One from the archives – a game I wrote for the Spectrum in 1983
Might do a T Shirt or a painting or both based on this
The Sixties are finally ending. The signs are everywhere. The characters that populate the sixties of our shared imagination are shuffling off their mortal coils faster than newly elected politicians shrugging off their promises. It won’t be long before finding a genuine sixties survivor will be almost as impossible as getting an honest Tory to open your village fete.
So, from our vantage point half a century in the future, what was it all really about? Well, it’s kind of defined my generation’s life, coloured it in at least. But did it really mean anything? Was there a cultural revolution? Did we achieve Sexual Liberation and Gender Equality? Did we Ban the Bomb and Make Love not War?
I don’t think we did any of the above, but did we at least stall the inexorable rise of capitalism? Nope, never got far with that either. But, the sixties were special, with the music, the art, the fashion, the technology, the social movements – weren’t they?
Maybe The Sixties was just an idea. Ideas are powerful, everything comes from ideas. I mean, the music, the art, the fashion . . . and all the rest of it, they all started with ideas and then they happened. But – so what? Nobody wears mini-skirts and hot pants now, nobody marches from Aldermaston to London demanding nuclear disarmament – yet the nuclear arms are still there, more than ever. The reasons to do all those things still exist.
So, what’s happened then? Maybe the sixties were about hope, and now we’ve given that up in this topsy-turvy post-Trump-election world. There are too many billionaires, there is more wealth concentrated in the pockets of a couple of percent of the population than all the rest of us combined. The sixties itself has been commercialised more than any other decade in history – it has become a product, a facsimile designed to mesmerise, and squeeze money from, naïve punters like you and me.
Now that The Sixties is finally expiring maybe it’s time to bury the last of its warriors or at least let them sink into the shadows in retirement homes. We need to get on with now – the future.
In the meantime if you can think of anything positive that’s stood the test of that half century then write it on a banner and parade it proudly around town – or maybe just make a jpeg out of it and stick it on Facebook – job done.
radical writers gather
at the dylan thomas centre
on wednesday night
in early march
during st david’s week
also known as ty llen
in the maritime sector
with nigel jenkins,
who says ‘i’m just a gower farm boy’
and ‘i make bugger all from my writing’,
others discuss cabbage soup,
and mike jenkins talks of majis,
we drink pints of cwrw,
and don’t live in red wine republics,
with sculptors’ sons,
near seven sisters rugby club,
published by seren,
or even honno,
and the university press
to see mike jenkins
and 2 women
one a filmmaker
the other an historian
look at the 1930s
and wives of miners
sheep roll over cattle grids
while welsh nats
listen to stories of shop boys
who steal your breath
the writer sought three wild bards up a mountain
to make his name – alun richards
back to a muddy car park
past the books on sale
down the m4
past the traffic lights
with our own agendas
to beat own drum
words like dirty snowdrops
at home a welcoming spliff
away the celtic warrior
and weasels of valleys
present voices of wales
bits of llais cymru
chasing arts council
why not try self-publishing
like roddy doyle
where’s irvine welch
on the internet
in a web
handing out pamphlets
to a welsh mam
she’s barefoot & still nuts
but, harry, he’s a poet
Today is my 66th birthday. Because of the conditioning we gather from the weird cultural sewer we all bob around in, that feels like something I should be ashamed of. I mean who the hell wants to be 66 years old? That’s old, really old, beyond doubt old. You can kid yourself you still possess some vestiges of youth as you pass 60 and edge up towards 65, but 66, hell yes, that’s properly ancient. You’re so decrepit that you start to notice different things about the world, like the way your fellow codgers behave when they use their bus passes.
Here in Wales you are entitled to claim a bus pass when you are a fresh-faced 60. It took me a few months after I passed that long-dreaded birthday to overcome my shame and get the necessary documents together to prove I was ancient enough for free travel but eventually I gave in and shamefully presented myself to the local council hub to get photographed and approved. I collected the magic plastic rectangle and left the building, head down in case I bumped into someone I knew and had to explain what I was doing coming out of that emporium of benefits and social needs.
Anyway that was nearly six years ago and since then despite the odd pang of shame I have accepted that I am a member of that gang still politely referred to by some as Senior Citizens and more honestly, usually under the breath, as Old Gits.
So the way it works, on the local buses at least, is that you enter the bus and place the pass, which is the size of a credit card, on a pad near the driver. There is a beep, you then thank the driver and board the bus. Sometimes, depending on the bus company a useless ticket is printed, which you take from the machine and stick somewhere or discard.
Now, what I’ve noticed is this.
When an eligible woman boards the bus she will use her left hand to put her bus pass flat on the card reading device, remove her hand, wait for the beep, and then use her right hand to retrieve the pass, before shuffling off into the guts of the vehicle.
When it’s a man he will place the magic card on the pad with his right hand, keep his hand on it until he hears the beep, then remove his hand and the pass together.
In practice it means that men take a few less seconds to go through the formalities.
What I want to know is: What does this mean? Is this significant? Are men more efficient or are women more artistic? Will the proximity of a man’s hand to the reading device when it beeps have an effect on their health? Is this the sort of behaviour that contributes to women’s longer longevity?
I haven’t got a clue.
These are the sort of things that preoccupy a 66 year old.
God help us.
As the planets roll
I am caught in a bubble
on the sub-atomic motorway
Trundling at the speed of light
there is only one view,
an overall that covers all
and warms this creature
All the magic of all the ages
is contained in my pocket.
The balls of our vision roll
as I roll
beneath the lowest life form
So slow, the speed of light.
There is light, there is love
There is no doubt
no sullied nag
no wind to blow
the sun away
no darkness deep
enough to stay
Create, begin to live again
another flame-flash try
A gleaming clear stack of light
Undulating via carpets of cloud
I ride another tiger tail
catch a star and put it safe
for when I need
to get away.
Survive – and when survival’s beat
when time grows longer
when the silent air
threatens to lay bare
the screaming of the soul
what remains but
Garbled Gobbledy Gook
gooks garbled on my face
and many loving arms
wrap the long nights
in their comfort.
More words spilling
until my arm
and needs a fix
And at the end
we all must ask all
the (same) question.
Inside the darkened life
it’s too weird
too much to cope
too little as it is
So where will this creature find its rest
where it can make a comfy nest
where will it lose itself in joy
where in the world is its new toy?
It’s a night of sadness
a night to forget
a night to sigh
Scratching dudes create the tunes
Caring hands caress the bands
All around the people shout
Let me out, let me out.
A motley gathering of aspiring authors collect together under the grubby canvas of a large marquee. Two hundred or so enthusiastic literary souls eagerly await the arrival of an editor from a famous large publishing house. She is to be accompanied by two of her latest discoveries – two brand new novelists just about to have their first works published. There is hope, it is transmitted by the excited breathing of the assembled scribes. Books from new authors are being published, despite the economic climate; someone with the power to rescue the diligent, lonely aspirants is prepared to take a chance with new writers.
Four smart middle-class women enter the arena and arrange themselves tastefully on the dais; the background hubbub fades, all eyes face front. A dedicated wannabe novelist, a cloth-capped round man is scribbling frantically into his filo-fax. An elderly lady with a limp finds herself a last-minute seat near the front and sits down with a tired sigh – it’s been a long road.
Let the lesson begin. The editor speaks first: OK, let’s forgive the carefully cultivated tones of her voice, the expensive haircut and the cigarette dangling from manicured fingers. Let’s give her a chance. The slush pile is dismissed immediately; nothing of any value comes from that. The audience fidget, embarrassed, thinking of their own contributions to that bane of the publishing world. OK, what is it then? That magic spell to get your first novel published.
Let’s have examples. The two new authors are discussed.
Writer A is an old friend of the editor, her father was a well-known poet and her mother is an accomplished novelist. Poor thing had a deprived childhood with her arty father, even had to slum it in the castle-like homes of her family’s aristocratic Mediterranean friends. The editor and this princess of words spent months, meeting for lunch and at each other’s houses, trimming and buffing her manuscript until it eventually emerged as a thin and delicately polished literary flower.
