A World Still Ours

From the Guardian this morning…

Australia’s former finance minister Mathias Cormann has won a hard-fought election to become the new chief of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), despite grave concerns voiced by environmental groups over his record on climate change.

Outside the wind is howling. The washing line would sing if it were taut enough to vibrate a note. This is just weather, of course, not climate. But is anyone listening anyway?

Should people with records like Cormann have any say in the direction of powerful organisations like the OECD? What does this say about the people who we entrust with our children’s futures? Meanwhile, here in the UK, HS2 will continue to be built as Johnson sets plans in motion towards building a tunnel or bridge to Northern Ireland. A coal mine in Cumbria remains under consideration. They carry on. A bit of greenwash lip service to placate the masses, but nothing really changes in the minds and actions of those who purport to lead us.

Yet there are encouraging signs. I work (part-time) managing social media accounts for three different recruitment brands. One of them is an engineering recruitment company, so I am constantly looking for articles and news pieces that I can add to the company feed. The huge range of new initiatives and new products being developed specifically aimed at tackling climate change and our inefficient use of resources is incredibly encouraging. I just hope we have enough time.

In the meantime, we all carry on as best we can. The sun is shining. Daffodils are nodding in the wind. Today my eldest daughter is moving out of the family home. We will miss her of course, but it is time. In other news, Pompey are playing in the Checkatrade Final at a fan-less final at Wembley – I wrote about the cancellation of the game back in April last year;

If nothing else it’s a reminder of something we lost last spring. Zoom can only do so much. I quite enjoy an online poetry event, (I’ve been to three in the last week), and it’s lovely to see familiar faces again, but it isn’t the same. I so miss meeting people in person, whether a catch up for a coffee, a writers event in a local cafe, or being with 60,000 other Pompey fans shouting and singing together in a sea of blue.

Bur if happiness today feels so fleeting or tissue-paper thin, whether through Covid, Brexit, climate worries, or something else, we still have each other, we still have our choices, there is still much that can be done. The ending is as yet unwritten.

I’ll finish this post with the last poem from Landings , my first collection (still available from Dempsey & Windle Publishing) – the photo accompanying this blog post became the cover illustration.

At Full TIme

I hear the meaning, not the words,
the drifting lilt of tone,
a singing crowd over late night traffic.

On the other side of glass as seasons turn,
waiting for the sky to fall,
a single drop of rain and then another.

The spatter of footsteps on pavements;
water sanctifies the profane,
softens the smack of heel and toe.

Windows streaked by meteor showers.
A delta of streams will build;
to catch these words and float their meaning.

From here dark clouds cast spray-dust,
as drifting bands of stars;
the world still ours if we reach for it.

Lightning fuses earth in the distance,
this city asleep and wide awake,
voices rising over background static.

The Poetry Place

A brief post to share the link to the February edition of the Poetry Place on West Wilts Radio, on which I read Bird in Hand, amongst 10 other poets.

https://westwiltsradio.com/shows/the-poetry-place-14-28-02-21/

It’s worth a listen – not so much for my poem, as for the other poets. There’s a really nice range of voices this month.

Football Poets

Just a quick post to mention that my poem Bird in Hand is the featured poem on the Football Poets website today. I’ve posted a couple of other football related poems there as well. If you pop over to the site you’ll see loads of other football poetry alongside my three efforts. There are new poems being posted on a daily basis.

This is one of the great things about poetry – there are poems for everyone, no matter what you are interested in – I am sure most genres and subject matters have dedicated sites for you to find across the web

A Sea of Blue

In other circumstances I would be at Wembley today, along with another 50,000+ Portsmouth FC fans, for the final of the Leasing.com Trophy. Blue skies, a beautiful spring day, the stuff of memories (or nightmares depending on the result!). A real shame – though the stadium’s empty silence today is of course of minor consequence compared to what else is happening in the UK and around the world right now.

I’ve been lucky though. If you had told me twenty years ago that I would have seen Pompey at Wembley 6 times already (two FA Cup Finals, two Semi Finals, a Charity Shield and last year’s Checkatrade final – from which the cover photo is from – I wouldn’t have believed you). I feel very sorry for those Liverpool fans waiting at Anfield for 30 years for a league title.

In 2008 Pompey won the FA Cup for the first time since 1939. During the course of the war, the trophy travelled around various safe houses, eventually ending up at the Bird in Hand pub in Lovedean, where it was kept above the bar for three years. In 2009 the trophy went back there for one night of celebration, and I was lucky enough to be in attendance, (there is a photo of me on a hard drive somewhere holding the FA Cup).

The poem that follows is about that evening, and about that sunny spring day in 2008 when the cup was won again after a gap of 69 years. It’s also about my home, this city by the sea and how much it suffered between 1939 and 1945.

It first appeared in South Poetry Magazine, appears in Landings , and can also be found placed on the Places in Poetry map on the Bird in Hand pub in Lovedean, a few miles north of Portsmouth.

Apart from the connection to today’s non-event, I thought it worth posting at this time because of the ending. Whatever happens over the coming weeks, most of us will get through this, and have plenty of future opportunities to live, to celebrate, to enjoy each of our own personal victories over the coming years. Good luck and good health.

Bird in Hand

The FA Cup 1939 – 2008

We drink in the presence of greatness.
A glorious bird of paradise
that fills the room with life.
Wanderers to Portsmouth all roads between,
a coach trip ride through hedge-screened fields.

This monochrome world that we engraved
as so many lives were sliding past.
Waiting for the blackout to end,
as if nothing we did really mattered,
as if watching was all that there was.

So we taped up all the windows,
made do with any small victory,
turned out the lights and kept quiet.
As the radio spat static and crackled,
keeping our hopes in the dark.

And here we are only nine months on,
a country pub where they kept it safe
for five lost years as the city burned,
payloads emptied on a scrap of earth.
Abide with me all flags at half mast.

Abide with me and a sea of blue.
Wembley stadium and Kanu scores,
forty-something men so close to tears,
my daughters and I in our Pompey shirts.
The final whistle on a perfect day.

And here we are on the journey home,
brilliant colours will fade to none,
as the flags we carry are furled away.
Like Tommy Rowe at ninety-two
leaving all thoughts in the dark.

So drink to the presence of greatness,
for everything you do really matters.
Enjoy all of your victories.
Turn on the lights and sing out,
for living is all that there is.

* Wanderers were the first winners of the FA Cup. Tommy Rowe was the last member of the ’39 team to die. Abide with Me is sung at the start of every FA Cup Final, and often at remembrance day services.

The Light of This Place

I’ve had a few computer issues hence no post here for a while. This particular post, and poem, is prompted by a tweet today by Portsmouth FC, with the title my first Pompey memory is…..

It reminded me of a poem I posted on the Places of Poetry website, entitled Followers. The poem uses Anadisplosis, a poetic and rhetorical form where the end of the last line is repeated as the start of the next. It’s often used in religious texts and verses. With the almost religious faith of football followers, it seemed a useful technique for this particular poem. There is a deliberate slight change between the end of the last line and the start of the first.

I’ve been a follower of Portsmouth FC and a season ticket holder for many years, have travelled across the country, and, briefly, into Europe to watch them. There are more diehard fans out there, (I probably make around 30 – 35 games a season), but it’s part of my life.

It’s also a key part of this city’s history – and, with the decline in organised religion and long-term mass employment, football, (and in some parts of Britain Rugby Union and Rugby League), is all we have left that ties us to this spirit of place, where the whole community, (or much of it), comes together for a common goal.

My first Pompey match was on December 26th, 1980 – a 0-0 draw against Reading. Having only been to see my hometown team – Frome Town FC -before (average crowds circa 250), I was overwhelmed by the size of the ground, the vast crowd, (of 17,412), the sheer noise, colour and atmosphere. I had been wavering towards following one of the big First Division clubs – but that day changed everything. I’m sure this was the reason my grandfather chose to take me to the match. I often think of him, that particular sunny winter’s day, and the impact that it has had on my choices and the direction of my life since.

The photograph is of one of the Fratton Park floodlights. This was taken on the last time it was lit, since Pompey have upgraded the stadium lighting over the last couple of years. These lights were once the tallest in Europe, and were the first used for a Football League Match (against Newcastle on 22nd February 1956). It still stands redundant in the corner of the South Stand and Milton End.

Perhaps this is another example of the endless cycle of football life, the ongoing repetition of the matchday experience, the handing over of traditions between generations, each time with slight changes from what went before.

Anyway, the poem;

Followers

Like all those before we walk the streets
We walk the streets towards the light
The light of this place our one true calling
One true calling we hallow this earth
This earth this place this scrap of green
This scrap of green of nurtured dreams
Of nurtured dreams over so many years
So many years and my grandfather’s hand
Hand on my shoulder and ushering me through
Through clicking turnstiles to climb these steps
Climb these steps my son’s turn now
My son’s turn now for this is our faith
For this is our faith we proclaim in song
We proclaim in song with all those before us