words on the internet

three swans

The morning started with a surprise: three swans flying over my house startled me at the exact moment I opened my bedroom curtain. Their downy bellies were the first thing I saw as I looked out. They were glowing softly with the light of a sun that hadn’t yet made it over the horizon. In my shock I seemed to feel the waft of their wings and the ripple of their necks as they passed like waves crashing over me.

And there was their sound. So difficult to put into words. Almost a honk and almost a swish. Like a herald, but of something secret, something so precious it must only be whispered about.

It was barely a second or two before they were gone. But something of them seemed to remain in the sky. It was rain grey, scored by the dark branches of a large dying tree in my neighbour’s garden. To the east, where the swans had come from, a low band of palest yellow was rising.


my dad is big

My dad is big
His arms are wide
He’s warm from all
the good inside

He likes to eat
my mum’s éclairs
And plays jazz music
on the stairs

And when he tucks
me into bed
sometimes he falls
asleep instead

and I lie really
really still
and hope that
if I do he will

snore beside me
like a bear
It feels so good
to have him there

But then he wakes
and kisses me
and goes downstairs
to watch TV

And all the warmth
he’s left behind
is like a blanket
for my mind

My dad is big
His arms are wide
He’s soft and warm
and kind inside



My lovely balloon, my helium balloon

has gone up in the air

I let go for a second

Now my balloon’s no longer there


I’d held on very tightly

to the ribbon while we walked

home from the shops

my mum and I

She’d listened while I talked


I told her how I loved my balloon

Happy Birthday You Are Four!

it said in big gold letters

I shan’t see any more


Mum said four’s a big-boy age

I’d be a grown-up soon

And wasn’t I a clever chap

for choosing such a balloon?


My helium balloon, my lovely balloon

It flew up in the sky

and drifted over rooftops

wobbling goodbye.



flat earth

The world is round
a big blue ball
But doesn’t seem
that way at all

Here in the grass
where I have sat
the world looks green
and fairly flat.

words on the internet


From my notebook a year ago. A stroll that has stayed with me. There was something special in the air that night:

I took the dog for a walk in the dark this evening and the streets were so still and quiet. The sky was clear and it was cold, but there was moisture in the air around us. The stars seemed to float over houses washed with mist. There was no moon.

The area was more silent than I have ever known it. We passed houses with lights on and curtains open. The people inside looked flushed and happy. The streets were deserted except for a lone couple who seemed to be heading from one family gathering to another.

We exchanged quiet smiles as we passed beneath an amber street lamp. The silence was so thick that no one dared break it, not even to say Merry Christmas. The two of them were portly and middle-aged. One had a beard and both were wearing crowns of golden cardboard. If there had been three of them it would have been perfect.


the dog has eaten jesus

The dog has eaten Jesus
Oh Lord, what a sin!
The one true Christ, our saviour,
The dog has eaten Him

She pulled him from the manger
in his swaddling cloth
And there, beneath the Christmas tree,
she bit his head right off

The dog has eaten Jesus
Such heathen mongrel tricks!
Oh, heretic blasphemer
greyhound-lurcher mix

She’s gone and swallowed Jesus
The Lord is in her now
Everything that bad dog does
will be holier than thou.

words on the internet


To live a human life is to be an ocean. Currents and tides are always moving. There is a surface that can glisten, reflecting the light of the moon and the sun. And there are profound mysterious depths that can be dark.

It is common to fear the depths, to struggle always for the light and the comfort of the surface. The depths can seem cold and scary. We fear monsters lurk there. But they are also where meaning is found. They can be a source of wisdom and beauty and significance, and we can befriend them.

A full life includes space to be curious about the sadness and discomfort in the dark. It is a thing to approach slowly, with care and with gentleness. It is not something to overdo, but you do not need to fight or be afraid.

To swim in the sun with the waves cresting around us is joyful. When we do that it is not just the surface that is buoying us up. It is the whole ocean.  

words on the internet

treat all dharmas as dreams

My phone one day a few months back: “Ocean temperatures hit record high showing ‘irrefutable and accelerating’ heating of the planet.”

What world is this where a ping can mean either a funny text from my daughter or a news alert like that?

Treat all dharmas as dreams

It works back to front too.

I spend much of my life in fantasy worlds. I always have. I think it’s how I get by. I love stories and I love pretending. But I’ve felt apologetic about it. It’s childish — a way of hiding from reality. Surely it would best if I lived more firmly in the real world, if I was more of a grown up, more of a man?

I’m not so sure any more. I’m deciding that my imagination is as valid as anything else. That may be mistaken, but this world is tough going right now.

So forgive me if sometimes I prefer to spend time in the Hundred Acre Wood, or Charlie’s chocolate factory, or the Forest of Arden. And forgive me if I disappear sometimes into places and times that I’ve made inside my own head. I’m choosing not to be so shy about it any more. It’s how I soothe myself, where I find strength. My dreams are dharmas — and refuges and retreats.

I sit here at my desk listening to speeches and churning out news scripts. That used to be exciting. These days it could depress the hell out of me — except I’m also an Oompa Loompa turning out Wonka bars. The butterball president droning on and on and on about how great he is is really Augustus Gloop. There’s a river of chocolate, and pipes to the fudge room. All it takes is a slip…

The world needs us to act, but it also needs us to get by. I think dreaming is how I do that. It may even be my superpower.



a poem in which I get seriously upstaged

bird – a poem (c)

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didn’t i used to be young?

A washed-up snivelling wallow disguised as a poem. Sometimes the moment gets what it deserves…

didn’t i used to be young — a poem (c)

words on the internet


…. This is quite old. My mum has also gone since I wrote this. But I was thinking of my dad the other day (I was using his tools) and I remembered this and thought I’d post it ….

 People say grief doesn’t move in straight lines it moves in waves. What’s not always said is that the waves are more like the kind you get on a pond than in the sea. A pond can be flat for a while; the ducks go back to tending their nests, the frogs creep out to test their voices. And then something – a smell, a place, a memory of something shared – goes plop, and a stone hits the water.

 Sometimes it doesn’t even seem to take a stone. Something will bubble up from nowhere, like methane from the mud, and off go the circles. Unlike a pond, the waves don’t always diminish as they move outwards. Sometimes they get bigger and the waves from one loss can touch off another until the pond is not a pond anymore, it’s a whirlpool and it feels like you’re drowning – and all because someone was wearing the same aftershave, or you heard a song, or saw a place name on a map.

The stone for me this time was wrapping paper, or maybe Sellotape. Suddenly it was Christmas and I was back in that small house, in the tiny hallway outside the shut door of the living room (the front room we used to call it, although it was at the back). That door was never closed.  Never ever. Except for one time a year. And that was the time when Mum and Dad would shut themselves in to wrap Christmas presents. What exquisite torture it was to be an eight-year-old and to stand in pyjamas in that hallway and press my ear to the door and listen for the rustle of paper and the screech of my dad’s Sellotape dispenser.

Dad was a careful wrapper. His gifts, no matter what they were – a chocolate selection box, a Scalextric set, even a bag of marbles – all looked beautiful by the time he’d finished. He wrapped with care. Mum says he used to use a ruler. (How would he use a ruler?)

Dad did everything with care. He was gentle and warm and kind and funny, and I miss him so very, very much. I miss his arms, so big and soft, and how they would enfold me. I miss the smell of him and the warmth of him. His smile, his laugh and the way that he stood between me and anything that was bad in the world. He was my champion and my best friend. And he was the ground. He held me up.

Waves upon waves. Missing my dad, I found myself thinking about Gena for the first time in weeks. Gena was my friend. We didn’t know each other for a long time. We weren’t old school friends or anything like that, but Gena was there for me in one of the very darkest periods of my life. And I don’t know if I’d be here if it wasn’t for her.

She was what people call a free spirit (although she’d scoff and groan and roll her eyes at an expression like that). A musician. She had hair that was sometimes pink, sometimes black, most often the colour of copper. She played keyboards and guitar and wore Dr Marten’s boots before they were revived. And she sang. Boy did she sing. She sang jazz. She sang punk rock. She sang wild, crazy songs that she wrote herself – some of them fizzing with anger, some weird, and some haunting and sad.

And she did gutsy things that I dreamed of doing but didn’t dare. She bought a plane ticket, dropped everything in London and took her guitar to New York. She sang in bars and slept on sofas until months later, after September the eleventh, she came home. Sadder.

She taught me to sing Elvis songs and Sinatra. She used to say that people worried too much about what kind of voice they had or how well they could carry a tune. For her it was always about the song. If you believed it and you sang it with all your heart, it didn’t matter what kind of voice you had; people would feel the connection and would respond. She made me test the theory once by standing on a desk and belting out New York, New York to a room full of strangers. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done – and possibly one of the least popular music events of all time. To this day I still don’t know how she got me to do it.

I’m not sure her theory worked for me. (I didn’t seem to make many connections.) But it worked for her. Her voice was not what’s generally considered a beautiful voice. It wasn’t conventional. Her voice had gravel in it, grit – and she didn’t have a huge range. But she sang with her whole heart.

Once, at a party, in a friend’s kitchen she sang Stormy Weather. She just stood there next to the sink holding a bottle of beer and sang it. No backing. People stopped talking to listen. A few looked like they would cry. It was one of the saddest, loneliest performances I’d ever heard, and it was beautiful. But I missed the significance of it. Stupidly. I just didn’t think.

And then I got married. Gena came to the wedding in a dress and boots. And for a wedding present she gave us a big book of songs, jazz standards. I’ve got it right here.

And then I never saw her again.

My wife and I had our first child and, as sometimes happens, we became preoccupied. We lost touch with people. It was at least two years before I tried to find Gena again. By then she had gone.

Now sometimes I listen back to her recordings and I kick myself. It’s all there. In her crazy songs (…don’t turn away, it’s the least you can do. Catch me, I’m falling…) and in her voice. The story, her pain, it was all there all along. Stormy Weather. There in plain sight. But I didn’t see it and I didn’t help. I was too wrapped up in myself.

Gena, I miss you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you like you were for me. I missed it. I just didn’t see. Forgive me.

There is a poem by Rupert Brooke called ‘Dust’. I first saw it in an old second-hand book. Brooke seems to be writing about romantic love, but the poem always reminds me of my dad. Maybe that’s because I’ve seen his ashes — grey dust in a polythene bag inside a small green box. Dad liked boxes. He liked things neat. And there he is. Dust. Waiting for my mother, still going strong three years later. Waiting for their six decades of marriage to resume again, their ashes to mingle as we scatter them together – as we plan to do – on the sea off the beach where we spent so many holidays.

The poem starts:

“When the white flame in us is gone,

And we that lost the world’s delight

Stiffen in darkness, left alone

To crumble in our separate night;”

But it’s the sixth stanza that always gets me. The first time I read it made me gasp. I thought of my dad and of how much I want to see him again.

“Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,

Till, beyond thinking, out of view,

One mote of all the dust that’s I

Shall meet one atom that was you.”

I think it’s the possibility that hurts so much. And wanting it so.

I miss him so much.


small talk

He is talking again.

“We are just waves,”
he says,
“Rising and falling in the dark.
“Swell, on a godless ocean.”

She indulges him
with her eyes.

“Our memories are nothing,”
he says,
“Just the moonlight
on the cresting water.”

“We rise, we fall,”
she says.

“We break,”
he says,
“Over and over.
“We always break.”

“But there are tides,”
she says,
“And currents.
“They are deep, surely.”

The urgency in her voice
makes them both laugh.

Their feet touch beneath the table and
they lean in and join hands. He can smell her hair.
A waiter brings more drinks.

They talk about something else.

‐——- (c) inkyjim ——–



Good morning, Mr Magpie
One – two – three
Please don’t make
bad luck for me

I live at number thirteen
I’ve stepped on lots of cracks
My mirror’s broken and black cats
have run across my tracks

I sneezed three times
as I walked under a ladder
So please, Mr Magpie
don’t make me any sadder

I’ve got a four-leaved clover
And I’ve spat and spun around
I’ve kissed a rabbit’s foot
And picked up a penny I found

I’ve wished upon a star
crossed my fingers
knocked on wood
So please, Mr Magpie
let my luck be good.

—- (c) inkyjim —-


i took my grief to see a poet

I took my grief to see a poet

I told her death hurt

And that I was going to die

And my children were going to die

And their childen were going to die

And so was she

And love could not save us

The world would shrug

And forget

The poet said grief was not poetry

I should keep it in a drawer

I took my grief to see a wise woman

She told me death hurts

And that I am going to die

And my children are going to die

And their childen are going to die

And so is she

And the world will shrug at us

And forget

She told me to buy a notebook

I keep it in a drawer

words on the internet


I miss vapour trails.

And coffee shops.

Tattooed barista girls, buskers, and kissing people on the cheek.

I miss walking through London, being invisible, imagining the worlds behind each face. I miss the plaques that say Dickens Lived Here, or Saki, Jimi Hendrix or Canaleto. I miss the woman who stands outside Waterloo Station shouting Jesus Loves You.

I miss mojito ice lollies on my way home, slurping as I walk, chewing the lime slice. I miss the theatre, and stationery shops, and staring across the Thames from a crowded footbridge. The moon over Trafalgar Square. The sun over Oxford Street. The dusty electric smell of the Underground.

I miss crowded commuter trains. I really miss them. I hadn’t realised how much thinking I do on trains. So many clouds seen from windows, sorted into shapes or omens or, once, even a version of myself swooping and soaring through the sky.

The trains still run here, high up on the railway embankment. But they are empty now. Not a single tiny head in any of the lighted windows. And the trains sound different too. They are lighter. They rattle past in a higher key.

No one close to us has died. The deaths are still numbers on the news. But the sadness laps at our feet. There is a cheerfulness among our neighbours that seems unreal. A coming together that smells lightly of hysteria, of a desperation to be normal, to not look at the dark.

So much has changed in so little time.

I pass a car dealership as I walk my dog. The new cars on the forecourt are thick with dust.

