Sarah West — Film-Maker Extraordinary

Sitting in the library, trying to sign up people to be interested in the Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove is an education in patience. On the other hand, the Angels in our City project made this year’s library stint seem a doddle, but three years back I found myself stuck like a lemon, as people strolled past, determined not to see the Interfaith Contact Group’s (IFCG) leaflets or posters, least of all the message we wanted to convey. They were utterly determined not to relate to anything that might make them think… a weird discovery given that people go to the library to discover stuff.

Waving leaflets for good causes led me to discover that it’s mostly creative people who are gifted with curiosity, because they’re the ones that have a real hunger to know about new things. So, three years back, while I sat ‘lemon like’ in the library, a lively woman came up to me and asked what I was doing there, and what the IFCG was. In no time, I started to tell her about the organisation, but also about myself and my own interests and passions… like death. Instantly we started to talk… endlessly… for she too had a powerful interest in the subject of death, and within seconds it was clear that the books, the ideas and the teachings of so many – from Elizabeth Kubler Ross to Sam Parnia and Pim van Lommel were also names that were familiar to her. The curious and animated person I had encountered was none other than film-maker Sarah West, and because I had been keen to find a way to get the IFCG to have its own film, I was interested to discover just what kind of film-maker Sarah was. Sarah is an ethical film-maker, from her nose to her toes.

Art is a wonderful thing, and the kind of mind that is drawn to powerful causes and seeks to reveal human nature at its most beautiful and truthful is a rare and special one.  The skill that allows people to talk for themselves is a selfless and receptive talent that is not to be found easily amongst film-makers, who usually want themselves in the frame, either indirectly or directly.  Sarah’s gifts include the technical stuff one needs to know plus the vision and insight to appreciate a world where people are seeking inspired ways to tackle serious and often frightening concerns. For all this, her vision presents a truthful and much more optimistic world than the one the media wants to drop on us right now.

The film Sarah made for the IFCG six months after I met her lies very close to my heart. It is the IFCG Interfaith Service for 2016, and this little film reveals how people were moved to tears as they attended the service; it reveals how the people of Brighton and Hove, and its Jewish community opened the doors of its synagogue and their hearts to the local Islamic, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu communities. In this way everyone shared the joy of each other’s spiritual experience. She has adjusted it many times for us (some of the people in the film have reasons to be fearful) adjustments that reveal her own patience and generosity. The number of hits it has received on YouTube is in reality far, far greater than it would appear for that reason. Being ethical is also about being compassionate.

There are zillions of wonderful causes out there that should to be revealed in all their glory by Sarah, but the one I am waiting to see is the subject I know so much and so little about — death. A great documentary that looks at a subject that fills so many of us with abject terror, needs a very special film-maker. If there is anyone out there with the power to make this film happen, please make it happen. We need this story to be explained afresh, we need the power of new technology and a documentary film-maker with the ability to tackle the greatest mystery of mysteries without fear, but with insight and integrity.

 

Links: Sarah West      Interfaith Contact Group 

 

A Funeral Reading for a Football Fan

For the past year I have been nearly killing myself trying to write a funeral reading for one who loves football. It has been truly tough. I wrote one that was called ‘How He Loved the Game” and it was so spectacularly bad that I couldn’t even bring myself to paste it into the Funerals Today website. If anybody asked for a funeral reading for a football fan, I would pull it out and then apologise… for the twit who might have written such a gruesome little thing. I think one family used it for their grandad, in desperation, because there wasn’t anything else in existence. Then the other day, some crazy words started tinkling in my brain, and it took off. I gave it a shove and a kick, and the following reading for a dear departed footer fan unfolded:

A Fantastic Football Fan

What’s with this game
That made you feel so high?
Was it your team
Your mates
The offside trap
And then that lousy shoot-out
Nearly made you cry?

What’s with this ball
That they could kick so high?
It meant the world
To you and them, so why?

