Venus de Milo – a poem

This poem is part of a longer one I wrote for my mum’s 70th birthday. The crossword clues are from the London Times, 5 August 1949.

In an incandescent corridor

perched on a folding chair

Ron Tippett’s ink-stained fingers

rake through crinkly brylcreamed hair

All there is for him to look at

is a worn No Smoking sign

a desiccated cheese plant

and a dog-eared London Times.

The crossword might distract him

from the cacaphonic noise

“They do not pay for seats in stalls”

That’s easy: CHOIR BOYS

“Their business is a blooming sell”

could FLORISTS be the word?

and “Stymie on the table”

must be SNOOKER – that’s his third!

“Venus de Milo does not need it”

(two words, five and four)

Could it be WRIST WATCH? No, too long.



She doesn’t need a SPACE SUIT cos she won’t be blasting off

and she doesn’t need a COUGH DROP cos she hasn’t got a cough

You could try her on a PEACE PIPE but the Louvre says No Smoking

and she has no use for STEEL WOOL – she leaves her pans a-soaking.

“Venus de Milo does not need it”

(Two words, five and four).

That clue is really nagging him

He’ll have to think some more.

Venus doesn’t need a CHECK BOOK cos she’s got no way of cashing ‘em

She lives in dread of ITCHY FEET – she’s got no way of scratching ‘em.

No AGONY AUNT can help her, she’s a hypergloomy Gus,

and she doesn’t need a GRAVY BOAT, cos honestly, who does?

Our Venus needs no VOICE MAIL to keep track of any messages

It’s hard to set a MOUSE TRAP without brachial appendages

She doesn’t need a WEDGE HEEL – it would make her feel unsteady

And she doesn’t need a POKER FACE, she’s wearing one already.

She doesn’t need a LIGHT BULB cos she wouldn’t reach the switch

And she doesn’t need a DRESS RACK cos she never wears a stitch

She doesn’t need a TRAIN FARE cos she’s got no place to go

and she doesn’t need a SLIDE RULE (she’s got a Macbook Pro).

KOALA? PANDA? GUMMI BEAR? She’s just not into bears.

And she doesn’t need a STAIR LIFT for she’s not allowed upstairs.


You really don’t need much when you’re a goddess made of stone.


Someone’s calling him! It’s time to sally forth

and The Times is now discarded on the disinfected floor.

Those Barratt boots are galloping towards the sunlit ward

Moving fast as Water Biscuit on a firm dry summer course.

And there’s his wife! And there’s the nurse! And there’s the tiny cot!

Well, well, well (as camels say), what a perfect girl they’ve got!

Oh my, thinks Ron, she hasn’t got much ELBOW ROOM in there

then suddenly he laughs out loud and leaps into the air!

Starcrossed Lines

Dear Daisy
I wonder if Daddy has already told you
I wonder if Mummy has already told you
that we have seagulls nesting on our roof
that we have humans squatting below us
They have one baby chick
They have one cat without a tail
and he is getting very fat indeed
and one
all the crabs and other sea food his parents bring back for him
The man is noisy
he is also very noisy
when he plays Words with Friends
and wakes Grandad and I rather early each morning!
I’m losing!

5 stars – Fantastic fodder
1 star – Appalling – never again
We were starving and
stopped to get something
nothing in the Spar took our fancy
quick on the way home from work
the nearest Just Eat pizza shop couldn’t get any food to us for an hour
fish was mildly warm and greasy
so we decided to try our local chip shop
chips tasted like they had been re-cooked!
we were truly impressed by the quality of the offerings at Kenny’s
nasty tasting and
the Kenny in question
made me feel ill
is often to be seen sporting an interesting suit
also his attitude and customer service was appalling
when frequenting the local British Legion
I wouldn’t recommend Kenny’s
so we were slightly
as I witnessed him have a go at a member of the public
that he wasn’t wearing it behind the counter
for parking in the lay by
but hey, you can’t have everything

