Friday 8 January 2021
Ah, yes, a rather full five years have elapsed since the last update. Way too much to cover in this setting. So I'll just add some pieces from those years and then make it my intention to use and add to the site more often from now on.
3 October 2016
It's been a busy time since the last entry. Here is a piece which captures a few minutes during the Summer. 'Cafe by the Ardeche'.
9 April 2016
Spring has arrived, vigorously ... my new hip is settling in well... and off we go again though never quite as before - se 'The last onion'.
13 January 2016
Having passed 60 at Christmas I'm thinking that it is time to stop worriting on with questions of purpose and mortality, and simply get on with living. 'Re-Calibration' is my attempt to do just that.
20 July 2015
Pastoral church newsletters are not usually considered ground breaking literature, but having sweated over this one I thought it might be of interest to a wider readership than the Norwich Area churches for whom it is intended.
July 2 2015
A day of hot, crackling sun which reminds me of other days like this from a long time ago. The border pinks from our childhood garden which are now blooming here in Pakefield reinforces that good memory. See 'Pink Buttonholes'.
June 15 2015
After weeks of waiting and willing the peony buds to open out into blooms today seems to be the day!
Also a hand out which accompanied two Praying with clay workshops held last Sarurday at the URC Eastern Synod day out in Cambridge. No expertise was offered by me or required by the particpants but, rather like the peony, creativity bloomed anyway.
April 27 2015
A new week and a new poem relating how events of some 30 years ago came to an unexpected resolution - see 'Miss G's Revenge'. This is followed by a collection of pieces produced for last year's May Day event at the Seagull Theatre.
April 21 2015
Spring is well under way, the sun shines and a quiet few hours have enabled the website to go live. You will see that it is far from complete but some recent material is now available and other archive stuff will appear soon.
March 24 2015
After many months offline the fosten.com website 'Heaven in Ordinarie' is gradually returning. The new site will grow as and when I acquire some 'how to do it' knowledge and find a few moments in which to post material
If you have always wanted to ask me something, now is the time to go for it!
and other poems
by Ian Fosten
It is ten years since I last produced a significant collection of poems. 'The Railway People' marked the culmination of a project in which I sought to remember, appreciate and re-present my suburban childhood and adolescence. The past decade has been unexpectedly eventful and the 'quiet corner', which I had always assumed to be a prerequisite of deep thought and careful writing, has proved as elusive as ever. None of the poems in this collection are therefore the fruit of unhurried, diligent crafting and leisured revision. Rather, they were written on the run, against a looming deadline, or forged hastily out of a desire to capture the atmosphere of a moment before it was swept away by the tide of oncoming events. My hope is that the reader will appreciate such insight and authenticity as they may contain whilst forgiving any roughness around the edges. This collection begins with some pieces written in response to twelve paintings commissioned for a calendar produced by the Ferini Gallery in Pakefield. It ends with some pieces written as after dinner Christmas entertainment for the Aldeburgh Festival Society. More information on the poems and some audio versions can by found on the website: www.fosten.com.
Ian Fosten November 2012
After the show : Seagull Theatre
After the show
the atmosphere is of
For hours beforehand
and nervous need
have been charged,
powered up by
queue for admission,
wine and beer;
cue for entrances
queue for a final
cue to receive
plaudit and post-mortem;
cue to leave this place,
being someone else;
cue to return to
who you were before.
After the show
the atmosphere is of
diminishing intensity –
steel heating pipes
and the darkness
click and murmur
the onset of
Reed Nest 1
When the time came
to clear my mother’s house
I noticed a bowl of marbles
resting on a shelf.
Set at a tempting level
for inquisitive fingers
but not for play, instead
they were a trap
which sprang a cry of
‘Don’t touch! Who let
this child in here?’
It was so different when
we older ones were young –
when the pristine lawn
was worn to goal-mouth,
racetrack mud; when
great granddad’s tool box
was plundered and blunted
by ignorance; when
the marbles were held
accessibly in a tin and
chinked their purpose on
the carpet in the hall.
