They think it’s all over. It nearly is.

An apology in advance. WordPress has me tearing out what remains of my hair. It steadfastly overwrites all my paragraph breaks . But not consistently. When this is all over I’ll find a way to outsmart it and bend to my will. Imagine ‘Cold hands’ and ‘Brickies’with stanza breaks. You could even guess where they go, I suppose.

On April 16th you’d sent in an Actuary, an Aviator, a Balloonist, a Bookbinder, a Centaur, a Chauffer, a Cleaner, a Clockwinder, a Dental Hygienist, an Explorer, a Gardener, a Graphic Designer , an Ice-cream Man, Jones the Meat (a Butcher), a King, a Kitman, a Mime, a Nurse, a Quahogger (beat that!), a Stallholder, a Taxidermist, a Turfcutter, an Undertaker, the Vulnerable, Wonder Woman, an X-Ray Technician and a Zoo Keeper.

The arrivals by April 25 were: an Artist, a Baker, a Bingo Caller, a Butcher, the CatsMeat Man, a Curator, a Chain Surveyor, a Fashionista, a Jigsaw Puzzle Designer, a Jack of All Trades (I liked the chutzpah of that!), an Orthodontist, an Organist, a Phrenologist, a Probation Officer and a Prison Officer; a Questioner, a Tailor, Tommy, a Trapeze Artist, a Yachtswoman, a Zinc Plater and a Zaminder.

In the last two days, you’ve sent eight more including: A Long Distance Lorry Driver, a Musician, a Flower Grower, and a Dustman’s Apprentice Tea Maker.

And here’s the thing: there’s about thirty hours to the deadline, when the gates will swing to with a final hefty thud. And that means twenty of you need to get your skates on. No pressure. But think of the Nike slogan. Just do it. Stick to the plan.

In the meantime here’s a couple of poems to pass the time, or even kickstart a different way of thinking. I like poems that celebrate trades and crafts…like Heaney’s lovely elegy to his dad cutting turf on Toner’s bog. 

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   

Against the inside knee was levered firmly.

He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep

To scatter new potatoes that we picked,

Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   

Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day

Than any other man on Toner’s bog.

It’s the business of recognising the overlooked, taken-for-granted, apparently workaday jobs. I think of my mother, the simple ease with which she made pastry.

Cold hands

She had a touch for pastry.

A gift. She hung on to it.

Never passed it on to me

who watched her pinching

pastry: butter, sugar, flour;

how it fell from her fingers,

how it fell through the air.

She tried. She did. But grew impatient

with the way the mix would clump

and stick. O, give it here she’d say.

The pastry would flake, and fall.

You need cold hands she’d say.                    

She’d not let go of life. 

Could not, would not

pass it on. Until her hands

grew cold enough to let it fall,

and leave them clean.

Or building workers, bricklayers especially; I can watch them for hours, envying the way they point the joints. It looks so easy; me, I get more mortar on the ground than in the joints.


have a way with a trowel their wrists

are right the way they work cement 

from a board or a barrow like butter on a knife

the way they wedge it on a brick how

it never falls how they lay a brick

and tap it down with the trowel’s heel

how they trim off what squeezes out 

that they flick in the barrow

how they tidy up the way they point

how they keep a line and a level brick

after brick course after course for ever.

And this was Babylon and Florence,

Milan, Bologna, Lubeck, Munich, Vilnius,

this was Manchester and London, this

was everywhere with wood for kilns,

with clay to be dug and slapped

in moulds and fired. This was viaducts

this was great cathedrals and stations, 

mills and palaces. This was men 

who mix cement and barrow it,

who see things straight. 

I’m indulging myself, I know. But I spent this morning starting to repair water damage on part of the kitchen wall wher the rains came in a couple of months ago. A mucky job, chopping out plaster, scraping, chiselling. And then clearing up, which always takes longer than the actual job. And now I’ll leave it to properly dry out for several days, and see that accusing map of old paint, plaster and brick every morning till I finally start to demonstrate just how inept I am with a hawk and trowel. So forgive me.

I’ll finish off with one that that’s not the viewpoint of the worker/craftsman/tradesman, but his partner. I’d not considered this when I set off on this project. But what about someone who thinks of how it will be when a relationship with him is over?

The end of the affair

He was deft and dapper, Mr Pierrepoint. 

Self-effacing, self contained. Quiet and considerate.

I like that in a man. You don’t see enough of it

these days. Old fashioned you could call it.

There was something reassuring

in his neatly parted hair, his clean collars, 

and his nicely knotted tie. And his fingernails

were clean. He was prompt to open doors

for me, to hand me up a stair. He was tidy,

good at cleaning things away. But in the end,

when it came to intimacy, he’d lift me up

and it seemed that he was estimating

just how much I weighed. And he had a trick

with his white hands of gathering up my hair,

and I’d feel the light scratch of his breath on my neck.

Equally, at my back 

I always hear/Time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near

What on earth are you doing, reading this? You’ve a poem to send in, and not long to do it .

[A note on the banner picture. I came across it searching Google image. It’s the work of a street artist in Sheffield. His workname is KidAcne. I’d like to get his permission to use his work. You can see his work on his own blog. Here’s the link]

Cold Hands: first published in Gap Year. SPM Publications 2017

Brickies : first published in Magma 74 . 2019

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