Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Quarter Of A Century Knowing Where You’re Going

Looking for work, looking for money – that’s a job in itself.
There’s some horrible jargon around: in these competitive
times you need to be pro-active is something I keep hearing.
I suppose it’s true.

At least, I think that’s what he said…

So what are we to do?
I calculate the money
will run out soon.

Drink coffee,
go into a blind

Wearing an ironed shirt, smart trousers,
and polished shoes. Having somewhere
to go, get up for.

Last night someone told me he hadn’t
been to an interview in twenty-five years.
Imagine that! A quarter of a century
of knowing where you’re going,
what you’re about.

Friday, 30 December 2011

In The Bath With Bob Dylan

When you have a busy family you have to grab your reading where you can. The early morning bath, before the rest of the household awakes, is a good place. Of course, it plays havoc with the pages – so it’s not the place for rare first editions published by the Folio Society. Fortunately, most of my reading comes in the form of cheap paperbacks.

Having finished Nostromo I have now moved on to another great swashbuckling yarn – Song And Dance Man III, The Art of Bob Dylan. It’s the most scholarly work I’ve read since graduating. Comprising of over a 1000 pages I soon discovered that Bob isn’t a good companion in the bath. After two pages my arms started to ache – a pain comparable with that suffered two weeks ago when I lost my jack-hammer virginity digging a trench for a wastepipe. Before the pain forced me to evict Bob from the bath I became re-acquainted with the idea that Chaucer did much to centralise and standardise the English language.

The process would continue for another 500 years. John Bunyan, the argument ran, along with Dylan after him, appropriated the language of the outlaws and used the peoples’ language for the people. At least, I think, this was the general theme I was reading until I gave it up, got dried and headed downstairs for a restorative jug of coffee.

Whilst making coffee, my wife’s mobile made a strange nibbling sound to signify that someone had sent her a text. Out of sheer nosiness, I read the following message:

it shld b ok I’ll shut the dogs in the conservatory and draw the curtains. They might bark. Please bring nibicles

The message was a response to an invitation to a friend’s New Year’s Eve party. My wife wondered if we could bring our daughter – who is seriously dog phobic.

Without thinking I snapped back the reply:

hope the curtains don’t bark too much. what nibicles should we bring?

This is what happens when otherwise literate and intelligent people get involved in hasty texting. Grammar goes out the window along with proof-reading. But future academics might argue, if they got hold of these texts, that Bunyan and Dylan sent language spinning back full circle to the pre-standardisation days.

Note: nibicles should, of course, read nibbles.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Plastic Spoons and a Cat's Name

‘Why spoons?’ my mother wanted to know. I’d come back from the school fete that hot July evening with a bundle of war comics and a bag of plastic spoons. The comics made sense to my mother. The spoons did not.

I left her in the kitchen to ponder the mystery. Beside the bed was a cabinet. I kept my treasures in it. Space was made for the comics. I’d read them that evening until someone noticed that I hadn’t turned my light out. Even then, if there was a chance of it, I’d keep straining my eyes over the fading print until I could see no more.

It was bliss in that room and I’ve often wished that I could travel back in time and read once more by the light of the lamp with the orange shade. It had golden tassels hanging down and there were blue flowers – hydrangeas I think, growing their patterns on the purplish wallpaper. A hideous room of seventies tackiness.

Most nights the old cat would join me on the bed. She’d stand marching on the spot in a state of delirium trying to free her claws from the tangle of threads. It was an endless process and when she really got into it strands of dribble would connect her mouth with the counterpane. She had a strange name – Tuppy, and I never thought to ask why.

There was a grey vent in the room that blew in warm air in the winter time. If you put your ear up to the vent you could hear the house breathing. Better still, you could hear everything that was being said down in the lounge. But, what with Granny being deaf in one ear and Grandad having to shout all the time, you didn’t really need the vent to know what was going on.

Plastic spoons and a cat’s name. Such are the things that keep me awake at night and wondering.

