A week of similar skies and the river.


by Nick Telfer


I choose today. I choose today to record my journey but it might have been any other day. Today is a good day, the sun is out, the air chill and there are fast clouds passing so it feels like I am going out into a new world. Should we begin each morning like this? Yes, we should. Fat heads in the past, clear minds ahead. To my right the river, dark and flowing quickly, ahead the mountains, definite, I can even see the dark shapes and curves of the moorland, and the lighter colours of the fields that run to the edges of the moors.

My dog, Simon, is ahead of me, already enjoying the scents of the grasses and the morning.

There is nothing between me
and a dog,
just the air, the sun,
my thoughts of what he may think,
what troubles me,
these things are not between us.

As we walk I see a young boy sitting on the rocks down by the river. It is no longer early and I’m sure that the boy should be at school. He isn’t wearing school clothes, just some dirty jeans and a jumper with a hole in one sleeve. His hair is lank. Underneath this he is slim and handsome. Simon goes down to him and he strokes the dog’s neck. The boy looks up and waves. I wave back. I beckon to him and he walks slowly up the bank.

– Alright?

– Yeah.

– No school?

– What’s it to you?

– Just asking.

– Well don’t.

 He strokes Simon again. Then looks away.

– Cold?

– Don’t feel it.

– Would you like some chocolate?

– Nah mate. Not that sort.

– Nor am I. Take it. I could do with not eating it.

The boy takes the bar of chocolate. I smile and walk away. The boy stands for some time. Opens the chocolate. Gives some to Simon. Waits. Then eats some himself.

– Thanks. Tosser.

Let us share what we have,
let us pray that it will be enough
to spare us
once again.

If one walks, one is following a line. A path. We know the poet and his two paths and them making all the difference. But I walk these paths every day with Simon, he needs the exercise, I need the exercise. We try to follow a different line each day,  walking along different routes but they all begin and end at the same place, no matter how we turn, no matter if we walk along the river staring into the far hills, or keep to the paths through the woods where the hawthorn is already out and the woodland floor is beginning to burst with fiery spores of undergrowth. We always start and finish at the same spot.

and I am waiting
for him to come
an old friend with smiles and kisses
and worries and troubles,
and the tree across the road
is thick with yellow flowers
but my eyes are failing

I feel in my pocket and bring out a memento from last night’s drinking. I have a terrible thirst these days. Sometimes Simon comes along. But not last night. The Seahawk is a fun place if a little odd, cheap and beery, the men, the women and the drink. But I made it home, followed the line to my rented door, carrying in my pocket this little African totem, given to me by a man in his nineties who needed to talk about his time in Kenya.

And I hold this totem in my hand today. A small lion carved from wood. Black with age with a ragged iron nail stuck through its abdomen. It is not pretty, not stylish. It is dirty and brutal. It had been handed to me as if it were a curse. One that the man needed release from. He needed relief and later today I will find a place for it beneath the fast clouds and sunshine of Lancashire. A good clear cool spring morning will be the time to lay this little one to rest.

Two runners come past, two ladies, both talking. I have seen them come this way before and they smile at me, a lone man, but with a dog. I have a companion. They no doubt have companions, and maybe even husbands. I have no wife but I do not let my eyes follow the tight red and blue Lycra shorts that they are wearing, nor the movement beneath their red and green kagools. I look up again at the clouds passing and the sun is beginning to warm, though the breeze is from the North. Perhaps the mornings are like this in Kenya?

The man who gave me the totem had been sitting in the corner of the pub and he began the conversation. I don’t remember walking in, but I must have done so and I found the corner table next to the man who began talking whilst looking at his lion token.

– See this. See this. I took this from a man. I took this from his pocket and I got a bloody nail from out the hand of his son and I bashed it through this little lion. And that wasn’t the worst thing when I was working for the Police out there. And there was others like me did it. We did. We did it. When was that? The bloody sixties, for fucking sake, we swung, oh yes, we bloody swung. Here, you take it. I can’t anymore. You take it. You have it. I’ve had it. One double and it’s yours my friend.

So I bought us both a double and took them over to his table. We raised our glasses and drank our healths and I left him in the corner of the dark room amongst the cheap and the beery and walked home. Alone in the shower I imagined the curled figure of the man crying as the nail was put through the heart of the lion.

