Railway lines

How many times have I sat on this train
With questions flashing through my restless mind
Quick as the country passing. Yet again
I’m leaving all familiar things behind
And heading to the city’s dust-blown streets
They say are paved with gold in search of pay;
I’ve scored small victories, suffered sour defeats
And smiled home with the dying of the day.
So what of this adventure? Do I ride
This iron road to glory? Will tonight
See me return in triumph, or denied;
My little hopes undone and lost to sight.
Stout hearts march onwards, never looking back:
Have I the steel to take a different track?


Scribbled (most of) this in a notebook on the way to London yesterday. Needs must when the Devil drives and all that, but I cordially detest the capital; fortunately I don’t have to go there very often. The radical 19th Century writer William Cobbett, best known for his Rural Rides, positively loathed the place, famously calling it ‘the Great Wen’. I think he and I would have got on rather well. N.

Exposed on Bankside


The woman
In a tight black dress and nipped-in jacket
(But not for her)
Calls a contact overseas
So stridently she scarcely needs 
Her smartphone in its pink leather case;
A long-range artillery exchange
With names as targets,
Dates and times as ordnance.
She signs off, looks round
To make certain
She’s been overheard
Giving out her full plus-four-four dialling code.
Consults the papers
Tucked under one plump arm,
Makes firm, important pencillings,
Snaps the folder shut.
Another call:
Leaves a message for a minion,
Swirls her power and grip on things
Around her like a villain’s cape.
Consults her watch:
Flips the phone cover open
And gazes, rapt
Like a miser at his money-chest.
Then thumbs great secrets
Into the keypad:
Revealing more than she intends
In the moving of her lips.

It seems slightly unfair to single out this one person; you could fire a cannon down any street in London and be sure of hitting at least a dozen just like her.

Thames traffic


Glassy pleasure cruiser on its voyage through history
Under London Bridge and past St Paul’s great dome
With a cargo of tourists
Toting Nikon cameras,
Souvenirs and presents for the folks back home.

Streamlined Clipper ferry flagged with corporate logos
Surging down from Westminster towards the Tower
With a cargo of bankers
Braying into smartphones
Making reservations for the long lunch hour.

Solid blunt-nosed tugboat churning up from Docklands
Dragging rusty barges tied in pairs astern
With a cargo of refuse
Packed in containers:
Some to be buried, and some to burn.

John Masefield is among my favourite poets: having his narrative epic Reynard the Fox read aloud to me is one of my most cherished memories of school (RIP Tom Hoare) and really showed me how poetry can paint pictures and tell stories. I was reminded of one of his most famous poems, Cargoes, when I was in London yesterday, watching the boats on the Thames, and decided to write my own version. Sadly there were no ‘quinquiremes of Nineveh’ passing Bankside Pier at the time, so I’ve had to make do with the somewhat more prosaic material available.