Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Special Abilities (that it would be useful to have)

Being able to determine
the moment when oven chips
are cooked just right.
To know how far there is to fall
from any height.

To always find (first time)
the trip switch
when the lights have fused.
To understand the feelings
of a friend
who stands confused.

In busy restaurants
(as everybody's leaving)
being able to sort out the coats.
Having perfect timing when recounting jokes
or anecdotes.

When planning picnics knowing
If it's going to rain.
The knack of rescuing a bee
trapped on the window pane.

To know which racehorse is going to be a winner
and which will be a flop.
To gauge an audience reaction
when reading out a poem
and knowing when to stop.

(or keep going)

Items in The Edward Lear Museum

A runcible spoon and ticket (first class)
Thirty nine bottles of Ring Bo Ree
A scarlet flannel, a crockery jar
A sieve that has travelled the Western Sea
Some oblong oysters (just their shells) and the hat
Of Mr Quangle Wangle Quee
And in pride of place, in a crumbobblious case,
A branch from the old Bong Tree
Some waterproof clothes, the beard and a nose
And a branch of the old Bong Tree

From The Monster That Ate the Universe
(Macmillan Children's Books)

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Sad and Disappointed

When I’m that close to promotion but my best mate’s made the boss
When a sea breeze hits the seaside and steals my candy floss
When the woman I was wooing says she couldn’t give a toss
I get sad and disappointed and just a little cross

When the rice burns on the bottom and the cheddar turns out mild
When the kitchen needs re-wiring and it’s just been newly tiled
When the internet connection’s not the one my PC dialled
I get sad and disappointed
And just a little riled

When the rhythm of my writing’s interrupted or disturbed
By a masked man with a comma and a intransitive verb
Or my passion for a parentheses has been unfairly curbed
I get sad and disappointed
And sometimes quite perturbed

When the elements of our first kiss cannot be recreated
When I wait and no one shows despite the way my breath is baited
When I slide on to the dance floor and my steps are out of dated
I get sad and disappointed
And a tad infuriated

When I’m De Niro’s understudy but never make the stage
When my eloquent soliloquy stays rooted to the page
When I feel I’m getting younger but I’ve nearly reached old age
I get sad and disappointed
And a lesser form of rage

When you wave your magic wand and you lift the witch’s curse
When you say Let’s play at hospitals and you’ll be the night nurse
When you tell me that you love me in a neatly crafted verse
I’m never sad or disappointed
In fact, quite the reverse

Friday, September 24, 2004


Darren’s got a pumpkin
Hollowed out a treat
He put it in the window
It scared half the street

I wish I had a pumpkin
But I’ve not and it’s a shame
I’ve got a scary carrot
But it’s not the same

From The Monster That Ate the Universe
(Macmillan Children's Books)

They Put a Man on the Moon

Not a bad week as weeks go. Friday’s here and the wandering Jill returns. This week she’s been in Nottingham and Oxford. She should be back around lunchtime. Hooray!!!

I finished the first draft of my children’s novel – The Comic Café. Still a fair bit of work to do on it – but the hard bit’s done. When that’s finished I can get back to my teenage poems that accompany The Mighty Molecules CD. Still not totally sure of the name. I still haven’t figured out how to get the tracks from the computer to the CD either. When I’ve done that James can start work on the lead guitar. Still need to find someone to sing them.

Had good rehearsal Monday with Damn Right. A couple of gigs coming up. All’s damn right with the world.

Bad news this week. Steven Gerrard injured. Catastrophic for Liverpool FC who’ve made a good start under their new manager, and bad news for England, too. He’ll miss the next two European qualifiers.

Read more of The Da Vinci Code. Gripping stuff. I wonder just how much of it is based on fact?
I think the moon landing was definitely a hoax. There was a programme about it on Channel 5 this week. I thought the evidence was pretty overwhelming. No stars in the photos. Flag fluttering in the breeze. No blast crater. What do you think?

From my office window I can see the tractor ploughing the big field opposite. Thirty or more seagulls following it. It reminds me of that hymn we always sang at church and school. You know the one. Lovely tune – but difficult to sing I always thought.

Just had a call from Jill. I thought she'd be on the train by now, heading homewards. But she's still in Oxford, apparantly. Buying a pair of shoes.

