Hi! It’s just Unicorn Day, that’s all

Here we are. It’s a sunny Friday, it’s 9th April and it’s National Unicorn Day!

Photo by mark glancy on Pexels.com

As a Scot I am delighted that King James II endorsed this mythical creature, representing purity and power, as my country’s national animal but I have also learned that it has a lengthy history in other parts of the world. 

In Ancient Greece it was spoken of as existing in far-flung India, to them an exotic place about which very little was known at the time. The writers of that time and place characterised it as an animal of power and ferocity.

In mediaeval times it was thought of as one of the creatures spoken of in the Bible, to which was attributed not just strength but the purest kind of love, a suitable pet for the protection of virgin women.

Unicorns have featured in more modern times in the writings of Lewis Carroll, J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis.

However, I have discovered that the modern invention of Unicorn Day boasts the objective of celebrating the positivity which can be achieved by allowing magic into our days from time to time, the sort of thing adults forget to do.

In recognition of the day, I have concluded this short post with the only poem I have written featuring a unicorn. As it does have a political message, perhaps at odds with the idea of pure fun and fantasy associated with Unicorn Day, you may be choose to ignore it.

Instead you may wish to grab the spirit of the day – bake and eat colourful cupcakes, for example,  watch a fun fantasy movie, or indeed read a fantastical book. The main objective, apparently, should be recalling the magic of our childhoods.

So, in your own personal way, I trust you enjoy Unicorn Day!

[I have a half-formed draft of a poem on the topic of the joy of childhood perspective but it’ll be some time before it is ready for exposure, so in the meantime, if you wish it, here is flight, published last year in A Kist of Thistles ‘An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland’, (pub. Culture Matters http://www.culturematters.org.uk)].


so fearsomely beautiful 
and innocent and pure 
he scares the proud lion 
according to folklore
it may be dangerous 
to unchain the unicorn 
but as desire for 
unfettered liberty  
will at time of re-birth 
be the first priority 
let us unleash and bareback ride the beast
making myth reality
while breezes from infinity
refresh us to the core 
we shall hurdle every boundary, 
healing as we soar
on a flight of the seemingly impossible
our hearts at last will sing of freedom  
and Alba Gu Bràth the land of compassion

Hedgehogs and Dragonflies show up for Spring

First of all, welcome one and all to Peter/A/Writer blog post number Forty, the first of the astronomical Spring, 2021.

Photo by Peter A

In the recent warmer dryer weather there has been much to enjoy of nature, though I did not during that balmy time see any hedgehogs or dragonflies.

Now in the windswept and wet days of late March, though I have ventured out less, I have received within my home alternative manifestations of the hedgehog and dragonfly variety. And I have to tell you they have both been very welcome visitors.

I can now release the breath I’ve been holding. I can tell the news I’ve received and perhaps permit myself to experience a little nervous excitement.

This weekend a hedgehog called past to confirm that in April there will be a book – a chapbook of twenty two poems bearing the title Art of Insomnia, a book showing me as the author of all of these little works, a book published by Hedgehog’s very own Poetry Press. It has been in the offing for a wee while but it is actually happening for real within weeks.

Art of Insomnia back and front cover image

As if that wasn’t sufficiently exciting, there have been dragonflies too; dragonflies who flew through my window bearing a kind invitation requesting I join them at a special event on 4th May 2021 to read a number of poems from Art of Insomnia.

The Dragonflies present…Zoom event on 4th May will also feature two other poets, Margaret Royall and David Bleiman, who have work coming out at around the same (April/May) time.

Each featured poet has also been encouraged to select at least two poets to share a ten minute ‘support slot’. I am delighted that the three poets I asked all agreed to come along to be my ‘support stars’. I’m bursting to tell you who they are but have decided to keep it a surprise… just get yourself a ticket (free of charge, praise the Dragonflies!) and come along virtually, with a drink from your free home bar, or a camomile tea, to enjoy what will be a genuinely varieties evening of poetic expression.

