Saturday, 27 March 2010


Two poems this week: one -Stone- for the TFE Poetry Bus, being expertly driven this week by Rachel Fox. Another poem -Elegy for Patrick- sneaked on without a ticket while the driver wan't looking. This stowaway is a poem I wrote a long time ago about someone who was very important to me. I have recently revised it.


Is it

A lintelstone
waiting for the door
to be opened

A hearthstone
waiting for the fire
to be set

A millstone
waiting for the wheat
to be harvested

A boundarystone
waiting for the land
to be disputed

A milestone
waiting for the road
to go somewhere

A gravestone
waiting for the settlers
to settle down

An altar stone
waiting for something
to be given

Or just a stone,
waiting for the sun

to rise

and touch it?

Elegy for Patrick

OK, so the Irish songs you taught me

Monday, 22 March 2010

Star Talk

Writing about Saturn's rings got me thinking of a Robert Graves poem I'm rather fond of. I don't very often post poems apart from my own, but this is an exception. I don't think it is as well-known as it deserves to be. It's a shame lines like "What do you hunt, Orion, / This starry night?" haven't passed into common usage, the way "Into the valley of death/Rode the six hundred" or "Do not go gentle into that good night" and suchlike have. Gemelli, by the way, is Italian for twins.

Totally off the point, I'm having great fun playing with my Deezer Playlist widget. If you like modern jazz and don't know Fluffy (I want you) by Polar Bear, it's there, waiting for you...

Star Talk

by Robert Graves

'Are you awake, Gemelli,
This frosty night?'
'We'll be awake till reveillé,
Which is Sunrise,' say the Gemelli,
'It's no good trying to go to sleep:
If there's wine to be got we'll drink it deep,
But rest is hopeless to-night,
But rest is hopeless to-night.'

'Are you cold too, poor Pleiads,
This frosty night?'
'Yes, and so are the Hyads:
See us cuddle and hug,' say the Pleiads,
'All six in a ring: it keeps us warm:
We huddle together like birds in a storm:
It's bitter weather to-night,
It's bitter weather to-night.'

'What do you hunt, Orion,
This starry night?'
'The Ram, the Bull and the Lion,
And the Great Bear,' says Orion,
'With my starry quiver and beautiful belt
I am trying to find a good thick pelt
To warm my shoulders to-night,
To warm my shoulders to-night.

'Did you hear that, Great She-bear,
This frosty night?
'Yes, he's talking of stripping me bare
Of my own big fur,' says the She-bear,
'I'm afraid of the man and his terrible arrow:
The thought of it chills my bones to the marrow,
And the frost so cruel to-night!
And the frost so cruel to-night!'

'How is your trade, Aquarius,
This frosty night?'
'Complaints is many and various
And my feet are cold,' says Aquarius,
'There's Venus objects to Dolphin-scales,
And Mars to Crab-spawn found in my pails,
And the pump has frozen to-night,
And the pump has frozen to-night.'

Monday, 15 March 2010

Watching the Rings

I've just watched the second episode of Wonders of the Solar System on BBC2 and I must say I'm hooked. Brian Cox, who presents the programme, has a real ability to communicate his passion for his subject. He very cleverly takes phenomena on earth as his starting point: in tonight's episode, using tornadoes to explain the way the solar systm began as a nebula and ice floes in the Arctic and the sands of the Sahara to explain the structure of Saturn's rings. The boyish delight he obviously found in seeing the rings through a telescope got me, after the programme, lugging my telescope out of the corner of the living-room and into the garden. It's been a generally clear night here and, sure enough, Saturn is still there, a bright point of light just below Leo's back paws. It doesn't matter how many times you point a telescope at it, the thrill of seeing the rings sticking out either side of the planet never seems to wear off. (When he first saw it Galileo, as Brian Cox pointed out, described the planet as having ears). Sadly, I couldn't make out it's moon, Titan, tonight - but then you can't have everything.

A great way to end the weekend. I'm playing double bass in a production The Pirates of Penzance this week. We had our first rehearsal yesterday. I've not played the bass part since 1970-something and I've been singing the songs in the bath on and off ever since. I kept getting feelings of deja vu - first, in the 12-bars rest in the overture, when I suddenly remembered it's all too easy to lose your place! And I couldn't resist singing along:

Here's your crowbar,
And your centre bit;
Your life preserver -
You may want to hit.

Your silent matches,
Your dark lantern seize,
Take your file
And your skeletonic keys.

