Saturday, 31 January 2015

My Life As A Philatelist

Would-be novelists are often advised to keep their ears open for snippets of interesting dialogue. They are encouraged to eavesdrop in streets and cafes.

I decided to give it a try just the other day as I was waiting to cross the road.

A workman in a hi-vis safety vest said Well, I’ve ‘ad to step back a bit since mother died. But I’ll give him to Thursday. Then I’m going to go round and kill him.

Maybe it would be safer if I took up stamp collecting instead.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Weather Eye

Shiraz? No,
Merlot, please.

the conversation
sails around

as the valley
drinks in the mist
and a rose pink armchair
takes its ease on the patio.

The kind of cottage
that would suit
an old sea captain

kelp nailed
above the door
to keep an eye
on the weather.

We need a lamp
although the sun’s still high
in the evening sky
playing host to the ghost
of a moon.

A lamp,
and more wine
for the old captain,

the kelp tells
us, as if we didn’t already know
that he’ll be here soon.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


Purple dregs
in last night’s
wine glass

(more or less, in this shape)

on the white rim of the bath.

Splatters of soap
marbling the chrome
of the spigot.

It’s slow,
drip, drip…

On mornings like these it’s as if
you’ve never really
gone away.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Snowflake And The Axe Handle

Solid black morning.
I light the lamp, an arc of rickety light
trembles and breaks on the splintery chopping block
still in its sleeve of silvery bark.

The handle of an axe melting with rain
waiting for someone, anyone to take it up again.

The silence beyond goes on forever,
(the world ending in the weeds at the far edge of my garden)
poised like the axe, the droplets of rain on the handle,
waiting for something,
anything to happen.

Waits, as it turns out, for the first flake of snow.

Late in the afternoon (things less solid now)
it finally falls, just one solitary paper-scissor cut out shape
that unfolds out of the blue,
from the other side of the world
to settle on the handle of the axe
and then be gone, like all good things,
before it even came.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Rolling News

The silver arm of an electronic barrier replaces the guard who used to smile and twitch his white moustache as he checked your ticket. You could tell the time of day by the shadow of stubble on his face. The waiting room in the corner is now a glass cubicle and there’s nowhere to sit down. The old wooden bench used to be along that wall where they’ve mounted a computer screen. Rolling news flickers across the screen all day.

Bad news, mostly.

Before these changes happened a man with a coal black beard used to sit on the bench every morning and fill the waiting room with wreathes of pipe smoke. He wore a lopsided hat and a tweed coat with the elbows out.

His expression was one of pure abstraction: eyes glazed in a dream as smoke curled from the charred bowl of his briar, his mind travelling along glinting tracks that only he could see, his thoughts powered by the ghost of a steam engine that smoked in far off stations where the hills gradually became snow topped mountains and the carriages were as silent as a Halloween séance.

Thankfully, since the advent of austerity and the smoking ban such reckless behaviour rarely happens in public anymore.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Playing With Fire

Step here, onto this summer day platform.
The smell of trains and railway station paraphernalia
hit the senses all at once: has the effect of taking me
back to a mischievous time when my cousin and I
spent a summer hanging around the railway station
and wading the river that meanders under
a metalled bridge where the trains thundered over.

The most exhilarating game was to climb
the brickwork that supported the bridge
and press your ear up to the metal.

The thunder of the train building
to a cosmic crescendo that drove out
all other thoughts and feelings.

Just you and a head full of train.

The other kick was playing with matches.

We bought a big yellow box
with the black silhouette of a ship.

Naturally, this fascination with sparks
and fire didn’t end
just because we grew into men.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

The Curry Stain On My Slipper

A streak of sweet potato curry splashes as it falls.
The question is, when and where did it fall?
The first I knew of it was around six a.m. this morning
when, bleary-eyed, I pulled on one blue slipper
(the left, I think it was)
and saw this dried on orange tomato streak
like a wave in a Japanese abstract painting
decorating my toe.

I fell back in my chair
and wondered about the direction
my life was taking.

It was a masterpiece, really,
this curry stain on my slipper.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Fletcher’s Ghost

A fire smoulders on the roadside verge. Two charred lengths of heartwood oak form a cross. A brown kettle nestles in the nook where the wood meets. Flames lick at the kettle. The spout is black with smoke. A beige Ford Orion sails down the road. Like all of the other cars that have passed this way, the driver can’t help but slow to take in the scene. This particular driver has brick red cheeks, a flat cap pulled down low and a blue tartan muffler throttling his throat. An old boy. His eyes are all over us but he quickly averts his gaze and speeds up again after meeting our eyes.

