Happy New Year

Pompeii

Casting of dog from the ashes of Pompeii

As 2019 draws to a close I want to thank you all for your interest in my scribblings and I hope I have brought you some joy.  My door remains open with a welcome on the mat for 2020.

You still have some time left to do this year one more thing to set the world aright.  Make an awkward phone call, make an overdue apology, do a thing you have put off for too long.  There’s still time.

 

Excerpt from “Year’s End” ; by Richard Wilbur
…………..And at Pompeii

the little dog lay curled and did not rise
but slept the deeper as the ashes rose
and found the people incomplete, and froze
the random hands, the loose unready eyes
of men expecting yet another sun
to do the shapely thing they had not done.

Happy Birthday Rudyard Kipling

Kipling in 1895

Despite being a nobel prize winning author Rudyard Kipling is a divisive figure in the modern world.  Many of his poems, novels and short stories are schoolboy classics.  But he represents the most obnoxious, biased and jingoistic elements of British Imperialism.   One thing is certain; he was a prolific writer and he has left us a wealth of poetry, not all of which is doggerel.  Born in India, December 30th, 1865, in the days when the sun did not set on the British Empire, and when the world map was a sea of pink, the colour used to pick out the Empire.

 

My Boy Jack? ; by Rudyard Kipling

‘Have you news of my boy Jack? ‘
Not this tide.

‘When d’you think that he’ll come back? ‘
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

‘Has anyone else had word of him? ‘
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
not with this wind blowing and this tide.

‘Oh, dear, what comfort can I find? ‘
None this tide,
nor any tide,
except he did not shame his kind –
not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
this tide,
and every tide;
because he was the son you bore,
and gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

The fantasy and the truth.

Pagans1.jpg

Winter solstice, in your dream fantasy, is a rowdy pagan affair.  Naked young flesh pulsating in the flickering light of heathen torches.  Bare breasts heaving with excitement, gooseflesh skin tingling with anticipation as the winter sun crests the ancient stones.

So you drive for hours and fuss over the parking arrangements.  Dress warmly, for the wind over Salisbury plain is a scour in winter.  You tramp your way to the stones and arrive well after sunrise.  Is that Mrs Neville, the butchers wife?  Must remember to say Happy Christmas.

Pagans2

Toward the Winter Solstice; by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
it dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
and cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
a dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
the cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
and call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
we all are conscious of the time of year;
we all enjoy its colorful displays
and keep some festival that mitigates
the dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
but UPS vans now like magi make
their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
are gaily resurrected in their wake;
the desert lifts a full moon from the east
and issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
and valets at chic restaurants will soon
be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
the fan palms scattered all across town stand
more calmly prominent, and this place seems
a vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
the tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
and ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
it’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity
the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.

Modern Slavery

Prison Labour

The news broke about Florence Widdicombe, the 6 year old from Tooting, south London, who opened a box of Tesco charity Christmas cards to find a note inside:

We are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qinqpu prison (China) 

Forced to work against our will.

Please help us and notify human rights organization.

Contact Peter Humphrey (former prisoner and journalist)

The details of the story are all over the news.  Tesco has suspended its supply contract.  But this is the third time in so many years that Tesco has been suspected of engaging in supply contracts where forced labour forms a part of the supply chain.

Tesco will tell us that they, like all other multi-national and global supply companies, regularly inspect the factories that supply their goods in China.  But anyone who knows China and the business world there can tell you that the facilities the foreigners are permitted to inspect are the model factories.  Even there the staff who work 14 hour days are warned to tell the foreign auditors that they work 8 hour days if they are asked.

We, as consumers, are trusting the global corporations to carry out these audits properly.  We do not want to confront the ugly reality that our goods are manufactured by slaves, forced prison labour, child labour and highly exploited workers.

The global corporations are breaching their contract with the consumer, because they are under pressure to deliver shareholder value.  If the “markets” take a dim view of the company they will downgrade the investment rating and the corporation will lose money.

The billionaires who own the shares in the corporations will shift their shareholdings to less scrupulous companies, who will turn a blind eye to slavery, and will win consumers with low prices.

I can boycott Tesco this Christmas, but what do I achieve?  If I take my money to another supermarket, or even to a local store, how do I know that I am not funding slavery somewhere in the supply chain?  I might even be penalising a company that does its very best to clean up the supply chain in favour of a company that does not even attempt to identify the links in their chain.

In the 18th and 19th Centuries boycotts of slave produced sugar succeeded in ending slavery on sugar plantations.  The campaigns were driven not by governments, not by the billionaires, but by ordinary people, small people who fought to make a difference.  We need to recapture that personal focus on consumption.  Our daily consumption decisions can make the world a better place for millions of people, or they can make the lives of those people a misery.

How are you spending your money this Christmas?  In your wallet, measured in dollars and cents, you hold the power to change the world for the better.  Spend wisely.

 

 

 

 

The long dark night.

Winter-Solstice-Stonehenge

Winter Solstice at Stonehenge

In 2019 December 22nd is the shortest day of the year, and the longest night.  Tonight the Sun dies and tomorrow it is reborn.

This is the night of Druantia, the white goddess, the Celtic tree goddess, the moon goddess, the triple goddess of Birth, Love and Death, the muse of the Celtic poets. Queen of the Druids, Wiccans and Neo-Pagans.  Virgin, drudge, whore, muse, hag and crone. Daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, fertile cornocopia or barren spinster.  She is the queen of the faeries and she is personified as a Wren.

