Thursday, 31 October 2019

George Steiner

George Steiner has died. Among other things, he wrote 'The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H.' about Jewish Nazi hunters who track down Hitler in South America, which I read fascinated. An extremely erudite man, and one I was rather thrilled to meet, he scolded me for failing to inform The Times of a lecture he was giving, one I'd organised as part of an American Festival, at the Royal Society. 'Your father would not have forgotten', he told me. He seemed extremely put out. I was embarrassed, though I thought his barb rather cruel. He was a genuine intellectual, rather than an academic, his audience the public; his writing was always engaging.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019


I don't write much poetry these days.  Here's a short, simple one.  I don't seem to be able to set it in the lines in which it was written, so I've run it together, separating the lines with a slash.

What is your book about, asked the critic / and she said running.  Running? He frowned. / Yes, running.  But it’s set in 1950. / We ran in 1950, she said. But - / But nothing, she said. It was 1950,  / and it was our turn to be alive.


Saturday, 5 October 2019


There are no pigeons.  There are crows.

They cycle on the pavements.  The metro in Tokyo is splendid.

They have drink-vending machines on every corner, but no fizzy water

Wires.  They have a lot of wires.  They don’t care how they look.

They put quails’ eggs into the heads of small octopi and eat them.

The lavatories (electric) are equipped with provision for enema and bidet.

Beer is more expensive than whisky.

The rivers are straight. The gardens are exquisite.

Fucking futons. Fucking, fucking futons.

Talking on the phone on public transport is really not on.  Bumping is fine.

Mount Fuji does not actually exist.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Cynical, facetious and glib, the charming Crawford siblings are a very modern pair.  Witty, light, intelligent, and in her case markedly physically attractive – not only does she have dark sparkling eyes, but she can master a hunting horse – they are metropolitan elite, , that layer above celebrity, smarter, more set.  They are, in other words, formidable.  Set against them are two modest, trusting and serious minded country folk.  In order for Fanny to resist she has to be the rather dull saint that so many readers are infuriated by.  Edmund, equally colourlessly virtuous, has Mary’s beauty to contend with (she, it is clear, finds in Edmund’s physical attractiveness the primary source of her ardour), not to mention those Crawford wiles.  Blame and credit are shared out between the sexes.  Fanny alone emerges spotless.  She, indeed, is a kind of saviour. 

It is a book that constantly asks the reader to examine his or her own motives and character, and sometimes this is an uncomfortable business.  I'm fairly sure I'd have fallen head over heels for Mary Crawford.  It is some 40 years since I last read Mansfield Park and now it makes me appraise my abilities as a parent, and question my own 'dispositions' and principles.  It is an intensely moral exercise, though Jane Austen is too much the genius to be merely moralising.  It is funny, wise, sharp, and realistic.  The vices and weaknesses of her characters are throughly recognisable.  Jane Austen remains emphatically contemporary.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Sunday, 1 September 2019

Mansfield Park

I am reading Mansfield Park, not for the first time, but as research. Ha! At least that is why I started it, but, again, not for the first time, I find that Jane Austen is incomparable, the absolute master of the game. I know Fanny Price is insufferably virtuous, but she is only there as a witness to the vices of vanity, snobbery, selfishness, and so on, that we all share in some degree. I have already fallen for the well-formed, witty, intelligent, independent-minded, flirtatious and shallow Miss Crawford; already seen myself in the virtuous, down-to-earth, kindly Edmund Bertram. See? LURED.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


Good grief, what a lot of fulminating. I'm a Remainer, but one who believes the tactics of his 'side' have been wrong from the start. There has never been much of an attempt to explain or persuade. Matters now appear to have descended on both sides to mere name-calling, sloganeering, claims to be the Voice of The People, etc, and writing IN VERY BIG LETTERS. It is as if both sides really want trouble, a fight. The government is an elected government - Prime Ministers are not elected, MPs are - the Queen, as a constitutional monarch, has no choice but to do as that elected government asks, so unless you want an executive monarch, there is no point in criticising her. The proroguing of parliament is not a 'coup' - governments don't launch coups, they are (forgive me) couped against - it happens every year. Which is not to say that Johnson is not playing a filthy trick by extending the prorogation by a few vital days. He is, but I wish those who oppose him would stop shouting. It doesn't help - it just stiffens the resolve of the PM and his supporters. The voice of reason should be measured, not frantic. Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot / That it do singe yourself.


