Monday, 31 March 2014



I Think My Repeat Prescription's Getting Damp

May I speak to you, rain? Will you grant me an audience?
There are confessions to be made, rain. Down on one knee,
head bent- will you listen to me? Oh rain.

You see, rain, you have been mistreated. I shake. You have
been mocked, oh mighty moving water. And will you please
listen to me? Even if only briefly? Oh rain.

Games are played with your name, rain. You give us a drop
and we call it a shame. We make short rhymes and tell you to
go away. And there has to be another day. Oh rain.

We cliché you, rain. Can you countenance this? We cat and dog
you; we say that you pour; we say that you piss. Take yourself away
and it’s all quickly amiss. We dance and kill. Oh rain.

Names are given, small categories. You are light and heavy, shower
and drizzle, spits and spots, deluge, monsoon- cloud-riddles. We
quiver. Can you be tamed with a name? Oh rain.

I’ve heard at burials your visit can bring luck. To others you’re a reckoning,
come to destroy those of us stuck in sin, so bad, rotten within. Each of us due
to drown like a rat. We made up a story about that. Oh rain.

I could point to your homophones: holding horses and toddlers, guarding
thrones. But, rain, I’ll desist. On one knee, I’ll insist, just a few seconds
more. The cascading depths, the awe! Oh rain.

You see, I know what you feel when you let yourself go- little mankind
rushing to, rushing fro, as if we actually had somewhere to go. And dreaming
of control. You splash us awake and let us know. Oh rain.

When you come, rain, the earth smells good, it really does. You celebrate
the frog, unearth the worm. But why the rumble, now? Do you think I am trying
to assay you? On the sodden street, outside a law firm? Oh rain.

Rain, all the chemists are closed. Are you something I dream up in the sponge
hours imposed this Sunday, bloating and thick? And please, one more thing
to say. If I rhyme you with pain, will you wash it away? Oh 

Monday, 24 March 2014

 Our narrator has recently moved to an unnamed eastern European city in order to write his great work. He is waiting for inspiration:

...I had been born with an aristocratic older lady tethered to my insides. I didn’t need too much external verification.

            When I was twelve, stumbling into the horrors of puberty, reeling from the revelation of Will’s unclad torso glimpsed in the changing rooms, I came to realise that I needed to protect myself. I made a decision: I would never attempt to be of the body. Physical beauty belonged only in the realms of extreme fantasy. Whatever caresses I might come by in my life, they would never equal the sight of a bare-chested school bully. I knew this, accepted it and made my decision- I would never be of the body.

            I considered Stephen the best I could hope for.

            I am not ashamed of the time we spent together. Stephen is now a very successful man, quite the celebrity in his own milieu. I could boast a bit if I had the heart. I don’t.

            Lonely, I struggled into my second month in the city, continuing to hide in my flat, still clinging to a little hope. I imagined my book unfolding. I walked from room to room clutching at ideas, all ephemeral, all sickeningly dull given a minute’s consideration. My real energies went into the construction of fantasies that were far from literary, their purpose being to keep me from teetering over into total despair. Ever since childhood I had done this: imagined life rather than lived it. In my early months in the new foreign city I returned to this hobby with gusto. I would walk around my flat talking to myself. My eyes open but my mind elsewhere.

            There were restrictions in place. The imaginings had to be within the realms of possibility.This still allowed me plenty of scope. Thus I daydreamed of myself made respectable, respected and popular by my literary achievements. Famed for my soirees, I attracted the artistic and intellectual elite from all over Europe to my tastefully furnished abode and served cocktails amid witty banter dressed in a green velvet smoking jacket. Very Wildean, I thought- my diluted approximation of the man (I could barely even drink back then). I pictured titled people in my sitting room: Duke, Duchess, Earl. Walking through fields in tweeds, shotgun over one arm, turned suddenly unsqueemish, I saw myself at Sandringham, invited the for the Boxing Day shoot. Such fantasies were fine.

            But the aforementioned bully was out. He had no place in my conscious thoughts. Many years ago I had banished him to that wheedling limbo very close to sleep, where he would sometimes appear. Then it would be sticky pyjama bottoms again. Once more the scrubbing of the stubborn spot.

