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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 49 Old Fool

Entry 49: Old Fool- Just as we need our outlaws, we need our fools. How else could we avoidedicarians
despair at being the scrapings of the barrel, the lowest of the rungs and the humblest of doormats? In our efforts to avoid relegation to the bottom we may, of course, have missed our apotheosis. So, then, who are our fools? Let’s start early, before memory, before humanity- a long distance in the past. Let us meet the Ediacarans. They arose 600 million years ago, ruling the earth; like us, multicellular entities that lived by absorbing nutrients from their surroundings.

cambrian-explosionThey prospered in their Garden of Ediacara for untold eons, in their fool’s paradise until…well, until the Cambrian explosion- a 25-million-year event that saw the arrival of most of the modern animal families: vertebrates, molluscs, arthropods, sponges and jellyfish. All that remains of the Ediacarans are delicate imprints of their fossilised shapes preserved in sand or ash that look, in miniature, like spinning galaxies, far off in interstellar space. Our fools, in evolutionary terms, then, are those fossilised images which remind us of the spiral galaxies turning relentlessly in the unreachable universe beyond.

What rendered them mere remnants was the arrival of entities that did not just passivelyintelligent-machines attach themselves to a rock and suck life from the surrounding environment. Things that could move independently and sustain themselves by eating other organisms began to roam around the Garden of Ediacara. The rest is history, as they say. Some say we are within a few generations of joining the Ediacarans because of the rise of intelligent machines.

a-wisdom-and-folly-imageA.I. is the sexiest new frontier according to some, and our worst nightmare, according to others. But, in the interregnum, I would like to celebrate humanity and its combination of wisdom and folly, laughter and grief. The Bible has quite a lot to tell us about wisdom and folly: Proverbs 16:16 reminds us, How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver! So, then, what choices have you made? If that is awkward, how about what Proverbs 18:7 has to say, a fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.  Listening, shock jocks? Of course not! Too much gold and silver on offer!

Truth’s a dog must to kennel; he must be whipp’d out, when Lady the brach may stand by th’ firea-fool and stink. Oh, yes. Shakespeare, as usual, puts it best. The Fool in King Lear is one of the glories of world literature,

Have more than thou showest,/ Speak less than thou knowest,/ Lend less than thou owest,/ Ride more than thou goest,/ Learn more than thou trowest,/Set less than thou throwest. 

This is not folly, but wise advice. A faithful servant of the beleaguered king, the Fool knows that the old ways are under threat and says, I would fain learn to lie.  King Lear, using the royal we, replies, An you lie, sirrah, we’ll have you whipp’d. The fool, seeing more clearly than any of those around him retorts,

 I marvel what kin thou and thy daughters are. They’ll have me whipp’d for speaking true; thou’lt have me whipp’d for lying; and sometimes I am whipp’d for holding my peace. I had rather be any kind o’ thing than a fool! And yet I would not be thee, nuncle.

a-revelationIndeed, who would want to be Lear as he faced the destruction of everything he had known and believed. Fools, and other damaged individuals, have licence to speak the unspeakable truth to the mightiest in the land, even though they may face whipping or worse. Flannery O’Connor’s short story, Revelation, set, initially, in a doctor’s waiting room features Mrs Ruby Turpin, who is a complacent and pious hypocrite, certain of her own rightness and assured of her throne among the celestial throng.

As she converses with others in the waiting room she is somewhat disconcerted by the intensity with which a young female student, who is prone to psychotic episodes, looks at her. Then, without warning, she throws a book at Mrs Turpin, hitting her over the eye; she then launches herself at the corpulent woman attempting to strangle her. She is subdued by the doctor and nurse and injected with a sedative. The stunned Mrs Turpin approaches the supine girl:

There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition. “What you got to say to me?” she asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin’s. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog,” she whispered.

The words resonate in her with prophetic force and she has a vision that evening on hera-heaven-image property at sunset where she sees a vast procession of those she considered beneath her leaping and shouting as they made their way up to heaven-ahead of the likes of Mrs Turpin.

 

Old Fool
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 50 Since You Walked Out of My Life

Entry 50: Since You Walked Out of My Life- This song would have been the subject of entrya-cheap-guitar one had this journal been organised chronologically according to date of song composition. But it’s fifty! And if I wind the clock back fifty years, I see a gawky, 16-year old with acne and a cheap guitar trying to impress his girl-friend (now wife) with his prowess on the fretboard. This is made rather difficult by the high action and rusting strings of the instrument and low degree of skill of the guitar’s owner. The high action made it difficult to hold down the chords with any facility or, indeed, accuracy and the teenage show-off made much of his ability to play runs on the top two strings (the thinnest of the bunch) that made a modicum of musical sense.

a-country-music-sceneBeing a mid-teen and therefore very cynical and worldly-wise I cracked on that I was beyond the appreciation of country music having thrown my lot in with the Stones, Beatles, Who and any rock or pop act that was current. Acts from my younger and more foolish life, shared with parents and older siblings, such as Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash were thoroughly scorned and discounted. Strange, then, that my first composition was recognisably of just that despised genre. It was a parody, yes, and, as it turns out, incomplete, for I had only the first section, lyrically and musically, when first I flashed my song-writing credentials to my mildly amused partner.

It took another dozen years to add a couple of sections to make it more than a fragment. Soa-go-between what made me return to the abhorred artefact time and time again? Not a rhetorical question, by the way: I really don’t know. Not entirely. In the mid-sixties, confusion reigned in my world and on my horizons. In my English classroom, under the magisterial Mr Leahy, I was struggling to find anything of interest in L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between.

More people know the opening line of the novel than anything at all of what transpires in that work of fiction; all together now: The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. They certainly did at Garron Tower, the colloquial name for St MacNissi’s College, a Catholic grammar school, situated on a plateau approximately 200 feet above the famous Antrim Coast Road overlooking the North Channel and out towards Scotland and the Mull of Kintyre

a-tower-imageBuilt as a summer residence by Frances Ann Vane, Marchioness of Londonderry, in the style of an English castle, the  property was acquired by the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor in 1950 for use as a boarding school for boys as part of a long-term strategy for combating the sectarian stranglehold on higher education by the Protestant ascendancy of the Northern Ireland state-let, which had been established in 1921.

