Park Bench Tales and other writings

Thoughts and writings reflecting the poet within and the activist


Christmas Day Farming 1960

Christmas Day Farming in 1960

Through the window light began to stream into the room

A curtain of icicles obscured the view

Beneath the thin blankets the cold was creeping

Either I arose or waited to be enclosed in a tomb

A risk of frostbite and I could see my hands turning blue

My enthusiasm for the day already decreasing

Pulling on clothes descending stone stairs

Venturing outside to fill a scuttle with coke

Wondering would the water flow from the tap

Pipes sackcloth-lagged so we’re not caught unawares

Sawing some logs for a fire then the stove to stoke

Eggs and bacon for breakfast then pull on the cap

Across to the barn field to the trough and break the ice

Sheep following my footsteps and hoping for feed

Hay bales in the barn to be cut and spread

Hands freezing as I cut kale might not seem nice

Christmas is fine but the cattle are in need

Finally the pigs whose smell I really dread

Time for a rest and there’s a robin by the feeder

Feasting on breadcrumbs my mother put out

Across the yard I can see the tracks of a hare

Chickens scratch for the grain A crow from the leader

Birds suddenly rising There’s a hawk about

Time to seek warmth inside and escape freezing air

There’s goose on the table well-stuffed I’ll bet

The smell of orange sauce and gravy on the hob

They are waiting for us and we discard our coats

Hang them by the fire to take out the wet

Five starving faces and time to fill the gob

Farming is a hard life and that’s Christmas folks

Copyright: David Hopcroft December 2023

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There’s a gathering in this village upon this eve

A tale to be told of a past that is rebirthed

Harken carefully unto the tale I shall weave

Where perchance a sun king has emerged

Magic upon this special eve descends upon the square

The eldest of the elders parades in embroidered cloak

Beneath church towers old and young are gathered there

The old ones are prepared and the young have brought the goat

The sun has opened up the lazy eye

Now slumber of the winter shall lessen by the day

Sweet music in the air signals merriment is nigh

Let the eve begin and climb upon the sleigh

Light your candles and let your lanterns be held up high

Knock upon each door and let the household hear your voice

A greeting poem written with care begs a welcome cry

Ask of your host permission to sing a carol of their choice

Sing well for the household then prepare the dance

Let sweet notes to mark this eve echo from your throat

Make way there is one who wishes to advance

For now comes the moment to lead out the goat

Let the blessing be recited by all who know

For those present know the goat must stamp its feet

Where goes the goat ‘tis where the wheat will grow

For each stamp shall yield the seven sheaves of wheat

Now the goat this night has risen from the dead

Let the children bless each room about the house

Where those ready for slumber kneel and prayers are said

For every creature large or small from ox to mouse

The kutya with such care has been prepared

The wood upon the stove is burning fierce and bright

Berries nuts butter fruit and honey shall be shared

A new year begins so sing to greet the light

There’s a didukh proudly standing near the table

Heads of oat wheat and rye together have been bound

A ribboned grandfather preserved by fable

Sleeps until Mara dances and seeds leap from the ground

Time now to move on my lads and lassies fair

Twixt dusk and dawn every home must be blessed

The seeds of sunflower shall subdue the bear

For peace and prosperity make this kolyada request

Copyright: David Hopcroft December 2022

didukh is the grandfather sheaf, kolyada is the winter solstice, kutya is a food prepared for the solstice, Mara a pre-Christian goddess of spring


У цей вечір у цьому селі збираються
Розповідь про минуле, яке відроджується
уважно слухай казку, яку я зіплету
Де, можливо, з'явився король-сонце
Магія в цей особливий переддень сходить на площу
Старший із старших дефілює у вишитому плащі
Там під вежами костелів зібралися старі й малі
Старі готові, а молоді привели козу

Сонце розкрило ледаче око

Тепер сон зимовий з кожним днем ​​слабшає Солодка музика в повітрі сигналізує про наближення веселощів Нехай вечір починається і лізе на сани Запаліть свої свічки і нехай ваші ліхтарі піднімуться високо Стукайте в кожні двері, і нехай домочадці почують ваш голос Вітальний вірш, написаний ретельно, викликає вітальний крик Попросіть у господаря дозволу заспівати колядку на свій вибір

Заспівай гарно для домочадців, потім приготуй танець Дозвольте солодким ноткам, щоб відзначити цей переддень, лунає у вашому горлі Зробіть дорогу тому, хто бажає просунутися А поки настав час виводити козу Нехай прочитають благословення всі, хто знає Присутні знають, що коза повинна тупотіти ногами Куди коза піде, там і пшениця виросте За кожну марку дадуть сім снопів пшениці

