High on a hill

There is a green hill far away. We sang about it in Sunday school, but it’s more true now then when I first sang it, back where all the hills were green and not far away at all, just a cycle ride away.

I wrote this today about something over a year ago. I don’t know if it works or not. I thought it did when I wrote it.

This is the place I grew up, the place I'm from, this land of green hills far away. But somehow, very close to me all the time.
This is the place I grew up, the place I’m from, this land of green hills far away. But somehow very close to me all the time.

High On a Green Hill


I met her in a pub when we were younger

Half our lives away; I met her on Facebook when she was ill.

I gave her a book of mine to read, while she lay

Under a blanket in the chill of an Andalucian winter,

Thick patterned wool around her thin shoulders,

Cold tiles under her long feet. She had a plan

To start a marmalade factory but something happened

To the farmers collective or the orange crop,

I didn’t really know.

And then there was the husband

And then there was the son and it was complicated,

You know how it goes sometimes.

I thought of her all that winter, pale and cold

Her light burning lower.

You can die when you’re our age.

Or anytime, it’s just we know that now.

She had pneumonia, she had blood tests,

She thought she had something else and

We shared the great day when she could walk in the sun

Three clicks to the village and rest and back again

On her own, by email, the way people do now.

After the marmalada corporation somehow didn’t happen

We met face-to-face the second time in our lives;

A university reunion.

She was the only reason I wanted to go.

She didn’t drink any more.

I was about ten years too late for that plan

But I didn’t know that when I offered her a glass of wine

And as she said “if I drink I have no limits,”

As I tried so hard to catch the waiter’s eye

For a whole bottle her friend kicked my leg under the table,

Hard and then harder until she said

“And this time I’ll probably die, so no,

I won’t have a drink. Thanks.”

She drank fizzy water.

Apparently there are different tastes,

Just not the ones I thought she meant.

We ate while I tried to hide the tinted sin of my glass

And talked and went quite early to our separate rooms.

When someone doesn’t drink, what else do you do?

But in the morning, fresh, we walked through sacred damp Bath

To the café I’d found that I thought she might like.

And she did. And I did, when the waitress assumed

She was my wife. It felt like it could have gone that way,

In a different life. After breakfast we walked along the canal,

Early Spring and suddenly it’s May and maybe,

Just maybe everything would turn out ok and

After she told me where she’d been and I didn’t need

Or even want to top her stories and win,

Because just walking there with her,

It felt as if I had for once,

As if I’d already won,

Although what that was

I didn’t really know.

She played electric bass and me, I played

A bit of guitar and sax.

Our first gig was outside the city, later.

I thought I’d need to drink but somehow I didn’t.

In the shadow of a church up there on the hill,

In the mist outside the pub door.

I didn’t finish my drink, blowing warm

If not hot and maybe close to cool.

She was taking a taxi to the airport at four.

After we’d all judged the gig a total success

And packed away our rocknroll music stands,

Our funky bifocal reading glasses,

She zipped her Hofner into its flight case

As I said don’t call it, I’ll drive you there

And she said ok. We both knew

It wasn’t really the right direction

But part of her wanted to stay.

A little bit. Just a little bit.

We bought factory-made hummus

Second-hand in a Sunday supermarket,

Some grapes and bread on its sell-by date,

Flavoured water I’d never drunk,

Something with a hint of lime and ate

Parked on a grass verge in my car,

High on a green hill in the sluicing rain,

Next to a stone barn grey against the black sky,

The food unimportant until it was time

For her to catch her plane, nearly,

Or anyway drive her to the airport.

We parked again and haggled again

Over petrol money I didn’t want from her,

Paid the car park, carried her bags

Then watched her smoke a cigarette outside.

Before we hung around Departures

Until it really was time for her to go.

We’ll do it again some time.

All of us, maybe. Sooner than before

We’ll be high on a green hill again.

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Walcot Nation

I lived in Bath a long time ago. In those days a lot of the buildings were black with 200 years of soot from coal fires but it was a bustling, busy place. It still is, but where once Walcot Street was full of combat jackets and patchouli oil, today it’s Range-Rover parking and shops selling bathroom taps for half a term’s student grant. There was a fabulous market there on Saturdays if you ever needed a cheap car radio, definitely not stolen, oh dear me no. You tested it by clipping a car battery to the cut power lead once the guy selling it had peeled back the insulation, and taping another lead to any speaker lying around the stall. Bath has changed. This poem is a little of how it was.

haile selassie house


I hear that song, still feel the heat of a western sun

Those years ago but now –  and it’s always now, in my head,

Always the time I first heard it aged seventeen

And my, those ten years just flew by, didn’t they?

