A Christmas Poem

Firstly a quick apology for not posting for the last 3 weeks. It’s a been a hectic lead up to Christmas and I’ve been busy renovating our hallway – new ceiling, repairs, plaster and painting plus the hanging of a number of my black and white photos to turn the hallway into a photo gallery. So now Christmas is finally just a few hours away Id like to take the opportunity to wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year…….and please buy someone a book from a real bricks and mortar book store.

What does Christmas mean to me? It’s a good question. I’m not particularly religious, nor do I believe in Santa (shock horror!). I don’t even follow the Pagan festivals….so why do I bother to celebrate Christmas? Here’s a little poem to help me get my thinking straight about what Christmas is all about…for me.

What does Christmas mean to me?

Not just Ho Ho Ho and gaiety.

It’s not about the fat man dressed in red,

With 8 reindeer pulling his sled.

Or presents piled beneath a tree,

Even if there’s something nice for me.

It’s not about turkey, or Christmas ham,

Sage stuffing, or a leg of lamb.

It’s not about the wine and beer,

Eggnog or the coming new year.

It’s not even about Jesus, well not for me

The birth of Christianity.

The winter solstice, not even that

With green willow, all around my hat.

It’s not Bing Crosby singing low,

Not balloons, streamers or mistletoe.

It’s not snowmen in the front yards,

Or getting heaps of Christmas cards.

It’s not Carollers going door to door,

Or prayers for peace instead of war.

It’s not about sledding in the park

Nor candles burning after dark

Not Love Actually on TV

Or the Sound of Music – no not for me

What Christmas really means to me

Is spending time with family

And so I’d like to play my part

And bless you all with all my heart

Spend Christmas with those you hold dear

And I wish you all a brave new year.

Gardening with my father

When I was a child living in Yorkshire I owned a mug, for drinking tea, with a little picture on the front of a child with its father watering flowers in a garden, using watering cans. A big watering can for the Dad and a small one for the son. Under the picture was the phrase “Helping Daddy”. It’s funny what we remember from our childhood isn’t it? But, like the child on the front of that mug, I used to help my dad in his garden once I was big enough to be of help.

As well as our gardens at home, front and back of the house, which were always a riot of colour, full of flowers and small shrubs, dad also had a huge vegetable garden just a few minute walk away….through the edge of the woods and down a back lane….where his widowed cousin Dora lived. Dora lost her husband in WW2 and lived alone in a house with a huge garden that she couldn’t manage on her own. The garden was divided in two by a path that ran from the front door down to the front gate. The old stone house stood at the very back of the section so all the gardens were visible to the front of the house. The path was the dividing line between Dora’s flower garden – mainly roses – and dad’s veggie garden.

No photo description available.
My dad…shirtless by the looks of things… working in the veggie garden. See how everything grows in neat rows.

So, from being about 8 or 9 years old I was kind of “volunteered” to help dad in the veggie garden. To begin with this mainly involved tedious things such as weeding, tidying, or fetching and carrying things for dad. As I got bigger I was given heavier work such as digging trenches for manuring/composting and using the wheelbarrow to fetch leaf mold from the woods to add to our compost pile, or other such barrow duties. I wasn’t particularly keen on the tasks, but enjoyed spending time with my dad. It amazed me how much he could grow in his garden and how well he (and I) kept it. Row after straight row of vegetables – Tomatoes, Beans, Peas, Carrots, Onions, Cabbage, Turnips, Spring Onions, Cauliflower, Beetroot, Potatoes, Lettuce and best of all, in a small garden to the side of the house was a very crowded strawberry bed. This garden was sheltered by the house on one side and walls on two other sides, providing a sunny warm area for the strawberries to thrive. Oh how I remember the taste of those succulent deep red strawberries – juicy and sweet.

At the time, I didn’t really appreciate the cycle of creation in front of me in that garden. Or of the life within the soil and how we helped to keep that cycle of healthy soil, healthy food going. The preparing and manuring of the soil in readiness for the planting of the seeds, the emergence of the first shoots of the plants, their continued growth to maturity and their ultimate harvest….interspersed with lots and lots of weeding and watering. Food on our table, and food for the family, friends and neighbours.

