The Lake


There is something magical about any stretch of water. It ‘s never still, always changing. It throws you off balance. On a summer day you can stand on the edge and look down at the sky. It looks as though the world is a narrow crust dividing a blue universe. In the winter it ices over; you can always tell when it’s going to happen. There is a sharpness to the air and the ripples are just a little sluggish as the water thickens. The following morning the lake is flat and grey, the surface ridged with ripples, caught at the moment of freezing over.

This is my lake. It’s not big – almost exactly half a mile round- and it’s set in the middle of a residential area to the north of the city. It isn’t an old lake- in fact it’s entirely artificial. Seventy odd years ago an RAF airfield was built  nearby, and they dug the hard-core and rubble for the runways out of the ground just here. You wouldn’t think it now. It’s surrounded by mature trees- sycamore and ash mainly, and lot of blackthorn, may and hawthorn. There’s a path all the way round it, and one stretch has been fenced off as a kind of nature reserve.

I look on it as my lake because it lies exactly 47 seconds from my front door.

It attracts all kinds of wildlife, including human beings – but I’ll leave them for the moment and tell you about the birds. We have as fine a selection of water fowl as you can get anywhere in Britain. Coots and moorhens stay all the year round. They look virtually identical, except that the coot has a white splash down its beak and the moorhen a red one. They are quite amazingly violent. Any visitor who gets too close is chased off with violent squeaking and splashing and wing beating.

We have ducks. Boy- do we have ducks. Mainly mallards, but ducks have interbred so much that I often find it hard to distinguish which particular species they are. If coots and moorhens are violent, ducks are obsessed with sex. From April onwards they start mating flights- a female leads two hopeful males on a test flight to see which one can keep up with her. They’re like jet fighters, swooping and turning until one peels away and the happy couple land somewhere, anywhere, often my front lawn, to consummate their relationship with quacks of ecstasy. It’s all very 18 certificate.

Then there are the regular citizens of the lake- the geese.


This is a greylag. This is the ancestor of the farmyard goose. They are intelligent, devoted parents and usually they mate for life. There are about thirty residents on our lake. Well- they’re not there all the time. They breed  on the river in town, but they come up to the lake  every day  to chill out, have a preen, shoot the  breeze.

But in early August, something amazing happens. Flocks of greylags descend on the lake in droves, greylag clans whiffle over your head, and then land, webs flat like water-skis, and slide to a halt in a creamy wake.  I counted 221 this year. They don’t stay long. The call comes in the middle of September. You can tell what’s going to happen because  they make the most ear-splitting racket, egging each other on, louder and louder until one hurls up into the air, and everyone else follows, family by family, clan by clan, until the air is full of joyous shouting, which grows fainter and fainter as they head north.

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I don’t know where they go to. I only know that their departure is the end of summer.


It all depends what you mean by…..


This Place, The Right Place.

This is the second Staymore novel I have read and I’m both intrigued and bewildered. It follows the story of Diana, recently graduated from a top college, and Day, the teenage boy who channels Daniel Lyam Montross,( a local no-good who died years before). They run away together to visit the lost villages where Daniel had stayed eighty years previously.

Diana’s businessman father employs G, a washed up college lecturer, to find out what happened to them after the ending of the previous novel ( Lightning Bug.) Most of the story is told by G ( who is Donald Harington in every respect apart from his name.) He tracks the two runaways from one abandoned village to another, trying to tease out the reason for their long, and apparently pointless journey.

And that is just about the whole story. It’s packed with all kinds of literary references- Diana and Day as Adam and Eve trying to get back to Eden, Daniel Lyam Montrose as either God ( who is running the whole show) or the Devil ( I can’t make up my mind which)- and G the lecturer, allergic to everything except whisky, who is trying to make sense of it all.

“ This Place, The Right Place” is about all kinds of things – Arkansan dialect, village life, sex ( lots of sex) but more than that, this is a book about the nature of the novel. When you read a good novel, how real are the characters ? How real are the characters to each other ? Or the author ? Do we , each one of us, have a tangible reality, or are we all just a summary of how everyone else sees us ?

Is there a clearcut border between the writer and the people he creates ? Or do they create him?

This book, like the one before it, has a long literary ancestry. You can find Laurence Sterne here, James Joyce for wordplay, Dickens for intricate plotting, Chaucer for coarse humour and sex and Melville for mind boggling weirdness. Oh- and Pirandello for theatricality.

Did I enjoy it ? Well it all depends on what “it” is and who I am doesn’t it- there – you see -the damn thing is infectious.

It’s a great book. And I shall read it again sometime.

But not yet. I need something simple, like the telephone directory.

Lots of characters. Not much plot though. Never mind.

