Reading Festival

I’m old now. I wasn’t always. I went to my first Reading Festival when I was 17 (RHCP, Senser, Radiohead, Therapy?, Wildhearts, Terrorvision. Gutted that Soundgarden didn’t show up) and ended up going for 10 years in a row. I did my time in the mud and the dirt. I saw bands I loved, bands I hated and bands I’d never heard of. I drank the beer and ate the sausages. I went to Feet First on the Thursday nights and stumbled back over pitch black guy-ropes. I saw explosions and heard fireworks and laughed when people fell into the hidden brook. I stayed up too late around campfires, then fell asleep to the dulcet tones of a thousand campers shouting “Bollocks”. I woke up freezing at the crack of dawn.  I saw a riot that started from a single, well aimed egg and ended up with mounted police and plastic bottles full of wee. I dallied with girls that I shouldn’t have, failed to dally with girls that I should have and all in all had a stupidly good time.

But I’m old now. Those wild indulgences of my youth are nothing but fond memories, happy thoughts to pass the time as I make another cup of tea. And the strange thing is that I don’t mind. Not a bit. I’ve moved on and grown up. I remember being worried, back in the day, that the world would end when I was too old to be young. How would I cope with the boredom? The endless nights at home? Well here’s a message for my younger self: Stop worrying, fuckwit, and go enjoy yourself. I’m fine. You will be fine. Don’t sweat it.

It’s Festival time this week, of course. That’s what’s brought all this to mind. My walk home from work takes me along the IDR and towards the Festival site, so I’m knee deep in campers for most of it. Today was quite tame, compared to previous years ( the queuing cars were actually moving this year, albeit very slowly) but it was still rammed. This year’s bunch of pedestrian campers looked pretty much like any other year’s bunch of pedestrian campers, but I found myself surprised by the luggage. Mainly because it was exactly that: luggage. Actual suitcases, on wheels, with no sign of mud anywhere. Absolutely spotless. With name tags. If you’d taken a nice neat labelled suitcase in my day you’d have been burnt at the stake, but I guess times change.

Anyway. I’m waffling. I wrote a poem as I walked through the crowds, and I’ve pasted it below. I’m too lazy to come up with a proper title, so in the immortal words of Eddie Hitler, “I think I’ll just put bollocks”.

Bollocks!

Backed up along the IDR
The camper-vans and hatchback cars
Their parcel-shelves stacked up with gear
(Tents and bags and crates of beer)
Just sitting in the crawling queue
Their speed, perhaps, an inch or two
Per hour, whilst past on either side
Totemic teenage tramping tides
Fill every foot of pavement space
Identical in form and face

(The nonchalant, well practiced miens
That mask the minds still in their teens)

A route march down to Campsite G
An army, this, it’s plain to see
Whilst I, demobbed and pensioned too
Just cross the road to join the few
Who spurn the turn-off to the site
Then take a resident’s delight
In sudden calm beyond the throng
My ears immune to siren song
And I, demobbed and healthy yet,
(A battle hardened Festy Vet)
Walk home, to all I need in life
Adoring children, loving wife
And I, demobbed, a wiser beast,
Sit down. Inside. A man at peace.

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A Royal Feast

 Imagine a feast. A feast from long ago. A stone room, lit only by a firepit and a hundred tallow candles. The light flickers, shadows twist and turn like backlit monsters on a screen. A table. A rough, wooden table laden with game and grease and mead. A king sits at the table. Madly bearded, dressed in his wedding day finery. An ogre of a man, at home with his own power. Beside him his new wife. Dressed in ceremonial, almost sacrificial, blood red robes. Small. Timid. Fragile beside her new giant. Her eyes full of apprehension as the wedding bed approaches. Surrounding them, The Court. Rough warriors to a man, in their cups and boisterous with it. A cacophony of drunken revelry. The king stands, abruptly. Bangs his fist on the table for silence. He gets it. He holds the royal mead cup aloft, savouring it with his eyes. Struck from finest gold, it glows orange in the overwhelming firelight. Beautiful. Holy. Kingly. He turns his eyes to his followers. Picks them out one by one, asserting his dominance. He speaks. In a terrifying, Brian Blessed like voice, he speaks.

 

BEHOLD!

MY CUP OF ORANGE!

‘TISN’T YELLOW! ‘TISN’T GREEN!

 

Behold my cup of orange!

Hear ye BELLOW! Here ye SCREAM!

 

I hold my cup of orange,

I, Othello! Royal sheen!

 

BEHOLD!

