Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Friday, 15 December 2017

BIG TROUBLE

I haven't published any short stories or flash fiction for a while but I've spent a great deal of time in airports and it was during one such boring sojourn, at Venice Marco Polo whilst browsing in Duty Free, that I jotted down the opening lines of The Big Guy.


THE BIG GUY

Phil fell for the coat the moment he saw it. Luxurious chestnut leather in a style that could only be Italian: Armani perhaps, maybe Gucci. And extra-large, Phil’s own size. He absolutely had to have it.
It hung on a retro-style coatstand beside the maitre-d’s desk right there beside his own battered topcoat.
Phil reached out to stroke the soft leather and knew he was in love.
The bill had been paid, cash as always, and the desk was unattended. It was his last night in Bangkok. On impulse, he grabbed the leather coat, slipped it on and headed for the restaurant’s revolving doors.
Outside, the oriental night was a kaleidoscope of neon: a frantic cacophony of noise and hustle. Phil hailed a passing taxi and told the driver to take him to the airport.
Phil levered his bulky frame into the rear seat of the Toyota and rewound the events of the last three weeks: a crazy roller-coaster of wins and losses, but mostly wins and lucrative ones at that.
A natural-born scammer, Phil saw other people’s money as his for the taking and if that left them penniless, well, tough, no one said that life was fair.
That elderly couple he’d met in the bar of the St Regis: English, like himself, but alien as Martians. They’d taken to him right away: clearly saw him as a local character, a big guy, full of smiles and ex-pat cheer. They were old-school, superior, patronising and greedy: the marks were always greedy when you got down to it. And their greed was the key, that magic key to unlock their wallets, bank accounts, the lot. 

He’d scored on that one and no mistake. They’d be lucky, when they discovered just how thoroughly he’d cleaned them out, if they could even afford a weekend in Skegness.
At Suvarnabhumi airport, Phil checked his ticket and admired his profile in a washroom mirror. The leather looked fabulous and fitted him perfectly. Its former owner must have been a big guy too, broad across the shoulders. It was in great condition, so the guy must have taken care of his clothes. The only flaw was a small tear in the lining of the left side pocket, but that could be sorted when he got back to London. 
Checking his watch, Phil, joined the queue at Security. With only a laptop as luggage, he knew he’d be through in no time.
Security was visibly high with groups of Thai military stationed at every turn and uniformed police working the concourse and seating areas with sniffer-dogs.
Slinging his laptop and leather into a waiting tray, Phil, stepped through the metal-detector arch and collected his possessions when they’d passed through the scanner.
He was coming out of Duty Free when two Thai policemen approached him with a black Labrador. Phil relaxed and stood still while one of them walked the animal around him. When the dog abruptly sat down, he was nonplussed. He never touched drugs and certainly wasn’t a terrorist, so what what the hell was this about?
Twenty minutes later, Phil knew the answer. Two small sachets of pure heroin had been retrieved from the lining of the leather coat. They had evidently slipped through a tear in the lining of the left pocket.
Phil was a big guy and the shiny Thai handcuffs felt uncomfortably tight. 

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

GOING DOWNHILL FAST

My country of birth, Northern Ireland, is enjoying an early snow-fall and, although its effects cause inconvenience for many, there's immense fun to be had in the snow, for parents and children alike, during the first few days.
Residents of East Belfast, where I grew up, gravitate en masse to the extensive parkland at Stormont. Last year's dusty toboggans reappear and are put back into service for a few carefree hours.

Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast.


TOBOGGANING
 
The seat feels quite precarious
but once I’m down, that feeling goes.
So odd to be this close to snow,
chilling the fingertips, the nose:
a child’s sensation, I suppose ...
most adults are incurious.

A snowy paradise, indeed,
this afternoon on Stormont hill
where children’s voices, wild and shrill,
applaud the crazy vaudeville
of adults launched, against their will,
downhill, on icy blades, at speed.

This granddad hugs his grandson tight
then edges forward with his heels
on modern blades of stainless steel.
The child, as agile as an eel,
wriggles. I feel, amidst his squeals,
toboggan shift, the sleigh take flight.

A longing for a lifetime lost,
assails me in the rushing wind.
The grandson to my parka pinned,
as once my daughter, angel-skinned,
clung to me then, our bodies twinned,
rocketing downward through the frost.


