An interview with Mary Dickins

When I first started performing I would travel up to London every month or so and perform at open mics. This was a great way to meet new people and see other poets. One of the biggest and noisiest nights was Bang Said the Gun, which took place at the Roebuck pub near Borough, and I would go often, sometimes just to sit and watch, and sometimes to perform.

It was at one such evening that I first saw Mary Dickins. I fell in love with her poetry immediately. Joyous, funny, an delivered in a deadpan that added to the comedy. We would later work together making TV adverts for a certain building society, and at one or two corporate events. Mary’s poetry has a joyful playfulness which masks a serious subtext. Well observed descriptions of every day life combine with a true poetic sense of wonder.

Mary’s book, Happiness FM, has just been published by Burning Eye, and I thought I’d use this as an opportunity to interview her.

How did you get into writing poetry?

I have a distinct memory of writing my first poem when I was four. It was a nonsense poem called “The man wrapped up in a Pin” and it rhymed. I was much more excited about it than the rest of my family. Throughout my life I’ve used poetry and creative writing as a therapeutic outlet but I saw it as more of a hobby and I never thought my work was ‘good’ enough for performance or publication until much later.

I’ve seen you loads of times performing on the London spoken word scene. How did you start performing live?
I have always been interested in the performance aspect of poetry and in my professional life was a conference speaker and lecturer but it wasn’t until I was 60 and attended an Arvon course run by Matt Harvey and Kate Fox that I got the confidence and self-belief to give my poetry a try. This led me to do open mic at the brilliant Bang Said the Gun and for the first time I experienced a really noisy and enthusiastic response. I thought that was wonderful and I wanted more.

Who are your influences as a poet and artist?
My influences are many and varied. I was very taken by the Liverpool poets and the irreverent breath of air that they brought to the poetry establishment in the 60s..  I was an early and devoted fan of John Cooper Clark and John Hegley and also poets such as Maya Angelou and Grace Nicholls. I am now an avid reader of all kinds of poetry and I think I probably take a little bit from everyone I like.

Your collection Happiness FM has a bright, upbeat feel. Was this a conscious decision at the start of the project?
I do feel that the best poetry is usually uplifting in some way so I suppose I do aim for that. I guess this evolved as I thought Happiness FM made a good title poem. My daughter Hannah designed the cover around that and together we aimed for an eye catching joyful feel. I was worried about the irony bringing out  a book with this title at a time when the vast majority of people were feeling singularly unhappy then I thought maybe it could bring a little joy into my readers lives.

You have a wonderful knack at finding the eccentric and the odd beneath everyday reality. How did you develop this quirky worldview?
Is it me that’s quirky? I always think it’s everybody else. I think that feeling excluded while growing up (long story) made me into an acute observer and gave me the ability to step back and view reality objectively. Let’s face it there is plenty about the world that is eccentric and odd so there is no shortage of ideas.

Your poetry can also be deeply serious. Do you think it is a poet’s duty to look at the bigger issues in society and life?
I’m not sure about the word ‘duty’ as this rather saps the enjoyment out of it. Poets describe and interpret the world around them and also chronicle the times they live in so the bigger issues are pretty hard for any of us to avoid. Exploring identity, for example, inevitably leads to us to examine and challenge existing values and systems. Poetry can be a powerful tool for change and personally I do like my poems to contain some kind of social comment however oblique. I think anyone with a public platform has a responsibility to try to make the world a better place and that includes poets. I want the poets I admire to have integrity and be truthful. But they should be allowed to express themselves as they choose.

What is your writing process? Do you have a specific time and place for writing?
I’ve never been very good at keeping to a self-imposed writing schedule although I can be disciplined and dogged if the situation calls for it. A lot of my writing takes place in my head and I find that 2am in the morning is the time when random ideas and solutions suddenly emerge. This means that the kitchen table is often littered with strange and obscure post it notes to self in the morning.  I find poetry courses and writing groups very useful as they give you homework deadlines and a reason to persevere.

What was your best ever gig as a performer?
It has to be when I won the Golden Gun at Bang Said the Gun a few years ago. I performed a somewhat blasphemous poem called “The Richard Dawkins Delusion by God” and Andrew Motion who was Poet Laureate at the time and also performing said how much he liked it. I floated home on the tube that night.

What are you working on at the moment or what will your next project be?
Well this is the rub. At the moment my biggest challenge as someone in a vulnerable category for Coronavirus is how to maintain a poetry presence and promote the book. Luckily there are online opportunities at the moment and I hope these continue as there are a few of us who might be stranded if they don’t. I have a number of new poems up my sleeve so I am looking towards the next collection.

What advice would you give someone who would like to follow on your footsteps and be a poet and a performer?
Don’t wait as long as I did but at the same time it’s never too late to start.

What made a performance poet?

