Slackers, or The View from Washington

Get out there and win the war, you slackers!

You’ve had tons of weapons from your backers.

They’re no excuse: defences, mines and tanks;

You’ve all you need to break enemy ranks.

Casualties? That’s just collateral stuff;

You mean you don’t know that war will be rough?

You know what they say: you can’t take the heat?

Vacate the kitchen and stare at defeat.

We’ve stumped up t...

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UkraineWar Fatigue

Young Man, Dancing

Quite nice, on the whole, that religious chap.

High up, apparently. (Could even be the boss;

‘Numéro Uno’, said a bodyguard.)

He gave me forty minutes;

Has some good ideas.


Drinks shandy with lunch

(‘Must keep a clear head’).

Unsurprising views on midweek sex (he is sceptical)

And Elvis impersonators (better in the North).

Unlike his autobiography,

Entitled ‘Who’...

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Square Root

The sweaty boy lay on the beach;

‘You stink’, his girlfriend said.

But when awaking later on,

They sensed a world expired,

Where everyone was dead.


There was the sea, of course;

But, in truth, there was no sea.

Just their memories of water.


They longed for yesterday’s comforts:

When the old priest cackled and quacked,

Two lovers quarrelled beneath the pines


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Lovelost youth


The language becomes narrower each day;

Our actions and our words decelerate.

Only in the aftermath of slaughter

Do we attempt to find the words for death:

Some words to tick the box and shrug it off,

To come to terms with our cheap cuts of guilt.

Their boy lies, unresponsive, while we live

To relish the chaos of adulthood.

Truth is complicated. Dumped in a hole,

Until j...

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Crossword Clue

Last night, I met somebody from Ukraine;

He told me Mykolaiv was his town.

‘Oh, I’ve heard of it,’ I said. ‘In the East.’

‘Not really,’ he replied. ‘Near Odesa.’

Embarrassed, I had to apologise:

‘I got it confused with Mariupol.’

Although, of course, I realised my gaffe,

This exchange exposed the danger of war

As big-headlines and the superficial:

‘Starts with M, four sy...

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The Long Haul

They say we are in it for the long haul,

But the long haul is a poor existence.

Your options become rather limited:

Eat, sleep, work, fight, and live on subsistence.


I’ve driven lorries long haul to the West

And been to Asia on a long-haul flight,

But never put my neighbour in his grave,

Nor hid in shelters half way through the night.


Long haul relationships can b...

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You cannot see me,

But I can see you.

That’s how the war goes.

As you cross the road

Or jump on a bus,

I will destroy you

With minimum fuss.


But if you did spot me,

You would be amazed:

I’m no great colossus.

You’d miss me in the street,

As I have grown so small,

And, under the radar,

Hardly exist. At all.

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Daft as a Brush

The midnight attack got him. He swept floors

For forty years. Ordinary, no frills,

He carried on his work throughout the raids,

While cautious types like us would hunker down.

Close to retirement, he always swore

The cowards would not stop his night’s routine.

‘He’s as daft as his brush,’ some people said.

He made his choice, of course, as we made ours,

And he has paid the ...

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The Building

The pride of our town,

Its mortar and bricks

Now crumble to dust,

In heaps of destruction

And mollified lust.


Out there men are laughing

And punching the air;

They deal in high fives,

When hitting their mark

And ending more lives.

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(Up to August 2023, there have been SIX evidence-free attempts in the US to impeach President Biden. Each time Donald Trump is accused of a crime, his friends call for the impeachment of the prosecutor. Where will it all end?)


Impeach! Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!

All those who govern, judge or teach.


Impeach the man, impeach the boy,

The redwood tree, the cuddly toy.



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The Youngest of the Dead

(On August 13, 2023, a 23-day old baby girl was killed by Russian shelling in the Ukrainian village of Shiroka Balka. Six other people were killed in the attack.)


There’s an old saying: ‘live for the day’.

I managed to do that. Twenty-three times.

And then – you probably know what happened.

You may ask the question: ‘am I angry?’

'For missing out on the next eighty years?'


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Soldier Boys

Here comes my son, the soldier boy;

He’ll always be my pride and joy.

I was so proud they would deploy

Someone so young, someone so young.


His face seemed hardly out of school;

Though he was kind and broke no rule,

They knew he was nobody’s fool,

For one so young, for one so young.


A picture in his uniform,

A buttoned coat to keep him warm,

He raced towards ...

