The Church Of St. John

THE CHURCH OF ST. JOHN

It stood sandwiched between two terraced houses, a tall grey skinny building with a door of peeled blue paint and a single window, always curtained shut. It wasn’t anybody’s house. John had passed it lots of times, often wondered what it was or who used it, but had never been inside. He found it fair to assume that it was a church, or some sort of place of worship on account of the simple two-lined fish carved into the stone above the entrance, but nobody he knew had ever been able to confirm or deny it. His friend Maurice, who worked down at the History Centre, didn’t know anything about the place and there was nothing in the local records to give any clue. John had bought or borrowed virtually every book available on the subject of the Avenues and surrounding area, but none of them made any mention either. 

   On this particular Tuesday afternoon in late August, John was hurrying to the barbers for a haircut when he passed the building and noticed the door was open. Not wide open, but enough to afford a look. John stopped and peered inside. It was a dingy high-ceilinged room with a scuffed maroon carpet and dull beige walls, a dado rail running around the middle. There was another door set in the far wall, closed. There didn’t seem to be any furniture; certainly not in any part of the room that was visible. 

  John was torn as to what to do. He wasn’t the type of fellow given to wandering into anywhere uninvited. Generally speaking, John liked to mind his own business and expected others to extend him the same courtesy. But this was a place he’d wondered about, off an on, for a few years. Usually, he didn’t get too bothered by such things, but with a place so near to home, it was the not knowing. That stone carved fish could mean anything. He knew it was a Christian thing, the fish, but he had never seen the door open before. And now the door was open. He was early for his haircut, and the heat was making his head throb. It would be cooler in there, inside the building. He had time. 

   He stepped inside. 

  It was bigger than he had imagined. Wider. The sunlight fell from behind him and spread his shadow on the floor. It smelt faintly sweet and fusty, like a charity shop. The smell of old books and damp cardboard. John looked around. No altar, nowhere to sit and contemplate. No candles or pulpit. It was totally empty. For some reason, he was reminded of school assemblies at Constable Street Primary, some forty-five years gone now, the taste of warm souring milk in his mouth and the floorboards hard and shiny beneath his folded ankles. The teachers dusty giants on the stage, looming over him and the other rows of chuldren. Hands together, softly so. Little eyes shut tight. The words wandered into his mind, but he couldn’t place them. A poem? A song? He couldn’t remember. 

  There was a notice board on the wall to the right, three posters pinned up. John unfolded his glasses from out of his shirt breast pocket and slid them onto his face. He stepped closer. Two of the notices were pictures. One of them looked like a bird in flight, another some kind of rolling green scenery. It looked rather like something a child would draw. The third notice was just words, black type on yellow. John could see the headline in large bold capitals: 

IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE. 

   He couldn’t quite make out the rest. 

   Hello? Hello, can I help you?

   The door in the far wall was open and a woman stood there. Early fifties or thereabouts, long grey-streaked hair tied back in a pony tail, plain dark jumper and jeans. 

She gave him a polite, enquiring smile. 

  Oh, I’m sorry, said John. I didn’t mean to intrude. I saw the door was open and I thought I’d … he tailed off. He didn’t know what to say, exactly. He didn’t know what he wanted, exactly. 

   The woman nodded. 

   That’s OK, she said, that’s absolutely fine. Our door is always open to visitors, she said. 

  I just wanted to look inside, said John. I’ve always wondered what this place was. 

   This is our church, the woman said. She stepped forward and offered her hand. 

   I’m Dina, she said. 

   I’m John, said John, and he shook her hand. 

   The woman’s face lit up.

  Oh, how wonderful, she said. John! And this is the Church of St John! She took both of Johns hands in hers and shook them like a tambourine. Yes, she said, yes, yes, yes! She beamed at him. John just stared at her. He felt his mouth curl into a nervous grin. He looked down at her hands. It looked so strange. He didn’t quite know what to say.  

