Sexy Beast

Sexy Beast

Spring, you sexy beast, you’re back!
Blowing hot and cold again,
From pheromones and feathers fluttering,
Pistils and stamens at it,
Hammer and tongs,
To nights that end in ice,
Frosted grass and ruined plants
Pricked out too soon, too tender.
You’re so full of juice
You might explode with green.
Stiff new leaves, quivering catkins
Open-mouthed flowers
And frantic frogs, a-courting,
Birds, oblivious of envious eyes,
Bill and coo and shag.
That’s a bird, too, right?

The Longest Barrow

The Longest Barrow

The fairies have reclaimed this place

of oak and ash and thorn,

Tentatively taking the mounded earth

Where once the railway ran,

Now stripped of iron and engines

That once drove the Old Ones away.

An immense long barrow it is now,

Holding the forgotten land within,

an England that hides, left behind by time

But never lost and only hidden.

Straighter than nature’s rules allow,

This ridge splits unfamiliar crops;

I swear the fairies came to greet

The rows of roses, an ordered army,

Serried rank on rank without a bloom,

Bred for nameless gardens.

Perhaps when each is dug, encased in pot

Ready for the eager gardener’s hands,

Unseen stowaways may hitch a ride

And recolonise this land with fay.

The Magician’s Nemesis

The Magician’s Nemesis ~

I have a very special knack of getting things wrong sometimes. Really, really wrong. I sometimes unconsciously pick up on the underlying currents of relationships and somehow come out with the precise remark that was either in the mind of the other person, or the very thing they would rather never hear. I do it a lot, and sometimes it’s a little spooky and sometimes it seems to be enough to topple a whole house of cards. I’m working at becoming a bit more conscious and censoring it long enough to consider what I am saying. But when I get tired, ill or stressed, it seems to happen even more and things can go wrong.

I also have a knack of being in completely the wrong place at the wrong moment. At school, I was a great fielder at baseball and rounders because I kept getting hit by stray balls. Over the Easter weekend I was at Phantasialand near to the city of Cologne for work. The group I was with all loved roller-coasters and rides, so it was quite a lonely day for me. Added to which it was so cold and snow kept drifting down, and I was suffering with an ongoing migraine attack that meant I was hazy and unfocussed, and the cold had got to my kidneys(which are somewhat scarred after infections), making them ache like crazy. I loathe roller coasters; they make me ill and I simply cannot see the point of them, so there was no way I was even going to go on any. I’ve tried enough in my time to know I’m never, ever going to enjoy them and I’m not going to do something that will make me ill just to prove something.

But one thing I did really want to go and see was the magician. I love magic. Even knowing it’s all fake makes no difference. I love watching even when I know how it’s done. There’s something so incredibly clever about it all. Christian Farla’s Sieben show was superbly Gothic, with elements of steam-punk and delicious costumes. I was a little late, and was the last person into the theatre, scurrying to the back where I thought I’d seen a spare seat. But when I got there it wasn’t spare at all, so I sat on a box at the back that I thought was probably something to do with storage. Almost as soon as I sat, the show started.

Mesmerised, I watched. But about halfway through I was startled to find a man in black coming down a ladder next to me and informing me (in German) that I wasn’t sitting in a good place, and needed to move, now. I shifted off my box and sat on the floor, feeling horribly embarrassed. Ten minutes later, the escapologist act that involved a giant, steam-punkish scorpion and a circular saw showed me why I had been sitting in entirely the wrong place. The box was where Mr Farla descended from the gods once he had escaped from the fatal scorpion. Had I not been moved, he’d have landed on me. I felt a complete idiot. Perhaps I am.

Or perhaps I am simply The Fool. That person who does and says the things that exist behind the serene surface of what we think is reality, that dark underbelly that most are oblivious of. That person who taps into what’s really going on and like the small child in The Emperor’s new clothes, actually blurts it out to the horror of all who would prefer to keep a lid on it all. That person who instinctively knows that things are not as they seem and somehow manages to blow the whole illusion sky high, showing all the naked flaws and ugliness beneath the masks.


