The Sloth Diaries: Scorched earth in France

Posted in The Sloth Diaries with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by swordplayer

The Sloth in France:  Scorched Earth

From April to September the rainfall over the Limousin is very sporadic. Day after day of cloudless skies and bright, relentless sunshine bring mixed blessings. It’s wonderful for the sun-worshippers but disastrous for the farmers, the gardeners and the wild life. The carefully tended gardens of the residents of Rochechouart, packed with colourful flowers and blossom laden fruit trees, testament to their love of gardening, were wilting in the unseasonal heat.

In June temperatures soared and the green fields became yellow and parched. Even the birds seemed to be suffering from heat exhaustion and sat, silent and unmoving on the shady branches of the ancient oak trees.
The Limousin cattle stood in groups under the chestnut trees, flies swarming over their eyes. They switched their tails and shook their heads irritably, trying to dislodge their tormentors.  Waves of heat shimmered over the hills. Leaflets from the Mairie were pushed through the letterbox stating that there was now an official water shortage and outlining the conditions of a hose-pipe ban. Ours arrived one morning during breakfast. The Sloth read it carefully, moving his buttery finger under the sentences and mouthing the words soundlessly.
‘Oh well! That’s my giant marrows and tomatoes gone for a Burton’ he growled. ’It says here anyone disobeying the ban will be fined a thousand euros. The Swines!!’.
‘That’s a real shame!’ I ventured.
‘You do realise what this means, don’t you?’ Sloth spread his hands palms up, theatrically.
‘Er…in what sense exactly?’
‘Well, in the sense that if I can’t go on watering our vegetables they’ll just wither and die and what about the competition?’
‘Mmm!  Yes. What indeed?’
‘There’s no need to be flippant!’
‘I’m not, honestly! I know what your veggies mean to you. I’ve seen the work you’ve put in.’
‘Yes!  I should think so! It’s been a labour of love up until now but if we can’t water and feed our plants there’ll be no vegetables to show. This is an absolute disaster!  All that work for nothing!’ he fumed.
I had to admit that it was hard. Poor old Sloth! He had recently discovered the joys of husbandry (and I don’t mean the marital kind), and had lovingly tended his tomatoes and marrows, watering them diligently night and morning. The tomatoes were now enormous and beginning to ripen. Glistening like jewels in the morning sun they peeked out of the glossy foliage. Green and yellow striped marrows lay swelling quietly on their beds of rotting manure. So he was quite justifiably proud. Of course, as all you gardeners know, marrows and tomatoes need plenty of water to encourage growth. So news of a hose-pipe ban was about as welcome as a wet dog in the living room.

Some of the expats in the surrounding villages had got together and organised a little agricultural show complete with horses for show jumping, fine Limousin cattle, a best flower garden and a best fruit and vegetables competition. The local French farmers, who had named the show, ‘La fete de la Courgette’, were already showing a keen interest.  Entries for the best marrows and tomatoes were up too.  Sloth crumpled the notice into a ball and threw it into the bin and pushed his fingers through his hair in frustration.
‘Well that’s it!! War has been declared! My marrows are at a very critical stage now and I have no intention of kowtowing to some faceless bureaucrat in the Mairie’s office.’
‘Yes, I can see that but we don’t want to antagonise anyone – we don’t want be fined do we?’
‘You don’t have to worry on that score. ‘I’ve got a plan.’
‘Oh right! So…..’
‘ So pass me the cafetiere, lovekin?’  He poured half a cup of black coffee into a large blue bowl, and filled it up with hot milk.
‘Well!  What’s this amazing plan then?’
‘It’s simple! I just water the plants in the early hours!’
‘The early hours?’, I repeated stupidly.
‘Exactement! Pendant la nuit! That way the nosy voisins will be in bed snoring off their cognac and oblivious to my clandestine activities.’ To emphasise this point he took a loud slurp of his coffee and licked at the milk moustache on his upper lip.
‘I suppose that could work.’
‘Have faith, mon petit choux. It will work a treat. I’ll start tonight. Anyway, is that this morning’s journal?’
*                   *                   *                 *

July arrived with a fiery flourish of hot, sunny days and warm breezes.  There had already been several small but fierce fires in the surrounding countryside. Blackened patches of burnt grass and charred, disfigured trees scarred the hillsides and the sound of the pompier’s alarm was becoming a regular feature in our otherwise hum-drum lives.

The marrows and tomatoes had tripled in size. Their luxuriant, dark green foliage was in stark contrast with the wilting flowers and bushes and the yellowing lawns in the rest of the garden. Tiny lizards darted across the meteorite stone wall safe in the knowledge that there would be no rain. The Limousin remained in the grip of a terrible drought. This morning, when I came into the living room it was filled with blinding light. Dust motes danced crazily in the beams of the sun’s rays and an itinerant blue bottle buzzed furiously against the windows. I flicked the light switch and the ceiling fan began whirling round. Then I went to the French windows and pressed the button to activate the green and white striped awning. It began its slow descent until it covered a large part of the terrace and gave it some much needed shade. I opened the French windows and stepped onto the terrace. I was immediately enveloped in what felt like an electric blanket on its highest setting! Ignoring the prickling of perspiration gathering at the base of my neck I bent down among the dry, crackling plants.  Some had given up the ghost and just died, while others were hanging on hoping for a miracle. What with the tyranny of the water meter and the hose pipe ban most of the garden had been left to its own devices for its very survival. As I reached out to pull up a dead plant I suddenly felt as though someone was watching me. I turned and straightened up just in time to see the bedroom shutters next door being quietly closed. For a moment I squinted against the sun and stared up at the shuttered windows but there was no more movement. The house stood blind and silent in the heat. Then a tousled head appeared in our window. ‘What’s for breakfast, lovekin?’, called the Sloth, yawning hugely.
‘How do scrambled eggs on toast sound?’
‘It sounds very British ma Cherie, but it’s welcome just the same. I’ll be right down.’
The head popped out again. ‘Have I got any clean boxers?’
‘Have you tried your undies drawer?’
Pondering on the unfathomable mystery of men’s inability to look for anything successfully, I headed back to the kitchen.

The Sloth was seated at the kitchen table wearing a pair of beige shorts (not Bermuda, Grace a Dieu) and engrossed in reading a philosophy tome. For some reason his long shapely legs and finely turned ankles, clearly inherited from his mother, never seemed to get tanned. No matter how much exposure they got, they remained pale milk white. His face, however, was tanned an interesting pinky brown and his sun bleached hair flopped untidily down over his forehead. (He is very proud of his comb-over.) He began tucking into his scrambled eggs and smoked salmon with great gusto whilst continuing to read the book propped up against the salt and pepper cellars.
The doorbell rang. I opened the door and was greeted by the French Parcel Force man wearing a wide grin and a pair of very short shorts. He was clutching a large parcel containing my art materials. With a cheery ‘Bonjour Madame’ he proffered the clipboard for my signature, standing so close to me we were almost touching and I could smell his aftershave. I scribbled my name and then with a wave and an ‘Au revoir, Madame’ he leapt into his van and drove off.
Sloth looked up briefly from his book, ‘Hmm! I can see someone’s going to be busy’
‘Yes! I’m arranging an exhibition in the Hotel de Venezia. They’ve agreed to let me hang 20 paintings in the foyer.’
‘Well felicitations, mon petit choux. I suppose you want me to hang them for you.’
‘You usually do!’
‘ Exactement! So when is it then?’
‘ I thought sometime towards the end of August. I should be ready by then.’
‘Was that the door bell again?’
‘I didn’t hear anything; anyway, it’s your turn to answer it!’
The Sloth lumbered off down the hall and came back with Clothilde and Francois, our good friends who lived down the hill. They greeted us warmly with four kisses, a tradition of this area of the Limousin particularly appreciated by the Sloth when it came to the jolies Mademoiselles.
As usual they came bearing gifts. Francois bought some glass cloches for the Sloth’s tender veggies to protect them from famished field mice and hungry slugs. Clothilde pressed a little parcel of something wrapped in tissue paper into my hand. Two small pieces of beautifully painted Limoges ceramics nestled there. This merited another round of kissing much to the Sloth’s delight.  They made themselves comfortable round the kitchen table.  Francois was dressed for the heat in navy blue Bermuda shorts and a white string vest.  He wore a small grubby white hat crushed down on his grizzled curls.  His bare feet were encased in sweaty trainers. After some ice cold, homemade lemonade and a slice of my carrot cake we went into the garden to admire Sloth’s labours. When Clothilde saw the marrows she was duly impressed.
‘Mais ils sont enormes!’ gasped, Clothilde clapping her hands. Her newly high lighted hair set off her tan and her round blue eyes blinked rapidly behind her large spectacles.
‘Merci, Clothilde’, murmured the Sloth shyly. ‘Tu es tres gentille.’
‘Oui! Absolument mon ami. Felicitations!’ said Francois, clearly impressed with the array of healthy vegetables.
‘I think you will ‘ave much success with theez legumes, you can win with this, no?’
Sloth blushed prettily. ‘Do you really think so? You’re not just saying that?’
‘Mais oui, mon ami, I am saying that. I too ‘ave grow the Courge, er… ‘ow you say, the marrow, no?’ His coal black eyes twinkled and he smiled, showing his yellow, crooked teeth.
‘It ees very beeg’, enthused Clothilde and extended her hands to demonstrate the length.
‘Would you like to hold it Clothilde?’ the Sloth said helpfully.
‘Bah oui, bien sur,’
He lifted it very carefully it into her hands. She hefted it gently, ‘eets very ‘eavy’, she whispered.
‘If only you were going to be the judge at the competition, Clothilde’ said the Sloth longingly.
‘Bah oui!  I would give you ze first prize. Voila!’
‘You are very kind.  I think I’d better put it back in its bed’. He took it from her and placed it gently on the ground. He looked round for Francois and he saw him standing on the raised terrace. He was peering curiously over the wall at Antoine’s poly-tunnel. The flap was closed but tomato plants could be seen pressing their leaves against the plastic. At the side of the poly tunnel laid out in neat rows were some huge marrows basking in the heat of the morning sun.  Francois craned his neck further.
‘ Mon Dieu! Regardez! You ‘ave seen thees?’
‘Seen what, Francois?’
‘Thees erm, ‘ow you say, monstres!!’
‘ Monsters! Where?’
Francois took Sloth’s hand and pointed his finger in the direction of the marrows.
‘Good Lord!! They’re as big as mine.’
‘They are for ze competition’ said Francois simply.
‘How do you know that?’
‘Antoine ‘e ‘as told me.’
This seemed rather a lot for the Sloth to take in.
‘Let me get this right Francois. You’re saying that Antoine is entering the competition for the biggest marrow?’
‘Bah oui, mon ami! Bien sur!!”
‘I’ve never seen him watering them. I wonder how he does it’.
‘At night peut-etre?’
‘Well I’ve started watering my marrows at night. Usually around 2am and I’ve never seen Antoine out there!’
‘He’s right!’ I said. ‘Our bedroom window looks out onto his garden, and yes, we have heard some strange noises but not the sound of water showering out of a hosepipe.’

‘Oui mon ami! I’m agree, it is one big mystere,’ nodded Francois sagely.
‘Or is it?’ said the Sloth, his face lighting up. ‘Maybe he’s got irrigation.’ Francois frowned for a moment. ‘Comment?’
‘You know, a pipe system running across the ground that waters the plants continuously’.
Francois looked puzzled, his agile brain grappling with the translation. Then his puckered forehead cleared and he grinned.
‘Bien sur!  That ees it!’  He flashed a smile at me and nodded knowingly tapping his finger against the side of his nose.
‘It ees the little secret of Antoine, no?’
The Sloth shook his head slowly.
‘Well, well, well! The old Devil. You’ve got to hand it to him. Who’d have thought it?’
‘Comment?’ asked Francois
Sloth smiled down at his friend and clapped him on the shoulder.
‘Never take anything for granted’ muttered Sloth almost to himself.
Francois looked at the Sloth blankly.
Clothilde tugged shyly at her husband’s arm. ‘ We must go now Cherie or Maman will be cross if we are late.’
‘You have reason, ma petite!’ said Francois. The Sloth saw them out and after much kissing and waving they drove off in their little silver car.

*              *              *              *         *

The days passed in a shimmering haze of suffocating heat and with no sign of rain. The sky remained a relentlessly, brassy blue. The nights were the worst. As everyone knows, heat rises so the bedrooms became as hot as a baker’s oven. We opted for sleeping on the sofas downstairs with the ceiling fan revolving slowly, the blades cleaving through the thick, stuffy atmosphere.
The Sloth continued to perform his midnight manoeuvres and went out into the garden to water his marrows and tomatoes in the moonlight. One night however, unable to sleep for the heat, I looked up from my book to see him stamping up the little path scattering gravel everywhere. Clearly all was not well.
‘What on earth’s the matter?’
‘You may well ask!’
‘I am asking. You look as though you’ve lost a pound and found a penny!’
‘Found what?’
‘Oh nothing! What’s the matter?’
’The rose has gone missing from the hose pipe. I’ve looked everywhere for it’.
‘It’s probably fallen under the sink in the shed.’
‘I’m telling you I’ve looked everywhere. It’s gone! It was there this morning because I coiled it up and put it back on its nail and it isn’t there now.’
‘It could have dropped off though couldn’t it? Anyway, you might as well come in now and I’ll make us a drink. We’ll have a good look in the morning.’

Next morning, we searched everywhere but to no avail. It seemed that the hose spray had disappeared into one of life’s black holes never to be seen again. It remains to this day one of life’s little mysteries. Nothing daunted, the Sloth went off to the garden centre in Biennac and came back with a brand new, mega-expensive, rose spray. The nocturnal watering resumed and everyone was happy. Everyone that is, except our enigmatic neighbour, Antoine.

The marrows gloried in the hot sunshine and showed their appreciation by putting on even more weight. The Sloth was ecstatic.
‘Will you just look at those little beauties?’ he said fondly. Sounding, for all the world like a proud parent.
‘Yes, they’re doing really well.’
‘All thanks to my nightly administrations’
‘Was that the bell?’ I asked
Mmm! It’ll probably be Francois. He’s bringing me some fertiliser’
Francois bustled in carrying a bulging Hessian sack over his shoulder. He sat down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs and wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
‘Il fait chaud!!!! C’est trop! C’est impossible!’
I poured cold lemonade over some cracked ice and handed it to him. He drained the glass in three grateful gulps then disappeared into the garden with Sloth to inspect the marrows. I followed them and busied myself dead-heading the roses clinging to the garden wall. I heard a click behind me and glanced instinctively up at  Antoine’s bedroom window. His stern little wife stood on the balcony gazing down at us. I smiled up at her but her expression remained blank and inscrutable.  Then she turned and was instantly swallowed up by the black shadows behind her.
That night was the hottest night we had yet to endure. We left the fans on and lay on the bed only covered by a sheet. A series of sleepless nights weighed heavily on our eyelids and pressed us into a deep dreamless sleep from which nothing could wake us.

