Saturday Poem - When I Was A Boy

I first learnt this poem as a seven year-old - we spent a whole day doing activities about it and I even drew a picture to accompany it.  One of my favourite things about running the Saturday poem is re-discovering old favourites like this one which pop into my mind almost out of the blue.  There is such a brilliant simplicity to Charles Causley's poetry.  I wonder how many other fans there are out there ...

Charles Causley
When I Was A Boy

When I was a boy
On the Isle of Wight
We all had a bath
On Friday night.
The bath was made
Of Cornish tin
And when one got out
Another got in.
          First there was Jenny
          Then there was Jean,
          Then there was Bessie
          Skinny as a bean,
          Then there was Peter,
          Then there was Paul,
          And I was the very last
          One of all.

When mammy boiled the water
We all felt blue
And we lined up like a cinema queue.
We never had time
To bob or blush
When she went to work with the scrubbing brush.
          First there was Jenny
          Then there was Jean,
          Then there was Bessie
          Skinny as a bean,
          Then there was Peter,
          Then there was Paul,
          And I was the very last
          One of all.

When I was a boy
On the Isle of Wight
My mammy went to work
Like dynamite:
Soap on the ceiling,
Water on the floor,
Mammy put the kettle on
And boil some more!
          First there was Jenny
          Then there was Jean,
          Then there was Bessie
          Skinny as a bean,
          Then there was Peter,
          Then there was Paul,
          And I was the very last
          One of all.

Charles Causley

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Review: Family Secrets, Deborah Cohen

An alternative title for this book could have been The History of Shame.  Deborah Cohen takes an academic approach to the history of family secrets in this fascinating piece of social history.  As she herself acknowledges, it is extremely difficult to chronicle something which by definition was kept secret but Cohen has taken a step back and tried to understand how prevailing trends altered people's attitudes towards the people and events who they would prefer to airbrush from their back story.

Cohen divides her book into three sections but really it splits better into two.  The first five chapters cover issues such as mixed-race children, divorce and adultery, disabled offspring, illegitimacy and homosexuality.  The final two consider the changing nature of the family structure, the rebellion against the nuclear family and how we move forwards as a society.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Spin Offs

Spin offs.  Spin offs.  So very many spin offs.  Where there has been success, there will inevitably be someone trying to cash in for themselves.  That is the jaded view of course, the fairer one is that where books capture the imagination, certain gifted writers are able to expand on the original story with a creation of their own.  I'm not referring to Death Comes To Pemberley which made an embarrassing number of mistakes about the original source material (which was Pride and Prejudice so surely PD James could have made an effort) or the James Potter series which from my limited readings seems to be Harry Potter re-run but Americanised.  I'm thinking of instances of actual invention and originality - I've started thinking about my Top Ten Tuesdays when I go swimming and I was charging up and down the lanes, these are what I came up with.

Review: St Lucy's Home For Girls Raised By Wolves, Karen Russell

This was a book that I wanted to read purely for the title alone.  It's a fantastic collection of short stories, each one beautiful and painful on its own merits.  Blending elements of the Gothic with the everyday, each tale ends abruptly just at the point where the drama seems to have reached fever pitch.  There is a sense of unease throughout the collection - the quote on the front that describes the stories as 'fabulous fun' seems a woefully inadequate way of describing these tales of the grim and the bizarre.  Truly, these are tales of where the wild things are.

Review: March, Geraldine Brooks

I bought this years ago, it won the Pulitzer Prize back in 2006 and was widely spoken of but I was very busy and it slipped down my To Be Read list but re-reading Little Women a few weeks ago inspired me to pick it up again.  Geraldine Brooks endeavours in this novel to lend a voice to one of the blankest characters in literary history - Mr March himself.  As the title suggests, Little Women is very much about the girls, about what it means to be a woman and how to conduct oneself.  Ordinary domestic order is in flux with the father absent and despite the family's middle class pretensions, they are in a state of poverty.  This is a tale of sisters doing it for themselves, standing on their own two feet and ringing all their own bells etc.  The Civil War is merely the painted backdrop, offering the alibi to Mr March since he has no real role in this drama - where there is advice to had, it comes from Marmee who is the deus ex machina, even summoning Beth back from the claws of the Grim Reaper.  To consider the cruel realities of the Civil War is to look past the gentle story of childhood adventures and girlish escapades and see this year for what it truly must have been.  Gone With The Wind may be a notorious potboiler, but yet Margaret Mitchell was recounting many of the stories handed down to her by her grandparents while one has a feeling that Louisa Alcott was sanitising her own recent history.

To be frank though, Mr March was never a character that held any interest.  He is blank to the point of not-existing, his only distinguishing characteristic is that his daughters are mysteriously fond of him - he is the ultimate absent father, even when he is present, he might as well be elsewhere.  The final pages of March have him back in his family's arms and repeating Alcott's words to each of his daughters on how the year has changed them and the man internally wonders why nobody asks how he has altered.  The brutal fact is, the reader never cared.  Some of the girls in my class at school put on their own highly interpretative play of it and gaily killed off the father because they had simply forgotten that he survived to the end of the book.  I was distinctly dubious that a story centred on him could actually hold water.  In the end, I did appreciate March the novel but I finished up with a distinctly mixed opinion on March the man.

Saturday Poem - If You Forget Me

I will admit to not knowing a great deal about Pablo Neruda.  I never studied Spanish at school and my most complex grammatical instruction allows me to order a drink and then say thank you afterwards.  Still, even in their translated form, his words have a real beauty.

If You Forget Me

I want you to know
one thing.

You know this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners that passes through my life,
and you decide to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.

Pablo Neruda

For the full archive of past Saturday poems, visit Poetry Please in the Features.

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books I Want To Reread

Last week's Broke and Bookish Top Ten Tuesday focused on books which people wanted to re-read.  I'm none too sure about this week's one but I did think a little about this.  I rarely stick to strict To Be Read lists and in fact if I state that I am about to start a book, it is usually a signal for me to be distracted by at least three others while the original one falls behind the bed and is forgotten.  However.  I am going to give it a go.  These are books which I love which I want to share on my blog - no guarantees about when but I am giving myself a Rereading goal for 2015.

Review: Bad Mothers United, Kate Long

It always seems to me that as soon as I say I don't like a particular genre, I suddenly discover a whole ream of it that I enjoy.  I was really irritated a few months ago when I was contacted by a publicist a few months ago who wrote that she could see from my website that loved chick lit.  I responded indignantly that this was certainly not the case.  However, I do love The Bad Mother's Handbook and this week I read its sequel Bad Mothers United.  I've dabbled with a few other Kate Long books and never quite felt like I hit pay-dirt but The Bad Mothers is head and shoulders above the average - this is chick lit with heart, soul and brain and it warms not just the cockles but the very toes.  Plus I have a strong suspicion that it is set if not in my parents' actual village then at least in the very near vicinity - there are just too many local references to ignore.  So hola Kate Long, I've been to Rufford Old Hall on many's a Saturday afternoon too and I also know the wonders of the River Douglas so thank you for singing the song of West Lancashire, too often are we forgotten and mocked for our proximity to Wigan - it's really nice to read a book about Real Northerners.  We're cool, let's face it.