Friday, 29 August 2014


This summer offered me something completely out of my comfort zone.

We were in the depths of rural Ireland when I realised that a very good friend of ours had a significant birthday.

Now, we have known Stephen for many years. Our children have been friends since before they can remember, and we have lived in and out of each other’s pockets for the best part of a decade.

It’s fair to say that Stephen gets away with a lot. He speaks his mind (often unintentionally), has changed career multiple times (apparently without breaking sweat), and has a view of life so relaxed that he turned up at his brother’s wedding in a suit that he hadn’t thought to try on for more than a decade. The subsequent photographs are invaluable evidence of the tensile strength of mixed cotton and polyester fibre under overwhelming pressure.

He is also the only person we know whose hair has actually gone white overnight. So when I decided to write him a birthday poem, it’s fair to say that I had lot of ammunition. What I didn’t have, however, was time. In total I had twenty-four hours before the deadline, in which time I also had to work on our house build, edit a manuscript, cook the dinner and manage the sports runs and  homework.


The resulting poem (below) isn’t perfect, but it was a valuable chance to have an idea, work it through and put it on paper under enormous time pressure. There’s a lot I will change when I go back to it, but I got finished in time and – more importantly – Stephen got his present.

And that’s what really mattered. Happy birthday Steve.


Distinguished Members of the Board
I’ve called you here because – dear Lord! –
Our scientists (while searching for
The key to all life heretofore)
Have stumbled on a find so rare -
So out of step it doesn’t square
With our belief that adaptation
Played a part in our formation.

This find – let’s call it Homo Blurt
(That’s Slide 14) – seems to subvert
Our firmly held belief that man
Develops all the skills he can
To help ensure the preservation
Of his lifespan allocation.

Observed in its own habitat
(I think we’d best gloss over that)
Our subject, superficially,
Presents in general as do we.
Four limbs attached the standard way,
A brain – of sorts – that works OK,
Yet here’s the rub.  Our specimen
(Slide 15, please, and figure 10)
Displays (with striking non-compunction)
A total lack of edit function.

Its cry, “Did I say that out loud?”
Rings out – with glee - and oddly proud,
Across its natural terrain
(It thrives on riverbanks, in rain).
If challenged, to avoid triage,
It triggers cunning camouflage,
Which, faster than the speed of light,
Transforms its jet black hair pure white

(See Slide 16).  But stranger yet,
Despite the ever present threat
Preventative incarceration
Poses this abomination
Does its behaviour show alarm?
No not at all, for to disarm
Its predators as you will see
(Let’s skip ahead to 23)
One further method of defence
Has been observed.  When grave offence
Has been detected Homo Blurt,
Seen here dressed in a formal shirt
And shiny suit will then begin
To shed its tightly fitting skin.

See how the buttons start to strain!
Our subject’s rudimentary brain
Has recognised a threat to life
(Hence frantic signals from its wife).
This trait we’ve called ‘defensive shedding’
(Employed here at a family wedding)
Has saved the creature year on year.
(Slide 30): First, an engineer
Then presto! With a change of skin
Poor IBM has let it in.
But has our subject yet divined
How to behave near humankind?
Why no!  With kamikaze risk
Watch it appal psychologists!

In summary, as I conclude
By totting up offence accrued
Across the years by this unique
And frankly quite unnerving freak,
I question – does this dreadful lack
Of filter hold the creature back?
If not, there’s only one conclusion:
Subject disproves evolution.

Thursday, 29 May 2014


Sometimes, reviews of the very best books just require a picture.

New house rule: no reading underwater, even if you are wearing goggles…  

And what was the book too good to leave on the edge of the bath?