A Rainbow of Clichés

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

2

A Rainbow of Clichés

It’s raining outside. A tympany of raindrops
drums rhythmically on roof and window.
Thunder rolls. Lightning flashes, lighting up the sky.
our lights flicker, but we don’t lose power.

“It never rains in the bars,” they say in Spain.
Yet it’s raining in my heart, a sad song,
raindrops, tear drops, my best friend,
tested for Lyme disease, now tested for Covid.

“It never rains unless it pours,” they say in Wales.
And here it comes again, that nineteenth session
of Covid nerves, heart fluttering, nostrils twitching,
that unmasked girl standing six inches behind me,

texting, all thumbs, totally absorbed in the medium
that delivers massage after massage, click here,
out from the empty spaces between her ears and into
the void beyond, bouncing from tower to tower,

small stones cast in a tranquil pond, rippling their way
to whatever eternity lies out there, external realities ignored,
enveloped in the smoke screen of the texting self,
mask-less, fearless, coughing, not covering her mouth.

Here come those clichés. ‘I’m all right, Jack.’ ‘It’s all
about me.’ ‘My life, my freedom to do what I want.’
“It ain’t the cough that carries you off, it’s the coffin
they carry you off in.” A coughing fit, fit for a coffin.

Better, I suppose, than World War One trench warfare,
when it’s over the top, and look: officers, chaplains, men,
the whole battalion, hanging from that old barbed wire.

Click on link below for Roger’s reading.
A Rainbow of Clichés

Real Friends

Real Friends
Thursday Thoughts
23 September 2021

A good friend of mine wrote to me the other day. “Have you noticed,” he asked, “that you have less REAL friends the older you get?”

In my reply, I said the following. “Oh dear yes, and triply so since Covid set in. I have a few remaining friends who correspond regularly on e-mail, a couple of friends who talk regularly on the phone, and the rest, in spite of all the Covid-19 promises of TLC for the aging, have been AWOL for the best part of two years. Mind you, I have kept myself to myself. In fact, I have become rather anti-social in face to face / mask to mask situations!”

This question-asking friend, now lives in another province, in a care home for the ageing. Over the ages, such homes have had many names. In South Wales they were called the Workhouse, and that’s where the broken old men from the mines and the industrial smelters ended up. Places of shame. Places to be feared. Then we had Old Folks Homes. Some were called Sanctuaries. Others are now called Hospices or Care Homes and the Hospitals themselves have been forced to take on the task of looking after our old and frail senior citizens. Some of our seniors were lucky, fell into good homes, and were blessed. Others were cursed, poor things, fell into hopeless surroundings, and lost all hope. As for the homes themselves, some were run by religious groups, others by charities, a few by the state or local health authorities. Some were non-profit, others, well, we are having a debate, here in Canada, about some of the more unscrupulous and unhealthy care homes that are run for healthy profits right now.

And that debate was caused by Covid-19. Under-paid employees, working several care homes, not just one, travelling from home to home, and the pandemic entering those homes and settling in there, causing immense suffering, damage, and death. I look on this as CCD. Originally, the initials spelled out Colony Collapse Disorder, the death moth that entered the bee-hives and caused their buzzing to end in silence. Now, for me, they stand for Covid Collateral Damage. And that form of CCD is everywhere.

You can see it in families that are breaking up. One partner loses their job, their self-respect, and goes out looking elsewhere for comfort and for pastures green. Another is forced into excessive overtime because other members of their team, now working from home, all of them, cannot cope with home-schooling, house-work, partner, and children present all day long. They break down under the stress, can function no longer, and society starts to fall apart.

Mind you, it has been falling apart for years. When I lived in Spain, I was adopted by a family in Santander who owned and lived in a huge house. The grand-mother was the matriarch and she shared the house with three siblings, two unmarried, and one divorced. The parents lived there, on and off, as they had jobs elsewhere. A country cousin, same age as the grand-parents’ generation, also lived there and did the cooking and cleaning. And the grand-children settled in there too, during term time. When the family gathered for the Sunday meal, there were 22-24 of us around that dining-room table. In such a large family setting, there were baby-sitters at hand, somebody was always employed, somebody always knew the solution to a problem, or could find one pretty quickly.