There's plenty more where that came from. Great stuff, I think.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


This post is a response to a meme posed by Niamh at Various

The same performers -I've no idea who they are- also posted the out-takes - if you've got the time. There are quite a lot of different versions of the Geographical Fugue on Youtube to choose from. I liked this one.

I've discovered that one's earliest awareness of different parts of the world can be alarmingly revealing of the prevalent stereotypes and prejudices awash in one's culture. My earliest awareness of the following would be:

Europe: Being born there, and the little plastic German soldiers I used to play with.

America: President Kennedy's Funeral. I can just remember it.

Africa: A book about a boy who chased a tiger round a tree and turned it into pancakes. It sounds strangely implausible when I tell it like that, but that's how I remember it. And then there was a Rupert Bear story. This used language in a way which people would find offensive and alarming now, as I remember it.

Australia: Rolf Harris. My dad was widely believed to look like Rolf Harris.

Asia: My dad's wartime experiences as a Japanese prisoner and a book at school about China, Lee Lan and the Dragon-Kite.

The furthest North I've ever travelled is, in the air, over Greenland while flying to Canada. On the ground, Uppsala in Sweden.

The furtherst West, Toronto. I'd like to have said Mansfield, Pennsylvania (there are, or were, T shirts there that say "Where the Hell's Mansfield?").

Furthest East: Stockholm. Memorable for it's (disappointingly small, as I remember it) Jean Tinguely sculpture park.

Furthest South: Barcelona. I was into Orwell's Homage to Catalonia at the time.

Longest time in one place: 16 years, here.

Shortest: Manchester, 3 years.

I lived in Aisthorpe (near Lincoln), Lichfield, Wolverhampton, Manchester, London, Halifax, North Yorkshire.

Addresses: 16.

I could add, as a radio amateur, my most distant 2-way contacts. They're not very impressive by amateur radio standards:

Furthest North: Svalbard; furthest South: Brazil; furthest West: Chicago; Furthest East, Russia or Israel.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Something silly and spur of the moment. It's late Sunday night and I've realised I've not written anything for the Poetry Bus! So here's a quick one. I have to admit it's semi-autobiographical - the names have been changed for obvious reasons and it's a slight exaggeration. Slight. My only excuse is I'd spent a who term's student grant on a bass guitar in the first week of term and I had to play something on it. "Bob" had an amp.


Bob played guitar
I played the bass
Like desperadoes waiting for a train

Liz made the tea
Pete lost his place
Like desperadoes waiting for a train

We didn't have a clue
It was the only song we knew
Like desperadoes waiting for train

So we set up our gear
Every week for a year
And played desperadoes waiting for a train


Saturday, 6 March 2010

Three Pieces

I've got three pieces on the piano at the moment and whenever I walk past it, I can't resist sitting down and having a go at them. (Funnily enough, I found two of them one afternoon in the sheet music bin at the local Red Cross shop). They're strictly for personal pleasure and preferably, the other occupants of this house would probably say, in a sound-proofed room. I'd probably agree with them. With a bit of luck, I'll be able to play them properly one day, but there's more to it than that. I'm finding, at the moment, teaching the guitar all day, that I need a bit of musical "me time" when I can just play what I like for myself.

The first is the first of Francis Poulenc's Mouvements Perpétuels. I remember this piece being on the piano when I was young. It's something I always wanted to play with a degree of competence, but never got round to. Well, I'm getting round to it now. I'm discovering -well, remembering- it's a very easy piece to play badly. I've read someone describe it as being like a cycle ride round Paris, with church bells in the distance. I found this version on YouTube, with its picture of a young Poulenc:

The second is a piece by Peter Maxwell Davies - Farewell to Stromness. This was -and probably still is, for all I know- a bit of a hit on Classic FM. I like it because it reminds me of islands and the sea around Scotland. It was written as part of a cabaret -performed by the composer and Eleanor Bron- protesting against Margaret Thatcher's plans to mine uranium in the Orkney Islands (which were, thankfully, abandoned).

The third is the first of Arnold Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces (1911). Like the Poulenc, I've always liked these. They belong to the age of Munch's The Scream and the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. It's an oddly compelling piece to play: baffling at first, I found that the more I got to know it, the more I wanted to go back to it. I often wonder why there aren't more very short pieces of music. Cynics listening to Schoenberg might say they wish he'd written more. This is a chap called Nicasio Gradaille playing the first two (the first piece ends at 1:10):