Category: taster

Feeding the five billion

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(enough to go round)

The rich are getting fatter and so are all the cats -
we’ll have to cook and cut them up and share them out like that.
There’s not enough to feed us all - that, of course, I know
but, back then in Galilee, the preacher showed them how.

As my old school teacher pointed out, it was good psychology -
the people there had brought their own and were shamed to share;
but shame’s a poor and scrawny guide to lead us back to sanity -
it’s been tried so many times before and fades into the air.

Love will make us want to keep companions safe and whole -
it’s what’s helped humans get this far since we left Africa to roam -
but love of strangers will not stretch to cover the whole globe -
the numbers now are much too great for anyone to cope.

These days we’re stressed to earn the bread to feed us and our own -
the greed of those who lead give bad directions to that road
by stealing everything they can with no regard for those they rob
and force their slaves to lose their heart or else to lose their job.

Bankers grow quite hale and sleek on fish and fowl and beast,
leaving fishermen and farmers to rot when these run out;
speculators burn down forests so they can simply feast,
the rest are left to drown in mud or starve in endless drought.

Our race has run a million years (depending when you start)
and, so far, we’ve been winning – in this we’ve been most apt.
But now we’re getting to the point where it might fall apart,
it’s time to use our brains once more and relearn to adapt.

I’m not some crazy cannibal who fancies feline meat -
I’ve tasted one wild carnivore who met death on the street -
but, if we wreck the oceans and the earth beneath our feet,
fat cats will be all that’s left for anyone to eat.


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SO (Social Order) thought they’d dealt with Jon Do when they vaporised him and shut down or disrupted all his networks. They were wrong - his avatar stayed alive on the Net. The programmers and teckies tried everything in and out of the book to neutralise this ghost, but nothing worked. The only way would be to terminate and rebuild the entire system, but that would lead to chaos - the last thing they could face. All they could do was to try and drown him out. Meanwhile …

Jon, or whatever his real name was and few people outside of SO’s inner core knew it, had started small. At first he merely asked questions - innocuous sounding ones like: are you happy? From there he, if it was a ‘he’ and no-one outside of Central Control knew for sure, moved to more challenging matters such as: ‘Give me reasons why you’re not happy’. Slowly his readership grew until the monitors began to take note, but by then it was too late - people were waking up. Word spread and soon others were joining in. The acceptance and passivity that SO had created was being questioned and that could not be tolerated. The hunt was on for the source of this disruption.

It took time. Jon and his ‘Do something’ campaign proved extremely elusive but, in the end, he was caught, allegedly in the Cape Verde Islands, and brought back to face justice. Of course, that all happened in secret - the charges, the trial, the verdict and the sentence - and all reports were silenced … but not before some were noticed. For a while SO relaxed, but then the debates were renewed. Like a bubble of air in a closed plastic bag, as soon as one was squashed, it appeared somewhere else. At first the search concentrated on locating Do’s remaining disciples, but it soon became clear that he hadn’t been completely erased - some version of his mind was still alive and active. How this could happen baffled the experts.

All the usual tricks were tried - from sites, enticing those who agreed, to fake versions of Jon’s ident preaching contradictory messages. Some worked but the infection remained, His icon, the black carnation, could be copied by phoney on-line posters but that just spread the ideas further - they even started appearing on walls in workers’ colonies in many countries.

I’m Dreaming Of A White Easter

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Looks a like a xmas card outside
though Spring is on its way,
March is known for cold winds first*
but not the Arctic’s usually.

Greetings cards are not much use
to get seeds planted in the fields
and chocolate eggs won’t help a lot
to improve the annual yields.

The climate’s in a total mess,
the bosses stall and lie.
We going to do something about it
or wait until we die?

I sit indoors to keep me warm -
the whiskey helps as well for sure -
I’ve caused as much trouble as I can
but nothing yet provides a cure.

We sing our songs and shout out loud
and try to tear the walls all down
but still the master stands there proud -
he doesn’t know that he’s the clown.

