Monday, 30 April 2012

My Friend

From Roy's beautiful first album...

You brought me a very many good dreams, my friend...RH

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Illustrated George Orwell

A discussion surrounding, of all things, tea, reminded me of George Orwell and his essay on the art of making tea. This set me off googling, trying to find it.

What I discovered, on my way, was the assertion that Orwell had tattoos.

I find it hard to imagine tattoos on the body of that stern Etonian. Orwell, the quintessential Englishman. But perhaps, just maybe...

It seems that he had these little blue circles on his knuckles that the Burmese believed warded off evil spirits.

Easier to verify was that fact that his grave is about an hour and a half drive from where I live.

The temptation to make the pilgrimage is as strong as the tea that Orwell liked to drink.

A Nice Cup of Tea
By George Orwell
Evening Standard, 12 January 1946.
If you look up 'tea' in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the main stays of civilization in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than eleven outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial. Here are my own eleven rules, every one of which I regard as golden:
  • First of all, one should use Indian or Ceylonese tea. China tea has virtues which are not to be despised nowadays — it is economical, and one can drink it without milk — but there is not much stimulation in it. One does not feel wiser, braver or more optimistic after drinking it. Anyone who has used that comforting phrase 'a nice cup of tea' invariably means Indian tea.
  • Secondly, tea should be made in small quantities — that is, in a teapot. Tea out of an urn is always tasteless, while army tea, made in a cauldron, tastes of grease and whitewash. The teapot should be made of china or earthenware. Silver or Britannia ware teapots produce inferior tea and enamel pots are worse; though curiously enough a pewter teapot (a rarity nowadays) is not so bad.
  • Thirdly, the pot should be warmed beforehand. This is better done by placing it on the hob than by the usual method of swilling it out with hot water.
  • Fourthly, the tea should be strong. For a pot holding a quart, if you are going to fill it nearly to the brim, six heaped teaspoons would be about right. In a time of rationing, this is not an idea that can be realized on every day of the week, but I maintain that one strong cup of tea is better than twenty weak ones. All true tea lovers not only like their tea strong, but like it a little stronger with each year that passes — a fact which is recognized in the extra ration issued to old-age pensioners.
  • Fifthly, the tea should be put straight into the pot. No strainers, muslin bags or other devices to imprison the tea. In some countries teapots are fitted with little dangling baskets under the spout to catch the stray leaves, which are supposed to be harmful. Actually one can swallow tea-leaves in considerable quantities without ill effect, and if the tea is not loose in the pot it never infuses properly.
  • Sixthly, one should take the teapot to the kettle and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours. Some people add that one should only use water that has been freshly brought to the boil, but I have never noticed that it makes any difference.
  • Seventhly, after making the tea, one should stir it, or better, give the pot a good shake, afterwards allowing the leaves to settle.
  • Eighthly, one should drink out of a good breakfast cup — that is, the cylindrical type of cup, not the flat, shallow type. The breakfast cup holds more, and with the other kind one's tea is always half cold before one has well started on it.
  • Ninthly, one should pour the cream off the milk before using it for tea. Milk that is too creamy always gives tea a sickly taste.
  • Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.
  • Lastly, tea — unless one is drinking it in the Russian style — should be drunk without sugar. I know very well that I am in a minority here. But still, how can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.

    Some people would answer that they don't like tea in itself, that they only drink it in order to be warmed and stimulated, and they need sugar to take the taste away. To those misguided people I would say: Try drinking tea without sugar for, say, a fortnight and it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.
These are not the only controversial points to arise in connexion with tea drinking, but they are sufficient to show how subtilized the whole business has become. There is also the mysterious social etiquette surrounding the teapot (why is it considered vulgar to drink out of your saucer, for instance?) and much might be written about the subsidiary uses of tealeaves, such as telling fortunes, predicting the arrival of visitors, feeding rabbits, healing burns and sweeping the carpet. It is worth paying attention to such details as warming the pot and using water that is really boiling, so as to make quite sure of wringing out of one's ration the twenty good, strong cups of that two ounces, properly handled, ought to represent.
(taken from The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 3, 1943-45, Penguin ISBN, 0-14-00-3153-7)

Saturday, 28 April 2012

The Trigger

The trigger. I knew it was the wrong thing to do
as soon as I started pouring the wine into the beaker.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Air In The System

The wintery cat with snowy whiskers snores.
Air in its pipes making the system gurgle.

