The sound of water

What is the sound of water?

The sound of a distant stream; the hush and then rattle of the wave as it leaves and then returns; late at night, running the tap to quench a thirst; the sound of water, still in a placid pool. What is that sound?

Is the sound separate from the water?

I hear the sound of drops, drumming on a roof or lightly on the leaves of the copper beech. Water only sounds against the world around, so there is no sound in the water. I am a deaf man looking at the sea; just the roar in my ears that I take everywhere with me. I am a blind man listening to the waves, the stream, the midnight tap. Is that water?

In my mind I hear the water, sounding out the world. I see the clouds racing overhead, carrying water from one steaming land to another crying out with thirst. Can you hear the sound of water being absorbed by the roots of the trees and the flowers that surround it?

Water passes noiselessly through everything. Only when it meets its opposite does it sound? Water, fire, steam, hissing! Water and wood, gently floating! Water and earth combining! Water and stone, the splitter splatter sounds in my mind.

What if there is no mind to hear?

The sound of water
Everything that it is not
Nothing that it is

The Pleasure of Dislocation

Saw this as I left the workshop with Nick. It was raining and he had a cape and my head was bare.

The downpipe
Dislocated from the gutter
Cupping raindrops

We saw it and had to ride back to take another look. We rode on and had a second epiphany when a young woman came out to pop something in the dustbin and a gust of wind gently raised her dress into a perfect umbrella floating above a pair of skimpy black briefs. Dislocation: Such are the pleasures of a simple man!
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Writing to No-one

Swam two lengths and now my pencil is shivering on the page like the wind on the water. I’m sitting in the bathing cubicle looking at the ripples on the blue pool. The trees are dull bare brown; on my right a red door, and to the left the dark wooden panels of the cubicle wall. I sit and write, for whom I am not sure.

White door jambes
Buckle and sway on the surface
The sunken leaves

The bench I sit on is wooden slats. My buttocks find a comfy fit between the ridges. The cement floor is cracked in places and there’s a drop of red paint and some yellow from the safety stripes on the gutter. I could be so alone but every now and then a swimmer glides by; in the distance the roar of the fountain, the tweet of birds. And now the rain is falling quietly; the red and black sign on a white backboard: ‘No Diving Below 1.5m Depth’.

The body gets used to the shock of the cold and then after a while it begins to crave it; good to feel the ice in the veins; the obliterating delight of intense sensation.

Raindrops speckle
The handrail into the old pool
Pearls on silver

Later, I ride home through the park, ‘zigging’ along the cadenced path beneath the old oak tree and past the iron bench. The head wind burrows through my jacket and seeks out the warm parts of my body but I’m nearly home, passing the corner shop with scribbles in my pocket and a smile upon my face.

Beneath the cherry blossom
The red letter box

Passing through Dulwich Village on a Spring Afternoon

Taking off 
An orange cement mixer 
Spinning in Spring 

Returning from a visit to the hospital I cycled slowly back home through Dulwich Village which is lovely and rather genteel. Nice houses and gardens, expansive playing fields, and no tube or station. On a balmy school afternoon it’s a bit like Adlestrop … you remember Adlestrop! Very English and you can hear the birds singing. There’s a road on the way to Tulse Hill which has a line of white semi detached houses with wicker fences and climbing roses. And even though they must cost a pretty penny, the cars parked in their driveways are modest if not scruffy.

Box, bollard and bag 
Badly dressed friends 
At the spring ball 

I dipped down a short crescent and it was as English as strawberries and cream. A big old man, bare chested and working in his garden looked up and we bade each other a good afternoon. I wondered if he had thoughts about this nosey man on a bike but felt our brief meeting had been as clear and pure as the air on this vIrginal spring day. Oh what a joy to sneak off from work and go slowly about on a day when the blossom hangs heavy on the trees, mothers and children go out to play and the leaf buds spray a delicate haze of green on the trunks and branches of the mighty oak and the slender silver birch.

Above every hedge
And slatted wooden fence
Green shoots and blue sky

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Walking the River Thames

In the spring of 2009, I decided to take a day off from the computer screen and return to the Thames Path which I had ridden the previous summer with a friend. I was out of work and underfoot and so it seemed a good idea to get out of the house and make something tangible of a day that promised sunshine, rain, blue skies and scudding clouds.

The Thames Path is a walk that meanders from the East End of London through the City and along the Embankment to Wandsworth, Putney, Barnes, Kew, Richmond, and beyond. The full walk can take you all the way to Oxford but I chose just 8 miles for my outing; from Putney Bridge through to the patrician town of Richmond.

