John Simpson at Devizes Arts Festival

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John Simpson at the Corn Exchange, Friday 31st May

One would expect a reporter of John Simpson’s standing and experience to be very careful and specific with his choice of words.

Simpson has been with the BBC for 52 years and has reported on 47 wars.  He is a man whose words are to be listened to, and on Friday night a packed house at the Corn Exchange were curious and enthusiastic to hear what he had to say and ask him questions about his long career and the state of the world as we know it today.

The man is all bon homie and old school decency, and one suspects that his affability and fair manner have got him out of many a sticky situation.  He starts off light, laughing about being punched on his first day on the job and being mistaken for David Attenborough, and chatting about family.  He has a book to promote but avoids saying much about that at all.

He talks about the BBC, saying that these days there is opposition from all sides towards the organisation and that he’s never been told to tone it down in all the years he has worked for them.  He talks about Trump, his ‘habit of tweeting insanities’ and strategy of giving away positions and key elements before presenting final agreements as amazing victories.  He’s disappointed that the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests will be overshadowed by Trump’s visit to the UK. He says that Gaddafi was off his head, that Saddam Hussein scared him, and that al-Bashir was weak and wanted to be liked.  He liked Thatcher, although ‘When she was good she was very very good and when she was bad she was something else’. He says that Mandela treated people as the best version of themselves and waxes lyrical about his admiration for Václav Havel. He acknowledges that China is to be taken very seriously indeed and thinks that the best strategy is to keep it in play.  China is, says Simpson, surprisingly open and anxious to be part of the international community.

He saves his most emotive words for how he feels about Britain today. ‘The line of confrontation’ he says, ‘is very disturbing indeed’. He compares the UK to France in the 50s, which was, he says ‘extraordinarily violent’.  He says that there is a ‘vicious divide which stirs up the weakest intellects’.  He talks about the ‘disgraceful’ messages that his colleague Laura Kuenssberg gets on social media and says that he holds social media responsible for the current ‘nastiness and violence’, for which he gets a round of applause.  He refers to ‘disturbing threats to freedom’ and says that he feels more able to talk freely about other countries than our own these days.  He’s dismayed to see our reputation plummet in the eyes of the world.  ‘It’s painful to find that Britain has become an international joke’ and ‘It’s important to realise the way we’ve damaged our country’.

He wonders if Brexit was ‘the tinder that started the whole performance’ but stops short of apportioning blame to any particular entity. ‘This Brexit business is going to change things’ he says sadly, wishing that we could be ‘back the way we were before all this started’.

There are points where Simpson catches himself just before he falls into an abyss of pessimism and says something about hope.  He does, after all, have a young son to be optimistic for.  Terrorism is 7 or 8% of what it was in the seventies, he says, and a billion have been lifted out of poverty in the past 13 years.  But when it comes to Britain he struggles to find any positives at all, and this from a man like Simpson is disturbing.  ‘We need to try and be less divisive ourselves and more accepting of other points of view’, he says, wishing for the best but sounding as if he is whistling in the wind.

He sticks rigidly to his three-quarter hour talk and fifteen-minute Q&A plan, but then he didn’t get where he is today by faffing about.  Those who wanted endless war stories are disappointed, but those who wanted his views on current situations are not.  He signs books afterwards and is very approachable.

I ask people what they thought of the great man. ‘His description of Mandela – it revealed that what we all hoped to be true of him actually was’ says one audience member.  ‘Honest’, ‘Genuine’, ‘Empowering’, and ‘Awe-inspiring’, say others.  ‘I was sitting there thinking what have I done with my life’ says my friend. The general feeling is that it has been a privilege to hear John Simpson speak, and that people have been delighted by his wit.

And then off he goes, with shrapnel in his side and a shard of hope in his heart, to his next adventure.

In the Market Place I take a picture of him smiling.

© Gail Foster 3rd June 2019

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If Truth Be Told

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A Villanelle

*

The men that catch my eye these days are few

The ones that do are married men, or mad

And truth be told I only fancy you

I doubt that in the pub or porch or pew

I’ll meet a man like you who makes me glad

The men that catch my eye these days are few

I could be looking but I seldom do

There’s only you for me, you ‘lucky’ lad

If truth be told I only fancy you

Until the day fate sends me someone new

I’m all for you, I know, it’s odd, and sad

But men that catch my eye these days are few

You make me happy, boy, you make me blue

I hold a torch for you, and I grow mad

For truth be told I only fancy you

I’ve told you something you already knew

I’m sorry, but I’ve really got it bad

The men that catch my eye these days are few

If truth be told I only fancy you

*

© Gail Foster 21st July 2017

Why Deal With Truth When Lies Will Do

 
Vote Theresa, and you may
See Brexit worries fly away
On fluffy clouds of pink and blue
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, get behind
The flying pigs all flying blind
We’re just a turd on Europe’s shoe
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, have it hard
She’ll get our ball from Europe’s yard
They love us really, yes they do
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, what”s to lose
She’ll still have money for her shoes
And we’ll be in the food bank queue
Why deal with truth when lies will do

