upset nav

drive to: wrong aroma / ricky roma / mesothelioma
drive to: empire state / rail freight / heaven’s gate
drive to: dramaturge / gettysburg / zuckerberg
drive to: the far side / the dark side / the park & ride
drive to: look at me / like me / vote me
drive to: pantene pro V
drive to: space invasion / face conflation /  winslett in Contagion
drive to: explanation
drive to: aristotle / axolotl / tartan covered hot water bottle
drive to: the Korean peninsula / nurse ursula / eleganza extravaganza
drive to: a good first rehearsula
drive to: the snowman / the golem / the greatest showman
drive to: hurry up and go man
drive to: Kirk, Spock and The Doomsday Clock
drive to: plunging markets, falling stock
drive to: hans gruber smiling in an uber
drive to: havana, cuba
drive anywhere.
I don’t care.
Just drive.

::::::::::: you have arrived at your destination :::::::::::::

IMG_0397 (1)

my dad, younger than me

IMG_0319my niece / posted me a nice / picture of dad / an old black and white one mum had / she nabbed when she was down that way / the other day / and I have to say / he did look amazing / staring through the creases and chemical crazing / half the age I am now / young, proud / & so thin / his trousers hardly seemed to touch him / hair slicked back magnificently / hands in pockets insouciantly / framed in the doorway of a ruined church / a presentiment of their forthcoming marriage perhaps / and the look he gives the camera / come try me he seems to say / standing on the threshold of something substantial that day / which I’m sure he would have found a surprise / was fifty years of morecambe & wise / self-sacrifice & compromise / and a slow bright necklace of Sunday afternoon bonfires


breaking down under questioning

If you hadn’t guessed from the wall-mounted displays of cap badges, ribbons and medals, the fading photographs of men on parade, smoking in hospital beds or raising tin cups sitting on the sides of a tank, from the shelves filled with books on the Second World War to the cabinets ornamented with polished anti-tank shells, riding crops and the like – well, then, you’d probably still guess Mr Bradford was an old soldier by the way he sat in the chair, hands draped over his walking stick, feet planted shoulder width, back straight, his two bruised eyes glittering.

‘Tell me again who you are, please, and what you have come to do,’ he says.

Mr Bradford has been referred to us by the hospital. The story was that he’d gone to catch another elderly resident as she fell backwards in the garden, putting himself between her and some plant pots, the geriatric equivalent of taking a bullet. He was lucky not to break anything (‘…but then I always was quite lucky in that regard,’ he says). What the episode has highlighted, though, is Mr Bradford’s growing frailty. He’s been struggling to cope at home, too proud to ask for help, gradually drifting in terms of personal hygiene, nutrition and so on. The good news is there are lots of practical things we can do to help, and Mr Bradford is happy to accept.

‘You’ll appreciate this story, being a military man,’ I say to him, taking a pause and resting on my laptop.
‘Go on,’ he says. There’s a sudden chill in the room, as if he’d turned the angle-poise light into my face and slowly lit a cigarette.
‘Where I grew up, in Wisbech. Cambridgeshire. The Fens…’
‘I know where it is,’ he says.
‘Well…the guy who ran the local electrical repair shop – this very unassuming man, little round spectacles, bald head – used to fix the Hoovers and radios and whatnot…’
‘Ye-es,’ says Mr Bradford.
‘Well…his name was Mr Cox.’
‘Mr Cox?’
‘Yes. Anyway, all these years we just knew him as Mr Cox, the guy who fixed your radio and where you could buy those little pifco torches, you know? The red square ones with the big slidey white switches…’
‘Tell me about Mr Cox,’ says Mr Bradford.
‘Well…turns out he was a war hero.’
‘A war hero?’
‘Yes. Have you heard of the Bruneval Raid? When a team of commandos went over to France to dismantle a radar station?’
‘I know what the Bruneval Raid is.’
‘Well…Mr Cox was the technician who went with them. To dismantle it. Even though it was packed full of Germans. I mean – it was quite a daring thing.’
‘Yes. The Bruneval Raid,’ says Mr Bradford, picking an invisible piece of lint from his threadbare trousers, dropping it off to the side, and then slowly directing his attention back to me. ‘The only operation successfully led by a parachute battalion, I believe.’

carp in a cap

Bill is standing so close to me I can feel his breath. With his thick, downturned mouth and straggling beard, he looks like a specimen of ancient carp, navigating the river by use of feelers.
‘D’you know what this badge is?’ he says, rolling his eyes upwards, directing me to his cap.
I have to pull away to focus. Right in the middle above the brim is a tiny enamel pin badge, two flags leaning out either side of a date.
‘I don’t know. A civil war thing?’
‘Nine eleven,’ he says. ‘The day the towers came down.’
‘Ah!’ I say, frowning a bit closer. ‘Of course.’
‘We used to sit up there, me and Rita. They had chairs and tables and everything. You could look out, right across the city. The Empire State. You could look down on it.’
‘Was that on the North tower or the South?’
‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘One of them.’

I feel a little cornered by Bill, if I’m honest. I’m waiting to bring the hoist back in whilst the physio and another carer make Bill’s wife Rita ready for the return journey from the armchair to bed. Rita has advanced dementia. When we hoisted her from the bed she held the straps as lightly and happily as a child in a fairy story being carried off by a balloon.
As soon as there was room, Bill had shuffled in from the kitchen.
‘I travelled a lot, y’know.’
‘Did you?’
‘The Far East. Russia. United States. Everywhere.’
‘What were you? A spy?’
‘No. I was a courier. I took the job when I retired. They paid me to carry important letters round the world. I don’t know what was in ‘em. Could have been anything. Egypt. Japan. You name it. All the security people got to know me. They’d see me coming and they’d be like…’ He nods slowly and raises a finger in the air.
‘Sounds great,’ I say.
We both watch as the physio and carer make a few final adjustments to the sling.
‘Sixty years we’ve been here,’ says Bill, thrusting his hands deep into his pockets and leaning in to speak directly into my ear, as if this was a thing as confidential as any of the letters he carried. I’m tempted to say: what – leaning on this hoist, d’you mean? but instead say: ‘Have you really? I bet you’ve seen some changes.’
He leans back.
‘There used to be an abattoir next door.’
‘Oh yes? How was that – living next door to an abattoir?’
‘They killed pigs. Cows. Mostly pigs.’
‘You could hear them screaming. They used a fixed bolt, y’know? Through the head.’
‘And if that didn’t work I suppose they let them off,’ I say, nodding at the physio who’s waving me over.
‘Oh but it did work, though,’ says Bill, taking off his cap and slowly pushing his fingers backwards through his greying hair. ‘It worked a treat.’

flinders keepers

on a piece of land near euston station
for project crossrail excavations
they found the grave of Matthew Flinders
an eighteenth century navigator
who sailed the continent of Australia
similarly the coast of Tasmania
but heading home stopped in at MauritiusIMG_0332
where they threw him in gaol for looking suspicious
it was there he lost poor faithful Trim
the cat who’d sailed the world with him
‘eaten by a catophage’ his journal read
(because there was nothing else to eat instead)

learning about life

‘…the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.’
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Lewis Carroll


Okay! Thank you! Settle down please
And a warm welcome to the Life Skills Academy

Spring term will be devoted almost exclusively
to compromise & expediency, disappointment & reality
those of you who cover the ground satisfactorily
will take extra units in prevarication & complicity

Summer – and I’m sorry, but most of the term
is given over to the basic skills you need to learn
making it, mistaking it, faking & forgetting it
upsetting, downsetting, elementary regretting
blood-letting, anonymous internetting

Autumn is focused on more advanced techniques
– one for all you lifestyle geeks
alt-tabbing, monosyllabing, monetizing mechanics
uber hiring, rumour denying, late-night dramatics,
drive-by, dry cry, bulk buy specifics,
right clicks, news tricks, glue sticks & netflix

And then at last we come to our Winter Warmer
with something at the end for the star performer
choose from module A: advanced entitlement with plausible frustration of enablement
module B: accelerated learning in accountability & squirming
module C: a diploma in substantiated financial insalubrity & sarcoma
or module D: certified obfuscation, inebriation and offshore tax identifications

any questions?

Good! You see how much there is to be done?
So please open your books at chapter one


hi / I’m from Wisbech / (that’s whizz as in speed / & beach not in sand / but in how the fuck can this be seventeen miles inland?)

Welcome to Wisbech, then! / Capital of the Fens / *er-hem* / I know, I know – it sounds so grand / civically solid & well planned / but no, I’m afraid it’s really not / it’s more like the land that time forgot / or as Dorothy says in The Wizard of Oz / because because because / because of the socio-economic situation and stuff / so it’s pumpkins not munchkins / and ‘follow the A1101’ / not that other, brighter, more Technicolour construction / and suddenly you’re there / lying in the Five Bells with straw in your hair / flying monkeys everywhere

so – erm – yeah – Wisbech – Capital of the Fens / (so ludicrous it’s worth saying again) / like they held a ceremony of considerable pomp / for the inauguration of the king of the swamp / still, I suppose everyone needs a catchy title / like maniac needs homicidal / to fully unravel / the horror of your spiritual travel

Welcome to Wisbech – Capital of the Fens / that’s capital as in punishment / for all the souls in featureless torment / on floodplains of abandonment / with a flatline skyline / of turbines & pylons / sirens, violence, two-for-one nylons / broken bridges / midges / fly-tipped fridges / seriously – the attractions are prodigious

Welcome to Wisbech – Capital of the Fens / dragging down the high street in a cloak of farmyard odds & ends / a diadem / cut from an apple box / a couple of raspberry punnets for crocs / and an orb of sprouts stuffed in a football sock

Wisbech, Oh Wisbech! – Capital of the Fens! / gangmaster of piggeries & factory hens / council cuts & overspends / swingers, wringers & brexit bringers / of slow, silty rivers / malarial sweats & shivers / golden eyes & cirrhotic livers / broken vows in broken mirrors / where everyone dreams but only Tesco delivers

Wisbech – My Wisbech – Capital till the End / when climate change will make amends / and orchids & field scabious will bloom / and bitterns boom / and dragonflies hover & zoom / stem to stem / in the deepening, darkening fen / and all will be well in Wisbech again / and me? I’ll be a model of longevity / staggering around at a hundred and seventy / kept alive by medical complexity / just well enough for one last dive / tumbling backwards off the side / as we glide / to a stop / when the instruments detect some sunken shops / way down below us in the black water slops / & I’ll fin my way down with a torch on my head / to illuminate the sports shop owned by Fred / where mum worked cash in hand / half buried now in the silt and the sand / and I’ll part the weeds and I’ll stare through the glass / at the transformation that has come to pass / eel not Fila / minnow not Umbro / pike not Nike / and I’ll smile enigmatically behind my mask / because nature has claimed what was hers at last / and Wisbech is finally cool & romantic / like Doggerland, lost to the Atlantic

(and then no doubt I’ll probably drown / and – by the way? sending an elderly diver down? / in conditions of such poor visibility? / I think you’ll find that’s culpability)