Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Another Flash . . .
And here is the other Flash Fiction story that I performed last Wednesday . . . I think this one's really creepy . . .
Our Memories Falling Away
The shadows moved. I'm sure they moved. The shadow of the glass vase trembled and the shadows of the flowers don't look like flowers any more. They look like hands with long thin fingers, clawing at the air. There aren't many people left in this hospital now. Most have been moved to the new one down the road. Only a few patients are still here, plus a few members of staff to keep on treating us. And of course, the ghosts. All hospitals have ghosts, don't they?
The electricity went off yesterday. Nobody knows why. From my bed I could hear the nurses talking in anxious voices, but they won't tell us what's going on . . .
I fell asleep for a bit just now, and when I woke up, there was this lightbulb shining. Just one. Maybe there's an emergency generator. But something is odd about this light, and the shadows it casts have started moving . . .
The machines have stopped. That's odd. In a hospital, there should always be machines. Life-support, heart monitors - why aren't they working?
I think I must have been asleep again, because now there's an old woman in a white hospital gown that's too big for her, shuffling past my bed. The gown trails behind her on the floor. I can see the marks it leaves in the dust. A hospital floor shouldn't be dusty. And the light doesn't cast a shadow any more. The flowers are dead, and the blue glass vase is crusted with dirt.
The hospital closed down years ago . . . I remember it now . . . It was after I died. There's nobody left . . . Only us - the ghosts . . . our memories falling away . . .

A Flash . . .

Last Wednesday at Drummonds in Worcester, 42 staged '42 Flashes', an evening of Flash Fiction - stories of 300 words or fewer . . . I performed two stories - it's a nice challenge, trying to tell a gothic horror story in such a restricted form. I promised that I would put my two stories up on my blog, so here is the first . . .

The Darkness Upstairs

And now that the night has fallen, the darkness crawls down the stairs from the places where it sleeps the day out. It waits up there in the daytime. It's safe to go up then, but every time you do, you know that it's watching you from the corners of the empty bedroom, the room you try not to enter. It's there in the heavy wardrobe and the unopened cupboards, where it waits among mothball-scented clothes that are no longer worn. All those velvet dresses! Those silk stockings! It waits in the top drawer of the dressing table, where smeared tissues still carry the crimson imprint of lips that no longer need adornment. Lips that have gone forever. The loving darkness waits inside the mildewed shoes that are still lined-up underneath the bed. It waits behind the dusty perfume bottles on the shelf. It is waiting for nightfall. It remembers the person who ought to be there. It remembers the person who should be wearing those clothes, those shoes, those perfumes. It remembers me.
And at night, it stirs itself from the places where it waits; at twilight it unfurls, and crawls downstairs like a slow black liquid mist, filling up the places where the electric light cannot reach or dispel it. You cannot stay in the house any longer than that. You have to go out. You spend hours walking around the streets of the city, or waiting in a cold cafe until daybreak, because you know the darkness that loves me has come downstairs, just as it does every single night. And every single night, the darkness and I take back our home from you, and once again we make it our own private, secret domain, where you will never be welcome.


Sunday, 23 September 2012

The horse's point of view . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching one of those '1930s on Film' documentaries on TV, and saw the sinister footage of a Fascist propaganda parade with Mussolini on horseback. And it occurred to me that nobody had ever asked the horse about his role in all that . . .

Mussolini's Horse

Listen to me please!
None of this was my fault.
None of it!
I knew what he was
but I am innocent.
A horse cannot choose his rider.
I was beautiful and well-schooled,
my coat a shining chestnut,
the other horses envied me.
And I always did as I was told.
I knew how to behave
and how to please the humans.
I never kicked or shied or bit,
I was docile even with the hardest rider.
So I was chosen as his slave.
What else could I have done but carry him?
How could I complain?
Disobedience would have earned a whipping.
He supplied my food and straw,
a warm stable and a rug for cold nights.
However much I hated him
I could not fight back.
I had to stand there quietly and let him mount.
What could I have done?
You think I should have thrown him off?
Unseated him?
Left him on the ground with a dung-smeared face?
Easy for you to say!
For me, it would have meant the glue-works
or the dog-meat factory.
I'm not his accomplice.
I hated him, despised him just like you,
but what could I have done
other than stand still patiently
and let the fat man straddle me?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

I'm Back!

It seems like ages since I last did a blog entry. I've been terribly lax about it, and I have absolutely no excuses! Maybe it's something to do with the weather, or maybe I've just been lazy . . .

And here's a poem to commemorate our soggy summer of 2012. . .


