Category Archives: Poetry
On the last Friday in January of last year, the sun rose but my heart could not. My father had passed away overnight.
This weekend marks the first anniversary of our loss and I’d like to honour it by remembering a few of the things that my father so loved in life.
Potatoes in every way, shape or form.
Books by the Mitford girls.
Whisky Galore (Ealing comedy).
Taggart (when Mark McManus was still the star).
Single Malt Whisky.
Classical music and jazz.
Eating out (sadly, something he couldn’t do in recent years).
English Breakfast tea.
Old Times Lime Marmalade.
**do you see how I might have inherited some of my passions from this man?**
Another passion of Dad’s was John Betjeman’s poetry. Dad introduced me to it and we both loved the following poem. I was tempted to read it at his funeral, but it didn’t seem right at the time so here it is to help us smile a year on.
Indoor Games Near Newbury
In among the silver birches,
Winding ways of tarmac wander
And the signs to Bussock Bottom,
Tussock Wood and Windy Break.
Gabled lodges, tile-hung churches
Catch the lights of our Lagonda
As we drive to Wendy’s party,
Lemon curd and Christmas cake
Rich the makes of motor whirring
Past the pine plantation purring
Come up Hupmobile Delage.
Short the way our chauffeurs travel
Crunching over private gravel,
Each from out his warm garage.
O but Wendy, when the carpet
Yielded to my indoor pumps.
There you stood, your gold hair streaming,
Handsome in the hall light gleaming
There you looked and there you led me
Off into the game of Clumps.
Then the new Victrola playing;
And your funny uncle saying
“Choose your partners for a foxtrot.
Dance until it’s tea o’clock
Come on young ‘uns, foot it feetly.”
Was it chance that paired us neatly?
I who loved you so completely.
You who pressed me closely to you,
Hard against your party frock.
“Meet me when you’ve finished eating.”
So we met and no one found us.
O that dark and furry cupboard,
While the rest played hide-and-seek.
Holding hands our two hearts beating.
In the bedroom silence round us
Holding hands and hardly hearing
Sudden footstep, thud and shriek
Love that lay too deep for kissing.
“Where is Wendy? Wendy’s missing.”
Love so pure it had to end.
Love so strong that I was frightened
When you gripped my fingers tight.
And hugging, whispered “I’m your friend.”
Goodbye Wendy. Send the fairies,
Pinewood elf and larch tree gnome.
Spingle-spangled stars are peeping
At the lush Lagonda creeping
Down the winding ways of tarmac
To the leaded lights of home.
There among the silver birches,
All the bells of all the churches
Sounded in the bath-waste running
Out into the frosty air.
Wendy speeded my undressing.
Wendy is the sheet’s caressing
Wendy bending gives a blessing.
Holds me as I drift to dreamland
Safe inside my slumber wear.
**Portrait of Robert Burns by Alexander Nasmyth, 1787: 2 years before the French Revolution and 11 years after the United States of America won its independence from England. This is one of the best known likenesses of Rabbie Burns and hangs in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.
Burns Night is a timely evening to beat the Northern Hemisphere January blues, when every UK day starts as dark as night and the sun sets at a depressing 4.30pm. Celebrated on 25 January, Burns Night is a particularly special time for Scots, when they remember the birthday of their esteemed poet and fellow countryman, Robert or ‘Rabbie’ Burns (1759-1796).
A traditional Burns Night event will kick off with a few wee drams (small measures) of something toasty like a good single malt whisky, which serves both to warm the extremities and to lubricate the tonsils of those bold enough to recite some lines of fine Scottish literature for their friends, often from the works of Burns himself. Then, moving to the table, the Selkirk Grace may be said before the starter is served.
“Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it; But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thankit.”
“Some have meat and cannot eat, Some cannot eat that want it; But we have meat and we can eat, So let the Lord be thankit.”