Members of the Parish Council received and noted advice
yeow! yeow! yeow!
from TDC’s Environmental Protection Manager David Eaton
keow! keow! keow!
confirming that the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 protects seagulls
yeow! keow!
It is illegal to interfere with the nest or eggs of any wild bird
yeow! ha!
and in the event of a prosecution the maximum fine is £5000
keow! ha-ha!
and/or a six-month prison sentence
ha-ha! Klee-aw!
however, occupiers and other authorised people can apply for a general licence
that allows them to control seagulls to preserve public health or public safety

The Environmental Health Team also has powers to deal with residents
Waltrude Stone-Lee’s my name but you can call me Wally
that persistently feed or encourage seagulls
on alternate Saturdays I strut
to a location that creates a statutory nuisance
with a large bag of Kenny’s chips
and that warrants a community protection notice
scattered in the brim of my Reinhard Plank straw hat
If there is a specific individual that is causing a problem
along the Exe Valley Trail
those affected should contact the Council
fierce-eyed pink-legged lari argentati descend
so they can investigate
and gorge themselves atop my bonce
and decide what action is necessary
a few of them snag extra for their chicks

5 stars – Excellent service, great Tasting fish
1 star – Never again
Kenny cooks the fish to order
I recently moved back into the area
the batter is perfection and isn’t too greasy
and were (sic) trying out all the food places around
it doesn’t go soggy
Kenny was around when I last was here
and remains nice and crispy
so I decided to try it again
similarly with the chips, they are not too greasy
I order and (sic) normal burger and a large portion of cheesy chip (sic)
and you always get some of those lovely little crispy pieces in there too
and when I arrived home soon release (sic) that
Kenny has a sense of humour
the chips were not cook (sic) properly and
could offend the more delicate ones of society
the cheese on the chips was green and mouldy
but I find him to be amusing
I would not recommend or go here again (sick)

Dear Daisy
Grandad and I now realise
Scully and I now realise
that there are TWO baby chicks on our roof
those chips you gave us were NO GOOD
I’m not really surprised
I’m not really surprised
because they make enough noise for two or three!
because I’d give that Kenny two or three stars max!
one of them was too shy to have his photo taken
I’m too shy to write a Tripadvisor review
you can just about make out the top of his head in the bottom left
and looking on the bright side ma
the other posed rather nicely for us
that short-legged crab was rather nice
you can see how spotty they are when young
sure, I’m spotty now
but as they grow up they lose the spots
but when I grow up I’ll lose the spots
and become black and white
and become fine feathered and kind
like their parents
like my parents

Whitgift Anthology 2016

Last night I had the pleasure of joining staff and students at Whitgift School for the launch of their 2016 anthology, a collection of writing from across the school community.

During the past year or two I confess that for me the act of writing has sometimes felt like a chore, instead of feeling as it used like a fierce and joyous compulsion. But reading the boys’ poems caused me to remember vividly what it was like to write for the love of it – to write because you have things to say and you want to say them well.

The Whitgift anthology takes its reader on an extraordinarily imaginative journey. Within its pages we go back in time to a prehistoric valley and forward in time to a chilling dystopia. We go back into the memories of old men, forward in the dreams of young men. We go to Africa, to India, to forests and volcanos, we come to Whitgift, where ‘peacocks with plumage proud strut in cool gardens’ and then we turn a page and find ourselves ‘in nasty blizzard of mid-winter in deep dark trenches full of rats’.

The editors chose to order the anthology not by year group but by the mood of the writing, starting with cheerful hopscotchy poems and moving on to darker material. In their lovely foreword the editors invite us to experience ‘the full journey, from elation to annihilation’!

One of the finest wordsmiths of the twentieth century (Bertie Wooster) said this: “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” So well done to the editorial team for making us feel particularly braced with things in general and then for sneaking up on us so stealthily with the lead piping of Fate. They have effected a truly knock-out blow.

All proceeds from sales the Whitgift Anthology go to Book Aid International. Do let me know if you would like to buy a copy, and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can procure one for you!

There are over fifty poems and short plays in the anthology – here is just a small sample:

Beach Football – a poem

Raheem Sterling playing keeping uppy on the beach in Rio, with Sugarloaf Mountain behind
Raheem Sterling playing keeping uppy on the beach in Rio, with Sugarloaf Mountain behind

Welcome to Rio – Marvellous City,
The sun is shining brightly and the parrot’s on the wing,
Fabiana and Rodrigo are playing keepy-uppy
With a football made of rags and bags and smelly socks and string.