When we lived in Swansea, two sets of grand-parents were close, as were aunties, uncles, cousins, and a network of friendly faces, all of whom gathered round in an emergency. But, bit by bit, that family disintegrated. Some went to London, others to Bristol, a few to Birmingham, we moved to Cardiff. In Cardiff we went from a family network to a nuclear family, consisting of my mother, my father, and I. Both my parents worked and I was at a boarding-school, term-time, but a latch-key kid during school holidays, cooking for myself, looking after the house, waiting for my parents to come home. When I, in my turn, left for Canada, my parents were left as a family of two, then, when my mother died, a family of one. Of course, there were Social Services. Social Workers visited every so often, but the gaps got longer, the loneliness grew, and a terrible isolation took over every aspect of my father’s life. When I flew back from Canada to Wales to visit him in Wales one year, I found no food in the house, my father totally uncared for, unwanted and, by this stage, unwilling to cooperate. he wanted to stay in his home. He wouldn’t move. In truth, he had become a miserable old man who wouldn’t change, wouldn’t accept help, and could no longer look after himself.

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I called him from Canada. He did not pick up the phone. I called his brother, who lived in another town some forty miles away. He’s like that now came my uncle’s reply. He’s fine. Don’t worry. But worry I did. Three days later, his brother called me back. My father had suffered a heart attack and a stroke on the anniversary of my mother’s death. He had lain on the bedroom door for three days, no food, no water, no visitors, until his brother had finally got worried and decided to come round and see what was happening.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We all know that phrase. Unfortunately, many are not that tough. They get going all right: they go right out through the door and vanish into the sunset. So, my thoughts for today: what exactly is a friend, what do friends actually do, what is a fair-weather-friend, what are friends for, how many real friends do we really have, and yes, the question that started me on this rant, do real friends diminish in number as we grow older?

As my grand-mother told me, a long, long time ago, in the warmth of her Welsh kitchen: “Roger, a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Luckily, I still I have some real friends who are there when I need them. Thank you, real friends. You know who you are and I am very grateful to you. Covid-19 and CCD have not been easy.


Patience

Thursday Thoughts
Patience

Patients must be patient.
The waiting-room
is where the doctor
makes them wait.

My father waited, patiently,
to see the specialist.
At the stroke of noon,
nurse told the waiting patients
not to wait patiently
and to all go home.

“Come back next week,” nurse said.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“The doctor,” she said,
“has a very important meeting.”

I hurried for a taxi.
My father on his Zimmer
followed slowly behind.
On the hospital steps
I met the doctor.

“Damnation!” he said,
into his cell phone.
“I’m going to be late
for that appointment.
I’ve left my golf clubs behind.”

Thursday Thoughts: I remember that day well. My father was due to visit the hospital for his appointment with the stroke specialist. I wanted to drive him there, but he insisted on waiting for the old folks’ ambulance. It was due at 9:00 am and his appointment was for 10:30 am. We waited patiently, watching the hands on the clock moving slowly round. 9:00 > 9:15 > 9:30 > 9:45. “I can drive you,” I said. My father shook his head: “If I don’t take the ambulance, they won’t come to pick me up again. They’ll say I have other means of transport.”

The ambulance / ambwlans (in Welsh) arrived just before 10:00 and dad was sure they’d make his appointment time. Except there were still empty seats and that meant more passengers to pick up. Used to the system, my father waited patiently while I got more and more frustrated. Finally, the ambulance was full and we made our way to the hospital, getting there about 10:45. “Run,” my father said, thrusting his appointment papers at me, “tell the nurse I’m on my way.” Run I did. When I got to the waiting room, I found it full of people with never a chair for my father to sit on. When he arrived, a younger patient offered him his seat and he flopped down into it.

Names rang out. Patients disappeared. Some returned to the waiting room, then walked out. Some didn’t return. At 11:15 my father demanded tea. I got him a cup. At 11:30, a man stood up and started to preach to his captive audience. “Does that every week,” dad muttered in my ear. “He’s mad.” “You can’t take it with you,” the preacher thundered. “There aren’t any pockets in shrouds.” People fiddled and looked uncomfortable. Most had teacups perched precariously on saucers, and some rattled them, whether in applause or anguish, I still don’t know.

Then at noon the nurse appeared and announced what you have read above. “Dr. XXX’s patients: you can all go now. Dr. XXX has an important appointment. Come back next week.” My dad pushed me. “Run,” he said. “Get a taxi. They’ll all be wanting one and by the time I get there there’ll be none left.” That was the only visit I made with my father to that particular hospital. I had so many questions to ask that specialist, but, alas, I never met him.

What I did learn was that patients must learn patience. Hospitals, like airlines, run to their own schedules. A sign should be placed above every hospital door. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” Just a thought, nothing more. The delays in all our medical systems, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, have been disastrous for many people, especially the old. Missed appointments. Delayed and cancelled treatment. Long waits and delays. The medical staff have been placed in such stressful conditions. Many are finding it difficult to cope with their inability to fulfill their desires to help their patients. Many are so stressed out. Two of my own doctors have cried when talking to me. I think of it as Covid Collateral Damage, CCD, just like the Colony Collapse Disorder that wiped out our bee population a few years back. Now we are the bees and hospitals and nursing homes are the hives.