Vote Theresa, stable, strong
All good, and we’ll all get along
Nah, we’ll still be Europe’s twat
Hogwash, nonsense, tosh an’ that
*

© Gail Foster 3rd May 2017

The Light Is Not A Solemn Thing, It Shines

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for Sarah

*

The light is not a solemn thing, it shines

With merry glee and mirthful gentleness

Will not be held a hostage, in confines

Of darkened halls where little ones confess

The sins of fathers that they never chose

Nor be a slave to chapter, scripture, verse

Be boundaried, or fettered in its flows

It is the joy of blessing, not a curse

It isn’t how you said it was.  You lied

I ran, and left your lies behind the door

And here I am, and oh, the light is wide

Mysterious, and infinite, and more

A wildly wilful, free, and feisty thing

I wear a ribbon in my hair, and sing

*

© Gail Foster 26th February 2017

This sonnet was written for my friend Sarah, who left the Plymouth Brethren.  In accordance with the Brethren’s belief in the Doctrine of Separation, those who have left are no longer allowed contact with their friends or families.  In recent years former members have developed the custom of writing their loved ones’ names on yellow ribbons as a symbol of love and remembrance.

Fiona In The Night

for Fiona Meyrick, poet and musician; a Petrarchan sonnet

*

Fiona, in the silence of the night

Sings songs of sorrow soft in minor key

That sigh above all formal melody

In cadences that dance like birds in flight

She rests within the dark, composing light

In subtle shades of sweet philosophy

Transposing on the stave a mystery

In spills of sound like ink on paper bright

Fiona, at the stroke of midnight blessed

Plays pianissimo the ocean’s rage

Transforming all the sins of man confessed

In gentle rhythms traced upon the page

A modern muse, an ancient truth expressed

In lullabies to sooth our restless age

*

© Gail Foster 2016

The Mystery of Love; for Olly Michael Lancaster

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I wrote this poem for my friend Mike Hopkinson’s little grandson Olly,

who will be three at the end of August

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I am Olly Michael Lancaster, a special little lad

I love my brother Ryan, and I love my Mum and Dad

I love my funny Grandad, and I love my Nanna Sue

And we all love each other, like all happy families do

I like a little tickle, and a cuddle, and a rub

I like the feel of water when I’m floating in the tub

I like to giggle in the car when Grandad’s house is near

And I like it when you brush my face, and when you stroke my ear

I know you by your kindness, and I know you by your smell

I know you when you’re far away, and when you’re near as well

I know you by the way your pattern weaves within my heart

And I know that we are children who can only know in part

Oh, show me all the colours of the earth and sea and sky

Show me bright and pretty lights, and all the birds that fly

Show me shining mirrors that reflect my smiling face

And I shall show a mystery, and you shall see my grace

Oh, tell me tales of happiness, and joy, and fairy lands

Tell me funny nursery rhymes, and hold my little hands

Tell me all the stories that your Mum and Granny heard

And tell me all the wisdom of the world within a word

Oh, teach me about flowers, about butterflies, and bees

Teach me how the blossoms change to fruit upon the trees

Teach me of the moon and stars that twinkle high above

And I shall teach you with my life the secret lore of love

For I am yours, and you are mine, and all of us are one

I am the light in darkness and the shadow of the sun

I come to show and tell and teach the truth the ancients knew

I am Olly Michael Lancaster, and I love you

*

© Gail Foster 2016

Phoenix Rose; for Lisa Lewis

 

Lisa Lewis is the CEO of Doorway in Chippenham

She’s a legend.  Just don’t mess with her, right…

*

Don’t mess with Lisa, she’s a scary

Far out full on punky fairy

Crowned with violent flowers and sage

And riding on her harnessed rage

Through tangled wood and thorny bower

To speak unsubtle truth to power

Don’t mess with Lisa, man, she’s scary

Wise be wise and fools be wary

For she will tread where no man goes

To seek those things that no one knows

Expect no mercy if you cross her

Best be right and not a tosser

Don’t mess with Lisa, she’s so scary

Medusa crossed with Virgin Mary

Bottle, balls, and Occam’s razor

Prosecco, throttle up, and tazer

Wild light to make a diamond shy

And tears forbidden from her eye

Don’t mess with Lisa, man, she’s scary

That’s one well effective fairy

Pierced with wisdom to the bone

Dark metal angel stood alone

Feared and loved by all she knows

A phoenix, from the darkness rose

*

© Gail Foster 2016