Sunday, 13 December 2015

{I've received so many of these this year from obnoxious friends and relatives describing round-the world trips, safaris in Africa and glittering personal achievements, so I thought I'd reply with one of my own.}


A Christmas round robin letter from the Davey Family!!


Hi All !!

It's been a totally amazing year for the Davey family! So here's a quick rundown of all the daft, crazy, whacky things we've been up to in 2015!

Back in January we bought a new tumble drier! Yay!! It's brilliant! It gets the soggiest garment dry in no time at all. In fact, it's so effective that I once took a pair of shorts out and bunged them straight on (I tend to go "Commando" with summer shorts) not realising how hot the zipper gets! Yikes!! My other half couldn't think what all the screaming was about! I'm still bearing the scar!

 
Our amazing new tumble dryer!!
 
 
In March my mother-in-law Pat, who's 96 and normally rather low-key socially, suddenly decided to throw a surprise 90th birthday party for her friend Hazel Bevis, which really was a surprise for Hazel since her birthday's in July. Nonetheless she entered into the spirit of things with gusto, blowing out one of her nine candles (one for each decade) while we all sang Happy Birthday to You! She was so excited by the whole occasion that she passed out and we had to call an ambulance!! I shouldn't laugh really, but I just can't help myself, it was all so ridiculous! The lovely paramedics came and pumped her full of oxygen and she was fine, so happy endings all round then!!
 
The highpoint of April was when I had someone's finger up my bum! No, really! Before your filthy minds get carried away with the idea, let me hastily add that the finger in question belonged to my GP who was giving me what's tastefully known as a DRE (Digital Rectal Examination). He was so astonished by what his digit discovered up there that he immediately sent me off to a urologist who stuck HIS finger up my bum (My poor bottom!!) I have to say, though, that having his finger up my bum was a lot pleasanter than the GP's (not that having ANYONE'S finger up one's bum is ever pleasant, I hasten to add VERY EMPHATICALLY!!) - just relatively so. I was then sent off to Eastbourne for an MRI scan which was quite fun since it was performed by this stunningly beautiful Asian radiologist who asked me in dark, sultry tones if I'd emptied my bladder recently. As I was lying nervously on the slab waiting for the machine to swallow me up, she suddenly thrust her hand deep inside my pocket and I thought for one wonderful moment that she wanted to have her wicked way with me! It turned out that a 5p piece had got stuck in the lining of my trousers and was driving the machine crazy!!
 
But enough of that rather distasteful subject. What else? Oh yes, I was summoned to do a massive stint of Jury Service in July and August (BOR-ING!) so we didn't actually get away on hols this year, though we did go to a funeral in Oxfordshire which was fun. Speaking of funerals, my neighbour Alan Goodrich died of a massive heart attack while watching a murder mystery called 'Rosemary and Thyme'. I've never seen it myself but apparently it features two very annoying ladies who are supposed to be gardeners but spend most of their time investigating very unlikely murders where the killer's signature style might be, for example, to stuff his victim in a rhubarb forcer with a marigold stuck in his privates. Not that that's relevant to poor old Alan's unfortunate demise, of course. I feel so sorry for him because he's now got to go through all eternity not knowing who did it!!
 
Oh, and we went on a long weekend to Norfolk where we saw this hilarious sign!!
 
 
 
We just couldn't stop laughing! So English!!
 
Oh, and we also visited Wenlock Abbey where we saw this AMAZING topiary in the shape of Basil Brush!!
 


 
Another high point of the year was when we took mother-in-law to see a very energetic performance of 'Hamlet' by the ubiquitous Benedict Cumberbatch on live stream. Her comment in the interval was that it was 'a bit gloomy'. Her other comment was that the dress Ophelia was wearing during the mad scene 'didn't do anything for her at all'. When Lyndy remarked that the poor girl had been driven insane, she replied pointedly, 'Just because you're melancholic doesn't mean you have to look a mess'. Her generation had standards, even when you're committing suicide!!
 
 
My whacky mother-in-law being taken on a "church crawl" which she loves!
 
So that's about it really! Our amazingly beautiful and talented children continue to go from strength to strength in their chosen professions. Joe is still in China, teaching and doing Tai Chi and writing a hilarious novel called 'The Legend of Frogfish' which I, for one, think is a masterpiece. Kitty is an English teacher in Battle. They both have lovely partners but we don't have any grandchildren yet. We do have a grand-cocker-spaniel, though, called Archie, who belongs to Kitty and her partner Ben, who we look after frequently (Archie, not Ben!!) and which brings us constant joy - though he does have some dietary issues which make him a little aromatic at times, but then I'm sure grandchildren have those too.

