At twilight from the hills across the Straits, a sudden

drift of smoke – then a fire’s deep orange eye blinked.

We talked of cruising the Nile; of moon rise and sun set,

of the narrow compass of the earth’s curve;

the river pilots’ open armed, hand-on-heart salaams;

and the stars rushing through the night.


Later and sleepless in the early hours,

I kept watch at the bedroom window.

The hotel sign lit a faded Union flag,

threadbare at its outer edges.



Citizens falter in the purposeful street.

Above the fumes of money, confusion,

from the leaden gaps of sky comes a murmuring,

a sigh like breathing, pulsing of blood.

Swans are flying on unhurried wing beats,

necks as prows towards horizons. Glinting

like new coins, pedestrians’ faces

turn skyward… The city smells of warm stone.

Sun illuminates the prison’s granite.

Thrust through the bars of a cell window

are a pair of hands, palms upward. Whatever

they have done,



Year of austerity’s end when Atlee

and the dying King launched the festive concrete

of the second half of the twentieth

century. That spring, at Uncle George’s

hotel, we had chicken. Labour defeats

tumbled from the wireless in the chintzy

lounge. I read Five Go Off On Holiday

and Biggles In The Orient. I heard

a family playing tennis, laughter

and plimsolls, stared at a girl sunbathing

by the empty pool. I was Julian

taking command, Biggles shooting up Japs,



For all the pretty curtains and the tasteful prints

and the carers’ determined bonhomie,

this is the house of the mad and my mother

a permanent resident.


Sane, she was aggressive. She is docile now.

She was unsociable, sane. Now she smarms –

at folk she’d once have considered common.


She thinks I am dead or my long dead father.

You’re a nurse or her daughter. Alzheimer’s

is the ultimate in wish fulfilment.


The deranged have no beauty or dignity,