The blue sea, stolen from the fjord,
Lived within her eyes
And the mountain snows
Were her complexion.
She might have leaped
From a Viking longboat
Into the gift shop
On Orkney Island
The blue sea, stolen from the fjord,
Lived within her eyes
And the mountain snows
Were her complexion.
She might have leaped
From a Viking longboat
Into the gift shop
On Orkney Island
Named after the village in Lincolnshire where he was born Wootton Robbie led an eccentric life. He owned a small plot of land at South Killingholme where he lived in an old caravan. The plot was in the middle of a large tract of land owned by an oil refinery.
The company had tried to buy him out for many years but he resisted to the end. He was a thorn in the flesh of the company management but in spite of his tenacity they allowed him a right of way to his landlocked plot even though he no legal claim to one.
Robbie, a bachelor, had a wide knowledge of country life and nature. He was a wonderful character to talk with if you could persuade him to open up. He could tell you about the hedgehog’s mating behaviour, a subject known to very few. He was very clunch (taciturn in Lincolnshire dialect) unless you shared his interest in nature as I did.
I met Robbie one Saturday in the village pub at lunch time. He was sitting on a bench in his moleskin trousers and clodhoppers, staring across the room with his fingers wrapped around his own pewter tankard. He welcomed me with a bright smile and said ‘allo, Maistre’. I grinned and bought him another pint of beer.
On Sunday morning I was stunned when his cousin telephoned me to say Robbie had shot himself that morning. A local boy, a friend of my son, had found him dead in his caravan.
Lying near him was a superb and expensive Purdey double barrelled shotgun, one barrel discharged. There were no finger prints but his own on the guns. Distraught relatives and friends could think of no reason for his act.
Robbie wasn’t a writer. Alas! His great knowledge of country lore died with him.
In a state of denial President Trump says man-made global warming is a hoax. Euro scientists are aghast and demand precautionary action.
Earth might be warming
Let’s have a big conference
The polar bear sits
On a shrinking floe of ice
Thinking ‘Go on. Surprise me.’
For those who might not know, the Parthians were a people from what is now called Iran who were expert horseman. Their specialty was to pretend defeat by retreating then turning round in the saddle and shooting a shower of arrows back at the enemy. This manoeuvre was made possible by the invention of the stirrup.
The technique became known as the Parthian shot often mistakenly referred to as a parting shot.
The Parthian Shot
Lieutenant Gervase Tourville de Mowbray came from a distinguished family. An ancestor had come over with William the Conqueror but from the way Gervase boasted one might be forgiven for imagining that the Norman invaders consisted only of himself and Duke William – in that order of precedence. His grandfather, Sir John, had been a British officer in the 2nd Gurkha Rifles. His father had given sterling army service in India. The Norman family name was a source of overweening pride for him coupled with a disdain for all things Anglo-Saxon.
His mother had been an opera singer and early discovered that her son had inherited her singing talent. Much against her husband’s wishes she had enrolled Gervase at the famous St Thomas Choir School before she went off to die in India. After Gervase left school his father, Sir Mortmain pulled a few strings and eventually Gervase had his interview for a cadetship in the army. After keeping up an intermittent correspondence with his son Sir Mortmain died in India shortly before Gervase was commissioned.
The second lieutenant was less than pleased to become a General Duties Administrative Officer posted to Paderborn in Germany where he lived a life of quiet desperation as second in command of pay accounts.
He had a wife, Sylvia, who quietly seethed with resentment over his lack of marital affection and understanding. She supported him but in such a way as to leave his ego a little more punctured on every occasion. ‘Oh, poor darling’ she would say ‘So, they’ve passed you over for promotion………….again’. Over the years she had become an expert in the use of the Parthian shot.
His chance came from a conversation in the officers’ mess one evening when the Director of Music for the station band told him he was retiring from the service. Lieutenant de Mowbray made it clear to those that mattered that he would like this job.
After leaving no lobbying stone unturned and with the enthusiastic backing of his superior officer in accounts, who wished to be rid of him, he was appointed Director of Music and promoted to First Lieutenant.
Bearing in mind his character it was only to be expected that he would have staff difficulties. In a short time he went through a number of bandmasters who found their love of music severely compromised by his acerbic manner. Lieutenant de Mowbray was a master of the highly honed insult where you didn’t know you had cause for offence until you came to think about it later.
In response to de Mowbray’s request for a yet another replacement bandmaster he was given the afternoon services of Sergeant Hodgkinson. The NCO, who was an instructor in small arms, had recently been transferred from Gutersloh to build up the weapon skills of the regiment at Paderborn. However he was quite pleased to be given the part time band assignment.
