Of course, they look even better in a Sotis Filippides vase!
Taking down tinsel
and other decorations
is the thing to do, perhaps.
can be evoked if they’re left,
dusty though they be.
They speak of the hopes one had
about friends and family-
How sad to dispense with those
festoons of good will.
When you vacuum the glitter,
you eradicate your dreams.
Something so simple
as the capital changing
made everyone move,
except for the redundant.
fell into rack and ruin.
Men were uncertain.
Suddenly they all shifted
right back to where they’d come from.
was found to be limiting.
You can bet your boots
old houses were not re-built
in terms of former grandeur.
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.)
(RMS_Queen_Mary_Long_Beach_January_2011.jpg David Jones
derivative work 2011 File Upload Bot Altair 78(talk))
Grandfather sat at the prow of my bed,
his pipe smoke furling from a brown funnel.
Tell me again: what was the very first thing
you had to do, to build The Queen Mary?
(single-handedly, I probably thought.)
Och, it’s all about rivets – lots of them.
Sitting up, I tucked the quilt round my legs,
replicating the outline of a hull.
We sipped tea from imaginary cans,
eating chocolate wafer Blue Ribands.
His narration of yard life, like Yarrow Boilers,
never ran out of steam; their flow increased.
The fog came down. Make the noise! Make the noise!
And he would drone the deep ‘A’ of its horn.
We flitted round The Grey Ghost arm in arm,
measuring the umpteen miles of carpet;
swimming in the pool and dancing, dancing,
at The Starlight Club. What’s a Turkish Bath?
Enthralled by the bright sparks of his stories;
strengthened by many blow-by-blow accounts
of what lay beneath the dimpled surface,
I never felt held back by rusting chains.
I was swaged and took on his impressions. So,
now, decades later, I am assuaged,
having been sent down the slipway of life,
christened and launched on that maiden voyage,
into a specially widened, dredged channel,
to follow my White Star: plated and sealed
and watertight through the symbiosis
of the riveter and the riveted.
A lucky four leaf clover propeller
directed my course down the Clyde and out
into the North Atlantic. Now retired,
far from home; docked like the grand old lady,
I have righted myself from past rogue waves-
listing, but not sinking, because of him
and the ballast he laid down in my hold.
Below my Plimsoll Line, when fog comes down,
I still feel the pistons of his heartbeat,
attuned to my own and powerful still.
Art Deco, Celestial City, Clyde, Clyde-built, dredgers, Dumbarton Rock, Flybe, Glasgow airport, Glasgow University, John the Baptist by Da Vinci, Kilpatrick Hills, Luftwaffe, Paisley, River Cart, Singer Factory, soor ploom, speug, Titan Crane
Yes, folks, I’m back. Here’s a wee poem for you, describing my thoughts as
Flybe took me out of Glasgow Airport:
SHE’S LEAVING HOME
Instead of a speug’s* view at ground level,
I have a skewed vista doon the watter.
There’s a lump in my throat like a Soor Ploom,
as my keen eye picks out Dumbarton Rock,
before the plane’s wing and cloud wisps obscure
the Ben and those Kilpatrick Hills – cradle
of my childhood. The tributary Cart,
where mighty hulks dragged their chains,
buoyed up those liners that would cruise the world,
while dredgers kept the channel free of silt
and every vessel seemed to be Clyde-built.
A solitary crane marks the spot
where political tourniquets strangled
the life out of industry and population.
Patchwork fields look as if they have been stitched
into a quilt by a local giantess,
the boundaries hemmed in by Paisley thread,
before Singer stopped treadling out machines
and its Art Deco clock had its hands tied,
as the shriek of town sirens was stifled.
I see my house, my school, the High Flats,
where Luftwaffe rained down a thousand bombs,
before I saw the light of day. Yon spire
of Glesca Uny soars toward the sky;
beckons to a Celestial City,
just like the finger of John the Baptist:
a pointer to a life outside the frame.
Education – the sky was the limit.
And now I can never come truly home.
Photo by Stephen Sweeney, Wikipaedia Commons
1st Prize Hairdressing Fashion Exhibition, London 1935.
Image: Louis Calvete ISBN 1-897312-34-2
Oh, you’re back Carrie! Come and have a Monk Pear!
It’s the latest tea find. You know, they order these T2 teas from
Okay, but I will have to be quick. I’ve still got loads of name tags
to sew on for the start of term.
We went into Costamuchamoulah.
You’ve had your hair done. It suits you.
Thanks. I have to be in the mood, as I hate that salon smell. It
gives me asthma, so I have to go when I am in a good phase and
there’s not too many women having their colour done.
Some women have died having their hair coloured.
I know. That’s why I don’t risk it. Anaphylaxis and all that.
I thought there was a girl in Scheherezade’s class called that.
Oh no, it was ‘Alexis’. Anyway, I don’t like the smell either. It makes
my eyes sting.
That’s just the price! My mother and grandmother did their own-
on a Saturday afternoon. I was reminiscing about it the other day
Let me guess…another one of your ‘pomes’! Just as well I’m not
allergic to them. Okay, give it here.
