just because he does that you don’t have to

When I was a kid
one thing I did
was try to be like my eldest brother
who lived in a whole other
masculine dimension
judo, motorbikes, not to mention
an academic ability
which gave him the facility
to be ridiculously
successful
on the whole growing up was pretty stressful

I even joined his dojo
did it work? oh no
I was basically scared of the other kids
their sweaty digs
playing ‘British Bulldog’
getting my head pulled off
I’d shake with fright
every Friday night
I mean – Fred the sensei tried alright
bellowed
still, I never got past yellow

In retrospect
you couldn’t expect
a different outcome
maybe if there’d been some
other stuff I could’ve done
something fun
like figurative ice skating I think
but your ambition shrinks
when there aren’t any rinks
so that’s that
you end up face first on a judo mat

Now I’m more like me
and life goes on easily
but if I had the knack
of reaching back
I’d say hey Jim whatsup?
and lead me out of that judo club
to a beautiful spot beside the river
where I’d dance and deliver
a song to make me shiver
impromptu
just because he does that you don’t have to

my dentist makes a good political joke

I had to go to the dentist for a check-up
I could only see him from the neck up
but he seemed nice enough
a bit rough
if I’m honest
like he’d just wandered in from the forest
from felling trees
to filling teeth

‘Oh Mr Clayton,’ he said
shaking his head
‘Do you floss?’
‘Yoss’
(speaking’s a struggle
with two hands in your muzzle)

‘Okay
Let’s take an xray
Relax!’
he said, scooting back

Later, when he was studying the plates
I thought I’d break
the tension
with some post-examination
conversation

‘At least we’ve got the NHS
millions don’t have dentists, I guess.’
‘Except Cuba,’ he said
raising his eyebrows and nodding his head
‘Yes! Cuba has a superb dental system
Also, they’re so good it’s insane
when it comes to dealing with hurricanes.
Everyone knows exactly the part they have to play
and immediately snaps into an efficient civic display
medical attention, blood stocks, search and rescue
what have you
everybody out on the streets to help you
it really is incredibly neat’
He jumped to his feet.
‘Hurricanes and teeth
my friend, hurricanes and teeth.’
‘And how’s the x-ray? I asked him
seen anything nasty, hmm?’
‘LM2’s worn, doesn’t need drilling
But Guantanamo Bay definitely needs filling.’

someone left the cake out in the rain

How did it come to this?

me, leaning in a plastic dumpster
fumbling for a mallet or a hammer
to knock in a bamboo marker
the dogs had knocked over
round a patch of wild flowers
singing MacArthur Park?
(to be clear – the dogs just bark
I’m the one singing
the first thing
that comes into my head –
a song from the 70s by Jimmy Webb)

MacArthur Park!

I mean – not even
the cool Donna Summer version
but that godawful, barely lawful perversion
by Richard Harris

Richard Harris!
I’m so embarrassed
singing with the same, geriatric warble
like Richard Harris had gone to the trouble
of building up status with audiences & directors
in the theatre, film and television sectors
but found himself singing like a vivisector
might sing
operating
on a cat
and being suitably horrified by that

mind you
it’s true
the brain is a crazy kinda organ
with weirder projections than a gorgon
signals continually toing and froing
without you knowing
what the hell is going
on, and why you’re getting strange looks from strangers
because you’re singing and snapping your fingers
to Scooby dooby Doo, where are you….?
or that advert for Murphy’s in 1992
p-p-p-pick up a penguin
flickering round your axons
for aeons and aeons
along with a billion other distractions

No doubt if you held a gun to my head
and said sing us something or you’re dead
it wouldn’t be anything I genuinely liked
like Iron & Wine, Die Antwoord, or anything I’d been listening to that night
on Spotify
anything of quality
it’d be some lame-arsed jingle
an advert for Pringles
or Nivea for wrinkles
a tune you desperately snatch
as they frown and flick off the safety catch
as I start singing uncertainly:
Ski – the full of fitness food – for all the family….

and of course – I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate or waver
they’d shoot me straight off and they’d be doing me a favour

what the stars looked like that night

Grandma was clearly
the exception in the family
qualifications, money
semi-detached house in Jersey Road, Osterley

A headmistress, seamstress
husband in the accountancy business
antiques, interests
drove down to visit, Easter, Christmas

Remarried at eighty
to Dennis, berthing there lately
liverish, shady
discharged drunk from the merchant navy

Moved this way
bungalow, blinds down all day
bills unpaid
an upright piano for an ashtray

When we’d call
Dennis watched from the door
disputed, deplored
rheumy eyes on a ruined floor

Suddenly they vanished
everything sold, bank accounts ravished
panic, anguish
a detective assessed with objective language

It was egregious
eventually tracked with police procedures
distressing features
dumped in a caravan, Bognor Regis

Dennis was ferocious
but his health was atrocious
coroner’s diagnosis?
chronic kidney disease and advanced cirrhosis

