Headington Poetry Competition 2002:
Adult entries



Headington (Chris Charvill)

There is an indifference
Stifled by the ring
Of a key-cutter’s bell
Smiling on a Monday morning
After the school run.

There is a coolness
Except in the cycle-shop welcome
Of a courteous old man
Wondering aloud
How to adapt stabilisers
To fit a tiny red
Mountain bike.

There is a dullness
Forgotten on entering
A musty subway
Illuminated by the story
Of changing commerce,
A headless shark
And a Manor game
Never ending –
Never lost.

There is an emptiness
Filled with a baker’s pastry
And a hot chocolate
Topped with whipped cream
Taken alfresco
With the traffic fumes.

There is a melancholy
Broken on encountering
In Headington Hill park
After the rain.


Virtually speaking (Lionel Horner)

Modems and graphics
And “Microsoft” data;
Files for encrypting
And storing till later;

Unheard-of software
For changing a scene;
Myriads of aspects
To clutter my screen.
But when my mood’s right
For my “Hard Drive”
And my “Desk Top” zings,
Here are a few of my favourite things:
I can play games with Headington spaces,
Replacing eye-sores with trees;
Highlighting Green Zones and clicking on “Keep”,
For those London Road beeches and Doris Field’s Park,
Bury Knowle’s beauty but little else.
Yet I can close London Road and run GTE*
From Carfax to Thornhill.
I can take all the fumes from Headington’s roads,
Encouraging walkers to shop till they drop
From bright new stores “Opening Soon”
In tree-lined boulevards coded maroon.

Arcades with pavements; yet no trace of defacement;
No need for subways or Utopian replacement.
All I need is some magic pen, millions of pixels,
and time without stint
To demystify the Virtual and PRINT!
So come back again, Sir Christopher Wren!

* Guided Transport Express


The Scholar Yuppie or The Destruction of the Headington Green Belt, AD 2010 (Clive Jenkins)

Part I

Site manager, a call’s in from Wick Farm,
Deep trenches crumble, the new access road,
Stanton to Barton, cannot bear its load,
Go problem-solving: do not leave
Thy ripe-tongued brickies o’er their brew to grieve.

But when the building gang
For ten/twelve lagers to The Fox have gone,
And only shy Rottweilers sometimes moan,
Cross and re-cross th’arc-lit secure zone,
Come, manager, we’ll finish the inquest.

Here, where earth-movers were of work of late,
In this razed field’s bleak corner,
Ensconcèd in my Nissen I will wait,
While to my ear from Beckley close at hand
Is sound of juggernauts unloading borne,
The plaintive shouts of navvies spur them on,
The hum and bustle of a ravished land.

Exposed my hut in this half-flattened field,
In grubbed-up hedgerows shrivel final flowers,
And I, through dying vegetation, spy
John Radcliffe crushing out its facing hill;
Then the eye travels down to Northway’s towers.

To hand on website OCC’s report –
Come let me scan the turgid prose again:
The story of that Magdalen postgrad poor,
Of raptor parts and highly num’rate brain,
Who, tired of knocking at De Montfort’s door,
One summer morn, forsook the Inst. Stat. and the MCR,
Joined some hard grafters on fair London’s Strand,
The globe encircling with that merry band,
And came, all persons knew, to lots of loot,
And played his Oxford network evermore.

Part II

Hence two college fund-raisers whom erstwhile he knew,
Discreetly of his private schemes inquired,
“I am,” he said, “by a small thought inspired
Which, worked up, I’ll to you alone impart:
But for the moment please just shake my paw,
For it needs well-placed sweet’ners for this art,
Many the out-turned palm and slavering jaw!”

Was our yuppie as a fresher wont to roam,
Tread underfoot our fertile green-belt loam,
Trample the spring-wheat and harass the cow:
Elsfield, Beckley, Stanton, Forest Hill,
Knew him a wanderer then – so why not now?

In three days he’d submitted his report;
“Foregone conclusion” is the plain retort,
“The land the colleges own hereabout
Should something richer than green barley sprout.
M40’s corridor needs flats, not fields:
Too quaint to linger with mere cereal yields!

