Indoor Plants

Indoor Plants

Those that have been chosen to survive have walked indoors, Now they are safe behind glass, in the warm, low sunshine that floods the rooms. We watch the sun’s fingers starting to reach into the deepest corners and know that winter is on its way.

Thanksgiving has come and gone yet we still give thanks: indoor flowers to brighten the dark days, flu shots tomorrow, blood tests on Friday. I guess it’s a case of ‘last man standing’!

Orion confirms this. He has risen in the night sky and now accompanies me on my journey through the dark hours, sword at belt, faithful dog at heel. Yes. Winter is on its way. Warmer clothing. Thicker jerseys. Non-slip shoes. Oh the joys of Canada.

Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing. Locked out of the university, walking the picket lines at -35C, we learned the facts of outdoor winter life only too well. So, dress warmly. Keep safe. Keep your distance. Wear those masks. Did out your snow tires. Tune up the snow blower.

And may you always wake with the flowers in the house.

Migrants

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

4

Migrants

Think natural disasters. Think famine,
wars, violence, plague. How our world changes
when refugees arrive, blend, contribute,
offer so much, their languages, cultures.

Yet we still exploit them, stealing subtle
things, their identities, their energy,
their ability to adapt, to give
so much and really to take so little.

Who would want to build a wall,
to reject them, to deny entry?
Maybe a million Indigenous people
can actually claim the right

to belong here. Most of us are immigrants,
late-comers in one way or another.
To accept, to grow together in peace,
to establish a nation where people

need not fear imminent expulsion
for the color of their skin, their language,
their religion, their political thoughts,
the fact they may not even vote for us.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Migrants

Push to Shove

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

3

Push to Shove

When push comes to shove, who stands
at one end of the gangplank, who at the other,
the shipboard one with a gun or a cutlass,
the other poised above circling sharks,
their grey triangular mini-sails threatening.

Can you hear the siren song emerging from
Davey Jones, waiting below, his locker door
open, as it has been so often before? Is this
fate or a fait accompli? Don’t ask me.

Let’s leave him there, the condemned man,
walking his plank, tied blindfold to his stake, seated
before the firing squad, standing on the crossing,
not quite ready to dance on a rope’s end, or riding
the tumbril to La Place de la Bastille, carrying
the time-bomb candle that will light him to bed.

Waiting, waiting, like them, we are all of us waiting,
in media res, waiting for push to come to shove.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Push to Shove

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.


Why do the People…

Meditations on Messiaen
Why do the people?

1

Divide and Conquer

They divided us into houses, Spartans and Trojans,
and encouraged us to compete with each other,
single combat, and then team against team,
house against house, eternal, internal civil war.

We divided ourselves into Cavaliers and Roundheads,
Monarchists and Parliamentarians, Protestants and Catholics,
and we continued those uncivil wars that marred the monarchy,
brought down the crown, and executed the Lord’s anointed.

We fought bitterly, tribe against tribe, religion against religion,
circumcised against uncircumcised, dorm against dorm,
class against class, territorial warfare. We defended our bounds,
bonding against all outsiders to guard each chosen ground.

With it came the denigration of the other. Not our class.
Scholarship boy. Wrong end of town. Wrong accent.
We don’t talk like that here. Speak the Queen’s English, you…
and here …. we inserted the appropriate word of vilification.

Our wars never ended. We carried them from prep school
to junior school, to senior school, sometimes changing
sides as we changed schools or houses, always clinging
grimly to our friends, protectors, and those we knew best.

After school, all those prejudices continued to hold us down,
haunted us through university, red-brick or inspired spires,
Trinity Oxford, Trinity Cambridge, or Trinity Dublin,
each gilded with the white sniff of snobbery that gelded us.

Alas, we carried them, piled in our intellectual rucksacks,
through university, into grad school, out into the wide world,
infinitely small minds based on prejudice and pride, continuing
our tribal warfare, unable to understand anything at all,
other than shoulder to shoulder, us or them, conquer and divide.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

Why do the people?

