Sunday, January 25, 2015


Why does his shell feel so hard
She cannot hear him deep inside
Their tears flow deep and unseen
Life just isn't the same it seems

She tries to breach his hidden shell
She wants to calm his living hell
He knows exactly how she feels
But time and space can only heal

How wasted nights fill empty space
Replacing their hidden special place
Can what was close become so distant
Now all that exists is stark resistance

Minor victories go without compliment
As if dismissed without sentiment
Pride is quickly tossed aside
When only hurt exists inside

Meanwhile she ponders in despair
Bound with a love belonging elsewhere
Are dreams just cheap tricks of hope
Minor distractions are how she copes

Her life-long love has long gone
Left her feeling that it's all a con
She got lost living a life of lies
Until it filled with empty despise

Appeasement killed her with subtle ease
As she lived life in order to please
She never heard her inward sound
A part of her was dead she found

Time never slowed or stood still
For her to see what was real
Did true love ever really exist
Was it another delusion of bliss

Autumn came when she found answers
Again her life was full of laughter
Still many questions remain unasked
And answers hide behind a mask

Those small victories she yearns to share
Quickly pass now he's not there
Pride is just a passing phase
Restored by memories of long gone days

She longs to comfort her hurting muse
But she knows that he'll pull through
She's careful of his fragility
And patiently waits with mental agility

An agility that dances around despair
Has she choreographed steps to nowhere
Or will he reappear a willing partner
And take her hand and dance beside her

by Karen Bayley-Ewell July 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Nothing works..!

I arrived back in London after a 4 hour bus journey from Swansea where I'd spent a wonderful Christmas with my family and visiting my 93 year old mum everyday in hospital after her recent total hip replacement. I was back again at Heathrow underground station. I knew the efficient drill that ensured a speedy exit of this station and grabbed a free airport cart to avoiding unnecessary schlepping of my bag. After queuing up to purchase my first Oyster card like a real Londoner, I abandoned the airport cart and took off through the turnstiles to the tube-trains. After a nearly two hour journey across London on a crowded tube, my first encounter was with a grumpy cab dispatcher in the cab office at Walthamstow Central station who grunted, "Cab 11" without even looking up to see who he was talking at. "Well where the fuck is cab 11?", I mumbled under my breath as I pondered the half dozen cabs parked outside. I couldn't be arsed to ask him so I schlepped my one huge bulky bag over my back like a hobo and stepped back out into the dark 5pm chilly London night and asked the first cabby I see if he's number 11. Indeed he was. Bingo..! Thankfully, the middle-eastern cabbie was a friendly guy who was looking forward to New Year's Eve and asked me if I'd had a nice flight as he loaded my bag into the boot.. I realized I still had the airline tag attached to my bag from my arrival at London Heathrow from San Francisco 10 days ago. I was looking forward to staying at the Hitchcock again

The Sir Alfred Hitchcock is very unique with its stone walls, wooden-beamed interior, low ceilings, hardwood floors, nooks and crannies, alcoves, comfortable couches and armchairs, and a large fireplace in the middle of the room that could be enjoyed by patrons on both sides of the bar. The presence of Sir Alfred Hitchcock is everywhere. The walls are covered with memorabilia from the movies, and of other Leytonstone times gone by. The quiet location of the hotel on the edge of Epping Forest is juxtaposed by the hustle and bustle of inner London, and the busy M11 link road; a 10 minute walk away.

I finally arrived at the Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel and was truly looking forward to sitting next to their open fire with a pint that I'd been gasping for since my arrival at Heathrow. It was a crisp wintery night. The sight of the hotel's illuminated redbrick facade triggered memories of times gone by.  I had enjoyed many a £1 a pint Murphy's back in the mid-nineties. I always loved the Hitchcock when I lived 10 minutes away from here, and always live to recapture those moments when I go home by having a rendezvous with my old friends here. The only things that change are the price of a pint..., and of course, tariffs...

I arrived at the bar to check in:
"That'll be £165, please."
"Um, no. It's £133. We confirmed that via email..."
"Oh it would be normally, but it's the Christmas period!"
It's always this way whenever I go home. There's always something! This time it's the overcharge for my hotel room because of "the Christmas week."

"But I gave the dates! I was quoted £133 pounds. Now it's £165?! I have the email." I go to bring out my phone to find the email and then stop. An inner voice asked me, why bother? "Okay, never mind", I smiled. "We can sort it later if need be. It's still a good deal and I understand the Christmas rate."  I certainly had no intention of going anywhere else just because of a relatively small overcharge. Besides, the price was still a good deal for London. The hotel is fifteen minutes from Leytonstone tube station and a short bus ride to Walthamstow Central trains, underground and buses.

My mind wandered back to the present transaction. I paid up, smiled, got my key, and asked what time the restaurant closes... "Oh the chef is away, but I think he's back tomorrow! We'll be open for breakfast  tomorrow morning." Here we go again, I thought. Always the same. British hospitality at its best! "Oh okay, no worries!" I'd long since given up asking too many questions. I'm home now... I got to my, thankfully, pre-heated room, and followed the directions to turn on the TV to get some BBC news on the telly.  The screen remained as blank as the look on anyone's face here when you ask for help with anything. Nothing! Anyway, like I said, nothing works! And the television was no exception. Exasperated, I tossed the remote-control aside on the bed and then tried to find that wretched confirmation email on my phone. Although I had already decided it was okay, I really wanted to let them know that £133 is what we had agreed on and plus the TV didn't work, or I couldn't figure it out. Then I stopped; "Oh fuck it...", I told myself. "To hell with the email and the sodding television, I'm here for a stress-free time and to have fun." I showered, changed, and headed to the bar. Despite not meeting my friends until my last night here, I donned my new designer cape- top from Ruti's on Fillmore, my consignment store True Religion jeans, boots, long scarf and wool fedora and set out for the bar. I felt great.

