The Very Opposite.

It is fair to say that I do not usually explain my poetry. I like to sit and wonder what the reader makes of my words which leave my mind, my pen (for pen, read computer)

meaning something to me but will, almost certainly mean something different – and why not? – to you, the reader.

I am happy with this as a situation: we can all be right, perhaps.

But this piece is posted here as a tribute to Nelson Mandela and was written on the Victoria and Alfred Docks, Capetown after a visit to Robben Island, where I learned such a lot about the history I have

lived through. It reminded me that opinions can change with knowledge; that the best people do not seek retribution.

It was intended as a thoughtful piece: I had a great deal to think over, not least the glorious sense of humour of the guide (a former in-mate). It was not written solely about Mandela, nor, indeed for public consumption.


The Very Opposite

Delightful play of

Evening light ripples

On Africa harbour water;








Reflections of

Freedom’s forgiving tides

Turning over:


Bright and dark:

Determined to avoid bitter

Silence; to exact the very

Opposite of Vengeance.

Space Odyssey, Gravity and Peace

Went to the cinema to see Gravity. Opted for the 3-D version. Good decision: the effects were truly realistic and made me realise that there really are such things as space stations and Shuttle-type missions. With people doing jobs in space!

The film itself is an epic, in terms of scenery, special effects, drama,  acting, storyline, humour, message and the way it set me thinking. I will not spoil the film for you; but would recommend it whole-heartedly. It is not a science fiction story, I would suggest, but space and the frontiers of current knowledge are used as a setting for a wholly human story on many levels.

Continue reading


This poem, if poem it is came about as a result of an amazing self drive tour that started and ended in Denver, taking in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons and all places in between (Mount Rushmore and the stunning Crazy Horse monument for example)

But, somewhere on the way I became intrigued by comments heard in passing, turning some of them into the voices in the maybe-poem.

I then read a blog piece called “eavesdropping” and was inspired – or kicked up the undercarriage – enough to find it out.

My apologies, if necessary, if the quote was yours (I would be amazed that you could still remember it actually – it was during August, 2002!).

But I would be intrigued to know if you think it works … or if you have heard any good (but repeatable) eavesdropped quotes.

Hope you enjoy it:


“You can get two vipers

For one stingray …”

“Wedding was in Florida;

Mom arranged it that way

So her family wouldn’t make it …”



Conception to


“I just didn’t like the way

He kept twisting his neck

To try to bite my ankles …”

“One says two thousand,

The next says twenty –

Who can you trust?”

“I’ve got to tell you, Jason,

I’ve slept with

Some dogs, but …”

Not The Same Farmyard

This is not the same farmyard I knew as a child, where (usually) cheerful men toiled with sacks, with welding gear, with drums of diesel, bales of hay, a tractor that wouldn’t start (again),: the machine shed and the patient cattle steaming in the misty, morning light. The yard that was organised chaos, that dogs, chickens and Adam, the Hereford bull, bossed in turns. The sound of Guinea fowl, the gentle lowing demands of calves and the moody exuberance of pigs.

The humming of the chaff cutter, the mechanical-but-hypnotic clanking of the baler in a distant field, the repetitive vacuum pump, pomp, pump of the milking machine. Swallows planning through the top half of stable doors in the cow-shed, spiders webs with litters of chaff entwined, the sickly sweet smell of the brewers yeast stack, the prowling, near-feral cats. No people here today, where my grandfather thatched ricks atop giant ladders. Indeed no ricks either, not even the staddle stones that they sat upon.

The place where I learned names like Alfa- Laval, Fordson Major, Friesian, BOCM and David Brown. Where fly-papers gathered insects on an industrial scale and a barn owl raised young on rats.

A single, immensely imposing tractor, yellow, somehow more like a Lego toy than an agricultural powerhouse. No trailers, no stock cattle in the barn, no combine harvester proud in the wooden shed complete with Hansel and Gretel trail of spilled grain and scarf of work-dusted hessian.

Gone to ghosthood, I hope they are happy, satisfied; for as I stand in what was the dairy yard, across which I manfully struggled as a boy with pails of body-warm milk I feel both a pride and an emptiness.

