Pop Pickers and Pirates



The cogged radio knob was grasped & turned,

a green lotus light bloomed, energy slowly unlocked:

this moment holy, on rough cord carpet kneeled

a pubescent “pop picker” in audio adoration,

short trousered knees were tattooed by Tintawn,

heart and soul in hostage to Motown melodies,

thrilled at the illicit discovery of pirate stations….



Radio sets in the sixties were powered by a series of triodes, vacuum tubes and valves.  Valves mysteriously glowed, like a toy town scene, creating considerable heat that warmed the top of the wooden frame.Such metal and glass parts could be peeked at through die-cut holes in the cardboard backing.

Turn the radio’s left toothed knob, hear it’s decisive click. Your eye would be drawn to the lotus-like bloom on an emerald eye. It was like an imitation brooch, oddly-placed in the gold fabric that decoratively covering the grille. Behind this latticed fabric boomed the round, drumskin tight, black speaker surface, an inverted cardboard bosom.

That jewelled eye “blossomed”, indicating that the valves were slowly warming up. Press down hard on one of the three analogue square buttons, directly below the screen. Then the abstract hum turned into broadcast. Medium Wave, Long Wave, Short Wave. Turn the toothed knob on the right.

Two grooved wheels turn a looped taut string within the hidden chassis. This crude system propelled the station guide marker, stiffly moving past an array of radio stations Your eye follows the station indicator stick, moving behind the glass screen imprinted with names and numbers. Third; Light; West; Hilversum; Paris; Luxembourg; Brussels; even Athlone. Like teresstial tides, a rythymic reception hissing came and went. Sometimes the broadcast crystal clear, sometimes slowly morphing into distorted temporary gargle. Then back to full reception levels.

Press your ear to the golden fabric; close your eyes; imagine presenters talking into large microphones, in faraway studios. See them through the large studio window of broadcasting booths. A prominent red light warns of live radio.


Pirate programmes were transmitted from swaying small boats, anchored in international waters, bobbing up and down on stormy waves. It was a music mission, lead by gung-ho pirates, playing music without official permission.

On Sunday afternoons my brothers and I waited impatiently for the iconic theme tune of Alan Freeman’s ‘Pick of the Pops’, preceeded by the rythmic cymbal beat, echoing tom toms, upbeat trumpets and tubular bells. It was Harry Roberts rhumba tune called ‘Quite beside the point’. Then Freedman’s cheerful Australian voice: “Greetings pop pickers!” Then on came the surfing sounds of the Beach Boys ‘California Girls’, Rolling Stones rebel rock ‘I Can’t get no Satisfaction’ and the hippy Kinks ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’.

One day this eight year old asked for the pocket-money price of that Kinks single. Any song that mentioned fashion in the title was a good choice for the son of rag trade parents. That innocent boy didn’t realise that the subversive lyrics were more than a mere dig at the trendy Carnaby Street scenes in London:


They seek him here, they seek him there

His clothes are loud, but never square

It will make or break him so he’s got to buy the best

‘Cause he’s a dedicated follower of fashion


At boarding school I took to wandering around school grounds, portable transistor radio permanently pressed to ears. My school report summed it up well: “In his free time (Louis) leads a very aimless existence. He and his transistor spend far too much time hanging around his classroom. By now he should be developing more positive enthusiasms…”

In the early 80s I had been ill for a period and frequently found myself going to bed even earlier than much younger kids. Too weak to read books, I listened to the radio instead. The station of choice was Sunshine Radio, a pirate station. It soon unwittingly brought metaphorical sunshine into my life.

The top ten music was an enjoyable distraction. On the hours news was read by a sweet-dulceted young woman. What was it about her accent that sounded familiar? After listening for a few evenings, I eventually realised she was my second year boarding school girlfriend. I had dated Allanah (tr. “darling”) for a few wonderful summer weeks.

