Alphabet

Chaos

Alphabet

So everything is now as yellow as the yellow alphabet.
Bellow below cello, above fellow, saying “Hello,” jello,
always yellow, nobody eats orange jello, mellow, sello
or sellotape, tellow, as in “Tell old salt …” pronounced
“tellow salt” … so many verbal adventures, scales falling
from young eyes, and old ones as wello,
and the melody of music in tone,
on tongue, wonder in the eyes of everyone,
golden yellow, hair high-lighted in the early morning sun.

Commentary:

An endless jumble of words, all joined together rhythmically and linking one thought to another in a succession of jumps that wander from here to there and back again. Team tag: each one of us chosen for a moment, teased, played with, abandoned, picked up again, delight in each adventure.
My party tricks are e-cards, typing on the computer, her name, my name, the alphabet, her mother’ name, another name, and then another. Coloring is my trick too, and finding empty pages that can be followed with color and scrawl and everything that turns the blank page from a wilderness to a new world covered in endless manufactures of meaningful, meaningless scratches.
Joy in small things.  Albert Camus’s theory of the absurd present in almost every moment of the day. Moments that stretch into eternities, eternities seen in a grain of sand. Dw i mwynhau … what do I enjoy? These timeless moments, these glimpses back into my family’s past, Dych chi mind am dro? … these walks into my DNA’s future. Nach ydw: no, I will not be here. But tiny segments of my existence, words and phrases of my Welsh grandfather’s DNA and language, they will be here. Recycled. Again and again. Somehow. Somewhere. Forever. What more could I ask?

Thursday Thoughts Ubi sunt …

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Thursday Thoughts
Ubi sunt …

Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt? Where are they who went before us? As St. Augustine is said to have written: O homo, dic mihi, ubi sunt reges, ubi sunt principes, ubi imperatores, qui fuerunt ante nos… “O man, tell me, where are the kings, where are the princes, where the emperors, who had been before us” {Wikipedia]. Many philosophers have written on this theme, and many poets, including Villon in his famous ballade “Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?” Where is last year’s snow? Cervantes also echoes the theme with this slight variation “No hay pájaros en los nidos de antaño.” There are no birds in last year’s nests.

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Goran Haven, Cornwall, July, 1966. I was waiting to receive the results of my final exams from Bristol University. Clare and I decided to spend a week in Cornwall and ended up in Goran Haven. When we came back, I made her a book of photos from the trip with hand-written poems beneath them. I discovered that book the other day and was taken back to a time when I wasn’t even thinking of coming to Canada. Fifty-three years later, looking at these photos, I ask myself ubi sunt … where did those days go? All those days, the old country, and everything that went with our youth … ubi sunt?

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Same thing happened when I visited McAdam Railway Station: wonderful memories of all the steam trains of my youth. And those railway names: Great Western Railway [GWR], London Midlands Scotland [LMS] , London North Eastern Railway [LNER]. So many things that I can never forget: the smell of the old steam engines, the sound of their wheels going clackety-clack, the taste of smoke and ash when I thrust my head out of the window, in spite of the sign that said, Do not lean out of the window, the feel of those worn cloth seats beneath the fingers, and the sense of excitement and joy when an empty corner seat begged to be sat in. Something else I’ll never forget: the cold taste of a Cadbury’s Milk Flake stuck in an ice-cream on a warm summer’s day.

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Love me

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Love me …  love my cat. I think she’s bemused by the sudden smell of all those flowers. She didn’t like the snow yesterday, either. Hands up all those who did. Ah yes, all the students and teachers who had their tenth snow day. No wonder the internet was so crowded all day long. It wasn’t that easy to get on and off but it was so easy to lose the connections. Speaking of connections, yet another circular debate is going round and round the Brexit roundabout in London today. That’s London, England, not London, Ontario. Oh the sea, oh the sea, thank God it still flows between Brexit and me. You’ve got to love it though, especially on St. Valentine’s Day: all those basket cases putting all their eggs into one little Brexit basket. They remind me of a set of Oaxacan donkeys, blinkered and blindfolded, walking round all day in circles, trying to grind the maguey or to draw water from an artesian well (una noria). It’s a thankless task at the best of times, but an incredibly tiring one when there’s a drought and a dearth of clear-thinking and intelligence. Round and round and round they goes, and when they’ll stop, nobody knows. Wow, I’m glad I got that off my chest: now I can enjoy Valentine’s Day with my beloved and my cat. As for Valentine’s Day: say it with flowers.

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Here are the geranium, a little bit winter-struck, still red-hearted and perky in the post-storm sunshine. I always marvel at how they  settle down, go all green-leafed, then start to blossom again: a miracle of love and kindhearted attention.

