Sunday, 31 May 2020

Sleepless in Settle

'Yes, Pooh.'
'I miss hanging out.'
'Yes, well, you'll recall that Tigger's Neighbourhood Watch put a stop to that pretty quick--'
'No, I mean palling about. You know, our walks home and that.'
'Ah. Yes. Me too.'
'How much longer are they going to impose this locklomond on us?'
'I think it might be easing.'
'Oh, yes. They say some people can foregather in small spaced-out groups.'
'But not just gather?'
'Well, let's not be reckless.'
'And only if they're spaced out?'
'Haight-Ashbury rules, Pooh. What their Health Minister is insisting on.'
'Oh, Tony Hancock. He's pretty puny, isn't he, to be laying down the law about making sacrifices?'
'Reliable sources say he's nearly an armful.'
'You do surprise me.'
'In fact, certain folk have already journeyed far.'
'Is some glancing allusion to Optrex coming up?'
'Sorry, Pooh, it's glanced and gone.'
'Well this can't end too soon. I'm fed up with watching rubbishy films. Complete nonsense, the one last night.'
'Which was that?'
'Oh, some model railway enthusiast in North Yorkshire. Gets on to an agony aunt about wanting to take his dream girl on that strange train…what is it? Stops wherever it pleases on or off the rails.'
'The Disorient Express.'
'That one, yes. Wants to treat her to a sentimental journey all the way to Carlisle. Can't even remember what it's called now.'
'Sleepless in Settle.'
'That's the one. Wish I'd never watched it.'
'Oh, never mind, Pooh. Take heart. Remember the famous anchorite.'
'I never visit quarries.'
'No, the mystic.'
'Julian of Norwich.'
'I never listen to phone-ins either.'
'No, no, Julian's the one who said all will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be, you know, all that and a bag of chips.'
'Yes. Ah…no…wait. Maybe it wasn't Julian. Who was the other one?'
'Sandy of Norwich?'
'Of course! Julian's the one who said a varda at creation is a varda at God's eek. And what Sandy actually said was, all manner of thing will be--'
'You're spot on, Pooh.'

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

'All Lowries Now'

All Lowries now

At any one time,
the number of people out of their shelters
is roughly the same
as the headcount of medieval England.
In the local park,
mutedness has joined the squirrels and birds,
roosting, quicksilvering round the trees.
Distance races itself,
makes the sound of balls being kicked
way up to the local heavens.
All that's on show are figures
whom fearfulness has robbed of dimension:
living sticks pretending to be
a child's rushed drawing on a final page.
Some walk bent.
Others throw things
for tiny horizontals with dot-feet
to scamper and retrieve.
Here and there a stick or two
is saddle-borne,
keeps clear of grass or waystone 
on pert little circles.
All is this:
humanity, assured for so long
that it was the scheme of things,
now a rash of curlicues
where scheme-sections meet,
arrayed so you can't see the join.



