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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CONVINCED BY CONVECTION

CONVECTION

I was away from my flat for ten days,

Over Christmas and the new year. I knew

It would be cold in the flat, on my return,

But I was not too concerned;

I was convinced by convection.

 

The beneficence of the flow of warm air.

Two convector heaters; one in the living room,

The other in the bedroom. Sufficient to heat

My small flat, in normal circumstances.

 

Some five hours after my return,

My conviction in convection

Was being sorely tested.

Both heaters were working,

To the maximum of their capabilities,

But the flat refused to respond.

 

I sat, shrouded in Shetlands,

Wreathed in warm woollens,

And I was cold. So cold.

Cold to the core of my being.

Never had I known

Such a pitiless depth of coldness.

 

All the failures of my life

Took on corporeal form, and congregated,

Squatting, in the crumbling edifice of my mind,

Where, fuelled on Special Brew

And Frosty Jack cider, they gibbered and jeered,

Shouted and swore, made mordant comment

On the feeble inadequacy of my existence.

 

The Coronavirus blossomed and bloomed

In the icy blasts, mutating into multiple variants

Before my very eyes, as I sat, shaking and shivering.

I took to my bed, in abject despair.

So much for belief in the flow of warm air.

 

But convection continued.

The heaters laboured on, through the night,

Throughout the next day. After two days,

It was as if a miracle had occurred.

 

Convection is a warmth that speaks in whispers.

Over two days, its flickering tongue

Had infiltrated into all corners of the flat;

Negotiating, cannily, with the icy cold,

Insinuating its way across all surfaces and spaces.

 

It is subtle, deceptive, this convector heat.

Your faith in it falters; you think that it fails.

But its gentle heat persists; it prevails.

 

And now the Winter Solstice has come and gone.

Our return to light and warmth has begun.

Still the virus torments, but its race will be run

In the all-encompassing warmth of the sun.

Coming back to an icy-cold flat, after being away for Christmas and the New Year, was a brutal start to 2021 for me. The only good thing about it was that it got me thinking about the nature of convector heaters, and it inspired this poem.

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BREAKFAST

BREAKFAST

About breakfast they were never wrong,

Those prehistoric precursors

Who originated the habit.

 

Waking from darkness, into the real,

Breakfast informs how you think and feel.

Breakfast can be the most magical meal.

 

I denied myself breakfast,

For about twenty years. I would sip

Strong, black coffee, think

Of all the weight I was losing

By not eating breakfast.

Feel my brain lurch

Into caffeine-induced hyperdrive.

For half an hour a day, I felt fully alive.

 

But the weight refused to comply

With my wishes. Although I had

No breakfast dishes to wash,

The weight gradually, stubbornly accumulated.

I should have known, they were never wrong,

Those humans who first started eating breakfast.

 

Finally, reluctantly, I began again

To eat breakfast. There was no weight gain,

And even some loss. I would rise from the table,

Feel physically replete. But life lost its edge,

Although I was slimmer. I sought

A spiritual sparkle and shimmer.

 

So here I am, every morning, eating breakfast.

Still waiting, still hoping that breakfast might be

The ultimate answer, the magical key

To open the lock and unleash the real me.

Why not start the new year with a poem about the first meal of the new year! Although I’ve never been able to obey the dictum “Breakfast like a king, dine like a pauper”, I’ve always been fascinated by breakfast; possibly because you experience the first mouthfuls with your senses newly-awake and responsive.

I really should acknowledge a debt to W.H. Auden’s Musee des Beaux Arts poem for the inspiration for the first line.

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FACE MASKS

MASKS

The ones that do,

and the ones that don’t

Wear masks behind tills;

Most will, but some won’t.

 

The ones that do,

well, that’s alright.

Nothing perturbs;

no call for insight.

 

But the ones that don’t;

They seem to flout

Their own regulations.

All sorts of doubt

Are raised in one’s mind.

 

At times, I want to shout

“Not wearing a mask!

What’s that all about!”

 

Or else, more mildly,

Sedately, just ask:

“Sixty thousand dead?

And you’re exempt from a mask?”

I must admit I’ve not found it easy to be inspired to write poems about the current pandemic. This one emerged suddenly from my unconscious depths a few weeks ago, and I think it’s an attempt to clarify, or resolve, feelings of doubt and uncertainty I’ve experienced whenever I’ve come across supermarket workers behind tills not wearing face masks.

It’s quite ironic, in a way, because I hated the thought of having to wear a mask, when the pandemic first started, and it was only with the greatest reluctance that I started wearing one. Now, here I am, being fiercely critical of anyone who doesn’t wear one!

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A COMFORTING RITUAL

TUMBRIL RUMBLE

A low, rumbling sound.

Ominous thoughts arise;

Thunder, before a storm.

 

It grows, steadily, louder. Palpable

Sense of menace in the air.

I shrink into the armchair.

 

But as it mutates, from rumble

Into clatter, I recognise it

As the tumbril rumble

Of a wheelie bin in motion,

And I relax.