This morning I follow the line back to its start. Everyday I know how it will end. But before we get to the end I call Simon over and we sit by the river that is reflecting the clouds now. The clear blue sky that surrounds the clouds and we look up and know that this same blue rests above the African Plains. Often I think how the sky must have been for so many. In the past. What would the sky have looked like to those walking beneath it? What would it have looked like to Christ, the prophets, the wise men and the working men as they walked across the Holy Land? Like this. All our forebears would have seen this. Wherever they were from and wherever they were going.

And with their blessing we take the unlucky lion and prise the iron nail from out its heart. The nail comes out easily with what seems a gentle sigh. In truth there was no sigh. But there is the sky. And there is the river. The nail I leave for the water. The lion I keep with me for now.



A change in the weather. A colder morning, but still. A low haze of grey clouds. Simon is happy whatever the weather. In essence I am the same. Crows in the row of cypress trees to my left rise, cawing, fat and slow. Their noise rather reminds me of the odd silence of the rising birds that I had seen but not heard in a film from the night before.

I read in a book,
Of a parent dying,
And in the night
I was woken by my phone
But I would not answer it.

I had gone with a friend to attend a meeting of the local branch of “Fathers for the Appreciation of Jason Bourne”. They meet every other month to watch one of the Bourne movies together. My friend explained that they had decided to do this rather than continue to stay up late in their own homes drinking bottles of wine while watching the three films back to back after their wives had gone to bed.

Sometimes, to help them focus more clearly on the visual symbolism of the film they watched the films with the sound turned off. This is what they had done when I had gone to watch the film at their branch meeting. I found this interesting and calming, though when my friend continued to quietly mouth the lead character’s words I had to move to a chair a little further away. My friend didn’t notice.

He concentrated as Jason strode out with his shotgun to hunt his hunter, firing first at an oil tank that exploded and then later at a field of resting birds whose noise, (that we saw but could not hear) gave him cover to shoot the English assassin who had followed him into the French countryside. Before the English assassin died there was a tender moment as they bonded. The rather sparse dwarf saplings and the deracinated grasslands were like the meadows here just before spring. I enjoyed the film in silence and the rather gentle conversation in the pub that followed. Maybe all these men felt that they would never now go into a taverna on a sunny windswept island and have a very individual but still pretty and alluring woman look up happy and shocked by their arrival.

If I was to cross over the river here on the footbridge I would pass the remnants of a shrine to a young boy who had thrown himself into the river and drowned. Each year the poems that are left and the flowered wreaths get smaller and they wither in days and fall down into the water.

How long
Till we are all forgotten
Whilst the river still flows
And the clouds pass

But I don’t want to cross the river because there is a woman walking her dogs across the way and I don’t want to talk to her. I know her and I have worked with her but I do not wish to talk to her, not this morning. The silence of Bourne is with me, my dog and this path can comfort me. But I do wave and she waves back.

Sometimes it is better not to talk. I am sure that she would feel the same. She is a nice woman who runs the Bakery-Cup-Cakery and has become a bit of a celebrity cook. I helped put her first book together, wrote up her biography, made a good story, left the recipes to the experts and then organised the photographers and stylists who did the covers and back story. Oddly, I was sure that her husband was at the Bourne film screening last night, though I don’t think I saw him in the pub afterwards.

Her book sold well, especially locally. I was pleased with the back photo because she had said that she was happy with it. In it she is looking up towards the viewer, smiling, but only gently. She has a light summer shirt with small pink and red flowers unbuttoned but only slightly. Over her right shoulder nearest to the viewer she has a blue gingham bag with a couple of loaves of bread and the tops of some leeks poking out. You want to be her friend or to punch her. It is smug, but in a knowing way.

To her side in the photo is a man, you can see it is a man walking with her but you cannot see him. He is cropped out but she is with him, he is standing to her left on the other side from the bag of loaves and leeks. She is not looking at him, she is looking up at the viewer, she is smiling but only slightly. When I arranged the shot I had to have this side of her face turned towards the camera because she had two very large bruises on her other side. One large bruise on the side of her face and the other on her neck. They were old, and she had done her best to cover them up with the help of the stylist.

She has turned away from the river now and so will I. The dull grey haze is beginning to part to the west, there are small patches of turquoise beginning to pull through, some whiter clouds beyond the grey.



On certain days the river is like a black flat road, newly laid, it is as if you could walk across. On other days it reflects the clouds and the sky and all those who walk by look down at it and wonder. Then they look up and smile, they nod as you pass and each and every one wishes to pass on their delight.

