The Vanished Hour is the title of a small collection of poems which I published in 2014. This is available from Amazon, with royalties being donated to the UK Charity Epilepsy Action in memory of my son Craig, who died from SUDEP in 1998, and whose memory remains as precious as ever to Ann, myself, his brothers Alastair and Fyfe, the wider family and so many friends.
Tuesday, 16 April 2019
She stands, still.
though not in spirit.
Now without a roof
but with a closer link than ever
to the heavens overhead.
Without a roof
there is more illumination,
and at least the hope
that after this dark night,
we might just see the light.
Might learn to count our loss
as prized, as precious,
discounting trash, and trivia,
inflaming us to live
for love and life.
Our Lady, still,
has more to give.
Wednesday, 28 November 2018
The usual Christmas greeting,
alongside many others,
from my Alma Mater.
This year, a movie clip
starting with snow –
a startling and enhancing contrast
to the rich, red buildings.
I watch and listen,
as the images abound
and memories are found.
Dulwich. The Barry buildings.
To the ordinary eye, extraordinary,
but for me, for seven years,
as for my thousand fellow pupils,
and those that came and went
before and after, just a backdrop.
Dulwich. The Barry buildings.
Maybe just a backdrop,
but ever-present: an anchor, a platform
that spawned, then steered, and shaped
a love of learning and discovery.
So many places bring to mind
those questing and exciting years:
The North and South Blocks,
Lower Hall, Great Hall,
the sometimes narrow stairs and little windows,
the Cloisters (now glazed in),
The Butt, the Comm, the Library.
the unfolded and unfolding grounds,
the Clump, the avenue of trees.
And last of all, the Covered Courts
where learning came to be examined
in summer days that soon would preface
another end of term or, after seven years,
a close of schooling that was
singular and special.
Here at Dulwich, with the Barry buildings,
strangely, just a backdrop.
I was a pupil at Dulwich College between 1952 and 1959
I have at last
swept away the leaves,
and laid them down to rest.
The garden now is tidy, and at peace,
bedded down for winter,
ready for its sleep, for slumber.
I too will now lie dormant
through the time the garden needs
for restoration and renewal.
In waiting, I will long for that revival,
for the joy, the thrill, the sheer delight
of life returning, come the spring.
Of course, this longing will not last
beyond my years, but then I ask:
is it just for me, the sweeping?
Will life returning, come the spring,
be there beyond my years?
Or will our fears be cause for weeping?
The house is empty now,
its owner long since gone.
With the windows ever dustier,
and the garden running wild,
it comes with some surprise to hear the sound
of heating coming on.
It raises questions that you know
cannot be answered, provoking
further thoughts and fantasies
that swirl around the past and present,
and, even now, the future.
The structure stands;
strong enough you’d say,
but will the structure stay?
It is a question thrown
to the sky, the ground,
the once so carefully tended garden,
and all the land around.
Whose home was this when built
more than a hundred years ago?
And then, what life was there -
through all the years - to know?
Once new, and proudly entered,
the house became a home,
a place of love and growth
as two increased to three, then four.
And being home, a place
to gather and to bring together
moments never captured
at the time, but there for ever after.
Moments both of pleasure and of pain,
of stress and calm, of light and dark,
of love, and welcome laughter.
A true and tried template
for this, a small stone cottage:
a perfect pattern
for succeeding generations,
at least until the last few years,
when one, then two,
then all would go; yes leave –
while willing that the house
might once more come to life.
And so, it seems, it has.
Although the house looks empty now,
with its owner long since gone,
the windows ever dustier,
and the garden running wild,
it comes with some surprise –
and joy – to hear the sound
of heating, as before.
The sound of life, once more.
November 2018, from January 2017
Saturday, 17 November 2018
In the uncertain evening sky,
both clear and cloud-strewn,
with strands of sunlight
stroking the changing skyscape,
it is at first a murmur
as they fly in, the starlings.
A few to start, and then some more,
followed by ‘fledgling’ flocks
seeming to target the taut, tense skyline;
gathering above the reeds,
and signalling as if by semaphore
for further flocks.