So today I bless the painter
who challenges the cold sterility
of marbles in a bowl
and imagines into life
the promise of Spring.
Fish and Chips
The trouble with chips
is they add to the hips
and the belly and bum
for good measure:
and the batter on fish
has a hard-wired mission
to stoke weight and sluggard
But I’m heartened to see,
as he stands in the lee
of a bitingly cold
this avuncular person
with no hang-ups or questions
tucking into the
fruit of the sea.
It’s cold : Remembering Robert
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose
Watching my boys at the water’s edge
a memory flashed of the dark man’s doorway
from his elegant, spacious living room
into the showcase of tasteful death.
There in a crafted, quilted box he lay –
personality, promise and love
encased, or so it seemed, in wax.
And in the advance and retreat of waves
I saw his life arrested and restored
a revolving seascape of
pebble and sand
salt and spittle
time and tide …
all held within the mystery
one boy is now a man -
a husband, a father:
the other, always a son,
a young boy,
a named part
of all that grows and
moves and changes,
yet remains the same.
Feeling the thump of the engine room
beneath my feet;
each piston, link and cylinder
oiled, set and tuned
to a perfect creative pitch.
Sensing the fluid flow beneath, surrounding
and above my head;
each fibre, channel, searching root
osmotic, capillary, photosynthetic,
transforming light to life.
Learning to trust Creation’s flood within
my heart, my soul;
each sight, sound and taste upon the breeze
re-awakens, redeems, restores
the glory of this day.
Facebook friends are prone to moan
concerning matters of no consequence:
‘today it looks like rain again,
or, here’s another set of trivial events’.
Not so, I guess, the gang who stand
to contemplate the boats and sea;
for whom the rusting gear of years long gone
still marks their shared identity.
Known still by names their workmates gave,
Sniff, Kipper, Doc and Ron
remember and embroider tales and gales
and anecdotes of times long gone…
… when every growing lad who had
inherited the aspirations of the sea
impatiently endured the rules of school
and dreamed of freedom that would be
hard-wrought of engine oil and endless toil,
early dawns and bone-crack cold,
announcing they had come of age with wages
to spend and many stories to be told.
To savour deeply is a gift we miss
so often when we launch our cares
from a virtual soapbox into space
that seems so much more vacuous than theirs.
Truth to tell,
I cannot handle ‘Women’s Talk’:
Some of my earliest recollections
are those endless pauses
among the puzzling lingerie
of Bromley’s Army and Navy Stores,
or dawdling on the pavement
outside David Grieg’s
as friendship was enthusiastically
renewed and news exchanged and
on and on and on …
Truth to tell,
I cannot handle ‘Women’s Talk’;
and being old enough
(by fifty years and more)
to leave the safety of her lap
I’ve kept my distance,
respectfully out of range,
choosing instead places of
solitude and quiet.
Of course there will be times
when pints of beer and
deep consideration of the heavier
points of life and death and universe
might be reviewed – but oh so worthily
if truth be told,
I really cannot handle ‘Women’s Talk’.
South Beach Summer
pinnacle of expectations
sand and stickiness
a crowded, choking promenade
frying chip oil and ice cream
close-packed homage to bodies and sun
the moment remembered
tide fights and heat bumps
sensations seared onto skin
expectations framed for life
an over-hang of temperature and time
by shortening days already undercut
menaced by maturity and subtler scents
rivalled, rolled over, gone.
One day I’d like to take
more than an equal share,
to feast on sleep without restraint;
to discover the location of ‘enough’:
how many pancakes can I eat?
how many custard creams?
how many days off can I link?
how many favourite songs?
how many pints of beer before I’m sick?
how much unbroken sunshine?
how many perfect memories can I take?
How many times
can I exclude the imperfections,
the unsolicited demands,
the hands that tear down
walls I build around this lust
for me and mine?
