Like a bird on a wire

When the song first came out I wept, picturing the bird (aka Leonard Cohen) trapped in a snare, a loop of wire pulled tight around its leg. In those days we didn’t know so much American. I learned later that what we would call a telegraph line Americans would call a wire, and so the bird was probably just perched on it, ready to fly away.

The lineman in Wichita Lineman, then, should have been obvious to a Brit but he wasn’t. He was something ultra-romantic, science fictional almost, a wandering, lonely creature performing some unimaginable task for The County (what was The County?) – not one of those blokes that climbs up poles to fix the electrics.

Of course, I wept at the bird in its imaginary snare, flapping and flapping its tiny wings in a desperate, futile to escape because the bird, aka Leonard Cohen, was also aka me.

I was always two people. One of me was lonely, wild and free. One of me had known even as a child making messy daisy-and-buttercup chains on her grandmother’s lawn, that one day she would take off. As time went on I read the colour supplements my father discarded from the weekend papers. I pored over the photos of remote temples and marketplaces and traveller accounts of exotic destinations.  I was that traveller. One day very, very soon that would be me on the road to Marrakech in my long hippie skirt and my cheesecloth blouse, a fraying backpack containing all that I had in the world; feet blistered, sandals dusty and worn.

The other me knew it couldn’t go, knew even as a child that it was tethered to a family in which it had no place, engaged in a lifelong struggle of trying but failing to earn that place. The other me knew it needed the mirror they formed, because without that mirror it would vanish. I was only what they showed me; away from them I had no substance: I was a ghost.

And so I enrolled in a teacher training college only a short ride away from home. I took my Mum to a film show there once; she wasn’t impressed. I plodded away at that course for three years, trying to be interested in tessellations, Cuisenaire rods and lesson-planning whilst my friend Anji – she of the wispy, piled up hairdo and the Indian father; she of the many-page letters in green ink and that great circular artistic script; she of the long white raincoat and cool sunglasses; she of the unmistakeably gay boyfriend she was always hoping wasn’t entirely absolutely gay and one day might be startled into kissing her  – Anji went to France with a girlfriend. They worked as waitresses for a while until her friend stole a tablecloth and they were dismissed. She slept under lorries with lorry drivers. It was all in the letters, until they stopped.

But I have found that at least some of those fantasy Me’s do appear, eventually. But it’s like they get watered down and de-romanticised. So, at one point I imagined myself a mysterious Englishwoman living out her final days in a cliff-top village in Brittany or Normandy or somewhere. And here I am, not exactly in France and not exactly mysterious but certainly alone and in a village with a cliff-top.

I imagined myself a hippie traveller, someone who never put down roots, someone who passed through places and had brief conversation with exotic, world-weary strangers. And there I was yesterday, catching buses after years of car-driving, alighting from one train, searching for the next and being talked to (or mostly at) by a series of eccentrics of my own and other generations.

At a bus stop a group of us tried to understand the murder of so many children by a terrorist scarcely older than they were.

On the bus I learned about sunflower seeds.

In a train a young man with learning difficulties spent a long time explaining to me that the train I was on was indeed the right train, and how to tell, in future, if it wasn’t (‘It won’t be at this platform’).

At a station I discovered the Station Master’s name was Estelle and she was the sole member of staff so she had to sweep the platform in the intervals between trains. Also that the station had no loo and the nearest one was Burger King over the road.

In another train I watched a sober old man trying to calm and distract a very drunk young man so that he wouldn’t bellow the F-word aloud in a railway carriage.

I sipped on warm bottled water and ate granola bars in instalments.

I sat behind a boy with a brutally shaven neck and the top of his head crisply waved and dyed bright orange.

I saw many exotic tattoos exposed in hot sunlight and realised how difficult it was to get twins in a buggy off a bus (you have to climb down backwards).

I sat on what might have been an artwork or merely a dysfunctional bench to wait for my friends outside Marks and Spencer.

Hejira, finally.

The lake a lady’s mirror

It’s astonishingly hard to remember lyrics, I find. Separate from the music, that is. The very best songs are those in which the lyrics need the music and the music needs the lyrics – but either would stand alone.

I suppose it’s the poet in me, but I do tend to go for lyrics that tell a story. Right now, for example there’s I Wasn’t Expecting That by Jamie Lawson:

I like this acoustic version, though it sounds like he’s struggling with a sore throat.

