Saturday, 13 December 2014

Poem: Fifteen Hundred Pieces

Fifteen Hundred Pieces

It’s only to be expected.

Husband buys wife jigsaw,

Husband is neglected.

Poem: World Champion

World Champion

I don’t have many talents.
Can’t draw – no musical ability.
I can time a joke okay
But don’t do funny voices or accents.

I can knead bread pretty well
And slice a fistfulful of leeks in seconds.
Give me an orange and I’ll hand you
Its peel – empty, in a tight right-handed spiral.

And, of course
Procrastination, wasting time
I’m good at that..
See, I didn’t even mention it
Til the poem was nearly over.

Poem: The Application

The Application

Dear Sir slash Madam
I write to apply for the
Unadvertised post of
Travel poet.

Unfettered by desk but
With pencil, paper and a suitable hat*
My vocation – a dark and dangerous one
Is to capture the world
One stanza at a time.
And you, my demanding but
Generous employer and patron

Ask only that I go where instructed
And write what is needed:
Epics on the Greensward of Frinton
A sonnet sequence on the Bangkok bath-house experience
A brief affair in Paris – a Limerick perhaps
Or Clerihew.
And, my masterpiece,
Alaska to Tierra Del Fuego
In a haiku. Five syllables
Per continent
And seven for Central America.

*Plus expenses

Monday, 7 October 2013

The Stars Come Out but I Want Writers

So, there's this column I write for The Gloucestershire Echo.

You can read it here.

Or below.

 What sort of place was Cheltenham? I was asked when I was preparing to move here. I dunno, I'd say.

 Horses, Irish people. Umm, angry colonels writing to the Telegraph. (I think I had Cheltenham confused with Tunbridge Wells - Cheltenham, I am so, so sorry.)

 I found out within 10 days it was a place where you met your teenage heroes.

 This is a sad tale, prepare yourself.

 I was living in a bedsit. I was in a new job. I knew nobody. Outside of work hours the only conversations I'd had with living people were the ones that went: "Would you like a bag?' "Yes please." "There you go, here's your receipt."

 On my second Sunday I was wandering the town centre, alone, when I bumped into a work colleague and her friend.

I was obviously so needy and desperate they invited me along to a curry house.

 That's where I met my hero, the man who gave me hope through all the teenage angst - Joseph Heller, the author of Catch 22.

 (That's probably the saddest bit of the story, my bookish nerdy adolescence.)

 My reaction was: that's Joseph Heller. No it can't be. It is, you know, I'd know that face anywhere. But he's a New York writer, why's he eating a lamb bhuna in Bath Road? It can't be.

 It was, and I've got his autograph to prove it.

 Anyway, I love the Literature Festival.

 If, to my shame, I hadn't been totally ignorant of it then, my confusion over Mr Heller's presence might have been lessened.

 I love that my town hosts Seamus Heaney, Heller, Ian Rankin, Sebastian Faulks.

 The names on my shelves visit me, just because I have a GL5 postcode.

And I get to have a curry with them.

 Shut up; he was at the next table. If we'd pushed them together we'd have been a party of seven. We're practically old friends.

 I do have one slight concern.

 I'm looking at the festivals website now; the front-page featured events are: Ray Davies, Amanda Holden, Helen Fielding, Cerys Matthews and Brian May and Midge Ure.

 One writer, and an actress and four musicians who have books out.

 I understand.

 It costs a lot to put on the festival - it doesn't take any council tax money, it brings in a lot to the town, its supported by sponsors and ticket sales and bums on seats really matter.

 But the best events I've ever been to have all been about writers and writing; Adrian Mitchell reading his poems, Steven Pinker on language and the brain, Sam West (an actor, I know) being thrilling about Shakespeare and Simon Armitage holding The Everyman Theatre in his hand as he read his translation of the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem 700 years old.

 Even cantankerous old Will Self who strode on stage, said not a word in introduction, read aloud from his novel Dorian, An Imitation for an hour, nodded and stalked off again was an entertainingly truculent performance.
 And I think his point was made well enough, he's a writer not a talk-show guest.

 So, yes, celebrities by all means.

 But this is still the festival of literature, not people off of the telly.

 And the transforming power of words on the page, and the vital role of the people who put them there, should be front and centre.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

It's a serious profession

One of the things I love about the newspaper trade is its high-minded commitment to enlightening the public This was in the Gloucestershire Echo Read it here

Autumn or Spring

This appeared in the Gloucestershire Echo and Gloucester Citizen
Read it here.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The lessons of Lyndon Johnson. Why David Cameron may yet be glad of defeat

The defeat of the coalition government over Thursday’s motion in Parliament has been presented as a humiliation for David Cameron.

 And it’s never good for a Prime Minister not to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons. That way lies the path to the door to No 10, on the way out; one’s own foundation and millions of pounds in speaking engagements.

But it might be that David Cameron will be very grateful indeed for the defeat.

The one thing we know about getting involved militarily in the Middle East is that it’s never as easy as it looks.

When Northern Alliance forces took Kabul behind the BBC’s John Simpson after a few days fighting in 2001, the war in Afghanistan looked done. Five years later British troops were deployed to Helmand and Defence Secretary John Reid hope they wouldn’t have to fire ‘a shot in anger.’ US vice-presidenet Dick Cheney predicted coalition troops would be welcomed in Iraqi towns like liberators, having flowers strewn upon them. The only response to those thoughts is: “How did that work out for you, fellers?”

I’ve no doubt David Cameron wants to engage in action against Assad’s regime in Syria. The case for it is nigh-on compelling. (The only questions the pro-action faction haven’t answered are : “How will it help?” and “How will it end?”; unfortunately we have learned in the last dozen years that they are critical ones.)

But he should learn the lessons of Lyndon Johnson.

Johnson was  a president who inherited a war he didn’t care about. He is on record as describing Vietnam as ‘that bitch of a war.’ Yet it is all he is remembered for.

 The fact that he, a Texas, southern Democrat, remember, enacted, and then enforced sweeping civil rights legislation, and did much to eradicate near-third-world rural poverty in the US is almost totally forgotten.

What is recalled is body counts, naked girls running down roads and “hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?”

My point is, war defines administrations, unless leaders are very lucky.

 It did for Johnson. It does for Tony Blair. The Falklands war is one of two defining moments in Margaret’ Thatcher’s 11 years as PM. It lasted 2 months out of 138 months of her rule, less than 1.5 per cent of her time in office. It is what we remember her for.

David Cameron is free of that. But he is also free of any charge of cowardice; of appeasing dictators; or moral laxity.

He wanted, he wants, to take action. But Parliament has spoken. The British people have spoken. He gets it. His hands are tied.

I’m sure he is disappointed. Possibly furious. But when I hear him say he will listen to parliament, I think I hear unconscious relief. H wanted to make the tough choice, do what perhaps is the right thing, but he can’t.

 His time as PM won’t be defined by the dead children, and the bodybags at Brize Norton, and  funeral parades at Wootton Bassett. If he isn’t relieved, perhaps he should be.