Friday, 26 April 2013


My father getting his long service award-a radio, back in the 1970's.

There is a theme to the poems this week- work. Interestingly they were written over a long period of time during which I think all of our attitudes to employment/work/career have had to change.

My father's shift; he's on the left standing.
This made me think of a song from the 1960’s Gold Watch Blues by Mick Softley that was made famous by Donovan. I had an interesting time trying to find a suitable version to link to. There are a couple of recordings on Youtube by Donovan but the quality is not very good on ether.

For all of you who cannot be fagged to watch the video the song essentially charts the narrators attempt to get a job in a large company. It implies that working in this company is a life sentence, that there is no remission until you get your gold watch on retirement. Needless to say the shiftless narrator is not employed to “sweep the bloody floor.” How times have changed. The song reflects a world of labour shortage.

My father joining the Golden Eye Club following an industrial accident. If he had not been wearing  eye protection he would have been blinded.
This however is not the focus of post which is to present two poems. This first one describes my days in industry. I did work in a plant that made chlorine which was used to manufacture CFCs and the people I worked with did not wear masks so that they could spend the summer in the sun.


No one ever noticed the roof,
with its hidden castellation:
touched by the sea blue corrugated sides.
Each rectangular trough a silent, secret pool.
sidestepping further tasks,
fitters in summer hid here.
Beached, white, flabby flesh
basking between blue walls and sky.
Curious, I only went up once.
the gravelled felt moved softly underfoot,
gulls overhead.

We used mercury to split brine,
rendering chlorine and caustic.
My work mates never wore the masks provided
to filter mercury vapour from the air we breathed,
courting high mercury levels in their blood,
to work outside in summer and tan.
Removed from the process,
they lay on scaffolding boards to bake,
as quicksilver seeped from their bodies.
The chlorine we made killed the ozone.
Supine in our apathy until summer changed for ever.


I wrote the poem fairly quickly in a vegetarian café in Wells. As I remember it came about relatively complete.

Ten strangers circle an oval table,
endure an unending induction.
The tutor mumbles names,
as statutory facts are pushed past
in a slow soporific sequence.
This is entropy in action,
we will make of it what we will.

This poem was written much later as the boring induction wound on. I think the person taking the induction was as bored as we were and it showed.

Me in 1979 at work.

I have a number of interesting interviews in the pipeline as well as some other newer poems. Watch this space.

Friday, 19 April 2013


Last week I wrote about how I had reduced the first poem in the post by a third as I typed it onto the blog. Well this week I revised it again, though I still haven’t got a title. Any ideas gratefully received.

Buzz and Neil are on the moon, it’s that July,
We watch them on the evening news,
my mother smokes a woodbine, unmoved,
my father is at work,
my brother understands the science,
I assume we will holiday in space next year.

My Grandmother, who now lives with us
watches the telly uncomprehendingly.
The lesions are forming in her brain,
she’s losing her own space race,
memories jumble, the present is confusion.

I come to dread visiting her in hospital,
on a ward full of old women
whose bodies have outlived their minds.
It will be years before I truly understand
just how sad all this is.

What do you think of the differences? Does it make the poem more effective? I think it does.

This next poem I so not think I have posted before. It is a story poem. The only thing I will say is that Oxleys’ was a department store in Widnes when I was a child.

Wild John

John was wild,
kinetic with the drink,
bouncing off the walls.
Out of the house,
across the gardens,
down to the row of garages.
Where better to shake off your clothes?
To caper round the car naked.
When that proved as pointless,
he sat on the cold concrete and he cried,
drunk in the darkness,
unable to see the joist or to tie the knot.

His wife, a martyr, (we all knew this),
would have fifteen more years
of going out, of other men,
Before the dementia claimed her,
Left her on a locked ward,
one room to ask her questions in:
Where is John? This is not my house, is it?

John would have five years
before the heart attack,
outside of Oxleys, by then a pool hall.

John would have five more years
And three more coaxings:
Come off the clammy bonnet John
Put your clothes on, please John.

Three more mornings
to pass you on the street,
as if the night had not happened.

I would be interested in your thoughts on both them.

My old cat refusing to join in playing Mah Jong

Have a good week.

Saturday, 13 April 2013


Work in progress this post. Interestingly just now as I typed out this first poem, having written it out longhand through a number of revisions, I removed the middle third and it seems more complete. The part I excised was about her life which diffused the focus of the poem. I know I say this time and time again but you have to revise and be ruthless with your work.

