Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Review: Unity Words 31 May 2017

I was asked at what time the event should start. ‘It’s up to you,’ I said.

Stan Duncan from the Black Horse Poets, who was due to appear as one of the Pandemonium Poets, bought me a drink: an expensive 275ml bottle of Holsten Pils.

Another one of the readers offered me a bribe, about which, the less said, the better.

Matt Abbott opened the event.  His poem, recently posted on the internet, called ‘Kick Out The Tories’, evoked rapturous applause.

Stan appeared as the first of the evening’s Pandemonium Poets.  He read a poem about coal-mining, containing medical terms, but, ultimately, and poignantly, about dust.  He read a poem about the recent atrocity in Manchester, which rhymed ‘religion’ with ‘smidgen’. He read his dog shit poem, influenced, as he acknowledged, by Benjamin Zephaniah.  The note of righteous indignation, and the use of repetition, show the influence.

The main compere, Geneviève Walsh, was introduced by Matt Abbott.  Somebody needs to explain to me, in language that an idiot could understand, why the compere has to be introduced by another compere.

Gen informed us that Facebook has started recommending what she should do with her ashes.  Her piece was about a pair of broken sunglasses, and she produced what purported to be a genuinely broken pair of sunglasses.

The second Pandemonium Poet was the evasive and slippery Lee McHale.  He did a poem about getting stoned.  He did a ‘Roses are red’ poem.  He forgot the words.  He mentioned a band that he used to be in.  He finished with a poem called, ‘Ted the Teabag’. Taylor’s of Harrogate should be very pleased.

Call me a risk-taker, but I think Lee McHale has much more to reveal.

Matt Abbott introduced Geneviève Walsh, again, because, say what the hell you like, Gen has just not got the hang of this compering business, yet.  She broke the microphone stand, albeit, not on purpose.  She can smash everything in the room except one of the beer pumps, if she likes, if we can just get a compere who is a compere, not a compere introduced by another compere.

A certain kind of last-day-of-term feeling seemed to pervade.  I don’t mean that in the sense of finality: I mean liberation, and spontaneity, and well-being, and hope for a brighter future.

Marina Poppa, who happened to be sitting next to me as she got up to read, was this month’s mentee.  She started with ‘Sweary Mary’.  After this, she forewent the hand-held mic, in the interests of freeing her arms.  Next, ‘I Do Not Like These Tory Gits’.  She acknowledged her debt to the forthcoming headliner, Jackie Hagan, and did a poem about performing.

She did a poem about shit.  She did a poem which was a tirade against sexual objectification.  She did a personal poem about a friend whom she lost to alcoholism.  She did the pubic hair poem.  I call it, ‘the pubic hair poem’, because I have heard it, before.  I also believe in fighting deforestation.

The music was provided by Louise Distras.

Louise’s performance evoked rapturous applause.  What she did is not my sort of thing, but she had nearly all of the audience in the palm of her hand.

Distras is a guitar and vocals solo performer.  Her vocals are best when she is at one end or other of the pitch and volume scale (low pitch and loud, or high pitch and quiet). She has a remarkable voice.  She seems to belong to the vocal school of Give It Everything You’ve Got, which is not a bad thing.

I am not going to write a song-by-song critique of Louise Distras’ set.  It suffices to say that I agree with most of her philosophy, which cries out for freedom and justice.  And she can really sing.  However, her right hand guitar technique is rather basic.  Most of it is what I would call, ‘thumping’, occasionally punctuated by a bit of left-hand damping and plectrum picking of the bass strings.  Even I can do that.  I think she picked the treble strings in one number.

Louise Distras has toured Europe, and so, what do I know?  In my opinion, she needs to develop a palette of tones and emotions, including not just some more advanced right hand technique, but some extended chords.  The audience at Unity Works gave her, at every time of asking, rapturous applause.  But I was not convinced.  Call me an old git, by all means.

And then, after an interval, Matthew Hedley Stoppard came on.

This man is living in the wrong decade.  He should be in the 1950s.

He described himself as, ‘a nervous, repressed librarian.’

He was wearing a green, knitted, tie.  I hate green, knitted ties.  My father had one. Somebody gave me one as a present.  I think it was fucking home-made, which made it worse.

Again, I am not going to provide a piece-by-piece description of Matthew Hedley Stoppard’s set, mostly because I don’t want to dilute his material, and I want you to go and pay to hear him.

