My favourite writers

Below are a few of my favourite writers and books. No particular reason, I just felt like listing them.

Italo Calvino: Mr Palomar
Robert Walser: The Walk and other stories
John Berger: pretty well everything he wrote
W G Sebald: The Rings of Saturn, and others
Fernando Pessoa: The Book of Disquiet
John McGahern: Amongst Women, That They May Face the Rising Sun
J A Baker: The Peregrine
W S Graham: his poetry, particularly The Nightfishing
T S Eliot: Four Quartets
Jonathan Raban: Coasting, Passage to Juneau
John Cage: Silence

And while we’re at it, two of my favourite painters

Ivon Hitchens
Peter Lanyon

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My novel ‘No Crisis for Hut Man’ is now on Amazon Kindle.

It is a totally ridiculous story.

Unworldly Hut Man, nineteen and a half years old, lives alone in the woods and talks to his Ikea furniture. He thinks hard about life, but invariably fails to understand what is actually going on in his encounters with the outside world. Yet, employing his own unique reasoning, he manages to survive and is always happy and confident.

When he finds an inscription in red ink in a book on hamsters at a jumble sale saying ‘Please return to Helen Jacobs, 31 Riverside Close, Budleigh Salterton’ he has to obey, and heads off on his bike to find her with Ken the plastic iguana on the handlebars.

He has puzzling and funny encounters buying a mobile phone and camping equipment, ordering an Indian takeaway, working in a lay by as a Picasso-like abstract artist, being tattooed, and getting arrested for being in possession of a firearm.

When he finally tracks Helen down at a care home he finds her to be very different from the girl he expected.

Below is a short extract:

“The camping store wasn’t in the High Street at all. It took me an hour to find. It was miles out of town near a garden centre and a scrap yard. It was like a metal hut, but much bigger than mine which is made of wood.

Inside there were tents all over the floor, like a camp site without grass and trees and campers.

Where to start? How should I know?

A man came over and said How can I help you, sir? I told him I was going camping to visit my aunt in Cornwall.

We’ve a range of tents second to none, sir, he said. You’re camping alone?

I think so, I said.

What else? But I made out I was thinking about it, otherwise it’s rude.

Well, sir, he said, you never know when you’re going to get lucky, do you, and winked.

I don’t really know what winking means. I think it means You know what I mean.

I didn’t, but I winked back to be polite.

He said Then you may not be wanting a one-man tent, sir, and winked again. It was too late to stop him because he was already showing me some tents.

This one’s just the job, he said. Easy pitch, cross pole for extra strength, with no way in for unwanted draughts, moisture or bugs. Room for a very cosy two, I’d say. And he winked again.

I looked inside and winked back and said it was very roomy – Open Plan on Steroids, in fact, and he laughed. I like sharing jokes, you don’t need to keep thinking up new ones. I don’t think Jeremy the stylist would mind.

Right, sleeping bags, he said. They come in mummy shape, square, pod, down, or synthetic. This Eventer 450’s ideal. Durable fabric, multi-fibre insulation, drawcord, internal zip baffle, deep pocket for those essentials. We’ll look at doubles, shall we, he said, and winked again. Before I could wink back he’d walked off saying, Wait here, sir.

I sat in the tent planning how I’d fit Billy, Nils and Nita in it even though they’re not coming with me, while he went round and round the store three times. He came back with a trolley full of camping stuff.

Right, sir. Two-man tent, pod sleeping bag, mallet, gas stove, cool box, water container, plates, cutlery, lantern, everything you need. And to you, sir, an exclusive one-day only price for the package. A very special £225 with your one-off unique discount and prestige club membership. Cash or card, sir?

I told him all I wanted to buy were some tent pegs and a plastic knife and fork. He looked cross.

Well, we won’t be going far on that, will we, chummy? Anyway, we’re closing, vacate the premises.

And he walked off. Not a nice man, especially after we’d shared winks and jokes. You can never tell, can you?”

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A sonnet to a lost tern

Birders are always excited when they see a rare bird, alone and miles off course. But what is the bird thinking? Who knows, but this sonnet, I hope, offers another point of view. And I’m not being critical of birders, I’m one myself!

Sonnet to a lost tern

We men in green, bejewelled, with bins and scope,
Shout What’s that there, behind the reeds, tucked down,
A yankee tern? Too far off course, some hope!
But look, that pale-streaked breast, forked tail, black crown!
Heads down like men possessed we probe, we peer,
Page flip our guides to spot its beak, striped eye,
Confirm the twitch, then tweet ‘First of the year!’
What next then, Curlew Sand, Great White, Sea Pie?
We click shut our scopes in the failing light
And trek on to fresh finds, triumphant, blest.
Our stray forgot, dead beat, from polar flight,
Squats sullen, dazed, dull eyed, with panting breast.
Uncaring birders, think as you head for home
Your tern’s bewildered, fearful, and all alone.

