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YOUNG VOICES CONCERT, MANCHESTER, JANUARY 2020

The Arena has become an aviary.

As we walk along the narrow corridor

into the auditorium, the sound

of eight and half thousand young voices

all chattering simultaneously

with wonder overwhelms us like a blast

of tropical heat, like a wall of bird song.

 

The music starts, the house lights go down.

In unison, as they begin to sing

‘Ode to Joy’, each one of the thousands

of song birds switches on a white, bright beam,

which shimmers and waves,

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THE PRICE OF FISH AND THE VALUE OF NOTHING

When I was a boy I was often taken

to the aquarium on the promenade

by the Palace Pier, Brighton – a resort

and commuter town on England’s south east coast.

It was an hour’s train journey from London

on the Pullman Brighton Belle – with its curtains

and its table lamps – restored to pre-war pomp.

My favourite tank was devoted to sea fish

found in the English Channel – teeming still

from wartime’s cessation of fishing.

There were skate and flounder,

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CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

Her previous enclosure was surrounded

by a wire mesh fence four metres high

and a low hedge, so she was used to seeing

big people from the knees up and small people

with heads only. Now she paces to and fro,

back and fore, in front of a plate glass

viewing window, as if on sentry-go.

We are a yard apart me and this fellow

being, whose shining bronze eyes slide away

each time they see mine. Every ten turns or so

she stops,

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FOOTSTEPS

One day, after sunrise – in the time before

the ice sheets began to melt – a girl

or a boy, about twelve, carrying

an infant, walked quickly south with long strides,

stopping once to let the infant walk briefly.

At some point a woolly mammoth crossed their tracks,

and a giant sloth paused to sniff the air.

Later the young person walked back north alone.

 

The muddy footprints fossilised – some ten

millennia ago. The big beasts went,

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AND WITH EVERY BREATH

Already what little sunlight there has been

each day of the new year dies a little

later in the west. Today the layers

of pale orange and gold seem to stretch

like a canopy far into the Welsh hills,

over the mountains, and the sea beyond,

as if hope were only a journey away.

 

Meanwhile the numbers of the sick rise

everywhere like a temperature gauge –

and those of us spared thus far, through luck

or circumspection,

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THE PLOT AGAINST THESE ISLANDS

One February night in ’74

the Army occupied Heathrow Airport.

The BBC’s Nine O’Clock news explained

the occupation was an exercise

in how to deal with a terrorist threat.

The new Prime Minister, Harold Wilson,

learned of the exercise from the TV,

recognised it as the dress rehearsal

of a coup against his premiership –

a coup that would have been sanctified

by an announcement from her Majesty,

an emergency government led by

her husband’s uncle,

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