Friday, 18 September 2015

To love and then to love bones under the sun

You might call it morbid but I enter this phase of life more fully cogniscent of the fact that investing in love of people in fraught with the fact in the end death will separate you. As a Christian, I don't always see that separation as final but it's still sheddingly painful. Why might we wish to take the risk in these circumstances? Is it worth it. The answer I believe is yes. Scars and craters of loss in the heart can be redeemed. The cost of not loving is the greater in the cold light of day. This poem is a reflection on that.

To love and then to love bones under the sun

The joy, spontaneity and sheer love of childhood
Wrung dry by my darkness, yours and the walls of the ditch,
Until the sunshine of those days
Fades, like a half remembered number plate.
The tent of the presence is down
Mire on the broken cords like oil spill slopps.

But the cold floor doesn't feel safe:
Cynicism is not the bottom line
In a mind
Which can't forget
Its soul conscience
And all what we know we can be
Have been.
Could be:
Whispers of chains unseen;
The bully that threatens you not to move.

Draw me a map of what happened since then
Go back through every piece of tissue remade
Trace the contours of the stream
As it makes new tracks in dire earth.
Eyes recalled from grandiosity and self hate.
Til shoots of a kinder green, out of the charred earth, reach out to the airs.
And are met anew.

A new tent that might fall over again.
It's not safe from the cold knife.
Structured around people that blow away
But if I bury my love in the earth
Til you return
My faith is in a safety I can never know
Let me leave it out on the tar,
Red pigment above ground
Where we love with no guarantees
The only kind this life under the sun will ever see

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Black starlight

We lost Dad about a year ago. It's been a hard road of grief, most days showing a new depth to the loss. So many amazing things happening all round generating that blend of joy of grief. Ever knowing and living the truth love will show the way out. Where dark blackened chambers within are revealed to be the dark earth in which new life can emerge. In Him, grief is the process which brings an increase in the capacity to love. Love to my wife, mum, Bro and to the King.

Black Starlight
A big man implodes
And leaves
An imprint of his shrinkage
And disease within.

It's a family breakdown:
A bad good Friday
Every day of this trip
Around the star

There seems no way through
The debris
Of a collapsed heart

And it ends there
If you were not the beginning
And the end

But your wound proves
A perfect fit.

We can grieve
Because your tears
And grief
Go before us

Time stands still
When grace
The wound

And you whisper:
Wisdom is love
And love is wisdom

(Dad 1 year anniversary writing)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

You can't hide your love from me

Famous for a moment. A room full of people raise their gaze to look at my wife and I as we stand up and move through the food court at OR Tambo airport, Johannesburg. 

I stand in front of people and engage with them for a living, so I get to experience all kinds of responses to my accent, appearance, behaviour and words. I feel like a good judge of whether people are warming to me or not. But just add a dash of paranoia and that's the reality of what my perception is like. 

Of course I can't properly judge what the hearts of 18 sets of eyes have concluded regarding the phenomena of an attractive black woman and a bald white guy hanging around together in an apparently non-platonic fashion. When it's just one set of eyes darting back to their friends with little mean spirited reports of the odd couple 'over there', I get the message pretty quickly. And the message I get is that those eyes believe that it is still 1984 and they will live forever. 

Multiply the number of eyes, though, and the picture is muddied. Most people are probably just curious, but oh can they stare. On the whole, Black people appear quite happy at the sight of us. Apart from the guy in Nashville who chased me down the street asking me how I had acquired an African Queen for myself.   

Sometimes the staring gets on my nerves but I maybe there's another way of looking at it. The thing is, by the grace of God my heart has developed a greater capacity for love at this point than at any time past. I am married to a funny, intelligent, beautiful, moral woman whom I deeply love. I know what it's like to be inside this love but I don't know what it looks like on the outside. Maybe it's a kind of troubling vision for love starved people. Follow the rabbit hole all the way done into prejudice and judging and what do you find? A lonely broken child who can't escape the confines of a broken nature and a broken world. 

