28 February 2022

To whom it may concern

To Whom It May Concern

A tissue, a tissue, we all fall down.....

I was run over by the truth one day.
Ever since the accident I’ve walked this way
So stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Heard the alarm clock screaming with pain,
Couldn’t find myself so I went back to sleep again
So fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Every time I shut my eyes all I see is flames.
Made a marble phone book and I carved all the names
So coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

I smell something burning, hope it’s just my brains.
They’re only dropping peppermints and daisy-chains
So stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Where were you at the time of the crime?
Down by the Cenotaph drinking slime
So chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

You put your bombers in, you put your conscience out,
You take the human being and you twist it all about
So scrub my skin with women
Chain my tongue with whisky
Stuff my nose with garlic
Coat my eyes with butter
Fill my ears with silver
Stick my legs in plaster
Tell me lies, tell me lies about Aghanistan.
Tell me lies about Israel.
Tell me lies about Congo.
Tell me, tell me lies Mr Bush.
Tell me lies Mr B-B-Blair, Brown, Blair-Brown.
Tell me lies about Vietnam.

Adrian Mitchell
1932 - 2008

Adrian read the original draft of this poem at the International Poetry Incarnation in the Royal Albert Hall in 1965, and added to it throughout his life. He read it when I was a student at Lancaster; and he read it when he and Celia came to visit my school in Rome, (despite a warning from the then Headmaster that he shouldn't.....)

Somewhere up the creek.... without the proverbial paddle

Although the Vietnam war is history now, and generations have grown up without the pictures of American bodybags on the TV news every night; even without the daily flashes of Blair and Brown, the spectre of war has not left us, and this poem was brought to mind once more by Nick Cohen's excoriating piece, headed Lies come in all shapes and sizes. This government is familiar with them all in The Observer on February 13th this year: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/12/lies-lies-and-more-lies-a-government-built-on-lies-is-incapable-of-anything-else 

To quote but two sentences: This is a government that lies. It lies because it is a lame-duck administration of charlatans and clowns, an echoing void where the government of the country ought to be.

No tracks, no trains.....

This is a government that pretends to be working day and night to protect the people of Ukraine, but on the news this morning a British couple in Ukraine with two small babies had been told by the British Embassy that they had to drive for 14 hours across a war zone to acquire documentation that would enable them to return to the UK. Today we hear that the Foreign Secretary, Ms Truss, has enraged (Ras) Putin by her undiplomatic errors sufficiently to drive him to threaten the use of nuclear weapons.....

The people's party.....

Last weekend a Government Minister suggested that refugees from Ukraine could enter the UK with visas if they picked fruit or vegetables.  Last week the Prime Minister proposed to sanction a smattering of Russian individuals and organisations, but conveniently avoided his friendship with Baron Lebedev, of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation (ennobled by Johnson in 2020), perhaps because he, like the Prime Minister, has dual nationality; or perhaps even more worryingly, Lubov Chernukhin, the wife of Putin’s former deputy finance minister Vladimir Chernukhin (Pandora papers documents published in October last year suggest he was allowed to leave Russia in 2004 with assets worth about £350m and retain Russian business links). She is now a member of the Conservatives’ 14-strong "advisory board" of donors, with a habit of handing the party six-figure sums.....  For more on this, please see John Harris's article:
The fight for Ukraine is a fight for liberal ideals. So how can Boris Johnson possibly lead it? published on February 27th: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/feb/27/ukraine-liberal-ideals-boris-johnson-tories-russian-money

Shadows in the sands....

There may well be those who won't agree with me, but Dictator Putin's vile and deranged attack on Ukraine had long been in gestation, with the West's paltry opposition to his incursions into Crimea and Georgia effectively encouraging his disregard for democratic values (not to mention his unpunished murders on the streets of the UK). But the way that the UK was bamboozled into Brexit, possibly with Russian assistance (the 'Russian report' was stifled by Johnson for nine months.....https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/21/just-what-does-the-uk-russia-report-say-key-points-explained), was another string to his bow. The weakness of the UK now, insular and no longer a part of a united Europe (despite still being part of NATO and the UN), gave succour to the megalomania of the ex-KGB officer.  Vain words from Downing Street can no longer convince anyone that Britain is a world power, although, with a little luck, they may chime with those from other sources.