            How sure I was of my ability to transcend such seedy matters! I really thought I was meant for higher things.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Brocced Up

Brocced Up

Last night I was a badger.
With a hot mouth
Of sharp teeth,
I steamed
Against the moon,
And ran.
I felt cold, ploughed soil;
I ran in dips and grooves;
I didn't know
Where I was supposed to go.
Heavy feet
Shook the ground.
The chase was on,
My blood was up,
My mouth was gasping
In the night.

Today I can still feel it-
A trace of badgerness
Held inside my suit,
A badger taste
To things.
My tie, I feel
Bristled, newly furred.
Colleagues sniff and
I want to growl.
In the office
I can sense
Cold earth
Around me,
Moonfed nighttime
And death.

There is something grubby
Moving in my
Toasted panini.
There is cool
Mud on my tie.
An itch
In my ear
Brings crumbled earth
To my finger.
My sides
Dream of the
Safety of the sett.
I'm sitting in my car, the day done,
And I don't know
Where I'm supposed to go.

Marksman, dog, hatchling, hedgehog... where's home?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


            The earth hugs us to it.
            The sky is a blue force
            Turning our days,
            Pulling the sea,
            Dragging the globe
            Through its circles,
            Making our blood move-
            And the earth holds us close.

            The trees hold us in.
            The sky isn’t blue:
            It’s black and white,
            It’s birth and death.
            Sometimes we feel
            Like we’re in the sky,
            Slowly diminishing in size
            Balloons lost from children’s hands.
            The sky informs our dreams,
            Our aspirations.
            We paint it and angel it.
            Heaven’s up there,
            God, gods, the good
            And the universe too-
            Vast stretching answers
            To our tortured questions.

            When we trip up
            In our dreams
            And our heart
            Wakes us up,
            Our body jumps
            Out of death.
            It jumps over
            The gap, the space
            The emptiness
            That nearly took us-
            The big blue sky.

            We hold each other in place.
            In the departure lounge
            We sigh and tut
            But in the aching space
            Above the clouds,
            In the infinite idea of blue-
            Hands, unearthed, clutch hands,
            In the cold truth of the endless sky within.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Our narrator has a social engagement. A significant suggestion is about to be made:

They had been kind to invite me, but I had clearly bored them.
When I walked out of the bathroom I saw that they were kissing. An open-mouthed,
sloppy, head-tilting kiss: a snog. It didn’t last long. The sound of my footstep forced them
apart with an awkward jerk. Paul made to stand up: “Coffee, Smithy?”
“Um,” hot with embarrassment, I couldn’t form the words I needed to refuse, “I, erm,
Magda leapt out of her chair. “I will make,” she said and sauntered off.
I resumed my place at the table. Two seconds of quiet, and Paul raised his eyes to
meet mine.
“It’s love, Smithy, it really is. And it’s the best bloody feeling in the whole bloody
world. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s happening to me.”
He paused in the way drunk people do, to gaze at one like a fool, face heavily
hanging, eyes confused. I was his audience, perhaps he was checking the response. This was
a man who had taken pity on me in the staffroom when we had worked together, deploying a
safely-contained altruism, one that was brief and easy to escape. Now he was bored by me.
He must have been.
A few chance circumstances had bumped us along into a potion which could loosely
be termed friendship. I really couldn’t say how many years had passed since that percolator-
fumed moment when I had gingerly placed a fresh copy of Stephen’s magazine into the
expressionless jaws of my pigeon hole. ‘Stop right there!’ Oh, I’d heard him plenty of times
before talking too loudly, never quite drawing a corresponding level of ebullience from his
interlocutor. One hears, cringes and turns away, faintly embarrassed, faintly besmirched.
‘Stop right there,’ (repeated), ‘is that a Mahler special I see?’ He knew my name but asked
me to say it to him once more, a disheartening ritual performed beneath strip lighting and
polystyrene squares, my existence in that space slightly verified by a baffling, baffled man
who shouts the word ‘friend’ a few times too often to be believed.
Watching that drunken old face; he couldn’t have truly wanted to spend time with
me! The concept was a neurotic’s joke.
He snapped his eyes away from mine and said: “So Smithy, let’s talk about you.
How’s the writing going? I expect you’ve been locked up in that flat of yours for days at a
time, scribbling away, or should I say typing? I’ve always known you had it in you. That
head of yours,” (he pointed a wavering finger at my thin curls), “has always had something
special in it. You’re a quiet man, but that’s the key, right? Watch, listen, remember, taking it
all in. I bet your insights are...quite something.” He clapped his hands with a small laugh.
“The city has her very own Proust.”
Proust? Why Proust? But yes, if ever I spoke in the staffroom, it had been about my
writing: my plans to escape and fulfill my potential. Trying to give the impression, with great
subtlety I had hoped, that genius lurked within me. Now I was paying for that occasional, no
rare, loquacity with these questions. My pen and paper lying on the desk in my flat like an
accusation; the pile of notebooks full of false beginnings; my long days spent fantasising
behind a safely-locked door- Christ, this man thought I’d actually been doing something! I
had paid my air fare and rented a flat in order to hide away in a country other than my own. I
found the strength to lie:
“Things aren’t going too badly.” My voice separated from its source and hovered
above the table cloth. “I’m working on something that might have...potential.”
“Too modest, Smithy, too modest!”
“To be honest, I don’t like discussing it. I don’t mean to cause offence. It’s just that I
don’t want to jinx the” (why oh why?) “ project. I suppose I’m a little superstitious.”

