Flowers

Flowers

“With freedom, flowers, books, and the moon, who could not be perfectly happy?” Oscar Wilde

Yesterday I bought my beloved some flowers. I searched among the bunches in the supermarket to find some that were not full blown but ready to spring from bud to blossom. I had the freedom to buy and with it the freedom that comes from having a little bit of money to spare for those frivolities that keep love alive at any age.

As for books, I read them and I write them, and sometimes they write me, and sometimes I can tell the difference, and some times I can’t. “What is this life, if full of greed we have no time to sit and read. Or when we lay awake at night, we don’t have time to think or write.”

Then there is the moon. “Please let the light that shines on me, shine on the one I love.” An old sea-farers’ song also sung by the beloved left behind on the home shore. There are few things as fascinating as a garden in the moonlight. Delightful too are night flowers blossoming beneath a full moon. “Boys and girls come out to play, the moon is shining as bright as day. Leave your pillows and leave your sheets and join your playfellows in the streets.”

So there you have a recipe for perfect happiness. Freedom from need, cash for frivolities and flowers, moonlight in which to serenade one’s beloved, and a book in which to record the recipe and keep it fresh in mind – add them one by one, stir them gently, plant them – and may perfect happiness blossom for you, too.

First Post of 2023

First Post of 2023

There is nothing to say, except that I have lost my way. Every poem posted to this blog is unavailable for publishing elsewhere. I may not submit them to journals, to editors, to competitions. This is one of the reasons why I have been silent for so long. It’s the same thing with Flash Fiction and stories. ‘Must be unpublished – no social media’. Alas – this blog is ‘social media’. So – I have lost my way, my reason for blogging. What can I blog about?

The weather – we have hardly seen the sun since well before Christmas. Snow, rain, icy rain, ice pellets – ofnadwy a diflas – disgusting weather. The sun shines in my heart. I also have bottled sunshine – sol embotellado – brought in from Spain. But who wants to read wet weather reports, day after day after day? Come to that – who wants to write them?

The news – this is even more depressing than the weather. I sometimes think that the papers deliver as much bad news as possible so we will be happy with the few items that do brighten our lives. Mal de todos, consuelo de tontos – when everybody falls on hard times, only fools take consolation from it.

Politics – spare me from politics and politicians. There is little good to say about any of them. Politicians are treacherous and their policies are worse. I remember the restaurant in Avranches with its sign on the wall – un jour sans vin est un jour sans soleil – a day without wine is a day without sunshine. Well, a day without politicians is a day full of sunshine – no matter what the weather is like outside.

Sports – we are sports-logged. I have never seen so much sport on the TV. Well, to be honest, I haven’t bothered watching it. Event after event, and events running simultaneously all around the world. I am fed up with tennis, soccer, ice hockey, rugby, and all the myriads of championships being played out before us. And the scandals – and the money changing hands – and the grotesqueness of ownership and player trading?

So, what is left to say? I have lost my way and I am trying to find a path through the wilderness of wild words that besiege me. Siege Perilous, indeed. What can I write about? What can I say? Maybe I should start an agony column.

Agony column – send in your questions and maybe, just maybe, I will think about them and comment on them. No. That won’t work. I already have too much on my plate. “Don’t tell me your troubles, I’ve got troubles of my own. Leave me alone, go on home, tell them to a friend, I’ve got troubles of my own.”

The sun – maybe, when the sun returns from his winter vacation, I will actually find something to write about. Maybe not.

Birthday – meanwhile, it’s my birthday I remember my grandfather reciting to me in the kitchen back home in Wales. “Today it is my birthday and I have ten thousand pounds to give away.” He would pause for a moment and then continue: “On second thoughts, I think it best to lock them back in my old oak chest.”

Poems – so the poems will stay in my old oak chest until I publish them properly. Flash Fiction and Short Stories too. In the meantime, any suggestions for this blog will be welcomed with open arms. Including folding it, shutting it down. Maybe it has served its turn and become, like me, out of date and obsolete.

Warm in the Kitchen

Warm in the Kitchen

This early morning, the only warm place in the house is the kitchen, close to the fire, with all the doors closed. The black-out curtains from the Second World War are still in place and hang languidly over ill-fitting windows that let cold air into the house. They must be pulled back in preparation for that first glimpse of day-light. Your elders move in and out, letting in the cold air as they open and close the doors at either end of the warm space where the fire is just taking hold.

Your grandfather banked it overnight with black sea-coal and then he raked the fine, grey ash, with its still smouldering lumps of charcoal, into a warm mound, ready for paper, kindling, coal, and the match. He has also placed a newspaper over the fireplace to create a draft. If the fire doesn’t catch soon, he will throw some sugar onto the embers to aid the blaze. The fire will suddenly flare into life and the room will be quickly warmed. In the meantime, the kitchen, though warmer than anywhere else in the house, is still slightly chilly because the damp night cold has invaded and made everything wet and slick.

It’s great when you’re at your grandparents’ house, but when we are back in ours, my father and mother always leave early, to go to work.

