Another mindless crime

I never travelled on it, and I probably never would,
But somehow there was comfort in the knowledge that I could
In the event, although unlikely, I became a millionaire
I could stroll down to St Pancras and I’d find it waiting there.

But it will not run from London any longer, to our shame,
It’s going to start from Paris now, which isn’t quite the same.
Another senseless victim, one more dream allowed to die –
And you don’t need Hercule Poirot to deduce the reason why.

The perpetrators bluster, shrug, deny reality:
They know we know whodunnit; still they’ll get away scot-free.
Their hands all gripped the dagger, but you won’t hear one confess
To their part in the Murder of the Orient Express.

Brexit in a nutshell. Pointless, benefits no one, unintended consequences, diminished international standing, increasing isolation and irrelevance, another link with our neighbours severed, another bit of our history carelessly tossed aside, and the rest of the world going on without us. Everything single thing about Brexit makes me angry: for some reason, this just makes me really, really sad, too. The image is taken from yesterday’s Guardian.


The pedaller knows…

The pedaller knows what’s brewing
As he racks up the long, weary miles:
The pedaller knows what she’s doing
When she sets out on each day’s trials.

He understands he’ll soon be sweating
As the road straggles up to the sky:
So much she will soon be forgetting:
The where, and the how, and the why.

Though he works like a convict for hours
He’ll call it his moment of leisure:
And she’ll toil to the end of her powers
While insisting the pain is pleasure.

There’s many a knee now burning
A cricked neck, a back stiff and sore,
Whose owner will soon be returning
To the hard road, and looking for more!

I’ve always loved parody and pastiche (blame my mother) and I’m also a big fan of Thomas Hardy (blame my formative years in Dorset). One of my favourite poems of his is The Fiddler: not one of the greats, perhaps, but a perfect, compact example of his melancholy, sometimes rather caustic view of life, delivered with his trademark lyricism, wit and humanity. Hardy also had a profound, lifelong love of music (he was an accomplished violinist from a long line of church string-players) and wrote about it in a way I’ve always wanted to write about my own passion for cycling. All of which is a long justification for my humble but, I hope, respectful rewrite above! N.

Spring song

I watched you while the winter traced your trees
In crow-black ink against a sullen sky.
In bitter cold you hardened by degrees
Then lay so wet we thought you’d never dry.
Long lifeless months you languished, empty, stilled,
In silence for a season, till it seemed
Improbable that you had ever lived, or filled
The great barns with your bounty. Had I dreamed
Those endless, sun-washed days? No. For I see
The life force rising in you hour by hour:
The bluebell, celandine, anemone
And cherry blossom heralding your power.
And so it goes. The great wheel of the earth
Turns under us, from death to this rebirth.

Spring comes to Sussex at last. About time too – but all the sweeter after what seems to have been an unfathomably long and dreary winter. So today I’ve no politics, protest or polemics: just a simple, grateful sonnet for the season, and where I’m lucky enough to watch it bloom.

Protest song

We know just what you’re doing,
We see the games you play;
So which rank, polluted river
Will you sell us down today?
You’ve filled your cronies’ pockets
And you’ve lined your own with gold;
Whatever isn’t nailed down
You’ve stolen, or you’ve sold.
You think the law can’t touch you –
You can rise above it all.
But the higher you’ve been flying
The harder you will fall.
You promised sunlit uplands
Milk and honey flowing free;
But you cannot hide your failure
Or deny reality.
And you’re not speaking for me
When you stand there, talking tough:
There’s a reckoning approaching
And it can’t come soon enough.
We won’t forget your record
Your faces or your names;
As we gaze across the ruins
We know you’re the ones to blame.
So gather up your millions
And stash ‘em safe offshore;
Then get the hell out you while you can:
You’re not wanted anymore.

If anyone fancies setting it to music, let me know. It’ll need to be LOUD.

A part to play

What is the point of poets?
What exactly do we do?
By all conventional measures
We’re a waste of space. It’s true.
We stare out of the window,
Go wandering in the woods;
Far more concerned with dreaming
Than delivering the goods.
We have no head for business:
Profit motives have no hold.
We’re a terrible investment;
We can’t be bought or sold.
And yet, we have our uses:
For we come into our own
When you want to tug the heartstrings
Or cut right to the bone.
When no one else can capture
All the things you want to say
In a few short, ringing phrases
The poet finds a way.
You may not need us often
And we’re thin upon the ground.
But when that time arrives
You’ll be relieved we’re still around.

Had the opportunity last week to produce a couple of poems as part of a proper ‘work’ project – only the second time, I think, this has happened in my 24 years as a freelance writer. It was so much fun; and, even better, the experience prompted me to write another one. I’ve always regarded poetry a calling, not a career, but it’s cool when the two worlds overlap, albeit briefly and at long intervals. N.


