Category Archives: Literature

Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (5)

I don’t often begin with a dedication but perhaps, just this once……

“Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.”

And certainly, when I started out, I never thought I would one day be writing Blog Post Number Six hundred threescore and six. Anyway……

 

Last time we were looking at some of the old Soviet football/soccer programmed that I still have.

The first programme today has “Uralmash Sverdlovsk” / “Уралмаш Свердловск” as the away team, but this time with “Stroityel Ashkhabad” / “Строитель Ашхабад”, as their hosts. You may remember from Blog Post 4 that “Uralmash” was a little like an acronym, where “Ural” referred to the range of mountains and “Mash” was short for “Mashina” , the Russian word for “car”. The two together referred to a car factory in Sverdlovsk, the main city of the Urals. Sverdlovsk is now called Ekaterinberg, just to add to the confusion:

“Stroitel Ashkhabad” /“Строитель Ашхабад” means “Ashkhabad Construction Workers”, although this particular team have previously been “Locomotiv Ashkhabad” / “Локомотив (railway workers) Ашхабад”  and “Колхощи (collective farm workers) Ашхабад”. How original, and different, those names were, compared to the modern “FK Köpetdag Aşgabat”. “Köpetdag” by the way, means “Many mountains”, presumably in the local language.

Ashkhabad, by the way, is the capital of Turkmenistan, which is to the north east of Iran, and certainly part of Asia. Just to puzzle everybody further, on this map, the cartographers have decided to label Iran the “Middle East”. I have no idea why.

Here are the team line ups:

The top two words mean “make-ups” and “of the teams”. In brackets, the next few words mean “about- possible- changes- listen…….“по радио” ……..to-the radio -before-the beginning…….. “матча”  of the match.

Russian is a very ancient language, of the same age and vintage as Latin or Ancient Greek. There are a surprisingly large number of Russian words which do not come from Latin, but which are close relations of the Latin words. ““по” / “po” is the same word as the Latin “per”, as in “per ardua ad astra” the motto of the RAF, “Through difficulties to the stars”. “Before the match” was “перед  матча” and the word “p-e-r-e-d” is our “pre” as in “prehistoric” or “premature”.

Notice how on this programme, there is a late change to the team so that Papuga doesn’t play at No 7 but instead he is replaced by what might be “Yegorshin” although it’s not particularly clear. But just think of the circumstances of that team change, made with Oleg Soloviev’s fountain pen. He is sitting in a seat at the Central Stadium in Sverdlovsk, the city to which, in 1941,  Stalin organised the  large scale removal of the Soviet Union’s industry, so that it was beyond the range of German bombers. For Oleg, it is Monday, October 9th 1967, just a few moments after 6 o’clock, when the team changes are announced. He is more than 3,000 miles away from where I, aged just 14, am still working away in school.

In a few hours’ time,  ground control at NASA will crash the American space probe, “Lunar Orbiter 3”, deliberately onto the Moon’s surface after eight months in orbit. In La Higuera, a village in Bolivia, in his cell, the prisoner has just a few hours left to live before Army Sergeant Mario Terán takes his semi-automatic rifle and shoots him nine times. His prisoner is a young doctor and revolutionary Marxist named Ché Guevara. And on Saturday, October 21 1967, the first ever national demonstration against the Vietnam war will take place in Washington.

Our penultimate  programme is a match which took place in what was then called Kuybyshev (Куйбышев) and is now called Samara. It is a city of 1.14 million residents, situated on the River Volga:

This football team is still in the Russian Premier Division and is still called “Krylia Sovetov” just as as it was in  those “Golden Days of Communism”. In Russian “Krylia Sovetov” is “Крылья Советов” and it means “Wings of the Soviets”, surely one of the most dramatic names in world football.

The away team, on the left, is from Zaporizhzhia (Запорожье) which is nowadays a city in south-eastern Ukraine., once the site of a big car factory and nowadays the largest nuclear power station in Europe. Here is their badge of today…….

The name of the team is “Металлург” or “Metallurg”, a reference to Zaporizhzhia’s factories during the Soviet era in which they produced steel, aluminium and many other products of heavy industry.