I notice in one of the posts about the place that it was compared to Hogwarts.  Mmm.a-hogwarts-image Perhaps…it seems to have been magically co-located in time and space because there are two wildly divergent narratives about my Alma Mater: one upholds a glowing testament to the saying that schooldays are the best days of your life and another that would, if verifiable, be the subject of judicial sanctions of the graver kinds against certain persons of authority.

I know that when I arrived there in 1964 as a boarder, from a-colston-imagemy expatriate American Junior High School in Aruba I was shocked by the regimentation, bullying and corporal punishment that were par for the course. However, I survived because I became a day-boy in 1965 when my parents returned from overseas and, in any case, I threw my lot in with the smokers, gamblers and drinkers who formed their own protective clique.

Now, like Leo Colston, the protagonist of The Go-Between, I am in my mid-sixties, looking through my old things, awakening strange memories from that foreign country. A faded photograph sparks a sudden recollection: a winter scene from 1964 of a bunch of us meeting at a secluded spot, after dinner and before study. It is dusk: we are surrounded by trees. There is a headstone marking the resting place of Urisk, the faithful dog of the original owner, the Marchioness of Londonderry. It reads, in part, a-vane-image

Deaf to all else his mistress’ voice he knew, Blind though he was, his step to her was true. So strong an instinct by affection fed, Endured till Urisk’s vital spirit fled. Stoop grandeur from thy throne ye sons of pride, To whom no want is known, nor wish denied. A moment pause, and blush, if blush you can, To find in dogs more virtue than in man. And share, ‘midst all your luxury and pelf’, one thought for others out of ten for self’.

a-cannonWe light our cigarettes, cupping them in our covert hands, thinking that we have fooled the patrolling priests who amble below, as if in prayer, around the circular path in front of the imposing façade of the College, past the seven cannon pointing out over the North Channel at the future.

 

Since You Walked Out of My Life
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 51 Strange Meeting

Entry 51: Strange Meeting- Fifty years ago, I was required to memorise Dulce et Decorum estdulce-et-decorum-est-pro-patria-mori as part of my English homework. While I would love to report that I did so grudgingly- but have lived to cherish the imposition forever- that assertion would be less than truthful. I neglected that piece of homework (and several others, if I am being dragged to the truth.) My English teacher banished me to the study hall during his lessons.

By some unexplained protocol, I should have begged forgiveness and then been re-a-study-halladmitted to the sanctuary of learning that was, in fact, Mr Leahy’s wonderfully enlightening classroom. But it didn’t happen. Being a “newbie”, to use an anachronistic American locution, (and why not, seeing as I was not long returned from Aruba and a US educational system,) I kept on reporting to the study hall for a few weeks.

The College President (this was the title given to the Principal of the establishment) found out, somehow, that I was languishing in thea-nother-tower-image study hall, out of class, and sent for me. By this time, I knew that the gradations of punishment tended to increase in direct proportion to the status of the personage one would have to confront- so you can imagine the fearfulness with which I approached the imposing presidential door. Big Bill, or more formally, Father William Tumelty, gruffly interrogated me about my sojourn in the study hall.

I knew, from rugby training, that on the northern edge of the college grounds due east of the pitches and piggery, on a knoll overlooking the Sea of Moyle, was a photogenic replication of Golgotha. I was in no doubt that I would be nailed up there as a warning to other recalcitrant avoiders of homework. Did I cry? No. At that age, and with just a few weeks of learning that you were a snivelling shite if you reacted to the cane, I resorted to the age-old student defence of limitless ignorance- helped, of course, by the truth that it was not really a stretch.

ni_nmni_belum_p46_1978_large

So, I was returned to class, Big Bill having determined that I was little more than a blithering idiot and therefore having been punished sufficiently by just being myself. A lucky escape, I told myself. And, while I never actually memorised the great poem, Dulce et Decorum et cetera, I grew to love the poetry of Wilfred Owen. One of the most moving, for me, was Strange Meeting, which details the meeting in Hades of two opposing soldiers. The masterful handling of pararhyme creates a haunting, otherworldly soundscape as we follow one of the protagonists deep into the underworld and feel his dislocation as he comes upon one who leaps up,

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,/Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless./And by his smile, Ia-strange-meeting knew that sullen hall,/ By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell. “Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” /“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,/The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,/Was my life also; I went hunting wild/After the wildest beauty in the world,/Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,/But mocks the steady running of the hour…

 That Wilfred Owen, at the age of 25, could write such poetry- poetry that would bear comparison with his compatriots, Keats and Shelley, is one of the great treasures of literature, and one of the great tragedies; that, like the incomparable Keats and Shelley, he would perish, like them, still in his twenties.

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend./I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned/Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed./I parried; but my hands were loath and cold./Let us sleep now. . . .”

pity-of-warc-1The pity of war– that phrase is found in the poem and has been engraved in hearts and minds in the decades since it was written. The title would form the germ of an idea for a song I would write fifteen years later. As a teacher now myself, at Ballymena Academy, having recently returned from Australia, I formed an easy relationship with a bunch of  senior students who were interested in music and had won through to the finals of a UK music contest being held in Manchester.

They asked the powers that be that I accompany them to the contest. I can remembera-bass-player work-shopping lyrics with them in the bus to the airport- they were still short one original composition for the contest. Typical students- but they had won through to a prestigious, nationwide event, where one of the judges was John Entwhistle of The Who. And they were placed fourth- not bad for a little pickup school band from N.I.

The pressure of the process helped me to write the song at the end of this entry. We were in digs in Manchester University and I sat up with my notepad and guitar and, while the band were out clubbing in central Manchester, I struggled with the lyrics and chords and finally, about 4:00 am, finished, just about when the student revellers were returning.

