Poetry Blog: Tunnel Vision

This is a poem that I drafted very roughly a couple of days ago. I’d just had some bad news and on top of feeling exhausted with work, sore with a running injury, sick and tired of living with Covid restrictions and worried about various other matters in everyday life, I think I’d just had enough. So, rather than simply explode and kick things about the place I scribbled some thoughts down.

I don’t normally suffer with my moods. I tend to manage to live life on the same level most of the time. I’m rarely too bothered by anything and have always told myself that things will work out, whatever happens to be going on. It’s definitely an advantage of being such a simpleton! However, over the last few weeks lots of things seem to have been bothering me and it sees to have all piled up and caused a bit of a bad mood logjam. Not the end of the world and at least it’s meant that I can be creative.

Here’s the poem.

Tunnel Vision

Feral dogs gather, sensing blood, teeth bared
snarling, putting a tentative foot forward,
circling without grace, eyeing you constantly
until they finally snap and leave their mark.

Every ache and pain nags and presents a new question,
crowds the mind, leaving a feeling of fog
until you feel like lashing out with a primal scream
from somewhere deep inside that you've never found before.

Questions, although answered time and again
remain, echoing back and forth, disrupting sleep
to pick away at the scab that they created,
allowing it to spread to unchartered territory.

Tunnel vision is adopted, just to get through seconds, minutes
as something hidden in the shadows threatens to grind you to a halt
like hazard lights on the motorway, just as the urge for freedom and speed 
is at its highest.

Searching for a way to break the cycle and feel a sense 
of achievement, or at least a moment's blessed relief
from the sheer boredom and strangely gargantuan effort
needed to just keep going.

Writing this helped. It’s very easy to sit and moan at anyone who’ll listen, but I much prefer to keep things to myself. It’s a mixture of embarrassment and just the thought that I don’t really want to burden anyone with my troubles. Especially as most of the time I feel like I’m exaggerating in even labelling certain things as ‘troubles’. I know that lots of people have things much, much harder than I do. And as I said earlier, I’m reasonably happy to get through and operate under the assumption that any mood will pass and that things will get better.

In the poem, I’ve tried to describe how I felt; as if the thoughts, the worries were circling me, taking turns at bothering me and bothering me on various levels and with various results. Hence the ‘feral dogs’ line which I felt summed up the fact that I didn’t feel like I had complete control at times and didn’t feel that I could just dismiss things. Those thoughts just kept coming back, biting me.

If it helps, or it’s of any interest, I think I feel better today. I’m just keeping myself busy and it definitely helps that the weather is great, I’ve been able to get out for a run and that the Euro 2020 international football tournament has just started. Like I say, I’m happy to keep things simple.

I hope you liked the poem – ‘enjoyed’ might be a stretch I suppose! Whatever your thoughts, feel free as ever, to let me know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: Ghosts

This is a poem about loss. It’s not about loss in the traditional sense of losing someone who died though. This is about the loss of friends and friendships, which seems to be something has has afflicted me a lot over the years.

It’s a poem about losing touch and if I’m honest, probably losing interest. It’s about the transitory nature of friendships and how they grow, but also about how we can grow or move away from them, or them from us. I hope that makes sense. I suppose it’s about how they grow and how they fade.

It is, for me a type of loss though. I genuinely find staying in touch with people really difficult. This is partly because life is just so busy that if I’m immersed in my daily work routine or taking care of the everyday adventures of family life, I just get a bit lost. It makes me feel like an incomplete person, someone who’s clearly not a proper adult. Even while writing this I’m aware of the fact that I was meant to get in touch with my sister two days ago, as she’s unwell, but I haven’t done it.

My sister is an interesting ‘ghost’. I use the excuse that I’m six years younger than her and that we don’t have a lot in common – apart from parents and upbringing – but that’s all it is; an excuse. I really should keep in touch more than I do. And I get that these things are a two way street – she doesn’t call or text regularly either – but I need to be a better brother.

It’s a form of loss that really bothers me. I probably think about friends I’ve lost touch with most days, which would probably surprise some of those friends. Not all of them at once, but individuals will regularly pop into my head and it can make me tremendously sad to think that they’re only a call away, or an email or text and yet they might as well be on a different planet. Yet, something still stops me. Whether it’s the embarrassment, in some cases, that I haven’t spoken to someone in years and therefore I fear some kind of rejection from them, I don’t know. But I can easily envisage someone seeing my name coming up on their phone and just rejecting the call. It doesn’t give me a crippling sense of loss in the same way that a bereavement would, but it’s something that makes me feel a horrible sense of loneliness and guilt at times.

To my knowledge I’ve never lost a friend by actually falling out with them. I would say that in that sense, I’m a good friend. I do, however, seem to be cursed with becoming friends with people who then move away! Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. This has caused an awful sense of loss in some cases as well though. I desperately miss the friendship of someone who was only local to me for two years before they emigrated to another continent (I won’t name names, but they may well read this!) This was just someone that I clicked with completely and his loss did have an effect on me at the time that was akin to that of a bereavement. There are others too, that although I keep in touch with them and I’ve known them for most of my life, their absence from my every day life genuinely hurts. Texts and Facebook messages just aren’t the same.