Next, if you happen to know someone who deafened the neighbourhood with bagpipe practice sessions whilst growing up, you would hopefully forget past pain and ask them nicely to attend your Burns Night Supper to pipe in the haggis to one of those famed kilt-swinging tunes, like Brose and Butter. If you don’t happen to have such a friend, you can always book a piper for the night (although I’d recommend doing so well in advance as this is one of the busiest nights of a pro-piper’s year). Where a piper is either unavailable or unattainable, you could always play a CD of a good solo piper. If you choose the latter, I would definitely advise avoiding recordings where guitars and/or brass bands are involved. It won’t provide the same sort of atmosphere.
As the piper plays, the chef will carry the haggis with great reverence to the table, where it is set before the host/ess on a plate called The Groaning Trencher. Then the guest with the greatest penchant for dramatics and vocal cords loosened by a quick few drams will speak to the haggis with Burns’ poem, aptly named ‘Address To A Haggis’.
The mere mention of haggis is enough to make many a grown man squirm, once they understand that it consists of a sheep’s stomach bag, stuffed with the sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, which have been blended with onions, suet, oatmeal and stock. In spite of sounding like a murder scene, it’s really rather tasty, although there is a growing demand for vegetarian versions containing kidney beans, lentils, nuts and vegetables in place of the bodily remains of a former sheep and somehow, I don’t think it’s only vegetarians who might opt for the vege version; the thought of eating a literal stomach full of offal could be understandably off-putting, even to a hardy carnivore.
The usual way to serve a haggis is with neeps and tatties, which to all the non-Scots among my readers translates as mashed turnips or swede (the neeps) and mashed potatoes (the tatties).
Prior to serving, the haggis is ceremonially sliced open with a lethal-looking knife called a dirk, as the piper, chef and performer of the Address receive a thank you dram of good Scottish whisky. Some people pour a little whisky onto their serving of haggis to add to the flavour whilst purists steer clear of such practices, preferring to keep their haggis and whisky quite separate and unadulterated. Either way, the haggis forms the focus of the event that is Burns’ Night.
As whisky and ale flows and wallflowers find the (Dutch) courage to stand up and sing or recite a wee bit of Burns, the evening will progress in a warm haze, and perhaps some fun will be had as the group takes to the floor for some group dancing, known by those from north of Hadrian’s Wall as ‘reeling’ which, after a few exhausting rounds of the room, you will be. And so it is that Burns Night is celebrated to a greater or lesser degree in Scotland and wherever in the world the Scots have dispersed. To illustrate the importance of Burns Night, according to recent analysis of the Burns Economy, there are currently around 10,000 Burns Night Suppers held internationally, a statistic which I personally consider to be conservative. In any case that means that come Tuesday of next week, all over the world there will be many, many thousands of sore heads.
To prepare us for the possibilities of this year’s Burns Night, earlier this week a group of Qypers was invited to a Burns event at Salt Bar in London’s Marble Arch, courtesy of Talisker single malt whiskies. It was a fascinating evening, with excellent whiskies, food, experts and calligraphy. My next post will tell you how it all went, so tune in for more Burns Night fun, including how to get the most out of your dram and mouth-watering suggestions for matching whisky with food.
In the meantime:
- There are eight stanzas to Burns’ ‘Address To A Haggis’ and it takes some working out if you’re not accustomed to reading Scots, so here’s a link to a truly comprehensive Burns site, where the hard words have a multi-lingual glossary attached to them – just click on the troublesome word, which is highlighted, to find its meaning. http://www.robertburns.org/works/147.shtml)
- Did you know that Rabbie Burns wrote ‘Auld Lang Syne’, which so many of us, Scots and non-Scots alike, sing on New Year’s Eve?
- Did you know that Rabbie Burns died of a heart condition at the age of 37? His youngest son, Maxwell, was born that same day.
- In 2009 an STV survey of the public found Rabbie Burns to be The Greatest Scot. Well done, Rabbie! Now, that’s what I call cause for celebration.
(Photo from Politicook.com. I’m afraid I didn’t have any of my own photos to use and this one shows the bones very well.)
Pat of Singleforareason sent me a link to a poem today. It relates to my Rome-ing in the Rain post, where Monsieur warms up with a hearty Ossobucco (which can be spelled in a number of ways, including Collins’ Osso Buco).
