Tags from last 12 months

Ampelmännchen (1)

Lest They Forget

A village Remembrance service.

The same old hymns,

and pacifist sentiment.

Sun streams through

the memorial hall window

so that I can hardly see.

And when we come

to those words

and the bugle plays

and tears are wiped away

that same sun

has gone down, disappeared.


Why did we fight? Maybe

just to defend the British

belief in fair play, in sticking


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The Angel almost

ambushed us. 


The trees turn

more beautiful

with every mile.


Tyne at low tide. 

Network of bridges,

trains crossing.


Four in the morning. 

Crescent moon

in dark sky. The silence. 


Churchyard gravestones

look like people

in camera's flashlight. 


The blinking of the internet.

Every day, 

a new start. 



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UK takes a tumble

Shared on Twitter this morning: 

film of a confronatation 

between a cyclist 

and an expletive-deleted 

road-rage motorist. 


When told he is being filmed,

the driver struggles out of his car

and chases the rider 

down the road, yelling

'I'll fracking kill yer.'


He doesn't, loses his footing

instead, and sprawls headlong

in the street. If that isn't


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The way forward

We’re not there yet

but already some details

are etched in the map:

a haunted Roman road

beyond the wall,

leading to the border,

known as

the Devil’s Causeway,

traces of old railways,

a ruined priory,

a nearby river.


Why are you going so far?

some said. Family called us.

A seed was planted.

Time to begin walking again.

Have I waited nearly

all m...

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'The Daleks take the Treasury'

Easy to spot them. 

Another metallic voice in parliament. 

Exterminate the economy! 

Pound plunges, Britannia unhinged. 

The Daleks take the Treasury. 

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The funeral

Massed ranks, protecting

phalanx. Precision.

The bagpipes, gun carriage,

martial yet mournful.

Abbey’s organ, choir.


On the streets, in crowds,

in front of TVs. Most things

stopped. Most of us were there.


Union flags along The Mall.

Whatever your colours

a moment in history.

For one day a nation

more or less in perfect step.


The Queen has died.


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From Reykjavik to Kyiv

Reykjavik, where Reagan

and Gorbachev almost agreed

to ban all nuclear weapons.

Gorbachev, an old man now,

maintains that this dream 

is humanity’s only hope.


The shelling of civilians

is indiscriminate. The situation

has gone far beyond insults,

invective, rhetoric.

Forty years on

I’ll concede that avuncular


rightwinger Ronnie Reagan,

bete noire of...

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The bard of Cymdonkin Drive

Caitlin said in a TV interview

he sometimes spent hours

in the writing shed, only

to emerge with one line

after all that work.


The radio voice portentous,

everyone’s idea of a poet. 

Words that were musical, inspirational,

with no one quite sure

what exactly they meant.


A bard that pulled the birds

and drank like a fish. Why

did he get so pissed?


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I wouldn't go down to the sea today

They crap on us

from a great height. 

It's not symbolic

metaphorical, allegorical - 

it's offishial. It's offal. 


Farewell to the blue wall

along the south coast. 

Hello, polio, and other diseases.

We don't have to follow

the rules any longer.


More in your face 

than piled-up rubbish

in the 70s. Wake up, Britain, 

and smell the ordure.

We're surr...

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On some nights

when pressure is low

we fear to revive

dying plants

lest supply runs out.

No new handouts.


We no longer know

what to do for the best.

All that still grows

are those that

strangle and exploit,

or send out thorns.


What will remain

of this garden

is brambles

and bindweed.

Even in this heat

we dread the cold to come.




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King's Cross

Station of fire and steam, and last farewells.

Languages mill, crossroads traffic collides.

White bicycle memory of rider outside.


Record-breaking runs north.

Larkin’s stopping train plaque.


Dropped match on the escalator.

Beneath a platform, a buried Boudicca?


Platform nine and three-quarters.

Rucksack bombers arrived from Luton,

eyed each other, said goo...

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Always a song that tugged

at the heartstrings.

But over the years it took on

a melancholy, mournful note.

So many disappointments,

hands of God, penalty shoot-outs,

racist abuse on social media.


But that was then. That was the men.

Now, at the final whistle, they’re

playing our song, at Wembley!

The gods have smiled on us,

restored our faith. The longer


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The road north

That tinderbox summer: underground fires’

subversive routes, breaking cover,

crackling heaths and pinewoods.

Blackened commons, smoke-cloaked motorway.

Sudden, meaningful quarrels; soon

you’d be heading north to university.


Fog-stalled autumn: drinks half-price

in freshers’ week, tempted by new flavours.

Down south I couldn’t start, awaited repairs.

Long, cross-coun...

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Oh, Mr Porter

i.m Bernard Cribbins


That birthday scene

in The Railway Children

that always makes me cry. 

Pride, dignity, modesty,

and a certain pig-headedness,

too. Cribbins embodied those

values in his portrayal of everyman

porter Perks. We should have

feared the worst news was coming


when he didn’t turn up in the sequel.

Other working-class traits?

The Hole in th...

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Holiday jobs

Fruit picker road sweeper

Christmas mail sorter

office cleaner

road tax disc admin assistant.


