Tag Archives: Time

The Age of the Universe


(“The age of the universe is about 109 years.” Rupert Sheldrake – The Science Delusion.)

How can this be right?
Three little digits,
so tiny, so tight.
To compress energy,
dark energy,
the speed of light,
dark matter,
all things bright
and beautiful,
all things
in our sight,
all things that we hear,
go back to the year,
go back to the minute,
the vertiginous limit,
the moment,
the instant,
it all began,
the Big Bang.
How can they do it,
those digits,
from Big Bang
to NOW?
Three little digits,
so tiny,
so tight.
How can they do it?
How can this be right?

The last book I read in 2017 was also, I think, the most stimulating, most interesting, most provocative book I read all year: The Science Delusion, by Rupert Sheldrake.  I found the arguments in the book – basically an attack on the materialistic, mechanistic views of Richard Dawkins – so convincing that I shall no doubt be returning to the book in future posts.  Suffice it for now to mention that just one of the fascinating facts I came across in the book was that the age of the universe could be expressed in the three digits signifying ten to the power of nine.  I did a double-take, looked again at the three tiny digits, and suddenly the ideas for the above poem came flooding into my head.


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The Race

The Race

The clocks have been changed
The days stay longer
In their place
I am losing pace

The year begins
To tighten screws
I begin to lose

A quarter of this year
Has gone
The year to me
Hardly begun

No matter
How I come and go
How I struggle
Toe to toe

No matter
How hard I try
To reconcile
To live and die

No matter
How to allay fear
To harmonise
The speeding year

No matter
How it’s dressed in rhyme
Already lost
The race with time

The Easter weekend always comes, to me, as a kind of marking-post in the year.  Winter is over, we are now in the middle of Spring, with Summer fast approaching.  I’m sure it must be a phenomena common to a lot of people, but, as I head towards my late sixties, I seem to be astonished, year after year, by how speedily the year seems to be passing.  I started having the first thoughts about a poem on the subject when we changed the clocks a few weeks ago, to mark the change from GMT to BST, and “The Race” is the final result. 

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Cambridge: Bare Feet


First exploratory walk: Mill Road
and environs. A girl, walking, alone,
some distance ahead.

Tall, slim; curly dark hair cascading
onto shoulders. A long skirt,
flowing down to dainty ankles,
and bare feet.

I looked twice, and then again.
Autumnal weather, wet pavements,
and bare feet. Flagrant, glorious,
bohemian bare feet!

My random wandering suddenly
acquired new pace and purpose.
The white feet glimmered against
the dark sheen of the footpath,
hypnotising me, as I followed her,
from a circumspect distance.

She led me across the green expanse
of Parker’s Piece; the bare feet
no doubt squelching
in the damp turf.

She tossed her head;
the curly locks beginning
to glisten in descending drizzle.

I followed, in a trance. She could have
stepped out of a Pre-Raphaelite
painting, or been one of those gypsy
daughters of Augustus John.

She turned onto Mill Road itself.
Could she be going to the college?
No; she walked past the college,
turned left, entering,
I now saw, to my surprise,
a graveyard. There was
a graveyard, right next
to the college, and I’d never
noticed it before.

The white feet now
shimmered over loose shingle.
I winced in sympathy; imagined
sharp stones cutting into soft soles.
But she strode along, oblivious;
those soles must be tough as leather.

I loitered on Mill Road, respectfully
leaving her to her devotions. I gazed,
unseeing, into shop windows, waiting
for her to reappear.

Ten minutes later she emerged
from the graveyard, crossed
the road, and disappeared
into “Arjuna”, an appropriately exotic
emporium of grains, pulses and spices.

The bare feet lodged in my mind,
accompanying me back to my tiny bedsit,
where there was barely room for me,
let alone extraneous mental luggage.
They hovered in my head,
palely gleaming, ghost-like,
for the rest of that evening.

I rehearsed conversational gambits
for our next meeting, entirely unaware
of the sad truth: I would never
see the girl again.

So preoccupied was I by the bare feet,
the irony of the graveyard adjoining
the college eluded me:
that hothouse of fervid young minds,
all that striving, to study, to succeed,
to make new friends. And right next to it,
the visible reminder
of how it all ends.

Like the last item I posted in this blog, this is another poem in the continuing, autobiographical series of reminiscences of my student days at Cambridge (1976-79).  Incidentally, the shop called “Arjuna” is still there, on Mill Road, forty years later!

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Cambridge: The Bedsit


A sobering, saddening thought:
I could spend the next three years
of my life squeezed into this box,
this tiny room, complete with bed;
my family, my friends, a world away,
in South Yorkshire.

Omnipresent noise; busy, bustling traffic
on Mill Road, throughout the day,
throughout the night. The walls so thin;
interpenetration of outside and in.
The vans, the buses, the taxis, the trucks,
careering over the thin strip of pavement,
through the walls, into my life; into my dreams.

I plugged in my record-player;
lowered the needle onto the grooves
of “Our House” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
They sang of cosy rooms, of lighting a fire,
in a very, very, very nice house.
Nothing was right, yet it soothed me
through my sadness that first night.

A couple of months ago, I posted a poem entitled “Cambridge: Arrival”.  Triggered by the news reports of the latest GCSE results, it was a reminiscence of my arrival at Cambridge to start my degree course in “Humanities”.  Writing that poem started a fertile stream of memories and recollections, which has resulted in another two poems – with more to come, I hope!


