At least I think it was 1998… funny how the old memory works, or not. If I was asked to write about this now, I would say that I remember the people at the airport, they were sort of stacked up behind a high wire fence – faces and hands pressed on the wire. Is that true? Well I remember it. But is it true? I don’t know – there was a metal wire fence, I was on one side, Indian people on the other. Then I remember the hotel room being enormous. The curtains were thick and kept the light and heat out. I was scared to leave the room, but not as scared as my companion who was more so. The room was in a 1970s green. It reminded my of my Nan and Grandad’s decor in Camberley, Surrey. Flying to India, to be reminded of your grandparents home in Everest Road. There’s a synchronicity in that that I can live with. Anyway, this is the start of the travel diary from that first trip to India.
Passing through the exit of the Indira Gandhi International airport carries a the sensation of being unavoidably decanted from a bottle. There is no turning back. Despite the sole poster advertising ‘Indiaaaah’ at the High Commission where I had collected my visa in London, there was no feeling of sliding into an instantly relaxed state. Not that I had expected this in any case, which was just as well.
The task in hand was to get a taxi. First you buy a ticket for a taxi from a kiosk inside the airport. The ticket is blue. Next you find the kiosk outside the airport with the yellow signage that says ‘Pre Paid Taxis’. The man in the outside kiosk takes your ticket and writes a number on it. Then he instructs us to find the taxi with the same number as that on the ticket from the rank of Ambassador cars parked just beyond a melee of people. As I looked for the right taxi, people pressed forwards, looking at the ticket and pointing directions. The numbers on the taxis themselves were not exactly obvious. I was thrust helpfully towards a man in a grey shirt and simultaneously noticed the number matching my ticket written in felt tip on what may once have been the fare meter, somehow attached to the bonnet of the car.
The taxi number was 594.
To be continued…
It’s not every day a tall Californian turns up in the road you live on. I suspect it’s even less often that such a man is offering to pray for the people on your street, for a whole year.
But that’s how, a few months ago, I made the acquaintance of a stranger on my street. Let’s call him the Prayer Man. I had heard from a friend and neighbour a week or two beforehand that he had knocked on her door posing an unusual question. Did she need any prayers for her, or the people that lived in that house. I must confess to feeling a little put out that this generous offer had not come my way yet, despite not considering myself to be a fully paid-up Christian. I was brought up a Catholic, which I realise is Christian, so I have a thorough grounding in that which I reject, and in the last year I have asked certain people to pray for others, not feeling qualified to do so myself. Still, I remember to count my own blessings, say thank you for them as often as I remember to and I do consider the power of a positive intention sent out for others to be a secular version of what others might call prayer. I am, therefore, not against prayer per se. However, I am still uncomfortable being prayed for, which was what we called intercession when I went to church as a child. The list of names of the sick and old being read out every week at mass by the priest. Some things stick in the head.
In the end, I finally met the Prayer Man, a few weeks after my friend’s encounter, on the street a few yards from my house. He was on a bike, wearing jeans, and what I might now call a Californian tan. He explained that he was praying for the street for a whole year. He was praying for people, not bricks and mortar, he could only pray for needs not wants and he asked if there was anything that I needed. I replied that I didn’t but mentioned someone else also on the street. The Prayer Man thanked me and rode off on his bicycle. Some days ago a letter was delivered through the letterbox. I read it. I read it again. I put it away thinking it might be nice to mention it on here sometime. I had it in my hand only yesterday. Now I come to write about the Prayer Man and his words to the street he is praying for, I cannot find it.
What I remember is that he compared believing in the word of God to diving into a swimming pool and surfacing into an ocean. What can I say? Good imagery sticks in the head. I also remember he quoted a line from the film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ a film I have never seen.
The line was what the man who is saved by his guardian angel says to the angel.
Well, you look about like the kind of an angel I’d get.
It’s not every street that gets a Prayer Man, no matter what they look like. He came to a gathering in the street yesterday to meet more people and say goodbye, for now. Again, he turned up on a bike, but this time instead of sunshine it was in between bursts of torrential rain and great gusts of wind peculiar to the British summer. I remember when we first spoke that first time he had assured me he was ‘not mad,’ not that I had asked. Yesterday’s appearance felt a little surreal, but I still can’t shake the feeling there is more to all this than meets the eye. The Prayer Man is returning home to California and I feel compelled to notice and record in some way what happens during the period of the intercession intervention. Something will happen, after all, because something always does…
I have rather dramatically entitled the post Miracle Street. For the record, no-one is expecting miracles round here, but they may be some hoping and praying for them.
