I started this poem fifty years ago

yesterday – the day JFK was

assassinated. Untypically,

I cannot remember where I was

when I first heard the news. Wherever,

subsequently I tried out lines in my head

as I walked Liverpool’s windy streets.

Not a word of that first attempt survives.

Maybe I have become more skilled or, perhaps,

time has informed both content and style –

or, simply, made the past tractable.


On reflection,



…was built on downland beside the golf course

and below detached houses in their own grounds

to house Italians from North Africa

and then, post war, Germans for ‘re-education’,

and, finally, before demolition in

the late ‘50s, homeless British families.


A kestrel hovers above the cow parsley.

It stoops, as always unexpectedly,

then rises with a field mouse in its talons

and flies to an oak tree to feed and rest.

In the distance are the towers of Woking

and beyond,



The dying corporal was spread eagled

in his underpants, his executioners

and judges – a mob of fathers and sons –

dressed, as he had been, undercover,

in trainers, denims and a sweater.


Civil war, for almost a generation,

had burgeoned. Solutions receded. Rights

gained were matched by rights removed: all our freedoms

lessened so neighbours might vote, have jobs,

houses. Things did not make sense, only words.

‘Derry’ was a political statement.




The troopship, HMS Birkenhead, lately

from Simons Town and bound for Algoa Bay

and the Eighth Xhosa War, foundered in the night

at Danger Point near Gansbaai, Western Cape –

where tourists now have encounters with sharks.


Like the Titanic, more than sixty years

later, the wreck was a copybook tale

of lessons unlearned, derelictions of duty

and unstinting, unselfish courage.


The troops were mostly new recruits, workless

from impoverished farms in Wales and Scotland.



From the holiday cottage near the top

of Allt Goch Bach – Little Red Hill – west

and south is ancient woodland of ash, oak,

beech and holly. North, down the steep incline,

is Beaumaris – with its redundant castle,

gaol and quays, its narrow streets and low,

thick walled houses. East are the Menai Straits,

the A55 and the Carnedd range.


Some say the ‘red’ was the blood of the last

of the Druids – or the Royalists.