The last programme of the lot is another home game for “Кубань Краснодар” aka “Kuban Krasnodar”. If you remember, “Krasnodar”, the name of the city, means “gift of the Reds” and the Kuban was the local river. The opponents are “Терек Грозный” aka “Terek Grozniy”. Nowadays the team is called “FC Akhmat Grozny”. Back in 1969, the game was a seven o’clock evening game on Tuesday, June 17th 1969. Top left is the complete date, namely “Вторник 17 июня 1969 г ”  The “г” is short for “года” (“goda”) which means “of the year”.

Grozny is not really a place for a romantic weekend break. It is the capital of Chechnya, home of the Chechens, who are primarily of the Muslim faith. You can read about the wars here, the first of three wikipedia articles.

The new team, “FC Akhmat Grozny”, is now named after Akhmat Kadyrov who was the Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in the 1990s. He changed sides in 2000 and became the President of the Chechen Republic. On May 9th 2004, he was assassinated by Chechen Islamists in Grozny.

Grozny is a place name, but in Russian it also means something. “Грозный” is an adjective meaning “terrible, formidable, redoubtable, menacing, threatening, stern or ferocious”. It can be applied to a look, a glance, a storm, a danger, or a tsar. “Иван” is “Ivan”  and I’m sure that you can work out which of the many Ivans was the tsar called “Иван Грозный”.

But what is a “Terek”? Well, it’s a river in the northern Caucasus. Here it flows through Vladikavkaz,  the old Tsarist fortress and garrison town, and nowadays, the home of the beautiful Mukhtarov Mosque:

To me though, the word “Terek” will always be associated with a rare bird in England, the Terek Sandpiper, a wader which always runs to the water’s edge to wash its food before it eats it. It is also one of the very few birds whose beak points upwards. Not many people know that.

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Shaka Zulu (3)

Last time, I finished by mentioning how the regiments of the Zulu army were distinguished by differently coloured shields and the number of marks on them. Shields might be brown, white or black and might have black spots, brown spots, white spots or no spots at all. Here’s a display in a South African museum:

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It occurred quite frequently that the Zulus would use the captured shields of their enemies as a ruse, causing confusion or even panic among the ranks of their adversaries. Chaka actually owned his own army’s warshields, the isihlangu, and they were handed out only in times of war. Men were punished for losing them.

Years later, when the Zulus were fighting the Boers,  Bongoza, a General in the Zulu army of King Dingane, even showed his men how to hide behind their shields and pretend to be grazing cattle.

Funnily enough, that was actually the only innovative idea that I came across that did not come from Chaka, the most brilliant military thinker ever in  sub-Saharan Africa. I found this coloured version of what is usually a black and white illustration of him on the internet:

Chaka was the one, for example, who changed his men’s diet, having them consume a fairly constant mixture of beef and cereal porridge. The existence of a new, fitter, stronger, army, would, of course, ultimately create more wars, but at the same time it would allow free access to further supplies of beef and cereals from the territories of the conquered tribes.

I don’t know if this dietary régime really did keep the Zulus leaner, fitter and more able to march long distances but that was the widely held belief among non-Zulus in Natal and Zululand in the 19th century. The problem, of course, was that the Zulus themselves left no written accounts and that all we have to go on are the accounts of one or two white traders such as Francis Farewell and Henry Fynn. And any books written by men who merely want to make money, of course, tend to exaggerate, just to make even more money.

For that reason, we shall never know for certain just how bloodthirsty and crazy Chaka was after his mother, Nandi, died on October 10th 1827. Did he really order every Zulu mother-to-be to be executed? Did he really seek out more than 7,000 people who were not sufficiently grief stricken and have them all killed? And even more crazily, did he really have every cow with a calf to be killed so that their offspring would all know exactly what it felt like when your mother died?

Only written records from an unbiased source can tell us such things. We are, for the same reason, still unsure about how far a Zulu regiment, an impi, could  run in a day. In 1879 the whites firmly believed that the answer to that question was FIFTY miles. It is even quoted in the film “Zulu”.

South African historian, John Laband, however, thought the idea was ridiculous. He gave 12 miles per day as the absolute maximum with only nine miles per day as the normal distance.
A very similar example would be the use of sandals by Zulu warriors. In the absence of written records, it has been handed down over the years that in order to toughen his warriors’ feet, Chaka had them stop wearing sandals and then any who refused were executed. Nowadays, we just don’t know if that is true or false.

