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Welcome to the void

Posted by Simon Parke, 03 July 2020, 10.32am

And when you finally arrive - and only the smashed and broken do - there is no hope to welcome you at the door

No baubles, no balloons or ‘You’re jolly good fellow!’ loudly sung

It’s bloody awful and you need to get out

This is the worst. How did it happen?

Though as confusion settles - it takes a while, breathed through and away - here is space you hadn’t known was there

The void offers this, no busy buildings obscuring the view, no empires making their oh-so-necessary claims

Here, behind the creaking scenery of existence

Only stillness, with our surfing left behind –

The white-knuckle thrill of temporary meaning

The surge and lift of rolling attachments

Our trusty surf board’s cracked, knackered, we’re going nowhere

And in silence, like a whispered secret, like a slow dawn, beauty appears; and joy glimpsed, like a darting deer

And this void, we will say with hindsight, a most unlikely womb

Before some thing, no thing

Emptiness - with love’s fingerprints all over it

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Every night to let go

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 June 2020, 11.50am

Every night to let go

Of every rage and thwarted move

Every past and future thing, which gather to oppress

They keep us awake, like drunks in the street

So every night to let go

Of every dream conceived

Every hope caressed, this longing game

Which makes a mere corridor of today, no place in itself

So every night to let go

Of each secret plan

So hid from view, we hardly knew

Growing in the shadows, though rather taking over

Like bind weed in the soul

So every night to let go

Of every claim, every right

Every wrong and rotten luck

Every grievance, every ‘why?’

We won’t stir the pot, we’ll empty it

We’ll empty it tonight, empty it out

And every night to let go

An empty beach, a stretch of sand

With energy for all things

Enslavement to none

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The Mirror and the Light reviewed

Posted by Simon Parke, 30 June 2020, 8.06am

In hardback, this is a big book; a physical monster. Don’t take it on holiday – it will use up most of your baggage allowance; and it’s also brilliant.

I almost add ‘of course’ to the end of that sentence; as if such a thing is inevitable from Hilary Mantel, twice Booker Prize winner; though nothing is – a truth which King Henry’s advisers knew well. As Thomas Cromwell’s nemesis, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, says to him, ‘Thomas, we both know what it is to serve the king. We know it is impossible. The question is: who can best endure the impossibility?’

This is the third book in the trilogy which started with Wolf Hall; and it describes the slow dismantlement of a man who appeared too savvy and too smart for destruction.

We see here, for perhaps the first time, the sheer weariness of Cromwell; and the exhausting game of staying ahead of the pack. He has every title under the sun, a large property portfolio and quantities of cash; but what he doesn’t have is history. He is a brewer’s son from Putney taking on the landed classes. He must work a great deal harder than them and be a great deal more competent – and still he will lose.

He rose from nothing because of his competence. While the old families look for power and war, Cromwell attends to the nation’s accounts. (And yes, also his own.) He was an early technocrat who advised Henry against war, because ‘it never pays’. This is sensible advice for English kings but unfamiliar. Kings compete for territory; it’s what they do. It’s what men do; it’s what Henry does.

But Cromwell, perhaps foolishly, says ‘Why?’

In a way, the Cromwell who Mantel offers us is too wise for his master; the brewer’s son outgrows his king. He was executed on charges of disloyalty, though he was loyal to a fault - always aware of the country’s jeopardy, with Spain and France prowling with menace across the water.

Whether it’s the monasteries or marriage, he tries always to effect what the king desires – not easy when the king himself doesn’t know. Here, for instance, is a ruler always looking for a wife other than the one he has; so all match-makers beware. It won’t end well.

But Cromwell also has his own vision for the health of the nation, which makes him vulnerable. It is his support for the king’s marriage to Anna of Cleves, and the Protestant alliance she brings, which ultimately does for him.

He has a religious position when religious positions are risky. He supports the Protestant cause, as England eases uncomfortably away from Rome – more a prolonged lurch, this way and that, a grunting and vicious tug-of-war, which keeps stakes busy with burning for years.

And when his religious inclinations coincide with a marriage Henry cannot endure – his first meeting with Anna is a brilliantly described disaster - it is the beginning of the end. Norfolk and Gardiner, allies only in their hatred of the Putney upstart, move fast.

Throughout this trilogy, Cromwell is revealed as a remarkable operator, both ruthless and kind; and Mantel suggests too kind at times. He knew how to bring people down; but only in the cause of the king. In his own cause, he is more lenient, more trusting. He could have destroyed Norfolk when he was out of favour but chose not to; so Norfolk destroyed him.

And Cromwell is increasingly tired. He has worked twice as hard as everyone else; and when he can’t be everywhere, his commitments so complex and widespread, others, like worms, find ways inside the king’s entitled ear.

‘Servants of the king fight games they cannot win,’ says one of his friends. ‘The best hope is an exhausted draw.’ No one knows “what next?”’

The aim for them all is to survive until evening at Greenwich, Hampton Court, Whitehall or wherever; and that is enough. Tomorrow may bring a very different wind. And as Montague said, ‘The king never made a man but he destroyed him again.’

