Beryl bounced once in the old days
rebounded for a second, third,
this final time upon the board
outstretching her muscular arms,
lengthening her growing body,
she flew upward and out into
the April air tucking her knees
to her chest tightly embracing
legs frequently tumbling over,
straightening her body at the
final moment the trajectory
curled toward the water in the
local swimming pool. Dr Davies watched
her gracefully enter the hole
she drilled deep in the blue aqua.
As coach, he suggested points to
consider on her climb to the
plank for her fourteenth encore.
The diver and the boy cadet
were fifteen years — separated
by maturing youthful grace.
Play for keeps!
A dusty rut marks the circle
where animated boys ring the orbit
for play, to cry,
Egged on by allies, they shoot,
Aggies, Cat’s Eye, Milk glass,
hunkered down, fist on ground,
a Lemonade Taw knocks out the Glassie,
et shot tour de force.
threepence at most,
all Spud needed
to fill his drawstring bag at lunchtime
when rules, ruled.
Billy McMahon’s marble fell,
Marlene’s groom Ian
marched, measured, militarised,
fit to kill
fell on a foreign paddy,
from the action.
The town turned out
marched home, alone
on a fancy gun carriage.
Rulers decreed — Regimental rules applied
A roulette marble drops,
winners play on,
or lose the house.
The game played for a government’s budget has,
or ocean blue chips,
or thousand, each represents
because no one needs a drawstring bag
in a cashless world.
Rules, rule in the house,
“not fit to hold a licence.”
He sat squarely on the piano stool. The boy reached out and opened Aunt Clara’s piano and spontaneously played. The lad played it so well his father bought him a baby grand piano at age 10 and reluctantly agreed he could at last take music lessons. At 13, young Louis played at his own Bar Mitzvah. By the time his influence entered my world he was a noted maestro and a chain smoking conductor his friends called Lenny.
By 1960 his modern opera, a rework of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet had reached the Princess Theatre Melbourne. The music by Leonard Bernstein with a libretto by Stephen Sondheim tells of a gang war between Puerto Ricans and the Whites ( or the Jets and Sharks). At that stage Bernstein was thirty-two. Sixty years ago the 33 year old reached new critical acclaim when this musical was released as film by the same name. A few years latter the film reached Melbourne and Jennie and I went to see it. I was so enthralled by it we bought a 12 inch LP ( Long Play) recording of the cast performance.
Our Pye, three-in-one player: (TV, Radio, and Turn-Table), was never put to use before it was stolen from our home. However, the record stayed and was a regular hit with us. The tracks; “I Feel Pretty”, “Tonight”, “America”, and “Somewhere”, have entered the canon of America’s greatest works. Fortunately, Stephen Sondheim lives on, Lenny died from the after effects of an addiction to tobacco, and his friend, American composer, Arron Copeland has also died. Clearly the world is poorer without their talent.
When we bought the West Side Story record, the best recorded music was found on 12 inch L P’s. We bought several. Most came from a group trading as The World Record Club and they were recordings of classical music. The records ran for 60 minutes, but the user could only hear the last 30 minutes by stopping the player and turning the recording to hear the reverse side. Fortunately, a 12 inch vinyl record was a big improvement on previous records. The extra time recorded on each disc was achieved by reducing the speed of the turntable to 33 revolutions per minute and adding width to it.
With the 33 rpm turntable also offered the listener other speed choices. A 45 rpm disc was the record used at the time by pop song promoters. The record had two sides and two songs. It was common for the promoter to advertise one of the two songs on each record. The A side was supposed to be better than the B side. Frequently they got it wrong, in the ears of the listeners, and the more popular song was on the reverse.
The first recording I ever bought was of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. It was written in 1880 to commemorate the Battle of Borodino where Tsar Alexander 1’s forces routed Napoleon in 1812. As my student allowance money was scarce my copy was a 45 vinyl disc. The overture only lasts about 16 minutes. To my annoyance half way through the performance the record had to be flipped over to hear the remainder. It was certainly a performance Tchaikovsky had not written, even though it was performed with actual canons.
The gramophone of the 1960’s replaced the model my uncle Paul had graduated to just a few years before. He had a passion for the popular music recorded before WW11. Performer’s names included favourites such as: Chick Corea, Al Bowlly, Fats Waller, Count Basie, Ross Colombo, and the catalogue ran on with the names of band leaders such as Chick Webb, Artie Shaw and the Dorsey brothers. The records were 78 rpm. Each side ran for about 3 minutes. I have retained one I have altered to a clock face. It is a Decca recording, of Bing Crosby singing, On the Sunny Side Of The Street.