So it just remains for me to wish everyone an AMAZING Christmas and a happy, prosperous and, above all, peaceful New Year!!

XXXXX


 
A freezing Kitty under a "Mr Whippy" cloud!
 
Joe attempting to strangle two lovely Chinese people - a rather worrying tendency he's developed.
 
 
Archie, our surrogate grandchild!
 
 

Monday, 7 December 2015








Winter, Fairfield Church

 

Darkness deepening

enshrines

each grain of plaster dust

the dead cranefly on the window sill

 

Driving rain

and wind rumbling

enfold

what man has left for God

in unstained glass and glimpses

over wide ripples

into emptiness



Saturday, 28 November 2015





December, Fawley Down


From here
the downs look flat

their cold lines
converge on Liddington

one strip of pink
beneath a roof of cloud

these hills know
that snow is coming

even now
the earth folds in upon itself

no sound
of birds


Sunday, 22 November 2015

 
 
 
DOING A JIMMY
(Thoughts on ‘Spectre’ and the wonderful world of James Bond)
 
My wife and I sometimes partake of a pleasurable activity known as ‘Doing a Jimmy’. This isn't Cockney slang for a bodily function but our pet name for watching a James Bond film. It derives from a very silly offering back in the sixties when Woody Allen - cashing in on Bondmania - played a spoof character called Jimmy Bond.
Whenever we do a Jimmy, we always take care to do it ‘ironically’, thereby maintaining our moral and intellectual superiority while compromising none of our enjoyment. If we do it late at night in the privacy of our own home, things often get a bit out of hand with whoops and cheers of delight as our hero sends a carful of baddies plunging over a cliff, or howls of playful derision as – having dispatched the evil villain to oblivion – he tosses off some remark like, ‘It’s a pity he couldn’t keep his head in a crisis’.   
Much as we love our Jimmys, we seldom actually pay good money for one. Last Saturday was an exception. The weather was frightful, my 97 year old mother-in-law was making us feel guilty (as usual) for 'never taking her anywhere' and my wife’s nephew was nobly enduring a two day stay in a town with as much social life as an abandoned cemetery. So we caved in and all set off to our local Kino to check out ‘Spectre’ – the latest and much-hyped slice of Bondage.
I won’t give away the plot or bore everyone with a review. Suffice it to say that it was all rather splendid on the big screen (especially the train tootling across the desert into the sunset) and very "authentic" except for one or two little lapses, like when our hero suddenly acquires an aeroplane from nowhere (as you do) in order to pursue the villain down a mountain pass; and when he hands his evening suit to a guard on a train saying, ‘Will you press that for me, please?’ I’m going to try that next time I’m on the Hastings-Brighton line. 
Afterwards, over tea and cake, the analysis began. My mother-in-law, as usual, was the most outspoken, proclaiming that Craig Douglas’ suits were too ‘nippy’ (she meant Daniel Craig, of course) and that the heroine was too young for him, as though, instead of the customary carnal quickie, they were planning to settle down together in a cottage in the Cotswolds. Her best contribution was, ‘I’d never be able to make love after killing all those people – I’d be too exhausted’. I’m not sure which of the two scenarios suggested by that remark is more alarming. 
Despite having been an ardent Jimmy fan for more than half a century, I’ve become increasingly aware of the awkwardness of the character in the contemporary world – especially now, when directors take such delight in their hero’s tangled personal back-story. Are we supposed to take him as a two-dimensional cardboard cut-out or just a little bit seriously? If so, one cannot help wondering at the emotional content of an apparently friendless and family-less existence devoted to indiscriminate slaughter, witty one-liners and a string of meaningless copulations? Ian Fleming, a product of the wealthy upper classes who was hewn in wartime intelligence, gave birth to Bond more than sixty years ago, publishing the first novel, ‘Casino  Royale’, in 1953. This was the age of chisel-jawed wartime heroes like Biggles and Bulldog Drummond – the sort of chaps who were more concerned with zapping jerries than with their inner emotional complexities–so Bond seemed comparatively well rounded, not to say glamorous and colourful in those days of post-war austerity. I clearly remember finding a thumbed copy of ‘Dr No’, discarded by my elder brother, at the awkward age of twelve, and it was like finding the entrance to Aladdin’s cave. As a painfully slow dyslexic reader I had only ever made it through ‘Treasure Island’ and ‘Black Beauty’ and James Bond proved to be my unlikely guide into literature. The books were so readable, so pacey and exciting with their exotic characters and sunny locations and, best of all, those beautiful women with ‘breasts’ (I’d never heard the term before) who actually made love to our hero (something of which Biggles, I am sure, would have heartily disapproved.)
