December 03, 2009

Pearly Gates

Thirty years ago, a boy and a girl
Put their No’s to the grindstone, their Yes to the world.

Thirty years ago, two lovers’ true minds
Got some grit in their oyster and started a pearl.

Thirty long years with ‘the right bloody woman’
Hatching a love-shelled and rock steady girl.

Thirty years gone, two half-hearts gambled
A whole heart for love and lost a half-world.

Glimpsed through that dazzle of church wedding glass,
Seen face to face now - the sun’s winter pearl.


Dec 1 2009



My Uncle Riley famously greeted his sixtieth wedding anniversary with 'Aye, sixty years with the wrong bloody woman.' I do not envy him his marriage but I do envy his laconic power.

Intertextual note: I read Shakespeare's sonnet 'Let Me Not To The Marriage Of True (Two?) Minds/ Admit Impediments' at our wedding reception and meant it.
My playout features Shelley's rendering the Corinthian spirit of (formerly Saul and later St) Paul as sourced via the Stones's greatest hits LP 'Through The Past Darkly'. (1969) Even the devil (now Sir) Jagger knew his Bible in those days.

September 30, 2009

An Ode To Danny Haynes

D aring runs into dangerous areas, deft passes
A ttacking balls aiming for the top where the Premiership class is.
N ew boy coming fast out of the blocks in a reconditioned team,
N ew ambition and nous re-igniting the old big City dream.
Y oung, gifted and laughing at risk

H ell forward leathering the ball here, held back at Ipswich,
A ngular artistry, a Giggs on grass, identical scars above each eye,
Y ES-yelling walker in da Ashton park, Danny never-say-die,
N ever underestimates the need to nail his place in the side,
E very Friday’s an audition for a part in his favourite film:
S torming through the opposition like a red sail on the Caribbean.


Notes during recent matches at 'Fortress Ashton' I have been carrying a thumb injury. This is partly the reason why during the Scunthorpe home draw I have misfired texts as follows:

'cuntsthorpe are bringing on a bus!" to the editor of a large international publishing company instead of to my mate 'cabby'

'peedo' (as the crowd was yelling in wild abandon at the time) to the head of a Welsh secondary school, instead of to my mate Tom.

The other reasons for the mistake - drunkenness, schoolboy excitement/terror and the sheer amount of noise and jostling in the East End - did not make the cold Monday morning retractions and apologies any easier!

Here, though, as published in the Middlesbrough programme earlier this season, is a 'text' suitable for anyone who receives it - especially anyone cheered by the young hero's match settling goal for City last night.

June 27, 2009

Good day Sunshine

June and sunny. So unless you're reading Summer Moonshine by PG Wodehouse (in which case go back to it immediately) get your old copy of Sergeant Pepper out, put Side 2 on the turntable (if you don't know what a turntable is, stop reading now, there's no hope for you) and read this extract from my forthcoming novel Rubber Soul.

Lennon-McCartney wrote some of the most revolutionary music ever written. And the happiest. And, with Harrison, the loveliest. Love songs. They all believed in it, devoutly composed in it, still do on the quiet, the two that are left. Love as a political liberation (“say the word and you’ll be free”), love as personal revelation (“the movement you need is on your shoulder”) love as a mystical force (“with our love we could save the world”.) Pope John-Paul-George, the accidental divines. John’s direct hits, Paul’s plucked heartstrings, George’s blaze of inner Light worried from dark grumbles. Ringo’s floor spot at the steelworker’s social that was good enough to join the band.

They did not set out to be Shakespeare. But then neither did Shakespeare. They set out with a popular instrument in their hands, to make great popular culture for their own time. But Beatle Studies will replace Shakespeare as the definitive English heritage–high art for generations of school children. Shakespeare will move upstairs into Chaucer’s position as the Father of English Literature (and finally stop tormenting fourteen year olds who can hardly read modern pidgin with his sophisticated Elizabethan verse.) And Chaucer will move further upstairs to become the timeless classic of an earlier civilisation and language, like Homer. And Homer will stay where he is, like God.

They set out to be the toppermost of the poppermost. And they were. They made peerless end of the pier entertainment for their peers.

