Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Hipster - Has Anyone Got a Cowbell?

17:39:00 Posted by Pamela Winning , , , , , , , , , , , 2 comments
All I wanted was a bell round my neck. Everyone else had one. The ‘everyone’ in this case referred to the groups of fashionable young people parading the promenade. I watched them from our upstairs living-room window, above the pub. They were older than me, but they were how I envisaged myself in the near future.  My Nan, always fascinated by the sights that walked by, tutted and thought they sounded like the donkeys on the beach. My Dad said they were ‘hippies’ or ‘Beatniks’ and I wasn’t going to be joining in with them. He was being boring, but he let me have a troll doll instead and I chose one with beautiful, long orange hair. I had her for many years. By the time I was old enough to please myself about strolling along the prom with a cowbell round my neck, the trend had passed and I was involved in more worthwhile activities. 
In making an effort to be individual, someone’s style can be so popular and copied to the extent that it becomes almost a uniform, like Teddy Boys, and defines opposites, like Mods and Rockers, Skinheads and Greasers. It is not just fashion, it’s a way of life, a culture.  Hipster, none of the above and not a hippy, but no label required, they are people of this generation.
My son has grown a full bushy beard. It looks good, even though it covers so much of his handsome face. This must be the opposite of ‘designer stubble’ that didn’t suit everyone and gave a look of scruffy and unshaven to some unfortunate fashion followers. Beards seem to be more popular than ever and the bigger, the better with young men, like medieval warriors. I can’t imagine my husband without his goatee and my daughter’s partner suits his rich auburn full beard, neatly trimmed. I hope it is a trend that lasts. I like it.
I’d love to feel bold enough to have colour in my hair again. I had my blonde highlights done at the weekend. It doesn’t make a lot of difference, it’s just a touch of natural looking enhancement. A hint of a rainbow beneath the top layers would be perfect. It could be a retirement gift to myself, perhaps, if only that were soon. My daughter has purple hair at the moment. It will be another colour before long.  She doesn’t like false nails, sweeping eyelashes or lip fillers all of which seem popular with young ladies. She had a tiny facial piercing as soon as she was old enough to have it done. I wish she had wanted a cowbell for a necklace. I would have happily bought it.
I love this poem I found by Porche Freeman,
I can't hear you over the sounds of The Shins on my iTouch.
I watch your mouth move but I don't care too much.
My music sounds like an orgy of broken computers.
My thoughts are too complex for you to clutch.

I am a Hipster and these are my confessions.
Scalene triangles and vintage are my obsessions.
My hair is so messy.
My life style is formed out of homosexual repression.

I don't wear skinny jeans, they're called fitted.
I love this hat that my grandmother knitted.
I carry sticky pads and sharpeys for artistic expression.
I got a ticket for being so cool unpermitted.

My name is John, but I tell people to call me Noah.
I once fell in love with a girl named Ramona.
I listen to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but she said No No No.
So it was over fo eva.

I carry a camera because I am indie.
My favorite band is Breakfast with Cindy.
I love freaking coffee.
Look at my ironic t- shirt, I'm so trendy.

I am a Hipster and these are my confessions.
Scalene triangles and vintage are my obsessions.
My hair is so messy.
My life style is formed out of homosexual repression.
Thanks for reading, Pam x


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Oscar Wilde - His Part In My Downfall

If I've piqued your interest with the title of today's blog then we're off to a promising start.

To be earnest with you (which is important, is it not?) I was at a loss to know what I was going to write concerning this week's theme - Oscar Wilde - until Torbay Civic Society came to my rescue. Their blue plaque (which you might see if you ever visit Babbacombe Cliff ) sums our man up quite succinctly, if not wholly accurately. I'll let you read it for yourself...

Of course they skip over his being jailed for homosexuality (in an age when it was a crime), his subsequent exile to Paris and death there in destitution while still in his mid-forties. They also fail to mention that in addition to being a poet and playwright, he was an essayist and a fine novelist - but I like the bit about 'self-styled leader of the aesthetic movement'.