They are collecting, quicker now,
creating shifting shapes, growing greater
by the minute: countless congregations
of extraordinary movement
and complexity. Collision-free.
In these radar-rich surroundings
the decibels are mounting
as the patterns thicken, seeming
to grow denser as they swirl and spin
and somersault. An assault in every sense
upon our eyes and ears.
Speechless, we watch this avian assembly,
in wonderment. Orgiastic and unruly,
thrilling and visceral, it goes on and on,
And then, without a warning,
In their thousands, they drop down into the reeds,
to roost. The volume too declines to twittering,
to chattering, to murmuring.
It is time to leave. In the dusk,
we steal back in silence, thoughtful,
humbled by this spectacle
or maybe what - whatever our beliefs -
we’d call a miracle.
Wednesday, 17 January 2018
The castle tower reaches to the sky
and oversees the river flowing down below.
Built laboriously, painstakingly,
with technology that may be dated now,
but in the forefront then,
the castle gave a view not so much different
from the view today.
Or so it seems to us, as we look up, and back,
those many hundred years.
And looking up, a thought:
did they, those many hundred years ago,
envisage, or imagine, the worldview we see now?
Could they, inhabiting that modern world,
conceive the world today?
The landscape is the same,
or nearly so. All that has changed
is the way we take it in, the way
we travel through it, and transport it,
by means undreamt of then,
to unimagined boundaries.
And so, we have to gaze
and wonder how the scene will be
hundreds of years from now.
Will the tower still be standing
and reach up to the sky?
What will be seen? and heard?
What known? What felt?
What feared? And why?
Monday, 23 October 2017
The shell shames,
towering above us
and, by internet and television,
tells the world
how we failed.
Words do nothing,
though they cascade
from every level,
and always crying.
And yet, from this dark place
a seed is sown;
a strand of love caught on the wind,
that even prompts survivors,
far and near, to a sort
Or, as with our son,
simply to say
he loved us.
So the darkest tower
can yet bring light, and balm.
And the darkest hour,
while weeping still,
some comfort, and a kind of calm.
October 2017 – the fire at Grenfell Tower in June 2017
in which 68 people lost their lives, and hundreds were injured.
Friday, 7 April 2017
Late March in Westminster.
Spring is here, and with it daffodils,
bright, beautiful and living.
They bloom ignorant
of the newly dead, nearby,
mindless of a vicious edge
that cut a life to death.
Above, the sky is blue, and broad,
and blessing, so it seems, the stretchered,
injured lives below, victims of a vehicle
that battered them so brutally.
Around, the buildings:
Big Ben, Westminster Bridge,
and Mother of all Parliaments,
nurturing and loving, like any mother,
her offspring called Democracy,
so viciously attacked.
Beyond the dead, though,
reaction to an outrage
that destroys its very self:
shock, and shame and grief,
but in the end contempt -
for hatred now, for hatred here
where “Earth has not anything
to show more fair.”
Utter contempt, then, for those parts,
those places where there is no love,
no reaching out, no sharing,
of hands, and minds, and hearts.
for March 22nd 2017
Such as it is, the so-called family silver
does, from time to time, need cleaning:
it is a labour more of love than need.
Tarnished, silver tells of fleeting time,
tolling for a journey into darkness
or remembered sadness.
Polished, and brilliant, though,
silver speaks of special times,
reflecting glittering moods
Each precious piece can shine and talk:
engraved with names, with dates,
or just initials, to mark a special day, event,
or - on sporting trophies - record
a prize of distant years.
We treasure these, of course.
Some pieces though, with no such voice,
articulate a greater value:
silver which, for want of better words,
is everyday – the cutlery and other tableware
that is a hallmark of the lives we live
so thoughtlessly, a counterpoint
to carefree family closeness
at meals and other times,
feeding and nourishing our love.
The moments never noticed
are the most momentous;
the unrecorded times
the most worth marking.
Brilliant or tarnished, then,
safeguard the silver. That way
from time to time, you’ll know
that the labour – and the love - will show.
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
White winter morning.
You look across the river,
this ancient waterway,
and catch your breath.
Through barest branches
over open, shadowed, sunlit fields
there is an apparition: strange, and new,
not seen before: shining, cylindrical,
resplendent and forbidding.
