Not tonight, thank you

A Charm Against Trick-or-Treaters

Attend ye, this All Hallows’ Eve,
Heed this warning: take thy leave,
Get ye hence, touch not this door,
Retrace thy steps, disturb no more
Our sweet repose at close of day.
Thou art not welcome, go thy way.
Thy witch’s hat and monster mask
Shall not avail thee: prithee ask
Not here for toothsome snacks or sweets –
Demand elsewhere thy tricks or treats.
For in this house a creature lies
With sharp white teeth and burning eyes.
Flee while ye may, rouse not his wrath
And take again thy homeward path.
Be ye not heard, be ye not seen
Within our bounds this Hallowe’en.


Leading questions

‘Only us dog-walkers out today!”
She says brightly as she passes.

The Downs are drowned
In a drizzle thick and grey
As battleship paint, and yet,
Yes, here we all are:

My new friend with her King Charles,
Shiny boots and pointless shades,
Two Gore-Texed women with five fizzing
Where-now-what-next-let’s-go Shelties
Gambolling round their legs like dolphins
Shadowing ships into a harbour, and a feisty papillon
With a heart and voice ten times his size.
A man, head down, hands deep in pockets,
Trudging the hard track round the field
Like a convict in an exercise yard
With a sofa-fat golden retriever
Wide-eyed, wheezing, at his heels.
Merv and Bailey, Ange and Leo.
Sid and Henry, Pete and Alfie,
And me, with the hunting-dog
In his red coat, smiling at the weather.
The familiar crowd of hardy souls,
All wondering as the rain redoubles
And Sunday yawns, goes back to sleep,
Just who is walking whom.



Back at my own desk
After two long days away
Making virtual words
From pixels and photons

I dip my dry, spluttering pen
Deep in ink the colour of crushed grass,
Wind it in with thumb and finger,
And follow its slow rise and fill

With my first long breath
Since the one I took
As the front door closed this morning
And, unknowing, had been holding

Until now.

Virtual commute

Out of it

The dull, another-day-dawns groan
From the endless procession
Of gleaming, rat-racing cars reaches me
Across a quarter-mile of fields.

That was me
Out there, on the road, at about this time.
Not now. Nor ever again.
Not if I can help it.

Maybe I’m less
Than I might be, should be:
While I walk in these cold woods
The world runs on without me
And doesn’t seem
To feel the loss.
I can live with that.

I call the dog
Run up the hill,
Dry leaves cracking like early ice
Beneath my boots,
Through wedges of dusty sunlight
Driven between the fading hornbeams,

Loving every moment
Of my virtual commute
To what the world pretends
Is real work
But I know
To be simply an illusion.

Spreading the word

The Farmer and the Ad-man: A Play for Two Voices

Guess you’re wondering
How I stand it:
Sitting here
Behind the wheel/At my desk
Of this big John Deere/Staring at the screen
All day
Spreading this stuff around:
A winter’s-worth/The empty words
Of rotted dung and soiled straw/You’ve read a hundred times before
From the farm behind the hill/In the world of buy-and-sell
But though it offend
Your every sense/Your intelligence
It nourishes
The sleeping seed/The constant greed
The groping roots/The men in suits
Promotes strong growth
In next year’s crop/In profits and the bonus pot
The endless wheeling of the seasons/With half-truths, lies, invented reasons
Unbroken for ten thousand years/The endless wants, the nameless fears
And after all this time
I find I hardly notice
The stench.

Deep routes

Deep routes

Dust from this road
Once burned the eyes
Dulled the greaves
And worked its way between the toes
Of marching legionnaires.

Saxon farmers followed it,
Norman knights and squires knew it,
Drovers trudged between its banks
Behind ambling pigs, summered on the hill,
Winding down into the Weald
To feast and fatten on autumn’s mast.

Its winter mud rose high, beset the wains
Laden with timber, wool and wheat,
Rocked them wildly in its ruts,
Stranded cottagers like castaways till spring.

Time and feet and wooden wheels
Scored the roadway deep
Into the sandstone;
The lines on the face of the earth.

