Author Archives: Tim Lenton

Nothing is coming

snow sits deep 
on the road out of collingwood
proud in the sun

but here there is only wind:
trees and lovers bowing
to the inevitable

the sound of the climate laughing
as mere humans fold
in half under the weight

of opinion 
and the Sahara edges southwards
leaving the party early

do not look up
nothing is coming
and will be here soon

Just when it felt safe, we caught it

More than two years after narrowly avoiding lockdown in Bethlehem, after mysterious months of mask-wearing, social distancing and excessive ventilation, enduring myriad unintelligible and illogical restrictions, a spell in hospital with a gall-bladder infection and experiencing all the joys of a long low-fat diet – just when it felt safe to come in out of the cold, I caught Covid.

To be accurate, my wife and I both caught Covid, testing positive on the same day. She, being more resilient than I, was over it within a week; my version lingered for another three days. I still feel tired and have minor pains in my back.

Why should you be interested in this? Rumour has it that about seven people out of ten in England have had Covid in one form or another. And that’s the interesting thing – in one form or another. Because nearly everyone appears to be affected differently.

My wife and I both had the symptoms of a very bad head cold, with a few vague add-ons such as peculiar head pains and a certain amount of shivering. But neither of us had the “official” symptoms – high temperature, sore throat, loss of taste or smell. We just felt very ill, and so tested ourselves.

One friend said she felt “fantastic” while still testing positive. Others felt more or less OK. But of course many have been laid very low, with symptoms that go on and on and on, debilitating and more than distressing.

Naturally we know several people who have not caught it. Half a dozen of them have never been vaccinated. Others have had the full range of jabs. We have had three jabs and still caught it. We might ask what the jabs were for; you might answer that we would have been much more badly affected if we hadn’t had them, but that is conjecture. In fact, most of it is conjecture.

In view of all this, it must be right to return to normal life now, or we never will. Even civil servants might risk it.

Aldeburgh

The sound of pianos on the beach,
the fall of rain on the roof
like stones under the ancient waves

Your fingers move like lightning
then slowly, touching me gently:
my skin tingles

One of us is learning the tunes
and how to play them,
taking them all the way
inside

Maybe both of us

So much water on the marsh,
in the river and across the roads:
we lie on strange beds
in the summerhouse

The wine rises to the surface,
the body and the bread:
can it be true?

The wild sea is not far away, but
we head inland on old ridge paths,
listening for the tune again,
that eastern poetry,
that distant voice,
that old, elusive love

Exactly how safe do we want to be?

It was that profound absurdist thinker Franz Kafka who put it most effectively: it is safer, he said, to be in chains than to be free. 

Most 21st century activists think the same way. And since safety appears to be the main preoccupation of us all, there is not much dispute that the chains will win. Even Tories are left-wingers nowadays. 

Coupled with belief that chains are the safest way of living is the illusion – or is it delusion? – that we can manufacture chains that are effective for every possible  situation. 

Take the “situation” in Ukraine. Evil is being perpetrated. Our concern is not primarily to battle it but to ascertain the safest way of reacting. This makes a certain kind of sense, doesn’t it?

But that’s just an extreme example. The health and safety industry is really in charge of everything we do. We have to wear helmets to ride bikes, seat belts to drive cars, obey speed limits of various kinds and follow numerous tortuous rules before forming any kind of group. Risk assessments, safeguarding, masks, speed cameras, speed humps, CCTV – you name it. 

The intrusion of government into what should be private and personal activities grows regularly, and many of us are all for it, citing “the greater good”. But of course all this is really chains. Is imprisonment of everyone the greatest good? 

No. Freedom Is vital if we to function in a human and loving way. Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”

Why do we want to be so safe? What are we afraid of? Well, death, I suppose: the horrific possibility that things may end for us at any minute. Better life imprisonment than that. 

But of course Easter reminds us that this is rubbish: death is not the end. How could it be? It is the shaky secular society that we live in that generates fear, and the obsession with safety. If we stood back and looked backwards at our history, outwards at those we admire or inwards at the essence of life itself, we would realise that there are more important things than being safe. And more exciting prospects than extinction. 