Hey ho.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004


Must keep my mind active
Seven times seven
Forty nine
Convert thirty seven pounds sixty
To Euros
If the exchange rate is 6.78
Think of new ways
To describe the sky
Recall details of the past
Aged nine and three quarters
Not the hot summer
Wandering the brickfields
Under a blue-handkerchief sky
On a mission
Kicking up pebble footballs
Sliding down dusty paths
Following trails… but
What was I wearing?
Where did I keep my clothes?
There was no wardrobe in my room.
Didn’t kids have wardrobes then?
Must keep my mind active
Calculate the exact distance
From the centre of France
To here
From here to Super U
From here to La Châtre
From here to the waning moon
From here to the waxing legs
Of the universe

Must keep my mind active
Eight times nine
Hang my trousers on the line
Active! That’s the thing.
Must keep active

Sunday, September 19, 2004

There’s More to You Than Meets the Eye

There’s more to you than meets the eye
A history of unfinished jigsaw puzzles
An inability to find the corner bits of sky

At first your smile seems friendly, warm, sincere
You like a laugh, diversions, something for the craic
That winning smile is your best friend’s
She thinks she lost it. But you never gave it back.

You walk on stilts, at night, beneath the moon.
A trick you learnt when you were young.
The circus pitched up on the village green.
They wanted you to join.
You didn’t want to leave your mum.

You’re well presented. Well turned out.
You’re neat. You’re smart.
Your clothes are not expensive.
Neither are they cheap.
You wear a sleeve upon your heart.
Sometimes you think your soul is fast asleep.

Once you ran the marathon.
Not in an organised event.
Too many people cheering.
And you have an allergy to polystyrene foam
And other people’s sweaty scent.

The blurb says Always meet in public
Which is why I chose to meet you
In the Woolworth’s queue
My first impressions? Ordinary. Nice.
Perhaps a little shy.
You said hello. I said, I bet
There’s more to you than meets the eye.
You said, No
What you see is what you get.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Up the Poetry Pole

1. Bukowski. Genius or journalist?

2. Billy Collins or Phil Collins?

3. There's too much poetry in the world. Yes or no? Discuss.

4. Haiku or sonnet?

5. Can poetry be sexy?

6. Is the comma important?

7. And your favourite poem is?

8. Haven't you got anything better to do?

With thanks to The Garden of Earthly Delights. I look forward to your answers, comments and hopefully discussions.

Night-time Warning for Motorists




Wednesday, September 15, 2004


Mother and Father
Meet for the first time
He has parked his tank
On the zebra crossing

She is sitting carefully
In a wooden chair
At a slatted wooden table
Sipping weak tea

The sky is an unusual shade
Of grey. Forget-me-nots
In a small, glass tumbler.
Cobalt blue.

Mother and Father
Meet for the first time
Mother sees him on the dance floor
A wind-up gramophone
Plays a Bing Crosby song

Mother and Father
Meet for the first time
At a family gathering
The party erupts
Into a screwed-up paper fight
They hide behind the same sofa

Tuesday, September 14, 2004


It might seem obvious to you humans
But it puzzles me every day
If he wants the stick so badly
Why does he throw it away?

By Judy Dog

From Taking My Human For a Walk

(Macmillan Children's Books)


As the first snow falls
We head south
Skirting the plain
To New Mexico
And Santa Fe
An artist's tube of alizarin crimson
Is squeezed with abandon
Over the rising mountains
And the blossoming sunset
Takes our breath away

Through the dusty blue hills
Riding the whirlwind
We came into Taos
On a sunny and cold morning
Searching for Carol Starr

Adobe galleries and Native American trinkets
Tinkled around the out-of-season square
Your answering machine talked to us
Your friend in the Gallery told us
That of the top-ten dangerous junctions for road accidents -
Five were in Dallas.
But your town spoke with light
From an ancient but forgiving heart

And in the evening
We took the Rio Grande route
Across the gorge
Leaving behind the sunset
Of pure gold
For other prospectors

Excuse me. Don’t I know you?