Thursday, 26 April 2012


A man with a cowl made out of black fur weaves a bicycle through the traffic that waits for
the lights to change. He gets it wrong and has to dash as the engines build their revs.

He pushes his bike on the pavement and walks on looking straight ahead. 

I remember a time when he was buying reduced wine with a voucher in M&S of all places, reeling a jig at the queue unable to control his legs and already smelling like a crate of bottles clinking in a truck the morning after New Year’s Eve.

Just another town drunk with a story waiting to be told.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Standing In The Dock At Southampton

Jim likes to play The Ballad of John & Yoko. Hearing it again, I realise it’s a rollicking good tune: it rocks and rolls. One night it got into my dreams. I heard the opening lines and realised I’d been missing something obvious that had been staring me in the face.

In a bid to get some energy into my sluggish winter body I have taken to experimenting with psycho-geography. Not in a big way because I’m not sure I fully understand it. But I’ve set off in the opposite direction to where the crowds are generally heading, plunging into side-streets that lead to uninviting warehouses where fruit and veg get distributed from. Gloomy places with shutter doors locked against the afternoon light: the loading of the trucks is an early morning business. Dirty cabbage leaves lie in the gutters along with the smear of orange or strawberry. Should anyone see you round here they look you up and down and you feel like a trespasser.

Sometimes I achieve the effect of getting lost. I’m in the city where I work and have absolutely no idea where I am. Here is a flash of sunshine and the air feels white and cold. There are flats on both side of the road. They’re white and clean with the orange stripe of a balcony. A woman in a summer dress stands on her balcony and smokes. She hasn’t seen me. She has black hair and a white comb set in her hair. Someone on the opposite side shakes out a white rug as if sending a signal. Dust puffs into the air. I could be anywhere until I turn down an alley that leads to the docks.

A red ferry sits on the brown-green water. A ghostly turret with dead flies and cobwebs in its windows sits on top of a long white building that might have once been a hotel. And this must have been the place where John and Yoko tried to get to get to Holland or France. The place where the man in the mac sent the both of them back.   

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Blackthorn

car body
eyes petrol
lungs sprung
sleep oil-filter
the morning

rise to glass
cold light
a butterfly
wing curtain
read for hours

canvas bag
a thinsulate
hat shaped
grey as a
the skull-dome
roam roaming

riding the lanes
scanning the
wild aisles
to record
as he flowers
through the
metal pages
where the

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Shapes Of Things That Can't Be Seen

The weather girl had promised a gale and for once she was right. The house shook.
When he woke and heard the wind shaking the glass his first thought was a crazy one.

He climbs over her sleeping body. Feels around in the dark until his fingers touch
denim and leather.

The bones in his toes crack like pistol shots as he goes down the stairs.

Rain in the darkness.
Wind buffeting the trees.
The sound of these things.
Rain and wind on the skin.
The smell of rain, taste of the wind.
The shape of things that can’t be seen.

Mind you, it’s still dark now. Rain pulses on the black glass. Somewhere in sleep
he pictures that day in Glastonbury. It still measures up against everything that
he’s have been part of since.

Green-leaved, black-berried ivy spreads
in white rooms where the lights are all dead.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Telegraph Pole Pin Up

A big girl in a green sweater peers at a telegraph pole. She’s got her face pressed up close to it. Other girls wait for her. Fat girls. They wait by their tiny car. Some blue thousand pound job. A child seat, baby paraphernalia stuffed in the back.

The girl reading the telegraph pole, she must have heard my feet or something. One of her fat friends giggles. The big girl steps away from the lamppost.

What she’d been looking at was this poster. A photo of a man lying on his belly on a bed. Wearing only his boxers, looking at the camera. Smiling. As if he was pleased to be photographed wearing next to nothing.

Now he’s pinned to a telegraph pole: a telegraph pole pin up for anyone to look at because it’s his eighteenth birthday. I know, because that’s what the sign says. The tiny car sinks on its springs.

I get in my car and drive home knowing that whatever else happens today, no-one’s going to post pictures of me on telegraph posts.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Monday, 16 April 2012

White Wines Also

Carlos is quiet this morning.

After a while, he looks up from his newspaper.
The racing pages that is, and it all comes out.

His friend had hit a deer. In a car, that is.
I mean, he drove his car into a deer.

He says yesterday… I drank many
Jack Daniels, beers and red wines.

They boiled the meat from the bones.