No cattle have been milked here for a decade, though swallows still balance elegantly on the same wires and twitter the same going-away messages. There is order and clean lines where there were families and humour and a pile of empty blue drums wait where the itinerant’s warm caravan used to settle each harvest time.

It still , thankfully,functions as part of a farming concern, looks cruelly efficient, the JCB is parked straight and protected from rain, the ground is level and ruthlessly weed free, the hedges neat, though flailed, not cut and  without pheasant and songbird friendly batter. Because agriculture has changed, often, in adapting becoming monoculture. It’s not wrong: business is business naturally (or not) and development happens, the weakest go to the wall or having no support are taken over.

This is not the farmyard I wandered as a child, where I learned to make some sense of life’s tapestries, where I began my journey into society and, indeed, adulthood. It is not and why would it be? Why should it be? Change is the nature of things, it’s evolution, process and progress.

But, for the few evening-sun gilded moments I am there I ask myself whether, as a child I misread the farmyard. There must have been a sense of business then. Was it that I didn’t notice it? Or was the farm, somehow, run with a more human, caring face? There are still foxes on the land, buzzards, rare then, now nest in the Lady Wood and nature turns on and on under the early evening Harvest moon: a time for thinking of those that have gone before, bless them.



National Forest Annual Wood Fair.

At the Annual Wood Fair, Beacon Hill Park, Leicestershire this weekend. Sunday was the right day to go (on account of how it rained heavily on Bank Holiday Monday, the following day).

A thought-provoking day out. Good organisation, good range of things going on (Celtic music, beer tent, wheelwrights fitting iron tyres (fascinating to observe, while trying to keep ash and steam off the camera lens …) to a craftsman-built wooden wheel, horse logging, farmer’s market – and a superb arena display by the Clwyd Axemen).

The “Wild Man of the Woods”.

Head, collar, harness, halter, bridle and hames: ready for business.

Reasonably priced entrance, craft stalls perhaps a little over-priced – the cache of being at such an event maybe ?- and the inevitable lure of, politely put, the richer side of society perhaps seeking status symbols to arrange around the wood-burner or Aga. Because, this is a generalisation and I will try to avoid those – usually (is that a generalisation in itself, I begin to wonder) the majority of visitors are well-heeled, well behaved and well-meaning. Those who have a genuine interest already, those who believe in getting their children out to observe such things, those who can, frankly, afford it! And, er, those categories include me … and sometimes I feel a little guilty about that, though never sure why. The environment needs these people – of course. And these people (how dreadful but cruelly honest this reads as I edit it) need a chance to celebrate and feel good – this long term, successful development is a real success.

The wheelwright, hoping it will all go smoothly. (It did!)

But, in my own seriously considered opinion, there needs to be a more significant presence of the less rich, those who may be money poor and time-rich. Because to be sustainable in the truest of senses these events, these landscapes need to belong to everyone and have everyone actively involved.

That got me thinking,(though rare, this is certainly possible and usually dangerous!) How can such events keep this audience – those who are bringing children who will sit and watch the “lumberjack show”, the Harris hawk display, or listen attentively to the stories told by the “Wild man of the woods”  – and move on?

Work of the on-site chainsaw sculptors, one example; there were many more.

How can the principles and, perhaps more importantly the practices be passed on to a wider audience? Become established, rather than fringe?

What else could have/should have been there?

I worked once with a man who had all manner of mazes. He as responsible for designing a maize maze (that I was lucky enough to overfly in a “press day” helicopter) but had ideas for much smaller mazes with different rules and secrets. Something like this would have been super.

Immediately I thought of schools, but this event is deep in the school summer holidays, so harder to get schools involved. Cyclists? This part of Leicester has fantastic bike ride and walking paths. So, maybe walkers/ramblers too?  Local tourist attractions (Twycross Zoo, the National Trust)? Tethered hot air balloon rides? Kite making? Then, to be honest, my mind started to run out of righteous vigour.

There must be more I kept (and keep) telling myself … then why can’t I think of them? And, if I could, surely because it is me thinking of them it is biased towards what I know, what I would like to see – and that ruins the object of the exercise.

So, some kind of survey/questionnaire needs to be done (different languages, include the physically and otherwise disabled) and get as wide a response as possible … so that here can be an annual wood fair next year and it is not only for the already converted and committed.

