BBC on Frosty Mornings

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Inspired by an article on Stuff today… I’ve decided to post my poem.

 

BBC on frosty mornings

 

If only we’d had Twitter

to combat history’s fictions

multiple sources of fake news

instead of just the BBC

 

when the fire was lit, the

coal bucket set back on

the hearth, Big Ben crackled

through on short wave

 

and we believed from

our beds, our father

donning his balaclava

ready to bike to work

 

we knew that Kennedy

called Khrushchev’s bluff

that annihilation was

averted, we believed

 

because we were Catholic

that Kennedy was the

good man and Khrushchev

the bad man, it was

 

of course, all in black

and white and plain

for all to see, coming

as it did from the BBC

 

Never mind that we lived

at the bottom end of the

earth near the South Pole

possibly safely nuclear free

 

should someone blink

press the both metaphorical

and real button, Armageddon

loomed rather large

 

making it seemed, all the

sacrifices of our war heroes

perhaps a little pointless

if this was indeed ‘it’

 

Now we see all sides of

the binary spectrum

fake news depending

on our political leanings

 

and thus, it probably

always was, but back then

in our Commonwealth

bubble of post war bliss

 

we believed the BBC

through the Bakelite radio

on the shelf above the fridge

news was often cataclysmic

 

I now roam from tweet

to tweet, sipping my coffee

taking a bite or two to eat

digesting all sides of the story

 

hoping Kim and Donald

are really friends, that

the peace train will

leave the station

 

shake my head at kids in

cages, but double check

the photo on the front of

TIME, the ensuing by-line

 

scoff at Trump’s ridiculously

long ties, small hands, awful,

awful hair and this means of

course, that I really do care

 

cheer and yet also despair

when the Saudi King allows

women to drive but jails

the activists who fought for it

 

I rage against the dying of

the journalistic light but I’m

more informed than ever …

or so I tell myself

 

Now and then, I’d like to be

(briefly) safe in my bed, on a

frosty morning, believing still

truth was all, from the BBC

 

Our seduction is complete

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Pedestrians share the roads
in Yeonsinnae
tea houses have given way
to every sort of latte
gutters run with rain
in the monsoon
Sundays are an avalanche
of cigarette butts
trash collectors come at dusk
to separate the plastic
in the alleys, chopsticks sing
at night, the neon lights
bedazzle, ragged roads
transform to enchant
every doorway beckons while
our phones translate the menu
our seduction is complete
 
Sundays are for bing-su
Saturdays for steamed mandu
on any day a scooter will
turn up at your door with food
depending on your mood
fried chicken's pretty good
but mostly we love spicy broths
meats falling from their bones
and every sort of banchan
the complimentary kimchi
 
our Kiwi kitchen's far
from here, we wonder
how we'll cope, back home
to cook each night
a knife and fork, a spoon
perhaps
starting from scratch
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ride like a local

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I walk my granddaughter
up the hill to Daycare
over grates, cigarette butts
past plastic trash bags
 
she finds the asphalt
mesmerising, examines
every glinting thing
with perfect purpose
 
We wave to the lady with
the dog wearing boots
on all four paws and she
stops and waves back
 
people respond to a one
year old who cares that much
about them and they break
into wide happy smiles
 
Later on, I board the bus and
become angry at the teenager
head down on his phone
in the seat for the elderly
 
 
I shame this young man
when someone even older
than I am, boards, but all
I do is shame myself
 
the old woman doesn’t
want this young man’s seat
she’d rather stand than
lose her dignity to rage
 
At the pedestrian crossing
I am the only one fuming
as a man in a white sedan
edges over the painted lines
 
I swear at him, actually
out loud but no one hears
or cares least of all him
as he roars to the next lights
 
As a visitor in this city
I am the elderly anomaly
carrying the luggage of
my own petty prejudice
 
I’m learning to contain my
expectations of others, to
tilt my parasol to the sun
ride the bus like a local
an eye out for the glinting
 
 
 
 

Life in Yeonsinnae

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The women of Yeonsinnae.  I wrote about them last year when we were visiting for a few months over summer. We are back. Our granddaughter has turned one year old. Indeed, here in Korea, that is considered to be two. Confusing but true. So, we are back in our old stomping ground enjoying the contrast between our quiet (possibly sedate) life in the bay back home, compared to the teeming liveliness of this place.

It’s not difficult to imagine the contrast when you consider the population of New Zealand and the concentration of people who live in Seoul alone. Population of the wider metropolis of this area is estimated to be 25 million and the concentration in Seoul city around 10.5 million.  Yeonsinnae is about 15 minutes on the metro from downtown Seoul. We love this place. I can’t find up to date population statistics for this area, but it is in the wider area of Eunpyeong, an upcoming and rapidly expanding district of Seoul.

What I have observed since our visit last year, is the constant change happening here. Our favourite café or restaurant might still be here, but it’s menu will have changed, or it has new owners, or the time of opening and closing is now different. It feels like a small wave of ‘gentrification’ beginning as new apartment buildings are springing up.

