Plans and Chickens

This is typical of me. I came home with grand ideas and plans. This is a chance to write, I thought. A writing holiday. A chance to prove to myself that, with a bit of dedication and perseverance, I’d come out with some good stuff.

Well, it’s blooming slow going at the start. I’m getting very easily distracted, and the few things I’ve tried to produce over the last few days have been abortive bilge. While this doesn’t bode well if I was hoping for a career in writing – something that takes more perseverance and persistence than I’ve so far exhibited – I’m not giving up. I’m going to tell my family when I’m locking myself in my new office, and that way I’m enforcing my own writing time. I’ve got out a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle, which may seem counter productive, but as a thing to settle my mind down before I write, it’s so far doing ok. And that way I can’t get frustrated about doing absolutely nothing, staring at the keys. And I’m going to go on walks. And not just walks – drives. I’ll try and take myself to “inspirational” places and sit down and with nothing else to do, write. Let’s get this party started, as it were.

Here’s a poem a few of you have seen before. I brought it to my Creative Writing circle,

inside a shed
One's of my father's broiler sheds

thinking I wasn’t that fond of it, but found myself defending my decisions so vehemently that I figured I must have done a few things right. It’s about the huge chicken broiler sheds we have on my Dad’s farm. I’ve not been to see them since I got back, so I couldn’t even tell you how old the current “crop” are.  It’s something like 50,000 chickens per massive shed, although there are less per shed as they get bigger.  As I had to explain patiently to one friend, they are never old enough to lay eggs, and unlike the aforementioned friend, are presumably free of dirty sex thoughts. For him alone, this poem is called “Edenic Chickens!” to hammer the point home.



The lights were dimmed –

chickens falling asleep in

seconds in the dark,

and this vast sea of white backs

stretches into obscurity.


So eager, flighty in the day,

there was something nearly as

cloying as the heat and smell in seeing

thirty thousand birds resting in peace.


Two birds lay touching, one

resting his head on the soft down

cushion of the other’s back.


They seemed happy.

I told myself.

Six weeks old.

* * * * *

That night I couldn’t sleep

tossing and turning at one in the morning.


When the rustle of bedsheets died down,

I heard the distant rumble of lorries over the road,

come to take them away.

Sleeping Stranger

Well, I’m “home”. Home in England. It’s cloudy and grey, but that feels about right for England.

I got through the rest of camp without any more serious setbacks, and now with a bit of money in my pocket, I’m planning on getting up to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival at some point.

But first, it’s time to get on with some serious writing. With little better to do with my days, I need to get ahead in my writing, so in case of future emergencies, I have blog posts to post. That means getting some short stories down on paper. It means drafting and writing some entirely new poetry, instead of just fixing up some old stuff. It means setting aside some time to think and not get distracted. And now’s the time to do all of that.

So, anyway, to start us off, here’s a new poem.  Not sure if the start is any good or not. It’s a list, but it’s a natural first reaction that builds… so…. well, let me know what you think.

Sleeping Stranger
Sleeping Stranger

Sleeping Stranger

There’s a stranger asleep in a park,

and I’m in the park, near him.

A hot day that drives crickets frenetic,
but leaves us in lethargy.
A light blue top on his fine shoulders goes well
with his dark tanned skin and short brown hair
– some weathered long shorts, and
he’s still wearing shoes. I’ve taken mine off.

He’s lying on his back, face up into the shade,
eyes shut and an innocent smile, and his arms –
wide outstretched, vulnerable and powerful,
two slender fingers curl through grass
as if reaching out for something.
A useless purity, an unstudied grace.

I want to know him, this sleeping stranger.
I want to know why he sleeps on a hot Thursday.
I want to see his eyes and teeth when he smiles.
I want to be old friends already, to ruffle his soft hair,
to jump astride his lazy hips and knock the wind out him,
to lift his head in my hands and kiss his smiling face.

But he is a stranger in a park.

And when he wakes I’ll be gone.


Yes, Rain. In Spain. And before you even start, I’m not on the plain.

Torre de Hercules, La Coruna
Torre de Hercules, La Coruna

I’m in La Coruna, which is the North-west coast of Spain, in the lovely Celtic Galicia. They speak a variety of Spanish here called Gallego. I got a student in Barcelona to give me a few expression in my notebook, and I’ve tried using them in various situations, but I’ve just had bemused looks from the locals. Oh well.