I didn’t delete it after all…


I almost did. I’ve been trying to write this poem since the start of the year and it’s been driving me crazy. I like the idea of writing a poem as a reaction to someone else’s poem, and I love Frost’s ” The Road Not Taken.” It is so simple, and so clever- it’s about choices- which might not see important at the time – and how they can change the course of your life.

So over the past week or so I got all the scraps and odd lines I’d collected, and bolted them together into some kind of order. Usually I can tell if a poem is going to be any good, but this one really bewildered me. One moment I thought it was perfect- a brilliant piece of work, and the next I wrote it off as trash. So I put it up and begged for help.

And I got it. Cherie L gave me the most useful crit I’ve ever had. First of all she said she liked it – and then she pointed out all the little details that I had  missed – putting a line space in here, rewriting a word there. She pointed out that the end of the first verse didn’t make sense ( which it didn’t) and that the very last line didn’t quite work. I knew that, in my heart, but I’d been too damn lazy to do anything about it.

So this evening I have buckled down and  done some re-writing. I think it’s a lot better. Compare this post (the new version) and my previous post and you can see the changes. And Cherie…thanks for the help…I really appreciate it.

After “ The Road not Taken”- Robert Frost Version 2

I took the road more travelled.
Cajoled by circumstance and friends
I chose the broader way.

But now I can’t return.

The yellow wood,
the intersecting paths
belong to others now.

Way no longer leads to way
but narrows to a single track.
I cannot stop. I cannot stray.
I must walk on and not look back.

The finish can’t be far.

Perhaps another wood at the road’s end,
with trees just coming into bud,
leaves dripping sunlight,
my footsteps
soft on the warm earth.

This is a first draft. Critique it for me.


This is a response to the wonderful Robert Frost poem- ” The Road Not Taken.” I think it absolutely brilliant – now. Maybe tomorrow I will rip it up and delete the word file.
What should I do ?
Should it go ?
Or should it stay ?

After “ The Road not Taken”- Robert Frost

I took the road more travelled,
cajoled by circumstance and friends
into a broader path, for one
who fears to start more than to end.

But now I can’t return.

The yellow wood,
the intersecting paths
belong to others now.

Way no longer leads to way
but narrows to a single track.
I cannot stop. I cannot stray
I must walk on and not look back.

The finish can’t be far. Perhaps
another wood at the road’s end,
with trees just coming into bud,
leaves dripping sunlight,
and the smell of green.

Why you must read Donald Harington

I’ve always had trouble with American literature. Maybe it’s because “ Moby Dick” casts a long shadow over my reading life (it’s a big book- and a big whale).. I’ve never read Carver, Gore Vidal or even Scott Fitzgerald. Although I have read- and enjoyed- Robert Ford.

I came across “ The Nearly Complete Works of Donald Harington” when it appeared as a cheapie on Kindle. Six novels for 99p- it sounded like a good deal.

It was a better deal than I could ever imagined. Donald Harington sets this novel sequence in an imaginary Arkansas village, miles from anywhere. Harington based it on Drake’s Creek, a hamlet he had stayed as a boy.He has a razor sharp memory for what it is to be very young.

“Lightning Bug” begins with Dawny, a little boy of five or six, sitting on the verandah of Latha Bourne’s house. He listens to the screen door squeak, the cats purring in the yard. Latha keeps one of the two village stores. She’s strong, lonely, uncertain- a wonderfully complex creation. She lives with her ( putative) niece and her life is broken apart by the return of her erstwhile lover Every Dill. He is the town’s bad boy. Years before he robbed the bank where Latha worked, went to prison, joined the army, and now returns as a hellfire preacher.

The resolution of this relationship ( Will they get back together ?) is the core of the book and it’s presented through Dawny’s eyes, the narrator’s omniscient view, and the opinions of the other villagers.

The whole thing works perfectly. It is very funny – even surreal. The bootlegger up on the mountain has imprisoned a revenue man in his barn and only lets him go after his daughter has seduced the poor man into marriage.

It’s also very moving. Harington doesn’t shy away from complexity. People are complicated; they change their minds- they act inconsistently- and all this is reflected in the book.

Harington’s novels are easy to read – you don’t notice the complexities because they are so completely embedded in the text. But he makes language really sit up and dance. One incident can be described by three or more participants. He describes two love-makings – years apart in time- as though they happen in the same time.

“ Lightning Bug” is in the tradition of Chaucer ( for it’s cheerful vulgarity) Dylan Thomas for its use of language and Antony Trollope for its compassionate view of people.

I’ve started the next one “ Some Other Place The Right Place” – it’s wierd, totally involving. I shall report back.