He was nervous.  His hands were shaking.  He was brilliant.  He is Northern, and British.  He is fucking Larkinesque.

He finished with the words, ‘Thank you for looking in my direction, and feeling awkward.’  I rest my case.

Jackie Hagan opened with the words, ‘I had my leg off, and got loads of funding.’  She said she was glad not to be in Manchester (she comes from Liverpool) because it meant that, for once, she could not see a girl eating an artisan Scotch egg out of a shoe, or a group of 21 year-olds, playing Scrabble, ‘ironically’.  (You could see those things in bloody Leeds.)

As I told her, after the event had finished, she shares in common with Char March the attribute that the banter she delivers in between pieces is as good quality as the pieces, themselves.  In other words, the banter is part of the show, rather than being, as it is in 98 per cent of cases, an impediment that makes you want to rip someone’s face apart with meat-hooks.

Jackie Hagan lavished subject matter on us. I don’t know if she realised the extent of what she was doing, but that doesn’t matter.  She gave us stuff to think about, and I do not mean clichés.  Among these philosophical gems were such items as the following:

Is the straight guy, in the graph-paper shirt in the front row of this audience, the catalyst for more reaction?

If I hitch my skirt up, as somebody is going past, will it benefit anybody?

To what extent does the film, ‘I, Daniel Blake’, fetishise the concept of, ‘the deserving poor’, at the expense of, ‘the poor’?

Is it better to sit in the light, or drink in the dark?

Is it better to buy ‘Schrödinger’s Scratch Card’ (a scratch card that you deliberately leave for 24 hours or more before scratching, so that before it goes into ‘a collapsed quantum state’ you still have the hope that it might win something)?

Further to all that:

Rob Reed (with whom Matt Abbott and I appeared at the Cluntergate Centre last October, as part of Wakefield LitFest) won the Fray Bentos Chicken Pie, for the best heckle.

Outstandingly the best reference to bisexuality or lesbianism throughout the evening was, ‘Relief Manager at Carpet World’.

Jackie finished her set by drawing eyes on the stump of her (right, from her point of view) leg, which has been chopped off just below the knee.  She drank most of a pint of lager out of the cup of her prosthetic leg, and that is not the sort of thing that you see every day.

Jackie Hagan is a brilliant performance poet, and, if you have not heard her, live, you should do so.  Her speech register is certainly Scouse, but she is by no means an alternative, female version of Stan Boardman: her philosophy is profound, and universal.  People who have been to Oxbridge and live in the Cotswolds should, for their own good, listen to Jackie Hagan.


Obituary: Saxa (1930 – 2017)

2 Tone is my music: Jamaican ska fused with British punk.  Musical fashions come and go, but this is the music that I live or die by.  This is the music, without which, life is simply not worth living.  This is the music that sustains everyday activity, as well as inspiring me to greatness. This is the music that I try to persuade my son to listen to (and I have tickets to see Toots and the Maytals and The Specials, later this month). 

 The 2 Tone movement only shows one truly great saxophonist, and his name is Saxa.  He died on 3 May 2017, at the age of 87. 

I listened to jazz before I listened to 2 Tone.  In my opinion, the greatest saxophonist of all time is not Charlie Parker.  I completely get Charlie Parker’s innovation and genius, in much the same way, speaking as someone who plays the electric guitar, that I get Jimi Hendrix, even though he is not my favourite guitarist.  The greatest saxophonist of all time, in my opinion, is Paul Desmond. 

But Paul Desmond never played for a 2 Tone band.  Saxa did.  Saxa played in The Beat aka The English Beat, my favourite band of all time. 

And Saxa’s out-and-out virtuosity bears comparison with any of the jazz greats.  He just made the saxophone do what he wanted it to do, and his musicianship was borne out of ability to express, as well as technical skill. 

If you had put Paul Desmond or Charlie Parker in a 2 Tone band from Birmingham, they would have struggled.  Saxa’s playing sounds as natural as it sounds in keeping with the conflicted nature of the music.  2 Tone is rock music, not jazz.  It is hard and jagged.  The tracks are quite short.  But Saxa found his own place, and made himself at home in it.  His riffs were usually when I would move into the middle of the dance floor, but slow down and get some breath back.  You could go from moving on every beat, to only moving on every other beat, or every fourth beat.  That might give you enough time and energy to consider whether or not to kick the idiot who thought it was clever to stand stock still in the middle of the dance floor, for no apparent reason.  [This blog does not condone violence.]