But Yeonsinnae street market, in the heart of this place, is the same. The women who sit on the pavement, some on cardboard and some on more comfy chairs, are the same. I recognise them. There is one, tall, elegant older woman who has the loveliest smile. She is near to the station. I’ve now become embarrassed by my privilege of being able to walk past her so frequently, footloose, fancy-free, going where I wish, as she sits day after day in the same spot. I’ve taken to taking side streets now to avoid having to smile at her, as it has begun to feel patronising. I’m not assuming she’s unhappy, but I am made uncomfortable. In contrast, there are older women, more doubled over, less able, and sadder looking who I observe with less guilt, because I haven’t made a personal connection.

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The thing about being in a thriving, ostensibly ‘working class’ area of Seoul (compared to downtown where glamour abounds) is you are confronted with both the glorious immediacy of human activity as well as many of the tragedies. I’ve come to notice more and more the extraordinary tenacity of the disabled in this community. It’s inevitable in a community with such a wide cross section of people from grandmothers to young families to working executives, that too there will be the less able. A city this size does not bend for the less able, they bend to it. I am always amazed at the extraordinary resilience and independence of the less able negotiating this busy place. In particular, the metro takes no prisoners. Nobody waits should you stumble and the rush to the elevators by young mums and the elderly is a stampede with no regard for age or infirmity.

We have often chuckled as we are elbowed out of the way at the elevator (my daughter-in-law and me) by feisty old men and women, only to find when we finally squeeze into the tiny space left, that these aggressive old people, turn into clucking loving chucking under the chin baby admirers… who feel free to practically pinch the cheeks of my granddaughter (although her mother is certain they will not)… our eyes meet across the baby buggy in delightful recognition of the dichotomy.

The sky here is not the bright blue of home, and the air at times questionable. But what is not in question, is the pulsing, lively, fascinating hum of humanity.  We’ve been watching a Korean political drama about the gentrification of districts, removing local markets, and indeed, we were visiting Hongdae the other day (now quite gentrified)…. It’s sad to see big shopping malls with generic labels and big glass shopfronts, repeating themselves…. Whereas the colour and vibrancy of Yeonsinnae and nearby Bulgwang markets are unsurpassed.

Daughters of Messene

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Daughters of Messene (now in translation and for sale in Greece)

I’ve talked about this before.  The tricky balance between self-promotion and total modesty. As a writer, total modesty probably no longer does the trick. It’s a shame. It would be amazing if our work stood on its own merit. And indeed, it should. But it also needs a little push/shove along.  The trouble is, if you shout too often, people become averse to your shouting. And if you don’t shout out at all, your writing achievements (however modest in the scheme of things) may not reach all their possible audience.

So, here I am to bask once more in the glow and delight of having my third novel, a story with a strong Greek flavour, that sprang out from a not very well known true story of the migration of young Greek women to New Zealand in the sixties… now translated and on sale in Greece through Kedros Publishers Athens (to whom I am most grateful).

One of the lovely serendipitous moments researching this novel in 2007, I have written about before. It was my lucky encounter with Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor at his splendid home in the Mani on his Name Day. To be there, with the ‘local’s and to share this magical moment, was unforgettable.  On that day, Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, generously signed my copy of his book Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese. I had found and read the book while in Greece and was bedazzled by his magical flights of language and historical observations, the marvellous segues.  He signed my copy of his book with his usual motif of a small flock of flying birds.

A reader of my blog, Diana Wright, managed to decipher the inscription as I was unable to. It says ‘with all goodness’.

To my great delight, the cover for the Greek translation of ‘Daughters of Messene’ includes a similar flock of birds.  This is pure coincidence and a lovely one at that. Indeed, my novel includes a moment of migrating birds, so these links are quite perfect.

So, here is the very splendid cover for you to admire and hopefully if you speak and read Greek to tempt you to buy the book.  Plus a picture of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor’s inscription in my copy of his book.

Searching for Happiness

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Who is that lady

in the mauve felt

hat telling me

that the arsonist

who set her house

alight, is like

all of us

searching for happiness

but he will find more

grief than happiness

she says

without rancour

and we view her

coffee cup blue

on a saucer

in the front room

she was sitting

in, unable to sleep

and so still alive.

They’ve arrested

a thirty-seven year

old they tell us

searching for happiness

can be hazardous.

 

(I wrote this poem several years ago after watching a Sunday evening news item on the telly about a woman from Gore who had survived an arson attack).

Putting on a Face (in the style of Prufrock)

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Prufrock knew about the face I’m looking for today

I had it on last week, or even yesterday and I must have put it away

somewhere

I can’t find it, it was cheerful, and quite clean, I’d washed it twice

It’s the one that I pull out when I want to appear nice.

I’ve looked in my handbag, but although my wallets there

the face I’m looking for just will not reappear…

It’s not something that I lend so no-one else has got it on

and in my wasteland of despair, I need this face to call upon

to impress the faces that I’ll meet

Upon those sad deserted streets

and so into the room I will come and go

are those my tears their melting backs upon the window pane?

All my indecision, would I, could I, ‘Do I dare’

put on my coat, turn up my collar

face them – faceless

this is my overwhelming question

impossible my nerves

I’ll walk upon the beach

I daren’t look back

My face, my face is out of reach.