Category Archives: Personal


Anna gave me a painting of two trees
(thinking, I guessed, of Kahlil Gibran’s image
of marriage, two trees growing together,
swaying and blowing together in the wind,
two trees, not one tree – she said Yes)
two trees in a sloping meadow, the side of a hill,
the grass all around them yellow and parched.

Late summer, then. The year going by. The years.
One day they’ll chop those two trees down.
First one, I wonder, then the other? Or both
on the same day? I know that is not what he meant
but I would not like to be the one tree
left in that painting, the one tree left
sighing and trembling, leafless, in the winter wind.

Nor – even more so – would I wish that for her.
When the day comes – for this is no Grecian urn –
let it be two trees that are cut
down, cut up, whatever, two trees
still, though trees no more. A pile of logs
in the middle of a field. And atop the logs
two birds – a pair of jackdaws – rubbing noses.

The alphabet book tag A-Z

A nice idea I took from Kanti Burns at Kanti’s Book Reviews:-

A – Author you’ve read most books from: I think that will probably be Bernard Cornwell. I particularly like the Saxon Tales series and the Grail Quest series, and one or two brilliant stand-alones like Gallows Thief.B – Best sequel ever: That must be The Oddyssey, composed about 3,000 years ago as a sequel to The Iliad. If you don’t know the story and are not a great reader of the classics try this film version; it is brilliant.C – Currently reading: Daryl Bains’ The Pet Plague trilogy and The Other God by Yuri Stoyanov

D – Drink of choice: Make that plural: Irish stout (Guinness or Murphys) and Scotch Whisky (Oban or Glen Morangie!)

E – E-reader or physical book? For poetry,  I like collections in hardback if available. For fiction (apart from the classics) I like paperbacks, cheap and disposable.

F – Fictional character you would probably have dated in High School: In my dreams, Elena in Vampire Diaries, but I’m not a vampire or a sports star so I doubt she would ever have noticed me … unless something I did or said annoyed her!

G – Glad you gave this book a chance: One of the Harry Potter series – I picked it up with a sneer on my face, got hooked and read the whole series. I can’t stand J. K. Rowling’s politics but I have to admit that as a writer she deserves all the adulation she gets.

H – Hidden gem: George MacKay Brown’s short stories – for example the unforgettable Andrina and other stories. There are several other collections of wonderful short stories, and his novels are really each a series of short stories with characters and setting in common.

I – Important moment in your reading life: After reading The Way of Wyrd I wanted to read and know everything about the Celtic Britons and the Saxons during the 1st millennium AD .

 J – Favourite Juvenile book: Now, perhaps, The Grey Goose of Kilnevin, since I read it with my children. But when I was a child, I loved Enid Blyton’s books: my favourites were the Adventure series (Sea of Adventure, Island of Adventure, Mountain of Adventure etc).

K – Kind of book you won’t read: They got married and lived happily ever after.

L – Longest book you’ve read: The Lord of the Rings. Or if that is three books, then A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys.

M – Major book hangover because of:  I wasn’t sure I understood this so I googled it and found some memes:-

I don’t think any of this has ever happened in my case.Nor this, not really.But this, yes. I have often experienced this.

N – Number of bookshelves you own: Twenty-something, and books all over the place.

O – One film adaptation that was better than the book: I can’t think of even one – but the Odyssey adaptation I mentioned above (“B“) is very good.

P – Preferred place to read: At home, in the evening – and on into the night.

Q – Quotes that inspire you: Here’s a handfull (I won’t start on quotes from the poets, the Bible or Shakespeare!) –

The difference between genius and stupidity is; genius has its limits. (Albert Einstein)

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’ (Isaac Asimov)

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. (Carl Sagan)

A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. (Francis Bacon)

When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream. How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream? (Rene Descartes)

R – Reading regrets: During my life I’ve spent too much time in pubs jawing instead of somewhere quiet reading. Pity, because when I was a kid I was like – well, this:-S – Series you’ve started and need to finish: Jet! Probably the most gripping boks I have ever come across. I’ve read seven of them now and there has been no decline whatever in the level of sheer unable-to-look-up-from-the-book-for-a-second excitement 

T – Three of your all-time favourite books:

U – Unapologetic fan-girl (make that fan-boy):  Vampire Diaries (see “F” above) and its spin-off, The Originals.

V – Your favourite fictional villain: Morgan le Faye, especially as portrayed by Eva Green:-

W – Worst book habit: Spilling food and drinks on books.

