Brian Jacques: “Bobby”

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Fair warning, readers!  This is a sad one.  Definitely tugs at your heartstrings.  Sometimes better than than the boy meets girl stories are the man meets best pal dog stories, and here’s one of’ ’em for ya by the late, great Brian Jacques, author of Redwall, a reading from his Jakestown radio program on BBC Merseyside.  Have a listen and a read…and get those tissues ready!

Bobby, by Brian Jacques

Now, looking back, he could remember the first time

He had ever seen Bobby.

It was a bitter winter night in min-January.

He’d been coming home from the pub,

The snow was being driven into drifts by a howling wind.

Ice made the pavement slippery underfoot.

It wasn’t a fit night for man nor beast to be out in.

 

Yeah, that’s when he’d first met Bobby.

The dog had followed him, slinking and cringing,

Always about ten feet behind him,

Right from outside the alehouse, along the main road, and up the street

He stopped and turned to get a good look at it.

 

It was only a puppy, really, about four months old.

Its tail and ears drooped in the wind-driven whiteness.

It wasn’t a particularly good looking hound, either.

A little mongrel, no pedigree,

Just the usual 57 varieties.

Probably it had been given to some kid as a Christmas present

And slung out unwanted, when the holidays were over.

 

He’d stared at the dog; the dog had stared back at him.

It took a pace backward, as if expecting him

To aim a boot at it.

Poor little beggar.

You could have played “Rule Britannia” on its ribs.

 

“Here ya are, come on old fellah.”

He crouched in the snow, held out his hand

To the freezing, half-starved pup.

It hesitated a second.

Then, as if it sensed everything would be okay,

It shook its head, wagged its drooping tail,

And trotted slowly up to him.

 

He patted it, and scratched behind its ears as he talked.

“Hello there, old fellah- where you from?

Been slung out, have ya?”

The puppy came closer into him,

As if he could protect it

From the cold, hostile world.

 

That was a lot of years ago now.

He’d taken the puppy home with him,

And named it Bobby.

Not for any particular reason, other than

It looked like a Bobby,

And always came when the name was called.

 

It was a good little dog,

Quite clean, and didn’t need a lot of looking after, either.

One decent meal a day and a bowl of water-

Oh, and a saucer of tea every morning-

Proper ole fashioned, Bobby was.

Always liked his saucer of tea with his dad.

 

You know, when you come to think of it, he thought,

It wasn’t much.

A bit of scoff, and a drink.

Somewhere warm and dry for it to kip every night.

But the returns he got from that dog Bobby!

 

It had been a companion

Always ready to wag its tail and be stroked.

And if he ever felt depressed or fed up,

There was Bobby, gazing at him with those

Soft, gentle dog’s eyes,

The old tail going twenty to the dozen.

It never failed to cheer him up.

 

Bobby was his mate.

Someone he could tell his troubles and his dreams to.

But Bobby had been dead about six months now.

They’d been inseparable, went everywhere together.

 

What was it that fellah had said in the pub?

“Dogs are only animals and they haven’t got a soul.”

 

He smiled to himself, and thought

Just shows how much that fellah knows,

Doesn’t it?

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Brian Jacques: “Plonky”

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Brian Jacques had a gift for creating a voice for his characters, not only in his Redwall series, but also in his poetry.  And sometimes that voice was quite striking in its forlornness, such as the character of McCann in “Plonky,” a drunk wandering Paradise St. in Liverpool, England, circa 1970s.  Give it a read and listen here.

Plonky, by Brian Jacques

 

Even the cheapest wine was expensive now

McCann held the bottle out at arm’s length

So he could read the label without putting his specs on

“Fine Olde Port Style Ruby Wine-

Produce of More Than One Country” it said

Heh.  Plonk.

 

Two pretty young girls passing along Paradise Street

Saw the old man holding the bottle out.

They both laughed.  One of them said “Cheers!”

McCann stared at them

And to discourage further familiarities

He stuffed the bottle back into his Mac pocket

Horked noisily, and spat on the pavement.

The girls hurried off back to work

As he closed his eyes, and leaned back on the bench,

The dappled Shadows from the bushes behind giving

His face a leprous look.

 

Plonk.  Where’d had he first heard the word?

1944.  On the front steps of that little Italian church-

What was it called now?- Santa Therese de Liscious-

Or something.

He could remember the statue outside.

It was a lady, dressed as a nun, with a face like a Madonna.

 

Sargent Thomas had translated the Latin inscription

Beneath the statue for the benefit

Of McCann and his mates.