In “olden times” we had The Last Time I Saw Richard by Joni Mitchell. Shadows of hippie café sadnesses. This is the last verse:

  • Richard got married to a figure skater
  • And he bought her a dishwasher and a Coffee percolator
  • And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
  • And all the house lights left up bright
  • I’m gonna blow this damn candle out
  • I don’t want Nobody comin’ over to my table
  • I got nothing to talk to anybody about
  • All good dreamers pass this way some day
  • Hidin’ behind bottles in dark cafes
  • Dark cafes
  • Only a dark cocoon before I get my gorgeous wings
  • And fly away
  • Only a phase, these dark cafe days…

And later, Dire Straits’ streetwise take on Romeo and Juliet

  • A lovestruck Romeo sings a street suss serenade
  • Laying everybody low with a love song that he made
  • Finds a convenient streetlight steps out of the shade
  • Says something like you and me babe how about it?
  • Juliet says hey it’s Romeo you nearly gimme me a heart attack
  • He’s underneath the window she’s singing hey la my boyfriend’s back
  • You shouldn’t come around here singing up at people like that
  • Anyway what you gonna do about it?
  • Juliet the dice were loaded from the start
  • And I bet and you exploded in my heart
  • And I forget I forget the movie song
  • When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong, Juliet?

I suppose my favourite lyrics of all in my favourite ‘genre’ would be those to Story of Isaac by Leonard Cohen:

  • The door it opened slowly,
  • My father he came in,
  • I was nine years old.
  • And he stood so tall above me,
  • His blue eyes they were shining
  • And his voice was very cold.
  • He said, “I’ve had a vision
  • And you know I’m strong and holy,
  • I must do what I’ve been told.”
  • So he started up the mountain,
  • I was running, he was walking,
  • And his axe was made of gold.
  • Well, the trees they got much smaller,
  • The lake a lady’s mirror,
  • We stopped to drink some wine.
  • Then he threw the bottle over.
  • Broke a minute later
  • And he put his hand on mine.
  • Thought I saw an eagle
  • But it might have been a vulture,
  • I never could decide.
  • Then my father built an altar,
  • He looked once behind his shoulder,
  • He knew I would not hide.
  • You who build these altars now
  • To sacrifice these children,
  • You must not do it anymore.
  • A scheme is not a vision
  • And you never have been tempted
  • By a demon or a god.
  • You who stand above them now,
  • Your hatchets blunt and bloody,
  • You were not there before,
  • When I lay upon a mountain
  • And my father’s hand was trembling
  • With the beauty of the word.
  •  
  • And if you call me brother now,
  • Forgive me if I inquire,
  • “just according to whose plan?”
  • When it all comes down to dust
  • I will kill you if I must,
  • I will help you if I can.
  • When it all comes down to dust
  • I will help you if I must,
  • I will kill you if I can.
  • And mercy on our uniform,
  • Man of peace or man of war,
  • The peacock spreads his fan.

Now, this is one of those rarest of songs – an actual poem. It doesn’t need the music at all, although the music complements it. Cohen takes you to that scene on the mountainside:

  •  Well, the trees they got much smaller,
  • The lake a lady’s mirror…
  •  Thought I saw an eagle
  • But it might have been a vulture,
  • I never could decide…

You climb that mountain with the father, and the child, half knowing, half not-knowing that his father intends to sacrifice him with that golden axe.

 

PS: Interesting to note how the words differ in this early live version from those that he settled on eventually. It’s a kind of privilege to watch a poet “in the process”.

The moon’s on a biscuit

This is apparently the only statement of note uttered by me during my infancy. As far as I recall I was walking down our street after dark with Mum – no idea why – and happened to look up at the moon. Observing it surrounded by a circular, brownish haze I exclaimed Oh look, the moon’s on a biscuit. It is not a clever statement. It is not even a poetic statement. I have since written poetry, some of it rather good if I say so myself, but that night I was being drearily literal. I had never seen the moon surrounded by brownish haze before and a biscuit was the only half-suitable circular object I could think of to liken it to.

I think what depresses me is that so much was made of it. Did I never say anything else, that anyone can remember? I believe my niece’s first words were something to do with the stock market having declined by three points. Or maybe that was somebody else’s niece… no, I think it was mine. Now that was spectacular, though I doubt if she actually understood the risings and fallings of the stock market. Who does?

