Friday, 14 November 2014

A Couple of Poetry Scraps

A little poem written during pregnancy


Blackcurrants

 

Will you come first or will the blackcurrants, my little one

When they flourish in the fading summer?

We have watched them from the start, from the very beginning,

When it seemed the winter would never retreat.

We felt the wind rustle the perfumed leaves, rejoicing every day

As we passed them on the way to work and home again.

That was when you were no bigger than a blackcurrant.

We waited until we heard the robins begin to sing-in the spring.

We watched while the flowers budded, bloomed and died,

Leaving bare stalks with a vague promise of more to come.

And now, little one, green orbs populate the branches –

Abstractly foreshadowing the currents they will become,

Teasing the impatient birds and me in their bitter youth.

You, will still be waiting, inside, when I am eating blackcurrants

On my way to work.

When you arrive, little one, the birds will be lamenting the end of summer

Nostalgic for the blackcurrant harvest.




An attempt at worship song lyrics...


Your presence, like water,

Refreshes a thirsty soul.

Your sacrifice, so perfect

Brings the sinner to your fold.

Lead me to you through the crowd

Of false voices pressing in

Let me adore, on bended knee, the only king

 

I must not guild you in silver or gold

To understand your might,

For all that they can do,

in earthly form

Is to reflect your light.

May I, like gold, be your reflection in my life.

 

Your every word, like dew fall,

Refreshes a thirsty world.

All that you teach, so perfect,

Builds and shapes your church.

Let me be silent in the storm

To feel your sacred power

Let me be listening to you through every hour.

 
 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Wild Rosie

This story does not belong to me, though they're my words. It's a story that my Grandad used to tell, and I wrote it down with a few of my own embellishments as a response to him - his life, his story. Sadly he died on the 6th of August, I think writing this has made me understand a little better what he gave me, and it starts with a sense of the mysterious.

He dictated an essay to my brother a few weeks before he died, this post is written in answer to that.





Wild Rosie

A car is pulled up at the side of a small road that winds around a West Country hill. The long grass of the verge sprinkles the tyres with water droplets from a recent shower. Two men are standing conversing by a gate which cuts in two the thick lush hedgerow. In the bushes the wildflowers grow truly wild, blooming impatiently and out of turn. One of the men is old and stately, talking to the middle distance, his voice hushed with gravity. The younger of the two, black hair just beginning to turn grey listens intently with both eyes and ears. When it is his turn to speak he is louder and more enthusiastic, encouraging. Three gangly children are in the back of the car, usually noisy and pre-occupied, they are now straining to see and hear the conversation. They have heard the story before.


Unaccounted years earlier, on this same spot (even though they are not sure of it) a man and a boy passed through the gate. The boy was barely six years old. His fair hair was almost white, he had a round gentle face, and he gazed intently at his father through palest blue eyes. His father, the sturdy man in a white shirt and black waistcoat holding the child’s chubby hand, was striding at a pace which caused the boy to trot to keep up as they travelled up the narrow grassy path between the hedgerows.

The child had not paid attention and didn’t know where they were going, but it felt like an adventure, climbing the hill out of the village, and taking the mysterious path away from the road, so he didn’t complain. Presently they were approaching a tumbledown cottage in a clearing - the kind that belongs in a fairy tale. Creeping shrubs climbed the walls, at one corner a spray of elderflowers leaned out from the house. It was a summer’s day, but smoke was rising from the chimney in swirls. A lady, stooped and trembling with age emerged from the front door, apparently to tend to her plants in the garden, but upon seeing the approaching visitors, she rose to her full height and extended a hand to wave.

They arrived and were shown in.

“Hello Child,” the old lady began, “your pa finally brought you ‘ere. I ’as been looking forward to meetin’ you.” Her voice was soft, but strong with authority. The child was silent with wonder. Father looked down at the boy, prompting him. The child searched his memory and discovered what his mother had told him to say,
“You have a lovely home.” He said quickly and, thinking about it, began to look around. There were dark chests of drawers lining the walls; a fireplace, where a kettle was warming. The room was lit by the pale sunlight drawn through the windows which casted shadows upon the cobwebbed corners. Despite the fire, on that summer day the one room cottage seemed cold. 

“Oh, it ain’t my ‘ouse.”

“Whose is it?” answered the boy, beginning to find his voice.

