Jama’s Alphabet Soup has put up Simon Armitage’s poem written for the jubilee. And he has some beautiful words that are just right for this time.
What an amazing woman the Queen was. She was at work right up to the last moment, giving her blessing to Liz Truss, the latest new, female, Prime Minister. It was sad to hear from my neighbour that she had died. Strangely I had been noticing that the news featured many buildings with the EIIR symbol earlier this week. And it set me thinking about post boxes and stamps and what might happen if the queen died. Then it happened. And we are now going through the transition to the next generation.
You may like my poem The Handover that I wrote during the pandemic expressing my concerns at the time. It is personal to me and I had just been reading an early play by Shakespeare where much depends on the signing of a document. Something that I was resentful about doing a decade before concerning my son. And also refers to the rubber stamping of legal documents by my mother in her voluntary work.
I met the queen once, or not actually met, but was close to her at a small gathering of just a few people one Maundy Thursday at Fountains Abbey. Unfortunately the ducks I was supposed to be feeding to keep out of the lane wandered in front of her car and I ran after them. I suppose people sometimes do inexplicable things in front of royalty. I was too old to be a Ranger Guide by then and had had to borrow a blouse from a vicar’s daughter up the road. We had been waiting around for hours feeding the ducks and the sacks of breadcrumbs had all gone.
Later on I read War and Peace where the numbing dazzling effect of the glory of the tsar upon the crowds is explained. I have noticed that happening to crowds at royal events myself and that is why I don’t watch royal weddings.
Your children are not your own children.
They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies, but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You can strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And He bends you with His might, that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
This made a great impression upon me in 2015 or 16 when I first discovered it. If only I had known about it when my son was young and at home, it would have been a go to for me to meditate upon from time to time. But even so it really helped me at the time to ‘let go’ as they say of those reins that are always so tightly held as long as possible. A metaphor for my life, and could be one of my favourite poems of all time.
Or ‘The Worst Books I have Ever Read’
As a first year student I remember borrowing a plastic skull one day and having it sitting on my desk. It seems that Keir Starmer the Labour leader went through a similar time as a student (but he took drugs). There have been photos of him posing with a skull in the media recently. Strangely my family’s history has played out a little like Hamlet, and the props and themes from it have significance to me. We don’t speak now so all those reminders from the props come back to shock me from time to time. In fact my abusive father passed away just prior to the pandemic. I had hoped that my father’s life story would be more of Lear’s (no idea if he ended up with Alzheimer’s but if he did then that could be why he didn’t face a judge), but his cigar fug and the small antique leather cigar case I got him were unfortunately hinting at Hamlet.
The phrase from Lear – ‘. . . Oh how sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child. . .’ was occasionally trotted out by mother on rare visits to the family home when I was a new young mum myself. Much later on the memory of that made me feel guilty as a mother to my own son due to projection of my mother’s neglect onto me.
I was anxious not to be like her in many ways, but especially as my son approached his teens when I wanted the focus to be on his achievements and opportunities. I would never ever say or think something like that to my learning disabled son whom I can never give enough unconditional love to. He cannot say anything at all, but often the support staff project resentment onto him as if they are implying that he is ‘a thankless child’. They don’t allow him to express much emotion, so resentment and rejection don’t really figure. At home he was allowed to express a lot of emotions, good and bad, even though non-verbal, and I gave him a broad palate of emotions to feel through his wide ranging music interests. Now, I am just grateful for a bit of eye contact occasionally.
I always resented my mother studying at the same time as me (she took her eye off the ball), and my status in the family was made into that of a doormat as I became the cleaner as she had to give up her help, who was also the babysitter, and I also became my father’s secretary – something he clearly had a thing about. I hoped never to take the limelight away from my son’s needs, nor to detract from his exploration of the wider world, eg going on more interesting days out, holidays to London, or from all his ambitions and aspirations as he went through adolescence. That is why when unemployed I only did a low level one term teaching course and no more.
His education was not what I had hoped for him and Shakespeare’s four hundredth anniversary fell towards the end of it. It was difficult to avoid all those dramatisations everywhere at that time. And two years later my son had several eye operations, so perhaps we, as a small family unit, are in the middle of King Lear. I really hope that I wasn’t that selfish, selfish, selfish person (towards my son) that a primary school teacher used to call us each school lunch time, and which a judge and a few social workers seemed to be accusing me of. Culture is very important for private family life and I am grateful for my education which was a distraction from the horrors at home, and later on in life for sharing occasional opera visits with my mother – even though now those have far more significance than they should. Perhaps my mother was trying to remind me of the time when we were stopped by the police as we drove back from the opera in Leeds in the middle of the period of abuse by taking me with her when I was in my twenties. Perhaps she suspected (or knew) that my father was abusing me and wanted me to go to the police. There was one evening when the sitting-room was full of policemen when I was off sick from work with a nervous breakdown and there had been a traffic incident, but I was not thinking of the abuse at the time and was just being a dutiful daughter blocking out the abuse that had happened in the previous family home.
I would like to give my son the opportunity to enjoy his higher functions of cultural and spiritual or emotional experiences which he used to have when at home with me. And I am grateful to my mother for having given me cultural opportunities. However I will be phobic of certain films forever as my father took me to see them, eg James Bond.
Shakespeare was very difficult for me for many years due to my adolescent experiences and the traumatic form teacher who took us for English at the end of every afternoon at the time of the abuse. He was venomously terrifying and shamed me in front of the whole class one day, just as he had done to Rosemary many many times. Admittedly the burly rugby lads at the back who beat up the choir boys were in need of that kind of strong discipline but it was always the girls he singled out. I only got back into Shakespeare aged twenty-one when I saw an outdoor production of Romeo and Juliet in Germany.
The book my trendy German teacher, Mr Foley, from school had recommended us to read for drugs education in sixth form, Kristiana F. (or Kinder Von Bahnhof Zoo in film) had a skull on the front. I bought it with my first student grant. I read the book and it was the worst thing I had read up to then. It was a bit of an education and put me off drugs entirely.
Another book we were recommended by him to read was about war at the time of the cold war and many nuclear threat moments, and I would also put that in the category of worst book I have ever read still. It was The White Hotel by DM Thomas. A deeply disturbing book about the holocaust if I remember.
My learning disabled son is obsessed with books but he doesn’t have free access to them, and sometimes they get lost or stolen where he lives. I got him an illustrated Bible in the pandemic. But it quickly became lost, and a second-hand hymn book put in the cupboard containing his personal possessions instead. He can’t ask to have access to his books which are kept in the locked cupboard. Although the key is on a hook in the main room. My mother is a ‘Ki’. She was probably making a lot of expenses from drug dealers in her magistracy days. I doubt if she has ever taken drugs herself, but it shocked me to be told details of her court cases sometimes when I was a new young mum. She herself was a teenage mum, almost, and smoked and drank heavily for much of my childhood, and probably during all her pregnancies. I can’t blame the alcohol for what my father did to me, but being permanently dosed up with gin or red wine was a feature of their lives, and when I tried gin aged sixteen, I never liked it, and I was not fond of my father’s homemade wine at Sunday lunches, or the sip of wine that I had when I was six. It’s because of the abusers in my life who drank too much that I don’t drink.
A book I read when my son was a baby is also contender for the worst book I have ever read, ‘Woman on the Edge of Time’, by Marjorie Pearce. My brother gave it to me when I turned thirty, and it was one that I had heard of from my feminist friends. But when I got round to reading it – at the wrong time – I was deeply upset by the scenes of psychiatric abuse. Perhaps I am lost in literature now, as my life has ended up similar to Woman on the Edge of Time, in that I have lost my son to the courts. (Obviously a power thing with my mother, could it be Electra?) We have to pay attention to the subconscious in our lives. If we don’t turn to that which is right and good for us, then we can just find that a ‘sting of the tail’ past experience becomes our reality all of a sudden.
Why may you ask have I not succeeded in finding help from official sources, eg a specialist lawyer. Well, I can’t find one that is right for me. And in the eighties when I was a legal secretary I was on the edge of a scandal involving some prominent solicitors. That and my mother and father (whose best lifelong friend was a solicitor) mean that I struggle to trust them. They do cost a lot of money, and if you aren’t used to that rate of expenditure per second, minute, hour, then it is impossible to interact clearly and confidentially with them. Like my typing, I have a bit of verbal diarrhoea, and cannot think clearly when accused and having to defend myself, but just dig myself into a deeper hole. That to me is a fault of the social skills of the solicitors as they look at all cases of people in care homes as if they are elderly with dementia, and all mothers with problems with social services as negligent and teenage drug addicts. Life does not imitate art, or we would live in a dystopia.
This is one of my first ones that I wrote for AudaciArt magazine during the pandemic. I hope you like it but any comments would be appreciated.
Make haste ere the plastic tubes on her face lose power
And force the last breath from her breast.
Her subjects expect her everlasting quiet fear and domination to stay,
Keeping us adhering to that which we know best and love.
'Mother dear, may I draw near
Into thy chamber alone?', said he,
The eldest of four.
But were those four plucked
From her breast at birth
And offered to the nannies in waiting?
She can consent but lacks the strength
To lift the guilded pen.
And so into her hand he dutifully places it
And resting his hand o'er hers
'Mother I love thee, but trust me yet this once more ma'am'
His hand guides hers to make its mark.
Unyielding it flows in smooth rivers of ink to give its assent.
It is done. She exhales.
What now for this solid kingdom with its prince of doom?
She signed as so many had signed in her name
Before their kittens were ta'en away too soon and cast upon the heap.
Will he write letters to his lady friends and gurus
Seeking wisdom and forgiveness?
He arrives. The childlike King to be kept in aspic, preserved for the near future.
Establishing the constancy of orders and never changing expectations to be signed off.
Years and years ago I had a brush with royalty that has always put me strongly on Diana’s side. I am one of those who won’t be able to accept Charles as a king due to how she was treated by him. And I myself strongly dislike Camilla because she hunts. A godmother of mine lived in Gloucestershire with her large lands and doomsday house when I was a girl. I, personally, like many others had hoped that we would skip a generation.
Reading Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code brought back all those errors in the Paris tunnel crash for me. Why was Diana travelling in a reconditioned post-crash vehicle at all, what was that blinding light moments before?
Later I was shocked to read my own tale of abuse in Mouthing the Words by a Camilla Gibb. Probably nothing that hasn’t happened to other people but for me alone it resonated horrifyingly – secretarial role playing with daddy, pianos. After being a feminist activist I soon learnt from my online groups on Yahoo that Camilla Parker-Bowles was now an advocate for female literacy – really! I hope she didn’t write that book. I use a pen name by the way.
Nothing against Liz though, she is remarkable to have stayed so long and a trail blazing feminist within her constraints. I ran in front of her car as a guide by mistake as we shooed geese out of the drive at Fountains Abbey one Maundy Thursday. I was wearing a borrowed Ranger blouse, from a vicar’s daughter, as I had left guides a couple of years before. Up close she was just an ordinary person like us all.