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War Dancers

Dancers scatter shapes through fields of war:

Dancing around the stink and smell and sweat,

Dancing to a tune or to a heartbeat,

Dancing for their supper, dancing on the dead,

Dancing through the bullets and the bayonets,

Dancing on graves and above the pyres.

It once was simple: sessions at the barre,

A bit of matinée soft-shoe shuffle,

Of tip-tap or baggy-trousered ballro...

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(Russian missiles have recently struck pizza restaurants in Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk in Ukraine, killing men, women and children)


Why do you hate our pizzerias?

Why do you target tomato and cheese?

What have you got against pepperoni?

Are our four seasons failing to please?


We pride ourselves on our ingredients;

Our service is rated second to none.

But your depraved s...

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The Body Politic

Politics lurks everywhere we look:

Politics of dithering and backtrack,

Of scaremongers and big-boy nostalgia.

Nowhere to hide. In the US of A,

Blusterman is lying through his teeth.

Meanwhile, the same old suspects starve,

Or steal to fill their bellies or their habit,

While, next door to this, others lead their lives,

Trying honesty to round off each year’s end.


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Le Grand Jacques

Jacques Tati’s films should be universal,

They have so little dialogue and chat;

Yet, for some, his cinema bewilders,

The satire and comedy fall flat.


Perhaps it is the Frenchness of it all –

A supposed intellectual conceit –

Or maybe it’s down to Monsieur Hulot,

Whom he chose to interpret and repeat.


Is there not a hint of pretentiousness,

Do miming and humour...

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Video Link

The colonel’s hamming up the bonhomie,

The President spits bile for all to see,

The regimental parakeet is shot,

A corporal is cleaning up the lot.


Stand to attention, don’t bother thinking;

Get back to the trenches, cold and stinking.

Gleaming new tanks make the battlefield shake,

Flattening its residue in their wake.


We’ve got more weapons, let’s pick a new toy;


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It has been quiet here so far;

The trick is getting through the day:

Ticking off hours, counting clouds,

Throwing pebbles into the lake.

I’m just one of the backroom boys,

I scrub up and write the labels.

It’s soldiers I feel sorry for;

Christ, there goes one, then another.

Poor bastard, sent flying towards

No-man’s land. I suppose that he’s….

That’s number five this ...

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We’re all for fighting climate change,

Until the choice gets tough;

Don't try to meddle with our cars,

Our holidays, our stuff.


What beats the smell of petrol fumes,

The whiff of kerosene,

The closet full of unworn clothes,

The cinema-sized screen?


We'll stand behind the barricades

To fight off this green crap,

And watch the lifestyle we deserve

Fall stra...

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climate change


They told me: pick them up at the station.

A family, two children and their mum.

Some English. The younger boy is crying.

From beneath uncertain, hollow eyes,

The mother does her best to raise a smile.

We go to the place behind the woodyard,

Stuffed with caravans and second-hand beds.

‘Processing.’ That’s what it said on the card.

‘Her husband coming soon,’ said the fat man...

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War; refugees

Ukraine, SW19

I will not shake her hand;

Surely you understand?

My people, every day,

Will shake the hand of death.

Her kinsmen’s uncouth plan

Inflicts its pain and hurt

Across my native land,

Where bodies lie in dirt

Days after their last breath.

I was told I must play;

She is allowed to stand

And face me at the net.

It’s not her fault, and yet

I will not shake her hand.


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500 days

Five hundred days is far too long;

The war has come, good times have gone.

The chiefs talk tough, the bullets fly,

And combatants prepare to die.

The weak recoil before the strong,

Whose bells and whistles multiply

Into a dark, forbidding sky

And chill winds sing their mournful song.

Faced with this daily raid on time,

This awful pillage of our youth –

A hideous, demo...

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With every new obscenity,

We grope for the familiar

When we try to summarise death:

‘A trickle’, steady or constant,

Of civilian casualties.

Strange how we choose to illustrate

The rubbing out of human life.

Our terminology betrays

A culture ruled by quantities

And drip-drip measurements of loss,

Or, as likely, by the comfort,

Of images of gurgling streams,


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They’re coming for the writers now;

They’ll take out poets one by one.

These tellers of the awkward truths,

Who show them up for what they are,

Appear to constitute fair game

For slingshots scrounged from death’s bazaar.


(The Ukrainian writer and poet Victoria Amelina was killed in the missile strike on the pizza restaurant in Kramatorsk).

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Left Field

What if we should try the left field option?

And wandered off message or ditched the script,

And shouted out loud: ‘Just stop the killing’.

To save the people, not yet dead, from those

Like themselves, but dressed in different garb.

