Thought it might be fun to follow up my previous post with a little experiment in collective composition, a series of linked haikus. The idea is that I write a haiku and invite another which has some, perhaps slight connection with mine while standing alone as a poem in its own right. This allows the emphasis to shift between poems.

The first haiku received will become the second poem in the sequence and in turn provide a springboard for the third, which triggers the fourth and so on. Each new haiku need only connect with its immediate predecessor but to keep things orderly please respond in the Leave A Reply box, ignoring Reply button under Comment boxes. Scroll down these to find the latest haiku in the series.

My role will be to decide when to bring things to a close, at which point I’ll publish the sequence so far and ask for a concluding haiku – this will be the only one that has to connect with all previous haikus in the chain. Throughout, the first poems received will be used provided they conform to the Oxford Dictionary definition:

Haiku – a poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

Can’t think of anything else, so here’s my haiku to get the ball rolling:

Where to be happy?

Misty lands far away or

here beneath blossom?


The Window

Brussels is the latest western city to feel the agony of loss following Paris, London, Madrid and New York. Refugees from failing states flee intractable civil wars in huge numbers, leaving behind many more in terrible suffering. The world’s leaders appear divided and bewildered in the face of multiplying problems: economic, political, ideological, sociological, environmental, ecological. The words of WB Yeats, written almost a century ago, have an uncomfortable resonance today:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

I thought I knew this poem but one phrase has just struck me for the first time.

‘The ceremony of innocence.’ Could something like this, I wonder, be a way of rescuing our beautiful but fragile world from the twin and perhaps conjoined threats of life-killing consumerism and death-wish fundamentalism?

To answer this question, I’ll take a short digression.

I’ve been reading the travel writings of the Japanese Zen poet Matsuo Basho. Over 300 years ago he set out on a series of journeys designed to strip away the trappings of the material world and bring spiritual enlightenment. Old and unwell, he travels in all weathers, visiting shrines to historical figures and beauty spots mentioned in old poems. The sense of an ancient culture still surviving in Basho’s day is astonishing. Of one Samurai warrior, already 500 years dead, he writes:

His life is certain evidence that, if one performs one’s duty and maintains one’s loyalty, fame comes naturally in the wake, for there is hardly anyone now who does not honour him as the flower of chivalry.

Speaking as a would-be pacifist, I understand that this refers to an ancient code of conduct far broader than crude militarism. People 1000 years gone are described as vividly as if they still lived. Everywhere he goes, Basho sits down to write chains of haikus with local people, each person contributing a poem in response to the previous one:

I was told at Oishida on the River Mogami that the old seed of linked verse once strewn here by the wind had taken root, still bearing its own flowers each year and thus softening the minds of the rough villagers like the clear note of a reedpipe.

This reminds me about the Songlines of the indigenous Australians, those epic linked verses describing natural landmarks that guided young men on Walkabout all over the continent. Children had mentors in neighbouring tribes, a powerful force for peace. Like the indigenous American tribes, the first Australians had a sense of their wider nation as one people. All three peoples worshipped their ancestors and revered nature, which I take as proof that evolutionary awareness is instinctive.

Basho’s travelling companion Sora writes with almost Darwinian curiosity about ‘a pair of faithful osprey nesting on a rock’ at Kisagata lagoon:

What divine instinct
Has taught these birds
No waves swell so high
As to swamp their home?

They visit the lagoon to see an aged cherry tree which featured in the following haiku written by Saigyo, an ex-Samurai turned itinerant poet,  500 years before they get there:

Buried in the waves
So that it seems
Fishermen's boats are sailing
Over the waves of blossoms -
A cherry tree at Kisagata.

Basho idolised Saigyo and modelled himself on him. He was particularly impressed with this poem:

My sincere hope is
To leave the world in Spring
Under the blooming cherry -
In February, if possible,
On the eve of the full moon.

Saigyo died on 16 February 1190. Somehow I am reminded of the indigenous American idea of choosing the place where you will go to perform a last dance at the moment of your death. To live life to the full, we should embrace death as teacher and friend – in other words, an equal. We are life and we dance with death. Accept that with good grace and the dance will be elegant, joyous, serene.

