at like this.” Thank you, the Wurzels. And as for reading and writing accents, click here.

Bristol Temple Meads
[Prose]

“Temple Meads, Temple Meads.”
The train slows, comes to a halt with a hissing of steam and a shuddering of brakes. Passengers waiting on the platform shuffle towards the edge of the platform, re-arranging themselves to get closer to opening carriage doors.

A young boy, not yet a teenager, gets out carrying his grand-father’s overlarge suitcase in his hand.
“Is this Bristol Central?” he asks a porter.
“No, son. This is Bristol Temple Meads.”
The young boy gets back on the train along with the other Bristol passengers who are travelling to Bath.

When he gets there, the young boy gets out of the train and again approaches a porter. “Is this Bristol?”
“No, son. This is Bath not Bristol. If you wanted to go to Bristol, you should have got off at the last stop.”
“But I asked if it was Bristol Central, and the porter told me it wasn’t. So I got back on the train.”
“Playing silly buggers he was, son. They’re like that in Bristle. Bristol Temple Meads is Bristol Central, well, sort of. He should have told you that.”
“What can I do now?”
“Well, you’ve over-run your ticket, mate. You’ll have to pay extra for coming on to Bath. And you’ll need a ticket to get back to Bristol. But it’s Temple Meads, mind. Don’t let them fool you again.”
“I won’t.”
“And you’ll have to change platforms. Tell you what, just go to the ticket office, over there, tell them what happened, just like you told me, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll take pity on you and let you take the next train for free.”

A question: Is the piece better in poetry or prose? Each version serves a different purpose, but I think the narrative rules. I’ll welcome any opinions you care to share.