(Biblioteque Nationale? Flemish miniature. Image from Karl Steel’s blog)
the Green Belt – we need
An old post which seemed to bypass most of my present followers:
It’s dark now that the clocks are about to be changed and in the evening
all one can think about is activating the wood burner and settling in with
the hope that something interesting will be on the television. I go out
scavenging for wood- from skips, with permission, -or just appropriating
blown down twigs and slender branches. After a walk I look like a
babuschka trundling home in a Chekhov landscape, or Babuschka Baba
Yaga, to be more precise.
When I was little I was unfamiliar with the concept of a wood burner, but
very au fait with the actuality of a coal fire. Here is a poem that I wrote
The Coal Man
Once a week the coal man called with his sack
of bulging hessian, a shouldered sheep
wrapped round his sooty neck, his black back
bent double. He left a glistening heap
in bunkers, bawled on like a hoarse banshee.
Peeping from behind the curtain, my eye
would meet his own and in childish fancy,
its balefulness predestined that I’d die,
cursed by the red-lipped golliwog’s* fixed stare.
His load was the object of poker, tongs,
its coke-corrupted, crackling dross the flare
of a chimney fire; feeling which belongs
with hearth mythology, childhood’s subtle
fears of elemental forces. The guard
was prohibition’s symbol; the scuttle
source of adult power to ignite flames barred
to the uninitiated. Daybreak
began with vestal rituals, the sweeping
of ash, its careful wrapping. I would wake
to a smoky haze, the first blue leaping
through yesterday’s newspapers. A stray spark
had to be stamped before it took its hold:
individuality’s searing mark,
product of the dark trolls, Vulcanesque gold.
God took His own delivery; the sky
rumbled as His cellar filled with tinder
and this child, captivated by a lie,
trembled. The Coal Man might note smut, cinder
in grimy heart of smallest sinner-a
companion set no talisman or charm
against His briquettes’ out-poured brouhaha,
or sudden brilliancy which caused alarm.
The Grimy Giant’s voice was the thunderclap
Which sent one to the haven of a lap.
* no longer PC, but in the Fifties many a child had
a golliwog, so this toy, held in affection, was of its time
and that was its name, whether one approves of it, or not
in present times.
( PS Beware of burning wood unless it is super-dry oak
which has been seasoned for two years and has been
properly stored. I was exposed to bituminous, evil-smelling
smoke from others’ chimneys and my lung function in
my lower airways deteriorated to 56% and steroids did not
really help. Had to move house in the end. Wood smoke
particulate is highly toxic.)
An old one, but worth a re-run maybe?
(Male Chalk Hill Blue, photographed on 2/8/008
CHALK HILL BLUES
Fine dongas’ etched capillaries
trace downs in criss-cross engravature.
In pure air, flimsy with fritillaries,
Chalk Hill Blues, by divine imprimatur,
caper. Deft dragonflies, volts from the blue:
thoraxes like mottled Venetian glass,
hover, with pink damselflies, over dew-
dipped vegetation. Those who would pass
by to reach St Catherine’s coronet (beech
circle)- Iron Age travellers, or those
who buried their plague victims- did not breach
Nature’s contract; nor did those who opposed
that livid, open wound, scarring the cant,
observable from Compton Down. This way,
once pilgrim path, in earshot of thin chant
from cloisters, now roars, a snarling highway,
bar of shame on history’s escutcheon.
Rufus’ cartwheels no longer rut clay;
but his blood badges the route to destruction.
(Death of William Rufus by Neuville)
St Crispin’s Day, sighed Brassie, my close-bosom friend.
The nights are drawing in. This weekend we change the clocks,
don’t we? Which way?
Fall back; Spring forward, I reminded her.
(She can never remember in which direction to adjust her timekeepers.)
Think about it like this: tights down. Tights, as in stalactites. My teacher said
they hung down. But people are hanged. She also recited: One ‘l’ lama he’s a
priest; two ‘l’ llama he’s a priest, but you can bet your silk pyjama, there isn’t
any three ‘l’ lllama.
Why should tights hang down? Wolford ones don’t. And shouldn’t it have
been ‘pyjamas’? remarked Brassie. Anyway, what are you
Just deliberating on my life and how it has fallen into the sere..
You sound a bit depressed, she stated bluntly.
I can’t help the pathetic fallacy of the season. Keats was too upbeat in my
I wouldn’t exactly have called him a glass half full kind of guy, objected
Suppose he had written about Autumn thus, I volunteered, pushing a
sheet of A4 in her direction.
Season of fogs, mouldy putrefaction,
enemy of the geriatric sun,
bringing depression, dissatisfaction,
blasting the mildewed fruit trees, one by one;
tainting blackberries with lead pollution,
eroding limestone buildings as the air
saturates with sulphuric solution.
Emissions from cars, whose owners don’t care
make children’s lungs bloat as they breathe exhaust
fumes more deadly than poppy opiates:
an inspiration of enormous cost-
harvest to be garnered at future dates.
Who has not seen them oft amid their stores,
stockpiling for Christmas, demented folk?
Those raking rotting leaves: of garden chores
the most thankless. Resulting bonfire smoke
irritating neighbours, whose dank washing
is ash-specked. Home-brew enthusiasts start
ineffectual sterilising, squashing
of elderberries….It’s then their wives depart
for evenings out, to let men watch the ooze;
they do lotteries with syndicate friends,
hoping for windfalls; drinking decent booze.
Who hears the songs of Spring? It all depends
to what you are attuned. If you have kids,
you’ll hear the first whine of the Christmas list,
as children’s advertising makes its bids-
o’erwhelming, so no parent can resist
its importunities. The dismal rain
fills gutters blocked by aforementioned leaves,
which de-rail, or delay the British train,
which sceptical commuter scarce believes.
Cold, full-grown lambs may bleat from hilly bourn,
outwith the fold, or a housing bubble.
Reaped fields disappear; crops, livestock we mourn.
Winnowing is gone- designer stubble
the only razing we can recognise.
Clearly Men and Nature are out of synch.
Seasonal disorders rise.
If Keats were here, whatever would he think?
I think that is SAD, said Brassie.
Yes, the product of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Go and get a light
Very helpful. If the Romantics had been persuaded to get a light box,
we wouldn’t have had all that marvellous poetry.
Interesting subject for a dissertation.
Well, why don’t you write it, instead of all that drivel?
Because we might not be amused. How much are light boxes, anyway?
(re-blog from 2013)