September begins with glut
and ends with gales:
so savour the excess
for soon enough
the time for sparing comes.
Fleeting moments : After RS Thomas
Let the coincidence of
cloud and sea and sun
root you to the cliff top
that you might purposefully
pause, savour, and deeply know
the questions posed:
what do you see
what do you hear
what will you understand
how will you receive
the gift of grace, held,
but only for a while?
The sun burst through the clouds and,
for the sake of love and life, I stayed.
Winter Light – Pakefield
On Pakefield beach my eye is taken by
squared-off loadings of pigment
placed with care,
attentive to a deep awareness
of the gathering day and
mounting cloud-folds heavy
with the onset of the season.
The sky broods and darkens;
the pebble beach takes on
a certain luminescence as if
land and heavens were spoiling
for a fight …
the wind slackens
to a whisper
we strain for a declaration
of intent, a siren whine
announcing that the conflict has
begun – but nothing comes
unsought and unexpected,
late Autumn light steals
a marvellous victory
and redeems the day.
Winter Sun – Pakefield
A morning-scape of
blood and fire,
water and earth,
wind and light.
The year’s ending
in spectrum colours,
permitted only now
by the cold air
squeezing to a prism
of mid-winter intensity.
As the old concludes
this volcanic sky-slash
plays on pain and
rawness of a womb
the music of
Lost and found in Pakefield
A string of tidal surges set free
the dreadful demolition prowess
of wind and wave;
the unexpected consequence of
tampering with drift, flow,
transfer and deposition;
cliffs of sand become
an easy feast for
stones and bricks and homes
offer no ballast against
the water's weight
when a sea-land, land-sea truce
is called and in the curiously calm,
uneasy equilibrium which is
the aftermath of storm,
only emptiness hangs beneath
the streets of
yet even as I contemplate the void
I hear, soft-spoken for sure
but real enough, the recollected
substance of their stories
beneath my feet.
If ever there was an oxymoron,
surely, this is it.
‘Lowestoft Central’ or so the
board declares, left over
as it is from days when trains
were railways and the fish dock heaved.
Lowestoft Central – how can that be
when this is, topographically speaking,
the pimple on the outer curve
of England’s bum.
Lowestoft Central – two tedious hours
at least from where you need to be,
such as ….
well, a truly central place like
London with it’s flashy transience,
it’s frightened suburbs and
slow-creeping traffic necklace
Or arrogant, myopic Yorkshire?
Or Manchester – an urban cow clap
poured out on a featureless plain?
Or Oxbridge, home of all that is elite and smug?
Or Birmingham – I don’t think so!
In Suffolk Lowestoft is
the uncoloured area in white
upon the map at County Hall; it is
beyond a thought within the well-heeled,
drawbridge-lifting, culture ghettoes to its south.
it is an honest place,
(far closer to the Continent than City wealth)
an unobtrusive gem with unspoilt cliffs
and golden sand.
A silk purse it
will never be; but if centrality is more about
at-home-ness than geography
this sow’s ear by the sea
fulfils the brief.
Carlton Marshes – an attentive conversation
A landscape of listening and response:
listening to sight, sound,
pattern, process, set-back
responding with care,
attentiveness, the courage
to uproot and cut back;
a readiness to learn.
Listening and response
becomes a culture running counter
to a more familiar cacophony of
buy now! beat the rush!
stay ahead of the game!
lose if you snooze!
- fast food, fast life,
fast love, fast loss …
At the river’s pace,
in time with the seasons,
waiting without control,
in recognition of gift
and not demand or right
we listen, we notice
and we grow.
Writing by candlelight at the Locks Inn, Geldeston
A candle of many nights
creates a space, an invitation;
‘come closer that you might
see and know’.
