Tag Archives: Song

Craft Beers – a Return to Keg?

Crafty Return

Heard on the radio, earlier today:

it’s Mary Hopkin’s sixty-eighth birthday.

She was born just ten days before me,

half-way through the last century.

The mere thought of her hit song

“Those were the Days”, and I’m back there,

in the noise, the alcoholic haze.


Once upon a time there was a tavern,

where we used to raise a glass or two.

Remember how we laughed away the hours,

and dreamed of all the great things we would do.

Those were the days my friend;

we thought they’d never end. . .


Fine songs could be heard, on the jukebox;

they were great years for Pop and Rock.

The Fitzwilliam Arms, known as “The Fitz”;

just Keg Beer in those days, all bubbles and fizz.


And what do we have now, after all these years,

but a strange transformation, in the world of beers.

To an old veteran of the Campaign for Real Ale,

the new “Craft Beers” are beyond the pale.


We thought we’d seen the worst days of inflation,

but injection of gas has caused price escalation.

These illusory, revivified corpses of Keg

now cost the poor punter an arm and a leg.


It seems that these highly-praised, trendy new brews

are available only to the privileged few.

I’m surprised, myself, that I’m now one of those

cynics, decrying the Emperor’s New Clothes.


It’s not what the craft cognoscenti wish to hear,

but a simple question: what’s wrong with real beer?

When I first found out that the singer Mary Hopkin was born ten days before me, I had an idea for a poem that linked her hit song “Those Were the Days” with my first experiences of pub-going in my youth.  I then struggled, for weeks, to write the poem, but found it difficult to avoid it just being a facile comment on the passing of time.  It was only a few days ago, when I entered a local emporium of craft beers with a friend who is a lifelong lover of “real ale”, that I was able to solve the problem.  He surveyed the highly-priced craft beers on display, was not impressed, and walked out of the place, commenting “I don’t know – what’s wrong with real beer?”  I suddenly realised I could turn the poem into a commentary on craft beer, and that it would work much better that way.


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Song of the Cherry Tomato

The Song of the Cherry Tomato

Welcome me, greet me;
it’s so easy to eat me.

Smell me, feel me,
admire my compact shape.

Then pluck me from my vine,
just as you would a grape.

Stroke me, preen me;
the best way to clean me.

Place me, with my friends,
in a plain, white bowl.

The colours, the arrangements,
are good for the soul.

Paint me, write poems to me,
if such art is your goal.

Or just pop me in your mouth,
and devour me, whole.

While eating some cherry tomatoes recently, I suddenly got the urge to write a poem about them.  I had previously written a poem about tomatoes in general, and it hadn’t worked out  particularly well, but this time I was inspired by the beauty and simplicity of these tomatoes – and how ridiculously easy it was to eat them.  I started out with some ideas about how easy it is for us these days, compared to our ancestors having to hunt, kill, and labour with their hands to provide food for their families.  But the whole thing started to become over-elaborate, until I suddenly got the idea to write it in the “voice” of the tomato.  After that, the poem flowed along quite easily.

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Jools Holland’s “Later”


Jools Holland’s “Later”; Friday night TV.
Kick-back, chill-out, knock back the booze;
sit back, see who’s on, who’s playing,
anything for me?

The same old, hackneyed crowd.
The overrated, the has-beens,
the callow wannabees. The rowdies
for rowdiness’ sake; nothing for me.
I cannot connect; am unable to emote.
I sigh; extend my arm for the remote. . .

But wait . . . the girl singer:
soft, honeyed vocals;
soaring, swooping,
effortless range.
Singing with passion;
commanding the stage.
She’s here, from nowhere;
a sudden, new star.
Behind her, a guy
on acoustic guitar,
softly strumming
shimmering chords.
She closes her eyes,
sings herself
into the dream.
Sings me, too,
into the dream.
The dream I remember,
the dream of sheer bliss;
watching singers,
artists like this.
The dream I would have,
watching them sing;
expressing their essence,
their inner being.
The dream I now try
to enact every day;
making words dance,
making them play.

The British singer Adele is in the news today, announcing the dates of her next tour in 2016.  A couple of weeks ago I – along with millions of others – watched, enthralled, as she was interviewed on TV by Graham Norton, and sang songs from her new album.  The show was on BBC, and I was reminded of the fact that Adele got her first breakthrough by appearing on the BBC programme “Later, with Jools Holland”.  I must have watched most of the editions of “Later”, over the years; it’s become part of the fabric of late-night viewing on a Friday.  I was watching one of the programmes a few weeks ago, when I was suddenly transfixed by a relatively unknown female vocalist – not Adele, in this case, needless to say, but a girl performing under the name “Jones”.  I hope she becomes successful, although I doubt whether she’ll be able to emulate Adele and become a global superstar.  Anyway, it was watching her performance on “Later” that inspired the above poem.

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Travelling Home for Christmas

“Driving Home for Christmas” by Chris Rea is one of those pop songs – like “Mistletoe and Wine”, “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart”, “Stop the Cavalry” and a few others – that are resuscitated every year and played on the radio and in shops solely over the Christmas period.  It is relatively more low-key and meditative than most songs of this ilk, but still induces the appropriate warm glow of festive cheer and nostalgia.  I heard it around this time last year, just before setting off on my own journey back to my home town, and it was the stimulus that led to my poem “Travelling Home for Christmas”.