I ordered my liquid dinner and side-dish of crisps and peanuts. I wasn't that hungry anyway. I'll have a decent cooked breakfast tomorrow. After a couple of pints, I felt at home again as I warmed myself by the open-fire and absorbed its heat and warm glow. I soon discarded my scarf being careful to place it where I wouldn't forget it and drifted in thought with the chattering of the bar in the background.

Nothing works here -- except the things that truly matter. I'd already added to the cost of time by even trying to find the confirmation email, I pondered. I know far too well that openly expressing frustration here gets you absolutely nowhere... As a matter of fact, it often makes things worse. My internalized frustrations as a result of the surly cab dispatcher, broken TV and overcharge melted away as each pint took effect and soon  replaced by enjoying the things that did work.

The shower worked
The heater worked.
The beer worked.
The wireless worked.
Ah! The real fire worked!
The full English buffet breakfast worked!
The restaurant worked.
My warm scarf worked.
My consignment store gray wool full-length wrap coat worked.
My consignment store fur-edged leather fedora worked.

Most of all - my visit to my 93 year old mum worked to make her happy.

Sometimes it just doesn't matter if the TV doesn't work in a very warm cozy hotel room. That is what a good bar, beer, open fire, an early morning frost, crisp winter nights, friends, and memories are for. And why I'll always be back for more.

Leytonstone Underground Station Mosiac
Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel - Fireplace
A crisp frosty morning
Christmas Day!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Cafe Hats

The open window allowed the warm balmy tropical breeze to diffuse around the cafe giving an uncharacteristic feel to this San Francisco fall day.

Summer floral dresses, conversation and coffee. Beer flows like the thought processes of the heads dutifully bowing over laptops, books and writing-pads.

And the hats! Hats on backwards, forwards, tilted, wilted sheltering eyes from the sun. Fedoras, straw and felted blend with the occasional one-off style.

A striking hat bending over a pad and pastels spread out before the hat. Immersed in her creation, she looks up and smiles, "drawings of thirty years of memories" she announces as she adds another to mine.

La Lettre (1908). Jean BĂ©raud

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Stand up to Elephants

A giant question mark hung over the world asking how France would respond to the massacre committed by Islamic terrorists at the Charlie Hebdo office. The answer was a surprise. On that fateful Wednesday of January 7th, 2015, the French did not announce the attack as an "act of war" or declare a "war on terror." And they did not react by calling upon allied nations to bomb or invade another nation in retaliation for such a heinous act. Instead of loading magazines in machine guns, writers and cartoonists joined together in the spirit of satire by putting pen to paper to fire rounds of words and cartoons at the absurdity of the murderous assault on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the free world.

France and the rest of the free-world was not going to be silenced by terror. The world's army of cartoonists delivered an important message on the value of freedom of expression. A plethora of cartoons, street art, and articles condemning the attack emerged over social media, and the press. One cartoonist illustrated the message with a diminutive figure of a terrorist holding a smoking rifle cowering in a corner surrounded by the biggest, and most effective of weapons; an array of pens aiming at him from the sky. Another cartoonist, from the Daily Telegraph responded in defiance with an illustration of a group of terrorists about to storm the offices of Charlie Hebdo and being warned, "Be careful, they may have pens..."

The following Sunday, France and other members of nearby European countries came together to attend unity rallies in Paris and across the country. The unity and solidarity of the rallies transcended age, ethnicity, political affiliation, faith, and socioeconomic status. The scene of one and a half million people swarming around Paris was a moving one. Reporters on national television conveyed the atmosphere and public responses. Francois Hollande announced, "Paris is the capital of the world today. Nothing stops France. With three revolutions; a reign of terror; the Nazi occupation, and subsequent liberation, the people of France know more than anyone, the value of liberty, and freedom of expression.

The French understand that being offended does not afford offended parties any protection from being offended. They do not compromise freedom of expression in the form of excessive political correctness. Nothing illustrates this more when Charlie Hebdo published its first edition after the massacre with a caricature of Muhammad on its front cover with the caption, "Tout est Pardonne'. Alas, media outlets failed to follow suit.

What followed, can only be described as a hypocritical act of betrayal by mainstream news sources when they failed to support Charlie Hebdo. Newspapers published only the top half of the front cover omitting the cartoon of Muhammad. SkyNews in the UK showed the ultimate cowardice in an act of self-censorship by cutting off Charlie Hebdo writer, Caroline Fourest in the middle of a live broadcast when she went to hold up the magazine cover for viewers. The news anchor even went on to "apologize for any offense caused."

It should be no surprise that France is the birthplace of enlightenment that eventually freed her from the reins of oppression by religion and tyrannous monarchies. It should be no surprise that writer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall summed up the French philosopher Voltaire's view of freedom of expression with "I disapprove with everything you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." The staff at Charlie Hebdo died defending that right. Sadly, we betrayed them.

The rest of us should allow France and Charlie Hebdo to lead by example and not be pinned against the wall by the elephant in the room that is called religion. To deny ideology as a factor in oppression, war and terrorism is to disregard part of the problems of unshakable belief systems. On January, 7th, we were all Charlie Hebdo. Let's not stop there.