   You must come and meet everyone, said Dina. 

   She turned and led him back through the door, pulled him almost, and John had no option but to follow.

   There were around half a dozen or so people sat around a table in a small kitchen area, men and women, most of them middle-aged or older. There was a pot of tea and a packet of biscuits on a tray, along with milk and sugar, and  spoons. Books and pamphlets stacked neatly in several piles. The men and women were all looking at the doorway as he came in. All smiles. It was as though they had all been sat waiting patiently for him. 

  Everyone, said Dina, everyone, this is John! John has come to see us!

  There was a chorus of John! Hello! Hello John!

  One of the women got up and pulled a chair out for him. 

  Sit down, John, she said, please. 

   I can’t stay long, said John, but he sat down. 

  Would you like a cup of tea, John? Dina opened a cupboard above a sink and took out a mug. She sat down next to him and poured tea. 

   There’s milk and sugar there, she said. We have sweeteners, if you prefer those? Colin, she said, Colin, where are those sweeteners you had? 

   A heavy set dark-haired man at the end of the table reached into his shirt breast pocket and produced a small yellow and white tube. He stood up,  leaned across and placed the thing next to John’s drink. 

  There you go, John, he said. 

  John smiled and nodded, added milk to his tea and picked up the tube of sweeteners. He squeezed out two small white pellets, plip-plop, stirred with a small silver spoon, tapped twice on the rim of the mug and placed it carefully back onto the tray. 

   Why had he done that? John didn’t have anything sweet in his tea. He had given sugar up last summer after his father had dropped dead in his back garden whilst watering his roses. John had found him face down on sodden grass, hosepipe still running, a pool formed around him. Heart attack. Ever since then, John had been watching what he put into his body. No sugar, no processed food, as little salt as possible. He’d stopped drinking bottles of red wine during the week and left the car at home for all local errands within a five mile radius. Movement. Exercise. His father’s death had acted as a wake-up call. Heart problems, they can run in the family, his doctor had said. John was trying to live a clean life. Five fruit and veg a day, every day, and nothing artificial. He certainly didn’t have sweeteners in his tea. In fact, John could remember trying them once and absolutely hating the taste. Bland. Synthetic. Sickly. He lifted the mug to his lips and blew gently on the hot liquid, placed it back down. 

   Father just before we go.

   Everyone was looking at him. 

   He cleared his throat. So, what sort of church is this? he asked. 

   Oh, a Christian church, said Dina. 

  She picked a pamphlet up from one of the piles and handed it to him. There was a picture of people on a hill, scores of figures bathed in a celestial golden light that spilled from the clouds above them, their arms raised up to the heavens. Some of the people were lifted off their feet,  they looked like they were drifting upwards, rising up into the luminescent sky. 

THE RAPTURE. 

“We who are alive … will be caught up together with them in the clouds to  meet the Lord.”

   Rapture, read John out loud. He put the pamphlet down and looked up.

   What, he said, like the end of the world?

   Oh no, said Dina. 

  More like a new beginning said another lady at the other side of the table. She was small and blonde and chubby with bright, laughing eyes. 

   John looked at her evenly, tried not to smile. 

   You believe that you will be … spirited away? 

  We believe that we will transcend our earth bound bodies and live in heaven with our father. She spoke gently and calmly, as if explaining something to a child. 

   By being literally lifted off the ground and rising up into the sky?

   Yes, said Dina. Exactly that. 

   John looked at her. She smiled at him.

   And when will it happen? This Rapture?  

  We don’t know. What we do know is that it will be followed by seven years of tribulations. 

   What, like plagues of locust? John struggled to keep the mockery out of his voice. 

   Wars, said Colin. Earthquakes, floods. Natural disasters. 

   Well that happens now, said John. All of that happens now.

   One of the men at the far end of the table leant into to his neighbour to exchange a whispered aside. John caught the movement from the corner of his eye. 

