Google+ A Tangled Rope: 10/01/2009 - 11/01/2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Friday Poem: She Is


She Is

She is the sky.
She could be a bird,
She could soar so high.

She is the sun.
She could be the moon.
She could be the stars.

She is freedom.
She has no limits,
A shape without form.

I could ask her name,
But she speaks softly.
A sound I can hear
Only as silence.

I look where she looks
Among the rocks and pools.
But I do not see
What she shows to me.

She wants me to walk
Beside her, but I trip
I stumble, unsettled,
Unsure in her wake.

Transfixed by her slow
Graceful easefulness,
I watch her walking,
But miss where she steps.

She sings a soft song
Of belonging, out
To the sky and sea,

As I mumble to the pages
Of a tattered notebook.

This Changed Place



I wonder if and I wonder why. I do not know and I cannot say. All the days fall around us as we stand waiting for our own world to begin once again. We used to move though this world so easily as though we belonged here and it was our home.

Now we come as strangers, held captive in another land for a long time. Everything now feels new and strange, somehow changed. This world belongs to us no more. We see it in the places. We see it in the faces that surround us. We left this land long ago to travel to new places. Now we have returned and it is no longer a familiar place to us. We do not know this new language or the customs of this changed place.

We have forgotten how to act naturally in such a place and stand awkwardly on the edges of things, uncertain.

Thursday, October 29, 2009



There you were, keeping your head down, just getting on with it, knowing that there would be time enough for all those things that seemed just out of reach. You knew that one day you would reach up into that tree of possibilities and pluck its ripest fruit just for yourself. It would be a golden day in the sun, a day when you would finally have the time, the opportunity and the knowledge gained through a life that had been well-lived to appreciate just how sweet that fruit could be.

Now, though, you look up suddenly, to find that you are already deep into autumn and falling inexorably into the dark days of winter. That fruit that you were hoping for, longing for, that sweet summer fruit that hung so temptingly from the tree, has gone, fallen into the deep entangled undergrowth. Kicking through the grass, nettles and brambles, you find the remains of that fruit, rotten and broken, on the ground.

Your summer is long gone; it passed without you ever really noticing. You thought those long sun-filled days could last forever, you ignored how the night was slowly creeping over your days, slowly taking them over, and how there was suddenly a sharper chill to those mornings that had seemed to be always warm.

Your autumn fell down around you, creeping into your summer, whilst you thought you were still dancing through your summer nights, not noticing how much darker, how cooler, they had become.

We all think our summers will last forever. We all believe that we are immortal and our summer is eternal. We are wrong. Autumn will come to us all, and all too soon, we will taste the sharp ice of our winter on our tongue.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cannot Be Unsaid


A moment is all that stands between now and then. Those words said cannot be unsaid. That silence cannot be returned to, and filled in with all you should have said as she turned away. All our moments are irredeemable in that way. Our mistakes are there for us to see. They are the ghosts of our mistakes haunting every subsequent move we make.

However, we should not let our fears of those ghosts paralyse us. We have to learn to live with them, learn from them, realise that everyone makes mistakes. We should all know that everyone makes far more mistakes than they get things right. It is important to understand that mistakes are something we learn from, grow from, if we are wise enough to use them well, to learn from them. An even bigger mistake is to pretend that your mistakes never happened, that you have been right in everything you have ever done. That is not just being mistaken; that is being an idiot.

None of us is perfection and no-one will ever achieve perfection, the best we can do is try to get as close to it as we can. In life we all eventually lose, because we will all – one day – lose this life, but what matters is not the act of losing – as it is inevitable – but how well we lose, with grace, with dignity, with understanding, with wisdom. Just as Socrates said “The unexamined life is not worth living.” it is not also worth dying with.

Wednesday Story: Dead Leaves


Dead Leaves

We were walking together deep in the countryside. It was a bright, but chilly, autumn day. The wind was blowing, twisting the dead leaves into the air. We both were wearing thick heavy coats and scarves. I wished I had a hat.

Helen's hand was deep inside the pocket of my coat, her arm wrapped around mine. I turned to look at her and she smiled at me. I noticed she had a few dead leaves sticking to her hair. I picked them off with my free hand. I was about to drop them.

"No." Helen took the leaves from me and put them in her coat pocket. "I want to keep them."

We trudged up to the top of the hill. The wind was stronger up there. Helen had to keep one hand up to her face to keep her hair from whipping into her eyes. From up there we could see out over the forest, spread out like a green sheet thrown over the hillsides, and the small village seeming almost insignificant from that height.

"Let's go back down, out of this wind, Martin," she said, turning away without looking at me. She walked on in front of me, looking down at her feet as she stepped carefully down the steep path. I hurried to catch up with her.

"What's the matter?" I said.

"You know," she said, not looking up.

I stopped walking. "But what can I do?"

Helen stopped a few feet in front of me; she turned and looked back up the hill at me. "You can choose. Choose...? Shit! I'm not something in a shop, you know. I'm me! A person. You shouldn't have the power of choice over people - it's disgusting really." She looked away from me, over towards the woods on her right, staring hard. She brushed her eyes roughly with the sleeve of her coat.

"I can't walk out. Just leave," I said.

"Why not? You strolled into my life. Why can't you walk out of hers?"

"I have obligations. I owe her something, something more than a sudden empty space in her life."

"But what about me?" Helen said quietly. She turned away from me and ran towards the trees.

She was sitting on the ground with her back against a tree when I found her. I knelt down in front of her and took her hand.

"You're cold," I said. She nodded without looking up at me. "You always used to say you didn't want me to leave her. You said you wanted to be independent, free. You said you didn't want to live with anyone ever again."

“I've changed my mind. I don't like waking up in the night and finding no-one there, not any more." She turned her hand so it was holding mine. She looked at my hand as though she was trying to read something in its palm.

"I had my palm read once," she said. "The gypsy said I was going to be happy. But I think she only said what people expected her to say. I don't think lines on someone's hand can mean anything. Do you, Martin?"

I shook my head. Helen pulled me towards her, she kissed me on the lips and I sat down beside her. I put my arm around her shoulders.

"I want to wake up next to you," she said. "Every day."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes.... No.... How should I know? It just feels right, that's all. That is all we can ever know, isn't it?"

"Do people ever really change?" I said. "I don't know if Claire and I have changed, moved away from each other, or whether we have not changed at all and so become bored with each other. I think that if people do change, it happens so slowly that it is unnoticeable."

"Does it matter?" Helen said.

"I don't know. I just like to try to understand why and how things happen, that's all."

"What is there to understand? You don't - you say - love her any more. You say she doesn't love you. Wouldn't you rather be with me? You used to say that one day we would be together."

"Yes, of course I want to be with you. But it is just not that simple."

Helen stood up and walked away. I sighed and followed her. For a moment or two, as I followed her down the steep path, I wondered what it would be like, waking up next to Helen each morning - every morning - for the rest of our lives.

In the beginning, several months before, her unpredictability, her mood-swings, her sheer vibrancy had seemed so exciting. It was a stark contrast to the staid routine that my life with Claire had become. But, watching Helen as she scrambled down that path, I was starting to regret it all. I wished I'd acted differently that first time, when the new village schoolteacher had dropped into my second-hand bookshop.

It had happened with almost clichéd inevitability. A young, idealistic, enthusiastic teacher arrives at a sleepy village, deep in the countryside. At first, her enthusiasm for her new job is enough to sustain her, but when the inevitable inertia, the simple endless day to day slog, begins to wear her down, she has no place to turn. She has nothing except her growing friendship with the owner of the village bookshop. He is the only one adult she has met in the village that she feels she has anything in common with, any rapport.

It began last summer, during the long school holiday. Helen began hanging around in the shop, just half-hearted browsing at first. I used to watch her leafing through the books, the almost sensual way she would delicately turn the - sometimes fragile - pages like a mother sweeping the hair out of her child's eyes.

Then she started helping out. My main trade is by post - rare books ordered through my web site. She used to love to help me sort out the books. She enjoyed packing them like the delicate objects they were into the well-padded boxes ready for shipment all around the world.

But it wasn't until about six months ago that we first kissed. Spring in the air and all that, I suppose. By that time, I had reluctantly given up on my vague half-fantasies about the good-looking teacher in her mid-twenties falling in love with the forty-two year old balding bookshop owner. So when she leant forward over the box she was taping up and kissed me I... well... I just stood there, not quite believing it had happened and half-expecting to be woken by the alarm clock.

Funnily enough, no-one in the village seemed to regard it as a remote possibility either. There had been one or two looks when Helen first started hanging around my shop. But the idea of the sexy young schoolteacher and the bookshop owner having an affair was so obviously absurd that even village gossip could not sustain it.

Anyway, any such notion received its deathblow through Claire's absolute conviction that Helen had far more sense, more of a life, to consider an affair with someone like me. "That girl's got far too much about her to want to bother with someone as dull as ditch water as my Martin," Claire had said when interrogated by the Farnborough-Jones sisters in the butcher’s one Tuesday morning in early April.

"No, it is because you are like you are," Helen had said to me when I asked her the inevitable "Why me?"