Resurrection, anyone?

Nothing is coming

snow sits deep 
on the road out of collingwood
proud in the sun

but here there is only wind:
trees and lovers bowing
to the inevitable

the sound of the climate laughing
as mere humans fold
in half under the weight

of opinion 
and the Sahara edges southwards
leaving the party early

do not look up
nothing is coming
and will be here soon

What’s really wrong with 20mph limits, and why no-one cares

Yet another article has appeared in my local paper on the question of  20mph limits – this time by a motoring writer. I was too slow to respond to it – caught in a 20mph zone, you might say. I was also rather surprised to hear a former motoring correspondent having anything to say in favour of 20mph limits, but I expect he had a Damascus Road conversion. In reverse.

There is, as any competent driver knows, little to be said in favour of 20mph limits, their only saving grace being that they are rarely enforced, thus acting as advisory signs, which is fair enough. In fact there is an argument that all speed limits should be advisory, as travelling at any given speed – or above any given speed – should really not be an offence in itself. 

Speed does not kill or even injure: collisions do that. So the real issue is responsible and skilful driving, with punishable offences being dangerous driving, reckless driving and careless driving. But the kind of frightened society we live in does not care for that and uses dubious statistics to twist its judgements. When I was growing up, I was told that there were lies, damned lies and statistics, and this is still true. But now it masquerades as science, and we love it. We prefer it to visible policing, which used to be a real safety measure. But that was in the days when the police said openly that you didn’t learn to drive well until you’d broken the speed limit. Oh yes they did.

What worries me is that someone will institute a method of monitoring all car speeds from a distance, and we will abandon all reliance on driving skill, allowing drivers to be fined or banned for arbitrary reasons, irrespective of how well they are driving. 

What exactly is wrong with 20mph? The same thing that’s wrong with driving too slowly anywhere. It’s polluting; it uses more fuel than is necessary; it distracts the driver from paying attention to the road; it lulls you into a false sense of security or makes you impatient, depending on what sort of person you are; and if deprives you of momentum, which is vital for avoiding danger. It means you spend a lot of time braking, which is when you are in the least control of the car. 

Many, many speed limits are too slow. I have just returned from Derbyshire, which has a more or less ubiquitous and idiotic 50mph limit on the open road. I followed a driver for many miles who kept rigidly to this limit – except that when when he went uphill, he reduced his speed to as little as 30mph. He also wandered all over his side of the road. Going too slowly means you are not in control of the car: you assume the “authorities” must know the right speed, and you don’t need to think at all. That is when accidents happen.

Slow speeds are demanded by local pedestrians because they see drivers going quicker than they are, and they assume that therefore they are going too fast. No, that’s not very bright, but we don’t live in a very bright world. They also never seem to notice how it’s more difficult to cross a road as a pedestrian when all the traffic is going at the same speed, with no gaps.

It’s April 1; so this could be a gigantic April Fool joke, or a rant by a boy racer. Sadly it’s neither: it’s the reaction of an experienced OAP driver to another money-making scam. 

Unfortunately statistics show that 90% of readers will have been brainwashed into thinking all the above arguments are absurd. I made that figure up, of course, but it’s about right. 

Happily I shall not live long enough to see the 10mph  limit or the return of the red flag. I  hope. 

Inside a dream

You came into my dream uninvited
unaware
flinging your bedroom window open
leaning out and laughing

this side of the tank traps
the invaded playground
the man with the gun
the man we never saw

We walked together
down the invisible path
to the distant woods
close to the railway track

I knew it was a dream
but you woke something in me
something deep down 

I wanted to open my eyes
but it was impossible:
inside a dream
I knew it was a dream

When I came round
hours later
your bedroom window was empty

It was too late
and too early

Something on the pitch – but is it offside?

