The armed militias

by Naji Almurisi

Yemeni poet
The armed militias
Plant gunpowder in gardens
And harvest the holes on the streets
Crushing dreams
Robbing smiles
Spreading pains
Everywhere
Here
Dove of peace
Looking for peace
Here
The olive branch
An arrow
Dripping with bloods
Here
All flowers
Smelling of crying
Here
The truth becomes a kind of stupidity ...

Poem for the Children of Gaza

by Michael Rosen

January 15, 2009
In Gaza, children,
you learn that the sky kills
and that houses hurt.
You learn that your blanket is smoke
and breakfast is dirt.

You learn that cars somersault
clothes turn red,
friends become statues,
bakers don't sell bread.

You learn that the night is a gun,
that toys burn,
breath can stop,
it could be your turn.

You learn:
if they send you fire
they couldn't guess:
not just the soldier dies -
it's you and the rest.

Nowhere to run,
nowhere to go,
nowhere to hide
in the home you know.

You learn that death isn't life,
the air isn't bread.

The land is for all - you have the right to be not dead.
The land is for all - you have the right to be not dead.
The land is for all - you have the right to be not dead.
The land is for all - you have the right to be not dead.

The Day War Came

by Nicola Davies

UK children’s poet
The day war came there were flowers on the window sill
and my father sang my baby brother back to sleep.
My mother made my breakfast, kissed my nose
and walked with me to school.

That morning I learned about volcanoes, I sang a song about how tadpoles turned at last to frogs.
I made a picture of myself with wings.
Then, just after lunch, while I watched a cloud shaped like a dolphin, war came.
At first just like a spattering of hail
a voice of thunder ...
then oil smoke and fire and noise, that I didn't understand.

It came across the playground.
It came into my teacher's face.
It brought the roof down, 
and turned my town to rubble.

I can't say the words that tell you
about the blackened hole that had been my home.

All I can say is this:

war took everything

war took everyone

I was ragged, bloody, all alone.

I ran. Rode on the back of trucks, in buses;
walked over fields and roads and mountains,
in the cold and mud and rain;
on a boat that leaked and almost sank
and up a beach where babies lay face down in the sand.

I ran until I couldn't run
until I reached a row of huts
and found a corner with a dirty blanket
and a door that rattled in the wind

But war had followed me.
It was underneath my skin,
behind my eyes,
and in my dreams.
It had taken possession of my heart.

I walked and walked to try and drive war out of myself,
to try and find a place it hadn't reached.

But war was in the way that doors shut when I came down the street
It was in the way the people didn't smile, and turned away.

I came to a school,
I looked in through the window.
They were learning all about volcanoes
And drawing birds and singing.

I went inside.
My footsteps echoed in the hall
I pushed the door and faces turned towards me
but the teacher didn't smile.
She said, there is no room for you,
you see, there is no chair for you to sit on,
you have to go away.

And then I understood that war had got here too.

I turned around and went back to the hut, the corner and the blanket
and crawled inside.
It seemed that war had taken all the world and all the people in it.

The door banged.
I thought it was the wind.
But a child's voice spoke
"I brought you this," she said "so you can come to school."
It was a chair. A chair for me to sit on and learn about volcanoes, frogs and singing
And drive the war out of my heart.

She smiled and said, "My friends have brought theirs too, so all the children here can come to school."

Out of every hut a child came and we walked together,
on  road all lined with chairs.
Pushing back the war with every step.





You take the high road or the low road – I’m heading down the middle

Please note: If you are a fan of Vladimir Putin or Volodymyr Zelenskyy you might not be keen on what I have to say in this article.

The war (or military operation or invasion – take your pick) in Ukraine has very clearly polarised opinion in this country.

We all know and love or loathe Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Born in 1952 he joined the KGB in 1975 and had a brilliant career as far as we know even though KGB members did not really publicise their careers.

In 1991, as the USSR was disintegrating after General Secretary, later President, Mikhail Gorbachev had attempted to bring it up to date and join the world beyond its borders, Putin quit his work with the KGB (better to get out before the whole edifice comes tumbling down) and decided to become a politician in St Petersburg.

Five years later he moved to Moscow and hitched his star to the bandwagon of the President of the new Russia, Boris Yeltsin. Initially he was in charge of security (not much difference to his KGB days) but in 1999 he was appointed as Prime Minister (yes, not elected but appointed).

Bearing in mind that one of Boris Yeltsin’s priorities was to keep the Russian vodka industry alive and kicking, if for no other reason than to make sure his personal supply never dried up, it is not surprising that a few months later he stood down as president (probably for health reasons) and Putin was appointed acting president and soon afterwards was named as President of United Russia.

We know how it went from there: two terms as president, and then a term as prime minister (no president was allowed more than two consecutive terms) while his pal, the former prime minister Dmitri Medvedev, became president. The four years later he was “elected” president again with his pal back in the role of PM.

It also appears that from this point he has become president for life (wasn’t that how Julius Caesar upset his fellow senators which led to his sudden death on the senate floor).

Now let’s turn to his opponent, the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy, elected as the country’s sixth President in May 2019.

He’s quite a bit younger than his adversary Putin, having been born in the former Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1978, and before turning to comedy gained a law degree at the University of Kiev (Kyiv). There are equivalents in the UK: both John Cleese and Susan Calman hold law degrees. Neither of them have become PM of the UK, however, although that might have been better than what we have been lumbered with.

One of Zelenskyy’s most famous roles was in Servant of the People in which an ordinary man became President of Ukraine. Basically it portrayed a comedian acting the part of a teacher who came from nowhere to the presidency.

The series lasted four years, 2015 to 2019, and obviously gave the star a taste of being top dog in the Ukraine, so in 2019 Zelesnkyy stood for the presidency and, to everybody’s surprise won. Nobody was surprised when Putin became President of Russia.

So there we have the background. It is a journalist’s job to look for the background in any story, especially a story as serious this.

Last year Putin started building up his forces on the borders with Ukraine as part of a “military training exercise” and then in February he announced a “tactical operation” which involved crossing the border and then, rather than just concentrating on the Donbas region (a bone of contention between Russia and the Ukraine) his troops aimed into that region but also struck at other major cities and headed for the capital Kyiv.

The Ukrainians, in the main, were not happy about this intrusion and many have since fled to safety to the West with the men, even untrained civilians, staying put, joining the army or preparing to defend their homes, their villages, their towns.

As I have said many times before, as a journalist I look for facts and do not judge a situation on what I see at first glance.

It’s a bit like a policeman at the site of a crash.

The car might be in a ditch, the driver slumped dead across the wheel, and a strong smell of whiskey as though the driver had been saturated in it.

At first glance, it could be supposed the driver had been drinking, possibly even while driving, had lost control of the vehicle, banged his head on the wheel or dashboard and died where he was.

A second glance might reveal the smell of drink was because a gift-wrapped package of unopened whiskey bottles had been thrown off the parcel shelf, between the front seats, shattering on the dashboard and soaking the front of the car and the driver in drink.

At third glance it could be seen that the driver went off the road with no sign of braking and fourth glance – or rather following a forensic examination by the pathologist – the man had died of a heartache and had no alcohol in his blood.

Thus: heart attack; car continues but goes into ditch; gift package of whiskey shatters and drenches driver. No blame, just a terrible accident.

I am not going into all the ins and outs of the current situation in the Ukraine. Stories of atrocities have been levelled from both sides and I do not have the evidence to judge for myself.

What I am going to do is to take a Twitter comment I made the other day to demonstrate how hard it is to take the middle ground.

The wording is exactly as I posted it:

A picture shows some dead civilians in Bucha had packs of military rations.

A. did they steal them and get shot by Russians?

B. did the Russians give them the packs and then shoot them?

C. did Ukrainians shoot them as collaborators paid in ration packs?

Shades of grey.

One of the first replies came from an anonymous poster who considered themself to be worldly wise:

You think shooting a person who may or may not have taken a mouldy ration pack is justified?! What is wrong with you?!

Now I must admit this kneejerk reaction annoyed me and my response might show through:

Typical. If you bothered to read that properly you will discover I asked three questions. I have not justified any potential actions or answers. What is wrong with you?

My worldlywise attacker came back with:

The fact that you posed such a question says everything!

To which question I responded:

Why?

Here endeth THAT conversation.

The next response came from another source, identified but also bearing an odd Twitter handle and using the blue and yellow colours of Ukraine as an avatar:

E. Can you **** off?

My response*:

Standard response from someone who accepts everything they are told as the absolute truth. I posed three questions to which I do not know the answers. As a journalist I look at a situation and ask questions. I expect the people who provide answers to prove those answers.

PS: what happened to E?

PPS: I meant what happened to D?

To which the person replied:

You’re posing the question “are there mitigations for Russian atrocities in Ukraine?” the answer is “no”. Hope that helps.

My response:

I would not consider anything could possible (sic) mitigate any atrocities. All I seek is evidence to go with any answers. Any decent reporter would want to see that evidence. PS: I think Vladimir Putin is a despicable man who puts Russia to shame.

Response:

In that case “Shades of grey” is an unfortunate choice of phrase.

Me:

Why? My comment just means nothing is black and white.

Response (although there may have come a point where posts crossed):

The reason your seemingly reasonable questions are offensive is the notion that lofty objectivity is always justified. It is obviously true that whatever the exact circumstances of their deaths these corpses are a result of Putin’s aggression. In “no” sense did they deserve it.

Me:

At no point have I suggested anyone “deserves” anything that is happening in Ukraine. Nobody deserves to have their home invaded whether it is invaded by a thief or an army. Nobody deserves to die. Please do not put words into my mouth or think you can read my mind.

The final reply:

I’m sure you’re one of the good guys. No offence intended. X

This is an example of how Twitter conversations often go. No matter how carefully you word a comment in the main others do not read everything everything before leaping to the keyboard and condemning everything you have said.

I would like to hear from anyone who feels they have a comment make. All I ask is that you read it first and then check that your answer actually applies to the article.

Please be polite as I don’t think free speech is a defence for obscenities.

Yon Wild Mossy Mountain

by Robert Burns

1759-1796
Yon wild mossy mountains sae lofty and wide,
That nurse in their bosom the youth o' the Clyde,
Where the grouse lead their coveys thro' the heather to feed,
And the shepherd tends his flock as he pipes on his reed.

Not Gowrie's rich valley, nor Forth's sunny shores,
To me hae  the charms o'yon wild, mossy moors;
For there, by a lanely, sequestered stream,
Besides a sweet lassie, my thought and my dream.

Among thae wild mountains shall still be my path,
Ilk stream foaming down its ain green, narrow straith;
For there, wi' my lassie, day long I rove,
While o'er us unheeded flie the swift hours o'love.

She is not the fairest, altho' she is fair;
O' nice education but sma' is her share;
Her parentage humble as humble can be;
But I lo'e the dear lassie because she lo'es me.

To Beauty what man but maun yield him a prize,
In her armour of glances, and blushes, and sighs?
And when wit and refinement hae polish'd her darts,
They dazzle our een, as they flie to our hearts.

But kindness, sweet kindness, in the fond-sparkling e'e,
Has lustre outshining the diamond to me;
And the heart beating love as I'm clasped in her arms,
O, these are my lassie's all-conquering charms!

Harold and his Saxons see off the Norsemen at major battle

Following the death of Edward the Confessor in 1066 the English crown was claimed by the dead king’s right-hand man, who had charge of the royal bodyguard. His claim that Edward named him as successor was approved by the Witan (a sort of Privy Council as it was called in latter days) who unanimously voted to give Harold the crown.

Not that he was the only claimant, as we well know.

First there was Duke William of Normandy, just across the channel, the descendant of Rollo, a Viking or Norseman granted land by the French king. The Duke was also known as William the Bastard as his mother was not married to his father.

He had a double claim. First he claimed Edward had named him his successor when the king was in exile in Normandy. His second claim was based on Harold having sworn an oath, having been shipwrecked and rescued by William, to support William’s claim.

William raised an invasion fleet but could not set sail because the wind was in the wrong quarter and remained so for months.

Meanwhile Harold kept his army on standby ready to repel any invaders.

The wait lasted through the summer at which time the fyrd {the major part of the army called on when necessary as the rest of the time they had land to be farmed and raise crops to feed the country) was eventually disbanded to go back to their land.

This was when the third claimant to the throne, the King of Norway, Harald Hardrada, stuck a spanner in the works when he led an invasion fleet of 300 ships to attack in the North of England. His claim was based on his descent from King Cnut, a Dane who ruled England peacefully for many years.

He was supported by Harold Godwinson’s younger brother Tostig who brought mercenary troops from Flanders and joined Harald’s invasion force at Stamford Bridge, near York, in September 1066.

When King Harold received the news that Harald’s invasion was boosted by his own brother Tostig he set off with the core of his army to face the usurper, picking up members of the fyrd as they headed North.

Meanwhile Hardrada’s force had attacked York having defeated the Earl of Mercia’s army. They then retired to Stamford Bridge having ordered the defeated earl to send more hostages and supplies to their camp.

What he didn’t know was that King Harold had made a forced march north with his expanding army and went round the city of York to take on the Norwegians at Stamford Bridge.

Having taken only four days to get there they caught the invaders by surprise on 25 September, 1066, and after a long and bloody battle, most of the blood being Norwegian, Harold won the battle and the remnants of the enemy sailed away in just 30 ships – there weren’t enough men left out of the approximately 8,000 force to man any more ships.

The invasion had been launched because the wind that kept Duke William bottled up in Normandy had favoured the Norwegians.

Then the wind changed, speeding the defeated Norwegians back to their homeland but now blowing favourably for the Norman invaders.

Harold and his men rested up following their forced march and the bloody battle, but just a few days after the battle riders came from the South and met Harold as he was heading home to tell him that him that William and his Normans had landed at Pevensey, East Sussex, on 28 September and appeared to be making camp there while they unloaded the men, horses and equipment.

Harold knew his men were worn out from battle and he took them to London were they stayed for at least a week, gathering strength and replacing supplies.

Surprisingly the Normans remained in their camp all this time.

On 13 October Harold took his army of 8 to 10,000 men to Caldbeck Hill above a valley which lay on the road to Hastings. They took their positions that night on a hilltop ridge about 800 yards wide and with sharp inclines on either side.

Guards were placed and the men took what rest they could, but ready at a moment’s notice to defend their king and country.

COMING SOON: Harold prepares to send the Normans packing.

Amidst the Noisy Ball . . .

by Aleksander Pushkin

1799-1837
Amidst the noisy ball, in Hell
Of everyday distress,
I've seen you, but the secret's veil
Was covering your face.

Your fair eyes were sad and bright,
And voice was so sweet,
As sound of a pipe apart
Or murmur of the sea.

I've liked your fine and slender waist,
And thoughtful image, whole,
And sound of your voice - it nests
Forever in my soul...

When tired, in my lone nights,
I lie down to pause -
And see your beautiful, sad eyes,
And hear your merry voice.

And sad, I fall asleep to see
My dreams that run above...
I'm sure not whether I love thee -
But, maybe, I'm in love.

Frantic fortnight as we get ready to take Sooty, Sweep and Soo on tour

After the first week at Harry’s place, a very busy time all round, it was time to make the master show tape with all the sounds and music for the show.

The recording studio was the Corbetts’ living room and the musicians were the Corbett sons, David and Peter (the latter known professionally as Matthew as there was already an actor called Peter Corbett), as well as two or three others whose names I can no longer remember.

The show tape was initially recorded on a Revox reel to reel tape deck, there was a second as backup because Harry was a belt and braces man.

It was a fun Sunday when we did the recording as the Corbetts, parents and sons, knew the other musicians, I think they might have been friends of Matthew (I use his stage name as that is how everybody knows him). Toabs made sure there were refreshments to keep us all going.

Harry Corbett and Sooty with Harry’s sons, David (left) and Matthew (Peter) in the 1950s

The reason we needed a show tape was because I could not be by the sound system at all times during the show to operate any musical interludes or sound effects.

The UV sequence, for instance, had everyone on stage. Harry had Sooty of course and was dressed as normal, but the rest of us, Lawrence, myself, Toabs and Howard were all dressed head to toe in black so that we disappeared against the black drapes.

Lawrence and myself were operating giant butterflies which showed up with the UV light. We had one in each hand on canes with attachments to allow us to make the wings beat up and down.

During all this there was music, for the butterfly dance, and sound effects for the appearance of the genie (Howard) and I couldn’t very well nip offstage to turn them on and off and there were no computers in those days to program the show.

As I have said before Harry was a perfectionist and there were a number of takes on the music for the spooky Haunted Castle, the Magic Lamp UV sequence and the Water Gardens when Sooty did his magic to make the water fountain appear from various points. before Harry was satisfied.

By evening everything was recorded to the boss’s approval and Lawrence and I went down to the pub and had a couple of beers to relax.

The following morning, after breakfast, I settled down with my Revox tape decks and a timed and annotated script for the show.

I then had to cut and splice the tapes to match the script.

In my youth I had played around with editing reel to reel tapes and also 8mm home movies. In my teens a group of us had got together to make a wacky film with the sort of gags we would see later in programmes like Monty Python or the 6. I’m sure I have got it tucked away with some other old 8mm home movies.

The editing was not the end of the matter.

I had a spliced tape which was exact to the second. From this I had to make a master tape, with no splices and then a back-up master as well.

The original spliced tape was put in a strong container and sealed as it was the absolute emergency fallback. Of the two others one would travel with Harry and Toabs and one with us in the Sooty van.

During the tour I had to make numerous fresh master tapes using the backup unused tape. This is because constant use gradually stretched the tape putting timings out.

Harry had started life as an engineer had always paid attention to the slightest detail. Even when we made up the frontispiece for the UV sequence he insisted on us making proper joints on the support pieces holding up the facade. As he pointed out, taking time at the start would be certain to save time later in the tour.

That two weeks before we set out on tour was the busiest in my life so far. It certainly took my mind off other matters.

On the final Saturday we loaded the van in the exact order we had practiced.

Some of the theatres might have been expecting a puppet show on the lines of a Punch and Judy booth, but our sets would take up half the width of most stages and we had set dressings and drapes and lighting rigs which the theatres might have had but, as I said, Harry didn’t take chances and we could have dressed a bare stage.

Once we had loaded Lawrence and I went for a final pint at our local, ready to get on the road on Sunday.

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible

My apologies for the lack of regular content, other than poetry, which has, itself, been lacking in regularity of late.

For various reasons I have found myself too busy to provide the regular input which readers so rightly deserve. Or is it that I am too tired at times, not as up to the mark as I should be?

It is remiss of me to treat readers in such a way and I will, therefore, ensure that in future I will write more frequently about my life, and journalism, episodes of British history which I find interesting (or even just amusing), or just things that I find interesting or amusing – even politics which is always good for a laugh.36666666666

Normal service will be resumed this week.

Honest.

Cross my heart.

Farewell

Ann Brontë

1820-1849
Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they shall still dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
O, beautiful, and full of grace!
If thou hadst never met mine eye,
I had not dreamed a living face
Could fancied charms so far outvie.

If I may ne'er behold again
That form and face so dear to me,
Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain
Preserve, for aye, their memory.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Cresting feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less;-
And oh, that smile! Whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.

Adieu, but let me cherish, still,
The hope with which I cannot part.
Contempt may wound, and coldness chill,
But still it lingers in my heart.

And who can tell but Heaven, at last,
May answer all my thousand prayers,
And bid the future pay the past
With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?