Decline and Fall

Lieutenant Colonel John Napier Cormack MBE MC Reaches Ninety

Tough as old boots. The words spring to mind
As I survey the half of John’s lifetime
I’ve seen. With back packs we set off to climb
Lochnagar thirty years ago and mined
Snow to take back and show those left behind
In Craigendarroch. As vistas sublime
Unfolded below John surged on and I’m
Thinking old age isn’t much of a grind
Whilst you have good health. Sixty isn’t old
These days. Ninety is. Laid low by a stroke
Bestriding the world as a colossus
Is no longer an option. But behold
Reminiscence’s splendiferous joke.
The older I am the better I was!

RIP Lieutenant Colonel John Napier Cormack MBE MC

He’s dead. That morning he seemed to rally
Eating two tubs of ice cream, complaining
He felt terrible before expiring
After years of decline, far from happy
To go. The world is lucky to have me
He’d answered when questioned about living.
The dashing young officer who (sharing
His dugout with rats) picked up an MC,
Met his dream girl, and married her in weeks…
The father of three who chased Russian tanks
Taking pictures for the good of the cause…
The grandpa bitten by grandsons on cheeks…
For all his many parts we offer thanks;
He leaves the stage to thunderous applause.

John’s Funeral

Cruellest April, swapping sweet showers for
A raging storm that pelts the garden pond.
Water leaps to greet each kindred sphere, fond
Embraces cover the surface before
Gravity and surface tension restore
Calm, each droplet lost in the depths beyond
Our sight, its identity subsumed, donned
By the greater body, distinct no more.
The hearse awaits the improvised cortege,
Just four cars needed to convey us all
To the chapel where four grandsons shoulder
His coffin. His life now one with les neiges
D’antan his passing casts a heavy pall.
There was a soldier, a Scottish soldier …

Scattering John’s Ashes

There’s a better class of undergrowth in
Scotland. The serried rows of pines, ramrod
Straight let light alight on the soft green sward
Contrasting nicely with the grey lichen.
(Unwary ramblers will find their skin
Ripped to pieces by brambles should they plod
Through an English wood’s understorey shod
In fashionable footwear that’s too thin.)
The cremated remnants were surprising
Considering the frailty of the corpse.
Six ziplock bags full, three for each offspring
Present. Weaving through the trees, dust trailing,
Motes dance in sunbeams. Children from time-warps
Decades ago, twisted by time’s passing.

Dreaming

I dreamt of playing Rugby for Wales
Last night. Were broadcast Premiership scores
I heard drifting off to sleep keys for doors
To lost desires? My mind unveils
Itself and I’m shocked awake. Details
Fade, but whistfulness lingers, gives me pause.
What deeply buried thing could be the cause
Of this? My mind’s conjured fairy tales
Far beyond anything in real life.
Am I mourning a youth that never
Existed when it was within my grasp?
Or was the game a metaphor for strife
That exists in the present forever
Entombed in the subconsciousness’s clasp?

Canine Seasons

Bertie owning the Internet

Spring

May in March
“Cast nary a clout until May be out.”
Does it reference the month or flower?
Thirty days before April’s sweet shower
Had any chance to pierce March’s drought
Hedgerow blackthorn blossom drifted about
In the breeze, scattering petals over
The path, spreading its heady aroma
Around the park where I walk, a devout
Worshipper of the Goddess of Spring with
My miniature Cerberus in train to
Make sure she doesn’t miss the real thing.
Persephone, peplos-clad queen of myth
May not feel the cold, but her view
Isn’t shared by me. I’m wearing sheepskin.

Summer

Bertie on the Beach
The sign at the beach says no dogs allowed
Between May and October. Wherever
You look you see loads of them. Whatever
The motives of the bureacrats, the crowd
Of dog-owners has expressed its view loud
And clear. The sand goes on forever
When the tide’s out, no reason whatsoever
To exclude such friends of man who, endowed
With such a willingness to gallivant,
Are most likely to enjoy the freedom
To lollop on the golden strand unleashed
After the sun-bathers have fled, views scant
Redress for the declining evening sun
Which painted skies as its power decreased.

Autumn

Japanese Maple in Autumn

It’s squirrel season, so Bertie has lost
Interest in his ball, and instead sniffs
Grass and trees, snuffling madly for whiffs
Of rodent or hedgehog. Having criss-crossed
The park he takes every chance to accost
The resident wildlife, trading biffs
With his doggy friends as they conduct tiffs
To establish hierarchies. He’s bossed
By pretty much all of them. Brave he’s not!
But pigeons and magpie families take
Flight at his approach, his upright tail
A shark’s fin knifing through as though he’s got
A snowball’s chance in hell to put a brake
On their escape. Two flaps and off they sail!

Winter

The gravel path spares footwear from the wet
That slickly glistens to the right and left
Pooling twixt the mole hills, plotting the theft
Of any boots that chance to stray and get
Stuck in the mud. But Bertie doesn’t let
It cramp his style, he bounds around the cleft
Tree felled by winter’s storm, his path the weft,
The warp the avenue of bare trees set
On either side. As he weaves snuffling,
Bushy tailed grey squirrels slide around
Trunks and run up, or slip under threadbare
Rhododendrons, silently shuffling
Out of sight. But Bertie is no sight hound.
The squirrels might just as well not be there!

Morning Glory

Bertie loves shoes …

Let out of the crate where he’s spent the night
Bertie steps gingerly onto the grass,
A one dog furry cloud he makes his pass
Across the lawn collecting moisture right
Before he squats, squirts, adds a bit to spite
The green, lifts his tail, shits then licks his arse,
Seeks out the birds whose song drowns out the cars
On the motorway, barks and they take flight.
Honour satisfied, he heads back inside,
Takes a running jump and I take a blow.
He slobbers on my face my neck my hair
Banishing sleep as he lies alongside
Delivering garden dew with a show
Of enthusiasm which I don’t share.

The Mighty Hood

HMS Hood visits Dundee
HMS Hood at Dundee in 1936 (Dundee Telegraph)

Forty six thousand tons of twisted steel
Litter the bottom of the Denmark Strait.
Fourteen hundred men met a dreadful fate
When the Hood exploded, to reveal
The brutally identical seal
To their stories. Hitherto disparate
Strands cut. Fire and water extirpate
All life, all ability to feel
Leaving nothing but a feast for fishes
In place of the manifold hopes and dreams
Of men who’d had a life before the war
And would have had one still, with their wishes
For friendship, love, food, sex, anything seems
Preferable to the mid-ocean floor.

HMS Hood explodes
The Hood explodes

Did he really matter? I ask. I
Ponder the death of my Uncle who died
With hundreds of others. His mother cried
When the boy with the telegram called by
To deliver the news. I suppose. My
Birth was in the future. Were she dry-eyed
Mother Courage, gifting children’s lives I’d
Never know. The charge levied to incise
His name at Chatham enraged his parents.
They baulked, so he went unremarked save for
The brother he’d sung with at New Year in
Welsh raising pennies for treats, sister, once
Worshipping younger brother, cousin sure
To carry his torch. He mattered to kin.

Uncle Melville

Is death the end? We cannot know for sure
However strong our faith doubt must remain
For those who’ve passed are mute. In vain
We seek answers from them who’ve gone before.
We should live life as if there is no more
And help our fellows to live theirs, sustain
With love the bonds we share with all, refrain
From hatred, ego, greed, those dogs of war
That drive the killing madness as men take
From others what they hold themselves most dear.
‘Live and let live’ must become our watchwords.
Tolerance begets trust, once men forsake
Violence then knowledge vanquishes fear
And Perfect Peace leads mankind’s march onwards.

On Visiting The Parthenon

The Parthenon

Traffic-belched vampire fumes acidified
The air, drained life from stones atop the slope
Where the Acropolis bones, picked bare, mope,
Mourning the empire that in its pride supplied
Phidias the wherewithal to provide
The host of wonders lain within its scope.
Truly temples are graves for human hope
Shattered aspirations clawing, bestride
The ancient seat of power diminished
By looting justified as protective
Custody for remains that survived for
Millennia once history finished
With the glory that was Greece, effective
Anointment of London’s glories in store?

Reflection

Then and now

Where are they now? The people who once touched
Our lives but then disappeared from view
To enjoy endless time off in lieu,
Recompense for the numbered days spent clutched
To our bosoms, before love’s stems were scutched,
Pounded to pieces by rough edges too
Diamond hard for years to wear them through
To soft toleration of being hutched
Together, sharing chores and life’s little
Triumphs, as we have done for decades since.
It’s not regret exactly but sometimes
Chance will start a chain of thought and it’ll
Awaken dormant feelings and evince
Reflection that the bell tolls not, it chimes.

Revenge is a dish … or a warship?

There’s definitely a lot of authorial self-doubt about, evidenced by the way five star reviews are triumphantly trumpeted whilst one star trolling prompts hand-wringing and wails.

A few months ago I reviewed a thriller, The Source by Zach Abrams. It is a well-written lighthearted romp with occasional depths, and I enjoyed it very much. O.K., the plot may creak a bit in places, but so does ‘Othello’. I’m a generous reviewer (There But For The Grace Of God Walk I), and I gave it five stars. When I was posting my review, I had a look at the one star review for the same work, by an Amazon Top 1,000 Reviewer, no less. This was not your average trolling one-line ‘It stinks’ effort, but several detailed paragraphs. The reviewer had clearly read the book, described bits of it, and then written ‘it stinks’ after each snippet.

My conclusion; the author had majorly pissed off someone who then decided that this was the best way to put the boot in. After all, both Shelley and Byron thought Keats expired in reaction to an unfavourable review of Endymion in the Quarterly Review. Fortunately the author concerned is made of sterner stuff.