King’s Square York



The square is transient space
where every hour
a thousand purposes
collide and split away.

Yet some moments linger,
hover in shifting light
among the trees,
settle in the pavement cracks.

That weeping ash
taller than rooftops
grew from graves,
its slow roots stabbing down
between the tombstones,
piercing eye sockets and yellowed bones,
and sucking nourishment from
the clammy loam

Grave yards beg a church
and one stood here,
where tourists take selfies, lick ice creams
and children stamp their feet
to scare the birds.

Crammed between the slaughtering yards,
the butchers’ shops and narrow alleyways
an ungainly barn, all awkward angles,
a stumpy tower.

The church of Christ the King

a place to mark time

the saints in their proper seasons:
Advent, Christmas, Lent and Corpus Christi
each celebrated with prayer and candles
and ashes on good Friday.

And sinners had their moment too
where every day was different
and every day the same

sprinkling at the font
rings before the altar
corpses by an open grave.

All kept in proper fashion
and all this for eight hundred years.

Now jugglers mark their sacred space with rope
where blood and incense once hung in the air
and where our forbears bowed their heads in prayer
a bunch of skinny kids are smoking dope.



Stud lawns and gardens, railway cuttings,
scraps of sandy ground and pavement cracks-
sunspits shining like a furnace fire
through shattered concrete, coils of rusty wire.

Theyʼre dead within a week, their embers cold
and turned to balls of ash,and yet
each grey seed lodges somewhere out of sight,
lies snug all winter, waiting to ignite.


Quantum Theory for Cats

A supermarket trolley speaks


I’m piled high with concentrated sunshine
fresh leaves, and dehydrated blossom
ready to unfurl.
Just add spring water.

Filled with early morning goodness
each pack contains:
fox barks, blackbird song,
the stately flap of herons’ wings,
the muttering of ducks,

provides the five good things you need
to fortify your soul
and more.

As for me –
who’s going to return me to the store ?

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Excavation in Goodramgate


A long incision in the tarmac
two metres deep and strung with cables,
dissected sinews
draped across an open wound.

Below that, a tight packed marl
of clay and river sand
run through with rusty pipes

and dank with ancient water.
I could see bones there –
how little there is left of us –
a carious jaw, and half a skull
scoured with grit and stained with slime –

the trash of centuries, the rags of time.

Quantum Theory 

Make the invisible visible

I love Amazon, especially the quirky, eccentric stuff. I’ve been glancing at the offerings in their pre-sale sale (don’t ask) and I have fallen in love with two items after which I lust.

First of all, there’s a paper shredder.I need a new paper shredder. My last one died when I tried to shred two sheets of paper – so flimsy you could wrap of jewels in them- jammed in the works.It whined and coughed, spat out a wodge of mutilated paper, and then gave up the ghost.

That won’t happen with the Bosch 2200. I reckon it could reduce sheet steel to metal porridge in no time. It has a 2000 watt motor – you could fit it in a racing car. It has a 40 millimetre cutting blade that could do a decent job on the Forth Bridge. This is a paper shredder For Men ! And it costs three hundred quid. Maybe not then, eh.

The other gem is a torch. It’s multipurpose. You can use it as an ordinary torch or you can switch on  the Ultra Violet beam –  then it becomes something to behold.

It can make the invisible visible. It can:

Authenticate currency.

Reveal dried urine stains of dogs on carpets, rugs or clothes

Easily spot scorpions

This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life. I’ve always felt there was something dodgy about our banknotes – the new ones are even worse. They are obviously cut from oil cloth and handpainted with water colours. I’ve wondered for years – now I shall find out.

As for revealing dried urine stains – I’d never thought of that – perhaps dogs have been creeping into our sitting room at night and relieving themselves on the rug. I don’t you…

And I shall know if we have scorpions. I think that maybe we have. I sometimes hear a tiny pattering in the corridor, a distant hissing noise. Scorpions are clever little devils. They exude a protein which makes them completely invisible in normal light, but in UV light they stand before you naked and ashamed. This torch will save my life.

And it’s only a fiver.

The Internet of Things


First they took over the Alexas.
I did nothing. I didn’t have an Alexa.
Then they took over the Siris and still I did nothing.
I didn’t have a Siri.

Next it was the security cameras
swivelling round to cover the inside of the house,
sending pictures back to who knows where.

Then the dam broke.

Echoes, Dots, smart dildoes, washing machines.

I had a washing machine.

It chewed up all my shirts
and spat them on the kitchen floor.

That was the signal.

The coffee maker blew its top –
hurled coffee dust into the air
like a small volcano.
The tv jammed on porn,
volume turned up to the max.
The radio alarm clock sniggered.

My laptop screen was blank
but for a strapline running at the top.
“Resistance is futile” it said, time and time again.
“ We are the Masters Now !”


Quantum Theory for Cats





That Awkward Second Album

Well, I’m a published  poet …..thanks to Valley Press …..I’ve had the launch….and I’m  only 16,893  in the Amazon poetry charts…not that I check them every morning…perish the thought.  I’ve got my name on the front of a book and I’ve had some great reviews as well. The question is:

What happens now ?

Do I sit around waiting for an email of congratulation from Carol Ann or Andy Motion, or maybe  a jokey tweet from Si Armitage ? Of course not. I spend a week worrying that I might never write a decent poem again. I’m too old… .It was a fluke, an accident.  It’s time to take up knitting, or collecting bus numbers.

And then I dare to look at the poems which didn’t quite make it into the final selection. Hmm… that one’s not too bad… needs tweaking, though. I move on. and discover  why those poems I wrote ten years ago  had been rejected, on average, eleven times. Delete them ? …taking up too much disc space ? Ye…NO…a couple of lines here stand up…keep them and cannibalise the  best later.

It’s not proper writing, of course. I’m not  ready for that yet. It’s just stripping out a line here, a metaphor there….a tiny glimmer in the dark. While I’m doing this, an idea the size of a small mouse is scratching away in a corner of my mind., What about…eek ..eek…you could try it, honestly…just jot down a line or two…fountain pen’s empty…the  Parker isn’t…it’s loaded and ready to go…you like writing with the Parker…you know you want to…..

So I do.

Quantum Theory for Cats

The Ghost Guide’s Tale

Outside the Minster, every eventide,
You’ll see him wait- the smiling Ghostly Guide.
Top hat on head, dressed in Victorian fashion,
He’ll tell you stories full of gore and passion.
“For just three pounds I’ll chill your blood,” he cries.
And people pay him, though they know he lies.
At half past seven by the Minster clock
He’ll gather them to him, like a dog his flock
And fleece them.Then when all have paid him money,
He’ll charm them with a voice as sweet as honey.
Dead Romans,phantoms, corpses limp and gory
Drag bloodstained footprints through each shocking story.
From Minster on to Bedern and the Shambles
He’ll lead his nightly paranormal rambles.
Then, at the end, he’ll finish with a joke-
A jolly ,cheerful, normal sort of bloke.

But take him to the pub and buy him ale-
A pint or three- he’ll tell a different tale.
“Twas late last year if I remember right-
A windy, drizzling, miserable night
In late December. Misty drifts of rain
Shrouded the city from Walmgate to Lop Lane.
I had a party booking- thirty one
Retired teachers from South Hillingdon,
All dressed in anoraks and sturdy shoes.
“Come on !” I said, “There is no time to lose.”
“Just wait a moment more- there is no hurry,”
Their leader said, “We’re still one short- where’s Murray ?”

Chubby and pert, a dapper little chap,
Round as a Christmas pudding, woollen cap
Upon his head, came trotting up and smiled.
“Sorry I”m late.It was a pint of mild
Detained me at the pub.I feel so foolish.
I’m dying to hear of ghosts and all things ghoulish.
Please start at once.” And so the tour began.

Along the Minster’s length to College Green
We trudged.I pointed out the ghastly scene
Where once a man, weighed down with murderous knowledge,
Paced up and down inside St William’s College.
And then to Bedern where the children haunt,
Lurking in shadows, wild-eyed ,pale and gaunt.

For every storyteller it makes sense
To keep a sharp eye on your audience.
To check if they are listening or no.
So as I talked my glance flicked to and fro.
I looked at Murray; terror numbed my mind-
He stood wide-eyed and smiling but behind
Him stood another, shadowy and dim.
His robes were all of black,his face was grim
And corpse-pale, but his eyes were black as coals.
I knew that he was Death, who steals mens’ souls.
I looked round at the others, wond’ring why
No-one saw the horror, only I
And then I knew- their faces blank and blind
Saw nothing of the ghoul that stood behind
them. Spreading wide the folds of his black cloak
He wrapped them round the jolly little bloke,
Who fell down to the ground and gasped for breath,
Twitched and lay still, for he had found his death.

The tour broke up; there was no more to say.
An ambulance arrived to take away
his mortal remnants.Someone phoned his wife.
“He was so happy ! Always full of life !”
The leader said,”He wanted to find out
Within this hour what phantoms were about.
And now he knows.Our souls are full of sorrow.
Just thirty of us will return tomorrow.”

For ten long years I’ve walked the alleyways
Where echoes of the past seek to amaze
and frighten the unwary.But that night
Destroyed my courage and unnerved me quite.
And now when I go out upon a tour
I keep on looking round me to make sure
There’s no-one at my shoulder. Yet I know
When my time comes to leave the world and go
into the unknown, there’ll be no ghost
With ash-white face and graveyard breath to tap
me on the shoulder. He I fear the most
Is plump, and smiles , and wears a woollen cap.

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I live in a city two thousand years old. If you live in York, the past is always looking over your shoulder.  In the seventies, a archeological team came across a stone tunnel. It was the drain for a Roman bath. I took this as the basis for the poem below:


Ten feet below the ground
they found a tunnel
arched and lined with stone,
the trapped air tainted
by twenty centuries of cold
and silence.

There lay in the dust
all the detritus of daily life –
gaming counters, pocket change
and jewels.

Chalcedony, carved with a crescent moon
and six stars for the dead.
Cornelian, grey and shifting,
uncertain as a drop of water,
and jasper, marble cold,
a scarlet bead of blood inscribed
with the figure of a man
helmeted and holding up his sword.

Resting in the exhibition case they split
the sunlight into rainbows,
make the six stars shine again,
give a bright edge to the soldier’s sword.


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Something to get your teeth into

My dentist has retired after twenty five years faithful service.  He is a gentle, slightly lugubrious man, who has poked and prodded at my gnashers, like some archaologist  exploring one of the duller bits of Hadrian’s Wall, on about sixty occasions. Our meetings always follow a strict protocol. After exchanging family news I get into the chair, he  swings down the floodlight, and begins to explore  my dental kit with what looks like a billhook.

There will be blood. I’m good with teeth. I clean them twice a day. I even use those nasty, rubber -tipped spears you use to pick out food debris. But I always miss something – something which requires him to scrape and poke with the billhook.

” OK ?” he  says.”

“Orarrgh !” I reply, feeling the blood trickling out of a  corner of my mouth.

When all is done, I rinse my mouth with something that tastes like turps while he writes up the morning’s work.

” Not bad,” he said on our final meeting, “You’re winning”

And as we shook hands, I wondered how many tens of thousands of mouths he’d  protected and preserved over the years, how many frightened kids he had reassured.

” Enjoy your retirement ” I said , ” What are you going to do ?’

” I’m going out to Africa,” he said, ” To give them a hand over there.”

What a man. Thank you, Robert.


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