One day in the future


One day in the future I will remember the evening
Walking the river path when I could smell the winter ending
Me and your dogs; we could hear the birds
Starting to sing their evening songs again
The way they do when Spring first comes.
We saw the lights in the houses go on
From where we were, quiet on the edge of the wood,
Me and your dogs. We were late.
We’d found a secret river meadow so remote
That no footprints marked the mud smoothed by the floods
Then you texted: How long will you be?
Ten minutes. Five if we hurry. Is everything ok?
Everything was fine, you messaged me.
And all of us knew it was then, me and your dogs.
How long will we be now? A lifetime or so.
Then I can remember you again,
One day in the future.

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For a day job I work for a mental health hospital. Today I read one of the descriptions of the services the hospital offers and wondered about the way the fear and stigma of mental illness has affected treatment, to the extent that it’s not the done thing to even talk about it. We can and do happily discuss mental health but it’s not really on to talk about mental illness. It’s frightening. It’s a total loss of control.

Out on the primal veldt if you break your leg the lions might get you sooner, but at least you can make a plan. Light a fire, sharpen a stick, do something to put it off. And maybe, maybe you’ll get through. But when your mind isn’t very well you’re the most vulnerable you can possibly be and still be alive. Your plan is going to be about as good as the lions’s and they’ve got much bigger teeth than you.

Watch a cat with another cat that just came back from the vet and acts woozy from the anaesthetic. That would be my fear of what would happen, that frightened people would lash out, as frightened people do. Unless you’re lucky. Unless you can get help.

The service description got me thinking of how sanitised the language of therapy has become. Maybe it’s a good thing. I honestly don’t know. In one way it helps by reminding people, maybe unintentionally, the thinness of the tightrope we all walk. I see people who’ve missed their footing every day. It’s a terrifyingly long way down.



Treatment for psychotic symptoms, including hearing voices and seeing things others do not, feeling paranoid or mistrustful, believing in an ability to read other people’s minds, feeling confused, irritable and depressed, not thinking clearly, feeling that bad things may happen to self or others, believing in one’s special powers or fame are classic symptoms of a psychotic episode.


The factsheet told me the symptoms are common

And extensively varied including hearing voices,

Or seeing things that other people don’t see and hear.

And it’s true. I hear voices that other people don’t.

Other people don’t share my memories

And I hear your voice still telling me it’ll be ok.

Feeling paranoid or mistrustful.

I used to think paranoid meant thinking

Everyone was out to get you

But in the end, one person’s quite enough

Especially when they don’t want to get you at all

But the opposite. They want to un-get you.

For good. And mistrust.

Where would I be without a healthy dose of that?

Signed up to share my bank account with a Nigerian prince

Who suddenly needs to get the money belonging to his uncle

Who sadly died in a plane crash out of the country.

If I’d only share my details half of it can be mine.

And I can tick another box now. I could read his mind

This prince with a distinctly un-royal address.

But maybe things are different there.

Where nobody is confused or irritable or depressed

Where everyone thinks clearly all the time,

Where the words psychosis and mental health

Or service user are hardly ever used,

Unlike American Express or bank account details.

It’s my attitude, isn’t it?

It’s all in my head, as if I could think anywhere else

And shift this feeling that bad things might happen to me

And they will without any question at all

Because nobody gets out of this alive.

Do I believe in my special powers? It depends.

Right now only my special power to survive

Unlike the tens of billions who went before me

Dying and being born, a flash and dust

Under an eternal flame

So yes. Hands up. Me sir! Me sir! Sir! Sir!

That’s my special fame.




This is not the thing I wanted to write about mental health treatment. It just came out that way. As some people seem to have problems, oops, sorry, I meant issues reading this and thinking ‘Is he?’ You know, is he like that?’ the answer is no. Not diagnosed, anyway.

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Me and Edith Sitwell

It was just a name I’d heard, the way you do. One of The Pancakes turned me on to her, as we used to say, when it didn’t mean that.

“You should hear her stuff on You Tube.  It’s like the stuff you do.”

edith sitwell
“Apparently my stuff’s like Carl Bennett’s.”

Hmm. I’m not sure Still Falls The Rain is anything like the stuff I do, frankly. I can feel the pain in it. I can’t go along with the thing that says ‘my invisible friend says somehow all this is alright.’ Mrs Miniver I can handle. Mrs Masochist not so much.

