Poetry on the Hoof: The (rail) road to Barra


Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you want from a
Wind farm blade.

We’re all going on a beer hunt lads!
From hanging town, brief encounters,
To Holke hang out, submariner sheds,
We’re getting our names up in those causeway lights!


Spot the jogging bishop with a mitre on a Sunday!
We’re talking rhubarb triangle with legs to spare,
A mammoth onion off the old green road.

They’ll split the atom here Bob in the years to come,
There’ll be lock downs, sirens,
Ever Ready for us, the pervasive threat.

Heysham 1, Heysham 2
It’ll be a football score Bob
In the years to come, when we get home.

One goes down, the other goes up
Two little boys Bob, that’s what they’re like,
Seismically protected to Gas Mark 7.

But there’s no more time for:
Haff netting salmon
in the skinny dipping Lune;

No more time for:
Sticking toffee pud
Up the old girls duff.

Cos we’re heading out to Barra,
Prepping for the Somme,
And all her sail in her.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you need from a
Wind farm blade.


It’s a long way to Tipperary,
A very long way indeed Bob,
You’ll be needing your khaki trousers ,
and a hat to shield you from the blaze.

Hats with fascinators fascinating,
Travel hunters hunting and
Heath and safety instructing:
Don’t forget your shorts.

Don’t forget your sun cream.
Don’t forget to write son,
We’ve got your Grand-dad round at Christmas
He’ll want to see you standing


Bloody Merseysiders, Scouse not English?
(Always kicking off in their socks and shades,
A disgrace to king and country,
Just who are they trying to kid Brian?)

Scouse lads! Manx lads!
We’re all in this together lads
Cockney lads! Toon lads!
Even Maccam lads can walk on the Kents Bank waters!

Climbing over ledges,
Diving down in gorges,
Geo-physical, geo-logical,
Geo-temporal, neo-natal.

Head line shock,
Culture block.
Road up ahead,
Detour to the Humphrey Head.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you earn from a
Wind farm blade.


Grange over the sands,
Wind over the waters,
Steam over the causeway,
Fog on the time and we lose our way;
Lights up ahead and we shield our eyes
From the light on the horizon.

Don’t be daft Bob,
It’s just the moon on the river,
No need to stress, no need to sweat,
It’s just another brick in a wall.
No dark lions in the wardrobe,
No more air girls on the dole.

Ulverston oh Ulverston,
I still see your home fires burning,
I still see your water wheels turning,
I still hear your sea winds blowin’,
I still see the dark coal glowin’,
I was 21 when I left Ulverston.

Last wolf in England,
First turn on the left,
Water catches fire,
The air stops breathing,
But we dig deep down for leading lights
Tractors turning, gas flame burning, submarine yearning.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade,
Everything you covet ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.


Cor strike a light!
Blow me down!
If ever I cross this side of town
I’m dead, I’m gone,
A shadow of my former self.

The nuclear dump,
The ever present hump,
Of the guy in the trench,
Standing doubled over the stench
Of the lads in the earth
And the girls in the air,
Waving, waving farewell, adieu, auf wiedersehen,
To their boys on a train sliding into town.

Pink Shap granite, Pink Shap granite
Archaeological dig in bullet rich sand;
Turbine, turbine,
Slicing up the seas in a frenzied fit of
Fission, fusion,
Grasping the cushion of a nuclear safety net of
Caste iron furnace, caste iron furnace,
Grenades to launch ten thousand ships to pieces.

It’s just a rumor that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we’ll be shipbuilding,
Well I ask you
The boy said “Dad they’re going to take me to task, but I’ll be back by Christmas”
We’re all in this together Bob,
It was like this way back when Bob,
Digging our trenches into the heat of the night.

Guiding lights in Barrow lands.
Trig towers point to trig points in the ground.
Landing lights in the estuary guide boats by.
Staging posts act as half way stops mid river.
Help us navigate this wilderness.

Wind farm blade, wind farm blade
Everything you ever loved ‘bout a
Wind farm blade.

Nuclear and linguistic fusion on the Energy Coast

I’ve never been too happy to wander lonely as a cloud up hill and down dale but recent visits to Cumbria and Lancashire are providing me with the chance to explore some of Britain’s most beautiful coasts in the North West: although my early moments have already complicated that stereotype. There’s the huge ship building sheds of Barrow with its history celebrated in Japan; the bleak but impressive outlines of Sunderland Point and it’s sharp reminder of the British slave trade with Africa and the Caribbean of the 18th century; and the nearby nuclear demonology at Heysham Nuclear Power Station conjures up memories of Chernobyl and Fukushima.