Shotover – I suppose – we’ll have to spare,
But Barton to Beckley’s useless, green and bare,
Likewise from Risinghurst to Forest Hill
Vacuous vistas screaming for infill!”

O see the bursars, other landlords join
To grab the realm’s as yet unEuro’d coin:
And Whitehall briefings sanctified the move.
Backhanders you allege? You cannot prove.

The three slow-witted councils did their best,
There was the usual in-vain protest,
Its babble of green fields and unspoilt land
Stifled by slow, inexorable, ministerial hand.
Around a billion was made and spent,
Our man for his part taking ten per cent.

With profound apologies to the shades of Joseph Glanvill,
Matthew Arnold, and John Betjeman


The Haunting of Headington (Adrian Williams)

The night came round when Old Nick said, “Now listen, Cap’n Bob –
You’re up for haunting, on parole – so get on with the job.”
Said Cap’n Bob, “Is this a job with pension rights tacked on?”
“No lip – get off your butt – and you can start with Headington.”

Thought Bob, “I’ll start at Manor Road, I’ll soon give them a fright.
I’ll float my ghostly chopper down, this very Tuesday night.”
No lights – no stands – no turf – no team – no servile crowds to please:
They’d cleared the whole damn lot away and gone to Blackbird Leys!

He thought, “I’ll try the Labour Club, it’s only Windmill Road.
I’ll scare them witless when they see me back, or I’ll be blowed!”
He swaggered up and shouted out, “It’s Bob, all is forgiven!” –
But what he found was bijou flats, for decent folk to live in.

“Hell’s bells,” he thought, “This haunting lark is thirsty work – not ’arf!
I’ll stop by at Top Fruits and nick a melon, for a laugh.”
He haunted Kennett Road, right round the corner – to a stop.
Top Fruits was gone, and now they say there’ll be a betting-shop.

“Blow this,” Bob said. “I think I’ll just nip over to the Hall.
As council tenant, I’ve a right to haunt them, after all.”
They said, “Just stand in line and wait your turn, dear, if you please –
You’ll not get into Brookes, you know, with lousy Grades like these.”

Old Nick said, “Now then, Cap’n Bob – how’ve you been getting on?
It’s been a little quiet of late, and dull while you’ve been gone.”
Bob flopped into a chair and stuck his hand out for a beer.
“Stuff haunting for a lark,” he said, “I’m better off down here.”


Where I live (Mary Hanna)

Headington is home to me,
Has been, since I was seven.
It has changed so much, over the years,
Not always for the better, I fear.
But I love it still, in spite of that;
I am older now and live in a flat.

Everything has to change of course,
Progress they call it, for better, or worse.
I miss the shops that once were there,
A shoe shop, clothes shops, fishmonger too,
Butchers, greengrocers, all too few.
When is it going to stop?

But dear Bury Knowle Park
With its wonderful trees,
Flowers, and wide open spaces
Is still there for us to sit and admire;
The children can play and run a bit wild.
Let us pray they don’t take that away!

As I ride round on my electric scooter
On pavements I once used to walk,
I can still stop and stare, meet passers-by,
Say “hello” now and then, stop for a talk,
Smile at a student living near by
Or a harassed Mum, with too much to do.

As my poem now draws to its close,
I would very much like to propose
We all of us put ourselves to the test
In keeping Headington at its very best,
Make it a place in which we have pride:
Headington is a lovely place to reside.


ALL OTHER ADULT ENTRIES (in random order)

A Seasonal Ode to Quarry and Risinghurst (Dee Sinclair)

O(de) to be in Risinghurst
Now that winter’s here,
The buses have stopped running and the pub ran out of beer.
Mr G has sold his fireworks, the kids have let them off.
When residents objected, they told them to “Sod off!”

Now Quarry has its problems,
There is no youth club here.
With residents consulted,
“A youth club here? No fear!”

But Keith Dalton’s team is winning,
And the Morris men are fit
(for nothing, some might say)
For a Boxing Day performance
When King George has his day.

Will HAMATS solve the problems
Of rat running, parking and queues?
In the season of consultation
Did they ask us for our views?

Christmas will soon be upon us,
Perhaps the rat runners will give us a break
And queue up at Green Road Roundabout
Or McDonald’s for a minced-up steak?

