Bright as their regimental cap badges, morning sun shines on crop-headed conscripts, officer-cadets, temporary gents, oiling their rifle bolts and easing springs.
It is all good chappery: some brown-nose instructors making up teams… ‘Flower of the fucking country!’ the RSM screams back on the square. Oh it is just ‘not on’ not to be keen on shooting, hitting the bull.
The wind cracks red flags down the range; snatches officerly cant; details march: under the cloudy mystery of Wales, beyond the buckling company marquee, estuarial lawns run emerald down, ravined and mollusced, to the Irish Sea.
Smartly we slip away, employ the fieldcraft we have been taught, below the rims of streams build dams, play like kids all day: Max, destined soon in Penang to charge into his own covering fire, a farmer’s only son; myself, poet, gagging for thirty years on thoughts ‘not on’ before Australia; both eighteen, enjoying the higher talk of God and Englit while the brine wind blew and bullets flew then sliding back like spies from the estuary of the Dee, scruffy as the keenest shot amongst the rank and file.
by Selwyn Pritchard
Additional information: Selwyn Pritchard (4 August 1933 – 30 June 2005) was the third son of a Welsh carpenter. He left school at 16, was conscripted and served five years as a subaltern in The Royal Welch Fusiliers in Jamaica, Guyana, Dortmund and Berlin. He subsequently became a teacher before getting into Oxford to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and graduating at the age of 35. He then taught philosophy for some years before moving to the Orkney Islands with his wife and three children. In 1980 they emigrated to New Zealand, then Australia. He began to write poetry on leaving the United Kingdom. His last post was as professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at Jinan University in Guanghou, People’s Republic of China. Selwyn suffered a cardiac arrest at home on the evening of June 26. He was pronounced dead on June 30 2005.
I’ll be finished, if I’ll survive – what kind of grass will grow over the gap? On Prince Igor’s battlefield the grass faded. The school corridors are quiet, not ringing… Eat your red tomatoes, eat ’em without me.
How did I survive to such prose with my bitter beaten head? Each evening a convoy leads me to interrogation. Stairways, corridors, cunning prison graffiti… Eat your red tomatoes, eat ’em without me.
By Борис Алексеевич Чичибабин (Boris Alekseyevich Chichibabin) Born: Полушин (Polushin) (1946) translated by Albert C. Todd and Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Кончусь, останусь жив ли…
Кончусь, останусь жив ли, – чем зарастёт провал? В Игоревом Путивле выгорела трава.
Школьные коридоры – тихие, не звенят… Красные помидоры кушайте без меня.
Как я дожил до прозы с горькою головой? Вечером на допросы водит меня конвой.
Лестницы, коридоры, хитрые письмена… Красные помидоры кушайте без меня.
He lived in Kharkiv, and in the course of three decades became one of the most famous and best-loved members of the artistic intelligentsia of the city, i.e., from the 1950s to 1980s. From the end of the 1950s, his poetry was widely distributed throughout the Soviet Union as samizdat. Official recognition came only at the end of his life in the time of perestroika.
Chichibabin was imprisoned during Stalin’s time. Though released and rehabilitated he was “daring” enough in the Brexhnev era of stagnation to write a poem in 1971 in memory of Aleksandr Tvardovsky, who had been attacked by literary rivals until his death; the poem resulted in his expulsion from the Writers Union. He was not published for fifteen years and worked as a bookkeeper in a tram park. As time passed, the growing significance of his work became apparent.
Chichibabin’s character is very Russian, but at the same time he is blessed with the quality of compassion for the world. His poetry is filled with astonishing penetration into the pain of other nations and peoples, whether Tartar or Jews.
In 1990 the unheard-of happened: the State Prize for literature was awarded to a book of his poetry which he had published privately. He was reinstated into the Writers Union in 1986, a very shy, humble man who never dealt with politics, but with a humane conscience in the midst of moral degradation – a de facto political dissident.
Biographical information about Chichibabin, p.719, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).
Here is the soldier home from the War, sailing into Cardiff. He’s startled after Palestine by the colours on the ridge, dead bracken, glossy, like wet army cottons, purple coppice he can’t identify, the mossy green of fir trees that weren’t there when he volunteered.
The cold cuts through the suit bought from the tallest of the Lascars, the cuffs, inches short of his wrists, expose his skin, now as dark as theirs, but collier-white before he went. He looks like them, but Christ, he’d hardly kept up. Only pennies rub in his pocket – the captain had skint him, the Scotch bastard.
