Thursday, 31 May 2012

Another Planet

Somewhere in Larkin, a line that describes the sun as being like breath on glass.
The sun outside my window, a classic red melting. 
Seen I don’t know how many times before but still breath-taking.

You say something
that travels as we say,
straight through one ear,
and out the other

to another planet.

I walk to the bookshelf to try and find it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Printer's Apprentice

Why did Mr Longman leave Sussex to live in Dorset?

The temptation is to invent some wild tale of gambling debts, fast women and slow guns...
after all, this was 1905.

All we really know is that the train changed everything. 

A hundred and twenty miles goes by
in a blink of a steam driven eye…

Whatever the reason, the journey was a success. He found a place to start a new business: a printing works in Dorchester. He printed postcards, stationery - even books for old Mr Hardy.

One of Mr Longman’s Post Cards
Part of a private postcard collection © Copyright Mr. M Russell OPC for Dorchester

Business goes from strength to strength.
Mr Longman gets married.
Mr Longman requires an apprentice.

The boy on the ladder, looking at the camera, making eye contact with you from eighty years ago, my Grandfather back in 1933...

He was 15 years old. Too young to know, as we all are, what the next few years would have in store. 

War ended everything. My Grandfather changed direction, when it ended, and followed a career in psychiatric nursing. But he always had a soft spot for Mr Longman and his days in the printing works. 

Of course, Thomas Hardy had died five years before my Grandfather had started work at Longman’s. But the idea that they had narrowly missed each other, for me at least, is an appealing one.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012


In a northern town, famous for witches and whale-backed hills, there were,
at the time of this story, fourteen pubs in the main street. At least two of them
were haunted. The Dog Inn, at the top of town, had a grey lady.

She sometimes showed up in the bar and scared guests who’d hired a room for the night.

The Bull Inn had a severed hand that crawled across the bar after closing time. 

People in the town spread this rumour so often that the truth of the matter
became absorbed into the town’s psyche.

I loved the place.

I never saw any ghosts but I did see a giant with a rucksack on his back.
It was dusk and hazy and my friend saw him too.

I haven’t been back in over a quarter of a century. But this evening,
as she draws the curtain on a new moon the notion of truth, substance
in a rumour sinks in, takes hold of the mind like a glass of good ale.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Navigational Skills Required Elsewhere

Well we’re always prepared to try out new things aren’t we? This morning, in the cool of a white room that was little more than a cupboard, I ran my finger through France.

What was that place called? There was white sand and these electric globes that reminded me of home.

Low slung buildings, little more than concrete cells. There was this one evening when I drank from a bottle and the person in front stepped back, head connecting with glass to connect with my teeth. A permanent reminder. This little piece missing as is many another.

From where I’m standing England doesn’t look much smaller than France.

My son comes into the kitchen with his friend who’s stayed the night and all further meditations on geography end in an instant. Navigational skills required elsewhere. Closer to hand where perception plays tricks of an equal distortion.

Friday, 25 May 2012

One Afternoon

Each window is what you make of it.
This one, for instance, wears gelatinous blobs
glued to the glass – the horripilation of transparent thousands.

Wind whips along the skin of the building
a shimmer of sound, pockets of explosions

the fire-escape coils in black z’s…

In the street, a man in khaki
has a hard time of it trying
to light his cigarette,

the ghost-wail of a siren getting
ever closer.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Showmen

Just before dark the showmen set up a wooden stage shaped like a 50 pence piece. They built a wooden road and set up red walls and these men were masters of their destiny. There was a holiday atmosphere and photographers arrived from the newspapers, magazines in the city. I lingered. They were shutting up the red walls that had all been unloaded from the truck. I wanted to stay. To be locked inside the red walls and be part of the scene that was to unfold in there. But I hesitated; the moment ran away from me….

I was wearing my old Harris Tweed jacket and there was a field where fires were burning. It was hot and I took my jacket off. I was pre-occupied because I didn’t have any cigarettes. I sat down and the fire painted shadows on my clothes and something jabbed at my back, a finger, needle or pen…

Where was my jacket? How was I ever going to find it?

You took me by the shoulders, your attention taken by what was written on my back. You pulled my shirt back to expose my shoulder blade because that’s where the words were written.

You read…

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

When Things Start To Happen

Sitting by an open window, a beautiful breeze travelling along my skin.
Coming into this white room, putting me at ease as I sip valerian tea.
It seems that there just might be another way out after all.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The All-New-Reassuring-Refreshing –Washing Powder Advert

A brown van pulls up in a nice housing estate. The driver has his door pulled back. It’s a beautiful day. The driver has long black hair and a beard. A stovepipe sticks out of the van roof. It is highly probable that the people who live in this nice housing estate have little in common with the owner of the van. In fact, some of them might have decided to phone the police.

