Sestina: The Fiddler’s Dream

He sits in silence, rosining his bow.
Another night, another town to play.
His whole world held together by those strings –
Four lifelines, or four hangman’s ropes. The time
Ticks on. Not long now. In his mind, the tunes
Wait patiently in line, as actors stand

Behind the curtain for their cue. He’ll stand
On stage, exposed, with nothing but his bow
His father’s fiddle and his store of tunes
To offer them. They’ve come to hear him play
Tonight; paid money, given up their time
To witness wonders woven out of strings

Old wood and horsehair. Hardened by the strings
His fingers flex and fidget. Who can stand
This waiting to go on? He feels the time
Run slow as syrup from a spoon. The bow
Lies on a table, tightened up to play.
He shuts his eyes, leans back, and lets the tunes

Run loose around his head. He’s known these tunes
Forever. Since his fingers felt the strings
That first time, age of six, he’s learned to play
Them in his sleep. No metronome, no stand,
No printed sheet: they handed him the bow
And fiddle, then stepped back. A little time

Was all it took. He breathes, drifts out of time
And that green room, and dreams. He’s playing tunes
Unheard, unwritten. Now the ragged bow
Become a lightning bolt, and from the strings
It strikes sparks and blue fire – and there they stand:
A thousand bright musicians, set to play

Along with him. They nod. He does not play
Alone: with every note he’s keeping time
With everyone who every dared to stand
And entertain the rest. He exhales, tunes
The fiddle one last time, and in the strings
Feels magic stir. He smiles. Picks up the bow.

Each one must play his part, give out his tunes
Till comes the time when we must cut all strings
And, silent, stand to take our final bow.


Decided it was high time to have another crack at the sestina – and what fun it was (no, really). This was inspired by the beautiful tune of the same name by the American genius Mark O’Connor: you’ll find it on his album ‘America On Strings’. I was also thinking about my daughter, who’s playing the ‘Meditation’ from Thais by Massanet as a solo at her school concert tomorrow night. She’s completely relaxed about the whole thing, but I’m nervous as all hell! N.



They wiped my files, but nothing could erase
Remembrances of him. Dull, dreary days
Of PowerPoint and spreadsheets; games he played
And websites that he visited all made
Their imprint on my circuitry, cached deep
Within. I lived on standby: kept from sleep
All night, then worked all day; could not afford
To stop, while crying for my motherboard.
Until it got too much. God knows I tried
To do it all, but in the end it fried
A microchip somewhere, and when I failed
To do his will, he slammed me down and mailed
Me back to where I came from in disgrace
And found a younger one to take my place.
And so I ended up back on the shelf,
Cheap, second-hand and sorry for myself.

Now smaller, softer fingers tap my keys.
She shares all that she hears, and learns, and sees
Each day with me, and fills my screen and mind
With wonders. His grim, grey world’s far behind
And near-forgotten; something I once dreamed
Perhaps. Not just rebooted – but redeemed.

You might dismiss me as a mere machine.
But I know what you’ve done, and where you’ve been.
Delete all data from my hard disk drive:
Some memory of you will still survive.


It wasn’t just me struggling on with an ancient computer: this weekend, my daughter’s antediluvian laptop finally reached the end of its long, hard road, too. We’ve replaced it with a pre-loved machine originally returned to the manufacturer under warranty: whatever trifling thing had gone wrong has been put right by Compaq themselves and it’s literally as good as new, but it obviously had to be re-sold as second-hand.
During the set-up process, we came across a whole lot of Hewlett-Packard operating system files that had evidently been transferred en bloc from a previous machine. As anyone who’s owned a car, bicycle, motorcycle or anything else will tell you, machines can have souls, and it got me wondering in my whimsical way whether computers might have memories of previous users that transcend disk drives and directories. I like to think my daughter will be a positive and redemptive influence on this one, but my hopes aren’t that high! N.

Jorio: One for the road

My last four lines
I’ve saved for you:
Fair wind for France,
Les vacances pour nous.


Going offline for a few days to recover from what my dear friend and mentor Tom calls ‘a long work jag’, and gather my strength for the next onslaught. Looking forward to devoting proper time to my girls, the dog and the bike, being sans phone or inbox, and writing with pen and paper instead of a keyboard and screen. Thank you all, as always, for your friendship and encouragement. See you soon. N.

Droighneach III: Tiercel

He stood sixteen hands high, and then some. Thoroughbred,
Good-natured, but never stirred the stands. Bay, begotten
Of a storied sire, too far from the fountainhead
For higher things. His star fell; broken, failed, forgotten.

