Aggressive Squirrels


I love surreal headlines “ Man jailed in wire case”, “ There are no nails in cheese, say police.” That kind of thing. But I could never have hoped for anything so unlikely, so bizarre as “ School playground evacuated on account of unusually aggressive squirrel. “

But that was the headline in several papers yesterday.

I’ve never thought of squirrels as anything other than furry, cheeky chappies who run up trees and promote road safety. I wondered how aggressive squirrels are in general. Do they hang around the school gates, flicking their nuts at passers-by? Do they ride their chopper bikes over the rounders pitch? Do they make dark threats ? “ You want some action punk ,huh ? “ Gimme your dinner money, kid, or the My Little Pony gets it ! “

Then I noticed it was just one squirrel. You can imagine the type- born on the wrong side of the tracks, wears a (furry) biker jacket, chews gum a lot. How could one squirrel wreak such havoc that a whole school of small children was hurried back inside the school building ? Did he kick over the waste bins ? Pull a rude sign at Miss ?

And once they were inside – were they safe ? I could imagine thirty children hiding under their desks, shaking with terror. There is a terrible silence, then little footsteps pattering down the corridor. They pause outside the classroom door. The kids hold their breath. More footsteps, silence.

Then an almighty crash. Axe blows and splintering wood. Then a small furry face, sneering and full of hatred.

“ Heeeeere’s Tufty !”

Fantasy Modern Poets


Have you ever played Fantasy Modern English Poets ? It’s like Fantasy Football really….only with poets. Who would you pick as all-time Legends ? Who would play in your present day National Squad ? Who would be the no-hopers ?

The Legends more or less pick themselves TS ELIOT is a dead cert . Good at word-play, turns on a sixpence. Everyone knows there’s a really complex game-plan behind “ The Waste Land” but no-one has ever worked it out. What about WH AUDEN ? Crafty (as in full of craft) -imagery that can break your heart. And then there”s PHILIP LARKIN – can be a bit headstrong, a bit aggressive, but just when you think he’s a nutter, he comes out with something delicate and touching.

TED HUGHES would rip the ref’s head off.

The National Squad. Who gets a look in. ? ANDREW MOTION for a start. There’s a neatness in his work, an English restraint which is all the more powerful for what he doesn’t say. CAROL ANN DUFFY because of her range, SIMON ARMITAGE ? Some lovely stuff, sure- but maybe I’d put him on the subs’ bench.

When you come to the Premier League, you’re spoiled for choice. JAMES NASH is guaranteed Premier League material. I go back to his his sonnet sequence “ Some Things Matter” time and time again. NORAH HANSON can’t be beaten for poignancy and observation. And what about MIKE HARDING ? Yes- the folk singer. His “ Daddy Edgar’s Pools” is the best Northern poetry you could wish for.

I have come across a new star OZ HARDWICK– well, new to me. I’ve managed to miss the five collections he’s already published, but his new one “The Ringmaster’s Apprentice” published by Valley Press absolutely blows my socks off. Where to begin ?

He avoids easy answers. The first poem describes him looking out of the train window at a fox which is looking back at him. You could make something big, something portentous out of this, but he leaves the importance of that moment tantalisingly in the air :

‘and, between a bland train and an unconcerned fox
hangs more poetry than I will ever write.”

The balance point of the two lines being “ hangs.”

He looks back to the sixties with an affectionate hat-tip to the Liverpool poets, and to the fifties with a lovely fantasy that Elvis lives next door , smokes a pipe now, and sometimes swivels his replacement hip when he goes down the pub on karaoke night.

More than anything else, I love his strictly economic style. His poems are tough, sinewy- every word earns its keep.
Let me compare these few lines of his on a falcon with something more familiar.

“Cocky and careless. He scrabbled flight
into hard lines, stabbed neat feathers
into a frame stripped bare to electric flex,
soldered eyes like beacons flashing
warnings of height and death”

and this…

“I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

I know which one I’d choose. And it wouldn’t be Ted.

And finally, what about me ? I’m a poet. At least I’m working on it. Where would I put myself ?

Well, if Andrew Motion is National Squad then I’m Triangle Concrete Conference. Or wherever Stockport County are languishing at the moment.




I came too late
and never saw his face,
just a shrouded figure on the stretcher
and boots protruding from the plastic sheet.

A summer afternoon. The sun lay
like a warm hand on his back
as he climbed up to fix a broken tile.
He could see for miles from here –
the hills as soft as smoke,
the sea air prickling like champagne.

Reaching for his tools
he trod on air,
saw the sky slide sideways,
heard the seagull’s scream cut

Just the boots.
The sort you wear for doing outside work,
clarted with dried mud
and the left one’s lace undone. Continue reading