Everything is different now.


rapunzel updated

If Rapunzel had been a girl with shorter hair
The prince might just have left her there.
Or, if she’d gone completely bald,
Stood beneath the tower and called: 

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, I’ll restore your beauty
I am your prince, it is my duty.
The royal budget’s very big
We’ll get a blonde and glossy wig.”

Rapunzel in the magic tower
Would summon all of her girl power
And shout down from a high window
To the royal jerk below:

“I guess it’s sweet that you’re impassioned
But, dude, your views are so old fashioned
I’m more than hair or eyes or teeth
You’d be surprised what lies beneath

And my life’s my responsibility
I don’t need you to rescue me
I’m not some trinket on a shelf
I handle witches by myself
I won’t dress up for your male gaze
Or swoon at sexist power plays
You say you want me for a wife?
Sorry, no. I love my life

Please, pop your sword back in its sheath
Un-grin those shining royal teeth
We’re working hard here Witch and me
To overthrow the patriarchy
We’re printing flyers – see my blisters –
For distribution to the sisters
You’d better warn them in the town
This monarchy is coming down.

And when it’s done, when we are equal,
Come on back, we’ll try a sequel
But let me say this plain and clear:
You will not find a wifey here.
When we hook up it’s just for sex
You’ve got nice eyes – and awesome pecs.”

———- (c) inkyjim ———– 



My legs are long and useful things
I’ve two of them you know
I swing them forward one by one
to get where I would go

They stretch from thighs right down to toes
with knees set halfway there
They’re also good for standing up
I’m glad I’ve got a pair

——- (c) inkyjim ——


my daughter is a highwayman

My daughter is a highwayman
She rides a black toy horse
She fills our house with lusty cries
and threats of deadly force
She gallops round the living room
atop her rocking steed
and dreams up lots of lethal plots
with violence and greed

This morning as I wandered
from the kitchen down the hall
I felt a dagger in my ribs
and heard her frightening call
‘It’s pocket money day!’ she cried
I felt my blood run cold
‘I’m Catherine the highwayman
so pay me lots of gold’

I fumbled in my pocket
for a pound and 50p
‘Here’, I blubbed, ‘that’s all I’ve got
Work hasn’t yet paid me’
She snarled into her neckerchief
and spat a vile curse
She said, ‘You bring me more next week
or things will get much worse’

My daughter is a highwayman
It’s money or my life
I get no help from friends, the police
or even from my wife
They believe her when she tells them
that it’s just a bit of fun
They will not take her plastic sword
or confiscate her gun

My daughter is a highwayman
My wife says I’m too meek
but I’m afraid of what she’ll do
if I can’t pay next week

——-(c) inkyjim ——-


love’s enemy

Poison drops of curséd moonlight
Infernal orbs by Satan cussed
Charméd pearls that kill a swoon-like
Kisser’s ardour.
Looters of love’s sacred trust
Evil bulbs repulsing lovers
Drowning hearts in acid must

Once you were a source of pleasure
Now you are a cause of pain
I ate you and then kissed my treasure
Orlanda won’t kiss me again
Now I steep in her displeasure
Silverskins of cold disdain.

—— (c) inkyjim ——

words on the internet

real spam

Two things.

Something has gone wrong with my email spam filter. I’ve been thinking about the concept of multiple realities. In physics and philosophy there are several theories and ways to get to that second idea. (I have no idea what I’m talking about.)

In an infinite universe (or series of universes) for example, if the building blocks of matter are the same, then every possible arrangement of those particles will necessarily exist somewhere, no matter how complicated.

Another theory is linked to somebody’s cat (it was Schroedinger) and to the idea that electrons orbiting a nucleus can be circling clockwise or anti-clockwise until you look at them. Once you’ve seen them they only ever go one way. Explaining the difference that looking makes is difficult. An idea that I read is backed by the majority of physicists is that there is some kind of split at the point of observation — like limbs branching from a tree. (I really do have no idea what I’m talking about.)

If you look and see the electrons spinning clockwise that becomes your reality and is the branch you subsequently follow. The other reality, where they spin the other way, also exists but is no longer available to you. Life is a series of decision points at which different versions of you break off and follow different branches into different realities, while you continue on the only path available given your choices.


Somewhere out across the vast emptiness of space-time there is another James, just like me, who is also getting all this spam.

But for him the offers are real.

For him there really is a single lotion to take away all his aches and pains, another to eliminate signs of aging, and pills that, overnight, will render him svelte and a sexual god. The IMF really has mandated the Kenyan Ministry of Finance to send him $7.8 million if he’ll only supply his bank details, and dozens of beautiful Russian women really are just dying to take him on dates.

Have fun James. Enjoy it while it lasts. Any second someone might check on those electrons. They may not be spinning the way you assume.