Wednesday, January 30, 2008


I have a bad back, the result of age, carrying too much weight, and years of bending over a computer, writing. It prevents me from standing for more than a couple of minutes without severe aching, or from walking more than a hundred yards without having to find somewhere to sit or prop. It increases my insomnia; sometimes I can't find a position to lie in without pain, and through the night it disturbs me into wakefulness. Queueing at airports can be a nightmare, especially when one is trailing with infinite slowness around the maze leading to security. I'm too proud, and not infirm enough, to ask for a wheelchair. Luckily it's okay when I'm sitting, which I do most of the day.

And there are a few consolations. I don't have to walk the dog. I get excused from carrying heavy items. And occasionally, if I'm going to a restaurant with Angela and friends, the walk from the car park can be made pleasant with attractive assistance. As in the photo.

Friday, January 25, 2008


Bolsheviks move around, like the medieval papacy,
from country to country.
‘The eternal lightning of Lenin’s bones’
can be generated by wind-farms and solar panels,
the cruelty of ‘man is a wolf to man’
can turn into vegetarianism.

They may even take on the name
of a previous enemy, like
the various kinds of Democrats
before the October Revolution.

But they are always with us,
like the poor:
the Commissars and the technocrats
who decide what is good for the masses
and who deserve their privileges,
their special stores, schools, hospitals,
their fine apartments and dachas,
because they are serving the people.

They are always with us,
the intelligentsia
deciding our belief system
we can dissent from only in whispers;
always the Stalin awards for conformity.

Always the changing past
and the certain future Utopia,
the ever-present surveillance,
the documents without which
we are a non-person;
always the Party lists, and placemen;
the heads of industry who carry
too heavy a burden

There is always, unfortunately,
the idiot peasantry,
the stupid old babushka,
who continues to light candles
in empty village churches
and mumble her prayers at night
before she talks to her dead husband.

Monday, January 21, 2008

rejoice! rejoice!

We're celebrating --Angela has finally got her 'settlement visa', meaning that she has indefinite leave to remain in the UK. It may surprise you to learn that a Canadian woman, married for two years to a Brit, should have to endure a tortuous process to have the right to live with me in my country. Never mind that Canadians have fought and died with us in two world wars --that's irrelevant. If your country fought against us, that's fine --welcome in! And of course there are millions here who haven't bothered with any paperwork: some of whom are still trying to kill us.

Angela has had to pass a test on 'British culture'. British culture includes knowing the populations of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to the decimal point (on outdated census figures); though we live in Cornwall, it means knowing how many members sit in the Northern Ireland Assembly (it's 108, though I'm sure you knew that.) It means knowing the legislature of the EU in mind-numbing detail; and knowing how many Muslims, Buddhists, etc. live here; again to the decimal point. Altogether 800 possible questions, most of that absurd kind. God knows what dessicated civel servant made it all up as a test of our culture.

She has had to provide 20 official documents with both our names on them. You work out how easy that is. We had to resort to asking our newsagent to put our joint names on the monthly bill.

Including essential early visas, we have also had to pay the Home Office £1500. It's a rip-off.

I vented my anger in a poem some time ago...

UK Passport Control

‘My great-grandfather was last seen
By mates of his from Newfoundland
Trudging through bodies to stand sentry
At Vimy Ridge in ’17.
My grandfather, in ’44,
Lost both his legs on Juno Beach,
Yet still stands proudly for the Queen.
My dad in Banff loves nothing more
Than Shakespeare, to direct and teach.
This feels like home –you understand?’
‘Sorry, you’ve got no right of entry.’

Mein Urgrossvater –how you say?—
On Western Front won Iron Cross,
Killed fünfzig Tommies in one day.
Grossvater, Kolonel mit Paulus;
Mein Vater
served in the SS,
Young scientist in Birkenau,
But kind man, all the same, for sure.
You had to do what had to do.
The same for me in GDR;
Stassi not all bad; shades of grey.
Ich kann nicht mehr; I like to stay.’
‘No problem, mate; you’re one of us.’