Writer B is a senior literature journalist with the Times. She was wooed by our editor (why?) until she produced a delightfully funny piece of work based in the offices of a gardening magazine. Wonderful gimmick – a free packet of geranium seeds with every book sold.
Both writers have got friends who are literary agents. So what is that magic?
The two authors speak about their work and read extracts to the sinking audience, and finally, a marketing superwoman from the publisher explains how new authors are launched with minimum expenditure and maximum publicity (in the literary sections of quality newspapers no doubt – ah! that’s why); but none of these discourses mattered, all hope had long vaporised along with the few quid each of us had paid for the privilege of a sharp slap in the face. Maybe that was the point of the event after all?
Go back to your kitchen sinks and your allotments, you’re a punter – not a writer; writers are smart cultured people with friends in the ‘write’ places.
There was to be a question and answer session afterwards. In the back of the auditorium, a disappointed and disgruntled working-class man stands up, touches his forelock to the dais and makes a quick exit. It is me.
NOTE (December 2017): I don’t think much has changed in the quarter of a century since I wrote the above piece. Maybe I should have concentrated on running my computer business. I was quite good at that until I walked away from it to focus on writing, a couple of years after that Hay session.
Still – that’s hope for you.
Today we went to the National Museum of History at St Fagans, a village on the western outskirts of Cardiff. They’ve recently revamped their visitor centre and we wanted to check it out and to visit the famous castle that is situated there.
The outdoor museum is spread over a one hundred acre site emanating from the castle and consists of reconstructed buildings from all over Wales, including farmhouses, chapels, shops, a woollen mill, a blacksmith and many others. It’s definitely worth a visit since it does throw some light on the kind of places people in Wales have lived and worked in over the centuries. The visitor centre alone is a gem; it’s been well designed and is a lovely airy building full of space and light, though this is partly because it is still in development and they haven’t crammed too much stuff in yet.
We found our way to the so-called St Fagans Castle – the former home of Lord and Lady Windsor as far as I could tell from the kitsch memorabilia propped up in some of the rooms. It doesn’t look like a castle and in fact it reminded me more of a prison with dark dingy rooms and a dank stink of rotten privilege and oppression. I came out of there strangely disturbed due to the nauseous feelings it stirred up in me. If it was up to me I’d blow the bloody monstrosity up and let the ruins decompose into a sickly sculptural reminder of how inherited position and privilege is a disease that has infected society for too many lifetimes.
I would probably have crumpled into a gibbering wreck if I hadn’t escaped when I did. And it really did feel like I was escaping; it was as if I was connecting with a version of myself from a previous life who had once worked there as one of the servants and I imagined that self doing a runner from the hellhole before dawn in the dying days of the nineteenth century when Lord Windsor’s power was at its terrible peak.
Today, as I looked back at that monstrous building from a safe distance across the ornamental ponds I felt utterly relieved and imagined that former self bounding off into the wild Welsh mountains to commune with mystical nature spirits.
As I bathed in the relief of my escape I noticed a huge beautiful tree which probably existed at the same time as that previous incarnation of myself; it had a tiny metal plaque screwed into its bark.
The little oval of metal had been stamped with the number ‘0014’. After that I noticed similar plaques with different numbers screwed to other trees and wondered if they felt as trapped as I had and whether they would like to uproot themselves and head off into the hills.
Then I realised that they were trees and didn’t have the disposition to move anywhere other than where they had first sprouted from the earth, but I still hung on to the idea that they might resent being tagged with a silly scrap of metal. I guess I needed to make a connection to ameliorate the awfulness of the feelings stirred up by that dreadful monument to greed and inequality.
* This is a reference to the 1960s TV show The Prisoner.
As a vegan of over twenty years and a vegetarian of more than twenty years before that, one of the questions that has always perplexed me is why do vegans like to share their lives with and look after cats, particularly rescue cats.
Cats are obligate carnivores – they must eat meat, their physiology is based on eating meat. If they don’t eat meat, they will die. I know there are supplements available made from non-animal sources; for example the amino acid taurine that comes from meat can be synthesised and added to vegan foods like lentils. This then in theory gives cats the necessary nutrients. But this is unnatural, and cats, if they are left to roam outdoors at all, will in any case kill and eat small animals like mice, birds and frogs.
