You had the choice of chips and gravy at Lipton’s Café
or bacon butties from Doran’s at the bottom of Park Road;
you could cram your coins into the Kit-Kat machine or maybe
take a packed lunch. Foolishly, you risked the school food.
That queue – always a mile long; and always some sod
with a sadistic streak to flick your ears or pull your hair or
just generally try to throttle you. And of course, you’d be
the one to retaliate, wanting to smash his teeth into the wall.
You’d be the one innocently waiting in line, hoping there’d
still be curry or fish left one minute – then ordered to
the back of the ever-lengthening delinquent queue the next.
At Benfieldside Comprehensive a blazer was expected –
good for carrying cutlery in the breast pocket whilst hands
clasped a slippery tray, otherwise just dandruff enhancement.
And the school tie was another cause for consternation:
The only time you want something that tight around
your neck, Sir, is if you’re trying to hang yourself.
And I wouldn’t trust one of these flimsy little red and
grey stripy numbers to bring me release! … WHAT, BOY?
MY OFFICE, NOW! Of course you wouldn’t say that
but who hasn’t thought of the ultimate escape route when
raging hormones wreak havoc on personal trajectory?
Collection of a free-meal pass from chief monitor would be
further reason for persecution by the rich and nasty. But not Susan,
surely? Call it inverted snobbery, but someone so drop-
dead gorgeous, so elegant, such a princess of the dining hall
could never, surely, come from an economically-challenged family?
After thirty minutes of thuggery and romantic speculation
came the vile splat of cold mash on a chipped plate
followed by anaemic cabbage and a glob of gravy from a steel jug
with skin on top. Pudding might be half a shortbread biscuit
and scrapings from the semolina urn, if you were lucky.
What on earth could possibly be more fucking appetizing?
The ‘P’ Word and the Pale Imitation
Tim wants to know
the difference between
poetry and prose
and says the piece about the puddle
was just random vomit
no metre, no rhyme, no onomatopoeia
and I think, oh dear
here we go again
I respond vaguely
on who’s writing and who’s reading
and if your school
teacher had a passion for contemporary verse
He says some people break
the rules of grammar just to be
I try to resist
but ee cummings is there already
Tim and I talk
about David Gaffney
about Roald Dahl’s hitchhiker
Parallels between pickpocket and storyteller
and Tim with this here crank passenger
I tell Tim he can write a better
short story than I ever will
He thinks my love of vignettes
and inability to accept a sustained third
is a sign of ADHD
And maybe, if undiagnosed
but actually the case,
it would explain my lack
of discipline in class
and regular suffering of parental wrath –
the impatient snarl and occasional leather belt
But I’m rambling
and the lesson was over long ago
So I just say
sometimes you get poetry
sometimes chopped-up prose
He tells me the course has made him look closer
at immediate everyday possibilities for
stories – and I’m pleased to hear that –
I just wish I could construct a decent plot
settle for random
that may or may not be a poem
Previously Publishing in ‘Clay Path’ anthology from Wishing Tree Writers
(Durham Writing Group 2015)
sun and blue skies
then splinters of rain
like fistfuls of nails
against the glass
nature reminding us
who’s in charge
(previously appeared in ‘See Inside Me’ Newton Aycliffe Writers in-house booklet)
Big black car creeps up the street
We cower behind crimson curtains
Hearts bouncing off rib cages
Biting our nails, waiting
For the pounding at the door
It’s been so long since last time
Thought we’d got rid of him for good
Mr Oblivion knocks a second time
If we stay quiet maybe he’ll go away
“Oh hello there,” says the chirpy
neighbour, “Yes, they’re definitely home,
I’ve just seen the little one with her brother.”
We sink into ourselves, slide down to the skirting boards
If only Daddy hadn’t gone to heaven we’d be safe
Marcel Duchamp Forgot To Flush
Sally paints her nails with glue and eats the cheese
from the toes of the tiny in the fuzzy felt garden kept
behind the couch of the hamster-devouring androids
but it’s only a distraction coz eventually here’s the bus
shuffling over the cacky tarmac belching and
farting up another excuse for being ten minutes late
the fucking twats do it deliberately young Alfred says
pulling on his green goatee as left foot screws a rolly
into the pavement cracks and the driver just says Whatever
when Mrs Cooper threatens another letter to the manager
someone wants to twat him she says once seated
but still within earshot all decorum finally dissipated
the insects land on her cheeks and it makes her feel wanted
and who doesn’t want to feel wanted unless for murder
cash-strapped industrial part-time assassins excluded
little Johnny has his iPod cranked up so loud even Doctor
Winchester can’t help tapping his foot to The Beautiful People –
ironic that a misanthrope should spend most of his days with
the wretchedly infirm, incontinent and clinically depressed –
playing satanic gospel songs to the maladjusted would have
been a better career option and why take the service bus?
it’s just another typical Monday in Shitsville – every single
sorry soul could vomit their own tirade of grievances but
they all love the rusty fucked-up carousel far too much to leave
Calling Planet Affluent
tired of those package deals
every summer god sends?
bored of the poolside, the beach
the ingratiating tour guides
the tedious sightseeing?
come to Hell On Earth
it’s got everything you need
degeneration, air pollution, congestion
atrocious housing, knife crime
druggies, rapists, murderers
and for a totally unlimited time
rival gangs of teenage badsters
terrorizing the neighbourhood
carjackers a plenty
ramraiding a speciality
if you’re bored to death this year
why not go the whole hog?
spend you final daze in Hell On Earth
call 666241 for a free brochure today
or visit: http://www.youdontknowyourefuckingborn.com
Piece of String
She turns up the volume, hoping for a familiar tune. She
didn’t think she’d lose her marbles so soon. Well, her
memory really. Any old tune will do, so long as she knows
She lived for the words. Her hubby liked guitar solos.
