Feb 162015




I consider carving this moment into a poem. In the half-closed eye of the storm: a still life. Trees and peace and water, a sweet sunlight. I wonder if it was really Monet’s failing eyesight that gave birth to his impressions. I wonder if I should go to Giverny.

Two men stroll past, hand-in-hand, wearing lumberjack shirts and an each-other ease: the grace of God. An Asian couple suck the life out of reeking fags, spark images of Gitanes-posing at a Gordon Road disco and the ignominy of The Last Dance. I hear Bach; I watch brightly-coloured plastic dragons bob on the lake, holding fire as the pretty Polish girl ties them up for the winter. The smell of bacon does its damnedest, ducks squawk, families walk and the mumumumum of a baby mocks my sudden broodiness.

And the People’s Palace watches it all: serene, pragmatic. I can see it from the top of my road, did you know that? There, it looks misty and magical, offers up music and a kind of rhyme. Here, it breathes safety, something quite certain, something quite prosaic.

The pregnant woman at the next table whispers on her phone. I have no thought, no feeling. There is, abruptly, silence. I consider carving this moment into a poem.



 Posted by at 7:53 pm
Jan 262015



1.  Simply snap off a firm but flexible Y-shaped twig from a nearby hazel or willow.
2.  Select a park, a wood, a copse, a forest, a mountain: Clissold Park, Highgate, that secret place from childhood, the Bois de Boulogne, Black Mountain.
3.  Go there.
4.  With your twig.
5.  Hold the twig as if it were the handles of a lawnmower or a Harley.
6.  Except with your hands sort of turned inside out and upside down.
7.  I don’t know why.
8.  Wait for the ideomotor effect to make the twig quiver with a slightly disappointing mild excitement.
9.  Quiver with a slightly disappointing mild excitement.
10. Tell your companion there’s definitely water/gold/oil/a rare Clash bootleg under your feet.
11. Realise you’ve forgotten your shovel.
12. Realise you’ve forgotten to bring a companion.
13. Go home and construct your own metaphor.


 Posted by at 9:46 pm
Jan 222015


Imagine a hay wagon. Imagine Hardy or Constable. Suffolk. Dorset. Imagine the gentle rocking shuffle of a summer’s day. Straw-in-mouth vacuity. Cider-born sloth.


Imagine a stallion. Imagine a sleek sheen and a surge that unnerves in its sex and its charge. Imagine wind-in-hair joy and the petit mort of clinging to its back.


Imagine a man now – stooped, cane-carrying, tight. Imagine he was instructed by his own father always to come third in his class, to never – ever! – draw attention to his intelligence. Imagine his heart.


Imagine that man approaching you wherever you are right now. Imagine his eyes – night-black, fierce. Now imagine that voice you’ll never forget, the voice of the one that got away. You know the one.


Imagine the man talks to you in that voice. Imagine he asks you two things. Imagine he asks you first if you’ve ever found a truth for which you can live and die. A reason. Imagine your answer.


Imagine he asks you now if your existence is riding the stallion or snoozing in the hay cart. Imagine your answer. But imagine that answer spoken to him by the voice of your father.


Imagine saying goodbye to the man. Imagine watching him move away from you, disappearing finally. Carry on whatever you were doing. Don’t ever think about any of this again.


 Posted by at 9:49 pm
Jan 182015



  1. Begin at Newark. Don’t pay the extra for a sat nav. The hire car will take you to a disused-warehousey, cardboard-boxey, burning-trashcanny, wet-and-windy wasteground: death-dark, Shakespearean, haunted by Scorsesan ghosts. Panic, just long enough and hard enough to ensure you’ve spent more time there than it takes to watch an entire episode of The Sopranos.
  2. Stay, for a while longer, in New Jersey. Put on jaunty hat. As you listen to the jabber of crickets, narrowly avoid stepping on a skulking skunk, wonder if that was a cicada that just fell on your head, sing drunkenly along to a slowed-down ‘Born To Run‘ and eat a thousand sticky buffalo wings, remember that friendship and love and family and hope and the places we’ve come from are all we have. Those and the ability to pronounce ‘aluminium’ properly.
  3. Stroll around Asbury Park. Imagine what Madame Marie would say. Feel prose become poetry, bars become stadiums. Watch a Queen tribute band. Deny knowing any of the words.
  4. Leave Jersey. Drive. Drive. Drive some more. Later, as you sit, aching-ankled, eating crab and drinking beer through a wry Maryland dusk, look out across the glistening bay and remember heaven is always here, now.
  5. Shoot at barrels. Drink some Eagle Rare. Drink some more Eagle Rare. Shoot more confidently at barrels. Hide from the sheriff. Wonder where Daisy is.
  6. When the sweet girl who wants to be a nurse asks, ‘Do you have a King and Queen?’, remember the question is far, far too complicated for a conservative, lefty Englishman (alone in a land so like Ireland!) to even begin to answer. And then try.
  7. On a tie-undone, half-pissed evening, as Christy sings out across the valley, as Nina pleads and you start to cry with love and loss, remember this is the first Wedding In A Vineyard On A Beautiful Hillside In North Carolina that’s ever heard Chas and Dave.
  8. Head back through Virginia’s proud-oak miles, take photos of tired sepia roadhouses and unconscious fairgrounds. Wave to Paradise and Moriarty as their ’49 Hudson passes you. Look forward to your appearance in Kerouac’s first posthumously-written novel.
  9. It’s time for NYC, time to listen to the clumsy majesty of ‘Empire State Of Mind‘ again and again. But first – as you jerk, doors locked, through Jersey City, as you smell and hear and touch the strangle of a new/old apartheid – first remember the kindness of the black guy in the car in front showing you the way, remember the kindness of the white people you’ve met, remember kindness is all we have. That and an unnecessary ‘u’ in honour.
  10. Go to the 9/11 memorial. Look down into the depths of our fears and up at the heights of our transcendence. Watch kids take smiling selfies. Remember we’re all tourists, all the time.
  11. Breathe. Take your different self back to the airport. Explain it to the nice customs officers. Head home. Wonder where your hat is. Wonder, for the last time, where home is.


 Posted by at 9:56 pm
Jan 122015



A couple of years ago, Kingston University bought hundreds of Iris Murdoch’s letters. When I heard about this, I emailed The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies (oh yes), arranged a time to go down there, underwent a rigorous examination of my motives that included waterboarding and being forced to listen to Level 42’s entire back catalogue, put on special Kev-proof gloves made from swan’s feathers, swore I’d be really, really, really, really careful and then sat there for hours, quickly immersed in Iris’ thoughts and dreams and anxieties, all the time being glared at by the scarily-bespectacled Keeper Of The Letters.

All the letters were from Iris – she apparently destroyed every single one she ever received. And, while The Guardian had been full of the ‘sensational’ discovery of her long-term gay relationship with Philippa Foot, the fascination for me lay in those to Raymond Queneau, the French writer who wrote one of my favourite books, ‘Exercises in Style’. I sat there trying to piece together what he must have said to her: her responses were loving, tantalising, exquisite and sad. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:35 pm

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