The older I get the less I know. When one is young, one is marked out by great certainties. God does not exist. I am right. Love conquers all. And so on.
Then life adds years to us, and each winter that passes chips away at the glorious arrogance of youth. And all the while, things happen, that we just can’t explain. Today I have noticed two dates that have meaning, that had meaning two years ago and have come round on a loop again, on the same dates. One is a post about Henry Cecil I wrote on the 11 June 2011, it’s here should you care to read it, given his sad death on the 11 June 2013, two days ago. I read it myself today. I am glad I wrote it then. I should not wish to be in the business of obituary writing. The second is another post I wrote two years ago today. I have returned to it today to use in a larger project. Whether it will stay there in the longer term, I can’t say. It just seems odd because that intention was never there in the first place. Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense, I am not sure it does to me either.
Oh well, this is why we have poetry. It can explore the strangeness of life far better than mere prose.
Another poem on the radio programme from Tuesday was this one by Wilfred Owen. I doubt I shall ever keep such hallowed company again. There’s one more by Gerard Manley Hopkins to come, and then we are done.
I am the Ghost of Shadwell Stair
Wilfred Owen 1918
I am the ghost of Shadwell Stair.
Along the wharves by the water-house,
And through the cavernous slaughter-house,
I am the shadow that walks there.
Yet I have flesh both firm and cool,
And eyes tumultuous as the gems
Of moons and lamps in the full Thames
When dusk sails wavering down the pool.
Shuddering the purple street-arc burns
Where I watch always; from the banks
Dolorously the shipping clanks
And after me a strange tide turns.
I walk till the stars of London wane
And dawn creeps up the Shadwell Stair.
But when the crowing sirens blare
I with another ghost am lain.
Well, it was a strange experience to hear my work read out yesterday. I am not sure whether it was fit to be heard in the same programme as some really distinguished and fabulous poets, but the world of words as is diverse as the people that use them I suppose. Here is one of the poems featured yesterday by the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca that I had to see on the page. He hung out with Salvador Dali and others for a while, and I think that slightly melting, surreal quality comes through into this piece. It’s why I will read, and re-read it again.
I feel it’s going to be a new favourite with me.
City That Does Not Sleep
by Federico García Lorca
translated by Robert Bly
In the sky there is nobody asleep. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
The creatures of the moon sniff and prowl about their cabins.
The living iguanas will come and bite the men who do not dream,
and the man who rushes out with his spirit broken will meet on the
the unbelievable alligator quiet beneath the tender protest of the
Nobody is asleep on earth. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is asleep.
In a graveyard far off there is a corpse
who has moaned for three years
because of a dry countryside on his knee;
and that boy they buried this morning cried so much
it was necessary to call out the dogs to keep him quiet.
Life is not a dream. Careful! Careful! Careful!
We fall down the stairs in order to eat the moist earth
or we climb to the knife edge of the snow with the voices of the dead
But forgetfulness does not exist, dreams do not exist;
flesh exists. Kisses tie our mouths
in a thicket of new veins,
and whoever his pain pains will feel that pain forever
and whoever is afraid of death will carry it on his shoulders.
the horses will live in the saloons
and the enraged ants
will throw themselves on the yellow skies that take refuge in the
eyes of cows.
we will watch the preserved butterflies rise from the dead
and still walking through a country of gray sponges and silent boats
we will watch our ring flash and roses spring from our tongue.
Careful! Be careful! Be careful!
The men who still have marks of the claw and the thunderstorm,
and that boy who cries because he has never heard of the invention
of the bridge,
or that dead man who possesses now only his head and a shoe,
we must carry them to the wall where the iguanas and the snakes
where the bear’s teeth are waiting,
where the mummified hand of the boy is waiting,
and the hair of the camel stands on end with a violent blue shudder.
Nobody is sleeping in the sky. Nobody, nobody.
Nobody is sleeping.
If someone does close his eyes,
a whip, boys, a whip!
Let there be a landscape of open eyes
and bitter wounds on fire.
