Thursday, 10 July 2014

Dust and Ancient Light

we are made of dust and ancient light
of matter and molecules married by chance
we are the stuff of stars
now bride and groom are fused together
as perpetrators of circumstance

do you take this force of nature
for better and for worse?
these cells and particles to honour and obey?
let us join together to celebrate this tiny universe
and let no man rent asunder

speak now, or forever hold thy fragile peace

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Lakeland haiku

crows fly below us
step-by-step, a steep ascent,
above, only sky


poet captures words
cages them between the lines
sentence meted out


friendless, wandering
existing to shed tears
solitude of clouds

a secret mirror
clouds reflected in the tarn
fish dreaming of flight


tawny owl
greater-spotted woodpecker
blue tit
great tit
wood pigeon
song thrush
greylag goose
yellow wagtail

pipistrelle bat
mason bee
red squirrel

woodpecker watching
squirrels chase one-another
through branches of pine


a dead lamb listens
to the yellowhammer's song
eyes plucked out by crows

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Rolf Harris - a wasp in the jam

When I was at Art College in the early nineties, I suggested that it may be a good idea to ask Rolf Harris to present us with our degrees at our graduation ceremony. This was before his career took off again, before Rolf's Animal Slaughterhouse and all that other stuff, and before he acquired a certain hipness doing cover versions of Lou Reed and Led Zeppelin songs. He was considered to be a bit naff at the time, a children's entertainer who painted on walls and sung novelty songs, but we thought he'd be an unusual choice for the ceremony, and we'd be able to look back with a sense of amusement over the whole thing.
Unfortunately, he was busy, and Neil Innes ended up presenting us with our degrees, which was very nice.

Now Rolf's been unmasked as a serial sexual assaulter, with scores of women coming forward claiming that he'd molested them at various times over the last forty years, and some of them were really young at the time, which given his showbiz persona, is absolutely sickening. When it was disclosed that he was being investigated, nobody could quite believe it; it wasn't as though he had a reputation as dodgy as Jimmy Savile's, or as weird as Stuart Hall's, but as more details came out about what he got up to, it just left everybody feeling sullied, and sad and angry that their childhood has in some way been blighted.

Now it looks like he going to prison. I'm not really sure what the point of a custodial sentence would be to somebody in their eighties, other than a chance for society to extract some revenge for being duped by him for so many years. He's a ruined man, his life and reputation's in tatters, and in his final years, his past has caught up with him.

It would surely make more sense to look at what financial assets he has left, and look at punishing him through his wallet, rather than sending him to jail.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Phone-hacking haiku

who runs this country?
not the likes of you and me -
we are nobodies


tory spin doctor
listening to the public
conversations taped


bindweed trumpets blow
in the soft breeze to herald
this midsummer day


 good day for red-tops -
gold-finches flock in gardens
sun behind a cloud

Monday, 12 May 2014

The death of John Smith

Stones placed by the grave of John Smith on Iona

It's twenty years ago today since the death of John Smith, and like many people I'm wondering just how different things would have been for the Labour Party and the country had he survived. There's no doubt he would have become Prime Minister, and would have pursued some of Blair's policies, especially the use of private investment to build hospitals and schools, although the likelihood is there would have been tighter controls over this. Like Blair, he would have modernised the party, and reduced the influence of the Unions, but not see them as an irritant, as his successor did. I think there would have been less spin, less froth, and more substance to his policies, and perhaps a more intellectually rigorous approach to doing things.

There would have been none of the Shakespearean rivalry between Prime Minister and Chancellor that ended up poisoning the party, and none of the glitzy sleaziness that became all-pervading towards the end of Labour's time in office.

He almost certainly wouldn't have been self-deluded about our role in policing the new world order, or been dazzled by the neo-cons in Washington. He'd have kept his distance from Dubya, and not ride into war on the back of that idiot's coat-tails.

Unfortunately, history is littered with what-ifs. I think it's fair to say though, that had he not died, the country would be in less of a mess than it actually is.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The prison "book-ban"

I work in a prison library, so I guess I have some inside knowledge (no pun intended) of the recent "book-banning" measures that have been in the news lately. The fuss stems from a report that inmates will no longer be allowed to have books sent to them by family and friends, and letters have been sent to the press, petitions have been signed, and demonstrations have been taking place outside jails protesting at this draconian measure.
However, there's actually less to this story than meets the eye. The prison where I work has for the last couple of years implemented a system whereby relatives have been unable to send packages - including books - into prison, mainly because of the amount of contraband that was being smuggled in. One of the library orderlies told me that it used to be really easy to smuggle drugs inside books, and due to the increase in prison population and the decrease in staffing levels things were starting to get out of control. Prisoners do have access to books - they can buy them direct from Amazon in a sealed package (which usually works out to be less expensive than their families posting them in), and in the library we try to accommodate their needs, though it has to be said it's not always easy.

The most annoying thing about this whole episode is the wilful mis-interpretation of what is actually happening - the media are still talking of books being banned, with allusions to totalitarian regimes being made, and there are other stories about prisoners not receiving cards from their children, and so on. Meanwhile, there are many real problems affecting prisons and prisoners which we should be getting angry about - the creeping privatisation of the justice system, the demoralised staff and inmates, and the lack of support in society for those coming out of prison, to name but three - instead of an inflated and biased report which will prove to be a distraction from the real issues.