Three Living Room Lights

Lambent Light

En route to my bathroom,

in the middle of the night,

I pause, to stare at a soothing sight:

my living room glows, with soft, lambent light.

No mystery, no invisible forces;

this glow is created by three different sources.

TV Aerial

A deluded victim of self-deception,

for years, I endured poor TV reception.

TV, I thought, was there to entertain

the masses, the “plebs”; those of little brain.

I saw myself, with self-regarding conceit,

as part of an intellectual elite.

Populist entertainment was not for me;

give me literature, high culture, and Radio 3.

The indoor aerial on my ancient TV,

I would move, and manipulate, constantly.

I finally gave way; put an end to all

the mounting frustration and mental turmoil.

Bought a decent TV, with outdoor aerial;

its cable connects to a socket in the wall.

This socket, in the darkest hours of the night,

sheds a small, sepulchral white light.

It suggests the serene light of sanity,

prevailing over years of conceit and vanity.

Wi-Fi Hub

The second source of sublime white light

is symbolic of victory in another fight.

With my old router I could never get

a secure connection to the internet.

Flickering lights, in extensive array,

held me under hypnotic sway.

My new Wi-Fi Hub rescued me from this hell;

its single white light shows that all is now well.

The Moon

And the Moon bestows its magisterial light,

in silver benediction, throughout the night.

This poem is really a compilation of three poems in one, and, as such, it took me ages to work out.  It all stems from one of my visits to the bathroom in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t help noticing that my living room was bathed in spectral, white light.

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Double Bass

Double Bass

Underpinning it all

Giving it ground

Purcell did it

Dowland’s sound

Nothing like it

Nothing more profound

 

Tugging it

Keeping it

Keeping that beat

Tugging it

Grounding it

Holding its feet

 

The growling bass note

Then lets it roar

Others subside

As it takes the floor

Hauls it all back

Lets others flow

Stitch it together

Go, man, go!

 

Selfless, unassuming

Purveyor of rhythm

Go out there, enslave them

Go out there and kill ’em!

One of my favourite times of the week is late Saturday afternoon/early evening, when I’m lying in a warm bath, relaxing, absorbing the green, foamy, fragrant water infused by Badedas Indulgent Bath Gelee.  My attention shifts, lazily, from the anthology of poems I am reading, to the jazz programme on BBC Radio 3 I am listening to, simultaneously, in the background.  Ideas for poems invariably bubble up in my consciousness, inspired either by reflections on the poems I am reading, or the music I am listening to.  “Double Bass” is an example where the background jazz suddenly came to the fore.

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The Wrong Job

The Wrong Place

I knew I was in the wrong place,

every time a jet plane flew over

the office. Everyone jumped

to their feet and rushed to the windows.

“It’s a Harrier!” “No, it’s a Tornado,

you idiot!” “You’re both wrong.

It’s a Sea Harrier!” Train spotting

war toys; running around like little boys.

Everyone in the office, except me;

the only one who found the jets

even less interesting than the words

that shimmered, meaninglessly,

on my computer screen.

 

I knew I was in the wrong place,

when I found out I was working

in “Logistics”, and realised I would never

understand what “Logistics” meant.

 

But, really, I knew I was in the wrong place

way before then. When I stepped onto

the base for the first time, and saw

uniformed Yanks saluting, and talking

about how small and quaint everything was,

here in little old England.

 

Why did I stay, all that time,

in the wrong place?

Because I had just spent ten years

in the right place,

and had ended up blowing it.

 

I stayed in the wrong place

for twenty long years,

thinking the wrong place

was better than no place.

 

How wrong can you be.

I am constantly looking back at old poems I have written, and quite often I revise them, seeing weaknesses and trying to improve them.  I wrote the above poem a couple of years ago, but have only recently changed the ending of it.  The poem provides a kind of oblique commentary on the autobiographical series I am currently embarked upon – about my years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language.  When I finally left the language school in London, I got a job as an Administrative Officer at an RAF base that was staffed mainly by the United States Air Force.  I soon realized that this was “The Wrong Place” for me, but, somehow or other, still ended up staying there for twenty years.

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My Ignorance of English Grammar

TEFL (2): Early Doubts

The elephant in the room charged around,

trumpeting loudly, trampling the desks underfoot,

constantly, during my TEFL training course.

I couldn’t understand why no-one even alluded to it.

 

Four excruciating weeks of role-plays, simulations,

demonstrations, interviews, practicing in front of

blank-faced, unresponsive groups of foreign adolescents.

Four weeks of sheer terror, for a shy introvert like me.

But nowhere, in all this hectic, tumultuous,

tension-filled activity, was there any explanation

of our actual subject: English Grammar and Syntax.

 

The assumption seemed to be that, as native speakers,

we were all intimate with the complexities

of English Grammar and Syntax.

But I had not been taught it at school.

I had no formal knowledge of it.

I wasn’t even sure what “Syntax” meant.

 

All I could do was to consult Thomson and Martinet;

The Bible of English Grammar for EFL teachers.

I would flick through the pages; read about

Modals, Conditionals, the Gerund, the Subjunctive.