Focus on the circle of illumination;
notice how the yellow light
shadow-grains the table top;
notice too the elegance of the bottle,
the intricacy of fractured light –
shards and flickers
then movement – a response
to draughts and currents
- someone passes
- a door opens,
the flame is drawn, curiously
then resumes upright and sentinel
till, melting to its base,
a slowing dance warns that
time has nearly emptied -
this intimate evening enterprise
is almost done.
Salvaged from behind the house
of emptiness and former things;
taken hastily with insufficient care
and far more hope than expertise;
pot-bound for a day short of too long;
thrust with speed and the dregs
of time into the broken earth.
A winter passed;
then, with lengthening days,
perennial blue daisy,
and everlasting sweet pea
drew sufficiently and deep
within the sparse ground
to live and thrive again
suggesting, thereby, that
resurrection is a miracle indeed;
the perpetuating miracle of
A Prayer for St Valentine’s Day
This year let the celebration
of St Valentine side-step all
clichéd cards and diet-busting chocs,
and be instead a gateway
to the Spring.
Let all distracting confections
and cold, dark days roll back
and in their un-needed place
reveal fresh shoots, bright colours
and the blossom-promise of summer fruitfulness.
And in these lengthening days
may our love shrug off
my anxious, weary winter sluggishness
so that the feast of dear St Valentine
may mark the deeper newness of
this springtime moment in our lives.
In memories that mingle with
cheese wire and slab at David Grieg’s,
or roasting coffee scented choux bun treats,
your childhood stories of street games,
sport at school and lone-ranging on
Hastings front, patterned my early years.
In knowing where you’d come from,
somehow, I came to see who I might be.
Years passed: decades of marriage,
parenthood, banking, and simply being you
engaged, amused, enriched so many lives.
But then, when all seemed smooth and safe,
the pathway changed, subtly; angled downward.
Fear insidiously displaced humour
and contentment; eye-sparkle
lost ground to haunted weariness.
With murderous, demented stealth the hallmarks
of your provenance were rubbed out.
Then came an Autumn day when, like a leaf
from your beloved tree and drained of all
that speaks of life, you let go of the branch
Swiftly raked then burnt within that tidy fire
which gives no heat, you left an emptiness
which neither squirrel gymnasts nor
the passing seasons could fulfil
until that evening
when something in the breeze
and the close darkness of a November night
enabled me to hear your voice declare
the mystery of continuity and say:
‘Hello, mate’ – and lightly touch my arm.
As the sun sinks in the sky the Sun Shop girl knows that her day’s work is done …
… until, that is, she reaches home
and finds a friend is on the phone
inviting her for drinks, and more,
some action on the dancing floor.
Within a flash her sun gear sheds
into a pile beside her bed,
and togs herself in something more
appropriate for the dancing floor.
The night hours chime to dancing feet;
she heads for home and deeply sleeps,
as gently through an open door,
the sun dawn-sweeps the dancing floor.
Capsize – a growing experience
Accidents usually happen quickly –
not so a capsize:
no shatter, shunt or slip,
just a slow roll
with time to realise,
observe, play the spectator,
and plan a strategy by which
equilibrium may be restored.
So when the seemingly innocuous
Broadland stream embraced me,
rolled me, took me for a swim,
I saw it all.
Water – deeper than I’d thought,
warmer, clearer too I noticed
as I took a fish-eye view
of boat and gear and me.
Re-surfacing I took stock,
sized up the nearest solid ground,
swam and trod the river silt
then hauled the boat and gear
and me ashore.
Dry, changed and heading home
I paddled from effect to cause as
I remembered how I been this way before;
rolled over by miss-judged Atlantic swell;
seduced by sunshine and inexperience
between the Yare and Rockland Broad,
and, smiling, saw these filthy legs,
gashed shin and pungent river scent
for what they are - evidence that I
am still alive: the hallmarks of experience.
Coming of Age (after I Corinthians chapter 13)
‘And what will you be, young man,
when you grow up?’
The adult lays an age old burden
on the child.
‘How can I know?’ the child replies,
‘My world is yet so small!’
