Category Archives: Love

#15 May Hill

I had thought my precious things were kept in a trunk in my bedroom: the photos, old books of my poems, small carvings, penknives, binoculars. They are not. Within the span of a day, many of these things left the trunk and were hurled into the unknown for God-knows-who to pick up from a roadside and vanish. But they are not my precious things.

J is working on a film this week and wanted props for a scene: writer’s things, notes, effects from boyhood. I have these sorts of things. I packed a selection in my tail-pack, strapped it to the motorbike and headed into a beautiful afternoon. I had caught a glimpse of May Hill the previous weekend as I drove down Tog-Hill (on the edge of the Lansdown Hills behind Bath). Its pine-crested top was quite distinct at almost fifty miles. The ride up was good, though the hill was not signposted at all, so I followed my nose once I’d found Newent. May Hill belongs to the National Trust and is reached over a cattle-grid and a cemented track which leads to a car-park, an easy 25 minute walk from the top.

I parked, and then set about the business of taking off my leathers and assembling my kit. Between the tail-pack, my rucksack, leathers and helmet, I carried around 25kg with me up the hill. It was a steady climb and didn’t take long. From the top, the views seemed unending.


I stripped to the waist, laid my kit around me and settled down for a kip.


Around twenty minutes later, I woke, ate a sandwich and began to write what came to mind:

Facing south west, looking towards Symonds Yat where I was conceived on a January day in 1974. The thought that it would have been cold, so the chance that it was in the back of a car is quite high.

And so. Nothing is perfect; beautiful, purposeful beings are born from small, imperfect beginnings.

Then west, to Gloucester where I came into the world and passed from hand to hand until I came to be in Cornwall with Margaret and Colin, my adoptive mum and dad. They came from a terraced street of brick houses by the railway line in St Austell that held many unspeakable things, and from a likely loveless semi-detached in Sutton Coldfield.

Why did I want to see J’s school?

Because: I want to know her in the past as well as now. The feeling that loving her completely is made more so by following paths she walked as an innocent, inquiring girl, beautiful, free.

The pledge I made I am re-avowing- I want to be complete, the understanding that I am not yet. That, for many reasons too well-known to list, I doubt myself, feel ungrounded, unsure and unsteady often.

Just as I had no control over being born, passed over, raised, sent away, so the need to feel certain about how others feel about me is wasteful, a negative leak of energy. There are things that can’t be known. For every one of us, the mind of another is a vast landscape through which it is a privilege and an adventure to travel.

I love J.

I love her the way otters move in water- the delight, the pleasure of immersion in a medium that lifts and soothes, urges and sustains.

The noise of an animal interrupted my writing. I looked up into the pines that crest the hill, and saw a lone cow loping through the trees. I ran over to see.


Soon, she was joined by others.

IMG_0442They moved smoothly through the glade, the established tenants, then diminished down the westward slope.

I hadn’t much time, as I was to meet J at her mum’s in Cheltenham for dinner and then go to a gig. As I had carried so many unlikely objects with me, I took a few daft shots,


IMG_0431then headed down.

I changed in the woods, surrounded by wild ponies and a few foals. I put the tail-pack on the bike, the rucksack on my back and left the hill behind me. Re-entering Newent, I noticed J’s school which I had cast about for on the way in. It has a clear southward view to the hill. I cruised through the town and, when I joined the B4215, pulled back on the throttle to make up for any lateness. Ten minutes later, I glanced back in my mirror and saw that the tail-pack was gone.

It contained:

  • A book of my own poems from between 1989 and 1997
  • The plaster of paris cast of a sculpture of Joseph’s grandfather (above)
  • A framed photograph of White Horse Hill
  • Notes for my screen-play
  • A glass J paper-weight
  • My Opinel knife
  • Binoculars
  • Two large photos of me from the 70s
  • Camper shoes
  • G-star jeans
  • All Saints shirt
  • A carved Native Indian head

I think I grimaced, said No, and turned around.

A motorbike may possibly be the worst vehicle to have when thrown into an anxious rage, it allows for absolute expression of mind-state through speed, adrenaline channeled through the throttle like a nitro add-on kit. I scoured every inch of the hedgerows all the way back to May Hill. I knew that anyone who saw the pack would want it. The Kriega US-20 is a beautifully made, expensive piece of gadget luggage and this one was brimful of surreal treasures.

At the car-park on May Hill, not a sign. A gentleman in his car informed me of the non-emergency 101 number. As I sped back into Newent, I caught sight of a man at the side of the road, his wife lying on the pavement. Something moved me to stop and ask for help. Steve had just returned from winning an amateur rugby match at Twickenham and had drunk a lot of pints, his wife was too pissed to move. Steve reassured me that he had seen my pack a few hundred yards back and, if it wasn’t there, that it would be in Newent Circle Club. I was incredulous, this wonderful, drunk giant of a man had the answer. We embraced, his height emphasised by being on the kerb, me in the road. I felt like a child. After another emphatic handshake, I mounted the bike and rode into town.

