Welcome to my adventures and experiments in creativity. Where writing is like running: sometimes I know where I'm going, and sometimes I see where the mood takes me.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Tesco Trolleys (POEM)

It’s taken some time to get round to, but here is a new poem derived from the final verse of ‘If It Pleases You More’. Logically, this is what that poem should always have been (or a close approximation at least), but it took reading it out at last week’s Poetry Stanza to get the feedback necessary to make me realise I should have developed a promising theme further rather than tacking together two half-hearted themes. Hopefully the new work here does that promising theme justice.

The Tesco Trolleys

The Tesco trolleys are breeding, gone feral;
lurking in the yards and the bushes,
prowling the council car parks
and scowling at the wait for their keeper.
(He works so very hard
in this new, most modern industry,
earning and yearning to buy
that elusive winning scratchcard).

Mocking his fruitless endeavour
the trolleys jolt and stray further away,
awkwardly rolling their authority
into ever-expanding territory,
a warning to rivals who may wander astray.
The Sainsbury’s gang keep their patch,
and nor will you glimpse the immaculate
crisp-white handle of a Waitrose example.

What of the Icelandicus Trolleyus?
They remain indoors – compliant, sedate –
thanks to the anonymous electronic tags
clinging to their slender metallic legs.

These basket-case beasts.
These un-caged cages on wheels.
Under cover of night they play
out their feuds, deeds unseen
by our prying eyes.
But spare a thought for the weak ones
and their tragic unsolved demise:
upturned and drowned in the canal,
only a grimy blue Tesco handle to show.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Super Times In Supercars

The only problem with doing a weekly round-up of our pub quiz endeavours is that it highlights when I’ve been slack in writing new material for the blog. I can’t really explain why I’ve been slack in the last week; ever since going to The Leopard last week I’ve let my foot off the gas a bit (an apt – if trite – metaphor given what you are about to read). Part of it is being generally busy, and part of it is finally being able to settle into the new domestic arrangements.

Some of that ‘busy-ness’ included going to Stafford on Saturday for a driving experience. For various reasons – not least the lack on Aston Martin DB9 to actually drive after the Lamborghini Gallardo – I’m not going to write a post specifically about the morning. However, it put in mind (how could it not?) my first driving experience a couple of years ago at Silverstone, and so I thought I’d re-post the article I wrote about that particular occasion.

It’s also fitting to re-post because it’s this (albeit in a heavily butchered form) that has helped secure me a place on an Arts Council-funded non-fiction writing course taking place over the next few months. It’ll be interesting to see how easy it is make the most of that and continue pursuing the poetry, but maybe that is a blog post for another day.

* * * * *

“There’d normally be some cones out showing you where to brake, but we’ve taken them away today.”

Not words you expect (or really want) to hear a few minutes before taking control of the sort of car you’ll probably never own. The elements are already conspiring to make life difficult – a heavy rain shower half an hour before arriving at the track has ensured conditions are not exactly ideal: “If it was bone dry it would be easy, and if it was soaking wet it would be easy. But it’s quite greasy out there, so that’s another little challenge for you.”

Seven of us – six men, one woman – are in Briefing Room 3, a sparsely decorated cabin with a large white board on the front wall depicting a perfect racing line. Ominous grey clouds peer through the window with ever-greater intent as the instructor continues describing the racing techniques we’ll be expected to employ – braking and downshifting in a straight line, feeling the levels of grip available at each corner, balancing the throttle, accelerating smoothly out of the bends…

None of these ideas are unfamiliar having been a motor racing nut since as far back as my memory will stretch. Silverstone has been the home of the F1 British Grand Prix for even longer, so naturally it’s the location of choice for a first taste of driving a supercar. My own road car – a Toyota Yaris – is classed as a supermini, but a prefix is the only similarity I expect to find between it and the Ferrari 360 Modena.

Indeed, having never come close to exploring the limits of the Yaris’ connection with the road, the idea of a 400bhp car struggling for grip under my right foot only adds to the nerves. But they’re nerves of excitement, not fear. Arriving early and getting the opportunity to watch the cars out on the circuit – as well as seeing the smiles of delight as people return from their three lap runs – only heightens the anticipation further.

Thoughts of paddle shift gearboxes and how to hold the steering wheel properly (as well as clipping every apex like I race cars for a living) fill my mind as we all don the necessary balaclava and helmet. One instructor takes responsibility for each driver and shows them to a car outside. From the stable of Ferraris lined up waiting to be unleashed, I get the only red example, and it has a big ‘1’ emblazoned across the bonnet. Here’s hoping to live up to it…

The cockpit is surprisingly spacious but very low; there’s a definite technique to getting in and out gracefully, and I’m grateful for the helmet after a couple of bumps to the head on the roll cage. Once settled there’s a whirlwind introduction to the inside of the car – the space to rest the left foot, the position of the gear paddles, how to unfasten the five point seatbelt, and saying hello to the man who’ll be in the passenger seat for all six miles.