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Spreading the word about the Quantocks and the Coleridge Way

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Friends of Coleridge members, of which I am a committee member, will be aware that it is part of the society’s constitution to broaden the knowledge about Coleridge and Wordsworth among residents and visitors. Equally important is that we publicise the Coleridge Way and the Quantock landscapes which influenced so much of the writings of the two poets.

I have been working with two local organisations. Stowey Green Spaces improve and publicise the network of local footpaths, as well as maintaining and restoring local woodlands by planting new stands of deciduous trees. Stowey Walking have created a range of walks in and around the village and the Quantock Hills. I have also arranged Coleridge-themed Quantock walks as part of their walking festival.

The photograph below shows the official opening of the new interpretation panel I designed for the two organisations. It has been installed in the old gaol by the clock tower, which is to become the village information centre. The printing was generously funded by Nigel and Janet Phillips.

Stowey-based members of the Friends of Coleridge are working closely with the two organisations, and with the Quantock AONB. An expanded and nationally publicised Walking Festival is planned for next year, which will include Coleridge and Wordsworth themed walks.

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A Day at the Races

Just a bit of fun. The following story was runner-up in the National Association of Writers’ Groups comedy writing competition

‘Christ, whack me sideways!’

And Johnny did. Well and truly elbowed, I’m lying on the ground with a face full of mud.

The race was close, two gee gees hurtling for the post, the jockeys mercilessly thrashing their flanks. But I’ve won. At last. I can house myself and eat for another week.

At least I could have done – I’m staring at my outstretched fingers wondering where my betting slip has gone. I peer out through the drizzle. Where the hell is it?

It’s been chill and rainy all morning, the punters thin on the ground. This race was my last chance, as we’d been backing losers all day, me and my mate Johnny – well, he’s no real mate, just a bloke who stands in the same place as me at meetings. Over the months we’ve struck up a friendship of sorts. Two losers, but ever hopeful.

Well, one loser this time, because Johnny’s dancing around and yelling to the skies ‘I’ve won, I’ve bloody won,’ completely oblivious of my plight.

Miserably I scan the enclosure, wondering where the damn betting slip has gone. There’s just a straggle of race goers, the women decked out in fancy frocks, legs coated in fake tan, hobbling awkwardly on high heels towards the bar, arm-in-arm with their Penguin-suited partners. The whole scene’s like a TV advert for Moss Bros.

And then I spot it. It’s well and truly pronged on a woman’s high heel. She’s a looker, no doubt about it, wearing a purple dress of cascading frills barely covering her knickers. Her party are heading away fast, so I clamber to my feet and set off in pursuit. Luckily she’s wearing a hat like a bowl of fruit so following her’s no problem. I slip and slop through thick mud after her, calling ‘Excuse me, love, you’ve got my betting slip on your shoe.’

Finally she hears me and turns. ‘You talking to me?’

‘My betting slip. It’s stuck on your heel. I need it to collect my winnings.’

Pursing her lips she gives me a look, then lifts her leg, puzzled.

‘Look, it won’t take me a mo,’ I say, reassuringly. ‘Lean on me and I’ll prise it off.’

‘Won’t be a moment, babes,’ she calls out to her bloke, who’s almost out of sight, heading for the bar with his mates.

‘Lift your leg higher, love, we’re getting there,’ I say. ‘A bit higher, a bit more.’

Reaching down I close two fingers round the betting slip and give it a tug. Her heels are like six-inch nails, you could fix floorboards with them. ‘Keep still, just a second more and I’ll …’

She overbalances and lurches over, and lies flailing around in the sticky mud, screaming and shouting. ‘Dean, babes, over here! Dean, quick!’

Dean is quick. He sprints across faster than Lucky Chance over the final furlong.

‘Christ, Donna!’ He turns to me and yells ‘What the have you done, you stupid idiot!’

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ I plead, ‘it was an accident. I was just trying to get my betting slip back. It’s a winner.’

‘Was mate, not now.’ A fist thuds into my stomach and I’m face down in the mud again.

‘Get up, I’ll bloody kill you. You’ve ruined babe’s day.’

Donna’s still screaming, her mates crowding round, doing their best to wipe her down. But the dress is ruined, even I can see that. It’s like a mud bath battle from ‘It’s a Knockout’.

I’m still on the ground gripping the betting slip. But it’s hopeless, it’s scrunched up, covered in mud, and there’s a gaping hole where the number should be. It’s as ruined as Donna’s dress.

‘Look, I just need to talk to the bookmaker to pick up my winnings. Then I’ll be happy to pay for the dry cleaning.’ Yet as I’m saying it I know there’s no way the bookmaker will pay out against it if he can’t read the number.

‘You’re  going nowhere till we get our money, chum. How much was it, babes? Tell the man.’

‘Dry cleaning’s no good, Dean, it’s ruined. Anyway, the dress ain’t mine.’

‘What d’you mean it ain’t yours, babes?’ Dean flexes his fists. He’s big and looks very dangerous. Donna looks guilty. Flinching, she gasps for breath and croaks ‘I bought it online, babes. Just wearing it for the day. I was gonna send it back tomorrow. I wanted to look special, Dean, for our anniversary.’