There was no sign of the pack, so I called in to the Circle Club. No pack. No-one knew anything and, moreover, it was now apparent that everyone was extremely drunk. I left my number and began to walk the main street. In the chinese, several casualties said they’d seen nothing. In the Co-op, a girl called for her manager who didn’t show. In The Red Lion, the bar-man took my number, as did the lad in The George which was crammed with eighteen year olds leering and drinking and shouting and swearing. In CostCutters, the woman at the till and a drunk customer both said that it’s a terrible place here, they’ll take anything. This was Newent on a Bank Holiday Sunday.

I was late and felt I had done everything possible within the limits of my diminishing power. I headed for Cheltenham. Still pulsing with fury and loss, I found my driving became more daring. I now know that I am able to lean and take a corner at 70 and I also know exactly what speed I am willing to take my bike to on an empty dual carriage-way between Gloucester and Cheltenham. I think I made the journey in about twenty five minutes.

I arrived and gave J’s mum the white saxifrage I’d brought in my rucksack for her birthday. I chalked MANY HAPPY RETURNS X X X on the pot with a piece of chalk from White Horse Hill. It made me feel slightly better. I was too late for dinner and J’s mum was not well, so I set out to catch up with J en route to the gig. A railway crossing lowered in front of me. I stopped, turned the engine off, dismounted and leaned with my chin on the crossing gates. The train was headed north, bound for Birmingham New Street. It was a train I had been on many times as a child between school and home. I felt many former selves passing before me. The gates raised and, as I accelerated across a junction, I heard a faint shout and, at the same time, knew and saw in the periphery that it was J. I turned around as she ran up the street, pulled over and cast my helmet, glasses and gloves down on the pavement and we wrapped ourselves in our arms. She was crying, I tasted the tears and kissed them. It’s not your fault.

We didn’t go to the gig. We were overcome. There was too much to feel, too much to say without the words. We found many precious things in the course of the night, none more true than how we find each other. We lay against a tall pine opposite the marquee and heard the singer’s voice rumble the fabric. I tasted the lovage in the picnic J’s mum had sent with her. I lay my head in her lap and breathed the air.

My lost things, our lost loves, the lives we once had are now and forever gone, yet somehow still with us. They made us.

We went out then, into the deepening indigo, away from the show and the people. J showed me the caryatids beneath the flat she shared with her first love. Above, a pair of attic windows were flung open to the sky, and I imagined the lovers inside, drifting into the night as ghosts.

#14 OM ugh

OM stands for Orgasmic meditation.


There are OM classes locally (around Bristol and world-wide) that couples can attend.

OM is a meditation, equally powerful for both partners — only the object of focus is the clitoris.


Women lay down, supported by men and OM branded pillows in the church hall/community centre and have their clitorii massaged. Collectively.

When I heard of this, I was disturbed for a number of reasons. Call me a prude, but never has it occurred to me to take my girlfriend out to meet a bunch of strangers and massage her clitoris. I thought that was called dogging. It’s not really crossed my mind to meet up with friends and do it, either.

I’m not against the idea of people engaging with their sexuality to enhance their relationships and sense of self- these are clearly good things. If I felt that something was up in that department, I would definitely want to sort it out.

My negative reactions are based on:

1. The sense that there seems to be a growing consensus that doing your washing in public is not only a good thing, but also intrinsically beneficial/therapeutic.

2. That sex is being turned into a commodity again. That people’s insecurities/dysfunctions are valuable income streams.

Let’s look at 1 first.

When I discussed the public nature of the sessions with my girlfriend (purely in the name of research, things are very nice between us, thanks), she suggested that this group exposure of your intimacy could lead to banishing any damaging, dysfunctional feelings that sex is a dirty, sinful thing. A process akin to confession or an enema. This has some credibility, particularly in British society where we are supposed to be repressed in these matters. However, I would suggest that there is something sexy about naughtiness, that transgression is a turn-on.

What is possibly more concerning is the assumption that doing something in public makes it transformative. Are we to imagine that the adulterous wife baring all to Jerry Springer and the cameras is necessarily changed? Most participants seem to lack the decency to find the process embarrassing, so how far is it likely that they have the moral imagination to move forward from the experience? Put another way, what is to be gained by wanking your missus off in front of an audience, even if they aren’t supposed to be looking? Not having been to an OMing session (sorry for my lack of professionalism, I just don’t want to), I’m not able to say what the demographic is, but there must be a certain amount of exhibitionism going on. The sort of purple-wearing,wholesome folk who might hover on the fringe of a wife-swapping sesh. More linseedy than seedy.

Surely, focussed, reactive counselling from a genuinely qualified practitioner coupled with an honest commitment to personal growth might be a more productive way to overcome sexual anxieties.