“It belongs to Rosie. Do you know who Rosie is?” She didn’t wait for him to shake his head - with a twinkle in the corner of her eye she continued “she’s your great, great,” as the little boy brought his grubby fingers up to his face to count, a secret and almost imperceptible grin spread across the wrinkled face, “great, great…great grandma.”

The Father caught her eye and turned away to tend the fire.

“Is she very, very old?” asked the child, now inquisitive.

“Oh, o’course, she’s very old. Even older’n me. She was born a very long time ago. I’ll tell you about ‘er. She’s a wise woman. She knows every plant and flower in the forest, and she knows which ones’ll do you good and which ones’ll do you ill.”

“How does she know?” asked the child.

“She’s tried ‘em all.  She’s made ‘em into medicines and poultices and draughts and the like, and tried ‘em all on ‘erself.”

“Why didn’t they make her ill?

“Because she knows when to spit. If it smells evil, or tastes evil or looks evil, then it probably is. Mind you it migh’ not be. A little migh’ do you good if you’re ill. She knows. And she wrote it all down in a fashion, e’en though she can’t write. She’s got lots of drawers an’ a system, an’ if you know the system and you ‘eard all ‘er stories then you know what will cure and what won’t. An’ that I do and that I did and that I know.”

“Is she magic?”

“No she ain’t magic, and don’t you go lettin’ ‘er hear you sayin’ that, she’d be mightily insulted.”

“Well how has she lived so long?”

“I’ll tell you that. She never did no magic. She’s making a point. When she were young, a long time ago, there was those who thought that women like ‘er - wise women o’ the forest - was magic just as you say, and that they consorted wi’ demons in the night, and that they cast spells an’ made potions. And they hunted them, an’ a lot of women was killed. You see now ‘ere she is livin’ an’ she’s makin’ ‘er point.”

The boy was bewildered, too much so to answer the old lady. He continued to stare up at her, as she stared down at him, with her back hunched over in a perfect curve. Her once white apron covered a faded blue cotton dress, and her large feet protruded rudely beneath. She was a singular character and had ignited the boy’s curiosity.

“Well, boy.”

“What?”

“Don’t you think it’s about time you met ‘er? You came to see ‘er didn’t you?” He consented with an unblinking gaze.

“She’s upstairs, careful on the ladder, I’ll follow right behind you.”

The boy emerged into a loft space, stark and dusty and sprinkled with flecks of light coming through the spaces in between the tiles. There was a figure a few paces away, near a small window in the gable end. He turned back to the old lady following,

“Should I call her great, great…” She almost chuckled as the chubby fingers emerged again from behind his back.

“Rosie’ll do just fine. She likes a child quite enough for ‘is own sakes, doesn’t care much ‘ow you’re related. She’s old enough and ‘ad enough children an’ grandchildren not to worry ‘bout that any more. Call ‘er Rosie, sure she would’ha had another name when she were born, near enough to your own I’d ‘azard a guess, since we’re all family together. But she made a name for ‘erself round ‘ere and that name were Wild Rosie. There’s people come from the village whenever they get ill, an’ they know I got all the medicines and poultices and draughts, but they won’t get well will they? No, they won’t get well ‘til they seen Wild Rosie.

“You know why that is boy?”

The wide eyed boy shook his head in the gloom.

“It’s because they think ‘emselves better. Many of ‘em thought ‘emselves ill. One day they didn’t want to work so’s they found a little niggle and let it grow to a big one all until they find out it’s better to be well, so now they want to get better again. The medicines and poultices help some, but it’s thoughts that help the most. Go on. Go over there, she can’t see you ‘ere.”

The child walked with measured footsteps towards the thin figure. She sat in a squeaking rocking chair. Bony knees dented the flow of her tired nightgown, delicate with wear. Her wispy hair, matted in places formed an ethereal veil around her face, translucent in the dim light from the dusty window. Deep wrinkles contoured every feature of bony face. Her countenance was grey and sharp, but she had kind eyes; the gleam of life shone out of them. 

The little boy approached her and stood boldly, his stomach protruding and little fists by his sides, like only a six year old can, by her chair,

“Hello Rosie” he said.

Her pale blue eyes rested on the shining round face as if noticing him for the first time. Her gaze softened and she slowly nodded. A slight smile disturbed the papery wrinkles around her mouth, communicating the familial affection of someone very old for someone very small. She continued rocking slowly in her chair, and in her bony fingers, two knitting needles moved in slow motion. She was knitting, there was no yarn.

“What are you knitting?” The bold little boy asked her.

The very old lady replied with a slow, knowing blink from her tired reddened eyelids.