Oscar Wilde's part in my downfall is quite simple to explain. My dad wanted me to do sciences at A-level: chemistry, physics, maths. He had an engineering degree and said it would be far easier for me to get a place at university with science A-levels. We had strong words on the subject, for I'd really enjoyed the humanities at O-level (the precursor of GCSEs), English literature in particular - to the extent that I read quite widely beyond the syllabus. I was determined to go my own way and at the time I think he thought I was making a wrong decision on two counts: tactically - as most universities required A grades for English but offered science courses to pupils with B or C grades; morally - as studying literature was somehow self-indulgent and served no practical purpose.

I had been self-indulgent to the extent of reading and enjoying Wilde's novel 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' during the summer prior to signing up for my A-level subjects and it was a heap more fun than 'Electro-magnetism Explained'. So I followed my own course - English, history, geography - and disappointed my dad who had no interest in great literature. (Nor had my mother for that matter.)

I've never regretted my downfall. I got my A grades and a place at Warwick University to read English. I followed that up with a PGCE and then taught English and drama at a London comprehensive school. I enjoyed every minute of it for several years before jumping over into industry - IT systems as it happens. I think my dad saw that as something of a discreet triumph. (In practical terms, the pay was much better and the stress a lot less.) So, thank you Oscar Wilde (among others).

It seems only fair to the man to feature one of his poems this week. Wilde is most famous for the plays ('Lady Windermere's Fan' and 'The Importance Of Being Earnest' in particular) plus the afore-mentioned novel but he did write some quite powerful poetry, as well as some that hasn't stood the test of time quite so well.

If you recall my blog from last week, I was enthusing about today being Record Store Day. I went into town and came back with a re-mastered vinyl pressing of Joy Division's 1979 debut album 'Unknown Pleasures'. That being the case, what more appropriate Oscar Wilde poem to leave you with than 'The Harlot's House'?

It was probably written in Paris in 1883. I love the imagery, the voyeuristic angle, the complex interweaving of fascination and revulsion, the surprising twist in the penultimate two stanzas and the sense of melancholy that lingers. See what you think...

The Harlot's House
We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The Treues Liebes Herz of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
'The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'

But she - she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.
                                     Oscar Wilde (1883)

Thanks for reading. "Be yourself: everyone else is already taken." S :-)

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Oscar Wilde's poetic pedigree.

Oscar Fingall O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1853 - 1900) Irish poet, wit and dramatist studied at Magdalen College, Oxford and in 1878 won the Newdigate prize for his Ravenna. In 1881 he published Poems; in 1891 a novel, Dorian Gray  and in 1893 the play Lady Windemere's Fan. Three  other plays followed; in 1894, A Woman of No Importance : in 1895, An Ideal Husband  and in 1899  The Importance of Being Earnest.
His works The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) and De Profundunis (1905) give life to his imprisonment and two years hard labour for homosexual practices revealed during his abortive libel action (1895) against the Marquis of Queensberry, who had objected to Wilde's association with his son Lord Alfred Douglas.
Wilde died an exile in Paris, having adopted the name Sebastian Melmoth. While Wilde was alive his controversial 'art for art's sake' personality and the notoriety of his trial made an impartial assessment of his work difficult. He was strongest as a dramatist, his brilliant epigrams lending distinction to his writing and making a penetrating commentary on the society of his time.
Did you know that Oscar Wilde's mother was a poet herself?  Lady Jane Frances Speranza was a Dublin socialite whose salon was the most celebrated in the city. 
Born in 1821, young Jane Elgee was exceptionally bright and eager to learn, but the denial of a formal education to women left her dependent on her own resources. In an interview published in Hearth and Home towards the end of her life, she recalled her studious nature: ‘I was always very fond of study, and of books,’ she said, "My favourite study was languages. I succeeded in mastering ten of the European languages. Till my eighteenth year I never wrote anything. All my time was given to study."