Ghosts

I think of you often; ghosts.
Either re-living past glories or indulging in imaginary conversations
in the comfort of my head.
Keep in touch, we said.

Sometimes you re-appear from the past
and I blame myself, wonder why I went silent.
The girl who got the job, became the boss is just a miracle really.
The ghost who came back to life and helped to show you just how friendship works.

Other ghosts are far too many to mention, without a crippling guilt taking its toll.
I'll never know if it was me that drove you away,
but I'll always ask the question.
Keep in touch we said, 
and I disappeared like the dead.

The one who vanished, perhaps hiding the shame of a break-up.
I'll never know if I could have done more.
Those who had the audacity to carry on living lives without me,
some forever extending their hand,
while I make excuses, ignore the calls, hide in these four walls,
without ever really knowing why.

Those who, like paper aeroplanes, were taken away by the breeze,
and may float close by again,
tantalising like the promise of a meet up in the sign off of a text
until they fly so far that you'll never reach them again.
Keep in touch we said,
the embers now a dying red.

Then the ones that saw you at your worst.
These ghosts? You're forever in their debt.
The one who scraped you off the floor, mended the first real heartbreak,
talked you down, walked you round, held your hand,
now relegated to the occasional like on social media.

And don't forget the girl who looked out for you when work became almost too much,
boosted your confidence, while simultaneously kicking you up the arse
and telling you bluntly, to polish your shoes.
She who mothered you, but when she left called you her big brother,
still cast adrift years later without a reason why.

Those ghosts we lost along the way,
are no longer just there on the other end of a phone,
but leave a million shades of regret, of things you never said, of sleepless nights, 
and the ever-present pain in the gut that reminds you that you could have done more, 
should have done more...

Keep in touch we said
but all that's left is in your head.

I feel that some of these ‘ghosts’ must think that I’m a pretty terrible person who just doesn’t care. I do care. I’m just awful at showing it and at keeping up appearances. Even when I get in touch with people I imagine them thinking, ‘what does he want?’ This feeling probably isn’t helped by people like my dad who regularly answers the phone with such witticisms as, ‘We thought you’d died’. Hilarious. Funnier still given that my parents rarely ring.

I know there’s a saying that the best friends are those you don’t have to talk to every day to know that they’re still friends (or something like that) and I definitely have friends like that. But I wish I spoke to them more. And maybe this confessional will make me step up my friendship game (as no one said, ever) or maybe one of them will read this and check in on me (please no U ok hun? type things though). Anything would be good in these times of not being able to meet up.

I hope you enjoyed the poem. And at the risk of sounding like I just ate a whole block of cheese, if it resonated in any way, maybe you could call that friend you’ve been thinking of lately? Cheeseball or not, I know I’ve got some reaching out to do.

As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments.

Blog Goals for March

I find running my blog incredibly fulfilling, yet extremely frustrating, all at the same time. I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. What started as an outlet for some kind of creativity and initially to explain how I was feeling at a difficult stage of my life, has more recently become a little more serious and I would really like my writing to have a bigger audience.

I started my blog after having heart surgery. Writing a blog was something I’d thought about for a while, but it took what felt like a near death experience to give me the kick up the backside that I needed to actually start writing. It wasn’t really a near death experience, but it was a heart problem that required being admitted to hospital, then followed up with actual surgery, so there were lots of times when I questioned whether I’d get through it.

Once I was well, I started a blog, using my first couple of posts to write about what had happened to me. I suppose it was cathartic, but it was also my way of letting people know that I was alright. They’re on the links below this paragraph if you fancy a read. But then once they were out of the way, I began to write about anything and everything!

When did I get so old?

Conquering my fears. What’s the worst that could happen*?

Over 100 blog posts later though and I feel like I’ve reached a bit of an impasse with it. The blog is definitely growing in popularity, but at the pace of a glacier. Am I being impatient? I’m not sure. It’s fair to say that I only started taking things even kind of seriously since this time last year, when the pandemic meant I had a lot of time on my hands with which to write. But it’s definitely been a frustrating time over the last six months or so, when apart from one brilliant month, growth has been slow. So I thought I’d start to set monthly goals, in order to organise myself a little better and perhaps get some useful advice in response.

