Archives for posts with tag: ordinary life
OldDesignShop_StorybookFairiesBees

A Round Robin, by M. A. Hoyer and Robert Ellice Mack, illustrated by Harriett M. Bennett, c. 1891. Image sourced from The Old Design Shop

Watching the bees

Here are the words of the blazing day
and the once beautiful arrangements.
It was heady, was it not?
The arrival of this brightest of days.

Outside the day was perfection.
Here a few few bees in the garden
hid under clumps of cut grass.
Why are they tucking themselves away?
Or are they burrowing for pollen,
heady on word from the other bees?

Our day of blazing perfection was heady,
was it not?
Was it not?


It has been a wildly warm day by London standards. I tried to write in the garden first thing this morning. The bees and butterflies and a single large-bodied horsefly were my ground company.

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Cape blue waterlily (Nymphaea capensis var. zanzibariensis) (8103217895)

By Bob Peterson from North Palm Beach, Florida, Planet Earth! [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Another short story from the hip.

Fenstone’s Flower

Fenstone was in his favourite pottering spot for a not quite warm, though there be some sunlight day. He had finished washing the Saturday breakfast crockery and cutlery, scraping down the plates of scrambled egg residue and croissant crumbs. This was Peggy and Fenstone’s Saturday morning treat and it had been for the last 15 years since they moved into this house with the garden.

The garden had at first proved a novelty after the small patch of grass behind their starter house. The patch of grass had seemed a social upgrade on the balcony of potted tomato plants he had nurtured in the flat preceding the starter house. Part of the novelty of the full garden was its spaciousness and the two fully grown trees that had established themselves on the plot. Further novelty was the weekends spent idling in garden centres, picking out shrubs and plants. Peggy soon wearied of these outings. They took her away from chattering sessions with her friends. Fenstone was quite happy to continue the trips on his own. He went more often than was needed to replace the seasonal annuals or seek out vegetable seeds for fresh sowing.

Fenstone’s garden centre escapes were as regularly scheduled as his public garden visits. Botanical gardens, country house gardens, stately home gardens of all sizes, near and abroad either featured on Fenstone’s travel wish list or welcomed him as an eager visitor. But all these other places could not replace his favourite corner, his own garden.

Over the decade and a half they had lived in the house, it had become Fenstone’s garden. In the early days, he had employed the garden maintenance firm, a group of reliable Spanish men, all related they claimed, who had worked wonders at giving the space character and depth. What had been a square of grass, sided by two beds and sentried by the two established trees was transformed into a wonderland entered into by a curving path. The fish pond with a few blue water lilies, a delightful addition for many years, had recently been filled in at Peggy’s request. With small grandchildren around, the open water was now a hazard. Fenstone had salvaged the bulbs from the water lily plants and had promised them to another gardening friend.

After the Spaniards had returned home to retire, Fenstone had employed whichever young lad in the suburb felt inclined to earn some money sweeping, mowing, weeding or planting.The garden was now established and in his own retirement Fenstone had the time, and fortunately, the physical strength to continue with much of the maintenance himself. And nothing brought him more joy than the thought of a half or full day in his garden, and especially pottering in his potting shed.

In the potting shed Fenstone had coaxed all manner of vegetables, soft fruits and flowers through the cold and overcast winters. Last season’s strawberries were a great success and this year he planned to nurture a rainbow of fragrant hyacinths that would be planted at intervals in the wonderland. The bulbs had arrived the day before, so on this Saturday, Fenston had set the day aside to prepare the pots with nourished soil and plant the bulbs. Fenstone had spent many autumns preparing pots for not yet germinated seeds and bulbs, as well as fledgling seedlings. The potting shed was the preparation shed for Fenstone’s vision for the coming flowering season.

Fenstone pushed the water lily bulbs that he was drying out aside. He opened the bad of hyacinth bulbs and spread them out on his workshelf. The potting began.


