Public City Spaces 2030
I will navigate the wild triangle
and let my tortured soul untangle
upon the vast Atlantic Ocean.
To feel the motion of the moon,
to pour my pain into the waves,
to cast aside all doubts and ride
the long and lonely main, to hide
beneath the spangled stars,
to flee upon the wind;
to run before the sea.
At a bushy bank I pause to watch, close to,
a playful damsel fly, translucent blue,
ephemeral dart, alights for one brief flit,
and then is gone. My rain-washed spirits lift;
and sunlight soothes all hatred and offence
and brightens Britain’s racial innocence.
But now the River’s mood runs deep and dark
where sulks the giant hogweed above the native
shrub; thigh thick stems support the stateless stalks
on which presides a noxious death-white lace;
home-grown terrorist in this peaceful place.
Underneath a garden tree
a bird hopped into sight.
He cocked a timid eye at me;
curious and bright.
‘I know this bird,’ my friend I told,
‘A blackbird hen?’ thought she.
‘Too small,’ I said. ‘The tail’s too bold
but the colour I’ll agree.”
Pale brown plumage, sparrow-sized,
I thought I knew his name.
We looked it up in Collins Guide –
Yes! It seemed the same.
He flew off high into a tree,
Chooc chooc the sound I heard.
My book confirmed that call was his:
that rare delightful bird.
He sang to me again today,
as in my bed I woke,
Cheery clear, without a care,
his voice lit up the world.
Complicated, cryptic, brief,
A bright and lilting tale.
He filled my soul with warm belief,
that little nightingale.
I paused on High Street to admire
A hanging basket there.
Above pale moss and rootlet hair
Red purple fire trembles down:
A coloured show of summer hale
‘midst brown-green tendrils lush below.
What is it in their heart that grooms
This fine consummate will?
What burns that spirit there to fill
The need to bloom and spill with pride,
The village attitude, and turn
The tide of covert apathy?
And if this power lies latently
In such communities,
Then why so few the mantle seize
To plant the patent frieze withal,
To volunteer, to serve; to try
The call to floral village verve?
From Barton Weir to Wellford Lock
I pass a flock of geese and stop.
A shower past and now to soothe,
Sunlight brightens Avon’s flow,
The River slow and oily smooth;
Its margins’ tall dark rushes show
Black withered heads, their seeds now flown.
And yellow water lilies stand
On olive palms of floating hands.
I resume my walk. The day is grand!
A flitting playful damsel fly,
Translucent blue, it comes close by,
Ephemeral with flaming poise,
Alights for one brief moment
Then is gone. Next a welcome noise:
A cuckoo call - a rare event!
Across the bank a scarlet flare;
Standing there I stare amazed;
A poppy field: a crimson blaze
Implausible against the emerald haze.
More comforting about the trail,
Delightful wildflowers here prevail,
And purple clover blossoms bloom
Through the tangled meadow sward,
And laughing heads of yellow broom.
And all above the grass a horde:
A flying, flitting, buzzing swarm
Give swooping swallows’ frenzied feast.
My heart soars too, and not the least
‘Cos journey’s end lies one mile east.
It starts a walk, in flip flops on the stones.
I step out, start to run.
My companion falls behind.
My strides grow long, exhilaration, no fatigue.
Joyously I bounce and glide, up steps,
Clearing obstacles in single bound,
I jump a boulder, leave the ground
Surely I can fly?
A leap of faith, the only way:
Fall forward, legs kicked back,
Momentum flies me on.
More faith, arms outstretched, rise up.
As long as I believe I stay aloft.
Look at me! No one else can do this.
But no one seems to notice,
Or else to care; are they there?
Look at me! I’m flying, that’s unique.
I leap from river bank, serenely float across,
Above the trees, I glide, I soar.
Above Broadwindsor, rises Lewesdon Hill
- Dorset’s highest summit in the west.
This gentle stroll won’t steal one’s breath, and still,
the view will make you breathless at the crest.
From Stoke Knapp west I climb the stony lane;
where trees hold arching branches overhead.
High banks on either side are set with fern,
among which Summer’s bluebell blades lie dead.
Leaf-filtered sunlight warms the dappled green,
and foxgloves flaunt their pink and purple flutes
to lend their startling colour to the scene,
and promise life next year to withered roots.
