The Chimneys of Portpatrick

It’s always easier to write when on holiday. The combination of more time and being generally more relaxed, with visiting new and interesting places helps the creative flow. We have visited Portpatrick a few times now, finding out about ships wrecked on the rocky shore line, and how it served as a version of Gretna green for couples who caught the boat across from Belfast.  The ferries no longer come into Portpatrick, the little bay and harbour could not cope with the large ships required these days, which now dock at Cairnryan a little further north. Instead Portpatrick remains a picturesque little coastal village – a beautiful unspoilt spot away from the hubbub of much of modern life; a great spot for a relaxing break. It was only yesterday as I walked down to the sea, that I noticed the extraordinary number of chimney pots on the buildings around the bay. I found myself a comfy large rock to sit on, gazing out at the sea, and wrote this poem.

The chimneys of Portpatrick
That stand above the bay
Stretch up heavenward to the sun
That shines on us today
How long they’ve stood there watching
I really do not know
They have seen the waters rise
They’ve seen the tide ebb low.
 
The chimneys of Portpatrick
Have stood there oh so long
They’ve heard the ocean raging
Witnessed her waves so strong.
And in the still calm moments
That come both day and night
Know the peace just hides from view
The ocean’s fearsome might
 
The chimneys of Portpatrick
Stood solemn as the waves
Threw boat, then boat against the rocks
And not all souls were saved
The lighthouse stood as warning
It’s light shone through the night
The brave and daring lifeboat crew
Risked all for stranger’s plight
 
The chimneys of Portpatrick
That witnessed so much woe
Also saw such joyful days
Saw lovers come and go
Across the sea from Ireland
Where family disapproved
Wedding vows they came to say
Their lasting love to prove
 
The chimneys of Portpatrick
Stand cold and smoke no more
Yet still we come to visit
This bonny stretch of shore
And while we swim the waters
We drink, we eat, we play
The chimneys of Portpatrick
Stand proud above the bay
 
 

Word of the day

Sometimes I write poetry because I am inspired by something. It may be an event, an emotion, something I have seen or somewhere I have been. Sometimes I play around with words and phrases, just enjoying the musicality of the english language. There are plenty of poetry prompts to be found on line and sometimes I like to use these as they can be a bit more of a challenge as they may involve writing about something that I really don’t feel inspired by, but it is these kinds of things that I think help exerecise the poetry part of my brain and, I hope, develop my skill. Today’s inspiration comes from the “Word of the day” on one of the writing sites I visit. The word is burglarious.

 
Creeping through the darkness with burglarious intent
The band of cunning rogues on their wicked way they went.
Slinking through the village under cover of the night
Anyone who saw them there would surely get a fright
 
This motley crew had just one aim, they would not be deterred
Tales of wealth and riches to this hamlet them had lured
And finding that the stories they had heard might just be right
Decided that it would be worth their while to try one night
 
Plans had all been made with care, the details checked so well
Each knew what they had to do, they knew to never tell.
Whispers of encouragement between them were exchanged
If they could pull this off their lives forever would be changed
 
So upon the place they crept, each one would play their part
They clambered o’er the wall unseen – made a promising start.
But that was when it all went wrong for suddenly the light
Detecting hidden motion hence shone piercing through the night

“Who goes there?” Called a gruff voice from a window way up high
“Tell me what you’re doing here, also tell me why?”
Blinded by the sudden light erratically they ran
They’d thought the place was empty, whoever was this man?
 
The bunch were not the smartest, all sense now flew from their heads
They scattered panicked ‘cross the lawn, trampled the flower beds.
And then the scrape of metal bolts, the squeak of door flung wide
The snarling, barking dogs flew out, their quarry they espied
 
But as they fled, little they knew that worse was yet to come,
The man stood fuming at the door and cocked his old shot gun
Terrified the gang all fled back o’er the wall they went
Back home to rue the day they had burglarious intent.

Juncture

Image: Ross G. Strachan

There is no good time to be told you are being made redundant.

February 2020 was really not a good time to be told that the site where you have worked for 20 years is going to be closing early in 2021. Four weeks later we were in a pandemic and within 6 weeks, the majority of staff at the site were furloughed. There was the inevitable delay effected by lockdowns, but now 17 months later, I am counting down the last few days until I finally step off site for the last time.

