Two booklets and a spiral. Ways of being humankind

Poetry seems to stalk the streets of Liverpool. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration given I’m basing it on a mere two examples, but they are good ones.

I’ll start with the most recent.

Last year I went to a political rally in a well-known hotel in the city centre. A first for me – a rally organised by trades unionists in support of a left-wing member of parliament.

The atmosphere was way above buzzing. It was crackling, fizzing, bursting. As was the room. Bursting I mean.

Just the front of the hall

Just the front of the banqueting hall

Health and safety rules had fled long before the fire exits were blocked.

It’s a miracle we weren’t squashed like flies against the mirror doors behind us.

But skip the rousing speeches, the roars of wild applause, the chanting.

On the way out, a man stood on the steps, handing out business cards.

I took one.

Many people didn’t.

I assumed he ran a taxi business. Or a radical magazine, something of that ilk. But when, months later I came across that card – white type out of black, making it hard to read – it turned out he was a poet.

That was last summer.

Now … peer into the TV screen of time and ripple back a few years.

We’ve been to our local community cinema. It’s a sunny summer’s evening, light and warm.

We’re walking out, hand in hand (ahh), when we both notice a man, standing on the inner edge of the footpath, watching passers-by.

He looks sort of furtive. Without saying a word, we both know we’ve noticed, acknowledge we won’t acknowledge him, carry on chatting banalities.

We pass him, hoping he won’t launch into a rant. We’re feeling good, post-film. Don’t want any tirades.

But he steps right up to us, proffering a booklet.

Polite beings that we are, we stop and listen.

‘I hope you don’t mind,’ he begins.

And minutes later we walk away – or he does. Yes, I think he does. Leaving us bemused, almost tearful, but feeling warm inside.

He met his wife of many years at this same cinema. She’s no longer in this world – and he misses her. Writes poems. Printed some in this booklet I hold in my hand.

So far, so sad, even if so beautiful. But there’s more.

He watched as people left, waiting for a couple, two people who looked happy in each other’s company.

And he selected us, on that basis, for his gift.

I’d like to share some of that poetry with you, but the booklet is lost amid boxes and papers, envelopes and biros, huddled in the spare room while my office is stripped, a radiator moved, two holes in the ceiling repaired, a carpet replaced, the walls painted.

It may be some time before I find that very slim volume.

Sitting in front of me as I type, though, is another booklet. A small book in every way except ambitions and meaning.

It’s called The Gifts of Reading.  The author is someone called Robert MacFarlane.WP_20160725_15_10_16_Pro

An essay in 34 small pages, it’s about the author – aren’t all books ultimately? But it’s also about the giving and receiving of gifts, the giving and receiving of affection, the giving and receiving of friendship.

The booklet itself is a gift to me from someone, a kind, caring person, who bought several copies to give away. A stratagem for being humankind endorsed by Mr MacFarlane.

The proceeds from the little book go to Migrant Offshore Aid Station That’s being humankind, too. But even if the proceeds went to the author, the gift has already given. It’s kind, it’s thoughtful, it’s touching.

The world is a weighty burden, at the moment. To think about the state of things is to feel bowed, dismayed, even hopeless.

In Britain we have somehow voted to leave our friends in Europe.

Our politics are in turmoil – and in that we’re not alone.

Hate and paranoia lurk in the ether like evil sprites around midnight.


Let’s pedal down to Mecycle, aka the bike café. A social enterprise, run by Autism Initiatives.

My sanctuary when times are bad.

Lovely young people dressed in black, serve teas, coffees, cakes. Wines beers and tasty treats.

But they’re far from immune to the currents of negativity dragging our lives off course.

We share our thoughts about the vote to leave Europe.

We’re trying not to despair at the atrocities close to home, pounced upon so eagerly by the vultures of the media.

We’re beyond dismayed by the ones that go unreported because they’re so far away, so insoluble.

I’m drinking tea, eating a toasted teacake, feeling flat in a flat world.

One of the black-clad young women stops to chat.

We shake our heads, talk about that vote to leave. How sad it is that the campaign resurrected ugly spectres we thought were buried years ago. Or at least made unacceptable in polite society. Racism, bigotry, intolerance, lies.

And then she says …

… we can all do something to make it better. We can all be good and kind and affect other people that way.

We need to be a spiral of love.

That’s not exactly what she said. Because that went straight to my heart. Bypassed my head, the place that remembers words.

Except for that one word, ‘spiral’.

‘Spiralling’ is often used with down, with whirlpools of despair. But spirals can turn up as well as down, spread out as well as drawing in.

Let’s create that positive kind of spiral.

Give books, hugs and smiles.

Gifts going round and round and round.

Positivity spinning all about, till we’re giddy with hope.

Naïve? I know, I know.

But do you have a better idea?

A spiral with many books – looking up the staircase in Liverpool’s newly refubished central library

Posted in Britain now & then, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who you calling a sissy?

It’s meant to be derogatory, isn’t it? Calling someone a sissy. Sad to think that it started out as ‘sis’ meaning sister.

As an insult it’s usually applied to males displaying signs of fear, cowardliness, timidity. The implication being that’s female behaviour. That the female’s role is to be weak.