Stormont under snow.

 

Monday, 11 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (7)

An unpopular chap, the rat, unless he's of the fancy variety bred in captivity and kept as a pet.
Your average rat is a bit of an outlaw, constantly living on his wits and a figure of distaste for many.
The rat's had plenty of bad publicity: a James Herbert novel that demonized him, a grotesque cameo in American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and of course that terrifying scene in George Orwell's 1984, so we're bound to be prejudiced against him.
Nature's order, however, is always subject to change so here's some cautionary advice.















THE RAT

The jolly rat, though he be mild,
is universally reviled.
Indeed, he is a clever chap,
evading every baited trap
to gorge, content, on bread or seed
put out for chaffinches to feed
or nuts from cages hung for tits:
from these, he often purloins bits.
He is, undoubtedly, a pest:
of quadrupeds, far from the best,
but let’s be friendly to the rat
for one day, when our world goes splat
and we are foraging for scraps,
he may be out there baiting traps.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (6)

Who can resist the awful smile of the predatory crocodile?














THE CROCODILE

My favourite creature, by a mile,
is the repulsive crocodile.
He has a most endearing smile
and if you linger for a while
unwarily beside his swamp
he may lurch out at you and chomp
or sidle up to you and snap ...
he is an untrustworthy chap.
There’s no use shouting out to him
Oi, fetch me back my severed limb ...
He’ll stand his ground, he’s hard to rile,
and give you his endearing smile.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (5)

This is a bad time of the year to be a turkey, although it’s probably fair to say that being a turkey at any other time is not particularly pleasing either.
Of all the birds one might choose to be, the turkey is probably pretty far down the list.
Turkeys don’t sing, they don’t soar and, additionally, they’re really rather ugly.
Jane and I will not be adding to the massive slaughter of these unfortunate creatures this year. We have alternative culinary plans.






















SONG OF THE CHRISTMAS TURKEY

We have grown fat, my friends and I,
and although some birdbrains say
these gifts of food Men bring us
must be treated with suspicion,
this I doubt.
I feed on corn aplenty and rejoice,
grow plumply satisfied and portly stout.
My fellows fast become inflated too:
such fine birds with no work at all to do.  

I call the doubters paranoid and mock
their pessimistic attitudes and gloom.
Another feast arrives, I gulp it down
then gobble thankful sounds
and strut about.
We grow each day more pillowy and sleek.
Our future is assured, our species blessed.
This is the life, I think, no need to fear:
December is the season of Good Cheer.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (4)

For those of you who may have wondered, here's the answer to a question that's caused you sleepless nights.




















WHY THERE ARE NO UNICORNS

The Unicorns, a charming pair,
had matching horns and silver hair,
at parties, always, I believe,
first to arrive and last to leave.
A couple, extrovert and chic,
each with a fabulous physique,
so muscular, whiter than white,
with shiny hooves, reflecting light.
A perfect couple, all agreed,
and never likely to stampede.
But when the Great Flood came to pass
and Noah started to amass
all Creatures of the Earth to board
he was, by Unicorns, ignored.
What foolishness, they both agreed,
this puddle surely will recede.
(They had a tendency to scoff.)
It rained. It poured. The Ark set off.
As rising water reached their chins,
they lost their smug complacent grins.
and when it reached their horns, they frowned
till they, inevitably, drowned.

So that, today, alas, explains
why not one Unicorn remains.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (3)

Who can possibly love the subject of today's poem? 
Physically unattractive and with repulsive dietary habits, the vulture tops no one's list of endearing creatures.
Rarely portrayed favourably in literature, there is however an amusing poem by Hilaire Belloc entitled The Vulture
Here's my version.














   
THE VULTURE

While other birds are ultra-cute,
the vulture is an ugly brute:
someone you wouldn’t want to meet
when stumbling onward through the heat,
with parched throat, arms and legs gone numb,
half dizzy with delirium.
It would upset most people’s nerves, 
the thought of being his hors d’oeuvres.

Friday, 1 December 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (2)

The animal world encompasses extremes. Elephant and mouse, gorilla and guinea pig: all manage to survive on this amazing planet and seem to confirm that size doesn't matter. 
Today's poem is about that astoundingly elongated creature, the giraffe.





