Paul was fanatical about his collection. Each record had a matching file card. The card mentioned the name of the song: where and when it was recorded, who the musicians were. (The cards may have had other information I have no idea. But he did). For thirty years he ran an old time music program on, not one, but two community radio stations. He based each program on the notes he had made at the time of purchase.
When he started to collect these tunes they were sold in a brown paper sleeves. When he played a recording he would wipe any dust that might have fallen on it. Originally the first tunes he played was on a gramophone he had to wind up. The record was placed on a felt disc and the pickup was lowered onto the disc from the outside edge. The pick up was a steel needle. To protect his collection he would use a new needle for every recording he played.
The shellac recordings were brittle and easily damaged. The sound was reproduced by a needle running in the groove made when the sound was recorded. The trouble with such a system is the damage caused by the friction made playing the music.
Paul’s was not the first wind up machine. That role goes to the phonograph. Our neighbours, the Coverdale’s, had an original model. It played music recorded on cylinders. The recording method was similar in that used to make 78s. In that a grove was cut into the cylinder using a mechanism that converted the sound waves into energy that did the inscribing. The pickup followed the scratch to reproduce the singers voice.
Over the course of my life. We have used tape recorders, compact discs, and down loaded LPs to digital programs so they can be reproduced from the computer. I was ever so impressed when Ben and Nina introduced me to the first iPlayer. I found it hard to believe such a tiny recorder could hold so much music and be reproduced so easily.
Years ago I downloaded my entire record collection to my mobile phone, and I have listened to it amplified by wifi and Bluetooth. I have even used Spotify but I have found the range of classical music limited so when in doubt or in need of a switch-up I turn to an app on my phone and I can get worldwide coverage of classical music programs any time of day.
Aficionados, like to explain the 3mp copy excludes much of the pure sound a vinyl recording gives. They may be right but to my creaky old ears it sounds ok and it plays without the need to jump up and turn a record on the turntable. It is even better than the “clunk” you got when one record dropped onto the other when records were stacked one upon the other on a multi-player.
Any A, B or Z musician would be proud to be enjoyed so easily today. Bernstein, Beethoven, Brahms, or Borodin — music is great. That you can listen to any-type of music anywhere from the phone in your pocket is something the boys and girls of West Side Story could never have imagined
As passed me by
An unknown sight,
With flashing lights,
A debutante queen
Draped in crinoline.
As black-tied men
Pretend to care
From formal wear.
When we all know
A line of print
When words remain crisp,
Or seem confusing
If short twisted tones
Really haughtily give,
“She passed me by”,
The perfect subject
From way back when
As opening lines —
Such nonsense sprang —
“I turned as passed
Me by”, and love
Was yet an alien.
I met with “H” again this week. He asked if I was still blogging. On learning I still type he recited these words he wrote about 15 year old Lynette 70 years ago.
“I turned as passed me by an unknown sight”.
He said he had started an Ode to Lynette and never finished it and asked I could. I have tried. Now friends it is your turn. This is my challenge. Can you finish the lines “H” started back in 1951? It can be your gift to give him another idea of how his lines should end.
“I turned as passed me by an unknown sight”
Print your poem on your page and send me your link in the reply box. It will make “H” young again to see what you can do.
How mellifluously did the fiddle play?
Bought in Horsham a century ago
From W Sack, Watchmaker of Firebrace Street,
Horsham, Importer of fine instruments.
Was R Blake, the buyer, a musical prodigy?
Or was the play to amuse oneself by
the fireside, on chilly winter nights?
The musicians choice, “Sanctus Seraphin”
A violin with a name famous for
All the attributes that soloists are
Continually hankering after.
I know it is cruel to mute all notes
Of such beautiful wooden craftsmanship
Yet musical shortcoming dooms it lie
In a black wooden box on soft green baize
Silent as the maple in a snow field.
This copy of a violin from the famous Italian maker of the sixteenth century has been silent since I bought it. (Our children have taken it out of its case and abused its sound, from time to time.) But mostly I admire the majesty of its unknown history, and the luthier’s skill.
