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.


Far out, across the choppy billows
Pushed up by the shallows of the Dogger Bank
Probing lights sweep the wave tops
Blinking spots on a radar screen
Focus down, target the shoal
Unbeknown, the flicking shards below
Silver-backed, iridescent, pearly-oil slicks
Of the herring-hive, dart and flare
Their fate ominously stalking

Weighted nets plunge and drag
As the coughing diesel bucks and pulls
The mighty haul plunges too
Into the inner depths
Of that greasy tub,
Tomorrow’s fodder, soon dispatched, soon packed

Back on the slippery quay
A catch of a different kind
Is left in wonderment
No pennies here for the grizzled fisherman
No exotic flatfish for Billingsgate or La Boqueria

Bones, bones…
Stripped of flesh, polished
By the gentle swash and wash
On the sand armed sea floor
Bones, bones…
Thigh bones like the Flintstones
Antlers of mega deer
Ivory, pocked with cavities, long-term decay
Bones, bones…
Clues of a different land
Remnants of grasslands and river banks
Memories of once great plains
That swept from Pacific to Atlantic
Scarified by bitter winds
Sun baked and buzzing with life

The last remnants –
The reminders of the past –
Our past, of Doggerland,
And maybe, of our tomorrow

Some look to the sea

Some look to the sea.
It’s in their bones, somehow;
Deep within, buried, innate –
In their very marrow, their blood,
Maybe not real, except to them –
Inexplicable, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
Grains through their fingers
A brittle loam, dry, yet life packed,
A call – of the river bank, of the oak
A call – of the path, of the long grass
Silent, but there all the same.

Some look to the sea.
An iron rod, yanked by a magnet
The irresistible tug of the moon
On man or wolf, gentle, relentless
Unheard, undetectable
Unseen, but there all the same.

Some look to the land.
They feel it, heavy on their shoulders
Gravity weighing on them alone
No burden though – inescapable joy
Oneness, connection, shared beginnings
Unprovable, but there all the same.

Piston Slap

It started with dripping oil,
Dark smudges, smeared by tyres
Pounded into the new-laid tegula
Dusty blurs, like human shadows
Following a nuclear strike

Then gargling, spitting
A mist of greasy invective
Black words, barking
From the tailpipe, exhausted
A hail of mechanical fatigue

So in it went, to an ‘engine shop’ –

Spluttering, gargling to the far side of Needwood –
Trent one-side, power station the other
Flush to the canal, banged up behind
The digger plant and an old signal box;
Bletch-covered sleepers under edge-rusted rails

Yet lo! Empowered by oil
Uplifted by wrenches and spanners
Tar-smeared power tools
Pits, winches and inch-thick chains
I transformed. The engineer. Stephenson. Brunel.


It’s likely the stem seals”, he said
Or maybe the inlet rings.”
Hopefully not a re-bore
I bluffed, a parry. Nothing more.
Might do”, he rumbled, gruffly

But who was to know?
Emboldened, now I dared to speak
The lost tongue of my father;
And before him, his father, William
Or Frank, his step-father, engineers all.

And the language of George,
Grandad, Mum’s side –
The tinkerer, the fixer, the trucker
Whose thick palms, nimbly dexterous
Were ingrained with oil and engines.

Never me.

So I animatedly spoke to my dad
Of O rings and rod nuts
Of engine shops and re-bores
Of widgets and grommets
Of gaskets and piston slap

His world, his words,
So I thought,
Benignly he listened; gently he shook his head
Amused and bemused
By my fluent influency.


Battlestead walk warrior_FotorForested bluffs, these valley sides
Trent, Dove, Swarbourn, Blythe
Buttressed walls
Defending Needwood’s home
The forest plateau
Riven by scars, slashed deep –
The erosive ferocity
Of river, brook and stream
Yet lying low, discrete yet blunt
The rounded tops of Battlestead
On whose slopes, forgotten blood
Has seeped and soaked
Steep battlements cut
Deep ditches, high walls –
Wanderers repelled
All lost now under tilled earth
And swaddling pine;
This lookout, this belvedere
This sentinel point –
Eerily still, for now
It is the calm before the storm
Millennia have passed
Ice advanced, then receded
Meanders slipped back and forth
And churned and cut
Battlestead was born then –
Battlestead has watched since –
Yet now, a maelstrom of progress
Concrete, brick, glass and steel
The tree-skirt gone
The legacy lost
New towers are built
Her battle lost too –
And in her stead?
A brutal lesson.