The first poems from the pen of Speranza were translations of suitably rousing verse from Russian, Turkish, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese, but she soon gained the confidence to write poetry of her own.
During the famine year of 1847, Jane’s words had a galvanizing effect: ‘a nation is arising from her long and ghastly swoon’, she declared. In ‘The Voice of the Poor’, she railed against the horror, writing ‘before us die our brothers of starvation’. In ‘The Famine Year’, she condemned the arrival of ‘stately ships to bear our food away’. In ‘The Exodus’, she lamented the ‘million a decade’ forced to flee. Her most popular composition was ‘The Brothers’, a rousing ballad eulogising Henry and John Sheares, one a lawyer, the other a barrister, both United Irishmen hanged for their part in the uprising of 1798. In tone and theme it resembles her son’s Ballad of Reading Gaol and it was taken up by the street balladeers of Dublin.
Throughout her life, Jane was bitter in her condemnation of the neglect of women. Harnessing her finest revolutionary rhetoric, she raged:  "Women truly need much to be done for them. At present they have neither dignity nor position. All avenues to wealth and rank are closed to them. The state takes no notice of their existence except to injure them by it's laws."
Following her husband's death  she was contributing wide-ranging, learned articles to the Pall Mall Gazette, The Burlington Magazine, The Queen, The Lady’s Pictorial, TheSt. James’s Magazine, and Tinsley’s Magazine. She wrote several learned, humorous and eminently readable books, the last of which, Social Studies, contains essays exploring her distinct take on feminism.
Jane’s progressive, albeit slightly erratic, views on the position of women in society were uncompromisingly frank and she injected much of the revolutionary fire she had harnessed in the pursuit of Irish nationalism into her arguments for gender equality. In ‘The Bondage of Women’, she expressed despair at the universal disregard shown for the intellect of women: ‘For six thousand years,’ she wrote, ‘the history of women has been a mournful record of helpless resignation to social prejudice and legal tyranny’. She finished with an exceptionally powerful passage; "Genius never unsexed a woman, or learning culture ever so extended; but the meanness of her ordinary social routine life, with all its petty duties and claims, and ritual of small observances, degrades and humiliates her of all dignity, and leaves her without any meaning in God's great universe."

I would definitely have agreed with her on that one.

Thanks for reading.  Adele

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Oscar Wilde - Come to my Party

If I could host a gathering of people from bygone times, Oscar Wilde would be way up at the top of my guest list. I would sit him next to me for a good while so I could hang on to his every word and hope that his brilliance and wit might rub off on me. Eventually, I would have to set him free to mingle amongst my other guests and allow him to entertain, as is his nature. Sometimes, I’m quite sure I belong to Victorian times. I enjoy the written work of Oscar Wilde. I prefer his plays to his poetry and best of all, his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

A decade ago, I visited Dublin with a small group of fellow writers. It was just four of us and amusing to us that we were English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish, gone to Ireland to see a play by a Russian, (The Three Sisters by Chekhov at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre) and a film about Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, ‘The Edge of Love’, which had just released. We packed a lot of literary based interest into our three day adventure and spent as much time as possible in the fascinating Dublin Writers Museum. I enjoyed everything we did and everywhere we went. My personal highlight was going to Merrion Square and seeing the birthplace of Oscar Wilde then spending ages in complete wonder at Danny Osborne’s 1997 sculpture.

This is my own photograph, one of many taken that afternoon. I thought the statue was painted, but the colours come from the different materials used by the sculptor. The torso is made from nephrite jade and pink thulite, the legs from blue pearl granite from Norway and the head was originally porcelain but replaced by white jadeite when the porcelain showed early signs of cracking. The Trinity College tie is made of porcelain. The stone he is placed on is quartz from Wicklow.

Oscar Wilde read Classics at Trinity College, Dublin then continued at Magdalen College Oxford where he gained a double first in his B.A. of Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores.

It is well documented that Wilde led a ‘scandalous lifestyle’ for which he served time in prison. Last year, he and others were posthumously pardoned for committing homosexual acts which were no longer offences.

