Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Be Happy

Although he is as taciturn as ever
I tell the tree what is troubling my mind.

Ten minutes in, he still has no reply.
I carry on, not feeling in the slightest
bit mad (although I start to, just a little).

An hour in, tree clears his throat and says,
Perhaps next time you might trouble the flowers
instead? ‘But you’re a metaphor for paper,’
I say. But flowers might cheer you up, he answers.

‘They aren’t a metaphor for anything,’
I say. They might be; you never can tell.

I ask my cat what she thinks. Birds. Miaow.
Beyond those thoughts, I couldn’t really say.

I start to tell the flowers what I told
the tree. We heard, they sang (sang?). Look at it
like this: we’re pink, you’re pink; we’re delicate,
admit it – so are you. You’re basically a flower.

‘So when I’m talking to you flowers,’ I say,
‘really, I’m talking to myself?’ That’s right!

And thus it was I found myself less troubled.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


We crossed that border, you and I,
and found an unfamiliar land.

There were no signposts, milestones, maps,
just empty roads, and you and me.

We walked in wordless silence;
we walked until the darkness came.

I could not see you as I stumbled
towards a grey, unquiet sleep.


I stared at brick walls when I woke:
the curtains drawn, the door left open.

There were no mirrors to be seen;
there were no pictures, only frames.

Your absence made my heart a stone,
ice-water ran inside my veins.

I wandered through that house for years;
and wondered where it was you’d gone.


I left that place and crossed a border;
I found my own familiar land.

My blood returned, my heart grew back:
I made a new house with my love.

We painted walls; made shining mirrors;
our stories lit up laughing rooms.

And when we saw our home was built,
we fell into each other’s arms.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Teacher’s Song

The classroom where you teach is just a room:
it has four walls, a ceiling and a floor;
the colour scheme is bland; the furniture
is functional. This room does not inspire.

And yet. And yet. Inside this room there is
a door. You will not see it with your eyes,
you cannot touch its frame, or turn its handle,
for it is of the mind. Unopened. Locked.

No ordinary key unlocks this quite
extraordinary door, it takes a special one:
a key of words, of thoughts, of wisdom’s reach;
an incantation woven by a teacher.

Unlock this door, and then invite your children
to push it open for themselves, and walk
into the world that waits for them: a world
of knowledge, and all the freedom knowledge brings.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sgt Pepperland

Like many people, I was a Beatles obsessive in my youth. Unlike many people (or, I suspect, any people), I took my obsession to a whole new level of nerdiness: I asked the Director of Music at Ampleforth to let me write my 5,000 word O’Level music project on the music of the Beatles. He countered with, “If you like songs, why not study Schubert?” I pointed out that we were already studying his string quartet in A minor. It was still a no. He eventually relented after I presented him with an analysis of “Yesterday” and a working title: The Styles and Forms of the Beatles Melodic Lines. (What was wrong with Melodies? ‘Melodic Lines’? Pffft. What a waffler.) It remains the only piece of academic work I wrote which had any originality or insight, and which I am proud of.

Thirty-three years after my Magnum Opus, I find myself in Sgt. Pepperland, being regaled by “It was 50 years ago today…” nostalgia. It’s a decadal event (it was twenty years ago… now thirty years ago… now forty years ago…), which is fitting, I suppose, given that ‘Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band’ is an album which you only need to listen to every ten years – to remind yourself that, yes, most of the songs are a disappointment. 

This is a common criticism, and there are two counter-arguments which are put forward in mitigation: (i) the sonic innovations were revolutionary; and (ii) the album was a 'cultural event' enjoyed many millions of people.

In answer to point (i): Revolutionary sonic innovations are startling at the time, but there’s only so many times one can be impressed by a flange on the lead vocal; and what was once an innovation eventually becomes either old-hat or dated – because if you innovate a studio effect which everyone else can copy, then they will. The thing with revolutions is that everyone else wants to join in. The Beatles spent nine months in the studio on the sound of the songs, rather than on the songs themselves. A great deal of icing for a small amount of cake. You may disagree. I’ll always find ‘When I’m 64’ embarrassing; think of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ as the second photocopy of ‘Yesterday’ (‘Eleanor Rigby’ being the first photocopy); fast forward ‘Within You, Without You’; cringe at the lyrical tweeness of ‘Lovely Rita’; take a pass on the cloying sweetness of ‘With a Little Help…’. Elsewhere, the problem with the songs is an imbalance in the Lennon/McCartney partnership very heavily in favour of McCartney. Personal preference also plays a big part in my disliking of this album: I don’t like big production.

As for point (ii), I’m put in mind of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius ‘On Crowds’: ‘Lay these words to heart, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority… have you any reason to be pleased with yourself if you are a person whom the many can understand?’