Torquay 2 Woking 2
Three hundred or so low guttural individual voices
Combine into a cohesive whole, a chorus of
Feral anticipation as custard coloured titans
Skip on to the pitch, the first among them kind of
Punches limply through a paper hoop
Emblazoned with their team sponsor's logo,
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost,
Three half-hearted palm slaps and then the paper gives way,
These athletic specimens of masculinity and matching socks,
Shiny blue polyester shorts a-gleam under the spotlights,
Back slaps and star jumps, half-hearted jogging,
While the opposing team, who must have had an
Awfully long bus ride, kind of slouch on to the field,
Mooching along the sides of the pitch like slugs around lettuce.
I'd brought a book to read assuming there would be seats.
Instead I was pressed up against the lanky frame of an
Ever so friendly thought unusually potty-mouthed
A rote of a lad who replica custard coloured shirt
Had last year's sponsor, McClintock's Polystyrene Coving Ltd.,
And who suggested at top column that the home team
Might like to consider breaking the fucking legs of the opposition.
Someone then tried to start a chant going,
'Oh we do like to beat them beside the seaside!
We're gonna beat you by two or three!'
But it kind of got drowned out
To a chant of 'Put them all in intensive care!
Put them all in intensive care!
Put them all in intensive care!
Captain Ollie's got great hair!'
I have come with a friend who's there for the football
But also to show me the football and he
Made a kind of grimace when I said I'd brought a book.
The home team did some warm up exercises.
'They're dancing!' I said, 'it's all a bit camp, isn't it?'
Number 32 is just my type, bleach blond hair, stubble,
Long legs and snake hips.
'Coooo-eeeee! Over here! Yoooo-hooooo!'
My pal said, 'He's on loan from Bournemouth'.
I said, 'That's okay, I'd give him back in one piece'.
The stadium announcer extols the virtues of both teams
And attests to the veracity of
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost,
And the game begins, number 32s elegant fingers splayed
As he dribbles the ball, like he's a ballet dancer,
Or a gymnast balancing on a beam, though even
The home team audience yells that he's a useless
Time wasting tossbag who gets the ball and does fuck all,
Go back to Bournemouth you useless waste of space.
He's got lovely eyes.
The ground rumbles and thuds as they race from one end
To the other, kicking up clods of grass and winning
The applause of the audience who shout encouragement,
These lads in custard who aim at the goal at the other end,
Someone misses a sitter, someone else scuffs it,
And then the ball goes in the corner and two opposing players
Prance and dance around it like Torville and Dean.
My eyes kind of wander off to the other side
Where twenty or so or the away team supporters chirrup
And you can just make out the faded lettering of
Last years sponsor showing through under a new coat of paint,
McClintock's Polystyrene Coving Ltd. is better than any competition.
Only the word 'tit' is still showing.
My pal has already told me in advance
The skill of number 10, whose speciality is
Less the sublime and precocious nature of his craft,
More his knack for falling over at just the right moment,
Now he goes down like a sack of spuds and the
Audience erupts, apparently this is a good thing,
He's allowed to aim a ball at the keeper and boom,
In it goes, I almost spill my cup of tea
As I'm jostled and the lad next to me flings
His arms around my neck, jumps up and down, the
Tea oscillates as I breathe in his Lynx Africa antiperspirant,
I must say I enjoy it a lot.
And now I want number 10 to fall over again.
Wouldn't you know it, he does, never fails to disappoint,
Fortune smiles twice in the low setting sun,
Achilles in his death throes, Icarus mid melt,
Our hero is downfallen and rolling in the mud like a hippo,
The ref's cheek bones prominent as his blows his whistle.
Boom, scores! The audience is enraptured once again,
Another clingy embrace of Lynx Africa,
I'm a cuppa carrying eucalyptus and he's my own personal koala,
Number 32 looks down wistfully as if jealous, I hope,
Oh, I hope, of me and my new found tame delinquent
Who sips a surreptitious beer from a paper bag and
Chinks against my half spilled Darjeeling, cheers!
Caught up in the joy of the moment I attempt to start a chant
Based on the third movement of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony
But it doesn't take hold.
Really, I'm only here for my pal who's brought me along.
This is his culture and I'm an interloper.
But I want to show that I understand life
Beyond the cliche, broaden my mind and experience
Every nuance of our shared cultural history.
'We're winning ', he says during the interval
As we queue for pies sold from a shed
Next to the unoccupied press box.
'Well, they are', I point out, 'We're just watching'.
I'm taking him to a drag show next weekend.
And then the announcer wants us all to sing happy birthday
For Little Liam, whose favourite player is number ten.
And Little Jimmy, whose favourite player is number ten,
And Little Jack, whose favourite player is number ten,
And he reminds us that we can all vote for the
J. Arthur Bowyer's Synchro-Boost Houseplant Compost
Man of the Match, which is usually won by number ten.