Could deconstruct rock anthems on a first listen. Play
them back in the attic on a fender strat that he bought
when cousin Jimmy was let out of prison.
She struggles these days. They all speak well of her –
Lisa, Shauna, Uncle Bill – but rarely does she remember
what they say. She doesn’t fish for compliments. Just
needs reassurances now and again. “How long’s a piece
of string?” some replied, when she asked the length of
time before she’d be able to remember things properly
again. The doctor tried to be kind, sympathetic.
Even the synopsis on the tv page is too much to recall.
Her daughters think she’s marvellous to still be here at all.
She knows all the Abba songs and recites reams of
Shakespeare. But can’t tell you what she put on this
morning’s shopping list. Or listen to a lecture. It just goes
in one ear, she says, and out the other.
The man on the radio tells her it’s going to rain again. And
electricity prices are about to rocket. Little bits and pieces,
she’s okay with. But anything lengthy, of great substance;
forget it. She weeps a little bit into her hanky, turns the
radio off, and shuffles through to the kitchen to start the
Published 2015 in Steel Town Blues – Consett Writers Anthology
Two single mattresses side by side:
he, closest to the window; she
breathing slowly – cute little kitten
in her duvet of swaddling,
bottle of water nearby.
Semi conscious he, easing into morning
via a few random pages of free verse;
sliding from his mattress to find joggers,
gather up other black clothes; tiptoe
to where sunlight makes droplets sparkle on glass.
Downstairs as they left it: cd cases scattered,
piles of books perused, videos laughed at.
Jenga toppled; teacups welded to coasters,
drop-leaf table with second chair
for spicy meal times in this hermit lair.
Washing and shaving later,
the central heating kicks in with a clatter.
Blustery air fills the chimney breast.
Cute little kitten, breathing slowly,
why can’t every Sunday be like this?
Confusion and conflict
Spinning selfishly in space
Waiting for a miracle
To enlighten the human race
Billions of little insects
Scurrying back and forth
Convinced their own salvation
Is the only universal worth
Survival of the fittest
Or meek shall inherit all
Whose idea was it anyway
This fucking cruel muck ball?
You curse alone
in your six by seven den,
a stockpile of pizza boxes
and beer cans; stains of neglect
upon grubby woodchip
Ignorant and ignored,
seven decades have led to this implosion –
everyone who could have helped
alienated by your abrasive tongue
and Neanderthal hands
The television irritates you
the doorbell an incendiary device
you wince at the clock
it’s quiet thunder mocking a pathetic heartbeat
Do you ever wonder why you’re still alive?
Thank You Kindly Mr Patten
And later she caught a bus and he a train
And all there was between them then
…………………Party Piece – Brian Patten, The Mersey Sound 1967
It was a Tuesday and we should’ve been at school.
Kelly was the anything for a laugh fun-time girl
and I was the gullible fool. She said it would be cool
to hang around the railway line for a while
instead of doing cross country with year nine.
I said she looked great in her red tartan jacket and
safety-pinned black v-neck but amazing her
mother let her out like that – wouldn’t the teachers
have just sent her home anyway?
I liked this girl a lot. Still, I knew she wasn’t
going to be easy to keep hold of – and the lads wouldn’t
believe she’d invited me to play the nick with her.
Me, the class loser – last in maths, first out at Pirates,
last in the dinner queue coz someone swiped me tie again.
She said I was unusual – me, in a standard-issue school blazer,
corduroy bell bottoms and our kid’s cast-off Dunlop
Green Flash trainers? She was the one with blue
streaks in her hair, a punk rocker jumper
and havasack covered in heavy metal patches.
We didn’t have any money – well, sixteen pence
and a can of Top Deck shandy. It was cold and miserable.
We huddled under a leafless tree… And after a few
hours of I-spy, we made lists of our favourite
telly programmes – then got spotted by Mrs Lawson,
my new next door neighbour, out for a walk with Sheba.
It wasn’t until the next day when we got hauled off
to the headmaster’s office that the tables turned
and I became the instigator of the piece.
Kelly got off with a warning; I got six of the best.
And for the rest of term we kept our distance
She never came back after Christmas
and I never played truant again.
Apple Juice at Nine O’clock
Tiny bubbles in the amber glass
An aeroplane flying overhead
A nib scratching the white sheet
It’s grey in Tombstone Land today
All we need is a hot meal ticket
And a brand new rock and roll band