Thursday, 1 April 2021

O to be in England?

 "April is the cruellest month," according to T.S.Eliot. It certainly seems to have played the fool today with the sudden (and precipitate) drop in temperature. But... but... it's still April. The birds are singing, the  blossom is budding, the grass is growing. I've heard three blackbirds, seen a house martin, and enjoyed some lovely spring walks in the sun until today.

Today, I've been looking at some of the photos that I've taken. And listening to the words of Robert Browning going round and round in my head as I do... 

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Diary: No more heroes...

It’s been a week of concerts from Media City this week (for those of us perpetually tuned to Radio 3) and jolly good they’ve been. Chamber music at lunchtime, orchestral concerts in the afternoon and culminating on Friday evening with a fine live concert from the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. All the concerts have been introduced by the ebullient Tom McKinney, complete with the emphatic local pronunciation of every ‘G’ in the script... choral evensonG, lots of sinGinG and so on. Someone on Twitter a few days ago asked where all Priti Patel’s absent ‘Gs’ have gone. 

Well, we now know the answer. 

When not listening to Tom using up Priti's scorned "g's" I've been tramping the pavements on my daily walk while listening to Stephen Fry narrate his re-telling of the Greek myths, Heroes. Not only is the prose masterful (I've got the book, too) but the reading (as you'd expect) is amazing. The range, the voices and the choices... for example, the pitch-perfect Norn Iron contortions of the language given to  king Eurystheus! You can almost see the wicked twinkle in Stephen's eye. It's not (just) a well-told tale of ancient deeds and derring-do, either. Fry isn't averse to adding the occasional observation of the universal truths the old tales sometimes tell. "[R]ebellions from the outside nearly always fail: familial quarrelling, dynastic feuding, party disunity, the palace coup and the stab in the back... these are what dislodge regimes and topple tyrants." 

And there's been proof of that a-plenty, this week!

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Proud Songsters

National Poetry Day is in October, but that's too long to wait to share this wonderful poem of Spring. It's one of my favourites by one of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy. (Such a favourite that I've edited my own anthology of his poetry, should you be interested). And I know this is technically a poem of April, and it's still March. But it is, at last, Spring. The birds have started singing. And it's #WorldPoetryDay today. And that's what matters...

Proud Songsters

The thrushes sing as the sun is going,

And the finches whistle in ones and pairs,

And as it gets dark loud nightingales

In bushes

Pipe, as they can when April wears,

As if all Time were theirs.

These are brand new birds of twelvemonths’ growing,

Which a year ago, or less than twain,

No finches were, nor nightingales,

Nor thrushes,

But only particles of grain,

And earth, and air, and rain.

Hardy's birthplace, Lower Bockhampton, Dorset

To read more by Thomas Hardy, I can't do better than recommend you start here:

And to hear this poem read, and read beautifully, click here:

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Diary: A Farewell...

Open-air, woodland burial funeral for an old friend far too young to die, another of cancer’s many early victims. The ceremony is arranged so various people speak about his life from each of the spheres in which they knew him: work, music, village, volunteering and so on, the common thread being that there’s so much of the man that none of us alone can do him justice. 

Later it occurs to me that today was unique in another way in being all about him, because this polymath of a man was never known to put himself first. He was interested, curious, inquiring and inquisitive of everything and everyone around him. The only time, ironically, I ever knew him talk about himself first was at work (we were teachers) when his attitude to troublesome students, uniquely among staff at the time, was always a genuine “what more can I do? What else can I try?” 

If a student wasn’t engaged, didn’t produce work or was generally lacking in any way this man’s default position was always to look to himself, not the student, not the Year Head, not to parents or to God (in whom he had no faith anyway) but always to ask what else he could do or try. A remarkable man and a great loss.

In other news I caught a train. I know, I know... but it was the first time in over a year, and I realised that - apart from swift forays into supermarkets planned with all the precision and timing of a raid on a nuclear power station - I'd been nowhere 'public', apart from the pavement, in all that time. As the train pulled in to the station I almost began hyperventilating. My heart rate certainly started rising. All very worrying. And yet, mentally, I felt strangely disconnected from my own exaggerated physical responses. It was rather like observing someone else: look at him! Oh dear! Once aboard (thankfully the train was almost empty) and once I'd wiped the table with my antiseptic wipe I felt ok. I felt even better when someone with a "Covid Cleaning" tabard came and started wiping down the other tables. I'd wondered why they looked so clean. No crumbs, no coffee rings, no sticky patches of... god alone knows what. 

I used to catch the same train, early in the morning, to a school where I once worked. I'd always try and bag a table so I could spread out and do some last-minute marking. I know whereof I speak. So, Covid has this, at least, going for it. And not for the first time I find myself really hoping that things won't go back to "normal" once this awfulness is over. 

We need to do better than that, after all this horror. 
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