 I returned to work from furlough in July last year, to a different site. There is now a one way system in place, so I have gotten used to walking further to get from one place to another than the actual distance between them. There are card slots on toilet doors to ensure no more than 2 people are ever inside at the same time, and tables in the canteen are set out like an exam hall where each person sits alone facing the front. This is not unique; few workplaces, if any, have been unchanged by the need to keep people at a safe distance from each other, and there are many faces I have not seen unmasked in months, though I have spoken regularly to their owners. It is a strange way to end my time at this place, with it so changed from how it has been.

I was ready to leave when they announced the site closure; I had known it was time to move on for a while, but not knowing what my next step should be I had procrastinated.  It was a kick up the backside being told I needed to find the next step directly and not when I got round to it, but I am now happy that I am heading off along a different path.

So it has come as a bit of a surprise to me how sad I am. For all sorts of reasons really. Twenty years is a large chunk of my life. Since starting here I have got engaged, got married, had children, moved house, all to the consistent backdrop of the same workplace. Although plenty of people have come and gone in that time, there are many faces who have been a regular part of my work life for that time. I am grieving for the loss of those people, for the loss of the comfortable familiarity of the place, for the loss of a job that I know I can do.

 The place has been winding down for a while now. As the workload has decreased and fixtures and fittings have been dismantled around us the sense of ending has grown. What was once a busy bustling place is grinding slowly to a halt. So although I am excited and hopeful, about what the future holds, today the joy is tempered by melancholy. As I sit here alone in my office I am inspired to write a poem.

We were warned

We had plenty of notice

Time to prepare

But did we?

Or did we put it on the back burner,

To be dealt with at a later date.

Denial and disbelief obscuring the need to make ready.

Now though, the truth is rushing headlong towards us and

the narrowness of the passage of time leaves no chance for escape.

As reality closes in I embrace nostalgia

Wrapping myself up in the comfort of the contemptuously familiar.

Change will come

What has been will cease to be

And I must move on

I wish to face the future with hope

With the excited joy of infinite possibility

But for now I stand on shaky ground,

unsure of where next to tread

Buffeted by waves of grief that ebb and flow

threatening one minute to overwhelm

Then receding to allow me once more to stand and face what lies before.

Time will find me away from here

I will thrive

And then I will reminisce

With a grateful smile.

Dismay

You try so hard to bind my tongue
At times I can hardly breathe
Your hand is clasped so tightly over my mouth.
Confined in your embrace
Your warm breath on my cheek sends shivers down my spine

But do not mistake my inaction for fear
Do not take my hush for dread

I am ready to rage and wail at the top of my voice
I am ready to scream and flail and fight
I will not be silenced
I will not allow you to still my voice
Though you may grasp at me ever tighter
And squeeze the very life breath from my lungs
I will kick, I will punch
I will grapple with the bonds you have drawn about me.
My voice must be heard.
My voice will be heard.
Though my strength may at times fail me,
I will not concede
I will not kowtow to your pride and self importance

Enfolded in your arms I will squirm and claw
Emboldened by your arrogance I will strain and wrestle
And I will break free
I will find space
To draw breath enough to fill my lungs to bursting
And when I raise my head and forcefully release
No sound will come
For my silence is of my own making

Bad Habit

There was a little habit bad
That sought to draw me in
I thought it was no large concern
After all, twas was not a sin

But soon this habit bad did grow
No longer satisfied
I clutched it closer to my heart
I schemed, I hid, I Iied.

And more and more it still would grow
It’s hold on me so strong
And from it’s grasp I would not flee
Though now it did me wrong

In time I could ignore no more
The damage that was done
I had to face the truth of it
That I had come undone

But powerful now it’s hold on me
I could not wrestle free
I struggled long, and strove so hard
Yet still it clung to me

And so I faced my deepest fear
I had to now confess
To let another know I was
Embroiled in such a mess

But judging not, they did console
And reached out helping hands
With love and true compassion helped
me once again to stand

And though this habit bad of mine
Still clutches at my heart
I know I can be free of it
For I have made a start

No longer now alone to strive
Supported I can fight
And with true love to build me up
The hold is not so tight

It may take time, it will take work
But I will overcome
My grateful heart will praise for e’er
The faithful, loving one.