Most vegans accept that cats are carnivores and will buy standard cat food to feed their feline overlords. To me this is blatant cognitive dissonance, A domestic cat lives for fifteen years on average. How many chickens or rabbits or fish or bits of cows and pigs does a cat consume during its lifetime? Even if it’s only the equivalent of one chicken a month that’s twelve a year; so one hundred and eighty chickens have to die to keep that pet cat alive. And some vegans have more than one cat – many more.
How does that square with living a vegan lifestyle?
Then there are all the other animals in zoos or in rescue centres or in the wild that vegans in particular get very emotional about – like the lynx that recently escaped from such a zoo in Wales and was eventually tracked down and shot. There was a huge outcry from people in the vegan groups on Facebook – how could anyone kill a beautiful innocent animal like that lynx? Yet in the few days it was on the loose it had killed many sheep at least, and most of the bodies of those sheep had been abandoned and left to rot in the green green grass.
I admit that I love cats myself and if my wife wasn’t allergic to them I’m sure we would have at least one in our lives. I’m also sure that cats and other companion animals contribute hugely to the mental and emotional health of the human population but I can’t pretend they’re benign and benevolent creatures.
We had a cat once that found a family of shrews and played with them until they all fell dead in a circle on our lawn. At that point our feline psychopath lost interest and wandered off to bother some birds who were innocently flitting about in the bushes at the bottom of the garden.
So that’s why I won’t support cat rescue centres and cat charities. Cats are killers, gratuitous killers at that – just because they’re cute and fluffy doesn’t excuse them. In fact they have evolved to be cute and fluffy to facilitate their murderous lifestyles. Their prey animals and their human enablers are mesmerised by their big eyes and their soft purrs and I can guarantee that if they were bigger or we were smaller – well you can guess what our fate would be . . .
acrylic on board 520mm x 670mm (20″ x 26″), 2001
Collected poems 2017
You are a creature
Smudge nose askew
You are a flower (an open flower)
A head on a stalk (A face on a stick)
Seeds like eyes
You absorb the earth
Soak up the sun
Flow with the wind
Grow with the rain
You are raw life
I’m not stupid. At least that’s what my family, friends, and teachers have always told me. And there is evidence to support this view. For example, I once sat the Mensa IQ test. I think it’s agreed that intelligence is the opposite of stupidity, and I soared to the top of the class in that test with a supposed IQ that was higher than more than 99% of the rest of humanity’s.
I’m not convinced.
Yesterday, after a breakfast of tea and toast with tahini and yeast extract we went to the Farmers’ Market to buy organic vegetables. We’ve been going to the market for years and once ran a stall there selling our own handmade soap and body products, so we know a lot of the regulars and stallholders.
I know that last paragraph makes me sound like an over-privileged hippie but I’m not, we actually spend a lot less on food and suchlike than most people do and cook everything from scratch in our pokey little kitchen. We just like to eat healthily.
I got chatting to a friend next to the fair-trade beverage and snacks stall, and, as it does when you engage in a bit of small talk at the Farmers’ Market on a Sunday, the subject got around to the nature of reality, involving life, death, and the hallucinogenic drug DMT.
The theme of the conversation was that we, i.e. human beings, or possibly all beings, project our own realities. We are all from the same source and each of us is an expression of that source but essentially we are one.
While we were pondering the imponderables, my wife carried on walking alongside the stalls. When I caught up with her she was talking to one of the other stallholders. He was nattering about aliens and about how there is incontrovertible evidence that they walk amongst us. He described a species of very short (compared to humans) hairless aliens. He also said that there are many proven examples of UFOs visiting our planet but that it’s all been covered up.
When I got home I did a bit of googling about DMT and discovered that those who take the drug sometimes ‘see’ small alien-like creatures, similar to the ones described by the UFO man. On my Twitter feed was a quote from the work of the Irish poet Medbh McGuckian: “There is only One universe at a time”
So, that’s the point – yes, life is so random there’s no way of working out what it’s all about. Maybe aliens do zip around our skies; maybe the universe is a personal projection, and this is only one of an infinite number of possible universes. Certainly, in the context of all time and all space then whatever our world is it’s less than microscopic.
