I’d rather go to an average play than a great film, and so much good live performance in London. Really makes the capital come alive.
From 1997, an imaginary incident At Heaven’s Gate…
At Heaven’s Gate
‘So who did you play for then?’
Back came the reply.
‘Hot club de France.’
At which, without hesitation,
Bremner took his legs from under him.
Billy Bremner and Stephane Grappelli – died December 1997
Hey, Ranulph Fiennes! I really do not propose to turn my head at your ridiculous antics. You are a generation too late to be crossing Antarctica, even if you can’t think of another way to earn a living than by thrusting your sad existence on the rest of us. You’re not alone of course. “The Book” has become the last resort of the unemployable, and its adjunct, the breakfast television sofa is today’s equivalent of putting one’s organs in a blender. Please. Go and boil your head if you want to, but don’t dump the awful experience on me.
A Hot Whiskey
Reach for your Irish super Powers
Never was water of life better named
And hand me the sweet Demarara,
Unblanched fruit of the Jamaican cane.
A stout but lovely tumbler, not a kind glass
(Or a cousin, or Stein) is requisite too, to stand
With leaden base and crystal edges
To glint in sunlight when freighted,
As it will be ‘ere non, with nectar.
Squeeze a lemon over fragrant cloves
Boil water from your well or stream, fresh, clean.
Pour over all, and inhale heaven before sipping.
God must, I suppose, have been looking the other way for me to get this far.
By any normal rules, I should probably have been committed to the confines of a grave before I reached my 21st birthday. It would have been tough on my parents of course, and maybe that’s the reason I am still walking the streets of London, and doing this blog.
I was thinking this morning of some of the ‘might have been’ moments.
Like stumbling onto the margin of a rather deep quarry at night, when doing a not very successful map-reading exercise at school. Like coming back across the Hog’s Back on my scooter in sub-zero temperatures one early Sunday morning without gloves. It was so cold that William and I – I was giving him a lift home and he didn’t have gloves either – decided that the best thing would be if he did the left hand controls, and I did the right. Like… oh there are a lot more of them, none of which I’m proud of.
The funny thing is that even now, I’m thinking (in a kind of sub-conscious, parallel kind of way) that I might get another chance, that somehow history will re-set itself and I can go back and make good decisions this time, rather than the ill-informed, spontaneous, and just plain wrong ones that seem still to be a factor.
All the while of course, life is closing in.
They look up and gurgle and coo. They are plump and wide-eyed and smiley. They stare at the bubbles that float by. They are hypnotised by the mobile that plays the Brahms Lullaby. They sleep deeply, dreaming of… what? The struggle to get here? The months trapped in the warm liquid? The dive through the sump?
They knit themselves jumpers. They trade on the Internet selling their used nappies to perverts. They wager huge amounts on the outcomes of miscellaneous events. (What colour is Daddy’s car? Will Mummy be wearing a red or blue shirt when she comes in next? Will the story be about the butterfly or the happy train?) IOU’s change hands but are quickly forgotten.
They think about the moment when their egg was fertilised. The big bang. They suck their thumbs.
They are powdered and pampered. They are photographed. They are kissed, repeatedly, on their chubby faces.
They smoke cigars after lights out. They play poker and get crumbs in their bed from the chocolate croissants that they find by the bread bin. They drink whisky out of plastic cups and indulge in rough humour. They steal small change, sunglasses, jewellery.
They say their first words, making sounds as close to dadda and momma as makes no difference. The parents stand and applaud. This is their first standing ovation. They would bow, but a confident weariness overcomes them.
Is it any wonder that things go wrong? Is it any wonder that they end up sucking at food jars, rubbing at sore patches between their legs, thrashing around at the taut pain somewhere around the large intestine? And then come the explosions of bone in their mouths, a metamorphosis.
In the darkness, they lie back and think of eternity. They worry about who will look after them on their journey. The odd couple who attend to them don’t seem to have the resilience necessary to bring things to fruition, to help them find peace in a godless world, to set them on the road to truth. But perhaps they can learn.
They chant a mantra, over and over.
They don’t understand that they are not prepared for draughts of sweet wine; that grapes, figs and sugared almonds hitting a virgin stomach are going to produce indigestion. They are wryly uneasy, because what they really want is to get outside and wallow in a warm pool of mud.
Love is only skin deep when you have no vocabulary. Their ability to trade stocks, to participate in bridge tournaments and bicycle races, to open bank accounts, to watch television, is limited by the strength in their limbs, the weather, but mostly language.
They are fascinated by drunkenness, addicted to sweetness, reliant on warmth and cannot resist temptations as water cannot resist presenting a smooth surface to the world.
They plan their future careers. One is to be an airline pilot; the other a bond trader, specialising in arbitrage.
Each day, knowledge comes to them in the form of overheard insults, quiet accounting, conversations. And all the while their rosebud mouths are shaping themselves to be ready for invective, calumny, incredible profanities.
Gradually they hold on to more memory. The world no longer has to be reconstructed in their minds each day. Things remain. A brick, a pattern on the wallpaper, a petal on a wet, black bough.
And so, knowledge arrives, and with it frustration, desperate sickness, fecundity.
Baby Business was first published in Neon, October 2009
My dentist, it has to be said, is both painless and expensive. The one quality probably dependent on the other. So the poem that follows is fictional, but based on a truth, that pain can clarify the heart of existence.
A visit to the dentist
It has to be filled. A hairline in the old amalgam
Uncomfortably sensitive to sweetness.
So the drill whines in the cavity,
There’s a whiff of burning, an avalanche
As I desperately scan the ceiling poster.
A peasant amid goats, lulled by a cow-bell,
On a rocky coast where marble effigies,
Wreathed in weed, sway to and fro with the tides.
Old gods, blind, toothless now, who have taken
Their stained offerings with them, and fled,
Their interventions inept. The drill stops.
Deeper, deeper blue sea have I rarely seen,
My knuckles whiter now than those sands.
I strain my jaw open again. Amongst the ivory
What discoveries? Liquid ruby cabouchons
Capturing fractured light there? In the depth
Of the molar. In the glowing heart of pain.