Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Early Memories – UK II

Image Source

When we lived in Croydon my brother and I had a box full of cardboard, yoghurt cartons, tin foil and string. This selection of booty was used to make any number of costumes and toys, similar to those in the image above.

I remember that on one occasion my brother and I were making something which required quite a lot of gluing. At some point in the proceedings I remember a large striped tube of Copydex on the carpet, or rather a large pool of white Copydex on the carpet next to the large striped Copydex tube.

Needless to say my lasting memory of the event was my parents' response to the event, and a crunchy spot on the carpet ever after.

Early Memories – UK II

Bottles and boxes, tin foil and string,
Cutting and sticking to make anything.
Robots and dragons, cotton reel tanks
Paper Mache islands, masks to rob banks.
Young minds imagine, young hands create,
But young boys forget what a mess they can make.
A misplaced knee and a copydex tube
Made irate parents
- Oh and a crunchy carpet!

John Carré Buchanan
30 January 2012

Friday, 27 January 2012

Early Memories – UK I

  Image from; open.salon.com

Having returned to England our family moved to Croydon. The area was not the most salubrious of locations but was ideally located near a school, nursery and a Hospital where my Mother worked as a nurse.

Following the Second World War, Britain had experienced a period of high immigration as people from the Commonwealth, and particularly from the West Indies, had been encouraged by the British Government to come and work in the UK.

Many of these people endured extreme prejudice and intolerance from sectors of the indigenous British society and early African-Caribbean immigrants found private employment and housing denied to them on the basis of race. It was so bad that even the Trade unions would often refuse to help African-Caribbean workers.

Throughout the 1950’s there had been a number of Riots and racially motivated violence was common place right into the early 60’s.

It is against this background and the fact that my parents were returning from overseas tours where they had been part of the British expatriate community that in the late 60's I became best friends with a young West Indian lad called Steven.

This poem, based on memory and discussions with my mother, describes how two kids from different racial backgrounds became best friends and remained completely oblivious to the racial tension which our parents must have been so conscious of. I just wish that such friendships would replace intolerance and racism all over the world.

I hope you like this poem;

Early Memories – UK I

Mum had said Steven could come and play
but only if his mother said OK.
So when I saw them in a shop
I dragged my mum toward them.
‘This is Steven and his mum’ I said.

I didn’t see our mums’ surprise
as I looked at them with pleading eyes;
for whilst Steven was West Indian
he’d lived his life in England,
but a product of the Empire I was expat born and bred.

Our parents were of an age
Where race and colour like a cage
trapped them with convention
which today it’s taboo to mention.

Our mothers shone that day
As they pushed the barriers away
and let their boys play together;
Two best friends who saw each other
as if we each had gained a brother.

John Carré Buchanan
27 January 2012

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The Visitor

Image from; pixzii.com

I spent yet another evening watching our cats hunt the other night. They had clearly detected an intruder in the house and were very keen to track it down, but whilst they knew exactly where it was they were not having much success at catching it.

I watched them for a while, but then, having imagined some little critter cowering in a corner with 5 razor sharp claws flashing in at it (Socks is missing a front leg), I decided that I should intervene.

I wrote this poem to record the events of that evening, I hope you like it, please feel free to leave a comment;

The Visitor

The three cats knew it was there.
They sat like sentinels in a semi-circle
at the base of the book shelf.
Occasionally an excited shuffle
or flicked claw disturbed the silence.

I looked, but could see nothing,
yet the cats knew it was there.
I wondered if it was escaped prey
or a visitor in the wrong part of town.
Whichever, three on one, it would not last long.

Amidst frustrated cries, I removed the cats
and shut the door on their wails.
Once I had banished them
I sat silently and waited.
Hours passed and then, a scuffle.

Slowly I raised my gaze and there
on top of a book shelf was a mouse.
Its tiny nose sniffed the air
as it scuttled between the ornaments
Its silky smooth body unharmed.

I laid a humane trap
and bated it with cheese.
I hoped to catch the little beast
and set him safely free,
but the little fella’ had other plans.

I flicked the lights off and went to bed.
The cats remained barred from the room,
but through the night they kept vigil,
yowling and scratching at the door
outside the living room.

Just after dawn I checked the room
The trap had not been sprung
The cats sniffed around unsuccessfully
much to their dismay it seemed
our visitor had got away.

John Carré Buchanan
25 January 2012

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Early Memories – Kenya V

Terence McNally's postcard of Windsor Castle in Cape Town

It is amazing to think that when I was four and the family came to leave Kenya it was still normal for the company my father worked for to use ocean liners rather than air liners to move its staff around the world. Within just a few years this would change and the era of the ocean Liner would draw to a close.

By this time I had sailed across the Atlantic from Trinidad to the UK and then sailed through the Suez to Kenya and now I was about to travel the rest of the way around Africa and onwards back to the UK. We were using the Castle Line, and the two ships I remember were the Union Castle and the Windsor Castle. The ships Livery was pink hence my nickname for them being the ‘Pinky Ship’.

The event my poem describes is the Crossing the Line Ceremony. It takes place when a ship crosses the equator. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed Shellbacks, those who have not are nicknamed Pollywogs. (A Pollywog is another name for a Tadpole.)

The ceremony uses the guise of King Neptune’s court to convert Pollywogs to Shellbacks by submitting them to a number of embarrassing ordeals.

Dependant on which line of longitude you cross when you become a shellback you can be given different grades of shellback such as the Royal Diamond Shellback for crossing the equator on the Prime Meridian or Golden Shellback for crossing the Equator at the 180th meridian.

I just remember people dressing in drag, (as well as other fancy dress) and then being covered in shaving foam and being dunked into the swimming pool. I hope you enjoy the poem;

Early Memories – Kenya V

Traveling ‘home’ upon the ‘pinky’ ship,
around the cape, then North.
As we crossed the equator
King Neptune’s court called forth
the pollywogs in fancy dress
were tried around the pool
then covered in shaving foam
they were made to look the fool.

John Carré Buchanan
21 January 2012

Friday, 20 January 2012

Early Memories – Kenya IV

As a little boy I used to collect insects (or Dudu as they are called in Swahili) and keep them in jam jars. When the family came to leave Kenya to return to the UK all our possessions were packed into large wooden crates full of straw. I was told that my insects would not be able to travel with me, so I put them in the crates which had been packed, but had not had the tops nailed down.

My father found the insects and asked a friend to pretend to look after them until we had left. It wasn’t until a long time later that I realised what had happened.

I have always wondered what might have happened if the bugs had not been detected or escaped in the crates and made the long sea voyage back to the UK. Here is the memory expressed as a poem, I hope you like it.

Early Memories – Kenya IV

Millipede and spiders,
mantis, sticks and moths
lovingly kept in jam jars
with holes punched in the tops.
Treasured by their captor,
who was due to move away
so he hid them in a packing case
to be sent to the UK.

But his father found something
that wasn’t in the crate
and when he lifted up the lid
he found his young son’s mates
The little boy was mortified
when his ‘Dudu’ were detected
so they gave them to the neighbour
who promised they’d be protected.

And so it was, the family moved
with young son quite contented.
He knew his insects were all safe
with the neighbour who’d consented
to look after the collection
and feed them every day.
He didn’t know that the insects
had already been thrown away.

John Carré Buchanan
20 January 2012

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Early Memories - Tanzania I

This childhood memory has stayed with me since I was about 3 years old. My family had travelled from Kenya to Tanzania to visit the Ngorongoro Crater. This crater, which is 18 Kilometres across, is the largest perfect unbroken caldera in the world. Surrounded by very step walls which rise 610 meters from the crater floor, this natural amphitheatre is home to a spectacular array of wildlife.

The crater was and still is a conservation area and vehicle movement was restricted, as a result we had to travel in the Rangers’ Land Rover rather than my parent’s car. On this particular day we were standing in the back of the Land Rover looking out for wildlife when a Black Rhino broke cover and charged the moving vehicle.