In Celtic Druidic tradition the “Hunting of the Wren” was a ritual to see out the old and see in the new as the darkest day of winter passed.  The Christian Church in Ireland worked hard to eliminate the Celtic practice of Goddess Worship.  They made the wren into a traitor, who revealed the hiding place of St. Stephen who was then stoned to death.

 

To Juan at the Winter Solstice; by Robert Graves

There is one story and one story only
that will prove worth your telling,
whether as learned bard or gifted child;
to it all lines or lesser gauds belong
that startle with their shining
such common stories as they stray into.

Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
or strange beasts that beset you,
of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
below the Boreal Crown,
prison to all true kings that ever reigned?

Water to water, ark again to ark,
from woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
the never altered circuit of his fate,
bringing twelve peers as witness
both to his starry rise and starry fall.

Or is it of the Virgin’s silver beauty,
all fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
when, with her right hand she crooks a finger, smiling,
how many the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.

Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
whose coils contain the ocean,
into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
battles three days and nights,
to be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?

Much snow if falling, winds roar hollowly,
the owl hoots from the elder,
fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses:
There is one story and one story only.

Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
do not forget what flowers
the great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
but nothing promised that is not performed.

Bloody Christmas

Nicosia airport

Abandoned Airport in Nicosia, Cyprus

On the night of the 20th and 21st of December, 1963 the newly independent Republic of Cyprus erupted into a frenzy of violence between the Orthodox Greek Cypriots, Armenian Christian Cypriots and Turkish Muslim Cypriots.  The events became known as Bloody Christmas (Turkish; Kanli Noel).

The violence was sparked by increasing tensions from Greek Cypriot demands for Enosis; union with Greece.  The gradual build-up of tensions erupted when Greek Cypriot police tried to search the persons of Turkish Cypriot women in a taxi.

By the end of the violence Turkish participation in the Cypriot parliament ended.  Deaths included 364 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots.  Isolated properties became too dangerous for their inhabitants and the rural populations became displaced into enclaves.

The ultimate outcome of the divisions between the communities resulted a decade later in the Turkish invasion of 1974, dividing the Island north and south to the present day.  The “green line” keeps the two parts of the island divided and in the middle of the green line, and in the middle of the capital city the airport of Nicosia is a permanent reminder of the invasion.  The aircraft grounded on that day by the Turkish invasion remain rotting on the tarmac.  The Departures and Arrivals building crumbles away with disuse.

EU Membership is hoped to encourage the Turkish North to reunify the island but the most recent talks stalled over rights of return and property ownership.  Over the years access through the green line has improved and more crossing points have opened.  But it may take another generation before a stettlement can be agreed.

 

Failing Gracefully

Drip Rifle at Bandiana 2007

The Drip Rifle

In modern computer programming we speak of a “graceful failure” or a “graceful exit”.  It refers to a piece of coding which recognises a failure in a routine and closes the routine down with an error log that signposts a data quality analyst where to look for the problem.

Back in December 1915 the allied forces faced a different kind of an exit challenge.  Winston Churchill’s idea of knocking the Ottoman Empire, the sick man of Europe, out of the war with a knockout punch failed.  After 11 months of move and counter-move the allies acknowledged that the Turks were equal to the task of defending their homeland.

It was a campaign that illustrated how one bad step can follow another bad step embedding you deeper and deeper into an entirely unintended situation.  The plan was to force a fleet up the Bosphorus to Istanbul and force the surrender of Turkey under the Big Guns of the combined British and French fleets.

The actions of a single Turkish mine laying ship blocked the entry of the fleet.  When the navy sent in minesweepers they were shelled by Turkish shore batteries.  So the Navy needed to send in ground troops to clean out the shore batteries.  The Turks opposed the landings and the Dardenelles campaign descended into a hellhole of trench warfare.  Up close and personal trench warfare, with only the narrowest strip of no-mans land between the front lines.

When the Allies decided to evacuate lance corporal W.C. Scurry presented them with a piece of genius.  Scurry had arrived in Gallipoli only one month prior with the Australian Imperial Force.  He rigged up a delayed firing system using two mess tins and a bit of string.

The top tin was filled with water, the bottom empty and suspended from the top one.  A hole was pierced in the top tin and the water dripped slowly out, falling into the bottom tin.  When the bottom tin became heavy enough to pull the top tin down both tins fell and pulled the trigger string, firing the rifle.

By using different size tins, different hole positions, different size holes and different amounts of water it was possible to set up multiple different timings.

On the 20th of December, 2015, as the Newfoundland rear guard of the evacuating forces silently departed from the trenches they triggered the mechanisms on dozens of these rigs.  As long as the rifles kept firing the Turks believed the allies were still there.  The evacuation of 80,000 men was achieved with only a half dozen casualties.

Gallipoli was an unqualified failure, but one with a graceful exit.

 

 

After Court Martial; by Francis Ledwidge

My mind is not my mind, therefore
I take no heed of what men say,
I lived ten thousand years before
God cursed the town of Nineveh.

The Present is a dream I see
of horror and loud sufferings,
at dawn a bird will waken me
unto my place among the kings.

And though men called me a vile name,
and all my dream companions gone,
’tis I the soldier bears the shame,
not I the king of Babylon.