jimmy v the ghost

I think I was nine, maybe ten
going through a phase
especially on school days
of phantom stomach pains back then

I’d been prodded and probed
and Doctor Hornet (what can I say)
asked if everything at home was okay
I said yes so the case was closed

but all the troubles were hid
which of course I didn’t show because
the plain truth was
I was a vague and generally clueless kid

so one school day it was the usual scene
mum had gone out somewhere
leaving me alone in an armchair
flicking through my sister’s Jackie magazine

when suddenly I heard a sound
from up in the attic
sneaky and erratic
the noise a ghost would make coming down

I wedged chairs against the doors
then with a rising sense of doom
ran around the living room
tipping out all the drawers

there was so little it was frightening:
paperbacks, souvenirs, photos, plants
in desperation I took my chance
with an Airfix model of an Electric Lightning

(a fighter jet from the 60s and 70s
from my brother’s wargames kit
he was into all that military shit
planes being one of his specialties)

it was less of a weapon and more of a crutch
ghosts are dead and don’t feel pain
so hitting them with a model plane
probably wouldn’t bother them overmuch

I waited in the armchair
holding the plane by the cone like a club
waiting for the terrifying ghost to show up
and when Mum came home I was still there

what she said to me I’ve no idea
memories of that time have faded
but eventually the stomach pains abated
and I saw out the rest of the year

if I could skip time and visit
myself shivering in that armchair
I’d say put the plane down, Jimmy, don’t be scared
let the ghost in, talk to it

reincarnation

brains
notoriously difficult to explain
funny-looking, spongy contraptions
buzzing with neuro-chemical interactions
like there’s something galactic
fizzing in the attic

quite what all this means I don’t know
I mean do YOU know where memories go?
when you’re alive it’s weird enough
your head filled with echoey stuff
but what about when you’re dead?
do the memories go somewhere else instead?

maybe they go into everything else
when you’re laid to rest and your brain slowly melts
it might explain the other day
when I went to visit dad’s grave
carnations singing invitingly
frank sinatra: come fly with me

Beginning of the End

Beginning of the End, 1957. dir. Bert I. Gordon. Watched on YouTube so you don’t have to.

Apparently this film is about giant radioactive bugs taking over the place, which seems to chime with the current state of UK politics.

You can’t beat a good Sci Fi bug movie – although I’m not signing anything, so viewer beware (whatever the latin for that might be).

I’m not mad about the title. ‘Beginning of the End’. Why isn’t there a ‘The’ at the beginning? Maybe they thought it made the beginning more immediate. You’re straight into the beginning without a the to slow you up (Can you tell I did an English degree? Money well spent).

Nothing I can do about that, though. So let’s take a breath, press play and see how far we get.

00.00 Close-up of a road sign. Ludlow 1 Rantoul 5. Which looks more like a scorecard. Rock n’roll on the radio. A couple in an open top car. (Monsters love open top cars – it’s their equivalent of chicken-in-a-basket).

00.24 Close-up of the couple smooching. God but they used to kiss weirdly in the fifties. They’re so buttoned up they may as well be wearing helmets. It’s amazing the birth rate didn’t fall off a cliff. And that’s BEFORE the radioactive bugs.

00.42 The woman lets him kiss her neck – in the same way you might let a surgeon do a lumpectomy. But suddenly she’s distracted by something horrific approaching the car (worse than what’s IN the car?)

00.44 She puts her hand to her mouth and screams in the classical way – a high C# I think – then we fade to black, the sound of thumping drums, and a big title zooming up all blurrily ‘Beginning of the End’

(God I hate this title. When you start dropping off the definite article it really is the beginning of the end.)

00.59 The cast list flies in pretty quick – one after the other – bam! bam! bam! (that’s not the names by the way) – all written in caps in a chalky font. The orchestra has just been told to play whatever they like at top volume, which is fun for them but a migraine for the rest of us.

01.07 Favourite name so far: Hylton Socher. Sounds like an anagram – for ‘Shoot my Agent’.

01.16 Actually I really like the name Hank Patterson. I don’t know why. It’s just very satisfying to say out loud. Try it. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. It won’t be long before the medication takes effect. Hank Patterson. Just breathe – in through the nose, out through the mouth. Hank Patterson. Hank Patterson. That’s it! Lovely. Everyone’s safe (except the two smoochers in the convertible).

