Tuesday, December 31, 2013

LUMEN POETRY PERFORMANCE FRI JAN 3RD 7 PM

Lumen Poetry group present an evening of poetry at
Trinity Reform Church
1 Buck St
Camden Town
London
NW1 8NJ

FRIDAY JANUARY 3RD  - starts 7-7:30 pm

HIGHGATE POETS ( a group of well published poets which I belong to) are featured on \Friday night 3rd Jan.  Lumen raises funds for HOMES FOR THE HOMELESS, sponsored by Andrew Motion.

I will have a 15 minute slot as will 3 of my fellow HIGHGATE POETS.  

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Nov 22nd Big Green Bookshop  - the start two pomes on the theme Winter Wonderland


and to end the evening - a pome about a night on the Nile with flute music  Click here to go to You Tube link

Felucca Night -

Friday, November 15, 2013

HeartBroke - a new pamphlet

My newly published pamphlet is called HeartBroke and has been published by a new-on-the-scene publisher called Tambourine Press - they tell me their website will shortly be up and running. In the meantime, you can buy (or order) the pamphlet at The Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, Tel: 020 881 6767

Friday, November 08, 2013

Winter Wonderland?

 

Link to You Tube:
I was asked to organise a poetry event at the BGB  there'll be mulled wine and poets and open mic...on the winter Wonderland Theme - if you've never been to a poetry event before - come to this one - there'll be mulled wine and it should be fun.... and entertaining!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Years Eve in the Alps

Each year was the same.
On New Year’s Eve we’d meet at Pedro’s party,
all those old friends
who’ve moved on, gone separate ways.
Conjoined then by schools and children
we’d drink, chat, dance, catch-up
on details of our lives.
As they grew up and away,
we’d judge, gossip, sympathise, advise,
crack jokes, laugh, eat and be merry.

Tim and I, separately married, each year
would find ourselves, glass in hand, talking
and each year we’d plan our ultimate fantasy
we’d say next year maybe...
instead of here at this little gathering
we’ll celebrate New Year at the top
of the Alps. We’ll travel by Orient Express
and cable car, have separate rooms
in a comfortable hotel - he’d have
his large box of cigarettes for chain smoking
and I’d have expensive binoculars
for looking out at the snowy mountain vistas
and spotting eagles.

On New Year’s Eve at midnight we decided,
we’ll stand together on our balcony-eerie
and look across the mountains
at the cold sparkling star-filled sky
towards where our loved ones
waited for the chimes of Big Ben
and raise an ice-chilled glass of champers
to all those dear but absent friends at Pedro’s.

Tim, tall and white haired, full of easy-going charm
would carry on chain smoking,
I would scan the skies for wheeling birds of prey
... each year we’d plot our escape.

Now Tim is gone, but every New Year’s Eve
I think of him, high in the Alps
and raise a toast.

Sept 2013
c. AM

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I was there ... Isle of White 1970

Our reluctant feet
move slowly towards the exit,
we're looking left towards the stage
as Hendrix' magic guitar fills the dark sky
and rolls across the silent crowd
in the festival grounds, surround sound
vibrating the air we breathe.

But we have to leave, it's Sunday night
and we're exhausted, stoned
and the last ferry will leave soon....
'Come on!' I say firmly,
again 'Come on', I'm dragging Dave,
stepping over feet, heads, bodies
backpacks, sleeping bags, billy cans.

and Hendrix is playing Purple Haze
as we reach the gate … no, no no, not that,
we can't go when he's playing that …
but we must get on that last coach,
to catch that last ferry to the mainland,
to catch the last coach to Wales.
We have to go... Dave, Mike!

We're outside the gates now, walking towards the coach
and Purple Haze is in our heads – 'all in my brain'
nothing else matters – 'scuse me while I kiss the sky'.
We've heard them all, all the British greats
except the Beatles and the Stones...
The Who, The Doors, Lighthouse, Jethro Tull,
Emerson Lake and Palmer. We'll miss Richie Havens
and Leonard Cohen, coming on after Hendrix.
Joni Mitchell was memorable 'You're all tourists' she'd snapped,
as can-throwers lobbed over the heads
of Hells Angels, employed to keep order.
Those idiots didn't want her pensive ballads,
they wanted the meaty rock bands only...
so much for 'peace and love',
enshrined at Woodstock.

It seems like eons since we arrived
for a baking sunny weekend, with
nothing but our thin summer clothes
- no sleeping bags, no cooking equipment, no coats.
- no money either, or very little.
We've slept for 2 nights in huge empty grain sacks,
which kept us from wind and night frost
and cost 10 bob each. We waited for each act
in our crowd of half a million, burning in the sun.

The playlist of the famous are a who's who
of the world music scene.
It's so badly organised
that some come on near dawn.
So late Saturday with dawn approaching -
see me with my fingers in my ears to block out
The Who, wishing they would
SHUT THE FUCK UP
so I can get some sleep at last.

My foot's on the bottom step of the coach
and I'm looking back, Dave and Mike
are stalled behind and they're also looking back …
'Come on' says the driver tetchy now
'Get a move on …'
'Don't know if it's day or night' sings Hendrix.

Now we're sitting on the coach as it pulls away
we're looking across the dark sky
with its remnants of summer day sunset
pinks and oranges scattered across
the distant horizon. We can see the dwindling
festival enclosure – a distant glowing circle of light
in the rural darkness.

