Suffer the Little Children…

 

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The other night there was a piece on the TV news in which a child psychologist bemoaned the fact that children were being frightened by news about the Climate Emergency, suggesting that we should tone it down and perhaps not mention it in schools – I don’t remember the precise details – to which I said ‘Good! Children need to be frightened by it!’

That didn’t go down too well with my wife, who naturally felt that children shouldn’t be frightened.

And usually I would agree with that, but as unfeeling as it might sound I think it is right that they should be frightened by what is happening. It is their future which is inevitably going to be impacted by the actions we do or do not take in the next few years. Their future which our inaction will damage or destroy. And at the moment, that future looks none too promising.

If they are frightened they are likely to raise the issue with their parents, and the resulting conversation may result in more adults learning how imperative it is we take action, and perhaps beginning to add their voices to the demands for action.

And they will be far more frightened if their homes and schools are flooded, or their neighbourhood catches fire, or armed conflict breaks out, all of which look increasingly likely unless we really DO SOMETHING!

It is the actions taken by concerned and frightened children which have become school strikes, and which have led to the formation of Extinction Rebellion, and which may ultimately lead to a people-led drive to finally take meaningful action to try to prevent catastrophe.

So, sad as it seems, they need to be frightened.

We all need to be frightened.

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Review of Devil in the Wind by Frank Prem

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Like Frank’s previous book, Small Town Kid, this collection of poems tells a story of rural and small town Australia. But the similarities between the two books end there.

Whereas the previous collection was a celebration of boyhood in Frank’s hometown, this is an account of the dreadful bushfires of February 2009 that swept through parts of Southern Australia, the area that is home to the author, killing 173 people and leaving a huge area a fire-blackened moonscape.

The poems are a mixture of first-hand accounts, from those who ran desperately from the flames, saving what they could and suddenly terrified at the unbelievable size of the fire and the terrible speed the flames moved at, from firefighters who fought the flames like small companies of soldiers attempting to halt the progress of an overwhelmingly large army, until they literally dropped from exhaustion, from the fire-spotters, and from the frightened friends and relatives trying to raise loved ones down unresponsive phonelines.

In many ways, this is a very difficult book to read, although it is important to do so, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have never had to live through events as terrifying as those described in its poems. It is full of raw emotion and naked detail, traumatised victims and quiet heroes.

At times, I found it essential to look away and take a breather, much as the firefighters had to do, as the emotion became just too much for me.

Poetry is an immensely personal art form. Even when the subject is neither the poet nor the reader, intense emotions come through. Presented in this form, these accounts are shocking. I cannot tell whether they would have felt as shocking had they been prose, but the sparse brevity of the language confronts you almost aggressively, defying you to ignore what they say. Each one seems to scream ‘Listen to me! Don’t you dare turn away until I have finished!’

It is extremely rarely that I would suggest a book should be required reading, but I genuinely think Devil in the Wind should be and is unquestionably a five star read.

The New Viking

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Long, long ago, (although not in a galaxy far, far away) I posted a poem about Vikings which was called, astonishingly, Vikings. (It can be found here should you wish to re-visit it.

This is a rather tongue-in-cheek follow up.

The New Viking, a Reformed man

 

He brought death and terror to these Saxon lands,

Taking iron and fire to fearful hamlets,

But he was defeated by a woman,

A yellow-haired woman, soft and pliant.

And now the screams of battle are the

Bloodcurdling cries of infants.

 

He beats his sword into a ploughshare,

And grows rows of turnips and cabbages.

His axe cleaves firewood.

Maybe he’ll name his house ‘Dunplundering’.

 

He no longer lives within sight of his beloved sea,

But he watches trees ripple in the wind;

An ocean of billows topped with brilliant green spume.

 

Casting long shadows in warm sunlight,

These immobile giants roaring and sighing,

Desperately attempting to free themselves

Of their earthen shackles

Feel uncomfortably close to home.

 

Those northern winters still call him.

The fire, the mead, the fighting,

The tales of monsters and warriors.

 

Hamstrung by instinct

He shifts uneasily, guiltily, on his chair by the hearth.

His sword fingers twitch and tap and he

Looks for reasons to pick arguments

With his neighbours.

 

Anything would do.

Just Look at Ghat!

Ouch! Probably my worst title yet!

I can’t help it…I’ve not been well…

…well, only a cold, but you know what we men are like.

In another attempt to feel instantly better, I’ve nipped across to North India (only in my imagination, unfortunately), to picture Kedar Ghat, on the banks of the Ganges, in Varanasi.

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Ghats, a Hindi word, are sets of steps leading down to a river (and also mountain ranges or passes – The eastern and Western Ghats in Central India). It has also come to mean a level place at the edge of a river where Hindus cremate their dead.

In Varanasi, there are between 84 and 87 ghats, depending upon who you get this information from,. The Manikarnika Ghat, or Ghats (possibly this is the origin of the confusion over the number) is the ‘burning ghat’, where cremations are carried out 24 hours a day, all through the year. The source fire there has supposedly been burning for thousands of years, but photography is actively discouraged, hence my only shot is one taken from a distance.

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Of course, the ghats are also used for bathing. Hindus bathe en masse there, as a dip in the Ganges is meant to wash away sins. Important pujas (ceremonies) take place at sunrise and sunset. Boat trips to view the ghats are very popular, and finally much of the city’s laundry gets done at the dhobi ghats (dhobi meaning laundry).

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Namaste!

The Best of Humanity

It is frequently said that when disaster strikes, that is when you will see the best of human nature. Generosity, bravery, selflessness – this was all on display yesterday at the dreadful fire in West London. The bravery and selflessness of the rescue services, and of many individuals caught up in the horror as it unfolded. The generosity of the entire community and beyond as they rallied around to donate food and clothing, money and shelter to the victims. All this and much more.

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But it is important to remember also that every single day countless individuals all over the world carry out countless acts of kindness, bravery and generosity that few others, if any, ever know of.

It is often tempting to look at the news and think that the human race is a barbaric, selfish, and bloodthirsty entity, and I know I am guilty of that at times, but we must never lose sight of the bigger picture. Because if there are many occasions when as a race we fall much lower than any other creature on earth, equally, there are many where we rise far higher.

We Are So Strong

At that time of the year marked out by the Christian calendar as a time of feasting and rejoicing, a traveller arrived at this loneliest of spots, seeking perhaps no more than shelter for the night. The weather was cold; the daylight hours were short and, at this place, inclined to be dark. The wind had ceased when he arrived, but the air seemed to wrap itself thickly around the rocks and trees in the shallow dell, and the low clouds hung like the tattered and fraying old tapestries in a gloomy cathedral that I have heard spoken of by other travellers, during the long, long years of my life. There is no work by man in this place, but the gently sloping sides and the strong, ancient trees might give some protection from the weather.

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The traveller was old. I could see that he had lived through many summers and winters, and was approaching the nadir of his life. He had displayed an admirable tenacity in reaching this place on foot, and I was inclined to respect him for this. The path through the hills would have led him many long miles since he last passed through a village of men. As he must be his own beast of burden, he did not carry very much with him. A single bag, a sack I suppose, was dropped to the ground and he followed it slowly, joints and muscles struggling with the effort. For a while, which did not seem very long to me, he sat beside this burden, his cloak pulled tightly around him, and then as the darkness began to close in further, he opened the sack to remove a blanket and a few other items that I could not recognise.

 He then spent a while gathering together many of the dead twigs and branches that were scattered around this place, which I did not mind, although it was obvious to me what he wanted them for. There was a storm coming that night, although it was most unlikely that he would know this, and he would want fire against the cold and the rain. He worked steadily as dusk fell, preparing everything that he would need, and then there was a clicking and scraping of metal against stone, and sparks flared and died suddenly in the night; tiny cousins of the stars that the Creator on occasion sees fit to make fall to earth. Soon, I saw some of these stars lingering and growing amongst the tinder, and the old man’s face glowed orange as he knelt down to blow them gently, teasing the tiny flames into life.

 He did not seem to eat, but later he drank something from a small bag made from animal skin that caused him to relax and he leaned back against the trunk, his blanket now wrapped around him over his cloak, staring into the depths of the firelight. He awoke as the storm began to rage, and I was surprised at how quickly he got to his feet. He seemed to work madly, feverishly, piling branch after branch upon the fire until the flames swirled around in the wind, high and hot and strong, flickering in turn out into the darkness, and then licking against the tree trunks or surging up into the canopy. Still he piled on the wood that he had gathered.

 The iron discipline that bonds us all together can do nothing to prevent us from feeling hatred and fear, and it was this, our eternal fear of fire and our hatred of these creatures which loosened these bonds for a moment. It was only a fleeting moment, and then the world settled back into its eternal rhythm. All that had changed was the branch that pinned the old man to his pyre.

We are so strong.