Thursday, 30 September 2010


i only ever had a passing acquaintanceship with jonathan emmett
when i arrived as a fresh-faced eighteen-year-old in 1986
to study architecture at nottingham university
he was a second year student flogging his drawing board and t square
in order to buy a bigger, better model
it was me who bought his old board
and the t square with his name printed neatly on the handle:
a name which i never bothered to scrub off or change
after this brief financial transaction
i don't recall having anything further to do with jonathan emmett
our paths never crossed again...
until yesterday in a weird way they did...

during the day
i've been thinking about looking out that old drawing-board of mine
i bought myself a set of pastels and some nice paper a while back
and now i've got some free time on my hands
it's a good opportunity to give the pastels a go
maybe try a self-portrait

later, after dinner, it's time for the woodle's school reading book
she has to read the a story aloud with me as part of her homework
this tends to be an onerous chore
as woodle suffers the task unwillingly
and aims to get it out of the way as briskly as possible
despite her obvious talent for reading and words
she mumbles, skips items she doesn't instantly recognise
and generally races through with the minimum of interest and effort
a typical exchange goes something like this:
woodle: 'billy cried out...(mumble)'
daddy (in a helpful encouraging tone): 'cried out in astonishment'
woodle (accusingly): 'that's what i said!' (carries on reading)
on this occasion it's a curious book entitled 'doohickey and the robot'
which hannah actually finds pretty straightforward
we uncharacteristically surge through most of the book at one sitting
before i tell her she can stop and get ready for bed
as she puts down the book and i thumb absent-mindedly through to the end
i come to the 'about the author' page
something about the photo of the boyish-faced writer makes me look twice
i check the cover and see the name inscribed: 'jonathan emmett'
surely not?
the book's from the late nineties
but there's a reference to the author's website
so i dash upstairs to check it out
the site's no longer there but a quick search takes me to another page
where the now considerably greyer and older-looking author
pulls an animated sequence of wacky kiddy-friendly faces
i scroll down the 'about me' section
blah blah blah...
before alighting on a crucial piece of evidence
a passing reference to his architecture studies at university
that seals it - it has to be him!
by some weird quirk of fatherhood, woodle's homework and modern technology
i am virtually reunited with jonathan p emmett once again

Wednesday, 29 September 2010


i am on autumn sojourn from paid employment
a welcome break from wage slavery
a much needed release from the prison of the nine to five
suddenly much of the daily grind has been stripped away
the family routines are all that remain
the daily walk to bournville junior school
the dropping offs and the picking ups
which accompany the woodle's varied after-school itinerary
the piano lessons and the swimming classes
spanish club and brownies
supervising her reading book and her homework
with work on the cd complete
with all those little green plastic boxes finally packaged up
and dispatched across the atlantic to the cd baby warehouse
it is a chance for a little down time
time for reflection
time to stand and stare
time to try out a few new things
time to suck and to see

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


back to harborne high street
with a set of shiny new guitar strings
maybe i can find a better spot this time round
a little less traffic noise
a few more potential punters
i notice a place near the pedestrian precinct
where the pavement widens out a little
outside thomas cook and h & b
i set up in front of the crash barrier
and start to play under a slate grey sky
"there's no mistake
i smell that smell
it's that time of year again
i can taste the air"
kelly jones eat your heart out son!
but the wind is up today
and it makes my fingers cold and stiff
people shuffle past eyes down
there's a melancholic air about the scene
the new strings are more dynamic
but they cut into my fingers even more than the old rusty ones
forty-five minutes of singing into the wind and the traffic
and i am cold and disillusioned...and poor
for not a single tip or even glance of recognition have i received
dispirited i retire to a cafe nero to warm my hands over an americano
and reflect on the hit and miss of life
some days you win
some days you lose
one minute the midas touch
the next the touch of a ten-foot bargepole
kipling's twin imposters
triumph and disaster
that despite everything
must be treated just the same

Monday, 27 September 2010


"...the nation of Iraq, the society of Iraq, have been destroyed, ruined, a failed state. The Americans, beginning 1991, bombed for 12 years, with one excuse or another; then invaded, then occupied, overthrew the government, killed wantonly, tortured ... the people of that unhappy land have lost everything — their homes, their schools, their electricity, their clean water, their environment, their neighborhoods, their mosques, their archaeology, their jobs, their careers, their professionals, their state-run enterprises, their physical health, their mental health, their health care, their welfare state, their women's rights, their religious tolerance, their safety, their security, their children, their parents, their past, their present, their future, their lives...

