Category Archives: Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Sunday Poem 112

Two Wars – by Edmund Blunden (1896-1974)

Professing loud energy, out of the junction departed
The branch-line engine.  The small train rounded the bend
Watched by us pilgrims of summer, and most by me, –
Who had known this picture since first my travelling started,
And knew it as sadly pleasant, the usual end
Of singing returns to beloved simplicity.

The small train went from view behind the plantation,
Monotonous, – but there’s a grace in  monotony!
I felt its journey, I watched in imagination
Its brown smoke spun with sunshine wandering free
Past the great weir with its round flood-mirror beneath,
And where the magpie rises from orchard shadows,
And among the oasts, and like a rosy wreath
Mimicking children’s flower-play in the meadows.

The thing so easy, so daily, of so small stature
Gave me another picture: of war’s warped face
Where still the sun and the leaf and the lark praised Nature,
But no little engine bustled from place to place;
When summer succeeded summer, yet only ghosts
Or tomorrow’s ghosts could venture hand or foot
In the track between the terrible telegraph-posts, –
the end of all things lying between the hut
Which lurked this side, and the shattered local train
That.
So easy it was; and should that come again -.

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Rev-ved up on BBC2

Aahhh – the beautiful Tom Hollander.

Last night, the much anticipated second series of ‘Rev’ was shown on BBC2.  Hollander plays a young vicar, Adam Smallbone, who has relocated from a rural parish to Hackney in the East End of London.  Rev. Smallbone is an ordinary person, an ordinary man.  Not a comedy vicar like Dawn French, Ardal O’Hanlon or Derek Nimmo, but a kind and humorous man who is riddled with self doubt, who makes mistakes, and who truly cares about his parishioners and believes he can make a difference, however ill-judged some of his endeavours turn out to be.

I won’t tell you the plot of the first episode because I really, really want you to watch it on iPlayer/Catch Up etc and then continue to watch the rest of the series avidly. I will tell you though, that there is a striking cameo by Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London, and Hugh Bonneville appears as a white suited, ambitious and worldy colleague.

His wife Alex (Olivia Colman) has her own career as a solicitor and she really struggles with the 24-hour nature of his vocation.  She loves him so much but desperately wants to spend time with him alone and is keen to start a family but, as she points out to him, ”You don’t shag me enough.”

Some of Smallbone’s finest moments are when he is sitting on the bench outside the church, fag in hand, discussing his problems with the local drunk, who frequently offers a weird kind of sanity.  He is out of his depth, burdened with a shrinking congregation, a crumbling building and a dysfunctional but devoted support team.  And yet, as in all his roles, there is a beauty and stillness to the character which takes your breath away.

I have never seen Hollander in a duff role.  Everything he does has depth and conviction whether he’s George V in ‘The Lost Prince’, the cold and calculating Beckett in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or the flamboyant Darren in ‘Bedrooms and Hallways’.

And he’s really, really gorgeous. Which is nice.

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Shire Book of the Month: The Women’s Institute by Susan Cohen

The Women’s Institute is a radical organisation and always has been.  That took me by surprise as well.  Susan Cohen’s book ‘The Women’s Institute’ is a real eye-opener and is full of unexpected facts that should serve to blow away any lingering prejudice that the WI is all about Jam and Jerusalem.

The first WI was set up in 1915 in Llanfair in Wales and was inspired by the Canadian WI which was already well established.  The original mission was to harness the skills of country women and to encourage them to play a more active role in village life and to give them opportunities to share activities in a social context with other women. The Great War was already on and there was a great deal that needed doing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the initial movers and shakers in the WI were suffragettes for whom the Institute was an excellent tool in furthering the cause of women.  Country women were often very isolated and there was little opportunity for socialising or personal development and the WI offered the chance to broaden their horizons from politics to practical skills, from art classes to charabanc tours.

The WI catered for women from all walks of life and everyone was equal; the scullery maid would sit at the same table as the lady of the manor and everyone had a voice.

A fine example of WI needlecraftf the manor and everyone had a voice. This situation would have been unheard of in any other context and is another example of the radicalism of the WI. Initially though, women had to be nominated and seconded by someone already in the group which could be quite nerve-wracking.

I asked my friend Mrs Grable why she had initially joined the WI.  She told me that, as a young mother, she was quite lonely at home all day on her own and the WI offered an opportunity to get out of the house and socialise with like-minded women and learn some new skills.  It was also a great way to meet her neighbours and they encouraged each other to go.  She has now been in the movement for forty years and it still has the same appeal, although the activities have expanded considerably since the 1960s.

During the WW2 the WIs were significantly involved in all aspects of war work including organising evacuees, food production and canning projects as well as fundraising and knitting socks for seamen.

The modern WI has also had a major impact in changing the law and leading campaigns including libraries, food labelling, domestic violence, mental health and global poverty and Cohen tells a wonderfully illustrated and evocative story of the importance and relevance of the Women’s Institute and its activities from its inception to the present day.  Perhaps it could broaden your horizons?

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Sunday Poem 111

I’m in the mood for something funny today.  I bought a book of Pam Ayres’ poems when I was a child which was called ‘Some More of Me Poetry’ and it used to have me laughing out loud.  Whenever I’m confronted with a vending machine, I always find myself reciting this poem.