“What is she knitting?” he asked turning to the other lady.

“Dreams, son. Imaginin’s.”

“Whose dreams?”

“Who knows boy, maybe yours an’ mine.”

He watched her for a while, and she watched him. The other old lady’s footsteps approached behind him, and lifted him up to kiss the delicate ivory cheek. He was afraid he’d hurt her. The skin was dry and he thought he felt a cold bone beneath. She seemed to blush a little, and her smile broadened.

He descended the rickety ladder again asking,
“How does she get up and down here?”

“She don’t, not on ‘er own. Most o’ the time she likes to stay up there. Then when she’s needed down in the village, someone comes up an’ we lower ‘er down in a chair. Then the strappin’ lads carry ‘er down to the village. She don’t go much anymore. Only for the dyin’. She’ll always be there if it’s for the dyin’ particurly if it’s one o’ the old ones. She’s known ‘em all from birth, remembers ‘em from when they was babies bein’ born. I tole you some won’t get well ‘til they seen Wild Rosie, I tell you now, there’s some as won’t die ‘til they seen ‘er neither.”

“What does she do when they die?”

“She sits with ‘em, stays with ‘em. They used to say she said spells over them, or she enchanted them to sleep but that ain’t it. She keeps ‘em company and she praps prays for ‘em as they go, an’ it helps ‘em die properly.”

“When will she die?”

“What do you mean by that boy?”

“She’s so old.”

“Hundreds of years old, quite righ’.”

“Will she live forever?”

“I tole you boy she migh’ be a wise woman, but she ain’t magic. Sure she’ll die one day. When they don’t need her no more.”

The boy’s father had brewed some nettle tea over the fire, so they sat with him, the boy sinking into a woollen cushion, dull with repeated use and ash from the open fire. Father told the old lady all the news from the village. He gave her the basket of bread and meat he’d brought, which she promptly stashed away a creaky cupboard.

When the visit was over, and they left the house, the little boy waited until they were a short distance away and whispered to his father.

“She’s magic isn’t she?”

“Why do you think that?” he replied,

“She’s hundreds of years old and she’s still alive, and she can make medicines to make people well, and she’s tried all the plants that make you ill but she never got ill, and people come to see her and they get better, and she knits my dreams.”

“She knits your dreams?” His father repeated, ever so slightly surprised.

“Yes, she knits with invisible wool to make dreams.”

“She must be magic then” his father said, turning his eyes again to the path, and they descended to the village.



The old man and the younger man get back in the car. It’s too wet, and too late to try walking the path, the old man says. The children’s imaginations stir. Is he scared that she won’t be there, that the story was just too fanciful, or the village no longer needed her and she died? Or is he scared that she will be there, still rocking in the dim light of a rainy day, and the story will continue?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Loneliness

This article on the BBC News website really caught my interest: 'Is modern life making us lonely?'

For a long time I've thought that contemporary trends can lead people down a very lonely path. It being the norm in this country to move away from home to go to university, then to move again to start building a career, people my age are so mobile that it can feel like you're shedding your friends annually. 

That has been my experience. While I am grateful for the opportunities that I have had in my education and in the beginning of my working life, when I first moved away from home, I really think I had no idea how transient my life would become. Having studied languages at university and therefore spending a year abroad in the middle of my degree, now almost 24 years old, the longest I have lived at one address in the last 6 years is 12 months. I have not stayed in the same town for more than a year since 2009. My grandmother tells me she has a whole page in her address book reserved for me as she keeps having to cross out my address and put in a new one. I'm sure I'm not the only one with this experience, as young people we go where there is a promise of opportunity, and don't realise the price we're paying.

For an introvert like myself, this really does have an immense impact on life. I would say that it takes me more than a year to really get to know someone, so, while I have met some wonderful people in the last few years who I have a lot of affection for, I feel like I have always had to say goodbye too soon, curtailing promising friendships. Now living in Newcastle, the friends I made at university are scattered around the country; at weekends I have to choose between staying and nurturing the shoots of friendship here, or upping sticks to visit someone dear.

It can be very hard to make friends in a new place. Efforts at community (clubs/societies etc.) can sometimes feel forced and even intimidating for someone new, especially for those of us who are shy by nature. It's no wonder that the article mentions feelings of anxiety being elicited by loneliness - there's such pressure to be outgoing, to be having a great time. And it's no wonder that we're in the midst of a love affair with social media, if your circle of friends is more of a diaspora, the little messages coming through during the day can begin to feel like water in the desert! Even if friends' updates can add to that pressure to be getting along fine.