I’m so confident you’ll have a great time that I offer you this promise -money back if not totally satisfied!

This is the link to the Dragonflies present page, where you can secure your free ticket.


It also has links to author pages kindly provided by Dragonflies for each of the featured poets, where you can get to know more about the author and his/her new publication and other work. There’s even a short poem sample from each of the new publications to provide a flavour of the book and hopefully whet your appetite.

Though somewhat nervous about all this, I’d be honoured if you decide to come along to join the evening.

St. Patrick’s Day Greeting (in both senses of the word)

Hook Head, Hook Peninsula, County Wexford: Photo by Peter A.

It’s St Patrick’s Day but still morning so I positively haven’t allowed any alcohol to pass my lips; yet here I am in tears. (Note: a Scottish meaning of the word ‘greeting’)

And why you may ask – what’s wrong with you man? 

Well I’ve just listened to a rendition of Danny Boy by a four-year old child. Yes, I did say four years old. She’s called Emma Sophia Ryan. Currently I don’t have the facility on this site to show video but presume you can get it by searching YouTube.

So, why is this silly old fool weeping while listening to a tiny child singing a sentimental song that he’s heard a thousand times before?

Sure, there’s the fact that it’s a touching thing to hear an immature voice stretching to render the tones and meaning of a love song. Sure, there’s something about the purity and innocence of it all. 

However, in my case, there’s another layer to this, which is hearing a song anew and in that sense hearing it properly for the first time. Until listening to little Emma Sophia’s version this morning, I had not fully absorbed the words and meaning of the final verse. And that’s what got the tears flowing.

You’ll come and find the place where I am lying

And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

But I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,

And all my grave shall warmer, sweeter be.

And you will bend and tell me that you love me;

And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

Undoubtedly there will be cynics who’ll consider me a fool to say this, but this has renewed my belief that visiting the resting place of the love of your life and telling that person you still love her/him does have a point. 

And even if you don’t believe it’s possible to bring comfort to the deceased by this means, I can assure you there is comfort in this action for the one left behind. Time is not linear and any moment is a good moment to tell someone you love them.

Today’s experience also confirms that contained within the constraints of this buttoned-up Scot there can be found the emotions of my Irish heritage.

With that admission it remains only for me to wish all of you reading this, Irish blood or not, cynic or not, a very Happy St Patrick’s Day. (Note: the more generally accepted meaning of the word “greeting’)

… off now to read some Yeats, Heaney, Joyce…

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Unplanned Mother’s Day/Sarah Everard Blogpost

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Today I have to depart from my general plan to post weekly. For various reasons, I feel compelled to include an extra short one but make no apology for that. At the end of a week which included International Women’s Day, I think Mother’s Day is as good a day as any to do this.

In the last few days the murder of a young woman at the hands of a predatory male has shocked me, but not surprised me. We are living in a world in which incels, players and other entitled males are exercising unequal power damaging society in a way similar to the behaviour associated with white superiority. Both must be corrected but today the treatment of females must be the focus.

It is a matter of shame that women are having to hold vigils in memory of Sarah Everard (and others previously affected), and a scandal that they are being told they have to take additional steps to keep themselves safe, precautions which men do not have to take. Men are to blame for this.

Men have an obligation to address their own behaviour so that women do not walk in fear. Women I know, including my young sister, are afraid to walk alone through countryside or woodland, even in the daytime, and city parkland at night.

I, and all other men, have to accept that apart from possessing greater physical strength, they have been nurtured by a society which convinces men they are entitled to more – whether that be higher salaries or freedom of movement. There is also the trite ‘boys will be boys’ label which starts in childhood and tends to carry on into adulthood. In addition to those features, there is constant male peer pressure fuelling the continuance of toxic masculinity.

