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You often see the ambulance round here

(the population’s getting old)

and things happen – usually at night.

You see their headlights swing into our road,

moving slowly till they find the house.

They go in quietly, without a fuss.

Ten minutes later and they’re out.

Wheelchair or stretcher ? You can guess

how serious it is. Doors thump shut.

I close the curtain.

It will come to all of us at last –

the pain that gnaws and can’t be talked away,

the bloodied sheet, the sudden, unexpected

loss of self.

I wonder, when it comes  my turn,

if my neighbour, peeking through his blind,

will find some pity for me

within the selfish joy of his reprieve.

Featured

On Reading

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I taught myself to. read when I was five years old. I was in hospital at the time, recovering from an ear operation. In those days- sixty years ago-it was quite a major procedure, which meant that I was in a single room, with no-one to talk to. Even my parents weren’t allowed in the room. They had to stand outside and wave through the window.

After a couple of days the nurse came in with a pile of “Beano” comics.

“That should keep you busy,” she said.

Now I knew the letters of the alphabet, and I knew the sounds most of them made, but I hadn’t yet mastered the skill of putting them into words. But now, in the hospital room, I had the chance. I taught myself to read. By the time I came home I had worked my way through “Dandy” ” Beano” and a couple of Ladybird books. I was hooked.

After I’d ripped through Enid Blyton, I went on to “Biggles”- unlikely tales set in the First World War – I was beginning to get a feeling for structure now – how these simple stories were put together. I loved the way that stories can lift you out of yourself, open up a whole world, which might be real or a creation of the author.

When I was eleven I bought my first grown up book – it was ” The Ides of March” – a modern version of the murder of Julius Caesar, by Thornton Wilder -and that led me to Shakespeare ( my father had a big influence there) and then Dickens and then…and then..and I’m still going strong…

Except things are changing.

The first computer I ever bought was that chunky, solid little thing with a minute screen. I loved it – you could send email ( whatever happened to just mail ?) you could be in contact with everything everywhere. A great door on the world had swung wide open, and that other secret pleasure – adventures in your head- was less attractive than before.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone put their books down as soon as the screen lit up. I’m saying that, although we have the world in our iPads, we have backed away from the magic which happens in that magic space between the page and the eye.

Let me know what you think….there maybe more to this than you might think…

that magic space

Lost Child

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A long frost and a deep snow.

This had been the severest winter

any man alive had known in England.

Crows’ feet were frozen on their prey;

islands of ice enclosed both fish and fowl.

My dear boy fell in such a fever

naught could bring him comfort or relief.

Whilst there was still life in him

we sent to London for physicians.

The river froze; the coach broke down

ere it had gone a mile beyond our gates.

All artificial help failing, he died.

I caused his body to be lapped in lead.

We buried him next night in Deptford church

and all my joy of life with him.

Assembled from the diaries of John Evelyn 1620 – 1706

Unhappy ending

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In the books store

 between Economics 

and European History,

a woman is weeping

silently 

because bookstores,

like empty churches

and doctors’ waiting rooms

are holy places

and to be respected.

Face buried in her hands

she stands, convulsed

by  grief too real

for this warm place

humming with words.

A boy in a red shirt,

tidying shelves, looks up,

walks over. She clings to him,

staining his red shirt 

with her polite tears.

The Stone Circle

There’s a lake three minutes away from my house – a Rorschach shape of water surrounded by trees and bushes. Ashes, oaks and lots of thorn bushes, all thriving. It’s a stopping off point for migrating geese – Canadas and Greylags mainly, as well as swans in the summer ( one day there were twelve swans ghosting up and down like galleons) and a fox’s lair burrowed into the bank at the north east end.

It’s a really important place for the people who live round here. The schoolchildren walk past it as they go to and from school; old men take their old dogs for a walk round it. It’s a good place to stop and chat and ask if anyone has seen the kingfisher yet.

When the first wave of the Cover pandemic hit, people wanted to express their thanks to the doctors, nurses, hospital workers for their bravery and kindness. For ten weeks we all came out of our houses on Thursday evening just …to clap…to give applause and thought to all those people who were helping us along.

And then there were the stones. Small rocks, bits of flat concrete, stones with ….possibilities – each one with a message or a picture. At first it was just ” Thank you NHS” but then other stones were placed – with drawings – messages. Look at this-

OR THIS

Notice the broken heart.

You see that there is real talent here. Over the summer more and more painted stones were added until the lake was encircled by a necklace of colour and hope.

