Archive for March, 2017


That Easter holiday when I was nine,

I filled the days of lakeland drizzle

with the contents of the hotel’s bookcase.

I remember one page from a Great War

history. Only the uniform

denoted humanity. What could have

been a face was a smear in sepia

mud. Wars and the aftermath of wars

shaped childhood. In brief sun, we visited

Wordsworth’s schoolroom with its harsh, scrawled desks.

I was fussed to a snapshot. And there I am

scowling at the brightness…




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Words fly from your mouth like curious birds

or drift, like seeds, on a late summer’s day.

How rich your lexicon is!  Language learning

is encrypted – a secular miracle.


You do a cherubic ‘Twinkle, Twinkle,

Little Star’ – and a thrash metal version!

You know your first and surname – sound them clear

as for a roll-call, announcing your

determined, fragile independence.


“What’s dat?”, “Why?” You are avid for knowledge,

understanding.  Someone says, “Heavens above.”

“What’s ‘heaven’ mean, Grandma and Grandpa?”

We haven’t the heart to say, “Only the sky.”


You do not know and never will just how much

your first three years have changed our lives: seeing you

squirm, smile, crawl, walk, talk – begin to master

letters and colours. You paint in rich hues

with brush, sliced potato, your tiny hands.

You touch black print with pale finger tips,

as if to gently conjure it to speech,

reveal to you its coded, grown-up secrets.




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‘The body is…an extraordinary laboratory of possibility.’

Anthony Gormley


One sunny September Saturday I left

the Welcome Collection’s airy reading room,

stopped at the Picasso mural then took

the wide circular staircase past floors of

exemplary, aesthetic exhibits

of grave clothes, dentist drills, tranquillisers,

body parts, through the café and bookshop

into Euston Road’s fumy hugger-mugger.


I heard the siren first, behind me, saw

the traffic, past Euston towards St Pancras,

begin to slow as one of Great Ormond Street’s

acute care ambulances barrelled

down the outside lane then suddenly swerved

through an emergency services gap

in the central barrier and drove towards

the three lanes of oncoming vehicles

paused at the lights where the ambulance

would turn right – and I paused, amidst London’s

extravagant roar, moved by all this

for such a little life.




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It has begun to rain so the park is off.

In the theatre foyer we learn that though

the magician has sold out there will be

a brass band concert in the main house.

We consult the little one. Yes, she would

like to hear them. We choose the cheapest seats –

the unraked stalls – and are solitary,

in the middle, three rows from the front.


Judging by the piano, the double bass

and the layout of the black music desks

it is a big not a brass band – reeds

and rhythm to the right, brass to the left.


The players take their places casually

though in black trousers and crimson shirts.

The band leader enters in a white jacket

and black bow tie. He is stooped and shuffles

slightly. He sits at the centre facing us.

‘3, 4,’ he calls with the authority

of his prime and his right hand counts it out.

The first chord, on the unfettered air

from the full brass and reeds, transports me…


Between the numbers, the leader conjures

– with his easy charm, his corny jokes,

his gentle name dropping – Glenn Miller,

Duke Ellington, Joe Loss, Count Basie,

Caroll Gibbons, the Dorsey Brothers…


She watched the first three or four pieces –

decided there was nothing to see

other than someone occasionally

standing up to play – and chilled out, her head

on Grandma’s lap, her feet on mine, waving

her right hand on, surely, the down beat. ‘My

heart is full of rhythm….’




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‘And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine…’



The day the season’s second Atlantic storm

was due there was I – after a sausage

and bacon bap with brown sauce and an Earl Grey

in the heritage station’s draughty café –

celebrating my 74th birthday

with my small family in a British Rail

standard compartment on the Santa Special.


We journeyed from Llangollen to Lapland

(aka Carrog) with mince pies, miniature Baileys

for the adults and juice for our granddaughter,

who gave me a cartoon sestych entitled

‘My Grandpa is amazing – he does…’.

She appeared with me in each frame as I

talked, shopped, word processed, cooked, travelled and read.

We passed pastel shaded December fields,

empty copses filled with russet leaves,

and bleak hawthorn hedge rows festooned with a wild

clematis – Travellers’ Joy or Old Man’s Beard.


Someone, despite the notices, had left

a window open in the corridor,

so, as we went through the long Berwyn Tunnel,

it yellowed with billowing sooty smoke

that seeped under the compartment’s door.

It was a madeleine moment: crossing

sulphurous bridges, waiting on ill-lit

platforms amongst gouts of steam and fog,

shuddering reflections in carriage windows.


As we climbed, we left the river – by turns

meandering through meadows then white water –

to still slowly gouge the valley bed,

and we had a visit from Santa himself,

with Elves, bearing gifts. Our granddaughter

was appropriately shy and polite

though she is calculatedly and/or

patronisingly agnostic about

F.C. – and reasonably sure God is

imaginary and certain there is

no such thing anywhere in the universe

as zero gravity. I am certain

I still believed when I was nearly 7.

The world seemed an obscurantist place.


At Lapland, we queued to pose with Santa

et al for a photo op on a sledge.

It began to drizzle. In the waiting room

a coal fire was burning in the grate.

My grand daughter hugged me. I felt gravely

light of heart and head, warmly welcome

in the universe – and thought suddenly

of a world garlanded with Old Man’s Beard.




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