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my three wheeler is blue with some yellow too

my three wheeler is blue with someKeyhole (Oliver Plumb)text yellow too

by Angus Strachan

Tricycle Art.Cinzia Fabrizio Originali pedal for miles and miles
looking for other children
my head hurts so much and cement is grey
and i must find some children to play with
or become that cement
somehow my older sister is hiding
in a shoe box inside a cupboard
in the bottom of a wishing well
all crunched up below the sea but not me
why my mother never thought
of looking for her there is a mystery i think
my sister is tops but she doesn’t talk much
but i can’t think about this now
as i wake up and jump out of bed
it’s time for kings of the road
first i have to yawn

mother’s struggle with their daughters
more than their sons
nanna said to aunty pat
who we never see anymore
because there’d been a war
which means no more cousin becky for me
mother is good at that
on a hair trigger says mrs. albert from next door

none of this matters right now
i finish my yawn and i’m raring to
get out on the track
with my yellow and blue hellcat
holy cow i’m breaking
the donald campbell land speed record
screaming out our side gate rat-a-tat
that poor man sure has met his match
when i step on the gas at twilight
before anyone else is awake
it’s dark and the stars are just starting to say
goodbye and the shadows whisper to the moon
i might climb every tree for ten city blocks
the leaves never sleep they just shake and say
how are you then sigh as i ride away
maybe every road and lane once then twice and this morn
i’m racing my trike down the middle of st kilda road
even now there are early birds like me
and they swerve holy-jimminy
they’ve never seen a monster three wheeler before
in the middle of their busy road not at 4am
until a police car sees me and goes flashing red
and the race is on for the quick and the dead
i rev her up with a wheelie or two
like zorro with his horse except on my bike
it’s easy for me to get away
i know every hole in every fence
every narrow alleyway
and now i’m home
puffing rocks and boulders again
when i should be playing tag
or war or countries & kings
with other children just like me
i must have done something really bad
and i’m about to fall down the well
where my sister has set up home
when suddenly
an older boy comes from lickety-split nowhere
pops out a crack from the midnight breeze
he has a bit of a moustache
he’s big and maybe a little bit sad
all he does is stare at the wind
i’m sure i’ve seen him before
i think he was the one at aunt daisy’s foster care
who had the big log and chased them all
when they did things to me
but like my sister living under the sea
i think he is a little bit fog-lost and dreamy
but he’s not nearly as strange
as the twins who step right through a wall
they are joined at the waist and not very tall
and they never stop yakking but not to me
holy jimminy-hellcats those two can talk
says mister moustache staring through the breakfast sky
and suddenly i realize
i was begging the air and the cement for friends
and here they are
so it’s either cement
or them

Angus Strachan
May 2020

Image by Cinzia Fabrizio

March 14: A Critique

Lemniscatory Diversions

March 14

by Anne Warrington

A Critique by Quentin Weiver

Infinity: now there’s a big thing. This thing called infinity has troubled philosophers and mathematicians since at least classical times.

Anaximander, in the sixth century BC was pondering the idea of ἄπειρον, an endless space without bounds that existed before the world began and will last for ever. Two centuries later Aristotle was having a field day with the concept of infinity, arguing effectively that whatever number one can imagine, there is always a bigger one. It was part of the staple diet of mediaeval philosophers, and Wittgenstein was arguing the complexities of the subject even to his death in 1951.

March 14 Time Vortex

Early Greek mathematicians’ treatment of infinity was a little circumspect, preferring to regard it as a philosophical notion. They did, however, rigorously study infinite processes, which laid the foundations for those giants of 18th century mathematics, Newton and Leibnitz, to develop the calculus, which in turn relies on the convergence of infinite series.

Artists, Giotto in the 14th century to Escher 20th century being good examples, love to try to depict infinity, and naturally poets adore such an ineffable and transcendent concept. William Blake in his Auguries of Innocence ponders an ultimate truth in seeking to “Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour”.

March Escher-Relativity Crop

Now, of course, the infinite infinity is God. The three attributes of God, omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence imply infinity. Christian tradition, the well-rehearsed Ontological Argument forms the basis of its theology. In 1078 St Anselm, later to become Archbishop of Canterbury, defined God as “a being than which no greater can be conceived”.

So we come to Anne Warrington’s piece March 14. It’s theme of infinity brings together theology and mathematics, through the medium of poetry. If that sounds daunting and dry, then STOP: it is not! March 14 brings these approaches together, with a very light touch and a huge dollop of humour.

We are taken right back to the third book Genesis. We are in the Garden of Eden. God has made man and woman from, and to become, one flesh. So far so good. Then God has given them the option of free will: whoops! They have eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A life of everlasting perfect bliss has been swopped for one of toil and pain. Sinful, yes, but exciting, yes and here we enter the poem.

God is mightily angry. Alliteratively He comes “Whooshing out great gusts of wind”, while “Adam and Eve shivered and shook”. Oh, dear!