On to the roof of the temple
They crept in the morning sun.

And on days like these I listen to those that pass, I let them talk a little, reveal what makes them happy and it is always the sun, a little change from the usual they will say and walk on. But how often have we spoken to each other, you passing souls, saying what a change it was to see the sun when we see it every day until it is our last one.

There is a spot from which I often slip to the river side. A rudimentary modern weir has been built to keep the water moving down away towards the cities of the coast. The weir is constructed from large concrete slabs, pitched down the bank into the water, some of them are submerged and doing their job, a few remain on the water’s edge and they make a very comfortable, well perhaps not comfortable, maybe better to say convenient place to sit. They were a little sharp even for my rather compliant behind.

Down by the water I can sit looking up towards the tall trees and the sound of the rushing water drowns out the wind in the trees even on the windiest of days. And the water curves over and over the rocks in front of me, and Simon bounds up and down the shore watching branches, old footballs and all manner of stuff float past.

When the day is like this I feel the need to put down some words. A conflicting urge away from work because I feel that I should just accept the world and the joy it offers me, allow it to flood through me, allow me to coarse with it, not put words between me and it. But at the same time there is the need to communicate this joy, to share it with another one, for if there is no one above there is no point in shouting to the heavens is there? So I had a friend who had moved South, the foolish Jessie, and I would text her about the sun on the water and the wild turnip flowers and cicleys and alexanders growing to nearly head high on the meadows and perhaps the thistles and nettles would get a mention, their tight purple heads or bright white flowers. Bees, sawflies, even wasps, and somehow every year damsel-flies make me cry, the little bitches.

And she would text back maybe a little later from her allotment up above the city on the south coast. Tell me of the week’s growth. Or sometimes how her work was going teaching young women how to cook. And it would seem correct in this warm morning to hear from friends, as if their words were blown up from the south on the warming winds and I would think back to when we first knew each other at college taking History options together. Marvelling even then at what there was in the world and what our kind had done to it, I think we’d spent so much time amazed and having to get over our amazement down the Waggon and Horses that we’d nearly failed the exams on the Crusades and the Scramble for Africa.

Onto the roof of the temple
They crept in the morning sun,
Carrying their swords unsheathed
Towards the Saracen men and women,

Looking up from the fast river I can see the West Indian man who runs along the banks many mornings. He runs slower than most people walk, but he is definitely running and he always carries a furled golfing umbrella with him. I never think this eccentric, nor an affectation, I think that he hates to get wet. So if it starts raining he might stop and then put up the brolly and stroll home singing, getting there faster than if he ran. But I have never seen him do this. I have only seen his shuffling run, steady and constant and if he passes and I smile at him he does not respond, too caught up in his running.

I did see him once in my local bank. I recognised him and his umbrella standing in the queue ahead of me. Whatever he wanted they were unable to give him. He stood a while unspeaking then left the woman behind the counter and walked towards the door. At the small reception desk he stopped. Then he turned towards us all and in a very slow loud voice said

– This country has gone to the dog. This country has gone to the dog I tell you. Gone to the dog.

And then he left, faster than he was running now along the river. And I remember that nobody in the bank laughed. So maybe he was right. I told my friend the story when we were having a drink and she did not laugh either.

I climb up the bank and the sound of the river begins to recede and the wind and the leaves take over. I walk away from the running man towards the disused weir. The river’s direction had been changed years earlier and the weir now just has a small pond behind it where ducks breed and a heron or two hunt. I should perhaps find out what went on here, why it has changed. I think that there once was a sewage works, which was closed and now it has become a nature reserve.

On to the roof of the temple
they crept in the morning sun
Carrying their swords unsheathed
Towards the Saracen men and women,
Some leapt from the roof of the temple,
All the others they beheaded.

If I look out to the West I can see a small chapel in the cemetery. Beyond that is a tower block, then trees and sky. Out further from here is another country, Wales. If I was to continue walking, which one day I will, breaking out of the same paths and oaths, then I would enter this other country. One where they really do speak another language, and what use would words be then? And I could walk across the Denbigh moors, or along the coast and make a pilgrimage.

Past Snowdonia’s mountains along old miners’ and shepherds’ paths, over the peaks of Llyn, each peak with its own hill fort. And then down as the hills begin to settle towards Bardsey Island, Ynys Enlli. Pilgrims went there because they could not get to Jerusalem and a little boat from Porth Meudwy would take people to the islands of the Saints and they could pray as the salt spray from the Irish Sea re-baptised them on the crossing.

Now Bardsey came to me because I had seen it on a map and heard about it from some poets and carpenters I had met down there a few years back when I had gone wandering. It was a week or so after my texts were no longer returned by my friend as she had passed away in her sleep. She had played badminton with her boyfriend the night before and gone to bed happy and never woken.

So I had travelled to Llyn from this odd city. I walked up one of the hills and had come down through the remains of old slate quarries to a small chapel built before the Norman invasion. It was sunny and the sea was near and I had thought how lovely this would be. Inside the chapel there was little light from the small windows. I could sense a few humans. Across the pews, the altar and the window sills daffodils were strewn.  I saw two figures move in the dim light by the cross and I walked outside.

I sat on the wall to the churchyard and thought of walking on. The sun was strong and the morning was not over. Three men came out followed by two women. They waved and spoke to me in Welsh. I smiled and waved and they came over. They apologised and took me to their home and then off to a pub where they sold their own beer which they had named after Bardsey Island Ynys Enlli. We raised a number of glasses till I got off my head and then fell down.



This morning a lower cloud formation. But no rain I don’t think. Simon is happy and very few people are about. Once school runs are done and the mothers have gone home then often I won’t see anyone. Which is a shame.

So I imagine walking here with others who haven’t visited this special place, showing them the little shortcuts, the hidden groves, the view of far off hills that help me on my way. I imagine if my father was with me, what would we say to each other, what understanding could we come to, is there any need? When I think of him this morning walking with me and I see us laughing and him repeating his favourite stories as if they were new, fresh like this breeze.

– Ronnie Corbett’s father was our milkman back in Edinburgh, did you know?

And I did know this, and how my father had lived there with an old aunt and his younger brother after their parents had died. And perhaps because of what I do and perhaps because of the oft related story I think it is important. What people think and remember is important, we should ask them why. I cannot ask my father, nothing tragic, I am only imagining him this morning under lowish clouds with Simon happily smelling something in the bushes, so my father is not really here for me to ask him.

I could sneer at the shelves of celebrity gossip magazines, proclaim their readers to be shells of people. How dreadfully inauthentic are their lives. But people read these things, they talk about them, Ronnie Corbett’s father was my father’s milkman and that is good.

Something imagined must be here,
pictures of young boys by a swimming pool,
black and white but just as bright as today,
the pool and sky would have been azure.

Around the bend comes one I know. He is a good man. He is lucky, he has many helpers to keep him together. My work is far away from his but close enough for there to be some slight jarring of the nerves. He is an artist. And a famous one at that. We have spoken many times, and been drunk many times together. He says he has listened to my ideas and pinched them, I laugh and tell him I do not recall them. And I don’t. But he is a master, certainly he is a master and I should praise him.

He waves and smiles and we will talk. So I look across the fields at the silver birches and they have made him famous. We talked a lot and I told him of the poet’s poem about birches. After this my friend the artist managed to create a three dimensional silver birch inside a museum, and it looked as if it was standing there in the middle of the museum, a whole live tree moving gently, and you could hear the wind in the leaves and you could walk through the tree, stand in it and look up and it would be as if you were the tree marvelling at its beautiful chlorophyll shot leaves. What a thing that was, a tree inside a museum.

oranges and a melon on a wooden table,
cool corridors and the sound of running water
geese caught in sunlight in an indoor courtyard,
dark green leaves, women singing, grinding corn,

So we stopped and we smiled. And I admit it was genuine. I liked him and he liked me. I wished I didn’t live as I do, that was all. I asked him how it was hanging and he said he wasn’t that sort of guy or that kind of artist and I said I knew, but how went the world and he said it went but not to where it was supposed to go and I asked him how he was and he said he was like a bowl of cherries and like a summer’s day and I began to wonder if I really did like him.

And then he sat down and cried. And I watched for a while and reached out a hand and held his shoulder and he gripped my hand and I could feel dried blood and dust. Simon came by and did his best to nuzzle up. Our hands let go. I sat down next to him and looked out towards the motorway, it’s continual thrum playing its usual game with my rural reveries. Yes, this is a city and there are many people who do not live or think like you.