To me, he was a great writer, with nothing to declare except his genius.
John Betjeman's poem,

The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel
He sipped at a weak hock and seltzer
As he gazed at the London skies
Through the Nottingham lace of the curtains
Or was it his bees-winged eyes?
To the right and before him Pont Street
Did tower in her new built red,
As hard as the morning gaslight
That shone on his unmade bed.
‘I want some more hock in my seltzer,
And Robbie, please give me your hand -
Is this the end or beginning?
How can I understand?
‘So you’ve brought me the latest Yellow Book:
And Buchan has got in it now:
Approval of what is approved of
Is as false as a well-kept vow.
‘More hock, Robbie – where is the seltzer?
Dear boy, pull again at the bell!
They are all little better than cretins,
Though this is the Cadogan Hotel.
‘One astrakhan coat is at Willis’s –
Another one’s at the Savoy:
Do fetch my morocco portmanteau,
And bring them on later, dear boy.’
A thump, and a murmur of voices –
(‘Oh why must they make such a din?’)
As the door of the bedroom swung open
And two plain clothes policemen came in:
‘Mr Woilde, we ‘ave come for tew take yew
Where felons and criminals dwell:
We must ask yew tew leave with us quoietly
For this is the Cadogan Hotel.’
He rose, and he put down The Yellow Book.
He staggered – and, terrible-eyed,
He brushed past the palms on the staircase
And was helped to a hansom outside.
                         John Betjeman
 Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Just One Slice

What can I tell you about cake? I don't bake. I've been known to enjoy the odd piece of Battenburg (it's the marzipan) and I'll happily see off a seasonal hunk of Christmas cake (accompanied by cheese) - but that's about it. I suppose if I'm out at a coffee shop I might snaffle some millionaire's shortbread just for form's sake...although that's not really cake, is it?

My favourite cake is probably Pear's soap, a lovely translucent bar - not for internal consumption. Therefore, being the contrarian that I am, you're in for another left-field take on this week's theme and the approach will be a somewhat roundabout one.

I don't know how many of you are heavily into music; probably quite a few. Does anyone else regret having sold most of their vinyl albums back in the 1990s? I sold hundreds of them as I 'upgraded' to compact disc, for the economy of storage and ease of use as much as anything. I hung on to a few much-loved LPs that stood very little chance of ever getting re-released on CD but for years I had no turntable to play them on. I have to say I missed the ritual of getting records out of their sleeves, cueing them to play and then sitting perusing the album cover while listening to the music. The miniaturised versions of artwork that come with CDs lose something of the aesthetic beauty of the whole experience.

Therefore a couple of years ago I purchased a new turntable and pre-amp for my hi-fi system and started buying vinyl albums again in a limited way. I thought it would be cool to have my Top Twenty all time favourite albums on 180g vinyl - and the sound quality is undoubtedly superior to CD. That twenty became thirty, plus a few interesting contemporary albums that are only available on vinyl (there's a novel trend), then forty and fifty and counting. I have two reasons for mentioning all of this...

Reason number one is that next Saturday (i.e. a week today on 21st April) it's Record Store Day with lots of special events and special vinyl releases to enjoy at old-fashioned record stores up and down the country. Blackpool still possesses two record stores and I'll probably pay a visit to both of them. I'm highlighting this now because all the fun will be over by the time next Saturday's blog gets posted.

Reason number two concerns one particular album from my Top however many, a record by the American band Little Feat, released in 1972 and titled "Sailin' Shoes". It features here not because of the music - which is excellent, by the way - but because of its gate-fold album cover, reproduced below:

It's a distinctly quirky painting by an artist calling himself Neon Park xiii and prominent in the picture is a cake on a swing, jettisoning one sailing shoe. I decided that for today's blog I'd write a poem inspired (if that is the right word) by the cover art. I like to think of the cake as Sara Lee, after that iconic American brand whose tagline stated: "Everybody doesn't like something - but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee".

Neon Park xiii (real name Martin Muller) was a US artist and illustrator best known for painting the quirky cover art for several Little Feat albums and for other musicians' records as well (the Beach Boys, David Bowie and Frank Zappa among them). He started to suffer from a numbness in his hands in his early forties and was eventually diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a degenerative disease with no effective treatment. Eventually he was unable to paint any more, so he concentrated on writing poetry, typing with one finger when he could no longer hold a pen. Sad to say, Neon died in 1993 aged just fifty-two.