The lieutenant was a little cynical about the glowing reports from the musical director at Gutersloh and speedily arranged to interview the sergeant in the band hut, the nerve centre of his little empire. ‘So where did you go to school, Sergeant?’ This was always an important question to an ex- public schoolboy.
‘Barnsley Grammar School, sir.’
The director had a profound dislike of the grammar school system.
‘Ah, yes. The local boy made good. And where did you learn your music?’
‘With the Salvation Army, sir.’
‘Oh dear me! Religious as well. The local boy made even better.’
The Sergeant was becoming a little irked by now but had to be careful with an officer. ‘No sir, not religious but I have the greatest respect for the Salvation Army.’
‘Well now, with the greatest respect, why?’
‘They taught boys to play instruments for nothing, sir, just to rope you in.
Made you into a musical Anglo-Saxon, eh’ Gervase chortled.
‘I notice you have a campaign ribbon. Did the Salvation Army give you that?’
Lieutenant de Mowbray had never been in a theatre of operations. The deadliest thing he had handled during his military career was a conductor’s baton. To put it plainly he was jealous.
‘No! Cyprus, EOKA Campaign, 1958, Sir!
At this point the lieutenant knew that he was verging on military contempt for medal awards and changed his tactics.
‘I see you played in the station band at Gutersloh, Sergeant ….er…Hodgkinson, isn’t it. He could hardly bear to speak his name.
‘Oh yes! Johnson’s lot’.
‘It’s a good band, sir.’
‘Sergeant Hodgkinson, you can rely on me to know a good band when I hear one. Let’s hear you play something’.
The sergeant opened up his case to remove a brass trumpet, held it upside down and gently blew down the mouthpiece and warmed it between his hands. The officer waited with a resigned impatience giving way to astonishment as the sergeant proceeded to give a virtuoso performance of the triple tonguing from Carnival of Venice.
Lieutenant de Mowbray had a weak spot in his musical armoury. Yes, he knew his augmented fifth from a diminished seventh but he didn’t play any musical instrument; however he did have had a superb ear. And of course he sang well but had never given a public performance since giving a recital when his top set of teeth dropped down on the penultimate line of Nymphs and Shepherds.
‘Mmm! I notice you didn’t bring along the sheet music, sergeant’.
The implication being that had he done so, the officer would have been able to spot any wrong notes played by the sergeant.
Thereafter the relationship followed a stormy path. The sergeant was a good deal younger and wanted to introduce more modern marches but to no avail. When he suggested that they could earn money for band funds by playing at civilian events, lieutenant de Mowbray exploded in anger at what he called musical prostitution. Sergeant Hodgkinson knew that as an NCO he couldn’t argue on equal terms with an officer. He wisely held his peace and thought that one day perhaps his chance might come. He’d let things take their course.
Meanwhile Lieutenant de Mowbray’s wife was having a problem. Well, their daughter, Alice, was. She was a teacher at the British Army School in Cologne and she commuted by train every day. Unfortunately the engineers of the Deutsche Bahn were on strike.
Sylvia couldn’t drive a car so she approached her husband. ‘Darling, you know that railway strike, well, Alice can’t get to work.’
‘Can’t take her, too busy. Sorry’.
‘Well, you don’t sound sorry! You know how hard it was for her to get this job. Surely you could arrange something. I mean can’t you get her a lift from somebody?’
Lieutenant de Mowbray, interrupted in the middle of a new musical arrangement of an old march, was testy.
‘Look, get Hodgkinson to take her in my car. He’ll do anything for a skive.’
Sylvia thought this a wonderful solution. She rarely went anywhere and the thought occurred to her that she could go with them once a week to do a little shop window shopping.
The strike remained in progress for a further two months during which time Lieutenant de Mowbray became aware increasingly aware that his wife had never looked as happy as lately. She had lost weight, bought new clothes, had a new hair style and hummed unfamiliar tunes around the house. And it was ‘Sergeant Hodgkinson said this and Sergeant Hodgkinson said the other’ and he decided he would have to keep a watchful eye open.
‘Enjoying your shopping trips, Sylvia?’ asked de Mowbray.
‘Oh, yes, Cologne in the spring is so beautiful. I don’t know what I’ll do when the strike ends.’
Gervase resolved it was high time to terminate this dubious travelling arrangement. And as for Alice, it was time she learned to solve her own problems, he told his wife.
‘Perhaps she is already doing that. I meant to tell you, she’s pregnant.’