Modern Zulus, especially the politicians, wear spotless, bright, white trainers. Their followers  frequently wear very brightly coloured jeans and carry golf umbrellas :

Some other aspects of bygone Zulu life we do know about through photographs. Across the world, many kings wear crowns. Zulu kings were slightly different and we have photographs from the nineteenth century to prove it. Here is King Cetshwayo:

He is wearing an “isiCoco”, an emblem of rank in pre-colonial days, meaning variously “the king”, “married man” or “warrior”, depending on the person wearing it. It was originally made from a mixture of beeswax, charcoal and snake skin, the latter being a symbol of African royalty and kingship. Warriors would wear leopard skin, because that was the animal they usually hunted. Nowadays, the isiCoco is made more easily, perhaps, by twisting a fibre ring into the hair. The ring has been covered in charcoal and gum and then polished with beeswax.

One final Zulu speciality weapon was the “knobkerrie”, a type of club with a large knob at one end. It can be thrown at the enemy like a javelin, or at animals while out hunting, or it can be used to club an enemy at close quarters. Sometimes it was used in stick fights as young boys practiced their combat techniques. In the Zulu language, it is called an “iwisa” and nowadays is not considered a weapon.

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I have always been fascinated by the Zulus. As a little boy, I was an avid reader of books by H Rider Haggard. It began when “Allan Quartermain” was given to me as a Christmas present, and then I bought “King Solomon’s Mines” and “She” with my pocket money. I was entranced by the heroic Zulu warrior, Umslopogaas, who appears in “Allan Quartermain” and in its sequel “Nada the Lily” a book unique in the nineteenth century in that all of its characters are black. Absolutely remarkable for that era.

I even tried to learn some Zulu phrases, but I never really had the chance to use the phrase “Kill the white wizards” so I soon forgot it. In actual fact, the only one I do still remember is “Amba gachlé ” which means “Go in peace”. Not a bad phrase to be the only one you know.

Here’s Umslopogaas :

 

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Football Programmes of the Soviet Union (1)

I wrote this blog post, and the others in this series, beginning on November 30th 2021. It does not indicate my favouring Russia over the Ukraine in the war currently being waged on the latter’s territory.

In any case, I have written about sport in the old Soviet Union in the late 1960s, not the situation today. Indeed, I would argue that Russia today is an infinitely worse country to deal with than the old Soviet Union used to be. The only situation I could compare present day Russia to would be the Germany of Hitler and Goebbels, where the population were hypnotised into believing what they were told to believe. Anyway, here we go…….

Three, perhaps four lifetimes ago, I was at school, at a country grammar school in west Leicestershire. From 13-17, I studied Russian there, a subject that I always loved. I was also a huge football/soccer fan, and accordingly, I had a collection of hundreds of football programmes. These are the little booklets that are on sale before the match with all the details of the teams, the fixtures to come, the top goalscorers in the league and so on.

Those two hobbies came together when I wrote a letter to a Russian First Division team who were then called Zenit Leningrad, asking them if anybody there would like to become my penfriend, and exchange football programmes with me. Here’s the team badge:

 

A little while later, I received a letter from a Russian gentleman who, just like me, was a lover of football and a programme collector. His name was Oleg Soloviev and his surname meant “nightingale” in Russian. The team used to play at what was then called the Kirov Stadium, a vast bowl with 100,000 seats.

I sent Oleg English and Scottish programmes and he sent me Soviet ones. I say “Soviet” because in those days many of the teams had Soviet names, as we shall see. Oleg was the man in charge of Zenit’s Youth Team and he travelled widely around the USSR in connection with his job. I still have some of the programmes he sent me, although only a small fraction. When I left home to go to my first job, my mother threw out my entire programme collection because I didn’t live there anymore. This type of action, which, incidentally, discarded well over a thousand pounds worth of footballing treasures, was by no means rare at this time and there were other young people I knew who suffered from it. It was all part of the “Bring ‘em up tough but with deeply rooted complexes” method of child care, so beautifully captured by Philip Larkin in this oh-so-true poem

One small difference from English programmes was that in the Soviet Union, the home team was always printed second. This is shown in this particular programme which is of a design used by Zenit Leningrad for a number of years. At the top is the word “футбол” or “football” and the next word is “стадион” which means “stadium”. Perhaps you can spot the name of the man that the stadium was named after, namely “Kirov” or “Кирова”.