That’s just when it was.

I can see the blurred flag flapping in slow motion

Snapping in the damp wind of my false memories

Of long haired men marching to the war we despised

But that was someone else’s war ten years before,

Something that was all in our minds

As we wandered up Walcot Street to the Hat & Feathers,

Leather jackets and silk scarves, the day of the festival

A sweat salt tang stayed on our lips

Our battle salve patchouli hazed our dreams

That blurred afternoon and back then we dared to dream

Not about BMWs and ISAs or chartered accountancy

Or a thrilling carer in actuarial statistics and dear God

If I’d only known that the loose connections, the loops

Of if-this-then-that in my head, the spurting synapses undammed

By dope and cursed by my teachers at a country school

Could have bought me half the grey stone town I grew up in

By now. Probably. But stop. But stop.

Never go down this road

Where half the streetlights aren’t working,

Lit only by the dipped beam of my memory

Coming from a car I haven’t had for twenty years

A faulty bulb flickering whenever I put the wipers on.

You know that if you take this track you’ll only get a hundred yards or so

Until a cold girl in a warm car, silhouetted against the trees

Lit like the backdrop of a play, so cold outside;

The girl in the sheepskin coat will say

‘What if there’s nothing there, the other side of the gate?’

The second it appears in the headlights.

Even then you felt her voice would hunt your dreams,

Sniffing you out while you sleep, wherever you hide at night.

But that flag, the flapping ripple of cloth,

And the hair blown across her forehead and somewhere

The taste of tears as well as the kiss still on her lips;

The army coats and the smell of goats when her bag got rained on;

The time she did, she really did tie red ribbons in her hair

And small golden bells. They looked golden anyway,

Borrowed from the mirror on her dresser,

Bought from a headshop one Saturday afternoon in Bath.

Can you believe those words, now?

This long since Princess Margaret and her happy dusted chums

Played with a restaurant and a farm to feed it, up on the Swindon road,

The way Peter Starstedt said it then, just for a laugh, ah ha ha.

Parsenn Sally. Later, in the eighties a waitress paused

When a customer pushed his napkin to the floor,

Measuring the length of her skirt as she stopped

Looked to the audience, fifty or so of us willing

To show the colour of our money,

Waiting to see the colour of her underwear,

A fiver on white, ten on black,

Wild bets on something awful like cerise

As she put a finger mocking to her lips, shook her head,

Bent her knees a little, just to tease, then flexed her leg,

Kicked the napkin under the nearest table

To a round of applause.

“Another bottle of fitou over here, if you would”

The appreciative click of credit cards on glass tables.

“And have one for you.”

Bath where Regency houses lured London workers with their siren song

Bath where water streamed down Royal Crescent walls,

The lead flashing long gone, during the war probably,

When patriotic householders bore the loss not just of sons

But irreplaceably the 1820s cast iron trellices, rococco awnings,

Gates and railings cropped and sawn and smelted to beat the Hun,

Our loss; as if cast iron Spitfires ever flew

Or steel swallows ever perched in Larkhall Mansions.

Scars from bomb splinters still pock the stonework near M&S,

The slashed birthmark of our time

Still there if you know where to look

Past the ghosts of open markets, joss-sticks and motorcycles

Cafes full of lean dogs and coke stoves,

Not a baby buggy in sight.  All of this emblazoned on our tattered flag.

All of this our banner as we marched

Under the stained pennants of our duvets towards now.

Come the revolution in Walcot Street.

Come the glorious day.

We didn’t see the bathroom showrooms coming.

We thought it would turn out ok.



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I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife and a State Trooper knocking in the middle of the night..."
“I thought of a girlfriend or a young wife and a State Trooper knocking in the middle of the night…” Ok, so I didn’t write it. Want a fight about it?

I wrote this last winter. It was freezing and my car was telling me all kinds of bad things, none of which ever happened. The things that did my car had nothing to say about.



Strap in and turn the key

Check the warning lights,

Sale behind the side impact protection bars,

The crumple zone, the anti-dive seatbelt

The whiplash padding on the head-restraint,

The lights on the dashboard telling me my belt is unfastened,

But I’m reversing as it tells me too.

The mirror’s heating and the black ice warning snowflake

Not showing white on the glass somehow this cold morning

The clamour of the reversing sensor,

Another light to tell me the airbag will work

All of this telling me I won’t get hurt.

