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THE AMBIGUITY OF THEFT

Two of the rooms in the British Museum

I always visit are numbers 7

and 8, ‘Assyria: Nimrud’. Named,

in modern times, for the Biblical Nimrod

the three thousand year old city of Kalhu

is twenty miles south of Mosul. On display

from the palace of Ashurnasirpal

are gypsum panels, carved reliefs, products –

faultlessly sculpted – from a master’s workshop.

They are, for the most part, pristine, and portray

absolute kingship, its circumstance, pomp,

and prisoners’ heads severed after battle.

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ENGLISH JOURNEY

I have made my English journey – by rail,

Chester to Euston return – maybe,

on average, three times a year since I was four.

 

It is like revisiting a ragged

museum of serendipitous

keepsakes: Canada Geese on Cheshire ponds;

GEC become Alstom in Stafford:

wind turbines and mobile phone towers

jostling radio masts near Rugby;

concrete cows in Milton Keynes; Ovaltine

in Kings Langley; Watford’s mosques;

and, anywhere, marshalling yards of

derelict rolling stock,

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FLYING SOUTH

Ascending south east from Manchester, over

Eyam, the ‘plague village’, towards the Wash;

cruising over the Channel, observing

the shipping below me with wonder like some

latter day Bleriot; then Rotterdam’s docks

and the Rhine; sun glinting momentarily

like fireflies, and I am nonchalant

as Icarus, mindful as Daedalus,

noting place names freighted with histories;

past Munich, and the bared Austrian Alps,

then due south along the Balkan Mountains,

smoke drifting north from polluting fires,

roads following the contours,

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PAPHOS: THE OLD HARBOUR

The thirteenth century’s major earthquake

resulted in a tsunami that buried

a bishop and his congregation, razed

the castle – a Byzantine fort – broke

the Roman breakwater, leaving rocks

like cracked teeth, rendered the harbour useless

for sea going vessels and reduced this once

capital city to a fishing village

which the odd traveller would visit

for the lustrous mosaics nearby.

 

On the corniche, watched by strolling tourists

and two armed Port &

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THE PROMONTORY

At the landward end of the bronze age site

is a six storey apartment hotel;

right a broad sandy beach with amenities,

left, behind palms, cypresses and olives,

another hotel, vast as a cruise ship,

hiding the property development signs

in Russian and Chinese on the main road.

 

A peloton of young German students,

when we arrive, is being lectured

at the entrance to the museum –

an architect-designed, circular space,

subtly engineered into the sandstone,

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THE TOMBS OF THE KINGS, PAPHOS

The kings were interred within the city walls.

This necropolis – lying between the sea

and the newly finished dual carriageway,

The Avenue of the Kings – is a field

full of flowers this early April morning:

curry plants, sea lavender, hibiscus.

Carved deep into the limestone – a simple niche

or a house with courtyard and doric columns –

these were courtiers’ tombs. They were looted

aeons ago. Some were quarried for dwellings,

others used by squatters, outcasts. Mimosa

bougainvillea,

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