Tag Archives: library

What happened next? The Franciscan spirit after FISC.


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7 February: Helping and Helping 5, The Lodging House Fire II.



If we read his Autobiography of a Supertramp, we learn that Davies did spend time in the libraries but lacked the energy to get the most out of being there because of sitting in front of the Lodging House Fire. What would he have done with a mobile phone? Played mindless games all day?

I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this wasted time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day.

This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave it, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour.

There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called “the dead man’s seat.” It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer who, unfortunately, had only three days’ work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognise in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.


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4. There’s Helping and Helping: the Lodging House Fire I.


Here is the poet W.H. Davies himself in a homeless hostel in  early 20th Century London, after the railroad accident that disabled him. Here is a stifling charity, literally; coke here is neither drug nor soft drink but a type of solid fuel, a hot-burning by-product of extracting chemicals from coal. Today Davies would quite likely spend his days in and out of the public library. I see homeless people treated with great courtesy by librarians, who are unsung, unofficial social workers.

The Lodging-House Fire

My birthday-yesterday,
Its hours were twenty-four;
Four hours I lived lukewarm,
And killed a score.

Eight bells and then I woke,
Came to our fire below,
Then sat four hours and watched
Its sullen glow.

Then out four hours I walked,
The lukewarm four I live,
And felt no other joy
Than air can give.

My mind durst know no thought,
It knew my life too well:
‘Twas hell before, behind,
And round me hell.

Back to that fire again,
Six hours I watch it now,
And take to bed dim eyes
And fever’s brow.

Ten hours I give to sleep,
More than my need, I know;
But I escape my mind
And that fire’s glow.

For listen: it is death
To watch that fire’s glow;
For, as it bums more red
Men paler grow.

O better in foul room
That’s warm, make life away,
Than homeless out of doors,
Cold night and day.

Pile on the coke, make fire,
Rouse its death-dealing glow;
Men are borne dead away
Ere they can know.

I lie; I cannot watch
Its glare from hour to hour;
It makes one sleep, to wake
Out of my power.

I close my eyes and swear
It shall not wield its power;
No use, I wake to find
A murdered hour.

Lying between us there!
That fire drowsed me deep,
And I wrought murder’s deed-
Did it in sleep.

I count us, thirty men,
Huddled from Winter’s blow,
Helpless to move away
From that fire’s glow.

So goes my life each day-
Its hours are twenty-four-
Four hours I live lukewarm,
And kill a score.

No man lives life so wise
But unto Time he throws
Morsels to hunger for
At his life’s close.

Were all such morsels heaped-
Time greedily devours,
When man sits still – he’d mourn
So few wise hours.

But all my day is waste,
I live a lukewarm four
And make a red coke fire
Poison the score.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

19 May: The Great Lie.


Reading for Sext

All baptised in Christ, you have all clothed yourselves in Christ, and there are no more distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

(Galatians 3: 27-28)

I loved books as child and read my way through the whole of the children’s library in my local village. As the day of my adult membership came nearer I marked in my mind the books on the adult shelves I was going to read first. I had a mind that loved all things supernatural and as a child read about faeries and goblins and witches; traditional tales of Hans Christian Anderson that still make me weep and sci fi. Oooh I love sci-fi but also classics like Jane Eyre, the Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner.

One book has stayed in my conscience and I recollected it recently after MOAB was dropped by the US in Afghanistan. It was a sci fi story and I cannot remember author or title – not a well-known one, I think – about an Earthman who was called to investigate a growing darkness spreading across the galaxy like a dark finger. All planets in contact with this darkness went utterly mad. He witnessed the madness but could not fathom its cause. It was utterly destructive. In frustration, he went to the Central Planets and awaited the inevitable doom of the people whom he had come to love and respect. He asked them to steel themselves and prepare for the worst, but they ignored him and carried on joyfully and peacefully with their lives, as they had always done. He was tearing his hair out as the darkness consumed one planet after another in the solar system, getting ever nearer this special place. The darkness enveloped the planet, yet nothing happened. No madness, no wars, no mental breakdowns. All went on as before.

Puzzled, he went to talk to the beings who had commissioned his service in the first place and realised what had happened. The inhabitants of the planet immune to the darkness were uninfluenced by the one thing that had destroyed all the other planets. They paid no attention to lies. The darkness was The Great Lie.

Christ calls Satan the Father of All Lies and perhaps the humble sci fi writer from the 1950’s used this as inspiration to suggest to us, in the form of a simple story, to pay no attention whatsoever to what is not truth. To do so means we need to clothe ourselves in Christ, so we may discern truth from lies.

In this era of fake news, tragedy and frightening weapons, maybe we can take heart from these simple, joyful beings who pay no attention to anything that is not of Christ. Oh, yes, we have them living among us – Franciscans! May the force be with you.


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