“More than half the population either dead, wounded, traumatized, in prison, internally displaced, or in foreign exile ... The air, soil, water, blood and genes drenched with depleted uranium ... the most awful birth defects ... unexploded cluster bombs lie in wait for children to pick them up ... an army of young Islamic men went to Iraq to fight the American invaders; they left the country more militant, hardened by war, to spread across the Middle East, Europe and Central Asia ... a river of blood runs alongside the Euphrates and Tigris ... through a country that may never be put back together again."

Thursday, 23 September 2010


it's a bright sunny day
warm and generous like an old friend
i'm proudly sporting an 'elephant in the room' t under a brown jacket
flared jeans and veggie shoes
and a dylanesque peaked cap for authenticity
i have ventured to harborne
home to an electic mix of denizens
a place where the moneyed waitrose brigade
rub shoulders with the down-at-heel home bargains hoi polloi
i peruse the high street
choosing my pitch carefully
immediately the privatized corporatised 21st-century encroaches
the wide pedestrian precinct between sainsbury's metro and w h smith's
out of bounds - private property!
the clocktower adult education centre is draped in scaffolding
the pavements which border the shop frontages are mostly narrow
with insufficient space for passers-by to get past
finally i spot a small recess in front of a low wall by waitrose
plenty of pavement in front of me
although i wonder whether it's another privatised plot
inviting some jobsworth manager to emerge and move me speedily on
time will tell
taking some, i get set up
the music stand to hold my lyric and chord crib sheets
my guitar case on which i scatter four quid's worth of change
mainly 50ps and pound coins
to give the punters an idea of what to put in
and a couple of my recent cd's to boost my street cred... i'm ready
i warm up with a few covers
- old favourites that won't tax me too much
mainly too obscure for anyone to recognise:
'america' by simon & garfunkel
'high & dry' by radiohead
'providence' by kilbey & mclennan
'under the milky way' by the church
the traffic roars past
drowning out my acoustic strumming and unamplified voice
there are in fact far more vehicles than pedestrians
'did dylan and woody guthrie have to put up with this?'
i wonder to myself
despite the acoustic competition, i'm oddly grateful
for the background noise serves two useful purposes
1) it masks my various errors and cock-ups as i stretch
into half-remembered chord progressions
2) it forces me to pipe up and project a bit more
allowing me to compare
the quieter numbers that float up into the blue yonder
with the louder, more punchier songs that are more likely to get heard
despite the steady flow of waitrose customers
the place i've chosen has an obvious flaw
it's not conducive to anyone actually stopping as there's nowhere to sit or lounge
people simply hurry past on their way to somewhere else
again this has its advantages
i find myself replaying botched sections of songs
to get them right the second or third time round
it's almost like rehearsing at home in the front room
but my spirits are almost immediately lifted by the first tip
quickly followed by several more
the demographic is hard to pin down
equal numbers of men and women
but a definite bias towards the middle-aged
happily no jobsworth emerges from waitrose
and to my pleasant surprise i get no aggro
as i relax into my own songs
i begin to take in the street scene
the bus passengers staring through the grimy windows
as if at an exotic zoo creature
the high-vis workmen
the pretty girls
the mutton dressed as lamb
the little gawking kids and their embarrassed mums
the disabled in their little battery-operated cars
after an hour and forty-five minutes
my fingers are red raw from holding down the high-capoed strings
for songs like 'octopus' and 'feels like summer'
it's time to pack up and collect the woodle from school
my ambition was to earn my usual holland and barrett lunch
a pasty and a flapjack for two quid
so how have i done?
i scoop up the coins to do a count-up
it all adds up to the grand total of...
five pounds and twenty-eight pence!!!!
an hourly rate of exactly three pounds
only half the minimum wage
but busking sweet melodies on a warm summer's day
beats shovelling chips in macdonalds by a very VERY long way
i will be back on the high street...
once my sore fingertips have recovered

