The Queen


Of course I drink.
I couldn’t make it through the day without
a shot or two of schnapps or whisky sour
to keep me sane. The castle’s an asylum
for the upper classes. And who can tell
attendants from the criminally deranged ?

That’s why I sneak down here, back to my roots –
the bar I worked in when I was a kid.

Take the PM. I know he looks the part –
that silver hair, the patronising voice.
It’s just a front.
His brain is riddled like a mouldy cheese.
Tormented by his girl’s virginity
he eavesdrops on her every word,
salivating at each hint of sex.

I envy her soft skin, the swelling breasts,
but not her innocence. Virtue must be spent,
not hoarded, else it soon turns sour
and that leads on to madness.

No-one has the right to be so pure.

My son. The necessary heir. After the birth
his brutish father died. What choice had I
but wed his uncle ?
No child can rule a kingdom.

Get me another drink. Make it a double.

We never bonded.
I hated touching him.
His skin was always cold.

And now he’s grown
there’s even less between us.
He loiters with his college friends
in shadowed corridors,
blows me a kiss as I pass by.
I hear him sniggering behind his hand.

There is an emptiness behind his eyes
as though his life’s a constant agony.
I can relate to that.
Sometimes he frightens me.

One more for the road, then I’ll sneak back
to the asylum.
Drink up ! I swear
this stuff will be the death of me.

Six impossible things before breakfast

Like the Queen in ” Alice in Wonderland:” I can  almost believe six impossible things before breakfast. I can believe that there is a Twitter group which encourages  pop fans to cut themselves when one of the band decides to leave. I can believe that an average airline pilot can hide his mental problems from the  safest airline in the world, and murder himself and a hundred and forty-nine other people.I can believe that a supporter of extreme Islam can go on protest rally, and then blame the police when his daughter runs away to Syria. I can believe that Nicola Sturgeon wants, not only independence for Scotland, but a hand in the government of England. I can believe that MP’s can let out their London homes and live in hotels, thus gaining for themselves a nice little windfall- indeed I would expect nothing else.


But the one that sticks in my craw is this- I cannot believe that someone should threaten to murder the Director General of the BBC  because he sacked the loathsome Clarkson, after he ( Big Jezza) had punched a producer in the face seriously enough for him to go to A and E. Murder ?  I cannot believe that this is true, or that the police are taking it very seriously.

And yet , apparently, it is. And they are.

Oscar Wilde in lead boots


I thought I’d managed to sidestep the Martyrdom Of St Jezza. I know nothing about cars – well- I know they have seats and four wheels and something called an engine that makes them go. I cannot drive – yes- there are a few of us dinosaurs left. I had a driving lesson once, in an empty carpark. The moment I touched the accelerator we ran into a brick wall. I put it into reverse and tried again. We shot backwards into the opposite wall.In moments I had turned a perfectly nice Mini into  something which looked like a large, crumpled suitcase.

So I am no petrol head, though I’ve seen a couple of ” Top Gears.” That was enough. What caught my attention first was the hierarchy.Big Jezza is boss. The other two- the one who looks like a small rodent and the one who looks like a walking mop, fawn upon The Master, feeding taglines for him to top, giggling with delight when they are  made the butt of his razor wit. They are the straight men to his Comic Genius.They are the weedy kids sucking up to the big bully.

And then there’s the language. There may be people who believe that the whole show is made up on the spot, that this is all witty spontaneous knockabout fun.I have one word for you – teleprompter. Oh – it’s technically very clever and delivered with flair and (over rehearsed) panache, but the whole thing reeks of over-writing and hours spent hammering the keyboard.

Now, I may not know anything about cars, but I know a lot about language and style, and I can de-construct a sentence faster than  Jezza could strip down a gearbox.

Let us consider some of The Big Man’s gems.

“There is something really funny about the sight of an angry young woman being hosed into the gutter by a tank.”

