Snuggling up to John Betjeman

When recently indisposed due to a bad attack of Man. Utd. (not uncommon these days), I was unable to make Margaret Holbrook’s March “Spoken Word” at Poynton’s Ubagene wine bar, so I asked her if she would read 2 poems for me from “Seconds Out”: “Character 4” (about my Mum) and “Character 1” (about my Dad), both of whom had died in the month of March. Her throwaway, comforting remark sparked the following verse:

Snuggling up to John Betjeman

The first day of Spring and I wax almost lyrical,

not like me at all. I’m more often satirical.

You might go so far as to say it’s a miracle.

or not say a word. That’s entirely empirical.


These thoughts come from those casual comments you dropped.

I’d said your “Seconds Out” had been charity shopped.

“Not at all,” you replied. In my tracks I was stopped.

“Next to John Betjeman on my shelf it is propped.”


Next to my hero! I was flattered and flustered

and saw straightway on my face was egg custard.

What in life could be better than to be clustered

and snuggled up next to JB! Done and dusted.


Keeping Mum

Mother’s Day in 1988 was Sunday, 13th. March and has a particular significance, because it was the day that “our Mam” died in the Queen’s Hospital in Nottingham, so I was keen to write something on this 30th. anniversary. Rhyming poetry is my preferred form, but I thought I’d see if I could write a poem with half-rhymes as line endings as it’s less intrusive and perhaps more serious than my usual stuff. Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem, “Strange Meeting”, is a brilliant example.

Keeping Mum

It’s Mother’s Day; it’s Mothering Sunday

with shades of meaning for all and sundry:

a simple “Thank You”; a floral gesture;

recognition of beloved progenitor;

something heartfelt, sincere and tender

a gushy card or double entendre-

laden, red-cheeked, seaside-saucy (think McGill).


30 years ago, our bedside vigil,

with false alarms, drew softly to a close,

as if she offered us an unavoidable excuse.

Pauses stretched between her stertorous breaths

she, interminably becalmed in mini-deaths,

until that pallor once rouged cheeks imbued

and we each clasped a hand helpless by her bed,


her heart’s drum beating the retreat, then gone

and our era of memories began.

So Mother’s Day holds that added poignancy

when thoughts of Lucy come with frequency

and conjure bitter sweet “Remember when…”s

and send us to our keyboard or our pens.

Beware the almost Ides of March, my friend

when Death calls time and brings Life to its end.

March Madness: A Bridge Too Far

Before the memories of our Siberian winter interlude fade and the Beast from the East shrinks before the outrages of the Pest from the West* (guess who and I don’t mean Storm Emma), here’s a poem which testifies to the addictive nature of Bridge and the drive to get one’s “fix”.  As with the previous post, this piece began in a Macclesfield Creative Writing Group workshop, an inspired, last minute theme chosen by Alan Horne for the hardy souls who had braved the blizzard conditions.

* I’ve heard this phrase coined independently from 2 sources, poet John Lindley and my recent bridge partner Beryl Footman.

March Madness: A Bridge Too Far

It was madness.

15 minutes to skim away the Volvo’s white mantle,

remove the snow blindfold from its windows,

scrape, scrape, scrape away the ice cataracts,

release imprisoned wipers from screen’s tenacious grip,

prise open the doors fused to ice-box bodywork.

Tugs of desperation resisted, brute force

from red gloved hands, gloved red hands,

a screech of disapproval, refusal from the doors:

“We’re not going anywhere! You’re not going anywhere!”


Once inside, a stomp to unleash compacted snow

and a rush to generate that vital heat.

A tractor’s roar. The engine bursts into life.

We creep out onto the rink.


Declining Nude

The first task in Zoe Quinlan’s Macc Writers’ workshop on 1st. February was to sketch our neighbour, not with the customary words, but with pen, pencil, whatever we had to hand. We tentatively set to work in pairs, most of us managing some sort of credible likeness – providing they were viewed from the right distance! Here’s a bit of nonsense, the best I could do with an art-related writing exercise.

Declining Nude

With his eyes he caressed me, assessed me

and the gaze was disarming but lewd

and on canvas, possessed me, undressed me.

It was brazen and terribly rude,

so his portrait distressed me, obsessed me

when I thought how it might be construed.


I couldn’t handle the public scandal

as they flocked in to see it and queued.

Under the heading, next to T. Emin’s bedding:

“Still Live, Still Alive: Declining Nude”.

New Year’s Resolution: Mark My Words

Having just realised that the poem I posted a few minutes ago had already been on the website since mid-January, here is a replacement in which I doff my cap (yet again) to the talents of Macclesfield-based poet and friend, Mark Rawlins.

New Year’s Resolution: Mark My Words

My resolution’s write like Mark,

always rhythmic, often dark.

