Baguette incident #2

This morning marked the second time that I’ve been involved in a skirmish over a baguette.

Now, the first incident is entirely unrelated and by no means constrained my capability for social interactions by inflicting upon me a random penchant for bread-based provocations. Besides, I’m not keen to revisit the episode given some vaguely racial undertones that doesn’t flatter either party.

Anyway, recently I realised that I’m spending around 65% of my disposable income on my daily lunch, which, despite the expense, doesn’t deviate from a limited selection of carbohydrates accompanied by either mozzarella or falafel. Assuming my mother might be disappointed in me if I opted for homelessness for the sake of a few more prêt wraps, I decided to take a packed lunch to work.

The problem is that while I’m well-rehearsed in the lunch part, I lack practice in the packing, so I quickly picked up a Tiger baton off the kitchen side and rushed for the train.

I boarded and managed to nab the last two seats in the carriage – one for me, one for Baguette, who sat-up, looking out the window.

At the next stop, a middle-aged, rotund man made to sit down next to me, i.e., where Baguette sat minding his own business. With a pointy face and sleep-slitted smile, the man had the look of a badger that was still luxuriating in the previous evening’s satisfactory sexual performance. “Mind if I move your friend, mate?”

I put my arm across Baguette. “That’s his seat.”

Badger-man gave a tone-flat laugh, pitched somewhere between reluctant politeness to indulge an unfunny joke and the natural world-weariness of the London commuter. “Then can I see his ticket?”

Silently I handed him a 16–25 railcard. He looked at the passport-sized photograph of Baguette and his eyes puckered like a bemused pair of anuses. “You seriously bought this?”

“No.” I patted Baguette on the noggin. “He did. With his allowance.”

“What?”

“I know, why the hell does he need a travelcard, right? He barely goes into the city.”

He looked around, clearly sniffing out a seat unoccupied by either a freak or baked goods. Of course, the train was rammed, everyone’s busting for bread, and London is 95% freak, so he was stuffed. “Look, are you nuts or are you taking the piss?”

“You’d know if I were taking the piss…”

“Oh, yeah?” he said, scraping his bottom lip with his buck-teeth, perhaps relishing the prospect of some Monday morning violence and interpreting my remark as more threatening than it were intended. “How’s that then?”

“I’d have stabbed a tube into your bladder and siphoned your piss. Actually, I’d stuff the other end in your mouth and turn you upside down till you choked on your own urine.”

He stared at me. I stared back, quietly singing that famous Sheryl Crow hit: “All I wanna do is watch you drown…I got a feelin’ I’m not the only one.”

Far from sexual-satisfaction, Badger-man now looked like a badger who’d just been diagnosed with herpes.  “You think you’re funny?”

“Have you ever watched Sabrina the Teenage Witch?”

He clasped his palms to his face as if he were posing for Edvard Munch’s scream figure. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Nothing. I’m just trying to defuse the situation. Has it worked?”

“No!”

“Yeah, I used to be pathetic and angry all the time too, but then I started watching compilations of the greatest moments of Salem Saberhagen  – he’s the cat in the show. Annnnd,” I whispered excitedly, “he can talk!”

Badger-man was about to have kittens. “So what?!”

“Well, personally I think Salem reaches peak hilarity in season 3. That’s when he’s clearly established as both a war-mongerer and a wittle scaredy-cat. The juxtaposition is simply rife with comic potential, and sure enough it is most satisfactorily exploited by the writing staff and, indeed, the stellar voice acting of Nick Bakay. You familiar with Nick Bakay’s work?”

Badger-man spent the rest of the journey stood on the other side of the carriage, but continued to cast concerned looks at Baguette and me. For some reason, his troubled gaze reminded me of how my friends’ parents used to watch me as we played in the sandbox together at nursery. Mind you, I was twenty at the time.

Anyway, in the end I never made it to work nor had the baguette for lunch. On my walk to the office, I took a detour to an estate in Bermondsey and went from house to house, ramming Baguette in and out of people’s letter boxes and screaming “Heeey stellaaaaaa!” à la Marlon Brandon in Streetcar Named Desire.

