Monday, March 28, 2011


"Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness".

Sadly, the budding graffiti artist who scribbled on a wall between Morrisons and Newark Market Square wasn't using his (or her) own material. The real poet was Samuel Beckett. And I know it wasn't Beckett himself 'cos he never shopped at Morrisons, visited Newark or lived beyond 1989.

Samuel Beckett was born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, near Dublin, Ireland. Raised in a middle class, Protestant home, the son of a quantity surveyor and a nurse, he was sent off at the age of 14 to attend the same school which Oscar Wilde had attended. Looking back on his childhood, he once remarked, "I had little talent for happiness."
Beckett was consistent in his loneliness. The unhappy boy soon grew into an unhappy young man, often so depressed that he stayed in bed until mid afternoon. He was difficult to engage in any lengthy conversation--it took hours and lots of drinks to warm him up--but the women could not resist him. The lonely young poet, however, would not allow anyone to penetrate his solitude. He once remarked, after rejecting advances from James Joyce's daughter, that he was dead and had no feelings that were human.
In 1928, Samuel Beckett moved to Paris, and the city quickly won his heart. Shortly after he arrived, a mutual friend introduced him to James Joyce, and Beckett quickly became an apostle of the older writer. At the age of 23, he wrote an essay in defense of Joyce's magnum opus against the public's lazy demand for easy comprehensibility. A year later, he won his first literary prize--10 pounds for a poem entitled "Whoroscope" which dealt with the philosopher Descartes meditating on the subject of time and the transiency of life. After writing a study of Proust, however, Beckett came to the conclusion that habit and routine were the "cancer of time", so he gave up his post at Trinity College and set out on a nomadic journey across Europe.
Beckett made his way through Ireland, France, England, and Germany, all the while writing poems and stories and doing odd jobs to get by. In the course of his journies, he no doubt came into contact with many tramps and wanderers, and these aquaintances would later translate into some of his finest characters. Whenever he happened to pass through Paris, he would call on Joyce, and they would have long visits, although it was rumored that they mostly sit in silence, both suffused with sadness.
Beckett finally settled down in Paris in 1937. Shortly thereafter, he was stabbed in the street by a man who had approached him asking for money. He would learn later, in the hospital, that he had a perforated lung. After his recovery, he went to visit his assailant in prison. When asked why he had attacked Beckett, the prisoner replied "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur", a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of some of the lost and confused souls that would populate the writer's later works.
During World War II, Beckett stayed in Paris--even after it had become occupied by the Germans. He joined the underground movement and fought for the resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested and he was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. In 1945, after it had been liberated from the Germans, he returned to Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. In the five years that followed, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.
Samuel Beckett's first play, Eleutheria, mirrors his own search for freedom, revolving around a young man's efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations. His first real triumph, however, came on January 5, 1953, when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. In spite of some expectations to the contrary, the strange little play in which "nothing happens" became an instant success, running for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone and enjoying the critical praise of dramatists as diverse as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, Thornton Wilder, and William Saroyan who remarked, "It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre." Perhaps the most famous production of Waiting for Godot, however, took place in 1957 when a company of actors from the San Francisco Actor's Workshop presented the play at the San Quentin penitentiary for an audience of over fourteen hundred convicts. Surprisingly, the production was a great success. The prisoners understood as well as Vladimir and Estragon that life means waiting, killing time and clinging to the hope that relief may be just around the corner. If not today, then perhaps tomorrow.
Beckett secured his position as a master dramatist on April 3, 1957 when his second masterpiece, Endgame, premiered (in French) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Although English was his native language, all of Beckett's major works were originally written in French--a curious phenomenon since Beckett's mother tongue was the accepted international language of the twentieth century. Apparently, however, he wanted the discipline and economy of expression that an acquired language would force upon on him.
Beckett's dramatic works do not rely on the traditional elements of drama. He trades in plot, characterization, and final solution, which had hitherto been the hallmarks of drama, for a series of concrete stage images. Language is useless, for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the unexpressable. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly.
Beckett was the first of the absurdists to win international fame. His works have been translated into over twenty languages. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He continued to write until his death in 1989, but the task grew more and more difficult with each work until, in the end, he said that each word seemed to him "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness."

Sunday, March 27, 2011


By law, every household in England has to fill out a census form every ten years.