“After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
The soldiers had laughed and sang “April Showers.”

They bought rough red wine from a man

Who sold it off the back of a cart.

“Chianti del Classico” it was called.

One of the lads from McCann’s regiment

Said it was only plonk.

 

McCann stood up and swayed as he took out his bottle again.

“Plonk!  It’s all only plonk!”he told the whole of Paradise Street,

Aloud, with his arms stretched wide.

Nobody was taking any notice,

So he broke out into song.

“St. Therese Of The Roses”

The panda car stopped at the curb alongside,

And he found himself looking into the face

Of a young policeman.

 

Immediately, McCann straightened up

And threw the constable what he imagined

Was a smart military salute.

“It’s s’alright.  S’Alright, Sarge!  Just goin’…” he mumbled,

As he pocketed the bottled and retreated

Along Paradise Street in the direction of Duke Street

 

The young copper watched him go,

Shook his head in disgust

And climbed back into the car.

“Another plonky,” he said to his mate.

 

McCann wandered aimlessly, staggering

And talking to himself.

People avoided him, and crossed over the road

When they saw him coming.

 

Plonky.

 

McCann didn’t worry, he didn’t care.

Let ‘em move out of the way for him.

He fought and bled for the likes of them.

Yeah- fought and bled!

I caught shrapnel in me left leg

And a silver plate in me skull.

Let ‘em move out of the way!

 

He wished he hadn’t sold his medals-that’ve showed ‘em!

Oh he still had Marty’s medals, but…

They belonged to Marty, not him.

I’ll bet he didn’t get much plonk out in Korea-

That was where Marty was buried- by the 39th Parallel.

Betcha no one even remembers that-

The 39th parallel.

That was where his son, Corporal Martin McCann was buried.

 

 

It was never the same after that.

Mary left him, and went to live

With her sister and her mother.

Plonky, she’d called him.

Said he lost all his self-respect,

Especially when she caught him taking the rent money

Out to the bars on the dresser.

He hadn’t seen her since.

Probably wouldn’t recognize her now.

 

McCann looked around at the doorway he was leaning against.

It was a church.

Let’s go in and ‘ave a look around.

He liked churches.

 

The parish priest was in the vestry,

Composing Sunday’s sermon

When the little altar boy walked in.

“Hello, Father!”

“Hello, John.”

“Hey, Father- there’s some old man out there-

Sitting by St. Therese’s statue

And he’s drinking out of a bottle and singing

“St. Therese of the Roses.”

 

Ah, that’s alright John, he often does that,

Poor fella.

He’s only a plonky ya know.

There’s no harm in it.

 

Brian Jacques: “The Do”

Another great poetry reading by the late great Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, and host of Jakestown on BBC Radio Merseyside.  Here Jacques waxes lyrically and nostalgically on the old “do’s” (street parties) from back in the day in Liverpool.  Makes you want to break out a few Guinness and some Sinatra.  Take a listen and have a read:

The Do by Brian Jacques

When houses were houses

And streets were streets.

The cobbles, and dogs, and kids,

And washing lines piled up with jammers and sheets,

And cats looked in bins or out beds.

 

Remember the do’s on a Saturday night.

And the alehouses closed at ten.

Jars out the window, and a bob for the light.

Of course, families were closer then.

 

You could hear the lads crossing over the road:

“Hey Billie, will ya carry that crate?”

Stout Brown and Mild

Sharing the load.

“Which house is the do in, mate?”

 

“Which house is the do in? Are you off your head?

The one with the door opened wide!

You know Tony’s sister?  Well it’s her Uncle Fred’s.

Pick that ale up and get inside!”

 

The back kitchen set up like the Iron Lung Bar.

There’s butties, and ribs, and shanks.

“Come in, son, and take us as we are.
“I’ll have some ribs and a Guinness, thanks.”

 

In the front parlor, the Joanna’s playing loud.

There’s snogging on the stairs up the lobby,

And the woman next door’s shouting

“Hey you crowd, stop that now or I’ll call the bobby!”

 

“Come in, girl, you’re one of ours!

Two to each side and no spittin’!

The bobby’s been here the last two hours,

He’s helpin’ me gran with the knittin’!”

 

Big Paddy’s singin’ the Rosa of Tralee,

Mrs. Jones murders Ave Maria.

Mr. Brady plays the banjo he brought home from sea.

I think the whole street is here.

 

Heart of my Heart” and “Barefoot Days

 

“There’s no work in the mornin’, ya know!”

 

I’ll be Loving You Always

 

“Allo, Queen, how’s your Joe?”

