Your Festival For Friends

[specially for members of Toastmasters International in Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales & beyond]

adventure into the unknown,
Elf on your shelf,
advent friends.

A time for rejoicing:
let us hold hands in harmony,
let’s stand side-by-side in solidarity,
let’s speak of Ralph C Smedley’s chesnut stuffing,
his legacy
for everyday connectivity.

There is a season …
Turn, turn, turn
and a time to every purpose in Toastmasters
a time to try,
a time to try,
a time to triumph,
a timer by your side.

let there be Grammar,
guttural, graceful grammar,
linguistic tightrope walking
past lazy language,
unkempt utterances
savage sentences.
Let your inner Grammarian prod you
from slovenly, sleepy mouthfuls.
This is the season for rejoicing, rhyme and rhetoric.

Each to your way:

Make meaningful the content of your desire.
You are a meaning-making-master
a lowercase distinguished Toastmaster,
You deserve this advent,
this good story,
this Promise of
Integrity for Inspiration,
Respect for Resilience,
Service for Solace,
Excellence for Eccentricity.

May Ralph be Santa to your sleigh,
crammed full of presents,
and presence on your stage,
your landscape,
your speachathon,
the speachathon of your mind.

May the love of leaders that lead with love
fill up your heart this year to come.

Call out this Festival from COVID,
unmask the pain within,
ring out the joy we comrades sing,
make merry when you can
and serve humanity lashings of trifle.

Ring in this season of reindeers,
ridiculous renditions of poetry and song,

With love to you all


Wake up with life in mind – blank verse in dust

It’s never been an easy ride to place

a photograph exactly where it ought to be.

Opinions clash, hypotheses contest the wind

before the taste of breakfast turns to memory,

and dust.

Witness the ease that trickles through your base

and turns a little sour, as morning drifts

apart. Is there not spice to whet your appetite

for war and peace? Is there no more sunshine

around the sound of jays and rooks and doves,

and dust?

Behold English Setter on banks prepared for fish

that jump before lunchtime for flies not moths,

a dog that saved my life with eyes he fixed so firm,

until compelled to sit and drools, and I to smile

through dust.

There’s no ending in sight or sound, no door

locked down, nor ice too cold to strip a breath of air

from lungs on fire. Who cut the brambles back,

murdered the blackberries, and left the path undressed?

Awake with life in mind, unheart me now before the rain,

you gods of sleep, come do your best, sustain

this chimera of dust.


I’ve heard the master say

He had a favourite shot

the best one in his bag.

He dares to whisper the name

Toastmasters for Golf.

We are Toastmasters of today

we are Toastmasters for tomorrow.

I’ve heard the master say.


I have landed in the bunker

my ball’s gone out of bounds

My buggy has a broken wheel

My swing’s gone off the boil,

my ground’s under repair.

There’s a fairway somewhere,

it lies in greener grass.

I’m terrified of shanking,

I’m sure I’ll top the ball.

because I’m an ordinary leader

who stands upon the tee

out there every day.

in your community,

I’ve heard the master say.

I’m no more afraid of public speaking

than of playing a fresh-air shot.

I’ll feast my eye upon the ball

upon my words in flight

“It’s all a game of golf”,

I hear the Toastmaster say

– from concrete fears to metaphors

– from nightmares to the promised land.

I’ll practise my swing

until the rainbow’s end.

I’ll practise my voice

in solidarity with friends.


Let’s not squander time in fear,

let’s not hide away our talents,

let me be my best.

I heard the master say.

Ralph C Smedley used his wedge,

and built a club house fair.

Ralph C had days he missed his cup

Of this you can be sure,

but he never, ever, gave up.


Your leader in the zone,

on the eighteenth hole

he knew he’d done his best

he smiled to friends all round the course.

Ralph knew the putt was long,

from when he wore short trousers,

he dreamt of saving lives

he dreamt of players growing strong.

He’d dreamt there would be a hole-in-one

for YOU.

His inner core


His outer layer


His clubs were called to


In the dream of


I’ve heard the master say.



“Follow your way” by blavandmaster is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You don’t have to agree

You don’t have to agree with me,
or your father.
You don’t even have to agree
with the gods.