I can also remember my mother confessing to mistakes she had made in parenting which had resulted in my ‘turning out the way I did’. Apparently as a young first-time Mum she had been very much under the influence of Dr Benjamin Spock’s book Parenting and Child Care which had advocated not picking a child up when it cried – ever, according to my mother. So when I was a baby she had stood outside my door crying because I was crying, not daring to open the door and pick me up for fear of incurring the Wrath of Dr Spock. This is a particularly stupid idea and I wouldn’t be surprised if its implementation did cause a great deal of damage, but that wasn’t what bothered me. It was her saying that I had ‘turned out the way I did’. Until that moment I had assumed I was more or less normal and that it was my parents who had ‘turned out the way they did’. After that I felt like a mug with a missing handle or a toy soldier with only one arm.

Anyway, moons. This post was going to be about full moons. It is early evening as I write this and I keep going to the back window to look out, since tonight is the night of the November full moon known as Moon Before Yule according to Old English almanacs. It is the last full moon before Christmas. The dates vary from year to year.

Full moon names have also varied over time and from one hemisphere to another, since seasonal changes take place during ‘opposite’ months in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The sequence for this particular calendar for 2015 has been running:

  • Moon After Yule (January 5th)
  • Wolf Moon (February 3rd)
  • Lenten Moon (March 5th)
  • Egg Moon (April 4th)
  • Milk Moon (May 4th)
  • Flower Moon (June 2nd)
  • Hay Moon (July 2nd)
  • Grain Moon (July 31st)
  • Fruit Moon (August 29th)
  • Harvest Moon (September 28th)
  • Hunter’s Moon (October 27th)
  • Moon Before Yule (November 25th)

and 2016 goes on:

  • Moon After Yule (December 25th)
  • Wolf Moon (January 24th)
  • Lenten Moon (February 22nd)

I found Wolf Moon in a Witches’ Date Book earlier this evening – which is what started me off on the moon-post thing. I bought the Date Book for a friend of mine, who is a witch. I try not to read people’s Christmas present books, but never succeed. As least this one is spiral-bound, so it won’t be all creased around the spine when she gets it. If she gets it. At the moment I’m too fascinated to wrap it up.

Naming full moons was a good way of recalling the passage of time and important events in a time before clocks and calendars. The Algonquin tribes of New England and westward to Lake Superior, had their own names. For example January was their Wolf Moon, February the Snow Moon, March the Worm Moon, April the Pink Moon, March the Flower Moon, June the Strawberry Moon, July the Buck Moon, August the Sturgeon Moon, September the Harvest Moon, October the Hunter’s Moon, November the Beaver Moon and December the Cold Moon.

Most seasons have three full moons but occasionally a season will have four full moons, and the ‘spare’ one is known as a Blue Moon.

And, apropos of nothing, the Matala Moon referred to in Joni Mitchell’s 1971 song ‘Carey’ refers to a place called Matala on the Isle of Crete, where hippies hung out in Neolithic caves for a while, in the 60s.

A few days later, Penelope and I were on a ferry to see what Matala was all about … Most of the hippies who had traveled there slept in small caves carved into the cliff on one side of the beach.

After we arrived, Penelope and I rented a cinder-block hut in a nearby poppy field and walked down to the beach. As we stood staring out, an explosion went off behind us. I turned around just in time to see this guy with a red beard blowing through the door of a cafe. He was wearing a white turban, white Nehru shirt and white cotton pants. I said to Penelope, ‘What an entrance—I have to meet this guy.’ … He was American and a cook at one of the cafes. Apparently, when he had lit the stove, it blew him out the door. That’s how Cary [Raditz] entered my life—ka-boom.

Guilty Pleasures

So, what was I going to write about television? Can’t remember… Oh yes. It always comes back in the end. I was going to confess as to my strange and exotic tastes televisual tastes.

It’s just that… I hesitate to say it… even though I’m not a seventeen year old boy and don’t spend the whole day in the back bedroom of my parents’ house playing computer games… even though I’m female and… not-in-the-first-flush-of-youth, shall we say… yes, I will say it… I like watching sci-fi serials. Whew!  My friends don’t understand. We’re on the same wavelength about almost everything else, so can’t complain, but somehow Star Trek… they’re not even sure which one Star Trek is. How could a person live without Leonard Nimoy? My hero! Those gorgeous green ears! Those eyebrows!