Vending Machine – by Pam Ayres (b.1947)

I am a cunnin’ vending machine,
Lurkin’ in the hall.
So you can’t kick me delicate parts,
I’m bolted to the wall.
Come on! Drop in your money,
Don’t let’s hang about,
I’ll do my level best to see
You don’t get nothing out.

I sees you all approachin’
The fagless and the dry,
All fumblin’ in your pockets,
And expectant in the eye.
I might be in your place of work,
or on the High Street wall.
Trust in me! In theory,
I cater for you all.

Within these windows I provide
For every human state,
Hunger, night starvation,
And remembering birthdays late.
Just read the information,
Pop the money in – that’s grand,
And I’ll see absolutely nothing
Ever drops down in your hand.

I might be at your swimming bath,
And you’d come, cold and wet,
With a shilling in your hand,
Some hot soup for to get,
And as you stand in wet
Anticipation of a sup,
I will dispense the soup,
But I will not dispense the cup.

And then it’s all-out war,
Because you lost your half-a-nicker,
Mighty kicks and blows with bricks
Will make me neon flicker.
But if you bash me up,
So I’m removed, me pipes run dry,
There’s no way you can win,
I’ll send me brother by and by.

Once there was friendly ladies,
Years and years before,
Who stood with giant teapots,
Saying “What can I do you for?”
They’d hand you all the proper change
And pour your cup of tea,
But they’re not economic so…
Hard Luck! You’re stuck with me.

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The Two Minute Review – 14: Tin Tin

Film:                Tin Tin : The Secret of the Unicorn

Starring:         Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis,
Daniel Craig, Nick Frost,
Simon Pegg

Director:          Steven Spielberg

This film had me totally hooked before the end of the title sequence, which is one of the best I’ve seen in years.  The motion capture technology leaves you gasping, the music is so good you’ll want it on DVD and my sister and I sat there oo-ing and aah-ing all the way through.  This is a tale of high adventure; a worrying accurate portrayal of a drunken sea  captain, the charmingly inept Thompson Twins and some fabulous little plot ‘extras’ which serve only to delight.  The story is full of thrills and twists and yet remains as light as a feather and you will come out feeling thoroughly entertained.  The opening scenes show Tin Tin at a street market with Snowy, and the lusciousness of the detail and a lovely moment with a street artist are so satisfying you could cry.  I wanted to go straight back in to see it again.

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Sunday Poem 110

A great one to read aloud…

The Nine Little Goblinsby James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916)

They all climbed up on a high board fence –
Nine little Goblins, with green-glass eyes –
Nine little Goblins that had no sense,
And couldn’t tell coppers from cold mince pies;
And they all climbed up on the fence, and sat –
And I asked them what they were staring at.

And the first one said, as he scratched his head
With a queer little arm that reached out of his ear
And rasped its claws in his hair so red –
“This is what this little arm is fer!”
And he scratched and stared, and the next one said,
“How on earth do you scratch your head?”

And he laughed like the screech of a rusty hinge –
Laughed and laughed till his face grew black;
And when he choked, with a final twinge
Of his stifling laughter, he thumped his back
With a fist that grew on the end of his tail
Till the breath came back to his lips so pale.

And the third little Goblin leered round at me –
And there were no lids on his eyes at all –
And he clucked one eye, and he says, says he,
“What is the style of your socks this fall?”
And he clapped his heels – and I sighed to see
That he had hands where his feet should be.

Then a bald-faced Goblin, gray and grim,
Bowed his head, and I saw him slip
His eyebrows off, as I looked at him,
And paste them over his upper lip;
And then he moaned in remorseful pain –
“Would – Ah, would I’d me brows again!”

And then the whole of the Goblin band
Rocked on the fence-top to and fro,
And clung, in a long row, hand in hand,
Singing the songs that they used to know –
Singing the songs that their grandsires sung
In the goo-goo days of the Goblin-tongue.

And ever they kept their green-glass eyes
Fixed on me with a stony stare –
Till my own grew glazed with a dread surmise,
And my hat whooped up on my lifted hair,
And I felt the heart in my breast snap to
As you’ve heard the lid of a snuff-box do.

And they sang “You’re asleep! There is no board-fence,
And never a Goblin with green-glass eyes!
‘Tis only a vision the mind invents
After a supper of cold mince pies,
And you’re doomed to dream this way,” they said,
“And you sha’n’t wake up till you’re clean plum dead.”

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The Two Minute Review – 13: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Actually, this took three minutes - what a betrayal.

When I saw the trailer for this in the cinema, I got very excited.  It looked full of thrills, star-studded cast, spies, 60s Britain – can’t go wrong with this.  However, I spent most of the film staring, bewildered, at the screen, trying to work out what the bloody hell was going on.  The time frame skipped backwards and forwards like Red Riding Hood on acid, there was a significant party, someone got shot, John Hurt sellotaped photographs to chess pieces.  At one point Smiley inexplicably went to the optician  and apparently this was a critical pointer to where we were in time – one pair of glasses = this time, another indistinguishably similar pair  indicated another time.  I was half expecting a montage of Smiley’s personal care regime – Smiley goes to the chiropodist, Smiley goes to the barber.  My friend, Mrs Cecil, told me that it was a story about personal love and betrayal.  Oh.

The cars were good.

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