Dr Samuel Johnson Wants a Word with You



Poems of Place: At Dr. Johnson’s House, Gough Square

First words, last words. 

Old words, new words. 

Buzzwords, adwords

Few words, lost-for-words words.

Sounds like Wordsworth

Sounds like wordplay.

Bonded words, fighting words 

Weasel words, F words, 

Upon my word!

A thousand words,

In a war of words 

I’m lost for words.

Word of the law, word of the Lord

Words in edgeways, words in ears

Word of mouth, word of mum

Spoken in jest, heard on street

Mark my words, then mince my words,

And if words fail me!

I’ll eat my words 

Famous Last Words….

Johnson was not a man of few words….

Samuel Johnson’s House of Words is the world’s only museum that celebrates the power of words and their defining role in creating the language of humanity. http://www.drjohnsonshouse.org

Rearguard Action



Musing on losing this evening:
You said, ‘Can we take a brief pause?’
I’m working out all my feelings,
Am I ‘beyond a lost cause?’,
It’s easy to see all your reasons,
It’s easy to see all my flaws,
And I’m not a man for all seasons,
Which makes me want you more

Looking for cues in your subtexts
Evading your traps in my mind,
I’m pretty sure you still need me,
Our forces are better combined,
It’s easy to think of the flashpoints,
It’s easy to walk through that door,
It’s better to savour the Match Points
Which keep us playing more!

July 2022

Come, Take My Hand


For T&C: The bravest of the brave

Come, take my hand, stir fading memories,
The canvass of life is now ripped.
Come, speak my lines, prompt doubtful recall,
I’m lost and missing the script.

Come, trace my past, trawl special moments,
The passage of time is now dark,
Come, touch these lips, thaw frozen feelings,
Help me to find the lost spark.

Come, sit with me, replay our movie,
Time-shift the end to the start.
Come wipe our tears, and remember
I’ll always be here in your heart.

March 22nd, 2021




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Poems of Place: Enfield, CT

Somewhere in New England in the gunpowder hills where CT becomes MA, 

There’s a shed that’s strewn with arms and legs, torsos and trunks,

And here and there, you’ll see outstretched arms and palms in supplication, 

Motionless like stone-cold victims of Vesuvius now seen at Herculaneum.

Somewhere in New England not far from the Lego house the Danes built,

Vans bought the sewing tables from a hundred shops which may have sweated once,

But now stand silently, awaiting alterations. 

But the orders will not come. COVID makes blazers and flannels superfluous.

Somewhere in New England not far from Stop and Shop

You’ll find a silent forest of tinsel which once be-decked the halls of mansions like Madison,

Which now are but a dream of Christmases past and stand in gloom

Behind the random cabaret tables which the held neckties, bow ties or pocket squares 

Monogrammed with Golden Fleeces, the badge of presidential approval.

Before us, we contemplate a muster of mannequins, anti-socially distanced, lonely and unmasked:

They do not appear to be having a nice day. 

A picture containing indoor, ceiling, furniture

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*The Ghosts of Brooks Brothers 

After the retailer filed for bankruptcy, one couple was left with a warehouse full of abandoned mannequins ….

New York Times, April 2, 2021

The (Lonesome) Lockdown Blues


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Poems of Place: At Southridge, Horspath

Another day of staring blankly in this room?
Even my glass of rosé fails to lift the evening gloom
There’s been too little bandwidth and just too much Zoom,
I think I’ve got the lonesome lockdown blues…

Are you getting bored with all those virus metrics?
And there’s nothing left to watch on Amazon Prime or Netflix
My ennui extends to even You Tube’s pet tricks
I’ve just got the lonesome lockdown blues…

My iPod has just finished its final rotation
The playlist had too many songs of un-splendid isolation
But it’s time to lift the spirit of the Nation
Gotta get out…
Gotta get out…
Gotta get out of the lonesome lockdown blues!


NB Some chords could be used for the full lockdown experience:

Am Dm7 E7 G

Am Dm7 E7 G

Am G Dm7 E

Am E Dm7 Am
April 2020

Fifty Shades of Blue



Blue blood, of course, not collar,

A king of cats, an Oxford Blue

Who loved our terrace

And after-snack sunbathing.

Or looking nonchalantly at Charlie,

Pawing an errant wasp,

And stretching languidly,

Musing on the important questions like ‘what’s for second dinner?’


Blue maybe, but never dull and gloomy,

We loved the raffish wiggle in your stride,

The aristocratic belly marked a destiny

For contemplation, not the drudge of work.

Your gourmet palette tuned to modern tastes,

You loved the smell of barbecues

And those who cooked them.

When stakes were high, they win who dare

It’s Blue by name but always medium rare.


September 16, 2013

The of Power Place: A Seasonal Story




We met on a copper-sunned afternoon in early October – and only because I managed to avoid the mayhem which closed the Shrewsbury ring road. I had soon reached the long hill at Dinas Mawddwy, cruised past Cadair at Cross Foxes and arrived at the Finches in time for a cup of tea and a stroll on the headland. I was planning to meet friends in Barmouth later for supper and a chat about the new campaign to save the bridge.

It had been unusually dry for days and the path outside The Coach House which led upwards to the headland’s peak was clear and easy. I headed instinctively to what my school grandly called the Gazebo. In reality, it was more an uncovered semi-circle of stones perched precipitously at the summit on the edge of the cliff. But with a commanding view to the southern shoreline of the estuary, it made a perfect spot for a picnic or even more atmospherically, a reading of gothic tales by candlelight as the English department had been known to organise. It was no surprise that the Gazebo was one of everybody’s favourite places at Farchynys, my school’s adventure centre in an old coach house on the Mawddach estuary in Snowdonia.

I sat and scanned the long, sharp edge of Tyrau Mawr directly opposite and then looking down below, enjoyed the sand art: the constantly changing patterns left by retreating tides. Apart from a group of redwings feeding on rowan berries before heading off, there was an intense silence here: it was the perfect antidote to the noise of Brexit London which I had left behind.

I took some photos with my phone and then took the other path downwards and noticed storm damaged trees lying forlorn and waiting their appointment with the Warden’s chainsaw. Through a more vigorous tree’s accommodating branches I could see The Clock House, the iconic building positioned right on the water at Coes Faen, a few steps from the bridge. Soon I was heading down the path through overgrown bushes towards the Boathouse and the beach.




Technically out of bounds, the Boathouse was just too tempting an opportunity not to relive my youthful memories. Energised by the walk, I was humming enthusiastically along the headland path when I spotted a

figure on the beach sitting quietly near the slipway, head turned towards the sea. It was a woman of about forty, with strawberry blonde hair worn up in a French pleat. She was wearing a long summer dress. As I approached her, I saw she was holding something across her lap. She remained perfectly still, staring at the beach towards the bridge. The stillness was a little unsettling.

“Lovely afternoon!” I paused. “Everything well?” I added with deliberate fragmentary vagueness.

Her ornately embroidered dress was the colour of corn and the item sitting across her lap, I realised, was actually a drawing board on which a picture was taped down. She remained impassive for several more seconds before she turned towards me.

“Forgive me, I was captivated by this landscape. The viaduct somehow has improved what Nature already gifted to us.” Scattered around her on the sand, I could now see a painter’s impedimenta: a wooden box of tubes, brushes in various sizes and shapes, a square palette, rags and jars of water.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how special places can evoke emotion,” I replied.

“That’s why I am here,” and she pointed to her picture which consisted of a big wash of flax yellow laid across her pencil sketch of the estuary.

“Perhaps I should break the ice?”, I said, “I’m Paul Walton and I’ve just driven up from Oxford.” She gave a small puff and a smile.

“What a small world, then” she said, and began to tidy her clutter.

“I’m sorry, I mustn’t disturb your concentration,” I suggested, perhaps a little after the event.

“I think I’m finished for today; the light and warmth are going, and my next wash will not dry in time.” She placed her canvass into a pouch and turned to me: “I’m Amelia. Amelia Reid, and my sister’s husband was a Latin scholar at Christ Church. Are you staying at Farchynys Hall? I’ve met the new people there and I should tell you that they are happy to let me loose on their headland to paint.”

I laughed and folded up her stool.

“No actually, I am staying at the Farmhouse with the Finches. And you?”

“Across the way at Plas Caerdeon. With my sister and brother-in-law. My brother-in- law has been working at St Philips’s over the summer and I’ve been lucky enough to stay with him and my sister. We all like to paint in watercolour and this summer has provided many opportunities.”

She had now packed all her gear into an elegant wicker basket and placed its goatskin strap on her shoulder. “The sun is fading fast now, and I should be on my way back. It was good to meet you. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon!”

We heard the pic pic of a woodpecker.

“I have to get back too, Amelia, perhaps I could walk with you?”,

and we walked back through the meadow towards Farchynys. When we reached the drive, we said our goodbyes.

Later that evening before I left for dinner in Barmouth, I was enjoying a glass of beer with Dennis in the Farmhouse, and as was his custom with his B&B guests, he asked what I’d been up to. I told him of my encounter with Amelia Reid, the lady of the boathouse, our conversation about painting and the church at Caerdeon where her sister and brother were working for the summer.

“She sounds something straight out of Millais, my dear boy, and interesting to hear about St Philips’s too. Have you ever been there? It’s built in the Basque style and while it’s certainly non-standard C of E or W, it’s certainly worth a visit – if you can find it.”

“I’ve never been, Dennis, and in fact, until today, I hadn’t even heard about it.”

“Well how about a walk there tomorrow after breakfast? It may be closed, it often seems to be, but we can burn off some of the Farchynys calories in making the attempt and we may learn more about your new friends at Caerdeon.”


The following morning, after one Margaret’s epic Full Welsh feasts, Dennis and I set off down the road and then up the path into the forest like Hobbits marching into the Misty Mountains. The lane corkscrewed several times and after what seemed like a couple of miles, I spotted a Lychgate and behind it, a big rectangular building with plain rectangular windows. We went up to the entrance.

“Lucky boy, it’s open,” said Dennis, and I went inside whilst he took a look outside.