March Goals and Targets

  1. I need to find better ways of publicising my blog. I use social media and tweet about my blog quite a bit, without it being all I ever do on there. I also post on the blogging RT/community sites in the hope that I’ll gain regular readers, but despite a small amount of growth, it doesn’t really seem to work. I feel terrible, even in a comment post, when I’m commenting on people’s blogs, because ultimately it feels a bit desperate. I might as well just be saying, ‘Look, I’ve commented on your blog, so have a look at mine’ and I don’t like feeling that way. If it’s a specific subject of blog, like a sport or an educational blog I might tweet certain more applicable sites for a RT and this can work too, but I feel like I’m just relying on other people’s popularity and good will in doing so. My blog views for a typical month average around 400-500, which feels OK, but isn’t rewarding in terms of the effort I put in. I don’t know if I’m expecting too much, but then again I’ve read ‘goal’ type posts like this from other people before, moaning that they’re only getting thousands of people visiting their site per month. Looking at your stats on WordPress and seeing that another day has brought in 14 readers becomes no fun whatsoever after a while! I genuinely feel like I post my fair share of good quality posts and I’d love it to reach a bigger audience, but must admit, I’m pretty clueless! It’s lovely reading positive comments from people, but then again, I’ve visited blogs posts that consist of an inspirational quote (so, 12 words, let’s say) that get a load of positive comments and that kind of thing makes me wonder where I’m going wrong. Alternatively, maybe what I’m posting is utter rubbish! Whatever it is, I need to find some kind of answer in March!
  2. Stop posting utter rubbish! Just kidding; I have at least some faith in what I write. But that said, I want to write at least one post in March that breaks some personal records for my blog. Why not think big, eh? Whether it’s views, or likes, or just the number of people who read it in Luxembourg, I’d like to post something that captures the interest in the next month. I’ve had some that – for my little blog – have done really well and it’s a brilliant feeling that I’d quite like to replicate.
  3. Come up with better titles for poems and blogs. I seem to have no imagination for this at all. In the past I’ve written blogs called ‘I have some questions about music’, ‘Whatever happened to the mix tape?’ and poems called ‘Teams Meeting’ (about a Teams meeting), ‘Heart’ (about my heart operation) and ‘Early Morning Run’ (I won’t ruin the surprise with that one). It seems I’m very literal when it comes to titles, so maybe some snappier titles might bring those readers in!
  4. Write more poems (with better titles, of course). It took me ages to pluck up the courage to write poems consistently and then to actually post them online. They always get a good reaction and I love the process of writing them. It’s been quite a confidence boost. They generally come in bursts and I can write two or three, pretty much straight out in one go, in one sitting, but it’s been a while since anything new came along. I had an idea this afternoon, opened my notebook to write something then got distracted. A couple of hours later I noticed the open page of my notebook! Luckily I remembered what I had wanted to write about. I must try and make time to write more poems though and it would be good to find a proper place to showcase them too, as those regular 44 people that read them could be improved upon!
  5. This one’s not a blogging goal; more a creative one. I’d like to post more videos on social media. I posted one of me reading my poem ‘An Ode to Joe Wicks’ and it went down really well (relatively speaking; we’re not talking millions of views and instant fame here). More to the point, I really enjoyed doing it. It does feel like a real ego trip though – here’s me reading my poem, so watch! I struggle finding a reason why people would want to watch! But then, videos I’ve done for friends always get a good reaction. And I know that makes me sound like the tone deaf X-Factor contestant who tells Simon Cowell all her family tell her she can sing, once he’s finished laughing. I created a character based on every bad teaching stereotype I could think of and let friends see ‘his’ first video. Their reaction told me it has legs, so I’d love to see where that could go. I have lots of video ideas, mainly involving me making myself look like a complete knobhead (I’m a natural)…I guess I just need to find a way to link them to my blog now!

So there we have it. My goals for March and the kind of post that I think I’ll make a regular early in the month kind of thing. If you have any advice or would like to let me know what you thought, then leave me a message in the comments. Thanks for reading (you now know you’re one of about 35 in a rather exclusive club!)

Book Review: Anti Social by Nick Pettigrew

I thought I knew what an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer was before I read this book. I had them pegged as being akin to a Community Support Officer in the police and so I imagined this would be the book version of shows like ‘999 What’s Your Emergency?’ The odd fight, neighbours who play their music too loud and a lot of time wasters. And then I read the book.

Nick Pettigrew fell into a career as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer in the way that many of us have fallen into a career. He came out of university with the kind of degree that doesn’t have an obvious next step (bloody English!) and before he knew it, was taking a job that he didn’t know a great deal about. Lots of us have done it. I did it. Over two decades after leaving university I’m still in a job that I once told my wife I’d “probably give a couple of years”. Fortunately, I love what I do, so although I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I’d have had an actual plan, there are no regrets. But then, my job doesn’t involve regularly dealing with problems ranging from noise nuisance to crack addicts.

‘Anti-Social’ is Pettigrew’s memoir of his time in what sounds like a tremendously testing and frequently unrewarding job as an Anti-Social Behaviour Officer in a local authority in London. A job he fell into and then gave his all to for over a decade before finding that he could no longer cope with the conditions in which he worked every day. And these weren’t what some of us might call ‘testing’ conditions, like having to sit on an uncomfortable chair or huffing and puffing about the fact that the stationary order was taking a bit long in arriving. No, Pettigrew worked with and represented some of the most vulnerable members of society in one of the busiest cities in the world.