My cup of orange.

Fair thee well… my Crimson Queen.

 

 He turns and bows to his new bride. Kisses her hand. Holds her eyes with his. She sees nothing but flames beneath those close knit brows. She nods gracefully. And inside she weeps.

There are THREE Dogs On The Isle Of Man

My head is a bit like an indoor jumble sale. One of those village hall ones where old ladies in hats gather, officiously, to make sure that the younger generation learn the value of thrift. (The fact that the younger generation aren’t even there in attendance is beside the point. They should be there, so the old ladies have to go too. It’s their duty, and they’re big on duty. And thrift).

It’s not the old ladies that make my head like a jumble sale, though. And it’s not the peeling paint on the walls or the faint smell of wee either. Rest assured, my head doesn’t smell of wee. No, what makes my head like those jumble sales is the camouflaged chaos. The tables are lined in tidy rows, the goods are organised neatly – almost lovingly – on top and the stallholders look competent and friendly. On the surface, at least, everything is organised and predictable. But underneath? Underneath it’s chaos. The tables are mismatched and most of them have wobbly legs. The stallholders are winging it, uncertain of their pricing and praying to God that no one tries to haggle. And the goods on the table, so carefully arranged, are the weirdest collection of object d’art that you’ll ever see. Pigs heads and luminous brooches. Steel dentures. Lambswool nosewarmers, toy monacles and broken spoon-rests. All these things hidden, waiting, in plain sight to be discovered and goggled at. That’s my head.

The random chaos of my head manifests itself in various ways. Strange notions, weird superstitions, OCDs. And, strangest of all, random sentences that spring into my head fully formed, apropos of nothing. Perhaps the oddest of these sentences – and certainly the one that returns most frequently – has always been this:

“There are no dogs on the Isle Of Man”

Told you it was odd. It’s been popping into my head for years. When I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m walking home from work or when I’m staring into a cupboard trying to decide what to eat. It falls from a clear blue sky then zooms off again, squawking, to bother someone else. Like that distant cousin that pops in for biscuits every time they let him out of the asylum.

“There are no dogs on the Isle Of Man”

Same crazy eyes, same worn-out tank-top. Never staying. Never explained. Never changing. Until now.

Because on Wednesday last it did change. I was lying in bed as normal, watching the daylight creep across the sheets, and suddenly it was there. In a different tank top.

“There are THREE dogs on the Isle Of Man”

Three dogs! Not no dogs! Three dogs! It was like being hit by a brick. Three dogs. Three dogs, by God, three dogs after all this time. All these years. Where had they come from? What were they doing there now? What had changed? Why had it changed? Questions. Questions.

It was gone again as quickly as it arrived, but I was in no doubt that it had changed. It wasn’t just wishful thinking. Three dogs, not none. New tank-tops. New improved crazy eyes. Three dogs on the Isle Of Man.

I haven’t heard anymore about the dogs since last Wednesday, but I will. Soon, probably. And when I do there will still be three of them. Not none. Those days are gone. I don’t know how I know that, but I do. We’re in the Age Of Three Canines now, for good or ill, and I will have to adapt to a new strangeness, a new set of dentures on the rickety table. There are three dogs on the Isle Of Man, and things will never be the same again.

Three Dogs On The Isle Of Man

At last! Three dogs upon the isle
Where none have been before
I don’t know where they’ve come from
I’ve no clue if there’ll be more.
.
Three dogs on the Isle Of Man
The canine drought is done
Three dogs on the Isle Of Man
Where there was always none.
.
Three dogs on the Isle of Man
Those words from clear blue sky
There are three dogs on the Isle Of Man
And one day I’ll know why.

Burning The Wife

I hate Time. Not in an abstract, oh doesn’t time go too fast type of way but in a real, tangible sense. He’s my arch nemesis.Think Churchill and Hitler. Holmes and Moriarty. He-Man and Skeletor. I hate him, loathe him, despise him and I would cross burning coals to get the better of him. I would sellotape my nipples to a train-door and tell the guard to blow his whistle if it meant that I could, just once, look Time in the eye and stick my fingers up his nose. He’s a bastard, and someone needs to take him down.

The thing about Time, you see, is that he’s relentless. Like the Terminator. A massive steam-roller, flattening the 3D ‘Now’ into unreachable 2D ‘Then’. Just rolling on and on and on forever, turning real life into memories, mistakes into regrets. There’s no arguing with him. No pleading with him. No way to avoid him. All you can do is keeping on running ahead of the roller, trying not to get flattened. And, in the end, you’ll run out of steam and you will get flattened. Because Time always wins. Like I said, he’s a bastard.