I thought maybe she had something to do with the Mitfords and all the rest of those semi-mythical people the British idolise primarily because they’re rich, have dysfunctional families and usually have something wrong with them. It’s our national obsession, that and living in the kind of stone house that points to slavery or tobacco. Of course,  if you want the really biggest, most absolutely Yah kind of house, sorry, hise, you have to kill lots of foreigners. Absolutely loads of them if you want something like Blenheim Palace. Apparently the Duke of Marlborough went off to war, his wife built the house (and yes, me too. I’d really, really like to have seen her with a hod full of bricks over her shoulder, or having a sausage sarnie while she read Ye Sunne, wiping the brown sauce off her hands on the leg of her jeans) and he shagged her in his riding boots when he got back. Although why she was wearing his riding boots instead of her own was never made clear.

But anyway, Edith Sitwell ticked all the boxes. Allegedly. A hundred and one years on and we seem to have a lot in common. “Sitwell published poetry, some of it abstract and set to music. With her dramatic style and exotic costumes, she was sometimes labelled a poseur, but her work was also praised.”

My step-sister lived around the corner from where Edith lived, admittedly at a different time, so another tenuous link there, I think you’d have to agree. Apart from the rich thing. I’ve never had the knack. Like all True Brits, nor did Edith Sitwell. She inherited it.  Oldest child and only daughter of a baronet who was fantastically “an expert on genealogy and landscaping,” two of the most irrelevant things you could ever aspire to be an expert in. Her titled mother claimed descent from the Plantagenets, but rather more medieval money seemed to have come with her ladyship than attached itself to  a friend of mine who grew up in Farnborough who equally claims descent from them.

Edith ticked the dysfunctional family box pretty well, being locked into a metal cage to straighten her spine, which she doubted was ever bent in the first place. She could probably knuckle-bump Eminem too, whose mother pretended he had something wrong with him other than just hating her, something any normal male teenager is supposed to do anyway. Unlike Eminem’s mum and rather to his disappointment, obviously, she ended up in a wheelchair with Marfan Syndrome and died of a brain haemorrhage

So me, Edith Sitwell and Eminem. We’ve got a lot in common. Maybe that’s why the comment I hear about my stuff is it’s good. You do know it’s insane, don’t you. But it’s good. And I can live with that. Unlike Poetry Voice.

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Only once a year

Somehow it's not quite me.
Somehow it’s not quite me, is it?

It was a line from a John Otway song. Get ready for the festival, for the festival is only once a year. Raises your glasses in the air and fill the barrels full of beer.

I’ve always liked John Otway and there are more festivals around than there used to be. I know me festies. I went to Stonehenge once, man. It was utter rubbish. A naked woman I’d never met woke me up to ask if I would trade cigarette papers I had for oranges she had, but I didn’t actually want an orange at the time. I still wonder if she got what she was looking for, sometimes.

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A spoken word fan. No, I was quite surprised too, actually.

My first ‘Welcome Back Tour’ date was at the Golden Key at Snape, here in Suffok, a place I’ve grown quite fond of since a gig there in mid-April which changed my life in totally unexpected ways. Some woman on her first post-baby holiday with her husband poured cocktails down me while he got more and more pissed off after my set until an even more so-stunning-there’s-no-way-she’s-interested-in-me woman deftly and literally shut the door on the cocktail buyer. Let’s just say some people really do appreciate spoken word.

So anyway, in what’s turning into being a bit of a year although thankfully not in the way last year did (oh hi, no, I didn’t mean you. You were quite a nice bit of it, mostly, so there’s no need to send someone round to my house again, like last time. Either of you.) odd stuff is happening. The oddest soonest thing is I’m doing some spoken word back up for Jan Pulsford, sharing her set at Petta Fiesta. I’ve stood on a stage in front 200 people who didn’t like what I was saying before, but that was wearing a suit, so this should be fine. It’s just I didn’t, back in January when I did my first ever set at The Anchor in Woodbridge, have it in my head that half a year from then I’d be asked by someone really famous and unarguably brilliant at what they do to do some of my stuff with them. It still comes as a surprise.

So I think I need a stage name. I’ve experimented with Alphonse D’Obermann but it doesn’t seem to stick. I like it but nobody gets the joke, if that’s what it is. I quite like Serious Voice, after I saw a poster for a band called Serious Face. Wonder if that would work? And how are they going to get the helicopter to take me to the gig and back down in the potato field opposite my house with those phone lines in the way?

Somehow I don’t think the organisers are going to quite stretch to a heli. But it’s still a festival. And I don’t have to pay. Come and see me if you’re around next weekend. It’ll be fun. Probably. Bring a mac though. You know, at our age and everything.

