No Eldorado


The streets here are not paved with gold. Their shine
Is not the gleam of ingots, but the glare
Of sunlight on wet tarmac. And they’re mine
For now; it seems no-one’s inclined to share
A stormy Sunday afternoon with me
Out on the road. No, they’re all snug inside
With post-lunch television, cups of tea
And slumber. It’s left up to me to ride
These plated lanes alone. The bike, hand-made
From steel and aluminium, tipped with chrome,
Cuts through this metalled landscape like a blade;
Quicksilver flashing down the hill for home.
I have no gold or silver to my name.
But there are riches here that I may claim.


Even though I detest sport, I love major sporting occasions, because if everyone’s inside watching the TV, it means the roads are quiet. As you can imagine, during yesterday’s Wimbledon tennis final, featuring the first Brit for 76 years, I had Sussex pretty much to myself. The weather wasn’t great, but the solitude was wonderful. N.

Notes to self

Silver bullet

My mother
Never understood how I
Could play this thing
When I couldn’t see
What my hands were doing, or
Which finger pressed which key.

My father
Couldn’t fathom embouchure;
And though he tried
He could not begin
To see the simple physics
Of blowing over, and not in.

My classmates
All clamoured for their turn
Then wondered why
They could not make it speak
Beyond a hollow, windy hissing
Or sudden, scalded shriek.

And I was grateful
For their foolish questions
Which moved my mind
From darker, deeper fears
That occupied it then, and still
Endure despite the years.

And even now
The asinine demands of others
Fade into forgetfulness
Whenever I take up this length
Of slender silver, close my eyes,
Reach back in time, and breathe.

On one level, the flute is a very simple instrument: you only play one note at a time (no chords like the guitar, or double-stopping like the fiddle) and only ever in the treble clef (it doesn’t go lower than middle C). At the same time,  many people find it fiendishly difficult, or even impossible, to produce a single note (the idea is to blow across the hole, rather than into it). And while it’s sweet and soulful, it can also be very powerful, cutting through the sound around it like a silver stiletto.

I’ve been a flute-player on and off since I was nine years old. After being ‘off’ for most of my thirties, I’m now playing regularly again, as precisely half the flute section in our local community orchestra. We’re a small ensemble, mostly ‘of an age’ and pretty rusty, but through our weekly rehearsals, I’ve rediscovered the sheer joy of making music again.

Although the ol’ brain and fingers don’t work together quite so well as they once did, I’ve surprised myself with how much comes back to me when I stop trying too hard.