In the early hours of this morning – all of these things on my mind – I scribbled this first draft of a short poem:-

That is all

I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
So ashamed
I truly am
- That is all

Not about love
Nor about lust
Not about any
Purely power
- That is all

I am a man
Not that man
Of whom I am
So ashamed
I truly am
- That is all

time in a world upside down

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When I first check the time, it is 1.00 a.m. on 5th March. Now that’s earlier than I have been going to bed in recent times, so this is my chance. In an attempt to alter my upside-down lifestyle, I must go to bed NOW.

Okay, I’ll do it just as soon as I check Twitter, Facebook and my email inbox. So I do that two or three times and leave a post on Facebook that I won’t be interacting there for a few weeks, for personal reasons – and they are very genuine personal reasons which will keep me quieter than usual until mid-April.

Good. All satisfactory, and it’s still well before 2.00 a.m. So get yourself into the bedroom, Peter. Sure, no problem.

Then I remember a couple of ideas that were spinning around in my head earlier, when I was out walking…just in case I forget, better do something about those.

Right, suddenly it’s nearly 3.00 a.m; I have written one complete poem, started a second and written lyrics for the chorus of a pandemic-related bluesy song which (let’s face it) will never see the light of day. That last item was prompted by an exchange I partly overheard when I was on my walk. A young woman talking to her friend as they passed by me “…not starting a relationship during lockdown”; her pal responding, “I’m the same…

So there you have it, for what it’s worth; just a brief insight into my disorganised life and creativity, feeling compelled to respond to the prompts of a brain that sparks when you’d prefer it to rest.

On a positive note, by the following day other ideas had inveigled their way into my anti-social hours and suddenly there were four fresh poems ready to send off for an approaching deadline.

Even more positively, one of those was accepted surprisingly quickly (on 10th March).

I really would prefer to have a more regular lifestyle but when things seem to be working as they are, it is difficult to change.

As the date finally approaches for publication of my debut chapbook Art of Insomnia (ironic, I know!), the first quarter of 2021 has started well in the writing sense.

Some things I am not permitted to mention yet. However, I hope to be in a position to tell you a bit more soon.

Stay safe everybody.

Review: Feverfew by Anna Saunders (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2021)

That Feverfew, the sixth and latest poetry collection from Anna Saunders, is laced with quality – at times luxury – is easily evidenced. What is more difficult to explain, though ironically it may be inherent in its stylish packaging, is the exquisite economy and value to be found in this publication. 

In large part this may be attributable to the presence of forty one poems within a physical book-space of proportions which seem incapable of holding such an amount of treasure. Yet there is nothing cramped or cheap about its presentation. I guess the publisher Indigo Dreams must be due credit for the practical side of this, the design and typesetting, as indeed must the poet for composing poems which fit so well to the page.

Of greater importance, however, is the discovery that this collection has a literary and sensory quality which (like the divine accused characterised in one of the collected poems, The Prosecution Builds up a Case Against Jupiter) takes various forms. Some clues may be found in the cold and hot of the striking cover design; the proof is found in the assured crafting of words found within the covers.

Mythical references inhabit a number of the poems. Some of the named characters and creatures from Greek and Roman mythology will be familiar to non-scholarly readers, some not. Where I was unsure about the myths associated with a featured character I found it intriguing to read the poem first of all without research and enjoy it for its sounds and feel and discernible purpose; enjoy it purely as a poem. The nature of the myth would sometimes be revealed in a general way by this exercise, subsequent googling being largely confirmatory. In other cases, discovering the mythological root was an essential key.

In all those referring to myth the poet’s skill and imagination re-works the ancient to make it relevant to the modern reader, and to the contemporary message the poem is meant to convey.

As well as those which reference mythology there are works here which use the characteristics of wild creatures to tell the stories of humans, those which feature the nakedness of humans themselves, and those which feature spirits who have thrown off the flesh which formerly clothed them.

It is important to point out that, while this is a collection with serious intent making full use of grown-up literary techniques and devices, it possesses humanity, occasionally shows vulnerability and employs humour too (often in the guise of satire and/or the entertaining titles of certain poems). 

Whether your mood calls out for reflections of love, lust, loss or consideration of abuse of power and animalistic instincts, there is something here for you. I have found the collection pleasing, rewarding, surprising and affecting to read and re-read.

Given the space I permit myself for Blog reviews there is not room to give examples of the many poems in Feverfew that touch or tickle my intellect, anima or shadow. So, as a discipline I have decided to look briefly at just four, hopefully providing a soupçon of the flavours of the collection.

What I Learnt from the Owl, the first poem in Feverfew, has something of Emily Dickinson in it. Its unflinching true depiction of an owl as bird of prey sets the reader up for some of the cold reality-checking which will emerge in subsequent poems and is also the perfect appetiser for the collection’s second poem – the first one I wish to discuss here – Time after Time the Same Bird is Born from the Flame.

In this piece, the phoenix of Greek mythology is transformed for the modern world. No longer is it the positive motif, eagerly adopted over time to represent renewal and in due course Christian resurrection. Anna Saunders’ phoenix is viewed as an unwelcome regeneration. The opening lines tell us that:-

Here it comes, … /a feathered doppelgänger of the last,/ an identical gold-eyed genesis/scattering a surplus of silver plate from his claws.

He is introduced as a privileged creature, a royal bird which feasts on incense, whereas we pick at seeds and stringy meat.

The ‘we’, presumably the ordinary folk, wonder How did he earn the spokes of sun that ascend from his head…?

We ache for change, yet each creature that rules the court/is a rooster’s brother with jaundiced eyes.

Not even death will bring an end to this.

It quickly becomes clear that this poem, which on its surface references the exotic re-generating bird of myth, in its gut speaks of inequality and the apparent impossibility of bringing about necessary change in the cycle, the system.

How wrong we are to think that fire/can cauterise corruption, it continues. That could hardly be more plainly expressed, especially when followed by the line which gives the poem its title, Time after time the same bird is born from the flame.

A number of Ms Saunders’ poems deal with love and relationships, some tinged with eroticism, others with various difficult aspects and issues; each one is worth the reading and imbibing. For my second arbitrary choice I have selected one of the less obvious depictions of a controlling relationship, I come back as a Horse.

Ostensibly, it features a horse (probably a gentle mare) considering how it is treated by its human master and begins with what appears to be a sad acceptance that true freedom is no longer an option: –

My owner leads me in from the cold. /His heating makes my flanks steam, my breath plume and cloud. He shouts/as my skittering hooves crescent mark his shiny floor.

Next, we discover the extent of the horse’s value to the owner: –

He has pictures of the races all over his wall/strained mares taking jumps/ or being brushed down savagely/until their rumps blaze like precious stones. The mares, it seems, are there to win trophies, or be trophies, and the next stanza tells us of further restrictions of liberty –

We have to wear our harnesses all night./It is compulsory and our necks burn.

The narrator horse speaks disparagingly of humans choosing inappropriate names. I am not mine, she says unhappy with her naming, before going on to describe in a similarly sanguine voice the more shocking truth of what happens to horses who do not match expectations: –

A young one never came back. If your legs buckle,/if your back is too weak, there’s a bullet for you.

The implication of controlling threat (and a point where a familiar association may be drawn with hair-pulling abuse and assault) continues in the next two lines –

I love my mane, even when he winds it round his hand/to make a boxing glove.

Finally, following a statement of preference for the freedom of the fresh air, the poem concludes with the subtle but poignant –

Once, a child passed me, said I had kind eyes,/felt pity for me.

The third poem I wish to feature, Floundering, is one of exceptional tenderness, and admirable skill.

In it a poet speaks to her mother, who has recognised the reality that poets do not make money from their art and is offering her poet-daughter money from her purse. But there are other things going on and it is the skill of linking all of these threads and carrying all themes through to the end in a very naturalistic way which shows Ms Saunders’ deftness here.

