Saturday, 18 October 2014


There are nights like this,
owl soft and hung
with sheep song, when
the larches on Sunrising
slant limb-wise on
westerly winds, that lying
here upon this mossy
backbone, scented with cow
and gorse and the cold wet
earth, I know with all certainty
that, unless I dig my fingers
deep into the knotted roots
of grass at my side, I would fall

Upwards into the blackness
of the sky, trailing cold
star-fire through my outstretched

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

St MARY'S, Middle Tysoe

Click for audio version

The church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Middle Tysoe

Wood pigeons gather in the trees
about Church Farm and swifts
contemplate their flight, as late summer
light falls upon Jacobean pews
through watery Victorian glass.

Silence curls in the evening
air, clinging to the chancel
walls like the memory
of swung incense or the faith
of ploughmen; rough-hewn
from the rich red soil and grey rains
that give birth to the racking cough
and burning ague.

Beneath the stony gaze
of the Norman Horseman
and panting dog,
sit opposite
each other,
eye to eye
toe to toe;
Job before his maker
(but which is which?).

                     We lay our complaints
before each other. Mine written in
guttering candlelight and the arrow
of a sparrow's short flight,
His written in Levantine dust
and the bitter taste of cheap red wine.

Together we survey the distance
between us and silently
wonder why.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The FOLKS...

An ocean light haunted by avocet and tern
and the knapped towers of North Norfolk churches.
Towering clouds above
the flint and gorse of
a wide East Anglian landscape

And my Folks
The way I have ALWAYS known them
Pacing out the country paths
Arm in Arm
Hand in Hand

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


The second or maybe even third hatchings are taking place. The hedges and dark corners are alive with scruffy squawks. The older rooks play dodge and twist on the field followed by their insistent clamouring young. Our runner beans are regularly plundered and the garden now blooms with spinning, scratched CDs and ragged carrier bags that play upon the wind like corporate prayer flags. Everywhere is enthused with the untidy energy of youth...

And now here they come in a small gaggle down main street. A little knot of girls singing and shrieking; daring the world to look at them with that eggshell-thin, fragile, belligerence of adolescence. Dressed in little more than their fathers' high blood pressure they trip the kerb to Oxhill Road and the sky is filled again with shrill laughter and bad language. Every shriek, every movement, calls fearfully out to an uncomprehending world in which they have found themselves flung. There are no easy Edens for us sons and daughters of Adam.

          "I AM HERE. AND THIS IS ME..." They say.

They fall silent as they walk past and then collapse in snorts and giggles, their arms around each other's shoulders and necks. And I love them for it; I love them for their heroic "barbaric yawp" that signals their presence in this world... in this village... on this little inconsequential street on one summer's afternoon at the razored edge of their childhoods... I'm drawn into their terrifying, wonderful, invigorating, intimidatingly indifferent worlds.

Do the little, feathered scruff-balls that dart beneath the garden hedges also feel this? Lifting their voice to the blank, unyielding sky for the first time. Is their piping call clear and sound? Or do they fear that no one will notice; that their voice is too cracked, that their song won't work? Do they fear that they too might be ultimately... unlovable?

They turn the corner, by the maple that flames wine-red in autumn and pass out of sight.
But their voices still ring among the flights of lazy bees.


...and if there is a slight shake and hesitation over the last word that turns it more into a question than a statement, let us pretend not to notice it.
         ...For yes you are so very, very very beautiful...
                      but for none of the reasons you think...

Friday, 4 July 2014

Summer FLIES

The summer heat of these long days seems to slide low; hugging the ground, trapping the drifting mesh of insects in a lazy, languorous dance. Not even the flies can find enough energy to fly. They walk up and down my arm and round my nose and ears, tasting the dust and sweat and human-ness of me... and for a little while I become important to the fly and part of its life...

I can remember my winter trips to the church tower, climbing the darkened stairs. The carpet (worn and threadbare), in front of the great wooden cabinet that housed the clunking, whirring clock, thick with dead and dying flies. Throughout those cold months I would very carefully tiptoe my way through this mass of black bodies lest one more should die. People in the village had asked if they could come up the tower with me to see the clock and to look down on the village from above, but I would put them off; unable to bear the idea of more feet tramping through this ghastly hades of flies that was washed weekly with hymns and prayers from below.

I watched them slowly and painstakingly crawl, often with just two or three legs working, clawing their way to apparent safety, away from the threat of my shadow. I recognised their will to live. Often they got caught on the nylon strands of carpet, trapped, sometimes up-ended. And I would rage. And as each week passed, my rage grew stronger. I raged against the brutishness of life. I railed against my understanding of God and a creation that could set me free and yet sink me into darkness. If God was any God at all, he must too be the God of this place?

There were times I silently crawled on hands and knees teasing their limbs from the carpet fibres, gently trying to place them once more on their feet; trying to lift them up to the safety of a pile of unused bell-ringers' mats that had been stacked in the corner; trying to understand; trying to make sense; trying to know how to respond...

At other times, I just sat with them in silence, knowing that one day I too would find my own winter bell-tower and feel life seep (fast or slow) away from me. Would spring sunlight fall through those cobwebbed window slits and fill the world once more with the scent of growing grass?

