Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Each Song Tells A Story

I have always liked Paul Simon's voice. It began when my Dad handed me an LP and said 'you can have this'. The cover showed two men walking down a track and looking back over their shoulders at the camera. They wore heavy coats and long scarves wrapped around their necks obscuring the lower parts of their faces. I think one of them was holding a cigarette and the whole portrait spoke the word winter and what it meant to be out on your own. Something like that, anyway. All I know is that the picture appealed to my melancholic adolescent disposition. The music was great too. Music, cover: each complimented the other. The antique quality, to my young eyes, of the sinking sun colour of the record's label. Each song told a story.

Of course, this music wasn't cool. I came in for much ribbing from school mates. Somehow this just added to the appeal. Each song on that album was a story. I could visualise the singer/narrator flying down the highway, trying to find 'somewhere, they can't find me.' Or the most peculiar man. I was even sure, even though it happened on a different continent, where the peculiar man lived. It was in a flat near the railway station. The kind of place where a man could be left alone with his books and poetry to protect him. Appropriately, the flat was on Gas Hill Lane. 


Monday, 27 January 2014


Gran's house was an ice box. Beyond her flint
walls and hedge, a field edging a rise of
hills without any rock, tree for windbreak.
In winter, the field was a patchwork of
rills filled with stones. Autumn, they burnt stubble.
A blaze of bitter flames, black smoke blowing
towards Gran's flint walled cottage. The only
time the place ever felt warm. Probably.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

An Old English Proverb

Today was a fresh experience covered in soot. I awaited the appointed time in anticipation conjuring up images of what he might look like. I couldn't get too far away from the Laurel & Hardy film where our two bungling heroes end up covered in head to foot and bricks come raining down the chimney to land on poor Ollie's head. Just before he falls into a bath and comes out as a monkey. Complete with bowler hat. Hardly a good basis to picture reality with, but when the van – suitably black, arrived in the drive I felt a slight pang of disappointment. The sweep looked disappointingly normal. There was just no way you could tell what he was. There wasn't a black mark on his boiler suit.

I was a little worried on account of the fact that his van was blocking our neighbour's car in. Parking is possibly one of the greatest sources of conflict the world over. All the old territorial urges gradually started sneaking out as the neighbour decided to push the boundaries. At first, almost imperceptibly so that you doubted your sanity, the rear end of his VW seemed to be an inch or two further along the drive each morning. Then the morning finally arrived when there was no longer any turning space or concerns about your mental well-being. The neighbour was definitely staking his claim to land that no previous neighbour had tried to invade before. All of the previous neighbours had simply opened the gate and parked in their own parking space. This neighbour seemed to find opening the gate to be a chore. But God help you if you made the mistake of blocking him in. 

So I said to the fresh scented chimney sweep who didn't even look remotely like Dick Van Dyke, 'do you think you could back your van in a bit further?' He sized up the situation immediately. 'Bit awkward is he?' he said, cocking his thumb at the black VW. I winced for fear that the neighbour might hear this. I nodded mutely. 'Have you ever tried telling him that old English suburb?' Suburb? Then I realised he meant proverb. I waited with interest. I've always quite liked proverbs and I wondered which one would relate to blocking your neighbour's car in with a van. 'Tell him to …' I winced again. The proverb seemed to consist of two syllables that meant 'go away'. I certainly hadn't realised that these two syllables were also considered to be an old English suburb. 'I think I'll let you tell him' I said.

He unpacked a coffin-like box from his van and carried various poles and brushes into the front room. The whirlwind man was not one to brook any nonsense so I cleared out of his way.

When I go back in there's a mound of soot piled on the hearth. With his industrial vacuum contraption it is soon gone and the room smells of chimney. He hands me a white invoice, his thumbprint sealed in one corner and the deal is done. He tells me he's done nine chimneys that day and I calculate that his day's work has earned him more than I get from one week's teaching. I don't even get to tell the students any old English suburbs but my head often feels like its weathered a storm of bricks.

Don't even think about asking me if I feel like a monkey. Pass me my bowler, would you?

