A collection of poems and other writings...

Friday, 30 May 2014

At Sunridge House

School time memories

Dusk falls
and the girls are early to bed.
But at half past eight
he and I take our guitars and
go gently into the
boarding house courtyard.

Below her window
we start to sing
and play
and one by one
all the windows above us
slide open and
girls
of every shape and age
lean out to listen
and when we have finished
playing and singing
they laugh
and chatter
and clap their hands.

And she
that is his sweetheart
is proud and embarrassed
that this boy would
dare to
do such a thing.

And others’ eyes
are turned towards her
and others’ hearts
are imagining
themselves thus serenaded.

And then
in the kitchen
we are sat on tall stools
and we are given
Hot Chocolate and Digestives
by laughing girls

Our guitars
rest gently
between our knees.

The kitchen is warm
by the gas burners
and we are flushed
that we have dared
to do such a thing.

A lenient teacher
suggests it would perhaps
be best
if we leave now.

And the two stand together
like adults.
He kisses her
in her pyjamas,
his hands
inside her dressing gown
smoothing the pink brushed cotton
over her hips.

Then I am walking down
through the town
with my guitar in its
soft, cloth case
gently banging against my leg

on my own.

The Last Rolo

It's odd what you find on the street sometimes...


On the page
 of the pavement
sits
a Rolo -
confectionery punctuation.

It looks placed there,
but may have been dropped.

There is no clue
as to why
the Rolo
sits where it sits
its brown rim
slowly whitening
in the air.

Perhaps
it was the last Rolo
in the pack
given by someone
to someone else
they loved.

Then maybe
the someone else
decided
that the relationship
like the Rolo
was too cloying
and left

 a full stop on the pavement.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Bill Osman - Human Cannonball

A true story...

Bill Osman
lives next door with
Saucy the Cat
and his wife.
He smiles at us 
as he clips the hedge.

Mrs Osman 
has a thin mouth.
She doesn't smile so much.
She keeps our football
in a box
when it goes over too often.

Saucy has fleas.
She comes through the hedge
by the bluebells
and poos
in the flower beds.

Bill Osman
 is a small, gentle man.

He was a sailor during
The War
doing Morse Code.

Dotdotdot

He was on a ship that got
torpedoed.

Dahdahdah 
Dotdotdot 

As it was sinking
Bill Osman 
jumped into the sea.

He bobbed about waiting for a rescue
but got caught in a current
and suddenly
he was being sucked
into a whirlpool
- the ship’s funnel sank beneath the waves,
the sea spiralling in
down a giant plughole.

Bill Osman
knew he was going to drown
as down and down he went…

But suddenly
there was a thunderclap
way below him.
Then there was 
a great roaring of water
and hissing of steam
and Bill Osman was flying up
through the air
up with the birds
wind in his hair
looking down at the sea below

The ship’s engines
had exploded 
and fired him out
like a human cannon ball

and now
he has landed
here
with Mrs Osman

and Saucy 
and her fleas.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Birthday Gift

I don't usually write extended pieces - I don't have the staying power, but I wrote this some years ago thinking it might be the start of something longer.  Looking at it now I think it says all it needs to say and so stands better on its own.


            - Anthony!

My grandmother alone pronounced the ‘th’ in my name.  To my immediate family and friends I was Tony or Tone, but with Gran staying I was becoming accustomed to the full word.  

I looked up from my colouring book - a cowboy leaned on a gatepost smoking a cigar, while a smiling pony bucked its back legs unnecessarily in the compound behind the fence.  It was too young for me really but I enjoyed the sensation of the crayons, greasy in my fingers.

            - My glass is on the mantelpiece.

It wasn’t.  But I knew what she meant.  She had me trained to take the empty glass into the kitchen and fill it half full of gin, add an ice cube, a slice of lemon, and a splash of tonic - not too much - do you know the price of tonic?  She would not mind, the quick sip I stole.  My third.  I avoided the lipstick mark on the glass.  The oily liquid singed my lips and throat.  I wiped away the trace of my own spit from the rim as I felt my nose clear.

I carried the glass carefully and handed it to her then sank back to the floor.

The wrestling was just finishing.

            - Turn it off, there’s a dear.

Her soft Scottish accent and, to my mind, extreme old age gave her an authority that no other adult I knew could muster.  Uncomplaining, I scrambled across on my hands and knees and turned the television off. The image shrank instantly to a brilliant white pea.  I peered closely into it trying to make out if the pictures were still visible through this tiny, reducing keyhole of light.