What do Adam and Eve do?   Typical of couples hither hereafter, they bicker. I told you so. It was all your fault. Eventually they wear themselves out with arguing and fall asleep.

When they wake, all is still and pleasant again. They think they have been forgiven, but God is going to put them to the test. What could be more seductive than freshly cooking hot food?  The “hot piecrust” holds delights, “Cinnamon! Nutmeg! Sugar! Apples!” My, this is sugar and spice and all things nice. Warrington’s imagery goes straight to the taste-buds.

BUT, God has a Tantalean punishment for them. Eve is “about to bite into the pie”, then comes God’s Big But, “You must first figure out the circumference of that pie / Calculating to the very last digit of pi.” Adam gets cocky: “Easy, peasy!” he whispers like a petulant schoolboy. Tantalus was chained in a shallow clear lake underneath a fruit tree, but the fruit was always just out of reach and the water always receded if he tried take a drink. Here Adam and Eve have goodness of God’s grace, but they cannot enjoy it.

March Squaring-The-Circle

Why? Squaring the circle, the problem of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle, using geometry, in effect moving compass and ruler, taxed the brains of the ancient Greek mathematicians. It was not until 1882 that the challenge was demonstrated to be impossible.

In his Paradisio Dante wrote:
“As the geometer his mind applies
To square the circle, nor for all his wit
Finds the right formula, howe’er he tries …”
Dante understood that squaring the circle was a task beyond human capability, just as he or any human mind lacked the ability to comprehend God’s Paradise.

Lewis Carroll of Alice fame was a polymath and apart from writing, he was not only an Oxford mathematics don, but was also a deacon in the Church of England. His view echoed Dante; he said that the book was most keen to write was Plain Facts for Circle-Squarers, to debunk quack circle-squaring theorists.

Mathematicians will explain that the impossibility of squaring the circle is because pi is an irrational number and a complex number. It cannot be written as a fraction. When we were told in school that it was 22/7, that was only an approximation. Pi is an infinite series of such fractions and in decimal form never comes to an end and never recurs. Pi in this respect tends to infinity.

Both Leibnitz and Newton in the 1660’s each discovered a formula to calculate pi. It involves continually adding and subtracting smaller and smaller fractions, but you have to do this to infinity. Pull out earlier and you only have an approximation. But in March 14 God wants the figure “to the very last digit”. And Adam did not have access to the formulae.

True to the Bible, Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake and God blames them all. God though is merciful and does not finish with them all there and then. They are given life, but at a price. The snake (a rattlesnake in the land of Cush?) must crawl on its belly and forever be reproachful to the world, so that it can continue as the devil to cause sin that humans can contrast against the good, which they could have had in full in the Garden of Eden. Eve will give forth children so that humankind can continue, but giving birth and bringing up these children will not be easy. Adam is condemned to labour to sustain himself and his wife and his children for ever.

In March 14, Adam’s burdensome toil is subsumed into the impossible task of taking the calculation of pi to infinity. But he has the knowledge: it is a pie whose circle he needs to square, but it an apple pie and the apple implies knowledge bought at a price.

March Infinite Pi

Theologically sound, mathematically sound, poetically teasing.

But what of the title, a date, in trans-Atlantic (or newspaper) format? A further clue might have been the, I assume, the year 1592. 3.14 1592 might have been a long time ago, but it is not forever.

Quentin Weiver
May 2020

Images by Raphael (public domain), M.C. Eschler and Germán Martínez

March 14

March 14Keyhole (Oliver Plumb)text

by Anne Warrington

March 14 Eden

God was so very angry.
He fumed, he seethed, and he raged
Whooshing out great gusts of wind.
Adam and Eve shivered and shook
Trapped by the knowledge that
The fury and wrath of a vengeful God
On them was about to descend.

“It’s all your fault,” Adam shouted at Eve.
“Why couldn’t you resist the lure of that slimy, slippery, rattlesnake.”
“Don’t you yell at me,” yelled back Eve
“From what I remember you weren’t so slow on the uptake
Biting into that red, rosy, juicy apple
Hanging from the branch, shining in the light.
You didn’t say that God would be upset!”

Adam and Eve quarrelled all day and they quarrelled all night
Exhausted they sank to the ground
God stopped his huffing and his puffing
The wind stilled and the air warmed

“We’ve been forgiven,” said Eve
“I guessed God wouldn’t be angry for long.”
“That’s not the way God works,” said Adam
“I’ll wager we’ll pay a price for doing wrong!”

As he spoke a mouth-watering smell wafted through the air
Adam and Eve sniffed in delight:
Cinnamon! Nutmeg! Sugar! Apples! Hot piecrust!

“I’ve sent you an apple pie,” boomed the voice of God.

“We’ve been forgiven,” said Eve
Adam stared at the pie: “This I don’t believe!”
“It’s a sign of God’s forgiveness,” said Eve, about to bite into the pie.