Save the lives, save the years still to be lived,

Stop the anguish, the tragedy, the waste.

Turn force-fed anger into peace, disarm,

Roll back ...

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Must we respect the niceties of war,

When enemies adhere to no such code?

Civility becomes a fatal flaw

Which adds some extra kilos to our load.


Our protocols are there for all to see,

And everyone agrees we must abide

By rules which are the price for living free,

Although they’re only honoured by one side.


Our foe abuses captives and denies

Their fundamental r...

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Fortunes of War


Doing the weekly supermarket shop,

He saw the cashier had just the one leg.

‘Landmine?’ he asked. ‘You’ve guessed it,’ she replied.

The man behind them pointed to his patch:

‘I was at the front. They shot out my eye.’

Still, mustn’t grumble. My friend and brother died.’

The queue went quiet; the scanner beeped on.

A woman entered, carrying a child,

Apparently deceased....

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Night Sight

The journalist asked nervously:

‘How many Russians have you shot?’

Juggling with his imprecision,

The marksman grunted ‘quite a lot.’


I suppose we should not be shocked,

Since he is fighting on our side,

But somehow you feel a shiver

When seeing how so many died.


You see them stalked like animals

By cold, nocturnal infra-red.

The night sight clicks; one pot,...

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Captain Crappy Rides Again (Or 'God Help Us')

Does he know that he’s lying

Or is he perhaps past caring?

Or has he now crossed that line

Where rights and wrongs intertwine

To a point beyond repairing?


Do we care if he’s telling lies?

Well, it seems that some people do;

They’ve had it up to here with him

And for the moment things look grim

For the Captain and his motley crew.


Could it be true he’s finall...

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We took back a village today.

Not much going on:

A few broken windows,

A burned-out car or two,

A corpse,

And one poor sap of a teenage soldier,

Hands on his head, crying out for Mum and Dad.


A broken old man emerges,

Shaking his fist and shouting ‘Kill them all.’

Another sits thoughtfully by the stream,

Praying for a missing child.


Our flag, mounted on a...

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Cold Soup

It seems that everybody’s fair game now.

In the town of Dnipro the other day

Their missiles claimed a two-year-old girl’s life.

And so we still have the moral high ground,

Until such time our side does something worse.

I want to have faith, believe there’s a God,

But was a decent man nailed to the cross

To make way for this dung heap of a world,

This foul dominion of the ha...

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Normandy Veterans at the Airport

They are old now, almost beyond age;

Pushed around, pinned into wheelchairs.

Though chaperoned, they seem unclaimed.

They hold up placards, give a wave

And do their best to summon up a grin,

Before we spirit them toward the beaches

Where, nearly eighty years ago,

They put their young lives on the line

To keep the locals and unborn safe.

We should salute and honour them,


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As kids, enjoying usual larks,

We fell on floors and grazed our knees,

And came a cropper climbing trees.

Slingshots and conkers tied to strings

Were weapons made from our own hands;

We fought in playgrounds and on swings.


Now we are adult and fight wars,

But our manoeuvres stay the same.

There are high stakes in our new game,

It’s true, and more expensive toys,


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It can help you pass your A-levels

Or similar bog-standard tests;

It will cook up birthday verses,

Can sketch some blackbirds in their nests

Or write a decent theme tune for TV.

But Beethoven’s ninth symphony,

The trio from the Rosenkavalier,

Gaugin’s Christs or the Mona Lisa?

Such inspiration it can’t get near.

AI is the service of the bland.

The risk is it will unde...

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We must have spoken far too soon;

I think we may have jumped the gun

When we waved patriotic flags

And romped around in blokey fun.


We thought that Bakhmut had caved in;

We thought that we would run the place,

But now it seems that victory

May bounce right back into our face.


We have lost thousands of our men,

Who we knew were expendable;

But we thought our ...

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Days of Sorrow

We live close to the stars,

But closer by the days:

From times which have long gone

Till the dawning of tomorrow.


Consider, for one moment,

The stars and the days, piled high:


The waste,

The loss,

The pain,

The grief,

The tortured sky.


The sorrow.

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War Graves

I’m sure they didn’t mean to finish here.

They once were young men; they are still today.

Time has not aged them; boyish souls outlive

Their mortal frames, long since dissolved to dust.

Each pristine grave is their nobility,

A passport to well-deserved endurance.

From all around the hubs and spokes of Earth,

They came and died from homelands far away,

In Britain and the loy...

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Like a giant can of insect spray,

Or some demented farmer blitzing weeds,

The looming tank, vertiginously filmed,

Mows down a flock of soldiers in retreat.