   What was that, he asked. What are you saying? 

  The man ignored him, carried on his whispering, the woman nodding slowly, yes, yes, her eyes on John. 

   The room felt warm. There were windows high up in the wall, but they were fastened shut and the air was still and thick. John could feel the dampness gathering under his arms. His fingers touched his mug, but it was still piping hot, too hot to drink. He didn’t even want a cup of tea. What he wanted, really was a glass of water. He opened the pamphlet and flicked through the pages. More pictures of clouds and hillsides. Barren fields and deserted cities. Planets and outer space. A huge and shadowy Jesus figure stood on a mount, his arms outstretched as if in welcome. 

   Hear our prayers tonight…

  It’s not just natural disasters, John, said Dina. Man will turn on his fellow man. 

   And where are you lot when this happens, asked John, regretting his words as soon as they had left his mouth. You lot. Sounded condescending. Aggressive, even. He didn’t want to offend these people. They were clearly nuts, he thought, but this was their place, after all. He had wandered in uninvited and they had welcomed him. He had asked and they had answered. 

   We are all thy children here … 

   Those words. 

  We will be in heaven, said the small blond woman with the dancing eyes.  She leaned across the table. Everyone will be in heaven, she said. 

   Well, everyone, who has accepted Jesus Christ into their heart as their Lord and Saviour, said Dina. 

   And what if you haven’t? 

  Well, you’ll have to go through the tribulations. you will be persecuted as a Christian.

   I’m not a Christian though, said John.  

  Wait till the Anti-Christ walks the earth, said Colin. You’ll wish you were a Christian then. He gave a grim chuckle and folded his arms like that was that, end of debate.  

   That sounds like a threat, said John. 

   Nobody around the table said anything. They just looked at him. 

 So what else happens in the tribulations, he said. Apart from the earthquakes and floods and the plagues of locust. What else?  

 Great hardship, said the woman who had been whispering with her neighbour. Persecution, she said. She nodded gravely, yes. Life will be difficult for many people, she said. 

   It’s difficult now, said John.. 

   But then Jesus will return and make his Earthly Kingdom, said the man sat next to her. He had an accent; eastern European, Czech or Polish, thought John. He couldn’t place it exactly. 

  Oh, so it’s not all doom and gloom then? John attempted to lighten his tone, sound jolly, but there was no response in kind. Nobody laughed. But there was no animosity in the room. No tension in the silence. He looked around the table, met each of their eyes in turn and saw nothing but kindness. 

   This is what we pray …

   John, said Di, drink your tea. It’ll go cold. 

   He looked down into his mug. His mouth felt dry and there was a faint sourness there, but he had no desire to lift the cup to his lips and drink. Those little white pills. Those sweeteners. He could still taste them. He looked up. 

   And when it happens … the Rapture … where will you be?

   Be? asked Di. 

  Where’s the…the meeting point? The gathering place? Are you all coming here?

   No, she shook her head. Sadly, this is our last day in our church. That’s why we’re a bit bare. We’ve had to take all our things out. 

     You’re leaving?

   Case of having to, I’m afraid. The landlord sold it to someone else. A business man of some kind. A property developer, I think. They want to turn it into flats, I think. 

   How long have you been here?

   Around fifteen years, said Colin.

   And is it an actual church? 

   Yes, said Di. It’s our church. 

  Yeah, I know, but is it … what I mean is, can you actually do that to a church? Just turn it into something else? 

   So it would seem, said the blonde lady.  

   So where will you go, said John. 

    That’s what we need to discuss, said Di. 

   Keep us safe when dark is near. 

   It was a prayer, that was what it was. A prayer from infant school. They would say it at the end of every day, after they’d been read a story. They would sit on the mat, all of them, the entire class, their hands together softly so, their little eyes shut tight. And there was a tune to the prayer, and they would sing it, all of them together. And he would sing it again to himself later on, before he went to sleep every night, but quietly, under his breath, so his brother wouldn’t hear him at the other end of the bed. His brother was older than him and didn’t say his prayers any more, thought it was for babies. John tried to remember when he had stopped. But he couldn’t think. He couldn’t remember. 

   And through all the day.

   His haircut. He was going to be late. 

   Well, thank you, said John, thank you for letting me look around. 

   It sounded ridiculous, saying that. Look around where? Jesus. 

   Oh John, you are so welcome, said Di. 

   She touched his mug of tea, turned it around so that the handle was facing him. 

   But come on, finish your drink first, she said. 

   I’ve got to go, said John. I’m going to be late. 

  But he couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t make his legs work. It was like they’d gone to sleep. 

   God, this room was so warm. How could they stand it? 

   Listen, he said, I don’t think I … 

  He fell quiet. He didn’t know what he didn’t think. He pressed his fingers to his temples and shut his eyes, tight. Stars exploded behind his lids. Stars and white shapes rushing past him. He rubbed hard, then opened his eyes. 

   They were all looking at him, waiting. 

   

   

Cobby & Litten

Here’s the links to the albums and some reviews, interviews etc.

COBBY AND LITTEN

Get all the music here:

https://cobbylitten.bandcamp.com

Short film here:

https://vimeo.com/213709795

Interviews and reviews:

https://louderthanwar.com/cobby-litten-people-come-sea/

http://www.ijamming.net/spoken-word-is-alive-and-well-and-living-in-the-north-of-england/

https://louderthanwar.com/hull-people-interview-cobby-litten-people-come-sea-music-city-vultures/

Fragment : Brian Clough Stood In Front Of A Waterfall, early 90’s.

… I remember those late summer afternoons down the Boulevard, that flat with the concrete floor and the oil paintings done with matchsticks, Brian Clough Stood In Front Of A Waterfall, that was a favourite, the only one I kept I think, threw the rest of them away, anyhow, the one LP I remember most vividly from that golden time is the Best Of Diana Ross and The Supremes, the one with the black background and the row of microphones and red lips, I’d come in weary at the bone from slinging sacks of spuds at amateur pugilists down Holderness Road and I’d boil up a pan of water for coffee, roll a smoke and slap on the Supremes, Come See About Me, Some Things You Never Get Used To, Forever Came Today … strange gaff that, backed out onto a communal back yard and there would be music leaking from every window but the inhabitants largely invisible, just fleeting shapes behind nets, I used to doze off on the couch with the needle bumping the vinyl, woke up in a panic once, clock said ten past seven, fuck, I was getting picked up at 7:15 am, woah, overslept, overslept, that’ll teach you to go in pub on an afternoon, I pulled on the dirty jeans and trackie top and bolted out onto Hessle Road, that strange three-quarter light of late summer, the golden hour beloved of sci-fi film makers, and there’s me stood there, dumbfounded among short sleeved lads and lasses in summer frocks all waiting at bus stops, all blasts of perfume and hair twisted in wax and the fish shop light was on, the steam coming off the silver counter, a hungry queue spilling out the door, frying tonight, the other shops all iron shuttered and it dawned on me, it was evening, it was seven pm, work was not until the next day, all the days and nights melting into each other back then, and that other navy blue night when sleep paralysis was prowling the neighbourhood, me horizontal and petrified in the wee wee hours, and a stranger came a tap-tap-tapping on the back door, not the sniggering dwarf clutching a cutlass my agitated head had conjured up in half sleep, but a real person, a lad in a red and black baseball cap wanting to know if Alfonso lived here, no pal, sorry, just me and The Supremes, but stop making a row, please, they’re all asleep, don’t wake them up, took me ages to get them off ….

My People Come From The Sea

people sea

 

My people come from the sea;

they’re drawn upon,

go to work afloat, come down three days,

non-stop in Norway,

the Icelandic waters.