Surprisingly, despite his glamour, Bond did not make it onto the screen until nearly ten years later, with ‘Dr No’, starring rugged, lishpy and flarey-nostrilled Sean Connery – then unknown but now every granny’s favourite Jimmy. Yet the world was changing by then and James Bond already seemed out of step with it. Under his stylish exterior, he embodied patriotism, Empire, the class system, the old order – all the things sixties popular culture was trying to sweep away – and his condescending attitude to women was hardly in tune with the budding cause of feminism. Also, of course, he tended to kill people – which didn't sit too well with flower power and all those anti-war sentiments of peace and love – relaxing afterwards with the perfect Martini (shaken not stirred) while the rest of the world was pulverising its brains with pot. Judi Dench, as a new and alarmingly female ‘M’ in ‘Goldeneye’, famously calls Pierce Brosnan’s Bond a ‘sexist misogynist dinosaur’ but the truth is that dear old Jimmy was a bit of a sexist misogynist dinosaur from the very start.
Every decade since the sixties has been different and Jimmy has managed to remain out of sync with all of them. It’s interesting how different actors and directors dealt with this problem. Roger Moore of the quizzically arching eyebrows did it by hamming Bond up into almost a comic character - a technique which worked quite well at first but eventually got so silly as to make the films unwatchable (with giant winking fishes and groan-inducing lines like ‘Something just came up’.) Under Pierce Brosnan, Bond went off into the realms of fantasy with invisible cars, ice palaces at the North Pole and Korean gentlemen turning themselves into Toby Stevens with the help of very talented plastic surgeons.
I’ve noticed in the Daniel Craig films that Bond’s failure to keep in step with the ‘real’ world has not so much been glossed over as cleverly incorporated into the character - and this, ironically, is a reward for his longevity. Once Her Majesty’s obedient, if somewhat unruly, servant, he has become the loose cannon, the rogue operator, disobeying orders and doggedly doing things the good old-fashioned way while his masters tie themselves up in diplomacy, bureaucracy and political correctness. Having saved the world, of course, he always gets the last laugh, the grudging approval of his superiors and the girl. He has turned himself into the trusty old maverick who reminds us of basic values and a simpler, rosier world that never really existed – a kind of Jeremy Corbyn of covert operations.  
Then there’s that other interesting evolution – that of the ‘Bond girl’. In the early films the Bond girl was little more than Jimmy’s decorative but helpless appendage who depended entirely on his manly strength and resourcefulness for her survival and who, once the world had been saved, could be happily bonked and binned with tearful acceptance of the inevitable. In the latter films the Bond girl (though still stunning of course) has become deeper, more serious (she has a degree), more distinctive and self-reliant. In a good light she could almost be mistaken for a real person. There is also the suggestion that Jimmy has grown deeper in his relationships – there’s some pain, some anguish, a bit of baggage, and the suggestion that the impossibility of a lasting relationship (mainly because he’s got a new film to make) is causing him mild regret.
Which brings me to my own contribution to the tea and cake analysis of ‘Spectre’ – one which left my audience agog with admiration at my film buffness. It was the idea that it was not so much plagiarising the other Jimmys as nodding affectionately in their direction. The Day of the Dead was straight out of ‘Live and Let Die’, the sexy (and completely ridiculous) train ride across the desert ‘From Russia with Love’, and, most blatant of all (though you’d need to be a nonagenarian to spot it), Jimmy and the heroin’s abduction to Blofeld’s desert hideout where an unctuous minion greets them with, ‘We’re so glad you’ve arrived safely. Your host is expecting you for cocktails at six.’ The words winged me wistfully back over half a century to that well-thumbed paperback I read at the age of twelve – Dr No. His adversary, ever thoughtful, had even had a dress laid out on the heroine’s bed just as Dr No’s jolly ‘housekeeper’ did for Honey Ryder (since she’d turned up in nothing but that world-famous white bikini which propelled a generation of teenage boys into manhood). It was almost as though Jimmy was rounding things off, summing things up and – dare I suggest it? – saying goodbye.
At the end of 'Spectre', Jimmy has Blofeld wounded and defenceless in his power and he does something completely unexpected and rather beautiful to him (I won’t say what) before strolling off into the (proverbial) sunset with the girl. Into what future? That cottage in the Cotswold, being brought his afternoon tea and slippers by a woman thirty years his junior? I think not. A man who has saved the world more times than most of us have had hot dinners will not be so easily terminated. Those hints of finality in ‘Spectre’ will turn out to be just a tease and James Bond will rise again in a new and ever more splendid incarnation – as he always does – so my lovely wife and I can carry on doing our Jimmys all the way to the telly lounge in the old people’s home.         