So when the hour comes, like Christ’s arrest in the garden, Cromwell is caught out; so rapid a fall, achieved in a matter of minutes – and only three months after being made an earl.

But then, with King Henry – God-fearing and self-pitying - all safety is provisional. And those who Thomas had helped, those he had been loyal to, now turn on him; absurd charges lead to his imprisonment and beheading. (Norfolk and Gardiner are disappointed. They’d have preferred burning, a heretic’s death.)

There is no justice. But why expect it? As Cromwell reflects in his cell in the Tower of London, ‘the law is not an instrument to find out the truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future.’ He had done it to others; and now it was done to him.

I found it a difficult read at the end. Mantel has created a wonderful character in Thomas Cromwell; one I had huge sympathy for. It was not easy watching him destroyed by lesser men.

But this is a wonderful book, both character and history so keenly observed; strong on mortality; bleak and funny about politics and increasingly inhabited by ghosts from Cromwell’s past.

I leave the last word to the author, as she puts down this stunning trilogy and reflects on the nature of public office. ‘It is not written that great men shall be happy men. It is nowhere recorded that the rewards of public office include a quiet mind.’

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Things fall apart?

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 June 2020, 2.43pm

‘Turning and turning in the widening gyre.
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’
WB Yeats in ‘The Second Coming’

And if I am to live well today; if I am to bless and be blessed in return, I will need my centre to be strong; to cope with the pull of opposites within

The urge to dominate, the urge to submit

To spill towards others and to hide behind my shell

The out-there anxious pleasing; the in-there ditch of shame

Both desire to give a kindly word; and to scream and act from my pain

The pendulum swings within me, now this, now that, the ebb and flow

And if the centre cannot hold - what then?

A ship on the rocks, things fall apart - an anarchy of energies, untethered and wild

If the centre cannot hold; if the centre cannot be held…

Deep breath and deep breath and another for luck; a look to the skies, a prayer on the wind

And ahh! My centre known, my centre held; the pendulum swings but the falcon hears the falconer –

Just for a moment, my centre held, my centre holds


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God's apology

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 June 2020, 10.08am

It was not an apology I was expecting

Like a kingfisher swoop, coming from nowhere

God saying sorry to me; and yes, that is what happened

I was dismayed as you

I’d always been told it was the other way round: me saying sorry to God

And a lot of that goes among believers, it is sort-of expected

Do nothing until you’ve confessed, that’s how it is

But not here, and not now, it was nothing like that; very different ground

Here was God saying sorry to me, God on his knees

‘After all you have been through, I will make it up to you. And I am sorry.’

And I didn’t know where to put myself

Though I remember I laughed; and still do

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The devil laughs when a woman writes

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 June 2020, 4.47pm

The novelist, Peggy Woodford, reviews my novel, ‘The Secret Testament of Julian’.

“THE devil laughs when a woman writes: it is well-known.”

Julian of Norwich’s A Revelation of Divine Love was the first book in the English language written by a woman, despite that prevalent opinion.

The manuscript was taken to France in 1395, and, although the original MS no longer exists, it was copied and widely circulated among 14th-century believers. It then dropped out of sight until it established a new readership in accessible print editions.

What Simon Parke has done is to create a companion volume: Julian’s autobiography.

The Secret Testament of Julian is written in the small cell where she was walled in at her own request after the deaths, during the plague, of her beloved husband and child.

She herself miraculously survived her infection; in gratitude, she insisted on becoming an anchorite, and, on 8 May 1373, was walled in beside the church in Norwich now dedicated as St Julian.

Norwich was then the second largest city in England, and her entombment went down badly with the religious Establishment, fixed in its condemnation of women.

Parke’s book is a magnificent achievement: you sense, smell, and hear the religious turmoil in the England of Chaucer, of Wyclif, of The Cloud of Unknowing.
The actual daily survival of Julian in her cell feels real, and the courageous support of her friends and neighbours is moving.

An example is the boy Thomas who arrives in distress to explain the shouting near by and the stench of burning: “They burn books, mistress. . . Wyclif Bibles, Bibles in English. . . I speak not of your writing, not to anyone.”

Julian’s famous call of hope for humanity during a time of turmoil: “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” — borrowed by that other seer, T. S. Eliot — is a peculiarly fitting one for today’s Britain during a period when the divisive lure of Brexit does its best to tear our country apart.

Peggy Woodford is a novelist.

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Concerning the emperor's clothes

Posted by Simon Parke, 18 June 2020, 2.39pm

This is an open letter to anyone currently supporting the Cummings/Johnson government. And I know some.

And while I’m disturbed, I come in peace; simply interested to know what it is you admire?

I’m not approaching this from a party-political angle; your allegiance to a party is not my concern. But your allegiance to a man is - and the man in question is Johnson.

I’m just wondering what it is that stirs your support for the path being presently followed?

I name some obvious issues here, not as gun fire; but as some self-evident truths which ask for reflection, at least.

We all care about the polity we breathe and inhabit. And who knows? Perhaps you, like me , are concerned with some of the following.

