My Favorite Pen

IMG_0395.JPG

My Favorite Pen

This is my oldest Mont Blanc fountain pen. I must have bought it in 1986 when I traveled to London to attend a Spanish Golden Age seminar at one of the university colleges. I can’t remember which, though I do remember the seminar was on someone called Francisco de Quevedo. We met like spies, my pen friend and I, on the steps of the British Museum. I had never met him before, so he carried a specific book under his arm, one of Quevedo’s I think, by which I would recognize him. We lunched together at an Italian Trattoria, whose name also escapes me, and we discussed the ways of that ancient Hispanic world and our own research upon it. I paid for our lunch from my travel funds. I had a sabbatical that year and had arranged a short tour of four or five British universities in my search for knowledge. After lunch, he took me back to his London college and I sat and absorbed wisdom from 2:00 until 5:00 pm.

After the seminar, walking back to the nearest tube station, I passed a shop that had this Mont Blanc in the window. I went in and bought it. On the spot. No second thoughts. Then I caught the tube to Paddington station. While waiting for the train back to Cardiff, I sat in the station bar and ordered a pint of beer. A well-dressed man, slightly older than me, asked if he could join me. I said yes. He sat down and began to talk. He told me how to commit suicide by slashing my wrist with a knife.  There were many incorrect ways to do it, he explained. But only one right way, if you wanted to be successful. He rolled up his sleeve and showed me his collection of scars that ran crisscross and welted over his left wrist. Failed attempts, he said. But I’ll get it right next time. I wouldn’t want you to make the same mistakes as me, if you decided to try it.

Must go, I told him. My train’s about to leave. I left the remains of my pint on the table, looked back, and watched him finishing my beer. Good job I didn’t spit in it, I thought. Then I realized that I probably had, one way or another. I boarded my train and 90 minutes later I was back in Cardiff. No more post-war, coal and steam engines, a diesel this, powerful, fast, and smelly. It reduced the former four hour journey to much, much less than two. Cafeteria style, the train carriage offered a table top for every four seats. I opened my new pen and wrote in the pocket journal I had bought for the trip.

So many memories. But I don’t remember the names of either of these two men. I do recall those scars, though, deep and ridged, crisscrossing like railway tracks. Every time we clicked over a junction or a cross track I shivered and my writing wiggled on the page.

IMG_0396

Squirrel

IMG_0266.JPG

Squirrel

He’s here for the food on the picnic table, of course. He’s been here before, even in bad weather, and he knows where the treasure is: buried beneath the snow. I can’t believe he’s out in this. He should be in some little squirrel cave, tucked in, nice and warm. One of my best friends told me he was going to drive to Halifax today. What drives people out on a day like today when the snow is deep and still accumulating, when visibility is such that I can hardly see beyond the trees at the edge of the garden, when more snow, higher winds, drifting snow, and blizzard conditions are all around us. There is also the possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain when the snow finishes. “Stay home, little squirrel, stay home,” I told him. “It’s not a good day for travelling. I can hardly see the road through the falling snow.”

IMG_0251.JPG

 

Squirrels are tough, though. They must have Welsh blood in them the way they tunnel and dig. Unsnubbable on the trail of some winter seed and totally defiant against wind and weather. “Did you see him?” my beloved called out. “See who?” I asked, clicking away busily with my Christmas camera. “The squirrel,” she said. “You should take a picture.” So I did. And another and another. I caught him first head down, back towards me, guzzling, deep within his snow cave.

 

IMG_0273.JPG

He reminded me of Lorca’s roosters: “Los picos de los gallos cavan en busca de la aurora / the roosters’ beaks dig in search of the dawn.” I wanted him to come out and look at me, to show me what he had found. I didn’t have to wait for long. Then it was in (click) and out (click). What a cheeky chappy.

IMG_0275.JPG

I wonder why I always call this squirrel ‘him’. Maybe I never learned enough about the birds and the bees when I was a child. I find it hard to tell the difference between the genders of animals unless they have antlers (male) or, like the birds, they have distinctive plumage. Then it is much easier for me to tell them apart. I had a tortoise once, back home in Wales. I called him Henry, don’t ask me why. It took me two years to find out that Henry was actually Henrietta.  I guess I was slow on the uptake. Dai Bungalow: not much in the top storey. Or should that be story? There, I’ve looked it up:  storey in the Oxford Dictionary’s English English, but story in Webster’s American English. Oh dear, there are some things I still have to look up.

