About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Arnos Vale Cemetery at Halloween

Some of the best poetry moments for me this year came during the series of poetry walks I did with my fellow Isambards at Bristol Botanic Garden. 

So I'm really excited at the prospect of doing some more in 2020, this time at Arnos Vale, which is a Victorian garden cemetery and one of my favourite places to visit in all of Bristol. 

We had a preliminary meeting with Public Engagement Manager Janine Marriott at the cemetery the week before last, to discuss possible routes and dates. 

She also gave us a guided tour of part of the site, and talked about notable incumbents, the intricacies of consecrated ground, and the variety of wildlife found there. 

I was astonished to learn that over 300,000 Bristolians are buried or have their ashes scattered her. (This number includes my paternal grandparents and my father's baby brother.)

That's over half the present day population of the city.

When I arrived home from this first visit, I realised I'd taken the same photo as I did on an earlier visit this year. 

Of course, needing to write poems about a place is a good excuse for frequent visits, so I went back again today, this time with my dog, Ted, to walk some of the paths I'm not yet familiar with. 

Being interested in death, I already have lots of poems on the subject, but the poetry walks are a good excuse to write some new, site-specific ones. 

I already know that I want to write a poem about the corner of the cemetery where stillborns were buried in the middle decades of last century, without ceremony and more often than not without the knowledge of their parents either.

My godmother's first baby was stillborn in the 1950s, and telling their story in a poem feels like something I can do for her and her lost son. 

I also want to write about the wildlife in the cemetery ... although visiting late morning with a border collie in tow is a sure way of not seeing any. Apart from those other unsubtle creatures, magpies. 

Here, at the grave of Baby Dean, I was reminded of U A Fanthorpe's Christmas poem, The Sheep Dog, the eponymous hero of which is left behind to guard the sheep while the shepherds heed the angels' bidding and go to the stable. 

I had to stay behind wi' t'sheep.
Pity they didn't tek me along too.
I'm good wi' lambs,
And the baby might have liked a dog
After all that myrrh and such. 

Real roses on an old grave gave me pause until I realised I was at the graveside of George Müller, adopted son of the city and its benefactor. 

For all that is it wild and beautiful, a delicate balance between nature and artifice, there's also a palpable atmosphere of anguish in the cemetery, and by now I was beginning to get the collywobbles, so I decided that was enough for one day.

I'll be back soon. 

Saturday, 26 October 2019


Been doing a lot of errandry* lately, but at least it's involved some getting out and about to interesting places. I get a bit depressed cooped up in Bristol, especially this time of year when some bugger's pulled the plug and all the light's draining away.

*Now I'm wondering if errandry should be errantry, which has the benefit of being an actual word, but that might just be wandering about without the service element. Hmmm.

Anyhow. My mother was in Bristol for ten days or so recently, following a sojourn in Cornwall, and briefly fancied going to Clevedon, so we took her there before she could change her mind. There's a pub right on the front where you can have something to eat and look out over the estuary and there's light and interest even when the weather forecast is poor, which it was. 

And by the time we emerged, it was into unexpected afternoon sunshine, and a plane, which you probably can't make out in the photo, was doing loop-the-loops and things. 

We made our way to the pier.

I took time to admire my favourite thing about Clevedon which is its less than genteel trees ... 

... though there was no walking the steep cliff path of Poets Walk, of course.

After a flying visit to the pier's gift shop, we manoeuvred our way through the narrow lane that leads from the front to Copse Road, emerging alongside the Royal Oak Pub, which was run by my Great-Great-Uncle Joe Rich during the first half of last century. There are lots of family stories associated with this time.

My mother happily told several passers-by and a couple of workmen about the times she used to pull pints there, aged 14. 

The lane hasn't changed much at all, apparently.

A couple of days later we ventured deeper into Somerset to visit my mother's only surviving elder brother, Noel, in Shepton Beauchamp. They did a great job of bringing their childhood misdemeanours to life, details of which I shan't repeat here.  

The next day, my birthday, the Northerner and I were in Wells for the gathering of shortlisted competition poets at the Festival of Literature ... 

... and then suddenly that was enough Somerset, and my sons and I were off to Sussex for a belated birthday jaunt - my daughter's birthday, not mine. And it rained again.

But then it cleared up enough for a little wander around Brighton Marina ...

View to Ovingdean Gap

... followed by cake. 

Friday, 18 October 2019

'After argosies on the sea, argosies in the sky'

There were perils attached to growing up in a town, the local name of which in British Sign Language translates as 'aeroplane'. The worst was being dragged, by a son-less father, to the annual air show that was held on the airfield. (So loud, those Harrier Jump Jets!) By the time the Aerospace Museum opened in Autumn 2017, I'd recovered enough to try to persuade my by then very frail father to let me push him around it in a wheelchair. He flatly refused. And then, four months later, he died. So that was that. 

Except I've been more blessed than my father in the son department, and the younger one wanted to go regardless. And eventually, on a day too rainy for our planned walk, we went. 

I'm not going to give a potted history of flying machines in Filton, though it was fascinating to see the effect on the development of the then village the factory had. 

To the rest of it, I paid attention as diligently as I could. And when I couldn't, I took photos of Son the Younger paying diligent attention. 

Of course, what we'd really gone there for was Concorde, which was so much a part of both our childhoods. I'd watched the maiden flight on 9th April 1969 from my primary school playground in Filton. Son the Younger had watched the final flight home, on 26th November 2003, from his.  

Here's the hangar. 

And here's the first glimpse. 

Even the technical stuff was interesting. 

It's snug on board.

Apparently John Wayne was too big to fit right inside the toilet cubicle and the stewards had to hold up a curtain when he wanted to use it. 

I confess I let sentimentality overtake any modern-day notions of carbon footprints and sustainability and had a small teary feeling at the end of our visit ... 

... while Son the Younger took a moment to explore the likely future of Filton's aircraft industry post Brexit.