My kids are doing their final exam, and I have kindly stuck on some music for them during it. Only two of them remain at this stage, but it’s all gone reasonably well. According to them, I am both the coolest and best teacher in camp, because I taught them to play poker (using pencil sharpeners as currency) and because, when one kid got out the guitar in front of the whole camp, I was the only one to stand up and join in with Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” I am now sick of this song. I loved it, even on repeat, for a good month, but this camp has just overdosed me. Strangely, these Spanish kids also love “Summercat”, by Billie Vision and the Dancers, which was my song of Summer ’07. This love had nothing to do with me, but it reminds me of old times.

Anyway, I’ve been given an honourable mention in the blog of my good friend Ted, who is on his way to being a professional comic book artist and writer. Pop on over, he’s got lots of lovely artwork, and he updates every day.

As I anticipate more people looking at my blog this week, I’d better whip out a good bit of poetry. And as it’s rained so much recently, I’ll go for something I’m actually pretty proud of. It has its faults, but in this particular case, I refuse to list them as I think its merits outweigh them. Almost the entire thing was written in one go, which is often a good sign. It’s only been tinkered with, since, and never massively rewritten.


Why, when often we shrink
from the cool chill down-the-back of the neck,
damp on the head, hunched up,
cold unbidden tears of our red cheeks,
soaked through to skin, shivering –rain night car

why, when driving through a dark-orange night,
a thick sheet of gliding water on glass,
the dancing pairs of will o’ the wisp lights
the beating crackle that feels as though it will
break through, a rush of terrible exposure –

in both, a sense of shelter. A longing, yearning,
cosy comfort, lost or maintained.
So why, one day with you, does the world spin?
When we shed our coats and dance,
our squelching feet laughing in celebration.

Pigs Can Fly

I know I use this as a place for literature, not personal updates, but I’m supposed to be mark an exam and writing some reports, so I think I’ll update you with some important news here.

I work at the largest summer camp in Europe. I think. If not, then it’s the largest one that teaches English. Anyway, a lot of kids have been getting fevers and not feeling very well. As a general precaution, the more serious kids are sent to the nearby hospital, and at Friday lunchtime, we learnt that one of them had swine flu.

Since then, 38 kids have been tested, and 33 of them have been cleared of anything. 5 are still undergoing tests. The problem is, with lots of kids coughing and dealing with ordinary types of flu, parents have panicked and come running to pick their kids up. Between yesterday evening and this morning, my class has reduced from 15 bright and eager-to-learn faces to 4 kids, sullen about how many have left. And I’m sullen as well. 2 of those have parents visiting tomorrow, to see how their kids are doing. They might be taken home too. Which would leave me with a class of two….

I’m fine, by the way. Even my heightened sense of hypochondria can’t detect anything wrong with me. I’m just sad that so many parents have withdrawn their kids from my class. My Drama project was going to be group singing, but now I think they’ll object to the 2/4 of them standing on the stage and singing. So it can be a play… I suppose.

I’m a little concerned that, with such a small class, my kids will get moved to the room of a more veteran teacher than myself and that I’ll be turfed out, and I’m more concerned about how to restructure my classes to include games for tiny numbers of kids, but I’ll cope.

That’s all for now, I’ll keep you updated in my next post.

My Class
My Class


Good news. Week 2 is much easier than week 1. I’m less stressed, and I’m getting my planning done in no time, which leaves time for hill walks, trips to the beach, even a capoeira lesson from my friend Paulo. And of course, some writing.

Not me or Paulo
Not me or Paulo

All of this work has left me turning to coffee again. Today was a record-breaker – 3 and a half cups, and then a cup of tea 2 hours later. And I still went to sleep, another 2 hours after that. And missed lunch.

Truth is, I get addicted to things, very easily. It’s why I’ve never tried smoking. It’s connected to why I can’t read books out of order, why I lock myself in my room to churn through episodes of a TV series. Perhaps it’s why I’ve never watched “Lost”, because by all accounts, I would curl into a ball, starve, and forget how to communicate with humans.

