Tuesday, 24 August 2010


one look over the plunging precepice turns my legs to jelly
we descend the steep path from the limestone pavement
where the flowers and ferns find sanctuary among the grykes
to the valley floor of this green and pleasant land
dry stone walled into minature fields
a group of men peer into several telescopes mounted on tripods
their cyclopean eyes peeled on a rocky ledge
just below the limestone pavement where we stood moments ago
it transpires that this remote eyrie is home to a family of peregrines
and one of them was in residence a couple of hours earlier
i take a peek and am astonished to see an unseen rock climber's backside
picked out in x30 magnification!
but no peregrines
i take a stroll along the babbling brook
which washes clean the rocks and stones
when i glimpse a dark shadow that bisects the rock face
and then is gone
i return to the cyclops men with the glad tidings
and lo and behold
one of them trains his scope upon the larder
where a stripe-breasted bird of prey sits in regal magnificence
as i gaze through the telescope
it seems to be staring straight back at me
its hawk eye fixed unblinking on this human spy

Thursday, 19 August 2010


jack arrives armed with a formidable array of tools
he whips out a battery tester and delivers the verdict
this 12 volt battery has a mere 3.5 volts left in it
in other words it is beyond help
it will have to be replaced
the next task is to remove the offending organ
but the design of the bonnet space is weirdly lacking in ergonomic logic
the big fat battery occupies the most inaccessible position
almost under the windscreen wipers
worse still it is hemmed in
betwixt the rubber shielding of a pipe and a rainscreen
taking our chances with leaking battery acid
the two of us painstakingly lever the thing onto its end
and then manoeuvre its 17-kilo bulk past the various pipes and other gubbins
up to selly oak we fly in jack's more reliable vehicle
to exchange it for a new model
reversing the previous process we reconnect the new powerbox
and to my delight we have ignition!
i feel that an envelope has been pushed

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Buried in dust
Covered in sand
I cradle an artifact in the palm of my hand
Soiled with earth
Coated with grime
I stare at this artifact ahead of its time

Forged from a fire
Fashioned from gold
A craftsman so far away, such a long time ago
His race or his creed
I do not know
Who buried this artifact so long ago?

In the cold stinging rain
As the sleet turns to snow
I bury my artifact deep down below
For the future to find
For tomorrow to know
I bury this artifact deep in the snow

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


for the first time in my life i am a car owner
for years i have hired vehicles for the odd weekend getaway
as and when
but now that i am the unproud owner of a rusting metal leviathan
i quickly find myself out of my comfort zone
and out of my depth
not that this is necessarily a bad thing
there's no doubt about my discomfort
at making my personal contribution to ecological meltdown
but i'm talking about a different kind of discomfort
for the over-sized german people's wagon
inherited from some friends returning to korea
sits stubbornly on the drive
an immovable object
(if only i was an unstoppable force)
over the last few weeks
i have reluctantly been coughing up the readies
like an out-of-order fruit machine
the service
the insurance
the road tax
the breakdown insurance
into four figures already
finally yesterday i decide to take the new addition to the family for a short test-drive
problem one: the remote doesn't work
i have to turn the key in the lock the old-fashioned way
just to open the door
problem two: the car doesn't start
the engine is unmoved
i quickly come to a straightforward but unwelcome conclusion
the battery is out of juice!
perhaps five weeks of inactivity have taken their toll
what do i do now?
i've heard of people using jump leads
to charge the battery from another vehicle
(the mr bean episode i used to use in class
where he gives someone a heart attack immediately springs to mind)
but where can i get a pair and what exactly do i do with them?
i give my little bro a call
he suggests taking the battery out and getting it tested
but then starts warning me about the potential dangers of electrocution
by accidentally touching a terminal with a spanner
and closing the circuit
not exactly encouraging
i set off around the neighbourhood in search of assistance
the claridges at number 29 are away on holiday
i have to introduce myself to the chinese neighbour at number 25
who keeps chickens in his back garden
no, he doesn't have any jump leads
he uses aa homestart
i head up the road towards my parents' place
stopping off at the o'neills at number 83
they don't have any jump leads either
although mr o would be happy to help me if i can lay my hands on a pair
i'm beginning to detect a distinct lack of neighbourhood resilience
when i remember m & d's mechanically-minded neighbour, rob
unfortunately he's away on holiday too
suddenly i think of the hynds
who i know through governing at h's school
i get through to jack, who doesn't have any jump leads
but does have a battery recharger
he offers to pop round the following afternoon to take a look
and this novice breathes a tentative sigh of relief...