You count six sparkling silos
stretched across the skyline,
and ask yourself
if these striking steel structures
are out of keeping with the landscape.
They are of course a product
of this farmed land - that’s ploughed,
then sowed, then harvested.
And more, they are a home
for gathered grain.
In keeping then, these bright,
metallic, man-made guardians
of the very food we grow:
a part of rural life as much
as fields, and trees and waterways.
Look once again. The silos glisten.
In the winter sun, they send a signal:
it is time to look afresh, to think,
Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Thursday, 19 January 2017
The words imply a celebration
and that, perhaps, is what it is,
this gathering of guns, and mostly men,
with 4 x 4s, in these beloved
In this new century
they use technology
to talk to one another
and target more precisely
their useless prey.
The shots ring out
and birds drop from the sky
to be retrieved by dogs - trained dogs –
in a long, time-loved tradition.
A few birds get away,
flying higher than they often do,
but surviving for the moment,
and for future moments,
when they will once again
The odds, of course, are there:
these fattened birds that can barely fly
make perfect targets for the wealthy,
often unskilled shots.
It’s as it should be, they would say:
splendid sport in perfect countryside.
Worth every penny
of the many hundred pounds
paid for the privilege, the pleasure
of a good day’s shoot.
And of the other creatures
that have a price to pay
we’d best not speak,
or spoil the party.
The shooting party.
It was, once, a place of worship
standing small and neat and smart,
but proudly, on the steep side of the hill
known still as Chapel Bank.
And there it stands today
but with only half a roof,
creating a closer link than ever
to the heavens overhead.
It was a year or two ago
that the roof gave way,
letting in illumination –
of perhaps a different kind –
from the sheltered, shadowed
but protecting light afforded
by the chapel’s black and yellow,
And with the light
has come new growth:
a crowded congregation
of ivy, bramble, holly, hawthorn
and much more,
accompanied - of course - by elders.
Outside, the strong stone walls remain,
begging the question :
what brought the building
and the people here
one hundred years ago, or more?
And what then wound the worship down?
From being a pulsing heart
of this community,
a place of Sunday, if not daily,
pilgrimage, the chapel
tells of change, and tolls for change:
the transience that defines us,
gives life meaning,
and a beauty that is never strange.
Its remains a place of worship, still,
on Chapel Bank.
Thursday, 5 May 2016
These were journeys
they did not mean to make.
This a sunrise
eclipsed within the hour
by a late, and sudden sunset.
For some, these were journeys
treasured in anticipation,
to destinations some would die for.
For others, just a way to work:
a daily, often dreary journey
for which there are, now,
no more days.
No holidays, or holy days:
these Easter journeys,
or in hope and expectation,
cross a too familiar path,
but without a second coming.
Anger serves no purpose
here in Brussels
On this grim and grey spring morning:
pity and hurt, of course, but mostly
shame, deep shame.
What we feel for such departures
can have no other name.
Wednesday, 3 February 2016
The view is constant,
changed only by the light and day,
not growing any older
as we all do.
The viewpoint will remain
for years and years to come
and for a while provide
a daily destination
for one lone viewer.
At first, she seemed asleep,
almost in hibernation,
but then the pattern surfaced:
a midday break,
perhaps an hour long.
to sit, to sleep, to eat.
Sitting on the bench
beside her, we look for
the slightest sign
she knows we’re here.
The gaze stays fixed, and distant;
the focus all within:
a frontier to a land
where entry is forbidden.
There must, though, once
have been an entrance:
another place, another time,
another life, another love.
And other people.
We are not here
to be alone, and so
I reach across the bench
to touch her hand.
She turns her head
and looking up, her eyes
break into the softest smile
bathed by the gentlest tears.
It makes my touch worthwhile.
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
Make no mistake - in unintended ways
the name is apt: Sizewell.
The power is prodigious,
almost petrifying, even when contained
within the massive halls
that cast a giant shadow,
looming in the haze
along this shoreline.
It is a glaring contradiction
of outstanding natural beauty.
Make no mistake -
the contrast confronts you
when you look across
the cradling reserve
for so many thousand birds
and welcome wildlife.