At last! Respite from all those committees
With so many decisions to make.
If you intend
Plans to extend
Please give your councillors a break!

Subway Art (June Whitehouse)

There’s a house – a child and a dog
Running in Bury Knowle Park.
That’s the place for a game and a slide,
Where birds may sing and dogs will bark.

There are houses in St Andrew’s Road.
Where are all the people?
Inside St Andrew’s Church?
Our lovely church – is there a steeple?

Go to “Reg” the veg
For an apple a day.
Not so easy – John and the apples
Have gone away.

If you trip on the pavement
Casualty’s not too far.
An ambulance will take you
Fractured and bleeding to the JR.

That shark may shock you,
Startle or inspire –
But look closer, the artist
Forgot the telephone wire.


Hooray for Headington (June Whitehouse)

The trees and seats are a treat,
Sit, relax, or chat with friends,
Look down and under the seat –
Chips, paper, food and fag ends!

The pavement slabs are a tripper’s delight.
My friend went crash – is in much pain,
Plucking up courage
To go shopping again.

Read the notice boards,
With news for all the locals –
But not if you are short
And you wear bi-focals!

Most shops have staff
Who are courteous and kind,
Game for a laugh
They help us unwind!

Hooray for Headington!

Imagination (Sharon Brown)

Headington is the place to be,
It’s full of interesting shops etc. you see,
With the Queen of Hearts bakery, Somerfield, Co-op too,
It has lots of charity shops for you to go browsing through,
Not forgetting B2.
Round the corner Clovers, Styles, lots more to be,
But let’s not miss out the subway near Boots chemist true,
It’s filled with such beauty, art and class you see,
Cheering me up every time I pass it to see,
A special place to love eternally,
This is what Headington means to us now,
On going you too will see
It’s as pretty and small as we need to be,
So we can enjoy it, you, them, and me.

The Ward’s Prayer (with apologies to the Author) (Stephen Tall)

Arthur, Who art in Headington,
Hallowed be Thy name;
Thy subway has come;
Thy painting done;
On London Road, as it is in Headington.
Give us this day, Stephanie,
Our daily read (of
And forgive us our Webmistress,
As we forgive those who canvassed against us.
And lead us now into the Area Committee;
But deliver us from the Town Hall.
For divine is our Headington,
Its power, and Its glories,
For ever, and ever.


Property doom (Stephanie Jenkins)

An acropolis covered with housing,
Mount Helicon’s muse-free estate;
The property market is buoyant,
Yet Headington sinks with the weight.

A deceptively spacious sardine tin,
A period house built last June;
No room for a Headington laundress
To fix up a washing line soon.

The allotments and gardens are shrinking,
The heating’s the only thing green,
But there’d be a fine view over Marston,
If it wasn’t for the houses in between.

The Manor Ground’s now worth twelve million –
Who sold it for six is an ass.
(But how can it be a brownfield site
When it only has green grass?)

The attics come ready converted
(No room in the roof for a shark);
The flood-plains of Marston now beckon –
How much rental per cubit an ark?

A house at the foot of a garden
Is a most unattractive des res;
But developers abhor a vacuum
And the planning officials say Yes.

Who on earth can afford all these houses,
When they start at 200K?
And what comfort is it to have one
When the ladder is then kicked away?

Headington’s famed air is polluted,
The traffic stands still on the roads;
The developers drive away laughing
To their spacious country abodes.

Subways (Gwynneth Cooke)

There was once a time, not that long ago
When I wouldn’t be seen in a subway.
Grey dismal places, all murky and damp,
I’d sooner cross over the roadway.

My steps are now slower,
The eyes not so sharp,
And the speed of the cars
Is not good for my heart.
The time had come, I had to say,
To cross the road by the old subway.

But what a shock! How times have changed
And this time for the better.
Where was that dark and murky hole?
Where were the smells and the damp?
Replaced by paintings, bright and clear
Of shops and cafés, flowers and banks.

And that’s not all, I soon found out:
The subway at the roundabout
Is also bright and sunny.
Children running, hopping, skipping,
They almost come to life.
I’m sure that is my neighbour’s child,
The third one on the right.

So thank you all who made this change:
And brightened up the view.
Although it takes much longer now,
There’s always something new
To take your eye and make you stop
And take a second look.
“I didn’t notice that before” –
It’s better than a book!

