Alexander Averin

Friday 30 May 2008

In Praise of Buttercups (and Bluebells)

After the Rain

Dear Diary,

June My whole life Will never get past “June”
June, when my heart died When my poetry died
When my lover
Died in romance’s pool of blood June,
the scorching sun burns open my skin

Revealing the true nature of my wound
the fish swims out of the blood-red sea

Toward another place to hibernate June,
the earth shifts, the rivers fall silent
Piled up letters unable to be delivered to the dead

Translated to English from Chinese by Chip Rolley. Shi Tao. a journalist and the author of this poem was imprisoned by the Chinese Government after forwarding to an overseas website a document from Chinese government censors warning their media not to report on the 15th anniversary of the June 4 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Shi Tao was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment and 2 years’ deprivation of political rights. Although he remains in prison his poem is free and is following the Olympic torch around the world. International PEN, the worldwide writers’ organisation, are campaigning for the release of around 40 writers currently imprisoned in China. Shi Tao is one of them. Please share this poem.

It doesn’t seem like summer but here are a few photos taken in my garden that may convince you that it really is May, well nearly the end of May to be exact. Do you like the buttercups photos? I want to speak up in praise of buttercups but first I will own up to digging up ever so many before I became poorly with this virus. The ones that escaped my fork have flowered in abundance and I have to admit that they are beautiful and their yellow so cheering. So in their honour I have entitled this blog In praise of buttercups. They did have to be thinned out though because, as you know, they would take over if left to their own devices. But is anyone like me, a softie where plants are concerned? Anyone else feel a pang of guilt when they pull weeds?

By the front porch

I also love the bluebells at the moment they are in flower. This is a pic of a wood near here.

Buttercups among the Granny's Bonnets, Columbines, Aquilegiae, call them what you will.

And more

June is beckoning with heady promises of delight to come. Warm evenings, family meals in the garden, late night forays and magical moonlight vigils by the river. Is She all talk I wonder? You can never trust Her even if she comes carrying bouquets of roses, (she knows I am a sucker for those).

I will let you into a secret now, just between you and me. I am not enamoured with Her as She usually brings armloads of grass pollen that render me breathless. To be honest, and I am going to be contrary now, such is my habit, Hers is the month that I am most likely to be found hiding away indoors, trying to escape the allergen-infested air that surrounds Her and the cottage as the farmers, (God bless them all), grow and harvest their seemingly ever-so-large fields of hay. (That sentence was far too long). In June I am most likely to be found looking dreadful, feeling depressed and to anyone who encounters me I am dangerously irritable. So I welcome any May rains. I see Her raindrops dampening down the rising pollen grains and making for me and for some of the female members of my family, a ‘kinder’ hay fever season. There has to be some advantage to this poor weather we are having doesn’t there?

Everything is growing like mad. That is the way of May I suppose. All the plants seem to be drinking in every fluid ounce of the rain which has been falling in abundance this week and I have never seen the area looking so green; it reminds me of Ireland. Torrents of the wet stuff are meant to be coming our way later today and possible thunderstorms.

Talking of which: last week S, my son, narrowly
escaped being struck by lightning as he stood polishing his boots by the open window of his first floor flat. He lives in a local market town and the lightning struck literally right in front of him, its accompanying thunder deafening him for a while. Everyone’s Sky boxes were blown but that was nothing, it was lucky no-one was hurt.
(Thanks to the guardian angel who was protecting him that evening).

A, my dear son-in-law, has ploughed our field this week so that will be a blessing - no pollen blowing my way from outside the cottage. M is to go round with his metal detector which is very exciting. There is the remains of a Roman Road diagonally crossing our field and I think that will be the area M will concentrate on. A medieval loom weight was discovered there a few weeks ago (see earlier blog) so I am very hopeful that more treasures might be unearthed.


The ploughed field that heralds the reduction in pollen this year and a chance to dig for artefacts.

M’s wonderful photographs.

Guardian angels and the spirits who watch over us.