All of these coats and gloves and deadlocked doors,

The shatterproof glass, all of this protection

Around me and your empty seat

And still one word from you or

A single glance could rip my heart.

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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 www.swingingheaven.com 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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Poetry Voice

It’s always put me off, and not just me. That pompous ‘listen to me, this is Culture,’ schtick that always reminds me of Kenneth Williams playing his best roles, the waspish ageing queen desperately trying to hide everything behind a veneer of respectability, as if being who you are wasn’t respectable; the English tragedy, that if you were gay it wasn’t just not respectable but you were going to jail for it if it frightened the horses.

I wasn’t and am not gay, but I’m old enough to remember teachers and church people who looking back now, had a lot more in common with Kenneth Williams’s pastiches than they ever did with my life. Back then I thought it was – they were – about having more money than we did. But it wasn’t, or not entirely. It was about being afraid, afraid that however much money you had, one word, one accidentally public peck on the cheek, one hand on another’s shoulder a little too long and you were going to the Big House and nobody decent would ever speak to you again.

If we’ve done nothing else (and I won’t even bother saying ‘discuss’) then at least, at the very, very least, we’ve stopped doing that within the span of my lifetime. And that’s got to count for something.

So here it is:


Poetry Voice

All my life I’ve tried to avoid it;

At school, on the radio, standing here doing it,

The sound of ‘listen to me, this is important

And cultural and noble and pure and true

Because I’m doing Poetry Voice.’

Just for you, dear audience. Wherever you are.

They’re all long words, drawn out vowel sounds and pauses

Sometimes in the most

Unlikely places and words like stentorian

And o’er and appeals to the muse.

And maybe it’s me.

I saw an elephant fly and made a rubber band

But I never saw a Muse. Not once.

I’ve walked o’er dale and hill

But I never saw a daffodil except in someone’s garden.

That’s Poetry Voice – it’s about chasing the rhymes and using words

That nobody’s used since the start of time like this and I don’t:

The sea-birds scream’d as they wheel’d round,
And there was joyaunce in their sound.

Joyaunce? Are you absolutely sure that’s what it was?

I walked the field where Coleridge was lost as a boy.

I did this. I went there.

And that’s what it is.  A field. It didn’t fill me with joy somehow.

There’s nothing there. Not even chickens.

The words do it or they don’t.

And the best thing you can do

When you’re standing up here saying these things,

Is cross your fingers and hope your own voice

Doesn’t get in the way, doesn’t put itself

Between the words

And people’s hearts.

You have to assume they have minds.

In fact you don’t. That’s what Poetry Voice is all about,

An appeal to higher senses, tickets on the door,

Volvos in the parking bays, Day-glo vests on the ushers

Guiding you to your aisle, spectral in the gleam of the stage lights

White hair and false teeth flaring in the ultra-violet light.

So if I should die think only this of me

That in some far corner of a foreign bar

I’ll be standing behind a microphone,

Still too lazy to learn my own words,

Still so rocknroll that I have to wear spectacles

To read these songs, trying to right these wrongs

That really, nobody cares about.

Except you’re all here, listening,

So maybe part of that’s wrong.

But I’m still not doing Poetry Voice.

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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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And again

I’ve just been harangued. That’s either an Oooooh, Betty moment (no, I don’t know why it was so screamingly funny now either, but it truly was) or something odd is still going on with the stuff I don’t call poetry.

Just saying it can even make it happen, apparently.
Just saying it can even make it happen, apparently. I’m waiting.




When I first started doing stand-up in pubs three months ago, although it seems like a lot longer than that, I came up with this intro, just to let people know that luckily for them, I hadn’t forgotten my guitar so nobody was going to lend me one.

I called it Words Without Music and I still use it sometimes to introduce the set, mainly because I can remember it, but also because to me at least, it says ‘this is a bit of fun, there might be some serious, even maybe moving themes in the stuff I’m going to be doing, it might make you think but let’s face it, if you want therapy or deep insight I’m not Oliver Sacks.’

Some people say that poetry should rhyme,

But there’s more to words than that.

Sometimes rhyming just produces doggerel at worst;

Very often you could hardly call it verse.

It’s not, let’s be honest, Shakespeare. Is it? Actually, some of Shakespeare’s rhymes were just as crap as that, but I’m not claiming that’s anythingbut what it is, something mildly amusing, to be heard in a pub when you’re out having fun, ’twas mine, ’tis his and will be a slave to thousands. Oh no, I can feel it coming on again! But seriously folks, that’s all it is. Or that one, anyway.