It isn’t music you just listen to: this is music that is poured into your bloodstream, like petrol into an engine.  The engine doesn’t ‘like’ the fuel: it simply cannot function without it. 

 In my belief system, we don’t say that people have ‘passed away’, or gone to join some hypothetical something-or-other in the sky.  Saxa has died.  But we still have the example of his musicianship.  We still have his music: that endures, and will continue to inspire and educate, as well as captivate and entertain. 

 “I said STOP!       

                         I’m dead.”

Review: Unity Words, 26 April 2017

The show started with The Gudrun Sisters, Seonaid Matheson on violin, and Jacqui Wicks on ukulele and vocals.  This is not just turning up and playing: this is serious musicianship.  Jacqui introduced the set by saying, ‘For people who have not seen us before, we sing songs about harlotry, heartbreak, alcoholism, drug addiction, the devil, despair, and death.’  I responded with my accustomed ‘underwhelmed yay’.  

The set featured a song in which the narrator has murdered her lover by cutting his throat, and who is trying to persuade the judge to send her to the electric chair.  This was followed by ‘the one cheery one’, Frim Fram Sauce.  The violin, ukulele and vocals combined to produce maximum filth.  This is truly the devil’s music: you can feel yourself morally degenerating as you listen.  

Seonaid plays the violin just as well pizzicato as she does with the bow, which starts to look like taking the piss.  

The stage in the Café Bar at Unity Works is in a room with floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, which means that the visual backdrop is a view of the Theatre Royal, and the traffic on Westgate, the main street.  A bus went past.  It was the 232 to Waterloo Garage, which seemed somehow evocative of the bluesy nature of the performance. 

A change of mood was introduced by the old trade union song, ‘Which Side Are You On?’ The chorus was also the evening’s first piece of audience participation.  This produced a fervently presented, Arthur Scargill-style pointing finger from Gav Roberts (who was there as a member of the audience, not a performer). 

The last number in the set was ‘La Vie En Rose’, another cheery one: shome mishtake, shurely.  The coda sounded like the closing theme music to a film, the kind of film that makes you sad that it’s over.

We had ten minutes to recover before Mark Connors came on.  He was wearing a very fetching black shirt with little white squares all over it, which I had to resist the urge to try to count.  He introduced a piece called ‘How To Avoid Being Sectioned’ (as in the Mental Health Act) but had to pause as an ambulance went past with its siren on.  There was more audience participation with a piece with a chorus that went ’96. 96. 96. 96’.  There was a piece about an inauspicious start to a stepfather-stepson relationship, a subject also dear to me.  I have written poems about bereavement, but not about an undertaker.  Mark’s piece, ‘One Step Beyond’ (partly a reference to the ska track) is about an undertaker, called Hadrian.

This is my kind of contemporary, confessional poetry.  It is what Kirsten Luckins once told me off for calling “urban” poetry.  I mean “urban” in the sense of being understood most by people who live in towns and cities, not as synonym for rap. 

 You can buy Mark’s debut poetry collection, ‘Nothing Is Meant To Be Broken’ from Stairwell Books.  (Other debut poetry collections are available from the same publisher.)


In keeping with a quaint custom of Unity Words, the compere had to introduce another compere.  Joe Kriss introduced Geneviève Walsh, in her capacity as the latest mentor for the Pandemonium Poets.  This evening’s line-up featured three female poets.  Susan (surname not given) appropriately continued the Satanic theme with a rhymed poem called, ‘I Met Him’.  Darinka Radovanovic, who had appeared before as a Pandemonium Poet, did an unrhymed piece called ‘Invisible Innocence’, about domestic violence.  She wore a strikingly enormous yellow scarf.  Malika, who had travelled from Manchester, wore a broad-brimmed black hat.  Her piece was called ‘Manchester Calling’, a personification of the city which evoked a combination of craziness, sleaze, and constancy. 