Drawing a blank

Drawing a blank


Isobel Hunter had a five pound note and a handful of change to get through the rest of the week and it was only Tuesday. It seemed that she might pay the rent and the essential bills on what she managed to earn but eating appeared to be an optional extra. The meagre contents of her purse were all she had to buy food with, having worked out her average earnings for a week of sketching, deducted the rent and so on, put aside a sum to pay for materials, what remained was the money she had left. Out of that money had to come everything else she might need, including food.

Her stomach rumbled like a distant aircraft taking off and she tried to remember when she’d had more than a few mouthfuls of food. Day before yesterday, she thought. It didn’t help that her chosen pitch was right next to a restaurant with tables set out in the sunshine. The aroma of food wafting over was distracting at best, maddening at worst. What worried her most was that she had mostly stopped feeling hungry at all. Oh there was the gnawing ache that nagged much of the time, but the usual anticipatory delight about eating was gone. Food had become fuel and scarce fuel at that. Maybe she’d have done better to have risked going to Paris and trying her luck round Montmartre.

At least it was warm. The thought of sitting here in the bitter cold made her shudder. She could imagine huddling up under her ex-army greatcoat, ten sizes too big for her, with about six jumpers and wearing fingerless gloves while her hands tried to hold charcoal or pencils.

Well, if things didn’t pick up by late October, then she’d go home, cut off the mouse-coloured dreads her mother loathed so much, die a slow death by respectability and get what her father called, a ‘proper job’. No one could ever say she’d not tried and tried bloody hard at that. Some times the odds were just too stacked against you to have much hope of making it. Right now she thought she would commit grievous bodily harm for a good square meal.

Customers(she refused to even think of them as punters; it went down too many unpleasant avenues of association) seemed thin on the ground today. People loaded with shopping bags hurried past her and avoided eye contact.

‘Maybe I’d do better selling the Big Issue,’ she said aloud, feeling just as ostracised and ignored. If things don’t pick up soon I may not even manage the rent this month, she thought and sighed.

The tall guy with the pony tail was due to come past again soon; every lunchtime, he came past, on his way to the sandwich shop at the end of the road. Every day, he smiled at her and she smiled back. It was the one fixed point of this life that she realised she was looking forward to each day. Feeling a lurch of something that might have been desperation mixed with hunger, she made a snap decision. If she didn’t have a decent meal soon, she was going to be ill. Alert now, and mind made up, she watched carefully so she might spot the tall guy before he saw her; it wasn’t hard as he was a good few inches taller than the majority of the shoppers.

At two minutes past twelve, she saw his distinctive hairline appearing above the heads of the mass of shoppers and fixed her eyes on him, rising unconsciously out of her folding chair so that she might better catch his attention when he got close enough. To her surprise she found her heart was pumping much faster and her mouth was dry.

Don’t be so stupid, she told herself sternly. What’s the worst he can do to you? Say no? Well, then, you’ll be no worse off than you are now.

He walked rapidly, but erratically, dodging people awkwardly as if he was loath to bump into people in the crowd and within seconds he was only a few yards away. As if from a mile away, Isobel noticed that his smile began the second he spotted her, standing uneasily by the easel and her chair, her box of materials laid open like a treasure chest.

She swallowed hard and was about to speak when he beat her to it.

Hello,” he said, and then stopped and looked uncertain, though his smile had just got broader.

Hello,” said Isobel, her voice suddenly quite husky. “I’m sorry to just stop you like this but….” She swallowed hard and made herself go on. “It’s been a bit of a slow morning, and I’ve had no customers today. I wonder, would you like me to draw you? For a sandwich, that’s all. I just need to have someone to draw and then people come and watch. It gives them something to see and decide.”

So where does the sandwich come in?” he asked cheerfully.

Isobel went a deep red.

I haven’t eaten for a couple of days,” she said, not meeting his eyes. This was so shaming.

He stood there, considering, and Isobel continued to flush with embarrassment.

Just a sec,” he said, pulling out a diary and flicking through it. “Yep, I can do it. Nothing fixed for this afternoon.”

She waited a moment before internally punching the air and saying, “Yes!” in triumph but outwardly she seemed calm.