It was not until six months later, in May, that Peggy went into the potting shed. Rotting plants, soil and spiders were not to her liking, but once spring arrived and it felt as though the world was brightening, she ventured out into the garden and into Fenstone’s old hideaway. She looked around and sighed. He had been such a stickler for order and it was evident even here, even six months later. The compost bags piled according to type, the garden soil and potting soil separated, not a cracked or grossly chipped pot in sight. Even the spider webs hung from their proper places in the roof corners.

The most orderly sight of all was Fenstone’s ranks of flowering hyacinths. Their scent was too strong for Peggy and she started to sneeze. This was not enough to put her off, today she had to clear out the shed because the movers would be arriving in four weeks. She did not have time to dawdle. She called out to her daughter in the kitchen, “Helen, sorry to trouble you, my hayfever’s playing up. Would you mind giving me a hand down here?”

Helen came down the winding path to the potting shed, “Wow! They are spectacular! Such a pity Dad isn’t here to see the results. And what’s the blue one over there? It looks like a water lily flower? I’m pretty sure they grow and survive potted in soil.”

Peggy and Helen stepped over to the opened flower, “Let’s take it up to the house and give some of Fenstone’s gardening friends a call. This calls for an expert’s opinion.”

Helen placed the pot on the kitchen windowsill. At dusk, the flower closed up. Peggy asked two of Fenstone’s gardening friends to come over the next day to confirm what they had witnessed.

The next morning Helen went down to put on the kettle. She scanned the windowsill for the opened flower. All that was left in the pot was a shrivelled stem.

Kirchner 1913 Street, Berlin.jpg
Kirchner 1913 Street, Berlin“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

John Keats wrote his famous ode ‘To Autumn‘ on the 19th of September 1819. This partially inspired my poem posted this time last year. (This year, we are enjoying a generous bolt of extended warmth. The colder snap is still to come.)

Autumn’s ripened harvest store” offers up the autumn harvest of a modern Northern metropolis. The season is one of sneezes, the onset of black coats and umbrellas, nights that close in earlier and the rise of comfort eating as the cold sets in.

When I first started posting on this blog, I wrote about the autumn memories from my undergraduate days. Soon afterwards I posted an early (lovely) poem which was also born during autumn. Those “brown beacons” on a stark tree struck me as I trudged the streets of a Polish town (where I worked in my twenties). Those beacons have remained with me ever since.

It is the city in autumn, without the associated glow of golden leaves or scattering seedpods, that today’s archive poem captures. Much of my current writing draws on my experience of London – its suburbs and centre.  In looking for an illustration, I hoped to find a scene of men on grey pavements, in black coats, holding up black umbrellas against dreary drizzle. Kirchner’s street scene is in parts too vibrant to fulfill these requirements. However, the people (like others in his city depictions) capture the strident anonymity of urban existence. I decided against cropping the image because the composition is so striking – and who knows, perhaps the woman in purple is the observing poet.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Zoological Illustrations Volume III Plate 120.jpg

Its last pulse was the echo
of an interior draught.
Some time ago the sluggish monopod
had taken its leave.
Beached on the concrete path
the brown shell has no way of putting itself
at safety.
The unseeing crunch
the barren passageways
underfoot.


The above poem is about an abandoned snail shell like the ones might find in a suburban garden. The poem uses a cryptic sequence to unveil a scene, which reminds me of 118A Creighton Avenue, a poem which dates from a few years back.

I’ll leave it up to you to transpose your own metaphorical loading onto the scene, i.e. if you wish to read something analogous and ‘deep’ into the sequence by all means. If not, that’s okay, too.

I’ve posted recently  about other garden creatures in “The Visit” (a short story) and “Do Not Slight the Earthworm” (another poem).

If you’ve enjoyed reading my poems, please have a look at my books available via Blurb:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

I also tweet my observations about the minutiae of life as @BeadedQuill.
And BeadedQuill is on Facebook.


