A Reunion

I’ve just got back from a university reunion, with people I haven’t seen since the 1980s. I ‘m coming to realise that whole real people have been born, grown-up, married, had children, bought houses and died in that time. It’s an odd feeling.

There were people there I’d known and lost touch with, others I’d only met once or only on Facebook. I walked around the places I used to walk, looking for someone I knew very well, but I never quite caught up with me, disappearing down those stone streets.

A lot of stuff had changed. Brilliant independent shops had become the kind of shops you could find anywhere else, another triumph for Chris Patten and the Tory government’s universal business rate that made it easy for the chains to ‘compete’ and offer ‘choice’ so long as it’s their choice and the competition is run according to their rules. And no patchouli oil. There was a time it was as if they’d sprayed the stuff out of crop-dusting aircraft over Milsom Street. Now there wasn’t a single shop in Walcot Nation that sold it. Not even ‘Appy Daze, the herbal high head-shop, where I had a chat in my Barbour with the white dreadlocked owner and we both bemoaned the fact that The Man had won, man. Heavy trip. Bummer. Maybe next month he’s going to have some essential oils, but the only essential oil we knew about back then was that funny green stuff you spread up the side of a Marlboro back in the days of Not Your Heart Away. Times, as they say, change. The past is another country. And besides, the wench is dead.

Bath was still beautiful. Those funny trees up on the hill, the ones you can see from the main street, Milsom Street, still look as if they’ve been painted on scenery flats in an amateur dramatic production. I got my first pint of decent beer, Wadworth’s 6X, in years after being exiled to the likes of Adnams and Tolly, away from the place I said out loud as I drove past Swindon was still ‘nearly home.’ But the first pub, the Saracen’s Head I went to was empty at noon on a Saturday. It used to be standing room only in the Sary and a sea of voices and cigarette smoke. The Hat And Feathers was shut until the evening and had become a steakhouse.

I still don’t know how I feel about that weekend. It’s left me thoughtful and calm, like the wonderful peaceful walk I had on Sunday morning with someone I’ve talked to on Facebook a lot but only ever met once before. It taught me something too. I’d foolishly said I’d bring some instruments to help out someone’s band. I said I’d play. Back when I’d just left Bath I wanted above pretty much everything to play sax in a band and gig in pubs. This last Sunday, I did for the first time. I was worried about it, but then we played for over two hours and while I missed some notes and messed-up others, so did everyone else and it was ok. It was more than ok.

Then a trip out to the airport and a picnic of bread and humous and water and blueberries in a damp layby discussing the fall of the Moorish civilisation as the rain gusted over rusty farm machinery dumped outside someone’s stone barn. It was as close to a perfect Sunday as I’ve got for years. It was being with people who are part of me. And new ones who feel like that too. Thank-you all. I needed that. Everyone does.

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A rather pleasant invitation

I like being invited to things. It makes me feel wanted. Today I was invited to do something extra nice, namely send the manuscript of Not Your Heart Away over to a literary agent. I’d sent things to them before, namely A Day For Pyjamas and I wondered if they’d like to have a look at A Day For Pyjamas on steroids.

They would. Now. All of it. Please send it by email today.

Which is rather flattering. I’m not saying which one in case it breaks the spell.

Just keep your fingers crossed for me, please.

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Golden Cap

I wrote this as one of many false starts that went before Not Your Heart Away last year. Not wanting to waste it I put this in for the Flash Fiction competition in the Bridport Literary Festival. I thought flash fiction was 500 words. That was tight. Once I’d written it I found out they only wanted 250. I’ll try a haiku next time.


golden cap


Golden Cap

‘I was not acting alone and I’m not being scapegoated,’ she said firmly into her iPhone.

‘It’s the wind. No, I can’t hear you properly either. Dorset. Satnav. A35 and turn left. No. I’m not there. Don’t know. Is this some sort of interrogation, Gideon? Because so far as I’m aware I’m not actually employed by you, am I?’