So, with apologies to Adrian, 

Tell me lies, tell me lies about Afghanistan.
Tell me lies about Israel.
Tell me lies about Congo.
Tell me, tell me lies Mr Trump.
Tell me lies Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne, Mr Johnson.
Tell me lies about Ukraine.

If only you could fly.....

*     *     *     *

I do hope that Adrian Mitchell wouldn't mind the liberties taken here....  I have tried to contact Celia just to check, but so far without success.  If by any chance any of Adrian's family should see this and have any objection please let me know directly....

*     *      *     *

18 February 2022

Stormy Weather

Every Grain of Sand (again....)

Almost a year ago, settling in to our new home in Norfolk and exploring the area, especially the   never-ending sandy beaches on the north coast, I pieced together some thoughts and pictures and quoted from Bob Dylan. You may remember. You may be tired of my rehearsal of these words. You may, as many do, gloss over the words and leaf through the pics as if it were a well-thumbed magazine in the dentist's waiting room. However, this time I am not questioning Dylan's Christianity.....

There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair

I am still wandering the windswept/stormy acres of sand. Still trying to catch the birds.....

It's stormy weather, as the wind whips the bamboo at the head of our garden and scours the beach at Holme-next-the-sea. It's February, but not cold, not like it was sixty-plus years ago when I was a kid.

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

I have respect for Bob Dylan: his thoughts, his words, his music.  I don't always love his work; I have doubts, sometimes, about the lasting value of some of his observations, but that is chicken feed when you consider the wealth, and breadth, of his output.  

I have always loved this particular song (in all its versions - whether a dog barks in the background of the 1980 demo; on 1981's Shot of Love, live on Trouble no More; in Nana Mouskouri's quavering waterfall impression; in Emmylou Harris's limping soprano, Barb Jungr's crisp Rochdale air  or Chrissie Hynde's smoky contralto) notwithstanding details of the text and the way it arose during his uncertain support of reborn christian dogma.....

A Drift of Snow Buntings

I relate to the essential message, which, I think, is that (regardless of whether or not there is a god) we should not exaggerate our importance.  We humans, like every sparrow falling, should only see ourselves as tiny fragments of the world; an insignificance that should never merit more than a moment's attention...

Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer

My days may be in the yellow leaf, but our sandy walks are invigorating, the birds showering past....

A Deceit of Lapwings

I feel tired a lot of the time. It has been a weary two years, and little in the news brings lightness or relief. For some reason an image keeps recurring to me.  I was about twelve years old, and a friend had roped me in to being a runner at the Bucks County Show, carrying results from the rings to the judges tent. I was careering along with a fistful of dockets when I noted four men walking purposely against my direction.  

As I passed I saw that one of them was Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister.  He wore brown brogues, greenish tweed breeks and a loose jacket. His moustache was stained with nicotine and I felt his eyes, though heavily lidded and hooded by his hat, seemed to be taking in everything around.  It was a fleeting moment in time, but it has stuck with me.  He was, I cannot help but feel (though what do I know?) a man of energy and integrity.  The shame of it is that I also feel that that moment in time was perhaps the last when we had a Prime Minister worthy of the title - certainly the current incumbent is a national disgrace....

The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay

Shadowy thoughts bother my mind, randomly troubling my days. Our daughter Sarah is over from her home in Australia to spend a little time with her mother.  

.... onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand

When we walk in the Norfolk air, especially on blustery days, I breathe deeply and am grateful that things are not worse.  My own story is nothing like these lines: 

I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams

Though I can share something of these:

In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face

Putting things into perspective is a part of learning to live. Stepping out on the tidal sands, looking out to the cold North, we are at the mercy of the elements, and, though we may aspire to control climate change, the probability is that our collective efforts will have little impact. We may perhaps slow the pace of global warming, but we could never have stopped an Ice Age, and I fear that as things are the progressive greed of generations will lay waste this beautiful planet.

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand

Bob Dylan

Copyright © 1981 by Special Rider Music

Oh, yeah
Life is bad
Gloom and misery everywhere
Stormy weather, stormy weather
And I just can get my poor self together
Oh, I'm weary all of the time
The time, so weary all of the time

Stormy Weather
Harold Arlen / Ted Koehler

5 February 2022

A little less roving, perhaps....

So, we'll go no more a roving

So we'll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon

George Gordon
Lord Byron

Me and George go way back.... As an enthusiastic, youthful (?) teacher in Rome, at St George's English School, there was a plan to restructure the pastoral system at the school.  We were invited to suggest names for the four houses-to-be.  My friend Michael and I, aided by a couple of bottles of wine and an Olivetti typewriter, had a go at coming up with possibilities.  To cut the story short, Uranus was not a favourite (apparently it would not be appropriate on away fixtures) but, ultimately, despite considerable opposition from Hendrik Deelman, the then Principal, I got gold with Byron, a man with huge popularity in Italy, a man who succeeded in extraordinary swims (the Tagus, the Bosphorus) despite his disability (sometimes thought to be a club foot).....

Byron and I have been friends since.

We are a long way from those days.  I painted my classroom wall red as the house colour; I did my best to be the pastoral leader that I felt my students needed; I accepted that the other houses (Drake - blue; Newton - yellow; Livingstone - green) could be tolerated (it wasn't always the pupil's fault that they were not in Byron....)

Ah well.  That was then.

To bring us to the now.... Last night, having gone to bed very early (don't ask) I made my way downstairs in the dark and noticed my wife's dementia-friendly clock.  It said 9:11.  Was this a portent?  

I write this in the wake of the death of a friend. With reference to the school in Italy above, I heard this week that Martyn Hales, recently-retired Principal of St George's, had left this world. The world is, perhaps, too much with us, but when our friends start fading away, and you yourself wake up unrefreshed and tired every morning, the question becomes, what is it all about?  RIP Martyn - you were great.....

Ultimately, life is what happens while  you are busy making other plans (pace, John Lennon)..... Much is to be loved and enjoyed, but not everyone has their fair share.  I used to think that a lifetime was something like a donut.  Hendrix, Mozart, Jim Morrison, Achilles - perhaps they simply used up their allowance faster and more effectively than those who lived to the high numbers....?

I also used to think that I might not live beyond 25.  

So I was wrong.

If this is living.....

However, Byron lived to be 36.  He wrote the poem (above) at the age of 29, reflecting on his excesses during the Carnival of Venice.  He sent the poem in a letter to his friend Thomas Moore who then published it in 1830.  

We won't be roving very much more.....  At least the roving will be, shall we say, contained?  

The cold breath of mortality raises the hairs on my neck.  But then, to tell the truth, if the grim reaper visits me in the night and I wake to the cool touch of Charon by the bank of the Styx I hope I might adopt a reasonable response......

Very little separates the living from the dead - it's just a breath away......

Byron lived a life that horrified the staid, but which justifiably inspired others.  I wish we could go roving for ever; I wish we could all walk in beauty in the night; I regret my infirmity and my wife's decline, but I recognise that as the world whirls about in space orbiting within and without control, we must acknowledge our insignificance and forget self-importance for a moment, as the moment, this very moment, is all we have.

I received an email from New Zealand this morning.  It was from someone I was associated with in 1968 who had come across one of my blogs (possibly The Battle of Blenheim, but maybe Highlands.... please feel free to look them up). 

Life is short.  It is really good to keep in touch.  

Thank you Paul.  

Thank you everyone....

Love itself must rest