I am old, I am old. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.


I used to look forward to growing old. I had this glowing picture of me, with distinguished grey hair and a kindly twinkle in my eye, distributing Good Advice to my children and grand children, while my wife sits by the fire, knitting and stroking the cat, ( but not at the same time, obviously.) I would be looked up to, the family patriarch. My grandfather (only one, the other died years ago) was like that.

Well I got the distinguished hair. It’s a bit thin on top, but I have lovely silver sideboards. I look like the meeter – and-  greeter that the BBC wheels out  to meet  political bigwigs, who have come to have their noses tweaked by John Humphries. He looks like an ambassador. I could do that.

I’m a bit short on wisdom though. It’s not quite that. I have wisdom but….it’s irrelevant.  I can talk about the Elizabethan theatre, the history of my city of York, the wingspan of a Supermarine Spitfire ( 32’ 6”) if you’re interested, or the back catalogue of the Stones – but no-one is really interested any more. I do not understand the social media. Why do they all talk to each other in unintelligible abbreviations ? What’s wrong with the phone ?

Why do they have to take a picture of themselves every three minutes ? Do they doubt their very existence ?

I still use email. For special friends, I will write a letter. Remember ? That pen and ink stuff ? I can sometimes use Twitter, but it’s a matter of stab and see where you get to.

And all this is entirely irrelevant. It has always been the same. We old codgers have had our day because that’s  evolution, man. We’re irrelevant now, and extinct soon.

And we asked for it. Take one tiny aspect of daily life – fashion. Fashion is for the young and for elegant mature ladies. Not old guys. Beards are fine for hipsters, with tartan shirts and climbing boots. But any man over sixty should never grow a beard- you should have got that out of your system forty years ago. Look at Jeremy Corbyn ( difficult, I know, but do try) He looks (a) as though he’s forgotten to shave and (b) like Dr Shipman the Mad Medic. It’s a uniform – they all look the same.

Old geezers should never, under any circumstances, show their legs. Old male legs are indistinguishable from chicken legs in Sainsburys. And the shorts they  wear !  Great bags of canvas rippling in the breeze ! It just looks wrong, guys ! Get a pair of nice chinos and a summer jacket and you look like a film director.

And don’t wear replica football shirts either. You look like a wazzock. Stretched tight over a beer belly and balanced on skinny legs, you do not do yourself justice. And don’t wear sandals, don’t wear socks with sandals – just quit the whole sandal thing. Without, your feet look like lumps of  squashed haddock.And the toenails ! Chipped and splintered and discoloured like lumps of Roman rooftile.  And with socks ? No ! The horror ! The horror !

Mind you, I have come a fashion that is totally the fault of Young Dudes – and that is a too tight suit with shoes – but no socks ! Can you imagine what it’s like in there ? Slippery and reeking with footpong ! Is this likely to pull the birds ? Maybe -how should I know ?

No – it’s time to step back and let them get on with it. 

Every twenty four hours a day becomes history.

That’s profound, that is.

See my Amazon profile here

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

When you can’t think of anything to write

If you can’t think of anything to write about – listen to some music. It doesn’t matter what it is – blues, classical- it will trigger ideas, sometimes tangential, sometimes direct. It’s never failed for me. I wrote this poem a few years ago, wasn’t quite happy about it and dumped it in the ” Maybe” file. I was listening to the music the other day, remembered the poem, and gave it a tiny tweak. And here it is


Funeral Music for Queen Mary- Purcell

Four muted trumpet notes, the sound
of darkness. Out of shadows come
the booted feet, the banners and the drum
driving them to the graveʼs edge.

Black clad choirboys give a voice to pain.

Torchlight can touch a cheek, trace
Fear and pity in a public face,
but echoes fade to silence, and the night
takes mourners and the mourned in its embrace.



Plump as plums, clustered among leaves,
they hang in a green shade.
Pick one. Peel back the husk and find
a shell there, pocked and wrinkled
like some distant world.

You’ll need a knife. Just press
your blade against the lateral line
then prise the halves apart
and there, in a nutshell
is a brain.

Packed tight into an inch wide skull
two waxy hemispheres
each ridged and swollen
into lobes and clefts
and each the image of the other.

Remove the nut and place it on your tongue.
Crisp at first bite, then soft.
It tastes of sap,
and garnered sunlight
and green thoughts.


The woman who invented the selfie



Spiders find it easy
stretch their strings of pearls from A to B,
create a warp and weave so wonderful
it dazzles passing flies, seducing them
to a sticky end.

Sharks find it easy
Sleek as burnished steel, they strip
the flesh from seals and dolphins,
pirouette away through water
smokey with their victims’ blood.