This was all rascally japes until I plumped for the wrong house, whose fortyish, male occupant apparently likes to wait on his knees on the other side of the door, bark like a doberman and chew on whatever comes through his box. Such was the sad fate of Baguette.

And that’s what I did today.

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Two Poems: A review of my own autopsy

Most mornings I wake up fairly earlyish – typically between 05:00 to 5:30 am – and fix myself such a massive breakfast (a concoction of milk, porridge, Weetabix, prunes, bananas, flax-seed, cinnamon, and refined sugar) that it consumes all my energy just to eat it, so I lie back down and go into a half-comatose state. Whilst this probably bizarre practice is possibly shortening my life expectancy exponentially, it does give way to some pretty cool, trippy dreams.

These are the particularly illogical imaginings that occur in that drifting state between consciousness and slipping into sleep. When I think of something really otter-piss weird – like imagining an otter’s urinary tract and the subsequent wee, for example – I am shaken awake, momentarily, before beginning all over again and imagining a whole host of other oddities. I’m sure you know the feeling, and that I’m not in desperate need of a visit to my GP so that they might detect the malignant growth noshing off my frontal lobe…right?

Anyway, a week or so ago I had one such dream in which I was an older version of myself, lying flat on my back undergoing an autopsy… while awake. Now, if you think that’s poor practice for any self-respecting pathologist, consider that the sociopath then casually wheeled out my teenage-self, stiff as a todger, and proceeded to check out my adolescent cranium. Right in front of my own dead eyes!

You wouldn’t think having visions of someone slicing you up and removing your windpipe would provide much motivation for catching the commuter train for your 9-5; however, rather than having some epiphany about “living deliberately”, doing an “Into the Wild” and scuttling off to live in the New Forest and make-out with nature and ponies and what not, I simply spent my commute writing a half-baked poem based on the experience. Said poem can be found below for your perusal.

As a bonus – or, if you’re not much of a fan, as an additional turd for the shit-pile – I’ve included a more recent poem about Autumn. Thanks for reading, darlings.

Autopsy

Alive to what feels

like sensation: a cold,

metallic sharp-stirring

in the brain. Neck

tendons grit

yet unmoving

as a bug

in ice. Your dead

eyes awakening

see you,

your body

once, blurry,

adolescent,

lying toe

to toe

with you. Painless

when they peel

your scalp

and scrape

the pink blubber

– no matter –

but Christ

the breathtaking

agony of stars

leaking from the skull

of the dead boy

you feel dreaming

before you.

Autumn

We are forever

Stunned by the first

Morning of the year

When the clouds

Have swallowed

Themselves into one

Fat cannibal,

The air piercing

Our bloodless

ear lobes,

And, stepping

Into a world

Pincer-sharp

As the lovers’

Silent quarrel,

We feel again

and again

the never going

Back again

Until next year’s

Autumn.

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London life & a poem

At the end of May 2015, I moved to London and arrived as a slobbering, cheerful idiot (now I think about it, that phrase would make a cracking epitaph). Just shy of two months later, my general happy-go-luckiness is mixed with an increasingly Marxist perception of the city.

Trying to maintain an optimistic view of the world whilst you look at it through a Marxist lens is like calling yourself a monogamist when you’ve seen more bedsheets than a Dunelm distribution center. There’s a slight paradox at play, and the curtains will have to come down on one of these philosophies.

I’m not sure what sparked my sudden seriousness. I haven’t been to any socialist party meetings, my housemates don’t sit round the dinner table discussing Maoism, and besides frequently bumping into strangers sporting unrestrained facial hair, no one has prompted me to think about Marx. I can only conclude that London life itself is the cause.

Anyway even as I walk in solidarity alongside my brother and sister commuters, comrades in the class struggle and all that, I still have to restrain myself from slapping the shit out of everyone who suddenly stops right in front of me to check their phone. Seriously, forget the air pollution, the yearly knife crime epidemics – London’s biggest threat to your well-being is the likelihood of tripping over some idiot and their iPhone. These people are unavoidable; even as you try to step out of their way there’s some bizarre gravitational pull that brings them into your path.

