Tuesday, 19 February 2019

28 Days ... and the 28 that got away ...

I’ve given up – twenty-eight x four or five months of being floored by this prompt … nothing came to mind … I was working a story – but lethargy struck … so nothing to say but a loss of lots of thoughts and no doubt numerous hours and days – but I won’t count …

So a poem I came across recently – which is so clever … that it would have got printed here at some stage …

An array of subjects printed on a mug from Blackwell’s – the academic bookshop, to be found in Oxford city centre and in other main cities around Britain …  so here goes …

Argue in Archaeology
Buzz in Biology
Chat over Coffee
Dream in Divinity
Explore Economics
Frolic in Forensics
Gambol in Geology
Hasten to Health
Investigate Iberia
Jog in Jurisprudence
Kip in Kinetics
Linger in Linguistics
Mountaineer in Mathematics
Navigate Neurology
Orbit in Ophthalmology
Ponder in Philosophy
Quest in Quandary
Rave in Revolutions
Shelter in Seismology
Tango in Technology
Uncover Universes
Veg out under Volcanoes
Walk on the Wild Side
Yodel in Yoga
Zip through Zoology …

Blackwell's in the Broad, Oxford

… whatever the subject they have it at Blackwells – but even the Knowledge Retailer was not able to help me with Twenty Eight Days – a subject that will forever haunt me!

Apologies to the organisers … this just did not gel … so that’s my hopeless entry per the subject … but fun entry per thought processes … I shall now no longer Harry Hapless Hilary!

An array of errors - c/o The Economist

Twenty-Eight Days of failure … pure failure – but who cares … not me – these things happen!!!

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Robert Service … “Bard of the North” …

Just sometimes in life we come across quite extraordinary people … whose lives we learn about … Robert Service (1874 – 1958) is one of those … he spent a few years in Cowichan Bay, Vancouver Island in his early twenties … after leaving Scotland for new horizons …

c 1905 - aged 31

We learn that this imaginative, day-dreaming child was already composing rhythmical verses at the age of 6 … appropriately a delightful child-like grace:

God bless the cakes and bless the jam;
Bless the cheese and the cold boiled ham:
Bless the scones Aunt Jeannie makes,
And saves us all from bellyaches. Amen

Plain boiled ham - this though
looks rather good
Wonderful lives people lead … this six year old had been sent to live with his grandfather, a general store postmaster, and three maiden aunts in Kilwinning, Scotland – there were ten children, so perhaps understandably some got ‘farmed out’ …

Highland Dancer swirling kilt
in the 21st C

… his mother, on her husband’s return from England, came to visit to find her son happily dressed in a kilt with nothing underneath … she took him back to Glasgow!

He was forever reading books, particularly poetry … Burns, Shakespeare, Browning … on leaving school early he apprenticed with the Bank of Scotland … where due to inactivity he developed his craft of writing and “selling verses” …

Driving down towards Cowichan Bay
… as you can imagine he got bored, wanted to travel and at 21 in 1895, journeyed to Vancouver Island, where the family had relatives;  he dreamt of becoming a Buffalo Bill type cowboy having read or seen the Wild West performances in England and Europe.

Corfield Farm - c/o Cowichan Bay Museum Archives
He explored up and down the west coast … just subsisting … returning to the Island he took a job as a cowhand/store-keeper/ also tutor to the farmer’s sons … once again experiencing life to the full … garnering stories …

… it was an idyllic time … later he thought it was time wasted … but to earn a bit more in 1903 he returned to bank work in the capital Victoria … while continuing to write verses …

Railway crossing the North Thomson
River, Kamloops
… very soon the bank sent him to Kamloops (a new railway transportation hub on the mainland) … from there he was sent to Whitehorse, Yukon – a prospectors stop-over on the way to Dawson City to test their luck in the Gold Rush ...  

Still working for the bank, but in a frontier town where entertainment was always needed … Robert continued to write his verses or doggerel … entertaining the wide range of characters chasing their fortune in the frozen ranges.

Sailing north to the Yukon
He was able to amass a collection of ballads, which he sent, to his father, now living in Toronto, asking him to have them printed up into a booklet, which he was going to give to friends in Whitehorse.  He had covered the costs with a cheque …

The booklet true to its title was a self-starter … the foreman and printer recited the ballads while they worked; a salesman read the proofs and sold 1700 copies in advance orders … the publisher sent Robert’s cheque back and offered him a ten percent royalty contract for the book.

 Songs of a Sourdough’ (sourdough – as is the bread starter stored in distinctive pouches by the old miners; and/or as a term for an experienced miner) …

Paying with gold dust, Dawson City

Robert’s life was set – he found he fairly easily was able to draft his works … doggerel, ballads, novels, newspaper articles … making sure they would appeal to the ear and reflect to the eye … he had found his voice …

His cabin in Dawson City - it is still there,
but tourists can only walk round

Coarse rolls of lining paper were hung up … where he copied out his verses using charcoal … refining them, pacing and repeating … until the words flowed.

I could write lots more about this fascinating man – who started life as a boy with no knickers under his kilt, who could write verses without having visited Dawson City … he listened to the miners, parodied their tales …

Films were made,
verses quoted etc

He continued to live in the Yukon writing … but being able to travel went to see other parts of the world … WW1 commenced and he wanted to sign up – but due to varicose veins was rejected … he still wrote for newspapers … after the War he settled in Paris, married but moved to the USA west coast during WW2 …

They holidayed and lived in Brittany
 - which is where he is buried

They returned to France, with Robert living out his days as a wealthy gentleman, who at night transformed himself into a tramp, and together with his doorman, wandered the Parisian streets seeking inspiration …

A collection
That is Robert Service who loved the Yukon, honed his ‘voice’, wrote to entertain, whose words are forever embedded as wonderful ballads, doggerel stanzas, whimsical tales of the frozen north … the small child who could praise ‘cold boiled ham’ …

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories