Brian Jacques: “Plonky”

brian-jacques-810720502

 

 

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: “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.”

Winter Break Reading Festival

…which takes place every day I am on break, from approximately 9 am to Noon, in my lumpy red Gryffindor armchair, with a big fat mug of tea or coffee.

I’ve recently dived into Brian Jacques’ The Bellmaker, the 6th?  7th? book of the Redwall series.  This book is more of a continuation of Mariel of Redwall, featuring the familiar characters of Joseph the Bellmaker, Tarquin L. Woodsorrel (one of my favorites) and Dandin the Mouse.  Some fascinating new characters are introduced, such as the sea-faring sea otter Finbarr Galedeep and the self-awarded Field Marshal Meldrum the Magnificient.  As always, Brian Jacques has a flair for language and an infectious desire for no holds barred adventure.

Browsing the stacks at my bookstore, I came across Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owens.  This is the first of the Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica series, where three intrepid Oxford scholars named John, Jack, and Charles embark on a journey across the high seas with a map of all the fabled lands of yore, such as Atlantis and Avalon.  Hmmm…scholars from Oxford?  John, Jack, and Charles?  Could it be….?  Turns out, yes it can!  John, as in John Ronald Ruehl Tolkien; Jack as in CS “Jack” Lewis; and Charles as in Charles Williams.  The Inklings on an adventure?  What could be better?  Well, perhaps the pacing of the book is off a bit- could use more descriptive passages to immerse the reader in the story, instead of jumping from plot point to plot point, but it is a rollicking adventure nonetheless, and since it features my favorite authors, worth the read.

Also new to my bookshelves is Foundling, part one of D.M. Cornish’s Foundling’s Tale Monster Blood Tattoo series.  He is compared to Tolkien, which are some pretty big boots to fill.  Reviews also note that he took 13 years to write the book, which is on par with Tolkein’s laborious writing of LOTR.  The cover has a wonderfully bleak Dickensian look about it, and while I regard it as trite, I am nevertheless a sucker for interesting covers.

Two more sidenotes: picked up Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Why?  For some reason, I had an urge to revisit Jim Henson’s Storyteller series, which is now streaming on Netflix.  Many of the tales are based on actual old folktales from Europe and the Far East, so I am going to one of the major sources of collection for these stories.  Could this be the recovering English major rearing his head?  Possibly, but for right now beyond the surface of articulation.

Lastly, for some reason this blog is getting more hits than usual, which, if my calculations are correct, should push it over the 10,000 mark by New Year’s.  Woo-hoo!  An unexpected Christmas present!  I’ll be there when the wheel turns…I guess blogs are much like cars in that respect.

Definitely planning a post for Christmas Day, but if you are signing off before then, God rest ye merry gentlemen (and women!)  A Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Wright Thinking for Pentecost

Currently reading N.T. Wright’s After You Believe, which is the perfect book for Pentecost.  I’m about 70 pages in, so I can’t give a complete review of the book.  However, I have  reached what I think is the crux of his argument, which he plans to develop over the course of the book, the “heart of the book,” as he calls it, which gives a “fresh reading of the moral thrust of the New Testament:”

1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.

2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.

3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

(Sidenote: I think it is kind of fun that I’m listening to “Alive Again” by Trey Anastasio– a very Pentecostal song as well- wonder if we could get this one played in service tomorrow?  And then “Run Like an Antelope”?  Hmmm…maybe not).

Wright’s book, and others which have come out I recent years, give me hope that those who follow Christ, by taking a long look in the mirror, are beginning to react to what they have seen in positive and refreshing ways, recognizing the inherent beauty of who we are in Christ, but still recognizing the need for a good splash of water on the face to start a new day.  To start the new “kingdom work” here on the earth of which God has blessed and declared “good.”

I consider myself a part of this as well, not least by the need to take that look in the mirror.

Sometimes what I see isn’t that great.

But then, through grace, the realization of renewal.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. “ (Ezekiel 36:26)

And is not Pentecost the perfect time to do this?  This yearly renewal of the goal and purpose of the Church- of its very identity- comes down in a fire not meant to burn but cleanse, to clear away any “dead brush” in our lives and ready a new forest.

The Choice to Be Narnian

We have a choice on how we live each day, and our choices include our influences as well.  For some, this is an intense and challenging struggle.  Caught in addiction, violence, or other outside force, the choice to succumb or give up is palpable.  But ultimately there is a choice to be made.

But choice and the reshaping of reality are two different things.  A single choice, let’s say a choice of faith, can lead to a lifetime struggle to mold that reality.  From the Christian perspective, this entails allowing God, through Christ, to recreate your life anew.  And the process may take a very long time, a lifetime, and be very painful.  As CS Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, if we were houses, then we are not going to get simple repairs to the drains or leaks in the roof: the whole house might be knocked down, a la Extreme Makeover, and rebuilt.  Our Dragon skin could be torn off us quickly, or it may take a long voyage out at sea.

Here, I think, is where fiction comes in, as our choices of story affect our choices of reality.  What story would you want to be a part of if given the choice?  One can presume my answer by the title of this post.  I was led to consider this when I stumbled across a wonderful blog.

This was a wonderful meditation by Emily Riley, on her blog named (what else?) Live Like a Narnian.  She bases her reflection on this excerpt from The Silver Chair, Puddleglum’s famous speech to Queen Jadis:

. . .Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies playing a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
~Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This insistence by Puddleglum is the very essence of choice I am arguing.  To me, distinctly Narnian, and by default, distinctly Christian.

Now what?

A true choice must not be considered a passing phase or fad- merely part of a growth period involving recognition of various perceptions.  Rather, it is one to be made, and then…

lived.

In every aspect of life, it must be lived.  In humor, in darkness, in despair, in joy, in doubt, in certainty, on the peaks of mountains, in the valleys down below.

Consider the list below created, in part, by Stanley Anderson, from the old MereLewis site, and reposted by John, aka Dr. Zeus, on the Into the Wardrobe forums.  Have a laugh or two, then consider: the person who gives a nod or a “yes,” to most if not all of these may be certifiable, but oh, what a quirky, joy-filled life has been made by this choice!

You Might Be a Narnian If…

1. Your car has a bumpersticker that says “I brake for Marshwiggles.”
2. Your fishing license has a stamp for Pavenders.
3. You have wading pools in your back yard that you periodically jump in to.
4. You taste water samples from lily ponds to see if they’re sweet.
5. Christmas seems to take FOREVER to get here.
6. You examine every lamp-post you see for signs of root damage.
7. When you hear the word fau(w)n, you think not of Bambi, but of parcels and umbrellas.
8. You have a keen respect for mice.
9. You secretly breathe on statues in parks and whisper, “In the name of Aslan…”
10. You always reach inside wardrobes and touch the back…just in case.
11. When referring to your boss, you say “May He Live Forever.”
12. You are always polite to animals.
13. You talk to animals.
14. Animals talk to you and you understand them!
15. You are a bit suspicious of middle-aged men wearing yellow and green rings.
16. Your preferred holiday destination is Archenland.
17. You know that the collective term for owls is “parliament.”
18. You float, rather than fall, off cliffs.
19. You sometimes wonder if humans are a myth.
20. You have a tendency to suck your paws at inopportune times.
21. You have ever been beaten silly by a mouse.
22. You have ever set off fireworks underground for fun.
23. Your interest in astronomy was sparked by studying the Ship, the Hammer, and the Leopard.
24. You’ve ever had history lessons about the Jackdaw and the First Joke.
25. Bullies at school threaten that they know the Deplorable Word.
26. The ultimate insult you give to people is calling them “a second Rabadash.”
27. You’ve ever sat around with several owls trying to impersonate Trumpkin.
28. You’ve ever mistaken a magician for an animal, vegetable, or mineral.
29. You are determined to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.
30. You always inquire at restaurants if it was a talking beast when you order venison.
31. You always clean your sword after battle.
32. The first time you ever heard the name Aslan, a curious feeling awoke inside you.
33. You know what a serious thing, a very serious thing indeed, it is to ask a centuar to stay for the weekend.
34. You like your sausages fat and piping hot and just the tiniest bit burnt.
35. You have conversations with your horse.
36. You have a strange approach/avoidance reaction to Lions.
37. You believe the stars in the heavens are people you have personally met.
38. You know that fireberries are a food.
39. You believe that a Lion can change a dragon into a boy by “peeling” him.
40. You enjoy having tea parties with fauns and beavers.
41. You know dwarves exist, but you are never sure which side they’re on.
42. Your closet contains fur coats and pine boughs.
43. You carry an umbrella in the snow.
44. You look to see if a lone bird is carrying a red berry in its mouth.
45. You have a picture of a lion on prominent display in your home or office.
46. You hear the words “further up and further in” in the sound of every waterfall.