When white loves black and black loves white in a domain where it socially virtually illegal, and when that love is obvious, I can imagine this creating a kind a temporary hell in the hearts of some. It's perhaps like being smacked in the face with the reality that what they may most deeply desire is apparently being experienced by people they regard as deviant and wrong. In a smaller way, maybe it's similar to what the Nazi's felt watching Jessie Owens win gold in Berlin. How could this not result in hatred when what they believed became so obviously untrue? 

I think I'm gonna try and be more understanding. I'm not gonna hide my love under a bush but maybe I'll try to refrain telling anyone else they have an apartheid-era mindset. If they wanna stare, may their gaze lead them into the black hole with so a clear a vision of spiritual poverty that they might turn and find the only one who can break down walls of judgment and self-hatred. A paring back that creates the space for renewal. Let deficit be turned to surplus by the grace of the one does not run out of grace during load-shedding. The Nazarene.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Belgium Holiday - December 2009

Well, I’ve ticked off two items from my ‘things to do before I die’ list. I got Eurostar, the flight under the sea, and I have been to Atomium, the most enduring symbol of the ‘it’s a knockout years’.

If travel is a learning experience, what did I learn about Europe? I learned that they pipe music into underground car parks in Belgium. Belgians can’t believe that we know so little about comics in UK. They tend to consider themselves either Flemish or Wallonian within the broader Belgian political framework which mainly provides a context for that opposition. In another sense though, to be Belgian is to not be French, Dutch or German and the Belgian state is a guarantor of that. There is a lot canine waste in the streets. Driving through the woods from Louvain to Wavre, I was reminded of scenes from old films and war footage and was moved to remember the extraordinary loss of life here. For all its faults, a European parliament is surely a better alternative than a European war.

Alvaro and I started in Maaastricht and did not manage to prise the owner away from any his beliefs about breakfast i.e. that it he needs to know the day before if you are gonna eat it and it remains $7.50 no matter what you eat. It was a nice guest house though; clean and cosy. Maastricht was filled with shoppers from German and Belgian towns as well as some friendly locals. We met one guy watching the football, cheering Bayern Munich ostensibly due to the Dutch management and players. One of the local cafes benefited greatly from our proximity with my travel companion homing in on it a source of decent lunches and dinners.

There are a lot of department stores in Maastricht which seems a little old-fashioned compared to UK, where many of them have closed and been converted into cinema complexes etc. It also has a lot of clothes stores and is perhaps known as a home of chic in the area.

Plenty of cold millet flakes for all the main meals, as well as rain, a lack of banks, supermarkets and food prep facilities in the accommodation made the business of eating something of a trial. But how much would I have remembered the food I ate in Greater London if I had stayed at home?

I liked walking by the river in Maastricht, down to the art gallery that looks like a spaceship. There I disdained the contemporary art alone, in the absence of my brother who may have felt the same.

In the evening I went in search of the friends of Bill W. They were said to be located in a Burthuis on the other side of the tracks. I showed the address I had written to guy a smoking outside an art studio and he directed my around the corner to a community-style centre place with brass band standing outside, also smoking. From there I got directed back in the direction of the studio and found the said Burthuis. Bert wasn’t there but I met with the locals and did a Dutch language meeting of which I did not understand a word, except when the participants switched to English to swear. They were very friendly though and didn’t laugh when I pulled out my peppermint tea bag and it started leaking. I was worried that they might think it is grass.

Getting the train back across the border was an uncomplicated business, although I did find that Belgian trains were often delayed by considerable amounts.

