We spoke to some tired looking parents this morning. It seems that some little people are not very good at going to bed, and going to sleep. Our own little people have settled into an acceptable routine now; toilet, teeth and then two stories. It wasn’t too long ago that the littlest man would not go to sleep easily.  Every night there was an extra part of the routine.   I would lie on the floor and my hand would be held in the bars of his cot by my wrist.  I would hold his hand and gently sing a lullaby.  Eventually the lullaby would turn into a hum, and then silence. If I moved my hand slowly away and his did not grasp mine more tightly, then I would know he was asleep. Now he chuckles and giggles at his older brother, the little man, at the other side of the room. Then both of them usually drift off to sleep in silence. I thought this was a good thing; progress.  Until tonight, when I thought differently after reading some Rilke. They grow up so fast.

To Say Before Going To Sleep

by Rainer Maria Rilke

I would like to sing someone to sleep,

have someone to sit by and be with.

I would like to cradle you and softly sing,

be your companion while you sleep or wake.

I would like to be the only person

in the house who knew: the night outside was cold.

And would like to listen to you

and outside to the world and to the woods.

The clocks are striking, calling to each other,

and one can see right to the edge of time.

Outside the house a strange man is afoot

and a strange dog barks, wakened from his sleep.

Beyond that there is silence.

My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;

and they hold you gently, letting you go

when something in the dark begins to move.

It sometimes feels like we skirt around the edges of the winter days. We wake up in the dark and cling to the cold light of the stars and maybe the moon, before driving off to work.  Then we work.  On the way home I hate the light, the light of cars.  The density of city traffic is something I feel glad to leave, into the dark.  It’s with irony that I found myself working in daylight today; on the shortest day.  In between shovelling the sludge of fallen leaves and the foul fowl bedding in the chicken house, I would find myself looking up at the sky, the novelty of it; daylight.


The chickens also had their shortest day today as the car battery feeding them their false daylight was flat.  The electrickery of the LED lights seems to be working to some degree.  The two young hens still lay continuously; they lack wisdom and know no better.   From the older hens we have just received two eggs this week, something unknown until late February.


We used the eggs to bake a cheesecake.  The little man and I smashed biscuits into crumbs and mixed things in bowls.  This is a present for his teachers.  Baked things are the best of presents for teachers.  I received a gingerbread me this year from my A level class.  It’s nice to receive something that someone has put a lot of effort into, more importantly; took delight in making it.


Overcharged with daylight and exhausted from baking, the little man, the little lady and myself lay on the sofa and watched the 1970 classic, ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town.’  Then I kept the light to a deliberate solstice low as we played lego by the woodstove.


Later on I fell into my solstice tradition.  I opened up Kathleen Jamie’s ‘Darkness and Light.’  The lovely sharon looked at me with a little confusion and asked if I read that every year.  I ask her how could I not:

Mid-December, the still point of the turning year…………

Thunder rumbled off to the west of me as I crouched in the gooseberry bush.
The heatwave left all the green leaves yellow,
And all the juicy berries just berries.
I plucked red and green gooseberries as the air smelt of forgotten rain.
The bush occasionally stabbed me; the stealer.
My arms and legs brushed nettles; spectators crying thief.

Surrounded by family I sat with bowls and scissors.
I topped and tailed millions of berries as life unfolded.
Cousins laughed together and made up stories.
Granny and Grandpa passed out biscuits while the mothers weren’t watching,
And I soaked it all up and smiled as I sat with my berries and scissors.

The boiling berries were rolling as bed and story time approached.
I balanced the jam plate crinkle test and the hungry caterpillar.
The set point was reached and the hot jars filled before bedtime.
I promised the little man gooseberry jam on his breakfast toast,
But all he wanted was the now; another story, then one more, then one more….

I sealed the lids and my mind drifted far away from now.
I thought of cold dark winter mornings.
Of the days and nights distant from the summer sun,
I thought of porridge breakfasts with stolen gooseberries.
I looked at the the rich dark juicy red jam,
And I hoped that all these memories would be the warmth to see us through the winter.

Closing the gates

Orion is slipping sideways, chasing Jupiter.
This mighty hunter will catch it in a hundred days or more.
Catch and release; the noble dance.

The Full moon plods on, ignoring the hunt.
They march to sidereal time, a near eternal heaven.
A clockwork cast, oblivious to their audience.

Fields glow silver under the Celtic ice moon.
Hidden in the shadows hungry foxes slink.
Ravenous badgers shuffle, following cold scented air.

I am stunned into silence under this frigid sight.
It freezes my thoughts as it warms my soul,
On this, the edge of winter.

Today I fed my daughter for the first time.  It seems so short a time, but the practical nature of the world is tugging at us, and we are moving her on to the bottle.  If truth be told I am pleased, as it means I can be a bigger part of her world now.