So while some days were dominated by what Pettigrew might call routine investigations, inspecting flats and collecting evidence of noise nuisance, many others were spent trying to help the neighbours of drug dealers or battling to save the tenancies of incredibly vulnerable people with appalling mental health problems. Put simply, Pettigrew often gave every ounce of his energy and time helping those that wouldn’t admit they needed help or those who simply couldn’t help themselves. In fact, his diary tells us that his working days were often spent in vain, trying to help people who were a dangerous combination of both.

‘Anti-Social’ is a book that should shock you. In fact, if you think you have problems with every day life, then this book might just provide the antidote. While I probably spend too long moaning about life’s smaller problems, some of the cases that Pettigrew documents here left me in tears. Some of the powerlessness and some of the blatant exploitation of society’s most vulnerable is truly haunting. And all the while Pettigrew struggled with his own mental health, as documented at the start of every monthly chapter when he indicates to the reader his own current medication, accompanied by his newly changed and usually deeply ironic password.

The book is brilliantly written. Obviously the real life nature of it lends itself beautifully to an ever more engaging narrative, but what makes ‘Anti-Social’ stand out is its dark sense of humour. Often, the same tale is likely to have you tearing your hair out and close to tears while at the same time laughing at the way it’s told. There’s a certain dark irony in a lot of the problems that are discussed that makes the book both addictive and alarming in equal measure. And while ‘Anti-Social’ will introduce you to a dark side of society that you were perhaps unaware of, it will also expose human stupidity at its most hilarious with a deadpan tone that will help you to smile or laugh your way through the horror that is often unfolding on its pages.

If you enjoyed ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay then ‘Anti-Social’ is a logical next step. Similarly funny, maddeningly frustrating, but also fantastically engaging. The kind of book where what you’re being told makes you want to put it down, yet not put it down at all.

In what some all too often refer to as dark, desperate times, ‘Anti-Social’ should be a wake-up call to all of us. Yes, a series of lockdowns caused by a ham-fisted reaction to a global pandemic has made the last year or so undoubtedly tough. But if you’ve still got a job, can get out for a walk every so often, can afford to just sit and watch television for any length of time or you just still have your health in some semblance of working order, then you probably don’t know you’re born. Reading ‘Anti-Social’ might just help you stop feeling so sorry for yourself. Thank Christ for people like Pettigrew!

I’d give ‘Anti-Social’ by Nick Pettigrew

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Poetry Blog – ‘Early Morning Run’

If you’ve read the blog before or are a regular reader (I don’t know if I actually have regular readers, but there you go…) you might already know that I’m a big fan of running. I’d been a sporadic runner for most of my life until the first period of lockdown when I found the time to really work on my fitness and found myself running on a far more regular basis.

In the past, I’ve dabbled with early morning runs. I’ve always thought they were a good idea and it doesn’t particularly bother me that I have to get out of bed early. I’ve never been one for having a lie in and although I wouldn’t call myself a morning person, I can just about function at that time of day. However, I’ve never taken early morning running this seriously before. In the past I think I’ve just been of the view that getting out of bed and doing a bit is enough. Nowadays – probably because I’ve got myself a lot fitter – I take things more seriously.

So since early November last year I’ve been getting up before 7am every Sunday and heading out for a run. My wife thinks I might be going mad or perhaps having some kind of mid-life crisis, but I’m definitely not! I’m just enjoying running. I don’t think I’ve ever ran this early before, but it’s enabled me to experience quite a lot of brilliant things. I’ve ran along long straight roads with barely a vehicle in sight and watched as the sun comes up. I’ve been able to start my day in absolute solitude, gathering my thoughts and just feeling completely and utterly relaxed. I’m calm while running, rather than panicking about how I’m feeling, whether I’d be able to finish, the pain in a muscle etc. And I’ve had time to think, which has helped me a lot with things that I want to write about. I’ll be taking a dictaphone out with me soon!

With all the solitude, the calm, the energised feelings I’ve had after running, it felt obvious to write a poem about my early morning runs. I’d even been taking photos to help me remember certain things. And so, I sat down and wrote some notes. Sometimes these turn into lines from a poem, other times they just stay as bullet points, until I get the urge to sit and write the actual poem. In the case of this poem, I wrote minimal notes and spent a chunk of one Sunday morning, post run, just writing the poem. There were a few bits scribbled out, I suppose as part of a drafting process, but in the main this was a poem that was written as a first draft. Maybe that says something about my enthusiasm for the subject matter…

Early Morning Run

Although a pre-7am alarm on a Sunday is very much the stuff of nightmares, it’s done now. There’s no going back. I roll from under the covers and stumble like a broken robot across the blackness of the bedroom to halt the alarm, then, after a brief flirtation with the cold tap to awaken my senses, I’m downstairs, my body protesting as I stretch. Finally, when there’s nothing left to delay me, I leave the relative warmth behind.

