One Shutterbug: Point of View – A Poetic Blog, for Father’s Day

Shutterbug’s delight: Doncaster, 2016ish

This poem was written for my father. I hope he likes it. In its own way, this is one of the most personal things I’ve ever posted.


One Shutterbug: Point of View

shutterbug (n) – “an amateur photographer, especially one who is greatly devoted to the hobby” First recorded in 1940 – 1945

Picture the shutterbug.

For certainly, he’ll picture you:

in a group, in a crowd,

singing out loud,

in chapel, in temple,

in church and up steeple,

on dunes, and on hills,

after bicycle spills,

in the piney, reminiscing,

quite possibly, kissing.

Up steeple – St George’s, Doncaster

And the trumpet does sound

from a blue stereo.

Where to begin?

After taking it

on the chin,

a glider disaster,

international plasters,

that first picture:

why, it’s him!

The gift of an uncle:

a “unchi” says,

Johnny, Ionel,

here, take this:

may it give you

great joy, it is more

than a toy: it’s an eye,

a way of looking,

a history book,

for each picture took

tells a story, or three.

And a white flower blooms

from a blue stereo.

A puff of fresh smoke

from a trusty old pipe,

a friend in common,

and indeed, a first

dazzling meeting

with the beauty

with the smile:

they chat

for awhile.

No points for guessing

how these things proceed.

And a September song croons

from a blue stereo.

A wedding in white,

two different families,

polite, where next

from here?

There’s no chance

of a beer, a dance,

or some wine, til

after the cake, why,

it’s honeymoon time.

And the hammiest voice

in all Michigan

speaks of a brave steamshovel.

Family times

are the shutterbug’s dream:

like a cat with some cream,

the albums fill quickly

with children crying,

and crawling,

laughing, and bawling:

it’s slide shows, and sodas,

pancakes, and stew,

colac, corn bread, too.

And the hammiest voice

in all Christendom

tells of bunnies: flopsy, and true.

The shutterbug’s collection

grows with those kids

who he packs into a car

10 days each year: going

there, travelling here,

in a brown Meteor

with toys, books galore,

the beauty she reads

as the shutterbug drives,

whilst the youngest melts crayons

on the the back of the car,

and America unfurls,

like a flag filled with stars.

Sorry about the crayons – 1960s

And the hammiest voice

in all Michigan

goes down a Hobbit hole.

Come Appalachians,

come DC, come Boston,

and Nashville! Summon

crowds of great aunties,

and uncles, with photos,

through crick, hill

and churches, and always,

reminiscing, with y’alls,

and kissing.

Come Smokey bears

begging, early morning

petrol stations, with the kids,

and the wife, waiting.

On return, the shutterbug’s

sorting, collating, a bin

by his side, once the vacation

has ended,

but never the journey:

with all America,

waiting, always

still waiting.

And black-red-and-white dances

on an old stereo.

He once crossed an ocean:

the skies, the ship’s motion,

ending with the Lady

his parents saw before him.

Now travelling in mind,

in photos, and time,

he’s weathered the longest.

The last leaf,

or the strongest?

And the tenderest voice

in all Christendom

reads through her Bible,

and sings their old hymns.

With his lady – 1970s

I love you, Daddy.

June 2017

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23 Random & Not So Random Reasons Why I Love Steampunk

 

Julian Herbert Least-Weasel: art by Tom Brown, from “When Stoats Go Wrong”

Being a List of the Various, Sundry, and Indeed Random Reasons I Enjoy Steampunk, with Occasional Interruptions by Weasels, Stoats, & a Badger Who Likes to Play Suduko, as Well as Praise for the Beauty that is Doncaster Mansion House

  1. I already love Victorian clothing, history, and architecture, and the Victorian era & influence is, as I understand it (1), a central core of Steampunk.

    Oh Victoriana! Folly from Broadsworth Hall gardens, Doncaster.