We’re deep in shit, it’s getting worse,
to how we going to end this show?
Stand up tall and end the curse
or watch it covered up with snow?

rs 5.5.18

Dark daze

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Pancake Day is late this year
but I don’t feel less starved.
It’s not for lack of food or warmth -
these times are much less hard
than when Lenten deprivation
was easy ’cos you had now just about
nothing but the minimum
to see the winter out.

All the same our spirits sink real low,
the old and weak fall off their perch,
the solstice wasn’t half as bad,
now we’re truly in the lurch.
Whether clear or cloudy,
windy, drowned in rain,
this season is the fag-end
till the sun returns again.

The Protestants banned Carnival,
when we would take some cheer,
getting out of their control
with brandy, wine or beer.
It’s better though in southern lands
to be out on the street
than in this cold and greyer place
with wet or frozen feet.

If you have a sweetheart
to send a Valentine,
the springtime feels less far away
and you’ll hang on there fine.
But, if they do not answer
and you’re sat all alone,
nothing seems as cruel
as a silent telephone.

I’m not trying to depress you -
that you can manage without me -
but February Fill-dike
means the buds on every tree
are getting ready to explode,
welcoming another round
for those who still have got the strength
to stand upon the ground.

rs 8-9.2.19


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I can’t compete with these young poets
rising from the ashes of their home,
who’ve seen the worst that hate can bring
and forced to flee, to wait, to roam.

They speak so clearly of their loss
and that of others who escaped
the destruction of a world
centuries of work had shaped.

You need to hear their words to understand
the meaning of despair, distress
and see that something must be done
to clear up this bloody mess.

I can only sit here on the sidelines
and try to let my colours show,
to shout support, to scream dissent,
to make sure other people know.

rs 19-21.10.17

Xmas shopping

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Cartoon credit to Mike Baldwin

The pavements are crowded now with folk
all rushing round with bulging bags -
some might be comforted by this sight
while others, though, it fills with fright.

The pressure to keep everybody happy,
because we want to please the ones we love,
can be overwhelming at this season
when it’s so hard to know we’ve got it right.

We can blame it on tradition
and memories of joy when still a child,
helped out by the advertisers
and shops decked out in colours oh so bright.

They just want to part us from our money
and don’t care if many get even more in debt -
it’s often their most important time
to stay in profit or to lose the fight.

In the middle of the northern winter
humans like to stay home warm and revel -
we know it’s not much to do with Jesus -
he’s only the excuse for all this shite.

I remember butchers’ shops years past
with unplucked turkeys hung up by their heels
between the mistletoe and holly,
and there were fewer special deals.

Chickens were back then a luxury,
till Dad tried to rear his own,
while beef and lamb were less expensive,
even when still on the bone.

Other fare was more exotic
belonging to this time of year -
nuts of all kinds still in shells,
mandarins and dates you spear ..

.. with that long thin plastic fork,
though nowadays we’d think it shocking,
it was once a big deal for a kid
to find an orange in your xmas stocking.

Chestnuts to roast in the open fireplace
added one more flavour to the feast,
compared to some, we weren’t that rich,
but our dad had a steady job at least.

So most of that would be shop bought,
just like it is today,
but other things would be home made
and they were tastier that way.

Mum would make the xmas pud and cake,
as well as lots of real mince pies,
we’d help out by picking stalks off currants
munching as we did so - no surprise.

This is not a plea for more nostalgia -
we get enough of that rammed down our necks -
but somehow it felt so much more authentic
than what’s pumped out of TV sets.

So, when you do your xmas shopping,
don’t worry if it’s tinged with guilt and fear -
apart from capitalism’s brain rape,
it’s quite normal for the time of year.

rs 30.11.18

My part in the war

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I think my time in the cadet force
can safely be ignored,
I doubt me in a uniform
did much to promote a war.
I did clean and fire a rifle
and I got to fly,
but none of those activities
caused anyone to die.

