We live, we’re told
In a new age, a new epoch –
No blankets of ice receding;
No migratory influx
Of elephants, or deer
Hippo or mastodon;
We live, we’re told
In a new age, an age of apes;

Tell that to the sparrows
Struggling for food, for shelter
Where the grubbed-up hedge once was

Tell that to the herring
Their darting silver shoals
More precious than our silver trinkets

Tell that to the cows
Force injected for profit
Fattened for cheap cuts

They already know.

Climbing up Beattock,
That steady climb,
The marvel of man
Tilts, glides, leans –
Yet outside,
The ever-morphing panorama
Reveals the patina of ages seen –

The upsy-downy shadows
Of ancient farmers’ furrowed fields

The sinuous blocky grace
Of a dry stone wall, clambering, crossing

The spoil heaps, lost in paradise
Of shovel-clawed quarries,

Mile on mile on mile
Of paving; inked lines, snaking onwards

We already know.

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Unable, unwilling, denying –
Irrationally debating the rational
Arguing the inarguable

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Still we lift the trees
Pave the earth
Grasp, hunt, steal

Despite our ascendency, we descend
Incapable of acting
Incapable of stewarding
Incapable of preventing

Our descent, from our ascendency –

This too,
We already know.

Location, Location.

Down in the cutting,
The 7 o’clock fug of fumes lies
Duvet soft, a drifting blanket;
Up the sides,
Birches and hornbeams –
Cheap trees of the Council –
Rise scrubbily; bark-smeered
With oily, bletchy fingers
Seemingly, scratty yet proud,
Tall and whippy too –
Shooting up, drunk on
Drugs of digger-turned earth
And airborne vits –
Sarny crusts; pasty bits,
Bruised bananas, apple pips.

At this hour, tired eyes
Steer tyred wheels;
Eyeing greedily,
Viscerally dazed imaginings
Of half-grabbed croissants,
Or Tommy-Tippy coffee.
Engines, nose to tail, breathe raspily
Diaphragmatically deep on methane
And obnoxiously noxious NOx.

High up though,
Here, in this unprepossessing roost,
Crows and rooks perch precariously
And sway –
Not in isolation
But in metropoli…
Squabbling, bustling, bursting
Nests stacked on nests,
Ribbon development
Along branch, stem and twig;
Three-story town houses,
Bijou flats in the beeches up front
Back to backs at the back –
Twiggily and twittly chattering –
Social clubs; staycations,
Meat raffles, morning fêtes –
Location, location, location.

Below the fumes,
Below the grass,
Below Kit-Kat shards
And asthma canisters –
The grumbling rumbles,
The resonant roars,
The thrumming quakes,
Are a call to arms
Rain! Shout the worms
Rain! Time to move
Rain! Time to breathe
Up! Up! Up!

And down come the birds –
Down in waves –
Through fugs of fumes, rasping motors,
Down like a duvet, deadly drifting –
To guzzle and gobble and gorge –
Among the sarny crusts and pasty bits,
Bruised bananas and apple pips.

The Needwood Wassail

Two sides bordered by Derby-lands
In the west, dark Bagot’s brooding stands
Trent to the south the flowing lifeblood
‘twixt them all, our fair green wood

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Our ancient forest calls to the heart
Rich soil, gentle valleys, never to part
Stout oak, lithe hazel, the black elder tree
We raise up our glasses and drink unto thee

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

We, the folk of the five parishes
We, the stewards of the wood, cherish’d
Open up! Open up! And let us all in,
Open up! Open up! Or we’ll make a right din

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Saved from the axe, saved from the fire
The Needwood is rising, rising like spires
The Winter is going, watch it retreat,
Good health, raise cheer, give thanks for the feast

Wassail! Wassail! On this Twelvey night!
Wassail Wassail! Your whole year be bright!

Wæs þu hæl!


Sunday evening
Big lumps of rain, pounding pavements
Like Coppers’ soles, big and flat and constant
Big lumps of rain, pounding fields
Greening up, imperceptibly, persistently.
Now though, an ominous ink grey sky
Held in a stand-off –
An atmospheric arm-wrestle,
Muscling it, with a bright arc of French blue.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Under my fat-tyred wheels,
The ground sprung back,
Mildly compliant;
Ever-so forgiving as it often is
After rain,
But the bones underneath
Remained, still there, resisting,
Calcium peas under an earthen mattress.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Beyond the hedge,
Lambs wobbled inquisitively,
Learning life in momentary revolutions
The bones above, growing;
Mothers attentive,
Upended snake eyes,
Warily watching.

Alive, vivid, sharp.

Sharp, for Reynard.
A beacon of brightness moving uphill –
His coat, flame bright,
His brush, darkening to burnt caramel,
His form, iridescent in the evening light
The pre-storm light illuminating him
Blinking bright, under a spot bulb,
Bright teeth, bright smile,
Bright future.



When the storm cut through, it cut;
Not a samurai-sharp, clean, incisive cut –
But blunt, deep, savage – butcher’s cuts
Cleaving and sawing, to and fro
Until the job was done.
It raced, the wind. It raced and grabbed.
Laughing, it grappled the trees –
Like a fatigued father, numb through insolence
Shaking a child; but no remorse – just brutish joy.
It took without mercy; pitilessly and persistently;
Saplings, vibrant with the life of warming days, slapped down.
Adolescents, lippy with age, put in their place;
And the wise old ones, their wisdom scattered.
Uprooted, lost.
And we pick up the pieces now.
The old wall, tumbled, can be repaired.
The car, rippled with dents, ironed out.
The windbreak of youthful poplars, replanted.
But the lament of the wild runs deeper –
Baleful calls; grey-eyed mournfulness
Families destroyed,
And lives


Mating calls

The shrill penetrating attack of a Greenfinch
Insistent, urgent, agitated – calls for a lost love up above.
In the hedgerow, the calmer, bass, wooing
Chitter-chat of a love-struck Great Tit.
Away, under a straggly drooping laurel,
The guttural, dirty laughter of flirting pheasants;
And in the distance, the boorish, drone
Of a chainsaw; tediously barking the mating call
Of extinction.