Posted missing back at Easter, he’d not written, couldn’t risk the censor checking on his letter. He’ll stay on board till it’s dark, jump the wall, thread the back streets north, then – the freedom of the frozen tracks – up and over the top, past the hill farms’ yowling sentries, down to the town where ghosts parade.
Here is my experience, in Wales, of the ‘Clap for our Carers‘ event, also known as Clap for Carers, Clap for the NHS or Clap for Key Workers, which ran through early 2020 during the Coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic lock down.
[26/03/2020] It is the first 8 o’clock clapping event to show our appreciation to the NHS staff. If the wind blows the wrong way and carries water droplets… boom – more infections… but it seems like everyone will be doing it for an excuse to step out of the house. Will the NHS staff (and others this is done for) hear the clapping from miles away? I doubt it. It’s about ‘community spirit’ more than that really it seems.
The media treat it like an afterthought when not patronising the workers they’ve corralled to appear as window dressing to their reports. Virtue signalling seems the real intent behind this all rather than any practical support or supporting the rules established regarding social distancing… although it is bizarrely surreal and comical to see reporters holding boom microphones like pole arms while interrogating people to report their experiences.
It’ll be one of those ‘everyone did it’ events historians recall about this period in years to come. So you better do it or else your neighbours will judge you (or, at the very least, there is some weird media driven social pressure to take part)! The BBC’s ‘The One Show’ is endorsing it now. Go to your door, balcony, etc and clap for them to show your appreciation they insist. Just like they did in Italy and Germany. If they can do it so can we! There’s a strangely competitive aspect to the whole thing beneath the façade of community spirit.
20:12 There was some BBC coverage of ‘the clappening’ as I coined it (no doubt others have also done so independently though I’ve not heard the term being used). Various NHS staff were shown but also those currently on military service for some reason appear. I don’t know about you but nothing quite says ‘well done NHS’ like a big fuck off tank being shown full screen… ‘Oh yeah, you’re doing the 8 o’clock clapping to show our appreciation to the NHS staff, etc? Yeah, we are doing that too but, while we’ve got your attention, look at our military power too while you’re at it’.
There was no initial suggestion this would be a weekly thing at this point unless you went to the website.
[19:58, 02/04/2020] I forgot about the ‘clapping to thank carers’ was happening again this evening at 8PM.
The news and media, in general, were not mentioning it this week so either it was a given it was happening or maybe not. Who knows? Probably people hesitantly checked at the time and joined others if they saw them doing it outside their front door.
It occurred obviously. There were one or two less this time on their doorsteps. Some blinds fluttered as people across the road checked who was out doing it. It seems those either side of us were not doing it and thus those across the road decided they wouldn’t either. The house where the old woman used to live, decades ago, has young people in it now who came to their doorstep to clap.
[09/04/2020] Besides Britain I know Italy was doing a similar thing (and playing music) on their balconies and Germany was doing something similar. There was no clapping in St Petersburg but there was in Yekaterinburg I was told regarding Russia. Ringing the church bells would be nice as an alternative plus in the lead up to the Eastern Orthodox Easter on the 19th. It would reassure those concerned about celebrating Easter in some way.
Here in the UK apparently the third ‘Clap for our Carers’ event was going to happen tonight. It was obviously a given to many depending on what media you consumed as they would notify you throughout the day ad nauseum. Remember you better do your bit or else people will judge you.
Regarding the clapping there seemed less enthusiasm this time. The first I heard of it on the day was the 6 o’clock news personally although the news later on in the evening showed clips of people around the nation, in the armed forces and NHS staff (stood on the forecourts of hospitals they’ve been working in for hours only to be rounded up to perform for the cameras) doing it. It is all a bit ‘propaganda’ in tone when you take a step back and consider it. Could the overstretched hospitals really afford to have twenty or more staff go outside for ten minutes for a media event? You would think in these times they would need all hands on deck constantly.
I participated in the clapping. I saw a guy, across the road, literally stick his hands out the door, while in his t shirt and shorts with disheveled hair, clap for about 10 seconds then going back inside. I could hear, but not see, people further up the street clapping.
[16/04/2020] The clapping: this week more people were out and someone, a street or two away, shot off fireworks. Pots and pans began to be banged together this week by the people up the road.
Yet again more people, on average, seemed to have stopped doing it around here (this week had a mild resurgence in participants which didn’t last) but those who did continued participating seemed to be trying to over compensate for others’ apathy.
