There in ’59

It isn’t just at New Year that I’m reflective, but something about the season encourages it. I did three ultra-reflective things this week. Two of them were good, the other one I’m not so sure about.

The first was a walk. It wasn’t a very long walk, according to the magic Garmin solar watch my wonderful partner gave me for my birthday, but despite the cold wind it was a good one, and one I do most years. I met a man called Joe Shea three times in my life. He stayed at my house for ten days, twice, over ten year ago now, when he came to England for a memorial service to his squadron. He was American, from the absolute middle of Nowhere, Ohio and the first time he came to Leiston airfield was January 20th, 1945. He was eighteen. He flew P51 Mustangs back then, flying escort to the B17s and B24s flying out of Debach, Parham where I live now and any other airfield in the 8th US Army Airforce. His unit lost 82 men killed from that airfield; nothing much compared to the more than ten times that number who took off from Parham and never walked the ground again. The only difference was that Joe’s group flew single-seaters; here at Parham there were ten men in a B17 crew.

Joe’s stories weren’t much like the movies. For one thing, his group lost more airplanes to the weather than the Luftwaffe ever managed to put down. He told me about two separate occasions where flying out and coming back to Leiston on the coast here, there would be clear air with fantastic visibility up to about 50 feet in winter, then a layer of cloud, then clear bright sunlight above that, all the way to the stratosphere. And how once flying out and another time coming back, he was in a group of three airplanes going into the cloud and one of only two that came out. Those two are somewhere in the North Sea, just four miles away, not even two minutes after take-off, not even two minutes short of home.

It was foggy all the time back then, Joe told me. But it wasn’t. It’s foggy here about three days a year. It wasn’t fog. It was coal fires and temperature inversion, and maybe, for those three days, fog as well. It didn’t make any difference, but the films all leave out the fact that the people you’re protecting are actually a big part of getting you killed. If that didn’t do it then 18 year-olds charging around the sky at 450 mph, or making tight turns and finding their wings literally fell off, that would. Joe told me about seeing that. He told me about seeing bomber crews five miles up above the earth suddenly without an airplane that had disintegrated around them and there being nothing you could do except watch.

We had a famous airplane explode here, over the marshes near Southwold. President Kennedy’s older brother was flying it. It was packed full of explosives to destroy U-boat pens and the idea was that after take-off the pilot and co-pilot would arm the remote control system, parachute out and another aircraft would literally fly what was now a closely guided missile onto its target. It was a B24 Liberator, the same planes that flew out of Debach and when Kennedy switched the controls to Remote it blew the atoms of him and the co-pilot over about 20 square miles. Joe thought that was unremarkable when we visited a tiny part of the crash site.

He told me what he’d seen, over and again. Whether that happened because they took a direct hit from anti-aicraft fire flying straight on a steady heading, or whether as he seemed to imply, it was something about the airplane that made that happen didn’t matter. The result was the same. And all he could do was watch.

“Those things used to blow up as soon as they opened the bomb doors.”

So when I can get the time and the space on my own, at Christmas I go to the memorial on the old airbase and read out the names there. It’s always a surprise how many of the names are German. It sort of seems the least I can do. These days I have to add Joe’s name to the list. I do that last.

The other thing I did is something I do much more often, a regular-ish walk around Parham Wood, out of the farm gate, up to Silverlace Green, along the lane where usually in the afternoon there’s a little herd of deer, as there was today. Not the fat scuttling muntjacs that come into the yard and eat the plants, but proper roe deer, their heads about level with your shoulder, dark on top and almost silver underneath, their own camouflage on this old airfield. They don’t want to be near people and these were a good three hundred yards away, which suited us both.

I walked up the hill through a little hamlet so small it doesn’t even have a name, then took a shortcut on a footpath across a field, slipping on the stile. For some of the years I’ve been here the farmer has ploughed over the footpath through here; every year whoever else walks this field makes sure we trample down whatever gets planted where it shouldn’t be. This year the farmer’s done the sensible thing and run a tractor along the route of the footpath, showing everyone where it is and leaving a brown muddy stripe through the crop. That takes you across a little lane, then across another field, across the little bridge, skirting another field until you get to a fingerpost pointing down the hill you’ve been climbing, flanking Parham Wood.