It’s all about expecting
And then throwing in
It’s all about the winning
But not whining – not giving-in
The square, the short and long ball
The pals, solid as a rock
The unexpected tackle
Sudden shock

You felt the roar
And saw the lucky chip
The crossbar stopped the goal
That you were willing in

And in the end
At injury time
When you went deep and deeper
You didn’t find the goal
Or spot the sweeper

Then at the very end
When they were on their knees
You still walked tall
And like your mates
You claimed to take it all…
The penalty and the strike, your way
The win that set your heart aflame
The game, the pitch, the offside rule
The love that took your heart
Your final match at home — your ball.

The Believers Dinner Party Game

When newspapers run out of ideas to shove in their ‘lifestyle’ pages, they like to resort to dinner party games, and one of the favourites is to ask somebody — a passing fly, bat or a so-called celeb – who they would invite to their dinner party.

I was thinking about this one for myself and according to the rules of this game, you have five guests, and they can be alive or dead, so I went for a mixture of the two. I started out with Noel Coward, because of his elegant use of language, music, and wit. A beautiful and fascinating contrast, with mastery of words in a different way would be Carol Ann Duffy, our great poet laureate, whose compassion and humanity are in a class of their own. The late John O’Donohue, is undoubtedly the next one to be seated at the table; his writing, spirituality and understanding of beauty are a constant source of inspiration to me. Caroline Lucas has to be there, because she is of this world, right now. But choosing the last guest was tricky, because I want lots of people at the table – particularly all sorts of dead and delightful souls — my sister Professor Julia Briggs, Jane Austen, Bill Evans and Elizabeth Kubler Ross, to name but a few. In the end I chose Kubler Ross.

Noel Coward

Carol Ann Duffy

So why do I call this the Believers Dinner Party Game? Because all these people knew or know about belief in one way or another. The son of a piano salesman, Noel Coward only went to school for a year or two but was the epitome of literary creativity and sophistication, he said “I believe in doing what I can, in crying when I must, and in laughing when I choose”. Duffy decided to be a poet when she was 14. Apparently, John O’Donohue became famous because he believed “we should all transform our fear of death – and that would enable us to fear little else.” Caroline Lucas and I share the same beliefs when it comes to the survival of planet, and she would be a good thing at such an eclectic gathering. The great Elizabeth Kubler Ross just knew so much about life and death and lived it so courageously. She made ground-breaking changes to the way we deal with death in the West. I know this from experience, having witnessed my father’s death as a child, when nobody was allowed the dignity of knowing that they were going to die… and then, in contrast, just over 10 years ago, watching my sister die so beautifully, so elegantly and so spiritually prepared, thanks to the legacy Kubler Ross.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Caroline Lucas

John O’Donohue

In the Hour of Uncertainty, We Need Gardens

Today I found this poem and it reminded me, that all good people love gardens, and need gardens. This is the season of gardens. The earlier version of this poem was quite depressing, about cement, death and destruction. I am happy to say that this one is preferable, but it still turned out to be one of three or four versions, so I have lovingly input it several times. I do so hope you like it…

I See Only Gardens

I see only gardens
Old, new, famed and hidden
The Garden of Gethsemane, Eden and Babylon…

Glades where great woods
Once offered shelter for fairies and elementals — Peaseblossum, Mustardseed, Moth and Cobweb
Places loved and overlooked, past and present
Magically entwined

Today I see another garden
Where flowers blind me with colour –
Red, orange, blue and purple
And a thousand, thousand different shapes
Displayed in glory
Offering safety and splendour
for butterflies, bees and birds…
For even if there are lost gardens
This garden of now
Is enchanted and enchanting
Embroidered in faith, coloured by history
And each blossom is distinct and perfect
Each spirit powerful in nature and belief
Each life a legend told by a believer

Born out of past adventures
Now revealing beauty and delight

I see only gardens
And this most magic plot tells me
There is harmony in difference
And difference in harmony

Today we share all this
In our most special garden
Watered by wisdom
And nourished by compassion
As we stroll this path together
We can only marvel…
Knowing that it will never end
And whatever we encounter
It will always take us
To a place of eternal love.

