Showing posts from 2012

What's in a bit of flag-waving

I do so think I deserve a pat on the back, a little praise or small republican treat of some kind for my exemplary behaviour during the last week or is it two weeks?   In any case it’s finally becoming a fading mirage of discordant primary colours. You can tell a decent designer has been nowhere near the union jack.   When Charles and Di wed the world was watching it on telly and I chose to go to the only place just about in Britain (see I’m even conditioned into the lingo again) where you couldn’t get TV. It was a blistering hot day, strangely silent like Italian siesta time and I opted to do a solitary trek across the hills of Hoy only returning when I knew that it might be safe to do so and the inbreds had finally been coupled. Back then I was smouldering with barely controlled resentment and anger. But having an adolescent strop in public never looks good and the gullible that have been starved of knowledge and education and lost the ability to question all the truly bad things a

We all wore knitted ganseys

In the 60s I would hear my father describe the Orkney in which we lived as a classless society. Then I didn’t know what ‘class’ meant. We were literally thousands of miles away from the industrial central belt, where the enormous shipyards, steel works and mines employed numbers which were in excess of our entire community. The Second World War made men of my father’s generation into union men, cementing their hatred of the forces hierarchy that was the badge of the pre-war Churchill world where workers won the war despite the blunders of the Colonel Blimps in command.   But in the isles unions and working class solidarity were a tenuous thing. The social aspirations of working people, farmhands, tradesmen and fishermen were predicated on the feudal patronage and allegiance to the mores of the Protestant Kirk, the Masonic lodge, and the acceptance that you would be Christian, subservient and thankful. In political terms Labour was a dirty word and socialist affiliations would ensure y

Sheep Poetry

Here are a few sheep poems I wrote a while ago when I was working with sheep. Many solitary times in mud and on the hill mostly burying carcasses!

A better Grave

I always anticipate Digging a better grave than last I size it up A generous rectangle Of golden proportion Then after a tussle with the top turf (Those rashes are the worst) Only one spade down The rich black earth Gives way to ochre Then grey Heavy Clay The excavation becomes octagonal Even curved Ending up at best A primitive Cist

Dead sheep in the mud

  Dead sheep in the mud Black kitehead of Primal eyes Goya horns The devilish demeanour of that Yow off her feet Stick of leg scratching The rooty rash-woven swatch of ground Too much clay Water logged I slogged through Sucking mud to reach The half sunk Dirt snorkelling shetland gimmer Already wholly dead beside the feeder Greying mould wretched dusty hay Put away too soon And fermented with such a Sorcerer’s vengeance With fronds of white Another time they would have pointed At the woman who put on a spell to turn it ‘See her at Seatter’ Whispering her away with Their deathly eyes


Carcass After two days only The flesh has gone grey Something has eaten out The innards A leg-bone shows Stripped it was A rat That burrowed up through The Rib-cage A neat tunnel reveals The clever rodent route to the larder of Rotting meat Like a bloodied purse In process of being secreted away Lies the liver And kidneys too That even richer stench Like silage almost sweet But nothing Can get the rotting stink of carcass From my coat My hands My nostrils Unguarded gasp The putrid air Spading in the collapsing wool To garnish A pudding of rot I force down the bared skull With the metal of the shovel It makes me think the rats are not to blame For the trenches in France And the simple thing that is Mud And flesh In all our war-ending wars.

The Queen Mother Dies

The Queen Mother Dies 'The Queen Mother died peacefully in her sleep' And on trawls the line Of nasal voices from another century ‘One parasite fewer’ says Davey from the grave Yesterday I buried a sheep A grand old white-haired lady Who for days I expected to find dead Lying in the doorway of the shed Scooring from her rear The noise of my feet The merest flicker from her ear That death rattle chest and wheeze It’s all the same The time they left me sitting With the Herdman wife in the home No family, just carers, cleaners even Took their turn Beside her cot in A triple bedroom shared She rose and groaned from the pillow Just hoping she would not die While I was there The toothless yow I carried from the shed An old companion So many winters on the hill Her blue eyes still And head flopped down my back The gases fizzed As I pressed hard The securing final Clods of turf on top

The Black Diamond Jacob

  The Jacob was still alive Acceptable face of sheep the Black diamond demonic head Softened sometimes with panda eyes Other times just plain wicked But still the aesthetic choice of Good lifers Four black horns A thousand shetlands on the hill Subsidies on legs they would say The horn is living you know Not dead Because I had to saw right through Before the curled one at his cheek Bored into the skull He was a ram And going to the slaughter anyway But the colour of  blood is something else Like port Two straight spirals like ibis Two curled like Mary Quant Mute nose the Stippled black plastic Of a rather serious toy bear This time she was still alive Her one hind leg curving arcs into the earth The tireless repititious failure To lever her haunches upwards Leg of mutton So I Heave her onto her feet She collapses I bring the barrow And clasp my arms round her chest Wishing it was easier Breast bone   A fin of cuttle fish Rammed through the gently rusting bars Of a bird cage In a d

Burying Curly

Burying Curly I always started out With good intentions. Of doing the job properly. Measuring up by eye I learned later not To dig the plot Too far away A long drag over bumps and rash Clumps in sodden ground was Hard work Everytime I would start out Saying this time It will be a proper plot A neat rectangle Spaded out the Black Butter smooth sides Four across Six along …or maybe eight A comfortable fit Dig dig Turf to the side For finishing off Later on

A week to die

A week to die There were big deep baas Like an old smoker From the far end of the shed Corrugated sheeting resounding She got propped up on a bale The back legs would scramble a little Balance then sag Move her out of the warm skitter Onto clean straw With offerings of ewe nuts and hay Vitamin injections and water She sat like a foundered ship Slowly leaking


This is lambing time and I wrote a number of poems about my times with sheep, lambs and their deaths. Four lifeless lives A smaller Better grave Less effort The top turf came away Neatly all in one Like a coffin lid. Dry soil a sandy blanket The first one Still like a stuffed toy The bandaged stomach And memory Of the pained rhythmic Groaning – I had to stitch The intestines back inside A cramped cavity Like a Baghdad hospital Precision fallout and Amateurs with only a soaped Stanley knife blade Like me Last of the out of date Antibiotic The next A bag of black jelly Too pale hooves Unformed and skewed tongue No rigour mortis A sign said Albert Of still birth Number three First born triplet Of incremental scraps of Black and white bone and wool Dropped by the shire wire Corner of the field Very dead The last I picked up too late A good sized black ram The birds had stripped the innards To Rack of lamb And blood red spine Bared against It’s inside out Body A thorough job He m

Hooker in the hard world

What is it we fear? What is it they want us to fear? Is it poverty, failure, military weakness? If you have never bought the pension myth, think on those souls who put their present in hawk over fear of future material poverty and all the while impoverish their day to day family life and relationships. And then think on those who bind themselves to a 9 to 5 slavery of mortgage indenture that taints the bulk of their active life, for a time of distant ‘security’ when they must queue for a hip-replacement. For those who are already poor, it is a state of being which they can only hope will get better. If there are upsides to poverty, these might be found in a perverted kind of inclusion in communal lack. I speak from relative comfort, but when you extrapolate the hypothetical fear of anything and boil it down to its constituent parts, that fear becomes manageable, but firstly, as with arachnophobia it needs examined. We need a snapshot of the fear presented from a distance at which we