What I did on my holidays


This cobweb strand was not supposed to be spun. That it has been, is due to the brisk and kindly advice of Josephine Corcoran, and the guilt induced by her example, and by that of those other indefatigable, Conradian bloggers – Anthony Wilson and Kim Moore. And I suppose it is a belated thankyou to my favourite teacher, Ann Sansom, and for her quiet insistence that all must bring interesting things to the nature table. This is not, you understand, a chore. I’ve just come back from her residential course at Almassera Vella in Relleu in Alicante. 30 kilometres or so inland from Benidorm, all arid spiny limestone mountains, steep arroyas, strange tormented geologies; villages of tight narrow streets, hundreds of miles of ancient terraces, lemons, olives, oranges, spooling lines of lithe young cyclists in pink and lime-green lycra, flowing down winding roads of smooth dark tarmac. And it has been very hot; too hot for serious walking. So, I shall do what Josephine says: ‘Why not’ she says,’ just post some poems and pictures?’ Why not, indeed.

In a dry season
I’m trying to make you see
but there are no words
for this here that fills me to the brim,
the unlooked-for mountains,
mountain like the ones a child might draw
who only knew mountains in stories of far-away lands,
and anyway I don’t know how to say
this dryness, to speak hot.
We just don’t learn how to do it,
we who are fluent in wet and cool and green.

But if I say: there’s a riverbed cut deep into the shale,
the sands, the limestones, that it’s an ambush valley,
that there are cactus, that there’s a castle ruin
on a hill, and it’s ochre, like adobe, then do you see?

There’s a flower meadow. Did I mention that?
Flowers years ago. Profligate.
So many I’d never know their names.
And further down, a hundred feet or more,
water soft and bright on a cushion of grey pale stone;
there were heavy-headed bulrushes, pale green reeds,
watercress as fat and emerald as broccoli.

These days the meadow’s a brittle thing,
cactus collapsing, all the green spiny pads
brittle and grey as week- old baps.

We don’t speak quartz and sun and limestone,
or shale or dust or terracing packed like contour lines.
You can see the line where dark meets light.
You can see how high the water came,
you can see how deep it was.

You cannot believe there was ever water here,
where no-one speaks the language of cascades
or showers or rinsings;
where there are no words for inundation, for drench or flood.

(I realise that this is actually the poetry/journal equivalent of the Lay of the Perspiring Tourist. ‘It’s too ‘ot, Sandra. I don’t like it when it’s too ‘ot’. Before you know where you are it’s olive oil and nowhere to get a proper cup of tea….still. Press on)

Like I say, Ann Sansom likes a nature table, and in previous visits I’ve brought back the interesting bones of a dead fox. Skull first, then jawbones, scapula, pelvic arch, canine teeth, vertebrae. I’m very fond of my fox.finders keepers 004

To be honest, I like rusted cans that have weathered on the tops of ridges, in shooters’ hunting blinds, and also almonds, but bones are always inarticulately eloquent. She’s had her time on the cobweb has my fox. Should you wonder you can find her in ‘Larach’ (check out ‘My books’). It’s time she shared the stage, and this year, my new mate Martin Reed got all the house points and smiley faces and gold stars from Miss, because of this creature that he spotted under an information board by the dried up reservoir of the Pantona


We thought it was a large gecko…maybe 6 or 7 inches long. Christopher North messaged me to let me know it’s an Ocellated Lizard. Isn’t that splendid! As is its Latin name. Hence the title of the next poem.

Lacerta lapida

Everywhere this lexicon of dust, the silted dam
a harvest of spikes, brittle thistles, sharp burrs, and you,

more ancient than mountains, older than the sun;
sucked out, juiced, tunnelled by ants;

each of your four feet the foot of a five-fingered bird,
your jaw clamped in its flint arrow skull;

you’re all weapon, you’re elvish chain mail,
you’re chips of glass, enamel, tessera;

you’re flickering, you’re needle quick; why don’t you stitch
the warp and weft of yellow grass, faster than flies?

Why are you dry and stiff? When did you stop?
Why have we brought you these white wild flowers?

So, there we are. Pictures and poems. Miss Corcoran, can I have a smiley face?

Next week, as promised, we shall have a special guest. Mind you’re on time. Hasta luego. As they say in a dry place of desiccated things and lovely people.

7 thoughts on “What I did on my holidays

  1. Sounds like you had a fab, productive week. One day I’ll go to something like that. Thanks for the glimpse of ‘quartz and sun and limestone’ on this rainy day in the Midlands x


  2. I’ll tell you what, Maria and Josephine….you’d love it. Guaranteed. Try to imagine five Poetry Business Writing days in eight days. Add in fellow writers like Jane Clarke, Wendy Klein, Hilary Elfick; then add in astonishing views, top of the bill cuisine (wine included), and a tutor like Ann Sansom (and I’ve also been there with Jane Draycott teaching), and then work out that per diem it’s cost you less than an Arvon course, and that that includes your air fare, and the sun shines and there’s a swimming pool. Well, yes….of course you’d love it. I am addicted.


    1. I have toyed with the idea of an Arvon course. A bit of a challenge with young kiddies. What you did sounds wonderful though, especially with the addition of sunshine and swimming as well as the writing. You describe it beautifully. One day…


  3. Great photos and poems, John, thanks for posting.
    Courses like this are definites on my retirement bucket list (of extra-special things to do).


  4. The great magical bone hunter has thrown his shadow on those narrow mountain paths again.
    I remember the coquetting foxes garlic sang in the heat. You just can’t resist. One fox two fox, more gave you their bones. Tiger bones won’t heal you but these fine crafted meadow gifts teaches those ancient remedy songs.
    You just sing them for long great Fogonero!


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