Thursday, 19 December 2013

No Laughing Matter

Once again, Poetry 24 has very kindly chosen to publish one of my poems. This time it is No Laughing Matter.
This poem was inspired by a recent news story and Panorama programme which uncovered the investment funds used by charities, which included the arms trade, tobacco and alcohol companies. At first glance this seems incomprehensible; how can charities that do such good work be helping to fund the companies they are working against?
Well, the truth is that many of them are hamstrung by the law. Legally they must put their investments somewhere safe that will provide a good return. After all if you are giving a charitable donation you don't want it wasted on a stock market gamble do you. But therein lies the problem.
It is the multinational companies with all the money (who are usually the nastiest) who actually help and lobby the lawmakers into providing laws that ensure that even charitable donations end up in their own coffers. Their greed knows no bounds.
So please don't stop giving to charity. It does a lot of good work and in the long run will save people's lives and turn other people's lives around. Do, however, protest as much as you like about the law being in favour of the richest.

Thursday, 12 December 2013


Blurry eyes weeping;
And noses running to tell tales
In their sneezing.

Dry throats scratch and catch in the night
Cough not carrying you off
But down,
In a marrying of mucous and despair.

Pounding head and water steaming
For lemon and ginger hot
And in your hand a tissue full of snot.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Other Side of Hell

Three weeks ago my family moved to a new home and how happy we are to have gotten away from the previous flat, previous landlord and previous lettings agents. In my old blog I alluded to problems, and although I have tried to focus away from them more in this blog, I think the whole story deserves a post to itself; especially now we have received our deposit back and no longer have any ties to the place.

In began really in April 2012 (more than eighteen months ago now incredibly), when we discovered water leaking into our bedroom and wetting the carpet. A plumber was called around after a couple of days and the problem was found to be a leak from the shower cubicle and it was arranged that work would be done to fix it in early May whilst we were away in Sweden sorting out details for our forthcoming wedding.
We didn't know it at the time but our landlord himself attempted the fix - a man who I wouldn't have described as "handy" beforehand, let alone afterwards.

We thought that was the matter dealt with and continued on to our wedding, honeymoon and afterwards without any premonition of what was to come. At the end of August 2012 however we had a knock on the door from our neighbour in the flat below complaining that water was coming from our flat and into his. I duly went down with him and it was indeed pouring in. We called the landlord, who from now on I will call 'S'.

In his usual way S gave us a contact number so that we actually arranged from someone to look at it, and wouldn't even have seen it for himself if it wasn't for my wife's insistence that this was actually something quite serious. He had to check in his diary. Nevertheless in early September an inspection was made, and the conclusion: water leaking from the shower cubicle, bathroom floor rotten and moldy, damp and mold between the two layers of linoleum on the bathroom floor and the possibility of dry rot.

In brief it then took more than two months for any work to start. In order to allow us to stay in the flat and to be able to wash, some plastic sheeting was put up, but mold began to grow and after a few weeks it looked like this:

 While the rest of the bathroom looked like this:

During this time the S failed to give reasonable notice of coming around either for quotes or to 'drop something off', he also failed to take the threat to health of the mold seriously, despite my wife being both asthmatic and pregnant. [Her pregnancy notes would later say that she was exposed to a toxic substance for two months].

The bathroom constantly stank like an old garden shed, my wife developed a nasty asthma cough, something she hasn't had for years, and I developed headaches and nausea. The smell eventually started creeping into the bedroom and we had to move the mattress into the living room otherwise we couldn't sleep. We asked S if we could move out, his response: "If you want to default on the contract it needs to be discussed."

We should probably have pressed the matter of his failure to make repairs further at the time, but even after calling Shelter and the council's Environmental Health Department all they could say was that for no date to be yet set for work to start was 'arguably' too long, but they could do nothing since the landlord was "technically doing something". It did have the desired effect however and work was begun on the problem within a week.

However, when we returned two weeks later, the professional clean promised by the landlord hadn't happened and neither did our shower work. We also found exposed wiring, a kitkat wrapper discarded on our bed, and the following newspaper placed under some of our own belongings in the bookcase:

This was the exposed wiring in the bathroom:

Our own hoover had been used by the builders to clear up some of their dust, without our permission I might add.