To explain here the detail of how this is manifest, all its conceits and devices, would in my opinion spoil the pleasure of those I hope will go on to read it hereafter. However, as I must give you something, I’ll give you these two connecting elements as a tease and assure that there is much more taking place in the poet’s mind and in the physical environment surrounding mother and daughter:-

It reminds me of the tulips dad planted/so we’d have colour after he had gone.

This casual observation prompted by the shape of a heron’s head from behind appears early in the poem and is one of the themes echoed in the velvet glove punch of the final stanza, which runs as follows:-

Mum, you have your purse out again,/and that worried frown that dad used to have/when he was looking at the tulip bulbs,/wondering if they would come out in time.

The fourth and final poem I draw to your attention is one which is simultaneous easy and very difficult – So much Blood around my Name. I say easy because it is written in terms which are easy to understand even on first reading, not requiring much interpretation. The subject matter, however – as in many of the collection’s poems – is raw, visceral, uncomfortable, confessional.

There is much blood and guts within Feverfew but what we have here is quite different. This is not the remote blood and guts of mythology or that associated with the regular behaviour of the animal kingdom.

In this poem the first mentions of blood arise in a specific recollection, written in past tense, of a blood commitment symbolised by a fresh tattoo of the narrator’s name on her former lover’s arm (How deeply I’d been etched into your skin,/you bloomed blood.), a commitment which ended (…we needled each other,/until I left). The second reference to blood is in the present tense and comes with consideration of implied guilt which some would wish to place beside her name. It also echoes skilfully the blood which formed around her name at the time of the fresh tattoo :-

Years later I hear about your death.

He couldn’t go on without you. I am told.

I imagine your pale limbs under the earth. Those four letters extinguished by the dark.

So much blood around my name.’


These are the links: to find out more about Anna Saunders and her published work http://annasaunderswriter.co.uk ; and to order a copy of Feverfewhttp://www.indigodreams.co.uk (£9.50 + P&P)


Review: HONEY DEW by Darren J Beaney (from Hedgehog Poetry Press, December 2020)

Can love ever be perfect? Can poetry about love be perfect? Can two people living together for a long time be perfect?

In my humble view, those are time-wasting questions because answers to them are virtually impossible.

It would be more useful I suggest to dip into the approach adopted by Darren J Beaney in his debut pamphlet for Hedgehog Poetry Press, HONEY DEW; in a series of twenty one poems he sets out, in a sometimes self-deprecating way, to find ways (some of them very original) to encapsulate in words the various stages of a continuing love relationship without which he feels his life had been, and would be, pointless. That realisation is hinted at elsewhere but disclosed in plain sight in the eighth poem in the book, 32 to the power of 22.

This debut is infused with sincerity as much as it is with originality and vivid Punk-style colour. It is also very relatable.

The opening poem, though it carries the title LET YOUR HEART DANCE, moves with a deliberate lack of steady rhythm, chucks in an occasional internal rhyme – but don’t expect that to happen in a predictable fashion – and employing these devices captures the awkwardness of unexpected love-at-first-sight during a first dance. The designed chaos only reaches an end in the poem’s sublime conclusion:-

As we gasped/ without resting and kissed without breathing and fell without landing.

This is followed by the title poem HONEY DEW, a short but vivid expression of the sweetness of new love :-

A smile/ … that tempted with low hanging kisses/ ripe and ecstatic

The reason for the poem’s brevity appears to be summed up in the final two words – ‘tongue tied’.

The theme of combined shyness and disbelief at the suddenness of what is happening reappears in the reference to his belly hosting ‘a soulful band of butterflies‘ in the third poem, PLAYING BANJO ON BRIGHTON BEACH.

By poem five, LETS START SOMETHING WE WON’T WANT TO FINISH, there’s an admirable statement of ambition reflected in text which combines unconventional with conventional, even old-fashioned, and a little tongue-in-cheek without destroying the sincerity of its intention. For example, Beaney writes: –

Let’s learn to dance – foxtrot, tango/… I’ll …collect/ your falling blushes. When I have them all we will paint/our town, leaving our mark, creating a legend/ bigger than Terry & June.

