Any Colour You Want, You Decide

It’s been a while (again). I’ve been really busy with other aspects of life over the past couple of weeks. I resigned from my day job, (you don’t think I make a living from poetry do you?), last week, and start a new one on Monday. My old employer seemed surprised that I didn’t want to stay working on a week-by-week contract having been brought back into my old role on a one month trial following furlough, redundancy and subsequent work in a different part of the business. Four weeks into the trial and with no confirmation of my status I have taken another opportunity, where hopefully my efforts will be more valued – I was at the previous firm for 6.5 years all in, but I guess I hadn’t quite proved myself yet. Maybe I might have done so if I’d stayed another 10 years or so.

In more important personal news, I took my son, our youngest child, to Leeds, to start his first term at university. I didn’t think it would affect me that much, but I was in bits afterwards. I got my shit together at around Chesterfield on the way back. I didn’t do myself any favours with my musical choices, listening to Bloom, the brilliant 2012 album by Beach House. My favourite track, Lazuli, starts with the following lines;

In the blue of this life
Where it ends in the night
When you couldn’t see
You would come for me

I’ve no idea what the video is about. Still, it’s a beautiful song. Well I think so.

I switched to podcasts for the rest of the journey home. You’re Dead to Me did the trick.

But that point where your last child leaves home is such a huge moment psychologically. It’s a bigger deal for them of course, but you are left with all those thoughts of them growing up, and questions around your parenting. Did I do enough, was I a good parent, could I have done more?

Who knows. It’s all guesswork. We do what we can. Well some of us do.

I spoke with him today. He’s settled in well, has got a good group of friends, and I can relax. Or relax as much as a parent ever can. You never truly relax do you?

I meant to write this post on September 14th. By complete accident I heard on the radio that this was Gobstopper Day, and I wanted to tie the post in with this important date in the calendar.

Originally called a Jawbreaker, the Gobstopper became a popular sweet around the world when it was introduced by the Ferrara Pan Candy Company of Forest Park, Illinois.  Italian-born Ferrara Pan moved to the States in 1908 and created the sweet using almonds coated in sugar, before starting the firm in 1919.

Should you be interested in more information on the history of the gobstopper go to;

https://www.bulkwholesalesweets.co.uk/blogs/news/the-history-of-the-gobstopper

Those who have read this blog regularly, or who have a more than passing acquaintance with my work will know what’s coming next. One piece of my writing that has always gone down well at readings, (it’s the only one that I have been asked to read as an encore), is about my son eating a gobstopper the day after his seventh birthday.

I’ve shared this here before, but wanted to do so again, today. Because it’s central message applies, not just to my son, but to anyone else starting university, or a new school, or a new place of work, a new venture, or some other major life change.

What colour do you want your future to be?

It Was Only His Second Ever Day Of Being Seven…

…and he was having a gob-stopper as a treat after a swimming lesson. They were waiting for his sisters to finish getting changed. His father was trying to read the paper. The economic outlook was not good. An election was near. Pompey were about to get relegated. Rolling the sweet around the roof of his mouth, he held it out between his teeth. “What colour is it, Dad? “ he said. “Red, the colour of lava spewing out of the earth, or that Kit-Kat wrapper,” his father replied, pointing towards the floor near a bin in the corner. The boy laughed. A few moments later, between the local and international news, he asked again, “What colour now?” His father looked up.“ Orange, the colour of the sun sliding over the horizon, or a bottle of Lucozade from the drinks machine” The boy smiled. Skipping the letters page, his father had a half-hearted go at the Sudoku. “What now?” “Yellow, the colour of sand on a tropical beach, or a packet of Starburst.” The gob-stopper had shrunk considerably the next time he asked, somewhere in the editorial comments. “Green, a canopy of trees, just after rain, or a bottle of Sprite”, came the answer. As the minutes slipped past, they kept going, through Football, Rugby and Motor Sport , each time the boy asking the same question, as the world in his mouth got smaller. “Blue, for the sea on a Bounty bar wrapper”; “Indigo, for a packet of pickled onion monster munch”; Violet, for the colour of dark, an hour before dawn. Asking again, his exasperated father replied “What colour do you want it to be? It can be any colour you want. You decide.” The boy opened his mouth and held the small globe of sugar on the tip of his tongue. It was white, all colours and no colour, like a ball of light at the beginning of time. The boy tipped back his head, swallowed it whole. 