Grandma moved back
to a home, wheelchair, bric-a-brac
medicated, relaxed
blue hydrangeas blooming with swimming hats

A peaceful environment
we’d sit in sunny enlightenment
fuddled wonderment
curling smoke from a Peter Stuyvesant

When she died
it was late at night
stepped outside
silver pins in a pincushion sky

the coldest I’ve ever been

let me see
the coldest I think I’ve ever been
was when I was sixteen

it was the winter of ‘78
and I’d gone on a date
by mistake

I was sitting on a ferris wheel
next to a girl called Lucille
It wasn’t just the middle of December
it was a contender
for the worst winter
anyone could remember
whatever
I didn’t care about weather
I was wearing my light leather bomber
the one with the studded nehru collar
because I thought it made me look tough
even though it wasn’t remotely warm enough
and didn’t have any pockets for stuff

I don’t remember what Lucille was wearing
I was ten degrees past caring
and falling
but I do remember her calling
me lots of disparaging names
because she thought I was lame
and the date was too tame
and she should’ve gone to the fair with Wayne
who’d copped off with her best friend Jayne
so she’d been forced to say yes to me
and sat and suffered next to me
cursing the tragic destiny
of a sub zero life with sub zero chemistry

I do remember she had red hair, though
which I tried to imagine was the glow
from a lovely warm fire
as the ferris wheel rose higher and higher
and the blood slowed and froze in my veins
and my legs pistoned in my jeans
and I folded my arms
and gritted my teeth
freezing to death
trying to pretend my breath
was smoke
which only provoked
Lucille even more
and she swore
and narrowed her eyes at the night beyond the door
as we shook and shivered on the hard metal seats
and I tried to look cool like Danny from Grease

Iguanodon’t

When I was seven I thought I saw
a dinosaur on the lawn next door
running around on scaly feet
looking for scraps of food to eat

At school we had a nature display
we added to from day to day
so I brought in my iguanodon
the toy I’d based my story on

‘D’you think it was a blackbird, Jimmy?
said the form teacher, Mrs Mawhinney
(who was always very kind to us)
‘An Iguanodon’s the size of a bus’

Decades later I’m sure she’s right
a thing that big would be news alright
The razory beak! Those feathery flicks!
it must’ve been Archaeopteryx

never share a bedroom with your brothers if you can help it

I shared a bedroom with my two brothers
it’s fair to say none of us
liked the arrangement
(and probably accounts for the subsequent estrangement)

we fought about the usual stuff
who had space, who didn’t have enough
but the thing that caused the biggest fight
was whether the door stayed open at night

I said if there was a ghost
I’d want it to float
in and out freely
they disagreed completely
they could absolutely guarantee for sure
even the dumbest ghost can walk through a bedroom door

their arguments were sharp and well rehearsed
but I was youngest so I came to bed first
the door was left open and I eased into the night
happily staring at the landing light

when they crept up later at nine
they’d come and put their faces close to mine
to test if I was asleep or faking it
because if I was awake I couldn’t be taking it

little did they know
I could go nose to nose
with any of those bozos
because I’d transfer my anxiety into my toes
which I’d be furiously wiggling
instead of giggling
so unless you monitored the duvet
you’d have no way
of knowing
my wakefulness was showing

it was one of my superhero strengths
and the reason I went to such lengths
was because although as I said before
I didn’t want them shutting the bedroom door
I was always much more interested to know
what secrets they’d share when the door was closed

mrs banham, a bag of plums & me

My best friend’s dad, Mr Banham, was called Jim
at least – that’s what everybody called him
the same as me
although really
his name was Stanley
apparently

anyway

sometimes I’d go with their family
on trips to the sea
Hunstanton or Brancaster
in a crappy Ford Anglia
where Stanley
(or Jim
whatever you want to call him)
had this hilarious trick
where he’d kick
a beach ball high in the air
then bounce it once on his hairless head
and drop straight down as if he was dead

He took us to a safari park
wound the window down
passed a bag of plums around
to the baboons on the bonnet
which was scary, if I’m honest
all those leathery hands
reaching through the gap
till a man in a hat
came racing over
in a jungle-themed Range Rover
Wind that window up! he shouted
furious that the rules were flouted

I don’t remember Jim’s wife’s name
but her eyes were level and blue
I heard she died
by suicide
and I thought of that afternoon
the hands of the baboons
flexing, reaching in frantically
for the plums, Mrs Banham, and me

The Naming of the Beast

Stanley
formerly known as Storm
stormy since he was born
got a different name
when he came
to join our family

of course – normally
the name you formally
sign for on the line
would be absolutely fine
if it didn’t mean you had to stand
clapping your hands
shouting ‘Storm!’ all the time
which is kinda charming
but can sound alarming

obviously I’m not saying
about naming
that Stanley’s any better
but you have to admit
when you think about it
Stanley sounds manly
and Storm’s just weather