            - Do you want to play pairs, Gran?

            - Go on then.  Spread them out.

The clock struck a quarter to.  Daddy would be home in an hour or so.

I fetched the pack of cards from the sideboard, carefully shuffled them, spreading them out on the floor and pushing them roughly around.  I gazed at the familiar picture on the reverse of the playing cards:  a man with no clothes on riding a horse, with a wreath of leaves around his head and a spear piercing a dragon’s throat at the horse’s galloping feet - and then the whole picture repeated upside down underneath but in reverse so that from whichever side you looked at it the man at the top was always facing to the right.

The cards shuffled, I started to lay them face down.  Five rows on the floor.  Two cards over - these went in the middle below the final row.  Gran let herself topple from sitting to lying, stretched out on the sofa.  Her slippers dropped to the floor as her feet went up onto the lumpy cushion.

            - Eldest starts, she said.  A 1 and E 10.

Her favourite opening move. I turned the appropriate cards for her - but no pair.  Her toes wriggled in the brown tips of her stockings.

I turned up two cards.  No match.

            - A 10, odd 1.

The last card in the top row and the first of the two extras.  I turned them for her again as she sipped at her gin.  Still no match for her but she had revealed a seven which I snapped up with one I had turned on my previous go.

The knocker mumbled against the letterbox.  A surreptitious knock, it felt like it was aimed at somebody - as if someone needed to be let in but did not want to disturb the whole house.  I pictured that someone standing on the doorstep looking around at the street while they waited impatiently to be admitted.  Gran did not seem to register it.  Maybe with a dark raincoat, collar turned up - I was about to rise and go to the door - maybe a trilby like Dad's - when I heard the surge of volume from the wireless as the kitchen door swung open.  I heard my mother in the hallway - she must have taken her shoes off: there was no clicking of heels.  She padded to the door quietly, quickly.  There were quiet voices and I heard the front door close softly.  I watched Gran glance at the sitting room door as she lit a cigarette, distracted from my second go.

After a few moments my mother’s head appeared in the doorway.  She looked as if she had no intention of speaking but, now, as I looked up she changed her mind.  Her eyes sparkled.

            - Are you two all right?  You looking after Gran?

            - Yes, we’re fine, I said.  Who was it?

Gran pulled the slice of lemon from her glass and sucked it between puckered lips.  She glanced at my mother but said nothing.

            - Oh, no-one.  Uncle Saul.  There’s something I want to show him upstairs.  We won’t be a minute and then tea will be ready.

Gran turned back to her magazine.

            - Great, I’m starved.

            - Won’t be long.  Come and shout if you hear Daddy coming, would you?

She winked at me carefully, inveigling me into some joke conspiracy.

I puzzled for a second then caught the intended thought.  It was my father’s birthday in three days time - she must be planning some surprise.
I wondered ...

Gran and I returned to our game,

- Black Knave, Queen of Hearts.  No pair there.

Gran sipped her gin.

I paired two fives, but now Gran was distracted trying to read an article in her magazine.  She took no notice of what I turned up and frustrated me with her clumsy playing.  There seemed little point in playing on.  She was tired and muddled from the gin.

            - You play for me, dear.

I went through the motions of playing, taking go after go and gradually learning the position of each card so that within a few minutes I was pairing at every turn.

            - Tone!

My mother called softly from the top of the stairs.  Gran sat back, her eyes shut, her hand still on the magazine.

            - Be a love, would you, and bring up my handbag.  It’s on the kitchen table.

I jumped up and skidded along the hall to the kitchen, grateful for the activity.  I grabbed the bag by one handle and ran back down the hall.  I started up the stairs two at a time.  The bag swung open as I jumped and two small boxes fell out and landed with a thud on the stair carpet.  One, a packet of Senior Service, slipped down a few steps while the other stayed on the step where it had landed. 

            - Oops!  Sorry!

            -Tony!

My mother was impatient and angrier than I expected.

            - Just get the cigarettes!

I put the handbag down on the stair and stepped down to retrieve them while she hurried down from the top to pick up the other pack.  It was blue, cellophane wrapped, but I could not tell what it was.

She held the top of her blouse together with one hand as she stooped to pick up the box.  I brought the cigarettes up and put them in her outstretched hand.  She was flushed and angry still.  She took the pack and the bag and hurried back to the bedroom.  She pushed the door open and as she did so I caught a glimpse of Uncle Saul naked from the waist up leaning on the window sill looking out.