Every mirror is angled for the instructor, leaving me to ‘just’ focus on seeing what’s in front and driving each corner properly. First, though, is the small matter of leaving the waiting area. It feels disrespectful putting a machine designed for such swift forward motion into reverse gear, especially for a trivial manoeuvre better suited to a supermarket car park, but we’re soon staring down the infield road at the inviting tarmac of the circuit.

The engine burbles and murmurs in mechanical birdsong as I get a feel for the gear changes and an idea of what the accelerator may be capable of. Feeding onto the circuit, suddenly the full majesty of the racetrack presents itself and the twitter becomes a roar. No matter how many books you might have read, races you might have watched, or video games you might have played, there’s no substitute for actually being here.

It doesn’t matter how well you know the circuit either; the track is 15m wide and looks totally different from the driver’s seat. Speed suddenly has no context; big distances are covered in moments, and with no cones to indicate braking points, instruction comes from the passenger seat. At the point of turn in there’s surely no way the car has slowed enough, but with the slightest of squirms as the rear wheels seek something to cling on to we head onto the first straight.

Where I’m told to really put my foot down…

Too many years of trying to drive economically help me believe I’m pressing the accelerator more than is actually the case. The noise with the pedal closer to the floor is astonishing and brilliant – bearing down on the chicane and desperate to savour both the sound and the acceleration, I’m only half hearing the instructor, but again we make it round, and again he tells me to go for it.

Sweeping onto the longest straight at the end of the lap, finally the gear display gets to show a ‘6’. Changing from fifth during full acceleration is like being pushed in the back while running – somehow you go even quicker. The joy of driving this car in this environment is overwhelming, but no sooner do you start growing accustomed to the feeling than the next corner, and the second lap, is upon you.

Laps two and three are equally exhilarating, each time striving to improve on the one before. Perhaps the greatest challenge is mental: the concentration required is surprising, and gives a real appreciation of the demands of genuine racing. No major dramas occur – the car is dramatic enough, especially to a novice – though it turns out pressing the windscreen washer control instead of the ‘gear up’ paddle is easily done (twice!).

It’s all over so quickly, and faced with the prospect of leaving it’s tempting to wait around in case an opportunity somehow arises to do it all again. Passing the empty grandstands on the way to the exit makes you crave the atmosphere and excitement of a big event, a Grand Prix weekend. After the last hour, though, you no longer feel like just a spectator. You feel like something more – something better – because when the buzz finally wears off, nothing can replace the thrill of having been on track in a thoroughbred supercar.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Not Going To Monaco

I didn’t make it to the second stage of the competition. In practical terms, this was a good thing, because our new wireless router hadn’t arrived and so participating in an interview via Skype was going to be a challenge without a reliable internet connection. In all other terms though, it was obviously a disappointment, albeit not the most surprising one.

Just once – and I attempt to say this without any trace of bitterness – it would be good if the judges for these sorts of competitions could explain how they come to their conclusions. I skimmed through 40 or more of the 66 pages of entries for this particular contest and, unless there were ten AMAZING efforts in the remaining 20 pages, I can’t help but be – deep down – a little crushed.

“The more creative your entry, the more chance you’ll stand” said the submission guidance (or something along those lines). Writing in the non-specific third person was perhaps not the most creative idea ever entertained, but (to my mind at least) it demonstrated a little more endeavour than churning out, “I’ve been a Formula One for fifteen years and I understand how its technology works” etc etc.


Alright, alright, sorry. I knew I shouldn’t have started trying to analyse how these things work, it was never going to turn out pretty was it? Although, better this (perhaps!) than my original thought, which was to respond to the announcement on Facebook with a ‘Like’ and then a comment saying, “Bastards!”. With some shame, I admit that I did respond on Facebook, albeit with a completely disingenuous, “Well done to the ten people chosen.”

I really should have known what to expect though, which is the most galling aspect. There must be something in the way I approach the writing of these submissions that misses the mark with those who decide what is ‘good’ (however arbitrary a measure that might be). Eighteen months ago, I entered a competition run by Shell and Auto Express and my finely crafted entry lost out to, amongst others, one that described the fuel as “a magical power potion”.