Saturday, 14 November 2015

 
 

I have recently published a new novel, ‘Marielle’. It is set in Paris in the present day (or rather, about the turn of the millennium which was when I started it) and concerns a prosperous fifty-year-old dentist whose marriage has run into problems. Sadly it has not been published by a publisher as a print edition (I’m still trying!) but is available on Amazon Kindle and Kindle apps.
As always, I had trouble with the cover. Covers on e-books, it seems to me, are quite different to those on printed books in bookshops. Though often very beautiful, they are generally less subtle, more explicit and more directly related to the book's content. I tend instinctively to veer towards the former sort, which is probably why my sales are so low.
With ‘Marielle’ I was completely stumped. All the photos I had of Paris (whether they featured the Eiffel Tower or some bohemian back street in Montmartre) somehow looked corny. Also, the action of this novel moves away from the Paris of the tourists. Then I remembered staying in Senlis in 2007 and travelling by train to the Gard du Nord through the northern suburbs. This is the poor part of Paris – the equivalent of the London's East End before it was yuppified – with a very high immigrant population, mostly from France’s former colonies in North and Central Africa. It is also, to me, the graffiti capital of the world. Every wall, every door, every bridge, every girder and every junction box seems to be covered with it – some in the most incredibly inaccessible places – and there is no better way to view it than from the train.
As an artist, graffiti has always fascinated me – not obscenities scribbled on lavatory walls but the real thing. The idea that ordinary, poor, disadvantaged people should spend hours creating those lavish, complex, witty and often beautiful images knowing they’ll receive no financial reward or approbation from the art world, must testify to an extraordinary creative energy underlying the surface of these deprived areas. Of course, I’m aware that this underground, alternative art world has its own stars, its own heroes and some of them, such as Banksy, have finally been embraced into the ‘real’ art world. Street art has become fashionable but only on the surface. The real body of work is still subversive.
So I finally decided, what the hell? I’d use some of it as the cover for ‘Marielle’. The piece I chose looks quite effective, I thought. The thumbnail looks like a fire and it’s only when you open it that you realise it’s graffiti. It’s the sort of graffiti I like – colourful and textural, a bit messy and not too neat and clever. As a book cover people will probably either love it or hate it – mostly hate, I should imagine. Ah well! 
 
 

Sunday, 1 November 2015

 
 
My dear old Volvo, about to incur a parking fine in the charming Norfolk market town of Fakenham
 
 
 
 