‘Well’, Fletcher says as we watch the car go. He offers me his bony hand and says ‘good luck’.

The moment we have both been longing for and dreading in equal measure has finally arrived. After all of this time, here it is at last.

I take his hand and say ‘thanks’. There’s an awkward pause. The future, I think, won’t be without its traps and pitfalls. I say, ‘well, goodbye’ as the kettle starts to hiss and billow with steam. Time to be gone. You go your way, and I’ll go mine.

I set off along the road. Pat the pocket of my coat to feel the reassuring shape of the Golden Virginia tin that holds enough tobacco to last me, if I’m careful, until tomorrow. There’s some loose change in the other pocket. Enough, hopefully, to buy me a bus ticket to the next county where, all being well, a job will be waiting for me. All the money I have in the world.

When I reach a bend in the road I resist the urge to look back over my shoulder. One last look at the camp and Fletcher’s tall figure. This man who has taken me under his wing and forced me back onto the straight and narrow.

After all this time on the road it is a little unnerving to be in town again. Old ladies in grey raincoats look me up and down. Their husbands take their arms and quickly pass by. It’s a funny thing: the more I wish to be invisible the more attention I seem to gain. After a few minutes I get used to be being a sideshow again. Self-preservation kicks in. I stop noticing the scrutiny. Ordinary people making mental judgements about something they really know nothing about. Take it from me: this is not paranoia. Try it yourself someday. You’ll soon see what I mean.

I reach the bus stop and try and make sense of the timetable. Already, I am in trouble. The sign says NO SERVICE ON SUNDAYS which strikes me as being an ironic set of words. I thought Sundays were all about services. I read these words over and over again willing them to change. The idea of turning around and admitting defeat after our solemn goodbye doesn’t appeal. A failure in the first thirty minutes of freedom that Fletcher has given me and already I’m thinking about turning around and asking for his help again. No. This will not do. I must keep on going even if it means walking and making my own bed under my own hedge tonight.

I start to walk again. My coat smells of the wood smoke from Fletcher’s fire.

It’s an odd business doing a journey in reverse. It’s as if the ghost of Fletcher is everywhere and he isn’t even dead yet. I know that this is going to be the longest walk of my life. I do the calculations. Thirty miles. Average walking speed four miles an hour. I should be there in around, around seven and a half hours? My God, that’s a long time to be walking. But surely I walk faster than four miles an hour? Besides, I can’t go back: that’s already decided. Just have to keep going. There should still be time for me to have a sleep somewhere and report at work in the morning. My feet are already hurting but it’s way too early to start noticing things like that.

The town is falling behind me. Just have to keep on going. There’s maybe three hours daylight left to me. Mercifully, the temperature is just right and there’s no sign of rain.

I’m on the high road now, thousands of feet above sea level. All on my own.

Just me and Fletcher’s ghost.

Dusk now, on a summer road where there are wild strawberries in the verges. A taste explosion, nature’s finest, the flavour of morning forests in my dry mouth but it’s still not enough.

Pretty soon I’m going to be in real trouble.

My feet throb inside my heavy boots. My legs have turned to jelly and it feels like I’m wading through water as I walk. From time to time, a car heads my way, the headlights sending a fizzing dazzle into my brain as I shrink into the hedge. When darkness returns I struggle on again but the desire to rest now is very strong. I am fearful of doing this. If I stop, I can’t imagine myself ever getting going again.

I don’t want to be caught out here, on the road at dawn.

Despite the dark I can make out the sandy mouth of a track entering an avenue of trees. The lamp lights of a lonely house. A milk crate has been placed at the entrance to the drive. It holds one solitary bottle that must have somehow been left there all day. I don’t like the idea of theft and I don’t like milk. In fact, I detest the stuff. But sometimes needs must. I reach down, grab the bottle then slip it in my pocket. When I have gone on a yard or two and there are no dogs barking or any sounds of alarm I take the bottle from my pocket, jab the silver lid with my thumb and drink it on down.

A feeling of contentment gets into my blood. I lob the empty bottle into a hedge and realise that I can, after all, keep going. 

All evening I have been dealing with the ghosts that have followed me.

When I’d set out this way there had been three of us if you count the horse who had been pulling our flatbed cart. The landmarks have etched themselves into my thinking. Here is the hedge where, inexplicably, someone had abandoned a bow saw with a glittering blade, the teeth still well oiled. There’s the hill top where the old Mark II Cortina had halted to wait for our approach. As we got nearer a man built like a blacksmith had clambered out. He had a shock of black hair and wore a brown leather flying jacket. He sat down on the cropped verge and crossed his legs. Waited as if he’d been expecting us and here was the appointed hour of our meeting in this bleak landscape thousands of feet above sea level. The highest, if you know your guide books, point in the county.