I hadn’t heard her voice for years but recently had seen her. She was walking carefree down Dawson Street. She was the successful Trinity College student (and pirate news broadcaster). Too shy to shout out her name, or dodge trafffic, running across the busy city street to ecstatically greet her. Had I known that would be my last ever opportunity, I might have plucked up the courage.But who was I in her eyes? An academic failure, on an endless cycle of dead-end jobs. I had accomplished little in my life up to that point.

Some months later I wrote a lyrical poem about her, recalling our good times. My poem was slyly titled ‘We were the Pirates then’. It referred to our loose eroticism. and also the freewheeling spirit pirate pop radio stations in that era.

Some time after I had finished writing an elegaic poem in her honour, I visited some old scholars from boarding school. After reading my homage to Allanah a curious silence quickly fell among that small alumni gathering. I was puzzled. I thought the poem cheerful. Perhaps its lyrics could even be put to a pop tune. To critical-minded college students it might even be possibly considered… good??


Irish name and Asian-like eyes brown,

classmate & co-ed boarder at Newtown,

shiny gold-blond hair, smiley freckled face

she beckoned me on, yet kept me in my place.


Allanah read Asterix in the Irish Times,

exuded charm, engaged in wilful crimes:

that “darling” thief stole my treasured transistor,

I caught the culprit, I couldn’t resist her.


Premature lovers, promiscuous teens,

contours mapped out under jumpers green:

oh amorous apples, swoon of soft skin,

ignoring God’s command, indulging in sin.


On the hour, Allanah read out news,

I whisper out: “I remember you.”

My ears weren’t playing tricks:

Venerated name, darling prefix.


What I was told next shocked me. While I had been writing my “pirate” poem about her, Allanah lay in a Dublin hospital dying of cervical cancer. She was the first contemporary of mine to have died. After hearing that news I added in a concluding verse, to reflect this sad conclusion of our friendship.



Gone that girl reading Sunshine’s news,

gone the romance, gone now pirates too:

dead and buried at twenty-five, cancer

killed that darling dreamer & ballet dancer…

pupil in a hurry 2 copy

Athanasius’ Third Arrest, 356 A.D.

athanasius the great

Holy Coptic chants solemnly resonate,

somnambulant Eastern liturgical drone:

heaven’s hope echoing off stone church walls.

Cassocks, candelabras and kiot*, gold-tinted.

Altar and icons by incense clouded,

praying priests half-hidden by holy haze,

God’s grace spice-suffusing the sanctuary.


At midnight mass, Caesar’s dark legions came

smashed the sacred, bolted doors,

slashed with indiscriminate swords,

pagan fury spat with blood-drunk blasphemies;

sacrilege in St. Theonas’ sanctuary,

dozing pigeons scatter in frenzied flight.


Virgin Christians stripped by sadistic soldiers,

raped, vainly shielding votive bodies

with mere tatters of white garments;

men murdered, javelin pierced, intestines

spill from sliced stomachs, slithering like snakes,

screams intermingle with the recited Psalm:

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.

His love endures forever…


Failed arrest of the antagonist, Athanasius:

dogmatic theologian, belligerent Egyptian,

iconoclast, midget bodied bishop –

escape managed amid murderous affray.


Fifteen years of desert exile followed,

then that triumphal procession to Alexandria,

seated on an ass, the beast of burden.

Thousands hosanna-proclaim,

palm-branches uplifted in an arc

welcoming their holy hero,

imitating another man’s entry:

Christ, compelled to complete salvation story.


‘Jesus is God!’ –  his divisive doctrine declared,

life and death statement, spoken and sung,

crucible-crafted by prophetic priest, Athanasius,

biblically patented from antiquity to eternity…


Athanasius – Christian theologian, Church Father, chief defender of Trinitarianism (against Arianism). Noted Egyptian leader of the fourth century.

*Kiot –  a special wooden box with a hinged, framed glass door in the front, usually a case for an icon.