 

 

Angels in Our City

The Angels in Our City Project is now taking off. I have to ask the angels to give me and the project a bit of a shove from time to time, hence this blog. The idea behind all this Angels stuff is to make people think about angels and think about creating an angel for Brighton and Hove, an angel that could only represent this City.  The competition we have launched is also designed to help us appreciate that angels feature strongly in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths, not to mention others, like the Baha’i and the Zoroastrian.

It seems that angels were flying around long before the Abrahamic religions. They swooped into the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Egyptian and Greek traditions and played an important part in their mythologies. Possibly they have been around for as long as we thought about things in a spiritual way.

The Peace Statue

The Angel Project has been a real adventure from the start, but once it got going, it took on a life of its own, as if helped along by a few divine beings. After the idea had been mooted, myself and a couple of other executive members of the IFCG (Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove) zipped off to the Brighton Museum and put it past a curator, who loved the idea, and gave us a date for the project and competition launch – February 10th. Angel Day at Brighton Museum was a resounding success, things have never been quite the same since. Do have a look at the film on the front page of our website.

Now we need lots of people to create an angel for our City. What about you? Take a look at the IFCG website – http://interfaithcontactgroup.com

In Memory of Jean Kelly

 

I have just taken a cursory look at my blog and noted that nothing has been pasted up in six months! I did start to write a blog when I was ill last September but is there anything more tedious than people writing about how unwell they feel?

Now I am writing something only a shade better, I have decided to return to the blog to write an obituary for a friend – Jean Kelly Castillo. Jean, as she knew only too well, was anything but boring overall… but like all very interesting people she was capable of being a monumental bore at certain moments. She was an adventure seeker — fun, and at times dangerous. I hope to honour all her lovely and scary characteristics amidst these few words.

I lost touch with Jean shortly after I carried out the funeral of her partner and husband Francesco Castillo in May 2009. Jean and Chico had married a few days before his demise. They had been together for a good while, but I think the issue of a previous wife from many years back had stopped him from marrying her.

Losing touch with Jean was a regular happening that occurred in moments of strange uncertainty, and also the formation of interesting assumptions on her part. This last assumption, I suspect, was that she thought that my decision to become an interfaith minister was synonymous with becoming a Catholic bishop — she assumed that I had become seriously and deeply judgemental on a variety of moral issues.

Jean’s fear of being judged was because she was a Catholic, but like many good Catholics she was a spectacularly lapsed Catholic. Her father was an alcoholic and violent, and she was an alcoholic and an addict, but none of this stopped her from being an inspired and daring person. She was great company, and if one introduced her to someone she didn’t like, she made no hesitation in expressing herself in such purple and shocking prose as to scare the living daylights out of everyone around. It was fun, but it could be scary.

I met her in a women’s club at a time when she was in a same sex relationship, something she did on and off in her youth, but later liked to pretend never happened. I think her first same sex relationship was with a prison warden. As a young person she went to art school, where she discovered the joys of heroin and cocaine. She later got herself a job working as a doctor’s receptionist, where she discovered the art of writing her own prescriptions, something that secured her first spell at her Majesty’s pleasure, in Holloway. Later she did something equally silly, and returned to do time again. I spent many hours chatting with her about the joys and horrors of doing time, and Jean often had me in paroxysms of happy laughter as she took trips down memory lane. Two examples of her unique sense of opportunism and fun come to mind – one was to go to jail, and not only lose out on her Monopoly money but to get a job in the prison library at the first chance, which allowed her to read just about every book she could get her hands on, with the result that she was wonderfully cultured and well-read. The second memory was the time when she was sent to an open prison, far away from all her cronies in Holloway. In order to ensure that she returned to her favourite prison as soon as possible she took to writing letters to the world beyond saying that she was getting messages from outer space encouraging her to set fire to the open prison, whereupon she was returned to Holloway post-haste.

When she came out of jail the second time she made an extraordinary effort to get off the stuff, but took an interest in alcohol. She then decided to take up a career as a nurse, and thanks to having the sort of name that allowed her to skip under the radar, she succeeded in gaining her State Registration, something that I think served her well. For a while she did some very specialist nursing in both the Hospital for Nervous Diseases (which she referred to as the Hospital for N-n-n-n-nervous Diseases) and also the Marsden. As a nurse she was both clever and practical in her approach, taking pride in saving the life of a patient who suffered sudden and extreme anaphylactic shock, and writing detailed and unexpected notes and observations about cancer patients that fascinated the Consultant she worked with.

