Sunday 8 November 2020

Backlisted: The Diary of a Nobody

I think I've mentioned my admiration for the podcast Backlisted on here before. I've certainly mentioned my admiration for George and Weedon Grossmith's wonderful The Diary of a Nobody.

A recent episode looked at this comic classic, and very good it is too. Among other things, they mention something that always bothers me, namely that Charles Pooter isn't actually very pooterish, our at least not in the sense that it is usually used in the modern media.

Anyway, have a browse of the other episodes while you're there. I've enjoyed those on Chandler, Tolkien, and JL Carr in the past, but there are a lot of interesting ones. 

Friday 2 October 2020

Derek Mahon, 1941-2020

I was very sad to hear of the death of poet Derek Mahon earlier today, after a short illness.

I like an awful lot of his poetry, and if I had to pick a favourite poem of his it would probably be A Disused Shed In Co. Wexford, but you'll probably see that elsewhere, so I thought I'd post a link to the first Mahon poem I can remember reading, The Last of the Fire Kings. Given his Belfast background, and the time of its writing, it's a brave, outspoken statement.

Friday 18 September 2020

Back to my roots

Over the last year or two, I've been trying to trace some family history, and at the end of last year, I sent off for one of's DNA tests. 

When the results came back, there were no huge surprises - more Scottish and Irish blood than I'd expected, and some Norwegian/Icelandic ancestry (but not much). 

This week, though, they sent an email updating the results, because they have now refined the process further and have more DNA samples to compare. And the results are very intriguing (well, to me, at least).

They came out as: 

39% Welsh, and specifically south-east Wales, which is my mother's mother's side of the family, and which I already have a lot of background on.

30% English, particularly Devon and Cornwall. Again, I knew about the latter part.

18% Scottish - we'd always known that my dad had some Scottish blood, but this is much more than expected, so it's one of the areas I really want to dig into.

3% Irish - not sure where this comes from at all.

10% Norwegian/Icelandic - certainly no idea where this comes from. Reading the background notes, this isn't anything to do with 'Viking' blood, as that would come under the other headings. It's more recent than that. There is a bit of a Norwegian link to Cardiff, but I think more likely this is from my dad's side of the family (some of whom were trawlermen), possibly connected to the Scottish link.

Funnily enough, I also came across this story online yesterday. It confirms that, back in the so-called Dark Ages at least, what we once thought were ethnic groups were often nothing of the sort - 'Viking' came to be applied to people with no Scandinavian DNA at all, in the same ways as 'Anglo-Saxons' came to be used to refer to any of the Germanic settlers who arrived in the UK - Frisians, Franks and others would have been among them. 

Thursday 16 July 2020

Comets NEOWISE and McNaught

Last weekend, as I was going to bed, I noticed a very bright light in the northern sky, not that far above the horizon. I stupidly assumed it was Venus or Jupiter, and that it was looking slightly blurred through the glass, so I didn't take a closer look with binoculars (you can sometimes pick out the main moons of Jupiter with a decent pair of bins).

Next day, I saw all sorts of things on Twitter that made it clear that it had been Comet NEOWISE. And of course, since then, there hasn't been a clear night to have another look, although it should be visible until around the end of the month.

It reminded me of Comet McNaught, from 2007 (also sometimes called the Great Comet of 2007), which was bright and pretty spectacular. It inspired a poem (in as much as a poem is ever inspired by one thing) that appeared in my first collection, Troy Town, which was published by Arrowhead Press in 2008. Here it is:


That spray of light on the western horizon
this last fortnight is a comet. All the papers say so now.
The best of it was believing it was our discovery

but it seems a scientist at an Australian observatory
has been tracking its orbit for months. Yesterday, late,
as I walked back the long way round, the way I haven't

walked in years, I watched a single cloud
swallow half the heavens whole, but this morning
– oh my sungrazer, my hyperbola, my single apparition –

it was only the hills the stars have always hid behind.

Friday 3 July 2020

Summer's here

So, its been a long time. What can I say? The whole Covid-19 lockdown situation has dominated everything for the past few months, and Polyolbion has had to take a back seat. But here I am again. It's July, and summer's here, sort of.

Those nice people at Candlestick Press have a new pamphlet, Ten Poems for Summer, for anyone in need of a bit of literary sustenance. It also, like all Candlestick's pamphlets, makes a nice alternative to a greetings card.

Of course, it's a pretty strange summer, and not just in terms of weather. There's been no cricket, for a start, although that will change next week, when England start to play a test series against the West Indies behind closed doors.

But while I was at the Candlestick website, I was reminded that among their other fine titles, they have Ten Poems about Cricket, which includes my own poem Two Orthodox Left-Armers. If you're missing the sound of leather on willow, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Roddy Lumsden, 1966-2020

I haven't posted much on here at all lately, and in the time that I've been away there was the very sad news of the death of Roddy Lumsden.

His funeral was yesterday, and there have been a lot of moving tributes on Facebook and blogs, from friends and fellow poets.

I only knew Roddy a little, mainly online, although I'd met him a couple of times at London readings too. He was always, as others have noted, trenchant in his opinions, but also very generous with his time and encouragement for other writers. He once selected a poem of mine (Pluvialis), for an anthology, much to my surprise, and emailed a few comments on it that made me think of the poem in a different light altogether, as well as feeding into one or two other pieces I was working on at the time. Quite unsolicited advice, but very perceptive and warmly welcomed.

But anyway, this page at the Poetry School site tells you everything you need to know. His impact there, and in the wider poetry world, will be felt for a long while yet.