Archive for September, 2014

My Grandparents’ House


Such attics cleared of me! Such absences! Philip Larkin

The last time I went to the house
Was the day we cleared it.
I arrived, as I always had:
Train then car, renewing my familiarity
With the happy highways that led here:
The Runcorn Bridge, dual carriageways
Suburbs, the streets
Narrowing after each turn,
Until finally, parked outside,
I could have been a child again as
Another school holiday begins.
No. Closed too long, the house was musty.
Men with scythes and saws
Were chopping back the jungle
The garden had become. I choked then,
Their pride and joy, recalled the hours
Lavished on it, mowing, weeding,
Seeding, picking, a feast of flowers and fruit,
I used to wonder how
They ever had time to go to work.
As we moved from room to room,
I expected them to walk in, and ask
What the hell we thought we were doing.
I looked in my old room:
Single bed, wardrobe screwed to the wall
And Grandma’s sewing machine
Folded into a table.
I sat on the bed, breathed
Deep and slow the air of that room,
Remembered the first night’s sleep
Of any holiday, the excitement
Of being here again
With all the days or weeks ahead.
Of days out, days in the garden,
Of Test Match Special,
And bowls on the lawn.
Now it feels like I was never here,
Just another stale space to be cleared
With all the others:
Wardrobes, cupboards, closets
Emptied now of all but memory.
If the bricks could talk,
What conversations we could have.


Mad Markets Do Not Serve Us


Here’s an example of just how mad the so-called free market is. I’ve just watched a freight train pass, coal empties on their way from Ratcliffe power station to Liverpool docks. That’s right, the docks, to collect a load of imported coal, that could have come from as far away as Australia. Never mind that one of the UK’s last remaining deep collieries is only a few miles away at Thoresby. Back in BR days the power station would have sourced its coal from a local mine, which benefitted the local economy. But those days are gone. Progress? For big multinationals, yes, for the rest of us? I doubt it.

Reply to the Lies


Every time you go to work you leave a democracy and enter a dictatorship”. Nick Cohen.


This is the text of the letter I sent to my former employer today. The only change is that I’ve removed names.

I am not going to dignify the “appeal procedure” by using it as it was clear from the tenor of the meeting on 15 September that the outcome was a foregone conclusion. However, I do have a few comments.

I found the conduct of the meeting by both the administrator and the HR officer to be both mendacious and patronising. I find the allegation that I was under-performing to be incredible. If I really had been slower than “the other person doing the job” as alleged then I would have expected it to have been raised earlier and a chance given to improve.

I’m afraid I find it necessary to state the blindingly obvious: when I started in May 2014 fire certificates were in backlog. They no longer are. Indeed, for the last few weeks I had been asking for other work to do while waiting for new ones to arrive. If I had been as slow as alleged, I doubt the backlog would have been cleared.

For you to state in the letter received on 22 September that you “listened carefully to what I had to say” is insulting as you demonstrably did not. As I’ve stated, it was obvious to anyone with eyes that the outcome had already been decided. Until the 15th, I was actually enjoying the job and a number of people had been kind enough to compliment me on my work. Not what I would expect from someone under-performing.

The administrator’s hypocrisy is breathtaking. When I received the letter inviting me to the meeting, I asked him about it and he said he didn’t know what it was about. There’s a word for that sort of thing: it’s called lying.

Yours In Disgust etc

A Bonfire (2014 revision)


Flames caress the letters
As I feed them in,
One by one, words crumbling.

I watch them lick the photograph,
Hers, taken that last day
Before I caught the train.

I can’t find it later
When I rake over still warm ash,
Blacker than her hair.

Memories smouldering into suburban sky,
A few shovelfuls of soot,
Smoke in my clothes.

A Bonfire


This is one from the archives, written in 1995. I’ve never been entirely satisfied with it as it’s a bit too tell not show. Here’s the original, the next post has the revised version.

Flames lap-up the letters
As I feed them in,
One by one, words crumbling.

I watch them lick the photograph,
Hers, taken that last day
Before I caught the train,

Bubbles and hiss, it flakes,
Burns a part of me off.
I can’t find it later

When I rake over the still warm ash,
Blacker than her hair,
Smouldering into the suburban sky

Above the greenhouses,
Mown lawns and
Neatly pruned shrubberies.

Memories compressed into
A few shovelfuls of soot,
Smoke in my clothes.

A Letter From The Moon


Late, and I sit with music on (not 80’s for once), a glass of whisky (water of life) to hand, and I try to write. The diary done for today, only a short entry, and a few pages of poetry sketches. In these quiet periods, when the music reaches into the storms of my mind and works its magic, I almost don’t mind my situation.

