The Wolves are Running

A travelling Showman collects as he goes
and lest you should be in any real doubt
know what he collects the travelling man shows.

The Wolves are Running, as Someone well knows,
but though it’s the snow that brings the Wolves out,
the travelling man still collects as he goes.

Someone, if seen, isn’t safe from his foes;
when asked where he is it is best you say nowt,
for what he collects the travelling man shows.

With Barney dog, pack, and his travelling clothes
will the Showman escape? Will he still go about?
The travelling Showman collects as he goes.

The Wolves are still Running; it thaws and it snows;
and people they’ll scrobble, and laws they will flout,
yet what he collects the travelling man shows.

But hope still remains, despite all those woes,
that humans and wolves he will put all to rout:
a travelling man collects as he goes,
and what he collects the travelling man shows.

A villanelle inspired by John Masefield’s The Box of Delights (1935) and incorporating key phrases from the fantasy


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Long before smartphones, laptops, computers, typewriters, there were pencils to scribble with and ink pens to dip into bottles and ink wells.

And faced with a blank sheet of paper and contemplating the bottomless well of a blank brain he might have resorted to chewing the end of the dipping pen or pencil. Impossible now, of course.

His grown-up children had long exhorted him to write up his memories of childhood in exotic places when the world was young, before they were born. But what he couldn’t settle down to, what had eluded him so far, was the voice to use.

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Instead of compassion
you gave us competition;
we needed principles,
not career politicians;
we wanted social justice
yet you opted for selfishness;
we urged voting with conscience,
you preferred tribal loyalty;
we wished for inclusion
but you relished division;
where we fought for truth
you peddled lies,
when we yearned for hope
you fed us fear.

We’ve seen the dawn of despair.


They say, don’t they,
it’s love making
the world go round,
beneath our feet
spinning ground,
that our joy, our hurt,
our fears, our mirth
come from the linear
orbital velocity
of the Earth.

So trite, yet somehow true:
beings soaring into the blue,
hearts as one.
Above is love.

An old joke dusted off and refurbished


Report on Einstein-Rosen bridge experiment #1, Ganymede, Jupiter


• I am Albert, a 31st-generation artificial intelligence robot built expressly to enter the Einstein-Rosen bridge constructed on the Jovian moon Ganymede.
• My mission is to be in position at the event horizon at point T (0.00 temporal units, recalibrated). This horizon will be artificially created to be optimally functional at point T to allow passage along the Einstein-Rosen bridge.
• This report will be transmitted at T direct to station Juno in Jovian orbit.
• For this experiment I shall also be internally transporting this report for the duration of the passage along the bridge. If delivered intact and uncorrupted it will demonstrate that the shielding design has been successful.

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WPC Wendy Bowyer spoke briefly on her radio before she stepped up the garden path of number 19 and knocked on the door. A tear-stained Mandy flung open the door almost immediately – she must have been waiting in the passageway – and starting gabbling, sobs breaking up her sentences.

“It’s alright, Mrs Winstanley,” Wendy politely but firmly interrupted, using the calming approach born of long practice, “we’ll do the best we can to sort this all out.” Shutting the door behind her she added, “Why don’t you show me his bedroom?” Mandy stumbled up the stairs, Wendy noticing she’d had time to throw on a t-shirt, jeans and t-shirt. The compact room led off the first-floor landing; a stick-on label was attached to the door, the figure of Darth Vader pointing at the stencilled name SAMMY in block capitals.

“Have you touched anything?” she asked, while motioning Mandy to stay by the door. “Only the window, to open it a bit more…” was the almost whispered reply. Wendy took in the scene – the rumpled bed, the few scattered Lego bricks on the floor, the illustrated encyclopaedia open by the bed – all the usual pre-teen paraphernalia. Already she was forming a picture in her mind: the open window, the boy taken out of his bed, the intruder carrying him out onto the low roof outside and away. Her initial suspicion was estranged husband rather than unknown abductor – but best not to tell Mrs Winstanley that just yet, keep it formal.

Instinctively her sweep of the room took in the abandoned slipper by the window, the lack of a counterpart for the left foot, the empty clothes peg on the back of the door. The relatively tidy room told her volumes about the boy, enough to suspect that he was not yet the careless teenager her own son had developed into. Her next methodical question to Mandy was therefore consistent with logic.

“Does Sammy normally put on a dressing-gown when he gets out of bed?”