I packed a simple lunch of sandwiches, made from last night???s roast chicken, a couple of apples, a thermos of coffee and a bottle of water. I also took some music and a German biography of Nietzsche???s thinking which I had been listening to out of curiosity and a desire to refresh my knowledge of the language. Nietzsche loved music and is quoted as saying that ???without music life would be an error???. A camera and anorak completed my supplies; the one to capture images, the other to catch the rain that might bless my outing.

I travelled by train from Balham to Clapham Junction and from thence to Putney. The joy of ???bunking off??? to wander free as a cloud was tinged with a touch of Puritan guilt at the sight of my fellow passengers going about their business. But I found consolation in the knowledge that instead of moping at home I was making the most of my lot. How sad to have been given this precious time and not to have used it wisely.

The great beauty of taking the Thames Path from Putney is that within minutes of passing the rowing sheds, one enters a tunnel of green and any vestige of City life is gradually obscured by trees. The constant murmur of traffic subsides beneath the shush of wind on leaves. To the left, the way is lined with trees, allotments, gardens, and about 20 minutes into the walk, a hidden nature reserve.?? Follow me said the little bird, through a small gate on to the raised lips of a large lake with tethered rafts for the waterfowl. To the right, the park in Fulham and then a mixture of boat houses and riverfronts are glimpsed through breaks in the trees.

Being the middle of the week, I had the path to myself; just the occasional crunch of a passing bicycle or acknowledgement of another walker broke my reverie. It felt good to be out and about on a day when the wind was so busy; moving clouds this way and trees the other; and all the while, sunlight dancing on the path I trod, so beautiful that I soon reached for the camera. But the battery was dead and so I had only these few words with which to capture and share the experience!

It wasn???t long before I climbed down from the towpath on to the shingle shore of the river, which was low but flowing fast some 20 metres from the bank. I sat for a moment beneath a tree whose gnarled roots extended out into the river bed, and scanned upstream and then down to where the river spread and curved back towards the city. Like Robinson Crusoe, I saw no sign of human habitation, just the reach of the river and the gulls wheeling in the breeze.

I???ve often seen the River Thames drained to a muddy m??lange of stones and detritus but here the shingle was small and silver grey with a few large rocks ??embedded artlessly in its midst.


Raked by the river,

Rocks and shingle have settled

Into a Zen garden.


Clouds file by

The tree-lined river bank,

Waving and bowing


Back on the path I settled into my walk and switched on my music to provide a quiet accompaniment to the journey. I listened to Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments and Lux Aeterna by the composer Gy??rgy Ligeti. It???s not like everyday music that is strong on melody, harmony and rhythm. Instead of moving forward the colour and texture of the sound has a stillness that rises and falls. This polyphony of sounds harmonised with the rhythm of the walk, the rustle of the wind and the fleeting birdsong.

Eternal light,

Catching the gull???s wing

And the dappled path.


Beyond the green, wrought-iron bridge at Hammersmith, the way grew empty and calm until a line of cottages heralded my arrival in the village of Barnes. Here the path opened up on to a riverfront of small terraced houses protected from the flooding river by an elevated concrete walkway up to Barnes Bridge. I walked down it and then crossed over the road to pass the bridge before plunging back down to an uneven path that led eventually took me beneath the massive walls of the old brewery and out to The Ship Tavern with its cream walls and faded turquoise window-shutters.

Sitting on the causeway in front of the pub, I munched away at my chicken sandwiches, washed down with water. On the shoreline, a woman walked her dog and a mallard with her young slipped into the water and paddled out to safety. I wondered if the dog would give chase but all was peaceful and in harmony. It was good time to be in the world with new growth underway. And as I sat quietly, the world came out to play.

Quietly tipping stones,

Where the river lays bare the mud,

The tidy black rook.


Fortified by my lunch and pleased that I still had some way to go; I set off with a Mozart aria. Strange to gild this lily of a day with singing but it seemed to harmonise so beautifully with the world around. By now my body was pleasantly worn in and the rhythm of the walk settled me into that trance-like state that unties knots, dissolves blocks and allows the mind to flow once more.

I kept up a good pace, and over the course of an hour or so, I passed by the simple curve of Chiswick Bridge and its waterfront of expensive houses, and then on to Kew, passing the Pink House and Brentford Marina on the other side. At Kew Gardens I looked down into the moat and then up over the fence to see the perfectly laid lawns where people were strolling or sitting on benches in the warm spring sunshine, I was reminded of the nature reserve I had passed earlier. Here was a quiet spot where people could find sanctuary and unravel from the hurly burly.

Further on, where the river was once more expansive, I stopped to drink the rest of my coffee and eat the last chicken sandwich. I remember thinking how much I envied the old bench for its view across the river to Ham House: Great balls of white and grey ploughed the blue sky while the squally wind combed the long grass towards the rumpled river. And all the while the seagulls twitching slowly but effortlessly into the wind and then wheeling around to ride its turmoil back downstream.