I genuinely believe “Commuting” should be a certifiable cause of death. It’s certainly had a twitchy effect on my psyche, and this is in less than two months. I no longer question why the woman sitting next to me is wearing a tesco bag for a hat and mumbling to herself – I just wonder when my time will come.

I wanted to write a poem about what is, for me, the most bizarre and unnerving element of the commuter experience. I get the national rail into London Bridge, which, perhaps due to a general lack of underground travel options where I live in the south east, gets pretty flipping busy. In the morning, as you get off via the Shard exit, you are surrounded by a swarm of people making their way to and from some 15 platforms. It’s the human equivalent of a wasp nest…and yet the quiet.

I can walk hundreds of meters without hearing a word, barely a sound besides the clopping of heels on concrete. And here are all these people. It’s quite creepy.

Anyway, one morning a nice line or two popped into my head and I thought “oh yeah, I could write a poem juxtaposing the bustling, roaring excitement of the city with the weird anti-social silence of the commuters and make a really profound statement on the isolating effects of capitalism. Man, society will be so grateful.”

As soon as that thought entered my mind I knew the project was over. Whether its due to my own poetic incompetence or the nature of creativity, if a concept comes too early in the writing then the poem just can’t grow naturally. It’s like an embryo trying to develop into a foetus before the penis has barely penetrated the vagina.

If I may continue to veritably develop this simile, my own experience of writing poetry – which is admittedly fairly limited, or, at least, amateurish – is comparable to my conception of how one raises a child. You start out with the potential for a fully realised being in your hands, but you can’t predict too soon, nor try to enforce, what they will become. Instead, you must facilitate the child’s growth, guiding it along its own path to its own meaning. It will inevitably make mistakes, some which will leave a permanent mark, but, given the history of mistakes throughout humanity, you can make peace with that. And though you want what’s best, you mustn’t crush it under the weight of your own expectation.

Following this philosophy, I let the poem find herself. Yeah, she’s a bit lame, for some reason insists on rhyming and a chorus, and she has fook all prospects. But she’s harmless and pleasant enough. Besides, she’s the only poem that lives with me now – most of the others are back at uni – so that deserves some brownie points.

We Roam

Below the evening

skies of snow,

a blizzard of bodies

flurries then flows

to silent rhythms –

watches and home.

Wordless and weary,

we roam.

Rolling on rivers,

glistening night

twinkles like Christmas

bells in flight.

A hushing breeze

for dreamless bones –

wordless and weary,

we roam.

The drooping stars

doze on the street,

while melting moons

lap at our feet.

Scrapers tease

a hollow dome –

worldless and weary,

we roam.

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Poppy Problems

Perhaps I’ve just become conscious of these things as I’ve got older, but I don’t recall there ever being such zealous outcries over people abstaining from wearing a poppy on, or during the time leading up to,Remembrance Day. In fact, I don’t ever remember there being such a thing as abstaining from wearing a poppy. You just did or you didn’t. But now, the presence or absence of a poppy on your chest is enough for some people to make rather sweeping assumptions about your beliefs and your character.

In some cases, people feel permitted to abuse the poppyless; James McClean, a Wigan Atheltic footballer, felt it necessary to pen a letter to his team’s chairman justifying his anti-poppy stance, following an apparent Twitterstorm after he played in a football shirt that reportedly lacked sufficient poppiness.

I must confess I couldn’t give a badger’s beaver whether or not someone pins a poppy on their top, or wears a poppy wristband, or practices weed arranging on the grille of their car. I do however, when I remember not to, choose not to wear a poppy.

The 20th Century American poet E. E Cummings said that “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” Cummings died before seeing conformity’s ultimate battleground: online social media. We see it almost daily: a public figure says or does something that offends the masses, and the twitterers flock to their stations, tweeting everything from eloquent polemical denunciations to sabotage and death threats. No matter the war tactics used, the offended typically have the same goal:  to draw out an apology from the offender.

Of course, demanding and receiving an apology does not necessarily mean that said person is genuinely sorry. The offender can adopt the most puppy-eyed language they can muster, but it still doesn’t change the fact that when conformity becomes virtually mandatory the resulting gestures expressing that conformity do not express the individual and are therefore completely meaningless. Similarly, demanding someone to wear a poppy because “I facking said so” isn’t doing a lot to change that person’s views on the matter. Now, you might try to persuade the poppyless by explaining to them what the poppy “means”. But this too is problematic.

Say you’re walking down the street whilst wearing your poppy and you pass two people. Let’s assume these two people are poppy zealots on opposing sides and that they are constantly forming internal opinions about people based on how these peole choose to decorate their chest. The first person you pass – let’s call them Dave – might think (in language that less resembles a robot’s and more someone called Dave), “Yes, it is only right that this person should remember the sacrifice of fallen soldiers.” The other person, let’s call them Agnes, might think: “No, this person should not be perpetuating the glorification of war.”

Now, I suspect that after reading these opinions you’ve chosen your allegiance and thought “No, Dave/Agnes is incorrect – that is not what the poppy means.” The problem is, of course, that the poppy doesn’t mean anything at all. In the same way that a falling tree doesn’t make a sound unless someone is there to hear it, a piece of cut-out red paper doesn’t symbolise anything unless someone is there to interpret it.

Now, you might come back on that and say “But it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; this is what the poppy means to me.” The problem is that wearing a poppy isn’t a personal act – it’s an entirely public expression.

For example, say a man gets out of bed and goes downstairs to find a note from his partner that reads “I’ve taken the kids to my parent’s house again.” Now, as we are prone to do, the man might fixate on certain words, reading into “my” and “again” and thinks  “What on earth do they mean by that? That I never take the kids to see my parents? That their parents are always babysitting? That I never take the kids anywhere or spend time with them? Is this because of our argument last night? Is this beginning of the end?!?!”

Now, unbeknownst to our little paranoid friend, his partner meant nothing by it – this short declarative sentence was intended to be a simple statement of the facts of their children’s whereabouts, and the partner had no idea that their possessive pronouns or adverbs could be capable of expressing such passive aggression. Unfortunately, whilst driving home after dropping off the kids, the partner is in a car accident and snuffs it. For arguments sake, let’s assume that the man finds time whilst grieving and funeral planning to further speculate on the meaning of his partner’s message. Without the partner alive to explain their honest intentions, the “true meaning” of the note will always be what the man interprets to be.

To be honest, the partner didn’t even need to die to make the point. They could have protested their innocence till they were blue in the face, but the “true meaning” of a text is inherently interpretive rather than expressive. In the same way, when you step outside wearing a poppy it doesn’t really matter what the poppy means to you or what you intended to say by wearing it: what you say without words = what people think they hear.

This leads me to my other problem with the poppy – namely, what I hear when I see it being worn.

First and foremost, I see it as an act of remembrance, of reflecting on the tragic loss of so many lives in the most horrifying circumstances and the succinct warning that we don’t hear often enough when politicians start salivating over prospects of war: “Lest we forget.” So far, no problems.

The problem is the other things I hear when I see the poppy being worn, specifically, as a commemoration of the WW1 soliders who “died in the name of freedom”, who “gave their today for our tomorrow”.

To say that WW1 soldiers sacrificed themselves in the name of our freedom is like saying that a cow sacrifices itself in the name of your protein intake (Indeed, Wilfred Owen, the war’s most celebrated poet, opens his sonnet Anthem for Doomed Youth by asking how we can fittingly commemorate “these who die as cattle.”) It is a complete misrepresentation of history. The soldiers of World War One stepped into the trenches ears ringing with jingoism, which was quickly replaced with the “shrill demented choirs of wailing shells” and “the monstrous anger of the guns.”*

These men may have been brave, but they died not in the name of freedom but power – other men’s power. Harry Patch, who in 2009 was the last surviving fighting soldier of the war, said that the “politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organising nothing better than legalised mass murder.”