"I'm so fed up with the egotistical selfishness of young blokes. So tired of men who only want to be the hero in the film of their own life," she said sadly. She was sitting naked in the wicker chair by her bed, smoking a joint. "You seem so... so calm." She watched the smoke curling up towards the ceiling for a moment. I had the sense, the feeling that there was some pain, some memory. When she turned back I could see the beginning of a tear in her eye. She swallowed, then smiled. "That's what I like about being in your shop, the calm, the peacefulness. I always feel there is something solid, safe, secure about being surrounded by books. So much silent wisdom."

"But you're still young," I said. "You should be out grabbing life by the balls, instead of getting stuck in this backwater with a dull old stick like me."

She stubbed out the joint and stood up. "No, come back to bed. I only want to take you by the balls."

I was bought back out of my reverie by the realisation she had taken the wrong path down the hillside.

"Helen! Helen! Stop! Wait!" I called; I could see her coat, the dark brown sheepskin, through the trees and the flash of her blonde hair. But she did not wait. I tried running, but slipped on the wet leaves. By the time I had struggled to my feet she was out of sight. I ran after her, wiping the mud from my hands onto my coat.

I had almost caught up with her. I caught a flash of blonde hair through the trees. I sighed with relief. But then I heard her scream as she dropped from view.

The story I had heard, when I was a child, was that during WWII a German bomber had crashed into the side of the hill. It had been on its way to the industrial heart of the midlands with a full bomb load. As far as I know, it is a true story. But whether it was the cause of the, almost cliff-like, sheer drop that makes up most of the south side of the hill, or not, I have no idea.

I crept forward, towards the edge, slowly. I've never been very good at heights at the best of times. But the thought of looking over the edge and seeing Helen a hundred and fifty feet or so below....

At first, I could not make out what I was seeing. The mud-covered fingers holding onto the edge of the cliff didn't seem - somehow - quite human. But when I realised what they were, I knelt down, wrapping my left arm around a nearby tree trunk.

"Hang on, it's me. I'm here. Helen?"

"Martin? Oh shit... fuck.... Help me!"

I leant out over the edge, grabbing her arm around the wrist. "I've got you," I said. She was heavy, so heavy, staring up into my eyes, pleading, desperate. I was having trouble holding on to her, I could feel her slipping through my fingers. I knew that this was it, the deciding moment. When I had saved her, I would have no choice. I would have to leave Claire and go with Helen. This act of rescue would bind us together far more deeply than any mere marriage vow.

"Hell. Oh God! Come on, I've got you."

At first, I didn't recognise the voice. I could not move. I was just staring at my empty hand stretched out over the edge of the drop. I knew if I stopped focussing on my empty hand and looked down, I would be able to see where Helen had fallen.

"No, don't look. Come here. Sit against this tree. Here, drink some of this." It was Brian, the landlord of the Goose and Chickens. He pressed the flask of brandy against my mouth. I swallowed, choked and coughed.

"I saw everything," he said. "I saw exactly what happened. Drink some more. I've got my mobile."

I sat against the tree, sipping the brandy. Usually I don't touch spirits, but I was incongruously wondering if I would get the chance of another drink before they sent me away to prison, and just what was the difference between manslaughter and murder.

"Hello, Ian? No I don't care if you're off-duty. No, shut up! This is serious. There's been a... an incident. I'm up on Barrow Hill. That new teacher from the school, Miss... Thomas, yes... Helen. No." He glanced down, over the edge of the drop. "No... there's no chance, no hope at all. She... at the bottom of the sheer drop. No, Martin...from the bookshop...." Brian looked over at me as he spoke. "Yes. No, he was holding her by the arm... I saw everything... all of it... he nearly managed to save her.... Yes, a bloody hero, he deserves a medal. He nearly got himself killed trying to save her. Five minutes? I'll wait here for you here then. I think Martin is in shock anyway."

I opened my mouth, trying to say something.

"No, you drink that. Best thing for shock, brandy. Anyway, you deserve it. A bloody hero, that's what you are. A bloody hero."


[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's An Outrage!


Do you - only too often - see news stories where people stridently claim 'It's an outrage!' about something you've never even noticed, let alone thought about before? Do you feel outraged by your inability to find something to get outraged about? Do you need that sense of outraged self-justification that will give shape, definition, and - maybe - even meaning to YOUR otherwise drab and meaningless existence?


Then you need People Who Need To Feel Outraged About Something (PWNTFOAS).

PWNTFOAS is the new umbrella group for people who feel outraged that they are missing out by not being outraged by something.

These days it seems that hardly a day can go by without some item appearing on the news featuring someone, or some group, claiming to be outraged by something or other. It can be a trivial little petty thing like some celebrity, or other citizen of medialand saying, doing, wearing, taking, eating, something that one of these people can find 'offensive', through being offended by something in the media itself, right up to the vital issue of feeling outraged that what they have to say is far too important to their own overriding sense of self-esteem to be ignored, no matter how trivial the actual subject matter.

PWNTFOAS has been formed for those people who feel their feelings of self-justifying outrage have not yet found a subject, people who feel they are not getting the attention they feel they deserve from an ungrateful and indifferent world.

PWNTFOAS is for those people who feel the need to be a part of the 21st Century's update of Descartes' famous dictum: I am on the telly, therefore I am.

PWNTFOAS will scour the news TV, radio, internet and the press looking for any item, no matter how small or insignificant that it feels one, or more, of its members can work up at least some mild indignation about.

Not only that, PWNTFOAS will draft and announce a press release for those outraged members to read out in front of journalists - and - hopefully - those all-important TV cameras.

The Leaves On A Tree

These days it is as though the world has changed its shape around us. There was a time that seems so long ago now, when it seemed almost as if the world had been made to fit around us.

Nowadays we are not so sure.

Although there are some who like to see themselves, or – more often – the rest of us, as some parasites, some harmful disease on the surface of the Earth, as some abhorrent freak on nature that will destroy the planet it feeds off.

In one sense though every thing is a freak of nature, for that is how nature survives, how living things continue is through natural selection.

Human beings are not – as religions try to fool us into believing – something set apart from nature. We are as natural as the leaves on a tree or that fish glinting silver in the shadowed pool. We can no more step outside nature than we can step outside space and time.

With earthquakes, volcanoes, storms and floods nature can show that we are just as puny as ants washed away in a downpour. Our cities may look mighty and twinkle brightly when seen from space, but to the rest of nature they matter as much as do termite mounds.

We are not here as some mysterious whim of some god, a toy for him to idle away his endless hours, we have grown from the nature of this world and we will continue to be defined by it, even as our powers to redefine it in our own way grow from our understanding of it. This world is all our futures as well as all of our pasts.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Inspector of the Queen’s Tandems

These days the post of Head Inspector of the Queen’s Tandems is mainly a symbolic role, especially since Her Majesty has forgone the use of the Crown Ceremonial Tandem following the infamous incident involving Prince Philip and the Chinese national Olympic yo-yo team back in the summer of 1976. The current holder of the office, Lord Sprinkle of Doolaly, however is still entitled to the royal gift of an annual trollop, or strumpet, and butt of sack that the post has entailed since first being set up under Charles II, just seventeen and a half minutes after the Restoration. Of course, back in those days the tandem had yet to be invented. However, Charles II had many faults, but a lack of foresight was not one of them.


These days, the Queen’s personal brace of ceremonial tandems is second only to the fleet of tandems owned by Elton John, kept in the former Royal Artillery tandem sheds down in Watford. One of the most interesting of Elton John’s tandems is the Silver-Flight Degenerate that was – as many historians now believe – the very machine that sparked the infamous Manchester tandem riot of 1923. One of its mudguards still bear traces of what is said to be the blood of one of the 17 Tandem Day Martyrs, who gave their lives to prevent the scourge of cycling taking hold in this country in the same way as it had taken hold on the continent, especially in France.

Unfortunately, despite the government making the possession of bicycle clips an imprisonable offence, and banning the important of handlebar bells, the evil epidemic of cycling did gain a foothold in this country. Faced with the overwhelming tide of bicycles the government was forced to legalise cycling just as WWII broke out in Europe.

However, it was felt that the Royal family should be prepared to flee the country, should the worst happen and the Germans invade the British Isles, so they were provided with a special fleet of royal tandems. It was, therefore, the job of the Head Inspector of the Queen’s Tandems to make sure that the fleet of royal tandems was kept in tip-top condition ready for such an eventually. At least, it was for the 27 minutes it took for the members of the Royal household to remember than Britain is an island and any attempt to flee an invading enemy by tandem would – eventually – come to a rather moist end. However, by then the Head Inspector of the Queen’s Tandems had already been given his ceremonial hat and, by Royal protocol, it was therefore too late to disestablish the role. Consequently, it has remained a mainly ceremonial role right up to this day when the hat is worn by the Head Inspector of the Queen’s Tandems for the official Trooping Of The Tandems on the first Tuesday after Easter each year.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Empty Of Meaning


Too many words. There are too many words that have been said and now we stand here inside the only thing that remains: the silence. Around us the very air seems empty of meaning with no energy to carry any more words upon it. The air itself seems thick, heavy, as though weighted down by too much that has already been said.