The keyword here is “funny.” It’s a nice, soft word unlike ” amusing” which is a bit prim. So you’re set up for something cuddly- and you get a neat little cameo of police brutality. It’s initially shocking, and then…a bit sniggery. The Master is appealing to your dark side.It’s a bit of schadenfreude for the masses.

Let’s try another one:

“Speed never killed anyone- suddenly becoming stationary – that’s what gets you”

I must admit this is quite clever- the reversal of expectations, the playing with words.It’s the sort of thing Oscar Wilde would come up with on a bad day. In fact that would be a good description of Clarkson’s writing style.He’s Oscar Wilde in lead boots.

Here’s one  last example:

” There’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful. It’s cheap and nasty, and expensive and cheerful.”

It doesn’t actually mean anything. He’s playing with words here. Perhaps worth half a snigger.

Clarkson is surface all the way through, with a polish of malice on top. There. I’m feeling better now. Except that I’m not.

When the sad news broke ( A Nation Mourns) James May ( the one who looks like a mop) said ” It’s a tragedy.”

No James. It isn’t a tragedy.It’s the just punishment of a loud mouthed, overpaid lout.

150 people killed in a plane crash. Now that is a tragedy.






You know what ? English just got lazier.

Like an amateur virologist, I’m always on the lookout for little bugs of language which infect the public domain. Do you remember upspeak ? That irritating, childish way of putting a question mark at the end of each sentence ? Thank goodness,it’s largely died out ? I’m glad you don’t often hear it anymore ?

(Get a grip man! Get a grip !)

I’ve found a couple of new bugs, swilling around at the bottom of my test tube. You know what ? The first one is “You know what ?” It’s a world weary way of putting someone in their place. It prefaces a statement of the bleeding obvious that everyone with half a brain should understand. It’s sarcastic, pompous …and proliferating by the minute.

I can excuse Mark Kermode, the film critic, for using it. He does cagey, ironic, like no-one else. But I was shocked to hear John Humphries use it on the Today programme the other day. Big Humph, Guardian of the English Language Flame and Scourge of Scurvy Politicians. Tsk..tsk.

I like that.Tsk tsk…but I digress

Resilient. Good word. Strong.Real world. Think steel sheet. Think Nelson’s flagship, battered by French cannon balls, but bouncing back. You don’t think car parking regulations, employment contracts,confidentiality agreements. They all have ” inbuilt resilience.” I am so re-assured.

“And what about “robust” ? Every time there is a disaster, a debacle, a fracas or just an administrative cockup, there’s some poor sap in front of the news cameras, and they always say the same thing ” We now have robust procedures in place to ensure that this never happens again” No ! Really ? That’s ok then.

There is a new bug on the block. I’ve only heard it a couple of times, but I suspect it could become an epidemic.

” Here’s the thing”

I can’t work out what it means. What thing ? Where is it ? Is it a big thing ? Can I see it ? It’s telling you that something is there…and I’ll let you know what it is in a minute. If you say ” I’m going to talk to you today about house bricks” and then reach under the lectern , take out a brick and hold it up, THEN you can say ” Here’s the thing.” But not before.

I note that Ed Millipede is an early adopter, so it’s bound to be a success.

Finally “issues” or rather ” Ishooz.” OK it’s been a portmanteau word for years, but I came across a wonderful useage yesterday, on the website of ” Rialto”- a highbrow magazine. I leave you with this gem:

” We have had an issue with a few of our magazines.”


There is a kind of love called maintenance

Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget

The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way

The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,

And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate

Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,

Which knows what time and weather are doing

To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;

Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers

My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps

My suspect edifice upright in air,

As Atlas did the sky.

This is another poem by UA Fanthorpe,who wrote the sheepdog poem. In a way the two poems are comparable – they’re both about love – but not flashy, romantic infatuation. She writes about the love which is at work quietly, in the background, a love which does, rather than blusters; which knows when to oil the wheels of the relationship.