So years revolve, swift or slow;
the world grows wide but
complicated too: despite achievements listed
the answer still eludes,
not least because the question
is at fault:
not ‘what’, but ‘who’ and ‘how’
might be a better choice.
The question, ‘what’ supplies the rolling credits
of our projected self;
‘who and how’ describe that deep interior
landscape of the soul.
In time the ‘what’ will gather dust and lie,
the ‘who and how’, remarkably, will yield
a dividend for all eternity.
Sometimes he's robotic
sometimes a cool dude
sometimes he makes crazy moves
when he's in the mood.
He'll strut and prance and boogie
when he gets the chance
the truth is plain for all to see -
our Dan just loves to dance!
For Jen at 27
Twenty six was the wheel size
of the coming-of-age bike from Gamages;
solid, commutable, and Sturmey Archer 3 speed gears.
Twenty seven I aspired to
as I trailed Pete’s sparkling machine, tuning
to the blissful hum of high pressure tyres on tarmac.
Twenty seven meant two chainwheels below;
above, a saddle - Brookes B17 in crafted leather -
toe clips with sprung straps and five derailleur cogs behind.
Twenty seven led beyond the locus
of home; twenty seven was for exploring,
confidently extending the range of safe and known.
And so I bless your twenty seven years’
travelling; take the pressure, extend the range,
tune in and enjoy the revolving song of the journey.
Mrs Windsor and Mr Self
Two decades past retirement age
Mrs Windsor works dutifully and consistently
with understated elegance in outfits two shades
two bright and, sometimes, just a little odd;
a servant of tradition and the common good.
The eponymous Mr Self works too;
assiduously crafting his sneer and
mounting a podium of self-righteousness,
he draws deeply from his internal wisdom well,
confident his finely chosen words lay bare the truth;
perhaps ubiquitously commentating Mr Self
believes he represents us all.
The Windsors, intellectually, are average;
Mr Self knows that he is bright and sparkles
in a firmament of iconoclasts and satirists
and all who, disdaining those who build,
delight insatiably in pulling down.
A loyal toast is called, all stand to honour
Mrs Windsor, a born-to-be-contributor,
except for Mr Self who sits in faux humility
too blinkered by a certain sort of cleverness to recognise
a moment of well-worth and generous simplicity.
I heard a whisper through the rain
which drenched the crowd
but not the show;
the underclass was on the move.
I noticed the condescending cannons
of our demi- gods were spiked as
a uniformed flow seeped into stadia,
park and airport lounge alike.
I witnessed a bloodless, peaceful coup
detach some empty bags of air,
supplant at ease the cynic and celeb
with welcome, helpfulness and care.
Armed only with commitment, grace,
good humour, smiles, intelligence,
this people's army has reclaimed
the worth and decency for which we're famed.
Norwich Station : Christmas 2009
To see train travel
as a spiritual exercise
is quaint, admittedly,
but few experiences illustrate
so clearly as a train ride the good
and given ‘arrival and departures’
pattern of our lives.
Where else but on a station
such as this might we see,
minute by minute, played out
the coming and going,
the ebbing and flowing,
the welcome and farewell
and welcome once again?
And so it is with life;
a much-loved companion
passes on: the newest generation
grow and chatter and dance
the dance of life’s delight.
Let not these track-end
buffers tell you otherwise;
there is no terminus,
only a respectful pause before
departures and arrivals begin again.
Pansies – or, Putting the record straight
Pansies struggle with
some unjust connotations:
‘delicate, inadequate, and lacking strength,’
How strange, therefore,
to find these winter flower beds
filled not with manly sunflowers
nor mighty hollyhocks
- no, they have long since gone
as hang-head larders for the goldfinches
and straggled sticks bent sadly
in the winter wind –
but who should grace the
cold damp earth with
colour flash and unimaginable strength?
Viola tricolour, of course!
And so, as well as brightening
these low point days,
the pansy testifies to strength
cloaked in modesty,
endurance concealed within gentleness,
colour in unexpected places,
and promise whilst the world awaits
the Springtime sun.