Perhaps this might allow us to find a fresh way of looking at the world, happy just to be here. This is hard to envisage but I’m encouraged by Nietzsche’s curious statement, ‘Everything is permitted because nothing is true.’ After all, kids play Pretend quite naturally.

Some people say that the hippy vision embodied in the following Steve Miller song was just a game of Pretend but I am inspired by the accompanying pictures which our ancestors, bless them, would find astonishing and like something out of a dream. We should renew our capacity for everyday wonder. What else could have drawn us outdoors when we were young or Basho when he was old? And as we reflect on Brussels and consider the bumpy road ahead, it’s worth remembering that others have travelled this way before. In the words of the song:

think love you’re surrounded

we are one you and I


Bafflesby Employability Guidance (BEG)

We at BEG share a burning belief in work as a one-way street to liberty, equality and universal brotherhood. We are passionate about this because we speak from experience. We have steady jobs and want to spread the glad tidings to those in Bafflesby who haven’t – work can set you free!

As social creatures our deepest desire is to be part of a winning team firing on all cylinders. We yearn to belong, knowing that together we are greater than the sum of our parts. But when we – or rather, you – are still on the lowest rung of the ladder, our – well, your – first taste of teamwork will be as a mere cog on a big wheel.

Those at the bottom often perform their tasks without knowing why and seldom see the end product of their labours. School-leavers are familiar with this and will feel at home right away, of course, but if you have experienced the world of work you may have soaked up other attitudes. Perhaps you’ve heard that old folk mantra, ‘Find a job that suits you.’

We say, ‘Nice work if you can get it, Granny, but youngsters in today’s competitive marketplace should suit themselves to the job.’

Put bluntly, you can’t be a square peg in a round hole. You have to fit in. You must be ready to work all hours, wear an embarrassing uniform, change work practices at the drop of a hat, do whatever you’re told without demur and smile no matter what. Employers want a happy workforce and are happy to sack anyone who isn’t.

Fortunately, there are many ways to prepare yourself for this brave new world. Cook a meal but don’t eat it. Get ready for a party but don’t invite anyone. Decorate a room, lock the door and throw away the key. Remember you live in a 24/7 world, so set your wake-alarm for random times day and night. If you can’t stop hitting Snooze, consider a GPS-generated klaxon-implant. Prepare for zero-hours contracts by doing absolutely nothing for ages and ages followed by sudden, brief, random bursts of activity. If prolonged inaction bores you, give your CV yet another tweak.

For help untweaking your CV, call our Testimonial Rewrite Assist Secure Hotline (TRASH) to find out about our award-winning gold-star emergency-rescue service.

We recommend wearing clown costumes around the house. Once you pluck up the courage to answer the door in them, you’ll soon be walking the streets without a single stab of shame. Drop objects of increasing weight on your bare toes while monitoring your smile in a mirror. Tie shoelaces with unfamiliar knots. Perform routine acts blindfolded. Practise getting dressed in the dark.

Remember that all these exercises are dummy-runs for the real thing, so expect to feel like a dummy. You may also feel:

sick                confused               humiliated         weird              isolated              alienated

lonely            peculiar                 rejected               lost                  broken                invisible

stupid            unappreciated    forgotten            hopeless         feeble                  useless

Don’t worry. It’s normal to experience one or more of these symptoms during your acclimatisation to the world of work. Feel them all simultaneously and you may be close to despair, however, at which point cut out the homework and watch an escapist movie. Avoid hobbies with a carefully-crafted finished product, because they can lead to dissatisfaction with a working day where you produce nothing of any value. Don’t attempt original or unorthodox leisure activities in case they interfere with dull and repetitive work routines. Far safer to consume crap on TV and surf the net for amusing pictures of cats!

Watching Breaking News cycle endlessly with no analysis is the perfect way to prepare for a job you don’t understand and can never complete. Ignore complicated questions about vanishing species, melting icesheets, acid oceans, weather disruptions, arid farmlands and toxic air. None of these is your fault. In fact, forget all about sustainable ecology. Just remember that your only chance of sustainable employment is full-steam-ahead economic growth which encourages the rich to go out and spend their buried treasure.

Try to forget how hard you worked during your education. Academic values count for little in the real world. Graduates can become excellent baristas. And most anthropology graduates work for corporations that employ their knowledge to sell goods and services to the human lab-rats and guinea pigs they once studied with wide-eyed wonder. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Perhaps you already have. If your coffee break is the only thing you look forward to at work, wait until nobody’s looking and take a discreet internet trawl through The World’s Worst Jobs. This should help you count your blessings … but if any of them are better than yours, consider applying.


Bafflesby Employability Guidance (BEG)
an Offshaw & Gonn jobseekers service

Earth Rise


I reckon it all comes down to where you stand and one blessing of growing old – there are things to look forward to, kids, so hang around! – is what Philip Larkin called ‘the long perspectives’. TS Eliot said that ‘humankind cannot bear very much reality’ but I subscribe more to the Keats view of life as a process of soul-making, which I think means developing the sensitivity and courage to see what’s really there.

A good friend of mine suffered from depression. He once told me that he started feeling better when he stopped focusing on the differences between himself and others and began to understand that everybody was just the same. This discovery is at the heart of one of my favourite poems from another person prone to melancholy:


His Country   by Thomas Hardy

I journeyed from my native spot
Across the south sea shine,
And found that people in hall and cot
Laboured and suffered each his lot
Even as I did mine.

Thus noting them in meads and marts
It did not seem to me
That my dear country with its hearts,
Minds, yearnings, worse and better parts
Had ended with the sea.

I further and further went anon,
As such I still surveyed,
And further yet – yea, on and on,
And all the men I looked upon
Had heart-strings fellow-made.

I traced the whole terrestrial round,
Homing the other side;
Then said I, “What is there to bound
My denizenship? It seems I have found
Its scope to be world-wide.”

I asked me: “Whom have I to fight,
And whom have I to dare,
And whom to weaken, crush, and blight?
My country seems to have kept in sight
On my way everywhere.”


The same simple yet profound insight inspires Sting’s song ‘Russians’, which ends with these words:

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us, me, and you
Is if the Russians love their children too

It strikes me that the way to resolve our differences is to search for common ground and focus on what we share. Ordinary people the world over cherish the common decencies – a belief in fairness, generosity and mutual respect amounting to a faith in the power of love. This is no surprise given that we are all descended from the same genetic stock. Put simply – and setting aside any distractions of race and nation – we all share the same mother. And now worldwide communication gives us a chance to deepen our familial bonds by evolving a common culture based on the best of our shared past.

I don’t mean to make this sound easy. We need imagination to break the straitjacket of stereotype before we can make common cause with strangers who have grown up in different cultures. Dreams and the world of the imagination offer us a key to unlock our prison of alienation, or otherness, as the following poem suggests:


Through Nightmare   by Robert Graves

Never be disenchanted of
That place you sometimes dream yourself into,
Lying at large remove beyond all dream,
Or those you find there, though but seldom
In their company seated –

The untameable, the live, the gentle.
Have you not known them? Whom? They carry
Time looped so river-wise about their house
There’s no way in by history’s road
To name or number them.

In your sleepy eyes I read the journey
Of which disjointedly you tell; which stirs
My loving admiration, that you should travel
Through nightmare to a lost and moated land
Who are timorous by nature.


Understanding other cultures is no easier than grasping the life experience of our ancestors, but I reckon that making the effort to do both creates a strong bridge between people. History, despite what Henry Ford said, is not bunk. Take the long perspectives and shallow differences fade into deeper similarities. Space and time are one, says Einstein, when everything is relative. And science tells us we are all related. We share a sense of wonder for the natural world of which we are an instinctive part, as this poem shows:


from More Poems   by AE Housman


I lay me down and slumber
And every morn revive.
Whose is the night-long breathing
That keeps me man alive?