'I'd like to vote for number 32', I say, perhaps too loudly,
And everyone around me laughs and says how funny,
They love my sense of humour.
Two more goals soon after the interval.
Perhaps the audience has tired itself out,
I'm the only one who seems excited, and my new friend
In the McClintock shirt hardly seems inclined at all
To repeat his usual celebratory hijinx, no doubt
Enervated by his previous exertions and the two litre bottle of cider
Stuffed down the front of his trackie bottoms,
And when the ref calls a halt to the show I pat
My pal on the back and ask whether four nil in some kind
Of club record.
It was two all, he says, they switched ends.
Why didn't the announcer explain this
Before I got excited over nothing?
Oh, this communal kickabout, this colossal crowd clapping
This unified oneness this matey definitely not homoerotic bonding,
This celebration of the hunter's skill this
All-encompassing rough and tumble this slippery sport a spurt
With spurious curiosities this worship of the physical
This proof of prayer this spectacle this weird excuse
To suddenly bellow 'Nice tackle!' and no one bats an eyelid
This playing out of certain urges but would they ever let me
Join in? No, probably not, and number ten has got mud all over him.
What did you think?, my pal asks
As we file like clocked off factory workers
Into the adjacent streets, not that he's interested really,
Immediately he then adds, shall we get some chips?
I think of number 32
In the dressing room.
As with many on the Devon performance poetry, I was saddened to hear this week of the passing of Ellie Davies. Ellie was such a staunch supporter of the local poetry and spoken word scene that it seems inconceivable that she wont be there when gigs start properly in earnest again. Ellie was such a warm, caring and supportive person, and her company was always cheerful. Many have attested to her innate kindness and encouragement.
This probably isn’t the place to go into too many details, suffice to say Ellie had to deal with a lot over the last decade, including illness. But she never complained, not even once. If you were to ask how she was, she would turn the subject back, and dismiss her problems with a wave of her hand, and a smile, and a laugh.
And it’s that laugh which I will miss the most. She was such a good audience member, helping build up the energy in the room by laughing and joining in, enthusiastic and infectious.
Her own poems demonstrated a soul whose interest were very definitely human. She wrote about emotions and feelings with a deftness and subtlety which were then delivered on stage in her Birmingham accent. A lot of her poems were serious and spoke of serious issues but always with that simplicity of language and imagery. Other poems were hilarious, she had a fine comic touch which will be missed.
I knew Ellie long before I began performing. She was a member of a Writers’ Group, which is where we first met. We would meet every two weeks and read stories or poems and Ellie was always very encouraging. I was only young at the time, (my mid twenties), and I cringe to think of some of the things that I used to read to the group back then, but Ellie was always supportive, and again, there was that wonderful laugh which lit up the room. This would have been around 2004-2005, judging by my diaries.
In 2008 I went to a night of performance poetry at the Blue Walnut Cafe in Torquay. I had no idea what performance poetry was, so I went along to watch feeling very nervous. But then a familiar voice came from the table next to the window, and it was Ellie. Not only was she there, but she was one of the performers too, and it was that night which kickstarted my interest in performance poetry and spoken word. Of all the people I have met in the spoken word community, it was Ellie who I knew the longest.
A while ago Ellie moved to a flat not far from my own, and she would invariably offer me a lift to gigs in Torquay at the Blue Walnut or the Artizan Gallery. I remember once she had a new car, which she called, ‘Roger the Rover’, which had to be reversed up a very narrow lane to get to her flat. And she would laugh as she drove, that familiar laugh coming from behind the steering wheel as we grazed dustbins and wheelie bins so that the car was pointing in the right direction for the next time that she needed it.
Ellie loved life, and she loved people. She was wonderfully forthright in her views and nothing would hold her back when she saw injustice or bullying. And most of all, she loved poetry and the things that could be done with literature.
Suffice to say, Ellie will be very much missed by everyone who knew her.
An ode to the ghost ships
Through the mists of a calamity
In a year we never asked for,
The long arm of our shoreline bay
Offered you anchorage at first only
For commercial reasons.
Yet your streamlined sleek and tower block decks
Formed a fleet of imaginary towns,
Dark horizon Christmas trees with an
Imaginary population, new neighbours.
In a world of sudden restrictions you became
A local secret, an impossibility of the soul,
A solace as onerous as the mournful horns
Adding an extra solemnity for remembrance,
Seeing out this accursed year, or those
Poor fishermen who would never return.
We can sing sweet lullabies, dainty and plaintive
Though none can compare to your industrial symphony,
A blast of the horn as unsubtle as anything!
On foggy mornings you layer the imagination,
Ethereal in the gloom your hulking gross tonnage
A link to a world beyond immediate geography,
Ghost ships, haunting the present with voyages past.
Image Ian Williams