 

Strange Meeting
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 52 My Good Friend Joe

Entry 52: My Good Friend Joe- Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,/Whoa-farrier have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome/Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some/Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

This portrait of a blacksmith from the late 19th Century written in 1880 by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was the inspiration of a song I wrote 120 years later. I did not replicate the Italian sonnet structure or rhyme scheme, I did not replicate the tender pastor/parishioner relationship obtaining in the poem, I did not replicate the subtle theology of the original- I did not even replicate the fact that the subject of the poem had ceased to be! To be frank- all I did was steal a feeling, sense of mortality, a realisation that we are all leaves trembling on the tree of life.

a-gmh-imageFalse pretences you may shriek. False? No! Pretences- now that is a different matter! All that I know is that the song’s first line blossomed in my head one night in 2000. Oh is he gone, my good friend Joe, we played in a band… The latest band I had helped to form was in abeyance and I was hungry for an outlet for…what? Let’s use the word, energy instead of creativity– which sounds way too wanky. I guess I was reflecting on my journey as a musician over the past thirty- odd years.

When I first arrived in Australia, I sought out familiar faces and accents, as all migrantsa-collegians-image do. In 1973 I was invited to a St Patrick’s do at Collegians club in Wollongong. By that time I had had a few months to find my feet and I made a few contacts among the Irish contingent on the South Coast. We climbed the stairs to the upper room where trestle tables covered with crepe paper were laid out. The entertainment was…puzzling; an Italian chap with a nice big shiny accordion picked out a few anodyne tunes, among which were a few ersatz Oirish songs written for Hollywood B-movies.

a-seanachie-imageI was not happy. Now, I don’t blame the accordion player- he was just gigging. But that anyone would think that this was a celebration of Irish culture just made me gag. So I decided to make sure that the next St Paddy’s day would be more…what? Irish, that’s what I decided. The result was the formation of Seanachie which started to play in a local hotel, as well as cafes and art galleries in the Illawarra- and eventually even played as far afield as Sydney and the Snowy Mountains.

We were OK, thanks, in part, to Joe who had played guitar in various bands in and about Strabane, Northern Ireland. Along with him was his mate Bertie who was a wiz on the mandolin as well as a whistle player, Johnny. The main singer was a Londoner of Irish descent called Tony. I was a bit of a Jack of all trades, playing a bit of guitar, banjo, mandolin, bodhran and whistle which I was struggling to learn that year.

We weren’t quite ready for a full concert in ’74 and our first appearance at Collegians was,a-drunk-image shall we say, a limited success- limited, that is, to our loved ones who were determined not to rub too much salt into the wounds. We did get better, but who wants to hear about success. You know, nothing is really ever old. In 1990, I was appalled on St Patrick’s Day, in a club in north Queensland, to hear the wife of a big car dealer in the Burdekin making mockery of the Irish accent as she performed what can only be described as a “blackface” rendition of The Spinning Wheel.

She meant well, of course. And I classify her as a kindred spirit of Ruby Turpin in Flannery a-flannery-o-connor-imageO’Connor’s short story, Revelation. We may talk about sickness in the soul or the spirit but nothing concentrates the mind so much as imminent and grave threats to the body. Illness struck down Felix Randal, the hulking blacksmith, who had gloried in his physical size and strength. The diminutive Jesuit priest, Hopkins, provided pastoral and sacramental care for the dying man, Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended/Being anointed and all…/Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

 Interestingly, the final images of the poem are not of decay, darkness and death but show Felix Randal in his glory days or, as Hopkins puts it,…all thy more boisterous years,/When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,/Didst fettle for the great grey dray horse his bright and battering sandal!

As I said at the outset, my song does not try to emulate the linguistic and sonic adventuresa-fishing-image of the sonnet. Indeed, it is a funeral song without a corpse. Joe is still living, as far as I am aware. It may come to pass that we will again have time to meet somewhere far down the coast, near Eden, where we will fish from the beach and watch the waves roll in from the South Pacific and later, with fortune providing us with a couple of flathead, we will drink and chat about old times over a fish barbecue as the sun goes down.

 

My Good Friend Joe
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 53 How Did We Get This Way?

Entry 53: How Did We Get This Way?– Have you ever been young? Have you ever drunk thea-youth-potion elixir of youth? Have you ever had the misfortune to have lived through that magical age- to come to the horrible dreams that feature death, disappointment, dreary realisation that this dreck is all just a shoddy illusion?

In other words, have you ever grown older, wiser, more balanced, mature, philosophical and last, but not least, quietly resigned to the inevitability of decline that caused a young Welsh poet named Dylan Thomas to write in 1947, at the age Christ was crucified, the wonderful poem, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night? In an ageing demographic, where there is so much conversation-(oh, how I hate that word now! I can remember when the word meant a stress-less and friendly exchange between equals, but learning in this century that it means, instead, an amalgam of an inquisition and an accusation).

a-senior-momentBut what about those advantages of being a senior citizen (all those really cheap rail passes and so on). I question why I was born into an epoch that failed to see that being young, strong and free was as good as it ever would ever get in our universe as presently constructed. In 1975, I was raging in Wollongong, in my mid-twenties, and as good as ever I would get- in some ways, anyway. At that time, nearly ten years into my apprenticeship as a songwriter (part-time) and three years into my day job as a teacher at Warrawong High School, I reflected on aspects of my own life.

I had a wife who was working, a daughter, just at school, and a son at pre-school. Finely
attuned to the lives of my heroes, who were only a few years older that myself, I chafed under the restrictions that were an amalgam of futile hopes, a little knowledge and less ability, that would never, ever have amounted to much more that a pile of futile fantasies. I can vaguely remember a drunken conversation in a toilet with a guy who took exception to something I a-dylan-imagehad said earlier in the night at Collegians on our inaugural concert.

Instead of sitting down with Robert Sheldon from The New York Times for a life-changing interview, I found myself placating this psycho who tried to insert himself into our embryonic folk band on the grounds that he was a great tambourine player. Then, fast-a-album-wordcloudforward to another weekend, up in Sydney, where I bought Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks and sat drinking a coffee, reading the liner notes and knowing that there were several levels of existence between people like me and the guy from Minnesota who changed the world of popular music. Then, later, of course, I listened to the album.

