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Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Old School House Boscombe Blue Plaque Ceremony

I originally wrote this in March 2012 as a contribution to the struggle to keep the Old School House Arts Centre in Boscombe from being demolished.  The campaign was partially successful and today a blue plaque was installed to comemorate the work of Sir Percy Florence Shelley (son of the poet Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley of ,Frankensttein, fame) who gave the building to the people of Boscombe.  Percy Florence was a great supporter of the arts  and of theatre in particular.  I have updated the poem tofit a happier time.


Let us rededicate this building to the arts
Let us drive out the shadows of utilitarianism
Of Mediocrity, of settling for second best
Let us protest
That this is a place of striving
And creating
And trying for something just out of reach
Because that is what the arts are.

Let us rededicate this building to
To sculpture
To painting
To poetry
To theatre
To story telling
To writing
To knitting
To singing
To sewing
To dancing
To remembering
What happened here
To thinking of the future
To living in the now

Art is choice because
“Choice defines and expresses individual identity
What we choose to put in or leave out of an artwork
Is What we choose to put in or leave out of life

Art is movement.
It is the spinning of the potter’s wheel
It is the drawing of the bow across the strings.
It is the dancer pirouetting in the sunset,
It is the painter’s brush
And the mime artist’s hush.
And because it is movement
It is of the moment.
It is ephemeral and gone in an instant
To live on as a memory
And as a moment of change.

Let us rededicate it to children covered in paint
That they may go home gloriously happy
Ignoring their parents’ and carers’ tutting.
To those who have no other voices
That they may sing out loud and be heard
To those who have no other family
That this may be a place where they may sit and spin yarns

Let us remember here
That without arts
We cannot grasp the past
And, by running our finger tips and lips over it,
Understand it and ourselves;
That without arts
We cannot draw the future and try to dance with it
And understand what we and the world could be;
That without arts
We cannot mould the present
And hold it to the light up so that we can say
“That is good”

And when good people
Ask us whether
We would rather have the arts or houses, or the NHS or Social Services
We must answer boldly
“We need both”
Because without arts
There will be no point in having the others

Let us rededicate this building to the arts
Let us drive out the shadows of utilitarianism
Of Mediocrity, of settling for second best
Let us protest
That this is a place of striving
And creating
And trying for something just out of reach
Because that is what life is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Sir Reginald's Exciting Ride