Today is the day so if you are planning to come and stay with us tonight, be quick because I've already started filling the form out and I have to include you.


How personal is that? They've asked for tons of information which was never included in past census returns.

We had a good laugh though.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


I saw this quote scrawled on a wall in Newark town centre and now it's playing on my mind. I can't recall the complete quote even though I said it to myself four times to commit it to memory. I can't even swear the missing word would complete the quote.

"Words are...(something) to silence and nothingness".

What is the missing word? What is the full quote?

It was in the same area (about a year ago) where someone daubed across the broken window of an unoccupied shop  "Fugs did this". I had the impression that it was a sharp wit responsible for the writing but not the breakage. I wonder if both writings separated by a year were from the same hand?

I like to think there is a deep thinking sharp witted opportunist graffiti artist amongst us.

It's no good, I'll have to go back and write it down and perhaps take a photo. What's the betting our town council have already scrubbed the graffiti clean? What am I saying, It's only been a few weeks?

In the meantime, think of a word that might fit and we'll see if you are right when I post the result sometime  tomorrow (hopefully). If I've already posted the full quote and photograph, pause for a while to fill in the missing word before reading on.

What are your thoughts about graffiti?

I think some of it is as inspirational as the rest isn't and should be allowed to stay longer than the year or so it takes the council to erase it.

Here we's at the end of this cut-through...
I missed out quite a few words...

"Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness".

Monday, March 21, 2011

World Down Syndrome Awareness Day

Today, the 21st March is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day. The date (21/3) represents the 3 copies of chromosome 21, which is unique to people with Down syndrome.

I am very pleased to present this guest post by Madonna Dries Christensen regarding the Many Faces Of Down Syndrome. 

When Dean was born in 1952, the doctor didn’t tell his parents that he had Down syndrome. When they were told, at three months, the doctor used the term Mongoloid. He said that Dean wouldn’t live beyond the age of five, and advised an institution. Dean's mother reasoned that if he were going to die young, she would hold him close for whatever time he had. By age eight he was difficult to discipline, and his parents made the heart-wrenching decision to place him in Columbus Developmental Center in Columbus, Ohio.

Dean’s sister, then 11, recalls feeling responsible for him, and that it was stressful having him at home. With the exception of her best friends, kids made fun of Dean. She admits to being relieved when he left, quickly adding that as an adult she realized he gave her something valuable: the gift of empathy, and the calling to pursue a Masters in Special Education.
As an adult, Dean’s IQ was about 35, akin to a two-year-old. He held simple jobs at the Center. He loved being outdoors; he followed sports on television, competed in Special Olympics softball and running, and enjoyed music. His family regularly visited him, and his friends at the Center loved him, too.
Dean died at age 58, in 2010. I’d never met my husband’s nephew. He was, to me, a cute child in grainy black and white photos.
In 2004, my second grandchild was born with DS. Unlike 50 years earlier, my daughter and her husband were flooded with support and information from doctors, family, friends, and even strangers via online networks. We quickly learned about the importance of early intervention in physical and speech therapy. My eyes, mind, and heart were opened to new experiences and challenges.
At three months, Sarah underwent open heart surgery. Post-surgery, her lungs collapsed and she contracted sepsis. She rallied and her heart now functions normally. Fortunately, she has none of the medical problems common to DS, nor is she physically handicapped. She rides a bike with training wheels, swims, dives, hikes, jumps on the trampoline, ice skates, the full gamut of activity. In public, people have approached my daughter and said that watching Sarah gives them hope for the child with DS who has joined their family.

That’s the rosy face of DS. Cognitively, Sarah is not on par with typical peers. Her First Grade schooling is divided between the regular classroom and Special Ed. However, she’s learning to read, does beginning math, attends Sunday school, and participates in Brownie Scouts. She dotes on her younger brother, William, and has friends who have DS and friends who do not. Conner, the boy she loves and who loves her, has DS.

Sarah’s older sister (by 16 months) tends to look after her, but not because of DS; she doesn’t yet comprehend that aspect. It’s her nature to mother children younger and smaller. But my daughter feels that the experience will help Grace understand fairness and compassion. As it did for Dean's sister.