It was clear that this was not a dummy charge and an instant before the Rhino hit the vehicle the driver slammed on the brakes. Apparently this is considered the best thing to do when being charged by a Rhino as it confuses the Rhino which expects most things to run away. In its confusion the Rhino missed the Land Rover by a couple of feet. I remember watching the Rhino charge and all the adults falling over as we came to a halt. When the vehicle stopped I thought it had been rammed.

My Father tells me that he remembers watching the Rhino try to regain the initiative having narrowly missed us. He describes how; determined to face the vehicle the Rhino planted a forefoot and literally span with three feet off the ground before landing facing the vehicle. Dad recalls how the momentum of the speeding Rhino actually resulted in the beast sliding backwards to a halt.

Early Memories - Tanzania I

The Rhino came from nowhere
at thirty five miles an hour.
As he tried hard to ram us
in the vehicle we did cower.
Then just before impact
the ranger stopped the Rover.
The rhino missed by inches
and the adults all fell over.

John Carré Buchanan
19 January 2012

Image: Rhino Charge by Peter Delaney. Tuesday, 23rd August 2011 - earthshots.org

Early Memories - Kenya III

This is the third of a series of poems depicting my earliest memories. The memory involves the Great Rift Valley which extends some 6,400 kilometres from the Middle East to central Mozambique in East Africa.

The Rift was formed about 20 million years ago when the earth's crust weakened and tore itself apart creating a jagged gash across the African continent. The land on either side erupted creating volcanic mountains, while the valley floor gradually sank into a low flat plain.

There are about thirty lakes lies along the rift's length; these include Lake Tanganyika, the deepest lake in the world, and Lake Victoria, the second-largest freshwater lake in the world. At its widest the Rift is about 100 kilometres wide and this narrows to about 45 kilometres just North of Nairobi.

When we used to go on Safari, my parents would set off very early in the morning with my brother and I in wrapped in blankets. Our first stop would be somewhere along the rift valley sometime around dawn. I can remember the sheer scale of the cliff which descended from the road to the bottom of the rift, these walls vary between 600-900 meters high.

Nowadays there is a new road, but in those days the descent was extremely dramatic and as a toddler I was petrified of it. This poem sums up my memory of the Great Rift Valley, I hope you like it;

Early Memories - Kenya III

We’d stopped atop the Rift valley
early in the morning
looking into the abyss
just as the sun was dawning.
The valley floor was far below
to one as small as me
I didn’t like it very much
it made me want to pee.

John Carré Buchanan
17 January 2012

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Early Memories - Kenya II

This is the second of a series of memories which I am recording as poems. The memories are some of the earliest I have and come from a time I spent as a young child in Kenya.

This particular one stays in my mind because a huge reddish-brown elephant was looming large in the car's rear window and my parents were shouting at each other.

As I recall; Dad was trying to get Mum to lean out of the window to film the charging elephant. Needless to say Mum was not exactly chuffed with the prospect, her main concern being that Dad should drive a little faster!

Early Memories - Kenya II

The huge bull elephant was watching us
as we deigned to pass nearby
He flared his ears and stomped the ground
and let out his battle cry.
Then he charged right at the car
and followed us down the track.
Dad yelled at mum to film the chase
I didn’t catch what she yelled back!

John Carré Buchanan
17 January 2012

Early Memories - Kenya I

As a child I travelled the world with my parents. Between the ages of one and four I lived with them in Kenya. They took every opportunity to get out and about, as such I did things that most other children of my age didn’t do.

I thought that I would record some of my earliest memories as short poems. This is the first I hope you like it;

Early Memories - Kenya I

The car was stuck in a pothole
by a leopard in a tree.
We waited for a ranger
to come and pull us free.
That day I ate more gingerbread
Then I’d ever had before'
as mum and dad kept me quiet
by bribing me with more.

John Carré Buchanan
16 January 2012

Sunday, 15 January 2012

The Gift

I’m sure that many of you have cats and knowing what cats are like I suspect many of you will have experienced the ‘pleasure’ of finding the occasional ‘gift’ caught by a cat and then left somewhere in the house for you to find and clean up. In the past our cats have left gifts which have included rabbits, pigeons, small rodents, birds and frogs.