“Fabi! Rodrigo! Come and see what Papa got,
A very special something for you football-crazy kids.
It’s big! It’s round! It’s what you’ve always talked about:
A proper leather football with a polyester stitch!”

“CARRACAS!” cries Fabi. “I like it! I love it!
It’s black and white and shiny and it’s bigger than my head!”
“AI CARAMBA!” yells Rodrigo. “Can we bounce it? Can we kick it?
Can we go outside and try it out before we go to bed?”

Hot headed, bare footed, tearing through the shanty town,
Fabi and Rodrigo have the football at their feet,
Run rabbit, run rabbit, dribble till the sun goes down,
Flowing fast and free along the mean favela streets.

Rio’s got talent and slumdogs got soul,
Streetkids and gangsters are coming out to play,
Underneath a washing line, over a pothole,
Spilling down the narrow steps to Guanabara Bay.

Trick it! Flick it! Then kick it on the volley,
You can feel the samba rhythm and the sand between your toes,
Here a cheeky nutmeg and there a sneaky lollipop,
Then cut it back and cross it low and slam it in the goal.

Man on! Man on! And now you’ve got a crab on!
Fabiana weaves among a boogie-boarding throng,
Rodrigo! Amigo! Don’t lose it in the sea, bro!
Focus on your footwork as you cannonball along.

High up in the clouds on Sugarloaf Mountain
Three toucans in a gum tree whistle with delight,
There are fifty players on the pitch but nobody is counting,
There’s a samba football frenzy on Flamengo beach tonight!

The Nightjar’s Complaint – a poem

Photo from
Photo from

Why did you make me a nightjar, Ma,
Such a portly unmuscular bird?
Why must I flitter this tortuous path
And emit this crepuscular churr?
Do you hear the night birds ridicule
Our spooky flap and vulgar cry?
“You Goatsuckers!” the horned owl twoos,
“You cooky Caprimulgidae!”
“You sprogs of Nyx,” the barn owl twits,
“Dark harbingers of puckeridge.”
I’m tired of being a nightjar, Ma,
Reviled by everything that flies.
“Yer beak been to the sawmill, lad?
Some Martian lend you ‘is eyes?”

Why do we have to be nightjars, Ma,
With wings like bark and legs absurd?
Hark now the mother wren invokes
Us dreaded bogeybirds:
“Don’t run afoul, my darlings,
of the gothic horror Moth Owl,
of the Corpse Fowl with the cog growl,
of the gurning, turning Fern Owl.
Be good, my little hatchlings, or
the Fly-toad will get you,
the Poor-will will deck you,
the Dor-hawk will peck at your heads.
The Nightmare Bird, believe you me,
will leave you all for dead.”

Pass the homebrew bottle, Ma,
It’s not just fowl wot’s cruel.
I’m chieftain, Aristotle says,
Of mischief and misrule.
The nightmare catfish-cuckoo flies
From demon mother Lilith’s womb,
He harvests children unbaptized
and supervises Edom’s doom.
We pass the farm, the ewegoats flee.
‘Bums to the fence, girls,’ Nanny bleats.
‘Those suckers fell out of the ugly tree,
Keep your udders away from their beaks!’
A fleeting shimmer of red silk fur –
Et tu, vulpus vulpus?
Do you, too, vanish at the churr
Of fiendish Caprimulgus?

The birds and the beasts teach us villainy, Ma.
They court their own destruction,
When we return from Cote d’Ivoire.
We’ll better the instruction.
We’ll rage with raucous toad-like tune
And wage blunt-headed battles,
Then fling our heartache to the moon
with our last

[Happy birthday, Mum!]