“Stop!” bellowed God. “Because of your defiance…..”

“I was right,” thought Adam, waiting now in silence.

“Before savouring that delight,” God continued
You must first figure out the circumference of that pie
Calculating to the very last digit of pi.”
“Easy, peasy!” whispered Adam in reply.

And so Adam set about his task:

3.141592265358979323……

And so Adam learned something of God’s infinite mercy
and so Adam and Eve never got to eat that pie!

Anne Warrington
May 2020

Programmed to Receive: Part Two

Programming Language

Programmed to Receive

(Part Two)

by Eleanor Lewis

8FBBC25F-6BA8-4B31-BE34-AFE69DD1B926_1_201_aWhere was I?   Reeling, I think, from discovering Sheila Sim and Richard Attenborough’s signatures on the front of a programme for The Mousetrap in 1952 on its pre-West End tour. Well OK, if these are the kind of people we’re collecting, I’m unsurprised to find a 1960 Cambridge Theatre programme for Billy Liar which tells me that Albert Finney has just completed his first starring role in the film version of Ala1FCF5D0D-2A93-4955-9139-5AA8FCD27EA6n Sillitoe’s Saturday Night And Sunday Morning. I am also unfazed by a beautiful headshot of Eileen Atkins, aged 31, in a 1965 programme for The Killing of Sister George, in which she appeared with Beryl Reid and Lally Bowers (no autographs on this one unfortunately). The biography tells me that Ms Atkins has “appeared on television” and furthermore that she has “gone blonde” for her role as Childie.

Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, (deep breath) signed the front page of Manchester Opera House’s programme for Antony and Cleopatra. They were married to each other at the time (1951), and the production was a Festival of Britain production by arrangement with The Arts Council. The cast list inside the programme has numerous other autographs including the fabulous Wilfred Hyde White who was playing Lemprius Euphronius at the time.

Antony-and-Cleopatra-laurence-olivier-Bettman Corbis

In 1956 Vivien Leigh also appeared in South Sea Bubble, “a new, light comedy by Noël Coward”. Joyce Carey was in this too. Joyce Carey was the formidable Myrtle Bagot, manageress of the station café in Brief Encounter. Ms Carey also appeared in a few ‘70s sitcoms for those of us old enough to remember Father Dear Father etc. Her signature appears not on this programme but another in the collection.

Brief Encounter

A 1977 programme for Privates on Parade reminds me that it was the RSC that first produced this show and also of those weird little moments at the end of TV drama in the ‘70s when the announcer would tell you solemnly over the credits that such and such an actor was “a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company”. I was never sure what I was supposed to do with that information other than behave with due reverence for a moment. This programme also contains and interview with Terry Gilliam who was then about to direct his first film Jabberwocky.

B2A2232B-1E12-4F1B-8DDC-293337D4CF67_1_201_a

I was enthralled by the adverts in these programmes too. The flimsy 1948 programme firmly autographed by Gertrude Lawrence when she was appearing in September Tide, “a new play by Daphne du Maurier”, at Manchester Opera House, has an advert for Kendals department store picturing an elegantly dressed woman on the front: “Evening Grace for the Small Woman”, it offers discretely, whilst leaving it unclear what an average-sized woman is supposed to do vis-à-vis evening grace.

Rachel Kempson and Peggy Ashcroft appeared in Hedda Gabler at the Lyric Hammersmith, probably in 1954 (the programme is undated). There is an advert for The Clarendon Restaurant on Hammersmith Broadway. The Clarendon had also featured in the programme for The Lyric Revue in 1951 autographed by Dora Bryan and others. You could dine on American oysters amongst other things and there was a large ballroom for use when required. When I was a student in the ‘80s, I remember going to The Clarendon with my heavy metal friend for it was a heavy metal venue then: rock music, plastic glasses, headbanging and a lot of ‘tired and emotional’ people. Quite a journey the Clarendon Restaurant has been on.

In 1952 Alec Guinness (clear underlined signature) was in Under the Sycamore Tree by Sam Spewack at the Opera House Manchester. Kendals had moved on to extolling the virtues of Furleen (a fake fur) – “No, of course it’s not real, it does not pretend or wish to be.” Later on that year in a programme for Bet Your Life (a musical comedy) signed by nearly everyone but its star, Arthur Askey, Kendals was promoting a fetching velvet suit which I am really quite keen on, leaving aside the fact that I do not have a nipped in waist and it’s nearly 70 years since the suit was available.

Prog Never Can TellAn advert in the 1959 programme for Look After Lulu starring Vivien Leigh depicts a woman in long gloves, adjusting her hat. “You never can tell …” the advert teases, “who she might be… career girl, housewife, a young modern with time on her hands. Who can say?” Turns out she’s an avid reader of the Daily Mirror and “nearly one in two under 35s” reads it every day.