My boyfriend and brother watch with me,
we're all so young, so very young,
we're all silent, straining our ears
to catch the last silver riffs,
that high twanging note as he ends
by playing the guitar with his teeth,
'is it tomorrow, or just the end of time'...

22/9/13


'Yeah ... Thank you very much for showing up, man, you all look really beautiful and outa sight ... And thanks for waiting. It has been a long time, hasn't it? ... That does mean peace not this ... Peace ... OK give us about a minute to tune up, all right? Give us about a minute' - Jimi Hendrix addresses the festival crowd - Monday, Aug. 31, 1970


  


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Heartbroke

My new collection/pamphlet is called Heartbroke, it covers poems written over a 20 year period and it's published by Tambourine Press - so am going to put up some of the poems from the collection 1-2 at a time - here's the first one:

Hurling bricks

Each time we disagree,
fall out, row
you make me wrong
you make YOU right
then you save them up
all these wrongs
you ever thought I did
in a list
in your head
and when the next row comes
you hurl these bricks
one-by-one
to batter me down
until I sit

in a heap of rubble..

 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Performances coming up

At Golders Hill Park for
the Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival
Sunday 15th September 2013
at 2 pm
Performers include some of the Highgate Poets ...


 

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Shopping in Turkey

Hello! How are you?

You in-gleesh? Ooh!

Come I have special price for you today.

Where in inglan? Oh! landan, yes...

I have fren who lives there

Mmm in Stock-port I think

ees near landan? OOOh!

Come you beautiful lady...

How much you pay for thees?

Oh no, this cost me more than that.

What you think, I give away?

but my price best in Oludeniz,

best in Turkey, come now,

ladies like bargain yes?

Where you stay? How long here?

a week is ver good

you come my shop ever-day

Best price, yes?

Hey, come back pretty lady...

OK! OK! I give you bottom price now.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Displacement



There are times
when I cannot look
my own grief in the eye

There are times
when TV, internet, alcohol
are the only medication for the mind

There are times
when grief and loss are expressed
only through displacement

At those times
I can cry a deluge
for Princess Diana, Whitney, Mandela

At those times
I link to collective grief,
break down the party wall

After those times
I blow my nose
and carry on.

Performance at Golders Hill Park

 Hampstead & Highgate Literary Festival
http://www.highgatepoets.com/2013/09/09/hampstead-highgate-literary-festival/

We are performing on Sunday Sept 15th at Golders Hill Park

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bulawayo

This poem won 1st prize in 2011 Lupus International Poetry competition.

Thinking of what's going on in Zimbabwe right now  so decided to put up again.  Supposed to be elections announced by end of July, people everywhere are QUEUING up to register to vote all you people who don't bother to  vote.  Members of the police told to photocopy their voting slip and hand to their commanding officer ... to show who they voted for ....

Bulawayo is south of Zimbabwe and is where the Gukhurahundi took place in the 80s, under Mugabe when 30,000+ Ndebeles (Mugabe is Shona) were massacred by foreign mercenaries hired by Mugabe.

In the playground
we compare notes
to place ourselves.
Where you born then?
Watford. Harrow. London
English places.

I wait. Holding back.
Then I say it, rolling the vowel sounds
slowly on my tongue,
casual like.

Bul-a-way-o.

What? Where’s that?
Low key, shrug.
Africa.
Africa?
Wow. Then silence.
Staring at me.
No one can top that.

I walk off slowly, nonchalant like.
I don’t know what Bul-a-way-o is.
I know it’s in Africa.
They tell me nothing about it.
Too busy with the present,
to bother about that past time in Africa.

I don’t care, I’m different, special,
‘cos of Bul-a-way-o.
Its mine, my place,
I came from there.
No one else does, ever.

In the album, a black and white picture
of small me on some steps in a garden
and an ‘arm-a-dillo’, strange creature,
in Bul-a-way-o.

I like the name
Bul-a-way-o,
where I was born.
No one can top that.

Anna Meryt ©



 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Is it finished yet?

I keep thinking this is the end,
the last time, no more, it's finished -
I'm angry when I think that,
I tell myself, I can't go on.

I'll make plans,
my rational brain takes charge.
How will I organise my time
now I am one, not two?

Mornings uncluttered,
days busy with projects,
evenings, my own ...

I'll visit old friends here and there
Berlin, Brussels, Bristol
Indonesia, India, Africa.
I'll be free, free.

Stop, stop! Rewind rewind!
What about the empty rooms?
The long quiet days?
Cooking alone on dark winter nights?

What about the daily chit chat
and lack of to and fro?
No more intimate moments,
and laughing together?

And so my mind see saws
up and down, like two old men
in an endless argument, never agreeing.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Did I mention that I was going to Barbados?

I went on the 9th and just got back. I had been once before but that was a long time ago in not so pleasant circumstances. This time I was going to see someone, someone I've known for a long time, someone with whom I have a lot of history and a big connection, someone I'd been missing.. That's all I'm going to say about that subject.

The apartment we stayed in was in a two-storey pale green, pebble dash block. It was on the first floor. He opened the door with a flourish and I walked in, seeing all the flaws first – the seen-better-days kitchen, somewhat down at heel, opening the drawers and cupboards and seeing they needed a bit of a clean inside. The same in the bedroom – the wardrobe needed a wipe over inside, the paint was chipping off here and there, dust had accumulated in all the corners of the rooms. Then there was the colour scheme – walls were sunshine yellow, the kitchen cupboards were lime-green and all the curtains were a pale pink. It might have worked if the walls had been white or the curtains had been … any other colour. The cupboard under the sink – I shut the doors quickly – it looked dark and spidery.

