The Ride


On a long train ride
Across a big dark town
A woman looked up
As another looked down
And the smile she gave
Was full, and brave
So the other’s was bright
Though from a mother, a lover
 
And when she sat down
Those strangers in town
Looked forward to see
Those across could be
Just as open and young
As in their dreams tightly spun
Of hopes borne when small
Before news, before all
 
Could be bleak
Could be low
When there was a beauty in “slow”
When tiny steps were great…
When the world was a land
Of adventures to find
And no concept of fear or hate
 
His arm on the rest
Touched the other’s beside
And ashamed the man looked down
But the hand beside him
Took hold of his
As the train rode through the town
 
And a head rested
Upon his shoulder
As they passed so many lives by
And the world became the land that it was
Under the starlit sky.

A Sky That’s Blue


Under a sky that’s blue

A mystery comes with every pace

To rival wonder too

To flood the mind and drown the thoughts

That note the bluest blue.

 

Under a sun that shines

Notions strike along the way

To block the path rays find

So steps are loads that legs can’t take

And eyes are good as blind.

 

But then,

 

The world, a shock of light and dark

With arcs of colour through

Swoops low to pick you off your feet

To lift the heart, and you.

 

For chests of thoughts once pulled by chains

Leave ankles free to move

A twist that shifts the mind so that

The soul may push on through…

 

And the breeze will blow

And the sun will shine

Under a sky that’s blue.

 

 

Light On


Found an old simple poem! Maybe better spoken…

Sleeping with the light on
And I’m no child.
My night’s been wilder
Than the deepest jungle
At midnight and I’m riled
For it’s silly to be
Sleeping with the light on
When I’m no child.
Hiding under blankets
And I’m no child.
My dream was rockier
Than the steepest mountain
Walk at midnight
When friends are snakes
That come for a squeeze
So I’m ill at ease
Without my blankets tonight.
Tears on my pillow
And I’m no child,
I’m big and tall
But rolled in a ball
For I’ve joined the strangest circus in town
And if I’m no child
Then I’m the star clown:
Clutching at blankets and needing the lights
To get me through these pitch-black nights.

18:37


The light that lit the tunnel grew fainter as the first person stepped onto the Waterloo and City line platform, starting it all again. The clock read 4 MINS.

Hands gripped mobiles and bags. Arms clamped papers and umbrellas, making a calamity of a sudden change in direction. Lines of people drew scrawling, agitated patterns on the platform. Those closest to the tracks stood with knees bent and eyes darting. Had they each, by a blend of good fortune and strong, crafted memory skills, managed to choose the right spot? Sharply, 3 MINS. Time but no room for changing minds. The lines thickened behind them and daylong, fought-for space lost its status as a chief priority. A hundred heads shot the day’s stresses and desires into the air above them to grey the walls and make them murky. 2 MINS. The front line was still, in position. Those behind twitched and peered. Some paced a few steps here and a few steps back. The more choice, the more the panic. Thicker still and the lines wove into a tangled, tight mesh. To see, across the tracks, was a family at breakfast, a child in Nepal, a hotel on a beach at sunset. 1 MIN to go.

At the front, a man tried to blink a new light from his eyes, the effort of which marked a break in his particular spiral of decreasing conviction. Would he get on? Did he have the time to wait another 4 MINS? The swing of his head triggered a Mexican Wave of nose, beard, glasses, lipstick. Bodies followed on automatic until the solid mass had robot-swivelled to face the light. Squinting, blinking, shifting. Some further to the back went on tip-toes as though for a photo. The train curved into view and they were shot, white-faced, framed in black.

The train blocked the wide grins and palm trees as it tore through the vacuum, affirming that the first line had indeed gambled with the skin of their noses. The whoosh, shriek and urgent pound of train on track left them swaying and as it slowed their heads detached from their necks like helium balloons. For a moment they were eyeball to eyeball, head-butting on the ceiling. The train stopped, hailing a jump-reach-thump which brought heads back to shoulders. The task snapped back into focus.

For those who faced the doors the trophy lost its shine the instance it was held. The victory came with the heat of a new challenge: maintaining the title with so many usurpers for neighbours. The doors juddered open in a pull of the wool that unravelled the mesh and the strangers were freed only to bind back together in clumps that forced into the carriages. The marginally perceptible victors led the charge but all contenders were freshly motivated by the prospect of a seat.

To enter was to wedge inside like a 4D puzzle, nose to armpit, employing the flexibility usually reserved for a yoga class. All seats won, the losers stood, irritable and with parts touching. The platform was empty and the train waited for no reason. A last woman ran, crouched and slotted in to render the rest resentful. A man read the paper and in doing so swiped its corners across several faces. Eyes met and one person smiled. The other was caught off-guard and pretended not to see. The first looked down and shifted the position of his feet. Someone coughed, the doors shut and the train pulled them away.

Missus Grotesque


Missus Grotesque has skin so see-through that broken blue spiders lie visible at her temples. The effort to form even uncertain words revives their legs in pulsing flexes and they believe her to be trying DVD pilates again, such is the stress on their limbs. In fact, Missus Grotesque has gone to buy some candleholders.

She has made it through the obstacle course of dining tables, kitchen tops and couple-strewn sofas and now she slows to a stop as she sees them lined ahead of her in polished battalions. This has never been her job, to be making these decisions. She hadn’t put it on the list for Jean and now her chest pulls in rotting elastic band stretches, twisting and knotting into a hard and shifting ball. The tearing, bloody strips loop and fasten over and again as she tries to make sense of what she should do.

There are the shiny and matte kind. Then some are bright and some are neutral and others are patterned. There are big ones and there are small ones and some have quirky designs and some are sharp and others are curvy. And she has always been a classic kind of a lady she thinks, but she can’t be sure. Perhaps she is, but wouldn’t Mister Grotesque say that he is a modern kind of a man? So perhaps something black; wouldn’t that be very modern and wouldn’t he say it was minimalist? Yes, he’d say it was a bold candleholder and a very bold choice. The mesh of elastic tears into long and writhing eels in a shallow pool. Sunlight breaks the darkness fast and the eels relax into spaghetti and Missus Grotesque is dizzy and must sit down. A minute passes and in the next Missus Grotesque notices that she’s sat at a mahogany bureau. She imagines writing letters with a fountain pen, from Victorian India, for Kipling. She’d sign off with a ‘Yours. Alice’.
On the way home her shopping bag holds two of a sleek type. These candleholders are brave; they know their own mind. They will stand there in the centre of the table, in the middle of all the dining guests and they’ll be a talking point for the room. Someone will end three or four conversations with a loud, “I just have to ask -“. Forks will drop, breath will be held. “Which one of you chose such excellent centre-pieces as these candleholders?” Missus Grotesque will say that it was, in fact, herself that went to the shops and chose them. Mister Grotesque will look across the table at her with pride and tell the room, “Her excellent decision-making is one of the many reasons I married her”.
They are all downstairs. Missus Grotesque is in her powder room. They’re waiting and she should already be seated but there’s no ball of panic, no bullying inanimates. The mirror in front of her reflects her as she is and she was right: she is a classic kind of a lady. She smiles for her rouge and then smiles for practise. Then finally a real smile, remembering the alarm she had felt in the shop. She sprays some perfume and stands. Her shoes feel secure under her feet and she feels that she is strong.
Missus Grotesque opens the door to the dining room. “Oh and here she is!”, Mister Grotesque rises to introduce her. She holds the handle for support and waits, made entirely of pumping heart. “She who bought some very fine candleholders. But who forgot the candles!”

Let It Be Night


It’s dark with lights off

But the right way to be
With eyes open when nights
Are sad and strange
When the shapes in the room
Are the people you knew
When you were a child
So you get there again
And you’re back with the sounds
And the smells of a fair
And the touch of a hand
Might as well be right here
With the lights off.
Fear with lights off is
A fair way to feel
When your thoughts rule the air
Without any love
When they seek a hole
That you can’t get out of
Before you work out
That you like it in there
You walk through the graveyard
And relish the pain
If it’s all that you have
To feel closeness again
Time’s slow with lights off
And traps you inside
With all the dark secrets
You dodge in day’s light
Yet if that means you know them
Then let it be night.