The proof lies in your rebellion
against the power of the authority
that would lord over you
– if you let it.

You don’t have to agree with these few words
or what you imagine they mean
for your own good
– the only good you’ll ever have.

You don’t have to accept

You don’t have to accept
the sun in the morning.
You don’t have to accept
the stars at night.

You don’t have to accept
the scars of words
uttered in your direction.
You don’t even have to attend
the funeral of hopes you used to embrace,

nor love the company
of those who profess to love you,
of those who crave to care,
of those that breathe your name.

You don’t have to accept.

You don’t have to pay

You don’t have to pay attention
to wagtails, butterflies and magpies
in your garden
nor the song of newts, frogs and moths
– symphonic bedfellows.

You don’t have to pay attention
to the call of those who claim
to need your time,
nor the screech of mates, pals and kin
– major keys, minor discords.

You don’t have to attend,
to be present,
to what matters most
to you.

You have your way

You have the power to forget,
the right to deny.

You have the honour to refuse,
the right to be blind.

You have the breath to be echt,
the right to find

your way.

Full Stop

[dedicated to the revival of writing]

When your pen’s been dry and paper blank,

when the ashes of your fire refused to light,

when you smelled the blossom and found no fragrance,

when you walked the streets and hummed no melody of thought,

when the Virus left you cold, too safe to care,

you’ve been doing research.

You’ve let the song of birds sink in.

You’ve let the sight of butterflies thrill your garden.

You’ve let the taste of tepid tea touch you.

When the temperature of conversations escapes your notice,

your pen is standing by, your paper clean

Full stop.

Twixt Sleep and Sleep

In hours twixt sleep and sleep

the breakfast

the lunch,

the dinner

and tea.

The dressing-gown, cereal, coffee, shower, shave, conditioner, moisturiser, deodorant, and socks.

From grumpy eyes to Elysian whim…

From walking the dog to stroking the cat,

and back again…

From negotiations with housework to a ceasefire over washing-up…

Labour without laughter

Marketing without melody.

Did the postman deserve that bark?

Did the car drink too much petrol, on the road to Moanbaun Woods?

The family, the family, the family

the WhatsApp…

Where have all the contracts gone?

Remember the Burning Bush?


Agony in the garden

Resurrections and assumptions


And all in the twinkling

twixt sleep and sleep.

Reading’s for Dunces

“Take you head out of that book

and come in here and watch Netflix with us.

I’m fed up with you wasting your time reading.”

“I have the right to read”.

“See, there you are with your empty head

full of drivel.

There’s a lot more education in Love Island

than in your Pride & Prejudice.

It’s time you took in more love than that high falutin sex

in carriages and grand houses.”

“I want to learn to read.”

“Tis how to slouch proper on a sofa you need young lady.”

“Why do I have to watch all those stupid serials on Amazon Prime?”

“Because it’s good preparation for life. Imagine what sort of a life you’d have

if you did nothing but read. You’d be company for no one.”

“But I love books.”

“Will you cop yourself on child.

Disney Plus is the future.

Reading is for writers.

Television is for interesting people.”

“Like you Mam?”

“Why not. At least it got me a couch … “

The Haystack in the Kitchen

When you eat sponge cake at ten minutes to midnight,

and rain clatters on the roof above your dinner table,

and the French mustard pot seems wrapt in conversation with black peppercorns and pink salt,

you might as well drink the mug of tea while it’s hot enough to warm your tummy.

Otherwise those pens on the counter, alongside the scribbled page of names you meant to invite to Clubhouse, might accuse you of neglect.

I ran out of drinking water.

Thirst, dry mouth, swallowing hard against the draining of the light,

that used to support my fetish for

mammy’s food before bed.

There’s a learning opportunity in a haystack, even when you can’t find a pitchfork

and your calling is to notice things out of place.

Titles are recommended

I met a poet on my way to the toilet,

a stubbly fellow on his way to the kitchen.

He looked as if he’d seen a tiger upstairs

in the master bedroom.

I wasn’t long sitting down, staring at wallpaper,

when a knock came to the door.

