We need to go

I repeat. No time to linger:

The village bakery
Shuts at noon

And we have nothing
To eat with Brie and cherry jam.

You know we do
You insist:

But your silver earrings
Are still here on the table

A socket has your cellphone
Tethered like a goat

Your handbag slumps against a cupboard
Deep in slumber, mouth wide open

And you’ll have to ask that chair
If it’s finished with your coat

While all the while your gaze
Rests unbroken on the page.

So I say no more
Breathe out and wait

In silent, humble deference
To a higher power.

When we have escaped

The all-encircling fear
And jeopardy of haunted years

I want to stand here
On this smiling shore
Hand-in-hand with you, my love;

Gaze out on the rugged islands
And listen to the rising tide
Wash gently on the sand;

Knowing that, at last,
It is all over
And just about to start.


Ah, Brittany. Those bastards in Westminster might strip us of our freedom of movement, but they’ll never take our dream. No pasarán. N.

Blown away

A restless wind –
South-west, heavy with salt
And smells of seaweed, storm-stripped from far-off islands –
Sets my mind flapping like luffed sails,
Every thought straining at its shrouds. Holding, just.

One rogue gust
And all could be torn loose,
Sent madly swirling miles inland
To wind up wound around
The cracked, barbed boughs of a gale-wrought pine
Way out of reach
And shredded beyond repair.


Back from the wilds of north-west Brittany with a notebook full of rough drafts, and a car full of sand and baguette crumbs. Sure signs of a good trip. N.

A good way to go


This is my kind of road:

“No entry
Except for agricultural vehicles
And bicycles.”

A gentle road, benevolent,
With its priorities exactly right –
A road on a human scale,

Where I might meet
Madame on her old Motobecane
With baguettes in her basket;
A tourist couple, side-by-side
Puffing, sweating on their shiny his-’n’-hers,
Or a quartet of ancient Anquetils,
Paunchy on immaculate Looks and Lapierres,
Trusting in cash and carbon-fibre
As specifics against the years.

A John Deere hauling big round bales;
A rusty Renault puttering home
With a couple of hundredweight of hay;
Dusty Axions, hot-running, gunning it at 30 k,
Ten-tonne loads of wheat and barley bucketing behind,
Or a Lexion, filling the lane from verge to verge,
All flashing lights and turbofans, a factory on wheels.

A thoroughfare of real life,
The traffic of an older, saner time
Where nothing’s moving faster
Than a decent horse can run,
And everyone is close to home.
A road that truly gets me
Where I want to go.


Another piece from Brittany. The fact that it’s in free verse (almost the first I’ve written all year) is a good clue that I was finally starting to relax by this stage of our holiday! N.

Wavelengths – Part 1

It does not speak to me, this sea. I find
No wisdom in the suck and swish of sand,
No music in the whining of the wind,
No conversation where it meets the land.
It is a thing half-known: a childhood friend
And playmate; now a stranger, grown apart.
I never dreamed those summer days would end,
Or guessed at this indifference in my heart.
Some men it calls to sail away: the weight
Of water and the world pull them. To go
Down to the sea in ships was not my fate:
The landsman’s life’s the only one I know.
I’ll breathe salt air and open up my ears
To catch a voice that calls across the years.


Back from three weeks on the beach in Brittany with notebooks stuffed with ideas, my head bursting with plans, and the car full of sand, seashells and baguette crumbs. The unmistakeable signs of a good, and much-needed, holiday. I started this piece the day after we arrived; I’ll post the follow-up I wrote a couple of weeks later in due course. N.

End of season

All that remains

The campsite is empty now:
The caravans and motorhomes are gone,
The tents and awnings are packed away.
All that remains is the sea.

The caravans and motorhomes are gone,
Across the Breton border, the Channel and the Rhine
Full of sand, baguette crumbs, and memories.

The tents and awnings are packed away,
Those magic spaces, homes that vanish so completely
We wonder they were ever there.

All that remains is the sea.
Indifferent to our human tide that flows in May
And, with October and summer’s end, quietly ebbs away.


My first attempt at a trimeric: thank you to Ina for inspiring me.

From Brittany #2

Word hunting

The words I seek
Don’t live in my town

But out here,

Shining, sea-wet, in the sand
Flying in skeins

Resting on rocks
Or perched in trees

Half-seen out at sea
Or round sudden bends in the narrow cliff-path.

With the poacher’s patience
And fisherman’s finesse

I can catch them
Hold them for a moment

Before they wriggle free
Leaving only their warmth behind.

And a single juicy one in the bag
Is all it takes to feed me.


From Brittany #1

Il fait du brouillard

The blinded lighthouse
Calls out in the gloom
Its foghorn telling the misty minutes
Like a doleful speaking clock.

There’s a Hebridean sting of salt
In the sea-smoke wrapped around the headland
Like a scarf; and the summer beaches
Are veiled and secret, empty, Arctic white.

The gulls and waders could tell me
Where I am; beneath the sky-cloak
They chatter heedless, brash and jeering,
Safe in their local knowledge.

Not that I’m asking. A dog, the dunes
And the distant booming of the surf
On the reefs far out are all the signs I need:
I am here. Now. And all is well.

A bientôt, mes amis

En vacances

There is a beach –
Long, quiet, silver in the sun –
Where, for a while,
I can be
At summer’s end
I leave
To spend three seasons
Living here
Knowing exactly
Where I left
The rest.


Holidays are upon us, so gonecycling will be  – well, gone cycling – very shortly. Thank you all so much for your comments, support and encouragement. Looking forward to catching up with you soon.

Formal verse

Mairmusic shares my love of formal verse forms, which she describes as ‘balm to my soul’. There is something incredibly soothing about working within strict parameters; far from feeling restricted, I find it liberating, stimulating and intensely satisfying. The challenge is to create a ‘real’ poem, not just a piece of clever wordplay or something that simply ticks the boxes technically.

The villanelle is an old French verse form; perhaps the best-known example of (fairly) recent times is Dylan Thomas’ ‘Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night’. I can’t pretend that this early attempt of mine has one scintilla of Dylan’s depth or power, but it was fun to write. For my non-UK readers, Wight, Portland and Plymouth are sea areas used in the Shipping Forecast, which is broadcast four times daily by the BBC. And although she sounds like a small village or paint colour, Charlotte Green is actually one of the BBC Radio 4 newsreaders and announcers, whose mellifluous voices are so reassuring to mariners plying the unpredictable seas around Britain – and anxious landlubbers camping on the coast. This villanelle was, as the movie people like to say, ‘inspired by real events’ on the north-west coast of Brittany, which is covered by sea area Plymouth.


As we sit in the tent and wait

It comes clear on the radio,

“Wight, Portland, Plymouth: gale Force Eight.”

We feel the restless ocean’s weight

Surge hard against the dunes below

As we sit in the tent and wait.

Charlotte Green hands down our fate

From her warm London studio,

“Wight, Portland, Plymouth: gale Force Eight.”

The day dies in a sky like slate

Far out to sea, the breakers grow

As we sit in the tent and wait.

The canvas strains as we debate;

Should we sit tight, or pack and go?

“Wight, Portland, Plymouth: gale Force Eight.”

The first drops hit. We are too late;

Will our pegs hold? Well, soon we’ll know.

As we sit in the tent and wait,

“Wight, Portland, Plymouth: gale Force Eight.”