Now, I could have just rushed up to the headland on which was situated the lighthouse at a-w_lighthouseWollongong and hurled myself over the cliff onto the colourful rocks below. Instead, I wrote this song. Guess what? A man who married in his early twenties to the love of his life, had two children in quick succession and had no clue as to what all of this meant and consequently got so much wrong, somehow had the temerity to put pen to paper and presume to engage in the whole process of telling the universe that, despite the preponderance of huge  pre-existing talent and random black holes and super-novae and whatever else the physicists and mathematicians can conjure out of the numbers, that here is something that is worth telling.

I can remember, too, trying to make a deal with the universe when I knew, in 1964, that I a-aruba-scenewas leaving the paradise that was Aruba, to return to an unknown quantity that was the Ireland of the mid- 1960s. I tried (not for the only time) to make a deal with God. I knew, as a good Catholic, that I was (ir)remediably sinful but I made a pact at 13 years of age that I would take all the crap coming to me right now, and, in return, much later, have the pleasures of beatification. What shite. It took decades for me to realise that there had been a marvellous and easily available cornucopia that was sitting there in plain sight that was as clear as the heavens above.

As I looked out over the lagoon to the distant mountains of Venezuela I did not realise, a-catatumbo-imagethen, that I was witnessing the light-show of Catatumbo lightning which is a unique meteorological phenomenon high up in the storm clouds providing a spectacular sight for those close to it and which can be seen up to 500 kilometres away in Aruba, where, as a young boy, I witnessed the flashes of silent light and thought nothing of it. To learn that it was a unique meteorological event more than fifty years after observing it just reinforces the idea that we really don’t know very much at all.

So, I hope you forgive me from shouting at the top of my voice: “For God’s sake, remember why we are here on this good earth: Do not go gentle into that good night… Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

 

How Did We Get This Way?
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 54 The Younger Son

Entry 54: The Younger Son– What is there outside the skin, the eyes, the ears, the tonguea-senses-image and sense of smell?  Smell, oh, yes, your man Proust would validate that ticket. But books I do love. The Bible, Shakespeare, the canonical poets and great authors; but add to that the songwriters and storytellers who grab you by the lobe of your ear and say- listen, listen, are you deaf or what? Can’t you read? No matter, just sit or stand here and listen.

And don’t presume for one minute that it is all about you, despite your uniqueness. Just like you, there are billions of skins, noses, eyes, tongues and ears who yearn for the warmth of the sun, the cooling draught of water, the caress of the breeze, the sweetness of honey and the smell of flowers that makes life such a fine and various thing. But are you the younger son, the lesser sibling, a-outsider-imagethe undervalued one, the person who has failed to find favour? Whether by gender, politics, primogeniture or…whatever…are you feeling on the outer? Maybe an outsider? Maybe a misunderstood member of a despised group?

Perhaps just someone who decided that, hey, I don’t want to think, I don’t want to work, I don’t want to explain, I don’t want to engage, I don’t want to figure in any of your classifications? Who would ever want you? Or to be you? The great bluesman B.B King sang, No-one loves me but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too. Or another King, Albert by name, reminded so many of us that, if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have no luck at all. I subscribe to a streaming music service and the song-lists, left to their own are randomised.

I drink to try to keep a tightrope traversing run possible within the bravado imparted bya-ball-and-biscuit-image alcohol and the buzz generated by the sound bouncing off the walls as I stab at the keyboard, five-fingered, as stuff that miraculously coheres into semi-meaningful text blossoms onto the screen in front of me to the sonic hammer of, for instance, The White Stripes’ Ball and Biscuit as I marvel at the serendipity of the lyrics moaned by Jack White, Let’s have a ball and a biscuit sugar/And take our sweet little time about it/Let’s have a ball girl/And take our sweet little time about it.

The ball-cocaine and biscuit-MDMA are “right now” while the future promise of getting clean serves as an excuse for the persona’s “seventh son” to excuse present-day excess, We’ll get clean together/And I’ll find me a soapbox where I can shout it. Sure you will!  While the desperate among the affluent flagellate themselves with drugs and despair there are a-asylum-imageother, more desperate people seeking some sort of solace. Huge movements of dispossessed and persecuted men, women and children reach their hands out to the promise given by the enticing siren images of the Western World’s illusion of peace and plenty as they flee from unspeakable barbarities. Let’s have a ball, baby.

Thirty years ago, Seamus Heaney wrote a poem entitled From the Republic of Conscience for Amnesty International where we discover that we are all ambassadors by virtue of duala-tutu-quote citizenship of our native land and the Republic of Conscience where their sacred symbol is a stylized boat./The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,/the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye. We learn that we must act rather than turn away and, rather than remaining silent in the face of injustice to speak on their behalf andno ambassador would ever be relieved.

 The Bible provides one of the richest sources of material for writers. The parable of The Good Samaritan clearly applies here. Yet it seems to be a a-good-sam-imageconundrum to the adult political world, largely, although most children get it without too much of a struggle. I have never been inspired to transmute it into song. This is not the case, though, with another parable which inspired the song at the end of this entry. In the gospel of Luke can be found the parable of The Prodigal Son. And lots of artists, musicians and writers have found this strange and beautiful story. And made something of it.

Here’s a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s take on the parable:

My father glooms and advises me,/ My brother sulks and despises me,/ And Mother catechisesa-prodigal-son-image me/ Till I want to go out and swear./ And, in spite of the butler’s gravity,/ I know that the servants have it I/ Am a monster of moral depravity,/ And I’m damned if I think it’s fair!

The Wild Rover, by The Dubliners, was a favourite single of mine fifty years ago and I have sung it off and on in a variety of venues in the decades since: I’ve been a wild rover for many’s the year/ And I’ve spent all me money on whiskey and beer…these lines are more autobiographical than I’d wish, alas. The last verse references the parable, I’ll go home to me parents, confess what I’ve done/And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son. Of course, all I do is sing the song, drunkenly.

