10th April, 2003
The whole world is going to have to smile
Without any help from me!
I’ve had enough of laughing along with a joke
Which I don’t think is funny!
Nothing makes me laugh any more,
Nothing is funny to me
Because of that horrid girl who didn’t even notice me
I’m not going to play along
With any cheesy let’s pretend we’re not all miserable bullshit
And trading insults does not make the day go by quicker for me
So leave me alone
And let me plan my revenge
Or at least my next meeting
With that maddening girl who never thinks of me
I do not go for walks in the park
Or next to the sea expecting to meet
With any greater kindness than the measly amount
Doled out to me by anyone and everyone
Apart from that miserable girl
Who relishes my pain and denies it exists
And says nothing to make herself more sympathetic
As if sheer beauty alone were enough.
I’m going on like this until someone smacks me in the face
Or perhaps I’ll just break down and cry -
No more than that, because “no one ever died of a broken heart”.
What a great comfort that is!
I won’t die, I will survive, but I won’t be happy, that’s for sure
And if there’s anyone in the world that I’m happier than
It’s got to be that terrible girl who would rather
Cause me pain.
[Beautiful eh? That's the first of a series of 32 line love poems I wrote back in 2003-4, which will be on sale in all ebook formats from next Friday.]
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.”
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: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physalis 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.
I cannot say
What it was that meant
I was not good enough for you
And each painful explanation
Every tortured speculation
Only drives us further apart
The road you showed
Bright untrodden snow
I slipped on it, fell and got left
How it happened I do not know
But it’s cruel to say to me that
The fault is all in my sad heart
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.
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.
Here it is at last, the ebook version of Poetic Imagery, at the introductory price of 99p
It’s available in all popular ebook formats, so be careful to choose the right button
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.
[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.
[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!