01.27 Apparently the film features a song called Natural Natural Baby. Can’t wait to hear it. Or see what action they put to it. Jitterbugging. Quite literally.

02.03 Finally – into the film proper. Two cops driving down a highway. Classic. ‘This is 254 on the Ludlow Swing’ says one. I love cop talk. I know all the code words. ‘Ludlow Swing’ means ‘looking for someone to fit up on a drugs charge’. I think.

02.09 ‘…reporting a 194 dash 2’. Erm…

02.18 I love those old cop cars. Looks like it’s got an upturned bucket of chicken pieces on its roof. Or am I just hungry. (Can’t be – it’s just after nine. AM.)

02.20 ‘Pullover!’ says the cop. ‘I saw something.’ Maybe a 189 dash 5 dash omega 3?

02.24 Uh-oh. They pull up by the road sign from the beginning. The smoochers convertible. Ripped to pieces (but not by passion). The cops inspect the wreckage with their torches (which look like bottles of ketchup or maybe ranchero sauce).

02.45 ‘I’ll report in’ says the other cop, flat as his cap. He gives a lot of code numbers over the radio whilst his colleague picks through the wreckage looking for change. He finds a wallet (so that’s twenty dollars a piece). The controller (who sounds like a mechanical frog – and if he were here I’d say it to his face) tells one to stay on scene and one to go to the address on the driver’s licence.

03.35 The cop who made the call gets in the cop car to drive away. He does a funny little wiggle with his shoulders before he backs up. If that actor had gone on to be famous, that wiggle would’ve swept the world. As it is, we get about two seconds of it and the rest is lost to history.

The first cop stays to act as dessert for whatever monster ate the smoochers.

03.44 Actually – phew – he’s okay. He’s waving his torch to a bunch of detectives who’ve arrived to detect the scene. You can tell they’re detectives by their snappy brim hats, their nonchalant, world-weary demeanour, and the word Detective written in chalk on their macs.

03.53 This whole film is like a school play acted by teachers. Just sayin’

03.57 Meanwhile, the soundtrack is a mish-mash of sad oboes and ominous cellos (and that’s exactly what it says on the score, btw).

04.00 Detective Mackinsey goes to his (nicer) car to talk to the mechanical frog on the radio. I’m distracted by the fact that he’s standing exactly in line with the flashing light on his car, so it looks like his hat has a flashing light on top of it. Although – maybe it does. Maybe it’s for when he’s walking through crowds.

04.20 Cut to: the MF, sitting at what looks like a candyfloss machine , trying to get in touch with Car 254, the one ol’ shivery shoulders was driving off to investigate the licence address.

04.36 Shivery makes it to the car radio. ‘The whole town’s destroyed!’ he says. ‘Everybody’s gone! You gotta do something! You won’t believe this! Send help! Lotsa help! Quick!’ And the screen fades to black again (so we don’t get a shiver of his shoulders to round off the biggest monologue anyone in his family ever had).

05.00 Cut to: a cool blond in a convertible (is there any other sort?) driving up to a road block. The car doesn’t seem to stop so much as run out of sound effect. A military guy with his helmet undone (is there any other sort?) marches round to her side of the car. ‘Alright lady!’ he says. ‘Just follow the arrows.’
‘Any chance of getting through?’ she says.
‘No’
‘What happened?’
‘Look, lady! Just detour – will ya, please?’
I can’t believe this dialogue was written by Harold Pinter. David Mamet, maybe…
She backs up a little and parks. Looks at all the soldiers with their rifles. Smiles to herself. Takes out a camera that’s as big as a washing machine, and gets outta da car.

05.59 Two soldiers slouching, chatting, giving & taking orders, basically being all military. I don’t know. Nobody has their straps done up. When they start running their helmets will fall off. Don’t they know this? AND THEY TRUST THEM WITH GUNS??

06.05 The blond goes up to the soldier in charge. Her hairdo looks more formidable than his helmet. (And doesn’t need straps). ‘I shoulda explained’ she says. ‘I’m Audrey Aymes, Wire Service’. Which I’m guessing means journalist, not fencing contractor. She’s got a camera, anyway. A brassy attitude and everything.

