Archive for October, 2011


South Stack, Ynys Môn, ©Sylvia Selzer 2009


Of course, by the time it’s my turn at the ’scope

the bugger’s turned its back. ‘It is a puffin,’

reassures the RSPB girl – and,

since she’s pretty and young, I believe

that what I see is not one of the teeming,

noisy, noisome, nesting guillemots,

razorbills or gulls. A hat trick: ageism,

sexism, anthropomorphism – plus

being churlish as a bear rather than

valiant as a lion. Intriguing opposites. Grrr!

We came here last when she was five or six.

Decades on, she stands with her lover

at a turn in the steps –  both happy,

both blooming with her longed-for future,

and wrestling with the breeze for your camera.

Some gulls have eschewed the crowded cliffs

to nest in the lighthouse’s disused kitchen garden.

We lean on the wall like pig farmers.

There is a dead chick amongst the gooseberries.

A living one stands, yes, surprised, startled but resolute

though even here winds roar like lions or bears.

I hold my breath…1,2,3…for us all.


Note: this piece has been subsequently published in ‘A Jar of Sticklebacks’ –




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Plato's Allegory of the Cave







Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is

somehow very ‘Thirties: lots of chaps in

the dark behind high walls; much shadow-play

with unidentifiable voices;

belated, blinding suddenness of light.

The decade’s putative worthies (who all,

by the way, seem to have been chaps) go forth

unknowingly in parallel: e.g.

Hitler in Berchtesgarten, Wittgenstein

(Adolf’s erstwhile peer from Linz) in Cambridge.

Did Wittgenstein walk with Blunt, Philby,

Burgess and Maclean as the fifth man?

Meanwhile, elsewhere at Trinity College

A.E. Housman tutored Enoch Powell: two

classicist lads from the West Midlands – and

the land of lost and wistful laddishness.


Our Enoch giving chase


Our Enoch  – the wife’s second cousin twice

removed – although he always acted the

philosopher-king, indeed believed it,

in Parliament, in uniform, in the

groves of academe – appeared to labour,

tormented, in the dark, poor soul. Always

a solitary, he was chained to the

metaphysics of empire, protocol

and tribe: from the ‘Rivers of blood’ to ‘No

Surrender!’, preferring voluntary

exile to certain public failure. Yet,

see how, the fluent theme has become a

continuo – ‘influx’, ‘deluge’, ‘flood’, how

his acolytes have grown, like dragon’s teeth,

loquacious prisoners in Powell’s teeming,

booming cave of phantasmagoria.



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For Ian Craine


‘Marjorie Beebe is the greatest comic possibility that ever worked in my studio. I think she is destined to become the finest comedienne the screen has ever seen.’  Mack Sennett


Marjorie Beebe in 'The Farmer's Daughter' 1928


Her bottom was a serious matter:

the butt, as it were, of numerous pratfalls

in many Mack Sennett two reelers – like

The Chumps, Campus Crushes and The Cowcatcher’s

Daughter – in which she was a capricious,

lubricious Columbine with witty eyes

and good teeth and various Harlequins,

who ended invariably as losers.

From Kansas City, her mother took her,

on the Yellow Brick Road, to Tinsel Town.

Beebe and Sennett became lovers, despite

or because of the thirty year difference,

so he knew her asset first hand so to speak.

From silents to talkies, slapsticks to wise cracks,

her Mid West accent playing well, then Mack goes bust

and Marjorie gradually disappears.

Was it the booze? She was certainly

a toper. Or, more likely, The Hays Code:

irony suppressed, vulgarity outlawed,

Puritan America triumphant!

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For Alex Cox


This is the year Dien Bien Phu falls,

Algeria rises, segregation is

ruled illegal in the USA,

the first kidney is transplanted and UK

wartime food rationing finally ends.


Lime Street was filled with thousands of boys and girls,

gathered to greet the singing, celluloid,

Born Again cowpoke, Roy Rogers (erstwhile

Leonard Slye), and his entourage – combining

a promo tour with a Billy Graham

crusade. The youngsters, pinched with cold on that

blitzed and windy street, clutched their copies

of the Roy Rogers Cowboy Annual.

Those with seafaring dads – and there were ships

filling the Mersey then and its docks –

had something from the Sears catalogue

of Roy Rogers Gifts: boots, guitar, holster,

ersatz buckskin fringed shirt. (Roy and his wife, Dale,

had been mobbed in London, fringes ripped from

the genuine article). But Roy and Dale

were in bed with ‘flu in their Adelphi suite –

so Trigger trotted the route alone,

climbed the hotel steps, made his mark at

reception, entered the residents’ lounge,

visited his master’s bedroom and appeared

at a first floor window for a photo op.


But was it Trigger or, his double,

Little Trigger? And which rears on its hind legs

stuffed in the Roy Rogers Museum,

Branson, Missouri, the ‘Show Me’ state’?

Or is either or both with Roy and Dale –

and Bullet, the dog, of course – alive, well and

moseying along on the moon’s dark side?

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For Evelyn b. 13 1.10


Born to good music by strong women,

Ella’s ‘isle of joy’, Nina’s ’it’s a new dawn’ –

how you nestle in your parents’ untrammelled

love, how you suck with unrelenting hunger!


Born into a world of rubble, with children

buried alive, a world of chicanery

and hatreds – you have entered a difficult

place, little Evie, somewhere remarkable,

full of tears and amazing kindnesses!


Born into a world of snow, a fox’s

nocturnal tracks in the white garden

of the tall, Victorian villa, a Blackcap

at the bird feeder, a Redwing sheltering

in the laurel and, away on the Downs,

boys and girls, freed from school, tobogganing

over the fossils and flints on the steep shore

of a palaeolithic sea – how you squirm

with hunger, how you bask in so much love!


Three wishes then for you, little bird:

may you be lucky, may you be gracious,

may you always have someone to love!


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