Halfway, a dell, a woodland meeting hall;
great open space, all ringed with giant beech;
and there between a green entangled wall,
colossal roots enclothed with moss and vetch.
The track here opens out, a straight and level run.
Through vacant coppice, landmarks can be seen;
far off, Seaborough Hill and nearby, Mosterton,
and there below, Broadwindsor Village Green.
A short respite and then I climb once more.
The leafy track grows damply soft beneath.
Now the final stretch to reach the wooded tor,
then a clearing; a panorama takes my breath!
Look there! Such undulating downs, such stippled green.
D'you see the cleavages of Dorset’s glorious shore
where Lyme Bay’s sapphire waters shine between?
What a morning! What wanderer could ask for more?
Slowly consciousness arrives,
A kind of numb arrest.
What unease invades nocturnal rest?
Slow intelligence, I recognise my plight,
Tingling lips and finger tips, a buzzing in my chest.
Roll out of bed, fumble for the light.
Dizzily with failing strength,
Stagger to the fridge;
Snatch up the milk, unscrew,
And gulp at length,
Next a chocolate cereal bar,
Greedily, ecstatically I chew.
More milk: in turns I eat and drink,
Spinning head: lean against the sink.
Then leaden legs: flop into a seat.
Five minutes pass, I floss my teeth,
And wander back to bed.
The eastbound 53X (flippantly called ‘SEX’),
for rubbernecks and rural folk.
For garrulous gran with badgered bloke,
the bus-ride fills the empty day,
leaving young ‘uns on the beach to play.
Uncertain thrill, these downs, this rolling place.
Bus gathers pace - let brakes not fail!
Anxious knuckles whiten on the rail.
Then valley floor, momentum spent,
grinds and lumbers up the next ascent.
An entertaining lot, we Bus-pass Crowd,
dry humoured, proud to own our years,
one-liners swapped among our peers.
And of the young, the tedious bored?
They’re mobile-phone-obsessed, and best ignored.
Far past the age of lascivious lust,
we wise adjust, to nature’s thrills;
alluring vale amid the hungry hills,
bucolic breast and verdant thigh,
spread of wanton sea to eager sky.
We stop at Wool, a hippy type climbs on,
‘I’ve got a bomb!’ he tactless jokes,
shocked and outraged stares; a woman chokes.
The clown comes on with brazen smile;
deep displeasure tracks him down the aisle.
Now, that ‘No Smoking’ sign seems out of date;
inadequate for modern mores,
like ‘No Spitting’ signs, remember those?
Time for new ones, like ‘No Nagging’,
‘No Phones’, ‘No Hippies’, and certainly…
On the river bank at Summer’s ending,
quakes the rhododendron, quietly sending
blushing clouds - her voyaging sons and daughters -
tinting red the shifting waters. Tranquil,
sluggish first, then rampant surge, to swirl and swill
her floral cargo; those midstream flow fast,
those near the shore, into the waiting-pool, adrift,
then swiftly rounded up - like hostage mariners
held up in Puntland, waiting for their ransom
to be paid – then, wilted, purged of guilt,
at last emerge into the tumbling falls
that speed those hapless blossoms on, to pour
next season’s bleed anew, upon some foreign shore.
To be a Farmer?
I often wish I’d been a farmer, tending to my sheep,
Or cows, or pigs and sows, or golden rape seed fields.
To turn my hand to till the land, would fill my soul with joy,
Oh how I wish that in my youth, I’d been a farmer’s boy.
I often wish I’d been a farmer, to wake each day at five,
To milk the herd, to skim the curd, to keep the honey hive,
Morning milkmaids making cheese in churns of English oak
Oh how I wish that as a lad, I’d taken up the yoke.
I often wish I’d been a farmer, at home with drill and hoe,
While all the rest give all their best, their urban seeds to sow.
Long summer days at harvest time away from city strife,
Oh how I wish as I grew up, I’d lived the rural life.
I often wish I’d been a farmer, ploughing in the stubble,
Or burning it and turning it, removing stones and rubble,
Cold winter nights at lambing time, lending ewes a hand,
Oh how I wish my childhood years I’d spent upon the land.
But when the farmer’s frame grows old, and joints begin to seize,
The body fails, lifting bales, and winter hands can freeze.
