dj in front garden


A summer morning.
I’m 10. I’m sitting
in a sandpit, back
supported by
a bucket
upside down.
The sun is brilliant,
and standing high;
it must be
nearly noon. I
tip back my head
and I yawn and
the sun fills
my open mouth
like a spoon
and I know
that I shall
live forever.

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Memories of loneliness within the crowd and seeking solitude in order to conjure up home…


They were singing The Parting Glass. The fire was high.
Some eyes were closed with the weight of the song;
others gleamed. All there were drinking hard.

The windows ran with condensation and rain fell straight
in the windless night. I rose and threaded my way
to the door. From woodsmoke, I stepped into seaspray.

From the crossweave of the song, I stepped into the cry
of gulls. Sickle wings looped and turned in the dark.
I sat on the wall and thought of home. I lifted my face

into the rain and thought of you and the children. All of you
asleep – your hair auburn-red over the counterpane,
their faces spellbound. And I called along the alleys

of the rain and out across the tenements of clouds
to where you lay sleeping, thinking not to wake you but
just to stand for a heartbeat at the corner of your dreams.


The Parting Glass at Peadar O’Donnell’s Bar, Derry

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Another restless night. At 01.20 I stood at the window watching the skyline. During previous bouts of insomnia, there was always something faintly comforting about the long, probing lights of planes flying into Luton Airport from the east and descending elegantly behind the trees. Others awake like me, but in transit from Sofia, Talinn, Lyon, Kutaisi, Reykjavik, Cork. The enigma of arrival.

But in the small hours this morning nothing disturbed the skyline. And my sense of solitude was strangely heightened by the sudden doppler whine of a motorbike speeding by on the road below. But, of course, the solitude is real and its sense is pervasive. Yesterday we went for a walk. We crossed the fields and walked down the long slope of the lane. We were passed by just one car before turning onto the muddy track that took us past the farm and onto the bottom of the hill leading up to our house. As we walked alongside the meadow where the horses are grazed, half way up it a lone figure was slipping a bridle over the neck and head of a piebald shire horse. She turned as she gathered it into her arms and saw the three of us paused by the fence. With the solemnity of the stay-at-home edict still fresh in our minds, there was a curious hesitancy in the distant encounter. Then the woman slowly raised her free arm in a strangely stiff and formal salute; we returned it in similar manner; she turned and walked towards the stable buildings and we continued on our way.

So suddenly we’re strangers in a strange land. And as the economic structure purées all standard procedure around us, the normal social protocols go into suspension. In one street an act of inexplicable cruelty and stupidity occurs; in a parallel street the self-sacrifical kindness of a stranger demonstrates the extraordinary generosity that ennobles humanity in crisis.

And it’s all broken apart in a little over a fortnight. Here we all are inside our familiar house, moving from room to room, eating meals, binge-watching on Netflix, carrying our laundry upstairs, face-timing friends, sweeping floors, insulated briefly from the Mystery. But the outside world that we scrutinise through the windows has fallen away. The trees and fields and pathways prevail, but the few passers-by hasten in their transit as if anxious only to draw their own walls swiftly around them so that they too may themselves move from room to room, glancing now and then through the windows.

Ólafur Arnalds – Particles, featuring Nanna Brands Hilmarsdóttir.

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Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) flying past the moon

I’m okay during the day. There’s lots to do and in between the TV bulletins updating us on the steepening infection curve, the increasingly ravaged images of angry, exhausted doctors and nurses on the front line and the sad, baffled faces of politicians sharing our fear and incomprehension, I’ve been here before: I’m on holiday and the time beat of the day has adjusted to the slow, muffled background thump of hours without agenda or direction.

But at night I wake up suddenly. I open my eyes and the stars are looking back at me, cold and indifferent. Sometimes I’m able to sleep again immediately. But too frequently there’s something about that indifference, that absolute implacability that has me out of bed and downstairs, fearful and alone…


Unable to sleep, I sit before
the heartless brilliance of the screen
with the real-world darkness

hovering, fresh-minted, glossy
at the window. It’s as if time
has packed her bags and left

for the coast and then beyond.
Fear leans on the back of my chair
in his poacher’s coat, deep pockets

full of gin-traps, poison, shiny knives.
I take off my glasses, knuckle away
the mess of my tears. And then,

like a gaggle of drunks through
a suddenly opened door, the geese
are overhead. Some crass dispute

as to the whereabouts of water
in the impossible night, their voices
skronking inside a collision of

cranking necks and wings. As they
tumble through the unseen clouds,
I laugh out loud and love them all

for their unconsidered vandalism,
neither thought nor theory troubling
the palate of their need.