The driver is my old friend Joe. He’s taking me to the festival. My first ever festival. 

He pulls this black shape out of his pocket that looks like a Letts Diary. Maybe he’s going to have a last check of the itinerary: make sure we haven’t got any dental appointments or weddings that clash with our trip to the festival. But instead of opening the shape that I think is a diary, he strikes a match and starts burning away at a corner until pungent smoke starts to fill the cab. I don’t need a diary to know that the next few days are going to be a little strange.

He messes around with the Rizlas and ingredients until the joint is rolled. He puts it in his mouth and strikes another match. The whole thing fizzles and crackles and in the same instant a policeman appears in the open doorway of the cab. The policeman had ridden silently up on his bicycle and now he’s saying to Joe ‘could you step outside the van please Sir?’

Joe tossed the joint onto the floor and said, ‘yeah sure.’ He’d gone very red but I don’t think it was because of the dope. I decided to get out too. It was very cloudy in the cab and I felt that a breath fresh air would do me good.

Looking at the scene, I imagine that many of the people living in the nice housing estate would now seriously be considering phoning the police if there wasn’t a policeman here already. 

‘Now then Sir,’ the policeman is saying. He hasn’t got a jacket. He looks very smart in his nice clean white shirt. Reassuring like a bread advert. Refreshing like a washing powder advert. It’s a beautiful day and the policeman says, ‘just look at that.’ He’s pointing at the number plate. It’s very dirty like a shirt that’s about to get star treatment in a washing powder advert. ‘You need to get that cleaned up. You can’t see the numbers.’

Joe jumps into action. He really is a model citizen. ‘Oh aye mate,’ he says, pulling a white hanky from his pocket. He starts flapping it around like morris dancer, rubbing at the number plate. The hanky turns black very quickly – another recruit for the all-new-reassuring-refreshing –washing powder advert. I even think about helping him. Maybe I could use my sleeve or something. The last thing we want is to be busted for having a dirty number plate.

The nice policeman stands with his arms folded watching over us like a benign school-master admiring his favourite pupils tackling a complicated mathematical problem with spirited enthusiasm. When the numbers started to appear like the solution we'd all been praying for, he rode away on his bike without saying a word.

I’m not sure how many years you get for dirty number plate possession but climbing back into the heavily scented cab, we realised that we’d come very close to finding out. So, next time you’re on the road, please make sure your numbers are clean.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Night Watchman

What were those things called? Red, blue or green tape fed through a gun that stamped silvery letters so that my Grandfather could write his name in block capitals and stick it on his torch and claim it for his own. It was a big torch. The round lens was the size of a saucer and the battery could have powered a car. Each night he took it down from the sideboard, once he’d got his uniform on, and took it to work, put it in his car where he also kept a shovel in case there was snow. His black cap with a crow-like beak. A silver whistle on a chain. A whistle that belonged on a steam train. Moon-sized buttons waxing and glowing on his black coat. The strange keys for setting the clocks. Security was a low-tech clockwork business back in 1974. 

Friday, 18 May 2012


There was some problem down at the docks.
Mountains of rubbish sifted by mechanical jaws.
Contours of crushed aluminium.
But something’s wrong. Something
in all that metal is burning.
The signs warned of it.

Orange letters on black: SMOKE.

In the blue interior of the bus the air turned greyish and white.
When we reached the dual carriageway that ran parallel to the waterfront,
a black cloud was pumping out of that metallic heap. Apocalyptic.
Not the most original of thoughts, but that’s the word that wrote itself into
the interior of the bus where the air wasn’t quite right
and smelled of burning wire.

We kept on breathing. No-one said anything.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Cat Camera

She snaps a button on her camera.
The sleek black body purrs like a cat.
Pounces a picture,
snatches what the
lens catches.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Where Birds Find Inlets Into This Shadowy Place

The burring of wings inches from your hair
in a triangle of space where aquatinted plastic
fills limply with the sound of rain.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Painter

A Saturday morning high street. Sun rapid as bird flight. Slates set in the
pavement. Music here. A score. The street is a gentle curve like the walls of a
loaf of bread. Rise, fall. Richness in fermentation. To hold your Grandmother’s
hand. To be with your Grandfather in his brown suit. Familiarity like silver kissing
on the green baize of a billiard table. A game, then.

White overalls. The painter on his ladder until something goes wrong. Miscues
his step and falls to the piano key sidewalk. That’s an Americanism. Pavement.
Out cold. Carried in to the music room. Mossy rugs. Lightness and glass. Black
piano. Long sofa. The bib of his overalls streaked in paint. Laid out on the sofa.
Dead man. Until tea is brought and he rises from his grave sofa. 