BrockDigger, builder,
Badger, Brock,
The grey man of the fields
Scuttling gait, shoulders rolling
A shepherd lolloping after sheep;
Pausing, snout up, paw cocked
Like the keeper’s gun,
Ready to snap-shut
And kill;
Brock waits
Maps the land through scent
Worms, or grubs, or nesting chicks;
In the far field, home
Root-roofed, earth walled; the sett
A safe haven – until the men come
With their shovels and picks
Holler and thrum
Dogs and gas –
Brock runs
Low now, head down, urgent
Through the long grass
Into the ditch
Beneath the hedge
Under the wheels.
Brock lies
As if asleep
Digger, builder,
Badger, Brock.


Lost Mini

Sprinting across the shingle;
That’s what we did; sprinting
And flirting up a wake of pebbles
Grit too, like a rally car
Power sliding through an unpaved bend
In deepest Wales or Kielder or Galloway
Barely in control
The shingle gave way below our feet
Until we threw ourselves down
Next to the towels, spades and wind-breaks
The beach was the racetrack,
Banked bends, long straights
A Mulsanne and Eau Rouge in one,
With my Mini; unblinking eyes on the front
Throwing out death rays of light
Twin exhausts out back
Two fingers to the Planet
Spewing out the bile of internal combustion;
But it didn’t count on the assault course
Of being thrown from paw to paw
Or accelerated through the sound barrier
Or worse, being buried one foot down
By infants.
That’s where it ended.
I buried the car, like I buried the Scirocco
in later years; buried it deep
Not into the side of a truck
But in a pit; a grave of beach shingle.
I went to dig it up – but the car had vanished
Clawing, I dug a hole four foot wide
Roped my Dad in too; no avail.
Where is it now? That’s the recurring thought
I have whenever I walk on a shingle beach –
From Chesil to Slapton Ley
Where is my Mini?
In flights of fancy and whimsical thought
I imagine it now, somewhere near
The Mid Atlantic Ridge By-pass
Or whizzing through the Grand Banks
Pursued by Whales and Cod
More likely, it’s like that tank they found.
Fell off a boat it did
When practicing for Omaha and Juno
Came up years later; pock marked
Armoured by limpets
And camouflaged by kelp

The rivet

I tramped like a hobo
Across the rock-littered moor
Outcrops of stippled, lined rock
Stacked layer upon layer
The folds of the long-gone puthering lava, still evident
Blancmange blobs of plaster on the builder’s hawk;
By myself, alone on the lonely moor
Except for the litter of life all around,
Heather alive with sound,
Tufted grasses, antennae twitching in the air waves
To catch a water droplet
Or a Russian broadcast;
Glossy gorse needles set to stun,
And Cotton Grass nodding its disapproval
As my careless feet print their way
Through the sucking sphagnum.
A mere glint, a visual tripwire, made me look
A winking jewel, eyeing me suspiciously
A coin of sorts, misshapen by years, curved
Like a claw or talon,
Old? Perhaps a Ducat or Sheqel – priceless?
I briefly dreamed that I had the knack
For spotting Dollars, Dòngs and Dinar
But, no
It turns out I was Talentless;
It was a rivet, misshapen, deformed by age,
The friction between bridle or stirrup maybe
Or the broken connecting-rod
Of some Knight’s plate-mail,
Snapped by the pleasure-less frottage
Of iron upon iron, year upon year.
Like Bilbo’s ring, the rivet has a new home now,
Nestled amongst the broken crumbs
Of low-fat taste-free rice cakes
Old Kleenex, shiny with the dried slug
Smears of weeks old snot
And the rustling chrysalis of unused poo bags;
When the pocket of my old coat
Finally gives up, the rivet will fall
To a new place; amongst the leaf litter
In a lime-lined park; or on the floor of a charity shop
Sold as seen
Or maybe in that strange circularity of life,
On a rock-littered moor, hidden amongst
Outcrops of stippled, lined rock,
The folds of the long-gone puthering lava, still evident.