Time and Elegance (Norman Blanks)

When Oxford was a Saxon town,
And oxen churned its ford around,
High on the hill that then looked down,
There stood a place of high renown.

Here Ethelred the King would stay,
The “well advised”, as he would say.
This Elegance that once held sway,
Time has pulled down and swept away.

What would have C.S. Lewis made
Of traffic bombing down the Slade,
Of cars queued back while blocking trade,
Of shops that close that never paid?

Grocers, butchers, PC shops, gone.
No Shergolds now, nor Edginton.
The petrol pumps stand all alone,
And Time’s called “Time” on pubs well known.

And what was Tolkien’s Hobbits’ fear?
Did Gandalf meet a grander seer?
And Gollum, did he really hear?
Yes. Time was what swept mountains clear.

Screams of mothers while bearing young,
Screams of babies as hymns are sung,
Screams of children when bell is rung.
Time comes to still the youthful tongue.

And those that joined United’s roar,
“Death to Swindon. We want four!
Come on you Yellows, up and score!”
Till Time blew “time” and waved: “no more”.

The Flying Shark, the Dancing Feet,
That once looked on to New High Street.
In Headington’s quiet retreat,
Time and Elegance truly meet!

Subway Art (Reg Burnley)

Have you seen the subway
With art upon its walls?
Depicting Headington’s many shops,
Trade, commerce and all?
St Andrew’s Church is there as well,
And children in the park,
Not to mention “what’s his name”
And that blooming shark!

But why do some people
Risk their life and limb,
By dashing over this main road
And never going in?
In the subway, where it’s safe,
Then paintings they will see,
Instead of wasting medics’ time
In the JR’s “A and E”!

Lament (Adrian Williams)

“… assistant city centre manager, Ms Sophie Lancaster, has been seconded to the Department for Transport, Local Government, and the Regions, for 12 months” (Oxford Times, 1 March 2002)

Sitting at her little space
In Chancellors, she had a base
As Czar of Headington to plan
Improvements for the common man.
But we’ ve lost Sophie Lancaster,
Seconded to DTLR.

She beguiled our humdrum day
And showed there is a better way,
With birches, benches, bright new lavvies,
Kerbstones laid by gangs of navvies.
But they’ ve moved our morning star
To distant D of TLR.

Who can guess the deprivation
We have borne, with this translation?
She’d have got us heated bus seats,
Christmas lights like Regent Street’s –
But now our Sophie is incar-
-cerated in DTLR.

Has Chancellors no brave young men
To woo and lure her back again,
With flowers and jewels to adorn her,
Seated in her splendid corner?
Bring her back, lads, from afar
And Damn the DTL and R!

An unrequited Headington Love Story? (Richard Jeffery)

In Bury Knowle Park he was first smitten
When she walked by with her white German shepherd dog.
His heart felt tight, he thought right
This must be love at first sight;
He sat there, mouth open, all agog.

He thought she was a goddess from Olympus,
The lady with the sanguinolent hair,
Aphrodite with a purple pooper-scooper,
Who didn’t even notice he was there.

He hopelessly tried to make eye contact,
But she didn’t want to play his mating game.
She was playing hard to get,
And yet, he thought, I bet
She will answer if I ask the doggie’s name.

He thought she was a goddess from Olympus, etc.

But when he turned the corner, she had vanished,
Vanished like a phantom in the gloom.
He could have died, he could have cried,
He felt an emptiness inside,
Yet the air hung heavy with her sweet perfume.

He thought she was a goddess from Olympus, etc.

So he placed a lonely hearts ad in the Co-op,
To the lady with the sanguinolent hair.
He’ll go insane with the pain
If they never meet again,
But she doesn’t do her weekly shopping there …

She goes to Somerfield!

The Ballad of Steffy, Frank, and Arf (Arthur Treherne)

Headington subway decoration, the funds were running low,
We spoke to Frank the mastermind, he said, “Here’s the way to go:
We’ll hit the post office, the jewellers, or the bank.”
The first two proved quite tricky, so a plan was hatched by Frank.

