Archive for August, 2015


Driving to Scotland, via the North East,
to celebrate six months in a new job,
we stayed overnight in Durham to see
the romanesque, sandstone cathedral
with its relics of Cuthbert, Oswald and Bede,
denizens of Northumbria and its isles.
Next day, I saw a sign for Bamburgh –
somewhere I had visited in boyhood –
and suggested a detour off the A1.
We never made it over the border.

We drove down lanes lined with oak, ash, hawthorn,
and saw Bamburgh Castle against the sea,
resplendent on its volcanic outcrop
in a northern August afternoon sun,
centuries and epochs set in cut stone –
Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans –
knowing here was somewhere we should stop.

We could see the castle from our hotel room.
We walked St Aidan’s wide, sandy beach
to Beadnell’s gentle harbour and took a boat
from Seahouses to the Farne Islands
to see the colony of grey seals
basking on the bronze seaweed. A bumble bee
kept pace with the boat all of the way,
like us a wondering, wandering stranger.

We visited Lindisfarne Castle
and Holy Island, where Asian women,
in saris, on a coach trip sheltered
from the sea haar. We thought of the saints
and the Armstrongs, castle owners now
once arms kings, and Grace Darling, heroine
of Bamburgh and Wordsworth’s ‘A maiden
gentle…pious…pure, modest and yet so brave…’

It was good to go somewhere new – to
re-make love in the splendidly antwacky
hotel with Craster kippers large as plates;
on the windy beach; among the rustling dunes;
against the cold, cold sea.




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The prime minister of the fifth largest
global economy has asserted
the need for a big conversation
about gulls: not the greedy and the fearful
who voted for him but the species
laridae, especially the herring gull
that swarms in seaside towns and marauds
the 99 Flake out of the very hands
of the innocent, young and old alike.

Adult birds dive, swoop and grab to eat –
whether mackerel or deep fried Mars Bar.
The herring gull chick knows instinctively
to peck the red spot on its parents’ beaks
for food. It learns about battered sausage
and Cornish pasties from humans lording it.

Though herring gulls have a repertory
of voices – the mew, the yodel, the yelp,
the yuck, the cry, the snicker, the snigger,
the bark, the scoff, the cough, the scold, the plea,
the ullulation – from coastal roof tops
and are experts at inland waste management
they are endangered. Let us converse then
about concern and care.




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…watching the circus – breath taken, mouth
open – in the red and orange striped
big top on the Green with Miss Monica
from Budapest high on the silk ropes
then walking on the pier like any mortal…

and losing your splendid red and blue kepi
to a mild westerly on the steep steps
that zigzag down South Stack cliffs, seeing it
whisked just out of reach over the wall
and lodged in a crevice where only gulls go…

and cruising up the Straits to Puffin Island,
seeing the seals, the porpoises, the shags,
the cormorants, the kittiwakes, the lighthouse
up close – returning, taking the spray, seeing
the yacht stranded on the Lavan Sands…

and walking through what was Newborough Warren –
now a forest of Corsican Pine where
Common Cow Wheat thrives and occasional
Red Squirrels are seen – the redundant
buggy over laden with our beach gear…

and shooing the gourmet gulls while eating
fish and chips and mushy peas and curry sauce
by the paddling pool in the playground –
then making friends in the water as
Tornado jets practise surveillance above…

and swimming with Mummy and Daddy
off Ynys Llanddwyn for the first time –
as the fast tide comes in covering
the gritty sand and the still rock pools
and crabs of all colours and sizes …

and crabbing on the pier with Mummy
and Daddy, with the line and bucket bought
in Cromer and the offal from the kiosk
for bait and putting them gently back
at the water’s edge with the gulls hovering…

and finding a young, frightened black spaniel
on the secret steps in the garden –
banked high with buddleia and butterflies –
and running to tell us and helping
rescue him and learning his name is Henry…

But what will you remember of all that?
Not new best friends or storytelling
with Grandma or blowing raspberries
at Grandpa – the best thing, you tell us, was
the old castle playground.




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Somehow, past the custodians, two green leaves
have entered the gallery to lie
side by side beneath Chagall’s ‘Promenade’.
The artist – next to the wedding treasures
higgledy on a red cloth, his feet
almost firmly in the richly green fields
by the piggledy village, his expression
ecstatic and apprehensive – grips
his painter’s bag with his right hand, with his left,
held upright, his wife’s for she is flying
in a purple dress. Soon he may fly too.
Perhaps the leaves have come from the tree
above the nuptial gifts. Maybe the rush of air
has teased them, from a young woman flying.
Leaves will fall – lovers fly.




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We were born in the Year of the Horse,
the month Rommel was trapped in the desert,
Paulus in the snow. This, our forty ninth
of marriage, is, again, the Year of the Horse.
We are predicted family happiness,
filial piety, fiscal surety –
urged to avoid pneumonia and be
‘of merry heart’. This is also the year
of the drowned. Somewhere it is always
night – stars fall, meteors rise. The robin,
perched on the street lamp, sings through the dark.
The wild bee, lost in the room where I write,
steers for the sun undeterred by the glass.
To be merry of heart and to know these things
is to be what we are.




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