Archive for July, 2016


Catching a charter flight from Manchester,

the family eases through security

but I am detained – there are traces

of explosive in my backpack: poems

on the hard drive? The scanner is at fault.


At Nikos Kazantzakis Heraklion –

the only airport named for a writer –

one of our cases arrives broken

on the single baggage carousel

and one of the gent’s toilets has backed up

but ‘Zorba’s Dance’ is playing somewhere,

the sea beyond the runways could be almost

‘wine-dark’ and the oven heat warms old bones.


Our hotel room overlooks a valley

charmed by Cretan sun in early June, washed

in El Greco shades and citrus colours,

with the usual eclectic small holdings

among the scrub – olives, vines, tomatoes

and bananas; hens and cock scratching;

three nanny goats clanking; two black dogs caged;

a stand of bamboo. On our balcony

with our granddaughter we play ‘I spy’

– but we cannot see the goose that honks

periodically in the bamboo

and sets the watch dogs barking.


There are activities throughout the day

round the pool for children of all ages.

It is water polo time and chaps

from England, Poland, Germany play

boisterously but amicably.

The French study their screens, a quartet

of middle aged Israeli men is aloof,

two British Asian families remain

circumspect. We came last time in early May –

the Great Patriotic Holiday

enjoyed by affluent ethnic Russians.

Our granddaughter swims endlessly like a shrimp

in the cosmopolitan waters.


At Heraklion the security

is seasonal, part-timers attired

in G4S finery complete

with white lanyards so there is role play –

queues are long and scrutiny relaxed.

At Manchester, in the EU passport queue

we shuffle along, without music,

with passengers from Islamabad

to the ID scanner – and chuckle,

thinking of all the closet racists

who would swallow their tongues in such a queue.

At the scanner, a witty, local lass

in a hijab helps us. O brave new world

that has such! ARRIVALS is threathening

with armed police, loud with distant honking.

A car has been parked in the wrong place.

We have flown from attic comedy to low

farce, goosed in the process.











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Lenin, to leaven his exile in Zurich,

would sometimes weekend in Luzern and,

after kalberwurst with onions and gravy

at the Wilden-Mann on Bahnhofstrasse,

would always visit the Panorama

in the Löwenplatz – or so it is said.


Panoramas were popular before

the illusion of photography,

still or moving, became reality.

They were cycloramas painted in oil,

typically fifteen metres high, one hundred

metres in circumference – often

with a three dimensional aspect:

in this case, for example, an empty

railway wagon – Huit chevaux, Quarantes hommes.


General Bourbaki’s beaten L’Armée de L’Est

in Bismarck’s Franco-Prussian War

sought asylum with the nascent Red Cross

of the now united cantons. In deep snow

eighty seven thousand men, twelve thousand

horses, crossed the border that January.


An escapee from a school trip to the town

in the year of Hungary and Suez,

I wandered in by chance. The custodian

that day knew no English. My schoolboy French

struggled with his German-accent. But

I still remember the images

of the aftermath of some great battle

my history lessons had not mentioned.


Imagine if Lenin had learned from this –

the stumbling soldiers; the dead horses; the piles

of discarded, expensive rifles;

the woman with her basket waiting to help

whoever it might be lying in the cold.


He certainly learned from the railways.

Disguised as a worker, he returned

to Russia via the Finland Station.

But maybe he also learned from William Tell –

marksman and anti-imperialist –

or, rather, the apple.




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I wake, as always at some dark hour, to pee –

make my way, as always, with utmost care

down the steep, narrow stairs then across

the dining room’s creaking floor boards

as silently as bare feet can. Afterwards,

I creep to the patio doors, hoping

to see the visiting fox my hosts have heard.

There are stars in the clearest of skies –

so many, as always surprisingly

so many,  I want to wake the household

but, instead, craning my neck, peer up

through the double glazing in wonder.

What would the fox, night’s denizen, see?

An old man in his pyjamas, singing

sotto voce, ‘I only have eyes for you,’

longing to go in the garden to gaze at

such mundane immensements!




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On the short strand where the Red Wharf Bay Sailing

and Water Sports Club has its clubhouse,

the salvaged HMS Thetis was grounded

the day Chamberlain declared war on Hitler.


The last human remains were slow marched,

with muffled drums, up the narrow, high banked lane.

For want of an escape drill and a pinhole

ninety nine men had died from carbon monoxide.


Raging Achilles, scion of the Greeks,

prince of the Myrmidons, slayer of Hector,

was son to Thetis, a nymph of the sea.


The First Lord took no blame, kept secret the

misapplied drop of enamel paint,

the panic – and compensated no one.


With muffled drums up the straitened lane

they bore the dead that sunny Sunday –

before the beaches were edged with tank traps,

the coasts sealed with barbed wire.




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If her mother were to live to be Centenarian of the Year,

your mother would be seventy six and you,

surprising angel, nearly thirty three.

(You will note, I am assuming that I shall not be

Grandpa of the Decade – false modesty, of course!)


Thinking for so long there would be none,

I am surprised how the likely continuity –

of blood, flesh and memory – reconciles me

to that dim eternity. The phone rings.

‘Hehwo, Gwanpa.’ As always, I am enchanted.


We speak of many things – butterflies,

Sleeping Beauty, riding your pink bicycle.

I imagine you holding the receiver eagerly,

half the length of England away –

beyond the shires and the towns,

the wasteland and the woods –

shunning the dark, applauding the sun…





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