‘Pregnant! How do you mean pregnant?
‘Pregnant, having a baby, knocked up. Call it what you like.’
Lieutenant de Mowbray went white with anger.
‘Who is the father?
‘Can’t you guess?’
‘I’m in no mood for guessing games. Who is the father?’
‘Sergeant Hodgkinson, of course.’
‘I’ll ruin him! He’ll get nowhere in the army from now on, I tell you’.
‘If you want to spoil your future son in law’s career that’s up to you’.
‘What do you mean – future son in law?’
‘They want to get married.’
‘They can’t. I forbid it.’
‘She’s twenty three, there’s nothing you can do about it’.
‘It may be very condescending for a sergeant to marry her but they’ll not get a penny for the wedding from me.’
Sylvia had a sublime look on her face. The look of a woman with a plain daughter who had until a few weeks ago given up all hope of ever becoming a grandmother.
‘You needn’t worry. I’m going to pay for it.’
‘You! How the bloody hell can you pay for it?’
‘I’ve cashed in my endowment policy and guess what. There’s enough money to pay for the wedding and a little left over to pay for the education of your grandchild. I can only afford the grammar School but it’ll all turn out right.
Oh, I can’t wait. Just think Baby Hodgkinson’.
The little world of Lieutenant Gervase Tourville de Mowbray was falling apart.
A patch of open ground that must be crossed,
Where the air bristles with mortal danger.
Within the surrounding bush hungry eyes
Flit from one to the other, the woman
And the man with a long spear in his hand,
The trait of mutual care and protection
In their genes and ours to this very day
Two hominids mutually seeking
Re-assurance by walking hand in hand.
Their footprints in the mud leave a story,
That will not be read for three million years.
The Laetoli footprints of early man,
This was written after I read an article in National Geographic.
Laetoli is a site in Tanzania, dated to the Pleistocene and famous for its hominid footprints, preserved in volcanic ash. The site of the Laetoli footprints, dated to 3.6 million years ago, is located 45 km south of Olduvai Gorge.
The proximity and nearness of the footprints suggests that the walkers were holding hands. I choose to believe this.
The story has a background in animism. In my definition animism is the belief that all living creatures, animal and vegetable, have a consciousness; a spiritual essence if you like.
It is a belief occurring in many ancient religions. I think of the Ancient Britons and the Druids’ sacred groves of roan, apple, hazel and ash; their belief in recurring cycles of life.
The rowan tree stood between a gnarled apple and an errant hazel in what had been, at one time, an orchard. Later, left to its own devices, the orchard tried its best to revert to the wild but in time became appropriated into part of the large back garden of a small stone house. The rowan, the mountain ash, had been planted by Alan’s grandfather and was now surrounded by a wooden seat built by Alan in his youth as a first project in woodworking.
His granddad, now nearly at the end of his term of life had advised him, told him the about the joints and the most appropriate wood to use. Alan fifteen and full of strength expected to finish the job in a day and became irritable if things didn’t go right straightaway. Granddad advised caution.
‘Alan’, he said ‘You’ll never make a good job this way. You must address yourself to the materials lovingly. You see, this piece of wood never wanted to be a seat. It was quite happy being a tree. And yet such is the nature of trees that it will have no resentment against your use of it. But let it know that you have none either and it will co-operate with you’.
Alan had thought his granddad was going a bit dotty and didn’t think too much about what he’d been told and got on making the seat.
‘Anybody would think the tree was a person’ he thought. Yet, somehow he never forgot what Granddad had told him.
From time to time he would sit under the rowan and often Granddad came to mind.
‘It’s funny! Here I am sitting under the tree like I did with Granddad so many years ago’. He closed his eyes and it came to him that they were like three old friends, Granddad, the tree and him.
‘Hold on’ he smiled, ‘Who’s going dotty now?’
When he married, Alan told his new wife about the tree in that almost forgotten part of his garden; told her with affection and reverence about the seat.
‘It’s a lovely story’ said Alice, ‘Let’s go and sit down on your seat now’. And sitting there became the habit of a lifetime. On warm summer evenings they would talk about how they had each spent their day and plan for the future.
Five days after the birth of their daughter they took her down to be introduced to the rowan. They laid her small palms against the trunk and, unbeknownst to each other, made a wordless prayer on her behalf; a communion of togetherness and mutual respect. They were silent, walking back to the house, each feeling a little embarrassed yet fulfilled.
