Tag Archives: Booze

The Follower

The Follower

Flashback in time: the eighteen-year-old me,

muddling my way through my teens, in Barnsley.

Walking home, after a night at The Fitz;

five pints of Bitter, greasy fish and chips.

 

Darkness, silence; when it gets this late,

no-one’s around, save the odd reprobate.

I settle into a comfortable pace;

fifteen minutes from home, and I’m in no race.

 

Or am I? For I begin to hear

footsteps behind me; distant, but clear.

They sound mechanised, almost robotic;

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

At first, I ignore them; they’re in no hurry;

it’s just one person, so no need to worry.

 

But they soon get louder, resonant, echoing;

and, as they approach, something rises within.

Not fear, exactly, more that I resent

the arrogance these footsteps represent;

the assumption this unknown person makes,

that he will, effortlessly, overtake.

 

Stubborn defiance bristles within me:

so that’s what he thinks, well, well, let’s just see!

I increase my pace; put my foot on the pedal,

like an athlete, aspiring to grasp a medal.

 

It has no impact; the footsteps plough on, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

Teeth clenched, veins pumping, I put on a burst.

Let’s see what you’re made of; come on, do your worst!

 

Still no impact; the footsteps keep coming, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

My blood-pressure peaking, my pulse-beat raging;

the footsteps behind me, in sync, never-changing.

 

This is now getting crazy, it just isn’t on;

whoever’s behind is an automaton.

No more fooling around, I’m going flat-out;

I’ll leave him for dead, in my wake, there’s no doubt.

 

Still no impact; the footsteps still there, robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

I now think, what I’m doing is inane;

there’s no way this person’s involved in my game.

It’s purely fictitious, all in my head;

if I slow down, he’ll walk straight past, nothing said.

 

My pace is now frenzied; I’m virtually running.

I see red mists; hear a high-pitched humming.

Still no impact; the footsteps rhythm robotic,

relentless, implacable, metronomic.

 

He’s now at my shoulder, has finally arrived.

I stagger, exhausted; more dead than alive.

He strides past; I feel a chill blast of air.

Is he man or machine? I am now beyond care.

 

A tall, lanky figure, clad all in black;

he surges away, then glances back.

Unmistakeably local, the blunt dialect;

the words he uttered I still recollect.

Teeth bared in a leer; a grinning death’s head.

“I thought I’d never get past thee!” he said.

Like the poem The Working Men’s Club, which appeared in this blog a few weeks ago, The Follower is another memory from my dim, distant youth, in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.  Although it seems a fairly ludicrous incident, it made an impact upon me at the time, and I’ve always intended to try to write a poem about it.

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Early Morning Booze

Morning Mums

Since my liberation from work,

thanks to early retirement, I enjoy looking out

from my bedroom window, onto the street below,

gazing at the Monday to Friday morning parade

of school kids, students, workers, and the mums,

escorting their young children to school.

 

Memories: of fearful schooldays,

of miserable, stress-filled days

in gloomy, depressing offices;

all long behind me, now. “Hallelujah!”

I inwardly cry, in exultation;

a little celebration of freedom, every morning.

 

But who’s this, in the midst of the mums?

A woman I’ve never seen before.

Along she comes; tottering on high heels,

swaying from side to side, swigging

from a can of super-strength lager.

A mop of messily-arranged red hair

strewn across the top of her head.

She wears a skimpy, black, halter-neck top,

befitting the crazy heat wave we’re suffering.

 

She stops, directly below my window;

bends down, to reach into her carrier-bag.

I can see an enigmatic tattoo

on her sun-reddened shoulders.

She straightens up, swigs from the can,

looks blearily around her for a moment,

then moves along again; tottering,

swaying, staggering. The mums walk

around her, not looking her in the eye;

keeping their children well away from her.

 

In some strange way, I envy her;

admire her bravery, her stupidity,

her ramshackle recklessness.

She is escaping from, or entering into,

some kind of personal Hell.

Whatever it was; whatever it is,

I can’t help but wish her well.

In my younger, wilder days, I was occasionally partial to swigging the odd can or two of super-strength lager, at any time of day.  It was a habit that I gradually learned – from hard-won experience – was deleterious to my health, and I eventually managed to stop it.  But I can’t help feeling a twinge of empathy now, when I come across somebody blatantly swigging strong lager early in the morning, and – as in the poem above – I start to wonder about  the circumstances surrounding it.

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The Working Men’s Club

Working Men’s Club, Barnsley, 1968

I enter the W.M.C. under false pretences;

I am not a working man, for a start.

I am an eighteen-year-old schoolboy,

only here because my best friend’s dad is here.

 

My best friend is the same age as me,

but his head is full of intelligence,

ambition, French, Spanish and Latin.

My head is full of fuzziness,

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,

and Jethro Tull on Top of the Pops.

 

He is just about to start

a languages degree at Bangor University;

I’ve had to re-sit my “O-Levels”.

Fast-forward four years, and he’s

living in Seville, teaching English;

I’m struggling to be Assistant Credit Controller

at F.M.C.(Meat) in Sheffield.

 

I hate the W.M.C. The gassy, fizzy beer,

the loud music, the Barnsley dialect,

which I don’t speak; my mum thinks

it’s “common”, and has brought me up

speaking “proper” English.

 

A lot of the men in here are miners,

or ex-miners. They are real men; hard men.

I am soft, and fuzzy at the edges.

We sit down next to my friend’s dad

and a few of his friends. I don’t know

these people; don’t know what to say.

 

With most people, alcohol liberates

the tongue. With me, it impedes it.

Knowing I will stutter if I speak, I decide

it is safer to sit in silence, and smile.

 

My friend’s dad is a Dracula-like figure;

unnaturally pale skin and glossy, black hair.

His glittering, dark gaze fixes upon me.

“Don’t say much, do you.” I sit and smile.

 

“What are you smiling about?

All he does is smile. Look at him!

Cheese! Say it! Cheese!”

 

I’ve never felt so alien. Never felt

such unease. I wish him death

from some deadly disease.

Leave me alone, I silently plead;

Leave me alone! Please!

 

“Here he goes again! Cheese!

Say it! C H E E S E!”

I seem to be going through a phase, at the moment, of recollecting moments from my early life, re-visiting them, mentally, and trying to write poems about them.  Working Men’s Clubs were fairly popular in South Yorkshire, at the time when I was going through my teenage years, and this poem recounts an episode that I found excruciatingly embarrassing at the time, but now, in hindsight, seems more amusing than anything else.

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Vermouth

Vermouth

She’s a regular, at Waitrose.

No messing about;

straight for her bottle,

then the checkout.

 

Clickety-clack, the heels go;

brisk strut across the floor.

Mere moments later,

she’s out, through the door.

 

Frizzy, blonde hair;

bright, strappy shoes.

The crimson cheeks,

the broken veins,

of one in love with booze.

 

Cheap brand of Vermouth;

the Dry, not the Sweet.

Just the right strength, for her;

I bet she swigs it neat.

 

A large glassful,

with her chicken and chips.

That’s the stuff! Glug, glug, glug;

she’s licking her lips.

 

The cushioned curtain closes again;

eases the problems, the pain.

She closes her eyes, floats above

the loneliness, the absence of love.

 

She needs someone to give her a hug;

to meet her glittering gaze.

Someone to give her a reason

for her to change her ways.

 

Someone to save her,

before it’s too late.

Before she succumbs

to her sad, seductive fate.

Long-time followers of this blog will be aware of my liking for, and interest in, wines, spirits, beers, ciders. . .  – alcohol, in most of its myriad forms and varieties.  My interest also extends into what sorts of alcoholic beverages are popular with other people.  This poem started out purely as an exercise in observation, and then developed elements of speculation.  I haven’t seen the central character of the poem in Waitrose for quite a while now; I hope she’s not succumbed to “her sad, seductive fate”.