THE GIRAFFE

The lofty giraffe, it would seem,
is vertical in the extreme.
With head and hoof so far apart,
his height is almost off the chart.
He is unquestionably thin
and has exotic mottled skin.
His neck leads to a freakish head
that he can easily embed
in foliage that just cannot
be reached by creatures short and squat,
but when he runs, with loping stride
and head held high as though with pride,
perhaps for joy, perhaps in flight,
he is a most ungainly sight.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

ANIMAL MAGIC (1)

Recently returned from sunny Italy, I find the island weather chilly and that, during my three week's absence, autumn has begun to give way to gloomy winter. 
What better time, then, to publish a few warmly humorous poems and challenge the falling temperatures with a smile.
Today's is about that most supercilious beast, the llama.


















LLAMAS

The haughty Llamas of Bolivia,
are quite uninterested in trivia.
They are, undoubtedly, a class
above the buffalo or ass.
They’re into art, admire fine prose,
and have amazing cloven toes.
A beast, in short, we should admire:
a fellow of an order, higher.
Sadly, they have one major flaw:
they are decidedly bourgeois
and see it as their bounden duty
to sneer at others and be snooty.
They always manage to deplore
those creatures they consider lower
who should kow-tow and know their place,
and that includes the human race.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

REMEMBANCE OF THINGS PAST

This month's Open Mic Night for poetry will take place at La Villette Hotel on Monday, 20th November at 8pm.

As always, all are welcome. Come along to read, chat or simply listen. The optional theme for the evening is "Remembrance"



THE HIDDEN TRAVELLER

I remember
the over-furnished room, cold as a cave,
where they had laid him
between the aspidistra and a spotted mirror;
the sunbeams, slanting by the window, shoaled with dust;
the silent street beyond, devoid of passers-by.
Immaculate in laundered shirt and
suit so rarely worn in life; in death he looked
more like a character from a story than himself.

I remember
myself dressed in a suit that day;
the parlour’s silence broken only
by the ticking of a clock;
the sense of unreality, of ritual without feeling;
an odour of chrysanthemums.

I remember him
alive and huge and I so small,
watching geese fly
high over wetlands blurred with morning mist,
our upturned faces wet with perfect joy;
the swing he built me in the secret clearing
in the green-wood;
his hearty laughter booming in the treetops.

I remember
the warm, familiar smell of him;
his callused, gentle fists
thrusting the timber swing-seat
higher, ever higher.

I remember still,
though years have crowded in between then and now,
the reckless humour ever-dancing in his eyes,
blue as songbirds' eggs;
the sweetness of the lulling tune he hummed at ending day
as, sleepily, I rode his shoulders home to bed.

Each passing generation
prints its image on the next: an echo of the parent
in each gesture of the child.
So his essential being rides my adult shoulders now,
as I transport his spirit towards another century.

We dress ourselves unknowingly
in garments of departed love, in remnants
of lost voices or half-remembered smiles.
The length of stride, a turn of phrase
betrays the other, hidden traveller in our skin.

Preserve in me
the things that once I loved in him.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

TWO KINDS OF ISOLATION

There is immense appeal in wild, remote places and the almost-silence to be found there. For a fugitive from the frenzied jabber of modern life there is no better sanctuary. 













MOOR PONIES

The path, that winds its way as though by chance,
leads to a blue-green, sweeping, verdant plain,
coarse heather and an unexpected lough
where swans, like hawthorn blossoms, dreaming, drift. 


Here, rock and weathered boulders form a realm
where nothing dwells that has not earned its place
where day and night, like lovers, intertwine
and season into season gently slips. 

Bold standing stones, with ancient runes inscribed,
face four wild winds to boldly outwit time
while stunted trees, distorted into shapes,
unnatural, cling to the earth and scream 
like wailing ghosts in blackened widows’ lace
for all the speechless sadness of the world.

Moor ponies watch, with grey, impassive eyes,
the hawk that circles slowly like a god
high in his realm of silence, stark, sublime,
untouchable, impossibly remote.


They bow their heads, as though in reverence,
for fear that god, ignored, might take offense.