So coffee is something that I avoid, unless I need it to sustain myself. But sometimes the world of teaching can be stressful, and more frequently, the world of teaching needs you to be totally mentally alert and full of enthusiasm that’s as genuine as can be, at the drop of a hat.

This poem was written when I first began teaching. When I first threw myself into teaching teenagers, and then straight from that class to another with adults. Something I’d cope with now, and have done, but something that at the time needed some intense planning, and some quick improvisation. And at the end of a long day. So this poem was

The idea behind it is that the sounds run in total parallel to the rest of the poem. If I was ever to read it aloud, I would either need to tape myself making the noises, or get someone to perform it with me. Experimental? I hope so.

Anyway, I went back to it again this afternoon and made infintessimal changes. I know that bigger changes can and perhaps should be made, but I wanted all the sounds that the words make, to be made. Hmmm.

I’m mostly left with confusion about how exactly to structure it. Like two columns, parallel. A human eye can’t read both sides at once, and directly inserting them breaks the flow of the poem. But it’s a work of theory, not of perfection. I’m going to post it with imperfect editing – this poem was a bitch even in Notepad and Word, so making it look good on the blog is more fuss, and I’m hungry. Remind me to come back and neaten this up sometime.


Click // Clink.
Set the cup and check for change. Jingle.
Half a euro.
Need this, five minutes,                   Clink. Thunk.
reading practice, page fifteen.           “Café con Leche”.
How quickly will they finish that? Click.
Too quickly. Whiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
The brain runs a search to the whirr of the coffee grind,
a thick clot of caffeinated sludge, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
searching for something to sweeten it. Click.
The gush of the milk at pace with my gurgling thoughts.
A tumble of hard-pressed images rushing past,
Then slowing to a trickle…
And it’s over, the break, the panic, the class,
The day, the week rushes past at the pace of a coffee,
Held in a thin plastic cup,
Disposed of lightly and then ready for the next.

Click // Clink.aaaa

Set the cup and check for change. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Jingle.

Half a euro.

Need this, five minutes,             aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Clink. Thunk.

reading practice, page fifteen.          aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa “Café con Leche”.

How quickly will they finish that?aaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Click.

Too quickly. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaWhiiiiiiiirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

The brain runs a search to the whirr of the coffee grind,

a thick clot of caffeinated sludge, aaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

searching for something to sweeten it. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaClick.


The gush of the milk at pace with my gurgling thoughts.

A tumble of hard-pressed images rushing past,

Then slowing to a trickle…


And it’s over, the break, the panic, the class,

The day, the week rushes past at the pace of a coffee,

Held in a thin plastic cup,

Disposed of lightly and then ready for the next.

Diving Into the Glaslyn

Gee Whillikers, Gang.

I’d forgotten the levels of stress that accompany teaching kids. I work in the mornings, and find various ways to relax in the afternoons, and then plan for the next day in the evenings, then sleep. Luckily, my kids are (quite) well-behaved), and seem to enjoy learning new things. It has been a while since I last taught kids on any kind of scale. Certainly not 15 at once. So it’s all good practice, and now I know them better, week 2 should be easier.

That’s the explanation for the absence of a Midweek post, and I recommend you anticipate the same thing happening this coming week as well. And then the one after that. And then I’ll be more talkative again.

I’m going to through up a poem now that’s gone through…. a lot…. of drafts. It was originally three separate half-poems that I’ve stuck together for having a common theme – hope you can’t see the joins. I’ve looked at it again this week, and while it remains imperfect, compared to it’s earlier versions, it’s looking pretty good. Still, I reckon what it needs is a little more condensing, and for me to be less flowing with the adjectives. Tell me what you think.

It’s based on swimming in the River Glaslyn, a place we used to go on family holidays, a place I’ve actually managed to find a picture of. It was an hour drive there, and nearly an hour walk to the spot in question, but we loved it, and I expect I’ll return there someday.

The Aberglaslyn Pass
The Aberglaslyn Pass

Diving into the Glaslyn

The smooth rock glistened with foot-pats,
breeze brisk, sun bright, water clean,
so clear and fresh we can see the bottom.

Running up for another dive,
you press down upon the rock’s edge for just a second
…heel raised, coiled like a spring,
your whole weight compressed upon
the fore part of the feet against the rock
…before you launch, arms forward.

