Showing posts from September, 2010

It's So Clear I Can Barely Stifle A Yawn

Now that Ed Milliband has won the rather tedious Labour leadership campaign and given his inaugural speech to the party, I predict that "Red Ed" is a name you're going to hear a lot in the next few months from alcoholic hacks writing simple-minded prose for redtop newspapers owned by multi-billionaire Tory puppetmasters. But as Milliband himself said, perhaps in vain, a "grown-up debate" would be preferable. He isn't a Red, if that attempted insult even has any meaning anymore outside of newspaper offices and building sites. He's a left-leaning liberal. Although why Reds should be unacceptable in politics when Blues, who represent the opposite, and equally extremist, end of the ideological divide are welcomed in and given a comfortable chair and biscuits, is quite beyond me.

A Disturbing Thought

I've already learned something about myself in the week I've been at University: my brain doesn't work in the way I thought it did. I read "Wuthering Heights" last month, knowing it was one of the first books we would have to study, and coming back this week to think about it a little more, with a view to being the generally acknowledged superstar of the seminar, I realised I could remember hardly anything specific about the book. So I started reading it again. And saw in it loads of incidents and details I had forgotten. Including really significant ones like Catherine's appearance as a ghost calling at the window during a snowstorm early on in the story.

I have gone through life presuming I was some sort of undiscovered genius; but these days I'm beginning to wonder if I might not be a bit of a moron. At the very least my brain needs rigorous training if it has a snowball's chance in Tripoli of ever genuinely understanding anything. How can you write…

Day One, Freshers' Week

Today was my first day proper at the Uni. Two hours of presentations and discussion, first with the Dean (who looks a little like Nick Clegg), and secondly with my course leader Phillippa Bennett, who I like already because not only did she approve my application in the first place, she also remembered my name when I met her again today.

Everybody around me seems very young. But to them I undoubtedly look very old. We will get used to each other. I have associated with people much younger than me for a long time now, in the care job, and in many ways I even enjoy it. The only time I think it's significantly better to keep company with somebody your own age is in a relationship. You need to be with someone who understands why you groan when you pick money up off the floor.

I am a little concerned that I haven't got a timetable yet -- that the Uni intranet system shows me as not being enrolled for any courses -- but I'm sure that's a kink that will work itself out this we…

University Challenge

I enrolled at University for my English degree today. Being the natural pessimist I am, I thought something would go wrong right up until the last minute. But it didn't. And now here I am facing three years of study and a thirty thousand pound debt at the end of it. I couldn't be happier.

There is a conflict here, for a writer who has spent his writing life on the fringes of the small press (I was never fully accepted by the small or the large press, for whatever reason). The small press tends to think of itself as more dynamic than the "Academies". The universities are supposed to produce anaemic poetry by hopelessly unworldly, unhip writers published only because of their contacts and their credentials.

Well, in my experience it's not that different in the small press. Good poetry is good poetry wherever it comes from. And Charles Bukowski's theory that your writing is somehow improved by working dead-end gigs for no money, by living in fleabag rooms and walk…

The Deserving Poor

This is an extract from a longer piece, including comments from other authors, which originally appeared on Facebook.

America's idea of welfare is everybody else's idea of throwing the poor to the wolves and letting them feast. But it's all a matter of perspective, I suppose. Do you know what percentage of the population over there is on benefits? And how much that number rose as the recession -- which I think most people agree was caused by rich folk at the high end of unrestrained free market capitalism -- bit deep? Who are these people deliberately getting knocked up so they can get more benefits? Do you know them personally? And if you do have they told you that's why little Bobby or Alice came along? Could it have anything to do with poor education? Low self-esteem caused by the demoralisation of living on the dole, with nothing to do all day, nowhere to go, no money in the kitty and knowing every time you turn on the radio or tv or read the letters page in the pap…

The Coalition, A Hidden Agenda? Is the Pope A Catholic?

Why, I wonder, after watching an extended News at Ten report last night, is the visit of the Pope a State Visit and therefore, I presume, the financial responsibility of the taxpayer? The Dalai Lama wasn't accorded such an honour. And aren't the Coalition telling us that the public purse is in such a dire condition even the armed forces, the fire service and the N.H.S. will have to share some of the pain when it comes to budget cuts?

