Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Happiness Makes Up In Height For What It Lacks In Length" ( Robert Frost, 1942 )

Talking still of Happiness.....
In the summer, we went to the civil marriage ceremony of two local poets, Liz and Helen. It was a friendly celebration, warm as toast, lots of family and friends; the affection between these two talented women was clear to anyone. The reception took place in Watergate Street in a lovely old black and white Tudor building called Stanley Palace* ( See end of this Post)

As a teenager, I went to parties at Stanley Palace; we took over the whole building, with its oak panelled rooms, its leaded lights, its chandeliers, its dark corners, its secret alcoves...
We danced to the Stones ( " Paint it black" and the wonderful " Ruby Tuesday"). We leapt about to the Who ( the Who??... I later saw them go wild at L'pool Uni Union) and we sang out with Dylan ( "Hey, Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me") and we chanted Beatles songs ( " Its been a hard days night, I've been working like a dog.." and the brilliant " Norwegian wood"... )
And, of course, we swopped boy friends and makeup, jokes and secrets (and probably lies) and all this beneath the oak beams while we sipped punch and ate anaemic sausage rolls and wondered if our legs looked too fat or our eyes were too piggy or our hair was too curly ( mine was...) .
Years on, I went to lectures at Stanley P ( grave faces) to meetings ( even more grave faces) And I went to the odd grown up party at Stanley P where everyone wore stuffed shirts ( and possibly even crinolines ) and the men had seriously-polished shoes and the women wore Jaeger ( navy, usually) and they chatted intently while wearing their masks of polite convention.

But this was different. This was a celebration of two lives meeting and joining and as part of their celebration, Liz and Helen asked some folk to perform their own work. Most of the performers were members of Chester Poets, like Liz and Helen. There was just me and another friend, Clare, representing Chester Writers. I wrote something about Happiness. It's called ( surprise surprise) " Happiness".

"Sometimes Happiness stares you in the face, touches the pores of your skin with its fingers. Sometimes Happiness lies on its back, kicks its legs in the air, begs you join in. Sometimes it floats and it swirls and it laughs with its eyes. Happiness jigs on donkeys, glides with swans on the river. And sometimes Happiness dances in your soul.

Happiness can fly with swallows, sweep dark streets clean for the morning. It appears round the corner when you least expect it, when your jeans are frayed and your shirt is grubby and your friends have boarded a train to elsewhere. Sometimes happiness plays Mozart and Lennon on the same piano.

Happiness is a laugh bright as lemons. It’s the ordinariness of today, when yesterday shivered with fear. It’s a smile that shines, a voice rich as chocolate. Happiness is remembering that yesterday was special, that someone nestles in your heart forever. It’s stretching and yawning, opening your eyes to someone who needs you. It’s the taste of strawberries, the sip of burgundy, the long draught of icy water on the hottest of days. It’s walking on cobbles in Abbey Square in the highest of heels, when evening is summer and evening is young and your hips swing and the sky shimmers. It's knowing he's right and admitting you're wrong and knowing you're thankful. It's hearing a voice, remembering a time, it's planning a dream.

What else is happiness? Happiness knows the full story when the gossip broke your heart. It’s those black trees against purple skies when Christmas has gone and New Year is near and your family still gathers. It's remembering your baby's skin, your father's face, your mother's loyalty, times you spent with a friend. It’s the old lady sitting at The Cross in velvet cloche hat, who lifts her veil of taffeta so that her smiles stretch all the length of Watergate. And it's the boy with his dad, the girl with her mum. It’s the faraway aunt, who came at bedtime, who kicked off her shoes, who told stories late in the night. It's the letter you find, thirty years on, when your Grandma's long gone and the time's long since gone but her kisses still dance on the page. It’s the welcome home, the Bon Voyage, the Good Luck card. It’s the phone call in the night that you wanted.

Happiness is also the perfect fit, the completion of the outfit. Happiness is the most glorious skirt. It’s the fur of the cat, the best cup of tea, its fresh linen sheets, it's your mother's roast on Sundays. It's holding someone's hand at the end of a garden, on a bench in a garden, while you talk and they listen and they talk and you listen and the cats brush against your feet and the night draws in and the problem is solved and the problem has gone.
It's remembering a sound, that pattering sound, your feet in brown Clarks sandals on Llandudno pier; it's the voice of the teacher who praised. It’s the lady next door in the crimplene dress, who poured Lucozade in sherry glasses, who dried your tears with a hankie smelling of lavender. It’s the kiss in the alley, the hug in the kitchen, the talk late at night; it’s the first glimpse of the sea, the walk at the edge of the mountains.It’s the glance between friends when sun is dying and wine is good and the talk is free and the talk is honest and the talk is wise. And Happiness is the friend who listens.

But mostly, happiness is a life together, the good times; the bad.
Happiness grins, and knows when you’ve both come home. "

*Stanley P, as well as being part of MY history is a very interesting part of Chester's. In fact it's supposedly got its own ghost (as well as a few of mine ).
It was built in 1591, originally for Dominican Friars, then was occupied by an eminent Chester lawyer and MP, who gave it to the Stanley family of Alderley, Cheshire, as part of his daughter's dowry. It then became the townhouse of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby. However in 1651, Stanley was arrested, tried for treason, then kept on House Arrest ( surrounded by Roundheads ) until his execution in Lancashire. Today, it's said his ghost still haunts the narrow rickety staircase, the dark gloomy rooms...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happiness is reading the words of a voice you know, whose soul speaks out and touches at your longing, whose tones spring the plump tears from your eyes, who says the names of the places you crave and who reminds you of a journey you once took and left behind... not knowing where it would go.

Miss you Jan ....Debrax
PS Is that the Liz who used to come to our class and who wore black?

10:29 pm  
Blogger Sarah said...

This is lovely, Jan.

9:25 am  
Blogger Jan said...

Your journeying in S America brought you happiness, I'm sure. Thanks Deb. And yes, it IS Liz; you'll remember her lovely voice as well as her remarkable work. Ten mins having a cig in the carpark and she'd be back with something brilliant..
Glad to hear from your email that you enjoyed Barcelona. We liked the Gothic quarter..the cathedral, those wonderful geese and of course the Gaudi throughout the city.We saw similar touches/flavours in the Bangkok Temples, crazy blends of colours and shapes, fantasies..

4:36 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Nice to see you, Sarah. Thankyou.
Do you remember mentioning poems re writing, on your blog?? I found one today. It's by Anne Sexton and is at It's one of Winterson's favourites.
There are some lovely thoughts.

"Be careful of words, even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous ones we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss"
And the final lines:
" Words and eggs must be handled with care
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair" ..

4:56 pm  
Anonymous Geoff said...


What wonderful writing about Happiness. After a day in my office, bogged down with paper and e-mails and looking longingly out to the fells and lakeshore, it was great to read your poetry. It brought a BIG smile to my face and has lightened the day.


9:28 pm  
Blogger Jan said...

Thanks Mr C; there's nothing like a big smile!!

10:27 am  

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