From the last ditch

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Wednesday 1 July 2015


The islands are clear on the horizon. The storm god Londo will wake from his ancient fastness and send waves rolling up the beach and piling into the headland. The fishing boats huddle in the harbour. N o one ventures out on the Ocean when the Berlengas are seen from the beach.

Saturday 18 January 2014


Let's not linger over lunch, I've lots of things to shop for.
Right, how about a pork pie and a pint over there?
Or a yoghurt and a salad next door?
Yoghurt and salad, you must be joking. how do you expect to keep body and soul together with that? Look at you, you're fading away. I can feel your ribs, you're like sleeping with a cattle grid.
A few more pork pies and pints and you'll be like a prize bull, I'll need a cattle grid to keep you off.
Now, now who's getting personal?
Well let's forget it. Give me your hand and we'll go and have smoked salmon sandwiches and share a pint of draft Peroni. Deal?
Deal! But don't drink more than your half.
How could I under your eagle eye? Talking of which, do you see what I see over there in the corner.? Is that Maggie with a man?
Yes and it's not Sam.
Of course it's not Sam. She wouldn't be dolled up like that for Sam. It's her toy boy, can't you see how she's winding him up? She's got him transfixed on that sheer black stockinged knee she's pointing right between his eyes.
Are you sure? He doesn't look like he can afford Maggie.
More to the point, he looks like Maggie can afford him.
They're calling our number. I'll get the sandwiches.
No, I'll get them. I'll get a better look at them from near the bar.
Well, what's the verdict?
He looks a bit tatty to me, unshaven, Marks and Spencer's shirt, Levis from a street market and plimsolls. Maggie's buying this one. I suppose her pseudo street walker attire is an attempt to dress down for him.
Now, now, just because she has nice legs and someone to look at them there's no need to get catty. I can adopt the latest toy boy fashion togs and stare at your thighs in pubs if it turns you on.
Turns me on? Quite the contrary, I like your tweedy, fake farmer look. You're perfect in a bumbling sort of way, you always remind me of "Gardener's Question Time". Where did you park your wheel barrow today, by the way?
I'll love you forever for that, farmer's wife, let's rush of home and you can weave a rush basket while I polish the piglets.
Careful, there's many a true word. Why don' t we get unmarried and go and live in sin somewhere nice?
That's called divorce, and exactly what sort of sin are you thinking of living in?
No not divorce, that's too expensive, and besides if we were divorced we couldn't be living in sin. No just unmarried, no rings and things, no Mr and Mrs. We would find a cottage in the country at the very end of a lane. No telephone no house number. You would live downstairs and ward off intruders while I live upstairs.
And would you invite me up for tea?
Yes, and you could seduce me in my pink boudoir and stay the night.
And if I invited you down for breakfast, would you shimmy down in your nightie, and show your legs while eating your eggs.
I'''d switch my wedding ring to the right hand and play the Merry Widow in black scanties for you. ''
And we would romp in the meadow and lie down in the long grass where nobody could find us.
And there wouldn't be any creepy crawlies.
Dream on! One day we'll win the National Lottery. One day there'll be free beer tomorrow. One day we'll wake up with a bang in never never land and find it wasn't a dream after all.
''And while we're waiting we need to finish my shopping.

Monday 6 January 2014

Living without you

Now give me your hand just one last time, before you´re not here ever again.

Bound for old Heathrow where that BA bird is fuelling to fly to far Toronto.

There among strangers, I will fade forever.

Flat memory will fill the past with monochrome moments where once were shining joys.

All touch all sight all sound of you washed out. Will I remember your face,

after crowded years seeing others?

Living without you.