But actually I believe that, given the choice, would you not walk along this riverbank? Would you rather sit in a car listening to tired stock jocks on the radio on your way to work? My fellow souls behind their tiring wheels might not want my fat head or sloppy thoughts but they’d rather be here under these clouds sitting with a friend.

So I sat down a couple of feet away and waited. My father would have done the same. A man should be allowed to have his feelings. He should be allowed to pull himself together. Probably goes for women too.

By the side of the river,
thinking of our fathers
we imagine sunlight
and the words we have never heard

– I have been making the dead and I cannot bring myself out of it. I have been paid to do it. To make the dead and I don’t want any of my assistants to have to do it. You know how much help I need, just to get up in the morning, and now I am having to do it all myself. And the families of the dead have got wind of it and are railing and ranting about what I am doing. I’m sure we’ve talked about this. I keep on telling you they are your ideas. The list of all those who voted for the war written in stone. The bright red crosses painted on the walls with a mixture of blood from halal slaughtered lambs. You must remember these ideas. I gave you credit in the exhibition but you never came.

– In the past I got others to do the work but this one I am doing myself. Bodies made of sand lying in the gallery. Half submerged but their upper halves above the floor. They take me a day each and I have a deadline in three months for the show but the families are up in arms. No respect, taking money for the lives of their brave kids. And I think they have a point. But I must complete the work, if only because I have a contract and my lawyer tells me to. Bollocks to the bloody lot of them I say.

I do not have the words to comfort him, in fact words are rarely a comfort at all. Look at these clouds, they may lift, they may thicken and then rain will come. But rain is good, it washes much away, it feeds the land. We all know how it ends, just as it did for Ronnie Corbett’s dad, and mine, and yours.



This morning’s walk is different as it is a Saturday. Normally I try to walk very early on a Saturday to avoid the families and their dogs. Not because I do not like them, but I feel they could do with the space and so can I. No one else’s kids are as interesting as yours and I do not have any kids anyway. However, due to a longish day of discussing art and the redemption that it can bring, followed by a lengthyish evening of allowing a little whisky to go a long long way, or was that the other way round? Anyway, as I and all who care to listen know, it is neither big nor clever but it helps. So a later than normal rise and a dog getting a walk nearer tea time than lunch ensues.

However, shamen and other seers have used mind altering states to seek for truth so let’s not forget the wisdom of the ancients. In fact, let us not be ironic or sarcastic or any of the other defences we build against the truth of our existence. And if a hangover makes us feel as if we have died, well it’s all the better for that. But this is a good walk because there is a fresh breeze. Enough to calm the brow, and possibly evaporate the sweat. Ridiculous and undignified and childish and if I could grow up I would but the bloody stuff is everywhere and it tastes so good and makes me look so handsome.

Indeed, there is a little joy in the pain in my head. Not one I’d care to share with any other, certainly not by talking, and texting would be beyond me if there were anyone to text but here comes a mother and her son and they approach smiling and she grabs me by the arm and I don’t know her not but her son seems familiar.

– Thank you so much. Thanks so much. You don’t know me but my son here, he saw you walking your dog and he told me you were the man who gave him the chocolate that made him come home. It was his favourite, the one I always gave him when he was good. And he came home. He’d been sleeping rough, we’d had a fight and he’d left and then you gave him that chocolate and he came home. Thank you. Are you alright?

– Oh, yes, yes. I am fine, just a little tired. I am glad he came home. I hope it all works out. No one should be living rough. A camping trip with some chums should be enough.

– Yes, yes. Actually we were thinking about that, but it is a bit of a faff. Think he’s done enough of that now. My brother’s got a static down at Talacre, I think we’ll hang out there in the summer. Won’t we?

The boy smiles and looks deep into my eyes. Mine hurt, but his are clearer now than they were before. This will perhaps end better than it might.

– Enjoy Talacre then. Good luck.

– Thank you, thanks again. Oh, look, what a lovely doggie. What’s it called?

– Simon.

– Simon?

– Yes, Simon or Peter if you like.

– Oh, Ok. Well. we’ll be off. Enjoy your walk.

At times
One more step
Seems like it might not
be possible

Across the way are fields that they had tried to flog for houses but were stopped. I went to a number of meetings to stop them and during the meetings I had drifted off and wondered what it would have been like if I had stayed in London and done up those houses that I’d seen. Thirty years ago there were three houses I had noticed whilst wandering for days in the East End, just down a side street between a Hawksmoor Church and Brick Lane. Rancid buildings, tall town houses that gave out straight onto the streets but they were big, had gardens and the three of them were up for sale. Some old fellow had popped his clogs and all the shite he’d kept for centuries was stored in the three houses.

