Northbound train

A long, slow groundswell
Torn, cut, worked over
And the steel road slicing through.

Raisin rooks
Cookie-dough cows
Low sheds full of secrets
Silos packed with wealth and mystery.

Flat as a skillet.
Only the trees
Muscular pylons shouldering powerlines
And the racing streak of the train
Break the line.

A sudden tunnel
Through a surprise hill
Coming out of nowhere.
The odd comedy of a deadpan country
And a suggestion of what’s ahead.

Farmyard junk, mouldering straw
The carcases of nameless machines;
The tell-tale symmetry of old spoil heaps
Now grassed over; the burial mounds of industries long dead
But still remembered
And never far below the surface.

Turbines and church spires
Jostle for airspace
Each tapping into and transmitting
Their own unseen sources of power.
In this unpeopled place.

The empty heart of England.


Random thoughts from the East Coast Main Line, somewhere between King’s Cross and Peterborough, earlier this week. N.

From the train

The train bursts from the city, racing down
Towards the warm coast. Every mile that flies
By, blurred in grimy glass, helps exorcise
The weary ghosts that stalk me in that town:
Of lives I might have lived; what could have been
Were I a different man, or had not seen

The blood and filth that stain the golden crown.
Was it my curse or cure to realise
My own way ran through woods, beneath wide skies
In open fields, by winding lanes? I’ve thrown
That switch now, taken my own track: I’ll stay
True to it, follow it to come what may.

Shadorma: The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang

Hard black smoke
And the whistle’s shriek:
She’s comin’.
Palms grip guns,
Sweat runs, fired by dreams of gold.
A bored horse whinnies.

In first class
Whale-boned dames complain:
Lord, this heat.
How far now?
And whatever possessed you
To bring us out here?

The men point
Out of the windows.
Hell, woman –
Look at it.
One section is just the start.
Boy, have I got plans.

Brakes. A scream.
Masks and revolvers.
All of you:
On the floor.
Now. Ground-shaking shock. Smoke clears.
Hoofprints in the dust.

The bad guys
Have swapped their black hats
For dark suits,
For bonuses and bailouts.
But they’re still out there.


I’m indebted to the witty and wonderfully talented Ina for introducing me to the shadorma – a kind of Spanish haiku with a syllable count of 3, 5, 3, 3, 7 and 5. I love the laconic, economical style of Robert B Parker’s Cole and Hitch novels, and thought it would be fun to try rendering a classic (or do I mean cliched?) western scene as my first attempt at this highly constrained form. To see how it should be done, I recommend this one! N.

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.