Monthly Archives: October 2015

Lost Talent


A TV programme on Amy Winehouse’s death
re-animates his ghost, in the depths of my mind,
where it has slumbered, undead, over forty years.

I Google him now, he is not there;
vanished in the ether, into thin air.
It seems the universe does not care
that he lived, he wrote, he promised
to be a writer of some celebrity.

Cambridge, 1976, city of dreams:
fitting stage for his brief life of extremes.
Rumours of drugs, drink, depravity;
his squalid surroundings, his verbal dexterity.

At times, he gorged on cream cakes;
at times, he starved. At times he was
pudgy; days later, he was thin.
His eyes always sparkled, behind
delicate frames. Invariably,
there was the impish grin.

I only met him three times;
spoke to him twice. Can’t recall
exactly what was said. I remember
he admired that line of Pink Floyd:
“shine on, you crazy diamond.”
He lived a 1970’s version of
starving in a garret. Became another
Cambridge casualty, like Syd Barrett.

Time churns on; the clunk, the clatter.
Time grinds on; the spray, the spatter.
Does anyone count? Does anyone matter?

The last time I saw him was in
the Public Toilets, in Lion’s Yard.
In his brown Attendant uniform
he sat at a desk in the corner,
reading Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus”.
A well-thumbed copy of Rimbaud’s
“Illuminations” lay on the desk.
His speech was slurred, but he spoke
of enjoying the job, and of how much
time it gave him to read. The next time
I heard about him, he was dead.

He will never enter the realms
of myth. He took on all the trappings,
but none of the pith. Perhaps it was
all bluster; perhaps it was all show.
The ultimate sadness: we’ll never know.

I had the best three years of my life – up to now – as a student at Cambridge from 1976 to 1979.  Whenever I tell people about getting my degree at Cambridge, they always look quite impressed.  I don’t usually go on to inform them that the degree course (in “Humanities”) was at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (now Anglia Ruskin University), and that I did it as a “Mature Student”, aged 26.  Anyway, the main point is that the course was wonderful, as far as I was concerned (European Thought and Literature, and Art History – exactly the subjects I loved and was fascinated by), and Cambridge was a wonderful place to be a student.  We actually got paid to be students, in those days; just imagine!

Alan McConville was one of my fellow-students, specialising in English Literature.  He was a small, rather pudgy individual, with spectacles, a mop of unruly hair, and the countenance of a cheeky cherub.  As I record in the poem, I never got to know him all that well, and only heard rumours of his literary talents; but I was shocked to hear of his death at the age of twenty two.

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War and Peace


“Do I dare to eat a peach?”
Or should I, instead, read “War and Peace”?
In a few months’ time, it’s on BBC;
a series I shall be compelled to see.
Jim Broadbent’s in it: good enough for me!
But then, the book will forever be
an unread classic. I hang my head;
so many of these I should have read.
Now in my sixties, still I feel
lacking in resolve, the essential steel.
I identify with Ethelred,
forever unready, forever in dread;
this Tolstoyan epic, this massive tome,
a sword of Damocles over my head.
A man’s ambition should exceed his reach;
perhaps life’s too short to read “War and Peace”.

I recently read a highly entertaining, stimulating, amusing book: “The Year of Reading Dangerously” by Andy Miller.  It’s an autobiographical account of how he decided to read his way through a list of fifty books in the course of a year.  The fifty books on his “List of Betterment” are generally literary masterpieces or popular cult classics, and included Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace”.  It was partly reading Andy Miller’s book that made me think about whether I should read “War and Peace”.  Then, just a few days later, I saw that the BBC are planning to show a major dramatization of “War and Peace” early in the new year.  I suddenly realized that, if I didn’t read “War and Peace” before the BBC show it, then I would probably never get around to reading it.

My poem has two quotations in it; one correct and the other one deliberately incorrect.  The correct quotation is “Do I dare to eat a peach?”, from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”.  This line has had many interpretations over the years, many of them with sexual connotations; but I just liked the sound of it, and the way it rhymes with War and Peace.  The incorrect quotation I used is Robert Browning’s “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp”, which – purely for the sake of the rhyme – I’ve changed to “A man’s ambition should exceed his reach”.


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Banana Cure


I like alcohol, eat all the wrong food;
hypertension is driving my blood,
but I know these bananas are doing me good.

Not inculcated, in my childhood:
that eating bananas was doing me good.
I never ate them; never understood.

Doctors don’t tell you; I think they should,
for these bananas are doing me good.
It’s all the potassium, purging the blood.

Internet info, a veritable flood;
I digest what I read, as cows chew the cud.
I know these bananas are doing me good.

A simple poem of praise for the humble banana.  Followers of this blog may remember that, a few weeks ago, I was having problems with high blood pressure, or “hypertension”.  My doctor had prescribed pills that did not agree with me, and – whether coincidentally or not – I had the rather alarming episode I described in the poem “Curtain of Blood”.  In rebellion against the medication prescribed by the doctor, I took to the Internet, in search of alternative cures.  Bananas seemed to be a possible option.  Apparently, a recent experiment had shown that people eating two bananas a day had experienced a 10% fall in blood pressure after only two weeks.  My blood pressure was averaging around 160/92.  If, by simply eating two bananas a day, I could lower it by 10%, it would be reduced to just over 140/90 – the “healthy” target range I was aiming at.  I thought it was worth a try.

Two weeks later, after sticking to the regime of two bananas a day, I found – to my astonishment – that my blood pressure was now registering 131/83!  For the first time in living memory, I was actually averaging healthy scores under 140/90!  Admittedly, when I felt as if I was suffering from a surfeit of bananas, and reduced the daily intake to one banana a day, the blood pressure started to rise again.  I now hope I have reached a compromise solution – two small bananas a day – that seems to be just as effective, and slightly less onerous.

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