What I also remember is Dora bringing out sweet cups of tea for dad and I to drink and take a break from our toils, along with a plate of slices of cake or iced (frosted) buns – which always seemed to be slightly stale, but not so far gone that we wouldn’t risk eating them. You know, as a child I had no idea of the age of adults. Everyone who had finished school and started work seemed ancient to me, so one day when Dora asked me how old I thought she was I took a stab at 60….Oops. She was in her mid 40’s at the time so for a while after that she refused to talk to me.

I was fascinated by the worms in the soil – my main concern was how on earth they could breath underground. But I learned how vital they were to the health of the soil, just as I learned how vital bees were (and still are) to the wellbeing of the strawberries. I would sit and watch for ages as the bees went around their business of calling on each strawberry flower before moving on to the next, pollinating as they buzzed here and there. Not that nature asked for our help, but we did what we could as we added compost and mulch to help keep the soil protected and healthy.

No photo description available.
The butcher’s shop. Manure by the barrowload was gathered from the yards behind the shop.

One of the worse most odious and rank tasks (literally), that dad gave me was taking a wheelbarrow up the hill to the butchers yards to collect fresh animal manure. The butcher, Clifford, slaughtered animals on the premises in a yard at the back of the shop. Animals, I guess, are like humans in respect of their reaction to their forthcoming slaughter – shit scared doesn’t even begin to describe it. Let’s just say that there was always lots of manure and straw to transport from the butcher’s yard back down the hill to the garden. A funny thing about my journey’s up and down the hill to the yard and back. On the way up the hill, with a clean wheelbarrow, I would not see anyone I knew on the streets. On the way back, wheelbarrow full of stinking shit, a liberal amount of which I always seemed to manage to get over myself, (the smell of which seemed to linger for days regardless of how much soap I used, or how raw I scrubbed my hands and arms), surrounded by flies, and I would see lots of people who knew me, including at least one pretty girl from school. The manure patrol did little to enhance my reputation with the opposite sex, but worked wonders in the garden.

I write this, some fifty years later after moving to the opposite side of the world and have now become the keen gardener that my dad once was. I am sitting on my terrace, overlooking the garden at the front of my own home. Poppies swaying in the breeze, next to one of a half dozen stands of raspberry canes. The bees from our own hive, buzzing among the plants, work their magic. The canes heavy in both flowers and fruit, some fruit still green, but others turning a pale pink on their way to succulent scarlet ripeness. Another week should do it. In the garden to my left tomato plants are thriving and already bearing small green tomatoes. I was just having a wander around the garden – gin and tonic in hand – counting up the tomato plants. Last year we had around 70. This year we’re up to 80 at current count, with more (perhaps another 50) in seed trays and plant pots to be planted out in the coming days. Everything that we don’t either eat or give away to family and neighbours will be preserved either as tomato sauce or whole, in jars, for later use.

Oh well, it’s been another hot, late spring, day here in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand – my home for the last 30 years. Time to end this post and give my plants a good watering.

As usual thank you for reading this. Any comments or questions will be responded to as soon as possible. Likes and shares most appreciated.

Variety is the spice of life.

That phrase “Variety is the spice of life“, is something that I’ve heard many times during my lifetime, but I’ve never really thought about what it means. Recently I came across Mark Boyle’s book – Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi and he pretty much explained it in a simple paragraph….but since I don’t want to get stung for copyright infringement I’ll try to paraphrase him.

He was talking about how the industrial age, or as he calls it The Machine, has taken us over, making specialists of us, pigeon-holing us into strictly limited roles, making us no more than a cog in the machine. There’s no diversity. Meantime we play our part, as a part of the system, by consuming products and services. He reminds us that it didn’t used to be that way. We used to fully participate in life, in community – rather than distancing ourselves from it. We foraged, grew, produced and cooked our own food. Made our own entertainment, played music, made up songs, poems and stories to share around a communal fire. We made the things we needed, be it a wooden spoon or a woven fabric. Made our own wines, beers, mead, cheeses, butter, jam and preserves to share with our family and neighbours, as part of a living, breathing village. Our lives were rich with diversity with the freedom to express ourselves in a variety of ways. We could be a hunter one day, a farmer the next, a furniture maker, artist, poet. Life was interesting and fluid. Variety was the spice of life. These days for the sake of “maximum efficiency” we are reduced to rigid conformity, a cog in the wheel of industry, doing the same repetitive thing over and over again.

