Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

35 Days hiaitus

I shall continue writing every day but the results won't be posted for a week. I'm off on holiday to Xi-An for six days.

35:Days: 25 April-Poem #13 Lost

He was lost: it felt like hours
since he'd known his way.
He hadn't seen a single soul
to ask where his route lay.
He went one way, then another.
He took this road then that,
but nothing seemed familiar-
he was lost and that was that.
He didn't know which way to go.
The streets all looked the same.
He started to retrace his steps,
go back the way he came.
He saw a lighted window
and went in with a cheer.
The barman said, "Back so soon?"
And poured another pint of beer.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

35 Days: 24 April-Poem #12 The Garden

Another dual purpose poem this time. The inspiring picture was of a pair of weathered hands gently cupping a shoot that was growing from the soil. But today would also be my father's birthday and the picture made me think of him in his healthy days, in his garden. That house belongs to someone else now and last time I went past I could see from the road that they had torn everything he had built and grown down and were in the process of remaking it all in their own style and taste. There was a long, lingering moment of sadness as I realised that a part of him that had remained was now also gone.

I imagine your garden is different now.

They'll have torn down your greenhouse, your shed and your trees.

You built it all up by the sweat of your brow

They'll have made it their own, they'll have done as they please.

Your kingdom expired with your own final breath.

It passed from your hands into hands now unknown.

It could not survive past the day of your death.

Gone now the fruits of the seeds you had sown.

The row of tomato plants lining the fence,

The hydrangea bushes overgrown at the back.

The hawthorn so tangled, so thorny and dense,

Perhaps now all things that the garden will lack.

The shrubs and the climbers, the flowers and the veg

All of it changed now, all of it gone

The lawn and the apple tree, footpath and hedge,

Without their old master could never go on.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

35 Days: 23 April-Poem #11 Maths Facts

The number of seconds from birth until death.

The average time you take drawing a breath.

The shapes of your world in both two- and three-D.

The sum of the series of all you can be.

Differentiate separate parts of the strife.

Integrate them together creating your life.

On the X- and Y-axes you consider the plot

Of your Boolean values with AND, OR and NOT.

Your waking and sleeping draw up on a chart.

Plot the infinite functions of breaking your heart.

And when it's all proven you can add QED

Where they've already carved out a firm RIP.

Monday, 22 April 2013

35 Days: 22 April-Poem #10 Storm

I'm a little unsure about this one. It would almost certainly be better as a prose piece but I was uninspired by the picture for today (of clouds) so I wrote about a true incident when I went for a walk on the South Downs and got caught in the rain.
It's a structural piece but not, I feel, an especially good one.
For what it's worth, here it is.

The morning that had begun warm
turned cooler,
then cloudy,
then showery..

I chose to cut my walk shorter
across the downs
towards the path
along the coast.

The decision was made too late
the rain came
came harder
came heavier

I tried to shelter in the lee
of a bush
at the side
of the path

Then I tried to run for the trees
huddled down
shortest route
dripping wet

And halfway to that better shelter
my phone rang
rang again
and again

And when at last I was there
pressed back
against the bark
under dripping leaves

I called you back with soaking hands
under a tree
in a storm
to just say "hi!"

Sunday, 21 April 2013

35 Days: 21st April Poem #9 -Travellers' Tales

We sat at the broken table

in the wooden hut

at the end of the jetty

and drank beer,

telling tales of travels

until the barman shut

and locked the doors

and drew his own chair near.

Outside the sky turned black

the sea a darker green;

inside the tales grew rambling

and empty bottles mounted.

We waved our arms, drew pictures

with our hands to set the scene

and one by one our stories

were remembered and recounted.

And eventually it grew light again

as we had filled the night

with all our separate tales

and filled each ale-fogged head

with recollections of our pasts

and of other pasts that might

not have been our own but

which held a common thread.

And with the light we rose

and went on our different ways

to different unknown futures

from our different lives.

The momentary conjugation

that had joined our common days

had broken with the dawn,

though a lifetime later, the memory survives.

Saturday, 20 April 2013


Just so that people know, I do not live anywhere near the Sichuan province where today there was a devastating earthquake that has left more than 100 people dead. My city of Baiyin is in an earthquake zone but at the moment everything here is stable.

35 Days: 20 April-Poem #8 - Creatures of the Depths

I'm not really sure about today's poem. The picture prompt was a painting of some of the weird creatures that live in the deepest parts of the ocean but my metaphorical use seems a little contrived to me.

There are creatures in the depths that I cannot comprehend,

that are alien to me with lives I can't pretend

I shall ever understand no matter how I try.

I shall simply shake my head with a loud despairing sigh.


There are creatures in the depths that are strangers to the light

that are mysterious and different to any that I might

be able to explain by a deeper contemplation.

I shall simply shake my head and admit my admiration.


There are creatures in the depths that are quite beyond belief,

and though I catch a fleeting glance it simply is too brief

to form a good hypothesis of the nature of their lives.

I shall simply shake my head with a wonder that survives.


There are creatures in the depths, there are creatures in the dark

of whom I know so little it is folly to remark

that these things called "women" are a species far removed.