Horse Show Scenes

Poem and photos based on experiences of the Royal Dublin Society Annual Horse Show

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Slight the scent of wax-polished leather,

boxed-in royalty, equines stand tethered;

sweet scent wafts from dark passage of stalls,

echoing announcements over speaker calls.

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Girls command horses, fifteen hands high,

tight jodhpurs, high boots makes this male sigh:

blond-hair, blush cheeks, so snug their jackets;

wild-eyed horses rear-up, hear that whinny racket!

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Pony club teens, reckless their riding

driving their colts on, close to colliding,

passing game baton, daring their mounts:

adrenaline overdose, every second counts.

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Clock tower toll, Big Ben counterfeit

bowler-hatted judges, pompous as their weight

clear rounds cause clapping from horsey crowds,

jockeys widely smile, proprietors stand proud.

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Hand lifted hats arresting equine attention,

hooves tamp turf, horseshit spoils pretension,

impatient tails wave, picture perfect snap,

small talk exchanged, tweed jackets and caps.


Bored horses peek over barred half-doors,

wordless eyes surmise, large primal teeth gnaw;

dark cobbled corridors, strawed dung splatter,

hooves angrily stamp amid the clip-clop clatter…

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This is Where I first Believed

south hill


Architecture in Victorian style,

gallant hymns, strained smiles:

few assembled believers,

old-fashioned and ever eager;

Sabbath spirit static,

prayer sincere, pragmatic.


Scripture texts in Gothic script,

pilgrim people gripped

by heavenly hope proposed,

platform preacher posed

queries: idols and curses

refuted by bible verses.


Lone brethren, battle besieged:

message mocked, unbelieved

by secular modern minds –

“How can they be so blind?”

Truth’s tiger timid and caged,

hearts not minds engaged…


This is where I first believed,

bent stubborn knee, received

release after sinner’s prayer,

hope replaced despair:

Christ died for our misdeeds,

pity those not fully freed…

Why am I hated by Hindu high caste?

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Why am I hated by Hindu high caste?

Why throat choked, sharp blade-slashed?

Why my skull summarily smashed?


Why the invective, why the insult?

Sectarian sentences from Vedic cult:

sadistic smirks, tragic end result…


Lynchings, rapes, and acid attacks,

hear hyena howl, murderous pack –

bullied untouchables daren’t fight back.


I’m Brahma-damned Dalit,

my sandals sink in putrid pits,

I  purify streets of “high status” shit.


Garland Modi with fragrant flowers,

encourage Aryan political powers,

hunt low caste – then cleanse in showers…


Many Dalit deaths: justice long-denied,

Jesus also despised, flayed, crucified;

but on white horses the righteous will ride.



I’m not saying bikes are better


Let’s swap our seated places,

quit honking horns and pulling faces,

let’s all extend some kinder graces.


Lets both not break red stop lights,

let’s not trump wrongs against rights,

let’s pray none have to say last rites.


Let’s both apply our brakes and gears,

let all admit their faults and fears,

let’s show appreciation: say “cheers”.


Four wheels good but two wheels best

your left hand turns make me stressed:

cycling should be required for test.


We cyclists have no windows, nor roof,

ride tall in saddle but not aloof:

cyclists skulls aren’t shatterproof.


I’m not saying bikes are better,

I’m not condemning the carburettor –

we’re neither road royalty, nor beggar!

Lawrence Coster: The Apostle of Printing (c. 1420)

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With willow wood you wooed your beau,

setting her heart and mind aglow:

solitary-seated by canals you etched,

then slowly the sharp blade sketched

lovers initials intertwined, sharp incisions

on branch birthed blessings: Eden’s vision.


This lover’s present then parchment-wrapped,

carved cyphers secretly sang, summoned sap:

overnight it oozed from peeled willow wood,

catechist-craftsman created an imprint good;

then came Gutenberg-bible, God’s story told,

later breaking papal spiritual stranglehold….


