The London Underground is not exactly a space where you’d expect to find inspiration but it is where I rediscovered the magic of poetry two years ago.  I’m not sure whether this post belongs on Home-in-the-Making or elsewhere, but since it ends up in my garden, I’ve decided to include it here.

Subways and crowded carriages are not my favourite places and until overcoming a lifelong struggle with claustrophobia a few years ago, I almost never used them. Consequently, to suddenly catch sight of a breathtaking line of poetry printed inside a carriage rattling far below London was an unexpectedly lovely experience, to say the least. In that instance, I was reminded of “how extraordinary it is that poetry can, over the course of one sentence, flood your circuit board with loss, or anger, or love” (The Independent) and to that quote I would like to add ‘joy’.

“The swallow are italic again”.  The brilliant imagery of that line held me spellbound.  On closer inspection I realised that this was not random graffiti, but a whole poem, printed on the inside of the carriage along with several others.  In fact, the inside of that particular carriage seemed quite festooned with poetry.




I made a mental note of the poet, Owen Sheers, googled him the minute I got home and then set out for the nearest bookshop.  So far, I’ve not been able to find an anthology of Owen Sheers’ poems, but I did find a book titled “Poems on the Underground” edited by Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik and Cicely Herbert and I bought it immediately.


As you can see, it is already quite well worn.

To quote from the foreword of the book, “Poems on the Underground started life in January 1986 as an experiment by three friends, lovers of poetry, who persuaded London Underground to post a few poems in its trains.” I for one now look for poetry every time I board the tube and am disappointed when I don’t find it.  I wish all the carriages could become travelling poetry books.

“Swallows”, I’d decided, needed to find a place in my new home and then on reading “Poems on the Underground” from cover to cover, I came across another poem I couldn’t live without either.


Returning to South Africa, I set about looking for someone who would be able to transcribe these two poems onto stone for me and, thanks to Google once more, I found just the perfect person in a small, southern coast village of Still Bay (or Stilbaai as it is more commonly referred to by South Africans.)

Si’mon Huber  ( turned out to be exactly who I was looking for and in a matter of weeks, with only email correspondence between us, he had carved the first verse of ‘Swallows’ and the whole of ‘Tin Roof’ onto beautiful sandstone blocks and had them couriered to me in Johannesburg.  What a find!  It is not often that one orders something sight unseen and when the finished product arrives it actually exceeds one’s  expectations. While I’d have loved to have all three verses of ‘Swallows’ in the garden, I felt I needed to exercise some self-restraint so have limited myself to just the first verse.  It was, after all, that first line that had so captured my imagination.

The poems are now comfortably settled; one outside the front door and one in the front garden.


With one of the criteria given to our architect being that our house have an ‘iron roof’, this poem, ‘Tin Roof’, has special resonance.


Close up.

Once “Swallows” was in place, I felt it might benefit from some ‘illustration’.


While developing this garden, I have rather fallen in love with a shop in our neighbouring suburb of Greenside.  Tucked down a little panhandle and quite difficult to find, is Garden Bleu. (  It is a treasure trove of garden ornamentation and is becoming a regular haunt.

When I realised that most of their products are locally manufactured, I asked Sascha – who manages the Greenside branch – if she thought they could make a few swallows for me to mount on the wall.  She asked me to find a few diagrams on the internet to use as ‘patterns’ which I did and a few weeks ago I collected seven beautiful swallow silhouettes for the wall.


I had asked for them to be made with short ‘posts’ which could be bolted into the wall so that the swallows would stand proud of the wall itself.  This means that at different times of the day, they cast beautiful shadows of themselves against the wall.  Bernard, our architect, taught me about shadow lines.  Had I not gleaned that from him I would have probably asked for shapes that could be stuck straight onto the wall and I don’t think they would have been as effective

Sascha told me that she’d had a few extra swallows made alongside mine and that they’d already been sold.  It’s very refreshing to have found such an enthusiastic young business where anything seems possible. And, as with the sandstone carvings, the finished swallows were lovelier than I’d imagined.  Before our big ‘downsizing’ exercise last year, I never knew that having a small garden could be so much fun.