His politics are sharp and swingeing.

He has the Tory true blues cringing.

His words drill through you, never bore.

His skilful use of metaphor

and simile flash like the stars,

is red and shimmers, just like Mars;

alliteration boldly broaches,

our subconscious minds encroaches.

Adept with onomatopoeia:

clitter clatter, bing bang hear

and never once do his words clunk,

even when his subject’s punk.

Imagine Mark with hair in spikes

and bovver boots in place of Nikes,

kite high, crowd surfing to The Clash an’

studs and chains the height of fashion.

In Verse v Verse, his repetition

sees off all the competition,

sees off all the competition

(in my case, with expedition).

It’s so unfair. It ain’t half gallin’

Sod it! I’ll leave it to Mark Rawlins.

Burns’ Night Poem

Apologies for the unusual frequency of these posts, but I wanted to share this poem whilst it still has some relevance. As you’ll gather from the last verse, we had been pippa-ed (?) to the post at the Old Saw Mill by Charles and Camilla on their visit to Congleton the previous day. John Lindley hosted a very enjoyable Burns’ Night Supper-cum-open mike with copious helpings of delicious haggis, neeps and tatties, washed down with generous tots of whisky (or, as I was on antibiotics, apple juice) and lots of excellent poetry, particularly from the Congleton writers. If you get the chance, drop in at the Old Saw Mill. It’s well worth the detour and you’ll get a right royal welcome.

Burns’ Night Rhyme

It’s 2018! Where ha’e ye all been?

Another Burns’ night’s round again.

Our Rabbie (5 starred), the Immortal Bard,

is toasted tonight, do ye ken?


Ploughman Poet from Ayr, his natural flair

for the feelings of his fellow Man

touched our hearts to the core, now and evermore

till mankind becomes one big clan


And what would he think as we live on the brink

in a world gone frankly quite mad.

He’d pick up his pen as he did way back then

and coin sound advice in verse clad.


Take our EU Brexit which clearly wrecks it,

appalled, he would say, “Man, you’re fou.

It must be better to borders unfetter

and bring Man togither, the noo.


I canna believe it’s too late to retrieve it.

Test the water with referenda,

but tie selves in knots? Nae, be like canny Scots

and adopt a long term agenda.


And just one more thing ere “Auld Lang Syne” ye sing,

the world’s now a place run by loons.

You’re for the high jump with Donald J Trump,

compromise displaced by High Noons.


No Gary Cooper, he’s more party pooper.

He’ll throw all his toys from the pram.

We’ll be left in the dark and no Cutty Sark

and no Meg to ride off on like Tam.


And North Korea? Don’t despair, my dear.

It’s roses, not buttons are red,

though a hundred years on since we fought World War 1,

we wear poppies with pride for the dead.


Grant us and gi’us to see as others see us

in our time on this Earth which is brief,

to love one another, treat all as a brother

in one universal belief.”



Here’s an addendum, my verses to end’em.

I’ve heard Charles, Prince of Wales was here

plus Duchess of Cornwell, both moderately worn well,

Now you’re back with Rab’s rabble, my dear!

Bike Rack in the Sky

Sadly, my ancient bike, the Yellow Orrell, has reached the end of its days. The steel-framed steed has been struck down with terminal rust and must reluctantly be replaced by some quivering interloper, still wet behind the gears.

I can’t muster a lament to compare with Roger McGough’s “Stop All the Cars” on the demise of his old Metro, but here’s my epitaph-cum-eulogy.

Bike Rack in the Sky

I’ve ridden dusty tracks and muddy

astride my yellow bike, my buddy.

More roads had puddles than were dusty,

the reason why the bike frame’s rusty,

why terminal is the crank shaft crack:

end of the road, no turning back.


We’ve bumped along the leafy lanes.

We’ve climbed the hills, rode Cheshire plains.

We’ve slalomed round deep potholes scary

which lurk to trap the poor unwary

sod distracted by bucolic scene

of gambolling lambs in pastures green.


We rode the country End to End

tagged on behind long-suffering friend.

We toiled up slopes seemed almost sheer,

fought head winds without changing gear.

Stamina sapped, we’ve given in

and dropped down to the granny ring.


Ten years ago, (how Time’s whizzed by!)

I brought you home and I rode high

You would have had more TLC

owned by a Wheeler, not by me.

Now time has come for us to part,

yet somehow I don’t have the heart.


I’m yearning for another chance

to pause a while Time’s cruel advance,

to take you out for one last spin.

Spare tubes I’ll pack and gatorskin.

I’ll inflate tyres and oil that chain

and keep one eye out for the rain.


The bubble bursts. I blub. I bawl.

