Through a December Window

Two pigeons there are, hunched against the storm.
Dark shapes against the slick, red roof-tiles,
Looking in on where we two huddle and read –
Dark forms against the soft red upholstery.

Rain clatters, thrown against the glass,
Skeletal branches thrash against the sky.
A winter storm eventually will pass
To leave the prospect battered and awry.

Two people there are: reading in the gloom
Our minds escape the grey, wet tumult,
Glance out to where two pigeons wait,
And wonder at their patient equanimity.



Like a ball thrown high into the air,
I hang suspended, motionless,
On the cusp of movement,
My energy all potential, not kinetic.

Like a solitary electron,
My position known for now
Though if one should seek
To fix my place, quite uncertain.

Like a clock at turn of day,
Hands quivering on midnight,
Caught in the endless moment,
Anxious for the event that restarts time –
Your return.


Be gentle with me

Although it is a little late in life to be admitting to a loss of innocence, I must confess to having attended my first poetry open-mike event. It was part of the Ilkley Literature Festival during which this polite Yorkshire town allows itself to be a little racy, just for a few weeks, mind, and not too much. The event was held in a pub that my son assures me used to be a real dive, but is now a welcoming place that still feels like a pub not a trendy eaterie. We assembled, signing up on a clipboard if we intended to read. A local poetry group formed an expanding huddle at one end of the room, around which we solitary performers dispersed ourselves into corners. Poet-in-residence Zaffar Kunial got things started, then it was names out of a hat and off we go. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of forms and styles, relieved at the occasional outbreaks of humour, and impressed by the quality.

One by one, men and women of all ages came up to the mike, including a wheezy elderly gent whose rap contribution brought the house down. Eventually my name came out of the hat. I had never read poetry in public before, let alone reading something of my own, and had to make an on-the-hoof selection of two poems out of the half-dozen I had printed out. As we were in a pub, I kicked off with Dylan Marlais Thomas, which was politely received, then A poet learns the awful truth about ravens, which seemed to go down well. Someone even laughed at the line “…a Poe-faced raven…”, which was satisfying. All was over in a few minutes, and not long after we gave ourselves a round of applause and went home.

Was it enjoyable? Certainly, and I came away with some ideas to work on. Would I do it again? Yes, probably. At the next one, I might even read the short poem that I wrote during my first open-mike event.

Arrived early, bought a pint.
Who drinks at lunchtime
But poets and drunks?
Who may, of course, be one and the same.

Sat quietly, sipped my beer.
Who are these people
That sit all around?
They may, of course, be thinking that of me.

An interview with John Humphrys

The scene is the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme studio. Someone has done something that has led to an unsatisfactory situation.

JH: So, Hapless Interviewee, had you known then what we know now, shouldn’t you have acted differently?

HI: Good morning John. I think if you review the facts of the case, you will find that I did not know then what we know now.

JH: Really? Shouldn’t you have known? Wasn’t it your job to know?

HI: I can hardly be expected to have known what was at the time unknown. I only knew what was generally known and…

JH: (interjects) But you were then and are, at least for now, the man in charge. People might think it a poor excuse that you did not know more than any Tom, Dick or Harry.

HI: Look John, let’s be clear. I was faced with a situation that required a decision to be made based on the facts at my disposal at the time.

JH: (drily) Wasn’t much of a decision, was it?

HI: Pardon?

JH: Well, look how badly things have turned out, with jobs lost and reputations tarnished.

HI: But as I said…

JH: (interrupts) Yes, we know what you have said. The question is shouldn’t you be considering your position?

HI: I hardly think that’s appropriate.

JH: Isn’t it? You have admitted taking a decision when not in full possession of the facts, and the consequences speak for themselves.

HI: I really don’t see how my resignation would improve the circumstances of those who have been affected by this turn of events.

JH: So you think that you should keep your job, despite your admitted inadequacy, whilst others are losing theirs?

HI: No, I…

JH: What you’re saying is that your professional survival counts for more than theirs?

HI: No John, and that’s Jim Naughtie’s catchphrase, not yours.

JH: Not any more it isn’t, not since he abandoned the Today flagship. And isn’t that what you are doing, trying to abandon responsibility for the mess that resulted from, may I remind you, your decision?

HI: Ahh….

JH: Don’t you at least owe people an apology?

HI: I have never believed that generalised apologies are anything more than a meaningless salve to the conscience.

JH: (quietly) Doesn’t your conscience need to be salved? Do you feel nothing for the people you have let down?

HI: (querulously) Yes, of course I do.

JH: Then why won’t you apologise, an interim apology if you like, while you consider resigning?

HI: (Sigh, faint sob then silence)

JH: (Failing to keep smug tone out of voice) Hapless Interviewee, thank you very much.

Sarah Montague: And now it’s time for Thought for the Day, with the Reverend Richard Coles-Dawkins.

Rev RC-D: I often reflect on Christ’s command to us “Judge not, lest ye also shall be judged…”.

Pizza Express, Baker Street

The stuttering flow of traffic on Marylebone Road
Fills the senses with a cloud of grey noise.
Hustling, bustling, hassling people throng the pavement,
Chatting, listening, pre-occupied, unfocussed,
Their thoughts elsewhere as headphones chitter.
They stroll, amble, saunter and stride their private journeys
Under the great cliffs of brick, stone and glass.
Some of those rocks are ancient and weathered,
Others a gleaming new orogeny, reflective, angular,
Unfamiliar intrusions on a half-remembered scene.
Tussauds, Town Hall, Parish Church, faces I once knew
Are now crowded by others unknown, never met.
And faintly under the vivid cacophony,
The echo of my footsteps from forty years ago.

Up there

Up there
Where my boots crunch and clatter on stones
Where clouds whisk around and below
Where a fierce wind numbs the face on a summer day
Where harsh rock grates and bruises cold fingers
Where merely coping is a simple joy
Where ambition is the next ridge or boulder
Where distance lends perspective to my views
Up there

To a candidate seeking re-election

These hard-working families of whom you speak,
Who are they exactly? Are they yours?
Do your children want for good square meals?
Do you struggle to pay the rent?
I thought not.

This open society you claim to seek,
How open exactly? May we see
Where your business friends wine and dine you,
And you lobby to scratch their backs?
I thought not.

Those friends overseas whom you say we need,
Are they refugees? Are they poor?
Do you reach out to those most in need,
The nobodies who starve alone?
I thought not.

This General Election that comes around,
What is it you want of me? To listen
To your gobshite words of tax and spend,
As you say that you want my vote?
I think not.