The first half of the poem is about day to day house-keeping – the insurance, the milkman, the dentist – the kind of mundane tasks which keep the show on the road. It’s a heavy load to carry – like Atlas holding up the world .

The pivot point of the poem comes here:

“The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living’

Every life is complex and provisional.Relationships, like houses, need to be looked after, otherwise they fall into disrepair, and suddenly she’s talking about herself as a house in need of maintenance – “Laughs at my dryrotten jokes” “ My need for glossing “

This is a love poem to her partner – the one who smooths her way, who knows what she wants before she knows it herself.

There are lots of people like this in the world. We should be grateful to them.

You will find an audio version of the poem here:

You can hear another UA Fanthorpe poem- ” the Sheepdog” here:

Jane Nightwork

Jane Nightwork was one of Shakespeare’s characters who never quite made it on stage.
She’s mentioned briefly in ” Henry IV Pt 2.” Two old country lawyers, Shallow and Silence are looking back fifty years to the time when they were at university when they were roaring boys, drinking and wenching. Jane Nightwork was one of the ladies of the night, who relieved them of their money, as well as their virginity.

I decided to give Jane a voice.

Here she is.

Flat on my back
in the black grass,
daisies, like fallen stars
about my face,
and his hand
up my petticoats
and heading slowly north.

We haven’t got all night.

I am his first time.

He is fifteen.

Our clothes fall, rustling, to the ground
and he is on me, gasping, urgent,
shivering between fear and lust.
My fingers skim his chest, feel
the soft skin, the beating heart beneath.

Flat on my back
in the black grass,
open as earth
and he the plowman.

Afterwards he wept – they often do
that first time, then
I kissed away his tears
and we danced again.

Underneath his cloak we lay
and watched the circling stars until
dizzy with their reeling,
we fell asleep.

The moon tilted, tipped
her bowl of light
so the air shimmered,
each field was spiked with frost,
and the river slithered sleek
as quicksilver
through the sooty dark.

We dressed, backs turned
and took our separate ways,
each nursing our delight, and shame
like Eve and Adam
that first night in Eden.

Sunday Moment of Zen: The Lazy Song

Originally posted on The Man of Words:

Leonard Nimoy was a quiet titan. An actor, director, photographer and writer whose career spanned decades and epochal changes in Western society. He was a defining part of the industry I’ve loved, or worked in in some capacity, my entire life. On The Search for Spock he directed one of the most thrilling pieces of cinema I’ve ever seen, the theft of the Enterprise. In Star Trek IV, he gave every one of his colleagues a moment to shine and showed me the offhand, relaxed beauty of the Bay Area. I fell in love with San Francisco in that movie. Decades later, I’d find out he was telling the truth about the city and I loved it even more. Nimoy’s acting, and direction, on the end scene of both Star Trek III and Star Trek IV is note perfect and uses subtlety, implication and music to create immense…

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A distasteful poem

When I was six years old I ate
my own snot – just twice – and for a dare.
It had a tang like salty chewing gum.
I swallowed scabs scratched from my knees as well –
tiny purple pastilles, squashed and sweet.

My Mum once cooked a meal entirely white
and served it up on gleaming new white plates –
chicken breast and mash, with butter beans –
barely visible, it felt like chewing clouds.

When I was a student I ate plastic –
Pot Noodles, Vesta Curry and Ski Yoghourt.
Container and contained were both produced
from plastic pellets, so they said,.
The Ski was just Magnolia Emulsion
lightly flavoured.

I’ve been a chef for thirty seven years –
Wasabi beef with truffle shavings, rice
with shredded samphire, roasted Arctic cod –

I’ve tried the lot.

But if I had to pick, I’d choose
the tangy, salty taste of my own snot.

The beginning of the end

photo 1

Of the winter, that is. I know that snow is forecast for tonight and tomorrow,but this photo shows what it was like this morning- cold, certainly, but bright and invigorating. And no ice on the lake. There hasn’t been any for the last ten days. There are catkins on the hazel bushes, and the black, stark hawthorn branches are starting to show tiny points of green.