No time for wife: a childless life; or all have flown the nest,
The rural way of life is cruel when its stolen all your best.
Vile and wicked stench steals from our seed,
Wrecking lives to quench its wanton greed;
Vapour green and cloying wears a hood,
Mindlessly destroying all that’s good.
Thieving fingers plunder city marts,
Lighting fire under broken hearts.
“Why are you doing this?” one inquires,
“We’re taking the piss!”, a girl replies.
“Because we can” she has no fear,
“Who can stop us? No coppers here.”
Designer clothes, made by Jerome,
She takes her loot and wanders home.
Who could but despair of feral youth,
Lacking parent care were raised uncouth,
Untutored in the rules of gentle folk;
Or tutored, but in schools where it’s a joke
To value citizens of older worth,
Who had their boundaries set from birth.
‘Let’s fight fire with fire,’ howls the crowd,
‘Justice we require, shout it loud!’
As the bleeding sores repair and heal,
Vigilante corps from the blood congeal.
So begins a war of tit for tat,
Where folk can ill afford another spat.
River black and oily smooth;
on its chaotic bank, blackened bulrush lie,
bodies burnt alive - the fate
of non-compliant women
caught in the caliphate
To the mountain there came a young ptarmigan
In the winter without a good cardigan.
He shivered and shook
And hid in a nook
Till the summer when he became warm again.
I watch a man progress at sloth-like pace
among the trees at Elgin’s Cooper Park;
each crutch-assisted step shows in his face
as something to be borne like winter bark
enduring frost and fungal blight in hope
that Spring restores its strength and failing will.
I approach the man, burying the trope
‘He has himself to blame for being ill.’
He pauses, rests upon his single crutch,
a sad, lopsided grin that signals much
about his pain and bravery. ‘You okay?’
I ask (not that I could help in any way).
‘A stroke, ye ken?’ he slurs at last, ‘I’m slow,
I know, but better’n thirty months ago’
I don’t drive! It’s quite obscene,
in this new age of all things green,
to fill the world with toxic fumes,
while knowing that disaster looms.
I’m seventy now, a test required,
or else my licence stays expired.
Perhaps I will apply for one,
when my cataracts are done.
Broken from its mounting by a diving
sperm whale’s flukes, there it lay in disarray
upon the canvas canopy, its shape
a circle in the cloth, a ripping hole
that widened with each jolt of wave and trough.
Too dangerous to recover it, too rough;
too damaging to leave it there, I fished
the bolt-croppers from out the lazarette
and cut the heavy cable that was all that
held it to the boat, reached up to where
its shiny rim poked through the tear,
and flipped the whole thing overboard.
Despite its weight, it floated: up and over
crests of breaking waves, I watched it drop astern,
now there, now gone again, now there, now gone
again, till finally it disappeared.
Oh well, I hadn’t used the thing in years.
Although my yacht speaks not, she conjures words
from a complexity of simple sounds:
the whisper-rush of water on the hull;
the sighing sough of wind upon the sail;
the groan of straining sheet around the drum;
the clacking of a halyard on the mast.
Oft times she gives a chiding, scolding start,
admonishing some error on my part;
or bracing words when nerve and sinew strain
to shorten sail in storm and stinging rain.
Through all the raw complexity of noise
I simply hear her calm, ethereal voice;
such haunting, such tranquillity of tone;
a mate imagined, voyaging quite alone.
There she hangs aloft! Twisted devil-horns
upon a head of green, translucent skin.
See those razor teeth! With two curved fangs that,
as the maw snaps shut, clamp hard against her
hungry, drooling chin.
Her leering, longboat grin, aloof upon
a writhing neck of shining copper scales
that blossom splendid on her righteous breast,
while rows of sea-green thorns adorn her back,
and taper down her tail.
Her ever-flicking tail that quickens feline-like
to balance her in hovering flight on great
reptilian wings; flogging tireless, back and forth,
back and forth, while baleful, burning eyes gaze
down upon the mates.
Those cowed shipmates, now trembling
beneath her cruel, malevolent sight
that sweeps the deck, as if selecting who
among those whalers to consume to sate
her vengeful appetite.
At once, with spite unbound she folds her wings,
extends her claws, and drops toward
the scattering crew; men who’ve slain a thousand
whales and have until this dreadful day survived
the worst of Neptune’s Horde.