I’ve listed my holiday jobs

in order of enjoyment.

Thought I’d do this because

at least one Tory PM candidate


has made hers a crucial part

of her CV, to try to persuade

us she’s an ordinary person

who once flipped burgers.


We aren’t fooled that easily!


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We didn’t worry about climate change

back then. The temperature might have

hit the 90s for several days. But that

was Fahrenheit, not Centigrade.


I do remember being bitten

by swarms of maddened ladybirds.

It wasn’t the heat that bothered us,

but the lack of rain. Wildfires


smouldered for a month in woods

and on heaths on my drive to work,

traveling undergro...

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A pride of Lionesses (and all the other teams)

Parade of the pony-tails.

No wrestling in the box;

getting up and getting on with it.

Football as it should be played.


Showing the men how to entertain,

putting them to shame.

The spirit of sport. Someone

should have a word with them. 


All those young girls cheering goals,

singing Football’s Coming Home.

I’m not being leery - I hope -

but the game just go...

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Watching England with Carol Ann Duffy

It seems like a dream now:

the 1-4 scoreline;

Lampard’s goal that never was;

watching the game with Carol Ann Duffy.


She turned up amid the half-time gloom

in a Ludlow pub, asked if it was ok

to sit near the TV. I made some crack

about political-historical contexts

and Nazi fugitives, and why

Uruguayan officials favour Germans.

She half-smiled: that’s when I gues...

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From Gorbachev to Johnson

Cornwall 2019


Church Cove. No through road.

Butterflies brush fingers along

the coastal path. Named after


Breton saint, the church of the storms

shelters in the dunes behind a rock;

the graveyard often fills with sand.


The information notes talk casually

of Arthur, Bedivere, Excalibur;

list wrecks along Gunwalloe’s coast,


not least the Portuguese t...

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This old heart

I Want to Hold Your Hand.

The music of our youth plays

as we 60-somethings –

and then some –

squat and lunge,

walk on the spot,

step forward, then back.  

No arms above the shoulder

for the cardios.


I remember swiping

the demon fast bowler

for successive fours

before being clean-bowled.

A 400-yard relay

when no one overtook me.

The hat-trick

I s...

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A holly blue on holly. 

The rose that rambles 

through the apple tree

tries to tug me back 

as I chug over the grass, 

the three-wheel mower

cutting out at random 

moments. Today

the estate agent's

photographer came

to take pictures. 



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Easter Saturday, Benahavis

A gorge of towering cliffs;

the Guadalmina unseen

below the road. We visit

a park to feed rabbits

with carrots, take our turns

with party pieces

at the open-air theatre,

while other families wait

impatiently to photograph

and film first communioners,

one young girl bedecked

like a bride.


I read a poem from my phone

about Simon Armitage,  

Gillian perf...

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A ticket to die

They thought they had

train tickets to safety.

Now they lie scattered

outside Kramatorsk station,


surrounded by luggage.

First you see crammed

shopping trolleys, suitcases,

a turquoise pram. Then 


the bodies in between.

Has Putin poisoned

the water supply

so that ordinary Russians


believe his lies? The missile

that landed among clustered


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Dust to dust

Souvenir from the Sahara.

Terracotta sand washed down

by the rain, collected in gullies

on our bins and stepping stones.

Reminder that, isn’t nature

wonderful? And that it knows  

no boundaries. Shared with

France and Spain. And yet …

what other dust might be

blown in on the wind?

The answer, my friend …  



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The big chill

If I were still in the office

maybe all this would

affect me less.

I would be worrying about

making the headline fit,

or whether someone would

change it further up the line,

cutting the copy to fill


the space, doing it all

within the deadline.

A big political resignation?

My role to make the page work,

the pictures have impact.

Yes, I worked at a leading


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Ukraine is running out of fuel,

food, water, medicines,

humanitarian corridors,

safe havens. It still has

bravery and defiance,

teenage boys scared

but willing to join the fight.


Putin has long run out

of sense and humanity.

He's still pumped up by

his supply of steroids

as he reduces villages,

towns, cities to rubble,

murders fleeing civilians,


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From Reykjavik to Kyiv

Reykjavik, where Reagan

and Gorbachev almost agreed

to ban all nuclear weapons.

Gorbachev, an old man now,

maintains that this dream 

is humanity’s only hope.


The shelling of civilians

is indiscriminate. The situation

has gone far beyond insults,

invective, rhetoric.

Forty years on

I’ll concede that avuncular


rightwinger Ronnie Reagan,

bete noire of...

Read and leave comments (4)

The little green man of Berlin

They were glad enough to see

so much thrown in the dustbin

when the Wall came down;

but not the Ampelmännchen

the traffic light’s little green man

with his jaunty, Erich Honecker hat.


At the threat of his deposal

by the west’s staid cousin

there was outcry. Now

Herr Everyman’s cheery gait

sets Berlin’s tone on carrier bags,

coffee mugs, T-shirts.



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Death among the conifers

This was once innocent,

Joan Hunter Dunn country.

Now behind the rhododendrons,

azaleas, conifers lurk foreigners

with something to hide, money,

identities. They try to conceal

themselves in woodland,

behind fairways. Occasionally

there’s a mystery.


There may have been a court case,

or strangers in the neighbourhood.

A rich but shy man

is found dead in circ...

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The news from Ukraine

I’ll show those old ladies

mixing up Molotov cocktails,

bomb a nuclear plant

to a factor of ten Chernobyls.


These steroids pump

you up, help you

to see things

as they really are.  


Never mind that bumbling

old man in the White House.

Never mind that clown we have

in place in Londongrad.


Never mind that our soldiers

don’t know why they’re there.


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The football scores

The early April afternoon was glorious.

The daffs were out, I felt Wordsworthian.

You’d come down from York to look

at houses. We caroused that evening

with old friends in the Railway Tavern –

they used to serve a lovely drop there,

now apartments handy for the station –

talking football as usual,

about our bankrupt team’s past triumphs,

and how we’d probably never fight...

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The morning after

the last hope gone, we find ourselves in sunshine

with family in Marbella beside a fountain sculpture

of beauty and unity, reflecting civic pride,

what might have been, playing with our


Anglo-Spanish grandchild on the swings and slides.

She careers across the pavement on a little bike,

I struggle to keep up with her, and as I screw

my features into laughter faces, she mim...

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Happiness is being alive is a national saying.

Suitcases sculpture outside the museum.

Estonia declared independence

for the second time in a century


when the old Soviet Union wasn’t looking.

Thirty-thousand taken from their homes,

sent to Siberia in cattle trucks

in 1941 and 1949.


One of the last heathen lands in Europe,

now one of the most secular,

beset b...

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Have we had our chips?

Even if this does prove

to be our last fish and chip supper,

even if it's technically 

just a pub lunch, 

if Vladimir the Poisoner

in a mad rage presses the button  

just because we don't admire

his rippling torso, just because

we laugh at his ugly Botox features,


before I perform in the am-dram

tonight, before we even rehearse

the lines one more time, then


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The carriage in the forest

After three days of arguing the armistice was signed

in the French general’s private train

at a siding in the forest of Compiegne.

The Kaiser left for exile in Holland.

The military, unwilling to admit defeat,

still surrendered guns and planes.


No one told the people how bad things were.

A German corporal, recovering

after being gassed the month before,

a misfit who...

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First day after the cardiac class

I’m walking the canal, taking

my chance between two storms.

The water full and clear and still

after yesterday’s rain. I recall

the tape measure they put

round my waist, told me

that I was in the Red Zone.  


Cyclists that sneak up on you.

Joggers, dog walkers. And then,

an omen, intimation of heaven:

bejewelled flash of blue i...

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The land of total rhubarb

Welcome to the sunlit uplands

of total rhubarb, England's 

fastest growing cash crop.

(Too bad there's no one left to pick it). 


Fertilised by inverted pyramids

of piffle, or should that be 

de Pfeffel? Where Afghan hounds

matter more than Afghans. 


And talking of animals, did even

the Cheshire Cat wear 

such a self-satisfied smirk? 

As tourists flock to ...

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The end of the line

My wife returns from a funeral 

and says: I know now 

what we should play at yours. 

The deceased arrived 

to the strains

of Flanders and Swann's

Slow Train, a lament

that lists so many 

mellofluous-sounding stations

bulldozed by Beeching. 


The service leaflet has 

a tank engine and coaches

on its cover. I find myself 

composing the first line

of my o...

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For Ronnie

Listening to Be My Baby

on a little tranny

in a camping coach

at East Budleigh.


Mods and Rockers

in Brighton was

the Mirror’s

splash that Easter.


A clock was ticking.

Before the song

finished the

doomed ghost train


and its two coaches

rumbled by.

At school I vaguely

noticed some girls


had started wearing bras.

Didn’t know that


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Darkness approaches early. 

Grey blanket envelops the garden.

It doesn't bother the tits 

that flash between the feeders;

not a nothing day to them. 

Bulbs push through mulch. 

Moisture makes lawn glisten,

illuminates the moss. 

Magpie mops up spilt mealie worms.

Recovering fir tree's needles

gleam on the patio,

make light of the afternoon gloom.

Beneath this sh...

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'Go, go, go'!

There's a break in the traffic. 

My almost-two grandson, 

strapped in his car seat,

urges 'Go, go, go!'

in my ear, just like 

Neal Cassady

in On the Road. 

Yes! Yes, yes! 

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The central heating has broken down. 

Covid-ridden British Gas has let us down. 

The unfamiliar temperature in the house

recalls my boyhood winter of 1963.


Ice inside windows, no radiators then. 

Some football teams didn't play

for many weeks. I was just a kid,

had never heard of Sylvia Plath.


The snow and ice remained, day after day, 

eventually shifted by wor...

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There's a dinosaur in the bath

The cat bustles in for breakfast

no longer looking out

for the greyhound that visited. 

All is back to normal. Or is it?

The TV’s no longer permanently

tuned to Baby Shark and Peppa Pig.


But nappies are still found

in odd waste bins.

A child’s fairground sits

on top of the cupboard.

They didn’t have room

for it in their luggage.


A plastic potty gently ...

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