If it’s that sort of thing judges want, or generic self-aggrandising fluff, then they can keep their competitions. I might be a miserable loser, but at least I’ve stuck to my writing principles!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Leopard Can Change Its Spots

May 17th meeting of the Staffordshire Poetry Stanza at The Leopard, Burslem

It’s not often in life that you can sit in rickety old room and have Act V of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ quoted at you while the melodic sound of Dire Straits drifts through the haunted pub from the bar below. There’s something almost … well, poetic about it, albeit in a surreal sort of way. There’s definitely something surreal – though ‘oxymoronic’ might be a better term – about having a debate on whether a materialist would ever write a poem, while Mark Knopfler’s masterful guitar is interrupted by what sounds like a fight trying to kick off.

(Outside the meeting room, on the landing window cill, sit a selection of books, a number of which are Lee Child novels. I can’t help but be comforted by this – after all, if any fight somehow reaches upstairs, there’s an immediate resource to turn to for advice on how to handle a physical confrontation. Bless Lee Child!).

And to think the Leopard seemed such a sedate place on my first visit three weeks ago! (A visit you can read about here, if you so desire). Fortunately, nothing more untoward than accidentally standing on the barmaid’s foot on my way out took place; the evening therefore remained a peaceful one and I wasn’t forced to resort to invoking the spirit of Jack Reacher to protect my fellow group members. There was some good poetry too, which was probably the most crucial aspect of the night(!).

Coming almost exactly two months since writing the blog post that led me down this path, and with that nervous first meeting out of the way, where do I feel I stand?

Perhaps it’s an age thing, perhaps it isn’t. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but I can’t help but think that referencing Jack Reacher in the introduction to this post highlights probably the single biggest difference between me and most (if not all) of the other attendees. Maybe I do some of them a disservice, but if I were to bring up Lee Child and/or Reacher in conversation, I’d be very surprised if anyone really knew who I was referring to.

That’s not a criticism in the slightest; I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so warmly welcomed by a group of complete strangers and then, crucially, remembered by the same people when meeting them again three weeks later. No, the only reason I say it is to contrast my approach and background with that of everyone else’s. There was me last night, impressed with some of the popular fiction stacked in the window, surrounded by people who had written poems about Sappho, abuse in the Catholic Church, the nature of existence, coal mining in the north-east during the war, and the French painter Valette.

Surrounded, too, by people who could quote poets and poems of all subjects and styles without batting an eyelid. It was impressive and inspiring three weeks ago, and again last night. Do I feel intimidated? Only in as much as I don’t share that knowledge and cannot sensibly contribute. I don’t mind the fact that that is the case; my only fear, perhaps, is that I might quickly bore people if I do contribute.

Not that I didn’t offer a few suggestions. Mainly on a poem or two that – and please let me assure you that I say this with the self-awareness that I only wrote my first ‘proper’ poem in March! – reminded me of something I might write (in terms of style, at the very least, if not language). I may not have studied English or Literature since GSCE level ten years ago, but I like to think I know if something sounds ‘right’, so hopefully I can keep contributing as I attend more meetings.

And I possess every intention of reading a little more, even if it doesn’t quite stretch my knowledge to that all-encompassing level. On John Williams’ suggestion at the last meeting, I submitted a couple of poems to a magazine called Quantum Leap, run by one man from his home in Rothesay. With some amazement, I received a reply from him last week – together with a copy of the latest magazine, natch – saying that he wanted to keep one for publication (‘Reading Light’, which will appear in the November issue). Rejection slips will surely follow in sufficient number, but as starts go, this seems a pretty good one.

I haven’t read the magazine in any detail yet, though I have skimmed through it and read a few of the printed submissions. At first glance it certainly seems more accessible (to me) than, say, some of the poems that were contained in ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’, which makes me wonder why. Is Quantum Leap simply ‘my sort’ of magazine? Is ‘amateur’ poetry (non-professional poetry?) simply a bit easier for my untrained eyes to read? Or is it always the case with a diverse collection like TNFCP that there will be some you like and perhaps more that you don’t?

Probably it could be quite easy to get downcast at the possible answers to some of these questions, not least when you factor in my complete ignorance of even the basics of poetry (I mean, what exactly is a foot?!). I acknowledge that I started writing poetry in March, (a) to enter a competition, but which then developed into (b) the idea of trying to become ‘a poet’ (whatever that means), if only as something to chart the progress of on the blog.

Poetry has, however, got under my skin. Having started with the intention of writing only irreverent (and hopefully funny at times) work, in the last week or two I have begun to discover the joy in aiming for something more profound and more, dare I say it, artistic. On that basis, I took ‘If It Pleases You More’ to read last night. It met with a favourable response, but also garnered plenty of suggestions for improvement – including, ironically, the idea of reinventing it completely to focus on the verse about Tesco trolleys, which was generally considered to be the more imaginative part and generated a few chuckles.

Maybe I should stick to the original aim of irreverence!