I’ve got a detailed old map of this area, made in 1959 when the difficult path along the stream cutting diagonally across this route was officially described as a road. Someone here much older told me it was, and they used to take their children along it in a pushchair, but I can’t see how. Things change though. Also on that map there was a house at the corner of the wood.

It was there in ’59.

On the left of the picture is Parham Wood, where once there was a Home Guard Auxiliary post, overlooking the railway that used to run from Framlingham to Snape. That’s gone, too. The odd thing about this disappeared house though, is where it is. There’s no road to it, just a track and not a big one at that. There are no telegraph poles, so no telephone and around here that probably also meant no electricity either. No mains drainage. And if it was like a lot of Suffolk farm buildings, no foundations either, which is probably why there isn’t a single brick standing now. The husband of the woman with the pushchair told me something odd though. He lived here all of his life. His family and then he himself owned a lot of the land around here, as well as this farm. He remembered when you couldn’t cross the airfield to get to Great Glemham after the war, because it was still fenced off and the road that was closed by the RAF in 1939 was still closed, over a decade after that. But he didn’t remember that house, at all. He was puzzled to see it on the map I have. Odd. It’s not even a mile away, well within small boy range.

Unsettling and comforting, dream and reality, fact and fiction. 

The other thing wasn’t important. I re-read Not Your Heart Away, the book, as Ernie Wise used to say, what I wrote. When I was at school I found a copy of Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar, in a pile in the Music Room. I don’t know why it was there; it wasn’t on the syllabus for O or A Levels and it wasn’t set to music (although it did make it as a (OMG, OMG, OMG..) Julie Christie film and a nowhere-near-as-good TV serial). Being Billy Liar’s age (and irrespective of ten years later sharing a bar with Keith Waterhouse and thinking him something of a disheveled and drunken old arse rather than the sharp folk-hero I’d wanted him to be – see also Hunter Thompson ibid), I identified massively with Billy. OK, I didn’t live in a northern town, didn’t work in the town I grew up in for more than a week before I did what Billy didn’t, and managed to escape to London and didn’t get engaged even once, let alone twice simultaneously. But like Billy I’d got myself stuck with a girlfriend who although somewhat more enthusiastically accommodating than the dread Barbara in the book, wasn’t something I wanted to encourage long-term. The problem being I was massively in lurrrrve, with a capital LUR. And it wasn’t with her. That’s what my book turned out to be about, and it’s become my Billy Liar, something I re-read again and again, to the extent that sometimes I have problems recalling what parts are total fiction and which bits were actual things that happened or I know of that had happened, that I recycled and hung around the necks of my characters in Not Your Heart Away.

Read it. Buy it. Double my sales. It doesn’t fit neatly into any literary category, and certainly not into any commercial one I’ve ever found. I wrote it primarily because I wanted to read something like Billy Liar but based outside a big town, in the kind of place I grew up in, in the times I grew up in. I couldn’t find anything at all like that, so I wrote it. Friends have the same problem reading it. I’ve been asked about when I was driving that Aston-Martin, however many times I explain that yes, I have driven one and yes, that feeling was exactly the way I described in, but that was in my thirties, not when I was half-drunk stuck in a country pub that isn’t there any more. Tragically also, I didn’t do the real Claire, contrary to the needling the central character’s lifelong friend repeats for decades. And no, obviously that wasn’t her name.

I suppose if you can re-read something you wrote nearly ten years later and still think hmm, there really isn’t much I’d change, then it’s got to be sort of OK. OK enough to win the BBC Writer’s Room anyway, when I turned it into a screenplay. It was one of five winners out of three and a half thousand other scripts; the fact that life is totally unfair was demonstrated again when my very first pitch to my very first production company didn’t actually result in them making the film.

The b****rds.

Billy Liar was there in ’59 too. As Michael Caine used to say, not a lot of people know that. I didn’t until today. You do, now.

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Greencastle blue

About this time a while ago I drove across America in a $200 Chevrolet. I’d haggled the price down and bought it after I found it in Wisconsin where I was working in my first, most memorable job, teaching kids to shoot on a summer camp.

