Birthday

Today has been my wife’s birthday.


I scrawled and scribbled but the words would not come;
Each scratched phrase failed to catch
My sense of you. Then a sigh,
A stirring of the bedclothes,
The imprint of your cwtch against my back,
The graze of a toenail, a half-eyed gaze
At your dim form fringed with sleep,
Reminded me of the words, the only words
We ever uttered that really mattered:
’I do’ and ’till death us do part.’

It’s autumn

Katie made this collage:
20120930-194801.jpg

And I wrote this:

O God of moving air we adore you
In the breath that fills our lungs, that gives us life,
In the mutter and murmur of words barely spoken,
In thrumming of larynx, in strumming of sitar,
In sounds of every harmony and timbre,
From whisper to whistle to fiddle and foghorn.
O atmospheric God, we detect you
In nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide,
Shifting in current and vortex and eddy,
In every loving phrase we utter,
In every flutter of leaf on tree,
In every billow of washing on line,
In every bellow. In every kind
Of flurry and hurry of breeze and blow,
In blast of tempest, in motion of mistral,
In distant rumble of lightning storm’s thunder,
In blunder of typhoon, in twist of tornado,
In whirlwind and cyclone, in chinook and zephyr.
O God of hurricane and vapour,
Of respiration and inspiration,
Speak to us in the turbulence,
And in the small, still, silent,
Sweet voice of calm.

It’s Boyling on the Costa Brava

The Olympics weren’t on our mind when, just under a year ago, we looked around the camping parc (yes, that’s euro style parc, with a ‘c’, and camping with a static van, decking and air-con), and decided we’d like to come back the following year.

On Friday night, watching the opening ceremony on a biggish screen, surrounded by mainly Dutch fellow holidaymakers in a Catalan resort, to the backdrop of europop karaoke, the decision to be here rather than at home was ambiguous: cheering Wiggo as he rang the bell alongside people who understood more than most Brits the magnitude of his achievement was a special moment. Having the coverage turned off and being turfed out of the bar during the M’s of the athletes parade was disappointing. I thought ‘it’s the rules’ was a peculiarly British excuse for failing to give the customers what they want, but of course with shifts to finish and homes to get to I guess employees anywhere would take the same approach. We’re ‘guests’ in name only.

We did see the majority of Danny Boyle’s hectic ‘magic eye’ vision of England. If you scrutinised it too closely, as at least one of my Facebook friends seemed to do (apparently removing the lengthiest of his posts overnight in an Aidan Burley style retreat) then I guess you could see it as a preposterously overblown Spinal Tap vision of Britain; a glamorisation of the environmental brutality and inhuman exploitation of the industrial revolution; a magnification of the trivial and superficial . But it wasn’t a story designed for scrutiny: unfocus your eyes and look straight through the bewildering blur of one those magic eye autostereogram pictures and an admittedly sketchy but starkly clear image pops suddenly – sometimes fleetingly – into vision. Others can’t see it, but find other pictures in the chaos (is it an ice-cream van? A duck smoking a cigar? – look, there’s the smoke!).

That’s what Boyle’s pageant was like for me. The moment of clarity, the popping into focus, came around the time that my son said “why does it say ‘gosh’?” and the Great Ormond Street Hospital / NHS sequence kicked in. The bucolic green and pleasant land was simultaneous nostalgic myth of Albion and satirical caricature. The belching chimneys and Test Department drumming yes, glorified and glamorised the workers’ sweat, but the smug top hatted industrial barons kneeling to mark out and carve up the sward, shaking hands on the deals that would rip it apart, reminded us – along with the Jarrow marchers and the Grimethorpe colliery band – that Britain’s historical industrial might was not an unalloyed march of glorious progress. Those complaining that our imperial plunder was ignored perhaps have a point, but one dulled by the fact that Aidan Burley’s complaint that this was ’multicultural crap’ showed that those who yearn for the glories of Empire found the Britain portrayed by Boyle anathema, while the MV Windrush reference recalled – albeit obliquely – the African roots our nation ripped up, and how,replanted, they have become part of us.

This was a Britain at once proud and self-deprecating, like a hybrid of Narcissus and Janus, looking at once backwards, forwards, and inwards. Believing in nothing, and in six impossible things before breakfast.

I was able to follow reaction on Twitter while watching the event; my favourite tweet epitomised the irreverent playful, sometimes subversive inventiveness of the thing (and of course it required an earthy ’Anglo-Saxon’ epithet to do so, so look away now if easily offended) : The world right now is thinking, “What? What the fuck?” and Britain says, “This! This the fuck!”

On attempting to write a sonnet in class

We were down to a handful the other week in our little Lang/Lit A-level group that I won’t be teaching any more next year (sob), and we spent a lesson having a stab at a sonnet. Here’s my effort:

Wracking each neuron that we can invoke
to fire from our internal dictionary
words that can dissipate semantic smoke
that clouds the clarity we hope to free,
we bend together in solitary thought.
This is the school’s perennial paradox:
to own ourselves what someone else has taught;
to find the gift by graft within the box
of these drab unforgiving concrete walls.
For some those words won’t come: the lesson’s a squib;
one of a long succession of such falls.
But marking this a failure is too glib.
To fall, to learn to hit the ground, are like:
A spark examined is a lightning strike.

St George’s Day

Our school has had more – much more – than its share of tragedy within the last two years, including the deaths of five current students and two members of staff. This was uppermost in my mind when I was asked to take my turn at providing the prayer / reflection for staff briefing this morning:

St George, your England looks a different place to us
At least our little portion of it. Birth and death
They are the normal way of things of course, but does
It have to be that we meet so much of the latter?
What matter, that dragons seem more plentiful than swords?
O patron of our English land, can we demand
That our share of blows be somehow deemed unfair
When blessings for the most part shower themselves on us
Compared with most who have lived, and still do, elsewhere?
But balance, or bounty, mean nothing to the bereft;
What weft can hold the warp of lives now rent askew?
Perhaps only the gossamer threads of a faith
As fragile, St George, as the legends of you.

Selenehelion

The ancients saw their moon disappearing in a bath of blood,
Taken from them in a heavenly sacrifice.
For me, the celestial drama was gentler.
If bloody at all, there was the congealed clot of healing:
The solstice moon scabbed over,
To rise, renewed;
It was a russet moon, retaining
a final fling of autumn, as a flink
of light clung on to the limb
of the lunar rim like a jewelled ring.
Deep frozen, it set through haze
With it's blankened face
Masked in a shadow;
Its night given way to the morrow.
In stillness, chilled to the marrow,
I watched the space where it was
brighten and fill with blue light

as the sun rose behind me.
And though I know how it happened,
I still wonder, quite,

Advent surprised us

Advent surprised us this year,
Sneaking out to jump on the tail of autumn,
Making all things new with its smothering of snow.
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord" it announced
In its profound silence
As it blank-eted our unprepared ways,
Forcing us to stop,
Take stock,
Wind down the clock a while,
Admit that our busyness can always wait,
That, ahead of us, the dayspring from on high
Will come to give us light,
To guide our restless feet
In the hidden ways of peace.