In praise of cats

scully r.i.p 001

Our twenty three year old Scully’s final sleep. Looks like all the other she’s had. They don’t know how to look anything else but comfortable with their own bodies, cats. For several years she shared the house with two other cats, but saw them out with apparent equanimity.

All her life she shared the garden with the many birds that come to it; ate a good number of them, too. We were cross when it was a robin or a wren or a greenfinch or a great tit. Once we thought she’d caught a woodpecker, but it turned out it had immolated itself by flying into the bedroom window, and thus she was forgiven, though I never forgave her for the time she idly plucked a wren out of the air on its way to feed its fledglings, and we lost a generation of wrens. They’re nesting again, and now will be undisturbed.

She had a symbiotic relationship with the numerous pigeons and collared doves that nest in the holly. The pigeons have been promiscuous and profligate over the years, often apparently too fat and aldermanic to take off after landing, and meeting their quietus in an exlosion of feathers, but the rest just carrying on breeding more generations for her to snack on. I fear that next year they’ll mass umolested on the lawn, and the holly will collapse under their weight.

Scully, for all your increasingly taxing dietary demands over the years, for all your insistence on us waking early and inappropriately, for all the accidents that left marks on our posh landing carpet, we’ll miss you rotten. Here’s a poem for you. I imagine you looking quizzical and condescending and puzzled all at once. Like that cat in the Eddie Izzard sketch, regarding the change of cat food. ‘And this is? New and improved? Is it really. Is it really. Anyway. I’m going out.’

Everyone writes at least one poem about cats
Cats don’t care one way or the other.
You cannot teach cats tricks;
what cannot be taught
cannot be put to work.
They teach us to open doors,
and tins, the importance of fire,
and where to sit.
Cats are elastic, stretch for ever,
curl into a perfect ball,
smile like dolphins in their sleep.
Cats spend their first weeks
in a manic blur, do everything
but fly. Then learn to do not much.
They can sleep eighteen hours in a day.
And do. Never seem lazy
or inelegant, though they will play
with food. If it’s still alive.
Cats spend half an hour a day
in eating, five minutes at a time.
Hours getting comfortable,
more time simply wandering about,
sussing things, beating the bounds.
Some time being private
covering their tracks, and stuff.
A very short time killing food –
– pigeons, blackbirds, rabbits, rats –
and longer crouching by it,
growling. Their wide yawn
is the red dream that shivers
all quick small things.

Night night, Scully. Sleep well.

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.

Judging The Red Shed Open Poetry Competition.

Thank you, Julie Mellor….and yes, it was a lovely afternoon!

Julie Mellor - poet

After having PC meltdown last week, I’m now getting used to my new machine and trying to catch up on all the things that didn’t get done while I was off line. Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of reading at the Red Shed prize giving. The Red Shed readings and the associated events at Mocca Moocha are becoming pretty high profile these days, so it was no surprise that the competition attracted almost 250 entries; the fact that so many people care enough about their work to send it out is extremely heartening. Of course, the nature of poetry competitions means there will be an awful lot of poems that ultimately don’t get any recognition. However, it was a real pleasure to read the work and hopefully my comments below reflect how much I  enjoyed the judging process.


‘Emptied’ by Charlotte Ansell. This is a poem about loss…

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