We complained of course, and the builders returned the next day to deal with the shower which had an air lock. However S claimed that the mold build-up had been due to our lack of cleaning, which he proved by claiming that he had also seen hair in the shower and some coffee stains in our bin. Our feelings of sickness he put down to dust mites. Oh and he couldn't believe that we would be offended by a national newspaper being left in our bookcase.

He made no comment to our response that cleaning the shower would only have resulted in further water leaks into the flat below, and that it would have been an odd coincidence for dust mites to have affected us only when there was mold in the flat and not at any other time. We did however hope that it would be an end to the matter, but then the ineptitude of the builders he had hired, which first showed itself in not checking for an airlock in the shower, manifested itself once more.

Three weeks later the new hot water tank stopped working. We had no hot water. After two days one of the original contractors got it going again, claiming it had tripped because we had both economy 7 thermostats on at the same time. Two days later it stopped again and we knew for certain this time that it was nothing that we had done. S still blamed us however and we had to wait a further three weeks (over christmas and new year) without hot water for anyone to come again.

This time a different electrician came, took one look and proclaimed that the thermostats had been set too high. The industry standard, he told us, is 60 degrees; these were set at 80 degrees and it was no wonder they had tripped out. He reset them, but no apology from S was forthcoming. Immediately following the water warming enough for us to be able to shower, a new problem showed itself.

This time we had no cold water coming into the shower. Even on it's lowest setting the water came out quite hot and it took the landlord six weeks to get anyone around to fix it. When one of the original contractors finally came around, he took off the shower casing and a load of gunk washed out. According to people with plumbing knowledge in the family this was probably due to the contractors not washing the pipes through properly when they refitted the shower.

Again we hoped this would be the end but sadly two months later the shower started giving off burning smells. This time a different plumber came around and after a check said that it had been damaged during fitting and that it would have to be completely replaced. S's only statement was that believed the bathroom to be jinxed. I believed him in the sense that it was because he owned it.

When this was finally fixed it had been more than a full year since the original water leak. If S had fixed it properly then it's unlikely the rest of the problems would have followed. It's cost him more money in the process but more importantly for the last eighteen months the place where we were living no longer felt like our home. We have felt stressed, trapped and desperate to get away; not ideal circumstances for having a baby.

But now we are away and we feel much more relaxed and even have a little garden. I have learnt a lot, and know now that I have to be up front with my expectations rather than trusting that someone will do the right thing.

In the long run though, with the amount of people renting these days there has to be some change in the law to force landlords to do more than the minimum possible to ensure that people do not have to put up with poor living arrangements which the landlords themselves would not put up with. We have come through it, through to the other side of Hell; others may not be so lucky.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Finding The Time

I'm pleased to say that I have had another poem published at Poetry 24, today in fact, and called Savannah Westminster. It was inspired by the recent story about Joan Edwards money being carved up by the government amongst themselves.

I can't help feeling that it's something of a success for me to have been able to spend some quiet moments thinking in order to be able to come up with the odd poem. It's tough enough to be able to blog. Not that the little baby is too difficult, she just takes up the spare time that I used to have. 
But that's simply part of being a parent, and I have no regrets about it obviously. What I am trying to say is that when you do get to put something down onto paper (or e-ink or whatever it is these days), it feels so much more special than it used to; and maybe I should have appreciated all those chances to write that little bit more.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


For a brief moment there was a flickering flame of thought that Australia might come back into the Ashes series with their morning bowling was however quickly snuffed out by the rain leaving England with an unassailable lead. It would have left the series much more fascinatingly poised had Australia been helped by better weather, but it is a shame that they don't get better credit for the draw.
In amateur leagues which are played over a certain number of overs per side, it is still possible to get the likes of winning and losing draws. The idea being that you have to bowl the opposition out to get the win. Wouldn't it be great to apply similar rules to test cricket? You could possibly have three points for a win but two for a winning draw and in that case England would only be 7-2 up (given they get a point for the losing draw) which would still leave Australia the chance to win the series if they win the last two matches. It would be possible also to apply this to an overall test league which the ICC must ultimately surely do. There are far too many meaningless matches otherwise. It will be interesting to see how the Women's Ashes series pans out since they are using a scoring system for matches across the test and one dayer's.