The term applied to the sort of poem I'm writing here is ekphrastic poetry, from the Greek words ἐκ and φράσις ('out' and 'speak' respectively); essentially a literary description of a work of art (in this case a painting) wherein the writer seeks to illuminate the scene and expand its meaning through the medium of words - making the picture speak.

As I have absolutely no idea what Neon had in mind when he painted this scene, the imagination has free rei(g)n...should be interesting. Here we go - ekphrasticakes! As sometimes happens, this may not be its finished form.

No Bride Cake She
Sara Lee swings from a greenwood tree,
kicking off her heels to prove a point,
a national sweetheart cutting free
and getting high effortlessly.

Comely this girl who's been baked to perfection,
now wide-eyed and blushing in ecstasy;
no bride cake she but a wanton confection
happily yielding a section.

The first piece is always the freshest and best,
a cake's nothing proved till she's sliced;
Sara savours the breeze with zest
having passed the crumb test.

(to be continued...)

Thanks for reading and have a groovy week, S ;-)

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Cake - Baked With Love

“This morning I resolved to bake

A Mary Berry drizzle cake.

Down your way the sun may sizzle,

Round here there is heavy drizzle.”
                                                         Pam Ayres, from Twitter


We have eaten the last crumbs of my home made Simnel cake. It lasted surprisingly long, for any cake in our house, but we were also working our way through an abundant supply of hot cross buns. They were on special offer of two packs for half price or something like that and we couldn’t resist. The thing is, there are only the two of us living here and a limited time to eat them. Actually, no one else in the family likes anything with fruit in, so we weren’t obliged to share. For visiting family, I made some plain buns with icing on top, which my grandchildren call ‘Nanna cake’ and enjoy devouring.

My Nanna Hetty made the best currant cake I’ve ever known. She had it in a tin in her yellow kitchen and always gave me a piece after I’d eaten all my tea. She passed away when I was eight. My memories of her are precious. I loved spending school holidays at her bungalow and she enjoyed looking after me. My currant buns are good, but not a patch on her delicious recipe.

We were so lucky to have the generous gift of a perfect wedding cake. Three tiers of dark, rich fruit cake baked and decorated by my friend’s mother.  It was a beautiful work of art and tasted divine.

Last year, on the run up to Hallowe’en, I was given some home-grown pumpkins and looked for something to make instead of pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup. I discovered a recipe for pumpkin loaf, a sweet, dessert bread which was equally good plain or buttered and with or without dried fruit.

Home-made cake is the best. I have made Victoria Sponge birthday cakes for my children and now I make them for my grandchildren. I tell them that I put lots of love into the mixture to make them extra special. I hope I’m also baking happy memories, like my Nanna Hetty did.
I found this poem,

Cakes in the Staffroom by Brian Moses

Nothing gets teachers more excited
than cakes in the staffroom at break time.
Nothing gets them more delighted
than the sight of plates
piled high with jammy doughnuts
or chocolate cake

It’s an absolute stampede
as the word gets round quickly,

And it’s “Oooh” these are really delicious
and “Aaah” these doughnuts are ace.

And you hear them say, “I really shouldn’t”
or “Just a tiny bit, I’m on a diet.”

Really, it’s the only time they’re quiet
when they’re cramming cakes into their mouths,
when they’re wearing a creamy moustache
or the jam squirts out like blood,
or they’re licking chocolate
from their fingers.

You can tell when they’ve been scoffing,
they get lazy in literacy,
sleepy in silent reading,
nonsensical in numeracy,
look guilty in assembly.

But nothing gets teachers more excited
than cakes in the staffroom at break time,
unless of course,
it’s wine in the staffroom at lunchtime!

© 2005, Brian Moses

Thanks for reading, Pam x

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Saturday Sailing

I've regaled you before, (regular readers of the Saturday blog), with stories of how I was born and brought up in West Africa; Nigeria to be exact in the 1950s, when it was still a British colony. My dad was a missionary out there and my mother a nurse. It meant I had an unusual but very interesting early childhood (until age five when we moved permanently back to this country).