I spy

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I’ve noticed the warning every time I’ve logged into my WordPress site:

“Your ID is being used to sign in to a device in South Manchester”

and there’s a little map to show the area my shadowy companion inhabits.

And I’ve done nothing about it, for the moment anyway. Who do I know in the South Manchester area ? No-one, to the best of my knowledge. And what kind of creep would want to lurk in my shadows ? I’m not particularly interesting. I’m just an old bloke who writes poems from time to time – that’s all.

And yet it niggles me. I start to wonder what he looks like ( Why did I say ‘he’ I wonder..,.)

Have I been caught up by accident in some MI5 operation ? Why does he only appear when I log in to WordPress ? Or maybe he knows my computer as well as I do – and I don’t know it.

I could, of course, solve the whole problem by choosing another password – but that means changing ALL my passwords, and why should I do that ? Why should I allow him to have some small power over me ?

All I can do is politely request him to go and irritate someone else.

So listen up, slime ball, and get the hell out of Dodge.

A book in the hand is worth two on the iPhone

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In fact, the title of this piece isn’t strictly true… or fair. It is always a matter for horses and courses. Digital reading is useful in all sorts of situations. It’s easier to have “War and Peace” on your iPad than having to lug a great volume of it when you’re going on a long journey.

Digital reading is cheaper too. I always buy thrillers, light entertainment in digital format rather than buy a new piece of entertainment which I will only read once. and digital publication comes with added extras – you can see how much you’ve read, how much time you’ve spent reading, all kinds of notes and additions that you won’t get with a plain old print’n’paper job.

The text, along with all. the bells and whistles, is what you get.

This can be a real help. If you’re reading a Shakespeare play for the first time, you need all the help you can get. If you’re reading a paper on astro physics, then a few visuals would be very useful.

Well, what has an ordinary old book to offer ? The answer to that is atmosphere, history. If you buy a battered copy of “Oliver Twist” you don’t just get the story, you get the story of the book.

Let me explain. Years ago I bought an old, leather bound prayer book. It was badly printed with rough line drawings, and I bought it because it was cheap…and something drew me to it.

When I got home I had a proper look. It was an incomplete prayer book published in 1583. It was five hundred years old. Somehow or other it had drifted down the centuries until it found…me. And there was more. Written in the margins were notes in shorthand.

What, I wonder, was that all about.

Old books link you -physically- with the past.

Think about that one

the pain that gnaws and can’t be talked away,

http://the pain that gnaws and can’t be talked away,

Autumn lake

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Late October, when the world

shifts towards winter.

Trees stripped, leaves slimy underfoot

and the lake, jittery with wavelets

slopping and sucking at the bank.

That’s when they come, riding

the cold rivers of air-

Canadas and greylags in their tribes

chattering like children 

as the land unwinds below –

matchbox roofs, glittering windows,

the slow uncoiling roads.

Then a splash of spilt metal

silver in the low sun.

They turn, tipping the wind

from their wings

as the lake leaps upward,

brushing their wide webs

with a silky hiss.

Simpkin the Magnificent

I never thought for an instant that the genteel, ginger kitten – all purr and cuddley, could turn into well…an emperor. There was nothing in his early life to suggest it. He used the bedpost as a teething post, was quiet and polite, and deferred to the other animals in the house – Digby the dog and Pippin, the Senior Cat. It was Pip who had precedence at the food tray, Pip who had his special place on the sofa. Life was gentle and predictable until Pip died. He was 16 years old and a shadow of his former imperious self. I must be honest and admit that Simpkin waited untilPip had made his final Visit to Uncle.

But then things started to change. The modest Heir Apparent took over the throne. Diplomatic relations were cut. Pip and Digby were quite good chums – they even shared a pet carrier when they went to the vet, but Simpkin in his pomp ignored the dog, and the dog (who is a mild mannered soul) ignored him.

And then there was the food. Simpkin has always been a good trencher cat. He’s a big lad, as you can see, and he needs plenty of CattyGunge to keep the fires burning. But he’s eating seven or eight sachets of GunkForCats every day. The vet says it’s all to do with his metabolism, in which case the Boy Simpkin is running at about 2000rpm

Then he started doing parkour. To be fair, Simpkin only did it at night in the passageway – thumping and crashing as he hurled himself from one wall to the other.

But the thing which surprises me more than anything is this – he thinks he’s human. He reminds sharing my breakfast – which is a bit of a cheek because he never offers me any of his GunkForCats. And he loves clambering up on tables, chairs, human limbs – anything which will get him on eye level

when he will look up at me with googol eyes and purr like a motorbike on tickover.

He will look up at me with googoo eyes and purr like a motorbike on tickover