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Peach Schnapps

Peach Schnapps

I drink it as a nightcap, so potent,
so sweet, my senses swoon under its sway.
But a drink of such richness,
so delicious, so strong, I know,
deep within, to drink it is wrong.

At first, half a glass, then a little bit more,
each successive evening, my trembling hand
pours a more generous measure,
then more, and yet more. So enticing,
in its guiles, resistance is futile.

I laugh to myself, shamelessly,
openly admit my dependency.
This is my laudanum;
I am with de Quincey.
My belly balloons, voluminously.

When I look in a mirror,
unsurprised, I see
an unsettling image,
staring back at me.
The bald head, swollen cheeks,
dull gaze, sickly grin,
of an ageing, chubby cherub,
unrepentant, steeped in sin.

My eyes close; I slide into ecstasy.
Coleridge and de Quincey swim towards me,
waving and smiling beatifically.
We link hands, we three, condemned to be
doomed souls, sinking, slowly,
in an opalescent sea.

I have had no qualms, in many previous posts in this blog, in stating that alcohol is, for me, one of the pleasures of life.  But the pleasures of alcohol bring with them the attendant dangers of addiction, and I have, occasionally, found it a bit of a struggle to keep “moderation in all things” as my guiding rule.  The above poem resulted from a recent flirtation with the addictive properties of Peach Schnapps; but you will no doubt be relieved to hear that the addiction came to an abrupt end, as soon as I read the small print on the back of the label, and realised that 100ml of the liquid contained 278 calories – mostly in the form of sugar!

 

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Holy Brewing

HOLY BREWING

The Scottish super-lager I am drinking
has a golden logo on the can:
the fierce visage of a hawk.
In a gold band along the bottom
of the can, it states: “This beer
is Crafted in Scotland, using
the Holy Brewing method.”
Glasgow Cathedral and the Sabbath
are also mentioned.

And who am I to pooh-pooh this
as holy baloney?   The Ancient Greeks
had their Dionysian dances,
Dervishes whirl in ecstatic trances,
and here I sit, sipping my holy super-lager.

When those first two pints of Barnsley Bitter
went down, at that gloomy pub,
in my gloomy home town, I found myself
floating, above the everyday fug.
This was my transport to a higher realm;
my elixir, and – admit it – my drug.

We are now besieged by a spate
of spiteful, threatening information:
the damage done by alcohol. The front page
of the newspaper proclaims the awful truth,
in bold headlines; conclusive, scientific proof:
drink alcohol – any alcohol at all – the risk
of inducing cancer goes through the roof.

But here I still sit, solemnly sipping.
Ominous warnings cascading
all around me. The sun on the
horizon, slowly sinking.

I was provoked into writing the above poem by reading the headlines on the front page of The Indy newspaper.  Quoting the results of recent scientific research, it claimed there was now “conclusive proof” of the “deadly risks” of drinking alcohol.  The overall message it gave was simple: drink alcohol – any alcohol at all – and you may as well be signing your own death warrant.  What particularly irritated and provoked me was the hysterical, overbearing note of the article.  There has recently been a growing escalation of negative news concerning the effects of alcohol, and this newspaper front page seemed to bring it all to a dramatic climax.

I have always found the pleasant, relaxing effects of alcohol to be one of the indispensable pleasures of life, but if this wave of negative news continues, it won’t be long before I start feeling as if I am one of a persecuted minority – like smokers are nowadays.

 

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The Day After BREXIT

CATHEDRAL SQUARE; DAY AFTER “BREXIT”

The nation is divided,
but sitting here, in Cathedral Square,
jubilation is in the air.
And inebriation.
Union Jacks held on high,
emblematic against the clear blue sky.
A stubble-faced, hardened drinker,
beer can in hand, rushes up to a man,
slaps him on the back. “Cheers, mate!
We got our effing country back!”

