Sunday, 21 December 2014

University Challenge

Like many a child of my generation, I was convinced that the contestants on University Challenge were somehow suspended in boxes in a row above each other. The presenter had strange woolly hair and an even stranger name – Bamber Gasket - or something like that. The theme tune sounded like it was being played on a doorbell as the students, reading history and politics and what not waved goodbye. They all had long hair and beards, floral shirts and carried furry totems known as gonks. Gonk knows why.

Whenever I watched this programme I had difficulty in understanding the questions never mind knowing any of the answers.

As I got older and more intellectual my strike rate began to improve: I could usually answer at least one question a series. Eventually, I went to university myself. It was certainly a challenge. For the first semester I grappled literary theory. I didn’t come off too well in that particular grapple. I sat with rapt attention in lecture hall after lecture hall wearing an expression of what I hoped was cool sophistication. Derrida perhaps, working on a particularly tricky crossword puzzle. But the truth was, I didn’t understand a sodding word of it. Ferdinand de Saussure? Forget it. The only thing I understood about him was that the spell check tried to change his name to Sausage. Messed up as I was, I probably accepted the suggestion. One time I wrote a structuralist interpretation of a Dickens novel and actually got a First for it. The tutor wrote ‘this is a delight’ next to the coffee stain on the cover sheet. The only problem was, I didn’t have a clue as to what I had written or done to deserve such praise. Wandering lonely as a daffodil around the campus I began to doubt my sanity. I asked myself things like, ‘does that sign FIRE EXIT really signify FIRE EXIT? And what did that tutor really mean when he said ‘good morning’? It was a vexing business. And I never saw one damned gonk in any of the corridors.

Somehow, I survived. My strike rate for University Challenge tripled! I was now averaging three questions per series. And, being an educated man, I now knew that the contestants didn’t really sit in boxes suspended above each other.

Fortunately, my intellectual days are long behind me now. I’m content to drink beer and watch Match of the Day without worrying about what the ball and net might really signify in a post colonial theory context with an amusing twist thrown in by Julie Kristeva and whether Alan Hansen’s post match analysis could be linked to a post modern reading of The Knight’s Tale.   

But the other evening I accidentally watched University Challenge. The show has gone through some changes. The gentle Bamber has been replaced by the notoriously abrasive Paxman. The doorbell music is the same. Gonks are now extinct. The questions, despite my university degree, are just as incomprehensible. So imagine my shock when I suddenly scored five consecutive points in a row. As usual I knew nothing about the trivial subjects of science, mathematics and the arts. Then Paxman said, ‘Brunel, your specialised round is on sausages.’

I got every damn one of them right. Move over, Sir Ferdinand Sausage. 

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

A Patch Of Garden

I set out a boundary
using sticks
and string
and stones.

The light dims.

A dream of blades,
the sound of a motor.
Belongs to a red rotavator
pushed by a strong armed man
sweating in a string vest.

I pull back the morning curtain.
Let what’s left of the night out of the room.

My patch of garden is gone.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

A Poem To Pour On Your Sunday Roast

On Sundays, I eat.
Make up for lost time.

Roast potatoes,
chicken and gravy
made to my own recipe.

Rock and roll is okay,
but a good stock and oil
is where it's really at.

If the hippies
in the sixties
had known this,
they would have got busted
for possession of Oxo cubes.

Gravy is like a concept album.
I get mine from my very own graveyard.

It has a continuous thread of flavour
running through it like a good bass and rhythm section,
but it's the tinkering with herbs,
the splashing in of wine that adds a further,
truly cosmic dimension.

A continual work in progress
to reach the gravy grail
of ever elusive perfection.
Carcinogen busting carrots,
cabbage and broccoli.

Stoking up, fuelling myself for the week ahead
where meals get skipped or forgotten.

Or if they are remembered,
they probably do more harm than good.

No two gravies are ever quite the same.
Which is precisely the point to it.

So let go,
set sail, float
your very own gravy boat.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Story To Be Going On With

Here is a story where the opening scene happens last.

It ends and begins with a smile and a raincoat.

You carry a newspaper filled with old news and out of the way tales
that social commentators will one day savour for their strangeness.

But for now, to be going on with, are just stories to be going on with.

Someone’s life story
in three paragraphs.
A novel, a doorbell,
coffee, a book capable
of making freedom out of paper
and sending it out into the day.

Painting yourself is a good idea: brightens things.
Adds to the shape that the horizon brings.

Snow glass on a painted word.
A day shaped at last

as you
come listening
on your visiting
wearing a smile.

And a raincoat.

Monday, 8 December 2014


Photo: Su Joy

Opium or sandalwood drifting
from the burning stick in the window.

A pale moon rises
and we’re a long way from home.

Running on empty
we dip down into the reserves,

find what we need
to go even further.

Further beyond this blue.

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The Quest Of Great Celtic Mystery

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