Wednesday, 24 November 2010

walking the territory haikus

bright birch leaves spinning
down the still frosty morning
gold on silver grass

mist on the river
heron stalks the reed beds
light grows, winter bites

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

walking the territory

It was cold this morning! And damp.I went for a walk along the road out of the village, remembering the camera for once. This is what you see as you leave the houses behind.

This week I've been re-vamping the Lúcháir website. It's a big process, giving the whole thing a fresher look - more colours, more space and a lighter feel - and a better focus. The process will include small tweaks to this blog, too, now that it covers both the sites.

As part of the process I wanted to get some photos of the soft rush (the original luachair which inspired me). Here's one.

I got quite carried away.

I love this willow. There is a small burn over there where some people claim to have seen kingfishers. I never have.

And this is one of the views that sold our new house to me when we first saw it, nearly thirty years ago.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Armistice day

I remember Armistice Day from my childhood as a relic of an outmoded jingoistic attitude that nobody seemed to find relevant. Hardly anyone wore poppies, and nobody wanted to talk about the war. In Liverpool we were still living with undeveloped bomb-sites in the seventies, and we felt it was more than time we moved on and created something new and worthwhile.

So it seems odd to find it creeping back. I don't think it's altogether true that it's some sort of plot to make our current wars seem acceptable and even noble, though I'm prepared to believe that governments are taking advantage of the phenomenon. It seems to come from somewhere else. A vague anxiety about our place in the world, a feeling that we are surrounded by people we can't trust, and we need to believe that we can - and should - fight our way out of it.

I'm not buying it. I know that sometimes you have to fight. And sometimes you find yourself in a fight when you didn't expect it. But mostly you don't. Mostly there are better options you should try first. Mostly, war is the worst response you can make, the most destructive, and the most corrupting, and then you finish up having to negotiate anyway.

But today, with heroes on our minds, I am thinking of three heroes that I know, two in war-time, one in ordinary lfe.

One is Hugh Shields, a Lovat Scout in the Second Waorld War and an expert in explosives. He seems to have been in everything - Dunkirk, the D-Day landings, the Shetland Bus, helping the resistance in Norway. And then at the end he went to bring home prisoners from the Japanese prisoner-of war camps. What he saw there shocked hi. He held a six-foot soldier worn to a skeleton and light as a child in his arms as he died, and he knew than than war had achieved nothing. When the government sent him the forms to apply for his medals, he put them on the fire, and he wrote back saying 'I have four sons, and I'm coming home to make pacifists out of the lot of them'. And he did. He took every opportunity to talk to the younger generations about the war, and encourage them to work for peace. He had alzheimers when we knew him, and his grip on the current world became more and more intermittent. But his last message was to our youngest daughter, encouraging her to keep on.

The second is Charles Rankine, who was a Japanese prisoner of war and suffered terribly. He told me how grateful he was to see the mushroom cloud at Horoshima, because he knew it meant the end of the war. Unlike Hugh, he never became a pacifist at all - in fact quite the reverse, he was often bitter. But as a mining engineer, he was forced to work on the Bridge over the River Kwai, and on one occasion he realised that the Japanese were about to do something with explosives that was going to kill people, and he warned them about it. To the end of his life he wondered if he should have done that, or if he should have let them go ahead, and sabotage the bridge. And when the camp was liberated the commander who had pistol-whipped him (among other things) came and asked for forgiveness, and Charles forgave him. And to the end of his life he wondered about that too. I always said he should, but as I get older, I realise the difficulty of those choices, and honour him.

The third is going to remain anonymous, because it's an ongoing story and not mine to tell. But it isn't only in war that people have to stand up for justice and discipline, and create peace and a new way of living. It's something we have to do for ourselves in our ordinary lives, every day.

Monday, 8 November 2010

James Kirkup Poetry Competition

Here is a poetry competition which I can wholeheartedly recommend poets to enter.
First of all, it's free. Red Squirrel don't believe in charging for entrance to competitions.
Second, when I did it last year, it was a thoroughly wonderful experience from start to finish. I met the judges and heard them talk about the care they had taken to read and consider all the entries. The competition attracted work of a very high standard, so to be included in the anthology as I was, is a very affirming event. The organisation was terrific, and the award-giving was a warm and friendly occasion when we got to meet not only other Red Squirrel authors (likewise friendly and very interesting people), but also the staff of South Shields library and James Kirkup enthisiasts who turned out in force.

So if you've ever submitted your poem and paid £5 for the privilege (and more, sometimes, this year), only for it to disappear into a black hole, try this. No-one could guarantee prizes, but you can be sure you entry has been given all the care and respect you could want.

Details here

Sunday, 7 November 2010

the territory in November

What a week this has been! Last weekend I was in Edinburgh for the Radical Book Fair and the AGM of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics but didn't stay to check it out as I wasn't feeling up to much, and couldn't wait to get home. It turned out that I had shingles, which effectualy put paid to any plans I might have had for the week. I don't think I've done much apart from sit by the fire and read thrillers and watch day-time television. My brain went to sleep and I couldn't take in anything more demanding.

Outside, however, the garden, the fields and the riverbank moved into winter. It's strange, you can hear it as you go out of your front door. There are new birds here, different songs, different flight patterns, movements where you don't expect them. First it was waxwings, moving in a free-flowing mob through the village, over the bridge into Riverside, calling and slinking through the branches. The robins were obviously intimidated, displaying and singing fit to bust on the tree-tops and the top of the telegraph pole. They are still here today, but more scattered, less obtrusive.
Then on Tuesday and this morning it was long-tailed tits. It's hard to see them; they are small and timid and neutrally coloured, but you can hear them all the time. They move about in bands too, and whistle to each other as they go. Whenever I hear them I think 'fairy pipers' and then feel rather ashamed -it's such a twee image. But there it is (and never was piping so sad/and never was piping so gay too much Yeats in my adolescence no doubt).

The trees are magnificent too, losing leaves daily but such rich colours. From my window I can see the last remaining orchard in the village - the orchards of Cambuskenneth Abbey used to be famous - and behind it is the visual equivalent of the Spector wall of sound - a row of yellow Lombardy poplars, and in front of them some tawny beeches and a golden birch. I wanted to photograph it , but I don't think I could convey the effect, and anyway it would involve the the foreground of other people's houses.

The river is full now because of the rain and the spring tides. Sometimes seals come up from the Firth on high tides, and I thought I might have seen one on Friday, just a glimpse of a sleek head and a bac curving below the water. But as I watched, whatever it was came up again and rolled. It was much smaller than I expected, and surely that was a tail and a paw? I think it may have been an otter, the first time I've ever seen one here. The it slipped away, and left the river to these swans.