 

The Younger Son
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 55 Back to You

Entry 55: Back to You– The road and music are related and rooted deep in history. Minstrels,a-image-of-minstrels troubadours, strolling players, and itinerant harpers such as the great Turloch O’Carolan who travelled the length and breadth of Ireland in the 17th Century, have set a template for musicians with itchy feet ever since.

We know for a fact, of course, that Robert Johnston made a pact with the devil at the crossroads and that the late, great Hank Williams perished in the back of the car taking him to a New Year’s Day concert because his last single was prophetically entitled, I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.

a-crossroads-imageNow, whether the original musical impulse was connected to the sacred or the profane will never be known, although I would speculate that they were twin births for no more reliable reason than that offered for the crossroads pact and prophetic song title. The brothers Grimm in the 19th Century recorded a tale about and ass, a dog, a cat and a cock, each having served faithfully their masters and mistresses, and now, at the end of their usefulness, about to be slaughtered, take to the road and form a pact to travel to the city where they may try their luck as a band of musicians.

On their journey, they come across a dwelling in which a band of criminals are sitting down to a feast. They hit upon a plan to eat well that night so the donkey stands on his hind legs, the dog climbs up with the cat on his head and the cock at the top of the pile: they are now a real band!

When all was ready a signal was given, and they began their music. The ass brayed, the dog barked,a-bremen-image the cat mewed, and the cock screamed; and then they all broke through the window at once, and came tumbling into the room, amongst the broken glass, with a most hideous clatter! The robbers, who had been not a little frightened by the opening concert, had now no doubt that some frightful hobgoblin had broken in upon them, and scampered away as fast as they could.

But the real world is not as aesthetically pleasing, alas. On Friday the 13th of November 2015, a band of evil men broke into the Le a-bataclan-imageBataclan theatre on the Rue Voltaire. In an article in The Guardian shortly after the massacre we read that, the chinoiserie-style theatre was built in 1864 and opened the following year. It has played an integral part in Paris’s musical scene…in the early 70s. Lou Reed, John Cale and Nico performed there in 1972…Prince, Jeff Buckley, Captain Beefheart, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Motörhead, the Clash, the Cure, the Ramones, Beck, My Bloody Valentine, Blur and Oasis are just some of countless artists who’ve played at the Bataclan over the years.

In a city synonymous with light; in a street named after the great secular philosophera-bataclan-image2 Voltaire; in a venue that is emblematic of the plurality and vibrancy of Western culture- there can be no doubt that this place was not picked at random, but quite deliberately by those whose souls are diametrically opposed to the spirit and energy of the culture of Western civilisation. I had not heard of the band that played there on the night terror struck.

The band, The Eagles of Death Metal, released this statement on their Facebook page which reads, in part …we are horrified and still trying to come to terms with what happened in France. Our thoughts and hearts are first and foremost… with all the friends and fans whose lives were taken in Paris, as well as their friends, families, and loved ones. Although bonded in grief with the victims, the fans, the families, the citizens of Paris, and all those affected by terrorism, we are proud to stand together, with our new family, now united by a common goal of love and compassion. We would like to thank…all those at ground zero with us who helped each other as best they could during this unimaginable ordeal, proving once again that love overshadows evil.

a-charlie-hebdo-imageThe heartless ghouls behind the killings should read the posts on the band’s page to see just how futile their campaign was, is and will be. A previous attack in Paris on Charlie Hebdo inspired a great cartoon by Australian David Pope- He drew first. I know cartoonists will hit back against this atrocity. I leave you with this Sandburg poem entitled Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio,

It’s a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes./The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackassa-charlie-hebdo-image2 snorts./The banjo tickles and titters too awful./The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers./The cartoonists weep in their beer./Ship riveters talk with their feet/To the feet of floozies under the tables./A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:/“I got the blues./ I got the blues./I got the blues.”/And . . . as we said earlier:/The cartoonists weep in their beer.

But, when they finish weeping, they will pick up their pens and they will be mightier.

 

Back to You
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 56 Somewhere Along the Line

Entry 56: Somewhere Along the Line– A cladogram of the phylogenetic tree of life has itsa-luca-image roots in time about 3.8 billion years ago where we find the Last Universal Common Ancestor a.k.a. LUCA. Why it’s not called the First Universal Common Ancestor, I’ll never know, although the acronym FUCA may not provoke as serious a response as most scientists might wish…

Please! Don’t leave! Just when we were getting to know one another…

a-big-bang-imageKnowing that our heritage is older yet, residing in exploding stars at least three times as old, we are entitled to swagger a little, aren’t we? No one can call you a Johnny Come Lately when you can trace your lineage back to the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago.

So, given our common ancestry, why do we hunt animals to extinction and why do we kill one another in such staggering numbers?  If you are listening to this, you are another link in a long line that is 14 billion years and counting.

The Biblical lifespan of three score and ten- or seventy years, just doesn’t make sense ifa-who-do-image we try to fit it into the timescale of the universe- the number deifies proper human comprehension. But you just have to view a few episodes of that internationally popular program, Who Do You Think You Are? to understand the very real emotions that the celebrities, who are the subject of these programs, exhibit.

a-whodo2-imageTypically, they trace their ancestry back three or four generations and are, in turn, gratified, horrified, scarified and discombobulated by what the researchers uncover. All of us, though, live our lives along a continuum that might be moments or decades but will never exceed by more than a few years, one century. And within that continuum, there may be a section that is subject to more emotional intensity than other sections.

Can you remember your first two or three years of life? What about those whose final years or decades are lost in mists of dementia? The song of the entry’s title focuses on a sectiona-march-of-time-image of such emotional intensity- say, about ten years straddling the second and third decades of life. Ten years is manageable. So much can happen! Such memories! Oh my, how did things turn around so?

For me, the years between 14 and 24 were the most momentous- and although you may cite another age-range for yourself, it seems to me that more of relevance to my life and development happened in that ten-year period than in the decade before or the decades after.