 MYSTERIES AND MIRACLES
 
This post was inspired by two recent events in my life. The first was the unlocking of my ageing Volvo from a distance of about thirty yards using the remote control button on the key (normally you have to be more like six inches away) and the second was a funeral.
First the unlocking thing: nothing remarkable about that, you might think – you, I, everybody does it a dozen times a day, every day, without a second thought. Yet if I were to travel back in time (taking my Volvo and its key with me) and demonstrate that feat to my five-year-old self, that scruffy little self would be utterly gobsmacked. It would seem like a miracle – a real miracle – not just some trick which seems baffling until you’re shown how it’s done, like when my great-uncle Lorny made his teeth disappear, horrifying us children until we were told by my mother that he wore dentures and had simply removed them. It would seem miraculous because it employed forces which weren’t fully understood and couldn’t be harnessed to our uses at that time. Yet remotely unlocking a car, using a mobile, having this blog post simultaneously ignored by millions of people all over the planet actually employs forces as natural and logical as that which makes an apple fall from a tree and which are now as familiar to us as the falling of said apple. Most of us still don’t understand them, of course, but we’re prepared to accept that somebody in some hi-tech factory does and to place our lives more and more trustingly in their hands. Those forces are not really miraculous at all. Or are they?
As to the funeral, it took place in the very tasteful chapel of a crematorium but was a first for me as it turned out to be a ‘humanist’ funeral. The charming old lady in the coffin – my aunt-in-law – was not a Christian and nor were her family, so it seemed inappropriate to give her a Christian send-off. Nonetheless, I found it all rather disconcerting at first, as I leafed through the order of service wondering which hymns they’d chosen and finding only a recording of something by Enya – the musical equivalent of very rich chocolate cake covered in honey and topped off with a dollop of syrup. Now, to me a funeral just isn’t a funeral without a few of those dreadful dirges delivered in that agonised, tuneless warble of which we English are such masters before being informed  by a beaming vicar that the deceased is being embraced into the love of Christ. For someone raised and educated in the Christian tradition there’s something familiar and reassuring about it even if, like me, you’re a bit lapsed in the old Christianity department. The proceedings were conducted by a very energetic gentleman who described himself as a ‘humanist minister’ and, though he fulfilled his task with warmth, dignity and feeling, he seemed a little vague as to the destination (spiritually-speaking) to which we were dispatching the deceased – not surprisingly, since it’s a subject which invokes vagueness in most of us.
It seemed to me, thinking about it afterwards, that my Christian education and upbringing had presented me with a view of life and death in which our time on earth in human form – subject as we are to the laws of nature – is somehow very material, very pot-bound, very limited and limiting and, of course, all tied up with the idea that we are born sinful. I’ve noticed that the clergy keep a bit quiet about original sin these days as it’s not a very good selling point for Christianity but nonetheless it’s always there, lurking in the background. Images like dust and ashes, common clay and mortal coils abound in the scriptures, and the spirit – which is capable of eternal life – is seen as separate, and separable, from the body which ages, dies and decays. The true life of the spirit which awaits us is something we can only glimpse occasionally beyond our corporeal confinement, through little gaps and apertures – ‘We see through a glass darkly… ’ as St Paul – Jesus’ tireless PR man – wrote to the Corinthians. We achieve eternal life by having faith in the miracle of divine grace. I believe that – particularly with my generation – this is a perception which is deeply embedded in the psyche even of those who claim to have intellectually outgrown religion.
Yet it seems to me that this life, this earth, this universe, is the miracle. The evidence of that is all around us, from the bursting of a seed in spring to the remote unlocking of my ancient Volvo. If an apple detached itself from a tree and went upwards instead of downwards, it might be seen as a miracle, but the fact that it falls to the ground is the real miracle, the fact that the earth and moon and stars and galaxies are bound together in an eternal dance by a force called gravity which is turning out to be stranger than anyone could have imagined.
Human beings will always explore, research and endeavour to explain the unexplainable then harness some of those explanations to practical uses. If my grandchildren or greatgrandchildren (not that I have any yet, I hasten to add) could travel back from fifty or a hundred years in the future, the tricks they could show me would seem mind-bogglingly miraculous to me. Teleporting? Taking a three-hour Ryanair flight to Mars using a wormhole while one’s luggage lands up on Venus? Who knows? Yet mysteries will always remain, even for them. No discovery will ever provide the final answer, only lead on to new questions. Every child of every generation has looked up at the stars and wondered what ultimately happens ‘out there’. How can the universe just go on and on forever – billions upon billions of light years of it? Yet there cannot be some sort of boundary, some perimeter fence around the universe or – even if there could – what would lie beyond that? No one – child or professor of astrophysics armed with a Higgs Boson – can get their head around it (however much they claim they can), yet it now seems to me, at the ripe old age of 65, that it’s fitting that we can’t. It is a mystery and that is how it should remain because mysteries are good.
So what about the destination of the dear old lady disappearing behind the tastefully closing curtains in the crematorium? On the drive home from the funeral, my wife said, ‘I do hope I don’t go to Heaven because I can’t face spending all eternity being criticised by your mother.’ I suggested that things probably didn’t work like that but I wasn’t speaking with any authority. The truth is I have no idea what happens when we die and, to me, anyone who claims to know – and to force that knowledge on others – is not only crassly stupid but guilty of the most dangerous and despicable form of religious dogmatism. Then again, if this earth, and this life, is miraculous, maybe we are not simply extinguished. Maybe something else – something quite unexpected and even rather amazing happens – like my unlocking my Volvo from thirty yards away. Who knows? We just have to have faith in miracles – which should not be difficult since they’re all around us.               




COLD


  Cold

the sense of never knowing

how another sees; though each human eye

can fold about the stars, project

a kind of homespun order on the void,

and though our features flow

in other veins, still

remains the chill sense

that, even skin to skin, a space divides us wider

than the sky; is this shade of blue

your shade of green, my world 

your world? Each child alone in darkness,

father, daughter, son

conjoined by love while every sight and scent

is formed by memories of what alone is ours,

  cold

frightening 

 

Sunday, 25 October 2015






IF WE MOVE TOWARDS ETERNITY


If we move towards eternity
eternity is not
here, in blazing finches' wings
in thistledown

If we move towards eternity
eternity is not within
each stone, each drifting seed
nor turn of tide and time, the seasons
turning ever on themselves

If we move towards eternity
eternity does not endow
the planet's poise, the slow majestic round
of sun and moon

If we move towards eternity
eternity is not within
each moment we are here, now
alone and not alone.