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Walter Ego

Not a lot of people know that I had a second career in the 70s and 80s, as the lead singer Walt Ego with the anti-bomb protest rockband 'Bollox'. You will remember such great hits as 'Fuck Franco', 'Nix to Nixon', 'Kiss off Kissinger' and 'Thump a Thatcherite Today'. After Ted Oxo and Rick Brie took each other's wife, our band split up, but the rest of us became even more active in politics. With the temporary demise of the noble Marxist/Maoist experiment, we have had to channel our reforming zeal into social issues, and with considerable success. We were founder members of Peter Hains' powerful Progressive Policies Forum think tank.

We played a large part in banning fox hunting, smoking, and Catholic adoption agencies (unless they're willing not to apply their own discriminatory rules). By promoting an open border policy on immigration, except for the white Old Commonwealth, we have undermined the UK's reactionary cultural and religious institutions. We had some success in the States in persuading a few universities to introduce consent forms for sex (our 'Every man is a rapist' campaign), though there is a long way to go on this. We have helped to ban photography at Nativity Plays (indeed we have more or less banned Nativity Plays). We have ensured that male teachers can't misuse the distress of a crying child by touching him/her.
Currently we are assisting Harriet Harperson to bring in legislation to make paying for sex a criminal offence. Our think tank is debating ways of enforcing this in the case of married couples. Too many guys get away with offering their wives holidays in the sun in return for more sex. But it's hard to monitor. One possible way would be for airport check-in staff to add (after 'Have you packed your case yourself?') another question: 'Have you, Mr X, offered this holiday as a payment for sex?' If he looks furtive, he can be arrested, and would have to prove his innocence. Jewellers etc. could ask a similar question. This isn't perhaps a perfect solution, but prostitution of any kind is a huge evil, insulting to women, which must be stamped out. We ('Bollox') have also done a lot towards stamping out world poverty. Global warming is a tougher issue. We want to bring in legislation requiring all vehicles to operate on pig manure, and travel at no more than 30 kph.

We haven't entirely abandoned music. Now that Oxo and Brie have reconciled -and indeed divorced their wives and come together in a gay marriage-- our band made a highly successful retro tour, playing to packed audiences in Skegness, Preston, Welwyn, Liskeard and Tiverton. Our drummer, Fats Jarvis, took the above picture of me before our first gig. We plan another tour in summer 08. Watch out for us in your area. On our website you will also find our petition regarding inequality in the army. We want so-called elite units, like the SAS, to be forced to take 20% of recruits from differently abled and ethnic minority people of both sexes. Please sign up.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Descartes on a wet sunday

Atrocious weather continues, high winds and constant rain. But the miserable day was lit up by the wit of Rod Liddle in the 'Sunday Times'. He was writing about the 'think tank', the 'Progressive Policies Forum', and the welcome shadow its shadiness has cast over politician Peter Hains' smug, fat, heavily suntanned face. The Forum, which provided over 100k for Hains' deputy leadership bid, has held no meetings, has no website and no employees. Liddle commented that by Cartesian logic this think tank has no existence: 'It doesn't think, therefore it isn't.'

Liddle, editor of the BBC 'Today' programme during the Gilligan/Iraq War controversy, is refreshingly his own man, uninterested in being 'correct'. He doesn't fear to offend Evangelicals or atheists, Muslims or Israilis; he sniffs out the frauds, the hypocrites, and Harriet Harperson. If he sees an outrage, like the refusal to admit an aged Gurkha with cancer into Britain --the man had won a V.C. fighting for us-- he will say so. I don't know how he keeps his standard so high. He can always make me chuckle.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A sneaky photo

Angela took two photos of our cutlery drawer: one after she had emptied the dishwasher, the other after I had done so. Guess which is which...