Rain can have its beauties, yes, I know;
refreshing rain in spring to rouse the seeds
and rain after drought reviving thirsty flowers,
lyric rain in metaphor of endless tears,
and city rain at night
drawing the glow from streetlights
in liquid orange droplets,
'policeman's weather' as an old man I once knew
would call it, remembering his own time on the beat
when Dixon-era villains stayed at home on rainy nights.
And thunderstorms I love, all bluster, noise and drama,
the flash and scent of lightning in the air
with all the thrilling chance of mortal hazard.
Yes, rain can have its beauties . . .
But not today.
Not yesterday either, or the day before,
not in week repeating week of rain,
rain every day and night
as though the clouds will never be empty
wasting our precious summer in grey skies,
our days enclosed in walls and raincoats,
when glutted storm-drains cannot hold
all that water any more
as it quarries away
down gutters and gullies
carrying rubbish and cigarette-ends.
And children at the curtained windows watch
the rain as it washes
each minute of their holiday away.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

England as it ought to be

There isn't any new poetry in this entry (sorry!) . . .  Rather, I've been thinking about the wonderful way in which England is portrayed in the Japanese Manga and Anime which I love . . . Kuroshitsuji aka  Black Butler (picture above), Hellsing, God Child, Death Note (where else would L get his extraordinary education?) . . . In all these, England is a weird, bizarre and romantic place - eccentric aristocrats in gothic mansions, London as a strange dark Victorian city, a country full of extreme and outrageous characters, scholars and scientists, a ghostly place where fairytale and folklore are always alive . . .It's gorgeous and beautiful - oh, how I wish I lived there !. . . This certainly isn't the dismal austerity England we see all around us and hear about on the news. This isn't the world in which "Just cal me Dave" says "We're all in it together" . . . No queues at the Poundshop, no summer riots, no over4flowing rubbish bins,  none of the everyday dreariness . . .This is how romantic England is perceived - as a glorious eccentric paradise full of wild strange history and idiosyncratic people! It isn't really like that . . .  And then I remember - here I am, living in a medieval city, in a disused church; I'm a gothic poet with a day-job in a Victorian museum . . . Maybe that wonderful image of England isn't so unreal after all . . .

Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Year Ago Today . . .

11th March 2011 . . . Such a hideous day! . . . I woke up, switched on the radio and heard the news . . . the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I thought at once of all my friends there. So many beautiful people I loved and cared about! . . . for the next few days, when I wasn't at my day-job, I was in front of the computer doing whatever I could from the other side of the planet with so few facilities, trying to contact and find people, passing on messages, doing whatever I could to support my friends . . . Such a strange and intense few days . . .

On Tuesday the 15th, I'd booked a day off from work to go to the Birmingham Rag Market to get  things for costume-making. I wasn't sure whether I should go or not, but at that stage everybody that I knew was OK, and there didn't seem much else that I could do that would be of use to anyone. So I went to Birmingham.

When I was there in the Rag Market, surrounded by all those gorgeous fabrics, braids, lace and jewellery, I suddenly remembered that one of my Facebook friends, the beautiful cross-dressing singer with a goth band, had been intending to spend that week making a new costume . . . And suddenly it felt so horrible and wrong that I could enjoy myself like this when so many of my friends were in that hideous situation . . . I started to get emotional, left the market, sat down in a cafe and wrote a poem for my friend, and for all my Japanese friends, and for Japan . . .

The Needle Spell

In black lace you should be dressed now
in gauzy veils of oil-dark blue
with pearls drawn from the sullen depths
of the indifferent ocean entwined in your dark hair.
These are the best adornments for a cruel season,
suiting the moment's melancholy and your dark beauty.

Until I hear your voice again, my needle will sew an incantation
to bind the damaged hopes of broken springtime.
I cast a spell in silk, in quick sharp stitches,
thinking of you as I sew and pouring my thoughts into a new design.
All of my unheard words are uttered in silence
as the needle draws its thread to mend, renew and make.

This is my woven spell as strong as cobweb.

In my mind I see you dressed as you should be,
in black lace, gauze, and pearls from the loveless sea.

Monday, 30 January 2012

An Interesting day in Belgium

I've been intending to post my Ostend poems in full . . . When performing, I often begin my set with 'A Seduction is Attempted' - it's a good opening piece because audiences tend to listen once I've told them that it's probably the only poem in the English language about chatting up a transvestite in an Ostend nightclub . . but it's really just one part of a longer sequence which I wrote in that very strange Belgian town.

I've had a few trips to Ostend, always in the winter, to enjoy the nightlife - being a port, it can get quite exotic at times . . . And whenever I visited, there always seemed to be large numbers of elderly ladies spending their days sitting together in the cafes around the main square, all with elaborate hair-dos and strong make-up, wearing big fur coats, accompanied by little fluffy white dogs on leads. It gave the the impression that the town was a favourite retirement-place for superannuated Ladies of  Pleasure . . . Of course, I may just have been mis-reading Belgian dress-codes . . .

Ostend was also the home-town of the fabulously bizarre symbolist painter James Ensor (1860-1946). His family kept a shop selling carnival masks, puppets, novelties and random weirdness, which is now a museum. My favourite exhibit was in the shop window (I don't know if it's still there) - a case of stuffed mermaids! These weren't the glamorous beings of fairytale - they were small, shrivelled, vicious-looking creatures created by an enterprising nineteenth-century taxidermist. They do turn up in the poems, though . . .

                                                     James Ensor - Self Portrait with Masks

So now, it's time to spend twenty-four hours in Ostend . . .


1. Early Morning

The birds were singing dawn as we walked home
past the friendly bars and shuttered shops
back to the dank hotel.
Ostend out of season -
the aquarium is closed
and breakfasts are served late
in the warm cafes.

2. Passing Trade

Shifting port-life
passing trade -
the few tourists left in the dead hotels
pretend to remember chandeliers and carnivals,
imagining the Art Nouveau glamour
of old railway posters.
A crucified dogfish
hangs in the window
of a closed shop
and retired ladies of pleasure
with big fur coats and tiny dogs on leads
wait for nothing all day,
sitting and chatting and watching the world
through the steamy cafe windows.

3. Maxine

Sitting at her favourite table by the window
her white dog under the table
breathing warmly on her smooth nylon ankles,
Maxine watches the old men
as they stroll across the square
to take their morning exercise.
Memory strips away their civic wrinkles,
years go like clothes
as she reconstructs their faces
from so many years ago.
Her discreet memories
are not of untidy rooms and excuses,
but of counting up the days and the banknotes
until she achieved her first fur coat.
She has forgotten the names of most of the men
but still remembers that wonderful coat
and the personalities of all her little lapdogs.

4. By the Sea

When the clouds are heavy
and drizzle stitches the sea and sky together
it is hard to remember
what went on in the summer
on the long pale beaches
or what shrivelled the shop-window mermaids
on the promenade where herring gulls flap and scream
darting forward to peck at the hairy tail of a timid poodle.

5. Daytime

Daytime diversions -
sitting, looking, eating,
walking past the harbour,
a winter plantation of cold masts,
past the closed museum with its guidebook out of date.
We look in shops
at cow-coloured curtains
contemplating fashions
in socks and coats,
in sex and seafood
until evening opens the Calypso Bar.
We begin with beer and champagne
and then another night
calls out the hours to us
from a narrow street.

6. The Tourist in the Sex Shop

Young English male, first time on holiday with his mates,
schoolboy-excited, and embarrassed (which he would never admit)
to see displayed on public shelves
the things that home-life laws forbid,
the things he'd seen on internet site.
But here his fantasies were real
and stacked up in front of him.
He giggled at the leather and the lingerie
and the strap-on rubber stimulators
and things with a purpose he couldn't determine.
He went back just to look
again and again.
Every night he stroked
the magazine covers' intertwined bodies
with his groping eyes
but he never dared to take one off the shelf
until his very last evening
when a week's beery desperation
overcame his nervousness.
He didn't think of it as theft, just impulse.
He grabbed, and ran as far as he could
before his risen courage fell
at the thought of Dover customs
(or far worse, his mother)
opening his bag and asking questions
that could only have one answer.

He left the magazine in a shadowed doorway
and crept back early to his cold narrow bed.

7. Midnight

The noise from the street makes the little dog whine -
late night people crossing from bar to bar
from club to club, shouting out to one another as they pass.
Someone laughs as the welcoming pavement
comes up to meet his face.
He tastes damp cobblestones and writhes like a starfish.
Someone else complains of a failure to capture
that night's desired creature
the elusive image of human perfection.
The drink and poppers together
tear hot cheese-wires through the brain
making new connections, new discoveries.
Or so it seems.

Maxine in her high apartment
looks down on the street.
She knows it all too well,
the same ritual repeated every night.
She listens for a while, and smiles,
whispers reassurance to the dog
then calls a friend,
arranges to meet tomorrow in the cafe
for lobster salad and reminiscence.

8. Dancing

There are straight men in the gay club
dancing with deliberate ineptitude
to prove their sexuality
(as if we needed proof).
We watch them for a while
from our side of the dance-floor
and they don't notice the smirks
but they know they are out of place.

It smells of sweat and cigarettes in here.
We keep dancing,
the atmosphere is hot and cloying.
But don't open the window -
midnight has gone and the morning might get in.
I need to breathe smoke.
I need night-time lungs
to chain the music
(life after love, again)
to the heavy floor.

9. Strobe Lights

I saw a face that was almost a house
thrown into shadows on the wall
light flash flickering
strobes on the broken mirror.
How did it break, I wonder,
in drifting dance-floor thoughts.
Caught in a magic lantern -
stop-screen motions
of twitching animations
brief freezing of face and form
parading through the music
with an entourage of puppets
multiplied fragmented shapes
in all the mirror's shattered faces.

What do you see?
- Masks.
They all look the same by strobe light.
Speak to me with the voice of a gull.
Speak to me with the voice of a small dog.
Speak to me again in leather
or spread a red fan
shabby with old feathers
to show me where you might have been.

10. A Seduction is Attempted

Come back with me now,
you with your weirdly thrilling face and your bright blue eyes.
I will sneak you back to my sad hotel.
We will avoid the hidden camera by the door
and that sullen old woman,
the reception desk's dour monument,
and we'll ignore those ill-translated warnings about visitors in rooms.

Come back with me now . . .

I want to see your bright blue eyes
shining through deep-sea lenses
to make my shabby room an underwater cavern
where seahorses swim with the small wild mermaids
and scarlet fish with golden fins hide in the coral.
I have dreamed of you so often of late!
Sometimes in tight red latex
(you look so thin you almost seem religious!)
Or in sleek silver satin like dusk on a calm ocean
with fresh sea-pearls entwined in your hair,
or with shiny black boots laced up tight
to the tops of your long, long legs.
Sometimes I dream of you in leather
smiling strangely,
enjoying the image you see in my dreams.

Come back with me now to my sad hotel . . .

My wine is finished and it will soon be daylight -
I want to gaze at your weird and thrilling face
knowing that my shape and myself
are held in reflection
in your bright blue eyes.

Why won't you answer me?
Why are you walking away?
I've drunk too much and I'm feeling stupid
but wait for a moment more . . .
Wait . . .
Please . . .

11 Another Early Morning

Mistakes and misidentities
catching quick imaginary leopards in the street
that dissolve into litterbins and parking-signs
as we walk back to the hotel.
Music pipes from singing kiosks,
the soundtrack is following us.
We are in  a cheap film
acting our parts in front of cardboard buildings.

I said I am not a flying horse
which made sense at the time
but now I can't remember what I meant.
I wonder if it was significant
or if it was just the drink muttering.

The birds are singing dawn again.
going home
seems simply too much bother.
My legs are heavy
and the pavement looks clean.
I think I might sit down here for a while
and wait for the daylight
when it all begins again.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Different Bar

This is a poem that I wrote a while ago, on holiday in Cyprus. It was gone midnight, and I was at a place called the Different Bar (where I spent quite a lot of time!) The inspiration came, and I didn't have a pen and paper to write it down - and I'd had so much to drink that I probably couldn't have done so anyway. So I had to memorise it and write it down the next morning - which is why it has a much stronger scansion and rhyme-scheme than most of my poems . . .

Tonight becomes tomorrow in the Different Bar
and Panos mixes pink and yellow drinks.
Lizard tongues are singing in the fire,
and the dancing moment gradually sinks
to thoughts of what you're doing, where you are,
and how e know what one another thinks
though I am drinking here and you're so far
from me, but distance cannot break our links,
as Panos slows the music in the Different Bar.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

I wrote this poem some time ago, on a warm Saturday morning in summer, when I was doing a shift in the Art Gallery.

The Wanderer and the Tower

To an old stone tower
in a town by the sea
came a wandering mystic
barefoot visionary,
his mind shaking with writhing thoughts,
ideas that frightened him as much as they inspired.

The tower was ancient,
an arched empty window,
a view across the harbour
where moored boats creaked
on the currentless water,
a sea-wall cobwebbed with heavy tar-brown nets.

The Wanderer stood for hours unspeaking
at the tower's high window
watching blue banners
tremble in the torpid air
keeping his mind empty.
He could remember the name of every field he'd walked through.

He had heard the voice
of every river he had crossed.
He had learned the earth-knowledge
that the trees had to teach
and knew the ways of small animals
and of those pensive formless beings that had always followed him.

He knew how they had watched him
carefully, with solemn love.
Once they had told him stories
but now they kept silent
waiting at the corners of his thoughts
where sometimes he believed that he could almost see them.

Even now they watched,
crouched behind him in the tower room
attentive though no longer speaking
as he waited through the motionless day
for the quiet warm evening
and the glimpse of the first and brightest star, reflected in deep water.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Unveiling Ectoplasmic Manifestations!

The Chinese New Year is supposed to be a good time to begin a new venture. There have been suggestions (in verse, even!) that I write a blog. So, taking inspiration from the Year of the Dragon, I have made a beginning . . . Expect poetry, strange stories, Japanese music, fashion and popular culture, and assorted random coments. . . . And other things . . . probably . . .

First Post

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