Let’s take tea at the Ritz. I’ll get dressed up/to the nines with odd socks and no shoes…../You can slurp from your saucer/while I protect you from those uptight stares.

Where Shakespeare would write ‘If music be the food of love…’, Beaney writes and concludes the poem ‘We’ll wake each morning to … an eternal love powered by the energy of three chord guitar riffs’.

In a sometimes uptight world it is good to remember that romance can be fun and rebellious, and Darren Beaney’s writing conveys that in abundance in some of his work.

He is also capable of expressing unabashed praise of continuing love in more lyrical terms while maintaining his personal style, as in YOU AND ME, US TWO:-

Our love is driven by neat engines of persistence/shuddering to the twitch of our touch, firing the luscious/laughter and locomotion of a lifespan together.

I’d happily quote every stanza of this poem in full but will confine myself to the following further few lines as a taster:-

Our relationship simple/as a new Puritan. Sustained without effort, lazy,/ as wonderful as bunches of late May daffodils.

Our passion is as exciting as Caxton’s/very first page, printed with a love song for Cupid. Each day/is Valentine’s Day stuffed into our Christmas stocking.

As I now feel I’m in danger of giving too much of the book away for free, I shall curtail my notes and end this review with a brief reference to the last poem in the pamphlet THE MISSING BIT which, amongst other things, touches on the point I made at the start of the review. (A similar point is made by Beaney in the short poem THIS IS A LOVE SONG which appears a little earlier in the pamphlet.) In THE MISSING BIT, he is again concerned that he cannot sufficiently express all elements of the love he feels in order to be convincing. He writes,

And that is the bit/that is missing

And I want our love to mean/as much as Dr King’s dream/with as much passion/as a catalogue of first kisses

because we are so much more/ than love bites and candlelight

If you are looking for an original but relatable, generally schmaltz-free, story of a love relationship in 21 poems, HONEY DEW is available in various formats from Hedgehog Poetry Press http://hedgehog press.co.uk or from Darren’s own site http://djbeaney.wordpress.com . Prices direct from Darren are: UK £7.00 (inc. postage), Overseas £11.00 (inc. postage) and e-book £3.00.

Belated (but at last the final) Advent Blog, this one named Day 16: the Eve

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Now that I have reached the end of this jumping-around-irrationally-at-the-wrong-time-of-year-Advent-calendar-of-blogposts, the question can fairly be asked.

Apart from the specific pre-Christmas season sense, what does advent mean?

The answers may be expressed in a range of definitions: a coming into place or view or meaning; arrival (e.g. of an important event). It is derived from the Latin adventus which means coming. And what is coming tomorrow?

Today is the eve of St Valentine’s Day. I’ll mention before continuing a curious factoid of which you may not be aware. Glasgow, my nearest city, is as much the City of Love as Paris; some would argue Glasgow’s credentials are even stronger.

Inside the Church of Blessed John Duns Scotus located in Glasgow’s Gorbals there is a small wooden casket containing the bones of Saint Valentine’s forearm. Apparently some folk have take their intendeds there to propose beside the relics and statue of St Valentine.

So this is the Eve, the eve of the celebration of the most important emotion or gift that any of us possess. Love covers a wide spectrum and comes in many forms but in most people’s minds St Valentine’s Day is about romantic love, so I’ll try to keep this piece fairly focussed within that meaning.

That said, it is a strange one this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. As someone whose youthful romanticism was not impeded by a virus , I feel sorry for the young people caught up in this unnatural situation. I wrote a very short poem on this topic several months ago, which found its way onto the Pendemic Irish online website.

CV-19: sexual distancing 

O what a time to be alive!

To appreciate platonic

Resist relations intimate

By order of the government 

Assisted by technology

To do your loving best

Transactions during this time

Confined to contactless

More recently, I was privileged to be included in one of the Dreich Themes 2021 anthologies Things To Do With Love… just published, £6.00 from http://www.hybriddreich.co.uk . Click ‘LATEST BOOKS HERE’.