Make no mistake – here the peace
is peace of mind, not silence.
On this rich reserve,
over many years, life teems
miraculously at every level.
and often noisily.
Something, it seems,
to shout about, but quietly,
from every blade of grass,
or treetop leaf, or lap of water
on this caretaking mere.
Make no mistake – there,
just along the shore, at Sizewell,
the giant, silent halls provide prodigious power
for another kind of life - for good it seems.
Their peace is of a different kind,
but maybe not for peace of mind.
Spread smooth, the sand,
the beach, becomes a canvas
on which the father
makes his mark –
to celebrate the proud, the prized
first birthday of his son.
The sand-inscription reads
‘Happy 1st Birthday Hugo’.
A glad and golden greeting,
a message to be treasured
on this still September morning
of the calm North Cornish coast.
And Hugo? He will know nothing
of this private, public moment
for a few years yet.
For us, observers, the words
will soon be washed,
though never wished, away.
Their sight and sound will echo
down the days, the weeks, the months,
foretelling and foreseeing little,
even fading, yet offering Hugo,
year on year,
an unwritten birthday greeting
he now will always know.
Even in sunlight, they’re hardly seen,.
these handsome seashore birds.
Instinct makes them wary
of predation, unwittingly disguised
as they, in turn, peck about for prey,
their camouflage complete.
Once seen, they warrant watching:
doing what it says on the tin -
turning stones among the rocks
or along the harbour walls.
Foraging for food.
They come and go, or so it seems,
as they blend into the rocks
and pebbled pools.
Sometimes so static
that you cannot tell them
from the space they occupy;
mostly, as they must,
just turning stones.
You could watch away the minutes,
taxing eyes, if not binoculars,
spotting and unspotting them.
So then it comes with some relief
when a gull or two intrudes
and they flock into the sky,
across the waves, then wheel and turn,
only to resume once more,
these incognito birds,
their hiding and sustaining habitat.
Prodding, poking, pecking once again -
and, like us, forever turning stones.
Monday, 18 January 2016
Legend lends a mystery
to the river and its seafall:
sad tales of a drowning daughter,
taken by this relentless river,
the River Corrib:
taken surely unawares,
for this is water that surprises
by its force, apparent anger, and adrenalin.
The source and destination
flatter to deceive.
For all the western weather,
with its wild winds,
the Corrib Lough lies nestled
in the nearby hills,
at times so tranquil
that the silence deafens,
and its beauty blinds.
But soon the secret’s out
and this shortest Irish river
takes you quite by storm:
the speed, the pace, the constant quilting
of the water as it cascades,
headlong and reckless
into Galway Bay.
Even seasoned watchers
wonder at its ferocious force –
wave upon wave upon wave –
working, weaving through the weirs:
the very heartbeat of this vibrant,
vital, festive and fulfilling city.
The clamour then subsides,
calmed by the Claddagh
as the water is made welcome
by the wider sea, folding itself
to smoothness, and –
on a sparkling sunlit day,
or with a gentle song-filled sunset –
sighing sweetly as it finds home.
January 3rd, 2016
Sunday, 17 January 2016
We are in West Cork,
treasuring the landscape
and its beauty, ravaged though it’s been
over many hundred years
by nature, and by man.
It is still early
in the new millennium
which, for this fair country,
has brought a brief
but now belittled bounty,
leaving little of an imagined
Almost endless empty houses,
or blighted building
on palatial plots of land
sadly speak of dreams
embraced so fulsomely,
but now demolished.
In this landscape
of such loveliness,
and soaring space,
the vision faced is one
of aspirations checked,
of grandeur grounded.
No matter what the cause,
the dreaming was distorted,
and the siren signals never seen.
From nowhere, from apparent plenty,
money is marooned,
and these proud properties,
with their plans and plots of land,
so rich in promise,
now are paupered.
Here, in West Cork,
there is once more a famine,
and, as in the past, another failed future.
It is a landscape littered
lavishly with loss.
Or so it seems.
The landscape lies implacable;
it is not lost:
its loveliness will linger,
its strength survive,
and bravely bear the cost.
December 2015, but based on our holiday in Caragillihy in 2012.