Wednesday, 22 September 2010


it's rush-hour but we're in no hurry
the woodle and i are plodding happily down the lane
hand in hand
as we enter the park the dew-soaked grass sparkles in the sunlight
we debate the route:
straight on across the bridge and up past the kiddies playground
or around the lake and across the muddy patch by the motorcycle barrier
thinking of my shoes i bend to the woodle's request
and take the crunchy gravel path skirting the lake
keeping one eye out for freshly fallen conkers
it's time to start off a general knowledge quiz:
name four birds that we often see on the lake
woodle takes the question in her stride:
canada goose, swan, brown duck (mallard) and...
(just then we meet a small red-beaked bird hobbling painfully beside the path)
we stop to watch the injured bird with curiosity
then, unable to help, continue through the gap in the fence
we pass bill's house on the corner
and cross the soulless mock-tudor housing estate
where half the properties seem to be for sale or to let
the bristol road is a blur of impatient traffic
grimacing car-owners tightly focused on their school runs or commutes
we imperiously stop the traffic under the protection of the green man
before disappearing through another gap in another fence
back into the mysterious labyrinth of the bournville village estate
i belatedly resume the general knowedge quiz
even though the woodle's not really up for it today:
which country do volkswagen cars like ours come from?
clue: it's a european country beginning with 'g'
another clue: ivan and ruby's mommy grew up there
now we trip the light fantastic through bournville park
then a laurel and hardy moment:
a family of helmeted cyclists get amusingly tangled up with an elderly couple and their dog
the woodle's bag is getting heavy so i offer to carry it
the school entrance mills with well-to-do mums and their dawdling offspring
at the bottom of a steep flight of stone steps
under the watchful eye of the carillon
i kiss my darling daughter a fond farewell
and retrace my steps through the meandering green lung of bournville

Friday, 17 September 2010


blood red sky floods the horizon
leaking into my day
shepherd's warning melts the soft ice cream clouds
singeing the treetops
orange afterglow warms my skin
stirring me from heady sleep

Thursday, 16 September 2010


the sweat of the sun
drips from my brow
the tears of the moon
spill from my eyes
the dust of the stars
shines in my hair
the blood of the dark night
oozes from the pores of my skin

Sunday, 12 September 2010


a man's greatest strength is his greatest weakness
the more numerous his possessions
the more he fears their loss
the greater his talent
the less his application
the finer the bloom of his physical beauty
the greater the suffering of his fading looks
the more developed his perfectionist's eye
the more he misses the bigger picture
the broader his overview
the narrower his grasp of the fine detail
the higher his pinnacle of achievement
the more precipitous his fall from grace

Friday, 10 September 2010


i gaze through the glass into the middle distance
vaguely registering the little rivulets of rain
as they meander down my windscreen
half noticing the cars that ghost across my rear-view mirror
then pull in and park
the drivers who stumble untidily out, fumbling for umbrellas
the scruffy kids in badly-fitting green school uniforms who trudge past
the harrassed parents armed with lethal pushchairs
barking at their errant offspring
briefly they stray into the fringes of my field of concentration
then are gone
for i sit calmly on a faraway riverbank
watching the ripples cross the surface of the water
sipping wine from a tall slender glass
listening to the soothing calls of thrushes
and the sweet poetry that my companion reads to me

Monday, 6 September 2010


for the last couple of months
i have spent the long hours of my paid employment
cloistered in a classroom
with five fresh-faced chinese high school-leavers
they go under such cutesy monikers as flora, sky and...monica!
i wonder what these inscrutable teenagers must make of their experience
accustomed as they are to the invisibility of a class of sixty other
suddenly thrust iinto the full glare
of this prancing, grimacing, gesticulating foreigner
with his messy blond hair and big blue eyes
his pale skin and pointy nose
his penchant for flowery shirts and corduroy jackets
for tossing out awkward questions
and playing the devil's advocate with the answers
most of the time the default setting is bewilderment
they simply cannot detect my irony
although they are nice kids
and our senses of humour somehow manage to intersect often enough
for a little rapport to develop
for example in the cafe at winterbourne house
when i brandish a mini-tub of margarine with the flora logo
(i'd been longing to do that since the start of the course)
and everyone including flora gets the joke...

Sunday, 5 September 2010


a harmony vocal here
a guitar motif there
a touch of reverb or delay somewhere else
the vocals need a tad more volume in the chorus
the congas needs slightly more of a crescendo in the bridge
note by note
layer by layer
arpeggio by arpeggio
a minor chord by f major triad
my artifact is born at last!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


on the cusp
august merges imperceptibly into september
the chill is already returning
three days of camping has stiffened the bones
the dawn becomes a little darker
the dusk ever more premature

hot on the heels of the peregrine
a family of red kites preside over towersey folk festival
above the tents and marquees
over the muddy thoroughfares
high on the thermals they soar
low they swoop in search of their next meal
their mighty wings holding them aloft
poised in delicate equilibrium

the festival music swoops and soars also
melodeons, accordians and fiddles perform tricky manoeuvres
steep climbs and precipitous descents
loop the loops and smooth landings
the musicianship sparks and ignites
burning bright through the late summer night sky