Crackle Show

Old crackle show on the radio,
cellophane forest fires
rodent hinges squeal
sherry wood doors
through slow arcs
evoking flapping
bats flying
through halls
of dusty capes
where the usher
sun ushers in summer
and almost had us all fooled.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Beer Concertina

After a pint of beer the squashed words
concertina from his mouth.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Yellow Doors Of Perception

We’d pulled up outside my grandparents’ house. It looked just the way it always did. You’d think, wouldn’t you, that at life changing moments, the world around you would step in and give you a clue that something huge was about to happen?

But no. There was no warning. My innocent head had hair that was as fair as a ripe cornfield. The hollyhock, with its dusty hand-sized leaves and pink flowers stood like a psychedelic guard next to the front door. The door was a standard council issued door painted with same green that they used on the benches in the park. Later, these doors would disappear like left-wing politicians in positions of power as people upgraded from council house tenants to home owners. The first thing to go would always be the door.

Circa 1970, when we first moved there, those doors, if my perception doesn’t fail me, were yellow. A faded, custard yellow. Yellow doors to mix and match three words from the titles of Aldous Huxley novels. Not that I knew about anything quite so intellectual in circa 1970. At sometime the yellow was covered over with the park bench green. Strange to relate, but I’d completely forgotten about the yellow until sometime this afternoon when I was zipping up my fly. 

Gradually, the steadily employed frozen food delivery drivers, hospital workers, gardeners and the newsagent proprietor fell for Mrs Thatcher’s offer. It was too good a deal to refuse. The council tenants became homeowners and the surest way of broadcasting your new status was to get rid of the standard issue door. The doors meant for the new-built estates looked faintly ridiculous in the pebble-dash setting of the council estate. Rather like sticking a statue of a silver horse on the bonnet of a Ford Escort Ghia. Come to think of it, I think Dave, the frozen food delivery man did that very thing the day after he got his new deluxe Downing Street style door. ‘Cor, dunnit look posh…’ His Escort was a curious shade of park bench green.

For good measure, some of the more cosmopolitan residents went the whole hog and hung carriage lamps outside their doors. Before ripping up their lawns and turning them into ‘drives’. It’s a wonder some of them didn’t hire butlers.

Approximately ever fourth door stayed green.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Three Ghost Shirts

The fence in the front yard, having lost one panel, smiles
like an old grizzler shuffling his way down the supermarket aisle
on pension day. The neighbour’s car mourns like a hearse
in the gap of the broken smile.

There’s a tree smeared all over the road
and the back fence no longer adheres
to its crooked line: it twangs and trembles
like the string on a guitar and accompanies
three ghost shirts singing on the line.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Sipped Zipped Rattlers

Uncle John, that pipe smoking eccentric, told his children –
who later became estate agents, journalists, solicitors and doctors,
about the rattlesnakes in the night.

Zipped up in his tent, Uncle John fell asleep
with the sound of rattlers all around him.

We wondered what was coming next.
He fiddled with his pipe, sipped
at his whiskey.

Fell asleep with his children
all around him.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Return Of The Invisible Cattle

In the brass depths of the cathedral
some impish man sits on a stool
milking herds of invisible
but patient cattle.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Don't Stop Me Now

I’ve tried various things to make the daily commute more tolerable. Sometimes I’m glad of the silence. The road across the forest forever changes: like taking a picture of a child each day of her life until she reaches the age of five. The slow increments of change.

Other times, I’m like a badly operating broadband system. The silence doesn’t work its peaceful magic or I’m not tuned into it. The view tries my patience and I start thinking about other things.

The radio is a handy distraction. Classical music, sometimes. Or debate, but the graphic news is too visceral like a hand blown away. Or the muddy debates that further cloud issues that aren’t that interesting to begin with. The real news is what we make. We are our own headlines.

Last night was Drive Time and I listened as if I was contented driving home from the office ready to buy into the whole deal. It was a phone-in-show-request-your favourite tune show. People on the roads excited about the weekend and wanting to share their plans with the DJ.

A voice from Dumfries which is a very long way from home but easier to picture because it wasn’t so long ago that we were also driving through there. But it never occurred to me to ring up some DJ and tell everyone what we were doing and have the non-occasion marked by Queen and Don’t Stop Me Now.

The Led Zeppelin Saucepan

By some strange trickery of metal, velocity, acoustics and angles
the water cascades from the taps, sprays the silver saucepan
and sets it off spinning across the soap bubble surface
so that it collides with the sink’s sides and makes
a scouring reverberating sound that spirals
into my ears and makes a music that sounds
strangely like the opening seconds
of Led Zeppelin’s
Black Dog.

Friday, 4 May 2012


An empty house attracts feral men.

They come in the night, break down the door
smash a few panes.

Make this house their lair.


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