Archive for the ‘war’ Category

Saboteurs (Repost)

July 28, 2018

Eye to Eye With Their Ally


In the milky light of the bleak dawn
Agents and saboteurs awake
Preparing to assassinate
Some dark lieutenant
Of the occupying power

They will not be acclaimed
They will not even be named
They will remain
Unknown, a footnote
They dislocate our fate

We wait. Where are they now?
Missing, presumed dead,
He said. Martyred
Wanton devastation
The butchery of me.

They took lessons
In the art of destruction
Sabotage is a craft
They were taught
How to kill
With their bare hands

A veil was drawn
Over their future
They did not know
What their mission was
Until the final moment

When they were despatched
By air and by sea
Smuggled in by gunboat
And parachute
Eye to eye with their ally,
With their enemy
Upstart amateurs
Armed only with cyanide
Inside a suicide pill.

Dedicated to member of SOE
(see soon to be established on Drowning In Academia)



October 1, 2014



January 7, 2009


Our world is too small, our weapons too powerful and we are too fragile for this.

Two Minutes a Year

November 11, 2008




Reality Bites

March 16, 2008

Most people adopt children. I had to be different. I adopted a grandfather. It seems like he will be here forever. Like Bella. I am standing on the beach and this wave is coming towards me. A great grey wall. Unstoppable. I have become complacent. I forgot, for a moment, that time marches on. I could sit in his living room, eating his toasted hot-cross buns, listening to him recount his war stories for the rest of my days. Those afternoons are precious to me. They are essential to me. The reality is, however, that Nobby (not Nobbie) is ninety one and that wave is inching ever closer. And I turn back to Nobby and we resume talking and I am wondering what I should do to blast that image out of my brain

I don’t know whether I’ll be able to survive this one.

Nobby is All…

March 2, 2008

cynical and sour. He believes that this is one great big fat propaganda exercise. Is he alone? Apparently not.

But then, it could be argued that they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Meanwhile, over in the Observer Rachel Cooke asks how she can avoid ‘seeming very stupid’ when interviewing Stephen Hawking. I can answer that. It might have helped if she had not devoted the first few paragraphs of the resulting article to herself. Note to self-obsessed Laydee journalists: it’s not about you, sweetheart, it’s about the interviewee. That’s the whole point of an interview.

Ooh, all this cynicism is contagious. Off to Sourpuss’s Anonymous.

And finally this confirms what I’ve always suspected. I will elaborate later.

This Week I Be Mostly Reading…

February 23, 2008

‘England is, above all, the country of the amateur, and the wireless operators, couriers and saboteurs who went to France, were therefore amateurs, officers working behind enemy lines. They had a fine contempt for the professional spy. They were ordinary men and women in that they sprang from ordinary walks of life. The don, the stock-broker, the bird-watcher, the doctor, the insurance agent, the shorthand typist, the widow, the anthropologist and the head-waiter…’

Jerrard Tickell. (p.44)

See Saboteurs.

No Real Job

Nocturnal bride
Wears black tonight
Grainy pictures
Of a faded wedding
I am naked, draped in leaves
My hand clasping my heart
All foliage suffocates

A fragment of my mirror (broken)
A shard of my heart
Books line the walls
Who lives in those leather-bound volumes
Even they are soon to be forgotten
So I devoured you
And I relished every morsel
Torn and bleeding
The grey sky in my head
From some ancient tale
Pale ghosts hovered over me.


December 6, 2007

What are Doug (92 year old war veteran) and I to do on these long, dark nights when I pop across the expanse of lawn that separates his flat from mine? Doug was known as Nubby throughout his time in the RAF and then the army. Apparently, everyone with the name ‘Clarke’ in the army is automatically known as ‘Nobby’. No one thinks to ask why,. Well, we sit, we watch TV, we talk, we reminisce. Sometimes I think that some supernatural force has pushed us together. Often I picture us as two helpless, stranded sailors cut adrift from our nation’s territorial waters and everything we once knew. Because the alliance of two people as different as we are is unacceptable in conventional circles. And it is those circles that squeeze the world by throat. So we delicately sidestep the demands made upon us by those who have never been where he has, who have never been where I have and, please God, with a cherry on top, see to it that they never do.

And, yes, another Remembrance Sunday has passed without a remark from Doug. He is more than a war veteran is his constant refrain but nothing can change the fact that when he closes his eyes at night, he sees things that most of us could never even conceive of.


March 23, 2007

Deciphering the code
Sitting in lines, these women
Impose order on chaos, redefine lines
And dots and dashes. Elegant shapes
Emerge and then converge

They do not speak
They sit in silence for they come
From disparate worlds, marooned here
Presided over by daemons
In the shape of fear

Of invasion. Sheltered
From the storm only by the delicate
And intricate work they perform
In this great country house amid the heady
Scent of tea-roses and jasmine.

The Life and Times of Fred Unwin

June 25, 2005

Back to Fred Unwin…

Like Doug he was served in North Africa and Sicily during the war and, like Doug, he grew up on the ‘mean streets’ of Cambridge (it’s not all college and May Balls, you know and, paradoxically, the war saved them both. After the war Doug, using his experience as a medic became what is now known as a paramedic but was by the less impressive sounding ‘ambulance man’ in those days. (There weren’t a lot of women in the service back then.) Fred Unwin became a psychiatric nurse. (Contrary to popular perception there were quite a few male psychiatric nurses in those days – well, they needed some muscle to keep the nuts in line).

They led parallel lives and yet didn’t meet until they were pensioners and they had both lost their wives. Fred Unwin is (I nearly wrote ‘was’) a locally renowned poet and writer. He wrote an auto-biographical study of psychiatric nursing in the late ’50s entitled Dew On My Feet which focused on nurse training at Addenbrookes (yes, my old psychiatric Alma-Mater – S3, S4 and R4).

I am reluctant to go and see him even though Doug has suggested that I accompany him. As I said, I am unwilling to face what he has become. When I last encountered him it was at a poetry reading. He was tall and broad and did not look in the least like an octogenarian. He was part-poet, part-historian. Many of his books were self-published and before anyone cries contemptuously ‘Vanity publishing, eh?’ might I remind you that my own role-model – Virginia Woolf – owned her own publishing house, partially financed by her husband Leonard Woolf and many other writers – great and not so great – have done the same throughout literary history

He praised my rendition of Dorothy Parker‘s ‘You Might As Well Live’ and Philip Larkin‘s ‘This Be the Verse’. (Choices that rather suit my curmudgeonly personality). He purchased a copy of my book and passed on his compliments through Doug. I want to remember him as he was then, not as he is now.

An alternative explanation is that I am a lazy, selfish cow.

Yes, the latter sounds much more plausible.

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