‘Well you’ve ruined up my lady’s day well and proper, haven’t you, mate. Right, Donna, shut up and tell me how much it was. What’s this idiot in for?’

‘Three hundred, babes. And a hundred for the hat.’

Christ, I’m thinking. I haven’t got that sort of money. In fact without my winnings I haven’t got a bean in the world. But thank God, my mate Johnny has, I know he backed Lucky Chance big time. And it was his fault for elbowing me, wasn’t it? He’ll pay. I breathe a sigh of relief. Right, find Johnny. I peer around the empty enclosure. Everyone’s gone. And so has Johnny. He’s deserted me, the bugger.

Donna’s weeping, and Dean’s in a huddle with his mates, probably discussing how they’re going to work me over. Seeing my chance I make a run for it, and I’m halfway to the exit gate before they spot me. Then it turns into a chase straight out of Benny Hill, with Donna hobbling after me followed by a crocodile of her screaming mates, with Dean and his penguin friends sprinting along behind. Putting on a spurt I make it to the car park, duck low out of sight, then inch between the cars making for my Corsa. When I reach it I ease the door open, fall inside, and turn the key. Then I’m off, careering through the mud, chicaning in and out of parked cars towards the outer gate.

Thank God, I’ve made it! I breathe another a sigh of relief, put my foot down, and race back up the hill towards the town and safety. A close shave.

Then I spot it in the mirror. A black Range Rover, a hood’s car if I ever saw one, accelerating towards me as if the Corsa’s going backwards. Already it’s nudging my back bumper, and Dean (I assume it’s Dean because the windows are black as the car’s body) is forcing me off the road. I change down, hit the accelerator pedal, and we career forward, the old car rocking and screeching. When I glance down at the dash the needle’s in the red, the engine close to blowing its top. A sudden explosion under the bonnet and we’re out of control, skidding across the verge, the Corsa rolling from side to side. When we hit a tree the chase is over. Desperate, I lock the doors and sit tight. Dean’s banging on the window, yelling.

Then my phone rings. For some reason I answer it.

‘Hi Tim, Pete here. Hope you’ve been enjoying your holiday. Afraid you won’t be any longer, mate. The rumours are true. They’re shutting us down, we’re redundant. Sorry for the bad news, but thought I’d better let you know. See you when you get back.’

Some great day at the races this has turned out to be. And so much for Lucky Chance. A stone smashes through the window and a hand grabs me by the throat.

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Transference

Transference

The poets tell us nothing is unfit for a poem.
Shakespeare would furrow verses from an amoeba
Clare from a broken blade of grass.

I sit in this Montmartre café
Eager, expectant, ready to make a poem.
Thankful that Paris boasts a pedigree,
Verlaine, Rimbaud, Apollinaire.
For isn’t this what poets do in Montmartre,
Watch and wait for the miracle to happen?

I catch the eye of a coffee cup on the next table,
Bring it a fleeting glance, now a studied look,
Attempt to conjure a relationship,
Intense in my lack of willing,
Hoping the it of the cup becomes a you, and finally an us as we fuse into verse.

Time glides on, chairs scrape the floor,
Voices colonize the space.
Trays are discharged of crepes and croissant,
While you remain unperturbed, content in your stillness.

And so we wait without intent or expectation,
My cup and I, easy in our togetherness,
Open to the spark, the sudden transforming burst of light,
That turns a poem.

Now you are lifted to a woman’s lips,
Tipped then tilted, caressed, and lingeringly emptied,
While I crave transference,
Desiring my own inner space to be similarly voided by the touch of lips.

Your function dutifully fulfilled,
You are gently set down.

The mouth now gorging a pastry,
The lips disfigured by berry juice,
I shudder at a troubling Francis Bacon,
The spell abruptly broken.

I pay my bill, shun the redundant cup,
Aware our closeness was a sham
That its decreed utility was all there was in our joining,
And that the poem that might have come
A forlorn grasping, a delusion and conceit.

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‘Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Quantocks’ 12-page booklet

I have just written and designed my third Coleridge-related 12-page booklet ‘Coleridge and Wordsworth in the Quantocks’.

It is intended for walkers and visitors to Nether Stowey and Quantock country. Attached is an A4-size PDF that you can download for free.

I will be having a considerable quantity printed as a reduced size A5 booklet for distribution to Tourist Information centres, the Quantock Hills AONB, Exmoor Park Authority centres, local libraries, galleries and museums, and other tourist destinations. They will be available free, and I am very grateful to both the Quantock Hills AONB and the Friends of Coleridge for financing the printing.

Click here to download the PDF. To print it on A4 landscape format pages, select ‘reduce size to fit’ in your print screen.

Visit the Nether Stowey page under the ‘Coleridge Places’ tab on the Friends of Coleridge website to download my two previous booklets: ‘A walk round Nether Stowey in 1797 with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’ and ‘Thomas Poole’.

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