White wines also.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Road Cows

Cows in the road.
The trudge of rubber boots
the yips and the go on with yer now
from the farmer swishing his stick.

They file past the churchyard
where the wooden cross
belongs to a sea captain
who lies in green shadow.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Wife No.4

With his white ruff,
ginger fur,
his gnarly old claws

the fat cat
was the spit

of good King Henry VIII.

About the time
he was on wife no.4.

Friday, 6 April 2012

David Hockney - A Bigger Picture

We formed part of the snake that queued for two hours outside of the RA last night.
Every minute was worth it. A big moon shining on us as we waited.

With every year that passes, the man gets more prolific.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Operation Sunday Dinner

It’s a Sunday. The kitchen at number 9 is full of steam and heat. Windows are all of a fog and the worktop is a mad clutter of pots, pans, and roasting trays. Runner beans steam away in a colander and the oven blasts like a furnace when the blackened joint is taken out. Wisps of smoke curl around the oven light. This ritual was gone through every week as if it was set down as law in a tablet of stone. Despite the frequent opportunities for practice, the result was always the same. Something had to be burnt, something had to be boiled to a pulp and the gravy would come in slices. But no-one seemed to mind.

Grandad played a major role in Operation Sunday Dinner. After a bath and shave, hair Brylcreemed in place like an old-time concert pianist, he’d put on a fresh shirt and tie. There would always be some kind of enamel badge pinned to the tie relating to his regiment. His shoes would be buffed up. This was respectful and appropriate attire for wearing in The Crown & Anchor. With a couple of pals, he would have a few pints of foaming Dorset Bitter to help fortify him in readiness for the long afternoon of eating and sleeping that lay ahead.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


As he worked the crop King slipped five or six courgettes into his pockets. Des, the old man in charge of the operation, didn’t mind. He even threw in a cauliflower for good measure.

After the truck had dropped them off in the dusty yard, the sun beating down, Des lit another Player’s and King waited until no-one was looking.

The coast was clear. He grabbed the sack of unsold bread and buns dumped behind the baker’s.

King was near on seven foot and had thin white hair like an albino. He marched down the lane with the sack of bread, courgettes sticking out of his pockets. This bold initiative meant that food was, pretty much, free.

Sometimes King stole a ready-cooked chicken from the corner shop where the staff were none too clever. The only thing he regularly bought was Douwe Egbert’s After Dinner Coffee and crystals of brown sugar.

The trees were in full leaf and the sky was a perfect blue. King left the lane and stepped onto the track. He put the sack down and wiped his forehead. He looked back the way he’d come and waited. Hoisting the sack again, he followed the path that bordered the lake. He slowed his pace and started to look about him.

He could smell the water in the lake.

In many ways, he’d tell people, his was an idyllic life. He whistled a tune one summer’s evening drunk to hell, I lay there nearly lifeless…

It was an idyllic life. The trees looked so big and green. Work was plentiful and food was free for the taking but there wasn’t any money of course. Every penny earned had to be saved.

The lake, although popular with the Canada geese and even a grebe, wasn’t real. Gravel extraction had created a vast pit that was now filled with green-brown water. Until recently, the lake had been used for water-skiing. A pine-clad clubhouse had been built on the far shore. One night it had burned, but the walls remained and provided King with an easy supply of kindling.

King rounded the clubhouse and the bender came into view: a pod of blue and red canvas supported by hazel poles. The white ash of the fire-pit still smoked and the horse stood sleeping, its nose inches from the pink salt brick that it had forgotten to lick. ‘Scramble!’ King called and the horse jolted awake. 

By September, King planned to put a wagon behind the horse. Hazel poles and tarpaulins were alright in the summer and, at a pinch, would probably be okay for the winter.

King wanted better things. He wanted a wagon, and, most of all, he wanted to travel: to put the old man and the town with all of its bad scenes far, far behind him - move on to something new.

The Paraffin Lamp

Paraffin lamp winding down the pine forest road;
The red moon, already broad.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The New Year's Resolution

Fresh starts and all that. I lie in the bath contemplating the year ahead of me.
The house is asleep. I think about resolutions when I hear a sound that’s either
someone breaking wind or someone unzipping their sleeping bag.

I contemplate this mystery and wonder what the year will bring.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Osseous Ocellus

The dictionary randomly generates a ‘word of the day.’
Today it’s osseous. Yesterday, ocellus.

Two beautiful words. A great combination.

But it’s sure been hard trying to slip them
into conversation.


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