Time rushes into the splash, the cold fingers of the river
parting for you, embracing you,
making you gasp, the water chaste and untouched,

and you disappear in an eruption of glistening light
sunk into bold white froth.

Soon you surface through the youthful torrent,
shaking your head,
hair wet and laughing like a seal,
then we kick down for some choice pebbles,
into the translucent world of dappled shadow below.

Behind the cries and noises of play,
your mark remains upon the rock, unnoticed,
your human imprint upon the solid stone,
until the sun’s lazy heat washes it dry,
one by one, the toe marks fade, vanish,
and the world returns to how it was before.

Our exact rock and pool
Our exact rock and pool

Dog This Big; A Tragedy

Hey all. It’s Saturday, and I’m putting a blog up. Yes, that’s right, a day earlier than I said I would. I think this is in part due to the cooler air up here in half-sunny half-cloudy Galicia. I’m based in La Coruna – check your maps, it’s the north-west corner of Spain.

In the last week, I’ve taken buses from coast to coast of Spain, and hopefully, there is a poem on it’s way about that. I also got a nice poem started sitting in a park in Madrid. Madrid has some lovely parks, by the way. But it was 39 degrees Celsius.

Anyway, enough faffing. I have a theory that the oft-promised short story will appear as soon as it’s not promised, so it definitely won’t be appearing for at least two weeks. Things will come when they come.

Luckily, I have a trusty co-author who I can turn to in times of need. True, Lily has now disappeared out of my life for a couple of months (and I will miss her dearly, as demonstrated my how much I kept hugging and kissing her before they left), but before she left, we got a story done.

Continuing on from the huge media storm after her first literary success, Lily has petitioned me to once again co-write a masterpiece. This time, like all great authors who wish to make each of their works stand out, she has chosen a different subject matter, and while some of her themes remain the same, her new approach to these common threads present a stark and astonishing new light on the nature of human life; its joys, its fears, and doubts, but also its transience, and futility. Yes, that’s right, she’s tried her teeth out on a tragedy.

Dog This Big; A Tragedy

Once upon a time, there was a girl called

The co-author strikes again
The co-author strikes again

and her friend
(spelt with an H) (Lily is spelt with an L)

There went on holiday to France. in a town called Bookmarks. They had two bookmarks. One for Lily and one for Hannah.They went to the town in a big van, with big bookmarks.
The kids were on their own, coming home.
Lily was holding Baby Sam.
They had a cochecito. (little pram)
Lily was pushing the cochecito with Baby Sam in it, and she was happy.

There was a naughty doggie in the town.
A big big old doggie, like this (arms stretched wide)
He was blue and white and yellow, and his name was… Clarjoo.

The dog was chasing them. He was scary.
And the doggie tried to eat Lily and Hannah, and then he got them.
Then they got eatened.
And he ate Hannah. And then he went to sleep, and there was no more Hannah and Lily, because they died.

And their daddies looked for them everywhere, but they couldn’t find them, because they
got eaten. Because they died the doggie’s tummy.
They’re dead.
The dog was very giant, like this much.

“Where’s Lily gone?” said Daddy. “Where’s Hannah gone?” said Hannah’s Daddy.
“Where’s Lily gone?” said Mummy. “Where’s Hannah gone?” said Hannah’s Mummy.
“And where’s Baby Sam and the cochecito?” said Yaya Lisa and Poppa Ray.

Then, Mummy and Daddy and Hannah’s Mummy and Daddy and Yaya Lisa and Poppa Ray said “Where’s
Lily and Hannah and Baby Sam and the cochecito?”
And then, they saw a big dog, the woofie, he had a really really big belly,
because he’d eaten Lily and Hannah and Baby Sam and the cochecito.

“Oh no!” Said Mummy and Daddy. “This dog has eaten Lily and Hannah and Baby Sam and the cochecito!”

“What a NAUGHTY doggie!”
“We want our children back”
“We’re going to make new children.”
“How will you make new children?”
– “But if we make new children, they would die again.”
“Also new children, won’t be the same, and we love Lily and Hannah and Baby Sam very much.
And we quite liked the cochecito too.”

And all the mummies and daddies and Lisa and Poppa Ray got eaten too.

That’s the end.