But then I began to see the positives – the balcony with table and chairs looking out across a green to other houses and you could just glimpse the sea, the large living room and bedrooms. What! No hot water!  The water coming from the shower was tepid, but it was hot, very hot outside. I couldn't bear anything hot anywhere near me. And then there was the beach, Butterfly Beach. After we had unpacked and I had cleaned out the drawers and laid kitchen towel in each, we strolled down the road for a hundred metres, crossed a busy road and walked down a gap between some buildings onto a beach that was mind-blowingly beautiful – white sands, pale turquoise sea and creamy waves breaking along the sweep of the small bay. This beach was about two to three minutes away from the apartment. We swam into the waves and splashed about until we'd cooled down, then strolled back with pizzas.

By the end of my trip, the apartment felt cosy and homely and I didn't want to leave it. Not only was it close to the sea and transport, but from there you could either get a mini bus to Oistins, a few minutes away, or you could walk along the road by the long beach front. At Oistins is a large supermarket and a variety of other small shops selling most things. Our first big shop to stock up, cost $200 (Bajun)-- c £65. Guess what though - it is well stocked by Waitrose products, from yoghurts to wines.

Food prices are high in Barbados, prices are similar to UK. Difficult for Bajuns on much lower wages and Barbados too has been hit by the recession, with a big drop in tourist revenue,  high prices for basic commodities.    However, although people are often poor,there were very few beggars in the areas we went too and quite rare to see a rough sleeper.

The first three days I did a lot of sleeping, I always get hit hard by jet lag and the heat – each day it rained , usually in the afternoon – a heavy burst, drumming loudly on the roof of the apartment. Each morning was hot and sunny and I went down to the beach for a swim – there were big breakers coming in sometimes on the beach and swimming was good for surfers.

One day we took the bus – a green bus to Speightstown and for most of the ride I was the only white person. Every bus journey cost 2B$Ds – about 65p. No matter how short or how long your journey it costs the same. I love local bus journeys, in whatever country I happen to be in. They tell you so much about local people and ordinary life in the country. There were older ladies, straight-backed and erect, with floral dresses and hats. There were young boys with caps pushed back and jeans slung well below the top of the buttocks – they looked like they came from north London. People often hailed my companion, they'd known him since his school days and then they'd chat in incomprehensible Bajan dialect, which is musical and lilting and rounded, the consonants are flattened out and the words blend together.

One of my favourite heard responses, if someone calls or phones and asks how you are, the answer is “I quiet”.

The bus hurtled along a meandering road up the west coast through towns and villages and green areas. Barbados is very green, in spite of the heat, a tropical moist heat which I was beginning by the end of the nine days to get used to, but often I felt devoid of energy in that heat. We jumped off the bus at Black Rock (not a small village as I had imagined but a large sprawling town) and we went to Sunday lunch with my companion's mother – salt fish, macaroni pie, plantain and steamed vegetables, made specially for the vegetarian. When I arrived she took both my hands and greeted me warmly.

We left and continued the journey to Speightstown, the old bus took about half an hour. We sat outside in the Fisherman's bar and had a cold beer, then walked through the town. I went on to the beach and paddled, skirts tucked in to my pants. All the shops were shut, there was no one about – they still have Sunday closing in Barbados which has a large practising Christian population.

The following day, after a lazy morning we again took that bone-shaking battered old bus up the west coast and this time got off before Black Rock and walked through to Paradise Beach. It was baking hot, I had on my factor 30 and a large brimmed hat. By the time we'd walked a mile along the beach, my thin cotton T-shirt and shorts were damp and limp. We walked off the beach to what looked like someone's house, which turned out to be a bar, a rum bar. A group of men were outside playing whist round a table, they looked like businessmen taking a break .  I drank my ice cold coke fast and it tasted very good in that heat.

We walked back to Paradise Beach – miles of white sand and the usual translucent turquoise sea lapping quietly along the shore. We passed a derelict building spread out with gardens that had become completely overgrown- the former Paradise Beach Hotel, once vibrant and full of tourists, beautifully laid out paved gardens and palm trees and fountains. All now gone to seed and overgrown with weeds. We passed through a small copse of almond trees and I picked up a handful of almond cobs from the ground. Then on to Brighton beach – several miles again of white sands and palest blue sea. After a quarter of a mile, we had passed no one and I was wilting again. We came off the beach through a fence and there was an apartment belonging to a friend of my companion who insisted on putting up a sunbed and umbrella on the almost deserted Brighton beach where I lay and read my book, drank cold water and swam while the men talked over a few beers.

Another day, we went to a kind of country fair in a large field, inland from where we were staying, at the top of the hill near Oistins. There were two main focuses of social activity – the beer tent and a kind of cricket pavilion with karaoke. There were about 80 to a 100 people there, and I was the only white person again. I suppose I felt like I stood out, that I could not blend into the background because of it. I wondered what they must think of me. Was I welcome? Or not? Although of course people were friendly.  One thing about the gathering, for the first time in a long time, I felt positively skinny!  Bajun women do not hide their size under loose tops and quiet colours. Lose a few pounds - whatever for!

