Some haikus from my collection of poetry – The Red Petticoat. amazon.com/author/joanslowey

Be still; half-close your

eyes, and listen to the sound

of the universe.

 

My hands kneading dough

become your hands in cloudy

puffs of wheaten flour.

 

Fragile spider’s web –

its silken, silver threads a

charnel house of flies.

 

A slimy, silver

trail across my balcony –

well, snails must live too.

 

My face against the

grass, I smell the fecund earth,

watch the insects creep.

 

A homeless man called

out – today I did not eat

a wail of anguish.

 

Baisteach, boladh móin,

i bhfad ó Rann na Feirste,

cumha ar mo chroí.

 

Magpies black and white,

machine gun clatter chatter,

strut across the grass.

 

 

An excerpt from my favourite George Orwell novel – Coming Up for Air.

“I stayed there for a bit, leaning over the gate. I was alone, quite alone. I was looking at the field, and the field was looking at me. I felt – I wonder whether you’ll understand.

What I felt was something that’s so unusual nowadays that to say it sounds like foolishness. I felt happy. I felt that though I shan’t live forever, I’d be quite ready to. If you like you can that that was merely because it was the first day of Spring. Seasonal effect on the sex-glands, or something. But there was more to it than that. Curiously enough, the thing that had suddenly convinced me that life was worth living, more than the primroses, or the young buds on the hedge, was that bit of fire near the gate. You know the look of a wood fire on a still day. The sticks that have gone all to white ash and still keep the shape of sticks, and under the ash the kind of vivid red that you can see into. It’s curious that a red ember looks more alive, gives you more of a feeling of life, than any living thing. There’s something about it, a kind of intensity, a vibration – I can’t think of the exact words. But it let’s you know that you’re alive yourself. It’s the spot on the picture that makes you notice everything else.

I bent down to pick a primrose, Couldn’t reach it – too much belly. I squatted down on my haunches and picked a little bunch of them. Lucky there was no one to see me. The leaves were kind of crinkly and shaped like rabbits’ ears. I stood up and put my bunch of primroses on the gatepost. Then on an impulse I slipped my false teeth out of my mouth and had a look at them.

If I’d had a mirror I’d have looked at the whole of myself, though as a matter of fact, I knew what I looked like already. A fat man of forth-five, in a grey herringbone suit a bit the worse for wear and a bowler hat. Wife, two kids and a house in the suburbs written all over me. Red face and boiled blue eyes. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But the think that struck me, as I gave my dental plate the once-over before slipping it back into my mouth, was that it doesn’t matter. Even false teeth don’t matter. I’m fat – yes. I look like a bookie’s unsuccessful brother – yes. No woman will ever go to bed with me again unless she’s paid to. I know all that. But I tell you I don’t care. I don’t want the women, I don’t even want to be young again. I only want to be alive. And I was alive that moment when I stood looking at the primroses and the red embers under the hedge. It’s a feeling inside you, a kind of peaceful feeling, and yet it’s like a flame.”

I travelled through that book right beside the fat man with the red face – and I’m all the better for it.

Three short excerpts from “Sea and Sardinia” by D H Lawrence

I am not particularly fond of any of D H Lawrence’s novels but this travel book – Sea and Sardinia – is terrific.

“The lovely dawn: the lovely, pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship! What a golden hour for the heart of man! Ah if one could sail forever, on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and saunter through the spaces of this lovely world, always through the spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the vibration of one’s flight against the inertia of our terra firma! but life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the frail vibration of  space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to be clogged to the land any more. Not to  be any more like a donkey with a log on its leg, fastened to the weary earth that has no answer now. But to be off.”

“One sees a few fascinating faces in Cagliari: those great, dark unlighted eyes. There are fascinating dark eyes in Sicily, bright, big, with an impudent point of light, and a curious roll, and long lashes: the eyes of old Greece, surely. But here one sees eyes of soft, blank darkness, all velvet, with no imp looking out of them. And they strike a stranger, older note: before the soul became self-conscious: before the mentality of Greece appeared in the world. Remote, always remote . . . ”

