Friday, 30 August 2013

Seamus Heaney

Mid-Term Break

I sat all morning in the college sick bay
Counting bells knelling classes to a close.
At two o'clock our neighbours drove me home.

In the porch I met my father crying--
He had always taken funerals in his stride--
And Big Jim Evans saying it was a hard blow.

The baby cooed and laughed and rocked the pram
When I came in, and I was embarrassed
By old men standing up to shake my hand

And tell me they were 'sorry for my trouble,'
Whispers informed strangers I was the eldest,
Away at school, as my mother held my hand

In hers and coughed out angry tearless sighs.
At ten o'clock the ambulance arrived
With the corpse, stanched and bandaged by the nurses.

Next morning I went up into the room. Snowdrops
And candles soothed the bedside; I saw him
For the first time in six weeks. Paler now,

Wearing a poppy bruise on his left temple,
He lay in the four foot box as in his cot.
No gaudy scars, the bumper knocked him clear.

A four foot box, a foot for every year. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Battlefields Trip: Day Two

Ropey rooms at the Hotel St Etienne but a good breakfast.  A stout woman in her early sixties remarked on how touching it was to see three generations of men travelling together.

We headed out of town more or less the way we came in, heading for the Pegasus Museum.

Pegasus bridge

The museum is just the right size, covering each aspect of the events it commemorates, namely the taking of the bridges over the Caen Canal and the river Orne, on the eastern-most flank of the invasion of Normandy, and the subsequent securing of the area around the bridges, achieved by the Ox and Bucks and the Royal Ulster Rifles of the 6th Airborne Division. Maddeningly the caption to a formal photograph of officers of the RUR in May 44 is given without the Wheldon 'H'.

The original Pegasus bridge is now in the garden of the museum, along with a reconstructed Horsa glider, the means by which the airborne troops landed on 5th and 6th June, 1944.  We wandered along it, wondering at how the past haunts the present.

We then crossed the canal and the river, headed through Ranville and began circling the area looking for what might have been 'Hill 30', which is where my father won his Military Cross.  The land is flat, but eventually we worked out that the scrubby ridge that separates Ranville from the hamlet of Ste Honorine must be the place.  We stopped at the junction of rue du Colonel Fabien and rue General LeClerc on the D223A.  Not much to see, but this was a bloody awful place to be on the 6th and 7th June 1944, for it came in for heavy bombardment from German artillery to the east.

Hill 30
Time to head east for Cambrai, where we'd booked rooms at the Hotel de France.  We arrived at around 4.00 o'clcock.  Cambrai is not a patch on Caen.  It seems an altogether more wounded place. The hotel was closed.  We rang a number.  A dog appeared. A concierge came.  No lift.  We took one look at the steep winding staircase to the first etage and decided that my uncle had done enough hard climbing.  We cancelled our reservation and went in search of somewhere modern with rooms on the ground floor. Ibis. Clean, comfortable and a decent restaurant. Any exploration of Cambrai will have to wait another day.

* It was over lunch in a service station somewhere in Normandy that K told us about the Wimpy "doozle dog" (Golden Egg (owned by Wimpy) did them too) - the round serrated frankfurter, nowadays known as a "bender".

When a serrated frankfurter is put into boiling water, it curls, but it took a good deal of experimentation to find both the right length of frankfurter and the precise distance between each serration to produce the perfect size for the wimpy bun. I am sorry the original name - doozle dog - did not catch on.


Over the last couple of years, I have become prone to daydream.  At least I think they are daydreams.  I suppose I must fall asleep for a small number of seconds, in which these dreams occur.  They are not like 'ordinary' dreams, insofar as I am aware of their brevity and suddenness, but also, and more curiously, they interfere with my fading memory.  In other words, they don't have the implausibility of 'ordinary' dreams.  I 'wake' from them wondering whether I have been remembering something in reverie or whether I have merely been asleep.  All very odd.  Thoughts on this from my myriad readers most welcome.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Reading & Leeds Musical Highlight

Soon after Eminem came on stage at Reading, late in classic rock star fashion, I made my way back to the guest area, which was now more or less empty except for my wife.  As I sat down, the excellent Guest Bar DJ began playing the version of 'America' from the West Side Story suite.  This will be listened to in 200 years time.  Will Eminem?  Er, no.

