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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Just passing through


Can't say I've led an adventurous life.

Rock-climbing? Sounds exciting but I was the worst rock-climber I knew and never pushed the limits, never risked much.

Repairing radio gear in Singapore? All I can see are the restraints of communal life in the RAF - the need to co-exist with others, most of whom I'd have ignored as civilians.

Seeking work in the USA as a married man with one small child? The idea was adventurous but the planning was meticulous; things went very smoothly. And there was central heating.

Deciding to find out, very late in life, whether I could write? Hell, what else? Herbaceous borders?

Just once I tip-toed on to the edges of a new old world. In the West Virginian Panhandle the roads had grass in the middle, then became dirt tracks. We passed wooden hovels with forty-year-old car shells for garden ornaments. People watched speculatively from their stoops as if guessing what we'd taste like. Suppose we break down? VR asked. Then we were back on the expressway.

Adventure? Pretty dull really.

JOE'S NUDGE

Rookhope stands in a pleasant place,
If the false thieves wad let it be,
But away they steal our goods apace,
And ever an ill death may they dee!

It's almost a year now. I failed to listen to Joe's poetic voice for most of his life. Now when I’m faced with poetry I apply myself, unguided, often in confusion. The last line above is a curse which makes me smile. Would Joe approve? He was never vindictive. I have no way of knowing.  
 
Anon. 

12 comments:

Sir Hugh said...

Having the courage to go off to USA leaving V and baby S behind which I am certain must have been a difficult emotional decision was undoubtedly adventurous. I believe you had a job to go to , but even so...

And what about Outward Bound? Ok, you were just following the course laid out by the organisers, but you stuck it out and did well in circumstances that I reckon were not really compatible with your character.

Anyway, is adventurous commendable? You have achieved plenty of other stuff that was.

The Crow said...

Not all rural poor in America are snaggle-toothed sociopaths. In all likelihood, had you broken down near one of those homes, you'd have been invited in for food and rest. Someone might even have known how to fix your automobile, or would have ridden the family mule to find someone who could.

You would have seemed as strange and unnerving to those who watched you pass as they were to you.

Just sayin', Robbie.

Roderick Robinson said...

Sir Hugh: Lack of adventure means never taking a corner blind. Thereby reducing the chances of something new. The essence of being middle-class or, if you like, becoming a cardigan-wearer in your teens. The OBMS provided one revelation: a sport I coulda been a contender - walk-racing. I overtook two of the instructors over five miles. But the gait is unnatural and the milieu ridiculous. A sport that encourages cheats.

Crow: Why so sure? ("in all likelihood") Mutual incomprehension sounds like a Mexican stand-off at best. The fact is I shouldn't have been there, doing a Marie Antoinette, but you can blame James Dickey for my state of my mind. Although the movie didn't come out until several years later, I'd already read Deliverance and yes I know that was rural Georgia but at a distance you can't hear the accents.

mike M said...

I'm with The Crow. Better to break down in the boondocks than the city. I'm not sure whether the poem references lead miners or cattle rustlers, but "false thieves" seems an odd expression.

Rouchswalwe said...

"Rookhope" ... Child's Collected Ballads. It's been a long time since I've dipped into one of those volumes. "Tam Lin" got me started many years ago.

I miss Joe.

The Crow said...

"Why so sure?"

Because at several stages of my life I lived in communities like that, in homes like that. And, I was snaggle-toothed, barefoot and poorly-educated. I started the seventh grade with no shoes, was laughed at and belittled. Had it not been for my older cousin who gave me an old pair of her shoes to wear, my mother probably would have kept me at home until she could provide for me. Despite all those disadvantages, we still welcomed strangers at the door, offered what help we could to those in need, shared our food with the hungry. That's why I'm so sure, Mr. Robinson.

"In all likelihood..." because that's how most people are.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM/Crow: OK, let's be serious and tell the full story, although I have blogged it before. It was 1971 and the final game in the World Series. The Orioles and the Pirates were tied 3 games apiece. As a Pirate fan I was wrung out with tension and both VR (another Pirates fan) and I decided we couldn't bear listening again to the build-up through the first seven innings. We decided to go as far away from Mount Lebanon (swanky Pittsburgh suburb) as possible and then turn on the car radio more or less two-thirds through the game.