There’s not much to do in Virginia Water once the lights are off. In fact there’s not much to do when the lights are on, either, unless you are one of the millionaires whose villas dot the woods and thickets of this strange commuter-belt town, the summer air thick with pungent earthy aromas, honeysuckle, fleshy rhododendrons, a sudden shower sounding like polite theatre applause as it falls on jungle vegetation. Nothing to do at all. Even less if you happened to live in one of the small cottages, one of the two-up two-down workman’s cottages which still survived into the 1990s before they were all bulldozed to make way for mansions bought by supermarket magnates and glam rock superstars. And even less yet again if you lived in one of these cottages and it was the mid seventies, and it was a period of rolling black-outs and you and your young wife lived in the top bedroom, and the other three rooms of the house were owned and occupied by the in-laws. There’s absolutely nothing to do under these circumstances.
I was born the following January.
There are things that I can still remember from a very early age. I can remember the hideous flowery purple and pink bedspread on my parents bed. I can remember the hideous flowery yellow and brown curtains over their window. I can remember the woods, the ominous, black, dense woods that would pull in the darkness amid their gnarled trunks like a lonely miser gathering in the eternal emptiness and oblivion which awaits us all. And I can remember the hideous flowery blue and white polyester dress that my grandmother used to wear.
I can remember my Grandad, too. My Grandad had brown buttons on his cardigan and I would play with them whenever he held me. He wore big, thick rimmed glasses, the kind I’d see on television Comedians. With just a word or two, my grandfather could reduce a room into peals of laughter. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I kind of take after him a little bit, that’s the inference. I even wear the same type of glasses.
My Grandad had a large shed at the bottom of the garden, a corrugated hut which looked like something from the Alaskan gold rush. Inside the shed were lathes and drills and all kinds of incredibly intricate machines which he would work over late into the night inventing tools and other equipment, tobacco tins full of nuts and bolts, rolled up blueprints and official patent letters tucked away amid the paint tins on the shelves. It was no place for a toddler, but I would stand in the doorway and watch as he operated his machinery, transfixed by the way he’d dance from one machine to the other. Years later I’d do the same, escaping to a shed or an outbuilding to work on manuscripts and poems, books, short stories, enmeshed in my own little world away from everyone else. So there I go, comparing myself to him again.
At this stage of my life, I didn’t have a sister yet, nor was I a spoken word artist. Nothing in my demeanour hinted that I would be a spoken word artist, and to be honest I didn’t really have the vocabulary. I did used to like putting buckets on my head, though, and there are plenty of photos of me with a bucket on my head. The fact that I’ve made a career out of very silly hats possibly stems from this. I can’t even remember how this came about. I’ve just got other people’s word to go on and, as I say, photographs. Perhaps I just liked making people laugh. As I say, it was Virginia Water and it was the 1970s, so there wasn’t much else going on. A toddler with a bucket on his head obviously passed for light entertainment back then.
The sporadic power cuts continued and two years later my sister was born.
The thing is, I can’t remember seeing my sister for the first time, yet I remember the day itself vividly. The reason for this is that I was with my Dad and my Uncle in Staines High Street, and they had just bought me a red pedal car, and the fact that it came in a big box and was obviously for me, made me feel very special indeed. It didn’t even occur to me at that stage that the red pedal car was a consolation prize for no longer having everyone’s undivided attention. In fact, the next time I would ever have everyone’s undivided attention would be on the stage as a spoken word artist. It’s something I would never experience again for quite some time, and even during sex, people would just close their eyes and think about someone else. Anyway, I had a red pedal car, which my mother, for some reason, christened Bertie, and a sister who, because we were a family of atheists, wasn’t christened at all, but was named Angela.
And oh, what a vicious thing she was. Aunts and Uncles would cower in fright. If anyone were foolish enough to pick her up, she’d bite a chunk out of their shoulder. From a very early age she’d boss me around, and in these crucial years of my own development as a human being, she taught me the valuable lesson that it’s sometimes not worth the effort because other people will always kick up a bigger fuss than you. Whenever we’d play games, my mother would whisper to me, ‘for goodness sake, let her win’. Which was another lesson I learned at a very early age. It’s not the winning or the losing that counts, it’s making sure that your opponent doesn’t throw a tantrum. At least I got a pedal car out of it.
I can’t remember the age at which i would begin to mythologise my past and my upbringing. I think it was probably just after my fourth birthday. We moved out of my grandparents and away from Virginia Water to a council house in the Surrey suburbs on an estate on a hill a couple of miles from the end of Heathrow’s runway. There are those who believe that homosexuality is a result of home conditions and human relations, the psychological environment of our formative years, and while I do not agree with some parts of this hypothesis, I understand that such people would probably point to the fact that I had spent most of my time up to this point with three generations of strong-willed women in my grandmother, mother and baby sister, as definitive proof. My grandfather was usually in his shed inventing things, and my dad was invariably at work in his job as a civil servant. On top of that, the Queen was a woman and so was the prime minister, and every single one of my teachers would be a woman until I was ten years old. I would dream of a time when men were allowed to make decisions and be in charge of things, perhaps then there would be no warfare or violence.
As I say, I do not agree with the environmental thesis of homosexual development, but I remember thinking from a very early age that something was amiss. (Not that I knew it was necessarily amiss. I thought my behaviour was perfectly normal. I couldn’t understand why people would get so uppity when I showed no interest in football, soldiers or motorbikes). I wanted a handbag, just like Mum’s. My two teddy bears, Fred and Jumbo, were both male and yet in my imagination they were also a couple. And most weirdly of all, the engraved pattern of my grandmother’s sideboard looked, to my young eyes, like a man’s bare legs and boots, a pattern repeated on both doors of the sideboard so that it looked for all the world like two men flat on their backs with their trousers off and their boots in the air. I found it weird that nobody else had ever noticed this or even commented on it, and also the fact that whatever they were doing, they’d decided to keep their boots on. To this day, I’ve always had a thing about legs.
I can’t remember much from the age of three. Perhaps times were hard and I was affected by the certain malaise or ennui easily associated with those who feel their lives are going nowhere. At the age of four I started school and I discovered that other people existed outside of my own family group. I found it inconceivable that people could have birthdays on a day that wasn’t the second of January. In a bizarre quirk of fate, I shared my birthday with my dad, my uncle, my great uncle and my grandfather, and it didn’t help matters that one of the first friends I met in school also had his birthday on the same day. In a deep and philosophical moment I might even be tempted to say that this deconstructed the obvious and laid the foundations for a variance in all things, souls dancing in the overbearing consciousness of the mind of a four year old who would later revel in difference and the position of the outcast, but what it actually meant was that it was always someone’s birthday other than my own. And when my own did come around, I had to share the cake.