Other recognisable things are the kick-off time at the bottom, namely 1600 hours and the day “21 июля” or “21 July” in the middle of the ball.

The teams are going to play a friendly match, the lower team is “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” and the two word opponents are “Сборная” which is “international (team” and “Японин” or “Japan”.

The next programme concerns two teams which still exist nowadays. “Шахтëр Донетск” or “Shakhtyor Donetsk” versus “Зенит Ленинград” aka “Zenit Leningrad” . The game actually took place in the 27th year of the USSR Championship, 1965 (bottom), on April 21st (top right), at 1800 hours (bottom) .

Here are the two teams, both set out in a daring 4-2-4 formation. “Зенит“ obviously means “Zenith” and “Шахтëр” means a “coalminer”. Донетск /Donetsk is now in the Ukraine, in the Donbass region, famous for its coal and iron ore.

That same team of Shakhtyor Donetsk/”Donbass Coalminers” is the away team in the next encounter, against “СКА Ростов” which is “SKA Rostov” “SKA” stands for “Sports Klub of the Army”. Rostov is a very large city and the stadium hosted five games in the 2018 World Cup. This link will take you to some pictures of Rostov’s beautiful buildings.

The game kicked off at 1700 hours (bottom) on July 1st 1971 (middle left). The large yellow letters say “кубок СССР по футболу” which means “Cup of the USSR in football”. It is the 30th tournament (top left, with “30-й турнир”).  Underneath the big yellow letters it is revealed that the game is the “матч ¼ финал” or “quarter final match”.  Rostov, though, have never been a very successful cup team. Just under the right hand yellow pentagon it says “35-й кубковый матч СКА”. So, if this is Rostov’s 35th cup match, and the cup competition is now thirty years old, then they must have only ever won five cup ties.

 

 

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The Flannan Isle disappearances (1)

On February 17th 2021, I published a blog post about one of my Dad’s favourite poems, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, which was written in 1912. The poem concerned the mysterious disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers in December 1900. This strange incident has never been explained once and for all, and I was asked for my own ideas by a number of different people. Unfortunately, the subject proved so complex that I was unable to do it justice in fewer than four blog posts, although, on the other hand, I would argue that all four are as interesting as any that I have ever written.

So here we go……..

At midnight on December 15th, the steamship Archtor, nearing the end of its voyage from Philadelphia to Leith, passed the Flannan Isle lighthouse which was not showing a light. Instead of two quick bursts of light every 30 seconds, there was just darkness. Captain Holman, however, was unable to report this fact to the Northern Lighthouse Board, because the Archtor continued its voyage, but ran aground in the Firth of Forth. The NLB, therefore,  were unaware of the situation until their own supply ship, the Hesperus, made its usual regular visit to the lighthouse on December 26th.  The Master of the Hesperus, Captain Harvie, at the first opportunity, sent a telegram to the NLB. The significant elements can be read below:

“The three Keepers, Ducat, Marshall and the occasional have disappeared from the island. On our arrival there this afternoon no sign of life was to be seen on the Island. Fired a rocket but, as no response was made, managed to land Moore, who went up to the Station but found no Keepers there. The signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

The “occasional” was a temporary replacement for a full time lighthouseman who was ill. His name was Donald McArthur. Donald was due to be replaced by Joseph Moore, the third Assistant Lighthouseman allocated to Flannan Isle, now recovered from his illness. Joseph was on board the Hesperus and Captain Harvie sent him ashore to search the island. Captain Harvie then reported to the NLB the two key things that Joseph found during his search of the lighthouse and the island….

“…. The clocks were all stopped and other signs indicated that the accident must have happened about a week ago.”

Here’s Joseph Moore:

 

Joseph Moore also wrote his own letter to the NLB though, about what he had seen during his search of the island:

“On coming to the entrance gate I found it closed. I made for the entrance door leading to the kitchen and store room, found it also closed and the door inside that, but the kitchen door itself was open………..

On entering the kitchen I looked at the fireplace and saw that the fire was not lighted for some days. I then entered the rooms in succession, found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning.”

And………

“Mr McCormack and myself proceeded to the lightroom where everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc.”

The island is so small that it could be searched in a very short time…..

