Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Carpet Man...

... looks up into a sky that is as heavy and as white as baskets of laundry. The rain cascades in lazy waterfalls from the clouds and bowing leaves and my nose. He hunches his shoulders, and heads inside.

And the rain falls...

The pavement shines like night-filled mirrors. It must be nice to stand here all day - like the allotment scarecrow - in this gentle wash of rain. To feel its fingers upon the skin and listen to its music... and the rooks' call and jackdaws' laugh... and to watch the nettles and dandelions grow.

And the rain falls in a dance...

The big ash and the little oak, the young chestnut profuse with its prickly treasures, whisper and drink. High in the tall beech, on the corner where the dogs like to meet, two pigeons jostle and clash.

And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and...

Leaves and crystals fall upon the grass beneath the beech tree. The sheep continue to graze, unnoticing, their fleeces glazed with a frost of wet-light.  

And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and the softest...

The Birdman laughs and shakes himself like an old sheepdog. For a split second he is surrounded by an aura of water. The hedges of his garden shrill with tiny voices.

And the rain falls in a dance of air and light and the softest brush of life.

Is this what it is to pray?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Friends from my Bookshelf ~ 1

Raymond O. Faulkner. (1962). A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Oxford: Griffith Institute, Oxford University Press.

Bought second hand at the Tin Drum (second-hand bookshop), Fakenham, Norfolk nearly 20 years ago.


  • Deep racing-green cloth binding (scuffed, genteelly loved & marked) with fiery lettering on spine.
  • Parchment thick pages that feel like the taste of caramel cream.
  • Smells of dust and thick ink (like gloss painted banister rails)
  • Promisingly heavy to lift
  • Opening it feels like opening an expensive box of chocolates.
  • Marginalia - previous owner's emendations made in small neat letters, in blue ink. S/he appears proficient in reading Egyptian hieroglyphs. Also a freehand grid drawn on rear endpiece in blue Biro annotated for months of the Egyptian calendar -surprisingly only one box (2,4) is completed.

Unfortunately the Tin Drum no longer exists. It was a rambling town house in the middle of Fakenham, Norfolk. Four storeys (and a basement) of meandering interlinked little rooms, cluttered with wobbling bookcases and towering pillars of books. The sun had to shoulder its way through windows encrusted with grime and soot. There were alcoves that never saw daylight. Bare bulbs hung from plaited flex smelling of burnt dust. It was a favourite haunt of ours. 

I found Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian in a teetering stack of books that climbed - caterpillar-like - up the stairs. I instantly fell in love. Each page was a choreography of handwritten glyphs and restrained cursive script. A promiscuous profusion of sigla and numerals follow each curt definition ("mine, quarry, Sinai 47.53; Urk IV,2,5,8; varr. JEA 4, pl.q,"). It was a book into which Raymond Faulkner (D.Lit) poured his heart.  

We would buy carrier bags of books, nursing, medical (D - my wife- had already taken the plunge and had started a nursing degree), philosophy, theology, sociology - until our car (a tired 2CV) would wheeze and creak. Most we bought for 50p; £1.50 was usually our cut off point. Faulkner's cost £7.50, but I had to have it (look closely at the first page and you can still see the faint pencilled price). Here was a world of which I knew nothing, but its pages sang with the suns of ancient deserts and my heart pulled me there. Money was short, so I put the other books that I had selected that morning back on their shelves. I came out of the shop bursting with excitement.

This was the time of my awakening - when my heart and mind began to catch up with each other. My heart, had (once more) begun to talk and my mind, confused and beaten, slowly began to listen. And with it I felt the thrill of learning, of discovering, of living in a glorious world of wonders. My old world was imploding into dust and the teachings of those that held guardianship over it clanged emptily in my ears. I was beginning to find that the world was filled with hidden glory. It was before I'd seriously thought I would even be accepted on a degree course, but my mind felt the fire of hunger and I needed to fill it. There is a voraciousness that consumes those who study, those who want to know more, those who find questions in the answers and I was beginning to feel that voracity gnawing at me.

Faulkner came with me on our visits to the British Museum. I'd spend hours trying to copy down each glyph and cartouche, noting the placement and direction of each line. D helping me by finding more and more inscriptions for me to copy. We were both intoxicated by allowing our brains to run free at long last. His book still remains largely undeciphered and although I can read a little Egyptian it is mostly a closed language to me, but, nevertheless, I love him still. I love how each time I see him there on my bookshelf, I can feel that exquisite chill of facing something knew; something unknown. I can feel myself standing on that creaking, wooden staircase with its waterfall of books and finding new worlds to explore. That excitement boils and bubbles still. Many times I have had to trade other things to find more £7.50s and I have never been disappointed. Most of all Dr Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian continues to teach me to never be afraid or intimidated by new worlds or new challenges.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Banbury Town on a rainy day

*     *     *

Light dances on cobbles in the spindrift of drizzle. The sky is battleship grey and as heavy as steel. Colours from the flower stall splash and leak over the pavement, and people rush past in a flurry of unzipped coats.

*     *     *

I like it here. I could watch the world for hours. The women who pause for a moment to drink in the flower stall blooms. The men in suits who climb the steps to the bank two at a time. The clatter of push chairs and laden buggies with wheels that shimmy. The town hall clock, blind and silent. The lost man that sits below it, his half-rolled tartan sleeping bag lying amid the puddles. Sometimes he asks for change, but mostly he is silent, watching the feet glide past him. The elderly woman in an overcoat feeds the pigeons beside the sign that says 'Please do not feed the pigeons'. She is always here; her frayed coat clinging to her bony shoulders. So are the pigeons. A woman passes and tuts and shakes her head. The woman in the overcoat takes no notice. Neither do the pigeons.

