A Farrish By Any Other Name

Inspired by a NaPoWriMo prompt on Carol J Forrester’s site: https://caroljforrester.com/2021/04/15/napowrimo-day-fourteen-my-married-name/ Thanks to her – I wouldn’t have seen it and had the idea otherwise. Oh, and go and read her pages – she writes proper poetry!

What’s in a name?

Everything and nothing

A consummation devoutly to be wished

And an untimely ending

Played out on a stage

Of someone else’s making.


Did I choose my name?

Did you?

My name holds promise

Something strange, exotic perhaps

Al Faris in decades gone by?

Lost in a scribes lazy transcription


A Moor maybe?

 I look at my freckles,

Red hair, fair skin and wonder

Is there anything in genetics?

Or maybe there’s Moor or less

Than meets the eye?


Of course the answer’s simple.

An internet search

Cuts the work of decades now

To an origin lost in time

Not that long it turns out

But long enough to wipe memory


An itinerant Dumfriesshire man

A William of that ilk,

My ilk it turns out, give or take

An ‘R’ that was a scribes addition

Came to my home town and never left

But left me his Border name.

WHOSE BLUE RINSE?

I was having a chuckle to myself about my ‘Roses are red, violets are blue’ rip off yesterday: ‘Cometh the Hour’. Poor form I know, but I enjoyed it.

Then it occurred to me that given the here today gone tomorrow nature of political weirdness, it will make absolutely no sense to many people by the end of the week.

Of course it may well make no sense anyway, either because you aren’t a follower of twitter or you don’t follow the more arcane utterances of our leadership in the UK (and why should you?). If you missed whose hair product I was talking about – try this:

https://twitter.com/10downingstreet/status/1220086793434996736?lang=en

Mr Johnson’s revelation about his hair product choices prompted my excursion into doggerel, and I thank him for the inspiration, but I feel a tad guilty about it. After all he is not alone amongst politicians in offering hostages to satirical fortune. Ms Patel, our Home Secretary was proud to announce a dramatic fall in shoplifting figures recently. Quite why she believed this to be news given that 90% of shops are shut because of her Government’s orders has not been made clear. Of course she may have meant it to be taken literally as a good thing coming from the reaction to Covid-19. If so we can look forward to a future of online shopping and incarceration in our pod. Perhaps she saw the Matrix as a briefing paper?

Such is the brevity of political fame that it took me a moment to remember the name of the recently departed Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Javid, and I can’t for the life of me remember why he resigned. Still, Rishi Sunak seems like a better deal if you ask me. I’ve never seen him stand with his feet so far apart he had to have help getting his legs back together before he tried to walk after his photo op.

You have to feel sorry for Alexander Boris dePfeffel though. All these years practising his Churchill impression, and when the opportunity presents itself, it proves far more intractable than the Third Reich.

Not as sorry as I feel for Mrs May however. If ever there was a time for her brand of stoic blandness it is surely now? Missed her shot at greatness by months.

Not many politicians coming out of this with good grades.

Back to Statesman/woman 101 classes – by Skype of course (Zoom for those who want their work marked by Xi Jinping)?

Cometh the Hour

Face is red, hair product is blue,

They voted for him, what can you do?

Seemed a nice guy, game for a laugh

Bouncing about, playing wiff waff

Then came power, he started to change

Like an old dog spotted with mange

First he got sick, his policies sicker

Ministers angry, started to bicker

A chancellor gone, what was his name?

The mean streets of Bristol his claim to fame

Somewhere near Woodstock a real statesman spins

While an ersatz Churchill guffaws and grins

The crisis he yearned for here at last

Posturing nightly should be a blast

But though he really has news for you

It’s not going like he thought it would do

Someone to follow, someone to lead

Not posture and pose, a comedy feed

And while bumble and bluster amuse for a while

Covid-19 doesn’t flee at a smile

So cometh the hour, cometh the man

Let’s hope he arrives as soon as he can.

INTERPRETING

It’s odd how people can interpret things differently. Intellectually it’s not a hard concept to grasp I know. It’s the basis of a whole branch of intellectual thought. Postmodernism relies on each reading being a rewriting of the discourse. But in the real world too it works. (That sounds as if I don’t think postmodernism is ‘real’ doesn’t it?) We all bring our own experience, outlook and prejudices to the reading of anything, from a major intellectual movement to the back of a cereal packet.

