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Posts Tagged ‘new year’

I dreamed a golden fish,
Serene, amid a wasted lake.
It rose from silted depths,
To greet a narrow slant of sun.

It was a sterile place, nothing to breathe,
Only a fathomless unknown,
And an infertile shore I’d sooner leave,
Than wander one more day alone.

But then this vision of the golden fish,
In tender glint of amber sun.
It holds my gaze.

One thought, it says,
Amid the tumult of this tumbling year,
Is worth the hanging on.

If only I could tell,
Among the log-jam of these jangling thoughts,

Which one.

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on pendle hill

Pendle Hill Summit, December 2019

It was about six degrees in town this morning, with a light rain. It felt bitter and unwelcoming. The parking machine took most of my change, leaving little for the homeless guy sitting there with the thousand yard stare, but he accepted my bits of shrapnel with more enthusiasm than they deserved, and he called me sir. The coppers were all I could muster as symbols of my solidarity with his lot, and I felt in the “sir” a rebuff, not from him – he was grateful for anything – but more from within myself, the distance it implies, between me and him. I have never been comfortable being called “sir”.

Amid the ruins of this, my little market town, there has risen of late the paradox of a glittering high-rise that promises a “cinematic experience” and bowling, though these attractions have yet to appear. And of the quality-shopping also promised, over the years of this great carbunkle’s somewhat listless construction, only a Marks and Spencer food hall has opened. It sits uneasily like a top-hat among the ragged, alongside the vape-shops and the tattoo parlours and all the charity places.

Meanwhile I note the news-stands speak of war with Iran, the more right wing and tabloidy the title, the more strident and crass the headline, but whether to instil terror or glee I do not know. It will depend on your disposition I suppose. Me? I see only that the social fabric of the UK is in tatters, that it will improve not one jot in the decade to come, and the looming climate catastrophe is beyond help now.

Middle eastern politics never makes for comfortable reading and try as I might I’m not sure if we’ve been brought here by miscalculation or by artifice, for these are dark powers and completely beyond my knowing, but I do know another war played out as infotainment isn’t going to be fun viewing, and it’s certainly not going to fix anything that needs fixing.

Thus the New Year opens and leaves me casting round for a glimmer of hope and I am seeking it in the food aisles of M+S. A week ago I was on the top of a misty Pendle, feeling for a time that all was well. Everyone I met at 1800 feet looked fresh and happy, but that’s the tops for you and always worth the effort. It’s when you come back down to earth the shadows regroup.

I bought something for my tea, browsed the novels in Heart Foundation, but nothing took my eye. I bought a brew for the homeless guy from Gregs and walked it back up to the carpark, but he’d gone by then. So I sat in the car for a bit, watched the people cowed by winter and the flat murk that passes for daylight at this time of year, and I drank the tea myself. Milk and one sugar. That’s how I take it, but I had not stopped to think if it was all right for him.

It’s all very well, trying to help out a bit, but it’s better to pause and consider what it is that’s needed first. And maybe there’s no answer to that, no obvious place to start, which is why we’re going nowhere, and hope is so elusive.

Meanwhile I have snowdrops in the garden, green shoots appearing among the leaf-litter for the first time, and I sold another copy of The Inn at the Edge of light last night, which make two. Then I have seedlings of sweetpea to plant up for the windowsill, for planting out come spring, to bring some colour and the heady intoxication of their scent.

Small beginnings, but the best I can come up with for now.

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Well, I tried hard to come up with a pithy take on this pig’s ear of a year that was 2019, also the decade I suppose but found myself speechless in the end. Instead this thing popped up in my You Tube subscription from DDN, and I turned to fellow Brit and seriously honoured fellow Lancastrian, Tez Ilyas – in my humble opinion a truly brilliant, unifying voice who speaks as much for me as I hope for all of us.

These are staggeringly remarkable times, times when intellectuals are left dumbfounded, times when only a gifted comedian can make sense of what’s going on. Tez, my man, you’re so much younger than me, (say like 30 years at least?) you’re sharper, more clued in, cooler, and infinitely more handsome, but apart from all of that, and probably because of it,… I love you brother:

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cropped-mosaic2.jpg

Okay, sorry about the puerile click-bait. Welcome to 2019! Don’t you just love those adverts that pop up, missing the punch-line? I must admit I don’t click. If you do you’re guaranteed to enter a sideshow of the grotesque, one that’ll poleaxe your device to a drunken snail’s pace and have it stuttering for mercy. So, I suppose not clicking is the hack. Seriously, don’t click. Resist the bait.

But you can go further: hobble your device. Go on, I dare you: switch off ‘location’! And if you really must carry it with you, carry it in a Kendal Mint-cake tin. The latter ‘hack’ may be a little over the top, and it’s definitely weird, but theoretically effective at stopping the thing from tracking you, even via the cell masts, also preventing it from listening to your conversations, adding them to the daily mountain of data to be mined by those evil Pacman algorithms that are gobbling us all up.

And so what if people think you’ve lost your marbles?

But while we’re on the subject, don’t you just hate that word ‘hack’? It implies a sneaky means of getting ahead of the crowd in some way, when the only true advance is when the crowd moves as one in the same direction, that anything which advances the cause of the individual at the expense of others is ultimately self defeating. Everyone knows that. So, seriously, don’t hack, don’t cheat. Just find a way to love every moment, and every one, and simply be one with everything.

Life is too short for mind-games.

But anyway, I digress,…

The New Year dawns. It’s 6:30 am, minus five degrees and there’s a frost both inside and outside the car. It takes an age to shift. On the up-side, the commute is quieter than usual and, other than the shock of transition from nearly a month of leisurely lie-ins, back to the tyranny of pre-dawn get-ups, we enter the year intact, mostly on our feet and thus far running smoothly.

I have no resolutions – dry January possibly, but I’ve still a splash of Christmas Malt remaining, so that’s off to a shaky start already. I’ve reviewed 2018, listed its highs, glossed over its lows, and in anticipating the year to come I shall similarly look for pleasure in the small things of life, because that’s where the greatest pleasures are to be had. Meanwhile of course, I remain mindful of the inescapable minefields ahead of us, over which we have no control and as yet no map to facilitate our safe passage.

To whit: foremost in the nation’s psyche this year, we have BREXIT. This will become a reality one way or the other in 2019, with only the final details of damage limitation to be worked out and voted through, or not as the case may be. Talk of a second referendum will gather pace in the coming weeks and, as a remainer, I’m tempted to take some warmth from that, but it also strikes me as somewhat naive and dangerously divisive – and there seem not to be the parliamentary numbers in it. ‘The people’ have had their say, and it would be a reckless thing to ask them to think again lest they blow an even bigger raspberry than they did last time – polls showing no significant shift in opinion one way or the other. I’m more resigned to it now, exhausted by it actually, while remaining braced for impact.

There’ll be more disturbing news of course, perhaps weekly, coming from the United States, whom I liken to our bigger, brasher, richer and still much loved cousin, now locked in the downward spiral of mental breakdown, as we are ourselves of course, and while we wish him a speedy recovery, it’s likely to take a while, and in the mean time there’ll be a drift into ever deepening trade wars with China, further international destabilisation and isolationism as the Jenga tower of geopolitical relations is played for broke. Then at some point this year, according to those in the know, there’ll be another financial crash, like in 2008, only worse – or then again it may not happen. And while we obsess over all of this, the planet continues on course for climate Armageddon, but there’s probably not much we can do about that either, even if we could get our act together in time, because whose going to be the first to give up their mobile phones, their burgers, their SUV’s, and their air-travel?

But then,… on the bright side,…

There are still plenty of country miles to be walked. We have the spring green and the summer blue ahead of us, and we have sunsets from the beach. And you know, in spite of it all, we might just be,…

All right

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capsocEven a casual observer of current affairs cannot fail to be impressed by the spectacular tragedy that was 2016. The year was a litany of violence, hatred and political upheaval, proudly presented across all media as infotainment – this in formerly stable, western democracies. Coupled with these calamitous events there is the growing realisation that even though Capitalism has been hanging on by its fingernails since 2008, it’s essentially dead. However, since no one has a clue what to replace it with, there’s a fear we’ll be suffering the stench of its rotting corpse for a long time.

Indeed the times do little to reassure me we’re tending towards a more peaceful and prosperous co-existence – quite the opposite. The impression is one of a world totally out of control, one in which destructive archetypal daemons have breached in force the liminal defences of reasonable thinking, and are now wreaking havoc on several fronts, ushering in a zeitgeist that wears a face permanently distorted by a snarling hatred of all things “other”.