“Coffee and milk – and then, only about three-quarters of an hour late, the train from the north. It is the night express from Turin. There was plenty of room – so in we got, followed by half a dozen Sardinians. We found a large, heavy Torinese in the carriage, his eyes dead with fatigue. It seemed quite a new world on the mainland: and at once one breathed again the curious suspense that is in the air. Once more I read the Corriere della Sera from end to end. Once more we knew ourselves in the real active world, where the air seems like a lively wine dissolving the pearl of the old order. I hope, dear reader, you like the metaphor. Yet I cannot forbear repeating how strongly one is sensible of the solvent property of the atmosphere, suddenly arriving on the mainland again. And in an hour one changes one’s psyche. The human being is a most curious creature. He thinks he has got one soul, and he has got dozens. I felt my strong Sardinian soul melting off me, I felt myself evaporating into the real Italian uncertainty and momentaneity. So I perused the Corriere whilst the metamorphosis took place. I like Italian newspapers because they say what they mean, and not merely what is most convenient to say. We call it naiveté – I call it manliness. Italian newspapers read as if they were written by men, and not by calculating eunuchs.”

And now after copying out these passages I am compelled to read the whole book – again!

An excerpt from “Kowloon Tong” by Paul Theroux

“Brandy was gleaming on Mr Hung’s lips. He looked drunk, his face pinkish and raw, his eyes boiled, and he was smiling in a vicious way as he chewed with his mouth open. Bunt remembered the look of greed, of heedless hunger, he had seen on Hung’s face in the lounge of the Regent. It was the desperate peasant who had been wrenched from his village and plonked down in luxury. He had not known that Bunt was staring at him; that was Hung’s real face.

Hung said, ‘These chicken feet are first quality. You appreciate them?’

He was speaking to Ah Fu as he examined a chicken foot, using his chopsticks like tongs and dangling the yellow foot in front of his watery eyes. Then he dropped it on to his plate and began to claw at it.

‘I think so,’ Ah Fu said shyly, her voice trailing off. ‘Are you completely bewitched by them?’ Hung’s lower teeth showed as he set his jaw to tear off the chicken foot.

Ah Fu murmured to Mei-ping, who said, ‘she says you speak English so well.’

Hung was hunched over the drooping foot, scraping at its yellow scales, dragging white tendon strings from its slender shank.

‘In the future we will teach you,’ he said, gripping the chicken foot in his teeth.

Hung meant the Hand-over, the Chinese Take-away, now more than a year off. Bunt loathed the subject and when it came up always said, ‘I don’t even want to think about it,’ and here he was, hating himself and listening to a Chinese man chewing and gloating over it.

‘So many people will come to Hong Kong,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Chinese people.’

Hung was still chewing, flecks of leg scales on his lips, the chicken foot near his mouth as he gnawed and still he replied, saying, ‘Not necessarily.’

‘They will take our jobs, we think,’ Mei-ping said.

Hung looked at her sternly, like a teacher distracted by a commotion at the back of the class. He held the chicken foot upright in the grip of his chopsticks.

‘That’s what people say,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Because the Chinese are clever and well trained. They are also tough.’

‘But we are rubbish,’ Ah Fu said, chewing with a down-turned mouth.

Hung did not reply but instead went on cramming the chicken foot into his mouth, finishing it off with his teeth. He spat a knuckle of gristle onto his plate and reached for another chicken foot.

‘Not to worry,’ he said, and gnawed. His face was so contorted by his chewing that he seemed to have no eyes. ‘We will teach you.’

Ah Fu had been picking and peeling the mottled skin from the chicken foot. Mr Hung’s gruntings showed her how to work the skin free and she timidly thanked him.

Seeing her draw away from him, Hung thrust his face at her and said, ‘I want to eat your foot.’

Bunt was disgustedly drinking a pint of beer, eyeing the table with resentment, the dishes of sticky pork and soggy and wilted lettuce, the black vegetables, the grey broth, the purple meat. On one dish of yellow meat was a severed chicken’s head, its eyes blinded, its scalloped comb torn like a red rag.

Hung’s elbows were out, his blue tongue showed as he stuck his chopsticks into the dish of yellow meat and used them like pliers to grasp a fragment of chicken breast. Its white flesh was exposed when he left a bite mark on it, then he chewed and gagged and pursed his lips. Again, with a retching noise, he spat garbage onto the table.

‘This is delicious because it has been strung up,’ he said. ‘You know how? Some string – tie it.’ He made deft throttling and knotting gestures with his fingers. ‘Truss it well and hang it for days. Let it air dry. Just dangle there.’