As we drew nearer the horse slowed and I saw that the man had a gold ring on his finger. The word Ventura had been stitched onto the left breast of his jacket in gold thread. ‘Let me do the talking’ Fletcher said. The man got to his feet and approached the horse. He patted the neck and looked the horse over. It was very quiet. Just the sound of a dry wind. ‘You see that car?’ the man said. ‘Here are the keys.’ He threw them up onto the cart and pulled a brown wallet out of his back pocket and snapped out a bundle of notes. ‘Two hundred pounds’, he said. ‘You take the car and this money and the horse is mine.’ Fletcher picked up the keys. Threw them down onto the road. ‘Walk on’ he said and the horse obeyed.

But the dark conceals the garden where I’d jumped down from the cart and filched handfuls of poppy heads. Hid the bend in the road where we’d had an altercation with the landlord of an inn who’d been worried that we were going to try drinking in his bar. ‘It’s my pub I tell you, and you’re not going in there. That pub’s mine.’
Mine!’ Fletcher shouted, one word expressing a thousand.

I can’t go on. I need to lie down. I force my way under a hedge and give in to exhaustion.

After a while, a strange orb of blue light pulses on a hillside. A penumbra of blue and silver light that has no earthly meaning.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Friends Reunited

Chance brings us to this place of concrete and glass.
Sometimes our stepping back triggers the automatic doors.

Snippets of talk. Sometimes too fast to follow although
we’re the ones setting the words in motion.

We’re both beginning to look much younger in our photographs.
Especially the most recent ones.

Sunday, 11 January 2015


Thanks to the sterling work of Red Shuttleworth, copies of this chapbook are available.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Ever Onwards

Circulars and statements swiftly filed among the kindling
then an envelope from America.

I recognise the post mark and the hand writing:
a chapbook from my old friend Poet Red Shuttleworth.

Everything else can wait but this. I tear open the seal
and out comes a sunset cover with blue December floating
in the depths of orange.

I smile at the inscription and start reading,
the curtains still drawn and the crystalline lights
on the Christmas tree pulsing like a ghost’s heartbeat.

I start on a journey still in my dressing gown, my face blurry
and I’m done by the time a cup of coffee
is plonked on the table beside me.

But the unpacking of the words lasts all day –
as if the day was a page that needed filling
with dreams and visions before it was time
to close the curtains again
and pick up from where we left off:
half a moon in the garden
making mirrors of the outhouse windows,
the frost on the grass powdering my boots
as we do indeed go ever onwards.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

What I Read in 2014

The Every-day Life of Abraham Lincoln A Narrative And Descriptive Biography With Pen-Pictures And Personal Recollections By Those Who Knew Him – Francis F. Browne

Coyote-Gnawed US 95 NevadaRed Shuttleworth

Myth – Red Shuttleworth

That the way it goes? – Red Shuttleworth

Wintertide I-IV – Red Shuttleworth

Mailbox – December Poems - Red Shuttleworth

For the Huckle Bearers - Red Shuttleworth

When Yesterday - Red Shuttleworth

Dog Heart Mostly Sleeps in the Pickup - Red Shuttleworth

American Smoke – Iain Sinclair

Rapture and Passage - Red Shuttleworth

Envoy – Tom Clark, Dave Kelly, Red Shuttleworth

At The Fair – Tom Clark

Corrido – Joe Lacey

Tornado Watch - Red Shuttleworth

The Pathetic Fallacy – Llewellyn Powys

Uncollected Poetry – Richard Brautigan

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – Lawrence Sterne

Locations – Tom Clark, Red Shuttleworth

Miles Ago - Red Shuttleworth

Down Road - Red Shuttleworth

Silence In The Snowy Fields – Robert Bly

The Recluse - Red Shuttleworth

The Western Lands – William S. Burroughs

The Painting of You – William Michaelian

Shark – Will Self

The Smiling Eyes of Children – William Michaelian

Chapbook #94 - Red Shuttleworth

A Listening Thing – William Michaelian

What’ll We Do There? - Red Shuttleworth

Doc Holliday’s Skeleton Takes A Saint Patrick’s Day Walk, Leadville, Colorado, 1887 - Red Shuttleworth

The Human Comedy – William Saroyan

The Box of Delights – John Masefield


Morlock Oil

Morlock Oil
A new collection of stories available now . Click on image for details.

The Quest Of Great Celtic Mystery

The Quest Of Great Celtic Mystery
New Chapbook Available (email for details)


Bunchgrass Press

Essential guides for the journey...