Don’t you think it’s time to take back our lives? To make them varied and interesting again?

We have come to rely too much on the system, on the Machine and what it delivers. Sooner or later, (I fear it will be sooner rather than later, the way that the world is heading) the system will break down and our specialist pigeon-holed existence will be our downfall. We won’t have the individual skills to survive, because we’ve lost that variety in our lives. We tend to know how to do one thing, a narrow field of view. We’ve become an expert, skilled in one thing and lost the ability to perform a hundred other tasks. We will not be prepared….thanks in the most part to what we have viewed as “progress”.

For anyone interested in Mark’s book, I’ve pasted the link to the goodread’s page for the book Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi below. I will probably be making further posts about the contents of this and others of Boyles books later on. I’m less than half way through the book and have learned so much already. As usual many thanks for reading and your comments etc are most appreciated.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25330343-drinking-molotov-cocktails-with-gandhi

Only the Rain – A poem

8am Fine but cloudy

9am Possible shower

Says the screen on my phone

So much for meteorology

My cat looks forlornly through the cat-flap

It’s been raining for three days….solid.

Three days like a never ending firehose

In the yard

Water pools in the trailer

Water pools on the lawn

Worms, desperate refugees squirm toward high ground

As the ground squelches, sponge-like underfoot

Rain barrels overflow

Passing trucks hiss by sending washes,

Small Tsunamis down my driveway

Under lead grey skies

A bird seeks shelter under the eves

A lone walker struggles past, soaked

Wrestling his umbrella against the wind

And still it falls

Peach blossom can no longer cling to the branches

Submits to the rains power and floats

Pink, limp and exhausted

In the puddles on the lawn

Soggy leaves make fine dams

Gutters overflow, downpipes blocked

Everything feels damp

Smells damp

Tastes damp

Even the air here inside.

The rivered streets slick and shine like mirrors

In a mono-chrome world

I look out the window

For the cowardly sun

Still a no-show

The sky darkens further

Like my mood

Thunderous rain beats against the roof

And waves its opaque magicians cape

As the street disappears

Concealed from view

Only the rain

My constant companion

Only the Rain.

The sum of all things.

As I lay in bed early this morning, having been waken by a combination of our cat Hector demanding attention by mewing by the bedroom door, and the first notes of the dawn chorus of birdsong, all manner of things flood my mind.

My head is literally awash with thoughts all tumbling through with little forethought. Memories, ideas, wishes, and a few regrets, all pile on top of one another in utter chaos that I’m meant to sift and sort through if I’m going to make the slightest sense of them. Are they meant to be made sense of though? Should I simply get a big broom and sweep them all into a corner for Ron….you know, I’ll sort it out lateR on. Or I could sweep them under the rug and forget about them….leave them for Al – zheimers to claim.

But no. What ever these things are – rushing hell for leather through the sometimes dim, sometimes illuminated, corridors of my mind – they are demanding attention…much like my cat Hector is demanding to be fed.

Everyone I’ve ever met, everything I’ve ever done, every smell, every taste, every touch, every sight and sound, every experience – good or bad – every thought, spinning around in a huge tumble dryer falling over and over one another. These are the sum of my life. The sum of all things that equal me.

Another louder, more insistent MEEEEOOOW! And Hector leaping onto the bed and onto my chest mean that my mental mathematics will have to wait for later. The sum of all things that equal me have just been put in their place…..his majesty wants his breakfast.

The Curse of Writer’s Block.

Writer’s block can be a terrible thing. Thankfully it’s not something that I am suffering from these days. These days, I’m pleased to report, ideas come flowing through my mind like water from the tap. Admittedly some of my ideas, just like water from the tap, can be lukewarm and insipid – but at least they’re flowing.

This morning after my early morning coffee….(so it could be, or probably is, supercharged by caffeine)…my mind was brimming with ideas for blog posts and other articles. And I jotted down fifteen ideas straight off. BUT it wasn’t always that easy and even the greatest writers have at times suffered from the dreaded writer’s block. Here are a few quotes about that awful affliction.

“writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”
Charles Bukowski

“One writer I know tells me that he sits down every morning and says to himself nicely, ‘It’s not like you don’t have a choice, because you do– you can either type or kill yourself.”
Anne Lamott

“You could see writer’s block as mental constipation but I like to think of it as cultural anaemia.”
Stewart Stafford

“The wonderful thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.
The terrifying thing about writing is that there is always a blank page waiting.” ― J.K. Rowling

“Writer’s block is only a failure of the ego.” — Norman Mailer

And believe me, if anyone knows about the Ego it’s Mailer. I have never read any writer who’s ego is bigger or more perfect (at least in his own mind) than Mailer.

And finally…..

“When I got Writer’s Block, I masturbated.”
Takako Shimura

Well….I guess if it worked for her….who am I to judge. If you’ve already tried massaging your mind to stimulate it…. Before I get myself in any deeper (Oh Dear…) I think that I should probably finish right there….make it the climax of my blog post (pun intended).

A year of blogging and several thank-you’s.

I can’t believe it, but this weekend brings up one year of blogging on WordPress. Thank you so much for the “like’s, comments and follows”. It’s especially nice when people take time out of their full and busy lives to comment on something as trivial as my blog posts and I honestly am most appreciative. This first year on WordPress has been an interesting experience, and something that I am growing into. Yes, even at almost 60 years of age I am still learning and growing….even if my hair isn’t. The most important thing is that I am enjoying the writing experience even more than I hoped I would. Being able to read and comment on other peoples blogs has also been a new and rewarding experience, and I’d like to say thank you to all the bloggers out there who’s articles I have read, liked, or commented on. I’ve been entertained, educated and in some cases amazed.

A very quick recap of the last year of blogging shows that my first ever blog post attracted a grand total of 1 like – thank you Chris from https://gnashingblog.com/ – (If anyone hasn’t come across Chris’s blog, please take a look. He has some great book and movie reviews and the occasional spectacular rant).

So you’d think from only 1 like, things could only improve. Right?…..sadly no. My 5th, 6th and 7th posts received no response at all….not even a”is that all you’ve got?” comment, only the buzz…(or is it chirp?) of crickets. BUT, I didn’t start off writing my blog in search of likes, comments or followers – I was writing because I wanted to, and I wanted to know if I had the ability to string more than a couple of sentences together in a coherent manner…..and most importantly I was doing it for the pleasure of writing. Likes, comments and followers are a wonderful by-product.

I was inspired enough by reading other bloggers poetry to have a go myself and have been pleasantly surprised at the response. A very surprised “thank you” from me for all the nice comments. However, the down side – for you – is that I will be inflicting more of said poetry on you in up coming posts. I’m enjoying the process and the peace that writing poetry brings to the soul. You have been warned!

Other well received subjects have been some, but not all, book reviews, most of my travel/photography pieces especially the ones on Paris seem to go down well, but politics and environmentalism don’t receive the same response. Perhaps the reality of the mess we find ourselves in both politically and more importantly environmentally is too distressing for many of you. I totally get that. Sometimes I’d rather hide away and hope that it’s all been a bad dream. Sadly neither problem will go away. I don’t mean to cause distress in pointing out how sadly we’ve lost our way as a species, or how bad we’ve screwed up, but sometimes I feel compelled to let it all out in a jumble of words on paper…otherwise my head may well explode.

My most successful piece so far, with regard to likes and comments, was my post about children’s writer Enid Blyton – which is kind of fitting as it was dear old Enid’s books that opened up a world of reading and wonder for me when I was about 7 or 8 years old….and I’ve been addicted to books ever since. Thank you Enid – I am for ever in your debt.

So, one year passes….101 blog posts published (this will be 102), so that’s one post on average every 3.5 days….126 followers – I know that some bloggers have thousands of followers, but frankly, hitting that hundred follower mark felt great, so thank you guys and girls. I value every one of you and I’ll do my best to keep you entertained for another year….and to keep up with reading and commenting on your blogs too.

As Woody Allen once said “70 percent of success in life is in just turning up”….so for now I’ll keep turning up approximately every 3.5 days.