But when I tried to grasp hold of the sense,

the meaning of these menacing creatures,

they constantly eluded me; shimmering, insubstantially,

partially hidden by the mists rising from the swamps.

They lurked there, waiting to pounce upon me,

in the dangerous jungle I was about to enter.

Following on from the last posting, this poem is the second in an autobiographical sequence, covering the years from 1982 to 1990, when I was working as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) at a highly-successful language school called Language Studies International, in central London.  As I stated in the previous post, I drifted into TEFL, for the want of anything better to do.  It turned out to be the most interesting and rewarding job I’ve ever had.

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Why I Taught English as a Foreign Language

TEFL: Why I do it

There is a well-known saying:

“Those who can, do;

those who can’t, teach.”

To which, I attach my addendum:

“Those who can teach,

teach proper, authentic subjects.

Those who can’t,

teach their own language.”

And a further personal,

pessimistic postscript:

“Those who can teach

their own language properly,

teach groups of students.

Those who can’t,

teach individuals, one-to-one.”

 

So, here I sit, in my eyrie.

My tiny room, at the top of the building;

barely big enough for one-to-one tuition.

I am not even rated highly enough

to be a paid employee.

I am a self-employed tutor,

working for Language Studies International.

I am paid by the hour, and my hours vary,

from week to week, from day to day.

I have no job security.

I have no expectations.

I have no realisation that this job

is the best job I will ever have.

I drifted into teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) at a language school in the centre of London, because I couldn’t think of anything else I could do.  I had moved from Cambridge to London because I got a grant to do a postgraduate course at Chelsea College.  So there I was, thirty-one years old, with a degree in Humanities and a postgraduate diploma in Modern Cultural and Social Studies.  In other words, I wasn’t qualified to do anything, in particular.  I managed to somehow survive a four-week full-time RSA(Prep.)Certificate in TEFL, and got taken on, as a “Freelance Tutor”, at Language Studies International, just off Oxford Street, five minutes away from Selfridge’s Department Store.  I ended up staying there for nine of the most interesting years of my life.

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What Thoth Knew

What Thoth Knew

“We are stardust, we are golden. . . “(Joni Mitchell: “Woodstock”)

One hundred billion stars

In the Milky Way

Shining fiercely, burning away.

 

This is where we came from

What we are

Dust from one hundred billion stars.

 

One hundred billion cells

Inside our brains

Glowing, connecting, again and again.

 

This is where

Our unique essence dwells

In one hundred billion vibrating cells

 

Each and every one

As the mystics know

A microcosm: “As above, so below.”

This poem was inspired by reading an article about our braincells and the universe, and thinking back to my teenage years, when I was fascinated by mysticism, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.  These days, I’m more interested in popular science than in mysticism, but sometimes the two areas seem to converge!

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Alter Ego (2)

Alter Ego (2)

When was he born? Difficult question;

so many possible fleeting incarnations.

But that first session in the school gym

has to be a prime contender.

 

I am one of a huddled mass

of eleven-year-old boys,

trembling with fear and anxiety,

confronted by an ogre called Captain Wall.

 

This strutting, straight-backed, self-regarding,

militaristic martinet, clad in a svelte grey tracksuit,

strides, imperiously, in front of us;

barks out his commands, lays down the law

on how we are to behave, to dress,

to perform in his presence.

 

“White top, white shorts, white plimsolls,

white socks – OR NO SOCKS!”

 

And the ground shudders and splinters,

as the wall begins to form.

It rises, miraculously, self-erected,

brick by brick, it rises, at the beating heart

of our group, splitting us asunder.

 

On one side – my side – the boys

from families that care,

and have money to spare. The boys

with mothers who love them,

and have time to look after them.

These boys will parade in front of Captain Wall,

week in, week out, in immaculate

white P.E. outfits, complete

with white socks.

 

On the other side of the wall, the boys

from families that are torn,

by discords and dissension.

The families that struggle to survive,

to provide for their children.

 

These boys will turn up for P.E.,

week in, week out,

in grubby, wrinkled, ill-fitting

tops and shorts; will thrust bare feet

into dirty plimsolls, in front of

an appalled Captain Wall.

 

The wall rises, divides us;

creates two worlds: my world

of the well-fed, the healthy,

the mollycoddled. And the other world

of the needy, the ill-nourished,

the unkempt, the uncared-for.

 

My other self emerges,

and, without pause

for thought, or hesitation,

steps, boldly, to the other side.

This poem should really be read in conjunction with the original Alter Ego poem I posted in this blog a couple of weeks ago.  If you read it on its own, without having read the first poem, you probably won’t be able to make much sense out of it.  Whenever I think back to those PE sessions I experienced as an eleven-year-old, I vividly recall the fear I felt.  I suppose PE at schools these days is nothing like as terrifying!

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Alter Ego

Down to You

“It’s down to you, constant stranger.

You’re a brute, you’re an angel.

You can crawl, you can fly, too.

It’s down to you; it all comes down to you.”

(Joni Mitchell.)

 

Our inner selves are constant strangers;

meeting, conflicting; moving away.

