Tag Archives: Booze

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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The Blue-Gold Can

THE BLUE-GOLD CAN:

Half-hidden, in shade, on this roasting day,
sitting at the foot of a hedge-covered wall.
Grey stubble, torn clothes; most revealing of all,
the familiar blue-gold can in his fist.

I see that he sees me, as I walk past:
vestige of a smile, obscured by grime.
Compelled to respond, I cannot resist:
I give him a jaunty “thumbs up” sign,
for, after all, I think it no crime.

And something within me rises
in sympathy; to be deliriously
drunk, in this solitary way.
The amber fluid, the blue-gold can,
rolling back the horizons of the day.

I remember those days, long gone by.
Days of carefree youth; let the world go to pot.
Get drunk, get high, reach out for ecstasy.
No thought of what might happen;
the damage and the rot.

This man, this vagrant; what, really, has he got?
Rebellion? Freedom? Integrity?
No home, no money, his liver shot;
and yet, somehow, I envy his lot.

I have mentioned my liking/weakness for alcohol before, in this blog.  As the years have gone by I have, reluctantly, been obliged to moderate my alcohol consumption.  Now, as I reach my mid-sixties, I am beginning to encounter problems with “hypertension”, and may be compelled to cut-down even more on my drinking.  In my late twenties and early thirties, however, I had a period when moderation was the last thing on my mind, and my favourite tipple of the time was a “super-strong” lager that came in a distinctive blue-gold can.  Whenever I see youngsters striding around, nonchalantly swigging from the same easily-identifiable blue-gold can, or more elderly vagrants, sipping the lager as they beg for hand-outs, I experience a rush of nostalgia.  It was one of these occurrences that generated the above poem. 

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Saved by John Berryman

SAVED BY JOHN BERRYMAN :

So often it comes down; it comes down to this.
Depression looms, sadness, madness, even worse,
as I thumb through this Faber Book of Modern Verse.
Geoffrey Hill, Wallace Stevens – oblique, opaque;
my patience, my tolerance, so tested, may break.
George Barker, Robert Lowell . . . for me, not so hot.
The pointless puzzles of John Ashberry – “WHAT?!”
The smooth paper slips and slides in my hands.
“I don’t . . . I can’t . . . I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

I flick through the pages, desperate to hear
a voice singing out to me; vibrant and clear.
Then I turn the page to his “Sonnet 115”.
The words, suddenly, make sense; are alive.
“Henry” . . . “Mr Bones” . . . such clever interplay.
I should learn how to do that, but do it my way.
Biting, self-mocking, humour, despair;
the world of John Berryman suffuses the air.
Maybe, just maybe, I am not so thick.
I get it! All of it!  I get his shtick!

So often it comes down to this, you see.
Is it just, do you think; could it just be . . .
I suspect, I fear, he was rather like me?

No regular reader of this blog will be surprised to find me reading a book of modern poetry; but they might be surprised to read about the struggles described in my poem “Saved by John Berryman”.  The fact is, I bought a copy of The Faber Book of Modern Verse many years ago, at a time when I was not nearly as interested in poetry as I am now.  I browsed through it, found myself repelled by really enigmatic, oblique, difficult verse by such people as William Empson, John Ashberry, Wallace Stevens. . . and, feeling intensely frustrated, put the book aside.  It has been gathering dust on my bookshelves until fairly recently, when, strengthened by the knowledge that I have spent much of the last ten years steeped in volumes of verse, I picked it up again.  Imagine my surprise, and my frustration, at finding that many of the poems were just as difficult for me to understand and appreciate now as they had been ten years earlier!

I was on the point of flinging the book aside in despair, when I stumbled across the selection of poems by John Berryman.  Berryman (1914-1972) was an American poet who had problems with alcohol and depression throughout his life, and – like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, often associated with him – ended up committing suicide.  Having never read him before, I was amazed to find the poems not only immediately approachable, but amusing, moving, enlightening, absolutely compelling!  More than that, I found myself empathising with the overall tone or “feel” of the poems, and realizing that what we appreciate in a work of art often comes down to the artist having a similar sensibility to our own.

 

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Sun-Salutation

As we approach Christmas, with the weather becoming inexorably chillier and more wintry, this post takes a fond look back at the height of the summer.

I’ve never been much of a “sun-worshipper”, but last summer was exceptionally hot and sunny, and I spent quite a few leisurely lunchtimes “soaking up the rays”.  My poem “Sun-Salutation” was inspired by – and describes – a particular location, in the city where I’ve lived for the last twenty-five years.  Although the location is specific, the activities I observed there are, I’m sure, enacted in towns and cities throughout the world.  The juxtaposition of a busy market-place and a beautiful cathedral generated my reflections at the end of the poem.

Sun Salutation: (Heat-Wave, July 2013):

At Laxton Square, a pattern of stones
radiates out, in concentric circles,
like rings around a planet,
at a slight incline, from a central grate.

Here, the Helios-worshippers gather,
sitting on metal benches, at the perimeter.
You can spit, you can shout, let it all hang out.
You can slurp a skinful of scrumpy.
All is permitted, in this transitory temple.

Stunned into submission, by savage rays from above,
The worshippers settle in, to a slow
annihilation of the senses.
Sitting, sweating, staring into blue nothingness.
Skin burning, browning, nicely crisping.
All thoughts and feelings oozing, trickling,
sucked into the oblivion of the central grate.
Minds becoming as blank as the blue vastness above.

From the Identity and Passport Offices, close by,
workers emerge, blinking, dazzled by brightness;
anxious to spend their precious lunch hours
submerging identities, in salutation
to the omnivorous power of the
merciless, monstrous orb in the sky.

On one side of the square, market stalls
seethe and thrive, as minions minister
to the worshippers of Mammon.
On the other side of the square stands
the cathedral, hidden by office buildings.

Overwhelmed by these faiths: Helios and Mammon
–       which are vapid, valueless, misbegotten –
its own servants now seen as corrupt and rotten,
the cathedral seems forlorn, subdued,
entirely forgotten.

 

 

 

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Summer Twilight on the Street

I closed my front door, and started walking along the street, intending to do some local shopping.  I heard a man’s voice, shouting something indecipherable, and, looking across the street, saw a couple of men on top of a ladder, doing some work on one of the roofs.  I suddenly realised they were addressing me, so came to a halt, gazing in their direction.  The man then repeated what he’d originally said to me: “Are we in England, mate?”  I had no problems in hearing him, this time, but the meaning of his question still eluded me.  I stared at him, shrugging my shoulders.  “Is this England?” he then said, pointing in the direction of a group of young Asian women in brightly-coloured saris, who were chattering and laughing – “. . . ‘cos it don’t sound like it!” the man concluded.  Finally getting his point, I shrugged again, made some anodyne comment like “Oh, you get used to it” and walked on.

I happen to live on quite an interesting street: St. Martin’s Street, in Peterborough.  It’s a fairly innocuous-looking street, in a working-class area, with a lot of ageing terraced houses; what makes it interesting is the constantly-shifting nature of the populace.  I was thinking about listing the nationalities concerned, but, as it would be a virtually endless list, it’s easier to simplify it as mainly immigrants from Asia and Eastern Europe.  I hasten to point out that – unlike the man on the roof – I have no problems with this at all, and find it an enlivening factor of living on the street.  When you add to this mix of population such elements as drugs, alcohol and a lack of available employment, you get an atmosphere that many could see as “unsavoury”, but I find intriguing and invigorating.  The introduction of bollards, halfway along the street, a few years ago, made a big, positive difference.  Prior to the bollards, the street was plagued by the intrusion of cars, speeding along, using it as a short-cut.  The introduction of the bollards transformed the street, turning it into virtually a pedestrian precinct – a place free for all to stroll and walk at their leisure.

Watching the passers-by, a few evenings ago, I started feeling nostalgic, at the ending of a glorious Summer; and my poem “Summer Twilight on The Street” is the result.

SUMMER TWILIGHT ON THE STREET:

White candyfloss drifts in pellucid blue sky.
Evening sunlight falls, as Summer ends,
on the street.

Gentle breeze flutters the white moustache
of an elderly sikh, cycling slowly,
magisterially, down the centre
of the street; fusing the stresses
and strains of this eventful season
into his calm visage.

Two Italian women argue volubly,
elegantly dressed, as if for
a Passagato Milanese.  Sun flares
off the silver nose stud of an Asian
woman in a shimmering sari.

A grey-bearded man, in robes
and fez, paces thoughtfully.
A skinhead in shorts marches
urgently, carrier-bags bristling
with clinking, jostling cans.

Two stocky Oriental youths,
hyper with MSG, stride past
a Polish woman cleaning her car.
Her small blonde daughter
is on a tricycle, cycling
an endless orbit around the car.

Another Summer slips by; Summer on the street.
Front doors succumbing, Police shields glinting.
Doorstep-sitting, cider-fizz-swigging,
bare feet padding, young lovers kissing.
Endless evenings of blissful blue sky;
comings and goings, neighbours, passers-by.
Kids trudging to school, then merrily returning;
enervating heat, pallid skins burning.
Shouting, spitting, drinking, eating.
Life on the street; transitory, fleeting.
And so it goes on; new sights, new sounds.
The girl on the tricycle goes round and round.
Round and round she goes; round and round . . .

 

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