I had macaroni pie from a stall and he had chicken wings. We listened while we ate to some karaoke ranging from awful to brilliant – the latter a woman with a voice like Adele. Later, I had the best home-made coconut ice cream ever and we walked the 2 miles back to the apartment.

On my last night we went to St Lawrennce Gap and strolled roung a kind of lagoon area and up a wide street, past small bars and restaurants.  There were tourists scattered around but my companion was very surprised that along our walk, isntead of the flocks of tourists he had been used to not so many years ago, we passed almost no one on our walk to the kareoke bar.  Some great singers there - all Bajun of course and I had a go twice - well no one I know was listening (apart from him and he was encouraging me) - I was pretty dreadful I have to admit, but hey!

The days had passed in a haze of rest and walking and reading and swimming. Barbados is beautiful, but is mainly conducive to indolence. I did no writing at all.  I will go back one day soon.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Poetry Performance Sun April 28th 2013 @ 7 pm - Torriano Meeting House, Kentish Town

 

 

Highgate Poets were the guests at

Torriano Meeting House, 99 Torriano Avenue, London NW5 2RX,
on Sunday, 28th April, at 7.30pm.

The readers were Anna Meryt, Anne Ballard, Miriam Hallamy and Paul Stephenson, with a song or two from Chris Grey to close the evening.

 Here's a link to the performances :

Monday, March 18, 2013

Varanasi, the Ganges and the cremation grounds


Day 04/20: Sarnath

'After breakfast visit the Dhammekh stupa, where the Buddha first turned the Wheel of the
Dharma (Dharmachakra Pravartan) by teaching five ascetics in the Deer Park. After tea break, a visit to Chowkhandi stupa and Archeological Museum. After lunch a little rest.
In afternoon visit Mulagandhakuti Vihara, built by Anagarika Dharmapala in 1931, and supper..Visit to City of Varanasi, Benaras Hindu University where Sangharakshita stayed with Jagadish Kashyap. Day will concludes with visit a boat ride on river Ganges ghats at dusk!'

