Friday, 4 September 2015


At home again in my rented bed
rented thoughts
in my rented head.
Lay me down in rented sleep
rented dreams
counting rented sheep.
Angle-poise moon
above a rented house
a rented cat
and a rented mouse.
Rented wars
and rented peace
rented gods
and deaths increase.
Rented this
and rented that
in a rented hat.
Tented people
pray for peace
and hope the rented world
will cease.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Philip Larkin

If for you the good life started in 1963,
after the worst winter since '47
and The Beatles’ Please, Please Me;
the Yom Kippur War and OPEC
put paid to that in 1973 –
after the currency had been decimalised

and Heath sold out to the EEC.
Lord, protect
what little sovereignty
our state has left,
from those whose wit
exceeds their grace;

and from those
with neither grace nor wit,
whose actions lead us
into temptation,
or worse,
the shit.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

More Bloody Foreigners*

And then the Romans came
with their straight roads, stone forts
and short, belly-piercing swords.
They taught us the art of
stone-walling, ruling
off North from South.
And then came Picts and Britons,
Angles and Saxons,
Jutes and bloody great Danes,
and after them Vikings.
Lowering blood-red sails in the sunset,
they burned the East with dragon-flames.
Irish Norsemen from Dublin
caught and slaughtered the Danes
and were, in turn, broken by Saxon axemen.

The Reformation, the Armada, D-Day -
all that followed might not have been
had Harold Godwinson
kept his nose out of Normandy.
With Papal blessing, William's Normans came
and England, first flayed by the tanner,
was put under the hammer.

Nothing much has changed.

*The title is a line in the film The Eagle Has Landed. This piece was first published in Ambit 173 in Spring, 2003.

Thursday, 13 August 2015


The struggle is to live with quiet gladness
in spite of weather, rent rises,
power bills, stock market fluctuations,
stupid or cowardly governance;

bad faith, cheap grace,
circumstances, time;
young blonde barmaids
with plunging necklines.

Midwife of the questing mind,
professor of ignorance.
The way to wisdom is not
for those with secrets to hide.

The authorities got him
for immoral aiding and abetting,
as the English got Joan of Arc
for the heresy of cross-dressing.

More of a gargoyle even
than Paul Verlaine;
but purer than democrats and tyrants.
He had no possessions, no loot,

no off-shore investments in Persia.
What he had was shared with friends,
and when Athens was under military threat
he fought as a foot soldier.

He was sent to shine a light through posterity.
A thorny old bastard bare-heeled
among potsherds and
the broken amphora of history.

He accepted the state's poison ruefully.
The greatest discovery you can make in life
he said, as he wiped the hemlock from his mouth,
is yourself.

first published in Ambit 196, Spring 2009

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Beware of Greeks Baring Their Chests...

Amusing and ironic at the same time to me to listen to Greeks in Athens complaining about having only 60 euros a day given to them by banks. Just over 42 quid. That's pretty good compared to the £26 a day I've rationed myself to over the past few weeks. That in turn is a hell of a lot better than the £70 a week one homeless man was on whose story was recounted on Channel 4 yesterday.

Always somebody worse off than yourself. The way that some Greeks have blamed the current plight of their country on the rest of the European Union rather than their own profligate complacency is like a man to whom you've loaned money asking his family to tell your family to pay back the loan his behalf. I thought democracy was supposed to be about accepting responsibility for your own words, deeds, mistakes - as well as holding the great and the good to account.  

Didn't Socrates say something to the effect that the unexamined life wasn't worth living? But then his countrymen got rid of him on a trumped up charge of corrupting the youth of Athens.

Shakespeare, who appears to have written a play suitable for every occasion - Macbeth for the eve of the collapse of Soviet Communism, Julius Caesar for every military dictatorship or civil war you can think of, also has one for the Greek drama/crisis and I don't mean Timon of Athens. No, I was thinking of The Merchant of Venice - "three thousand ducats, well." The 'no' voters, stirred up by their Government, think that Europe's financial institutions, which have already lobbed in 200 billion euros or more, is after a pound of flesh.

I think they'd simply like some evidence that thy're not going to be conned out of getting their loans back - eventually.  Debt restructuring is commonplace over here. Over there, I suspect, the art of political lying consists of transferring the blame for national culpability elsewhere. Democracy be damned: it's more like blackmail.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Mili-Clint. The Shape of Things to Come.

There was I, getting on with my work, when a wall-screen on the far wall started showing pictures of Ed Miliband in full flow. Evidently the Labour leader was telling a gathering of the party faithful (the Shadow Cabinet were there) that he was "ready for power".

The last time he had the reins of power between his teeth, of course, he was Gordon Brown's Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and signed us up to the EU's carbon capture programme. Brownie points if you believe in Apocalypse Now (in 2017). None if you don't.
I got on with my work. When next I looked up Hillary Clinton was beaming winningly at me. Evidently, the former First Lady of the United States intends to pitch for the Democratic ticket in the next Presidential election.

The last time I took any notice of her she was beaming winningly at David Miliband, who was Gordon Brown's Foreign Secretary. Hillary, on the footslopes of the Everest of ultimate power, was President Obama's Secretary of State, 2009-2013.

Head down again, I contemplated the future should these two events come to pass. On this side of the Atlantic, the Miliband dynasty, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Clinton dynasty.

The prospect of Miliband and Clinton in power at the same time will doubtless cause a flutter of excitement among those who view the alternative as likely to encourage the advance of what Heaven 17 call "that fascist groove thing".

Some of them may have second thoughts after a year of sanctimonious trend-setting - those who haven't taken advantage of the job opportunities, that is.

Monday, 30 March 2015

The Fox and the Duck, a Fable For Our Times?

While waiting outside the front door of 10 Downing Street today, waiting for the start of the General Election campaign, members of the Fourth Estate saw a fox cross the pavement outside the official residence of the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Admiralty.

Reportedly, Reynard was chasing a duck although on ITV News it appeared to be quite insouciant about the prospect of a duck dinner. They didn't say if the duck was lame. If it was should we assume that the fox caught it and that in the greater scheme of things this means something?

Are these signs and wonders pointing to a Labour, Liberal-Democrat, Green pact seven days after May? A tri-partite coalition, a triple-decker Whopper, if the lastest polls are correct in forecasting no overall control for either the Conservatives or Labour. Why those three parties? Because they are devoted to the European Union and all its works. Continued membership of the greater European empire along with the financial implications of EU climate change, are policies they can all agree on, would be happy to agree on.

In the words of William Blake's The Voice of the Ancient Bard:-

Folly is an endless maze,
Tangled roots perplex her ways,
How many have fallen there!
They stumble all night over bones of the dead,
And feel they know not what but care,
And wish to lead others when they should be led.