Chapter 6


Winston remembered being seven. He’d never been able to remember much about his childhood but he remembered a small, white square of cloth with a red and blue number seven stitched in the corner, alongside the brown outline of a cowboy hat. He would carry it wherever he went and run his thumb over the stitching. The few basic lines inspired the adventures of Winston, ‘The Baddest Cowboy in Town’. There were dark wooden swinging doors and he wore boots with metal capped heels which clicked through saloons. He’d chew tobacco and ride his horse, Harold, very fast, leaving a trail of swirling dust behind him. His arch enemy was Sheriff Thompson who was always trying to catch him out, but Winston was far too fast and far too cunning. His nickname was Winston The Whistler, so renowned was his speed and the impressive way in which he carried a tune.

My Intoxication Reason


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(This is a creative piece based on my original review in The Independent – http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/uk/the-intoxication-season-at-kew-gardens-review-not-enough-drugs-refund-please-9782377.html)

I often describe myself as “all or nothing” and it’s a relief that I’ve never been challenged on it. I have no real experience of what it is to be “all” anything. I can verge on the Facebook Stalker, a no-text-reply can send me down Worry Street and I have to make sure I swim a round number of lengths in the pool. I have an unnecessarily anxious and obsessive approach to life but it hasn’t thus far been coloured by a period which I’ll need to sit down and tell you about over a tea, somewhere quiet. When I was 13 I did get caught stealing, though. It was a bit of a stupid thing to do – run out of a shop when you’ve been walking on the wild side and expect it not to draw attention to you. The shop assistant took up the chase, brought me back and asked me to hand them over. I’d been playing a bit of a game for the past few months along with most of Year 9 so it took a few seconds to understand her. Then, the first hot, heavy realisation of being in big trouble was ladled over me and the poxy elastic bead bracelets bulged as I withered. My right jean pocket USB-connected to my heart, thumping in tandem. I gave them to the glowering woman and agreed to pay while my friend who I’d left in the shop stood next to her, full pockets, holding her breath. A long, uneasy period followed, stemming from the belief that I’d in fact spent years being bad. I told my mum everything I’d ever done. A particular worry was that for years she’d given me £1 for two 40p bus journeys each day and I’d spent the remaining 20p on sweets. If this was one of those wordy tricky maths questions the answer was that I was a stinking thief. It was a label I wore for a while and a similar approach spilt onto other teenage experiments. One cigarette and it would all be over, I’d be a Chain Smoker, shifty and unrecognisable, most likely on the run.

Possibly those hardened criminal days led me to construct thick, solid walls of rules as I got older and it felt safer that way. When I started out in the creative world I frantically layered on a few extra layers of bricks. It’s rife with naughtiness. When a figure in the public eye gets outed for leaked drug using photos it’s an irrational empathy aligned to the moment that I got caught – “But everyone else is doing it too!” I’m a panicker, stressed about what it is to be alive and what best to do with limited time in this strange, great place. Manic about not messing up, defined by my own labels and now with what I’d describe as a consuming strictness, the manifestation of which being that I drink far more than I should at a house party full of dabblers. The next day, they at the pub, eating a Sunday roast, feeling fine and rosy. Me, greeny-grey, in a long and intense embrace with the toilet bowl.

