OPPORTUNITY KNOCKED AND WAS TURNED DOWN

The phone rang:

it was Adrian the drummer.

“Hiya Ray, got the chance of doing a lovely boozer

in Canning Town, the Golden Fleece.

Quite family pub, never have any trouble,

Money’s not great but it’s regular.

Me on drums, Bill Dunce on bass

do you know him? great player

knows all the tunes, doesn’t read

but it’s a busking gig.

You will need your own gear.

They’ve never had music there before

so best not to put deps in to start with.

A girl singer will be coming in,

Gloria Sarse. Just kidding.

Sheila Becket – knows all the songs

and I sing as you know.

Should be a doddle,

cash and forget.

It’s just off the A 13 flyover

tuck a left and it’s near the river.

Bish bosh. Too good to miss,

and the guvnor’s got another pub

so the contact’s sweet.”

“If only i’d known a week ago,

i’ve just got myself in at the Old Blue Last

can’t be done, sorry. Try John China

he’ll probably cover it, if he’s busy

try Richard Madgwick. “

Ok Ray,

shame, it would have been

right up your street, perfect in fact.

I might try John he’s a good sort.

Be lucky, mind how you go.

I turned to my black book and looked him up.

Discovered his name was already in there:

Speeds up, too lairy, always pissed.

TAPESTRY – THE MARK OF THE BEAST

The locomotive is a needle

pulling the threads of passengers

through the eyes of storms

making patterns on the fabric

of countryside and of city sanctums

disgraced with grime

 

backstitching at junctions making loops

tying stations into knots at speed

the whirling wheels like fingers

the carriages part of an elaborate warp

and weft, passing each other on networks

each pattern unique to itself and in its own time

 

the sun picks out the frantic needle

drop one the signal gantry speaks

salutes the speeding hands

pulling pulling with their sinew pistons

until some far kingdom is reached of final rest

in a tapestry that tells posters what to do.

 

ROCK ON TOMMY

Top Rank bingo in Hammersmith 80 something

I set up my keyboard on the front apron

the balls tumbled

the lazy drawl: legs eleven number 11

unlucky for some number 13

doctor’s orders number 9

two fat ladies 88

the metal tables hard pressed with concentration.

I checked the sound and retired.

 

The band call with Tommy Bruce was a brief affair

laminated red folder with hand written parts.

Usual intros, he said.

Ain’t Misbehavin’ was one – his big hit.

voice like a cement mixer,

big quiff, frilly shirt, the smell of slap and brut.

Twenty minutes later during the interval

we did his spot.

No special lighting no introductions

as romantic as a dry entry,

like starting again in the business,

the end of an era

as discos took over.

Cash in hand I loaded up the Traveller

left Hammersmith behind on the A4

another job, already a fading memory

like some sad estuary when the tide recedes.

 

A BATTERSEA LIFE

Hard by Lavender Hill were the fields

where as a child my grandad walked

before the piecrust terraces sprang

in rows like shelves for the families

 

before he worked for the railways

at Silverthorne Road locomotive sheds

while still my dad was just a thought

a turgid drink before the sport.

 

When he retired from the Underground

he got a certificate which hangs in my room

in the year of 1947

the fondest memory he ever would get

and the legacy of lasting debt

 

that stopped him short of owning a house

though dad was luckier in the law

a job for life, a Battersea wife.

Dear mum I do my existence pledge

for those whose lives were on the edge.

 

ERIC FREEBY

Eric Freeby throws open a window

to take in views of East Ham

with its dull threats of street life below.

His window box is a treat

seeds gain a foothold

like a gospel spreading on barren soil.

and he waters them diligently.

 

The cat has brushed him with a miaow

scuffles its saucer against the wall.

Eric believes firmly in the power of optimism

as he reinterprets life in his favour.

There is always hope of course

but his advanced signs of early decay

belie his beliefs. However

his paunch, bad feet

loud shocking cough

and propensity for heavy drinking

can’t bother him today.

 

For his mother is coming to visit

recently released from prison

and will bring goodies he is sure.

He waits on the open stairwell

for the graffiti’d lift

sits on the outer wall

for no particular reason at all

other than to prolong the anticipation

of her arrival.

 

Later he will attend to ordering a takeaway

after the catch up.

All the news he can offload –

her dull eyes and ears

will see and hear them.

There goes the cat’s miaow again

it wanders out to meet him

and they wait together

an unlikely pair in an urban limbo.

 

SAND DEVILS

The day is long and hot

stretching out to sand

like the slit in a tank

in plain sight

offering no respite.

There may be blood

on unfamiliar hands.

 

Hearts beat in crosshatch

to a peculiar rhythm

the pace of unfamiliar lands.

Strange harsh voices coming

from behind barriers to progress

and silent curious children.

WELL DEVELOPED

Level the fields

mark them out

provide an entry roundabout

 

put up flags

design the plots

split the haves

from the have nots.

 

Put in some clouds

a distant view

just to remind us of times gone by

 

when rural ways

were justified

with no developers satisfied.

 

Expand your online catalogue

never mind the waterlog

where you can you always will

crunch some numbers

do your rhumbas

 

stake your claims

make clear your aims

be inventive, offer incentive

 

sell for rent

with signed consent

never relent your avowed intent

 

to build on business acumen

exploit or die

remodel the lie

exaggerate to captivate

 

people will come

and when they do

weeds will come

but they will heed them,

birds will condescend to feeders

captive owners pleased to feed them.

 

CHECHNYAN FUGITIVES

A love made stronger

through desperation and fear

not a word spoken between them

at the airport lounge.

 

Arrival with belongings on his back

the pale young man clasping the other

bigger, stronger, equally bereft.

 

Fugitives from normality

deprived of rights

haunted by separated lonely nights

 

and now the questions begin

why and how,

where will they go?

answers that only the helpers know.

PLATITUDES

Let’s be clever today

make our mark on the world,

flex our muscles like Darcy Bussell’s

let’s throw caution away.

 

Let’s be extra strong

not minceĀ our words for a change,

make advances, take some chances

whether they’re right or wrong.

 

Let’s be superfine

bordering on the divine,

don’t take no for an answer

let’s discover a wine.

 

Let’s combine our resources

muster up our forces,

don’t look over our shoulder

saddle up the horses.

 

Let/s be ready today

for whatever comes our way,

determined to tick the appropriate boxes

busy making hay.

 

And if we get stopped in our tracks

just laugh and try to relax,

in case of emergency take a stance

don’t worry about the facts.

 

Other days are different

but let’s not think ahead,

today is all important

’cause tomorrow we could be dead.

 

 

THAT WAS DAME VERA

The safety curtain drew back

the lights went up

Dame Vera centre stage

on a salmon pink throne

petite but perfect

and right behind her

the London skyline

searchlights sweeping across

the crump of distant bombing,

movie shots of spitfires, destroyers

children waving and carrying gas masks

trains departing,

Churchill in greatcoat

two fingers up

then back to black.

 

The lights went up again,

Dame Vera stood and walked downstage

made as if to sing

but no voice came out.

My seat was the best in the house

then I noticed the roof had gone

debris in the aisles,

and in her heart was joy for the boys.

How I cried and cried

for the stars came in to see her off

and the throne was empty again.