From the first time I’ve done this stuff outside my own kitchen I’ve been surprised by people’s reactions. Total strangers have thanked me for saying some of the things I write about, several people have been near tears and presumably not because it’s so rubbish, although I can’t be sure. I’ve had good-natured heckling which is all part of the fun and heckling from a woman in her eighties who was incensed that I’d called Mothering Sunday Mother’s Day.

“It’s not Mothers Day,” she said, loudly and clearly.

I think you’ll find that’s what today is. madam, I oiled. I didn’t add ‘actually.’ Should have.

“I think you’ll find today is Mothering Sunday,” said someone’s mum, who’d been taken there by her pink-haired daughter specifically to hear my poetry. Which was nice. Especially as I’ve no recollection of ever seeing her daughter before. Email me here if you like. We can you know, talk about poetry. If your mum doesn’t mind.

I’ve had people hammering on my door demanding I don’t perform any more “drivel,” or in fact anything else, anywhere, ever again. But today, Songs Without Music as I call the little intro piece came in for special attention. Another lady came over to steam in.

“You said rhymes were rubbish and a bad thing. And yet you’ve just rhymed prose. Some people at my poetry group are very sensitive. Why do you say the things they do are bad then go and do them?”

Er well, that’s not really exactly what I said. I explained that some of Betjeman’s stuff, love it though I do, is utter tosh, as he was the first to agree, because sometimes, just sometimes, he chases the rhyme to the exclusion of sense. If you don’t agree, read The Young Executive. Which is funny and biting and lovely, but John, please. The rhymes.

I am a young executive, no cuffs than mine are cleaner,

I own a slimline briefcase and I drive the firm’s Cortina.

And who says he was just chasing the rhyme? Me. Because just a couple of lines later the young exec has to have an Aston-Martin, because that’s more in keeping, although not even Betjeman could find anything to rhyme with that.

But rhymes aside, I was bemused. I’ve got used to pierced and shaved-headed people looming up and grabbing my arm and saying ‘thank-you’ when I thought they were going to lamp me. I’m still not used to the idea that anyone gives two monkeys for any opinion they think they can see in my stand-up stuff. Especially when it’s not what I said.

As it was I had to juggle my dry sherry from hand to hand while having no wish to offend provided this stopped quite soon I tried very politely to point out that actually, I hadn’t said that all poetry that rhymes was rubbish, that I was quite surprised anyone gave a toss what I thought about it in the first place and if anyone had the balls to stand up and do poetry then brilliant, and they shouldn’t give much of a good goddamn what anyone who didn’t had to say about it. Except my haranguer was a lady of a certain age and you just can’t, really.

But I’m still quite surprised. Not that people get things wrong. I’m very used to that. Sometimes it’s stuff in their heads. Sometimes it’s the way I say things. Sometimes, to be honest, that’s even deliberate. What surprises me is anyone thinks there’s anything I’ve got to say in stand-up that ought to change their life. I mean, if that’s true it’s about time I wrote something about going back in time and eloping with Kate Bush. Then maybe she’ll come to her senses as well.







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An Eighty Percent Chance of Pain

I was asked, out of the blue, to do some poetry for Mother’s Day, my first real grown-up paid-for gig. My relationship with my mother is distant, to say the least. There was a lot of confusion about my whole family while I was growing up, many myths and legends and deliberate obfuscation. So I wrote this, about that kind of chaos and ran it by a friend who has a family. We’d been talking earlier that day. Something she said gave me the key to the thing, the eighty percent line.

She said there were tears in her eyes by the time she’d finished reading and not because it was so rubbish. It was quite hard to write it. It’s quite difficult to perform. It needs plenty of pauses and when you’re somewhere loud that’s not always comfortable, leaving the audience to their own devices. In case anyone is confused, some of it is true, like anything. Some of it isn’t. It’s a poem. Not a documentary. But to my friend, sorry. I didn’t mean you to cry.



An Eighty Percent Chance of Pain


cb chickens 1961My mother lives in a nursing home.

My mother was afraid of guns

Or what they did.

She was born in a time of black and white

Photos and Spitfires and the Blitz on Bristol

And burning warehouses

And the sky red as she left for school

In the morning,

The scholarship girl at a steam-haunted country station.

The red was fire. The red was the death of a city.

Not a shepherd’s promise

But it never was.

Red sky at night was shepherd’s delight

Red sky in the morning was shepherd’s warning

Although who he was warning is moot.

Maybe me. She went to London.

She trained as a nurse.

She had sharp elbows and a sharp tongue

And hard fists. As I learned.

Actually that’s not even vaguely true.

She never used her fist.