Then at the last she spreads those flighty limbs
and swooping over-deck, scoops high
a harpoon-man in one prehensile claw,
and steals away her prize; triumphant roar
consumes the whaler’s mournful cry.
My friend is leaving Chartknolle.
Five years she’s languished here.
Now looking for a new bolt hole,
And may not shed a tear.
But what slow pace about this place
That stayed her usual wandering mood;
That kept her from life’s squalid race,
In splendid stolid solitude?
I’ll now explain the natural bond,
That dwells on this domain,
Enthralling heart and soul beyond
What logic may ordain.
Here grace the magical embrace,
Of sweeping vale and daunting hill,
It’s wooded copse and meadow chase,
Unruffled still by plough or drill.
Come, walk with me up Gerrard’s Hill,
The Ridgeway path from Town,
A strapping climb, we’ll coil our will,
And clamber to the crown.
Then slow our pace, and southwards gaze,
Where busy bustling Bridport sprawls,
And Lyme Bay glitters through the haze,
Between Jurassic coastal walls.
To Beaminster a final look,
Then onward we’ll repair,
Down to our left a picture book
Stoke Abbott painted there;
Among the trees, a dreamlike frieze,
Church, and cottages of Wessex stone,
Idyllic scene of genteel ease,
A rural bloom in Dorset grown.
On downwards step along the trail,
The Big House to our left.
Then through the gates above the dale,
Green ponds brood in the cleft.
And towering beech beseech the bank,
Where red-legged partridge often dwell,
An old brick culvert, cold and dank,
Evokes a Fairy Dingle Dell.
Another gate, a pasture field,
And Wadden Hill above,
Where buried relics lay concealed
Beneath the sandstone bluffs.
For excavations of the ground,
(Where once Vespasian’s legion camped)
Coins of ancient Rome have found,
On which the Caesars’s head was stamped.
Three fallow fields, where cattle feed,
Long climb up Meadow Bluff,
The tangled grass our boots impede,
The going slow and rough.
And here we leave this fond estate,
Ahead lies lofty Lewesdon’s view.
And she leaves too, my restless mate,
For Beaminster, and pastures new.
Broom is first to bloom, then of course the gorse.
Yellow grit-bins, redundant now but left
there just in case the Winter white returns.
Marsh marigolds explode, dandelions unfold,
while yellow stripes upon the floor mark each
two-metre space; Social Distancing we’re told.
Empty yellow barley buckets in the field;
horses wondering when they’ll next be filled.
Yellow moss clings anxiously to rocks, to
stay at home and stop the spread, unlike
the celandine whose sunny daisy blooms
erupt from ever-spreading roots. The money
banks are closed, of course, while on the River’s bank
the yellow spreads her golden threads until
in crowded brilliance, bursts the daffodil.
When broom’s gilt flower wilts and falls, and gorse
bursts forth with equal lust, who can tell
from distance which is which? The one of course
with spines defends his close companion, as well.
No social distance, for these friends, are checked
who share their place upon the riverside;
no harmful exhalations to infect
the air they share, or soil on which they bide.
With Spring’s first heat, myriad flying creatures
flit among their yellow blooms to spread
the virus of their seed – can they teach us
not to isolate in fear, stay home in dread?
Must come the day when humankind can say:
‘We’ve grown together - more like Nature’s way.’
Delighted by her easy laugh,
Her frank and open face,
Her funny talk, her swaying walk:
Her fascinating grace.
Delighted by her puckish smile,
Her thoughtful impish ways
To supplement the sparkling wit
That sets my heart ablaze.
Delighted by her naughty glance,
When the woman comes awake,
A flick of hair, a sultry stare,
Excites a lustful ache.
Delighted by her female shape,
Her well-formed thigh and breast.
And at the height of my delight?
To imagine her undressed.
Some folks were drinking at the bar
Discussing world events.
Natterjack was out the back
And Mark was in the gents.
When all at once a refuse truck
Came roaring down the street
And before we could say what the hell,
That truck went beep beep beep.
Beep Beep, Beep Beep,
Nat’s Dad went by: Beep Beep.
The close of life some hold in dread.
“What will happen when I’m dead?
Is there a soul, immortal blaze,
Or great black hole, the end of days?”