No one is sleeping in this world. No one, no one.
I have said it before.
No one is sleeping.
But if someone grows too much moss on his temples during the
open the stage trapdoors so he can see in the moonlight
the lying goblets, and the poison, and the skull of the theaters.
I seem to have a hat-trick of these up my sleeve at the moment.
I have typed that sentence with my tongue firmly in cheek, in case the regular reader thought my years of creative failure had finally gone to my head… I can assure you it hasn’t. I live that part of my life very much by this maxim.
It serves me well. Today’s world exclusive is a fail better poem called Blake’s Tyger by the Thames. It was the first poem I wrote with performance in mind. The performance I had in mind was on the South Bank last autumn, but that went into the tray marked ‘tried/failed’, so tonight its premiere is on the Broken Verb programme from 8 p.m. on Reel Rebels Radio.
Reel Rebels is a community internet radio station and, in a virtuous circle that relates to my own Songs of Experience, it is based in Stoke Newington, Hackney, where I spent my wildest years (they weren’t that wild). They broadcast out of Politi Arts Centre on Manor Road, which is an old Turkish Delight factory, and literally round the corner from my last flat in Stoke Newington. It is practically next door to the Indian takeaway that often provided my dinner. I had no oven in the flat (other than a one ring camping gas cylinder) so I subsisted on basmati rice and raita from the Indian, boosted by a weekly dish of jerk chicken with rice and peas in Cricklewood. I used to skip lunch and breakfast was Jordans muesli and plain yoghurt. I was a lot thinner back then. Those were the days.
Anyway. Now you know.
And a thank you is due to Tim from No Tall Stories who, I think, is reading the poem.
So, thank you.
I can’t be trusted with this stuff, so cack-handed am I. But that didn’t stop me helping out re:form with an art project she is doing for a local wildlife centre. It’s a British birds installation and she’s done a great job. She was perching them on a branch from the Scientific Wire Centre… and I was hanging them from fishing wire.
When we had both accidentally superglued a bird each to our fingers, simultaneously, I didn’t feel quite so much of a klutz. Having said that, after we had finally freed the birds (nail polish remover) I promptly glued two more fingers to a blue tit.
Time for bed said Zebedee.
The blog is nearly full. I’ve been at it for years now so it’s no surprise. I suppose I can buy more space to continue to host my internet meanderings; the project I am working on now needs a platform (apparently) so it would seem silly to start from scratch all over again someplace else.
I’ve had over 120,000 views on here now – plenty of which are spam sadly – but a fair few really aren’t. Some posts have provoked genuine interest, others less so. That’s ok, if you communicate constantly and compulsively, not all of it can be elevated above the workaday and mundane. I used to do a lot of ranting on here. This current government have knocked it out of me… nearly. I seem to work with people who suffer so at their hands day in and day out, ranting about it after hours wouldn’t really help them.
All of this is a bit of a preamble. The blog isn’t closing. It can’t! It’s out there on the interweb for posterity, or worse. But I am aware that my big writing project is taking more and more of my time and that the blog is not only nearly full, but it feels a little neglected too.
So, I am going to try some different stuff on here over the summer. It’s going to be like having a busman’s holiday. If it doesn’t make sense at times (well less than it already does) please forgive. I’ve got some fiction extracts and some old travelogue bits I’d like to get out of notebooks and digitised, and maybe some poetry too, so if you tune in and find yourself in Delhi in the last millennium, that’ll be why. There’ll be different voices because of the form and the timespan, but it’s all my own work and its something I’d like to do before I reach the dreaded full up point: 100%.
Come along for the ride? Suddenly, with the overworked bus metaphor, my recent Cliff Richard nightmare is making perfect sense. Let’s have a different song altogether to wipe that horrid thought from our minds.
Here’s my real summer anthem.
The weather is terrible today. I have a thousand things to do. Not all of them will get done. Some will hang around for another day. None of the things will disappear like the vapour trail in the sky here. Things don’t really disappear ever. People and animals do. Sometimes they come back, mostly they don’t. I wish things to do were more like people and pets and vice versa.
I took this when the sun deigned to shine at the weekend. I was attracted by the disc of the sun and the line of the vapour trail. When I got it home and looked on the screen, I could see numbers in the diffusing vapour. I like that. I also like the unknown red eye-shape.