The rim of the void
Circled the vent hole
With aerated rock; light
From where sulphurous gas
Spewed out its toxic breath,
On goat herds and shielings,
Wharves and warehouses.

Ochre red slopes,
Where old sandstones
Melted and mixed
In slumped flows of puthering lava…
Layer on layer on layer,
Pillows and mounds, one on next
Candy floss striations.

Decades on, pilgrims
Step still tentatively;
Rough trails,
Snake above the abyss
Children shriek with
Pyroclastic fear, yet
The crater lies inert;

Erupting only with spurge and agave,
And rocks arranged
By the hardier explorer
Into timeless signs:
“Maria y Manu”
“Hot Stuff”
And a giant, lithic, cock.

Who dug the ditches?

Under the scruffy hawthorn –
Dog-eared and tatty,
Dog-sniffed yet brooding –
The ditch runs;
Only a whip of thorns
Protecting it from wandering eyes.
The ditch;
A man-made beck
That beckons to nothing
But flash-flood over-spill
And tsunami waves
From lorry tyres
Smashing and thrashing
Their pyrrhic victories
Against road-edge puddles.

Yet they are there.

These ditches.
These long lines of art
Where man and nature
Worked together;
A partnership,
For once,
That worked for both.

Were they made for the roads?
Steel armed navvies,
Armies of shovels
Digging in unison.
The last spike in
Finishing the turnpike?

Were they made for the fields?
Farmhands and hired hands,
Stopping root rot
Or building a floss
To turn the stone of the mill?

Each was made
With salt-soaked brow,
And blistering toil;
With nicked-fingers,
And aching backs
With rough handled hoes
And hand-me-down trenching spades
Under warm July skies
Zipping with insects,
Skies now painted in sepia –
But were bright and true.

Who dug the ditches?
Their faces, lost to us;
But their work,
Their art – of
These unsung rivers –
Is their story, living still.

Dead Man’s Handle

It was supposed to protect them.

Depressed, every sixty seconds on that long, long line.
A firm push, a clunk, timer re set;
Every sixty seconds:
Push. Clunk. Tick.

But he fell asleep at the wheel –
(So to speak; there’s no wheel on a train,
Except underneath)
Fell asleep and fell forwards.

The handle was supposed to protect them
But he fell, head first.
And as the train rocked and rolled along the bumpy track
The handle imprinted itself into his forehead.

The head on his lifeless body gently rose and fell.
Push. Clunk. Tick.
Every sixty seconds.
Until they careered through the buffers

And into a graveyard.

Malevolent goats

Lifting my finger up, it wavered –
Microscopically, I’m sure, it reverberated –
Buzzed like a ruler, twanged on a desk edge
Or the acoustic thrum of an ill-fitting dash.

I dropped it down, seven times, in the first seven chapters
“There must be”, a voice said
Deep in my brain somewhere
“Some symmetry – three, five or seven – never even”

I would link these words, dropped upon
Randomly, from a small height
With an imperceptible thud of flesh
On recycled paper

Here goes, wait on:
“A piece of the Pennine north” (home, James)
“Liverpool F.C. Gods of Europe” (no, no)
“Three brown rolls, a slab of gouda” (‘g’ with a ‘hrrr’)

“And a tub of vaseline” (before being)
“Attacked by a swarm of horseflies” (eek)
“Morning Ghandi” (he said, jovially)
(before, accosted by) “Malevolent goats”


needwoodReclaimed from the plough
The soil, still cloddy, cratered
By last night’s heavy squall;
Cobbles, palm-sized, glossy
As the promised talons
Of the high street nail shops
Turned over, dredged from the deep
By hundreds of years of harrow and furrow,
Sparkle, aglow.
Climbing, through the brambled hooks
Of thistles and leggy hawthorn
Up to the kissing gate –
There the world transformed:
Dappling glades
Like those you imagine
In your sweetest dreams;
Old trees, broken, suggestive,
Illuminated by shafts of forest light
Here a cackling witch,
Huddled, bent, cloaked in mystery
There a shepherd, braced to the wind
His sheep, the undercover,
Wizened  hollies, starved of light,
Fumbling for opportunity.
Beyond, like mystic isles,
Floating in a forgotten sea –
Fragments –
Fragments of the Needwood
The ancient wood that
Grew hereabouts; pioneering
As the ice withdrew
But slain by man and his piteous greed.
Fragments, though, remain,
Living memories, old, misshapen
Beacons of aged hope
A hope for those, like me
Who stare down on them
Like Atlantis, re-emerging.

