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Tuesday 25 December 2018


For the first time in ages all the family is together.
Everyone is together, and I’ve had my favourite meal.
They are fussing over me, tickling behind my ears
like they’ve done a thousand times before.
These ears that have pricked at a thousand doorbells
don’t hear so well anymore.
These legs that have chased a thousand squirrels
have lost their zip.
This nose has sniffed a thousand bottoms
but now mostly snuffles against warm blankets.
These paws are losing their grip

but this heart still pumps with the love it has felt
for sixteen years, since they brought me home.
This head is misted with memories:
bounding through snow that first, excited winter;
lapping at the sprinkler when summer licked the lawn;
yapping on the stairs every morning at dawn
and leaping on the couch
when I knew that I shouldn’t.

For the first time in ages all the family is together.
Everyone is together, and we’re in this room.
I’ve been here once or twice before
but this time it seems different.
This morning the woman with the white gloves on
is not adorned with her usual smile.
This morning a heaviness hangs from the walls.
The faces around me are puffed with apologies
as clouds collect outside the window

but  through the clouds I can see the sun
with a whistle in its mouth sounding notes for me.
I can see the trees waving silently
and the birds dancing with something like joy.
The sky is calling me:
‘Good boy! Good boy!’
The sky is calling:
‘Good boy…”

For the first time in ages all the family is together.
Everyone is together, and I’m getting tired.
I’ve just eaten my favourite meal
and they’re fussing over me.
There’s the woman in white, with the white gloves on
and my family are tickling behind my ears
and their faces are swimming  out of focus
and I think I can smell the salt in their tears
and although these ears don’t hear so well
I can hear the love of sixteen years
and I want to tell them I love them too.

I want to tell them I love them too
but I feel tired now; so tired so tired
I feel tired now. So tired

Wednesday 19 December 2018


One of the most infuriating questions I get asked on a regular basis is “where do you come from?” When I say “England” people are never satisfied; this wasn’t quite the answer they were looking for despite the fact that I was born here, as were my parents. Their question, rather, is code for “why do you look like that?"

I am sometimes told that I ‘look Jewish’. Whilst I cannot recall anyone ever having said this to me with the intention to offend, I am extremely uneasy with the idea. Saying someone ‘looks Christian’ would be entirely nonsensical: Christians come from all over the world. Saying someone ‘looks Muslim’ or ‘looks Hindu’ doesn’t make much sense either - outside of religious dress, what would be the uniquely identifying characteristic distinguishing one from the other? Yet somehow there is deemed to be a Jewish look.

I suppose one might say that it is better to use nationalities rather than religions as an analogy. Whilst there is no ‘Christian look’ there is, say, a typically Scandinavian look (blonde hair, blue eyes, etc) or an Italian look (olive skin, dark hair, etc). But this won’t really do either. Jewishness is not a nationality - Jews come from all over the world.

Jewishness, then,  has no parity with Christianity or Islam when it comes to phenotype, and it is not geographically oriented in the same way as Swedishness or Italian-ness. What, then, is it? You might say it is a ‘race’, but this just pushes the problem back a step: what is a ‘race’, and how is it different from religion or nationality? If ‘race’ is defined with reference to outward phenotype then it turns out that Jewishness is not strictly a race: there are in fact blonde Jews, black Jews, Chinese Jews, and many other flavours of Jew that deviate from the ‘typical’ Jewish look that people have in mind.
So part of my problem with the idea of ‘looking Jewish’ is to do with the problems inherent in delineating what this really means: it doesn’t make sense to talk of religions as having a ‘look’; Jews come from all over the world, and they do not exhibit enough physical homogeneity to count as a ‘race’ (assuming that this is what 'race' means).