  2. The celebration of eccentricity, & the way it makes me feel at home.
  3. Colour: you’re never short of it when Steampunks are around.
  4. Greaveburn, a Steampunk novel by author Craig Hallam. Contains one of the best ever anti-heroes, great world building, plus some fab pseudo swearing.
  5. Creativity: whilst Steampunks appear to love buying things created by fellow Steampunks, there’s a lovely emphasis on creating your own clothes, characters, ephemera, & the like.
  6. All those lovely looking blokes in their gear, especially their waistcoats: flattering on any fine figure of a fellow.
  7. The emphasis on manners. More, please!
  8. Tea, glorious tea!

    A cup of brown joy

  9. Speaking of which, Professor Elemental
  10. Tom and Nimue Brown, who I met at the Doncaster Steampunk Festival, a few years’ ago
  11. Tom’s lovely illustrations, including the weasel picture above, as well as the banner featured on this, and my “About” page, plus many, many more drawings.
  12. Plus, of course, Hopeless, Maine
  13. Did I mention splendid looking chaps in their lovely costumes?

    Suits you, sir! Taken at the 2015 Doncaster Steampunk Festival

  14. How could I mention tea, and not mention the puzzling yet polite custom which is tea duelling?

    Sadly, not an action shot – they were too quick for me: Turn the Page Literary Festival, Doncaster

  15. It’s so very, very British (2)
  16. The fact that Sherlock Holmes fits so nice and snug into Steampunk
  17. Plus HG Wells “War of the Worlds”, one of the inspirations for Steampunk, as well as for some damn fine music
  18. The fact that Steampunk can be a many tentacled thing:

    Cthulu loved the 70s: art by Tom Brown, colouring by me

  19. Steampunks are so much fun to photograph: they may even pip the post with Goths (3)
  20. I love contraptions: so much, that one features in my story “When Stoats Go Wrong”, featuring Julian Herbert Least-Weasel and his extensive family.
  21. Also, motorbikes and bicycles, even if I’ve never rode on the former, and keep falling off the latter:

    Fab, fab, fab: Doncaster Steampunk Festival, 2015

  22. I have a stall at the Doncaster Steampunk Festival, on 8 July, from 10 while 17:00. It’s being held in Doncaster’s beautiful, historic Mansion House. Come by & wave hello (or a tentacle, if your name happens to be Cthulu)!
  23. Steampunk helped influence two of the stories in “A Yorkshireman in Ohio”, the upcoming short story collection I’ll be selling at the Festival: not just “When Stoats Go Wrong”, but also “Sherlock Jones and the Geek Interventionist”. “Geek” features Sherlock Jones, a descendant of the original Sherlock’s lesser brother, Mortie Holmes; Boswell, a badger who is Sherl’s bosom friend, and Doctor Marguerite “Daisy” Lestrange.
  24. Like Sherlock Holmes, the Good Doctor dips ever so nicely in and out of the world of Steampunk, witness episodes such as “A Town Called Mercy“, not to mention the deranged, Mary-Poppinish delight that is Missy.
  25. The fact that my character, Dr Daisy, will be wearing the Doctor Who charm bracelet which the Beloved gave me.
  26. Oh dear, that’s 25 reasons, not 23.
  27. I do hope you don’t have to be able to count to be a Steampunk.

Two Doctors, with Who inspired charm bracelet, plus vintage brass tray from Rewind.

(1) Defining what is and isn’t Steampunk appears to be only slightly less challenging than herding wildebeests through the London Underground System, whilst simultaneously whistling the Star Spangled Banner.
(2) Always excepting, of course, when it isn’t.
(3) Of course, there’s that confounded overlap between Steampunks, and Goths, which can make things jolly confusing. Dash it all, let’s have some tea, and cake, and never mind about all that.

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An Inelegant Deficiency: Anxiety, Writing, & Loss

Set us free: British Library, London

“It’s an act of faith. It’s going on when you no longer believe. It’s walking right into that wilderness.” – Natalie Goldberg, “Wild Mind”

“I’ve had an elegant sufficiency, and anything else would be flippity floppity.” – my mum-in-law

What gives you comfort? And what do you believe in? How do you go forward when all you can see is failure, and grief, and loss? How do you walk “right into that wilderness“?