Outside, a pattering against nearby leaves alerts me to the drizzle. My heart sinks slightly, but I turn and run. As I climb the first hill, the early morning fog rolls down at me. I push on, my bare arms and legs slowly adjusting to the biting cold and by the top, although catching my breath, I’m into my stride.

The centre of town is a place for ghosts, only the gentle pad of my feet on concrete can be heard and there’s only me to be seen. The sun fights a losing battle with the fog as I plod on and the only light to be seen belongs to the occasional cars of shift workers heading for warmth. I afford myself a few quiet words of encouragement, tell myself it won’t be long before I’m in their shoes.

On the outskirts of town I run on the empty road, giving up my territory every so often as early morning haulage thunders past and shakes the pavement. I relax, the only soul for miles around, alone with my thoughts and the constant voice in my head offering platitudes, encouragement, advice. Shoulders back, straighten out, head up, lengthen your stride, keep going.

Further down the road, as I tire, a shiftworker emerges like a high viz beacon and we exchange nods, perhaps each wondering which of us has made the worse decision on this cold Sunday morning. And then, the long downward stretch that signals my way home claws its way from the grasp of the fog and I quicken my pace, as if acting on instinct.

A lone gull lands upon a lampost above my head, like some kind of vulture, but it’s too late. I’m gritting my teeth, summoning last reserves of strength and fighting fatigue; this scavenger will have to wait. I open up my stride as best I can and drive for my finishing line.

Finally, I’m home and fumbling for a key with which to silently open the door in order not to wake my sleeping loved ones. Inside, I move to the kitchen, gulp down water, gorge on fruit and then stretch, thankful to be back, my body aching, but my mind cleansed.

Just a brief explanation of a few things in the poem. The line about stumbling across our bedroom ‘like a broken robot’ is me trying to communicate just how tired I feel when I wake up. There are days when my legs just don’t seem to work and the stiffness means my steps are ragged to say the least. It fascinates me that within about twenty minutes, I’ll be running at pace up a hill! Later on in the stanza I mention that ‘my body protests’ at stretches. I know I should warm up, but I seriously don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m some kind of ‘proper’ runner!

In the fourth stanza, I mention the voice in my head. that might not be wholly truthful. Often I’m actually talking to myself while out running. While there are times when I thoroughly enjoy it and feel totally strong, there are more when I can’t work out why I’m working out, so to speak. And so, often I’ll have a little chat to myself and tell myself that things aren’t that bad or try to kid myself on that it’s all in my head and that my legs are, in fact, strong.

In the fifth stanza I mention a long downward stretch. I’d like to point out that while it’s long, it is barely downward at all and that some of it means going back uphill. I almost changed the poem at the point as I couldn’t stand people thinking that a huge chunk of my run is down a big, steep hill. It’s not. But it’s downhill enough for me to pick up the pace!

The gull in the sixth stanza genuinely frightened me. At first, out of the corner of my eye, I genuinely believed that it was a bird of prey and that it might just take a swoop at me. Seeing it was a gull was a relief, but I still looked at its massive beak and felt a bit of trepidation!

Let me know what you think in the comments. I hope you enjoyed the poem as much as I frequently tell myself I like my early morning runs!

Liebster Award

I have to say that this kind of thing is generally met with confusion from me. I’ve received a couple of nominations before now and once I get over the beffudlement, I tend to make plans to respond before yet another silly idea for a blog leads me away from being focused. I haven’t much idea why anyone would nominate me for such a thing. And that’s not false modesty – I believe in my writing, but most of the time I’m writing to amuse myself, really. And that’s especially true with poems, where over the past couple of months I’ve written poems about my neighbour’s shed, animal sightings in lockdown. competitive parents and most recently on the blog, how frantic lockdown must have made bucket listers.

That said, I’d like to say a massive thank you to liveparentteachrepeat.com/ for my nomination. You’re too kind. No, genuinely, you’re too kind!

The Liebster Award is by bloggers for bloggers. The award is a great way to “pay it forward” in the blogging community, encouraging us bloggers to keep discovering others in the wide world of the interwebs.

The rules: the nominee thanks (and links to) the bloggers who nominated them, answers their 11 questions, and then nominates other bloggers to answer a new set of questions!

The Liebster Award is by bloggers for bloggers. The award is a great way to ‘pay it forward’ in the blogging community, encouraging us bloggers to keep discovering others in the wide world of the internet.

Apparently, I have to thank and link to the blogger who nominated me – I’ve managed that above, hopefully – before answering their 11 questions. Then I’ll nominate some other bloggers with a new set of questions. (I’ll apologise for my most likely brainless questions in advance).

Here are my answers then.

Do you still have an item from your childhood?