September, 2016,  Brankley


Biscuit conversation

It all started with a custard cream.

They are, clearly, the epitome of biscuity indulgence. Two sweetly crunchy – but not too crunchy – layers; pale yet tasty, like a Swedish beach volleyballer at the start of the season, they dreamily sandwich the cream, that moreishly off-yellow, enticingly soft yet strangely brittle, layer of vanillary squishy goodness.  And I had eaten the last one.

This wouldn’t have been too bad, but all that was left were digestives, some broken and the odd rich tea.  I had, unwittingly committed a cardinal biscuit sin.  Oh! If only I had been more observant; less hawkish about spotting and gobbling down my prey, the embarrassment could have been saved!

Diversionary tactics. That was my only option.

“I’m not sure why everyone is so upset. They’re not the best biscuits anyway”, I ventured combatively, tentatively prodding the conversation for weak points. “Hob Nobs beat custard creams hands down. Chocolate ideally, but they don’t have to be”.

“No! No!”, a cacophony of disagreement washed my way. Success, I imagined, was mine.

But no. “You can’t change the subject. You’ve taken the last custard cream. We probably won’t invite you again”, said John. “Mind you..” he paused. “…at least you didn’t take my all time favourite. I do like a … Lemon Puff”.

Waves of biscuity nostalgia rippled out. The Lemon Puff.  Flaky and crumbly on the outside, with a wash of transparent, crunchy icing sugar to bite through and between the layers, a tart, sharp lemon middle. “Yes! They are amazing! I haven’t had them for years!”. 

“Marks and Spencer” chimed in Mrs P. “That’s where you get them from”.

“But they’re no good for dunking”.

Silence. Then revolt!

“Urrrgh! No! How can you dunk?  It’s a crime to biscuitness!”  Mrs W just pulled a face. Her position was clear.

“Only as long as you don’t dunk all the way in” added John, with a furtive twitch of his eyebrow. “And anyway, you can dunk anything creamy. Custard creams, Bourbon Creams.. they’re all fine”

“Anyway” added Mrs P, ignoring dunking slight, “I like Jammy Dodgers”.

“Yes…” I added. “But only if they have the jam and cream”, I added. “I’m never sure if it is the real Jammy Dodger that I like. It has to have that cream”

“They’re from M&S” added Mrs P, who I now realised was secretly popping down to Mark’s for her regular confectionery supply, such was her intricate knowledge of their baked goods range. “Jammy Dodgers just have jam. That’s why they’re, well, jammy”

“Are you sure you’re not thinking of Happy Faces?”, added John. They’re jammy and creamy. Good for dunking and eating alone” he added with a conciliatory wink.

“My all time favourite biscuit? Well it’s a polariser”, I said. “Fig Rolls.  But not the ones that have been cut off. They have to have the folded ends, almost like they’re fully enclosed.”   The response made it clear that Fig Rolls could not vie for biscuit leadership. Too many nay sayers. Too many heretics yet to see the Light.

A change of tack. “Sometimes, I just want a simple biscuit. A Ginger Nut. Or even a Nice.”

“Which Nice though?” quizzed John instantly. “The standard one, or the one with a layer of granulated sugar on top?  It has to be that one. The other reminds me of my Nan.  Or….” he paused, “ could be the thin one with a layer of cream in the middle”.

“What?” I asked. “You mean a Custard Cream?”

It all ended with a Custard Cream. It always does.

Mind you. Good job no one mentioned Jaspers.

Happy Faces. Not that Happy...
Happy Faces. Not that Happy…

Sparkling Miscellany

July 2014.

This is a journal of things. A celebration of the beauty of the ordinary and less ordinary; of day-to-day magic that goes unnoticed. It celebrates the present, the now, the moment, without looking too far forward. How, through grand design, serendipity or luckless emergence we have ended up with the fascinating, intriguing world that is all around us, yet passes us by.

It’s deliberately glass half full; noticing, celebrating and laughing with life’s little pleasures, life’s events; the bounty of here. By my reckoning, ordinary can be extraordinary, and our lives richer if we pause, however momentarily, to notice it. To see the sparkling miscellany of life that surrounds us.