BONUS TRACK

 

 










PSYCHIC EYE
 
I read the sign and climb a stair.
The office door is smokey glass.
Inside a radio plays jazz.
I go in. He points to a chair.
He’s shabby but he don’t look dumb.
His voice is booze and cigarettes:
a weary voice, full of regrets.
A gumshoe, laid back, chewing gum.
     
I say, Man, you’re a Psychic Eye:
I got a problem, something’s changed.
It’s like the whole world’s rearranged,
gone crazy but I don’t know why.
When joshing with my buddy, Pat,
there was a mishap with a gun:
the pistol was a loaded one.
Things turned peculiar after that.
Down at the pool room, I’m ignored.
Guys talk and laugh like I’m not there:
goddam invisible, I swear.
I was their pal once: now they’re bored.
I crack a joke. They look elsewhere. 
I shout: Hey Guys! They just don’t hear.
I ask for whiskey or a beer:
the barman gives me a blank stare.

The psychic nods. I tell him this:
I visited my gal today:
she looked right through me, turned away
when I leaned forward for a kiss.
     
He lights a smoke, says: Some survive
a bullet from a careless gun,
a lucky few, but you’re not one.
Son, you’re a ghost. You ain’t alive.
I’m psychic so I see a bit,
the gumshoe gives me this critique:
For you, the future’s looking bleak.
You’re dead. You gotta live with it.


 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

BIRTHDAY BARD

With another birthday looming, it's difficult to summon up hopefulness in a world seemingly bent on self-destruction.
The post-war era of the 1940s, when I was a child, was a time of serious deprivation, with UK cities still bearing the scars of conflict.
The Luftwaffe bombs had stopped but shortages and rationing continued well into the 1950s. 
There was, however, during that grim and grimy period, an air of optimism which seems sadly absent now.
Perhaps we need to pay heed to these words of advice from the late Dr Martin Luther King: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can. 





















BIRTHDAY POEM 2017
 

A bad-news day, so typical
of what we, daily, learn to call
normality.

Another war, a bomb outrage,
an earthquake,

a hurricane,
a virus rampant, uncontrolled,
another routine genocide,
the usual starving dispossessed
with hands outstretched
in supplication.

Another day. So swiftly now
discarded hours, like autumn leaves,
accumulate. So we grow old.


Another birthday. 
Earnestly, I tell myself, 
be unafraid;
believe that, daily, hope sustains,
that, by some grace, tranquility
will fill the earth like sudden flowers;
that, somehow, 

love will be enough.






Wednesday, 1 November 2017

IT'S BEHIND US

With Hallowe'en 2107 behind us, let's spare a thought for a much-maligned section of the population, Zombies.
Often discriminated against, Zombies are surprisingly friendly and long for cultural recognition and acceptance.
They believe that, whilst many regard them as evil and repugnant, nevertheless, in the modern spirit of diversity, they should be made welcome in all social situations.
















ZOMBIEPHOBIA       

Others, they call us The Undead
and everywhere we go, they flee;
if trapped, they shoot us in the head;
they simply cannot let us be.

For we can’t help the way we are:
with rotting skin and clothes not fresh.
It’s hardly our fault if we all
enjoy the taste of human flesh

and clump around on shaky legs
or claw at people that we meet,
so you should not discriminate
and keep your distance in the street.

We tore the postman limb from limb?
Hands up, we did that: a mistake.
But these things happen, life’s not fair.
We only kill when we’re awake.

So what, if we smell of the grave?
Most days we are polite and good.
We are not the repulsive bunch
portrayed on screen by Hollywood.

Okay, we ate your Mum and Dad,
and maybe others, quite a few,
but you must make allowances
for Zombie folk are people too.

Compassionate society
should make us welcome and be fair,
enjoy diversity, be cool.
Embrace a Zombie, show you care.

Monday, 30 October 2017

COLD CALLER

Hallowe'en, once an ancient Celtic festival with Pagan roots, is nowadays an opportunity for youngsters to indulge in Trick or Treat, the custom of going from door to door after dark, dressed in suitably spooky costumes, to sing or recite in exchange for sweets or currency.
It's all very lighthearted and only the most curmudgeonly person would not find it amusing.
But what if the caller were not a child in a scary mask seeking toffees but someone who had other, less benign, intentions? 