Steffy would be standing by with her getaway bike prepared,
Her chain was freshly lubricated, her nostrils slightly flared.
No-one heard the drilling in the bank vault because of traffic passing by,
Arf only had a blunt hand drill, slow going, but he did try.

By eight o’clock next morning, he’d extracted half a brick,
He’d bashed his thumb for the umpteenth time, and was feeling pretty sick.
Steffy had long since gone home, Frank was taking stock,
“Look, there’s got to be a better way, perhaps we could pick the lock.”

He was getting very jittery now and looked a worried man,
Steffy had just oiled her bike again with a worn-out oilcan.
Arf grumbled, “I give up, my fingers hurt, my thumb is going bad;
Furthermore this drill is bent” (an heirloom from his dad).

Steffy, who’d lost her bottle now, said, “This bank raid must stop,
We’ll have to do it legally, get funding from the top!”
Her superior attitude took us by surprise, Frank told her to “take care”,
She flounced off, falling over her bike, oil dripping everywhere.

It’s turned out the moral of this story is to pursue the right and legal way,
Seek proper funding from local groups for a bright, cheery subway.
The bank job (unlike this story) was a dismal failure,
The usual suspects being reassembled, more funding to secure.

“A Community Centre for Headington”, Steffy suggested was a cause:
When the residents were informed, it was greeted with applause.
A ransom was Frank’s cunning plan, to get on the right track,
So the Area Committee was selected as the people to hijack.

Steffy, polishing up her bike, gave a worried cough,
She always used long words and sounded like a toff,
Said, “I regret having to resort to non-egalitarian modus operandi,
And after some consideration there must be a better policy to apply?”

She’d had Williams tune her bike with wide wheels and a turbo 3-speed,
Arf, a defrocked thespian, replied, “Madam, of this you’ll have no need!”
The Committee, locked in the meeting room, didn’t get the desired effect,
No ransom money was forthcoming, no pennies did the villains collect.

With yet another plan having failed, the gang disposed of the evidence,
Carefully hiding the Councillors and Planners behind a fortified fence,
Down in the Headington Subway with subliminal images to impart;
As they slowly decomposed they were heard to say, “Surely this ain’t art?”

But late at night Steffy crept back and released the captured souls,
Muttering, “You lot behave yourselves or we’ll have a change of roles,
Plan gardens, fountains, leafy streets, green spaces must abound,
An environment of which to be proud, where solace can be found.”

A dying breed  (Frank Cummings)

“Ye Olde Shoppe” stores
Quaint remnants of the past,
Yet to be swallowed by a monolith
Stay fighting ’til the last.

Each given service sixty years or more
Whilst being a meeting place for those
Who wish to jaw and share their tales before
Buying chattels if so disposed.

Old man Time and Mrs Elegance
Will lend a listening ear and care
Whilst stocked so high with locals’ jewellery
And many another important repair.

Old man Williams’s clan & Anne
With spanner hands and bikes pre-dating the car
Clink and clank and turn a pedal.
“All done! There you are.”

Old man Ford and Bob his son
With homeware pre-dating world wars
Both hard-wearing as the goods they sell
Still fighting for the cause.

When all is done, and doors clang tight
Where will their customers go?
Not to our monolithic giants
For they’ll not want to know!

So, keep on using “Ye Olde Shoppie” band,
Be supportive and lend a hand
Before one day you turn around
And say, “Well, I’ll be damned!”

Jubilee Party (Reg Burnley)

The Queen has reigned for 50 years,
A cause for jubilation.
Bring out the bunting and the flags,
Let’s have a celebration!

Elizabeth our monarch
Has made her subjects proud,
And here in sunny Barton
We’ll sing her praises loud.

Set up the party tables
Bring the children in,
Enjoy this precious moment
That may never again be seen.

So let us all be mindful
When toasting Her Majesty,
To wish her all the very best
On her Golden Jubilee!

Area Committee Blues (Stephanie Jenkins)

(Dedicated to the twelve city councillors of the North East Area Committee)

From Headington Quarry and Marston,
From Barton and Wood Farm estates,
We rush off to school without supper
To attend city council debates.

A hiveful of bees in our bonnets,
With axes and teeth set to grind,
We wait for our own Open Session
To stand up and speak out our mind.