Leuven is a small town outside Brussels about 15km. I stayed in a youth hostel there, for maybe the last time. The friendly guy at the desk booked me into room 205 where I met with an atmosphere of old cigarette smoke and old cigarette smoker. No good for the asthma there so I asked to be switched. The guy on the desk switched me to room 103 and there, camping below a fairly accomplished snorer on the first night proper, I did manage to get some sleep. I prayed for sleep and the guy stopped snoring immediately. This created a false sense of security and hubris in light of what would follow/

In the morning, still in 103, I had my reading light on, angering an older guy in the room who said something: ‘Stop light, my no lazy… I no sleepen… I geet mein card.’ Also teaching me some curses in Flemish and how to communicate rancour where there is no common language, he threw the main light switch off, by means of snatching back his key card from the its wall housing. I know for a fact that confrontation inhibits sleep dramatically so I doubted his chances of dropping off in these circumstances. My use of a torch to continue reading provoked more cursing, so I returned to the desk and was relocated to room 204.

In between the ongoing saga of room hopscotch, I did meet up with Alvaro to have a look around Brussels. Grand place is a really stunning square in the town centre, appearing much older than anything of a similar ilk in London. I visited the museum there and met some local charm: ‘no bag, no camera, no cell phone.’

We also visited the Cathedral which was a beautiful building. The theme that emerged for me during that visit was that although these old buildings stayed the same for such a long time, I was not the same. My experience of healing and restoration, by God’s grace, is that he does not seek to maintain the original fixtures, design and proportions. He is building something else, something for his spirit to live in.

On the same day we also walked to the EU parliament. I feel tired just thinking about it.

Back in the hostel then, now in room 204, I met with a one-man bronchial symphony. Move over Mr Snuffolupiccous from Sesame St., your time as the worst case of sinus congestion known to man is over. All was quiet between 11:00pm and 1:00am but by 1:30am he was in full swing. As I sat there wondering if I was allowed to wake him up, he may have had a dim sense of ire flowing towards him, as he did wake up. He said ‘hello’ then went back to sleep, unswervingly committed to his path of nightmare nasal resonance.

Without sleep I went to Bruges. This may have coloured the day grey a little but it was still nice to walk by the canals and think of the people I love, albeit that they weren’t there. All the other tourists were there, but I stole a march of them by going round it very quickly. I had a cup of tea in the oldest tea house in Bruges, then another cold meal in the cold square and it was time to get back to try and rest.

Alvaro and I spent the last day with the guys we knew in Belgium. We had lunch in a Turkish restaurant in town, dining on kebab, lamb chops, mixed and cold millet flakes, depending on your preference. We drove to the Atomium – a place I had wanted to see ever since I saw it on ‘It’s a knockout’. One of the guys remembered the program but our visit passed without any of the Belgians ‘falling over’ as they famously did during the show.

I must admit, I love the atomium. I am not sure if makes science interesting but it does illustrate how complex even the smallest things are. The Lord God made them well. The structure makes me feel nostalgic for a time when I had a great deal of confidence in human progress and achievement, connecting back how I must have felt when I first saw it on ‘It’s a knockout’ all those years ago.

Then we went to the Comic museum where the whole array of Belgian illustrative talent is on show, including some little blue fellas you might have thought were French; le smurf. The museum is also located a road with the moniker ‘smurf straat’. If you ever worried about these creatures growing in size and gaining more influence over human affairs, do not go to this museum; it will worry you. Otherwise it was good to see Tintin in his natural habitat.

After all that, it was lovely to know that we were just two hours away from London. After a stand up dinner of millet flakes, raw carrot and tuna, we were done. Didn’t even notice the crowds of people milling around me to discover how to prepare such an amazing dish to eat on the run - the art of decanning tuna in public and other such arts untthinkable for the poplulation at large.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Truleigh, Moody, Windy

Truleigh Hill - Camping in the grounds of the Youth Hostel

It is not far from London which is a good thing isn't it? Although, since it's not that far from London you don't feel like you are away from it all. You've got a view of the sea which is nice but when the weather rolls in it is right into you because you can say 'get those jack rabbits out of here -- they are in for a soaking.'

You camp in a field which is inbabited by sheep, rabbits, people and their dung. It is on a bit of a slope which gets steeper when you try to go to sleep. There was a real wind on last night. By the morning the peppermint teabags were everywhere. My camping chair blew across neighbourhood and whacked right into Neil's tent which apparently made quite a noise. That must have been during the twenty minutes in which I was asleep.