Even those who return to their home town after university can find themselves back in square one when it comes to forming a social circle, as many find that close friends have moved away or relationships have been weakened by the time spent apart.

I don't wish to sound dissatisfied with my life, but I write this because I suspect that my experience of frequent upheavals is not uncommon, and this is the sort of thing which really adds to a feeling of loneliness. It feels like perhaps friends for life is a thing of the past, and that is a huge loss. 

I am very lucky to be getting married soon to my wonderful fiance, but even that entails a move, a change of job, and diving again into the uncertain, the unknown. Hopefully, marriage will bring more stability and support into my life, but not everyone has that fortune. 


Monday, 25 February 2013

I don't like small talk but...


Leaving the supermarket this evening, I was on the point of sending checkout people who are trained to chat to customers to Room 101.

Where I shop, there has clearly been some direction from above that their staff need to be open and friendly. So they appear to be trained in the art of light conversation. Anyone who knows me will probably guess that light conversation with a stranger is not something I relish. It's the main reason why my hair only gets cut about once a year (if it's lucky (or unlucky as you might see it)). So when the lovely smiley man at the till asked me what I got up to this weekend, an inner struggle ensued...
.
Of course the nice me was saying "He seems like a lovely man, he got on so well with the last lady, just tell him about your weekend and find out about his"

To which the cynic replied "Yes, and he asked that last lady the exact same question, he's just the face of a huge corporation trying to sell you cheap companionship! Tell him what you think!"

and of course the actual me was standing there desperately trying to think of some actual words to say.

So I did my best to shut down any small talk so that I could be on my way with the minimum of awkwardness. On the way out of the shop I tried to rationalize why I was so bothered by the fact that he tried to chat with me. 

"You're not an old fashioned greengrocer a la Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours. I'm never going to see you again, even if I come here every week, because this is a huge place with a huge staff, so why greet me like a friend?...You've been told to say these things, it's not genuine..."

but my inner arguments got weaker and weaker as I started to really think about it. Ok, I might not have enjoyed the way I was greeted today, but surely there are lots of people who really appreciate a moment in the day when they get to talk to someone new, or anyone at all. And yes, they're told to do it, but that doesn't negate the fact that he looked genuinely happy to be talking to me, and the lady before.

I remembered my own time working on the shop floor, and how nice it was when someone would actually interact with you, rather than seeing you as a part of the machinery. Really, I am guilty of that sometimes, I'd rather talk to those infuriating self check out check outs than a real person and all I want sometimes is to be out the door as quickly as possible. 

Clearly there's some room for improvement in my social interactions, and I should remember that it's not all about me, I may be the person handing over the money, but I'm not the only one who is a person. I want to be open and friendly too, perhaps at the start it will be forced or appear unnatural, but it's worth something.

So I plan to get over myself and if I encounter another situation like that, I will suck it up and be pleasant, even if I don't really want to.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Hope in the Darkness

I had a terrible nightmare last night.

Approaching the desk of some calm, cool operative, I said
"Apparently, I'm supposed to be executed today, but nobody told me." Inwardly I was desperate to hear that there had been some mistake.
"Yes," he said "that's right, you need to go upstairs to the desk there."
The dream-me left the desk and began to make my way to the other desk where my fate was sealed. I experienced, in that moment, utter hopelessness.

Waking up, I remembered that emotion, and found myself thinking - so that's what it's like to lose all hope. Somehow, through that horrible dream moment, I think I learned something about hope.

I have become pessimistic, I'm not sure when it happened, but I have felt like I can't muster a sense of optimism about some things and I was beginning to think that that equated to a lack of hope. Experiencing that moment of hopelessness, showed me that hope is something deeper, and convinced me that there is a kernel of it in my heart that can't be shaken.

What I feel is pessimism, momentary fear, but not despair.

1 Peter 3:15 says: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,

There is always hope in me, that my life is worth something, that this existence doesn't end with today and that death will not destroy my soul because God is creator, his creation is glorious even in the presence of sin and tragedy, he made me to know him, and even my sin and inobedience is forgiven in the person of Christ the son of God. I believe in the ultimate sacrifice, laid down for man while we were still sinners, and in the continuing work of Christ on earth in and through his Church.

I have a reason to hope, and I will have hope. Whether I could walk calmly to the executioner if the day came to be martyred, who knows, but my wish is that even then, hope would not leave me.