Thursday, 24 July 2014


Pleased to have five poems published at Boston Poetry Magazine, here:  With thanks to Kate Garrett.


Tonight I became a grandfather!  My son Thomas and his partner Nora have had a girl, Johanna Nike, and it's an absolutely marvellous thing.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

JUDGEMENT by Dawn Wood

after ‘Birches’ - Robert Frost
To Jeremy and Christine Auld

You must have seen him when he was a fixture
and no one asked what pin he swivelled on
and just accepted he was swinging, rooted

on the spire, but earth’s a better place
for love, so slicing through the annex roof

he bent to join the nave of the cathedral

and what a lovely copper stippled smile

he is with scalloped feathers, viewed up close.
The inner dome of heaven hadn’t fallen
and I would say the universe conspired

with the same pains you’d use to fill a cup

up to the brim and even above the brim

to see no one was killed or cut or wept

the smallest tear, unless the Truth breaks in –
co-incidence, my dear. And it is good

the insurance will cover the cost of scaffolding
to put him back where seagulls come and go
and play in batches, learning all there is

to learn about not launching out too soon.

Reproduced. with the permission of the author. from her new collection Ingathering, published by the ever-splendid Templar Poetry (ISBN 9781906285685).  I'll be reviewing the collection for Iota later in the year. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014


I cannot bring myself to part with all my back copies of Encounter, the magazine published from the mid 1950s by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a group of left-leaning anti-Stalinists.  In the mid-Sixties publication of the journal was revealed to be partly funded by British and American secret services.  However, this had not prevented it publishing W.H. Auden, Aldous Huxley, Mary McCarthy, Arthur Koestler, Kenneth Tynan, Daniel Bell, Claud Cockburn, A.J. Ayer, Alberto Moravia, James Baldwin, Nirad Chauduri, Albert Camus, John Braine, Bertrand Russell....(all picked from the first 25 issues). Imagine a journal as rich and diverse as this today, then imagine it being backed by the CIA and MI5.  However, should anyone reading this want a bunch of old Encounters (very far from complete), I am more than willing to pass them on gratis.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

SUMMER WIND by William Cullen Bryant

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

Monday, 14 July 2014

FOR ANDREW WOOD by James Fenton

This was brought to my attention by my friend Mr Adam Kean, and I am most grateful.

England v India, 2nd Test

"The grass is matted, raggy, struggling to stay alive amidst the dirt and rubble. Flowing through the maidan are little canals, the surface is pock-marked with ditches, even what looks like small ravines and the whole area is filled with people from every walk of life. It is amidst such confusion and noise that Indians learn to play their cricket." 
Mihir Bose, from A Maidan View (1986)

They had no grandstand or marquee,
   Down by the Quarry Farm:
There was a wealth of leafy tree
   Behind the bowler's arm.

There were no scorecards to be had,
   Cushions for folk to hire;
Only we saw the butcher's lad
   Bowl out the village Squire.

Lord's and the Oval truly mean
   Zenith of hard-won fame,
But it was just a village green
   Mothered and made the game.

G.D. Martineau
'The Village Pitch'

Looking forward to next Saturday and my seat at Lord's - thunderstorms keep away!

Friday, 11 July 2014

On the Beach at Fontana by James Joyce

Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love! 

For those who think Joyce is difficult, this might come as a shock.  A lovely simple poem expressing a father's love for his child.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Michael Oakeshott on Conversation

It may be supposed that the diverse idioms of utterance which make up current human intercourse have some meeting-place and compose a manifold of some sort. And, as I understand it, the image of this meeting-place is not an inquiry or an argument, but a conversation.

In a conversation the participants are not engaged in an inquiry or a debate; there is no 'truth' to be discovered, no proposition to be proved, no conclusion sought. They are not concerned to inform, to persuade, or to refute one another, and therefore the cogency of their utterances does not depend upon their all speaking in the same idiom; they may differ without disagreeing. Of course, a conversation may have passages of argument and a speaker is not forbidden to be demonstrative; but reasoning is neither sovereign nor alone, and the conversation itself does not compose an argument. . . . In conversation, 'facts' appear only to be resolved once more into the possibilities from which they were made; 'certainties' are shown to be combustible, not by being brought in contact with other 'certainties' or with doubts, but by being kindled by the presence of ideas of another order; approximations are revealed between notions normally remote from one another. Thoughts of different species take wing and play round one another, responding to each other's movements and provoking one another to fresh exertions. Nobody asks where they have come from or on what authority they are present; nobody cares what will become of them when they have played their part. There is no symposiarch or arbiter, not even a doorkeeper to examine credentials. Every entrant is taken at its face-value and everything is permitted which can get itself accepted into the flow of speculation. And voices which speak in conversation do not compose a hierarchy. Conversation is not an enterprise designed to yield an extrinsic profit, a contest where a winner gets a prize, not is it an activity of exegesis; it is an unrehearsed intellectual adventure. It is with conversation as with gambling, its significance lies neither in winning nor in losing, but in wagering. Properly speaking, it is impossible in the absence of a diversity of voices: in it different universes of discourse meet, acknowledge each other and enjoy an oblique relationship which neither requires nor forecasts their being assimilated to one another.

