Some haikus from my collection of poetry – The Red Petticoat.

Be still; half-close your

eyes, and listen to the sound

of the universe.


My hands kneading dough

become your hands in cloudy

puffs of wheaten flour.


Fragile spider’s web –

its silken, silver threads a

charnel house of flies.


A slimy, silver

trail across my balcony –

well, snails must live too.


My face against the

grass, I smell the fecund earth,

watch the insects creep.


A homeless man called

out – today I did not eat

a wail of anguish.


Baisteach, boladh móin,

i bhfad ó Rann na Feirste,

cumha ar mo chroí.


Magpies black and white,

machine gun clatter chatter,

strut across the grass.



An excerpt from my favourite George Orwell novel – Coming Up for Air.

“I stayed there for a bit, leaning over the gate. I was alone, quite alone. I was looking at the field, and the field was looking at me. I felt – I wonder whether you’ll understand.

What I felt was something that’s so unusual nowadays that to say it sounds like foolishness. I felt happy. I felt that though I shan’t live forever, I’d be quite ready to. If you like you can that that was merely because it was the first day of Spring. Seasonal effect on the sex-glands, or something. But there was more to it than that. Curiously enough, the thing that had suddenly convinced me that life was worth living, more than the primroses, or the young buds on the hedge, was that bit of fire near the gate. You know the look of a wood fire on a still day. The sticks that have gone all to white ash and still keep the shape of sticks, and under the ash the kind of vivid red that you can see into. It’s curious that a red ember looks more alive, gives you more of a feeling of life, than any living thing. There’s something about it, a kind of intensity, a vibration – I can’t think of the exact words. But it let’s you know that you’re alive yourself. It’s the spot on the picture that makes you notice everything else.

I bent down to pick a primrose, Couldn’t reach it – too much belly. I squatted down on my haunches and picked a little bunch of them. Lucky there was no one to see me. The leaves were kind of crinkly and shaped like rabbits’ ears. I stood up and put my bunch of primroses on the gatepost. Then on an impulse I slipped my false teeth out of my mouth and had a look at them.

If I’d had a mirror I’d have looked at the whole of myself, though as a matter of fact, I knew what I looked like already. A fat man of forth-five, in a grey herringbone suit a bit the worse for wear and a bowler hat. Wife, two kids and a house in the suburbs written all over me. Red face and boiled blue eyes. I know, you don’t have to tell me. But the think that struck me, as I gave my dental plate the once-over before slipping it back into my mouth, was that it doesn’t matter. Even false teeth don’t matter. I’m fat – yes. I look like a bookie’s unsuccessful brother – yes. No woman will ever go to bed with me again unless she’s paid to. I know all that. But I tell you I don’t care. I don’t want the women, I don’t even want to be young again. I only want to be alive. And I was alive that moment when I stood looking at the primroses and the red embers under the hedge. It’s a feeling inside you, a kind of peaceful feeling, and yet it’s like a flame.”

I travelled through that book right beside the fat man with the red face – and I’m all the better for it.

Three short excerpts from “Sea and Sardinia” by D H Lawrence

I am not particularly fond of any of D H Lawrence’s novels but this travel book – Sea and Sardinia – is terrific.

“The lovely dawn: the lovely, pure, wide morning in the mid-sea, so golden-aired and delighted, with the sea like sequins shaking, and the sky far, far, far above, unfathomably clear. How glad to be on a ship! What a golden hour for the heart of man! Ah if one could sail forever, on a small quiet, lonely ship, from land to land and isle to isle, and saunter through the spaces of this lovely world, always through the spaces of this lovely world. Sweet it would be sometimes to come to the opaque earth, to block oneself against the stiff land, to annul the vibration of one’s flight against the inertia of our terra firma! but life itself would be in the flight, the tremble of space. Ah the trembling of never-ended space, as one moves in flight! Space, and the frail vibration of  space, the glad lonely wringing of the heart. Not to be clogged to the land any more. Not to  be any more like a donkey with a log on its leg, fastened to the weary earth that has no answer now. But to be off.”

“One sees a few fascinating faces in Cagliari: those great, dark unlighted eyes. There are fascinating dark eyes in Sicily, bright, big, with an impudent point of light, and a curious roll, and long lashes: the eyes of old Greece, surely. But here one sees eyes of soft, blank darkness, all velvet, with no imp looking out of them. And they strike a stranger, older note: before the soul became self-conscious: before the mentality of Greece appeared in the world. Remote, always remote . . . ”

