Author Archives: Tim Lenton

We have the technology, but it doesn’t work

Five years ago I lodged a book of poems and photographs with a certain online bookseller, and this week I received a substantial shock. Somebody bought one. I am now big in Worcestershire, but only in the sense that I am very, very small everywhere else. 

Still, this would be quite a highlight of most weeks. In fact it is a massive highlight of the last few days, during which I have been hit by technological failures at an unprecedented level and have had to spend most of my time trying to put them right, or work round them.

I am not even including the television in this. It has been misbehaving for weeks, to the extent that we no longer attempt to watch HD or record it. Most of the time we can now record ordinary programmes, and if we can’t, we can usually find them on iPlayer or the equivalent. Sometimes, however, we are warned that our signal is very poor quality – and indeed it sometimes pixelates itself out of existence. Sometimes it tells us we don’t have a WiFi signal, when we clearly do. It’s quite annoying. 

Is it our BT box, our TV, or something else entirely? Who knows? Maybe it’s just me.

In the last few days, other technology has been failing. My printer won’t work because it says the black ink cartridge is empty. It isn’t. It’s a new one. So was the one before it, which didn’t work either. I gave up and tried to use my wife’s printer to print a couple of documents off, but then her printer wouldn’t work because the computer couldn’t find it. Ludicrously, if she wanted something printed, she had to e-mail it to me, and I could then print it remotely using my computer and her printer upstairs – the one that couldn’t be found by her computer sitting next to it. 

Happily I am too mature to throw printers out of the window or jump on them, but I do think that would be a perfectly reasonable response. Since you ask, her printer is now back working, and I am about to buy a new printer.

Then I tried to install a Barclaycard app and despite entering all the correct information several times, I was locked out of my account. The man on the helpline was apologetic, but there was something wrong with his system (it was slow), and he had to ring me back. He eventually unlocked me, but meantime the Santander site had gone down. Temporarily.

I have a feeling one or two other things failed as well, but my brain stopped working about then; so I don’t remember. All this happened, of course, when my two technological experts, my son and grandson, were out of the country. Now my granddaughter is out of the country too; so I can’t even be beaten consistently at Cluedo.

Still, I’ve sold a book. I don’t actually have any money yet, but it’s something, isn’t it? 

Early evening fen

An antique blanket
the colour and shape of lapwing
is flung over a ragged hedge

or so it seems
hanging down, knitting a background
for the winter sun

Further back the impatient reeds shift
from foot to foot
and we look for the marsh harrier
in vain: he has better things to do
and secret places to be

As the shadows blacken
a chinese water deer
strolls across an accidental clearing

forgetting for a moment
the harshness of reality

We stay hidden, and a barn owl pays us
an unexpected visit
white against the scintillating sky

All my troubles seemed so far away

We have had Barry in this week to paint the inside of our house. As a result I have been listening to much more music than usual, and I am happy – and relieved – to say that Barry’s musical tastes are very similar to mine, although he is a good dozen years younger than me.

We have run through a fair bit of early Bob Dylan, some Dire Straits, a lot of other 60s material and today I think we accounted for almost the entire catalogue of the Eagles – or the Beagles, as Barry calls them.

He has organised this musical treat for me at the same time as painting the entire kitchen, the stairwell, many doors and much woodwork – and conducting meandering FaceTime conversations with a man in the USA.

Halfway through, my wife and I stepped out of the chaos that is our house and went to the cinema to see Yesterday, which is a whimsical tale about a singer who finds himself in a world where no-one else remembers The Beatles. As a result he is able to pass off a large number of Beatles songs as his own and becomes a huge hit (after some amusing false starts).

The reason we went to see the film is that some of it was filmed in Gorleston, which is a memorably unexotic seaside resort just down the road from Norwich. And yes, there it was, as well as some familiar spots in nearby Suffolk. But that’s not what made the film memorable.

Probably one of the best films I’ve seen for years, it was beautifully paced, and the direction and script were superb – especially one line near the end which made me laugh and cry at the same time. Embarrassing, or what?

The actors were brilliant too – especially, but not exclusively, Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his first manager/girl friend. Do see it if you can, even if your house isn’t being painted.

Of course you can’t go wrong with Beatles songs. You remember The Beatles?

Next week, Barry.

Old wood, Thornham

Promising nothing
our path slides at first among
manicured money, well guarded,
then runs toward the sea
risking everything

Butterflies dark and light
mark the way
like laughing children:
they play in the dust, 
and so do we

This is a manifestation
of the Kingdom:
the coal barn like a temple
hard against the river,
the tide going out

Old wood is the magic – 
ancient pillars and 
abandoned boats:
we run our fingers across the surface,
feeling the universe beneath

Writing words for oratorios – a nasty habit

The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once observed: “A poet who reads his verse in public may have other nasty habits.”

This is undoubtedly true. I was present at a poetry reading only yesterday, and a swift glance round Walpole Old Chapel, in Suffolk, where the reading took place, revealed that here were people who had nasty habits. I don’t know what they were, but then they didn’t know what mine were.

The real question is whether reading poetry aloud is really a nasty habit. Clearly it can be, especially if the poetry is not very good. Pretty much all of the poetry read at Walpole was worth listening to.

And every single one of the poets there could have written better words to Haydn’s The Creation than those supplied for the performance at Norwich Cathedral a couple of weeks earlier. They were excruciating.

Someone said they were Victorian, and so should be accepted. I seem to remember there were Victorian poets who wrote good and beautiful English. (And anyway Haydn is pre-Victorian.)

Let me give you a couple of examples from The Creation:

RAPHAEL: “See flashing thro’ the deep in thronged swarms the fish a thousand ways around…. In long dimensions creeps with sinuous trace the worm.”

GABRIEL: “With verdure clad the fields appear delightful to the ravish’d sense; by flowers sweet and gay enhanced is the charming sight.”

Now that’s what I call a nasty habit, and whoever the writer or translator is (he may have gone into Haydn), we should not be singing his words out loud. How did he get away with it? Is it because lovers of classical music are notoriously careless – or should I say couldn’t-care-less – about words?

Or could they not afford someone who could write English?

In all fairness I have to say that the performance at the Cathedral was brilliant, by instrumentalists and choir. So why do they put up with rubbish instead of words? I may be particularly sensitive in that area, but it spoiled my evening.

Yours, etc. Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells.

Masterchef, eat your heart out

I used to wonder how chefs – or indeed anybody – came up with bright new recipes, using unanticipated flavours, and I have often suspected that most of it was accidental.

Now, with a bit more experience, I know that almost all of it is a result of adding creme fraiche or honey, or both. Practically anything tastes better if you add creme fraiche and honey.

However, the accident theory got a bit of a boost when I invented a new sauce yesterday. New to me, that is. It happened like this.

My wife and I were consuming an average dish of chicken from the supermarket, and it included a sauce described, with a certain amount of hyperbole, as creamy, bacon and mushroom. I was getting toward the end, and I was beginning to wonder if it had been worth the bother of cooking it. It was pretty dull.

I reached across for my glass of red wine (shiraz), which was nearly empty. As I lifted it toward my mouth, it struck something and fell from my hand. In a deft move – the kind for which I have become something of a legend – I caught it in the other hand. I expected the remaining wine to have fallen on to my plate or on to the table, or into my lap. But no – it had completely vanished.

I hope I’m getting the drama of the moment across to you. It was magic. The vanishing wine. Could I get it to reappear in the shape of a rabbit? Probably not.

I then noticed that there was an almost empty tub of Anchor butter on the table, and in it were the entire contents of my wine glass. Not just some of it, but all. Do not try this at home.

So I had a small amount of butter, accompanied by a small amount of wine. What should I do with it? Obviously, I should mix it together and pour in on to the remains of my chicken dish. Why wouldn’t I?

Reader, it was delicious. Transformational. I had created poulet au vin beurre, or something more accurately French.

Don’t tell me – you’ve been eating it for years. Everyone does it. I don’t care. For me it was just amazing. And I never saw it coming.


With empty eyes
I reach out and touch the future,
scatter seed
in the sand

by the siren song of the moment
my skin glistens
under a silken sky

by unseen pictures –
figures in strange landscapes –
I journey
but never arrive

Held in this chattering dream
I become part of the past,
a giant under the snow

And now I cannot sleep:
I shift back and forwards,
changing the shape of the air

Waves spill into another world:
freed by the sea, flowers
wash up on the shore

  • Written ten years ago, when I was recovering from an operation


Where the road turns and heads for the quay
music leaks out of the church, 
through the ruined arches

Noah and the dove watch it 
flood and fall back,
cellos marching past the waterfall
of the flute,
one orchestra against another

The mystery of the music spans centuries
and the castle, off to one side,
hears it too

Notes and scales drift out into the wrecks of buildings
that punctuate the Ness, 
abandoned after the war,
waiting for artists to roll the stones away
and resurrect some kind of beauty

Eventually the magic fades:
small boats jog lightly in the harbour

  • Written after a visit to Orford, in Suffolk

Did early church have a sharp bit?

Another scroll has surfaced that puts the early church in a different light and paints a strangely familiar picture. What if the first Christians really did operate in the same sort of way as the Church of England? Here are some extracts:

“The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. And Paul saw in a dream a large building made of stone, containing a nave, a chancel and a choir, and other features too numerous to mention. And above it all rose a sharpish arch pointing directly to heaven. And inside it was very cold.

And he told Peter of his dream. Peter asked him what the strange words meant.

Paul said he had no idea, but without love they probably had nothing. He added that an apse, a font and some pews would also be necessary. But Peter kept his own counsel until the next PCC meeting, when he asked about the reserves.

“It is vital to keep back money for repairs,” said Judas (not Iscariot). “We need a contingency fund. There are also health and safety issues. What if the sharp bit falls off?”

Then Barnabas asked if they would need a faculty.

At this point Paul said that in view of the difficulties, he thought maybe his dream had been a vision of the distant future – something they could aspire to, maybe in another country. Perhaps it was more urgent at this moment in time to got to Macedonia, where he had been invited to speak.

But Peter said that Macedonia had human rights problems, and perhaps a visit from Paul would send out the wrong message. This was agreed.

Then Barnabas suggested instituting a parish share based on diocesan requirements, but this was felt to be premature. Paul said he had to leave the next day, but would send them a letter. “

Doubts have been cast on the authenticity of this scroll, especially as it has been dated by geologists as being three million years old.