I shall simply shake my head till their benevolence is proved.

Friday, 19 April 2013

35 Days: 19 April-Poem #7- A Box of Rainbows

There are pictures on the pages

but they're all in black and white.

Here's a picture of a dragon

who is menacing a knight.

On the next page there are flowers,

on the next page, it's a cat.

Here's another of a sailing boat

and a donkey in a hat.

She chooses one to colour

(a fine and handsome fox)

and selects an orange pencil

from her rainbow in a box.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

35 Days: 18 April-Poem #6- Rainbow In The Water

The city does not move.

It is black and fixed and firm

against the twilight grey,

but it pours bright rainbows

that twist and turn and squirm

into the waters of the bay.

Well, that's different #7: Funeral

I don't know much about Chinese funeral traditions but for the past few days I have been observing them from the window of my apartment. Someone in the apartment block on the opposite side of the courtyard has recently died and things have been very different to the way they would have been in England.
Several days ago two large tents were erected in the courtyard between the apartment blocks with their entrances facing each other. They were painstakingly covered with circular decorations about four feet across in the brightest of bright colours.
For three days there have been people in them and between them, sitting smoking, eating, drinking and gambling. Most of them have been dressed in sombre clothing but a few have had unusual white or off white tunics that have covered their heads and hung down their backs, fastened at the waist with belts. This garb is traditionally worn by the children and children's spouses of hte deceased.

This has continued day and night with no breaks.

Yesterday a coffin appeared and it was quite a sight. It was not the typical rather plain wooden coffin that we would use but a brightly coloured, garish even, coffin that was laid out between the two tents. The other activities continued unabated with even more people arriving and joining in. Aparently the fact that the coffin was in the courtyard rather than the home indicates that the deceased was away from home when he died.

This morming, in a loud burst of fire crackers it was removed and all the people followed. A few remained behind removing the decorations and, eventually, the tents. When I returned to my apartment after morning classes it was as if nothing had ever been there.

I don't know whether this is fully traditional or purely local or entirely idiosyncratic. It matches in broad detail some of the things I have read on the internet about Chinese funeral traditions but differs in many of the specifics.

The gambling, for example, is very traditional, apparently helping to keep guard on the house. It is supposed to help the guards stay awake during their vigil and bring them comfort and solace.

It has been interesting to watch and my internet researches have also thrown up one or two other things that seem odd to us.

For example in Chinese culture and elder family member cannot show respect to a tounger one so that people older than the deceased do not usually take part in the mourning and children who die are buried with very little ceremony as it would involve such respect being shown.

Also all colours are allowed to the mourners except red as this colour would bring misfortune on the family though traditionally the closest family wear black and the grandchildren wear blue.

It all seemed very different from when my father died but when I think about it the British traditions of laying out floral tributes in the garden of the deceased, the funeral procession, the wake back at the house or in the pub after the burial, must also seem odd to foreigners.

It's been an interesting few days observation.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

35 Days: 17 April-Poem #5- Yellow

yellow as the sunflower that apes the yellow sun

yellow as the egg-yolk that splits and starts to run

yellow as the school bus that takes the children home

yellow as the amber of my mother's favourite comb

yellow as canaries singing in the trees

yellow as the corn and yellow as the cheese

yellow as a swallowtail upon a summer flower

yellow as a lemon drop its taste so sharp and sour

yellow as the buttercups uncounted in the fields

and yellow as the gold that the rainbow has concealed

yellow as the lemon with its bitterness within

yellow as the jaundice that creeps across his skin

The Best Laid Plans

I had plans for summer.  Friends were going to visit. We were going to Beijing, Xi'An and Shanghai.
They fell through.
Plans have a way of doing that. That's why I had a plan B.
Same plan, different friends.
That fell through too.

Trouble was I had no plan C and much as I like my apartment here in Baiyin the option of spending eight weeks in it didn't appeal.

So I've signed up to teach a summer course. No summer holiday for me.

That's the bad news. The good news is that it's in Yangshou and it's four hours a day with weekends off with food and accomodation provided. Just like summer school back in England.

Well. At least I have a plan now.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

35 Days: 16 April-Poem #4- The Last Place

Somewhere there is a wild place

that none have ever seen,

where the sapphire of the lake

laps against the emerald green.

Black mountains striped with snow

circle round the shore.

Deer drink the cooling water.

Above the eagles soar.

No man has set foot here

and no man ever will.

It is the final secret place

that lies beyond the hill.

No human eyes beheld it.

No skin has felt its breeze

or sheltered from the noon sun

beneath its towering trees.

There must always be a last place

that none have ever seen

remembering the world

as, perhaps, it might have been.

Monday, 15 April 2013

35 Days: 15 April-Poem #3- Bright Lines And Dark

Today would be my mother's birthday if she were still here so the poem is dual purpose. It is both based on one of the picture prompts in my 35 Days project and another memorial poem (I do two every year, for my father and my mother).

Bright Lines and Dark

 The clicking of a stick upon the ground

behind me as I walk to the shops.

A face that, in its contours,

resembles yours.

Fish cakes at a dinner party

the way you made them.