Here on this point
where first I knew
how I might be,
between the heavens
and the ever moving
the five of us convene.
The man and boy
meet first the child
who pilgrimed to
this sleeping back
of stone, alone,
and stumbled on the gift
Here too we spoke
(long hence, we hope)
of a much older man
who’ll make this journey
in a box of ash,
to free upon the same
as tugged at waterproofs
and blew him into life.
One day the man you will become
may pause and listen to the sounds:
the crying gulls
and booming caves;
the wind streaked sky,
and, beyond words,
hear yet within a
Father’s, Maker’s sigh
the echoed love you heard in mine.
In Juliet’s garden
against the wall we find a seat,
unstrap the little man
and let him crawl upon the slates;
and as he tugs at grass
and fingers grit
we rest from the late summer heat,
in Juliet’s garden.
In Juliet’s garden
on scones and cream and tea
we feast and take our ease,
take stock and joy in
what has been; don’t mind the
avaricious sparrows in the trees
for at this moment
all things are at peace,
in Juliet’s garden.
From Juliet’s garden
the harbour stretches at our feet,
or so it seems;
Scillonian draws her wake
through glittering seas
and I’m content as I have ever been – with you
and him, this summer’s afternoon,
in Juliet’s garden.
Stories at bedtime
Dusk with summer softness
fell upon the close; street games finished
and bikes and footballs rested, silent in the shed.
Then tea and his homecoming
and bath – the same water for all three –
and bed. But as prelude to our sleeping,
first, the Story...
So it was that at this intersection in our lives
we wept at what befell Sam Pig
and found, as he had 30 years before,
our bedroom walls dissolved
and we were there with
Martin Ratler and those other boys
on Coral Islands in the southern seas …
And as the mix of childhood innocence
and games and school and friends
combined with fictional adventurers
from his youth,
his sonorous, comforting monotone
held us safe and sent us
gently into sleep.
In the Dreamtime
native people of Australia found a place
where wisdom from the past
and future hopes with
present needs combined.
The Dreamtime forms a stage
where aspirations can be tried
before they fledge,
and lessons can be learned
from those who’ve journeyed here before.
Alien though it sounds, in truth
the Dreamtime is the very place
wherein the Spirit of our God
receives our best
and blends it with His will.
So in the Dreamtime of your wedding day
two separate lives converge;
past journeys, present work and hopes all merge
and, scented by far eucalyptus, washed by Cornish waves,
your love and skills and blended lives unfurl.
The Bisto Kid
How irksome are the adverts on the telly;
inflated promises and foolish grins
which only serve to interrupt our viewing –
does anyone, in truth, believe their claims?
But when I see the adverts of my childhood,
more wholesome thoughts emerge within my mind;
bright colours, simple words transport me backwards
to memories of more straightforward times.
Of cranes and boats and planes made by Meccano,
of adolescent hair with Brylcream slicked,
of football matches blown across the table
the landscape of my youthful days was built.
As TV adverts blare and flare and fizzle
I view the modern child with a sad eye
and fumble my small change for thee and ninepence
to Sanatogize myself with tonic wine.
So I look upon these ‘ads’ that shaped a nation
and enjoy their earnest wholesomeness and fun;
and pray my grandchildren be discerning
enough to tell the Bisto from the con!
The Blessing Tree
Held by the kitchen window view,
enhanced by a foreground
performance of feeding birds,
this tree contributes a
cast in yellow, soft fluorescence.
Needing little tending
and making no demands
this tree, like so much
that is of God,
offers a simple, gracious gift –
neither sought nor earned
but willingly received.
The Bloomsbury Lady and the Busker
I wonder who the well-bred lady is
and why does she walk this way
Rubber-tipped, her walking stick is worn
to the angle of its laboured planting,
step by step.
