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
So easy it was; and should that come again -.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

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.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, The Gallery

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?


Filed under History, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Shire Books, Slider

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.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

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.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, Slider

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.”


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

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.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

Sunday Poem 109

Days – by Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

The Two Minute Review – 12: Johnny English Reborn

Film:            Johnny English Reborn

Starring:     Rowan Atkinson, Dominic West,
Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson,
Tim McInnery, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:     Oliver Parker

I was prepared for this to be a poor copy of the first, but actually I’m not sure that it wasn’t even funnier.  English has been out of commission (leading a spiritual life in Tibet) for five years following a massive cock-up in Mozambique but he gets called in to investigate a plot to kill the Chinese Premier. He has a new sidekick, Agent Tucker, who is very young and slightly in awe of him, but nonetheless has his eye on the ball and there are some great jokes about his youth.  The stunts are terrific and Boy the Younger and I both laughed our heads off all the way through.  English may be an idiot in many ways but he is possessed of the qualities which we most admire;  loyalty, patriotism, determination and kindness.  We loved it.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

The Big Bang Theory

L-R: Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh and Leonard

For ages I got really annoyed because in the vast wilderness of the TV schedules I kept thinking there was an interesting science programme on, only to find that it was some American comedy. Oh how I wished I’d taken the time to watch it.

The Big Bang Theory is now on every evening, two back-to-back episodes at 6pm on E4, and it doesn’t matter what mood I’m, it has me laughing out loud.

The basic premise is that there are two hyper-intelligent physicists, Leonard and Sheldon who share a flat in Pasadena.  They have two friends, Howard and Rajesh who are also brilliant physicists and they all work at the California Institute of Technology.  There is also a lovely, kooky girl called Penny who lives across the hallway and works in a Cheesecake cafe but who aspires to be an actress.

Sheldon is a theoretical physicist who gained his PhD at 16 and who is clearly somewhere quite high up on the Asperger’s spectrum;  he is obsessed with routine, finds interpersonal relationships bewildering, cannot distinguish irony or subtle humour and is generally at sea in any social situation.  Yet his jaw-dropping dialogue is so precise and camp and his unbearably accurate way of talking is so funny it’s painful and one is constantly left gasping at the things he comes out with.

The other three characters are all equally geeky and socially inept but all have their part to play and all are utterly likeable.  Leonard tries so hard to establish relationships, often briefly successfully – at least he has sex from time to time or ‘coitus’ as they all insist on calling it –  and he and Penny treat Sheldon like an indulged child.  He is a relentlessly kind person who struggles to do normal things, whilst his head is full of mind-boggling calculations and mathematical formulae.

Howard is an aerospace engineer and he is the only one of the four of them who actually makes physical stuff.  He is a Jewish boy who lives with his raucous, vulgar mother and there is always an underlying mystery about what happened to his father.  He fancies himself as a bit of a ladies’ man and his attempts to pull and the appalling chat-up lines which he rolls out are, surprisingly, sometimes successful.

Rajesh, a particle astrophysicist, comes from a wealthy New Delhi family.  He freezes in the presence of women and his social anxiety is only suppressed by alcohol or when he thinks he has had alcohol.  His comic timing is impeccable.

These four male characters are everything you would expect from the unnaturally brilliant: geeky, sci-fi and comic book obsessed, socially ill at ease, generally useless with women, whilst Penny provides an anchor point of normality onto which many of the stories are hitched.  But somehow the writers have created characters that you genuinely like and root for.  It ought to be awful but it just isn’t, there’s something about the ‘spirit’ of the thing that has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what on earth they’re going to do next.

I can feel a DVD boxed set coming on.  I have even hovered my mouse over a Bazinga! t-shirt on the Big Bang Theory website.  For my son, of course, hem hem.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

Sunday Poem 108

This poem caught my attention for two reasons.  Firstly, I love trains and, in our open Northamptonshire and Leicestershire landscape, we often see brightly coloured trains snaking across the landscape like giant caterpillars and we all try to be the first one to shout out ‘Caterpillar!’ when we see one.  I am also absolutely appalling in the morning and the farmer groaning as he “feels the day like a familiar ache deep in his body” rings great, clanging bells with me, except that I add hideous swearing to the groans.

This poem can also be found in the gorgeous little volume of ‘Railway Rhymes’ edited by Peter Ashley.

The Wayside Station – by Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

Here at the wayside station, as many a morning,
I watch the smoke torn from the fumy engine
Crawling across the field in serpent sorrow.
Flat in the east, held down by stolid clouds,
The struggling day is born and shines already
On its warm hearth far off.  Yet something here
Glimmers along the ground to show the seagulls
White on the furrows’ black unturning waves.