This morning my wife found one such present on the back doorstep, on picking it up it turned out to still be alive, Quickly she fetched a bowl of water from our rain butt and submerged the poor creature in the water before calling me to come and have a look. When I arrived there was a magnificent Gold Fish about 5 or 6 inches long swimming around in the bowl of rain water. She had used the water from the rain butt as it had no chemicals and was the same temperature as the pond.

We debated waking the neighbour, but at that early hour we decided to get the fish back quickly into its own pond in an effort to enhance its survival chances. So my wife clambered over our dividing fence and took the fish back to the pond. Realising the neighbour was actually already awake she knocked on his door and explained what had happened. Fortunately he is a very understanding man. So far it looks like the fish has survived, although it did lose some scales and had a short gash in it.

This was such an unusual gift I thought I would record the event with a poem and share it with you; I hope you enjoy reading it. I would be most interested to know what your cats most unusual present has been, so please feel free to let me know by leaving a comment.

The Gift

Darkness blankets suburban gardens.
Under the distant stars and faint moonlight
The florae casts eerie irregular shadows.
Here in the gloom, concealed by the night;
Tiny creatures forage for food
and use the cloak of darkness to rest,
Unaware that through the dark
steals the harbinger of death.

The sleek body hugs close to the floor.
Large unblinking eyes focus on their target.
The head remains motionless, ears erect
as the shoulders smoothly rise and fall
and the silent paws drive the body forward.
Behind a tail hangs low,
occasionally a slight flick of the last inch
betrays building excitement.

Patiently this master of stealth
used only the darkest patches of shadow
to close the gap between predator and prey.
The eyes, blessed with night vision remained focused,
revealing a cold calculating mind.
Suddenly the moment arrives, the paw strikes,
claws flash with a sudden splash of silver in the dark
and gouge into the flank of the prey.

Proudly she views the poor creature
Flicks it over, mouths it, and plays with it.
She picks it up and trots back to the house,
places the gift on the doormat and
silently enters the warmth of the house.
Later, after the cockerel cries and the birds begin to sing,
the mistress of the house finds the golden gift,
selected so lovingly from the neighbour’s fish pond.

John Carré Buchanan
15 January 2012

* In the second verse I credit the villain of this tale with being "sleek", We have 2 3/4 cats (one is an amputee) and whilst two are sleek, we feel that the paw prints left at the scene of this crime were probably from our slightly more generously proportioned feline friend.

Saturday, 14 January 2012


I had an interesting discussion with my medical support team the other day about my use of a wheelchair. The debate basically cantered on two differing points of view, both of which were right.

The Medics saw the wheelchair as a retrograde step which would further reduce my ability to walk, whilst my Psychologist and I argued that the wheelchair was giving me the opportunity to get fitter and perhaps more importantly giving me the opportunity to get out and about with minimal pain.

The Physio has seen it all before, patient saying, ‘but I will only use it a bit’ and then going into physical meltdown. I understood that. At the same time I felt I had already melted down and needed to do something about improving my fitness and lifestyle and most importantly my psychological health.

I left the meeting very demoralised, in fact it took 2 days to get over it. I eventually did this by discussing it with my wife (it just goes to remind me how important communication is when you suffer from any chronic illness). She pointed out that she would be there to help leaver me out of the chair and keep me exercising, whilst at the same time supporting me in using a chair to keep fit and get out and about.

I believe I have a sensible plan laid out which will help me to build fitness using the chair as another tool in my toolbox, primarily being used as a means of getting aerobic exercise and maintaining social links with people beyond the confines of my house. I would be very interested in hearing the points of view of anyone who has been in a similar situation.

Once again I have written a poem on the subject, I hope you like it.


He places the sticks in front of him,
takes the strain on his mighty shoulders
and takes a pace forward.
Pain sears through his skin
as his trousers brush against it.
As the foot is placed, weight transfers
an explosion of pain shoots through the limb
and bile surges upwards.
He’s moves just under a foot.

He thinks back to the old days.
He has time to think, as he gathers
the courage to take the next step.
He’d run up Ben Nevis and Pen y Fan*.
The playgrounds of his youth,
oh those were the days.
Yet here, crippled by pain
he laboriously advances foot by foot
as if climbing Everest with no oxygen.

Every day he walks, and every day
the distance covered in the hour shrinks,
all the while the memories hurt more
and the abyss deepens.
Here a man who would not quit - quits.
Old before his years, crippled, worn out.
The bag of memories contained in a
fat, pink fleshy membrane
stops and salt water seeps from his eyes.

He tries a wheelchair; instant freedom,
powerful shoulders drive him forward.
Mile after mile through the lanes
Stopping at will to seize the moment,
A hedgerow primrose, tricked into early blossom,
Birds singing in the empty branches above him.
The sea like green glass three hundred feet below.
A dog walker offers to push him up a hill,
Proudly he declines, they chat as he struggles on.

Unimpressed the physio warns,
‘the legs will fade if you don’t use them’.
He knows, he’s struggled for years only to be
trapped in a body that’s too painful to move.
The choice she sees is use wheels and lose legs.
The choice he sees is use wheels or lose life.
For what use are legs that hurt too much to use
If the sound, scent and sites
of our beautiful world are unattainable.

John Carré Buchanan
14 January 2012

* Pen y Fan. is the tallest mountain in South Wales, I came to know it very well as a member of the Parachute Regiment in the mid 80's. We seemed to spend a lot of time running over the mountain on a run affectionately called 'The Fan Dance'.


I was digging through some of my older poems this afternoon and I found this one which was written when I was on leave in 1987. I had just finished officer training at Sandhurst and was waiting to join my unit in Bünde Germany.

I went back to Bünde last time I was in Germany and was surprised to see that the base, I used to live on, no longer existed. I guess in its own way it too lives on as a memory in my mind, but perhaps not as fondly as the one described in the poem.


The warm sun shines gently upon my back.
Dozing peacefully on the stony porch,
I listen to the sound of the waves
breaking on the shore.

An ant works its way across the paving,
occasionally pausing to sniff the air.
before moving onwards,
working a crazy path in front of me.

The warmth and the peaceful noises
bring thoughts of love and joy
to my lazy mind.
I close my eyes and remember.

John Carré Buchanan
May 1987

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Comfort Eating

I’ve been battling with comfort eating for a long time, often eating family packs of peanut M&Ms or Minstrels at a time. This is seriously bad news as I have put on quite a bit of weight and of course increased cholesterol and the risk of diabetes etc.

Determined to change my ways I decided to add the amount of chocolate I am eating onto my pacing schedule,(a list of pain management tasks I have to do each day to improve my ability to live with pain). The net result is that I have managed to beat the munchies, to celebrate I decided to write this poem. I hope you like it.

Comfort Eating

Sitting alone, in the dimly lit room
the depression came to a peak.
Nothing could stop it
and no one could help
I felt like some form of freak.

Deep in my brain a chemical change
Suggested I needed to eat.
My mind tried to fight it
It knew the whole truth
It didn’t want veg, carbs or meat.

It was craving for chocolate
and not just one bar
it told me I needed much more.
A family pack might do the trick
I felt I could eat a big Jar.

For the fifth day this week
the stash in my draw
called silently from afar.
As if a link from chocolate to brain
Kept shouting; ‘John you need more’

It wasn’t true, I knew it was wrong,
But it kept on calling my name
so I struggled and fought
and battled all night
determined not to feel shame.

It’s now a week later,
I’ve won every night!
The chocolate’s calls have diminished.
I’m using this win to improve my mood
and help turn the darkness to light.

John Carré Buchanan
11 January 2012

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Waiting for Morpheus

One of the issues with CRPS is that it severely disrupts sleep. I’ve spent hours lying in bed racked in pain trying to sleep to no avail. These hours of darkness, when spent alone with thoughts darker than the darkest night, are the hardest to endure.

Recently one of our cats has taken to joining me in the early hours. He too knows what it is to suffer, having lost a front leg several years ago. I sometimes wonder if he gets as much comfort from me as I get from him in the early hours.

