Monthly Archives: June 2016

The Fascination of Wheelie-Bins


It scrapes, clatters, rumbles, trundles.
Irritating, ominous, yet somehow reassuring.
The hauling of a tumbril? No, just someone
retrieving their newly-emptied wheelie-bin.

No mystery here. So why is it that I
jump to my feet, rush to the window,
every time I hear it?

“Nosy Parker!”
Yes, guilty as charged, M’lud;
but I plead mitigating circumstance.
How else am I to track, to keep tabs on
the mysterious comings and goings
of the denizens of these flats?
How else to know who lives where?
By their wheelie-bins shall ye know them.

In this case, for example; this enigmatic,
hooded figure, who trudges back
to his flat so slowly, weighed down
by his own thoughts, not by
the freshly-emptied wheelie-bin
he lugs behind him.

By their wheelie-bins shall ye know them, M’lud.
Or not, as the case may be.
But beware, M’lud, have a care;
for there is much to be learnt
from just who lives where.

This is another poem in the continuing series of poems inspired by events and characters in the flats/apartments where I live.  The day of bin-collection is invariably punctuated, for me, by the sounds of the occupants of the flats retrieving their wheelie-bins.  I am open to the charge of sticking my nose into other people’s business, but I admit I cannot resist the temptation of having a look out of the window, every time I hear that distinctive sound.


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The Speed of Light


We look at a star, two thousand light-years
away from us; we see it as it was
two thousand years ago.

An intelligent being on that star
trains his high-powered telescope
upon our planet, and sees
the crucifixion of Jesus.

For us, it happened two thousand years ago.
He sees it live, as it is happening;
for, after all, it is happening now.

From a star much nearer,
another intelligent being observes
the Battle of Hastings.

It offends against reason;
it cannot be right,
that this be brought about
by the speed of light.

But the whole quantum world
affronts logic and reason.
Argue about it all day, all night,
but it exists; oh yes, it exists all right.

I think about the speed of light;
get a glimmer of an insight
into what is meant by physicists
when they claim Time does not exist.

For, depending where
you are in the Multiverse,
everything is always happening,
for better or worse.

I will always associate the British writer/philosopher Brian Magee (born 1930) with the most enjoyable three years of my life, spent studying for a Humanities degree (as a “Mature Student” aged twenty six) at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology.  The main subject of my degree – European Thought and Literature – was exactly what I was passionately interested in, and Brian Magee became part of it all when, in 1978, he presented a series on BBC Television called “Men of Ideas”.  I remember watching the programme every week, fascinated by Magee’s conversations with some of the most eminent philosophers of the time. 

I have followed his literary/broadcasting career ever since, and so I was fully aware that his latest book “Ultimate Questions” is intended to be a final resume of the ideas that have obsessed him throughout his life.  I have yet to read the full book, but I immediately went onto Amazon to have a look, and found myself reading the first chapter.  I soon realized that what Magee was doing in this first section was compressing a vast amount of information about the speed of light into a relatively short space.  As I read, the full import of what he was saying started to sink in, and I have tried to express it in the above poem.

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Before the flats were the fields;
before the flats were the trees.
For these flats to rise, the trees had to die.
Only two remain, delighting my eye.
Their branches wave, above roofs, in the sky.
A reminder of how all was levelled down,
as “country” submitted to onrushing “town”.

So humdrum, our lives in these flats.
Wash-cycles rumble, hoovers moan,
nuisance calls infect the ‘phone;
sheer repetition of daily chores.
In the trees, above, squirrels leap and soar.

From tree to tree they fly, performing
arabesques against the bright blue sky.
The squirrel-acrobats defy gravity.
They sprint, they spring, they somersault;
arching backwards, they do a pole-vault.
They twist, they tumble, they belly-flop;
seem to succumb to a deadly drop,
but no – upwards again they pop.

So constricted, our lives, so little we see;
above the roofs, high in the trees,
squirrels seem to show what it is to be free.

This poem is one of my continuing project of poems based upon the happenings in the flats where I live in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England.  Looking out from my living room window, the tops of the two trees mentioned in the poem are immediately visible, and, whenever the squirrels are “performing”, I find their activities absolutely riveting.


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