She used the ball of her hand.

She would take me by the wrist.

She used her left hand for this

Dragging me off balance

And hit me in the side of my head

With the ball of her right hand.

It didn’t leave a bruise.

She worked in an Old People’s Home then.

Other people have other mothers.

That one was mine. It was because

I looked like my father, I think.

I found a photograph when I was in my twenties.

It was summer, after university.

I went to my mother’s house with a girlfriend.

One hot afternoon while we were wondering

If there was enough time to go upstairs

We looked through a box of old photographs,

Concluded that there wasn’t and found me,

Standing next to a waterfall I’d never been to

In front of a green lagoon I’d never seen

With a woman with a floral, elaborate,

Large swimming costume

Large as in the amount of skin it covered.

It was not large.

She was not large.

I had no recollection

Of ever having had this photograph taken

For a good reason. It was not me.

It was my father, the father my mother hated.

We never knew how much was true.

She said that he had been born in Australia.

He wasn’t. I found that out in two hours

In Somerset House as it used to be

At end of the Strand 30 years ago.

Something else we can’t mention.

She claimed he was a bigamist,

That she had tried to divorce him

But you can’t divorce people

You’re not married to;

In fifteen minutes on a mobile phone

On the internet last week, a man in a pub

Discovered that if my father was a bigamist then

He was using a different name.

Only one marriage was recorded to that man.

Other people have other mothers;

That one was mine.

We had to move abruptly

When my father was briefly imprisoned

Not for bankruptcy as I thought as a child

But for contempt of court, not meeting

The payments on the money he owed

Which even as a bankrupt you have to do

If you earn anything. And he did.

He always earned something.

Quite a lot, it seemed.

He was running two families

For eleven years. Two houses. Two mortgages.

His cars seemed quite modest. Ford Anglias

On the firm as people said in those days.

I last saw him driving a gold-painted Mk II Jaguar

The back seat filled with carpet of questionable provenance.

He’d run off with a hairdresser in Andover.


Four years later he died

Still causing trouble to the living.

He had a heart attack at the wheel of his car.

A different car. An Audi on the firm again.

And even after he was dead he drove his car

Into three other parked cars.

At some speed, apparently.

According to the coroner.

Other people have other families;

That was mine.

I talked for three quarters of an hour today

To a friend a quarter of a world away.

She’s a mother but not of any child of mine.

I asked ‘what’s it like? You’ve got a son.

What’s it like when he won’t talk to you?’

How do you do it? How do you get on?

How do you care? How do you love this person,

Who says they hate you? How do you care

And love and try to keep on and do it again?

And again? And then again?

She answered very simply: you just do.

But there’s an eighty percent chance of pain.

I thought I’d misheard her. The line

Kept cutting in and out on Skype

Those five or seven or ten thousand miles.

Much of the time it sounded as if she

Was using a bucket for purposes

We couldn’t discuss.

She assured me she wasn’t.

I wasn’t either but there we were.

I didn’t hear you I said

Can you say that again?

Yes, you heard what I said, she said.

There’s an eighty percent chance of pain.

Other people have other friends;

That one is mine.

This isn’t a Hallmark card.

I don’t know the gold standard

Of motherhood. I have no secrets

To impart to you on this

Or pretty much anything else.

My mother’s performance;

If I were a schoolmaster

I would mark it four out of ten.

Must try harder. Attention wanders.

But I would not write ‘see me.’

Not now. Not then.

Other people have other mothers;

This one was mine.

Sometimes I still remember a time

When my head didn’t come up

To the level of a fencepost.

We walked past Star’s field.

Star was a horse with a white blaze

On his forehead

In a village we’d just moved to.

Another move. Another village far from here.

You can’t go there now.

We walked along a path, over a stile made of stone,

One big stone set on edge in the earth

At the end of the path a wooden gate nearest our house

Our new house on the estate that would eat

All of these fields by the time we left again.

Other people have other villages;

This one was mine.

Memories play tricks.

Memories tell lies.

There can’t have been dandelions

And cold at the same time.

Or can there?

Maybe there can.

Some people have other memories;

These are mine.

I remember my mother’s hand

Holding mine.

I remember her sheepskin coat

And the smell of perfume,

An afternoon sunset, Star’s field and dandelions

And for once feeling safe.

Some people have other memories of their mothers

These are mine.

The wind’s blowing up as I walk these fields

Remembering. Clouds are coming

Up over the hill. Thinking back,

Maybe that’s how families are

For everyone. I think it’s pretty much the same

There’s always an eighty percent chance of pain.

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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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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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