v l p t


When I went for my eye check-up today
after all the puffs of air against my unready eyeballs
and the stinging drops
and the unexpected flashing lights
all I could see were vague blurred shapes.

I made a wild guess
at the last line on the card
and got all the letters right.
v   l   p   t
A little miracle!
It was like winning the lottery
only without the pot of gold
at the end.
But still I felt elated.

Do you believe that perhaps a blind man can somehow see?
I asked the optician.
Come back in a year’s time, he replied.
Remember not to drive till the effects have worn off.

Constant Companionship

z-lunan-07-10-2011-01-09-00          After twenty years or so
         of constant companionship
         he had said
         all he had to say to her
         but he still went on talking
         although years and years ago
         she had stopped listening.



In ‘Lord Jim’  by Joseph Conrad, Jim, a romantic who had always dreamed of fame and recognition, is an officer on board the PATNA, a ship taking Muslims to Mecca. Out of the blue, his chance to be a hero came…and went:
In the night the ship shuddered – as if  it had hit some submerged object – panic and chaos ensued.
Jim found himself at the rails looking down to see the captain and some of the other officers clambering into a lifeboat. They made signs for him to join them and before he knew what was happening he found himself in the water beside the boat.
He had jumped.
The rest of his life was an attempt to erase, atone for, put behind him this instinctive act of panic/cowardice, this jump from duty, this loss of honour.
In Conrad when a character ‘jumps’ – acts impulsively – it invariably leads to disaster.

It’s a book I’ve read and re-read and found it becoming all too real in the recent  news account of what happened to the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the tiny island of Giglio with characters who might have stepped straight out of Conrad’s pages: – Francesco Schettino, the showboating captain who sailed too close to the island, ran onto rocks then in the confusion that followed abandoned the stricken ship, breaking the moral code that naval officers live by; Gregorio De Falco, the Livorno coastguard, becomes the voice of outraged decency. When Schettino made a belated distress call from the safety of the lifeboat, De Falco showed his contempt for the captain’s betrayal of the moral code that naval officers live by:  “Get back on board for fuck sake! There are already bodies, Schettino. Go!”
And when Schettino said he couldn’t do anything because it was dark and “all the officers are on the rescue boat with me” De Falco asked
Why did you allow them to get off?”
” We abandoned ship, ” Schettino said.
With 100 people still on board you abandoned ship?”  De Falco yelled. “  Vada a bordo, cozzo!

A year later, 15 April, 2014, close to Jeju island, the SEWOL, a ferry boat carrying 476 passengers, mostly school children on a 4 day field-trip, capsized and sank with the 69 year old captain in his cabin leaving an inexperienced 25 year old 3rd mate at the helm. The ferryboat  inexplicably made a sudden sharp turn, the cargo shifted and the ship began to tilt. It took 2 hours to sink and for that period the passengers were urged to stay in their cabins. Only 2 0f the 40 lifeboats were deployed. The captain and his crew escaped safely from the sinking ship as did the teachers in charge of the children. Most of the children were not so fortunate.
Later, the captain, under arrest and hidden inside a hooded anorak,  mumbled that he accepted responsibility, that he told passengers to stay put in their cabins because there were no signs of rescue boats and the water was too cold and too full of strong currents for them to survive.
” The conduct of the captain was wholly unfathomable…. it was like an act of murder that cannot and should not be tolerated,” said Ms Park, South Korea’s first woman president
The teacher who organised the trip and who escaped from the sinking ship commited suicide, hanging himself near the school and leaving a note that said  ‘Surviving alone is too painful….I will once again become a teacher in the afterlife for my students whose bodies have not been found.’

The old-fashioned notion was that those in command, in control of our lives and well-being, must be brave in an emergency, cool in a crisis and,  like Captain Smith of the Titanic, willing to sacrifice their own lives in the service of others.

Stein, one of Conrad’s characters in ‘Lord Jim‘ puts forward his (and probably Conrad’s) philosophy on ‘how to be‘:
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea. If he tries to climb out into the air as inexperienced people endeavour to do, he drowns- nicht wahr?… No! I tell you! The way is to the destructive element submit yourself, and with the exertions of your hands and feet in the water make the deep, deep sea keep you up...”


The Making of Lists


Today I have stayed all morning in bed wondering, Am I a good person? Am I a bad person?

I find that things become clearer once you organise  them into  orderly lists so I start on a positive note by going over all the good things I have done in my life.

Right away I have a problem with my daily purchase of The Big Issue from the sad young woman  who stands,  every day, all day, rain hail or shine, outside the supermarket and wishes every passer-by a nice day even when they ignore her. I go into the supermarket every day and buy at least £20 worth of food and drink but only give her a quid. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Stopping smoking is another grey area. Is that morally a good thing or just selfishly a good thing? Can something selfish be good? I’ve stopped because I don’t want to kill myself. Nothing particularly heroic there!

And taking in that stray cat my daughter brought home which drove my dear wife crazy and gave our younger daughter fleas and an allergy – a generous enough impulse but wasn’t it a bit thoughtless, a bit self-indulgent? And wasn’t the good deed more my daughter’s than mine?

And becoming a vegetarian? Did that stop me from buying shoes for which some poor cow had provided the uppers? Or wearing my ski hat made from the fleece of an unborn lamb?