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Bunged up

I haven’t done any open mic nights or any other performance for a couple of weeks. And I’m getting antsy about it.

About three weeks ago, but maybe four, I got what I thought was hayfever. I haven’t had hayfever this bad for years, not just the sneezing (but suspiciously not much of that) and sore throat but eyes full of crud every morning as well as being itchy all day long and that horrible feeling in my legs as if I’ve had a massive electric shock and that never very pleasant pain in the kidneys. And a cough. And a really sore throat. And feeling tired all the time.

I don’t generally get ill, no more than one cold a year, but this was a big one. The net result has been I’ve gone temporarily deaf in one ear, which is ringing out white noise all the time anyway. It means I can’t hear how loud I am and I can’t accurately hear my own voice full stop.

So all in all, it’s not great for performing. I’m a little concerned about it, because I was enjoying doing it and the three-piece band that seem to have assembled behind me were really getting it together and transforming the spoken word stuff I do into something very much better.

That and the police. Last time I went to Woodbridge I got breathalysed. That was fine. I don’t drink and drive, or not over the limit, anyway. But although the breathalyser thing tested nil alcohol, which was odd in itself as I’d had two small glasses of red wine so it should have shown something, there were a lot of odd things about the whole stop, as we road-warrior non-criminals call it. So much so that a friend whose husband was a police officer until he was killed told me ‘it’s not what you think it is. Watch out.’

Back when I lived in Trowbridge a policeman saw a police van parked up at the side of the road so he went over for a chat, tapped on the window and found it wasn’t Gary Robbins’ dad, the PC who usually had the van. It was someone else entirely. Someone not actually in the police. And it wasn’t a police van either. As things got odder and odder at the side of the road I remembered all that happening and wondered if it was the same thing. My friend refusing to say what it was if it wasn’t what I thought it was in a Facebook private message creeped me out a bit too.

So that’s why I haven’t done any spoken word recently. I’m bunged up. But for the moment at least I’m not banged up too.

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That Sound

I was thinking about music, trying to find something I’d like to listen to that I hadn’t heard before but I’d like. The impossible challenge. Impossible until you find it anyway.

That Sound

I was thinking about music, the way you do.

That feeling that you’d really like to hear something different,

Something new but when you do, it really isn’t.

I was thinking about music, the way you do

What is it about that sound?

It’s like buying a car or a guitar

Made before you were even born.

Louis Jordan said it the first time:

You cain’t get that no more.

It’s sort of ok to mourn the past if you’ve lived it

But really, what is it that you’re looking for there?

What is it about machine heads going slack,

Ivory grooves worn by strings you can’t buy anymore

All to get that authentic tone that half the guitarists

Back in the day cursed because you can’t play

That way now and they didn’t plan to then?

You can’t do that. You can’t hear that.

You can’t get that sound on a modern guitar

Because the strings don’t stretch.

Because the pickups are wound on a machine

Because smaller Oriental hands fit inside a hollow body

And yours don’t, or not so well.

Because so many things changed

When they made it in Mexico or Korea or China

And all the time you thought it was about the music

When really it was about the bottom line.

What is it about that sound?

The jangly guitar in Tom Petty songs

That echoes something from the sixties

The decade Tom’s living now. When did that happen? Exactly how?

Remember that boy with the thin face

And a bullet bandolier? singing about how it don’t really matter

If she don’t or if she do?

Long time since Tom’s wallet let that happen, probably.

That sweet whine of Clapton’s SG or Knopfler’s Strat when he sang

About the Sultans of Swing, and Swing that swung back when

There was nobody here but us chickens.

This is what we’ve always done, it’s what we do,

We idolise a past we never knew.

The Stratocaster name came from the stratosphere

Back when they’d just started going there

Back when a guy from Leiston airfield broke the sound barrier.

Hey, give me a major chord, Marketing’s got something here.

So Tom Petty played the ‘60s jangly guitar he grew up with

Or his guitarist did. It wasn’t Tom who played that speed riff

In American Girl. Knopfler had to have a guitar

Built back when blaggers robbed steam trains without a shooter.

Jay Kay played kitsch disco back in ’92, chilling out

To the bump and grind he’d heard in the womb.

But it was mind-filler then, back when Noddy Holder shouted out

‘It’s Christmas’ and every wannabe bad girl copied his spelling,

When cool kids knew the Blue Oyster Cult

Was nothing to do with Greenpeace or Jonestown

Which was nothing to do with

The massacre at Alice’s Restaurant

Or even Greenpeace.