Monday, 16 August 2010


not at kinson
at the t-junction
of the front garden, our drive and the pavement
there stands a small mountain ash
twenty feet tall
its branches shading an area about four yards in diameter
shielding the house from north-westerlies
shading the kitchen window from low-angled evening sunlight
its pale grey bark is smooth to the touch
it has been chopped around a little
but its foliage hides a multitude of sins
in may it blossoms
small white cauliflower-like bunches
now these pretty white bunches have metamorphosed into juicy red berries
which attract eagerly pecking blackbirds and thrushes
and clumsy over-sized wood pigeons
who bend the slimmer branches under their weight
if you want to identify a rowan
the small pinnate leaf fingers are a dead give-away
very similar to an ash
but without the black buds or dangling keys
it's the first thing i see when i turn the corner from the park
standing polite sentry over our garden forecourt

Sunday, 15 August 2010


to the aeropuerto to collect the girls
the elements fluctuate wildly
one minute sunshine
the next a torrential downpour
one minute squinting brightness
the next near darkness
a fierce spray flies up from the wheels of the constant overtakers
lights and windscreen wipers need constant adjustment
whichever setting i choose fails to deal with the weather conditions
at one dip on the other side of the chilterns
the motorway becomes a ford
great splashes of water everywhere
visibility is tenuous
ironic after this long dry spell
i'm actually on time for a change
but the aeroplane isn't
'expected 18:16' reads the arrivals board
it's running 45 minutes late
maybe time for the cloudburst to pass
time for an americano in the arrivals lounge
an inappropriate word for this stark, hard-edged fluorescent space
with its anti-ergonomic metal seats
as i people-watch i am reminded of my brother's comment
'i love heathrow
full of beautiful women from all over the world'
even in this globalised era
and spending my days in a multinational workplace
it's fun to speculate on the origins of this procession of human traffic
to strain for a snatch of lingustic evidence
tempting to take a peak at a tell-tale suitcase label
pretty portugese or brazilian beauty?
danish pastry or double dutch?
chinese, japanese or korean?
i wouldn't bet my life on it most of the time
in between the people-watching
and the fashion parade
i manage to catch up on a few days worth of notebook diary
but still no sign of j & h
it's half past six now
but the double doors leading from the duty free area
are conspicuously underemployed
as all eyes are trained on them from behind the barriers
as if on a catwalk
finally some signs of life
but it's the passengers off another flight from i don't-know-where
one woman emerges before the waiting onlookers
brazenly trolleying along her well-displayed improbably large cleavage
with an equally large grin on her face
there's the usual crowd of miserable-looking meeters-and-greeters
professional waiters
holding up their little placards printed in various scripts
a korean one catches my eye
'sun tours' it says humorously
'torrential tours' more like
at long last
after two hours of waiting
after seemingly two entire planeloads of seoul passengers
have disgorged themselves through the barriers
j & h emerge beaming into the fluorescent spotlight
we embrace in a family hug in the middle of the catwalk
before loading up and setting off back along the motorway
as we catch up on events
it's not until i see signs for reading
that i realize i've forgotten to turn off the m4
next thing i know we've turned into a dead end at some business park
straight out of the opening credits of 'the office'
i keep one eye out for wernham-hogg
as twilight falls
it's a lengthy cross-country stretch through berkshire and buckinghamshire
via a pub dinner at the evocatively named hare's hatch
before we reach the m40
j & h slumber while i count down the long miles
the signs for oxford, bicester, banbury and warwick slowly recede
and it's not long before midnight
when we finally tumble out of the jalopy at number 27
i just can't wait to hit the pillow