Saturday, 2 May 2020

Click and Colette

'Policeman?  Policeman?  You couldn't police a bluebottle in a jar.'
'Pooh, are you there?'
'Collective enterprise? Collective enterprise?  You want to collect a stint in the Army, mate, that'll sort you out.'
'Pooh, what are you talking about?'
'Court of Appeal?  Court of Appeal?  I'll appeal the skin off your hide if I get hold of you.'
'Infrastructure?  Infrastructure?  Infrashambles!  Utter disgrace…laughing stock of the world, we are.'
'Oh, what does it sound like, Piglet?  I'm social dissing, like we're meant to.  Or haven't you?  And if not, why not?  Honestly…Bosky pigs?   Bosky pigs?  Biggest joke in all the--.'
'Pooh, it's social distancing.  It's what we've been doing for weeks.'
'Well, I'll keep doing this, Piglet, I know my unprecedented rights.  It's an unprecedented country, you know.  Anyway, just a rant at twilight…keeps you fit and peeved: "You can stick your Ombudsman where the sun--".'
'Save it for dusk, Pooh.'
'Don't talk to me about dusk.  Falls whenever it damn well likes.  Civic delinquent, dusk.   Anyway, that distancing doesn't seem to be working at all.  Things are still rubbish.  People scrambling to get delivery slots for groceries.'
'Ah, now, Owl says there's a way round that.'
'Owls…wouldn't cross the street for them.'
'Oh, very well…what's this way round, then?'
'Apparently it's called Click and Colette.  You place your order, they tell you when you can pick it up, you go over to the supermarket, beep them to say you've arrived and then your purchases are trolleyed out by a not-uncontroversial French lady novelist of the early twentieth century.'
'Oh, yes.  And if you've got enough bonus points she gives you some extras.'
'Such as?'
'Oh, might be reflections on how to transcend quotidian sensuality…you know, while she's bagging your Winalot.'
'Are you talking in metaphor?'
'Do I sound like I'm waving flags about?'
'So what other extras come with your pet food?'
'Well, sometimes a bloke comes out in blue overalls and says "Wotcher, I'm Gaston" and starts singing to Colette about a third party called Gigi, asking if he's been, you know, a fool without a mind or just too blind to realise.'
'And what does Colette say?'
'Get a move on shifting those ten-for-eight Papa John full-works pizzas, probably.'
'I see.'
'And if, you know, the lady shoppers have got Jackpot bonus points Colette takes them off for a quiet word.'
'After which?'
'After which they come back, clout their husbands round the head and say they're heading off to a chateau in the Auvergne with a Joe Wicks lookalike.'
'All of them?  To the same place?  How can they squeeze in?'
'Do you know what "chateau" means, Pooh?'
'It's what vulgarians think I do in the woods.'
'Yes, well, we'll draw a vole over that.'
'Voles? Voles?  Think I'd give tuppence for a malnourished lemming--?'
'A demain, Pooh.'
'Aw, Piglet.  You de man, too.'

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Scratchy old coats

I find an unregarded space –
as it might be, between the fridge
and the living-room door
or by the french windows
where the occupants come and go
round the bird-box next to the outstout. 

And I think at long last
of what it’s always been like
to be a dead sibling’s shadow,
the consolation child,
the miss-the-marker, la déception –
some pennies, I guess,
are surely reluctant to drop.

And I think of all those people
close by and further and further off
and of how, if I’d been allowed
a crystal eye from the outset,
I’d have seen them for what they were
and are, and passed on giving them
the time of day, and held
to my side of the street.

I think of those I’ve really liked,
who made a pleasure
of the trade of time.  Few enough,
few enough.  And last of all I think
of the threads to be picked up,
the scratchy old coats to be pulled on again
when the present absurdity is over.
And I realise that, mostly,
they should lie as dropped – that
I can see daylight
through the usefulness of some
and should never in the first place
have stooped down for others.

Outstout: a brick outbuilding (colloquial; also Scots adjective, ‘strong, sturdy, hardy’).

April 2020.

Sunday, 26 April 2020


'I'm not sure that this is wise, Pooh.'
'Well it's all arranged now, Piglet, so it's going ahead.'
'What was it again? This thing you should have been on?'
'Big extravaganza, Piglet. Last Sunday. "The World At One Tonight But Sadly Minus Ritula Shah. Allovus 2 Gevva 4 Evva". Musicians performing from their homes.'
'What, their own songs?'
'Well, yes, till the last one, when they all joined in.'
'What was that?'
'"Wotcher Fink Of All Me Bijou Fitments, Then?" Must have been by that Cockney duo.'
'Chas and Di?'
'Them, yes. Anyway, my invitation obviously got lost in the ethereals, so I'm broadcasting my contribution now.'
'Doing what?'
'Oh, Piglet, for pity's sake, what else but songs to fit the mood of the moment in these insert-usual-adjective times when we're finding ourselves in insert-usual-adjective waters? I've got them all ready. Look, I'll share my scree.'
'Don't do that, Pooh. Took me ages to clean up all the stones that came bouncing over my desk last time.'
'Oh, suit yourself. Here's my screen, then.'
'So…The Sound of Silence, On The Street Where I'm Reasonably Sure You Still Live, The Clapping Song, Foggy Mountain Lockdown, Zoombaya, Macarthur Park is Coned Off By the Fuzz--'
'--not forgetting my Gladys Knight favourite.'
'Sorry, which?'
'Midnight Van to Asda.'
'I see. And what's all that I can see behind you?'
'Sorry, which?'
'On your washing machine. All those sticks and cymbals.'
'Ah, now, that's for the big finale.'
'Of what?'
'Wagner's Spin Cycle.'
'Good grief, all of it?'
'Oh no, I've set it to half-load. Mind you, that means I'll have to furlough the Nibelungen.'
'Before the 9pm watershed? You'll get complaints.'
'Oh ye of little froth, Piglet. All will be wonderful. Besides, everyone will love my duet with John Leg End.'
'I think his name needs checking.'
'Nonsense. He's used it often enough.'