You’re now a trophy on my wall

The Restaurant at the End of the University

If sheer output were the yardstick, 2018 would be classed as a vintage year.   Admittedly, the title of the poem which follows owes practically everything (92%) to Douglas Adams and the rest to the Park Tavern discussion group. Their theme tonight (“University Education for All?”) is one I feel strongly enough about for me to attend tonight and to prompt a rhyming summary.

The Restaurant at the End of the University

Discussion group, this Wednesday night

and the theme is right up my street:

“Uni’ education for all?”

The Park Tavern’s where we will meet.


I come from a working class background

and for me it couldn’t be plainer.

The path from our house led to the pit.

For me, it seems a no brainer.


Two roads diverged in my life – and I

took the path to a B. Sc.

I stayed above ground, hands and face clean.

It’s thanks to that science degree.


Of course there was more, so much more

in those University years:

a real social mix and friendships forged,

all washed down with quite a few beers;


add in a cultural awakening,

discovering Shakespeare and Pinter;

became aware of what was out there,

like burgeoning Spring after Winter.


But was our cohort just lucky?

The question now asked looking back

by those coming post-Baby Boomers:

“Do you want fries with your Big Mac?”


Down with Shingles

Not me, folks, but my friend and founder member of Macclesfield Creative Writing Group, Margaret Holbrook. On Tuesday evening, we had shared a compact, poetry open mike at Poynton’s Ubagene bar, where a select gathering of enthusiastic regulars shared 4 poems or stories each. Excellent as usual. Margaret’s non-appearance at Thursday’s read around was unexpected and turned out to be due to the dreaded zoster virus. Initially, I thought she had come down with Jingles, but I would, wouldn’t I? Get well soon.

Down with Shingles

With winter colds, an ailment mingles.

Ya boo! Ya boo! Down with shingles!

Our friend, Margaret’s really poorly,

She’s suffering and afflicted sorely

by a sneaky, nasty virus,

which courses nerves. Pains shoot and fire us

when we harbour Herpes zoster.

Say your prayers, say “Paternoster”,

when immune systems on the rocks,

if in your youth you’d chicken pox.


You start with an unsightly rash.

To cure it, you would pay good cash.

Then there’s searing pain, not tingles,

when you’re laid up with the shingles.

Contagious if one’s not had pox,

so you can’t go down to the doc’s.

The crafty virus, dormant, latent,

a tiny opportunist, blatant,

is like the wasp. You have to wonder,

each is an evolution blunder:


no blooming use, a perfect pest.

My god! Like Trump and all the rest.

First Footie

Just recovering from a week of the dreaded man ‘flu’ (snuffles and chesty cough), which, due to a heroic effort, failed to blight the festive spirit, but seemed to dampen the creative side. In order to send everyone my best wishes for 2018 whilst it’s still vaguely topical, I’ve cobbled the following seasonal ditty together. Apologies for the rough edges, which need a fine sandpaper rewrite. Nevertheless, I shall give it an airing at the Visyon “Headspace” tonight (3rd. January). Happy New Year!

First Footie

We’ve had a traditional Christmas,

roast turkey and heaps of mince pies.

Round the tree, stacked up were the presents,

a surfeit of toiletry supplies.


We’ve passed through the dark winter solstice.

It’s been difficult to celebrate,

though the Christmas tree’s heavy with lights.

Like the world, we’ve too much on our plate.


On TV came a king known as Morecambe

with another, by name Ernie Wise.

On the news, we picked facts out from falsehoods

and statistics from damned, outright lies.


We’ve had highlights from the 2 Ronnies.

At 3, millions turned on the Queen’s speech.

Alas, Freddie M. dead and gone is.

That’s one Champion who’s now out of reach.


(There’s much at this time is traditional

so grammarians have nipped in the bud,

a future demand for the conditional

to be re-named the “Victoria would”).


With the roast we had all the trimmings,

pigs in blankets and stuffing and sprouts

and we toasted with glass over-brimming

“Happy New Year”, which common sense flouts.


By the 31st. of December

the bird had been curried, baked in a pie,

risotto-ed, the carcass dismembered

as broth and served up for one final fry.


We’ll go veggie, drink in moderation.

We resolve we’ll be radically changed:

that Nation shall speak peace unto Nation,

a pledge that may seem quite deranged:


Primrose pathway of good intentions

brings us back down to earth with a bump.

We fret over inflation and pensions

and Kim-Jung-Un and President Chump.


To the strain of Jules Holland and guest bands,

Big Ben’s chimes and a firework display,

we head into the New Year and link hands

and we promise to mean what we say.


In the old days, a dark haired first footer

brought in a coin, some coal, a mince pie.

Now on January 1st. hear me mutter,

“It’s Premiership First Footie on Sky!”