There was something on the pitch. All right, there was a ball and there were 22 players – all moving around at various speeds and not achieving very much, especially the ten in yellow and green and their goalkeeper in pink. The additional man in black seemed a bit put out to be there and kept running round and awarding free kicks, which is what you would expect. It was a normal match day at Carrow Road.

But there was something else on the pitch, and an official-looking man ran on to try and get rid of it. He failed, rather miserably. It was a feeling Norwich City supporters knew well.

There was a blackbird on the pitch. It was near the Barclay End, and it wasn’t doing much, although it was in plenty of space. No-one kicked the ball in its direction for a long time; in fact nothing much was happening at all. Supporters in the Barclay End were growing fond of the bird. It looked as if it might do something interesting, but nobody passed to it. It was almost as if they were avoiding it.

After some time, the bird flew – not very high, but up the pitch towards the River End, where it settled in a suspiciously offside position. The Barclay End started a new chant: “We want our bird back.” The River End looked smug, as if they had taken advantage of the transfer window in a particularly cunning way. VAR said nothing.

We assumed the bird would take its leave at half time – perhaps fly off in the direction of the dressing room, or even the river. But it stayed, and no-one tried to eject it. I think someone had realised that it might be a good idea to keep the City supporters distracted.

So the bird stayed at the River End. I would like to say it almost scored, but it simply got in the way of a corner and scuttled off towards the halfway line. After a while we realised that it was not making any productive runs or creating any openings. There was a risk it could get trodden on. The same went for the entire team, really.

I don’t remember the score, but the bird survived. The team probably won’t.

Half pipe

Death-wish figures on skis
lurch from side to side
blown like winter leaves
Twentyonesixty, seventwenty, sixthirty

Accidental figures fall 
through the sky
plunge to the edge
gather speed
sixthirty, seventhirty, midnight

Back full double full full
numbers reach for the stars
leap upwards …
Teneighty, fiveforty, fifteenfifty
… fail to come down

Pronouncing on the hugeness of Ukraine

If you close your eyes, you can imagine this article written in yellow and blue. These colours are very popular on the Internet at the moment to show solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

I know very little about Ukraine, except that it is very big – much bigger than I would have guessed it was, say, a couple of months ago. It’s huge. You could lose several armies in it, which is something I would like to see happen quite soon.

I have no idea whether the Ukrainians are particularly nice people or not. It would probably be racist to say they were or they weren’t, because countries are made up of individuals, some of whom will be better than others. The same goes for Russians. Or the British.

What is undoubtedly true is that it is wrong for one country to invade another and kill people. This is something that none of us in the West would do – at least in the 21st century. Of course Mr Putin may not be in the 21st century: it is hard to locate him exactly.

It is however undoubtedly right to be on the side of a country that is invaded, right to open our doors to refugees, to help where we can, and to pray for the terrified.

I do not know one word of Ukrainian. However, I am getting to know a few of their cities. What confuses me slightly is our pronunciation of them. I had known of Sebastopol since childhood, and had always pronounced it Sebastoepoll, with the emphasis on the last syllable. Now I find it is called Sevastopol, which is a minor difference, but apparently pronounced Sebastopple, with the stress on the penultimate syllable.

Kiev, which everyone knew because of the chicken, was always pronounced as two syllables. Now, suddenly, it is pronounced Keev. Is this in solidarity with the Ukrainians, I wonder? If so, I am not sure it works, because it disconnects us from something we could imagine we knew.

Presumably we still call Moscow Moscow because we we will not go along with what the Russians call it, which is Moskva. We might offer to call it that if the Russians withdraw.

I’m sure there will be people who are shocked at my writing about pronunciation when people are being killed and the world is on the brink of a huge, army-devouring disaster. But words are critical: the way we use them shapes our attitudes and leads to conflict or peace.

I could repeat the same truths about finding a way to peace that many others have done, and it is not that I don’t feel them strongly. But if you say the same thing too often, the impact is often lost. I agree with all that, but what can we really do except pray and provide aid? Better people than me may know. I don’t.