        That's what the blurb said. The blurb, from our travel organiser which was not emailed to me until after we'd arrived at BodhGaya. It sounded good anyway. It wasn't quite like that though. No not at all.
        We did visit the Dhamekkh stupa I suppose. Perhaps Julia remembers more than I do. The original Dhamek stupa was built by Ashoka(273-232 BC) – the only (as far as I'm aware) Buddhist Emperor, who consolidated the rule of his father and grandfather over a large part of Northern India.. He'd been as blood thirsty as any ruler up until his conversion to Buddhism. He then became a benevolent ruler promoting the buddhist path throughout the rest of his long rule, and as a result [of his conversion], 'he taught and persuaded his people to love and respect all living things'1. He had built this very large stupa on the apparent site of the Deer Park at Varanasi close to Sarnath2. The Deer Park was where the Buddha, after his enlightenment, encountered his fellow ascetics – all had lived lives of extreme renunciation (ie eating the bare minimum for survival and meditating most of waking hours). He had renounced such a path as being too extreme and left his companions some time before. He had decided on what we call 'the Middle Way' as the preferred route to enlightenment – it still sounds pretty extreme to me. But hey ho.
        Anyway it worked for him and then there he was in the Deer Park greeting his erstwhile companions and trying to explain to them how he did it. He spent a whole rainy season with them in the Deer Park and soon they all got enlightened too. Now he had fellow travelers to assist in giving instruction to the many who also wanted to learn the path to enlightenment. Well in those days it seemed there was loads of people wanting to hear about these new teachings and turning up to hear the Buddha and pals give talks.
        I can't remember too much about that stupa – there was a park, some ruins and the stupa which we went too – a rather lumpen building really. I always think of stupas as kind of graceful, slim pointed structures – this one is quite squat, but …
        There were the usual Tibetan monks in orange and yellow walking around the stupa. A coach load of elderly Americans arrived... I'm not sure if they were actual buddhists like me or just rich sightseers come to view the exotic history. They came from a large air-conditioned coach outside the gates of the park, clambering down, walking round and back to air-con coach in less than half an hour. There were also various other oriental groups circulating the stupa – Japanese, Chinese, Thai – all groups carried expensive cameras with large zoom lenses.
        As usual a small group of beggars were congregated outside the gates – mainly skinny children in thin raggedy clothes – their minders hovered on the other side of the road, keeping a low profile. Small brown hands were outstretched, eyes beseeched – 'Please, please, please...' Me and Julia found it hard to deal with these, Julia in particular as some were the age of her grandchildren. Our guide barely seemed to notice them, not in an unkind way, but so used to them he hardly saw them. They mainly targetted Western tourists, not the Indian guides in any event.
        Anu gave us a quick chat about the Deer Park and what happened to the buddha there (see above). He was sweet natured and keen to please, but I found it hard due to his small stature and boyish face to see him as a real grown up.  Julia treated him like one of her sons.
        We all went to the cafe down the road and had lunch – Julia was feeling stronger and had a mushroom omelette that day and I had a veg curry [again]. We had hot sweet chai too and Anu pointed across the road to the Museum and said we'd spend an hour there. Later on we'd be going for our boat ride he explained – we might even see a funeral pyre in the distance. I didn't think too much about it really, except to think it would be exciting to finally get out on the Ganges, which I'd seen so often on TV. Now we'd be seeing it for ourselves. How exciting! I suggested that after the trip to the museum, Julia and I should go back to our room, put more warm clothes on and have a siesta. The temperature dropped at night so it was bound to be even colder out on the river. We'd have to put on all our small collection of winter fleecey tops.
      The museum had some wonderful carved Buddhas and wall friezes and paintings of exquisite quality – I spent as much time as I could looking at each – cameras were not allowed. Julia and Anu looked around and then went outside and sat on the steps waiting for me. It was still sunny and warmish.
       We went back to our room – although Julia shot off to see the travel agent round the corner – a) she was organising a flight for us from Varanasi airport back to Delhi (no way could she have tolerated another train journey and I tended to agree). This would be at the end of our Indian trip after visiting Lumbini, Nepal.  b) she'd promised to cut the hair of the guy who ran the travel agent's. He had black hair curling thickly over his collar which I thought looked rather nice – but everyone else – friends, family etc wanted him to cut it short. He was from a well-off local family, his father was a politician and he was very knowledgeable about travel in India – much more so it seemed than our own guide.
         Anu arrived at the guesthouse around 4ish with our latest taxi driver – this time in an SUV with high up comfortable seating, he'd gone to our new friend at the travel agents to find this guy. Julia was pleased as she had hated the low saloon car that had brought us to Sarnath. It was supposed to be about a 2-3 hour drive, but with the usual dense fog descending and the gridlocked mayhem of traffic in every town it ended up being closer to 4 hours to get to Varanasi. Our taxi driver took the vehicle to a fenced off car park when we got there and we were told it was safe to leave our stuff in the car with him. Julia looked dubious but I was past caring by then.
        Now we were walking through utter mayhem – even though it was about 8 at night the street was crowded, bustling, with heavy traffic, stalls spilling trinkets, all sorts of shop fronts - tiny little businesses to large mobile phone shops.  There was the usual sacred cows (with big horns) blithely ignoring the traffic which was weaving around them and the myriad pedestrians... Julia was holding my arm tightly – we came through the shops and through an arch and descended a long and wide stone-stepped area and there it was - the Ganges, the famous sacred Ganges, dark waters with a multitude of boats (ghats – flat bottomed, propelled by pole or oar) crowded together at the bottom of the steps which stretched for several hundred metres to our right and left. There were lights twinkling amongst them – lanterns and to our right a flood lit area below a kind of stage. Anu and his tall friend Samadi led the way. Anu as usual, was cheerful and energetic, he liked to be in charge, while his friend was quiet and said little. Anu told us to wait in a concrete railed area while he found us a boatman – was the guy prebooked or was he found through a gang leader? Who knows, but soon we were being bundled onto a ghat.
        Julia and I sat on a wooden slat at the back, chatting and Anu and Samadi sat up near the boatman, who spent 20 minutes poling us through the morass of other boats to get through to the open waters. The water was inky black and Julia and I discussed how people actually bathe in it, as it's sacred, especially round here at Varanasi.   
        According to Lonely Planet 'this is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities and is regarded as one of Hinduism's seven holy cities. Pilgrims come to the ghats lining the River Ganges here to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters or to cremate their loved ones. It's a particularly auspicious place to die, since expiring here offers moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) making Varanasi the beating heart of the Hindu universe'.
        I think if you'd asked Julia at that time she'd have felt that you were most likely to die from the quality of the water, if you chose to bathe in it. I most certainly would not have put myself anywhere in that oily dark water, auspicious or not. We speculated (with a shudder) how awful it would be to fall in.. We were in fact about to have our own encounter with death which for me was deeply unpleasant plus an unexpected drama which very much upset Julia (and all of us).
        There were thousands of people spectating along the area where we had embarked.  Male dancers were in orange loin cloths and top knots doing acrobatics, fires were lit and drums bongoed. The boatman stopped the boat for a while for us to watch. There was a row (apparently) of monks who were conducting the ceremony, higher up by the stage area, This all seemed to be part of a regular festival – probably that listed in the Lonely Planet as the 'Manikarnika Ghat' a Hindu cremation festival. The boatman then gave both me and Julia a small candle each, set in a piece of woven twig and flower. We lit our candles and cast them onto the water in memory of loved ones who had died and watched the little light float away into the distance..
          The boat was now floating up river about 100 metres or so from the shore. Anu was telling us that we would be able to see the cremation grounds from the boat and could go in close if we wanted. I began to feel a bit uneasy, I was not keen on watching dead people being cremated even from a distance. 'We won't go too close will we', I said, Anu as always the diplomat, said 'No, no, not if you don't want to', 'No' I said, but Julia said, 'I'd like to get close up, I think it'd be interesting'. Usually it was Julia who felt panicky about a particular situation. This time the shoe was on the other foot, it was me.
        Now the cremation ground was in sight, I could see, not one, but three burning fires on wooden frames, glowing on the dark hillside in the distance. As we got closer, I began to feel really panicky and begged Anu not to let the boatman get to close, in spite of protestations from Julia. We watched from a distance and I began to smell the sweet sickly scent of burning bodies as smoke rose into the air from each pyre and disippated out over the Ganges. I felt nauseous and to my relief, the boatman began to paddle away along the coast, back towards Varanasi – we were probably about a half a mile away by now, from our starting point. 
        We could see pillared dark buildings along the shore and more steps and ghats and then heard voices calling. Then our boatman was calling out to a shadowy figure on a deserted stretch of steps and we were pulling over towards him. The boatman spoke to Anu in Hindi who told us we were taking a passenger onboard – someone wanted a lift back to Varanasi, someone known to the boatman. We pulled in and a tall man in his late 40s got on the ghat and the boatman started pulling away, pushing other ghats aside so we could get back out on the open waters. The man was standing in the middle of the boat and spoke to us in English – there was something not right about him, he addressed Julia in a loud, over familiar manner asking where she was from etc. She looked at me and barely answered him, turning her face aside. Anu was asking him to please sit down and then I noticed that Anu's face was getting angry, his voice rising. I spoke to Anu and suggested he calm down and not get into an argument with the guy, but Anu had a job to do ie to take care of his two middle aged female charges and as the guy did not sit down and was clearly aggressive back the row was building up.
       I looked carefully at the man again and realised he was drunk. Hi swaying was caused by more than the waters of the Ganges. As the argument escalated me and Julia began looking round fearfully for escape routes – but we were on the water, there were still some empty ghats next to us however. Suddenly all hell broke loose as the man swung a punch at Anu (who was still sitting down). Anu jumped up to punch him back, the boat was rocking and Julia covered her face and started screaming. I put my arm round her then pulled her up, shouting at Anu and the boatman as we both jumped onto the ghat next to us. I then told Anu and the boatman that unless the man was removed from the boat we were not getting back on. Anu was shouting at the boatman in Hindi and begging us to return to the boat. The attacker was shouting aggressivley at Anu and there was no way we were getting back on I repeated to Anu unless the man left. But he pleaded and persuaded us back on only so the boatman could return the man to the shore – the man seemed to have fallen silent.
         We were all considerably shaken up by this incident and Julia and I could not wait to be returned to the steps where we'd embarked – this took a considerable time of floating along the shore and then pushing and pulling other ghats in order for our boatman to bring us back to solid ground again – it was like moving the pieces of a rubic cube aound . We got up the steps, and as we came into the main square again I nearly choked on the pall of heavy smoke from the funeral pyres which had now drifted over onto the main town. I covered my nose and mouth with a scarf so I wouldn't be breathing in the ashen air. We stopped a few times for Julia to buy a few bangles at various stalls for her grandchildren, but I just wanted to get away. For me the so called spiritual atmosphere of Varanasi and the Ganges was gone, what little remnants destroyed by the aggressive encounter and the choking burning ashen air.
        We got back to the taxi and on the drive home Anu was clearly upset by what had happened, but playing it down.His lip was swelling up where he had been punched and he was still angry about it. He was telling the story to the taxi driver. Apparently the drunk man had been someone of power and influence who the boatman had dared not refuse for fear of repercussions. But now the boatman was very scared that we would make a complaint that would get back to the man who owned the boats and then he'd be out of a job. Anu had told him that he would not make a complaint but the taxi driver apparently was a friend of the boat owner so I was sure it would get back to him eventually.
        When we got back to our room it was freezing, I grabbed a couple of heavy fleece blankets from the store cupboard next to our room. Julia boiled a kettle for our hot water bottles and we fell into bed, exhausted by it all, Julia with her earplugs and eye mask, so as not to be disturbed.
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1http://www.porchlight.ca/~blackdog/ashoka.htm