If they count as an itme, I still have the same hands I had as a boy of about 8, I think. Donald Trump’s got nothing on my tiny hands! Elsewhere, I have my childhood teddy bear, but only because my mother kept it. I genuinely couldn’t tell you what I named it. Other than that, I don’t think I have anything from early childhood. I do have numerous teen items – records, old magazines, football programmes and memorabilia; lots of stuff like that.

Which word of the English language annoys you?

I used to loathe the word ‘guys’. If I heard people referring to others as ‘guys’ I would shudder. It still strikes me as the kind of label that only children’s TV presenters should use. And even then, they should try not to. Nowadays I don’t really mind it. I use it sarcastically at work all the time and only my close colleagues know that I’m being cynical. I’ve still never stood in front of a class and called them ‘guys’ though, however mellow I might have become about the word. Otherwise, words don’t offend me. Words are fantastic, valuable, powerful. But at the end of the day, they’re only words. Sticks and stones are far worse, in my opinion.

Have you ever switched allegiances?

Certainly not that I’m aware of. I really value loyalty. I’m a Newcastle United fan and have been for over 40 years. If you can still loyal to that football club, you can stay loyal to anything.

Do you dislike something which is extremely popular with everyone else?

Oh, how long have you got? It’s not a cool kind of thing; I’m just very sure of what I like. Maybe the most well known one is the band Queen. I’ve never understood the attraction. I have close friends and family who love them, but they’re not for me (Queen that is, not the friends and family). There are a multitude of reasons as to why. The songs are far too overblown and complicated for me. Too much going on. And that stuff where Freddie Mercury just makes noises? I don’t care if the whole of Wembley would sing it all back at him. He’s wrong and they’re wrong. It’s just nonsense for me. Apples and strawberries for me, as well. I’ve rarely disliked anything as much! Over the years I’ve watched people bite into both, heard their noises, listened as they declare how delicious they are and watched what can only be described as their sex face. All for some fruit! Give me a banana any day!

Did you learn a new skill during lockdown?

Unusually for me, I did. Well, sort of. I’ve been learning Spanish, but only via Duolingo. My wife thinks I’ll be able to chat away to the locals when we eventually get back to Majorca, but I won’t. I’m great on the App, but as a quite forgetful person, I imagine if someone starts talking to me in actual Spanish, I’ll just crumble. I’ll have to ask them to do multiple choice drawings or word banks that I can pair up instead. I’ve also learnt lots of new exercises too. So thanks to lockdown I can squat and plank with the best of them! And the final thing I’ve learnt is that if you find a podcast on Google and click play, you can finally listen to podcasts. A revelation to this particular luddite!

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

If we fast forward a few years the answer will be my daughter, who is forever telling me that nothing really matters because she’s going to be incredibly famous. I blame YouTube. I’ve met two icons in David Dickinson and Declan Donnelly (off of Ant and Dec). I say met, I actually just walked past them both, seperately. In all seriousness, I’ve met Paul Gasgoine, who if you’re into football, is massively famous. He started my school’s 75th anniversary cross country race and played football with a few of us beforehand. Ignoring his personal life, he’s the single most talented individual I’ve ever witnessed in the flesh. An absolute magician with a football at his feet. While I remember, I also work with the wonderful Gemma Sinclair, who as we all know is famous for Episode 3 of Educating Yorkshire, the popular Channel 4 documentary. She’s mega-talented and will ‘grapevine’ for you on request if you ever have the good fortune to meet her.

Have you ever been mistaken for somebody else?

I have and nearly all of the somebody elses have all been in some way well known. One is actually mega famous. I can’t remember who I was mistaken for that wasn’t famous. It was just some local scrote. It was also a local scrote that mistook me for a local scrote. Anyway, turns out one didn’t like the other and so when they saw me they threw a snowball in my face, grabbed me by the throat, punched me in the face and told me, “No one messes with the army’s snowballs.” True story. I was probably a good five years younger than my attacker. He was an army cadet. I bet he was cataclysmically disappointed when he later realised that the army didn’t even use snowballs in combat situations. Later in life, mistaken identity was a lot more fun. I was mistaken for a footballer called Paul Kitson at Old Trafford once when I went to see Newcastle play. Kitson played for Newcastle. He was injured at the time. So when I turned up in the bar beforehand the stars aligned and someone thought I had to be Paul Kitson. I was then serenaded with a chorus of ‘There’s only one Paul Kitson’ before people gradually realised that while this was actually true, the one Paul Kitson wasn’t standing in front of them having a pint. Finally, when I lived in Stoke I was mistaken for Robbie Williams at the height of his Take That fame. This one has been a fairly regular part of my life for a number of years and even now someone will tell me that I look just like him. I don’t. He’s chunkier than me and I don’t have any tattoos.

Would you consider plastic surgery?

No. I’m reasonably happy with how I look. I don’t look too weathered for my age and I think there’s a danger of ending up looking ridiculous at the hands of a surgeon.

What has been your most extravagant purchase to date?