Monday, January 7, 2008

bright star

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--

Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night

And watching, with eternal lids apart,

Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,

The moving waters at their priestlike task

Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,

Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask

Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--

No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,

Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,

To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,

Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,

And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

--John Keats.

It's interesting what happens to the husbands, wives, lovers, of poets who died young. John Keats went off to Italy in a desperate, unavailing search for health, and soon died there, of consumption. A lock of hair of Fanny Brawne, his fiancee, was buried with him. When dying, he said bitterly, 'If I had had her, I would have lived.' Of course he was wrong.

Fanny went on to marry a sales agent in London, and bear him three children; she outlived her early lover by forty four years. A solid, bourgeois, Victorian matriarch; yet to Keats' fading vision, the soul of fragile beauty, his Muse. My sonnet about her has some verbal echoes of his great sonnet 'Bright Star'. ..

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art…

I’m afraid I read trashy, trumpety novels; art
Does not obsess me or Mr Lindon either.
Does hair turn grey when it’s somewhere else, apart?
I’ve read his letters when I’ve lain sleepless.
They’re very moving; he loved me so much,
Though quite violently. Thank God I stayed pure
For Mr Lindon. His friend showed me his death-mask:
Weird –his face, yet it bore no resemblance
To the young poet I allowed to stroke my breast
Once; and felt him swell… well, you know—men.
Hearing him cough next door, I couldn’t rest…
‘Tender is the night’… That’s in an Ode;
I remember that. I’d be Mrs Keats if he’d lived.

Note: Fanny Brawne (1800-1865), Keats’s fiancée, married a sales agent, Louis Lindon, and bore him three children. Keats had a lock of her hair buried with him.

A non-fatal fatality

I get very irritated by the misuse of 'may' and 'might', referring to the past. They mean different things, but are constantly confused, even by the 'Times'. Today, in a piece about a French sailor whose boat was struck by ice, but who was unhurt, a journalist wrote: 'Yesterday, the ice may have proved fatal.' This means, grammatically, that it is possible he was killed, but we're not sure. 'Yesterday, the ice might have proved fatal' would have indicated, correctly, that it could have proved fatal, but it wasn't, luckily.

If you email a friend, 'I was in a car crash; I may have been killed', it would sound spooky.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

more shakepeare updated


My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

My mistress’ eyes

My mistress’ eyes scan nothing but the 'Sun';
Coral, her six-year-old, is better read;
She’s had a boob-job that was badly done;
Her spiked, pink hair stops traffic far ahead;
At pool, straddling the cloth like Jimmy White,
She shows her thong bisecting heavy cheeks;
Pole-dancing twice a week, as ‘Peach Delight’,
She’s drenched in oils and perfume till she reeks;
Ask her who Stalin was, she’ll say ‘Dunno’ ;
When something good is on she’ll drown the sound
With pointless chat, so that my mind must go
To zombie mode, as on the Underground.
And yet, by heaven, she’s filet mignon, rare,
Since in the sack there’s no one can compare.

Jimmy White: famous snooker player

Friday, January 4, 2008

Sweet girls of youth

Shakespeare: Sonnet 18

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer's lease hath all too short a date.

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,

And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;

Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,

When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Lately I've been re-working (with no comparison possible or intended) some of Shakespeare's sonnets. Sonnet 18 led me to think of the girls of my youth, who seemed (or seem in retrospect) as glamorous and sweet-natured as the Hollywood goddesses I loved. These were the days (the 50's) before sex was political, when girls were rather proud to talk, behave and dress very differently from men; they were courteous even when saying No (as they mostly did, at least to me). I feel nostalgic towards them, while recognising that I'm seeing them partly mythologically; and also towards my own youthful, yearning, shy, lusting self. The mostly unattainable girls merged into my love of poetry, especially the Romantics.
In this re-working I set myself to preserve all of the end-words of the original - apart from slight adaptations (it wouldn't have been easy to write a modern poem with 'grow'st' or 'thee' in it). It created an extra, enjoyable challenge and, by providing set words as stepping-stones, helped me to write it.