Тепер козел цієї ночі воскрес із мертвих Нехай діти благословлять кожну кімнату в будинку Де ті, хто готовий спати, стають на коліна і читають молитви За кожну істоту, велику чи малу, від вола до миші З такою дбайливістю готувалася кутя Дрова на печі горять люто й яскраво Ягоди, горіхи, вершкове масло, фрукти та мед слід розділити Новий рік починається, тож співайте, щоб світло привітати

Біля столу гордо стоїть дідух Головки вівса, пшениці та жита були зв’язані разом Стрічений дід, збережений байкою Спить, поки Мара не затанцює і насіння не вискочить із землі Тепер час рухатися далі, мої хлопці та дівчата У вечірні сутінки і світанок кожен дім повинен бути благословенним Насіння соняшнику підкорить ведмедя Для миру і процвітання зверни цю коляду

Авторське право: Девід Хопкрофт, грудень 2022

р дідух – дідух сніп, коляда – зимове сонцестояння, кутя – їжа, яку готують на сонцестояння, Мара – дохристиянська богиня весни.

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Jamaica Train

Jamaica Train

We gazed as billowing sails appeared beyond the bay

Saw them lowered, then heard the anchor splash

Small boats putting out towards our shores

Men holding the iron sticks that spat fire

Our elders greeted  them eager to conspire

Their right to trade passed on in tribal laws

Run ! Run ! We feared the strangers’ lash

Nobody sees those the strangers take away

Too late ! We turned to face our kinsmen’s spears

Our lives worth but a puncheon of kill-devil’s drink

Drunken elders looked on as we took our chains

Their vision blurred as they sealed our fate

Crammed within the hold we felt the strangers’ hate

Our lives spared by greed for ill-gotten gains

Cowering as the strangers cursed our stink

Huddled close together, soaked in sweat and tears

At last, land in sight, a longing to be free

We stand upon the deck, wait for the plank to fall

A scramble ! White strangers bind us hand to hand

Like cattle we are sold. No words are spoken.

Brother and sister flung apart, families broken

The weak brought out, upon a block do stand

Shaking with fear and dread as bidders call

The ship now empty of black ivory

Pressed tight within the cart as daylight ends

Shaken and bruised as we bump along the track

Then bundled out and through the tabby door

Morning comes and then we hear the Driver’s shout

Up and away to the fields; sun is out

To a world where the Overseer’s whip is law

Where slaves who listen to the  leather crack

Toil in the fields until darkness descends

Back bending to break the soil with the hoe

Limbs wearied and bodies broken for Columbus’ grass

Women and children moving slowly through the fields

Each small stalk a symbol of a Master’s greed

Beneath the blistering sun burning souls will bleed

Whips raised and ready for the slave that yields

To the torture of his work beside the marsh

Selfish owners waiting for the cane to grow

The autumn drought a signal to set fields alight

Tabby cabins enveloped in clouds of smoke

Sharp-ground cane knives slowly slashing

Be wary, careless strokes can lead to harm

Look sharp and be sure to wear a charm

Work too slow and feel the Overseer’s lashing

Children, with legs swollen from poison oak,

Scratching and aggravating plight

Bundles of cane stacked beside the track

Hauled by docile donkeys towards the mill

Through marshes where mosquitoes swarm

And cottonmouths in hiding wait to strike

Lurking in the murky waters of the dyke

With their disguise the sleeping alligator’s form

High overhead the eagle’s voice is shrill

Two mules circle near McCullum’s stack

There Moses and Elias feed stalk to the grinding wheel

Juices slowly seeping out as iron pans are filled

On Pelican Island Flynn’s new mill is hissing steam

Hungry iron rollers spin and stalks are crushed

Slaves feed its appetite and cough out dust

Kettles beneath the rollers gather the syrup stream

Sweat pouring off bodies as cane is milled

Scarred and scalded arms have yet to heal

Boiling kettles bubbling with the white man’s food

Crystals forming as the liquid starts to cool

What’s left we’ll use to make kill-devil’s brew

And Africa seems so far from Jamaica’s train

The mill, now silent, rusting from the years of rain

Beneath the ground so many lie who paid their due

No more are hogsheads of sugar carried by the servile mule

But I hear the songs of Underground as I stand and brood.