“You’re an artist my friend,” he said softly, “and an artist has his own prerogative.”

I felt that his hand wanted to tap my knee, but I was too far away for him to reach.
Magda brought me a delicate cup of fragrant coffee. I sniffed it and thanked her. It seemed
she had been listening to our conversation.
“Paul tells me all about this,” she said, sitting down. “He says you are writer. I like
reading very much. Maybe I can read something you write? I would like this.”
“Maybe.” I was flustered. My cheeks had begun to smart somewhat.
Paul placed a hand on Magda’s cream sleeve. “All in good time, my sweet. The
master needs time and space to produce his tour de force. Isn’t that right, matey?”
“Of course, yes.” I tried to sound light-hearted, but my voice carried a distinct tinge of hysteria.
“There is something else important we need to discuss with you, Smithy. Isn’t that
right, Magda?” A nod of assent. “We’ve been thinking, you see, how unfair it is that I should
be so happy and in love when you’re there on your own, scribbling away. It doesn’t seem
right somehow.”
We’ve been thinking. So Magda had been made to pity me before we had even met.
“So,” said Paul in the tone of a man about to give away his fortune, “we would like to
take you to a place you might find rather interesting, let’s say. Magda knows it well. It’s very
popular. Could be the secret to making your time in this city that bit more special, if you

know what I mean.”

Thursday, 6 March 2014

The Whys and Wherefores of an Accidental Blogger

I've written a novel. This is something I have long wanted to be able to say, and now I can. It is 197,708 words long. It took me six years to write. Over a year ago, I put the final full stop to what felt like a more than passable draft. Never having been one for the hard slog, the sense of achievement I felt was unfamiliar and heady. The process had been slow. I certainly didn't rush it. There had been the usual wild swinging between ecstatic rapture and sickening self-doubt. There had been hours spent propped up on pillows in bed scribbling in notebooks, then a joyous slashing of superfluous material, and the lovely neatness of typed words. There had been the barely repressible hope that things might be slightly different afterwords. And for a while they were. I put that final full stop and for about an hour I was filled with ebullient relief. I had done it. I was someone who had actually written a novel. I was happy and satisfied and braced for the future. What praise was to come? What success? At what point was I going to be able to give up the day job?

I've written a novel. It's still a pleasure to be able to say 'have' instead of 'want to' at parties, an almost harmless confidence boost. A small boast. I had read all the stuff about how tough it is for people starting out as writers these days, how brutal the landscape is out there. But I have long been expert at ignoring such things. I would get myself an agent without much fuss. I would get published too. And the day job, well, it would be thoroughly bearable, a trusty foil to the big, important stuff.