We had closed the shutters so we both overslept next morning. The bedroom was dimly lit but the sun was trying to poke its fiery fingers through the cracks. I looked at the clock balanced on a pile of books on my bed side table. It was 8am. Leaving the Sloth to slumber on I showered, dressed and went downstairs. The air felt a little cooler in spite of the sun shining outside.  I opened the French doors and stepped on to the terrace and startled two large doves taking their morning shower in the bird bath. A few tiny lizards scuttled about on the wall. I looked round the garden taking in the tomatoes fruiting heavily on their trusses. Then my eyes rested on the marrows. There was something different about them but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I moved in closer and bent down for a better look. Then I saw that some of them had huge holes in their sides. At first I thought some animal had been making free with the Sloth’s prize marrows but then I noticed some tiny metal fragments next to them. It looked like gunshot pellets. Surely not! I couldn’t believe that someone could take pot shots at some harmless vegetable (and no, I don’t mean the Sloth!!) Who on earth would do such a thing? More to the point, why?
Suddenly I sensed rather than heard something behind me. I looked up at the closed shutters next door. The house and garden were deserted. In that moment, crouching down among the wrecked vegetables, with the sun beating down on my bare shoulders, I realised that someone was desperate to win the veggie competition.  It didn’t take Inspector Clouseau to work it out.  Antoine!!! The Sloth would have to be told!
Poor old Sloth!! How was I going to break the bad news?

As I had feared, the Sloth was devastated when he saw his prize marrows lying wounded on their bed of straw. He let out a low whistle between his teeth. We agreed that this must have been the work of Antoine. He had used a pellet gun to cause the maximum amount of damage.
‘The rotten so and so’ said Sloth. ‘ He must have done this in the early hours. I never heard a thing!’
‘They say that 4am is the time when we’re in our deepest sleep. ‘
‘Well he’s a cunning old fox and that’s for sure’ Sloth stood up slowly, shaking his head. ‘Well there’s only one thing for it!’
‘What’s that?’ I asked
‘You’ll have to help me harvest the undamaged ones and we’ll store them indoors.’
So we painstakingly picked the best of the marrows and wrapped them up carefully and placed them in the warmth of the airing cupboard.

That night the temperature dropped to a more bearable level. The sky cleared and the stars came out to play once more. Exhausted by the heat and trauma of the day the Sloth fell into a deep sleep as soon as his head touched the pillow, but I felt more restless and lay there turning the events of the day over in my mind.  Eventually, I began to drift off but then just before I fell off the precipice of consciousness into a welcome sleep I heard a stone being scraped in the garden. I looked at the Sloth who was lying on his back, mouth open and snoring loud enough to wake the dead. I picked up the flashlight from beside the bed and crept to the window. By the light of the moon I saw Antoine creeping up to Sloth’s prize tomato plants with a large kitchen knife in his hand. I turned the flash light full on his face. He froze like a rabbit caught in the headlights. His upraised hand which held the knife was still in the air poised to strike the hapless tomatoes. I yelled at him angrily. Seeing the game was up he dropped the knife and scrambled over the garden wall leaving behind a gift of one of his dirty trainers. An unlikely Cinderella!!

September surprised us all with its warm golden days but chilly, starlit nights. The day of the show dawned bright and clear and mercifully, without the suffocating heat that had bedevilled the town recently. The Sloth had risen early. He packed his remaining treasured marrows and tomatoes carefully and stowed them neatly away in the boot of the car. Le festival de la Courgette was being held in a field loaned by a friendly farmer. All the stalls were laden with glistening fruit and vegetables. The scent of flowers wafted in the air. There were two large yellow striped marquees. One was to dispense wine and beer to those with a burgeoning thirst and the other was for the judging of the various categories. The Sloth’s marrows and tomatoes had been laid out on the trestle tables inside the judging tents alongside the entries of the other competitors. We walked around admiring the various produce.  The prize marrows took centre stage and lay together, basking in the public admiration. The Sloth was perspiring nervously. The French ladies, led by Clothilde, fluttered round the gleaming entrants in their brightly coloured dresses and shawls, chattering like magpies and pointing excitedly at the giant marrows. They pouted seductively at the Sloth. Their attention put a smile on his face.
Francois arrived cradling a huge orange pumpkin. It was perfectly round and perfectly smooth. It had an unearthly, almost extraterrestrial glow about it. I instinctively reached out and stroked its polished surface.
‘Goodness Francois, what a beauty’.
Francois purred, ‘Bien sur, you think I can win with theese?’
‘ Most definitely ‘ I nodded vigorously.
Clasping it firmly to his chest like a newborn baby he turned and strode purposefully in the direction of the judge’s tent.

Later on , excitement and the warmth of the sun had given the Sloth and Francois a thirst, so off we all went to the ‘refreshment ‘ tent  for a much needed beer or Poire liqueur. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea and the bar was quite busy with crowds of people pressing against the makeshift bar.  Family groups had commandeered the flimsy tables and chairs. The women sat sipping pear liqueur listlessly whilst their men leaned forward, legs apart and hands on knees, talking loudly at each other. Taking advantage of their hot and harassed parents, the children raced around shrieking at the tops of their voices. The elderly sat nodding and smiling benignly.

The Sloth and Francois waded through the sea of heaving bodies at the bar and came back with the drinks and some interesting news. Sloth was grinning in his usual lopsided fashion.
‘What are you grinning at?’
He pulled hard on his beer bottle. ‘Wait till you hear this!’ spluttered Sloth.
‘Oui’ smiled Francois, ‘C’est tres drole.’
‘Haven’t you noticed that there’s no sign of our friendly neighbour or his prize vegetables?’
I looked round again at the milling crowds and sure enough, there didn’t appear to be any sign of Antoine or his wife.
‘So…’ I began.
‘So, Antoine gave his veggies their usual feed, but after three days they turned yellow and died.’
‘Yep! He lost all of his prize marrows!’
‘But how? When?’ I stuttered.
‘It was ze poison’ murmured Francois, a smile curling his lip.
‘What poison?’ I echoed.
‘Well, someone had slipped some weed killer into the water barrel that he kept filled in the barn. He used it to feed his vegetables apparently.’
‘Well,  I never!’
‘You see, the beauty of it was the old codger thought he was stealing a march on us by sabotaging our marrows and feeding his own to triple in size and carry away the first prize.’
‘But someone else had other ideas.’
‘Precisement, ma Cherie’
‘Oui’, said Francois sagely, ‘e ad the coming uppance.’
‘Did they ever find out who it was?
‘Nobody as ze smallest idea. E as much enemies.’

Suddenly the loudspeaker crackled and spat out a distorted voice.
‘They ‘ave judge the legumes’ explained Francois.
‘Right oh’ said Sloth, ‘We’d better get over there.’
Inside the judging tent a group of small, rotund men, perspiring in their ill fitting clothes, were gathered around a gleaming marrow. One of them placed a rosette next to it.
‘Ah! It eez the premiere’ breathed Francois and peered at the name on the entry. ‘and it is you, mon ami! Regardez-vous! You ‘ave won the premiere prize for Le Courge!!’
I stepped up to the table and looked at the card next to the marrow. Sure enough, there was the Sloth’s name with a large frilly rosette next to it.
‘He’s right! Look! You’ve won first prize.’
Sloth gazed lovingly at his marrow but said nothing. A slow beatific smile spread slowly over his handsome face.

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

If you like reading The Sloth Diaries look out for his next adventures in Paris!!

Copyright Rusty Gladdish 2010


IMAGES D’ISTANBUL par Simon R. Gladdish (Traduit de l’anglais par Reine Marie Drury)

Posted in 'Hillimericks', Patriotism and the first amendment, Uncategorized on July 6, 2009 by swordplayer

IMAGES D’ISTANBUL  par  Simon R. Gladdish

(Traduit de l’anglais  par  Reine Marie Drury)


Je suis arrivé dimanche dernier.

Je suis ici depuis une semaine

Et le turc est un code compliqué

Que je ne parle pas sans gêne.

Mon incompétence linguistique

Me cause bien du tracas.

C’est une de ces langues mythiques

Que deviner on ne peut pas.

Malins sont les vendeurs de rue

Qui savent leur avantage

Et les chauffeurs de taxi se ruent

Pour profiter des gages.

J’ai mon guide par écrit

Et j’ai mon guide parlant.

Mais pour renverser ces rôles-ci

Aurai-je assez de temps?

Je pense que j’aurai développé

Une nouvelle paire de poumons

Avant d’avoir la possibilité

D’être compris dans ces étranges tons.


Pour des dirigeants colorés

Il faut se tourner vers l’Est.

Comparer et contraster

Nos chefs occidentaux sans zest

Avec leurs homologues de l’Orient:

Ivan le Terrible,

Vlad l’Empaleur,

Selim l’Irracible,

Saddam le Fou et

Boris le Saoul.

Le prix de la démocratie

Est une éternelle vigilance

Et l’élévation sournoise

De Jean le Modeste

Surpassant Suleyman le Magnifique.


Les flocons mouillés tombent lentement en virevoltant

Comme des derviches tourneurs sans force

Autour des blocs Ottomans

Mais la pression du trafic humain

Et le piétinement lourd des pieds embottés

Leur donne peu de chance de se poser

Ou de survivre.

Ils ont encore arrêté l’eau

Et comme je rentre sans enthousiasme

Avec mon linge sale

Je remarque en face une femme

Lavant ses carreaux

Pour la troisième fois

En autant de jours;

Essuyant consciencieusement

La saleté imaginaire,

Elle atteint chaque coin déjà propre

Avant de raccrocher soigneusement

Ses rideaux opaques mais clairs.


Notre logement est à Kadikoy près des docks.

Il est très simple. Mais en fait, il est dégueulasse.

Il sent l’assainissant et les chaussettes putrides.

Nous n’avons pas de moquette;

Bien que nous ayons un vieux tapis mité au salon

Mais tout est en blocs couleur de sable

Avec rideaux du même ton –

En vogue à Moscou dans les années cinquante.

La grande entrée est joliment peinte en deux tons:

L’un crème tournée et l’autre crotte de chien marron

Avec un accompagnement approprié d’odeur puante.

(Je ne sais pas si c’est le gaz

Mais il y a toujours une odeur tenace de

Choux, œuf pourri, urine et aliments avariés.)

A l’arrière nous avons un balcon étroit

Donnant sur des terrains vagues

Montrant d’importantes fissures près de la porte arrière.

(ça c’est la partie que nous réservons aux visiteurs.)

A ce propos,

Un soir d’été nous avions des invités pour l’apéro.

Tout à coup, quelque chose tomba du plafond

Et frôla mon épaule gauche.

Quand il atterrit, je vis que c’était un bousier

Avec des pinces effarantes

Et une queue en point d’interrogation.

Apres l’avoir écrasé avec mes pantoufles

Et en le regardant de plus près, je réalisai avec horreur

Que c’était un scorpion qui avait laissé une flaque de venin jaune

Sur le sol du salon.

(ça allait bien avec les rideaux.)

A mon avis, les femmes le prirent magnifiquement –

Elles ne partirent pas toutes sur le champ.

Vous imaginez que notre vie sociale en a pris un coup.

(Heureusement nous ne recherchons pas la compagnie.)

La chose la plus drôle,

J’aime vraiment cet appartement,

Je me sens bien chez moi ici.


J’ai passé dix minutes sous la douche

Et une heure à l’essuyer.

Je ne peux m’empêcher de penser

Que ça m’aurait bien aidé

S’ils avaient placé le pommeau

Au-dessus du bac à eau

Au lieu de le placer sur le mur opposé

A une distance très éloignée.


Je me promenai le long du Bosphore

Et achetai une boite de phosphore

Afin d’allumer

La lampe du foyer.

Et quand la lampe fut allumée,

Le mot ‘Kibrit’ j’épelai

Sur cette petite boite de phosphore

Que j’achetai le long du Bosphore.


On peut voir les minarets

Pointus, pointer vers le ciel

Et les bateaux de pêche solitaires et endormis

Tanguer doucement sur les vagues sans soucis.

On voit le tout comme tel

En observant par-delà le Bosphore;

Les fameuses silhouettes acérées

D’Istanbul et ses célèbres Mosquées sacrées.

Le soleil commence à descendre

Enserrant la cité dans un cercle luminescent;

Des puits de rose-corail et de rouge tendre

Défient brièvement le rideau noir d’une nuit d’encre.

Une scène de tous les jours pour un Istanbulite,

Mais une apparition transcendantale pour moi:

Les contours légèrement flous d’un ciel de pépites

Dans les pastels poudreux des délices turquois.


Même la lune

Etait en forme de croissant et pointue,

Couchée sur le dos

Regardant les étoiles

En s’attardant au dessus de la Mosquée bleue.

Il a fallu un moment pour entrer ;

Croiser avec des pièces argentées

Une armée de mains tendues

Avant de nous mettre pieds nus

Pour y pénétrer.

Les somptueux tapis rubis-rouge

S’opposant aux arches bleues, élancées

Et aux dessins délicats

Des vitraux bleu-turquoise.

Les colonnes colossales intentionnelles et majestueuses

Supportant le front noble du dôme;

Les grands yeux des fenêtres hautes,

Puits de lumière artificielle

Illuminant l’or sur le noir sur l’or

Des versets du Coran spécialement choisis.

Moi, je ne suis pas Musulman,

Mais en accord avec Keats:

La beauté est vérité; la vérité est beauté.

C’est tout ce que l’on sait sur terre

Et c’est tout ce dont on a besoin.

IMAGES D’ISTANBUL par Simon R. Gladdish (Traduit de l’anglais par Reine Marie Drury)

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2009 by swordplayer


Je suis arrive dimanche dernier.
Je suis ici depuis une semaine
Et le turc est un code complique
Que je ne parle pas sans gene.

Mon incompetence linguistique
Me cause bien du tracas.
C’est une de ces langues mythiques
Que deviner on ne peut pas.

Malins sont les vendeurs de rue
Qui savent leur avantage
Et les chauffeurs de taxi se ruent
Pour profiter des gages.

J’ai mon guide par ecrit
Et j’ai mon guide parlant.
Mais pour renverser ces roles-ci
Aurai-je assez de temps?

Je pense que j’aurai developpe
Une nouvelle paire de poumons
Avant d’avoir la possibilite
D’etre compris dans ces etranges tons.


Pour les dirigeants colores
Il faut se tourner vers l’Est.
Comparer et contraster
Nos chefs occidentaux sans zest
Avec leurs homologues de l’orient:
Ivan le Terrible
Vlad l’Impaleur
Selim l’Irracible
Saddam le Fou
Et Boris le Saoul.
Le prix de la democracie
Est une eternelle vigilance
Et l’elevation sournoise
De Jean le Modeste
Surpassant Suleyman le Magnifique.