“Coffee and milk – and then, only about three-quarters of an hour late, the train from the north. It is the night express from Turin. There was plenty of room – so in we got, followed by half a dozen Sardinians. We found a large, heavy Torinese in the carriage, his eyes dead with fatigue. It seemed quite a new world on the mainland: and at once one breathed again the curious suspense that is in the air. Once more I read the Corriere della Sera from end to end. Once more we knew ourselves in the real active world, where the air seems like a lively wine dissolving the pearl of the old order. I hope, dear reader, you like the metaphor. Yet I cannot forbear repeating how strongly one is sensible of the solvent property of the atmosphere, suddenly arriving on the mainland again. And in an hour one changes one’s psyche. The human being is a most curious creature. He thinks he has got one soul, and he has got dozens. I felt my strong Sardinian soul melting off me, I felt myself evaporating into the real Italian uncertainty and momentaneity. So I perused the Corriere whilst the metamorphosis took place. I like Italian newspapers because they say what they mean, and not merely what is most convenient to say. We call it naiveté – I call it manliness. Italian newspapers read as if they were written by men, and not by calculating eunuchs.”

And now after copying out these passages I am compelled to read the whole book – again!

An excerpt from “Kowloon Tong” by Paul Theroux

“Brandy was gleaming on Mr Hung’s lips. He looked drunk, his face pinkish and raw, his eyes boiled, and he was smiling in a vicious way as he chewed with his mouth open. Bunt remembered the look of greed, of heedless hunger, he had seen on Hung’s face in the lounge of the Regent. It was the desperate peasant who had been wrenched from his village and plonked down in luxury. He had not known that Bunt was staring at him; that was Hung’s real face.

Hung said, ‘These chicken feet are first quality. You appreciate them?’

He was speaking to Ah Fu as he examined a chicken foot, using his chopsticks like tongs and dangling the yellow foot in front of his watery eyes. Then he dropped it on to his plate and began to claw at it.

‘I think so,’ Ah Fu said shyly, her voice trailing off. ‘Are you completely bewitched by them?’ Hung’s lower teeth showed as he set his jaw to tear off the chicken foot.

Ah Fu murmured to Mei-ping, who said, ‘she says you speak English so well.’

Hung was hunched over the drooping foot, scraping at its yellow scales, dragging white tendon strings from its slender shank.

‘In the future we will teach you,’ he said, gripping the chicken foot in his teeth.

Hung meant the Hand-over, the Chinese Take-away, now more than a year off. Bunt loathed the subject and when it came up always said, ‘I don’t even want to think about it,’ and here he was, hating himself and listening to a Chinese man chewing and gloating over it.

‘So many people will come to Hong Kong,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Chinese people.’

Hung was still chewing, flecks of leg scales on his lips, the chicken foot near his mouth as he gnawed and still he replied, saying, ‘Not necessarily.’

‘They will take our jobs, we think,’ Mei-ping said.

Hung looked at her sternly, like a teacher distracted by a commotion at the back of the class. He held the chicken foot upright in the grip of his chopsticks.

‘That’s what people say,’ Mei-ping said. ‘Because the Chinese are clever and well trained. They are also tough.’

‘But we are rubbish,’ Ah Fu said, chewing with a down-turned mouth.

Hung did not reply but instead went on cramming the chicken foot into his mouth, finishing it off with his teeth. He spat a knuckle of gristle onto his plate and reached for another chicken foot.

‘Not to worry,’ he said, and gnawed. His face was so contorted by his chewing that he seemed to have no eyes. ‘We will teach you.’

Ah Fu had been picking and peeling the mottled skin from the chicken foot. Mr Hung’s gruntings showed her how to work the skin free and she timidly thanked him.

Seeing her draw away from him, Hung thrust his face at her and said, ‘I want to eat your foot.’

Bunt was disgustedly drinking a pint of beer, eyeing the table with resentment, the dishes of sticky pork and soggy and wilted lettuce, the black vegetables, the grey broth, the purple meat. On one dish of yellow meat was a severed chicken’s head, its eyes blinded, its scalloped comb torn like a red rag.

Hung’s elbows were out, his blue tongue showed as he stuck his chopsticks into the dish of yellow meat and used them like pliers to grasp a fragment of chicken breast. Its white flesh was exposed when he left a bite mark on it, then he chewed and gagged and pursed his lips. Again, with a retching noise, he spat garbage onto the table.

‘This is delicious because it has been strung up,’ he said. ‘You know how? Some string – tie it.’ He made deft throttling and knotting gestures with his fingers. ‘Truss it well and hang it for days. Let it air dry. Just dangle there.’

Bunt watched the man salivating as he spoke. ‘It becomes tender and fragrant.’ Still salivating he looked into the middle distance and apparently beheld the thing with his watery eyes, a suspended creature with a rope around its neck and its head flopped over. The apparition seemed to fill him with lust.

Bunt was frowning. Yes, the Chinese man had said, I want to eat your foot.”

Isn’t that just the business? It’s almost enough to put you off chicken – but only almost! I would highly recommend this book – in fact I would recommend any books by Paul Theroux.

(For more information on my books click here.)