The amber in spirits


It’s a surprise to me, as someone with a lifelong allergy to alcohol, that a world of non-alcoholic spirits has been busy in the making while I haven’t been paying attention. And in late and warm fireside evenings in Edinburgh, with a glass of the marvellous and extraordinary Feragaia and Ginger in one hand, and a book in the other, the memory of my beloved old Dad comes to mind. And here lies the origins of my hankering for the occasional glass of Scotch I was never able, in practice, to aspire to.

Dad enjoyed the solitary quiet of the early hours sometimes. And in the way of such things, I found these quiet hours a good time to borrow from his time and attention. He’d often have a glass of Scotch near to hand, and a book. I remember once wondering how he could tackle the enormity of Edward Rutherford’s Sarum whilst his mind was slightly mellowed! These are special memories now. The warming of spirits that came with a glass of Scotch would call up songs Dad had known by heart for years, sung softly in the night.

And there’d sometimes be a little notebook to hand into which he’d pen the stanzas of poetry he’d long loved well. So as I can now enjoy a glorious late evening glass, here’s one of the songs I recall him singing; and as I revel always in books, old ones and new ones, many of them poetry, here, too, is one of the poems I remember him adding to the pages of that well thumbed notebook.

Remembrance doesn’t just come to us at set times and places. Sometimes memories are sparked by the way the light catches crystal, or the amber in spirits, or on the breath of a song, or the flight of a poem, or the wild blooming heather. Cheers Dad!

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew –
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, The Royal Canadian Air Force


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2 thoughts on “The amber in spirits

  1. Lovely recollections, Simon. For me, this poem is always read with a tinge of sadness because, as you likely recall, segments were quoted by President Reagan in his moving remarks after the Challenger disaster. That said, so happy you are enjoying these cozy times. Amazing, isn’t it, how a snippet of music, a stanza of poetry, or a whiff of some familiar smell (garlic cooking in butter immediately sets my heart aglow, as I am instantly transported to cozy evenings with friends, suffused with lively chatter and lubricated with a hearty red wine….🥰) Enjoy! Xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks dear Lori. Yes, indeed – tinged with sadness, not least because the poet himself died in an air accident over England at the age of just 19. Sad though it is, I love to think that he enjoyed such ‘footless halls of air’ and ‘high untrespassed sanctity of space’ in his too brief lifetime.

      And again, yes, snippets and flashes and recurring dreams remind us all daily not only of ‘where we’ve come from,’ but also of our complexity, personal nuance, and almost limitless potential. A glass of something; friends and family; quiet solitude and fireside … and we’re all set!

      Have a lovely day 😊xx

      Liked by 1 person

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