Of course, having said this, I may yet discover the secret of time-travel or invent a weight-a-time-imageloss pill that actually works. (In either case, I think I would have to revise the timing of my most momentous decade.) While we may wish we could preserve some moments in amber or on a Grecian vase, it cannot be so. Smart people have theorised that time is not, as all we lesser intellects have surmised, a linear construct, an arrow flying in one direction only- but instead a mixing bowl into which is folded all the events of the universe and which can be reversed to unmix the ingredients.

A film that can be run in reverse, I suppose. You know, this would give me the shits! Are you seriously telling me that all those awkward words, thoughts and actions that I thoughta-embarrass-image buried forever in the vault of time are going to be resurrected to shame me all over again? I thought that was what embarrassment was created for! Because every time we remember an incident where blood flamed in our faces, we experience it all over again.

The pain, the pain! We all know that, thankfully, we do not re-experience the agony of a leg broken long ago when we recall falling off the bike that time when we were attempting a BMX record. But that we would see arising from the reversed blender all our less salubrious moments makes me pray that time goes in one direction only, even, or especially, if it leads to oblivion.

Banjo Paterson knows all about the nature of time and its murky depths,

a-banjo-imageAll of us play our very best game/Any other time./ Golf or billiards, it’s all the same,/ Any other time./  Lose a match and you always say,/ “Just my luck! I was ‘off’ to-day!/ I could have beaten him quite half-way,/ Any other time!”

But to the song- there can be no more poignant scenario than that of passion cooling on the part of one of a pair of lovers. Entropy proceeds at differing rates in the human heart, unlike the big, old universe. Shakespeare, in Sonnet 73, was way in advance of the Brainiacs of this age-

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,/That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,/As the deathbeda-sonnet-73 whereon it must expire,/Consumed with that which it was nourished by./This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,/To love that well which thou must leave ere long. 

 

Somewhere Along The Line
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 57 Universe of Blue

Entry 57: Universe of Blue– “I don’t do chords,” said B. B. King. Now, most musos woulda-bb-image treat such a statement from, say, me, as an excuse for excoriation, humiliation and light entertainment. But, for B.B that was OK. He played in a range of venues from juke-joints to stadia and command performances at the White House, as well as other prestigious places over a period of 60+ years.

For women, it’s not so good, though, is it? They begin to fade from view very soon. Is this related to the premium placed on the value of feminine beauty that kicks in earlier and earlier it seems- but which can be estimated as a sweet spot of the two decades between fifteen and thirty-five? Lamentably, fewer women than men older than this remain in esteem in Western culture.

a-old-womanAdieu, farewell earth’s bliss,/This world uncertain is./ Fond are life’s lustful joys-/Death proves them all but toys./None from his darts can fly-/I am sick; I must die./Lord Have mercy on us.

The opening stanza of Thomas Nashe’s, In Time of Pestilence, is as striking today as when it was penned towards the end of the 16th Century.

Beauty is but a flower,/Which wrinkles will devour./Brightness falls from the air;/Queens have died young and fair;/Dust hath closed Helen’s eye:/I am sick; I must die./Lord, have mercy on us.

There must have been something in the water, or perhaps, the firmament during the 16tha-wyatt-image Century- some alignment of stars conducive to literary excellence. Can you hear echoes of Shakespeare? Or perhaps, Marlowe? And do you hear, listening intently, the voice of Sir Thomas Wyatt, earlier in the century complaining,

They flee from me that sometime did me seek/With naked foot stalking in my chamber/I have seen them gentle, tame and meek/that now are wild and do not remember/That sometime they put themselves in danger/To take bread at my hand; and now they range,/Busily seeking with a continual change.

 a-young-man-imageFebrile, youthful males in every generation since have yearned for the consummation outlined in stanza two where Wyatt remembers a time,

When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,/And she me caught in her arms long and small,/Therewithal sweetly did me kiss/And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

How like you this, indeed! Sex and Death- as always, a heady mixture- and one supplied in copious quantities by artists down the centuries. But the mixture cloys and thickens, sweetly-sour, when the 19th Century gets hold of it.

The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson supplies the nexus. In a grey tower by the river running toa-holman-hunt-image Camelot sits a faery princess weaving a magic web replicating what she sees through her mirror- the passing parade; trapped by a curse…(theorists of every stripe have had a field day with this!) she must not look directly out of her window.

The mirror shows her the agrarian round of sowing and reaping and harvest and bucolic celebration until she sighs, I am half-sick of shadows. Then, Sir Lancelot appears,

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow’d;/On burnish’d hooves his war-horse trode;/From underneath his helmet flow’d/His coal-black curls as on he rode,/As he rode down to Camelot./From the bank and from the river/He flashed into the crystal mirror,/’Tirra lirra,’ by the river/Sang Sir Lancelot.

a-lady-image-2Oh, my Lord! The power of music- like a pentatonic riff by B. B. King ripping through the consciousness of, say, a pimply 15-year-old in Northern Ireland in the mid-sixties- the lyrical notes of Sir Lancelot drew the Lady to the window where,

Out flew the web and floated wide-/The mirror crack’d from side to side;/”The curse is come upon me,” cried/The Lady of Shalott.

No prizes for guessing the denouement. She finds a boat and, singing her death-song, drifts with the current towards Camelot,

They heard her singing her last song/The Lady of Shalott/Heard a carol, mournful, holy/Chanted loudly, chanted lowly/Till her blood was frozen slowly/And her eyes were darkened wholly/Turned to towered Camelot/For ere she reached upon the tide/The first house by the waterside/Singing in her song she died/The Lady of Shalott.

 The Pre-Raphaelites lapped it up and painted various scenes from it. Founder of thewilliam_holman_hunt_xx_the_awakening_conscience movement, William Holman-Hunt, painted the lady entangled in her magic tapestry’s web as Sir Lancelot passes by outside singing Tirra Lirra.

The Awakening Conscience, painted by Holman-Hunt, fifty years before, makes for an interesting comparison; there, too, is a mirror, a window and a beautiful woman depicted, but here, she’s on her lover’s lap as she gazes, transfixed out of the window.