Tell you what, though,” he was saying. “I reckon you’d do better on all counts if you had a proper meal over here and then drew me. You grab your easel, I’ll bring the rest.”

Before she knew quite what was happening, he had scooped up her chair under his arm and shut the box and picked that up too and was striding over to the restaurant that had taunted her so often with the glorious odours of food beyond her purse.

Table for two,” he said to the waiter who came out to meet them. Isobel kept her head bobbed so she didn’t need to meet the eyes of the waiter. “We’ll stay out here in the sunshine.”

Isobel felt slightly dizzy, but she wasn’t sure if it was hunger that was causing it.

White or red?” the guy was asking her and she stared at him without understanding.

Wine,” he said kindly. “You can have what you like but it’s a little cheaper to buy a bottle.”

White,” she said, feeling the sensation of vertigo increase but in a pleasant way. “What do you fancy then? Pencil, charcoal, pastels, pen and ink?”

I don’t know,” he said. “What do you like doing most?”

Isobel was stumped.

Painting, actually,” she said. “But that’s not something I can do on the fly. I usually start with sketches and work from there.”

Then we can start with a sketch,” he said, and then grinned at her. “But after lunch.”

He ordered a bottle of house white and the waiter continued to give Isobel quizzical looks; he was the chap who had seen her sneak a slice of leftover pizza a week or two back and had shouted at her.

What’ll you have, then?” the ponytail guy asked her, when she’d stared at the menu for five minutes without speaking.

You order for me,” she said, shyer than she’d ever been in her whole life.

To her surprise his grin became even broader.

Cool,” he said. “No one has ever asked me to do that before!”

He ordered a starter they could share and then a pizza with just about everything on it and a side salad for each of them.

We can think about dessert later,” he said.

From the now permanent smile, she guessed he was enjoying himself immensely and despite her anxiety that the waiter might come over and whisper in his ear that she was a vagrant and a thief, she realised that since they’d sat down, her own smile had barely dimmed at all. The waiter started to pour some wine but the ponytail guy held up his hand.

We can manage that, thanks,” he said and when the waiter disappeared, he commented to Isobel, “I got the impression he was making you uncomfortable.”

Isobel was impressed.

Well, he yelled at me last week for nicking some food,” she admitted and the guy laughed. “It was only going to go in the bin or be pinched by seagulls, so I figured why not? But obviously it lowers the tone of the establishment having someone like me stealing leftovers.”

Is it getting that hard for you?” he asked, and she could hear real concern in his voice.

Sometimes, yes,” she said. “I don’t seem to be able to make above a certain sum each week so the eating bit is kind of optional.”

How did you come to be here?” he asked. “Sorry, I don’t even know your name. We see each other almost every day and we’ve never spoken. How strange is that? You’re the only person who smiles at me.”

I’m Isobel,” she said, and then because she couldn’t help it, “Isobel Hunter, starving artist. I even live in a garret, sort of.”

Mickey Trelawny,” he said. “I’m hesitant to tell you what I do, though.”

She gave him a searching look.

I can forgive most things,” she said. “Just tell me you’re not an aspiring porn star, that’s all!”

He roared with laughter, throwing back his head and giving in totally to amusement.

No,” he said, wiping his eyes and taking a generous swig of wine. “I’m a trainee substance abuse worker. It’s pretty grim and I think I may have taken a bit of a wrong turn. So Isobel Hunter, how did you end up here?”

Simple,” she said. “I did a degree in art, didn’t want to go home and die of boredom while trying to find a job and probably take a PGCE and end up teaching bored teenagers how to draw still life. I figured I’d give it a try. So far so good. Apart from not eating that is. I have friends who went to Paris. I sometimes think I ought to have been a tad more courageous and tried that but hey, if I can rustle up enough money I might still do it.”

Don’t!” he said, and it startled her how sharp his voice was. “I mean, don’t rush into anything, that’s all.”

Chance’d be a fine thing,” she said. “I am keeping my head above water, just, but I think I am unlikely to get enough spare to consider getting over to France and trying my luck there.”

You never know,” he said, and a shiver went through her. “Your luck might change any time. Might even be today.”