But now the light has broadened.
I watch the farmsteads on the little hill,
That seems to mutter: ‘here is day again’
Unwillingly.  Now the sad cattle wake
In every byre and stall,
The ploughboy stirs in the loft, the farmer groans
And feels the day like a familiar ache
Deep in his body, though the house is dark.
The lovers part
Now in the bedroom where the pillows gleam
Great and mysterious as deep hills of snow,
An inaccessible land.  The wood stands waiting
While the bright snare slips coil by coil around it,
Dark silver on every branch.  The lonely stream
That rode through darkness leaps the gap of light,
Its voice grown loud, and starts its winding journey
Through the day and time and war and history.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Sunday Poem 107

Better late than never….

Evening Schoolboys – by John Clare (1793-1864)

Harken that happy shout – the schoolhouse door
Is open thrown and out the younkers teem.
Some run to leapfrog on the rushy moor
And others dabble in the shallow stream,
Catching young fish and turning pebbles o’er
For muscle clams – Look in that sunny gleam
Where the retiring sun that rests the while
Streams through the broken hedge – How happy seem
Those schoolboy friendships leaning o’er the stile,
Both reading in one book – anon a dream
Rich with new joys doth their young hearts beguile
And the books pocketed right hastily.
Ah happy boys, well may ye return and smile
When joys are yours that never cost a sigh.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

Picture this

Today, I have been continuing the process of putting up pictures.  I’m so pleased to be doing this as pictures really should be on walls not in boxes; just like books, they rattle and clamour from their cardboard prisons, uttering urgent susurrations of narcissistic longing – ‘Read ME, look at ME, turn MY pages, gaze upon MY beauty’.

Thus, my Boer War advertising poster of Franklyn’s Rough Shagg has been lifted from its box and displayed in the hall, along with four types of British Pigs and a mirror.  Margaret Tarrant is now rubbing companiable shoulders with Irene Cloke, a Peter Ashley railway collage sits next to the watchful eye of the WI’s ‘For Home and Country’, and railway posters snuggle up to a diagram of a Cornish Beam Engine.

I have few pictures of any value and I have been known to photograph paintings in high res and then print them out and frame them because I like them so much.  I have lots of small prints which are a pain because there has to be some symmetry to their hanging and my walls vary in hardness in the space of a few inches; one picture has to have those concrete plastic fixings, the next one, a mere six inches away, can be hung with a panel pin.

It takes such a long time to put up pictures in a new house.  Everything has to be measured and placed and laid out on the floor first to make sure that they work together.  Do you bang nails in or drill holes for screws or do you use the picture rail and have yards of cord stretched across your walls?  Where does the light come from?  Is the person whose painting you photographed ever likely to come to your house?  If so, can the picture be quickly removed without leaving a conspicuous gap?

Tomorrow, I will finish the somewhat haphazard collection of stuff for the sitting room and then I am going to hang the family pictures.  Not the excessive gradual growth photos of my children or the smiling portraits of my family, but the pictures which have actually been done by my family and I can’t decide whether to put these on the landing or up the stairwell.

My great-grandfather was a well known cartoonist for Punch Magazine from the end of the 19th century until the mid 1930s and we have been trying to pick up any bits and pieces which come on to the market.  My reprobate father very kindly lost most of the collection in South Africa (now therein lies a tale…).

My second cousin was a botanical artist and portrait painter in Tasmania and I was fortunate to be given one of her watercolours by her nieces, Longlost 1 and 2.  These pictures should be displayed where we can look at them, but they must not be subjected to direct sunlight, so I think the landing is probably the most conducive.

The house is now starting to look pleasantly cluttered and homely and once I’ve got some loftboards nailed down and the remaining boxes and the Christmas Decorations tucked safely away in the roof, the public rooms will be pleasant indeed.

I will keep the children in The Bunker and I will leave it to your imagination as to whether I mean the photographs or the real things.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art

The Two Minute Review – 11: Jane Eyre

Cinema Film:   Jane Eyre

Starring:           Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender,
Jamie Bell, Judi Dench

Director:          Cary Fukanaga

The casting of this film is perfect – at last a Jane who is genuinely plain.  Fassbender as Rochester is so brooding and sexy it makes you weep and it was lovely to see Jamie Bell giving an earnest and convincing performance as StJohn Rivers.  The music was perfectly balanced and the landscape and settings were characterized as strongly as the humans. The cinematography was mind-blowing.

As a lifelong fan of ‘Jane Eyre’ there were scenes that I felt should have been left in and some of the peripheral characters beefed up a bit to give Jane another dimension.  However, this is churlish of me given this astonishing and powerfully restrained performance.  I may go again on Saturday.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews

My favourite female comedians

Last year I did a round up of my favourite male comedians in the form of a Mock the Week dream team.  Sister the Second pointed out that I had not yet fulfilled my promise of a List for the Ladies.  So here it is, in alphabetical order.

Jo Brand

Miranda Hart

Shappi Khorsandi

Sarah Millican

Sue Perkins

Sandi Toksvig

Victoria Wood



It pains me to leave out Gina Yashere and Andy Osho but I had to pick seven and those are they.


Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art