Wednesday, 31 October 2012


Apparently the trick with elephants is that you must gently but firmly lean into them. Using your shoulder, you need to apply a gentle pressure against the tops of their forelegs. Of course you have to press quite hard with big bull elephants because they are so large. This lets them know that you are there and that you won’t harm them. They’ll then look down at you as if to say, “Hello, who are you?” After that, they’ll walk beside you without any bother.  

He puts down his binoculars on the windowsill next to the mug of tea that is slowly cooling from tepid to un-drinkable. A pigeon lands on top of the telegraph pole across the street. It squats like a vegetarian vulture. He points to the house across the street. "They're a funny lot who live there." He smiles. "They're ok, but they're a funny lot. They love red cars. It has always got to be red with them. Look!" He points to the car parked by the hedge. It is red. "It's always red." he laughs. He looks at the pigeon and then back to the house. "People are funny aren't they?" It is where we live.

I carefully move a stack of newspapers. He likes newspapers. He has four copies of today’s Daily Mail – all neatly folded, pristine, unopened and unread. The owner of the village shop will take them back at the end of the day and refund his money – the shopkeeper also knows the importance of standing in a queue with strangers and friends, smiling, saying ‘hello’, carefully counting out a pocket full of coins; the importance of simple human interaction. A sandwich plate bearing a selection of fancy cakes and biscuits sits on the little footstool beside him. It lies untouched. It is always untouched. Whenever I bring our dog around (whom he loves), I have to negotiate her past that plate. That plate holds untold told delights for her.  

“There was this one male elephant,” he says, “that the local people wouldn’t go near. But we just did this and then we did a bit of that and we put this here so that it was just-so...” his hands chop the air with the decisive moves of a general who has seen it all before and his voice trails away; there are times when his hands express those spiralling, slippery thoughts better than words, “... and he had everything just right. You see, there was nothing nasty about him. He even followed us into this shop and everyone said, ‘Hello, what’s going on here?' Sort of like they were saying to us, ‘you’ve got a right one here, have't you!’”

He stops and laughs. His eyes twinkle and glow with the fire of African suns. He describes how he used to spend months over there. He and a few of his friends became so well known, the local people used to ring them up in England and ask for their help with rogue elephants.
“Everyone knew what they were doing, you see. Everything was just right... in the right place... and they said, ‘how did you do that?’ And we would said, ‘With a little a bit of mischief!’" He roars with laughter, "Oh how they loved that! They used to laugh at that! You see, with them, there was no nastiness or anything like that. And they’d say, “Oh that’s alright then!’ And elephants would just come in and go... and no one would worry. There was never any trouble or problems. We’d walk along and the baby elephants would run up to us and we’d all walk along together.”

He looks down the road and falls silent in his memories. His world is filled with elephants. Ornaments and models of them cram the shelves and tables. They all belonged to his wife. He has never met a wild elephant. He has never ever seen a wild elephant nor walked under an African sky. The closest he has been to one was when he visited a zoo. But when I look across at him, I see that he has the mark of a man who has walked with elephants.

On the wall behind him hang photographs pegged to a looped piece of string. His favourite picture is the one of him taken on a cruise. He is standing between two cabaret dancers. They wear sequined basques and feathers and confident smiles, and they have legs as achingly long as midnight heart break. He stands with them, arms linked, with that same smile that he gives to me now; his body a little awkward - trying to look at ease, but remaining unsure - a little out of his depth, like he doesn’t really belong. It is how I would feel too. I would smile just like that and I too would stand just like that; James Bond in the wrong body, with the wrong heart. 

He points to the picture of him standing with his late wife.
“That’s going back a bit.” he says. His finger rests on each of the figures, “That is my mother and my father.” It is not surprising he no longer recognises the people in the photograph. His wife is now forever young and his world is filled with the laughter of his father and half-remembered escapades and the landlord who flew his aeroplane from the field behind his pub (scaring his neighbours half to death) and the garden of his boyhood with its stacks of rabbit hutches and washing and all the neighbourhood dogs. His father was a miner who worked the seams under the North Sea miles out from the coast. Conversation always returns to either elephants or his father. When I once said, “I think you take after him.” He abruptly stopped talking and sat silently for a long time and then he quietly said, “I hope so.”    

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


Warwick Park, afternoon (14:51), and our coffee is too hot to drink so we sit at the little cafeteria tables watching the wisps of steam spiral and flower in the air like ghostly vines. The sky, built of slate slabs, shatters with the sun and a robin's melancholy, piping, song of autumn. 

