The beginning of the end

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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.

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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.

Mystery Church



Mystery church

This is a copy of a little water colour I bought years ago. It’s painted on card, and obviously amateur.I have the feeling that it might be early Victorian – something about those odd pinnacles on the tower, the shape of that woman’s shawl. I’m intrigued by what looks like a monkey puzzle tree on the left hand side of the picture….and the mountains in the background. There has been a signature on the bottom left corner, beginning with an A…but I can’t make out the rest of it.

Does anyone know where it is ? Has anyone got a photo of it ?

Wier asta bin sin ah saw thee ?

Yes- this is English, Jim – but not as we know it. It is the opening line of “On Ilkley Moor”– the nearest thing Yorkshire tykes have to a national anthem. You may not have heard of Yorkshire. It is the largest county in England, and lies in the north-east of the country.
Together, Yorkshire and Lancashire are the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom, with the rocky spine of the Pennines in between them, the long arms of Wales and Cornwell to the west, and the fat bum of East Anglia and London to the east.

The song is long and repetitious, so let me outline the story.
A young man goes courting with his girlfriend on Ilkley Moor ( a pleasant country walk) – but he makes a fatal error. He forgets to put on his hat. He is “baht ‘at”, and this minor forgetfulness will spell his doom. Yorkshiremen still tend to wear a hat, or rather , a tweed cap for most of their lives. Many never take it off at all – even in bed . It keeps off the blistering Sheffield sun in the summer, and you can use it to bat the snow off your coat in the winter. It is the mark of a true Yorkshireman.

Hatless, the young man is struck down with illness and dies. The worms eat him. The ducks eat the worms. His friends eat the ducks. His friends take delight that they have got the better of him. Logical ? Don’t ask.

But this song ( sung to an old American hymn tune by the way) is a prize example of Yorkshire dialect. We Brits don’t all sound like BBC newsreaders (or David Beckham, for that matter.) Despite the homogenising power of international communication, dialects are still alive and well- and changing to accommodate a rapidly changing world. Southerners may pronounce “ hat” as “het”, “government” as “ gavernment” or “house” as “hice.”
But Yorkshire is a foreign country. We do things differently here.

“Hat” is alway “ ‘At”; “government “ is pronounced “ them buggers in London” and “ house is always “Owse.”
And we have our own vocabulary as well – “fettle” means “ to fix, to repair”; “crackin” means very good as in “ Crackin’ cheese, Gromit.” The list could go on and on- “laikin” means to play, a “lop” is a flea . Two words which have a similar meaning are “ claggy” and “clarty” – they both mean sticky- as in mud or glue. “ Frame yersen !” means “ Get a move on ! Get going !”

I could go on for ever. I knew one man who did just that. He managed to stretch a PhD in Yorkshire dialect out to ten years. It meant that he spent ten years going round every pub in the county, listening to “owd ‘uns (old ones) nattering away. What a sacrifice. He was nursing his pint and listening to a couple of elder statesmen in a pub outside Skipton one day. They were having lunch.
“Harold ! said one, “ Why dosta leave yer peyes ?” ( Why do you leave your peas ?)

The other shook his head. “ Nay,” he said, “Peyes give me bellywarch” (Peas give me stomach ache.)

Nuff said.

The Lake – mid January


It hits you as soon as you turn the corner onto the lakeside- a slap in the face, a roaring, howling, never ending exhalation which takes away your breath, presses against your eyeballs. But that’s just the bassline. The wind shrieks and screams round the houses,upturning dustbins and flinging litter against the windows. It rips through the trees like a steel comb; twigs tumble onto the path around you, and the taller trees thrash to and fro. Half way round a tree has fallen- the thickness of a man’s torso and thirty or forty feet high. The root ball has been right ripped out of the earth; one of the lower branches has been torn off, leaving a garish orange scar.

The lake looks as though it is boiling. Waves collide and splinter as the wind direction changes. It has overflowed on the far side. Trees which were twenty yards from the water yesterday are surrounded by it now. There are few birds on the lake. Half a dozen greylag geese shelter in a little inlet by the sluice gate; a single gull pushes hopelessly into the wind and then ( like the Ted Hughes poem) “ bends slowly, like an iron bar.”

We have the lake to ourselves, the dog and I, and he is not happy. This is not what the world should be like. He looks pleadingly at me.
“ Do you want to go home ?”
He turns round and dashes off, tugging on the lead.