Torn Tickets and Routine Returns by Simon and Rusty Gladdish

TORN TICKETS AND ROUTINE RETURNS

BY SIMON AND RUSTY GLADDISH

DEDICATION

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


TORN TICKETS AND ROUTINE RETURNS

‘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)


BIOGRAPHY

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His wife Rusty, a fellow English teacher, is a talented though hitherto unpublished poet with a considerable lyric gift.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.


THERAPY

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.


IRIS

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 (IN MEMORIAM)

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.

(Rusty)


FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW

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.

(Rusty)


MORPHEUS AND REYNARD

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.

(Rusty)


SANS TOI

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.


COMMUNICATION

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.


SEX WAR

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.’


WIND HAIKU

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.


TWINS

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.


FANTASY

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.


LANDLADY

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.


KITCHEN CABINET

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.


PUB CONVERSATION 1

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

Briefly.


PUB CONVERSATION II

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.


SUN, EARTH, MOON, MAN

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.


NATO

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.


PHILOSOPHY

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.


CONCLUSION

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.


HOME ECONOMICS

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?


MISSING MANUSCRIPTS

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

Poppy petals decorate my garden

Like a mud-cake landscape

Splashed with perfect pools of blood.

The wind whistles innocently.


ORIGINAL

I don’t believe this poem

Has ever been written before

But I’m going to include the word

‘Sesquipedalian’ just to make sure.


OBJECTIVITY

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.


LITERARY ADVICE

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.


FOOLISH PROVERBS

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.


FRENCH GIRL

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.


SCHOOL REPORT

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.


NEARLY

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.


BRAIN

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.


PIG

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’.


CROCODILE MAN

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.


STRANGER

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.


CAN’T

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.


HEATWAVE (TALES FROM TUNIS)

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.


LIVING ABROAD

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.


LANGUAGE BARRIER

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.


TUNES

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.


TRAM

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.


TRAM TRIPPER

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.


MOON AND VENUS

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 AND TENPENCE

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.


UP ON THE ROOF

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.


TUNIS INTERNATIONAL RADIO

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.


COLLEAGUE

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.


INTERNATIONAL HOTEL

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.


LEAVING THE DOOR FOR DEBORAH
(FOR MIROSLAV HOLUB)

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.


ROMAN COIN

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.


CARTHAGE

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.

(Rusty)
JASMINE

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.


WASH YOUR STEP

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.


THE CACTUS TREE MOTEL

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.)

(Rusty)
LE PATRON

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?


SEASCAPE

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.

(Rusty)
TOPLESS WOMEN

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.


WATERMELON

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.


MARCHE CENTRAL

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.


SOLAR ECLIPSE 1999

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.


KARMIC CURSE

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.’


HASSAN II

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.


A NIGHT IN TUNISIA

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.


LEFT

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.


DEISM

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.

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