As she grew, Silva, for this was the baby’s name, played around the rowan and sometimes danced a gavotte bending and casting old dry leaves into the air, singing a ditty and looking upwards through the leaves. At other times she would talk, half to herself and half to the tree, about school, her friends and little problems such as occur to teenage girls. One day, while doing her homework under the tree she leaned back against the developing trunk and wondered what the rowan’s personal name might be. His leaves rustled and murmured a name to her only. He was called Luis he whispered, one of the ancients’ names for the rowan tree. And at that very moment the tree chose her; chose for him to be her spirit helper through life.
One year the rowan bloomed early. At first the blossom was no more than a trace, a delicate shade of pink that later became a flush of warm red among the foliage. There, one soft summer evening under the canopy and beneath a sliver of crescent moon, the maiden felt the first stirrings of womanhood within her.
There came the time when Silva, now a young woman, took her new husband to introduce him to Luis and he smiled gently and understood. They sat together under the canopy and held hands as they did most evenings that first summer. Sitting there one evening Silva looked up just as a full moon found a window in the cloud cover. She placed her husband’s hand on her belly and together they felt the first kick of a new life that was to come a few moons later.
Wrapped in a linen shawl embroidered by her grandmother Silva took her baby to the tree, like her mother had done, and renewed the covenant. As she walked back to the house a green shoot from the rowan’s last year’s fruiting, that had been blown a zephyr’s breath away, burst out of the soil. Luis opened the leaves of the canopy and let through the moon glow and the seedling opened its tiny leaves to the soft light.
The cycle of regeneration was complete until the next turn of the great wheel.
Meteorological autumn started yesterday, first of September. House martins under the eaves of my house raised two broods of young this year. The parent birds emigrated two weeks ago to their mysterious destination. Their fledglings will follow in the next few days using directions imbued within them while in the egg.
On the Staves
The wrinkled hand of autumn
Spans the octave of the seasons
And transposes summer’s song
To an ancient minor key
Timely heard by house martins
Who, clustering on the staves
Of telegraph wires,
Compose a valediction.
The bitter sweet song of summer.
The warmth from her bare arm as she passes,
A sudden catch of her body’s fragrance,
The ghost of a nipple seen through the weave
When she tries on her new dress for me,
Maybe her hand hanging languid from the wrist
While she tells me how she spent her day,
A whisper of lace peeking out from her sleeve.
That appealing delta between her toes
When like today she wears her Mary Janes,
Her arched back when she finger-dries her hair.
Many jewels, shapes and colours reflect
In my kaleidoscope of perceptions,
I see them all in my retrospections.
Free verse with a final rhyming couplet
The Dow Jones index falls one thousand and twenty
While the FTSE One Hundred plummets
The bluetit feeds her nestlings a hundred times a day.
Brexit turgidly ebbs and flows, Boris scurries abroad
Up skirt picture scandals make front page news
The bluetit mother makes silent journeys to and fro’
Radical returnees from ISIS fields slip back to the mother land
In the still air a foxglove bell falls silently to earth
Clusters of grubs droop either side the bluetit’s bill
The mother bird feeds her fledglings for the last time
Her mission for the year accomplished without fanfare,
Sends them off to fend for themselves in their world
In the House politicians huff and puff to no effect
Bills go back and forth the House of Lords
The blue tit looks around for her mate.
Flight of Fancy
The text contains at least nine literary sources. See if you can name the book, publication or author and let me know. Some stanzas contain more than one source or maybe a one word clue.
Once I thought I might pilot a spaceship.
And conquer the Treens with Dan Dare,
Unseat the Mekon from his dinosaur steed
And end his reptilian reign.
I would howl at the moon with Akela
After drawing the teeth of Shere-Khan.
I’d peer down Zam-zammah’s muzzle
Then slide down the barrel all day.
I would swing through trees with anthropoid apes,
Do battle with blue men on Mars.
I’d smash the machines of the morlocks
Give the Eloi sunshine and ease.
But I ate of the tree of knowledge,
Perhaps shades of the workhouse closed in,
So I know it would take billions of dollars
To fulfil my Venusian dreams.
Rice Boroughs’ apes are endangered
Shere- Khan’s on a penthouse floor,
Mowgli’s no more than a cartoon film
And the Bandar- Log do as they please.
The Nautilus now lies rusting
Forty fathoms below the swell
With Nemo in Davy Jones’ locker
Entombed with all of his crew.
In Lahore they have fenced off the big gun
Boys can’t slide down the barrel today.
They’ll not hear the bang of jezails anymore
And the great game’s now played without rules.
Still, for me the fantasy phoenix
Will not be allowed to die
But at times be re-ignited
By a spark from a literary find.