Rabbit Ink

I leave the computer store empty handed. Epson have changed the way they do business: I can’t buy the cartridge I need – Light Cyan – unless I pick up a multi-pack which comes in at £49. January, to misquote T.S Eliot, is the leanest month. En route to the car I remember the pet store and zigzag my way from vehicle to shop. At last I find a bargain – 10kg of dried cat food that comes in at half the price of the stuff we’ve been buying in the supermarket. I hook a sack under my arm when my daughter pulls me off course. I nearly pull her back on course and head for the check out when I think ‘what’s the hurry?’ I follow her gaze.

She’s looking at a series of glass boxes that house furry creatures with exotic names. Grey and beige rodents. If you came across one of these things out of context, sitting on your kitchen worktop for example, or behind your television, you’d shriek and run for your life. They have fancy, unpronounceable names. But without any hesitation, I say to my daughter, ‘they’re rats.’ Another box houses black rabbits with very long ears. Unlike the ink cartridge, you can buy them individually – or as a set that comes in at considerably less than £49.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Sense Of It All

White knuckles...
mirror, mirror
on the wall,
falls and smashes
on the floor

reflecting mushroom
shaped chairs
growing, spawning
on forest
coloured carpet

fabric stretched tight
over foam bulbs

sit in the forest
sit on the floor

talk our way
back into the
sense of it all

Monday, 26 December 2011


I found a tree. Sat under it cross-legged like some kind of mystic.
Sometimes smoking, sometimes reading. Hoping, most of all, that
no-one would ever see me this day. Sometimes I’d lie flat to avoid
the gaze of a passing tractor driver.

That morning I’d watched her drive away. The sun was shining
and the car had another dent from where I’d tried driving it.

It was man’s work she was doing. Humping sacks of clay onto trucks
and into the trunks of customers’ cars. The guy that ran the place had
done a lot of travelling. He wore tie-die T-shirts and looked like a Red
Indian. He liked to tell people about how he’d been to Woodstock.

That night she came home and I could tell she was excited. She was even happy.
On the way home she’d had something of an epiphany. She realised that she liked
the work. Had found somewhere she felt she belonged.

She learnt about the different types of clay. One day the Red Indian asked her if
she’d like to drive the forklift. She quit smoking and started to wear a boiler suit.

The boiler suit lost its fresh creases and wore marks of clay.

I watched her go, determined to have nothing to do with reality this day.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The World Turned Upside Down

She said when things get tough,
it’s our habit to just batten down
the hatches and get on with it.

This time, she said, we have
to do things differently.
Tell the world what we’re going through.

I told a friend.
He said well,
that turns everything upside down.

All morning, the heat wave continued.
She left the house for a job interview of all things.
It felt like a crime, but I stayed inside
and watched a film with another
friend who’d come to stay.

Monday morning
summer in October
time movie.
Shut indoors, away
from the precious sun.

Outside, the working day world was getting well underway.
A telecom man parked his van in the drive.
I could hear the neighbour’s bell ringing.
Then the phone rang and a voice
said I’ve got some good news for you.

The bell rang again, longer this time.
Nothing doing.

The engineer walked back to his van.
He looked very grey in the sun.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Solstice Bells

Just Passing By

‘Your seventy now. Is that a good thing?’
‘Yes and no. You know that it’s nearly over.
That you’ve had a good innings.’

You can’t say the same for John. He died when he was forty.

Forty seemed old to me as I slowly
advanced in years towards this magic number.

Sometimes I get caught.
His voice sounds just like yours.
On the phone, I sometimes
leap right on in and don’t realise until it’s too late.

‘How strange.’ Those were the words that he used
to open what would be our last encounter.

Forgive me for running on so fast.

Those words, spoken on the ridge
in his inimitable intonation.

But then all voices bear their own stamp like whorls in a fingerprint?

I write down the date.
I see him instantly.

