Archive for September, 2015


All the best places were forbidden, disused,
decrepit, far from net curtains, aunts,
mother spoiling a lost fatherless boy.
Best was the brickworks. We thrust, like commandos
sharp with twigs and fear, through undergrowth
into the yards. Blackberries burst, purpling
in private summers. Once, I hid in reeds.
A sundew glistened. A horsefly hovered.
I heard my companions calling, calling…
My mother met us raging, loving before
friends who had fathers. Shame prickled my face
the blackberries had stained.




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‘…Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind…’
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.


When I was a pre-pubescent boy, I read
The Eagle – having graduated from
the seditious slapstick of The Beano
and The Dandy – a comic with Christian
values, though the masthead did not say so.
Its heroes were square-jawed with no moral flaws:
Dan Dare, Storm Nelson, PC 49,
Harris Tweed and Tommy Walls – ice cream
and woven cloth, such product placements!

The centre pages showed cutaways of
torpedo boats and aircraft carriers.
The prevalent villain was the Mekon
from Venus, with his hydrocephalic head,
riding some technological wizardry.
But worthiness would always triumph.
The lives of St Patrick and St Paul
featured, if I remember – citizens
of Rome and brothers in Christ triumphant.

I thought of those evolutionary charts,
beloved of late Victorians, showing
homo sapiens – upright, striding forth –
ascending left to right from ambling apes,
thought progress inevitable
when, adolescent and idealistic,
a young man and political, I believed
we could build Jerusalem, make it
as clean as Dan Dare’s London, make it
out of kindness and justice and children
ascending but we are slamming fast – even
unto the third and fourth generation –
the gates of mercy.


Note: The poem has been featured in ‘INTO AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE WITH DAN DARE’ –


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A realisation as sudden as
Archimedes’ leaping from his bath,
the moment when – in the pleasure gardens
of Wisley, with its giant rhubarb leaves,
its gaping carp, its hissing swans, its wild
playground – going for a well earned modest slab
of chocolate cake and a babychino
enhanced with spoonsful of Grandma’s latte,
pointing, she called out, “That says ‘Coffee Shop’!
I can read!”




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For Elizabeth Salter

Fitting that we should see an amateur
‘Wizard of Oz’ in the Gladstone Theatre –
opened by William Ewart himself,
whose mission was ‘to pacify Ireland’ –
in Port Sunlight, that model, industrial
village and home of the soap that made
Tommy ‘the CLEANEST fighter in the world’.

Some of the audience have come in costume –
there are Munchkins, a Tin Man, two Lions
and a Dorothy with a toy Toto.
How rapt we all are with the music,
the plot, the invention! This is a
latter-day ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ with good tunes
and witty words – where God aka the Wizard
is a self-effacing huckster, a kindly
fortune teller from Omaha, Nebraska,
three clicks away from the Emerald City.




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More than four decades ago, I taught English
in a boy’s grammar, waiting for it to go
comprehensive. I can think of three
notable alumni: a Labour PM,
whose only school magazine piece was
‘Ephemera’; the lover and killer
of a fêted, controversial playwright;
and a cult film director (see below).

The classrooms were built round a courtyard –
as if the architect had worked to some
Mediterranean model. Mine
was opposite the staffroom. One lunchtime,
I was marking at my desk and looked up
to see the said director, furtive,
at the staffroom door. I continued marking.

I heard shouting and looked up again to see
a colleague pounding on the door. (There was
a gap between the lintel and the door
into which three large screws had been driven).

There was huffing and tutting and enquiries –
low profile to deter imitation –
by the Deputy, an overweight caner.
‘You were at your desk. What did you see?’
‘I was intent on my work,’ I said, grinning.
‘This is serious!’ ‘Indeed it is,’ I said,
laughing. Courtesy of Mrs. Thatcher,
the school never went comprehensive. I left.

It never occurred to me to betray
such a consummate piece of performance art,
such an exquisite act of irony –
the masters trapped in their privilege,
imprisoned in their ignorance – but rather
held the knowledge close like a password
to my identity. I disclose it now
I am almost certain who I am.




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