I don’t really do extravagant. I bought an expensive diamond ring for my wife when I was going to propose, if that counts. That was when I finally realised I was a proper adult! I also bought myself quite an expensive watch a year or so ago, but to be fair it’s not extravagant. A few months ago I bought 5 packets of Black Jack sweets in Asda because I love them and they were reduced. High rollin’ stuff, no? When it was cutting edge technology we bought a Nintendo Wii simply because we fancied playing on it that afternoon. We were years away from having kids and had a bit of money to throw around! I also bought not one, but two sheds at the same time once. That was probably my Sultan of Brunei moment!

Which law would you repeal?

I’d get rid of the one that says cars can’t use bus lanes. It’s not because I regularly want to use them, but I did once receive an £80 fine for driving in one. I was actually going to give a lift to one of the players for my team and his dad as their car was out of action. The sign that said ‘Bus Lane’ was way above eye level and I actually cut across the bus lane to get on to another street at a junction. I didn’t even drive down the lane! I now have an irrational hatred of bus lanes. In all seriousness, I think I’d repeal the law that sends children to school at four years old. Let them play and just enjoy life for at least another couple of years.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Have more confidence in yourself. Stop thinking you’re adopted; you’re not. Become a teacher as soon as you finish university. Write more. Stay in touch with people properly, especially your sister. Don’t go out with that girl in your first year at university. You’ll know which one. She’s mental. Stop daydreaming.

Here are my questions. Sorry!

  1. What’s your favourite cheese?
  2. What is your greatest regret in life?
  3. What three things would you take if you were to be marooned on a desert island for a year?
  4. Who, in your opinion, is the greatest living human?
  5. What’s your go to karaoke song?
  6. Have you ever heard a ridiculous rumour about yourself?
  7. What are your worst habits?
  8. You have to have a song to announce you into any situation. What’s your walk on music?
  9. What do you miss most about being a kid?
  10. What’s the best thing about being an adult?
  11. Do you have any hidden talents?

Here are my nominees.

http://nufchotspot.blog

http://ourfavouritejar.com

http://thecaskconnoisseur.com

http://geordieoptimist.wordpress.com

http://thebookgeordie.home.blog

http://cashforkat.com/blog

http://theokaymommy.com

http://ourfavouritejar.com

http://bluecollarrising.com

http://yorkienotjustfordads.com

http://rachelfoy96.wordpress.com

Lockdown Literature

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Lockdown should have been a miserable time. If you’d been told that you’d have to stay indoors almost indefinitely because there was the kind of virus that you’d only ever witnessed in the realms of Hollywood and this was the only thing that would keep you safe, you’d have been terrified. As well as looking at the people you’d be living with and wondering which one you’d end up eating first. But then, of course, this is exactly what you were told. (Answers in the comments about who you’ve eaten or are eyeing up for the garlic and herb marinade, by the way).

I’m sure though I’m not alone when I tell you that lockdown has been far from miserable. Yes, it’s painful being away from family, friends, loved-ones and simple normality, but it doesn’t half test your resolve and your sense of creativity. I have two children – a 13-year-old and a 10-year-old – and the challenge of keeping them busy, both with home-schooling and just in terms of general entertainment is tricky to say the least! The challenge of actually continuing to like them has been even trickier at times!

But there have been bright spots and one of which has been the way that people have rallied round each other. Yes, we can’t be together, but that’s not stopped people being kind and resourceful. Some have volunteered and made deliveries, picked up shopping and prescriptions for the elderly or clapped for the NHS. Me? I’ve done some of that and offered my services out even more. However, easily one of the best things I’ve done is to form a Facebook group to help everyone people stay creative.

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Lockdown Literature – although it seems to have fizzled out of late – has been great. It was a group that I started in order to encourage some of my friends to stay creative during isolation and to see what people would write. It would also be another good way of staying in touch. The response across the weeks has been amazing – poems, short stories, life writing, even some literary criticism.

The whole idea came about because a friend had done similar, but with an art group. A bunch of us were attempting to post artwork regularly and as I’d been keen to start sketching again, so it served a purpose too. It was definitely fun. I must admit though, that looking at other people’s art made me feel quite inferior and this played a part in forming the Lockdown Literature group. In short, I knew that I was a better writer than an artist!

Lockdown Literature has prompted me to write some poems. This was something I had last done a few years ago and something I’d considered starting using as part of this blog. Typically for me though, I couldn’t find the notebook containing previous poems. And so, I had to start all over again.

My first idea came when I was pegging washing out on the line to dry. I was looking around the washing at my neighbour’s garden and it just occurred to me that his shed was massive. I was humbled by his shed! And a bit jealous, if I’m honest. So, I finished the hanging the washing out, dashed inside and started scribbling stuff down in my notebook. In about 20 minutes I had a poem and by the time half an hour had passed I’d posted it in the group.

I see my poetry as generally being a bit silly really. I like to try to use humour and to experiment with language, if I can. ‘My Neighbour’s Shed’ was exactly that. Silly, sarcastic and, at times, just me having fun with language. There was nothing here to change anyone’s life, nothing to move anyone to tears…or even think, really! Just an attempt to make people smile.

Since then, I’ve written poems about exercise gurus, home-schooling, nature and Prince amongst other things. And yes, that did say Prince, as in the little funky, purply adorned fella. But, inspired by others in the group, who it has to be said have written with real beauty and maturity, I’ve also written much more personal poems about family, which I’ll be posting in the blog in the coming weeks and months.

At the moment the group seems to have hit an almost terminal low. I’ve continued to contribute, but I feel like people might start to think I’m using it as some kind of showcase soon. A bit of a ‘Hey guys, this is me…’ kind of thing and that would never be my intention. So, I’m trying to come up with ways of getting people interested again, but it’s tricky without appearing to be annoyed at people, which I’m really not. I’d just love to read some more of the poems and stories that I’d read before.

So – and apart from me it seems to be an exclusively female group of contributors – here’s a little push, I guess. Laura – I’d like to see more life writing, Karen, that short story never ended, Ruth, Kath, Kylie, Emma, Hannah and anyone else in the group who I’ve missed, more of your poems, please! I’m clearly pals with a lot of very talented people! I’ve loved reading the things that my friends have written and for a month or so it felt like Lockdown Literature was a tiny force for good. And although I’m sure it’s not the most original idea anyone’s ever had, I’d definitely recommend setting up such a group with other like-minded souls. You could let me know about our own groups in the comments.

It seems appropriate to end with a poem. So, I will! This was a poem I wrote that was a little different from my other ones. I wrote it a while ago now having been forced out of bed by an idea. I knew I had to get up and get some words down on the page. I’m still unsure about this poem, but, as I said when I posted it in the group, it might be apt for the times that we’re all living through.

Happen

Don’t.
Don’t forever wait.
For the right time, the perfect place, the ideal feeling.
Make something happen.

Pick up the phone, write the letter, click send,
speak to him, speak to her, write the song, do the thing.
Make something happen.

Don’t.
Don’t sit on the fence.
Don’t leave it for tomorrow, count to ten, count to a thousand.
Make something happen.

Life will not wait. There is no perfect time.
There is no perfect. The wind won’t change and the cracks in the pavement don’t actually matter.
Before you know it time has flown, things have changed, they’ve found someone else who said or did what you should have, could have…
Make something happen.

Lockdown Literature – my stab at a poetry blog.

 

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Shortly after our state of lockdown was declared I received an invitation to join a group on Facebook. A friend of mine – Helen, an Art teacher – was setting up a creative group for people to post their art work. It seemed a good way to help squash lockdown boredom and I had been fairly keen to start sketching again for quite a while. My daughter is a gifted artist as well, so I thought it would be nice to post some of her stuff. I could also involve the kids through Art lessons during home schooling. So off I went…

A couple of days later and having watched numerous people posting their artwork I had an idea for a literature version of the group. If people were avidly sharing their drawing and painting, surely I could get some to post poems and writing in my own group. After consulting my friend Laura about whether it was a good idea, I formed the group, invited a ton of friends and Lockdown Literature was born.

It had been a while since I’d written any poetry, but the group inspired me. It wasn’t long before I was being kept awake by ideas and lines from potential poems.

It was on the very afternoon that the group was formed, while pegging my washing out on the line in the sun, I found myself staring at the behemoth in my neighbour’s garden. Bigger, cleaner, tidier, better than mine. What I then wrote has no intellectual value whatsoever. There is no literary genius here or any great amount of thought. It’s not any kind of metaphor for anything else, just a poem about sheds and me feeling a bit jealous. The result of my envy – a silly, sarcastic and frankly daft poem – is below.

My Neighbour’s Shed

My neighbour’s shed has electric lighting.
It has those plastic boxes on the wall containing nails, screws, hooks and all manner of shediphanalia.

My shed is packed with football gear.
It’s a mess and makes me feel like a total shed failure.

My neighbour’s shed contains a high-viz jacket.
Placed neatly round he has a vice, a work bench, a grinder, a sander and drills, drills, drills aplenty.

My shed has some shelving full of spiders’ webs, grass seed, wild bird feed and a stain on the floor that’s a bit cementy.

My neighbour’s shed is a hive of activity – just like good sheds should be.
It’s been extended – by him, the smart arse – and it’s made safe by alarm led security.

My shed has bikes balanced on one wheel perilously, a lawn mower jammed underneath a Halfords roof box and it smells of whatever the opposite is of purity.

My neighbour’s shed is a lockdown dream. Clean, ordered and full of interesting tools. The biggest tool in my shed is undoubtedly me.

I hate my neighbour’s shed.

So, there you have it. My first poetry blog. I will post other poems and give people a little bit of insight into what I was thinking when I wrote them. I think I mainly write things that are supposed to be mildly amusing but some are actually quite serious! As for what I’ve just posted, I’d be interested to know what people think, so feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!