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The Poet’s Nightmare


It was a perfect work

That told so much, in such a simple way

A perfect summation of what I wanted to say

Nothing true is new, of course, as the truth is eternal

But I thought the way I had expressed it was somewhat original

Until, on the very same day that I produced this masterpiece

Someone showed me the same thing done better

Expressing more in fewer words

Making my effort seem feeble and trite

It was lovelier than anything I could ever hope to write

Soon to be immortalised in an elegant, slim edition

Full of equally mysterious and moving verse

Read out on the radio, discussed at length and given a prize

Its author the new face of poetry

While my stuff languished in a bottom drawer

Forgotten by everyone but me

And I was left to wonder

Why have I wasted my life?

And then I met that poet, all shiny with success

A nice person, who gave no cause for bitterness

And was kind enough to read my work, and smile and say,

“My friend, we do not compose for others or for today

What’s in you, what you produce will find its way

One day your voice may be heard

By those who need or want to hear it

But each song by man or bird

Takes flight with beat of heart or wing

And the universe grows a little with each soaring note or word.”


Fruity poems


The Pineapple

Rough on the outside

But very sweet underneath

If you wait.

I hate to wait!

And as a technique for peeling a pineapple

That is considerably less than great.

One cuts oneself with an ill chosen knife

Or can’t get the fruit out of that rough peel.

The pineapple may contain the fruit of life

Must life put one off with that rough feel?




It’s terrible to think what she must think of the way I think about her.

So I asked her, “Name a fruit, to replace your face when I’m using words to search for grace.”

She gave me this: Physalis? What can I make of this?

It’s like seaweed enclosing Lovecraftian creatures

Each one hidden by its own crispy “Chinese lantern”.

No waiting here, just a nip and a sip

Of fragrance and tang to tease the lip

From Columbia, via Bracknell, then Waitrose (the PM’s favourite shopping place)

A bag of twenty-five making one fruit portion, not much to go on

But that’s the sort of weirdness I’m willing to embrace.





Dont say that

cannot say

What it was that meant

was not good enough for you

And each painful explanation

Every tortured speculation

Only drives us further apart

road you showed

Bright untrodden snow

slipped on it, fell and got left

How it happened do not know

But itcruel to say to me that

The fault is all in my sad heart


I have Signed Off!


Well, I completed my two year mandatory Work Programme commitment last week. I had my final appointment with them on Monday, two days cover teaching, then a long signing on session on Thursday, as I had to produce evidence and fill in AC15 forms (which the JSA person I’d spoken to and who was based near Manchester told me were needed when I’d rung the JSA 0845 number quoted, after A4E), picked up from the Job Centre the day before that, and B7 forms to reassure decision makers or some such somewhere like Newcastle (I’m in Southampton) that I hadn’t been overpaid or been paid without declaring.

That took three hours, done half in the “new” extension of the Job Centre designed for Work Programme claimants, and the main Job Centre, without assistance apart from the security guy making sarcy remarks about how I was ‘trying to be clever’.
I did my bit but that situation wasn’t resolved when I turned up, back at the Job Centre , at 9am on Friday for what I was told by letter, was my Work Programme Completion Interview, with my final paperwork from A4E, and three CVs, one for each area of work I target.
That was barely looked at, the CVs not at all, assistance and advice regarding the ongoing frozen benefits situation refused (“Call DWP”), and then, rather than being congratulated for my two year’s with A4E, I was given a booklet, “My Work Plan” and a piece of A4 Headed “My Claimant Commitment”.
My interviewer
, who’d just told me he was my Coach, said, “It’s not my responsibility to find a job for you” but did want me to sign up to 9 conditions at once, one of which was to ‘log into my Universal Jobmatch account to look for and apply for jobs, on a daily basis.
You may be aware of the dubious repute of Universal Jobmatch – phoney jobs, due to be closed by 2016 etc – and I have previously and cautiously looked at their job list and applied elsewhere if I saw anything I fancied.