I once stepped between a young woman and a man who was hitting her. He was smaller than me. My wife sort of pushed me into doing something about it. All the same I did the right thing. Stopped him by grabbing his arms, enclosing him in a tight embrace. She wasn’t grateful though. Told me to mind my own f*****g  business. And when it was all over and they had gone off, arm in arm, and I was dusting myself down, I discovered my wallet had gone with them. 

But I did save a boy from drowning. That was definitely a good thing. He had jumped in after his dog, not knowing it would dog-paddle its way safely to the river bank. His sister was running along the bank, screaming her head off, but couldn’t swim so I did what most adults would have done and  dived in,  grabbed him, swam him ashore. But then I am an excellent swimmer. With certificates to prove it. The boy probably showed more courage in jumping in after his dog than I did in jumping in after him.

 Tomorrow I might get round to listing the bad things.

  • cat2



I automatically downgrade anyone who says ‘between you and I’ – for some reason that is a grammatical error up with which I am unable to put: and anyone who uses the word ‘posh’; and anyone in a restaurant/cafe/plane/bus who speaks  so loudly that you can’t escape his/her conversation to make your own; and bars/pubs which as soon as they open switch on muzak in the belief that human nature abhors a vacuum; and people who use a knife not to aid their eating but to make that scraping noise on the plate;  and passengers  who put their feet up on the seat opposite; and people who laugh loudly, especially in eating places (” the loud laugh that speaks the vacant mind “);  and people who laboriously tell you something boring then say  “but having said that” and go on  to give you at length the other side of the story;  and people who say ‘actually’ and ‘basically’;  and  obese people; and cyclists on pavements;  and people who say things like  ” being given a medal was literally the icing on the cake ” ; and presenters like Clarkson and Oliver and Robinson who with such limited talents are so ubiquitous; and

Things I Remember From School


Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.


….strange how stuff from school days sticks, resurfaces, acquires new meaning as you grow old(er)……
I find myself humming Schubert’s ‘The Trout’ taught us by Mr. Ronald Center, our inspiring music teacher. As well as ‘ Who is Sylvia?, and  Schumann’s ‘ To France and to freedom two grenadiers/from bondage in Russia were tramping/And bowed with shame and foreboding they came/Where lay Russian soldiers camping...’

And I can still recite  Longfellow’s Blacksmith poem which I still don’t like much but which our very uninspiring English teacher made us learn by heart (as well as  Shylock’s

Signor Antonio, many a time and oft
In the Rialto you have rated me
About my moneys and my usances.
Still have I borne it with a patient shrug,
For sufferance is the badge of all our tribe.
You call me misbeliever, cutthroat dog,
And spet upon my Jewish gaberdine—
And all for use of that which is mine own. “
which I like more and more – but never got round to finding out what exactly was Shylock’s ‘gaberdine’.
And  she also made us learn Gray’s ‘  The ploughman homeward plods his weary way‘ which I admire now but  found impossibly dull then
and Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’
and so on.
I can clearly remember the context in which I learned all these scraps – the teacher (Miss B, was that a wig she was wearing? Mr C with his long black hair which was okay because he was a musician), the classroom (cupboard on the right side, windows on the left) , the pupils ( Jimmy H who laughed at everything, Grace L who was so tall and so beautiful, Ralph M who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’ and whose father owned the local fish and chip shop), the feelings (anxiety, embarrassment, amusement, interest, boredom):
Jimmy now farms his father’s farm;  Grace went to Southampton; Ralph was killed in a car crash; the teachers…….I didn’t go to any reunions; I lost touch.
But over the years I have kept in touch with the poems and songs  –  the village blacksmith with his strong and sinewy hands, badly-done-by Signor Antonio, the two patriotic Grenadiers, the beautiful Sylvia, the constant ploughman  –  they have all stayed with me,  and in addition I have become aware of  and appreciate the hidden ideas and the skills which created and infused these poems and songs we learnt so reluctantly so long ago…….
And oft, when on my couch I lie/ In vacant or in pensive mood/ They flash upon that inward eye/ Which is the bliss of solitude.
They comfort me.

Broad thoughts from a home

Oh to be in Hydra

(a small island near Piraeus taken over in the Summer by artists and writers)

now that winter’s  here

(the ‘Howff – a graveyard in Dundee, the home of Jute, Jam,  and George Galloway)


while snowflakes fall on  grey tombstones

(an island boy – able was I ere I saw Elba – with his finger in his ear)

in Scotland now

( a small country made famous by George Galloway, Sean Connery, William Macgonagall and Alexander Salmon)

Jasc Ponte 4pic Canvas



That time of year thou mayst in me behold


when yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
 upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
 bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
as after sunset fadeth in the west;
which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
that on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

as the deathbed whereon it must expire,

consumed with that which it was nourished by.

Magdalen 1

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,

To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Surface Attraction

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If in your home

you are faced with a flat surface

there is always a temptation

(“Anyone seen my carkeys/spectacles?”)

to put something casually on it

but more usually

more permanently

it is some object which you like

or which reminds you of something  somewhere

some place, some event that mattered

or somebody close to you,

long ago, still,

or something which

(you hope)

will interest/impress your friend(s).

This is my mantelpiece –

a Masai head, a Modigliani bust

and two avant-garde dogs.

What d’you think?

“Anyone seen my coil of picture wire?”