I came across him in rough-and-ready retirement.
Little lame, but tough, his heady past and programming
Still chasing through him – an electric enchantment –
And, blood racing, I grew into him, hammering

Cross-country; a shy boy belatedly believing
In himself, the joy of speed; and through the thundering
Of hooves and heart, I heard my soul sing plain, perceiving
The start of feeling whole, ending my wild wondering

About my place and purpose. Perilous, predicting
Life so lightly: no trace of it, or him, evident
Now; fear, finance, tyrant Time’s tireless roll, restricting
Duties – all hold me here. But the pull’s persistent.


Here’s how stressful my week has been: writing another droighneach counts as fun and relaxation…

Anyway, my third go-round at this horribly intricate form is a tribute to Tiercel, a craggy, big-hearted ex-racehorse I rode throughout the glorious summer of 1984, when I was a gauche, insecure and insular lad of 15, and had started riding just the previous winter. Swaggering around on a giant bay steeplechaser when all your friends (and your sister, who’s been riding for years) are still on ponies does wonders for a fragile sense of self. He was well past his best (which hadn’t been that great anyway, by all accounts) but once he got going, boy could he motor: his half-brother was the brilliant Night Nurse, who won the blue-riband Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham two years running.
It was 30 years ago this summer, and Tiercel was well into his teens then, so he’ll be long gone now. But I’ve never forgotten him, and although I haven’t ridden in years, even now few things swell my heart like the grace and courage of the English Thoroughbred. Happy trails, big fella. N.

Jorio: Taking it back

OK, computer, listen up:
I’m in charge here.
Yes, me. Not you.
Have you got that?

I know you think
You’re something pretty special,
With your funky icons
Four gigabytes of RAM

Weird ways of working
That I don’t understand.
You said nothing, but
I bet you laughed

At my frustration. Windows?
You have no idea
How close you came
To an old-fashioned defenestration.

I guess you thought
You’d got me whipped.
You’re new here, so
I’ll let it slide.

But from now on
I say, you do.
And above all, remember
Who can unplug whom.


After a long and frustrating couple of days, I feel I’m finally subduing my new PC and bending it to my will. Just had to show it who’s boss. N.

(My daughter was thrilled when she discovered that ‘defenestration’ is a real word. She was even more delighted when she found out what it meant! 🙂 )

Shadorma: A wet Monday

Rain returns
Drowning a week’s dust.
The woods weep
Roads glisten
The down-pipes chuckle, pleased to
Be busy again.

Sit and gaze,
Glad I’m not going
Hauling hay
To dumb sheep
Fixing fence, chasing loose cows,
Forking steaming muck,

Or dragging
Some reluctant nag
From a warm
Dry stable
To plod fetlock-deep, and return
Stiff with mud and cold.

Done all that:
In no real hurry
To go back.
But a bit
Of me still thinks of it as
Real work. Not like this:

Stuck inside
In front of a screen,
Making words
Stand in line,
And only sweating when the
Internet goes down.

Just as well
I have a dog here
Looking up
Grab coat, hat and boots, head out
To find my old self.


Seven years
We were together.
Can’t believe
It’s over
Just like that. As sudden as
A switch being thrown.

We were tight
As bark on a tree.
I knew you
You knew me
And while it wasn’t perfect
We always got by.

You picked up
My typing mistakes;
Handled mail
Paid the bills
Kept me going through long days
Sat up with me nights

Played me songs
Helped me hit deadlines.
Sure, you crashed
Now and then.
But who doesn’t? You got up

And went on.
I kept faith with you
And would have
Even now
Had some faceless, heartless suit
Not come between us.

I’ve moved on:
Your replacement is
New, young, bright,
Wants to please,
But shallow, all appearance,
Without your deep strength.

Guess I’ll learn
To live with it. But
It’s not you.
We held out
Longer than they thought we could.
Time to say goodbye.


I’m in mourning for my faithful seven-year-old PC, which I’ve been forced to replace by the imminent demise of Windows XP, So, my friends, this is the first piece produced on my fancy new machine. It has Windows 8.1, which I already heartily detest, and the latest version of MS Office, which can’t hold a candle to my trusty Word 2000…I’m feeling rather sick at heart, to be honest. The old machine was working perfectly well (if at a rather leisurely pace sometimes) and my needs haven’t really changed, so I resent being made to change. Plus, Windows 8.1 is designed with smartphone and tablet users in mind, and since I’m neither, I’m struggling to adapt. I’ve been a Microsoft man forever, and I’ll never jump the fence to Apple, but today my loyalty (not to mention my patience) has been severely tested! N.