I could have kept my job in those offices near the City. I could have spent my nights and weekends lugging out all the rubbish, skips and skips full of junk. In fact there might have been good things there. Perhaps I could have sold it all off. Used one of the houses to sell it from.

I remember they had original Georgian fittings on the walls, no heating, not much electricity, water just about. But good sized, maybe six or seven bedrooms, each with servant’s quarters. Parlours, sculleries, washrooms. All with original tiles underneath the years of scum. Good sized gardens that I could have cleared, made beautiful, filled with roses and hyacinths with high stone walls to keep the city out. I would have made each house a commune, set rents to cover the mortgage, add just a little more on top to help to keep the places up. They’d have been great to live in and as I paid off the mortgages I’d not have put the rents up, kept them steady and it would have been good. Healthy. Once the mortgages were paid off I could have found myself somewhere warm, South of France, Languedoc, not too posh. And the houses could take care of themselves. Fixed rent for the whole place and let the communes do the rest, keep the money chugging round. Not high rents, but if they did not keep them up they’d have to go, I’d send their kit to storage and put them gently out onto the newly bustling streets of London Town. How exciting to be amongst all these people now, all those languages and races and the richness of those seams. What dreams I seem to have left unfulfilled. What great things I have passed undone.

The homeless have moved on,
the grass has grown back
from where they pitched their tents,
they did not ride camels,
they did not brew mint tea
in the early dawn,
moved on.

If we cannot float down river on the still breathing bodies of our friends lashed tighter tighter together than anything before, if they cannot be our buoyant ride through life what can we rely on to keep us afloat? There are clouds and trees and friends and chocolate bars and coffee shops and drinks to be had, a few drinks, we go out for a few drinks. In fact I never say that, but I hear younger people say that. “We’re going out for a few drinks.” I remember my own parents saying they were going out for a few drinks. Me and my friends went out for a drink. It was never just the one but maybe we were simply self deluded. And the generations who live through wars when they are young see things more clearly than I do now, but then again that may just be my head still full of last night’s ales and ailments and this walk will take me home soon enough.



An old friend has just replied to an email with a question.

– Is it really you?

And I go out to check for him. As I walk down the street I see a woman coming towards me. She has an orange headscarf, a loose long black jacket over a white top and bright purple trousers. I notice her new trainers and I smile politely as I pass. I look back seconds later and the sky above the street is full of clouds turning pink and purple as the sun is setting. Around the corner I see another woman wearing a black leather jacket and jeans, she has boots up to her knees and a jumper shrouds her behind.

So, in answer to my friend, it does seem to be me. I head down towards the river to have a wander on my own. Simon I leave at home. There is perhaps another half an hour of daylight and it is good to feel the evening coming on. Seagulls rest on the fields. The sun is touching the horizon and the clouds are at their best. The motorway hums. Most travellers are coming home from work. And so I think of women that I have known and give thanks.

Cold rain
can awaken
thoughts of better

Seagulls spread across the fields below where I sit on a fence looking out. The birds are finding refuge from the storms at sea not too far away. How easy for them to find sanctuary. When their homes settle again they can elegantly drift back calling to one another. Many years ago I travelled in Africa with some friends. We crossed east Africa and found our way to Entebbe in Uganda. We drove into their Botanical Gardens and camped. Founded and laid out by the British, in 1898 on the shores of Lake Victoria they had been let go to seed. But they were still beautiful and I think we paid the caretaker to stay. I remember some large trees and the fact that we had stayed there but nothing else.

We are here
for such a short stay
and still
we do not concentrate

I wonder what it would be like there now. I heard a number of people had been to Uganda, but weren’t there child armies and cross border raids? You wouldn’t dare travel into what was then Zaire and is now “war torn” Congo. Or would you? The world is a smaller place, but perhaps only because there are fewer places you could safely go, waving the British passport. Better to walk here and let the girls and gulls come to us.

Away in the low saplings to my right men meet at night. In a car park beyond couples come in cars. If I stand still and watch the sun set I can see the world spinning. We hope for great men and women to help us find a way when we know what that way already is. I can see walking along the path ahead of me a woman in her eighties who had recently lost her husband. She still walks the paths around here and many talk to her as they should. They do not touch her gently, they worry about the dirty coat she always wears.

