Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

Much the same sort of stuff as in 2020, I suppose, but felt more keenly in a combination of recovering from chemo, lockdown, sheltering….. as well as no longer having a passport. I loved my EU passport, and can’t bear to shell out money for a Little England version.

So here’s one thing I’ve missed. Foreign lands. I’ve missed the mountainous limestone bits of Alicante, and the Escher streets and alleys of Relleu. So here’s one for that.


Women are laying leaves in the street

Geckos print themselves on the hot walls.

In a haze of smoke and garlic, martins hurl 

round and around the square, calling and calling

above the tables where matrons study their cards

and fan themselves, and children climb from lap to lap.

The young ones in the town band giggle, polish cornets

and a crowd comes from the church to a long table

laid specially for them. Down the street that narrows

to a view of dusky mountains, all doors are open.


The women of the Carre de Madre de Deu de las Miracles

are setting out small tables on their steps, 

with printed cloths and crucifixes, gilt framed Madonnas 

and plastic dolls that stand in for Jesus. They bring out pots 

of fern and cistus, break off fronds and petals,

tapestry the granite setts. Children are shooed away. 

It’s not for them and not for men.


Later, the band will play slow and solemn, stepping down

the narrow street that smells of trodden leaves,

the priest in lawn and linen will walk before the band 

and its slow sad music, blessing every doorstep.

The town follows quietly after, believing in miracles.


Equally heartfelt (though the pain will not be readily understood by everyone) I’ve missed shopping in places whose languages I have yet to master, and especially the hardware/DIY stores. Small ones in Greece; the local traditional ironmonger in the Gironde. Most of all, maybe, the joy of the French DIY superstore. This one, on the outskirts of Royan, in particular.


M. Bricolage

It’s odd because you’re wearing shorts and flip-flops 

and the sun is hot outside, but you could stay

in there all day. French nails and screws are different.

Taps (they call them robinets) have working parts

you can’t guess the purpose of, and you don’t know

how to ask for plywood (it’s called contreplaque,

but you don’t know that at the time) 

or for a mole wrench,or a plane. 

But that’s nice, because you get to go down

every aisle, and you find patent clips for keeping

plastic tablecloths in place on pavement cafe

tables, which is such a neat idea  you buy a packet

to take home, and in a gloomy alcove they stock

huge electric-powered gates ( they sell them 

on the travelling markets too, next to Moroccans

stirring bags of frozen prawns and squid

into paella pans the size of circus rings,

so there must be spates of burglaries

or terrorists, or worse, and they’re not as pricy

as you’d think) and meanwhile you can dream

because you just might want to build that barbecue

that could double as foundry, and you can’t believe

how cheap they’re selling hammer drills and routers,

woodburning stoves, log-splitters, awnings, decking,

terracotta bricks and strange long-handled

shovels with blades like the ace of spades.


You settle for a multipack of cross-head screws.

And two packs of tricky clips, because, who knows,

you might just open up a bistro. And two checked

plastic tablecloths. For the clips.


Finally, something seasonal.

I don’t know about you, but I can never quite figure out the business of the round-robin Christmas message that tells you in immense detail how various nephews and nieces and grandchildren (they all have names like Peregrine, and Beatrice, and Barnaby, and Allegra, and Dominic) had a topping gap year in Peru before starting their degree at Balliol or St Andrews, and Gran is chugging along after her triple bypass and new hips, and Will or Charles has finally been promoted and so on.

So for years in our house we’ve looked forward to a Christmas card from one of my oldest friends who I met when he was doing Classics at our university and then followed in his father’s footsteps as an HGV driver for the next 40+ years. Like the rest of us, he knows that families are complicated and occasionally dysfunctional, and bear little resemblance to to the colour supplement accounts of the round-robin writers.Any way, his card arrived today with an apology for not writing his roundup of the year. He says it’ll make him too angry. So. Here’s my tribute to him, and to all “normal” families everywhere…a pastiche and compendium of his cards over the years.


It has not been the best year 

The campervan broke down in the Cheviot.

I have sourced a gearbox from a scrappers 

up in Tamworth but he says I’ll have to get it out 

myself. As I wrote last Xmas, the eldest has moved

to Blyth, but her daughter’s still a handful

and glassed a para in a bar in Guisborough where

her boyfriend just got done for dealing. Apparently

it was a row about the jukebox. I know. Don’t ask.

I’ve lost touch with Anthony’s boy, who, we think,

has moved to Essex. The chap whose house 

he worked on got arrested. Turns out he torched

this dealer’s house outside Sunderland. Forgot

to check if it was empty first, so he’s up 

for manslaughter, and Anthony’s Wayne

has had to do a runner, since the dealer’s mates

are serious lads from Hartlepool who think our Wayne’s

the one who bought the parafin, and maybe he did.

What can you do? On the love front, the widow

I wrote you about last Xmas, the millionaire,

well, she wasn’t up for naturism, so I had to

kick her into touch. A shame. The back continues

playing up, but 50 years of HGVs, well

what can you expect. I miss the reading though.

Last thing I read , a Life  of Palmerstone.

Left it in a tranner up the Edgeware Road.

Never finished it. The home brew keeps me busy.

That, and the veggie patch. My best regards 

to your beautiful wife. Will write again 

next Christmas and hope to have better news.

Keep your chin up.


I’m hoping to write about a couple of collections that have excited me lately. Before Christmas would be good. See you then.

3 thoughts on “Stocking fillers.. stuff gone missing in 2021

  1. Aaah John, I have two passports and nowhere to go! I miss all of this, family of course, but also bricolage and ferreterias and markets and the smell of German sausages I don’t eat. Such longing. Thank you for reminding me that it’s all still out there. Regina x


  2. I recognise your feelings about round robins, and so-called ‘normal’ families – yet to see a comprehensive definition of the latter that matches reality. Anyway John I wish you and yours the very best for 2022.


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