Last night was band rehearsal night. We practice in a studio near King’s Cross Station. Jill was in Nottingham yesterday but had to travel down to stay in a hotel for meetings in London today. As St Pancreas is next door to King’s Cross we thought we’d meet up for a coffee and a snack.
But her trains were running “up to two hours late” and I didn’t want to leave too early, because Judy would be on her own. So in the end we deemed it impractical.
I left for the city at my usual time but my train was also late. Half an hour waiting on Robertsbridge station eating blackberries and wondering if the train would ever arrive. The guard said that it had to use a different station at Hastings because there was a wheelchair on board (!?) and then they had to sort out some carriages and that took twice as long as planned.
So I arrived in King's Cross ten minutes late for the rehearsal. And as I walked out of the tube station - who should I see walking towards me?

Monday, September 13, 2004

Dream Poem

I made up a poem in a dream last night. It was a long dream, most of which I’ve forgotten. I was appearing at a festival. Most of the dream consisted of trying to find the owner of the festival to sort out where I would be performing. There was also a bit where I was lectured by my old Head Teacher. And a church. And lots of wet fields.
Anyway, we got to the performance which was in a tent. I was standing on a small stage. I’d just started to read my Ikea poem when a woman’s mobile phone started ringing. We all waited patiently for her to answer it.
Then I told the audience I’d just made up a poem. This was it –

Mobile Phone


It’s Rock and Roll, That’s All

One for the money
Two for the show
Three to get ready
And Four to go
Back to the car
To get your glasses
To be able to read
The programme notes…

Wild Mushroom Risotto

This was one mouth-watering mother of a meal, even if I do say so myself. I think I need to cook it again before it’s ready for sharing though. So it might be a while before the recipe turns up in Jolly Roger’s Blog Recipes.
Anyway – I was washing the rice and I kept finding ants amongst the grains. We are often visited by ants, being in the country and all. It took ages to remove them. The water sloshing through the colander and another little black body turning up. I noticed them last time I cooked the rice too.
Jill appeared and I showed her. They’re not ants, she said. They are some other kind of insect. A weevil? She looked at the packet. The rice is crawling with them, she said. And it was. We’ll have to take it back to Sainsbury’s, she said.
She then she checked the cupboard to see if any had escaped.
And… you guessed it. Invasion of the Rice Weevils.
The cupboard where we keep the rice, pasta and flour was crawling with the little blighters. They were everywhere.
So while I cooked the wild mushroom risotto, Jill emptied the cupboard, threw out about half its contents and dealt with the unwelcome guests.
I hope there’s no one from the Rice Weevil Appreciation Society reading this. If there is I can only apologise for having dealt with them in such a definite manner. But if vegetarians come to supper and you serve them with a vegetarian lasagne that turns out to have meat in it. Well!
Although I’m not sure… is an insect meat? Or is it a bit like fish?
Do vegetarians ever say - “We’re vegetarians, although we do eat fish and insects…”


Wait for it…

Friday, September 10, 2004

Cold Spell

When the Gulf Stream stopped
And the endless snows came
We packed our memories in fleece and fur
And headed south.

The rumours say
You can walk across the English Channel
On the ice

We trudged
Down frosty lanes
Littered with plastic cards
And defunct fridges

Heading for Paradise,
Our English cousins'
Secret fortress
In Southern Spain

The Contest Dream

There was a contest involving a whole crowd of people. It was at college, but nowhere I’d ever been before. It involved travel, too – a bit like a treasure hunt – going to other countries. It was a very long and complicated dream but one part was this:
I was given a small brown ticket. On it was written the name of a film that I had to watch. There was a different film on every night and I wasn’t sure of the date. It was a short experimental film called La Bath Dernier – a classic black and white film in which a man sits fully-clothed in an old enamel bath. Under the bath is a gas ring which gradually heats the water.
So I went to the cinema but there was a different film on. The cinema was a corrugated hut, full of people talking in French. I sat back in my seat to watch. It was called Le Express. Another grainy black and white film by Alfred Hitchcock.
I didn’t really watch the film, though, because I was more interested in an exhibition of sets from the film. These consisted of small rooms with shelves full of objects. The doors were narrow and arranged in such a way that when the train passed you caught a very quick glimpse of the inside of the room.

