Home run

There is
(Probably)
A perfect poem
For precisely this moment:
One that captures in a few short lines
The exact feeling
Of sitting up in bed
As night draws in
When long hours of rain have ceased
The fire has burned low
The ale-mug is empty
And a newly-returned beloved child
Sleeps softly in the next-door room.
What a poem
That would be;
And how blessed the man
Who gets to write it.

 
 

This weekend, we’ve been treated to a visit from our daughter, who’s halfway through her first term at university. The iPhone and FaceTime mean she’s much less ‘gone’ than we were when we made the same leap 30 years ago, but they’re no substitute for the real girl. How utterly wonderful she is. N.

Whatever Green

We’re painting her bedroom. The little-girl pink
That she’s had on her walls ever since she was six
Has to go, we’ve been told. But it seems they don’t mix
Shades that truly reflect how fourteen-year-olds think.

There’s an ocean of blues and a wide yawn of beige:
Peach, magnolia, lavender, calicos, creams.
Way too placid and pale for her dramas and dreams;
Far too subtle and soft for this high-contrast age.

We need tones more in tune with our turbulent teen:
Let’s have Coffee Stain skirtings, the door Dark Despair;
An Apple White ceiling, one wall Gothic Nightmare,
All the others a deep shade of Whatever Green.

Slap on Intense Emotions with Angst as a base:
A tin of Wild Hormones stirred up with a stick;
Then a bucket of Drama Queen – lay it on thick –
And to finish, a top coat of Personal Space.

But she blazes with colours that they’ll never sell:
The glow of her temper, the gleam in her eye.
She’s our gold, our red sunset, the blue in our sky.
In her rainbow’s a covenant. And all will be well.

Lucky me

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Sunday afternoon.
Warm and drowsy
As blackberry wine.
Walking through fields
I’ve known for thirty years.
Doormat stubble, shining grass,
A whiff of windfall crab-apples.

Dog nosing ahead,
My daughter at my side
Chattering like a magpie;
Still too young
To have her tongue
Tied by time and chemistry.

What strange chance
Made me glance
At the ground
Right there
Right then

And from the crowds around it
Light on that

One

Single stem
Of Trifolium repens
Ignoring its own bill matter
And getting its double helix
In a twist

Throwing out
Two extra tokens
Of pure dumb luck.

Plucked it
(Who wouldn’t?)
Wondered
Just what I held then
And what to do next
With my million-to-one shot:

Line up my seven numbers,
Put my shirt on some long-odds nag,
Back the Texans all the way to Arizona,
Book my ticket to The Strip

Or maybe
I already had
All the luck
Any one man needs.

 
 

More free verse. That universal talisman of good fortune, the four-leafed clover, is a genetic mutation that pops up roughly once for every 10,000 of its common-or-garden trifoliate brethren. Five-leafed specimens like the one I found at the weekend are held to be luckier still, since the odds of finding them are, literally, a million to one. Even so, that’s still roughly 14 times more likely than winning the lottery! N.

Ruba’i: Kite-flying

Rain’s coming. Soon the day will die:
Before the weather hits, we’re high
On this steep slope, to catch a sight
Of kites against the scowling sky.

One pink-and-purple-quartered, bright
And tugging playfully, held tight
By my small girl on wind-taut string.
The other at a watchful height –

A russet silhouette – the king
Of these green hills. With copper wing
And deep-notched tail he tames the breeze;
His hunter’s eye sees everything.

One kite knows only certainties
Control, restraint and boundaries:
One has the freedom of the air
And all its possibilities.

I watch my daughter standing there,
Her laughing face upturned, aware
The moment will soon come when she
Will wish to fly, and I must dare

To let the string run long. Now, we
Are here together – happy, free.
And that means most of all to me
For she means most of all to me.

 

Pirate day

Ho-heave-ho and haul away –
No tie required – way-hey!
For half-term’s here, and pirate gear
Is the order of the day.
With a yo-ho-ho it’s off you go
All rigged for the Spanish Main –
In your old ragged shirt and sword-belt girt
Ann Bonny walks again!

Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest –
These are the times that we love the best,
When you’re still young enough for this dressing-up stuff
But the day brings its own quiet warning:
For the time’s going by like the cannonballs fly
When the men-o’-war meet for slaughter
Then what shall we do for a pirate daughter
Ear-ly in the mor-ning?

May you always hold, like a pirate’s gold,
Onto all that you’ve done today;
May your flag always fly in a clear blue sky,
And fair winds blow you on your way.
May a fine, gallant crew sail along with you
To wherever the world may spin you;
With a yo-ho-ho, don’t you ever let go
Of the pirate spirit in you.

 

Our daughter’s school has just installed some new playground equipment, including a climbing-frame in the shape of a ship. To celebrate its inauguration, the children were allowed to go to school dressed as pirates; my wife conjured a costume out of charity-shop odds and ends, and the girl looked fantastic. She goes up to secondary school in September, which means there won’t be many more days like this, so I’ve marked the occasion with a sea-shanty. There’s a first time for everything!

