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From one of the high rise budget hotels

in Portimao we picked up a group

of six challenged men and their two minders.

(Portugal, our tour guide told us later,

was enabling those – institutionalised

since childhood for learning difficulties –

to take vacations, with supervision,

from the drab, echoing, noisome halls).

Two were remarkable: a gaunt fellow

bent permanently double, always moving,

keeping close to the other, a joker

with moustached Arabic looks and frightened eyes.




The owl we heard last night hoots near the road

and a fox barks deep among the oak trees.

Though it is moonless and the sea a sliver

of a different dark, light pollution

from the small resort to the east

means we must find the westernmost wall

to lean against and view the stars tonight.

We see them trembling and marvel, wordless,

so many more than we ever remember.

We forget they are always above us.


‘What is the sky for?’



“Do you know, Grandpa, this book has seventeen

chapters, and I’m on chapter fifteen,

‘The Forbidden Forest’?” “I didn’t,” I say,

“That’s excellent!” and this seven year old,

who has mastered the use of apostrophes,

curls up, like the proverbial worm

on the sofa, and continues to read

‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’.

I am re-reading, in English,  ‘Le Grand Meaulnes’.


In the garden, using extended loppers,

Grandma is cutting choice blooms from a rose

we have had some thirty years,



The when, where, why of the last of Britain

is not easy to pinpoint exactly.


Perhaps it was Dudley Moore, the comic actor

and skilful musician, drunk, approaching

Princess Margaret at some exclusive do

and slurring, “Good evening, your royal highness.

I suppose a blow job is out of the question?”


Or the woman herself choosing not to be buried

with her peers, but cremated in Slough.


Possibly it was the Queen and her consort,



…a maxim named for a Franciscan friar,

William of Ockham, from the Surrey village –

and from London, Oxford, Avignon,

Munich – Pope’s enemy, Emperor’s friend,

dying just as the Black Death was scourging.


It is a metaphor, not logic chopping –

best summarised, perhaps, as ‘less is more’,

‘don’t over-egg the pudding’, even

‘fine words butter no parsnips’. He was

the radical philosopher of his age,

a nominalist – words are words, ideas




Sheltering from a summer shower

beneath the portico of the Tunsgate Arch,

Guildford, I looked down the steep High Street

towards the bridge over the River Wey

and saw three bespectacled Buddhist Monks

emerge from Dolland & Aitchison and,

lifting their saffron robes, run to Jigsaw.


Enjoying my pan fried sea bass and Guinness

in The Faulkner, Hoole, and watching the rain

trickle down the Walker Street Co-op’s facade,

my view was suddenly blocked by a coach

from which a party of middle aged

Japanese tourists descended and,