Why can’t I
head packed with words, pen poised
pick out a plump and juicy metaphor,
feed it fantasies until it bursts
into a poem ?

The Poets

I have a friend who writes poetry.” Do you find it a struggle ?” I said, ” You know,…getting all the words in the right places ?”
He smiled. ” It just flows down my arm, into the pen, and onto the paper.”

I wanted to strangle him.

I’ve always found writing poetry difficult – which is why I’m still trying to do it,I suppose. I hand write poetry.Fountain pen. At the moment it’s a Conklin Durograph. I like the shiny line of ink it gives. It encourages me.I get something which might be a first line. I go away, have a cup of tea, and come back ten minutes later to see if I still like it. I don’t. It reads like baby drool. I start again.

It is a slow process but slowly…very slowly…something starts to peep out. It takes days. One took over a month.I cover sheets of A4 pad with scribbles, question marks, slashings out until…it’s there. And I’m usually shocked. This isn’t what I intended at all. This…thing…has crawled out of some dark corner in my brain. I read it again and…yes..it works…I quite like it, actually.

But this time it was different. Two days ago I had a line in my head – ” This man could give a voice to stones” – I had no idea what it meant. Maybe I thought the man was a magician, a wizard. Then a line of Ted Hughes hovered- ” this house has been at sea all night.” And I was off. It was about poets.

The next verse was easier. Ted did external. This had to be about inner weather- and I thought of Elizabeth Browning and Sylvia Plath. I liked the idea of poetry as a pulse handed from poet to reader.

I think the last verse is about poetry as subversion.Nothing is certain except that nothing is certain. So suck it up. Or something like that.

So there you are. And here it is.

The poets

This man could give a voice to stones,
cause trees to shriek in a December gale,
see through solid flesh down to the bone,
make houses creak, and ancient timbers fail.

This woman annotates her pulsing blood
and makes it roar again in others’ veins.
She pleads the possibility of good
and, dying, leaves that rhythm in our brains.

These are the poets, vilified and cursed,
who wear their souls turned inside out
and lead us, struggling, to face the worst-
where faith is sin, the only virtue doubt.

dangerous liaisons between the living and the dead


The last of three posts about metaphor. If you’ve missed the other two then you can find them here:

and here:


And here is the the summing up – the last word:


Opens the door to doubt,
pricks logic’s tight balloon,
lets light in, darkness out,
confuses silver pennies with the moon,
turns on lights in empty buildings
rips the covers from every bed,
offers dangerous liaisons
between the living and the dead,

treads the wires of contradiction,
turns lead to gold, makes truth of fiction.

If you have any comments on this three- stage post, then, as always, they are very welcome.

What do you do with all the bits left over ?


I was talking to Maggie Mendus the other day
( see her work here:http://tinyurl.com/q7pr7a2) and I said that she was probably physically unable to write a bad poem- (she writes a lot- and all of it good) and she replied that I knew nothing of the starts that never finished, the odd ideas that trickled away into the sand and never came to anything.

So I looked at my own junk folder ( keep everything– throw nothing away) and I was amazed at the amount of false starts, stupid ideas, bad writing that was lying around. Most of it will never see the light of day, but I came across one recent effort and, aware of the need to recycle, I thought I would post it here as a writing prompt.

I had this dream about snakes. It happened on some distant planet where the moon only comes out once in ten years.I could see snakes uncoiling out of the rocks and raising their heads up to the moonlight ( I know it sounds silly-but it sounded like a good idea at the time, ok?) As the moonlight touches them they SING. I like the idea of singing snakes. I wondered what sort of a noise they might make. I wrote…something….and then it faltered and died. I had no idea where it was all leading me- I had no end in view- and the writing was mediocre. It was not for me.

But it might just be for you. Here it is- the hulk of a poem which didn’t quite make it. Take what you want- the idea, the language whatever you fancy. Use it as a starting point for your own journey.
Let me know how you get on.

I have seen them in my dream,
the singing snakes. Like ammonites
they seem, waiting for the touch of moonlight
to release them .

Slowly, they uncoil-
longer than a man can reach
and thicker than his wrist.
Scales rustle, whisper on the broken schist.

Blind, blunt heads lift
to the bonelight, jaws snap wide

and they sing

a thin, high note
unrelenting, folding on itself until
the air quivers, and blurs.

I see ice cliffs, stinging hail
and burrows hollowed from the frozen soil.

Is the pen is mightier than the keyboard ?

fountain pen

My name is jackspratt823 and I am an addict. Not whisky, not horses, not drugs. It’s something far more powerful, far more irresistible than any of those.