Sonnet: Letting go

Letting go

The swifts do not debate: they will depart,
Though summer still lies soft on England’s fields,
For stormy seas and distant shores. Its heart,
Touched by September frosts, the great oak yields
Its crown and glory to decay; the rose
Gives up its scent, lets its bright colours run
Without regret, and vast, all-conquering snows
Surrender meekly to the reborn sun.
So who am I to wish to stop the wheel
And hold her always in this time, this age?
I must seek out that secret strand of steel
Within, accept this turning of the page.
This is her time to run, to fly, to grow;
And mine to learn to live with letting go.

A night at the opera

A night at the opera

I’ve ridden, driven past these gates
A hundred times and more.
But tonight, we’re turning in:
Parking in the dark and distant corner
Where mere musicians’ old jalopies
Can be discreetly hidden from
The summer season’s picnickers.

We climb up to the circle
In cathedral-goers’ reverence
Enclosed in brick and polished stairs
Five-quid tickets in our unworthy hands
Then for the first – and, we imagine, only – time
We take our lord-knows-how-much seats
In that fabled wooden Oh-my-goodness

And there she is.
One cherished face, one treasured voice
In that bright chorus of three hundred
Raised in jaunty, joyous song.
No soprano’s aria could make
These sparks go crackling down my neck:
No opera at any price

Could summon up this surge of pride.
It is for her –
It is through her –
That we are sitting here tonight,
Transported into wondrous realms
We never would have known
And would not miss for worlds.

 

On Friday night, our 10-year-old daughter sang in the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne along with her classmates and Year 6 children from half-a-dozen other local junior schools. The concert was organised by our wonderful East Sussex Music Service (for whom no praise is too high) as part of its annual Great Big Christmas Sing programme, which runs in schools across the county. The children sang a musical based (very loosely) on the Christmas story, specially composed for them by the Music Service’s Director, no less, which they’d been rehearsing in class all term.

Normally, Glyndebourne is a byword for glamour and gracious living. During the Summer Festival, many people arrive by helicopter or chauffeured car, and opera-goers’ picnics are the stuff of legend. On Friday, though, we the Great Unwashed took over. Egalitarianism ruled: everyone in the audience paid just £5 for their ticket. We managed to bag the front row of the Circle, and I wondered how much it would cost to sit in the same seat for a Summer Season opera production. What’s certain is I wouldn’t be able to afford it – and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either. The Girl was beside herself with excitement beforehand and walking on air afterwards – it was a truly glorious evening. (What’s more, we got to sing at Glyndebourne, too: only a couple of verses of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but hey, that’ll do me.)

Testing times

Blood work

Someone in a lab
Is looking through a lens
At a smear of blood and lymph.
An anonymous clutch
Of nameless cells
In search of an identity.

A blackthorn snapped off
And driven deep,
Bee-sting, dog-bite,
Barbed-wire tear, unseen blow –
Any of the litany
Of injury attending dogs like him
(Long on legs, short on brain)
Might have forced the flesh to swell
Into the hen’s egg
That now lurks, submarine-sinister
Beneath his velvet skin.

Or something else:

That single drop
From the tablespoonful the syringe drew off
Will tell all.

So we await the blood-work
Wondering what they’ll find
And how much we stand to lose.

Breakaway

Breaking away

Today
This sunny Sunday lane
Is our own private
Tour parcours
Complete with mimicked Phil-and-Paul
To lend us greater speed:

“And now
The leader
In the Best Young Rider competition
Makes the move
On the inside –

The gap’s opening up –

And the champion
Must respond to this:

He’s digging deep

Let’s not forget
He’s the oldest man
In the race,
So you’ve got to ask;
Has he got the legs
To counter the attack
And close it down
Or are we about to see
A new era ushered in?”

Of course
If I chose
I could go
Straight over the top of her;

But, smiling, I permit
Her cheeky breakaway to succeed
And sit on her wheel;
Training for the big attacks
And moves I cannot answer
In the stages still to come,
Knowing that one day I’ll have to watch her
Head up the road alone.

Written after yesterday’s ride with my 10-year-old daughter, who seems to have inherited my competitive streak on the bike…my fault for encouraging her to watch Le Tour, I guess. For those who haven’t been glued to ITV4 or SKY for the past three weeks, ‘Phil-and-Paul’ are the dynamic commentary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who have been the ‘voices’ of cycling to British fans for over 30 years.

Slipping away

The long farewell

She never leaves this room
But long months
She has not been here.

The girls with their practised smiles,
Brisk words and time-is-money hands
Come and go; each routine visit
The first time they’ve ever met.

And after sixty years
He’s a stranger, too;
Well-known enough
Not to be frightening,
But no longer
The man who wrote her
Two hundred letters from the war,
Gave her three babies
And the happy home her giddy girlhood
Dreams were made of;
Filled and healed her heart
A thousand times for every time
He broke it,
And in their souls’ communion
Washed away the evils
Of the world.

Now she is reborn
Each morning;
Entering anew a world she has never seen
Does not understand
And will not know tomorrow.
A slow, sad unremembering
Until she finally forgets even
To breathe.