Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Standard class


The mask of no eye contact, when walking past a beggar,
fits most of us, I reckon, on most streets.
You wore it fixed and you were the still ones
on the train, in other passengers' booked seats.
No selling masks to you whose bad
has pulled your faces into tweets.
Too late. You took a risk against the card,
against the wheels, the racing. Now it's known. Hard.

The above has a very simple publication history.  It was written in October 2019 for the Momaya competition, on the theme of masks, and published in the competition's anthology.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Boston's elevation


(acknowledging John Beckett, 'The city of Boston?', Lincolnshire past & present 49, autumn 2002, p. 18)

Probably not banking the same river
as Botolph's monastery – waters shifted
more in those days – and not an east coast mainline
station since early routes soon shifted too,
but with its tower and famous namesake, why
should Boston, Lincolnshire, not fantasise
above its neighbours? Spalding, Sleaford, King's Lynn
mere towns, but Boston standing as a city
set on a hill cannot be hid, a city
that is at unity. They tried, you know:
in 1944, for their forthcoming
four-hundred-years-of-Charter celebrations,
with help from newly-citied Lancaster,
Boston put in a bid for city status.
But they hadn't Lancaster's royal connections
of duke and castle, weren't a county town,
had non-citied in documentary.
They were politely ushered out. The Charter's
quatercentenary was in the week
of VE Day. And riverwise, my source
says celebrations had to take that course.

This poem is mostly self-explanatory.  It was written in the autumn of 2015 for a Poetry Kit competition on the theme of cities, and published as one of my 13 postings on the Places of Poetry map of England and Wales.

The documentary in which Boston had non-citied was Country town, directed by Sydney Box in 1943.

My interest in Boston was sufficiently piqued by John Beckett's source article for Clare and me to route our 2016 bike tour through the town.  We found the church building a model of itself in Lego, and supplanting thereby an earlier model of the church in wood, that was still lit up in its humbler place at the back.

Saturday, 1 February 2020


"And you must never, ever, ever disclose 
price information, even if it's rough --
saying they'd charge about a pound still shows
enough to compare."  This bit loud enough
for the next Costa table.  Harmlessly --
an induction, with no such information,
and no one would have heard much of what she
said. If you were hot on pronunciation
you might have caught the haitches.  This was work,
hospital contracts.  The haitch-shibboleth
disclosed in this mall nothing worth a lurk,
no tribal loyalty of life or death.
Further (accents disclose no changeless natures),
it's enn aitch ess, it seems, even from haitchers.

The poem dates from October 2017 and, like so much of my recent work, it arose from a prompt in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going.  Chapter 8 asked for something about a street.  I chose Cambridge's Grand Arcade shopping mall, and the Costa Coffee outlet there, and a thing overheard at a neighbouring table.

It has dipped its toe in publication.  In January 2020, the broadcaster James O'Brien tweeted

"I’d back the scrapping of HS2 just to stop people saying ‘haitch’ on the news"

and I threw the poem's final couplet in among the replies -- not the first time I have rendered a poem ineligible for most competitions by partial self-publication in social media.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Church going 2014

Here are two more poems I contributed to the Places of Poetry map -- arising from a day out that Clare and I spent in 2014, retracing by bike an excursion that antiquarians had made in 1868 to churches on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. For an account of the 2014 trip, see my tweets from the day. For an account of the 1868 trip see

Anon. 1869. 'Haddiscoe, September 16th, 1868' in 'General meetings and excursions'. Quarterly journal of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, January, pp. 13-16. Available online at [accessed 8 July 2019]

1860s LITE

We aim to follow, not to recreate,
that learned tour in 1868
on horse-drawn omnibuses from the station
Haddiscoe had then (not today's location).
We cannot make the antiquarian
jaunt's mid-September mid-Victorian
quality of light. That we don't know.
Cooler planet. Steam trains at Haddiscoe.
At Oulton, night, earlier then, unlit,
made the last visit rush and shortened it.
'Postscript 1868' ends Possession
with a century-buried uncompletion.


We biked after the 1868ers,
tweeting their churches till the juice was low.
September, both day trips, theirs not so late as
ours, and their station nearer Haddiscoe.

Their Reverend John Gunn, at Flixton Ruin,
should have written a paper, but had not.
His ad-lib burns the page -- what not to do in
that case, shot down. I hope he soon forgot.

Had we found Flixton, by day's end? The map's
"Church (rems of)", this track, these beehives, this clump.
Glimpsed stonework under leaves. It was perhaps
church-shaped enough to be the ruin's stump.

Overgrown hulk, church shadow, where what should
have been done and was not has almost cooled.