Something must also be done with the quality of the umpiring too. This has already been said by many commentators in the cricket field, but the more its said the more something might be done about it by the ICC. The umpires really do have the ultimate responsibility in ensuring that the game is played fairly and without bias to either side, but they also have responsibility towards players careers. If they continue to make poor decisions it could easily impact on whether a player gets selected in the next game and on their cricket life as a whole. In an ordinary job you can appeal against unfair dismissal (although this is being made harder) but it seems odd that you can't in a game of cricket.

On another note I would like to mention a little story that Michael Vaughan told about going out for the toss at the Old Trafford test in 2005. A little boy who had undergone numerous operations asked him if he was having fun. He said that it made him realise that he should be enjoying himself more...and maybe so should we all. Our culture sweeps us up into only looking at what we don't have or what we could have and never at what we do have, but now and again we should be relaxing and taking stock of the positives in our lives because for a lot of us there are more of those than negatives. Then maybe we might not have so much vitriol to send out towards those who are more unfortunate than ourselves, and to think a little more charitably. There is no such thing as 'workers and shirkers' except when we look at others through our own prejudices.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Breeding Pair

A breeding pair at last
The swans we've seen this past
Three years upon the canal.

Chickless with empty nest
Although I'm sure they've tried their best
To raise a family.

And here they sail
He at the front, behind the female
Guading four cygnets grey.

As so now I a parent too
Wonder how I will shepherd mine through
When finally she sails in the world herself.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The right words?

It's a hard thing to try explaining, that mild depressing feeling every time you walk out of the door in the morning and toddle off to work. That goodbye at the door, or above the cot, that knowledge that something new will happen today and you will miss it, forever left without it but to be cherished by another.
There's guilt in there, that your wife or partner is left alone to deal with the nappies and the crying and the feeding and you're not there to give them a hand. It no longer feels like a partnership, it feels like two planets orbiting the same tiny ray of sunshine. Occasionally gravity will brush them close together but usually they're trapped in their own patch of lonely space. "You do that job, I'll do this job. When you come home you can hold her while I do this". "We" seems more and more a word that is only assigned to Royals.
And then there's the sadness, the sense of missing out, of losing those precious moments to bond while they're still getting use to the world. And not just with the baby but with your partner too. Often the evenings would be times to hug together but now there's something in the way and you know they feel the same way too but both are just as helpless as an infant.
Oh yes there are moments, there are weekends for a start, although they are mostly for regathering energy. Plus there is still the food shopping, the cooking for the following week, the cleaning for which there is no longer any time in the week...Oh yes there are the evenings, where babies, much like adults, are not quite at their best. They are tired and cranky and aren't really up for peek-a-boo. They just want to feed and cry and sleep and wind down for the night to be brighter rising the following day....And oh yes there are mornings, grabbed between a scurried look at the clock and a mouthful of breakfast, yoghurt in your beard, getting yourself ready for the demands of another day away from home.
Maybe I am complaining, or maybe these aren't quite the right words to express how I feel as a father, trapped in the expectations of being male and going off to work. How dearly I would love to have a few months to get used to having a new identity. The most scary thing is that when I am at work I forget what I have at home. Not because work is so engrossing, but that it allows me to spend so much more time in my old life that the new one just feels like a dream.
I don't want it to be a dream, I want it to be a constant, living reality. I want more time with my family.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Fathers Day

After being overdone for two weeks, finally little Freja was born on 7 June; and gorgeous she is too. I always thought that all babies looked the same until I had one of my own. Maybe that's how it works? Anyway, all three of us are beginning to get used to living with each other, albeit with differing sleeping patterns and I think that she has already realised that she is the one in charge.
People have asked me how it feels to have become a dad, but to be honest I don't think it has sunk in yet; maybe I'll work it out when she starts asking for money to go the cinema with some boy from school. Or maybe it'll hit me in the middle of the night while changing a dirty nappy. As long as it's not the dirty nappy that's hitting me!
So, here she is and maybe sometime soon I'll be able to get back to proper blogging.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Just like the hermit
In his lonely cell
The baby lies still
And kicking
In it's protective shell.

Spurning the gaze
Of the outside world
Parents yearning
For that first wail
And smell
Of new-fresh
Human spirit.

But there it stays enmeshed
Within the mother's life-giving orb
Like the sun
Over the Earth.

