October 27, 2020 § Leave a comment

a cool breeze

creeps through the wood

far away the dog fox


thinking i’m lost

June 7, 2016 § 2 Comments


thinking i’m lost

an owl’s hoot

darkens the wood



April 17, 2016 § 6 Comments



queues for paris and dublin –

lost child


image courtesy reuters


November 11, 2015 § 19 Comments


A soft thud. A muffled squawk. The riffling of frightened feathers. A bird has fallen three storeys down the chimney and cannot get out.

Anything that flies terrifies me. I have no idea why. It is something primal, a visceral response I have no control over. The longer I leave the bird in there the more likely I am to panic. I fetch gloves, an old towel. Lifting the cast iron inspection hatch of the old fireplace I feel my way in with one gloved hand. I touch tail feathers. Moving my fingers up the body I feel a backbone, wing joints. Keeping my hand still, I reach in with the other. Then suddenly I grab the bird, afraid it will flutter away, afraid I will injure it. I feel its lightness beneath my hands, feel its bones full of air. I remember the heron skeleton among the reeds on the marshes; each bone like a brittle sponge, full of air pockets, weighing nothing.

Now the bird is still. I cannot read it. It’s holding its breath. Perhaps defeated, perhaps waiting for its moment to escape. I bring it into the sunlight, and in a violent rush of energy it pecks me. My hands shake. I hear my heart. I put the bird firmly on the towel beside me and cover it. Wrapping it tight as if it’s a dangerous animal. It cannot escape.

It is one of this year’s rooks. Its plumage is not black but the darkest iridescent green or blue depending on how the light catches it. Its adolescent beak not much bigger than a blackbird’s. Rooks are clever birds; although this one, probably due to its youth, was not clever enough not to fall down my chimney. They are not aggressive – I know it will not mean to hurt me. I had a friend at university who kept one in his room, and it seemed utterly benign. But like jackdaws and humans, they are thieves. They will steal twigs from one another’s nests, but never put up much of a fight. There are always other twigs to be had. I like to call the male chivalrous at courting time. After choosing his mate, or reuniting with her from the previous spring, he will follow her around with a small gift in his beak.  If she accepts, she is his.

And they like to play with the wind. Reminding me of aerobatic pilots in biplanes, they take pleasure is barrel rolls, flicks, tight turns, and dive bombing – pulling up at the last minute and stalling above their nest, tail feathers splayed like air brakes.

I wriggle through the broken fence into the wood. It is not my wood, but no one ever goes there except the odd muntjac. It has not been managed for many years. Dead trees have been left where they fell, the coppiced hazel gone wild and spindly. There is much debris underfoot – a soft and nutritious mulch from years of leaf fall. The few dead elms still standing are home to many insects, but the rooks, usually preferring this species to nest in, will not make their homes in the brittle, leafless branches.

I head towards the rookery. There are maybe twenty nests. Some say rooks sing, but I would not call this music. They chatter, they squeal, taunt and complain. They remind me of the end of a children’s birthday party when too many games and e-numbers have got the better of them. My rook squirms inside the towel. I hold it tighter and walk into the glade beneath the rookery. All that remains of the bluebells are spiky withered leaves. There is plenty of dog’s mercury and red dead nettle. The birds raise the alarm and cackle, scattering into the sky in all directions as if I were a predator.

I unwrap the bird. It seems to be half asleep. Its eyes stare blankly and it doesn’t move. Setting it on the ground, I walk backwards and sit, leaning against a tree. Minutes later the birds return to their nests, making sounds that seem to signal the danger is past. My rook makes a small noise. Like a chirrup, it’s a baby sound. It’s saying, I am back, come and get me.

It calls for what seems like a long time. Venus is shining through the thick canopy, and the sky is turning to ink. The youngsters request becomes more insistent. A rook glides silently down and hops from side to side. There is more talk, and the baby half hops, half limps towards it. The adult splays its tail feathers. Something has been decided. There is yet more conversation and the rookery joins in. Then both birds flap noisily, and the adult leads the way back home.

The rookery is quieter now. It’s nearly dark, and still they talk. But their sounds are becoming quieter, more hesitant, as if they know the others are trying to sleep. A tawny owl hoots, another replies, and I pick up a stray feather and put it in my pocket.


Image courtesy Nat Morley

This piece is a revised version blogged spring 2014


June 22, 2015 § 6 Comments


night lightning –

the cat and me slide deeper

under the covers


Image origin unknown


February 13, 2015 § 5 Comments


chasing me deeper

inside my duvet –

the nightmare



September 29, 2014 § 9 Comments

Photograph by Chetan Karkhanis

leading the pony




air –






Image courtesy Sandeepa Chetan


December 17, 2013 § 16 Comments


‘Pilgrim,’ she whispered. ‘Do you think death is the end of everything?’

‘Can’t hear you. Hang on while I make this hole bigger with my ski.’