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Travel Update

More like sinking into a soft ocean
after this heavy dose of caffeine taken
somewhere on the old road to Blandford
then propelled through this, the final hour
torn between pushing this particular dream
into a realm where everything, you included,
it goes without saying – is glimmering
and gleaming or whether it's just an artifice
held behind cold glass that serves to emphasise
the mists and muds I have marched through
only to be finally tricked into spending
my last piece of silver. As it is, this gold filtered
through the curtains says that I am still here,
living proof that the diversion was once again not taken.
Chains of words in which the speaker says he hopes
that we are all sleeping lightly. That the knocking
could be coming to a door near you very soon.

Sunday, 19 January 2014


If ever there was a time a human should be allowed to go into hibernation, this is it. Fortunately, today being Sunday, I could put this theory into action. I still woke before it got light. After a chilly expedition to the kitchen, I bravely returned to bed with a jug of coffee and Coyote-Gnawed US 95 Nevada.

These are some of my favourite lines from that journey:

Strangers offer lard sandwiches,
rusty, mineral-odor tap water.
  • Tonopah Mess

Getting through the morning is like using
a dry Sharpie to write Good Luck
on the belly
of a body-temperature-99 rattler.

It makes sense to substitute
army surplus wool blankets
for doors repeatedly busted-in by cops.
  • September Motel

Each deep-lung cough sounds
like a single-wide trailer's
loose, windblown aluminium
window frame.
  • Without Pieties

Monday's coming along.

I've been blessed with more copies of Red's poetry where they will join me in Thomas Hardy country where I am working this week. Fitting companions I think, to drive the cold winter away. 


Friday, 17 January 2014

The Weather Report

The wind rattles the doors, shakes the windows.
Its hollow breath booms in the throat of the chimney.
It blows in through the eaves, the midnight slots
where pieces of the bricks that complete
the puzzle of a house are missing.
The same black squares where starlings
smuggle their dazzle and stash it in the dark.
Plastic sheeting, you can hear it in the loft,
shaken by the wind.

Rain crackles on the roof and accentuates
the sound of car tyres as they spray
through channels on the road.

Houses do their best to cut you off.
It was a different affair in the caravan.
Each raindrop made itself known.
An acorn was a startling bomb.

But even now, cocooned by bricks and years,
each boom, rattle, spray
could bring this moment to an end.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Work Keeps You (From Dying)

sky blue housecoat
sleeves rolled up
skin wrinkled
black mark
burn just
country living
coal touching
thin skin was
nothing as was
going out in the rain
a fallen

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Green Door

Now let us imagine a front door and a hall. The door is green and has been left open. There's no need to close it. Sunlight and warm air welcome the visitors. They're free to come on in any old time. As is the sound of a passing car. Maybe a neighbour. If the door's open there's no need to ring.

If you stand in the hall, you get the smell of the place right away. It's a smell of coats hanging on pegs, the smell of bacon frying. The earth smell, flower aroma coming through the back door. Furniture polish. Maybe the smell of a visitor. Each person carries their own scent. Powerful scents, vivid as colour.

There's a white path leading from the front door. A road and a mirror held in the sky opposite. Except the house across the way has different occupants – in shape and physical appearance.

Here comes one now. In a few months time he'll go through the worst thing any human can. Come out the other side a broken man.

He'll accelerate the already more than steady flow of beer drinking. He'll give up on the shaving.

It will be winter time by then.

The door will, to keep the heat in and for no other reason, have to be kept closed.

But he'll be just as welcome. Called, beckoned to come inside where he'll sit with a trembling cigarette and start to tell his story.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Tap Room Spirits

Pubs are a major part of my life.

So many memories bound up in the dusty wooden interiors of tap rooms where spirits have helped men to see things slightly askew.

I collect pubs.

What I keep are the inns that my Great Grandfather would feel at home in. Although of course, he'd be in for a shock if he was to come back from the great public bar in the sky and try and roll up a cigarette.

The battered Old Holborn tin would come out of his waist-coat pocket. Maybe no-one would notice. Or maybe someone would look on in horror as if he'd just laid a line of cocaine on the bar.

