From the hot road
I watched combines make wide-wale corduroy
Of gasping fields cast in bronze and gold;
Racing balers trailing fine brown dust
Build their fleeting henges and tight-rolled scrolls of straw;
Felt the fat, satisfied summer –
The goodness and greenness of the place –
Wrap itself around me.

I come from here. That can never change.
Its deep rhythms are my heartbeat;
By its moods and seasons, I measure out my own small days.

In these dark times I cannot look upon it as I did:
Forces far beyond these gentle hills conflate
A love of one place with a hatred of The Other.

But this country is deep-grained in my hands, clings fast to my boots:
I am bound to it, and it to me
Until I too am gathered in, and finally ploughed under.


Events of the last three years have changed the way I look at the UK. But on a long, hot ride yesterday, I came to realise that it’s not my local tract of countryside that’s changed: it remains as lovely as it ever was, and I still feel very deeply about it. That, I guess, is one of the worst aspects of what our politicians are doing: their nationalism taints any innocent expression of love for the place one lives in. Just one more item on the lengthening list of things I’m not sure how we fix, or forgive. N.

Hometown blues

This is the town where nothing happens;
You’re safe to stroll the streets at night.
The town that never makes the papers;
Where nothing’s wrong and not a damned thing’s right.

This is the town you’ve never heard of;
Nobody ever Came From Here;
A place to hide in unseen silence
Where dreams can quietly disappear.

This is the town that took my best years;
The place I never meant to stay,
Swore I’d leave soon as I was able
But put down roots in anyway.

This is the town that keeps on growing
Outwards while its old heart dies;
With each new car and new home sowing
Another seed of its own demise.

This is the town I ended up in
For want of any better plan.
I’ve paid my way and raised a family,
Done what’s expected of a man.

This is the town that’s closing in now;
No wide horizon, open sky.
A place you’d never lose your heart to.
Somewhere to live. But not to die.


Went to see Blinded by the Light yesterday; a great movie full of familiar images and resonances for anyone who, like me, grew up in a nondescript town in the 1980s (and still lives in one, albeit elsewhere, 30 years later) and listened to Born in the USA on repeat. Sat up half the night scribbling afterwards: proof (if it were needed) that for some of us, Bruce Springsteen is still very much The Boss. N.

Local knowledge


They’re lost. I know before they tell me. So
I offer help: consult their map and guide
And see at once which way they’re meant to go;
There are no secrets that this place can hide
From me. I could, if asked, say how this lane
Links up with every other; bend their ears
For hours with village gossip; and explain
Each field’s crop rotation down the years.
Yet though I speak with such authority
This local knowledge, intimate and broad,
Is not the resident’s, but memory:
I’m long gone – no house here I can afford.
Life’s handed me this pair of travelling boots,
But it will never rip me from my roots.

Jurassic laundry

Digging deep

They’ve been laid down
Over endless ages;
Layer upon layer
Of vests and shirts
Compressed in deep, cemented strata,
Shot through with seams
Of stone-aged denim;

Forgotten skirts
And fossil frocks
Cut like fault-lines
Through a couple of aeons’-worth
Of dark, basaltic socks.

Digging down into the lowest reaches,
We uncover t-shirts,
Shorts and flimsy, strappy stuff
From far-off fiery days
Before the earth grew hard and cold.

And like prospectors, gold-fever-gripped
We whoop at each new strike:
Deposits of bath-towels, nightshirts, sheets
A snaking vein of kitchen cloths;
A rich lode of clean underwear.

And nowhere
Do we detect
The smallest trace of iron.

This evening, we finally got round to sorting out the stack of clean laundry in the airing-cupboard, which was as high as the North Face of the Eiger and just as intimidating. It took all three of us, and there were things in there we’d forgotten we even owned. We’re not slack, exactly; we’re just very good at finding more interesting things to do. And we really hate ironing. One of the many reasons I don’t have a proper job requiring shirts and stuff.