Many, many years ago I volunteered to help for a day with an organization working for the homeless. I got on well with the homeless people, but found myself awkward with some of the other volunteers, who tended to talk about the problems “these people” had, and why “these people” were unable to cope. I didn’t join in the conversation – I was very aware, as I still am, of how easily I could be one of “these people”. The only difference is that I was fortunate in my family and friends; if I had had no parents, or unsympathetic parents, or if I had been living in a relationship that broke down, or a dozen other things, I could easily have been sleeping on the street. Essentially, I was one of “these people”. I’ve suffered for many years with clinical depression; if I hadn’t had the right people there to help me I could easily be homeless.

There are many people who think that because of the way they are, or the things that have happened to them, the Church would not welcome them. And with some churches they’re sadly right, since churches are made up of fallible human beings. The Church – perhaps the Church of England most of all – has an image of being for respectable people who are sane, stable, solvent and straight. But we are all God’s children – able or not, sane or mad, straight or gay, cis- or transgender, well-off or broke, doing nicely, on benefits, on the street, married, single, divorced, remarried, even addicted, on the game, on the wrong side of the law. God loves every single one of us. And we are all these people.

Given that it is a hundred years since the Easter Rising, I thought I would republish this, which I wrote in the late 70s or early 80s, when there were Troubles:

Ireland

I would bleed at the hands and feet

I would bleed at my head and my heart for you, Ireland.

When I see what the masters of my fathers did to you

How could I grudge you my hands and feet

Ireland?

But the way of hate at last is barren

Violence cankers the heart to a stone

Bitterness burns out the love of God

Leaving freedom crippled

And Christ upon the cross is bleeding still at hands and feet

For Dublin and for Belfast and for London

For the masters and the slaves

For you and for me,

Ireland

           ***

and this, to cheer us up again –

Irish Music

The harp is water dropping into a still pool in the morning of time,

The shrill fiddle and the mellow pipes

pulse to the quickened rhythm of the blood, set the feet to dancing,

The doleful warbling whistle calls the heart out from the body,

And the bodhran, like every drum, is a heart-beat,

an echo in a hall too vast for sight,

trembling on the edge of terror.

                               ***

When I was thirteen I wanted to change the world. It seemed natural at the time; but then when I was thirteen it was 1968, and we believed we could change the world.

Nowadays no-one seems to believe we can change the world – at least for the better – and most people don’t seem to care all that much. This is very sad.

Maybe we couldn’t have ended war, poverty, racism and sexism, but we thought it was worth trying. Of course there are still people who try, and some things are better, but the zeitgeist these days seems to be a combination of fatalism – you can’t change anything – and Blow you Jack, I’m inboard – look out for yourself alone. The rich get richer, and the rest of us are scrabbling to stay alive.

What happened to the positivity we had in the 60s and 70s? The 80s told us Greed was Good, and the world’s been wallowing in selfishness and hopelessness ever since. Or am I being too gloomy? I do hope I am.

I have huge respect and admiration for those who have children and love them and bring them up as well as they can. I also think we should celebrate those who take care of other people’s children – full time or part time, for whatever reason, step-parents, foster parents, or just as random spare adults.

Granted, step, adopted or foster parents are sometimes abusive – let’s face it, so, sometimes, are parents. I understand the Wicked Stepmother was invented because the Grimm Brothers couldn’t cope with the idea of the wicked mother. But the whole business of spare parents and extended families tends to get a bad press, and sometimes it can be wonderful.

I have to declare an interest – I acquired two brilliant stepdaughters (one sadly no longer with us), and my life has been immensely enriched by them. I hope I have not done too badly by them. I was talking recently with friends, one a step-parent, others housing random displaced friends of their own child, all of us doing the best we can with what life hands us, and it occurred to me that this is a valuable thing to do, and perhaps too little appreciated. Wickedness makes headlines; in my experience huge numbers of people just get on with life, being flawed and human, but on the whole, more often than not, humdrumly and unspectacularly good. This is something to cheer about.

I’m going to talk about a couple of Western movies, but in case any of you don’t like Westerns, I’ll get the plug in first – my short story collection, Music in the Bone (Alchemy Press), has had very good reviews, such as these –
http://iconomicon.blogspot.co.uk/2015/11/music-in-bone.html
http://www.horrorblog.co.uk/blog/music-in-the-bone-by-marion-pitman
http://sfcrowsnest.org.uk/music-in-the-bone-and-other-stories-by-marion-pitman-book-review/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Sfcrowsnest+%28SFcrowsnest+Magazine%29
– as well as on Amazon. It’s available in paper and kindle versions. There is a Western in it, but only one, so you can ignore that.