Of course, it didn't take long for me to discover that my little boast was nothing more than a small child's scream in a full-blown hurricane. No-one really hears you. I have sent off my letters and synopses and extracts of the book and I have learned the jargon of literary rejection. 'We don't feel your book is...,' and all based on 50 pages. And the internet abounds with people in my predicament, slightly crazed and desperate, doing strange dances of self-promotion on the thin ledge of remaining hope. And you feel like you are waiting for a lover who´s never going to return home. You wait and you age. This sounds dramatic, yes, but time ticks by while you wait. Time ticks by and life congeals into a shape you might not necessarily have chosen.

And how are you going to keep writing? You certainly don´t feel like you can quit that day job.

When I started this blog, a mere three days ago, I did so partly in a spirit of cynical timidity. Slightly throwaway and flippant, as if I were too cool for it. And I´ve never been cool. I have, on the other hand, suffered from what often torments many a daydreaming drifter- that is: awkwardness, distractedness, a general bemusement at the workaday world. A person who is happy to sit in an empty room pulling words out of the air might well not have the mettle and chutzpah that the world of promotion and marketing seems to demand. I want someone to take my work from me and make something happen. I want to be able to wallow in shambolic musings, to stomp around cities with new scenarios playing through my head, to sit and put words down on paper or screen, a mug of tea lazily steaming at my side. I want things, I imagine them, and I worry.

If you haven't been published, how do you know if you're any bloody good?

The workaday world. The world of the nice and necessary and functional and measurable. I remember spending a morning watching interviews with Christopher Hitchens. He had just died. In one he says: 'One way to deal with contradiction is to admit it.' And here I freely admit it. Because I also only want to create work that speaks to me, that I might enjoy reading myself. I do not want to write something nice and salable, I do not want to appease the market. The market is like a strong animal that has been placed in a room shaped by the limited movements it has thus far made in its life. This doesn't mean that the animal might not one day want to stray further, to run, to dart about in unpredictable directions. I want you to like what I write and then I really don't care if you don't. I write from a need to connect with imagined worlds. The writing I love takes me somewhere I recognise but didn't realise existed- and it does. If it's been imagined, then it exists. The connection is necessary. It brings beauty where there might only be the workaday. And if I'm not published, I don't care.

Proust says: '[The] labour of the artist to discover a means of apprehending beneath matter and experience, beneath words, something different from their appearance, is of an exactly contrary nature to...(and please excuse the brutal editing here!)...the terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life.' I loath boasting and arrogance. I feel very strongly that it is up to others to say whether you are any good or not. And this knowing humility can be crippling. I quote the great Proust here to show what it is I love about art and why I feel the pursuit of putting words together in different ways is worthwhile. We might just put them together in a way that goes beyond the constraints of conversation or essay or blogposts like this one. We might just be able to express part of the depth and scope that makes up a human being and cannot be put across in the normal codes of language. And so I won't say sorry. I want to the part of that. I want to try.

And you might wonder what's the point of all this when the world is always teetering on the brink of destroying itself, when people are needlessly dying and Kim Jong Un is unleashing psychotic cruelty over the citizens in his care. Russia is posturing in Crimea, legs astride, hands on hips, ooh so very macho. And if we try to understand it all, we start unravelling a ball of string made up of human greed and cruelty and stupidity and selective faith. The workaday world. The world of 'terminology for practical ends.' So why sit in your bedroom writing about why you like writing? What good can that possibly do?

In his book Straw Dogs, a book with which some people take highly defensive issue, John Gray says: 'We cannot be rid of illusions. Illusion is our natural condition. So why not accept it?' This seems clear to me. Everything we chase after and strive for, kill, maim and torture for, is ultimately a figment of the imagination. You think you own your house and garden but no-one can really own a piece of the earth. It's just a game we're really really keen on and so we pretend that it's true. You can't control other people. They'll tell you they believe what you want them to believe, they'll put their bodies where you want them to, but you aren't in control. The most you can do is break them, but that's not the same thing. And so, if all this is imaginary, then surely we can only get away from it through the imagination? How else can we understand what it is to be someone else but through the exercise of our imaginations? The solitary act of connecting with imaginary worlds is also an act of empathetic connection with all human beings. Empathy, I say, which can be very different indeed from it's cousin, sympathy. To know what it is like. Don't we all have that curiosity somewhere?