On this beach against this grey sliver of tarmac the low car was next to invisible this late in the day. The driver’s door opened like lips parting and she got out and stretched the road out of her long legs.

Four o’clock this afternoon and the pub at the end of this track looked as if it would never open again. She could hear the wind humming against the flanks of the car as she stood looking back along the beach towards Weymouth.

‘Next to a big yellow cliff, a stream and a pub. Yes. Like every other bloody thing right now it’s closed for business. Oh funny. Yes. Ha ha. Well take that as a definite, so far as you’re concerned. No sweeting. I don’t ever threaten. I do. As you know. It’s quicker.’
A long line of grey cloud coming in from the sea brought the taste of salt cold on her lips as the late winter sun caught the top of the sandy cliff.

‘So to cut through all your crap, despite my being the most productive dealer on what you choose to call your trading floor, one little sniff of how our syndicate shorted sterling in the paper your Mummy reads and my secure door pass doesn’t work any more. And I haven’t got a desk as of now. Really.’

She slowly recognised this place. Grandpy fished off the beach here. Dad left here. She knew just a few bucket and spade and ice-lolly summers here but here after all she was, like a bad penny and just four hundred thousand good pounds in the account and this ludicrously beautiful car that would attract every screwdriver-blade and sharp object within a half-mile. The car would have to go. Along with everything else.

‘No, really that is too kind, Gideon.’ She bit the words out of the air as she walked along the track away from the car and the main road.

The last of the sun flared along the cliff like bullion, once, twice and then the cloud came.

‘That’s my own Dorset Golden Cap, is it? Too funny. One point two million. And you’re asking me if that’s ok?’

She stood still and took the mobile from her ear. Folded her arms around her in the sudden deeper chill. She began to walk again down the little road, out across the grey sand towards the flat sea.

‘No.’ She spoke the word out loud. ‘No. It isn’t my golden cap. And it isn’t ok. It never, never was.’

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Another brilliant review on Goodreads

Just got a really nice review on Goodreads for Not Your Heart Away:


Thoroughly enjoyed Not Your Heart Away, found it a bit difficult at first to get into but then found I couldn’t stop reading it, fascinating story which you couldn’t wait to see what happened next, the ending was absolutely brilliant, completely different than how I expected it to be, a book definately worth reading, Carl Bennett has written Not Your Heart Away so that you get a real understanding of each character, you feel that you are with them totally in their thoughts and actions, a book I would certainly recommend reading.



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Magic Camels

Once upon a time when the world was young or at least I was, which always comes to much the same thing, Tom Robbins wrote a book called Still Life With Woodpecker.  Despite using lines like “I have a black belt in haiku” it’s not a profound book and when I read it I was thrown by the all-enveloping American-ness of the Hawaiian setting. I still haven’t been to Hawai but these days I imagine it as a hotter version of SoCal, which is good and bad.
Still Life With WoodpeckerBoy meets girl except he’s a non-specific revolutionary bomber (no, a nice one, you could say that back then, in the days when terrorism was sexy if you were an American and didn’t get to suffer the consequences and sex was still just about part of the revolution) and she’s a princess, a real one. That could happen. Ask Princess Margaret. He obsesses about her and adopts the role of spiritual mentor, or as we used to say, helps her get her head together – I still like that better – finding the extra in the ordinary, the fabulous wonder in the Camel packet.

It seems really very strange to think about it but there was a time when smoking was cool. No, really. Everyone did it. Or if not everyone, then certainly it was only odd people who didn’t. Like anything else, smoking had its strata, its layers, its classifications and social shortcuts and bonding rituals. In one of the few sensible things my mother ever said to me I was told if I had to smoke to make sure I smoked good cigarettes. For me, that meant Camels.