Is this all there is? One big circle

Holding hands like the von Trapp kids?

But maybe better that than saying

If it happened before me

Then it didn’t really happen at all.

So let’s hear it for the Platters and the Ramones,

Mozart and Miller, Abba and Patti Smith,

The Beatles, Bach and Bartok.

Augustus Pablo, Sid and Nancy

Even Jay Zee and Haysi Fantaysi,

And the Mighty Diamonds. Maybe it’s true.

‘This is 1976, we don’t want no more war.’

That one didn’t quite pan out.

But you can’t hear it fresh any more.

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Behind the mic

Not at DP's bar any time soon. Pity.
Not at DP’s bar any time soon. Pity.

People stared at the makeup on his face,laughed at his long black hair, his animal grace. The boy in the bright blue jeans jumped on the stage. Lady Stardust sang the songs of darkness and dismay. And it was alright, the band was altogether, yes it was alright, the song went on forever and it was out of sight, really quite Paradise. We sang all night, all night long.

David Bowie, Lady Stardust

Ok, doing stand-up poetry (yes I know it’s not real poetry) gigs on the Suffolk coast isn’t quite like heading the bill at the Hammesmith Odeon and I can’t quite squeeze into that off the shoulder Mr Fish dress but now I know the feeling that the song was about.

For fifteen years I did business presentations. I did the Powerpoints, memorised the subject, which was usually marketing research and the details and results of the job we’d done for the clients and got up there on my hind legs. I got a bit of a reputation for being at every conference and it was true. I loved it. It was hard work in a way that a coal-miner or a farmer wouldn’t recognise. We’d fly in somewhere and with my favourite client that owned and launched satellites I’d be picked up by car from my house and driven to the airport. We’d fly Business class and get a decent taxi to a hotel the other end. I hadn’t been to any five star hotels as a guest before that. I got to know them in Amsterdam, Sydney, Hong Kong, the places you see advertised in the Financial Times. We’d get changed, shower, do some sight-seeing and shopping, and do the presentation. Afterwardsyou were expected to party. And talk. And be sociable. Until as the host you were the last man standing. Next day there would be seminars to lead, lunch, sightseeing, presentation, dinner, party. Last day was sightseeing, lunch, airport.

At all times you were expected to look as if you were enjoying yourself. Drinking was encouraged and it was fabulous restaurant bars and free (because the client was paying) five star alcohol. You were almost expected to get off your face, civilly and happily. And God help you if you failed to show for an event the next day.

It was an old-fashioned world and it took its own toll. One person I knew got stage-fright. He got so nervous about presentations that the only way he could do them was to lie down behind the stage curtain before it went up. Otherwise he’d hyperventilate and get the literally paralysing cramps that stop you breathing to regulate the oxygen in your blood which works, but it makes you feel as if you’re having a heart attack. And yes thanks, I’ve had that happen twice in my life, but never because I had to go on stage.

But I still get just a bit nervous before I go on. Always it’s half-way through the previous act, the one before I go on. I get that stomach-clamping feeling and something happens in my neck and I have to think clearly. We were at DP’s in Aldeburgh last night, a nice, friendly place and crowd. I knew lots of people there, I’d played to them before, some were saying how much they were looking forward to my stuff. But it still happens.

It cripples some people. The way I deal with it works for me. I just have a chat with myself, in my head. I say to myself what a friend used to tell her show-jumping daughter. You don’t have to do it. Really. If it’s really that bad, just don’t do it. Nobody’s going to make you do it. It’s perfectly ok. They’ll get by without you, don’t worry about that. Just don’t do it.

And then I tell myself to just shut up. If I wasn’t going to do it there wouldn’t have been any point coming here.

So you get your stuff in order. Feel the mood in the room and decide what you’re going to do to fit the mood. Walk forward, turn to face them and smile. It’ll be ok.

“Some people think that poetry should rhyme but there’s more to words than that…”

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Sympathy for the devil

Not Fade Away


JaggerMick Jagger’s girlfriend, a woman he’d been in a relationship with for over a decade, was found hanged on 17th March 2014. The newspaper and media coverage is more inane than usual, maybe because this was a real, non-political tragedy.

It could have been an accident, although it’s hard to see how. The police have ruled out foul play. Nobody else was involved. A terrible, hideous thing happened for reasons that will never be known now, something that will affect the survivors, the other people who knew this poor woman for the rest of their lives.

I trained as a journalist. Friends worked at the BBC. I tried to imagine a newsroom that night, post-Leveson, when a media that had promised to behave itself did what it always does now, looking for a story.

Perhaps I should point out that this is fiction. But I don’t think it’s that far off what can happen.


So What Does It Feel Like, Mick?


So what does it feel like, Mick?

But apart from that Mrs Lincoln,

How did you enjoy the play?

Speak into the microphone, love

Or they won’t hear what you have to say.

Deep breath. Brave smile. Shoulders back, love.

Show ‘em what you got. Nothing to be ashamed of.

Our man in New York, our fearless reporter

Some dork who wasn’t even born the last time

His paper made up comments from a neighbour,

A spokesman, a concerned individual, our source,

An insider at the Palace who cannot be named

For legal reasons before they made their excuses and left

Is spending a good half hour on Google tonight

Digging up dirt on the Street Fighting Man.

Ex-Model Dies Alone in Drugs Hell?

Pity we can’t run it. She hanged herself? No kiss and tell?

Are we sure he didn’t do it? You reckon it’s suicide?

Don’t give me that. What’s he got to hide?

You know, like with Marianne Faithful except

She’s inconveniently alive, even if she is living in Eire.

See if you can pull anything out of Library about her instead.

Rock star swimming pool party tip-off orgy,

Fur coat no underwear and popular confectionery.

Are you kidding me?

That’s what you get from a Journalism MA?

Is that what I pay you for? What did you say?

See son, all that Marianne Faithful stuff

Was back in 1963 or thereabouts. I can’t use it.

That’s no earthly use to me.

And we can’t keep our readers in the dark.

Didn’t she live near Central Park?

Isn’t that where John Lennon got shot?

Haven’t we got any pictures of her and her mates looking hot?

We’ve got no slashing knives, no mystery prowler,

Are you sure there aren’t any pictures of her growing older

Disgracefully? Or looking down her top getting out of a taxi?

Was this some sex thing that all went wrong?

Get me a list of all the Stones songs.

How are you feeling now Mr Jagger?

I don’t want to intrude on your grief

Or nag or anything but our readers have a right to know:

On a scale of one to ten how do you feel? Exactly how low?

Are you sick as a parrot? Or totally gutted?

Are you feeling as if your insides are knotted with grief?

Just tell me then we’ll go away.

‘Cos if you don’t we’ll stay here all day.

Get me a coffee love. And make it strong.

Motivate me to carry on churning this out

For the world to read.

I’m just the editor; it’s not about me.

I reckon it looks like suicide

But we’ll wait for the inquest to say how she died.

If we start it up he’ll close us down.

He’s got enough dosh for the best lawyers in town.

We’ll have all his fanbase jumping up and down

And the advertisers do not like it up ‘em, Mr Mainwearing.

You know the freedom of the Press is sacrosanct to me.

You call that coffee love? I asked for tea.

Nearly fifty, wasn’t she?

Right. Headline: What A Drag It Is Getting Old.

49th Nervous Breakdown. Shattered.

This May Be The Last Time.

I Don’t Know Says Mick. Or just Oh No.

Get on it. We need this by six.

What are we going to say? Run it by Legal anyway

Jagger’s got enough money to stitch us up

Like a kipper if he feels like it.

What have we got? Come on. Give me ideas.

“Mick Jagger is struggling to understand

The death of his girlfriend.”

Ok, Pamela Stephenson can write something

About typical man coming to terms with grief.

“We spent many wonderful years together

And had made a great life for ourselves.

The Rolling Stones have cancelled

The first date of their tour.”

Is that all we’ve got? Isn’t there any more?

“I have been touched by the tributes paid. And also

The personal messages of support I have received.

I will never forget her.”

You see what he’s doing, giving us crap copy

We could have done ourselves?

What a git. It’s like we’ve never even met her.

Which we haven’t, but our music industry insider

Hasn’t come up with anything either. Thank-you Simon.

She was the worst kind of person so far as we can tell:

Honest, clean, nice and in a relationship

With someone famous. Sod that.

What the hell do you think you’re paid for

If you can’t find anything swept behind the door?

If we can’t call her some kind of name Legal will approve?

And then we can all go home and ignore the fact

That a real person we’ve got no dirt on died

And in a luxury hotel tonight with an untouched drink

At his side a man who everyone thinks they know

Locked the door and switched the phone off,

Got undressed, showered, did his teeth,

Poured another massive Scotch and didn’t even sip,

Took out another cigarette and couldn’t get it lit,

But lay down on his bed,

This man without a bride,

Switched off the light

Alone for once

And cried.

And cried.

And cried.

So what does it feel like, Mick?

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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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