Look, there is no reason all three of us cannot be right. What I've posted is my impression, nothing more. And VR's too, though I am not asking you to blame her instead of me. I have never been in a more alien place than those WV back roads. The sense of menace, however illusory, seemed palpable. I've no doubt there were good people up there but that isn't what immediately sprang to mind. No doubt I was responding too to a Hollywood view of hill-billies. No doubt I was prejudiced but aren't we all at some time or another? Though unprejudiced enough to travel 2500 miles, at my own expense, on a half-promise of a job to satisfy an instinctive sympathy for what I imagined the USA to be.

No you didn't, you'll say, you came to make dough. I'd say no but if I did the laugh's on me, during the last year I worked more or less for nothing, just to have my utility bills paid.

The title of my post says it all. What I saw depressed me and slightly terrified me. I differ from Crow in this sense: poverty may ennoble some folk but not all. It can grind people down, make them desperate. Perhaps I would have been treated well if I had broken down but I was very keen not to try that theory. As far as I can remember friends back in Mount Lebanon threw up their hands in horror, said I'd been a fool to drive where I had. They too shared my prejudices. All wrong no doubt. As are other Americans who are equally horrified that I should support the UK Labour Party ("Aren't they Socialists? Commies?") which is nominally in favour of improving the lot of the under-privileged.

"That's how most people are." says Crow. And yes, I was made welcome by most Americans. I've blogged about it repeatedly. But not everyone. One graphic artist suggested I wasn't qualified to edit work created by Americans because I was a foreigner. Suppose I'd broken down outside his house? Wooo eee.

MikeM: The poem seems to be of Scottish origin, hence wad (for would) and dee (for die). "False" is merely gilding the lily, getting the scansion right. The author could equally have said "foul" and that might have passed without comment.

Lucy said...

Hope is inward, here expressed metaphorically as an outward thing, a castle (I like that the only use of 'rook' in that sense now is the chess piece, a bit of fossil language). So the false thieves might also be inward ones, the kind of doubts and fears that sneak up and attack and rob us of our hope and moral substance, as much as actual people 'out there' who threaten to do so, or seem to.

None of us really knows another person's inner demons, or the courage they have to find to overcome them; experiences which seem straightforward and nothing to worry about for one can be sources of dread and terror for others, whatever their actual dangers, even down to getting up in the morning and putting one foot in front of the other sometimes. Judging another's bravery or timorousness is a hard thing to do.

As we know, Joe seemed pretty fearless in situations that might have made us cringe, which had the effect of boosting one's own courage, to be able to laugh things off and look for the next interesting thing to come along. And he didn't seem vindictive, or inclined to blame or curse or get into defensive arguments. But he did understand, I think, that sometimes you have to see off your demons in no uncertain language - 'making a neat parcel of crossness and throwing it overboard' was how he put it once, the smallness of the idea of 'crossness' making the bad feelings smaller.

I miss him too, and never more than when I feel assailed by my own false thieves, and could do with a dose of his combination of thoughtful good cheer, detached observation, sympathy and encouragement. I suppose that has to become and inward thing too, as well as found elsewhere.

Lucy said...

(And judging our own bravery and timorousness perhaps even harder?)

mike M said...

You've pulled it all up into a bundle yourself, haven't you Lucy? That's one of the best wrought comments I've ever seen, here or anywhere. I had a vague sense of metaphor while reading the verse, but focused on the real Rookhope, which was foreign to me. I never knew Joe either, but it's a great pleasure experiencing his vibe through those who did.

Lucy said...

Mike, you're quite right, it was a real place and the lines only ever applied to it as such, there was no original metaphor. I just have a bad habit of seeing things that way. I shall plead post-modernism as a justification and excuse. But thank you for the compliment anyway!

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy/MikeM: I was weighed down with other matters when Lucy posted her comment to the Anon poem (plus the links with Joe), still so when MikeM responded. In fact that delay proved fortuitous.

I took Anon at face value, a statement of resentment followed by a curse. For a while, following both your comments, I felt outside the magic circle, the metaphor appeared to fly in from left field. Now I see Lucy's later explanation but I'm back to square one, if you like, a new member of the magic circle.

As I've often written (though not apparently taken seriously enough) I see poems as eternally incomplete - awaiting reader reactions. And those reactions can be as disparate as there are readers. The beauty of Lucy's initial comment which left MikeM in a state of wonder where I have just joined him, is that the comment is individual but also of wide appeal, perhaps even universal. Certainly it mates perfectly with my face-value reaction, no joins visible. The incompleteness of the quatrain is made whole and I for one accept it, aware that I couldn't better it, not even wanting t try.

Of course my feelings are reinforced by the seamless way Lucy brings in Joe. But I'm delighted if we've jointly (though most of it down to Lucy) conveyed something of Joe to MikeM.