I am not a high flyer. My CV shows a drifting life. I certainly don't claim to be remotely intellectual. I write from the imagination and I write about the people who are never quite going to make it. I am interested in the people who have hopes for a better, bigger, happier life but can't quite get that. It seems that an awful lot of us are in that position. And we want to be heard. Things like this blog allow us to be heard. We wait for an agent, a publisher, a magazine to get back to us. But we won't let them be in charge of anything. We won't submit to the workaday world.

A bit more from Marcel: 'The only voyage of discovery...(ahem)...would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each them beholds, that each of them is.' He had to pay from his own pocket for the publication of the first volume of his great work.

I read pieces in newspapers where writers talk about where they write. They rent offices, have rooms devoted to that purpose, they have sheds in their gardens. Cork-lined rooms? I write wherever I can- on public transport, at work, in bed, on the toilet. I will keep writing. We should all keep on writing. I have got a new selection of exercise books and every morning I try to scribble something in them. I drink tea. I muse. I try not to think about the hours of jobwork ahead. Who knows how many years it will be until I can go to parties and correct myself when I stray into boasting?  'I've written a novel,' I'll say. Then, 'No, hold on, I've written two.'

And there are many more. There will be many more.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Our narrator gets a bit of part time work:

The ugly boy sitting opposite me chewed wetly on his pencil as he thought about what
I had said. He removed it from his mouth, pulling out a thin string of spit.
  “I’m not entirely sure I agree with you,” he said.

            “Well, we all have our own opinions.”

            “Hmmmn. Bit of a truism.”

            A ginger-haired girl, thickly freckled, with pale sad eyes, snapped in my defence.
“Greg. Why don’t you shut up?”

            “Okay, let’s just trade clichés then.”

            “I think this aggression is somewhat inappropriate,” I said, dreading having to get

            The ginger girl spoke up again. “Maybe he’s saying that you seem not to like the
book, sir. But our other teacher, she had a lot to say in favour of it, you see, and, well, we
mostly ended up agreeing with her.” The girl was shy. It cost her a lot of effort to say this,
and there was a tell-tale tremor in her voice.

            “It’s more than that,” said Greg, staring resolutely at his desk. “You don’t seem to be
able to separate yourself from the times you live in, sir. You’re probably jaded from teaching
this book too often. We can understand that. But with literature it’s imperative that you put
yourself into the correct historical context, wouldn’t you agree? It would be criminal not to
celebrate the book as a triumph of moral courage. That’s the point I want to make.”

            “Well stated,” I said, and hoped we might move on.

            There were just ten pupil in the class, and for the first half an hour they had sat
watching me in an atmosphere of quiet tension. I was relieved to see that none of them were
pretty- I would be able to go through the rather tedious motions without forming any
emotional attachments. Chilly indifference I could cope with. This need to challenge and
claim territory now being displayed, on the other hand, presented a far more troublesome

            A girl piped up from the back of the room. A sickly thing- pallid, hair lank and
colourless, a delicate sprinkling of pimples, small glasses. There was a jarring American
twang to her vowels and some of her consonants refused to leave her tongue without a bit of a
struggle. A near approximation of a native English speaker.

            “We talked a lot about moral courage and the strength that Jane shows. It’s easy to be
cynical but I think it’s a very beautiful book.”

            There were a few mumbles of what sounded like agreement, although most of the
pupils were keeping themselves distant from proceedings, pretending not to see or hear what
was happening, much like those gatherings of bystanders when a mugging takes place-
turning their heads away, frightened of the consequences of involvement.

            I should have left the subject alone, only I was becoming incensed by the pious look
the girl was wearing on her pimpled face. I asked her where she thought Jane got her strength
from- “Is it actually her own?”

            The girl blushed in ugly mottles: “From God,” she said. “She gets it from God.”

            Did I raise an eyebrow? Did I make a sound? I thought I was exercising great control
in repressing my reactions, yet still the poisonous Greg was able to divine them. Perhaps he
had developed extra-sensory perception to compensate for his lack of chin, for the unsightly
fuzz, for the yellow-tipped spots?