Bunt watched the man salivating as he spoke. ‘It becomes tender and fragrant.’ Still salivating he looked into the middle distance and apparently beheld the thing with his watery eyes, a suspended creature with a rope around its neck and its head flopped over. The apparition seemed to fill him with lust.

Bunt was frowning. Yes, the Chinese man had said, I want to eat your foot.”

Isn’t that just the business? It’s almost enough to put you off chicken – but only almost! I would highly recommend this book – in fact I would recommend any books by Paul Theroux.

(For more information on my books click here.)

A Rant about Faith, and a Poem

I get very annoyed when someone asks me if I believe in god – as if god was a given, and you either believed in “him” or not. For me, there is no god or goddess or godhead to be believed in or otherwise and when I give this answer I get two different reactions:

People become defensive and begin to harangue you with arguments to prove the fact of a god; they tell you that one day you will know the truth and that they feel sorry for you. Or, they pretend to be amused; they wag a finger at you and laugh and say that god has not forgotten you; worst of all – they promise to pray for you. Their arrogance and complaisance and condescension, their bigotry and utter stupidity is incredible and it never occurs to these people that they might give offence. Once, I really upset someone in a discussion about religion and I promised myself I would never do it again so when challenged I give my straightforward answer and say nothing else. As my father used to say – they’re as well raving there as in bed. And here is my nostalgic poem: –

THERE WAS A TIME 

In the dim, silent church

A glow of votive lamps

Fluttering blue and gold and red

Whispered prayers in corner shrines

Beneath the outstretched hands

Of painted saints

Beads clicking, slowly told

 

Sundays burst in glory

Sweet choir lifting voice

The Truth sang in my mouth

I filled my eyes with bright

And lustrous threads

The golden flame of candles

Veiling mysteries at the altar

 

The heavy scent of flowers

Inhaled security

And a weightless peace

In certain knowledge of hereafter

Our hearts were warm, absolved

Beloved of our maker

And safe in the house of God.

 

 

 

More Forgotten Authors

When I was growing up we had a small, dark room in the house called “The Glory Hole”; it was full of sloping shelves and and cardboard boxes. The boxes were full of books, a lot of them hardback, including the following authors, and I read them all.  I couldn’t read these books now but I don’t think anyone reads them any more; I never see them in book shops. Many of these books were also adapted for movies, and again, I couldn’t watch them now but they were terrific at the time.

First – Alastair McClean – “MacLean was the son of a Church of Scotland minister[2] and learned English as a second language after his mother tongue, Scottish Gaelic. He was born in Glasgow but spent much of his childhood and youth in Daviot, ten miles south of Inverness. He was the third of four sons.” From Wikipedia.

I couldn’t list all his books here but I will mention “Ice Cold in Alex”, “Where Eagles Dare” and “The Guns of Navarone”, great stories turned into movies.

“Desmond Bagley (29 October 1923 – 12 April 1983) was a British journalist and novelist principally known for a series of best-selling thrillers. Along with fellow British writers such as Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean, Bagley established the basic conventions of the genre: a tough, resourceful, but essentially ordinary hero pitted against villains determined to sow destruction and chaos in order to advance their agenda. The success of The Golden Keel led Bagley to turn full-time to novel writing by the mid-1960s. He published a total of sixteen thrillers, all craftsman-like and almost all best-sellers. Typical of British thriller writers of the era, he rarely used recurring characters whose adventures unfolded over multiple books. Exceptions include Max Stafford (a security consultant featured in Flyaway and Windfall), Slade (a spy who appeared in Running Blind and The Freedom Trap), Metcalfe (the smuggler/mercenary in The Golden Keel and The Spoilers). His work yielded five relatively unremarkable adaptations: The Freedom Trap (1971), released in 1973 as The Mackintosh Man by Warner Brothers, directed by John Huston and starring Paul Newman and Dominique Sanda; Running Blind, adapted for television by the BBC in 1979; Landslide, made for television in 1992; The Vivero Letter, filmed in 1998; and The Enemy, starring Roger Moore in 2001.” From Wikipedia.