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I stood looking out of the kitchen window. Hardly a breeze; everything very still. Early violets studding the grass; those last daffodils; the may pushing through the privet. The unconscious persistence of nature set against listening to the Canon Triplex In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum by Benedetto Marcello from the radio, caught by chance at that moment. Tears streamed.

It’s too easy to interpret that persistence through the medium of the emotions, as if these synchronous moments represent some kind of absolute compact between nature observed and our attempts to frame the numinous through music. But Covid 19, the latest in a group of disabling corona viruses, is moving amongst us with the same unconscious persistence. And to the epidemiologist that microscopic floret-bearing globe will have beauty too, even as it exploits our immune systems through sickness and maybe into death.

Spring is officially wide open on Friday and with its cautious warmth and early blooming we’ll feel hope as we open doors and step into it. Easy to emotionalise the big, pale blue skies and the sudden blossom amongst the spiny branches still pushing out their buds. The best we can manage amidst the fecundity of Covid 19 is fear.

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Day 3 of family self-isolation. But it’s a spring Sunday and the daffodils are still in full cry across our weird bumpy lawn. I tried for some solemn moments yesterday. I had a how-to-cope list on my knee that started off with the words, ‘We don’t know what’s in store and we don’t know for how long…’ But everyone giggled so my Swiss Family Robinson pater familias role went up in smoke before I could get to the hard-core survivalist stuff.

So life goes on much as usual with only flickers of newsreel images in the tail of an eye or the sententious tones en passant of another rogue epidemiologist calling out the government for indecisive management to remind us that this is only the beginning. This morning when the girls were up in our bedroom for Mother’s Day a barn owl swept across a skylight whilst higher in a pale blue sky two red kites sauntered around the thermals. We have enough in fridge and freezer pro tem and the local village store and our beloved Red Lion are opening up as conduits for supplies. Behind me now a crop sprayer crosses the field with radials at full spread like some crazily optimistic aeronautical folly. Cars thump pass and a Harley-Davidson hammers along in its own blue smoke behind the Stevenage bus. We can all still hold our collective breath because this is only the beginning.


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It’s still outside, save for the cars passing. I’m home alone. Sunny on the fields, but cold inside because I daren’t overtax the two 47kg LPG cylinders that comprise our entire gas supply. Better to wrap up during the day and disseminate a little heat in the evening when everyone’s home. Just one delivery driver down with the C19 and we go without for days. Eric Whitacre’s ‘Allelluia’ is on iTunes, volume down so the distant voices seem to be percolating through the walls.

I don’t feel fear for me. Those microscopic naval mines will come bobbing by if they will. And if one bumps my bows then I’ll brace myself for the muffled boom and hope that the damage stays above the waterline. Much more concerned for family members. They have asthma – not severely, but the ash trees are self-germinating now and they’re promiscuous with their pollen.

So not afraid for myself, just sad, terribly sad. Bereft, I guess – so sudden a loss. The Tuesday before last I was at Steve and Jo’s for our weekly music session. I had a bassline to put on a song of Gemma’s after which we played through Steve’s and my two latest songs. Then there was to be next week at mine and the following at Steve’s and so on into our mutual indefinite futures. Now Steve and Jo are in voluntary seclusion through the months ahead and the shared music that has for each one of us served our souls in troubled times must await the silent, invisible movement of this toxic global cloud.

That’s my immediate sorrow. In the world at large there’s ‘a drawing down of blinds’ as everything that has animated our quotidian lives for generations ceases, bringing about a huge empty, uncomprehending vacancy. From those hastening up and down the corridors of power to the puzzled soul standing alone in a once busy street, no one knows what must happen next. The Four Estates are dumbfounded. All about us the signal-to-noise ratio loses out to mere babble. A rumpled, baffled PM mangles his silver spoon vowels, turning with ill-concealed relief to one of the two skeletal science supremoes who flank him on either side. I watch the mouths flapping and think of Yeats: The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

I sleep fitfully, wondering in my momentary half-consciousness what it is that’s shifting out there in the darkness. And in the morning I know.

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