The Miles [demo]

The Miles (Between the City and the Heart) [Harley]

I wrote this in the 1970s, early-ish in my own 25 years in London. While I did spend much of that time in the ‘wastelands’ of West London, Lucy is not my alter ego: my spells in bedsits were by no means the worst years of my life. 🙂 I haven’t actually played it anywhere in the last 40 years that I remember, so the tune is still fluctuating a little, and I’m not quite comfy with the words yet, so still a demo.

Deep in the Underground
Two policemen were patrolling up and down
An old man swearing to himself
Sifted through some rubbish that he’d found
A busker played out fantasies until they moved him off the concourse
And wrote him out of the part
As he whistled up the steps you’d never know that he was falling
In the miles between the city and the heart

Lucy checked her A to Z while the drama was played out
Then took the exit two steps at a time
The street signs and the time and the interview ahead
Were all that occupied her mind
From the top of the steps she saw him sitting by the roadside
Picking aimless chords on his guitar
When their eyes met she knew that he was falling
In the miles between the city and the heart

That night she sat alone in her bedsit in W9
Half-aware of the TV
Determined not to fret about another wasted journey
One more already-filled vacancy
Half-hoping for the phone, even a call from home
To ease the loneliness that crept under her guard
She looked at her bare walls, afraid she might be falling
In the miles between the city and the heart

Impatiently she switched the news off
Lit one more carefully-rationed cigarette
Gave up trying to write letters, scanned some ads in Time Out
And threw the magazine down on the bed
And prayed to someone, somewhere under her breath
“If I’m falling, please don’t let me land too hard.
I can’t go back now, please save me from the wasteland
In the miles between the city and the heart.”

Hat tip to Rebecca Over, from whom I nicked the phrase ‘the city and the heart’.

Rough video version here

There will come soft rains [very rough demo]

Sara Teasdale‘s poem ‘There will come soft rains’ has haunted me since I came across it as a boy, quoted in the Ray Bradbury story of the same name. This was sung straight into the mic, no edits, and I’ll need time to learn it and live with it before it’s fit to sing in public, and it may change quite a lot. But it looks as if I’ll have lots of time – Thanatos and Covid-19 permitting – to do that… Here’s the poem.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous white;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

 

Covid-19 security-ish issues

[Update: as noone was reading it regularly, I pretty much gave up updating the AVIEN Covid-related pages, though I might still put something up there if it’s really called for. In the meantime, AVIEN has returned to its usual state of induced coma.]

I don’t want this blog to diversify into security, but there was so much poor information around, I figured the least I can do is put up some pointers to information I think is fairly reliable, so I’m going to try maintaining a page where I post links as I see articles worth flagging. I’m putting it on the AVIEN blog, since I used to maintain similar specialist security-related pages there when it was part of my job.

Update: page now broken into sub-pages.

David Harley

A Pandemic Puzzle

There’s nothing specifically Cornish about this article. And, in fact, before I (mostly) retired from the security business, I’d probably have posted it either on ESET’s blog or on a blog of my own devoted to scams, fake news and hoaxes, since it’s about a very recent poem that somehow became attributed to a different author with a similar name and was then claimed by someone else entirely. But let’s start at the beginning.

Kitty (Catherine) O’Meara is, according to an article in the Oprah Magazine,  a retired teacher and chaplain living in Wisconsin. She has a blog called The Daily Round, and on the 16th March 2020 she published an article there called In The Time Of Pandemic, consisting of the prose-poem which has gone viral (albeit in more than one form) and beginning “And the people stayed home…” – the first line seems to have become the de facto title as the piece has spread across the Internet. It evidently struck a chord. Apart from the many (mostly admiring) comments at the bottom of the article, further articles on her blog demonstrate how many people were inspired to perform it or collaborate in other ways.

But that isn’t when or where I first met it. So I also missed the claim by Italian journalist Irene Vella that O’Meara’s piece was a translation of her own poem. To which I can only say that I don’t see much similarity between the two pieces as shown here with what appears to be Vella’s own translation, certainly nowhere near enough to suggest plagiarism.

Like many others, I first encountered O’Meara’s poem on Facebook, but attributed to a 19th century writer called Kathleen O’Mara, complete with a backstory claiming that the original verse had been written in 1869, reprinted in 1919 at the time of the Spanish Flu epidemic, and even included a photograph of two ladies wearing suitably archaic clothes and facemasks. Well, I liked the poem, but wondered about a couple of things. While I don’t have the same grounding in literary analysis that Robert S. Becker apparently has, it did seem a little modern in concept, form and expression for 1869. Almost as if it had been written during the current crisis… Besides, over the years I’ve seen so many falsely attributed quotations (like the recent crop of plague-related ‘quotations’ from Samuel Pepys) – not to mention out-and-out hoaxes (like the malware hoaxes of yesteryear) and urban legends – that I tend not to take such things at face value. After all, while I’m now pretty much retired from malware/security research, I spent well over 30 years of my working life in that area: old habits die hard, and my natural curiosity and scepticism haven’t left me just yet. Besides, if I was citing a reprinted poem, I would at least say where it was reprinted: that sort of vagueness is characteristic of so many out-and-out hoaxes, that I really had to check it out.

A little digging turned up a nineteenth century writer called Kathleen O’Meara who was certainly writing by 1869, though she’s not known as a poet. Actually, I found several other more contemporary people with similar names, but I also found the Oprah Magazine article (and one or two others) that made it clear where the article really came from. And someone has already altered the  Kathleen O’Meara Wikipedia page to make it clear that it wasn’t her poem. While writing this article, I also came across the article by Robert S. Becker Travesty averted: An uplifting poem for the pandemic  already cited. While we seem to have taken much the same route, his thoughts are certainly worth reading. There is also a follow-up piece by Kitty O’Meara called In the Time of Pandemic, Part II which retains the essential optimism of the first piece while taking into account the presumed reluctance of the oligarchs to let the earth or mankind heal. I like it, but I must confess that I incline more to Sara Teasdale’s vision of a world where humanity has fought and plundered itself to extinction, though I fear we will take most of the birds and trees with us.

Much as I like Kitty O’Meara’s pieces (and I’ll probably do some further exploring on her blog), I suppose what really fascinates me is this: how (and why) did Kathleen O’Meara and Kitty O’Meara become so entangled in the hivemind?  Yes, the names are close enough for potential confusion, I suppose, and there are plenty of cases where there probably is genuine confusion. (For instance, when that old saying about ‘singing in the lifeboats’ is credited to Voltaire.) But then someone went to the trouble of inventing a provenance for the poem based on a false assumption.

  • Is artificially ageing the poem supposed to give it authority?
  • Does it derive from some genuine but misleading source that I failed to find?
  • Or is it just the old hoaxer thing of someone feeling superior because they’ve managed to convince others of something that is less than true?

I suppose the theory of ‘spurious authority’ would at least account for the number of people who have put up fake quotations from (e.g.) Samuel Pepys. Though Pepys actually did make quite a few observations that are very relevant to our present situation (thank  you, Nora Lucke for pointing them out!)

“…this disease making us more cruel to one another than if we are doggs.2

“But, Lord! how every body’s looks, and discourse in the street is of death, and nothing else, and few people going up and down, that the towne is like a place distressed and forsaken.”

“Lord! to consider the madness of the people of the town, who will (because they are forbid) come in crowds…”

Maybe we’re not so far removed from those long gone plagues and pandemics after all…

David Harley