*     *     *

A woman negotiates a buggy around a knot of people. Her sullen daughter clings grimly to the handle. They both seem to wear clothes two or three sizes too small for them. The mother's top is faded and stained with coffee... or gravy... or something brown. Her hair is tied straight back, close against her skull, in a lank ponytail. One of her heels is red raw from where it has rubbed against the back of her shoe. When I smile it is as if no one has noticed her for a long, long time; fire touches her eyes before they slide back down to the pavement that swims with the wash of coloured lights. She cannot see it, but she walks on a carpet of liquid jewels.

*     *     *

The preacher is here talking of Jesus - as he always does on a Saturday morning. He holds up his Bible as if it was on fire. For him, perhaps, it is. "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling" writes Paul. This preacher is certainly doing just that. It never seems to get any easier for him; this preaching of the gospel. After many years, his voice is still dry and a little unsure. His words do not come easily. When he becomes passionate he repeats the same phrases over and over again in that strange language of Zion, of the old Baptist and Pentecostal churches; antiquated stock phrases worn smooth by repetition. I stop to listen - as I always do. He needs someone to hear him, someone to whom he can give not just his message, but also his heart; even though that message is one of judgement and fire loosely cloaked in love, and that the scent of hell blows across the green fields of his heaven (we both ache for such different heavens). His frantic sincerity, the cloud of fear in which he appears to live, reminds me of what it is to be lost in a dark universe. Judgement seems to tower over his world. John the Evangelist writes, "the Holy Spirit will come to convict the world of sin," but most humans do quite well in condemning themselves without any spirit's help. The preacher paces his small circle. What crippling guilt weighs upon those stooped shoulders?

His wife stands opposite to him - as she always does. A handful of tracts curl over her tightly closed fingers, fluttering scripture in primary colours. She never looks beyond the pavement in front of her. I have never seen her smile; not properly; not a huge, wide, spontaneous smile. She stands with an uneasy solemnity listening as her husband's words snake around the passers-by. Her awkwardness mirrors the awkwardness of those who pass by, each looking the other way. The preacher tells the leaden sky that no one knows how much God loves them despite their sinful hearts. What are they really like, the preacher and his wife? They have chosen to walk this hard, hard road that seems to be etched upon their faces. A young man pushes past. He wears a stained singlet and jeans. "Fucking Christian cunts." he mutters. His voice seared with white hot rage, but he lacks the conviction to shout his rage to those around, nor to howl his fury at the one whose message they proclaim. His words mingle with those of love and spilt blood and judgement and the depths of human fears. The preacher's wife jerks involuntarily, holding herself rigid; eyes glued to the pavement. And I want to scoop her up in my arms - to scoop them both up - and to take them far away from these streets where they can see only rottenness and sin. I want to take them somewhere where they can laugh and shine and stand as tall as giants.

'We have seen the Olympics' the preacher says, 'but there are things more important than golden medals, my friends. Seek those treasures that rust doth not corrupt nor the moth destroy...' The rain falls harder as an elderly couple bend down to smell a bouquet of flowers on the stall. They look at each other and smile. The pretty Asian stall-holder smiles with them.  

*     *     *

Monday, 13 August 2012

One early morning

One early morning, 
when light was being distilled,
drop by drop, 
from gold,
A ball span 
as as it bounced 
over the dewy grass
and cobwebs spun 
from crystal and water.

Tiny rainbows
sparkled as 
Catherine Wheels of spray
lazily spiralled 
like galaxies being born.

A dog 
covered in smiles
races after it
and plucks it
from the air.

The best dog walks 
are those
where galaxies are born
and you return 
covered with
and dog smiles.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

If YOU are to OPEN this day...

... then let it be with arms open wide to the sun and the rain and the restless joy of the seasons...

FOR IF YOU WERE TO stand on the river bank

                  beside the tall, wild rushes and the dark, reedy places where the trout and the shy chubb hide

     and you were to jump....

                                       ..... you would jump with such joy, such spontaneity, such exultant hoops of laughter, that the waters would break like crystals, hanging like a beaded curtain in the air, to welcome you.

You would, wouldn't you?

FOR IF YOU WERE TO stand beneath the stars

                    and you looked up into that cavernous bowl of giants and tiny heroes spun with the filigree lace of ancient stories
      and you were to dance...

                                      .... you would dance until your heart burst and the silence of the universe rushed into your soul like the floods of Noah and you would embrace what it is to be truly lost in beauty and truth.

You would, wouldn't you?

 stand on the grassy hill of your childhood

                     and among the golden fields of dandelion clocks you were to stretch out your arms until you felt your feet leaving the ground

      and you found yourself flying...

                                      .... you would fly fearlessly and high, shattering the silvered air and loosing forever the sullen bonds that hold you earthbound. And looking down, lark-like, you would scatter the thrill of your song upon the countryside and city.

You would, wouldn't you?


                  ....  IF YOU ARE TO open this day,
                                    not just any day, but This very day that awaits the touch of your footstep                                  

.... then let it be with open arms wide and the joy that only you can bring to this world