Les flocons mouilles tombent lentement en virevoltant
Comme des dervishes tourneurs sans force
Autour des blocs Ottomans
Mais la pression du traffic humain
Et le lourd des pieds embottes
Leur donne peu de chance de se poser
Ou de survivre.
Ils ont encore arrête l’eau
Et comme je rentre sans enthousiasme
Avec mon linge sale
Je remarque en face une femme
Lavant ses carreaux
Pour la troisieme fois en autant de jours;
Essuyant consciencieusement
La salete imaginaire,
Elle atteint chaque coin déjà propre
Avant de raccrocher soigneusement
Ses rideaux opaques mais claires.


Notre logement est a Kadikoy pres des docks.
Il est tres simple. Mais en fait, il est degueulasse.
Il sent l’assainissant et les chausettes putrides.
Nous n’avons pas de moquettes;
Bien que nous ayons un vieux tapis mite au salon
Mais tout est en blocs couleur de sable
Avec rideaux du meme ton –
En vogue a Moscu dans les annees cinquante.
La grande entrée est joliement peinte en deux tons:
L’un crème tournee et l’autre crotte de chien marron
Avec un accompagnement d’odeur puante.
(Je ne sais pas si c’est le gaz
Mais il y a toujours une odeur tenace de
Choux, oeuf pourri, urine et aliments avaries.)
A l’arriere nous avons un balcon etroit
Donnant sur des terrains vagues
Montrant d’importantes fissures pres de la porte arriere.
(Ca c’est la partie que nous reservons aux visiteurs.)
A ce propos
Un soir d’ete nous avions des invites pour l’apero.
Tout a coup quelque chose tomba du plafond
Et frola mon epaule gauche.
Quand il atterit, je vis que c’etait un bousier
Avec des pinces effarantes
Et une queue en point d’interrogation.
Apres l’avoir ecrase avec mes pantoufles
Et en le regardant de plus pres, je realisai avec horreur
Que c’etait un scorpion qui avait laisse une flaque de venim jaune
Sur le sol du salon.
(Ca allait bien avec les rideaux.)
A mon avis, les femmes le prirent magnifiquement –
Elles ne partirent pas toutes sur le champ.
Vous imaginez que notre vie sociale en a pris un coup.
(Heureusement nous ne recherchons pas la compagnie.)
La chose la plus drole,
J’aime vraiment cet appartement,
Je me sens bien chez moi ici.


J’ai passé dix minutes sous la douche
Et une heure a l’essuyer.
Je ne peux m’empecher de penser
Que ca m’aurait bien aide
S’ills avaient place le pommeau
Au-dessus du bac a eau
Au lieu de le placer sur le mur oppose
A une distance tres eloignee.


Je me promenai le long du Bosphore
Et achetai une boite de phosphore
Afin d’allumer
La lampe du foyer.

Et quand la lampe fut allumee
Le mot ‘Kibrit’ j’epelai
Sur cette petite boite de phosphore
Que j’achetai le long du Bosphore.


On peut voir les minarets
Pointus, pointer vers le ciel
Et les bateaux de peche solitaires et endormis
Tanguer doucement sur les vagues sans soucis.

On voit le tout comme tel
En observant par dela le Bosphore;
Les fameuses silhouettes acerees
D’Istanbul et ses celebres mosques sacrees.

Le soleil commence a descendre luminescent
Enserrant la cite dans un cercle de lumiere;
Des puits de rose-corail et de rouge tendre
Defient brievement le rideau noir d’une nuit d’encre.

Une scene de tous les jours pour un Istanbulite
Mais une apparition transcendentale pour moi:
Les contours legerement flous d’un ciel de pepites
Dans les pastels poudreux des delices turquois.


Meme la lune
Etait en forme de croissant et pointue
Couchee sur le dos
Regardant les etoiles
En s’attardant au dessus de la mosquee bleue.
Il a fallu un moment pour entrer
Et croiser avec des pieces argentees
Une armee de mains tendues
Avant de nous mettre pieds nus
Pour y penetrer.
Les somptueux tapis rubis-rouge
S’opposant aux arches bleues et elancees
Et aux dessins delicats
Des vitraux bleu-turquoise.
Les colonnes colossales intentionelles et majestueuses
Supportant le front noble du dome;
Les grands yeux des fenetres hautes,
Puits de lumiere artificielle
Illuminant l’or sur le noir sur l’or
Des versets du Coran specialement choisis.
Moi, je ne suis pas Musulman,
Mais en accord avec Keats:
La Beaute est verite; la verite est Beaute.
C’est tout ce que l’on sait sur terre
Et c’est tout ce dont on a besoin.

Victorian Values by Simon R Gladdish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 1, 2009 by swordplayer

Victorian Values by Simon R Gladdish





‘Victorian Values’, Simon R Gladdish’s first poetry collection was mostly written in Marbella, Spain. In tone, the poems range from humour to cynicism to naked unashamed romanticism. When it was finished, his wife Rusty pointed out that several of the poems in the volume had a Victorian flavour so he decided to entitle it ‘Victorian Values’ in homage to Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Browning, Rossetti, Shelley and Keats.


For my much-missed mother Enid and my father Kenneth (fellow author), my brother Matthew and his family, my sister Sarah and her family and last but never least, my wife Rusty, without whom there would have been nothing.

Simon R Gladdish was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.
His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.
Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live for years in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.
His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the present British Poet Laureate who wrote to say ‘I really enjoyed the energy of your poems.’ (Despite this ringing recommendation, perhaps it is worth pointing out that the British Poetry Establishment has rejected every single poem that I have ever sent them.)
He has self-published eight volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches, Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and The Poisoned Tunic jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.


Look, I’m a generous host but
You’ve been helping yourself to Bloody Marys
All night long without my permission.
I know because when I woke up this morning
I was itching without intermission.

What kind of a house guest are you?
You’re rude and impolite.
You take without giving anything in return
And then take flight.

I’m growing tired of your softly, softly approach
And the sycophantic way you whine in my ear.
Frankly, your stiletto caresses are bloody painful
And my initial indulgence has given way to fear.

From now on there’s going to be a different regime;
You’ll have to sign the visitor’s book in red ink.
And unless I’m feeling unusually hospitable,
You’ll pay with your life for the next furtive drink!


How can mere words express
The tenderness
I carry in my heart for you?
How can empty song convey
The way
I feel about you?

When cloudlets drift across the sky
And rain descends in droplets;
My thoughts to you do straightway fly,
My muse to rhyming couplets.

And when th’unblinking eye of sun
Makes us our coats to loosen,
I know that you’re the only one
I ever could have chosen.

Until we meet again my friend,
Accept a fond farewell.
The future,
Like a ripening pearl
Contains us in its shell.


The afternoons are worst,
I’m as taut as piano wire;
Tormented by my thirst
And trembling with desire
For something good to happen,
(A letter in the post?)
But fate’s unyielding pattern
Means the faintest hope is lost.
‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here!’
Runs the old familiar phobia;
I speak not of the gates of Hell
But a semi in suburbia.
Healthwise I’m hale and hearty
(Though shrunken by my labours)
I think I’ll throw a party
And invite my grumpy neighbours.
I can’t be bothered to enthuse,
I’m balanced on the brink;
Please God provide me with some news
Or an alcoholic drink!


Why do I cherish the autumn?
Why do I love it so much?
Everything’s browning and hardy,
Everything’s soft to the touch.

Clouds scud about in the heavens,
Leaves swirl around in the air.
Deciduous trees undress in the breeze
While the sun snuggles closer to stare.

Birds silhouette in the branches,
The colours have all become brighter.
The puritanical pine looks perplexed
And pulls his green anorak tighter.

I am hit by a wave of nostalgia;
I wonder just where my youth went.
I console myself with the knowledge
That at least it was totally misspent.

I know why I so love the autumn;
It awakes in me seas of reflection
That crash upon a distant shore
Of slumbering recollection.


Birds are the most privileged creatures;
Proud owners of that for which we long.
They possess the joy of flight
And enjoy the gift of song.

They possess the joy of song
And enjoy the gift of flight.
While humans wallow in the dung,
They soar towards the light.

When I meet my Maker
(If I’m allowed a word)
I’ll plead: ‘Lord, if I must return,
Let it be as a bird.

On second thoughts, make me a man
(If I may change my mind)
I’d rather watch the graceful swan
Than suffer humankind.’


According to St John
When all things began;
The word dwelt with God
And what God was, the word was.
The pen is mightier than the sword
For what is weightier than the word?
Frankly, I believe that words are insubstantial;
Their employment accidental, even circumstantial.
(The motives of the phrasemakers are frequently financial.)
Words are inky splotches which tremble on the page,
A linguistic cage, a literary guage.
But do they ever change the course of history?
Do they feed the hungry or elevate the pygmy?
Do they slake the thirsty or energize the weary?
Do they cure the sick or turbo-charge the quick?
The concentrated wisdom
Of the world’s sublimest sage
On the dusty stage of a bygone age
Means rather less to most of us
Than a living wage.


A walk to the docks.
The sun waves a leisurely goodbye
Then slides behind the ridge.
On the other side of the river
A lighted inn.
I search desperately for a bridge
And eventually find one
Miles along the quay.
I cross and hurriedly retrace my steps.
Inside, a lonely barman
Craving company
Greets me.
I don’t much feel like talking
So I turn away
To the electronic
Glass Bead Game
And start feeding it gold nuggets.
It must feel as sick as the gaudy parrot it resembles
For it greedily gobbles everything
And regurgitates nothing.
The smirking barman grants me a weak watery smile
And carries on polishing his glasses.
It is I who wish to talk now
But I’ve fluffed my chance.
I sit and watch the sluggish river fail to flow
And try to ignore the thin insistent voice
Whispering in my ear:
‘You have been balanced on the wave
And found slanting.’


If there is a more melancholy scene
Than a suburban park
In mainland Britain
On a wet Sunday afternoon
When the grass looks like
And the sky is greyer
Than the grimy slate
On the grim rows
Of surrounding terraces
And groups of grubby children
Are desultorily kicking around
A muddy football
Vainly trying to fill
The cosmic time-warp
Between dinner and tea
Then I prefer not to know
What it is.


The autumn day loomed grand but grey
As we ran towards the races.
I clutched the form-card in my hand
For the hurdles and the ‘chases.

Then I wrote a minor tragedy
Upon a betting slip.
I thought my equine hero
Was perfect for the trip.

But when the race got underway
He failed to do me proud.
He stood upon his hinder legs
And curtsied to the crowd.

After signing several autographs
He sauntered down the track.
He flattened the first hurdle
And threw the monkey off his back.

He turned to bare his yellow teeth
And wink his evil eye,
As if to emphasise the fact
He didn’t even try.

He wasn’t suited to a sport
That celebrates the quick.
The animals that I support
Are elderly and sick.

He never had the breeding
To justify his station.
Now, like the boys at Eton
I’ve had an expensive education.

I’ll have to see my banker
To arrange another loan.
May God bless all dumb animals,
Especially this one!

I think I’ll found a society
And devote all my free time
To encouraging euthanasia
For quadrupeds past their prime.


They say that money talks
And they’re right. It says:
‘I am everything and you are nothing.
You fool. You didn’t think you’d
Have me in your power for long. Did you?
I am desirable,
People dream about me every night.
But I am slippery,
Sparing with my favours.
If I do decide to reward someone,
I present myself by the sackful;
Obscene quantities of me,
Ridiculous amounts,
Way in excess of what my chosen one
Could ever spend or need.
But I’m a bit sadistic too,
When you’re as powerful as me, you can afford to be.
If someone is starving, for example,
I give them a teeny-weeny bit of myself.
Not enough to help, of course,
Just enough to jeer.
As for you,
When you’re huddled, shivering in your garret,
Ransacking your drawers looking for me,
I’ll be warmly ensconced in some thick, buckskin wallet.
And when you’re tramping through the city streets,
Searching for me in the gutter,
I’ll be being massaged by some rich banker’s pudgy fingers.
When you’re as sexy as I am,
It’s almost impossible not to feel a touch superior.
I know you long for me but I’m afraid it’s hopeless;
Let’s just say that we inhabit two separate worlds.’


We’ve had a Tory government
For fifteen years or more
Which struggles to reward the rich
With proceeds from the poor.

Such selfless magnanimity
Merits our support;
Especially on election day
When they’re a few votes short.

It’s not been all plain sailing though
Despite the clear blue water;
The community charge or poll tax
Scuppered the grocer’s daughter.

They made up John, the cabin boy,
(The acceptable face of greed)
When he gets his politics O Level
He’ll be very good indeed.

What’s this I see? A mutiny!
They’ve made John walk the plank!
The poor chap was totally out of his depth,
He should never have left the bank.


We’re old, we’re poor, we’re sick, we’re sad.
Who said life had to be this bad?
We exist like ecclesiastical rats on our meagre money
Whilst the capitalist cats syphon milk and honey.

We’re not complaining we don’t get a sip.
We’ll carry on feigning with stiff upper lip
That we’re living in clover, our cup runneth over
And we’re saving up hard for a day-trip to Dover.

‘Ah but you’re free’ the landlords say:
‘Free to starve and free to pay;
Free to suffer and free to sicken,
Free to feel your arteries thicken.
If life is unfair, it isn’t our fault.
Without inequality, where’s the salt?
The rich toff in his castle, the pauper at his gate
(Everyone must accept their station.)
Wealth comes to all who are prepared to wait –
We till we’re twenty-one and you for your next incarnation.’


I’ve been thrashing around
Like a salmon in a shallow stream;
The only truth I’ve found
Is that living is a hollow dream.
I’ve been drowning like a flailing fish
Fighting for breath;
My search for certainties unearthed
Dragnets, hooks and death.
The salmon gives birth
Then turns up its fins.
Humans pay a slower
Price for their sins.
As I survey graveyards
Human and salmon;
Extinct civilisations
Egyptian and Roman;
I wonder what it really means
To be salmon or human
And I have to confess
That I don’t have a clue, man.
We swim in schools of ignorance
And sink beneath suggestions.
We never know the answers
Or even the questions.


In the long run
We are all dead.
There’s a conundrum
To ponder in bed.

For a short space of time
We pace the earth’s crust.
Then it’s ashes to ashes
And dust to dust.

Compared with the cosmos
We’re laughably small.
The astonishing thing
Is that we’re here at all.

Some, fearing extinction,
Seek gods to anoint
But making up idols
Is missing the point.

Our deities mock us,
Our nightmares torment us.
That life is a farce
Is the only consensus.

In the long run
We are all dead:
A puzzling conundrum
To ponder in bed.


Spread-eagled on the hillside
Like a sphinx about to roar;
Even among the heathen
You inspire a certain awe.

Your cantilevered majesty
Unveils the mason’s art.
You are the city’s sanctuary,
Its nucleus and heart.

The sandstone that composes you
Is honey on the comb.
When I step inside your portals,
I feel that I’ve come home.

Contemporary architecture
Makes comparisons seem cruel.
Contrasted with our concrete blocks
You are a precious jewel.

I’m glad that once there lived a race
Of builders who believed.
You stand as a memorial
Of what can be achieved.


They never arrive together
And leave nothing to chance.
They sit at separate tables
And deny romance.

Their cover would be perfect
Were it not for the occasional glance,
And the day I saw them in the cinema
Holding hands.


My poverty precludes the prospect of a family,
My skeleton shall be my soul remains;
When I worked with Stanley at the factory,
He warned ‘Don’t let your instincts rule your brains.’

I followed his instruction to the letter
And waited for my lifestyle to improve;
But waiting didn’t make things any better
For money proved illusory as love.

Now I’m at the zenith of my years,
Behind me little and before me less;
I’m still a prey to phobias and fears,
A pawn within a life-size game of chess.

It doesn’t matter what you think or do or say,
You can’t escape the hammer blows of fate;
Some dine on pheasant every other day,
While others eye the contours of an empty plate.

Some settle down to sleep in satin sheets
While others toss and turn on city streets.
O favoured sons and daughters of Design,
Which of you dares to swap your lot for mine?


In the first part of the dream
I was climbing a giant tree.
I suppose I was expressing
A longing to be free.

In the second part of the dream
I was admiring a work of Renaissance art.
The colours were magnificent
Though the painting was still wet.

It was twice as long as it was broad
And lying on the floor.
It was like a Bronzino masterpiece
With herald angels round the border.

Then I was in a medieval town,
Inside a stranger’s house.
I was trying to tidy up the lounge
When distracted by my spouse.

Some friends of ours came visiting;
Aged Donald and youthful Sonia.
They spent the whole day making love
Though they barely knew each other.

Eventually I took Donald home
Because he wanted to travel to France.
He needed some French currency
And requested an advance.

The streets were narrow, cobbled and steep;
The church had a twisted steeple.
The locals seemed to consist of dwarfs
And profoundly peculiar people.

It all got a bit too much for me
So I dived into a tavern.
I collided with the fruit machine
And the jackpot descended like manna from Heaven.

I woke up shortly afterwards
Rubbing my bleary eyes.
If anyone can decode this dream,
I’m prepared to offer a prize.


Hooray for the middle classes!
They’ve got off their well-padded arses
And abolished
Stupidity and starvation.
Now when their kids are painfully thin
Or can’t read or write
We’re offered the explanation:
‘Matilda’s anorexic
And poor old Matthew’s totally dyslexic.’


My friend Sean’s a bugger.
When I handed him a mug
Of scalding tea
(Handle towards me)
He cursed and almost dropped it.
‘Too hot?’ I enquired.
‘What?’ he replied,
‘Nah, not enough sugar.’


I thought I saw a grubby kid
Rolling up our lino.
I looked again and found it was
The lid of our piano.

I thought I saw a daffodil
Dancing on a chest.
I looked again and found it was
A compass pointing west.

I thought I saw a vast amount
Of freshly minted money.
I looked again and found it was
A jar of mouldy honey.

I thought I saw a porcupine
Asleep upon our chair.
But when I looked a second time
I found it wasn’t there.

I thought I saw an albatross
Encircling my head.
I looked again and found it was
Exactly what I’ve said.


When I went away to college
To amplify my knowledge
I lived on bread and porridge
For a whole long year.

The professor’s name was Skerrit,
A man of very little merit
Who used to keep a ferret
In his underwear.

He said: ‘We offer anthropology
With ancillary archaeology
And molecular biology
For the genetic engineer.

But what we really want are rowers,
Javelin and discus throwers,
Horn and trumpet blowers,
Do you volunteer?

Come and see me after matin,
We’ll translate a bit of Latin,
Why your skin’s as smooth as satin –
My dear.

Our proclivities aren’t fenian,
American or Armenian,
Although they have been called Athenian –
Do I make my myself clear?

We’ve a cellar full of port,
Wines of every different sort –
Vintages which can’t be bought!
Would you like a beer?

I can tell just from your greeting
That you’re Winchester or Eton
And your father is a mason –
You need have no fear.

In the mornings you’ll read Kipling,
In the afternoons go swimming.
You won’t be bothered by young women –
There aren’t any here.


Today I threw a song away
Which cost a month of labour.
Although I worked the thing like clay,
‘Twas not a work to savour.

I hope for fairer fate next time
I have poetic session;
The seamless match of rhythmic rhyme,
Perfection of expression.

Some cite inspiration, others work;
But I know the true reason.
It basically comes down to luck,
The mood, the muse, the season.

I think I’ll put aside my pen
Before my thought grows coarser;
And hand you on to greater men
Like Tennyson and Chaucer.


Is it the Rock Star’s destiny
To be a billionaire?
Is it ours to be sucked into
A vortex of despair?

Is it the Film Star’s fortune
To be as rich as teak?
While others have to face the fact
They won’t survive the week.

Is it the Supermodel’s beatitude
That swells her bank account?
It’s bound to change your attitude
When you’re ‘earning’ that amount.

Let’s not forget the landowners
Who don’t let you and me
Set foot upon their huge estates
Or enjoy the scenery.

I’m reminded of Boethius
Whose words are true indeed:
‘Nature is satisfied with little
But nothing satisfies greed.’

If these celestial superstars
Gave something to the poor;
Just think how many human beings
Could have a little more.

The wheel of fortune used to turn
With a reassuring click.
A favoured few found wealth to burn,
The rest of us felt sick.

Now inequality is so entrenched,
Most cannot change their luck.
I think that in the seventies
The wretched wheel got stuck.

In Britain nearly all the wealth
Is held by five per cent.
In Heaven, so I read somewhere,
There’s a different arrangement.


Mary had a little lamb,
She named him Jesus Christ.
Everywhere that Mary went
The goods were overpriced.

Mary’s Son became a man
Who started to declaim:
‘Unless you hear the word of God,
You’ll have yourselves to blame.’

Jesus preached wherever he went
To prostitutes and thieves:
‘Unless you manage to repent,
You’ll fall like autumn leaves.’

The Jews found Christ a nuisance
So they nailed him to a tree.
(You’ll have to read the gospels
For the authorised biography.)

Let’s set aside all differences
And learn to work together;
Though I’m a member of a different tribe,
I recognise my brother.

You were born inside a stable
And in a manger laid.
A silver star stood overhead
Whilst kings and shepherds prayed.

Your father was a carpenter,
Your mother was a virgin;
Your followers were fishermen
Who cast their nets for sturgeon.

You’re Alpha and Omega,
The first born and the last;
The captain of the ship of faith,
The deck, the sails, the mast.

Remember how on Noah’s Ark
You salvaged eight or seven?
Let’s climb aboard our fragile bark
And steer a course for Heaven.


In Andalucia you will see
An orange tree in every square.
At dusk its tangy fragrance
Invigorates the air.

Fresh fruit is firm and tempting
Inviting you to eat.
However you’ll discover
It is anything but sweet.

It tastes as bitter as wormwood
And sour as the devil’s sweat.
Those who have managed more than one
Have not recovered yet.

The moral here is crystal clear
And not confined to Spain.
Free lunches are inedible
And poverty is pain.

How long, how long in infinite vain pursuit
Of this or that free orange or grapefruit?
Unless we pay the supermarket tag,
We sadden after none or bitter fruit.


When I re-read my early work,
I shake my head in mortal shame.
The best of it stands up quite well,
The rest of it completely lame.

I’m tempted to scoop up the runts
And hurl them on the hungry fire;
To build a paper pyramid
And set alight a funeral pyre.

But some force always makes my hand
Return them to the folder.
(It’s difficult to understand;
Perhaps I’m simply getting older.)

Burning the offspring of my brain
Would be a body blow.
So what if they are halt or lame,
What father treats his children so?

Tapestry weavers on the loom
Of language working late at night
Can always find a darkened room
To hide their failures out of sight.


I woke up this morning
And decided to stay in bed.
I’ve got this throbbing threnody
Echoing inside my head.
Someone call a doctor
To see if I’m alive or dead.
Either way I’ve got the blues.

I stagger over to the mirror;
Bloodshot eyes return my gaze.
Puffed up like a pillow,
I barely recognise my face.
Last night was a killer,
You can end your life in various ways.
Anyway I’ve got the blues.

I fumble for the radio,
I need a soothing symphony,
Heavenly choirs to sing to me.
Come on, where are you channel three?
What’s this mocking cacophony?
Somebody’s got it in for me.
Now I’ve really got the blues.


When I met you I was lonely and dirty
But in those days I was only thirty.
I still don’t understand
Why you took me by the hand
And led me homewards
To my motherland.
Many thought I was mad or bad,
You realised I was merely sad.
You recognised my sorrow
And gave me a tomorrow
Together with a roof
As a tangible proof
Of your uncomplicated love for me.
The hope which was about to evaporate
Condensed and changed my attitude.
I was so overwhelmed by gratitude
That I may have forgotten to say
Thank you.
If I did, I say it now:
‘Muchisimas gracias amiga mia;
Te quiero ahora y para siempre.’


Imprisoned in my attic,
I’m measuring the static.
The warnings are sporadic,
But none the less emphatic.

I can hear which way the wind’s blowing,
I can see the writing on the wall.
I sit and watch the river flowing
And I know a hard rain’s going to fall.


I walked along the lonely brow
Of our favourite hill.
I saw the farmer with his plough,
The miller with his mill.

I saw your face etched on a cloud
(It was definitely you.)
My surprise was such, I cried aloud,
Transported by the view.

But you’re no longer with me now,
We’ve gone our separate ways.
You’ve left me with the problem how
To endure my endless days.


Last night I had a curious dream
As I lay on my own.
You were quoting poetry at me
Down a black old-fashioned telephone.

I couldn’t understand a word,
(Your voice was none too clear.)
When I asked you who the author was,
You claimed it was Shakespeare.

In future when you contact me,
Please will you stick to prose.
A rose by any other name
Becomes a rambling rose.


When the good Lord devised the earth,
With land and sea around its girth,
He chuckled in his glacial mirth:
‘I’ll give people something to remember,
I’ll create an elaborate torture chamber;
Ostensibly delightful
But really rather spiteful.
I’ll introduce famine, pestilence, disease
In addition to lush meadows and green trees.
Hatred, war and blood-shed
As well as fishes on the river bed.
Terrorists, bastards, fanatics
Mixed up with mystics, saints, ecstatics.
Suffering, hopelessness, despair
In landscapes verdant, soft and fair.
But the cream of the joke
Is that I’ll write a boring book
Ordering my creation
(Plus all of their relations)
To bow done (wait for this) in gratitude
And worship me and me alone.
And when the planet is destroyed
And the rivers run with blood,
I’ll smile and say ‘I told you so!
That’s why I sent the flood!’
And when poor disembodied souls
Come hammering at my door,
I’ll tell them all to go to Hell –
That’s what I made it for!’


I built my house on shifting sand
And became a poor man in the land.
My wife said she’d outgrown me;
My kids didn’t want to know me.

Blood is thicker than water but water’s pretty thin.
Was I paying the price of poverty or the penalty for sin?
In the game of life, if you lose the prize
You wind up strangled by family ties.

God’s a capitalist. That’s for sure.
He gives to the rich and takes from the poor.
The Bible’s full of promises
But life’s just filled with compromises.

Am I bitter? You bet I am.
I feel like a strawberry in a jam.
I feel like a can of rancid ham.
I feel like a sacrificial lamb.
I feel like the track underneath a tram.
I feel like a baby in a pram
Careering down a mountainside.
I don’t know whether to scramble out
Or hide my face beneath the covers
And dream of other lovers.


I’ve been feeling a little flat lately,
Touching all the walls.
Peering through the window,
Examining my balls.

Waiting for the sun to sink
Like a chastised child.
Re-reading the Bible,
Gentle Jesus meek and mild.

Fighting a miasma
Of impotence and hate;
Dancing with chimeras,
(Where are you Terry Waite?)

Lying on my iron bunk,
Staring at the ceiling.
Listening to leaden music tapes,
Devoid of any feeling.

Still I’m not downhearted
Despite the things I’ve said.
Although my life’s just started,
Tomorrow I’ll be dead.

Roll on death and greet me,
I wait with open arms.
Do not try to cheat me,
I know about your charms.

You taste as sweet as honey
That lingers on the tongue.
You can keep your money –
I’m waiting to be hung.


The poor are ignored by the rich,
The sane turn away from the mad.
The healthy recoil from the sick
But the good have to live with the bad.

The old are despised by the young,
The black are enslaved by the white.
The beetle rotates in the dung
As the daylight surrenders to night.

The people elect their oppressors,
The prisoner and jailer embrace.
The tyrant selects his successors
Whose features resemble his face.

Depression gives way to despair;
We need Sherlock Holmes on the case.
Why is humanity inclined to insanity
And did guns start the human race?

The earth is engulfed by destruction;
Mankind is destroyed by the fall.
Phosphorescent earthquakes
Make the firmament shake
Till a stillness saturates all,
Except for an echoing whisper:
‘This is the way the world ends,
First with a bang, then a whimper.’
Whilst on the dead ether
Comes drifting the sigh:
‘Man, that was just like the fourth of July!’


The rational thing to do
Would be to shoot myself.
But as David Hume pointed out,
Reason is and always will be
The slave of passion.
Smug, Tory, atheistic Edinburgh free-thinker,
I owe you my life!
(I don’t know whether to thank you or not.)
If we meet beyond this veil of tears,
I’ll order you a whisky and soda.
You can pay for it
With the royalties from your
‘Treatise of Human Nature’.
To quote from your fellow Scottish philosopher
Ian McCaskill,
We must be moderate or good.
He never said anything
About being generous.


My life has been a fairy tale,
It’s certainly been grim.
I fell into the well of fate
And found I couldn’t swim.

The well was dark and desolate
And full of scrambling rats,
Scurrying like bookies’ clerks
To avoid the cats.

The cats were miserable as sin
And cursing those who threw them in.
Their eyes resembled smouldering coals
From the fire of human souls.

I begged the Lord to set me free
And not to let me drown.
The bats were black as they could be
And hanging upside down.

I know I’ve been a sinner
And that my sins are grave,
But You who made the universe
Can also my soul save.

I’m wiser now but sadder
And running out of hope.
Please throw me down a ladder
Or just a threadbare rope!

Lord, I didn’t mean it!
Please let me try again.
I long to breathe unfetid air
And rejoin the world of men.

To fret about our destiny
Has been a waste of time
Ever since emerging
From the primordial slime.

We live, we die, who gives a damn?
Except our next of kin;
But just in case there is a God,
Let’s keep away from sin.


‘Hell is other people’
Wrote Jean-Paul Sartre.
My fraternal French philosopher
How right thou art!
Perhaps you should have mentioned
That it’s also poverty;
A grinding-down as constant
As the force of gravity.
Hell on earth began
When money was invented;
The silver coins were minted
And the pretty notes were printed.
Judas bartered in the garden
Then for mercy tried to beg.
He paid with his immortal soul;
(We limped off with an arm and a leg.)


Today, on TV, I saw one snake eat another.
Their colouring suggested
They were cousins more than brothers.
The diner was dusty brown and striped;
The dinner was green as grass and well spotted.
The brown snake began with the other’s head
Swallowing it in one swift, sudden movement;
And then the body followed suit,
Inch by quivering inch.
It was an interesting philosophical conundrum
Whether the interior snake was wearing the exterior
Or simply being digested by it.
Judging by the reptilian satisfaction
On the suffocating, dislocated features of the stripy serpent
And the glint of triumph in its glassy eye,
It was enjoying the encounter more;
But not by much
(About a neck, I’d say.)
Besides, by now I couldn’t see the other’s face,
Only its sinuously trembling tail…
It should really have shed its scaly skin
Before feeling it dissolve in an acid bath
But when you’re caught with your fangs down,
You’re beyond help.
(No time for goodbyes, let alone wills.)
Still, fascinating stuff;
I just wish I hadn’t had my mouth full.
The nightmare sight of travelling, unravelling alimentary canals
Desperately devouring each other
Does somewhat dull the appetite.
In fact,
To get any lower,
You have to turn to human beings.


Sometimes I feel like
I’m under a curse.
I could have done better
And I could have done worse.

I could have done worse
But I might have done better.
Fortune seems to favour
The jet-setting go-getter.

Bob Dylan said ‘Choose
Fortune or fame.
Either way you’ll lose;
Neither’s what they claim.’

W.H. Davies said
‘Stop, stand and stare!’
He was a pauper,
Dylan a billionaire.

W.H. Auden
Was pretty good
About switching off the stars
And sweeping away the wood.

William Butler Yeats
Was a bit of a berk
To suggest that we perfect
Our life or our work.

I’ve spent too much time
Perched on my arse
Watching paint dry
And the growth of the grass.

I’m not complaining
That nothing’s gone right.
I go to bed in the morning
And get up at night.

When I feel restless
I bounce my ball
In the back garden
Against the shed wall.

When I feel sad
I pause to think
And if things are really bad
I’ll pour a drink.

When I feel lonely
I’ll phone a friend.
If no one answers
Then I’ll just pretend.

When I feel bored
I’ll borrow a book
And peruse a few stanzas
Beside a babbling brook.

Each evening I pray
For the Lord to deliver.
I’ll be dead one day
And it’ll all be over.

St Peter will say
‘Let the last be first!
Son, you should have done better
But you could have done worse.’


The noise of the storm
Turns the mucousy worm
In the moist earth.
The Donner und Blitzen
Startles the vixen
Damply giving birth.
The might and the main
Of the storm-driven rain
Whiplashes the plain
With a thunderous refrain.
It’s far heavier now;
Its repetitive thud
Unsettles the cow
Consuming the cud
Cankered over with mud.
The flowers rejoice,
Recognising the voice
Of the hammering, sheeting,
Metronome beating,
Savagely sleeting,
Juggernaut rain.

(In memory of Kate de Pulford)

Goodbye, dearest Kate,
What can we do?
Nobody dreamed
This would happen to you.

You cycled to work
Trusting to luck
But your bike was no match
For a twenty ton truck.

The paramedics worked hard
To prolong your survival;
They laboured in vain,
You were dead on arrival.

You went straight to paradise
When you left here.
A spirit like yours
Could not disappear.

At the risk of a cliché
(Which in your case is true.)
This world was not woven
For someone like you.

We’re so glad we met,
You had so much to give;
We’ll never forget you
As long as we live.


You don’ wan’ no weak woman;
You wan’ a strong woman.
Strong enough to carry home
All de heavy shoppin’.

You don’ wan’ no thin woman;
You wan’ a fat woman.
One who know how to cook
Roas’ beef an’ yorkshire puddin’.

You don’ wan’ no pretty woman;
You wan’ an ugly woman.
Dat way she always grateful
An’ she never deceive you.

You don’ wan’ no young woman;
You wan’ an old woman.
Dat way she know how to run de house
An’ enjoy a good pension.

You don’ wan’ no intelligent woman;
You wan’ a stupid woman.
Dat way she don’ question
Why she doin’ all de work.


When I was younger my muscles were taut,
My limbs were well sculpted and lean;
As I get older, the changes unfolding
Are bordering on the obscene.

My body’s suffered serious wear and tear,
My spirit has followed suit
And although I’m increasingly inclined to prayer,
I’m becoming as bald as a coot.

The worst thing of all is that I’ve run to fat,
My thighs are now rubbing together;
My jowls would look good on a diplomat
And my skin has the texture of leather.

My sight is quite misty; my thoughts rather dim,
I’m consistently short of breath.
In fact my aspect has grown so grim,
I’m no longer afraid of death.

Hector, my doctor, is unsympathetic
And barks in his German syntax:
‘My friend it is all part of ze getting-old-process,
I sink zat you ought to relax!’

My eyes are baggy; my flesh is saggy,
I’m a canvas for varicose veins.
I’ve also become the reluctant recipient
Of innumerable unspecified pains.

My bones are aching; my heart is breaking,
My reactions are terribly slow.
All I have left is my sense of denial
Which I hope will be last to go.


My friend Denise had a brilliant wheeze
For shifting a bit of her blubber.
She rode to work on an exercise bike
And became a weight-watchers clubber.

Pills and Slimfasts, laxative blasts,
On any gimmick she’d pounce.
I have to confess that it seems to be working –
She’s succeeded in losing an ounce.

With progress like this, the sheer self-denial
Into insignificance pales.
She’s now saving up for a distorting mirror
And a set of industrial scales.

Good Luck Denise! We all wish you well!
You know, fat or thin, I’m your friend.
Although I know that you’re going through Hell,
You’ll be a string-bean in the end!


The rich dread dying
Because they’ve got so much to lose;
Their mansions and their palaces,
Their glossy Gucci shoes.
Their houses and their horses,
Their butlers and their wives;
The solid-silver coffee spoons
They’ve used to measure out their lives.
Their paintings and fine furnishings
Imported from afar,
Their Pollocks and Picassos
And expensive objets d’art.
Their power and their influence,
Their restaurants and their clubs,
Their so-obliging prostitutes
And charming country pubs.
Their hunting, shooting, fishing,
The retriever at their feet
And their neighbour’s nubile daughter
Whom they’ve just arranged to meet.
Their Rollers and their Daimlers,
Their Bentleys and their Jags
And their fatuous silly features
In the sycophantic mags.
(And visits up to London
When ‘funds are rather low’
For some brisk insider dealing
With ‘a friend who’s in the know.’)
They’ve got to leave the lot behind
(No hand-luggage allowed)
When they trade their frayed Armani suits
For a new Versace shroud.


When I was knee-high to a fly
I used to spend hours on end
Standing on the landing
Eavesdropping without stopping
My parents’ living-room murmuring
Beside the dying fire;
My father’s low drone
Playing tennis with
My mother’s mellow tone
At least an octave higher.
Although my mother’s time has gone
Those intimate echoes linger on.
When I too flee this vale of tears,
Their voices will still fill my ears.


Andromeda is Heaven’s daughter,
Cygnus is her swan.
Aquarius holds water
But Aries rushes on.

Bootes is a herdsman,
Auriga a charioteer.
Canes Venatici are hunting dogs
Just in case you appear.

Camelopardalis is a deserted ship,
Cancer is a crab.
Canis major and minor are dog Latin;
Aldebaran is Arab.

Capricornus is a sea-goat,
Cetus is a whale.
Berenice’s hair needs Berenice’s comb
And Libra tips the scale.

Corona Borealis is the Northern Crown,
Corvus is a crow.
Sagittarius the archer who shot him down
With Sagitta, his arrow.

Draco lines his maidens up
But Delphinus is a dolphin.
So Crater remains an empty cup
And Virgo stays a virgin.

Equulus is a half-grown horse,
Gemini are twins.
Hercules is strong, of course,
And dominates the Lynx.

Hydra the winding water-snake
Longs for Eridanus the river.
Leo the lion and Lepus the hare
Look up at Lacerta the lizard.

Lyra plucks her seductive lyre
To Monoceros the unicorn.
From Orion’s waist hangs a hunting belt
And from his heel a Scorpion.

Pegasus is the horse with wings,
Pisces the dreaming fish.
Scutum Sobieski is Sobieski’s shield
Beyond reach of Perseus.

Sculptor is ambidextrous,
Sextans is his sextant.
Aquila is the eagle
Encircling the serpent.

Vulpecula is a crafty fox,
Ursas major and minor are bear.
Taurus the bull bodes rising stocks
And Triangulum is not square.


I don’t want to listen
To your pointless twitter,
Your emotional litter,
Your tedious squitter
Or your nervous titter.
I know that you feel bitter
Alone in your bed-sitter
In the centre of Exeter.
But I’m no arbiter,
Comforter or Presbyter
And your non-sequiturs
Make me jitter
For a litre of bitter.
I quite like the taffeta
You bought from the outfitter
(It’s a potent transmitter
Of your total lack of glitter!)
Per capita,
You’re the dullest rabbiter
This side of Sagitta
(You have no competitor.)
Look, I’ve got to read the gas-meter
And then see my solicitor
Before travelling to Jupiter.
I’m no counterfeiter,
Saccharine-sweet sitter
Or patient interlocutor;
More a rapid exiter
(I prefer the perimiter.)
You’re a heavy hitter,
A cerebellum splitter,
A fratricide committer,
An equanimity quitter.
Why can’t you embitter
The needle-clacking knitter,
The monitor or janitor
Or even the sub-editor
Instead of this poor crittur?



S ilently still, they twinkle against the black.
T rillions of miles away, they look microscopic.
A imlessly they hang in the sky.
R ays hit the earth but there is no light.


R acing down the sides of obstacles.
A drop races for all it is worth to beat another.
I watch from inside a stuffy house.
N o-one stirs.


F ascinating creature jumping on his strong hind limbs.
R ocking gently on a large stone.
O ccasionally giving a flip to satisfy himself he’s still awake.
G uiding his beady eyes along his surroundings.


T owering high above the world.
R ising every year another six inches.
E arnestly I gaze up at its branches.
E ndlessly the network of branches goes on.


A nother tiny insect reaches the tile.
N ine others arrive and then a host.
T ogether they start a new home.

The right of Simon R. Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988

Torn Tickets and Routine Returns by Simon and Rusty Gladdish

Posted in Uncategorized on June 21, 2009 by swordplayer




For my much–missed mother Enid

And father Kenneth (Fellow author),

My brother Matthew and his family,

My sister Sarah and her family,

And last but never least

Rusty’s charming children:

Laura, Kate and Aramis


‘A traveller’s amusement and ultimate acceptance of the hallucinating language and culture obstacles which surround the Englishman trying to do his job and simply be a good chap in the land of Abroad’.

(Dr Bruce Merry – Professor of English at the University of Kuwait)


Simon R Gladdish was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.

His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.

Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live for years in Spain, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.

His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the present British Poet Laureate.

He has published eight volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches,

Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and The Poisoned Tunic jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.

His wife Rusty, a fellow English teacher, is a talented though hitherto unpublished poet with a considerable lyric gift. Hopefully this will be the first of several collaborations.


I was feeling really depressed

So I wrote myself a poem.

As I was putting the

Finishing touches to it,

I still felt fairly depressed

But the prospect of annoying

Numerous editors with it

Had cheered me up considerably.


The rainbow is so beautiful

It can’t occur by accident;

Its fluted columns must infer

The presence of an architect.

Its psychedelic arches stretch

A mile in diameter;

Its spanning spectrums silhouette

A heavenly geometer.

Throughout recorded history,

A solemn promise made by God

To use his coloured canopy

To save us from another flood.

The sunshine and the sparkling rain

Combine in perfect harmony

Until the leaden curtain falls again

On suffering humanity.


Doug is sitting in his usual place,

(I can see him through my bedroom window)

Gazing into a sun-filled space,

A secretive smile on his poor sad face,

Staring unseeing, unblinking,

What are you thinking of Doug?

Sifting through the back numbers

Of your brown-edged memories,

Turning over the long-lost leaves

Of the relics of your past.

Casting back through the cobwebbed hall of memory,

Cocking your ear to catch the lingering strains

Of a forgotten melody when the verdant valleys rang

With the timeless tunes of the male voice choir.

When the music swelled to a crescendo,

Spilling over and washing down the

Face of the honeycombed mountain,

But that was in the olden days.

And do you remember when we sang Myfanwy

Down in that dark, dank dungeon of a mine?

Buried alive boys, buried alive!

Buried in the bowels of mother earth!

Praying for a miracle of swift rebirth.

Ah! Those were the days, the drear doomed days,

But they’re dead and gone and there’s no more roving

Over those broom brushed hills.



As another new day dawns, an arctic silence

Lies upon the frosted furrowed fields.

A bitter breeze blows through denuded trees.

A bunch of disillusioned crows sit hunched

Among frost-blasted branches,

Mourning for the summer days long past.

In the distant woods, a wily fox returning late back to his lair

Gives out a sharp consumptive cough,

A sinister sound, enough to set the huddled birds

A shuddering on their perches.

A wintry sun shines weakly in a blue uncertain sky,

Reflecting rainbows in the glittering crystals

Suspended like diamonds from the cottage eaves,

Trembling in Zephyrus’s icy breath.

A brazen robin trills his song, defying Death

Who masquerades in winter’s hoary mantle.

Across the bleak and whitened wastes of empty fields

The strident call of some triumphant pheasant can be heard,

Strutting proudly through the ploughed and furrowed iron ground.

A haughty bird who bears his noble plumage like a shield of honour,

A brightly feathered coat of arms.

But now the winter’s day is disappearing,

As Vesper spreads his cloak of gathering gloom,

And in a clearing through the snow clouds

Can be spied brave Hesperus travelling home.



Wrapped in Morpheus’s poppy scented cloak

Lost along the paths paved with unwanted dreams,

There came a sound so strange that broke

Into my unconscious, a lingering, chilling, sobbing scream.

The clock ticks on and you breathe easily beside me,

I lie awake, all senses straining in the dark,

Waiting for another sound to reach me,

Listening for the fox’s prehistoric bark.

Going quickly to the open window,

I gaze upon the silent and deserted street,

And suddenly I catch the faintest echo

Of Reynard’s snarling cough as he retreats.



It’s been a long weekend

Without you.

Time has telescoped.

Every second has flexed its muscles

Intimidating me with its presence.

To add insult to injury,

Watching the World Cup,

The television blew up

Just before the penalty shoot-out.

As soon as I took my eye off the ball,

England lost.

(Eat your heart out, Uri Geller!)

At night, unable to sleep,

Listening to Radio 2

Playing all their saddest

Most sentimental songs

I could hardly keep from weeping.

Still, you’re home this afternoon.

I’ve got to make the empty bed,

Hoover the food-stained rugs,

Wash the dirty dishes

And generally tidy up.

And just for once, just this once

It will be truly a labour of love.


My wife and I

Have a mutually exclusive

Collection of obsessions.

I am concerned about

Getting my poetry published

And winning the lottery

Whereas she is worried

About her failing health

And our mutually mortgaged house

Disappearing before our eyes.

In fact,

If I’m perfectly honest

We don’t really communicate at all

In the accepted sense

Although in some strange unfathomable

Esoteric fashion

We definitely do connect.


My wife has become

A real man-hater in her old age

Who is constantly going on

About how awful we all are.

And I have to admit

That when I see yet another newsreel

Of testosterone-crazed, gun-toting males

Running amok, massacring innocent civilians,

Even I don’t find it easy pleading

For my own guilt-ridden gender.

Eventually I concede:

‘Maybe men are bigger bastards than women

But they’re also greater geniuses.

Look at Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare,

Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart.’

Just when I am beginning to succeed

In hauling my (heavy) end of the sexual see-saw

Back towards the horizontal

We sit down (on opposite sides of the settee)

To watch the early evening news.

Apparently, a Colombian hombre (about my age)

Has finally confessed to slaughtering,

Raping and torturing around 150 school-children.

‘Alright. You win. I surrender.

It’s a fair cop. I’ll come quietly.’


The wind rattled my letter box.

When I went to investigate

There was no-one there.

Later, the wind ripped the roof right off my house.

When it rained I suffered

Rather more than usual.


They were like two carbon copies

Apart from a couple of moles.

Their bodies were identical

But they had different souls.

One was called Rebecca;

Her sister’s name is Ruth.

The body is the outer mask,

The soul, the inner truth.

They separated them at birth,

Soon after they were born.

They cut them up like paper dolls

Upon a paper lawn.

Rebecca was the younger one;

The one who failed to thrive.

Rebecca’s in the cemetery

But Ruth is still alive.

Their skins were white like ivory;

Their eyes were dark as teak.

Their bodies were identical,

Their destinies unique.

Ruth married an Englishman

And became known as Mrs Lister

But not a single night goes past

Without her dreaming of her sister.

She sees Rebecca waiting

In a garden filled with ferns,

A citizen of that distant land

Whence no traveller returns.

She awakens every morning

Feeling fazed and feeling faint

For she knows Rebecca’s waiting

With the patience of a saint.

They were like two carbon copies,

Apart from a couple of moles.

Their bodies were facsimiles

And they have similar souls.


Every so often you catch sight of a face

That hits you like a wrecking ball.

You stop what you’re doing

And stare like a cat.

You had that effect on me.

Although we’ve only just met

I know if things had been different

We’d be languorously making love

On a gently sloping hillside

Underneath the lilac trees

In the bosom of July.

The songbirds would be chanting

Against an azure sky

And the green grasshoppers chirruping

To keep them company.

Your husband scents danger

And pulls you away.


The expensively dressed landlady

Met us on the steps of our new abode

And ushered us in. Playing with her pearls

She came straight to the point:

‘I want two months rent in advance’

Which we had ready. Eight hundred nicker

In brand new crispy twenty pound notes.

She carefully counted them out.

‘No’, she sighed, ‘I meant calendar months.

You owe me another fifty pounds.’

I emptied my pockets, my wife her purse

And discovered we had fifty-one quid exactly.

‘Now’, she said, ‘Did I mention a deposit on the phone?

I need a month’s deposit against damage.’

Taking our courage in both hands

We agreed to write her a cheque.

Finally she left us with a fifty pence piece

(For the meter) and a coffee cup half-full of coppers.

When we sure she had gone

We set about examining our new habitat.

Half the bulbs were blown,

There was no hot water,

Kettle, crockery, cups or cutlery

And the kitchen was literally crawling

With cockroaches.

Not to worry.

My wife is going to give her a ring tomorrow

If we can assemble enough change

For the public phone.


We share our kitchen with

Cockroaches, ants at least an inch long, earwigs,

Centipedes, cockroaches (have I mentioned cockroaches?)

Millipedes and other mal-assorted fauna.

I wouldn’t mind but

They never contribute to the rent,

Do the washing up or

Generally lend a hand around the place.

What is really infuriating though

Is that when we retire to bed early

So we can get up for work the next day,

They stay up all night partying

At our expense on dainty morsels

We were too tired to clear away.

(One of the little blighters even had

The temerity to bite my finger recently.)

Freeloaders! Gatecrashers is what they are! Low-life scum!

They think that because we don’t

Kill them on sight we like them.

But we don’t. Oh no. No way.

Deep down we despise them.

We’re just biding our time,

Putting a little aside each month

Until we can afford the Rentokil man

Who will come with his shiny, genocidal equipment

And fumigate the flat from top to bottom.

Personally, I can’t wait.

That should wipe the smirks

Off their smug little faces.


I met this tramp in a local pub.

Scruffy food-stained beard,

Patches on his jacket. Stank.

You know the sort of thing.

I felt sorry for him

So I offered him a pint

Of Theakston’s Old Peculiar

Which he grudgingly accepted.

Reckoned he was a poet whose books

Weren’t selling too well.

As I got in the third round

The discussion turned to politics.

He announced he was a socialist

And began to berate me for being, he believed,

A fence-sitting, arse-indented liberal

Although he hadn’t even asked me

My political opinions.

Eventually losing patience I said: Look.

Philip Larkin was a right-wing, reactionary

Xenophobic racist and still a better poet

Than you will ever be.

That shut him up



I was having an argument the other day

With this bloke down the pub.

I reckoned pop stars were paid too much

Whereas he maintained they weren’t.

‘Pop stars give a lot of pleasure

To a lot of people’, he said decisively.

I replied,

‘So do postmen, prostitutes and ice-cream vendors

But we don’t pay them millions of pounds.

Your argument doesn’t hold water.’

His eyes swivelled.

‘Now you’re being stupid.

Arguments are either right or wrong mate,

They ain’t meant to ‘old water.’

I winced at his dropped ‘h’ and glottal stop.

‘Arguments are sacred vessels containing truth.

Of course, they’re supposed to be water-tight.

Aristotle laid down in the 4th century B.C.

That a valid argument comprises a set of

Premises whence a relevant conclusion

May be logically derived or deduced.’

I didn’t see his fist spring out of the ether

But I felt a sharp sting

As my nose split apart like a kipper.

I learnt a valuable lesson that day.

Never conduct intellectual discussions

With large, violent people

Of the male persuasion

Except, possibly, by telephone.


The sun is a bell

Ringing out light.

Earth is a hell,

Tasteless and trite.

The moon’s a balloon

Bobbing in space

And man is an ape

With a smirk on his face.


To blot their weeping bruises

And drown out their tales of woe,

We shower them with cruises

At a million quid a throw.

We bomb the Serbians, then refuse

To house the refugees.

We pray for their deliverance

But never on our knees.


A friend of mine used to relate

That we’re a long time dead.

And what is there to say, he’d state,

That’s not already said.

Philosophy’s a young man’s game

(The sport of system building)

But everything remains the same

Despite the different gilding.

The enterprise is doomed to fail

(Like that of cancer surgeons)

The world, like an oblivious whale

Shrugs off the minnows at its margins.

We know not what awaits us when

We slough our mortal coil

Except the fact our cells return

To nourishing the soil.


After a lifetime’s philosophising

I have finally realised that

If you’ve got enough money

You can do what you want

But if you haven’t

Then you can’t.


They say the British economy’s booming

But I’m still skint,

Struggling to pay for

My privatised water, gas and electricity;

My income tax, council tax,

Television tax and V.A.T. (whatever that may be!)

They say the world economy’s booming

But whenever I turn on my taxed T.V.

I still see Bangladeshis with bloated bellies,

Indians with chronic dysentery and that

Perennial dark cliché – the starving African baby.

They say the European economy’s booming

But a billion humans are hungry

And a further two are surviving

On less than a dollar a day.

They say the economy’s booming

But for whom?


I have written thousands of poems

In white ink on virgin pages

And now I’ve completely forgotten

Where I’ve put them.


Poppy petals decorate my garden

Like a mud-cake landscape

Splashed with perfect pools of blood.

The wind whistles innocently.


I don’t believe this poem

Has ever been written before

But I’m going to include the word

‘Sesquipedalian’ just to make sure.


I read your hagiography

Written in haste

And the thought that assailed me

Was ‘scissors and paste.’

I admit that the pictures

Were fairly amazing

But all I could see

Were the cuts and erasing.

The tone of your argument

Is totally martial.

No-one could accuse you

Of being impartial.

The losers have rights

As well as the winner.

Your body of evidence

Could not have been thinner.

You set yourself up

As a sound academic

And then vomit out

A lousy polemic.

I don’t blame your publishers;

They’re out to sell books

But you know what they say

About too many cooks.

I’ve filed your pot-boiler

In a basket marked ‘waste’

And I’m sharpening the scissors

And wetting the paste.


Jorge Louis Borges counselled

That if you have a bad experience

You should imagine

It happened a long time ago

To somebody else.

This is a wonderful piece of advice

And would be even more perfect

If it actually worked.

Instead we thumb the pages of our lives

Too slowly to erase the stains.

We ignore our few triumphs

And dwell on our many failures.

Leo Tolstoy announced that in a long existence

He had enjoyed less than a week of happiness.

He said the secret of happiness was engraved on a green stick

Hidden in a primeval forest impenetrable to mortal man.

(Mind you, if he were alive in Russia today

He’d be far too busy trying to survive

To find time to be miserable.)

On the other hand, Tolstoy sired thirteen children

And died an octogenarian

Which is more than can be said for Borges

The blind bachelor Buenos Aires librarian.


It is said that

If the fool were

Sufficiently foolish

To persist in and with his folly,

He would, in the fullness of time

Become wise.

That’s nice.

There’s no fool like an old fool

And, unlike heads, one fool is better than two.

A fool and his money are soon parted

And this is one of those poems

I wish I’d never started.


At the beginning of the lesson

She unselfconsciously peels off

Her purple pullover to reveal

A taut white T-shirt emblazoned

With the French flag.

Her nipples are pointing straight at me

Like firm fleshy arrow-heads

Holding me hostage.

I ought to look away

But I can’t;

I’m impaled on her poitrine.

I’m supposed to be teaching the lesson

But I can’t remember where I was.

She smiles coquettishly at me

And I grin sheepishly back at her.

With a supreme effort of will

I turn my attention to a

Flint-faced youth

And ask him a deeply Freudian question.

His gallic incomprehension

And sharply shrugging shoulders

Are, for once, a welcome distraction.

I beam benignly at the class.

Sixteen is such a sweet innocent age

Surtout pour une femme.


David’s dextrous,

Sean is shoeless.

Roger’s restless,

Colin’s clueless.

William’s witty,

Walter’s waxy.

Petula’s pretty,

Sonia’s sexy.

‘Simon’s sick;’

So writes his mother.

Arthur’s thick

And so’s his brother.

All these kids

Have driven me spare

And come next term

I won’t be there.

I’ll be in the Bahamas

Lying on a beach

Or orbiting the moon

Miles out of reach.

I’ll be camping at the North Pole,

Cold and cursed

Or wandering in the desert

Dying of thirst.

I’ll be pacing Piccadilly

In my threadbare socks

Or trying to grab some kip

Inside a cardboard box.

When my money runs out

I’ll break the law

But I won’t be going back

To school no more.


Whenever I toss a screwed-up ball of paper

Towards the waste basket

It invariably hits the rim

And bounces out again.

I realised after a while

That this was a metaphor for my life.

Always so near and yet so far,

Narrowly missing the target

And winning absolutely nothing.

Losing the lead on the final lap

And getting stuffed in a photo-finish.

An also-ran who ran his heart out

And still didn’t quite make the frame.

Always the second best man

And never the glowing groom.

Always the bitter bridesmaid

And never the blushing bride.

Always stuck in the slow lane

In a clapped-out conveyance

I can hardly afford to maintain.

Starved of sunshine;

Sated with rain.


I often brood about my brain

And all that it contains.

The cameras and chambers,

Locked closets and trap-doors.

The semi-permeable windows

And somersaulting synapses.

The languages I speak;

Interlocking colours in a painting

Bleeding and blurring

In a psychedelic abstract.

The damaged suspension

And uncoupled couplings.

The levers, ropes and pulleys

Dusty with disuse

Or worn out from overwork.

The funnels, pipes and pumps

Pulsing blood around like water.

The open house of a drunken revel

With its piecemeal broken shards

Of memory.

The angry, jagged zig-zag of a headache

And the closed shutters

And drawn curtains

Of a dream.


The pig is very greedy.

He’s fatter than a tank.

His proclivitities are seedy

And his face is rather blank.

His nose is somewhat bloated

And his nostrils over-prominent.

His skin is usually coated

With some other porker’s effluent.

His house is quite untidy

With nothing in its place.

I’ve no wish to be snidey

But it’s often a disgrace.

The pig is full of mischief;

He loves to fool and frolic

As a smokescreen for the private grief

Of a secret alcoholic.

The pig’s rather intelligent

(He usually wins at cards.)

I know just what George Orwell meant

When he called him ‘the philosopher of the farmyards’.


Last night I dreamt of a man

With a crocodile tail,

A slime-green panoply of interlocking scales.

I woke up screaming.

He loved his mother, liked his music,

Played guitar and had a nervous tic.

The sight of him made me feel physically sick.

But why?

Was it an atavistic fear

Of deformity, enormity, non-conformity?

He looked like a cross

Between a foetus and an Egyptian god.

I fumbled for the dream dictionary

And finally found the following:

ABNORMAL: ‘To dream of anything that is not normal

Means that you will shortly have a pleasing

Solution to your problems’.

I hope so. I sincerely hope so.


I dream about him every other night

With his braided, black hair,

Heavy brooding features

And piercing brown eyes.

He frightens me to death.

He’s always running after me

Trying to catch me.

He chases me up mountains

And along valleys,

Through cities and across plains.

Although always gaining on me,

He never quite manages to reach me.

I don’t think he wants my money

(Though in dreams money is easily manufactured)

Or even my body

(Though that would be evil enough).

No, I think he wants something far, far worse than that.

I think he wants (I can hardly bring myself to say the words)

I think he wants, I think he wants, I think he wants

To be my friend.


I’m hungry but I can’t eat.

I’m angry but I can’t hate.

I’m zealous and a bit strange.

I’m jealous but I can’t change.

I’m a brute like my close kin.

I’m astute but I can’t win.

I’m running up hill and down dale.

I’m cunning but I can’t prevail.

I’m broken like a rusty can.

I’m a token of a healthy man.

I count the recalcitrant hours

That calcify my fading powers.

I’m tired but I can’t sleep.

I’m sad but I can’t weep.

I’m told that it is wrong to lie.

I am old but still too strong to die.


It was so hot

It was like living inside a kiln.

Great wodges of tarmac stuck to our feet

And a fat film of sweat clung to us constantly.

The air conditioning went on strike

And the fans felt too lazy to rotate.

Ice-creams melted before we had a chance to eat them

And water evaporated before we were able to drink it.

Hyenas were filing emigration papers

And vultures were going absent without leave.

Mosquitoes were knocking off early

And flies were stumbling around like drunkards.

The cicada’s buzz had turned into a death rattle

And the call of the camel had become a lament.

Flowers were attending their own funerals

And the trees were in mourning.

People were suffocating in their front rooms

And the skeletons in the cupboard

Were the apartment’s previous occupants.

All in all it was a pretty hot summer

That August in Tunis.


You have to cope with different

Customs, cultures, currencies and climates.

You have to guess what’s going on

Due to your imperfect grasp of the language.

You have to deal with reverse racism,

Truculent attitudes in shops and bars

And with being routinely ripped-off

In restaurants and cafeterias.

You have to adjust to having

Your universe radically redesigned

And all your assumptions subverted.

You have to overcome

Homesickness, bureaucracy, hostility, hypocrisy;

Not to mention things like diarrhoea,

Upset stomachs and undrinkable water.

So why do we travel thousands of miles

For the dubious pleasure of living abroad?

Basically, I suppose

For the same reason that people go bungee-jumping;

Because every day is a brand new adventure

When you cease existing and start to live.


I like the language barrier.

You can talk loudly in front of people

Without them threatening

To punch your lights out.

You can ignore them without feeling guilty

Or stare at them without being embarrassed.

You can make politically incorrect jokes

Knowing that they are probably doing the same.

You can enjoy the shared intimacy

Of your linguistic community

Without fear of sudden intrusion.

You can speculate openly about people’s private lives

Unperturbed by the prospect of apoplectic contradiction.

When a foreigner unexpectedly

Breaks into passable English

The hypnotic spell is almost always

Shattered into shards, fractured into fragments

And we are never quite as pleased

As they expect us to be.


Tunisians are colloquially known as Tunes.

Unsurprisingly, this gives rise to a number of bad puns

Such as: ‘Name that Tune.’

‘Tunes help you breathe more easily.’

‘Looney Tunes’. ‘Change the Tune.’

‘The Libyans are less important than the Tunes.’

‘Many a fiddle played on an old Tune.’

Plus plenty more that I can’t even remember.

Like most things in life it is basically boring

But it does help to pass the time.


The great green tram slams into town

Up and down, up and down

Into the crown of the city.

Apple green, pea green,

Sea green, tree green,

A sort of human soup tureen.

A turbo-charged snail

Rattling its tracks,

Its antennae

Spot-welded to the overhead cables,

Its clear shell humming with its heaving human cargo.

Businessmen and women,

Merchants and traders,

Soldiers and sailors,

Pickpockets and thieves.

Perverts rubbing up against schoolgirls,

Prostitutes rubbing up against the police,

The police rubbing everybody up the wrong way.

Am I carried away? Of course I am!

Everyone is, aboard the tram.


There’s this nutter in the Avenue de Paris

Who keeps trying to trip up the trams.

The other day I gave him a dinar

And some heartfelt advice.

I told him that if he wanted to increase

His life-expectancy he should

Limit himself to spitting at passers by

And pushing people off their bikes.

He listened attentively and bowed respectfully

Before limping off to his new life.

I hope and pray he doesn’t go back

To his bad old ways.

The straight and narrow is fine in theory

But extremely dangerous in practice;

Particularly when there are trams on it

Hourly shunting back and forth.


Tonight the moon and Venus were conjunct

In the constellation of Cancer.

You could see them above the sunset

Sitting together like old companions.

A bat and ball, a toy car taking a curve,

A white peach rolling into a shallow bowl,

A snowberry sidling up to a banana

In a strange cocktail bar,

A comma and a full stop, a semi-colon;

A cosmic augury of peace and plenty,

A precise promise of better times to come

And see for yourself. They are still there.


The moon was full tonight.

We stood on the roof

And held hands, holding a small (tenpence) piece

Of silver each in our unheld hands

And made a wish.

Rusty wished for World Peace

Whereas I wished for a substantial

Slice of luck in Saturday’s lottery

So that I could make a personal contribution

To World Peace.

That’s the trouble with women –

They’re just so impractical.


Last night it was so hot

We slept on the roof under the stars

For the first time since I was homeless.

We felt like children again.

Orion climbed his heavenly ladder,

The better to keep a paternal eye on us.

Diana the huntress

Gatecrashed our private party

And was extremely full of herself

Although, to tell the truth,

We half expected her to be round.

Incestuous Zeus arrived with his delightful daughter Venus

Who was warily keeping her distance from him.

The lion, bear, bull, goat and ram

Roamed their uncluttered pastures

Marking out their celestial territory.

In the morning

Swallows flew overhead in a V formation

Sluggishly followed by wisps of cloud

Which didn’t pause long enough to pass water.

Rosy-cheeked Apollo mounted the marble steps

Of his pale-blue palace

And peered over the balustrade.

We realised that it was time that we too

Shook ourselves free

From Somnus’s seductive embrace

And began to make a move.


On Tunis International Radio today

There was a British woman

Who sounded like a guest on Woman’s Hour.

She was a cartoon, copybook feminist

And part-time freelance journalist.

Politically correct to the point of imbecility,

She was pontificating about the plight

Of Tunisian women

In the towns and in the country,

At home and at work

In offices and shops

Or harvesting the crops

In the fields and in the factory.

(None of which I would necessarily disagree with.)

Then the interviewer asked her how long

She had been in Tunisia and she admitted

She’d only been here a week.

I didn’t know whether to be horrified

Or admire her cheek.

I opted for the latter course.

These days you don’t actually need to know anything

To get on in this God-forsaken world,

You just need to be bloody pushy

And shout yourself hoarse.


The first night he negotiated

An expensive round of drinks in the Africa hotel

Then made sure he was hiding in the toilet

When the tab arrived.

The second night he jumped into our taxi

On a long ride home and leapt out

Without offering a contribution.

The third night he turned up unexpectedly

Just as we were sitting down to supper.

Now he’s talking animatedly about

Meeting up for another meal next week

But unfortunately I very much doubt

That we’re going to be able to make it.


Last night we had a drink

On the tenth floor of the International Hotel,

A rooftop bar with a fairly low surrounding wall

And fantastic views over Tunis.

We were on our third round and

Thoroughly enjoying the craic as the Irish say

When a highly agitated Arabic man leapt from his seat

And ran towards the wall.

Upon reaching it he stood on tiptoe

And leaned over as far as he possibly could.

My beer started to taste stale and the tonic

Went flat in Deborah’s mouth.

Then he dragged a white plastic chair

Towards the wall, the better (it seemed)

To propel himself into oblivion.

I thought:

‘If he jumps and I can’t save him, I’ll never forgive myself.

But even if he doesn’t jump he’s still being a bloody nuisance.

(What a selfish swine you are for even thinking such a thing!

The poor fellow is evidently deeply disturbed.)’

We called the waiter and explained the problem.

‘Don’t worry’ he reassured us (in French)

‘I know him. He’s not going to jump.’

The waiter had obviously never read Bertrand Russell

Or even Jean-Paul Sartre.

I argued ‘Is the past necessarily a reliable guide to the future?

Is the fact he’s never jumped before any guarantee

That he won’t jump tonight?’

The waiter looked worried.

‘Je ne comprends pas’, he said.

We decided it was time to leave and left

Our undrunk drinks warming slightly on the white table.


I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a burglar.

We might get a cat.

We might get a badger

Or a curious rat.

All the same I still aver

I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a pigeon.

We might get a dove.

We might get a smidgen

Of reciprocal love.

Which is why I quite concur

To leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a vagrant.

We might get a tramp.

We might smell the flagrant

Smoke of his lamp.

None of this will me deter;

I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a donkey.

We might get a dog.

We might get a monkey

Or even a frog.

All of which makes me infer

I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might hear the melody

Of a telephone humming.

We might get nobody;

She may not be coming.

But none the less I still prefer

To leave the door for Deborah.


I bought myself a rusty Roman coin

Under slightly dubious circumstances.

I was in Carthage

Haggling over the price

Of a plaster head

When the wizened guide suddenly

Plunged his hand into his pocket

And produced an off-white handkerchief

Replete with Roman coins.

I eventually purchased one for twenty dinars

(Around eleven pounds.)

It wasn’t cheap but I would have paid

Much more. I wanted it so badly.

I’ve no idea if it was genuine or not

But I sensed it was.

About the size of a halfpenny,

It was very poorly pressed

With the obverse upside down.

The face showed a Roman emperor,

Caligula perhaps or Nero

Staring imperiously at the letters of his own name.

Judging from the dirty green patina

The coin was struck from copper or from bronze.

Every time I picked it up

I felt I was handling over two thousand years of history.

I dropped it into my shirt pocket for luck

(Which in the light of hindsight was a bad idea.)

Yesterday evening I was clumsily fumbling for cash

For the Tunis tram. When I got home I clutched

My top pocket and counted my change.

My Roman coin was nowhere to be seen.

It was back on the streets of Tunis where it belonged

And I was left howling at the moon,

Utterly beyond consolation.


Phoenician faces, almost Grecian

Stare in wide-eyed wonder

At the weary twentieth-century traveller

As he blunders through the arid ancient sites

Cowering under Apollo’s blistering gaze,

Eyes screwed tightly shut against his piercing rays.

Peering intently, almost touching the sun-baked mosaics.

Cheek to cheek with the Phoenician sailors

As they glide in their golden galleons

Across their stony ocean.

Dark eyed Numidian nymphs in secret trysts peep shyly

From underneath their black-fringed lashes,

Frozen in stone, blasted by the sands of time;

Locked forever in another dimension

Like dragonflies in amber.

Knowing how long they’ve waited there

We kneel and stroke their matted hair.


The smell of jasmine fills the air;

Its lingering scent is everywhere.

The cloying fragrance fills my nostrils

As the perfume seeps from every petal.

Ethereal as a whispered prayer,

A girl winds jasmine in her hair.

A boy binds a bouquet behind his ear

While a child begs her mother for some to wear.


Today I watched a Moslem woman,

Wrapped in black from ankle to crown,

Methodically washing her step.

Wiping and waxing, scrubbing and rubbing,

Pushing and pulling, warping and wefting,

Making the dull red clay

Sparkle like marble.

Suddenly she became aware of me,

Hurriedly finished what she was doing

And rapidly retreated inside

Clanging the beautiful blue, ornate iron gates

Closed behind her.

I felt strangely sad, realising

That this was yet another

Human Being on planet Earth

With whom I would never communicate.


At the Cactus Tree Motel

With its cool marble mosaic floors

And ever opening and closing doors,

And voices echoing along the halls

And bouncing off the blue-tiled walls

And soaring up the galleries.

Above the prickly cactus courtyard

A velvet canopy is spread.

Now there’s only Jack Orion

Gleaming mutely overhead.

But down on earth the patron shuffles,

Wearily dragging his feet;

Lagging behind him, his over-weaning,

Obsessively cleaning wife,

Her cloth crown awry,

Wielding her restless ever-moving mop,

Fearing to stop even for a moment

(In case she has to think

Or pour herself an alcoholic drink.)


I remember the fat git even now

(Hardly surprising really –

It only happened a week ago)

Moaning and groaning, mumbling and grumbling,

As he collected the breakfast trays,

The sweat stains spreading steadily under his flabby arms.

The pension was pathetic.

The rooms were small and stuffy

And sleep was completely out of the question.

On the third day,

Dehydrated and exhausted,

We begged the patron for the use of a fan

Which he grudgingly supplied.

That night, for the first time since arriving

We actually managed to capture

A few hours fugitive kip.

The following (final) day, refreshed and in fine fettle

We wolfed our meagre breakfast

And bade the patron a heart-felt farewell.

All he said to us (in French) was:

‘You owe me five dinars for the fan.’

Five flaming dinars for a frigging fan!

Rusty and I held a hurried consultation

Before paying him in full.

Some people are just sent to try you

Aren’t they?


Indigo nights succeed blue butterfly days.

The gleaming waxing moon turns the waves to purest silver.

The stars sparkle in their infinite firmament.

Zephyrus holds his fiery breath

And stillness captures the azure evening.

Selene’s platinum smile gilds the cobalt ocean

Whilst we, prisoners of the purple sea

Track the floating fishing boats

Parading in slow motion.


The first day I felt embarrassed

And didn’t know where to look.

The second day I thought ‘Sod it!’

And stared like a prawn at

Every pair of breasts

That blocked my path.

I was amazed by their

Distinct shapes and sizes,

Their startling tones and textures,

The infinite variations

Of natural selection.

The women didn’t seem to mind

Or even notice my minute examinations.

In the end it almost became boring.

Almost but not quite.

Other people’s bodies are rarely really boring,

Especially those whose contours

Are different from our own.


I bought a watermelon from Mohammed,

Our local greengrocer in the adjoining street.

I was really buying lemons at the time

But couldn’t help remarking

The gigantic greenish gourds

That he had gathered round his feet.

‘What are they?’ I asked in French.

He answered in Arabic.

None the wiser,

I indicated I desired one.

It was so heavy, he had to

Hoist it onto my shoulder.

I staggered home.

I knew it was a melon of some stamp

But wasn’t sure exactly which.

I seized the most vicious looking knife in the kitchen

And stabbed it mercilessly.

The green skin split and the roseate blood

Began to flow.

I ripped apart its flesh like a crazed serial killer.

My thirst was tormenting me. My throat was on fire.

Soon I was spooning handfuls into my arid mouth,

The rich blood dribbling down my unshaven chin.

Meat the colour of rare roast beef

With pips as big as pebbles.

Pure heaven.

The heat here is so hostile and the air so heavy

You could hang your hat on it

But the saintly watermelon is filled to bursting

With sweet soft succulent flesh

And refreshing fragrant juice

Which smoothly overflows

The ragged contours

My greedy spoon creates.

If the watermelon is not conclusive proof

Of the providential bounty of a superior being

Then I am a banana.


I’ve only been

To the market twice

But here’s the benefit

Of my advice.

Local food

Is fairly good.

Imported stuff

Is naff.

So buy your fromage

And frogs’ legs,

Your turkey breast

And chickens’ eggs.

Buy your wine

And watermelons

With skins as tough

As eagles’ talons.

Don’t put on

Your smartest suit

To get your

Vegetables and fruit.

Buy your spuds

Of various shapes,

Your green and red

Delicious grapes.

Buy your apples,

Peaches, pears

And pack a change

Of underwear.


I was up on the roof in my Ray Bans.

The eclipse was scheduled for

Eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh of August 1999

And I wasn’t going to be the sucker who missed it.

The sun was beating down with his customary ferocity

And I was very wary of staring directly at his face.

Finally I screwed up my eyes and courage

And chanced a glance.

I was instantly blinded

And rewarded with a free fireworks display

Complete with sparklers, Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels.

I risked another furtive peep;

The same thing happened.

There did seem to be a second celestial body up there

But it could equally well have been the bird-shit on my sunglasses.

I essayed a final look

And saw every colour of the rainbow

But no hint of the moon’s shadow.

I blinked furiously in an effort to focus on my watch:

Twenty past eleven. I couldn’t believe it.

I had been waiting patiently on the roof

In my straw hat, shorts, sandals and sunglasses

For nearly an hour

To witness at first hand

This incredible event

And had still somehow contrived to miss it.

Never mind. I’ll catch it on the news tonight.


To those who don’t believe in fate,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who deny destiny,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who doubt the efficacy of curses,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who discount the existence of karma,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who dismiss coincidence,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who feel bad about themselves,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who need to believe

That power and wealth are not everything,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who question whether truth is stranger than fiction,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who are searching for a subject,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who want to write the great American novel,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those whose lives are hanging by a thread,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who are slow to count their own blessings,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

To those who are tired of living and scared of dying,

I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’


If my French is correct,

Hassan the Second of Morocco

Died yesterday of a heart attack

With pulmonary complications.

He was over seventy.

There will be three days of mourning.

Fine. But why all the funeral music,

The dirges and threnodies?

Why not some dance music,

Reggae, rag-time, rock and roll,

Northern soul and Nat King Cole?

Why not roll out the red barrel

Along with the red carpet?

Hassan lived life to the full,

Married several wives

And died peacefully in his sleep.

We would all do well to follow his example

Instead of squandering our cowardly lives

And flinching away from the final lift

In the long black taxi.


The band was diabolical

And the karaoke was cruel and unusual punishment.

The Master of Ceremonies was fluent in

English, Spanish, Double-Dutch and Gibberish

And the pizzas tasted of papier mache.

The sense of boredom amongst the punters was palpable.

The British were foul-mouthed and boorish,

The Germans glum and gluttonous,

The French and Spanish lethargically latinate

And the Italians irritated and irritating.

I was consulting my watch every ten seconds

And discovering that the hour hand had gone into reverse.

The one person who looked remotely happy was the owner.

Never mind the band’s baleful bum notes,

The only sounds that really mattered that night

Were the constant crying of the cash registers

And the metallic clanking of the coins

Into the waiters’ outstretched palms.


When I left Tunis

I nearly left my poems behind.

I had no energy left

And my left hand didn’t know

What my right hand was doing.

(Just as well.)

Then I fell to wondering

If it would have made any difference

If I really had left my handiwork

To the tender care of the caretaker,

The janitor, the refuse-collector,

The city cleansing supervisor?

After a lengthy internal inquiry

I decided it wouldn’t matter a jot

Even if the British Library burnt down.

The sun would still rise every day,

The moon would still dance in her orbit

And the stars would still twinkle benignly.


I’ve no desire to gloat

But God is distant and remote.

I wouldn’t say He doesn’t care;

It’s more as if He isn’t there.

Don’t forget, He’s lived alone

For millions of millennia

And people who live on their own

Are prone to persecution mania.

So when you’ve influenza

And pray to lose your cough;

Ignore the ripple in the ether

That sounds a bit like ‘Bugger off!’

The right of Simon and Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

A review of Rover Rob’s Tales by Rusty Gladdish

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 25, 2009 by swordplayer

It is summer 1541 and the sun beats down on a handsome galleon in full sail as it glides out of the harbour of old Tangiers. Aboard ship, and among the motley crew, is our reluctant hero, an innocent young puppy. He is excited by the brisk activity of the sailors and out of sight of his father, Silas, he runs through the forest of legs. He is looking for a diversion and he finds one in the shape of the ship’s malign and cunning cat, who then engages the naïve puppy in a game of hide and seek. Suddenly the artful feline appears from out of nowhere and barges him overboard. He watches with satisfaction as the puppy sinks beneath the waves and, smirking craftily, says goodbye to the hapless creature.

‘The feline watched the thrashing little dog fall towards the dark waters and gave a deep, satisfied purr. He raised a large paw and extended his razor sharp talons in a wave-like gesture. The boat sailed on, neither the crew nor Silas had noticed the incident.’

The puppy strikes his head and sinks like a stone beneath the waves, but then he manages to fight his way back up to the surface and frantically treads water trying to keep afloat. Just as he is tiring and becoming weaker he sees what looks like a leather bag floating above the ocean and moving towards him. It has a strange glow and is encircled by green sparks. The bag plunges down into the deep water and positions itself under the limp body of the puppy. Then it surges upwards, carefully carrying its precious cargo to the safety of the harbour. Once deposited on the harbour wall the traumatised puppy’s euphoria at having survived is short lived as he realizes the ship carrying his father, Silas, is disappearing over the horizon. At this point, his rescuer reveals his identity and explains that his name is Gladstone bag. He belongs to a renowned magician who has given him magic powers. Gladstone takes pity on the poor, motherless pup and names him Rover Rob, because he says, ‘You have robbed death of its toll.’

By the time we meet the heroine Grace O’Malley and her father, Black Oak the fearsome pirate, we’re hooked, as we are swept along on a magical journey on board the good ship ‘Maggie’. Here we share the perils and the bloodthirsty adventures on the high seas of Rover Rob and his new-found friends. The message the author sends to her young readers is one of compassion, loyalty, friendship and the need for new generations to be ecologically aware; and also to encourage children to respect animals and treat them with kindness. I think this book would appeal to children aged from ten years and upwards.

This is a remarkable book, and what is even more remarkable is that English is not the author’s first language. Rover Rob’s Tales has been written in the true spirit of the pirate genre and has all the ingredients for a fascinating and interesting read. For pirate aficionados and animal lovers alike, this could be the book for you, so why not step aboard, me hearties!

Rover Rob’s Tales by Yaelle Byrd can be purchased from

The Sloth Diaries: Les traces dans la niege. (Footprints in the Snow)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on May 10, 2009 by swordplayer

The Sloth Diaries: Les Traces dans la niege.
(Footprints in the Snow)

25th December 2008

Somewhere in the early hours of Christmas morning my sleep pattern took a dive and dipped down to zero. I awoke to the sound of a howling, banshee of a blizzard screaming its fury from the Russian Steppes. The wind wailed round the house like a lost soul demanding entrance but the Sloth, under the influence of the copious amounts of Pisse-Dru consumed the night before, remained impervious and simply burrowed deeper under the duvet.

I got out of bed and crept to the window. The glass was cold and completely covered with snow making visibility impossible. I turned the radiator up and got back into bed. As I settled back into a doze I became aware of a rustling and thumping sound from above. I turned over and buried my nose in the Sloth’s warm back. If the rats had come out to play in the attic that was fine by me as long as they stayed there.

Christmas day dawned in monochrome. The black trees stood stiffly against a slate grey sky almost absorbed by the dull white landscape. In my attempts to be organised for once, I had started cooking Le Dinde quite early on and now it sat on its oval platter, gleaming with honey and marinating in its own juices inside the oven. The Sloth had lit the wood burner and the flames roared up the chimney. The kitchen was filled with the aroma of the roasting turkey and the shining copper pots hanging above, glittered with the reflections from the fire. I glanced out of the French windows at the silver birch trees. Mistletoe clung to the highest branches. For some reason we hadn’t got round to getting any mistletoe this time. Then, as I looked at the trees I noticed a large bunch of mistletoe hanging down at what seemed a reachable level. Perhaps the Sloth could reach it. I could steady the ladder of course. It couldn’t be simpler. I smiled over at him.
‘What are you thinking about?’ he asked.
‘Oh, nothing really’
‘You’ve got that funny look on your face. In my experience, my little turtle dove, when I see that smile, I know you’re up to no good.’
‘We..ll’ I began hesitantly, ‘Actually, there is something.’

‘I knew it!’ Sloth said triumphantly
‘Well, I’ve just realised we haven’t got any mistletoe. It doesn’t seem the same without it somehow,’ I sighed.
‘We’ve got the holly though, I mean not having mistletoe is hardly a life or death situation is it?’ said Sloth, nothing daunted.
‘Well of course it isn’t but I just noticed a huge sprig of mistletoe hanging down from that tree over there. Look!’
He followed the direction of my pointing finger.
‘ Where? Oh yes! I can see it. It does look quite low down doesn’t it. I bet I could reach that. We’d have to get the ladder to it, mind.’

The wind had whipped the snow up into deep drifts and peaks. The silver birches looked like lollipops bedded in a fluffy white meringue. A couple of crows sitting on a branch, hunched up against the bitterly cold east wind, looked down interestedly as the Sloth placed the ladder against the tree.
‘Steady as she goes!’ he called out cheerily as he clambered unsteadily up the ladder. In no time at all he had grasped the branch firmly ‘See, what did I tell you? There’s nothing to it!’ Then just as he was breaking off the mistletoe there was an ominous crack. The branch snapped off, the Sloth’s feet slipped from the rungs and he slithered down the ladder in a hurried and undignified manner. He landed on his back in the snow, clutching the mistletoe to his chest. He lay there like a landed pike, his mouth opening and closing, gasping for breath and unable to speak. Poor old Sloth! The two crows, sensing disaster, had fled to another tree and from there they cawed their amusement from a safe distance. After a few moments he got his breath back and we staggered around in the snow as I tried to help him to his feet.
‘How do you feel?’ I enquired, trying not to sound anxious. The Sloth was never one to make a fuss.
‘I’ll live. Come on, let’s get inside. It’s bloody freezing out here’. We struggled through the snow and down the steps to the back door.

‘Hey! Look at that! Do you see what I see?’
‘See what’
‘Those footprints in the snow.’
‘Over there, leading towards the garage. You can’t miss them, they’re huge.’
‘Oh yes! They must be yours from when you were putting out the poubelle’, I said.
He bent down to examine them more closely.
‘No way, lambkin! I take size 9s. They’re a lot bigger than that. Look!’ He placed his feet into the prints and there was room to spare. We stared at each other in silence until the trill of the phone ringing from inside the house sent us indoors.

The Sloth answered the phone. It was Mathilde. I went into the kitchen and began peeling the potatoes for the roasting tin. It had started snowing again and the trees at the bottom of the garden had disappeared behind a veil of mist.
I put the turkey, now surrounded with potatoes, back into the oven and lit the gas under the vegetables. I went into the living room and poured two glasses of St Emilion. The Sloth took his glass and had a grateful gulp.
‘That was Mathilde.’
‘I gathered.’
‘She was angling for an invite. Her niece has the flu and they’re not doing anything for Christmas. She doesn’t want Mathilde to get infected’
‘Seems sensible. You invited her round here I assume’
‘Well yes, of course. I thought you’d be pleased ‘
‘You thought right’ I said and poured out a tiny glass of sherry in Mathilde’s favourite glass.
Sloth pulled on his boots and his sheepskin jacket. ‘I’ll go and get her’

I put the drinks and a dish of stuffed olives and Feta cheese on the low table in front of the fire. The logs snapped and crackled in the burner and the scent of the pine cones I’d thrown on the fire earlier permeated the room. My eye fell on the Christmas tree, the red and gold baubles gleaming in the firelight and the little pile of presents sat waiting underneath. I’d bought a couple of gifts for Mathilde. Some English lavender toilet water and soap, and a box of English chocolates. We’d also got her a beautifully illustrated book about the Royal family. She was an avid fan of ‘Elizabeth’ La Reine d’ Angleterre. I stretched lazily and yawned. The fire was making me sleepy. Suddenly, my reverie was interrupted by a loud thump and a dragging sound that came from above which made me jump. I leapt up from the sofa and stood listening, my heart thudding against my ribs. I held my breath, waiting for the next sound but none came. Instead the back door flew open bringing Mathilde and the Sloth in a flurry of snowflakes. They stamped their boots on the step before stumbling into the kitchen. Mathilde hung her jacket over the radiator then smiled over at me, but her expression changed and she immediately registered that something was wrong. ‘Qu’est-ce qui se passe?’ She asked. I didn’t answer, but pointed my finger upwards toward the ceiling. The Sloth looked up and was about to speak when the noise began again, louder this time. We all three stood there looking up as if we were expecting the Second Coming any minute. The Sloth was the first to speak.
‘ That’s it! I’m going up in the loft. We’re going to settle this once and for all. I think the entrance to the loft is through the garage.’ I made towards the door. ‘No, don’t come outside with me. You two wait here’

Mathilde and I moved over to the Sofa in front of the fire and sat down. We didn’t have long to wait before we heard the definite sound of footsteps walking across the loft. The thumping and scraping began again. This time it sounded as though there was a scuffle going on and angry muffled voices could be heard. Then it went quiet. Mathilde and I strained our ears but could hear nothing. Then, without warning the door crashed open and two male figures almost fell into the kitchen. One of them was clearly the Sloth but the other was a tall, dark figure. He was hardly more than a boy. Both men were breathing heavily from their exertions in the loft. Poor old Sloth! He’s very unfit. Mathilde and I stared at the boy who stood before us. He couldn’t have been more than seventeen. He stared brazenly at us but his large dark eyes were full of fear and resignation as he stood there trembling.

The Sloth spoke quietly, ‘How long have you been hiding up there in the loft?’ The boy looked straight at the Sloth and spoke rapidly in flawless French.

‘I have been in hiding here for 7 months. I survived by working on the land for the local farmers. They paid me in cash, no questions asked. I earned enough money to buy food. This house is often empty for months. The owners only spend short periods of time here. I think they have another home far from here. They must be very rich to have two houses. I don’t even have one home ’

‘You mean they were living here while you were hiding in the loft and they didn’t know you were there?’ Sloth shook his head incredulously.

‘Yes, but it was easy to hide from them.’
‘How did you get to France?’
‘My father was killed in front of me and my sisters by the soldiers. They said they would come back for me, so my uncle paid my passage on a boat with hundreds of others. It was terrible. There was very little fresh water and no sanitation. The people on the Italian shore said they could smell the boat coming. We had almost reached the shores of Italy when the boat capsized and we were thrown into the water. Hardly anyone could swim and many drowned. I clung onto a piece of driftwood, a live human being floating among the bloated bodies of the dead. I was picked up by the immigration officers. They took me to a detention centre but I escaped and hid on a lorry bound for Calais. The lorry driver found me and let me out in the countryside and I found this village. There were only a handful of houses. Some of them with the shutters closed and deserted. I chose this one after I found there was an entrance to the attic through the garage. I have been very lucky. No one ever knew I was here.’

Then he suddenly burst out ‘I hope to call this country my home one day. But I am illegal! I only want what you have had all your life. Freedom and security for my family; education, a house and a job. Recently I suffered a loss in my native land. I could not go home to say farewell to them for fear that I would not get back! I am a law-abiding person, I have never been in trouble and want to live here for the rest of my life. I don’t exist in my homeland or in this land. I have no voice, and I am living in the shadows! And I don’t want to live like this anymore! I am tired of running and hiding.’

The Sloth nodded, ‘What is your name?’
‘My name is Patrice Beauregard. I’m from the Ivory Coast’.
The Sloth put out his hand and the boy clasped it.
Mathilde, who had been listening intently to the boy’s story, moved forward and took his hand and led him in silence to the table, groaning with food. She pulled out two chairs and sat down on one of them. Then she leaned over and patted the chair next to hers.
He cast a puzzled glance in our direction. ‘You will get the police?’
Sloth slowly shook his head. ‘No, of course not’
A violent shudder shook his thin body and he sighed with relief. Mathilde repeated her gesture and we all took our places at the table.

Outside the leaden sky was already darkening as
the snow began to fall again. Then, without
warning, a magpie was flushed clattering out
of the silver birch trees and soared upwards,
clearing the tree tops. We all watched in
wonder as it disappeared from view.

This story is a work of fiction and any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental.

The right of Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988