Angela’s Ashes

Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of Mother’s funeral, but it was someone else’s death I was remembering last night, Angela’s.

Over the weekend I received a message to say her ashes were to be scattered on Monday evening in the churchyard of Old St Pancras church, the church where her memorial was held. At that memorial friends and colleagues read a selection of poems by Angela. Last night, Nicola, who now teaches voice, and who taught drama and English back in the day when she, Angela and I worked together, had been asked by Rob, Angela’s husband, to read two poems while the ashes, with I hope Angela’s generous spirit, were released into the air.

Before Nicola arrived, Rob, an actor, and now a frail elderly man walking with the aid of two sticks, and very slowly, announced he would sing a song to Angela. It was My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. We stood in the shade of the Hardy tree while his cracked voice rang out, and we knew he felt the pain of her loss as keenly now as when she died. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in having suddenly blurred vision.IMG_3923

The Hardy tree is named after Thomas Hardy who had the task of clearing the headstones of the graveyard, and now they are grouped around the tree which has grown into them and joined them in a mutual embrace. Continue reading

In Praise of Poetry Weekends

I’m home again but off to Octavia’s shortly for supper and to celebrate her mum’s 94th birthday, so this will of necessity be a quick, photoless post. Just to be clear, her mum is there, so we shan’t be toastimg the start of her 95th year in her absence.

I had a fabulous time in Northern Ireland; three poetry events in three days at the Heaney Homeplace. The highpoint for me was undoubtedly Simon Armitage on Saturday afternoon, but I enjoyed the rest and have a book of Nick Laird’s poetry to add to my shelves.

Simon Armitage is the real deal; funny, profound, poignant, his poems provide a commentary on the world about him. He opened with Thank-you for Waiting, which for an audience no doubt familiar with both Easyjet and, in particular, Ryanair, sent ripples of knowing laughter round the Helicon, as the auditorium is called.

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When I went into my local Poundland today in search of boxes of paper hankies, I picked up my wire basket and prepared to voyage. Armitage checked that his audience knew what Poundland is, and commented that when he read the eponymously titled poem in Oxford he wasn’t sure people knew what he was talking about. The poem came about when one of his students told him he had seen a copy of Ezra Pound’s poems for sale in Sheffield’s Poundland for a pound. Armitage having, as he put it, a bit of an obsession about Book XI of Homer’s Odyssey, the two ideas collided to create something very wonderful. Read it here.

Nick Laird on Sunday was a new name to me. As a local lad, he attracted quite a crowd. He’s from Cookstown where I spent some of the summers of my youth. Or rather I spent those weeks in the country not far from Cookstown. Cousin’s son-in-law went to the same school, as indeed did some of our family who belong to my generation. He’s currently based in New York, but if he’s doing readings anywhere near me on this side of the pond, I shall certainly try to get there. He has also written novels and there’s a television series he’s authored coming this year on, I believe, the BBC. I really liked the look of the anthology he has edited, but I only had a small in flight bag, and so I chose a slimmer volume. Continue reading

Aaargh Oh Knee and Ian McMillan, the Great Punster

OK, so it’s not a great play on words, but I have been listening to the Great Punster Ian Mc Millan, and if your knee felt like mine has been feeling you’d be pleased you could still laugh. Is that self-pitying enough? Bear with me.

My left knee is my good knee. It has been the dependable one since I bashed my right knee in 1993 and spilt the meniscus, cue lots of pain, gradual onset of arthritis, and a sick note for life saying I must not run. Although of course I have run, usually for the bus, but to vary things, sometimes it has been for the train.