As for this, well, Rita Moreno can do everything that Miley Cyrus can't.  She can dance, sing and allure.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Reading & Leeds 2013: Episode Two

What a fool I was to think that the sticky passes and guest list tickets would be relatively straightforward to assign.  Not a bit of it.  All sorts of drama has been involved which I fear I cannot go into in any details, for there are sensibilities to be recognized not to mention sensitivities.  I've no idea how many cars are going to Reading or who is going with whom when.  All I know is that I'm the Gear Man (my TM duties have been slowly removed from me by various parties - sensibilities, sensitivities etc)

Our poor drummer has been de-handed.  Someone shut his fingers in a door and the ligaments are to hell.  He is out of the gig.  It may very well have been his last, too, as he commences university very soon (classics, natch).  This is all the more galling as it has been his band in the sense of its having begun in his basement, and in the sense of his knowing a thing or two technically.  And in the sense of being an exceptionally good drummer.

So a new drummer has had to be found, and has been found.  He's a minor celebrity, and the leader of another much more well-known band.  It is all being kept quite quiet..  First rehearsal was today.  It went well, I hear.  They really have to perform at Reading.  Their live act is fairly staid.  They don't look angry or messed up in love or fuck-you mean.  They are all pretty content, decent and kind.

Big question of the moment: can I get the band, all the guitars and the lead box into the Prius for the trip to Leeds?

At least the weather forecast is good.

My Lute Awake read by Basil Bunting

Sir Thomas Wyatt - My Lute Awake - Basil Bunting by poetictouch

My Lute Awake

My lute awake! perform the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
And end that I have now begun;
For when this song is sung and past,
My lute be still, for I have done.

As to be heard where ear is none,
As lead to grave in marble stone,
My song may pierce her heart as soon;
Should we then sigh or sing or moan?
No, no, my lute, for I have done.

The rocks do not so cruelly
Repulse the waves continually,
As she my suit and affection;
So that I am past remedy,
Whereby my lute and I have done.

Proud of the spoil that thou hast got
Of simple hearts thorough Love's shot,
By whom, unkind, thou hast them won,
Think not he hath his bow forgot,
Although my lute and I have done.

Vengeance shall fall on thy disdain
That makest but game on earnest pain.
Think not alone under the sun
Unquit to cause thy lovers plain,
Although my lute and I have done.

Perchance thee lie wethered and old
The winter nights that are so cold,
Plaining in vain unto the moon;
Thy wishes then dare not be told;
Care then who list, for I have done.

And then may chance thee to repent
The time that thou hast lost and spent
To cause thy lovers sigh and swoon;
Then shalt thou know beauty but lent,
And wish and want as I have done.

Now cease, my lute; this is the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
And ended is that we begun.
Now is this song both sung and past:
My lute be still, for I have done. 

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Friday, 16 August 2013

Battlefields Trip: Day One

I woke at 4.30 am to Kid Creole telling Annie that he wasn't her Daddy, and we were away by 5.00, driving into the sun, East towards Portsmouth.  Can't recall anything at all about waiting for the ferry. Possibly dozed. Ferry itself pretty empty, which was fine by me.  We had seats in the front lounge, and lounged in them.  Son C. spent the crossing on the deck, gradually joined by others, so that by the time we reached France it was fairly crowded.  A really lovely day. Warm but not too warm.  Fluffy white clouds making the sky interesting.  C. told me about a friend of his at school who "hated bangs" but who was already a Sea Cadet and was going to join the Royal Navy.  A real cockney according to C and his chief rival in the Classical Civilization class.

At my uncle K's suggestion we drove West along the coast road, through tiny little resorts, all very comfortable with themselves idling in the sun, to Arromanches. K wanted us to see the Mulberry Harbour, the concrete harbour the British designed to help in the invasion of Europe in 1944 (by dragging it in pieces across the channel and reassembling it here).  Not much of it is visible at high tide, but the scale was astounding.  C & I did a cursory tour of the museum.  A lot of models, uniforms, badges and so on.  Just the right size.

On then to the German battery at Longues-sur-mer.  Impossible not to think of The Guns of Navarone, although disquieted to find my mind mixing history and fiction.  We looked from the big guns to the sea and wondered what the Germans must have made of the Armada approaching them. I noted a surprisingly large number of French tourists.