When I was off to dreamland
And left my limbs forgot,
Who stayed at home to mind them,
And breathed when I did not?


– I waste my time in talking,
No heed at all takes he,
My kind and foolish comrade
That breathes all night for me.


I’ve always wondered what the missing third verse contained. Did Housman want out of his blind craving for life? Perhaps he’d stopped seeing himself as a work in progress, though he does seem grateful to his unseen alter-ego for ploughing on regardless. Jung felt we shared ‘a collective unconscious’, which modern science might interpret as our genetic heritage. And to quote the late Paul Kantner, we are – for good or ill – The Crown of Creation.

Let our reign do us honour, I say …  which it still may, if we ever learn to sing with one voice – Wordsworth’s ‘still, sad music of humanity’, perhaps. So in the spirit of peace and reconciliation I offer my own humble contribution to the book of common prayer:

Our ancestors

Who live within us,

We salute you!

May your goodness bear fruit

And your dreams come true

In the light of this new day.

You gave us the power

To learn from our mistakes,

As we let others learn from theirs.

May we build upon your example,

For your ways are our ways now

To pass on to future generations.

So be it always.


Magic Circle (a 100 word story)

     Iron_Helmet_SK (2)

                         ‘Helmet For Sale. Owner Forced To Sell. All Offers Considered.’

Intrigued, I phoned the number.

“Yes?” She sounded tired.

“Five pounds?” I suggested, chancing it.

“Whatever … I’ll bring it round.”

I stood at the window, curious, but saw nobody. On a whim, I opened the door. There it was, inside an old shopping bag, a mighty weight.

The hall mirror beckoned. The helmet was a perfect fit … but the mirror melted, the wall was a weeping waterfall, the town became trees … an unbearable vision, a long-vanished world.

In mourning, I cried all night.

Next morning, I phoned my advert in.

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Lost and Found in the Self-Help Section


You tell me Be Yourself but who am I?
A husband, father, granddad, neighbour, friend,
Performer, viewer, listener, passer-by,
Explorer, seeker, witness - there's no end
To me, no wall where all beyond is yours
And all within is mine. I want the world
In all her ragged glory, free of wars
Where egos clash and propaganda's hurled.
No label can contain the whole of me,
No badge of creed or colour pin me down,
No uniform confer identity,
No flag of mine will flutter in your town -
For you and I are everywhere and none,
Our doors wide open, nobody at home.

			     Dave Kingsbury



Baffled by Science

Funny how this blogging business can get under your skin, isn’t it? Dropping out of the tag reader for a few days felt like going into exile. What was the matter with me? I started to give myself little lectures in the bathroom mirror – don’t worry, the lighting in there is curiously flattering – little pep-talks along these lines … Look, you spineless wimp, this isn’t real life … It’s not as if anything bad has happened like being sacked or burgled or … well, being laughed at by younger people on the dance floor … just words floating away into the ether which may or may not be read by people you don’t even know … and it’s not as if it makes any difference to the world, anyway, the cold and crazy world that wouldn’t even notice if you took all your clothes off and ran out into the street singing wild bohemian rebel songs calling for … at which point, having cut myself shaving, the thwarted blogger I’ve become began to answer back. Hey, I like blogging. I put a lot of effort into it. It’s a kind of adventure playground where I can experiment with ideas, genres, voices. The idea that others are reading what I’ve written is genuinely exciting, a huge incentive to continue. And it sure in hell beats consigning my calligraphic effluvia to big cloth-bound journals … bound for the flames when I snuff it, I’ve been told … my journals, that is, we’re not big on afterlife speculation in this household.

We’re not very reverent about one another, either. My 19 month old granddaughter’s nickname for me is Old Windbag. Her grandma is Bossy Boots, so at least we’re on a level playing field. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, as they say, though who puts them up to it is anyone’s guess! But I digress … blogging, for me, is an escape into a better world. Sing about what is good and shout about what is bad … or rather, send it up. Which brings me to the point. I want my latest satirical squib to join the others under the Bafflesby tag – go ahead, call me a crazy completist, I’m used to being insulted by that insufferably sanctimonious spoilsport in the bathroom mirror! – so here it is … again.