Uncle Saul was not really my uncle.  He was tall.  A Ghanaian.  He was a mature student, I now know, studying for a PhD, and he lodged next door with Miss Harrison, the librarian.  He was a few years younger than my father - about the same age as Mum.

For half a second his shiny black torso reflected the dull white afternoon light as he looked through the net curtains up the street towards Brasen Road.  His glasses glinted.  One hand on the net curtains.  As the door was swinging shut again I saw his head turn towards my mother.

I stood there a moment - watching. 

Back in the sitting room Gran was dozing.  I turned the television on again and settled down with my back against the sofa.  Crackerjack was  starting.  Gran snored quietly.

The clock on the mantelpiece struck five. 

A few minutes later there was a thud from upstairs as if something had been knocked over.  I thought I heard someone laugh.  Then quiet again.

Another few minutes and I heard footsteps coming down the stairs then the front door opened and closed.  I had the sense of someone trying to be quiet. The knocker banged again as it was released.  The gate catch clicked.

Upstairs the toilet flushed.

My mother came down and went into the kitchen.  The volume of the wireless swooped up again as she opened the door.  I could hear her moving busily around gathering plates and pots, knives and forks, the sound through the open door seemed to be inviting me out there.  The programme credits started to climb up the screen and I stirred myself and wandered through to the kitchen.

            - What are we having?

            - What?  Er ... Macaroni cheese.

            - With bacon.

            - What?  Yes - of course.

Daddy would be home soon.

            - Can we have tomato ketchup?

            - Tony, don’t be tiresome!  If you want tomato ketchup just put it on the table.

            - Can we have tea in the sitting room?

            - No!  Now let me get on!

I went to the cupboard and found the Heinz then wandered through to the dining room and put it on the table.  It was chilly in there even though Mum had put the electric fire on.  Daddy liked sitting at the table for meals.  I looked around at the pictures on the walls.  Daddy’s pictures, from when he was a boy, in old wooden frames.  Mum didn’t like them.  She said they were too old fashioned.  She had bought the abstract painting in the front room after she had won the Christmas crossword competition in the Gazette.

I wandered back through to the kitchen.  Mum was washing cabbage.

            - Sorry, love, I don’t mean to be snappy.  It’s just - well, I’m a bit behind.

            - What did Uncle Saul want?

            - Nothing, really.  I just wanted to show him something, that’s all.

She pushed her hands down her thighs to wipe them dry on her apron.

            - Why did he have his shirt off?

She lifted the steaming pan of macaroni to the sink and poured it into the colander before she answered.

            - What?

            - His shirt?  He didn’t have his shirt on.

            - No, well ... he was trying a shirt on.

            - Trying one on?

            - Yes, I’ve, er, bought one for Daddy and I wanted to see if it would fit him.

            - Oh.

            - Do you want some lemonade?

            - Did it?

            - What?

            - Did it ... you know - fit?

            - It ... maybe ... I ... no ... it fitted Sau - Uncle Saul so, no, I don’t think it will fit Daddy.  Uncle Saul’s … bigger.  Do you want some lemonade or not?

            - You’ll have to change it?

            - What?  The lemonade?

            - No silly, the shirt.  You’ll have to take it back.

            - Oh.  Yes.  Lemonade - yes or no?!

            -Yes, please.

She poured a fizzing glass into my tall plastic tumbler, the one with the clown on the side.

            - What colour was it?

Mum was now grating cheese onto the top of the macaroni, ready to go back under the grill.

-         Hm?

-         What colour was the shirt?

-         Oh it’s blue – blue with tiny checks.

-         Right.  I expect he’d like that.

-         Yes he did… I think he will.

-         I can’t wait for Saturday.

-         No, me neither.  Take these in, would you.

She handed me a bundle of cutlery.

-         Oh, Mum...

-         Yes.

-         You’ve done your buttons up wrong.

-         Oh, so I have.

I carried the cutlery through to the dining room and spent a few moments remembering which side the forks went.  Then I heard my father’s key in the lock and rushed out to greet him.


Work in Progress

Please pardon me
if I don’t engage with you
but there’s work in progress.

And though I may appear to be
alone here in this reverie
there’s work in progress.

And I can see
you don’t believe
that I am writing here
but there’s work in progress

and I really would appreciate
the space and time to recreate
a feeling or a thought or sense or gesture

because there’s work in progress.

And though my hand has held no pen
or finger touched a keyboard
this work has been progressing
for the worst part of a year.

And unless I get the time
to reconstruct the feeling
you’ll find frustrated words are all you’ll hear.

