A ROOM WITH A VIEW

I was a scholar at a grammar school

founded by Henry VIII after he had

dissolved the monasteries, stolen their land,

destroyed their hospitals, tortured the odd

abbot or two and trousered their cash and plate.

The school, a Victorian extension

of the original, was ‘in the shadow

of the cathedral’, as the head would say –

an Anglican canon, MA Oxon.

There was, in the Canon’s dismal study,

a portrait of the priapic monarch.

The reverend would order those he caned –

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CROSSING THE COMPASS

When I reach the half landing I will always

pause and at least glance through the long window

that frames garden, high wall, terraced roofs

and sky. I saw, one time, against roseate clouds

lit by the setting sun and billowing

in an easterly wind, dark like a line

of dancing letters, flock after flock

of black-headed gulls, crossing the compass

south east from the drowned meadows of the Dee

to the Mersey’s low tide mud flats north west.

 

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SEAFORTH BEACH, SIMONSTOWN, 2009

‘The essential characteristic of a nation is that all its individuals must have many things in common – and must have forgotten many things as well.’ What is a Nation? Ernest Renan

 

Near the restaurant’s toilets, there was a large

framed print of a photograph of the beach

full of day trippers from Cape Town by train

one Christmas/New Year break in the ’50s –

when it was Slegs Blankes/Whites Only.

The restaurant’s customers were still white,

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ON BECOMING TWO

The party guests arrange themselves for a group

photo with the birthday girl at the centre.

She watches us position ourselves – some

on the sofa, some on the floor in front,

some standing behind – then runs to the tripod

and presses the remote… After the guests have gone,

she draws her first spiral – clockwise, perfect,

a spira mirabilis – then carries

her Pooh balloon around the room, requesting

Postman Pat… She hides under her special

blanket.

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THE ARMENIAN MONASTERY, SAN LAZZARO, VENICE

San Lazzaro island was the city’s

leper colony until the Doge

gave the Armenians sanctuary, no doubt

to annoy the Turks. An antique engraved print

of the monastery, which occupies

the whole island, hangs on the wall above

the small table I use for my laptop.

The monks did the engraving and print.

Their library is Alexandrian in scope.

 

Gordon Lord Byron, escaping the

blandishments of Shelley’s sister-in-law,

took an apartment on the Grand Canal,

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