26 January 2019


And life is too much like a pathless wood....

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.

A little over one hundred years ago Robert Frost wrote these lines.  He was struck by the pliable beauty of birch trees, especially as he observed their tender twigs weighted down with ice on a freezing morning after rain.

Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored 
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.

He sees the trees bowed down, 

trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.

Perhaps thinking of John Keats? He could see Autumn.....

sitting careless on a granary floor, 
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind....

Aah!  The wonderful power of imagination.....

Frost remembers swinging from such trees as a boy himself, and describes how a lonely farmer's son might have swung on all these trees.  He describes the technique, touching the excitement:

He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.

And Frost meditates on whether he might climb one again.....

So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.

For, as he says,

It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open. 
I'd like to get away from earth awhile 
And then come back to it and begin over.

Yes. It would be good to get away from earth.....

But, to come back, and begin again;

I'm not so sure.....

There are attractions, of course, but if you could leave, and then come back, who would want to pick up where they left off?  

Or start again at square one?  

Look at the damage we have done.  

Are doing.  

If we had the choice to start again without stepping off the path and on that butterfly, OK.  But to be a new born thing today is not to be envied.

To be fair, Frost did say:

May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.

And in this he is right - we don't have any options.  Earth is the right place for love.....

But not everyone is blessed with love.  Look at the tears on this tree....

Frost aspires,

I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree, 
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk 
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,

But he doesn't really want to go.  He wants his cake,

And he wants to eat it.....

But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

OK.  Indeed.  Frost's poetry is about things that matter.  As he says, [a poem] begins in delight and ends in wisdom.....No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.  No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.

I walk across the snow on Nomansland Common, the winter sun low in the morning, dark clouds mustering above the cold land.  Silver birches stand in clumps, their white stems gleaming, their dark twigs glistening with ice.  We brought our children here when we had just moved in, fifteen years ago or so.  

These beautiful trees shiver in the chill, but hold dear memories.  We don't play as we once did, but....

One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Time passes.  We forget.  And are forgotten.  I don't even know if I knew that Robert Frost read at the inauguration of President John F Kennedy.  I certainly didn't know the poem he read.  How differently these words  resound today.....

Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.

The Gift Outright

And, above




1874 - 1963

19 January 2019

All over the world....

Dans le monde entier.....

Dans le monde entier

All over the world 
People must meet and part 
There's someone like me 
Feeling a pain in their heart

Maybe it's the time of year?  The excessive joys (?) of Christmas are behind us; the New Year already looks jaded; winter is about to crash drunkenly through the doors.....

Shorry I'm late.....

I listen to Patsy Cline singing 'Crazy' but for some reason think of Françoise Hardy....

Who knows where that connection comes from?

Van Morrison, through a glass, darkly, doesn't clear the mists.  Doesn't cut the mustard....?

Van ordinaire?

The Roman God Janus has a lot to answer for.  All this looking back, looking forward stuff.  January is his month, and this was when I was born.  Cold, and damp.  

And this month our little one has flown away  south to rift with her past, and her present,

to make a new start,

To jump start the abandoned Rolls,



Some may meet again 
Under that same bright star 
If maybe some night 
You come back from afar 

Who cares if tonight 
I don't know where you are?

Now that picture, from Afon Mawddach, makes me think of The Wind among the Reeds, W B Yeats....

When shall the stars be blown about the sky, 
Like the sparks blown out of a smithy, and die?
Surely thine hour has come, thy great wind blows, 
Far off, most secret, and inviolate Rose?

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  

Is it?  What worth has a picture on its own?  If we have no words to go with it, where is the meaning?

It's the connections.  Those tiny flashing sparks that make a glow-worm put EDF Hinkley Point to shame.....

Or is that like asking for the sound of one hand clapping?  If we can see, we can all see differently.  

Red, green and blue may be the core colours of life and love, but who is to say you see what I see?

Are these poppies for remembrance?

Or do we forget?

And if we can read, we can all read differently.  

As Patsy Cline sings the words of Willie Nelson (stretched out on the deck of The  [ironically named] Victory, gasping Kiss me, Françoise....)

Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wondering what in the world did I do?
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I'm crazy for trying and crazy for crying

And I'm crazy for loving you

Aaahh!  How many lovely people are there?  From Margate to Mama.... 

And what becomes of them all?

All over the world 

Others are sad tonight 
There's someone like me 
Watching the sun's fading light

Whether it's drawing out of Birmingham on a crowded train in winter......

Or driving over the Pennines in stormy summer.....

Or wandering by the Thames in early Autumn......

I wish you well, my little one.....

All over the sky 
There is the same warm glow 
Here under that star 
I'm wanting you to know 
Wherever you are 
That I still love you so

Françoise Marie Aubine Hardy /Julian More

I will be there for you,

In the Jerusalem....

Best is yet to come and babe won't that be fine
You think you've seen the sun
But you ain't seen it shine

Frank Sinatra


4 January 2019

England, My England

WHAT have I done for you,

England, my England?
What is there I would not do, 
England, my own?

Not long before the First World War, D H Lawrence wrote a story entitled England, My England.  In 1912 he had eloped with Frieda von Richthofen, the wife of one of his former teachers at Nottingham.  They started their life together in Germany, but Lawrence was arrested as an English spy.  They walked south, across the Alps, into Italy.

