Sunday, 4 March 2012

Becoming reconciled to a squirrel


For years

you have hung upside down to steal my birdseed,

nibbled away at suspended coconuts,

arrived before the birds at any scraps,

dug up my newly planted bulbs

and stripped the crop from my walnut tree.


But today

I tidied my winter window boxes,

discarding matted whitened fibrous herbs

and straw-like nasturtium trails,

delving into the moisture-starved soil with my fingertips.


And laughed

to find you have buried one of my own walnuts,

here, under my nose, in the kitchen window box –

and it has sprouted.



next to the parsley that survived the vicious frosts,

are two tiny rowing-boat hulls,

joined together at the lip,

a shrivelled brain between them,

sending up two inches of brave green flame

towards the light.


You have planted me a walnut tree.

Saturday, 18 February 2012



Waiting room, at minus twelve. Perched on frozen metal, but out of the biting wind. Automatic doors open and in flies a limping pigeon.( Flies first, then limps.) Struts about in front of the line of seats. Somebody asks it if it's got a ticket. A family comes in with three plastics sleds, two children and one dog. The dog, on an extendible lead, eventually meets the pigeon. Everyone at Ice Station Minus Twelve cheers up. The community of station waiters unites to co-ordinate


a) dog (small, white and jumping)

b) pigeon (large, grey and leap-frogging)

and c) doors (glass, sliding, automatic).


Doors finally open on approach of adult, rather than of dog, but not quite fast enough for self-launching pigeon, which now limps on both feet.




Rastaman, standing, holding forth,

reels off a list of St Mungo's fare –

champagne, DVDs and condoms

to a good-humoured girl with a ready smile,

some banter and short pink hair.



Things to do in Kensington

while waiting for a daughter:

Order a plate of salad

and a bottle of mineral water.

Walk down a cobbled mews in the dark

And wonder if, given the money,

You'd find anywhere to park.

Watch a little rich girl in a French beret,

and a velvet-collared, tailored suit,

on a silver scooter speeding away

with her golden braceleted mother

in overheated elegant pursuit.




Solemn piano chords in the changing-room today replace the jazz dance, salsa or Sinatra we are more used to as we strip off, shower down or lycra up. Do the staff take turns to select our ambient music? Maybe it's finally the chance for the gardener to decide what goes out through the loudspeakers and he's a reflective type who has just suffered a bereavement. We shake heads in disbelief and water out of ears. Don't they play martial music when there's been a military coup? Down here there's no network reception. Who would tell us if the Queen has died or if the country has been taken over by anarchist aesthetes? But no, the next track is Beethoven's Ode to Joy – the European Hymn. Does this mean that Greece has defaulted and is being mourned? Or has Scotland joined the Euro and taken with it its bagpipes and its North Sea gas?


Saturday, 11 February 2012



Never store tomatoes in the cold

At four degrees or less they lose all taste.

The essence dies. The flavour can't unfold.


Tomatoes from the freezer can't be sold.

Though you may safely chill tomato paste,

Never put tomatoes in the cold.


Lest enzymes wither, wrinkle, fade, grow old,

The fridge is not where this fruit should be placed.

The flavour dies. The essence can't unfold.


The skin stays whole and won't develop mould

But something of its spirit goes to waste.

Never leave your lover in the cold.


Love dies if chilled and has to be cajoled.

When she can't feel your arms around her waist.

The essence disappears and can't unfold.


Conjure up Verona where you strolled.

Feel the sparks of fire her fingers traced.

Never leave tomatoes in the cold.

The essence dies. The flavour can't unfold.




Saturday, 28 January 2012

Wild life


Three generations. Two young girls. One, old before her time, has been allowed a bling handbag and slightly elevated heels. She is too dignified to ask to sit on her mother's knee but feels excluded from the grownups' conversation, so she whines continuously on the edge of their talk: Mummy, speak louder so I can hear. Her parents and her grandparents are discussing exotic holidays and safaris and all the animals they have come across. Tigers, Siberian, white, endangered, striped. What kind of teeth they have… What kinds of mosquito they have been bitten by… What nets are best to use…. Chimpanzees in sanctuaries and in forests… They have travelled far, expensively and wide. Silverdale, just north of the Euston Road, arouses their excitement. Only here, running along a balcony, their first ever rat. Viewed from the top of a London bus.