[23/04/2020] BBC’s The Big Night In (a collaboration between the Children In Need and Comic Relief fund raisers) had a filmed skit based on Black Adder featuring Stephen Fry and Prince William:
Stephen Fry reprised his role of Melchett ,who he had played multiple generations of in the Blackadder series, to chat with Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. This skit actually led into the weekly clapping ‘ritual’ (as The Guardian newspaper refers to it) on the night as a countdown so I didn’t see anything, on the night, in the above video after the two minute mark when he began counting down to 8 o’clock. That was an amusing thing to happen for the special evening of entertainment charity drive. There were some nice sketches during the event which are available to see on YouTube.
We had a few clangings of pots and pans again but no one I could see. In fact, at one point, one guy walked out of one house with a bottle of beer and went in another house. He clapped on his way amusingly. Again it depends where and who you’re doing it with I guess as to how many people seem to be participating in the clapping.
[30/04/2020] Clap. Clap. Clap. It’s week… five or six? I’ve lost count. It was week six. I’ll leave in my confusion over the next few weeks’ entries as it is what I noted on each occasion due to one week flowing into the next over the period.
The cat goes in the window to see what is going on. The houses across the street don’t come out. I saw one woman come out of her house to join the clapping after about a minute, into the two minute long clapping, this week. Each clapping session lasted at most two minutes I think with everyone waiting for someone else to stop first. The same pots and pans were being banged together.
This week they televised other places clapping. Not just hospitals but also residential streets. Would the people have been out in such force without the cameras there? We can only speculate. All bright young things. Middle class families with 2.4 children with perfect hair and perfect teeth.
Also during this time a ninety nine year old World War II veteran, Captain Thomas Moore, was doing laps of his garden to get donations for charity thus becoming somewhat of a celebrity for a short time.
He was in the news constantly serving as a distraction from the events and as a symbol of the ‘resilient British spirit’ I suppose. ‘Stiff upper lip‘ and all that.
Kakebyleanneharry made a cake in the shape of his head. Those always have that element of unintentionally saying ‘look – I’m stabbing and eating this person like a murderous cannibal’ in the photographs when they are served I imagine. ‘Here’s a cake celebrating you… here’s us cutting into the cake and eating ”you” too… you should feel honoured we are devouring a representation of your flesh’. I wonder how many ‘Christ-like’ jokes have been made regarding these confections? It’s all a bit surreal…
On the last few laps of his garden he had an honour guard and there was a fly over by an air squadron past his house. He was made a colonel eventually. The country felt a little bit better about itself and he received enough birthday cards to fill a town hall on his hundredth birthday.
[07/05/2020] The sixth week of ‘clapping for carers’… No, apparently it was the seventh… I don’t know what the media coverage was of it as I was watching National Theatre Live’s broadcast of Shakespeare’s Anthony & Cleopatra. (It was good if a little bloated feeling. They had a live snake on stage in one of the final scenes when Cleopatra and her assistants die!)
This time, during the clapping in my street, a girl in pyjamas and a nightgown was clapping at her garden gate and was joined by her, I assume, sister after a minute. The people up the road were not clanging their pots and pans as much but had their Union Jack bunting out already for V.E. Day tomorrow. Oh and a woman, so fat she was spherical, like in a cartoon, was chasing her black dog, walking slowly after it calling the dog’s name, down the road as it ran about sniffing everything having escaped the house.
[08/05/2020] V.E. Day: Street parties with people in their gardens etc. Apparently there was meant to be some ‘coming out the house and singing’ event to celebrate it but it didn’t seem to happen here unlike the clapping.
However on the BBC you could watch entire streets doing it and dancing besides their small garden tables they had outside their front door. However these communities seemed to mostly be in picturesque English villages projecting a certain image to the rest of the world rather than anything else. I’m not saying they were organised especially for the media but it all seemed a bit too convenient. Everyone in a street dressed in vintage clothing with one guy able to play the accordion, everyone knowing the lyrics to songs of the era and having all the other things you might expect at a historical recreation event. Except it’s owned by all the residents in a single street during a societal lock down where you would be unable to buy such supplies. Maybe they ordered them online and had them delivered? Amazon rules western society right now…
[14/05/2020] The seventh week of ‘Clap for Carers’. No apparently it was the eighth… I really lost track of the weeks.