And this is what I should do. Last time we met, we spoke of Jackie Collins, who neither of us knew personally but had read. We laughed at the thought of what she was famous for and I had said that I had heard on the radio that she thought she was a feminist, which I wasn’t quite sure about. But the woman who had interviewed her had said that Jackie Collins had impeccable manners and gave good interview. How I had wished the woman on the radio had not used that phrase, gave good interview, as it lost the touch of class that they had hoped to bestow on Jackie’s well turned head. The widow in the grubby coat had said that she and her husband had often read Jackie’s books aloud whilst lying awake in bed. I said that I was getting a picture and she had said perhaps not quite the right one and we had laughed and laughed.

Waving now she approaches me and I climb down from off the fence where I am sitting.

– A little late?

– But beautiful. I didn’t want to miss it.

– Quite right.

– How are you?

– Fine thanks.

– No Simon? Is he alright?

– Oh yes, no, he’s fine, he’s had a walk and sometimes at dusk he’ll wander off and I can’t see him, silly mutt.

– Ok. You should get one of those collars that light up.

– So we don’t get lost in the dark.

– It’s a good idea.

So as the sun sets in the west she tells me some tales about the east. How she had been born in Poland. No, she doesn’t look Polish, or even sound Polish. But she is. She had a twin sister and when they were young, only six or so, they had become aware that the boy who lived next door was fond of them. He was a few years older than the pair of them but he would always come round to play in the afternoons when the rest of the boys from school were off down on the long beaches near to their home. In the summer those other boys would be swimming and in the winter they would go fishing.

This was many years ago, during the war. Just as the war was ending the twin sisters had been arrested in one of the final round-ups by retreating Nazis. She and her sister weren’t Jewish, that did not make any difference, many many Polish Christians had been murdered during the war, in reprisals, in death camps, in low level brutality and nastiness. The remnants of an SS troop hauled all the villagers into the street and separated the women and children from the very few men left. Their young friend was deemed a man, in fact all the boys his age were herded with the men and led away. But the Nazis were tired and lazy, they didn’t notice as the little boy slunk off. Round the back of a building and then away to the dunes. The same dunes from where his chums had sat and laughed at the thought of him playing with the girls. The boy watched the Nazis move out with the women and children walking behind them. The men and the other boys of his age he could not see. He rested the remainder of that first day and watched smoke on the horizon to the east and knew that the front was approaching. The boy decided to move, he first hid in the woods and then in the forests and then he was gone.

She was never quite sure why this troop of SS had decided to pick them up. The SS were all Estonians who had been conscripted but didn’t want to face the Russians as they advanced. They treated their captives well enough, but after they had all rested for a few days in a barn many of them contracted typhus and both her twin sister and her mother died. She had continued west and had been picked up by American soldiers. The SS troop had disappeared weeks before and she had been wandering the fields trying to find potatoes to eat. She must have been in Germany and was placed in a displaced persons camp ready to be repatriated.

The war ended. There seemed no rush to send an orphaned young girl into Russian controlled territory when it was not clear if there was anyone waiting for her. The UN had an organisation to take care of the millions of displaced people from the war. Initially it looked as if she might be sent to Australia where Poles were being welcomed but a few days before she was due to leave her “cousin” walked into the camp and said they were to go to England as soon as possible. He was the young boy who had played with her and her sister.

For a week she had sat and let him stroke her hand, unable to speak. He did not ask what had happened to her sister or mother. He did not tell her what he had been doing for the previous four months, what he had had to do to get across Europe ahead of the Russians whilst keeping out of German hands and then to make sure he hadn’t been sent back home. He said that his father was in the Free Polish Army and had fought his way up through Italy with the British. Now his father was in England, refusing to return to Poland and wanting the fair thing to be done, to have his only surviving son and young “niece” brought to England. She had not really heard what the young boy was telling her but she did not let him out of her sight till they got to England. There she made him sit by her bed till she closed her eyes to sleep and only then would he leave her bedside and go downstairs to his father and they would make plans for the future in the cold winter nights brightened by the coal mined only ten miles from Bolton in the pits nearby.

– We never did have children. A shame really, though perhaps it is better our story ends with us.