How strange…

 Then I passed it by.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rocket Fuel

It is difficult to acknowledge this fact now, but when we were kids, war was the thing. When the bell rang and the teachers let us out into the yard there was nothing we liked better than to pretend to kill each other. Machine guns and grenades were cool. True, the ubiquitous TV did nothing to disabuse us of this notion. There was Telly Savalas, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. War was glamour – our first rock and roll. Knowing that Grandad, an enthusiastic gardener and beer drinker had been a real live soldier in a real live war lent him a certain mystique. There was even an old black and white photograph of him in his uniform. One day, like a child in a war propaganda poster, I made the inevitable mistake of asking ‘and Grandad, what did you do in the war?’ An instant icy change in the room’s atmosphere told me that I’d done a wrong thing: I’d brought up a taboo and I soon learnt never to do it again.

No. I never raised the subject again and time marched on. Things changed. We became boys in the big school, teenagers, got jobs, left home and tried to become men. The war games became a distant, ludicrous memory. War lost its romance when we realised that it was a horror we’d been blessed with escaping. But what didn’t change – right up to the last year of his life when he was eighty nine and I was thirty nine, half a century between us, was that war remained the great taboo. Even as the first grey appeared in my beard, I was still ‘the boy’ and Grandad wouldn’t tell me a thing about his war.

A year or so after he’d passed on, and other conflicts of a more personal kind had been smoothed over, I learnt that Grandad did talk about the war to a select, chosen few – especially after a glass or two of good brandy. Some of these stories have now been shared with me – I’m forty three and finally old enough to hear about his part in the war. I don’t have the full picture, just pieces in a tantalising puzzle that I’m beginning to put together.

What I have is this:

       1.      Grandad joined the war early. He was aged sixteen.

2.      He was part of the Normandy invasion but, due to his boat being attacked, he didn’t make it to France until the day after D-Day.

3.      He was a signalman.

4.      Part of his mission was to take one of the Hills in Northern France. They weren’t really hills but pieces of elevated ground. However, they were very useful for strategic reasons.

5.      The attempt to gain the Hill was hell on earth. The shells killed many men including a friend Grandad was sharing a cigarette with. One moment the man was there, the next….

6.      The Churchill tanks were no match for the Panzer tanks.

7.      The mission to take the Hill turned into a rout. Grandad became separated from his regiment and escaped by heading south.

8.      Somewhere along the way, Grandad spotted what looked like a good pair of trousers tangled in the branches of a tree. A closer inspection revealed that they still contained the legs of the man who’d owned them.

9.      Further along the escape route Grandad and his companions came across an oil tank. They undid the tap and let the content trickle out. It was a clear liquid. I don’t know how these things happen, but someone thought to cup his hands and try drinking it. ‘By Christ’, the soldier said, ‘it’s booze.’

10. Unable to believe their luck, the hapless escapees set about getting inebriated.

11.  They awoke with ferocious hangovers.

12.  One of the men had drunk himself blind. Fortunately, it was only temporary.

13.  They later learnt that they’d been drinking ethanol – fuel for the V2 rockets.

14.  I can never hear the phrase ‘it’s like rocket fuel, this stuff’ without picturing Grandad, a man who’d enjoyed the conviviality of the pub all of his life, knowing that he had really drunk rocket fuel.

15.  A final mystery. Grandad had stayed in Holland with a Dutch family who had a camera. They took strange pictures of jelly-fish/bacteria-like blobs falling out of the sky – men being parachuted into the war. Grandad took these pictures home and kept them in a briefcase along with letters and correspondence from the Dutch family that continued long after the war had ended. There were other artefacts, memorabilia kept in the case - medals, badges, newspaper clippings and so forth.

16.  Sometimes, after a good glass of brandy or two, Grandad would get the briefcase to show to the select, chosen few.

17.  After he’d died, my mother and Uncle cleared the house. There was no sign of the briefcase.

18.  To this day, no-one knows who he gave it to.

19.  Grandad never told me what he did in the war.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Decision Made

A decision made in the heat of the moment.
Now let it go – counter-productive
to think, worry about it.

Sail away
you’ve bought your ticket.
A white boat, green funnel.
Your blue car on foreign roads.

