You’re through to voicemail

5 March 2011 § 8 Comments

Off the hook

I’m sorry;
I’m not available
To take your call right now:

The air in there
Is sour and sick,
Thickened with work,
Tainted by worry
Like the gust of last night’s beer
From the pub door Sunday morning.

Now I’m out
Of reach of the bank, the Revenue’s men,
The trivial tyranny of whencanyougetitdoneby,
And the world falls away
Like the sheep-speckled hillside
Beneath the red kite’s wing.

Just a coat between me and the wind
That playfully snatches at collar and cap;
Boots pressed into the old, soft turf
Like the fifty-pence-piece in my Grandad’s palm;
The dog stops, turns, looks at me and laughs
And a lone crow tips me a knowing wink.

Can’t say
When I’ll get back to you.

This should give you some idea of the week I’ve had. Wish it was half-term again, and we were back in Wales.

Close encounter

3 March 2011 § 7 Comments

To boldly go

In his overalls, bulky boots
And thick fleece hat pulled right down over his ears
He lumbers, slow, stiff-legged,
Over the sodden ground
Like a spaceman on an alien planet
Where the atmosphere’s thin and bitter cold
And the gravity’s turned right up.

The mission commander remains behind
On the quad-bike that squats like a moon-buggy
On its fat balloon tyres
And from the seat, he barks peremptory orders
At the half-dozen sheep
Gathering round the trough,
Grateful for this daily visitation
From another world.

I saw this little scene played out on a dog-walk in Wales the other week. I think the whippet (who was wearing his fleece jacket at the time) felt rather inadequate when he saw the collie standing on the quad-bike seat in the freezing wind, barking joyously, having almost certainly spent the night outdoors too. I was certainly conscious that I’m not nearly tough enough for a life like that. Then again, how many of us are?

A necessary evil

28 February 2011 § 10 Comments

A necessary evil

How the words must hate me.
All day I forced them
Into acts of petty crime;
A thousand pretty perjuries
Committed to save my skin.
I twisted them,
Bent them into cunning shapes
Corrupted and persuaded them
To say one thing
While meaning
Quite another;
Hollowed out the truth
Then stuffed it full
Of fat, sweet-smelling falsehoods;
Bit my mother tongue
Until it bled.
Now
After hours
I can make my peace with them;
Restore the sacred trust
I sold for tarnished silver.
This is my penance
And redemption;
All is forgiven.
The job is done.

As well as (more or less) paying the bills, writing for a living can be a lot of fun. But sometimes, making words perform circus tricks feels like betraying them; they are my friends, after all. I’m never asked to tell outright lies in my work – God bless the Advertising Standards Authority – but it’s often a selective, filtered version of the truth. Poetry keeps me grounded, and ensures my own voice never gets wholly lost in all the smoke and mirrors.

Sunday shepherding

27 February 2011 § 2 Comments

A price on their heads

Out on the Forest feeding sheep
Marking time on rented keep
Too meagre for such eager beggars.

Haul out two bales of precious hay;
Enough, I hope, to last the day
And overnight. A sodden August

Followed by a savage winter
Has made barns into bank vaults,
Stacked to the roof with summer’s riches
Bound in bales, tight as wads of tenners.

I slash the strings,
Releasing long-imprisoned scents
Of late July, and shake the flakes
Into the rack with the careful hands and watchful eye
Of a chef preparing Alba truffles
For a visiting head of state.

And the woolly starveling mob crowd in
Rowdy as schoolboys at the bell,
Tearing, greedy, at the pale green stems
Like shoppers in the New Year sales.
I watch them, forgetful of the cost
In their contentment. And long for spring.

I’ve finally managed to return to my shepherding roots in a small way, as a part-time volunteer helping out with a conservation grazing project on the Ashdown Forest. My charges are 240 Hebridean sheep, an ancient breed from the far north-west of Scotland. They’re tough, hardy beasts, but good winter grazing is hard to come by, and they’re on pretty thin pickings at the moment, with the soil still too cold for the grass to start growing in earnest. We’re having to supplement their diet with hay, but prices are at an all-time high, and we’re longing for the day when they can leave their winter quarters and go up onto the Forest and start doing their job properly.

On writing

19 February 2011 § 9 Comments

THE WORK

On some days
The words just appear
In a quicksilver surge,
Irresistible as Spring,
The old pen leaping in my grip
Like a live thing.

On others
I’m hauling them up
Like huge rusty anchors
On slimy miles of iron chain,
And every straining tug and slip
Brings its own pain.

And today
I may turn out to be
Some lyric magician
Or manacled convict breaking stone.
But gladly taking my next trip
Into the unknown.

I don’t think we necessarily choose to be writers; I think very often it chooses us. I write for a living, as well as for fun, and I find both aspects of the craft incredibly, heart-breakingly hard sometimes. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m taking a few days off now, heading down to the wild west of Wales to enjoy the restorative effects of clean air, long walks with the whippet, time with my girls, red kites overhead and regular exposure to my mother-in-law’s superlative cooking. Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and commenting; your generosity and support are truly overwhelming. Look forward to being back with you all soon.

Colours of day

16 February 2011 § 6 Comments

Sky-writing

Grey
is the colour of getting things done;
a day
at my desk,
driving,
unbegrudged domestics.

White
could go either way

But blue –

Blue
is an invitation
to truancy,
laughing, teasing
with outstretched hands
and promises

a girl in a meadow
in her light summer dress

and she knows
I can’t resist.

Happy new year?

4 January 2011 § 1 Comment

Apparently, the prospects for the UK economy are better in 2011 than in 2010. Which isn’t really saying a great deal; after all, you can’t fall off the floor. I’m certainly hoping it’s a more positive year; just in case, though, I’m considering a Plan B. As the bankers have so graphically demonstrated, these days, competence just doesn’t pay.

RECESSIVE THINKING

If not better, I’m no worse
At this
Than I was
Two years
Ago.
So
Why is it I
Now have to settle
For a whole lot less
While the men who made
All this mess
Are still
Doing very nicely,
Thank you:
Maybe it’s time
I dropped the ball,
Downsized my scruples
Embraced ineptitude
And made life simpler
For myself,
Knowing that as others
Picked up the bits
I’d still be sure
Of cleaning up.

Where Am I?

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