Hope

Today I am feeling hopeful. OK, so I still slept late and didn’t get much done, but I have coughed less and, joy of joy, CHOCOLATE TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE AGAIN!!! My sense of taste has been restored, my sense of smell is improving and i can enjoy eating again! Funny how we take it for granted that things smell and taste, what a bland world it is without these senses.

This afternoon I have written poem number 2 for National Poetry Wrtiting Month.

Hope

There has always been hope
Though everything around may be crumbling
The storm clouds gathering to obscure the blues skies
And the very ground quaking beneath your feet
Hope prevails

There is always hope
Though fools may bring you down, refusing to listen to truth
Valuing opinion more than knowledge and understanding
Letting their instincts trump calm rational thought
Hope does prevail

There will always be hope
Though times of pain will come to us all
We will each take our turn to suffer in our individual way
Everyone of us living through darkest days
Hope still prevails

Just know this
There is always hope.

Once upon a Moonbeam

Or My experience of Covid 19 and NaPoWriMo Day 1

It’s been a while . . . Life has been busy and although i have written a line or two here and paragraph or two there, I do not seem to have had the time to sit down and write for a solid block of time. When Jon started coughing and we started to self-isolate, I had grand ideas of all that I would achieve in my 14 days at home and how much time I would get to write. Covid 19 had other plans for me.

Two days into our isolation I started with a sore throat. Nothing major, just a niggle to start with, but within a couple of days my throat was in agony. The pain spread all the way up into my ears, my neck ached and I was now coughing “persistently”. My fever was only ever intermittent, but I developed aches in every joint of my body, even the joints in my feet throbbed, and the fatigue knocked me off my feet. I lost a couple of days. As the fatigue started to recede I realised how much the constant coughing had aggrivated the whiplash from our recent car accident and at times I just could not find a comfortable position to keep my head in. I lost another couple of days to the fog of codeine. It is now day 15 since I first had symptoms. I am up and dressed and have brushed my hair. I went for a walk earlier as I had been desperate to get out of the house, but when I came back I needed a nap. I am so desperate to be back to my usual level of energy. Physical and mental. At least with more mental energy I could write, even if not much else.

The month of April is National Poetry Writing Month, also known as NaPoWriMo, and for the last few years I have attempted to write and publish online a poem a day for the whole month. I have yet to manage the full 30, but I was determined that I was not going to fail on the first day, just because of this stupid virus, but it has been hard work. I had the starting four lines for this poem already written, but I have completed it today. No doubt I will come back and edit it at some point, but for now here it is: Poem 1 of (hopefully) 30.

Once Upon a Moonbeam

Once upon a moonbeam in a land where wild things roam,
There came a sudden gusting, that shook the stays of home
It started in the Westerlands and blew straight to the East
With no regard for kith and kin assaulted man and beast.
The cries of those first lives consumed were heard by all around
And all who paid attention scattered far across the ground
Confusion reigned and fear was high as none knew what it meant
The moonlight left and clouds so black began their sure descent
And when no light was left at all, the darkness so complete
The terror of the tempest whole was felt as sheer defeat.
For none was left could stand up tall with boldness to oppose
The resolute destruction by unknown unseen foes.

Twice upon a moonbeam in a land where mad things roam
There came an awful gusting that shook the roots of home
It started in the southern lands and blew straight to the north
With no regard for kith or kin assaulted all thenceforth.
The cries of those who knew the stories travelled far and wide
And all around knew that the time they’d dreaded had arrived
Ill prepared and caught off guard haphazardly they scampered
As skies grew dim and brightest moon with clouds so black was covered
And when no light was left at all, the darkness so complete
The terror of this tempest once again brought sheer defeat.
For none was left could stand up tall with boldness to oppose
The resolute destruction by unseen once known foes.

Thrice upon a moonbeam in a land where rare things roam
There came a wayward gusting that shook the base of home
It started who knows where and who knows wherefore now it came
The hurricane that brought such pain it’s power to proclaim
The cries of all who suffered hence did not fall on deaf ears
And one who would protector be stood up; defying fears
And to the east and to the west the whisper did set forth
They heard it’s tale throughout the South ‘twas heard throughout the North
So as the skies grew black the champion’s beacon did shine out
And all who saw grew bolder in the light and shed their doubt
They blunted now the sword of fear this tempest held so proud
And unified they stood their ground until this foe was cowed.