I didn’t want to sign this sword of Damocles until I was fully aware of the implications. However, Coach was very gung ho and eventually resorted to the old argument, he had other customers waiting, had spent twenty minutes on what should’ve been a ten minute meeting, booked me in for the following Monday at 3.45 and I left, as uncommitted as possible.
Talked to Newcastle, or Manchester or somewhere, that afternoon, resolving the will I get paid on Tuesday question, and attended the Monday meeting with my “Job Coach”.
“I would prefer you to commit to this” was my Coach’s argument in favour of logging into Universal Jobmatch every day. Unfortunately SARC (Southampton Advice and Representation Centre) is closed on Monday, so I had no further information to reassure me, and I shared my conclusion that I should sign off, live on the JSA payment paid as acknowledgement of my having fulfilled the Jobseeker’s Agreement in the two ‘Benefit Weeks’ up to then – though the possibility of some overpayment having been made will still be assessed – and the pay for two day’s teaching done the previous week, to be received on Friday, and then research what rights I actually have before making a rapid reclaim when I need to, in a week or two, unless this burgeoning economy of ours saves me by providing adequately paid or even full time work.
I was a little hesitant to take this drastic step, and was moved away from my coach’s desk so he could tell his next customer that his benefit had been stopped, with a little form to fill in with my concerns, for posting to Decision Makers up North.
Luckily, at the last moment, I remembered the magic words: “I would like to speak to your supervisor”.

Then I was spoken to by a nice person who had been tucked away in a back office for such occasions, spoke more patiently and did assure me that, while UJobmatch is mandatory, one does have the right to refuse DWP access to one’s jobmatch account, provided evidence of job applications is proffered.
And with that and some other assurances, I signed off as of last Thursday and left, not having signed this latest noxious “Agreement”.
On the way out I met a young woman who was close to tears, as her payments had been delayed for reasons she couldn’t comprehend or have explained to her properly. It seemed she’d left a job that hadn’t paid her enough to live on.
The system is complicated, and it seems less and less help is being offered to negotiate one’s way through it.

Signing off feels like capitulating to endless browbeating but I could certainly do with a break after two years of this, once I’ve sorted out the effect this move will have on Housing Benefits and attended a job interview which I managed to source in the midst of the wrangling.
So I am still looking for work and a job, but may have a little more time for writing for the next week or two.


Heart Attacks




It took a lot of questions to get this out of him

But one thing my dad told me in the last year of his life

Was the first sign of a heart attack.

It’s a numbness in the left arm


Which is what I seem to feel at times of doubt and stress

As if my own blood’s tides were too polluted with weariness

To carry on repeating their circulation,

As if my heart, which should be a thriving port

From which to start each of life’s voyages

With a promise of new interest and adventure,


Has become a heavily guarded barrier

Forbidding further progress,

Banning the riches it should welcome

For what they bring from all the lands and seas,

Only fearing to be overwhelmed and drowned

And to lose what little remains of its precious treasure,

As if nature’s course can be defined by any measure.


And so when I feel that painful tightness in my chest

I flex my left arm to unlock the blood’s free flow

And whisper to my poor fluttering heart

“Don’t give up yet little pump

Keep your beat for me

And we shall disperse this latest lump.”


And that protection offered by a memory of my father

Has been enough for me so far

To restart the engine, clear the blockage

And continue this long hard passage,

Although my brother has told me recently

That dad wasn’t killed by a coronary

Not at all, but by pneumonia.



My first ebook now available!

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Poor Little Goldfish

Poor little goldfish, stuck in a bowl
While others wander freely all around the world

Hear a tap tapping on the glass, see the big smiling face

Of another miscomprehending member of the human race
Head down little fellow, swim on

Never getting further than where you first begun

As the water grows more murky
And fungus patches spoil the orange of your skin

Dream of all the places you will never see

Swim after prizes you know you’ll never win

Until your race is done

Your tiny tattered body scooped up and flushed away

Perhaps to join the great sea at last

And finally feel the brightness of a sunny day.

The Hypnotist

[Sorry for the long break .]

I suppose society manipulates us all in one way or another. This is how it happened to me.

