Catch.

It is rare that I write something without the accompaniment of music; my stories are influenced by sound. That’s not to say that there is a direct correlation between the writing theme and musical genres. For instance, my short, ‘Catch’, was largely written and edited to the film score by Marco Beltrami for ‘The Woman in Black’. But the resulting story wasn’t one of spirits and the supernatural, instead – ‘Catch’ tries to capture the relationship between a single father and his daughter and tells how unconditional love is often just not enough. Writing it devastated me in ways that I find hard to articulate. It feels terribly narcissistic to admit that a piece of my own writing could move me in such a profound way; surely it’s no different to the comedian who laughs at his own jokes? There is an essential difference though. When I write, I might have a vague idea of what I want to say but, often, I don’t have any real feeling as to how characters will evolve from one scene to the next. Like millions of writers, I just make it up as I go along and only when the end is in sight do I have any idea what the end will be. Unlike the comedian, I don’t have the punchline. While writing ‘Catch’, Beltrami’s score allowed my mind to frame the conversations between the two characters in a way that I don’t think writing in a silent room could ever have done. It reminded me that the story is dynamic; a thing of light and shade and atmosphere and the audio landscape, this dread, allowed me to visit the very worst fears of a parent.

I am listening to the same film score now.

Catch’.

1.

Ugly Hill. A small stretch of climbs and cleaved earth; an artificial place bolted to the back of joy. Carpeted with weeds and cellophane grass, it is the banks and dips, piled rudely skyward into sly humps. It is the ground. It is leftovers, where filth crusted diggers tore at the world with teeth that dripped rust and rain. It is pretend pursuits, made for jaded people in frayed towns. It is where they came with hard-hats and lurid fluorescence, to pace out parallelograms and to flatten and stretch: build bingo halls and bowling alleys with quick-as-you-like, flat-pack frames. And it was a cruel transformation, an absence of imagination that was nothing more than a crude attempt to engender some sense of nature into an awful municipal sprawl.

But those small hills, seemed like ours, and it is a simple matter of fact that it was there that you chose to reveal your sadness.

We sat with our bags of food on the harsh incline, feet planted like brakes and you told me that you felt an indelible darkness; it was inside, you said – most of the time. I remember how you turned your head away and couldn’t look at me. I thought that you had held your breath, as if somehow ashamed for your sorrow and, afraid that I had nothing to offer you in your awful and unexpected journey, I allowed the silence between us to balloon.

I watched distant others; people – drifting along in the wind and I tried to imagine them away from that place, huddled behind pulled curtains and locked doors; stuck with their small lives and lost causes, perched on the edge of panic like frightened little birds. And I wondered how many came there to disguise misery.

‘I want to help, Lenny,’ I said meaninglessly. I placed a hand upon you; spoiled and spiteful – foolishly, I imagined the approach of ghosts, the two of us in happier times, running up the hill, laughing.

Later when we had returned home, somewhere between the door and your slow ascent of the stairs; where, with my arms offered wide – there was a chance; but met with a small, sad shake of your head. You went to your room to lay in the gathering gloom.

2.

‘I’m disgusting,’ you said – and I leaned forward across the dining table. Childishly I tried to think of people who were horrible to behold, hoped that you could see the folly of your declaration. For a moment, I remembered the man who tried to sell us new windows. He smelt of cigarette ends, death and regret.

‘Why do you say that?’ I asked, and I swallowed something grisly from my plate. ‘You aren’t, Lenny – honestly love, it’s ridiculous to even say it.’ You stared at me. Was that it? Should I continue or stop? ‘OK, let’s think of it another way. Describe what you see when you look at me.’ You exhaled loudly and your eyes were on your feet.

‘I don’t want to do this,’ you said to the table.

‘Try it,’ I urged. And I could see that you were thinking about it.

‘Striped top, green and black glasses,’ you began.

‘No,’ I interrupted, ‘not objects or clothes Len – I just want you to tell me how I actually look. Be honest.’ Again a slight pause.

‘Overweight?’ you questioned. ‘Skin tag on your neck. Left eye slightly higher than the other one.’