The response from that more compassionate brand of politics, the politics of the progressive (i.e. old) left, seems muted, as if they’ve been so long in the shadows the daylight burns their skin. I’m more pessimistic now than I was in the Summer about their chances of making a difference. All the forces of evil, news-media, and even public opinion are arrayed against them, while the alt-right seeps unmolested into the cracks. The prospect therefore of passing the remains of this century tossed by an ever escalating reign of chaos does not sound implausible.

I have long wondered if I should take a more direct approach to this collective existential emergency, and become more politically active myself. The feeling came to a head recently, after giving the meat and potato pasty I’d just bought, and was rather looking forward to, to a homeless guy. I was embarrassed, didn’t quite know what the etiquette was, only that he wore the thousand yard stare of extreme misfortune, and everyone else was ignoring him like he was a drunk, or a dope-head, or it was somehow his fault he was sitting in the cold and the wet with a blanket around his shoulders. My companion even commented, somewhat cynically that he probably drives a jaguar and lives in a docklands penthouse. But anyway, I gave the poor guy the pasty, and he was grateful for it.

We’re used to seeing down and outs in our cities, and that’s troubling enough to someone visiting from the sticks, but this was a provincial market town in the North, my town, my North, so okay: I was going to get political. I was going to kick this spectre of eternal decline right in the balls. Boy, was this Cappuccino Socialist going to whip up a storm!

However,…

Instead, I tried to join the Labour Party. It’s currently revitalising its atrophied radical roots and I thought I’d fit right in with my newly radicalised self, but my enquiries thus far have not exactly been welcomed with open arms. Indeed my online applications are repeatedly lost in cyberspace. I don’t know why this is, and I’m not going to speculate beyond saying it’s probably more a case of administrative overload than I am suspected, by dint of an all blue post-code, of being a sneaking Tory saboteur. I admit the thought of the latter does amuse me.

So,… I’m taking this rejection by the Socialist brethren in good part, and in a more transcendentally meaningful sense, that is to say the Universe is obviously telling me my contribution to the cause of a global Shang-ri-La isn’t meant to be political. I’d be rubbish at it anyway. Take me away from the keyboard and I’m tongue-tied by a log-jam of incoherent thoughts. So I’m back to chronicling the times as I see them, sipping my Cappucino between repeated rewrites, the best I can do being to urge a positive frame of mind in spite of everything that’s telling us to be afraid and to restock our millennium cupboards.

I’m writing this on January 3rd, the worst day of the year, the first day back at work after a long festive break. It is my morning of a thousand emails, evidence enough of a world drowning in obfuscating bullshit. Like those emails it has mostly to be deleted before we can get at the real issues, the things that actually need doing. Nor does it help that my holiday reading consisted of Hans Fallada’s novel, Alone in Berlin, a chilling tale that in part describes the ways and means the barking mad alt-right of Nazi Germany infiltrated every institution of state, efficiently reducing the German people to a subservience based on a blend of patriotism and fear.

In Nazi Germany the penalties for dissent were extraordinarily harsh, as with all oppressive regimes, the slightest hint resulting in torture and death. It’s not something we hear much about, how the Nazis were as cruel to their own people as to the nations they invaded. It’s an important novel and, sadly, as relevant now as it was when it was written. If we think it cannot happen in a modern western democracy any more, it does not mean it cannot happen, only that we lack the power to imagine it, and have not learned the lesson of history.

Of course things are not so bad now as in Fallada’s wartime Berlin. I can still type freely online without undue fear of my IP address leading the tech-savvy Gestapo to my door. Sure Google knows where I live, but they just want to sell me stuff. The point is we should remain mindful of the freedoms we still have, freedoms we might yet lose, and the ease with which they can indeed be lost, once the goose-stepping alt-right shadow-monsters are manifested in the crowded rally, whipping us all to hysteria, making us do cruel and degrading things to others in the name of nationalism, and security.

Yet, it’s puzzling, the vast majority of people have good hearts. This is my experience. The natural state of the human being is compassion, a desire for mutual respect and peaceful co-existence. Cruelty and criminality – things that underpin the oppressive regime – are aberrations, and the rest of us must not be afraid to point them out, for our collective weakness is as ever the ease with which we can be led, either by the wiles of the charismatic populist, or in fear of the shouty man. That we so often allow ourselves to fall into the hands of vile impostors is testament enough, also a warning, for in their hands we might be condemned to languish, helpless, for generations.