But Jean became bored easily. She gave up nursing and for a while she worked as a bar-maid in the 606 Jazz Club, at the time when it was still in King’s Road. She would do some agency nursing if necessary, and even trying her hand at some of the more exotic aspects of ‘the oldest profession’. Then one day she realised that by using her nursing qualification she could put herself forward as an English nanny serving the rich and famous of Europe, and this is what she did.

For a number of years she lived in Italy, looking after the children of some very well-known fashion designers, including the Missoni family and also Laura Biagiotti. She also worked in France for a while, in Paris, building up a close relationship with the child of a wealthy American publisher. It was here that I visited her, and we spent an amazing couple of days looking around some of the more unusual art galleries and feasting out at one of Paris’s most stunningly pretentious hotels, and having great fun in the process.

Our friendship was, however punctuated by moments of not-seeing each other. One evening she came to stay with me and my then partner, and sinking into one of her more morbid moments of deep booziness, announced that she was quite capable of topping herself, to which my then partner made the suggestion that she was free to do so if she wished. For a long time we lost touch with her, only to catch up with her at a very much later date, after spotting her on television, in Paris, at a special edition of Question Time, sitting in the audience, looking unusually calm, a character far away in a strange film.

It was while she was working abroad that Chico Castillo, a musician born in Costa Rica who had also spent time at her Majesty’s pleasure, also for drug offences, came out after a long spell in jail and decided to go in search of Jean. She was, he declared, the love of his life, and I truly believe this, although in later years he did not seem to be particularly faithful, and the relationship creaked a bit. But after spending time in jail, dreaming of Jean, he tracked her down, and brought her back to England, whereupon the two took up service as a housekeeper and handyman in the service of a judge and his wife, living in a particularly elegant house near the Thames. It always amused me greatly that the judge and his wife had employed the services of two jail-birds to look after them, and look after them they did, until Chico decided that he wanted to earn a bit more, and the accommodation was considered not up to scratch, and they moved on. By this time Chico was running his own janitor’s business, and I am not sure what Jean was up to.

It’s a long time since I saw Jean, but as I said before, becoming an interfaith minister put the tin lid on our relationship, even though I carried out Chico’s funeral. In the run-up to his funeral there was talk about stealing a hospital bed, and getting him, the bed, and their friends shipped over in a van, across land and sea, to the house they had bought in Northern France. Here she planned to nurse him until the end, but it never happened. Even in tragedy, there was always an element of farce about Jean’s adventures. Doing something naughty was second nature to her.

After Chico’s funeral I contacted her, but I could hear that she didn’t want to communicate. While he was dying she had taken to drinking his liquid morphine, which took her back to a place that she clearly wanted to revisit. She died last month of bowel cancer; I had clearly been erased from her address book, which is sort of sad… and sort of not. Whatever fate awaits Jean as she trips across the barrier of life and death and beyond, I hope she looks back on her life with pleasure and above all things, amusement. She was one of those people who taught everyone who encountered her… in one way or another, even if the education process was a real challenge.

Jean Kelly

 

Art for Artists. Farts for fartists. An odious little story about glory, rhyming and comparisons

Almost exactly eight years before I arrived singing and dancing into this world, the painter Mark Gertler gassed himself in his studio, in the very same house where I was born. The story goes that his paintings were not selling at the time — he had become unfashionable, people that once liked his stuff, had gone off it. It is said, that shortly before he topped himself, he was at a party with friends who were looking at a book about Picasso. Joining in with the admiration, he murmured something like “I’m going to go home and look at my work and if it’s not as good as this, I shall kill myself,” and he did.