The other major thing that I discovered at school was writing. From the age of six I became somewhat precious, at all times aware that I was a tortured genius and that I had literature pulsing through my veins. Or at least, I thought it was literature. I started writing because I wanted to have a book published like the books that my mother had in the case on the landing at the top of the stairs. I wanted to see my name next to those who’d written the books which she cherished and held forever in semi-reverence behind the sliding glass door of the MFI cabinet which dad had swore profusely while putting together one weekend. The volumes within seemed to have their own aura and mystique, and I knew that truth and reality were kept behind their slightly crumpled spines. I wanted to be treasured as much as these titans, these philosophers, that my mother would, ever so proudly, hold me in as much esteem as she held Jilly Cooper. I could feel the literature within me, or at least, I thought it was literature. In actual fact there was probably hardly anything of any literary worth until I was around ten. Each day my mother would drag me off to school and I would only ever be truly happy if it was raining, because rain meant that we could stay indoors during break time and not run around the school playground. We were given paper on which to draw, but I found that I filled up the paper much more effectively if I wrote instead. I’d use turquoise felt tip pen. And as the rain beat against the plate glass window of our county first school, my head would be transported to all kinds of places, my imagination fascinated with the possibility that the characters I’d invented could do absolutely anything. It rained a lot that year, and before long I had a novel.
My school was very religious and we had Bible readings every day and double Bible readings on a Thursday. In my mind the adventures of the characters in the Bible were easily comparable to the adventures of the characters in my novel, and if the Bible was an example of storytelling, believability, authenticity and gritty reality, then I knew that I’d got it spot on. For this reason I decided to call my first novel ‘Bible 2: Revenge of the Bible’, but my deeply religious teachers seemed to be dead against this idea.
‘You can’t call it that!
‘Why not? It’s just as good as the first one’.
‘The Bible is the word of God! It’s a sacred text! A lot of people could become very offended’.
‘Well, Bible 2 is the word of me!’
‘How dare you!’
‘And it’s got dogs in it!’
Because all of the characters were dogs, for some reason.
‘It’s the word of dog!
A comment which did not go down too well In the event I settled on a far less provocative, though oddly postmodernistic and even minimalist title, calling the novel ‘R’, because ‘R’ was the first letter of my name and, therefore, quite important indeed.
It is true to say that my career stagnated for the next four years or so and it wasn’t until middle school that my writing started to flourish in any meaningful way. In the meantime I’d continued writing and I would spend almost all of my spare time concocting stories and short works and there was a brief flurry of excitement when I was eight and, possibly to shut me up, my mother sent a manuscript to Penguin Books. I couldn’t see how they could possibly reject the works I’d sent, but alas the editors didn’t quite see how my manuscript could fit in with their publishing strategy and the novel never came about. It is true to say that I saw a niche in the market for novels about dogs flying through space and solving crimes, it’s only a shame that Penguin Books failed to share my excitement.
One person who did share my excitement was my teacher, Mister Shaw. There were two things amazing and astounding about Mister Shaw. The first was that he was a man. This was the first time I’d ever seen a man in a position of power and there was something liberating about this. It didn’t matter that he was as camp as Christmas, (as my Dad described him), or that he walked as if he had a roll of lino under his arm (as my Dad described him), what mattered was that he was a symbol for equality and made me believe that anything was possible. I’d imagine him each night going home to his wife and telling her about his day, and she being ever so supportive of his achievements. The second amazing thing about Mister Shaw was that he was the first person who took my writing seriously
Yes, I know that my mother wrote to Penguin Books. (Come to think of it, I’ve never seen any actual proof that she ever did). But Mister Shaw saw in me a talent which would one day envelope the world and make me synonymous with deep, powerful and engaging literature. He also saw that my career had been stagnating and was the first person to suggest that perhaps I might like to have human beings as the protagonists of my work rather than dogs. This was one of the most shocking things that had ever been said to me, but that night I went home and wrote a novel about a man called Bill, who was an Olympic skier who solved crimes in his spare time. The next day I took it back in to school and Mister Shaw asked me to read it out to the class
‘Really?’
‘Yes, Go for it. What’s the point in writing if you’re never going to have an audience?’
A performer was bom that day, dear reader With the rapt attention of Class 4, in the cosy confines of our prefabricated classroom hut on the edge of the school playing field, I read the stories of Bill the crime solving Olympic skier, and his comedy sidekick Ed, and Ed’s incredibly fierce wife Lenda. And I put everything into my performance, using different voices for the characters and the narrator, and the class watched on both aghast and unable to disguise their mirth that a comedy
performance genius studied each day among them. It was a reading worthy of note, as engaging as it was shocking and the whole hut resounded to my sonorous tones as each one of my classmates sat on the edges of their chairs, barely able to contain the excitement. And when my two minutes was up, Mister Shaw announced that this would be a daily occurrence.
And so it continued until the novel was done, until the end of the term by which time, to cater for the class and its insatiable appetite for more Bill and Ed stories,(which certainly did not lead me to getting beaten to a pulp each break time), I’ d written several more volumes. Bill and Ed became mini celebrities, and I longed for each day when I could, for just a short period, have everyone’s full attention. Even my closest friends would show their support and remark on my achievement with phrases such as, ‘Wow, you’ve certainly written quite a lot of these’, and, Please, tell me how the novel ends’, and, ‘How many more of these are you going to write?’

Little did I know that these would be the glory years, as far as my writing was concerned. Never again would I feel the undiluted support of my peers or the critical acclaim of my own literary output. By the time I left middle school I felt, what with having fifty two novels under my belt, that I would now to be regarded as something of a veteran of the literary scene. ‘Prolific’ does not even come close to describing the work that I churned out during this period, working on novels scratched in exercise books at every spare moment I could find. I can remember a family holiday in Hastings, walking back to the caravan park with my parents down a narrow country lane, feeling a new exercise book in my hand and the excitement of all the adventures that my characters would have. I must have been insufferably boring.

Xxxx

Going to secondary school could very well have ended my writing career. There was far too much going on now: homework, studying, the giddying swirl of hormones that suddenly necessitated appearing as ‘cool’ as the most pressing matter of every single moment, the bruises and psychological torture of getting beaten to a pulp every break time for not appearing ‘cool’, and a growing fascination with the same sex. My secondary school was huge, a factory for learning placed in a dank suburb of west London fed by the smaller middle schools of the surrounding area, a sprawling network of buildings and tower blocks, sports halls and annexes home to well over two thousand pupils, most of whom are currently now in prison. This sudden influx of new faces meant that I was surrounded by hundreds of young men of my own sex who were, overwhelmingly, much better looking than any of the losers I’d been to middle school with. Yet throughout the mental strain of trying to be cool while at the same time being beaten up for not being cool and concurrently trying to act cool about being beaten up for not being cool, I still wrote. I thought, misguidedly as it would seem, that it would make me cool.
The whole of my first year there was a dizzying splurdge of self-realisation and deep loathing. How wonderfully would this have been as inspiration for my writing, had I not still been ploughing ahead with the Bill and Ed stories and their adventures as crime-fighting Olympic skiers. Perhaps this constant writing might even have taken my mind off the sudden throbbing lust I felt for certain classmates, the agony of spending so much time with them and yet incapable of letting anyone know lest I should be revealed to be that most despised individual, a homosexual. For this was the nineteen eighties, and the only representative media depictions of my own self were as comedy high camp with humorous punchlines, or dangerous subversives threatening the very moral stability of society itself.
The regular break time beatings began to subside after the first year. The boys who beat me up could see that there really was no sense to it, no enjoyment in these daily pummellings, because something had changed in me. I’d discovered comedy. It’s all very well demonstrating your prowess to various friends and onlookers by repeatedly punching a first year student in the face, but this seems less attractive when that first year student says something so incredibly funny, truthful and personally hurtful that your various friends and onlookers burst out laughing at your expense.
In a bizarre twist of fate, I’d discovered New York Jewish stand up comedy and I would memorise routines and one-liners, quips and put downs that seemed to play very well to the breaktime bully crowd. ‘Don’t stop’, I’d yell, ‘I’m almost at an orgasm!’, even though I didn’t yet know what an orgasm was. ‘I’d say pick on someone your own size, but the nearest gorillas are in the zoo’. ‘I knew you were coming, I could hear your knuckles dragging’. That would take another thirty years. I had nothing to lose, it’s impossible to get beaten up while already being in the process of getting beaten up. And the reason I’d discovered New York Jewish stand-up was because I’d been given a long distance radio by my uncle and I could tune in to radio stations from anywhere in the world. I’d found a comedy station by accident and would listen to it to try and help me sleep.
Armed with a sudden love of comedy writing and emboldened by my first ever successful application of this for pure personal gain, buoyed also by the feeling of playing to an audience and getting laughs, and then adding homosexuality to the mix, I would write. And I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