Inside, it was definitely lighter than other more ancient Welsh churches I’d visited, but it felt damp, didn’t smell like it was in regular use and there was no sign of any people or works in progress. At the crossing on the nave I noticed there was a large metal wheel with a rope connected to the four bells above me in the open belfry – an ingenious device which probably made bell ringing possible by one person. It appeared to be in working order. I was now thinking this was indeed a real curiosity of a building, half-way up a mountain on a dangerously steep incline.

“Paul,” a voice came from behind me in the porch, “I think you ought to come and look at what I’ve found.”

I followed Dennis outside and watched as he manoeuvred carefully down the overgrown slope of the graveyard. I followed.

“See what’s written on this? How’s your Latin, dear boy?”

We were looking down at a weathered memorial stone, half sunk into the slope.

            Amelia Reid, sister of Louisa, taken from this world October 5th, 1868.

Non hodie Quod heri.


I murmured a translation: “I am not today what I was yesterday,”




Author’s Notes:


  1. Philip’s Church also known as Caerdeon Chapel is indeed situated off a steep lane in a dramatically sloping churchyard not far from the Farchynys Coach house.
  2. Built in 1862, three years before the opening of Barmouth Viaduct, it had a somewhat controversial early history. It was built by the Rev William Edward Jelf, a Classics Tutor at Christ Church. He conducted services for his Oxford students in English rather than the official Welsh and thus fell foul of the local Church of Wales big-wig, the Rector of Llanaber. Matters were resolved in Jelf’s favour by The Court of Arches.
  3. The Church was designed by Jelf’s Oxford friend, the Rev John Louis Petit who was descended from a Huguenot family which had settled in Lichfield. He was also a one-man campaign against the overuse of neo-gothic Church design. Petit travelled widely exploring Mediterranean and eastern ecclesiastical styles and painted many watercolours. As did his wife, Louisa and her unmarried sister, Amelia Reid.
  4. I did take one major liberty in the story: whilst John Louis Petit died in 1868, apparently from a chill caught while sketching, Amelia lived to a fine old age and became with her sister’s sister-in-law, Maria Jelf, leading lights of the Ipswich Fine Art club. Amelia last exhibited in 1896.
  5. Maria Jelf’s painting of St Philip’s, the Mawddach and Cadair is below (Courtesy of Somerset and Wood Fine Art)
  6. My friends at The Circle of Petit (www.revpetit.com) have also made available for sharing two other studies in watercolour which can be found below. One is a splendid view of St. Philip’s, the other, a powerful study of the estuary from Rhuddallt.




caerdeon 66

Caerdeon 58a43

There’s more at: www.mariansonthemawddach.com




A Love Song to a Merry Wife of Waitrose*


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Entranced by the elegance

I found amidst these shelves

I stand burrated:

Your beet-rooted servant

Who contemplates the promise

Of a kimchi smile.

Let’s picnic now!

I long to dance the tapenade with you

Clink glasses at the golden hour

Sip Miraval

And partner with appropriate toasts,

Beachcomb for salt and seaweed

To crust and bake our love;

Let’s merge like tagliata

And rocket parmesan,

Before the blowtorch sun retreats

To burn the sugar and so hide

The cream of deep affection.



*From the collection: Brand New Poetry


Cynicus Historicus @Oxford and Yuste

I The Party at Brazenose

Poured house white from green bottle

Onto slaked lips

In the fizzle

Forgot the effects those

Sips would force


Liz and Pete


Danced like drunks in the rain

The bitter sweat of seduction

Increased the pain

I smiled –

But they looked rather mystified

At me

And my green shadow.


II Charles of Ghent

Charles of Ghent,

Dubbed by successive men

Of little wit and less sense,

Failure –

Sits in a parched glade at fifty

How pointless his struggle with

Valois, heretic and Turk seems

Compared to this

Unfathomable, but no less

Fundamental act.


New Inn Hall Street

Hilary, 1976

Poems of Place: 60611


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When I think of you, I think of food:

That first steak – huge and bloody,

The chophouse brown ambience

Haunting the bridge;

The cheesy Wheel of Death

That defeated even Brian,

The Filet-O-Fish and fries we ate in Oak Brook and enjoyed,

The ribs we sucked and gnawed on Sheffield’s garden walk

The Fat Tires we swilled

To debrief and to decompress…


When I think of you, I see the Lake,

That seems not to be a lake,

Deep frozen, or mist-bound beyond the lighthouse

Arctic still even on dog-days.

I see my love braving the cold and

Apparently bound for Canada.

I remember late-night emails at the W,

Preparing for the deal that

Changed our lives for ever


When I think of you,

I see Lake Forest luxe

And Gold Coast widows,

The mid-western smiles,

The summer vibe

The caps and Cubs at Wrigley Field

The early morning chugging of the L

The forest of your architecture

And all that jazz;

I think of Wabash and the Wackers

The Magnificent mile

The palace of heels at Nordstrom

The smell of books at Powell’s

The shady avenues of the park,

The laughing with the friends we love,

I think of all these things you mean

And the moments you made for us,



June 13th, 2018