X – X marks the spot – pick the 27th book from the top left shelf: The Good Earth.

Y – Your latest purchase: Emily Bronte: Heretic by Stevie Davies (second-hand) and Medieval Colchester’s Lost Landmarks

Z – Zzzz-snatcher: Altered Humans (see “C” above) kept me up late last night and I still haven’t finished it!

The Snow Goose

I recently re-read The Snow Goose, Paul Gallico’s little masterpiece set in the years leading up to WWII and climaxing with the sailing dinghy setting out from Jaywick again and again and again to bring back soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, until finally it does not come back and the girl Fritha waits and waits in vain.


Paul Rhayader, an artist with a humped back, takes refuge from the world in an abandoned building between the sea nd the marshes – a building called a lighthouse in the book, but only because the American publishers believed American readers would have no idea what a Martello Tower was (and presumably no interest in finding out).

When I was young, a man who lived in one of the big houses on the left at the end of Golf Green Road just before it turns into Broadway (the biggest house, the one set right back from the road) told me Paul Gallico had stayed at his house, had gone out with him on his yacht, and walked the beaches and marshes of Jaywick and St Osyth getting the feel of the place and watching the birds. He said the “Saxon village” where Fritha lived was St Osyth, and the particular Martello Tower Gallico had in mind was the one at the end of Brooklands that is now the centrepiece of the Martello Tower Beach Caravan Camp.

When you know that, it all makes much more sense – at least it does if you come from the East coast of England! If you don’t, it might help to know that the Martello Towers were built along the East coast in the time of Napoleon. Like Hitler, though, he abandoned the idea and invaded Russia instead, where he lost half a million men. “Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it” could have been written for Hitler!

And the snow goose of the title? You’ll have to read the book to find out about that mysterious bird – and about Fritha, who is seen holding the goose on the cover of the Penguin edition.

Christmas 1958 with Jim the Milkman

Back in 1958-59, I was working in the mornings helping Jim the Milkman deliver milk all around Jaywick. Only it wasn’t just the mornings because he never hurried. He’d stop for a cup of tea here, a piece of cake there – I’m talking about in people’s homes not at cafés – or go running off along a dyke with his binoculars if he spotted an interesting bird – or if it started raining heavily between stops we’d just sit tight in the cab and have a smoke. He smoked Woodbines, and it was him who started me smoking – back in those days no one thought it was harmful, especially if, like us, you spent so much time out in the fresh air.

I’ll return to the bird-watching in another post, but today – it’s Christmas Day 2017 as I write this – I simply want to remember every day (except Christmas Day) from Christmas Eve till New Year’s Day not getting back to the Dairy (Lord Rayleigh’s Dairies in Clacton) till long after it got dark again (we set out in the dark in the morning) . Everywhere we went, starting in Jaywick Lane then the Three Jays then all over the Tudor Estate, people asked us in for a cuppa and a mince pie or whatever, and often we went in, at least for a few minutes. And when we got to Jaywick itself it was the same, working down Meadow Way and Golf Green Road and up and down all the little roads between Meadow Way and Broadway – and the Never Say Die (we delivered there, of course, but Jim was not a great one for pubs – he didn’t need them!) and so to Brooklands and finally Grasslands as it grew dark and here everyone (which in Grasslands was not many in the winter) wanted us to come in for a drink and a smoke – and no one complained about how late their milk was being delivered!

I did two summers with Jim, when Brooklands and Grasslands were packed tight with people and another milkman did the Tudor Estate, but only that one Christmas. I will never forget it!

I remember horse-drawn milk-floats like this – and I think Jim told me he used to do his round with one – but when I was with him it was like the ones below, electric floats but still with the glass bottles that began to be replaced by cartons in 1960.


A Birth, a View, and a Song

I wasn’t born in Jaywick, but my daughter was. Well, almost. We were living right at the far end of Grasslands with nothing but the dyke between us and open marshland.  This was in the early 60s before the place became infested with caravans. The view was something like this:

Anyway, when my wife went into labour we had to rush her to the maternity clinic in Skelmersdale Road (where my aunt was the midwife) so technically the birth took place in Clacton. But mother and daughter were back home in Jaywick with me two days later, all cosy and warm: we had a stove that was happy to be fed on driftwood I found on the beach. Ah, those were the days …

And I remember the first day we had the baby at home, The Bachelors singing I Believe on the radio:-

Every time I hear a new-born baby cry
Or touch a leaf
Or see the sky
Then I know why
I believe!