Thursday, 1 October 2015

 
 
 
 
Near the Windmill, Winchelsea
 
 
Bone hard the earth this autumn
rattle
of the wind through blown
thistles


balm
for burning grass
but not the long-awaited cold
rain


clatter
of the wings
of dragonflies



Sunday, 27 September 2015





IN OLD ROMNEY CHURCH

The clock beats, leafy shadows wave
upon a sunlit wall; can all of human history be held
within one moment of a summer's afternoon?
The clock's beat
which bore our planet out of emptiness
will bear it back again - the clouds, the trees,
the birds chattering beyond the window-pane;
yet, growing older, time
is crossed and recrossed constantly with hints
of something else, imbued by every scent and texture
of this ancient place; experience
and dreams, and memories
and new experience attained through art
are more real to me now
than time and space
and shadows of reality we move among


 

Sunday, 5 July 2015




Memories of the Marlborough Downs


Sometimes in memory I see
those boundless skylines, hilltop woods and distant knots of trees
whose echoes linger on the sky,
a rutted road
receding over folding hills
beneath a baking sun.

And as the memory expands and breathes I see
an afternoon progressing through the hours of heat,
a golden haze upon the stippled corn, a silence counterpointed only
by the song of skylarks and the drone of bees
and all the creatures which abound
among the stalks.

Yet, reaching back, the memory grows weak
as I attempt to see the evening and the setting sun
bestow a ray of gold on every bush, on every leaf,
the haze dispersing - colours, textures, shapes of sun and shadow growing sharper,
more distinct. The dots of trees along the farthest ridge,
the flawless downs, the hilltop camps arranged in cosmic silence seem to gain
a power greater even than before and, for an instant, all of time
is held within a point of timelessness.

Yet memory alone cannot retain
what moved, so long ago, through head and heart and feet, I just recall,
as clouds process across the western sky,
a breath of hope.   




Washmore Hill, June


The wind moves
unhindered on these open, empty hills,
its ripples, tides and currents
echoed in the convolutions of the turning corn,
now deepest green is swept with silver grey
and warmer green with russet, russet gold
and gold with cream. The downs are swirling,
seething like the sea, awaiting harvest when the earth
is still






Sunday, 21 June 2015


The Curse of “Genre”


A scourge of the twenty-first century is the need for everything to be pigeon-holed. Political campaigners divide us up according to how we are likely to vote, advertisers break us down into socio-economic target groups the better to sell us their products, our three-year old children are tested to see whether they are more suited to careers in the arts or the sciences.

Nowhere is this more rife than in book publishing. Every author who has ever filled out a submission form to a publisher or agent will have encountered the question ‘Genre?’ Is your book a thriller? Is it a romance? Is it chick-lit? Is it historical? Is it sci-fi? Is it erotica? Or does it, by virtue of a reference to God, post-modernism or Jean-Paul Sartre, qualify for that all-embracing and meaningless label ‘literary’. Again, it’s all to do with pigeon-holing, or ‘product placement’ as it’s known in the trade. The publishing industry is about flogging books – nothing more. That’s how publishers and agents pay their mortgages.  Whatever breathless claims they make on their websites about being on the lookout for something ‘fresh and original’, the truth is that ‘fresh and original’ is the last thing they want unless it’s freshness and originality that can be fitted neatly into an established and marketable genre. Genuine freshness and originality – something which breaks a few boundaries and takes us out of our comfort zone – is a market uncertainty and to be avoided at all costs.

This trend is understandable in a world where marketing of every kind has become so aggressive and competitive but it is nonetheless destructive and frustrating for authors. Genuinely talented writers want to write about real life in all its breadth and glory but real life is too big, too vital, too organic and too unpredictable to be squeezed into the straightjacket of a ‘genre’. So many authors must stare at that question in the submissions form and wonder what the hell to put.  Okay, there’s a romance but it’s not really a romantic novel; there are some intense and beautifully handled love-scenes but anyone expecting ‘erotica’ (i.e. graphic and perverted pornography which the term has sadly come to denote) is going to be disappointed. There are some tantalizingly unanswered questions to entice the reader on but it’s not really a ‘thriller’ in the conventional sense or even a ‘mystery’.  And there are some deliciously funny scenes but to call it a ‘comedy’ would be to give the wrong impression entirely. So in the end they just shrug hopelessly and put ‘literary’, knowing they are probably signing their novel’s death warrant.  