A Speaker Bespoken

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

7

A Speaker Bespoken

They asked him to speak at her funeral
but he never knew who she really was.
He only knew she loved the whisky bottle
more than she loved life. “What can I say?”
he asked. “Say that you loved her.” “I didn’t.”
“Say how much she loved you.” “She didn’t.
And she loved her bottle so much more.”

Should he say how he found her, soaked in urine,
covered in vomit, naked on the kitchen floor?
Should he describe the blend of alcohol and body
scents, her personal perfume, flooding the bedroom?
Should he repeat the four-letter words, and worse,
she used when he tried to stop her drinking?
Should he tell how she took her rings to town,
pawned them, and left the slips on the table
where he would find them? He paid her debts,
collected her rings, returned them. Should he tell
how she sold them again and again?
How she would play hunt the thimble,
round and round the house until she found
where he had hidden them, then took them,
and pawned them once more?

The chaplain shrugged. “Say what you want,
whatever you wish, but you have to speak.”
And speak he did, so choked up with emotion
that he broke down and cried and never a word
emerged from his mouth. An audience of chairs.
The few friends who attended also broke down
and hugged him, and said he had spoken volumes
and they had understood every single word.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

A Speaker Bespoken

And every valley

Meditations on Messiaen
Revelations

5

And Every Valley

And every valley shall be filled with coal.
And the miners will mine, growing old
before their time, with pneumoconiosis
a constant companion, and that dark spot
on the grey slide of the sidewalk a mining
souvenir coughed up from the depths
of lungs that so seldom saw the sun
and soaked themselves in the black dust
that cluttered, clogged, bent and twisted
those beautiful young bodies into ageing,
pipe-cleaner shapes, yellowed and inked
with nicotine and sorrows buried so deep,
a thousand, two thousand feet deep down,
and often so far out to sea that loved ones
knew their loved ones would never see
the white handkerchiefs waved, never
in surrender but in a butterfly prayer,
an offering, and a blessing that their men
would survive the shift and come back
to the surface and live again amidst family
and friends and always the fear, the pinched
-face, livid, living fear that such an ending
might never be the one on offer, but rather
the grimmer end of gas, or flame, or collapse,
with the pit wheels stopped, and the sirens
blaring, and the black crowds gathering, and
no canaries, no miners, singing in their cages.

Click on the link below for Roger’s reading.

And every valley

Dark Angel

Meditations on Messiaen.
Quartet for the End of Time.

2

Dark Angel

He will come, the dark angel,
and will meet me face to face.

He will take all that I own,
for it is only temporary
and all my possessions are on loan.

My house, my wife, my car,
my daughter, my grand-child,
 my garden, my trees, my flowers,
They are not mine.
I do not possess them.

I only own this aching heart,
these ageing bones,
this death that has walked beside me,
step by step, every day
since the day I was born.

That indeed is mine,
and nobody else’s.
That is my sole possession.
That is the only thing I own.

Click here for Roger’s reading.
Scroll down to appropriate episode.
Dark Angel

Waiting

Waiting

I remember pushing
my father around the ward.
Two weeks we had together.
He sat in his wheel chair
and I wheeled him
up and down.

“Cancer, ” they told me.
“But it’s kinder not to let him know.”

In those days, it was better to die,
without knowing why.
Did I betray him by not letting
him know what I now need to know?

One day, he begged for help
and I lifted him onto the toilet.
He strained and strained
but couldn’t go.

“Son,” he said, sitting there.
“Will you rub my back?”
How could I say no?

That strong man,
the man who had carried me
on his back,
and me standing there,
watching him,
trousers around his knees,
straining, hopelessly,
and me bent over him,
rubbing his back,
waiting,

for him to go.

Click here for Roger’s reading of
Waiting.

True Love

True Love

True love flows so much deeper
than an exchange of body fluids
or a handing over of ritual rings.

Our advancing lives are no longer
ruled by nature’s primal urges.
Our bodies have been taken over
by old age stiffness, aches, and pains.

Some nights, I wake up to find
she no longer breathes. I reach out
in panic, touch her gently, and when
she breathes again, I heave a sigh
redolent with love and relief.

Listen to podcast here.
True Love