Saturday, 21 February 2009

The Get-Out

The god of excuses
could get away with anything.
"Look", he said, (his hand in the robe
of the headman's daughter),
"what goes in Heaven
goes on Earth."

He was a god
of many faces.

As War and Fertility
he straddled the world

As Death, he shrugged,
driven at last into a corner -
"what else could I do?"
he said.

I wrote this poem a few years ago. It first appeared in the North Eastern poetry magazine Scratch (issue 13), along with Ranter.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Up a Tree

I just love climbing trees. I always have. If you share my passion, you'll be familiar with the way that, from an early age, you learn to spot a good one. There will be at least a couple of low branches to get you going and there will be just enough space between the ones higher up to let you through. Climbing a tree is an exhilarating puzzle: you have to find the best route through a jumble of branches. The rules are simple: avoid dead-looking ones, test the ones you choose carefully and never put all your eggs in one basket. Once at the top, you are usually treated to an impressive view, especially if the tree is in a wood, and you can survey the canopy as a swimmer can the ripples on the water. Climbing down is invariably harder and you usually ask yourself, at least once, why on earth you left the ground in the first place.

Whenever I climb a tree I am reminded that I have always wanted to build a tree house. Sadly, I have never had the opportunity. Quite simply, I have never had a garden that boasted a suitable tree. You know the sort: pretty sturdy, with a good spread of branches a few feet off the ground.

My perfect tree house would be reached by a rope ladder. It would not be one of those half-hearted apologies for a tree house you see from time to time: a few planks nailed across a couple of branches to make a crude platform. My tree house would not only avoid nailing itself to the tree but would also boast walls, a window and a roof. It might even stretch to a second story: a ladder, perhaps, leading to a patio in the sky: a place to read a newspaper, or just look at the clouds.

I do not suppose I will ever get the chance to build it. I doubt I will ever move house again and it would take years to grow a tree that would be substantial enough. I am not that bothered, really. I suspect it is best left as a fantasy and, if I were to actually build it, I doubt if I would find the time to use it.

Photo: Karen Rivron

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

On the Buses: a Ramble Through London

I've just returned from a weekend in London. I travelled down with my son and daughter, D and A, for an old friend's birthday. We stayed with two other old friends in Walthamstow. We arrived late on Friday night and, as usual, I got lost as soon as I left the motorway. We spent the best part of an hour hopping from backstreet to backstreet, phoning up for directions before we finally arrived – at about 2am.
On Saturday, after a lazy morning spent consuming our friends' breakfast cereals and bread loaf, as well as perusing the vast map of the world on their kitchen wall (everyone should have one), we all went for a walk around Central London. We began with the City, wandering the streets and admiring the architecture: principally, the Gherkin and Lloyds TSB building. We discovered St Ethelburga's, a “centre for reconciliation and peace” with its tent, designed as a space for interfaith dialogue. It got us talking about religion - not for the first time! I won't go into exactly what we were saying. Suffice to say, when I got back and checked out my bloglist I found an amusing post on totalfeckineedjit's blog, about the atheist poster campaign that ran on London buses. Inspired by our discussions (and the aforesaid blog), I felt moved to start a virtual bus poster campaign of my own. The aim is to be thought provoking, rather than to promote any particular point of view. These two should do, for a start:

We left St Ethelburga's, and our way down, past St Paul's, to the river. Everyone has seen the famous photo taken of it during the Blitz and I can never look at that building without imagining it surrounded by smoke and ruined buildings. We crossed the Millennium Bridge to the South Bank, where we dropped in on The Globe and the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. The latter is currently taken up with Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster's installation, TH.2058. We were asked to imagine a time, fifty years into the future when, due to climate change, Londoners were driven to take shelter from the incessant rain in the Turbine Hall along with various works of modern art. I like to speak up for modern art, literature and music on this blog, but in this case I'm hard pressed. It is worth going to see, though – on account of the works of art supposedly sheltering in the Hall. There is a huge model of a frankly awesome piece, Flamingo, by Alexander Calder and another of a captivating Henry Moore, Sheep Piece, which, as well as being, well, sheeplike, took me straight back to the gritstone outcrops of Yorkshire, with their strangely-curved nooks and crannies. One reason, perhaps, why the installation as a whole falls so flat is that it incorporates these classic works of art which remind the viewer so forcefully of what art can do.

We had a birthday party to go to, so we left the rest of Tate Modern for another time. We made our way back across the river by the Hungerford Bridge (noisy with buskers) and, after a mad sprint, caught the 73 bus to Seven Sisters. This was a “bendy bus”. We occupied the central, bendy section, with its moving floor and concertina-like walls. We discovered how pleasant it was to lean against the contracting and expanding walls as the bus went round corners: it was incredibly relaxing, like lying on some expensive massage machine. (Is there a safety issue here? If there is, I didn't see any warning signs). The bus was very crowded, so we soon had to move along to make room for other people. It was highly amusing to see just how many people had discovered -and seemed to take surreptitious pleasure in- the bendy walls...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Promenade

after Chagall

Hold onto my hand

Monday, 2 February 2009

Bert the Snowman

I've just built a snowman. He's called Bert. He's composed a haiku. Since he's no good on the computer, he asked me to share it with you:

when you're made of snow
life is short: sadly it ends
when the sun comes out

Short indeed. He'll be lucky if he lasts a day or two, so I better get out there to see if he's come up with anything else...