Fountain pens.

Can’t get enough of them. Like all addictions, the root of the problem goes back to my childhood. When I was at primary school we had these dip pens- dreadful things- like cocktail stick with a bent nail at the end to act as a nib. But then I got my first fountain pen- a Conway Stewart Dinky- and I was hooked. I like the clever machinery inside- the little plastic balloon that sucked up the ink from the bottle, and the lovely, liquid line which streamed on to the paper. It was love at first sight.

I don’t know how many I’ve got. I think it was forty seven at the last count. I’m an eclectic collector- a jackdaw- if it catches my eye, then I’ll buy it. But I’m not a fountain pen geek- one of those souls who carry seven different pens to work every day, with a different colour of ink in each one. No. That’s not me. I have an informal rota of pens I like- sometimes it’s the silver Cross my wife bought me, sometimes it’s the Parker Centennial ( big, black, classy. Use this to write out a shopping list and you feel as though you’re signing a treaty.)

Why bother ? Why not type it out on your computer/phone/tablet/hairbrush ? It’s the physicality of the act ot writing which appeals. Your ideas and intentions flow down your arm and into your fingers and onto the paper. It’s real.

Typing on a keyboard is a more abstract process. Your ideas are turned into a string of binaries ( I suppose) and appear on the screen in clusters of dots which look like letters. Somehow, there’s a gap between what you’re thinking and what appears on the screen.

And there’s no digital equivalent of handwriting ( there probably is but I haven’t seen it yet.)
Don’t get me wrong- I love the flexibility which word processing brings- the ability to cut and paste, the ability to organise an argument clearly. That’s brilliant. But I hate predictive text- that is creepy- you type something and some strange entity in the machine decides that you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve never heard of a fountain pen running amok.

And word processing speeds up the way you write. I always type medium to long pieces.

Which brings me to consider what writers did before the invention of the typewriter ( mechanical w/p) and the personal computer.

They wrote it all out. By hand.

Take Charles Dickens. Most modern novels run to about 60k words. A Dickens novel is, say, three or four times as long. Maybe 250,000 words.

Think about it.

How many bottles of ink did he get through a week ? Did he write at night ? If so, what was the candle bill ? Did he get a sore wrist ? Consider the motivation he must have had to put himself through what was a considerable ordeal.

And what goes for Dickens, goes for all the pre-19C writers.

Which leads me to this fascinating account of handwritten manuscripts. You can see it here :


So, where do you stand ? Word processor ? Fountain pen ? Roller ball ? Biro ( surely not…very smudgy.)

Tell me about the ways you use to transport those ideas down the arm and into the internet.

That cinquaine feeling

Writing is a tough row to hoe, and don’t let anyone tell you different. Perhaps the worst thing is when you’ve started a poem and somehow can’t finish it. You try all the usual tricks…leave it in your desk drawer for a couple of days, switch it round so that the first stanza becomes the last…and it still hasn’t come out right. It doesn’t taste right in your mouth when you read it aloud.

You’re probably writing it too soon. The poem hasn’t quite taken shape in your sub-conscious. The best thing to do is leave it in the desk drawer, or park it in the “ Bits and Pieces” folder on your computer. Never throw anything out. You’ll be able to cannibalise what you’ve got and use it in something you’re going to write in a couple of months time.

There is a way of avoiding that situation, though – warm-ups. You need to get your writing muscles into shape with a few practice runs. I used to write a couple of haiku to get the my brain in gear- they were dreadful haiku- but they did the job.

Now I think I’ve found something even better- cinquaines. Forgive me if you’ve been writing cinquaines for years and know all about them- but for the novices who don’t- try this link:


You can see they come in various flavours, but the 2,4,6,8,2 structure remains roughly the same.

You’re writing a small, concentrated poem which has to follow a set of rules- and yet have some impact when you’ve finished it. It’s a challenge- but a limited one. You have to play meaning off syllable or word numbers and squeeze out a good last line. Write a couple of cinquaines before you start your next big project and they’ll make the road a whole lot easier.

Here are some of mine. Not great poetry – more like circuit training for the mind. They might amuse you. Try them yourself- let me know any interesting results.


Bald heads
bull necks swelling guts tatts
like inflated babies they bawl
for beer


as a mirror.
The air softens, blurs. Mist
shadows its edge, clouds its surface
like breath.

Wild Geese

Wing beats
measure my dreams;
ink black eyes meet mine.
The water shivers as they pass.

Getting on

My bones
ache each morning.
Fuddled,slow, I stumble
grunting, farting, still drunk with sleep.