Not at the moment. My left knee started to grumble that it had been doing the lion’s share for nearly twenty-three years and it wasn’t happy. I’ve learned to listen to it, to anticipate when my days are likely to make it cranky and take painkillers in advance. It’s been pretty grumbly recently. Though intermittently. It can be fine one day, then feel like a piece of wood has been wedged in it the next. In my abortive efforts to field MasterB from catching the baby wren, I think I wrenched it, so the last ten days both front and back of my knee have hurt, and I’m getting pains running from ankle to hip. My work means I am on my feet a lot, so there’s not been much chance to rest. Continue reading

Wonderful Words

Some great reading this week. At the weekend I finished Penelope Lively’s Ammonites and Leaping Fish, A Life in Time. It’s a memoir, but being Penelope Lively she bypasses all the clichés. It’s a social history as well as her history; beautifully written which is a given with her as an author, and absorbing. It’s perceptive, observant, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. There is a little impatience with the ageing process but never self-pity. The only time Penelope Lively has disappointed me was Spiderweb, which I think was written not long after her husband Jack’s death, so might be forgiven as a potboiler.

I won’t go into all the structure of Ammonites and Leaping Fish. There are lots of reviews you could read. I rather like this one. But this is how the book begins:

This is not quite a memoir. Rather, it is the view from old age. And a view of old age itself, this place at which we arrive with a certain surprise – ambushed, or so it can seem. One of the few advantages of age is that you can report on it with a certain authority; you are a native now, and know what goes on here.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but there is so much in it that I want to return to it will soon be on my shelves. Continue reading

Of Aunt and Angela; Two Remarkable Women

Aunt has gone from thin to gaunt. Her eyes look too large for her face. Her shoulders are blade sharp. Weariness is etched in every movement she makes. Her voice reveals the effort speaking costs her. “I know we don’t get to choose,” she said, “but I don’t want to linger.” I told her about A, and that I have to go home tomorrow as it is A’s funeral on Friday, and her memorial on Saturday. I shared memories of A that made Aunt laugh and then look sad.

 

Aunt’s in bed now, and I am downstairs in the guest room, a reluctant witness to the woman upstairs television tastes. Or a stupid witness. I have my ‘phone, I have my Kitsound pocket boom. Let’s Rock!

 

That’s better. Good old Snow Patrol.

 

I have told her I shall take a photograph tomorrow to send to Uncle Bill who has just had a few days in hospital. Offered the chance of early parole, he opted for house arrest. As a family we don’t make great patients. Anyway, it’s his ninety-fourth birthday on a Friday, of course he wants to be at home.

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Cows

I should be in bed. I should be asleep. It's late and I have a busy day ahead of me tomorrow. But today I got the message I have been expecting; A has died. Maybe I shall give her full name later, but for tonight, just enjoy this poem by her, one I liked the moment she handed it to me to read sometime in the early 90s. My copy still has the creases where I folded it into eight.

 

I hope it gives you a flavour of her eye, of her humour. Continue reading

Duvet Days and Cultural Craic

It's weather that tells you to curl up on a sofa with the papers or a book. Yesterday I *babysat* the puppy while everyone else attended a funeral. There were three funerals locally. Some wanted to show their faces and pay their respects at all of them.

Cousin lit a fire before she left. Yes it was that cold. Pip thought it was a great idea.

The two adult dogs, no doubt correctly reading the attitudes of the humans around them, also decided it was a day for little activity. A duvet day, Cousin called it.

The puppy, aka the Thuglet, was not on the same page. As Pip and Westie Boy snuggled into warm beds, she had just one idea on her mind; to make them play. She really didn't want to take no for an answer. Even when that no was uttered in increasingly impatient and irritated growls.

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Of Pets and Poetry

Yes, I can go on holiday. Hurrah.

Maybe there’ll be a film, When MasterB Met Julie, and you’ll see a slomo sequence where the two of them see each other for the first time: his perfect gingerness on the stairs in his purple velvet collar from Poundland, Julie proffering treats before I told her he wasn’t allowed them.

He happily showed her how he gets his treats from the catcher; played with the feathered stick when she waggled it; allowed hmself to be petted; sniffed her coat intently and tried to climb into its sleeve. In short, he liked her.
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