My parents were entitled to a three-month break every couple of years. It was known as furlough (my word of the week) and gave them the opportunity to return to visit family in England. This was way before the era of affordable commercial plane travel and so sailing was the only practical way to make the journey. It took up to two weeks each way with frequent stops at various ports en route to drop off and pick up mail, cargo et cetera - an exciting and exotic adventure for a small boy.

From my childhood I retain an abiding love of all things connected with sailing on a proper steamship: the comforting thrum of the engine-room vibrating deep in the vessel; the constant sound and motion of the ship driving through waves; the smells of salt, tar, oil, funnel-smoke; the tang of sea spray; the bright froth left in our wake; days of dazzling sunlight and the sheer expanse of openness all around.

Today's poem is inspired by my second voyage from West Africa to England on the MV Calabar, a merchant vessel of the Elder Dempster line. I was only a baby when I made the first trip, but by the time of this second sailing I was rising three and capable of taking it all in. The Calabar was essentially a cargo ship with provision for a few passengers. Young children on board were something of a rarity and according to my mother I was 'adopted' by the sailors and made a great fuss of as an inquisitive young lad.

My parents being very religious, I was well versed in notions of Heaven and Hell, so when I was told we were sailing from Lagos to Hull, I assumed it was a mis-pronunciation of the latter and that Hell was where we were bound! Apparently the sailors on the MV Calabar took a great and frequent delight in asking me where we were sailing to - for the amusement of hearing my earnest reply that we were sailing to Hell.

When we finally docked at our destination, I found Northern England a stark contrast to West Africa. It made a marked, though decidedly unfavourable, impression on me at three and I couldn't wait to set sail for hot and sunny Nigeria again...

Cold, grey and gloomy Hull in the 1950s
To Hell And Back
Where are we sailing to, sonny boy?
We're going to Hell, mister.
And what will we find there, funny boy?
I can't tell, I've not been before.

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
cleaving aquamarine, sparkling in ozone,
flying fish leap in front of the prow
and jellyfish pulse down below.

Where are we sailing to, sunny boy?
I've told you, we're going to Hell.
And what'll we do there, bonny boy?
We'll all go ashore and explore.

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
churning grey waters, funnel smoke,
cold spray rising up from the prow
as the engine-room rattles below.

Hell is so green it bruises the eye,
it's people are pale and wear too many clothes.
They maunder beneath its hooded grey sky,
their houses are all squashed together in rows
and the rain is bitterly cold!

When are we sailing to sunny days?
I don't like it here in Hell.
I want to return to my home and my toys,
and stay there for evermore!

Tar, rope, salt and rust,
heading west, sparkling in ozone,
flying fish leap in front of the prow
and jellyfish pulse down below.

Thanks for reading, Steve ;-)

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Sailing - All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor

‘The big ships sail on the Alley Alley O, the Alley Alley O…’

That nursery rhyme always takes me back to the film version of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey. The first time I watched it, I was supposed to be in bed. My mother had shooed me off to my room once, on the grounds that it was on too late and not suitable for my eleven year old self. She went back downstairs to our pub and I sneaked back to the living room doorway to watch the film with one ear listening out for her possible return. I was spellbound by Jo and her sailor boyfriend, Jimmy. Whatever it was that my mother thought I shouldn’t see went way over my head. And we used to live near Salford.

My father took up sailing in his retirement. He had a small cabin cruiser on the Lancaster Canal and after a couple of years he upgraded to a larger, better built vessel. It was like a ship inside, all highly polished and varnished dark oak with brass fittings, like a miniature galleon.  He won awards for the best maintained wooden boat. Most summer weekends were spent sailing with my step-mother and in good weather they often took longer trips. They went to boat rallies and joined the Lancaster Canal Boat Club. I attended a couple of dinner dances. Events always ended with everyone singing along loudly to Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’, with arms waving. It could get emotional. Dad enjoyed his years with his boat and the club. He climbed the ranks to President of the LCBC, a post he held at the time of his death.  I only visited them on the boat very occasionally. I became queasy after another boat once sailed by and gently rocked us a tiny bit. Clearly, I’m not a sailor.