This anthology carries three of my short poems on a variety of loving themes but, to maintain a lightness of mood here, I’ll include only this one – the first sonnet I’ve written since leaving school. In Smitten, the poet addresses his heart in the following way:-


Though I cannot your steady pounding hear

I must address you now my beating heart.

Your ways are not the steadiest, I fear –

They blind me to the cunning female art.

All the sophistry that I have written

Does not assist me much in this great task. 

That you are quite so rapidly smitten,

That fact must change – is that too much to ask?

Do not misunderstand – your ways excite

And lead me to experiences rare.

Adventure-seeking is your basic right

And love would not appear without you there.

I am thankful to you, organ, please know

But need you to be more select and slow

As midnight approaches and the celebratory day is nearly here, I’ll wind this post up with just a few brief observations.

For many, food is an important part of the celebration and I am glad to see that, even in these strange times, there are alternatives to eating out (though there is no doubt most alternatives are inferior). Couples are having Valentine’s meals delivered at home, some from very good quality restaurants. Others are buying prepared romantic meals from supermarkets, requiring the minimum of work at home.

I was also pleasantly surprised to note that one small business is specialising in preparing Valentine’s meals for one person. Without bringing down the mood in an Eleanor Rigby ‘All the lonely people’ sense, I think it is reasonable to point out that there are lots of people living alone on this day and there is no reason they should not celebrate.

Love may be current, past, lost, unrequited, or still awaited and there is nothing wrong with being good to yourself from time to time with a special meal.

I shall certainly be celebrating memories of love tomorrow and wish all loving people out there a brilliant Valentine’s Day.

(I add this reminder that, as the mad Advent Calendar is finished, I shall rest the Blog for a week to focus on other work, and thereafter will post only weekly). Huzzah!

Belated Advent Blog Day 15: The Penultimate

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For the posts I have done to date I have usually started off with some rough idea that I have scribbled down somewhere. Sometimes a few notes, or a more or less complete draft.

I thought I knew what today’s was going to be about but that has changed. I have just read on social media of the death of Scottish music legend Sydney Devine, at the age of 81. I do not claim to be a particular fan of his renditions of Country & Western music but I do have a true story to tell, which I like to think of as a minor love story, and Sydney was central to it.

Many years ago – can’t remember exactly but probably early 1980s because the Glasgow Apollo (which closed in June 1985) was still operating – my wife, Helen, and I headed into Glasgow, with the intention of having a musical night out. We had babysitters for the night, had no idea who was playing Glasgow, but in those days we didn’t care. We had a broad musical taste and felt sure we’d find something to enjoy.

The Apollo was a short walk from Glasgow Queen Street station, and that’s where we headed first. I genuinely cannot remember who was playing there that night (possibly due to the trauma of later events) but whoever it was my vote was to join the queue for tickets.

Just as we got in line, Helen looked across the road to see what was on at The Pavilion Theatre. Whatever it was, the crowd arriving outside suggested it was someone popular with women, many of them apparently of an older vintage.

“Sydney Devine’s playing at The Pavilion” she said, and I replied, “So what!”

Anyway, a couple of minutes later we were mingling with Sydney’s largely female local fanbase while I entreated, “Please tell me this is a joke, Helen. You don’t really want to see him?”

I don’t want to disrespect the legendary singer, especially as we mark his passing, but at that time it simply would not have been regarded as the coolest gig for a young couple to attend, especially on a rare night out.

Well, she did want to see him so I went to the Box Office and, grudgingly, asked for tickets. When I was told that the show was sold out, I returned to deliver the news with a smile that was probably too broad.

Helen was surprisingly disappointed, “It would have been so much fun” she said, and that was obviously the mood she had been in when she suggested it. Her evident sadness drove me to do something I have never done before or since, not even for someone I wanted to see. I went back to the Box Office and told a downright lie.

