Wednesday, 27 May 2015


There are many many pretty girls here, is what I thought peering over the pier at what’s now a disused dockyard. The boys aren’t bad either, I see mullets. Over there filling up the whole middle-distance is that brick. If I was a trader of all things human and I got Liverpool as my port of export, then my top three exports would be: The Beatles, The Brick, The Accent. Can’t have enough of that alluring accent, though it doesn’t like me much and it sure doesn’t hide it, I like it very much. Liverpudlian. Feels like sticky toffee pudding when you try to mimic it. Leaves a tang at the back of your throat like those sour red sugarcoated laces did, the kind I used to buy from the tuck shop when I was little, those that once made my tongue bleed when I ate a hundred of the laces in one go, to prove a point to myself.

The taxi driver who sat silent and staring whilst we gave off affected chatter in disaffected tones in the back perked up: ‘The laa-jest br’ick building in the whol’er Yeur-up that.’ Our three little heads swivel round to see the enormity of this brick building, there’s a lake that could house the Loch Ness monster in between the two halves of this vast brick structure, stretching back more than double it is wide, and it is very very wide. I ask, ‘What was it for?’ and the taxi man replies, ‘Tobacco’. The old and abandoned tobacco factory, the largest brick building in Europe, I’ve never seen it before but it’s already iconic. It demands significance. 

There are more hairdressing schools in the city than there are supermarkets. It’s an important facet: hair (and obviously it is, why not). There are also two cathedrals, and the Anglican one is the largest of its kind in the entire world. I feel like in my tiny London-shaped-mashed-brain I’d overlooked some of the grander things this England had to hold, like this place. The sun glared at us from high above as bands played to a backdrop of sea and gulls. A cruise liner the size of a council estate appeared one sunny afternoon on the horizon, and I ate the best hot dog of my life, mainly because it was soaked in sauerkraut and I in ale. 

The one time I had to order a cab over the phone I remembered the words of the little brother. ‘You ask for a taxi in your accent and you won’t get one. “Fully booked, sorry love.” Is what they’ll say.’ And the one time I ordered a cab over the phone I got the not uncommon and plain knee-jerk reply, ‘Sorry love, fully booked for the day.’ And my! a taxi firm booked up a for a whole day. Must be a busy port still, Liverpool. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Two Poems

Just Them Two

I turned to you and I thought you were
I woke up under white and
Birdsong, I was already
Not there.

Once the chessboard has been cleaned
To the final few pieces
Linoleum bath mats
Junkyard thermostats

Last two pieces standing:
King and Queen in the green
There's just them two.

Thwack. Clean the board
check check check
Acute pain, dishevelled dishes
Lukewarm bathwater
No way to swim back
Take your stuff, leave it go!

Clear blue boredom sets in

Love and Aeroplanes

I have a friend 
Who boarded a plane
To surprise the one
She loves.
He did not know
About her return,
Nor even of that love.

I know a girl
Who waited and waited
Hopeful of a plane.
When he was thrust back
In to her palms
She gasped for joy
Which she immediately stole
Away, for a rainy day.

I know two fools
Who boarded a plane
To go re-strike that match!
Of love in New York,
It did not work
She'd been a doll
A mannequin of false hope.

I know a man who dreamt and
Dreamt, of that final plane:
For dreams to come true.
Eventually he waited
On and on
And neither she nor the plane
Came true.

Blancmange (some sweet story)

Claudie went to check herself in the mirror, again, making sure to look at her flat stomach and lack of creases in her body hugging top. A nice skirt soft to the touch, her arms were smooth and the bust visible. She couldn’t look up at her face not really sure why.

Amnon waited in his car and on the bus journey and then in the train, on any mode of transport, really. Whilst on the move he never had control of the thoughts that flowed in, like the scenery flitting past the window. He waited for a hint that he should chase after her, but it never came.

Playing hard to get only lasts a few days, as the weeks roll on turning in to the changing of seasons, summer had already appeared and they were going to meet again. Had it been three months? Amnon didn’t really want to think about it and was already walking to the date-spot, and he thought he had to really stop thinking of it as a date-spot.

It was just a really prominent spot. She had chosen it of course in the middle of the city equidistant from both their work places, a gigantic symbol - not of romance but of stately grandeur. A blancmange no less, St. Paul’s Cathedral. She was all about the grand gestures, that was how she left it.