My husband was a proper sailor.  He left home to study at Nautical College in Hull then sailed with the Merchant Navy to faraway places. He loved his life and would have continued but physical injury put an end to his career. Eventually, it was back to college to train for something else, then in the future, he met me. Every cloud…

Together, we have taken a few short boat trips, Dover to Calais, the south coast of Jersey, Tenby to Caldey Island and St Helier to St Malo. Mostly, I have been fine. The St Malo to St Helier return trip was bad for me. Last year we island-hopped the Outer Hebrides travelling on ferries and we didn’t have any problems. This year we’re doing something similar, but the ferry trip is about four hours. I hope I can cope. I’m sure the destination will be worth it.

My father loved his boat and sailing on the Lancaster Canal, but he visited other waterways as well. He spent holidays on the Norfolk Broads, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, the Caledonian Canal and other places in other boats. Sailing became his ‘thing’, but despite growing his sea-legs, a trip on the Fleetwood ferry to the Isle of Man made him sea-sick, something that gave us, his family, great amusement.
Two special men, both sailors.

I have watched A Taste of Honey many times, sang the song and cried.
I found this John Masefield poem.

Sea Fever
I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the sea again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And a quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
John Masefield, 1878-1967
Thanks for reading, Pam x

Monday, 2 April 2018


I am a sailor. I am.  At least I was. I still sail, just differently.
A proper grown up now, conscious of everything that I do.
A proper bore often. Sailing through the life for now.
But I have to tell you about a real sailing, I can’t help it but tell the story.
I was growing up in a place and at the time where there wasn’t any child protection, risk assessments, health and safety. Families were looking after children who were free and happy. We learned early to assess situations, developed common sense and discovered the 'cause and effect' rule. We climbed trees and fences, we spotted and seized opportunities to try new adventures, big and small, to be honest, mostly small, at least till teenage years.
Back to the sailing.  I used to spend a big part of summers at auntie Liz’s house. It was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by meadows, woodlands and, just wait, it was near a quite large and rapid salmon river, as we called it. My grandma as a full time grandma, looked after me, my brother and my two cousins. I was the oldest. Grandma used to say, when looking after children you can’t take your eye of them, and she didn’t. We were considered good children, we were, and grandma had hands full of different jobs, to keep us fed, clean and our mess under control.
I was always fascinated by water, an Aquarius, who didn’t believe in horoscopes. But you never know.  So once when grandma took her eye off us, doing one of her many chores, I had a brilliant idea and I managed to take an instant action. I took my team of sailors down to the river, packed into an old 'seen better days' wooden boat, untied it and pushed off the river bank straight into the stream.
The boat was the kind of one you move and manoeuvre with a long pole, pushing with it from the river bottom.  I was nine, my brother two, my cousins three and five. The pushing pole, or whatever it was called, was a bit too long and heavy for me, but it didn’t matter, the enjoyment of actually sailing was breath-taking, we all were excited and scared. Grandma spotted us nearly straight away, but it was too late already, by that time, the boat was in the stream, being carried down the river towards the Baltic sea. To be honest, the sea was not that close at all.
I can’t remember panicking, I was focusing to keep the boat moving my way, not stream’s way. At that point grandma was running on the river bank shouting: “Push the boat to me, push the boat to me!” I did my best but, as I said, the pole was very heavy and a little bit of water started to come into the boat through the holes, a little bit more than just a little bit. Anyway, I kept calm and focused.
I think I did extremely well, because in a couple of hundred metres I  managed to get my ship to the shore. Grandma and all of us were so excited about such a successful mooring, she even did not screamed or yelled or punished us, she never did anyway, she seemed just absolutely happy about the outcome of this little sailing adventure.
Then the old boat was cut into pieces and used for a bonfire. We enjoyed it as much as the sailing, even we felt a bit sad about our vehicle.  At the end of the day it was my first and last proper little ship.
Later, I found out that grandma’s dad was a sailor who drowned in the Baltic sea when she was just a little girl, leaving her mum on her own with nine children.
Grandma passed away at age of eighty eight with heart arrhythmia, no wonder, knowing how her life was, before the grandchildren and then doing years long service, looking after four sailors, musketeers, explorers and unruly teenagers later, full time.
She sailed through her life extremely well, I know it now. I always look up to her, I know I can do it, whatever happens, I can sail through my life extremely well too.
Thank you for reading, Maya Anna Ozolina

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Stranger Than Fiction

It was mad, bad and dangerous to know Lord Byron who once asserted that "truth is always stranger than fiction"; and Mark Twain who is supposed to have added the rider "because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't." Make of that paradox what you will. Owen Oyston, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump are regular subscribers to the Twain maxim!