“We traversed the Island from end to end but still nothing to be seen to convince us how it happened. Nothing appears touched at East Landing to show that they were taken from there. Ropes are all in their respective places in the shelter, just as they were left after the relief on the 7th.”

Both sides of the island were not the same though….

“On the West side it is somewhat different. We had an old box halfway up the railway for holding West Landing mooring ropes and tackle, and it has gone. Some of the ropes, it appears, got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks near the crane. The crane itself is safe.

The iron railings along the passage connecting the railway with the footpath to the landing and started from their foundation and broken in several places (sic), also railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast for boat, is entirely carried away.”

Joseph Moore could also work out how the men were dressed…….

“Now there is nothing to give us an indication that it was there the poor men lost their lives, only that Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves. He never used any other coat on previous occasions, only the one I am referring to.”

Some of the evidence above is important. To end this blog post, I will write out some of the things discovered by the NLB and perhaps you can have a think about what they prove, or, indeed, disprove……..

The clocks were stopped

The entrance gate I found …..closed

The entrance door ….. found it closed and the door inside (as well)

The kitchen door itself was open

The fire was not lighted for some days

I found the beds empty just as they left them in the early morning

In the lightroom everything was in proper order. The lamp was cleaned. The fountain full. Blinds on the windows etc

Nothing appears touched at East Landing

Ropes are all in their places

And then there is that huge contrast:

On the West side……… old box halfway up the railway ….has gone……the ropes…… got washed out of it, they lie strewn on the rocks.

The iron railings …….with the footpath to the landing …….started from their foundation and broken in several places…..railing round crane, and handrail for making mooring rope fast……. entirely carried away.”

Mr Marshall has his seaboots on and oilskins, also Mr Ducat has his seaboots on. He had no oilskin, only an old waterproof coat, and that is away. Donald McArthur has his wearing coat left behind him which shows, as far as I know, that he went out in shirt sleeves.

Next time, I will show you the conclusions of the NLB Superintendent who also visited the island. He, like Joseph Moore, was well aware that the box constructed to keep all the ropes and other equipment safe was 110 feet above the sea.

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (5)

When I was a little boy, my Dad, Fred, used to be a teacher at Hastings Road School in Gresley. Unfortunately excessive mining operations underneath the school led to its premature collapse.  My Dad is at the right hand end of the back row:

My Dad had to move to the Woodville Church of England Junior School, the school I attended, where, after a number of years, I finished up in his class, which was possibly Class 4. This is the school now.

One afternoon,  I can recall being one of the many children who were all so very frightened when my Dad read out to the fifty of us the narrative poem, “Flannan Isle”, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, written in 1912. Here’s the author:

The Flannan Isles incidentally are pretty much as remote as you can get in Britain. The orange arrow is 553 miles from London, in a straight line, slightly less than London-Berlin:

On an unknown date in December 1900, the lighthouse on Flannan Isle suddenly failed to shine. A few days later, when a group of lighthouse men came to investigate, they found that the whole island was completely deserted. The three lighthouse keepers had completely disappeared.

Fred used to recite this poem regularly to his classes, and I can still recall how intriguing many of us found this true story, and how animatedly and at what great length we discussed all the possible reasons for the disappearance of those three unfortunate lighthouse keepers only sixty years previously. We were all convinced that the men had been magically transformed into seabirds,  an absolutely horrific idea for nine year olds in that more innocent age of the early 1960s. Anyway, here’s the first section:

“THOUGH three men dwell on Flannan Isle
To keep the lamp alight,
As we steered under the lee, we caught
No glimmer through the night.” A passing ship at dawn had brought
The news; and quickly we set sail,
To find out what strange thing might ail
The keepers of the deep-sea light.
The Winter day broke blue and bright,
With glancing sun and glancing spray,
As o’er the swell our boat made way,
As gallant as a gull in flight. But, as we neared the lonely Isle;
And looked up at the naked height;
And saw the lighthouse towering white,
With blinded lantern, that all night
Had never shot a spark
Of comfort through the dark,
So ghostly in the cold sunlight
It seemed, that we were struck the while
With wonder all too dread for words.
That sets the scene, although, initially, when I came back to this poem after 60 odd years, I was a little disappointed with the quality of the poetry. Gibson seems so often to add an extra phrase or an extra couple of words, when the poem would actually read better without them.
Anyway, a possible solution is hinted at by the description below of the three strange seabirds:
And, as into the tiny creek
We stole beneath the hanging crag,
We saw three queer, black, ugly birds—
Too big, by far, in my belief,
For guillemot or shag—
Like seamen sitting bolt-upright
Upon a half-tide reef:
But, as we neared, they plunged from sight,
Without a sound, or spurt of white.