Yet there is a hole at the heart of even the happiest Beatles record. In the end, it was the bullet hole that found Lennon’s heart. And it was there long before that. It was there on I Am The Walrus, the B side of a McCartney carol John’s raspberrying backing vocal and rhythm helped rasp into irresistibility on 8 December 1967. It was there through all the late head-down Lennon B sides – Rain, Revolution, Don’t Let Me Down, Come Together – as obscure as any Beatle millions seller could be. It was even there at the ultimate orgasm: that windblown peak of the Summer of Love, the climax of their great signature album, which ends… after all the fuss …in a crescendo of nothing. A space ship storming an Albert Hall sized Black Hole. A hole. It was there at the end; it was there at the beginning.

It was always there.

May 06, 2009

The Return Of King Arthur (Again)

No, I'm not referring to the druid John Rothwell (goddess bless him) but to the original May King. I'm teaching a children's reading workshop on him at the Writeaway Conference Something Old Something New at the University of London on 22 May. King Arthur for the 21st century.. So Poem of the Month on the main website is The May King. This chimes pleasantly with my sight today, in a rare break from the PC, through a proper window, of my first swallow of the year. Add this to my first ear full of cuckoo a week ago and I think we can with cautious optimism begin to talk about the onset of summer. Let's hope it lasts a bit longer than it did last year. Meanwhile, here on the sister site blog, and staying with the original May King, or his Queen anyway, here's an old favourite of mine from Coming Home - Lady Guinevere.

Lady Guinevere (c. 13th century

Belle ami, si est de nous, ne vous sans moi, ni moi sans vous.

Let them play at boyish games round
A table. Though walled up, bound,
In an unpublished garden, stone
Tower with window, all alone,
This court still revolves around me.
I twist them all round my pretty
Little finger, a studded ring:
The champion knight, the poor king,
Modred, Gawain, my Lancelot.
It’s the only power I know.
He comes through enchanted forests,
Rough-horses, haunted castles, mists;
From slaying giants, big bad knights:
Barons with feudal appetites;
Impossible quests for Our Lady,
Sowing wild seeds Love meant for me;
Obsessed so with courtly sin and
Confession – Indulgence’s twin;
Greets Artos, old friend – clash of mail
(So grieved his crown still lacks a graal,
So tedious!) He comes to me
Who waits… and do not wait to see
The object of his worship pass,
Wasted, into this looking glass,
Wheat-hair, rose-lips, unsown, should he
Choose to deny himself – and me.

I have a heart, self-determined
Core of I Am, God-underpinned,
Won on the Cross, for me. It can
Choose a beloved, a ‘husband’
The church would make him. But marriage
On earth’s not as it is (a rich
Royal land transaction) as one
With my Lancelot – in heaven.

April 15, 2009

Dave and Helen's Wedding

“The best wedding since ours, “ I say, and I mean it.
Even a breakdown and a lift home on a truck with an AA angel
Called Dave (was it you I wonder?) could not stop us.
A union of high theatre and real marriage.
Out of a cloudy April, a sudden brilliant summer
Falls straight from heaven onto Bishamption
And lasts all day and all starry evening,
(For one day only!)
The perfect lighting for the tulip-brilliant dresses
And beautiful costumes of all these people
Who have made up your amazing elusive life.
The high church vicar who started in the army
And then went into marketing and then found the church
(Cheerfully counting out fivers into his pocket from yours
Just before the holy starts rolling)
And now combines high humour with pointed, solemn
Endearingly detailed interpretations of the stage set.
Then the casually tip-top professional music concert as you exit
Into the vestry to sign the papers; then the Irish jig
That had us crazily clapping you out of church,
The sense of an entire village (with a Jane Austen church at the heart)
Revolving around your modern love story and its happy ending,
The sixth formers handing out canap├ęs and smiling
Like these first sixth formers, your peers, I’m meeting again
From my first school at the other side of a dead career.
Your lucky streak continuing like the complete croupier you once were
To include every aspect of the meal and venue
And indeed half of Worcestershire by the time it ended;
The brilliant soul band with 1930s mikes and Aretha-red suits.
Even as I use my index finger as a temporary hinge
In a slammed door jamb of pain beyond pain (or any sensation
For the following days) I can’t help laughing.
We all got married with you two, those words come true
And everything with them, when the bride and groom mean them.