After Frieda obtained a divorce, she and Lawrence were married, in July 1914, in England.  They lived for a while in Zennor, in Cornwall, but were accused of spying, and signalling to German submarines.

In October 1917, under the Defence of the Realm Act, Lawrence was forced to leave Cornwall at three days notice.  They lived for a while in Berkshire, and then in Derbyshire, but as soon as they were able, they left England, escaping, if you will, from poverty and harassment, and seeking better health (Lawrence suffered from lung problems for much of his life, and died in 1930 from tuberculosis).

They travelled to Sicily, and then, in 1922, to Ceylon, to Australia,  and eventually to Taos, in New Mexico.  In this year, his collection of short stories entitled England, My England, was published.

In the late twenties, the couple returned to Italy, and then, finally, they moved to Vence, in the south of France, where Lawrence died in March, 1930, aged 44.

The short story, England, My England, is not a hymn of praise.  In part it makes fun of the patriotism expressed in W E Henley's Victorian poem of the same name.....  In part it is a satirical portrait of Percy Lucas, brother of E V Lucas, and a genial dilettante, who in 1916 died stoically and miserably from gangrene following wounds suffered in battle.  When Lawrence heard of this, he wrote, I wish that story at the bottom of the sea, before it had even been printed.

However, at the end of the story, I wrote, in 1975, a note.  I don't now know where I got it from, but here goes:  Inexorable destruction of life as it used to be - always as it used to be.  The savage England has been broken up by the darkness of the twentieth century.  The war was something of a coup de grace - the damage had already been done.  Egbert's family, home and garden had been founded in true, spontaneous love, the only valid force, but as the love had died so had the health of the whole situation..... 

We are about a hundred years on from Lawrence's fugue from his homeland, but I sense a curious connection.  When I first lived in Italy, in the late 1970s, I found myself conflicted between enormous enjoyment of new stimuli and an agony of nostalgia.  I read Lawrence, Hardy, Dickens et al in abundance, yearning for a world I had 'sort of' left behind.  The world was in turmoil, again. Aldo Moro's death led to ruinous corruption in the politics of Italy; Mrs Thatcher inspired the greed of capitalist consumerism which led eventually to economic austerity and subsequently the rise of populism.

I was raised in an England recovering from a shattering war.  We played in air-raid shelters and bomb craters.  My grandfathers had served in the First War; my parents in the Second.  We watched films such as The Dam-busters and Dunkirk.  And read G K Chesterton and Ian Fleming.  The only time I went abroad was on a school trip to Norway when I was 14.

I love England, even though I left these shores for twenty years at the age of 25.  I loved the windswept beaches and soggy canvas of our family holidays, the ritual of stirring the Christmas pudding mix, the way my mother served kedgeree, or stuffed lamb's hearts.

Yes, I have grown old, and grumpy, and nowadays hold a list of dislikes as long as your arm (cyclists on footpaths, Jacob Rees Mogg, people who talk loudly on hands free phones on public transport, Chris Grayling, people who don't thank you for giving way, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, untrained dogs that leap up at you, Theresa May, children in bars, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, drones, the leader of the labour party, skinny lattes in takeaway cups....etc.)

But.....  the list of things I like is infinitely longer (wine, pasta, cheese, walking, soft rain, grey skies, the sound of waves on the shore, the smell of earth before a storm, my allotments, song thrushes.....)

Aye.  there's a lot to love, and in quirky, unreal moments, I could even love those who mistakenly voted for the UK to leave the EU......

However, I love France, and Spain and Greece, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, Portugal, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, 

And all who live in them!

I love Hymns (Ancient, not Modern!) 

And Stencil Art in suburbia:

Darkness, and light:

Field mushrooms and cats' ears:

Quiet dinners with friends:

Gnomes (and rabbits) in gardens:

And kites in the sky:

Trees in winter, and cows, and starlings:

The sky, whenever, but especially when in flame:

And again skylines, at the turning of the year:

Everyone has their own England, or Wales:

Or Belgium, or whatever.  That's part of the joy of life - we are all different with different backgrounds and hopes, fears and stories.  Some of our experiences are shared, and some are suffered, or enjoyed, in private.  

But this nonsense of the inexorable destruction of life as it used to be is just that: nonsense.  We need to build on the experience of the past founded in true, spontaneous love, the only valid force.....

Whatever our station in life.....

Ever the faith endures,
England, my England:—
'Take and break us: we are yours,
England, my own!
Life is good, and joy runs high
Between English earth and sky:
Death is death; but we shall die
To the Song on your bugles blown,
To the stars on your bugles blown!'  

William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) 

Neither nationalism, nor patriotism, need exclude mutually profitable relationships with others.  The infatuation with regaining 'control' and the misguided belief that some kind of independence will lead to regained status or greater wealth are delusions that exist only in the minds of those who are already rich and who lack any real understanding of either history or people.  

As D H Lawrence wrote, in England, My England, And as the years passed, the lightning cleared the sky more and more rarely, less and less the blue showed. Gradually the grey lid sank down upon them, as if it would be permanent.

Amen to that......