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Arrival at Cambridge


Mrs Moroz was the first
Cambridge character we encountered.
My mother, my father, my brother
and I must have stared,
disturbed yet fascinated by
the scrawny frame,
the frizzy hair,
the squinting gaze
behind thick lenses,
the twisted, tangled teeth,
the clotted, catarrhal vocal delivery,
the mangled, mutant version
of English-Polish emitted
from her epiglottis.

An unlikely figure to be
the guardian at the gate,
the fallible ferrywoman,
barring the way to the
unimaginable riches that
awaited me, once she
ushered me through the portals
into the enchanted city.

It’s that time of the year when GCSE results arrive, eagerly awaited by the many thousands of students hoping to enter university.  It’s reminded me of the three years I spent at Cambridge, and, when I started writing the above poem, I was surprised at how vividly I remember meeting my first landlady there.

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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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The Blue-Gold Can


Half-hidden, in shade, on this roasting day,
sitting at the foot of a hedge-covered wall.
Grey stubble, torn clothes; most revealing of all,
the familiar blue-gold can in his fist.

I see that he sees me, as I walk past:
vestige of a smile, obscured by grime.
Compelled to respond, I cannot resist:
I give him a jaunty “thumbs up” sign,
for, after all, I think it no crime.

And something within me rises
in sympathy; to be deliriously
drunk, in this solitary way.
The amber fluid, the blue-gold can,
rolling back the horizons of the day.

I remember those days, long gone by.
Days of carefree youth; let the world go to pot.
Get drunk, get high, reach out for ecstasy.
No thought of what might happen;
the damage and the rot.

This man, this vagrant; what, really, has he got?
Rebellion? Freedom? Integrity?
No home, no money, his liver shot;
and yet, somehow, I envy his lot.

I have mentioned my liking/weakness for alcohol before, in this blog.  As the years have gone by I have, reluctantly, been obliged to moderate my alcohol consumption.  Now, as I reach my mid-sixties, I am beginning to encounter problems with “hypertension”, and may be compelled to cut-down even more on my drinking.  In my late twenties and early thirties, however, I had a period when moderation was the last thing on my mind, and my favourite tipple of the time was a “super-strong” lager that came in a distinctive blue-gold can.  Whenever I see youngsters striding around, nonchalantly swigging from the same easily-identifiable blue-gold can, or more elderly vagrants, sipping the lager as they beg for hand-outs, I experience a rush of nostalgia.  It was one of these occurrences that generated the above poem. 

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The Limit




(The miserable schoolboy that was me):

 “How he envied the pensioners he would see,
occupied in their homely lives; independent, free.
If only he could, by some chance, heaven-sent,
live like them, he’d be forever happy and content.”

(Fifty Years Later):

Five years of retirement have now gone by.
So quickly, it seems; a blink of the eye.
The days are my own, to do as I please.
Why do I not feel blissfully free?
Am I not content with this modus vivendi,
that could now continue until I die?
Time to analyse, perhaps; to ask why.

Dusk melds into darkness, dawn into brightness.
No moment between delineates
these phenomena as separate states.
Minutes into hours, hours into days;
appears to happen in much the same way.
Weeks into months, months into years;
it is this that disturbs, promotes inner fears.
How to settle, how to take heed;
it all occurs at bewildering speed.
Sliding down a vertiginous slope;
an inexorable process, fears replace hope.
Fear of the moment you cannot contemplate:
the one certain moment that will delineate.
One certain moment that will occur,
and negate.

I have written a series of autobiographical poems about my schooldays, and how unhappy they were.  One of the recurring motifs was how I dreaded the long journey on the bus to school every morning.  I have vivid memories of looking, forlornly, out of the bus windows, and envying the housewives and pensioners I would see, who all seemed, to me, to be happily engaged in their daily domestic activities.  How fortunate these people were, I used to think.  Not only were they free of the necessity to go to school, but they didn’t even have to go to work any more!

Having taken early retirement, five years ago, I suppose I’ve been living the life I dreamed of, as that unhappy schoolboy.  So why am I not deliriously happy, day after day?  “The Limit” is my attempt at answering that question.

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All is Dust


Down comes the dust,
on the good and the bad.
Down comes the dust,
on the happy and sad.

Negating, erasing,
as it does, as it must.
Endlessly falling,
down comes the dust.

You flail, you struggle,
when weak, when strong.
Stubborn, determined,
fighting, life-long.

Hoping, praying
you might just
leave some imprint,
in this world of dust.

But effort, unceasing,
cannot avail.
The dust, defeating;
you fumble, you fail.

You argue, you question;
why is it thus?
In silent seething,
and windless rush,
the question unanswered,
down comes the dust.

Apologies for posting the above poem at this particular time of year.  Readers might, justifiably, expect something optimistic, even joyful, for the beginning of a new year.  I don’t even have the excuse of publishing a newly-written poem that simply insists on seeing the light of day, as “All is Dust” is a revised version of a poem I wrote quite a while ago.  I must admit that – like most people, I assume – I have spent the last couple of weeks away from my usual haunts, celebrating Christmas and the New Year with family, friends and relatives, and inspiration for the writing of poems has been sorely lacking.  Casting around for something appropriate to post in the blog, I suddenly realised that one of the images associated with “All is Dust” could be that of an hourglass, with sand sifting slowly from one level to another.  In that sense, then, the poem could be relating to the passing of time; one year ending, as the new one begins. . .

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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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