Almost everything bad in life can be blamed on Time. Sour milk. Rotten apples and brown bananas. Body odour, dandruff and halitosis. Hunger. Degenerative illness. Regret, unfulfilled ambition, tiredness, boredom. Long days at work, short days not at work, monthly bills, interest rates, inflation, out of control debt and the ever present, nagging sensation that doors are closing all around you and that you’re being funnelled into a test tube in an experiment that you never signed up for. None of these would be possible without Time.And that’s just life itself. What about death? There would be no death without Time. And when it comes to death and Time, the most annoying thing –  the most annoying, unforgivable, inhuman thing – isn’t that he kills you, but that he refuses to leave you alone once you are dead. He worries away at you like a dog with a bone. Erasing your existence, wearing away people’s memories of you until you’re nothing but a footnote in history. Gnawing at your earthly remains, bringing decay and degeneration and a return to the dust from whence you came. Give me Hitler over Time any day – at least he had nice legs.

I was thinking about all this today, and I realised that there IS a way to get one over on Time. A way to win a small victory, even if it is a pyrrhic one. There’s no way to do it whilst you’re alive, of course. Not without going all Doc Brown and messing with the space-time continuum, anyway. That war is unwinnable, lost before we start. But you can win a battle once you’re dead. All you have to do is be cremated. Just have yourself burned, it’s as easy as that. Burn your remains so that Time can’t get his hands on them. Turn yourself into ash so that he can’t turn you into dust. Deny him your body. Leave him with nothing to play with and to ruin. It’s a small victory, as I said, but it’s a victory none the less. Something to savour. One in the eye for Time, and a finger up the nose to boot.

I urge you. I implore you. Join me in this rebellion. Have yourself burnt, not buried. Deny Time his small pleasures, and regain control over your own inevitable demise. “Ash, Not Dust” shall be our slogan, and we shall march through the streets with placards and banners, baring our naked buttocks at the steam-roller behind and refusing to be cowed. He may take our present and turn it into past, he may take our youth and turn it into infirmity and he may even take our life itself – but he will not have our dust.

I can only ask this of you, of course. I cannot demand or expect it. Everyone’s corpse is their own to do with as they please. But, having said that, I am a modern man and my wife is a modern woman – so I’ve made an executive decision and decided that she will be burnt too. I’m sure she won’t mind. I love her, and Time isn’t having her dust, it’s as simple as that. This was quite a momentous decision, so I wrote a poem about it. It’s called Time Shall Not Win, and it’s below.

Time Shall Not Win

Your hands shall not decay, my love
Beneath the mud and dirt
Those hands that oft caressed me,
Smoothed the creases in my shirt.
Those hands that held our children
Shall not rot, exposing bone
They will not lie unclasped, my love
Beneath the earth, alone.

Your hands shall not decay, my love
Dread Time will never win,
I shall snatch your hands from his, my love
And kiss the soul within.
Your hands will burn with fire, my love
The flames will set them free
To rise into the sky above
And wave goodbye to me.

A Panoramic View

They’ve given us a different office. It’s upstairs and we’ve a panoramic view

Sitting at my desk I’m confronted with an expanse of sky, sometimes grey but mostly blue

It’s very distracting. It’s hard to concentrate on a computer screen when there’s a sky

It’s the choice between the restricted and the free, the small and the infinite.

And when you add in the three trees that are tall enough to dent that sky then who, in their right mind, could look away?

When it all gets too much I stand up, leave my desk and wander up to the window to take it in properly.

The sky, the trees, the church and the two multi-storeys, the civic offices and the shops.

And the cranes. Ah yes, the cranes. Henry Blofeld’s cranes, lining the horizon like lazy storks.

We can see 5 of them from our window. The town is one big building site these days.

None of them ever seem to move. I’m often reminded of the ‘Blink’ episode of Dr Who

Where the Weeping Angels can only move if you’re not looking at them.

The cranes are like that. They never move when you’re watching

But the next time you look they’ll be in a different position.

Imagine if they were alive, and decided to hunt us. We’d never see them coming.

Just like the Weeping Angels.

Duty calls me back to the desk after a couple of minutes, but the view never escapes for long.

Pigeons fly round in circles as the autumn sun begins to set.

They’ll start earlier tomorrow and I’ll be here to see them again.

Off home now though. Leave the view behind until the morning

When I’ll get to see the sunrise.