Once upon a moonbeam in a land where all things roam
Just one stood tall and all around were granted peace at home.

E Howie 01/04/2020

Sunbeam

I remember when buses and trains were noisy places. In the days before everyone had phones and devices to remove them from the present. I remember having conversations with whoever was sat near me and no-one thought it was odd or perceived ulterior motives, where there were none. I was always very shy and it was never me that started these conversations, but I was always happy to respond and to be surrounded by the chatter. Now when I get on the bus to work everyone is quiet. Some people will be reading books, some will be listening to headphones, lots will be on their phones, a few will be gazing out of the window or glassy eyed. One or two may actually be talking, but in hushed tones, as if the sound of conversation on a bus full of commuters is somehow unnatural and something to be kept to a minimum. This used to bother me, but now I find I have conformed. I get on the bus and within the first minute my phone is in my hand and I am ignoring what is around me. On the occasions when I do have a conversation on the bus I always have the uneasy feeling I am addressing an audience and not just the “conversee”.

This week though, I had a rather wonderful interaction with a fellow passenger. As usual I was ignoring my commute companions when I had to move to allow the person next to me to get off at their stop. As I sat back down I caught the eye of another passenger who smiled and said
“I was just admiring your hair.”
“Oh…thanks” I mumbled, surprised by the unexpected complement, and a little embarrassed. Then after a slight pause “thank you” and I smiled and turned away, back to my phone.

But I wasn’t really looking at my phone then. That one sentence had lifted me. Just a few small words, but when I got off the bus I was walking a little taller, and holding my head a little higher.
I had had a “Bad Hair” morning that day, and it had taken several attempts (and a couple of deep breaths) to achieve the roll I tend to wear at the front of my hair, and I had left the house feeling less prepared to face the world than usual.

The truth is I have long struggled with my self image. During my teens I was something of a chameleon, dressing differently according to which group of friends I would be seeing, doing my hair and make up differently. I remember shopping and buying things not because I liked them, but because friend A would like them, or because they were the kind of thing Friend B would notice and comment on. I spent too long trying to be different things to different people and lost sight of myself. In my 20s and beyond I was always after the latest fashion, wearing clothes that were “in” regardless of whether they actually suited me or not. It was only as my 40th birthday approached that I started asking myself who I really was and wondering how I had somehow lost “Me”. I decided that from then on I was going to be myself, whoever that turned out to be. I would start by wearing what I liked regardless. If I liked something that was all that mattered. I did a lot of self assessment that year and concluded that I was far too worried about what others’ opinion of me was. I had a bit of an epiphany when I realised 2 things. 1) that what I think people think of me, and what they actually think of me are not necessarily the same thing. In fact they can be very different. And 2) the people whose opinions really mattered just wanted me to be me, and to be happy being me.

From that time I have dressed in vintage style clothing – particularly 40s and 50s styles. I feel great wearing these clothes, and dressing differently can certainly be a conversation starter. Plenty of people ask me where I have bought something, or how I manage to get my hair “in those rolls”, or get my eyeliner so symmetrical (it rarely actually is!). At one time I may have stammered out a reply, with an embarrassed smile and turned away, but now I will usually try and make more of a conversation. I appreciate the time and effort taken by the person who has commented, when they could have stayed silent.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have the occasional wobble, I was not feeling so confident that morning, but that comment from a stranger made a big difference to my day

What made it even better was when I looked at my Facebook feed that evening. I am a member of various vintage clothing groups, and this was a post in one of them.

How fabulous that with our words we have the power to build up someone we have never net before. Never underestimate the power of the words you say to a stranger.
So pay the complement, give someone a smile, you never know you could just be a sunbeam in their otherwise grey day.