Change Doesn’t Always Come on a Wind.

Special. Special somehow. A special place. And moment. Not a geographical place; not exactly though location be important. A little left of lonely, drawing close to harmony, somewhere short of melancholy, though it must be close. A place of still air, promise, potential. Change doesn’t always come on the wind.
Lie back in the chair. Unusual view. The view from a position as if lying down. A view between the branches, past the sap-conduit snakework branches – from this perspective not having height as a dimension – the pattern becomes a god-doodled page in a road atlas. Emphasis switches between seeing the branches and seeing the spaces between the branches, coated islands of sky. The view between dinosaur track laburnum leaves, filled with end-of-summer sugars.
The silver chair back cold jumps into the neck, sharp and sudden in the evening warmth. It’s metal; not painful, just not ten-out-of-ten comfortable in this position.
Look up. Up where the soul-smoke travels. Through tranquil, unresisting air.  Miles of it. So many of me, standing upon one another’s shoulders, reaching at the drifting vagabond clouds. I am a child again, half believing that the clouds stay still, their apparent motion the illusion created by then movement of the earth: evidence that the earth is spinning. I grin inside, at the memory. The certainty I had.
Playthings of the wind and sun sprites, these clouds. Inviting, tempting observers to see shapes, patterns, to attempt to divine the future, the past from what is not actually there.
They are liars too, these clouds, showing all the colours they do not have, wearing them like accessories. Pink, rose, lavender, grey, old-bruise yellows and dead-moss greens.
Beyond the jester-clouds to the blue-that-isn’t blue. The ugly, intrusive sound of an invisible heavy plane tractoring freight – soon gone, followed by its echoes, passing the space that had earlier been filled with the commuter conversations – query,  query,  query – of gabble gaggle geese, a loosely structured formation, mother and nine sisters, homeward bound in a lazy, well fed arc. Now filled with swooping, cutlass winged swallows, hawking insects, scrawling their goodbyes in graceful curves and rapid as blink glides.
The blue lie. So hard to believe that it’s rue I don’t believe it all of the time: that the whole celestial mechanism of gears and circus mechanisms of space, planets, the milky Way, stars and all are there but cannot be seen until the sun drops below the horizon. Features that appear to come into the eye one at a time.
(I used to think that the sky-with-sun was blue, that the sky-with-moon-and-stars was black. It explained all of the facts known to me conveniently … but I never worked out where the line was that separated one sky from the other, or why I had never seen that line.)
Then I remember, as I’m thinking on this faith-puzzle, the eclipse that I have see. The wonderfully eerie stillness that creeps across the face of the earth, across harvest fields, across pine forest, across car parks. The way that birds land, as if confused, and stop singing, becoming spellbound and silent. And, as the sun is blanked out, one disc sliding over another, the coincidence that the two, moon and sun are apparently the same size a marvel of nature and maths making both the same size … and the shy stars leaping into view, reassuring and beautiful.

Speechless in Palermo.

 “Isn’t this a fantastic picture on this new TV?”

The pictures I marvel at: of Moto GP tyres deforming over kerbing at the Philip island track, polar bears coming out of so-white-it’s-blue Arctic hibernation, sunset bleeding over the Grand Canal. The technology of the screen gives such a crystal clear image, pictures are well chosen, sound superb!

Of course I mean much more than that, the whole technology of getting the images recorded, saved and shipped through the ether to my TV screen is undeniably immense. But because it has been available in some form or another for most of my life, sadly but typically human-like I take it for granted. To this day, while I do understand the technological explanations I much prefer to sit and watch spellbound. Especially now that the London Olympics is on.

And boy is it on! We have twenty plus BBC channels showing the action live, live plus and highlights from sparrow’s breakfast to owl’s supper.

And the pictures are superb. The drama, the controversy, the amusing shots, the crowd scenes, the expressions on the faces of the competitors, at every stage of the competition. Relief, acknowledgement, exhaustion, disbelief, joy, ecstasy. Brought immediately from the stadium, arena or pool direct to my living room.

How very modern.

