(After Simon Armitage)

Walking home: A Neighbour in the Ward

Peter, grey, oxygen starved, with one unmasked word “Peter”, and

a wave of a hand

I couldn’t help listening to the encouragement

“You are getting better, but

well for someone of your great age

it will take longer to get stronger.”

Suddenly Peter decides to get up

There is a chair beside his bed

Out of nowhere a nurse helps him turn and sit.

Another decision.

I last saw him heave himself to his feet,

grasp a frame: step by step he walked towards the toilet

and towards home.

2  The Story of a Dog in the NightTime
She lived in deepest Oxfordshire and decided to hire a van to take a much needed bed to London for her son  The trip involved an overnight stay. She could not take the family dog with her, and so she asked her husband, immobilised with MS, and his Personal Assistant (PA) to look after the dog and feed him in the morning.
A friend helped her to load the bed into the van, and so she set off, with her husband waving goodbye and the dog contributing a yelp. The bedtime PA came in the evening, fed  and left both securely locked in the flat (which adjoins the house) to watch the tennis on TV and go to sleep in their respective bed and basket. The tennis almost sent both off to sleep, but he noticed the dog was restless, padding about and scratching the door. He woke at about 3 AM in the night to hear a dog in the distance barking. He thought to himself "That sounds remarkably like our dog!". He called him with no result. Not wanting wake the neighbours, and being confined to his bed he worried the morning away, until he heard his PA unlocking his front door. "Guess who I found sitting outside?" How did the dog escape, and come to be sitting outside the front door of the flat?
 A prize will be given for the correct answer.
At a Tangent
We found ourselves in a promised land
once met we were as one.
Directions? You had it all in hand
I was the planet,
and you were my sun.
Held by your warmth I regained my youth
or maybe I slept in the shade?
You certainly took the rough with the smooth
I’m sorry my dear;
it seemed custom made.
Frustrated now – you have cast me adrift
to wander about, to plot my own course
Elipsing I hope, so we’ll each have a shift
but I flounder in space:
oh my kingdom for a horse!
Perhaps you felt our paths were too close?
It can’t have been my wayward thoughts
they were much too casual those
or could it be that my careless life
might land us up in the courts?
Had our time together begun to cloy?
It couldn’t be washed from your hair?
And life was needing some other ploy?
We cannot throw them away
those memories still there



Abbey Street

Abbey Street

Bald becassocked monks process down here.

Ahead, their humble abbot Aelfric.

Five centuries later in my mind is Abbey Road:

“He got joo joo eyeball
He one holy roller
He got hair down to his knee
Come together, right now, over me”

The procession is in tears.

Our Abbey is to be torn down

Our Abbott defrocked

His habit summarily torn down

by orders of Henry,

King by divine right.

Then Aelfric spoke: “Keep Calm and Carry On.

Brethren, the people of this village henceforth

will find and revere those broken stones from our dear Abbey"

Not to find the dawn unfolding with me
as I stretch myself from sleep.
Not to be greeted by blinks of reds or golds among the branches
nor every now and then by watchful garden birds.
Not to savour autumn words from Keats or Hardy or Ali Smith
Not to feel the pleasures of communal life
That would be the death of me
 And what would fill the gap
once occupied by those images, things, moves or feelings?
Some thing, some thoughts or some one new?
Perhaps a manifesto, an aphorism, a gesture, a quote,
or something blown on the wind?
One less to protest “you do not do this in my name”?
One less name to be ignored by those in receipt of petitions?
No.There will be no gap. We have been overtaken
by those new generations who dance along with their words.
But yes, the wind will carry some pleasures,
some causes joined and yet to be joined.
Something found in those images and those words.
For Lewis on 13 July 2022
Besides Happy Birthday, I did not write anything for you on your 18th birthday, nor on your 21st birthday,
although I do have a painting being framed for that.. So here is something for your 22nd birthday:
For Lewis on your 22nd Birthday.
We tried and tried to find you:
we all kept missing each other,
so we stopped trying so hard
and of course you showed up
signalling your presence with two blue lines.
Your stay with Trish
was a time of great happiness
for all of us.
And then, pacing around, she could not believe
you were on the threshold until she was ordered to the Labour Ward.
Hanging on for dear life, shocked by your imminent ejection,
you decided to stay put
and had to be coaxed into the daylight.
All over the world you were loved.
In her arms, your grandmother Eileen showed you round Australia
Back home we used to sing to you in your bath
Soldier, soldier will you marry me
With your musket pipe and drum?
You put up with us – and seemed to enjoy your part.
“Bring back that little boy” commanded
your Lieutenant Colonel grandfather from his Care Home.
When it was time to go to school I loved taking you there
on my knee, on the power chair across the village
and back again to collect you in the afternoon.
Your hugs remind me of those times.
Bartholomew’s. You knew you were good at maths but
not wanting to be singled out, you opted to stay with the crowd
and not with the ’Geeks’. Was this an early socialist sign?
At play in the village, was this why you joined a campaign
for a bigger, better designed skateboard park?
Astonishingly, one birthday, you had got a lot bigger.
For a surprise, we were to meet you and your friends.
Casting around: where were you? I looked Up
and there you were: confident, beanstalk boys.
That summer, quite prepared to join your schoolfriends
for a swim in the river. I was envious.
A-levels: I was so pleased that you involved me
in your English Literature. Keats, Arthur Miller et al.
You were A-starred. I was better educated.
Amidst all that, your friend contracted cancer
in-patient and out, you supported him
you had grown up. I was so proud.
Now you have flown the nest, chosen engineering:
a family tradition.
My heart goes with you in all your choices, Lewis
From Dad with love