Cliff Richard on the radio

"I like him," I hear you say.

An amber teardrop pendant in a shop window

like the one you lost.

A smell of lilac in the park -

you sleep in a chair in our old garden.

A folded wheelchair

in the corner of the pharmacy.

A few raindrops spatter against the window:

umbrellas in funereal black.

Lines, bright and dark,

join me to the past.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

35 Days: 14 April-Poem #2 - The Day The Sun Set

I remember the rocks

a hundred feet below

the cliff top path

where we waited

palm to palm

in the salt wind.


I remember the ocean

every swell and blow,

pink within grey,

as sunset created

phantom veins

beneath its shifting skin.


I remember your breath

as the cold encompassing air,

made visible

your silent sighs,

revealed wistfulness

and secret dreaming.


I remember darkness

the sun no longer there,

taking with its fire

the light from your eyes

and leaving love's

single final gleaming.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

35 Days: 13 April-Poem #1 - Bubbles


Sometimes I think there is no surface to be breached;

that the ocean is infinite above me and infinite below me.

Sometimes I think there is no destination to be reached;

that the future and the past alike have naught to show me.

Sometimes I think that every word of meaning in the world,

is a word that other voices have already spoken.

Sometimes I think these bubbles that enclose our lives-

these surface tension spheres - cannot be burst or broken.

Sometimes I think these random, dancing interactions

as we jostle side by side have deeper matter.

But sometimes I think we are no more than teeming water

in which the bubbles touch only briefly, and then scatter.


I have stalled on my poetry writing recently so I am doings a new project 35 days – 35 poems. It's one of those writing exercises people do to get unblocked.

To this end I have done a random search for stock images on the internet and picked, more or less at random 35 of them. For the next 35 days I will be selecting an image a day and writing a poem inspired by it. The images are intentionally diverse and hopefully will produce some good new work.

As the images are only there to kick of my mental processes the final results may have little or nothing obvious in the way of connection with them. So the poems will be presented here without the images.

If you already have my email please feel free to comment. If not, sorry. Comments are closed on the blog for reasons already mentioned.

The next post will be poem #1.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Well, that's different #6 : Blessing in disguise?

Today being tomb sweeping day we are not at school. Instead I have been for a day out. I have a private student who has been asking me for over a year to go out and visit his family who live in one of the smaller provincial villages. So today I agreed. It was a nice trip. I met both his sets of grandparents and even though they live in a tiny place that would be a one horse town if only they had a horse they are clearly prosperous as they live in two rather nice houses. We also had a pleasant walk along the river and a couple of visits to temples.
At one of the temple visits I witnessed a most bizarre spectacle.
The old man who seemed to be in charge decided to bless our car. I have seen these blessings carried out before but always on people. Two men carry a wooden relic box around the subject and wave it about above him (or her) while a priest looks on.
The ritual was almost the same for the car. I say almost because it varied in one significant respect. That old man, who had a white beard and no teeth, scurried off and came back with a bottle of the local firewater, an evil concoction called Baijiu.
He proceded to open all the car doors and then circle the vehicle taking swigs from the bottle which he proceded to spit with great force all over the seats, the dashboard and anything else that he could reach. When he had finished, satisfied with a good job, he took a final gulp, shook everyon'es hands and wandered back up the steps into the temple.
It was, as I say, very bizarre.
And the car stank of alcohol all the way back.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Well, that's different #5: Street Games


There's a scene that crops up in American TV shows and movies as diverse as Friends and Psych, The Rockford Files and Independence Day, that I wonder about every time I see it. I guarantee you have all seen it in something, no matter what your taste in entertainment. It's the scene where the hero wanders down to the park to find someone and there are lots of old men sitting around playing chess. Whoever he is looking for is usually busily involved in a game.

It always makes me wonder if this is an accurate depiction of something that is commonplace in the US or just something that is commonplace on the screen.

I can say with certainty that it's not something that I have ever encountered in the UK and my highly scientific straw poll of two other people indicates that they have never seen it either.

The reason I mention it now is that in China it isn't just commonplace, it's ubiquitous. My walk to school in the morning is a couple of hundred yards. It takes under five minutes if you include the five flights of stairs from my apartment to the street. On that walk I will rarely pass fewer than three groups of men sitting around a table on the pavement playing. Sometimes they are playing Chinese Chess, sometimes cards, sometimes Mahjong and sometimes a strange and inexplicable game with long thin cards with mysterious writing on them. They are always playing something.

You see it in the parks, outside the shops and on every street corner.

And, unlike the version in American programs, this is no sedate and thoughtful battle of the wits. This is a lively and animated pastime. They slam the pieces down onto the board with vigour. The chess pieces are heavy, round, wooden discs about two inches across that are pounded onto the board with the force of a pile driver. The mahjong tiles rattle as loud as a train going by. Even the cards hit the table with a violent slap of the hand. And all of it is accompanied by shouts of triumph as the winner exults in his victory.

Moreover every game gathers a crowd of eager spectators, avidly watching the action and cheering and groaning along with the fortunes of the players.

It's one of the typical scenes of daily life in China that I have never seen anywhere else. Definitely something different.