It had been their first and last holiday together to mark a year’s anniversary, Roma. When the tourists had dissipated and dusk was at it’s height, and one or two bats swooshed over their heads she had turned to him and blankly state it’s finished. Over. In front of the Fountains of Triovoli. Amnon was taken aback because seriously there had been no change up to or during that point, but she said it so sweetly and left.

Each time Claudie went to leave her flat, one plimsole out the door she would recoil back in and have another last look at her self in the mirror. Was it vanity that kept her locked to mirrors or the reassurance that she needed - that she still existed and hadn’t vanished mid-sentence in the time she wasn’t looking at herself in one, she really didn’t know. 

Addicted to the Gaze as one friend jibed her. But Claudie’s world was crystalline. No fault lines, everything pristine. Nothing that occurred wasn’t pre-planned or pre-envisaged. In the big black holdall made of Italian leather that Amnon had presented to her in Rome were scripts, reams of paper jotted down with the words that real people said and that was how she lived, not spontaneously only in scenes.

Amnon spotted a small swaying figure meandering up to the St. Paul’s steps. It was her - he knew from her walk and her neat little bob that swayed only after her whole body swayed. He felt a bit sea-sick now, actually. So he started to hum a song. Most aptly his hardwired nervous brain had injected the Kinks Waterloo Sunset in to the scene, there really was a sunset and they were close enough to the river, so why not?

Claudie waves, she waves again and smiles. Actually she’s pleased to see him, now that she thinks about it she had missed him and his Rat Pack sensibilities. As she approaches and peels off her sunglasses she realises he’s a lot more real than she remembered him to be. He looks nervous and kind like a child and immediately Claudie is in love. That’s her fickleness for you.

Take me back? She suggests. He says yes. And then they try to walk and talk but can’t do both at the same time without feeling silly, so hold hands instead.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Paddington Basin

We dock, twice. 

Technically with canal boats it’s called mooring, but this time not so fast - we’re on a wharf - so we’re docking. God. You pop your head out followed by a foot and then with me usually a rucksack; out of this rickety old sail boat, still a tiny floating beauty with a flakey coat of blue paint licked around all sides and her underbelly. Christ. We’re in the midst of big proper decent hardworking buildings, like the sturdy St. Mary’s Hospital where the new ickle princess was delivered, and sharp sleek phat-looking offices made of shatterproof glass with the cold tint of ice imbued within.

The first attempt at docking saw the boat veer left then backwards almost crashing slowly and dreadfully in to the side of one peaceful boater’s home. Thankfully, the wind just nudged it clear and some of my die-hard shoving and gentle kicking off the dock via the nose of the boat made some impact. The boat’s engine whirred and I could hear Mer shouting tribulations of “crap” and “oh bollocks” from inside the hull. 

The wind you see, it moves boats. 

So Mer drove on and did a U-turn at the end of the basin. These steely blocks of professionalism slumming over us and watching us in an all-knowing judgemental sort of way, I felt it, looking pitiably at us scrabbling and the little guy’s battles fought on in this basin, our small corner of ocean. Once we'd docked I had hold of the rope in a lunge position trying to heave her closer in to be tighter with the wooden slats. The air is brisk and Mer says to me with hair in her face - 

‘It really feels like we’re out on the sea here hey!’

‘Yeah. Windy.’

Later on our new neighbour Wendy from somewhere past Brentford who goes holidaying with her husband every summer will tell me that it’s always windy here.

‘Have you been here before?’

‘No. I’m new to it all. Have you?’

‘Ooh yes. Me and him, we go on holiday every summer on the boat. It’s like our holiday home’ she breaks off for a manic chuckle, ‘we ever so like it. Can you believe we’ve been doing this route for the past thirteen years!’

Thirteen years’ I say.

‘And every time it’s been windy down here. When we first came there weren’t these tall buildings everywhere. The security’s very good too, they have these men in hi-vis jackets checking on your boats. It’s ever so safe here, not like the other parts of London which can be a bit, you know…’

I smile and don’t really know what to say so she finishes off her sentence with the maternal tones of someone who hates being prejudiced.

‘… rough.’

As we’re unpacking the boat and Mer is unfolding her new contraption that is the white foldable bicycle, some more neighbours arrive to our right in a rambunctious barge of navy blue with port holes. A lad with one un-cumbersome languid accent only available in the West Country strides out in that manner which reminds me of Aussies, and bounces his head towards our boat.

‘He-llo. How is it here?’

Mer in her sparky note says, ‘We only just got here like you!’

‘Did you?’ A pause drawn out by this boat-lad’s smile, ‘How did you find it? It’s quite windy.’

‘It’s really windy’ I concur at best.

‘It wasn’t forecast to be windy’ he mumurs.

‘No I thought it was going to be windy yesterday so decided to move today - big mistake that was!’ Mer shook her head and I guessed she was probably remembering the swearing and the near-crashing.

‘Was it trouble for you guys?’

‘Sort of, yeah.’ I concur again.

‘More windy than I thought it would be... weren’t expecting it.’

And the conversation of boaters goes on oblivious to the clockwork precision of these stark buildings and their inhabitants that surround us all bobbing up and down in this basin. Even the ducks that swim past my window look more together in this area, formations of four or six drakes only quacking intermittently, so as not to disrupt or disturb the order. One thing is it’s clean, the other bonus is, I get to use the hospital’s free wifi.

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Canal Cavalcade

‘Worst case scenario Mer!’ Back in the boat brushing my teeth on a windy stormy gale-force sort of night, the drizzle hasn’t commenced yet but I assume there’ll be lashings of it after midnight, always is in England.

‘OK I’ll leave the keys right here - so we can drive in the middle of the night if we come loose.’

Pointing skyward with my toothbrush I say, ‘Good idea. Always be prepared.’

‘I’m telling ya’, Mer moves to the front end of the boat where she lives in a purple envelopment of warm blankets and wires ‘there are boats flying everywhere!’


‘The canals. They’re all saying it.’

There was the Canal Cavalcade this weekend and all the happy boat folk were out in force. The floating bandstand was a novelty, reminding me of Dick Van Dyke and loud cartoon penguins, and I did spy a handful of rosy-cheeked men; one with a resplendent white beard and moustache combo which Brill Cream could only worship and never shape. I had a dog with me too - sniff sniff sniff wag wag wag - like there was no tomorrow, and whilst trying to sympathise with the canine form of excitement that copious crowds and smells must stir in them (‘Like being at a rave and being told off for dancing’ as a friend interjected whilst I pulled the dog away from another sandal-ed foot for the hundredth time) I kept tugging at her little collar because she would eat trodden down bread and lick spilt Mr. Whippy off the pavement. When I arrived back at the boat I told Mer of the festivities happening down the canal.

‘Yeah I went to see the cavalcade but I wasn’t impressed.’ 

She’s rarely impressed and always into something else, forever riding the alternative wave. ‘They’re not real boaters like us. Most of them aren’t liveaboards so they’re just in it for show you know, all pretty and no panties.’ 

I definitely raised my eyebrows at the “me being a real boater” comment but she makes me laugh. To Mer you’ve got to live it to believe it (like rock n’ roll) and she does live it be fair, and I like how in her mind all these pin-striped red and white blazers, the bunting, the brass band and the boater-hats are marks of a hobbyists. Conformist sold-out establishment whiners. Mer’s a true blue Lefty. I shake my head fondly.

The wind has really picked up since the weekend and now the debris from the parties float past my window. Some slowly, some chunks vigorously. A lot of PET bottles and straws and plastic bags and hell of a lot of blossom petals. There’s indistinguishable stuff mainly, and ducks swimming against it. The other day I saw a cat swimming - not on purpose - it must have fallen out of a Yuppie flat’s window overlooking the canal. It paddled quietly keeping his head above above the water with determination but looked exhausted from the wet, I wandered back and forth, but I was too far away to do anything about it. I hope the cat survived. There is lapping under my bed tonight and I can’t help feeling worried for the cat.


The happy mess and excitement of parties throws people into a commotion and although that’s fun it can be disconcerting. When you've found yourself alone all of a sudden in a throng of people and the eyes begin to dart. A pretty pretty butterfly of anxiety flutters off the shoulder in to my drink then drowns. That’s a little insight in to my psyche anyway. I always keep remembering that there’s another side to the story and bits you missed or didn’t quite understand and that feeling of discomfort after having fun equates closely to but isn’t quite guilt. Like a whole weekend of fun is premonitory… of what I shall not know, but could this storm be the pathetic fallacy of these thoughts incarnate?! No, more likely a hangover.