I don’t know why I’m here, you said
I called you at Oaken Holt
You picked up the phone
I don’t know why I’m here, you said
Or was it: I don’t want to be here?
It amounts to the same awful words – or does it?
You could have been wondering, like Eve:
Who had planted you on the planet
And why?
And why didn’t you want to be there?
I had something of a solution to both questions:
Let’s sing a song
We’ll Meet Again
You sang and I sang and you sang better than me.
We enjoyed it, and we enjoyed each other’s company
Together, we were finding the answer

9               It Might Have Been

There was no hurry:
At that time, no one hurried along the Kings Road.
Style – looking for something stylish
in the shops, on the street.
What had brought me there?
London had brought me here

Not much else to do, when you’re trying to pick up the odd A-level.
there might be something: didn't know what,
but London put me there.
I joined the shoppers walking towards: World’s End?
Towards me was a girl. For a moment, our eyes met
of course I turned to follow. In one window she found some lovely clothes
oh, I wished…

It’s Not the End of the World, You Know

There will be no other end of the world
wrote Milosz, as long as a rose is visited by the bumblebee.
Tis the gift to wake and breathe the morning air
sang the Shakers as they turned.
It’s not the end of world, you know
I said as I sat tight around the stove
with the measles and my sisters.
The world had not ended. We’d all slept the night on it.
Next day, we sat there still, folding in the warmth,
counting the sheet-mica stove windows
and counting the time to the end of quarantine.
Since then, time and time again;
one year it’s The Flu, next it’s Bird Flu. After that it is the Swine Flu.
One time they call you in, next it’s while you wait. The next you have to ask.
Now, there’s no jab. ‘No vaccine’ I am stuck at home.
‘You’re over sixty years and ten.
It’s a virus. Like a limpet mine. Hate’s men’.
‘You’re vulnerable’, they say. So I keep away
watch the sun and the rain, paint rainbows and pray
for the carers, read beautiful words, write poetry.


A poem for Burns Night 25 January 2020

So free of care, I see you still
door cast aside and down the hill,
your flying skirt and mostly legs
a vision of who? – my heart just begs
Silly St Trinians – so full of go?
Happiness brimming, head to toe
or those giggling girls down there in Portwenn?
it takes me back again – and again
oh Jenny dear, we were so young
those days would sing if they could have sung
fair lines of Burns are haling me yon
but those days are past and now foregone