If you thought I couldn’t possibly get any more annoying at this stage with my writing, then you’d be wrong, as fortune decreed that I would be able to do just that. My grandparents gave me an old 1950s Olivetti typewriter, a chunky, clunky old metal box of a thing on which you’d have to press down each key really, really hard to get any sort of mark on the page. The silent pursuit of writing in pen in an exercise book now became an activity which all of the family could enjoy, as the act of composition was now such a cacophonous affair, a byproduct of this metal behemoth of a machine being that the whole house shook, creaked and rumbled every time I did any amount of typing. Within a few weeks I’d taught myself to type with two fingers and become seriously addicted to the smell of correction fluid. The letter E was the worst, it would stick every time I used it, so much so that I would set some of my novels in Wales just because the place names didn’t use so many vowels. Even now, thirty years later while typing on an iPad or a computer keyboard, I still press down harder on the letter E than any of the others. The adventures of Bill and Ed continued, though Ed had now been replaced with Justin.
I’d spend hours with that typewriter. The thing was built to last. Indeed, it still works today and I use it often in residencies and as part of art projects. Even at the end of the nineteen eighties it was outdated and finding ribbons for it was a tricky business, a simple writing session would leave me covered in black ink and absolutely physically exhausted. The typewriter was so loud that people would complain. Pedestrians walking past would wonder if there was someone in the house with a machine gun. Pictures would swing back and forth on the wall. My solution to this was that I’d go out and type at a wallpaper pasting table in the garage, but first the wallpaper pasting table broke, and then the neighbours would complain. How was I to know that they were running an illegal minicar business from the adjacent garage?
By the time I left secondary school and went to sixth form, Bill had retired as an Olympic skier and was now a detective. (Why not?). I had a collections of GCSEs good enough to scrape in to doing my A-Levels, though it was probably obvious to everyone but myself that I’d never be good enough for university. The lads I’d fancied from school were far from bright and I’d never see most of them again, only hearing about their exploits through mutual friends or the prosecution court reports in the local paper. By now they were boozy, car obsessed and mostly had girlfriends, though even some of the school bullies would greet me with a cheerful wave, the ones who weren’t now in politics or retail management.

Sixth form college seemed to pass very quickly. To the outside observer it must have looked like I was very industrious indeed. In fact I was so industrious that I didn’t once have time to fall in love, nor did I have time to concentrate on my writing career. I concentrated fully and exclusively on my studies with the idea of escaping from the suburban blandness of my upbringing to some far flung university, where I would get a qualification and then have lots of sex. As it was, I failed miserably in most of my subjects, left college, and got a job cleaning toilets at the local supermarket.
This at least gave me time to concentrate on my writing. How evocative, the sultry night neon, working the late shift and spending twenty minutes in the staff room working on yet another Bill and Justin adventure. The supermarket was huge, a purpose built facility with twenty aisles and a basement car park. At least I didn’t bring my typewriter with me. I kept a notebook with me at all times on my cleaners trolley, just next to the chlorine tabs and the bleach, this being a period well before health and safety. My refuge away from the world, just like my grandfathers shed, turned out to be the mop cupboard under the stairs next to the chiller cabinets, a bolt hole away from the busyness of the supermarket where I could write unhindered before the fumes took over and I became lightheaded.
It was around this time that two things happened which would send me off in a completely new literary path. The first was that I discovered the writings of Frank Kafka. This was, on the whole, a bad thing, because it opened my mind to several miserable possibilities and taught me that it’s all very well and good being funny, but a damn good mope will get you all the attention you need. How enamoured I became at the writings of this modernist insurance clerk with the manic stare and the preoccupation with never quite getting in to things. I became obsessed with the very image of him more than I did his actual work. How I wanted to be him! How I wanted to be that the lonely, pale, existentialist icon beavering away on his manuscripts in an almost mystical trance, sat at his desk looking out over the slate tile rooftops of Prague. I wanted to be the new Kafka, coming home after a hard day scrubbing urinals and mopping up god knows what from wazza floor, to create the most amazingly miserable short stories in which all hope has been long obliterated. In such a manner I took down my bedroom net curtains and turned my desk around so that I might similarly work while gazing upon the urban sprawl of my own imaginary ghetto. Yet the view from my window was not of cobbled lanes or the close packed tenements of the Prague old town, but of back gardens, barbecues, trampolines, conservatories, compost heaps and garden sheds.
How assiduously did I mimic Kafka’s style, discarding all trace of comedy for sense paragraphs, non-standard punctuation and visionary allegorical hints verging on mystical. ‘The Bus’ was an early classic, a short novel set on a bus ticking over at a bus stop but never actually going anywhere. Then I wrote ‘The Train’, about a train which pulls into the station but never leaves. I then wrote a novel called ‘The Ticket’, about a man who, without actually having done anything wrong, gets a parking ticket. Then I wrote ‘Metaphorisis’, a novel about a fly who wakes up one morning to find that he is a travelling salesman. In a further rash development, I decided that I didn’t even need capital letters, (which were always problematic with my old typewriter), and once a novel was finished I’d send it to a literary magazine, and they’d wrote back very quickly to ask if I was aware that it didn’t have any capital letters.
The other thing that happened was that my grandfather died. He’d had a series of strokes and had been recovering in a nursing home, and was seemingly on the way to a brilliant recovery. Indeed, he seemed to be enjoying the nursing home, and he was in remarkable spirits whenever I’d visit. One day he was told that he was now well enough to go back home and live with my grandmother again the next day, and he died that very night.
Some times, the coroner told us, people just give up all hope.
My father and I cleared away his shed. It was a sacred place for me, and to see it torn down felt more symbolic, as if there were one less place to hide in the world. Yet even at this moment me head was full of Kafka, almost as if I should embrace the sadness and the hopelessness of life. As a day out and a pleasant change from cleaning toilets, my parents took me to the coroners office to sign the official death certificate, which was done by a very eccentric official wearing a multicoloured bow tie and with a moustache that I can only describe as exuberant. He signed the paperwork with a fountain pen, his handwriting as artistic and as lurid as his facial hair, and that very afternoon I bought a fountain pen for myself. I have used it to write every single creative piece ever since.
By the time I was twenty, then, I was a completely different writer and success seemed just round the corner. I had a pen and a typewriter and a head full of dreams and a view of the world that was entirely unique, (except that some Czech writer from the beginning of the century had had one or two similar ideas). Success and literary greatness seemed just round the next corner. I was going to be a famous writer!