“Hey ya, gerroff, will ya have a dance?”

“It’s as good as the Grafton in here!”

“Someone spilt ale on ‘Arry’s best pants.”

“Better get him another beer!”

 

You’re Cheatin’ Heart Will Tell On You.”

 

Are you watching the telly tonight?

Or would you sooner be at a do

Long ago?

The ole do’s.

Hey, they were all right.

Brian Jacques: “Heaven Is”

Brian Jacques not only wrote the Redwall series, he was also a poet.  He would occasionally do poetry readings over music which he would present on his radio show Jakestown on BBC Merseyside.

I figured the old boy’s in heaven now, so I drummed up a slideshow of Brian with his reading of his poem “Heaven Is.”  Text of the poem is below the video.  It’s a brilliant, upbeat, blue-collar vision of what’s beyond the pearly gates…

Heaven Is by Brian Jacques

I imagine heaven to be a place

Where old ladies go ‘round

Mugging teenagers.

And employers roam ‘round in a mob

Grabbing older people and sayin’

“Hey lad,  ya wanna job?”

Where you can walk in a pub

And sit yourself down

Anytime after half-nine;

And the manager shouts

At twenty to eleven

“No worries!  There’s plenty of time!”

Heaven’s a place

Where pensioners have cottages;

Where they’re allowed to own

Ten dogs or ten cats.

And only city planners

Have to live in high-rise flats

Heaven is a place

Where they don’t have Mondays;

And it only rains late at night.

And when two people argue

They always win…

‘cause it turns out, that both of them’s right.

Heaven’s a place

With no alarm clocks;

And twenty seven miles

Of working docks.

Where nobody has to pay fines

For leaving their cars on two yellow lines.

Where both teams are at Wembley every week,

And the kids don’t give their mothers no cheek.

Where everyone has a deep freeze

Full of lobsters and steaks;

And the poor people

Have no bread to eat…‘cause the cupboards are full of cakes!

Yes, I reckon heaven must be a place

Where the street parties last for a year;

And the people say

“Come and sit down, lad.

It doesn’t matter

If you’re not from ‘round here.”

What Happened to the Magic?

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Two years ago today, author Brian Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”), creator of the Redwall series, passed away.  He authored 22 books of series in all, which featured the mice, otters, moles, hedgehogs, squirrels, and hares of Mossflower Country and Salamandastron, and their epic struggles against all manner of villainy.  Inspired by the memory and actions of their resident spiritual guide, Martin the Warrior, the goodbeasts of Redwall strived to create a place of peace in a hostile world full of rats, weasels, stouts, and other vermin.  Readers come away from reading Redwall with the satisfaction of having read a darn good yarn, full of feasting, fighting, riddles, cliff hangers, and songs.

I got addicted to these tales not too long ago, after getting sick and tired of contemporary “literary fiction ,” with its typical loner protagonists and navel-gazing ruminations.  I, like Brian Jacques at point, was wondering “What happened to the magic?!”

Jacques went off and wrote his own magic, and the gift he receives is in the giving, and with all the humility in the world.  As he once stated it:

“I don’t worry so much about the prizes for books, the accolade for me is the kids.  And the librarians, who’ve had an education, who are looking at a scalawag, who’s conned his way in—an exlongshoreman, ex-seaman, ex-truckdriver, who’s suddenly popped up as an author — and they say, “Oh, Mr. Jacques, we love your books.” I think, isn’t that nice, here are these people with this great education speaking to me as if I’m somebody—it’s a big thing.”

I thank him for creating magic and sharing it with the rest of the world,  especially late  thirtysomethings like myself who need some reminding.  His death two years ago today left many heartbroken.  But take heart, I think Jacques would say: join me anytime between the pages of Redwall.

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Planets, Beginnings, and Church Bells. A Short Farewell to 2012…

Tonight the sun sets on 2012.  This blog has been quiet for a while, perhaps for good reason.  It has been a time of breathing in, of quieting the mind, or in all honesty, just the mere attempt to do so.  Other times have been a mere running away from the Hound of Heaven, who thankfully still nips at my heels and will easily overtake me.

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How wonderful to end the year by finally completing Lewis’s Space Trilogy.  The order read was unorthodox: That Hideous Strength (meant to be the last in the trilogy) then Out of the Silent Planet, then Perelandra.  Yet I’m glad I got to Perelandra last, indeed even finishing the book tonight, as the final pages hold a wonderful meditation on endings and beginnings:

“And what after this, Tor-Oyarsa?” said Malacandra.