Birmingham (Part 3)

Senior citizens
Wander in a daze
Wondering how they found
Themselves on a film set
Whilst trying to buy a cup of tea
Business people
Huddle round laptops
Isn’t it great?
Now you can work in your lunch hour, too.
But what am I doing?
Writing poetry in my lunch hour.
That doesn’t count
In Birmingham.

A young couple gaze into
A holiday flight shop window
Somewhere the sun bursts through
The shop slowly rises from the ground
And heads South
Departing Birmingham

I thank you
Oh Street cleaners
I thank you
Young women
With tight jeans and cleavage
I thank you
Sock sellers
With TVs on your stalls
Showing the Italy-Korea game
I thank you
Natives of Birmingham

Twisting through the layers of building
What treasures can be found?
A builders hard hat
Circa 1977
(cue music – probably the Jam)
I sit and sip espresso
Beneath a brick-paved archway
Beneath two giant arching tents
It’s an eating and snack area
Croissant House
Café Giardino
Singapore Sam
Quizno’s Subs
Pizza Hut

Cram your duvets of flesh
Into those tight stretch pants
Birmingham heavies
You don’t care

Starbuck 1
Starbuck 2
Starbuck 3
Starbuck 4
Starbuck 5
How many Starbucks does it take
To make a Birmingham City Centre?

Answer Five
But the council have to want
To sell their souls.

Thank you Florence Wilkinson
For the wooden bench
Upon which I sit to sip
My Sprite in its cheery
Coca Cola cup

Have you a minute?
The girl asks
Will you commit
A monthly donation
To our new hospice?
Her eyes are piercing
Did they train you to do that?
I asked her later
And imagined her saying, Yes
And I told her
Best not overdo it

I haven’t been here for thirty years
I tell her
I hardly recognise the place
I’ve been away three years, she tells me
See that street? Those shops? All new.
See that office tower?
That wasn’t there ten minutes ago.
The speed of change
And I am different too
That’s the watchword
Here in Birmingham

Thursday, September 09, 2004

For Mighty Microbes Fans...

Have now finished the drums, bass and rhythm guitar. Thought you'd like to know.

Roger McGough on the Telly

Did anyone see it? The Liverpool poets on Channel 5.
Roger McGough and Brian Patten. Poor old Adrian Henri's no longer with us of course.
There's an interview with Brian Patten on the Poetry Zone. Haven't managed to get Roger McGough yet, though. He's too famous probably.
It was a great programme. He has to be my favourite living poet.

Water in the Well – a Villanelle

A chance encounter with a Texan Belle
Leads you to lunch - the café at the zoo.
You wonder if there’s water in the well.

Do crocodiles get tired? How does one tell?
You wonder what the meat is as you chew.
Most poets write at least one villanelle.

She takes you to the desert. And it’s hell.
Your dry cough’s captured by a camera crew.
You wonder if there’s water in the well.

Back home your life’s a cracked, unpolished shell.
Your Texan babe has left. What does one do?
Most poets write at least one villanelle.

Betrayal. Loss. And loneliness. That sells.
An empty sheet of paper. Start anew.
You wonder if there’s water in the well.
Most poets write at least one villanelle.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004


When you were a child
Were there secret pathways that you followed?
Through the scrub and hawthorn, past the rotting dump
To the railway sidings?
Did you climb into the brambles
Always careful not to choose
The glistening purple fruits
Of deadly nightshade
Masquerading as blackberries?
Did you poke a stick
Into the wasp’s nest
In the orange clay bank?
Did you watch the awesome steam trains
Thunder past –
Breath in the sharp smell
Of burning coal and steam?
Did you avoid the vipers
Sunning themselves by the rusty track?
Did you keep an eye out
For snipers
Hiding in the bushes along the ridge
And dodge the humming slug
Of air rifle?
Did you follow the high pathway
Across the abandoned brickfields
Along the turf-topped walls
That cornered the pits of dug-out clay?
Did you stare at the rusty carcass
Of the unexploded bomb
No doubt jettisoned
By a returning German bomber
And did you nudge it with your toe
To see if it ticked?

In My Old Bedroom Dream

In the room where I slept as a child, I looked out the window. Below the window is a slate roof, the roof of the bathroom. On the roof were small birds, all looking at me expectantly, waiting for food. So I scattered birdseed over the roof and on to the yard below.