We’d put up the flag in the morning, do breakfast, clean the cabin in those not-so-dear dead days when safeguarding hadn’t been invented, which meant you had to sleep in the same pre-teen room as twelve ten-year-olds, or ten twelve-year-olds. I could never remember which. Most days I’d be on my shooting range, teaching, but some nights we’d get a pass off-camp. I’d get in my car and drive to Eagle River, or because the only thing interesting there was a gunsNgifts shop where I stupidly didn’t buy the 1840s percussion Aston pistols they were practically giving away. Nobody seemed to know what they were, hanging from a nail in the ceiling; take ’em away for $50 apiece. Take ’em both for $75. They must have been there practically from the end of the Civil War.

Gene Fleck’s Meadow Inn Bar was a much more interesting place. It had a bar, for a start. Gene was a Hungarian refugee from the 1956 Russian invasion. He was into guns too, but to be fair, most people had a gun around the house somewhere. Gene’s was a useful Remington 742, a semi-auto with a scope. Gene, like most people around there, used it to take down deer in winter. With the old US wartime 30-06 rounds he could have taken down walls with it. Before that I’d never been in a bar where I was passed a rifle with my drink and told to have a look at it.

But the Meadow Inn Bar had other good things going. Like girl camp counsellors from other nearby camps. One of them ended-up inviting me to her parent’s house after summer camp ended. I’d been meaning to take a drive anyway. The house was in a place called Greencastle, which was as close to Bedford Falls as you could probably hope to get. Railroad tracks split the town in two; Nancy-Jean’s (no, really) folks lived in one of the bigger 1960s houses up on the hill bordering the golf course. Naturally enough. Dad worked for IBM, Mom was a book-keeper at the sawmill across the tracks, there were two cars in every garage, a V1 rocket on a plinth brought home by Our Boys after they done saved Yerp with Patton. Dillinger robbed the bank there in 1932, there was a town square, a courthouse, a diner, a McDonalds, pre-Civil War houses, a university and a rodeo. Apart from the total lack of a bookshop or anything remotely similar to one it sure looked like heaven to me, coming from 1980s Wiltshire.

I worked for about a week in the sawmill there. Like a refugee from a Springsteen song I worked construction on what had been an orphanage. The stone pillars around the Gone With The Wind front door were fake. I found out when I tapped one. They were cast iron and hollow, made in Birmingham, Englandshire, according to the casting on the bottom of them. The names of some of the teachers there were carved into the cellar steps dating from 20 years before and there was a room upstairs I wouldn’t have cared to sleep in, despite it being broad daylight every time I went there in my workboots and bandana.

I drove out on I-70 and got to Aspen, hunting Hunter Thompson (note to self for next life a) do not hunt down teenage idols b) if you have a goal, have another one handy for when you achieve the first one). I came back to London, left London, moved to Suffolk, went back to New York, San Diego, Cupertino and D.C. but somehow never quite made it back to the middle of the Mid-West in a $200 Chevrolet. Early on in lockdown though, I walked past a car restoration place and there she was, in about the same state, the same old Kingswood Classic, even the same colour.

Snarkness on the edge of town.

Sometimes I Googled Greencastle to see what was going on. Tornados that pulled houses apart, Bike rides to see all the covered bridges on gravel roads. Not much. Not much ever did. The nice houses up by the golf course were a lot cheaper than I’d expect if they were in England, but that’s true of pretty much anywhere. A restaurant opened up in the courthouse square that looked like the kind of place the Dukes of Hazard would stop by to see Daisy working the lunch counter. Nancy-Jean’s mom died and I found-out why the house prices never rose that much. A year or two after I was there IBM shut the plant. When you do that in a town of 8,000 people you’re lucky if the whole place doesn’t curl up and die. I thought, back in London, that Springsteen songs were just about places that banged bits of steel together, populated by people too dumb to wear ear-protection. I didn’t even guess that IBM could do the same to a town with white-collar four-car families telling each other those jobs are going boys, and they ain’t coming back.

It was long ago and far away, as Meatloaf used to sing before he got Covid. It wasn’t so much better than it is today, for lots of reasons. But I’m older, and when you’re older you remember the places you can’t go to anymore, not least because they aren’t there, or if they are then you can’t possibly be the same person you were when you were there.

Somehow along the way I found A.E. Housman, whose poetry my school never even touched upon although it really ought to have done. I’d say this was pretty good advice to any Sixth Former, or anyone aged around 21 and gone.

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.

A.E. Housman

That’s not the stanza from A Shropshire Lad that comes to mind when I think about Greencastle though. It wasn’t the girl, the gunshop, the rodeo, the golf-club, my old car, not even the sawmill and the railroad tracks. It wasn’t John Dillinger, Hunter Thompson, cooking crepes in Aspen nor really, any of it.

It’s just that certain knowledge that time passes and like those jobs and house prices in Greencastle, it ain’t coming back. Those are the Greencastle blues. They’ll go, as all things do, but this summer night they’re back for a while.

Into my heart an air that kills from yon far country blows. What are those blue remembered hills? What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content, I see it shining plain. The happy highways where I went and cannot come again.

Housman, A Shropshire Lad Stanza XL

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The book what I wrote

A few years ago I wrote a book and that. Like Charles Dickens, I used my experiences and memories of stuff that had happened to me and turned it into fiction. I know this has been a hard thing for some people to grasp. Just as presumably, they have trouble with the idea that there never actually was someone called Pip or Bob Cratchett, or a legal case called Jarndyce v Jarndyce, a title which always makes me think of Randal and Hopkirk (Deceased). It’s probably my age or something.

I used a literary technique we writers call ‘Making Things Up’ to some effect; it was one of five winners of the BBC Writers Room competition out of a field of 3,500. After that I wrote another screenplay called Janni Schenck, a fictional story about a real-life character I met once, an old man who had been a young boy in Germany in the 1930s. That was entered for Cannes by the Maison des Scenaristes. I showed it to a friend once. She said she never wanted to read it again. I asked her why. She told me that ‘kids like Janni killed half my family in Vienna.’ The only shred of intelligence I could find stopped me singing ‘this means nothing to me.’ Luckily.

So far so blah. Another two screenplays, one about Hereward, the forgotten Saxon with anger management issues and one about Shingle Street, just down the road from me. And then yesterday a phone call out of the blue. Would I like to meet a TV company on Monday to talk about writing a series for the BBC?

I looked back to the Not Your Heart Away reviews this morning and found the nicest thing anyone ever wrote about my stuff. It went like this:

For those men of a certain age, who grew up in an era of patchouli oil, smoky pubs and vinyl records, Not Your Heart Away is a sort of emotional time machine which instantly, effortlessly and somewhat disturbingly transports the reader back to their adolescence. It would be cliched – and untrue – to refer to this as an age of innocence. Carl Bennett’s nineteen year old protagonist Ben has mostly one thing on his mind and it certainly isn’t innocent. But there is a strange naivete about a pre-satnav and iPod world where driving any distance involved maps and cassette players, and a Zippo lighter, twenty Marlboros and a pint of cider was about as good as it got.

But Bennett’s second novel – which picks up where last year’s debut A Day For Pyjamas left off – is much, much more than a nostalgia trip for middle-aged men the wrong side of 50. Themes of loss – loss of love, loss of innocence, loss of friends – are interwoven with asides and observations on such diverse subjects as UFOs, rolling the perfect joint and the legend of the Glastonbury Thorn. Not many authors could juxtapose Bob Marley and AE Houseman, Patti Smith and Shakespeare, and get away with it, but these characters make it sound perfectly natural. There is a dreamlike, sun-tinted quality to Bennett’s prose which derives in part from his ability to evoke the wide open spaces of Salisbury Plain, the delicious (and never to be repeated) laziness of post-A level summer holidays and the sheer joy of a road trip with friends in a car borrowed from your parents.

And throughout, the aching, the sweating nervousness, the misunderstandings and the real fear of first love. On one level it would be easy to dismiss Not Your Heart Away as a familiar tale of teen angst and unrequited love. Ben’s stumbling, fumbling and ultimately humiliating pursuit of Claire will strike a chord with many of us. But it is Bennett’s gut-wrenching, relentless, visceral ability to put the reader in that place, at that time, with that girl – to enable us to say, “that’s me, that was my story” – which puts the novel in a class of its own.

Not Your Heart Away is not without flaws. Whether deliberately or not, the narrative bewildering switches from past to present tense and back again – sometimes within the same sentence. Ben’s best friend Peter, a key character in the first half of the story, disappears without trace in the second and is never heard of again. Theresa, Ben’s unimaginative and undemanding girlfriend, suffers a similar fate and somewhat conveniently fades into the background. At times, the verbal jousting between characters is confusing and repetitive. The lack of resolution or denouement is strangely unsatisfying and there is no doubt that when, in the closing stages, the story catches up with the present and we encounter the middle-aged Ben, the writing lacks the insight and depth of earlier chapters. Perhaps this feeling of loose ends still unravelled, and fates not yet determined, is deliberate. After all, life rarely has neat conclusions, and more rarely still is there a “happy ending”. Maybe it’s just a ploy to get us to buy the third and final part of Ben’s story. 
But these are minor complaints. Not Your Heart Away is, by any standards, a remarkable story. It takes you back to a time and place – not just a memory but a palpable, tangible time and place – just as surely as a whiff of dope or a snatch of Roy Harper. It is both unsettling and comforting, dream and reality, fact and fiction. If you left school in the late 1970s, it is not just Ben and Claire’s story, it’s yours. As Ben himself says, “It’s soul, it’s heartland. It’s where I’m from.”


I didn’t even have to slip him a fiver for the review.

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December 24, 2012 7:50 pm

This is a bit of a long-shot, but would you happen to be the Wendy Hales who was married in Bradford-on-Avon in 1995, who was Wendy Buckingham before that?

Happy Christmas in any case, but if you are Wendy it would be superb to get in touch. For me, anyway!

February 12, 2013 9:50 pm
Hello, you may be totally the wrong person, but I’m very curious! Sorry to bother you, but if this is you in the picture (a) that’s not me and (b) hope you’re well and happy.

I’ve often wondered about Wendy Buckingham over the years. She was married in 1995 to someone called John Hales and there is no trace I can find in the UK. Someone suggested I looked on Facebook and there was/is only one Wendy Hales there. With other friends called Buckingham and a friend from the town where she was married. I only found that out last week. I’m really not a creepy stalker, honestly!

Wendy inspired me to write a book. I used an old photo for the cover. If you actually are Wendy I will use a different photo if you prefer, but she was really rather lovely. I hope that shows in the book. I think it does.

Rather rambling. Sorry. Just not sure if I’m talking to the right person or not. Happy New Year, anyway. I still think of her, wherever she is.

June 17, 2013 6:42 pm

Hello, I’ve tried to message you on Facebook. I wrote a few days ago. If you’re Wendy Buckingham, or used to be, I mean, I’m just trying to say how are you, hope you’re well, I hope the years have been kind. I rang at the weekend, but I don’t know if it was you or wrong number – I’ve only just worked out you got married – not the world’s quickest detective! Seriously, hope you’re doing brilliantly. It would be great to say hi. Friend me on Facebook or something! 


September 24, 2013 3:15 am

Ok. I’m in your ‘others’ folder. Obviously it’s late. Obviously drink has been taken. I just wanted to say hi. That’s really all. I hope you’re well and happy. You obsessed me for years. In some ways you always will, as an idea, as an ideal. I don’t know if that’s love, probably it’s not, but I never meant any harm. If you remember me at all you know that. You were a magical vision of perfect world, TV world. It’s only now that I realise you were in free fall, only after I wrote the book. I had to write it to see how things were. I don’t think I’m very sensitive. I wasn’t back then, the time it was about. I just looked at you as if you were something upon an altar. I wish I had looked on you as if you were a real girl then. I might have been more sensitive. I understand now how painful that period must have been for you, not as an expression, but as a real thing. I wish I had known. I wish I had not been so crass. My only excuse was I was 17 or 18. I am sorry. You took my heart away. I never really got it back. I wish I had really cared, I wish I had really loved, I wish I had really known. And if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

I would love to talk to you. I really do understand why you might want to cut off from anything from that time. But I wasn’t your enemy. I was too young, too stupid, too overawed by you to do anything but worship without doing anything at all sensible or helpful if that was even possible back then, being the person I was. I found a diary from that time the other day, about the time your mother loaned me her car for the evening, for reasons that are still not clear to me, other than she knew I was ok with you.

Wend, it would be so good to talk to you. I don’t even know if people still call you that. I don’t know if you’ve read the book. If I definitely knew where to find you I’d post one. It’s on Amazon. It’s not a pornographic fantasy. It’s about a young man who cannot cope. Who was too much in love to actually love. About a feeling that would never leave someone, for reasons that they would only know decades later, that weren’t the reasons they thought they were. I want you to contact me for me. To do my heart good. To tell me that I didn’t do anything bad. I want to hear that your life has been good, or at least ok. That things worked out, or they might do. Just to hear you say ‘hi’ again. That’s all. It really is.

I know. Sad. Pathetic. Late at night. But sometimes late at night is the only real time things can be said. Be safe. Be happy. Say hello sometime. But above all, be you.


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That place

I used to drive around a lot, just for fun. There wasn’t much else to do where I grew up; everywhere was somewhere else. As I got older I kept on driving for fun, or if not fun then more often to be somewhere I wasn’t.

I bought a house in the Cotswolds one winter, a place I’d driven through when I was eighteen and not that far from where I was born, but we left there when I was two. The real  town I bought the old posting barn, four hundred years old, where footsteps often carried on from the old pub next door straight through where the wall was, six feet thick, and walked through the barn, and still the house I was happy walking around at three in the morning, can’t sleep, leaving the lights off to see the sleeping town was in Not Your Heart Away, the place where Ben and Claire, Peter and Liz stopped after the car crash they’d just escaped having.

But none of that ever happened. Things like it did, but that didn’t, because they were imaginary people. Almost. Just like that place.

That Place

That place we saw once

Driving that bright January day;

I can’t remember the name of the town

Just bigger than a village

I don’t often drive that way now.

But somewhere on a hill,

Stark trees against the sharp blue sky

Up on the ridge, a red phone box

Against the snowy hedge,

The morning almost silent

Now the car’s calmed down.

Our eyes nearly back to normal

Once the motorway’s long behind us.

Cold with the window open.

Definitely not a day you want

To come out without a coat.

That feeling in your throat this time of year

Making you wonder if it’s the weather

Or whether you’re getting a cold

And how long it’s been since you were here before.

The shop’s become someone’s house now

And other new houses built on fields

To let you know you’re getting older,

But still alive. Still alive

As a cat walks across the frosty road

This crisp morning and you’d swear

You caught the Boxing Day fox-hunting

Smell of cigars as you turned the corner

That wasn’t quite where you remembered it was.

Wrong turn; And you drive the length

Of this Cotswold street.

A man on his phone, smiling, carrying the newspaper

Back towards his home or someone else’s.

Safe and warm for now.

If you’d lived here it would have been different.

All of it. And you know that’s true.

How different it would all have been

If I’d never known you.

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All Of Your S**t

"MILF seeks studz #lolI"
“Foxy MILF 28 seeks studz #lols”

This tender, romantic little poem was inspired by an ad I once saw in the Personals, long before there were things like that nobody knows about anyway so I don’t know why I mentioned it really.

The ad went on and on and on, about how this poor woman loved her children more than life itself, how she’d been left on her own with them and how she’d never let anyone get between her and her most precious darlings. This was a Personals ad, don’t forget. Maybe not the best place to do all that. Right at the end after she’d bled all over the page, she cracked the best pay-off line I’ve ever heard:

“I’m looking for a man without any baggage.”

Without any sense of irony too, obviously. I hope she ended-up with the American she was looking for. It stuck in my head, the way things do, until I wrote her ad again.


All Of Your S**t

I’m looking for someone without any baggage

I’m a man/woman/couple looking for

A fun reliable person/partner/soulmate,

Someone tall/short and dark/light

Someone funny/serious and adventurous

Who likes staying at home and going out

Just chilling and doing the same things.

They say opposites attract. LOL.

I love my children, my family, my job, my home, my car

I’d lay down my life for them or never forgive them

Or someone for getting between me and them.

I love my pets and I don’t want any ties right now.

I like walking on beaches in the mountains.

I love going on Citybreaks in the countryside.

I want someone to be there for me when I need them

And I can’t handle anything heavy right now.

I want someone to build a future together.

I love having no responsibilities

And caring and going away whenever I like.

I love staying at home. I’m looking for a life partner,

A serious relationship, a one-night stand.

Who knows? Let’s see. Fun.

I’m married, single, divorced, separated,

Just looking and widowed;

It’s complicated. Delete as appropriate.

Or delete me as inappropriate.

Friend me. Chat. TXT. IM me.

Delete my posts on your timeline,

Block my profile and change your privacy settings

Even as you change mine, forever and ever

Until the next time.

Mark me as flagged until the Xs disappears from your MSGS

And quickly then the TXTS get shorter and less often

Until sooner than you thought

On the screen there’s no reply at all

And quite finally, without appeal and irrevocably

You just unfriend me.

So I’m looking for someone without any baggage.


October 2013
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Wordle Your Heart Away

Wordle: Not Your Heart Away


I always wondered how they did that. Then came along and like a lot of things, anyone could do it now. Sort of.

These are some of the words from Not Your Heart Away, the book what I wrote.  This is from an early section. I think it would be interesting to do it again, from the middle and the end. All it is is cut and paste these days, not weeks in a graphics lab.

Have a go yourself. You don’t even have to write a book or anything.

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Tapas & Tales

Tomorrow night sees the event I was practising for. I wanted to get some practice before I stood up and performed my poetry at Tapas  Tales at The Old Mariner in Woodbridge tomorrow.

So I got up on my hind legs at The Anchor, Woodbridge (5th January), DPs in Aldeburgh (17th), the Anchor again (19th) and a new venue, the Golden Key at Snape on 25th. I think I’ve had some practice now.

It’s been strange. I never do a poem if anyone in the audience could possibly recognise people or circumstances it could have been about. And almost every time All Of Your S**t gets the laughs it was supposed to, In Silence seems to shock, Back To Ourselves makes women look thoughtful and When The Phone Rings, which I’ve only done twice, silences the entire audience.

Men and women are coming up to me afterwards and touching my arm. Always my left arm, above the elbow. I don’t know why, except obviously it speaks to them. Which it was supposed to.

When The Phone Rings is from the heart. They all are, but that one, I think it’s the best I’ve ever done, from the first line onwards. I’m a bit dubious about the one-line stanza in the middle, but it seems to work.

And yes, obviously it’s about a real person. No, she’s never read it to my knowledge or heard it. Which is a pity, because it’s quite a moving poem.

If it or any of them are poems at all. I’m not sure what a poem should be. I know I’m not a good enough musician to play an instrument and sing at the same time. My guitar playing isn’t that good although my sax playing is a bit better, but I still can’t do that and sing at the same time. So I’m calling these pieces words without music. It makes sense to me. The thing that prompted When The Phone Rings still doesn’t.

Either way, this public catharsis is fun once I’ve got past the stage nerves and get behind the mic again.  I had to bowdlerise AOYS for the Golden Key and it wasn’t the place to give Minimum Wage its first outing, given it looked and sounded like Conservative Central Office. Still. Might get paid one day. And it’s all good practice and exposure for something that would be so fabulous if it came off I can’t even write about it, here or anywhere else. Just fingers crossed.

And come and see me tomorrow night at The Old Mariner.






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Resolutions: 2014

There’s an old Wicca tradition about bad stuff. I know, I’m doing a lot about traditions at this time of year, but it’s a good time of year for it. Christmas is over and whatever you think about that, the days are going to get longer and longer until they’re magically, sleep-stealingly long, the way they were when I swapped stories and dreams with someone with a bottle of wine under a eucalyptus tree last summer.

After this year I have a lot less bad stuff to get rid of. But I’m going to write down some things I’m going to do this year and being a hip and happening kind of guy I thought I might as well put these things here, where everyone can see them and challenge me on them. So here they are. My resolutions for 2014. Or goals. My resolutions are for me and those they affect. My goals, well, this will kick me on along towards them. As we say down the stables.

1) I will direct and broadcast No Batteries Required on radio.

2) I will re-draft No Batteries Required as a screenplay and pitch it to Cascade, same as Not Your Heart Away.

3) I will find an independent publisher for Not Your Heart Away.

4) I will learn to play the ukelele. Actually, on advice from a friend who thinks my saxophone playing is pretty good, I’m sending the ukelele back and making a promise to myself to play the saxophone every single day. A quick blast through Kirsty McColl’s A New England  was today’s effort, copied from the radio. The radio in my head, anyway.

5) I will perform 3 poems at the Open-Mic night at The Old Mariner, Woodbridge, 29th January.

6) I will write The Cloud Factory.

7) I will finish writing Janni Schenck, which started life as School Lane.

8) First I will decide the format for Janni Schenck, film, book or play.

9) While I’m there I might as well re-draft No Batteries Required as a stage play and get it performed, probably using the same actors and actresses who are doing it for radio.

10) I can’t actually think of a tenth thing. I mean, I can, but I can’t really put that on here publically so not that, not here. Instead, I will get better at playing my old low tone saxophone. I might even team up with someone who can do the music while I do a 1940s crooner set. This is a thing in my head. In a progress update I’ ve found someone, but she’s a bit committed. Life stuff. You know. Stuff.

I don’t know why when I was 14 the first album I ever bought was original 1944 RCA Victor Glenn Miller recordings. But it was and they were and they’ve stuck in my head forever. And I thought the other day that a Christmas present to myself might usefully be a mic-ed-up concert uke to accompany the songs I’ve always known. The Nearness of You. Fools Rush In. The Glenn Miller version obviously, not the pathetic Bow Wow Wow lift musak one. And probably Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens, the song my disappeared friend Simon Talbot used to introduce his radio show in Florida, about a thousand years ago. Or maybe How Long Will I Love You? If you want to do something useful in 2014, find Simon and tell me where he is. A lot of people who love him would like to know. And we don’t. It’s been years now. We miss him. A lot.


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When the animals talk

I took a trip back through time this Christmas. In those strange days between Christmas itself and the New Year, when nothing is as it should be, when it’s too late to do much about this year and too early to do much about the next I drove to Poole to see an old friend, then up to Warminster to see an even older friend, one whose voice I used as Liz in Not Your Heart Away. I took two of her children to Bath. They wanted to do some shopping and I wanted to see yet another friend in the city. They were about the age Ben and Claire and Liz were in the book.

IMG_1642Along the way I turned off the A36 in Rode and took the old route I’d driven a hundred times and more, the same way Claire and Ben drove in the book to find The Red Lion. It’s fiction. I should have known. And I should have known better. It’s not just that the past is another country and they do things differently there. Whoever wrote that didn’t say ‘and they build executive homes in the car park of the Red Lion and ponce-up what was a brilliant pub into someone’s Disney fantasy of a baronial hall to live in.’

But things are never exactly as they seem. It all reminded me of a Christmas tradition we have or had in my family. I don’t know if anyone else still keeps it. I couldn’t, this year. Our tradition goes that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals talk. The year before I was born my mother and father stayed on my aunt’s farm and nearing midnight went into their stable to see if it was true, that the animals really did speak.

Last Christmas I went to church close to midnight but this is a dying village. The church was closed. As I got near the dark and silent building I remembered that Midnight Mass had been brought forward to six pm, a more convenient time for the old people who make up most of the village and all of the congregation. As I walked home along the empty road I remembered my family’s story. I got a torch and went to the tree where my chickens roosted then and shone it on the big young cockerel. I heard the church clock strike and as the light caught him the cockerel stirred and put his head back.

And is it true? Do the animals speak, remembering a stable in a story?

What sort of question is that? Of course it’s true. Nobody ever said they have to speak with a human voice.



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