You wouldn't, of course, expect logic from a government that pours millions into a foreign occupation that serves no discernible purpose and a nuclear deterrent in Trident which was constructed for an enemy who is no longer there. But the cuts threatened in public services are really ideologically driven anyway. The Government doesn't want to own anything that could be flogged off to business and it is using the deficit as an excuse to pare those services down to a minimum. It might even be hoping for a confrontation with the unions so that…

The Bloody Chamber: Comments I Probably Won't Submit At Uni

Reading Angela Carter's "Bloody Chamber" for my Uni course today, I remembered those immortal, acid lines from Charles Bukowski: " 'Well, shit,' someone said/ And that's what it was."

The introduction to the book says that many students find it shocking. I don't know what that says about me. I think it's a sterile, middle class bore from page 1.

"Let's re-present fairy tales in new and sensuous and surprising ways."
Actually, Angela, let's not.

The arts editor of Cosmopolitan must have loved this book when it first came out, all those years ago.

Dream Record 11/ 9 / 10

Okay, here we go. I was at work again, and lunchtime was approaching. I thought I'd go to town for mine and escape the oppressive atmosphere of the care home. But first I needed to go to the toilet. For convenience I went into what I thought was an empty service user flat opposite the office and peed in the kitchen sink. I was just finishing and putting my cock away when a service user and two carers, both Asian, came out of his bedroom. They didn't comment on where I'd peed, but I felt I should be friendly with them just in case I had made the wrong impression. We got talking. All the while I was thinking what a nice room the service user had. The only drawback was that the ceiling was as high as a warehouse roof. I imagined lying in bed staring up at that ceiling in the dark. It would scare the crap out of me.

I agreed to show the carers the way to whatever place they wanted to take the service user, despite the fact that it would cut in on my lunch hour, and we set off o…

Dream Record 10/9/10

I'm working in a supermarket on an unemployment scheme. I'm having quite a happy time until the shop is taken over by this manager who clearly doesn't know what he's doing. Soon all the procedures that work so well have been replaced by ones that don't. Experienced shop workers try to tell him but he won't listen; and the supermarket falls into chaos. When the people from the Job Centre are visiting I go to them and ask to be transferred back to my old placement. But they tell me that the regulations make this impossible. Pissed off, I walk back out into the shop and see about twenty staff standing around disgruntled near the bread rack; and an idea comes to me. This place is in such disorder now they won't know whether I'm here or not!

I go to the toilet, and when I've done the business, I hang my bag up on a nail by the urinals -- its presence will show I must be around somewhere -- before leaving the supermarket through a side door. I walk for a w…

Paranoia Explained

I get at least ten phishing emails a day. You know the ones I mean. Someone telling you that you've been awarded, mysteriously, £1,000,000 and all you have to do is send them your bank account details so the money can be forwarded to you. Or sob stories from people you don't know who are stuck in foreign countries because all of their relatives have died in a plain crash, and would I mind awfully sending them a lot of money so they can get home. There are many variations on the same theme. One repeated intruder in my inbox even disguises himself (or herself) as a representative of the Windows Hotmail Team and asks for my details so that they can be verified. So forgive me if, occasionally, I get paranoid and don't answer a message from you if I don't know you. And if you're a poet submitting material for BEATNIK (, do me a favour and send a list of the magazines you've previously been published in. You may think my suspicious nature…

Old Farts Induction Day

I went to University for something they called a day-long "Survivor's Guide"  for mature students yesterday. Which is a cute way of saying "old farts induction day" basically, although the letter they sent out prior to the event strenuously denied it was an induction day. We were on the Park Campus, which is just a short walk up the road from the care home I used to work in and the pub we used to frequent with the service users. I hadn't seen the care home since I left the company under a cloud of hot contumely. It was nice. That home I had a few nice months in, before they got rid of the one good manager they had, ripped apart the staff team and sent me to the other care home to work with my old nemesis Cruela.

But as the song says, "that's all in the past", and walking past the building on my way to the University symbolised it perfectly. The "Survivor's Guide" itself was good, although what I really want is to pitch right into …