IMG_0282.JPG

So there he is, Mr. Squirrel, perched on the balustrade, about to make his final farewell. Fare well, Mr. Squirrel. Come back soon. I am so glad you didn’t decide to drive to Halifax.

 

 

Sox

IMG_0230.JPG

Sox

My birthday parcel arrived this morning. No, it’s not my birthday. That was last month. Is the glass half full or half empty? Well, if it’s half empty, my birthday parcel arrived two weeks late. BUT, if the glass is half full, then it arrived fifty weeks earlier. It was packed with goodies, like sox that have upon them an elephant bearing a pint of beer in its trunk: irresistible, as the sender said. I also have a green pair with a parallel theme. I wanted to wear one of each pair, in an orange-green mis-match, but a certain someone would not let me have anything to do with that. Ah, the voice of sartorial authority. “Orange and green / should not be seen / without a color / in between.” White, perhaps, as in the Irish flag, except white is apparently not a color.

I used to get lots of sox for my birthday, but suddenly they went out of fashion along with ties and hankies. I got some of my daughter’s banana bread too. She makes a delicious fruity bread loaf and I am always thrilled to get one or two of them. They are wonderful for breakfast with a thin layer of butter and a cup of tea or coffee. I am not meant to drink the coffee but a cup every now and then doesn’t appear to affect me. And I make my own, so it’s always fresh and doesn’t sit around for hours waiting to gobble up the inside of some poor unsuspecting victim.

Vis brevis, ars longa: I have on my wall a painting, given me by a former student of mine who didn’t want to write an essay. She painted a painting instead and explained it to the class in the language she was learning. She left our university and attended an art and architecture program and she went with my blessing. Look around the walls of my house: I have several paintings, at least three by former students. However, not a single essay has been nailed to the walls in memory of academic excellence. Now there’s a meaning in there somewhere. If only I could find it.

img_0297

 

One of my other presents was a painting by the budding artist in our family, Finley, age four. I unwrapped that and put it straight up on the wall so that it could represent the glories of morning sunshine and bright early life. I guess it will outlive me both me and my sox. Here are two photos: one of the wall with two other artifacts and the other of the painting itself. AS Picasso once said (more or less) “I spent most of my life re-learning how to see and paint like a child.”

IMG_0229.JPG

Ooh! That’s me in the mirror. That artifact is a souvenir of the Glass Wheat Field that I brought back from Regina the last time I visited there. I forgot it had a little reflecting mirror that multiplied the central image and look, there I am: I’ve accidentally done a selfie. Wow: now I am cool and with it. It must have been a birthday gift from the gods: deus ex machina, the machina in this case being the camera. Here’s the other painting, in all its glory, courtesy of the artist, and my birthday parcel. Oh to be young again, to think, and see, and paint again, like Picasso … or a child.

IMG_0228 (2).JPG

Light breaks

IMG_0218.JPG

Light breaks

“Light breaks where no sun shines;
where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
push in their tides;
and, broken ghosts with glow-worms in their heads,
the things of light
file through the flesh where no flesh decks the bones.”

Dylan Thomas, another Swansea boy, wrote those words a long time ago. I borrowed the phrase Broken Ghosts for the title of my second poetry book (Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1986) and I am proud of the links forged between Swansea and Island View, Wales and Canada, an earlier poetic generation and my own presence here among these trees covered as they are by winter’s falling snow.

Light is so important, especially here in winter’s dark where the nights are long. The sun’s warmth through the window, the distortion of light through glass and water, the presence of flowers amid the winter’s alternate brightness and gloom. Brightness of sunlight on flowers and of moonlight shifting across garden snow, cratered by the hoof marks of deer into a lunar landscape of shifting shadows.

Sometimes the ageing heart wallows in gloom. Those bedside shadows take on forbidding shapes  and Goya’s nightmarish figures rise out of the pinturas negras, the black paintings from the Quinta del Sordo, to walk again around my room. On nights like these, scarecrows arise from my past and their twigged fingers scratch at my face. They threaten with carrot noses and coal black eyes. They stump their thumping dance steps and send shivers coursing through my veins.

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/jan/30/goya-black-paintings-prado-madrid-bicentennial-exhibition

“What is it?” I ask. “What do you want?” But though their mouths open and lips, teeth, and tongue flap into idle movement, no words emerge and I am left, a broken ghost, floundering in an internal sea, not of light, but of darkness. Downstairs I go, pursued by the clump of snowy feet, to sit at my desk and walk my fingers across the keys in search of comfort. I find it in these photos: sunshine on flowers, a light to lighten and enlighten the darkness stalking through my mind.