Not much happened for the next twenty years.
It seemed inconceivable that none of the great publishing houses wanted any of my experimental Kafkaesque pieces. After all, weren’t these the same publishing houses that were falling over each other for such material in the 1930s? Couldn’t they see that I was just as innovative as these existentialist titans, and that really, no progress had been made in literature at all in the following eighty years? The people that ran these publishing companies couldn’t possibly be as well read as me. I’d read all of Kafka’s stories and I understood well over half of them, and I’d not even spotted a single spelling error in any of them. And my novels came with the added bonus of invented punctuation, no capitalisations and, in the one novel which I knocked up over a frenzied weekend while the snooker was on, not one single letter M. Nevertheless the enthusiasm stayed with me, and when my parents decided, supposedly on a whim, to move out of the suburbs and off to the provinces. I decided, like many a displaced writer before me, to come along with them.
By now I was no longer a sullen youth. No more the emotional despondency of early adulthood, for I had brightened considerably, adopting all the nuance of the urban moper. Transposed to the provinces and a small city in the middle of nowhere, I became a Londoner, a mysterious metropolitan outsider to whose drab outer garments the fog of the capital still lingered, even if I actually came from the suburbs west of the airport and had probably only been on a tube train six times. The way of life in the sticks was much slower, and the attitudes of the locals tended towards the more conservative. I felt that I had made a mistake. I also felt, or at least, had a nagging doubt, that I would ever make anything from my writing. One particularly anonymous morning I put my pen to paper to begin a new novel about a man who would never make it in to the local cinema where he was queuing, and would simultaneously metamorphose into a badger, when I suddenly thought, well, really, what’s the point?
And I put the pen down.
I found a job in retail management in the selling of pencils. I went through several fashions and styles. Surfer dude, skater boy, sports jock, gentleman, hipster, chap, chav, businessman, loafer. My hair varied from mullet to curtains, side parting, centre parting, down at the front and spiked at the back, spiked at the back and down at the front, dyed blonde, dyed gray, dyed red. It was a busy six months. I cannot keep track of all these personalised metamorphoses.
By now I lived in my own rented flat over a shop in a seaside town. It suited me just fine, and I felt very content being there, apart from the boredom and the loneliness and the meaningless of my existence and the lack of opportunity and the lack of any kind of companionship and the inherent lingering suspicion that life was running away from me. I decided that maybe I needed some culture, something beyond the strange fungus that grew on the walls of the adjacent bus station. I needed something intellectually stimulating.
I went to a performance poetry night in a small arts cafe in the next town. I found my intellectual fulfilment. A variety of poets, primarily men, spewed comedy verse about baked beans or cricket or the pitfalls of putting together flat pack furniture, and while it didn’t rhyme or seem particularly poetic, the audience loved it and applauded enthusiastically. The thing is, none of it seemed very good. None of it seemed as funny as the stories I’d written all those years before at middle school. There were some amazing lines and some good rhythms, but on the whole I was distinctly underwhelmed, and yet the audience were amazed. A poem about sending a naughty text message to the vicar by mistake was written with such a lack of artistic clout and existentialist depth that I’d have been embarrassed to read it out, yet the audience went wild and clamoured for more. A lifetime of writing and a thousand rejection slips melted from my mind to be replaced by a new thought, I could do this! How long would it take to write something like this? Ten minutes? And look at the audience, bent over double in tears of laughter just because someone used the word ‘nob’. I could do this!
‘Yeah, sure’, the MC said, at the end of the night when I asked him for a slot at the next month’s event. ‘I’m always willing to give a slot to a newcomer’.
‘Actually, I’ve been writing for . . .’, I replied, then cut my answer short. ‘I mean, thanks, Thanks so much!’

I wish I lived in a bungalow

I wish I lived in a bungalow

I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.
Mooching round my bungalow
What shall I have for my tea?
People would call
They’d stand in the hall
They’d look around
And say is that all?
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
I’d go from room to room
I’d only need to use one plug
Whenever I use the vacuum.
It’s ever so static
The fridge automatic
And going upstairs
Only leads to the attic
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or possibly a chalet.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
It’s like a home in half
Talking about my bungalow
Only makes people laugh
I ignore their glares
Or shout, who cares?
There is no cupboard
Under the stars
I wish I lived in a bungalow
Or perhaps a ground floor flat.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
With roses round the door.
When people visit my bungalow
I say, this is the ground floor.
My heart is empty
Depravity
It’s easy to fight
The gravity
I wish I lived in a bungalow
I’d sleep closer to planet earth.

I wish I lived in a bungalow
I’d get right down to business
Living there in my bungalow
No fear of altitude sickness
I’d make my stamp
Buy a standard lamp
I must admit
It’s kind of camp
I wish I lived in a bungalow
One floor is enough for me.

The Curse of the Green Pouffe

The Curse of the Green Pouffe

Strung from lamp post to lamp post, the multicoloured fairy lights wiggled, jiggled and jumped in the wind. An angry sea scratched at the pebble beach. Flecks of sand stung cold raw cheeks. It was dusk.
The world seemed obsolete, nullified by the obviousness of the season. Decay, frost-shredded painted gaiety and cartoon characters diminished by the elements, painted on shuttered ice cream shacks.
‘It’s heaving down here in the summer’, I tell him.
‘How far is it to your flat?’
‘Just a road away. I thought we’d make a detour, so you could see, the, erm . . .’.
We walk huddled hands in coat pockets.
‘You look like your profile picture’.
‘So do you’.
I like the way that the wind ruffles his hair. His cheekbones are much more pronounced than I thought they would be.
‘Wild’, I whisper, meaning the weather.
‘Sorry?’
And he’s slightly taller than me.
There are lights on the horizon out at sea, ships sheltering in the bay, and they twinkle and pulse just like stars, and if it weren’t so cold then maybe I could create my own constellations.
‘I’m cold’, he points out.
And the multicoloured fairy lights throw down a glow which gives us several overlapping shadows, our two forms merged and combined like a pack of cards being shuffled. The iron legs of the old pier stride in to the angry sea like a Victorian lady holding up her petticoats,
‘Really cold’, he says.
‘When we get to my flat’, I tell him, ‘you’ll be warm enough’.