They named you well: The Masterpiece –
The finest of your kind:
The ne plus ultra, best-in-class,
Ineffably refined.

All black and gold and platinum
And subtle ornament;
We must not call you ‘fountain pen’
But ‘writing instrument’.

And we have been together now
Through long and trying times
Of boring meetings taking notes
Or wrestling with rhymes.

Then suddenly you let me down:
No explanation why.
No fond farewell, no parting word;
Just left me high and dry.

And so we spent some time apart:
You went to distant lands
While I remained here all alone
No work for idle hands.

But lo, you are restored to me
All fixed – oh happy day!
Yet now the ink flows free again
What do I have to say?

My Mont Blanc Meisterstück is one of the very few true luxury objects I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. A gift from my parents on my now long-ago 40th birthday, it’s far more than ‘just a pen’ to me: it’s a talisman and token of my trade (as well as being lovely to write with, especially with Manganese Orange ink) so I was rather bereft when back in November, it inexplicably stopped working. Happily, through the good offices of the Bond Street store, it’s been back to the factory in Hamburg and is writing perfectly again. Now just need to have an idea worthy of it!

Duet: a love story

At break-time in rehearsals
A flute lay on a chair
And let out little silvery sighs
Of sorrow and despair.

Her heart had just been broken
By a cruel cor anglais
Who’d charmed her with his double reed
And smooth, seductive ways.

He’d loved her con fuoco,
Their passion burned con brio
Till he spoiled it by asking
If she’d care to form a trio.

Betrayed, abandoned, cast aside
The poor flute wondered whether
She’d ever find a soulmate who
Would want to play together.

And then she saw another flute
Reclining at his ease
And as she stared a shiver ran
Along her trembling keys.

He shimmered in the spotlights’ gleam
That subtly revealed
His head-joint made from finest gold –
“A Louis Lot!” she squealed.

But then she wept, resigned herself
To love him from afar:
He’d never give a second glance
To a humble Yamaha.

But when the orchestra returned
Replete with cake and tea
He met her gaze and whispered
That he loved her ardently..

He wooed her with a Bach bourrée,
And a Mozart minuet
Then they made a little night music
As they played their first duet.

So now they’re happy, side by side
In harmony – and, who knows?
Perhaps they’ll quit the concert hall
To raise some piccolos.


The book I’d like to read has not been written;
The tune I want to hear has not been played.
No painting is precisely as I’d wish it;
My perfect movie is, as yet, unmade.
What song would soothe my ear now, there’s no telling;
No architect’s creation holds my gaze;
I fear my feet would find no fun in dancing;
No appetite for even Shakespeare’s plays.
And what of my own kindred: do the poets
Have powers to aid me in these fevered times?
Perhaps I might discover some great secret
Concealed in their cadences and rhymes.
For poets speak of love and truth and beauty;
Show us a new and grand reality.
A vision of a world unspoiled, unburdened;
Not as it is, but as it ought to be.
And yet I see no promise of redemption:
All things are tainted by the touch of hands
Intent on harm and hurt; no thought of making
But only breaking, ruining our lands.
And there’s no comfort in the old religions
No hope in our so-called democracy:
And even at the bottom of a bottle
There’s no long-term solution I can see.
So I will go out early in the morning
Ride through the country, where I hope to find
A truth no human art has yet imparted
To my world-weary heart and troubled mind.

life cycle

How can it be that

after so many years
all those miles
half a lifetime willingly paid over

I can still forget that

after so many hours
all those words
hollowed out by all the hiding

I can repair all that

after just a moment
stolen from reality
with this magical machine.

And I am thankful that

after each forgetting
it is there to remind me
and pick me up again.

Missed a couple of days on the bike this week owing to poor weather and work commitments. Felt awful, darkness closing in etc. Went for a ride yesterday and things got themselves back into some kind of balance. Can’t understand why that surprised me; or why I so easily forget that, very often, that’s all it takes. Yes, I’m obsessed, and should probably be worried that my mental state is so bound up in whether or not I’ve managed to get out today. But I am absolutely certain that the bike has saved me from seeking solace in things that would be a lot worse for me; and I am so grateful to it for finding me all those years ago. (The pic is my much-loved Brompton outside the church in La Chapelle-au-Mans, Burgundy, on a very hot day back in June.)

in mundo inter mundos

A drowsing acre of rough-cut grass
walled off from the waking world.
Beneath pale stones, splashed with flowers
the founding generations mingle,
one with their home ground,
as their crisply chiselled names
bookended with joy and mourning
slowly soften with the seasons.

Spinning down to this quiet corner
from the village on the hill –
the home I left long years ago –
I find myself among old friends
see more familiar faces here than there;
my past interred in ordered rows.
And so I turn back to the road;
my world between two worlds.