My Wine Calendar

Vineal Equinox

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter;

They come and go, passing by,

As planet Earth revolves in the sky.

Clocks go forward, clocks go back,

Attuned to an annual almanack.

But I observe an equinox more personal;

One that is neither autumnal nor vernal.

The flow of my inner being depends

On the date a six-monthly period ends.

An equinox relating to the vine,

And idiosyncratic consumption of wine.

From the start of May to the end of October,

I drink white wine; am neither drunk nor sober.

The quantity is neither here nor there;

I simply drink enough to ease dull care.

As temperatures rise, in the lengthening days,

I chill-out with white wine, in a languorous haze.

From the end of October to the start of May,

I switch to red wine at the end of the day.

The coldness, the darkness; return to the clay.

Red wine revivifies, keeps the sadness at bay.

So, there you have it. No Pandora’s Box,

But a simple stratagem, the key that unlocks

The bounties of the vineal equinox.

A couple of years ago, I became aware of the fact that an acquaintance of mine had a habit of drinking a half-bottle of wine every evening, with his evening meal. I thought this was an admirable idea, and started doing the same. At some point, during the last couple of years, it struck me that I always enjoyed drinking white wine in the warm Summer months, and I preferred drinking red wine during Autumn and Winter. As the months have gone by, I have formalised this arrangement, and I realized that, in a way, I was actually following a kind of “Vineal Equinox”.

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My Selves

My Selves

I want to stay off that train as long as I can, despite

All the exhortations to board now.

I want to be myself till the last minute.

  • Matthew Sweeney – “The Tube”

But who is “myself”?

I have always had

Different selves

In different contexts,

With different people.

Like everyone else,

I contain multitudes.

A burly, shaven-headed man

With multiple tattoos on his face,

Chest, neck and arms, who lives

In a deprived part of Peterborough,

Shops at his local Iceland,

Drinks super-strength cider,

Wears vest-type tee-shirts,

Tracksuit bottoms, denim jacket

And a baseball cap.

Is also a retired ex-civil servant and EFL tutor,

Who listens to BBC Radio 3

All morning, every morning,

Subscribes to the London Review of Books,

The New Humanist, Philosophy Now,

And writes poetry.

Just two of my current selves.

I was relaxing in the bath on Saturday evening, reading the Poetry Society Winter Bulletin, which happened to include a poem entitled The Tube, by Matthew Sweeney. As soon as I read it, I started getting ideas for a poem about identity, or multiple identities. The finished product turned out to be about different facets of myself, or the difference between my external, social self and my inner, mental self. I could be accused of being self-obsessed, I must admit.

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Astral Bluebottle

ASTRAL BLUEBOTTLE

ZOW! ZAP! ZING!

Wow! Those floaters are having a fling,

I think, entering the kitchen,

This dazzling blue, freezing cold morning.

Those infernal little black dots

In my eyeballs zoom around,

Flashes of black lightening,

As I bend and rise from fridge to worktop.

But wait a moment!

It is not the floaters, but an impossible fly,

Buzzing around in my kitchen.

Impossible, because all windows and doors

Are firmly shut, as always.

No means of ingress for this fly.

Improbably large, luridly blue,

It reclines, idly preening itself,

On the venetian blinds.

I zap it with a blast of fly spray.

It succumbs quickly, squirming around

In its death throes. I leave it, momentarily,

To get a tissue, with which to dispose of it.

On my return, the bluebottle has vanished.

Really, technically, definitively,

Absolutely vanished. There is nowhere

Around my kitchen window, nowhere

In my tiny kitchen, for the fly,

Or its corpse, to vanish into.

And yet this is the case.

It was impossible for the fly

To materialise in my kitchen

In the first place, so we now have

Two impossible occurrences

Within a matter of minutes.

The occurrence is, unbelievably,

Repeated the following morning,

And yet again, the next day.

The question is clear; the answer far from plain.

Have I tried to kill three flies, all in vain;

Or just one ghostly fly, from the astral plane?

This was a real occurrence, that happened a few months ago. I have a phobia about wasps and bees, and so I always keep all the windows and doors closed, to prevent such insects getting into my flat. I still haven’t got to the bottom of what went on with those three flies (or was it just one?). But I was greatly relieved when, after the three incidents over three days, I have not seen a single fly in my flat since.

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Two Mandarins

TWO MANDARINS

Two mandarins nestle in a saucer,

Cheek by jowl with a pitcher of water.

It could be a Morandi, or a Cezanne.