DS is the most common genetic condition. World-wide, about five million people have DS. Unlike earlier eras, we see their distinctive faces on magazine covers and in television and movies. In school, children with DS participate in music, drama, sports, and cheerleading. They are elected Prom King and Queen; they graduate from high school. Some attend college or hold jobs in the community and live independently. A few marry. Some serve as ambassadors for Special Olympics or advocates for awareness. DS is no longer clear-cut black and white; it’s full color, and bursting with life.

An organization called People First encourages us to say “A person with Down syndrome,” not “A Down syndrome person.” Another group is dedicated to erasing the r-word (retarded/retard) from our vocabulary and replacing it with “Respect.” Congress passed a bill to strike the word retarded from federal legislation. We are reminded that DS is not an illness or an affliction, and that people with DS are more like others than different.

Despite the available support, my daughter says, “Having children with special needs can be isolating. People make assumptions about what it’s like—either that it’s horrible or that it’s simply giving a little extra help with homework. It’s neither. With that extra chromosome comes a host of little extras. Imagine any typical parent’s hectic schedule, and then add annual visits to the cardiologist, ophthalmologist, geneticist, and ENT; weekly speech, physical and/or occupational therapy; annual IEP meetings at school; frequent insurance and educational paperwork; extra time looking for clothes that fit (or altering them); and plenty of extra time reminding or assisting with ordinary activities like getting dressed or brushing teeth.

“And there are positive extras: extra bonds with parents in the same situation, extra happiness when your child reaches a long-strived for milestone, extra excitement when your child is invited to a classmate’s party simply because “she’s my friend,” and extra pride when your typical children advocate for their sibling.”

For this grandmother, there is extra love from a little girl who greets me with her big smile and an enthusiastic “Hi, Granny.”

Note from Ken Devine: Madonna is the author of the recently published 'Toys Remembered' the proceeds of all sales being donated to the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia.

I have painted two small 'Soft Toy' paintings which will be auctioned on eBay some time today from my paintings blog, the proceeds of which will be donated to the same association.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Last night...

It was actually this morning when we eventually got home and fell into bed with our heads swirling with music and laughter.

We arrived early for the concert at 6:30pm and realised we were too early. The concert started at 8pm so we had a good walk around Southwell to kill some time and also had a lemonade and a cosy chat at a really ancient wooden beamed pub that will be hosting an acoustic event on the 7th April. I'm taking my guitar along for a song.

We were still the first in the queue and sat less than eight feet from Vin. What an evening! So powerful, so funny. The video clip doesn't do justice to the power of his lyrics and passion of his voice.

We had a good chat with him at the interval and joked about the Tyne, Wear and Tees.  He being a Teessider and me a Wearsider (also know as a Makkem).  'Typical Makkem', he smiled as he signed a songbook for me that I hadn't paid for yet and turned out to be the only one not for sale because it had a glass-bottom watermark on the cover. He cleared it with his wife and authenticated it by placing his own glass over the mark. He recognised me as a Makkem as we each have our own distinct identity and dialect even though the rest of the country think we all sound the same.

The place only sold real ale so we had to go for a sortie to arrange a hot chocolate.

We were so tired today at church...really, really tired, but no regrets.

I FORGOT TO MENTION paintings have been framed and are now hanging in the gallery at last.
Go to my website if you want to see the paintings up close (

I'm posting today because tomorrow is a very special day and I have a guest posting here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Time to relax

We've worked in the garden, been to town, sanded and primed the front door and a window, dug under and uprooted a stubborn old bush using a tow-rope, raked and levelled the drive, bagged loads of soil and now we are off to see Vin Garbutt who we last saw about thirty years ago. He's a traditional singer with contemporary content and hails about half an hour from where I was born.
Not everyone likes his style and to be honest, traditional folk isn't my favourite genre, but he's got a foot in both camps...traditional voice with contemporary material. He's down to earth and one of the lads and my kind of funny and sings with a passion. Anyway, it's live acoustic music up front and in your face which is just how we like it.
I think we'll get there early as we've never been to this venue before. No doubt they'll sell soft drinks as well as real ale otherwise it's excommunication tomorrow:)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Surely not in our green and pleasant land

I know there is a lot of horror in the news at the moment and this little bit should pale against what else is happening.

All the same, I gasped in disbelief at the news of the 30 cows that were shot by police marksmen in suburbia in full view of children in broad daylight, simply because they had broken out of one field and found refuge in another.