Better, I suppose, to be called a ‘big girl’s blouse’, at least that has a bit of character and movement to it.

The expression ‘big girl’s blouse’ (since adopted by an Australian comedy show) originated in 1960s Britain, uttered by a comedy actress called Hylda Baker.

As a sometimes-blouse-wearing woman, I can’t help feeling that as an insult – as applied to males, again – it’s a bit, well, insulting to women.

It’s not just the girl word, it’s the big word. It’s saying, if there’s anything a male regards as being even more offensive than being the blouse of a girl it’s being the blouse of a big girl.


Then there are the rather more intimate insults.

Tw-t. C–t. And the one that set me off down this track: ‘fanny’.

It’s new to me as an insult, fanny, when used to describe a man.

It came to my attention the day after Boris the buffoon (non-gender specific as far as I am aware) Johnson was appointed to the British Government’s Cabinet as Foreign Secretary. (I still can’t really believe it).

I was scrolling through the usual mess of comments and insults on Twitter, vowing never to look at it again, knowing it would make me flail around in frustration and despair for the world, when …

… someone Tweeted a picture of some Glasgow graffiti. Which read:

“Boris Johnson is a pure fanny”

Among the thread of comments that followed, a couple of kind souls explained to Americans who thought they’d got the joke – they hadn’t.

Here in the United (still just about) Kingdom ‘fanny’ means (sorry about this, close your eyes if you’re sensitive to descriptions of private parts) vagina, not arse, ass or bottom.

Inwardly I felt cowed (I wonder about that one? Unfair to cows?). I knew what would happen next, but still I was disappointed. Sure enough, there among the comments were the usual forthright souls, confirming to their American peers that it’s much more offensive, for a male, to be called a vagina, rather than a mere bottom.

But I’m still confused. I mean, ‘pure’ fanny? Glasgow, is that a generic local insult? Or is it reserved for fannies?

So far so female. The insults.

And a digression into knobhead, dickhead, wankers and prick territory does tend to the conclusion that this is a peculiarly female problem.

We rarely damn females as dickheads, knobheads, wankers or pricks, after all. In fact I never do. In fact … well, never mind about the insults I do and don’t use. Let’s keep with the illusion that I’m a kind, considerate soul who speaks only in gentle words and fulsome praises.

And I’m not taking this much further, don’t worry.

But, I’m sorry, I have to come back around to that other word. The one that’s still regarded as pretty much unsayable in polite company.

The word beginning with a ‘c’. Still rarely used in everyday speech here in Britain, but when written in anger, often preceded by ‘total’.

And, men, let me ask you. Don’t some of you actually like this particular part of the female anatomy? Why, then, reserve it for your most ‘total’ abuse?

I’m leaving it at that. I’m no expert, this is as far as I can take it.

I have a young (female) friend who knows much more about this than I ever will. Who tells me I should read more about language and power. About language and identity.

To which I say, what the Foucault?


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Soundscapes [The Great Escape, days 3 &4]

Tired legs. A little light rain. Wimbledon on the BBC.

Day three becomes a day of rest.

I’m finding something deep and reassuring in Haworth on this visit. As if the town is built on a well of feelings. And not just tragedies. Life bubbles up everywhere amid the tales of sickness, sadness and death.

I’ve been listening to some of that life. And recording.

So, this time, fewer words. And some listening along with the images.

First, standing beside the graveyard near the tower of the church where the entire Brontë family, apart from Anne, is buried. (Anne died and was buried in Scarborough.)

Our sun-baked walk on day two took us to the stream and the (rebuilt after a flood) bridge below the Brontë Falls. There we sat and listened to the stream. The birds chirrupping in the background, ahhh! Peace and tranquility.

On day three we ventured out of town (not very far) for a ride back in time …

Anyone who’s seen the film the Railway Children has seen a bit of this journey, though a different Tank Engine (and the station is not in my little video).

Here, filmed from the inside, some of the most comforting rhythms a boiler on wheels can make!

Out for supper to the pub. The White Lion needs a preservation order slapping on it. No prawn cocktails or black forest gateaux to be seen (the food is very good) but the interior is several steps back in time and actually rather … comforting.

Comforting. I think I’ve used that word before.

Reassuance, comfort, peace, tranquility… I found them here in Haworth.

The video didn’t work for this next lot.

I tried to record the background music, but all I got was clattering plates. So look at these stills and imagine Neil Diamond singing Cracklin’ Rosé😉

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And finally, back to the little house and the night life…

The birds which I thought were rooks are, I think, jackdaws. I saw one drinking from the gutter of the house opposite –  and part of its head was grey.

I don’t have my bird book and refuse to consult the oracles of the ether. But, whatever they are, they like company.

As the sun wanes and the night waxes, I stand on our little terrace, watching. Listening to a sound that has no doubt been heard for many, many years by people who stood where I stand now.

The dark birds settle down for the night in the trees over the graveyard. And the bats begin their silent flights.

And when they are settled, the other winged ones sing.

Good night. I hope you enjoyed the listening.



Posted in Art, jaunts & going out, Britain now & then, Yorkshire | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments