Poetry Blog: ‘An Observer at the Theme Park’

This is a poem that I wrote the bones of and then lost in Spring last year. I recently discovered it again when looking through documents on my phone. I was looking for a birthday present list for my wife, which I thought I might have made on my phone. I found it, but I also found some ominous untitled documents. Most were useless, but one of them was almost a poem.

I’d written this while we went around a North Yorkshire theme park on a day out, which for me is an oxymoron if ever I heard one. Unfortunately, I am in no way, shape or form any kind of thrill seeker or adrenaline junkie (what an awful expression that is, by the way). Thus, I found myself standing at the bottom of many rides, rapidly tiring of people watching and running out of the guts I felt I needed in order to tread my book while others queued up for the kind of fun that I didn’t understand. People were beginning to point, children were beginning to laugh…

And so, as far as I can remember, I began to think about how I must look to other people around the park. That is, if they even noticed me. If they did though, I imagined people were nudging each other and whispering stuff like, “There’s that bloke with the book again.” I was also in a perfect position to take note of all of the different kinds of people around the place. Very lonely bored looking bloke here was only one of a ton of different sights and sounds to be had and so my discomfort was eased somewhat by the fact that maybe people had other things to occupy their time. Not wanting to lose any ideas, I started to type them into my phone. Barring a few revisions made when I rediscovered it a year or so later, these notes were what became the poem.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that there can be no lonelier place than a theme park for the man who does not seek to be thrilled.
Wandering aimlessly around in the cold, of this Yorkshire spring will make an outcast out of any man. 
Children's screams far outweigh the fifteen seconds of fear that Andy Warhol might have said we should all experience, 
wasps hang around menacingly, seeking one last victim before buzzing off south for a proper summer, 
and fathers stand stock still, balanced and anchored,
readying themselves for the thump of returning children from rides
with tales of adventures from the moderately high steels.
This is a resting place for cheap summer leisure wear
and incongruously A-list sunglasses,
where gangs of girls from the caravan park roam, arm in arm,
almost identically dressed, looking for the thrill that could be found
either at the top of a rollercoaster or in the arms of a visiting stranger from a far of land in another part of Yorkshire.
A man in camouflaged trousers walks past and I consider 
that with my imaginary special forces training, I may be the only one who sees him.
I wonder if the same applies to me; not camouflaged professionally,
but somehow hidden in plain sight on a bench near a queue,
reading a book like persona non grata in this particular place.

There’s certainly a lot to see when all you have to do is watch! It was a fascinating day in many ways and yet, criminally dull in others. I tried to just be diligent and read my book, as I’d planned. And of course, I did go on some of the rides. I do kind of see the point in them! But eventually my day just descended into watching life go on around the park, hence the poem.

I’d love to read any comments, so feel free to leave them.

Poetry Blog: What next?

About two years ago I started writing poetry. It was something that I’d experimented with before, but never really formally or with any kind of purpose. I must have written poems back in the stone age when I was at school, but would have no written record of such ramblings. And anyway, my school wasn’t the kind of place where a boy wrote poetry, unless he was ordered to by one of the psychotic teachers. Boys did sport, yelled a lot, swore and most likely spat on the ground like their life depended on it. Boys. Did. Not. Write.

Any poetry written in class would be hidden away from prying eyes and mocking tongues. Any hint of a notebook being carried around would provoke instant hatred and could only lead to years of cruel abuse from your peers (and probably even some of your friends).

As a younger adult, I’m sure I’d tried to write poems, but I’m pretty certain that when they existed, it would have been on scarps of paper and that these were long ago confined to the recycling plant.

I’ve never been a confident person. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve learnt to wear a convincing mask in order to hide what is actually a rather crippling lack of confidence. So, although I felt like I had something to say and that I could write, it was going to take a seismic shift to make me commit ideas to paper in the form of poetry.

It turns out that ‘thing’ was lockdown. I was locked down almost immediately once the decision was made. While colleagues stayed in school and battled to keep some sense of normality in people’s lives, I was told that I was vulnerable and had to stay at home. Couple that with a complete failure in terms of remote learning with my laptop and there were a huge amount of days waiting to be filled.

I’d started my blog by then and so was in the habit of writing. As can be the case with me, I wasn’t really in the habit of sleeping regular hours though. And one night, lying awake with words whirling round my head, I realised that I had the bones of a poem keeping me awake. So, I crept downstairs, opened a notebook and wrote a poem; one draft and what felt like no particular thought needed. I don’t know whether it reads like a one-draft-no-effort poem, but it was done! I thought I’d published that poem as part of the bog, but looking back, it doesn’t seem so.

From there I came up with the idea of a lockdown writers’ group – Lockdown Literature, you can read about it on the link below – where friends and colleagues could publish anything they’d written; whatever it took to stave off the boredom of being isolated like never before. Inspired by others, I was able to write a few more poems.

Lockdown Literature

Our Lockdown Literature group made me think about what to do with my poems. By now I was writing them regularly and so, once I’d decided that a) I had the confidence to share and b) I didn’t feel it was too much of a pretentious thing to do, I started to publish some of my poems as blogs, adding a little bit of explanation about the poem and about my thinking when writing it. They seemed to go down well and it gave me another blogging avenue to explore.

Now though, I want to develop things a bit. It’s lovely that people who read the blog like my poems, but I want to really test myself with it and I must admit that I’m unsure of how to move forward. I’ve considered things like poetry competitions, but from what I can see, a lot of them require entries to be unpublished and I don’t really know if my own blog counts in those terms. However, it’s stopped me entering anything so far. It’s certainly something that I need to look into and if anyone has any advice, I’d gladly listen.

Another route I’ve wondered about with my poems is to attempt to put together an anthology, but it’s an area that I know next to nothing about. I realise that I could self-publish, but without adequate promotion, even an anthology is not going to gain any interest. Is it the kind of thing I can send to publishers? If so, how do I group poems and how do I approach agents or publishers? Again, it’s something I really need some advice on, so if you’re reading this and you have any insight, I’d be really grateful for your help.

The third and final way of developing my poetry terrifies me. In actual fact, I’ve only considered it because a few people have suggested it. One kind soul even invited me along to actually take part. What am I talking about? Performance poetry! This is something that I can’t deny tempts me, but despite my advancing years and the fact that I talk at people for a living, the thought of standing on a stage – makeshift or otherwise – in a room full of people, reading out my poems, makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my tummy feel a little bit poorly!

It’s not actually the thought of an audience that bothers me very much. No, it’s more the thought of exposing something as personal as my poetry to what would likely be an entirely new audience. Every day of every week brings an audience of harsh critics in the form of pupils in a classroom, so speaking in front of people is second nature. And not to play the tortured ‘artist’ here, but the idea of reading so many personal words (does that make sense?) and even considering myself any kind of poet, feels very much beyond me.

Still though, I find myself trying to pluck up the courage and find the time to attend such an evening, not as a performer, but as a punter just to try and see what it’s all about. Maybe once that step is taken, I could find the courage to put myself down for some kind of open mic slot. Even typing the words fills me full of dread though, so it would be one hell of a step to take!

So 2022 has to be the year that I trying and ramp up my poetry game. It reality feels like something that could develop and something that I believe in somewhere at the back of my mind! I just need to work out how.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment, especially if you have any suggestions that might help me!

2022: Letters, a gammy toe and a fake adopted cat. My New Year’s Resolutions.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I was reasonably determined not to write something so predictable. I mean, I pride myself on trying to something at least a little bit different and surely every blogger going is banging on about their resolutions? Nothing wrong with that. But I wasn’t going to do it.

And then I woke up just before 3am on New Year’s Day having had around an hour and a half’s sleep. I thought I’d just roll over and slumber on, but no. It’s quite a regular thing for me to get an idea stuck in my head at this time of day and so when it happened this morning, there wasn’t a lot else to do but get up.

I also had a pounding headache, not from the drink I might add. So, I’d go downstairs, have a glass of water and some paracetamol and scribble some things down on a bit of paper. I WOULD NOT stay for long. Just over an hour later and I had written a huge bullet point list of resolutions, a first draft of a poem about resolutions, drank a pint of water, taken two paracetamol and tidied quite a few things away in an attempt to start my resolutions early, even though said resolution (Just pick stuff up, regardless of who left it there) wasn’t actually on my new list.

Here are the results. Some of this is simply exactly what I wrote down, while other bits have been added to because it’s clear even to me that they should get explained. I don’t want people to worry about me. So, in no particular order…

  • Learn to moonwalk. I will study YouTube and then astonish/bore to death anyone within my moonwalking eyeline.
  • Write my YA novel and Christmas story. I started the first of these around this time last year and then ran out of wherewithal. It’s still there, in my notebook and I still like it. It has been a lifelong disappointment to me that I’m not related to Bing Crosby. Imagine the money White Christmas makes every year. My Christmas story is one of many attempts I’ll be making this year to make enough money to speed up retirement. It’s also a good idea, if I say so myself.
  • Research and eat more heart healthy foods.
  • Be a better husband, father, son, brother. There are times when I think that I’m pretty shit in all of these roles. I tried to ring my mam and dad this morning, but they were out. By my estimation, this means that I’m already smashing this one, as the young people would say.
  • Modify my Duolingo use. That’s what I wrote down. I’m not sure what it means.
  • Write more teaching and football content for my blog. These subjects always get more people reading, which fascinates me as even after 22 years of teaching I feel like I don’t really know a great deal more than talk a lot and write stuff on the board. I make a mean display when I can be arsed though. Did I ever tell you about the Andes mountain range that I drew on a huge display board? It was the size of something you’d find in a major art gallery. People gasped when they saw it. I don’t like to talk about it much though…Perhaps I’ll write an epic poem about it…
  • Stop buying crisps. They’re like heroin to me.
  • Attempt to get a six pack – I’ll settle for four – while refusing to give up beer and chocolate, in moderation. Did I ever tell you about my lockdown six pack? Probably not…I don’t like to talk about it much.
  • Speak to people more. People must think I hate them and that I’m just really miserable. I’m not. I’m actually very shy and genuinely can’t imagine that people will want to talk to me. I regularly imagine their thoughts as I drone on about football. As a result, I’ve most likely uttered one word to at least 60% of the people I work with over the last year. That word is ‘Alright?’
  • Play more board games with my wife. She loves them. Be a better husband, see? Seriously, I’m like a freight train once I get going.
  • Mow my lawns more regularly. It looks better and would surely annoy my neighbours, right?
  • Run more. Take part in more races and get back to Parkrun.
  • Amuse myself by telling people I’ve adopted a cat and named it Fellatio Nelson. I might write some spoof adventures of said cat. All because the name amused me. This is genuinely the resolution that kept me awake and got me out of bed, by the way. Some insight into the mind of an idiot there…
  • Make more videos. I created a teacher character called Damian Malarkey in the first days of lockdown. He was the kind of arsehole I really don’t like and as such, made me laugh a lot. My colleagues enjoyed the video and this tells me that Damian deserves another airing. I’ve met quite a few Damian’s in my time in teaching, so I know him well. I also secretly worry that I’m turning into him. For ages I’ve also harboured the idea of videoing myself dancing to certain songs, not because I’m a good dancer, but because it makes me laugh. I do it all the time. I’m like a shit Mick Jagger, I hope. I also mime along to certain songs and have what I think is a brilliant idea for one of these mimes. It’ll no doubt be shit. I’ll laugh though.
  • Start a podcast. I’ve mentioned the idea to my best mate. I repeatedly let him down by floating these ideas and then not being able to find time. I think we’d just chat about middle aged stuff. You know, just moaning and stuff?
  • Get sponsors for a run. Try to raise a silly amount of money. I’ve got a lot of people to be grateful to.
  • Write to the boy I sponsor more often. Over the past 22 years I’ve sponsored two separate children in South America, yet probably only written to them half a dozen times. This is something I hugely regret. (Now you can all join my cardiologist in knowing for certain that I actually have a heart).
  • Make up German words and phrases for things and pass them off as actual fact. “Oh, the Germans have a word for that. Yes, you’re experiencing schencillpumpenhooff.
  • Get my toe treated before it either falls off or I turn into a hobbit or a troll. One toenail is black and has some kind of crust under it. It doesn’t hurt, so what with lockdown conditions and social distancing, I’ve just put up with it. No doubt the Germans have a word for that. If they don’t I’ll make one up for when I go to see the pharmacist.
  • Write a Eurovision entry. I’ve wanted to do this for years. I have the bones of one written down somewhere and it wouldn’t take much to finish.
  • Write at least 2 Christmas songs. One spoof, one real. That second home by the sea won’t buy itself.
  • Start to note down things that pupils and colleagues say. I’ve wanted to write a ‘Things I Heard in Class’ book for years. And boy, do I hear some things.
  • Learn some new words.
  • Invent new words and phrases to impress gullible people with.
  • Use the phrase ‘amuse bouche’ more. I don’t really know what it means, but doesn’t it sound nice? See also words like ‘journey’ and ‘vision’, but only inappropriately. E.g. ‘I’ve just finished reading a book about teaching. I’d like to thank the bedside lamp for all it’s support while I’ve been on this journey.
  • ‘Discover’ new music. Not new like bands containing teenagers, necessarily. More bands that I should know, but haven’t really listened to over the years. I recently discovered James Taylor, someone I’d been fully aware of for years, just by asking Alexa to shuffle some of his songs. I’ve undoubtedly benefitted from this. More please!
  • Stop grumbling at people when I hear them walking past our back fence. Better still, stop this behaviour in supermarkets. Face masks are not soundproof.
  • Write my Diary of a Middle Aged Singleton blog. A spoof, inspired by someone who lives close to us.

The final resolution doesn’t get a bullet point as it is simply to write further blogs updating your good selves on the progress of my resolutions. Some of these are just to amuse myself but plenty of them are deadly serious, which I think is the point of these type of things. In total there are 28 resolutions, plus the promise to keep the blog up-to-date on their progress. I’m genuinely hopeful that I can keep some of them up!

Welcome to The Writers’ Room.

As part of my performance management at work I’ve decided to get creative. I’m setting up an extra curricular writing club called the Writers’ Room. I thought I’d write a post about it just to try out some of my ideas as well as feeling hopeful that those who read might have a few ideas and tips of their own. Maybe writing a post about it might just make sure I keep up the momentum with the idea as well!

A writing club is something I’ve done before, but I have to admit, it’s never been particularly successful as a long term thing. In the short term I’ve got kids together to write poetry for competitions and it’s been really successful, producing some work of excellent quality. However, I’ve never really followed it up and kept a club going for any length of time. I’ve found that kids don’t stick with it either and that’s probably got a lot to do with my own lack of commitment and ideas in the past.

So the aim has to revolve around just that. I set up a group and keep giving them reasons to turn up and just enjoy writing. I’m keen not to get too far ahead of myself and want to just take simple baby steps, so that my students can enjoy what they’re doing, feel that their work is valued and realise that writing things and working through their ideas can be viewed as a far longer term process than it is in a lesson. I’d like students just to come to the club, relax and play around with words and ideas, regardless of how long it might take to complete a piece of work. I think sometimes English as a subject suffers from the fact that we’re pressed for time and writing for a particular all class purpose, so maybe if a group of students realise that they can write simply for pleasure, it might just work.

I have some ideas, both short term and long term. The first thing I’d like to do is give my students a note book and just stress the importance of always having it with them. I’d like them to get used to just writing things down. That might be thoughts, lines for a poem, observations about things around them, ideas for stories, poems etc or even just doodles. I have mine in my work bag, but sometimes, if I’m in class, I might just grab a scrap of paper and jot lines and ideas down. So my notebook is full of ideas, poems and stuff on its actual pages, but also full of scraps of paper, clippings from magazines and drawings I’ve done. I suppose I’ll have to stress to them that they can’t just whip notebooks out in lessons though. I don’t want them getting into trouble!

I’m keeping my eye out for interesting source material – objects that might make my students think or interesting stories from magazines and newspapers. I wrote a poem recently based around the story of Japanese women who were repatriated to Korea many years ago and it would never have entered my mind had I not read about them in a magazine.

I’m also on the lookout for images of landscapes, people and maybe just the types of things that they don’t often see to put together on a wall as some sort of collage, again just for some source of inspiration. I’ll be encouraging them to do the same and make collages that might just help inspire them. It’s an idea I’ve stolen and adapted from my daughter who’s currently working towards her Art GCSE and has lots of collages thrown together in her sketch books. Sometimes we’ll sit and talk through ideas for images to use and – this has only just occurred to me – it could be something I use for inspiration too.

I’ve put together a folder of writing prompts and ideas I’ve come up with and some gathered from the internet and other after school writing clubs too. I’m likely to focus on poetry but I’d like to see if we can write some short stories too. It’s not something I know a great deal about, but I’m hoping that some of my writers will.

I think my main goal – apart from longevity – is to create a place where kids want to be and where they feel comfortable writing and trying out ideas. I’m not looking to go full on modern teacher – you know the type; ‘Hey guys, just call me Graham in here. Mr. Crosby goes home at 2.45…’ – but I definitely want to have the emphasis on the idea of this being a club, rather than an after school lesson. Ideally, I’d love to get to a point where the students just come in and work on whatever it is they’ve been working on, rather than me prompting them and taking control week after week.

The Writers’ Room is something I’ve wanted to make a success of for years, but I’ve always found that teaching gets in the way. Now though, as a very experienced teacher, I feel like I have the time to make it work. And because of my experiences of writing my blog, especially with poetry, I feel like I know what I’m doing a little bit more.

The goal is to have the club up and running within the next month or so and by the end of the year I hope that we’ll be able to publish some sort of anthology so that the work produced can be celebrated in some way. I have to say, I’m really excited about how this could could go. For now though, I’ll try to keep you updated on our progress and hope to have some positive tales to tell. In the meantime, if you have any experience of this type of thing and any tips or ideas to share, I’d welcome the input so feel free to drop me a line in the Comments section below!

Poetry Blog: Rain on the roof

There’s no great mystery about this poem. Quite simply, it was prompted by rainfall on my classroom roof. It’s quite a cool noise I suppose and I think the sight of it and the relief I felt at being indoors and being able to just sit and watch and listen to it, was quite inspirational.

I have what I think is referred to as an outdoor classroom. It’s not actually outdoors, but it’s a stand alone building away from the main buildings of school. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. My classroom is actually known as the ecopod; I think it’s supposed to be eco-friendly, but I’ve never really worked out why. The structure is covered with wood and we have skylights and also movement activated lighting, so I suppose there’s something in the name. That said, because it’s wooden, early on in its school life my room was also widely known as Nandos…

It was the skylights that partly influenced the poem, which is basically about the sound and the sight of the rain during a particularly heavy downpour about a week ago. My class were working and the rain just got me thinking, so I scribbled some lines down on a bit of paper and went back to it later to finish what I’d started.

Rain on the roof

Incessant, unrelenting and blended into almost one wonderful noise,
you set the tone, make me feel glad of these four walls
and the roof above, reluctant to leave and glad of my warm, dry room.
Through the window a filter of unedifying grey
blights the green of fields and trees, makes fools of the eyes,
blurring houses, factories, towns on the horizon.
The vague hope of home is lost in the mist
as the rain plays its song on the skylight.
This will pass before I venture out once more,
but its footprint will remain for hours yet.

The effect of rain on the roof of my classroom always raises a smile. It will always prompt at least 50% of the group to stop working. Next we might get an incredulous ‘Woah’ before finally eyes turn to the windows in order to watch the downpour. It’s as if the rain couldn’t actually be happening if all they could do was hear it! And given that we live in the north of England, where rain is fairly frequent, it never fails to amaze me that my students can be so captivated by something as simple as this and that they see on such a regular basis. That was kind of what I meant in the last line as you can always guarantee that your class will struggle to behave if it’s raining. Throw some wind into the equation and you’ve got a battle on your hands!

From my classroom windows I can see in the direction that I live and am able to spot certain places that I’ll pass on the journey home. It can be a bit of a comfort when I’m having a bad day. And so, when it’s misty and cloudy all of that disappears; hence the line about the ‘vague hope of home’. Strange how such a simple thing can spark so much into happening!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

The BrainStorms Award

I was chuffed to bits to be nominated for the BrainStorms Award by Rachel from the https://jasperdenhealth.com/ blog and I’d definitely recommend that you check our her blog for health and fitness tips. There’s always something intriguing on there; always something to learn about staying healthy.

Rules

  1. Thank the person who nominated you
  2. Tag your post with #BrainStormsAward and follow https://brainsstorms.wordpress.com/ if you’re willing
  3. Display the BrainStorms Award logo
  4. Display the rules on your blog
  5. Talk a bit about your blog, why you started, what you write about and your goal for your blog
  6. Answer the five questions you’ve been asked
  7. Nominate five other amazing bloggers
  8. Ask them five questions

About my blog.

Well, where to start? I don’t have a particular subject matter or agenda that I stick to for my blog. I write about whatever takes my fancy really, although there are regular poetry blogs. Have a look on any given week and you might find posts about sport, parenting, exercise, book reviews or just whatever happens to be making me smile at that moment in time.

I started the blog because I was a frustrated writer. I’ve written a novel – unpublished, so I’m a bit like the LA waiter that tells you he’s an actor – and tried to get into journalism, but never really got anywhere. I set up a blog because I had to have a heart operation and the rest required meant that I had time on my hands for a change. That was three years ago and while growth has been steadier than I’d have liked, people still read the things I write. Some are even complimentary!

With the future in mind, I’d love to see more people read, ideally I’d like to monetise it, but who am I kidding expecting to earn money for the nonsense I write. Further to that though, I’d love to see where my poetry writing could take me.

My answers to Rachel’s questions

  1. What was your favourite experience? As I’m quite old there are genuinely a lot of experiences to choose from. And that’s not me being all rock ‘n roll, it’s just that I’ve been here for a while. If I had to settle for one though I’d go with something travel related. One that really sticks out is visiting the Grand Canyon. It’s a long story, but for the purposes of the post, here’s the shortened version. We flew in, went to a remote ranch, quad-biked deep into the canyon and on the way there had to stop on the trail toto allow a rattlesnake to pass. The cowboys who were accompanying us then proceeded to prod the bush that it had retreated to in order to make it rattle! Terrifying for me, an absolute delight for my thrill seeker wife!
  2. Is there a place you haven’t been to that you would like to visit? So many! Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the Scottish islands, the list might be endless. Narrowing it down to one though? I think I’d say the Canadian Rockies where some of the scenery just looks absolutely unbelievable. It’s always seemed like the kind of place I could go to and never tire of.
  3. Has the pandemic changed you? In a way, yes. I’m even more uncomfortable around people for starters! I thought I was awkward before, but stick me in a place with a number of others now and I’m an absolute shambles. It’s changed my thoughts about the future somewhat. It’s made me realise that we should live in the moment a whole lot more than I’d have ever thought. Not that I’m off thrill seeking all of a sudden, but with my very mild approach, it’s made me think about ambitions and plans and just fitting more into life. Isolation has also made me change my approach to health and fitness and having been so limited about being outdoors for so long, I’ve now absolutely contracted the running bug.
  4. If you had lots of money, what would you spend it on? The sensible answer would be property. A great big family home, with lots of land and outbuildings and stuff, mainly so I could hide, but also some boltholes for family escapes in places like Canada and maybe somewhere in Snowdonia. However, when I’m not being sensible I’m being a complete knobhead so of course I’d spend lots of it on the same stuff I spend it on now; trainers, books, crisps, beer and magazines that I never get round to reading. Lots of money would probably open me up to lots of other ways to squander said money, so maybe I’d start buying artwork or rugs. I’d absolutely, definitely buy a stupid amount of animals – we’ve always wanted to get ducks and goats, but I feel sure I’d be the proud owner of at least an emu and probably a shire horse. Maybe a reindeer or two.
  5. Who do you admire and why? Bob Mortimer. An undoubtedly hilarious man, but more to the point someone who’s made his way in life by just being daft. He admits as much himself. And I think if there’s one ambition that I’ve ever had it’s just to try to get away with as much daft stuff as possible. I have far too many serious aspects to my life, so wherever I possibly can I just try to get some silliness in. Bob came into my life as half of Reeves and Mortimer, so if you’re aware of their act and their TV shows, you’ll know just where I’m coming from. Bob is a man who can break an apple in half with his bare hands and has performed actual dentistry on himself as well as being solely responsible for the character Train Guy. What’s not to admire?

My Nominees

https://smellysocksandgardenpeas.com/ @AndSmelly

https://6in10.blogspot.com/ @WestphalErin

https://liveparentteachrepeat.com/. @LiveParent

https://billswritingplace.wordpress.com @a_silly_place

https://peppervalentine.com/ @peppvalentine

Please feel free to check these guys and gals out. Great blogs and lovely people, all of them!

Questions for my nominees

  1. Could you recommend a cheese to me and let me know why, please?
  2. What’s your favourite quote?
  3. If you could have walk on music, you know for every time you enter a room or your workplace, what would it be? You can mix songs together if you want.
  4. Who would you get to play you in the film of your life?
  5. What were your three favourite things about lockdown? (It’s Ok to say that there were good things about lockdown, by the way. We discovered a house with an entire miniature railway in their back garden that we’d have never known about had it not been for lockdown walks)

So there we have it. Post over. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and if I nominated you, I hope it hasn’t caused the kind of panic that these things always cause me. Breathe. It’ll be OK. I’ll look forward to reading your responses. And if you haven’t been nominated, but happen to stumble upon this post, feel free to answer some or all of the questions in a post or just in the comments.

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.
Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started