I told them it was my wife’s birthday, that she was a big fan, and that I had forgotten to book tickets for her special night.

Yes, my friends, I not only got tickets but tickets right down the front. We had an enjoyable night watching an artist who liked to connect with his audience, posed in the middle of songs for women who ran down the centre aisle with their little Kodak cameras, cracked jokes about himself and his run-ins with the press, and the music was fine too.

Thank you Sydney. May you Rest in Peace.

More to the point, Helen was overjoyed and – as I miss her now – that continues to means a lot to me.

There you go, a wee tribute to Mr Devine combined with a minor love story, both on the day before St Valentine’s Day!

(Belated) Advent Blog Day 14: Strong Female Television Leads, including Dickinson/The Great

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Taking subject matter in an entirely new direction, I turn my attention temporarily to television drama (of sorts).

In recent times (for almost two years and for the most personal of reasons) I have paid only limited attention to the output of television, turning to it mainly for news and information. But gradually I have returned a little bit at a time to watching television, seeking out the more dramatic as well as the relaxing and entertaining aspects.

In recent weeks I acquired a free subscription to Apple TV and, although I am still not letting tv take over in the way it used to, a few things have whetted my appetite.

Something which was becoming fashionable prior to my sabbatical from television has grown in dominance but I have identified a change, which I am sure is present now in many outlets but I am going to drill down to two very particular examples of drama series which have taken my eye.

The trend I have identified in recent years is the strong female lead but it tended to turn up mainly in gritty crime/detective series and the like. However, the two examples which caught my attention recently could not be further removed from such roles.

I refer to two colourful, high production value, costume drama period pieces of a very particular type. As my television bandwidth is pretty narrow (Freeview and now Apple TV) there may be more examples but I refer to one from terrestrial tv, The Great (Channel 4, Sundays) and one other, Dickinson on Apple TV (new episodes each Friday).

For anyone who doesn’t know what it’s about, The Great is described as a comedy period drama and ‘an occasionally true story’ of the marriage of Catherine (later to become the Great) to the Emperor Peter III (the not-so-great) of Russia. It is lots of fun most of the time (and a tad ribald, Certificate 18+) but, without giving away any spoilers, I recently saw episode 5 which was unsparing in its depiction of the heartlessness and pointlessness of war. Horrible things happen in other episodes too but that particular episode got to me.

I think the only other part of a comedy series that had a similar effect on me was the finale of Blackadder Goes Fourth.

There, however, the similarity ends. In The Great we have a female lead in Elle Fanning who, even with a strong and talented cast around her, is the fascinating centre of attention. She does not over-act. The camera loves her face which is a thing of wonder whether expressing amusement, sadness, puzzlement, passion or disappointment. She is also an executive producer of all 10 episodes.

Dickinson stars Hailee Steinfield as Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poet. As with Elle Fanning in The Great, Hailee Steinfield’s face dominates this production. As with The Great, a fabulous cast of actors and high production value in sets, lighting, sound and camera work surround but do not dominate the presence of Steinfield in the central role. As with Elle in The Great, Hailee is one of the executive producers of Dickinson.

She sometimes underplays or is completely still as befits the character she plays, yet effortlessly holds the viewer’s attention. The fact she sometimes underplays has the effect of increasing the comedy or dramatic impact when she does let herself go, either in her imagination or in comedic situations such as last week’s visit to a spa.

I could go on at length but really wanted to focus just on the strength of these female lead roles.

Before closing, the only other matter I shall mention is the music and dialogue. I don’t know if this is something liberated by the spirit of Hamilton – the Musical, but in both these series I have noticed a crossover between music and something more contemporary, including hip-hop. The dialogue is of a similar hybrid.

I do recommend you catch both shows if you haven’t already done so.

And, with that, I bid you farewell on current television meandering, with the reminder that there are just two of these daily blog posts to go, to complete the belated Advent Blog series. Then there will be just weekly blogs for the foreseeable…what am I saying? Nothing is foreseeable!

Bye for now.