– I don’t think so. What a shame. Especially with all that Jackie Collins.

– Ah yes, you would remember that, Jackie Collins.

– How could I forget? Look, it’s getting cold now. Let’s head for home.

So as the darkness came across the world I touch her lightly on the arm guiding her in the gloom, our figures merging in the dusk wondering nearly aloud that she didn’t seem old enough to have been through all that, wasn’t it just so long ago?

So, my friend, in answer to your question, it is me and I, like us all, I remain the same old, same old.



This morning I start in the park before I make it to the wilder land across the main road and out on the meadows. It is a good park. Quiet and well laid out. There aren’t many people this morning but someone has put chalk arrows onto the tarmac paths in different colours to show us the way. It is difficult to know where they are taking me so I walk out across the grass where there are no arrows but in the distance a tractor is turning slow circles cutting the long grass.

The mower has already been where I am walking. Neat trimmed sheaves of grass stick to my boots and I am pleased. I can see that the water is forming droplets on the well oiled surface of the leather. I have been working on them to make them properly waterproof ever since they became sodden during a long walk in the hills in mists where I had got lost and thought that I might have to go gently to lie down and rest in a cool corner of a cave and wait till morning. But this morning the boots were working well, and the grass was thick with the dew that was sticking to them but my socks were dry.

Dry socks, what more can a man want in the morning with the prospect of the day ahead? As I cross the mown grass I see there is a large banner spread across the nearest path promoting a raffle to raise money for the pet’s corner in the park that had been recently vandalised. In the paper this morning they reported the case of a woman passing round young children for sex using them like raffle prizes.

Simon is chasing squirrels and they sell him dummies before scampering up the nearest tree trunk. He has never caught one and I don’t think he knows what he would do if he did. Nearby in the rediscovered Japanese gardens a pigeon is calling, if I say it is cooing it seems to belittle the subtle echo of its cry. There is something very stable about the calling of these wood pigeons. They remind me of holidays in Bournemouth when I was young. I went with our next door neighbours’ children and it was there that I noticed the calls of pigeons, lying in the warm shade beneath Scottish Pines, their thick golden needles pricking the back of my neck as I kissed a girl for the first time.

This morning as I cross towards the meadows out away from the close trees of the park the sky opens out. There had been grey clouds, the morning had felt cold, perhaps even the thought of snow in spring but the grey clouds are moving to the north and a warm hazy sun is left behind. Proper warm.

The sun is out,
it offers us

Once we reach the banks of the river Simon begins to chew the thick grass that sits by the nettles. Around here in autumn, purple crocuses grow. They surprise me every year. But for now the himalayan balsam is beginning to grow. Its beautiful crunchy green stems and tiny pink and purple flowers are to be cut down and dug up by every dog walker if we are to do as we are asked. There are signs on a number of trees asking us to do this. “Dog walkers, please pull up as much of this invasive non indigenous species as you can, it is ruining the habitats of our lovely friendly native plants.”

This morning they have found water on Mars and have talked about barrel bombs in Aleppo. If there is life on Mars we should be happy, but somehow it makes me sad. If the universe is full of planets teeming with life, what if we cannot reach them? What if we cannot get that far? How near is the nearest star? What if we cannot get there at all? Then we will die, and we will die. But life will continue. We will die, and life will continue. Look, the sun is clearing the haze now. The hills are there in the distance. I could walk there in a day. We have reached the moon, but the stars. I do not know about the stars.

In late summer
the woman walking
the dog
Noodle, Nooooooooodle,”

did not see
the fat dragonfly
above her head.

We must love one another. I am sorry, though I am loath to say it, we must. Despite ourselves and in spite of each other we must love each other. Each and every one. Who else will love us if we don’t?

– Come on Simon, giddy up old chum.

I stop a moment. Not for long and wait. I can hear the hum of bees. In time they will feed in the balsam, later in the year when they flower and the backs of the bees’ heads will be thick with white pollen. Every year it happens. I had never seen bees so covered in the stuff. They must be drunk and dazzled. There are leaves in most of the trees and they whisper in the breeze. There is the slap of a mallard’s wings on the water as it takes off to skim a hundred yards downstream. There are insects rising in the sunshine and the river is flowing by.


About the Author

Nick Telfer is a writer and artist. He was born in London and lives in Manchester.


Terry Kearney: Snowdonia at Porthmadog, 2019 (CC).

Comments are closed.