Those three birds, guillemots or shags, were the very things that would go on to terrify a bunch of 9-year olds.

And still to ‘mazed to speak,
We landed; and made fast the boat;
And climbed the track in single file,
Each wishing he was safe afloat,
On any sea, however far,
So it be far from Flannan Isle:
And still we seemed to climb, and climb,
As though we’d lost all count of time,
And so must climb for evermore.
Yet, all too soon, we reached the door—
The black, sun-blistered lighthouse-door,
That gaped for us ajar.

 

As, on the threshold, for a spell,
We paused, we seemed to breathe the smell
Of limewash and of tar,
Familiar as our daily breath,
As though ‘t were some strange scent of death:
And so, yet wondering, side by side,
We stood a moment, still tongue-tied:
And each with black foreboding eyed
The door, ere we should fling it wide,
To leave the sunlight for the gloom:
Till, plucking courage up, at last,
Hard on each other’s heels we passed,
Into the living-room.
Actually, at this point, I might well retract what I said before. The further I went into the poem, the more I realised, that it is clearly meant to be slowly and deliberately declaimed out loud. Have a go. You’ll see what I mean. And sincere apologies, Wilf !
Yet, as we crowded through the door,
We only saw a table, spread
For dinner, meat and cheese and bread;
But, all untouched; and no one there:
As though, when they sat down to eat,
Ere they could even taste,
Alarm had come; and they in haste
Had risen and left the bread and meat:
For at the table-head a chair
Lay tumbled on the floor. We listened; but we only heard
The feeble cheeping of a bird
That starved upon its perch:
And, listening still, without a word,
We set about our hopeless search.
We hunted high, we hunted low;
And soon ransacked the empty house;
Then o’er the Island, to and fro,
We ranged, to listen and to look
In every cranny, cleft or nook
That might have hid a bird or mouse:
But, though we searched from shore to shore,
We found no sign in any place:
And soon again stood face to face
Before the gaping door:
And stole into the room once more
As frightened children steal.
Aye: though we hunted high and low,
And hunted everywhere,
Of the three men’s fate we found no trace
Of any kind in any place,
But a door ajar, and an untouched meal,
And an overtoppled chair.
And, as we listened in the gloom
Of that forsaken living-room—
A chill clutch on our breath—
We thought how ill-chance came to all
Who kept the Flannan Light:
And how the rock had been the death
Of many a likely lad:
How six had come to a sudden end,
And three had gone stark mad:
And one whom we’d all known as friend
Had leapt from the lantern one still night,
And fallen dead by the lighthouse wall:
And long we thought
On the three we sought,
And of what might yet befall.
Like curs, a glance has brought to heel,
We listened, flinching there:
And looked, and looked, on the untouched meal,
And the overtoppled chair.
We seemed to stand for an endless while,
Though still no word was said,
Three men alive on Flannan Isle,
Who thought, on three men dead.
Hopefully, you made it this far. It is definitely a great poem to be declaimed out loud. But you’ve got to take it slowly and deliberately. If you stumble at the words, go back and give it another go.
And here’s the three birds that we children all thought the lighthouse keepers had been transformed into:

In the future, I hope to produce some blog posts looking at the possible reasons that the three men disappeared.

Portrait of Gibson borrowed from poeticous

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (4)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. Last time we took a look at the first one of the two, “Tarantella”, which was written by Hilaire Belloc. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Fred’s second poem, “The Listeners” which was written by Walter de la Mare. This poem is great for children of around nine or ten, because it leaves so many questions unanswered and they can be asked to contribute their own ideas to the discussion:

‘Is anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.

So….no answer when the grey-eyed traveller knocked on the moonlit door. The place is completely deserted. Or is it?

But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.

In other words, not just one ghost but a host of unidentified phantoms. Are they going to make their presence known?

And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

The ghosts just prefer to remain still. Saying nothing and totally unseen. The Traveller knocks loudly a second time.

For he suddenly smote the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head: –
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.