Christ, can't bloody remember.  It's in Sheffield, usually.

Gertrude Jekyll's gardening boots


The Fist

Cricket at Lord's

Zoned out

Goldhawk Road

Photographer failing to remian discreet

No caption required

JNA framed

JNA in a tree

Women and children last

By the lily house


Bridget Riley

Cut and Paste

Duncan Grant by Duncan Grant

Big ruddy castle on big ruddy rock

Personal space.


Messi and JNA

Father and son weighing up the price of nippels (Luxembourgian for root vegetables),

Four generations at Kew

Ladies and Gentlemen


Laurence Corns nuptials

Friday, 16 August 2019

SAD BOYS CLUB The Mirror and Me

Not sure what is going on here.  It is a sort of meta-self-parody type thing I think, with in-jokes.  Very post-modern.  Or not.  Jolly street theatrical, that I will say.

Monday, 15 July 2019



For the field is full of shades as I near a shadowy coast,
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost,
And I look through my tears on a soundless-clapping host
As the run stealers flicker to and fro,
To and fro:
O my Hornby and my Barlow long ago !

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Letters Home, 14 July 1944

Two letters home from the front, Normandy, 14 June 1944.  The first is to his mother, the second to his university friend, Desmond Leeper.

Cake is contraband: sending cake is criminal: eating contraband articles criminally despatched must be among the gravest of sins.  Sin, black velvety sin, was, as everyone knows, always a delicious thing – this sin was this indeed… Four of us wolfed it there and then, washed down with sweet tea, and everyone voted you Honorary President for Life.

I continue to learn about dirt and desolation – and, for that matter, au contraire, health and virtue.  The greatest joys, next to sleep, are the Mail, and (well, there it is - ) reading the new staggers and scoffing illicitly sent cake.  Writing this in the inevitable dull orchard with its geometry of trees, nothing ramshackle here, and surrounded by the equally inevitable and for ever blasted bloody mosquitoes.  Living too soiled a life to read the New Testament – or too irrelevant possibly – one can only thrive hopefully on the dignified paganism of the 91 st psalm and its like.  An odd comment on modern manners incidentally is that under heavy bombardment all the boys pray like bloody hell and incessantly.

Thursday, 11 July 2019


Startlingly brilliant book, so full of fact, yet so thoroughly dashing a read.  A kind of magic trick.  I laughed, I cried, I felt my jaw dropping.  And Gordievsky.  What a man.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Evening Standard 1965

Dad in the middle.  My only real claim to fame is that my love for the Daleks kept them going.  Donald Baverstock was the brilliant editor of 'Tonight'.  His wife Gillian was Enid Blyton's daughter.  My Mum was their son Glyn's godmother.  After Baverstock left the BBC he worked I think for Yorkshire TV.  The Baverstocks lived on Ilkley Moor, in a house I remember liking very much, where we stayed with them one long weekend.  My Mum never let any Enid Blyton into our childhood.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

In Memoriam: A.M. Davis

Here's a poem I wrote a couple of years ago about someone who is remembered by a stone in the cemetery at Kensal Green.

In Memorian: A.M. Davis

Eventually, we found him, no-name Davis,
though we got no more than his initials,
a bald A.M. -  Andrew, Adam, Angus?
What’s in a name? Info for officials

certainly, but first a mother’s cooing,
a father’s first boasting, cigar in hand,
and now it is gone.  What we’re pursuing
is chimera, a ghost in the sand.

He served with the three forty-seventh
Mechanical Transport Company
in the land of milk and honey, heaven
but for a kind of killing gluttony.

His body is buried in Ramlah, and
remembered here in more temperate climes.
Nearby a skeletal gasometer stands
encircling nothing, describing dead time.

The still-white limestone has cracked at the base.
Not quite flat, it strains against oblivion.
Without difficulty we read its face:
there is nothing beyond death’s quotidian.

There are scallop shells, loose on the gravel.
They signify a loss across the seas,
for a soldier who did not die in battle
succumbing perhaps to Levantine disease.

How lately placed it is hard to reckon.
Lives, like memory, like gas, seep unseen
through gaps in time, and now this one beckons,
this early Spring day, crying I HAVE BEEN.