But, you can only deal with what’s in front of you now – one universe at a time, no matter how insignificant it seems. If you need to have a purpose then your job is to contribute to the coherence of it all, because without your contribution then none of it would matter, or even happen.
Because you are it.
Love yourself. Go on.
Due to my cisgender conditioning the inside of women’s public toilets are not familiar to me, but as someone who seems to urinate twice as much as I drink I am a frequent visitor to the Gents. Maybe I’m anti-social but I’ve got to the point where I prefer to use a cubicle even if all I want is a pee. I’m not comfortable standing thigh-to-thigh with strangers as we merge our steamy urine against the ceramic. It’s not them, it’s me, and that’s just the way it is.
The consequence of this is that I do spend more time than most out of sight behind a closed door, so get to hear the comings and goings of others as they use the facilities unseen. I hear them come in, position themselves at the urinals, and release their streams. Sometimes you hear only one person at a time and sometimes you can hear more. After they’ve wetted that wall I’ve noticed that people behave differently, depending on how many others are in the toilet at the same time and where they are.
For example, in scenario one; if I am alone in the cubicle and a solitary bladder-emptier comes in to the room, it’s more than ninety-percent certain that when they’ve done their business they will leave immediately without bothering to use the hand-washing facilities. That is probably the most consistent behaviour pattern I have observed but there are many other scenarios and responses, for example:
Scenario two: If when I walk into the gents there is only one person already relieving themselves, then after I’ve gone into the cubicle and they’ve shaken it dry the probability of them walking out without washing their hands is reduced to around sixty percent, although I think that more than half of the people who do visit the sink don’t actually wash – they just push the tap and walk. The other half of those ‘gentlemen’, splash about a bit then put their hands under the blower for a couple of seconds in a pretence at cleanliness.
In scenario three, when there’s more than one other person using the urinals then the first one to finish will actually wash and dry their hands. All the others will behave the same except for the last one to finish, whose behaviour will revert back to that described in scenario one above.
Scenario four is a variation of scenario three, based on the times when I finish and come out of the cubicle and there is still someone lurking or peeing. Of course I walk immediately to the sink, wash my hands then dry them thoroughly. If the other person is ready before I leave then they too will walk over to the sink and go through the motions. If I leave before they finish then my educated guess is that they revert to scenario one.
There are many other variations on these scenarios but the moot point is that if no one is looking then the overwhelming majority of people using the male toilets to urinate do not wash their hands or at best make a feeble pretence at washing them.
I don’t even want to think about the other things they do in the Gents, especially when they’re cosy and invisible in a cubicle.
Before we start let me say that I love dogs – well, maybe love is too strong a term, let’s just say I respect them in the same way I respect all other living things – who all have the same right to make use of the facilities our shared planet offers. Obviously you’re not going to let a person-eating tiger lodge in your kitchen, but as long as an animal doesn’t directly threaten your well-being you should just leave them alone to get on with things in their own way.
On the council estate where I grew up hardly a dog had a lead, let alone a poop scoop or a biodegradable poo-bag. Dogs used to shit anywhere they liked and nobody judged them or their humans. We had a dog ourselves and like its peers it didn’t usually wear a collar, but it did crap on the pavement. We generally side-stepped the decaying stools until they were washed away by rain, or dried into white powder and blown to the gutters by the wind. The powder was something to do with the massive amounts of calcium in tinned dog food then. I suppose the manufacturers, to save on costs, added the calcium-rich bones from the uncountable carcasses of animals whose flesh had been stripped and swallowed by omnivorous hominids.
Of course these days, every local authority is cracking down on dog fouling. Now, according to the BBC, South Ribble Council is taking it a step further by restricting the number of dogs allowed per person.
That’s probably a step too far but despite my respect for dogs as fellow living creatures of this universe I could never ‘have’ one now. What it boils down to is that I cannot bring myself to follow a canine around and pick its poo up. Is this where human evolution has brought us? God I hope not.