But it has no effect. They can hear every word from the Traveller, but prefer to say nothing. And they can hear his departure. His foot into the stirrup and the horse’s shoes on the  stone cobbles.

Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

And off he goes. The silent ghosts reclaim their building as soon as the Traveller is gone. And the building returns to its usual deserted state:

But why did he say ‘Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word,’? Alas, there are no hints given on that score, although clearly, there is some connection between all three protagonists, namely, the Traveller, the lone house and the listeners.

I think that the poem is as simple as that. It’s rather like when a stranger knocks on the door of the house next door to yours.  They wait for an answer but “answer came there none“. (Thank you, Lewis. Now just be quiet).

And you never do find out why they were knocking.

 

 

 

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (3)

Fred had two poems which he really enjoyed. I’m not so sure now that they didn’t both of them portray him as a man with a drink problem, insofar as they both have strong connections with establishments which sold alcohol, quite possibly in large quantities.

Anyway, the first poem of the two is called “Tarantella” and was written by Hilaire Belloc. The tarantella is a dance for two people which is supposed to mimic musically the very strong jerking spasms brought on by the bite of the wolf spider. The latter is a very large spider, but have no fear, there will be no pictures of arachnids here. Instead, just happy people enjoying a dance:

Those “strong spasms”, incidentally, are supposedly paralleled psychologically by the extreme emotions of falling in love.  In terms of the spider’s poison, however, love won’t stop the effects of the bite. Only dancing around like some kind of mad person can prevent the death of whoever has been bitten.

Here’s the first bit, a masterpiece of juggling with words, as the author tries to take Miranda back in time to one hell of a night that they shared years ago:

Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading of the straw
for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar,
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Under the vine of the dark veranda?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young
muleteers
Who hadn’t got a penny,
And who weren’t paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din;
And the Hip! Hop! Hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Glancing,
Dancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin,
Out and in
And the Ting! Tong! Tang! of the guitar?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?
The next five lines of the poem show, though, how that memorable night of years ago has disappeared for ever into the past, and, like all our experiences as human beings, it can never be recreated, however hard we try:
  Never more;
Miranda,
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar:
And Aragon a torrent at the door.

One critic, Oli Foster, has called the last twelve lines of the poem “a lament for all lost experience.” The poem finishes with the even more pessimistic final seven lines…

No sound
    In the walls of the Halls where falls
    The tread
    Of the feet of the dead to the ground
    No sound:
    But the boom
    Of the far Waterfall like Doom.

One final fact is that we actually know the identity of “Miranda”. She was Miranda Mackintosh, a Scottish lady, and Belloc met her during a walking holiday, at the hamlet of Canranc on the River Aragon in the Pyrenees in 1909.

Belloc wrote the poem in 1929 as a souvenir for Ms Mackintosh and he gave it to her as a New Year’s present.

Belloc in his private life was a very controversial character and in articles I have read about anti-Semitic poets, his name unfailingly crops up, usually fairly early in the list. His other political views are, to me personally, quite extraordinary. One of the best things to read that I found was here. Another point of view is his Wikipedia page .

Next time, we’ll look at the other one of the two poems my Dad, Fred, enjoyed so much.

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (2)

Last time, I told you my Dad’s three favourite lines of poetry, which he would quote out loud at what he thought was the right moment.

Any mention of autumn, in any context, in real life, on TV, the fact that it was October, any of those would produce Keats’ line:

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”

Sometimes he would manage the second line after it:

“Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”

Any bird high up in the sky, perhaps a skylark but definitely not an eagle, pigeon or airliner would produce Shelley’s line:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

And then, Fred’s improvement on the lines by William Henry Davies:

“What is this life if so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare ? ”

Any mention of ships though, either in real life or on television, would set him off with some phrases, or even a couple of lines, from another of Fred’s favourite poets, namely John Masefield. All the family, therefore, soon became familiar with the various vessels of his poem “Cargoes”, and their home ports.  There was a “quinquireme of Nineveh ” and a “ stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus ” or, much more more likely in the North Sea off Skegness or Scarborough, perhaps, a “ dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack. ”

The first verse was a

“Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.”

The second verse was equally exotic:

“Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amythysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.”

And here’s that very galleon:

In contrast, though, the third, and last, verse is about a ship of a much humbler origin:

“Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rails, pig-lead,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.”