Illustration courtesy of “Zoological Illustrations Volume III Plate 120” by William Swainson, F.R.S., F.L.S. – Zoological Illustrations, Volume III.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Hedgehog 1210127

Hedgehog illustration © Nevit Dilmen CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

There is a well-known Afrikaans short story Die Gog (The Thing) about an unidentified creature nursed and doted upon by a couple. The thing (die gog) is kept in a box, feed and protected. Eventually the couple’s mutual obsession destroys their relationship. This serves as an imagined prelude to the un-dramatic domestic tragedy of Die Gog. The time and cultural context of the story has been revised.

Ben was so proud of himself the autumn when they moved into the flat. A regular role in a TV series plus a key character in an historical Shakespeare had brought in a sizeable amount towards the deposit. A percentage of Graciella’s earnings from two season’s worth of catalogue shoots had topped up the amount. Then his parents had offered a windfall for the first three months of mortgage payments. He and Graciella had made an offer in early August. In October they moved in. Things had moved quickly, but everything else had moved so slowly for them in those early years of the recession that this acceleration seemed right. It was welcome, timely compensation.

Their relocation into the flat was a young couple’s move. Ben and Graciella believed they could save by doing it themselves. The smaller items – books, plants, linen, winter jackets and three pairs of forgotten ski boots – had been carried piecemeal over to the new flat in the week leading up to the mammoth move. Dozens of friends were roped in, but Min and Steve were the stalwarts who gave up a Saturday to hard labour. On that final day of the clear-out, they filled the rented removal van with the larger items of furniture.

“Cuidadoso! Careful! With those drawers,” Graciella called down as Ben and his friend Steve stumbled down the stairs. Min completed a sweep through the bathroom. The contents of the cabinet and windowsill were transferred into a large plastic container. The towels were rolled up into a black plastic bag. Min dragged the bag to the top of the stairs. “We need to take these out on the other side or else they’ll mould.”

In the kitchen, Steven and Ben packed the last of the kitchen utensils, spices and unused boxes of rice, pasta and dried peas. Ben stood up. From the kitchen counter, he gathered up a pile of letters. He tipped it into a carrier bag, but missed. Bills, take-away fliers and miscellaneous loose papers scattered across the floor. A scuffed, soil-marked note in his handwriting caught Ben’s attention. He picked it up.


Only two summers previously Ben had posted half-a-dozen humble advertisements. Acting work had been in short supply since his graduation and he needed to be out of the house. His parents meant well with their questions. How many job applications have you sent this week? What does your agent suggest about improving your likelihood of castings? Don’t you think it’s time to consider something sensible to fall back on? Have you called the academy about that electrician’s training course?

His parents wanted a materially sound future for him. He imagined the question marks as shepherds’ crooks intended to pull him out of a dangerous ravine. Any misstep in this ravine could mean a tumble further from redemption. He knew their questions were meant to propel him towards action. But wires and circuits held no appeal. Ben’s desire was to be under the spotlight. He was the golden boy of the stage. Light, bright, fire, bright, that was what he wanted to capture and spin into a performance. If Ben could not find that, there had to be some preferable alternative.

His parents’ badgering drove him to the local council library where he meant to read the classics. Instead, with the other men of his restless tribe, the immigrant pensioners and homeless, Ben waited his turn in the understood queue for the daily newspapers.

And Ben paged through glossy gardening books. While he read through the How To’s and seasonal To Do’s, a bulb of remembrance sprouted. “Today Ben, we shall go down to the allotment.” He recalled two years of his grandmother’s Saturday instruction. A pre-teen Ben had moved from raking leaves to planting seedlings. He graduated to carefully pruning her roses and the small fruit-bearing trees on the allotment. In each of those autumns, he had helped his grandmother gather up material for a night-licking bonfire.

From his parents’ printer, Ben took two pieces of blank A4, folded them into eight and marked out in his best handwriting:

Graduate with gardening
and DIY skills.
No job too small.
Call Ben 0784 7889 387

It was his message in a bottle. Of course, he could have printed those twelve words. But Ben’s intention was for his handwriting to ignite someone by his call. Robed in his handwriting, he felt his request wore a fitting costume. He paid for window-space in the shopping hubs of his parents’ suburb and a neighbouring postcode. Posting those advertisements cost him two nights from his pint fund.

