The when, where, why of the last of Britain

is not easy to pinpoint exactly.


Perhaps it was Dudley Moore, the comic actor

and skilful musician, drunk, approaching

Princess Margaret at some exclusive do

and slurring, “Good evening, your royal highness.

I suppose a blow job is out of the question?”


Or the woman herself choosing not to be buried

with her peers, but cremated in Slough.


Possibly it was the Queen and her consort,

walking like storks, among the tributes to

The People’s Princess – or the tributes per se.


Probably it was the vicar’s daughter,

the mistress of orotund cliché and

patronising retort, inviting herself

to Florence to tell the world the Continent

was cut off yet again – in that city

of beauty and feuds, where Galileo

was denounced, and Dante encountered Beatrice.




Ford Madox Brown’s ‘The Last of England’ depicts

an emigrant couple – youngish, well dressed –

on a windswept deck beneath Dover’s cliffs.

The man is stricken by their anxious future –

the woman is trusting or stoical.

Her right hand holds his, her left clutches

that of a child hidden under her cloak.

Behind them on the stormy deck there is

roistering, bravado.


Note: The poem was first published on Facebook on 4.10.17.




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…a maxim named for a Franciscan friar,

William of Ockham, from the Surrey village –

and from London, Oxford, Avignon,

Munich – Pope’s enemy, Emperor’s friend,

dying just as the Black Death was scourging.


It is a metaphor, not logic chopping –

best summarised, perhaps, as ‘less is more’,

‘don’t over-egg the pudding’, even

‘fine words butter no parsnips’. He was

the radical philosopher of his age,

a nominalist – words are words, ideas

ideas, no more, no less. Plato, relinquo!


Avoiding an A3 rush hour traffic jam,

I drove through Ockham one rainy night,

watching the headlights follow the bendy turns

of the old field system and glisten

on the hedgerows and the oaks, and I thought

of the little boy, the brightest scholar

in the priest’s small school, being taken

for Mother Church’s future to London

in a jolting ox cart, his Latin

a passport through Europe.




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Sheltering from a summer shower

beneath the portico of the Tunsgate Arch,

Guildford, I looked down the steep High Street

towards the bridge over the River Wey

and saw three bespectacled Buddhist Monks

emerge from Dolland & Aitchison and,

lifting their saffron robes, run to Jigsaw.


Enjoying my pan fried sea bass and Guinness

in The Faulkner, Hoole, and watching the rain

trickle down the Walker Street Co-op’s facade,

my view was suddenly blocked by a coach

from which a party of middle aged

Japanese tourists descended and,

brollies hoisted, ran over the road

to The Bromfield Arms with its vending machines,

flat screen tvs and menu of ‘Pub Classics’.


When I was a young man I assumed wonders

had to be travelled to: Maldon, Marseilles,

Moose Jaw, Machu Picchu – but now I know

you only have to stand and wait or sit.




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After we have booked our whale watching trip,

we spend the afternoon at Yoko Ono’s

‘Imagine Peace’ in the Hafnarhús

gallery, where we put peace stickers

on maps of the world and our grand daughter

writes on her label to hang on the peace tree

‘I wish I could have lovelyness for ever

and ever and ever and ever’ – then she

and I play the war game chess. Later

we have fish and chips – battered in spelt

and oven roasted respectively –

with Skyr dips, then visit the Volcano House

next door with its array of lava

jewellery and volcanic ash soap.

I watch her wondering, processing.

When we leave it is raining heavily.

We make our way up Bankastræti,

where the public loos have been transformed

into The Icelandic Punk Museum.

The motliest of queues waits in the rain

for Johnny Rotten to cut the tape.

We stop for a wee in Dunkin Donuts

on Laugavegur, then she and I

shelter under an awning waiting

for her parents and grandma window shopping

despite the downpour. We hold wet hands –

an old man and a child.






Driving northwards, driving homewards, we pass

inundated pasture – mercurial

in shape and colour – its sheen reflecting

the late morning’s rare roseate sky.

Bared trees and bushes are a dull amber.


In time, cloud cover becomes leaden –

then snow falls: the downy flakes like weightless

seeds, which the windscreen wipers flail clear

again and again. The empty fields fill,

remorselessly, as early evening comes.


Miles on, the snow no longer falls. It has

settled. The ancient, snow-filled woods are lovely,

luminous. How soon we will be home

in warmth and light! How far we have come in love!