 

Every Tuesday, the occupants of the flats

Lug their wheelie bins out onto the street,

Ready for the binmen the next morning.

And every Wednesday, they haul the bins

Back again.

 

A humble, domestic routine.

But the simple fact of it;

How imperturbably it is carried out,

Week after week, throughout the misery,

The savage depredations of this pandemic.

 

The rhythm, the recurrence of the ritual

Reassures the soul.

A serenity settles over me.

Begone, dull care!

I nestle, more comfortably,

Into the armchair.

It might seem curious to write about people lugging their wheelie bins out for the binmen, then lugging them back again the next day. Even more curious to elevate this domestic routine into an almost semi-religious ritual. But all I can say is that, whenever I hear somebody lugging their bins back, I immediately jump up and look out of my window, to see who it is. I immediately feel as if I am connected to the lives of the people living in the flats around me, and – particularly through the horrors of this pandemic – I derive a sense of comfort from the imperturbable nature of this weekly routine.

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TWO MINUTES OF SILENCE

NOVEMBER 11th, 11 a.m.

I sit, listening to the two minutes’ silence.

Soaking up, basking in the silence from my loft.

 

Thinking, of November as a month of mournful memories.

Thinking of my father, who was in the Royal Engineers

On D-Day, aged twenty-eight. Who died

On Armistice Day, fifty-four years later.

And thinking – pettily, unforgivably,

On this day of universal grief and mourning –

Of the squirrels in my loft.

 

The squirrels invaded my loft,

Looking for Lebensraum, and somewhere

For the female to give birth.

For almost three weeks we were at war.

I was terrorized by the fierce footfalls

On the beams of the loft above me.

I called in a pest controller, who set traps.

 

That night, the sounds from the loft were terrible.

I thought the squirrels, enraged by the traps,

Were playing with them, dragging them around,

Tossing them in the air, crashing them down

Onto the beams. For four hours, I sat,

Under the low ceiling of my living room,

Frightened and appalled by the Armageddon

Above my head, fearing the ceiling

Would splinter and crack. Steel traps

And squirrels, plunging through the air,

Falling on top of me.

 

When the pest controller came, the next day,

I discovered how wrong I had been.

He came down from the loft with a black bag,

Containing the corpses of two large squirrels,

One male, one female. One had been “a clean kill”:

The trap had snapped its neck. But the other one

Had a broken back, and a slow, lingering death.

 

After he had gone, I sat, in silent recrimination.

First my tormentors, finally my victims.

I was a squirrel-killer. All they had wanted

Was somewhere safe, to start a family.

I couldn’t bear to think of the one with the broken back.

The shock, the distress, witnessing the death

Of its partner, then the long, lonely agony

Of its dying.

 

So please forgive me, Unknown Warrior.

Forgive me, father, for my sins.

Forgive me for sitting,

In these two minutes of sacred silence,

Thinking of squirrels.

This poem came about due to a coincidental conjunction of two events: an invasion of squirrels in my loft, which came to a dramatic end, just days before Armistice Day. I really wanted to write about the squirrels, as they’d had quite a traumatic effect upon me, but I didn’t get the idea for the poem until experiencing the two minutes silence.

 

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TWO POEMS ABOUT LIGHT

TWO POEMS ABOUT LIGHT

 PHOTONS

Photons existed only in the mind

Of that singular genius, Albert Einstein.

For almost twenty years, he held them

In his head. Particles of light

Could not exist, it was said.

Light was a wave; it was well-attested.

 

Freeing themselves from the confines

Of the brain of Albert Einstein,

Photons were witnessed, finally,

Bouncing off electrons, in 1923.

 

It was undeniable;

They were caught in the act.

Photons metamorphosed

From theory into fact.

 

PHOTONS (2)

Are photons

Quantum particles,

Or waves?

They are both.

They are neither.

Potentially,

They are either.

 

They only,

Frustratingly,

Come into being,

Through our

Intervention;

Through our

Seeing.

I have been reading a lot about quantum physics, recently. The subject has always fascinated me, and a number of books by excellent writers of “popular science” have been published, over the last few years, that give insights into the weird and wonderful world of sub-atomic particles, for the layman. John Gribben and Carlo Rivero have written several books on the topic, and I am currently half-way through What is Real? The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics by Adam Becker, which I can enthusiastically recommend.

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POET OR PEDANT

POET OR PEDANT

 He opens the Autumn Bulletin

From the Poetry Society.

On the introductory page,

He immediately spots

A comma that should be a colon;

Two commas that should be full stops.

He reflects upon his unerring

Skill at correcting and proof-reading.

 

The Bulletin contains poems,

Fifty percent of which will arouse his ire,

Frustrate, perplex and irritate.

The remaining fifty percent he will aspire,

Vainly, to imitate.

 

A morose thought occurs,

He has no intention of heeding.

If only his gifts for poetry

Matched those for proof-reading.

The ideas for this poem emerged -as often happens, with me – while I was relaxing in a warm bath, and reading the Poetry Society Autumn Bulletin. Not much more needs to be said!

 

 

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