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And here’s Don Quixote keeping vigil just behind the carnations. Oh Brexiteers, he stands on guard for thee. He’s very quiet though. Not sure about anything, except the need to guard the flowers from fear, fire, and foe. He’s a good man, is Alonso Quijano el Bueno. He doesn’t round round in circles and lose sleep over uncounted and uncountable, slaughtered sheep. Speaking of which, the Welsh are campaigning for Welsh Lamb. They do not wish their products to be labelled with the Union Jack, but with the Red Dragon of Wales, Y Draigg Coch Cymraig. I hope I’ve got that right: it’s been so long. Meanwhile, speaking of love, Northern Ireland is talking divorce from the UK and a renewed marriage with the south. Scotland is talking love-talk with the Europeans and muttering about separation (was it really 1606?) from the Union. And Plaid Cymru is once again flexing it’s separation muscles. For how much longer, in the current state of division, will we be able to talk of a United Kingdom? Valentine’s Day: it’s best to be off with the old love before you are on with the new. Yet there’s mucho flirting going on between many possible future partners, even while undying love is being spouted across the various negotiating tables. The Queen of Hearts rules on Valentine’s Day: “Off with their heads!” Oh dear, whatever will the little caterpillar say, let alone Malice in Blunderland?

And the cat came back. Thank heavens. I cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without some flowers, my beloved, the cat, and a great deal of love and understanding. May the joys of red flowers and open hearts (not the surgical kind) be with you this day, and may you find a ray of sunshine to sit in for the rest of what still promises to be a stormy and snow-filled winter.

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Valentine’s Day

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Valentine’s Day

I live in the presence of flowers again. Red, white, and pink, with a touch of greenery. I bought them for my beloved on Valentine’s Day to acknowledge her presence in my life. Day. I avoided the pre-packed supermarket flowers and went to the florists. What a mess they were in: flowers and packages scattered everywhere along with cards, vases, teddy bears wearing hearts on their sleeves and other parts of their anatomy.  “Excuse the mess,” the young man said. “It’s Valentine season and we’re very busy.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “I’m getting old and it looks just like home.”

We walked through the sliding doors and into the back room where the loose flowers are stored. “Careful,” he told me. “It’s cold in here.” “Don’t worry,” I replied. “It’s -16 out there and the wind’s bitter. This is actually quite warm. I feel right at home.” He showed me round his stock and I settled on a combination of large and small carnations in red, white, and pink. “They all come with greenery,” he told me. “You go back out into the warm, and I’ll get them ready for you.”

I wandered round the shop, looking at Teddy Bears and trinkets but I didn’t fall into temptation. I am not always able to do avoid temptation, but today I was strong. I was tempted by a balloon, but the thought of driving home and having the thing deflate on me was not encouraging. After a few minutes, the man arrived with my flowers. “How are you going to pay?” he asked. “It depends on the price,” I said. He quoted a ridiculously low figure and added “That’s if you pay cash.” I did, and we both looked very happy.

When I got home, I presented the flowers to my beloved. “Not now,” she told me. “I’m busy. Just leave them on the table and I’ll get round to them later.”

“The best laid plans of mice and men” (and also of lovers on Valentine’s Day) “aft gang agley”. I hope I have quoted Burns correctly. I think gang agley can be translated as go astray. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long. Within a few minutes, vases were produced and filled with water and chemical additives, flowers were trimmed and organized by size and shape and color, suitable cooing sounds of appreciation could be heard.

Appreciation of what? Of my undoubted and unquenchable love? Of the wonderful scent and color of those Valentine flowers? Of the neat quick way they had been vased, trimmed and ordered?  Who knows? But one thing I do know, sometimes it is better not to ask. Especially on Valentine’s Day. A little bit later, a certain someone was on the phone, checking our bank account and our Credit Card Expenditures. Now, I don’t know what that was all about. And I don’t intend asking. Not on Valentine’s Day.

Sox

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Sometimes

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Sometimes an image comes to us, out of nowhere, and we struggle to put it into words. Or else it comes as words, and we strive to put it into color and shape. And what if it is the scent of grass, or of apples, or of fresh cut hay? Mushrooms frying are so symbolic. I think of Frodo in Lord of the Rings. Nobody can recreate for me the smell of fresh laverbread, barra lawr, Welsh caviar, according to Richard Burton. And don’t talk about the Penclawdd cockle women, ever-present with the laverbread in the Swansea market I knew as a child.

Names float through my mind: the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick maker, the man who wanted me to become a professional boxer, the man who wanted me to article with him to become an accountant, the day I wanted to leave school to article to be a lawyer. Were they just dreams? Or were they colored balloons, floated into the atmosphere, with multiple strings attached? And what does it matter now, forty, fifty, sixty years later, when life has been lived, and all those pasts have been condensed into a single tune, that recalls what I was then, what I am now, what I did, and all of it music played on a squeeze-box accordeon by a man who knew everything about me, past and present, and made his knowledge of my life his PhD thesis, dry, dusty, and so academic and biased, and yet his gateway to eternity’s Hall of Fame.

The little lady who lives above us looks on. Does she judge us or just take all that knowledge in and retain a rigid silence? Who knows? Who’ll ever know? And what about us? Are we just corporal ships sailing through a sea of silence surrounded by who knows what reefs and perils? And deep down, does it really matter, any of it? And anyway, who cares?

Today I met a former colleague. She scowled at me and lisped my name. I gave her a two-fingered flick of acknowledgement and turned away without speaking. What did I matter to her or her to me? Did the ice she used to store in her knickers actually melt when she saw me? Did she know me for who and what I am? Do I, did I, give a damn? How many fingers do you see, I wondered? Five? Three? One? And what does that one finger mean, standing out like a lighthouse on a lonely headland above a dangerous reef?

My Madonna of Grief, wrapped in her shawl of uncertainty, drifts through a cloud of unknowing and doesn’t give a damn, one way or another. My Lady of the Discalced Carmelites plods on through rain and snow, feet soaked or frozen, love and warmth in her heart, her foundations ever before her, her soul ghosting above the stupendous stupidities of this stultifying life.

Oh to fly with the angels, to float above the fog and fury of our daily lives, to rise and grasp the meaning of stars, planets, constellations, to hear the eternal music that binds the universe, to become one with the music of the spheres and their song of songs.

 

Happy Hours

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As the inscription on the old Roman sundial announced: Horas non numero nisi serenas / I count only the happy hours. And, of course, the sundial is right. When the skies are cloudy and the rain and snow are falling, the sundial sleeps and refrains from marking the passage of time. But when the sun prances brightly through those heavenly meadows and casts shadows across the numbers on the clock, then the sundial counts the hours, precisely because they are happy.

I try to do the same. I try to avoid the shadows that are cast across our planet and I try not to count them. Alas, like the grains of sand on the beach and the countless stars in the sky, they are innumerable, though the latter are being named, numbered, and counted, much to their chagrin.  Who wants to be called Welsh by foreigners, with all the negative connotations they associate with the epithet, when our real name is Cymraeg? And no, we don’t live in Wales, we live in Cymru, or better still, in Canada when we (e)migrate. Canada: I wonder what the real name is for this huge and wonderful land? And what about the local indigenous peoples? I can accept that they are First Nations. No problem. But who are our hosts and neighbors when they call themselves Wolastoqiyik (or Maliseet) and we call them Aboriginals (or worse)?

What’s in a name? North, South, East, West … simple, eh? How about Upstream, Downstream, Away from the River, Towards the river? Think names of the months, names of the days of the week. Now think guidance, think signposts, think culture, think separate cultures, think different ways of living, think different ways of life. Think possessive pronouns: my book, my house, my cat, my dog, my son, my daughter, my Wifi, my wife.  Or as le grand Charles de Gaulle expressed it, in Le Canard enchaîné: “Ma France, mon coup de frappe, mon Europe … mon Dieu.” Maybe we would be better off without possessive adjectives. But then …

“Taffy was a Welshman,
Taffy was a thief,
Taffy came to our house
and stole a leg of beef.”

Taffy: a generic name for the Welsh. Any male person from Wales is automatically a Taffy from the moment he opens his mouth and speaks with anything like a Welsh accent. Taffy, from the River Taff that flows through Cardiff,  aka Caer Dydd, the fort on the Dydd. There are many rivers in Wales, many regions. Men from the Isle of Mona, Llanberis, Caernarfon, Brecon, Abertawe, Aberavon, Castell Nedd, Caerfryddin, Pen-y-pont, Caer Isca, Usk, Cas Newydd, Pen-y-Bryn, Sgetti, Uplands, Trebanog, Llanelli, Llanfairpwllgwyngilldrawbwllchllantiisilioggogogoch, Cwm Parc, Trebanoc Cwmbwrla, Cwmrhyddiceirw  … Taffies one and all, even if they were born miles away from the River Taff and rarely visited Cardiff, the very name of the river and the city anathema to them.

I once had a friend, a very good friend, or so I thought, educated in Harrow, Oxford, secret member of the ultra-secretive, fabulously expensive, well-endowed and super-privileged, ultra-elite Bullingdon Club. He had a triple barreled name of course: Somerset-Trilby-Frisbee or something like that, I forget now. Whenever I arrived at a reunion or a meeting, he would greet me with a bullhorn, bullfrog chorus that reached into the far corners of the room: “Lock up the silver spoons, the Welsh have arrived.”

Humor? His laughter would rock the rafters and shake the room once more. Racism? What racism is there in mocking the Welsh when you are English? Bigotry? No man with a three part surname, an English public school background, and a list of ancestors longer than your arm could possible be a bigot.  Idiot? He was very intelligent, slightly unbalanced, and totally oblivious to any social norm or indignity, unless he was the threatened person, and watch out for vicious mousetraps if you made him the butt of your own humor and he took umbrage at the slight. Criminal? No way: the Welsh were always the criminals, for back in the legendary mists of time they had stolen a leg of beef and now they were here to steal the precious plastic spoons and knives and forks that masqueraded as silver …

… what’s really in a name? What’s in a grey day or a blue day? What’s in a cloudy day or a sunny day? What’s in our hearts when we denigrate our friends and doubly degrade our enemies and those we declare to be our enemies, sometimes on a gut feeling or a whim? Horas non numero nisi serenas … Time to look on the bright side, to walk on the sunny side of the street, to reject the shadow and live in the sunshine. Time, in fact, to turn the whole day into a succession of Happy Hours. Study the cartoon above. Now that is a portrait of someone who really enjoys a Happy Hour. And not a glass or a bottle in sight.