Air pollution isn’t funny but the half-assed science – or lack of it – unfortunately is. Blame Bossy Boots for the idea, bless her, because she suggested that I give it the Bafflesby treatment after we’d shared a laugh at the nervous advice to open windows – somehow reminiscent of letting a cat out only to find he wants to come in again! Really, of course, we wanted to cry at the world our granddaughter may have to live in … if and when scientific reports become just one more way to cover politicians’ backsides:


Keep Calm and Carry on Breathing

We at the Bafflesby Official Science Helpline (BOSH) would like to reassure residents that the wilder rumours circulating the town have no basis in fact. The air is not about to run out or turn purple and everyone should continue to breath it in (and out) as any other course of action could be injurious to health. A few simple precautions will be sufficient to keep you and your family safe from harm.


Avoid smoking indoors, especially if your gas appliances are faulty. If radioactive radon is seeping into your home, try to sell it. Don’t use air fresheners, candles and cleaning products. Remember that cooking can fill the house with fumes which may react with the solvents that slowly seep from plastics, paints and furnishings. Heating your home with a wood-burning stove, while much cheaper than gas and electricity, creates a further health hazard. Other items that give off harmful pollutants include joss sticks, cookers, boilers, open fires and portable gas or paraffin heaters. House-dust mites, mould and dander from pets can also damage health. In point of fact no level of exposure to anything can be seen to be safe, with any exposure carrying a risk.

Our previous advice to lower your energy costs by reducing ventilation is under review. Try opening a window for a few minutes a day to help improve indoor air pollution unless, of course, outdoor air pollution appears to be the greater threat to health. Don’t forget that levels of air pollution are above legal limits in many towns and cities including Bafflesby town centre during daylight hours, when the need to relieve indoor air pollution is most acute.


We understand that ownership of diesel cars has more than trebled in the past 15 years, driven by tax incentives that identified diesel as a ‘green’ fuel. In 2000 just 14 per cent of new cars were diesel powered but today this figure has risen to 50 per cent and almost all light goods vehicles, vans and many buses are now powered by diesel. We at BOSH are proud to say that we sat on the fence over this one because our scientific investigation ran out of money before we could reach sensible conclusions. We did suggest that more goods should go by rail until it was explained to us that Bafflesby Railway Company didn’t have the funds either.

On your behalf we are now advising the powers-that-be to promote alternatives to diesel and petrol cars, to monitor air pollution levels more effectively, to implement and enforce tougher regulations on polluters, and to investigate the economic damage caused by air pollution. Nevertheless, we fully realise that the current economic climate makes long-term planning difficult and that nothing should be allowed to prevent economic climate change.


So in the understandable absence of government, local authority and business action we must all do our bit as individuals to reduce pollutant exposure. Explore active travel options like walking and cycling in conjunction with the stylish new BOSH Smog Detector (any profits from which will top up our reduced government funding) although we would suggest you avoid Bafflesby town centre during daylight hours.


We have no choice but to agree with the official view that the value of personal exercise in saving the National Health Service money far exceeds the cost – financial and political – of reducing emissions. Remember that air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity and dementia – although proving the connections must wait for an end to the cutbacks. So, while we’re waiting, each of us has a civic responsibility to adopt a sensible exercise routine compatible with maintaining your economic contribution.

And to cheer us up here is Prof Peter Pangloss, an expert in the field at cash-strapped Bafflesby & District General Hospital: “When you compare now with the bad old days we’re older and fitter than they were. And don’t forget that deaths caused by the environment are really deaths experienced early rather than deaths that wouldn’t have happened.”

So chin up, then!  With science like this on our side and a steady supply of laboratory rats, it can only be a matter of time before we find the elusive elixir of life!


Bafflesby Official Science Helpline (BOSH)

We invite not unhealthy non-smokers aged 18-81

to sit next to open and shut windows for several hours a day.

Tea, coffee and biscuits provided.