Buzz & Neil are on the moon, it’s that July.
We watch them on the itv news,
my mother smokes a woodbine unmoved,
my father is out at work,
my brother understands the science,
I think we shall holiday in space next year.
My grandmother, who now lives with us,
watches the telly uncomprehending.
Lesions are forming in her brain,
she is losing her own space race,
memories jumble, her present is confusion.
I will come to dread visiting her in hospital,
on a ward of old women whose bodies
have outlived their minds.
I will be middle aged before I truly understand
just how sad this all is.

This second poem came out of a workshop at Junction 25, a poetry group I attend. We had to arrive with a blue print for a poem and the first line. We then swapped papers and attempted  to write the other poet's poem. The set of directions I was given was very precise, it directed the number of lines in each stanza. I have to say I struggled with it. As you will see.

I have come to you late-much weathered,
transformed by chance and circumstance.
Time tends to favour alternate endings,
the unexpected - I stand here now.

I have come to you late - much weathered.

I stand here now – unexpected,
on the uncertain cusp of possibility.

I almost passed, stole past your gate,
but split second hesitation 
made me falter, made me wait.

You are not newly minted,
magicked up from fire and earth,
rather, you carry your history,
the slow growth of cell and scar,
flames of passion, pain of loss.
All this shaped the human you are.

Perhaps two strangers can grow together,
the past a ghost upon our lips.

Have a good week.

Friday, 5 April 2013


Repetition in poetry can work, the oral tradition effectively uses repetition. It can, however, as easily limit a poem, keep it earthbound when you want it to soar.

Here is an example of what I mean. It’s an autobiographical poem. The events really happened, many years ago. In fact the poem was written in the 1980’s soon after the event it describes.

When I looked at it again recently, I was struck by the use of the word machine, it appears again and again throughout the poem. I did not like it. I felt the repetition limited the poem.

I had also been troubled by the last line. I had worried at it for many years. Never quite achieving what I wanted to say.

I also suppose it is of note because it’s the first poem I wrote about my father. There have been many more since.

I’d be interested to know what you make of it.

All that is recognisable are the reels.
These still spin determining loss,
Sometime fortune, mostly loss.
My father stands before the machine
Engrossed in the wheels motion,
As he did when I was little.
Then the device resembled a man,
Mechanism set into his chest,
The rhythm of loss named him;
A “one armed bandit.” Robbing all.
Though I could not reach the handle,
I understood those certainties.
I cannot follow this electronic sequence,
 The room is hot and smoky,
 The men drink pints,
Share a formalism of dress.
I do not know the conventions,
Am baffled by more than this bandit.
My uncle will be buried tomorrow,
I want to talk with my father,
Who is one with this distraction.

There is more than this machine between us

I suppose I should offer a word of explanation. A one armed bandit is an old name for a slot machine. They really did look like bandits from the Wild West when I was a child. My father played them obsessively. As they increased in complexity they became increasingly incomprehensible to me but it never phased my father.

You can see them. Lonely men,
Standing solitary on motorway bridges,
Fishing the traffic with their eyes.
Estimating tonnage, make of vehicle,
Wistfully dreaming destinations.
I hear they are there at night,
Hypnotised by the dazzle
Of people going places.

late 80’s

Do you ever notice the people that stand on the bridges over motorways and just watch the traffic? I have to confess that it’s not my idea of a good time, but I have always wondered why they do it.

Here is another old poem. I leave you to make of it what you will.


we cross the sea
sunrise on an aging shore

your ghosts follow
supplant the local images

your words empower
grant them immediacy

they wander through your dreams
you will not sleep again this night

it is the heat
it is the still air

they circle you
in the air that does not move

“let us occupy your waking thoughts
let us live inside your head”

I am awake
lie silent

sleep is gone
you lost in the darkness in your head

eyes open
I stare into the night

and dawn is a long time coming

Have a good week.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013


Just photographs today, no poems. This is the London Eye on a cold November day in 2005. Below is a reflection of the Eye in a puddle. I have have always been amazed by the reflective properties of water.

The next few are of Kilve Beach in Somerset. An amazing place for fossils. It's somewhere I've been going for years. These photographs are from the longest day in 2005-yes it was freezing.

Now more images of Widnes Bridge. These were taken crossing from the Widnes to the Runcorn side.

Mick Jones playing in Bridgwater

Billy Bragg in Bridgwater

Billy Bragg singing while Keith Allen holds up the microphone stand

Busker in Barcelona

And now the embarrassing fan photo. Me with Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis on the Decemberists first UK tour. I have been a big fan of the band since the first album came out in 2002. One of the things I love about the cds is Carson Ellis' images.

See you on Friday.