If you enjoy eating, then this poem will bring some beauty and reflection to the everyday things that go on during mealtime.
I love the sound of the bone against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto,
the meat soft as the leg of an angel
who has lived a purely airborne existence.
And best of all, the secret marrow,
the invaded privacy of the animal
prized out with a knife and swallowed down
with cold, exhilarating wine.
I am swaying now in the hour after dinner,
a citizen tilted back on his chair,
a creature with a full stomach–
something you don’t hear much about in poetry,
that sanctuary of hunger and deprivation.
you know: the driving rain, the boots by the door,
small birds searching for berries in winter.
But tonight, the lion of contentment
has placed a warm heavy paw on my chest,
and I can only close my eyes and listen
to the drums of woe throbbing in the distance
and the sound of my wife’s laughter
on the telephone in the next room,
the woman who cooked the savory osso buco,
who pointed to show the butcher the ones she wanted.
She who talks to her faraway friend
while I linger here at the table
with a hot, companionable cup of tea,
feeling like one of the friendly natives,
a reliable guide, maybe even the chief’s favorite son.
Somewhere, a man is crawling up a rocky hillside
on bleeding knees and palms, an Irish penitent
carrying the stone of the world in his stomach;
and elsewhere people of all nations stare
at one another across a long, empty table.
But here, the candles give off their warm glow,
the same light that Shakespeare and Izaac Walton wrote by,
the light that lit and shadowed the faces of history.
Only now it plays on the blue plates,
the crumpled napkins, the crossed knife and fork.
In a while, one of us will go up to bed
and the other will follow.
Then we will slip below the surface of the night
into miles of water, drifting down and down
to the dark, soundless bottom
until the weight of dreams pulls us lower still,
below the shale and layered rock,
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know.
The Art of Drowning
**Thank you again to Single for a Reason, for introducing us to this poem, which was found on Break out of the Box.
They’ve also challenged us to describe our local watering hole in 150 words or less, stating the reasons that keep us going back, sooooo I wrote a poem. No one said the competition entry couldn’t be in poetry… then again, none of the other entrants has waxed lyrical about a pub throughout their entire entry. So far, that is. The closing date is Friday 25th July, so perhaps there’ll be more poems by then.
Below you will see my entry, referring to Gordon Ramsay’s Warrington Pub, which is located altogether too close to our home. I love it there. It has an amazing polychromic front porch decorated with stunning art nouveau tiles, and a beautiful old double-sided bar in carved mahogany. Thank heavens it didn’t go All Bar One on us. We should treasure our old beauties like the Warrington. There’s altogether too much sanding of pub floorboards going on.
Before you find out what the competition prize is, I must now subject you to my first ever attempt at poetic pub reviewing:
The No-F-Words Warrington
The Warrington Pub down on Warrington Crescent’s
The local I frequent for R ‘n’ R.
The specialness lies in its Olde Worlde presence –
So different from cloned and identikit bars.
Last year it closed for some renovation,
As stellar chef, Ramsay, acquired the deeds.
For patrons whose interest is mastication,
The Warrington’s back feeding everyone’s needs.
It hasn’t gone posh with pretentious infection;
Builders swig next to the girls wearing Choos.
The staff will advise on your beverage selection
Whilst fielding your questions on Big Gordon’s news.
From dressed Cornish crab to a Casterbridge Ribeye
The Warrington should seldom disappoint.
The fishcakes are gourmet, they surely ain’t Birdseye
And old-fashioned bar snacks help add to this joint.
The only thing marring my Warrington visits –
A lack of expletives directed at chefs.
The atmosphere calm, there are no flying trivets
Or verbal abuse freely peppered with effs.
THAT’s precisely why I decided to enter this competition. I’ve always wanted to travel by airship. There’s something so Indiana Jones about it.
This is for the people I know who’ve lost close ones in recent weeks, and for all those who know what it feels like to lose someone. WARNING: do not read without kleenex to hand.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.
To find out more about the poem’s attribution and history, please click here.