A red ant
walks across
your knees.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Further On Down The Road

                                           - Su Joy

Friday, 16 December 2011

Work (Part 3)

the window shakes
the computer hums
then a plane drowns
all sound

greenish water
in the bathtub

smell of thyme

work, working
at the keyboard
working the keys
tapping the words
a whole week
weekend working

a car
pulls up
in the drive

red chimney pots
against a blue sky

a jackdaw clambers
out like solid smoke

the doorbell rings

keep typing
keying the words
as if my very life
depended on it

(which it does)

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Grain Truck Snow

snow bouncing
on asphalt


by a passing
grain truck

of snow
flying towards
the winter sun

From A Window (Part 2)

Image made by Su Joy

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Rain Wouldn't Confine Me

rain wouldn’t confine me
with everyone indoors watching TV
taking things from the oven
or mending things with tools
from the toolbox I’d be out there
in my coat waiting under the eaves

I remember that coat – a parka
navy blue with Eskimo fringe
orange lining bright as a
traffic cone my name inside
written in black marker
pen rain wouldn’t confine me

From A Window

The roof is flat and tarred with little white stones.
A CCTV camera and a security lamp keep watch.
The front door’s made of a well-done steak coloured wood.
A chimney breast climbs up the wall to meet
a tiled apex peppered with lichens and mosses.
TV aerials make fish-bone shapes.
Ball-bearing berries grow in black spheres
on the backdrop of sky held together by stitches
woven by black branches.
Other trees, conical evergreens.

The tower of struts, wires and structures of steel
where, far as the eye can see
the sky is very blue
suggestive of sea:
its proximity.  

Monday, 12 December 2011

Gardening Leave - The Third Week

At ten to six the traffic really gets going. This little alcove, that should be a sanctuary of light with its view of the trees, becomes a place of noise. Tonight, it’s particularly bad because the road is covered in rain.

I should be out there too. Have been for the last four and a half years. But now there’s nowhere to go.

I’d be in my little blue car, the radio on and smoking a cigar. It might be a strange thing to say, but I was always happy on these journeys. I could run the day’s events through my head and smile. My job was fun! Naturally, my bank account was a disaster, but I could sleep at night and we got by.

Drops of rain hang from the telephone wires at more or less even spaces. They look like little balls of mercury. But wait; my mobile buzzes. This is an event! What could it mean?

It’s a text from my friend Ruth. She says Did I hear about the job? Hope you are well. Started work last week. People are really nice. I think I will be fine. Ironic. It was me that saw that job advert and said she should apply. But I’m pleased that she’s going to be fine. We were both casualties from the same work. She was part of what made it fun. No. I haven’t heard about the job. The abyss still waits.

Not that I’m worried on my account. If it was just me, I might enjoy this situation. I’m on my third week of gardening leave. I’d heard the term before and not really understood what it meant. Basically, you’re paid to stay at home. They want you out of the way so that you don’t start getting sour and malicious.

Gardening leave. What it would be to take those words literally! To spend four weeks in the garden pottering around and getting to know myself. I suppose, in a way, I have been doing this. I’m two thirds through this period of enforced leave. Then the axe will fall, I’ll be chopped, cut, pruned from the company. So I will have to find another way to grow. But sometimes I’m so frightened all I can do is wilt.

There’s just time to jot down my impressions, memories of gardening leave. I might return to them later. They go like this…

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Saturday, 10 December 2011

The Wurzels: Revolution In The Shed

After so much has been said and written about the fab five, it is difficult to get at the truth. The band avoids giving interviews preferring to concentrate on developing the music that has changed rock music forever. Elvis, The Beatles, The Stones, Dylan, Hendrix and The Wurzels: we’ll never see their kind again.