Most of the ladies I know like soaps whereas I can’t abide them. I really can’t stand all that shouting and stupidity. How many times can someone get murdered and buried under the patio, then dug up and everyone’s surprised to find them? How many times can people be secretly having other people’s babies, caught shoplifting, thrown into jail and hammily sobbing over their plight, only to be released in a few months’ time? Why, I believe Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time, even lent his Prime Ministerial support to a national campaign to ‘free the Weatherfield One’ i.e the interminably bleating Deirdre Barlow who had been incarcerated on a trumped-up charge. (Not wishing to speak ill of the actress herself, Anne Kirkbride, who died in January of this year.)

I will watch any sci-fi/fantasy serial/film I can find. Unfortunately I can’t afford to subscribe any of those new-fangled ‘packages’ from people like Sky. All I have is Freeview, but even that has quite a few channels on it. Being Freeview-limited does mean you have to rummage around the channels searching, searching, searching… till up pops yet another set of random repeats of Star Trek, Andromeda, Stargate Atlantis, Farscape, Heroes or The X-Files. They are often shown out of sequence – so you get part II before part I of a two-parter, or you never do get part II, or you suddenly find characters who were drained of their vital energy, zapped, phasered or incorporated into some mechanical hive-mind with tubes coming out of their ears, by Wraith, Daleks, Klingons, Borg or whatever two episodes back re-entering the plot, large as life, tube-free, and with no explanation or you find new characters suddenly there and you find yourself yelling ‘Who are you, for God’s sake?’ Although on second thoughts, maybe that’s part of the fun.

Also part of the fun are the logic holes and plot malfunctions. These do tend to leap out at people who write but somehow… it doesn’t matter. And the make-up. They can sometimes go too far with this, particularly the green stuff. There’s this race of seductive green women: they always wreak havoc among the menfolk. Apparently they give off some kind of pheromone that only Vulcans can resist. Vulcans can resist most things. Those women are just too green, and too thickly-green. I mean, they look sweaty. Pheromones or no, who in their right mind would want to entwine with one of those?

Then there are the films. Another item I can’t afford nowadays. The nearest cinema is, like, hundreds of miles away? (The interjected ‘like’ plus upward inflection is so catching, like, isn’t it?) However, stuff pops up on TV. The only trouble is, because of having no Radio Times and my own habit of random sitting down, tuning in and tuning out depending on whether I’m in the middle of writing something, I tend to miss the beginnings of films. But no matter, I watch the ending, then wait for the beginning, the middle, or whichever bit I didn’t catch. I must be the only person on earth who loved Waterworld. I watched Avatar in three non-sequential instalments (wonderful film, all those lovely blue creatures with tails… and the flying) and that one with Jenny Agutter, much younger and in an inadequate sea-green tabard and… whatisname, the blonde, Germanic-looking chap with a single expression throughout… Logan’s Run… I collected that in four or five instalments. The record must go to The Fifth Element, though. I can’t remember how many times I’ve watched random bits of that and I still keep discovering new bits. I just love Bruce Willis in that orange vest. Bruce Willis seems to have been created especially for the vest. And those costumes! Jean Paul Gautier.

And then there are other guilty pleasures. Did I ever tell my friends that I watch every single episode of Ice Road Truckers I can get my hands on? Possibly not, but I have now. Did I confess to The Big Bang Theory (I am Sheldon Cooper’s biggest fan) or that animation The Snowman (every Christmas) and its twin animation The Bear (every other Christmas)? Did I ever confess to watching every single romantic, cheesy American Christmas movie ever made, sometimes several times over? If one of those appears of an afternoon, no writing is likely to be done.

And while we’re about it, Love Actually. I have got to the stage with Love Actually where I know most of the lines by heart. I am actually genuinely bored with Love Actually but somehow I can’t not watch it. And I still stifle sobs in the bedroom with Emma Thompson, when she discovers that her beloved Alan Rickman has bought her a Joni Mitchell CD for Christmas but an expensive necklace for the tarty PA. That must be one of the best bits of acting ever. And yes, I still laugh at a shot-away Bill Nighy’s multiple attempts to record a Christmas cover-version of Love Is All Around Us. Don’t you?