When will the spell
Be broken?
Like water's rushing
It will be worth
The wait.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

The Waiting Game

It's a prolonging tale
This wait
For a wail

Of baby's first breath
On a breath-taking day
You're prepared
But rather scared
Of what may
Be about to come

A new life
In your hands
No longer just you
And your wife

But for now
You're on the edge
Almost there
Going crazy
For them to start
their journey
For air

Friday, 24 May 2013


Like a cotton wool fool 
With a fluffy 
Bunny rabbit brain. 

Simple thoughts drag on 
The regular refrain. 

But at least I can 
Hold back a sneeze 
While the pollen drifts by 
On the breeze.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Index Linked

Well, those Walpurgis embers glowed a lot longer than I expected, and we're still awaiting the birth of the baby.

Although the due date isn't until Friday, so lots of time to go yet...anyone who hasn't yet had a go fancy having a guess at the due date, weight and gender?

With the recent news that MP's might soon be voting themselves a £10k pay rise, or at least considering it (obviously we're not all in this together quite as much as they liked to make out), it made me think that perhaps there could be a way of us all being in this together and that is index-linking pensions, benefits and minimum wage etc to MP's pay. That way, every time they get a bit more, so do we (well not me exactly, but those who really need it). Something to think about when we finally create our egalitarian society at least.

One of the reason's I've been off a little longer is because of something I've been working on for the past few weeks and that is a Premiership Entertainment Index (PEI for short) and you can find a link to the blog where it's documented at the top of this page.
As a nerd for numbers and statistics generally it's been something I've been thinking about for a while before putting it into fruition. So if you're curious about numbers and football, it might be worth a little look.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Structures

Happy Easter to everyone, and since the clocks went forward last night, I guess its a Happy Spring too...not that it feels like it at the moment.
In the past week I have been reading Scarlett Thomas’ book ‘Monkeys with Typewriters’, subtitled ‘How to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories’. So far its very interesting, and also very useful too. Having been on a couple of writing courses in the past I’ve never had too much enjoyment out of them, probably because they dwelt too much on ideas and writing itself. These are things I’ve never had too much trouble with. Ideas zoom in and out of my head all day and writing a sentence is fairly straightfoward.
But the biggest problem I have always had is with structure and how to fit all the various ideas and sentences together. Scarlett Thomas’ book dwells much more on these theories, at least in the early passages that I’ve read so far. For me this is exactly what I needed, the bare bones and skeletons from which to hang the flesh of inspiration. I seriously hope this will help my writing in future and not be another one of those false dawns of excitement that lead to nothing but crumpled papers and a deletable word file.
For now it makes me wonder what type of plot the Easter story is: Is it rags to riches; carpenter’s son becomes son of God and the leader’s right hand man? Is it a voyage; man journey’s from life into death and returns three days later? Or is possibly modern realisim; man is charged with incitement of terrorism and is sentenced to death? Either way, its intriguing.
It’s now been three months since I began my new blog, and I’m very satisfied with how I’ve been keeping it up on a regular basis (unlike my last one). I feel I have more things to say, partly because I gave it a little bit of structure before I started (it’s obviously something I need).
But other demands are coming upon me more and more, and I want to begin to work on some things a little more privately too for a little while. So I will be taking the month of April off from this blog. I still plan to be tweeting, so you can follow me there and see what might be going on. I promise that I will be back though before the Walpurgis embers stop glowing!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Due Date & Delicacy

Two films on review this time around since I only watched the first thirty minutes of one before turning it off in despair.
Due Date was that film which I had hoped would be entertaining, especially since the baby has its own due date before too long, however it started badly and began to get worse before it was untimely ripped from my computer screen.
Two single dimensional characters, both different in their own ways I guess, and yet also both so self absorbed that you really couldn’t care less what happens to them, with idiot prowess conspire to get themselves thrown off a flight and then have to share a road trip to get where they want to be...and that’s pretty much all I’m prepared to say...