Next up was Matt Nicholson.  I already knew a poet called Matt Nicholson, but this was a different one.  He had his set list written in block capitals, on a piece of paper, on the floor in front of him, which was considerate, because I was sitting in the front row, and it meant that I could read it, upside down.  His first piece was called ‘How Long Have I Been Asleep?’  It was an anti-establishment, political rant.  Next was ‘This Pub’, followed by, ‘Ambition Is A Quiet Moment’.  He introduced a piece called ‘3D Printer’ by saying, ‘Confession time.  My weird addiction is to awful, American sitcoms.’  The title of the piece is opaque: it is actually about cynicism and lack of regard for one’s fellow beings.  He did another piece about pubs, another favourite subject of mine.  This was called ‘Beneath This Old Sod, Lies Another’.  ‘Memento From The Sea’ is a poem about feelings associated with a single instant in time.  I was intrigued by the line, ‘It was a fried moment’.  He finished his set with ‘The Straw House’, the title of which summed up the transient character of much of the set’s subject matter.   Matt’s performance was entirely in keeping with the emerging themes of the passing of time; trying, and not always succeeding, to do the best with what we have, and mortality.

This was further reinforced by the fact that the evening’s headliner, David Jay, had had to disembark from his train, and catch a Megabus, because someone had committed suicide by jumping onto the line.  Nevertheless, he did arrive on time and seemingly in a composed state of mind. 

David Jay wore a rather remarkable, black jacket, which had epaulettes: not fascist dictator-style, gold epaulettes, but epaulettes, nonetheless. 

David Jay’s performance was one of those which require the reviewer to put down the notebook and give his undivided attention, for fear of missing something.  He recites from memory, and, indeed, some of the last part of his set was improvised, seamlessly.  He uses multiple speech registers, and sophisticated breath techniques, some of which reminded me of Zena Edwards, who had headlined here in February.  He uses the movement of, not just his hands, but his whole body, to reinforce was he is saying.  There was a post-modern moment when he took out of his inside pocket a plastic water bottle, which I noticed had no water in it. 

The recurring theme of violence, and the poet’s opposition to it, was emphasised by bouts of shadow-boxing, done very convincingly.  The recurring line with encapsulated this was, ‘They misuse the metal’.  At one such utterance, he tapped the microphone (which his performance did not happen to use) as an example of metal which had been put to a peaceful use. 

The audience at the Theatre Royal lent a more dynamic character to the back-drop by coming out of the theatre.  I don’t think they got paid for this. 

David Jay also used beatbox drumming and imitation of a scratch turntable in his performance.  Some of what he was doing seemed like drama as much as poetry.  Seldom have I seen such a range of techniques used in a single set.  Only once did he consult a piece of paper, in the last part of his performance.  His pieces are generally much longer than mine.  He must practice constantly, or have a prodigious memory. 

As he finished, the fifth ambulance of the evening went past, but with no siren on.

Possibly the most memorable line of the whole evening was said by Malika, in conversation after the performances had finished.  ‘I went to my friend, Seb’s, house, and threw up in his mother’s cake-tin.’

Rude manifesto


1.      Rude boys and rude girls are equal. 

2.      Rude boys and rude girls do not discriminate against rude people from the LGBTQ community.  If yah rude, yah in.  This manifesto uses the term ‘rudie’ to include every member of our movement.

3.      No racism.  Our music is based on black music.  Our movement is multi-racial.  We hate racism, because we hate hatred itself. 

4.      I said, No racism.  ‘If your friends are racist, don’t pretend to be my friend.’



5.      Rudies are generally opposed to violence.  Our movement is about love and understanding. 

6.      Rudies, if subjected to, or observing, violence in a relationship, will report it to the relevant authority.

7.      Rudies will under no circumstances take part in sport-related hooliganism, or any form of religious sectarianism. 

8.      Rudies will, before engaging in violence, demonstrate the principle that, if you look hard, you don’t have to do anything. 

9.      If rudies are up against racists or fascists, they will stand up for what they believe in, in whatever way they consider appropriate, bearing in mind the long-term interests of our movement. 


Rudies will, at such times, bear in mind the legacy of such people as Darcus Howe.  They will not engage in behaviour likely to besmirch such legacy. 



10.  Dreadlocks, or

11.  Short. 

12.  In the latter case, preferably with sideburns.

13.  Bobs, featherheads, and other styles are allowed for female rudies.



14.  Keep it simple. 

15.  If in doubt: jeans, boots, braces, T-shirt, Harrington jacket.


Roots and Culture

16.  Rudies will do everything possible to strengthen and expand the reach of reggae and ska music. 

17.  When such music is played in a public place, rudies will skank, to the best of their ability. 



18.  Rudies believe in One Love and One I-nity.

19.  Rudies believe in No-one Left Behind. 

20.  Rudies pay their taxes. 

21.  Rudies campaign for political change. 

Review: Unity Words, 29 March 2017

Before we go any further, I will admit that this article is not a review of the whole event.  Two people performed, namely, Geneviève Walsh, and Steve Williams, whose performances were of particular interest to me.