Neither of us has the energy either for more words. They have become meaningless sitting heavy in the pit of the stomach like a surfeit of excuses, explanation, denial and justification. We have gorged ourselves on our self-justifications and now we feel sick. The thought of just one more word lies heavy and makes the gorge rise.

We cannot, though, turn away from each other. Neither of us knows how to be alone any longer. We fear too that solitude will bring back the words. We fear words of recrimination haunting our loneliness, the ghosts of all we have walked away from and lost.

So, we stand, heads bowed in defeat, but each waiting for the other to make acknowledgement of their capitulation, so that we can both surrender together and leave the battlefield in mutual defeat. That way we can bring comfort to each other, each easing our own pain within the sorrows of the other.

Friday Poem: Our Lives


Our Lives

I can look into her, or any woman's eyes
And see our lives together. All the days
Have candle-lit slow dinners with soft talk.
The barefoot moonlight strolls along the beach
And shaded summer afternoons in bed.

She sometimes too, returns my easy look,
Knowing too well the thoughts she senses there,
Written behind the smile I offer her.

Then she will see the nights she spends alone.
The table with gutted candles drowned in wax,
Uneaten food, and waiting empty plates.
The sea's long, pounding, raging, futile storms,
Her long and lonely walks across the beach
And solitary tear-filled afternoons.

She sees a list of all my failed attempts.
A catalogue of disappointing days.
Her smile fading, she turns and walks away.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

High Above


Our route will take us through valleys where sightless indifferent mountains brood silently, looming overhead through the trees. As we climb higher, we glimpse the sea, blue and silent stretching out to where it meets the sky.

Up here, above everything, the rocks are bare, breaking free of the grass and gorse to reach up towards the clouds, almost close enough to touch. A hand reaching up could almost take the sky into the grasp to hold it there.

You stretched out naked beneath me, could become our sacrifice to appease the dark clouds gathering right at the edge of all we can now see of the sky, with the land below held out before us like a sheet spread for the gods to tumble gifts out upon.

Those trees gathered around the foot of this cliff, stand way below us now and become an indifferent mass; like those crowds that gather, bright purposeless specks staining the sands of the beach with little lives, serving no purpose for us watching above.

Your one raised finger can erase them all, while we, indifferent, enfold each other into ourselves to play at fecund gods once again. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Workplace Romance


If we could just dance together like clerical assistants in the moonlight, before cuddling close under the star-filled sky to swap underwear requisition forms together as if we were teenagers once more. Then we could see how close to a hole-punch we could place our post-it notes before rushing off together to chase post room distribution trolleys through the endless empty post-finishing time offices and corridors of all our fantasies.

Ah, but, these days we are far too busy for such carefree times. We spend our hours together poring over our mutual stock manifests, and, later, whispering the secrets of double-entry bookkeeping to each other under sweat-soaked A4 sheets of our feint-ruled desire as the tea-break of our yearnings dunks the last of its digestives in our ever-cooling tea.

Once, those were the dreams we had; always bringing love’s small gifts to each other: all receipts, invoices, stock lists and other such knick-knacks and keepsakes of the heart. We would meet, rushing together into stationary cupboards and storerooms, exchanging our kisses and embraces just like businessmen and politicians exchanging well-stuffed plain manila envelopes. Ah, so many of those plain manila A5 envelopes of the soul we exchanged on those tender after office-hours nights together.

Oh, but, you are gone now, like an MBA graduate in the night, off on the audit trail of discovery to small businesses I shall never know.

NASA Search For Intelligent Life In Jeopardy

As NASA prepares to test launch its latest rocket, there were doubts expressed yesterday as to whether its intended mission – to search for intelligent life in the British political system – was a colossal waste of time and money.


[Photo taken by NASA probe launched into the recent Labour conference showing a complete absence of intelligent life]

Over the years there have been a few tantalising hints that the British political scene may once have – a long time a go – harboured intelligent life, but looking at the barren intellectual landscape it now presents to us, many find that very difficult to believe. NASA has taken it upon itself, however, to investigate these signs and to settle - for once and all - if it is possible for intellectually coherent beings to survive in the near-vacuum of what passes for modern day political thought.

As a NASA spokesperson said:

We launched a number of probes, one into each of the recent Party Political Conferences in the hope of detecting any signs that the political parties had any detectable signs of intelligence. We knew it was a long shot as party conferences are usually the last place anyone would expect to detect any signs of intelligence, but by then we were getting desperate for anything, anything at all, that could justify us continuing with the project.

After all, with the rate Britain is plummeting down the league tables from everything from individual freedom to – quite possibly – the Subbuteo world championships – times are indeed getting desperate, and – if the country is to survive as anything other than a place on the map – something needs to be done, and done quickly – to get some one with even the vaguest idea of knowing what they are doing back in change of the place before it goes completely tits-up.

The NASA probe sent crashing into the Labour party conference discovered little more beyond the Labour party’s ongoing project to make everything illegal they can’t tax, and to tax everything they can’t – yet – make illegal. The only signs of life found by the probe were footprints from Labour’s bureaucratic centralising dinosaur, apparently living on long after it should have become extinct through being weighed down by its own internal contradictions and its society-destroying perverse incentives.

Unwilling to let it touch down, in fear it could become contaminated by the deadly alien spores it is rumoured to emit, NASA kept its probe safely in orbit around the Conservative Party conference, where – to the surprise of many it did pick up some – rather ambiguous - signals. Up until recently it has been assumed that the Tory conference was a totally unsuitable place for any form of intelligent life to flourish, beyond the basic reflex knee-jerk response to any mention of ‘hanging and flogging.’

However, some maverick scientists within NASA have claimed that there was some hope of finding intelligence within the Conservative party, but hopes are diminishing especially after the latest probe beamed back reports of an outbreak of publicity-seeking tokenism of the worst sort: namely all-women short lists, exactly the opposite of anything resembling intelligent life by turning politics into even less relevance; a sort of Benetton or Coke-cola advert with nice smiley representatives of all the sexes, sexual orientations, races, hairstyles and choice of knitwear in the country in a big shiny happy people snog-fest.

As one political journalist said:

When people want politicians to be ‘more representative’ they do not want this pick ‘n’ mix selection of all the various diversities, they want politicians who have some idea, some notion, however vague and ill-informed of what it is like to live in this over-regulated, over-taxed, over health and safety obsessed kingdom of the petty-minded over-officious bureaucratic box ticking mentality that chokes all the point, purpose and joy out of life with a kind of gleeful bloody-mindedness interested solely in its own ever-increasing expansion and vital self-importance.

On its way back from somewhere far more interesting, another NASA probe briefly flew past the Liberal Democrats conference. Interestingly (nearly), in the far distant past, this party once showed signs of evolving some sense of individual liberty and responsibility as the basis for a political philosophy. However, exposure to some of the more toxic elements of socialism and a bout of some rather unpleasant interbreeding with the Labour party, led to the then Liberal party taking up weave your own lentilism, windfarms, sandals married to an abiding interest in unsuitable beards and excessive amounts of un-seasonal knitwear. This was – of course - a complete evolutionary dead end. Little of any worth has been heard from any of their conferences recently, and, consequently, political scientists are tentatively coming to the conclusion that this species may soon become extinct.


A NASA spokesstarchild has just made the following statement to the world’s press:

Frankly we believe this mission to seek out intelligent life in the British political system is a complete and utter waste of time, money and resources and it will be cancelled forthwith. Instead, today I announce a new mission for NASA, where we are going to explore space: the final frontier. Where the voyages of the starship Enterprise will undertake five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no man has gone before and introduce all those lives and civilisations to the wonders of the Obamagasm… at gun-point, if necessary. Thank you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Diversity Outreach Co-Ordinator With No Name


It was a one horse town, out in the wilds of the country, in the badlands far beyond the M25.

The salon bar doors swung open and the be-ponchoed stranger stepped into the room. The piano stopped mid-tune, and all conversation halted. Each of the stranger’s steps on the wooden floor rang out as she made her way to the bar.

‘What’ll it be, stranger?’ said the barman, wiping the bar in front of the stranger.

The stranger looked around at the room. ‘I’ll have an organic nettle cordial,’ she said, firmly looking around at each face in the bar, waiting for each to turn and look away.

‘What?’ said the barman.

‘Organic nettle cordial… please.’

‘We… there’s….’

A figure at one of the distant tables carefully laid his dominos face down and stood up.

‘This is a lager pub,’ he said, hitching up his trousers as he made his way towards the woman at the bar. ‘Maybe, if you’re a bit posh and like that sort of thing, maybe some bitter. But not soft drinks… never.’

‘Well, I’m afraid that is going to have to change,’ said the woman carefully, softly.

‘Oh, yeah?’ said the big man, stepping closer to the woman.

‘If this establishment is going to attract the right cross-culturally diverse, ethnic mix and members of the requisite sexual minorities, it is. Yes,’ said the woman, reaching into her bag.

There was a screech of wood against wood as the customers leapt from their chairs to take cover. The big man took a step back, as the woman quickly pulled a clipboard from her bag.

‘Look out, she’s got a questionnaire!‘ screamed one man as he dived head-first through the big plate-glass window stumbled back to his feet and ran, blood dripping from his lacerated face, for the hills.

The other regulars turned as one and began to stampede for the exits.

