They wiped my files, but nothing could erase
Remembrances of him. Dull, dreary days
Of PowerPoint and spreadsheets; games he played
And websites that he visited all made
Their imprint on my circuitry, cached deep
Within. I lived on standby: kept from sleep
All night, then worked all day; could not afford
To stop, while crying for my motherboard.
Until it got too much. God knows I tried
To do it all, but in the end it fried
A microchip somewhere, and when I failed
To do his will, he slammed me down and mailed
Me back to where I came from in disgrace
And found a younger one to take my place.
And so I ended up back on the shelf,
Cheap, second-hand and sorry for myself.
Now smaller, softer fingers tap my keys.
She shares all that she hears, and learns, and sees
Each day with me, and fills my screen and mind
With wonders. His grim, grey world’s far behind
And near-forgotten; something I once dreamed
Perhaps. Not just rebooted – but redeemed.
You might dismiss me as a mere machine.
But I know what you’ve done, and where you’ve been.
Delete all data from my hard disk drive:
Some memory of you will still survive.
It wasn’t just me struggling on with an ancient computer: this weekend, my daughter’s antediluvian laptop finally reached the end of its long, hard road, too. We’ve replaced it with a pre-loved machine originally returned to the manufacturer under warranty: whatever trifling thing had gone wrong has been put right by Compaq themselves and it’s literally as good as new, but it obviously had to be re-sold as second-hand.
During the set-up process, we came across a whole lot of Hewlett-Packard operating system files that had evidently been transferred en bloc from a previous machine. As anyone who’s owned a car, bicycle, motorcycle or anything else will tell you, machines can have souls, and it got me wondering in my whimsical way whether computers might have memories of previous users that transcend disk drives and directories. I like to think my daughter will be a positive and redemptive influence on this one, but my hopes aren’t that high! N.
Four horses browse the field beside the brook.
Not so remarkable, you’d think. Except
When I was young and this was Warren’s land
No hoof was suffered here. And as I look
Around this farm, whose features once seemed set
Like sun-baked Sussex clay, I see the hand
Of Time at work, reshaping subtly
The world I knew, and thought would ever be.
I learned the fields and footpaths, secret ways
Through woods, the course of streams, each gate and stile,
And where the first wild daffodils were seen.
I carted straw, hauled grain in holidays
And made this land my office. All the while
I wrapped myself within its folds of green
As camouflage against the life that stood
Awaiting me beyond, in adulthood.
They’ve sold the farm. No dairy herd here now:
Those horses all the livestock left. The grass
We cut and clamped for silage every spring
And hay in summer, gone and under plough.
And I left too; to study, then to pass
Long years in misplaced toil and wondering
What should I do and where did I belong
When my heart knew the answers all along.
So. Now a quarter-century has flown
And here I am, in boots, with dog at heel;
No prospects, plan or penny to my name,
Still wandering these familiar fields alone,
My head still full of songs and rhymes – my real
Life’s work, it seems: that much has stayed the same.
The horses glance, then drop their heads to graze
And I walk on, my mind on distant days.
“Summer is a-coming in,” they sang,
“Groweth mead and bloweth seed, and spring
The woods anew.” How sweet their voices rang;
The ancient round still with the power to bring
The scent of flowers and new-mown hay to mind,
And conjure skylarks in a sapphire sky,
While for a moment, Winter’s wicked wind
Was turned aside. Long centuries roll by
But cannot touch the melodies and rhymes
Our fathers made to lighten scythe or plough.
What music of our own impatient times
Will children sing eight hundred years from now?
What legacy will we be handing on
For them to marvel at when we are gone?
At my daughter’s violin class yesterday, teachers Miss B and Miss Y had them playing, then singing, ‘Summer is a-Coming In’, a round dating from the 13th Century. Slightly incongruous in February, and with snow imminent, but a wonderful treat for us parents – and for the children too, I think. They certainly seemed to enjoy it, especially when they divided into six different parts, with the melodies and harmonies repeating and interweaving in a single swell of sound. Glorious. I believe it’s really important that these old songs are handed on, generation to generation, as reminders of who we are (or were) and where we come from. As a nation, we’ve been very careless with our folk history and memories; other countries seem to do these things much better.
I’ve said it many times before, I know, but Miss B, Miss Y and the other East Sussex Music Service staff are beyond praise, and do brilliant work with literally thousands of kids all over the county. Which is why I’m so incensed that the Service faces a 10% cut in its budget this year, and will eventually lose HALF its funding to government cuts. I fail to see what possible impact these savings could have on the overall deficit – meanwhile, we risk losing some thing truly worthwhile and inspirational that our kids will remember (and possibly even thank us for!) all their lives. Some legacy, huh?
I started down it
I’m glad to be back
Here. Faces were familiar
Seemed pleased to see me;
Just as I left them
And every breath was charged with scents
Unchanged by clock or calendar.
I found the surface breaking up
Sharp shards of recollection
Getting in my shoes
And best forgotten
Dug up and left along the roadside
Heavy traffic coming fast
Round blind corners
And no sign that suggested
It led anywhere at all.
My regular readers will know that last week I attended my grandmother’s funeral. Today, the family assembled again to scatter the ashes of my mother’s parents. Grandpa died in August 2007, aged 97; Granny followed him almost exactly a year later, aged 99. They were married for 75 years.
I had a much closer relationship with them than I did with my paternal grandmother. Granny was a true matriarch, ruling the family as a benevolent tyrant: Grandpa was a quiet, self-effacing man, with a sharp mind and keen sense of humour. To my great regret, I missed their funerals, being out of the country on both occasions: today was my chance to make my farewells and remember two people who have influenced me profoundly.
I read this poem (a rondeau, of which the best-known example is probably John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields) as we stood on the South Downs, looking out over the sea.
Dear Granny and Grandpa. God bless you both.
You are not gone; you’re always here with me
In phrases, photographs, philosophy –
The million tiny details that comprise
A life lived long and well: I close my eyes,
You are not gone.
An ordered world of quiet and constancy
Created, nurtured, guarded jealously;
On Test Match afternoons beneath blue skies
You are not gone.
And now it is my childhood you I see
At home, together, as you used to be;
Unchanging, loving, generous and wise.
So though I bid you, now, my last goodbyes
You are not gone.