The first act was Ric Neale, on electric piano and vocals.  What he does, he does very well.  What he did on the night, he did to the appreciation of the audience.  Not mi sart a riddim.  Not mi sart a lyric.

Steve Williams arrived on stage wearing a bow tie and 1970s shirt ruffles.  He was clearly going to make a statement.

He mentioned that his poem, ‘Swifts’ was about this relationship with his father.  He also said, “I had to come out to him, twice.”

‘Boy, Mid-flight’, is not a poem about the arbitrary murder of a young, gay man.  It is a poem about the emotional connection between the narrator, and a young, gay man who gets killed.

After delivering this tour de force, Steve seemed to gain confidence.  He took the microphone off the stand, in a Luke Wright stylee.  I think there might have even been a bit of flex-wrapping.  The audience was hooked.

Let’s get this clear: a predominantly straight man gave demonstrative fashion direction to a predominantly gay man.  In Wakefield, West Yorkshire.  That is my world.  That is the world that I will fight for.

I was in tears by the end of Steve’s performance.  This was a testament to Steve’s talent, and to his mentorship with Matt Abbott.  I understand that Matt contributed to the choice of shirt front.

The Impunity Words mentoring scheme goes from strength to strength.

The Pandemonium Poets began with Stan, from the Black Horse Poets.  He did, ‘Leaving Footprints in the Sand’, a poem about the terrorist attack in Tunisia, and, ‘Strangely Enough, McGough’, a pastiche of Roger McGough.

Stan was followed by Stewart from Featherstone.  His rhymed poem would have been more brilliant if he hadn’t forgotten the words, three-quarters of the way through.  I commend him for using sun-glasses in a way that actually was relevant to what he was reciting.

Geneviève Walsh arrived on stage, looking like a 32 year-old goth who was going to launch the hell out of a debut collection.  She has blurbs from Kate Fox, Louise Fazackerley, and Steve Nash, and an introduction from Henry Normal.

I don’t get a mention in the text, but I did get a mention in the intro to, ‘They Ain’t Heavy’.

The headliner was Jess Green, from Leicester.

I didn’t like her rap style.

I didn’t get her persona: who is speaking.

There were fast bits and slow bits.  The fast bits were too fast, and the slow bits were too slow.

My delivery style derives from W. H. Auden, Louis MacNeice, and Alan Bennett.  You may say it is antiquated, and that makes me out of touch with contemporary audiences.


Review: Simon Armitage at The Leeds Library, 22 March 2017

The event was sold out.  We got free wine.

There was a very short introduction from an official of the library whom I did not recognise, which shows how long it is since I was there.

Valerie and I were sitting next to David Coldwell, whom I remembered from a poetry reading in Marsden in 2013.  We bought a copy of his pamphlet, ‘Flowers by the Road’, published by http://www.templarpoetry.com.

The so-called New Room at The Leeds Library is about 137 years old.  It contains travel, biography, history, and poetry books, many of which are very old.  A small stage had been prepared.  All the lights were turned off, apart from two, white with a tinge of blue, which shone onto the stage.  Simon Armitage emerged like a  Dickensian ghost.

He read from his collection, ‘The Unaccompanied’.  He said he was going to read for about 35 minutes, then take questions, and then finish with a couple more poems.  This he proceeded to do.

Thank You For Waiting is a poem about social hierarchy and the human condition.  At a performance event featuring its author, it read beautifully.  After about 10 lines, I thought, ‘I wish I had written this.’  After about 40 lines, I wasn’t thinking anything, because I was too absorbed in enjoying the poem.

He read this piece immediately upon his arrival on stage.  All the subsequent pieces were preceded by what I would consider to be lengthy preambles.  It is a testament to Simon Armitage’s magnetism, and the quality and depth of his work, that these preambles were not irritating.  He observed the universal principle that the preamble must be recognisably shorter than the piece it accompanies, and he also observed the principle, in this era, attributable to Char March, that any preamble should have as much literary merit and human interest as the piece it accompanies.

He read a piece about Robert Maudsley, the serial killer, imprisoned for at least part of his sentence in HMP Wakefield.

He read a piece called To-Do List, which features bullet points (and, in the title of which, I think the hyphen is significant).