‘Isiah,’ I said.

‘What?’

‘It doesn’t matter – carry on.’

‘Beer gut, bald and bad teeth. Hairy ears and double chin.’

‘Whoa!’ I said, ‘Ease up – I asked you to describe me not kill me with disappointment.’ And there it was; magnificently you. A smile that came out of the evening and brought dancers to the backs of your eyes. I couldn’t recall the last time I had seen it.

‘See,’ I said, triumph within me; I nodded at you. But in horror, I saw that you hadn’t felt anything at all and what was there died in front of me like the last of life. Panic.

‘Listen, you’re right about me. It’s a good description and I guess that if I am honest enough to acknowledge my own faults, you should accept what I say about you in return. You I know I think that you are by far the prettiest girl in…..’

‘Don’t Dad.’ And you got up and started to walk out of the room.

‘WHY NOT? IT’S TRUE,’ I shouted after you.

And it was true. But it didn’t matter to you what I thought. And in the silence that followed, by the half-light of the crooked dining room lamp, I slowly began to ache for your childhood again; for just a little civility and a sense of understanding.

3.

In the kitchen, one unexpected morning – you were there.

‘I’ve changed this to brown,’ you said – grabbing two bunches of wet hair in your fists. I nodded.

‘It’s nice,’ I said. But it wasn’t and neither was the flip to red, then blonde; black, then back to brown again. And when we had to buy other people’s hair, just to replace your own that had given up and fallen away, I hoped you would see the irony. You didn’t. You continued to chase something that I couldn’t see. By the end of your search, neither of us was brighter of spirit and there wasn’t a towel in the house that didn’t look as if it had been tie-dyed.

4.

Ugly Hill, washed and wet through. There were more crows than people and they drearily stabbed at remains trapped in wet bags. Scavengers, unnecessary reminders of a dark day; thick charcoal smudges, they were like attendants at a funeral – smartly dressed in jagged shards of black. I had to let the car windows down a little to release our condensed breath and when I glanced over at you, I saw that you hadn’t even opened your meal.

5.

I saw you in the bathroom, with your hand under the running tap.

‘I was cutting bread,’ you said. ‘Knife slipped,’ you lied; blood at the ends of your fingers ran from an unseen source inside your sleeve. You were choking back something that you didn’t want me to see.

‘Ok, let me get some antiseptic,’ but you refused my offer of help, and I took a step back as you pulsed past me.

In the days that followed, I saw your behaviours through fresh eyes, each little action, nuanced; an accompaniment, a silent alarm. It whined at me, urged me on to the truth; it was information, in at the eyes and processed in the soft deep of sleep. A cold slip of paper, slipped between my ribs; a message from the future – “Cutting. She’s hurting with blades.” And when I confronted you and asked to see your arms – you found reasons to object; anything to avoid showing the damage that you had done. But you could not avoid that moment forever. I challenged you, until – one evening, you rolled sleeves to reveal your scars; the roads of hate. I held your delicate wrists in my hands and stared at the lines upon your skin; your tiger stripes, patterns that burst through you.

‘How long?’ I asked you, an odd vibrato in my voice that I couldn’t control. ‘How long have you been doing this?’ and I pulled your arms towards me. You shrugged and tried to snatch your limbs back. I let go and grabbed you by the shoulders, shook and shouted – screamed into the space between us; watched the horrible breach of trust, unfurl like a flag across your face. I lost all sense and came at you with my exorcist’s heart, howling and begging the disease in you to die. You turned and wrestled me away from attack.

There had been no rescue in my force, no answers for us in that outburst; you were only drifting further from me, like a small little bobbing boat that had slipped her moorings to head inexorably towards the horizon.

6.

Much later. I had stood outside your bedroom door.

‘Go away,’ you said. And there were times when I would have done. ‘I need to talk with you, Lenny. I love you so very much. We can’t go on like this anymore – you’re scaring me.’ I asked for forgiveness and when you came to me and cracked open the barrier between us, enough to let a thin rectangle of your face into the light, it was like a confessional.

‘Why, Lenny?’ I asked – and I had your hands in mine again; your muscles twitched with the brutality of my affection.

‘I’m ugly,’ you said.

‘No lovely – these are ugly,’ and I pointed at scars old and wounds new. But I could see that this wasn’t an acceptable reason to stop hurting; you needed more, a moment of affirmation. ‘I want you to stop this,’ I said, pointing at the criss-cross of lines. ‘It has to stop Lenny, ok?’ You nodded and I took that nod as progress. ‘When you cut yourself, it hurts me too.’

You looked at me with pity and hate. ‘This isn’t about you Dad?’ You went to the open door and thrust feet into boots.

‘Where are you going,’ I asked,

‘Out,’ you said. And I asked where and with whom, with a voice louder than bombs. But you said nothing.

‘Please don’t go; we should talk about this,’ I pleaded, but you told me that I couldn’t help; defiant eyes burned hot with tears. You stood me aside, began to walk away from the house – turned around.

‘Sorry,’ you seemed to say. I nodded and mouthed that I loved you; I pointed to the sky – where the moon should be. I think you knew what I mea

7.

[Ca(OCl)2] : BLEACH. OXIDISING: BLOOM.

8.

I waited for you to come home; time with its parade of memories – a rabble, voices from the past, clamouring to be heard.

Photographs. Vignettes of days that are forever frozen.

The one with daisies. You and a pale yellow sleep suit; impossibly small, held against my shoulder in the palm of my hand. When I shut my eyes, I imagined the sound of your whistling breath and the smell on the top of your head.

The braids and the palm tree; corn-rows tied tightly to you by African women, gaily dressed in the colours of rainbows.

Candlelight; a birthday party that had demanded formal dress; head cupped in hands.

Rigid with fear, stood at the edge of a giant leap; a monstrous wire slung across an impressive space.

Photographs. The same story. And I don’t know how I could have missed it; a stain on them all. I searched the images on my laptop desperate to find your love of life. I riffled through the bag of proper photographs, fished out from the stair cupboard, but there wasn’t a single smile on any of them. And it hurt me to believe that I might have been a catalyst for your misery.

When the knock came, I rushed to the door, in a hurry to reveal the discovery and explain how I might begin to put it all back together; we would start again, make new days with laughter and eyes alight with private jokes.

But the two people standing there told me that I should leave with them. I told them that I would put things in a bag for you. They said that I shouldn’t do that.

9.

Lenny, there was a small fold-away bed so that we could stay together. It wasn’t sleep that came, just a series of urgent dreams, glued together with held breaths and half-moon eyes.

When the early morning sun came, it whispered at windows and promised renewed hope, a little of my spirit lifted.

There were short bursts, occasional noises from the corridor outside. The approaching whoosh of legs in polyester trousers, a rhythm of soft shoes that squeaked on disinfected floors. I held your hands and face and I could see that I wouldn’t have a smile from you. But it would come and I would make corrections, resolve an incomplete past; grab us back.

We held hands for a while Lenny, and I couldn’t understand how you were warm yet so lifeless. There were thin streams of plastic coiled about and into you and I wanted to keep our fingers lattice linked. But the machines wailed, started to tell tales on us and it caused a rush of people. I think that I floated to the ceiling so that I could watch everything, make sure that I wouldn’t forget; if you asked me about it at some other time, I could tell the story to you. And my face was wet; I had hands held out in front of me, reaching and begging them to start you up again; I thought that they might be angels – white robed and joined as one; they were over you like a wave. They stopped what they were doing. They were looking at one another with questions on lips and then in the next moment were inviting me forward, opening up a circle, creating a space for me to enter. And I was so frightened of that moment Lenny; I had words to say to you and I said them all, I promise you that I did, but I couldn’t hear them as they came out of me.

I was pointing at you and asking them what we might do next but they looked beaten and shook their heads apologetically. And I told them I couldn’t accept an end like that; they tried to stop me as I pulled things away from you and lifted your deadweight to me. And I think that they tried to explain again but I was telling them not to say anything else. I told the angels that they could give life back, that was their job; you couldn’t leave me, I said – we had plans and I saw that this made perfect sense to them; I sat down on the edge of the bed, and they helped place you on my lap.