Frankly, even if this desire to write poems were to suddenly disappear in the middle of one random night, I’d like to think I’d keep attending the Poetry Stanza. Rare is the opportunity to sit with a group of warm, witty, creative individuals who come from such a diverse range of backgrounds. Listening to people read their work, enjoying the respectful and constructive discussions, learning something along the way – it really is a splendid way to spend three hours on a Tuesday evening.

Even if I can only offer some discussion on the combat techniques employed by the fictional Jack Reacher. And even if fights might break out in the room below us! Isn’t there a poem about keeping your head while all around lose theirs?

(Note – that was a humorous rhetorical question at the end there. Even I know that line of verse!).

Poetry ‘things to do’:

- Subscribe to Quantum Leap and read the latest edition.
- Read the Roger McGough collection from the library.
- Continue reading ‘Poetry Writing – The Expert Guide’, by Fiona Sampson.
- Rework ‘If It Pleases You More’ into ‘The Tesco Trolleys’.
- Enter three or four competitions that have deadlines at the end of May and June.
- Keep writing and chipping away at the list of ideas!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Form Guide (POEM)

This may or may not be related to the spectacularly unsuccessful evening I had at Uttoxeter races yesterday...

Form Guide

A string of numbers;
monetary blunders!
Mine? And the thousands like me…
Imagine if we, not unlike these equine profits
- sorry, prophets - of fortune and hope,
had our daily office zoetrope boiled down
to a parade of innocuous integers,
tailor made so we might shoulder piles of cash,
bags of loot - and all those dreams! -
on our open book.

Saturday, 14 May 2011


 Sometimes you find yourself going back through very old e-mails (alright, not that old. A few years old. Hardly like going through photo albums from 50 years ago. But you know what I mean) and you come across something you had completely forgotten about. One particular e-mail contained the following link, which I post now in the interests of preserving as something that is genuinely very funny (and unavailable on DVD):

'Dave Gorman - Part of the astrology experiment'

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Going To Monaco

I shouldn't feel the need to archive literally EVERYTHING I EVER WRITE on this blog (should I?), but this morning I entered a competition through Facebook, with a prize of attending the Monaco Grand Prix available to the winner (along with an obligation to report/blog/take pictures about the experience while there). On the off-chance that I ever win one of these sorts of competitions one day, it always seems a good idea that the blog chart the troubled birth of such success, so here for the record is my brilliant/execrable entry for this particular competition:

"A man sits at his desk, gazing out of the window at leaden skies, and his mind drifts from work.

It drifts to the sun-drenched, perfect-blue skies of the Mediterranean Sea. More importantly, it imagines the thrilling scream of V8 engines. Imagines Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton et al nudging Armco barriers with precision that shouldn’t be possible in cars capable of 200mph. And imagines the most open racing Formula One has seen in a long time playing out on narrow, barrier-lined streets that have barely changed in 60 years.

His fingers itch, wanting to dance across his keyboard and describe this sport-like-no-other to anyone and everyone who will listen. Unlike his enthusiasm for writing YET ANOTHER report, his dedication to watching the drama of Formula One, including the Monaco Grand Prix, unfold on television has never dimmed in over 15 years.

But television is not the same as being there.

He has been to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone. And he has written about driving a Ferrari 360 around that equally famous racetrack. Never, though, has he been able to live the Monaco experience. Never had the opportunity to experience it and bring it to life for the benefit of those people who, like him, assume they will never get the chance to visit that tiny principality in the south of France.

Have you seen how rich the people there are? There’s no way he will ever get on one of those yachts!

A brief but heavy shower of rain comes and goes while the man surveys the typical British spring day unfolding outside. Deciding to put off his work for a few minutes longer, he resigns himself to this dream – the dream of spending one completely untypical spring weekend at the heart of the most compelling sport on earth – being an impossible one and turns back to his computer.

He logs onto Facebook, and decides to see what is happening in the world…"

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Fields Of Dreams

Having moved in with my better half and started getting the house in some sort of order, last night we took to the task of lifting the bedraggled turf that masquerades as her (now ‘our’) garden. I’ll refrain from a diatribe about the appalling state of the ground (spades aren’t really designed to slice through chunks of brick and stones, is all I’ll say…), and instead offer this piece from last year.

I was reminded of it, not only because the bit about gardening is (reasonably!) relevant, but also because I recently read a book by comedian Andy Kind where he recounts getting involved with somebody’s game of Championship Manager on a train. For anyone with an interest in football, there is NOTHING better than recounting your PC-confined glories as though they actually happened.