As Icebergs Keep Calving in the Barents Sea

We finally won the pub quiz at our local the other week. Two and a half years of trying, losing on a tie breaker twice and second place on so many other occasions, often by 1 point. Sometimes less. It was a moment of relief, a time for celebration.

And also a time for disbelief. Each week there is a news round. I have stopped watching the news. Picking up snippets here and there. The rest of the team were great, luckily. I’m still surprised we got so many right. I can’t cope with the news anymore. I won’t watch it. I turn off the radio or walk into another room.

At a time when we need real leaders the country is run by a bunch of utterly useless arseholes. From Brexit through Covid to Climate Change each crisis is an opportunity for someone to make obscene amounts of money, abetted by their friends in the media and the Houses of Parliament. The UK is in a mess. But who do the papers blame? Migrants. The feckless poor. The EU. The Labour Party from 11 years ago (to be fair they had a big part to play in setting up the conditions that led to the Middle East migrant crisis).

Yada yada yada. You know how it is. And how it grinds on. I can’t bear it anymore. And meanwhile we have incessant articles about a Llama, or cats being rescued from Afghanistan, or whatever reality show is flavour of the moment. Plus the Express wittering on about how Boris is trying so hard and is doing his best and has got another great idea and look at that Brexit bonus (these particular headlines seem to have dried up).

There’s a scene in Armageddon, that ridiculous Bruce Willis movie where they send drillers up to space to blow up a comet headed for earth, where an investigative journalist realises that the politician she is trailing isn’t running away from scandal but leaving to spend the last few weeks he has left to be with his family. Where she realises that Ellie is really ELE (sorry for the plot spoiler if you haven’t watched it).

I think of this scene pretty much every day now. The disgraced politician who is actually doing something decent as he knows what is coming and is doing what really matters. Some of the poems in my first collection, Landings, touch on a similar theme, like this one;

Taking Tea with Erwin 

I’m in the kitchen, 
making a cup of tea 
as the kids are fighting over the remote control.

The airwaves are swamped 
with the lives of near-celebrities, 
as icebergs are calving in the Barents Sea. 

Nobody is watching,
no-one is listening,
and I think of Schrodinger in ’35 

and the kids are laughing, 
and playing on the Wii, 
as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

Sometimes I feel like I am the cat, 
sometimes the vial, 
and sometimes the whole experiment; 

and I want to say, 
I want to say to them,
I just don’t know what to say, 

as icebergs keep calving in the Barents Sea.

I am so tired. Some days I feel as if I am on the Titanic (hence this particular photograph, which is apparently of the berg that sunk the unsinkable ship). Is it a recurrence of my previous bout of depression? I don’t think so. But it has affected my writing. It’s very dark at the moment. There doesn’t seem much room for light. Or for blogging for that matter, hence the silence here over the last few weeks.

But the light does get in. Somehow. It always gets in eventually. On Twitter I follow someone who asks people to share and vote on their favourite albums from a particular year. This fortnight it is 1996.

1996 was the year that the Manic Street Preachers released Everything Must Go, their fourth album, and the first following the disappearance of lyricist Richie Edwards. One of the tracks, The Girl Who Wanted To Be God is inspired by something said by Sylvia Plath. The biggest hit A Design for Life was the first song recorded and released by the band after Edwards vanished.

It’s a triumphant piece of music. The song was credited with having “rescued the band” from the despair felt after the disappearance of Edwards, with lead singer and songwriter Nicky Wire describing it as “a bolt of light from a severely dark place”.

It’s also the song that was playing on my in car CD player as I drove to the hospital to be at the birth of my first daughter. Listening to it again this week was a real reminder, that no matter how difficult the situation, there are things worth fighting for, and there is still time, there is still a chance to make a difference, with or without the fools who purport to lead us.

So I guess we’ve all got to do what we can. To work out what we can do that can make a difference. We’re not quite done yet.