When it seems like all you ever do is fuck up, over, and over again? When we see that life is sad? 

I write about loss a lot. Maybe it’s because I’m pushing 60, so close, ever so close now, and with what seems like precious little to show for it: and that what I do have, I don’t deserve. Or maybe it’s because I’m posting a card to an elderly relative, not knowing whether they’ll make it through their operation, or whether that card will go onto the doormat of someone who will never open it, never see it?

I write a lot about death, too.

True loss: London memorial to the women who also served.

Gods’ plural truths, I try and appeal to my better nature. Sometimes, though, it seems the “better” part just doesn’t exist. That god(s) created me, not in his/her/their image, but that of a maudy, angry old cow.

The quote from Natalie Goldberg is about writing. It was Goldberg’s response to a woman who had started several novels, got to around page 180 – no mean feat – then would “lose interest, or wouldn’t believe in the story anymore”.

I let the writing slats get kicked out of me, not long ago. No one’s fault but my own. I took something to read, but couldn’t face it. A waste? Not entirely: for one thing, it made me finally replace my printer cartridges. Cue much swearing, but I did it.

And so now more slats have been kicked out: and, once again, it’s down to me.

Time and time again, it is writing which helps restore me: which comforts me, and gives me hope. Am I writing the poem a loved one requested? Am I making my way to page 180 – and, gods help me, beyond – on my current work in progress (WIP)? Editing & publishing my next short story collection?

Nope, nope, & nope. I’m blogging. Which admittedly is better than putzing around on FB, Twitter, or YouTube: my usual refuges in times of stress, and anxiety, and sadness. Which, in turn, is at least better than hiding in bed, or being stuck to the settee.

Of course, my life isn’t all gloom and doom. For one thing, this merry traveller recently returned, after being missing for nearly a month:

Back in the camp chair again: Al, Beltane, 2017

All the things I love are still here: okay, not all of them. But there is enough: compared to many of the people I meet, I do indeed have “an elegant sufficiency”.

And it’s up to me to rediscover it.

I love you still: Detroit, 2006

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“Bile”

Leeds, 2016

Some flash fiction for you. Warning: do not eat while reading.

I wanted that dress. I mean, brick through the pvc window; alarm goes off; blood on shattered glass, and hands, and frock; dress itself proper shredded as I drag that red, sequin covered beauty through the broken window, and make off with it.

Truth told, I didn’t so much want the dress, as I wanted to smash a window. Not just any window, but that one: the bay one that had “Pretty Things for Pretty Women” smeared above it, and the door. Not literally smeared: the sign was plastic, shiny letters, not scum, or shit.

A lovely sign, lovely place: Leeds, 2016

Okay, so the sign did have some vomit. Also, piss. I’d happened to find them the night before, and decided they were wasted on the pavement in front of the corner shop next door. But I didn’t put them on the main sign, oh no: they were on the one which read “Pretties by Karli” Only, instead of a dot, there was a love heart over the “i” in “Karli”.

I ask you, what sort of grown woman uses a heart instead of a dot? One who hadn’t properly progressed, mentally, physically, or emotionally, since she was a scrawny 14 year old, all long legs, and pouty lips, and make up, and the sort of notebook that has multiple “Karli luvs Jason” and “Karli + Jason 4 Eva” scrawled across the cover.

For starters, who the hell is Eva? And why is she in a three some with that bitch Karli?

The Elephant in the City: Sheffield, 2016

Ok, I know she really meant “forever”. Stupid cow. She doesn’t just deserve vomit paint, or a brick through the window. The woman’s simply crying out for English lessons.

You think this is about Jason, don’t you? Poncy git, I wouldn’t touch him with a barge pole. Thwack him with it, maybe. Touch him? Not even if he were the last man on the planet, and the universe was gagging for a fresh crop of human beings.