Time passed and he had to decide whether or not to renew these window placements. It weighed on Ben like a dismal final dress rehearsal. The show did not look promising, but to pull all at this moment would be defeatist. The day before he had to make the final decision, he received the first call of interest: an elderly, flat-dwelling lady who wondered if he would tidy the communal garden and possibly help her with her laundry.

“Your careful handwriting,” she sighed, “amongst all those printed notices, it touched me like a small flame.”

For the remainder of that summer, Ben spent three days a week gardening and following up on small DIY tasks: patching peeling paint, replacing door handles, securing unstable shelves. Most of his work was clustered around Lanhedge Avenue, thanks to the recommendations of his first caller. A For Sale sign in the road stoked his imagination. Me, ever buy in this area? Ben thought he was stretching reality.

On Thursday and Friday nights Ben performed in a pub-theatre production. He gave of his time as a favour for a director friend. With sunlight by day and spotlights on the boards at night, Ben felt ignited. The crowd was young and drawn in by the promise of pie plus pint with live entertainment more than the content of the play. Ubu Roi was heavy viewing for youthful summer audiences. The staging pulled in regular crowds. It was sensationalist on a budget, which meant it included gratuitous nudity and plastic turds. Together with the curious, many came to support the cast and technical crew, and thanks to the pub’s marketing, the run had been well-attended. Among the audience members had been Graciella. Ben grinned at the memory.

Graciella had little interest in theatre, pies or pubs. She had come with a group of friends of her housemate’s and because she was new in town. Someone in her group knew someone who knew someone in the technical crew. Ben had been introduced to the gaggle after the performance. After removing his character garb, he had sought her out at the bar. Of course, she was the loveliest woman in the room. She tossed her hair and magnetism. As a master of captivation, Ben knew he had to make an impression. In his pocket he found one of his handwritten advertisements. If you ever need some gardening or DIY… It sounded so cheesy. But it worked.

“Your handwriting?” she asked.

Three weeks after moving in, Ben and Graciella invited the couple above them and the three flat-sharers on the top floor to join them for a bonfire night. The novelty of enough space to burn leaves in his own back garden prompted Ben to suggest the gathering.

Ben, recently returned from ten days of filming on the coast, spent the Saturday afternoon raking up leaves. He laid out the vital fuel logs at the bonfire’s base and angled the structural supports. He then piled up a pyramid of leaves, dried twigs, bark and garden debris. Ben stood back to admire his work. A chill whipped up. He jammed his hands into his jacket pockets. In the recesses of his right pocket, a scrap of paper scratched his hand. He pulled it out. It was the old soil-marked advertisement. He smiled at his talisman. Handing them over had always brought him good fortune. It was time for this piece to join the tinder. He would hand this last one over to the bonfire.

All seven inhabitants of 27a Lanhedge Avenue stood around Ben’s bonfire. He lit it ceremoniously by setting prepared cones of paper alight and inserting them in the pyramid. The twigs and leaves caught and everyone oohed at the ever-enlarging fingers of flame. The heat increased. A slick of blue could be spotted every now and then in the fire.

“Benni, I hear a noise.” Graciella pointed to the base of Ben’s glowing pyramid.

All were directed to a scuttling sound at the bonfire’s base paired with a faint squeaking in the flames. On instinct, Ben stepped forward. The dangerous heat of the bonfire stopped him.

“Quick, get the bucket of water!”

One of the flat-sharers stepped forward and doused the nearest corner of the pyramid. It collapsed in a sizzle. Sodden ash and twigs shaped themselves around a carapace with protruding spikes. Everyone took a step towards the scene. Ben picked up the oven gloves, which had been alongside the tray of warmed spanakopita. He slid his hand under the grey ball. It uncurled. Everyone gathered around and stared at the hedgehog. Two pink hands and two pink feet twitched back at them.

“You’d better find a box and wrap him up. That little thing’s going to need some TLC.”

