Monthly Archives: August 2023

Black Tie Number Two Please

Today has been a day of varying fortune. I trimmed my beard on Tuesday night and shaved my head last night. I should really have done it sooner but I hate doing it. There are always a lot of little wisps to tidy up. However, it does look neat and, as haircuts go, it lasts a long time. I will probably touch it up with a razor for the next funeral but after that I could easily leave it a year without needing to do anything to it. This morning I smoothed the beard off and was, in terms of personal grooming, good to go.

Jacket, tie, new white shirt, bag of poetry mags and a notebook and some oranges  and I was ready. After dropping Julia off at work I turned for Newark and the North. At that point I noted that my new route, avoiding the morning rush in Nottingham, was going to be a little longer than I had planned for and half an hour was sliced from my time calculation. There were roadworks on the way, I got stuck behind a wide load and I needed to stop at Wetherby services (not my favourite) as the length of the journey had outlasted my bladder capacity. That all left my planned 1½ hour cushion looking rather depleted, as it had gradually shrunk to 20 minutes.

At that pint the sat nav sent me the wrong way in Knaresborough and by the time i had corrected that mistake I managed to park and beat the coffin to the church by about thirty seconds, putting my tie on as I reached the pew.

It was quite an uplifting service and a crowded church, which is always good. I met a number of cousins I hadn’t seen for years. One of them now lives in Northampton, which will be quite close once I move to Peterborough. I don’t know if you remember the picture of the three little girls with parents in 1915, I did use it in a previous post, well we are the children and grandchildren of the three little girls.

My great grandfather and mother and grandmother and two great aunts.

The children of the great aunts (I met three today) are my first cousins once removed, and their children (I met two today) are my second cousins. I never really knew, just referred to them as cousins, but I thought I should look it up for blogging purposes. I’ve been very fortunate with my family as I’ve never met one I didn’t like, even after gaps of decades.

Another snippet about the day -I got stuck in roadworks on the way back, then behind a wide load again. And, struck by inspiration, I found another black tie when I sat in the car this morning. A little voice said “look in the glove compartment” so I did, and I found my other funeral tie.





In Search of a Black Tie

The title, I imagine, has already highlighted a divide in my readership. How many of you now think I am going to a formal dinner? You may want to think about my normal lifestyle before answering that . . .

And how many of you think I am going to a funeral? Out of that number, how many of you recognise the growing panic of a man who only ever wears a tie for funerals, and can’t remember where he put it last time he wore it?

I’m not alone in this, as the feedback for the company supplying ties has many references to the hurried purchase of black ties. Unfortunately the delivery has not lived up to its promise and I didn’t get it yesterday, which got me worrying. Fortunately, I remembered. Where would you put a funeral tie? Yes, for the past few years it’s been nestling in the pocket of the dark coloured jacket I use for funerals.

Red Admiral on Red Valerian

When I was a younger man I imagined  very different life for myself, with an endless supply of ties and an array of suits for all occasions, but this is what it has come down to. One tie, one jacket and no dress sense. It’s not quite as bad as jogging bottoms, but in sartorial terms I am definitely teetering  on the edge of an undesirable slope, and I need to have a serious word with myself.

For now, I will prepare for the funeral. It is the funeral of a cousin who I honestly expected to attend my funeral. He was a bit older than me, but had a much healthier lifestyle. I have attended to my clothing, trimmed my beard and am just making notes of the post code and addresses. Julia will be going to work and I will set off for Knaresborough after dropping her off. Then in ten days time we have the funeral of an uncle. He was 100 and it was not such a shock, but it is still a shame to see all the older members of the family drifting away.   The sense of loss is not always grief. but sometimes just the loss of history and the realisation that I never took the time to get to know them better. Perhaps I ought to write a memoir with the family stories I want to preserve. After all, it’s likely that one day a younger member of the family will one day realise they wished they had asked me something while there was still time.

Painted Lady Nottingham

The Sound of Laughter

Julia has just looked round the door, having been attracted by the sound of laughter. I smiled. She raised her eyebrows, saw the page I was reading, and walked off, shaking her head.