The written word.
I was meditating on words in bed this morning, as you do. How, when you boil it down, they are just squiggles, lines in a particular shape that convert to everyone’s particular language. How they can mean so much, everything really to writers and readers, lovers of their very being.

Some words have been uplifting for me this week as I have been running on empty. Some were blogged, some in emails, some in good books of course.

I’ll finish with a good book then, the late Nuala O’Faolain’s memoir Are You Somebody? I am enjoying every one of the squiggles in this one.

Bye for now,
Go mbeannai Did duit,

Saturday 24 May 2008

Nightmare Hospital Stories (Part One)

Here's my bit for Chelsea, Wild Buttercups by my front door.

Dear Diary,

As it’s been Chelsea Flower show week I will start with a topical quotation.

The Victorian poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson once said, ‘Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant‘. Horticulturalists will be reeling at that line, can you spot the mistake?

You sow seeds and you plant plants.

Perhaps it was different in Victorian times.

This is hopefully just a shortish blog that I meant to post ages ago. Life got in my way again and a nasty virus, well two actually: one attacked my dear computer and another one landed on me at roughly the same time. New Age folk say that when our car, or anything we own, electrical for example, has something wrong with it, whatever the ‘ailment’ it corresponds to something in ourselves. Well my computer had to go away but s/he has been fixed, I won’t go into details but what s/he had was very nasty and involved flies crawling and chewing into my screensaver. Ugh, it makes me feel ill again just thinking about it. So how does that relate to me having a nasty fluey virus at the same time? I always reckon viruses take a week to show themselves after you catch them, totally irrational I know. I read somewhere that it does apply to some of them but obviously not all. I worked back to a week before I fell ill and it was the day M and I went to a local hospital as he had an appointment for a scan. I say local but that is a lie, we don’t have a County Hospital in this part of Wales and we had to travel 60 miles to Hereford, abroad in fact!

The day started well. Dear Johnny Walker had lifted my spirits as he ‘sat in’ for Terry Wogan. The music was great, all was well with the world. M is not ill and it is just a routine check on his brain. (I have secret doubts that they will find one but I keep them to myself). I had taken a day’s leave from work so wanted to make the most of our ‘outing’. We set off for a pleasant drive through golden sunshine following along the valley of the Wye as it meanders from Wales into England. It’s a perfect May morning. Once into Radnorshire’s far reaches it starts to feel more like England; so different, it’s lusher, greener, the season always being so much more advanced than it is back at home. As we pass beside the views of the Black Mountains and Hay Bluff the mountains prepare to recede and be replaced by much softer, gentler hills. As the climate becomes more temperate the feeling of Welshness dissipates and as we cross the border from Powys into England I truly feel as if I am in another country.

But the idyllic journey continues. Miraculously there are no lorries, joy of joys no racing motorbikes and even very few cars. We speed along (not literally) listening to Radio 4. Woman’s Hour comes on and every item this morning seems specially for me. Gillian Clarke, the Welsh poet whose work I adore, is being interviewed. Even her spoken words have as much appeal and there is a soothing lilt to her tone of voice.

Here is one of her poems. I have posted another of her poems that I love, one called Marged when I blogged a while back about Where I Live.

This one was written on a train in October 1999, travelling home to Wales the day after the Paddington crash.

On The Train

Cradled through England between flooded fields
rocking, rocking the rails, my head-phones on,
the black box of my Walkman on the table.
Hot tea trembles in its plastic cup.
I'm thinking of you waking in our bed
thinking of me on the train. Too soon to phone.

The radio speaks in the suburbs, in commuter towns,
in cars unloading children at school gates,
is silenced in dark parkways down the line
before locks click and footprints track the frost
and trains slide out of stations in the dawn
dreaming their way towards the blazing bone-ship.

The vodaphone you are calling
may have been switched off.
Please call later. And calling later,
calling later their phones ring in the rubble
and in the rubble of suburban kitchens
the wolves howl into silent telephones.

I phone. No answer. Where are you now?
The train moves homeward through the morning
Tonight I'll be home safe, but talk to me, please.
Pick up the phone. Today I'm tolerant
of mobiles. Let them say it. I'll say it too.
Darling, I'm on the train.

Gillian Clarke

Then the Irish writer Nuala O’Faolain is featured and I receive a shock as I hear that she had passed away just a few days before. (God rest her soul). She was one of my favourite authors and I only recently bought Are you Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman. I love all her books.

Listening to a recording she made for Woman’s Hour a while ago she sounded full of life and very funny.

This is a great novel, I can recommend it.

We eventually arrive at the hospital and are lucky to find a space to park as it is not always that easy. We shall have to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege however to avoid being clamped.

Both desperate for the loo we make our way to the main building. The toilets are all closed. There is a barrier across the doorway so we suspect that they are being cleaned, though there is no sign to say so. The nearest ones are upstairs or in A & E which is quite a walk away. I decide to go to A & E to save going up any floors and we set off to another building. After a walk around A&E not seeming to see any toilet facilities we ask a passing nurse who points us in the right direction. She opens the door for us and motions us in, then she stops and looks a bit embarrassed. By this time I am really desperate and wonder why she is hesitating. She tells me that there are toilets in the Main Building and I explain that they are closed and that is why we have come here. I’ll use this one I say and M says well if you do you will have to mind yourself. I realise what he means then when I look down on the floor. There was what I can politely call excreta all over the floor and I am not exaggerating. I’ve never seen anything like it, not in all my nursing days nor in any public loo. I actually trained in this hospital before it was rebuilt and saw nothing like this. Luckily I am not squeamish and we hastily went off in search of another place to relieve ourselves. The nurse did not apologise (though to be fair it is not her fault) and I wondered if she would report it or not. However it worried me that an elderly person or someone with poor eyesight or even a child could easily have wandered into this toilet and trod in the stuff. I wished I had brought my camera with me and even considered buying a disposable one to take photos of some of the sights we had come across.

We ended up in the Eye Unit which is housed on the site of the old Lunatic Asylum (the vibes are terrible). At last we found a toilet each and that was a relief (excuse the pun). But M said the Men’s toilet was filthy and the bins were overflowing. The Ladies one was not clean either and there was an unsavoury smell if you know what I mean. In fact the whole hospital did not smell clean, not like it used to in the old days.

We made our way to X Ray and Scanning. As we sat in the over-large waiting room amongst the big pots of plants, Impressionist prints and soft furnishings, I saw across the room a big notice board plastered with (new) hospital promotional posters under a heading:

Improving the Patient Experience.

How I hate management-speak.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so damned serious and symptomatic of what is wrong with this country. What is called progress.

It symbolises everything these days. All clean and orderly on the surface. Statistically secure but s*** just below the surface, down where front line staff have to do daily battle to save lives, deal with the s*** and keep our public services going whatever they are.

Here endeth Part One.
You don't think this will be the only Nightmare Horror Story do you?

Bye for now,
Go mbeanna Dia duit,

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Very Special People

Johnny and dog Darcy

I'm going to start a Very Special People feature. Nominations anyone?

Today, the first is to be dear Johnny Walker who is 'sitting in' as they say for dear Tel Wogan on Radio 2 from 7 am to 9.30 am. At 8 am when I have had enough of Today on Radio 4 and my blood pressure has hit the roof I always switch to Radio 2 for some good music. Nothing against dear Terry but when Johnny sits in we have a simper-free zone, (no names mentioned), a lack of inane chatter and the ever-so-slightly sordid Janet and John chat but best of all we have Good Music, nay the Best Music.

Johnny's voice is melted chocolate washed down with wine and he shares my taste in music (or do I share his, we are fellow Arians?). I am a self-confessed night owl but Johnny makes my mornings more than bearable, highly enjoyable in fact.

God Bless you Johnny.

Saturday 10 May 2008

Suddenly it's Summer

Shirley Hughes - Self Portrait

Dear Diary,

One summer night, out on a flat headland, all but surrounded by the waters of the bay, the horizons were remote and distant rims on the edge of space."
Rachel Carson

I did talk about writing a blog or two about children’s book illustrators but that will come at a later date. I will make do today with posting a few pics by Shirley Hughes and Kim Lewis.