06.33 The soldier says ‘Look Lady’ before everything he says, which is an awful lot of Look Lady. The upshot is – he’s not letting her through. No way, Lady. She goes back to her car. You can tell no amount of Look Lady is gonna put Audrey Aymes off of her Games.

06:47 Almost 7 minutes in and all we’ve had is a lot of getting in and out of cars, wrecked or otherwise.

07:00 Audrey drives around the roadblock (which is relatively easy, given they’re in the goddamn desert), parks up, looks around. If only she could hear the soundtrack, she’d KNOW there were giant bugs or something going around eating cadillacs and smoochers (sounds like something you’d order off the menu ‘I’ll have the cadillac and smoochers with a side order of fries.’ But when the waiter comes back he’s forgotten the fries, so you eat him instead… and SCENE.

7:18 Poor Audrey. Her camera is about the same size as her car, with a headlight n’everything. No wonder she’s so pumped. Although that might be her nether garments (which is what people wore in the stone age, around 1950).

7:31 The music builds to a crescendo as Audrey takes a picture. A soldier in a stick-on moustache appears and takes the camera. ‘Oh’ says Audrey. ‘I’d like to speak to your commanding officer.’
‘He’s in Paxton’ says the moustache. Presumably the town. Audrey heads there.

07:53 Cut to: a soldier fiddling with dials in Paxton. Audrey asks a soldier who looks like Elvis if she can speak to the commanding officer. Elvis says he’s not available, so he takes her card over to a Captain, sitting behind a desk. The Captain looks at the card and says ‘Send her in’ – which is weird, because he’s sitting behind a desk and not in another room. (At least he’s not wearing an unfastened helmet, though).

08:40 The Captain tells Audrey he liked her book on Korea. She says thank you. (I like the way Audrey talks. It’s kinda laid back, economic, with a Noirish buzz to it. I’d like a SatNav with that voice. ‘Turn right in fifty yards. And pass me one of those filthy Marlboro, would’ya Captain?’

09:20 Audrey promises the Captain she won’t publish the story straight away. The Captain’s happy with that. He says that sometime during the night the town of Ludlow was unexpectedly and completely demolished. Audrey doesn’t think that sounds good. She in on the questioning of a surviving local – Dave – an old guy in a hat with the brim turned up (I think he walks into things a lot because his nose is pretty squashed, too). Dave’s voice is so deep it’s like he’s drawing his lines from a well, one bucket at a time. Apparently last night Dave was round at his daughter’s, walking into shit, watching TikToks on her iPhone or something, when he realised he had to get up in the morning so he left (she must’ve hurried up to open the door for him).

11:18 The interrogator is Colonel Sturgess or Sturgeon or Stodgy or something, a man who looks like Bela Lugosi (the casting director had a blast with this film). Next he questions Edna, a woman with plug holes for eyes who works at the telephone exchange. They establish that the phone lines must’ve gone down between midnight and four in the morning. Edna has to get more sleep. I’m worried for her. Is she in a union? Audrey looks like she’d rather be back in Korea.

12:00 Colonel Stodgy puts on his helmet (sans straps) and leaves, marching all the way round the table rather than asking the Captain or Audrey to move out of the way. He’s either very diffident or likes marching a lot.

12:25 Audrey gets back in her car. Oh my god – it’s got a telephone! She places a call (is that Edna…?) to the National Wire Service.

12:50 The Editor of the NWS is a guy called Norm, who has a normal moustache and normal hair and a normal suit so I guess that’s why they call him Norm. Norm does some fake writing while Audrey talks. She wants him to check out the story of a plane flying over Ludlow last night, nuclear installations, that kinda spooky, trust no-one thing.

13:50 Audrey drives back to the roadblock to get her camera. They call her Miss and not Lady this time, so something’s afoot. Norm calls back and tells her that the only people in the area playing around with radioactivity is the US Department of Agriculture.

14:38 Audrey drives to an experimental station in Illinois. Audrey does a lot of driving. Maybe they should’ve called the film Audrey Drives A Lotta Places. (I’d watch it). She parks right outside. You know it’s an agricultural place because there are plants in pots by the front door. Experimental because they’re not watering them. The front door’s open. Inside are a lot of cheese plants, which look spooky in real life, but in a tin shed in black and white they’re terrifying. There’s a guy in a lab coat prodding some soil, so I’m guessing he’s a scientist. Hanging off the cheese plants are tomatoes the size of space hoppers. I NEVER get my tomatoes that big. What are they using – magic mulch?

16:04 Audrey keeps on saying hello to the guy in the lab coat but he ignores her. Suddenly another scientist appears behind her. He laughs. ‘He’s a deaf mute,’ he says. ‘Working with radiation can be dangerous.’ This scientist is called Dr Ed Wainwright, which sounds suitably sciency. He’s played by Peter Graves, who I recognise from Mission Impossible. (Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make this film better than it is).

16:50 Ed helps Frank, the deaf mute scientist, pick some dead snails off the floor. He laughs and lists all the pests they’ve had to deal with over the last few months, including grasshoppers. Audrey laughs too, bonding over garden pests. Audrey asks Ed if radiation could’ve caused the problem in Ludlow. He laughs again and shows her a fridge full of jars marked ‘Hazardous – radioactive isotopes’. The odd pickle. He doesn’t think it’s connected, though. I mean – sure it might make your co-workers deaf and mute, and your tomatoes glow in the dark, but it’s not explosive, so we’re alright.

18:05 Ed talks Audrey through the growing process while Frank prods some more soil. Apparently the plants need constant feeding to balance out the radiation – which is probably why I’m constantly thinking about lunch.

18:33 Audrey is driving to Ludlow now. Or is it Paxton? Somewhere black and white. The Colonel says it’s okay to go to Ludlow. So she goes with the Captain to Ludlow. ‘I hope you have a strong stomach,’ says the Colonel. Well – we know she doesn’t get car sick, at least.

19:42 Montage in Ludlow. Audrey taking lots of pictures of smashed houses and such. They’re not in Ludlow long. It’s pretty dead. Driving back, she tells the Captain all the war ravaged places she’s photographed in the past. ‘How about a drink to wipe away some of those memories?’ says the Captain, never missing an opportunity to make a move on someone with PTSD.

21:00 Back at the Experimental Station. Ed and Frank are prodding the soil together, which is affectionate and intimate. Audrey comes back (we didn’t see her drive! I feel cheated). Ed is pleased to see her. The last time I saw a smile that wide it was made of plasticine.

22:38 Audrey asks Ed if he’ll take her out to a warehouse that got destroyed or eaten a while back. Frank does some sign language that makes Ed laugh – he translates – something like ‘Frank thinks your lips make you easy to read and he’d like to go along, too. They all laugh, but especially Ed, because that wasn’t what Frank signed.

22:43 Now they’re all in Audrey’s car, driving. Lovely. Nice bit of road, this. Ed gets all flirty with Audrey. Not for the first time does Frank feel blessed.

24:15 Creepy oboes while Frank skips over to a gate marked ‘Government Property! Keep Out!’ and undoes the lock. They explore what looks like a local scrap heap, even though the score tries to make it seem interesting. Audrey goes back to the car for her camera to take some moody shots for the Wire. Ed goes with her, leaving Frank on his own just as some strange whiffling noise starts up in the trees.

27:40 Next thing you now, Frank is being eaten by a giant locust. He doesn’t scream, but signs Aarrgh! instead.

28:01 Ed explains to the Colonel, the Captain and anyone else with a desk and a moustache that the problem they have here is giant locusts. ‘Eight feet tall. Vicious, merciless killers,’ says Ed.
‘Now – Ed!’ says the Colonel, playfully.
Ed takes responsibility, though. He says some of the insects must’ve broken into the lab – despite the stringent, top-of-the-line, leave the front door open will ya kind of security – and gotten a dose of radioactive magic mulch. The Colonel asks for ten men to go out with him to the place where Frank got snacked by a giant locust. The easy way he does it, I’m guessing he asks for ten men quite a lot. His helmet strap is teasingly loose.

31:19 The soldiers jump out of the truck at the site of the ruined warehouse, making sneery comments about insects. It reminds me of that scene in Alien 2 when the marines talk about going on a bug hunt and Ripley gets furious because they don’t know what they’re up against.
‘I ate one of ‘em once, down in Mexico’ says a soldier.
‘Yeah? Well you’d better watch yer step – they’ll wanna get even.’

32:59 That whiffling noise again. The Colonel holds up his hand for the men to stop. The noise gets louder – and suddenly the locusts attack. There’s a few closeups of the locusts as they bear down on the soldiers, who do that thing of falling back and putting their hands up in front of their faces. There’s a lot of shooting. They retreat back to the truck, and drive off. Round one to the locusts (if you don’t count demolishing Ludlow).

35:39 Back at the Paxton office, the Colonel calls in some extra troops and the odd plane, but not ‘the regular army’ (I thought they WERE the regular army?) Ed says he’s underestimating how many locusts there are. Or how far the special effects budget can stretch.

36:22 Ed decides to go to Washington with Audrey to convince the president to act, otherwise it could be ‘the beginning of the end’. You see! You can’t avoid using ‘the’ at the beginning of ‘the beginning of the end’. I don’t care mankind is facing annihilation; there’s no excuse for sloppy grammar.

36:50 Ed is giving a TED talk to a bunch of generals and presidents and whatnot.
‘The locust is intelligent,’ he says, thrusting his hands into his pockets for emphasis. ‘Like the bee and the ant, they’re able to communicate with each other’. I didn’t know bees could talk to ants! Fascinating, Ed.

38:01 All the generals look alike – little moustaches, plastic hair, constipated expression. I find them infinitely more terrifying than the locusts, which have an idiosyncratic, boss eyed cuteness.

39:08 Unfortunately, despite his TED talk, Ed can’t get the generals to approve a bigger military operation against the locusts. Suddenly the main general gets a call – ‘Uh huh… yes… I see’. Then apologises to Ed. The Locusts have overrun the Illinois national guard and they’ll need to send in more troops.

40:25 Their plane diverts to Chicago (too many locusts in Paxton). In an operations room in Chicago, a general (I don’t know which one – they’re worse than the locusts) marches around giving orders – ‘I want the first airborne, the 2nd division, the tank brigade, a coffee machine with arabica beans and a hint of hazelnut, I want to learn how to make a shadow puppet swan, I want chocolate hats… etc. Everyone looks busy (so as not to attract attention). Meanwhile, Ed is busy in a lab with bubbling test tubes. He’s pretty fly with highly toxic materials. I can’t believe they ever made him CEO at Chernobyl. He picks up a newspaper with the headline ‘Chicago Next?’, skips to the horoscope, then waggles his hand in a tank of crickets and says ‘the time will come when the beasts will inherit the earth’. (Maybe he should wash his hands…?)

43:21 Cut to: tanks heading out to battle the locusts. This time the soldiers have their helmets strapped on, so it must be serious. No sign of the locusts, though, even though they look with binoculars.

43:40 Cut to: a radio announcer in glasses bigger than the binoculars. He talks about the military manoeuvres, then explains that one advantage they have is that the locusts make a whiffling noise before they attack – which is a tactical error, you have to admit.

44:37 Back to the operations room – and the whiffling noise begins outside.

45:00 A montage of battle scenes, giant locusts vs the US military. Everything you can think of – helicopters, tanks, tanks with flamethrowers, soldiers with gatling guns, whisks, carpet beaters, tug along hoovers, Rentokil in pedalos, a division of trampoline salespeople, a woman with a euphonium, Harry Potter and so on.
‘They keep coming, General! Inch by inch they’re coming closer!’ – which, given that they’re eight feet tall, is actually pretty slow.

47:10 The announcer interrupts the programme to say that the ‘giant locusts have reached the Chicago South side…’ which sounds gritty & urban. Maybe they’ll give up whiffling and start rapping.

‘Do not panic! Do not panic!’ says the tannoys, as picnicking Chicagoans get eaten by giant locusts in the park. Easy for you to say, bud… you’re not the one being snatched up like a breadstick.

48:06 One of the locusts crawls up a building and pervs over a woman brushing her hair. Urgh!

48:26 Audrey casually wanders into the operations room with a cardigan draped over her shoulders. She’s a cool customer. Sorry, Lady. Bugs don’t bother her. So long as she’s got car and gas, she’s fine. Although obviously I don’t mean to say Audrey is gassy.

The Colonel says the plan is to nuke Chicago at dawn. He’s been given permission and everything. Ed thinks if they could reproduce the whiffle they could maybe get the locusts to follow them into the lake. Which is more of an organic solution than the nuke. All he needs are some oscillators, some sub woofer speakers, some sub whiffle speakers, and one of the live locusts to practice on.

51:20 Nighttime. A tow truck pulls up, along with soldiers in a truck. The soldiers jump down and go left and right. Ed goes into an alley with the Captain (same thing every Saturday night). They find a locust and stun it with a bug bomb (same thing every Saturday night).

54:15 Back at the lab, the locust is in a cage and the scientists are doing sciency things. Ed stands in front of the cage and gives a TED talk about galvanisation and such; the locust goes crazy behind him (maybe because he thinks Ed’s description of polarity is VERY wide of the mark).

56:13 They begin testing different sounds on the locust. It seems to respond best to Ed Sheeran, although it might be rage, it’s hard to tell with locusts. The General marches in. He says Ed’s had his chance and now it’s the airforce’s turn. He puts in a call to the A bomb people through Edna, who’s somehow still at work. Side note: I think the locust is a better actor than the guy playing the General.

58:39 The General gives some very complicated instructions about where his men are going to be stationed, a getaway car, blah blah. The A bomb is being dropped in 90 minutes. So that’s 5 minutes we’ll never get back.

59:55 Montage: Deserted Chicago streets; Ed playing with knobs. That’s some fancy montage.

1:00:38 Ed decides to loop the drums and overdub the vocals. It’s a hit! The locust really starts to vibe with the tune. Slay!

‘I think you got it!’ says the soldier (who I didn’t mention, who’s there to help with extra bits of dialogue, like how he’s 37 but doesn’t know everything, which is cute).

1:01:37 … except the locust is so hyper now it breaks the cage and eats the 37 year old soldier we’d only recently got to know and care about. Shame it wasn’t the General.

1:02:34 The General cancels the A bomb and tells Ed ‘The show is yours!’ Ed immediately puts in a request for a sound stage on the lake, lazer show, glitter bombs. ‘I’ll be your pied piper,’ he says. Very Glasto.

1:03:40 Ed gives Audrey another mini TED talk about the best places to position your speakers in the event of a giant locust plague. She doesn’t look that bothered. She prefers cars. She’d like to have interviewed that 37 year old soldier who got eaten, though, but life got in the way.

1:04:34 Ed radios one of the observation posts. The soldiers have set up in a lingerie shop. I hear you, boys.

1:06:17 Ed asks a soldier to plug his amp in. Ed’s Locust Theme is immediately pumped out of speakers around the building. It basically sounds like a car alarm on a Sunday morning. The locusts rush towards it in their pyjamas.

1:07:52 Montage of locusts strolling through a model cityscape. Cute. A soldier gets eaten. Not so cute. Another soldier spots them with his binoculars.
‘Here they come… walkin’ down the street… they get the funniest looks from…. everyone they meet….’ Hey Hey We’re the Locusts…

1:10:26 The building is getting overrun, but the General wants ALL the locusts to be there before he activates the speaker on the boat. He’s nothing if not inclusive. After a lot of shooting of bugs on the building (which seems to be more successful than the shooting they did earlier…), the observation posts say the insects have cleared downtown Chicago, so the General says okay, throw the switch.

1:12:10 It works! The locusts pile into the lake and drown. ‘Head for shore’ says the General, wearily. (Or maybe ‘Head for sure!’ looking forward to a little treat later). Audrey breaks down. Ed comforts her. They look into each other’s eyes. Audrey sees a 1953 Hudson Hornet Sedan; Ed remembers how he used to prod soil with Frank.

Fade to black.

And that’s it!

The End.

So what’ve I learned?

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, join the army. You’ll be forced to jump in and out of trucks for no apparent reason, only to end up as a bug snack.
  2. Giant tomatoes aren’t worth it. They’re tasteless and can lead to apocalypse.
  3. Learn to Drive. Audrey’ll teach ya.
  4. If you must use Radioactive Isotopes, label them clearly and keep them in the fridge.
  5. If you want to creep up on someone, try not to whiffle.

calling time

There was derelict ground at the end of our street
where the print works social club used to be
its pavilion fallen in, everything decayed
all the best stuff robbed away
but we managed to salvage an umpire’s chair
for some reason still standing there
rusting by the tangled nets
like the last of the sunny afternoon sets
ended a hundred years ago
and now only rain passed to and fro
and the only umpiring left to make
was which kind of weed would be next to break
up through the broken tarmac surface
while the developers slowly completed their purchase

Dad put the chair at the back of our house
so when he was digging he could take time out
sit with a tea, survey his work
the vegetable kingdom of the printer’s clerk

twenty years later, mum’s gone, too
and there’s an awful lot of clearing to do
at the end of the garden I find the chair
the woodwork gone, the ironwork bare
and I see Dad sitting on it, sipping his tea
quietly scrutinising me
and I wondered whether he’d approve or not
all those years of digging – for what?
a realm of brambles, nettles, shrubs
his son in a hat with croppers and gloves

but all things pass – gardens, courts
the Fens were reed beds once of course
and before that – dinosaurs called to each other
across the shining river delta
and further back, before this world,
before the formless pattern of chaos unfurled

and in my mind Dad is there
watching it all from his umpire’s chair

I stand for a while, the garden stripped
then toss the bones of the chair in a skip

initiate fettuccine protocol

the hotel receptionist
is professionally bright
despite
the plush corporate death
of his surroundings
he wears a large yellow badge
on his lapel
but I’m too scared
to lower my eyes
to read it

ask me anything he says
anything at all

is there somewhere nice to eat
I say
for some reason
putting one hand on my hip
then regretting it
but too self-conscious
to lower it again

depends what you mean by nice
he smiles
unnaturally still
like a chameleon
whose disguise
for the fly
is a suit and tie

I see a flicker of distraction
like his attention
is divided
50% to the smile
50% to the pushing of a button
beneath the desk

and that badge
that badge is probably
a camera
BADGE CAM
(admissible in court)

I don’t know,
he says
what do you normally eat
fettuccine?
do you like fettuccine?
is that the kind of thing?
fettuccine?
there are some italian places off the high street
do you like italian?

yeah I say so long as it’s easy

italian’s easy
he says
VERY easy
try the italian places he says
if you like fettuccine
definitely

he’s said fettuccine so many times now
I feel tangled

Oh my god
the sly dog
HE’S USING HYPNO-PASTA ON ME

the return of the tripe stick kid

when I rattle the harness Stanley knows
it’s walkin’ time for the two amigos
amblin’ easy heading west
on the bluebell trail we love the best
but jes’ hang on a gosh darn second now
being as how they’s a mess a’cows
haulin’ hoof in yonder field
so I keep ‘em peeled
keep Stanley on the lead
sure not wantin’ me no stampede

I stay focused
and one thing I notice
thems ‘ain’t the usual friesian
thems a whole other other dairy demon
a couple dozen ‘ornery ayrshires
tho’ could be herefords to be fair t’ya
they look this way with a mean complexion
we head off quick in the other direction

maybe they think I’m the gosh darn’ farmer
or some other kinda cowboy charmer
either way I guess it mighty politic
to dodge into the other field double quick

‘course – they up hoof n’follow us
swing round suddenly and corrall us
between a hedge and a fallen tree
and lawsakes I think it’s the end o’me
hell – I’m no expert but even I know
if you’re cornered by cows you let yer dog go
so I unclip his lead and he dives thru’ a gap
to save himself and get help perhaps
then I turn to address the advancing beasts
and per’pare myself the good lor’ to meet

the next thing I know Stanley’s galloping back
shooting his gums at the dairy pack
like a gosh durn sheriff riding to my assistance
and the herd hauls off to the lush green distance

‘mighty obliged to you, pardner – that was neat’
as I hand him a plug from my bag of treats
and I straighten my hat, and I scraggle his head
‘I’m thru with cows; let’s see bluebells instead’

status update XXII

Tick tock tick tock / here comes the man that time forgot / back to front and hot to trot / but somehow also kinda not / missing the high notes, running on the spot / but wait – no, it’s gone / the end is over before it’s begun / the skeleton magician tapping his wand / waggling his phalanges to The Great Beyond / saying the magic words: Happy Cadaver! / the body disappearing and yeah, mate – whatever / smiling on cue to the flashing cameras

I think the The Three Musketeers put it best / All for one and fuck the rest / I don’t pay fines or speak to the press / it’s all so predictable, too distressing / treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em guessing / this democracy shit’s just goddamn depressing

But look! Here’s one of me in my diving suit / so tight it’s a fright but also kinda cute / hosepipe helmet and big lead boots / happy as can be / all at sea / sailing out to where the city used to be / singing / the bells are ringing / for me n’ my world

Sheesh! I really am some flat pack character / in need of a screwdriver / multivits and a criminal barrister / called Henry McAllister / whose dad was a bum and his mum was a minister / yeah – so what – I’m addicted to rhymes / add it to the list of my literary crimes

Reading the news on the travelator / A Stitch-up In Time Saves A Big Lie Later / Judge Gives Birth To An Alligator / Cesar Millan Lets Slip The Dogs Of War / NOW we know what all the training was for / singing hey diddle diddle / MPs on the fiddle / Musk flies over the moon / the little dog laughed to see such fun and because it was generally non-compliant with its antipsychotics

A butterfly flaps its wings and boom / that little change in pressure in the combat room / means the whole charade is over too soon / Extinction swirls her cloak and beckons / by means of fingers like nuclear weapons

Charlie Brown / spins around / his one hair straight as he hits the ground / stabbed in the back with a pen all gloopy / his dying words? Et tu, Snoopy?

Please make your way to the poetry exit / the lines are now closed (applause expected)

a whole new me

my nose
I chose
from the snouts on show
at www dot schnozz direct
absolutely perfect
100% no quibble
100% no dribble
don’t snore with it
adore it

my chest
I select
whilst logged on as guest
at www dot tits dot net
best you can get
natural heft
right and left
fills my T
totally me

my teeth
I believe
I’ll eventually receive
from www dot gnashers dot com
cost a bomb
clean n’white
chew alright
confident smile
wild

my skeleton’s
by Peloton
guaranteed American
laser knit
snap fit
bye bye wheezies
hello PBs
lithe n’limber
winner

my brain
I obtain
from the popular domain
www dot noggin dot biz
no fuss no fizz
a range of programmes
to maximise the I-Ams
plug n’go
pro

Stanley the Lurcher shares a few comforting lines on Death

Isaac Newton, Cleopatra, Shakespeare – all died
No wonder I’m reluctant to go outside

Dying is as natural as scratching your ears
it just goes on a few more years

Death is the undiscovered country from whose bourn no lurcher returns
just a few less treats and a few more worms

I think I speak for most dogs
when I say there’s no such thing as ghost dogs

Verily did’st I meet Death waiting in the market
and ventur’d most bravely to tug its cloak and task it
What is Death? And lo! it did blow a wormy gasket
so loudly did it laugh-eth
and ghastly did gaspeth
embarrassed was I the joke not to graspeth
tempted to say forget my question – sorry I ask’d it
for I woulds’t feel bad if Death suddenly cark’d it
but Death doing its best its corpsing to mask it
sayeth Why! Death be but a snooze in an underground basket!
(and I came from that place thinking Death may be sick
but jes’ ‘cos you’re eternal why be a dick)

Stanley the Stoic

If you would wish to improve,
seek not to move
overmuch
from the sofa and such
but be content
to be thought ignorant

Happiness consists
in being able to resist
the worming tablets
they hide in your dish

No lurcher is truly free
until they are unclipped from the lead 

Lurchers are not disturbed by things
excepting children with violins

There is only one way to happiness
and that is to cease
worrying about treats
that are unavailable to eat
beyond the power of our will
in a tupperware box on the windowsill

The key is to keep company
only with dogs who uplift you, 
whose presence calls forth your best
(I’m not great with collies, but I’m okay with the rest) 

We have two ears and one mouth
so we can listen twice as much as we speak
(also a tail
which is useful as well) 

It’s not what happens to you
but how you react to it that matters
(it wasn’t me that left the sofa in tatters)