Some people dream of violence, bloodshed, death and fear.
I dream about feeding the birds.
That surely must be a good thing.


I returned home
In the early hours
You were waiting for me
Sitting on the pine bench
On the lawn
You were wearing your dressing gown
There was a warm wind
Scattered clouds
A glimpse of stars
You said the darkness
In our country garden
Was so unthreatening

Later we couldn’t sleep
Listening to the wind
Gathering the oak trees
A buzzing fly, lost in time
Between branch and beam
Lying in a different darkness

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Don't Phone Me

Well, not on my mobile phone, anyway. I left for the rehearsal last night in a bit of a rush - with the phone balanced on the bonnet of the car. I went to the post office and was just about to set off on the journey proper when I realised it wasn't safely sitting in its little holster. I drove home - and there it was, on the road - in two pieces.
I was amazed at how far I'd driven before it fell off.
It might have been okay - but from the state of it - it looked like another car had run over it.
Just down the road a bit from where a fox got hit a few weeks ago.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Wanted. Your Favourite Dylan Tracks.

I'm putting together a compilation of Bob Dylan tracks for a friend of mine. And I wondered...
what would be your top five choices? And what would be your favourite more obscure Dylan song?

Let There Be Drums

I set the drums up in the garden
Our neighbours were
A sympathetic lot
And found it amusing
On the whole
I imagine
People were more easy going then

Biscuit tins were the right shape, obviously
But a bit clangy
I didn’t use them
Likewise dustbin lids
Which looked like giant cymbals
But didn’t deliver
The body of an old red toy pram
Was at the kit’s heart
But most importantly
The discarded sticks
From the drummer
At the wedding
In the Co-op hall
Take these broken sticks
And learn to play
He might have said
But this was before the Beatles
When Lonnie Donegan was the rage
I like to think I had rhythm
I certainly made a lot of noise

Summer's Over

That was a very pleasant weekend. Visited James and family, ex-Killer Rabbits’ guitarist, currently exploring jazz-guitar. He’s going to put the lead guitar on the Mighty’s CD. And yesterday a visit from Joe’s girlfriend’s sister and her father, daughter and husband and his child. I cooked my nearly-famous nut roast.
Have now recorded the bass and drums for the Mighty Molecules CD. How about Mighty Microbes? Does that sound a better name? Have done a couple of rhythm guitar tracks but I'm having trouble getting a good sound.
Tonight rehearsals start up again for Damn Right I Got the Blues – so I’ll be loading up the car and driving up to London. Summer must be really over now. The children’s book still moving forward but at an astonishingly slow pace – school visits don’t start up again until the end of the month so hopefully I’ll have time to finish it by then. October’s nearly fully booked. It’s because of National Poetry Day in the UK. What will you be doing on that day?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Birmingham (Part 2)

A bomb scare
Hundreds of people
Men, women and children
Mill around
Watching the police cordon
No doubt hoping
To catch a shard of falling

Catch some falling glass
And put it in your pocket
Keep it for a ruined day

At last I find
A piece of Birmingham
I recognise
The road in front of New Street Station
Appears to still be there
A patch of wall
Shyly hides behind the signs
A new arcade swanks
Leads the traveller on
And through and all around the maze
Give thanks and praise
For Birmingham

I sit in Starbucks
Gulp my latte
Where forever there will always be
A tiny corner of a foreign land
That is the USA
The waiter says,
You’re not wrong. Yes, they’re paper cups
Real cups go missing at the rate of ten a day
Why oh why?
I do not understand

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


The inappropriateness of long stockings
When a short sharp sock will do


It was possibly moths
Thrown into confusion
By my speed
And the halogen lights

Maybe it was drifting seeds

Perhaps tiny soft aliens
Landing on Beachy Head
Securing the high ground

Two in the morning
(and I hope you are sleeping by now
having conquered the nausea
caused by the antibiotics)

As we drive home
The car seems somehow reckless
And I have to hold it back.

The dog will be waiting
Anxious for news
And our bed will seem lifeless
As though composed
Only of pillows, a sheet and a duvet
Which, of course, it is.