I lie awake
An ache like toothache
Will not go away.
Nothing feels as empty as a double bed
With a single sleeper.
Nothing as empty as a solitary life
Where once there had been two.
I rise, dress, prepare to meet the blank day
I set two places for breakfast.
John Milton wrote this sonnet “On His Blindness”. He had daughters to whom he dictated his poems – I sometimes wonder how they felt about spending their time acting as unpaid amanuensis to their father.
When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”
After I had a cataract removal operation I couldn’t resist wrting, not exactly a parody, but a sonnet in the style of Milton about my own experience. I had was plenty of friends telling me what an easy and painless operation it was . (I need larger print!)
On Her Cataract Op
When I consider how much time I’ve spent
Of my allotted three score years and ten
Waiting in hospitals and wondering when
They’ll tell me the prognosis what it meant
In words I understand, so I’m not sent
Adrift in vagueness, neither screen nor pen
Of use. When will I see things clear again?
I ask in terror, life is brief and time but lent.
“Fret not, they tell me, you’ll be find indeed.
Relax, this surgeon is among the best.
The op takes only minutes, there’s no wait
Admittedly, at first it’s hard to read
But soon your eyes will pass the hardest test
Trust me, this new perspective’s really great!”
Now I’m old and decrepit i’ve given up queues. Life, or the time still remaining to me is far too short to waste any of it standing in a line of people just…queuing. I can imagine some ingenious researcher getting a group of nine or ten fellow students to stand in a public place one behind the other and make like a queue. I’m willing to bet in ten minutes or so the line would have increased as passers-by tagged on to the queue.
We had a day out with the grandchildren at a seaside park recently and what struck me was not the swings and roundabouts, not even the exorbitant prices charged to go on the various rides, but the queues. And people are prepared to wait patiently in a queue for a water splash when there is notice telling them they will be there for at least an hour. (There’s a holiday job going here for some enterprising lad or lass who offers to stand in line keeping a place in the queue for a family of five who have better things to do with their time!)
Watching people queue is hardly a spectator sport. I mean I can enjoy watching a random selection of humanity performing some activity, skating perhaps, or diving or playing football or cricket, but watching people queue makes watching paint dry look like a real intellectual pursuit.
I’m now at the delightful stage of retirement when I am no longer ruled by the clock. There are very few things I have to do at a particular hour. I still have things I must do, things I want to do and things I enjoy doing. But none of them are time-critical. And it’s great. As I said, I have given up queues. If I encounter a line of more than six people waiting for some service, I come back later. In half an hour the queue will be shorter or not exist at all. Or I go to another shop. One of the few exceptions I would make is queues for buses. If there are six or seven people waiting at a bus stop, it is likely to mean there is a bus due soon. At least you can have a moan to fellow-travellers about the inadequacies of public transport.
So avoid queues, avoid the tedium, the wasted time, the aches in your legs and back from standing in one place for a long time. Think, is whatever it is you may get at the end of the wait really necessary? Do you really want that ice cream or those fish and chips you are queuing for? Why not walk a little way and find another ice cream van that doesn’t have a queue? Why not go to another fish shop where the chips are just as good but you won’t have to wait for them? It’s worth doing, believe me.
STOP STANDING IN LINE – NOW
“The suspense is killing me,” said Meg. For the past five days she’d rushed to meet the postman, only to find none of the letters were addressed to her and none were in the special “Poetry Paradise” envelope with its quill pen logo and a stylised representation of the tree of knowledge. Twice before she had received one of these when she had been a runner-up in the annual poetry competition. The judges had made encouraging comments on her work and this year she was surely in with a chance. (Last year’s winner wasn’t allowed to enter, so that removed one rival at least.)
Surely if she’d won she would know by now. But perhaps not. Poets weren’t always the most organised and methodical of people. Only three more days till the printed magazine would come out. Not only were the Poetry Paradise group disorganised they insisted on using snailmail and cheques instead of the interenet and paypal. When would they come into the twenty-first century?
At last the copy of the magazine landed on her doormat. The special edition containing the results of the annual competition. Perhaps they had delayed sending the letters to the winners until after the poems were published. That was it. Meg was sure. She read through the winning poem. She admitted it was fairly good but her entry had been better. The second prize went to a poem she didn’t even understand and the third prize was doggerel, nothing more. She quickly scanned the pages, the list of poets and their poems. Her name wasn’t there. It couldn’t be right. She hadn’t got a Highly Commened or even a Commended. Her poem wasn’t even one of those non-winners that had been included to fill the magazine.
Meg was devastated. She was going to cry, something she hadn’t done since she was ten. She felt in her pocket for a hankie. What was that her fingers touched? She pulled something out. A large white envelope. Her competition entry. Unposted!