There is a wall painting from the museum but the pictures below are of Varanasi, the boatride and can you guess which one is of the funeral pyres....



















2http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarnath

Friday, March 08, 2013

New Shoes

I can't find the right new shoes.

So I buy the wrong ones.
At home I glare at them,
I put them on my feet,
I wear them all day,
but my feet don't like them.

Back to the shops,
I walk round Saxone, Dolcis, Shoe Express
with new shoes on - trying to see
if my feet like them.
Round and round I walk
but its no good
my feet don't like them.

Then I'm in Argos,
when I decide to nip
across the road
to the shoe shop.
I put on the shoes
I don't like them
and they're too expensive.

But my feet love 'em
my feet won't take them off
my feet make me buy them.

Serial Monogamist

I’m a serial monogamist
that’s what I am
one at a time
when it comes to a man
I’m a serial monogamist
look at my life
one I can handle
two’s too much strife
I’m a serial monogamist
whatever the fashion
spread me too thin
and kill all the passion
I’m a serial monogamist
men want it that way
they don’t like competing
come what may

I’m a serial monogamist
do what I can
one’s quite enough
I stand by my man
I’m a serial monogamist
but not for too long
If I get bored
I’ll sing a new song

I’m a serial monogamist
but don’t tie me down
If I’m feeling trapped
I’ll have to leave town

I’m a serial monogamist
what can I say?
the truth of it is
I like it that way.

What was I looking for... ?

I came in here to get something
what was it now....... ummm......
Oh gosh, I meant to post that yesterday
I’ll put it by the door
so I won’t forget...
Now what was I doing?
I went into the kitchen for something...
Let’s see.......ummmm...
While I’m thinking of it
I’ll put on some toast
where’s the marmalade?
Blast! I knew there was something
I forgot in Lidl’s...
Hell! I came into the kitchen
to get something... ummm..
I’ll go back in the bedroom
and see if that will jog my memory...
What was I doing in here when ....
Oh, why’s it so dark, didn’t I switch on the light
Oh! It's not working...
oh, yes! a bloody lightbulb!
Right, the kitchen cupboard...um...
which cupboard is it? .......

what’s that burning smell?
Oh shit, shit shit!
The bloody toast.
It’s black!
I’ll put another slice in.....
 
