Comparing the Political Spectrum to Dietary Choices.

This one popped into my head whilst driving home from work yesterday. I’ve been teaching Animal Farm as of late for GCSE and actually spent most of an hour-long lesson trying to explain to my Year 10 class the political continuum. Wish I’d thought of this then as an analogy (might use it for revision purposes when we come back to it later!):

Centre-‘I’ll have what you’re having’
Centre-right-it’s not a meal unless it has meat in it.
Right-carnivore diet.

I don’t mean all vegans are hardcore leftists (or vice versa), rather the political spectrum is a bit like dietary choices in its sliding scale.



Why I’m watching Millom vs Red Star Belgrade.

Today, on the BBC lunchtime news, they decided to end with a good news sporting story. One that couldn’t help pique my interest. Millom RLFC, the world’s oldest amateur rugby league club, were going to be going head-to-head with Red Star Belgrade, the newest. The unlikelihood and romance of the Challenge Cup tie in itself was interesting, but it set me off thinking about a whole bunch of other, related stuff, too.

But wait, Red Star Belgrade have a rugby league side? The Red Star Belgrade of European football fame? Turns out they do. More of that later.

As for Millom, I’ve always had a soft spot for the place, as it where’s my Gran, who I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post, spent her childhood years and just recently my interest has increased-partly due to a natural interest in family history but also due to: 1. I am now living about a one-hour drive away from the town, and recently visited it for a camping-and-hiking expedition late last summer (I think one always feels a bit more of a connection to a place once you’ve visited it). 2. I’ve also in relatively recent times discovered the great Millom writer/poet Norman Nicholson, who writes in his poetry and prose so vividly about the place.

I’m currently reading the late Nicholson’s 1968 book Greater Lakeland, which I found in the school library where I work and posits the idea that the Lake District does not solely exist within the narrow confines of what is now the national park but also takes in a wider area such as Morecambe Bay/North Lancashire (where I now live) and the Cumbrian coast, the Howgills etc. It’s a great read (I can say that at about three-quarters of the way in), exploring almost every valley, lake, town and village in the region-describing their quirks and characteristics, the types of work that led to them existing in the first place and the very rocks and water that make up the landscape (more interesting than it might sound, that last one!). Nicholson, although a romantic in his own way (a poet, after all), didn’t have much time for the idea of a chocolate-box Lake District, made up solely of farmsteads and tourism. Being a true Cumbrian, he wanted the people to have a diverse economy that could support them in good times and bad. And, like my Gran, he’d grown up in the small, working-class industrial town of Millom on the banks of the Duddon estuary, the quarries, ironworks and the mines were as much a part of his landscape (and hers) as the dunes, the mountain backdrop and the vastness of the bay and the Irish Sea.

The town had a peak population of 10,000 in 1967, but, even as Nicholson was writing, ill winds of change were blowing in. The following year the local ironworks closed, announced whilst he was on holiday in the Scottish highlands, discovered in a chance encounter with a newspaper headline, and referred to in the poem Glen Orchy (‘five hundred men/At one stroke clean out of work’) and leading him to write in another poem, On the Dismantling of Millom Ironworks:

“…they shovelled my childhood/On to a rubbish heap…

here five generations/Toasted the bread they earned at a thousand degrees farenheight

And the town thrived on its iron diet.”


And then later, as the poem rises to a crescendo:


“An age/Is pensioned off-its hopes, gains, profits, desperations/Put into mothballs.

The proud battery of chimneys, the hell-mouth roar of the furnace,

The midnight sunsets ladled across a cloudy sky-

Are archeological data…

To a peninsula bare as it used to be, and beyond to a river

Flowing, untainted now, to a bleak, depopulated shore.”