Friday 24 May 2013

It was calm down by the sea

Jun. 2nd, 2012 at 6:15 AM

The wind had turned with the tide and was now blowing fitfully from the south. Some stragglers were tacking up the bay with the flowing tide. St Nicholas and Chaine stood bright in the level light. Behind them, across the port, the street lights were coming on. In the offing, container ships, silhouetted against the sunset, were riding at anchor waiting for berths at la Pallice. Oléron lay like a fog bank on the horizon. The Chauvreua and Chanchardon lights winked from Ré across the pertuis de Antioche. Over the bay the waters were seeping through the foundations of the dike built by Richelieu to starve the town. La Vierge marked where the king’s Catholic army had camped that long summer through while the citizens of La Rochelle had died behind her walls. The Lantern tower and the sole stretch of curtain left standing by the victorious royalists, frowned down on la Concurrence where once the merchants of England, Holland, Spain and Nouvelle France had beached their boats to load salt and wine. Turning to the tourists he made his way to the old port, pausing and turning now and again to listen for the creaking masts and flapping sails of those long dead fishers and sailors, the drone of the drum, the boom of the cannon or the shouts of the soldiers.

All was silent save for the lapping of the tide and the hubbub of excited children.

Friday 16 November 2012

The Relationship

It was time. The train was rounding the bend into the station. A screeching stop and the doors opened. He couldn’t take her into his arms from a last embrace with her husband watching.

A quick peck on the cheek, take a last look deep into her eyes, but not too long. Shake hands with John. Mumble something about writing, and escape up into the carriage.

She pressed her face to the window, her back to her husband to hide her tears.

The train drew away from her waving on the platform.

John packed her into the car pretending all was normal. In a few days she would pick herself up and come back to him. If not, she will have found another lover.

This last one, like all his predecessors, was to have been the love of her old age, sitting with her, silver haired, in front of the fire in her declining years.

John had sometimes wondered what his place was to be in her scenario. Still around, providing, pouring drinks, playing the good host or tragically dead of something incurable, something the baffled the doctors but left him unmarked externally?

He guessed the former. Being free to do what she liked did not appeal to her. She lived for the spice of deception.

Lovers were only exciting if they were illicit, but openly illicit so that she could parade them in front of her friends hoping to pick up a spark of jealousy to feed her ego.

Some had definitely not been up to playing the role she had cast them in. On occasion, the unsuspecting conquest, on being invited home, would arrive anticipating a steamy evening and, who knows, a night, only to be stunned to find John in his carpet slippers, proffering a whisky.

Others settled in like part of the furniture. None, John knew, had been permitted to stay the night while he was present but many had whisked her off to Paris, London, Rome, etc. to enjoy her. John always knew where she was because she dutifully called on arrival at the hotel to enquire about the children and what he’d eaten for supper.

Then, he knew, she would throw herself into her escapade, reassured. He sometimes wondered why. Was it an attempt to make up for her inhibited and, let’s be frank, depressing youth?

Born in a godforsaken village, she was left among the animals to develop as best she could. A lovely flower in the forest, he persuaded himself, when he met her.

But in reality, he now knew, a stunted growth eager to accept him as her first class ticket to the real world. His real world with a big house, a sports car for her, foreign travel, good hotels, remote beaches, lovers and all the clothes she could possibly want.

She had paid him well, learning to dress correctly, to eat with a knife and fork, to speak without using her country accent, to be clean and quiet in his bed and to smile at his business associates when required.

His ability to please her seemed to have run down some time back, hence the lovers, each with a new glamorous, intriguing offer to be paid for in the same eternal currency which she squandered as though it was inexhaustible.

One day he knew, the end would come. She would find herself alone at the bar, scanning the room for an eye contact. Parties would find her isolated, soon to be uninvited. Perhaps she would return to him then. He wasn’t sure he would want that.

Sunday 12 August 2012

The Road to Brugge

Easter 1954

Take the road to Brugge from Victoria station. Join a coach to Dover that’s down from Doncaster with two school classes on their Easter outing. Just us two boys joining as fill up passengers, among all the girls. Shy and straightforward, northern lassies, but smart, with plenty of elbow. They crowd around, to hear our funny English, like on the radio in Doncaster.