C wanted to know why there were so many Canadian flags, Hotels du Canada, Quebec Bars and so on. Followed a discussion as to whether there were enough Canadians to make an army or whether they simply provided Divisions to British armies.

Headed now to Caen to find the hotel. My heart sank when I discovered we had been given rooms on the top floor.  K. has trouble with two steps let alone a twisting staircase of 18th century wood.  The place had recently lost its tourism badge, and although the staff were lovely, it wasn't really an appropriate spot.  Should have gone Ibis.  My and Cal's room had a single double bed hardly wide enough for me let alone the both of us.  Having said that, the windows were lovely French casements that opened inwards and gave a view over Caen towards the Gentlemen's Abbey (there's a Ladies' too). I could imagine having TB and writing poetry here and killing myself with absinthe.

After a little wandering we were directed towards the restauranty part of town - a pedestrian street lined with restaurants tawdry and poshish.  We went into a place specializing in galettes (omelettes really, no?) and crepes, chiefly because K had spotted that they sold tripe. We drank a seriously delicious Cidre Bouche.

We returned to the hotel and the dreaded stairs. Selfishly I thought only of the double bed, when I should have thought of K.  I hadn't slept much before Kid Creole.  I had a long drive tomorrow.  I took Cal to the local Ibis, and slept like a log.

Casablanca Station Session

Acoustic from St Pancras.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Travel Writing Workshop

In a probably vain attempt to resuscitate my on-off journalistic career, last Saturday I attended a travel writing workshop run by Peter Carty, formerly travel editor of Time Out.  He was authoritative, clear, funny, and has been about the place.  I recommend this course to anyone considering taking up travel writing. For me there was a certain amount of egg-sucking, but for intelligent beginners I'd say it was just the job.  Women outnumbered the men.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Reading & Leeds 2013 Part One

OK, so the other day I got my first Reading email as TM (that's what we muso types call a Tour Manager - at least that what my son tells me).  Put me in quite a fluster, not least because there was an Excel form I had to fill in, and Excel forms invariably prove difficult.  I think you have to understand logarithms or something.  Anyway, I apologised for not responding and then got another email from someone else asking for something called a channel list.  He also wanted a stage plan.  That's OK, because I know that a stage plan is Where the Boys Stand (it helps of course if you're a TM, like me - this is highly technical stuff). After having mastered the Excel problem i then read through the Festival Documents, which I had been instructed to do online.  Reams of the stuff.  Health and safety included a lot of words, but that was nothing on parking procedures.  Some of these were in red, some in bold type, the font sizes varied - this was the really important gubbins.  Left me exhausted, i can tell you. Nonetheless, I had enough lead left in my pencil to write off another email asking for the difference between guest car parking and artist car parking and so on and so forth.  And received another email referring me back to the person who sent the first email, which was fine because I think I would like her if I met her.  The long tall and the short of it is that today I received, special delivery, signed for, my pack of passes and tickets and things to stick on the car window, and it is tremendously exciting suddenly, and I'm fairly sure I'll bump into Mr Eminem backstage at some point, and I shall treasure my sticky pass for ever afterwards.  And I'm still only 55.

COUNTRY BOY by Richard Hilyer

Not quite sure how this works, but I think my review of the reprint of Richard Hillyer's  Country Boy is in the current Spectator. Try here for a taster.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


I'm rather pleased with this.  A vignette, Hampstead cemetery, about 6.00 pm today

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

We Could Forever - Casablanca

The band's new video, for their single 'We Could Forever', went live about 4 minutes ago.  It is directed by the fragrant Billie J. D. Porter and features cute animals plus a dog and a cat, chortle-chortle. And here it now is, on You Tube:

God's Fingernail

What looks like a scratch in the middle of the picture is the new moon.  Driving from our house in the Charente, in order to pick up the dog's passport (and take it back again, within 24 hours), I'd stopped at an aire, around, I think, 4.00 am.  I'd had the moon on my right for a good half hour, sparkling freshly in the eastern sky.  It was a good companion. 'God's fingernail" was the description of a new moon in a day time sky made by Dad to Mum a thousand years ago, somewhere in Wales.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Jim Perrin's 'Snowdon'

My review of Jim Perrin's first class 'Snowdon' is in the new issue of Planet: The Welsh Internationalist, the stupendously brilliant quarterly edited by Emily Trahair.  A hint of what the mag contains can be found here.