But when it affects your own work it makes you sit up and think a little harder.

It’s not that I don’t think about it as I write. Obviously I want to direct the reader in a certain direction and I try my best to make those directions as clear as possible when I want them to be and as obscure as possible if I am applying a little misdirection for plot or comedic effect. But when you’ve put the words out there the reader takes them and does with them what they like. I’ve read things I’ve written out loud to groups and had immediate feedback that suggested I had written something completely different. Sometimes suggesting I may be some kind of unknowing literary genius (thanks everyone who has read more into my stuff than I knew was there), and sometimes suggesting I find it hard to string a subject, an object and a verb together (thanks for that too – sometimes I don’t). I’m not talking about whether something is ‘good’ (meaning what? Discuss) but rather did someone who isn’t me get roughly the meaning I had in my head when I wrote it?

I have a feeling that prose is slightly less prone to major misunderstanding in this sense than poetry. That may be because I feel that poetry encapsulates such depths of meaning and emotion in a very sparse form that it only needs one small word to be out of sync to switch meaning completely, or it may be that I do not feel as confident with poetry, not having practised it as much as prose. Or it may simply be that I am bad at it.

I wrote a poem and posted it here last week – ‘Clapping in the Dark’ which has apparently made a few people in the UK feel that I was being less than supportive of the NHS in its few words.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was indeed prompted partly by the current practice in the UK of going out to the front of one’s house or flat/apartment and clapping every Thursday at eight o’clock in the evening, in praise of NHS workers. It was about much wider thoughts and feelings about how we respond to fear and isolation but the allusion to clapping was about that practise and how we may do it to show solidarity in a diffuse society.

I’ll stick to the one thing for now however, as otherwise I’ll ramble on for thousands of words.

It was not intended to be derogatory towards anyone who wanted to go outside or stand at their window and clap for the NHS and care workers, and is certainly not intended to be less than supportive of anyone in the NHS.

I am however, just a little suspicious of the media driven obsession with calling NHS workers ‘angels’. They aren’t. And thinking that showing our appreciation by applause means we have acknowledged their efforts sufficiently is a mistake, we haven’t. As my father used to say ‘Never mind the recommends, what we wants is make and mends’ (an RN thing where they wanted a half day off and not a recommendation for promotion that was unlikely to amount to anything practical).

To call NHS workers angels suggests they are somehow more than human. I think their efforts have been magnificent, I think that all the time. But they are humans, with human strengths and weaknesses, and human needs. Thinking of them even for a few minutes each week as somehow superhuman means we can tick a mental box that says ‘done that’. And I won’t knock the positive feeling that gives people in times of trouble.

But we need to remember that these key workers are people, people struggling in many instances to put food on the table, pay rent, clothe children and stay sane in a system that still thinks twelve hour plus shifts are an efficient and sensible way to work.

Clap by all means but remember that we need a health service that delivers care as needed regardless of ability to pay, by people we value: from Consultants via junior doctors, nursing staff through to ancillary staff. Remember it and be prepared to protect it now and in the future from those who want to turn it into a profit machine for their shareholders and CEOs. Clap for people, for human beings who rely on us as we rely on them. And make sure our respect remains part of normality when all this is over.

CLAPPING IN THE DARK

And so ends April

In the Year of Someone’s Lord

2020.

A time of dreams

Of nightmares

Of spectres of the past.

In thrall to death.

We hide at home

Made afraid

Of each other’s touch.

Through fear of what

We will not say.

Shut up alone

Cocooned in doubt,

And though we clap

Each week

On the appointed hour,

Each week we fear,

Our neighbour guesses

We do not believe

In angels.

ONE NATION

I have wanted to try my hand at an Englyn for some time. It is a compressed form of Welsh verse style (actually there are several types and it would be best if you want to know more to search online for a more precise set of definitions and explanations – again there are several and they don’t all agree!). The version I have attempted has a ten syllable first line with the first appearance of the rhyme on the seventh syllable, where there is a break. The rhyme appears at the end of the remaining lines. The next line has six syllables with the last two lines having seven syllables each.

The difficulty is not adhering to the syllable count – any fool can juggle the words to fit that. The trick is conveying something coherent within that format. In Englyns in Welsh there is also supposed to be cynghanedd, or harmony, within each line and I am sure I haven’t achieved this.

