Sunday, 30 October 2011

Against The First Chill

The photos are arranged on the bed as if it were an album. One shot shows children wearing bright, warm clothing against the first chill. I remove the scarf lagging my throat. Bits of leaves powder to the floor.

A white boat floats down a green river.
The stereo’s cranked up and the biker
in the bar has but one intention:
to get and stayed hammered.

Each day, the menu’s always the same –
chicken, rice and beans.

I hear a voice say my name. It takes me a minute to place her. The last time I’d seen her she’d had black hair and a face as pale and sleek as a vampire. Now, she’s gone to seed, wrinkled like a windfall shut in a newspaper-lined drawer.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Cheap Day Return

Thank You...

I'm very grateful to the following people who have taken the time to visit me while I've been on gardening leave:

Tane Mar, Vazambam, Brent, Jim Murdoch and Elisabeth.

Thank you so much. I'm especially grateful to my friend William. He stopped by, rolled his sleeves up and got stuck in with helping me in the garden right from the beginning.

Meanwhile, here's something else that came along today...

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Book of the Month

A Listening Thing by William Michaelian
Every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter neatly flows on, one after the other.
Deceptively simple, the story concerns Stephen Monroe; an every man’s every man. The message is deep and the title profound. But there are plenty of comic observations to make the reader smile. Especially the description of tail-gating and a cigar chomping old boy admiring the pretty women as he drives along. Situations every motorist will recognise. Sentences that are memorable: ‘I had an affair with my toaster’ and a fantastic scene involving an oak tree.
A wise and generous novel I suspect I will be re-reading again in the near future. It’s worth the cover price for William’s advice to aspiring young writers alone – advice that is also very useful for middle-aged and elderly writers too.
You can buy the book by following the links on William’s website at

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Finders keepers

My Grandfather as a boy walking through a wood with his father, walking out to see what they’ve killed. England between the wars. The wood is near Dorchester and Thomas Hardy has not long been dead. What time of year is this? I don’t know, but I keep seeing leaves. A carpet of dead leaves. Black leaves. Leather boots churning the leaves. My Great-Grandfather – Granfer – wearing his weskit over his collar-less white shirt. Their eyes scanning the ground looking for traps. Traps that they had planted. Iron teeth to catch a rabbit. But instead, something else, lying in the leaves.

What is this? Not a rabbit, but a leather wallet. My Grandad sees it first. ‘Dad, Dad, what’s this?’ The older man takes it. Opens it to see notes, coins. Notes the size of newspapers. You have to unfold them; lay them flat to see their value. ‘There’s over a hundred pounds here.’ Enough to buy a house with.

So, this man and boy, not averse to stealing a swede from a farmer’s field, out poaching for rabbits, what did they do? The honest and proper thing, of course. They handed it in, the whole lot. Handed it in at Dorchester police station. The rightful owner was found. He took the lot. Never left anything for a reward, not even a shilling.

If ever I found anything my Grandad would tell me to put it in my pocket and not say anything. Finders keepers, he’d say. Losers weepers.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Remember The River

Remember when there was a face, personality connected to every profession?
The insurance man with his flapping sole and said it was a smile?
Insurance against every kind of disaster like the afternoon when the river
rolled right in to our front room?

Now the water is green and you can’t believe it happened
but here is the olive tree you bought me in that same year. When was it?
Must be more than ten years ago now. You’ve forgotten it?
It’s hidden from you like the letters replaced by a dash
to signify a bad word in an old novel. Damn!

You’re always wondering where something has been put.

Friday, 21 October 2011

How I Got On In The Music Exam

Greg’s Dad was a plumber and he wore his boiler suit whatever the day. Even on a Sunday. He smoked a pipe and rubbed his own tobacco. His pleasures were simple. On Sunday the whippet needed a long walk and the afternoon was time to ‘switch on telly to see if a good film were on.’ There always was. Something old and shot in black and white. The week was for work. It always took him a while to get going, Greg said, but once he’d got the bit between his teeth he’d be off. There was always work about in those days for someone like Greg’s Dad.  

The first time I saw Greg I’d been fooled into thinking he was a scholar. It was a music exam. We had to put dots onto staves and draw notes. It was my first day at the school and I was hopeless at it. I had no idea what was going on. Greg had thin black hair that wore a lustre of grease. He had this cow-flick fringe which meant that he had to twitch his head like a horse bothered by fly. He wore wire-framed NHS specs and even had a fountain pen which he pressed against his bottom lip when he was thinking. As we listened to the recorded music playing on the tape machine, Greg made these neat dots and strokes on the staves and the best thing for it was to try and copy him.