And then there were times when I raved. I dared to feel the lion's breath upon my neck as I held God to account. I spat back all the comfort that I had felt as a child having been told of the loving ways of a fatherly God. I would not kill them. I would not kill these little bodies of life that had clung to this world, in the dark coldness for months. That did not WANT to die; that WANTED, like me, to live. My shadow, that for so long they had so weakly fought to escape from, would not herald the end their lives.
"Is this what it is to have dominion over the earth?"
 "If these are to die, you do it yourself and you better make damned sure that they don't suffer while you do it."
But the musty stonework echoed implacably to the sound of my voice and anger as I cursed and swore at the heartlessness of life...

... as I move my arm, the flies reluctantly fly off and I recede into the landscape (the hat propped on the garden table, the tree stump covered with ivy, the dog's ball lying on the lawn) and I, once more, cease to exist...
              ... and yet, I am the richer for it.

A fly lands in the coolness that my shadow casts upon the lawn and, unaware of my still presence, cleans itself.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Two ROOKS in a DEWY meadow EARLY one MORNING

They rose into the air.
Oh my Lord...
How they rose into the air.

I was coming down from Old Lodge Hill
Boots heavy with mud, wading
A slough
Of sullen emptiness;
The church below me
Adrift in a grey mizzle sea.

On ragged, tar-slicked wings
That flared with splintered fire,
They rose together
Into the air
Above the shrouded earth.

And if this universe
Could have contained
The three of us,
I swear...
Oh my Lord,
How I swear,
Right there and then
I would have stretched out my arms
And would have risen with them.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

WORDS on an EBB Tide

Work (paid and unpaid)... words that ceased to fit my world... that sense of turning inwards (positively and negatively)... shadows in the stillness... have all contrived to take my time and keep me away.

I have long learnt not to fear these fallow times; these times when words dry up... when you pick up a pen and it feels dry and lifeless. For I am dug from a world of ebb and flow; the tide, the sap, the sun's warmth. It is right and proper that those rhythms also pulse deep within me.

These spells are not to be feared - they are a part of us. They make us who we are. It is not as if I rely on words for my living...
No, my need to write is far more important than that.
I write because it reminds me how precious and beautiful it is to breathe.
I write because my heart would explode if I did not.

For awhile I haven't had the heart to open my blog and now that I have, I am touched beyond words (ironically) by the comments I find here.

I know the tide will turn and I will write again, for it feels as if my heart is so heavy with unborn words and with feelings that have no name. I want run up Windmill Hill and to take a broom and write in fire across the skies so that it will rain my heart down upon the woods and fields, and that the winds will find music to those words that lie mute and unformed in my soul.

The nestlings are beginning to flex their wings and I too share their joy of the early summer winds.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

BESIDE the JIGSAW table...

Beside the jigsaw table stands a mug of hot water, tepid now and mostly undrunk. All the edges of the jigsaw are complete, bar one missing piece, and a picture emerges, moth-eaten and frayed in the centre. Outside owls hoot as they have always done; a sound so redolent of this little room enclosed in the night time, atop this house where so much life has been lived.

She sits hunched over the board, her long bent fingers brushing the chaos of pieces as if drawing music out of the colours. On the chair next to her is a little, rather threadbare, toy fox. I pick it up. Its stuffing is firm and unyielding, like stuffed toys used to be. "It is over 70 years old." she says, "I had it when I was ten."

There is a story; a story I have known since I was very small. It was always told with the ring of laughter, but its repetition spoke of darker fears. There was a spinster aunt, whom she loved dearly, and with whom as a special treat she would visit to stay for a night or two. This aunt was full of character, and drove a car when it was almost unheard of for a woman to drive; and she drove it with a reckless zeal. She was artistic and bohemian, had a female lover (although we did not talk about it in those days) and she was ferociously clever and independent. On one visit to her aunt, when she was about 10 years old, the aunt jokingly said to her, "My dear, you have been SOO good I think I might want to keep you here to live with me." But she didn't know if she was joking or serious. Every time after that, when she went to visit the aunt, she was terrified that she would never return to her home or see her mother again. She then got this fox and it became her talisman. It was always by her side. She took it everywhere to watch over her and to ensure that she would always get safely back home. She walked together with that fox through the night time valleys of those ten year old's deepest fears.

She tells me the story again and as she tells it she absent-mindedly brushes its muzzle with the back of her fingers and I don't know what to say, no longer knowing quite how to relate to this very elderly woman, bent like the hawthorns on Windmill Hill, but who is also the mother who chased away my childhood nightmares, and who, even now, is this little ten year old girl, with her fox who is watching over her, facing into the dark night from which she fears she will never return.

We turn off the light. An owl shrieks in the tree next to the house and through the dormer window there are stars and the black silhouettes of geese in flight. All I can do is smile a smile of understanding that says 'I understand and that its ok that I understand.'

Thursday, 9 January 2014

On a GREY January MORNING we BREATHE grandeur

The stem of grass,
crushed beneath a boot
now growing again
arcing over trampled mud
A green spear of light.

A sparrow,
amid the havoc of blackthorn
torn by winter gales,
with a soul far larger
than its song.

And we see the glory,
don't we?
You ...
and me ...
and God.