This is, I assume, a scenario that is played out in homes all over the world as married couples communicate by telepathy, and the wives wonder what they ever saw in us.

She thinks I should stop reading writer’s bios. You may remember me mentioning them once or twice before. They irritate the hell out of me. Or, in some cases, make me laugh. I don’t , as it happens, have a degree, a second degree, a literary prize, a successful career or a published collection to write about. This is a shame as they are the staple items in the writer’s bios you normally see.  For people who lack those items there are always the long lists of publication credits. I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in how successful people are, or how they were published in a second class magazine that stopped running ten years ago. I might be interested if you were published in a decent magazine recently, but I’m more interested in now, and the next day.

Stained glass Museum – Ely Cathedral

What I want to know about an author is if they have had kids and disappointments, if they are grumpy in the morning and if they prefer brown sauce or ketchup. This sort of thing is important. The possession of two degrees, whilst praiseworthy, is of little interest. Julia has two degrees but when she comes home at nights it isn’t her academic prowess that lights up the room, it’s the shared juvenile sense of humour and the fact she sometimes brings sausage rolls. Having worked out that I’m a small boy in a man’s body, she has worked out what appeals to me.

Back to poetry. modern poets are all so dull anyway. I don’t mind reading about heavy drinkers and tortured souls. Sassoon and Graves, Larkin and Thomas, are all good. Dylan Thomas, that is. Edward Thomas is OK but not, I fear, in the same class when it comes to elbow lifting. Graves could give Lord Byron a run for his money with his Mediterranean lifestyle and unfettered breeding. Sassoon scores higher for torture than he soes for drinking, but nobody is perfect. One thing I do notice though, not one of them would need to rely on possession of a degree to make their writer’s bio seem more interesting.

Peacock at Gigrin Farm

(Apologies if this appears a bit disjointed, having failed to post last night and being short of time this morning, I resurrected half of this from an old draft and finished it quickly so I could get on with stuff.)

Emails, Memories and my First Haibun

I’ve been searching in my emails. I have a lot of them, dating back to, 2010. They hold details of junior rugby fixtures, excuses from parents and troubles with booking referees. I kept some because they were important at the time, or because I was annoyed by them or, in most cases, because I have always been too lazy to keep control of my emails. There are mails from people who are now dead, people who I didn’t like, and people I don’t remember. Which, I wonder, is better – dead, disliked, forgotten? I don’t know why I still keep them. Last night I have dumped over 300, It is going to be a long job . . .

As I sort, memories return. Pompous nonentities carving out an empire when they should have been helping the kids, excuses for failing to help with catering, complaints about team selection. Even now, my head is filling with the discussions we used to have and all the old frustrations are starting to rise to the surface. Some of the memories are as irksome and stressful as the actual events were at the time and I am amazed at my capacity to harbour resentment.

I note the way the emails change from rugby to the farm, to poetry as my life progresses. I was looking for a poetry email, and after finding that I went on to browse. I found, to my amazement, that it is five years this month that I sent off my first Haibun to an online journal. Time soon passes.

It’s a hornet-mimicking hoverfly – Volucella inanis. To be fair, it’s more like a wasp. Common name is Wasp Plumehorn but a lot of people stick with the Latin.

So much has changed. I used to keep a folder of all my successes, a trick I learned from my father-in-law. I still have it somewhere but once acceptance becomes a regular thing you don’t need the folder to boost your confidence. In my case I still worry about becoming an overnight failure, but the submission process has become automatic, regardless of success or failure. I can still be cast down by  rejection, but it only lasts ten minutes these days. The imposter syndrome, however, persists. Michael Parkinson suffered from it too. It doesn’t get mentioned in his obituary  but his son has mentioned it in recent interviews. That tends to put things into perspective.

The folder of published work is something I must start doing again, as I have lost track of some things, as I said a few days ago.

Always more admin . . .

Late Summer is a time for Wasps

The Spirit of T S Eliot

It is, for a poet, a truth universally acknowledged, that every acceptance is accompanied by a shower of rejection. True to the spirit of T S Eliot, as quoted in a  previous post, I stole that from Jane Austen. She doesn’t need it.

The system with poems in general, and the Japanese forms in particular, is that you send a handful of poems. You may, if you are lucky, get one accepted, sometimes even two or three. Also, if you are lucky, you may be told that some of the others are good too, or (rarely) you may be asked if the editor can keep one for the next issue. Otherwise, you end up with a clutch of rejected poems and no idea why they were rejected. The may be bad, they may be good, but not as good as the one that was selected. Or they may fail for a number of other reasons.

Whatever happens, as happened a few days ago, when one is selected from eight it is an acceptance and a success. The seven rejections count for nothing. Anyway, under my new system they aren’t “rejected” they are merely “not required”.

I’ve just been through the seven returned poems and three of them are already part of a new submission. One of the remaining four, one is not very good when I look again, one of them is a poor match for the new target and two of them are possibly too English (which we have discussed recently).

The next submission will be 10-15 poems and the window closes at the end of the month. I have tried this magazine three times and never had an acceptance. Or, in other words, all 15 are likely to come back. This is good for me – good discipline to try harder targets and to write more, and good for my resilience, as you need to keep being rejected in order to practise your mental toughness and resolve.

As a bonus, most magazines specify ten haiku so, when these come back, I will already have a whole new submission ready to go. There is always a silver lining.

Wilford Suspension Bridge

I searched “pen” to find pictures. I found a couple, but had several results which included the letters “pen” in the middle of words – impressive bit not helpful.

(This was written a few days ago nd left, as events overtook me. I thik I have corrected it to show teh correct chronology, but if I have nissed anything – sorry).

Positive Thinking and Questions of Morality

We had a discussion on selling yesterday. I say that we should try to maximise our profits by offering everything for sale, even the stuff that appears to be a load of junk.

The conversation centred round a Lord Nelson medallion that had been cast from an original (but worn) medallion by a Cornish souvenir shop. It was on a base metal chain and continued in a 1970s plastic box. I suspect a child had bought it for a parent. I bought similar things for my parents when I was younger, and it is a credit to their acting skills that they always appeared grateful.

I ignored the negativity and put it on eBay where another sold a couple of months ago for £10. I put ours on a £9.50 just to be sure. Hours later, while the shop was shut, a customer in the Home Counties spotted it and bought it. Positive thinking strikes again!


It is, of course, tempting to be smug, but there are plenty of things I have put on that are still there after several years. Sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes you don’t.

My next challenge is some sets of crown-sixed coins we have. They commemorate the Royal Visit of HRH Prince Andrew to St Helena and Ascension in 1983, in the days he was still known for being a war hero and the Queen’s favourite son rather than a modern day Lord Rochester. (I refer, of course, to the 2nd Lord, the war hero and notorious libertine who perished from the French Pox, rather than the 1st Lord, war hero and companion of Charles II in his escape after Worcester.) Having said that, it must be added that the 2nd Lord Rochester, despite his moral shortcomings, would have been an interesting companion for a night on the town and I am sure that in modern times he would not be a stranger to Pizza Express.

The coins are tricky – apart from the association with Prince Andrew, they are crown size but marked “50 Pence”. Crown collectors don’t like 50ps and 50p collectors want them to be heptagonal. We will have to see how this challenge goes. There are several sets on eBay and a number have sold. We  found five sets hanging about in the shop so we may as well try.

Come to think of it, Nelson put it about a bit, so none of our historical heroes are shining beacons of virtue.

Cliffs at Hunstanton – all photos are random as i have nothing suitable

Punishing Pizzas and Shoes with Velcro

We had pizza tonight. Mine made my eyes water. This is an anecdote that is going nowhere, but from a diary point of view I feel it deserves a mention. People debate whether or not you should have pineapple on pizza (I don’t mind it, and used to include it in the school pizza sessions), but what about chillis? I eat pizza for pleasure, and I’m not sure that I want it to become a test of fortitude. I managed to grow up without chilli and though I enjoy a curry or a touch of heat now and again, I don’t see that eating pizza in front of the TV should be transformed from a pleasure to  a penance. This is another place where the 21st century is found wanting. You can suck down as many Scovilles as you want, but please ensure there is a labelling protocol in force to prevent a repeat of tonight. A picture of three chillis isn’t going to do it. You need a label like “JULIA – DO NOT BUY THIS”, as she always forgets and I end up feeling like a victim of the riot police. She buys herself vegetarian pizza but thinks I prefer something a little less bland. That’s true. Spicier than plain vegetarian is fine, but eye-watering is a step too far.

I’m not sure how I feel about the shop at the moment. It’s boring me and annoying me in equal measure, but I’m not sure whether that is the fault of the shop or whether it’s the lure of the retirement that is in front of me, shimmering like an oasis of freedom in my near future.

I’ve been doing a calculation. If I leave next spring my combined pensions will pay me almost as much as my low-paid part-time job. It’s only 30 hours a week, but six hours a day five days a week is just enough to stop you doing anything useful. However, if I carry on for another six months and manage my money properly, I can take six months wages into retirement with me, which will be enough to pay for a good supply of books and boiled sweets and those fleece-lined shoes with Velcro fastenings, which seem to be essential wear for the elderly.

Quiche with foraged green leaves and edible flowers. For more information try this link.


Robins – Red in Tooth and Claw

I had a post prepared for today, but it’s just 350 words banging on about the mechanics of making poetry submissions. It’s not, on re-reading it, particularly entertaining. It’s interesting to me, but that’s no excuse for inflicting it on other people.

Instead I’m going to talk about writing haiku in a foreign language. There are magazines which invite submissions in foreign languages and I have read some haiku in French. I may be missing some of the nuances but the remnants of my schoolboy French are generally up to the job with an occasional input from Google Translate. However, this will only do the words and not the layers of meaning which may be contained in them.

But it’s not French I want to speak about, it’s American.

1995 Robin stamp

I ran into a problem the other day. I was putting the finishing touches to some submissions when i realised that one of them wouldn’t do at all. It included the battle of Naseby, which, if Adlestrop is obscure, will be well beyond the comprehension of most Americans. This isn’t a criticism – I would flounder if I read a poem about Gettysburg.  We are separated by several centuries of diverging history, plus spelling and the use of words which have different meanings.

Then we come to nuance. I first ran into translation problems when submitting a poem that featured a goldcrest. They don’t have goldcrests in USA, but they do have kinglets, so I translated the bird to a kinglet. The poem was duly rejected but at least I made the effort. One problem with this is that I know about goldcrests, but I’m not quite sure if they behave in exactly the same way.

Robin at Rufford Abbey

This is a problem, as many birds come with meanings and mannerisms that may not be understood by people from other places. I was about to submit a poem that included a robin on Saturday when it occurred to me the image wouldn’t work in America. The American Robin is a thrush with a red breast.

For a full run-down of the various cheery robin stories, read this. It’s missing two important bits though. One is that the breast is supposed to be red because Christ bled on it when it plucked a thorn out of His brow on the cross. The other is that  they have a reputation for being aggressive. You probably don’t know this if you don’t live in a country with robins. I was using it as part of an image in a poem alluding to the war in Ukraine when I realised it wasn’t going to work in America. This is a problem as most of the magazines for haibun are American.

It’s just one more thing to consider.

Their goldfinches are different too. It’s all very confusing.

A Tale, Told by an Idiot

Do you remember a few days ago when I said ” from today I am going to set targets and become a writing machine”. Well I did. I set up my poem factory and set to work. I also found a few places to make more submissions and decided to target haiku. As a result, I had an acceptance today.

It’s part of the power of positive thinking. I was going to get rid of some books last week. They are mainly old sales and marketing books passed on by my Dad, but with some motivational books too.. Many of them are actually still relevant as good sales technique and positive thinking never goes out of fashion. There’s no mystique about it despite all the stuff that’s written. To make sales you ask the decision-maker for the order. To achieve success through positive thinking you do something, and you do it now.

That’s what I did – I wrote poems, I showed them to an editor and one was selected.

No jargon, no mystique, no spirituality, despite the reams of rubbish written on the subject. Just plain common sense.

The poem factory is a similar no nonsense set-up. It is anathema to all the proper, spiritual poets out there. They believe (and this is particularly true with haiku) that you should experience “a moment” and compose the poem there and then. Good on them. I’ve done it sometimes, but it’s not common.

Poems which are stitched together from memory or manufactured from two moments or, heaven forbid, simply made up, are known. scornfully. as desk-ku. It’s becoming slightly more common to admit to them now, but there’s still some snobbery on the subject. Even the old masters did them, but the myth of the haiku moment persists.

Anyway, I write a list of ideas or prompts, or open up  file of old photos, or even open a book of poetry and mine it for ideas. As T S Eliot said  “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.” I am, I feel, perfectly capable of taking an idea from a poem without copying the idea or the wording of the poem.

This is one I took from life, rather than nature.

I have dustier piles – trust me on this

a pile of books
the dust settles on my
good intentions

(First Published in Failed Haiku – forgot the date.)

This one is from nature, and done in the moment, but it doesn’t really convey the misty morning and the salty wind as we walked and watched seals.

Sea Buckthorn. I promise you there were goldfinches too, but I couldn’t get a good shot.

calling from the sea buckthorn
bright berries

(First Published in Presence 71)

This one was completely made up, but all the bits were true. Robins sing, blackthorn blooms early in the year and at the time, during Covid, we were forced to queue outside shops. I wrote it after queuing for a shop. I needed some props so I added the bird, the song and the blackthorn. Does it make me a bad man?

a robin
sings from the blackthorn
we queue for the shop

(First published Wales Haiku Journal Spring 2021) 

Robin - singing

Robin – singing. OK, it’s in holly, but give me a break.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

(Macbeth, William Shakespeare).

I may start stealing from Shakespeare next. Let’s face it, he stole all the time.

Frogs, Coins, Stamps etc

Where to start?

The day was dull, though we did have a few customers, which makes a pleasant change. It was a stuffy day in the back room, and it was a relief to get out and breathe some fresh air at the end of the day.

We sold a few starter coins to a lad who came in with his grandparents. Then we sold a decent coin to a collector of Roman coins. Someone else spent a couple of pounds on a 50p piece and then someone rang to ask if we sold coins of James I, adding that they might be a bit too old for a local coin shop. “Condescending” was one of the words I used after the call ended.

That’s James I of England and James VI of Scotland. He deserted the dreary wastes of Scotland as soon as his cousin Elizabeth died in 1603, criticised smoking, hunted witches and eventually died in 1625.

The Roman coin we sold in the morning was a Hadrian denarius. Hadrian was emperor between  117 and 138 and ordered the building of the famous wall.

So yes, we do sell coins of James I, and no, it isn’t too early for us. We actually have earlier coins too.

To be fair, he did come to visit in the afternoon and bought one.

I’m constantly amazed at what constitutes “old” in the mind of some people. It’s all relative, I suppose. We’ve had people ring up about “old coins” that were actually decimal coins from the 1970s. One bloke actually started swearing at me when I told him that his 30-year-old football medallions weren’t really old in coin terms. We frequently find that “old coins” feature the portrait of George VI or George V. People just don’t realise that before we went decimal we had pockets full of coins dating back to Queen Victoria. As  a young collector in those days you could get back as far as the 1860s with a bit of work and some luck.

Young people these dys have only ever seen the Queen on coins. One actually asked if we thought her coins would be rare as they were withdrawn. Withdrawn, we asked? Seems he thought the Royal Mint was going to take all the Elizabeth II coins out of circulation and replaced them with coins of Charles III. He couldn’t quite grasp the fact that her coins will still be circulating in a hundred years.

Banknotes of Charles III aren’t expected until the middle of next year. There will be an eventual withdrawal of Elizabeth II banknotes as the replacement rate is higher with notes, as they wear out quicker than coins. Stamps are already on sale, but retailers have been instructed to use up stocks of Queen Elizabeth before selling the Charles III ones. So far I haven’t had a letter with one on.

The header picture is a frog Julia found in the MENCAP pond when cleaning it out. They also had newts, but they were blurred.

Stamps, stamps, stamps…

We have plenty of stamps to be going on with.