All the best places were forbidden, disused,
decrepit, far from net curtains, aunts,
mother spoiling a lost fatherless boy.
Best was the brickworks. We thrust, like commandos
sharp with twigs and fear, through undergrowth
into the yards. Blackberries burst, purpling
in private summers. Once, I hid in reeds.
A sundew glistened. A horsefly hovered.
I heard my companions calling, calling…
My mother met us raging, loving before
friends who had fathers. Shame prickled my face
the blackberries had stained.






‘…Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib’d alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin’d;
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind…’
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.


When I was a pre-pubescent boy, I read
The Eagle – having graduated from
the seditious slapstick of The Beano
and The Dandy – a comic with Christian
values, though the masthead did not say so.
Its heroes were square-jawed with no moral flaws:
Dan Dare,



A realisation as sudden as
Archimedes’ leaping from his bath,
the moment when – in the pleasure gardens
of Wisley, with its giant rhubarb leaves,
its gaping carp, its hissing swans, its wild
playground – going for a well earned modest slab
of chocolate cake and a babychino
enhanced with spoonsful of Grandma’s latte,
pointing, she called out, “That says ‘Coffee Shop’!
I can read!”






For Elizabeth Salter

Fitting that we should see an amateur
‘Wizard of Oz’ in the Gladstone Theatre –
opened by William Ewart himself,
whose mission was ‘to pacify Ireland’ –
in Port Sunlight, that model, industrial
village and home of the soap that made
Tommy ‘the CLEANEST fighter in the world’.

Some of the audience have come in costume –
there are Munchkins, a Tin Man, two Lions
and a Dorothy with a toy Toto.
How rapt we all are with the music,
the plot,



More than four decades ago, I taught English
in a boy’s grammar, waiting for it to go
comprehensive. I can think of three
notable alumni: a Labour PM,
whose only school magazine piece was
‘Ephemera’; the lover and killer
of a fêted, controversial playwright;
and a cult film director (see below).

The classrooms were built round a courtyard –
as if the architect had worked to some
Mediterranean model. Mine
was opposite the staffroom. One lunchtime,
I was marking at my desk and looked up
to see the said director,