Friday, 13 August 2010


i do the teaching for free...
it's the preparation i get paid for


It is a pilgrimage that has gradually coalesced in my mind since Whitsun, the time of a fortuitous encounter at an ancient hilltop fortress on the Welsh border. That May dawn, awoken by a painful crick in the neck but energized by a cafetière of dark earthy Aceh mountain coffee, I had left my family sweetly asleep under canvas to scale the high mound that looms dramatically above the Llangollen valley to wander among the atmospheric ruins of Castell Dinas Brân, which crowns the summit. I had bided my time over a steep but rewarding climb, only to find my pleasant solitude rudely interrupted by a fellow early morning visitor, an older gentleman who, like me, bore the stubble of a couple of days away from home comforts. Little did I know as we exchanged our first words that this fellow would inspire not only a mediaeval-tinged ditty about the site, but a journey forged northwards to an equally exciting frontier post – Hadrian’s Wall.

Laurence Shelley is, among his other talents, a self-published writer, the author of Off-the-wall Walking, a quirky, engaging and frequently hilarious account of his attempt to hike the Hadrian’s Wall path coast to coast from Newcastle to Bowness-on-Solway. That cloudy Whitsun morn, as we chatted like old friends, I quickly realized that I had found a kindred spirit – a fellow embracer of the chances, coincidences and serendipities that the tumbling dice of life throw up from the gaming table. Having dipped enjoyably into the copy of OTWW that Laurence had kindly sent me as a gift after our chance meeting, I knew that his book would accompany my pilgrimage to the Wall like a good wine accompanies a delicious feast.

Two months later, the family now safely ensconced in Korea for their summer holidays and my plans and preparations for the trip complete, I sally forth under a frowning August sky, excited to be on my way at last. As I cross the local park, a flock of Canada geese grazes beside the lake like great dinosaurs on a Silesian plain. A distant dog-walker reprimands her hound – or is it her young child? A little further on, a pernickety Jenny wren hops out onto the wooden bridge just in front of me in search of a tasty tidbit. To the left and to the right, regiments of Himalayan Balsam clog the brook waiting to be uprooted and left to rot on the banks – a wavy pink brushstroke across the morning’s green canvas. Down on the Bristol Road, I await the arrival of the Number 61, grazing on tart blackberries from the hedge, where cans of Red Bull and Strongbow gently rust.

Before long, my train is channeling unerringly north-eastwards between the towpath of the Worcester-Birmingham canal and a broad school playing field which hosts a multitude of bouncing crows. Quickly in and out of the dark unwashed armpit of New Street Station, we speed through Black Country dereliction and across the pock-marked Staffordshire plain. As the oddly-named Virgin Pendalino fills up, picturesque Cheshire canals gradually yield to the loneliness of the high Pennines, enveloped in a shroud of mist and fine drizzle. Meanwhile, the buffet service is suspended ‘for health and safety reasons’ as the carriage aisles become un-navigable due to excess passengers, their over-sized baggage, and their restless offspring. Typically, I hadn’t bargained for the beginning of the Edinburgh Festival and, without a reservation, I am more than a little fortunate to keep my seat all the way to Cumbria.

As we draw into Carlisle Station and I get up to leave my seat, I find my exit temporarily blocked by other passengers queuing to spill out onto the platform. As I wait for the human traffic to move, I happen to glance down at a book resting open upon the table of the gentleman in the seat in front, who has nodded off in the middle of reading it. I do a double take for what I see astonishes me! There in black and white is a line drawing of an attractive cottage in front of the backdrop of a ruined hilltop castle eyrie. The caption under the illustration reads: ‘The house of the ladies of Llangollen with Dinas Brân in the background, sketched by James Plumptre, 1792.’ Alighting giddily on the platform, something makes me turn and glance up at a plaque on the side of the railway carriage I have just left. The name of my train: ‘Virgin Warrior’.

Thursday, 12 August 2010


Travel through time and space
To a very different kind of place
A mountain Shangri-La
Haunt of puma and jaguar
Where no one knows your face

Travel by idiom
To an ancient civilization
Among the traders and the slaves
Where the deities hold sway
Set the course by the stars and the sun

Travel on a journey to places untold
A destination yet to unfold

Travel by avatar
Alter the essence of who you are
Cross the gender divide
A person no one will recognize
Travel wide and travel far

Travel on a journey to places untold
A destination set to unfold

Travel through history
Unearth your own archaeology
Reconstruct it piece by piece
Store it in microfiche
Preserve it in chloroform

Travel on a journey to places untold
A destination starts to unfold

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Tuesday, 10 August 2010


terra incognita
where the air tastes so much sweeter
in a land as old as time
where the tables flow with wine
where the warriors idly languish
and the women grant their every wish
in terra incognita

Monday, 9 August 2010


i like self-depracating humour...
i'm just not very good at it

Friday, 6 August 2010


this morning i am northumbria bound
headed for the crags and peat bogs of border country
to an ancient roman fortification
which snakes across an undulating landscape
i will step back through the mists of time
climb the stone steps
worn smooth by the feet of legionnaires
and survey the lands where the baying barbarians were kept at bay

Thursday, 5 August 2010


i flash around the blind corner into eymore close
gathering speed as i ease into the morning commute
all ten minutes of it
just enough to get the heart pumping and the blood racing
as i execute the steep two-minute climb
from bournville police station
up to the brow of the hill into selly oak
but not normally quite enough to break into a sweat
and as i flash around the blind corner
in my peripheral vision
i spy a blurred bright green form
which takes startled wing from the grass verge to my left
it is a green woodpecker
fleeing this mad assailant
it takes off in my direction of travel
struggling to put distance
between me and its fluttering tail feathers
it rejects the branches of a hornbeam tree fifty yards on
swerving around it as it issues a loud warning cry
then up and over the houses it soars
and disappears into the wood which borders manor farm park

Wednesday, 4 August 2010


the dawn is very soft
i rise early awake with my thoughts
rain falls in a fine mist
dampening the parched borders
but not yet sating their thirst
soggy paperboys negotiate the kerbs
bearing oversized shoulderbags
full of soggy papers containing soggy news
bedraggled baby bluetits flit from bush to tree
pecking at unseen insect morsels
a dogged jogger plods the pavement
oblivious to the elements
squirrelled away in his mp3 hermitage
i lay down a backing track for a new song
flesh and blood
a song which sprang semi-formed form the ether
one evening as i pedalled home from football
a song about the human condition
a song about desire
a song about love
a song about religion
a parent to a child
a lover to his mate
a soliloquy
a song about the individual and the universal
the impossibility and absurdity of being human
a paradox
a dichotomy...
and the soft rain falls still
silent and unnoticed
i will let it brush my cheek as i stroll out
on this damp summer's day

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


i dare not say that i have arrived
(for that would suggest the journey's end)
but the train has puffed out of the station
gathered steam
left the city behind
and is now flying through unfettered countryside
my art at last seems to be coalescing
as the song predicted it would
my magpie tendencies are slowly starting to pay off
i brazenly borrow, steal and cull
i am favoured by my muse
who visits me nightly
i am emboldened by an evolving philosophy
art bolstered by age and experience
facilitated by an improved technology
but not dependent upon it
and lately nurtured by having sufficient time to devote to it
(my dear family is currently ensconced in seoul)
music on the cusp of pop, rock and folk
poetry that reaches for the timeless
the mediaeval merging seamlessly with the contemporary
tapping into the classic vein
of english inspiration over the centuries
and a blog that draws all these threads together
shared by you, dear reader

Monday, 2 August 2010


today is my dear mother's birthday
so i have written a short poem in her honour:

To enjoy the journey, not its end
To delight in the process, not long for its outcome
To revel in the moment, not anticipate what follows
To complete a task for its own sake, not seek reward
To take part, not claim victory
To climb, not reach the summit
To savour the taste, not sate the appetite
To linger on the page, not finish the book
To understand the value, not know the cost
To think and not to know
To ask questions, not to find answers
To engage in conversation, not win the debate
To make friends, not maintain acquaintances
To create, not to consume
To love and not possess
To give and not receive
To be among wilderness, not banish it
To value beauty, not utility
To search for fulfilment, not boost the ego
To look inside, not follow the whim of others
To move on and not to dwell