People living nearer me did the banging of pots and pans this time. However the ones up the street didn’t seem to be doing it this week surprisingly – or maybe they were being drowned out. Across the road someone in a white bath robe came out to clap at the end of her pathway. Directly across the road, slightly obscured by a white van, was a young woman in a pink t shirt whose hair seemed to have been completed plaited out of boredom. She clapped looking down into her garden while facing her house. Maybe she had a dog or little children I couldn’t see. There were even less people this week taking part.
[21/05/2020] Clapping for Carers: week… eight? No, it was actually week nine.
This time one guy across the road leaned out his door to clap for a minute. I heard one, maybe two, people up the road banging pots and pans halfheartedly. That was it.
Suddenly, the last week or so, people have got a bad attitude here it seems. Maybe everyone is fed up. The novelty of it all has worn off. The media is slowly showing signs of being fed up of keeping a façade of positivity and endorsement.
On the TV you see NHS workers, spaced out as part of ‘social distancing’ obviously, continuing to clap minutes after the two minute average as the journalists revel in it. It’s more for show than anything. It still seems questionable to have carers take part in the clapping when the clapping is intended for them. But it’s all for the aesthetic. It’s like that song says ‘the sun always shines on TV’…
[27/05/2020] Apparently Annemarie Plas, the creator of ‘Clap for our Carers’, would like it to end with the tenth week. I think most people gave up after the first week or so anyway…
The final ‘Clap for our Carers’. Maybe for now… maybe forever. The media was really sour about it this morning with them all acting like it was beneath them and just a government trick to keep people compliant due to Dominic Cummings actions and the Westminster governments efforts to explain or justify them which feels like they’ve all been blown out of proportions for the sake of something to discuss. At one point they even tried to drag accusations against the Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, into it as a parallel though it didn’t stick.
The media is bored now of giving an unequivocal supportive tone to proceedings. Now, just as they have in the past, they turn sharply to intense criticism and judgemental, languorous, condemnation because so few developments have occurred to satisfy the ever hungering beast of twenty four hour news coverage. The government statements and their coverage all sound like: they’re repeating yesterday’s announcements to which only yesterday’s questions can be asked and yesterday’s vague answers can be offered. Something is happening but it’s negligible because only 24 hours have passed so it’s hardly worth acknowledging.
‘But why isn’t more being done?’ demands the journalist like a spoilt child via a ZOOM conference call scratching themselves out of frustration. ‘Something is being done’ answers the indolent government adviser, stood at the podium, who has nothing new to say while slowly hoping they can leave the room soon. No one is satisfied with how it’s gone so far but everyone has answers on how it should be done.
‘Are we there yet?’ the journalists ask from the back seat. ‘Almost, just a little while longer’ the government mutters, through gritted teeth, slowly putting their foot down on the accelerator to get out of this situation sooner to shut them up.
Journalism has turned into an industry where they watch paint dry and complain it isn’t more exciting. Unlike ‘the good old days’ when you might asphyxiate on the fumes of the lead paint or choke on the coal dust lining your lungs from the fireplace or even die of liver disease from one too many wet lunches. Back when journalism was ‘real’… or at least that’s what the old timers, who’ve retired and love recounting their exploits, tell them while pretending things were all sanitary back then and no one ever got their hands dirty for the sake of ‘a good story’.
No doubt, in a few years time, we will see multiple autobiographical books being published by journalists who go on to give talks and book signings at literature festivals. Books detailing their struggles, their vigilance, their nobility of spirit, all very inspirational… oh and that ever so funny thing that happened to the person they don’t respect but have to call a friend in case they ever have a use for them. You know the one. Yes, them. The one with the funny thing and their terrible, completely bonkers, manner. Hilarious honestly. Where do they get it from? Amazeballs. You had to be there. But you weren’t. Because you’re not important enough. Even if you were there you definitely were not ‘present in the moment’ like they were. Even if there’s a recording of the moment contradicting what they wrote it’s a complete lie unlike how they recall it. Their story is much better anyway. Now buy the bloody book and piss off because we all know no one actually reads these things – they just go on a shelf so you can look informed and on the ‘right side’ when it comes to discussing things.
[28/05/2020] The Clappening a.k.a. Clap for Carers: Chapter 10: The Finale (?) Some people, three at most, were clapping further up the road. I saw Venetian blinds across the road flutter. The cat was in the window watching us. The clapping continued for two minutes then ended.