And wakeful lie in feared unrest
For want of comfort in this quest.
Perhaps religion holds the key?
Belief in many, one or three?
The Astral Surf or Spirit-scape?
Or returned to Earth in different shape?
Such myths bring solace, and can reap
A crop of faith and soothing sleep.
But this denies all intellect,
The common nous to misdirect.
The truth to share makes greater sense,
No cause to fear, needs no defence.
Where were you before the womb?
That’s where you’ll be when in your tomb.
Here at last we gathered are,
a fine meal, well received.
Now follow well, some thoughts to dwell:
to build on what you have achieved.
I leave you with three golden rules,
three golden rules to mull.
I hope you dwell on what works well,
discard what’s plainly dull.
But first, nostalgia, I’m afraid:
Nine-Oh, that fateful year,
I met in June, with Dave and Boon,
And Steve, their traffic engineer.
A meeting strange with no clear aims -
they sent me to explore
how to replace, their database
of clients, and of product core.
My prototype got me the job,
to create an app called KISS.
For that daft name, I bear no blame,
but colleagues no less took the piss.
Now here we come to my rule one:
there was no precedent
for what I knew I had to do
for office staff here resident.
And so I took a new approach
to change the way we worked.
I suffered long and got it wrong
so many times I vexed and irked.
Now, this advice may grate against
what software dons have taught:
do not depend on current trend -
how users say it ought to work.
Be creative; find ways to help
your customers to grow.
Try not to strive to keep alive
the only methods clients know.
But mark well too, the treacherous trap
Of those who praise too well.
A fawning few can judgement skew
and send creative minds to hell.
So many more Aye-votes now
than cold logic could endow.
I never thought I’d hear it -
last year you were nowhere near it.
What about old Jimmy down the pub?
And the other Caledonians we rub
shoulders with? Will they be foreigners
come September twenty third?
I’ve heard you even want to ditch
the Queen! A Scottish Dollar,
with President Alex on its face?
Really? And will you race to close
our common border? To set to tears
the family order we’ve enjoyed
three hundred years?
Little frenzied Wren,
Hops about the red smoke bush,
Sometimes, on clear calm nights
a thousand miles from land
when I have the watch alone,
I lie down on the cockpit bench
and gaze up at the stars: at the dense
band of brilliant light that is the Milky Way;
stars so tightly packed they seem like a fusion
of diamonds - an encrusted jewel shining
with such intensity it can make your eyes water.
Even in the relatively sparse skies either side
of our galactic disc, the background of billions
of foreign galaxies is always astonishing
and frequently overwhelming. In contrast,
the planets look close and friendly,
scattered like coins spilled from a drunken pocket.
There's Venus, aloof but definitely one of us;
warm and cheery Mars; Jolly Jupiter,
just risen with her skittering moons
chattering brightly around her like daughters;
and silvery Saturn with just a hint of
the ovality of rings. And out here,
away from the spoiling lights of cities
and population, the shooting stars
are magnificent. One passes over
every few minutes, streaking across
the silent sky with breath-taking velocity.
Some pass so near you believe you
can hear them crackling through the ether.
After a while the slap of waves on the hull,
the clink of rigging, and the moan
of the wind that fills our sails,
haul me, reluctant, back to my duties.
I scan the silvery horizon for other vessels,
check our track on the chartplotter,
then swing below to make myself a cup of tea.
Alone in my personal Universe,
witnessing what happens to my
world, but projecting an image
of myself into yours, and all
other singular universes. As each
of our worlds fall into decline
from actions of those projected
into it, so our projections in
other worlds sicken an die,
signalling that our own world
has died. But others carry on
until life is no longer sustained,
and their projections into other
universes die from disease
or old age, reflecting how
their world has ended.
And so the life of infinite
universes continues, each cycle
of birth giving life to a new
universe with a history evolved
by those living beyond our reach,
and each death coinciding with
the death of the world in which
that living entity was conceived.
This is why we seem to think
that all the momentous events
of history have occurred,
and continue to occur
in our own short lifetimes,
and that as we get older,
so the world in which we live
seems also on the brink of extinction.
We imagine our dying selves
into a new universe, again
of our very own, where our
infinitely projecting atoms
coalesce into new life from
parents projected from their
own declining worlds.