Made up and dressed for going out
she adds some extra yardage
the busker’s begging hat. Side slips
his glissing, fluid jazzodies and
Yet when next I glance up from the page,
though tortuously slow of tread,
I wonder who the well-bred lady is
and why does she walk this way
Wandering by the Cam
by way of a recent grand design –
eyesore for some, for others,
elegant and brave: for all now
weathering gently into place.
The busy bridge
gateway to a wider world;
vigilance for bikes; a framed
view of powerful, sleek, co-ordinated
prowess down below.
The green and waterside
broadening space in which
to feel the sun and test
the breeze; time to meet
and greet and let the river
thread together conversation beads.
arena for parental earnestness
and youthful growing into courage,
strength and skill: like life in God –
a place to climb and balance above
the cushion-floor of love.
Immersed in water, the weight
of everyday has leave to lift
and fluid movement takes the place
of burdened trudge.
So in her measured sleekness
through the pool, the ties
of duty, fear of failure, ease
and set her free.
I wonder, was this in His mind
when Nicodemus came by night,
close bound by rules, afraid of risk;
and, gently led,
He took him to the water’s edge
that he might swim within the Spirit’s flow
and know the swirl and movement
of His grace.
After the years of loving toil,
is that the pool in which you swim
will lend its buoyancy to body and to soul,
and in its spacious wetness
bring you peace.
An Autumn apology to my feet
The shortening days and questioning gaze
of passers by declares that soon
you’ll be encased in cotton and leather
shrouds until the warmth and light
of Spring. And sorry am I, my friends,
to see you thus condemned to spend
a season in the blind sweat overheated
depths of sock-shoe hell.
Though even as we brace ourselves for
terrible captivity I glimpse a possible reprieve …
… this year, if snow should fall and no one calls;
‘Keep shut that door against the cold!’
we’ll slip outside and walk, immersed
in crystal whiteness. We’ll pace out
upon the pristine spread, experience
primeval oneness with the tracks of
birds and neighbours’ cats.
And then, as pain sets in,
we’ll step back into the warm, dry off,
and wait until the numbness is displaced
by glow and glorious afterburn
which shouts; ‘The three of us,
my feet and I, are free and
Christmas charity e-cards
I wanted to know that you
were still alive,
so you bought a goat
and emailed me the details.
I hoped to hear your news
muffled echoes came from
you’d paid for in Zaire.
I really wanted to hear that you
but news of the toilet you’d
financed in Uganda
sent my hopes spinning down the pan.
And so I send to you, by post,
proof of my existence,
my news, my love, and hope
that one year soon we
incarnate this virtual relationship!
Advent in the Precinct – after Sir John Betjeman
The bells of waiting cash tills ring,
the Xmas musak plays again,
with lips drawn tight
and knuckles white
the Christmas husbands flit and flee
from cosmetics on to lingerie.
And as the East Coast sea fret swirls
hooded youths and scarce clad girls,
anacronyms in tweed and pearls,
rest wearily by winter flowers
in pigeon-shatted concrete bowers.
Then lads unplug their iPod bungs,
as do the girls and teenage mums,
and Sally Ann led carollers call ‘Come!’
even to shifty ones who’d rather dwell
snug by the fire at the Walberswick Bell.
And is it true? And is there value
in this frenetic Winter fest? Seen in
a wind blown shopping mall, God
slipping in amongst us all? For
if that’s so, then do not tend
to grumble at the cards you send,
begrudge your family and friends,
or panic at your overspend,
but listen out, among the throng,
for that sweet sound: the Angel Song.
The School Nativity Play
The half-remembered fragments
we had heard, the dance routines
and wooden lines all coalesced
into the finished, polished show.
Well drilled yet with enthusiasm
unquenched the children waited,
sang, danced and remembered well
until a final chorus marked the end.
All eyes but mine were on the
fizzing cast – for I had noticed
at the side such pride and joy and
wonder that the rest was quite eclipsed.
