Comfort Food

There’s something very comforting about watching people bake, even if it is in a staged competitive situation like The Great British Bake-Off. Now, in a pop-up tribute blog called the Great British Bard-Off, some very good poets are writing their own poems in response to the works of art that are the lightest naan bread and the perfect pie. The blog is curated by Amy Key and Charlotte Runcie, and includes poems by AF Harrold, Roddy Lumsden, Porky the Poet (aka Phil Jupitus) Sophie Meyer, Adam Horovitz…

I’m very pleased that one of my poems is there.


In my mother’s kitchen there were no scales,
all weighing was done by tablespoon;
for flour and sugar, a perfect ounce
heaped as much above as there is below.

With baking-soda, eggs and marge
we’d make sultana scones, jam tarts,
sandwich cakes,
not fancy, nothing requiring
the Be-Ro Book; all from memory.

Plain cooking, fit for a plainer life,
a recipe of expect the worst
in a stir of gossips, con-artists

and nosy-parkers, no-one you can trust.

She baked as she lived, liked only what she knew,
shunned the unfamiliar. I wish her life
had been ruled by the mantra of the mixing bowl;
as much above as there is below.

The Last of Summer

The Last of Summer

The first of September, and the last of the English summer;
now the blackberries droop on their brambles, heavily sweet,
and birds mass on the humming lines like athletes lining up to race.
We wipe the dew from windscreens in the cobweb-heavy mornings.

Here ends a season dragged with clouds and lashed with soaking showers,
scant of picnicking and sunbathing and heatwaves spent on loungers.
Cheated of fetes and festivals, barbecues and beaches,
people pack away shorts and sandals in drawers and high cupboards,
shove airbeds and gazebos into garden sheds and garages.
School uniforms are hemmed and pressed and laid out for the new term.

Faces turning inwards towards TV screens and sofas
consider prematurely the serious work of autumn.
Electric light flicks on in every sitting-room and kitchen;
the nights, like the shedding hay wagons, intent on gathering in.

Nobody I Knew Will Ever Read This

Nobody I Knew Will Ever Read This

because it’s made of poetry;
because it has no proper rhymes,

because the lines don’t travel all the way
to the far side of the page.
Because the things it has to say
might be too embarrassing,
personal. Because it is free
from numbered clauses, short on bullet points;
f pie-charts, moving averages,
distressingly bereft. Because it’s left
aligned, not justified, and not designed
to be digested down to Powerpoint slides
for senior execs who don’t have time
or much of an attention span. Corporate Man
has no respect for poetry. It’s too
right-brain, and quite unlike
the careful analytical reports I used to write.
Come to think of it, nobody I knew
ever read those either.

I Got It Wrong About Bomber Command

A few years ago I started writing family history into my poems. Perhaps it is because I don’t have children to pass the stories on to, I wanted to immortalise my parents and grandparents, now passed away, in my poetry.  Here’s my Dad, George Sutherland, born 1925, in his Air Training Corps uniform at about the mid-point of World War II.

He later trained as a radio operator and flew in Lancaster bombers, as part of the 617 “Dambusters” squadron, but after the dambuster pilots had left.  He loathed his boss, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, whom he described as a ‘martinet’.  I wrote a sonnet about my Dad, who I think was a little wistful about missing the action.  To put in some colour, I mentioned a dance hall where my parents met, which they referred to as the “Mill Vane”, and also the command “scramble, boys”.  After the poem had been published, by the lovely boys at Prole Magazine, I found out that it was actually the “Milvain” and that Bomber Command never “scrambled” – that was the (reactive) job of the fighter pilots.  The bombers planned their missions pro-actively and were given orders earlier in the day in the “ops briefing”. (It was my mum who worked the capstan lathe at Vickers-Armstrong.) So I had to change my poem, a thing many poets never stop doing.

What Did You Do In The War?

Dancing at the Milvain on Saturday night
to “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”,
the boys in uniform, the girls utility-bright
quickstepped the dangerous glamour of ’43.

In the Nissen hut, toasting cheese around the stove,
waiting for the ops briefing that wasn’t called;
at Vickers-Armstrong, working the capstan lathe
dodging the Doodlebug that didn’t fall.

By the time we were twenty it was over and out,
with only the briefest taste of enemy action;
into Civvy Street with a duffle bag of doubt
that anything would ever give more satisfaction.

Try telling the barefoot militants of ‘68
how we bought them all the peace they need to graduate.



Charting Corporate Life

There don’t seem to be a lot of poems about The Modern Workplace but I have had a go at the subject and I have heard one or two poems in the genre by younger poets.  I’ve written a few.  Here’s one slight piece which is based on a True Story.


The team is in the bar with a flipchart
drinking margaritas at five o’clock
devising a new Vision for our Brand.

It should be the best product on the market
the most recognised name in its sector
the best seller, with the major Share of Mind.

We contemplate the bullet points we’ve listed,
agree that they distil the very essence
of the factors critical for our success.

Then one of us takes up the magic marker
and scribbles on a fresh page of paper
“Team Vision” inscribing, in red, below: