Putting it about

In grown-up land.
In grown-up land.

Not like that.

Putting it about used to be a borderline smutty expression from the days when creepy uncles smoked panatellas and boasted about the two litre engines in their car while wearing lapels like an aircraft carrier for flies.

Add something as close to a Zappatta moustache as the Westbury Golf Club bar rules would allow and a vertical two-button waist on the tailored flares and you’ll know when we’re talking about, baby.

Everyone had a creepy uncle who thought he looked like this. It was the law back then.
Everyone had a creepy uncle who thought he looked like this. It was the law back then.

Putting it about meant, in line with the mores of the times, not-so secret admiration for men doing it and public shame for women if they were. I won’t say ladies, because however many horseboxes they might have frequented at gymkhanas (gymkhanae?) ladies didn’t. Obviously they did, or some of them anyway, but it wasn’t discussed. Not if you wanted to stay in your tied cottage, anyway. It goes, or went, with the territory.

The kind of putting it about I meant to write about before we started the vintage shagging meme was cross-platform multi-media engagement. Or telling people you exist in the clamour of the global marketplace point para.

See what I did there? I’d been thinking of ways of trying to get some money in from doing my stand-up poetry in pubs I don’t actually like calling it poetry because let’s face it, it’s not exactly something Khubla Khan would have spent a languid afternoon listening to, and Omar Khyam (no, not the bloke

It doesn't get better.
It doesn’t get better.

who did those electric shaver ads on TV) has already done the book of verse, a jug of wine and thou thing that sums up the ideal state in anything I write, even though the dominant theme is being English, in a way that more people used to be than now, thankfully, fingers clenched dangerously tight on the stem of a wine glass as hearts turn to stone to stop them breaking, accompanied by nice accents, bright smiles and garden furniture. It could be I’m just channeling A Bouquet Of Barbed Wire in some weird Rendlesham Forest time-slip. I could live with that.

Two months ago yesterday I did my first stand-up poetry gig. Or songs without music. Or whatever it is I do (see snark, therapy, showing off). It seems like a lot longer and I keep veering between thinking ‘haven’t done enough’ and counting Anchor four times, Golden Key twice, DP’s twice, Old Mariner, Grinning Rat, King’s Head, Wenhaston Star, or twelve in less than that weeks and thinking that’s quite a good start.

When I started I thought a single reading might be quite enough for the audience, but they continue to surprise me in a really nice way. I overheard two women I know in the way you know women in pubs. Reading this perhaps I didn’t quite mean that, or rather I meant the way you (sorry, one) knows women in pubs to talk to. At my age. And theirs. With our voices. And stuff.

Anyway, as we used to say. One was asking the other about my stand-up act I’d done in The Golden Key, at Snape, asking what it was like. “It’s really good.” Pretty, Dutch, eccentric clothes, says hello to me first. Oh, it was nothing really. You know. Would you like a drink?

Pleasant all this may be I’d still been thinking I wasn’t doing enough to get stuff out there, or put it about a bit, as people thankfully don’t say any more. I hope. Not that, but I’d noticed that while there are loads of talented musicians at the gigs I go to, almost all of them never promote themselves. Not so at The Grinning Rat. That was refreshing, finding practically every act closing with its Soundcloud file address, Twitter account and website, almost down to saying how you have to shove the gate a bit when you open the latch.

Not exactly pulling gear. Even in Suffolk.
Not exactly pulling gear. Even in Suffolk.

I’d read an American article about how to promote your writing for fun and profit or something and and marvelled at the crass vulgarity of the idea of taking your own books along to your gigs and actually telling people they could buy them. I mean! The idea! Really!

But it just makes sense. And it’s World Book Day. And I’ve got a book to sell. Oh, didn’t I mention that? I’ve got a book to sell.

I’m doing this gigging seriously. I like doing it. People seem to like me doing it, even if not the sort of people I thought would like it done. As it were. So I need to start telling people about my stuff. I’m finishing the sound edit on the new sound play No Batteries Required today. Then it goes on two local radio stations and Soundcloud for a start. Then I need to really get this cross-promotion thing going properly. And I need to do something about my stage image. Or maybe I don’t. This multi-media stuff is so confusing. I’ll just have a look on ebay for one of those scrolling LCD displays. You know the kind of thing they have in the post office to let you know the counter is free, only saying I am instead.



Note for younger readers: While most of this drivel is sadly true, there never was a golf club in Westbury. There may well be now, but back when the Triumph Stag was the pinnacle of smooth n sexy motoring there wasn’t. You can tell how long ago this all is by the piquancy of the idea that driving anywhere could be sexy. Or that anyone would use the word ‘motoring.’

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Judging by appearances

It’s a stupid thing to do, but pretty much everybody does it. It’s how we spot the tiger in the long grass, how we look for the shorthand tell-tale signs and tribal marks that used to tell us ‘this stranger is safe’ or warned us not to get too close too soon.

How average people dressed.
How average people dressed

In black and white films at least, things were straightforward. Proper chaps wore hats, or as their womenfolk called them at the time, hets. That was some time ago and all of those pointers and signs changed a while back. Most days I wear a tweed coat (one does not say jacket, actually) and jeans along with Goretex-lined walking boots, a combination my father would have found baffling. He was never socially confident enough to wear tweed, and denim was something engine drivers wore in those days. And Goretex hadn’t been invented.

The thing is, I make as many assumptions about people based on what they wear and how they sound as anyone else. People make assumptions about me based on my voice. Most of them assume I used to have some money because of it, which isn’t even vaguely true. Last weekend I was freezing because I hadn’t had much sleep so when I went down to the Suffolk Arts Club I threw on anything warm I could find. A grey sweater with red hearts on it from TK Max. A long Musto stockman’s coat that’s kept me dry since 1991. Same old jeans and boots. And a scarf. And two people I thought knew me a bit said they could see I was wealthy due to the clothes I was wearing. Wrong. Flattering, but totally wrong.

Just as wrong as I’ve been about the audience for the stand-up poetry I’ve been doing. I did my 12th gig tonight, two months into this, at The Grinning Rat in Ipswich. I got there late because I hadn’t even decided to go until about nine o’clock when I finished work and by the time I got there it was almost empty apart from a small group of loud people drinking at the bar. Hurrah, I thought, exactly the audience I like, drunk and shrieking at each other at random. And if I’d made more sensible assumptions I wouldn’t have been surprised when after I’d done my set a woman from the group came over and touched my arm and said ‘thank-you, that was lovely.’

Somehow it's never girls like this that touch my arm and say 'thank-you.'
Somehow it’s never girls like this that touch my arm and say ‘Thank-you. That was wonderful. Take me home with you.’

It’s never the sensitive-looking girls. It’s never the artistic-looking men. Always but always it’s the toughest-looking men and to be frank, women, who make eye-contact during the set or at the bar afterwards, who come over making me ask myself ‘what did I say?’ and tap me on the shoulder or physically stop me leaving  the pub. And just as I’m thinking ‘how do I get out of this and what was it I did that’s got me into this?’ they say odd things I’m not expecting.

‘We need more spoken word. Are you coming here again?’

‘You’re like me,’ from a skinhead with a pit bull terrier.

A silent thumbs-up in my face that I thought had been going to be a punch.

I’ve had a tough-looking rockabilly girl massaging my shoulders while I drank my pint, then giving me 20 minutes on why her relationship was so troubled. She didn’t want me to do anything about it, she just thought I was the sort of person she could speak to, after my poetry that I don’t even think is real poetry, just smart mouth and anguish and a couple of rhymes. Almost therapy, at times. You see what I did there? Smart mouth, as I said.

And they touch my arm. This is what I really don’t get. It’s always the same. Apart from one tap on my shoulder to get my attention (I really thought I was going to get punched that time) and one hand on my chest to stop me going through the exit (that wasn’t much fun in expectation either) huge blokes and hard-looking women come and do the same thing: they both touch my left arm (always the left one) above my elbow. Always. I don’t get it.

A lot of the stuff I do is about being upset. With a couple of the poems I sometimes have problems with a couple of lines if I’m thinking too much about why I wrote it in the first place. Maybe it’s therapy. I’ve certainly noticed that when I start to feel ok about things after being dumped (again) I can’t think of much to write about. But it gets through to the wildest, toughest looking people, people who don’t have voices like me, people who I thought from the way they looked would hate what I do, standing in front of a microphone with foppish hair and a voice like mine.

And more fool me, judging people from first impressions and appearance. Just more fool me. These strange, tough-looking people who look as if life hasn’t been its kindest to are my biggest fans. So I’m going to try to stop being an arse and wait to see what people are like before I judge them. The same way they have the grace to reserve judgement on me.






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Sunday, Sunday

Can’t trust that day, as the Mamas and Papas nearly sang. It’s a special day today, which makes me wish I’d had more than two and a half hours sleep and didn’t have to fix my freewheel on my bicycle, which seems to be all crudded up as it’s come out of winter storage. It runs, but if you stop peddling the chain threatens to come off because – oh it doesn’t really matter because. I’m going to have to take the stupid chain tensioner on the derailleur apart, thinking as I do every year that the complete evidence that my life has gone fundamentally totally wrong is that I can’t afford £900 for a 14-gear Rohloff gear hub for my bicycle. Res ipsa loquitur, as if I’d said for a living I’d have one by now. It speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Ha ha. And bitter tears.

If I hadn't thought about Wendy Sedgewick I'd have one of these by now.
If I hadn’t thought about Wendy Sedgewick I’d have one of these by now.

Oddly, I think of new things when I’m short of sleep. Two new poems, one of which I might try out at the soiree (I know, get me) this afternoon, and remembering I actually have not one but two short stories of a readable length I could do either there or at the pub open mic at The Anchor afterwards.

First I need to get some sleep and fix my bike, but I could get the train one stop instead and cadge a lift back, I suppose.

So would you like a story? Would you? Have you been good? Ok, what story would you like, because we only have time for one before bedtime? What’s it going to be? One about a ghost cat? Or about a teenaged Mexican prostitute I met once?

Sorry? I didn’t say these were children’s stories, did I?




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Being English

It isn’t easy being English. It’s not just the clothes you wear. Sorry, one wears.

Nor the things you think or the way you see things or the way you speak.

But when you hear it, especially when the English talk about relationships – sorry, not a very English word, I meant things like that – you know you really couldn’t be listening to any other people. Especially when you realise that when we say sorry we actually mean pay attention. I meant one means. Sorry.

I drove past someone’s house this morning and had a look to see if the garden furniture was still where I’d put it and the pergola was still there. And I thought of this. I don’t know whether to call it Being English or Things Like That. Or People Like Us, but I want to use that for something else and besides, not all of them do.

Claudia Myatt

Things Like That

It was all quite straightforward.

We both knew

Where we were.

We sort of got along.

Like that.

We liked each other.

Quite a lot rather soon.

That way too.

And then well.

You know.

All sorts of things happened.

And before we knew

Where we were at all

That was it really.

Now I just look

To see if her car’s there.

If you see what I mean.

Thinking back I’m not sure

Either of us did at the time.





(c) Carl Bennett

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Late Train Out of Paddington

I grew up a long way from here, not just in terms of years but in distance. Over two hundred miles, a long way in England, anyway. It seems so. I lived in a small town of about 20,000 people but I never felt I knew everybody; I never have. Life started to change when I was about 18. There had been changes before that, but these were changes I was excited about, leaving home. Discovering things. Differences. The idea that not everywhere was like the little town I lived in. That other people had other ideas and some of them had ideas like me. Maybe it was the times, maybe it was just how old I was, but I felt change coming, an idea that things were going to change in a progressively better way. I don’t know people who think that way now.

At the same time as this idea of some non-specific progress I was becoming more aware of the past, from the grass mound at Avebury I’d drive past on the A4 going up to London to the fantastic vision of Brunel’s Paddington station, giving the ultimate lie to the gimcrackery of steampunk. Some of the trains I got back home were ancient, especially on the Sunday service to Westbury, but all of them had a certain feel about them, that they were taking me somewhere special. Not to Trowbridge where I lived, not to Westbury where the fast train junction was. But to the future, by way of the past. I wrote this a couple of years ago, mostly. But it speaks with the same voice I think I had back then.


Late Train Out of Paddington


Brunel's vision of the West, starting at Paddington.
Brunel’s vision of the West, starting at Paddington.

When I’d been to an interview for university

One year or another a long time ago,

I’d stay with my step-sister in Notting Hill.

She was ten years older than me

Doing Law after her PhD and going back

I’d get a late train out of Paddington.

I’d come up on the Thursday and wait for them to get home.

They had a light for burglars that came on by itself

So I could never tell if they were at home or not.

Often I hoped they were out so I could drink

In the Sun In Splendour, me with a book,

An actor from a TV cop show with his book too.

One night a woman came in asking about her friend

Who’d killed himself; No-one said they knew

Who she was talking about until she’d gone.

I’d smoked strong cigarettes and gone to a Russian bistro

Or we’d go to Geales’s for fish just around the corner,

Like everything else worth doing in London then.

I put my brass Zippo lighter on top of my cigarettes on the table.

I’d eaten broccoli quiche and good bread and butter

Cut with a razorlike old knife on thin antique plates.

I’d done my interview on Friday at UCL or Brighton or City

Or somewhere. I didn’t really care;

District Line tube at Paddington. Everything started and ended here.
District Line tube at Paddington. Everything started and ended here.

But I wanted to be in Notting Hill back then.

I didn’t buy any henna for my hair in Portobello.

I didn’t buy a yak hair coat or a broken Anglepoise lamp

I could fix or 1940s French cordorouy trousers with braces off the stalls

But I saw a woman naked when I walked past her bedroom door.

Ten years older than me, an actress in a film

I hadn’t seen. My bare feet silent on the wooden floor.

I couldn’t mention it then. I still can’t now.

I’d drunk red wine and wondered how I was going to live here,

Before the Tube to Paddington, haunted with the ghosts of steam trains

Under Brunel’s airy iron roof, my train on the platform past the sign

Advertising Harlech Television, “Your Station Back Home.”

Sometimes the carriages were so old they had

Wooden windows pulled up by a leather strap.

After I’d found my seat and stowed my bag

And found out where the loo was

I opened my New Musical Express,

Or Sounds, spreading it out on the table

So people could see but really

I watched the white of the tall old houses

Backing on to the tracks.

I remember the hum of the big train flexing,

Then coasting over the points, gathering itself

While it tugged at the skirts of Georgian London,

Then the big quiet push of the diesel when it

Got the scent of open country,

Settling me into my seat

With a bottle of Special Brew from the buffet car.

Actually, better make that two.

Rain slashed the trees as the sun set around Reading;

I got glimpses of strangers’s lives and tried to remember

The two abandoned farmhouses near the tracks.

You and I could have lived in either of them

If I’d ever known where they were.

First I needed to do university, then when I had a job

Whatever it was, when I got paid and when

I’d learned how to fix-up houses,

When there was a different you

And the you I knew then had become someone else

And you were just an infrequent memory;

When I knew you would be. And anyway

Nothing really happened to go that way.

I can still see out of the window and hear the boom

Of the engine as it winds out towards Swindon.

I can see the naked white backs of Georgian houses

From the tracks that carry the late train out of Paddington

But I can’t seem to find my seat anymore.


(C) Carl Bennett 2014

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These Are The Last Things

Another day, another cheery poem. I used this to close the night at the Wenhaston Star. It did the job well. Total silence, then clapping. Which was nice.

Then a bald-bloke barring my way out of the pub who wouldn’t let me go past until he’d said how much he liked it. It’s odd, I’m getting a lot of positive feedback (which I’m almost sure isn’t the kind of thing they’d say) from what look to me like the most unlikely people. Mostly with shaved heads. Mostly a lot bigger and tougher-looking than me. All of them visibly moved by my stuff, delivered by me. It’s been described rather flatteringly as raw and hypnotic. I think it’s something to do with telling honest stories about how people feel, in a way that men traditionally don’t tell them, or not in public, anyway.

That’s just my theory. I might be wrong. You could discuss it with my hard-looking fans if you like, out the back of the pub. Because they liked this one.

These Are The Last Things

This house is going now, 

Claudia Myatt
Claudia Myatt

Boxes packed, the vans booked,

Exchanging soon and these,

These are the last things

From my garden cooking.