I believe this trend, in a more subtle way, is equally destructive to readers. Possibly without realising it, they have had their expectations conditioned and channelled by the hype. They’ve been told a novel is a rom-com so they expect to laugh their socks off and maybe have a little weep. They’ve been told it’s a thriller so they expect to be thrilled, and so on. That twenty-something settling down on her sun lounger to her lovely chunk of chick lit is going to be annoyed to encounter the mysterious disappearance of one of the characters or the hint of some nefarious plot at the heart of government. Yet, if her expectations had not been quite so narrowly channelled, she might have been receptive to these developments and been intrigued.

I’m not suggesting for a moment that a novel shouldn’t have an aesthetic unity – an integral structure and ‘skin.’ There is nothing more annoying than a novel that starts as one thing then turns into another. But that is more to do with the craft of writing. Some authors can blend and weave romance, eroticism, humour and suspense to create a satisfying whole, while others succeed only in producing a jangling, dissatisfying jumble which isn’t anything of anything. Besides, readers soon come to know which authors they can trust to satisfy and sometimes challenge them, so genre becomes of secondary importance.

The absurdity of the situation is highlighted by considering the great authors of the past. How on earth would you fit them into ‘genres’? Would Jane Austen’s novels have been 'chick-lit' and Joseph Conrad’s 'thrillers'? Would F. Scott Fitzgerald have been ‘lit-lite’ because his characters were all rather pretty, wore fashionable clothes and knew how to pop a champagne cork? How would you label ‘The Old Man and the Sea’? A tense psychological thriller about fishing? And what about Dickens or George Eliot or the Brontes or John Steinbeck or Hardy or Tolstoy? Of course, it can be argued that The Big Man Himself had to arrange his plays into genres so that his audiences and royal patrons knew what they were in for.  Yet the categories of ‘comedy’, ‘tragedy’, ‘history play’ etc. are largely labels which have been added later by academics and people writing exam syllabi for in reality every one of Shakespeare’s plays spills over its category like leavened dough over the sides of a baking tin. Think of the moments of comic absurdity in ‘King Lear’ for example – the ultimate tragedy – or the dark and poignant undertones in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ – the ultimate romantic comedy.

This problem is neatly avoided, of course, by lumping everything written before about 1920 under the massive and meaningless heading of ‘Classic’ – just as they are labelled in the bowels of Waterstones – their black spines offered by the thousand to the lone grizzled, bespectacled buyer like me or the schoolgirl searching for her ‘set text’ – as far as possible from the latest biography of David Beckham or the most recent rearrangement of preposterous sex scenes by the prodigious Mrs James proudly propped in the entrance to lure passers-by. Perhaps that’s a thought to offer a shred of hope to unpublished authors in their plight: if they can somehow make it through the cultural desert of the 21st century, they might reach a point where they can put in the 'Genre' field of the publishers' submission form: 'Classic'. Though they'll probably need to have been dead for a hundred years.
 
 

Monday, 15 June 2015



Midsummer Night


Windows wide upon the whirring world

the curtain stirs

between the shadow-mouths of furniture

and shifting trees, between the brink of sleep

and forest-realms of badgers, foxes, owls;

the lapsing, rising breeze

deflects the nightjar, holds

one blackbird calling

in the dark wood; is the moon

vast, round, bronze beyond the maybug's

fumbling, the line of distant downs

still visible from Great Oaks Wood?








Vagabundos (from 'Songs of Andalusia')

Dos Gitanos - hombre y esposa
dos personas de piel morena
piel quemada en el sol del sur
endurecida por los vientos y arenas
del camino

Dos personas, vagabundos
líneas de su historia escritas en su rostro
expulsados de tierra a tierra
pobreza a pobreza
aferrando todavía, después de todos sus viajes
al espíritu, espíritu de su pueblo
capturado en la música flamenca
en canciones, gritos locos y salvajes
de dolor, humiliación y sufrimiento
espíritu gitano aún en las cadencies
de la guitarra



This is a rough translation - not intended as a poem in its own right.

Two Gypsies - man and wife
two dark-skinned people,
skin burned by the southern sun
hardened by the winds and sand
of the open road.

Two people - vagabonds
the lines of their history written in their faces
driven from one land to another
from poverty to poverty,
clinging still, after all their journeys
to their spirit, the spirit of their people
captured in the Flamenco music
in songs, in wild, savage cries
of pain, humiliation, suffering,
the gypsy spirit, even in the cadences
of the guitar.