I have no time for those who sneer at soldiers; for me, words like “courage” and “bravery” will always conjure images of those on the front line. But then so will words like “bloodshed” and “futility”. The patriotic associations I just can’t shake from my interpretation of the poppy skips over the fact that rarely are soldiers serving their country but being served by their country’s politicians.**

For me, a far more fitting act of remembrance would be to read or listen to what I suspect are among the most chilling poems in the English language. Both come from the pens of World War 1 Soldiers who died in the War before reaching the age of thirty.

The first is Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen, a horrifying poem that uses a vivid description of a solider “guttering, choking, drowning” after a gas attack to lay waste to “the old lie” that it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

The other is The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. This sonnet begins with three heart-breaking and chilling lines:

“If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England”

As beautiful as the language might be, it chills me because it is a succinct expression of a believed lie: it implies nobility where there only was futility, sacrifice where there was only slaughter. I believe Brooke meant every word, that he went to his muddy, bloody grave believing he died for some greater cause. And we should read lest we forget how wrong he was.

 * Owen, Anthem for Doomed Youth 

** WW2 perhaps being a singular exception, but that’s a whole other conversation.

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Emily Dickinson, Teeth, & a Poem

I listened to an Emily Dickinson poem and wrote one of my own whilst brushing my teeth. It’s a bit short and sweet, but I’m always wary of over-writing, particularly if that leads to over-brushing, which I hear is really bad for your gums.

Considering Dickson’s oeuvre is pretty much defined by an obsession with the relationship between life and death, I’m surprised she didn’t see the pertinent symbolic potentials of teeth.

We spend at least 6 minutes cleaning them every day (unless you’re a repellent slob and/or Shane McGowan). That’s, according to my calculations, around 36 and a half hours a year. Despite this, since 1990, British consumption of sugar (the Kryptonite to our not-so pearly whites) has risen by 31%. So, all that effort, all that precious, fleeting time, and we just fuck our tusks over for the sake of a few digestives; it’s like working hours of overtime to save up for that extra special birthday gift for your partner, and as you hand it to them you belch and blow the hot stench in their face.

Teeth, much like life itself, have always struck me as rather frail. Going to the dentist was  like hearing a roll call of the Tory front bench (corrupt, corrupt, corrupt, etc. #political). But, weirdly, despite our frankly abusive relationship with our teeth, they will more than likely outlast the rest of our body. Whilst your heart withers away and your liver, which served you so dutifully during the Jager-years, crumbles into dust, your gnashers will be squat in the ground for decades. And still smiling, particularly now you aren’t around to drown them in monster energy drinks, you rancid cad, you.

Anyway, teeth don’t make a single appearance in this poem, except vicariously through Bison… Maybe if I’d have spent as much time on the poem as I have rambling it would’ve been half decent. But, you know:

cest

Undiscovered Country

When the minute struck

My beating heart stopped

And the wind outside

Kicked, once – a foetus

In the world’s swollen

Womb. Then the wind slept,

Before swimming out

To Americas,

To the Rockies on

A bison’s shoulders,

Combing fields of wheat

And churning the stars

In flowing rivers,

and I lived in death.

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Our Future Feline State & a Poem

This morning, whilst walking to town, I stumbled upon a cat attempting to walk on its hind legs. As Orwellian visions of Animal Farm and a terrifying tabby incarnation of Joseph Stalin entered my mind, the cat noticed me and dropped to all fours, slinking off into a bush. Luckily, I saw through the shifty bastard, vowing to inform everybody of the secret evolution of cats and our future feline heads of state.

This revelation was to be the subject of this post. That was until I walked home and noticed on the way a middle-aged woman talking to a tree. “You silly thing,” she kept saying, shaking her head. Initially, I was pretty blasé about it; growing up in Telford you develop an immunity to the ramblings of the insane and walk past such displays in the same way you might if someone were attempting to collar you and canvass your vote for UKIP. Poor thing, you might think. They don’t know any better, you might add, if you’re feeling particularly generous.

“Get down you silly cat.”