I took the rubbish (garden waste, glass, black bags and food waste) out afterwards from the back to the front garden. Out the back I could hear some pots and pans in the distance clanging together. Also this song was playing in the distance:
It was as if it was intended to mock people. But was it aimed at those who clapped or those didn’t? I’ve not heard any songs playing loudly in the area in years. Someone used to play Seal’s ‘A Kiss From A Rose’ every Sunday morning. I always suspected they were covering the sounds of their love making because it was odd to always have that one song at the same time every week… but maybe they were exercising or something. Who knows?
On the final day the media were basically doing the adult equivalent of acting like the self declared cool kids in school. We have all known them. The fashionable followers of trends. The ones who brought something to people’s attention and, initially, were front and centre making sure everyone saw them ‘doing their bit’ endorsing it beforehand but then one day, out of the blue, repudiated it entirely declaring ‘yeah, I was never into it because I saw through it all along’ though, only a week before, they were calling out others for not participating in the endorsement.
I tend to get the impression journalists were the nasty, but respected, people in their classrooms. Ever ready to change their opinion if it suits their needs to one up others or when they perceive a shift in the attitudes of the majority which might cause them to lose influence.
In a while they’ll chortle derisively on various programmes ‘what was that all about ?’ like people looking at photos of the fashion they wore in previous decades which is completely alien to modern trends… until that style comes back into fashion. Just like there’s always a plague, or some such, in the ’20s of the past few centuries. Time is a flat circle.
There were many events and attitudes expressed during the period but you can find those documented elsewhere. Here are one or two representing the sort I came across.
Conspiracy theorists: So ardent about it too! But apparently that’s how the media began to speak about it once they wanted to demonise Dominic Cummings and the current UK (Conservative) government despite their efforts.
The Welsh government took a more strict view to enforcing lock down compared to England – which people coming into Wales seemed to have a hard time understanding. Many assumed that the rules announced by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, applied to all of Britain not just England even though he stated explicitly they were for England only. That’s an unfortunate attitude people have: they assume Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales follow England’s lead even though many areas of legislation and such have been devolved to their respective governments for quite a while now.
For a shorthand explanation of the underlying attitude to why people clapped every week, though they would never admit it, look at this humorous video:
Keeping up with the Joneses. That’s why people really clap as they think their neighbours will judge them. This video was played on one of the breakfast shows; either BBC Breakfast, Good Morning Britain or The Jeremy Vine Show; on the final morning as if they themselves were not the people doing exactly this sort of judgemental thing every other week lecturing people on ‘virtue in the times of COVID-19’.
The next ‘Clap for our Carers’ is on 25th March 2021. I wonder how many people will take part then… if indeed it even happens.
Edit on 1 April 2021: It came to pass that there was a very suddenly announced minutes silence to mark the anniversary of the first lockdown, with the BBC featuring nursing staff stood outside hospitals, and people were encouraged to put a light in their window but otherwise there was no doorstep communal clapping or any other events.
What were your experiences over this period? Did other countries do a similar ritual weekly? Maybe your country did something different?
Usually I post these updates on 1st January but there was a delay this year.
Last year I posted once a week instead of every day as I had in 2018. The result? The same number of readers but less viewing of multiple pages per visitor. Translation: regular readers were not ‘catching up on previous posts’ when checking in once or twice a week while there were the usual ‘looking for one thing then leaving’ types too but in lower numbers. Another thing I did was that, in contrast to 2018, I limited posts to once a week to see what the downturn would be. Fortunately it seems those who follow the blog have stuck with it which is nice to learn.
This year, if the regular readers don’t mind, I will be posting reviews of various films and such alongside the poems. The poems will remain being posted on Sunday 8:30AM BST barring any issues so that’s isn’t’ changing. I just never felt there was a good time to post the reviews without posting multiple times a day during 2018 and then I became overly busy in 2019 so I couldn’t do the long form reviews I’ve done previously.
The reviews I’ve done in the past tend to include long synopses but they never felt satisfying. The reviews I will be posting will be much briefer and likely only a few paragraphs in length compared to past efforts. I won’t include header images as I am always a bit concerned about the upload limit we have for file storage like that (hence why many previous images have likely been on the smaller side).
Along side those I hope to write some vignettes too. Short stories and the such. I got into watching a series called Yamishibai which comprises of 5 minute long Japanese ghost stories. It’s quite enjoyable and available for free in high quality on the Crunchyroll website. So I might type things like that too to experiment with some styles of short writing exercises.