Did you ever have to start at a new school? It was a lonely business not knowing anyone and trying to fit in coping with the new language and smells. As a talisman I kept looking at the new watch that my Grandad had brought back from Spain for me. He’d bought it on the plane. One of those pre-digital affairs with a blood-coloured screen. You pressed a button and the time lit up in red digits. It felt about as sophisticated as some gadget used in Star Trek.  It was hard to not keep looking at it. Best of all, it was like having a piece of my Grandad with me in school. It made me feel less alone. The exam ticked on in silence. I stole a glance at Greg, now and then, and tried to replicate what he was doing. It wasn’t easy. The distance between our desks was the statutory space as laid out in the exam board regulations. My attempts to copy Greg were impressionistic at best. As the hour approached the watch started to chime Viva La Espana and the teacher pulled me up by the hair and bundled me out the door. Not a great start on my first day.  

I tried to explain that it was an oversight. An accident. But the teacher was having none of it. ‘You did it on purpose! You must have done.’

It later transpired that my faith in Greg was completely misguided. He’d made a total hash of the exam, transcribing marks and answers that were plain bizarre. Worse still, I’d simultaneously recorded, despite the challenging circumstances of the distance, almost identically weird answers on top of sabotaging the exam with a tinny version of the jolly holiday tune.  It seemed that the music teacher’s appreciation for a good tune only stretched so far. 

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Window Pain

Too wet for the pupils to go outside. As a teacher, you hate these days:  lid too tight on the pressure cooker. Something has to blow. The games they play. Hawking up greenies and flicking them to cling on the ceiling. The threat of petty violence - wait ‘til after school. I’ll get you… Rumpus in the corner near the windows. Ishy Isherwood, the best looking boy in the school, somehow manages to bust a pane. A collective whoosh, intake of breath and the sudden silence that only shock can bring.

Decisive action. The boy turns on his heel and leaves the room. He’s going to confess to his crime. No lying, no waiting for someone else to grass him up. Straight to the Headmaster’s office situated near the dinner hall that smells of something hard to describe but stays with you forever. ‘Come in.’ The Headmaster wears a gown and has a walrus moustache. He comes from Wales so he speaks funny. ‘Sir it was me…’

In this bedlam a boy gets round to opening his lunch box. It’s gone very hush. They all know something bad is coming. He peels the lid from the yellow box and takes out a sandwich. A sausage escapes and lands on the polished floor. Another boy steps in it, the pink meat squirting up his heel. It leaves a splodge and no-one notices. The boy starts to eat. His neighbour, a studious looking kid with wire-rimmed glasses and a bad stutter says sh-sh-sh-shit as Mr Gordon walks in.

Gordy Gordon the maths teacher. Hippy-beard who spends his summers going out to India which was impossibly far, remote as Mars or the Moon and not the Ibiza where the more fortunate families chose to go. Gordy Gordon with his garlic breath like a gas leak. The room is silent. Gordy sees the sausage squashed on the floor as the boys all scrape their chairs to attention. ‘You boy, get the caretaker.’

He places his hands high up on his hips and his nose whistles as he breathes in deep looking at the cracked pane. ‘What happened here?’ A hand goes up.

                ‘Sir, it was Isherwood, Sir.’

 Cully the caretaker clatters in with a mop and galvanised pale and a mop. His complexion is brown like an Italian which makes no sense in this cold corner of the country. His head is fascinatingly bald. The sausage gets eradicated by soapy water. Gordy leaves and an outbreak of talking starts.

As the bell rings to signify the end of lunch the chairs scrape again as the form teacher arrives. He’s gaunt looking with longish hair and a beak for a nose. Cigarette smell. You could hear a pin drop. All eyes are on him. He raises an eyebrow to signal that it’s okay to sit down. A girl makes the mistake of trying to say something to her partner. The wooden board rubber is launched as a missile and bounces off the desk in front of her. Shut it the teacher says.

Later the boy who dropped the sausage learnt that a bill for the window was to be sent to Ishy’s parents who were hardworking farmers and would probably whack him for it. The Headmaster caned Ishy in his study that afternoon.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Picture Sunday. I tried. Only a dose of wine and it acted as a shroud. Sunday?

I was on my own. Alone with my daughter. I got up early. I always do no matter the circumstance. In my twenties after a night of hard drinking – I rose early. It’s the best part of the day, isn’t it?

She smiled. I have been watching for this. The face seems sterner today.

Maybe she’s looking for the crack,
the place where she can start to really pull me apart?