As I look from one painting to the other, I am, inexplicably reminded of those beauty pageants for pre-teens where mothers primp and preen their pre-pubescent daughters for the cattle-call. The song which follows details the future life of such a little one.

Universe of Blue
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 58 Open Season

Entry 58: Open Season– We live in perilous times and in perilous places, wondering all thea-apocalyptic-image while whether the complexion of the universe is benign, malign or merely indifferent.

I found a ball of grass among the hay/And progged it as I passed and went away/And when I looked I fancied something stirred/And turned again and hoped to catch the bird/When out an old mouse bolted in the wheat/With all her young ones hanging at her teats/She looked so odd and so grotesque to me/I ran and wondered what the thing could be/And pushed the knapweed bunches where I stood/When the mouse hurried from the craking brood/The young ones squeaked and when I went away/She found her nest again among the hay./The water o’er the pebbles scarce could run/And broad old cesspools glittered in the sun.

 There is a microcosm here, ina-mouse-nest, as finely detailed as any found in theological or cosmological treatises on the matter. John Clare knew privation and the prospect of a bird at hand no doubt stimulated his salivary glands. The odd and grotesque sight stimulates his curiosity and he runs to see more but soon turns away and notices now the broad old cesspools which glitter in the sun. But the world of the mother mouse and her young ones has been considerably disrupted.

The god-like overview the poet projects here soon loses the certitude of being the prime mover in a very short time, and one imagines that Clare is speaking personally when he writes:a-clare-image

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;/My friends forsake me like a memory lost:/I am the self- consumer of my woes.

 I am the self-consumer of my woes- what a profound statement- yet who knows this little known poet? Confined to an insane asylum by friends, he seems to have been given better treatment than most people in similar circumstances two centuries later. He is a bit like Kit Smart, who was also considered a lunatic in the previous century, but who, instead of focusing on a mouse, recorded his cat, Jeoffry,

ismartc001p1

…I will consider my Cat Jeoffry./For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him./For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way./For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness./For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

 This was written in an age that knew nothing of the problems of feral cats in Australia, today. There are lots of people in the antipodean great south land that consider cats as servants of Satan rather than the living God. There was a time when hunting the whale was a worthy, indeed heroic, undertaking. This makes me wonder which activities that attract approbation today will be considered barbarous in our grandchildren’s world. God! Did they actually kill mosquitoes back then! This, after scientists discover that the mozzie is the only thinga-mozzie-image standing between us and the worst impacts of climate change.

Who knows? Writing this entry at 3:30 a.m. I was distracted by a beautiful sound- listening to a streaming audio, I thought it was part of that effusion. Then I realised that it was something else. Still curious, after all these years, I got up from my desk and wine, and wandered outside to hear the sound of a freight-train, trying to- maximise? – the clangour by slowing down as it passed by. a-freight-train-imageThe metal wheels made weirdly harmonic music and I stood transfixed.  If only I were as talented as, say, Phillip Glass or any one of the minimalists, I would now be notating another masterpiece of minimalism based on those squeaking, screeching and craking sounds.

But I have promises to keep: porterhouse steaks to sear and a breaking in of the Weber barbeque- this must happen tomorrow if I am to be accorded full acceptance into the pantheon of Aussie manhood- or so my wife asserts, especially as it will be Australia Day. Yet, in the 1970s, as I recall, I wieldeda-nb-image tongs over an Hibachi on North Beach, Wollongong and scorched some meat that passed muster. But now, in the 21st Century, I have to search out strange herbs and spices, uncommon cuts of meat, in-fashion fish and source-matching wines to be in the race, it seems.

It’s hard to live comfortably with a-syria-imagethis beneficence after viewing online a still photograph of a mother and child in Syria standing in front of a ruined streetscape in a village near the Turkish border, liberated from Islamic State. There is something in the eyes that hooks your soul; like the Steve McCurry photo of the Afghan girl, and the Madonna and child image from Ethiopia in the 1980s, there is a cri de Coeur here too,

No man is an island,/Entire of itself./Each is a piece of the continent,/A part of the main./If a cloda-island-image be washed away by the sea,/Europe is the less…/Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind./Therefore, send not to know/For whom the bell tolls,/ It tolls for thee.

 These lines, from John Donne’s Meditation 17, still apply.

 

Open Season
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 59 Where’s the Harm?

Entry 59: Where’s The Harm?– What wouldn’t I give to have the resilient characteristics of aa-water-bear tardigrade?  These critters are almost indestructible- small but tough. The name tardigrade means slow walker– but who’s in a hurry, if able to withstand extremes of pressure and temperature, to say nothing of poisons and a variety of stressors that would kill every other multi-cellular organism on earth?

And, interestingly, these wonderful little plodders are not classified as extremophiles; that is, they do not thrive in extremes of heat, aridity or pressure, like those organisms adapted to extreme conditions- but they can resist those extremes, preferring temperate a-hobbitconditions- like us. I suppose they could be classified as the Hobbits of the microscopic world.

The German pastor, Johann August Ephraim Goeze, in 1773, first described these “little water bears” as he called them, measuring less than ½ mm as a rule. Emily Dickinson, in an early poem describes a theological virtue we are all familiar with,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops—at all//And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard/ And sore must be the storm/That could abash the little Bird/ That kept so many warm//I’ve heard it in the chillest land/ And on the strangesta-hope-image Sea/ Yet, never, in Extremity,/ It asked a crumb—of Me.

This is a very different kind of hope from that detailed by Friedrich Nietzsche in his explication of the Pandora myth. We may think that we know what words like faith, hope and charity (or love) actually mean. But it’s not so simple. Our definitions bend and twist as the torsion of our lives unwind under the force of time. I can remember a moment as a child (when the Latin Mass was still the norm) when I was petrified to let the Host touch my teeth. The priests had impressed upon us the need to avoid crushing the body of Christ within our puerile mouths.

a-eucharistHow could we dare to subject our Saviour to such torture? Decades later, I scoffed at a traditionalist Catholic who objected to the validity of a Eucharist celebrated at a school camp high up an escarpment in North Queensland in the early 90s, by a parish priest confronted with a mixed bag of Catholics and non-Catholics who were invited to share the Paschal sacrifice with leavened bread and wine in clay-ware containers.