Shall I compare you

Shall I compare you all to Doris Day?
You were as feminine and as temperate.
Your kisses lingered like the scent of May.
Sometime, but rarely on an early date,
You’d let me see your heavenly welts, the shine
Of clasps on straps, on soft flesh; but the dim
Recesses which those led to you’d decline
To show, although the hair you did not trim
Might possibly be felt…

But how it fades—
The memory of those girls to whom I owe
So much! They merely live as shades,
Like my young cock, that instantly would grow
Huge from a gleam of curves, wet from the sea,
While Keats or Shelley was entrancing me.

Thursday, January 3, 2008


I came across Alicia Adams in a book of memories by Holocaust survivors. Now an artist in London, she was a young girl in a small Polish town, occupied mostly by Jews, when the Nazis began their 'forest clearances' --herding the population into the forest, getting them to dig their own graves, then machine-gunning them. Her account of the 'tender-hearted' German officer who promised not to kill her with the others, moved me to write the poem Poland 1941: see yesterday's post.

Often painting natural scenes and still-lifes, she has a richly colourful style, a testimony to her unquenchable spirit, after such tragedy. I wish I could reproduce the painting 'Self Portrait' --a tree-- referred to in my poem, but 'Flowers in a window', reproduced above from an exhibition catalogue, gives an indication of its richness. It must seem very mysterious to viewers of the painting why she should regard a tree as her self portrait --unless they know what happened to her, her family and her whole town, in her childhood.
On a frigid, sombre-grey, blustery day here in Cornwall, a day when light has scarcely dawned, I find it reviving to look at Alicia Adams' colourful 'flowers, which have grown from such dark soil.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Poland 1941

On a warm evening, after a forest clearance,
Stress ebbed away. The girl who cleaned for him
Brought him his schnapps outside –also somehow
A purity that touched him, and he said,

‘You’re very nice. I’ll never kill you with
The others.’ Showed her then a flowering tree
Of a rare beauty. ‘I’ll kill you separately
And put you under it.’ As she withdrew,

He thought: ‘I haven’t lost my decent heart.’
By chance she lived; an artist now in London.
The catalogues say ‘born in Poland’, and
When browsers gaze at a rich flowering tree

In her ‘Self Portrait, ‘Childhood Memories’,
They can hear Chopin’s music in her art,
And try to guess the tender memory.

Alicia Adams, sole survivor of 30,000 in her town.

If you smoke, avoid Albania

More gloomy news for the smoker --an almost total ban came into effect yesterday in France. One can smoke only in tightly sealed rooms with sliding doors, and no food or drink can be served. Sartre would be turning in his grave.

Smokers planning holidays would do well to consult Wikipedia's List of Smoking Bans, country by country. Bans are coming into effect almost everywhere; but in many cases they do try to set aside limited, separate areas for smokers, which is all that one asks. Among the most reasonable countries to holiday in appear to be Russia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Portugal and Spain. Spain has fairly strict laws but they are widely disregarded.

England, land of liberty, has a ban that is among the most draconian. Perhaps the fiercest ban is in Albania, where a hot-line allows people to report smoking criminals. (Well, that figures: it's hard to break the addiction to informing on others.)

The sale of tobacco in Scotland has increased by 5% since the smoking ban started there.