I liked the taste, although a lot of people didn’t, which was fabulously good because it meant ‘Slightly Strange & Exotic’ plus no-one else wanted your cigarettes, unless they too were one of the kamikaze elite. (Oh look it up, do I have to do everything?) But most of all, I liked the mystery. Other cigarettes had names. Some even had numbers, like Number 6 or 555, but I’d sooner have gone without than ever have one of either of those. In case anyone saw me, apart from anything else. But apart from Player’s, none of the other cigarettes had pictures on the packet. Players had a  little picture of Nottingham Castle on the inside of the packet and the sailor peering through the lifebelt. What was that about? You smoked them after what, being torpedoed on an Arctic convey 200 miles from Murmansk?

“Players, for when you know your ship is sinking?” I can’t see it working now.

Camel pack

But Camels didn’t have any old picture. Just look at the magnificence of it. Yes, I know. Sorry. I know you’re not supposed to say that about things that kill you unless they’re governments and especially your own, but it was true. Pyramids, like the ones on the dollar bill, there for reasons that were never made clear to me. Palm trees, which back when Not Your Heart Away was set, meant Maria Muldaur and Midnight At The Oasis. And the mysterious camel of course. He’s even mentioned in Bukowski’s Ham On Rye.

But we loved him for other reasons. He was how you could tell how into it girls were. It was all about how many naked women you could see on the packet.

The easiest one is in the back leg, facing you , her head tilted to her right, your left, her right hand on her hip. See her? OK. The next one is in the front leg, same pose but facing a little away from you. The third – and now we’re getting into it – is in the neck, stretched out like a figurehead, but a 1970s figurehead, her left arm raised, her hand behind her head. Baby!

The last two are a bit busy in the middle of the camel’s back. Girls who could see all five, well. If they couldn’t you just had to buy them more drinks until they could.

What other cigarette packet ever gave anyone a whole evening’s entertainment? If usually, nothing else.



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Why Not Your Heart Away?

From A Shropshire Lad:


When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas but not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies but keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty, no use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty and sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty and oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

That’s why. Alfred doesn’t look the grooviest malchick who ever spacked out on cider in Wiltshire, but appearances can be deceptive.

I had never read the whole poem until a couple of months ago, long after I started the book. I’d heard the line ‘blue remembered hills’ the way lots of people sort-of almost have.

Dennis Potter wrote a play called that, about middle-aged men dressing up as schoolboys and playing in the woods, a affluent retirement dystopia that leans a little too heavily on Lord of the Flies transposed to Surrey with an element of Brian Rix farce thrown in to make it massively succesful, I would have thought.

What I like about A Shropshire Lad is something that some kind reviewers have said about Not Your Heart Away; underneath the sunny, bucolic forever trance of the memory of those hills there’s an unstated menace, something you can read as almost a dread of finding whatever it is you went there looking for.

A long time ago I went to see a magician, a shaman, a white witch, call it what you will. He told me one of the things I keep close to me: Be careful what you wish for, in case you get it.
Not original maybe; a homily that is at least as old as Icarus, who wanted to fly and like Ben, flew much too close to the sun.

But that, for me, is the thing hidden at the heart of the blue remembered hills, the heart of the poem. The heart of Not Your Heart Away too.


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Askimet Spam

Woke up early today and got the hammock out, slung between two apple trees in my sunny part of Suffolk while the hens pretended they weren’t interested in what I was doing. They’re wild, living in a tree and while you can’t touch them or pick them up without a net and preferably a supply of hard-to-come-by tranquiliser darts, they want to know what’s going on. Thinking about it, that’s probably how all wild animals survive.

I came back inside for a cup of tea at ten o’clock because I’m English and my tea levels were dropping perilously low. As any anthropologist knows, if an Englishman doesn’t maintain his tea balance then he’s in grave danger of becoming European, or worse. It isn’t a risk I can face lightly. Certainly not without tea.

Naturally, depressingly obviously, I checked my email and Facebook and this weeny website to see who thought my life would be better if I carried their advertising for red shoes and fake handbags free of charge. The good news – no comments to ‘moderate.’ The bad – the biggest haul of spam ever. 57 fake messages after installing Askimet compared to about sic per day beforehand. It can’t be anything to do with Askimet and I haven’t installed anything else, so obviously I’ve got onto some spam list somewhere.