The same cannot be said when later on,
I plated gold on navigation aids* -
some were for the military
to guide them on their raids.
I don’t know what craft they went in
or what damage they inflicted,
I was in a low-paid job
so my insight was restricted.

Some years later I was back
loading stuff into a vat
of cyanide and caustic soda
and other chemicals like that.
There were few skills I could claim
to get me paid work once again,
but this time the coating would be zinc
to stop them rusting in the rain.

One of the commonest jobs we did
were boxes like lawnmowers used to carry,
but these held machine-gun ammunition
for England, St George and King Harry!
They went on armoured cars and tanks
to ensure a constant state of flow
of bullets to mow down the ranks
of whatever enemy might show.

They were a bastard job to do
because the slot was just too tight
for much metal to get through -
we struggled hard to get it right.
I doubt my colleagues gave a toss
for what became of all our labours.
They never thought what it might cost
if they were used to kill our neighbours.

No more did I, if truth be told,
but disliked the idea that I played
any part in the destruction
those weapons may have made.
It shows how hard it is for us to know
what the products of our work are for
when so much of our industry
is in the business of equipping war.

rs 8.11.18

[* They were cavity resonators - deceptively simple structures in aluminium or steel that amplified microwaves signals, though nowadays probably replaced by solid-state digital electronics. To be honest, I don’t know what their use was - can’t find much on Google. I was told navigation but possibly rather for radio communication and radar. They were plated with gold to specific thicknesses, measured in microns (thousandths of a millimetre), because currents would flow strongest near the surface and gold is a good conductor that doesn’t oxidise and become useless. It’s also used in the connections of your computer and mobile phone for the same reason.]

Plum Jam

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They came to the door and said
that we could help ourselves
to whatever we could find
Their mother was now dead,
they’d cleared the house
of all that they desired.

We went to look, there wasn’t much
but I espied the Kilner jars -
big two-pound ones with rusted lids,
labelled plum jam - grabbed them all.
I also found three small picture frames
and added them too to my haul.

The jars were all unopened
and no date there could I see,
but it was clear that years had passed
since someone came to tea.
That lady had been lonely
in her spare gentility.

When I got to break the seal
corrosion reinforced,
I found the contents alcoholic,
if only slightly so of course.
That just added to the delight
of this sweet resource.

I don’t know now how long
I enjoyed this unsought feast,
provided by the usual mix
of sugar, fruit and yeast.
I blessed that unknown, next-door dame
whom death had now released.

The picture frames told other tales -
one was bound in leather*
with a soldier-boy inside -
the photo of a brother
or a lover who in the First World War
possibly had died?

This guess was then supported by the contents
of another of those frames -
a prayer card from a spiritualist church
this lady had attended,
hinting that her search
for that young man never ended.

Of such small bits and pieces
biographies are made
to fill in all the gaps
left when mortality has laid
its erasing brush across a life
and all the rôles it played.

It’s funny how the memory
of that plum jam can fit
with my history of family food,
as here at night I sit,
listening to cooks’ stories
and weep a little bit.

rs 17.6.18

[* Also described in Eric Bogle’s song ‘The Green Fields of France’. This piece was inspired by hearing on Radio 4 Alison Brackenbury talking about the contents of her grandmother’s recipe book.]


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“Did ya hear the one about the dragon who goes to a tattooist?”

He looked up at the speaker, a thin, wiry individual, and shook his head. He dreaded what he knew was coming next but no-one else was talking to him in this place.

“The dragon says ‘Will ya take this woman offa me. She's driving me feckin’ mad!’”

Donald smiled weakly.

“That's a good’un, ain't it?” The man held out his hand, “The name's Seamus.”

‘Of course it is’ thought Donald and shook the proffered mitt - a strong calloused one it seemed. “Mine’s Donald” he said.

“That’s a good Scots name,” declared his new companion, “do ya have connections to the place?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Names travel all over these days. Like the people, I suppose. Well Donald, if you’d buy me a drink, I'll tell ya a real story.”

