Archive for August, 2017


The image has stayed with me since last summer

when we sat on the restaurant’s terrace

sipping Prosecco with our small family

to celebrate our first fifty years

of marriage: a view I had not seen before

of these straits I thought I knew so well

between Ynys Môn and Gwynedd’s coast,

a view – past Bangor Pier and Gallow’s Point,

over the Lavan Sands and Dutchman’s Bank

hidden beneath the high tide’s guileful waters –

to the rose horizon, and Liverpool Bay

out of sight with its wrecks and wind farms.


And I felt then – relaxed with the balm

of the sun, the wine, and those I am

lucky enough to love – and know now

with the wisdom of a year ever closer

to that untravelled bourn, how, irrespective

of the heart’s gazetteer, its topography,

all love comes unbidden like the elements.




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Where the mortar between old bricks has crumbled

in the weathers, where the felt of a flat roof

has lifted, beneath slates above a gutter

through a gap the height of a feather,

among cascades of ivy on a high wall

topped with broken glass, wild bees are about

their business, crowding buddleia, bending

stalks of lavender, devoted subjects

of their queen, diminutive beside

dying cousins. On their fragile wings

we, republican or monarchist, depend,

each flight an errand of life, the music

of warmth, the gentle drone of summer, once

gone never returning.




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The Tiber’s olive waters curve past

Umbertide or, rather, the town curves

to the river in this limpid valley

alive with oak trees, willows, poplars

and millennia of settlements,

monuments – Etruscan, Roman, Lombard.


To impede the German’s retreat northwards,

the Allies bombed the bridge across the river

successfully and, collaterally,

razed a block of tall, narrow houses –

and many of their inhabitants.


The house numbers are brass inlaid in the setts

of what is now a car park in this

medieval town with its Via Papa

Giovanni XXIII, its Via

Kennedy, its Piazza Carlo Marx.


The Eighth Army built a bailey bridge

on the ancient arches – which was still there

when we performed Shakespeare, in English,

at the theatre. Unused and derelict

because of the war, the baroque theatre

was renovated by an alliance

of Communists and Christian Democrats,

I Riuniti. It had been a gift

from the town’s most famous son, Domenico

Bruni, a castrato, emasculated

for the usual reasons – poverty, greed.

A celebrity acclaimed and enriched,

he sang in Rome, Naples, Milan, London

and St Petersburg for Catherine the Great.


He might have stood by the deep canal

that channels the winter torrents through the town

from the mountains into the Tiber.

Our play was The Comedy of Errors,

in which one of the lads from Syracuse says,

‘He that commends me to mine own content

Commends me to the thing I cannot get.’




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There were two wonders in our provincial town

on the cindery car park by the river

when I was seventeen – both August marvels.


First was the Century Theatre,

with its proper post war worthiness,

touring each year the north and the midlands

from the Five Towns to West Hartlepool

in three bespoke aluminium trailers

pulled by an ex-army Crossley tractor.

The same actress played Jimmy Porter’s

Alison, Sally Bowles and Elena

Ivanova Popova in ‘The Bear’.

I was struck – by the stage, the moon and love.


Next, on a seventy foot flat-bed truck,

was a dead fin-back whale harpooned

off Trondheim, preserved in formaldehyde

and painted with tar. It toured through the north

surreally as ‘Jonah the Whale’ as if

the rabbit foot had become the rabbit.

It lay like an elongated accident.

For a shilling you could get up close

and see the dead eye and the once olive

striated skin blackened with tar – and smell,

despite the preservatives, the corruption.


Better was the view from the city walls.

Where there had been outrageous laughter was beached

that solitary, dark leviathan.




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We had not visited Beddgelert for years.

We remembered the winding, bosky drive

following the Glaslyn from Porthmadog,

slowly climbing as the swift river narrows;

the walk across the field to Gelert’s grave

with its slate marker his remorseful owner,

Prince Llywelyn the Great, erected

for the faithful hound he had killed in

frantic error, finding too late the dead wolf

and the saved baby. Who would not be moved

by such an irredeemable act!

The sounds of endless waters rush nearby.


What was new that hot August Bank Holiday

was a tumbled faux bothy at the edge

of the field with an under-sized bronze dog

eager in the doorway; the eerie whistle

of the tourist train on the re-opened

railway that carried the quarried slate

down to Porthmadog, across to Caernafon

through mountain passes of green and purple;

a coach from an EFL summer school

full of excited Chinese students;

an Orthodox Jewish family, mother

with headscarf, father with keppel and earlocks,

little girls in long skirts; two young women,

in hijabs, sitting on the river’s bank,

bathing their feet in the chilly shallows.


Dafyd Prytchard, the  landlord of Beddgelert’s

Royal Goat Hotel, invented the story

in the late eighteenth century. Gelert

was the saint for whom the village was named.

Wales was brimful with saints, their remains

unvisited post-reformation,

but who would pass by a doughty dog’s!




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