‘Is there anyone there?’

There was a blink in one eye

while I ruminated.

You can imagine whatever you like.

It was the poet’s voice that disturbed me.

The fingers stained with verse turned off the light

and it was dark as pitch.

You can imagine the tiger at work,

minding his business.

Hiccups in Japan

(in memory & gratitude to Liz Strauss)

I got the hiccups in Japan
over an eggplant
on the sofa.

There was a Toast Master in the kitchen
filleting tuna on a cutting board
made from an olive tree.

The dry Martini drinker from next door
scratching his stubble
with the point of a lead pencil.

Underneath the host’s stiletto
you’d have seen an ant
on its last legs.

In the middle of a hiccup
I dropped a bottle of whiskey
on the tail of my cat.

That saved the glass from shattering
all over Japan
and drowning the Emperor in spirit.

It’s the stories you tell yourself
that save your life
from passing by.

The Night that Covid Came

Awake with fire in my throat,

sure Gehenna had come.

Larynx burnt,

voicebox wrapt in lava,

glued to sheets in dread,

as if this was the call from Eternity.

Whenever the monster had been raised in conversation,

I whispered lowly

‘This night won’t fall on me.’

How dare this hour call out my time,

now mattered more than all the dreams:

it was the death of a Promised Land,

abandoned in Grendel’s mother’s cave.

Surely such a fall from grace

could not be vested in Santa’s wake?

How can I tell the others

Christmas has perished?

My seat on the train is booked,

the Covid carriage locked,

and no return ticket.

Mouthfuls of water from an ensuite tap,

saltless gargling,

undiluted phlegm burning.

Nightmare of Dresden, Hiroshima. 

It’s no good fighting this gift.








Prometheus would make a fuss – wouldn’t put up with such a nervous line.

Prometheus would make a fire – wouldn’t restrain humans from prior thought.

Prometheus would dig for clay – wouldn’t wait for authority’s say so.

Super Spreader

laying on his hands

hugging the hearts

tweeting the news

blowing the trumpet

waffling the wind

spreading infection

unmasking character

pointing the finger

firing the truth

building a wall

denying the Covid

spreading infection

calling on Christ

arming the multitude

declaring he’s godsent

claiming recovery

spitting on the House

spreading infection

never washing his feet

sneezing on Senate

claiming victory

craving the birdies

cheating with eagles

spreading infection

appointing the foolish

insulting the veterans

despising John Cain

coughing up sputum

vomiting on media

spreading infection

spouting his sins

covering his tracks

refusing confession

avoiding the penance

withdrawing the climate

proud of his life

spreading infection

welcoming contagion

crowd-sourcing the virus

never paying his debts

breaking his promises

leading the lemmings

spreading infection

never washing his hands

defending the guns

praying for fraud

accepting the bribes

offering Hell on Earth

spreading infection like wildfire.

fertilising confusion

formenting mistrust

misconstruing misery

planting the pain

persisting with insults

infecting the nation

Super-spreader of suffering.

Imagine you’re at war

Imagine you’re at war
Remember what it’s like
Imagine there’s the enemy
Bloody sacrifice
A terrifying mess.

Imagine all the dead
Remember fields of pain
Imagine parents fighting
Bloody sacrifice
A frightening mess.

Covid is friendly
She won’t bite you
Let’s all carry on
We’re sure to pull through
An alarming mess.

Victory’s coming
around the corner.
You’re free to roam
and welcome home
A terrible mess

This isn’t a war
no amputations
no one will starve
barely privations
A hideous mess.

We’re in this together
You can do what you like
Drink yourself silly
There’s a ceasefire agreed
surely Covid won’t mess

Imagine great shopping
Remember to kiss
Be sure to hug
with love in our time
A New Year mess.

Imagine we’re at peace
Remember what it was like
Imagine there’s no enemy
No self-isolation
Resurrection’s a mess.

No need to fear
The vaccine’s here
Careless, Carefree
A seismic shift
Such a bloody mess.

Let’s open the pubs
the churches and all
All Ireland Abú
Feck off you virus
Don’t mess with us.