Alongside reading the Daily Mirror, the back page of the previously mentioned 1965 programme for The Killing of Sister George urges readers to try a slice of “mixed fruit cake” during the interval. Yes indeed, if you’re at the London theatre you are clearly living in the fast lane in your fake fur, clutching your tabloid and slice of cake? And then, acceptable taste in fashion, cake and newspapers having been established, theatregoers might set their sights on more fundamental things. A programme for The Brass Butterfly by William Golding at the Strand Theatre 1958 starring my favourite, Alistair Sim, appearing with George Cole, quietly informs readers, about the Marriage Bureau in New Bond Street (all enquiries strictly confidential).

By the by, there is some lovely handwriting on show. Up to around about the mid-60s, you can read almost all the signatures. Irene Handle appeared with Richard Wattis and others in First Person Singular at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. Richard Wattis was another personal favourite, he had cornered the comedy market in stressed civil servants and was a regular in St Trinian’s films. Mervyn Johns in The Mortimer Touch (Manchester Opera House, April 1952), Flora Robson in The Innocents (1952), Virginia McKenna and Paul Scofield in The River Line (1952), all of them had great handwriting! They taught handwriting in those days, though before we start a chorus of ‘in my day…’ the amount of time today’s children are going to spend on keyboards, the handwriting thing is at least arguable!

E2F3A9B6-10FF-42D1-ACF6-1AC8C3655194_1_201_aI’m now spoilt and resenting the absence of at least a couple of signatures. Kenneth Williams appeared in something called The Platinum Cat (Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, November ’65) but there’s no autograph and I would love to have Alistair Sim’s signature. There are also two Beyond the Fringe programmes, one for the Fortune Theatre 1961 which I think might have been the first performance, and another for the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham in 1964. Neither is autographed. Nor is the 1968 Apollo Theatre programme for 40 Years On with Alan Bennett, Dorothy Reynolds, Paul Eddington and Nora Nicholson, directed by Patrick Garland. But you can’t have everything, can you?

There is however, Donald Wolfit. Donald Wolfit was almost undoubtedly the inspiration for Sir, in Ronald Harwood’s play The Dresser, (he had a strong, clear signature too, unsurprisingly). In November 1950 Mr Wolfit (as he was then) was appearing with his wife Rosalind Iden in A New Way to Pay Old Debts by Philip Massinger, and according to the programme he would go on to appear in “Plays of Shakespeare” for a further two weeks. This was just two years before Ronald Harwood joined Wolfit’s company, becoming his assistant and eventually his dresser, which gave him the inspiration for his 1983 play, The Dresser about an actor-manager touring the country in Shakespearean rep. The play became a highly successful film which received several Oscar nominations and won a Golden Globe for Tom Courtney.

IMG_1451I could go on and on, this is quite a collection. In a 1952 Manchester Opera House programme for Gay’s The Word, (Ivor Novello), signed by three cast members with large, confident but unusually illegible autographs, someone has neatly written “This is an example” over the top of a Moss Bros advert inside featuring three men in tail coats. I wonder whether that was advice or an instruction.

More recently, a 1987 programme for Follies at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Leonard Sachs, Linda Baron, Pearl Carr, Julia McKenzie and Diana Rigg, to name but a few, contains a slip letting the audience know that Ms Dolores Gray is “injured” but has agreed to perform I’m Still Here in Act 2, which seems both appropriate and very decent of her, and I notice in passing that “Ms” is now being used and that merchandise is now advertised for sale in the front of the programme.

I haven’t got to the Broadway playbills for Follies “a new musical” in 1971 and Pippin at the Imperial in 1972, or “The Rank Organisation Presents Miss Judy Garland” at the Dominion Theatre in 1957, but I’m not worried about keeping programmes any more. Autographed or not, programmes are a great record of what you saw, when, with whom and what was going on at the time so I’ll stop now and occupy some lockdown time clearing more shelf space.

Eleanor Lewis
May 2020

Photography by Bateman Corbis, Peter Scarfe, and Frederick Prince

Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino: a critique

Today and Yesterday

Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino

by Heather Moulson

a critique by Matthew Grierson

Heather Moulson’s three poems do what the best poems can, that is, using imagery and detail to talk about something broader and more abstract: in this case, memory.

In Food, for example, the care for detail – whether that’s the sensual recall of ‘greasy stock’ and thick gravy, or brands of yesteryear such as R. White’s and Happy Shopper – is the narrator’s way of showing the care inherited from Gran, who put her own care into making meals for her loved ones. There’s pathos in our not being told why Gran had to ‘h[o]ld the family/together’ – was there domestic strife? Was it the war? But there’s also well-observed bathos in ‘the first meal on wedding present plates’ being ‘curry from Bejam’, the narrator wistful that meals remembered from childhood cannot be reproduced.

Brands and Gran also figure in Toys, which uses a similar structure of nostalgia to compare the fads of today and yesterday. The narrator may well think of ‘Hot/Wheels’ as ‘a proper toy’, but as surely as those wheels turn so too will the choice of toy – just as the miserable summer of 1976 becomes fondly remembered in retrospect in Moulson’s The Summers of Hate, which was shortlisted in last year’s Roger McGough Poetry Competition. So what’s to say that, one day, the boy in the poem won’t be lamenting that his own children don’t have a ‘proper’ toy like a PlayStation? (I’m reminded that Stephen Sexton’s recent Forward Prize-winning collection If All the World and Love Were Young is based on a childhood spent on the Nintendo.)

ThreePoems coffee-crazy-woman

In finding ‘full fat comfort’ in hot drinks, Mock-a-Chino savours memories in a similar way to Food. Here, though, each variety of coffee signifies different stages of the narrator’s life, at first youthfully ‘inoffensive’ but later ironically aspirational for ‘Nescafe Gold’, before acknowledging a love of whole milk again in contrast to the hipster ‘skinny cappuccino’ enjoyed by the could-have-been friend or lover.

Three Poems Critique Heart

Which all goes to show that nostalgia ain’t what it used to be: after all, the past is a country where lambs’ hearts are still beating as they are served and coffee is ‘sinister’: as much as they long for the past, Moulson’s narrators defamiliarise it, make it creepy … so it may be no wonder the children laugh at the memories of Food.

That PlayStation doesn’t look like such a bad option after all.

Matthew Grierson
May 2020

Photography by Dorothy Dunstan and Dreamstime

Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino: Three Poems

Yesterday Was Another WorldKeyhole (Oliver Plumb)text

Food, Toys and Mock-a-Chino

Three Poems 

by Heather Moulson

Mock-a-Chino

Three Poems-love-two-love-heart-coffee-cups

Inoffensive hot drinks in the
college refectory
leaving half of it while I flirted with you
then CoffeeMate with Maxwell House
became our thing
Maxpax only to be sneered at
Nescafe Gold took us to a new level
we had truly arrived –
only we hadn’t
You betrayed me for decaffeinated
making my own coffee bitter
sinister and hollow
I spat it out at your departing
back
But when coffee became frothed with
milk on every high street
I embraced it again
sipping huge cups while thinking of
what might have been
You became the skinny cappuccino
The Soya milk
And I found full fat comfort
Elsewhere

Food

ThreePoemsHeart

Dinnertime was rabbit stew – tiny bones
sticking out the greasy stock –
and thickness of gravy, covering
fried liver.
Lamb hearts still beating, next to
mash potatoes.
Chops and chips were a treat,
rare as blancmange, or a bottle
of R Whites.

Then, no more proper dinners at 12 o’clock –
lunch became a tin of Happy Shopper soup.
While tea diminished to Earl Grey and
currant bread, and dinner became supper.
Mince cooked after work, in a pan,
Or a slab of gammon steak next to broccoli.

Never had ‘afters’ anymore – no rice pudding
out the oven, nor tinned peaches and
custard.
A can of Pils lager and ten fags were the sweetest
of substitutes.

The first meal on wedding present plates,
was curry from Bejams.
My kid’s post school meals were sausages and
pasta.
Hand-made gnocchi a dismal failure.
Traipsing along supermarket
aisles, for life-changing recipes.
Only to be ditched for Birds Eye and chips.

No more standing over hot fat, or multiple
roasting pans.
Nor the daily visit to the butchers, where
rabbits hung upside down.
I tell the children about Gran’s meals –
that was how she held the family
together.
They look at me and laugh.

Toys

ThreePoems-monopoly_token_dog

Sindy sits on her horse,
Action Man waits for her in bed.
Plastic zoo animals marry each other.
Dog-eared board games have missing
dice.
I keep the silver dog, from the Monopoly
set.

I dream of owning felt tip pens –
the real classroom currency.
Gran sends my Teddy Bear comic
through the post.
And I’m getting a Beezer annual
for Christmas.

Why don’t you play with your Hot
Wheels, a proper toy? I say.
But he doesn’t hear me –
sitting there, transfixed by
the Playstation.
The Beano book on the floor,
stays unread.

Heather Moulson
May 2020

Photography by Dritan Alsela, Jilly Church and Brendan Silver

Programmed to Receive: Part One

Culture and Sophistication, Neatly Packaged

Programmed to Receive

(Part One)

by Eleanor Lewis

Theatre programmes, a variety of uses:

• Finding out who that actually is that you’ve been staring at on stage and wondering “who is that?”
• Letting you know that there is, at least, an interval (which occasionally is something to live for).
• Providing interesting rehearsal shots to divert your attention from the phone screen of the woman in front of you.
• Leaving casually around the house for guests, neighbours and the man from Ocado to see and conclude that you are cultured and sophisticated.

Then again. A few years ago I inherited a lot of programmes from a relative and, this being lockdown, I’ve just got around to looking through them. My relative was an academic, he loved the theatre and he loved travelling, particularly to America so he spent a lot of time at the theatre both in the West End and on (and off) Broadway.