Now what did I come in here for???









Friday, March 01, 2013

WALES for ever Cymru am Byth



Wales Wales ...
Land of my mother.
and my Welsh speaking grandfather.
Land of Eistedfoddau every year in school.
Land of Dylan Thomas
when I was young and never easy.
Land of song and the music of words.
Land my English father adopted.
Land I loved and left
so long ago I forget my connection,
until I go ‘home’ and it slips back on
like I never left.
Come by yer and say that an I’ll smash you face in’.
Swansea girls are so common’, my mother said.
 
Land of ... memories

Bobby’s immaculately-pressed psychedelic shirts
and Jones the Stone - getting drunk and falling asleep
on the display marble grave in his father’s shop.

Skipping school to eat chips and pickled onions,
walk by the docks where old bedsteads and junk
stuck out of the water, not like now all posh,
don’t use that word’, my mother again,
it’s so-o common’. Don’t say ‘toilet’ say lav-a-try’.

The Small Faces and schools-out-for-evah.
            Goin’ down Langland or Caswell
to swim in the ‘Surf’s Up’ cold sea,
flirt with boys like Bronco Evans
and hold his hand crossing the rocks,
stopping for a snog every few yards.
 
               Putting on dark glasses so me and Stella
can look old enough to buy a litre of cider,
then drink it in 3 minutes flat,
laughing and spluttering and falling about.

Skimming pebbles in Bracelet Bay,
drive down the long summer days
to Oxwich and Three Cliffs and Rhossili.
Where you goin?’ ‘Up the Beaufort, you coming?’
 
Or sitting in the Ups, talking to Tommy Trumpet
for hours over half a pint, talking rubbish ‘existential’ philosophy
and singing Wild Rover - No Nay Never no more.

Watching Barry John and JJ and JPR
show the English how to play rugby.
Gwlad! Gwlad! Plaediol oeth im Gwlad...

Siarad Cymraeg? Dim diolch.
No, not in Swansea,
eliminated by the English long ago.
 
No, no, I’m not English, never that.
Welsh, even after all these years away.
in London.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Car journey to Sarnath - fog, fog fog - Letter 5


Sarnath is the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence. . . . Sarnath is located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India.

The Buddha went from Bodhgaya to Sarnath about 5 weeks after his enlightenment. Before Gautama (the Buddha-to-be) attained enlightenment, he gave up his austere penances and his friends, the Pañcavaggiya monks, left him and went to Isipatana.
After attaining Enlightenment the Buddha, leaving Uruvela travelled to Isipatana to join and teach them. ...When Gautama Buddha found his five former companions, he taught them, they understood and as a result they also became enlightened. At that time the community of the enlightened ones, ie the Sangha, was founded. The sermon Buddha gave to the five monks was his first sermon, called the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta.

Wikipedia
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The journey to Sarnath, from Bodhgaya we were told would take c.4-5 hours. In the event it took about 7 hours. The road and weather conditions were appalling, that's why. Every town or village we passed through in our saloon car had traffic problems, often gridlocked. This sometimes meant that our driver would detour through some roundabout rural area in order to avoid a town or village centre likely to be jammed up. Added to that a dense fog (similar to the one we had encountered in Delhi), descended that night on a large part of Northern India until at its worst (on the lower slopes) visibility was down to c. 2 metres.

We started off late, c. 2 pm, due to the Manidharma dispute about payment. I sat in the front, as I prefer to avoid feeling nauseous as often happens if I'm in the back of a car. But after a couple of hours my back got painful due to sitting upright when all I wanted was to sleep. I find this hard (in planes too) if I can't lie flat. I didn't say much but was probably squirming about, unable to get comfortable. Julia kindly offered to swop places, so at the next loo stop we swopped around. Loo stops were usually at petrol forecourts. There was a rather modern looking cafe attached so we managed to get some chai and I got a veg curry. Julia ate lightly as she was finding the journey tough and it affected her appetite, the boys had a stir fry, all with chapttis. The toilet was the usual tiny cubicle with a stainless steel squat toilet, I had my own packets of tisses with me which was just as well as toilet paper s rarely in evidence in India (or Indonesia) You use your left hand and then sluice off with the hose and tap provided! Although I do like to fit in with local custom that is one I never get used to. We used tissues, washed and then anti-bacterial gel every time,. Squat toilets are quite difficult for me as I have knee problems. Don't even go there.

Anyway, with full bellies we got back in the car and drove off on the next leg. Julia later talked about this trip as for her a bit of a nightmare – 7 hours in an uncomfortable saloon with atrocious driving conditions. I was now lying out on the back seat, I had no wish to be in the front seat (a) because of my back and (b) because the driving conditions were pretty scarey. I went to sleep for most of it. Julia stayed awake looking out. I told her a few times not to look, but she found that quite difficult and also could not sleep.

