Heaven in Ordinarie www.fosten.com
Heaven in Ordinariewww.fosten.com


Thursday 3 August 2023

Once again much water has flowed under many bridges since last I added to this site. No need for tedious explanations, rather I'll offer this selecion of recent birthday pieces and a couple of re-discoveries linked loosely  to this time of year.


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!

............Stones on the Beach...........

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

diminishing intensity.

For hours beforehand

minds, hearts,

lights, heat,

hopes, glasses,

cash till

and nervous need

have been charged,

powered up by

 intense preparation:


queue for admission,

wine and beer;

cue for entrances

and laughs;

queue for a final

curtain call;

cue to receive

plaudit and post-mortem;

cue to leave this place,

this for-a-moment

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

March  easterly,

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 …


nothing accumulated

nothing lost


all held within the mystery

of how

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.




Late Spring

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.



Beach Mardlers

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.







Women’s Talk

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


beach heave

sun glare

heat throb

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.





Harvest Home

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 …


stand off


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,

rarely seen,

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

ravenous seas;

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.


Lowestoft Central


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

called M25?

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.


And yet

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

and growth;

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.



Moll’s Garden

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,

Japanese anemone,

perennial blue daisy,

border pinks

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

every Spring.



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.



The Anniversary

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

and fell.


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,

eventually, un-watched:

the ‘who and how’, remarkably, will yield

a dividend for all eternity.



Dancing Daniel

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.



Olympic Legacy

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,’

I’ve said.

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,

suspended, tension-safe,

between the heavens

and the ever moving

water earth,

the five of us convene.


The man and boy

we are

meet first the child

who pilgrimed to

this sleeping back

of stone, alone,

and stumbled on the gift

of solitude.


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

Atlantic breeze

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,

perpetual waves,

and, beyond words,

hear yet within a

Father’s, Maker’s sigh

the echoed love you heard in mine.



In Juliet’s Garden

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.



The Dreamtime

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

gentle blessing

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

so slowly?


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

to avoid


the busker’s begging hat. Side slips

his glissing, fluid jazzodies and

tapping foot. 


Yet when next I glance up from the page,

though tortuously slow of tread,

she’s gone.


I wonder who the well-bred lady is

and why does she walk this way

so slowly?





Wandering by the Cam

The approach

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.


The playground

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.



Water Born

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,


my prayer


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

marvellously alive!’


Christmas charity e-cards

I wanted to know that you

were still alive,

so you bought a goat

in Ethiopia

and emailed me the details.


I hoped to hear your news

but only

muffled echoes came from

the well

you’d paid for in Zaire.


I really wanted to hear that you

still remembered

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?’






Winter Inoculations

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.


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© Ian Fosten