IMG_0217.JPG

Warmth and light: together they will dispel this frosty spell that freezes my brain and will not let me close my eyes and go back to sleep.

Reinforcements

 

 

IMG_0172.JPG

My grandfather used to tell me how, in WWI, when communications in the trenches were at their most primitive, information would be passed by word of mouth down a long line of soldiers who whispered the message into the ear of the man standing next to him. He would in turn pass the message on to the next soldier.  We also played this game in school where it was sometimes used as a language teaching method. To preserve the message without distortion was never easy and there were some spectacularly garbled mix- ups.

This is one of the most famous ones, though whether it was apochryphal or not, I cannot say.  However, I can say that, as schoolboys, the story was related to us as if it were true. I guess it was an object lesson in don’t believe everything you hear and double check your facts. Anyway, the message starts out as “Send reinforcements, we’re going to advance” and ends up as “Send three and four pence, we’re going to a dance.” True or not, it serves three purposes: (1) it is quite funny in itself,  (2) it introduces us to the now vanished English monetary system of pounds, shillings, and pence, and (3) it initiates the theme of reinforcements.

So happy have I been with my mini carnation pinks that when I saw some on sale yesterday, I immediately bought them. “Saw some equals awesome”. Well, it as awesome for me because I was not sure what these flowers were. I am not a flowery person, in that sense. I don’t know if these new flowers will last 23 days, like the old lot, but whether they do or don’t, I have put some together in one jar on the kitchen table and mixed in the rest with the best of the survivors from the earlier bunch. I placed those on the cabinet in the room where I surf the net. I guess I’ll follow their progress and we’ll see how they do. They are a much deeper shade of pink than the originals and it is easy to spot the old and the new in the photo. Also, the sun has gone, turned the corner, and walked to the other end of the house. Tomorrow, I’ll see them in full sunshine. That will also be fun.

 

 

Last Legs

IMG_0170.JPG

Last Legs

A wooden carving of Don Quixote stands guard over the mini-carnation pinks that have now lasted for 23 days. Alas, they are now suffering and several are ready to bow their heads and take their leave. They have done marvelous service. Arriving on December 21, a present from Gwen and Victor, these flowers have graced our house and table for over three weeks: a singular service in this age of rapid floral turnovers. We have looked after them, talked to them, cared for them, tended them, given them fresh water and sweet music. They have responded by filling our days with color and charm.

IMG_0168.JPG

Here they are in the early morning sunshine casting a shadow onto the wall behind them. So beautiful, the play of the early morning sun, through glass and water. Even the shadows are filled with tiny bursts of light. They were never heavily scented, these pinks, and their beauty lay more in their color and their longevity.

“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Well that’s one way of putting it. But the roses, regal as they are, break down so quickly, while these little fellows have hung on and on. What a pleasure to count the days and watch them flourish. “Gather ye mini carnation pinks,” I say, for they last longer and their love is more constant.

What joy, to rise in the morning and to know they will still be there. But now their days are numbered. My birthday draws near, and our Christmas flowers oh so rarely last through into mid-January. Perhaps I should crowd source and get a host of flowers, tossing their heads in sprightly dance, sent to me through e-mail. Now that would really be fun.

IMG_0486

 

“Forget us not,” they whisper to me through their leaves. “You’ll never be forgotten,” I murmur back. A sense of light and warmth wraps itself round me and now I can face whatever the future brings with joy in my heart.

 

 

Mums

IMG_0125.JPG

 

Mum’s the word: in this case baby mums. Here they are, just starting their third week. Incredible how they have lasted. Wedding anniversary > Christmas Eve > Christmas Day >  New Year’s Eve > New Year’s Day > heading for Reyes (on January 6). Who knows how long they will go.

Some friendships are like that. They appear out of nowhere and go on, seemingly for ever, in spite of so many changes. I guess a few good friends are worth a great deal more than many casual acquaintances who flicker in and out of our lives, or those fine weather friends, who are there when all is merry and well, and gone at the first sign of a dark cloud gathering on the horizon.

Think too of the caring, giving friends, who are there when you need them. They are a pleasure to be with. Then there are the friends who always borrow, and take, and never return … nice to be around, while they are receiving. Gone when they realize they can take and receive no more.

So, here’s to those faithful friends who stand by and with us. Like well-watered flowers, they hang on and are loved and respected. Carpe diem: seize the day, and hold both friends and flowers tight while you still have them, for one day, like it or not, much sooner than you think, we will all be gone.

IMG_0094.JPG