The driving conditions were like this – fog, descending, darkness, poor visibility and heavy traffic. Our driver had his hand on the horn a great deal and was constantly swerving around pedestrians, dogs, chickens, cows, lorries, motorbikes with small children on the back etc.. etc. Sometimes the road was long and straight, other times it meandered up steep hillsides and zigzagged down the other side. When the fog and darkness descended and visibility on some stretches (usually the bottom of long slopes) was reduced to c. 2 metres, traffic on the narrow potholed two-lane (forward and back) road was not only a hazard in the direction you're travelling in, but coming towards you, looming out of the darkness and fog were lorries, cars, old vans, horse and carts, and not all of them had any lights. So being a passenger looking out from a front seat was often hair-raising to say the least. I'm kind of philosophcal about these things, having travelled quite a bit and feel that if my number's up.... And I'm a good sleeper. It was not so easy for Julia.

So she was still talking about that 'dreadful' car journey a week later, whereas for me, I'd forgotten about it and moved on to the next challenge. I seem to have a good ability to focus on the here and now and forget anything unpleasant really quickly...

We got there eventually of course and were taken to Shivam Guest house – the room was basic and when we looked in, there was one double bed – obviously we refused to even enter the room until they had separated the double into twin beds, which was done swiftly. But it was reasonably clean, with hot water in the shower – I asked for an extra mattress as the one provided (rock hard) was about 1.5 inches thick . We also asked for an extra sheet – as there was only one although with a thick warm fleecey blanket. The room was on the ground floor along the corridor past rthe reception desk. The manager welcomed us in a friendly manner and Julia, a bit later when theyd sorted the beds out, managed to boil us a kettle for our hot-water bottles, by reception where there was a spare plug. It was freezing by then c. 4C and of course nowhere in India seems to have central heating or any form of heating really. The thing is, it would warm up by midday to about 18C and you'd be stripping off the layers down to a T shirt for a few hours, then by 4 o'clock they were all going back on.

Anyway, we fell into bed, Julia with her earplugs and sleeping tablet – she's not good at room sharing, being a light sleeper – she said I snored and that she could hear me breathing all night! Cheek! What can I say? Anyway on this occasion she slept reasonably OK and even said next day that she was getting used to sharing a room.

Anu was a little late next morning – he was supposed to meet us in the lobby at 8 a.m, but turned up at c. 8:30. We went for breakfast to a rather bleak place up some steep stairs nearbye, right on the small central town roundabout, in a large room where we were the only guests. I  had a mushroom omelette,  Julia pushed hers around her plate, still not feeling up to eating.

Then we went to visit some sites - we walked down a long wide straight road, past a few pavement cafes on the left.  The gates to the sites were on the right and large parties of tourists  were entering the gates - many Japanese, American, Tibetan, German groups.  Tibetan monks were present at many sites with their mustard and dark red robes and shaved heads, they were distinctive and brought colour to the sites.  There were quite a few groups of beggars at the various gates, most were children, others were women carrying babies.  The babies had clearly been trained also to put out their hands and look pleading.  I tried to carry coins and small notes to give these beggars, but of course as soon as you gave to one another 10 would appear.  I found that (as the last time in India) they would look at the 10 rupee note you gave them with disdain.  Many tourists out of guilt, give them 100 or higher rupee notes, which is, although about £1.20 in UK money, a great deal of course, more than most people earn in a day (average monthly wage is 3000 rupees c.18.75 rupees per hour)
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Sarnath has been developed as a place of pilgrimage, both for Buddhists from India and abroad. A number of countries in which Buddhism is a major (or the dominant) religion, among them Thailand, Japan, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Myanmar, have established temples and monasteries in Sarnath in the style that is typical for the respective country. Thus, pilgrims and visitors have the opportunity to experience an overview of Buddhist architecture from various cultures
Wikipedia
Anu took us to the ruins of a site built before the time of Ashoka – the 4th century AD Buddhist king whose kingdom had flourished in that time -
The Dharmarajika Stupa is one of the few pre-Ashokan stupas remaining, although only the foundations remain. The rest of the Dharmarajika Stupa was removed to Varanasi to be used as building materials in the 18h century. At that time, also relics were found in the Dharmarajika Stupa. These relics were subsequently thrown in the Ganges river.
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While there, as it is the site of the Buddha's first teaching (well somewhere in the area), Julia and I decided to meditate. We found a quiet place amongst the ruins and sat (me in lotus position, Julia sitting on a rock, Anu in lotus too). We'd had very little 'spiritual/meditation' stuff up until now, which had been the whole point in asking a Buddhist to organise the trip for us. Anyway, I led a meditation and Julia said afterwards that she had enjoyed it.
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Then we visited -

The Chaukhandi Stupa which commemorates the spot where the Buddha met his first disciples, dating back to the fifth century or earlier and later enhanced by the addition of an octagonal tower of Islamic origin. It is undergoing restoration.

and

The ruins of the Mulagandhakuti vihara mark the place where the Buddha spent his first rainy season. The modern Mulagandhakuti Vihara is a monastery built in the 1930s by the Sri Lankan Mahabodhi Society, with beautiful wall paintings. Behind it is the Deer Park (where deer are still to be seen).
We were exhausted by now so asked Anu to take us for lunch - we sat outdoors (as by now it was warm enough) in a small restaurant opposite the museum - which Anu said we'd visit after lunch. Over our curry and rice lunch Anu told us that tonight we were going on a boat trip on the Ganges to the cremation grounds and that he'd found a driver with an SUV and it wasn't too far. First we'd go to the museum which we could see from where we were sitting. I suggested that Julia and I go back to our room for a siesta afterwards. We'd need to put on some layers as it would be cold on the river. The temperature was already falling.

Here's some pictures