Well, at least today I get to eat, she thought, and he seems like a nice guy. A really nice guy. I just hope he isn’t a nutter. Seems sane enough, even if he is having lunch with me.

The starter arrived and Isobel discovered her appetite had merely been suppressed and not gone away at all. She had to rein in her overwhelming desire to stuff herself with the piping hot potato skins and the garlic dip and be at least half way civilised about sharing the food equally. As she stuck an eager fork into the nearest potato her hand brushed his as he did the same and they both froze for a second or two, unable to meet the other’s eyes. Isobel broke the impasse by rapidly dunking her forkful in the dip and transferring it in one swift movement into her mouth.

Mistake. The potato was far too hot, despite its coating of chilled mayonnaise, and she fought not to spit it out as it burnt her tongue and the sides of her mouth. Bugger it, she thought, why did I have to be so greedy?

She grabbed her wine and took a hefty mouthful to try and cool things down. After a second or two, she found she was able to chew without it hurting too much and she forced herself to swallow and get rid of the embarrassingly full mouth. She’d been so pre-occupied with not spitting it out and trying to manage her mistake without being revolting that she hadn’t noticed that Mickey was almost crying with laughter.

I always do that,” he said when she glared at him. “Forget quite how hot those damn things are. Here, have some more wine.”

He refilled her mysteriously emptied glass.

My mother would be mortified,” she said, taking a more restrained sip this time.

Your mother isn’t here,” he said and she made herself meet his eyes and saw nothing there but kindness. “Look, I’d have stuffed myself if I were as hungry as you clearly are, if that makes you feel any better. I’ve never been that hungry in my life.”

It’s all down to stupid pride,” she said. “If I phoned my dad, he’d send me money. He’d never even think I might actually go hungry. He’d be horrified if he knew for sure how I’m living. But I’m not ready to give up just yet.”

Good,” he said, firmly. “Come on, let’s get on with these skins before they get cold.”

Isobel ate until she felt she might possible burst, or at the very least burp loudly, and then, the pizza reduced to crumbs, Mickey asked for the dessert menu.

Please don’t be one of those girls who are always slimming and won’t eat pudding,” he said, with another of those ear-to-ear grins.

I might be one of those girls who eats far too much and embarrasses everyone by belching the national anthem,” she replied. “But you can relax. Not today. And yes, if they have ice cream, I am up for dessert. It’s an ice creamy sort of day.”

He scanned the menu anxiously.

There is ice cream but the very boring sort,” he said. “Tell you what, since I am free this afternoon, why don’t we go down to the pier, and have an ice cream down there instead? They have about fifty flavours, including bubble gum and pistachio….”

His eyes held a pleading look and Isobel was reminded of a small boy angling for a treat.

Sounds good to me,” she said. “I need a bit of a walk to shake things down a bit and make room.”

Mickey paid and they set off, carrying her equipment between them. Sitting on the pier and nibbling at an ice cream that defied gravity with four scoops of pastel coloured sweetness, she sighed. The sunshine on her face was so pleasant, and her worries seemed to have disappeared. She was dimly aware that really, wonderful as it was, she should get back to her pitch and get on with some drawing but somehow she felt so relaxed and happy for the first time in God knew how long that she shoved it to the back of her mind.

The ice cream melted almost as fast as they could eat it and by the time Isobel was crunching down the cone, her fingers were sticky and her face was a mess. Mickey was almost as bad. She scrubbed at her face and hands with a tissue only to have it disintegrate into paper shrapnel and she burst out laughing.

I can’t thank you enough for a wonderful lunch,” she said. “But now I need to keep my side of the bargain and draw you.”

He made a face at that.

You can find someone much nicer to draw than me,” he said.

He got to his feet and started to arrange her chair and her easel and box and Isobel watched in astonishment as he flipped open the box and cleared his throat. The pier was crowded with families and young couples and old people still with their coats on against the mild sea breeze.

Roll up roll up,” he began, his voice taking on the timbre of a circus ringmaster. “World renowned artist Isobel Hunter is here to draw your portrait, a unique record of your beauty and character to treasure forever. First person gets theirs for just five pounds. Who wants their mug immortalised by this talented lady. Only five pounds for the first sitter. You, good lady? Why sit right down and smile that lovely smile….”