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The End of Another Novel

Silver cobweb in the window. Dampness everywhere: a cold, dripping morning. Dew whitening the grass. Not yet really cold, but a warning shot. Soon winter will be here. It comes around like the end of a novel. The left hand filled with the bulk of finished pages, the right with the slender section that’s left. Always a temptation to race through at this stage. Get on to the next story in the stack. But this is a mistake: you have to take the time to savour, understand every word.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Tomato Scandal

Tomato Scandal

The gunning up of a lawn-mower and the sound of a slurred voice belonging to an imbecile always takes me back to my Grandfather. Oh the smell of cut grass! Scraping the blades with an old dinner knife before returning the machine to the shed and the knife to Granny’s cutlery drawer. It was always dark as shoe polish in the shed and there was a glorious smell of petrol. Grandpa’s assistant was a hunchback called Len. He was bald as a coot and had gaps in his teeth that made his smile gummy. The teeth that remained were yellowed and had lost their definition. But never mind! None of these detractors from beauty made Len unhappy. He hummed away all day bent over his clippers and more often than not had a fat roll-up hinged to his lip. It moved around with his mouth when he spoke. In winter time he wore a donkey jacket. He wore it summer time, too. He wore it with his baggy trouser cuffs clamped in by bicycle clips and he never remembered to take them off.  Oh these modern-day Lycra bikers with their day-glo vests and helmets like tortoise shells clamped to their heads! You should have seen Len wobbling down the road dressed in black on winter evenings with his bald dome shining in the night - sometimes losing concentration and wobbling further as he messed with his rollie to get it going. Old Holborn it was. In the old tins with the black and white Tudor framed building for a logo. He mixed it with pipe tobacco and when he parked the mower in the rich grassy smelling petrol-perfumed shed the general ambience was divine…

Sometimes his humming would drive Grandpa batshit. ‘Len, for chrissakes stop that humming.’

Nder nner, nurder ner nah…

To no avail. Grandpa’s remonstrations couldn’t penetrate Len’s mystic clipping trance.

Tea breaks were best. They were fitted in to the otherwise gruelling schedule on an hourly basis. Len and Grandpa liked the greenhouse best because the panes were whitewashed to keep the heat in. They were shielded from the eyes of their employer, Mr Barker the Headmaster of the school. So they’d sit among the hanging green tomatoes and the seed trays sipping tea from a tartan flask and Len would give Grandpa a slice of his wife’s home-made cake. They might moan about ‘the boys’ – the pupils who boarded at the school or some bloody nonsense reported on the front page of The Sun. I was too young to worry about the bloody nonsense but by God it’s bothering me now by the spade full. Len would smoke his fragrant tobacco and as it was still 1973 it was okay for me to be kippered with the cloud that haunted the greenhouse. Len would often run his hand over his dome as if to re-arrange his hair. He would always look slightly startled and wistful when he discovered it wasn’t there.

Eventually the sun would gather force and the green tomatoes turned red. Grandpa would sit in his string vest and Len would soldier on his donkey jacket. I didn’t know they were smugglers until I blew their cover.

I also wanted to tell you about the dirty calendar from 1968 that was still hanging from a nail behind the shed door.

As this is a participatory story, you can cast your votes now.

Text TOMATOES if you’d like tomatoes

Text SMUT if you’d like the calendar.

The concluding part of this drama will be broadcasted next Saturday evening somewhere between Come Dancing and Match Of The Day. Oh what a night that will be!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Pepperbox Hill

The trees in their battle fatigues
camouflaged from what’s above.

Red bird hovering before
plummeting. A spitfire roll

and a salvo of song
bursting along the old track.

A platoon of partridges
and a khaki-coloured egg

shell all smashed to smithereens
and sheep droppings strewn like grenades.

Unexploded pine cones sit
next to a trench filled with last

autumn’s propaganda, boxed
in with barbarous barbed-wire.

The fields, mustard and gas blue,
surveyed by the spy-black rooks

mud, a sucking Somme slop
that sucks at my boots as we

halt here, firing smoke puffs,
from our Zeppelin cigars.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Another October Song

Weather breaks, sudden as the clicking of a switch,
without warning. It happened the night my son
was born. The long afternoon was golden.
The evening and the acupuncturist arrived,
stuck his silver pins somewhere in her legs
as if she was a voodoo doll. Said that should
do the trick and took me to one side, said
here, this is for you.

When it was over,
sometime just before dawn
I got the fire going. The red glow
in the windows and we were all red,
glowing and I took what
he gave me, drank it down in one –
the burning liquid and after a while
I thought to open the door

the wind shook
the leaves from
silvery trees.


Morlock Oil

Morlock Oil
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The Quest Of Great Celtic Mystery

The Quest Of Great Celtic Mystery
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