When I was younger, they had to feed me, but I soon learned to make my own breakfast from whatever I found in the fridge. Now I can use a frying pan. I fry bacon first, and then, when I have plenty of bacon fat, I fry bread, eggs, sausage, black pudding, kidneys, tomatoes, mushrooms, and anything else I can find, including laver bread.*

Before I know it, I have become a latch-key kid and, when I am hungry at home, I fry myself an all-day breakfast: eggy-bread or fried egg-with-its-hat on doused in HP sauce for lunch, all washed down with tea to which I add condensed milk and sugar.

But this morning, they have made breakfast for me: porridge. “Porridge, porridge, skinny and brown, / waiting for breakfast when I come down.” And I hate porridge, especially burnt porridge, with a passion, and yes, they’ve burned the porridge again. I hold a cup of hot tea in my hands. I breathe in the steam and it loosens up my chest. The china cup warms my fingers. I prod at the porridge, feed some to the canine mouth that dwells unseen beneath the table, and stuff myself full of toast. Whatever I eat, when the food is inside me, I feel much, much warmer and now I am ready for the rest of the day.

*Laverbread Bara lawr in Welsh: edible Gower sea-weed, a delicacy often called Welsh Caviar.

A Winter Awakening

A Winter Awakening            

You hate the Christmas holidays. You always have and I expect you always will. Broken promises litter the ground like so many new year’s resolutions, made and then set aside in a jumble of wrapping paper, party hats, and empty, smelly beer bottles. So vicious, these early morning calls, your father pinching your ear or tugging your hair, then stripping back the clothes and leaving you lying there, the cold air invading your bed, shocking your toes, tweaking the small hairs on arms and legs.

You reach out to the bedside chair, grab your shirt, socks, and pants and stuff them between your legs where it’s still nice and warm.  Then you pull the bedclothes up to your chin and your day clothes lie between your thighs, a teddy bear bundle gradually warming you up again. You wriggle down into the bed, and try to go back to sleep, but it doesn’t work.  A great shout from downstairs: “Breakfast is ready!”

Now comes the tricky bit: staying under the covers, wriggling out of your pyjamas, putting on your shirt, your pants and your socks while still staying warm beneath the blankets. Then, a porpoise breaking the surface, you burst out of bed, pull on your trousers and a sweater, and you run downstairs to the kitchen the warmest room in the house, where breakfast is waiting.

Boxing Day

They’re not Boxing Gloves – but they could be. Photo by my friend Geoff Slater.

Boxing Day


            By the time I get up, the gloves are really off and the sparring has begun in earnest. I hear angry, raised voices, walk downstairs to the kitchen, and a hush falls on the room. Knife-edge glances slice their menacing ways through the thickening atmosphere.
            Time for boxing: on my left, in the blue corner, my mother, smoking what is probably her second packet of the day. A thin haze of grey smoke escapes from her bruised lips and a cloud of exhaled fumes crowns her head with a murky halo. On my right, in the red corner, my father. White-faced, hungover yet again, truly into the spirits of Christmas. He breathes heavily, like a Boxer Dog in the mid-summer dog-days, snoring and snorting at a bitch in heat. In the middle, my grandfather, the referee. He is keeping the combatants apart, creating a tiny breathing space so the true Spirit of Christmas can disentangle itself from those false Christmas Spirits and bring peace to earth again for at least sixty seconds between each round.
            I look around the heaving, seething, threshing silence of a room where conversation has suddenly ceased. The fire is burning merrily. Beside it, tongs, poker, and small shovel stand to attention. On the hearthstone, the little red brush, with its long handle lies in ambush. This is what my father uses to beat me when he can’t be bothered to take off his leather belt. Scorch marks from the hot coal fire sear the handle and back of the little red brush. I threw it on the fire one day, hoping to see the end of it. Of course, it was rescued from the flames, resurrected, and I got beaten for that act of rebellion too.
            “It’s all your fault!” My father breaks the silence, pointing at me. His red-rimmed eyes blazing with a sudden and renewed anger. He starts to rise, but my grandfather steps between us.
            “Go and see your granny,” grandpa tells me. “She’s in the kitchen. Go now!” He points to the kitchen door.
            I run a gauntlet of staring eyes and go to my gran. As I shut the door behind me, voices rise higher in the room I have just left. Boxing Day, indeed. The gloves are off. The battle has begun again. My grandfather has evacuated me from no-boy’s-land and, for a moment, I am no longer trapped in the mud-filled, cratered, shell-holes between the trenches, the uncut barbed-wire barriers, the poached-egg eyes peering through periscopes and spying on me from the parental and priestly parapets above the wooden duck-boards that line the floor on the far side of the room and keep the enemies’ feet clear of mud and water.

Annie Verse Airy

Annie Verse Airy

Some I remember, some I forget. This one I don’t forget. 56 years ago today, Clare and I got married in Ontario. She had been six days in Canada and the vicar asked us if she were a mail-order bride. We said ‘no’ – for we had known each other for five years at that point and had been officially engaged for 17 months.

Ontario snow-belt snow, they called it. Six feet had already fallen on the banks of Lake Huron, and six more inches fell on our wedding day. How do I know? Well, I guess I must have been there. And ar gwaeth a pawb a pophet, rh’y n’i yma o hyd – and in spite of people and things, we are still here.

I wonder how many are left to remember that day. Clare and I do, obviously. Our daughter does. How many others? I hesitate to count – and it would probably take only one hand. No names, mind. Our wedding was very quiet. A family affair. Clare and I and our Canadian family who emigrated here after WWI, in 1919-20. They offered us their hearts, their home, and their hospitality. They also made all the arrangements and, since we had very little money, covered most of the minimal costs.

Our honeymoon was very brief – two nights in the town’s only hotel, and then back to Toronto on Boxing Day. The reality of the need to survive sunk in very quickly. We have no photos of the ceremony – couldn’t afford a photographer. No honeymoon, other than that brief hotel stay. No palm trees. No Caribbean Island. No white sand beaches. And we were much better off without them for, from the very first day we had to work together to survive and make a success of our lives. Luck and hard work walked hand in hand with us, and here we are, 56 years later, still together, still going strong. We will celebrate very quietly. At the appropriate time, we will light a candle together and raise a glass of wine, as we have done, every year, on Christmas Eve.

Now, as we age, each day is precious. We take few photos. We still haven’t had a honeymoon, let alone a second one. But, as the old song says, “we have travelled the road, sharing our load, side by side”. And we will continue to do so, for as long as we possibly can.

A Season of the Heart

A Season of the Heart

Here in the autumn of my life,
surrounded by the fruits of my labours,
filled with the accumulated wisdom of years,
surrounded by solitude, yet confronted
by fall’s splendour and the harvesting
of so many golden days, collected
and gathered in, safe from winter’s storms.

Old friends from years gone by move
restless through the mists of time
that hide so many things, while revealing
others in the sunbeam’s spotlight
that marks with a sudden enlightenment
the meaning of something I thought
I had lost, yet that still lingers, a shadow
on the mind-wall of memory’s cave,
where firelight flickers and brings things
back to life, magic moments released
from time’s spell and paraded before me,
here, where no bitterness dwells
in the sweetness of remembered time.

Click for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
A Season of the Heart

Wilderness

Wilderness

This wilderness wasn’t a wilderness
until they arrived and called it ‘wild’.

They constructed roads, ran boats
up and down our rivers,
built bridges, fenced fields,
built stone buildings, desecrated
the curves of the land
with square shapes and right angles,
razor sharp lines that ‘tamed it,’
they said, but we said ‘destroyed it’.

Where now the spring salmon runs?
The dam that put the river in chains
drove all those fish away.

Upstream, down stream,
towards the river and away from it,
the four cardinal points
brought ruin to our sense of direction.

Where now the land’s lost soul,
the ancient paths our people walked?

In place of the circles we built from stone,
the stones that pointed the time of sky,
that tracked the seasons,
and planting time and harvest time,
they gave us clockwork clocks.

Yes, they tamed this wilderness,
but they broke it down and we watched,
helpless, as they stole its soul.

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Wilderness

Boats

Boats

At night the boats arrive to carry you
away to the lands in which you dream.

Each boat carries a different cargo. Each
boat means a different size and shape.

To find out what they carry, you must climb
on board, raise the hatch cover, and descend
to where the riches rest in the dark below.

Ancient maps, formed by Freud, then redone
in the symbolic imagery of Jung, point out
the perils the traveler may meet as he sails away.

“Here be monsters, here be dragons, here be
anything you wish to configure in your dreams.

And here be the spice lands, emerald isles
embedded with their scents in a turquoise sea.

But steer clear of Scylla and Charybdis,
the pool that whirls, the rocks that close and
crash to crush you with their grinding teeth.”

Click here for Roger’s reading on Anchor.
Boats

A Good Friend

A Good Friend

Sitting at the kitchen table, sitting with my friend, Geoff Slater. He drove up from Bocabec to see me and help me sign some books. We have published several collections together – McAdam Railway Station, Scarecrow, Twelve Days of Cat, Tales from Tara, The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, and The Water Tower.

Scarecrow and Twelve Days of Cat contain Geoff’s drawings and my prose and poetry, while The Water Tower is composed of Geoff’s photos, taken while completing the repainting of his wonderful mural, adorning the water tower in St. Andrews-by-the-Sea. Today we signed copies of Scarecrow, Twelve Days, and McAdam. I have been very lucky with most of my literary and artistic friendships. It always gives me great pleasure to receive my friends at home and to talk away the hours on the chiming clock.

I also enjoy cooking for them, and today I made a delicious paella with ham, chicken, and shrimp. More important, the rice – I had a packet of Bomba Spanish paella rice, and what a difference that made to the cooking of one of my favorite dishes. The socarrat, that crispy layer that coats the bottom of the frying pan or paella was simply wonderful!

Writing can be a lonely life. What a blessing is a good friend, totally creative, off whom one can bounce ideas, exchange artistic stories – our narratives as we call them – and even collaborate on the creation of more art works. Geoff Slater – line-painter extraordinaire – I salute you!