 

My people are stoic like Iroquois,

ignore the rest of the country, face away,

lips pursed, arms crossed,

never get ill;

you can’t have a tablet unless your head’s hanging off.

They absorb too much

and do not complain.

 

They admire America,

the America of Frank Sinatra and The Four Tops.

They’re being dragged into the light,

kicking and screaming.

 

People you come from,

the people you’re drawn to;

broken, human, dispossessed,

frantically gathered fragments

of the selves they had left behind as kids,

fractured memories,

fuck off

with your self indulgent gazing;

I’ve got a pad full of certificates pal …

 

Are these the people I go to?

 

I like deep waters.

My people come from deep waters.

My people are deep waters

My people are in deep water.

 

Memories of the gas fire on,

big toe on the Betamax button:

Paris, Texas; Harry Dean.

 

Eighty cigs a day.

Eighty cigs a day and a crumpled suit,

a ruffled demeanour,

Columbo schtick.

The beloved outsider;

Harry Dean.

Harry Dean Stanton.

 

I’m content,

relaxed and normal,

a blind eyed monkey constantly evolving.

Not agitated,

not frayed at the edges with a suit on.

 

There he goes;

walking down the road,

getting smaller …

 

 

 

 

 

Three Hospital Fragments

IMG_5773

 

Hospital Fragment Number One

 

Dear NHS, you are driving your users mad with this constant bleeping. And the lights, Jesus, how can we sleep beneath this canopy of UV? I have headphones, and at least the radio is free. Could you please play a request for Sleepless of Spring Bank, trapped in his electric blue cocoon with a clamp on his leg. Please play anything by Snorey Norey and The Throat Rattlers.

I know my name and date of birth off by heart.

The school dinners are magnificent, jugs of lukewarm water and a lofty view of distant ribboned roads that pelt with traffic even at 2am. Children of the night. Soft rock anthems filling cars. God, I hope I never become a heroin addict. What hard work that must be.

That clumsy youth who banged my wheelchair in the X-ray room …

I wonder if I could stay awake for the full twelve weeks?

I bet the sunrise looks good through that full-length window. I wonder how many times I’d have to launch myself until the glass shattered and I was falling through the air, grabbing at damp night sky, framed in a halo of tiny diamonds.

It is taking all my effort of will not to royally kick off in here.

Try to transcend petty fury and discomfort though, and arrive at calm detached tranquillity, rise to meet it, bound in white and blue sheets and entombed in trailing wires under a blazing black electric sun. Peter S told me not to use imagery like that, shards of light, I don’t like that, he said. He’s right, of course, a shard of light is a lazy crutch to lean on, some weak fumbling for a vague sense of mystic grandeur. This is why people pay good money …

I can hear a very old woman crying out in pain somewhere to the left. It looks strange, writing it down like that, using those words. Crying out in pain.

The only light in here is electricity and lack of light, lack of clarity.

I refuse to take drugs to make me go to sleep.

I am curious to hear what 3am sounds like in this box of propped up life.

I wish that cunt in the bed opposite would get some headphones.

 

 

Hospital Fragment Number Two

 

It is very easy to trick the brain. A nurse told me a trick – if your leg itches beneath the cast, scratch the other leg on the corresponding spot and, miraculously, it works. Your brain is fooled by this very simple move. I asked if it was OK to slide a knitting needle down there to scratch, but this was met with a mock-horror, no no no! Risk of infection. But what about risk of insanity? Harder to treat or cure. Bigger drain on the system. One of the other nurses has laryngitis, she sounds like a hollowed out toy.

Choice of three different pies for dinner. I’m gonna have to watch it in here, I’ll be going out in a wheelbarrow. Anyway, the days in here are great, a man comes round with a trolley full of newspapers and chocolates; another lady wheels a tea tray around, someone asks you your name and date of birth every twenty minutes or so, probably to remind you of your continued mortality.

Time fairly gallops.

Later on, another nurse is going to show me how to inject blood-thinning drugs into my stomach. This is a new and delightful development. Hopefully I will overcome my distaste of needles in time to get a raging smack habit to ease me through my seventies, just bang up and drift off into the arms of Jesus or Jah or Buddha, whoever will step forward first to catch the body.

This nurse, she says that her hairdresser won’t let her have her hair cut short. This is what she tells me.

I’m struggling to take this on board, I’m tired …

 

Hospital Fragment Number Three

 

Jesus and the flamingo and the lights of the city outside again.

I found a Book of Gideon in the bedside drawer. Spent most of the evening reading Bukowski On Writing, some of it interesting, some of it not. Why am I being kept in here? Blood clots?

I can hear whispering in the corridor – your daughter just rung … I can’t put the lights out just yet, I’m afraid … yes, I will do soon …

If they catch me with my illicit plug I’ll be for the chop. Pats testing requirement they said, but there’s wires hanging from every bed. The tremulous wail of the elderly and hurting. A cup of tea? Do you have sugar in your tea? This is the national medicine, Britain’s lifeblood. How about a Horlicks? Don’t tell that fella anything, he’ll write it all down and use it against you later.

I am keeping myself awake to watch a football match I have no interest in. When will I learnt to focus my energies on things that really matter? Can you feel me touching that?

Hajha came with a big bag of fruit, tons of it, enough vitamin C to rid an orphanage of scurvy. Apples and pears and oranges and bananas and blueberries and grapes.

I keep thinking about Niall. There was a passage in that Gideon Bible in Welsh =- well, in all the languages, but it was the Welsh that stuck in my eye – the bit about God so loving the world he gave it his only son. The clock swivels its hands to cover its eyes.

Verb – to glorify.

A row of children clapping their hands. Delighted children watching cartoons, kids with no Mams or Dads Louise told me about the people smugglers and the syrup they gave the children. She stood on the beach at Kos and welcomed the children into Europe.

On my TV, the news reporter holds the microphone up to the little girl.

Would you like any painkillers? Do you need any help? Sit up, I’ll do your pillows. A mug of hot chocolate. The simple things in life.

Louise said to be a poet you had to be an active witness in the world.

A future to believe in.

Pretty flamingo. Tucked my toothbrush into my waistband.

The sound of vomiting and running feet. Oh, it’s brown. I feel guilty for … I feel awful now.

Dignity.

To glorify – extol.

She is 87 years old.

I just heard the nurse say.

Journal Entry, 26th January 2016.

original_sailor_tattoo

 

… an eraser of love … that beat, insistent, emerging, that group, the music that rattles bluetooth speakers and personal headsets and speakers in homes and cars and the like, those personal caves people retreat into. being on the radio is weird, you’re sat in an antiseptic room talking to yourself with right wing propaganda gurning silently from the corner of the room in eighteen different garish colours, predominantly blue, like an American military blue, like Sky blue, like that tattoo fixers programme that so enchants me at the moment, all that suffering for your art bollocks, fuck it, let’s have live suicides on telly. Seen all this sort of thing before, associated it with heroin and the Velvets. Don’t wanna be trapped in any particular era, especially at my time of life. Acid house, punk rock, northern soul, 2-Tone, it was all mighty at the dawn of the day. Too much musing. Too much deliberating over what gets thrown in the blender. The trick is not to think. The best NutriBullet recipe is spinach, banana, apple, lime and nuts. Your five a day in three or four gulps. Two weeks on that, you’r enlightened. That rapper, that Flat Earth Believer, I really want to stand with that guy. Obviously don’t want to wander the same meadows of lunacy, but it would be nice to have something to believe in once in a while. Can’t stop listening to Underworld. Makes me think of being in the back of a car, before I could drive, someone’s passenger or kidnap victim, tilting around corners, the windows an upside down film, the overhead lights, all the sodium and moonglow above the city, then the outskirts, the edges, the dark back country roads and the blue and green dashboard glow. Sheffield, there’s a place. Giant steel balls when you step outside the station. Why were they conjured up? This is supposed to be done in a five minute blitz, like the blades of a kitchen machine. I’m gonna get a new tattoo, a list of ingredients …

Journal Entry, 23rd January 2016

 

wine dark sea

… convinced the man in the corner shop just blew me a kiss, not the classic blown from the palm of the hand sketch, more a subtle pursing of the lips. He’s new there, not the usual fella, so he’s blissfully unaware of our usual protocol over Bounty bars and wine and emergency bits of milk and matches, he did not honour the time-honoured grunted acknowledgment and muted nod. Could be a new phase. The sun peeking out from behind a factory. Anyway, my head did not get unduly turned, spinning as it was already by a workmanlike three points in the capital, the new moon over the river and the pubs packed with tiger feet dancing. And now it’s pelting down hard outside, waiting for the room to get too warm, the grape sat heavy in the glass, the wine dark sea filling the gutters outside … The Wine Dark Sea,  now there’s a mighty vision of a book, one ship chasing another across the opening page. Violence under a vivid blue sky. Men sending machinery across the waves. Maybe could develop the budding paper shop flirtation in this way, escalate the tension until it’s a full-blown armed pursuit with flags unfurled and cannon shot booming off the waves. Is the rain outside ever gonna stop? Turn it off. Lee Mavers, he was tuned into the music. The rhythm of the rain. The Rain Horse, read that. Marcia and Mick in France, bet there’s blinding black sheets of rain up on that mountainside. I miss my mates. Oh January, when will you ever fuck off? You and your mate February. You are an empty cupboard raided of the last scraps of Christmas ….

A Stone From Totleigh Barton

IMG_5646

 

I came home from Totleigh Barton with a rattle in my boot. It’s there now, if I shake my foot beneath the desk. Sounds like a stone. No idea where I picked it up. On that long uphill track out of the fields, perhaps, or that silent road down past the stream that led to two different villages. It must have lodged itself somewhere along there. I vaguely remember walking back to the farm house along that deserted track and hearing a faint rattle, fancying that it came from somewhere around me; a rural stalker perhaps, some gnarled old woodsman, dragging a lame leg behind him as he dipped in and out of the trees, watching me, cradling an axe. I’ve got a city dweller’s head and the countryside agitates the darker corners of my imagination. It’s the sudden movements in hedgerows and the bellowing beasts in distant fields. I like it, though, the countryside, its strange remoteness. Makes me feel alive, in much the same way that writing does. That same awareness of existing in the moment, the same quickening of the blood.

The Freehouse of The Imagination at Totleigh Barton is a wonderful place to write. An ancient farmhouse set down in pastures of green nothing. No TV, no radio, no Internet, the nearest phone signal a decent stride away. I was there for the Arvon Tutor Development Week, along with a dozen other fellow writers/tutors and the course leaders, the poet Peter Sansom and novelist Tiffany Murray. Fine folk all. This was the fourth time I’d been to an Arvon Centre, but the first as a course participant. I didn’t really know what to expect. The main thing I wanted to do was widen my own frame of reference. For the past five years, most of my tutoring has happened in a very specific environment and one markedly different from the rolling soft fields of Devon. Creative Writing in prison can be immensely rewarding, but as a tutor it can sometimes limit the avenues you explore. Because I generally teach through the act of mutual learning, my aim for the week at Totleigh was to find out different ways to learn. And hopefully get some writing done.