These last lines, are a riposte to that other Cumbrian great, Wordsworth who had written (as quoted in the opening of the poem) ‘remote from every taint/Of sordid industry thy lot is cast’ in the poem The River Duddon. Nicholson was an admirer of Wordsworth but found such a claim about the Duddon to be laughably inaccurate ‘Even in Wordsworth’s time’, never mind his own era. And that goes to the crux of the matter and its something that, as a Lancastrian, but growing up in sight of Cumbria and with plenty of Cumbrian blood in my veins, I feel as well-for all its beauty-of which I’ll never tire of visiting and exploring when I get the chance-it cannot and should not be devoted solely to a straight jacket of what a few tastemakers decide is a timeless rural idyll. Industry has always been a part of the picture and, as much as one cannot stop the ebb and flow of economic forces as much as King Canute could not command the flow of the tides, the problem of Cumbria is a problem of the North, the whole country and the western world-too much reliance on services and not enough of the older industries around to balance it out.At least other parts of the Cumbrian coast are managing to bring forward their industries into the modern era-I hope they continue to do so, so that at least part of the local economy is founded on something other than what Nicholson refers to in Greater Lakeland as ‘taking in other people’s washing’ (and maybe I feel this even more keenly as, being from Blackpool, we always had the car industry and the civil service as counterbalances against the vast tourist economy, and I had family members in both of those former categories-and like, the men from Millom Ironworks, my father’s brothers, my Millom Gran’s sons, were forced to look elsewhere for work when the TVR car factory they had worked at pretty much from leaving school was closed and relocated elsewhere when they were both well into middle age).

To bring the picture up to date, Millom is now just over half the population it was back in the 60s (it lost nearly a third of its population in the three years following the closure of the ironworks) and to visit it now is to visit a lovely (or so it was when I went in late summer) yet remote (by English standards) spot on the edge of Lakeland and the sea. I’m sure it does bleak with the best of them in winter (when I write), but in, what is becoming something of a late-summer tradition, I agreed to meet up with my old university friend Mike to do a bit of camping and exploring so we pitched up at the Harbour Lights campsite (recommended, check it out), and spent a late Saturday afternoon and early evening wandering around the ruined-mine-cum-marina of Hodbarrow Nature Reserve, the beach and skirted the town via pathways through housing estates en route to a pub meal in the neighbouring village of Haverigg (probably most famous for its prison, these days). We didn’t make it into the town centre of Millom itself (a pleasure deferred, as far as I’m concerned) but the following day we did undertake a short expedition that I’d always wanted to (and in fact had sold the trip on the merits of): walking up Black Combe Fell.

Black Combe-highest hill in England, more impressive than many mountains, rising up as it does almost from the sea itself. Visible from a great distance-it was always there, dominating the northern horizon across Morecambe Bay when I was growing up on the Fylde Coast and visible from even further afield (I’ve seen it from the beach at Southport).I didn’t even know its name until the last couple of years, we always referred to it as ‘Barrow’ or ‘the Lakes’ as the shipyards of the former and hills of the latter make up part of the same scene looking northwards from Blackpool, but it’s both adjacent to and separate from those particular landmarks. We walked up it on a murky Sunday morning-somewhat spoiling the view out to sea, but the view of the Duddon Valley and back up into Lakeland was truly spectacular. I’ll definitely be going back on a clearer day.

So, how does all this link to Rugby, and the capital of Serbia for that matter? As mentioned above, Millom RLFC claim to be the oldest amateur side in the world. The Cumbrian coast, being similar in character and workforce to the heartland areas of British rugby league in neighbouring Lancashire and Yorkshire were enthusiastic adherents to the new 13-man code at the time of the league-union schism in the late 19th century. They even had a local saying (according, again, to Nicholson) for doing things wholeheartedly, no half measures-‘Giving it Wigan’-a reference to the endeavour and commitment of the great sides that hailed over the years from that former Lancashire coal-mining town. I’m pleased that they are going to get their moment of glory in front of the cameras, and that the club exists as a focal point for the community, and a link to its blue-collar past.

And, what about Red Star Belgrade? Well, like most people I knew them solely as a football side, one that with a name with both connotations of both communism and glamour stands out like a sore thumb in any Champion’s League fixtures list. Turns out they are a very recent phenomenon, under the Tito regime in the former Yugoslavia league was supressed in favour of union-which seems typically Tito-esque (emphasis on unity, no regional offshoots) and all media (and probably most neutral) eyes are on them as the surprise package, the exotic team. I’m looking forward to the game, I don’t claim to be an expert but I enjoy both watching both codes of rugby (and especially league) as a casual spectator. And it’s history, too, for both sides a part of their hopefully on-going story. the live stream is on the BBC Sport website at 1.30 p.m. Check it out if you get the chance, and feel so inclined. And let’s hope they both give it some ‘Wigan’!




Summer Storm.

The smallest pub in town
Affecting to charge tourist prices
Even though it’s largely locals inside.
I can forgive it that, just.

If I picked up a book in town, I’d plot up there for a pint.
In amongst the pictures of here in yesteryear
And the semi-decent jukebox, the small, wall-mounted telly.
Wood, and brass, the time-honoured criteria for ‘real’ pub decor.

So on this occasion I’d read my fill, had a drink or two and was ready for the off.
The trams were tempting, pulling up right across the road-but I was a roadman before it meant something else.
I set off, past the North Pier and the Metropole, with August skyline to my left humid and ominous away, yet still benevolent above.

I made it past Gynn Square and started to climb along the cliffs.
Gradually, no hands, pure footwork along the easy pathway, taking me higher.
Out to sea the horizon darkened as if swarming
I quickened my pace, aware of its trajectory.

I could see it out to sea now, the cascading sheets of rainfall,
And as Bispham came across the horizon the first flecks announced themselves.
I moved even quicker now, I knew I had one destination.
With a boom, it announced itself arrived, shouldering aside its own advance guard.

Redbank Road station, made it.
The downpour a tail end of mild fury from the Caribbean.
Passing through en route to Norway.
I stared out at the sleek black tarmac and heard the glide of tyres pass on indifferently.

Final furlong home,
The air-sweetened aftermath.
At a decade’s remove memorable
As I write these words.

A January Dream.

A January Dream.

I worked a long, long day
Home via the motorway
Then family, and food
We were in a T.V mood.

But I kept nodding off,
So she turned the T.V off.
So I went to bed, only to wake.
5am, for heaven’s sake!

The subconscious mind,
It can be bleak, what we find.
A reindeer running at me
What symbolism can that be?

Jolted awake, by a dream.
What can it mean, what is the theme?
Working hard, but sedentary.
Is to the mind, a penitentiary.

From The Cabin Lift.

This poem I wrote recently, but refers to a time early on in this decade when I was still living in my hometown, Blackpool. I spent many, many times walking up and down the cliff tops at Bispham, Norbreck and North Shore and really thought of it as my territory. Having miles of sea to look out on and views towards the distant Lakeland fells to the north, Snowdonia to the south and, on a really good day, the distant humps of the Isle of Man really works wonders on one’s mind, especially if on a downer or feeling blue-and the sea air is absolutely magnificent. The last part of the poem refers to a summer’s evening at twilight when I paused by a local landmark known as the cabin lift to look due southwards, right down the coast. I fancied I could see the distant lights of Liverpool (and you can see the city quite distinctly when up in the air when taking off from the old Blackpool Airport-I have), but looking again at a map I think of this particular occasion I was looking at Southport, halfway between the two and easily visible from the southern Fylde, but (so I thought) too south-easterly to be seen from where I was. The first part of the poem refers to the coast in general and particularly Barrow-in-Furness to the north, largely invisible by day from where I hail from apart from its enormous shipyards but suddenly apparent by its many twinkling lights at nightfall.


Anyway, without further ado, here’s the poem:


Hiding in plain view by day,
And becoming apparent at night.
As silhouettes sharpen and grow, and hazes diminish, the first twinkles begin.

Like candles sat on water, each one delineating our coastline from space.
This coastline, estuaries and bays.
I search for the vantage points.
I know a few.

The westwards facing shoreline.
The racing of the inland waterways to meet it,
Or their sluggish transition to the brine.
I see it, in my mind.

But back to these lights.
The night I was on the high point of my own urban cliffs and I perceived the city to the south.
Liverpool Bay, a way away.
I know it was you.



A constant friend, or foe, I feel a soldier in its army.


A constant companion, sometimes summoned by the best of times

and sometimes the cause of the worst of them.


I am trying to channel you for inspiration right now.

You should have your uses.


You can come with me, but I cannot permit you to stop me.


Like any old friend, experience teaches me how to deal with you. The permissible and the possible.

The Waters

Water flows everywhere, and brings forth the connections.


I can see silhouettes outside, of trees and hedges, against a not-yet dark, the black on the electric blue.

That sky is a horizon that overlooks the not-too-distant shore, the waters.


If you perceive the place you are in to be prosaic, a backwater if you will, I invite you to think about where its waters have flown. In the guts of millions, the quagmire in the corner of a winter field. The tropical shoreline.


It is the original wealth, necessary for life and best when in constant circulation. You may hoard it but it is folly to dam up a lake for yourself.


And it will save itself on our behalf, in recognition that profligacy and recklessness are the other side of the miser’s coin.


But if we are abusive of its bounties, it will melt away-in every sense of the word.

Melt to saline, an overbearing shore to wash away our follies.


I nonetheless hope that doesn’t happen.

This is what I think of, when I think of water.



Sleepless in Lima.

I wrote this poem in 2015 (I think, maybe it was ’14), during our three-year stay in Miraflores, in turn 3/4 of the time we lived in Peru. I sometimes suffer from mild insomnia (although having a small baby has changed that picture somewhat!) and this poem was composed one such night when I thought putting my brain to good use would be a productive use of this bonus awake time and might actually help me get some kip in the end!

I have posted a couple of rhyming poems so far this week, with rhyme I feel you’re definitely on safer ground for critical self-reflection-it’s definitely easier to look at a rhyming couplet and say ‘yeah, that works’. With free verse, you are always running the risk of sounding like you’re spouting rubbish. But then, no-one’s having to pay for these poems, other than their time-I hope it’s worth it.

This poem was originally untitled, I have given it here the title ‘Sleepless in Lima’ for both accuracy and want of a better idea.

Here’s to the great reservoir of words

A critical mass of palabras,

waiting to flow free.

I pace this midnight room,

She sleeps on in the bedroom

As I perform this sentinel’s watch

Up on the ninth floor of this tower block.

No sleep ’til trash truck

It arrives, later than usual.

Soon it will depart,

Street silence restored in it’s wake.

But not quite yet.

Not-quite ant-like figures gather the day’s payload.

Now silence. Miraflores, you could be

Manhattan in this night-time.

Such uncommon silence. Even a city

needs its beauty sleep, as someone said

in a book I read.

But back to Manhattan, for a moment anyway.

Is it true (I think it possibly is) that

places are at their most romantic when

we project onto and into them.

‘Preston is my Paris’ as an ad I once read once said.

Here I am in the heart of Latin America, the heart and yet the fringe.

With these uncommonly quiet towerblocks

and the black void of the Pacific

backdropping these very words.



Walking on a Spring Twilight.

You might call this a counterfeit dawn

The shades of blue across walls and lawn.

The tangible sweetness of the spring air.

The birdsong, from their be-twigged lairs.


Deepening dark (but by the week it grows slower,

the sun is strengthening, no longer getting lower).

A tear in the benevolent cloud-gloom reveals a shaft of sunset light.

A final chorus before the onset of night.


State of the Nations (De-stress).

I’ve written a short poem/rap/blog post in rhyming couplets. It starts off on a local, home-town tip, before quickly veering into the territory of current affairs, both home and abroad. I’ve entitled it ‘State of the Nations (De-stress)’.

From a town with an F.C in crisis

With owners less popular than Isis

I come to talk about the state of the nation

Distorted pictures, aggravation.

When I look at Venezuela, what do I see?

But the Battle of Chile in ’73.

Elections-’16 in Peru, ’17 in France.

You’ve got different dancers, but the same dance.

And if the centre, it cannot really hold?

Is now the time for something bold?

Podemos, Syriza, they thought it was time,

Even Labour took a similar line.

But reaction’s got muscle, too.

Trump and Erdogan, just for two.

Yes, and Brexit’s the elephant in the room.

One wo/man’s euphoria, another wo/man’s doom.

And now there’s a gathering of duds around May.

It’s going to be a landslide, some people say.

My glass is half-empty, but also half-full.

Can things be dismal, but life not dull?