And here it is:

And now, some of the meanings:

Nineveh was the ancient capital of Assyria. You can see its ruins on the opposite bank of the River Tigris from Mosul, in northern Iraq.

Ophir was probably one of the many empires which flourished either on the banks of the Nile or in the Horn of Africa. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years. It was a consignment of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearl, ivory, apes, and peacocks. Presumably, the quinqireme in the poem was on its way to Israel.

Amethyst is a violet variety of quartz. The name comes from the Greek “αμέθυστος“.

Moidores were a Portuguese gold coin of the early 18th century and then worth about 27 shillings.

Topaz is a silicate mineral of aluminium and fluorine with the chemical formula Al2SiO4(F, OH)2. Topaz crystallizes in the orthorhombic system, and its crystals are mostly prismatic terminated by pyramidal and other faces. (There will be a test next Monday).

As a preliminary to the test, which one is which? Moidores? Topaz? Amethyst?

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My Dad, Fred, and his favourite poetry (1)

My Grandfather, Will, had apparently always loved poetry, and in this respect, his son, and my Dad, Fred, was to follow willingly in his father’s footsteps. This burgeoning love of rhyme was nurtured and encouraged by the fact that, like many children in the British Empire, Fred possessed a set of  “The Children’s Encyclopedia” by Arthur Mee, a famous, familiar and popular book of the 1930s:

Arthur Mee believed that the English, and in particular the English boy, were the “peak of creation”, although my mother, well familiar both with me and her husband, thought he was a madman. Each volume of Mee’s ten volume set of encyclopedias contained sixteen different themes or subjects and great prominence was always given to the Poetry sections, which were selected by Sir John Hammerton, a famous contemporary historian. Fred also liked the dinosaur pictures too:

Fred would often quote poetry, and his three favourite lines were……

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ”

This is a line of Keats which was automatically triggered by any mention whatsoever of autumn. Or by a walk into a wood in autumn. Or a TV programme about autumn.

Keats’ best pal, Shelley, wrote the lines which are in second place:

“Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!

Bird thou never wert,”

These words would invariably emerge should any sighting of a skylark occur, perhaps during a walk alongside a field of corn. Quite often, it would be just any bird seen to be doing skylarky type things:

In third place came the rather wise, and arguably, slightly incorrect ……

“What is this life if so full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare ? ”

The correct version has no “so” and, surprisingly, no question mark:

“What is this life if,  full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare. ”

The poem was written by William H Davies, a Welsh poet, who spent many years as a tramp or hobo, in the United Kingdom and the United States. Presumably my Dad did not know that he was Welsh. Being Welsh was never a plus point with my Dad.

Fred always professed that his favourite poet was John Clare.  You can read about him in one of my early and probably over long posts, here.

And this is John Clare, perhaps “before” and “after” the boiled egg hairstyle became popular:

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In retrospect, I have always felt that Fred saw Clare as the simple, agricultural working class man, held firmly in his place in a world dominated by the upper classes, who were, for the most part as poets, fairly worthless and useless aesthetes, lacking Clare’s poetic talents, his intelligence and his capacity for accurate observation of the world around him. Perhaps too, as a native of the simple country village of Woodville, Fred could recognise the truth of the statement by Ronald Blythe, the President of the Clare Society, that the impoverished poet was “England’s most articulate village voice”.

It is not a giant leap, of course, to say that Fred probably saw his own life as directly paralleling that of Clare, denied as he was for purely financial reasons, the chance to go to a grammar school, and to have the same education as the more successful, and much less talented, upper class people that he would meet during the rest of his life, particularly in the RAF.

Given this love of John Clare, therefore, every time that he physically saw one running about, perhaps in a school playground when he was on yard duty, Fred would always identify this black and white bird as the “little trotty wagtail”, a phrase taken from one of Clare’s most frequently quoted poems:

Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.
He stooped to get a worm, and look’d up to catch a fly,
And then he flew away ere his feathers they were dry.

Little trotty wagtail, he waddled in the mud,
And left his little footmarks, trample where he would.
He waddled in the water-pudge, and waggle went his tail,
And chirrupt up his wings to dry upon the garden rail.

Little trotty wagtail, you nimble all about,
And in the dimpling water-pudge you waddle in and out;
Your home is nigh at hand, and in the warm pigsty,
So little Master Wagtail, I’ll bid you a goodbye.

 

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Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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