The time on the course was chopped up between morning tutorials and exercises, presentations of shared practice from our peers and one-on-one consultations with Peter and Tiff. Afternoons were for writing and evenings were for readings in the barn. As ever in an Arvon house, the food was cooked up and served between all us on a rota basis. It was a peaceful, laid back vibe. I must admit, I did feel a pang of guilt at spending a week away from the domestic whirlwind. The idle observer could be forgiven for thinking that all I did was lounge about reading James Kelman and go back for seconds of bread and butter pudding. But now, when I look in my notebook, I can see we packed an awful lot into the days and covered a huge amount of ground. I flick through the pages and see fragments of childhood, a glass staircase, the ghost of David Bowie, a severed tongue flapping on a concrete playground, an aeroplane wreck at the bottom of the ocean and a worried tortoise called Adolphus. And that was just on the Tuesday.

It would be futile to try and recreate the magic of an Arvon course here on paper. These things are best experienced first hand, and then left to marinade in the memory, so that they may nourish and strengthen you for the days ahead. Suffice to say, I came away from the Freehouse of the Imagination with some new friends, a fresh perspective, and a bagful of brand new angles that will help me grow both as a tutor and a writer.

And I’ve still got my stone, kicking about every time I set down my foot. I wonder what kind of a stone it is? Flat? Round? Smooth or jagged? Big or small? It feels like it’s a fair size, rattling around down there. It’s not uncomfortable. I can’t actually feel it against my foot. It’s trapped somewhere within the sole itself. The mystery is – how did it get in? There’s no discernible hole in the boot, no entry or exit wound. I could gouge it out with some kind of implement, I suppose, but what then? I’d only set it down somewhere for it to get tidied away or forgotten, or thrown in a bin. And I want to remember my week at Totleigh Barton. I want to preserve the magic. So I’ll leave my stone where it is for now. I don’t mind the rattling. I’ll carry it around with me and see how far we get.

Journal Entry, 21st January 2016

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Five hours on the phone to a helpful android and I wore my fist out banging on the desk, handfuls of hair on the floor and there’s not enough coffee in the world. Struck by how easy it is to spend money on the modern High Street, you put one tentative foot outside and there’s a vacuum cleaner in your pocket. New career considerations: road sweeper, funeral parlour attendant, historical guide for a northern quarter, I can read blue plaques mate. Saw Rick who told me about the Gypsy Moth and how it was fenced in the factory now, no chance of flying the machine back home, the wings unscrew, but, well … these things are never straightforward eh? The TV in the next room is telling me about the dead Russian guy, my pal the Accidental Diplomat worked on that one back in the day, why do these kind of inquests take so long? I may write mine now to save the doctor’s precious time – he pegged it due to excess modernity and industrial strength bacca, plus fingers worn down to stubs from hammering out this drivel. The bells of the old town were playing Bambury Cross this afternoon, and tonight I will be scrutinising tactics on artificial grass under artificial light. Is it too late to become the new Don Howe?

Journal Entry, 20th January 2016

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A day typing in the old town near Bill’s old house, no folk singers in the pub opposite today, unusual for a Wednesday. Bought a couple a cup of tea and heard a story about a wandering bear. People are excited about next year, about the potential. It’s good to see. They’re still tearing up half of the city centre for the statues and what not, sprucing the gaff up for when the dignitaries descend. I hope they build somewhere warm for people to sleep. Dickensian scenes in every other shop doorway, sleeping bags and cardboard, one young man cross legged on the cold concrete, blank zen gaze, just a doffed cap at his heel, turned up, expectant, no eye contact, a cold day for reverie. Me, I hand out bacon butties from Greggs and sling the occasional handful of silver, guilt money maybe, yes, perhaps, who has the answers? What do you do? You can’t use reason or pleading, these bastards in the big house are deaf to both. You’re only two missed paydays away, or so they say. Deborah who used to run the northern soul nights, she’s a good soul, gets her hands dirty with it all. The bells of the old town played wooden heart and I wrote a thing about having a stone rattling around in my boot. I can feel it now when I shake my foot beneath the table. The new Underworld tune is a glistening tower of a thing. That American woman with the shiny glasses and the hair has popped up again. Simplistic language. Like my friend the heavenly professor said, if it walks like a duck …