Diving for fish,

An eager black cormorant

Empties the river.


My journey was almost over. I walked on down the towpath and settled back into a steady gait that quickened as the town of Richmond drew closer. Joggers and families passed by more frequently now and the path gave up its rugged gravel surface to the smooth slick of black tarmac. The river shone in the sun and the boats and riverfront dwellings filled the opposing bank. To my left however, nature still staked its claim with dark pools dappled in sunlight that passed through the canopy and lit up vivid green algae.

Now with summer gone and me once more ensconced in front of the computer, I think back to that walk and a second journey on bicycles with the family. After the ride we chained our bikes to a railing fence beneath a riverfront pub and when we returned they were submerged in the soft muddy water of a leap tide and an open lock.

Out in the river

A man is catching sun beams

Sitting on a bench.


All these visceral pleasures are lost in the computer screen and that is why I walked the river. I love to see and feel the ebb and flow that fills the cup half full and leaves the rest quite empty.

Autumn harvest:

These summer leaves

??Pressed in Windows.


Out of Time

There’s a fox with a shabby winter coat in the garden. She comes up to the patio where a potted Christmas tree, a Blue Spruce, waits to be planted out in the garden. She sniffs around, turns and then heads back, stopping briefly to urinate under the fence. The garden is empty and then she reappears with a skinny companion. He limps and has a large shiny red sore on his raggedy flank.

The cold time
A pile of white feathers
The tilting fence

Without looking back she’s on to the wall between the gardens. He follows gingerly and then pausing at the top, he catches sight of me. For a brief moment our eyes meet; his look is anxious. I move gently away but he’s frightened and jumps down. He totters off and the garden is empty again.

A few days later I am looking for a place to plant the Christmas tree. I approach the bottom of the garden with some trepidation. There’s a den next to the shed; not a permanent home but a safe place for fleeting visits. For the last two years I have found dead foxes there.

Biting wind
Resting on soft paws
The frozen muzzle

Smaller than I recall, it lies in a dip beside the burrow beneath a mound of cuttings and fallen leaves. In a moment there is an enormous silence. And then slowly the rustle of wind and the distant sound of birds. It’s a very quiet place, a place where foxes come to die. After a minute I return to the everyday and fetch a shovel from the shed. I use it to pick up the body, still soft and pliant, and tip it on to a pile of wet leaves in a black plastic bag.

A heavy spade
Heavier still and then tipping
A light heaviness

I carry it, surprisingly light, to the front of the house and smuggle it into the wheelie bin that will be emptied next day. And then I bury the Christmas tree. I dig a hole in the front garden, stuff it in and water heavily. In the weeks that follow I think of the fox and I look at the tree. The one consigned to rubbish and the other bedded between two rose bushes.

Still hanging
Beneath the Blue Spruce
A brush of tinsel

A couple of weeks go by and then as dusk is falling, I see the raggedy fox again. It limps across the common and disappears into the night.

The shifting sky
The shape of a fox
Turning in the dark


Turning time to work

The pool water
Memory of winter
Promise of spring

Soft spring
Pearled morning dew shines
The fresh worm piles

A few pink blossoms
Their summer frocks
The rising sap

Turning into spring
The worms are making hills
In the morning dew

On the instep
A small blue swallow tattoo
Heading north

Spring is here
Two ducks in the bathing pond
Only have eyes for you

Gnarls Barkley
The relief on the weathered skin
Of an old oak tree


Sunday in and around Clapham Common, London

Spring football
The touchline between players
And a girl’s smile

The pitted road
Washed by Spring rain
Sunlight and shadow

Spring morning
Peeling back the sheets
On the old billboard

Dry fountain, lonely goalkeeper and steps into the water

Last week it felt as if spring was being kept on the bench but this Sunday it was warming up on the touchline: sunshine football games,  joggers with a spring in their step and the pool temperature rising.

Mother’s Day
The water in the pool

A quickening light
In the air the first bumblebee
Waved away

A day of rest
Propping up the posts
The goalkeeper

On the edge
Frozen in warm sunshine
A watching squirrel

I was told this story at the Lido. A lifeguard liked eating smelly fish like smoked mackerel. When the summer season was over, the part-timers who were leaving, decided to play a trick on him. They bought fresh mackerel and hid them in the office and behind his locker. The winter season started and as time went by the fish began to stink but no-one knew where the smell was coming from. It was bad and the person who told me this story asked the lifeguard if he’d noticed and whether it bothered him. He replied that he couldn’t smell anything.