For all its claim to being a rural idyll separated from the hurly and burly of city and corporate life, this part of the coast line has powerful international economic significance. Some say that were it not for Barrow’s nuclear submarine building capability, that Britain would find itself cast out of NATO and the G8 power block. The region is known as the energy coast and the preponderance of fission technology on those coast lines is one reason why and also a cause of intrigue and curiosity: why are nuclear power stations built in pairs? How many atoms are split every hour?

The moment you slip off the beaten tracks which connect fission technology to the nation’s defence policy and enter more isolated communities – which have themselves been subject to more than their fair share of societal fission in recent decades – the everyday language for the citizens of those communities shines as startling forms of linguistic flora and fauna.

Whammeling, Haff Netting and the Wynt are not only just great scrabble words but everyday expressions of fishermen and women whose families have lived in the region for over 5 generations. You double take as Nordic surfaces in the conversation and stories of fluorescent plankton disrupting a fathers fishing night spill out into the cold December air.

‘Did you catch anything dad?’ A son asked his father 70 years ago as he set about his nightly task of salmon fishing. ‘No, the nets were on fire’ was the disgusted reply from his dad when talking about the plankton that had coated his fishing net.

Nothing to do with nuclear spillage but the wonders of the industrial and linguistic terrain open up the possibility of some extra-terrestrial apparitions in the not too distant future. I’m still trying to figure out how many atoms were split over the course of the hour that I visited Heysham. Whatever the figure, it will be unimaginably large and no doubt involve several hundred zeroes in it somewhere: more than all the grains of the sand in the world someone says; more than all the Scousers in the world retorts someone else. Impossible, I answer back, but one thing is sure: the mysteries of atomic and linguistic fission won’t be easily solved by a few hours visiting the visitors centre of Heysham Nuclear Power Station.

How would you design the perfect hand grenade?

It’s not a question you might ask of yourself every day but for the students exploring the air field and gun ranges of Fort Walney in Barrow, it’s something that has exercised their imagination for the last 48 hours.

Clearly, you have to be able to hold it comfortably, get a firm grip and be able to pull the pin and not have it explode in your hand which would be completely counterproductive. It should also, to be a truly effective hand grenade, cause the maximum amount of damage to whomever you throw it at: again, it would be a pretty pointless hand grenade should it just fizzle out. That’s why the surface has all those groove marks in it: when it explodes, the grooves provide natural fault lines for the explosive to detonate meaning that it fragments into thousands of pieces of shrapnel which will guarantee the maximum amount of damage possible for a weapon of its size and weight.

Apparently, the guys who designed the original hand grenade also designed a grenade to fit into rifle barrels. They would be shot out of your rifle and travel a great deal further than the ordinary hand grenade would be able to. Also, distinguished by deep grooves in their surfaces, these rifle grenades were the progenitors to latter day mortar weapons, the kind you see being used in Syria, Afghanistan and all those other theatres of modern day warfare we are accustomed to seeing.

So, our art and design students learn that the weapons of choice of the early 20th century were designed in much the same way as the sewing machine or horse drawn cart: paying full attention to form, function and effectiveness. There may even have been aesthetic considerations at play when it came to designing the hand grenade although it’s hard to see what they were.

It’s also hard to imagine a thought process in which earnest young men and women would sit down at a table and engage in some blue sky thinking about what it would take to design the most effective hand grenade. Did they talk about body parts? Mortality rates? Bang for your buck? Or did they do it with one hand over their eyes, pretending not to know what they were doing and perhaps imagining a use for the hand grenade which didn’t involve blowing people to bits? Is there somewhere, in the Ministry of Defence, a portfolio of uses of hand grenades which weren’t deemed appropriate and so have been confined to the dustbins of history?

We shall probably never know that but one thing we do know is that the military industrial complex that is the far North West of England asks some pretty hard questions of its inhabitants and even harder ones of those who live far removed from its difficult debates about warfare, industry, education, design and jobs. Robert Wyatt’s ‘Ship Building’ has never been far from my mind recently: and like Robert, I have the advantage of living a long way away from the centre of these challenging and difficult questions.

The Bog Standard Advisor: The Town Hall, Barrow in Furness

It’s said that Barrow Upon Furness is built the wrong way round; the front of things are at the back and the back of things are on the front.  This is as true of Barrow Town Hall as it of much of its wider urban landscape: so a visitor who has been caught short and is looking for some quick relief will have a problem if they think they are going to find the toilets quickly through the front door.  Because the front door – the one through which would naturally walk – is actually the back door, and what you want to be doing if you’re really desperate, is use the back passage.IMG_1504

Barrow in Furness is also disparaged for being on the end of the railway line; at the outer edge of English civilisation and having the highest concentration of neurotics in the whole of the UK.  Whilst all of this is unfair and none of it true, what is true is that the toilets in Barrow Town Hall are hard to find: but once you’ve found them, they are quite a delightful experience.