I think the cynghanedd concept works better in Welsh but although I read Welsh and speak it a little, writing poetry is hard enough in English for now. So my Welsh and my poetry remain works in progress.

So for what it’s worth here it is :

 

ONE NATION

Broken dreams in B&B, zero hours.

In your austerity

Levelling up sounds so twee

In a queue in A & E

 

for those who may not know –

B&B is bed and breakfast accommodation – a nice way of spending the night away from home on holiday at less cost than full hotel accommodation – no doubt airbnb has changed perception and meaning to some extent. The B&B I am talking about here however is cheap emergency accommodation provided for those who find themselves homeless and on welfare. It started out as a good idea  but many  B&B places provided just that – bed and breakfast and people had to wander the streets during the day as they were not allowed shelter during those hours.

A&E is accident and emergency at hospital – there were long queues to access treatment in Britain long before the coronavirus outbreak. A major cause was too few beds in hospitals thanks to accountancy cuts – can’t have ‘spare wards’ full of ’empty beds’ and staff with ‘time on their hands’ waiting for a surge of admissions. A concept NHS staff found laughable before the current crisis.

BACK STORY

Odd day yesterday.

Poetry of all things.

SACRED MOMENT didn’t just happen.

I started off with my mind a bit of a blank. Not unusual I can hear family and friends saying. In this case however, I mean specifically with regard to writing and creativity. That ‘lots of time’ I was talking about in an earlier post on the opportunities of social distancing evaporated almost before it materialised.

I confess to being something of a master of procrastination (perhaps even a doctor?) at the best of times. If there is an email to check or cat to feed I seem to be able to justify that action before reading my way into whatever it is I am supposed to be writing. Add in the additional demands of children at home and worry about my wife, who has just returned to work in the NHS after a period of precautionary isolation, and carving out time to spark and develop and write down ideas has felt almost impossible.

As a result I felt, as we all have no doubt, that the routines and norms of life were shaken loose, and I remembered another time when my routines and expectations were dissolved.

It wasn’t a time of great worry or threat as now. It was prompted by an entirely expected and joyous event, something I had been working towards for three or five or sixteen years depending when you count the first step on the road to graduation from University.

I had finished University, attained my degree and the rest of my life was before me. I had a law degree and there was a clear map laid out. I had a place at Law College for my Part II Law Society exams waiting for me in August, possible Articles (the apprenticeship phase in those days) arranged, membership of the Law Society, practice, marriage, children, house ownership, respectability and fulfilment, satisfaction.

All very desirable of course, and I was very grateful for the experience and qualification university had given me, but I had the words of George Bernard Shaw niggling in my ear: ‘Satisfaction is death’.  Having my whole life mapped out at 21 was overwhelming

It was an unlikely place for an epiphany. In Cardiff, North Road leads from the city centre passing Castell Coch to Pontypridd, and thence to Merthyr Tydfil, and the Brecon Beacons. Well before that, it crosses the A48(M), known at that point as Western Avenue, the main road to Gloucester and London before the M4 usurped its role, and now joining the M4 to continue fulfilling that function

The planners who created the three level intersection, decided not to waste the interior space and built a small wooded park, no doubt an unsafe space now, and probably not much better then. But it gave an unprecedented sense of connection, of all avenues (not just Western!) being open. Suddenly the well mapped path looked to be, if not a dead end, one that constrained and bound the traveller into a conduit. You were on rails and there were few junctions.

I’d already been talked out of sidesteps into being a PE teacher (really a way of getting paid to play rugby) or joining the Royal Marines (well trying to, at least) but I was now left knowing more what I did not want to do, than knowing what I did.

The epiphany under North Road left me feeling connected to an unknown and unfathomable future, and to more than just possibilities; to ALL possibilities.

I was temporarily persuaded to continue with the delineated path for a while but I had to shrug it off. There were false starts and wrong turnings but they were all part of an unmapped  way that gave excitement and interest as well as frustration and heartache.

So although I know how it ends, there are ways yet to discover.

When I started to record that experience yesterday, it became clear there was a tighter, better way of conveying the emotion lurking within and so I began to cut and pare and shape.

The result felt truer, more condensed  and more than a simple story of a callow youth sitting on a bench wondering about the future his degree had opened up. It felt more at the time. It didn’t feel prosaic, and to be honest, it still doesn’t.