‘What’s that?’, he said, pointing at the pouffe.
‘It’s a pouffe’, I replied.
He walks around the living room, warily, looking at it from several angles.
‘What does it do?’
‘You put your legs on it when you’re sitting on the sofa’.
‘It’s green’.
‘Yes’.
‘Yewwww . . .’.
‘Shall we just sit down and, er, warm up and . .’.
‘With that thing, there?’
I sit down. He lingers for a bit, and then he sits down, too. We look at each other and we smile.
‘I really liked your profile’, I tell him. ‘We’ve got a lot in common, haven’t we? It was great to chat online, but I’m so glad we’ve met’.
‘Seriously’, he says, ‘it’s called a pouffe?’
‘Yes . .’.
He looks at it for several seconds.
‘I can put it out on the landing if you like, if you’ve got a . . . Phobia’.
‘It’s still been in here, though’.
‘Put it out if your mind’.
He smiles.
‘I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to’.
And then neither of us says anything for a while. I can hear the clock ticking on the mantelpiece.
‘A green pouffe . . .’.
‘Yes’.
He sighs, leans back in his chair.
‘I was in the jungle’, he whispers. ‘They said I was green. Green meant new, apparently. But I was more likely green because I just felt so unwell. The food, you see . . . And everything in the jungle was green, too. Have you ever really looked at the colour green? There are so many varieties. Green leaves, moss, bark, more leaves, green everywhere. And I felt so bad, I really did feel ill.’
‘That’s a shame. Let’s snuggle . . .’.
‘They reckon I had some sort of disease, brought about by flies. Mosquitoes, probably. They do things to the mind, and affect the way that we see the world. You can never tell how it’s going to go. But with me, it was the effect of everything. The greenery. The predominance of the colour green, just kind of crowded in on me. Made me lose my senses, in a way’.
‘Jeez. So, let’s fool around a bit, you and me. .’
‘And the greenery, it did things to me. I became obsessed. We were there to film a documentary, you see. About slugs, and I was the only newbie there, the only green member of the team. And as I say, I was throwing up the whole time . . ‘.
‘You never mentioned the throwing up.’
I try to put my arm around his shoulders, but he stands up and looks out the window.
‘Sure! A never ending spume of it. I was having visions, it was like some kind of hideous trance that the jungle had put my under. So they flew me home. And the film company, they paid to send me out and recuperate in the countryside. But the countryside, oh, have you ever been to the countryside?’
‘Every now and then. Say, aren’t you hot wearing that big jumper? And those . . Jeans?’
‘There was greenery everywhere. Greenery and scenery. And the scenery was mostly green. There were fields and trees and the fields and trees were green. Especially the evergreens. The greenest evergreens I had ever seen. And there was moss and dappled sun and rhododendrons. And there were villages and villages greens. And the village greens were green. And everyone out there eats their greens. And also some of the tractors were green.’
‘Fascinating. Say, has anyone ever said what nice lips you have? Very kissable . .’.
‘So then I came back to the city . .’.
(‘Here we go . .’).
‘ . . And there was lots of green here, too. The Starbucks logo is mostly green. And so is the fungus in the bus station. And my friend Pete’s car is green. And so is the tie I was wearing yesterday. And the traffic lights are occasionally green. Red, mostly, and amber, and red and amber, but occasionally green. And salt and vinegar crisp packets. Again, green. And the District Line is green. And it passes through Turnham Green. And even though the neon signs are multicoloured, you could probably turn ’em green. Green. Everything is green.’
‘Yes, it is somewhat ubiquitous’.
‘And it does things to me. All this green. It really does affect me very badly. I can’t stand it. I get flashbacks. Green flashbacks. You’ve got to understand’.
I laid my hand on his leg and made a mental note not to include broccoli with dinner.
‘I’ll move the pouffe’, I whisper. ‘Take it away from here, if that makes you feel any better. And then I’ll start on the dinner’.
He smiles.
‘Thank you ‘, he replies. ‘I’m sorry. But it really is giving me the willies’.
I get up and I move the pouffe outside where he can’t see if, and then I come and rejoin him on the sofa.
‘Oh my god’, he says. ‘Is that footstool over there beige? Oh no! I was in the desert, you see, surrounded by miles and miles of beige sand, when I started to feel very ill . . .’.
I let out a deep sigh, lean back on the sofa, and I start peeling an orange.

Elvis Impersonator, Newton Abbot Station

Elvis Impersonator, Newton Abbot Station

Have you ever gone through life thinking, wow, there are a lot of incredibly eccentric people out there? And then had that weird thing happen when you get all philosophical and start to wonder whether the weird people are actually the normal ones? What sort of person goes through life only caring what other people think about them?
I love eccentricity. In fact, were it not for the glaringly obvious, I’d love to be eccentric, too. I keep looking forward to being an old man, and having found my niche in the world of eccentricity, some kind of little quirk that I might expand and make all my own. And I don’t mean sitting on a park bench and barking at people, or being that man who used to walk around Paignton while wearing rabbit ears. I want to cultivate something epic, a kind of intellectual eccentricity, like Ivor Cutler, or Gilbert and George.
I haven’t seen Rabbit Ears for a few years, now. There was something almost graceful about him, the way he’d walk upright and with aristocratic bearing, and yet with a pair of rabbit ears perched right on top of his head. I remember one day my dad made a very rare excursion by bus into the town where I live, and sure enough, on the way home again, Rabbit Ears came and sat in the seat next to him. Dad spent the whole journey kind of looking at him out of the corner of his eye, while everything else pretended that he wasn’t there. And it was only when a kid came on that the silence was broken.
‘Mum, why is that man wearing rabbit ears?’
‘Shush!’
‘But why?’
‘Just be quiet!’
I wouldn’t say that I’d particularly have the bravery to walk around with a pair of rabbit ears, but there’s something distinctly charming and almost comforting about eccentricity.