I was too busily engaged in enjoying the reading to make notes about which pieces were read, and for what reason.

There is undoubtedly a schism between page poets and performance poets.  Within the confines of this sectarian rivalry, I am a performance poet.

Going by his publication and prize-winning record, you would say that Simon Armitage is a page poet.  He is published by Faber & Faber.

What I heard at The Leeds Library was a reading that transcended the difference between page poetry and performance poetry.  Simon Armitage demonstrated that, if you are in control of the language you use, if you have real insight into your subject matter, if you have mastered form and technique, then you can do just about anything you want.

While he was doing all this, he managed to sublimate the experiences he had while he was a probation officer in Manchester, and transcend the fact that he has a Kirklees accent.

Simon Armitage is twenty times a better poet than Ted Hughes.

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. 

Review: Unity Words 25 January 2017

I arrived at Unity Works after having a bad day at the dole office, and still suffering from the residual effects of the respiratory infection which has threatened to kill me throughout the month of January, and from which I am still dying on alternate days.

Ralph, darling, and Simon, darling, can you please not bollock me as soon as I step through the door?  I know you mean it in a laddishly affirmatory way, but we who like to pretend when it suits us that we have Asperger’s syndrome don’t take to that sort of thing.

The compere was Geneviève Walsh.  Whoever is compering is introduced by Ralph Dartford, one of the originators of the event, and The Compere-Finder General.  Ralph is very keen on obtaining an enthusiastic response from every audience, and so his arrival on stage sometimes has to be done twice, in order to reach the required decibel level.

Gen’s hair is still in its bouffant, blue period.  She conducted herself with her accustomed style and vigour.  Gen also hankers after an enthusiastic response from the audience, though in a more negotiated, rather than imperative, manner.  Information recently received via Facebook reveals that, “William does this amazingly deflated ‘yay’ at every single Unity Words.  I enjoy it so much, I want to set it as my text message tone.”

The programme for the evening was: support poet, Pandemonium Poets, the first of 2017’s mentored poets, headliner. There was no music slot, this evening, and I did not miss it.  Some of the musical performances in 2016 were great, but I believe that spoken word does not need music in order to provide a rich variety of entertainment.

The support slot was performed by Kieren King.  Despite his long CV as both performer and compere, this was the first time I had heard him.  I enjoyed his lament about the subordinate cultural position that Salford has to put up with in relation to Manchester.  I enjoyed his piece, ‘She Talks To Pigeons’, which he wrote as an escape from the memory of when he was forced to take a job as a PPI cold-caller.  I was interested in two pieces he did which were pastiches: one about Alan Turing, which was a pastiche of computing terms, and another which was made of parts borrowed from fairy tales.  He recited a poem called ‘Party’s Over’, that had been written by his father, who used to be a spoken word performer.  He finished with a piece in which he addressed himself at various ages that he has passed through, not in chronological order.  This is the kind of confessional, consolatory subject that I write about.  I would have preferred it delivered with more swagger, and a bit less self-deprecation.

The sounds during the intervals were provided by DJ Sharon Shepherd.  It was all good.  I particularly enjoyed the brass band version of ‘Sexual Healing’.

The evening’s Pandemonium Poets were: Sarah Leah Cobham, Stephen Harrison, Darinka Radovanovic, Matt Tully, and Susan Wainwright.

Sarah Leah Cobham is someone I work with as part of the Writing Wrongs project.  She has only started performing spoken word recently.  She says she gets nervous, which I am sure will wear off, soon.  When Ralph Dartford returned to the stage to introduce the next performer, he was fanning his face with his notebook, as well he might.  It was filth, but it was subtle and erudite filth: not just filth for the sake of filth.

Stephen Harrison’s pieces were well-crafted, and one of them contained yet another gag about Matt Abbott’s recent TV advert.

Darinka Radovanovic gave what was billed as her first ever spoken word performance, a piece about her Balkan roots, called ‘My Father’s House’.  She delivered it very eloquently and movingly.

Matt Tully performed a piece about a dislikeable character watching porn on a train.  This contrasts with the other piece of his I have heard, so far, which is about finding peace and solace in a sex shop.

Susan Wainwright performed a piece entitled ‘Could Be Upsetting’.  It is about child sexual exploitation, and murder in self-defence.  She delivered it with gravitas enhanced by a touch of understatement.