Two youngsters - maybe just approaching their teens - stand together on the grass among the fallen leaves. 

He in his low-slung gangsta jeans and oversize trainers. A little silver scooter lies folded at his feet. She with her hair in a severe 1930's bob and her coat buttoned up to her chin; she towers over him, lanky and slightly awkward; like a newly appointed governess.

He steps towards her and hugs her. Clasping his hands around her back and waist until she breaks away, collapsing out of his arms, giggling and hiding her mouth and nose in the cup of her hands – her cheeks as red and as excited as the promise of Christmas.  

She is still giggling when, with ferocious seriousness, he stands on tiptoes and plants a light brushing kiss upon her cheek. 

Two children trying on their parents’ wardrobe; finding new bodies that have yet to fit the spirits of fire that they now possess - like adults' clothes hanging from a child's shoulders. 

Innocent? Perhaps not. Fire will always burn and there is a Prometheus in us all; moth born, we are instinctively drawn to the fire of the gods. And what strange and consuming fires burn upon the altars of our adolescence. They carve with searing heat, the fearful caverns of our adult lives.    

For a little while they talk. He picks at the tyres of his scooter. She stands, stork-like, putting all her weight on one leg and fiddling with her buttons, the way that girls in school playgrounds have always done through the stream of time itself. 

They turn and walk away, down the avenue of trees into a world that is turning to gold.       

Monday, 22 October 2012

The ASH TREE across...

... the road (friend of jackdaws and crooked hearts)
           stretches up into a dusk of glassy gold.
                 Her leaves steeped in autumn light.

A fountain of yellow falls upon the dying blooms of the carpet man's tender care.

I wait under the silent skies... silent save for the transcendent whoop of life and the distant laugh of rooks. I can feel my heart beat... and hear the pulse of blood around my head... and the sparrows in the hedgerow... and the pop and swish of falling leaves...

The church clock strikes, rolling over rooftops and fields and on and on up to the wordless woods.

The earth sings such magnificent hymns to the soul.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

MAGICKRY - A Gypsy Heart

As Autumn strides laughing across the fields, scattering raindrops and berries, I thought it might be a good time for some unabashed romanticism. 
Life teaches us two things:
1. Romance does the heart good and brings a smile to the soul - and,  on these darker and chillier evenings, who would deny us that? 
2. Small boys will always be totally captivated by a smile and a wild, gypsy heart ;)

Magickry - A Gypsy Heart

There was a pretty gypsy maid
In auburn glades she’d wend her ways
And soft among the elder’s shade
In summer’s haze, and silvered days
The oak and ash would sing to her
And bring to her their autumn blaze
And butterflies would follow her
And over her, in thistle-down
Would thread a web so spider thin
Of rainbow hues to dress her in
And dew-gems for a crown.

She sang her songs of mystery
And wizardry and magickry
And spells that bind and mimicry
And filigree the stars that spun
Around her head with silken threads
Of orbits dark and distant suns

In ancient lore and alchemy,
And rune-wise, the words that she
Would weave among the grass   

She found a world of gallantry
Of errantry and pageantry
And though she longed to tarry there
And lose her heart and marry there
Her gypsy heart would carry there
The far off winds that harried her
Of distant lands that promised her
With silken words admonished her
Of oases green and fountains tall
Of stormy seas at the cliffs of fall
And zephyrs breathed vermilion
And gilded gold pavilions
And stallions and sherbet from
The opium fields of Avalon
In darker days, the wind would say
“There are other paths that call your way”

At night these paths would sing to her
And bring to her, and wing to her
The friends of her, of wings and fur
With wilder hearts astir.

By badger light and lantern’s sigh
And lonely flies the vixen’s cry
And all would come to sit with her
With heart and soul close-knit with her
Find comfort ‘neath the ash and briar
They sought beside her dreaming fire.

When alone among the moon beam’s dance
Schoolboy did chance to steal a glance
And held by her smile of golden bliss
He sought her kiss upon his cheek
And by this feat, he’d be a king.

As sparks flew up from firelight’s glow
And fireflies show the crystal’s globe
She held his hand so merrily
That happily and gallantly
He walked this world as new.

And now beneath the forest’s moon
And soft among the moths that flew
And swans that glide down woody steams
In dreams, he sings her tune.

Thursday, 4 October 2012


... beneath the silent bowl of stars

      and look up into the fire of Cassiopea's beauty.

Let us not fill it with questions

                   or doubts

                           or certainties.

But let us also be silent

      living together this one perfect moment.