Lost Word  

How does a word get lost?
Was it foolishly mislaid?
Or is it hiding someplace at a cost
on a shelf, behind the marmalade?
Some words are from endangered species:
perhaps it’s becoming extinct?
Or maybe it’s just one of your theses
in which case you shouldn’t have winked
Association might help       –
plumbing the depths of your mind
what’s there amongst those neurons – just kelp?
Or things for which you’d be fined?
McFarlane talks of bramble:
could it be behind those thorns?
Then should I take a gamble,
caught upon dilemma’s horns?
Magpies will cackle,
Attenborough make merry:
the word, released from it’s shackle
is just a sole blackberry
I'd printed off some leaflets trying to interest Conference of Socialist Economis CSE members in merging their and the Socialist Society's newsletters, and took them round to their offices which were in a kind of warehouse building in Islington. A young woman opened the door to take them. Her face, framed in a mass of chestnut curls, radiated sun and warmth; her body language conveyed an openness rare in downtown lines my personal London diary at the time.  I instantly liked her. So far in the capital, with its vast numbers of stylishly dressed attractive women of all ages inaccessibly on display, I had not met anyone half as lovable.
A couple of weeks later I turned up to a meeting at the CSE office, and she was there! At the time of course, I was over attentive to my magazine – and shy into the bargain; I pretended that her presence did not distract me, and she was friendly enough. I think I was wearing my uniform of the time, which was an old mack of my father’s, to which I had added red buttons, and a badge which proclaimed ‘I'm red and green, it’s only natural’. Tricia, surrounded as she was by fairly conventional academics, must have been attracted to a person who was going to wear that kind of thing – or perhaps I somehow betrayed some of the testosterone pumping round my body when I looked at her.  
After that meeting, she was always surfacing in my mind. Terrified of making a fool of myself, with the excuse of an invitation to a Sandinista Evening at Lambeth Town Hall, I went back to her office. She wasn’t there, but her friend Kate was. I knew Kate, an intelligent, sinuous, pretty young woman who had worked in another office at 9 Poland Street, and so, stupidly trying to be casual, I asked her to come along too. But she gathered I think from the awkwardness of my invitation, that my interest was in Tricia and she got the message to her. Tricia called me. She couldn’t come to the Lambeth rally, but we arranged to meet after work at a pub near Poland Street. As I put the phone down, I whooped for joy and my feet left the ground .
We met and told each other about ourselves – she was quite different from anyone else I had ever been out with.  She was from a large Queensland family, had joined two of her sisters in London, and was a lot more confident than me in talking about herself.  But there were no barriers.  I was instantly in love. What next? I’m not a big drinker, so I asked her:
“Shall we find somewhere to eat?”
“No, I don’t think so – I’m not hungry.”
“A movie?”
“No.” Nor did I.
“How about finding another pub?”
“Back to my place?”
“OK.” I could not believe my luck.
14 plus


It was in 1979 that the unspoken compromise between myself and my wife came to an end. Neither of us had been able to talk about the steadily increasing pressure that my membership of a post-1968 Trotskyist cult put on us. So the marriage fractured. Stubbornly, I refused to accept my wife's eventual ultimatum. "Either you leave your party or I leave you". The marriage did not end there, however; for a year we carried on living a lie.

She moved from Rotherham to a new job, in television in Manchester, spending weekdays over there. I took the opportunity to renew my acquaintance with our two children, Simon and Zoe, who were both in primary school. On the long summer evenings, I would drive out to Roche Abbey with the children and play hide and seek in the ruins, or we would go up into the Derbyshire hills.

My wife had the children at weekends.

But it all had to end, despite some token revenge resistance from me: when I told her "I want to keep the kids", she physically launched herself at me. It had taken this to make our separation real. Very soon afterwards, I confessed that I had just been being provocative.

I drove the children over to their mother, who had lovingly cared for them for the nine years since Simon had been born. On the way back through the stepped, reservoir-clad mountainside which served as a watershed for both Manchester and South Yorkshire,  I fleetingly considered a dramatic end by driving off the road and down the precipitous Pennine hillside.

I am now happily remarried, with a second son.

Some of my friends have stayed in unhappy marriages: for the sake of their children: perhaps I should have done that?



Long Mead Meadow


Can you sing happy birthday to a field?

This Meadow is one thousand years old

faint greens, the straw of at least thirty kinds of grass

and precious flowers:

Yellow Rattle, Devil’s Bit and the Great Burnet

elder brother of the spicy Pimpernel

could this be an age-old birthday song?

They seek it here, they seek it there

Those farmers seek it everywhere

Is It in heaven or is it in hell?

That damned elusive Pimpernel.

But we are told that the Scarlet Pimpernel

which closes its petals when the sun goes down

has been known for perhaps one thousand years

as the Poor Man’s Barometer.

No need for a birthday present then.




I don’t know why I’m here, you said


I called you at Oaken Holt

You picked up the phone

I don’t know why I’m here, you said

Or was it: I don’t want to be here?

It amounts to the same awful words – or does it?

You could have been wondering, like Eve:

Who had planted you on the planet

And why?

And why didn’t you want to be there?

I had something of a solution to both questions:

Let’s sing a song

We’ll Meet Again

You sang and I sang and you sang better than me.

We enjoyed it, and we enjoyed each other’s company

Together, we were finding the answer








Growing Up

We Found the tiny Dikler stream,

which meets the Windrush,

and runs into the heavy river Thames:

the watermill at Upper Swell

why was it staying put behind those bars?

Walking past the church, I did not know.

Nor did I know that the lake

beside which I used to sit in retreat,

around which with Kathryn I used to ride,

that it was once a millpond.


Riding amongst those hills and bridle ways

we came across a ford through

another tributary: the river Eye

to the mill at Lower Slaughter,

a name derived from Slothre

meaning Muddy Place

(something else I did not know)

There they made bread,

devoured on our way home


Then cotswold men arrived at dusk

with rounded platforms made from wire

“Catching crayfish luv” they said

and baiting them with smelly fish

sunk their traps into the stream.

Back next day, they found their catch

each wire world inhabited

by one, even two crustaceans

“Brill” I thought.