‘Stop!’ the woman yelled. She pulled out some identification. ‘I’m from the council. Nobody move. All of you sit down and get out a pen. The council needs a record of your ethnicity, sexual preferences, age, disability requirements and so forth, so that we can see if this establishment is fulfilling all the necessary diversity quotas. Come on now, one form each.’

Three days later, when the Diversity Outreach Co-ordinator With No Name rode out of the town on her bicycle, it was still a one-horse town, but it had wheelchair access to the saloon and the whorehouse now catered for the Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Community every second Tuesday of the month.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Her Box Of Memories


Time does not wait for us. We have to grab what memories we can, as those moments flutter by, and hold them close, keep them safe. Even then, a precious moment is hard to hold onto without something tangible we can grasp and feel the connection that flows from then until now. So many of our moments are lost on the breezes that flutter through our times, taking our days out through the open windows of our lives and scattering them far out of our reach.

So she held the moment in the palm of her open hand, watching it grow into something that she would take on with her down all the roads of the rest of her life. She knew this would be one of those moments she would keep as a memory; locked away in her box of memories that she kept in a safe place deep in the heart of her mind.

Whenever time came dripping slow she took down her box of memories to hold it in her hands, feeling the weight of a life in something solid. She was so careful with her box of memories, not wanting to waste its powers on ordinary day-to-day reminiscence. It was a powerful thing, which could take her back to those other times, times when it seemed she would have nothing but memories heaping down on her for every day of her life.

Now, though, her days were mostly empty. The world that once turned around her now turned around other people, other places. These days she looked out towards a world that lay far beyond her window. A window that looked out only on a world that has left her behind, alone with her box of memories.

She took care of those memories, taking them out only when she was alone, sitting in her favourite chair with the sunlight pouring in over her, turning the whole room golden. She would reach up to the highest shelf of her memories and take down that box, placing it carefully in her lap as she gently took out each single moment, seeing it sparkle and glow in the warm sunlight as though it was happening now, still as fresh as the day she’d packed it away.

She would take each memory in her hands, turning it so that it caught fire from the sunlight, burning deep into her mind. She would close her eyes and sit back in her special chair, letting the warmth of the sun and her golden memory fill her back up with the life she had left behind so long ago. 

Monday Poem: Solitary


[L'Absinthe - by Edgar Degas]


I should have been that solitary man
In an old flat cap and creased, tired mac,
Sipping a single slow half-pint of mild
In the back shadows of the public bar;
Who does not look up with expectation
At every creak of the opening door;
Who strolls back to a solitary bed-sit
To toast one thin-sliced round of cheap white bread
Over the thin heat of a one-bar fire
While, on the mantelpiece, his cocoa cools
And the radio whispers the late news.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Sea Of Forgetting


It is not easy to let go of those times and let them float away down the river of memory, letting them make their way down to the sea of forgetfulness to be lost on the tides that washes the flotsam of our forgotten moments onto far distant beaches where we will never walk. We want to hold on tight to so much of this world, surround ourselves with every moment, picking over its traces trying to find why memory matters so much.

We have lived too long with too many promises of a world somehow made good; either here and now, or in some place far beyond the here and now where everything will be made right and good.

Fortunately, now we do not believe such hollow promises.

We know there are no heavens and no hells; and we know too that any promised utopia will always crumble into rubble and be lost in the flames of its own contradictions. So we hang on tight to what we have, hoping not a single moment will be prised from our grasp.

We do all we can to take our memories and make them solid, investing them in things that lie outside ourselves: in times, in places, in songs and photographs. Solid proof that we were here, and we were there, and that those moments can never be torn from our tightly gripping hands to flutter on down to that river that flows on to the sea of forgetting. 

Friday Poem: Images



Memory takes motion and freezes it.
Each moment captured and held, there,
a picture on  the gallery wall.

Here's where those moments will all end.
Here's the last picture, where she turns
the last corner, head down, in icy rain.

A hand dropped and then turn away.
Walk back to the dry gallery
to stand, poised, inside a silent stillness.

A picture in a further room
falls to the floor, shattered silence.
Glass spreading shards across unyielding marble.

Sharp splinters of sound echo
through rooms and empty corridors
as eyes close and heads turn away.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crystal Days


Some days seem so long, stretching out towards the night like arms reaching across a widening gap between thrust-apart lovers. We know, only too well though, that very night time will be upon us before we have even decided how to make use of this day we have spread out before us.

Days fall so carelessly behind us as we look forward to holidays, special events, parties and other such times that we believe make the ordinary routine days little more than an ordeal to survive. Those special times dangle before us like the carrot before the trudging donkey. Only too often, though, when we do manage to stretch our necks and grasp one of those times we thought would be so special, it turns out not to be what we’d hoped.

We hope for some kind of transcendental period, a time that crystallises our lives into something solid, something real that we can grasp in our eager hands, hold up to the light and see the myriad reflections of all our possibilities shine and glow.

All too often though, it doesn’t happen like that. We arrive at these longed for days to find they are as tired and grey as we are. We feel like our donkey has discovered that the carrot, it strained so hard for, is old, dry, wrinkled and mouldy.

Then we look behind us, at the trail of all those days we wasted waiting for this now that seems so empty of all we’d hoped for. There will be no crystallising moment, no period of revelation, no great insight.

But we are wrong. There is insight, there is understanding, and it lies there in that moment where we turn and see that trail of wasted days we so carelessly tossed aside. It is then we realise. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Moment The Possible Will Grow From

[The Kiss by Auguste Rodin]

This is not possible. This moment turns away from itself and all it could entail. You leave the possibility of a kiss damp on my lips; shake your head and walk away, leaving me alone with the night. I turn to look at the stars feeling them closer than you are to me, until, out of my sight I feel you hesitate, just as you are about to return to the crowded party. Still without seeing you I feel your head as it turns, seemingly beyond your volition to control.

I wait, not daring to look as I feel your presence growing closer to me, an extra touch of heat on an already too-warm summer evening. I turn as you hand reaches up to draw my face back to yours. This time there is no shy hesitation of a kiss, but a full deep meeting. I can taste the wine on your tongue and feel the urgency within you as your press yourself hard against me and the sudden cool dampness as the glass you still hold in your one hand spills wine over my wrist.

You suddenly break off the kiss as my reflex response pulls me away slightly. I mutter something about the wine on my hand; you smile; now knowing I was not pulling away from you. You take my hand up to your mouth and I watch as your tongue laps up the spilt wine from my skin. It is then that we both know that this is the moment that the possible will grow from. 

Wednesday Story: Memory Stones


Memory Stones

The words themselves are just standing there in the desert. Describing nothing, they stand as monuments: separate, unconnected, devoid of meaning. I do not have the strength to dig them out of the wind-blown sand, to move them and make shapes out of them, shapes both pleasing and sensible.

I carve the shapes, the words, from the rocks I find as I wander the desert, leaving them where I find them. This desert - in the valley between the two hills - is now littered with the words I have carved, some almost buried by the wind-shifted sand. They stand like statues or monoliths, isolated from each other by the uneven rise and fall of the dunes at the valley sides.

Down there, on the plain, there are other carved stone words, left where I tried to arrange them, tried to find some meaning amongst them. I gave up on that a long time ago. The heat made it too hard to shift the heavy stones. The words lie where I last moved them, half-formed sentences and phrases - nothing more.

I used to want to form patterns, pleasing patterns, find meaning among these stones. But now, once they are carved, I leave them, feeling I have done enough.

The woman in white stands watching from the opposite hillside. Her dark hair and long flowing white dress fluttering like banners in the breeze. At her side, the black panther sits patiently, the pupils of its eyes slits against the bright sunlight.

I tried, once, to go to speak with the woman. As I climbed the hillside the panther stood and strained against its chain. I saw the woman's hand tighten on the lead as she held up her other hand for me to stop. I knew she meant it, and I could hear the low purring growl of the panther as its pupils widened. I paused, then turned back. At the bottom of the hill, I turned again and looked back. The panther was sitting down once more, relaxed, and the woman was watching me carefully.

Twice every day another woman - totally hairless - and naked, except for a leather collar arrives. She carries a decanter of red wine and a glass on a silver tray to the woman in white. She waits, motionless, next to the black panther as the woman in white sips the wine. Only two glasses - always just two glasses. Then the hairless woman climbs sedately back over the brow of the hill and out of sight.


It is nearly time for Gina to arrive, I have no clock in my room, nothing except my bed, my desk, my chair and my notebook; but somehow I always know when it is time for her to arrive. I get this feeling. A feeling of... what?  Immanence, I suppose. Expectation, perhaps? I wish I knew the words. Apparently, I used to know the words, words for everything. It used to be a major part of my job, so they say, but I have no way of knowing, not any more.

Gina said - I think it was yesterday - "Why should I lie to you?"

And I said: "Lie?"

I didn't know what the word meant. Gina explained it to me, but I am still not sure that I understand. Why should anyone say something that is not true?

I suppose the rain will fall again today. It has rained for the last... how many days? Three, I think, or it could be four.... I don't know, I can't really remember. It is hard to remember anything these days.

I walk to the window every now and then, and look out. There is not much to see, just the grass and that big old tree. Its leaves are turning brown, yellow, even golden now, so I presume it must be autumn. It is hard to tell, but I suppose the tree could not lie.