Almost. It’s at these times when I most feel the distance between us, when I wish I could move the decimal point: 75 miles to 7.5. On these occasions, I might as well be on the moon and she on the blue planet, me looking down on its oceans, clouds, poles, storms and landmasses. I feel like a monk here. Or perhaps a prisoner would be a better analogy as I’m not here willingly. She is there and I am here. We cannot speak as my phone does not work and the trains have stopped for the day. Tomorrow? That’s an aeon away. I have my poem fragments and her silver-framed picture. I must content myself with that. But it’s not enough.



for Elaine

The cloud that squats on the horizon
Throws down a grey finger of rain
That brushes the treetops.
When it reaches here,
I’ll remember the day
We sat before the glass,
Watched it drip from leaf to leaf,
Clustering along branches,
Lines of pearls waiting
For wind to set them free.
If I could collect them in my hand,
Transfigure them,
They would all be yours.
I am no wizard,
Have only these few words to show,
Which, though poor, are all I have.

And they are yours.

Why Stoke City Council is Wrong About HS2


Stoke-on-Trent City Council wants the city to have a station on HS2. It is spending several million pounds of our money trying to persuade the government to re-route the line so it serves the city rather then Crewe. However persuasive the economic arguments may be, they miss one blindingly obvious fact a glance at a railway map will reveal. The reasons for routing the line through Crewe have nothing to do with the size of the town. Crewe is a major railway junction, Stoke is not. That is fact and can’t be avoided, regardless of how much wishful thinking the council employs. It would be better occupied lobbying to get better services from Stoke to connect with the line (start with redoubling the single track route between Alsager and Crewe) and for Stoke to retain a good fast service to London.

Tory austerity has wreaked a terrible toll on an already deprived city. Wasting money on idiotic schemes like this helps no one, especially its hard pressed residents. It’s high time the Council woke up and faced facts.

Rip Off Britain: Rail Fares


Until recently, I travelled a lot by train. This was driven partly by my interest in railways, and partly by not being able to drive. However, since I passed my test in 2010, my train useage has dropped to almost nothing. I quickly found out that even allowing for tax, insurance and petrol, many car journeys are cheaper.

The government is fond of painting rail privatisation as a success story, highlighting the record number of passengers carried. This is surely disingenuous. Such an increase would probably have happened anyway. And it isn’t just passenger humbers that have sky-rocketed. It is undeniable that fares have mushroomed massively to be the most expensive in Europe. Operators say this is to pay for improvements, for jam tomorrow. But they have been saying that for years, and fares continue to rise steeply. And outside of London, I have to question just what some of these “improvements” are, given the now frequent overcrowding.

Rail companies always hide behind the cheap deals available to those who book ahead. This is also disingenuous. The cost of walk on fares have also jumped alarmingly. Just by how much was brought home to me sharply on a recent trip to Manchester. From Stoke, this is a round trip of about 75 miles, and for a day return, I was charged a whopping £17.10! Until recently, if you got a day return, it was cheaper if you travelled after 930am, but such tickets are now also barred for about three hours in the afternoon, so I had to pay top whack. Never again, I’ll drive next time.

I can well understand the environmental arguments in favour of public transport. Sadly, like many things in Britain, it is becoming too expensive. Furthermore, the product offered is generally unappealing. Assuming you can actually get a seat, the chances are it will be uncomfortable, have little or no access to a window and be cramped with poor legroom. And if you have to stand, you have to endure a journey crammed in like cattle. It says a lot about this country that animals being transported have more rights than people. What sort of service is that? To add insult to injury, many if those with seats will have the cheap advance tickets so beloved of operators’ propaganda departments: they pay little and are guaranteed a seat, others get fleeced and have to stand. This is no way to attract people from their cars. It won’t be attracting me from mine anytime soon.

The People Person


I’ve come to know too well
The modern boss, the people person:
The always open door,
The fake friendliness,
The politician’s smile,
The sharpened knife concealed
Until you turn your back.

The people person, yes,
Who knock people down
To use as steps to speed them
Up the greasy path,
Or cross water bridged
Only by the drowning,
Oh yes, I know the people person.

They know all the talk,
The right yarns to spin,
To fair recruit lovers and friends
Into jobs, bend rules
To sack those they dislike,
And bury those who complain
In sickness and ill-health.

Every day they polish
A halo no one else can see
As up up they go,
Up, ever up to the top,
Spotless, Teflon, Untouchable.
Watch out God,
The People People are coming.

Nick Cohen: Writing from London

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