But, recently, in Palermo I was shown a piece of art that locked such technology into place – from the late fifteenth century. A fine cultural tour, steadily paced: the anti-Mafia statue, the port, the wall, the park, churches (with such fine decoration), statues, a small quiet pool with low jet fountain (that peaceful, distraction-from-the–world sound of running water) and on to the Abatelis.

Inside, much cooler, artefacts well-spaced, icons, mural pieces: a modern setting for ancient and valuable items: but mostly struck by the cool … and a degree of reverence often found in such places, both scholarly and respectful.

Now I have been to the Louvre, joined the queue to glimpse the Mona Lisa and was frankly totally underwhelmed by the portrait. The picture that I have heard so much about (who was she, does the background match itself, what is the meaning of the smile … and there can be no doubt it is a fine picture, but in my mind it was going to be much, much larger. The other bigger pictures in the gallery there, with fine bright colours were largely ignored by the tourists (few of them I suspect doing much more than being able to say later, in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris, Texas or London “I saw the Mona Lisa!”) but seemed equally valid and worthy of attention.

Part of my disappointment I am nearly certain was created by the crowd. So many people. I seriously cannot look at something without time and a little space –and I had neither. Many people had cameras, were trying to take illicit photographs and smartly uniformed, extremely conscientious security guards would simply block the photographer’s view of the picture, so we only intermittently saw the whole. But it is displayed high up on the wall, so that you are literally looking upwards.

The Annunziata in the Abatelis is, cleverly set at eye level (in an uncluttered room), a far more humble position.  Certainly unexpected, a little disconcerting, but this is good. It is also set up in the centre of the small, high ceiling, white walled room and when I walked in I seemed to be walking into to a real life situation: the picture frame becoming a window frame – and I could believe that I was looking, quite simply, into another room, indeed into the past.

Because the face looks so real! Like the face of a young woman frozen by the new-TV technology! A young woman glancing aside from reading (I am, of course intrigued to know what she is reading). She is neither disturbed nor distracted, just taking a pause. There is the blue I now automatically associate with the Madonna, but the scarf draws attention to the features of the face, so skilfully captured by the artist, Antonello de Messina, so many, many years ago. Colours of skin, shadows as photographically perfect as is possible. There is no crowd here. I am able to stop and look; no pressure, I move from place to place, closer, move away a little. Wherever I stand the picture is captivating. The dimensions, accentuated by the fact it is on eye level are life size: I could be looking at another person, my reflection in the glass panel has my eyes in exactly the same place as those in the portrait. Another person capable of smiling, thinking, conversation, intelligence – not just a willing, undemanding “maid”. This lady will have great influence in the years to come, though most of it will be overlooked and uninspected. But her role will be crucial. All of this suggested by the man with brush and oils working on a simple piece of board.

But, unusually there is none of the religious symbolism often associated with “annunciation pictures”: angels, halos, “holy light”. And, indeed, it seems possible that the message may have come from the script she is reading (this thought goes so quickly through my head I almost miss it) rather than from an angelic visitor.  

The hands too are exact, seem to be indicating a “slow-down a moment, are you sure?” kind of gesture (that would fit the text so well of course).But the expression in the eyes, cast slightly to one side, brown, curious, deep and patient-kind has been well imagined and well captured. I sense humour there – “is this a joke?” she may be thinking. Or is she distracted by some small disturbance nearby? A cat, a child, a call from a neighbour, a relative?

For me, in addition to the subject matter, it is the part-of-a-story aspect of art that calls. What, exactly is happening in the picture, what happened before, what will happen next … and this picture has all of the elements I look for and more. I count myself lucky to have seen it. A picture paints a thousand words, somebody once said, though to be honest I am not sure who. This picture does that and more.

It represents a time and art technology, it represents a faith and certainty. It brings something of value to a time and a place where we set store by possessions and, if we are looking properly, tells us that there is more to life than, perhaps, we see.

Rites of Passage ?