Sir Reginald is dozing in his bath chair in his garden.  He regards it as his garden because he feels he has the right to it.  After all those rates he has paid to those communists in the Council over the years he feels he deserves it.  As for the other hundred thousand or so rate payers of the Borough they can have their own squalid little parks and gardens if they want, as long as they don’t intrude on his.  Sir Reginald’s Panama is pulled down over his eyes and all that can be seen of his face is an occasional drop of sweat that runs along to one end or other of his well waxed moustaches and falls onto the collar of his linen jacket.  Sir Reginald is uncomfortable in the heat and has already dispatched Phillips his one legged manservant to Grand Marine Court for a whisky and a jug of iced barley water several times that afternoon.  “Chotapeg”. He barks, just as they did in the heady hot afternoons of the Raj. He dreams of the Raj and his service to it although his record shows that he never managed to get any further East than Gravesend.  And quite what he was doing in Gravesend he draws a mental veil over. So he sits uncomfortably in the wicker bath chair and dreams of what might have been.
All is not well with Sir Reginald.  Apart from the heat and the intolerable slowness of Phillips, there are interruptions from the wasps which he detests from the bottom of his soul and from trippers whom he hates even more. “Idle wretches,” he fumes from beneath the Panama. “Spineless sissies. Why aren’t they at work?”  Socialists who undoubtedly spread margarine on their horrid jam sandwiches in their nasty little guest houses with peeling wall-paper and squadrons of wasp cadavers festooning the flypaper that hangs from the naked light bulb in the ceiling.  He shudders.  Holidays?  It would be kinder to let them suffer in their stuffy grimy offices or coal mines or steel foundries or whatever grim workplaces they inhabit all the other weeks of their appalling socialist lives. 
A tall man wearing a splendid beard and a turban wanders along the cliffedge path.  His wife clings to his arm and giggles in mock horror at the precipice below.  She wears a swirling pink sari.  Sir Reginald harrumphs under his hat.  To be fair to him, his harrumph is not racially motivated.  Sir Reginald is scrupulously unbiased in his thinking about his fellow man.  Black, white, pink, brown.  They are all equally loathsome in his sight.  But there is something about this elegant Sikh that makes him even more maudlin about the crumbling empire and the what-might-have-been of the world. He feels that in an entirely just world he would have been promoted to Viceroy or governor of some far-flung outpost at least.  Then there would have been no namby pamby caving in to the nationalists. Under his guidance the Empire would have continued to grow and flourish.  The colonies, Australia and Canada would have been reunited with their rightful masters and America.  Ah America a stupid lost opportunity there. Raving mad George the Third let us all down. Just think if not just half the world was coloured pink on the atlas but three quarters at least.  Most would gladly pay fealty to it.  Us. Me. China, directionless and impoverished would relish a proper management for their tea plantations and whatever else they grew there, certainly and then the rest of Asia, so probably Russia would very soon come knocking at the door.  Africa was ours by right anyway.  We found it. Oh and France.  Stupid stupid King John for letting France go. That would just leave Germany...  Think of the medal tally at the Olympics! Then there would be a search for a leader.  There could only be one.  One with vision.  An Alexander the Great.  He can hear the growing roar of the crowd as he rides triumphantly in his chariot through the great capital cities of the now great again Empire.  He holds his hand aloft to acknowledge the crowd’s acclamation.  “Sir!  Sir!! Sir Reginald.”  He is galloping onwards, faster and faster.  The chariot wheels rumbling over the vast arenas and maidans where his subjects are gathered in durbar. “Sir!  Sir!”  In his reverie The Empire is back! A sudden breeze lifts his Panama from his head and whirls it away.  A figure in a turban surrounded by gaudy coloured silks is standing beside the path to one side of his chariot. A figure with a brown face.  “Out of my way you Nincompoop.  Can’t you see I am conquering the world? What are you doing here? Mind out of the way.” 
“But Sir.  Look where you are headed”
And indeed, Sir Reginald’s bath chair is now headed down the slope across the greensward towards the cliff edge.
“Phillips!” In the space of a few seconds Sir Reginald’s emotions has gone from maudlin sentimentality, to proud fantasy to abject terror.  Sir Reginald does not do emotion very well.  “Phillips you utter dunderheaded, misbegotten, treacherous... fool.” Sir Reginald whimpers.
Phillips is stumping down the incline as fast as his wooden leg will carry him. Chotapeg and jug carefully balanced on a silver salver. Clump, clump, clump a clumpity clumpity clump. His tattooed arms reach out for the bath chair handles but his good leg catches in a molehill and he cartwheels away. He executes a perfect full twisting somersault with pike and lands on his good leg and with the salver still carefully poised.
“No time for your stupid circus stunts you abject wretch.” roars Sir Reginald, his voice returning to its default setting. But by now the chariot is well ahead of Phillips. Sir Reginald grimaces as he watches his doom approaching. He tries to remember the prayers his Nanny taught him kneeling by his bedside.  “Dear God.  I fervently believe, something.  Something. Damn it, who was it who was meant to be my saviour.  Well he damn well needs to get saving me.  And quickly, Jesus Christ, that was the fellow.  Jesus Christ Save Me!” At that moment a figure appears as if from nowhere.  It is the gentleman with the turban.  He catches the side of the bath chair which rears up like a dinosaur from a swamp. “Careful, you fool, you’ll have me over.”  And indeed the bath chair is skilfully manouevered off its wheels onto its side where it skids to a stop. 
“You damn blithering idiotic nincompoops.” Whimpers Sir Reginald to no one in particular.
“Here let me examine you, old chap.” Says the gentleman in the turban.
“Unhand me sirrah.” Splutters Sir Reginald.
“Now now.  I am a doctor.  Let me see if anything is broken.”
“A doctor?”
“I have a practice in Harley Street.  No.  Nothing broken.” He hands over his card.  “Come and see me when you’re next in town.”
By now Phillips has arrived and he and the doctor set the bath chair upright and help the occupant back in.
“Blast you Phillips.  Trying to kill me again.  This is the end of it.  You’re fired.  Once and for all. Leaving the brake off.”
But Phillips suddenly produces as if from nowhere a silver salver with a glass on it.
“Chotapeg, Sir.” He says
Sir Reginald drinks the glass down in one.
“I should come and see me about your blood pressure. I have consulting rooms in Bournemouth if you don’t travel.  Drop in any time.  I don’t like the colour of your face.  Not good at all.”
“What!  You don’t like the colour of my face.” splutters Sir Reginald, “I have absolutely no intention...” but the doctor has marched briskly away to take the arm of his wife along the cliff path. Phillips begins to wheel his employer back up towards Grand Marine Court. Sir Reginald’s voice fades into the hot afternoon air.

“Where’s my blasted panama?  If that’s damaged it’ll come out of your wages.  A doctor indeed.  Whatever will they think of next?  I suppose it’s the heat brings them out.  Like wasps.”