A Van Gogh, after a row with Gaugin.

Instead, the pitted orange skins glisten,

A serene still life, in my squalid kitchen.

I was waiting for inspiration for my next poem, sitting in my living room, a few days ago. I glanced into the kitchen, and what happened to catch my eye was the sight of two small mandarin oranges, in a saucer. Instantly, the first line of this poem came to mind. Within about ten to fifteen minutes I had completed the whole poem. Short and simple, but I liked the rhythm of it, and thought it compressed quite a lot into a few lines.

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THE DEPUTY P.M.

TEFL(12): DEPUTY P.M. (Cont.)





My two-week stint as personal tutor

To the Deputy P.M. of the Gabon

Is repeated the following year, at the RITZ Hotel,

And again the year after that, at the SAVOY Hotel.

His level of English remains

Completely unaffected by the experience.

Brief episodes, brief images,

Are still vivid in my memory.

The beads of perspiration, running down my face,

In the exclusive restaurant of the RITZ Hotel,

As I fumble maladroitly, interminably, with a Dover Sole

I had mistakenly assumed to be filleted,

Under the bemused gaze of the Deputy P.M.

He has polished off his fillet steak in five minutes,

Wiped his moustache with his napkin,

And settled back to enjoy the spectacle.

He never invites me to eat with him again.

The blinking taillights

Of Paul McCartney’s chauffeur-driven limousine,

As it drives away, just as I arrive

At the entrance to the SAVOY Hotel.

I stand and watch, as the famous mop top

In the back seat disappears into the distance.

The final, unforgettable episode:

I am sitting on a wooden bench

At Wimbledon’s Centre Court,

Watching the Women’s Singles Final.

The Deputy P. M’s bodyguard,

And one of his wives, sit alongside me.

The Deputy P.M. himself sits

slightly apart from us, further along the bench.

In a period of silence, a sudden loud sound is heard,

Like the growl, or peremptory bark, of a dog.

Reverberant vibrations run along the bench,

A heavy, fetid odour hangs in the air.

All heads swivel in one direction,

Towards the unmistakeable source

Of this assault on our senses.

The Deputy P.M. sits, motionless, imperturbable,

A figure in profile, fixed in place,

A serene statue in carved ebony.

This is another episode in the continuing autobiographical saga of my experiences as a tutor of English as a Foreign Language, at a language school in central London, in the 1980’s.

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ME AND BOOKS

BOOKS AND ME AND NAIVETY

Growing up in the nineteen fifties, in Barnsley,

My life changed when I began to read books;

Changed again when I went to the Public Library,

Saw the world of books there.

I became a bookish child,

A bookish youth,

A bookish teenager.

The knocks on the door:

“Can Stewart come out to play?”

I didn’t want to go out to play.

I wanted to read my books.

I passed my “Eleven Plus”,

Without realising it. Went to grammar school,

Where I did poorly.

I didn’t want to read the books there.

The books about physics and chemistry,

About maths and geography,

About French, Latin, and history.

I wanted to read my books,

From the Public Library.

Aged nineteen, after two attempts

At “O Levels”, poor results at “A Levels”,

My mother took me to the Public Library,

To see the Chief Librarian.

Mothers used to do that, in those days.

I didn’t think much about it;

Saw it as a rite, a formality,

To usher me into employment

At the Public Library,

Which was my obvious destiny.

When we got the letter from the Chief Librarian.

The letter that began “I regret. . . “

I didn’t know what to think,

I didn’t know what to do.

If I couldn’t work at the Public Library,

What was I supposed to do?

The world had suddenly become

A place where inexplicable things happened.

I simply couldn’t understand it.

I’ve been trying, and failing,

To understand it ever since.

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VACCINE JAB

VACCINE

The needle is so thin.

The needle is so fine.

It goes straight in and out.

No need for you to whine.

 

It goes straight in and out.

You don’t even begin

To wonder why or how

It punctures your perfect skin.

 

It goes straight in and out,

And you don’t even know

How it gets into you,

Or where it’s going to go.

 

It’s one of those things,

Part of the flux and flow.

You take it on trust,

For you don’t need to know

I had my first vaccine jab on the 23rd of January (the Pfizer one, incidentally). Immediately after getting the jab, I was ushered into a room at the end of a corridor, where about six or seven people were sitting, (socially distanced, of course), and told to sit and wait for fifteen minutes before I could leave. This was a procedure that doesn’t seem to be continued any more. While I was sitting and waiting, I overheard a conversation along the following lines: “I didn’t feel a thing!” “Well, no, you don’t. That needle is so fine, you see, it’s so thin, it just goes in and out, and you don’t feel anything.” A little later on, after I’d got back home, I was musing over the experience, remembered that conversation, and it was the genesis of the poem above.