Hammond Innes: “Unusually for the thriller genre, Innes’ protagonists were often not “heroes” in the typical sense, but ordinary men suddenly thrust into extreme situations by circumstance. Often, this involved being placed in a hostile environment (the Arctic, the open sea, deserts), or unwittingly becoming involved in a larger conflict or conspiracy. The protagonist generally is forced to rely on his own wits and making best use of limited resources, rather than the weapons and gadgetry commonly used by thriller writers.

Four of his early novels were made into films: Snowbound (1948) from The Lonely Skier (1947), Hell Below Zero (1954) from The White South (1949), Campbell’s Kingdom (1957) from the book of the same name (1952), and The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959) also from the book of the same name (1956). His 1973 novel Golden Soak was adapted into a six-part television series in 1979.” From Wikipedia.

Nicholas Montsarrat: “Monsarrat’s first three novels, published in 1934–1937 and now out of print, were realistic treatments of modern social problems informed by his leftist politics. The Visitor, his only play, fell into the same category.[7] His fourth novel and first major work, This is the Schoolroom, took a different approach. The story of a young, idealistic, aspiring writer coming to grips with the “real world” for the first time, it is at least partly autobiographical. The Cruel Sea (1951), Monsarrat’s first postwar novel, is widely regarded as his finest work, and is the only one of his novels that is still widely read. Based on his own wartime service, it followed the young naval officer Keith Lockhart through a series of postings in corvettes and frigates. It was one of the first novels to depict life aboard the vital, but unglamorous, “small ships” of World War II—ships for which the sea was as much a threat as the Germans. Monsarrat’s short-story collections H.M.S. Marlborough Will Enter Harbour (1949), and The Ship That Died of Shame (1959, made into a film of the same name), mined the same literary vein, and gained popularity by association with The Cruel Sea.” From Wikipedia.

Peter Cheyney: Cheyney wrote his first novel, the Lemmy Caution thriller This Man Is Dangerous in 1936 and followed it with the first Slim Callaghan novel, The Urgent Hangman in 1938. The immediate success of these two novels assured a flourishing new career, and Cheyney abandoned his work as a freelance investigator. Sales were brisk; in 1946 alone, 1,524,785 copies of Cheyney books were sold worldwide.[3]A meticulous researcher, Cheyney kept a massive set of files on criminal activity in London until they were destroyed during the Blitz in 1941; he soon began to replace his collection of clippings. Cheyney dictated his work. Typically Cheyney would “act out” his stories for his secretary, Miss Sprauge, who would copy them down in shorthand and type them up later. The Caution books read very much like what they are: pulp stories written in ersatz American by a British writer. With private detective Slim Callaghan he invented a non-American who is based in Cheyney’s home territory of London.” From Wikipedia.

Mazo de la Roche – almost my first introduction to romance – all the men in the family had dark red hair; all heroes!

“Mazo Louise Roche was born in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. Her books became best-sellers and she wrote 16 novels in the series known as the Jalna series or the Whiteoak Chronicles. The series tells the story of one hundred years of the Whiteoak family covering from 1854 to 1954. The novels were not written in sequential order, however, and each can be read as an independent story.

It is interesting to note the similarities and differences in the experiences of the Whiteoak family and de la Roche’s. While the lives and successes of the Whiteoaks rise and fall, there remained for them the steadiness of the family manor, known as Jalna. De la Roche’s family endured the illness of her mother, the perpetual job searches of her father, and the adoption of her orphaned cousin while being moved 17 times. Her family did work a farm for a few years for a wealthy man who owned the farm for a hobby. Several critics believe that Finch Whiteoak who majors in Finch’s Fortune (1932) is a reflection of de la Roche herself. He was a somewhat tortured concert pianist with overtones of gayness.[3] The names of many of the characters were taken from gravestones in a Newmarket, Ontario cemetery.

The Jalna series has sold more than eleven million copies in 193 English and 92 foreign editions. In 1935, the film Jalna, based on the novel, was released by RKO Radio Pictures and, in 1972, a CBC television series was produced based on the series.” From Wikipedia.

Another six coming soon . . .

 

 

 

Programme – “A Time to Live”

The above programme was shown on BBC 2 last Wednesday at 21.00 – a series of interviews with 12 people who had terminal cancer, men and women, young and old. I was in two minds whether to watch it or not, being a survivor myself, but I decided to have a look.

