Where are you now, Mrs Joan Huyton ?



As a result of The Great Linked-In Blagging (the world now knows my email, my old password and the size of my socks) I have made the acquaintance of a Mrs Joan Huyton. Or rather, she has come into my inbox. Or rather she and I have become interchangeable.

You see, I get her junk email, and presumably, she gets mine. I rather think the kind offers to increase the size of a certain part of my anatomy do actually belong to me ( You do WHAT with the steel weights ?) as does the invitation to drive a World War II tank in Devonshire. But as for some of the other stuff…well… I’m not so sure.

A careful look through Mrs Joan Huyton’s junk email has allowed me to build up a picture of this doughty lady. She is a keen shopper- supermarket chains are falling over each other to offer her “ Free Shopping for a Year !” She drinks lots of coffee and thus qualifies for…you’ve guessed it…free coffee for a year if she solves this simple anagram and completes a three page survey on where, when and why she drinks coffee and how many times a food item ( Chelsea bun ? Sausage roll ?) is involved.

But there is more to this innocent shopper with a coffee habit. She spends. Bigtime. I’ve no idea what she spends her money on ( apart from coffee and buns) but the payday loan sharks are pestering her to take out a loan at a trivial 12,345 % interest.

And then there’s the plumbing course. It drops into my/her inbox every Monday morning. “Make a Fresh Start ! “ it says, “ Set up Your Own Plumbing Business ! Be a Plumber” I can’t see it somehow. I have this vision of Mrs Joan Huyton as a lady of a certain age, and size, who wears sensible shoes and the sort of clothes which cover more than they reveal. I cannot see her kneeling under someone’s sink, fiddling with their stopcock. She is also a bit shortsighted, as the “ 2 for 1” offer from the opticians testifies. Which might cause unpleasantnesses.

She used to do yoga, but has given it up ( the group leader is begging her to return) She is financially innocent- dubious agencies beg the pleasure of getting back dodgy insurances from the bank…

I could go on, but decency forbids.

I have tried to unsubscribe her junkmail- but of course, that turns the flow into a torrent.

Maybe it will just fade away. Maybe Mrs Joan Huyton will go out of my life forever.

On the other hand, there could be an email, a DM, a phone call… a knock at the door… and she will be there, in her sensible shoes, a spanner in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other….


The sheepdog- U A Fanthorpe


After the very bright light,
And the talking bird,
And the singing,
And the sky filled up wi’ wings,
And then the silence,

Our lads sez
We’d better go, then.
Stay, Shep. Good dog, stay.
So I stayed wi’ t’ sheep.

After they’d cum back
It sounded grand, what they’d seen.
Camels and kings, and such,
Wi’ presents – human sort,
Not the kind you eat –
And a baby. Presents wes for him
Our lads took him a lamb.

I had to stay behind wi’ t’ sheep.
Pity they didn’t tek me along too.
I’m good wi’ lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such.

This poem goes straight to the heart- that’s why I love it so much. At first you approach it with a certain world weariness. Oh no ! You think. My life seen through the eyes of a dog. How unoriginal.

And the language is so simple- almost child-like. “ the singing/ And the sky filled up wi’ wings.” But then you slowly catch on to what’s happening here- it’s The Nativity, and the shepherds are going to visit the Christ child. But this isn’t happening in the Holy Land- this is happening in Yorkshire, the place I love- and the shepherds won’t be wearing Middle Eastern robes- they’ll be wearing corduroy trousers and thick coats and they’ll talk broad Yorkshire.
“ Our lads sez”
They leave the dog behind to look after the sheep because he’s a good dog. He can be trusted. And there’s a hint of sadness in the line “ So I stayed wi’t sheep” – the cattle can be present in the stable, but the dog has responsibilities.
“ And after the’d cum back/ it sounded grand, what they’ve seen” “ grand” is pure Yorkshire.
And then the presents`” Our lads took him a lamb”- notice the loyalty the dog shows ‘- “our lads.”
But the dog has responsibilities. He has to miss the greatest event the world has known because he has sheep to look after- and that’s what sheepdogs must do.
The last few lines break me up. Look at them:

“Pity they didn’t tek me along too.
I’m good wi lambs”

First of all there’s the regret. “ Pity they didn’t tek me along too.” The dog understands something of what is happened- but can’t take it all in. He knows only there has been a special birth, and that children love dogs, and he wishes with all his heart, that he could have been there.

That’s what good poetry is. It touches your heart.

