I am the captain of this good ship.
Seafaring is in my soul.
I spend my time in that bit at the front,
You know, at the top,
With the big windows,
What’s it called?
Where I steer it from.
I’m a very merry mariner
A merry mariner me.
I’m a very merry mariner
On a millpond mirror sea.
I’m the captain don’t you see
You can pipe me aboard any time.
Weeee-weeee, captain on bridge!
(Oh, that’s what it’s called,
My crew noticed my tattoo,
They always point it out.
Whenever I pass near them,
‘Anchor’, is what they shout.
‘Such an anchor’.
‘Here comes the anchor’.
‘Oh my god it’s the anchor’.
Is of an anchor.
Seventy five percent of my office
Have been taken over by cargo.
I suppose that’s why they call them
Next door is a room where I planted
Gorse, heather and wild grass
And let some sheep graze.
‘Why did you do that?’, my deputy asked.
I said, ‘It’s the staff common room’.
But I like being the captain
It’s the job I’ve always wanted to do.
They sent me to navel college.
I think it was the wrong one.
I know nothing about driving a ship
But I have an encyclopedic knowledge
Of belly buttons.
I run my fingers on the hull
And listen to the soft whispering of the ship.
‘Capital cities’, she says,
‘London, Paris, Rome,
Canberra, Delhi, Beijing’.
‘Oh my god’, my deputy said,
‘I think the ship is listing’.
I found a subordinate the other day
Piling plastic bottles on the deck,
Plastic bottles of French, Dijon, English,
Colmans and other brands
Of hot yellow sauce.
‘No, you idiot!’, I yelled,
‘I told you to make a
But I’m the captain,
Whatever happens, I’m the captain,
I’m the tip top nautical fella on this
rusty ship with its big brass propeller,
I’m the order barker,
I’m the port-side parker,
I’m the first mate berater
I’m the seaman inspiration
I’m the radar operator
If we sink I’ll see ya later
I’m the ship steering quip-sneering
Anchor-dropping boat flip fearing
Keep myself in uniform so
Never wear an earring
I’m the poop deck slipper
I’m the mid storm kipper
I’m the radar flashing blipper
I’m in charge cos I’m the skipper
I’m the captain
I’m the captain
I’m the captain
Don’t you knowwwwwwwww.
The other day we found
Water in the cargo hold.
‘Do you think we’ll sink?’
‘Maybe not’, I replied.
‘Capsize?’, they asked.
‘Extra large’, I replied.
On how I learned to love writing short stories again
The only thing I ever wanted to be was a writer. When I was a kid, I’d write all the time. For me, the most wonderful thing in the world was a new notebook with all of its blank pages and the limitless possibilities of the words that would fill it up. If there was one thing I really enjoyed, it was making people laugh because of what they were reading, knowing that it was my own words that had caused such merriment. I remember my English teacher, Mr. Smith, encouraging me to write, and I’d show him my stories and he’d sit and read them to himself and every now and then he would laugh. And I’d always ask him what it was that had made him laugh.
During my teenage years I discovered existentialism and I forgot all about wanting to make people laugh. I just wanted to be seen as a deep thinker, a modern Camus or Kafka astounding people with my weighty philosophic intellect. The only things missing were a beret, and a weighty philosophic intellect. This ‘phase’ took a few years to get over.
In my twenties, I moved to Devon and joined a writers’ circle, and for the first time I would be reading out my words to other people. And when they laughed, it was the most magical feeling in the world. I spent all my spare moments writing, in my first flat, which was on the third floor of a spooky gothic mansion, and I’d sit there all evening and write and write and write, endless short stories which I’d then immediately file away, and sometimes not even print off.
Education came late to me, and I spent seven years doing an undergraduate course, and then two years doing postgraduate, all by distance learning, so writing took a back seat but I’d still have a crack at it if I had a spare few moments, though I’d never look at what I’d written once it was done. And as soon as my education was over, I discovered comedy performance poetry and the deep joy of being on stage and making people laugh.
Of course, this was a pivotal moment, because now I was getting paid and travelling all over the UK, spreading comedy and joy and meeting wonderful people. Indeed, the last thirteen years have been a magical experience and I never thought that I’d be in such a position. The fact that I make strangers laugh and enjoy life, if only for a few minutes, makes me feel incredibly privileged.
A couple of years ago, I went back to writing short stories. The only difference now was that, thanks to this thing called the ‘internet’, which wasn’t around when I was younger, I could now submit the end results. And wow, the response has been amazing. I’ve had short stories published all over the place, from magazines such as Stand and Defenestration, to Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter and Jersey Devil. Indeed, I have even been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in the USA, which is where most of my work is published.
But the most amazing thing of all is that some of the stories I’ve had published were ones I’d written twenty five or thirty years ago. Stand, one of the most respected magazines in the UK, have agreed to publish a story of mine next year which I wrote one evening at that old gothic flat. Black Moon magazine have just published one which I remember reading to the writers’ circle all those years ago. I’m absolutely astounded that these old stories are finding a new lease of life, while at the same time a little sad that I wasn’t brave enough to send them off at the time, as a nerdy twenty something.
So what’s my point with this essay? I suppose it’s ‘never give up on your dreams’, or something trite like that. Or at the very least, ‘give it a go, because you never know’. I was deeply unsure of myself for most of my young adult life and this has continued to some extent. I certainly don’t feel like I have a sense of entitlement but I’m at least glad that I am now a little braver when it matters.
And writing? I still love it, as much as I did when I was a kid!