It looks cold out there. How I know that I do not know, I may just be inferring it from the tree losing its leaves, or maybe it is something about the light, the sunlight. It looks bright, when it is not raining that is, but it is a thin kind of light, as though it carries no power... no power of warmth, not like the sun in that desert.

Occasionally, I get the desire to go out. A desire to feel the wind, the sunlight, even the rain. I have asked, but they refuse. They say it is not time yet. When it will be time I have no idea, I'm not sure they do either, they are vague about that as they are vague - dismissive even - of a lot of things I ask them for. But, in other ways, they are very good. As long as I ask for immediate things; particular food, the light, a change of clothing, my wish is granted immediately and with easy smiles.

As long as what I ask for can be given here, in this room, then they are glad, eager even, to grant my wish. But if I refer to anything outside the room, anything concerned with the future, or even if I do have a future, then they stop smiling. I sometimes feel that I have offended them in some strange, obscure way. I do not want to offend them, I am sure they are doing their best, doing what they think is right for me. I have no way of knowing, of course, if what they are doing is right, but they say I should trust them, they are professionals.


The woman in white stays with me. She is always near, but standing a little way off. She does not speak to me, only stands there watching me. The only response I get from her is to be waved away whenever I get too close to her.

If I ignore her gestures and try to get to her, then she slips away before I can get close to her. She never allows herself to get into a position where I could trap her. For some reason, though, I do not wish to trap her, catch her, chase her, or any of those things. I think that she needs the distance and that it is not yet the right time for us.

Eventually, I know, she will allow me to get close to her, talk to her. She will explain things to me, and I will - at last - understand. But first, I have to move these rocks, carved into words, into a form that will satisfy her.

Only then will I feel justified in trying to approach her. I have a feeling that she will make some kind of sign, some kind of signal, that I may approach her. She will tell me so many things I need to know, new ways of arranging these rocks. I need her to tell me how to arrange them and she needs me to arrange them for her.

She stands on that hillside, looking down at me. She knows I have this job to do, but she does not offer any help or assistance. Not, of course, that I would really expect such a thing from her. I get the impression - how, I do not know - that her daily visits to the hilltop are a kind of indulgence, a whim, on her part. She does not need to visit my valley.

In the long run her visits change nothing, except to encourage me in some strange, obscure way. My day does not seem real until I look up to the hillside and see her there.

Yesterday, I looked up and saw the gesture of greeting when she arrived. It was unmistakable, but still I hesitated, not sure how to respond. It was the first time she had ever really acknowledged my existence since that abortive attempt to climb the hill towards her.

Out here, the nights get cold and dark. The animals come out at night searching for each other. The night is punctured by their screams and cries. I sit in the shelter of the stones, a small fire in front of me, waiting for sleep to take me away from here and out to a stranger life.

When I woke up the naked servant-woman was kneeling in front of the dead embers of my fire, watching me. She stood and signalled for me to follow her.

"Where are we going?" I said.

She did not reply, just turned and walked up the slope of the hill. She glanced back a couple of times to make sure I was following her. We walked in silence, me a few paces behind her. She walked easily and calmly, her bare feet hardly disturbing the soft sand. After around twenty minutes, we reached the crest of the third dune. I looked down as I stood beside her. The palace, surrounded by a low wall and a garden of spindly trees, stood in the valley bottom.


"Gina, you were in my dreams last night again. I dreamt you were this queen, princess, or something, living in a desert palace. Kirsty was your servant."

"Oh, the desert. I dream about the desert all the time these days." Gina laughed and walked towards the window. "One day when you are better we will have to go back and search for that palace. I know it is not a story - a myth. I know it is somewhere in that desert. Kirsty and I have done all the research. We know where it is, we are certain this time."

"It is always the same in my dream. I am stuck in a desert with all these stones, trying to carve words into them, words that make some sort of sense, while you stand up on the top of a hill looking down at me." I sat down at the table, aligning the edge of my notebook to lie parallel with the side of the table.

"It all began simply enough," I said. "Just a handful of words, like dust in my palm. I felt I could breathe on them, and then watch them fly and fall into the sand at my feet, drifting into the dunes behind me which were hiding all I could once see. While in front of me the horizon drew ever closer on a landscape barer than I expected it to be. I had visions of what I would find as I walked across those sands: Towns, villages, temples, people. So many strange and exotic sights. Off in the distance, I have seen the shape of - what might be - a town… or something. But I have never been able to get any further before the storms drive me back, keeping me at bay, trapped there."


The servant girl led me across the bare marble floor of the empty palace. I could hear only the gentle slap of he bare feet and the squeak of the soles of my shoes as we walked through the bare deserted rooms.

The woman in white was seated in a throne in the largest of the rooms, with the black panther slouched at her feet. She motioned for me to sit on the steps of her throne. I sat and the servant girl poured us both a glass of wine.

"Have you ever seen the city in the distance?" The woman in white said.

I nodded. "I think so."

"Once we could walk there, but not any more. The world of the city and this, what's left of our world, are separated now. The desert lies between them and us, and no-one is brave - or foolish - enough to attempt to cross it. There were, in my youth, tales and legends of paths, roads, through the desert, which could lead you to the city. There was even a saying: 'All roads lead to the city.' But now... now there is no escape from this desert."

"Does that mean I'm trapped here too?"

"Yes. We need you. Even now, we only exist as vague memories to the people of the city and beyond. We are slowly turning into legends and myths. We need you to tell our story with the stones. To make sure that we are not forgotten by history, lost forever in time. Once you get the memory stones in the right sequence then you will have saved our precious memory, our history."

"But I can't stay here, lost in this desert. I have a wife, a home, a career." I stood and stepped towards the throne. "I need to get back there. Now!"

The black panther growled as the echo of my words rebounded around the room. The naked servant-girl, pointing an ornately-carved dagger at my stomach, stepped between me and the woman in white. The woman in white waved her hand dismissively, I wasn't sure if the gesture was meant for me, the servant or even the panther.

"It isn't me that is preventing you from leaving." The woman in white said. "It is your desire to make sense of the memory stones which holds you here."

"No, it is you," I said, stepping up to the throne and taking her hand. "I need you to come with me or I cannot leave. I only bother with the stones while I wait for you, when you are ready to leave, then we will go. Go together."

She nodded slowly. "All right. We will leave. We will go together, but only when you have arranged the memories of our city on the memory stones. I cannot leave this place with no past, no history."

"No!" The servant girl screamed, lunging at the woman in white with the knife. "You promised you would stay here with me, forever! You said you loved me, not him!"

The panther leapt, but the servant girl was too close to the queen for it to stop her. She stabbed at the woman in white, and the wine glass shattered on the marble floor. The blood poured from the woman's chest mixing with the wine stain. I reached out for her and lowered her to the floor.

The panther's bloody jaws turned from the savaged, almost severed, neck of the servant girl. It growled and turned towards me, only stopping when its mistress held up her hand and weakly waved it to a halt. It lay down inches away from where I sat holding the dying woman's head in my lap. She looked up at me.

"Don't forget the stones," she said weakly. "Do not let history forget us either."

I nodded, unable to speak. I sat there just stroking her hair, feeling useless and helpless as I watched the mingled blood and wine pooling together on the marble steps of the throne.

The woman in white died sometime that afternoon, in my arms. The light faded slowly into evening and night. The panther was invisible in the shadows, only its heavy breathing and slow purring growl gave any indication that it was still there.


"I can remember it all now." I said excitedly as Doctor Phipps sat down at my table. "I'm an archaeologist, so is Gina. We have been working hard over the last few years trying to trace the whereabouts of a lost civilisation. There were legends all throughout the Middle-east - in pre-Biblical times - of a civilisation deep in the desert ruled over by a queen who always wore white and had a black panther on a lead. We discovered that the legends were, in fact, true and we were looking for funding for an expedition and a dig." I sat back and smiled. "I can't wait to get back to work now my memory has returned. I think I'm cured. Where's Gina? Has she arrived for visiting time yet?"

Dr Phipps stared at me. "Gina is dead. You should know that, she's been dead for nearly two years now."

"What..? When...? How did she die? Why?" I wondered if I had really seen her the day before, but she had seemed as real as Dr Phipps as he sat at the table flicking through my notebook.

"We found her, and her assistant Kirsty, dead at the dig in the desert after your frantic, incoherent call for help over the radio. It took us two days to get there because of the sandstorms. Gina and Kirsty had been stabbed to death, each one stabbed several times, over and over again. It had been a frenzied attack. We found you a couple of hours later sitting amongst these heaps of stones still with the knife in your hand. You said something about a servant trying to kill the queen and something about a black panther and how you wanted to escape the desert."

"That's my dream!" I said. "I wrote it all down. It's all there in that notebook."

"You said the stones had writing on them, that you had arranged the stones to explain what had happened. You said that the stones were your confession."

"What did the stones say?"

"Nothing..., nothing at all. There was no writing on any of them. The stones were all blank, just like the pages in this notebook." Dr Phipps dropped the notebook onto the table and stood up. For a moment it seemed as though he wanted to say something, but he just smiled apologetically and turned towards the door.