Everything organised to perfection to appear effortless,
Like the best poetry.

Even the accidental riverboat sailing under Eckingham Bridge
And over its brilliant sun-painted reflection
Joined in: its shining swan-white prow and name:
Welded Bliss. I gave my heart
- We all did – to the bride, but, ludicrously,
It was the groom I actually dance with.

All of us are dancing with both of you now
I think we may be dancing forever.

March 29, 2009

29 March 2009

On His Birthday

“You cannot live in the present.
At least, not in Wales.” RST

“The rhymer in the long-tongued room
Who tolls his birthday bell
Toils towards the ambush of his wounds.” DT

All those years ago, I was in a tatty Welsh classroom
Studying Poem On His Birthday by Dylan Thomas
And now here I am in a tatty Norfolk classroom
Teaching Poem On His Birthday by Dylan Thomas
(Same textbook, newer edition). I’ve got nowhere
Very slowly and now the clock on the wall (essentially
The same wall) ticks up thirty nine instead of seventeen
As I fidget and fill in time as artfully as possible -
Subconsciously still waiting for teacher to come.
A big-hearted girl in year 8 has just tidied up
My slagheap of a desk because she “couldn’t stand it anymore”
And Caroline next door has crammed my pigeonhole
With a big red balloon and put HAPPY BIRTHDAY
Over the staffroom noticeboard. When I slip home
For lunch, I’ll get all my cards, a request to record
My not-so-slim-as-it-used-to-be volume onto tape for America
And the annual rejection from a Welsh publisher.
Then I’ll ease on the moccasins Melanie bought me
Which make me feel like a New Man. But I’m not.
I’m an Old Man, a Boy, enjoying his birthday
Up the Mountain, playing truant from everything
With my dog, Tan, running at my heels.

March 29 1995

Notes: Moccasins? That's so last decade darling.


A Good Friday

Blood-orange sun lazing down into the sea,
Full moon ghosting up the other side of the sky.
All down the sun-slackened tarmac to the woods,
Finches fleece hedgerows like there’s no yesterday
And no tomorrow. Round the graveyard walls
Like over-bred mothers, the fields have ploughed
Through yet another winter, lie back in the sun.
Mozart plays somewhere on a holiday radio,
Notes a tossed incense of joy so alive
It is almost beyond living. The sky
Is full of larks and I’m full of Real Ale
And full of myself anyway: it’s my birthday.
At the foot of a wall of crumbing stone -
A Victorian relic of ivy and railings -
D-A-D stands over a grave in flowers.
“Look, love, I chuckle, they’ve left out the E.”
This tickles my daughter as much as me
And we splutter until I am out of breath…
I am about to meditate on mutability
When her miniature copy of my hand
Hoists me homeward, impatient, a daffodil chill
On the air. Her face is a tiny March leaf,
Her "snuggle-riding" featherweight on my back
Fresh as the daisy that hasn't quite sprung,
A summer in bud. I'm the finished version.
I guess they'll be carving my dates clear as Spring
On one of these stones eventually (paying
The sextons double because of the chalk)
But all in good time. Carpe Diem.
Days like these are worth dying for.

Sedgeford, March 29 1991.

Notes: I was 35, then 39 and now I'm 53. The daughter described is now 22. We change, we stay the same. It's brilliantly sunny here. Happy birthday everybody!

January 09, 2009

A Reader's Letter

I've recently received this from one of the fifty people who attended the launch of River Deep Mountain High in February 2008. It's the most economically expressed and still among the most comprehensive comments I've had.

"I have had a conscience about failing to write to you before this about your book that we all greatly enjoyed reading, though the bureaucratic jungle that enveloped the aspirations of your youth were horrifying to read of, despite the lightness of your touch. Your fame has spread to Cyprus..."

All right, I've left the Cyprus bit in just to show off but I am genuinely and deeply gratified (and humbled) by the care and attention of the previous sentence. It's worth all the writing when someone reads this receptively. Why isn't this woman running the education ministry? Ah? she failed the entrance exam - she got far too many marks...