Mark Gertler 1891-1939

It seems that Mark Gertler was constantly threatening to top himself – he was often melancholy, yet he was a seriously talented artist (the two often go together) but like all artists he spent a lot of time comparing himself to others, and suffering as a result of this. Is this comparison stuff something that took off in the spirit of enterprise in the 19th Century, and escalated into the 20th and the 21st, or is it part of the human condition? Are we destined to compare ourselves to others all the time – muttering such phrases as “I know better than her” “He’s got more dosh than me”, “I got my knitting certificate three years before you,” “Doris Day is a better than Minnie Mouse “and so on. Our lives are contaminated by odious comparisons. And yet we all do it, even when we should simply appreciate something for its beauty, its artistry, its real skill. TV programmes create a real spirit of competition, from “The Great Bake-Off” to “The Apprentice” to the endless sports coverage. It’s all about judgement, competition and comparisons. Politics stink with comparisons, they’re never infused with truth, unless they’re Green.

I frightened myself witless when I went into a bookshop yesterday and came out with some stunning books of poetry. One of them is entitled “Poems that make Grown Women Cry” the other is Kate Tempest’s “Hold Your Own”. Going through the first one triggered an internal monologue about sexism (this book is the sequel to “Poems that make Grown Men Cry” and is edited by two blokes). After this I went on to annoy myself even further by the number of literary references it contained mentioning people whose books I never even knew about, let alone read. If this wasn’t bad enough, the Kate Tempest volume just cast me simultaneously into joy and gloom by its terrifying brilliance, purity and economy… and she uses rhyme too! When I try to make poetry rhyme it sounds like doggerel and dead catterel. And as I read her brilliant poetry I thought “blimey she’s 31, and famous and brilliant and I am more than twice her age, and I am only just beginning to write stuff that is vaguely good… and when it rhymes it stinks. And then I thought… Anthea… if you think you are a spiritual being, you should just connect with everything, and connecting with everything makes you everything, and making you everything means that there is a microdot of Mark Gertler in you, a bit of Donald Trump in you (try not to throw up) a slice of “The Great Bake Off” in you and a page out of “Poems that Make Grown Men Cry” in you. And this consoled me a bit, and my deflated ego tried to re-adjust a bit… And then I suddenly remembered… the number of my own funeral readings that have made grown men cry was quite considerable. Here’s a tiny little thing that somebody read last week that had everybody snuffling into their hankies. It’s used for all sorts of funerals, for people young and old. Last week they read it for a scientist and a star gazer.

Star

I chose a star for you
It’s bright and beautiful
It has your name
And it shines from a distance.
I picked a rose for you
It’s heaven sent, and heavenly
It has your name
And its scent is perfection.

I gave a thought to you
It went like this:
Distance is no object
But when we look upon a star
It changes
It becomes lovelier
More familiar
It senses your love…
It’s as if
We’re one
And have never, ever
Been parted.

 

Caroline Lucas – The UK’s Most Visionary Leader

A resident shows a dangerous stretch of road to his Green MP – Caroline Lucas

Visionary (Noun) a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.
In 2015, while we were all bumbling around tackling the May election locally in Brighton for the Council and nationally for the general election, I found myself canvassing with our local Green MP, Caroline Lucas, visiting flats for elderly people and those in sheltered accommodation. It was a real eye-opener, because as we went from flat to flat, or sat with hostile groups of potential Tory voters in spotless Patcham community spaces, it became evident that Caroline never paid lip service to her role as MP, she truly cared about people, and empathised with them and their situation in life, more than any councillor or doctor or social person I have yet encountered. Caroline is a true visionary. In one nursing home I remember a young nursing assistant asking her why she became an MP, and she replied simply and unthinkingly “…because I wanted to make a difference”. A month before this visit we had been to a block of flats and met a handful of aged and infirm people who were either curious to meet their MP, or had a genuine issue.

Notes are taken about the road and the risks it poses

One elderly and very frail gentleman told Caroline that he had real difficulties crossing the road outside the flats, and felt vulnerable and unsafe. So Caroline, with the help of the warden of the flats, asked him to show her the place where he tried to cross the road, so that she could identify the problem. A long time was spent talking about the road, and why it was dangerous. Caroline asked me to photograph the stretch of road under discussion, for under discussion it was – the council had been alerted to this problem on a number of occasions and done nothing about it.  A month later we went to visit the nursing home, which was on the other side of the road from the flats where the elderly gentleman lived, and Caroline spotted something that absolutely thrilled her. Miraculously, a pedestrian island had been placed in the middle of the road, enabling those to cross without risk to life and limb, and Caroline had made it happen. She was utterly delighted, delighted at the idea that those frail and good people could now cross the road, and so happy that she had helped to improve their lives.