16890854-398A-4FF4-AA49-010DA75B1A9A_1_201_aThe programme collection runs from 1948 until 2000-ish. When he first discovered the theatre he discovered autographs too and it was these that I noticed. I’d recently gritted my teeth and recycled some of our own collection of programmes but it hadn’t been easy. You would have to drag the 1999 Old Vic programme for Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell starring Peter O’Toole from my cold, dead hands. Several others – the 2004 National production of The History Boys springs to mind – will only be disposed of during the house clearance when we finally shuffle off to bingo in the care home. So the idea of taking on another 100 or so of someone else’s collection wasn’t immediately attractive until I caught a glimpse of Dora Bryan’s clear signature across the front of something called The Lyric Revue (1951). Then others, in ageing ink but still legible, sometimes on the front, sometimes on the cast list page: Sarah Churchill, Sybil Thorndike, Donald Sinden, Richard Wattis and many more. And this is before we get to Sheila Sim, Richard Attenborough, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier and Donald Wolfit but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Looking through the pile of brown-round-the-edges booklets, the autographs are just part of the whole experience, fifty years of theatregoing spills out of their pages. There are biographies of actors who went on to towering fame; programmes for first productions of plays that became major pieces of British Theatre; the advertising is fascinating and the Forthcoming Events are breathtaking. A 1953 production of Antony and Cleopatra at the Princes Theatre, Shaftesbury Ave, featured Michael Redgrave, Marius Goring, Donald Pleasance, Tony Britton, Peggy Ashcroft and Rachel Kempson. Forthcoming attractions then were: The Crazy Gang with Bud Flanagan; a “new musical” Paint Your Wagon, and London Laughs with Jimmy Edwards, Vera Lynn and Tommy Cooper.

Programmed sarah-churchill-5

Sarah Churchill

Sarah Churchill appeared in House on the Sand (Roland Pertwee) at The Grand Theatre Blackpool in 1949 when she signed the programme. Sarah was Winston Churchill’s second daughter, she worked on photo reconnaissance during the war and was apparently quite good at it. She went on to have a successful acting career before marrying into the aristocracy. The back of this this flimsy, one sheet programme advertises a “magnificent dramatization” of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca as a forthcoming attraction.

Programmed Frankie-Howerd-in-Up-Pompeii-1024x576

Frankie Howerd

Forthcoming attractions in the 1963 programme for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Manchester Opera House with Frankie Howerd, Jon Pertwee, Kenneth Connor, Linda Gray and Isla Blair were: Black Chiffon with Evelyn Laye, My Fair Lady, and the less well known but fabulously titled There’s a Yank Close Behind Me (about which Google knows nothing!) Yvonne Arnaud’s autograph appears on the programme for Dear Charles by Alan Melville at the New Theatre, St Martin’s Lane (now the Noël Coward). This programme also informs readers that the RADA annual reunion dance in aid of the theatre rebuilding fund will be held at the Lyceum, Strand. Tickets, including buffet, one guinea each.

A small, red, very straightforward programme provides information about a new play by Robert Bolt, A Man For All Seasons at the Globe Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue (now the Gielgud). It is 1960 it stars Paul Scofield and Leo McKern and you must not miss West Side Story coming up at Her Majesty’s Theatre “with the New York cast”. Similarly there is a small orange and white programme for the English Stage Company’s production of The Entertainer at the Royal Court Theatre for the first time in 1957, starring Dorothy Tutin and Laurence Olivier, and directed by Tony Richardson. The programme contains a biography of John Osborne at the beginning of his career, “When he heard of the newly formed ESC in 1955 he sent the script of Look Back in Anger to them and within two weeks it was accepted. He joined the company as an actor in April 1956 and then appeared in Don Juan”.

Prog Richard Attenborough

Richmond’s Own Richard Attenborough

The signatures of Sheila Sim and Richard Attenborough appear on the front of the Manchester Opera House programme for The Mousetrap in October 1952, on its pre-West End tour.

My mind wanders off following Richard Attenborough’s career path: 10 Rillington Place, Oh! What a Lovely War, Ghandi to name but a few. And with Oh! What a Lovely War in mind, there is a 1963 Wyndhams Theatre programme for that very play including extracts from The Wipers Times (which Nick Newman and Ian Hislop recently turned into another play), and author’s notes from Charles Chilton.

Shortly after this I found Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and then Donald Wolfit. I am less than halfway through the pile, I think it’s time for an interval … …

Eleanor Lewis
May 2020

Photography by Peter Scarfe, Robert Vass and Frederick Prince

Colour VE Day: A Critique

Cyclical Path to Peace

Colour VE Day

by Keith Wait

A Commemoration of VE Day 75, 8th May 2020

Critique by Celia Bard

Read the full poem Colour VE Day here.

