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.

The Dentist

I’m due to visit the dentist this week, so I wrote a poem to mark that joyous occasion.

The Dentist

I sit, once more, upon the chair

Head tilted back ‘neath greying hair,

With eyes that dart from left to right

Whilst there behind me, out of sight

The Dentist fills his great syringe

And murmurs “You may feel a twinge

Of pain as I inject your gum,

But soft! Relax! Your mouth will numb –

I promise you won’t feel a thing

When, finally, the op begins.”

The needle slides beneath the skin

By Christ that hurts! It’s digging in!

But then the gentle soothing tide

Of anaethesia over-rides

And all is fluffy, thick and slow,

It’s hard to speak – my tongue won’t go

From side to side or down and up

I try to spit into the cup

But liquid dribbles down my jaw:

Reduced, I am, to little more

Than gibbering, imbecilic child

Whilst there above, anarchic, wild

The Manic Dentist laughs in joy

Then sets to work with sharpened toy.

I feel a tugging, nothing more

But in my mind I see the gore:

The blood, the flaps of orphaned flesh

Stained red, no longer minty fresh,

‘Til here, at last, upon this chair

I pray to Gods I hope are there

And promise, if I make it through

With mouth still whole enough to chew,

To change my ways, embrace the light

And brush with fluoride EVERY night!

High Visigoths

I tend to write poems in my head whilst I walk to work. This is one I wrote the morning after watching Metroland on BBC4, so I guess it’s my homage to Betjeman…

High Visigoths

The route through lovely Caversham, where once the Roundheads strode, is surrounded now by workmen grimly digging up the road. The second set of lights is gone, a pelican in lieu – though moved a few feet down the down the road where traffic tends to queue. The mosaic layers of tarmac sunburned into varied shades, of black and grey and black again, the scars that never fade. Traffic cones of orange – witches hats in all but name –  line up, fluorescent soldiers, past the pothole by the drain. And through it all pedestrians trudge on through narrowed paths, raising eyebrows shaking furrowed brows whilst workmen stand and laugh with a cup of tea in one hand and the other on a spade, ankles crossed and hats tipped back whilst resting in the shade. But soon they’ll don their workmen’s gloves and once more grasp the nettle: Drilling, scraping, paving, tarring, bashing stone with metal. Onward, ever onward, hi-vis jackets striding on, digging up and putting back until the past is gone.

A poem to kick things off

This is one I wrote a long time ago, but I’ve still got a soft spot for it.

Dinner Is Always Gone Too Soon

Dinner is always gone too soon
The plate too quickly cleared.
Leaving worn ceramic patterns and a fat man’s lonely fears.
In the darkened hours that lie ahead
Before the next meal comes
Will the hunger gnaw and worry or the weakened heart succumb.
Will the urge to simply eat again
Drive slippered feet to creep
Out of bed down to the kitchen whilst the thin men lie asleep.
Will he sit all bathed in fridge-light
While his hands scoop deep inside
And the ice cream dribbles off his chin whilst tears begin to slide.
Will the silence all around him
And the darkness in his soul
Drive him deeper into madness as he guzzles sausage rolls.
Will he wake, once more at daybreak
Slumped down on the kitchen floor
Where at last he’d stopped his eating when his jaws could take no more.
Can he make it to tomorrow
To those three permitted meals
Now that dinner’s too soon over and the hunger’s all he feels,
Eternity before him.
And an agony of mind
Now that dinner’s too soon over and today’s food all behind.