Beneath the hype, this much is true: Bazzer, Bert, Denzel, Dennis and Mungo were just five ordinary farm lads who grew up in the quiet village of Gurney Binegar.  Had it not been for the invention of the wireless it is unlikely that these boys would ever have heard the exciting new music that was being broadcast from the other side of the Atlantic. Inspired, the boys began meeting in the chicken shed after the ploughing was done. The rest, as they say, was history. Wurzlemania swept the fields of the country.
Never afraid of controversy, the band upset the crowds who gathered at the now legendary Shepton Mallet Farmers Market in 1966. Bert had gone electric, replacing his paraffin lamp with a new-fangled torch. As if this wasn’t daring enough, Denzel went on to make his infamous ‘The Wurzels are bigger than Jesus’ statement. The band decided to lay low for awhile.

Bert, ‘the quiet Wurzel’ retreated to Frome and began experimenting with cider and transcendental inebriation. He became a follower of the Myhedge Yokel. The others soon followed. It wasn’t until Woodstock, when the band broke their silence, and blew everyone’s minds with their rendition of Drink up Thy Cider which ended with Bazzer setting fire to the hay barn.

The pressures of fame pushed the band over the edge. They went their separate ways. Dennis became a recluse in Upper Buncombe until, in 1980, he was stalked by a deranged fan who deliberately shoved him into a baling machine. The world never recovered from this senseless murder. Bert died of farmer’s lung in 2001.
The surviving members are back on the road with ‘new boy’ Thick Woods. They play Salisbury Arts Centre in spring 2012.

Anyone up for it?

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Leaves It Travels Through


Hear the wind.


And screened from the wind,
a Japanese anemone.

The leaves it travels through.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

If I Can't Go To The Mountain

Phone calls that go round in circles
conducted by automatons.
Remember the old days
when there was a face,
personality connected
with every profession?

I wish that something would happen.

The man in the pale blue shirt paces the room
with a phone clamped to his ear. The door’s open.
What’s he doing home at this time of the day?
Who’s he talking to?

Once there were people who worked for me
and responded to my every need.

A tall plant covered in yellow berries.
An old lady walks by.
She wears a blue body
warmer to go with the coat worn by
her little white dog.

She stops
to gather a handful of the poisonous fruit.

The door’s closed now.

If I can’t go to the mountain…

Monday, 5 December 2011

At The Poetry Reading

If I didn’t know better, I’d say she was Russian.
Why do you say that?
I don’t know. The black hair, red lips…

The wall behind the altar, someone’s painted it orange.
Yeah… and her white skin.

Nine candles burning.
The poet has long hair
like a rock star. Nasal
voice relayed through
a microphone strapped
to his head so that he
looks like a fighter pilot.

The whitewash on the walls
has got onto our coat sleeves
from where we have leaned
against the walls.

A convoy of cars.
Astons, Bentleys,
Rovers, Mercedes.
I’ve no idea where
we’re heading.

Light like gold burnishing the windows.
White doors wide open
the light shining
on the blue belt of flowers
clustering the lawn.

Salads of fresh herbs and spices.
Everywhere I go, a man follows
topping up the champagne
in my glass. A man sat on the marbled
hearth plucking a golden guitar.
A Welsh tune about horses.

You can hear the hooves in the strings.

Sunday, 4 December 2011


There’s a man standing in the shadow of a chestnut tree holding a pigeon clamped between his two hands. A blue car passes. The woman in the passenger seat says something but he’s not listening. He sees the man standing under the chestnut tree.
The tree is in flower. They look like candles.
When they get home, he trawls through the TV channels. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for. When he hits the off button he realises he likes the black nothing best.

He hears tyres turning on the gravel of his drive. The cat runs in, a sleigh bell noise coming from its collar. It sits down and scratches its ear and the bell rings faster.

She says something about money. The TV goes on. He walks over to the window. The tree still casts its shadow.
The man has gone.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Lucky Heather

It’s cold inside the car
and there’s a piece of lucky
heather blue-tacked
to the dashboard.

His trousers are creased.
His shoes scuffed, the laces untied.
He runs his finger through
the dust on the dashboard.

The sun is going down.
He can see it through
the smears on the windscreen.

As it goes down
he thinks about how
she’s out there somewhere,
seeing the same sun
and breathing the same air.


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