Them damn magpies.
When they’re not nicking diamonds
Or pearls or some such trinkets,
They’re squabbling over scraps.
Gabbling with their angular voices.
Chock-a-lock; arrk-chak-chak.

Wrangling, over styrofoam chips,
Or batter and bits soaked in gravy.
Bickering, over seed pod cereal bars,
Or platinum-edged gum wrappers.
Nit-picking over feast-details;
Feuding over takeaways.


It’s said that Lyonesse lies submerged,
Like a shallow dream,
Covered in crab pots, ruptured buoys, starfish
And mythical swords
Abandoned, until we need them most.

Yet, north of there,
As the stream flows
As the clouds skitter
Lie the gnarled rock clutter
The last bastion – or the advance guard
Depending how you face –

Of St Kilda

Where the people called for help
Sung for boats and sailed away
Hearth and home left, lost;
A hole in the heart
Punctured deep, thrust through
All choices gone; hope gone too.

Yet, peering down on our aqua globe
Through the magnified penetrating eye
Of sordid satellite spying
Those homes and hearths remain
Solid walls, thick-set,
Sheelings, like stone circles
Misaligned, unless you
See the world like a box-eyed Soay;
Field walls, crinkled up hill sides;
Wind breaks, braced sou’westerly
Ragged into the wind.

Why then, in this hustle bustle time
With this ‘shrinking’ globe
Cluttered by business,
Does hope not remain?
A long line under the sea;
Or imagined lines through the air;
Or just a deep keeled boat, cutting the waves;
Is surely all it needs?

Unless you come from Lyonesse.

Conkers lie dying

The slopes of Tall Chimneys –
Vengeful with grasping hands
Eager teens scratching; raking through dirt,
Scrabbling in the root boles
For nature’s Gold;
No fools here, real treasure,
Traded on the Clippers and Skiffs
The Junks of school boys’ pockets –
Shards of snot rags sieved out;
Old sweets, dented half Pennies;
Removed, to leave true worth.

Down in the park,
Bedraggled Horse Chestnuts
Coated with dappled leaves
Under fire from the artillery
Of bald-headed tennis balls stuffed in socks
Of snapped branches, hurled in spinning arcs;
The collateral damage of this onslaught,
This barrel bombing…
Leaves’ fall forced, Autumn early
A camouflage carpet
Covering the prize.

Yet they were found. All of them.
Fine Fare carrier bags, old hats, stuffed
Even the faux-furred hood
Of the old plastic Parka,
Ragged with chewed sleeves
And stained elbows –
Jewels, roundly prized.

Then the piercing.
Innocently, with a bradawl. Or a meat skewer.
Maybe a lump of plasticine or blu tac under,
Eyes half closed, concentration
The intent brute force of 13 year muscle.
Old laces, the plastic end long lost, frayed.
Rolled in saliva, sharpened to a quill point,
Eyed through, knotted –
Ready for war.

Some baked them, long and slow.
Others soaked them in cider vinegar, or linseed.
All agreed, size wasn’t the prize.
The big ones, lustrous, fleshy, glitzy even
Cuff polished – but an easy target;
They would snap and die with a dull thud
Their lemon yellow flesh ripped open.
The best were like gobstoppers,
Coppery dark, ever-so wrinkled;
Hard to pierce, ominous.
Their weight belied their size;
They hung on a straight lace, plumb.
My view? Last year’s crop, well hidden.
But who knows?
And who cares when they whistle and swing,
Trailing destruction, shrapnel, bomb casings –
And the winner’s spoils, hanging,
Forlorn, like scalps around the collar.

Today though
The conkers lie dying.
One tree, just up from us,
Is gnarled and proud and fecund –
But it’s spawn lie at its feet,
Crushed by trainers and the knobbly wheels
Of strollers and flat-land mountain bikes.
No plastic bags of sweating treasure –
No skiffs or junks of the teenage trader –
Just silly rules, “health and safety”…
And childhood memories never known.


National Poetry Day, 2016

Ditch Diggers

They dug the ditches deep back then;
They had to –
Beating back the boundaries
Of nature’s millennia
Never had an adze or briar hook been seen
Until then.

Narrow blades; course hammered,
Drain spades and trench shovels
Lugged and bent
Where the shaft hooked the housing;
Sure footing for the sure-footed boot
To stand on, force, rend, cut.

The Navvy’s forebears,
Local stock, not travelled,
Except by foot or ox cart
Descended like bloody midges, swarming
To the Mop Fairs, hiring out blistered hands,
For work, for women, for wealth.

And they broke –
Broke the turf-sods and clod-soil,
Broke the rootstock and tap shoots,
Broke, with badging tools and sickle-scythes;
Broke, with froes and beet hooks;
Broke their backs for coppered toil.

These days, we dig and cover –
The shovel-scoop of the iron ox forces, rends and cuts
The drains, grey tubes, flushing, free –
But look close,
Where the litter lies in the old hedge line
Where the soft mud gathers, draped in half-mulched leaves –

There, lie the shallow trenches
There, the mark of the old ditch diggers
Cruddy trickles;
Chip wrappers, rusting beer cans
Their memoriam;
Their last will, their testament.