But now here’s the arrival of Kew Gardens’ ‘Intoxication Season’, at a time where I’m reassessing my approach (to the ‘softer’ drugs which are regularly up for debate as opposed to the more obviously life-wrecking and devastating ones. When it comes to those I’m fine with a Pass Go). We all want or intend to have a life free from the pain of dependancy but a long time of saying “no” without hesitation has gone too far the other way. It’s had more dangerous consequences than safe ones. I’ve felt suffocated thus on impulse behaved stupidly. I’ve been back at school and immature, stunted proper thought and the considering of my options as an adult. Even if the answer does end up being the same, isn’t it vital to manage and understand the journey in order to feel secure in the destination? The title ‘Intoxication Season’ was alluringly vague, its subheading on the programme being ‘From everyday to class A, mind-altering plants and fungi are here…’ Here for me, I deduced. ‘You’ll discover just how potent plants can be… step into a mind-blowing world’. All very exciting. And workshops too? How would they put interactivity in those without a bit of testing? Indeed media coverage confirmed just that. I was led by the promise of regulated experimentation and the surrounding controversy was my gavel – I was SOLD! Never had an online purchase been conducted with such speed and efficiency. This morning I went to Kew Gardens to explore mind-altering natural plants and my god, I was allowed!
It started to rain as I walked through the gardens but a wet dog afro would not quell my inner childish excitement, nor weigh down my skip. Noting that I should be calmer, more responsible and a little prepared for what lay ahead, I opened the programme. The unfunny irony of it! After delving into my past, after scraping out my behaviours and motivations, each of the four weekends had been allocated a drug – alcohol, cannabis, magic mushrooms or coffee. And of course, I had come to learn all about the intricacies of coffee. The world’s greatest morning pick-me-up could tuck me back into bed when it came to it as a talking point. Yes, if anyone tried to take one away from me they’d be wiping it off their face but this was a stimulant I was down with. Things were not going to plan, a feeling emphasised when I bought a mood-improving three quid cup, only to discover that around the corner they were giving the stuff out for free.
Alright, it was coffee. But what kind of coffee? The kind we’ve never heard of, from somewhere high in the South American mountains where a sniff would send me spinning? Bypassing food experimentalists Bombas and Parr’s guarana tasting (at an extra fiver on top on the £15 entrance fee, I decided to later raid Whole Foods for it instead, this surely wasn’t The Testing…), I headed to the first of the four daily talks. This was less a wild session of caffeine-injecting, more an informative talk titled ‘Coffeenomics’ by Head of Operations at the International Coffee Organisation, Mauricio Galindo. He talked about the coffee trade throughout history and the impact of climate change on production and the market. It was interesting and concise with big facts dotted throughout – the global coffee market is worth $174 billion?! Two billion cups are drunk daily and it’s the second most consumed beverage in the world (I wondered what the first was for quite some time, the shame). Now I was doubly resentful of the ‘Intoxication Season’, first for being inconveniently educational and second for making me feel silly, at the back of the class chewing gum and swinging on my chair, only to realise half-way through that the lesson was actually worth listening to. The class could have been separated into two groups – the Loopholers and the locals. At the end a few people enquired about roasting their own coffee. It was Kew, after all.
Onto the tasting, of the Robusta and Arabica blends. We heard about deforestation to meet demand and the impact of external influences on farmers’ livelihoods while we sipped. Both were pretty delicious and I was now less of a petulant child and thankfully more of an adult, nodding and questioning. Even when it comes to something as seemingly harmless as coffee, we still have our options, there’s a debate to be had and a responsibility to find out the impact of what we are consuming. Next to the tent was another, flaps down and zipped. Was this the mystery-shrouded tent of experimentation, darkened, quiet and herbs abound while a white coat with a scribbly clipboard was serious and encouraging? Of course not. Instead, with flaps as shelter from the pissing rain, two ladies in mackintoshes were hot under the collar about the mad world of fungi. I waited for them to make the first move in case it was indeed a front for something a little different. The closest it got to magic was the pun on the sign outside which read ‘Magical Mushrooms!’ I was unamused.
Last stop, the Princess of Wales Conservatory. It never was going to be a password and secret handshake kind of a place with a name like that. We were instructed not to touch, for here lived The Drugs. They grew in neat little bushes behind name plaques with accompanying notes on their hallucinatory properties. It was a strange experience, reading and looking up at the mischief-maker just behind. A bit like going to the zoo and not being able to stroke the flamingo or tickle the monkey. I wasn’t the only one who had gotten the wrong end of the pipe (sorry). My favourite messages in the Comments Book were “Not enough drugs. Refund please”, and “Cheaper in Brixton x”.
It wasn’t that I expected to be plied with Class As and left to go running around the flower beds and scaling trees but I expected a lick of a mushroom or a chew of a leaf in the name of science. My hopes were dashed but the trip was good and thought-provoking. It resonated that the impact of even the simplest of choices must not be underestimated, their vibrations being felt thousands of miles away in another world. What impressed the most though was the contrasting approaches of different societies and cultures towards the same subject. Alcohol is prohibited in many of the cultures in which the use of (many highly dangerous) plant substances is commonplace. Here we drink with relish and abandon, regardless of the three million alcohol-related deaths globally. Then there are the Dutch and their weed. I am now developing another risky consideration: I may get my first tattoo. Possibly, ‘Think carefully, for yourself’. But I haven’t decided yet.