So onto Delicacy with the gorgeous Audrey Tautou (my wife won’t mind me saying that I’m sure!) She plays a woman who falls in love but then loses her husband in a freak accident a couple of years into their marriage. In shock she shuts down and pours herself into work.
But after a couple more years without explanation she suddenly kisses one of her new co-workers, and as they begin to spend time together, an odd sort of romance ensues.
This is a very enjoyable and very cute film that leaves you with happy feelings, and yet there is a slight lack of substance too. The male lead is funny and a little gawky which makes the romance all the nicer (probably giving hope to some of us males out there), but for me at least the funniest thing about him was that he was meant to be Swedish.
There is a great line when he is asked why he left Sweden to which he replies “the question is why more Swedes don’t leave Sweden”. There is also a bizarre scene right in the middle conducted entirely in Swedish where his mother complains about him not eating enough Sill. This was not subtitled and so I wonder if many viewers got it.
I guess the story is about getting over loss and how it is still possible to find some sort of happiness even if the love of your life has gone forever, but the unexplained kiss which kick-starts it all has an air of unreality to it, an event unlikely to happen to most people.
As a feel good film however it should not be dismissed on that basis and in this world of austerity and continued bad news it might be enough to give us all the little glint of hope that we need.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Mother Nature's Gifts

Where did it come from?
That plastic bag in the tree
It flaps like a flag
But signals nothing to me

Where did they come from?
Those cans piled in the bush
Like a nest for metal birds
But there's no birdsong - shush!

Where did they come from?
The fast food wrappers in the flowers
Bright colours attract the bees
But no nectar and the grease sours

I know where they come from
The bushes, birds and trees
The flowers and the bees
They are mother nature's gifts
But the waste and refuse mountains
Piled in man-made drifts
They are a mystery to me

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Docklands Nails

An image
Of gnarled fingers
Bitten to the quick.
Twisted and broken
Bloodied and soot-flecked
Ridden with splinters
The badge
Of your occupation - Not
A beauty salon.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


I read a story recently which said that the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall was under threat of being demolished. It seems that the land had been sold to a construction company and now they want to knock it down in order to build luxury flats. To be honest I was a little shocked. I had always considered that Germany had a pretty good grip on looking after its history and I hope that the recent protests are enough to allow a halt to these works.
It would be incredible to think that if these flats were built there would be no memorial of the chilling period in history where a city was physically divided. No matter how many photographs you see, or museum exhibits you encounter, nothing brings the brutal truth home to you than standing next to it and looking up. Imagining friends and relatives on the other side and yet you can’t even reach to the top of it. Even if you could, and you could sit astride it, all you would see is barbed wire, gun emplacements and roving attack dogs. It has only been a quarter of a century since it was still in use and definitely needs to stay in place for at least another quarter century as a stark reminder to what mankind is capable of.

On another note, I dragged my very pregnant wife out on a walk into the woods at Abbey Wood at the weekend. It was rainy and very wet, with sticky and slippery mud in places, but it was still good to get out amongst a bit of nature; to hear birds singing and woodpeckers pecking, and also squirrels amongst a more natural habitat rather than that of roofs and aerials (ironically as we neared home again we saw a very excited looking squirrel carrying a small muffin in its mouth!)
It may seem obvious to some of you that Abbey Wood may be so named because of an Abbey, but it is not quite so obvious that the ruins of Lesnes Abbey are very close by, and after a somewhat circular walk through the trees we came out upon them. The weather and the season being what they were there was barely anyone else about, barring a couple of dog walkers we were alone there. And how wonderful that was!
When you live in the middle of the city, with a busy A-road stuttering past your house, it is almost impossible to find some space alone. And yet here it was; a small nirvana on the outside of the city. It would be impossible not to draw some connection to the centre of contemplation that it once would have been, and not difficult either to gauge the grandeur from the ruined walls that remain. It was beautiful and I think for a while to come, if I need to clear my head a little, I will just imagine myself back there.

I can’t go without mentioning the rugby, and Wales’ historic victory over England in Cardiff. It was their best win since 1905 over them and the first time that they have retained the Five/Six Nations trophy since 1979; and what a resounding victory it was!
The most fascinating thing was how outclassed they were in the first match against Ireland, when after 42 minutes play they had conceded their third try and were 30-3 down. Roll on six weeks and they beat England by that same margin and in the process of winning the championship had not conceded another try. For almost six hours French, then Italian, Scottish and finally English waves of attack tried to breach that red wall of Welshmen – but failed.
It won’t be remembered as a particularly exciting tournament sadly. The total number of tries scored was less than half that of the 2000 competition and the problems of the scrum recur again and again. But it will be remembered in Wales for that incredible victory against England and for the even more incredible turnaround from the opening match.