Copyright: David Hopcroft April 2007

A puncheon is about 200 gallons

Kill-devils drink = rum


The Return

The Return

Kateryna’s first memory of the farm

Gazing at fields of wheat waving in the breeze

Seeing chickens run in and out of the barn

Scratching for food beneath the trees

A child watching sunflowers follow the sun

Soon she was the devushka learning to drive

She would lie in the orchard listening to bees hum

Learned how to collect honey from the hive

They left when the missiles screamed overhead

Bomb craters on fields where wheat was to be grown

That year there would be no grain for bread

They took a last look as the shell hit their home

Built after holodomor as their family abode

When starvation was the weapon used

There would be mines laid on the road

Hell’s doors opening as humanity was abused

History repeated by the same evil force

Poisoned by the devil that ran in his veins

Freedom’s grave opened Satan was the source

A world that listened to his obnoxious claims

Years were to pass before Kateryna returned

Her husband in a mass grave after a missile strike

Her parents died as a hospital burned

The child in her arms the only shining light

How do you rebuild after so many lives are lost?

Can you forgive an aggressor and those refusing aid?

You cannot use money to pretend to count the cost

Are the mass graves there just to safeguard trade?

Kateryna set about the task of rebuilding her farm

Hoping one day wheat would again sway in the breeze

Wanting to see chickens run in and out of a barn

Watching them scratching for food beneath trees

David Hopcroft March 2022


Hollybush Night

Hollybush Night

The nights grew longer as Autumn drew near

The old farmhouse shone a light from one room

Lit by a paraffin lamp hung from the ceiling

Autumn gales outside as the wind drew fear

Scudding clouds drifting across the moon

Upstairs paper in an office is peeling

A boy sits huddled at a ancient table staring

At the pages of a text that he must learn

Wondering if the house will ever see electric light

Eyes weary from another evening spent toiling

Under the fading pressure of light tries to discern

Meaning to compose the essay that he must write

Against the wind windows rattle at night

A gate on hinges is swinging crazily outside

The old ash tree bends to take the strain

A rush to secure the gate against the might

Back to the warmth of the stove inside

Wondering how sheep are in the driving rain

The lamp dims further as he climbs the stair

A iron bedstead invites him to lay a head

Upon a thin mattress with a bottle to heat

Roof rattling in need of some repair

A body shivering in a cold bed

Dreams of a hot meal he might eat

Dawn comes and with it a frosty sheet

Muddied gumboots as he walks down the lane

Care needed not to slip on puddles with ice

A change to shoes to cover half-frozen feet

Thick socks that do not relieve the pain

How he wished for a thick coat at any price

The school bus arrives a welcome sight

His desk is by the radiator at school

He hugs it for heat at the morning break

Lunch at the canteen provides a bite

Tapioca pudding for the fuel

Boiled potatoes gristle replaces steak

Strange how you still love that farm

The place you still regard as home

Though childhood memories come to the fore

Reminding you that there was more than charm

A struggle where you often felt alone

Moments when you knew that you were poor

Copyright: David Hopcroft February 2022

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Cumbrian Moon

Cumbrian Moon

Wild windswept a wonder of ancient craft

Stands firmly planted upon these Cumbrian hills

A purpose lost but steeped in legend and mystery

Where moon and sun a message might bring

Who dares to visit upon the solstice eve

Robes and hoods float silently across frosted fields

Tallowed-torches burning held aloft

A gathering of sacred in its purpose never lost

Priest and priestess a duty to perform

A setting sun dips away

Rises now the silvered moon

A steady drumbeat soft at first

Processing now white robe arrives

To take a place in a world where magic thrives

Ceremonies whose life now revives

Before the northern mystic eyes

Torches now thrown upon a pyre

A body lost but the soul now moves

Between two worlds

And will return again to fertile spring

This ritual will fortune bring

In the light now I see the rhyolite-hewn faces

Of her daughters arising from cold bare earth

Daughters of the towering sandstone block revered

I see her them all come to life

Moving around the circle gracefully

In dance

Common folk look on in trance

Whilst I am led towards the burning fire

What now of my fate

Did I in misfortune select the bannock cake

A triple sacrifice to make

Appeasement to some mystic deity

A belief that terminates my liberty

The iron axe is raised as I bow my head

I kneel upon cold earth in dread

The question surfacing within my mind

Will I cross some boundary to some afterlife

Or is faith itself to be unkind

Playing a trick

That Loki might have designed

A thud upon my neck


Then the flood of bright light

Yet I now rise

To see those daughters turned to stone

Witches held fast in some Christian curse

Change sweeps across this barren land

Where Long Meg and her daughters still stand

Copyright: David Hopcroft January 2022


A question of sheep

A question of sheep

A land where the rains drench mountain and hill

Where heather and gorse decorate the land

Where those in valley chapels observe God’s will

And tourists come to kick toes in the sand

Straggled coats walk paths through every storm

Hardy and tough moving from crag to crag

Clad in raincoat comes the shepherd’s form

Sheepdog behind two paces will he lag

Summer comes and sheep to higher pastures move

To feast upon the first growth of mountain grass

The shepherd looks on and does approve

Sweet herbs will help his flock fatten fast

Young lambs no longer cling to mother’s teat

As they explore a rugged mountainside

Until they stray too far and start to bleat

Then mother’s call will be their guide

The flock brought down to meet the shears

Coats removed to be sent to the mill

Weary the shearers down evening beers

The flock returning to the gorse strewn hill

Spinners busy now with hands and feet

The yarn prepared for the dye

Knitting needles busy while children sleep

Sweaters promised in the by and by

Mutton on the hob to make the cawl

Ewes’ cheese in the larder ready to eat

Come celebrate the Welsh flocks one and all

Praise to man and dog for the keeping of sheep

This land of song is also the land of the bleat

For centuries the home of man dog and sheep

Hill farmers tending flocks that they keep

Pictures in my mind as I go to sleep

Copyright: David Hopcroft January 2022

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They Came Bearing Gifts

They came bearing gifts

News of Her coming had spread across Wolf News

A Princess was to be born upon that day

They must hasten for there was no time to lose

A celebration was needed the American way

An event greater than an inauguration that all should see

The birth of the greatest ever star and Celebrity

Three kings descended upon Follyville from the west

Choosing the gifts they believed the Princess would need

King Glitzy presented a Tesla he knew was the very best

Until King Glamour’s business jet put him in the lead

Then Mericandream arrived and what do you know

He presented Her with Her very own television show

The Wise Men had heard of Her coming in Washington DC

They had rung the bell thrice at the end of the day’s trading

The House gavel proclaimed the impending birth of the Celebrity

Even the Senate had paused amidst filibuster complaining

They searched the constitution for clues about Her representation

Even though some were shouting this was a false declaration

Arriving in Follyville Wise Wall Street assured the parents-to-be

Their child would have a future that was safe and secure

Perpetual growth was essential for the future of the economy

So he gave stocks and shares to shield Her from the poor

Wise Banker was convinced She would need a golden throne

So he presented ten million dollars as an interest-free loan

Wise Senator had been charged with Her security

Pondered a little on whether they would still need a vote

Then assured Her that full protection came with the military

They had nuclear missiles galore and a button called gloat

Whilst somewhere in the shadows right at the back

There was a murmur of voices ’Can you see? She’s black’

Three shepherds arrived and brought gifts for Her blessing

Sacrificial Lamb had brought a most potent pesticide

Declaring it harmless to humans but that was window dressing

There were some that were woke that called this ecocide

Black Sheep declared that Her real need

Was for the most recent genetically modified seed

To grow this Baa Baa Fleece had provided for a small fee

A supply of fertiliser that he declared essential

Nearly all the shepherds he knew were inclined to agree

He promised the corn that She grew would be monumental

With so many gifts of wonder She would be prepared

For Celebrities with deities were now compared

Three children arrived fresh from a school strike

The first was called Hope and she offered herself

Then came Charity who knew what She would like

Humbleness she said was better than displaying wealth

Love then arrived the smallest but strength she brought

To change a world and offer the peace that most sought

All were children of Faith who had come to believe

That if all were equal She would understand

That truth offered more than a desire to deceive

Though the debate then continued throughout the land

If She listened to Faith to Hope and to Charity

Could She really be the One who they had named Celebrity

Copyright: David Hopcroft December 2021

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Festive Farming

Festive Farming

Ankle deep in mud

Socks inside gumboots soaked

Feet freezing

Rain dripping down his neck

Coat soaked hours ago

The sodden sack around his shoulders

Had ceased to protect

Fingers numbed

Gloves discarded

Had this been a hike

The pub would surely have beckoned

Mulled wine to savour

Huddled around the fire

Logs blazing in the hearth

Exchanging stories with his mates

Laughter around the Snug

But this was no hike

As he bent to his task once more

What time was it?

The skies grey still unloading

A rain that might last all day

Still another hour to lunch

Cheese sandwiches in his tin

He would find some shelter

Pressing against the hedge

Two shillings an hour

Was it really worth it?

He broke the sprouts

Carefully from the stem

Filling the bag that hung from his shoulder

And he wondered

Would Christmas always be like this?

At least he could buy presents

Send out a few cards

A voice shouts from the gate

‘Pigs have got out again

Come on give me a hand’

Copyright: David Hopcroft December 2021

(Two shillings amounted to ten pence after decimalisation or about £3 per hour in 2021)

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It’s Us Stupid

It’s us stupid

Those who are expecting some great outcome of COP 26 that will miraculously save the planet from climate change in a period of thirty years are likely to be deeply disappointed. The first COP in 1995 was held in Berlin and the record over the last 25 years has seen greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise on a global scale and inequality increasing at a similar rate. Poverty, hunger, lack of proper sanitation, gender inequality remain as issues where we still need great changes, but the threat of climate change hangs over the globe like a dark cloud about to descend and envelop us. To protest against the politician is to submit for the politician likes nothing better than to convince you that they are the one who will produce the answer like getting a rabbit out of a hat.

Does this mean that another meeting of political figures will leave us all wringing our hands and shaking our heads in despair? Well, there is no need to react in that way. We have the answer if we understand the simple idea that ‘it’s us stupid’.

Take a look at global emissions of greenhouse gases and look at some of the sectors that are the highest emitters. We know that agriculture is one of the largest sectors and yet we have the answer to hand. For the developed world it is simply to eat less meat, eat more legumes, more vegetables and more fruit. Reducing beef consumption is the prime target, the burger, the steak or the rib should not be consumed in the quantities we do at present. If we all reduced the burger intake to one a week and ate at least two non-meat meals a week we would probably have a greater impact than anything likely to be achieved at COP26. The action does not end there, for in countries like the USA and UK there is massive food waste, at the farm, the supermarket and at home. Up to a third of the food produced is estimated to be lost as food waste. Our diet and our food habits are as great a problem as using fossil fuels for transport. The answer lies in our hands and we can change.

We might easily forget that what we wear also affects greenhouse gas emission and the fashion industry is a global effort devoted to persuading us that we need more clothes, and new clothes for each season and for each year. Although there are efforts being made to recycle clothes we should consider how they are produced. Many synthetic fibres originate from fossil fuel products, coal, oil and natural gas, and so boost the fossil fuel industry. What if we were all to choose cotton? Unless it is organically produced then we are looking at an industry as dirty as driving diesel trucks with vast amounts of artificial fertilizers and pesticides being used together with a very heavy demand on water. Even with organic cotton the processes of bleaching and dyeing use great quantities of water and the chemical waste is often discharged to watercourses. There are alternatives that could be used for many fabrics. Hemp, linen and bamboo can be grown without the use of fertilizers and without the use of pesticides. These fibres are also more suitable for recycling. That does not mean we should abandon cotton, wool or silk, which could be considered as carbon neutral and can also be recycled, but we should consider how we grow the cotton, and remember sheep if used for meat has an environmental cost. There are fashion houses that support the use of organic cotton, and others who are looking at recycling and zero waste. We can choose to support these if we wish. Our clothing and fashion habits are our own, they will not be changed by the ‘blah blah blah’ of politicians and we must start to accept our own responsibility.

We cannot all have an electric vehicle overnight, or have a public transport infrastructure overnight, not all of us are fit to cycle or walk to work. However, we can all make changes to help reduce fossil fuel use in transport and speed up the transition from fossil fuels. We have an addiction to fossil fuels that was illustrated recently by the panic dash to the gasoline pumps in the UK as if we were a nation that could not survive without a gasoline fix immediately. Do we really need to use a car to shop seven days a week, or to drive our children 800 metres to school, and where is the sense in driving a kilometre to the local gym to exercise when more could have been gained by running to the gym?

The massive amount of waste sent to landfill is also a reflection of our habits. We ‘talk the talk’ about recycling and reducing waste but if we are honest then a look at what we are discarding shows just how wasteful we still are. Our bins contain single use plastics, masses of polystyrene, food waste where there is no local composting facility, and other items which reflect our habits. Even where there is recycling we are being encouraged to generate waste at an alarming rate. One has only to purchase a mobile phone and within months we are being encouraged to buy another and upgrade to a ‘new model’. Stores that allow us to bring our own containers for some dry products such as beans and lentils, or wet products such as liquid detergents can be supported, just as using our own cups at coffee houses is often an option. We can choose to support these businesses and avoid those who use lots of packaging. Our habits determine our emissions.

If we start taking action on a scale needed to mitigate climate change what will happen to the farmers, the supermarkets, the fashion industry, and the automotive industry? They will adapt and survive. The production of beef and other meat is achieved by using large subsidies from taxation. These can be reduced and the money usefully put to use in reforestation and restoration of soils.

Whilst I admire young people demanding action for climate change I would remind them, and all activists, that the power to bring about change lies in our own hands and not that of the political figures who will pontificate in Glasgow at COP 26. We have a wonderful opportunity to write our own agenda for COP 26 and we can achieve the goals of that agenda.