Teddy Bear’s Nick Pit

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Today’s the day the teddy bears have their nit-pick: and what a nick pit it’s going to be. Who knows who’s starting what? Who knows where it will go? Who knows where it will end? More than anything else it reminds me of the monkeys in the monkey temple, sitting on their steps and pinnacles, in hierarchical orders, each searching the other monkey for nits and fleas and squeezing them between thumb-nail and middle finger nail, with a blood-red ‘click’ and a life-ending ‘clack’.

“Great fleas have lesser fleas upon their backs to bite them. And lesser fleas have smaller fleas, and so ad infinitum.” I remember this from my childhood, but, more important, the rhyme bite ’em / ad infinitum goes back much father than that, as you will see if you click on this Wikipedia article. Oh boy, Jonathan Swift, and you thought I was bad. I am Canadian Maple Syrup compared to his Irish Thistle Honey. And don’t talk to me about Swift’s views on famine, and how to avoid it.

Anyway, who knows what will happen. Apparently, my former family and clan, the Brits, do not know the old Spanish proverb: Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘ / Tuesday: don’t get married and don’t set out on a journey. Why ever not? Because Tuesdays were apparently the days when the Spanish Inquisition punished the adulterers, male and female, set them upon donkeys, naked from the waist up, and whipped them round the streets while the town criers sang out their crimes in time to the executioners who wielded the whips and painted their sins in red stripes upon their criminal flesh.

Tuesday, bruise day: it’s going to be fun (gallows’ humor). What will become of (once great) Great Britain? What will become of Europe? What will become of our cultural and philosophical world order? Climate change, cultural change, ideological change, political change, the wind of change …  I guess it’s blowing, but who knows in what directions it will blow us all? So easy to open Pandora’s Box: so difficult to pack everything back inside.

Martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques‘  …

By the bye:

I wrote this two or three days ago, before the test squad for the West Indies was selected. Today (Monday, Monday), Theresa a decided not to hold the vote tomorrow, Tuesday, Tuesday, which is now today. Does anyone really know what is happening? How United is the Untied Kingdom [sick]. I certainly don’t know. Meanwhile, the Teddy Bears are having a picnic, and they are all out there, in the woods, Sherwood Forest probably, watching out for the Sheriff of Nottingham, and nit-picking.

 

 

 

Snowman

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“Settle down, children, and be quiet. I am going to read you a story about the snowman who didn’t believe in global warming. You, at the back, Elizabeth … yes, you. Sit down and shut up and stop biting your fingernails. And no, it’s not recycling when you chew them afterwards. Stephen, stop blowing raspberries. Now, children, shall we begin?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Once upon a time, a long time ago, after a big snow storm in November, Little Justin built a snowman in his garden. It was a lovely snowman. You can see how lovely it was if you look at the picture at the top of this page. There. Isn’t he lovely?”

“Yes, miss,”

“Justin was a very clever boy and he could do magic tricks. So, he made his snowman mobile and the snowman walked all over the garden. He was a very happy snowman and he threw snowballs at Justin who caught them and threw them back. Stephen, will you stop blowing raspberries.”

“Sorry, miss.”

“Justin’s snowman could speak and understand long words and sentences. He was very clever, but not as clever as Justin. David, will you stop picking your nose and don’t put that finger anywhere near your mouth.  And Stephen, one more raspberry and I’ll make you stand in the corner. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, miss.”

“One day, Justin told the snowman all about global warming and how the spring would come and the sun would shine and all the snow would melt. ‘Phooey,’ said the snowman. ‘I don’t believe you. And anyway, I don’t care.’ ‘You just wait until April or May,’ said Justin. ‘Then you’ll believe in global warming.’ ‘Right,’ said the snowman. ‘I won’t believe in global warming until April or May. Then I’ll believe in global warming. Maybe. We’ll see.’ Justin was very upset that the snowman didn’t believe him. Stephen: that’s enough. No more raspberries, I said. Now go stand in the corner. With your face to the wall. Any more noise from you and I’ll put you in detention. Do you understand?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Well Christmas came and the snowman danced on the snowbanks and thumbed his nose at Justin. ‘Global warming sucks,’ he sniggered. Justin shivered through the cold winds of January and February. Then March came in like a lion and the cross-country skiing was wonderful and Crabbe Mountain was full of young people all having fun. Meanwhile the snowman danced away and sang under the moonlight. Some nights Justin would wake up to find the snowman’s face, like a great full moon, leering in at his window. And … what was that noise? Stephen, was that you?”

“Please, miss. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t a raspberry, miss.”

“I know it wasn’t a raspberry. And I know what it was. You’re coming with me to see the principal. Class, you can take out your pencils and notebooks and write your own ending to the snowman story. Stephen, what you did was disgusting. You’re coming with me to the principal’s office. Right now.”

“But, miss,” Elizabeth an David raised their her hand.s and spoke in chorus” “What happened to the snowman?”

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Sex Education

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What I really mean is, with apologies to Pink Floyd: “we don’t need no education.”  Actually, I am rather ashamed of this cartoon. When I drew it, I called it “Pussy Grab 100.” I was thinking of the need for sex education in schools and at all levels of society. Then I thought of all the ways in which people were actually learning to abuse each other, rather than learning what ‘the other’ is about and how to get on with her or him or them. Sometimes we forget that man is born of woman, not the other way round, in spite of the mysterious magic of the legendary Adam’s Rib. And remember: there was only one Adam and only one rib. In addition, not many people, adults or children, leap full grown and  fully-armed from the thigh of an Alpha Male Greek or Roman god. Respect for the mother and the potential mother, surely this is the first thing that every child in every walk of life must learn.

Men should be learning to treat women with dignity and respect, not to trample upon them and abuse their rights. Women should be learning to respect themselves and their bodies. In my book women should maintain control over their own bodies. If there is indeed an international code of human rights, and if it is indeed still being respected, then surely we should be thinking of a parallel international code of women’s rights. It would contain the right to self-determination, the right to be protected, not by superior male members of the same family, but by a code of laws that allow women to move forward as independent human beings with inalienable rights of their own. These would include  a right to health care for themselves and their off-spring, a right to education and self-education for themselves and their children, a right to a space in which to bring up their families in safety and in harmony with the earth and its more humane principles.

I hear a whisper in my ear … but the principles under which human beings live are the laws of the jungle, nature red in tooth and claw, might is right, entitlement to the amount of justice that humans can afford to purchase, the right of the powerful to grab everything they want and make it their own, the right of the male head of the family to determine the fate of his women and off-spring, the right to attend male sex education classes that begin with Pussy Grab 100 and continue with a series of lessons that would make the venerable Marquis de Sade blush and turn over in his grave. And remember, while the Marquis de Sade wrote in impeccable French, such modern day lessons can now be found online, in verbal and visual form, and for free.

Democracy: for me, one of the keys to democracy is the way in which the majority treats the minority (or minorities) over which it has gained power. Is there an understanding of the minority point of view, consideration of the needs and desires of the minority? If so, then democracy functions. If not, then cultural rights, language rights, educational rights, human rights are swept away, legislated out of existence, scattered like leaves before a hurricane force wind that shows no mercy. When that happens, we have de-mock-racy not democracy. When de-mock-racy happens, it’s winner take all, and may the gods help the hindmost to help themselves to scrabble for whatever remainders they can glean.

Here’s a link o an earlier post on the meaning of The Other.

Brexit

 

What a mess! If anyone thinks that they actually do understand what is really happening, please enlighten me. Please, pretty please, with sugar on.

In my cartoon above, the road to hell is clearly paved with good intentions: but what are those intentions? To remove Britain from Europe under the donkey’s nasal bray that ‘the people once they have spoken may never again change their minds’? It would seem so. It would also seem that many are still speaking, and most of them at cross-purposes. I want to know what the conditions are that will  be applied after the British Exit from Europe? I haven’t seen them clearly set out nor have I been able to read the small print. The devil is in the detail, indeed, and the devil is waiting in the fiery furnace to the left at the bottom of the cartoon. 

Will the United Kingdom morph into the Once-United Kingdom? It certainly seems to be the Dis-United Kingdom at present. Once again the nationalist and separatist movements are waving their flags: Scotland for the Scots (and stay in Europe), a united Ireland with no borders, political or otherwise (and stay in Europe), Wales for the Welsh (and, according to Plaid Cymru, also stay in Europe).

I remember all too well the Quebec separation referendum here in Canada. The comedians called it Separation H (after a well-known medical application to a certain part of the anatomy). However, I saw the anguish and the hurt and the damage that the Quebec referendum brought to all Canadians and I would not wish that on anyone. Yet, the British people seem to be going through not the same, but a similar, deeply-felt existential anguish over Brexit. 

According to the proverb, in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed  man is king. So what far-sighted, one-eyed man or woman will rise to the top of the bonfire to sort out this mess? I crave enlightenment. I want reason to return to an emotional tangle of mashed advertisements, baffling propaganda, twisted tweets, and mingled myth and legend. 

Rex quondam, rexque futurus: perhaps King Arthur, the once and future king, will return with his knights of the round table to sort all of this out. One thing is certain: he’d better bring Merlin the Magician back with him, or nothing will get sorted, and that’s for sure.

Nota Bene: I no longer live in Great Britain and, as a result, I am neither for nor against Brexit. I would just like to understand what is happening and what the eventual results will be. Perhaps, as Blake once wrote

“I shall not cease from mortal strife, /
nor shall my sword sleep in my hand, /
till we have built Jerusalem, /
in England’s green and pleasant land.”

However, I notice that Blake didn’t mention Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, nor did he offer us a timetable, nor did he say where the money and the [re-] construction material was coming from. Perhaps there is a glorious and wonderful future ahead for all of the people who live in Britain (no longer great and a kingdom no longer united)  … but, looking at the wild fires in California, and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and the flooding in the Carolinas, and the early snow outside my window, I somehow doubt it. I also doubt that, right now, smaller is better.

Crocodile Tears

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Crocodile Tears

         The crocodile lives in the wind-up gramophone. The gramophone lives in the top room of the house. The boy winds up the gramophone with a long brass handle, round and round, till the spring is tight. The tight spring frightens the crocodile and he sits quietly in his cage. But as the record goes round, the spring loosens up and the crocodile roars and demands to be freed. He’s the Jack that wants to jump out of the box. His long-term dream is to eat up the witch who looks out of the window and watches the boy as he plays in the yard.

         Last week the boy decided to dig. He picked up a spade and dug a deep hole that went all the way down to his cousin in Australia. The little dog laughed and joined in the fun, scraping with his front paws and throwing earth out between his back legs like happy dogs do. The witch in the window cackled with laughter and the rooks in the rookery rose up in a cloud and cawed in reply. Only the boy can see the witch and he only sees her when she sits in the window. But he knows she wanders through the house, and the air goes cold when she enters and exits the rooms, especially when she brushes past the boy and sweeps his skin with her long, black gown.

         When the boy gets tired of digging, he drives the spade into the ground and leaves it standing by the hole. When his father comes home after work, it’s dark and he doesn’t see the hole but he does see the spade. So he doesn’t fall in to the shaft of the coal-mine that goes all the way down to Australia. No free trip to the Antipodes for that lucky dad. He beats the boy for that, for digging that hole. Then he beats him again for lying: the hole doesn’t go to Australia. Australia is too far away and the angle is all wrong. The boy laughs when he sees that his dad doesn’t know where Australia is.

         “Ha-ha,” he laughs and his dad beats him again, this time for laughing.

         Sometimes at night the boy can hear rats running through his bedroom walls. They scuttle and scuffle as they hunt through the guttering. The crocodile growls from time to time in that upstairs room. The witch cackles with laughter. The boy puts his head under the blankets and cries himself to sleep. Sometimes he wishes the crocodile would come and eat up his dad. But he loves his dad like the dog loves his dad even though his dad beats both the boy and the dog. Sudden beatings, they are, beatings that arrive without warning: hail and thunder from a sunny summer sky.

         “Well, you’re not laughing now,” his father announces.     When the father beats the boy, the dog cowers beneath a chair. The boy hears the crocodile growl and smiles through the tears as he wipes salt water from his eyes.

         “Are you laughing at me? I’ll make you laugh on the other side of your face,” the father taunts the son and beats him again.

         The crocodile growls. The old witch cackles. The rooks in the rookery rise up in the air and the father’s hair stands up on end like it does when lightning lights up the sky, and thunder rolls its drums, and the sky rattles like an old farmer’s cart whose iron-rimmed wheels have not been greased. The veins stand out in his father’s cheeks as the old man raises his hand to the boy.

         The old man tells the same old jokes again and again. The boy must always remember to laugh at them as if he had never heard them before. If he doesn’t laugh, his father gets angry. Some of the jokes are good, and the boy likes the one about the Catholic who goes into the bar in Belfast and asks the barkeep if they serve Protestants. Or is it the one in which the Protestant goes into the bar and ask the barkeep if they serve Catholics … anyway … one night, the boy has a dream and it goes like this. The crocodile escapes from the gramophone. The witch hands the boy a leash and a collar and between them they restrain the crocodile.

         “Walkies?” says the boy.

         The crocodile nods his head and croc and boy walk down the street to the Kiddy’s Soda Fountain on the corner.  When the boy walks in with the croc, the waitress raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth.

         “Do you serve grownups in here?” the little boy asks her.

         “Of course we do,” says the waitress.

         “Good. I’ll have a glass of Dandelion & Burdock for myself and a grown-up for the crocodile. Please.”

         The witch says grace, the boy sips his Dandelion & Burdock, and they all shed crocodile tears as the boy’s pet crocodile chomps on the fast disappearing body of the boy’s dad.

Friends

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Friends

Strange things, friends. What are they exactly? And how do we make them?  In fact, do we make friends, or do we just grow together, like gardens or trees? Birds of a feather, they say, but our feathered friends are flighty and the snow-birds leave in the hard times only to return when the sun comes back. Fair-weather friends, then, and I have known a lot of those.

I turned to Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge, but all I could find under FRIENDS was a series of articles on TV shows, every episode, every actor, every friendship, every situation, but no discussion of what friendship actually meant. FRIENDSHIP: I looked that word up and the results were much more satisfying. The article ranged from a definition: ‘a mutual attraction among people’ to a series of academic studies about friendship in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older adults. As we age, so our notions of friendship change. In addition, as we move from place to place, job to job, so our circles of friendship grow old, renew themselves, and gradually fade away. One study shows that in adulthood we rarely have more than two good, true friends. Our acquaintances are many, but our friends are few. Old age brings a different set of equations to bear and loneliness and isolation with the consequent absence of friends, all bring their own problems, including sickness and ill-health.

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Here are some of my closest friends. Rosie is named after Rosie the Elephant in Bristol Zoo. Teddy is the Koala. Basil is the small one on the left with the pink ribbon. Chimney is the little one on the right with the orange skirt. Her name’s Chimney, but I call her Sweep. Don’t ask, I won’t tell. These friends summarize all the needs of friendship: they don’t beat me up, they listen when I talk, they don’t interrupt me, they nod silent agreement to my opinions, and they soak up my tears when I cry. They also keep me warm in bed at night. Well, Rosie and Teddy do anyway. These are not their real names, incidentally. Teddies, like cats, have secret names, and you cannot really call a teddy bear your friend until he or she has revealed that name to you. It may take years for that to happen. The speed or the slowness of the true name’s arrival has nothing to do with the success of the friendship.