THE REAPER

Armani suit and calf-skin shoes, 
Rolex coiled around his wrist,
a sharp black beard defines his chin,
three blood-red rings adorn his fist,
his neck’s embellished with tattoos
which spiderweb his swarthy skin.
He’s saturnine, tall, lithe and slim:
not how I had imagined him.

His smile is supercilious, cold.
He strokes his smartphone, barks my name,
then looks me over with a frown.
You’re ready, Fool. You’re mine to claim ...
I cower, defenceless, weak and old.
He leans in close to stare me down
with hooded eyes as black as coal:
twin mirrors of an absent soul.
 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

NIGHT FLIGHT

With Hallow'een fast approaching, it seems appropriate to publish this slightly spooky rhyming poem, Jackdaw Witch.

















JACKDAW WITCH

Where do you fly to, jackdaw witch,
when night affords you change of shape?
Do you, half bird, half brute, escape
beastly constraints, do you unhitch
yourself from our reality,
soar up, in pterodactyl skin,
to mingle with your ghastly kin,
their putrid sexuality
a ripe lure, a sure inducement. 
Where do you fly to? Whose command
bids you attend? Who can demand
your presence, jackdaw malcontent?
And does your night-flight summon fear?
Do ground-bound creatures flinch and hide
beneath your soft-winged deathly glide,
your claws, your countenance severe?

Why do you, time and time again,
abscond to wilderness and brier?
Where do you gather to conspire
when moon illuminates the plain?
Where do you fly, who do you meet?
And are their talons stained with gore?
What words are whispered when you your
misshapen, foul companions greet?

Monday, 23 October 2017

BBC NEWS!


The island of Guernsey is presently fogbound, with visibility limited and the normally-uplifting view of our adjacent islands totally obscured. 


It's difficult to remain upbeat on days such as these.

Happily, the gloom has been lifted by news from producer, Becca Bryers, that the BBC Local Radio & National Poetry Day project, which I took part in last year, has gained Silver at the ARIAS (Audio and Radio Industry Awards) in the Creative Partnerships category.

Stone Witness, my submission to the project, became the title poem in my 2017 collection of the same name.

Copies of Stone Witness are available online from my publishers, BLUE ORMER at https://www.blueormer.co.uk/?page_id=611

Friday, 20 October 2017

BRIDGING THE GAP?

This poem, if indeed it is a poem, came about as a result of an exercise to establish whether I could merge two poems into one and still produce a coherent whole. Whether it works or not remains to be seen. You, the reader, must be the judge of that.
It first appeared in my Strange Journey collection, published in 2012.

PARIS

we meet on a sunlit bridge                      in an ancient city in spring
and our shadows merge                              we meet like eager lovers
inhaling sweetness                                                your cool skin scent
apple blossom                                                              drenches my lips
the river                                                                                         the light
sings                                                                                                     sings


wings                                                                                                wishes 
or  prayers                                                                                   unspoken
sweep overhead                                                             escape like birds
        we stand like statues                                        our lips eyes fingertips          
our vows now set in stone                        connect to become but one 
sky a purple mass of starlings          stretching beyond and beyond

Sunday, 15 October 2017

BIRD OF ILL-OMEN

I've lost count of the number of poems I've written about birds. It's a subject I keep returning to again and again.
Garden birds, of course, are a source of constant joy and living close to the sea ensures that we encounter an abundance of coastal species ranging from snowy egrets to oyster-catchers in their distinctive black and white livery.
There is a kestrel that frequents the granite cliff-face adjoining our property, an owl that hunts in the narrow lane and a noisy gang of magpies, whose coarse sniggers can be heard coming from a nearby conifer.
Crows, too, can sometimes be seen around Bordeaux but, for some inexplicable reason, these birds fill me with dread.
There's something ominous in their baleful presence that seems to stir a memory in me of a frightening childhood experience concerning these sinister birds.























CROW

An old grey crow perches on a granite wall.
Its prehistoric stare
unnerves me.
In those unfathomable eyes
I see
nothing discernible,
only vertiginous darkness.
It hardly seems afraid
when I return its look
but hops from foot to foot
as though to say
this is my wall, this is my wall ...
so I retreat.

From farther off, I pause to look again.
There it remains,
in silhouette,
stiff as a sentry,
with murderous, malignant eye,
camouflaged blade,
assassin’s cloak.