What should happen here? Who should we turn to if this happens? How can we prevent this? Why, if this should happen, you must do this. Oh, how things have changed! William Henry Perkin thought nothing of the risks he took to change how fabric was dyed in the nineteenth century. (I will return to him later). Not so if you were Em. Em would have sleepless nights if it wasn’t for the rules of compliance she spends her days writing.
Back in the 1950s, I was in our new school science room. Every student had access to a Bunsen burner gas outlet. Every two students shared a sink to clean equipment. We had beam balances to calculate the chemicals we use. A closed section of the room was reserved for experiments with chemicals that gave off noxious fumes.
I liked science partly because of the nurturing skills of our teacher Norm Stewart ( earlier story). Other than his encouragement I had no confidence I could ever remember the periodic tables. I was so sure memorising them was beyond me I stopped studying science at form four. In my last year of science, our classes were mainly to do with recording our lessons according to the rules of school science. The classes emphasised the importance of accurately recording what we did so another scientist could reproduce, by the same method, the actions we took. The next rule of scientific investigation is to leave your work open to criticism. At that stage your method can be refuted if a reviewer should reach a different result following the methods specified. Leading to the ultimate step, the conclusion. The conclusion means the work has been rigorous and scientifically responsible. Which leads me to what I did without these steps of care.
After school, I did make my own experiments with chemicals I had bought from the chemist’s shop. In an earlier lesson, we had made copper crystals. Experimenting, at home, I made one about the size of a AU 50 cent coin and was pretty pleased with my effort. I moved on and made some gunpowder, just because I could. And this is where compliance officers, like Em, would become very anxious if they should every find out what went on unsupervised. At school the room was filled with dangerous stuff that was often untended and left in the hands of the uninitiated.
At school we played with Mercury and let it run through our fingers without any warning it was dangerous. Just as we watched how magnesium ignited easily at a high temperature, bright white light, without wearing protective eyewear or clothing. One experiment seemed to reoccur any time of the year at school. The senior boys would amuse themselves making hydrogen sulphide gas (rotten air gas). This gas was intentionally made outside the ante-room, the place with the exhaust system, and it stank. All too often experiments, outside classroom hours filled the corridors with a putrid stench.
Long before any science experience at school I had watched, and copied adults, melting down lead on the fire, and I also made lead fishing sinkers. No one gave any thought to the fact the fumes of melting lead are carcinogenic. In the metal workshop at school, even first formers would use hydrochloric acid to clean metal with no other protection other than a calico apron. These boys, who mostly came from farms, were familiar with the dangers of sulphuric acid in lead batteries. So, I suppose, the school reasoned any danger was not wholly unexpected in a work environment. Not that that decision would stand the test of reasonableness if acid ate into a boy’s clothes, or burned his skin.
About the age I was in the school science room, a century before, young William Perkin went to work as a chemist with August Wilhelm Von Hoffman at the Royal College of Chemistry, London. In his holidays he made an accidental discovery. In a temporary laboratory, with a coal derivative — aniline — he produced a dye with an intense purple colour. (They dyed fabric with natural materials prior to his discovery.) His new colour, Tyrian purple, was a new hue from which he built a fortune, and with further experimentation he produced dyes of other colours that changed the entire British dye industry, and it altered the colours used around the world, in all manner of things.
If risk managers existed in those days, and they were aware of the dangers these new dyes were to health, they could have saved many lives if they had banned their use. Fortunately, science does not fix things outright as, “we know all there is to know about —-.” . It allows for new people to challenge the status quo. In time, the carcinogenic nature of these dyes was discovered, and their use was banned in foodstuffs and for use in clothing. The interesting thing is, if they were banned outright medical science would have been denied a valuable tool in fighting cancer. Today those same dyes are used in nuclear medicine to trace the movement of chemical treatments that save lives. I am unsure this proves compliance officers need a crystal ball to predict all possibilities, but it does seem it is impossible to ever imagine all the risks one might encounter.
Unlike young William, I never studied Chemistry. To this day I would be hard put to name twenty elements, and I have no idea which subset of them each one belongs. My chemistry skill finishes at trying to make a good espresso each morning with ground beans and pressured hot water. And with that I am well pleased.
Wild animals roamed here in past millenniums. It is possible to find dinosaur footprints in the sandstone on the seashore not so many miles from here. These patterns have nothing to do with that, except in my imagination.