You might have deduced already that the revelatory theme of the blog this week is...

...and your diligent Saturday blogger has travelled to 16th century France and back in the interests of researching today's piece. It has been an eye-watering voyage of discovery and I hope you are all sitting comfortably before I begin. The men among you may not be, by the time I've finished!

Back in that pre-enlightened age of religious orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic church made it extremely difficult for people to get divorced, as Henry VIIIth of England discovered. The Vatican allowed very few permissible grounds. Not everyone had the option of establishing a new state religion in order to sanction their uncoupling.

In France, however, which has traditionally taken a more liberal view of all things sexual, there was an interesting loophole permitted to women of sufficient means. If a husband was unable to rise to his duty (we would call it erectile dysfunction these days) then she could cite "injurious non-consummation" as grounds for divorce. Of course, she couldn't just make the claim and expect to be believed. There was a due process of law to be followed and she was required to pay for the privilege. Assuming she could do so, then - to put it bluntly -  the man had to prove that it could stand up in court!

Zut alors! Pas ce soir!
These were ecclesiastical courts and the real justification behind the loophole related to the religious belief that the primary intent of marriage was procreation, to the greater glory of God. Wanting to have a satisfying sex-life didn't enter into it.

If a man could demonstrate to the court that his reproductive equipment was in satisfactory working order, then the parties were "condemned to live as man and wife." However, one suspects that many men who might normally be as rampant as goats would flag under such circumstances as these ecclesiastical courts - also nick-named the impotence courts. The French judiciary conceded this possibility as well. Therefore any defendant who couldn't bestir his manhood to spit in the eye of his detractor (so to speak) could have recourse to what was called Trial by Congress if he so wished.

The majority of men who failed to satisfy the impotence courts chose not to follow this route. They accepted the harsh reality that their women wanted shot of them.  The ecclesiastical court would then order the marriage to be annulled. Not only did such unfortunate men have to pick up the cost of the action (and refund their ex-wives both the court charges and the wedding dowry), they also had to live out their lives with the ignominy and could never marry again. Some were simply miserable, many went mad and there are reports of men having died from embarrassment.

Any individual who elected to go to Trial by Congress would then be required, with suitable examination of both parties beforehand and afterwards, to perform the sexual act with his estranged wife in front of a panel of experts - doctors, midwives and priests - to prove beyond a doubt that he possessed the ability to procreate. Such men were either masochists or desperate to hang onto a wife for her money. If he succeeded, the marriage stood. If he failed, he effectively lost everything.

Apparently there were as many as 10,000 such trials in France in the 16th century. I am sure there were some, perhaps many, women who deserved to be free of their husbands (for a whole variety of reasons) and the mechanism of the impotence courts served them well. I am equally sure there were many men who were ill-served by the processes outlined above. Thankfully we are slightly more civilised about it all six hundred years down the line.

And so to this week's poem, which seeks to furnish some light-hearted relief at the end of what has proved a deeply disturbing journey through the mores of our (French) ancestral past. If it sounds somewhat puerile, blame it on regression caused by shock! It attempts to put a positive spin on the whole thing - as why wouldn't it?

Arise Sir Loin!
Arise, Sir Loin,
knight of the wronged wives.
Spring forth
and put these pining plaintiffs
to the sword of pleasure.
Stay strong,
bury your measure up to the hilt
in their treasure
and feel no guilt
for our country loves
your gallant stand
and in so servicing the ladies
you do serve the Lord.
Ride glorious then,
ride on at His command
till kingdom come,
that when at last
your lancing days are done,
all your good seed being sown,
you may withdraw at leisure
to hang your head with pride.

Thanks for reading. May all your Easter rabbits be generous, S ;-)