By the way, smoking on an open station platform is not breaking the law of England; it's merely a byelaw brought in by the railway companies. Bastards!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Our liberal fascism

At the Turf Tavern in Oxford, just before the smoking ban came in. A 'Times' journalist told a droll story last week. When she'd lit up at a private Christmas party a woman had asked her if she'd mind smoking outside --where it was cold and pouring with rain. The journalist wrote that what galled her particularly was that it was her party in her flat... We live in liberal fascist times. The causes alter, following the zeitgeist, but the dictatorial, interfering, know-it-all mindset stays the same. If Hitler or Stalin had been re-born in the 60's, in Britain, he might now be a New Labour M.P., ending habeas corpus, banning hunting and smoking, setting up millions of CCTV cameras, imposing Health and Safety restrictions and identity cards, and anti-discrimination laws of intimidating vagueness. In a handwritten letter to me, my sister wrote that she had nothing against immigrants so long as they didn't exploit our welfare system-- but then Tippexed it out. She confessed in a phone-call what she had written, and that she'd got scared it might be seen as racist and illegal.
While she had nothing to fear in this instance, it is terrifying that we now have 'hate' laws which are based entirely on someone's interpretation of what we intended. Liberal fascism often seems so benevolent that it's harder to fight against intellectually than Nazism or Communism.

first memories

i have flashes of memory from the second year of my life --and one possibly from six months, though many would say this is impossible; but the memory I write about in the first part of my newish poem The Half-Rhyme is the first in which I have some continuous sense of myself. I was born in January 1935, and it was not yet wartime, so I must have been four. I was aware of anxiety in the voices of my Daddy and some pal of his who had called. Clearly they were talking about whether there'd be war with Germany.

As if on cue, a huge spider, probably a house-spider, tegenaria domestica, crossed the carpet from the adults' direction. A spider's shape is very suggestive of the swastika, though I hardly knew that at the time. It was heading away from me; I got up, intercepted it, and planted my sandal on it. Then quite calmly I peeled it from my sole.

My mother would have been busy in the kitchen, and my sister perhaps in her little bedroom next to mine.

Then I have the first memory of a warm handclasp as my father took me out to wave his friend off. My first remembered speech, and first words from someone else, the word 'Peace', which reassured me. Also, as I looked up, the first memory of stars, a whole skyful of them, and the faint white arching wash of what I later learned was the Milky Way. A moving memory. Summer of 1939 --but would I have been up so late? Perhaps spring '39. In a sense it embraced the extremes of experience --evil, death, murderous aggression, human love and the mysteries of the universe. A very early 'white hotel' experience, you might say.

The Half-Rhyme

The Half-Rhyme

The first word of my father’s I remember
Came on a starlit night, outside our house,
When I was four –sometime before September
Of ’39. The talk had been so serious
Inside, they didn’t see me leave my pouff
To stamp on a spider crossing our lounge floor.
My hand held, as we watched his friend drive off,
I asked him, ‘Daddy, is it peace or war?’
His strong voice calmed me: ‘Peace’.
When he was dying,
My hand-clasp seemed too small a thing to give;
I said, choked up, ‘Maureen is pregnant’, lying,
But desperate to make him want to live.
Struggling against his stroke, he managed, ‘Nice’.
And so we comforted each other, twice.

Exotic woman...

Angela was a hot-looking mid-European lady, for our Boxing Day game, with a voice like Zsa Zsa Gabor's...

Boxing day 07

Around our kitchen table on Boxing Day, in the photo: my son Ross, home from Vancouver; Sorcha my granddaughter; Angus, grandson; me; son Sean; and daughter Caitlin (mother of Sorcha and Angus). My wife, Angela, took the picture. It was great to have all the family together.

Caitlin lives in St.Ives, runs holiday flats and is an amazing mother to Sorcha and Angus. She is writing a memoir. Sean is an author and journalist, and the proud inventor of the word 'toffeewomble'. He has a baby daughter, Lucy. He lives in London when he's not travelling the world. Ross is fighting spam in Vancouver for a large computer company, and has a Russian-American girlfriend. Angela, my wife --and here photographer-- is Canadian and a novelist. We've been married for two years, very happily. She is, as you will spot, a good deal younger than I...

After the meal we dressed up for a murder game. Angus looks every inch the holy man...

Don and family

Happy New Year!

The one new year's resolution I have a chance to keep is this one, to start a blog. Bear with me. Be patient... There will be more.