Leisure

It has been a couple of months since I was last able to sit down with my tablet and write. Life in the lead up to Christmas was so busy, and with an extra part time job as well, there just wasn’t the time. After over a decade of working 3 days a week, to work 5 days was a change I wasn’t quite ready for and it has taken me a while to get used to the extra organisation required when you don’t have time in the week to get things done. Of course one of the things I used to ‘get done’ was spending time in a coffee shop with my tablet and/or notebook putting my thoughts into black and white. I hadn’t realised quite how cathartic that was. A lot of the time I just write whatever comes into my head – I am no more disciplined than that, it may come out as a poem or it may just be a collection of seemingly random thoughts, but however expressed it is a way of getting what is inside out. Of putting into words feelings that up to that point I may not even have recognised, and I didn’t understand how much this benefited me until I stopped doing it. Of course the truth is I have not lost that much time, I still have time each week which I can spend however I choose, but to a large degree this is frittered away or distractions like my phone. The habit of walking to a coffee shop after the school run each Thursday meant I didn’t even have to think about putting aside time to write, now I need to be more deliberate about it, but I am determined to get back into the habit of writing each week. I am also determined to break the cycle of ‘busyness’ I subconsciously keep trapping myself in. Whilst thinking this week about the way I spend my time the line of a poem popped into my head, not one I have written, but one I had to memorise whilst at school. Written in 1911 by welsh poet William Henry Davies, it seems more pertinent than ever in our present non stop culture.

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Immanuel

Although I have been writing for decades, it is only more recently that I have had the courage to share my writing. It started with a writing group my husband got me to join. It was, thankfully, a small group but still when it came to reading what I had written it was painful. My heart would thump, my mouth would dry and I struggled to concentrate listening to the work of other group members, as I swung between desperately wanting my turn to be over so I could listen and enjoy the others, and hoping we would run out of time before I had to read mine. The fact that they actually seemed to like what I wrote was unexpected, and such a relief, but I didn’t quite believe it. Since the group ended, I haven’t read anything to anyone, so when I was asked if I would write and perform a poem for a Christmas concert this year I was as surprised as anyone when the “yes” came out of my mouth. I was still really nervous, but my self confidence has grown hugely and I knew that I could do this.

The first hurdle I had to overcome was actually writing the poem. It’s strange how poetry can come so naturally at times, yet now I just didn’t know where to start. I had plenty of notice, but that really just meant more discarded first lines and more time spent fretting. Eventually I sat down a week before the concert and looking back at all the ideas and abandoned phrases from previous attempts to write, I realised I had essentially written a poem in pieces. All I needed to do was put them together in the right places and I had something that summed up what I wanted to say. However, it was now time to panic about actually performing it.

I love reading to my children, although now they are older it is not something I get to do so much anymore. I put on voices, and try to ‘express’ what I am reading in a way that is fun for me as well as enjoyable/informative for them. But dramatic reading to my kids is a far cry from a poetry reading in front of a group of mostly strangers. I tried many times, when alone, to recite it with the right expressive emphasis but it just sounded insincere (to me anyway).And then I made the mistake of recording myself on my phone, my voice sounds so strange outside of my head that it really dented my confidence.

I did it though.

I stood up with a microphone in my unsteady hand and looked around at the faces looking at me while I said the words I had written. I didn’t rush, I didn’t stumble over my words, and when I finished I heard applause! I walked off stage elated.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not about to rush off into the world of performance poetry, but I achieved something that Saturday evening. I did something that a previous me could never have done, and at the same time proved to myself that I am not a small insignificant voice that no-one wants to hear.

Immanuel

One night.
A night like any other
A night like none before, like none ever again

The night came like each before;
The sun descended at the end of the day
Making room for the moon and the stars
Little did the sun know it would rise to shine on a world forever changed

A star
A star unlike any other
A star like none before, like none ever again

The star appeared so brightly shining
It traversed the sky, piercing the night,
A herald of hope that surely proclaims
Love has come, the Divine love has been born for all

A Baby
Born in humility
Born in a place obscure and un-renowned

His a birth like many others, a mothers labouring
Long and painful, but oh so worthwhile when a tiny cry is heard.
Yet here was straw and dirt and animals in a borrowed room
Little did the cattle know, that the baby warmed by their breath was the child Christ.

How well do we hide this story?
Deck it out in tinsel and holly
Obscure it’s truth with feasting and merriment
Smother this grace with excess and greed

We no longer see the radical love that started it all
We have turned from
the Glory of the God who reigns on high,
Yet deigns to stoop and envelop us in his unconditional love.

He is here now, waiting for each of us
To clear away the wrapping
To free ourselves from festive distractions
And once again gaze in awe
At the majestic humility of the babe in the hay.
Almighty God with us.