This, I believe, is the appropriate image of human intercourse, appropriate because it recognizes the qualities, the diversities, and the proper relationships of human utterances. As civilized human beings, we are the inheritors, neither of an inquiry about ourselves and the world, nor of an accumulating body of information, but of a conversation, begun in the primeval forests and extended and made more articulate in the course of centuries. It is a conversation which goes on both in public and within each of ourselves. Of course there is argument and inquiry and information, but wherever these are profitable they are to be recognized as passages in this conversation, and perhaps they are not the most captivating of the passages. It is the ability to participate in this conversation, and not the ability to reason cogently, to make discoveries about the world, or to contrive a better world, which distinguishes the human being from the animal and the civilized man from the barbarian. Indeed, it seems not improbable that it was the engagement in this conversation (where talk is without a conclusion) that gave us our present appearance, man being descended from a race of apes who sat in talk so long and so late that they wore out their tails. Education, properly speaking, is an initiation into the skill and partnership of this conversation in which we learn to recognize the voices, to distinguish the proper occasions of utterance, and in which we acquire the intellectual and moral habits appropriate to conversation. And it is this conversation which h, in the end, gives place and character to every human activity and utterance. 

 from 'The Voice of Poetry in the Conversation of Mankind', Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, (Methuen 1962) pp 197-247 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Hollyhock Hate

Some prize lame-o tore down our lovely local not-quite-fully-bloomed hollyhock last night, leaving a sad broken stem  Is it wrong to assume this was the work of a youthful person with issues, such as a hatred of beauty or the eccentric (or both)?

Monday, 30 June 2014


Reprinted from the Transactions 1978 of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

Llewelyn Wyn Griffith was the author of Up to Mametz

Thursday, 26 June 2014


This is a film about friendship, which also happens to be, in passing, a love song to England. Filmed in the fashionable 'mockumentary' style, there is nothing otherwise remotely fashionable about it.  Four friends, each with a problem which is never solved, walk from coast to coast, as they had done thirty years before.  The absence of solution is partly the point: do you give up or do you keep buggering on, as Churchill put it.  The moral of the tale is that you need friends to help you do that.  This is a simple story of ordinary stoicism.  It is very funny and equally moving; both acting and script are true to the ideas it expresses. The result is one of those triumphs that will lodge, fondly and permanently, in the memory of all those who are touched by it, which really ought to be everyone who sees it.


To St Mark's Church, grand Victorian ecclesiastical wallop in grand Hamilton Terrace, St John's Wood, for a concert of lollipops, given by the Berkeley Ensemble in aid of the Jane Packer Foundation for research into brain tumours. More or less knew every piece.  Unusual were an arrangement of a Goldberg Variation for violin, viola and cello, and the original version of Barber's Adagio, which is the second movement of a String Quartet.  One day I'll listen to the whole thing.  Paul Cott, introducing it, said that the Adagio was for the Americans what Nimrod is for us.  Yes, makes sense.  That was possibly my favourite performance of the evening, though the most beautiful piece of music was undoubtedly the Larghetto from Mozart's Clarinet Quintet, which must be one of the most astonishing things man has ever made.

To this admittedly fairly unscrupulous ear, the playing was exquisite, and, as importantly, obviously as much a pleasure to the players as to their listeners.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Joseph Brodsky on Evil

"...nothing can be turned and worn inside out with greater ease than one's notion of social justice, civic conscience, a better future, etc.  One of the surest signs of danger here is the number of those who share your views, not so much because unanimity has the knack of degenerating into uniformity as because of the probability - implicit in great numbers - that noble sentiment is being faked...
      ...the surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even - if you will - eccentricity."

from 'A Commencement Address', 
Less Than One: Selected Essays 
by Joseph Brodsky (Viking, 1986)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014


How blue the pool was,
and the sea.  How blue the sky,
and the waves white-tipped
crashing, still, against the dark rocks.

How dark the wine was,
and the sun low. The dark
bottles of wine, and the table
flecked with plates of food.

How young the children were
climbing, laughing, from the pool,
then tumbling into sprays of water.

How young we were too, smiling
towards this future, this dusty
spread of forgotten pictures,
discarded like playing cards,
from some long-forgotten game.

John McCormack

(reproduced here with the kind permission of John's widow, Mary McCormack)

Monday, 23 June 2014


We were supposed to meet at a pub in Luxborough, but the Royal Something-or-other obviously regards itself as too grand to open on a Friday lunch-time, so we instead gathered at the White Horse in Stogumber, opposite the Church in which Sir Francis Drake's father-in-law is buried.  It had been planned that his daughter Elizabeth would marry someone else in the same church, but a meteorite crashed through the roof on the morning of the wedding, and it was decided that this was not a good omen.  Anyway, there was not a meteorite in sight on this rather lovely day, that promised to be hotter than forecast. We had a couple of pints and a plate of ham and eggs before driving to Luxborough to begin our mighty trial.

