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: –


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”.


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.