‘But hey,’ Tina continued. ‘I shan’t be going anywhere for a while. And neither will you.’ She brushed away a tear.

Pilgrim pulled the ski out of the air hole and wriggled around to face her. ‘What did you say?’

‘Forget it. Doesn’t matter.’

‘How do you know my name?’ he asked.

‘The instructor pointed you out the other day. He said Search and Rescue found the colour of your suit the easiest to spot in the snow. What the hell are we going to do?’

‘Well, I’ve done the first thing, so we won’t run out of oxygen. Now we need to dig ourselves out.’

‘How can you be so calm? What if we can’t get out?’

Pilgrim heaved himself into the full lotus position, closed his eyes and put his palms together like he was praying.

‘Hey. Get real!’ she sneered, staring at him in disbelief. ‘You’re not actually praying are you?’

‘Kind of,’ he said. ‘I won’t be long.’

Tina fidgeted then maneuvered into something like a half lotus. She put her palms together too and waited. But nothing happened – so she rummaged in her backpack and pulled out a cigarette. ‘You don’t mind, do you? In the circumstances, and all that.’

‘Close your eyes and empty your mind,’ he said gently.

‘Can’t,’ she said, flicking open her lighter.

‘OK, if you can’t, look at the daylight coming from the air hole and concentrate on that instead. And by the way, you’re using up oxygen with that lighter.’

Tina shrugged and snapped it shut. She stared at the air hole, but all she could think about was frostbite and dying.

‘I’m freezing and I can’t concentrate.’

‘Ok,’ said Pilgrim, opening his eyes. ‘Time to dig.’

‘Are you afraid of dying then?’ he asked, as he scraped away at the snow with the ski.

‘Hell. So you did hear what I said. Actually I’m shit scared.’


‘How should I know? Maybe I’m frightened it’s going to hurt. Maybe I’m frightened of what comes afterwards.’

‘What does come afterwards, then?’

‘Going to hell, I suppose. The Bible says unbelievers go to Hades when they die, and then they go to hell or the Lake Of Fire. John 3:36. See. I’m not that ignorant. I’m not a Christian, so that’s where I’m heading next, right?’

He carried on digging. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Can’t say I’ve ever needed to give it any thought,’ she continued. ‘I work all hours in the City. Too busy earning the next crust for that shiny yellow 911.’ Tina smirked. ‘Actually Pilgrim, I don’t think anything happens to us when we die. When the body wears out, that’s it. Finito. Curtains.’

‘So why are you frightened of going to hell if it’s not going to happen?’

‘Because maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong.’

‘About what?’

‘About there being a god of course.’ Tina stopped digging and lay on her back.

‘Gimme a break.’

            ‘Half an hour more, then we’ll stop.’

            ‘I’m stopping for five, then I’ll make the air hole bigger,’ she said. ‘It looks like it might be closing up.’

            ‘Could be it’s just getting dark,’ suggested Pilgrim.

‘Can you hear that rumbling?’ shrieked Tina. ‘Shit! Another avalanche.’

            ‘Come here,’ he said, putting his arms around her shoulders. He was whispering to himself. Pilgrim was praying again.

The rumbling stopped. ‘We’re safe for now.’

‘So, you’re a Christian, then?’ she asked.

            ‘Not any more.’

‘But weren’t you praying just now?’

‘Not exactly. I was reciting a mantra.’

            ‘Well, what are you then?’

            ‘Suppose I’m a kind of Buddhist.’

            ‘Aren’t they the guys who believe in karma? Like if you do something bad, you’re born again as a dung beetle or something? Yeah, I remember now. In Tibet they chop you up and feed you to the vultures. Sky burial. Saw it on the telly. Gross.’

            ‘I know it sounds bad to you, but the ground is frozen solid in Tibet – it isn’t possible to have earth burials.’

            ‘Couldn’t they just burn the bodies and chuck them in the river like the Hindus?’

            ‘No,’ said Pilgrim gently. ‘That would pollute the water, and in any case there are hardly any trees in Tibet.’

            ‘But giving your granny’s remains to the vultures. That’s just disgusting.’

            ‘Vultures are sacred there. The body is given as an offering.’

            ‘But isn’t the body sacred, too?’

            Pilgrim explained that Buddhists believed it was just a vessel for the soul, and when it had worn out and was no longer needed, it should be put to good use rather than wasted.

            ‘So what do you think happens when you die?’ asked Tina.

            ‘The soul is born again into a new body.’

‘Sounds cool,’ said Tina.’ So however much I drink or overdo the coke, it doesn’t matter because I’ll always get a new body, right?’

Pilgrim nodded his head gently. ‘Kind of.’

            ‘So that’s why you’re not afraid of dying then.’

            ‘We need to dig some more,’ he said.

‘My boyfriend’s going to be wondering where I am.’

            ‘He wasn’t on the slopes when the avalanche happened?’

            ‘No, he was sleeping off a serious hangover.’