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This is Princess Squiffy aka Vomit. She threw up beside my chair again yesterday and I am just not sure if that is a sign of friendship or not. At least she didn’t throw up in my chair, which is what she did last time my beloved was away visiting our daughter in Ottawa. So, how do your friends show their friendship? By sitting in silence and listening? By keeping you warm in bed at night? By throwing up in your chair? By presenting you with hairballs, so carefully formed and all gift-wrapped? I am not sure. I guess I’ll have to go back to Wikipedia and check it all out. In the meantime: here’s a picture of man’s best friend.

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I bet you weren’t expecting that!

Early Bird

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This is the first painting I ever did on canvas. Kingsbrae held their painting session for children in June 2017, and I joined in with the five and six year olds. It was such wonderful fun. They slapped the paint onto the canvas with unbounded joy. It was hard not to be joyful with them. Many of them expressed curiosity about my painting: “What is it?” then later “What are they saying to each other?” The conversation between bird and worm (or whatever it is) was of incredible importance to them. I thought of it as my “Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet” moment. Now that’s confidence for you.

My strange accent, slowly developing as mid-Atlantic Welsh, with a touch of West Country English and a dab of Upper Canadian and a touch of New Brunswick also fascinated them. “Where are you from?” “Fredericton.” “No. Where are you really from?” “Island View, New Brunswick.” “No. Where were you from before that?” The questions continued until they had ascertained that indeed, I was not a Canadian, a real Canadian, even though I was in Toronto in 1967 to see the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup. 1967: that’s 51 years ago, and I still support the Maple Leafs and I still have my strange overseas accent. “You’re weird,” they told me. “I’ve been in Canada a lot longer than you,” I told them. “Where did you grow up?” They asked. I silenced them with my answer: “I don’t think I have yet.”

Happy paint-splashers, we dabbed on and on in alternating mirth and silence. Some left the table and walked away. Geoff collected our paintings and left them to dry. Later that day, we hung this painting on the wall in the KIRA dining room. It sat there for several days and nobody noticed it. Alas, a hawk-eyed young lady finally spotted it the first night she came over for dinner and “What is that?” she asked, pointing at my painting. Bold and italics combined cannot reproduce the scorn and disdain rolled up in the single word: that. I remember the butler in a country house in Somerset removing with a pair of tongs the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker from the weekend newspapers left on the doorstep. He, too, was very disdainful.

I also remember the tone of an Old Etonian, well he said he was an Old Etonian and had a rasping, high-pitched nasality that made him sound the part. This jolly goof fellow summed me up at a dinner party one night in Toronto when I first came to Canada: “Oh, you’re Welsh.” The grate of his voice was the scrape of a stick removing a dog turd from a shoe. “No,” I said. “Irish, actually.” I used my broadest Welsh accent. “My family is Irish Catholic not Capel Cymraig / Welsh Chapel. Moore is an Irish name. Llewellyn ad Jones are Welsh names. I am not called Llewellyn or Jones.”

And this reminds me of my father, standing in the elevator in a posh hotel in Bordeaux, when three Irishmen walked in. They scanned him for a moment, and then one said, in the broadest of Southern Irish brogues: “T’is the map of Ireland written all over your face.” “Yes,” says my father in his thick, Welsh accent, “I am Irish. But I was born in England.” And that brings me back to my painting. Is it the early bird that catches the worm or the late worm that gets caught by the bird? And which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Ah, the beauty of children. They accept, often without judgement and often without speculation and I love their readiness to befriend the growing child within the old man as he ages. They may not hold doctorates in philosophy, but by golly they are true philosophers in their finest moments. And then of course, they go to school to learn how to behave … and may the good Lord have mercy on them.