The wild geese are coming back – just half a dozen to start with – doing a fly-by to see if the water is clear, but earlier this week there were twenty or thirty Canadas and half a dozen greylags parading up and down like a flotilla of Nelsonian men o’ war.

And the robin. I haven’t seen him since before Christmas, but I’ve heard him once or twice. Now he has a rival. There’s another robin in a thicket on the other side of the lake and the two of them are in full song every morning. It’s marking territory, of course. I can never comprehend how such a tiny bird can make such a loud noise.

The heron has returned. Now that is a real sign that things are getting better. We have at least one heron every morning from spring to late autumn. I can’t say for sure that it’s the same one every time because sometimes there are two, or even three of them, working the shoreline.


There’s something prehistoric about the heron. It’s so untidy, so unlikely, with those strangely jointed legs and that long, deadly beak. They live mainly on fish, but I’ve seen a heron take three little ducklings, one after the other, while the mother watched, bewildered and perplexed.

I think even the dog smells spring in the wind. He insisted on bringing a great branch home with him this morning.

photo 3

So I don’t care if it snows tomorrow. Things are changing. Here we go again.

Why can’t I write poetry any more ?

I wish I knew. Writing poetry has been a central part of my life since…well…my early teens. There have been ups and downs in the past – intervals when nothing much has come up- but for the past eighteen months I’ve been writing like a runaway freight train. Except that I’ve just crashed into the buffers..

I love the process of writing more than I can say. I pick up a line, an idea, and I spend a few days rolling it round my mouth. Larkin said that “ if it doesn’t sing, then it isn’t poetry,” so I wait until it sounds right in my mind. Then I write it down.

Then I write it down again, and again. I play around with it until a second line floats into my mind, and I start reconciling the two. Before I know it I’m playing with rhyme and rhythm and ambiguity, balancing one idea with another, testing all the time for cliche or mawkishness. As soon as I start to flag, I put it away.

The following day I start again, revising, altering, adding. I’m playing with the best Lego set ever invented. Look at me, Ma ! I’m building !

And yet there is no certainty until I’ve finished. The danger point is half way through when I suddenly think “ This is rubbish I can’t finish this !” It’s real fear I’m feeling here- and real relief when I find a way through the maze.

I know when it’s finished. If it isn’t finished I stick it in the file called “ Oddments” and swear to return to it one day. I never do.

For a couple of days I bask in my own brilliance, taking the poem out now and then to reassure myself is saying what I want it to say. And then I take a break. A week or ten days or so- and then I start looking for the next poem.

I’ve been looking for three months now and there’s nothing there. I’ve tried forcing myself to write – about anything. I tried to write poem about cleaning shoes ! Can you imagine !
I came up with four lines which shamed me by their pretentiousness.

I’ve tried writing prompts. Gimme a break ! I do not want to write poetry about “ A tropical Island” or “ A time I was scared.”

I’ve tried listening to music, looking at pictures, reading other poets ( I’ve used them before.) I’m looking for something shiny to pick up and there’s nothing there but sand.

Don’t talk to me about my Inner Critic either. You need an inner critic, and I’ve got one. I keep him chained to my chair and he’s only allowed to suggest improvements. He doesn’t have a power of veto.

I don’t know what’s happened. I don’t know what to do next. I’ve shut off the poetry switch and I’ve read- everything from “ Mapp and Lucia” to John le Carre. I still enjoy my reading, thank God, but it hasn’t helped me get back to my real joy – which is writing.

I’ve had plenty of rejections, including a big one which rocked me back on my heels for a couple of days – but that isn’t it. I believe in the stuff I write. I’m not going to pick up my bat and ball and run off home in a sulk. And it was the kindest rejection letter I’ve ever had.

I WANT to write. I just can’t.

Come on then, fellowship of the internet, help me out here. Do I keep sifting through the sand in the hope of finding a gold nugget ? Do I award myself a sabbatical from poetry ?

Help me.