            “It is still possible to believe, you know. You can be clever and have faith. They’re
not mutually exclusive at all. It’s happened throughout history. There’s nothing ridiculous in
taking strength from God. And sir, you do remember where we are, don’t you? You know
what percentage of the population here is Catholic?”

            I stared at him blankly. Was this what Sylvia Reid had meant when she used the
expression ‘exacting?’ Some little oik trying to show off? I refused to answer him. People
who wield opinions like weapons and can call on a vast array of knowledge to aid their
belligerent cause have always intimidated me. When I was younger I had attempted to
develop some opinions, but I had long since stopped bothering. To have opinions, one needs
to believe in something a little bit. It wasn’t for me.

            “Well, you all seem very familiar with this book. Perhaps we should move on.”

            “So that’s it then?” continued Greg. “You’re not going to justify what you said? A
cosy novel you called it.”

            I had no memory of saying such a thing but, there again, from the moment I entered
the room I had been operating through a sickly film of panic, trying my best to sound
authoritative, trying not to bolt out the door. I was not used to pupils listening to what I had to

            A deep breath: “I’m not interested in arguing about these things. Perhaps someone
else might have something to say. I assume your last teacher discussed feminist takes on the

            “She brushed over them as quickly as she could.” A new voice, somewhere to my left.
A girl with a bowl haircut that hid her eyes. Next to her sat a scrawny chap with round
glasses and a big smirk on his mouth. “Gosia,” he said in a whiney voice, the sarcasm badly
hidden, “surely you’re not going to be nasty about our lovely Miss Sledzic?”

            “Well,” she said, “being in a serious car crash doesn’t make you any more clued up
about feminist theory. Nor does it make any less conventional and quaint, for that matter.”

            The pimpled Christians coughed and muttered and an eerie silence stole across the
room, a quickly thickening freeze. I shuffled the pile of papers given to me by the head of

            “Okay then. Maybe we should take a look at some possible essay titles.”

Monday, 3 March 2014

Never Talk To Strangers On The Train

What's in the box?
In the box? 
Down there.
Down here?
Yes, the box with the chains.
Oh, you mean the casket!
The casket?
The casket with the chains and the window.
There's a window? 
Yes. On the other side. It's only small.
What's in it?
In the window?
No, in the casket with the chains.
Oh, in the casket. Why, there's a baby in there.
A baby?
Yes, a baby.

Why a baby?
It's too spectral for out here.
Too what?
Too spectral.
Too ghoulish?
No, too ghostly for this air.
And it sleeps in there?
Oh, it exists in there.
Can I see it?
I wouldn't dare. Not yet.
What does it look like?
Colour or shape? 
You choose.
Well, when it breathes in it's purple.
I see.
And when it breathes out it's green.

My my. And the shape?
Well, it fits pretty snug.
Has it got all of its bits?
It's bits?
It's limbs I suppose- it's fingers and toes.
Oh no. It needs none of those. It's got a mouth, though.
Do you feed it? 
Feed and water through a tube.
Through a tube?
A clear rubber tube through the window you see.
Has it got eyes?

Oh, big bulbous things. But not much light. There's no need.
Is it yours?
Is your question real?
Did you make it?
I found it after a swift sleep.
When you awoke?
After a tunnel like this. We were near Paddington. It was raining.
Like today?

A thin drizzle, yes. I was going to the hospital. I found it on my knee.
You were ill.
I was hearty.
I'm sickening myself.
Hmmm. Yes, I see, I see.
Are you my consultant?

For that lump thing that's constant?
For my throat that's tumescent.
Indeed that is me.

And the baby?
The baby?
Will you let me see it?
I already told you it's not quite the time.
And the chains?
What of them?
Is it appropriate for an infant whose committed no crime?
But it couldn't just sit on my knee.
Too ghostly.
Too ghostly by half.

Is it getting any bigger?
The baby or the lump?
Is my lump my baby?
No, I can measure it with my thumb.
Is it you that will help me?
Are you forgetting to breathe?

How many more tunnels are there?
Do you want to cry, my baby?
The windows are warping.
Breathe in, yes, breathe in.

I don't know what the colours are.
Purple my most protected.
Are my eyeballs bloody bulging?
Exhale for your daddy- breathe out green.