The Devil Likes the Education System

As a teacher, this quote from CS Lewis (in the voice of the demon Screwtape, from “Screwtape Proposes a Toast”) makes me cringe, wince, laugh, cry, nod, shake my head, gasp, and sigh.  Yep…all at once:

What I want to fix your attention on is the vast overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination of every kind of human excellence- moral cultural, social, or intellectual.  And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was oce done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods?

…The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.  That would be “undemocratic.”…Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma…by being left behind.  The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.

In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way.  All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish.  The few who might want to learn will be prevented, who are they to overtop their fellows?  And anyway the teachers- or should I say, nurses?- will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time of real teaching.  We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men.  The little vermin themselves will do it for us.

“Excellent!”

Part of the Advent reading from Phillipians this week (Phil 1-11) is verse 10, of which a portion says “so that you approve what is excellent.”  And of course, child of 80s and 90s as I am, I immediately thought of that wonderful benediction from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: “Be excellent to each other!”

What does excellent mean in this context?  How do we see it, much less approve of it?  Paul wishes that our love would “abound more and more” which gives us a clue that the giving and receiving of love, a love which grows and grows and nearly leaps to connect with people helps us see excellence better.  Excellence, then, is not merely a solitary concept, but something that happens in relationship to something else.  A single thing is not excellent until it is communicated or interacted with in love.

So, yes, a flat tire can be excellent- when you help someone fix it.  A broken relationship is excellent- when time is given between people to heal and grow again.  A book is excellent- when the reader really connects with the story, and joins the author on his/her adventure.  Food is excellent- when it is used to feed the hungry.  And waiting is excellent, when we share our anticipation of the coming of Emmanuel.   And all of this done with love.  When we are excellent to each other.

Coffee and Theopoetics

Today a day for my mind to ramble and explore.  Currently reading Speaking in Parables by Sallie McFague and The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins, both of which explore the metaphoric implications of parables.  Upon researching Sallie McFague’s bacckground online, came across Theopoetics(dot)net, a fascinating site exploring the relationship between postmodernism, narrative, poetry and theology.

All of this culminating in what I hope will be a better understanding of my role as a teacher of literature and my ongoing journey of faith.  The two had seemed almost disparate, but the more I explore and read, the more perspectives I have encountered in the past three years, have served to show me a connection between the two hitherto ignored or unseen.

“Truth is Truth:” Reflections on George MacDonald 14

“Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.”

We are either attracted or repelled by statements like this.  When we are attracted to the quiet wisdom or the blunt direction given by such statements, we often reduce the value of it by incorporating it into some ad campaign or slapping it on a bumper sticker.  The words are made to identify with us, instead of our conscious effort to identify ourselves with the words.  Therefore, the concept of world peace becomes a statement “Imagine World Peace,” which becomes a stock phrase with no real meaning or activity behind it, which soon becomes a pun (“Imagine Whirled Peas”), and then is quietly swept off the table of public discourse, along with the possible reality and wisdom behind it.