Hannah Batley is one of 2016’s Pandemonium Poets.  This is a poetry and performance tuition scheme, run by Ralph Dartford, in which a number of emerging poets (usually five)  pay a fee of GBP 5 each, to have 2 hours of intensive training with members of A Firm Of Poets.  My wife, Valerie Anderson Gaskill, was one of December 2016’s Pandemonium Poets, and she describes it as, ‘A proper shot of adrenalin’.  Ralph has decided to take this a stage further in 2017, and offer longer courses of one-to-one training.  This has been blessed with funding from the Arts Council.  Hannah Batley is the first beneficiary of this scheme.

She did a 15-minute slot, featuring four relatively long pieces.  The first three she delivered standing up, from memory (Hannah is a tall woman).  The last one, sitting down, read from a fragment of a recently-rediscovered notebook.

I wrote 4 pages of notes in preparation for this review.  As Hannah was getting up to go on stage, I wrote, ‘Hannah Batley’.  While she was giving a brief introduction, I wrote ‘4 pieces’.  That’s it.  I didn’t write anything else,  because I was too busy listening.  If you want to know what her work is like, go and listen to her perform.  If the event is ticketed, and you have to pay, then pay.

The headline act was J. B. Barrington.  From his name, I was expecting a nineteenth century explorer.  What arrived on stage was a bloke from Salford.  Another one.  The second of the evening.

He used a few props, as I did, when I did the support slot in December.  One was a genuine Woolworth’s record department bag.  You don’t see that every day.

I have somehow ended up with J. B. Barrington’s hand-written set list.  (And no, I did not steal it, you defamatory bastards.)  He did: ‘You Had Me’, Spanish ‘Things Me Mam Used To Say’, ‘Grapes of Wrath’, ‘Posh Nosh’, ‘Spanish Dolls’, ‘There’s A Reason’, ‘Don’t Look Down’, ‘The Bingo Queue’, ‘She Holds His Hand’, ‘Sunglasses’, ‘When I’m Gone’, ‘Motosave’, and ‘Shampoo, Cigs, and Shit Roll’.  He writes in partly joined-up block capitals.

I have managed to get this far in a review of a programme that contained two contemporary Salfordian performance poets, before mentioning the John Cooper Clarke metrical machinegun.  Both Kieren King and J. B. Barrington used it.

The most remarkable thing about J. B. Barrington’s set was that the political poems were the best.  As I said when I reviewed Luke Wright’s performance at Unity Words, usually, when I hear political poetry, I just want it to stop.  I agreed with every word that J. B. Barrington said about the obscene fact that basic, humanitarian provision increasingly has to be funded by charity rather than from taxation.

It was a great pity that J. B. Barrington had had to drive to Wakefield, because I would have loved to take him on the traditional visit to the Inns of Court to have a few drinks and talk about poetry.  I would love to talk to him about every aspect of it: how he chooses what to write about, rhyme, metre, delivery, the relationship between poetry and social class, and how he justifies charging seven quid for a stapled pamphlet (Woodchip Anaglypta And Nicotined Artex Ceilings).  Yes, I know Suggs has read from it live on stage, but it is still stapled, not glued.

New hope for England

It is hereby recorded that, on this day, 25 January 2017, there was agreement between William Thirsk-Gaskill and Martin Edwards.

William Thirsk-Gaskill is a doctrinaire socialist of a kind that one seldom meets, nowadays. He believes in the diversion of resources towards the most basic requirements of humanity, particularly child health, infant nutrition, female literacy, general female education, and micro-finance.

One of the human development causes that William supports is Leeds United AFC, with its world-wide presence, and extensive youth development programmes.

Martin Edwards is some bloke that I first encountered in the high street in Chiselhurst. He supports Millwall. He buys meat for Sainsbury’s (a job I would quite happily swap with him). He has some improbably beautiful daughters.

But he is mean-spirited, including in ways that are contrary to his own interest.  You might want to stand next to him at a party, in case he said something offensive.  I still cherish the hope that, inside this carapace of right-wing clichés, there may be a glittering humming bird, ready to fly away in the most unexpected direction.  The evidence for this, so far, is not encouraging.

Nevertheless, at this point, we agreed that nobody knows what is going to happen next with regard to Brexit, and we blame Cameron.

We are not just arguing about football, ladies and gentlemen: we are healing the North-South divide. Believe me: if a Northerner can consciously live peaceably on the same island as Martin Edwards, then we are getting somewhere.

None of this would have been possible (or necessary) had it not been for Valerie Anderson.