U. A. Fanthorpe was in the habit of writing a Christmas poem every year.I’ve already written about “The Sheepdog“, which gives you a close-up, dog’s eye view of the Nativity.BC-AD takes a broader view, placing it in context with everything that has gone before, and everything which will follow it.It’s a poem about the structure of time.


This was the moment when Before

Turned into After, and the future’s

Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing

Happened. Only dull peace

Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans

Could find nothing better to do

Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment

When a few farm workers and three

Members of an obscure Persian sect

Walked haphazard by starlight straight

Into the kingdom of heaven.

She is writing about one moment here – the tipping point between “then” and “now.” And this moment comes at a time when “dull peace/ sprawled boringly over the earth.” The Romans have time to count the population of their empire;everyone else is busy with their own affairs.

The Lamb of God does not come with trumpets and fireworks, his birth is witnessed only by ” a few farm labourers and ” three members of an obscure Persian sect.”

It is a secret birth coming at one brief instant, like the pause between breathing in and breathing out.

Ex Libris- David Hughes-review


Sometimes I think poetry is a small world- there are the legends, of course- Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney – and the modern greats – Armitage,Carol Ann Duffy,James Nash and after them there’s us – the wannabes and has-beens who keep on struggling to produce something that is better than mediocre. You rarely get a poet who comes out of nowhere and blows your socks off.

David Hughes, however, is such a poet. He taught English Literature in York from 1975 to 1991 – a career ended with a climbing accident in which a friend and colleague died.PTSD put an end to his teaching career, though not his writing.

His life became intertwined with a troubled young man (also called David) who was also a writer and poet. The two of them became a writing team – Young Dave and Old Dave. In 2008 Young Dave was sent to prison for an assault and sent poems to David Hughes for comment for comment. ” Young David and I,” he wrote, “wish them to be attributed to both of us.” A lot of his later writing is part of this project.

What does he write about ? Climbing and landscape figure in the early work, and he writes with immediacy and verve.

“Ice across our faces till our breaths begin to freeze
into our hoods, snow goggles glaze, becoming masks
Of plated frost, and compass needles disappear

He writes about war, including a stunning response to Edward Thomas’s ” Adlestrop.”

His technique is unobtrusive, controlled,making the structure reflect the meaning.

Without doubt his best work comes from the collaboration with Young Dave. In one of the prison poems – ” things I miss” -Dave (Which one ? Does it matter?) writes ” the smell of traffic in a queue” and ” the touchdown hiss of settling snow on leaves.”
Look at that last line again…isn’t it perfect ?

The two most successful poems reference the Bible,and the division of souls into sheep and goats.They examine the nature of charity. If you do something good, something charitable, should you be praised for it ? If you receive charity, should you be grateful ? Or is charity something that just happens – an exchange of energy between two souls ? These are poems which leave an echo.

“Ex Libris” is the first hardback from Valley Press. It is beautifully produced, with head and tail bands, and even a ribbon marker.

There’s a man’s life here, and his thoughts, and David Hughes is a man worth listening to.
You can buy it here:


The lady in the Van -a review

“The Lady in the Van” – Bennett’s second film, is a dramatisation of his early years in London as a writer and actor. Old tramp lady appears in Bennett’s street and he unwillingly adopts her, allowing her to park the van in his drive – it’s heart warming, a hymn to English eccentricity and compassion, and it’s gone down a bomb with Bennett’s core voters – the white haired grannies who love Rich Tea biscuits and still mourn Thora Hird.

The caption at the start of the film states “ Mostly True” which asks the question “ Which bits are true, and which are made up? “ It questions the nature of storytelling with a whole range of narrative effects, quirky jokes and cinematic conjuring tricks.

There are two Alan Bennetts for a start – one who lives his life and another who writes about it – and they’re both played by Alex Jennings. He’s pitch perfect – the slight stoop, the apologetic blink, the flat Leeds accent – they’re all there. And he distinguishes the two AB’s superbly well – one cautious, uncertain, the other irritated, frustrated. So you get two views to every scene and a kind of Socratic dialogue which bounces from one to the other.

The film plays with reality in another way too.Virtually all the cast of “History Boys “ appear here – Frances de La Tour, the history teacher , appears as the widow of Ralph Vaughan Williams, James Corden turns up as a market trader. You’re constantly reminded that this is only a film – you’ve seen all these people before in other roles.

There is a scene in the theatre where Alex Jennings is playing Alan Bennett playing Alan Bennett in a play by Alan Bennett. Work that one out if you can.

And what about Bennett ? Is he really the National Treasure people believe him to be ? No – he’s just human, and a bit bewildered. and awkwardly gay – the film is punctuated by young men pulling on leather jackets and walking out of the door.

He allows The Lady to park her van in his drive …yes…but she becomes a subject, something to write about…he uses her as much as she uses him. And what about Bennett’s old mum, dotty in a care home, and desperate for a visit from him which doesn’t happen ?

I’ve deliberately left Maggie Smith till last. I’ve never seen screen acting like it – because it doesn’t look like acting – it looks real and three dimensional and is genuinely moving. She is querulous, bad tempered, funny and vulnerable by turns, and does this with nothing more than a look, a sniff, a shake of the head. It’s as moving a portrait of old age as you’ll find anywhere.

If you’re looking to have your heart warmed, you won’t be disappointed, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s a film which takes on the complex contrariness of people and makes something hopeful out of it, without patronising either the characters or the audience.

I’m off to put the kettle on. Where did I put that packet of Rich Teas ?


Sometimes my longlost girlfriends come to haunt me.
They steal into my dreams, but never stay.
They just drop into to see if I’m still happy.
When I say “yes” they smile and fade away.

Rosie – cheekbones, legs, moved like a race horse,
county voice, a smouldering, sensual stare
is now a granny doing an OU course,
with dodgy hips and salt-and-pepper hair.

Maureen was more serious,more pedantic-
never missed a lecture, skipped a book.
She married Clyde, whose voice was transatlantic,
brought up four kids and never learned to cook.

Marylou, who failed her German oral
now lives in Dusseldorf with pudgy Heinz.
Meg the singer joined the Vicars Choral
and Sue, who never drank, is pulling pints.

I left romantic failure far behind me –
a broken hearted man with ego shrunk.
Refusing to allow lust to define me,
I gave up sex – and then became a monk.