Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Monthly Archives: February 2017

Review: Unity Words 23 February 2017

Ralph introduced Geneviève, hair still blue, on the first anniversary of this bloody amazing event.  Nobody has explained to me why the compere has to be introduced by somebody else, but never mind.  Geneviève seemed to be able to cope on her own.  I got the impression she had done this kind of thing before, possibly more than once.  I felt safe in her hands.

Sitara Khan took the support slot, the equivalent of the slot that I took in December.  She took more trouble over her dress than I did.  She wore a dark, silk dress, with a Nehru collar, and dragon patterns on it.

There is virtually no equivalence between what Sitara Khan did, and what I did.

We both come from Leeds, and so, before we go any further, I consider Sitara to be my sister.

She talked about the war in Afghanistan.  She talked about the Chilcott report. She performed a piece, the chorus of which was, ‘Allah ‘akbar’.

Her poetry about the Iraq war contained the most graphic references to violence that I have ever heard in a spoken word performance.

Her last piece was called ‘The Bride of Andalucia’.  She expatiated about Moorish culture.  She didn’t mention that the Bradford and Barnsley Alhambras are the wrong colour.

The last line of this piece, was, “and casts her bouquet to Renaissance Florence.”

That was good.  Maybe not the sort of piece you hear once per decade.

The second mentored poet under the 2017 scheme was “Rhythmical Mike”.  He appeared with a flat cap on backwards.

The next act was Ralph Dartford and the Bleeding Obvious.  The Bleeding Obvious seems to be Jessica Rowbottom  playing synthesiser keyboard and “interacting” with an electric guitar and effect pedals.

Jessica Rowbottom is tall and blonde.  Ralph Dartford is average height and bald.

They put Ralph’s poems to backing tracks.  The best ones were dub reggae.  They would have been better if the dub reggae had been allowed to be mi sart a riddim through bass and volume.

Zena Edwards appeared in a red cardigan.

She began with a South African traditional song, which demonstrated that she is an amazing singer.  She has an instinctive relationship with the microphone that I have seldom seen.

Getting the audience to clap along did not, in my opinion, improve the experience.

She did a spoken piece which was in waltz 1-2-3 rhythm.  I have never heard that, before.

She did various stuff about activism, young people, and climate change.  She did a poem, part of which was done in a Southern African style with breath control, that I don’t have a name for, but it was brilliant.

Her weather report about the global situation was very good.  After all the stuff about the collapse of global systems, she finished with, “Back to you, Trevor”.

She used her own chest as a percussion instrument, in a way I have never seen before.

I didn’t sing along.  For all the brilliance of the performer, it felt cheesy. It felt like being back at school, when the beardy Christians arrived.

Her last piece was an impersonation of an elderly black homeless woman.  It is not for me to tell young black women how to impersonate an elderly black woman.

Nevertheless, I would like two things to be understood:

  1. There is no human progress without female progress.
  2. There is no human progress other than multi-racial progress.


Doctor A

I meet them in The Head Of Steam, a pub next to the railway station in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, the stand-offish male friends whom I pursue via social media.  This was the third such.  He can’t have been all that stand-offish, because he arrived, first. 


We were at university together, in Liverpool, in the 1980s.  A is not the initial of any of his names.  I was studying chemistry.  He was studying Egyptology.  We were interested in what the BBC used to call, “various left wing causes”, and which would now be called – inaccurately –  “anti-globalisation”.   

I have stood outside a branch of McDonald’s with him, handing out leaflets.  

I have huddled in the back of a Transit van with no seats with him, and suffered under the rain of condensing breath in November as a group of 25 hunt saboteurs decided how best to disrupt the annual hunt ball in Clayton-le-Moors, Lancashire.   And the aftermath, in the service station.  I have never felt so cold.   

I have been left behind with him by the coach from Liverpool after we got held up on an anti-fascist demo in London.  While we were pursuing, and being pursued by, the National Front, along The Embankment, he jumped up onto the plinth of a statue, and translated the hieroglyphics.  Were we afraid of the National Front?  Well, that.  

He now occupies a responsible position at a hospital in West Yorkshire.  He had to work weekends in order to finance his medical training.   

He is one of those people who is on call, waiting to save your life.   

He talked about his wife.  He talked about reading to his children.  He is delighted by his children’s love for reading.   

He mentioned my novella, ‘Escape Kit’.  He said it was too short.  Everybody says it is too short.  

We talked about work, and that metamorphosed into a conversation about politics.  It is remarkable, not just how much our priorities have changed in the intervening 30 years, but how much they have stayed the same.     

Of all the people I have known for this long, Doctor A has matured the most, has learnt the most from experience, and is most able to articulate how he has changed.   

I can imagine his and my standing outside McDonald’s, handing out more leaflets, but the leaflets would say somewhat different things.  “Provide adequate funding for Mental Health services,” would be a new one.  “Stop demonising immigrants,” would be an old one, along with, “Wake up.  Question everything.  Trust no one in power. Stop voting for people who have been to Eton.”   

We recommended books to each other: children’s books, books on neurology and medicine.   

He complained about funding for various health services, mainly mental health.  Complaints about funding for his own service were conspicuously absent.  That doesn’t mean that his service is adequately funded: it means that he uses his genius to deal with the shortcomings.  It is possible that he doesn’t realise he is doing it.  This is a man who lives in the moment. 

I live in a certain city in West Yorkshire.  If I ever enjoy the luxury of knowing in advance if I am going to undergo a life-threatening episode, I may travel to a different district of West Yorkshire,  before it happens.