 

Saturday, 13 June 2015



Midsummer Night at Tynepits Cottage

Curtains stir
     against the bright west
          a moth purrs

Sunday, 31 May 2015





Sudden Summer



hogweed

grass

nettles

thistles

suddenly are waist high,

a tiny path

winds down where once were open fields

to a wild wood,

heat and drifting seed

have changed the earth,

cardinal and cinnabar

dissemble thistle flowers,

pools of shade

where bullocks crowd,

kick and flick at flies.

strands of flesh now black on white bones

within the throbbing sky


 



Estuary

 
 
dead
 
land
 
a shattered window rattles in the wind
 
where gulls rise
 
above the dead water and the dead sand
 
dead land
 
the city murmuring
 
 
across the sea, exhales its columns curling
 
to the clouds
 
the earth burns
 
one ship
 
specked upon the blue
 
emptiness
 
 
 
 




 Military Range, Denge

 
The sunshine
hurts, wind whips

over broken concrete, broken glass
thorn, heath,
tangled wire

ripples race
across the cobalt waters
of the lake

gulls rise
above the high-
tensile fencing

radar scanners
sweep, sweep
their lifeless vision

over barren shingle
over dead
sea


 

Saturday, 23 May 2015





In An Ancient Wood on Fawley Down


Sunlight only
penetrates, transforms
this tangled mound of thorns
the wild clematis

one leaf
bears all the sun's radiance
bears all the shadows of the earth
about itself



Monday, 18 May 2015

 
PAINTING AND POTTERING IN PAZIOLS
 
 
 
 
 
 
Earlier this month, we were invited by some dear friends, Michael and Liz Hone, to spend a week at their house in Paziols in the South of France, about thirty miles north-west of Perpignan in the rugged foothills of the Pyrenees. This is the history-rich borderland between France and Spain, the stronghold of the Cathars and Albigensian Heretics and, even today, the roadsigns and place names are in both French and Catalan, as though the region still can’t quite decide which country it belongs to.  After a fairly nightmarish journey (M25, Stansted, Ryanair) we emerged from the cramped, armpit-scented aircraft to be greeted by the gentle, temperate heat of the Mediterranean in spring, by the prospect of wide, stony fields and vineyards surrounding that quaint little airport and, far in the distance, so faint it was almost indistinguishable from the silver-blue sky, the mountain ranges of the Pyrenees still capped with snow and rising to the summit of Canigou, the highest peak in the region.
 
The little town of Paziols lies about thirty miles north-west of Perpignan up winding, mountainous roads bordered by poppies and toadflax, miniature wild gladioli and flowering rosemary bushes and commanding giddying views over plunging valleys and soaring outcrops. We paused on the journey for a better view of Canigou and its attendant peaks and, as soon as Liz switched off the engine, the air was filled with the song of no less than three nightingales positioned in various olive trees around us and all belting their little hearts out. They seem to sing all day and all night in that part of the world which makes you wonder when they get any sleep, unless they do it in shifts. The trip turned out to provide a number of ornithological 'firsts' for me – the flitting, fabulously-coloured bee-eaters which migrate up from Africa to nest in holes in the river banks, a black kite and – soaring thousands of feet above our heads – a golden eagle. But I digress. The Mediterranean sun also hit us as soon as we stepped out of the car and it seemed very strange to be standing in that dusty, arid landscape surrounded by cacti and the rasp of cicadas and be looking at snow, albeit at 10,000 feet. 
 
One of my greatest pleasures while we were there was to get up at sunrise and go out to sketch the ancient vineyards on the hills surrounding the little town. Many looked as though they had been there since Roman times (and probably had) but, with more centralisation in the vine-growing industry, improved productivity and the decline in the global supremacy of French wine, many of smaller, older vineyards on the more rugged slopes have been abandoned. The ‘souches’ (literally ‘stump’ in French) still remain, however, many almost lost among poppies and wild grasses and providing a wonderful gift for the artist with their gnarled, tortured shapes.  Here are a few examples along with (forgive me) some holiday snaps.   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
The Real Thing
 
 
 
 
Another overcrowded street in Paziols. The air was filled constantly with the twitter of nesting house martins and the scream of swifts
 
 
 
Vineyards and mountains
 
 
 
The stunning Señora Yevad, bowered in wild flowers
 
 
Our gorgeous hosts, Liz and Michael Hone. Paziols in the distance


Monday, 27 April 2015





A Dream


Such a small
thing to ask

such a large
thing to gain

simplicity,
the surf breaking on the sand

the cry
of gulls



Saturday, 18 April 2015





Abandoned Boat

This old boat has seen
many waves and many weathers,
saltworn timber cracked and withered
under peeling paint, yet buoyant still
its list upon the shelving shingle, still
its tilt above the turning tideline
to the gull's circuit and the sky's
face