a toothy business

We’ve had some carers go sick so I’m helping out with the calls this morning. I like the change. So long as everything goes to plan, I won’t be called upon to make decisions, referrals, or any of the other worries that swarm in on you when you’re medically assessing a patient. In a lot of ways a care call is therapeutic – which I realise is easy for me to say, not having to do this day-in, day-out, chasing my tail across the city, stressing about keeping ahead, making time, all for a pittance.

Geoffrey’s house is on the kind of pristine new development where everything looks fake. I wouldn’t be surprised to be met at the door by a Playmobil figure. Instead it’s June, Geoffrey’s daughter, a middle-aged woman with an aura of stress so palpable you could use it to power the neighbourhood if you only had the leads.

‘Hello,’ she says, blinking emphatically. ‘Can you put these shoe covers on?’

The interior of the house is immaculate. Which explains the shoe covers. In fact, I’m surprised June doesn’t insist on a full body suit and respirator.
‘Dad’s still in bed,’ she says. ‘I’ll come up and show you what’s what.’

I follow her up the stairs and into a room brightly lit by the sun. Geoffrey is lying on his back in bed, his hands either side of his face, gripping the covers in that cliche, ‘man lying in bed’ style.
‘This is the carer, Jim,’ says June, running up the blinds. ‘He’s come to get you ready for the day.’
‘Oh, aye?’ says Geoffrey.

June shows me into the bathroom where everything is laid out: pink flannel for the face and top half, black flannel for the bottom and legs. Creams of various kinds. A comb. Toothbrush and paste. The toothbrush is enormous, like nothing I’ve seen before, a cumbersome red plastic instrument with bristles like a carpet brush on one side and on the other, the kind of circular brush that wouldn’t be out of place snapped onto a vacuum cleaner.
‘I’ll leave you to it,’ says June, before turning on the spot and hurling herself back downstairs.

The washing and dressing goes smoothly. Geoffrey is as organised as his environment, and apart from his great age and frailty, manages everything pretty much independently. We chat about this and that. Apparently – before he retired – he used to be a dental technician.
‘Oh!’ I say. ‘That’s interesting! I know a story about dental technicians!’
‘Hmm,’ says Geoffrey. I’m putting him into his tracksuit top so he can’t do anything else but listen.
‘You know that local natural history museum? Well the professor who used to run that place also helped the police out now and again. He was such an expert on bugs and beetles and skeletons and whatnot, they used to call him in for advice.’
‘Oh, aye?’ says Geoffrey. I hand him a comb to sort his hair out.
‘Well – this one time, they asked him to look at a building site. The builders were renovating an old house and they found a load of teeth in the basement, which looked suspicious. But when the professor examined them, he said it must have been the site of an old dentures workshop, and you could tell by the tiny holes near the root of the teeth, where they used to wire them together.’
‘Wire them…’ says Geoffrey. ‘Yes.’
I pass him his strange toothbrush.
‘Over to the expert!’ I say.

He carefully smothers the big brush with toothpaste, wets it under the tap, then starts busily scouring his teeth. It goes on for such a long time I’m worried he won’t have any teeth left. There’s a lot of spitting and hawking into the sink, followed by more brushing, followed by more spitting, and when five minutes have passed and I’m wondering if I should make an intervention, he unexpectedly puts the plug in the sink and starts filling the basin so full of cold water I’m worried it’ll overflow. But just as the level nears the top, he turns the taps off, then pulls out his top set, holds it under the water, and starts attacking it with the round bit of the brush. He scrubs it underwater for ages, pulling it out to inspect it occasionally, plunging it back under again to scrub some more, hawking and spitting into the basin the whole time. It’s a furious, all-elbows kind of procedure. I’ve never seen anyone clean their teeth like this before and I’m fascinated – so much so that I almost forget to catch him when he leans back unsteadily a few times.
‘There!’ he says, breathing hard, finally pulling the plug and inserting the top set back into position. ‘Now, then – what’s for breakfast?’

the lost properties department

or maybe the day before
I found I suddenly
had to check myself in
to the lost properties department

the clerk behind the counter
kept fading in and out
but was there long enough
to ask me
what the problem was

I said
how long have you got?
I started out okay
I had displacement, distance, velocity, acceleration and speed

yes she said

and I mean
this time yesterday
I was pretty confident
that all of this
was in frame of reference to an observer
measuring the change in position of my body relative to that frame with change in time

go on, she said

it’s just
now I find
I’m kinda

hmm, she said
fill out this form
I’ll see what I can do

the poobin man

we finally met him
by the bins
Stanley and I
(or is it me and Stanley?
I’m not
too hot
on grammar, evidently)

we were walking
through the estate
around half past eight
(which is just for the rhyme:
actually it was more like half past nine)
and there he was!
dressed in fluorescent yellow because
he has one of those street collecting jobs
where it pays to be nice n’conspicuous, obvs

a baseball cap
earbuds in, listening to an app
because I guess the job’s crap
and let’s face it
who wouldn’t use some music to erase it

there he was!
master of the waste collecting gods!
riding his tiny, shiny van
the mythological POOBIN MAN!

a bit grumpy though
when I smiled and said yo!
I’ve got a little something for ya
swinging a poo bag Stan filled earlier
hoping he’d say something cool like ‘Poo me’
but he ground his teeth and looked right through me

Poobin, Poobin, whither thou goest?
what foul bags wilt thy gauntlets knowest?
and verily when it snowest
I’m guessing
it’s a blessing
as the poo will be frosty and attractively glaucous
with a little less chance of enterococcus

stan 23

1 The Lurcher is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to get the lead down and walk him in green pastures: he draggeth me beside the muddy streams.
3 He outdoors my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of excitedness for his games’ sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of daffodils, I will fear no teazel: for thou art with me (somewhere – who knows?); thy run and thy woof they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest before me for beagle, or Bichon Frises on extension leads; thou annoyest my head with howls; my patience runneth over.
6 Surely dogness and treats shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lurcher forever, and never have enough room on the sofa.

UK plc? It’s a wrap!

everything’s fractured
so here comes Thatcher
back from the dead in the Tory Rapture
handbag strokin’
hairdo smokin’
the shade’s not for turning, man – I’m not joking
the faithful falling at her feet
ten commandments on loud repeat
where there is discord flood the streets
with baton rounds & riot police

sing it

utilities – sell ‘em
protests – quell ‘em
if people wanna starve well go ahead let ‘em
get with the programme or go without
and if you don’t wanna look we can turn the lights out

we wanna attract ya
so let me despatch ya
a nice little contract to manufacture
some scratch for the itch
to make my friends rich
and drive the economy into a ditch
we make the rules
people are fools
we stripped the hospitals, broke the schools
closed the libraries and the swimming pools

wring it

utilities – sell ‘em
protests – quell ‘em
if people wanna starve well go ahead let ‘em
get with the programme or go without
and if you don’t wanna look we can turn the lights out

like lambs to the slaughter
we poisoned their water
sacrificed the planet for a fiscal quarter
‘cos oil is best
greases our nest
funds the party so fuck the protest
but what the heck
it’s legal we checked
and anyway I say with the greatest respect
there’ll be another planet we can go and infect

bring it

utilities – sell ‘em
protests – quell ‘em
if people wanna starve well go ahead let ‘em
get with the programme or go without
and if you don’t wanna look we can turn the lights out

we slashed n’burned it
stamped the permit
saved the cake and gave you turnips
voters are hopeless
pretty much boneless
if they make a fuss we can make them homeless
carpe diem
pay the PM
dogs of war? yeah – happy to free ‘em
we hold the cards – it’s a shame you can’t see ‘em

sling it

utilities – sell ‘em
protests – quell ‘em
if people wanna starve well go ahead let ‘em
get with the programme or go without
and if you can’t bear to look we can turn the lights out

the king my father

Dad appeared again last night
he said
waving goofily from the bottom of the bed
I sat up
drank a cup
of water straight off
‘Take the weight off’
I said
patting the bed
Dad shrugged the hood off his head
then sat
fussily folding his hands in his lap
Whaddya know?’
‘Not much.’
‘Hey – I appreciate you keeping in touch
what with being dead n’all
I didn’t put money on that at all’
‘Me either’ he said
‘I wanted a nice long lie-in instead
but them’s the breaks I guess
doomed forever more or less
to walk the earth in fancy dress…’

I don’t know if this is particularly relevant
but even though Dad was basically a skeletont
I knew at once it was really him
just quite a bit slimmer
the same ol’ glimmer
playing round his sockets
a packet of wine gums poking out his pocket

‘How d’you eat those things with your jaw?
You’d have to think it defies all laws
Wouldn’t they just fall straight on the floor?’
‘Uh-huh’ he said, waggling his mandible
‘Your concerns are understandable
But – see – these are Time Gums
Specially confected for spectral tongues
You feel like you’re chewing
but there’s nothing much doing
The flavours are crude
Your teeth come unscrewed
and the goddamn packet’s endlessly renewed
but it helps you concentrate
which is really quite helpful for a guy in my state

He sighed
flexed his glowing phalanges wide
then delicately hooked my curtains aside
and for the longest while we stared outside
the moon shining silvery, round and sweet
he said
‘And great you get this straight from your bed’

I said
sitting more upright on the bed
‘Tell me what it’s like being dead’

He turned his sockets sadly on me
and we held that connection wordlessly
until eventually
he yawned
and said ‘Well – it’s just like the time before you were born
THAT but without the cord n’stuff
I could tell you more but that’s enough
My hour is almost come,
When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames
Must render up myself
yaddah yaddah something else’

I gave him one of my probing looks
How’d he know Shakespeare when he never read books?

‘So what are you saying? Hell is REAL?
None of this sounds ideal
You’re making me queasy
sulphurous & tormenting sounds a bit sleazy’

‘Don’t take it literally
he said
suddenly leaping up off the bed
his black cloak cracking
snapping and flapping
like some dreadful, stressful, dad-sized bat
engaged in supernatural combat
screaming and crying
then finally raising his arms and flying
straight through the ceiling without even trying
pointy and quick
like he only lacked a stick
to qualify as a rocket
the Time Gums falling out of his pocket

‘Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!’
I said after I’d managed to calm myself down a bit
and got up to disarm
the dreadful clamour from the smoke alarm
then picked up the Time Gums, gave one a chew
because – be honest – wouldn’t you, too?


A Tragedy in Neverending Acts

Scene 1

The Terraces in front of The Houses of Parliament.

King SUNAK slides on dressed in a golden cloak and, erm… sliders – hesitates, looks right and left – then moves stage centre, wringing his hands

Suddenly the CHORUS appears, all in blue and white robes & wearing cheap Britannia masks. SUNAK turns round with a start

Think before you speak O King!
Freight thy words with lead!
Cursed be he who says a thing
about Brexit being dead

No. Absolutely. And what I think
if you give me half a chance
is that Britain is on the brink
of a major economic advance

The CHORUS start hopping around in a clumsy revelry – quite embarrassing – very uncoordinated and unprofessional – masks falling off revealing them to be Russian plutocrats, Oil & Gas executives, International Hedge Fund managers etc.

Jesus Christ this gig is tough
It’s horrible being PM
it wouldn’t be so bad n’stuff
if I didn’t have to deal with them

The Chorus stop dancing, gather themselves, try to look dignified

Your reign is mortal! Easily nixed!
Prime Ministers cheap and then some
Never forget how our fate was fixed
in a binding referendum

Suddenly there is a clap of thunder, lightning and other cheap effects. TRUTH descends in a wobbly chariot, squashing the CHORUS.

Your referendum was built on lies!
Remember the Golden Bus?
Why is it really such a surprise
The UK is quite bust!
You took our place in Europe
Destroyed it on a whim!
Tore it all down from the floor up
And threw it in the bin!
Supply chain costs rising higher and higher
Poor environmental protection!
All for a right wing dream of Empire
sold on fake news and deception!

The FURIES rush on – basically the Daily Mail, Sun, Express, Daily Telegraph, GB NEWS, Laurence Fox etc. Everything descends into chaos. SUNAK is thrown in the Thames. The Houses of Parliament catch fire…

CLIMATE CHANGE creeps on, stage left. Watches the fighting, then shrugs and turns to the audience:

This is peachy! What a breeze!
One day they’ll wake to discover
how I took the planet with absolute ease
while they were busy fighting each other…

boys’ names

I think mum had a faintly
kinda fetish
‘cos she named her boys with catholic relish
Peter, Michael, Jim?
it’s all a bit old testament & grim
if you ask me
but I was the last
so at least there weren’t any past me
no John or Matthew
no Luke or Patrick
just us three the saintly hat trick

Before I lay me down to sleep, I give my soul to Christ to keep. Four corners to my bed, Three angels there aspread. I don’t know where the fourth one went. Maybe it’s God’s punishment.

so it’s just Jim
that’s it, it’s me, c’est lui, I’m him
or Jimmy
or Jimbo
if you think I’m a clown in a toyshop window
or Jamie
or god help me James
if I work in the city – y’ah? – with portfolios to maintain
or I’m in trouble – again
in which case it’s definitely James
basically Jim in the pub
James in furs and mayoral chains

because it’s strange
how names
can change
a man
I might be good at DIY if I was a Dan
I could probably play the klavier
if I was a Xavier
and if I was a Tom
I’d be into sub dom
and so on

my point is
when our parents anoint us
with a name
our lives are never quite the same
the only way round it
was if they disallowed it
and every baby got a barcode on their shoulder
and named themselves when they got older

because once you’re a Jack
there’s no going back

it’s a problem, this name-thing
every boy’s called the same thing
go to any big gathering
like a gig or a gym
and it’s really quite staggering
how many are called Jim
or Dave. or Richard. or John.
there’s a hard core of twenty – shall I go on?

but anyway – if you forget the name of a boy
do what our mum did and just say ‘Oi’

a belief in dog

I believe in dog
primarily because
dog does as dog should
dog sniffs around the neighbourhood
and smells that it is good

in the beginning
was the word
and the word was dog
and he quickly got soggy
because the woods were hellishly boggy
after the floods
but yea was he cleansed with suds

dog the lather
dog the suds
dog the toasty towelling
dog the growling
with pleasure
because verily he doth appreciate a rough towelling
without measure

ah dogs

from Diversions:
dog the chaser
dog the squeaky octopus displacer
dog the cheese grazer
dog the odd and crazy behaviour
dog the lazy snoozer
dog the hoover
dog the chewer
dog the rapturous window viewer
dog the sigh communicator
dog the hole creator
in the sofa
even though
we use a throw
in the hope
it wilt dissuade him
but lo
you know
verily it doth not faze him

from St Stanley’s Epistles to the Bristles:
‘and we didst go for a walk into the woods
and the walk was wet but quite springlike and good
and we didst meet upon the path a terrier called Reggie
and my Owner didst chat unto Reggie’s owner
and didst make this joke:

‘Verily if thou hast a dog called Reggie
then must thou get thyself another dog
and this other dog shalt thou name Ronnie’
and Reggie’s owner did laugh most politely
and move to the side of the path ever so slightly
and the walk didst continue
and the world was made anew
with a tripe stick treat for me to chew’