From there we went by profoundly curlicued and not unhappy paths to Dunster by way of such places as here:

and here:

and here:

The map, despite being described as an OS Explorer map of Exmoor, was nothing of the sort, and was in fact an old 18th century hand-drafted sketchmap of Iceland.

We ate well at The Stag, with France disagreeably winning a match 5-2 in the background.  The lamb stew was excellent. Damned if I can remember much else about the evening, except that I was once again granted a single occupancy room at the Dunster Castle due to my ability to snore very close to the MH decibel level.  He and I usually have to share a bed when we're both present. The plasterwork suffers. My SO room was delicious, with a through draft and, oh, such lovely sheets (top right in pic). R had to put a female manager straight about promised free pints of stout in the morning.  Great are the burdens of Leadership

Morning brought the welcome pitiful unhappy sight of the All Blacks running England ragged.  Later on I was to suffer in the company of a drunk Welshman as the Springboks went ahead for the first time in their match against Wales in the 78th minute, courtesy of a (second) penalty try.

Dunster, as any fule kno, is the home of archery in the south west - well, it looked that way to us as we made our way cautiously behind rows and rows of targets, relievedly aware of the dead thumping sound of arrow hitting its mark.  R. seemed particularly concerned about the Health & Safety aspect of the whole business. But these guys were good.  They shot from a hundred yards at least.  Whistles blew and judges and Robin Hoods began to cross the green sward to mark their sport. From a distance, they looked not unlike a ramshackle Medieval army.

The map still providing only routes to Keflavik and surrounding areas, we split into two parties in an attempt to reach the sea from Dunster.  The main body walked down a very straight flood overflow shoot. The more intrepid flanking sortie made for the railway line, tempting death at every footfall.

Make the sea we did:

But this was no time for shilly-shallying on the seashore.  No, there was Llantwit Major to look at across the water, and ice-cream and tea to be consumed at Blue Anchor Bay.

We struck inland, heading for another White Horse, at Washford, by way of Cleeve Abbey  - well, I stood for a few seconds in the cool damp shade of the gatehouse under a latin inscription:
Porta pateni esto / Nulli claudaris honesto. 
Gate, be thou ever open / Closed to no honest man.
It isn't that we thought £4.50 too steep, it's just that the pub was less than half a mile away and we were on a road without shade, and access to the babbling Roadwater brook would have required wire cutters, and we were damnably hot and thirsty.

Many good things might be said of our stop at the White Horse. The cider - Rich's - was among the best we have ever had - my sandwich was good ham and mustard.  And M bathed in said babbling brook.  I regret to say that it was not a skinny dip.  Age seems to have bred a new modesty in him.

And so onwards to Roadwater, by way, foolishly, of the Cider Farm, where a cider tasting was arranged.  Four ciders.  Not one among them drinkable.  Extraordinary.  Locals had warned us: "It's good as paint stripper".  Still I got a fine picture of a large owl standing next to a chap in yellow shorts holding a map of Iceland.

Note the cloudless sky.  There was supposed to be breeze, but in the lanes we tramped up and down, with their high hedgerows, we didn't get much.  A midge or two, though.  Or as John Clare put it:
Insects as small as dust are never done  
Wi' glittering dance and reeling in the sun
We did, eventually, fall into a demi-Eden, and to celebrate the fact, we stuck our legs in the air.

This was Wood Advent Farm. Tuscany look to your laurels. We drank ale on the terrace, played very bad croquet (I count myself the most hopeless) and quaffed chilled Valpolicella with our super-succulent pork.  The meringue for afters almost floated away on the balmy evening air.  

Post-prandial entertainment was The Name in the Hat Game.  I found myself having to act not only Ya Ya Toure but also Zsa Zsa Gabor. Amazed that Boutros Boutros Ghalli didn't turn up. There were two Bob Dylans, two Lulus, no Jonny Wilkinson and one Roy the Racing Car, whomsoever he may be.

We retired.  The morning broke more beautiful still.  I swam at 7.00 am and was not cold. A mighty breakfast followed.  The Sunday Times, The Observer and The Sunday Telegraph were consumed as heartily, the really tasty stuff being in the sports pages.

And then it was time to go home.  The May walk in June was marked not by length or indeed by anything spectacular of a natural sort (M's bathing always excepted).  England is beautiful. The dappling shadows were dark but blurry-edged.  We suffered a little in the heat and on one or two gradients, but this was a softish excursion, and the joy lay, as always firstly in the company, and secondly in the wonderful hospitality and environs of Wood Advent Farm.

Thanks are due to GO and SAF for driving the Londoners down and up, to TC for his usual contribution, to MF for wearing his boxers, to SP for his indomitable map reading and whip-handling, to AK for his wit and generosity, and above all, as ever, to RR for arranging the whole damn shooting match.  I just enjoyed myself.