One of the more interesting aspects of being a spoken word artist is that it involves a lot of late night travel. Gigs usually end around eleven at night and then I have to find my way either home or to the town where I’m staying. It’s usually considered polite to wait until the end of a gig, though I have snuck off early every now and then over the years. If I’m performing in London, for example, I usually stay in Woking, so that means a late night commute out to the suburbs. Which actually isn’t too bad. The trains are frequent and fast and I’ve never once been mugged, or at least, not knowingly. It’s possible during this time that someone has tried to mug me, but due to the fact that I often wear earphones at such times, I might possibly have mistaken it for a genial yellow or an enquiry as to the time. And there are plenty of people around, even on those late night trains. In fact there’s a weird kind of bleary eyed camaraderie, that we are all just winding down now, intent on getting home before midnight. In ten years of gigging, nothing bad has ever happened. I’ve also caught late night trains from Gloucester to Cheltenham, or Bath to Bristol, or Cambridge to London, or Oxford to Reading, and every single time I’ve felt safe and surrounded by people, even on the platforms.
Devon, on the other hand, is a whole different matter. Things are different in Devon. For a start, the trains are much smaller, shabbier, and seem to rock from side to side more than they go forwards. The trains are diesel powered, too. Which means that they seem to make a straining over exerted sound before they’ve even moved away from the station platform, shuddering and rocking and juddering until with a mighty effort they start creeping forward. And the stations they arrive at are dark, deserted, downright creepy and miles from anywhere.
And the other passengers. Wow, the other passengers are scary. There’s something about the train service in Devon, mainly because it’s the only public transport to some of these deserted rural communities, that seems to attract, if one must put it politely, prolific drinkers. Not only prolific, but vocal, too. Even if they’re travelling along and they’ve never met anyone else on the train, they have to kind of shout above the roar of the engines, which admittedly, are very loud. Even the most normal conversation sounds like a punch up and it’s not a good place to be for those of a nervous disposition. Cider is often the main beverage of choice, and I’ve begun to see those brown two little bottles as a symbol of potential trouble. The earphones come in handy. I’ve often listened to Radio Four over a background of what sounds like a full blown riot.
Mind you, I’ve always felt relaxed about public transport in Devon. I once managed to catch a bus from Newton Abbot to Paignton with my eyes shut, and nothing bad happened to me at all. The reason for this is that I had an eye examination at the hospital and a friend, Mark, had come along to make sure that everything went ok. The hospital asked me to bring someone, and it soon became apparent that this was because they were going to give me eye drops which would blur my vision and make me blind. This they duly did, and once my appointment was over, they let me go. But that was ok, I reasoned, because I had Mark with me. Mark would protect me, wouldn’t he?
Bless him, he made sure that I got to the bus stop okay. And then he said, ‘Right, good luck with getting home, I’m off’.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’m going shopping. Do you really think I’d come out all this way and not go round the shops? Anyway, let me know when you’re home. Send me a text’.
‘But I won’t be able to see my phone!’
‘It’s in your pocket. Right then, see you later’.
And off he went.
I’ll never know how I managed to get home. There was a lot of fumbling involved and as luck would have it at the time, I happened to live near the bus station.
But Devon’s stations are a whole different matter.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Newton Abbot doing a bit of train-surfing. Train-surfing, I hear you ask. What’s he going on about? Train-surfing is a method I use so that I don’t have to get the local service all the way from Exeter to Paignton. It’s usually full of drunks and ne’erdowells and it clatters along like a bouncy castle and it’s really most uncomfortable in every way you can think of. If you don’t get rattled to bits, you run the risk of a cider bottle over he head if you look at someone funny, or else some drunk is challenging everyone to an impromptu game of Buckaroo. So if I get in it at Exeter Central, then I get off it one stop later at Exeter St David’s and catch the fast service as far as Newton Abbot. The fast service is more comfortable and doesn’t stop at all the stations, and the scrotes tend to stay on the little local train.
That’s Train-surfing.
The only downside with this is that you then have to spend twenty minutes or so at Newton Abbot station, waiting for the little local service to catch up. And you know what they say about the place. At Newton Abbot station, nobody can hear you scream. However, even this is preferable to the late night local service. Or the Rat Pee Special, as Mark calls it. On account of the odours emanating from the on board toilets.
So there I am at Newton Abbot the having train surfed from Exeter. The stars are out and it’s pretty cold. My only company on the platform is the Neon coming from the Coca cola drinks machine. I’ve got my iPad for company and I’ve been listening to a comedy album, but now the local service to Paignton was just about to arrive. I’m looking, expectantly, into the gloom, waiting for the headlights of the train and it’s familiar strained diesel whine. And I, just pondering on an idea I’ve just had for a stage play called Dr Jeckyll And Mr Humprhreys, when an Elvis impersonator shambles along the platform.
Yes, an elvis Impersonator.
And he was drunk.
‘Excuse me’, quoth he, ‘Do you like Elvis?’
Now I know this is sort of like seeing a vicar or a priest and the first thing them saying is ‘Do you like Jesus?’ But it actually happened. This was the very first thing that he asked. And he was dressed like Elvis.
‘He’s okay’, I replied.
‘Them people’, he said, pointing in a kind of drunk way to the town of Newton Abbot in general, ‘keep laughing at me’.
The man is dressed as Elvis.
‘How come?’
‘They only care that Elvis died on the toilet. I keep telling them that there’s more than that. He made great music. But all they care about was that he died on the toilet’.
‘He died on the toilet?’
I didn’t know this for a fact, and I’d assumed that it was an urban legend.
‘Yeah. And they’re laughing at me because of it’.
I’ve never really liked Elvis, but I didn’t want to tell him this. I appreciate that he had a good voice and some good songs, and a certain rapport with his audience, but I’ve never really rated him as one of my favourite singers.
‘Do you like Elvis?’ he asked.
Well, here we go, I thought. But in my defence I was tired, and it had been a long day, and the fact that I had just performed to tens of people in Exeter kind of made me feel a little invincible.
‘He was ok. But for me, the best singer of that period was Roy Orbison’.
Now, I’ve told this story to a friend of mine and she said that this is the moment when the whole encounter could have gone tits up. He could have reacted badly. He could have lunged for me, for example, and beckme ever so violent and I could have finished my days dead, on Newton Abbot station platform, hacked to death by an Elvis Impersonator. But instead he seemed to take it very calmly and he said,
‘I love Roy Orbison! He was the best! Well, apart from Elvis, that is’.
‘That voice’, I ventured.
‘Yes! Oh man, he had such an amazing voice. Almost like an opera singer! That high note he hits in that song, what is it now . . .’.
‘Only the Lonely?’, I suggested.
‘Yes! It sends shivers down my spine. Oh wow, Roy Orbison was amazing.’
‘But not as amazing as Elvis, eh?’
‘Well’, he said, kind of standing back from me a little bit and doing something of an Elvis pose which involved a strange spasm of the leg, ‘That goes without saying’.
By now the train was coming in and I decided that I didn’t want to be stuck with a drunk Elvis impersonator for the rest of the journey, so I decided on a cunning plan. I would let him get on and then run down to the next carriage., seeing as though it was obvious that we were both waiting for the same train. I would pretend, in a very sneaky manner, that I was waiting for a train after his. Even though there was no train. This was the last service of the night.
‘Here’s your train’ I said to him.
‘You are’, he said, ‘a good bloke’.
And then he started that drunk persons thing that drunk men do when they decide that they have to shake your hand and kind of sum up everything they know about you.
‘You’re a good bloke. And I’ve really enjoyed talking. Such a good bloke. If I ever see you in the pub I will buy you a pint. Such a good bloke you are. Roy Orbison! Ha ha ha. You’re such a good bloke. You’re a really good bloke. Now come here and shake my hand. Roy Orbison! So good to meet you. Yeah. Roy Orbison. Elvis, man! And Roy Orbison. So good to meet a good person’. He said all this while shaking my hand.
At this point I realised that if I didn’t get on the train I’d miss it altogether. ‘You’d better get on’, I said, looking at the guard.
And as I watched him stumble on board, I managed to time it to perfection, running down to the next carriage and jumping on just as the guard blew his whistle.
I spent the rest of the journey hiding in the next carriage, squeezed up against the wall hoping that the Elvis impersonator didn’t see me.
As my friend Anne says, I seem to attract these sorts of people.

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

The Ballad of Josh McGrew

When it’s forty below and the tent is so cold
And icicles cling in your beard.
Your sleeping bag barely is much of a comfort
And life is as bad as you feared.
The howl of a wolf in the lonely cold woods
Sends shudders of primordial guilt
And the hunger which pangs like the wolf’s wild fangs
Demolishes the life that you built.

The moon is aglow in a sky filled with stars
And the forest is ominously dead.
Your senses acute, the sole of a boot
You can hear with each rhythmical tread.
The great northern lights light up the night
Like fingers of phosphorus fire.
And if any damn fool say they don’t question it all
Then they would be surely a liar.

And if that’s not enough you’re feeling quite rough
And parts of you are starting to whiff.
You’re out of hair gel in your own private hell
And in the mornings you’re ever so stiff.
You watched as a bear ran off with your iPad
And an otter peed in your shoe.
And your beef flavoured Pringles had a bad best before date
And without Netflix there’s not much to do.

The endless Wild woods seem to go on forever
And the wifi signal is patchy.
You haven’t had a chance to do a good laundry
And your pants feel uncomfortably scratchy.
You let out a cuss word when you lost your password
While changing your status on Facebook.
You rolled over last night and had such a fright
When a pine needle stuck in your buttock.