I only watched 4 of the interviews and then I turned off the television and had a think about what I had just seen. Why was this programme made I wondered? What was the point? The 4 interviews I watched started out all right; the interviewees were positive, intending to celebrate and enjoy the time they had left, but after some probing questions they became very upset, struggling not to cry. You didn’t see the interviewer, you could only hear the questions asked.

One question put to a young woman – “Do you feel you were cheated of your life?” – and of course the girl said yes, her face contorting. Dying mothers and fathers were interviewed, their distress obvious as they spoke of their children growing up and getting married without them being there.

I can’t see how this programme was of any benefit to anyone. The participants couldn’t have felt any better for it; perhaps they thought it would somehow benefit other terminal people. And the viewers? Were you supposed to watch and think – thank God it’s not me or mine? Or were you supposed to enjoy a good cry at the expense of these terribly ill people?

I expect the BBC had good intentions but I feel this programme was exploitative and distasteful; it made me angry and I won’t be tempted again by anything of this sort.

“Seascapes” from my collection “The Red Petticoat”.

SEASCAPES

1. Midnight, and the pale moon paley lighting up

The worm beds on the beach. We hoked them out

Threw them wriggly into buckets. Damp knees

In the damp sand. Uneasy in the stillness, watching for

The yellow hair of fairies hidden in the tide,

Voices from another world. That white beach

An other world itself that sent me home a changeling

Waiting forty weeks a year, patient, to resume myself.

2. Barely rose, pearly in the dawn, an angry sea throws

Spray across the wall, wrecks the boats tied up

Beneath the lighthouse on the pier. Its flashing light

Lights up the summer picnic island. Foam spuming

Flying, keeping all indoors. Spattered windows;

Seaweed stranded on the road like giant insects. And

I, an elemental on a swing, lick my salty lips and

Laugh and watch the sea for Manaman, its King.

A Review of “Feminine Products” by Rita Plush

This is a gentle story gently told about a girl, Rusty Scanlon, whose father left her when she was six. This fact has informed her whole life so far. Rusty is successful; she owns a fashionable boutique in New York and loves her work. We meet her when she discovers she is pregnant – and delighted – as she loves the baby’s father, Walter Margolis.

          “A baby,” she whispers to the silent tiled room. “I’m going to have a baby.” She peers down and leans over, getting her face as close as possible to her belly and gives the air a little kiss.”

The fact that she is pregnant makes her think and wonder about her father; she has always missed him and remembers him quite well, even though she was so young. Why had he left her, and her mother, Nadine?

The characters in this book are well drawn; Nadine is very much her own self – stylish and attractive, a yoga teacher who does her best to get on with her daughter. Threir relationship is complex but loving.

Walter is an odd person with his own individual way of speaking; he is a serious man who considers every situation with slow deliberation, especially the fact that he is going to be a father. He has his own unhappy memories from childhood which make him wary and a bit withdrawn but he does love Rusty.

The book is written in sections; from different points of view, and from past and present circumstances. This is always a good thing in a book – it breaks up the action and fills out the whole story.

Rusty decides to find her father, Jack Paul, just about the same time he decides to find her. He gets a temporary job, teaching woodwork to teenage boys and discovers that he really enjoys it, and that he is very good at it.

Not only does he take pride in their achievements, but when their mitered, mahogany-stained picture frames, and their hinged boxes are chosen for display in the showcase of the high school lobbywith ‘Instructor: Jack Paul Scanlon,’ printed a little placard resting on a shelf in the case, he practically wears out the rubber on his Adidas tennis shoes, finding excuses to walk by and admire their work. I taught them that , he’d say to himself. I taught them that.

On the negative side the title “Feminine Products” seems a little strange. One immediately thinks of shampoos and perfumes and skin creams and it doesn’t appear to have any connection to the story at all.

There are long passages in the book which could be lifted out altogether without disturbing the flow of the story; with a bit of tweaking they would make good short stories, particularly parts involving Jack Paul.

 

 

Oscar Wilde

Every May I think of Oscar Wilde. In his book, “De Profundis”, he mentions the scent of Hawthorn trees and Lilacs which he can no longer see or smell and he remembers how much he loved them and his heart aches for all that he has lost. For what?

Oscar mourns the loss

Of light and air and lilacs

Bosie lies abed.