But all is not lost. It’s not for everyone to stride boldly upon the world’s stage, to influence the masses with one’s wit and common sense back to a reasonable way of thinking. We cannot all write a novel like “Alone in Berlin”. We cannot all, apparently, join the Labour Party. For most of us the best we can do is sip our Cappuccinos thoughtfully, remember the difference between right and wrong and, in holding to that simplest of things, preserve our dignity. By doing so we hold a mirror to the shadow whipped crowd so it can see its own face, see how ugly it’s become of late, and maybe think twice before dragging us any further into peril.

Stay Safe, and be of good heart.

Oh, and a Happy New Year!

Graeme out.

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grumpy approaching kirkstoneI’d like to start this year by thanking those who follow and comment on my blog: Simon, Tom, Lee, Rati, Jim, Bottledworder, Walk2Write, Paul – to name but a few; your comments and likes are a constant encouragement, as are the “likes” of others, followers or not, who drop by and read my stuff. Thanks to all, and a Happy New Year.

The Rivendale Review is hardly what one would call an “influential” blog, but has far exceeded my expectations when I set out in 2008, and has become an integral part of my writing life. 2016 will see the same eclectic mix of stuff, things that catch my eye, things that make me think, things I find joyful in life: travels, books, absurdities, curiosities, and funny stories. I shall also write about writing.

So,…

The year begins as it ended, with rain. It’s been raining since October. The rattle of it against the glass is a familiar companion now. The garden is sodden and squelchy, my outdoor coat is permanently airing on a hanger in the back porch. We have come through flood and sickness unscathed, but philosophical. And there is now a sadness too at a parting of the ways.

My car, my long familiar commuter mule, Old Grumpy is to be traded on Tuesday for another vehicle with less miles on the clock. Right now I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing or if I should have kept Grumpy a little longer. As for the new car, a ’12 plate Focus, I’m wondering if it will be any less troublesome than Grumpy has been over the long years of our acquaintance.

To the cosmopolitan gent, the car is becoming superfluous, even derided for its environmentally unfriendly habits. And to drive is to be milked as a cash cow for tax, insurance, repairs, and roadside assistance, to the extent one is wise to think twice about taking to the road at all. But for those of us living outside the city limits, in places where trains and buses are infrequent and rarely link up anyway with the places you want to go, the car remains an essential part of everyday life.

All the eras of my life, since late teens, are defined by the car I was driving at the time. A memory surfaces, say from 1978 – and I remember the plucky little Honda rustbucket I drove back then. In ’82 it was the Blue Mk4 Cortina, in which I began to explore the Lakes and Scotland. In ’86 it was the first in a long line of 3 series Volvos. Those eras were short, three or four years at a time. Then marriage and family life stretched the finances, so the car eras became longer – seven or eight years. In ’94 it was the Rover 216, in ’02 the first Astra, then the last Astra, old Grumpy in ’08.

The Grumpy era was marked immediately by a severe downturn, a period of grinding economic austerity, of rocketing energy and petrol prices. Grumpy saw petrol rise to £1.50 a litre. The Grumpy era has been a choppy one, an era of breakdowns, expensive repairs, and a general fragility of affairs that has sapped confidence and led to a contracting world view, rather than one that expands to encompass new horizons. The old Cortina took me to far away places, places I had never been before. Sometimes it feels as if old Grumpy has taken me nowhere but rather kept me on a narrow circular holding pattern. Holding for what, I don’t know. On the up-side, the grumpy era has been one of the most creatively productive. And whatever the ups and downs of it I’ll be sad to see him go.

A recent rain poem (2014) from the Grumpy years:

Crystal Teardrops

The day dissolves to a silver mist,
Lighter than air,
Drifting,
Settling softly
Among bare branches,
Where minuscule spheroids swell,
Coalescing to a smug fatness.
Teardrops of crystal,
Transparent berries among the black thorns,
Rich yield of cold nourishment,
Hanging motionless in a mist,
Still drifting,
Thin as ghosts,
Aimless as smoke,
From dying embers.

A lone leaf falls.

_______________________

And finally, an older rain poem (1990), the Volvo years:

Hawkshead

I hear the gentle sound of rain,
So soft, so fine, against the pane,
And I am in Hawkshead once more,
Remembering the time before,
When you and I first passed this way,
One shy and clumsy Autumn day.
First heartfelt kiss, first tender word,
In growing shades of dusk I heard.
A walk, a talk, from shackles free,
Snug from the world, just you and me.
It seems so long ago and yet,
The moment I cannot not forget.
For here it was that first I knew,
Without a doubt, how I loved you.

 

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