I looked up into the tree and saw the same cat from before. Much to my relief, rather than spewing Stalinist propaganda, the cat just mewed pathetically whilst looking helplessly at its owner, who was probably not insane, and at worst harbored communist sympathies. Then again, what if the little shit had set out to deceive me, fool me into thinking it was as innocent and stupid as every other mammal that can’t climb down a tree when it actually is in fact the 21st Century’s Stalin?!?!

I considered offering to help, but I also considered whether I was more willing to be responsible for the continuation of a Greek tragedy or for setting in motion the beginning of a dystopia. Needless to say, I left our furry Icarus stranded. You’re welcome, “the Free World”.

Since I can’t be the saviour of the human race (though you can be certain my time will come), I thought I ‘d share some of my amateurish poetry instead.

This one was inspired by a painting at the Tate Modern – WAIT!! Don’t go! Let me attempt to justify my pretentiousness:

I have been to the Tate Modern around five times. Four of those times I spent the entire afternoon mentally recording the number of pieces I wouldn’t wipe my arse with. The most recent visit, however, there were, much to my dismay, several paintings that did move more than just my bowels. One of them was a piece by Dod Procter called Morning, and it looks a little bit something like this :

Proctor-Morning

I have no idea what I like about this painting, and to be honest, after only just discovering that its female model was 16 years’ old, I’m a little bit disturbed by the poem. Nevertheless, here it is:

Morning

This scene (the emerging morning sun

nuzzling the curtains; the cool white

gown resting over your body; and you here

but casually elsewhere, spreading

your sleep over the sheets). This naturalness

was plotted over handshakes, coffee

and cash. Recommended by a friend

of a friend, you waltzed in, stripped off

your suit and lay down without a yawn.

It was all strictly business,

till I saw you as the birds do,

when you bathe on the beach

or under a skylight. I see

your chest rise and fall

with my heartbeat, and I can tell

by the whisper of a smile, the hint

of crescent moons like bookends on your lips –

I know you see me

seeing you. Now the brush ponders

over your mouth: will I awaken you?

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Poem: After Night, Before Morning

I have almost zero recollection of writing this poem, but thankfully my laptop has a better memory than I do (which is a pretty damning verdict considering I am still running on Windows Vista). I have no idea what my intentions were in writing it, but I’m fairly certain it was inspired by the silent hours of pre-morning when I try to shake myself awake with caffeine, cold water and Buzzfeed lists.

Despite the tone of the poem, I would be pretty grateful for a “dawnless day”; most of my productivity, be it writing, reading, or exercising, is achieved before the sun comes up and the birds start chattering, cupboard doors clattering, and emails swooping in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for our increasingly noisy world. It’s perhaps unfashionable to say this, but the ubiquity of social media has certainly enriched my own life and I don’t see it as a distraction from “the real world”. In fact, I’d argue communicating online can sometimes be easier, more comfortable and more enlightening than in person (admittedly I spent a substantial portion of my formative years trying to badger Smarterchild into confessing to bizarre sexual fetishes, but, you know, diff’rent strokes). However, you notice, especially after going into full-time work, that people struggle to steal moments of solitude, and it’s like – for the absolute craving of a better expression – watching someone’s sanity being rubbed slowly against a cheese grater (I have no idea what sanity looks like, of course, though I’d guess it resembles Mary Berry and Joanna Lumley sitting down for cream teas on a Sunday afternoon).

The thing is a solitary moment isn’t solitude at all: it’s an interval in a play, or slowing down to a walk whilst out running – really you are just breathing in the bustle more deeply. Solitude should be absolute and secluded in a little pocket of the world where no one else can get to you. And I can’t recommend it enough (a philosophy which is completely contrary to the poem below, but then again everything I write has fuck all to do with me anyway).

After Night, Before Morning

Waking in the pitch morning

of a dawnless day. Trees

are caccons and the birds –

tree-monks – silent, invisible.

The terraces sag with slumber

and dim lampposts jerk

back and forth, in

and out of sleep. You pull poetry

from a shelf, find the words

smeared like make-up. Open

a window and the tarry sky

oozes in. You kick,

scream against the world,

drown in nothingness.

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