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A grey slipper

Mrs W was sobbing when she answered the door, trying to tell me what had happened but in her distress unable to get a coherent sequence out. I tried to calm her, speaking in an as matter-of-fact tone as possible while remaining sympathetic.

I let her lead me upstairs to the bedroom. “Have you touched anything, moved anything?” I asked her. “Nothing, nothing,” she began, then, “I, um, opened the window wider to see if I could see him, or anything…” Her voice trailed away.

I left her in the doorway and stepped carefully into the room. The bed had obviously been slept in, but the bedclothes had been roughly thrown aside, as though the boy had been pulled out of bed before he was fully awake. There was a picture book lying open on the floor, with a scatter of plastic toys – Star Wars Lego, that sort of thing.

I glanced out of the open sash window. There was a lean-to roof just below the sill, making it easy to climb in and out of the window. “Is this usually locked?” I asked Mrs W. “If was quite warm last night,” she offered as an excuse.

My eye fell on a grey slipper by the window, as if dropped. Where’s the other one, I wondered. A quick search under the bed and under the bedclothes didn’t reveal anything. Did he have time to put on his slippers first? Does this mean he knew his visitor?

“What are you looking for?” whispered his mother. Instead of answering I checked behind the door: the clothes peg was empty.

“Does he normally wear a dressing-gown out of bed?” I asked, but I already knew the answer.

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First snow

Foel Cwmcerwyn

Foel Cwmcerwyn, the highest point in the Preseli Hills, Pembrokeshire, after a fall of snow

Overnight the snow fell softly, steadily, remorselessly. In the early hours of the morning she awoke, confused by how hushed everything was. It was as if time had stopped and her bed was floating in a bubble that was her room.

She slipped out from under the duvet and into her slippers, and padded over to the window seat.

Flakes floated past the pane, then more, and more, and still they came. She knew the covering would be thick in the morning. Though, come the dawn, the house would be even more isolated, for now she felt cocooned, insulated even — insulated from outside interference, noisy visitors, passing traffic.

If she stayed awake she would go down later, light the kitchen fire, perhaps let the hens out early. But for now she would take in the unearthly light reflected off the settling snow, bask in the stillness, watch the frozen sky feathers floating down onto the vast white coverlet.

Later the phone would ring and she would ignore it, and if it continued she would take the receiver off the hook.

At present she would contemplate eternity for a while longer.

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Grandmother and grandson circa early 1949

To me, now, she was an old Russian babushka or, rather, Baba Yaga. Fierce gimlet eyes, teeth mostly missing, nose and chin almost forming the horns of a crescent moon. Thinning strands of hair mostly hidden under a scarf. Her rickets-riddled bandy legs, covered in rumpled hose emerging from under a woollen skirt, seemed barely to support her; a dowager’s hump completed the picture.

She had been a governess to young Indian princes back in India but was now confined to a bedroom in my parents’ home — a room which, though lacking the fowl’s legs of Baba Yaga’s hut, sat fug-ridden between the front and back of the house.

I rarely went into my grandmother’s room and if I did I always took a deep breath outside before entering the smoke-filled room, and left as soon as was possible after shallow breathing became a strain.

I dreaded my mother’s insistent command, Kiss Grandma! and tried desperately to avoid any drool which had migrated from the cavernous mouth to the sunken cheeks.

I thought I had got away with hiding my feelings until my sister maliciously reported back to her my comment, “Grandma smells!” There was no love lost between us siblings, or between Baba Yaga and me.

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Adèle and Sophie

Édouard Manet, Gare Saint-Lazare (1873)

Adèle, Make sure you’re keeping your frock clean, don’t lean against those dirty railings…
But Sophie, isn’t this so exciting? I’m so, so, sooo excited!
Mind you don’t get your head stuck between the…
Look, Sophie, this train is getting ready to go!
Come away from the railings, Adèle…
And is it true, the boat we will go to England on, will it too have a big chimney with black smoke coming out?
I expect so. Come away…
And will I be sea-sick? And will I like England?
Ah, that I cannot tell, Adèle.

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Édouard Manet, Gare Saint-Lazare (detail)

Adèle is happily wittering again, she so loves it here, and it gives me a chance to read some more of this roman.

Wish she didn’t have to bring the puppy though. But at least the walk here exhausts it enough so it has to rest quietly in my lap.

I wonder how she will feel when we have to sail to England by packet-boat. Will she be travel-sick? Will she manage to learn some barbaric English phrases? And will I too? Will she, like me, miss France? and will Monsieur Rochester keep his word and stay long enough at the house to be a proper guardian?

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