The last time you went on a trek such as this
Was in Wetherspoons finding the loos.
And your Instagram post hasn’t had many likes
And your selfie was facebombed by a moose.
And there’s twigs in your hair and twigs in your socks
And there’s probably twigs up your bum
And there’s twigs in your crisps and twigs in your soup
And you hope it’s not the same twigs that have been up your bum.

The mountains loom like mountains tend to do
And loneliness points at your scowling.
And you feel sleep deprived and just half alive
Because the stupid wolves kept on howling.
And you feel with a quiver, if fortune were a giver
Then to you he’s been something of a miser.
You decide that next time you log on online
You’ll moan about it on Trip Adviser.

On Roseanne and other cock-ups.

I know exactly how Roseanne feels. I’ve never taken Ambien, but I had some hay fever pills once which knocked me out, and I made some very disparaging comments about The Netherlands, which even now I deeply regret. I also once took a paracetamol – just the one, mind you – and I scowled at a bus driver.

I decided I would look back through history and see what else was caused by a dose of Ambien, and the results were quite astonishing. The destruction of the library at Alexandria was due to a particularly potent blend following nights of insomnia. Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. Ambien. The visitor from Porlock who ruined Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. Ambien. (Actually, the visitor probably saved millions of school kids from having to plough their way through another weighty epic, so that was probably a good thing). And that rapper. You know the one. Who made all of those homophobic tweets a couple of years ago. That was all down to eating a gone off plumb.

Once a set of occurrences has been put in motion, one never knows what the consequences might be. I took a vitamin pill this morning and I’m already watching what I say. Perhaps this blog is a result of it. Just a small amount of chemistry in our bloodstream, and we change entirely. And it’s amazing, how some pills make some people suddenly racist, whereas before they would definitely not show any such symptoms. Didn’t that Farage bloke once blame one of his social media rants as being a result of a lack of sleep? I’ve had a lack of sleep often, particularly when travelling, and never once become a Nazi. Perhaps it effects some people more than others. And poor Katie Hopkins, she must be kept up every night.

We all react differently when there’s something in our bloodstream. One only needs to hang around in Paignton on a Saturday night to see what the usual cocktail of booze and other substances has on the average person, turning a law abiding citizen into a ne’erdowell of the highest calibre. Those silly hats and stuffed donkeys that people come back from Spain with. Tattoos, acquired in drunken nights out, misspelling the names of fleeting loved ones. I once had a small white wine and then bought a Steps CD.

So I know how she feels. The fact that she constantly has to police herself from making silly comments in normal discourse and only forgets to do this when she’s had an insomnia pill demonstrates that a certain amount of social editing was always occurring. And that poor sap in the White House, my goodness, he must be very, very tired.

 

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Weird objects in the sky that I have seen.

Last night I watched a documentary about alien abductions. It was a terrible programme and it really did waste one hour of my life. However, it did remind me of the occasions in which I have seen weird objects in the sky which I’ve not been able to explain.

I am a logical person with an interest in science and aviation. Since I was a kid, I’ve loved aircraft and flying, and I grew up near Heathrow Airport. Because of this, I’d spend a lot of time looking at the planes flying over our house. I knew all the airlines and the different types of aircraft and could distinguish between, for example, the Boeing 747-200 and the Boeing 747-300.

In the late 1980s, my father and I both observed two bright lights in the sky to the west of our house. It was night time and the bright lights were stationery in the sky. They were brighter than the surrounding stars and perfectly parallel with each other. We observed these lights for a few minutes, and then, quick as a flash, they moved to a slightly different part of the sky, still to the west. Naturally, my scientific mind is eager to determine what these might have been. Geostationary satellites is my best guess, for they appeared to be a very long way up in the upper atmosphere. I’m sure that other people must have seen these, too.

The second weird thing I saw must have been also in the late 1980s. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was on the school playing field at break time, at the middle school I was attending. As normal I was doing a bit of plane spotting, when I saw an object floating directly above. It was metallic and reflected the sun from its sides, and triangular, slowly turning, so that the sun on its sides seemed to pulse. I watched it for quite a while, thinking, hmm, I bet they’ve got a good view from up there, and what a beautiful day to be flying, then thought no more of it. It was only when I grew up did I ponder in exactly what it might have been. My best and most boring guess is that it was some kind of helium filled balloon. But where would it have come from? It looked very solid.

The third thing that I saw already has a name and a catalogue of witness accounts. During a ferocious thunderstorm, again in suburban Surrey, a ball of lightning moved very slowly past my bedroom window. I remember it very distinctly, the way that the shadow of my window frame very slowly moved across the room, the way that my drawn curtains lit up with the light from the glowing ball very visible the other side of them. Indeed, this seems to run in our family, as my mother believes that she also saw ball lighting when she was a young adult, actually penetrating the walls of the room she was in at the time and passing right through as if it were a ghost.

And the last thing I saw was the weirdest. In the early 2000s I caught the passenger ferry from Torquay to Brixham across Torbay, again on a very clear, sunny day, only to see what can only be described as a thin sliver of metallic ribbon curling and floating through the sky across the bay, in a westerly direction. It seemed to curl and bend over itself as it moved and there were no obvious signs of propulsion, yet it was very clearly moving. My scientific mind pondered on what it could possibly have been, eventually settling on a Swarm Of Bees or some such insect, but it really did have solidity.

So these are the odd things I’ve seen during my life. I’m open minded as to what they might have been. I’m aware that some might assign them as being of alien origin, though I’m conscious that it might be almost impossible for anything to travel across the vast distances of space. I have never believed in aliens, or at least, in extra terrestrial entities.

On a diet again. (Poem influenced by West End Girls)

Poem

Sometimes you’re better off in bed
There’s a grape in your hand
You wish it was a cake
You think you’re sad
Totally incapable,
The nutrition guidelines and the calorie table
In a restaurant
When you’re on a diet
Call the police there might be a riot
Running down
To the shops
To get a Daim bar
When you’re on a diet.

(On a diet again
It’s such a shame.
You try real hard
But you weigh the same.

On a diet again
It’s a pain in the bum.
You put on two stone
If you eat a crumb.

Eat a crumb).

Too many mars bars
Wispas and whole nuts
Kit Kat’s on posters
Too many doughnuts
Iced
Glazed
Jam
Plain
Which type
Shall I claim?
If you got to count calories
If so how often
Which do you choose
The diet or light option?

How much shall I eat?

(On a diet again
It’s such a drag.
The two stone you lost
Have all come back.

On a diet once more
You’re really glum.
You’d love a hot dog
But you eat a plumb.

Eat a plumb).

You weigh yourself
You’ve lost an eighth of a stone
Just you wait
Till I get this cake home
You’ve got no lettuce
You’ve got no dressing
Lost nothing today
It’s so depressing
For every meal time
Drinks and cocktails
From the drive through McDonald’s
To the weight watchers scales.

(On a diet again
It’s a dead end chore.
I have one portion
Then I have one more.

On a diet again
Let’s just give up
I won’t find happiness
In a slim fast cup.

I just give up.
I just give up.)