He opened the camp stool with a theatrical flourish and the nervously smiling middle aged woman lowered herself onto it and gazed at Isobel. Isobel swallowed hard and smiled her own best smile and switched her professional eyes on.

By the time the sun started to set, and the light became too dim to draw, Isobel had done more portraits than she’d ever done in one day, and had given away a handful of her own little business card (not that it said much beyond a few contact details in case someone wanted to commission her) and she had sharpened her favourite pencil down to a stub. She’d been so engrossed in her work that she had forgotten to be cautious of Mickey and as they walked off the pier, carrying all her clobber between them, she tucked her free arm in his as they strolled through the rapidly diminishing crowds.

That was some afternoon,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever worked so hard before. They were queuing up. I don’t know how to thank you for your help.”

I’ll have to think about that,” he said, with laughter in his voice and then said, “You can thank me by letting me buy you dinner. Please. I don’t want today to end, so can we just carry on as if it never will?”

Isobel stopped dead, letting go of his arm. He had that little-boy-pleading look on his face and she found that when she thought about what he’d said, it was pretty much the same as she was feeling.

If you let me drop this stuff off at home and get cleaned up, then hell, yeah. I’m up for it,” she said.

Later, much later, a little drunk on wine but high on the pleasure of being happy without having to worry, she stood at her door, feeling a chill at the ending of the evening. This was the test, the final test of who this man was, and if he failed it, then it would ruin what had been a virtually perfect day. There was some shuffling of shoes and avoiding of eyes as they stood in sudden silence after having talked all day and all evening.

I’m not going to kiss you,” he said, breaking the silence. “That’s not to say I don’t want to. But I want to save something for tomorrow, and the day after that. I want to go home and think, I have tomorrow to look forward to.”

She gazed up at him, noticing for the first time how much taller he was than her.

Then come and call for me tomorrow evening,” she said, feeling breathless.

His face lit up with another of those massive grins.

I’ll do just that,” he said and before she could weaken and ask him in, he was gone.

It was only as she put her key into the lock that she realised that even with all the drawing she’d done, she’d not drawn his picture at all.

Oh well,” she said. “Plenty of time for that another day,” and recalled what he’d said at lunch about her luck changing.

She had a strong feeling he might very well have been right.

(For whether or not this first date ever became anything more, you need to read Away With The Fairies

Lost in translation ~ or the perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign language.

Lost in translation ~ perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign


As regular readers may have picked up, one of my jobs is as a teacher of
English as a foreign language; the summer school is rapidly draining
the life out of me as fast as a pint of Guiness on St Patrick’s day.
But the perils of the job are not always what you might think. I
mean, it’s hardly a dangerous sport, is it? The worst that can happen
is a student throws a board rubber at you#, or you catch chicken pox
or the ‘flu.

The perils are a great deal more subtle. For example, students do come to
you and ask you tough questions, or confide in you about something
that worries them.

Last summer, my colleague Dan* got faced with a real doozie of an issue.
He tends to teach the younger students, at pre-intermediate level, so
his students quite often have less vocabulary than the ones I teach.
At the end of a lesson, one kid came up and asked him if he would
explain a word he’d heard while in England and he couldn’t find in
the dictionary. Usually at this point, my heart sinks. During one
lesson on humour, a student told a joke using the phrase “blow-job”
and didn’t know what it meant; I chickened out and asked someone else
to explain. Another student gleefully explained, with actions. Total
incapacitation of entire class followed, from the hysterical laughter
than ensued.

Well, Dan manned up and asked what the word was.

Love-juice,” said the kid.

A few seconds of stunned silence while Dan desperately thought what he
should do and in the end, opted for the “I’m in loco parentis here
so I’d better explain” stance. So he started off:

When a man loves a woman……” and went on from there.

The student’s face got more and more puzzled and finally Dan asked if he

Not really,” the kid admitted.

Dan tried again, trying to make the language simpler.

Finally, he asked where the kid had heard the word, hoping that context might

I was watching Wimbledon with my host family,” the kid said. “And I
kept hearing Love Juice being said by the umpire. What is that to do
with sex, please, I don’t understand, sir?”