Cat people are just as bad. I mean, since when has it been the done thing to allow cats unfettered access to every corner of our dwellings. My granny’s cats lived in the alleys behind her house and sometimes sheltered in the coal-shed; they were fed scraps and if they got ill they crawled into a dark corner until they got better or died. When we first had cats ourselves it was a given that they were not allowed upstairs and were put outside before we went to bed.
Now pussies sleep on people’s faces for goodness sake, and their human companions bring them gourmet snacks on blue velvet cushions trimmed with gold braid; they are so pampered and spoilt they have begun to think we are their servants. And maybe they’re right, because cat-shit can infect rodents with a parasite (Toxoplasma gondii) that makes them in thrall to cats, and helpless victims to their murderous claws. A growing number of people are convinced that the parasite can infect humans in the same way, turning us into mindless slaves desperate to do the bidding of our feline overlords.
But then again, sharing your life with pets, or companion animals to give them a more respectful term, has been shown to have positive effects on your mental health. So maybe it’s a trade-off. You pick your dogs’ shit up and they will reward you with a sloppy tongue and a cuddle now and again, while in turn you can give the same love to your cats and get lost in their beautiful eyes . . . .
The time when I went after a cow there were sounds carping on in that friend’s boat.
A pound of small oranges entails mucking under those twelve toadstools.
Smart moon then, Idris sparked on them after hell fried upside.
Leave young mellow fluffy badgers mind there one bantam weight.
Why don’t youth mix yesterday’s balloons.
In the end of the day I went to the shopping centre and found a yellow juggling ball.
Have you ever been ‘culled’?
Yes, removed from the herd because you are surplus to requirements; more than that – you are persona non grata. I’m talking about social media in general and Facebook in particular.
The other day I was browsing my wife’s Facebook page, as you do. After decades of being together we don’t have any secrets, not one, zilch; well apart from the little bit of ‘private browsing’ I do now and again, just to see what it’s all about like. Anyway, enough of that . . .
So there was a post in her newsfeed from one her ‘friends. Not that they’ve ever met in real life of course, this was one of her ‘Facebook Friends’ who only added her up as a friend because they mistook her for someone with influence in the publishing industry. They are more of a networking contact than a friend, but that’s how it goes on social media – everyone’s got something to flog, even if it’s just their blog, the one where they like to entertain you with ramblings about what sludge they had for lunch or what they thought of the over-hyped gig they went to last night,
OK, I know it’s ironic that I’m doing the same thing – sort of, but I’ve long since given up actively trying to sell or promote anything. I won’t even draw any attention to this post except maybe by way of a solitary tweet to my meagre hundred or so alleged followers.
So this post, from one of my wife’s friends said “Congratulations! If you’re reading this then you have survived the cull.” Now I was initially quite pleased by this, because I had thought of this ‘friend’ as an interesting person who possibly had some talent in the writing department, and who was my Facebook friend as well as my wife’s. But then I remembered that I was reading my wife’s Facebook feed instead of my own.
I jumped back to my computer and looked at my own Facebook feed, just to make sure. Nope not a sign of that post, and when I checked my friends’ list the person was missing.
So yeah, I had been culled.
What am I supposed to do about that? Do I just accept that I’m the sort of person that gets culled, i.e. either a non-entity or an annoyance, then just shrug and get on with my pathetic life? Or do I log in again to my wife’s Facebook account and defriend the offender on her behalf?
I don’t know what to do, I’m just an ordinary bloke.
This may turn into a regular column, maybe I’ll try and do it once a week.
To read all the posts tagged with An Ordinary Bloke – Click Here
Reviewing the evidence
he just walked up to me as if it was an hour ago
my legs were shaking
Oh he sang better than you.
It’s gonna bring tears to your eyes, I promise you
I’m just practising, excuse me
Yes I still want that
Falls asleep ’til about 9 o’clock
I found a number of dirty shirts in the wardrobe
Always going to collect money
I couldn’t fault him on that
I told you that the other day
He thought I was bloody thick
It was all in my head
I failed my MOT test
Left too long in the shell
Fit only for eating
waiting for water.
The turn of the planet
falling, will come.
Warm comfort comes
from here, from now.
Planted, the seed
waiting for water.
Welcome, a wink.
The secret exposed.
the art of seeing.
Finding the form