“Then it is Maleldil’s purpose to make us free of Deep Heaven.  Our bodies will be changed, but not all changed.  We shall be as the eldila, but not all as eldila.  And so will all our sons and daughters be changed in the time of this ripeness until the number is made up which Maleldil read His Father’s mind before times flowed.”

“And that,” said Ransom, “will be the end?”

Tor the King stared at him.

“The end?”  he said.  “Who spoke of an end?”

“The end of your world, I mean,” said Ransom.

“Splendour of Heaven!” said Tor.  “Your thoughts are unlike ours.  About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things.”

Most of this conversation takes place on Perelandra, or Venus.  Ransom is the only “earthling.”  Even given the sights of this amazing world, and what he has endured (read the book!), he still falls back on an ignorance of Time, or as in the next couple pages Tor says “talk[ing] of evenings before the day has dawned.”

I still have pages yet to read until the clock strikes twelve.  So I’ll leave you with a link to a poem by Malcolm Guite from his book Sound the Seasons, “Ringing in the New Year.”  I wish you peace and goodwill in the New Year.

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Happy Birthday, Jack! (CS Lewis Born Today, Nov 29th, in 1898)

CS Lewis has had more of an impact on my life than any other writer.  So I raise a pint to Jack (as he desired to be called by) and give a hearty “here, here!” to this amazing writer.  And why?  I wrote this a couple of years ago, but the thoughts remain the same.   Perhaps this sums it up, at least for me.

After a number of years intently reading Lewis’s works, it is still hard for me to articulate the impact this author has had on my life and faith.  There’s a hearty handshake and an offer to sit with him with a pint, and after a bit of conversation, and some anxious questioning on my part he jumps up and says “Let me show you something,” and leads me out the door to show me the landscape of faith, with its towering mountains, leafy glades, and roaring seas.  We go hiking, swimming, climbing- and he knows or has struggled with every root in the path, every crested wave, and scrambled to find every foothold.  And the best part is after a day’s journey finding an out of the way pub, where we sit and he pontificates on the sheer joy of the landscape and breathing the fresh air.  He is not there to revel in the obscurity of it all, but the remarkable clarity of all things.

Coming across Puddleglum’s assertion to “Live like a Narnian,” in The Silver Chair, the peeling off of Eustace’s dragon skin in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Wormwood losing his patient in The Screwtape Letters, longing for the irrigating of deserts in The Abolition of Man, tin soldiers becoming New Men in Mere Christianity, and impatient chargers stamping their hooves inMiracles, and Aslan’s roar throughout…there is much much more, but these images and situations have resonated within me, urging my soul to look up instead of down.  Lewis allows the world to become larger because he sees the eternal beyond it.  Not many writers do that nowadays.  Lewis still does.  And I say still not in the sense that he is still here among us, but in that larger sense a good writer attains when his/her work is around long after they have passed.

“Our homes are under miraculous skies”- GK Chesterton’s “The House of Christmas”

Today marks the end of the Christian liturgical year with Feast of Christ the King.  Today, during the homily, Father Jim urged us to remember that though we anticipate Advent and the celebration of the Incarnation, let us not forget Christ enthroned at the right hand of the Ancient of the Days.

Which I won’t, of course, but I am indulging in a bit of GK Chesterton as evening yawns into night, and this poem came to mind, with all its anticipatory and beautiful imagery.  So cheers to the new year approaching, the night air chill, but the house warm and snug, a house under miraculous skies:

The House of Christmas

G. K. Chesterton

There fared a mother driven forth

Out of an inn to roam;

In the place where she was homeless

All men are at home.

The crazy stable close at hand,

With shaking timber and shifting sand,

Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand

Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,

And strangers under the sun,

And they lay on their heads in a foreign land

Whenever the day is done.

Here we have battle and blazing eyes,

And chance and honour and high surprise,

But our homes are under miraculous skies

Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,

Where the beasts feed and foam;

Only where He was homeless

Are you and I at home;

We have hands that fashion and heads that know,

But our hearts we lost – how long ago!

In a place no chart nor ship can show

Under the sky’s dome.

This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,

And strange the plain things are,

The earth is enough and the air is enough

For our wonder and our war;

But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings

And our peace is put in impossible things

Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings

Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening

Home shall men come,

To an older place than Eden

And a taller town than Rome.

To the end of the way of the wandering star,

To the things that cannot be and that are,

To the place where God was homeless

And all men are at home.