Courgettes from the summer

That we shared sitting

Talking until late.

Until really it was much too late

For either of us to pretend,

Or for you to go home again.

This was my best Summer.

The summer of you and your dogs.

And your nose. And your voice.

And your hair. And your bent toes.

And just you, really. Just you.

And now I don’t have any of those things

With me almost every day.

Now I never know if, when I see you

In the street you’ll say hello or turn away;

It’s not just that it hurts me.

Not just that I don’t think

I deserved that. I make excuses for it

To my friends. It’s the way you are.

The way I was.

You’ve been through a lot, you know?

And yes, of course I talk about it.

It hurts so much too much not to

And I find that if I don’t then I cry.

But often, much more often than men are supposed to,

Alone in what will not be my house,

I cry anyway, for losing you.

In the kitchen, mostly.

Near the place between the oven and the fridge

Where you told me that you loved me.

So these, these are the last things.


 (c) Carl Bennett 2014



No, I’m fine, I’m fine. Honest.

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The Co-Dependent’s Valentine

songs without musicCo-dependency isn’t fun. There used to be a form of duelling in America where the two contenders were tied together by one wrist and given a knife each. Presumably the knife hand was held until the time to start the duel. Usually, obviously enough, both of them died. It always reminded me of a certain kind of relationship.


Roses are red

Violets are blue

I’d rather have nothing

If nothing means you.


Happy Valentine’s Day.

Yes, I know it’s late. Well you didn’t give me one at all, so just don’t start on me, ok?

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A Modern Valentine

Someone gave me a challenge the other day. Don’t write about love and romance. Show another side of you. But it was Saint Valentine’s Day. I failed.



A Modern Valentine


Roses are red

Like the blood of my heart

Like the lies on our lips

Like the stain of your kiss.


Violets are blue

Like the mould on spoiled food

Like the way we felt

When we knew it wasn’t true.


You held my heart

Like a hostage against the dark

Like a caged bird in the park

I was just a walk-on part.


Be my Valentine

And I’ll be yours

It could be worse

We’ve both been around for a while.




It’s not catchy. And you can’t dance to it.

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All Of Your S**t

Years ago I read an ad in the Personals. No, honestly, it really was years ago, although it’s probably time to start reading them again. There really was a real ad from a woman who took about a quarter page ad, telling everyone about her children and how devoted she was to them (as if anyone was asking) and how she would always put them first (as she should) and how nobody would get between her and them (as if they’d want to).

It just went on and on and on, as if someone kept suggesting the opposite, over her shoulder. I don’t know if anyone ever replied. I didn’t. The saddest thing was also the funniest thing, the very last line:

I’m looking for a man with no baggage.

It’s always stayed with me. So I updated it a little, in case that poor woman is still out there somewhere, still going on about her adult children. I should say now, this poem, if that’s what it is, is NOT based on or about anyone I have ever known, met, spoken to or done anything else with. Ever.

All Of Your S**t


I’m looking for someone

Without any baggage

I am a man woman couple looking for a fun

Reliable person partner soulmate

Who is tall short and dark light

Who is funny serious adventurous

And likes staying at home

And going out with friends,

Just chilling, doing the same things.

They say opposites attract lol.

I love my children, my home, my family

My car my job I would give the world

Lay down my life for or

Never forgive them or someone, for something.

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 commitment

Right now. I love having no responsibilities

And caring and going away

Whenever I like.

I love staying at home.

I am looking for a life

Partner a serious relationship

A one-night stand

Who knows let’s see. Fun.

I am married, single, divorced,

Separated, just looking.

And widowed. It’s complicated.

Delete as appropriate.

Delete as inappropriate.

Friend me. Chat. Txt. IM me.

Review my post and report me to Facebook.

Delete my posts on your timeline.

Remove your profile and change

Your privacy settings

Even as you change mine.

Forever and ever,

Or until the next time.

Mark me as flagged until that thing happens when

First the Xs disappear from your msgs

And quickly then the txts get shorter

And less often until sooner than you thought

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.



(c) Carl Bennett 2013


Looking back I can see I posted this on November 28th. That was the day I went to the Blaxhall Ship and my life changed quite considerably.

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