Since then, I wondered

 “What did the crayfish think?”


A photograph reminds me

 of walking three decades later, with Claire,

our children and their cousins

to a wooden bridge over the Dikler…

In turn, I am reminded of convalescence from school

with my dear mother amongst the raspberry canes.


London – 1950s

Pimlico, staying with my Aunt Betty.

Her flat had a balcony and strange furniture

and outside, trains making soot in the night.

She took us to shows – and films. I fell in love

with the South Pacific girl up the mountain Bali Ha’i:

the song still goes through my mind


Interlude: years of social and political adventures, marrying on and off, conceiving and bringing up children in and out of London and in Oxford


Two London poems, one ancient, one more modern.


Chelsea, 1963

It Might Have Been

There was no hurry:

At that time, no one hurried along the Kings Road.

Style – looking for something stylish

in the shops, on the street.

What had brought me there?

London had brought me there

Not much else to do,

when you’re trying to pick up the odd A-level:

there might be something: didn't know what,

but London put me there.

I joined the shoppers walking towards: World’s End?

Towards me was a girl. For a moment, our eyes met

of course I turned to follow.

In one window she saw some lovely clothes

she turned in

oh I wished…


Brixton 1981


Coldharbour Lane

Saturday night

Coldharbour Lane: a street where, on a normal day,

the shoppers come for chicken grits and pies and eels

and fish and chips,

where if you’re black and out of work

you stand and wait outside the boozer

or the car-hire.

Coldharbour Lane’s become a Lane again

where people stroll and size each other up

and up


A lovers Lane, its shopfront image exorcised;

instead we worship one another there

where Africans and young black girls and white ones too

and running boys

and all in clothes that aren’t too straight



The street that became a stage

where every act was lit by flames

where we the audience now tread

and, curiously, the costumed stars



A street retreat, a void from city time

where brick on plastic pleasantly resounds

and fresh reflections struck off rounded

helmet, angled shield

give Autumn night a continental look

where private drivers sniffing trouble hurriedly reverse

leaving alone, bereft, an upturned, fire-blacked Ford



Tonight’s pedestrians, declining cumbous, huddled force,

have time and space to ebb

then flow


Sunday night

Last night there was security in strife

but now I walk through these still watchful streets

in sweaty fear of my companion

– a person who assumes me to be


no one

Oxford – Northmoor

Winter Walk

With the pleasant scent of cows and cow parsley

along the track towards the river

and over the Christmas-frosty, crunchy vegetation

the black dog Azmadeus cannot smell where he is.

The floodplain is filled with a bedspread of ice;

through it we can still see the soil and grass,

looking like specimens in laboratory glass.

“It’s not dangerous” so hesitantly our boots

crack the canopy: we keep calm and carry on.


But where is the River Thames? It has gone.

What is a river, without its banks? The brows

of philosophers will stiffen at this question.

We send a scout to find the wheres and hows.

So we skate the problem of where we walk

we tread the frozen fields with joy

and thankfully Azmadeus returns: “Good boy”.


Looking Upwards

Most weeks I watch The Repair Shop

enjoying the crafts, the engineering,

the family progeny of the items brought in

a teddy bear that is worse for wear

a clockwork train

they don’t make ’em like that anymore

in the main, it is said.

A mandolin that won’t work

or a wireless oddly needing wires

but they know, these craftsmen and women,

know how? They nod yes they have the know-how,

the expertise – after all they are paid by the BBC

turning turning, moulding moulding, and hammer, hammer

till their charges are as good as new.

Made to look their age they say – as a reminder.

The owners return

to be reminded, to be amazed

they hoped it might be so – and it is.

Just as they were when they were a child,

their grandmothers, grandfathers, mothers, fathers had use of them.

Do they approve? They wonder

as they look upwards.



Looking upwards…

Is it just a gesture?

Nurtured in us since childhood?

Or do some of us still think of the dear departed

seated happily on a cloud waiting for us

with a nice cup of tea?

Who will be there? Perhaps a favourite aunt?

And they/we speculate

are they up there or are they down below?

I think the answer is simple

they are hiding out inside of us.


 no one







We’d crept from fitful sleep below our flat

momentarily to ignore the distant war

our daughter pulled the blind and said “what’s that?”

A tank was parked in the street below our floor

I felt my breakfast drain to my boots – “They’ve shat

on us for days: we will no longer implore!

We’ll blast that tank so the whole street hears

Resistance! That’s joy to our ears.”


My partner took the kids away

So long as they’re safe; but they will be missed

perhaps they’ll find a place to play

Will we see them again? Putin’s on my list

of criminals and come their day

I’m sure that they will be kissed

by a death worse than the suffocation

they have meted upon our strangled nation