With me, for instance, it happens every day.

 

He wasn’t lucky enough

to pass the Eleven Plus.

He left school at sixteen,

with no qualifications,

and a grudge against the world.

He resembles me, physically;

has the same shaven head,

but he has more tattoos and piercings.

He wants to flaunt his tattoos,

in skimpy clothing, all year long,

regardless of the weather.

He speaks in a stream of solecisms

and four-letter words.

 

I awake in the early hours,

surrounded by silence,

enveloped in darkness.

He announces himself.

He steps upon the stage

of my semi-conscious mind,

and dominates my thoughts,

my feelings, my dreams,

for the remaining hours of night-time.

 

When I get up in the morning,

he is in control.

Weary from lack of sleep,

disturbed by his bizarre visions,

using uncouth, vulgar vocabulary,

I live as this rough yob,

for the first hour or two, every morning.

 

I am troubled, but exhilarated;

this is the real me!

Troubled, but exhilarated;

I am going to be free!

It is exciting, to gain fluency

in this primitive foreign language.

 

A struggle then ensues.

A struggle, in which

the other self slowly succumbs.

 

He slowly succumbs,

to cultural values, to rationality;

to the sobering effects

of strong, black coffee;

to civilization, to classical music,

to blessed Radio Three.

 

He slowly succumbs,

gradually becomes

the acceptable, daytime “me”.

I was listening to a jazz programme on BBC Radio 3, when the featured artist played an excerpt from the Joni Mitchell song “Down to You”, saying it was a song that had really influenced him.  I am a big Joni Mitchell fan (her “Blue” album is my favourite album of all time!), but I hadn’t heard this particular track for ages, and was surprised it had such an influence on a jazz instrumentalist.  A few days later, I was listening to Bob Mortimer on “Desert Island Discs”, and was even more surprised when he chose “Down to You” as the one piece of music he would take to his desert island!  Anyway, the only reason I am mentioning it now is because listening to the lines “Constant stranger, you’re a brute, you’re an angel. . . ” suddenly gave me the idea for writing the above poem.  I’d been struggling for a while, trying to write a poem about “my other self”, and it was a great relief when – thanks to the Joni Mitchell song – I finally managed to do it.  

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Death by Tortoise

Aeschylus, or Death by Tortoise

Men like me, with no hair on my head,

grow inured to the jibes and the cruel things said.

We console ourselves that such comments don’t kill us;

it can’t be worse than what happened to Aeschylus.

 

Aeschylus was the master tragedian,

but his death was more befitting a comedian.

Lack of hair was the reason he soon was dead:

the similarity of his hairless head

to a rock, deceiving the great bird in the sky

into dropping the tortoise, causing Aeschylus to die.

Had he been vain enough to wear a toupee,

the eagle would have simply flown away.

 

Reflect upon the playwright’s sorry fate;

be sure to cover up your balding pate.

I was reading an article recently, in The London Review of Books, about classical Greek Drama, in which the story (possibly apocryphal) of the unusual death of Aeschylus – the great tragic dramatist – was recounted.  In case you’re not familiar with it, the story goes as follows: Aeschylus was, apparently, completely bald on the top of his head.  While he was out walking, one day, an eagle flew by overhead.  The eagle had a tortoise held in its claws, and was intending to drop the poor creature onto a rock, in order to kill and eat it.  Spotting Aeschylus below, the eagle was deceived into confusing Aeschylus’s bald head for a rock.  It dropped the tortoise, directly onto his bald head, killing him immediately.

I had come across this story before, but I suddenly started to think it might make a suitable subject for a short, humorous poem.  I actually find writing “light verse” usually more challenging than writing serious poems, and this one was no exception – the name “Aeschylus” itself not being the easiest word to fit into a rhyme-scheme!   

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Red Lights

Red Lights

Red lights on my router,

where there should be green.

Red lights on my router;

I dread what this could mean.

 

In the midst of life’s journey, my eye on the summit;

lies an uncharted abyss, into which I plummet.

My existence dissolves, dwindles down to this.

The only sounds emitted: humming and hiss.

 

Mere moments ago, communication was infinite;

now my world has shrunk, within limits so tight.

No emails, no websites, no radio, no TV.

Nothing can be done; what will become of me?

 

My life now in crisis, situation drastic;

little red lights, shiny black plastic.

This is life’s essence, this cannot be right;

shiny black plastic, little red lights.

 

Red lights on my router,

where there should be green.

Red lights on my router;

I dread what this could mean.

As is probably the case with most people these days, my internet provider also provides me with my TV channels, including I-Player, and my telephone landline.  I am currently problem-free, with all these services, but I have had problems – as we all do – from time to time.  A few weeks ago, I suddenly experienced a complete loss of internet connection, for no apparent reason, which lasted for a couple of hours.  I began to realise, towards the end of the two hours, just how serious this problem could be, if it wasn’t soon resolved.  It also began to sink in just how vital our internet connection has become; our self-worth, our well-being, our whole identity now depends upon it.  The sense of liberation and renewal I had, as soon as the red lights on my router changed to green, led me to write the poem above.

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