‘I should have seen that coming.’ thought the Englishman.

“Guinness is it?”

“No, but a pint of bitter would go down well ... and, if you’re feeling generous, maybe a small Bushmills?”

Donald finished his drink and headed for the bar. He figured he was paying for some entertainment and just hoped it wasn’t going to be too expensive. But he’d been here before and reckoned he could get out if the situation became too weird.

Jack Custard & His Yellow Submarine

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1. Going too far out
When his father went to buy icecreams, Ali picked up the airbed and headed for the water.

“Don’t go too far!” called out his mā.


Ali knew why she was nervous. So many people from their country had gone to sea in rubber boats and died. But this was the first time he’d been to the seaside and he wanted to experience it as much as he could.

The sand was warm and soft where they’d been sitting but then became hard and flat where the sea had run over it. He stepped in the water with more confidence than the first time an hour or so ago. The cold had surprised him then and covered his body with gooseflesh, but that had passed as he got deeper and submerged his whole body. The waves were small and it hadn’t been too difficult to swim amongst them. He’d learned to swim at the local pool at home and he could manage a passable breast stroke. Still, when the next wave hit his belly, the shock stopped him briefly.

As soon as he was about waist deep, Ali put the airbed on the water and lay face down on it. Then he started paddling with his hands till he was out beyond where the waves were breaking. This is what surfers did, who he’d watched on Internet videos. When he thought he was clear of the surf, he rolled carefully onto his back and looked up at the sky. It was a light blue screen with only wisps of clouds high up, that didn’t seem to be moving at all. The sea rose and fell gently and the sunlight was a warm blanket over his whole body. Ali closed his eyes and enjoyed these lovely feelings. He knew his father would be angry and he’d not get his icecream unless he went back soon but this was too good to miss.

Their family hadn’t come across the sea in a rubber boat but in an airplane. He’d been too young to remember it and this country was the only one Ali knew. But he also knew that there was a war now in the country where he’d been born and lots of people were trying to get away from it but many of them had drowned in the sea. That made him sad but not afraid of the water like his father was. His father was a scientist and had brought them all to England so he could work at the university. That was before the war and now they couldn’t go back. Ali knew that his parents worried a lot about other relations who were stuck there and whether they were some of those who had died trying to get away. That was why Ali had waited till his father had gone off for icecreams before taking the airbed on the water. He knew he’d get told off but this was worth it.

Ali’s eyes were closed, his skin was warm, the airbed rocked on the swell. Time seemed to disappear. He had no idea how long he’d been there, nor how far out he was now. He’d heard about tides but didn’t know it had been going out since he entered the water. Nor did he know that there was a strong current along that coast that was now taking him even further away from the beach, where his parents stood frantically scanning the sea for a sign of their son. They shouted his name but he was too far away to hear them.

Suddenly the airbed stopped rising and falling on the sea but rose even higher with a rush of water and bubbling air. Ali sat up with a start and looked around him. He nearly fell off the airbed with shock. The land was just a dark line in the distance, while he was now surrounded by a yellow disk of some kind, shining with the water draining off it. Ali’s mind raced. Was it an island? Was it some kind of whale? How could he get back to his mum and dad? He was shivering with fear when there was a loud clang behind him. His head span round in time to see a head appear out of a hole in the yellow circle. It was covered all over, it seemed, with reddish curly hair and the face looked as astonished as he felt.

“What are you doing on my boat?” the head demanded. The boy sat and said nothing. His mouth wouldn’t work. The head looked around and then back at him. After some seconds it came to a decision and the man the head was attached to climbed out of the hole and came over to where Ali sat frozen with fear and confusion.

“You’re a long way from home” said the man, “I suppose you’d better come in.”

He helped Ali to his feel and guided him to the hole in the yellow circle and onto the ladder leading down inside. Then he picked up the airbed, saying, “We don’t want people to get the wrong idea.”

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