I was rifling through an old poetry book the other day, when I came across this rare Wordsworth gem which, for some reason, isn’t held in quite the same regard as most of his other output.
Ode to the wind
And when thou blowest
Thy fatal draughts do wrench
Yonder the table cloth.
Such as a clarion from the sweetest nymph’s
Do thy breezes expunge all crumbs from said
That I should just reach in,
This accursed room
With the vacuum
Thou bringest seeds.
Thou maketh me sneeze.
Thou do as thy please,
You unrepentant goat.
Thou blowest from yonder
The strains of distant Swindon.
Thou doth affect my spirits
In much the same manner
As a bad turnip.
O, woe is me!
And woe is thee!
And woe doth be ye,
And I met my neighbour Debs
And woe be her too.
I said, ‘You’re woe, Debs!’
She said, ‘You what?’
I said, ‘You’re woe!’
Thou art in rural settings oft
A pungent foul and pestilential waft
Amid whose invisible fingers doth the autumn leaves
Stir and bring on attacks of the dry heaves.
O wind, thou doest as thou do wish
Just as sure as Percy Shelley’s middle name is Bysshe.
Much as the horseman jumping on his saddle,
I don’t half go on.
Thus my ode to the wind endeth ought.
And now over to Bill with the sport.
Great big belly-man darts-land Leviathan takes a stand.
Meaty meaty clap-hand (nurses darts like baby chicks),
Arrow-flinging darts board-singing double-trimming
Guess who’s winning?
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Trophy-doting low-score-gloating show-boating local scrote
Boozy-wobbling woozy-toppling lazy darts-fling treble twenty
Bar staff aghast, darts stars laugh, fast darts dance, last chance,
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Last game, the same again, self-same blame game.
In the team lean, seeming so keen, trophy a gleam, he’s a darts machine!
No pain no gain, no gain, no fame, oh, the shame!
Sudden-death shootout, league-topping bullseye-aiming,
Thud, pretty nifty, scores a fifty, more’s the pity,
Geddin my son quivering tentative there the dart itself hanging like a
Swan so graceful in its beauteous flight betwixt chubby
Sweating fingers slow-mo revealing the under belly wobble
Suspended in mid air aerodynamic like the philosophic truth
Writ large straight into the exact centre of the board!
So I always knew there was something amiss but in all honesty I just assumed I wasn’t very bright. Yet I have a Masters degree, and an Undergraduate degree, and several A Levels, so I knew what I was capable of.
In the latter part of 2020 I decided to have a look into this and take some tests, especially as I have always had short term memory problems and hey presto, along with one in five people, I was diagnosed as being dyslexic.
But then so are Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey, so was John Lennon, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci and even Albert Einstein.
So in other words, it’s no biggy. And if anything, it helps with problem solving. Dyslexic people have an amazing ability to see through the faff and get to the truth because that’s what they’ve been doing their whole lives.
Anyway, I thought I’d write a poem explaining how it feels.
On a poet discovering he’s dyslexic just before his 47th birthday
It’s not that the words danced around,
It’s just that there were too many of them,
Some sentences so convoluted
My head would shut down
Like a fizz of static on an old TV,
Sweat pouring from my brow.
I’m a poet, right?
Words are meant to be my playthings.
But it just felt more that they were
Playing with me,
Toying with me,
Hiding the truth behind the very words
Which the more competent people around me were using
To convey that very truth.
Doesn’t a bad worker
Always blame his tools?
In management meetings,
Too many of them,
Too many concepts,
Too much abstraction
Piled and peppered in paragraphs on the page,
They’d bland themselves into the blandground
And I’d try to pick them out,
Catch them, these
Multisyllabic monsters plucked
Between thumb and forefinger,
And I’d scream,
‘I know what you mean individually!
It’s all nonsense!
For goodness sake, just behave!’
And I’d leave the meeting,
The lesson, the symposium, the convention,
The workshop, the lecture, the presentation
Hot and sweaty and thinking
Everyone around me were superheroes
Because they understood everything at the very first attempt.
‘And now we come onto
‘Socio-economic considerations in means tested arts funding
Community-based stakeholder applications’.
Have absolutely no idea,
And I’d ask someone
And they knew every nuance
So I’d pretend that I did too.
Perhaps I always knew something were amiss.
I could never take directions, or phone calls,
Or even simple instructions without
Writing it down and re-reading it five, six, seven times.
Now just slow down, slow down,
Let me write this, let me make some notes,
What do you mean you’re not going over it a second time?
Those bloody words again!
You’re meant to be my friends!
Sure, I can write like no-one’s business,
And tap dance on the precipice of literary expression.
But open my mouth
And I’m as erudite as a stunned slug.
You see that line that I just wrote, there?
I could never have uttered that in real life.
It takes me the best part of the morning
To come up with something so spontaneous.
This whole time,
I thought that words were my friends.
But close my eyes and they dance.
It turns out
They were always there.