Satisfied?

No.

Happy with the journey?

Very.

SACRED MOMENT

A bench in the garden.

July and shirt sleeve warm,

The sun just sunk.

Not Eden nor Gethsemane.

Deep shadows cast by orange sodium light.

No demons, no terrors lurked,

But temptation? Oh yes. Temptation.

It was a meeting and a parting of the ways.

North Road met Western Avenue.

A ring intersected at the cardinal points,

A sigil.

From Tamium, or was it Bovium?

Nothing is certain.

At its centre this sacred grove.

I’d poured libation and sacrificed my love

And on the edge,

Souls rolled East and West below me.

Above me, North and South.

We had come, we had seen,

And 80 of 120 conquered.

My passport made,

East, West, North and South.

Places, people, things, fights,

Joys, loves, losses, triumphs and disasters

And treat them all the same?

A way carved by others,

Follow and all would be mine,

More learning, more tests, more joining,

Embracing a well ploughed furrow,

A path already trod,

That would guide, steer, nurture

To the grave.

A sports car roared overhead

A lorry growled East to England

To port and ship and foreign fields

Or Home Counties supermarket.

The posted way?

Or East and West and North and South?

Choices called.

Destinations? No.

All roads end the same.

I rose, watched tarmac unroll

To where we all will end

But the journey would be mine.

DES MANNAY ‘SOD ‘EM AND TOMORROW’

sode'em and tomorrow

I went to the Newport Writers Group Open Mic night at Hortons in Newport again last night (thanks again Andy).

Poet Des Mannay was there, as he was last month and I should have mentioned this in my write up of that visit. He is a very exuberant and outgoing performance poet originally from Adamstown in Cardiff, now based in Newport and it is a pleasure hearing his work.

It is particularly good to be seeing and hearing him at the moment as he is about to have his first collection of poetry published this week.

The book is called ‘Sod ‘em and tomorrow’, published by LIT-UP, an Arts Council England-funded mentoring and publishing scheme for emerging poets of colour.

The launch will be in London on Saturday 29 February at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, in Tottenham Green, London.1430-1730hrs  entry £3-00 redeemable against purchase of the book.

If you’re in London why not go along, meet and hear Des and buy the book. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still enjoy his work and buy the book at good bookshops or direct from Waterloo Press for £12.

Good luck Des, have a great day.

CARDIFF BOY by Bernard John

Yesterday saw me in a rather fetching, if slightly tighter than I remember, jacket prancing about in front of a small audience, getting in the way of a proper poet at his book launch ‘Somewhere in South Wales’ (okay Caldicot).

Bernard John read from his new book ‘Cardiff Boy’, a collection of his poems about and inspired by his childhood in Cardiff and his family’s roots. I can wholeheartedly recommend getting, and reading, his volume. I say ‘and reading’ because I have acquired many books at launches and  ‘events’ as a goodwill gesture and read, perhaps, a token number of words from many of them before they slide backwards on my shelves never to be seen again. This is not one of those volumes. I have read most of it, will finish it with alacrity and revisit it many times.

Bernard read selections from his book at the launch in two tranches and both inspired me to rush home after the event and spend the evening reading more from the book. Difficult at the best of times to carve out such a space, but in the circumstances, it required even more of an effort of will as the carefully constructed order of the launch day disintegrated in the face of a family car crash (literally – no-one hurt thank goodness) and myriad minor examples of the entropy of life. Relative calm eventually restored, I treated myself to a quiet period of contemplation and solace in Bernard’s words.

Bernard has had a fascinating life and some of the inspirations for that are revealed in this volume. Growing up in Cardiff immediately after the war, his Cardiff was not the bright reconstructed persona of Cool Cymru (where did that go?) and gentrified docklands. His was the harder world of brick and stone terraces and steel works, rail yards and coal with the ribbon of the Taff flowing through it and the grassy strip alongside it. It obviously gave him character and his twinkling smile must have given much joy to Cardiff in return.

I helped the publisher, Carys Books, out at the launch and managed a little by-play with Bernard about his background and life as an introduction to proceedings. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved in the day as both Bernard and Sam Knight, the boss of Carys Books have been inspirational in various ways.

Sorry you missed the launch, but you can still be part of the experience.

Bernard’s book is available at bookshops or direct from Carys books new website

http://carysbooks.co.uk/