For each generation, the lyrics that stick are different.

But something’s sticking. It’s sticking even when you don’t know it. And over there, in the future, the reminiscence gurus are trawling the past to find it.

It sticks best in childhood. The brain’s busily storing tunes to underwrite everything, the melodies for measuring beauty and meaning (See Red Roses for a Blue Lady).

So what you sing (if you sing) to your children and nephews and nieces, or what they watch and hear, is going to matter. One day it’ll be a resource like no other.

The theme tune to Sarah and Duck, for example, is currently being filed mentally by thousands of bairns. In 80 years, if they hear it, they’ll perk up immediately, they’ll say quack in all the right places. It’ll be—trust me—a comfort served in a whirlwind.

So, are you of the Bagpuss generation? That would mean born late sixties maybe, though parents and aunties and uncles of sixties’ kids will also remember Bagpuss because there’s a second generation thing where we learn songs later, with our children.

I missed Bagpuss. That’s to say it was going on at some distance, but I was grown-up by then and it wasn’t cult with my friends, unlike The Magic Roundabout which students gathered to watch in the common room when I was at university. Star Trek, The Magic Roundabout and some royal wedding or other—those were the things that filled the TV room! But The Magic Roundabout is just tune, so it wouldn’t work too well for reminiscence, unlike Trumpton.

(In my head the names of the Trumpton fire brigade are already shouting themselves: Hugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb!)

I wasn’t around for Bagpuss, so I’ve come late, but not too late, to the Mending Song, a ‘round’, sung in the little high voices of the mice. And such magical words.

Last week at Lumb Bank, while Linda Goulden and I were singing Mending Song, twice people came into the room, their faces lit up and they said, ‘Isn’t that Bagpuss?’ They were the right generation. They’ll know that song forever.

The song of the Bagpuss mice, though short, isn’t just a silly little tune. It’s a spell, a spell for making things right, things gone far wrong. It’s the spell of the fixers, the quiet little under-pinners, the tiny busy determiners, who work at putting things back together, no matter how broken they may be.

Stuff Auden, Eliot, Plath and Dickinson – today, anyway. When it comes to fixing sadness, I’ll take the Bagpuss mice.

We will find it, we will bind it,
We will stick it with glue, glue, glue
We will stickle it
Every little bit of it
We will fix it like new, new, new.




  1. Read submissions up to date.

2.  Respond to submissions.

3.  MyHermes to go.

4.  Legal deposits etc for ICO.

5.  Take decisions.

6.  Register new titles.

7.  Get cover designs sorted for Cursive.

8.  Go to the dentist (don’t be late).

9.  Clean teeth properly (do this before 8)

10. Try to be less subversive.

11. Filing for accounts & more.

12. Organise Michael Marks entry.

13. Sort out last month’s competition.

14. Weed garden (gently).

15. Meet Helen: Cocoa Tree REMEMBER.

16. Update events page, August, September.

17. Think about Xmas event at SPL: another decision.

18. Do A.I. for Stephen’s book.

19. Cook.

20. Continue writing new enlarged even more useful version of How Not To.

21. Visit Matt’s mum.

22. Got to get to the egg lady, got to!

23.  Write July newsletter & print flyers (a lot).

24.  Make flyers to go in with mailshot.
25.  Book train to Lumb.

26.  Order more logs.

27. [Do not buy more buttons on Ebay: you don’t NEED them.]

28.  Get birdseed for goldfinches & bullfinches & feed them.

29.  Write blog.

30.  Think about starting another list.

31.  Resist.





I’ve never thought about them so carefully before.

That sounds daft. I work with people putting first pamphlet collections together all the time. Which poem comes first is important, and the choice is never accidental.

But this was different. Last week, I was at Lumb Bank (I have never been before) with a group of poets thinking about how they might put together a first pamphlet or book. (I was tutoring for the Arvon Foundation with Helen Tookey, poet and managing editor for Carcanet Press).

You know that bit you see on people’s bio at the back of magazines: Pansy Piffledunk is working towards her first collection?

I’ve always wondered about ‘working towards’. It’s not the same as ‘walking towards’ or ‘wandering towards’. It has a sense of determination and direction. Pansy Piffledunk knows where she’s going. These days Pansy Piffledunk also has an ‘overarching theme’. She is working towards a first collection based around an imaginary group of miners’ mothers in the lost Goose Egg Gold Mine of El Dorado County.

But I don’t want to mock her. Not really. We all aspire to a degree of Piffledunk. It’s not unreasonable to feel one should be ‘working’ rather than ‘wandering’, even if the reality is different. And looking closely at first poems was fascinating, especially for someone like me who usually opens the book at the back.

We looked together at the opening poem of Niall Campbell’s new book Moontide. People loved its setting and atmosphere – the image of lighting a match in a grain store. A couple of them went away to buy the book. Lots of opening poems seem to be in some way or other about the act of writing poems (buried in metaphor).

I found an original 1992 volume of Simon Armitage’s Kid, in the Lumb Bank library, with its weird opening narrative about a man who comes to stay (alive) and leaves very much dead. And what about the haunting opener to Tara Bergins’ This is Yarrow? I won’t forget it. Another book I have to read the rest of.

During the week, although we did discuss opening poems and (briefly) structure of first collections, we mainly agreed (though we didn’t put it quite like this) that ‘wandering towards’ was okay. Wandering via the best possible poems you can write. Themes might turn out to have been arching over. Or not. Doesn’t matter really.

What does matter, if one has publication in mind, is understanding how publisher/editors think and feel. (They do have feelings.)

Writing poems is one thing. (A privilege and a joy.) Getting them published (if that’s the right choice) is another.

But poetry publishing is not a mystery. It’s not hard to find out how it works, and then plot a route towards a destination. Not half as hard as writing poems.

Pansy believes a publisher will take an interest in her work – such a keen interest that said publisher will invest time and money in making her book available to The World. She may not have noticed that the publisher’s also engaged in a creative task. She or he is working towards (and never ever arriving at) making a whole imprint come together. If Pansy isn’t interested in what the publisher is creating (except in so far as it concerns herself), why will the publisher (who doesn’t need any more poets anyway) be interested in her?

(Because my poems are so good, of course, says Pansy.)

I know I’ve used far too many brackets in this blog entry. Half of what I think these days is in parenthesis. (I don’t care.)

(I have been away for nine days. In my absence, the Christmas cactus has gone berserk. Things bloom when I am not here.