Flushed out from their camouflage,

They scatter or they bite the dust.

Whose side were they on?

What does it matter?

You still have to step over them.

The military play their games,

The politicians giggle;


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‘Picasso’s not all he’s cracked up to be.’

He’d had a few by then, but understood

The dangers of hype and adulation

Of the spineless, unconditional kind.

We were on the last train from Fenchurch Street;

Among the massed drunks now quiet or depressed,

The air was thick with smoke and rancid ale.

At first, when he leant over to my side,

I groaned, half-expecting some hard-luc...

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Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise

Sat reading in bed in those innocent days.

‘What’s the book?’ Eric says.

‘Kings and Queens of England’.


‘Monarchs!’ Ernie cried.

Eric looked suitably mortified.


From that point of view,

Monarchy’s all right.

‘And what do you do?’

They have nice hats,

A twinkle in the eye

And friends in high places

(Though not as hi...

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‘How many of you live here?’

The man with the clipboard was asking.

Numbers are not my strong point

And I get a bit tongue-tied.

I reply, in a roundabout way:

‘Well, some, here and there;

Not many now;

Fewer than there used to be.’

‘Is that the best you can do?’

He snapped, looking peeved.

I slope off, inadequate,

Fumblingly imprecise.


Turning round, I see ...

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Leaving Bangkok

Had he been riding the moped,

Of which there was now little left?

From behind my taxi window,

Cocooned in sweetly freshened air,

I imagined the pain and death

And the relatives, all bereft.

Peering out, I could see him, sprawled,

Bloody, like meat. ‘Airport soon, sir’

Announced the driver. Soon I'm gone

From this unyielding, lethal place,

Flying home through thin-aire...

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War Habits


Folding up your kit,

Cleaning out your gun,

Marching side by side,

Writing home to Mum.


Lobbing a grenade,

Fingers in your ears,

Larking with your mates,

Sinking twenty beers.


Blow the bastards up,

Keep your powder dry,

Punch the freezing air

As you watch them die.


Paying off the tarts,

Clearing body parts,

Bullet in the head:

Sorry ...

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Language Lessons

We do not know the future tense round here,

But deal in possibilities and mays;

Learning hypotheticals and options

And other such conditional displays.


Predictions in our world remain unsafe;

Coming weeks and months are speculation.

We may be staying here or going home;

Others will decide our situation.


We say ‘good morning,’ ‘thank you for your help’:

Phrases ...

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Sloviansk (14 April 2023)

Another toddler has copped it today;

They dragged him from the mess but then he died.

Attacks could come with heaviness of heart;

Those in charge know full well what may happen,

And might express regret for dirty tasks.

But no, each life has now become fair game;

All are equal before the randomness,

The cheap terror of such vague precision.

Yes, the good die young, but the ...

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Polite Society

Long ago, it was the wife who would push him

-‘These are our sort of people,’ she would say-

To take that job, which he couldn’t manage

And came home each evening utterly spent.

Oh, the ordeal of dinners with the boss

And Councillor Twitface for Sunday tea,

When he would have preferred to mooch around

And watch the football or listen to jazz.


That certain kind of snobb...

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We think the only victims in a war

Are those with names engraved who rise no more.

But we should spare a thought for those who live,

Those damaged souls with so much more to give:

Exploits in the battle oft unspoken,

Hearts and minds decayed or simply broken.

So many of them suffer from a loss

And find it tough to put a smiling gloss

On situations which become so hard


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Law and Order

Below par at love and related acts,

He watched the village, knowing how it worked.

He spied on locals, testing their strengths;

Weaknesses too: drink, cards, the other sex.

They all said his life would end up badly,

And it did: shot, in his lair of blackmail.

The obvious suspects: the vicar’s wife,

Whom he caught horizontal one hot night;

The bank manager, dipping in the sa...

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The Ants

She flaunted her quiet little lover,

Who made no fuss and took out the empties;

Hopped off the bus with a spring in his step

And provided the paradise she craved.

Her friends would say: ‘she looks so much better’.

But now he has left, she sits, immobile,

And when she moves, she spreads herself too thin,

Her cascade of tears moistening the street;

Bereft of all sympathy, exc...

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Glory Days


These pictures look quite dated now,

Like all those old films that we see.

That’s you, returning on the bus,

And, picking up the kids, it’s me.


Back in the glory days of peace,

We lived together hand in glove.

Our future seemed mapped out in stone,

The present sparkled with our love.


Now that seems like another world;

Your letters from afar arrive,


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