I'll be open from the start: for some this will be quite remarkably boring to read. On the other hand, I hope others will nod and smile with the recognition of trying to achieve things through the medium of a videogame that are impossible to achieve in real life. Sometimes, however, the boundary between the realities of those achievements can become blurred when you least expect it…

When I took over the managerial ‘hot seat’ at Chelsea, it was on a wave of enthusiasm and optimism similar to that which greeted me at previous clubs. The level of expectation visited upon me was in no way matched by personal feelings, however, and I was perfectly comfortable with – or should that be resigned to? – the likely outcome of being sacked before Christmas.

To the fans, board of directors and members of the media, my previous management records meant nothing. They meant an awful lot to me. Yes, I had seen Swansea promoted from the lowest tier of English professional football to the Premier League, narrowly losing an FA Cup semi-final to Arsenal during one season along the way. I had seen Crewe Alexandra qualify for the Champion’s League, with the team’s goal scoring efforts led by Ruud van Nistelrooy in his prime. I’d even held aloft the European Cup while in charge at Newcastle United, with the league title being the other half of a satisfying double.

But there were the low points too. Like quitting the Polish national team after several months in charge without having seen a game played. Or the breakdown I had when my first few months at Manchester United didn’t go to plan: signing expensive players on long, lucrative contracts, and then immediately letting them go as free agents to trigger compensation payments in the tens of millions of pounds. Eventually I succeeded in reducing the entire squad to just ten goalkeepers and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before being (understandably) dismissed with a rock bottom reputation and United bankrupt.

Despite such turbulent times, home form was rarely an issue during either success or failure, so I was confident of extracting good results from my new team when playing at Stamford Bridge. In the hostile atmosphere of other teams’ stadia, however, clean sheets and positive outcomes were harder to come by, and it was this that I feared being repeated as I took the helm in West London.

The board were generous in allocating transfer funds, £42 million of which I immediately spent on triggering a release clause in Dani Alves’ contract with Barcelona. With a little more patience I perhaps wouldn’t have needed to pay such a sum, but hindsight is wonderful and there was only enough cash left to buy Freddy Adu from Major League Soccer. Not that I hadn’t already inherited a strong squad…

The season started in promising fashion but soon deteriorated into the sort of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ form that plagued my dreams and influenced my tactical decision-making. The player resources at my disposal were sufficient to ensure that the level of talent and ability within any team I put out remained high. Morale, however, was considerably less consistent, despite my attempts at praising players even when they barely deserved it. When I did offer criticism, or – in moments of extreme, err, desperation – fine them a few week’s wages, players would speak to the press and proclaim I did not have the confidence of the dressing room.

The league campaign spluttered to an eventual seventh place finish, mainly thanks to sacrificing strong positions against opposition that shouldn’t really have troubled us. At the same time though, our progress through the Champion’s League was unstoppable, casting aside the powerhouse teams of Europe. The term ‘big-game player’ came to define most of the squad I carefully (ahem) nurtured during the season as they secured a 2-1 comeback win against Bayern Munich, just days after losing by the same score to Wigan in domestic competition.

Success in Europe was enough for the board to offer me a contract extension, despite the shaky league form, albeit with ‘only’ £12 million in transfer funds for the new season. This was unfortunate in the extreme, mainly because a £20 million pound deal for winger Mancini had just been agreed and quickly had to be postponed. Needless to say, I requested – and then demanded – more money from the board, in order that they allow me to realise the ambitions I held for the club.

So they sacked me.

Steve Clarke, my assistant, was installed as manager and promptly given an astonishing £60 million to spend, a proportion of which secured Fernando Torres’ services. From the sidelines of unemployment I sniped repeatedly at my successor, telling anyone who would listen that I cared little for the talents of my previously reliable no.2 and suspected he would fail. In time I would be proved correct, as the following season would start poorly for Chelsea. It didn’t result in the board offering me back the job I felt was rightly mine, however…

With a solid reputation, and a European Cup in my trophy cabinet, I didn’t expect to be out of work for long. Keen for a new and quite different challenge, I quickly identified a job in the Australian A-League that took my fancy. Admittedly, someone already held the position, albeit only tenuously. I therefore concentrated another negative, media-based campaign against the incumbent in an effort to see him sacked.

I failed, and found myself choosing between two club jobs in Argentina to further my stalling career. Even as I took charge at Newell’s Old Boys, I continued applying for other jobs around the world and took minimal interest in the performance of the team during my first two games in charge. My new employers reaffirmed their confidence in me and I repaid it by agreeing to take charge at New York Red Bulls, believing that success in Major League Soccer would be, to use a phrase, ‘a doddle’. I left the city of Rosario only 13 days after first arriving and my latest challenge awaits…

*  *  *  *  *

An alarm is unnecessary. Too many years of getting up early makes it a difficult habit to shake, and the bright dawn light gives my body an aversion to returning to the land of nod. And already it is hot. So hot. Today is going to be what they like to call ‘a scorcher’. Too much to do and not enough sun cream to put on while I’m doing it.