From toddlers’ to pensioners’ forums,
From dogs’ mess on pavements to rats,
From trees and allotments to traffic,
We drive local councillors bats.

The planning takes up half the business
(Developers want every space);
The tempers on both sides get heated,
But Ms Christian keeps all in their place.

The caretaker glares at the meeting:
He’d like to lock up before nine;
The LibDems start yawning and slumping,
Labour nods in consensus this time.

Farewell to the Manor Ground (Richard Jeffery)

With an atmosphere electric,
I swear it almost glowed,
We cheered the mighty yellows on
From the London Road.

Through good and bad, through thick and thin,
We cheered them on until
The whole of Oxford did salute
The boys from up the hill.

I still recall those glory days
Which gave me lots of pleasure.
I still have the programmes
And the memories to treasure.

The championships, the cup success,
And all that there has been,
Of Hamilton and Aldridge,
Of Atkinson and Skeen.

This year I watched with misty eye
As the fateful day came round,
And bulldozers finally moved
Onto the Manor Ground.

The turf’s now gone, the lights are down,
The stands are rubble and rust.
And all those ghosts of yesteryear
Lie buried ’neath the dust.

Ode to Headington (Frank Cummings)

Dear Headington, with all its endearing old charm
Which I gaze on with fondness these days,
Were it to change in the ’morrow, with my eyes unarmed
Like sunlight fading away,
All would still be adored, for the moment thou art,
While its beauty fades as it will,
And around the lost sights the beat of my heart
Would enrapture its beauty still.

Headington (Gillian Clarke)

I love this place called Headington,
I’ve lived here all my life;
Nothing can convince me
There’s anywhere more nice.
So come along to Headington
And sample its true worth
Old, new and different
You’ll find without a search.

The Subway (Gillian Clarke)

If you visit Headington for a shopping spree,
Park your car and walk a bit to see our artistry
— the SUBWAY.
Colours, shapes and stories are sure to make you blink,
Depicted in a way that you could never think.

Paintings of shops and stories that have thrilled us for so long,
Created for posterity in colours vibrant and strong.
So thank you all the folks who have made this landmark bright
With hours of toil and humour to create this pleasing site.

Electric Aids  (G. Cotton Knight)

(1) To Headington:

On February 1st we landed
Our odds and ends in tow,
’Twas Headington to be our base
Of which, we didn’t know.

We cleaned and so dismantled
The shelves upon the walls
Applied a lick of Sandune
To enhance the look for all.

We notified the local press,
Prepared for the big day
And there in all our glory
We planned very much to stay.

The business now is booming
Our name is getting round
Although a few still wonder
If we had gone to ground.

So here’s to all our futures
And friends along the way
That we will meet in passing
During the working day.

(2) Our thriving business:

For forty years Electric Aids
Has traded well, by far,
But now to new abode we go,
To Headington, not far.

We do supply all sorts of spares,
Elsewhere you’d never find,
So when that wheel falls off your thing,
Please do keep us in mind.

We’re here to mend your hoovers,
To keep your carpets clean,
But most importantly of all,
To mend your wash machine.

We’ll do our best to get them fixed
Within a week or two,
But Barry is our only gent
We have to see this through.

He also makes some house calls
To see you in your home,
Whilst Grace is always nearby
In the shop if you should phone.

There’s Alan with his knowledge
Of six years under his belt
And Richard with ideas
Of what new to put on shelf.

We’re widening our range of stock,
Appliances galore,
We’ve kettles, irons and toasters,
And hey! come in, there’s more.

And should you then require our help,
A question then or two,
We’ll do our utmost that we can
In order to help you!

On Passing a Roadside Auction of Featherbeds (Brian Aldiss)

Lake District, 1845 (courtesy of Harriet Martineau)

Wordsworth is growing old
And the great world too.
Not least this Rydal Mount
We are passing through.
The roadway needs repair:
Its ruts and boulders jar our heads.
But then we come upon
An old man selling featherbeds.
He is holding an auction of sorts
And from villages round
Or from farmsteads far apart
Come in crowds to cluster
About the man’s cart:
A sandy-coloured crowd,
Many men in cords,
Some with the straggling white whiskers
Which labouring age affords,
Old women in bonnets,
A girl passing fair,
Tousle-headed children with puppies,
A youth leading a mare.
We pass, as the country folk
Jostle about, elbowing, eager to buy
The goods, old, newish, bespoke.
Thinking on this, our poet
Falls into gloomy meditation.
At least a new edition of his poems
Is in preparation.

