Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The End

This blog is six years old today. I have changed a lot in six years and the weight of my old posts has begun to feel oppressive, so I won’t be updating this blog any more. However, I will be writing at my new blog nothing was disastrous, which currently feels wonderfully clean and empty and full of promise.

And because one blog isn’t enough to hold me, I’ll also occasionally be updating my clothes blog neat but not gaudy and what might, hopefully, become a garden diary at a lovesome thing.


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The book of a thousand poems

You know when you pick up a book in a charity shop and it prompts an unexpected flood of memories? This happened to me when I chanced upon a copy of The book of  thousand poems for the young and the very young. The dustjacket was unfamiliar but I opened the book and immediately remembered it vividly from my own childhood.

The book of a thousand poems had a certain romantic resonance for me even when I first encountered it as a primary school child because it wasn’t a new book even then. It was one of a handful of books my mother had kept from her own childhood in the 1950s: I also remember all four books in the Little Women sequence, Black Beauty, and the Susan Coolidge books about Katy. It was a chunky little black volume with a battered cover; my mother, who never throws anything out, may still have the original but undoubtedly it had lost its spine by the time my three siblings and I had finished with it. Its physical appearance added to the romance: solid and black, it was one of the books that was always used as a schoolbook when we played old-fashioned school, or as a spellbook when we played witches. Looking at this copy I see that it was first published in 1942, which would explain the soggy rationing-era paper which was used for my mother’s copy.

I bought the book, of course – £1.99, a bargain. I’m amazed to find how much of the poetry in it I remember. The poetry of your childhood sticks with you, of course. I think I can still recite the whole of Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s Each Peach Pear Plum from memory; when I came across Don Paterson’s description of the poem as “a little machine for remembering itself”, it was Each Peach Pear Plum which first came to mind, with its neat form of looping rhyme and narrative.

The poems in The book of a thousand poems are of, shall we say, mixed quality. The book is divided into sections, starting with nursery rhymes (mostly familiar and traditional), and following that with ‘Poems for the very young’; ‘Fantasy and fairyland’; ‘The seasons’; ‘Flowers and trees’; ‘Fables and stories’; ‘National and love of country’; ‘Prayers, graces and thanksgivings’. No modern-day gritty realism here: ‘traditional’ (for which read conservative) values, Christianity, and a determination to limit children to childish subjects only: fairies, flowers, Christmas and Easter.

I was utterly charmed by this. I was a soppy child and found my left-wing, right-on parents unutterably prosaic; the values embodied in The book of a thousand poems seemed incredibly romantic and dashing to me even as I recognised that the poems in praise of the Union Jack and how ‘To be an English boy or girl/Is much the best of all’ were absolute tosh. The selection of rather saccharine prayers thrilled me; like Anna in Judith Kerr’s When Hitler stole pink rabbit, I spent a marvellous, if short, period as a secret believer in a family of atheists, devoutly reading my self-imposed catechism:

We thank thee, Heavenly Father,
For all the lovely spring,
For primroses and bluebells,
And little birds that sing. (Mary Anderson)

The prayer section has stuck less in my memory, though, than the nature poems. Some are famous: Blake’s The Tyger, short extracts from Hiawatha. I wasn’t literarily discerning at that age and was most fond of the kind of poems which anthropomorphised seasons or flowers:

April, April
Laugh thy girlish laughter;
Then, the moment after,
Weep thy girlish tears!
(Sir William Watson)

or Snowdrops:

Little ladies, white and green,
With your spears about you,
Will you tell us where you’ve been
Since we lived without you?  
(L. Alma Tadema*)

Most of the poems are like that: small poems which fit at least two to a page, a tumpty-tumpty rhythm, a solid(ish) rhyming scheme, and a conscious and condescending focus on child-appropriateness. Some are much better than others, but the majority seem to have been written in the first half of the twentieth century by people who were ‘writing down’ to children, carefully making sure that nothing troubling or unpretty was offered to little innocent minds.

I read the whole book, though, many times over. I think what I got from it was the first inkling of the way poetry works, particularly with image and metaphor. The rhythms and assonances of the words never struck me (and don’t strike me now) as being particularly remarkable, but even the rather twee imagery of poppies dressed in their fluttering silken gowns and snow falling like feathers seemed beautiful and marvellous to me, and I wrote lots of poems in imitation.

Those poems are all lost now, sadly. But looking at some of the poems I still like, it’s clear that a striking image or a clever metaphor is still irresistible for me. I wonder how much my taste was guided by this rather unremarkable book?

* That’s not Lawrence Alma-Tadema, the Dutch painter of lush, swoony Victorian classical scenes, but his daughter Laurence, novelist and poet.

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Things I didn’t know: you can do an empty search on Amazon, narrow it by price, and then choose a category in the side bar. Which means you can find, for example, all the poetry books currently available for £0.01 (such a seductive price, even though it really means £2.81, a price which would make me think twice about buying a book in Oxfam but has me merrily clicking Add To Basket, or indeed Buy With One Click, on Amazon). If you look at everything available for £0.00 you can see the amazingly obscure things available for Kindle.

Incidentally I’ve often thought that someone should map the speed at which individual books fall to £0.01 on Amazon. It must be related to two factors: inversely to the quality of the book and directly to its immediate success on publishing. Even really good bestsellers fall to £0.01 very fast; but terrible books which sell moderately seem to fall to £0.01 much faster than decent ones with comparable success. Someone should test this theory! It would produce a lot of attractive downward pointing graphs, too, which is always nice.

And of course there are some books which just get more expensive all the time.

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I haven’t been writing. I haven’t been writing because I haven’t been reading. I haven’t been reading, or going to concerts, or to the cinema. I haven’t been to the theatre in 2011. My brain is atrophying. My only cultural activity in the last two months has been going to the opera.

I always get a reading block around this time of year. I wonder why?

Here’s my goal: by the end of May I’m going to finish some of the books I’ve read half of and then stalled at. These are:

The state in capitalist society – Ralph Miliband
Greed – Elfriede Jelinek
The intellectual life of the British working class – Jonathan Rose
Woman’s estate – Juliet Mitchell
War and peace – Tolstoy
The end of the peace process – Edward Said
The Penguin history of modern China – Jonathan Fenby
La Débâcle – Émile Zola 
A tale of two cities – Dickens

You know what, when I finish that little lot I’m going to read some really short, fun books. Suggestions in the comments, please. I haven’t even included Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, which I’m a quarter of the way through, because it’s so enormously detailed I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it before Christmas. The first two hundred pages took me three months.

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Following the student demos on the 24th November, when my sister was kettled for eight hours, I made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police about their tactics and I’ve now received a reply (pdf, below). Superintendent Roger Gomm defends the use of ‘containment’ (he says: “‘Kettling’, as it is referred to in the media, is not a term used by the police”) on the following grounds:

On [the 24th], two marches met up in Trafalgar Square and about 3,000 demonstrators proceeded down Whitehall. Limited police intelligence* suggested that some of the protestors were intent on getting to the Liberal Democrat headquarters in Cowley Street. Police cordons were in place to prevent that and to prevent the march from getting in to Parliament Square. Skirmishes broke out with demonstrators attacking police line and destroying hoarding around road works. This resulted in a containment being authorised. During the period of containment, a police carrier within the crowd area was attacked and amaged. damage was also caused to telephone boxes, bus stops, the Old War Office and the Treasury. Attempted incursions into premises in Whitehall by protestors were prevented. During the day a number of police officers and members of the public were injured and a large number of arrests were made for public order offences and criminal damage, both on the day and subsequently.

You can see the full letters here. The second one is an explanation of why my complaint is being treated as a concern and not a complaint against a police officer.

Response to police complaint 1

Response to police complaint 2

This is a fairly standard defence of kettling; the Met were saying the same sort of thing the day after the protests. But by their own account most incidents of public disorder and vandalism happened after containment began. I also question the ‘large number’ of arrests – in actual fact the Guardian reported that only 32 people had been arrested, and 17 injured, with 13 needing hospital treatment. One of the arrests was for stroking a horse.

The assertion that water and toilet facilities were provided “where possible” is, of course, simply untrue. The statement that “the consideration of a release plan to allow vulnerable persons […] a means to leave the containment was treated as a top priority” is either a lie, or was not apparent to sick friends who asked to be treated by police medics when they became ill inside the kettle.

Yopu can also read my other sister’s report of Saturday’s demonstration in Manchester here – well worth a read.

* Ha ha ha.

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Reviving my blog

I haven’t been writing anything for this blog recently. I wanted to but haven’t. I thought it was just busyness but it’s not really that; it’s that I’ve been feeling sad and tired and a bit overwhelmed by things. I’ve just come to the end of six years of part-time education and thought I’d have loads of time, but it all goes somewhere, without appearing to go anywhere. I mean I don’t actually do anything.

Perhaps it’s because I’m now trying to buy a house, write a dissertation, and find a new job simultaneously. None of those things take up much time, but together they overwhelm me a bit, mainly because I fret about them. Stupid, but a difficult habit to break.

Add to that the coalition government, and the exhaustion of waking up every morning to the Tories, and reading every day about the latest thing they want to get rid of (free school meals, pensioners’ swimming passesmagistrates’ courtswho knows what else?). It reminds me of growing up under the Thatcher government. And I need a political activity but what? I still don’t think I can bring myself to join the Labour party, the left-wing groupuscules are deeply irrelevant, the Lib Dems have effectively ruled themselves out for ever, and the Greens… well, the Greens, yes, maybe, but what about their opposition to the trade union link? And what about my increasing suspicion that parties (and coalitions) are on their way out? Single issue stuff seems to be the only way of dealing with the world realistically.

So my life needs more thought, really. But I think posting on here more is one of the things that would improve it: like exercise, it’s easy to get out of the habit, difficult to get back into it, but worth it.

Sad pig

(Photo from here)

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