Dover road, we see the sea from the South Downs and tell the girls about the castle, England’s key. They listen to our accents, not caring what we say.

Flemish boat today, foot passengers boarding, wondering at the Brandkraan, the Toegang Verboten and Aleene Maatschappij. Now, white cliffs behind us, standing in the funnel smoke we try to look unconcerned, with England fading. Lump in the throat.

The sight of Calais coast where England ruled. We tell the girls. Now north to Gravelines roads where the Armada anchored. Past Dunkirk’s sand bars, Jean Bart’s roadstead, our embarkation beaches, Malo and Leffrinckouke. Then Bray Dunes and De Panne where the French held the ring for us.

Nieuwport, and at last, Oostende. Turn into the Havengeul where Vindictive sank to block the U Boots. On the quayside, goodbye girls forever, you’re going on to Blankenberge and Zeebrugge, go stand on the mole and remember the Dover Patrol and St Georges day for us.

Walk on the Visserkaai eating frites with mayonnaise. It’s time for the train, local line to Brugge, not Bruges here, where French is frowned upon.

See the Belfry from far, built tall to overlook the plain. We hump our cases through the park into the Zilverstraat. Carillon is playing Bach. Old hotel, we know you well. They’re waiting for us, the women and girls. Motherly and clean, eyes painted by Vermeer. “Hertelijk Willkommen jongens”.

Eating with the family the first evening, “Eet smaakelijk”. Empty dining room, we are between school classes. Chicken dinner made especially for us. First, thin green “grass soup”, it goes down well with pepper. Small new potatoes boiled and sautéed brown in a pan with chicken fat, not soapy white, English style. We don’t know how to clean our plates, no bread on the table at home. They show us with rye bread, we soon learn.

They’re talking and smiling together, we can see they are pleased. Soft Vlaams in the firelight, the language of Flanders, that keeps our soldiers.

We feel at home.

Breakfast early, always the same, round bread rolls hot from over the road. Anneke brings them in a big white cloth carried over her shoulder. Good salted butter, curled and floating in water. Quince jelly and apple cheese, home made, and always a big tin coffee pot. No tea. No milk, only cream. They urge us to eat more, finding us underfed.

Out in the streets, wet from the night rain. Sun’s coming through, going to be a hot one. Big American cars, bakers everywhere beautifully decorated. One has eleven different breads to buy. More cakes than we can count. Gingerbread for Easter, sepia postcards. Cafés already open, locals taking breakfast. No shortages here.

Old Belfry’s watching everything, always has done. Use our French at the Tourist Office, learned at school. Laughing, they answer in English. Get the Museum Card with sixteen different visits, a special stamp for each. Bring it back full they say and there’s an extra stamp for you. Rewarding the faithful. Keep it forever, still have mine somewhere. Don’t lose it now.

Visit the quiet Memling, the Holy Blood, Love’s lake the Minnewater, the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (the Church of our dear Lady) to see Charles the Bold. See the crossbows, borne to Bouillon to join Godefroy, then along the long land way to take Jerusalem, where Godefroy refused to wear a crown of gold where Christ had worn thorns.

Walk with the Beguines, in their old private garden. Sit on the hot stone bridge in the garden of Boniface, our countryman, come here before us. Winfreth (Fairface), friend to Pepin father of the Great Charles, Karl de Groote, Charlemagne, England’s scholar, slain by the heathen Friesians, bearing the Bible.

Bells ringing in the tower. Ringing all together, no English changes and bobs, pushing and jumbling, falling, shouting. Fighting like cats in a sack. Shaking the stonework, telling us to go, we desecrate their garden. Tingling hands on the stone when the great bell tolls.

Slowly back through the hot streets, over bridges and bridges. Following the carillon, calling us home.