A month later, we have a pedestrian island – yippee!

It’s a small issue, but important, and it says so much about our MP. A visionary is described as ‘a person with original ideas’ but it’s so much more than that. In my view it’s also somebody who has the insight into another’s life, imagining what it’s like to be in their shoes… and it’s yet more than that… it’s somebody who can see the bigger picture, the ailments and sorrow of a planet, a world with exquisite seas polluted by plastics, chemical substances, hormones and toxic filth – it’s somebody who has a passionate love for nature, plants, trees, animals, fish and birds distressed by heat, pollutants and pesticides, somebody who cares about air quality, children in poverty, and human lives horribly distressed in places of war, constantly strafed by weapons manufactured in this country. It is somebody who can see far and wide, into the now and the future, and has the will and the foresight to want to bring about change, and does so… just as she did when she was invited to the Armaments Exhibition, and used the opportunity to stop the public sale of illegal cluster bombs. This is a mind and a spirit that can see the consequences of fracking, the problems of a society unable to tackle illegal drugs, the difficulties of young people, old people – just about all people and the beautiful planet we all occupy. This is what being a visionary is all about.

Tea at a friendly community centre in Coldean

 

BEING CHAPLAIN TO THE BEST MAYOR YET

Cllr Pete West proves… how one can be spiritual and yet still be an atheist

Cllr Pete West, Mayor of Brighton and Hove from 2016 to 2017 and the best yet

Last year something quite strange happened. I was invited by the incoming mayor of Brighton Councillor Pete West, to be his Chaplain, an honour that was totally unexpected and thrilling. And so I set out on a path, not yet ventured before in our City, to be an Interfaith Minister doing all the things a Mayor’s Chaplain does – read the prayers at full Council meetings, follow the Mayor’s progress in terms of his charities, offering support where required and conducting services for Remembrance Day and similar Civil events. It was inevitable that I encountered a wee bit of opposition — being elbowed out of Pride, after being asked to make myself available for it, and also being pushed out of a Remembrance Day service that I had written and prepared, by a minister of the Church of England; but these two incidents were only worth noting in that they illustrate the discomfort of certain parties in accepting women priests from different faiths. Both were predictable given the personalities involved. Overall the acceptance of a different style of minister was greeted with genuine appreciation and in some cases, real joy. It was unbelievably rewarding to carry out such a role, and the Mayor and Mayoress were generous and gracious beyond belief… and I knew something wonderful had happened when a leading Tory told me that he preferred the alternative prayers at Council to the usual Church of England stuff.

The Mayoress and Mayor at the Pavilion banquet, raising funds for great causes.

A record cheque of vast proportions for £94,000

And so, Pete West, our Mayor for 2016/17, proved to be a man of massive inspiration and strong convictions, capable of delivering ideas and events and fun and support for wonderful causes on a level that had never been seen in our City before. Unlike his predecessors, who opted to support four or five charities, Pete decided to support 27 and raised a record £94,000 for his beloved causes, at a time when people expected less rather than more, an achievement that should have been hailed from here to Lands’ End for its pioneering vision. There is so much to be said for those 27 Charities and their champion, and his wonderful Mayoress, Geraldine Keenan. It would take volumes to describe all the action – the events, the hilarity, the talks, the walks, the bike rides, the bravery… it is beyond me to even comprehend the scale of Pete and Geraldine’s amazing achievement.

But apart from the record £94,000 raised, Pete also made spiritual progress, the kind of progress that only an inspired atheist can achieve. He wanted a different style of Chaplaincy… He wanted all the faiths represented at Council prayers, and he got just that – representatives from the Buddhist, Unitarian, Islamic, Pagan and Jewish Communities, and in most cases the best of the best. The last two speakers – Asmat Roe and Rabbi Elli Sarah, representing the Islamic and Jewish communities, nearly brought tears to my eyes, and I think affected others in the council chamber similarly.