As one of those who lost this fight,
I am bemused; the nature of our plight
is not grasped here. Fuelled by beer,
by blinkered enmity, by fear
of invading cultures,
different colours, different races,
a frenzy of ignorance escalates.
An alien presence in this jostling square,
I am adrift, in a sea of sun-reddened faces.
I turn away, impatient to leave,
to look for a quieter place, to grieve.

The day after the fateful European Referendum of June 23’rd, I happened to be at Cathedral Square, in the centre of Peterborough, around lunchtime.  Nothing unusual in that; I live in Peterborough, and walk through the square most days.  As the day was fine and sunny, I quite fancied sitting on one of the benches there for a while, and taking in the sights.  I soon realized that the unexpected result of the referendum had created  ripples of excitement, running through the people around the square.  The above poem is a fairly straightforward account of what I saw there, and my reactions to the events.

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Angry Girl

THE FLATS (2): ANGRY GIRL

Bow-legged, like her bull-terrier,
she patrols along St. Martin’s Street;
glowers at any “foreigners” she meets,
swigs from her can of super-lager.

Her bull-terrier terrifies me;
she terrifies me. Head shaved
at the sides, spikes on top;
her small, shrunken figure,
her fierce face, emanate
hostility, rage.

I come within range of her sight.
The glittering orbs converge, assess,
recognise, accept me. “Alright?”
She tells me about one of her mates:
burgled, place ransacked, hit on the head
by some sort of axe; left for dead.
How is he? “Still in hospital, mate.”

I ask about a man I’ve not seen for a while.
“He’s been dead six months now, mate!”
She aims her right hand at her left arm,
mimes the pumping action of a syringe.
“Too much of that, weren’t it!
I don’t do no drugs; don’t want to, neither”
she fiercely insists. I refrain
from observing the can in her fist.

Hubbub on the street, next morning:
she shouts, swears, howls in misery.
“Have you seen my dog? Someone’s stole him!
Some bastard’s took him!” She sits,
feet in the gutter; accosts every passer-by.
“Have you seen my dog?” wipes
her sleeve across her eyes.

I feel sorry for her; she is desolate.
I steer clear of her, I fear for her fate;
this young woman, seemingly
so filled with hate.

In my last posting, I said that I am currently engaged in writing a series of poems based upon scenes and incidents happening in the flats around me.  “Angry Girl” is the second poem in the series.  It’s based upon an encounter that happened during last summer, but remains vivid in my memory.  I haven’t seen the central character for quite a while, now.  I hope she’s alright, but she’s one of those people who provoke strong reactions, and – as I say in the poem – I fear for her fate. 

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Mistaken Identity

MISTAKEN IDENTITY

They veer towards me,
drawn irresistibly,
as bees to nectar.
They beseech me for money.

Drawn, irresistibly,
by the round, chubby face,
the placid, kindly smile.

If only they could sense the truth.
If only they knew, that beneath
this benign exterior, this sheath,
beats the hardened heart
– grudging anyone their due –
of a thick-skinned skinflint
– and a Yorkshireman, too!

“Mistaken Identity” can be read as a kind of companion-piece to the poem “Local Identity”, which I published last month.  In “Local Identity” I was complaining about how I seem to be constantly assailed by people on the street stopping me and asking me for directions to places I’ve never heard of.  “Mistaken Identity” is on the similar theme of how I am also constantly assailed by people on the street stopping me and asking me for money.  I hasten to point out that I do feel sympathy for people who are in genuine distress, and I would like to help out, if I could; but, in a lot of cases, I get the impression that I am seen as a “soft touch” by scroungers trying to fund their next can of super-strength lager.

For anyone puzzled by the last line of the poem – I come from South Yorkshire, and Yorkshiremen have an unfair reputation for being Scrooge-like with their money. 

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Banana Cure

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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