And as I watched her face,
so lovely and full of life,
I saw how Jesus again was born
and laid in a bed of eye-sparkle
and how, in excited banter at the end
was heard intermingled, unmistakable,
the angel song played out upon the
well-tuned instrument of pure delight!
The Shree Wise Men (hic!)
The three wise men had no favour nor fear
as they searched for a king in lands far and near
and their journey to find him might well have been clear
but for one fatal weakness – their liking for beer.
After many a turning to left and to right
and as many ‘swift halves’ try as they might
they no longer distinguished their left from their right
so arrived on an easterly seashore one night.
At a local pub called the Marquis of Lorne
they enquired as to where the new king might be born.
The barmaid replied, ‘I have a hunch,
why not try up the hill at the new Suffolk Punch?’
Once more a wrong turn in their search to adore
took them down to the Broad by the old Commodore.
After taking refreshment which rendered them merry
they set off but once more were detained at the Wherry.
They became quite upset and were crying so much, man,
that a kindly young landlord took them in at the Dutchman.
Then they set off again, warned, ‘Don’t stumble or trip
or you won’t find the king but end up in the Ship!’
So it was as they journeyed and stumbled and stammered
they fell through the door of the old Trowel and Hammer.
Said Sid, ‘Sorry, Lads, there’s no king here, hard luck …
but I did hear a commotion in the old stable block …
… and there in the beam of a borrowed torch light
lay a king and a saviour, safe and cosy that night.
Humbly, holy and beery they took in that sight;
as they worshipped the child smiled and said, ‘A’you’a’right?’
Whether fable or true you’ll find in this story
the truth that God chooses simple things to show glory;
that in Jesus God meets us wherever we are
at home in our house or propped up by the bar
and in offering His friendship he takes pure delight
and he means it when he asks of us, ‘A’you’a’right?’
The letter from our surgery promises
an inoculation against
the possibility of catching ’flu’
and compromising my vulnerability
A pint of Winter Warmer and an open fire
inoculates me against
ever doubting that beer
is one of God’s gifts to humanity
A day of cold and driving sleet
inoculates me against
believing that I cannot delay
writing Christmas cards indefinitely
Hearing ‘Away in a manger’
inoculates me against
linking a Victorian Jesus with any
real baby I have known
The lifelong demands of my children
inoculate me against
being the self-centred person
I might otherwise have been
The song my children wrote for me as Christmas gift
inoculates me against
ever believing that,
parentally, I’ve failed
And once again a far-fetched story from Bethlehem
inoculates me against
the myth that Reason holds a
monopoly on Truth and always deserves the final word.
A Star in the East
Framed by our kitchen window
the moon reclined and from
its toe dangled, or so it seemed,
leisurely, a star.
The star hung low above
the pewter sea and shone
a hard, sharp beauty on the air –
promise of frost and cleansing.
Another star hung low above
a winter scene of bulldozers by
a snaking wall and shadow-lit
a young man as he strapped
about himself his destiny and
others’ loss: it raised from
tangled razor wire a gleam
and drew the sentry’s senses till
he glimpsed, beyond the fear
which made him and the bulky
overcoated other kin, a sight,
a sound, celestial and invitingly intense –
the music of Shalom. And as
the longest night gave way to day
the tune played out upon a sea
of burnished copper, beaten
by the wind, and phrased
once more a song of gift and
truth and hope and peace
for us to sing.
Stones on the beach
Forged by cosmic heat,
squeezed by centuries of sediment
then roughed and tumbled by the
restless motion of wind and tide;
shattered and battered by frost and storm …
now held and considered;
the possibilities weighed –
smooth, light grey or white
a suitable base for an inscription;
flecked or freckled –
needing a marvellous story
to be told;
fissured by sparkling quartz
an imperative to the magpie
in us all.
So many stones
so many stories
so many tides
so many lives
held and savoured
in your hand.
All material in this book is the work and property of Ian Fosten.
It may be used elsewhere with appropriate acknowledgement.