Calling us today, everyday. Still waiting our coming. Fifty years now, faithful and true.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Weekend

The Weekend

She dragged her trolley case down the street looking for the hotel. It was too near for a taxi and too far to walk. Her case bumped over the cobbles trying to turn over every so often.

The train had been late and the darkness was drawing in making the wet cold street even more depressing. She thought steadfastly about the hotel which was billed as being “ancient, comfortable, the ideal retreat for a winter week end”.

There it was, a blue neon in the dusk, “The Boar’s Head”. She bumped up the steps to the door and pushed through against the spring. A young man came over and took her trolley. The receptionist found her reservation and gave her a room on the second floor overlooking the courtyard. “We’ve set a fire going for you,” she announced, “and dinner is being served in the King’s Room on the ground floor until nine-thirty”.

Things were looking up. She got to her room with the help of the young man who humped her case up the stairs and parked it carefully on the luggage stand. A small tip, he seemed genuinely pleased. Lock the door. Just time for a wash and brush up.

The King’s Room was easily located. The quiet hum of people chatting and eating drew her to it. There was an enormous fire blazing away. Her table was close to the hearth. She felt the heat on her bare shins and began to feel that the trip was starting to be a success.

“If he’s on time tomorrow we’ll be able to get his photos before lunch and then have a quiet afternoon with buttered scones and clotted cream to round it off”, she mused.

Charley was a journalist doing a feature on West Country watering holes. He always insisted on taking his own photos although there were hundreds to be had on-line. She didn’t object to that, it gave them opportunities for sneaking week-ends away together in the most unlikely places.

Of course she had to join him in his favourite sport but that was a small price to pay for the luxurious accommodation and excellent food provided by his expense account.

When they first met she quickly realized that there were others in the field. She had identified at least four other runners, but by dint of guile and hard work she had reduced the odds. Now she was convinced that she was the only horse left in the running. The favourite.

Her meal drifted pleasantly on to its end. The food was unfussy and tasty. She pondered a coffee and cognac and decided to go for it. “Why not?” she told herself. “I don’t need to be on top form tonight.”

Later, while undressing, she reviewed her wardrobe for the morrow. Something plain and professional for the morning. He always liked to see her as his assistant when he was taking pictures. It eased his conscience. He was the type that needed an excuse to enjoy himself.

She would change after lunch into something much more becoming. Charley would enjoy that. He would see the dress as an invitation and feel justified in using her. By evening he would feel he owned her, having, in his opinion, subdued her. At that point he always became protective and decisive.

He would choose her evening attire, order her dinner, choose the wine, insist she drink Armagnac (he hated cognac) and decide when it was time for bed. It was so relaxing. She always looked forward to the evenings with him and there were two to come.

She often asked herself, “How long can this last?” Or, in another mood, “How can I escape if I need to?” There were no ready answers to either. So drift along became her philosophy. On day something would happen and the cruise liner would hit the iceberg.

She trusted herself to be first in the lifeboat.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Leslie Nielsen

Leslie Nielsen is dead. RIP Leslie.

Once asked what should be on his tombstone, he replied,

"Let him rip!"

Thursday 10 December 2009

More Clerihews and nearly

Falkland's fair isles
Lie many miles
From Patagonia,
And they're lonelier!

Is delicious,
But Bermuda
Is ruder.

O Why
Is Paraguay,
When the Argentine
Is so fine?

It was rather silly
To be born in Chile,
But Ecuador
Was such a bore!

In Hong Kong
They sing-a-long,
In Formosa
They’re moroser.

Some waited in the rain
For candidate McKane,
Others rooted for Obama
Or the Dalai Lama.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Kim Jong-il

They say he’s ill, Kim Jong-il,

Does he need a pill, Kim Jong-il?

No he’s had his fill, Kim Jong-il.

He’s ruling still, Kim Jong-il,

He has an iron will, Kim Jong-il,

Even when he’s ill, Kim Jong-il.

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