The Sheep

I watch

As the bleat of the sheep

For its young

Finds one appearing

Underneath a tree.

 

Bounding across the meadow,

It bobs and bounces

Beside its mother

Who stands, stern,

Seemingly disinterested.

 

But she is looking for another

Who responds

but does not come –

The problem child

The disruptive, independent one.

 

She stays

Firm in her position

As one suckles

While the other continues grazing

On its own patch of grass,

Content under the midday sun.

 

She keeps on calling;

Carries on receiving

The same blunt answer.

Meanwhile, the compliant one

Claws at her teat with its teeth,

Milking her dry.

 

Suddenly, she stumbles forward,

Impatient, aggressive,

The little head beneath her belly

Bundled out of the way

Perhaps a bit too unfairly

By her belligerence.

 

Only then, perhaps seeing this advance,

Does the other come,

Succumbing to the sense

That his refusal to return has

Now crossed a line.

 

He suddenly runs toward mother,

Perhaps realising that his disobedience

Has led to the unintended consequence

Of harm

To his dazed sibling

 

Whose meek nature he greets

With a sheepish bleat,

Belying all bets that this dutiful child

Is a plain pushover

Whose mercy is merely bought

 

With a quick rub of the white coat

Forgiveness is granted

This time

And they play together

Beside a watchful mother,

 

Both of us now gazing

Upon this glint

In the eternal Shepherd’s eye.

 

Dead Leaves in the Air

It makes sense now why the canal was my favourite place to be. Compared to the hustle and bustle of the riverside, this still stretch of low-level water represented a simpler pace of life. There was a certain excitement about passing through the busy streets of town, perhaps stopping to grab an ice cream on the way. But once we had lugged ourselves up that tall hill, and the noise of traffic and people slowly faded into the distance, the sense of contentment at the top rested comfortably in my soul. Here was a place where sound felt like part of the landscape. Clear, distinct, and unobtrusive. In stark contrast to the overwhelming dissonance we had just come from. Voices here were few and polite. Boats drifted elegantly past, the faint whirring of the motor beneath the water line a soothing accompaniment to the otherwise still surroundings. Walk far enough, and the peace of this part of the world would begin to enfold you in its arms. Walk far enough, and the clip-clop of a shire horse would start tapping gently against your ear. The sight of this grand and gentle beast never failed to raise a smile. As it trotted gallantly past us, we used to wave enthusiastically to the passengers in the proceeding boat. Sometimes, we would only go as far as the central mooring station. Other times, we’d venture slightly further, to my favourite spot beside the bridge. It represented perfectly the quaintness of the British countryside: the gentle lapping of water; the sun blazing silently above, illuminating the long and thin cottage opposite, blooming with flowers. Moorhens would dart in random zigzags whilst the ducks would glide gracefully up and down. The male mallards always looked particularly resplendent in their shiny grey waistcoats and brown cravats, their glossy green heads shining like satin hats under the bright light of the afternoon. The regal stature with which they and the brown-speckled females held themselves would not last long however. Back then, before the food waste bin became a regular feature of the doorstep, the unwanted crusts and residual crumbs from our breakfast toast would be loaded into a small plastic bag and disposed of into the water before us. As soon as the first pieces of bread left our hands and began to float in front of us, birds would descend with a flurry, crowding around us like a pack of wild savages. It was a sure-fire way to end the tranquillity of the scene. They gobbled up these morsels of bread in no time, demanding more even as we reached the end, tipping the final crumbs out like ashes into the slight breeze. They never took the hint. We would always leave after that, their expectation unmatched by our lack of provision. But we would return of course, in time; and the same picture-perfect sight would greet me, so impressed on my mind over the years that now it is a visceral memory. I wonder what it would feel like to walk that towpath again after half a lifetime. How much will it have changed, if at all, since then? Ordinarily, I could act on my curiosity, hopping in a car to visit my grandma and wandering up there between cups of tea. For now though, I can only imagine. And remember what it was like to experience such peace. Remember what it was like to have the time and space to just be… Or can I do more than simply remember? Has life in lockdown made me recall this particular moment from my past because it harbours something of the same serenity? Perhaps, for the quiet of that place certainly seems to echo in the contemplative space of my present, where the flowers are in full bloom outside my window; the sun shines sharply off the static cars on the driveway; and the birds dash to and fro from the thick green bushes to the feeder beside the pond. They are fighting over seeds now though, the breadcrumbs from this morning’s breakfast already gone.

Originally written from a Prompt from Amber Massie-Blomfield’s Homework. To find out more, click here.

Bread

Give us this day our daily bread

 

Baked in blistering heat

Nevertheless it rises up

 

Given for you in remembrance of me

 

Crusts cut off

Thrown to the ducks

Crumbs fall like innocent tears

 

My body broken for you

 

Torn in two

Sliced for the starving.

 

(Re)Discovering Your Past Self

I cannot remember the last time I sat reading a book under lamplight. It was a ritual during my primary school days. We used to have to record the number of minutes we spent each night doing so. I have searched for that little black book in the box of old exercise books under my bed, but no luck. I can still see the slightly wobbly numbers and letters concentrated onto the page in my mind’s eye though. Despite it sounding like a chore I enjoyed it immensely. There was a real sense of satisfaction totting up the hours at the end of the week. It was like I was being rewarded for being such a voracious reader. This was my currency. Money held no value. Perhaps because time seemed endless in those childhood years I felt that I could while it away between the covers of a book. And not just any book but the same books over and over again. I do not remember having a particularly big bookshelf. But what occupied it was well-thumbed and greatly treasured. The Jolly Postman. Percy the Park Keeper. A collection of Roald Dahl stories. A Dick King Smith novel or two. I still have my Animal Ark series which I cannot bear to get rid of. Books that were not just consumed but loved.

I wonder whether that was the turning point. I remember the excitement of getting the first Harry Potter book from Borders in Cheshire Oaks, diving straight into it as soon as we got back to the car. That genuine excitement seemed to fade with Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights and Tolkien’s The Hobbit when I reached Year 8. I never managed to finish either at the time. My love and commitment to reading began to subside then, at the same time as I became increasingly engrossed in the telly box. With the arrival of shows like Desperate Housewives and Lost, I found myself becoming obsessed with onscreen drama at the expense of ink-filled pages. It is perhaps unfair to call myself a consumer of television. I like to invest in shows and journey with them. It is perhaps why, for me, binge-watching has never really become a thing. I am currently preparing myself for the final episode of Homeland. The main character, Carrie Mathison, has been part of my life for almost a decade. She has weaved in and out with each season of the show, becoming part of the fabric of my life. I have made a deep connection to the character in the same way as those bedtime stories left their mark on my early years. I will miss her when she’s gone.

One of the problems with so much content – fragmented across seemingly infinite channels – these days is the pressure to keep up with the latest must-sees. Viewing may retain some pleasure but it becomes a task: a watchlist from which to tick off and discard. I have succumbed to this consumptive will of modern society, even if I argue the extent. I would have imagined that isolation would have worsened this. Now locked down and currently unable to work, there is now a legitimate excuse to make the sofa a permanent residence from which to catch-up with a myriad of highly-recommended and talked-about shows. Being given a second chance to watch Gavin & Stacey and thereby get on board with what seems like the rest of Britain simply doesn’t appeal though. The motivation seems to be one of knowledge or popularity. It won’t mean anything. Not to me anyway. I invest emotionally in things. My currency is in bonds of the emotive kind. I will always want to connect with characters on a deeper level. To involve myself in such a way that they become part of my story, like the books of my childhood are parts of my story. So when I revisit Homeland one day, it will not simply be a reminder of my past. It will evoke memories that cause me to relive my experience. I will rediscover my past self, just as I do now, with this book, under lamplight.

This is what isolation has taught me. The primary motivation was never to read as much as possible for as long as possible. But that’s what it became. Somewhere down the line. It became about quantity rather than quality; mechanical rather than memory-making. I have become so obsessed with filling the bookshelf for effect that I have forgone the potential of books to affect me. TV shows have suffered the same fate. This is why I don’t want to go back to ‘normal’ life when this is over. Life in lockdown is proving too fruitful for me to return. I have rediscovered a sense of timelessness; a self that is content with fewer because it means deeper. In a world that values productivity, that is hard to accept. It may be even harder to justify once the world starts turning on its economic axis once more. My fear is that I will become burdened again by the demands of fast-paced modern living. My hope is that I will be able to resist. I have rediscovered a past self here, under this lamplight, who thrives when life is lived at a simpler and much slower pace. It is no surprise that books have reminded me of this. I read now not in haste but listening intently to their words. I stop at points to reflect and contemplate on what I’m reading. I let them challenge me, and bring joy to me; I allow them to change and transform me. I am letting them back into my life. They are becoming part of my story once more. I have rediscovered what made them so special in the first place; why books became one of my first loves. They are speaking to me again. They will mean something.

Originally written from a Prompt on Amber Massie-Blomfield’s Homework. To find out more about Homework, click here.

Present in Music

Interesting how

In the institution

Which invites us

Into the presence of God

He appears

Absent.

 

Fed up

From the failure

To find compromise

I realise

This is the end

Of a very long

Tether.

 

I loosen my grip

Going further away

From they

Who are listening

Only

To themselves.

 

Instead, I incline my ear

To music

Musing on how it

Moves me

In a way

Only God can.

 

Could it be that He

Who so loved the world

Listens to us

To the lyrics and lines

Of songs in which

He is also

 

present?

The Peg

As the wind blows

Furiously across the garden

The peg clings

To the washing line

Holding fast

 

A simple design

Intelligent technology

A challenge to progress

Whose linear nature

Is best critiqued

 

An iPod, first generation

A Nokia 3310, still in use

Defying the age of consumption

Built to last

Better

Not always bettered.