Want to know how it feels?

Yes, please. If that’s alright with you.

Kate Bush asked me this, years ago. Well ok, so she asked everyone else too, but still. I’m pretty sure I saw her and her Mum in Laura Ashley in Bath, when she and I were about 18. The location is plausible enough. Maybe we did actually share a moment. Certainly eye contact, the way you do over the years. Mine have included Kate O’Mara round the back of Sadler’s Wells and Pamela Stephenson (or to you, Lady Connolly as she styles herself now that her TV career has expanded from having a grenade stuffed down her blouse on The Professionals) getting off a Tube train I was getting on.

We didn’t, you know. Speak or anything.

But what-ifs aside – actually no. We’re living in the middle of the biggest what-if in England ever. What if we left a successful trading union that brought us countless benefits, had government ministers telling lie after lie after lie about how easy and successful it would be, had an Old Etonian Prime Minister who thought it was funny to call black people picaninnies in the papers, cut our exports by 68% overnight and 99% of the media told us it’s all totally brilliant? It would be laughable except for the fact that it’s true.

But Kate Bush. And this is true as well.

I went out one night. Drink was taken. I met this girl and we got on brilliantly, went back to mine and duly fell asleep. And asleep, you dream. I do, anyway. In my dream I met Kate Bush at a party. We’d both been drinking, which was plausible enough, not least as there’s video of her actually smoking a cigarette, which for me was like finding a film of the Pope with a remarkable command of Anglo-Saxon having a fight with a nightclub doorman.

Kate told me in that honeyed voice that this was something special. That she wanted to remember this. She didn’t want it to be just a drunken fumble that got out of hand. And in the morning it was going to be wow, wow, wow, wow, wow (wow) unbelievable.

I thought I took it on the chin. I didn’t ask for an actual printed receipt about the morning. I didn’t say there’s nothing wrong with a drunken fumble that gets out of hand. I did what you have to do (which in those days was an abortive fumble above the waist on the off-chance and dutifully heard the expected and resigned ‘Go to sleep’) and went to sleep. Hey, it was the ’80s.

When I woke the other side of the duvet was turned down. The sheet was warm where she’d lain. There are noises from the bathroom. There are actual noises of toothbrushes and soap dishes from my bathroom. I heard the bathroom door open and light, female feet in the hallway.

In about 30 seconds she’s going to open my bedroom door and step into my bedroom. There will be no morning-after dog-breath. Her hair will be well, like Kate Bush’s hair. See above. It’s going to be In The Warm Room in quadrophonic surround sound. My life is going to be complete, better than the way it was when I drove halfway across America to visit Hunter Thompson.

29, 28,27, 26 and the door is opening and …..

And suddenly there was a wrenching, churning pain in my stomach, an overwhelming feeling of loss, as if something had fallen out of me. I sat up in bed, arm outstretched, pointing at her. At the awful realisation, as I cried out, that …..that…..that….

You’re not Kate Bush!

The person who wasn’t took it quite well, considering.

So yes, Kate, or yes, as you were back then, anyway. I still want to know how it feels. Any time you want to finish that conversation is fine with me.

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A history

One of those days in England.
One of those days in England.


Every time I try to write this story it spins away from me. It started off simply enough. An old man in a pub was having an argument with a fat British skinhead and I heard the words ‘Nazi’ and ‘Hitler Youth’ and thought the old man was attacking the younger one for using the words. I was only half right. It’s happened before. He was, but only insofar as the old man resented being called a Nazi. He’d been in the Hitler Youth, like every other German boy of his age, because they were all conscripted on their thirteenth birthday. And it was great, he said. He really enjoyed it. They went on camps, they had big flags to fly and songs to sing and they lived in the golden summer in the open air and it was a dream come true in a time when most of the dreams had starved to death.

The elderly language teacher in Mr Norris Changes

I was fourteen when I saw these for sale in a shop in Carmarthen. I think they were £12. I didn't have £12.
I was fourteen when I saw these for sale in a shop in Carmarthen. I think they were £12. I didn’t have £12.

Trains wasn’t skeletal because he was on a diet. But these boys had food and campfires and singing and hope and even better, if you’re thirteen, pistols to shoot and grenades to throw. They even got a special knife, the blade inscribed with Blut und Ehre, blood and honour. Free.

On the last day of his war the SS came to his village and marched all of the Hitler Jungend up to a field where they scrubbed around in the grass until they found a hatchway that nobody in the village knew was there, opening up a bunker that held brand new machine guns and more grenades and steel helmets. They issued the boys all of this gleaming kit and told them to defend the village, the fatherland and their honour while they, the SS, had some urgent business to attend to in the opposite direction to the one the Americans were arriving from. In about an hour.

The SS left, the boys grabbed as many guns as they could and their schoolmaster, when he saw them, as the leader of their Hitler Youth troop beat them up, made them throw all the guns in the ditch and sent them home crying.

Every time I try to write it it gets jumbled up with other stories I’ve heard first hand from the same time, the stories that are spinning away now, with so few left to tell them.

I heard from an American pilot who at the same time, April 1945 had to walk back from a dance, 22 miles, because he’d missed his transport, out shagging in Ipswich and a mission to fly to Czechoslovakia the next day, eight hours there and back five miles high. I heard at second hand of a Wermacht surgeon who the same month decided enough was enough, and walked home to Bremen from Czechoslovakia to surrender to the British, who once they’d emptied his pockets told him as he lived literally around the corner to piss off home.

Except they didn’t empty his pockets completely. I’ve held in my own hands the field surgery kit that lived in his pocket for five years, the green cloth roll holding the small forceps, the massively thick suture needles thicker than the ones sail makers use, the curved and the straight scalpel, the little sharpening stone. They let him keep them. Or maybe he went home first and emptied his pockets there, before he went out to surrender. I’ll never know the answer to that now because of time.

It was the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day in 1994. I remember the Battle of Britain Flight Lancaster flying over my house. I remember a curious dream where I could see an armada of ships stretched out to England and the horizon as the dawn broke grey across the water and knowing more and more ships would come and I would die.

I drank a lot back then. Maybe that’s why this picture fascinates me. I found it on the web by accident, yet another cat picture, but for me it’s more than that.

It’s England. It’s summer, with friends and food and wine and a funny cat off doing the things that cats do while we laugh and talk to each other and drink and we’re not going to have to go and fight in any wars, ever, and the green hills hold us close while behind us, ignored and always there, there’s the war, waiting. The England of Kate Bush’s Lionheart. My England and yours, where it’s been  such a beautiful day and everything’s fine and yes, I  will have another glass of wine, thank-you, and maybe some cheese. This red, sorry, what were you saying?

The triangular things the cat jumps between are dragon’s teeth. That’s what they were called back then. They stop tanks. They’re too big to drive over and too solid to blow up quickly, which is why they’re still there.

I don’t know who these happily drunk girls were that afternoon nearly twenty years ago. I think that’s when it was because of the colours of the picture. Because this is my history too. I don’t know what happened to them or whether they’re still happy now. But I know the stop lines across England were peppered with these concrete blocks and pillboxes from East Anglia to Wales, to hold the German advance when the invasion came. They were in the fields where the rivers meet at Tellisford, where I used to fish when I was a boy. The past is a different country and besides so many wenches are dead now and the young men too who should have met them. But at the same time the past is still here, just behind your shoulder, the thing your cat’s jumping off. And while we have their stories, so are they.

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

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

Click here.

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