Looking back, that morning spent waiting with my father, was a lesson in what old age has in store for us Golden Oldies as we age. Patience: as patients, we must learn patience. And remember, as Bette Davis once said “Old age is not for cissies.” And those are my thoughts for today!

False Spring

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False Spring

Winter whiteness slowing now,
and the tide that full bore crashed
white waves against our house
receding to garden’s foot where
warm roots wait their waking.

But winter still stalks the land
and April brings snow, more snow,
as if there will never be an end
to these waves of whiteness,
thinner, trimmer, true, but
unwelcome as spring days grow
longer and sunrise beckons
ever more early with Crow
and Blue Jay breaking the morning’s peace
into raucous pieces
as they bounce from branch to branch …

.. and brown the earth, and barren,
and bare, the robins finding no food
and flying on, while the passerines
just call and pass us by, finches at the feeder,
purple and gold, yet singing no songs,
and the robins, hop-along casualties
of this long-delayed spring that promises,
to come but never arrives …

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Comment: Not so bad this year, the weather, but it’s been a funny winter, most strange, and totally discomforting, what with the pandemic, the lockdowns, the relief of going back to yellow, fresh lockdowns, and so many things happening everywhere while we were trapped inside where nothing was happening, save in the various forms of virtual reality that replaced quotidian reality with a mixture of faux, fake, and false, all wrapped up in a brown-paper bag of honey-sweet smiles and scowls, raised voices, and bottled anguish.

Freedom

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Freedom

We are all so lonely,
locked in our cardboard castles,
no view beyond the battlements,
save for the wild lands, the forest,
from which the enemy might come.

Wild beasts, we cage ourselves
in our isolation and bang our heads
on the bars we built to protect us.

Sometimes, at night, we ascend
to the topmost turret to observe
the stars that dance above us,
tracing our lives in their errant ways.

And is this freedom, this night sky,
with its wayward planets, trapped
in their overnight dance and weaving
our futures, for ever and ever, amen?

Tense and Tension

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Tense and Tension

Your flightless fancies flit
through a darkness of despair,
as awkward as auks,
as clumsy as penguins
stranded in zoo cages
far from their native seas,
as meaningless as the dodos,
as dead as the ashes lying cold
beneath the crematorium’s fire.

A sudden bucket
clatters down the well,
but it draws no water.
Winter ice will not melt.
Desert sands may burn boat and feet
but they will not warm your glacial heart.
The manner of your second coming
brings forth no nourishment.

A spider web on the wall
grows into a mirror.
Face to face, present and past
become ambulant tenses
that foretell no conditional.
No future beckons,
let alone a future perfect.
A dislocation of infinitives
stretches into the infinity of
an invisible futurity of
never-joining railway lines.

Covid-19

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Covid-19

In bed, you turn your back to me,
pushing me away, even in sleep.
I only seek warmth and comfort.

Blankets don’t touch the cold I feel,
deep in my body. I reach out to you,
but you’re locked in your dreams.

A grunt or two, a muffled snore, a half-
-whistling sound, sometimes, a cry.
Last night you shouted “Help!” out loud.

I hauled you back from some black pit
where sharp-clawed devils clutched you
and tried to snatch you away from me.

Today, it’s my turn to call for help.
I face a horizon filled with darkening clouds.
They refuse to go away and weigh me down.

A Thought for the New Year

Couldn’t find a photo of Don Quixote so I attached this instead. A suitable symbol for Brexit!

A Thought for the New Year

“Sábete, Sancho, … Todas estas borrascas que nos suceden son señales de que presto ha de serenar el tiempo y han de sucedernos bien las cosas, porque no es posible que el mal ni el bien sean durables, y de aquí se sigue que, habiendo durado mucho el mal, el bien está ya cerca.”
Miguel de Cervantes : Don Quixote de la Mancha.

“Know this, Sancho, … All these squalls that beset us are signs that the weather will soon clear up and better things will come to us, because it isn’t possible for good or ill to endure, and from here it follows that, these ills having lasted so long, good times are now close.”
My translation.