So what would those long-gone locals
Caked in clay, eyes hollow as the lane itself
With weariness at walking make
Of today’s contended, rich commuters
Who claim there is no way to live
Out here without a four-wheel-drive?

Sunken roads are a characteristic feature of the Wealden landscape. I ride them all the time, and I like the strong sense of following ways that have been used by locals for centuries: in fact, some date back to Iron Age times. Of course, they’re all metalled now, and the glutinous mud that once made travel all-but impossible here in winter is now confined to footpaths and bridleways. Yet it’s amazing how many of today’s village-dwellers seem able to convince themselves that living a mile or two from a main road makes a big off-roader essential. We really don’t know we’re born.

Duet: a love story

At break-time in rehearsals
A flute lay on a chair
And let out little silver sighs
Of sorrow and despair.

Her heart had just been broken
By a cruel cor anglais
Who’d charmed her with his double reed
And smooth, seductive ways.

He’d loved her con fuoco,
Their passion burned con brio
Till he spoiled it by asking if
She’d like to form a trio.

Betrayed, abandoned, cast aside
The poor flute wondered whether
She’d ever find an instrument
Who’d want to play together.

And then she saw another flute
Reclining at his ease
And as she stared a shiver ran
Along her trembling keys.

He shimmered in the spotlights’ gleam
That subtly revealed
His head-joint made from finest gold –
“A Louis Lot!” she squealed.

But then she wept, resigned herself
To love him from afar:
He’d never give a second glance
To a humble Yamaha.

But when the orchestra returned
Replete with cake and tea
He met her gaze and whispered
That he loved her desperately.

He wooed her with a Bach bourrée,
And a Mozart minuet
Then they made a little night music
As they played their first duet.

So now they’re happy, side by side
In harmony – and, who knows?
Perhaps she’ll quit the concert hall
And raise some piccolos.


Ode to joy

The oboe’s strident note is far too loud
For my small house; it needs a grander space.
The trumpet, too, and bombarde are endowed
With voices that would overwhelm this place.
I’ve no time for the bagpipes or spinet
The ocarina, cor anglais or lyre,
The tuba, tabor, fife or clarinet
(Recorders are fit only for the fire).
My heart belongs to that sweet silver sound
That rises like the larks’ song over all;
One moment high and shrill, then rich and round
As Châteauneuf-du-Pape. I am in thrall
To one alone, so offer this salute
To woodwind’s side-on miracle: the flute.

Another iambic pentameter sonnet, I’m afraid – please forgive me. My fault for coming home last night from an excellent community orchestra rehearsal and then watching Kenneth Branagh in Henry V.


High flyers

All morning
in that huge space
hushed as a church
They showed me how they take
metal, wood, leather, paint
long patient hours
and with them make
four-wheeled palaces for princes
players, plutocrats:
The stuff we’re meant to dream of.

Only later, when I watched
four swans
unfurl themselves like magnolia flowers
then run
heavy, ponderous as bombers
grey feet slapping
wide wings whistling,
willing them
off the gripping water
and away
towards the island

Did I see something
that stopped me still
held my eyes
made my heart hammer

and all that manufactured art
was whirled away
like fallen feathers
by things no hand created.


After a visit to the Rolls-Royce factory. It was a work thing. Don’t think I’ll be buying one any time soon.

Rock ‘n’ roll dreams

Guitar zero

I cannot play guitar although I tried so very hard to,
Like Eric Clapton, David Gilmour or The Edge from U2
Heard Slash from Guns ‘N Roses and I yearned to make an axe sing
Like him, but found his power chords and riffs were much too taxing.
Two decades after Bryan Adams got his first real six-string
I’d played it till my fingers bled but soon discovered mixing
Rock-and-roll with working wasn’t good for my career, so
I cast away my youthful dream to be a guitar hero.
And now I’m nearly forty-three, aware I’ll never master
The magic and the mystery of the Fender Stratocaster.
Keith Richards, Satriani and the rest need never fear me:
I’ll stick to what I know (three chords). Be grateful you can’t hear me.