Time to get up then.

I go straight into the garden; after all, feeding myself can wait. Right now I don’t have any pets, and nor do I keep any livestock. I couldn’t devote to them the time they would need or deserve, so it’s the plants that get all the attention. Tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, carrots, cucumber, rhubarb, raspberries and parsley – that’s my garden in list form.

A few days ago the courgettes were on the brink. I fell behind with watering them, and as the new season and the warmer weather began to take effect so the leaves of my zucchini began to wither. But frequent refreshment and a few rays have seen them rally and begin to look like they might start offering a few flowers in the coming weeks.

Similarly, my raspberry bushes are looking a little frail, so tending to them is on today’s to-do list. But first, with breakfast out of the way (for me as well as the plants), it’s time to head into town and stock up on a few essentials.

By the time I’ve done this, then been to the garden centre to buy some bamboo canes, erected a makeshift trellis with them to support the raspberry bushes, and tended to a few other bits of the garden, it’s lunchtime. Again, however, I feel the need to prioritise the fruit and vegetables over my own nourishment because the day has, inevitably, got warmer and warmer, and the soil is starting to look dry again already.

Once that is done though, I can – for a short while at least – relax and enjoy some time with my girlfriend. We’ve been together for over two years so, without wishing to sound complacent, there is no need to spend a long time ‘wooing’ her or repeatedly shower her with lavish gifts. To prove that I’m not using my laurels to rest on, however, I offer to cook for us and so head to the kitchen to prepare our dinner.

The washing up is just about done as the sun begins its steady descent toward the horizon. There is still plenty of temperature left in the day though, and you can almost hear the plants outside gasping for another drink. So that is what I provide for them as my final act of a long, quite draining, but nonetheless satisfying day. And tomorrow I can do most – but, thankfully, not all – of it again…

*  *  *  *  *

Sometimes it’s not easy to work out if life is imitating art or things are happening the other way round. Maybe it’s because some videogame ‘franchises’ are so well established. They’ve had a long time to make tweaks and edge closer to a kind of perfection, existing in so many iterations that it’s difficult not to find something along the way to relate to. Sure, there’s no way I’m ever going to get close to emulating anything that happens in Football Manager, but then it never crossed my mind that real life might one day start to feel like Harvest Moon.

The strange, ironic beauty of it is though, that while it sometimes feels like there just aren’t enough hours in a real day, it is possible to simulate an entire football season in a matter of hours at the same time as working under considerably less pressure in your own actual garden for greater reward. It makes you wonder if the opposite can be said to be true, but you’d have to ask someone like Sir Alex Ferguson about that and I just can’t see him playing the latest Harvest Moon game on the Nintendo DS.

Which begs the question: maybe he prefers the Animal Crossing series instead?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Competition Time

Having embarked on this journey into poetry as the direct result of an impulsive decision to enter a competition, it perhaps comes as little surprise that there are numerous other competitions out there awaiting entry by would-be winners. The Poetry Society, for a start, seem to advertise their national competition from the moment the current one ends, giving nearly a whole year to come up with a masterpiece

The problem – in as much as there is a problem, particularly when it doesn’t necessarily apply to everybody – is that most (and maybe all) of these competitions require that an entered poem not be already published. To an extent, such a stance is both obvious and agreeable, for nobody would want their newly-written composition going up against a work already considered suitable for a collection or anthology.

But the rule about publishing usually also extends to personal websites, meaning anything I put on this blog is immediately made ineligible for just about any competition I might want to enter. (There are exceptions, in that most competitions also stipulate a maximum of 40 lines; the answer is clearly to write one epic for every poem that meets that limit, but that would be a hell of an undertaking!).

Given that the readership of the blog barely amounts to enough people to make a decent pub quiz team, it seems more than a little churlish to discount something just because I want to put it on here. To my mind, it’s hardly proper ‘publishing’ – more a showcase for my work, an illustration of my development as a budding poet, and the maintenance of a healthy blog. I don’t know if it’s acceptable to submit an entry and then put the poem on the blog, but it seems unlikely that such basic thinking is sufficient to circumvent the rules.

The combination of my own research and details passed on to the members of the Poetry Stanza means I can’t currently write enough poems – ones that seem worthy of submitting to competitions at any rate – to both enter those competitions and supply material to the blog. “Boo hoo,” you might say, or, “What’s the big deal if that many people aren’t reading?” But that’s not the point, and I get the impression that there is some contention within poetry circles regarding the fact that entering a poem for one competition precludes it from being entered into another. If that is the Poetry Society’s competition, you could be hanging on to a poem for twelve months without knowing if you can do anything else with it.

It could be argued – though I’m not sufficiently experienced to make the point with conviction – that when the author is paying for the privilege of entering a poem in a contest, he or she should be free to do whatever they please with their poem(s).

Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about competitions – after all, how likely am I to win? But if (however big an ‘if’ it might be) I did win, that could be a big boost to my fledgling ambitions, as well as my bank account in some cases. Competitions seem to be as valid a means of gaining recognition as anything else. Maybe the biggest question is – does anyone judging these competitions actually look for your personal website to see if your entry is ‘already published’?

The Write Time (POEM)

The Write Time

Time to do some work!

After filing those papers first.
Look at that stack of books, untidy and askew.
Where’s my pen? It’s not in its place.
What do you mean, “But you’re using a computer”?

The drive needs a sweep. The car hasn’t sparkled in weeks.
This room is dusty. The bathroom needs a thorough clean.
What’s for dinner? Something simple, to take up less time.
The dishes need doing from breakfast…

Haven’t spoken to my brother in a while.
Or James; wonder how he’s getting on?
That e-mail needs composing.
Need to send one to Louise as well.

Didn’t something else need sorting?
Should have gone to the shop this morning.
Ought to jot down a to-do list.
Put on some background music too.

Writing is not an indulgence.
It’s a passion, a burning desire!
Unleash inspiration upon this keyboard!
Though things still need to be ‘just so’.

That programme is on now.
Oh when will I ever learn?
Nearly time for bed.
I’ll start some work tomorrow.

Guest Poem

In 'A Night At The Leopard', I talked about a poem that was read out before mine during the meeting of the Staffordshire Poetry Stanza. With the kind permission of the author, John Lindley, here is that poem as an accompaniment to the account of the evening.

The Kingless Crown

Tongue sixteen shots short of the alleged eighteen,
but that pair sat squat on a belly of ale,

from pub through tippling rain I walk the wet
of Wind Street to his bronze unlikeness,
clamber onto his slippery left bronze knee 
and kiss him square on his boyish bronze lips.
He stole my tongue then put me in with the wolves.
I wring the Welsh he didn't use through my lungs
and, bloated with him, prowl this unsweet mess
of a city, improved by bad light, scour
this ripped by the blitz, bombed by bureaucracy
sad sack city and pity the girls

with only the sane boys of Swansea –
mad by proxy – left for company.

The finished article, the Wild Welsh Boy,
now dead as his nails, of course, this coarse
and courteous cup of a boy, filled
to the spilling brim with language's spells
dwells marginally (if he dwells at all)
less in seven hills soulless Swansea
than you'd think; than I'd think. Much as I'd wish it
he doesn't ghost up Uplands as I do
today, climb Cwmdonkin Drive to Number Five,
cross Cwmdonkin Park in the day's showers as
mister I call Hey mister take my picture
by this drinking fountain with no cup.

That night, the B & B, the Residents' Lounge,
lonely as solitaire I snake dominoes
on the glass top table giving each neat
ivory tablet a name: Swansea,
London, Laugharne, New York, Dylan and Caitlin.
I tip each against the other and curse

not the blessèd weather but Swansea's cold.
My fingers rake the clutter of bones for him.

John Lindley


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Vanity Publishing (POEM)

You’re So Vain, I Even Wrote A Poem About You

You went ahead and did it.

Wouldn’t give sight of the manuscript to anyone,
sought no opinion, remained convinced: “One draft, I’m done.”
The Monopoly-tour of publishers yielded no results,
and vanity publishing offered no criticism or insults.

To your craft, I mean. So you went ahead and did it.

Perhaps I’m no judge – I just write a largely un-read blog –
but I’ve devoured a lot of books and, TBH, this one was a slog.
The amount you paid and what it returned appears variable and hazy,
while none of us doubt the effort needed to write a novel is crazy.

(I know, because I’ve tried it and failed).

Within your pages of prose, plenty of promise does lurk,
but please ignore the comments of the lady who hailed your work.
We don’t doubt the effort, so it’s not hard to understand why you were smitten
with her praise that described it as “one of the best books ever written.”

For the sake of some spit and polish, though, this is the sad truth:

Competent it may be (at times), but a work of art it is not.
The printer has run and you’re stuck with what you’ve got.
Did you even proofread it for errors or look for mistakes?
Tautologies, adverbs; and all those uses of ‘almost’, for goodness’ sake!

No doubt you think me almost over-zealously harsh…

You published a book though, to be judged by that standard.
Were you deluded enough to think yourself at the fantasy vanguard?
And really so confident as to believe the publishing houses were wrong?
Another sad truth: they know of what they speak (they’ve been doing it this long).

You’re probably penning a sequel right now; will that be the same?

A drive and desire to see your work in print is admirable,
and turning to those offering the world is understandable.
If you’re content, that’s great; I’m not trying to be funny.
Just hoping you still believe vanity was worth all that money.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011



Sometime in the mid-1990s…

On a few Saturdays every year,
when races are held somewhere overseas (nowhere near here!),
the Formula One fans of Britain fear
telling their other halves, “It’s an early alarm tomorrow, my dear.”

We know how silly we are really.
The other side of the curtain it’s pitch black; we’re bleary eyed,
got a big mug of tea in hand, sitting before the TV,
gearing up for those five lights to go green.

People who aren’t fans can’t understand
why we make such meticulous plans
around live television transmissions:
qualifying, the race, and the Sunday morning warm-up session.

But it’s how we are,
it’s ingrained deep in our hearts;
the thrill of live sport broadcast from afar,
and a sense of community knowing others are enjoying the early start.

* * * * *

We don’t have to be as hardcore as we used to be,
but even in 2011 we remember the 5am glee
as ‘The Chain’ kicked in and, more significantly,
Murray Walker gave his shout that became legendary:


Monday, 2 May 2011

‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a little time teaching my better half’s 6-year old nephew a silly rhyme that I loved as a child. I believe it was written by that most famous of authors, ‘Anon’, and goes like this:

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear,
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair.
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy,
Was he?

Given ‘Fuzzy Wuzzy’ is the only such rhyme I can really remember from childhood, it’s not hard to see where my preference for irreverent poetry stems from. Sadly, it didn’t feature in the book, ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’, although a similarly short work regarding the author’s consumption of peas with honey (so as to stop them falling off the knife) did. I had never come across this poem before, but enjoyed it to the extent of sharing it with several people in the days after reading it.

For a reason I can’t properly articulate, it came as something of a surprise when a friend said they remembered it from their own childhood, and it got me thinking how certain things can sometimes stick with us, hence the appreciation for Fuzzy Wuzzy. As a result, it’s no real surprise that TNFCP featured a diverse selection of work, not all of which – to these eyes at least – necessarily met the brief of being ‘comic’.

This ‘review’ is long overdue, for well over a month has elapsed since reading TNFCP. However, in some respects the delay has been beneficial, particularly in giving me time to reflect on the book, and not least in the context of having now been to a meeting of a poetry group (‘A Night At The Leopard’).

I’ll be straight with you – there were some poems I skipped right over; mainly those that brought to mind those interminable pages of verse that litter novels like ‘The Lord Of The Rings’. Some were simply impenetrable, and while a voice deep inside suggested I ought to be better than simply dismissing something for being ‘a bit difficult to read’, any inherent ‘comicness’ (something quite different to outright comedy) was never going to be evident when the words made no sense in the order they were written.

Of course, there is every likelihood that I was, in some cases at least, being a bad reader. Too often my brain would be searching out the rhyming scheme, or examining the way the poem had been structured, to properly concentrate on the story being told. But when there were poems that revelled in simplicity and made me laugh at the same time, I knew where my interest lay. Perhaps I should go and get the book again and re-read it, just to see if my take on any of them has changed, particularly since some of the revelations I had thanks to attending the poetry group at the Leopard.

At one point I hit a run of four or five consecutive poems that were silly, funny and had something of an emotional impact; all were written by Roger McGough. The name was vaguely familiar but no more, and I have since sought out his ‘Collected Poems’ from the library to be my next poetry read. When you see the size of the book, and reflect on the fact that it is essentially a ‘best of’, it scares you to think just how prolific someone can be. Nevertheless, I am excited to explore more of his work, and will report back in due course.

Finally, special mention must be reserved for one poem in particular that got me really frustrated, if not downright angry. In a desperate effort to maintain a rhyme scheme, it resorted to ending lines with ‘-O’, even when such a device did not really fit the line being concluded. Part of me wonders if it was intended as ironic, but there was no real evidence to support that theory. The very fact that it appeared in the book almost convinced me that I was missing something, but I couldn’t for the life of me work out what. If I ever resort to anything similar, take my pen away from me, won’t you?

So there we go – ‘The Nation’s Favourite Comic Poems’. Some wonderful moments and some woeful moments, but then maybe that is what anthologies are all about. I’m starting to get to the stage where I can’t conceive of ‘an individual poem’ being universally liked or disliked. That shouldn’t really be as surprising as it seems, for isn’t that the essence of any art form? Was I really naïve enough to think I might enjoy every single poem in a collection of comic poems? Maybe I was!