In 1978 I was a student at Bulmershe College of Higher Education, in Reading, half way through a BA course – Combined Studies: English Literature Major, Cinema and Theatre Studies Minor. The Film and Drama Majors seemed more energetic and fun, as you might expect, but I stuck doggedly to Literature, the first of a lifetime’s worth of errors in judgement.

A couple of details might give you an idea of Reading in 1978, where denim was the dominant textile in use – extravagantly flared jeans, maxi skirts, faded baggy denim jackets held together by patches of things like Snoopy or the love logo or popular slogans of the day such as “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac the top selling album of all time.

In such a culture perhaps it’s not surprising that the students were devoid of any political sense, or much sense of any kind, which may explain how the Students Union came to select a classic TV variety style hypnotist to entertain them, as a change from murky lager smelling discos or currently popular music acts that my little college could afford.

Those of us with nowhere better to go turned up at the main hall, holding drinks from the college bar, in plastic mugs or beakers, too cultured to relish an entire evening in the bar, which was dominated by the Rugby Club, with their songs and drinking games.

To introductory music blaring over the PA Paul Globe, the star of this one man show, strode confidently onto the stage, in an off the peg suit that might befit a salesman of some kind, garishly patterned tie, microphone in hand.

“Good evening Reading!” he said, cheery and confident and quickly changing this greeting to “Good evening Bulmershe!”

The applause was polite but restrained, as it was quite a chilly evening.

“Tonight we are going to conduct an experiment in what you might know as hypnotism or mesmerism, or incorrectly consider to be a form of mind control, but which I like to call the attempt to unlock the potential of the human subconscious.”

With this and similarly persuasive phrases, Paul Globe managed to entice about twenty people onto the stage, myself included.

I had chosen literature over the stage, but still nursed ambitions so, though I had a shrewd idea of what sort of act Mr Globe’s would be, I was prepared to submit myself to indignity, hoping to learn something.

With practised smoothness, Globe got us to stand in an audience facing semi-circle, asked some individuals a few anodyne questions and then, after sending an insolent looking lad and a particularly sullen looking girl back to their seats – “Not everyone has the capacity” – leaving me to wonder why I, who took some pride in my capacity to be critical and not easily spellbound, had not been similarly dismissed, until the hypnotist took me be surprise for the first and only time by coming up to me and asking me to stand in a corner at the downstage rear.

Then, when I was properly placed facing the performance space’s unlovely rear, he asked me to start counting from one.

“One, two, three, four…”

It wasn’t difficult and so, always an obliging fellow and not wanting to spoil the fun, I kept on counting, even when Globe got his first laugh by directing his mic at me so the audience could hear what an obedient student I was,

“Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…”

“Every scientific experiment requires a control”

Globe told the audience, as their chuckles died down.

I don’t think I missed much, though I couldn’t see the action from where I was standing; it all seemed such predictable stuff.

Globe got a boy to bark like a dog, convinced a girl she was eating a delicious ice lolly, reverted people to an earlier age – a boy who became a Manchester United loving ten year old, a girl who told us she wanted to be a nurse “When she grew up”.

Then a whole group were transported back to a Primary school playground, girls skipping together, boys having a game of footie.

One shy boy confessed to Globe that he “Loves Miss Brown ever so much!”

Now and then he would show the audience that I was still under his spell by directing the mic at me again:

“One hundred and eleven, one hundred and twelve, one hundred and thirteen, one hundred and fourteen…”

“Nine hundred and ninety-nine, one thousand, one thousand and one, one thousand and two…”

I was sure I could’ve walked off the stage at any time, but who cares what you do at that age?

I wasn’t actually humiliated, like the girl who was convinced that her clothes had disappeared and that she was standing in front of everyone stark naked.

She began sobbing to herself and, mercifully, Globe did release her from the spell and send her back to the anonymity of the audience, who gave her a generous hand.

It all seemed pretty banal – nobody was levitated or returned to a past life. The dead were not invoked and if this was a true “demonstration of the capacity of the human subconscious” I was rather disappointed but still, this was Reading, so what could you expect?

I don’t like to fail at a task, and counting has a certain charm, so I kept it up throughout:

“One thousand seven hundred and two, one thousand seven hundred and three, one thousand seven hundred and four…”

“Two thousand three hundred and three, two thousand three hundred and four…”

And on and on, until Globe appeared to run out of ideas, or get a little bored himself, and the act came to an abrupt end.

“There is no shame in having the capacity to unlock your present state of consciousness. There is no shame in being without that capacity. This was merely a demonstration, as I told you.”

Globe completed his act with some such mumbo jumbo and then, in a manner that sounded like pure ham to me, he added,

“Oh, I almost forgot!”

He waved the microphone in my direction one last time:

“Seven thousand one hundred and fifty-two, seven thousand one hundred and fifty-three…”

and gently brought me back to the ‘real’ world. He thanked me politely for my participation and for being a good sport and sent me on my way, inviting the audience to “give me a hand”.

The applause wasn’t brilliant, certainly not life changing, but it’s always good to hear and I soon forgot the whole evening. I didn’t feel damaged by it, only mildly bored.

Globe has not subsequently phoned me with a coded message to go and assassinate somebody, as far as I know.

Life has gone on in its dull way. Since then I have performed a few equally forgettable stage roles occasionally, but have yet to be ‘discovered’. I am aware of the power of suggestion but remain an obliging fellow who is willing to listen, not uncritically, to what others call reason.

However, tonight, years later, in 2014, it seems that I may have remained under Globe’s spell all this time.

My ability to manipulate numbers has not advanced very far, but I do keep counting, as we all must – the time, the temperature, the bank balance, the latest economic and political statistics, the expected earnings for the next week, or month, or years.

With computers and the present box ticking culture, it seems that all one can do is try to keep up with the numbers that keep mounting, so there is little room in one’s life for anything else. And I wonder if Globe could have been an agent of those who keep control of the figures, placed at that college to plant an idea, a way of seeing the world, a minor but abiding obsession that can’t be escaped.

I’ve got by and just survived the economic crises and recessions imposed on us since then – with the power of those all important statistics – by putting my personal ambitions on hold and doing whatever work is available to someone with a 2:2 degree from a minor college – counting stock in various shops or warehouses, occasional bouts of cover teaching, counting kids, keeping to my Job Seeking Agreements when unemployed by making sure I meet those targets – speak to the required number of employers and apply for so many jobs each and every week.

I have to count everything, from the number of words in an essay to the number of pounds and pennies left to last till the next payment, calculating the hours and minutes left in the day, how long I have before I have to get up, adding the number of years gone by and opportunities lost, watching or being told the details as time goes by. It all makes me so tired but it’s all I know, the only satisfaction I ever get calculating the sum of what I’ve done, noting how many years I’ve put in, and though I do envy those who don’t think that way I can’t help thinking that sooner or later they will have to count the cost.

Perhaps the boy who barked like a dog is still doing so in some way, the young woman who was shamed by her sense of nakedness still unable to bare it. Or am I the only one who is so easy to dupe?

If I could only believe that it was just me, that other people can think of something other than their own statistical data, then perhaps I could release myself from this oppressive sense of obligation to keep counting, to keep abreast of the latest figures, to keep hoping that I myself might in some way be counted, to count.

Festive Greetings from the Blogosphere

[Before the usual drivel, allow me to wish a sincere Merry Chrismas/Happy holidays to all readers of this blog, with thanks for all your interest and support, and special greetings to all those I have in any sense met and befriended thanks to the modern wonder that is the blogosphere.
The mordant piece below is my attempt to continue that lovely tradition - the spooky ghost story!]

The Ghost at Christmas
Sometimes the festive laughter has unease underneath
Glances are exchanged, certain subjects avoided
Someone is missing from the feast
The children up late are getting bad tempered
The remaining food’s started turning to leftovers
The presents and treats have spent their surprises
Long before they can all be paid for
Those few left awake can’t help but recall
Absent ones who didn’t make it this time
Passed away or passed over, lost, forgotten or uninvited
And, though the guests and the hosts don’t speak of it
One person, who always had something to add and to give,
Is in each of their minds
Should be at this table, was always essential.
This absence has a reason, but all must pretend not to notice
Because ghosts are not supposed to exist.
And who is this absent person, so sorely missed?
You mustn’t ask but know it’s true
That one day it will have to be you!

The War upon the Motorcar – Coming together



They hadn’t spoken for days, apart from dinner talk.

Finally, when Jason (who couldn’t sleep or get up without a cuddle) couldn’t stand it any more he pounced on Clara’s sleeping figure and tried to be ruthless but charming with it,

“Is it true that rape doesn’t count if it happens first thing in the morning?”

Clara rolled him off her and hurled him onto the floor with a couple of too well used moves.

“What the fuck are you doing!”

Jason had to laugh, though everything was so horrible.

He sat up gingerly, transformed in an instant from a priapic demigod to his usual prattish self, and smiled at his angry Clara.

“Sorry mate, you’re right. It’s time; I should tell you what I’m doing.”

“I know what you’ve been doing, you fool! I’ve seen the site, ages ago. ‘The War upon the Motorcar’ indeed! They can’t even be bothered to arrest you for it. Do you really think popping a few tyres is gonna change the world?”

“Several vehicles have been completely destroyed!”

She snorted at his boast, and that never sounded good to Jason. He just had to hope that some small percentage of that aggressive sound came out of amusement as well as irritation, or worse.

Clara sat up, which was nice. They usually missed each other in the mornings, now that Darren’s accident had destroyed their old routine. She’d have somewhere to go that she was already in danger of being late for. He’d be groggy from another weary night of pursuing his impractical schemes. Now she was sitting up looking at him and Jason could look back at her, into her eyes, try to define that clear, dark, china blue shade, hardly aware that anger was the reason for her long stare.

“It’s not helping, Jason. You’re just wasting your time – our time – and will only ever make things worse.”

“I know, but it’s all connected, don’t you see? People just need to be reminded that people are more important than cars and all this endless, meaningless traffic!”

“I all means something to somebody! Unlike what you do.”

Jason had to think it over yet again; he owed her that, but of course he didn’t want to. It was just the only thing he could think of doing, and he wanted to take it to such an extreme that something would have to happen.

“I admit that the methodology is stupid, but I’m working on that, darling.”

In fact he had done something the previous night, another first for him, that had wrecked two cars at once, and made it look like one of them had been at fault. It was the satisfaction of having achieved that much that had put him in such a frisky mood in the first place, though now he could only realise that the danger he’d put them in would’ve been doubled.

Clara gave up on getting any more rest and jumped out of bed, with the grace and decisiveness that would always thrill him, even when she swept past him so dismissively.

He looked at his watch. She had enough time to give him one more chance.

“Look, this could make a real difference if, if I can just get the right message out.”

She could only think of Darren now, and would really lose it with Jason if he delayed her getting to the boy’s bedside for another second.

“So what are you going to do today?”

She’d given up asking him to go to the hospital with her. He’d just mope about and accept whatever the medical people said.

“Why won’t you just deal with the reality of the situation and try to get some real help?”

“I can’t Clara! You know what the ‘real help’ is like. But I promise you, I won’t give up.”

She couldn’t argue with him any more; what was the point?

She felt like he needed her to build him up, and hated never being able to escape that tiresome responsibility. But she had to believe that Jason was capable of being some sort of useful resource, if she could only manage him properly.

“Well, what do you need? What is the point of this campaign? Have you got any plans?”

Jason hated projects, and he knew she would tear any suggestion of his to pieces. But finally having her interested enough to ask anything gave him some hope.

“I just want it to change from this lonely, doomed crusade to something that people want to support, a proper campaign!”

“Then we need allies.”

Jason hated ‘allies’! Pitiful as it was, this had been the one thing he’d kept to himself, that he could at least pretend to have some control over. Clara, his one real ally, would take that away without a thought and now he would have to allow her to do that; but it was good news, of course, and he did feel a bit more hopeful.

“It’s finding the right ones, of course. And please don’t tell me that we need to start a petition!”

“Yes, it’s really too serious for that now.”

Clara had her mug of tea and was back sitting on the bed, looking so thoughtful that Jason might have tried kissing her again, if only his back weren’t still aching from his last attempt at doing that.


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