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SKY ARTS – A PAEAN OF PRAISE

SKY ARTS

 In the midst of pandemic misery,

A chink of light, through lockdown shutters,

“Sky Arts is now Available on Freeview”

 

A kaleidoscope of brilliant,

Brightly coloured butterflies

Explodes into the air;

An unstoppable wave of iridescence,

Shimmering wings of pastel pinks and blues.

Sky Arts is now Available on Freeview

 

The scenery shifts.

Now we are in a spacious, sun-filled room,

Where women walk in slow-motion,

Acolytes, sleepwalking, as if stunned

By the dazzling beauty revealed,

As curtains are eased open,

Shutters and blinds adroitly manipulated,

Pianos tinkle gently, melodiously,

“Light is an art form” a voice intones,

“Sky Arts. You are in a good place”.

And so you are.

 

Portrait artists, landscape artists,

Impassioned cineastes, all here for you.

A benison, a balm, out of clear skies of blue.

Sky Arts is now Available on Freeview

When the Sky Arts channel became available on Freeview, I was curious, but not particularly excited. I am an enthusiastic follower of many of BBC4’s arts programmes, and my first impressions of Sky Arts were that – in comparison to BBC4 – it would only offer shallower, more populist programmes about rock music, cinema and art history. The Portrait Artist of the Year programmes soon won me over, however, and now Sky Arts is my go-to channel – especially on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. It is an oasis of calm, soothing civilization and culture, and I don’t know what I would have done without it, during the last few months of Lockdown.

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EATING GRAPES

GRAPES

I knew, as soon

As I started

Plucking them

Off the stalks,

It was too easy.

They came off

With no struggle,

No tension,

No dissension.

I mentally shrugged;

Went on plucking.

 

But when I bit

Into them,

The unease grew.

There was no juice,

No fizz, no flow.

I already knew,

But went on biting.

 

And the skins.

The skins

Were tough.

The skins

Were tight.

The skins

Were rubbery.

The skins were

Not right.

 

And still, I ate them.

Knowing

It was not right.

Still, I ate them,

In dwindling daylight.

Knowing, now,

How easy to believe

In that old legend

Of Adam and Eve.

I was looking forward to eating the grapes; newly-purchased from my nearest local supermarket (which shall remain nameless). I was planning to have them for my lunch, over the next three days. According to the sell-by date, they should have been good for another three days – which fitted-in perfectly with my plans. I’ve always enjoyed grapes, so it was with a feeling of real disappointment and sheer disbelief that I realised, as soon as I started eating them, that there was something seriously wrong with them. There was, also, the added thought that I would now have to throw away the whole carton, containing my lunch for the next three days. It must have been a combination of all these thoughts that led me to  stubbornly continue to consume them.

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FISHING FOR NAMES

FISHING FOR NAMES

It takes patience, craft and guile;

You have to lure them out.

It might seem they’re just not there.

But they are, you can have no doubt.

 

All those hundreds, thousands of names,

You’ve seen and heard, down the years.

Actresses, singers, Dames;

They’re all there, you can have no fears.

 

Like that second Doctor Who;

The one that they all forget.

I glimpsed him, in a late-night film.

I set out my rod, my net.

 

I stalked him in my sleep;

Searched for those jaws, that fin.

He surfaced in the early hours.

I held tight, and reeled him in.

 

Before you can release them,

A useful mnemonic is key.

“Trout”, for him, was obvious.

I attached it, then set him free.

This poem emerged from my semi-conscious mind in the early hours of the morning. I was half-asleep, half-awake, struggling -as is often the case – with the urgent matter of whether I really should get up and pay a visit to the bathroom. The last thing I had seen on TV the night before was an old horror film, and one of the minor parts was played by an actor whose features I immediately recognised, but whose name I was unable to remember. A fairly common event, the older one gets, but one I always find extremely frustrating. The only clue I had to the identity of the actor was the sure knowledge that he was best known for playing the role of Doctor Who – only the second actor to play the role, following William Hartnell. As I lay half-awake in the early hours, the actor’s name suddenly came to me – a blessed relief! What happened next was even better, for the whole idea for this poem unravelled and developed in my mind, all in association with the actor’s surname – Troughton.

 

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