Routine lies – Where to start? But our ‘world-beating’ test and trace system is one of many from the Prime Minister. Simply not true. Other lies can be easily researched. Hancock, Raab, Cummings and Gove join in, eye tests, Barnard Castle etc. But the all-important modelling is done by Johnson. Sad days: we now expect our PM to lie.

Deliberate repression of truth – Like the Russia report, delayed since November. Dictatorship alarm bells ringing; as with certain newspapers being turned away from government briefings. Is this our vision for England?

Incompetence – Anyone who saw the documentary on the Foreign Office last year witnessed remarkable footage of Johnson’s incompetence as Foreign Secretary. More recently, we have seen significant incompetence in the handling of Covid. How did everyone else do so much better? Barring Trump, Putin and Bolsonara, of course, who increasingly – and what a bleak thought - look like his sort of people?

Racism – Johnson’s racist comments include black people referred to as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’. While the problem with Africa is not any legacy of colonialism or slavery but that ‘we’re not in charge’.

He also called gay men ‘tank-topped bumboys’, but that’s another matter. And we don’t want to be distracted here from Dominic Raab. He is Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary, and recently stated that ‘taking the knee’ comes from ‘Games of Thrones’. Casual, jokey (or stupid?) racism; because that’s the climate Johnson creates.

Environmental abuse – It is clear that the desired trade deal with the US will mean collusion with significant environmental abuse, of which ‘chlorinated chicken’ – a truly horrible story from their birth – is the tip of a nasty ice berg.

Elitist – Cummings is allowed to play to different rules, as one of the elite; and multiple lies are wheeled out in his defence. Huge sense of entitlement here. While food support for the poorest is refused again and again and again, until a 22-year-old footballer, (and some increasingly embarrassed Tory MP’s) force a change. The elite are helped more promptly.

A personal life of significant disregard and disrepute; which returns us to where we started, with lies; though these are in the home rather from behind a plinth.

None of the above is controversial; all are well-documented by people more knowledgeable and savvy than I. (And there’s much else I have had to exclude because of word count.)

So the question I have to ask: what draws you to this man? What are you liking about this journey we are on? What is it in the above that stirs your soul, makes you proud?

What here is true, beautiful and good? What here would you like to pass on to your children?

I’m not often moved by St Paul. But towards the end of his letter to the Philippians, he wrote this:

‘Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think on these things.’

So if we were to follow his advice, how much would you be thinking on Johnson?

Does the emperor have any clothes?

And don’t we - whatever our colour, creed or political allegiance - all deserve better?

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BLM...and buttercups

Posted by Simon Parke, 10 June 2020, 5.44am

I’m on an early morning run.

I approach some buttercups in the long grass, swaying yellow in the breeze.

Though on the mown grass, next to the long grass, I see hints of yellow too.

And I’m wondering.

I wonder if some buttercup petals have been blown there, whisked by the wind onto the short grass.

But no, it’s better than that. I discover these buttercups are growing too, with life of their own, their own roots.

The long-grass buttercups have re-seeded, their influence spreading.

Influence does spread, good influence and bad, whether at home or at work.

It can’t help itself.

Imagine your influence today is like the spreading of buttercups.

And let all revolution be rooted in beauty.

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The stupid forest

Posted by Simon Parke, 09 June 2020, 8.18am

How we leave this place, the brutalised discourse, I don’t know

Though I do know it makes us stupid; scarce humans, something less

And I hardly know what to write, so far are we into the stupid forest

The death of nuance, the birth of binary

Only two numbers, only two views, nothing in between

Red and yellow, no other colours available

You have to choose

So demons a-plenty, how they thrive in binary world, how they multiply

‘Those not for us are against us and they’re bastards, ha ha!’

And hate is great; have you heard? Quite the best of virtues in the stupid forest

‘Hate - and feel good!’ (They’ve been aching for someone to say that.)

And legitimate lies, (yes, whisper it quiet) but we can smile as we lie, teacher says, it is God’s will

The lie is a barricade for the cause

Holy lies one might say

And Holy hate – hate to your hearts content!

Nuance is murdered, and sanity in a home, sheltered accommodation, you must have heard; for blind blustering binary is the popular way

And we have the votes , we can work a crowd, the people have spoken; and soiled truth, not pristine! But a bit of dirt never hurt anyone, my aunt said that.

So red or yellow, you have to choose, binary is best in the stupid forest

Though one morning I stumbled on a path of many-coloured joy…

... and wondering where it led, for I could not see, set out. 


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And you have to grow joy

Posted by Simon Parke, 02 June 2020, 10.53am

These politicians lie

And you have to grow joy

They smile and they lie

And you have to grow joy

You miss out on a job

And you have to grow joy

The president talks shit

And you have to grow joy

George Floyd is murdered

And you have to grow joy

You’re unlucky in love

And you have to grow joy

Unfairness, unfairness

And you have to grow joy

You can’t see a future

And you have to grow joy

You receive news of illness

And you have to grow joy

Injustice, injustice

And you have to grow joy

You’re raging inside

And you have to grow joy

Here is the spring in all you must do

The fuel for your fire, the fire of your life

Ally anger with joy, the best and sharpest revolt

It storms barricades like nothing on earth

And you have to grow joy

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