In my mind it's like ordering the execution of a group of toddlers because the ball they are playing with accidentally breaks an already cracked window.

Those who ordered the cull insisted that health and safety along with the welfare of the animals was paramount. They were supposedly traumatised. The poor docile herd were mercilessly gunned down and dragged into trailers as blood trailed and the public watched in horror.

I hope for their sake that tonight's news vindicate them.

I'm not a poet and know little about how verse is constructed. It doesn't rhyme either, but here goes...

Jolly dee the day the deed 
When 30 strong break from their field and follow on to pastures green.

Kindly, calm and trusting too 
On sunlit field to blankly gaze and swish and blink and gently chew.

Curtains pull and children scream as horror grips the bovine crew 
Precisely gunned just where they laid
To help them through the trauma of this reckless escapade.

To this old Englishman such a public spectacle was both unnecessary and offensive if the truth turns out to match what I read.

Bev's comment...Let's hope they don't order the slaughter of the innocents who were genuinely traumatised after being forced to witness such a scene.

My comment on Bev's comment...They'll offer counselling to traumatised schoolchildren, but not to traumatised cows... even an injected sedative got the bullet.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What was I thinking?

I woke up this morning thinking about something I now can't remember. It had something to do with Damien Rice and one of his songs 'Cold Water'...or perhaps my not remembering has more to do with old age:)

I'm a big fan of acoustic music and especially when it has feeling and passion. In the 70's I was never away from live scenes like these...usually crammed in a small upstairs pub (even though I didn't drink after '74). There's something about the human condition and inner struggles that I find compelling in song.

'O' was a great album and I wanted to have his next, but my daughter advised against it because of bad language in one of the songs...she tries to protect me these days.

I have loads of iTune cards, so I think I'll go selecting a few...but not today.

Now, what was I thinking as I woke up? It'll be on my mind today while I'm at church doing my best to keep my mind on other things.

We have Martin and Sarah this afternoon with baby Liliya...perhaps they'll distract me sufficiently to be able to recall my first thoughts and feelings of today.

It worked!

A bird was singing and woke me up at 5am (looking at my watch was the key to remembering). I tried to get back to sleep but it wouldn't let me, so I asked it to stop from under my pillow. It didn't so I asked again loudly just as one of the lines in Damien's song came to mind, which was added (in tune) to my request...'Can you hear me now?'

I must have drifted off because the next thing I knew was waking up feeling a bit rough and thinking how we know for sure that birds are really singing when they make such a racket. If it was singing, why do they sing the same song all their lives. Don't they ever get fed up with it and have the urge to expand their repertoire?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Bumps, balm and bargains

The phone rang and I rushed downstairs to answer it, but it was one of those annoying cold calls. I rushed back upstairs mumbling and annoyed with myself for answering it. Thats when I fell upstairs bruising my toe, scraping my knee and almost disjointing the other. I sat on the stairs writhing in pain for ages.

to console myself, I nibbled at these as I painted (and listening to Steve Wright in the afternoon)...Butterscotch is my favourite.
And I haven't shown all of the wrappers...

I was also thinking about the bargains that Tess (Willow) seems to pick up and thought of my own recent good fortune.

We wanted a new bin for the kitchen and I fancied a cylinder metal one, so I trundled off with some plastic in search of the best. I found one priced £38 but noticed that the lid didn't stay down. Having searched out an assistant who robbed a spare catch from another box (as per my suggestion), I convinced him somehow to drop it down to £22. I then learned that the container had been dropped on delivery and that most of the bins were damaged. I'm not exactly sure how I managed to convince him to let me have it for £10, but I did...
It's just press the lid and it pops open. I love it.

My other bargain is more of a discovery really. My Mach 3 replacement shaver blades cost a staggering £6 for four at the cheapest place I can find. Bev noticed that at Aldi there was a similar product with replacement blades at £2 for 10. I tried it out this week and can honestly say that I will not be going back to Gillette. The shaver itself is better made than the Aldi one but the blades are still the triple version and one blade has lasted me all week.
What I really like about it is that I can easily get to a place just under my nose that the Gillette really struggles with.

I just love a bargain...especially one that will consistently save me money.

I know this is really petty when you consider what's happening around the globe at the moment, but it makes me feel happy as I sit here with my throbbing toe and sore knees.