Yesterday I visited St George’s market and loaded myself up with fruits, vegetables, fish and coffee.  I also noticed that the book man had a refresh of stock.  I was running behind time and couldn’t give the new arrivals the time they deserved.  I would have left the stall feeling a little deflated if I had not spotted Jizzen. This little collection was published over a decade ago and I have so far been unable to get my hands on a copy.  As soon as I spotted it there was no question.  Today and yesterday I have been devouring it and I have to say that, so far, it is my favourite of Kathleen Jamie’s poetry collections. Jizzen means childbed, and the collection includes poems about her carrying, giving birth to, and caring for her newborn daughter.

This is how I found myself, doing a series of unmanly things.  I found myself in a cafe with my daughter in my arms.  I found myself without the lovely Sharon or the little man who had both went for a walk in the park.  I found myself feeding the little lady and sipping coffee.  I found myself mesmerised by her for long periods of time.  Then, here’s where I made my biggest mistake, I found myself reading poetry about children and life.  Powerful poetry.  Overwhelming. I found myself trying to stop myself from crying.

After a while the coffee was gone, the milk was gone, and I became convinced that the last of the little lady’s burps were gone.  The shoppers had all topped themselves up with tea and scones before they all began to drift off home.  By this stage I had regained my composure and spotted the last people begin to leave the cafe.  This is where we have to rely on the kindness of strangers and the cuteness of little babies.  I had nothing but myself, my daughter, a poetry book, and an empty bottle of milk.  I asked a lady if she could hold the little lady for a minute while I put on my cardigan and coat. As I left her standing with my magnetic daughter the cafe staff sensed a kind of ice was broken and moved in to gaze at her and enquire how new she was to this world.  They had been watching me, and as I cradled my baby back into my chest one of them said that it was not often that they see a man do such things.

The rain of a night and a day and a night
Stops at the light
Of this pale choked day. The peering sun
Sees what has been done.
The road under the trees has a border new
of purple hue
Inside the border of bright thin grass:
For all that has
Been left by November of leaves is torn
From hazel and thorn
And the greater trees. Throughout the copse
No dead leaf drops
On grey grass, green moss, burnt-orange fern,
At the wind’s return:
The leaflets out of the ash-tree shed
Are thinly spread
In the road, like little black fish, inlaid,
As if they played.
What hangs from the myriad branches down there
So hard and bare
Is twelve yellow apples lovely to see
On one crab-tree.
And on each twig of every tree in the dell
Crystals both dark and bright of the the rain
That begins again.

by Edward Thomas


I stood at a stall in the market and looked at the books for sale.  A book of poetry caught my eye and I bought it.  It was cheap, so cheap that no profit was probably involved.  It was a book to be handed over, passed along.  It was by a poet that I have never heard of before, but that is irrelevant.  The lovely Sharon had wondered off and the little man was mesmerised by the hustle and bustle around him.  So I parked up the buggy and stood and read the first two poems.  They moved me.  I forgot the world around me and instead swam in the emotions of the poem.  The second was a sad one.  True, and in its truth horrifically sad.  I guess that’s poetry.  I guess that’s what it does.

It’s national poetry day, and to honour the occasion I have written a haiku about getting up out of bed on cold dark autumn mornings.

No no no no no

No no no no no no no

No no no no no


I cannot remember how I found the book ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie, but I am glad I found it long ago. I am glad I read it, and then read it again, and then read it again to my son as he settled himself to sleep in my arms. Kathleen is not so much a writer of books as a sculptor of words. Her words end up being unpretentious and uncluttered. Her words seem to highlight the life in things and the life in us. The book ‘Findings’ has been categorised as nature writing that has broken the mould. In my eyes it is because it is not nature writing at all. It is about life and our experience of it.

Yesterday I took delivery of Kathleen’s next instalment ‘Sightlines’. So far I have found myself immersed in an arctic voyage and visits to a pathology lab. These two different glimpses do not do it any justice. You have to sit still and absorb yourself into Jamie’s prose. So far not a single word has disappointed.

What do you see my little man?
Is your mind filled with Iggle Piggle and Macca Pacca?
What captures your eye and lifts your soul?
What earthly things are filling up your heart and head?

I see your mother has you captivated.
You crawl and clamber over her in the evening by the stove,
Your own personal guardian and womb.
You’re anchored to her in this sea of life.

What I do sometimes grabs your attention,
A little hawk over my shoulder as I light the fire.
Or, with your neck stretched, you are nearly inside the clock,
As I oil the old brass cogs and pins.

The television is the demon in the house.
I worry that it tears you away from the real world.
It is enchanting enough to cast its spell,
And calm the hunger as we cook and tidy around you.

Last night your mother carried you out of the car.
Opening the front door I beckoned you both in from the winter night.
Your eyes clawed for our attention as you pointed to a bright star and curiously cooed.
If these are the things that pull at you, I think you will be alright.