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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.

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,

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

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

Pruning





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Just another word
for amputation.
Fleshed of leaves
the hedge gapes open
like a charnel house –
clawed fingers, knuckles, elbow joints
fused in a mass of spikes and barbs.
An eye for cramped and crooked growth,
long handled cutters and a pair of gloves
will see you straight.
                                Now pull the twigs aside.
See the main stems –long bones, twisted
tight as cables in the bitter winter.
Pick those thinner than your wrist
and slice them through. The stumps may bleed 
but this will clot and heal the gash.


              Now drag your cuttings out
and burn them.
Thin as lace and filled with air, the hedge
will fade from sight
                              until the warm days come,
when overnight it grows a lush green pelt.
It smells of sunshine.
Its dappled heart is loud with sparrows.

How to eat cherries

A stable genius

You wouldn’t believe  it, would you ? I mean…soup. I would never have thought they would sink so low…so very low..lower then I’ve ever seen. And the police ..they’re just doing their jarb…they do a great jarb…heroes…all they got is…what ? Guns…tear gas..police dogs…helicopters…tazers… and THEY got soup. They throw the soup at the cops…right ? And that tells me something. I just worked this out. If they’re throwing soup at the cops that means that they ain’t  hungry…they got plenty of soup at home… they can afford to go out into the street and throw soup at the cops…..some of it in tins.

Some of the soup is in bags. They have these special bags. Waterproof.  Soup proof. So it doesn’t leak. I worked that out too.

And the guy who was accidentally shot… he turned his back on the cop….how disrespectful is that ? What else could the cop  do. He fired a warning shot…well..seven warning shots…into his back. It wasn’t the cop’s fault. The guy was broad built, you know.

I worked all this out myself. Anyone can see I’m smart. You gotta vote for me. You gotta.

Phone call

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“Do you remember – years ago – “ he said,
“We met up in some bookshop. I was with
 my sister. She was quite impressed with you –
 said you had a gentleness, an air
 of understanding – and a lovely voice.”

“ That’s nice,” I said, yet knowing as I spoke
 I had no memory of that day at all.
 It wasn’t me they’d met.

The conversation ended, but he stayed,
 my doppelganger – kindly, gentle, calm –
 the kind of man I once hoped I’d become.

I look for him each morning in the mirror
and sometimes catch a glimpse,
but then he’s gone.

How to eat cherries

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In a summer garden

languidly.

Piled in a blue bowl, sun

polishing their gloss;

the name’s soft consonants

springs water in your mouth.

Don’t hold it by the stem

and slice away the flesh with your front teeth.

Put one in your mouth and feel

cool roundness on your tongue,

then bite the skin, bruised flesh,

teeth touching a knot of bone

and juice, trickling like dark blood

in the corner of your mouth.