Leadership in a secular society doesn’t need to be exclusive – quite the opposite, it should be inclusive.  Pete’s term as Mayor was wonderfully inclusive, and even though my own group – The Interfaith Contact Group of Brighton and Hove (IFCG) was not on his list of preferred charities, our executive and members – garnered from all the faith groups in the City – have unequivocally hailed Cllr Pete West as their champion, and he will remain there, as a much-appreciated supporter for many years to come.

Thank you Pete and Geraldine.

Here are the words of my last reading as Chaplain to the Mayor to the Council of Brighton and Hove on May 18th. Hope you enjoy it:

It is in the adoration of people
That we become sacred…
It is in our hearts and minds
That spaces and places become holy
And so we open up our hearts this day
In the loving spirit of celebration
For all that is special in our City.

Let us join together to give thanks for
Those cherished edifices
And esteemed places of worship
Found in our beloved City
The churches, the mosques, the synagogues
And other places of worship and spiritual inspiration –
Meditation rooms and modest temples
That offer spiritual sustenance to so many
And let us give thanks to the Divine
That has blessed us with a home
Full of love and unexpected delights
A City coloured in diversity
And graced by some of the nation’s
Most glorious architecture
For these are all sacred gifts

Let us embrace the cosy cafes
And the outlandish oddities of Brighton and Hove
Inhale the fragrance of St Anne’s Well Gardens
Breathe in the bracing blasts of the choppy Channel
Drink in the sweet stickiness
Of a Sunday beside the sea
For these are all sacred gifts

There are so many corners
That conjure up memories of delight
Hope and joy in the minds of those alive… and departed
Loving reminiscences of optimism and romance
From the gilded glory of the Royal Pavilion
To the graciousness of the traditional tea-lounges
And however regal or cosy these might seem
They are all sacred gifts

It is the warmth and welcome
That is so much part of our place
A City of friendship that holds us all…
From the tiny tots tottering in the sun
To the students, lovers, old and young
Aunts and uncles
Refugees, actors and academics
Good people of every kind
And all of them… each and every one… sacred

We share and cherish the spirit of fun
The ticket, the part and parcel
Drink in the pleasure… the air and the sea
For this is your City, Mr Mayor
May it bless you and serve you
And may it bless and serve your successor
So that she too may carry the flag of love,
Generosity, inspiration and enthusiasm
And so gift the people of this City
With all that is good
And all that is compassionate…
In this way
We may be sure
That the sacred blessings go on and on
Throughout time and for eons to come
For we and our City are sacred

 

An Onomatopoeic Poem About the Sea

Sometimes I wake up thinking about something quite silly – a Nutella pancake or a walk on the downs. Today I woke up and wanted to read a poem about the sea, an onomatopoeic poem where the words were almost indistinguishable from the sounds of the sea. But search as I might I couldn’t find what I wanted.  I remembered things like John Masefield’s Cargos  which has that magical and musical opening “Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir…” so melodious, but not about the music of the sea.  So I wrote a poem based on the sea’s music, a kind of swirling music that has no end… and here it is:

 

The sound…
The sound of the sea
Reminds me
Of that soft, soft journey
That takes you there
And back again…
There… and back again

 

And that song in memory
The song of the sea
Reminds me
Of the music…
Hissing and whispering
That music of slumber
Rumbling, slumbering
That weaves its way
Into the soul
Tickling and trickling
There… and back again

Those sea sounds flow
Through my veins
They cascade through my blood
Ebbing and flowing
Swirling and whirling
Through time and tide
Wind and water
Carried on shifting sands
Across languorous lagoons
Within and without

 

 

Standing by that swishing
Rushing and gushing –
Sucked back
By the grumbling gravel
Hissing and gurgling
Departing, returning
I’m happy and sad
It’s beckoning and reckoning
I’m alive and dead
I’m dancing and swirling
Within and without
Washed up on the watery waves of eternity
A song without end