It’s been a long time since my last confession, it’s coming two weeks actually. I blame life and its habit of getting in the way of blogging. All blocks to writing were Reasons to be Cheerful though. Family commitments, visitors, household duties, busy days at work. All these things give me a need for more sleep which means more early nights and less time spent in front of the computer screen. I have also got the genealogy bug again and have been climbing up my family tree; this time I have been on my paternal female line which leads to Northumberland, well Weardale actually and the 1600’s. How exciting that is.

My garden is calling to me too along with the sunshine of course. For I am a fair weather gardener to be sure. All I can dream of is plants and planting, colour and scent and magical evenings to come in my riverside garden watching the night fall. Early mornings spent pottering outside in the flower beds and wandering in the field. How I love to potter. I should add it to my list of Interests, along with Cloudwatching, Sleeping and Taking Naps.

I am reading a lot too, another joyful pastime of course. My current book is The Island by Victoria Hislop, wife of Ian. I am only a third of the way through it but am finding the subject matter so depressing; however as it is our book group choice I have to read it. Why the book has been so highly rated I cannot yet understand but will reserve my final judgement until I have completed it. Our Purplecoo book group are reading When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson.

So that will be my next must read book.

Talking of which I am compiling a list of five Must Read books for Purplecoo. I have six so far, they are:

Blue Sky July by Nia Wyn
Unless by Carol Shields
Running for the Hills by Horatio Clare
Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons
The House on Beartown Road by Elizabeth Cohen
Fortune’s Rocks by Anita Shreve

It is so hard to whittle it down to just five. There are so many must read books. Perhaps I will do some every week.

Last night we had a real electrical storm. As I lay in bed right by the window, the near constant lightning flashed into my closed eyes and the thunder roared. It lasted for about an hour and a half and then eventually it rained. We don't have any curtains in the cottage, there is no need as we are not overlooked and they would obstruct the views. I was not afraid though as I love storms. I just felt very tired after work this morning and succumbed to the temptation of an afternoon nap.

A fellow writer in our writing group was obviously so taken with the subject of fear that he has chosen this month’s subject to write about as Intimidation (see my previous blog).

I think they go hand in hand, fear and intimidation, one being the effect of the other. So I am thinking around the subject but not feeling inspired. I think I may attempt a poem. To be honest I am more into brighter subjects at the moment. Talking of which here are some Blessings:

Sunshine and the promise of roses.

Scented Plants.


Trips to the garden centre and bringing home New Plants.

A new, more powerful lawn mower.

A new small apple tree that I have planted in the middle of a round bed in my back garden. She spoke to me in the tree section of the garden centre and I fell instantly in love with her. Then I discovered she is named for me, being called Katy. At home with me now and settled in her bed, she is loaded with white blossom that is already attracting the bees.

Summer clothes. Wish I had more, I have but a few.

Letting the Rayburn out, something we only do when it is Very Hot.

The waxing Moon.

Last but not least, being able to put washing out on the line. One of my passions, washing lines and I adore hanging out washing, could do it for a living.

Well we all have our little quirks don’t we?

What’s yours?

Before I sign off it is ages since I posted a much loved poem. Here is one by a newly discovered (by me) Irish poet called Fred Johnston. It is from my new poetry book Salmon Publishing - A Journey in Poetry 1981-2007


For John Moriarty

One day more desolate than the rest
He climbed into the mountain and felt
The child-hug of stone upon stone.

The stone is warm under the rain,
The roads of the hurried world are
A long way below, varicose, narrow.

And how to describe a lake, grey
As sky, light as air, an absence in fields
Of gorse, a blow to the cheek, whitening?

The scribes are in their cradle-huts
Plotting the end of poetry. The heron is
Patient. If words come to him here, he’ll

Borrow them and speak them to a small
Room. There is a soft line of track
Punctuated by droppings, a paragraph

Beginning itself in sheep bleat
Higher up, a page turning in heather-lick:
The sun, drying the ink scratch of his days.

Bye for now,
Go mbeannai Dia duit,