Friday, 31 October 2008

Man and Machine

No. 2 in the occasional series of illustrations from "The Miracle of Life" (1941):

Click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


I remember my making -
a growing shadow in a ring of stones.

Since then, a stone
here and there, a rotting beam, the slate
that slips by inches every year:
the light creeps in. It seems to be
a universal principle.

Stone is my mantra.
Solid ground my only reassurance
that I'm part of something bigger.

One day I'll be full of light:
a field of stones
for people to pick over
in search of artefacts.

Monday, 27 October 2008

A Postcard from Wales

A street in Portmeirion
Photo: Karen Rivron

We've just spent the last ten days in North Wales. I managed to pop into Porthmadog Library mid-week, hence the previous post. We've been staying in Borth y Gest, a village close to Porthmadog. It's only up the road from the highest mountains in Snowdonia and there are all sorts of less energetic places to go to nearby. Portmeirion, with its eccentric architecture: walking round the place is like stepping into a surrealist painting. Then there's the Ffestiniog Railway - we both have a weakness for (though not an obsession with) steam railways.

On Saturday we went to Beddgelert, a village at the foot of the Snowdon massif. It was the day of the Snowdon Marathon, so we stood and watched it. It was pouring with rain so, after a while, we retreated into a roadside coffee shop where we could sit in the warm, drink coffee and eat bara brith while watching the race at the same time. Some of the passing runners looked rather envious, I thought. I certainly envied them. The race takes an awesome route: starting in Llanberis, it ascends to the top of the Llanberis Pass. It then descends to Beddgelert before returning to Llanberis via Rhyd Ddu and a rough track over the hills.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Brother Guy

I must've been about six
when my dad built the Guy.

It wore an old, dark suit
and a lipstick smile
and it sat for days
in our outhouse,
its condemned cell,
smiling silently to itself,
staring at the wall.

I went in to say hello
from time to time
and, of course,
I fell in love with him.

Come the night,
I protested so loudly
he had to be brought down
from the top of the bonfire
and sat before the flames
to keep warm and watch
the fireworks.

Thereafter, he lived
in the kitchen where he
frightened my mother
every morning.
Like all our houseguests
he finally took his leave
although no-one ever told me
where he went.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

It's that time of year again...

There's a chill in the air this time of year that always reminds me of fireworks. I must admit to enjoying Bonfire Night. I know how dangerous it can be but I don't think that means you shouldn't let off fireworks, it just means you should do it with extreme care. I know pets hate it: we've got three cats, and we do our best to make sure they're all indoors. Sometimes I get round to buying my own – my thoughts are turning to this as I write. Sometimes I don't get round to it, so we just go out to a display instead. And you don't have to actually go to a display: some of my favourite memories of Bonfire Nights past are of driving out into the hills and watching fireworks going off in the valleys. If you're lucky, the rockets explode at about the same height as the hill-tops and huge dandelion clocks of light explode and fill the windscreen. The trouble with this approach is that you miss out on the toffee apples and the sparklers.

One year, when I was little, my dad went to a lot of trouble to make a guy. As I remember it, he sat it in an outhouse for days before the big event and I grew quite fond of it. I was very upset when it came to burning him. I have a funny feeling that we didn't and the guy sat and watched. I don't like the idea -I don't suppose many people do these days- of associating the “guy” with Guido Fawkes. On the other hand, I'm a great fan of making scarecrows (see a previous post, here) and I like the idea of a cathartic ritual repeated year after year (I don't think we get enough of that kind of thing in the UK). Either way, this is a hypothetical line of thought at this end, as we just don't have the space for a decent bonfire.

So, I think I'll be keeping my eye out for a box of fireworks, and a bag full of rockets. Rockets, if you ask me, are the best bit.


Finally, totally off the point:

Gardening Poem

Making compost takes
longer than writing tanka.
Gardeners who are
impatient should consider
writing poetry instead.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Workshop of the Head

I've been fascinated by this book since I was very small. The copy I have originally belonged to my mother. There are many illustrations in it like this one. Do the little people have even littler people inside their heads?

Twentieth Century popular science:
how the brain works, from the 1941 publication,
The Miracle of Life
Click on image to enlarge

Thursday, 9 October 2008


Photo: Karen Rivron

(poem removed)

Saturday, 4 October 2008


A short short story

Why did she put up with it? Gaz was always telling her how much he cared but it was obvious from his actions that he didn't. Perhaps she was being unfair, she reflected. He just found it easier to get on with his mates. He was easily led. He was like a big kid. Yes, he did care, in his way: she was the 'still point of his turning world' as he was fond of saying. The still point. That was the trouble.
At least she had the telly for company. She'd been watching the repeats of a detective drama she used to watch, Sleuth. DI Ferguson and his sidekick, DC Nesbit. The most interesting thing about it was that Ferguson was single, married to the job as they say. Occasionally he went home to a bleak-looking flat and slumped on the settee with a takeaway in a mac that looked like he'd slept in it. She felt sorry for him. The living room looked as if it smelt of damp.
Anyway, he'd got his man, and the titles were rolling. She'd missed one or two important bits because she'd dozed off for a few moments on the sofa. She forced herself to sit up and reached around for the remote. Couldn't find it. Oh, well. Gaz would have to look for it when he came in, she thought. Insomniac. Spent his time watching late night films. God knows what was on at that time.
As she climbed the stairs she had this funny feeling that someone was up there, waiting for her. Should she go back down? No. It was just a feeling. She shouldn't be so stupid...
'Evening,' said the man. It was DI Ferguson, leaning on the bannister in his trademark creased mac.
'My partner'll back soon,' she said. She wasn't sure why.
'Pleased to see me?'
'Well... Yes.'
'Mind if I look around?' He raised his eyebrows. How many times had she seen him say and do that? 'We could always get a warrant...'
'No, I suppose not...'
He raised his eyebrows again. “Aren't you going to offer me a cup of tea?”
He walked towards her, glancing observantly from side to side. She retreated back down the stairs. He followed her.
'What's this all about? What's happening?'
'Wish I knew, love. Wish I knew.'
The shock was beginning to wear off. Listening to him talk, it became apparent to her that he was at least as confused as she was, if not more so. He sat down on the edge of the sofa.
'Truth is, love, I've no idea. Nothing to go on.'
So far he'd seemed preoccupied: looking round suspiciously, obviously weighing up the bits and pieces on the mantelpiece, the pile of magazines in the corner. She saw his eyes fall on the TV set. The adverts were still on.
'What were you watching?' he said.
'And you didn't turn it off?'
'I couldn't find the remote.'
'There's a switch on the thing, you know.'
'Gaz'll be coming in later.'
'Don't tell me. Sits up watching naughty films?' He started to root under the settee cushions. 'Quite a lad, your Gaz, by the sound of it. They always slip under the cushions, don't they? Remotes, not boyfriends that is. Not that I get much time to watch the telly... Here we are, love!' He sat up, smiling triumphantly, brandishing the missing gadget.
'Thank you'.
'Not at all.' He pointed it at the telly. 'Shall I do the honours?'
'By all means.'
She was never sure quite what happened next. One minute he was there... The next... There was the remote, on the hearthrug, the telly was off, and there was no more DI Ferguson.