You can hear it here:

You can here another UA Fanthorpe poem here:

Or another poem of mine here Tides


Hey Mister Tangerine Man

A Modest Proposal

I notice that the Fabian Society ( the beating heart of the Labour Party) has suggested that pensioners should be taxed more stringently, and extras- like the winter fuel payment, free bus pass and free tv licence should be ended in order to save money.
Older pensioners “ should share the pain of deficit reduction” says the report, “In financial terms, older people are no longer special.”

I am a pensioner and I agree.
Except that they have not gone far enough.

I think I am typical of my generation. We are wastrels and spendthrifts, the lot of us. I have led a life of disgraceful probity. I have been disgustingly faithful to my wife, obscenely careful to avoid debt, and shockingly devoted to bringing up my two children.

As I teacher I squandered thirty years of my life helping young people to grow up. I attended endless parents’ evenings (unpaid), and produced 27 school plays (also unpaid.)

I am a jackanapes and a vagabond and deserve to be taxed to within an inch of my life. By all means get rid of bus passes ( let them hobble), cut the winter fuel payment ( do they not have knitted shawls ?) and remove the free tv ( they probably can’t see it anyway.)

In fact, I would go further and say that drastic measures should be implemented.

I am talking about a cull.

I know it sounds unpleasant, but it need not be so. Everyone knows that pensioners sit around, watching daytime tv all day, and hatching horrible diseases. It would be a kindness to them. The government could recruit a new service- a corps of ladies with rosy cheeks and comforting bosoms. Each one would wear a plastic badge saying “ End of Life Facilitator” and carry a hypo of byebye juice in her gladstone bag. Think of the money the NHS would save.

I’m sure we would all be prepared to give up a few years of misery so that the important people- the footballers who bite each other, the newsreaders, the economists, the bankers could continue to live in the style to which they are accustomed.

Embossed leather or Gorilla glass


I bought this book fifty years ago, from a second hand bookshop in town. At first I thought it might be Victorian- the restored binding had a nineteenth century look to it. But the printing itself intrigued me- it looked a lot older somehow- then I turned to the prayers for the sovereign. The owner of the book was asked to pray for the soul of King….Charles ! The book in my hand was about four hundred years old ! Whenever I take it down from the shelf, I always wonder how that little book managed to survive the English Civil War, the Industrial Revolution and everything that has happened since. Maybe the text doesn’t matter so much, but the book has been carried along on the waves of history…and ended up with me.

Do you think that, in four hundred years or so, someone is going to say “ Hey ! Guess what I found on Ebay yesterday ? It was a Kindlefire HD ! Yeh ! The really rare ones ! The only other one I’ve seen is in a museum !”

Somehow I don’t think so.

Old books have a patina, a smell of the past which is, for me, irresistible. I like the thought that someone’s eyes followed the text that I’m looking at now. I have the feeling of someone ahead of me on the path.

But it’s not just age which gives a physical book appeal. Books can be works of art- the paper, the font, the binding – even the dust jacket all add something to the process of reading. I like leather bound books…do you know why ? Because they smell nice.

So – physical books (especially old ones) good, and Kindle ( and Nook and all the others) bad. Is that it ?

No. I’m saying that it’s horses for courses.

With an e-reader you get the text, the whole text, and nothing but the text. No adornments, no nice smells- just what the guy wrote, along with one or two useful editorial tools.I’d pick a good novel on an e-reader over a bad novel bound in leather every time. E-readers pose a real challenge to authors. They are unrelentingly The Text and if the book is a good book, it will leap off the paper-white screen and into your brain like an ant on a hot griddle.

E-readers are democratic. They’re slick, relatively cheap and..let’s face it…rather cool. Leather bindings might belong to the crusty old blokes of my generation, but e-readers, and the stories they contain, belong to everyone. E-readers get everyone reading, and that can only be a good thing.

And they’re convenient. I’m off on the train tomorrow morning to visit my ancient aunt (99 and counting) and I’ve packed my Kindle because it has at least three books and a whole heap of music which will help me pass the time.

To sum up. I have my shelves of Folio Society and leather bindings at home, and my Kindle to see me through the train journey.

Embossed leather ? Gorilla glass ? I don’t have to choose.

But what do you think ?

The Panzerschredder

Shredders ! Doncha love ‘em ! I bought a new one this morning because my last one had finally given up the ghost. It was a mean-spirited, wimpy thing made out of thin plastic that did nothing but make a self-pitying whine and whinge if I asked it shred anything more sturdy than a couple of sheets of fine tissue paper.