February 2014

The council of the rats.jpg

There’s that thing, that topic that gnaws away in an alleyway of your mind. Perhaps it’s the last acrimonious discussion you had with a lover or the overdraft on your bank account, or maybe it’s a work project that didn’t unfold as planned or your child’s school report. “In an alleyway of thought” considers such matters that the clinging mind chews over.

This poem is included in the collection of Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys, which was part of a year-long project during which I wrote over 129 poems. In the Ocean was the second book to develop from the endeavour.


T: @BeadedQuill
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Books

IMAGE: “The council of the rats” by Gustave Doréhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/49580580@N02/5340390820/. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Can you believe two years have passed since the London Olympics? I was fortunate enough to attend an evening of paralympic events. It feels as though it was only last year that I was sitting in the massive stadium, with an enormous lion emblazoned across my t-shirt and yelling encouragement at the athletes. Clearly, it wasn’t. That moment was in 2012.

This time last year I posted a loose Pindaric ode to a golden mango.

In the spirit of archives – looking at the back catalogue in the present, possibly to inform the future – I encourage you to read this post about progress. Joanna Penn recommends measuring achievement across the span of four years by asking oneself, where was I during the last olympics? Equally, you can plot your goals by projecting, where would I like to be by the next games?

Where will you be in 2016?

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for this summer’s golden mangoes to appear on the local grocers’ tiers.

Find me on Twitter. I’m @BeadedQuill.

Image with thanks to the Old Design Shop, a vintage image treasury.

Trump such sultry sunshine
with a screen? That will not stem creation.
The words set out for basting in the warmth; 
crossed the bridge at Embankment station. 

The Thames and sequins on its skirt, 
scintilled in summer brio. 
The words, now on the move, 
snacked on radishes a frio.


Thursday, 3rd July was such a balmy day in London that it seemed a pity to spend it spent at a screen attempting to rearrange words. Plus I had a number of engagements to follow up: from N2 to WC2 to N1 to SE16. The words certainly ended up traversing London town. These lines above are an account of their wanderings.

A little linguistic poetic license is requested for the ending. A chilled radish in Spanish should rather be “los rábanos refrigerados” (if my basic abilities in the language and a bit of Googling are close). However, a poem’s needs call for adjusted forms. Kindly indulge.

(Oh yes, and I sort of invented that word scintilled. Such word creation is considered a no-no in some creative writing circles, but I’ve gone and done it anyway.)

(Ah yes, and that isn’t an error: it’s meant to be ‘basting’.)


Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Colias croceus – the Clouded Yellow Butterfly. Image courtesy of Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons.

I will be 80 this year
here in my flat
only a mile and a half
from where I was born.
I have tried 
to lead by example, by
plunging my narrow balcony
into the principality of hanging gardens.

Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.

We breakfast amidst the crisp verdure
and watch a nesting bird,
fledgling wrens, butterflies 
and such wild visitors.
The flat faces of the 
daisies, pansies and geraniums 
accrue the afternoon and evening sun.
Most years –
A wren nests somewhere
blanketed by the ivy leaves.
Her fledglings zing past 
while we’re eating.
They’ll even call 
on us at table.
In warm summers,
the clouded yellow butterfly 
may join us from abroad.


Sometimes some quirky combination of words and images will capture my imagination. This time last year it was a comment in a Gudrun Sjödén catalogue about a Senegalese artist who sculpted birds from flotsam-and-jetsam.

Sunday last, the Guardian Weekend’s column “How does your garden grow?” hooked me. William Howard’s evocative interview about his balcony garden in the Barbican (London) – and the fantastic photograph of him in from of his verdant kingdom – had me enthralled. (Read the interview from the 28th June 2014 Guardian Weekend here.). “This garden,” explains Howard, “is about memories, sharing and reminding people to look – really look.”

Perhaps being a poet is in some respects like being a gardener.

(P.S. One of the most affecting books I read during my young adolescence was Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, in which a scrabble of children try to grow a garden and learn how to look – really look.)

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Next to the postbox

I must be one of the last humans who still writes letters and postcards. From the archive, a poem about completing a letter while standing on the pavement next to a local postbox.

This poem is included in my book, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys.