Ascot without the crowds

“This Year” Simone’s Royal Ascot ITV poem

I was asked to write a poem for the opening of this year’s Royal Ascot. Poems commissioned for TV are strange hybrids. You write them to a brief. Time, invariably brevity, is of the essence. And it’s an odd experience hearing someone else voice your work. Having said all this, it was an honour to be asked again.

Red kites and Blue Peter

I’ve been watching a red kite circling this afternoon. I can’t see it now but it’s not far away. There’s that distinctive cry. Back in 2012, when my sister was bottle-rearing the twin lambs, if she saw kites, she would, just to be safe, put Dave and Mildred into the guinea pig run.

We should be getting ready now for our dog show and family fun day. Last year was the first year and it was a huge success. A good turnout, great weather and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. It felt very much like the summer fetes of my childhood. But with no rain.

Today is the third anniversary of the death of John Noakes. Watching Blue Peter, and receiving the latest Blue Peter annual as a gift every year, are clear childhood memories. 

Not getting my autograph book signed by John Noakes

I never had a Blue Peter badge,
not one. I wasn’t a joiner,
a taker- part. And as for Brownies,
though the plan was always to get
a raft of badges to buck up
the drab, ditch-water brown dress,
I didn’t. The pony-trekking trip
was also , it must be said, a flop.

Instead I sang, recited, read,
my head full of dreams and stories.

There was a fete once, some wet Berkshire
village green, Bradfield, Burghfield
or wherever, and he was there
with his dog. Was it Patch? What a thrill.

He was there as judge of pets,
art, fancy dress, cakes or carrots.
Or all of them. You know the drill.
And it poured. Relentless.

We sheltered, he and I, under
damp canvas, watching the drips
at the scout tent door, drinking
sweet weak tea, just willing it all
to end. Did I get the autograph?
No. But I stroked the dog instead.

After the rains return

After the rains return, and children are back
in school, their days circumscribed, filled
with people, vivid with stuff;
and they’ve stopped playing slip-and-slide
or in the mud kitchen, or just
endlessly bouncing on trampolines, will
the arrival of eleven chicks still enthrall?

New life works its magic, especially
on the young, but more so now.

After the rains return, and blue is scarred again
with the tracks of jumbos,
and birdsong and bleating is fugged
a little more by cars;
yet we can hug, go to the pub, get
our roots done, dive into buzz and bustle,
nine-to-five, the full diary, will
we thrill as business beckons?

When ‘new normal’ is bagged and boxed
for the bin men, will we shrug it off,
slip back?

After the rains return, and news is
other than this plague, will
we submit to gaining our liberty,
while losing our balance? When we stop
waiting for the when and how, stop
clapping, will we chat and gossip
at the gates,

but waste less,
less life,
less time,
after the rains return?

A day of separate parts

A haiku is a form of poem, originally from Japan. It has three lines, with seventeen syllables, in a 5-7-5 pattern, and is meant to be read in one breath. Traditionally, haiku poetry drew from the natural world, or abstract concepts, for its subject matter and the haiku poet focussed on a brief instant in time, or sudden observation. There were other rules too, but I think that’s the basic idea. A modern haiku does not necessarily keep to the form.

 I’ve been trying to write a haiku or two today.

Crazed bumblebee, he
hurls himself at glass, at last
the open window.

Deathwish bumblebee
flings himself at glass;
at last, a window.

You get my drift. Enough already about glass and windows.

                                                                                *****  

One of my cousins was cremated in Scotland this morning. I’ve always felt, but rarely articulated it, that the end of life deserves a proper fanfare. A summing up and a sending off. These sorts of goodbye gatherings aren’t possible right now. I’ve been trying to write a haiku or four today.

9.30 today
a cremation; no mourners –
a life extinguished.

No funeral so
sixty seconds of silence;
respect for a life.

Just sixty seconds,
leave me these to sit silent
one minute, one life.

Socially distanced
mourning; one minute’s silence –
separate respects .

                                                                                *****

This afternoon the sky is darkening. Rain is promised and the air feels heavy. I’ve chatted to an old friend in Cardiff; we’ve done a little gardening, a little paperwork and now the arthritic spaniel is fast asleep in the office next to us. It’s a day of disjointed moments, conflicting emotions…but yes, the bumblebee did escape unscathed.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is a splendid specimen of woman, lady
of a certain age, not old enough
to be at risk, not at leisure and so,
alas, furloughed.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
is fine in style and substance, efficient,
proficient in many areas. No shirker. She is
a grandmother, and she keeps a flat in Hove
with a view
of the promenade.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister,
deskbound for decades, now footloose, fancy-free
but for how long? She has signed an official piece
of paper. Latter-day landgirl, she must
make ready, hold steady, join willing ranks
who’ll plug the labour gaps
this summer.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
will be a classy fruitpicker, in eyeliner,
bright blue, in cropped white linen slacks, a panama hat,
red painted toenails, practical walking sandals.
Decrees say she is needed; she must dirty her hands
for this country’s good.

For my daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister
must go down to the fields, a trug just hung
carelessly at her elbow. No shirker,
she’s a wonderful worker. She will toil
and labour and save the day
this year’s harvest.

My daughter’s mother-in-law’s sister.

Like a duck to water

You almost didn’t make it, just out of view
of the humans who sat, chatting, downing
cups of tea, amused by a clowning puddle of pups,
tussling and tumbling on new Spring grass.
You scrambled up a ramshackle pile of bricks,
stacked against a plastic butt, and somehow must
have toppled in.

Alarmed by sounds of splashing, we found you
doggie-paddling in blissful unschooled circles, ears
dipping, skimming then skirting the murky surface.
You learned fast – this first watery mishap
transformed into a story, your story –
the discovery of the aqueous element
you made your own.

Adventures in, on, across, through water
populate our memories of you. Your chest built
for swimming, ears spread wide, steady, bubbly breathing:
your pelt liquified. Sometimes we’d panic, light failing,
scanning the horizon or bank, and no dog visible.
Would you get washed away, tire and drown
or simply carry on,

forget to turn, your easy strokes pulling you
out into the Irish Sea,
the sunset,
West?