When we are repelled by these statements, we argue about their rigidness, their inflexibility, the impossibility of a last word on anything.  Instead of reducing the statement, we now expand it, stretch it beyond the parameters of its wisdom, until we satisfactorily render it meaningless, as just another statement in the grand noise of the world (Screwtape would be so proud). Every statement requires some amount of intellectual rumination, but it is almost as if we want to chew without getting the benefit of the nutrients.   I recently read an unfavorable review of Paul Ricoeur’s Evil: A Challenge to Philosophy and Theology, in which the reviewer lamented, in the title of his review “What good is wisdom if you can’t communicate it?”  In other words, do we get to the point of making things so obtuse as to render the meaning of something negligible to the human experience, spiritual, emotional, physical, or psychological?

I think MacDonald’s axiom falls into the latter category.  I picture MacDonald like a misplaced Tibetan monk, wandering the highlands of foggy Scotland, with a trail of novices following behind him.  One novice runs up to him and asks “Who tells the truth, and who lies?”  To which MacDonald replies “Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.”  Now, the novice wrinkles his brow, runs the thought through his mind, processes it, questions it, and tries to see the logic behind it.  After a few minutes, he opens his mouth again and says, “But…” MacDonald calmly raises his finger to his lips and smiles at the novice, and turns toward the highlands again.

MacDonald recognizes the two steps the novice missed, steps which our culture increasingly tries to detour around: the path from mind to heart, and from there the path from heart to silence.  The novice did not allow MacDonald’s words to seep into his heart; he was merely satisfied with an intellectual joust.  But statements like this demand not an intellectual dismantling, but reflection in our innermost being, which brings us ultimately into that Silence in which all find their peace.

I fully realize that I have not even really touched on the meaning of MacDonald’s proverb, except in the most general sense.  The irony is noted.  So I’ll sign off:  it’s time to stop talking, and to reflect…

“I Knew a Child,” “Spiritual Murder,” and “Impossibilities:” Reflections on G. MacDonald 11-13

I’m quickly falling into the trap of simply compiling entries, instead of reflecting on each one.  Conveniently, however, these three entries all focus on the concept of Forgiveness, on how forgiveness illuminates our relationship with God, and our relationship with each other, and how those relational pairs are inextricably connected.

In “I Knew Child,” MacDonald relates the story of a girl who believed she had committed a sin.  It was a small matter, and the average person would have been quick to say “don’t worry about it.”  MacDonald refutes this position, saying “Dare not to rebuke me for adducing the diseased fancy of a child in a weighty matter of theology.  The child knew, and was conscious that she knew, that she was doing wrong…He would not have told her she was silly , and ‘never to mind.’  Child as she was, might He not have said to her, ‘I do not condemn thee: and go and sin no more’?”

In “Spiritual Murder,” MacDonald surmises that “It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him.  The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice.”  Following closely on this sentiment, “Impossibilities” states “no man who will not forgive his neighbor, can believe that God is willing, yea wanting, to forgive him.”

There are things in my heart that show me I have a long way to go in fully absorbing the ideas MacDonald presents.  And I must remember that when I am wronged, that harbored injury, the longer it remains inside of me, the more distant from God I become.  As Christians, we recognize that every time we come into God’s presence to ask for His forgiveness, we are cleansed.  This is a sacrament that I experience every week at Emmanuel, and a time I try to set before God every night.  But often I do not have that “rise-to-my-feet-I’m-now-white-as-snow” feeling.  Because I know I’m still holding some things back.  So now a part of my prayer has become “Please help me to let go of things that I insist on holding on to,” because it is an “Impossibility” to be close to God and still harbor resentment, anger, strife, or anything that contrasts with the Inexorable Love.