Colour VE Day is a thought provoking title, for it raises a question about the grammatical use of the word ‘colour’: is it a noun or a verb? The latter brings to mind an image of the many thousands of rainbow pictures that have been painted by children throughout the country, whereas the former summons up the image of VE Day bursting forth from the monochrome colour of the previous war years to the light and colour of VE Day and beyond.

Written in free verse, the writer of this poem is free of the tyrannical demands of the metric line, regular rhyme, and rhythm. However, this writer is no novice to poetic conventions and the techniques he employs allow readers to follow his thought processes from different perspectives though you have to unpick the trail of clues he leaves. The pace of the poem varies in keeping with its content and imagery. Many lines in the poem begin with a strongly stressed word. In other lines the stress is on the second word. This change of beat creates a specific flow of sound which musically is very pleasing.

The many references to the brightness and colour of the sky throughout the poem act as a poetic background to the many events referred to by the writer. In the first stanza the sky of platinum (75 years being a platinum anniversary) is a mirror reflecting a clear silvery sky, symbolising the colourful nature of VE Day and the end of a horrific war. This is juxtaposed with images of a fiery sun and red sky and the blood of men who lost their lives in war. The poet then makes mention of a ‘brother’s blood’. When first reading these lines, I wondered whether this was a mistake, anticipating the use of the plural. On reflection the use of the singular is perfect for it strongly personalises the death of a close member of the family. That brother is everybody’s brother.

Surrender_in_Reims1

Surrender Document Is Signed in Rheims, 8th May 1945

‘Early May’ begins the first line of the next stanza, a time when we tend to think of spring, blossom, and great weather. Not so for we are presented with an image of the dark sky before dawn against which the ruins of the city of Rheims is contrasted. The first morning rays of sunlight then break through symbolising a new beginning, as was in Rheims that the surrender document for the Second World War was signed. The third stanza is full of wonderful contrasts, descriptions, and images. The first two lines takes us into a fairy-tale world where we meet a beautiful Princess in disguise so that she can mingle with the people in her kingdom. This alludes to the time when Queen Elizabeth, then a princess, together with her sister escape the confines of Buckingham Palace in order to blend unnoticed with crowds of people celebrating VE Day in around the Palace. The detailed and colourful description of people in the crowd could with a little imagination be those that the two Princesses meet as they make their way through the streets back in 1945. Differences in social class are categorised by drinking preferences. The working classes drink ‘Watney’s stout’ in Victoria whilst the upper class savour champagne in Mayfair.

The fourth stanza startles us with its sudden and serious shift in mood. ‘Despots’ are alluded to; no name is mention but they are easily recognisable by their colours and country of origin. ‘The Corsican corporal’s pompous pride, bright blue’ alludes to Napoleon, whilst Hitler is known as ‘The Munich beer hall bully, scarlet, black’. I’m not sure about ‘The Brussels bureaucrat, a stealthy grey’? This conjures up an image of the present EU and Brussels bureaucrats. In the following stanza the poet describes a new ‘silent despot, unseen and new’. This, of course, is an allusion to COVID 19, the unseen enemy. Its presence made known only when the person it infects becomes ill or worse, dies. The reference to the Enigma machine used to break code during wartime contrasts sharply with the mysterious code and nature of the virus prevalent throughout the world of today.

The penultimate stanza takes us back to VE Day 2020 when rainbow images appear in the windows of many homes. ‘Flying flags’ appear, and mention is made of all those who died in the war and ‘for freedom’. These images emphasise the original purpose of VE Day, which was to celebrate the end of War. The last few lines of the final stanza, shorter in line length, denote another shift in time, once more we are in the presence of ‘bright colours’, thanking God and shouting “VE Day.” We have travelled full circle, starting where we began with the image of the ‘platinum mirror’ mentioned in the first stanza. It’s like being on a roller coaster, moving up and down while following a cyclical path, one that reflects the past, looks forward but also again looks back.

Many poetic phrases stand out. The description of ‘a gold and white palace’ conjures up a world of fantasy and fairy tales. The phrase ‘No Enigma machine / Decodes our invisible enigma’ brings the two wars in perspective. Particularly pleasing is the image about champagne: ‘Vintage Veuve Clicquot labelled in orange / Secret in cellars, dark since ’39 / Spurts sparkling silver to the evening sky’. ‘Spurts’ is onomatopoetic and sums up a visual image of popping corks and jets of precious champagne shooting up into the evening sky. The ’sparkling silver’ contrasts beautifully with ‘The shining black of Watney’s stout foams free’. There may be a notable difference in the characteristics of the two drinks but both are deliciously enticing.

Colour VE Day resonates strongly in the current climate. In 1945 people gathered in crowds, danced, and drank together, things we are now unable to do under social distancing. Who would have thought that in the VE Day of 1945? This is a great poem, made more powerful because of the current pandemic.