Well, even in old age
We must fight our own battles.
The time draws near when
We won’t need our goods and chattels.

Headington is the Kingdom of Squirrels (Ann Mori)

From his palace high above the leafy spires of Bury Knowle Park
The squirrel emperor reigns over all that he sees.
And he sees all of Headington,
Dispatching his trusted lieutenants to locate every nut tree in every garden no matter how small.
Their reports arrive back into the very brain of the kingdom at remarkable speed.
Long lines of tail thrashing flow from source to receiver in a soundless wave front of flashing code,
Far outstripping the smoke signal, or even the mobile phone, in terms of efficiency and fidelity.
Atop the park, the emperor concerns himself with directing his scribes
As they continually update the squirrel domesday book
Wherein every tree and every buried nut are duly recorded,
Together with the squirrel census and the location of each squirrelly abode,
Especially the unconventional.
Dangerous cats and where they lurk are catalogued
As are humans who have paid homage with lavish gifts of favourite squirrel-ish foods.
In autumn, legions of foot-squirrels scamper throughout Headington harvesting and burying in a systematic furry frenzy.
The patting of thousands of little feet making safe the buried nuts can be detected as far away as Tibet
On the right instrument.
Overseeing the refurbishment of cat-proof drays fills the run-up to Christmas.
Whereupon the entire kingdom knocks off for the end-of-year holidays,
Feasting on exotic nuts, dates, cakes and other offerings scattered festively about gardens.
Snuggled in for the winter Headington squirrels doze through wet dark days and filthy nights,
Twitching to life for the occasional flawless sunny morning or bright afternoon to
Stage the movable Squirrel Olympics at a thousand venues:
Astonishing pursuits through trees, long jumps connecting suicidal distances high in the air;
Speed skidding over icy puddles in random directions, and balance-beam routines across snow-covered power lines.
Not to mention slapstick competitions, magical escapes and vaguely worrying genius break-ins,
Manic floor-exercise choreography strings together forward flips, backward and sideways flips,
And Harrier-like leaps straight up into the air with all four feet extended, accompanied by tail-work of unsurpassed virtuosity. And we are watching.
Blazing images of exuberant furry anarchy utterly disarm us.
In micro-seconds we are free, weightless, worry-less, soaring up through the trees with our brothers and sisters,
The squirrels of Headington.

Like the turning of a giant wheel, seemingly innocuous activities
Inexorably move squirrel society on from the jollity of communal winter
To the single-mindedness of imminent material responsibility.
Dray-mending, nest-lining and the bloody-minded eviction of one’s housemates
Are the hallmarks of squirrel pregnancy and the squirrel equivalent of decorating the nursery.
Newborn squirrel babies need their mother’s milk and their mother’s warmth.
Leaving the dray for a quick meal and perhaps an even quicker kip are her only respites.
When April coaxes the darling toddlers to peer enthusiastically,
And occasionally a bit foolheartedly out of dray’s door
Mother’s fears focus absolutely on gravity.
Luckily her babies scramble up the tree, not down.
Where we learn to crawl and then to walk, Squirrel children first climb up,
And turn and climb back down head-first.
Jumping from limb to limb is not the sort of thing one works up to incrementally
Above a moggy audience praying collectively for a few tasty slip-ups!
That most babies survive this zero-tolerance classroom is testimony to mother squirrel’s skill.
Quickly progressing from supervised learners to licensed drivers speeding
Along squirrel highways breathlessly
Arriving by the seat of their furry pants simultaneously
To summertime and young adulthood.
Just in time to join the general exhilaration of the summer season,
Filled as it is with lashings of bird seed, succulent flower buds and
the odd tender vegetable.
What extravagant good fortune being a squirrel in Headington.
More so for us.
The Squirrel Kingdom overprints our human society
Like a gossamer net drifts over an apple tree,
Covering all yet covering nothing.
Send out the word to those who seek escape in a parallel universe.
Be of good cheer!
It is already here!
In Headington!

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