You might say that whilst there isn’t homogeneity, there is nonetheless typicality. If this is the case, then ‘looking Jewish’ should be read as meaning ‘looking stereotypically Jewish’ and herein lies the second part of my beef with being told I look Jewish. It is generally considered bad form to rely on stereotypes. Being told I look Jewish is, to my ears, like being told that I look like someone off a Nazi propaganda poster. Historically, the role of the Jewish stereotype was to cast the Jew in the role 'other', as 'not one of us'. So when I'm told I 'look Jewish', it is this sort of image that I have in mind:

Image result for nazi jewish posters

I have, perhaps, a lot of internal wrestling to do when it comes to working out my own identity, but I'd like to leave you now just by ringing a note of caution: whether or not you happen to be Jewish, please don't assert that someone else 'looks Jewish'. This pronouncement is way more problematic than it might first appear.

Monday 17 December 2018


The day the internet broke down
saw couples sit in icy gloom.
Kids ran feral through the town
as cities bathed in icy doom.

The day the internet went blank
saw toddlers scream (their parents too)
and bored teenagers robbing banks
with simply nothing else to do.

The day the internet conked out
saw gormless creatures stare at walls,
and people couldn’t get about;
they couldn’t find their way at all.

The day the internet went bust
saw everything come to a stop.
No one knew whom they could trust.
They couldn’t browse. They couldn’t shop.

The day the internet dried up
saw people freeze in sheer despair.
Some tried to talk, to open up
but others simply didn’t dare.

The day the internet went wrong
saw zombies shuffle through the streets.
I couldn’t go on
So this poem was left with an unsatisfactory conclusion.

Friday 14 December 2018


There is squawking, there is squalling
and a lot of caterwauling.
There is bellowing and bawling
and it’s driving me insane.

There is shouting, there is shrieking
and a lot of rowdy squeaking
and it sounds like someone freaking
out in catastrophic pain.

There is screaming, there is crying
and it sounds like someone’s dying.
There is growling, there is sighing
and it’s gone on for an hour.

It’s a racket like no other
but don’t worry, you’ll discover
that it’s just my silly brother
and he’s singing in the shower.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Q & A with John Wycliffe Primary School

The children at John Wycliffe Primary School in Leicestershire, where I am delighted to be Patron of Reading, have sent me a list of questions. I am delighted to be able to share the (sometimes weird) questions, along with my answers, on this blog. Enjoy!

How old is Winston?

Winston is my parents' Lhasa Apso dog. He is nine years old, which means that, in dog years, he is a basically a grouchy middle aged man. 

Do you have another dog and if so how old is it?

I have no other dog, and have never had another dog. My dog that I don't have is 7 years old. 

Why did your Mum call Winston Ooooshus Magooshus?

My mum always gives silly nicknames to things. For example, she calls my 'Joshy Poshy'. Winston has many nicknames. It started off as 'Wini', and then gradually transmogrified into 'Ooshus Magooshus', which I think sounds like the name of a monster, not the name of a dog. 

Do you have any pets?

I have a wife, which is similar. 

How can a pancake fly without wings?

I always say that if you ask a silly question, you need to be prepared to get a silly answer. So my answer is this: pomegranates. 

Can penguins fly to your house?


How do you know all your poems off by heart?

Interesting question. I do not quite know ALL of my poems off my heart, but it is true to say that I know quite a lot of them. I think there are two main reasons why this is the case. Firstly, I visit loads and loads of schools, and give masses of performances, and the more you recite a poem the more you get to know the words. Secondly, I find the process of writing and editing a poem involves going over and over that poem, and when I do this the words kind of get lodged in my memory. I find it much, much easier the memorise my own poems than I do to remember other people's poems. In fact, there are only a couple of poems by other poets that I know off by heart. In order to give a good poetry performance, I do not believe that you have to know a poem off by heart. 

Friday 7 December 2018


One of my very favourite poems is 'On Turning Ten' by Billy Collins. Yesterday I worked with a group of students in Years 7, 8 and 9 at County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, using this poem as a starting place to think of issues surrounding growing up and getting older. A fantastically broad range of viewpoints and emotions was expressed, and I'm delighted to share a selection of the wonderful poems that were produced!

Growing Up by Evie

Growing up is like a piece of paper,
Filling up with the words of your life.
Everyone says that you’re the one who controls it,
The one who grips the pen.

When we are younger we make our adventures
But they’re not real.
Travelling round the world as we charge round the playground.
It gives us a wonderful feeling.

Now we can actually make it a reality,
We finally have the chance.
But will we finally follow these dreams
Or change the steps of life’s dance?

It’s down to us
But what should we do?
Which way is right
To get us through?

We’ll have to see what happens.

I Want to Be by Rowan

I want to be an astronaut
to explore the deep, dark space.
I want to be a fisherman
to catch millions of plaice.
I want to be a scientist,
to find out where and when and why.
I want to be a doctor,
to help people live and not die.
I want to be an artist,
to create to my heart’s content.
I want to be a therapist,
telling people it’s OK to be spent.
I want to be a florist
to watch the flowers bloom.
I want to be a vicar,
to get rid of the doom and gloom.
I want to be a chef,
putting food on others’ plates.
I want to be successful,
but for now I’ll have to wait.

Growing Up by Anika

I used to think that growing up
meant being big and strong.
I used to think that growing up
meant never being wrong.
I used to think that being old
meant following your dreams,
but now I know that growing up
is just not what it seems.

I used to think that growing up
meant never feeling sad.
I used to think that growing up
meant never being bad.
I used to think that growing old
made money grow on trees,
but now I know that thinking that
brings your whole world to its knees.

I used to think that growing up
meant getting rid of toys.
I used to think that growing up
meant hanging out with boys.
I used to think that being old
made troubles go away.
But now I know that everything
led to me today.

The Good Ole Days by Anonymous - the poet forgot to put their name on it!

As a baby I screamed
As a toddler I cried
As a child I whined
As a teen I moaned
As an adult I grumbled
As an elder I reminisced
About the good ole days...

Tuesday 30 October 2018


I had great fun the other day writing food poems with students at John Wycliffe Primary School. The idea was very simple: inspired by my poem 'Love Letter to a Lychee' (from my book I Don't Like Poetry) pupils were challenged to write either a love letter to their favourite food, or a hate letter to their least favourite food. On top of this personification, the extra challenge was to include repetition, simile, metaphor and alliteration, after having identified it in my lychee poem. Here are two fantastic examples from Lucas and Max. Enjoy!


Oh tomato
Your red colour is like a big monster
Gobbling me whole and walking down the road
Eating others who hate you as much as me.
Oh tomato
I just want to throw you away forever
I like you cooked when you’re dead
And suffering in the oven on my pizza
It’s my turn to eat you
Oh tomato
I hate you


I love mum
I love food
I love mum-made Sunday dinners of course!
It’s a plate of pure deliciousness
It’s a plate of rainbows and joy
I love my mum
I love food
But I love mum-made Sunday dinners

Because it’s food made by my mum

Image result for sunday dinner

Tuesday 16 October 2018


If you’re feeling rather blue, write a poem.
If you don’t know what to do, write a poem.
If you’re cast adrift and seasick
and you have no analgesic;
if you’re rendered quadriplegic,
write a poem.

If you’re trampled by a moose, write a sonnet.
If you’re hanging from a noose, write a sonnet.
If an inland taipan bit you,
if a baseball bat just hit you,
if a straightjacket restricts you,
write a sonnet.

If you’re floundering in debt, write a ballad.
if your bills cannot be met, write a ballad.
If the bailiffs come to call
and you have no cash at all
and you’re left with four bare walls,
write a ballad.

If you’ve shattered all your molars, write an ode.
if your gran has caught ebola, write an ode.
If life’s river has a dam in,
if your kosher soup has ham in,
if you’re dying in a famine,
Write an ode.

If you’re choking on some glass, write a haiku.
If you’ve cancer of the arse, write a haiku.
If you've crashed a helicopter,
someone hit your gran and crocked her,
you don't need to call the doctor:
write a haiku.

If your bones have turned to dust, write a poem.
If there’s no one left to trust, write a poem.
If your nation’s blown to pieces
and your life has turned to faeces
you don’t need to turn to Jesus:

Image result for poetry saves lives