But where? And still, as always, why? Does anyone ever respond to this badly spelled Russian translated through the Senegalese into school English? Ever?

Still, at least I don’t have to look at it. I’m reading a book John Fowles compared to HG Wells’s writing, A Dream Of Wessex. The first couple of pages didn’t engage me at all but I carried on because, well because that’s where I almost grew up and its a special place. John Fowles wrote The Collector, his breakthrough book about a man too sanctimoniously horrible to even think about. He’d probably be a UKIP candidate today. It’s about a government research facility where scientists dream themselves into a parallel West Country, a little like the way Claire tried to chant herself into a better place by reciting AE Houseman in Not Your Heart Away. It didn’t work for her, or only for a little while. I’ve yet to see whether the scientists are going to have better luck.

So I think I’ll go back to reading my book now. With tea.

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Awe, surely

Aw, this was a nice post it began. More spam, obviously, but it made me think of the really funny John Wayne thing that may or may not have happened.

Apparently John Wayne was on the set of some Biblical epic film. He had to shamble up to the Cross and say: ‘Surely this was the son of God.’ So he did, in his normal John Wayne way.

The director wasn’t happy. Not very moving, much too John Wayne. ‘Could you put a bit more awe into it, John? It’s supposed to be the Son of God up here, nailed to the Cross for all our sins. Let’s do it again.’

So they did. John Wayne shambles up to the Cross again, takes his Roman soldier’s helmet off, wipes his brow and says: ‘Awe, surely this was the son of Gahd.’

I know. Sorry.

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No Batteries Required

It all started in a pub. You know that thing when you have that one drink too many to stop talking and everything you say is brilliant and witty and just so incredibly fascinating you can’t help wondering why anyone bothers saying anything else ever again?

That’s what happened to me in a pub in Framlingham in about November, I think. That’s how I ended-up writing a radio play. Wouldn’t it be funny, no, wouldn’t it be just so incredibly amusingly funny, no listen, if a bankrupt chicken farmer tried to kidnap Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because he blames him for the battery chicken ban? Yes, thank-you, I will. Not driving, after all. It’s because of the you know, the battery chicken cage ban in January 2012. And DEFRA having to set-up a special squad because lots of farmers couldn’t be bothered to obey the law and the police didn’t think they ought to upset farmers who don’t reckon laws apply to them anyway, if the way farm vehicles are driven around here is anything to go by.

So maybe also the Prime Minister is visiting Hugh to make him Minister of Food, just the way he was supposed to be thinking of making the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp a Minister a few years back. Jolly fine gal. Right sort of background to run a democracy. The idea about the Prime Ministerial tattoo that shows up on thermal imaging rifle sights was mine though.

I got stuck with it while I was finishing Not Your Heart Away and got back to it yesterday. It’s odd. I’ve had problems writing things for years, never able to quite get down to it. That’s still a problem but when I do it just flows nowadays. It’s the sitting down to it that’s the issue. I had to change HF-W’s name, obviously, but that was pretty much the hardest part.

So it’s done, edited, a friend who is firm but fair is checking it to see if it makes her laugh (first bit has so far, only problem being that wasn’t the funny bit) and then it’s being broadcast in Suffolk and it’s also going off to the BBC.

Let’s see what happens.


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spotify logo


I just discovered Spotify. OK, maybe I’m not the first to discover it but I thought I’d like to share, because that’s what I’m like.

I put together a playlist, just in case Not Your Heart Away gets on screen, or if you’d just like to listen to the music in the book while you read it. There’s some later stuff too, Kate Bush’s “And So Is Love” and some new David Bowie tracks which just seemed to fit the mood. Click on the link, kick back and enjoy. And remember, if you’re singing along with headphones on it sounds absolutely awful, whoever you are.

Click here.

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