Comment: This quote was sent to me by Marina, my close friend from Avila, with whom I have maintained contact, even though it is now twelve full years (2008-2020) since we last saw each other and talked, except on Messenger. Break ups and lost and absent friends and families: it seems to be the story of my life. And how could it be otherwise when one is a migrant who emigrates and immigrates and passes on and through, rarely resting in the same place for long? I guess it is also the story of the Intelligentsia: those whose learning and understanding and life experience moves them out from one place and into many others. Cualquier tiempo pasado fue mejor / any time from the past was better. Hiraeth: the knowledge that the past is lost, save in our minds, and can never be recovered, even though sometimes we wish so badly to do so. The Intelligentsia: always dissatisfied, both with the past which they can never recreate and which they view through the pink lens of nostalgia and with the present which is never as beautiful as that pastel pink past, that in reality probably never existed. Toda la vida es un sueño y los sueños sueños son / The whole of life is a dream and dreams are just dreams, and nothing more (Calderon de la Barca).

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden. A hawk perched nearby. There are so many ways to die.

Death by Devilry

Silence in the garden.
A hawk perched nearby.
There are so many ways to die.

A cerebral bleed, minor,
but enough to send him to hospital
and keep him there.

Cured, ready for release,
he would need extra care
and added attention.

The devil lived in the small print.
Too much attention needed now:
his care home wouldn’t care for him.

Back to the old folks ward he went.
There he lay, waiting for a vacancy
in a home that would really care.

One day, Covid came a-visiting,
stalked the ward that night, choosing
its victims: you, you, and her, and him.

What killed him?
A cerebral bleed, a minor stroke?
Or a major stroke from the devil’s pen?

Bold words, bare words,
a barren ward, another vacant place
around a Christmas table.

Comment: Sitting at the breakfast table, with an empty space before me, I penned these words. So tragic, so avoidable. Yet how many families have gone through something similar in the past twelve months? How many empty spaces are there, vacancies that will never again be filled? I look at today’s figures from the USA: 18,466,231 infected and 326,232 already perished, an increase of 227,998 and 3,338 since yesterday. I am reminded of the words of Pink Floyd: “Is there anybody out there?” Blas de Otero also echoes through my mind: “levanto las manos: tu me las cercenas” / I hold up my hands: you cut them off. And yet it is Christmas Eve and there is still the Christmas promise of joy, and hope, and a new year entering. Let us raise our hands in prayer: and let us pray they are not hacked off.

Building Bigger Boxes

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Building Bigger Boxes

Some of the worst educators I have been unfortunate enough to work with over my undergraduate and graduate years have come up with cliché after cliché in an effort to the sway students into believing that they really are getting an excellent education. One such phrase is the infamous: “We are teaching you to think outside the box.” So, what is their definition of ‘the box‘? Alas, I do not know. They deal in clichés and, by definition, a cliché is a  phrase that both parties (teachers and taught) accept as being meaningful, even though it is often without meaning. It is also a conversation closer, as in ‘it is what it is’. It’s hard to argue with that or to reason your way around it. ‘But it doesn’t have to be!’ rarely cuts the mustard aka mouse-turd.

So, if these teachers are teaching their students how to think outside the box, how are they managing to do so? Why by building bigger boxes inside which each student can be safely taught to think, without asking questions, and without looking for independent answers.

Today’s cartoon has two titles: (1) Brave hearts  escaping, finding meaning outside the bigger boxes and (2) can the true heart escape its coffin in a bigger box? I love the boxes within boxes and the drawers within each boxed segment into which the young, developing mind can be stuffed and crammed. How do we release those hearts? How do we develop those minds? Certainly not by confining them in bigger boxes. In the battle for hearts and minds, how do we set our students free?

It must be done on the student’s terms, each student, one by one, in co-operation with intelligent, meaningful teachers who step away from cliché and commonplace to enter the learner’s world and to themselves learn how to contact each learner at a mental, spiritual, and intellectual level. Only then will teacher and taught be able to speak of true intellectual freedom. Until that happens, be very careful when your child comes home and announces that today, of all days, that child has been taught to think outside the box. “Verily, I say unto you, open the cage door. Let in the sunshine and the light. Set those children free.” But remember, it must be on a  case by case basis, with each individual weighed, assessed, understood, and released to find their own individual way of earning the things they specifically need to know. In true education, one size really doesn’t fit all.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie that suddenly surfaced and, on emerging from the depths, reminded me of another of my callings: that of a teacher of philosophy and a teacher with a philosophy. Retired now, I can no longer help young minds to create and shape themselves. This is doubly true with Covid-19 haunting us, waving at us from the shop-windows, supermarket aisles, and street corners, flapping its wings and trying to fly into our bodies. And remember to distinguish between clichés and things that are not clichés, like ‘Wear a mask’, ‘wash your hands’ (twenty seconds, with soap), and ‘keep a safe social distance’. Do this all the time and hopefully you will avoid thinking inside the bigger box of a six foot pine Covid-19 coffin.