So I’ve got this new one. It’s bigger, black and somehow more…manly.

Before I set it up, I happened to glance at the instructions on the box- in four languages-English, German, French, and something full of vowels which I will call Dutch. It’s fascinating how national differences spring out from the tiniest pieces of text.

The English description is short, straightforward and to the point:

“6 sheet paper cross cut shredder”

Well, you can’t argue with that. The German description was much more allusive:

“ Sechs Blatt CrosscutAktentvernichter”

Six pages is obvious, as is the borrowed “ Cross cut” – but Aktenvernichter ! Do you know what it means ? Have you any idea ? It means “Destroyer” – this thing will destroy your Acts ! In fact it’s worse than that- “vernichten” means to annihilate, to reduce to nothing !
I’m looking at the black box under my desk with new respect. Is it some kind of Panzerschredder ? Have I just brought Death The Destroyer Of Worlds back from Staples Stationery Store ?

The French have a more flamboyant view:

“6 feuilles destructeur de documents a coupe croisse”

That’s got real style, don’t you think ? “ feuilles” for a start- which means “leaves” and not “pages”.” And the destructeur de documents is obviously a character from the “ The three Musketeers”- probably one of Richelieu’s bad boys.

“ Aha Monsieur, I, the Destroyer of Documents, will shred your paltry leaves with my cross cut Wiff ! Waff ! “

But I really like the Dutch version:

“6 vel papierverschnipperer”

This is a character from Hans Christan Andersen, isn’t it ? The thin,sharp eyed Papierverschnipperer- a kind of Dutch Edward Scissor Hands- who snips every bit of papier- 6 vels at a time. He would make a good excuse for Dutch schoolchildren, wouldn’t he ? “ I’m sorry, Meinheer, but the Papierverschnipperer cut up my homework !”

I’m looking at it now. It’s waiting, maw open wide, motor throbbing…it could have my arm off…don’t worry, I’ll be careful …I’ll….agh !”

KISS and LIM and Triple A


Have a look at this poem:

In a flowered dell the Lady Venus stood,
 Amazed with sorrow. Down the morning one
  Far golden horn in the gold of trees and sun

Rang out; and held; and died…. She thought the wood

Grew quieter. Wing, and leaf, and pool of light
 Forgot to dance. Dumb lay the unfalling stream;
 Life one eternal instant rose in dream

Clear out of time, poised on a golden height….

Dreadful, isn’t it ? How about “ flowered dell” ? Dell ? Who the hell says “dell” ? It’s a Poetic Word. It’s a signal that what follows is Great Art. Look at “down the morning…to.. Rang out.” First of all the main verb “ rang out” comes at the end of a long sentence. It’s meant to be mannerly, stately. And what about “ Down the morning” Down ? what on earth does the phrase actually mean ? Top marks for poshness Rupe ( it’s by Rupert Brooke) but an F- for common sense.

Let’s have more fun. “Wing and leaf, And pool of light/ Forgot to dance” I beg your pudding ! What is the wing attached to ? A bird perhaps ? And do leaves and pools of light have bad memories ?
Had enough ? I certainly have. I’m sure you get the point. This is poetic language, which is different and far more beautiful than the language mere oiks like us use. Cobblers. Time for our first acronym:
KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)
Use the shortest word you can find to do the job. Use the smallest number of words you can. If a word is not paying the rent- then cut it. Be cruel to the little devils- make one word do the work of five if you can. It’s a well known law of nature that poets are incapable of using a simple noun without slapping an adjective in front of it. You need adjectives, yes- but ration yourself . Which leads us to our second acronym.

LIM (Less Is More)
Go Minimalist but give them Story Plus . Make your poem into a puzzle. Draw the reader in by making the surface meaning easy to get hold of. Keep your reader by hinting at something below the surface. Remember- ambiguity is your friend here. Play with it. Have fun.

And now the third
AAA ( no- not anti-aircraft artillery) Avoid Awkward Abstracts
Love. Hate. Anguish. Desire. Loss.Ecstasy.
Don’t use them. They mean nothing on their own. Borrow a phrase from fiction writers-
“ Show- Don’t Tell.”

There. Now you know the rules I try to stick to when I’m writing poetry.
But you may have an entirely different, and equally valid, way of writing.
Put down the quill and unfold the keyboard. Tell me about it.