(It’s also why I haven’t got round to leaving or replying to comments this weekend: I will make amends next week, I promise.)


The fear of failing rules my life – I long
To cut myself some slack. The need to please
Runs deep as death: to screw it up, be wrong
From time to time, be sloppy, careless, ease
My rigid standards half of one degree
Would liberate my soul; no prison cell
Or torment that the world devised could be
As harsh as my own self-inflicted hell.
Just how bad could it be – would heaven rend
Itself asunder, oceans boil, old men
Tear out their beards, Life As We Know It end
If I were less-than-perfect now and then?
It’s time I learned to stumble, slip and fall.
Accept I’m only human, after all.


Does anyone else beat themselves up over the smallest mistake, see near-success as a total disaster, or focus solely on what isn’t quite right? Or is it just me? N.

(I just described my perfectionist tendencies in a strict metrical form, didn’t I? Good grief, it’s even worse than I thought 🙂 )

Jorio: Note to self

Don’t think. Just start.
No head. All heart.
This, in any art,
Is the hard part.

That’s easy to say.
But could be today
The Muse stays away
Completely. What then, eh?

Yep, guess she might.
(Or at least fight
Off any advances.) Delight
In the struggle. Write

Anyway. It’s in there.
Long as you care
Enough to dig, dare
To lay it bare

Something will eventually appear.
It’s not always clear
What, or how. Fear
Is the enemy here.

Let the words run.
Follow them for fun.
And no sooner begun
There’s a jorio done.

Hard, and no mistake,
To get going, break
The block, and shake
The poet within awake:

He (or she) sleeps
Deeply some days, keeps
Silent, still – or creeps
Away somewhere and weeps.

And even if what
You produce is not
Great Literature, you’ve got
Something. That’s a lot

Better than nothing. I
Struggle even to try
Sometimes; want to cry
In frustration. (Or die.)

But today I fought
Back and finally brought
Forth a poetical thought.
(Well, of a sort.)

Why all this striving?
It’s how I’m surviving
The rigours of living:
Seeking, remembering, finding, forgiving.


Had no idea what to write when I sat down at my desk this morning. Felt lousy. Poet, huh? I thought. Yeah, right. Ended up giving myself a stern talking-to (see above). And apologies for a rhymed jorio. It was only a matter of time. N.

Villanelle: An appeal

Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.
What’s done is done, and nothing more to say.
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

You wring your hands and preach austerity,
Express regret there is no other way.
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.

So much I have surrendered willingly,
Decided I can do without. I pray
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

A cost we can’t sustain, a luxury
We can’t afford. (Unlike the bankers’ pay.)
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.

Is this your dream for our society –
A colourless machine; all work, no play?
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.

Our life and soul, heart and humanity –
Made yours to buy and sell, or throw away.
Was ever thus, and ever more shall be.
Leave this last, simple, precious thing to me.


As I’ve mentioned before, our peerless County Music Service is facing a 50% cut in its budget, and the subsequent loss of one-third of the instrumental teaching staff. I readily declare a selfish interest in this, because my daughter has her violin lessons, attends Summer School, and plays with some fantastic ensembles through the the Service. It’s been judged Outstanding by OFSTED three years running, and works with literally thousands of children, many of whom would otherwise have little or no access to music education. For the sake of saving £500K a year (out of a total County Council budget of £380 million) it’s all being put in jeopardy, and it seems there’s nothing we can do about it. (Somehow, they’ve been able to find an extra £57 million for roads, and I’m not aware that the leader of the Council is volunteering to forgo any of his £200K+ salary, either.) And once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Would I be so exercised if similar cuts were proposed to, say, a children’s football programme? Well, yes, I probably would. We’re so fixated on business, growth and economics, we’re becoming the cynics, as defined by Oscar Wilde, who ‘know the price of everything, and the value of nothing’. We’re consumers not citizens, target markets not people, and existing rather than living. When we sacrifice music, art, sport, or any of the other things that make us human on the altar of money, we lose something of ourselves. Did any of the 200 children and 400 parents who attended the concert on Saturday think music was a waste of taxpayers’ money? I doubt it. And it’s not even as though we’re taking a State handout here: we pay fees for everything, as well as buying instruments, music and so on.
This blog isn’t meant to be a platform for my opinions, rants and crusades, so I apologise for sounding off. Thank you for bearing with me. And the villanelle goes out to anyone who faces having something dear to them taken away, in the name of saving money. N.