We are enjoying a few days by the sea. For over 65 years, we have been visiting this sleepy winter hamlet of about 1,000. Now, it is summer the residents hide away from the marauding 25,000 visitors holidaying here.
Some people come here to bask in the sun, (not that there is much of that just now). Many read. Some wait for that time of day they can get together and show off their best preened self.
For thousands of years indigenous people roamed the hills around here. The sea saw to it they never went hungry. There is little evidence of the natural riches now, but there are middens, (waste tips) of consumed seashells — if you know where to look.
The coastal road is an iconic day out for visitors. Many, are not used to driving on twisting country roads, and some (more than ever should) end up here. Thankfully, the government maintains this hospital for the sick and those accidentally injured. A decade ago I served on the hospital board for two terms — when this building was commissioned — replacing the former place.
Even in cooler weather, like it is today, a stroll on the beach is health giving.
Fish know life goes forward
eight hungry pond fish circle restlessly
rushing the surface water
onto whirlpool’s eddy
formed in the steady mock stream playing
from the aerator we hear burbling life
into freshened aqua
reflecting gloomy twilight
and moody clouds float by overhead
folded into dark blankets threatening heavy air
dawning New Year’s Day
fish know life goes forward
Friends, please allow me to call you friends? I wish you good health, peace, and that your love is met in the dawning year. May 2021 be so good we can all put 2020 out of reach.
Ever keen to invoke a love for language in my grandchildren, three of the four were with me in the car when I switched on the radio. We did this despite my very best practise to condemn such a distraction in a car driven by a learner.
Let me clarify what we were doing, so you have a better idea of how my distracting behaviour killed my hubris. Charlie was keen to take us for a drive so he could show how prepared he is for his licence test. (Last time I wrote about his driving, 120 Hours At The Wheel 22/03/2020, he had just started to drive) On the pretext I wanted to check on our distant bee hive I gave Charlie the keys as he had said he would love to drive somewhere. With the permission of the Law and their parents, Sam and G sat in the rear seat, and I sat in the front beside Charlie as I was the supervising licensed driver.
We drove in muted silence for about forty minutes. Charlie drove carefully, yet confidently. On this part of the trip we still had several kilometres to travel, and he was driving very well so I broke the rule I had set and turned up the car sound system. All along the road I thought it was off. Instead, we drove, sound muted on our journey. Looking about the display screen, I saw bluetooth was playing Under Milkwood. That was when my vanity got in the way of common sense.
I was so thrilled to see the name scrolling across the silent screen as this piece, written for the BBC, and read by Richard Burton, is one of my favourite examples of spoken word. It is neither a play, nor a poem, yet it is such a splendid piece of writing telling, as it does, of life in the day little imaginary Welch village of Llareggub
Dylan wrote of the characters one might meet in the township – with a name best read backwards — if you want to get a better grasp of his humour. It introduces us to characters such as Captain Cat, Willy Nilly, Mrs Pugh — (Oh, there are so many lovely people, read it, or listen to it yourself.)
If I may, I will return to what was happening in the car as Charlie drove us home. Unaware the reading had been running for some time, I tried to explain why I liked Thomas. I spoke to the kids of the musical nature of the work. (I didn’t tell them I first heard it soon after Alan Woods invested a sizeable portion of his wages and bought a radiogram, and the LP recording, when he had no home in which to store it, and long before he became my brother-in-law. It so happened for security he had it installed in the Vicarage parlour on proviso he could at least listen to it sometimes until he had a place of his own.)
At the point Georgia, Sam and Charlie first heard the words of this dark, comedic writing the village children were in the school playground singing, rhyming verse to a skipping game. Instead of the intent I expected of the moment, they lost all control when they heard the children’s voices singing. For a few minutes after this we heard only their laughter – as they laughed at my expense.
If they ever take time to read my silly stuff, I hope this story reminds them of Christmas Eve 2020. And they take the time to find Under Milkwood I do love, and they listen to it for their own enjoyment.
Last year’s yule log
Rekindled as a flickering flame
Heats the cold hearth
We sit around in mute study
A year lost by caring hands
Who laboured with
Sickly, restrained, individuals
To pant - one last —
long silent exhalation
As spirits leave
Their bereaved family wanting
To explain the
Empty chairs at dining tables
Set neat for lunch
Just last year when history was
About to be
Written in black edged annals.
Thank you. I really appreciate how you have encouraged me to write. May peace be with you. Indeed, have a happy new year.