The first thing the rushed visitor finds when coming in the back passage is a PRIVATE sign: which hardly encourages you to go any further.  But the hardy, desperate visitor ignores these signs and heads up the stairs and eventually sees the signs they are wanting to see and heads off in that direction with one sole intent in mind.

IMG_1500Once in the cloakroom (and the good burgers of Barrow have called it a cloakroom as opposed to resorting to a cruder nomenclature), the visitor can be delighted by the architecture and the efficiency of the water systems.

Relief is quick and efficient and on the way out, one gains a bit more understanding about Britain’s industrial past at the same time by being able to study and marvel at the history of UK submarine construction for which the town is rightly famous.

Give Us This Day: a Toast to Earnse Bay, Barrow in Furness.

Heaven on Earth? Not quite but not far off.

It’s a well kept secret in Barrow in Furness that Earnse Bay is not much short of heaven on earth. True, there are no angelic choirs, divine instructions from on high or bars which are open 24/7, but what it lacks for heavenly stereotypes it makes up for with sea, sky, coastline and windfarms. And the brooding Cumbrian mountains in the not so far off distance.

If you want tropical bathing: forget it. If you want warm, crystalline seas with more life under the surface than above it: forget it. If you want snorkelling, surfing and all the usual seaside paraphernalia of bingo halls, cheap nasty diners and violent games machines; don’t even bother.

But if you want the priceless liberation of wind on surf and stone, stars in the endless firmament and a brief moment of immortality  then Earnse Bay might just be your destination of choice. Just don’t tell anyone else. No-one wants this heaven to become someone else’s hell just yet.

My Lords, Ladies, Gentlemen and Members of the Jury, please raise a toast to Earnse Bay.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Toast: read all about toasting here.

Shedding the Past: how you can help re-grow Barrow in Furness.

Art Gene want to build a shared community growing space on the Island of Walney in Barrow in Furness, UK, based on permaculture principles, ensuring a holistic approach to sustainable, ecologically sound horticulture, art and design.

They have undertaken many community consultation events which have demonstrated the need for a new, inter-generational self-managed community growing space in the town: and they have been given a 1.5 acre site by Barrow Borough Council for a pepper corn rent to base the project upon.  They have also identified over 50 Barrow residents, some with multiple health and social needs, who are interested in leading and participating in the project.

They now want to deliver a community engagement strategy through which we will grow the community’s knowledge of, and skills in, permaculture by:

* Delivering a two day training programme for up to 20 adult volunteers;

* Host three public ‘growth’ weekend events in April, June and September led by volunteers.

* Organising two day long visits to other exemplar wild flower sites in the North West between April and June for the volunteers;

* Organising a one day celebration event in October which celebrates what they have achieved.

The project will result in:

Providing permaculture skills and knowledge for local people;

Animating a local barren green site with horticulture and design;

Developing a cluster of community architectural spaces on the site.

And they’re getting it done by:

Employing local artists, designers and architects to provide the visual elements

Employing local horticulturalists to support the permacultural elements

How can you help?

You can help in a lot of ways:

Volunteering Team Building skills in how to build and sustain teams,

Volunteering marketing and promotion skills in promotion and communications,

Volunteering to assist with the site development by providing advice on how to sustain a wild flower sanctuary.

Making a pledge to our crowdfunding site which is collecting donations from people from all over the world.  Just click here to see how easily you can help

if you’d like any more information, just drop me a line – and thanks for helping us re-grow Barrow in Furness.

Tips for Travellers: The Furness Railway, Barrow in Furness, Cumbria.

Revisting Old Haunted Haunts.

The Furness Railway is perhaps one of the most evocative, curious and welcoming pubs in Barrow. Seemingly open at all times to all customers, I’ve never heard them say no to any customer, whatever the time of day or nature of the request.

The food is cheap and cheerful; the beers cheap and surprisingly good and the staff welcome unfazed by some of the more feral members of the community who might inadvertently tip their beer over your head.

It might be a part of some large anonymous chain, but the Furness Railway is a unique experience at all times of day to all types of customer. It’s a ‘must-go-to’ haunt in one of England’s most haunted towns.

%d bloggers like this: