Tag: football

One Winter’s Day at St John’s Beacon

Liverpool in fog with the Liver Birds, Bella and Bertie, visible.

Before Covid struck England and shook the economy I worked as a tour guide in St John’s Beacon, the second tallest building in Liverpool. Up there you could see the River Mersey, the Irish Sea, the Welsh mountains beyond the Wirral and, on clear days, Blackpool tower. In summer we had queues waiting outside for us to open and there was scarcely enough time to catch a breath between taking old customers down and bringing new customers up. But in winter, when fog pressed against the gallery windows and the tourists were gone, there were very few customers.

One winter’s day with the city covered in fog my friend on the tour team and I decided on a whim to write a renga. In Japanese poetry the renga is a collaborative form of linked verses that two or more poets complete together. The introductory verse to a renga became what’s known today as haiku after Matsuo Basho pioneered that verse as a form unto itself. On breaks at work I would sketch haiku and tell my friend about it. Sometimes he would count syllables with his fingers and, apropos of nothing, recite a haiku he had probably been mulling over for the past half hour. Once, when I got stuck in a lift with customers for an hour, he wrote a haiku about it because of course he did.

I forget the exact verses of our renga but I remember, by some strange twists and turns, Bigfoot showed up at the end. Why not? Meanwhile, thanks to wind blowing down the Welsh mountains, the fog began to part and the familiar landscape came slowly into view.


Hi, I’m starting a monthly newsletter on writing, creativity, philosophy, poetry, etc. Essentially anything I find interesting that you might also find interesting. I’ll throw some book recommendations in there too. If that tickles your fancy the link is here. First issue is out 30th April.

My Favourite Sentence (for now)

Updike’s sentence on page 182 of On Writing Well.

… of all team sports, baseball, with its graceful intermittences of action, its immense and tranquil field sparsely settled with poised men in white, its dispassionate mathematics, seems to me best suited to accommodate, and be ornamented by, a loner.

John Updike, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

I love this sentence. I love the sound of it and how Updike uses punctuation to balance what would otherwise be a cluttered and breathless sentence. Notice the repetitive s sound. In phonetics, the study of how we make the sounds of speech, this s sound is called a hissing sibilant and here it’s part of a larger literary technique called consonance, the repetition of consonants between words. (Notice also the assonance between baseball and graceful.) We’ll never know for sure how conscious Updike was of these techniques but I’d wager at that point in his career he had a feel for their use and it wasn’t necessary to be conscious of them.

Though I avoid adjectives on the advice of many writers because they’re often used to disguise bad nouns, I think Updike chooses wisely here. I’ve never seen a game of baseball but I imagine, unlike football (or soccer in the states) where the action is constant from start to end, baseball includes many pauses which Updike eloquently describes as “graceful intermittences of action”.

I’ve never been to America but, if I ever do, I think I’ll see a game, and maybe get a vegan hot dog.