Celia Bard
May 2020

Colour VE Day

Colour VE DayKeyhole (Oliver Plumb)text

by Keith Wait

A commemoration of VE Day 75:    8th May 2020

 

ve_day_3289461bB&W
The sky, precious platinum mirror,
Silvers itself,
Reflects today’s sun, not fire of waging war,
Runs red as brother’s blood in ‘45
VE day

Early May
Not yet light, white rubble dust covers Rheims
A grim General puts pen to paper
Black on white
The sky’s leaden canopy shatters.

From a gold and white palace, two figures,
A future queen runs amongst the soldiers
They too are in khaki and olive drab
And walk down Whitehall with cheering crowds.
Men in grey trilbies, women in dowdy brown.
Now silk headscarves and contraband nylons
Once hidden in mahogany cupboards
Grace their cheering heads, red lips, dancing legs.
The shining black of Watney’s stout foams free
In Victoria’s pubs, while in Mayfair
Vintage Veuve Clicquot labelled in orange
Secreted in cellars, dark since ‘39
Spurts sparkling silver to the evening sky.
As searchlights become spotlights for the King
A steadfast symbol to the crowds below.

Despots love their colours.
The Corsican corporal’s pompous pride, bright blue,
The Munich beer hall bully, scarlet, black,
The Brussels bureaucrat a stealthy grey
Suffocating Europe with their colours
As their empires grow.

2020 vision sees no colour
To its silent despot, unseen and new.
Electron microscope, not eyes, can scan
Its colourless invisibility.
VE arc-lights, fire watch, needed colour
To see the coming enemy approach
However pale. No Enigma machine
Decodes our invisible enigma,
Suffocating lungs of prince and pauper,
Pulmonary pestilence.

But today’s the day to wave the rainbow,
Fly the flag, red, white and blue.
Remember loved ones lost
For freedom.

Wars continue, then as now, but today
Colour it bright,
Thank God,
And shout
“VE Day”,
Hurray,
The platinum mirror to all our past
When Europe was freed, and … in peace … was coloured.

 

ve_day_3289461bColour

 

Keith Wait
May 2020

Photography by Francis Coles

Grenade Genie

Relentless, Ruthless, Riveting

Grenade Genie

by Thomas McColl

Review by Heather Moulson

The second collection from innovative poet, Thomas McColl, Grenade Genie takes us on a surreal journey into four profound sections, with an abundance of intelligent and humorous observations from his twenty-five poems. There are also deep black connotations, and he is ruthless with his words: truly relentless but far from unwelcome, and very compulsive.  He takes us straight through to the first section headed Cursed.

This intriguing roadway gives us the surreal, yet sympathetic, branch terrorism of No Longer Quite So Sure. A bus ride will never be the same. Followed by The Evil Eye, a father’s chilling advice to his son about Social Media, the desperate and gripping Carry My Eyes, and the contemporary horror of The Bunker highlights the real risks and vulnerability of a tower block.

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The Greatest Poem, with references and paranoid comparisons to TS Eliot, is laugh out loud material. Followed by the disturbing Grenade Genie, the title poem.

We leave that section and take a right into the next road which is Coerced. The self-doubting, bordering on paranoid Security Pass. Joined by Jackpot and Invisible Twin, full of innovative strong notions, Nightclubbing in Brum 1988 tells us a beautifully spaced and human story.

The situation remains human as we leave that section with Jan, Jen or Jean. Sharing the writer’s sheer discomfort, making us anxious to move on quickly!

We drive into the strong heading of Combative, and are welcomed by the wonderful, intelligent and witty Shopping with Perseus. An original take on the fashion victim involving the Greek Myth hero.

Common observations, things we don’t mean to ignore, are lit up by Socialist Workers on Oxford Street. Quite certain I will never take that endless street for granted again.
Then we are embraced with one of the highlights of the collection Statement by the Pedestrian Liberation Organisation. Wonderful wit, terror and vivid observations.
The Phoney War is tender, frightening and ends heart-wrenchingly. The image of the sobbing grandmother at the stove will stay with us.

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Our journey takes us on to the last section, Corrupted, no less enticing than the other three chapters. Just One Comma Away is clever with meaning and punctuation, and Said Contents is true and sinister. Hooked is very chilling, but the last thing it leaves us is cold.
The Surgery I Go to Has a Two Headed Doctor is simply a great work of black humour. It is an enjoyable read, as it is with the First Kiss, despite its discomfort. However, Thomas McColl never promised us a smooth ride.

The climax of Literal Library is extraordinarily surreal, and profound. And like all of this collection, acute.

These poems travel flawlessly from the witty to the terrifying. Well worth the bus fare!
Can I go round again please?

Heather Moulson
May 2020

Grenade Genie
by Thomas McColl
Fly on the Wall Press, £8.99, 80 pp
ISBN 978-1-913211-13-4

Photography by BarnImages (© CC 2.0, Underground Bunker) and Christa Neu