After he had gone, I sat down at the desk. I aligned the notebook with the edge of the desk. My fingers ached from holding the pen, but I felt I had written down all I knew about the woman in white, the palace, the servant girl and the panther.


It is nearly time for Gina to arrive, I have no clock in my room, nothing except my bed, my desk, my chair and my notebook; but somehow I always know when it is time for her to arrive.



[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some New Language


How can we form the words that need to be spoken, when so many of the words we know are old and tired, stretching back far beyond memory to places only history knows? I want to speak of new things, the taste of your skin on my lips, how you move in those moments between sleep and waking.

You say too you want to speak of the way you fold yourself into my arms to feel the beat of my heart against the side of your head and how you feel my slow steady breath as I bury my nose deep into the summer smell of your hair.

There is so much to speak of and so much to tell, but these words seem too worn to speak of something this new. We feel we will just end up mouthing lover’s platitudes to each other like so many have before. They too must have felt in need of something new, some new lover’s language to speak of these things.

Words though need a weight of meaning behind them. New words just float on the winds of happenstance, not rooted in the real, not held down to meanings through familiar usage.

As I move my hand slowly, I know what your ‘yes’, means as much as I understand how your breathing changes and your body rises itself up to meet my moving hand. So maybe we do need the old words, maybe we can shape them into forms that we can tell each other of these new wonders we have found, here in this narrow old bed. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Each Day Wraps Itself Around Us


Each morning we wonder what shape the day will take around us. Each day wraps itself around us as we throw off the heavy blankets of the night and rise to meet the dawn as it comes up over our lives.

Usually we know what shape the day will take, carved out of the routine of our days. Sometimes though the new day has a new shape, something we have not seen or touched before. There could be something new about the day: waking in a new place, or setting out to take a new job. We wake knowing that the day will take this new shape around us and we are ready for it.

Other times though, the day’s comfortable routine will wrap itself around us and we will expect no more than the usual day, each day usually has some surprises, but they re the mere fluctuations and flexings of the day-to-day, nothing that hasn’t happened before.

Sometimes, though the day will fall apart around us, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere the whole day will fall around our feet, leaving us stunned into immobility, aware that the day has left us open and exposed to the turn of events without the comfort of familiarity. Even that very familiarity will be torn and things that seemed so normal will seem strange to the touch. Then, for a while, we will be wary of everything, in case it too turns away from us and becomes strange, losing its familiarity as the twisting day distorts the very air around us, making it too hard – for a while – even to breathe normally. 

Monday Poem: Low Tide


Low Tide

These are the shores of my mind
And today is low tide
And all I have is this beach
Littered with small evaporating pools
And the flotsam and jetsam of a normal life
Left tide-stranded on my beach.

I search from memory to memory
Bend down for each significant shell
Or unusual stone.
I stoop to pick up each one,
Turning it over and over
As though it could be a key
To unlock some secret door.


PUBLISHED: STAND Volume 5(2) September 2003

Climate Protestors At The Houses Of Parliament


Last night a bunch of smugly self-righteous attention seekers climbed up to the roof of the Houses Of Parliament in London in order to draw the media’s attention to themselves as they arsed about to no discernable purpose whilst pretending their stunt was in some way meaningful to anyone but themselves.

The attention seekers – from the ‘environmental’ protest group Greenprats claimed their attention-seeking behaviour was a protest at the amount of climate damage that would be caused once the Houses Of Parliament reopened and allowed MPs to begin submitting their summer expense claims.

Greenprats has long contended that climate change is mainly caused by people constantly talking utter bollocks all the time, and that - consequently - Parliament’s reopening after the summer recess is going to massively increase the amount of bollocks spoken in the House.

A Press release handed out (on rather ineptly recycled toilet paper) to journalists by the protestors states:

Talking bollocks has been nearly proved to be a major contributor to the greenhouse gasses that are going to destroy the world, and we should know, we’ve been talking bollocks about the environment now for decades and it can be no coincidence that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere has increased considerably since the many organisations like our own have been spouting bollocks about the environment.

A spokeschick for the organisation Greenprats, interviewed on TV, later stated:

Of course, we don’t really care all that much about what the science does or doesn’t say about climate change. We just get our jollies by trying to scare people that the world is going to end soon. You can’t believe how good such self-justification feels. It’s much better than sex, especially sex with this bunch of lentil-chewing neo-hippies who can’t get down and dirty without 3 hours of angst beforehand on whether getting an erection will increase their carbon footprint or not. Although, having said that pulling a stunt like this, just to get themselves on the telly, is usually the sort of thing that really gets them exited. I’ll bet that most of those up there on the roof have already come in their pants at least once since the TV cameras showed up.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Roads That Lead Only Away


What will become of us when we walk away from this moment, each taking a different road away from here? We met and took each other as a companion to keep the cold and dark of the night away, hiding together under these sheets. Now, though, the dawn has come and we must stumble from this bed and find our way, each back to our own lives.

We each have separate worlds, worlds that go around in their own orbits. We may never have a chance to meet again, when those worlds collide, to shelter together in each other’s arms against the storms our lives hurl at us.

We look away from each other as we slip back into those clothes that will separate us once more; you glance across with a smile of regret for what has passed. We both look down at the bed that seems to have already forgotten us, despite the history of our movements together left in those crumpled sheets. Sheets that will be taken by anonymous hands to have the memories of our moments washed out of them.

We do not speak of what might have been, because there is no road that leads off from this crossroads that we can walk down hand-in-hand. We do not talk of last night because already it becomes more like a dream. One of those dreams that makes you pause and smile wistfully, with the cup halfway to your lips, or as the dawn breaks through to take away the darkness.

I stand shrugged inside my coat at this crossroads to watch you walk away, back to your own life, before I too turn to walk away, to walk back to mine. Now, though, it is a world that seems somehow, strange, alien, as though I left my real life back there on those anonymous sheets with you. 

Friday Poem: Memories Into Touch


Memories Into Touch

If we have only moments such as this
to turn to in the pages of our lives,
posing in some place made significant.
Looking uncomfortably too aware
of our uneasy smiles, while staring off
into the distance and a distant future.
Not knowing if this will become, in time
the photograph we turn to in those times
of loss, regret or sorrow, or to find
the echo of happiness multiplied
by this evidence of these happy times.

A past we can still show as proof amid
reassurances of how time has not
altered us in any meaningful way.
Significant moments turn memories
into a photograph we touch to show
as proof, our past has solidity still.

But then, despite these heaps of images,
we know so few of the important times
have the authority of photographs
for us to keep, remember, and to touch.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Autumn’s Bright Colours


The autumn falls down around us as our summer fades into the memory. We have no long days left to bask in the sun; our days of lying together in the long grass are over now as the first ominous chills enter our very bones. Our young year is over now and there is no going back. Summer saw the end of springtime’s innocence, then, as our summer passed, we watched all that we have grown ripen ready for the harvest.

Autumn’s bright colours and sharp mornings, though, are enough for those of us who have reached this time in our year, who no longer yearn for those long summer days. Summer days when the time seemed so endless, and there wasn’t enough of it for all those dreams we had, so carefully, taken into those days with us.

Now, at summer’s end, we see where those dreams lie shattered on the beaches, ripped apart by the savage summer storms that tear through all our lives, leaving us only with the shattered memory of those once so-important dreams all broken in our despairing hands. For summer too has its hard, harsh days, despite the warm, despite the sun.

Our autumn will fade too; already we feel the sharpness of winter on each early morning breath we take, feeling the frost growing in the air around us. All too soon, this – our autumn – will be gone and we will struggle through our final darkening winter days in the heavy overcoats of those who know their all too brief year is almost done. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wednesday Story: Socks



Martin could hear the sound of distant drawers from the bedroom upstairs, Sally opening them; noisily rummaging through them and then ramming them shut again.

“Socks! I said: socks!” Sally yelled down the stairs.

“Socks?” Martin replied walking across to the bottom of the stairs and looking up.

Sally appeared on the landing and stared back down at him, hands on her hips. “Yes, darling - socks. Is that too difficult for you to understand?”

Martin noticed she was clutching a pair of his underpants in one hand. “Well... frankly, yes. I mean... well, you've never mentioned socks before.”

“I did, once.” Sally said, sitting down on the top step, smoothing out then folding the pair of Martin’s underpants on her lap as she spoke. “Can you remember? It was that time we were on holiday… in that place... where was it? You know, where we had that ice-cream?”

Martin thought for a moment. “Oh, there! Er… thingy. What about it?”

“That was the place where you wanted to do it on the beach at midnight. We walked… well, you stumbled… I think you must have drunk most of that bottle of wine yourself.... Anyway, we got all the way down to the beach - it took us ages to cross that road, even at that time of the night. And then… then when we got there... when we got there... there was no bloody beach! The tide was right in, right up against the sea wall at the edge of the road. We would’ve had to strip off in the middle of the bloody dual-carriageway - or whatever they are called over there. You were in a really foul mood, and me - I couldn't stop laughing… giggling. Maybe I'd had a bit too much to drink too and - of course - that made you even more of a miserable bastard than usual.”

“Anyway Sal....” Martin said abruptly, breaking her reverie. “What were we talking about?”

“Socks… I think.”

“Oh right.” Martin looked up at his wife. “But what has not finding my socks got to do with that holiday?”

“That was the time when you kept losing all your socks, can't you remember?” She seemed surprised that Martin could not remember such a momentous event in their marriage. She shrugged, dismissing his puzzled frown. “I found them all on the last day, remember? They'd fallen down the back of the drawer in the hotel room. You know… for some reason I was never able to fathom… the drawers in that hotel room didn't have proper backs on them. So whenever….”

“Yes, yes… right.” Martin interrupted, before she moved on to some other memory. “Listen Sal, I've got to…. y'know… I don’t want to get stuck in the rush hour traffic again?”

“Yes, sorry darling…. Right.” She stood up, showing him the now neatly folded underpants. “I think that is everything, apart from the socks, that is.”

A few minutes later, Martin knelt in front of his full suitcase, checking it was fastened securely. He picked it up, sighing at its weight. “Right then, I'm off. Sorry about the… well, the short notice. But y'know….”

Sally stepped forward, almost formally, to kiss him. “Yes, darling, it’s all right. Have a good trip and don't forget to ring this time. At least, if only to let me know how long you'll be gone.”

Martin glanced at his watch. Realising he was running late, he rushed to open the front door, turning to face Sally as he eased his case through it. “Yes. Right. Okay. Bye Sal. Kiss? Bye.” The door slammed behind him and Sally heard a final muffled “Bye” from behind the closed door.

“Hopeless.” Sally sighed and shook her head. “I don't know how he'd manage without me…. Certainly wouldn't have any socks, that's for sure.” She picked up the phone as she sat down on the sofa, tucking her feet up under herself. She dialled the number without glancing at the buttons she was pressing.

“Hello… is that you?” she said when the phone was answered. “Yes, he's just left….”


From where he sat in the front room of the flat, Martin could hear her opening his suitcase, unpacking it and putting its contents away in drawers and so on.

“Socks! I said: socks!” Rachel yelled from the bedroom.

“Socks again?” Martin sighed. “I don't believe this.”

Rachel appeared in the doorway. “Pardon? What did you say love?”

“Nothing. Nothing… I was… I was just wondering what you said.”

“Oh, socks.” Rachel said, sitting down on the arm of the sofa. She held up a pair of Martin’s socks balled up together. “It’s just… your socks. How come I can never find a matching pair on washday - that's what I want to know? All I ever have are odd ones. But whenever you come back from your trips, the matching ones turn up again.”

“I… I… er…. Do you fancy eating out tonight, Rach? Somewhere special?”

“Well….” Rachel frowned as she looked down at the pair of socks in her hand.

“What?” Martin took the balled-up socks from her, shoving them down the side of the sofa and took her hands in his.

“I thought we'd eat here, at home - just the two of us. After all, you've been away eating in hotels, restaurants and places like that. I thought you'd be looking forward to a home-cooked meal.”

“Yes, yes of course Rach.” Martin nodded his agreement. “There's nothing I'd rather have. I just thought… y'know… you might fancy a night out… that's all.”

Rachel looked down at her hands where Martin held them in her lap. “How long will you be staying for, love? I hope it is not just for the weekend again.”

“Er… sorry Rach. But you know I'm the only driver Len will trust with these important loads.”

“Aw….” Rachel snatched her hands free. “But I hardly ever get to see you these days. It seems I see more of your socks than I do of you.”

“What is this thing with socks?”

“What do you mean, love?”

Martin sighed. “It seems like all you've talked about since I came in, all you've mentioned is my bloody socks, and….”

“And… what?” Rachel turned to stare hard into Martin’s face.

“Nothing. Sorry, Rach. I must be more tired than I thought.”

Rachel stared at him for a few more seconds then smiled briefly. “Well… I suppose I'm sorry too, love. After all, you have been away nearly a week… and all I can do when you come home is nag you about your socks.”

“Let's have an early night,” Martin said, taking her hand again. “Then tomorrow we'll do something special, eh?”


“Well, what?”

“I had arranged to go into town with mum, tomorrow. We were going shopping. I know how much you hate shopping too, so….”

Martin sighed loudly.

“But it's not my fault is it?” Rachel snatched her hand away again. “If you'd have said a few days ago - rang me… or something - then maybe I could have cancelled.”

“Can't you cancel now?”

“I could, I suppose… and upset my mother… again,” Rachel said. She suddenly sat up straighter, turning to face Martin again. “But why should I? Don't you think enough of my bloody life revolves around you - and your constant comings and goings - enough as it is? Aren't I allowed to have some time of my own?” She got to her feet and turned towards the door.

“But what about… us?”

Rachel turned in the doorway, hands on hips. “What about us? Is that what you think I ought to do? Is that how you want me to live my life… to… to go into suspended animation when you are not here? What do you think happens when you go through that door? Do you think I trundle off to the cupboard under the stairs and shut myself down until I hear your key in the door again… who knows how many days later?”

Martin got to his feet and held out his hand towards Rachel “No… Rach… I….”

Rachel shrugged away from Martin’s outreaching hand. “I do have a life of my own you know. I do carry on while you are gone. In fact, I've had to make myself a bloody life without you!”

“This is the last thing I need when I get home after spending days on the road.”

“You think I want it?”

“Yes! I do.” Martin said urgently. “Just lately, yes, every time I come home I get this aggro…. But not this time! I'm off down the pub. Don't wait up.” He pushed past Rachel, grabbed his coat from the hall and left. The front door slammed behind him.

Rachel stared at the closed door for a moment and then abruptly nodded at it before turning back into the front room of the flat. “Right-oh, love, you go down the pub. We'll just see who has to apologise to whom when you get back.”

She sat down on the sofa, still warm from when Martin was sitting in it. She poured herself a glass of wine from the bottle on the coffee table and switched the television on. “Cheers love. Welcome home!” she said raising her glass to their wedding photo perched on the top of the TV.


“Yes, yes, he did,” Rachel said into the phone, stifling her giggles. “And then he stormed off to the pub….” She glanced up guiltily as she heard the front door slam. “Hang on, that sounds like him coming back…. Yes, bye…. Bye.”

She quickly put the phone down and switched the TV back on, grinning to herself as she heard the door behind her opening slowly.

“Rach? Rachel love - are you still…? Ah, yes. Er…. Listen, I'm… can we turn the telly off for a minute?”

“No, wait,” Rachel said as Martin leant down to turn off the television. “I'm watching this.”

“Sorry… but….”


“Hang on,” Martin said as his beer-fuddled brain began to make sense of the TV programme. “Since when have you been interested in the government's macroeconomic strategy?”


“This programme… that's what it's about - the government, public spending, taxation….” Martin stared at Rachel, head cocked to one side. “You don't care about things like that, do you?”

“How the bloody hell do you know? You're never here long enough to find out what I do care about… know about.”

“That's 'cos I'm… no… hang on… we're not going to start all that again.”

“All what again?”

“Arguing.” Martin sat down in the chair facing Rachel. He ran a weary hand over his face. “These days it seems that all I get when I come home are these constant arguments.”

“We don't argue all the time.”

“Yes, we do. It's like this constantly - all the time. Pointless, niggly little arguments about nothing that get blown out of all proportion.”

“It's not like that at all.” Rachel sat back and crossed her arms, then her legs.

“I dunno… what is the matter with you these days? It never used to be like this... we used to have great times together, just me and you together on this settee, a couple of drinks, the lights down low- like this, the TV on.” Martin got up and sat down on the sofa next to Rachel. He reached out towards her.

Rachel shrugged his hands off her. “Get your hand off me. I'm still angry with you, in case you've forgotten.”


“You can't criticise me one minute and then get all lovey-dovey the next. If you think I'm going to whip my knickers off and lie back just because you turn the lights down… after all you've said tonight.”

Martin murmured an apology and crept along the sofa, closer to Rachel.

“STOP IT! I said no. Get your hands off me.” She got up suddenly and stepped away, out of his reach. “I'm going to bed, and I expect to be sleeping alone again - just like the rest of last week. Goodnight.”

“Oh… fu….” Martin said as the door slammed and he stepped back knocking Rachel’s half-empty wine bottle over. “Oh hell, it's gone all over the… damn, Rach'll kill me.” He turned, looking guilty, as the door reopened.

“Here are some blankets and a pi…. What's happened?”

“That bottle of wine you left open on the table….” Martin stood up straighter. “It was… when you slammed the door. Look, it's gone all over the settee, down the cushi… what's this? A pair of socks? I don't belie…. Hang on, these aren't mine.”

“Er… that. Oh, right. Er….” Rachel grabbed the socks from Martin’s hand.

“So that's your game is it? While the cat's away and all that.”

“No… listen… let me explain. It isn't what you think it…”

“This is the last….” Martin shook his head. “No. That's it. I've had enough. I’m off.”

“Oh well,” Rachel sighed as she threw the damp sofa cushion on the floor and sat down on the dry side. “There's still at least another gla…” A door slammed followed by the front door slamming. “…ss left in the bottle though. Cheers Martin, have a good trip.” She sat back and took a long slow drink of wine. A few moments later, she put her wineglass down on the table and picked up the phone. “Hello? Yes, it's me,” she said when the phone was answered. “No, he just stormed out… yes…. Well… nothing but rows since he got here, really…. Oh, I know.… Yes. No, he found a pair of socks… yes, socks! Me too! Under the cushions on the sofa…. Oh, he knocked some wine over, clumsy sod… and he blamed me for it. Well, he had been to the pub…. If he'd have bothered to ask…. No, not me…. When would I get the chance, eh? No, they were my brother's actually. He stayed here… last weekend on his way back home from holiday…. What? Oh, France. Well, if dozy Martin had thought about it, if I had got myself another bloke, then his socks would have been in the bedroom, not down here on the sofa…. No, no way love, not on this old thing, it would probably collapse…. You cheeky sod! No, listen….”


The door opened slowly and carefully, followed by Martin’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the bedroom in silence, Already wincing and tense at the squeaking hinges of the door as it closed again, his each careful step seemed to land on a creaking floorboard. Once he’d made it across the room he tried to undress quietly, but dropped his loose change then his keys, before bumping into the wardrobe and then the dressing table as he tried to untangle his legs from his trousers.

At last free of his trousers, he turned to walk towards the bed and banged his shins against the dressing table stool, which was – for some inexplicable reason not in its usual place. “Damn… bugger…. oh shi….” he whispered, unsuccessfully trying to rub his calves as he stumbled towards the bed.

“What? Who's there!” Sally called out into the semi-darkness, trying to stifle her giggles and sound stern. “I'm… my husband's calling the police!”

“No, Sal… wait!” Martin said. “It's me.” He blinkered and squinted covering his eyes with his hand. “God, that's bright!”

When he took his hand from his eyes, he could see Sally sitting up in bed, her hand still on the bedside light switch.

“Sorry,” she said. “But you surprised me. Look, I'm shaking!”

“Sorry, I didn't mean… I was trying not to wake you.”

“But what are you doing here? I mean… coming back so soon? You said you would be away for days.” She shuffled across so Martin could get into the bed. “It's like that time when you…. Bloody hell, you are cold. What have you been doing, living in a fridge?”

Martin shrank back, away from her. “Sorry Ra… er… Sal. It's just that I got the chance of coming home tonight, and I took it, even though I had to have the windows open all the way back though… keep me awake, I….” He yawned, making sure his cold stretching arms didn’t touch Sally. “…so tired.”

Sally watched him burying himself under the sheets, and then, smiling to herself, she turned off the bedside light.

“Sal… Sally! What are you doing?”

“I know it’s been a while, but surely you haven't forgotten how to do it?”

“No, Sal… but y'know… I'm tired. I just want to sleep. I've been on the road all… bloody hell, woman! That hurts.”

“But you do know, don't you, Martin that women have needs too, don't you?”

“Wh…. What the hell are you on about now?” Martin said as he sat up in bed and switched the light back on. “Don't you realise it is three o'clock in the bloody morning?”

Sally sat up too, crossing her arms under her breasts. “Yes, Mister Martin bloody Carter - I do realise it is three o'clock in the bloody morning, and do you know why I realise it is three o'clock in the bloody morning?”

“I… I….”

“Listen! I know that it is three o' bloody clock in the morning because you woke me up at three bloody o'clock in the morning and put your freezing cold hands all over me. Then, when I turn over and try to get some heat, get some warmth back in my body before I die of hyper-bloody-thermia you go all moany and sulky, moaning about how tired you are!”

“But…. But….”

“Sshh. Hang on, just listen for once in your life. If you are going to insist on waking me up in the middle of the night, you could at least have the common courtesy to make it worth my while!”

“But… I…. but….”

“Shut up now. I'm going back to sleep. I’m tired.” Sally snapped the light off.

There was a short rustling of sheets then silence.

“Damn,” Martin whispered in the darkness.


“What’s going on?”

“I’m tidying up,” Sally said, indicating the vacuum cleaner with her hand. “Or did you think all this happened by magic… little pixies coming out in the middle of the night to collect up all your discarded underpants and empty beer cans?”

“No… I…. Of course, not,” Martin sighed. “I just wondered why now?”

“Oh, I have someone coming. A visitor,” Sally said absently as she swept a duster around the table.

“A visitor?”

“Well…” Sally stood, hands on hips, giving the question serious consideration. “No… not really.” She straightened the mirror and then stood back to contemplate her handiwork. “More than a visitor… or at least, I hope so.”

“Sally, what on Earth are you on about, now?” Martin moved to stand in front of her.

“Oh, I decided, while you were away the last time, I’d had enough of living on my own nearly all the time. So I decided to get a lodger.” Sally smiled sweetly at him.

“What? Don’t I get a say in any of this?”

“Well,” Sally said over her shoulder as she took the vacuum cleaner from the room. “I did ask you. But you weren’t here at the time, so I took you silence as agreement.”

“But… wha… who?”

Sally turned from putting the vacuum cleaner away in the understairs cupboard to find Martin had followed her out into the hall.

“Who? Oh, it’s quite a funny story really.” Sally leant back against the closed cupboard door. “It was in town a few weeks ago now. I was in that big new clothes store… you know the one?”

Martin nodded dumbly, knowing better than try to interrupt.

“Well,” Sally said. “I was there buying socks, socks for you, as it happened.”

“Socks,” Martin repeated, feeling a sudden coldness wash over him. He nodded.

“Yes, Socks,” Sally said brightly. “Actually, it was only the other day we were talking about socks, weren’t we, about how I can never find enough of yours… remember?”

Martin nodded.

“Are you all right, love?” Sally touched his cheek in concern. “You look a bit pale.”

Martin shrugged, trying to look casual.

“Anyway, where was I?” Sally shrugged in return. “Oh, yeah. Anyway, I just went to pick up this pair of socks and this other woman there, about my age, I’d say… well, we both grabbed for the same pair, the last pair on the rack thingy. Well, anyway… we got to talking about the socks, about our husbands, and… well… to cut a long story short, we discovered we had so much in common.” Sally took a step closer to Martin and looked deep into his eyes. “A lot more in common than you would believe….”

Martin swallowed – hard - and Sally nodded silently as though he had confirmed something. The doorbell rang – loud in the sudden silence.

“That’ll be her, come to see her new room,” Sally said, almost whispering. “I’ll get it, shall I?” She turned and walked off towards the front door without waiting for Martin to answer.

“Martin,” Sally said. “This is Rachel…. I think you may already know her, is that right?”


“Hello, Martin,” Rachel said, shrugging off her coat for Sally to hang up. “Sally mentioned when she let me in that she’d already told you how we met buying socks for our husbands… husband, isn’t that right?”

Martin nodded, meekly following the two women as they lead the way back into the front room and sat down, side by side on the sofa.

“Well, it was a bit odd, talking about our husbands over a cup of coffee. The coincidence of them both having the same first name, both having the same size in socks….”

“And in everything else,” Sally added. “Well, we women all say that men are all alike, don’t we?”

“But, it wasn’t until we both got our photos of our husbands out, we realised just how alike our husbands really were… are… is.”


“Is that it!” Sally yelled, suddenly angry. “You have totally fu… ruined our lives and all you can do is stand there opening and closing your mouth like… like a lobotomised guppy. God, Martin, you are pathetic.”

“I… didn’t mean….” Martin looked from one woman to the other. “It was… it was an accident.”

“An accident!” Rachel cried. “So you just happened to forget that you were already married to Sally here when you married me?”

“Well… er… sort of.” Martin just managed to stop himself from nodding again. “I’m…. Well, I’m sorry.”

“Sorry isn’t good enough, though, is it Rach?”


“Are you… well… y’know… the law?” Martin said, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

The two women looked at each other for some time, then both turned and regarded Martin in silence, before looking back at each other.

“Well…,” Sally said.

“We were very tempted,” Rachel said.

“But,” Sally added. “The law – what happens then, you go to prison, all we get are our names in the papers with everyone we know giggling over the details of our lives, saying what fools we are….”

“Then there is the question of lawyers and all that…. It all adds up.”

“We suggest you, Martin,” Sally said. “Just pack a bag – one suitcase – and get out of here. The some time down the line a bit we will each quietly divorce you – one at a time – so no-one notices.”

“One bloody suitcase?” Martin stood up straighter. “After all the hours I worked, what about all this stuff of mine, stuff that I paid for?” He swept his hand around the room.

“Or… there is prison,” Rachel said.

“Ah….” Martin slumped down into the chair behind him in defeat.

“Would you like to help me pack his case for him?” Sally said to Rachel. “This one last time.”

“Okay,” Rachel said as the two women got to their feet. “Only you can pack his bloody socks. I’m sick of the sight of them.”


“I’m home!” Martin called out, feeling the front door shutting solidly behind him.

“Darling is that you?” she came, almost running, from the kitchen. “Oh, am I glad to see you.” She kissed him and hugged him. “But I thought you said you’d be away for quite a while, this time?”

“I decided I wanted something different. I’m fed up of that job, always away from home, y’know?” Martin said. “So, I quit… resigned. I thought I’d come home for a while, then look for something else. Is that all right?”

“Of course, it is. This is your home, after all, isn’t it?”

Martin smiled in relief. “Yes, mom,” he said.


[This, and other stories can also be found here as well]