            She talked about their privileged lifestyle. The fast cars, the holidays, the parties.

            ‘And what about you,’ she asked. ‘Do you have a girlfriend?’

            ‘I’ve never had one.’

            ‘Never. How old are you?’

            ‘Twenty eight. It just never happened. I like my own company and I don’t meet new people much.’

            ‘What about work. Don’t you meet girls there?’

            ‘It isn’t that sort of place. I work in British Rail’s Complaints Department so most people are looking for a scapegoat rather than a friend.’

            Pilgrim stopped digging and knelt beside her.

            ‘I need to close my eyes for ten. Just ten. Maybe you could check the air hole.’

            ‘If we get close, we can keep each other warm,’ she suggested, as she shuffled up and laid her head on his shoulder. ‘You’re shy, aren’t you?’

            ‘Um, I suppose I must be.’

            What’s your favourite thing in the world?’

            ‘Easy. Going places on my bike and reading. And yours?’

            ‘Easy,’ she said, closing her eyes. ‘Sex.’

            ‘I never had the opportunity,’ replied Pilgrim sitting bolt upright. ‘We better get digging again.’

            ‘Yes, I suppose we should. In a minute, OK?’ And she held out her arms. ‘I still feel really sleepy.’

            ‘Mmm, me too. Did you check the air hole? We might be running low on oxygen.’

            Tina yawned. ‘I’ll do it in a minute. Pilgrim?’

‘Mmm?’ He barely whispered.

‘What’s the most important thing to you in the world?’

‘Being happy. And you?’

‘Same, I guess.’

Pilgrim shivered. ‘I am suddenly so, so cold.’

‘And me. I could sleep forever.’

And they lay down in the snow, curled themselves around one another, and went to sleep.


 Any comments or suggestions for improvement much appreciated!

Life In The Middle

September 25, 2013 § 1 Comment

This, and yesterdays story, was inspired by the writings of Toby Litt, and some long conversations I had with my late father, who at that time was showing clear signs of dementia. Not altogether sure this story works…


I live in the middle. I’ve lived here all my life and regard myself as most fortunate. I’m sure many people would like to be in my shoes.

It’s nice here: we’ve paid off the mortgage, it’s clean and comfortable, and no one shouts or rushes around. Life here is predictable, which is just how I like it. Where I live is not on the way from anywhere to anywhere else; but it’s not boring in case that’s what you are thinking: it’s just nice and quiet. Some people might imagine there’s nothing to do here so they don’t come and visit; but I wouldn’t want to enlighten them because I like being left alone in my happy little bubble. I’m quite content, thank you.

            I’ve never been to that place they call the edge, and I don’t want to go either. Some say they’ve been there and have written books about it, but I haven’t read any of them because I’m certain I wouldn’t like it one bit: it sounds too different from what I’m used to. To tell you the truth I rather wish there wasn’t an edge because the thought of it disturbs my peace of mind, and I can’t sleep some nights wondering about whether the people who live there might invade us and try and change things. I wouldn’t like that. I know it’s silly to worry but some people just aren’t to be trusted.

            I’m glad I wasn’t alive about a hundred years ago when explorers went everywhere and got dirty and diseased, and brought back stories of people living in atrocious conditions in jungles. I would have found that very unsettling. I’ve read that the explorers even discovered people who ate one another. Sometimes they didn’t come back to tell the tale because… well, we don’t know the answer to that for sure because they didn’t come back and tell us. In any case, I would prefer not to know what it was the explorers discovered – it never did us any good to know that kind of thing.

I’ve heard that some people, and of course it’s mostly the young, like to travel to the edge and look. But they must know in their heart of hearts there is nothing to see. But they to do it anyway, and sometimes they don’t come back so I suppose they must have decided to stay. I don’t understand them. Perhaps something awful happened. Don’t they know that nothing good ever comes from curiosity?

I have decided that living near the edge would be very dangerous, but it’s important I don’t say too much about this, otherwise the people who live there might hear and want to sell up and move to the middle. That must be avoided at all costs because it would encourage overcrowding, which wouldn’t do us people in the middle any good at all.

In truth, those of us who live in the middle shouldn’t waste time thinking about the people who live on the edge. I’ve certainly got better things to think about. The apple tree needs pruning and there’s a pile of ironing to do. But there is one thing that’s been on my mind for a while, and it’s this: we in the middle have heard that those who live on the edge believe that if there wasn’t an edge, then there wouldn’t be a middle; but I say it is very clear that the opposite is true: they on the edge could not possibly exist without us in the middle. They need us. I know which makes the most sense to me.

As I get older I get wiser. One of the things I have learnt is that we are more rational and sensible than they are. We have adapted to our environment; we have evolved so that we are content where we are. There are other ways that we are superior too, but I couldn’t even begin to list them as it would take up too much of my valuable time.

 I don’t like to blow my own trumpet, but the simple truth is that we are simply better than them…


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