Miserable species, humans.

Why? Evidence one: Karli. Evidence two: her “love heart” dot. Evidence three: Jason, a man whose brain has evidently been replaced by a very small bowl of oatmeal.

I bet they start each morning by flossing between the ears.

A right cow: London

Read my books:

Koi Carpe Diem
The Woodcutter’s Son
What! No Pudding?

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A Tale of Two Libraries

Bust of Dylan Thomas at the Poetry Library, London

“There is no love without loss.”

When I walked into the British Library, or, later that same day, the Poetry Library, I wasn’t thinking of my sister, who’s a medical librarian. I wasn’t even thinking of my late mother, who was a children’s librarian, and the key person responsible for my love of books.

That day, last week, it was all about me, and them: those magnificent keepers of the world’s knowledge, and passion. Because what is poetry, if it isn’t full of love, and loss, and the bittersweet experience we call life?

Today, though, I feel the distance between myself, and those I love: the distance of an ocean, and air miles, in the case of my sister; and death, in the case of my mum.

If there’s a heaven, it should include this: St Pancras Hotel, London, 2017

Can books, and in particular, poetry, bring us closer to those we love? I believe they can.

So many books take real people as their starting point. Sometimes they’re novels, with a person – living or dead – the basis for one or more fictional characters. Other times, they take the form of biographies, or even autobiographies, where the writer’s purpose is as much to bring back lost loved ones, as to record their own accomplishments, and – if it’s a good autobiography – failures, and more memorable mess ups, too.

Look up: look waaaaay up. British Library interior, 2017

Last Wednesday, I made a library sandwich, visiting the British Library in the morning, and the Poetry Library in the afternoon. The filling was the meeting I went to, inbetween. Both my library visits were brief. I had breakfast in the cafe in the British Library courtyard, where I also wrote a poem, then hit the gift shop.

I’ve been to the British Library at least half a dozen times now, but this was my first visit to the Poetry Library. My gratitude goes to my friend the author Stephanie Cage, who suggested my visit.

A door with a quote: the Poetry Library, London, 2017

The Poetry Library is on the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall, some place else I’d never been before, and which I found thanks to a friendly Londoner who was originally from Sierra Leone, and was attending his daughter’s concert at the Hall.

The library itself was much less grand than I’d expected, yet it was no less of a pleasure to visit. After a long, information packed meeting, it was good to get on the Tube, and then walk to, what was essentially a small, poetry-specific, library.

Having taken some snaps, and had a quick (Michi)gander, I decided to read some poetry by a writer who I’d previously avoided. All three were edited by her late husband, the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, whose festival is next month.

A small pile of Plath.

I’m sorry, Sylvia. I’m going to borrow one or two of your books from the local library. I’m still staying away from the “Bell Jar”, though. There’s only so much my bipolar tendency toward severe depression can take.

I like to think you’d understand.

It’s easy to misjudge people: write them off due to their mental, or physical health; or, indeed, both. To avoid them because of the way they smell, or think, or come out with inappropriate remarks from time to time.

Because they are them, and not us.

Statue of Nelson Mandela, outside the Royal Festival Hall

I took several photos of Nelson Mandela’s statue, as well as reading the inscription below. The older I get, the more I’m impressed by people who can move from positions of great suffering, and / or hatred, toward working with those who oppose, and opposed, them. People like Mandela, and Gandi; the Irishmen Martin McGuiness, and Ian Paisley. Which isn’t to suggest that they were all necessarily admirable people, for no one is, not all of the time.

Over the years I’ve shown a tendency to act like a record which keeps sticking, and skipping, in the same grooves, over, and over again.

It’s hard to move on, difficult to let go. And difficult to know when we should move on, and when we should stick to our metaphorical guns, and turn to our physical pens, and pencils, and keyboards.

I wish you a blessed and thoughtful Sunday, whoever, and wherever, you may be. May your thoughts be helpful ones; your library, peaceful.

A child’s view of the rules: Poetry Library, May 2017

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