stuff i write

Month: December, 2012

Antique Shop

She kept an antique shop, or rather, it kept her: Auntie’s Antiques.

She tickled under the chin of the bell above the door, just to check it still worked, and flipped over the sign to prove they were closed for business.

“Elevenses, dear!’’, she said to the pink-lipped, long-dead, Victorian girl in the portrait, flicking her frame with her faded ostrich-feather duster as she doddered by, “Auntie needs her tea.”

The stairway at the back of the shop took her, carefully, up to her self-contained flat and kitchenette. She lit the gas and put the kettle on the flame, automatically pushing open the top window to let the steam out, then absentmindedly watched a tube train crawl noisily between the tunnel and the back of the old paint factory, rinsing her Imperial Russian porcelain cup under the tap. Blank commuters stared out at her.

She waved.

No one ever waves back anymore.

Her slight pique amplified her trembling and in an instant the cup was tumbling, dissolving with barely a tinkle on her chequered tiles.

“Oh Auntie! That was priceless.”

She swept the memories into a silver dustpan with her badger-hair brush, and went back downstairs, laying the dustpan on her sales counter for a moment. Shy under the gaze of the Grandfather clock standing silently over her, she shrugged off the feeling of paternal admonishment and picked out a Louis XV snuff box from her cabinet of prettiest things.

“You’ll have to be patient with Auntie.”

Stroking the tortoiseshell inlay with her finger the velvet-lined lid purred when opened. She emptied the delicate fragments into it, closed the lid, and then pulled out a box of crucifixes. Choosing plain gold she laid it a-top the snuff box and then cut off a hunk of ribbon to tie around it, holding the crucifix in place.

“A love bow,” she whispered, to concentrate herself against the shaking.

At the back of the shop she let herself out into her dark, walled yard and felt the cold. With her best gold pansy trowel she scraped a shallow grave at the back, laid down the box, and scattered over it a shroud of dirt, the ribbon bright against the grey grit.

She hurried inside, closing the outside out.

“Auntie still hasn’t had her cup of tea.”


I went exploring: distant shores, becalmed nights the incense bids me recall; the ocean slapping against the wood, and the narcosis in my blood; seeking spices.

A chaos of delights, fuggy with the herbs of flamenco nights, jags me right back to you; the sweet water of you. The evening warm under a storm of perfume, and strawberry girl spices of you. I should have bottled you like a genie and then I could always keep you near me; steal your smell and your name to give me power over your soul and access to your brain.

Been hungry so’s it’s left me piggy for spices, or any aroma or scent that entices! I’ve been eating dirt to get at the tubers in the earth, grubbing through the mud just to feed my head; retrograde untangling of synaptic devices I am troglodyte rooting for spices.


I’m thinking in platitudes trying to avoid the gold thread of life and death
Hidden in the tangles and brambles of messy indiscretions.
I’m recalibrating my attitude, saying ‘It’s futile to worry’, and ‘It’ll all work out for the best’,
And who cares about all the big questions.
All my loved ones could be struck down tomorrow.
The sun might blink.
All could be stricken with horror and sorrow
Obliterated in a cosmological kink.
It makes me think, briefly, before I remember to blame it on something,
Or someone, or somewhere; some time in the long-off and distance past.
Use distractions or tinctures of pleasures, whatever’s the ‘done thing’,
And then make a slight readjustment to my mask.
Do what I can do to grin and bear it,
And if the straitjacket fits, wear it.

The clown

Testing the fake Daff on his lapel with a squeaky leak,
And tapping the mud off his gigantic puppy-fur shoes,
He stretched the hair-net taut over his widow’s peak
And, squinting in the mirror, had only his face left to do.
Umbongo Scognamelio proffered a much lovey-kissed cheek
Bone at the mirror. To be admired.
Smeared the white greasepaint into the cry-corners of his melancholic eyes.
Ghosting himself.
Wishing himself into an oblivion of sighs.
The stereotypical psycho or a good-natured fellow?
Clinging vaseline smells vile.
A coppery wig makes more merry;
Slapstick thick-bubbly dribbles of crimson
Paint the fat bloody hanging sausage of a smile.
Popped the red nose on, topping himself
With a cherry.
He thought of children, and frowned,
Reflecting the bladder-shriveling scowl of the clown.

Atmospheric Conditions

My weekend could have gone better. It started with car trouble and ended in talking about the weather. If I had to read the barometer, after a tap on the glass to check its pulse is still a flutter, I’d say the needle rested somewhere around change… but edging towards getting wetter. Though it might just have been fooled by the tears that flowed in the room; giving a false reading tending towards gloom. Who knows.

I’d put the hood up on my kagool and assembled a haphazard selection of tools before lifting the bonnet and going in. Despite my anxious antics this isn’t just panic mechanics, it takes love. A heady mixture of oil, water, and sin, reek; steam hissing, cold metal and blood.

Step back and take a good long look.

Or jump in and don’t do it by the book.

What would Hamlet do?

I lit another cigarette, bumbled around, added water where it should have been juice; hit it with a hammer when I should have left it hanging loose. I hit the big red switch that said ‘Don’t Touch’. I pumped the brake when it should have been the clutch. I unscrewed, I lip chewed, I stood in the rain and became unglued. Tatters tore. People saw.

But I hit the road, Jack, and didn’t stay there no more.

There were already clouds over the mountains when I drove into town but I’d dragged a few more up from down South, sucked into my slipstream, lingering with me like shadows on my lung. Should’ve dispersed them early on but a cat’d got my tongue and I wanted to see, wanted to be me, scared and vb

(okay, vulnerable, but I don’t like to say it out loud)

I was weak

(with hunger)

I was obsequious

(with hunger)

It wasn’t very long before I made my first blunder.

After the calamity with the car and my subsequent victory I decided I might try to adjust her flickering electricity; the pink neon ‘Love’ that lit up her bathroom mirror was coming and going. The crackling hinted at a fuse blowing.

It was a bad sign.

It had bad design.

The buzz was edgy in my fillings, like drilling.

And not only that, it was making me paranoid about the void. I sang into it, straining to hear an echo to my narcissism. I smiled into it but got a mirrored mimicry of my cynicism.

I took a deep breath and cut one of the wires.

Surprise surprise.

Darkness and cold. Demons and trolls. Things that’d lain dormant came out of their holes, and strolled, poking with sticks at our agitated souls.

I had to shake the barometer to get it to ‘change’, scattering the mess as if I was deranged. The atmosphere was stable, if strained, for a few minutes, I’d gauged, so despite the rain hammering on the windows I felt satisfied. Botched for the time being, a hodgepotch of hope I can call a meaning.

2nd Hand Crown Of Thorns

On Easter Sunday this year I found a discarded crown of thorns at car-boot sale at the Cricket Club. They didn’t want much for it due to some tangled hair and some bits of dried scalp, plus some stubborn looking blood stains. It was a bit like a slightly more malevolent magpie nest, of which the bottom had fallen out, like the economy.

I’d been invited to a Spring BBQ that very evening and me being Mr Bad Taste humour I thought it’d be a good laugh to put it on and make a few jokes about making the food go farther with a few magical gestures and some glossolalia. ‘Ha ha, good one, mate’.

What else is there? That kind of glory is cheap for 50p.

Little did I imagine the stir I would cause. Blimey. The moment I knocked on the door and Abigail, Bob’s wife, opened it, everything went unusual.

‘Mike!’ she said, slightly hysterically but with an exaggerated welcome to emphasize how genuine she was trying for, and then continued, ‘Good to see you’. She went in for a Mw-mw, which I always get wrong. This time the inevitable clash of faces meant I stabbed her head with the crown. I couldn’t tell if it’d pierced her scalp but her hair was tousled out of its tight bun, slightly like a mini hernia. It gave her a more vivacious look, I thought, immediately realising my madness – This was Abigail! Never fancied her, ever. She barely tolerated me as one of Bob’s mates. But as she took my plastic bag – (of four cans of Guinness Draught and my slightly urine coloured home-made potato salad in a scratched and dull-from-over-microwaving-it Tupperware container) – our fingers touched, and I felt a spark. It was so unusual and unexpected I wouldn’t even go as far as to claim it was ‘that’ kind of spark, even, but something uncanny was occurring.

‘Mike? Before we go through and meet the others there’s something I want to show you in the bedroom.’

She said she’d never felt better. I could see it when we went out into the garden. Four minutes of adultery and she was social butterflying her way around the BBQ like a movie starlet in a very good mood. She tap-danced on the decking.

I needed a beer and went and sat down with some of the other blokes, feeling a bit tired. ‘Alright mate’ x6: ‘Bit prickly today mate, back off’, ‘My hair seems to have gone weird’, ‘Mutant dandruff!’, ‘Been hanging around all day’, ‘It’s my cross to bear’, ‘It started off as a daisy chain’… they tired of my banter, the joke wore thin, I felt a bit loaded down.

Oddly none of this seemed to put off the wives and girlfriends who, at every opportunity, came to me, and thrust their phone numbers into my checked shirt pocket. By the time I staggered out I had appointments to keep me busy for the entire week.

By Wednesday I was exhausted. I’d cured one of their daughters of acne with some oral sex but the next morning I had a large boil under my armpit. Jessica, Tony’s Mrs, had gum disease but after a sexy shower with me her smile was gleaming and her halitosis banished… and my jaw ached and felt wrong within an hour of my hair drying. By Friday I had to take the day off work because Mrs Davis’s lame leg, (that’d made life so difficult in the back of her Nissan Micra), had become my crutch to hobble on. Pamela’s panic attacks were keeping me up at nights with worry. Rachel’s asthma left me huffing and puffing.

To be honest, by Saturday I was starting to worry one of them might have cancer.

Thankfully the Saturday night we blokes went for an early evening drink to watch the football on the big screen. ‘Mate! You look rough!’ x6. ‘Yeah, I’ve had a virus’. Considering the result, the poor defending, and my lack of va-va-voom they were all annoyingly in good spirits. Apparently life couldn’t be better. Frisky wives, spring in the step, things looking up. They took it in turns to tell me how they’d let it slide before, but this week was like a revelation, an epiphany, like winning the lottery, a miracle, life changing, and, affirmed that life is, indeed, great. Every one of them was a changed man, they would do better. They would make good the gift, the second chance, that each had been given. No longer would they take it for granted.

It was as if the football, even the beer, didn’t really matter anymore.

On the Sunday, limping and coughing, I went to a Jumble Sale at the Association for the Blind and left it in a bric-a-brac filled tomato-box when no-one was looking.

Curse #17

Reserved, behind barbed wire and glass shards sharper than fire, I’m observed and it feels absurd; my non-verbal signals are speaking in tongues, words I’ve never heard.

Preserved: Jarred; can’t get far past my musculature. Only boots, a suit, and a car; tight-fitting, huggy and snug, restrictive/constrictive as old friends and lovers are.

Resurrected.  Amperes and volts, lightning bolt jolts; I am an industrial revolution, women are spinning my cotton, urchins are unclogging my colon. I am putrid pollution. A harlot will dance ‘The Virago’ on the grave where I’m interred, and it’ll be deserved.

I’m smouldering with damp paradoxes like sodden matchboxes. Pickled in paraffino on the pyre I’ll be resurrected.

Now, gimme m’ Zippo and let me do what I do.


Counting my blessings in case I forget.

It shouldn’t get me like this but I’m feeling the darkness spreading through my bones tonight. I’ve been wanting too much and it’s coming back to haunt me. Feelings, or whispers of feelings, are twittering in the sinews and muttering like old drunks in my spleen. Tears, or something, are humming melancholically between my tight jaw and my ears.

Learn to live with my gullible troubles and thorny bramble tangles, and try not to regret.

Totally alone.

Lopsided and asymmetrical.

My shallow, rattling chest, taut as a snare.

Fear and unfair, clipping my breath.

Time tickles me to death.


I’ve got a ‘Here and Now’ *Bong!* app on my phone. So far, thankfully, it’s only gone-off when I’ve been alone. A singing bowl would be better – more resonant but less convenient – over and after-tones kiss-chasing vibrations in my inner ear. A calm down tone.


What do I feel? …sense? Is this place and time where I belong? I get tetchy when the anxiety grabs me by the gonads and intimates, with measured menaces, that I might be getting it wrong.

Here I am, Thrown.
An unknown…
…in the unknown.
Just a lumpy puddle if it wasn’t for my backbone.


Meditation just takes too long. That kind of self-focus, smacking (as it does) of hocus-pocus, Gnostic hokum, or the mystic blue lotus, can easily be sidestepped with aplomb.

When Scott sings

Scott Walker plays the Bradford Odeon, it’s 1966; he’d recently gone solo after a string of Walker Brothers’ hits.  There are queues around the corner and for the Ladies, and at the bar.  All of the support groups have shuffled unnoticed through their allotted half-an-hours.  And, soon, Scott sings.

There’s chicken in the basket for those that might want it and if you’re a Freemason you can get in for nothing.  Plush crimson carpets that in the 1940s must have seemed upmarket and lots of lads, drunk, hoping to get lucky with all the pretty girls everywhere doing the jerk, screaming through their fingers, going berserk.  Wet eyes, wet seats – they’ll be dancing in the streets, with a longing in their loins like a soft blue heat when Scott sings.

He could have been the new Sinatra but that’s not what he’s after.  He’s a torch singer who still believes in the torture.  And yes, Tom Jones can sing, Shirley Bassey does swing, and no-one can croon like ol’ Bing.  But it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing, or move you like it ought to – and it does when Scott sings.  He takes the sin from Sinatra, the Om from Tom Jones, he’s got the ebb of Debussy flowing through his bones; the spectre of Spector, the vile of Kurt Weil, the silent why of the Byrds hiding in his Mona Lisa smile, when Scott sings.

The beauty of his voice obscures the truth: choirboys can’t sing the blues because they lack the passion (their balls ain’t seen any action); like angels bringing bad news… how can anyone be that tragic when their voice can do magic?  Who’s fooling who?  If you bite from that apple they’ll have you booed from the chapel, devils snapping at your ankles, evil flickering the candles… like when Scott sings.

But Scott doesn’t want to sing ‘My ship comes in’ for the millionth time (and who can blame him!).  But the pop-tarts what the hits, not all that arty-farty shit, and the whip hand, cash, will tame him.  Whores don’t like whoring they just do it for the money, but at least they take pride in a job well done; give a little honey, remind them of their mummy, then take the cash when they’ve come.

It’s a tragedy but no one takes you seriously if you’re pretty.  Or at least, that’s what the pretty ones always say.  The ugly can be serious but we all need our romantic heroes.  They say, “Scott, man, that weird stuff’s just a waste with your face.  You could go far, be a huge star, bigger than the Beatles by far”  And, “If you want you can sing something German.”  “Belgian.”  “Aha, he speaks.  Whatever.  But please do sing ‘Joanna’, that’s my wife’s name.  She’ll be thrilled you see she’s been a big fan for years.  She says you and that Tony Bennett are like music to her ears!  Not like all those modern groups with their darkie rhythms and sex, you’re a well-mannered young man, sensitive, and that deserves some respect.  Nicely groomed, well spoken.  Is that jacket corduroy?!  Such a good example for the impressionable young boys.”

“Just give the man a drink and some time to think.  Let him breathe, he’s a singer!  Think of his lungs.  Now, Scott, we’ve got a contract, a deal signed and sealed.  What’s up man, cat got your tongue?  Just six tunes, maybe an encore if you chose, surely that’s not expecting too much.  Look, everyone gets scared but it’ll be alright when you’re out there.  They love you.”  They’ll be putty in your hands, soft to your touch.  More like kittens with string when Scott sings.

When Scott sings he steps into the spotlight and waits for the baying to cease.  The band holds the bar.  Hold the bar, time seems to freeze.  A darkness surrounds him like the silence before prayer.  A hymn of despair, reeking of sin, hush let him sing.

A cloak falls when Scott sings.