2. Take a look at this:

According to the OM shop, Orgasmic Meditation (OM) requires supplies. You’d be best advised to spend $184.97 on various cushions, otherwise sold as The Signature OM Kit. If you’re feeling less flush, you really should fork out $29.99 on that Strokers kit, because clearly Every stroker needs a strokers kit. Worryingly, I have dabbled with a bit of stroking myself, without the kit. Now that I’m better informed, I realise how inadequate this has been. I will get tooled up with: 1 Strokers Bag, 1 OneStroke Lube (full-size), 3 OM Towels 3 Vinyl Glove Sets. How many of these can they have sold?

I have a friend who used to run marketing workshops for companies looking to advertise their products in more engaging, leftfield ways- he called these sessions Quirkshops. I have a tip for those entrepeneurs looking to gain a broader market share for OM. Be honest. Re-brand, and call OM experiences what they really are: Jerkshops.

#10 Way-finding

There is an invisible way. A path less trodden.
Not the path of the righteous, but a way of perceiving direction that leads to treasure, to unexpected beauty and secret pleasures.

I like to walk alone. On days when I’m not called to work, there is particular joy in escape. I pack food and drink, a knife, a book, rarely, a camera, and drive somewhere promising. An old wood, a set of hills far from towns, a series of meanders, somewhere I have read about, it doesn’t matter.
What matters most is the mind I take with me.
I get out of the car, put my boots on and look for the most promising direction. A gleam of sun might draw me, a group of trees, a gap in a hedge. It could be one of millions of clues, but, in the moment, there is usually something that pulls.

Last Thursday, we walked: from Combe, near Wotton-under-Edge, up and into Warren Wood, along Blackquarries Hill, into Ash Wood, followed the line of the hills, then cut down through Tyley Long Wood, then back along the plateau and sharply down, through a long abandoned farm and back to the car.

Written differently, the same journey:

The footpath led directly up and, as I was conscious of limited sun, followed it. We reached a road, but a group of trees, choked with creepers, showed a glimpse of a field shimmering brightly green. We struck upwards, her hand was snagged with briars. I put the skin to my lips. We vaulted the barbed wire and were met by a field of feed-grass that fell away to a view west towards Wales. We saw the old Severn bridge, the Black Mountains. The sun was fierce in her waning. The sky was cornflower blue. The hill led us up and back onto the road, which we followed.
Soon, a wood began to cover the slope below us. A gap in the dry-stone wall invited, we acquiesced. Strange ruins of Cotswold limestone lay beneath ashes and stands of beech. Pheasants clattered out from the undergrowth, then scurried away, heads down. Empty booze bottles, a dismembered t.v., a pair of boots, a single potato- signs of occasional purpose. We abandoned the path as it became water-logged and climbed up, then out into the fringe of a failed corn field. Buzzards mewed overhead. Following the line of the crop led to a stile, then to another field. More pheasants. A cabbage field where even more pheasants fled, one just out of my grasp. A cage of young partridge. The line of the hill ran eastward, but a gate showed a wider, deeper view and we vaulted around it.
Before us, the Severn estuary snaked below the Forest of Dean, the towers of Avonmouth blurred into Oz. The blaze of ash and beech embers drew us lower, we followed the edge of Ash Wood. A spring welled up from the side of the hill, easily forded by walking the boulders that stood alongside. We leapt between clods of turf across a swathe of mud, then took our rest on an outcrop of rough grass just at the fringe of the wood. We drank all the mulled wine from the Thermos in one sitting.
We were shown an enchanted vision of the world.
A narrow channel of vistas and diminishing perspective- visible only from here- ran out north west across the Cotswold valleys, out across the Severn towards Herefordshire and the Marches, the mountains misty at the horizon. Saving one white cottage, there was no other sign of mankind.
Drunk with fortune and fondness, warmed with wine, we delved straight down through the steep-sloped woods. We forded the stream by edging across strong, pliant boughs of hazel coppice.
The sun was failing, igniting the colours of beech leaves at the fringe of Golden Knoll Wood. We went upwards amongst sheep and rising terraces of hillside until we reached the summit, the opposite side of the valley. An executive helicopter passed close overhead as I planted a foot deep into cow shit. I would not trade my place.
At the last, a sudden, skipping descent and cautious approach toward a farmhouse. My boot crackled the electric fence. No dog. No people and, as we emerged into the courtyard, it was clear the farmhouse was long-ruined. We walked inside. An door-less pantry, a crate of empty milk bottles mottled with an even, thick film of dust. Upstairs, armchairs and a sofa watching a bare wall of brick, decades without an incumbent. The glass-less windows held a view of our journey, the valley framed and lent an air of solitude. As we left, we peered into what was once a kitchen, Corona orange juice bottles extant only barely within memory, dozens of empty pickling jars. There were other, darker places, unlit corridors leading to dank, airless spaces we daren’t even look at.
We left, crossed the bottom of the valley and found the car.
We were charmed in the rain in Wotton-under-Edge, drank gladly in The Star, returned to the city.

The way found us, we let it and were led.
I like to walk alone, but now, when she will come with me, I choose not to.