They were only cheating on me.
The day my underpants caught fire
Is one I recall
With tears in my eyes.
‘Stop your whingeing’.
I said, ‘I can’t.
There’s some serious singeing.
My boxers are aflame’.
There I was
Acting all nonchalant
(I saw a dog).
The troubles of the world
Which I am shouldering
Are as nothing compared
To the smouldering
Of my crotch.
How I wish that someone
Would tackle the blaze
Before my tackle
This unsolicited Y-front inferno
Is no work of fiction
It was caused
Some serious consternation
Caused by this conflagration.
And a fair amount of chafing
When I ran for that bus
Excuse me, no smoking in here,
Said the driver,
Wisps emanating from my trousers.
For the safety of other passengers,
Please take care
As you alight.
New poem! I performed this a couple of weeks ago at Paignton Palace Theatre and people have been asking to see it online. It’s a love letter to my home town of Paignton. It’s also featured in my new show Yay! The Search for Happiness, and my forthcoming book Yay!, to be published by Burning Eye.
This town is not torrid, nor tainted nor brazen, This tornado of flavours, Chip shops and chopsticks and packets of Quavers, Savour its layers and nautical sailors.
Barbers and harbours and car parks and mars bars A beer at the Pier Inn while peering at the pier thing A stride and a stroll But hide from the gulls your hot sausage rolls It’s the way that we roll With our seaside soul.
High tide drip dry nick nack paddywhack Picnic and a packamac Promenade flapjack Sand in your rucksack Sand in your flapjack Sand in your arsecrack Let’s go to the pub.
Cinema chick flicks Candy floss, pick n mix Fish n chips, kiss me quick Think I feel sick!
Ring road surf shack seaweed stink Caravan holiday It’s worse than you think Dodgy dodgy plumbing and a blocked up sink. Big bands and jazz hands, gleaming sands and One night stands You probably will not understand It’s ain’t no hole With your seaside soul.
Amusements, bemusement, Soup of the day The all day breakfast Only served till midday Have you paid and displayed? Grab your bucket and spade! You’ll never be dismayed Memories fade But your heart will always stay.
This frisky town this sea breezy town This cream tea scene of green seas and freezing dips Donkey rides and cheesy chips Ice cream by the bowl We’ve got seaside soul.
Dancing like lovers on the prom in the rain The hot pulse of life adding fire to my brain The legs of the pier stride deep in the brine Let’s dance once more time, say you’ll be mine We laugh and we grin and we howl at the ships The night is afire and it smells just like chips You bend for a kiss like a child with a doll You asked what’s for dinner, I said, seaside soul.
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.
In 2018 I toured the fringes and festivals of the UK with my show ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. It was something of a gamble at the time to write and rehearse an hour long poem which took me away from the comedy and whimsy and into a strange territory of myth, folk-lore, atmosphere and storytelling. The show had taken a few years to write, from around 2015, and almost a whole year to learn. I was hugely pleased with the outcome and I got the chance to perform it everywhere from Edinburgh to London, the GlasDenbury Festival to Surrey, and then with a live jazz band in Totnes. It is the piece of work which I’m proudest.
Performing the show was a weird experience. Over the Edinburgh fringe, I suddenly became aware that the characters were almost friends, and that I would look forward to performing them again when their part of the show arrived. Indeed, it was something of a shame when the run ended and I felt genuinely sad not to perform these characters for a while. Almost immediately I began to think of a possible sequel to the show, yet I knew that it would not be the same because I didn’t want to spoil the mythology that I had built up around the show. ‘
‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’ took place on a sleeper train heading north, filled with circus performers, and stalked by the mythological entity the Neon Yak, loosely based on the folklore tales of Herne the Hunter. I decided that a follow up show would have a similar structure, (characters telling their tales), but I wanted to go deeper and move the focus of the show to the actual situations in which these characters found themselves. I wrote three new pieces and also ‘borrowed’ the long poem ‘Bulk Carrier’ from my 2018 book Zebra, and then wrote a kind of framing narrative to bind all of these together. I envisaged an LGBT astronaut, flying to Venus, being consoled throughout his long journey by stories which would remind him of the importance of his community, until the final story details his own adventure when he finally gets to the planet.
The individual sections which make up the show could easily stand alone as performance pieces: ‘Bar Code Blues’ takes place in a supermarket in the 1990s with a character who is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. ‘Bulk Carrier’ takes place on a container vessel in the middle of the ocean which is haunted, (Why not?), by the ghost of Marcel Proust. ‘Much Ado About Muffins’ is a modern retelling of the Shoemaker and the Elves, taking place in a bakery which refuses to make a wedding cake for a gay wedding. And the final piece, ‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’, takes the astronaut to a planet where every desire and hope are granted.
And as a special link to its predecessor, the voice of Ground Control is none other than Tony, previously the Train Manager from ‘In the Glare of the Neon Yak’. A change of career, perhaps, but he’s lost none of his humour.
I’d hoped to perform the show all over the UK during 2020, but world events put paid to that. With a show already written for 2021 and the publication of my new book to tie in with it, I knew that Electric Dragons would probably have to be mothballed for quite some time. So this autumn I set about making it into an audio play, a monologue delivered with musical interludes and sound effects, which I might unleash on the world this Christmas.
It’s been an amazing journey working on this show. Obviously, it’s a shame that it didn’t get to see the light of day in 2020. But without the constraints of having to fit the show into an hour slot, I was able to stretch my legs a little with the audio version. I do hope you will like it, and let me know what you think of it.
‘Dancing with the Electric Dragons of Venus’ will be released on 23rd December.
(This short story was adapted into a song by the music / spoken word collective Croydon Tourist Office).
A sultry midsummer evening and the clammy village is an unwarranted hug, all honeysuckle smells and foliage, sticky pine needles and fervent deciduous shade. Cottages crowd in on to the single-carriage road as if wanting to know all the gossip. The steep valley sides seem to funnel the heat, ever-present mounds of arable greenery, the low sun throwing long shadows from the flanks of the grazing sheep. How on earth did I end up here?
I’d been to the pub, but the pub was a disappointment. I’d had a warm lager but the bare-brick furnishings and low hanging ceilings had made me feel even hotter. And I’d hit my head on a copper-bottomed pan that had been hanging from a rafter. There was laughter. I’d never felt dafter.
But I didn’t want to go back to my rented cottage just yet. I had a desk of half-completed work waiting for me, and it was too, too hot.
‘Come in for a bit of a pray, have we?’, the vicar asked.
I’d been lingering in the porch of the village church. Stone brick, solid, a stunted tower a modest graveyard of slanting headstones. I caught a glimpse of pews.
‘Not a believer?’
‘To be honest, no’.
He had a long beard and a strange expression on his face, as if the top part of his face was profoundly disappointed that the bottom half of his face had grown a beard.
‘Come in’, he said. ‘It’s cooler in here. Take a pew’.
He laughed. His moustache was stained brown by nicotine. I entered the church and felt a certain coolness envelope me. A flagstone floor led to a simple altar, while the low evening sun threw stained glass colour across the aisle.
‘How are you a vicar if you don’t believe?’, I asked.
‘Nobody checks on these things’, he replied.
‘And don’t the audience suspect anything?’
‘Congregation, my son. That’s what we call them in the biz. They may have their suspicions, but they’ve not said anything’.
He was tall and thin and he moved like a crow. There was a pile of hymn books on a side table. The air was infused with the smells of mothballs and summer fruits, furniture polish, and the merest hint of whisky. The vicar picked up a feather duster and fluffed it over the window sill.
‘It’s not like the congregation is very large’, he continued. ‘Six at the most. I do funerals, mostly. There weren’t any weddings at all last year. And I haven’t christened anyone in such a long time. The font is now where the wifi transmitter is kept. I use it to go on Wikipedia. It’s a font of all knowledge’.
He laughed again. A series of slow, halting huffs.
‘Sorry. Just some vicar humour’.
‘Did you ever believe? I mean . . Did you have a faith, and then stop?’
He sits on a pew and dangles the feather duster between his legs, kind of sways it back and forth.
‘I had a total failure of faith when I was a teenager. I was on a bouncy castle at the time. The sun shone through the trees, and I wanted to bounce higher and higher, and touch the air. I wanted to stroke the face of god!’, he said, almost triumphantly. But then he lowered his voice. ‘I thought . . If I were a god, I’d not want some snotty nosed teenager touching my face and spreading his germs. Of course, god would have made the germs, too. He would have loved those germs. And the air, it was all atmosphere. Pure science! We can bounce as much as we like, but the sky will always be out of reach’.
‘So it was nothing to do with human suffering and unjust luck?’
‘No. Bouncy castles’.
‘Then why did you want to become a vicar?’
He waved a nicotine stained forefinger in my face.
‘The uniform’, he replied. ‘Warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and I tell you, it’s more practical than it looks. That, and the chance to spend time in beautiful buildings such as this’.
He squinted at me.
‘You’ve got a bruise. Have you been to the pub?’
‘I’ve been meaning to tell them about that copper bottomed pan for years’.
The shadows begin to lengthen and all of a sudden a shard of sunlight illuminated the tip of the bronze cross on the altar as if afire with a sudden majesty, ethereal and life-affirming,
‘Best get home’, he said, ‘my soaps will be on’.
I turned to the altar and watched flecks of dust curl in the air, moving on unseen currents. I turned back to the vicar, but all trace of him had gone.
‘What on earth?!’
It was as if a spectre had made himself apparent only by his leaving, as if common sense had mutated, spun on a golden moment into the sublime, a supernatural hand reached out and plucked a miracle from the ether, and my heart began to race.
‘Sorry’, he said, as his head popped up from between the pews. ‘I was picking up a sweet wrapper’.