Camping in the grounds of a youth hostel was a first for me. except for maybe somewhere in Scotland in 1989. I quite liked being able to waltz into the building and feel morally superior to the other hostellers who had chosen this less adventurous form of shelter. The trick is to go in for just long enough to keep the high ground without anyone noticing that being inside might constitute a retreat from the elemental realities of the outside world.

Just down the hill is Shoreham-by-sea which is fairly pleasant though not about to win the undiscovered seaside town of the year award. The river ardur turns out into the ocean at the town and makes for a nice walk along the route (British pronunciation please) of a disused railway line. Sandy banks along the river's extrusion make for a decent place to sit down and rest after you've down the tough part of the walk - in our case after about half an hour. At points the sun, the sand, the river and the mud transcend the sum of their individual ecological functions and create a buzzing and dynamic theatre of life a little wilder, shiny and a bit more reflective than the wilds of Wallington. It is a dance of energy and natural beauty I have decided to call muddybank-riverwobble, in order that the thing be adequately described in language.

No two friends ever agree on everything and it is was interesting to note the stations of concord and uncord we passed through on the conversational amble along the disused railway lines of thought: Christiology, recovery, the origin of signs, the difference between signs and symbols, the presence of the principle of making amends in scripture, the benefits of trangia stoves, the extent of our foreign travel, sinaesthesia and TFL transport policy.

In the back of my mind whilst away was the thought that I had to come and to take a course of metronidozal and would have stayed longer if it had been for that. Two nights is long enough though to notice the clouds deep in red at the end of the day, thousands of jewels in the sea and a pack of rabbits whose favourite playing surface is grass.

Monday, 25 May 2009

From Stoke to Stokey

Arsenal 4-1 Stoke Emitrates Stadium 24th May

It's fun to be part of a group of thousands of football fans when your team wins, the sun is shining, nobody is acting in a threatening way and you've all got the uniform. The stadium was fizzing with a kind of atmospheric champagne; a bubbly mood of celebration. The Stoke fans were even more jubilant than us and become incoragibly and progressively happier with every Arsenal goal.

My companion, Larry, was unfortunately focusing all of his attention on the Liverpool game many miles away. Every now and again he would tell me, on the basis of a feeling: 'I think there's been a goal at Anfield.' When I checked my phone, he was right every time. Had he given concentrating on the Arsenal game, the Stoke fans might have had even more to cheer about.

The stadium, as has often been said, is a great venue to watch a football match at. No more cramped seats or major fire risks. If anything, it is a little too well-organised with Emirates staff posied to pounce on you if you take a picture of the football during the game. It is quite a quandry considering whether the benefits of the new stadium outweigh the charm and history of Highbury. In spite wanting to say that they don't and that I would have the old place back, I am not sure that I would.

You get the feeling that Emirates doesn't quite yet have a soul of its own, though, and one wonders what a new stadium has do in order to qualify for one. This may also be true of Wembley mark II. Maybe the team needs to win a major trophy there to really enshrine it into the hearts of the fans. Or maybe it needs a bit of rubbish on the floor and a few chips in the paintwork. Or survive a war or two.

I don't want to do the usual pop-sociology rant about a sense of belonging and being part and subuming one's identity into the mass but I must say that I like the feeling of wearing the uniform and sitting with several thousand other people doing the same. The only downside about the overwhelming redness of the people is that it is more difficult to spot yourself on TV; unless you are Van Persie or Fabregras that is. Arsenal, a construction that persists for as long as we believe that it does, is something we all had in common. It is not the same as knowing the same Lord and saviour though and the only way I can think to combine the faith and the uniform would be to join the Sally Army.

