• Tragedies at sea

    The first poem recalls a very happy holiday I had in Bitez, a small resort near Bodrum in Turkey, in 2009. My happy memories of that time have acquired a poignancy in the light of recent events in the region.

    The second poem contains a technical word: awn. An awn is a bristly appendage found on many grass seeds and cereal grains. The awn may get caught in an animal's fur, or bird's feather, thereby helping the seed to spread. In some species the awn twists in response to changes in humidity, helping the seed to burrow into the soil or move across its surface until it falls into a crack.


    I’d come here with the boundless joy

    of one who’s cheated death,

    there by my side the one who’d love me

    ‘til the final breath.

    The cancer gone, my life stretched out,

    a shining path, no room for doubt.

    You came here too, a little boy,

    exhausted and perplexed,

    but in your father’s arms you had

    no fears for what came next.

    I’d come too early, you too late,

    I didn’t know that I should wait.

    I’d stood here with my arms outstretched,

    gazing far across

    the azure sea at the hazy

    mound of distant Kos.

    Too far to swim, not done the laps,

    but if I’d trained, well, just perhaps.

    But swim I did, across the bay

    and to the headland’s end,

    discov’ring tiny secret coves

    around each rocky bend.

    The sea was clear, marred only by

    the plastic flotsam floating by.

    But if I’d found some dreaded flotsam,

    a splutt’ring thrashing child,

    would I have said, “Climb on my back!

    Come on, we have to try.

    I’ve not trained. We might be lost,

    but we must try for distant Kos”?

    Six years ago no one had known

    what horrors would unfold.

    This beach back then was paradise

    and every drink was cold.

    I’d raised my hand, a drink arrived.

    You’d raise your desperate hand and die.

    Your fate was sealed by powerful men,

    who never knew your name.

    But washed up here like driftwood you’d

    earn your awful fame.

    Your path came to a tragic end.

    How can we ever make amends?

    My path has had its twists and turns,

    but still I stumble on.

    The light has dimmed since Bitez days,

    too many miles alone.

    But please don’t think it’s endless gloom,

    the sun’s now out and flowers have bloomed.

    I stood in rain for refugees,

    the least that I could do,

    outside the Commission, Dublin Road,

    we were drenched, soaked through.

    I feel you on my shoulders still.

    Hold on tight, we’ll climb that hill.

    Grass seed

    I found a grass seed in my sock,

    a scratchy thing with wiry awn.

    I plucked it out before my walk

    and binned it. It was gone.

    I must’ve walked through longish grass

    one day, my sock a boat for migrant

    seeds that glimpsed some hope at last,

    their dreams of meadows fragrant.

    The seed survived both my machines,

    was washed and spun and tumble dried,

    clung on through reveries of green,

    but I’d made sure it died.

    Tender lives cross seas that roll and pitch

    but end up quenched for fear they’ll make us itch.



  • Flags

    As you may know, those of us in Northern Ireland have been ‘treated’ to an extraordinary spectacle over the last few days:

    Angry, flag-waving crowds; masked rioting youths; attacks on police officers; burning of flags; hijacking and burning of cars; death threats to politicians; the smashing and burning of offices belonging to a political party.

    What was the reason for this behaviour?

    The decision, taken by democratically-elected representatives, to limit the flying of a particular flag from a particular building to certain designated days, sparked it all off. The decision was a compromise intended to appease two opposing factions in a divided society; previously, the flag had flown from the building every day.

    I observed one of the demonstrations yesterday and was struck by the large number of angry masked youths present. I tried chatting to some of them and was left with the impression that many of them were consumed with fear, hatred and anger.

    I have no intention of mocking these people or of dismissing their grievances, which have complex historical, sociological, political, educational and religious causes, which should be addressed. I also acknowledge that I am writing from a privileged position; I grew up in a family and wider environment in which hatred, sectarianism, violence, crime and drug and alcohol abuse were discouraged and kindness, tolerance, peace and education were encouraged.

    Having said that, I offer this observation: I think the extraordinary behaviour we have recently witnessed arises from a brittle – and by ‘brittle’ I mean, very hard and, therefore, easily shattered - sense of identity. Why else would people react in this way to a decision, not to ban, but merely to regulate the flying of a flag?

    In the Buddha’s ‘Discourse on the Elements’, we are given the opportunity to soften, and ultimately dissolve, a brittle sense of identity and replace it with one that is fluid. In the discourse, he invites us to contemplate what we are made of: solids; liquids; energy; gases; space; and consciousness. In doing so, we realise that there is nothing unchanging within us. The Buddha metaphorically pulls the ground of our identity out from under our feet. Initially, we may react with fear, but ultimately we realise that a fluid and dynamic sense of identity makes us less defensive, more courageous and kinder.

    When we learn to become comfortable with the fact that the elements that constitute our bodies and minds are in continual flux and essentially ungraspable, we can become a little more relaxed about external aspects of our identity, such as flags.

    If you’d like to read more about this, I recommend Bodhipaksa’s book, ‘Living as a River’.



  • Movember

    Hello. I'm growing a mo for Movember again this year. This charity does a lot to help people affected by prostate and other male cancers. To donate go to the Movember page or my personal Facebook page. Many thanks.





  • Nothing lasts but nothing is lost

    The title says it all!




  • UK Cold Water Swimming Championships 2013

    On the 26 January 2013 the South London Swimming Club will be hosting the 6th UK Cold Water Swimming Championships at Tooting Bec Lido. Come and enjoy the fun, camaraderie and competition of cold water swimming! See you there!




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Here you can read about various watery adventures. And who knows; perhaps I'll have the occasional profound thought!