Back from Narnia

“Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”- CS Lewis, The Four Loves

A place of safety and retreat for me is where I am sitting right now- in the armchair of my library, either reading, or writing, with a big fat mug of coffee or a glass of wine or pint of ale.   My books stand comfortably at their posts on the shelves behind me, and a few of those jolly souls occupy an honored spot of distinction on the end table beside me, a few dog-eared and well worn, others fresh from the field and awaiting perusal.

Many of these books are by or about CS Lewis.  Over the past few years, his books have been the pebble in the pond, sending ripples out to other books, other authors, living and dead, past and present, which now grace my shelves.  Lewis has been that particular member of the communion of saints who has opened door after door after door, engaging me, challenging me, until I learn more about myself as a writer, a teacher, a husband, a father, and a follower of Christ.

And wouldn’t you know it?  I have found others in my own situation.  I registered for the CS Lewis Retreat held in Navasota, TX early, knowing that it would be smack dab in the middle of a busy 1st quarter teaching my rambunctious seniors, but feeling it was high time to engage in person with authors I had only known in black and white thus far, and a hazy coterie of folks who had been touched by Lewis and I knew were out there somewhere and not just on WordPress and Blogger.  Who were the faces behind the fingers tapping at those keyboards?

“So how did you get into Lewis?” Andrew Lazo asked me as I found a seat in the lobby at Camp Allen Retreat Center in Navasota Texas.

I waxed semi-lyrically a rather incoherent reply.

Andrew seemed to get the gist.  And he must have also seen an undercurrent of pleading in my voice and eyes, as in “Did I make the right decision to take a plane and come here?  I’m not here with anybody.  There just seemed to be this necessary pull to…to trust that it wouldn’t be a waste of ti–…”

“Well, it’s great to have you here.  You’re home, my friend.  Welcome home.”

And that was pretty much the whole retreat, folks.  Just one interaction with “home” after another.  Further up and further in.

The primary focus of the retreat centered on Lewis’s The Great Divorce, an allegorical novel about a purgatorial bus ride to the lowlands of Heaven.  Speakers such as Joseph Pearce and Louis Markos expounded on the novel and its understanding of the true nature of sin and its application for us today, especially as (as many were in the audience) writers, teachers, and scholars.  A writer’s track featured Diana Glyer, author of The Company They Keep: Lewis and Tolkien as Writers in Community.  Using Lewis and Tolkien as models, she explained differences and writing styles and importance of recognizing our own styles and playing to their tune instead of the ideal tune we wish to fit ourselves into.  I had the good fortune of arriving early on Thursday and getting to know Diana and her 10 year old daughter Sierra.  Sierra was mid way through a novel with an unmistakable cover which immediately identified the author for me: The Pearls of Lutra, by Brian Jacques, the famous creator of the Redwall series.  So we ended up having a wonderful discussion about hares, squirrels, mice, otters, and the difficulty of mastering mole speech (as in “Burr-oi, soir, oim gurtly afurred of villy-ans.”).  Lancia Smith led a hosted group focusing on CS Lewis and our approach to prayer which was revealing and refreshing.

A highlight for me was Bag End Café, led by Andrew as a sort of open mic night for the retreatants.  Original poetry was read, songs were sung, music was played, and if the cookies and other assorted goodies, as well as the wine and beer, didn’t make you feel like you were sitting in the Green Dragon, I don’t know what else would have.  A few of us continued to burn the midnight oil when others had left, leading to a few more hours of horrible punnery, bad jokes, and multiple toasts to whoever and whatever.

Friends were made quickly and permanently.  A woman named Lani and I shared our stories over coffee.  Lani was friends with Lancia, who introduced me to William, who sat at lunch with Kathleen who pulled me into a fascinating conversation about cathedral architecture with Steve, which resonated with Katie, who introduced me to Thomas, and then there was that great conversation with Crystal, and …you get the picture.  Everywhere and anywhere, conversations abounded and fed our hearts, minds, and spirits.

The Ad Deum Dance Troupe lent movement to many emotions and insights unvoiced in a beautiful performance which made me forget the pain in my knee and just revel in unspoken story.

Thus, after a full weekend of almost too many expectations fulfilled, it was time to say goodbye.  Stan Mattson, president of the CS Lewis Foundation (and may I take this opportunity to just rename him King Frank, as humble, forthright, and good-natured as that character was in The Magician’s Nephew?) led us in an old folk song entitled “Will Ye No Come Back Again,” a fitting, quite emotional end to our time together as our voices (including my reedy tenor) intermingled with a sense of true fellowship and completeness.

I left with a heart a thousand times lighter, with grace and a sense of purpose I haven’t known for a long while.  And with, as the theme of the retreat indicated, a sense of eternity, in the here and now.