I guess celebrating with that many people did put me in mind of the great cloud of witnesses and the life to come. Maybe there is something a bit transcendent about the experience of watching football. Not that it is a religious experience as such but it is certainly a major challenge the egocentric belief that I can meet all my own needs, I am enough by myself, and all the other ways I can think of being selfish. If nothing else a team is something that is shared

That is not to say that massive crowds are necessarily always that virtuous. Stoke had a song about Wenger that was pretty unpleasant although not as bad as the Man U ones. There was a bit of tolerance and understanding for all that though like when a couple of renegade stoke fans unvieled their flag at the end of the match from within the Arsenal territory and all this provoked was a degree of mirth. We may not be greatest singers in the world but at least we don't kill people. Actually Arsenal home fans are terrible singers. When the attendance for the year at the Emirates flashed up on the video screen at over 2 million, the Stoke away fans piped into a chorus of: 'Two million and you can even sing,' and they were right. Even the Mexican wave didn't get all the way round. One hopes Carlos Vela wasn't unduly disapponted.

Getting a bus down Blackstock Road after the match is not the most time-frienfly pastime with the centre of Finsbury Park all clogged up with people and cars. It was by foot then that I progressed down to Stoke Newington to stay with my brother. I almost beat the bus back to Lordship Road, it arriving with one stop of the route remaining. I got on of course, not to be outdone, only to be held up for quite a while by temporary traffic lights and a narrow section of road. This was not the most auspicious way to end the journey and was a little concerned that other passenger might identify me as a one-stop-wonder.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Muppet Football

May 10th Fulham 3-1 Aston Villa

We just went to Craven Cottage to see Fulham get the better of Aston Villa. We were sitting near the away fans in block Z in the front row, about as near to the action as you can get. It was pretty amazing to see the speed the game is played at now. At points I felt the skill of the players on the pitch had surpassed even that of mine and my brother's at our peak. Well, I guess that's not right; I should only speak for myself. That's me by the way, over there, on the left. Or is it Beaker from the muppets? Judging by this photo [below] of me and my dad at the much you might not be able to tell the difference that easily.

It's all too easy to get that turned down mouth going if you are a mere puppet. As a human, with a range of facial expression potentially even greater than that of a muppet. You have to practise at eleminating all traces of a smile from your face whilst having your picture taken. Glad to see my Dad doing significantly better at the smiling thing, and this was before Fulham had won the game. Actually, even when the ref had blown there was something of a delay before he was able to accept the result; in footballing terms this may be a useful defence.

Sitting near the Aston Villa fans and feeling slightly targetted by their not so friendly verbal abuse, it was difficult not to gloat when Fulham went ahead decisively in the second half after a much pretty even contest in the first. Well, it wasn't that difficult as I didn't even try. It seems like there is a kind of energy robbery that takes places when the opposing team scores. The victors simply suck it out of you with their collective psychotic hoover. This energy then is torn back later on if your team scores. As well as on a group level, micro-excahnges take place between inidividuals in the opposing stands too, alternatively appropriating or reliquishing one's joy to another on the basis of eye contact in the aftermath of a score; when Villa equalised Iwas robbed by a middle-aged lady who was probably someone's mum.

It is funny: we thought we had seen probably the best Premier league match of the day but were a little disappointed later on when Match of the Day didn't place it higher up the roster of games. Of course, it was interesting though to see an event on telly that I had been at in person but I couldn't help but feel that the tube hadn't really done the thing justice. Luckily, we have other forms of technology to record the event such as digitals cameras.

On the way home I tried to blame my brother for taking the photo at a deliberately vulnerable moment in my life but in truth I think that beaker of a facial expression pretty much sums up the kind of week I had had. During the previous week, I couldn't help but run a few equations through the mind dividing the amount of time I do things I don't like doing by the amount of time I do things I enjoy and knowing I couldn't expect a result anywhere near '1'. But there was no doubt by the end of the day on Saturday that we felt we'd seen something spectacular. This was a feeling obviously shared by Fulham's number 4, Pantsil, who did a lone lap of honour all the way round the pitch at the end of the game which he thoroughly deserved by the way.

Pantsil lap of honour: