Friday 27 April 2012


I live near a nuclear reactor that is set to triple in size, thanks to the wisdom of the government. After the terrible disaster at Fukushima I wonder how anyone can even contemplate building another reactor let alone two. It’s not that I’m anti-technology, I don’t think I am. I just don’t think the benefits outweigh the cost. Nuclear power is kept at an artificially low price, aided and abetted by every government, regardless of its political hue. The possibility of something going wrong is great, either through human error or natural occurrence. Then there is the question of what to do with the waste products.
I know we need energy, especially now that, as a country, we have wasted the benefits of North Sea oil and gas. Now that we have realised that oil is a finite resource. Using nuclear power though is not the answer. I am reminded of Gil Scott Heron’s We Almost Lost Detroit ( ), a song about the first commercial breeder reactor in America and its near meltdown in 1966. The trouble with nuclear power is that we cannot afford even one mistake, the consequences are too awful to contemplate and the trouble with us humans is that we make mistakes.
The reason I am writing about this today is that every time I walk to the local post office I pass a huge billboard that tells me there will be jobs because of the new reactors. It says something like it is generating employment. It reads like we should be grateful, doff our communal forelock and cry “God bless you governor, you are so kind.” I think people deserve better.  I looked at that billboard today and I knew that people deserve better.
Every week since just before Christmas the local paper has carried adverts for the reactor, with photographs of attractive people, men in blue overalls, women seated behind desks. We are being sold a nice clean, responsible industry. The advertising campaign is so transparent it is laughable, save this is not a laughing matter. On Wednesday night a friend told me she is preparing to put her house up for sale because of the new reactors. She does not want to be so close; I cannot say I blame her.
What is the answer then? We cannot stop the reactors from being built. If the government wants to build them then they will and all sane arguments will be ignored, all criticism will be derided and tame experts will be paraded to tell us of all the benefits. Let’s just hope the advertising campaign is more subtle.
I want to end this week on a lighter note with a poem that has nothing to do with nuclear power or government machinations. A poem that will hopefully make you smile. Last year a friend of my wife was telling us about her daily bus journey on the 256 and how there is never any good looking men on board (apologies to all those readers who may commute on a bus numbered 256, I am sure she was not referring to you). Anyway I wrote the following based on her complaint.


Everyday, everyday I ride the 256,
I’m going to work but looking for kicks.
The people on this bus they go from A-B,
I want to go all the way, ride from A-Z.
Say, you look buff boy, you’ll fit my bill,
Uncomplicated sex, now that is my thrill.
So listen Jack, leave your baggage in the luggage rack,
Let’s get down and dirty for the last bus leaves at 6.30.
I feel that life is passing me by,
So board my bus, give this girl a try,
Cause I’m looking for quality sex
Everyday on the 256.

I hope you have a good week.

Friday 20 April 2012


When you are trying to figure out where to go, whether you’re in a car, or a city street or even in the wilds of the wild wood, do you turn the map or do you just read it like a book? I have to confess I can’t read a map period. I had a book once the kernel of which was that the structure of women’s brain differs from that of men’s brains and this is why women cannot read maps-I threw the book away. The two women with whom I have had my most significant relationships, my late first wife and my present wife were/are excellent map readers. I am not.

What does that say? Probably that I cannot read a map and nothing more, I dislike this idea that men and women are fundamentally different. I just do not buy it. I think people are different but I do not think you can simply apportion sets of behaviours, strengths and needs by gender alone. It makes it too simple, dumbs it down. We humans are too complex for that.

We are all different, no one would argue that, would they? I think that most of the troubles we face as a species arise from individuals or groups who believe that they have THE ANSWER, that they have a solution/perspective that works for them in their present situation and who make the mistake that their answer/solution/perspective must therefore work for all of humanity. It never does, because we are all different.

Instead of seeing this as an impediment we should be celebrating our differences, our uniqueness and the diversity of our experiences and beliefs.

It does not matter if you turn the map to the direction you are facing, or if you just know where you are on the printed paper or if like me you ask a passerby. Let’s celebrate our differences. It is our differences after all, that make us all humans.

Here is a poem about maps. This cartographical chain of thought got started off on Monday evening for me at a poetry workshop. We were asked to write a poem about maps and this is what I came up with.


I know I am less secure than you,

Perhaps it is a matter of trust,

But I do not believe I can translate

These lines and symbols into directions,

With the sureness of your knowledge.

I leave a trail of visual breadcrumbs

Scattered across my short term memory,

I stop under street signs and turn the map to reassure

I can find my path to our hotel, I think,

So I will go where I will

In a city that stretches to the river,

As spring unfolds into summer.

Let me know if you turn the map or not. Have a good week. I’ll leave you with a joke? Why did it take Ulysses so long to get back home after the Trojan War?

He was a man and couldn’t ask for directions!

Friday 13 April 2012


On Wednesday evening I was invited to appear at the Frome Poetry Cafe ( ) and as I drove there I was thinking about my set, what to include, the running order, whether I should offer explanations of the poems or just let people make up their own. I know that I tend to think all my new poems are masterpieces, it usually takes about three weeks or so before I start to gain a idea of their true worth, therefore I was debating which to include. So as I drove along I was weighing up the various merits of different poems.

Experience has taught me that there are a couple of poems that tend to be well received and that make people laugh – Elvis, Football Shirt and Gobby Boys always go down well. I knew that I would end with those three (in reverse order) and I had decided that I would begin with How to Get To The Moon, I had even memorised it so that I could wave my hands about, instead of gripping my book as I tend to do.

When I performed Moon I realised that the audience did not know when it had ended, they did not know if there was more to come and I was merely taking a breath or if that was it. This was interesting, because when you read a poem, your eye takes in the length and you know how long it is, when you listen you do not have that visual cue; you have not heard the poem before, there may be more to come. I think my nervousness amplified this for me. I smiled and dropped my hands, there was applause. I made a mental note, however, to revisit the poem and see if I could make it clearer.

No two performances are ever the same, this time I seemed to be in a Yuri Gagarin turn of mind. I read The Tears of Yuri Gagarin ( in the first set and then Gagarin Jumped in the second, so I must have come across as a fan boy. There are worse people to have as a hero. All in all a good night.

Both of my sets were well received. I shared the bill with Mo Robinson ( an excellent singer/songwriter, who is well worth checking out. I was reminded of the narrative skills of Guy Clarke as I sat entranced by his songs.

As I listened to the open mic performers I was once again reminded of just how wonderfully creative we humans are, the quality of the poetry was excellent. If you get the chance, go to the Frome Poetry Cafe, it’s bi-monthly and more than worth the trip.

It was strange to be back in Frome, I lived there in the 1980’s, and my novel The Jowler is set there. It is a mystery story set in an alternate Britain. In fact the first victim is found drowned in a paving stone not ten yards from the cafe! I was thinking of this as I packed up at the end of the evening.

Here is a poem to end on.

In the Martian Museum:

Scraps of Earth on display,

Salvaged out of landfill,

Nothing is forever,

But there are faint traces

Trawled from our wreckage.

Here is my second wedding ring,

Thankfully nothing of you remains.

Have a good a week.

Friday 6 April 2012


Now that spring is with us here are a couple of photographs of the bluebells from last year. Not long now to wait for them this year.

This post though I want to ask you a question. Is there a difference between a poem that is written to be performed and a poem that is written to be read? You could argue that a performance is a reading and thus the question is meaningless.

However what I mean by performance poems are those poems specifically written to be performed rather than read on the page. An example of performance poetry would be John Cooper Clarke, the Bard of Salford who came to prominence in the late 1970’s as part of punk. Here is John reading I Married a Monster From Outer Space ( John was a great influence on performance poetry. Here is Attila The Stockbroker performing A Bang and a Whimpey (

Last nigh I was involved in a discussion about the differences between performance and written poetry, though I suppose all poetry was oral at one point, and still is in some cultures. To continue with Michael Langley’s metaphor from the last post, that prose is beer to poetry’s whisky, perhaps performance poetry is more like beer.

Many performance poems appeal to the ear more than the eye; when you see them on the printed page they do not work as well as when you hear them. I have to say at this point I am not trying to say one is better than the other. In fact I do consciously write poems that are meant to be spoken aloud. When you are on stage at a festival you have to capture attention of the audience, a sonnet at times will not do the trick, but something that is designed to be spoken loudly will.

I think the gist of the discussion last night was that poetry is meant to be lingered over, and that is easier for people in our culture to do when we read it. Perhaps the strength of performance poetry is that it takes us back to those times when we listened rather than read.

I cannot close without mentioning Beaseley Street By John Cooper Clarke, written in the early 1980’s Beaseley Street is a hugely ambitious work that contradicts all I have said about performance poetry. It works on the page, it works on the ear and in this version it works with a band ( ). At the time I always thought Beaseley Street was John’s answer to Desolation Row by Bob Dylan. I suppose this was partly because John looked like a dead ringer for Dylan in around 1966.

Here is a poem I tried out last night and intend to recite at the festivals I am at over the summer.


Try a long ladder, but take some butties along in a resealable box, it may be a long climb

Tie balloons full of helium to your arms. Tip: when you inflate them think Bill Clinton and do not inhale otherwise the Selanites won’t understand a blinking word

A trampoline won’t do it, you’ll just get a headache

Trick a flock of birds, harness them to your favourite item of garden furniture, perhaps use seagulls, but be careful, they may lead you a merry dance

Stowaway on a rocket, it will be a tight squeeze, ensure you are not in one of the booster stages than fall away and burn up on re-entry

Or fly there in your head, faster than a moonbeam made up of Higgs-Boson particles, expect to be disappointed, it is either too hot or too cold

The moon is nowhere, necessary but nothing to write home about, everywhere really interesting is so far away you would not believe the distances involved

Sleep now, the coming day will make you believe you could touch the sky and scoop the sun in both of your hands

But remember, all this is an illusion, it only looks real

(A word of explanation for those not brought up in the north-west of England butties are sandwiches.)

I am the festival poet at The Acoustic Festival of Britain ( ) and John Cooper Clarke is on the bill, why not come along and see both of us.