The word the critic used was, heterodoxical. As an aficionado of language, I naturally honed in on the usage, particularly when I saw the blanching on the cheeks of the priest. Did I leap to his defence? Ah, you know me better by now. Of course not! Today, heterodoxicalauto-da-fe persons just get excommunicated. Pretty grim, of course, but not as dire as the auto da fe of medieval times where the lateral thinkers were routinely set on fire.

Ten years ago, I awoke on Good Friday morning with a fragment of a song in my head, Where’s the harm in that? linked to a nebulous character who was simple and uncomplicated but who felt as deeply as anyone in MENSA or a Nobel laureate. As the day wore on, the persona of the song became more detailed and real until, by that evening, when the song was finished, Michael had as much substance to me as any acquaintance.

a-truth-imageThe line, But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen, from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest applies here. Carl Sandburg, even though he only had daughters, knew what fathers want to say to their sons,

“Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.”/And this might stand him for the storms/and serve him for humdrum monotony/and guide him among sudden betrayals/and tighten him for slack moments./

“Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.”/And this too might serve him./Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed./The growth of a frail flower in a path up/has sometimes shattered and split a rock./A tough will counts. So does desire./ So does a rich soft wanting./Without rich wanting nothing arrives./ 

Tell him too much money has killed men/and left them dead years before burial:/the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs/has twisted good enough men/sometimes into dry thwarted worms./

Tell him to be alone often and get at himself/and above all tell himself no lies about himself/whatever the white lies and protective fronts/he may use against other people./Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong/and the final decisions are made in silent rooms./Tell him to be different from other people/if it comes natural and easy being different./

Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives./Let him seek deep for where he is borna-sandburg-image natural./Then he may understand Shakespeare/and the Wright brothers,…and free imaginations/Bringing changes into a world resenting change./He will be lonely enough/to have time for the work/he knows as his own.

 But-alas-only if the son lives long enough.

 

Where’s The Harm?
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Script for audio journal Volume 5 Old Fool

SQ 60 Come Back an Angel

Entry 60: Come Back an Angel– It depends how you look at it: humanity is either on thea-lear-image verge of a transcendent apotheosis or it is poised on the brink of extinction: either triumphant at the apex of creation or King Lear’s poor bare forked animal struggling to make it into the top ten.

On one reading we, as a species, are on a sure trajectory to the domination of space and time- what with our nascent abilities to terra-form planets and create Dyson spheres to enclose a-terraforming-imagestars and make use of the energy therein. After all, the thought merely precedes the action and science fiction stories are crammed with planets and stars at our beck and call.

There are other readings, alas, that predict less than glorious outcomes. One such is neocatastrophism which cites sudden extinctions in the palaeontological record caused bya-nasa high magnitude, low frequency occurrences such as massive asteroid strikes, super-volcanic eruptions and super-nova gamma ray bursts- any one of which would spoil your holiday plans somewhat.

And, in another reading, we don’t even make the top ten. Numero Uno, of course, is the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent God with a capital G. Following in descending order of precedence are the nine orders of angels: Seraphim, a-archangel-imageCherubim, Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Powers, Virtues, Archangels and Angels. Weighing in at number 11 in the scheme of things- that would be us!

So why do I celebrate this? The hendecasyllabic truth is just this: that it lies between the mundane decimal and the ancient order of counting by 12. It is represented as a unicursal hexagram with a five-petalled flower inscribed inside. If you are like me, you love complication if only because simplification forces too much examination.

Which bring me to the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. I’ll bet thata-angelpin-image you chose a number other than 11. But did you get this answer? In the humoristic magazine Annals of Improbable Research,  Anders Sandberg has presented a calculation based on theories of information physics and quantum gravity, establishing an upper bound of 8.6766×1049 angels.

When my son died in a motor-bike crash in October 1989, my niece told me, when she visited me seven years later, that he had manifested at the foot of her bed to reassure her that all was well. I, with my wife, received this information with respect but with a certain amount of puzzlement. Why, we asked ourselves, was the message relayed to someone who had a much more tangential relationship with him?

a-guardianDid I curse his guardian angel? After all, to whom could I relay my dissatisfaction with the issue of guardianship-apart from myself? Pusillanimous by nature, how could I shirt-front a being ranked above me in the universal order? And I also wonder about the better angels of our nature. When I think about the final words of Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural speech, I realise that even that great orator was unable to avert the coming catastrophe,

we are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, ita-lincoln-image must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

I know that a death in one family cannot compare to the mass carnage of the American Civil War, but the human heart has only so much surface area available to be pierced by the arrows of anguish. And what of those forces opposed to the better angels? Renowned 12th Century mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, wrote a poem entitled Antiphon for the Angels, in which she gives the following account,

a-hildegard-imageSpirited light! on the edge/of the Presence your yearning/burns in the secret darkness,/O angels, insatiably/into God’s gaze./Perversity/could not touch your beauty;/you are essential joy./But your lost companion,/angel of the crooked/wings- he sought the summit,/shot down the depths of God/and plummeted past Adam -/that a mud-bound spirit might soar.

 This remarkable woman, recognised as a Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Benedict XVI, was a formidable intellect who was a writer of poetry, music, philosophy, theology, natural sciences as well as extensive correspondence to Popes, Emperors and others. The Latin word, angelus, means messenger and this is what angels are, traditionally.

I can remember, as a boy, working in my uncle’s hilly fields in the summertime. Come twelvea-angelus-image noon and the bells would ring out from the village below. Work would stop and he would start: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. We would reply, And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. These are the opening lines of the Catholic devotion marking the Incarnation which seemed to soar heaven-wards in that distant time.

Now, this mud-bound spirit finds it increasingly hard to soar.

 

Come Back and Angel