My Sicilian friend is driving. Being English (I feel English, but the Olympic games is minutes away so maybe I need to be British for a while) we are on the wrong side of the road. But, while this has concerned me in the past I am quickly “dexterised”.
Reacting quickly to what I find unpredictable traffic situations he explains his “highway jungle” theory.
“On the highways we are like animals; some of us get together in herds, safety in numbers, others try to hide … not be seen. Some think they are superior, some act like hunters, intimidating, separating, picking on … you understand?”
I do – I get it, absolutely! I promise myself a time slot to think it through  … er, maybe tomorrow?
Tomorrow we are making the journey homewards. This necessitates some travel arrangements. We must return from a superb break, relaxing, inspirational and invigorating and though I love my life the return seems like a trip back into some tortuous mediocrity. I realise that this feeling will pass, but I am also reminded of the highway jungle theory.
Travellers switch identities, I believe, their role dictated by circumstance. On arriving at the station platform we bought tickets from a very helpful man who said he spoke English (and then did so extremely well!) we are constantly checking that we are on the right platform. We do this by surreptitiously looking at the luggage tags of other passengers, listening to their conversation and by asking the waiter at the café. We are happy to be part of a group; indeed we actively seek to be part of this one… “if they are going to Palermo we are all right and all together. Great!”
But once the train is arriving, our natures change: we shuffle with various degrees of aggression, using suitcases to create space, defend territory or obstruct the passage of people a few minutes  ago we were happy to be identified with. I want a seat! I want to be able to put my suitcase on the bottom shelf so I do not look like a weak idiot when I have to both balance and manhandle it at our destination.
Then on the train we count the stations, check the names to confirm we are travelling in the right direction, part of the group again, perhaps a little smug because the man with the teenage daughters looked awkward lifting his bulging bag up and could not make it fit the space. Could have been me?
There is some kind of stampede to get off ( a little worried, as always, and knowing how completely irrational this is that the train doors will close and the train take off before I can be on the platform), so I struggle to be in the middle of the herd here. We scan the place for the exit, a slow movement starts, we join in, luggage rolling obediently behind.
Another scan inside the terminal. Check in desks? Baggage drop open? A collective sigh, we all now realise the hotel, the pool, the bar, the friends are fast becoming part of history.
Eye contact, brief, knowing smiles.
“Are you going to …?”
“Yes, we are too …” (relief!) “… had  a good time?”
Which check in queue to join, get the luggage dropped off, more flexibility. Proper conversation for a while, hive activity. Then becoming individuals again – the search for coffee… out of the hotel too early for a proper breakfast … leave the group, get to the counter, get some fuel in!
And I need some reflection time – the past week has been a splendid zoom of conversation and sights, getting to re-new acquaintances, meeting new people, using a little Italian to get by, trying to learn more. The coffee and biscuits help. XXX
A little later I will be reassured by being in the club again. By the monitor that gives out flight gate details. Gate 6 is shown. 
“The flight to So-and-so is gate 6?” somebody will ask, though really we all wanted to voice the same question, “is that right?”
We all concur, grunting something like: “That’s what it says up there!” or “Seems like it, let’s go and see shall we?”
Then we stream towards the said gate. Is it a race? This is a budget airline; first at the gate will have first dibs on the seats, so logically first place in the queue and first to board the plane, getting choice of seats. Some try to get an edge, using the moving footway, getting hand luggage trapped around legs or teetering momentarily. The “lounge” is initially confusing, take your time to assess the area, where is the actual exit that will lead to the plane… and are you sure? Which way will the queue actually form? But do not wait too long or the prime spaces will be taken – by the herd.
Then it’s settle-down time again, it’s OK to be part of the larger group, we check each other out … yes there’s the lady with the koala bear on her oversized rucksack (what some people will try to get on the planes these days eh?), the man with the two teenage daughters … you remember both have tickets for your flight – ergo, this must be the correct gate.
Somebody else will start the queue – the final queue for the day we fervently hope – and the rest of us can feel superior (“it’s far too early to queue up yet!”). But inside I am going through gunfighter routines. There has to be an optimum time to join the queue. That will give enough time to sit and relax, but ensure that we are sitting together. Of course, this means that, although I may be sitting I am definitely not relaxing!
And, of course, there will be the “priority boarding” queue that defeats the rest of us. Outwardly I smile at the parents with children under the age of, well, whatever the lady says, but inside I am reminding myself that maybe next time we should get one of us a priority boarding. That one then could save the seat for me …
Then it’s our turn, we shuffle forwards, smile, nod, and  – phew – get seats together.
Next time? Is there going to be a next time?