Sunday, 19 April 2020


'Apparently it was very moving.'
'Sorry, Piglet, what was?'
'Her message to their nation.'
'Hers. The Lady. You know, their Figurehead. The Number One Embassy Circuiteer. First dibs on the Ferrero Rocher and all that.'
'Ah, Her Magicoal.'
'That's the one, Pooh. Their Mighty Quinn.'
'So what did she say?'
'Well, she emphasised her duty to lead by example. As you'd expect. Said that she and all the Quinntuplets were practising isolation and social distancing.'
'Which in their case is as opposed to…?'
'Quite. Still, it must be very difficult for The Quinn herself. Usually obliged to be here, there and everywhere.'
'Oh my goodness, yes. Courtier sends word that someone's building ships and boats, or diversifying into monuments, or indulging in a strenuous bout of note-jotting, and she has to, as it were, get there.'
'To do what?'
'Well, one of her lesser-known duties is as Pigeon-Magnet, By Appointment To Herself. Nothing annoys your shipwright or monumentalist more than a flock of pigeons disfiguring hulls and plinths and what-have-you. So it's a decree of divine right and long standing that, once she gets there, they're all, you know, gonna go to her. As someone once remarked.'
'I thought that was Mary Poppins' old lady's job?'
'It's a split-shift thing.'
'Well, I never knew that their Quinn had been so busy.'
'Nonstop, Pooh. The amount of footage showing her being driven through the gates at Sandringham dead-out on the back seat after a good hour talking a lairy pigeon down from a stone cockade…well, you wouldn't chuckle.'
'What ought I to do instead?'
'Acknowledge, Pooh, that these are unprecedented times. Like she did in her message. Said that everything had changed so everyone must act differently. Most concerned on that point.'
'A concern that will no doubt manifest itself as a Quinn-gift to finance unlimited protective wear, increase the pay of bin-men and supermarket staff and institute a national education course, "Look And Learn: What Is A Care Home?"'
'Now, Pooh, don't be silly.'
'Sorry, Piglet. Just a momentary cup of meat.'
'At twilight?'
'When else?'

Friday, 10 April 2020

'Restoration' (Worcester Cathedral)


(Worcester Cathedral)
Love slips in,
shakes the disobliging weather
from her folds,
settles tight as a bud
amid the stone topography of hope.

A bad go for her out there,
barred where most needed,
curses pitting her skin.
Forced to watch mercy-boats
bucking on the storm
from behind the iron thread
of harbour fences. 
Lost on the wrong street
far from the ageing mother of five
who are all doing nicely on the moon,
who spiders an x against the weeks
since she heard a voice
that didn’t want to sell or disillusion.

Love looks up,
sees the pageants of succour,
eye blessing eye in a marquetry of glass,
prayer-lights serried, waiting. 
Sees distance lose itself
in rapturous tumbles,
in pillars like the footings of dawn.
Hears the lone introit
of a monk long gone under time
as it wisps across the leads of the cloister.

Love steps out,
again spreads deep and broad upon the day,
again has at the ready way and word
drawn afresh from that vast unspoken.