I need to sit and think
for most of the time.
I struggle to find rhyme or structure rhythm.
I try to wheedle out from this
inadequate vocabulary
a pack of verbs and adjectives and
make a sentence with them.

And then when
something does come trickling out
it grinds and grates.
I squirm and cross it through.
Self-loathing and self-doubt
the harpies at my gates.
My harshest critic – me – or is it you?

I don’t mean it to sound wanky
but I get a little cranky
When the progress of this work
is grim and slow.
I’m not writing stuff
to sound poetic
or majestic
I just write stuff
when I feel a little low.

It’s all that I can do
and I hope you won’t begrudge me
a moment to explore my darker streams.
I can’t rant or reprimand,
and I trust that you won’t judge me
because this is all that being human means.

So back off a little, please,
and let me breathe
I don’t need you for pity or ‘support’.
I just need a little time
to mine this emotional grime

And when I have you’ll get a written report.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Looking in windows...

Yes, I've been looking in windows again

Bunting

Two
sit side by side
on the sofa
she – dressing gown and spectacles
he – slippers, unsmiling

above them
stretched across the room
a string of fading bunting.



Restaurant

For two seconds
I walk past
you
in the restaurant.

Vertical blinds
strobing as I pass,
drawing
the cape of early evening
down the hill behind me
as you begin your day;
the hank of hair
tied prisoner
down the back
of your
crisp, white jacket.

You turn away
from the kitchen entrance
back into the empty dining room
your hands poised
on your thighs
brushing potential crumbs
from the black knap -
passing the moistness
of labour
into the fibres,

while your eyes
wander
seeking
your next task.

For two seconds
I walk past
you
in the restaurant.


Friday, 23 May 2014

Mars Bar

In Keymarkets,
Mum takes her shopping
up to the till.

Hello, Eileen, says Mum
how's your Mum?

Eileen taps the numbers into the till
as she tells Mum
how her mum is.

Mum holds out her money.
She pays.

It's Saturday
and it's sweets.

I’ve got a Mars bar
in one hand
and a sixpence
in the other.

The woman behind us
 puts her basket down
on the checkout.

Eileen starts
tapping her numbers into the till.

I do not know what to do.

Mum calls me.

I go after her.

I still have the Mars bar.
I still have the sixpence.

In the car I get a very
sick feeling
in my stomach
when I eat the Mars bar.

I push the sixpence
right down the back of the back seat,

Mum turns around.
Are you all right? she asks.

I tell her about
how I am feeling sick
Mum says
Are you going to be sick?
I say no.

I do not tell her

about the sixpence.

On Sunday,
on the way to Mass,
I feel better
but I can't reach the sixpence - 
it has gone too far down.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Julian is Mad!

Julian lives in a council flat.  
In
Leicester Square.
A council flat.

Leicester Square.
He pays £25.00 per week in rent.
For a council flat... 
...in
Leicester Square.
The council have asked him would he like to buy it - 
the council flat
 in Leicester Square

for £27,000.
Malcolm and I cannot believe it. 
£27,000
- Of course you must, says Malcolm. 
- No, I will not, says Julian, I am content.
Malcolm rolls his eyes.

Julian is mad!

...
- Today, says Julian, I am mad. 
- Oh, why? I ask 
- Today, Ahmed comes to see me. 
- This afternoon? 
- Yes, this afternoon.
Ahmed works in the Indian restaurant
- So why are you mad? He is your friend. 
- But today he brings me chicken wings. 
- Fantastic, I say, chicken wings from the restaurant. Brilliant! 
- No, it is not good, says Julian. He brings too many. 
- What do you mean, too many? 
- Too many chicken wings, I cannot eat them all. 
- So. Save some and have them tomorrow. 
- Yes, so I have to turn the fridge on! Electricity! It cost money, you know - it not come free!

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Antarctic Shelf

We wait for starters
and the Antarctic Shelf slips
growling
into the Sea
mentally witnessed
by you and me,
daughter,
here in this restaurant.
We weigh the thought of
water-levels
climbing
to unparalleled extremes.

Half-drowning your dreams.

Who can bring children into this world
of islands and isolation?

Across the table,
with your mother,
your sister
prepares to fledge,
flapping her napkin
as if 
buffeting her wings
against a lifting breeze,
releasing strings
and seizing her season
to soar on aery streams.

An iceberg
the size of half a continent
calves,
shards shattering
the polar gloom,

while a family
in the foreseeable future
physically halves.

The kitchen door opens
and a waiter
brings spiced morsels

across the room.