My 1996 poem 'City rules' was an earlier glance at John Gunn's unfortunate memory lapse.

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Cambridgeshire bike rides

Here are three more things I posted to the Places of Poetry map in the summer of 2019.

The first was, like some in other recent blog posts, written in response to a prompt in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week. Start now. Keep goingThis was prompt number 4, for a poem that's an invitation.  The Tins path is a bike route between Cambridge and the village of Cherry Hinton. John Adams' Harmonium was known to me from having sung in a Cambridge Philharmonic Society performance in 2009.  And the invitation to cyclists is still open, though it might need some planning if accepted by many people.

If you know John Adams' Harmonium,
and ride a pushbike, let's recall the drum-
roll throbbing in the quiet that will grow
riding a stretch from death to the full throw
of movement 3, 'Wild nights'. Let's do the bike
version along this path, small flat bridge like
the drums, and power in the riding rise
for that crescendo of sonorities.
The bridge won't rumble now as once, I fear,
under one bike, so let us all draw near,
a pedal-strengthened Adams multitude
in mind of that orchestral interlude.

'Chester Road' was written in 2009.  Clare and I have not yet ridden from Cambridge to Chester, but, in the summer of 2011, we did make a bike tour from Chester to Cambridge.  Not sticking to Roman roads, mind.

Via Devana -- Chester Road -- the name
spurious, eighteenth-century invention
(rhymed, I suppose, retainer not Tirana) --
I rode northwest that turmoiling weekend,
a 90s time of names and letters reversed,
seeing how nothing could be for the best;
we ride southeast over the clunky stones,
a bouncing practice for our next bike tour,
and spend an afternoon admiring beasts.

Perhaps some day we'll take the invitation
in the road's name -- bogus but true enough --
and ride northwest to Chester, the whole way.

'A three-year cycle' is my first, and so far only, attempt to write in the form of a pantoum.  This was for a 2010 competition organised within Birkbeck College, though I forget by whom. The idea that events, or at least the emotional colours of events, move in three-year cycles has been present to me since I was about eleven, though it hasn't the importance to me now that it once did.  Reach and Over are villages to the north of Cambridge.  The quality of Psalm 102 in its sequential place is, I admit, a thing I had already explored from a different angle.


But things move on if it's a cycle --
grey as old photos, January, bruises,
with piled-up consequences happened already.
See the sky rhymed with the street

grey as old photos, January, bruises.
Where does the three-year cycle start?
See the sky rhymed with the street
turn red-blue as daring.

Where does the three-year cycle start?
Where put the defining moment's
turn red-blue as daring?
They cycled from Cambridge to Reach.

Where put the defining moments?
They cycled from Cambridge to Over.
They cycled from Cambridge to Reach.
Green-gold as July, O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands,

they cycled from Cambridge to Over,
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture --
green-gold as July, O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands,
they ran into Psalm 102: a bruised forgetting to eat bread.

We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture --
with piled-up consequences happened already,
they ran into Psalm 102: a bruised forgetting to eat bread.
But things move on if it's a cycle.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Three places in Nottinghamshire

These poems were written at various times, and are so closely attached to places that I posted them on the Places of Poetry map. I make that point now, because the place names don't appear in the poem titles.

The first place is Gringley on the Hill, where I grew up. The poem was written in 2004, for a competition organised, my card index says, by Pedal Power. Several relevant bodies bear that name, and I can't be sure which of them it was.


Imagination? Oh, for me,

with one bound Jack was always free.

When I was ten, I planned a fleet

of home-made go-karts down the street,

no, down the hill, down the A1,

sail-driven, with tin-telephone,

each kart wood-covered, a land-ark.

A good idea that might not work.

Truth is, I was late learning to ride a bike.

For my eighteenth, the choice I had

was typewriter or bike from Mum and Dad:

that's typewriter to exercise

my play-writing fantasies,

or bike, the more since biking skill

for me was six months brand-new still,

with view to riding out thus wheeled

to earn typewriter's cost in field.

I chose the bike, and hoed the weeds,

and typed the plays with the proceeds.

The plays were rubbish, I admit,

but bike -- I've not regretted it.

Truth is, I was late earning.

So now we do our long bike rides,

planned with good-bed-and-breakfast guides,

self and wife (I was late marrying)

and mobile phones, not tins and string.

And is the bike the bound or free?

If not, what should the question be?

With one bound, Jack was out of bounds.

The bike best covers solid grounds.

Let's be smart-kitted, then: the bike

rhimes are round, sound, bound and the like;

the bike through turn by turn of wheel

strengthens the work of getting real.