“Driving Home for Christmas”; a song, by Chris Rea,
celebrates a rite, enacted every year.
He’s cruising along, radio on; softly falling snow.
Tail-lights gently glimmer; he feels a warming glow.
1,000 memories, cascading in his brain.
He doesn’t mind the holdups; he’ll soon be home again.
Other drivers, just like him, gathered, all around.
Homing, like pigeons, to get their feet on holy ground.

I’m travelling home for Christmas, too; sitting on a train.
Dank air, grey sky, pouring down with rain.
Magical memories; Christmas as a child.
Little Baby Jesus; the lamb, so meek and mild.
Our annual pilgrimage, to mass at midnight.
Waking, to a morning brimful of delight.
Mother in the kitchen; festive table heaving.
Friends, neighbours, relatives, arriving, leaving . . .

My Christmas is less lavish now, more austere.
Numbers of visitors declining, each year.
On Christmas Day, there will be a total of three:
one brother, one reprobate uncle, and me.
We will sit down uneasily, our sins unshriven.
The reprobate uncle will smile, and be forgiven.
Our glasses raised, we will then commence to dine.
The food will be praised; tongues loosened by wine.
A measure of peace and goodwill will be found.
A fitting ceremony, on this holy ground.

Yes, we’re travelling home for Christmas; Chris Rea and I.
Flat fenland countryside; 1,000 memories flit by.
Rain teems down, from an unforgiving sky.


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I Could Be Happy

The weather forcasters are currently forecasting snow for my part of the country, and it was the thought of snow – or, more specifically, hailstones – that reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago.  I was walking home, one day in May, when a shower of rain suddenly turned into hail.  I kept on walking, trying to ignore the hail, but the hailstones increased in size and velocity, and started “pinging” off the top of my head.  I ended up running the final stretch home, humming – for some unaccountable reason – an old pop song from my youth called “I Could Be Happy”.  I got home and switched the radio on – to hear none other than exactly the same song, immediately coming out of the speakers!  I stood, like a statue, listening until the song finished.  I remembered the name of the band that had the original hit: “Altered Images”, and that their lead singer was an attractive girl with a child-like voice.  I was then shocked by the rado presenter informing me that the song had been Number One in the pop charts on Christmas Day 1981.  I then started musing, sadly, about the ravages of time, and it was these thoughts, combined with the hailstones and the pop song, that inspired the following poem.


White dandruff flakes
float down, scratched
from ashen curls
of the grey sky-god.

Then, cascading
white pellets.
A rapid fusillade,
pinging, stinging.

I run for home,
for some reason singing
“I could be happy.
I could be happy.”

Hailstones in May.
I open the door.
There is no way
this is funny any more.

Huge wet blotches
on my clothes.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

Switch on the radio,
what do I hear?
“I could be happy.
I could be happy.”

Infectious rhythms,
washing over me.
Girl-child jigging
in front of my eyes.

Recall so vivid,
could be yesterday.
D.J. says “From
1981, Christmas Day.”

Twenty five years
have gone by!
In twenty five years
I shall be eighty!

Tears drop huge wet
blotches on my clothes.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

Red eyes in the mirror
stare at grey stubble.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

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Every Time

I am not a great lover of jazz singers, jazz songs, or songs from “The Great American Songbook”.  One exception to this, however, is the song “Every Time we say Goodbye”, by Cole Porter.  I first heard it, ages ago, on an old album of songs by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin; the singer was Ella Fitzgerald.  On that very first hearing, it moved me to tears.  It still does so, to this day.  I think it’s the combination of Ella’s immaculate vocal delivery, the lyrics, and the sweeping – almost lush – orchestral arrangement.  I first thought the arrangement was by the well-known George Shearing; only to find, after researching into it, that it was by a guy I’d never heard of before, called Buddy Bregman.

That old album was lost, or mislaid, long ago.  I never replaced it, and the only time I get to hear the song nowadays is on the rare occasion when it is played on some radio programme like “Desert Island Discs” or “Private Passions”.  I’ve written before about the influence of music on poetry; about the death of my mother, and the universality of the mother-son relationship.  The poem “Every Time” brings all these themes together.

Every Time:

“Every time we say goodbye, I die a little.
Every time we say goodbye, I wonder why, a little. . . .”*

Every time I hear Ella sing
“Every Time We Say Goodbye”;
such emotional pull on my heartstrings,
I’m transfixed, undone, want to cry.

Only the Buddy Bregman arrangement,
of course, it goes without saying,
wreaks such emotional derangement.
“Play it again!  Please!”  I am praying.

The inevitable image arises;
is held, fixed, in my mind’s eye.
The so infrequent visits to my mother,
and their ending, with the sad sigh.

“TaTa for now, love”, she would say.
“TaTa.  Let’s not say goodbye”.
I’d kiss her; slowly walk away.
Turn my face to the impassive sky.

And that’s why Ella gets to me.
That’s why she makes me want to cry.
Because I really did die, a little,
every time Mum and I said goodbye.

*”Every Time we say Goodbye” by Cole Porter.



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