Peony: an original poem based on a Greek legend

Peaon Mount Olympus

Soar with me, gentle reader, to the heights
Of Mount Olympus, seat of heavenly bliss,
Where bright-eyed Paeon is apprenticed to
Asclepius the wizened herbalist.
When Heracles’s arrow finds its home
Among the raging veins of Hades’ neck,
Young Paeon plucks th’intruder from its nest
And stems the blood with ginger turmeric.
If artful Diomedes’ singing sword
Should pierce the golden abdomen of Mars
Tis Paeon’s agile hands will heal the rift
with fennel juice and hippocratic calm.
Within the crystal mansion on the mount
Young Paeon salves each wounded titan pride,
Whilst in the shadows old Asclepius
Is not so much green-fingered as green-eyed.
One moonlit night young Paeon stays up late,
To top and tail sweet chamomile roots,
The oak door groans, the artful intern frowns –
There in the doorway stands the bride of Zeus!
Mysterious Leto goddess of the moon
With burnished diadem and silken hair
Cries ‘Hail Paeon, healer of the gods,
Olympian gold in tender loving care!
I’ve watched you gather poppy seeds and dill
and squeeze the flesh of orange bergamot
I’ve seen your ferox resin sleeping pill
and inhalation of forgetmenot,
Yet there is still one secret which evades
Your flowering encyclopedic mind
One fertile shrub which unbeknown to you
Can dull the pain of labouring womankind.
Below the crest of this Elysian Mount
Among the emerald fields of Spileos,
A flower in a crinkly velvet gown,
Lies blushing pink atop a bed of moss.
Within the textured folds of its embrace
Flow limpid springs of blissful pain-relief
More mellowing than any lotus fruit,
More potent than a eucalyptus leaf.
Pluck its petals, pulverize, infuse,
Then rally the midwives of labouring Greece,
Let Hermes wing his sandals with the news:
“Tears in childbirth evermore shall cease!”’
Up starts the youthful healer of the gods
And breaks into a Myrmidinian run
Like hope unfettered from Pandora’s box
Fleet-footed in the rosy-fingered dawn
On Mount Olympus Paeon’s footsteps flow
Past purple debutante and wild sage,
Spring gentiana – queen of alpine plants –
Pale lilacbush and silver saxifrage.
Through prostrate speedwell Paeon carves a way,
Heeds not the colonies of coralroot
Nor jankaea rosettes of felted grey
Nor tiger orchids trampled underfoot.
To wintergreen and Greek fritillary
Swift Paeon does not give the time of day
But reaching Spileos, Beauty stops him short
A bough of French lime blossom bars his way.
Prodigious Paeon shuts his eyes and breathes
That subtly tantalizing citric smell
whose loveliness is vividly inferred
from memories of Loveliness herself.
And where else must his anaesthetic grow
But in the shadows of this sensuous tree.
The herbalist entreats the silken-haired
High queen of all things hidden, ‘Help me see!’
Delight comes on his heart, and looking down
Asclepius’s apprentice comes across
Ten flowers wearing crinkly velvet gowns
And blushing pink atop their beds of moss.
Young Paeon plucks a bloom and holds it high:
‘I name this veiled treasure Paeony,
I dedicate it to the bride of Zeus,
To motherhood and femininity!’


Sedge Warbler Migration – a poem

Sedge Warbler migrationI wrote this poem for my Mum because it’s her birthday today and she loves birds and bird watching. The sedge warbler winters in sub-Saharan Africa and passes the summer in England or mainland Europe. Like him I consider both those places to be home. But my journey between the two homes is a lot easier than his.

A few notes on the text:

1. Phragmite des joncs is the French for sedge warbler. Dsaysie is the Arabic. Carricerín común is the Spanish.
2. Sedge warblers fuel up for migration by eating flowers and berries from the “toothbrush tree” salvadora persica
3. “Passerine” – a bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes all ‘perching birds’: jays, blackbirds, finches, warblers, and sparrows.
4. Al Jenna is Arabic for a garden and is the same word used for paradise. Assalaam alaikum means “Peace be upon you”, along with its response Wa alaikum assalam. Alhamdulillah means “Praise God”.
5. The “geodetic azimuth” is the vector measured from true north at any given point on the earth.

The Traveller

~ 1 ~

The sun burns orange in the western sky,
It dips and disappears, and way up there
On old Yakuuba’s toothbrush tree you sigh
A sweetly sorrowful pre-migration prayer.
You launch into the void in search of spring,
Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you strong.
A vulture shrugs a valedictory wing:
Au revoir, mon beau phragmite des joncs!

~ 2 ~

Your beak’s magnetic compass does not work
In equatorial lands, but warbler eyes
Are bright, Polaris too, and in the circle
Of Cassiopeia’s spinning throne you’ll find
Your circumpolar south and shining north.
Unflappable at fifteen hundred feet
You flap the lonely trans-saharan course.
Assalaam alaikum, dsaysie.

~ 3 ~

Second right at the dunes of Bouffadi
And straight on till morning you fly,
How weary this passerine passage,
How wind-glazed your warbler eye.
Approaching Tammi you slow down, amazed
By apricot and date palm potpourri,
A heaven-sent pit stop oasis,
Alhamdulillah, dsaysie!

~ 4 ~

For three days at Tammi you refuel your tank
With dainty dates and pomegranate juice,
You know al Jenna is no breeding bank,
You have to bid goodbye, break loose
And set your beak like flint toward the north,
So callibrate your hippocampus compass
To navigate the harsh Mahgrebi course.
Wa alaikum assalam, dsaysie.

~ 5 ~

I ♥ Atlas mountains, I ♥ Alboran Sea,
I ♥ Ibiza, I ♥ Tombouctou,
You’ve been there, flown that, got all the T-
shirts and the yellow jersey too.
Bleary-eyed and weary-winged, you arrive
In the Balearics not one flap too soon
And light on an Aleppo pine – alive!
Bienvenido, carricerín común.

~ 6 ~

One day lying zonked in a carob tree,
Two more in a lethean almond grove,
But now your Devonian destiny
Revives you for the anchor leg above.
With pitiful heaves of feathery flanks
You ride with a heavenly Tour de France,
Match aching wing-beats with the avian ranks,
Allez-allez, petit phragmite des joncs!

~ 7 ~

There’s no Olympic lane on your commute,
No level crossing, toll or traffic isle.
You’ve no congestion charges to compute,
Just geodetic azimuths and miles.
You toil across La Manche and in
The distance spy a Union Jack
And then a holly hedge and wheelie bin.
Hello, sedge warbler, welcome back.

Gretel the Gecko

Here’s a poem I wrote a while back. It makes me laugh – hope it does you too.

Gretel the Gecko was hanging about
In a grass hut in Guinea Bissau.
‘What’s that sound?’ Gretel said. ‘Is it just in my head?
Did somebody somewhere say MIAOW?’

Oh no! Who is that? It’s Zoro the Cat
On the prowl for a gecko to eat,
‘Prepare,’ Zoro growled, ‘to be disembowelled,
I do like a bit of raw meat.’

Gretel the Gecko zoomed high up the wall
And chanted a victory chant:
‘It’s easy to see, you will never catch me,
For geckos climb walls and cats can’t.’

‘Don’t be so sure,’ said Zoro the cat,
‘It depends on how peckish I’m feeling.’
With razor-sharp claws he scaled the wall –
but his prey scuttled onto the ceiling.

‘I am great, I am green, I’m an African Queen.
I’m a bigwig in Guinea-Bissau,
I gobble up flies without blinking an eye
and say ‘click’ without moving my mouth.’

‘You win,’ said the cat, jumping down to the floor.
‘You are pretty and witty and wise.
You are graceful and strong and your tongue is so long
It can reach all the way to your eyes.

You can climb, you can click,
Upside-down you still stick,
And you have a most gogglesome stare
But isn’t being sticky a bit of a drag?
Don’t you wish you could jump in the air?’

‘Jump?’ replied Gretel, ‘I jump all the time,
I bounce and I boing and I bound.
Not even a flea is as jumpy as me,
I’m the springiest creature around.

‘Show me,’ said Zoro and up Gretel jumped,
She forgot she was high off the ground.
If you hang by your toes you should never let go
Because upwards is actually down.

Gretel cried ‘CLICK! I fell for his trick.
I’m a goner in Guinea Bissau!’
She stammered and stared as she fell through the air
And landed in Zoro’s big mouth.

Gobbling flies is very unwise,
And licking your eyeballs is gross.
But here is the lesson most crucial of all:
If you walk on the ceiling don’t boast.