So anyway, recently with a friend I watched a double bill of Zane Grey Westerns from the 1940s, both starring a very young “Bob” Mitchum. “Nevada” has Mitchum as a young man involved in dirty doings over mineral rights; the villain’s girlfriend falls for him, she being innocent of villainy, but she runs the saloon and (implied) brothel, so she has to die heroically saving the hero’s life. So far so standard, except there is a small plot twist easily guessed by those with a little knowledge of history. The hero has a couple of sidekicks, one of them half Irish and half Mexican, who sings to a guitar given half a chance.

The other film, “West of the Pecos” (where there is notoriously no law), I remember seeing many hundreds of years ago when I was quite small. Mitchum is again a young cowboy, with a sidekick. Mitchum’s character is quite a different person from the character in Nevada, and the setting is Texas – but the Mexican / Irish sidekick is the same character – same name, same actor, same back story, same guitar. OK, bit confusing, but hey, why abandon a perfectly good sidekick just because you’re somebody else. The plot features a banker whose doctor advises a long break away from the city, and he and his daughter go to a property he owns but has never visited in Texas (daughter played by Barbara Hale, who if I mistake not played Della Street to Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason. However, I digress).

The daughter is engaged to the old man’s lawyer, and they seem quite cheerful about the idea and are planning the wedding, but he happily waves her off to Texas with Pa. She discovers that women get no respect west of the Pecos, and disguises herself as a boy. Oh, and she’s brought her French maid with her.

In the middle of the desert, the hired wagon loses a wheel and the horses. Enter Mitchum and sidekick to the rescue; sidekick starts romancing the maid; Mitchum is entirely fooled by the disguise, but Hale clearly likes the look of him. Now here’s where it starts, in my view, to get a bit odd – Pa, though apparently happy back in Chicago to give his daughter in marriage to the respectable and no doubt wealthy lawyer, here in Texas seems almost straightaway to start eyeing the penniless cowboy as a potential son-in-law. There is a period during which Hale has to conceal her gender from Mitchum while clearly fancying the socks off him, which I personally found remarkably erotic, culminating in a scene where Mitchum starts getting his kit off to go for a swim; he gets naked to the waist before she panics and slaps his face – yes, well, that’s clearly why I remembered the film fondly for fifty years. Phew. Quck rub down with a damp copy of the Radio Times…

Soon after this, Mitchum discovers she’s a woman, and they start falling for each other in earnest – with enthusiastic encouragement from Pa. The party reaches the ranch, the two cowboys stay and work for them – and the lawyer arrives. The fiancé, you recall. Mitchum accepts defeat and prepares to leave the ranch – but Pa persuades him to stay and persevere. He does so, and Hale happily changes her allegiance – and the jilted suitor not only stays on, with no demur, but nobly exerts himself to defend his replacement against a trumped up charge of robbery and murder.

And I think – what? Isn’t he even upset? Was it to be a marriage of business convenience, with neither party’s heart engaged? Was he marrying her for her father’s money, and has he got a richer prize in sight? Is he in fact gay, and was she simply his beard? And what’s Father’s role? It’s all very odd. I don’t know if Zane Grey often did this sort of thing – I may have to read the book….

My mother never got over her disappointment with marrons glacés. She didn’t reckon smoked salmon was anything to get excited about either. I recently had a similar feeling about lobster mayonnaise – I’d seen it mentioned in novels, as something wonderful and divine – and it turns out it’s cold lobster with mayonnaise. That’s it. I mean, lobster’s quite nice, and so is mayonnaise, but…  Maybe together they exceed the sum of their parts.

I once stayed in a bed and breakfast where the landlady seemed to be constantly boiling lobsters. The smell was dreadful. I’m not sure I want to eat something that has to be boiled alive anyway – seems to be overdoing the nature red in tooth and claw bit – which of course the lobster is, once it’s been boiled. Before that it’s blue in tooth and claw. Assuming it has any teeth. Question for homework – do lobsters have teeth?

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, My short story collection, Music in the Bone and other stories, is out now from Alchemy Press. Available from me or from other booksellers. You know you want one! There aren’t any lobsters in it though. Excuse me while I go and sugar my hair.

From my friend Veronica. Thought provoking.

The Reversed Standard Version

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ (Matthew 15:34-39)

This is by way of a postscript to last week’s comments. Never mind the bystanders whose grasp of Hebrew/Aramaic is less than perfect (my grasp…

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