Saturday, 1 August 2020

Wake Up

Wake Up

A poem for Wakefield. 

There’s a first time you hear a word

A brief, crazy time when that word drifts free

With all its spikes wobbles and and curves

A moment where it bobs around

Loose of meaning

Just a sound

Just a thing unto itself


It doesn’t last long

Words solidify

Form themselves around meanings and objects and emotions and items of furniture

And sort of die

Associations capture sounds in sticky webs

The thrilling nonsense of dancing consonants and vowels

Calcifies into everyday usage

Becomes functional

And you forget, for the most part

That first time, when they were just a glorious noise


I do remember where I was when I first heard the word 


It sounded so mysterious

I was ten, I think, and in tremendous pain.

I’d fallen onto concrete, through a roof, 

And though confused I remember a grown up saying

“We need to get these kids to Pinderfields,

In Wakefield”

Wakefield! Place of healing. Far away. 

It sounded flat, and dark, and grey.

Get these kids to Wakefield!

Rewind a bit. 

These kids? What kids?

What kids have tumbled through a roof?

What kind of roof can a kid tumble through?

Roofs are solid, surely?

This one wasn’t.

Not entirely.

It was the roof of a garage that belonged to my friend John

Or more precisely to his father, his progenitor

Except it wasn’t a roof of a garage

Because we were Blake’s 7

And this was the flight deck of the starship Liberator

Blake’s 7 is a TV series from 1981

It’s set in space

We were pretending to be Blakes 7. In space.

I say Blake’s 7

I didn’t have six mates

Blake’s 3. 

Four if you count the milk crate

Which to all intents and purposes

Played ORAC

ORAC was the computer in Blake’s 7

He was the same shape as a milk crate

We were ten. Leave me alone.

Who’s we? you ask, delighted at my tale

Despite its lack of evident structure   

It was me and John and Lisa

That’s who

John was my friend and Lisa was his sister

Though it was only me and Lisa who went tumbling through

Because it turns out we weren’t sitting on a roof

We were sitting on a window covered with a sheet

Which just looked like a roof

But sadly, for Lisa and me, lacked the robust, child supporting qualities

You would have got from a roof

I hurt my back, I was otherwise fine 

Lisa fractured her skull so I assumed she was dying

And that’s why she had to go

To Wakefield

Lisa went to Wakefield and got her head fixed

My friendship with John was gone by 1986

We moved on, we grew up

I became friends with Paul

Blake’s 7 was cancelled after series four

And when I was 21 I moved to the town

That first spoke its name when I was

Lying in pain on the ground 

And it’s where I have stayed

And it’s where I lie now

I am lost and I’m found there

And my fracture remains

And this random word, “Wakefield”, has settled to mean 

“I am home in this place”

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Aisle of You

I went to the supermarket and a poem happened to me. 

Here it is. 

I have to go to Big Sainsbury’s

We are perilously close to running out of toothpaste

And while I’m there I might as well pick up six or seven bottles of wine

It’s early Summer in the year of the virus

We’ve just started to wear facemasks

It’s still new enough to seem surreal

There’s a pressure on my face that yet hasn’t been internalised

Like my glasses used to feel when I was a vain teenager

Or my beard when it was young and scratchy

I walk through the aisles, looking at my fellow shoppers

At the variety of masks

The colours and the patterns

Wondering if they feel the constant presence too

An old man, plain green cloth covering his mouth and nose

Waits for me to pass at the end of that aisle with all the cheese

I smile, then realise he probably can’t tell

And I’m struck by something as he moves on

His eyes

His eyes are beautiful

I move on

A woman picks up milk, 

Her mask, by accident or design, matches her dress, 

Brown and orange stripes

And above the fabric, her eyes are grey with flecks of gold

Bright and alive in a way I’ve rarely seen

I scan the bottles of wine, second shelf down

£7 limit, maybe £8 if I’m feeling particularly middle class

A few metres across, a guy my age loads wine into his basket 

Top shelf. Fancy.

His mask is black and perfectly tooled, like a supervillain

His eyes are pale cold blue and stunning in their intensity

The girl before me in the queue

Hers is red patterned fabric and looks home made

Eyes like a movie star

The guy behind the till

Checkerboard black and white

Eyes like the ocean

The security guard

A Van Goch swirl of night

Eyes grey like mercury or living stone

Four lads swaggering outside the shop

Get to the entrance, fumble in pockets

Cover their faces with fabric skulls and fire and stars

Their eyes coming alive in that same moment

Wild and defiant and insecure and hungry

Later, at home, as I unpack the wine and realise I forgot to buy toothpaste

I see a woman online

No mask

A defiant selfie in a shopping aisle

Posted to Twitter to make a stand

She is free

Her proud, rebellious, naked face tells it to the world

She will not surrender so easily

To this repression that makes it hard for her to breathe

I look at her face for a while.

Trying to see her

Failing to see her

She’s probably got beautiful eyes

It’s just hard to tell, without the mask

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Time is Relative - Season 12: Revenge of the Cybermen

Well good evening. How thrilling to see you.

You join me on my romp through 1970s Doctor Who, and you're just in time for an exciting adventure with the Cybermen.

Don't worry if you don't know anything about the show. My fidelity to accuracy is not strong. If anything, you'll know less at the end that you did at the beginning.

Revenge of the Cybermen

This week, Sarah Jane finds herself on a space station, surrounded by many, many dead guys. She looks worried that someone is going to come along and say "Hey Sarah, why have you murdered all the guys?"

That seems unlikely. She can say some hurtful things, but she's no killer. She's probably just wondering how to keep Doctor Who away from them. She knows he'll instantly start peering at them close up and scratching bits of their skin off to put in bottles, and then showing the bottles to their loved ones while going "Aaaahhhhhhh?!"

Meanwhile, in a different bit of space, some Cybermen are hanging out in their ship.

It's a very poor ship, if the truth be told. Look at the walls. It's like a student house. And I think the sitting-down Cybermen know it. Their faces may be blank, but there's an unmistakable sense of ennui to their demeanour. "This is worse than rubbish," they're thinking. 

The standing-up Cyberman is trying to enthuse them, though, isn't he? "Come on, lads!" he's saying. "Don't worry about the fact that our flight deck is like a nightmare about a toilet. Soon we'll get to kill a load of humans. That'll be fun. Won't it? Eh? Killing? Ooh, they'll be dead. And we'll be like, Yeah!"

Also in this story we have these guys. They are called Vogans, and their planet is made of gold!

Here, a bunch of insurgents are having some kind of revolution. I can't remember why. I think we're meant to care about their politics, but they all look a bit too adorable for the viewer to think anything other than, "Aww! Look at their weird little faces!"

Here, for example, I think they're having a moment of high drama. But it's impossible to be thrilled, because they look like a bunch of Oompa Loompas who've formed a Glam Rock group.

On the space station, Sarah gets jumped on by this metal Cyber-Snake thing. She's clearly repulsed by the whole idea, and is pulling a face like a drunk is trying to kiss her at New Years.

I think it's meant to be a secret Cyberman Infiltration Snake Thing. But it's really huge, isn't it? How did that sneak anywhere? Maybe it's not trying to attack Sarah. Maybe it just needs someone to listen. "They expect me to sneak around the station. But look at me! I'm massive. And shiny! No-one understands how difficult my life is!"

Doctor Who, meanwhile, has been wandering round the space station, trying to work out why so many people are dead. His attention span is notoriously short, though, and he's constantly being distracted by new things.

What will he do next? Investigate the interesting noise he just heard? Try to cut his own hair? Suddenly wander off in search of biscuits?  It's anyone's guess.

To everyone's delight, the Cybermen finally turn up.

In the old days this would have been a scary and exciting moment. Here, it is just rather pleasant, like a visit from some mad old relatives. The Cyber Leader is making calming hand gestures, as if to say, "Don't worry, we're not staying long, we just needed to get out of our awful spaceship for fifteen minutes."

The one behind is having some trouble, isn't he? He looks very much like he's trying to navigate a difficult series of obstacles, but... there's nothing there. Is there? Maybe he's been sitting down for too long and his legs went dead? Or he's simply overcome with joy because the wall behind him is a colour other than Dreary Toilet Spaceship Grey. 

Alas, the Cybermen are easily antagonised, and it's not long before there's something of a ruckus. 

The Leader starts jabbing repeatedly at a button which makes multi-coloured fire shoot from his forehead. His companion on the left, meanwhile, is giving the humans a mad-hard stare, daring them to comment on his leader's flamboyant methods of attack.

The one on the right just looks deeply embarrassed. "Every time!" he seems to be thinking. 

Eventually the Cybermen agree to stop murdering everyone if Doctor Who takes them down to Voga and helps them blow it up with bombs. 

Doctor Who has one of the bombs strapped to him, I think, but he doesn't really seem to mind. He's probably not properly paying attention, and it's possible he hasn't even registered that the story has started. 

They haven't even teleported down yet, but already the Cybermen is wearing the heavy shouldered slump of someone realising he has to put up with Doctor Who being weird and abstract for the rest of the afternoon.

This is the last photo I took of this story, which suggests that the climax was less than thrilling. If memory serves the bombs don't work, and so the Cybermen start madly improvising, with ever diminishing levels of success, until they just explode or collapse into tears or something. 

These Cybermen look pretty good, though, don't they? I like to think that, once they were away from their lavatory themed spaceship and idiot Leader, they looked at the world with fresh eyes and realised that there was a different life. A better life. Together.

If you enjoyed that, and there's no saying you didn't, maybe you'd also enjoy Doctor Who's previous adventure: Genesis of the Daleks.