Laurens Janszoon Coster (c. 1370, Haarlem, the Netherlands – c. 1440), or Laurens Jansz Koster, is the name of a purported inventor of a printing press from Haarlem. He allegedly invented printing simultaneously with Johannes Gutenberg and is regarded by some in the Netherlands as having invented printing first. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurens_Janszoon_Coster

Hope Drunk Hearts

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Easter Springtide – Vitali Linitsky (Russian painter, mid 70s)



Ancient terror prophecies, torture proven true:

brow mock-crowned, blood-barbed thorns,

carpenter’s palms, nail-pinioned, chiselled through –

legs smashed, ankles anchored on cruel cruciform.


Eerie sun eclipse, dread-dark that slaughter scene,

Christ’s carcass buried in a borrowed tomb;

male followers fled, female friends stayed to keen

habeas corpus – but no body left to exhume.


Mistaken for mad, miracle-maker, water walker;

all our arrogant assumptions turned inside out:

prodigals restored, resurrection of dead daughters,

our sin-smudged slates wiped clean of doubt.


Hope-drunk hearts bow, hymn in gratitude:

free entry offered into kingdom come,

God’s oratorio without longitude or latitude –

blow loud the trumpet, strike hard the drum!



habeas corpus Literally, the phrase means “[we command] that you should have the [detainee’s] body [brought to court]”

April First Fools?

My wife wanted a Spring-born baby. Holly Hemmings was announced stillborn by the maternity hospital, ten days before her birth….We had prayed for a miracle. Holly was initially delivered by me, at 1 am in an isolated room, on April 1st, April Fools Day.

Her little brother,  aged almost four asked: “Isn’t it true when Jesus returns the baby will be alive?” We taught him bible stories but never taught that particular one. That was our miracle……And I know, that one new morning I will be able to give her an “overdue, long and loving embrace”. …

“He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” – Revelation 21: 4

ibi 3 (2)

petitionary prayer. heavenly hope.

resurrection stories recalled.

oil-anointed. tear-baptised.

ballooned belly. birth pangs.


faith fools?


nurse absence. semi-abandoned.

sepia sheet stain spreads.

pained postnatal scream.

expected stillbirth begins.

all quiet. dead quiet.


faith fools?


flat floppy face. abstract gaze.

inert body quickly cooling.

lifeless love. breathless baby.

limbs floppy. mouth mute.

offered embrace useless.


faith fools?


cardboard box coffin. doll dimensions.

stencil stamped black cross.

harsh edge. skin sliver souvenir.

limbs petal peeling. raw ripped.

refrigerated. not resurrected…


April first fools?


descent into dark. hope eclipsed.

pinioned palms. body splinter stabbed.

only son broken. mercy mocked.

heaven howled. holy curtain ripped.

barrier broken. death abolished.


Father forsaken?


unwound sheets. perfumed pile.

cool cavern. hesitant angels.

whispered words: risen indeed…

no more tears. the old has passed.

reunion promise when He returns.


overdue, my long and loving embrace!

ibi (1)

Shaftesbury, the Poor Man’s Earl


You shrewdly observed the pathetic poor

that begged, brawled and slyly swindled;

compelled by command to unlock doors:

jubilee justice and anger slowly kindled.


Children slept under weaving looms,

tugged wagons in deep coal caverns,

choked in chimney stack soot and fumes;

parents wages wasted in gin taverns.


Your proxy mother was mindful maid

who whispered nightly maternal prayers;

your despotic father’s petty rules obeyed

until inherited title named you heir.


With statesmen you sat in House of Lords

giving many mill children hopeful starts;

on dull committees struck common chord

softened hard parliamentarian hearts.


Paternal debt damaged your family estate,

sullied that seat, tarnished proud crest:

you sold off paintings and silver plate

to ensure justice for tenants, late-blessed.


Much energy expended after many years

on penniless workers freed from slavery;

your state funeral caused farewell tears:

even critics saluted such biblical bravery…