Dan slunk away red-faced.


#Yes it does happen, but so far not to me!

*names have been changed to protect the innocent**

** innocent? Yeah right! 

Roseberry Topping ~ a poem about conquering fear

Roseberry Topping

(July 2006)

The last time I stood here,

I did not stand at all:

I crouched, turning my back

On the view I’d come to see,

Fingernails seeking purchase

On scarred beige rocks.

This time, I stand proud,

Nervous still but upright,

Stray strands of hair

Whipping wildly in the wind

Like prayer flags in temples

Straddling the spine of the world.

My knees tremble, it’s true,

But it’s from the climb itself

And not the visceral terror

Of being so very high.

Ten years, near enough, gone by

Like days of sunshine,

And  I’m older, stronger, wiser,

And much less afraid.

Heyokah Blues ~ or the Cost of Being the Clown-Guardians of Society

Heyokah blues

“When everyone thinks something is good, it becomes evil”- Lao Tzu, Chinese sage, fourth century BC

Lest anyone think I am being pretentious quoting Lao Tzu, I should explain I found this quote at the start ofa very enjoyable pulp fiction read, Kingdom by Tom Martin.

I’ve been involved in certain aspects of Native American spirituality now for many years, but not as a plastic Indian, rather as someone seeking to make sense of the now through the eyes and the understanding of another culture. One of the aspects that struck me the most forcibly is the role of the heyokah in NA culture. There isn’t an easy or concise way to explain what the heyokah actually is; you can call them sacred clowns or fools for god, or jokers or tricksters and they are all that. Sometimes they are described as people who do everything backwards, upside down, the wrong way round, inside out. I must say here this is NOT by personal choice. A heyokah is CALLED; sometimes they are called by the Thunderbeings. Those who are struck by lightning and survive often become heyokah. My friend Alice, half Cherokee, half Blackfoot and all medicine woman has a cousin who is heyokah. She tells me he’s a pain in the ass; he eats with his back to everyone at table, laughs when everyone cries, cries when everyone laughs, dresses in light clothes when there’s snow on the ground, and complains of being cold when there’s a heat wave. She also tells me he cannot help this; he would like to stop but cannot. It is how he is and mostly this is tolerated and often even revered. They see him a someone touched by a kind of divine madness and his acts and speech are viewed as messages from God. The interpretation of the messages is often difficult, but in their culture the heyokah is valued and important. I shall leave you to try and understand why for yourself.

My trouble is that in certain senses, I was born Heyokah in a culture where this is not welcome. The heyokah is often apart from the society in certain ways; they are sometimes shamans, often some of the most powerful and feared medicine people. Here, in the West, people like me are not welcome. We’re seen as partypoopers, oddballs, weirdos, mavericks, individualists, lone wolves, wild sheep and above all, a threat. I’m the one that says, “Hey, the Emperor is wearing NO clothes and boy, does he have a tiny todger!” I’m the one who gets the giggles during solemn moments, or laughs out loud at funerals. I’m the one who cries when a small bird dies on the road as I walk to work. I’m the one who won’t dance at parties and then embarasses everyone by dancing under the new moon on the way home from work. I’m the one who you dread meeting when you’re with your new boyfriend because you know there’s a risk I will say or do something that’ll make you cringe.

And I can’t help it. Foot-in-mouth disease? Incurable case here, guys. There’s no hope for this one.

The thing is, I’ve begun to realise that the role of people like me, even where the concept of the heyokah is shunned and reviled, is essential for a society to remain whole and healthy. Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that something everyone believes to be good becomes evil instantaneously; becoming is a long process. If you do not have a few arbiters who retain independent thought and are able to stand clear of popular opinion, then there can be no true freedom. If you let yourself think about the Third Reich and how everyone allowed themselves to believe it was good, then the role of the heyokah becomes clear.

We stand as guardians of something none of us truly understand, but we stand nonetheless, and stand firm even when the personal costs of loneliness and isolation and even hatred from the community seem overwhelming. We stand because that is who we are and we can do no other than what we do.

That’s why I’m blue, I guess.