The dark tobacco would be rolled between his thumb and fingers before being trickled into the Rizla.

By this stage, someone would be sure to say, 'excuse me Sir. You can't do that in here.'

To which, once he'd had his attention drawn to the unbelievable No Smoking sign, Gramps would reply, 'why not? I've been dead forty years. It never did me any harm.'

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Steam Radio

I arrived early. Finished my cigar. The cottage I needed was at the end of the row. They looked strangely industrial for this part of the world. But the austerity of the grime on the stones was lifted by brightly painted doors and flowers hanging in baskets. I remember that I was nervous. I always am when I have to give something of myself. That kind of nervousness that soon turns to sharpness and gets the job done.

A funny thing. As soon as I entered the cottage and introductions were made, I made it my business to commit everything to memory. To drink in as much of the atmosphere as I could. Distil it into every fibre of my being to take away and use in future.

I made an inventory.

But now, when I call up these things, this spirit that filled the cottage, I discover that apart from the radio seen through the steam coming from the kettle, I can't remember a thing.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Well-Spoken Corpse

I have always been something of an obsessive walker. Rain, heat or dark, something feels wrong if I haven't got a few miles under my feet.

The time I'm thinking of it was an idyllic summer's evening and I walked a road as dusk was coming down on the chestnut trees, their leaves all dusty and the shadows under them were as the night. There was a rusty rail between me and the trees. The darkening grass was very long and seemed to be turning blue. I was hot and I could see the yellow lights of The Great Western Hotel and the idea of being in there and slaking my melancholy thirst was a very appealing idea except that I was only sixteen and even in those, the good old days, there was only so much you could get away with.

Home was still a long ways off, but as it happened, I did end up in the bar of that majestic country hotel that would suffer the ignoble fate, one day, of being turned into flats. It was getting very dark by now and I saw something that made me jump. There was a white spot like a boiled egg lying in the grass. Then I realised the egg was really the bald spot on the back of a man's head. When I made this connection, I jumped with fright. He was lying on his side, his body almost hidden by the grass. I climbed up onto the rusty rail for a closer look. I could see that he was wearing glasses except that they had been knocked from his eyes and were set at a weird angle running from forehead to cheek bone. He had a brown beard and there was blood on his lip. I had no idea what to do. There was no doubt in my mind. 

This man was surely dead.

I continued to stare at the dead man. There was no way that I was going to go anywhere near him. Who knows what a corpse lying in a field might do to an innocent sixteen year old boy. But I couldn't just leave him there either. The only thing for it was to hotfoot it to the hotel. Oh the blessed light coming from that boozy place of good cheer. But when I went through the old-fashioned wooden door and stepped into the convivial atmosphere of the bar the reaction of the barman wasn't what I expected. 

'Excuse me' I said. 'There's a man lying in the field. I think that he might be dead.'
'Gawd' said the barman. 'Not another one. You'll have to show us where he is.'

I led the way back to the place I had just come from. It was nearly full dark now and no-one could have seen the corpse but for the bald spot, the boiled egg still hanging on to the last vestiges of light. The barman clambered over the rail and pulled the corpse to his feet saying 'come on sunshine, time to get up.'

The corpse said 'it's a funny old world'. 

He was a very well-spoken corpse and I was inclined to agree with him.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Latest Sky Lantern News

I can't quite imagine how they ever got it together. I know this sounds patronising, but if you knew them like I did...

The plan was to find a place to launch a sky lantern.

Simple, huh?

You put the package in your car. Make sure you take a lighter with you. Oh, and find a place away from trees. Obviously.

So what did they do?

Steps one and two, fine. But they launched the darn thing a stone's throw from a forest. A friendly, paper-balloon carrying fire into the tinder dry forest.

Fortunately, the wind was all wrong.

It carried the balloon away from the forest. Towards the ridge where there was a road. Respectable folk, driving home.

Now lets see...

A man in black base-ball cap, greying hair in need of a cut. Driving a truck with the window rolled down. He's got the type of glasses that double as sunglasses. At the moment, the lenses look slightly blue. Like bruises.

He's listening to the late night news.

Soon to get a special sky lantern report.


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