Crimping waves while the sun shone, my mother,
grandmother, eased the men out of the house
for their afternoon. Wanting no bother,
they sent them to a match. One would douse
her white scalp at the sink and take the Twink
perming lotion. My eyes would always burn
at its foul ammonia, wee-wee stink,
applied by each to each, in unctuous turn.
Pink plastic clips were screwed into their skulls;
chiffon scarves masked phrenological bumps.
Their billed features were as sharp as gulls,
contrasting with their rounded breasts and rumps.
The men returned in time to watch the fight;
wrestling; then quietly demanded their tea.
Bouffants, beehives deflated overnight.
Aesthetic judgements were left up to me.
Does it sit nice at the back? What d’ye think?
I always said it suited them just fine.
Hope died, as no one ever took them for a drink,
with their tight curls ponging of atropine.
One whiff of salon fug and back it floods:
those weekend rituals, with the rigid roles;
the hair-clogged drains; old towels, basin suds;
the curling of coiffures; lacquering of souls.
And now my marriage gone with my long hair,
I stopped nit-picking many years ago.
I dyed daily, so now I do not care,
or seek approval- I just wash and go.
Chlamydia sighed, They’ll be starting ‘Strictly’ again soon. Maybe
the formula is played out now. I mean, where’s the glamour? It
seems to be all about sex.
Hmm, I know. I used to love the ballroom dancing programmes in
the Fifties- dresses with tulle, wired underskirts and women with
slashes of smiling scarlet lippie. At least, I suppose it was scarlet,
since the programmes were all in black and white!
Did you go to dance classes?
Ballet- for about six weeks.
Why did you stop?
‘cos my granny bought me black ballet pumps, instead of pink,
like the other girls had.
Didn’t your father have his own band?
Yes. He had a quintet. He played the drums and my uncle played
the piano. My mum and dad met at the ‘dancing’.
Pity you didn’t stick at it.
I loved dancing at home, with my grandfather. Here!
Not another one of your…
Yes, read it. Go on!
HEAVEN, YOU’RE IN HEAVEN
Image by Michael Foskett
Sometimes we’d shuffle round a room, backwards,
with me balancing on his feet, dreaming
I was Ginger Rogers. He’d teach me words
like ‘tapselteerie‘. When it was teeming
down, he’d say,‘It’s raining cats and dogs!’ and,
idiom-proof, I’d stare outside the door.
Hand in hand, we’d go to the park bandstand,
to listen to the pomp of brass. Adore?-
I worshipped him, with his tobacco tin
full of small change. He never short-changed me.
At my command, he’d show his shrapnelled shin;
eject his dentures, ape-like, suddenly,
to make me gasp. I’d taste his pipe sometimes,
although I retched. He’d draw around my hand
and taught me all the tables, nursery rhymes.
He waltzed into the sunset and I stand
on my own feet, but find I cannot dance
in step with others, with such elegance.
a rose is a rose, Altissimo, Arthur Bell, Bobby Charlton, Bourbon, centrifoliate, Duke of Windsor, gathering rosebuds, Grandpa Dickson, Handel, hybrid, Josephine, Lilli Marlene, Madame Butterfly, Malmaison, musk, Paul, Persephone, Picasso, Pluto, Queen Elizabeth, Rob Roy, rose-coloured spectacles, Sarabande, Scherzo, St Rose of Viterbo, Uncle Walter, Violet Carson
From over 20 years ago. They say it has been a bumper year for roses.
In that quiet period which precedes dusk,
I ramble in my rose garden, inspecting every bloom-
whether it be centrifoliate, Bourbon, tea or musk
and feel for poor Persephone, who met her doom
while gathering flowers. Then, somewhat galled,
with secateurs in hand, I prune Picasso’s shape
and de-shoot Bobby Charlton; snip off Rob Roy’s balled
pompoms-all to avenge her rape.
I see The Duke of Windsor has reverted to his roots;
he’s mainly sucker. His infestation calls for a systemic,
to safeguard Queen Elizabeth and, if it suits,
his exile to another bed, to stall an epidemic.
Catharsis calms me, so I conduct and orchestrate
Handel, Sarabande and Scherzo. Altissimo’s too flush:
but such a quality I always tolerate
in any standard, climber, hybrid bush.
Would a rose by any other word smell quite the same?
If Violet Carson, Uncle Walter, Grandpa Dickson, Arthur Bell
should be compared to Madame Butterfly, or the lush Lilli Marlene?
Did jilted Josephine’s sterility inspire Malmaison’s cultivation?
And did she feel that floral beauty compensated for the tolling of Love’s knell
and comprehend, with Paul, that fleshly thorns are inherent in all exaltation?
Lovers believe no canker will attack their pedicels
and, like St Rose of Viterbo, their love will know no putrefaction.
If so, they look at Life through rose-tinted spectacles:
for Pluto may make bargains, but he still culls with satisfaction.
But, if a stem has never blossomed, then it might as well be briar
( the poets said)
and, with the unproductive fig, be destined for the fire-
else we must be what we must be: ripeness is all.
For a rose is a rose is a rose – evanescent beauty is its call.