The second place is Walkeringham, a few miles from Gringley. The poem is one of those I wrote while following Jo Bell's splendid book 52: write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going. It was my response to that book's prompt number 30, for a poem on the theme of friendship.


A little out of synch. You'd graduated,

I'd had my year abroad, this was the Christmas

vac of my final year. You visited

us (me, parents and sibs) after some weeks

teaching at an experimental school.

You joked you were a retired schoolmaster. The day

would fade, but we set out that afternoon

walking the three miles I had often walked.

The next village had trains and a closed station.

Beyond the tracks, a lane and the big Trent.

There the lane stopped, matching the other bank.

An ex-ferry. Later, a shared joke had

a girl of nine write to a retired colonel:

lure trendy lefties here with bogus demo,

stand to one side, watch the procession drown.

Was this when you told me you'd introduced

people to your inseparable pet

Gozo, a wodge of folded newspaper?

Walkeringham, the village. The road home

passed a wood on a low hill. You took off

coat and jersey, walked in shirt sleeves. Less light.

The third poem is another 52-driven piece. The book's prompt 33 is for writing about machinery. I responded by reporting a conversation Clare and I had had, riffing on a that shared joke referred to in the poem above. It was a spoof I had self-published in more than one place before. The place -- the scene of the hypothetical mass drowning achieved by the use of a bogus demonstration -- was Walkeringham's Marsh Road. The ex-ferry is Walkerith Ferry, dead under so much water that even Wikipedia's list of River Trent crossings offers no date for when it closed.


“Dear Colonel Sixty-Biff,

“I refer to your recent letter to the Daily Telegraph.

“I have got a plan to help you to get rid of all the trendy left-wing sociologists in your letter. I have thought the plan up myself, but am doing it on Uncle Mark’s typewriter. About three miles from our house there is a bit where the road comes down to the river and it comes to a dead end. If you say you are having a protest march, all the trendy sociologists will want to come with you, and when you get to the river, you can stand to one side and they will all walk over the edge.

“Best wishes

“Sonia Bingham (age 9)”

That was my spoof, from around 1980.

Here in 2018 we speculated

on Sonia and her now nine-year-old daughter.

We found the variations generating

so fast the film stopped. Of course we started

with the typewriter. Would that be a laptop?

Borrowed now? Or the girl’s phone, or smarter?

Also, we did a spot of calculating:

nine-year-old daughter or grand-daughter?

And would Sonia today, in her forties,

cringe at her childhood project of mass slaughter?

And/or is she the sort of Brexiteer

that studs their talk with calling people traitors?

And reading that eighties Telegraph letter –

her parents’ choice, or seen while visiting

Uncle Mark? The only certainty

was 2018 has no typewriter.

Not even pushbike-versus-car metrics

(car gives six bikes’ worth, takes a cost far greater)

can plea-bargain away the typewriter’s

limiting against e-possibilities.

Past the ex-ferry’s dead end has been much water.

News at the time of blogging is that Places of Poetry -- currently a rich read-only source of poems, a thing to lighten long journeys -- will re-open for posting during a fortnight in the autumn of 2020.  News from me is that my Google Maps list of places in the British Isles with hymn-tunes named after them has borne its first fruit, a poem by me to be sung to the tune and with passing reference to the town in question.  No details at this stage, as I want to preserve the poem's anonymity in case I enter it in competitions.  But Places of Poetry and my list of hymn tune places might well be brought together.

Sunday, 10 November 2019



The riverside
manor we reached by a wet morning's ride.
They lent us towels as we went inside.

The moistened scene 
of 50s children's stories that had been
more in Clare's childhood than mine, the dark green

leaves sheltering 
our locked bikes from the low sky watering
July, most of the trip, even that thing

when the day cleared
briefly, the undrained bike path by a weird
reflection momentarily appeared

swimmer-deep under-sun waterway-blue;
not bike then but canal boat or canoe.

'Fluid' was written in response to a prompt in Jo Bell's book 52: write a poem a week.Start now.  Keep going (Rugby: Nine Arches Press, 2015); the prompt in question was to write a poem about water.

The riverside manor is the old house at Hemingford Grey that was the setting for Lucy Boston's book The children of Green Knowe.  The undrained bike path is the bridleway alongside Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, and the visit is one that wife Clare and I paid to Hemingford Manor by that route in July 2011.

I posted 'Fluid' to the Places of Poetry map in October 2019.  Places of Poetry I strongly recommend to passengers or walkers who are finding a long journey tedious.  Look on PofP and see what poems have been inspired by places you pass through!