I held you so tight and I swear that I could still feel something beating in you but you didn’t look up at me when I kissed your head and I wished that the moon was there so that I could point at it for you, prove that I wanted you to come back to me Lenny.

And it took all of my effort to keep you close; you were like a stone rolling away from me as I kept trying to snatch you back.

Then the Angels told me something that I didn’t want to hear and one of them was crying; I rocked you and smelt the baby on you again: I broke into a million pieces.

10.

I watched you leave, a little thing, slowly getting smaller.

Swallowed by the harbour’s mouth; finally, a speck against tearful light.

Yet at the edge of the very last of everything, I saw you turn to say goodbye.

And fell over the edge of the world, into the disappeared and quiet morning.

11.

I shouldn’t come to Ugly Hill but I don’t know where else to go. I’ve been trying to find you and I’ve run out of places to look. I have imagined you all over our town; carried in the faces of strangers, hiding just out of my sight. It feels as if you are everywhere; peering at me, around the edges of an empty world.

I am trying so hard to keep you close, but every day – I worry that I am remembering a little less about you.

I don’t want to sit on Ugly Hill. I don’t want to see the mothers and fathers, laughing with their children, swinging them between arms, carrying them on shoulders like precious cargoes. I don’t want to think about the last time that I carried you; like a piece of old furniture to a winter bonfire. And, selfishly, I don’t want to say that I was wrong; to admit that this place isn’t populated by unhappy people; I can hardly bear to see them all – making their own histories with held hands and laughter; creating collages from bright beautiful days, still lives, captured – that might lift them from the worst of times.

I consider chasing after you Lenny, I have thought about it so often, but I am a coward, terrified that there might not be anything on the other side, or worse – that I will awake in another place and have no recollection that you and I ever existed. I cannot bear it. I would rather endure this vast, impossible grief for an eternity, if only in the certainty that it would continue to keep you in mind.

I shan’t come back to Ugly Hill. I am selling the house, moving on, but I’m not sure what’s next. Somehow, I am going to take you with me, just keep searching for you in the things that I do and in the places that I go.

I will make life where nobody knows us; where I can shut my eyes on grey days and tell you how I miss you. Endlessly. Immeasurably, and where I can imagine your voice hidden in the hiss of approaching rain. I will take our photographs with me because I know that I have missed something important. I am so sure that it is there – hidden in the records of our lives, tucked away. I will find it and when I do, I’ll show you too.

Is that OK with you, Lenny?

‘Catch’ – Joint winner of the South Wales short story competition.

Available on Amazon as part of the “Breaking the Surface” anthology.

Copyright Tony Mayle. All rights reserved

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The Coincidence of ‘Bluebird’.

Some weeks ago, I was suddenly struck by a coincidence while watching a film. The picture is called ‘Bluebird’ and while the central story is not particular relevant to this post, a moment within it is; at a crucial point – the central character is shown going to a depot to begin her shift, driving a yellow school bus. The vehicle is taken past the camera and for the first time, the name of the municipality is shown, painted in black letters on the side of the bus: “Millinocket, Maine.”

This is only the second time in my life that I have seen or heard of this place. The first time was in the spring of 1992, when I wrote this short piece:

Millinocket Maine, the land laid flat.

Aside Medway Pass and where I once scared myself.

You weren’t coming back. Then you came back.

And you brought the Rain King with you, glaring into the ground,

beating a sweet tattoo with soaking wings.

As far as Portland Stride, he came with us through day and night;

arcing away in glee when he was the only thing to be heard.

The silence between us was a bounty; tightened grip, hurt eyes and silent wish stuck like bone in throat.

You without care; ‘I don’t care.’

But the world owed you at least a half-happiness so you cared enough to be sly and narrow eyed

with your chin on your knees and arm wrap Gingham top: Rolled to the top. Barefoot on the dashboard.

The emptiness and impossibly wet dust.

Until Intersection 23.

Where the fallen Motel settled all bets.

The haunched child played with stones in the gutter; not even her stones.

The town’s stones and turned to us with filthy face as we Pontiac’d by.

Turned your head and chewed gum from your finger.

You waited until she was smaller than gone before confirming how you longed to be like her.

It was all about you. Even the Rain King saw it and decided to dance away.

‘Bluebird’ was released in 2013.

I cannot recall what prompted me to write this piece in 1992 and have no recollection of why I chose such an obscure place to set it. And neither do I know why the mood of the poem fits the film so well. Perhaps one day I’ll go to Millinocket in Maine and it will make sense somehow……

 

 

Boats and Children.

Sometimes, I find it improbable that the young adults in my house are my children. I catch myself staring at them and finding it impossible to reconcile the babes in arms with these tall, conversational and independent beings. Don’t misunderstand me, it’s wonderful they are who they are and I am hardly one to dwell on the past and ache for time to just slow down a little. Or to regret that I took those early years for granted and can now never return. Or to dread the impending distance, real or imagined that will inevitably divide us to some unknown degree. Or, to find myself alone with my thoughts and writing about that very thing. 
I am thinking of a time after I met them, when I was saved. 

I am thinking of boats.

Small, bobbing boats that began smooth keeled and were made peach by evening lights, 

salted, boiled sweets, that were catching shards of sky.

 

They were real then, though ill-defined.

Grew with love and nurture and palms against faces;

whistles in darkness.

 

Here, the first winter sail.

We sit together, shy edged and palm splintered.

The hushing tide seems to agree; they don’t ask but I cut the line,

watch them fly with wind when loose; wild and will not wait.

They turn into and out of the day: In and out of harm’s way. Tiny again.

 

And yet, at the edge of the very last, they make a turn and hold;

wave, laugh, face the horizon and fall; disappeared into a quiet morning.

 

Let me stay here a while.

 

 

 I will watch for their return and I shan’t be any trouble.

Boats and Children.  All rights reserved Tony Mayle.

The Pretend. The Green.

He is the law and he offers us interpretations of you. Vignettes, repeated as truths until you are small and pressed into the corners where you give away the songs and the books; the things you love and the essence of your fingers on foxed pages. You shrink when you pretend and you cover the green with long sleeves. He distracts: You listen to his lonely whispers (they are only yours), he says. But he stole them because he had parts of him everywhere. And any part of him (everywhere), could hear every part of you (anywhere). Repeated. But only his interpretation of your whispers.

 

He kisses you when others see you. And smiles with teeth that look like a smiler’s teeth: Not a Biter’s teeth. A Puncher’s teeth. A Kickman’s teeth. He is The King and you are the queen, hiding raw Rorschach bruises the colours of a peacock’s throat. His interpretation of bruises. This other version of you that you dare not show. 

When his back is turned and, against his law, you are mouthing at windows with disallowed voice and you are too high in the sky for anyone to see, you pretend you are seen. When you are sure that you steam the glass and etch words that aren’t his, you imagine this is enough to tell people about the Pretend and the Green. You never tell. 

You remind him of Millais’ Mariana, arched back and beautiful: You turn away from the things he says because the messages are impossible to interpret. Compliments are crimes and crimes are rovers with clenched fists; he runs at you until the blood makes his ears hurt and the morning’s made dirty and while he takes a storm to you, you escape for a moment – wiled and witty; click your Ruby Reds. Yellow Road. Emerald City. Mrs Blue Sky thinking; thinking. Thinking about the colours unseen. The spots where he presses, beneath your skirts and your tresses: damage hidden with dresses. The Pretend and the Green.

‘The Pretend. The Green.’ 

Tony Mayle – 2017.

The Many Folded Man.

I am lucky to have friends that I have known for a very long time. They are my brothers and sisters. They are constantly in my thoughts and I know that I would not be who I am today without them. I say this by means of introduction to a short piece of writing inspired by one of these lovely people. Some years ago, M outlined an idea for a beautiful story. It was the first substantial piece of work that I ever completed. Part of that story contains a small chapter which, when taken out of the whole, puts on a different coat. I would like to share it with you.

The clerk’s office has closed. It is iron cold and the suited man enters into a Threadneedle Street night. It is Christmas Eve and a recumbent moon is playing peek-a-boo between the urgent running of wraith clouds. The shade and show of a flickering universe draws his gaze to pinholes in the void and a small winter hail spills perfect orbs of ice into his eyes. He rubs his face with clenched fists and hurries along, keeping his head down and his hat moving forward, towards the river; people are hiding away. On London Bridge, where hawkers and vendors weave by day, there are no walkers.  No stalkers; an absence of lives. His pace quickens: heel clicks on road bricks like Lucifer lights struck alive with flints; breathes harder now, folds into night with ploughsteps and collar up – drives along with a westerly wail. Nearly there and with half smile ascending, into Borough by way of Southwark steps, descending; dives down onto cabbaged cobbles with greatcoat untethered, flaring out like wings. Nearby now, the bawdy songs and absinthe oathes; whispered tricks and trades: smothered mouths and escapades, a final turn from the crowblack lanes and stops at the door of ‘The Eastern Emporium of Powders and Potions.’ 

He enters and the bell calls, steps into a space strewn with a treasury of things in packets and pots; jars and boxes, spits and spots. Then, dressed like a Grand Vizier, the keeper appears from behind a silver curtain. The man pulls from his pocket a small slip of paper and with both hands, places it in the open palms of the vendor. “Monsieur,” the shopkeeper acknowledges him with a bow and a smile of baby’s teeth, clicks his tongue, turns and reaches behind jars coloured like bruises and retrieves an object. He places it on the counter between them. A tinderbox, small and neat; on the lid, a silhouette of a train –  steaming towards a single horizontal line. He places the box in his pocket and departs without a word.

He locks the door to his chamber and undresses. There are no drapes at the window and the dirty gaslight runs pipesmoker’s fingers along the walls. By the dresser, he opens the box; there are a triplet of things.

A small black capsule; a globule of stuff – places it between his lips, bites down and swallows.

A piece of charcoal; he carefully draws a perfect full circle on each closed eyelid.

A small rectangle of card, a single train ticket. 

He lays on his bed, arms by sides; eyes tight shut and open wide. A backward count; four – three – two, softly gripped between thumb and finger, the pale lemon permit to travel. One. Then something rises away from his body, gentle at first; slipping unhindered through the house, out beyond the last tiles of shelter, into the sky – faster and onwards and charging, gear changing into an impossible flight. On the tiny roofs of houses below, the icing sugar sheen of the first snow. Flakes fall past him then wink diamonds from a thousand yards away. Still he soars higher and higher, shooting upwards, forging slipways to the edge of air. Till, held perfectly still, high in the firmament, the old world takes a final turn beneath his feet and he waits for transport to another place……

‘The Many Folded Man’ is an extract from ‘Mr. Mahler.’ Based on an original idea by Mike McCarthy.

A Ribbon at Crossbones Graveyard.

Go to the memorial gates at Crossbones Graveyard and you will find simple gestures of remembrance, acknowledgements to the passed lives of others; the dispossessed and the armies of the invisible. The memorial gates at Crossbones Graveyard.There are postcards and letters; toys and bracelets. Words written on beermats or tied to corn dollies; shoelaces and flowers, some fresh and bright, lighting up the dull metal. Other posies are withered and brown, almost dust. And thousands of ribbons, each representing lives and stories, flutter in the smallest breeze, vying for attention. Some have a simple message, “Always with us, JR. RIP.” Some, cryptic, “Waiting to be square in, square out. With you. Only you.” Others just have a single name, “Annie Marmalde”.

On the white wall, near the doorway where Annie Marmalade once slept, someone had painted, “She had no home and she knew more than you.” I watched from the other side of the road as the man from the cafe used spirit and a rainbow rag, cutting an empty path through the words, erasing letters and gently fading her out. I don’t suppose that he knew she ever existed. She had never troubled customers, always arriving in the quiet evening and disappearing long before opening. But had he’d known her, if he had allowed that to happen, I imagine he might have allowed the scruffy eulogy to remain for a while. 

‘Where do you go?’ I asked her. It was late and alcohol had given me the courage to stop.

‘It’s a big city. Anyone can be lost,’ she said and she smiled as she smoothed her treacle hair against the side of her face. 

They were brief, casual stops – a few minutes each, tea and something to eat. Then an hour or two, as I became desperate to stretch time with her and to hear the stories. She called them “Tapestries,” and I asked her if I could start to record them in some way. But there was no need, I remember them all. 

One late June night, when jewels started to flick-flack in a cellar sky, she asked me to stay and watch the sunrise. But I couldn’t do it. It would have been impossible to explain and though she told me that she understood, when I left, I knew that she would never speak with me again. The next evening she was gone.

I waited until the man had finished cleaning and, clutching his bucket with its broken handle, disappeared from view. I walked across the road and touched the bricks where the words had been. They were warm, as if the man had given life to them.

“Can I stay here tonight?” I asked. The empty space seemed unsure of its reply.

You can find out more about Crossbones Graveyard here.

http://crossbones.org.uk/

 

All the Wrong Ones in all the Right Spaces…..

…is the working title of a book I’ve not been writing for three years. It began strongly, a great idea; a solid first chapter – a belter of a second, then nothing. I just stopped and I don’t know why.  Everything seemed more important and while it’s true that some things are, ‘Should I write today or go for that colonoscopy?’ Some just aren’t, ‘Should I knock out one paragraph or stay in bed and allow the flaky debris from a bag of sausage rolls to gather around me like a “The Singing Detective” tribute act?’

Why would I take something I love and turn it into a trial? When did it become such a weight; Marley’s chains, unwanted and dragging me down? Where does this inertia come from? I wonder whether I really like to write at all. 

Maybe I’m just trying to put something right……

…..it’s 1983 and my friend is about to win a poetry competition. We are young teenagers and we are away from home on a school trip. It’s the early evening and everyone is gathered in the common room of a grand house which should smell of ‘old’ but smells of nothing at all. We are with our English teacher, a lovely man with a cruel beard and kind eyes. He has sifted through our work, poems on the theme of an earlier visit to Lewes Castle. He announces the winner and I am silently outraged. I know that my friend hates poetry. He is sporty and good looking and I imagine he will be a film star one day. I also know that he wrote his poem in about 3 minutes, only beaten for lack of effort by T who produced nothing at all, choosing instead to devote most of his day to asking people to reveal their strategies for the surreptitious collection of onanistic emissions  “…have you ever used a sock?” 

The poem is titled “DRAGON” and it’s a form of acrostic, each letter of the word begins a new sentence, thus:

Dark and brooding

Realm of Kings

Angry fire

Glass eyed

Oven mouth

Night flyer


I pretend to like it, I say how clever it is
but I know it isn’t. I know mine is better. It has to be. It’s taken me three hours to compose, has 1500 words and plays with some clever little rhymes:

“Monks to the tower, with bell, book and candles.

Beware the horseshit, it sticks to the sandals.”


The day I return home, I create another poem – a watershed moment, the point between being instructed to write by an adult and being compelled by one’s own free will. And like all teenage boys of the mid eighties with only Duran Duran and The Cure as their main cultural reference points, I write about the only thing that seems relevant to my brand of adolescence. “Daniel and the Coat of the Damned”  is a brooding portrayal of teenage angst seen through the eyes of Daniel, obviously – who, for reasons that are never quite explained, seeks out the damned and collects their souls in the pockets of his coat. Literally timeless due to its inconsistent approach to continuity, language, age and location, DATCOTD quickly becomes my favourite piece and I don’t mind who knows it.

“Mum, have a read of this.”

“What is it?”

“It’s a poem.”

“What’s it about?”

“A lad has a coat and he collects the damned in it.”

“What sort of coat?”

“A parka..?”

“That’s nice, I’ll read it later.”

“Thanks Mum. Oh, and Mum….I’m going to need some more socks.”

“What’s that?”


Sheathes hide feet and

Onanistic raptures.

Cotton or wool.

Kitten-soft.

Super-Absorbant.

—TM———————————————————————-