In order to improve my chances of establishing a sleep routine, I am now staying up until 03:00 hrs before retiring. I have found that this is giving me a reasonably consistent three or four hours which is a significant improvement on where I was. One of the benefits of this is that when the pain allows I am able to write. This is my latest poem;

Waiting for Morpheus

I lie in the dark, waiting.
Time passes unmeasured,
and here in the pitch black silence,
I wait and wait and wait.

The body craves sleep,
Yet pain forces it away,
and here in the inky black silence,
I wait and wait and wait.

Rapid thuds of paws on carpet,
the cat lands beside me.
and here in the jet black silence,
I wait and wait and wait.

He gently butts me with his head,
then curls in a ball beside me.
Here in the velvet black silence
We wait and wait and wait.

He snuggles in tight,
then begins to snore.
Leaving me to fight black thoughts
as I wait for the arms of Morpheus.

John Carré Buchanan
10 January 2012

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


Over the last few years the pain in my right leg has worsened to the point where walking, even with the aid of two sticks has become too painful. Despite having worked extremely hard to retain the ability to walk, the distance I have been able to endure has slowly decreased.

Towards the end of December I borrowed a wheelchair from a friend. I was not eager to do this as it could be seen as quitting, but I had the feeling that it might just offer me something I had been missing.

During the last week I have been out for several ‘wheels’ (walks or pushes) and I have learnt that the chair brings me two valuable gifts. The first is the ability to exercise and burn off some of the weight I have accumulated through comfort eating. Secondly and perhaps more importantly the chair gives me the ability to get out and about.

The chair will not be a permanent feature of my life, but rather than another tool I can use to battle the demon that is CRPS.

I wrote this poem to celebrate my return from one such wheel. Please feel free to leave a comment.


Sweet music envelopes my soul
it soothes away tension
and warms a heart, that pain
cooled and hardened.

I sit in a country lane
and listen to birds
as they sing of freedom amidst
the branches of leaf stripped trees.

At home two sticks rest.
Today a wheelchair bore me
to a place I could not reach
and for a while, bought me freedom.

John Carré Buchanan
10 January 2012

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Relaxing with Haiku

Like the Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey) in the Photo above, I have just spent a morning relaxing. Unfortunately I do not have a thermal spring to hand, so I spent my relaxation time sitting in a warm bed writing Haiku.

I feel sure that the traditionalist might complain that they do not all contain a ‘Kigo’ (season) word, or that the themes are not all natural, or some such.

Having read around the subject recently I have learned that modern Haiku are increasingly unlikely to follow the tradition of taking nature as their subject, but the use of juxtaposition continues to be honored.

The style I am using is the British style of 3 lines with 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively.

I find writing Haiku a very relaxing way of passing time, and an extremely useful tool in my pain management tool box. The rigid structure seems to aid my writing when I am having a flare up or a setback and it also seems to divert my attention away from some of my discomfort.

The fact that I have managed to write about twenty Haiku since New Year’s Eve is testament to the fact that I have not been feeling that great since last Friday, having reflected on this I realized that during the Christmas rush, which I had planned well ahead, I had not taken the time to produce a proper pacing plan for the week surrounding New Year, hence my ninth Haiku.

I hope that you enjoy reading these Haiku and that 2012 has started well for you.

New Year

The rush is over,
It’s back to the old routine,
A stone heavier.

Christmas Toys

The toys lie scattered,
Children play excitedly,
With the toys’ boxes.


The South Westerly
Tears at the massive oak tree,
I watch from inside.

New Year Resolutions

They lie in tatters,
The New Year Resolutions;
Just a ‘to-do’ list

Half Full

Vicious wind roars past,
Rain falls horizontally.
Sun shines above clouds.

The Cat

Curled up in a ball,
Soft purr invites you to stroke,
Claws sink into hand.

The Dog

Lies at master’s feet,
Car passes house in street,
Master bowled over.


Christmas leftovers,
served curried, fried, boiled and cold.
Kids search dump for scraps.

New Year Flare Up

I’m back in my bed.
Pacing New Year went to pot.
Forgot to plan it.

John Carré Buchanan
10 January 2012