Sunday, 19 October 2014

New Poem: Bins

I said to the dustman, ‘You’re taking my stuff.’

‘Yep,’ he said.

I said, ‘Everything in this bin matters.’

He said, ‘C’mon pal, we’re on a tight turnaround here,’

I said, ‘You’re taking my stuff.’

He called to his mates, ‘We’ve got one here.’

I said,‘That’s my past you’re taking.’

He said, ‘Uh-huh.’

I said, ‘I haven’t got any other past. I can’t go out and

buy someone else’s past and pretend it’s mine. All

the stuff in here happened to me.’

He said, ‘Am I taking it or not?’

I said, ‘Why are you asking me? This is all much

bigger than a yes/no thing. It’s about identity. And


‘And bins,’ he said.

‘We are what we throw away,’ I said, ‘and you’re

a cog in a machine that is cutting us down to

size. The machine doesn’t want us to know who

we are. And the way it’s doing this is to cut us

off from our pasts. It’s not your fault,’ I said, ‘you

have to earn a living, but you’ve become a tool

in their hands.’

He said, ‘I’ll just do next door’s. If you change your mind

in the meantime, I’ll come back and get yours. ‘

Saturday, 18 October 2014

New Poem: Pizza

We ordered in a pizza and when it came

we talked about how we'd divvy it up.

He said that because I didn't eat as much

as him, I should have less. I said OK but

it wasn't much less than him and after all

it was me who had bought the pizza. He said

that was besides the point. This was about

eating not paying.

I said, 'Is it?'

So he said, 'How about thinking in eighths?'

I said, 'Go on, I can run with that.'

He said, 'How does five eighths and three

eighths sound to you?'

I said that I thought I was hungrier than three

eighths, and he said but 'hungrier' would be


I said, 'What's wrong with that?'

And he said, 'Four eighths is the same as a half.'

I said, 'Is it?'

He said, 'Well let's talk sixteenths, how about

I have nine-sixteenths and you have seven?'

'Does that add up to the whole pizza?' I said.

'Yes, it does,' he said.

'Well then that sounds a bit more like the way

me and you eat pizza,' I said, ‘yes, you probably

eat one sixteenth more than I do.'

'Two,' he said.

'Two what?' I said.

'Two sixteenths,' he said, 'which is the same as

one eighth.’

‘Is it?' I said, 'why have you gone back to eighths?'

'Because that's how you do the divvying up,' he


'Fair enough,' I said, 'so let's carve it up.'

I went over to the drawer and looked for the big

knife we use to cut up pizzas and it took me a

moment or two because it had got caught under one

of those strainer spoons you can buy in France.

When I came back, he was breaking chunks off the

pizza and eating them.

'Have you divvied it up into sixteenths?' I said.

'No,' he said, 'I was getting hungry so I've started


I looked at him.

'Great, you've got the pizza knife,' he said, 'do you

want to divvy it up into sixteenths, or shall I?'

I said, 'Hang on a mo. If you've started on it already,

doesn't that affect the way the divvying up works? I

mean…I mean…'

'No, he said, 'it's just the same.'

Eulenspiegel rides again: funny, subversive stories for reading aloud

If you're looking about for a funny, subversive book to read aloud or share with your children, I'm going to unashamedly recommend one of mine. They are re-tellings of the German 'Till Eulenspiegel' stories. They are about a comic, trickster figure of peasant origins who plays tricks on those 'above' him in society, artisans, landowners, dukes and university professors (!). They date from the late fifteenth, early sixteenth centuries. As full of life as Chaucer and Robin Hood. I've adapted them, retold them and put them in a 'frame' of my brother and I getting bored on a trip to Germany when we were boys and being given some 'medicine' to stop us being 'naughty'. Here's how it's billed in the Walker Books online catalogue

Till Owlyglass (Till Eulenspiegel) is a boy who was special from the day he was baptised three times. But not in a good way. Not in a way his parents liked. He was always in trouble for his rudeness and practical jokes, and grew up to be the most outrageous trickster in Germany. Everyone told storie…

New Poem: Questions

I was at Euston Station. An elderly woman came

up to me and started talking to me. She had an

accent. Could have been German. Or Portugese.

She asked me if she could ask me some questions.

She showed me a picture of herself in a polythene

see-through bag. I didn’t look very closely at it but

I thought I saw the word ‘Marketing’. My train was

delayed so I said, OK. She said that it was to improve

the service. I said, OK and she rummaged around in

her bag and took out a clip board. On the clip board

there was a list of questions.

She said, ‘Are you travelling today?’

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘Are you travelling for business, leisure or family


I said, ‘Family reasons.’

She said, ‘Do you ride a horse?’

I said, ‘No.’

She said, ‘When a piece of bread is smaller than

the slot in the toaster, then, assuming you turn off

the toaster for health and safety reasons do you
a) stick a knife in the bread and hook it out?
b) pick up the toaster, turn it over and shake

it out? c) leave it in there?

I said, ‘’b’) I turn the toaster over.’

She said, ‘Do you travel First Class or Second Class?

I said, ‘Usually Second Class, but at the weekends I might


She said, ‘Do you think the world political situation

would be improved if a) the Roman Empire came back b)

people stopped eating processed meat, c) politicians drank

more water?

I said, ‘I don’t think any of those. Can I say ‘None’?

She said, ‘I’m the one asking the questions.’

I said, ‘I know.’

She said, ‘I’ll take that as a)’

I said, ‘The Roman Empire one?’

She said, ‘Yes.’

I said, ‘The Romans didn’t have trains.’

She said, ‘If they did, they would have made them

run on time.’

I said, ‘Except towards the end. You know, when they

were leaving here and going back to Rome.The trains

wouldn’t have been on time then.’

She said, ‘I’ve made a note of that.’

I said, ‘Thanks.’

She said, ‘On a scale of ten do you think the following

would improve the service:

‘Giving customers flat-pack self-assembly furniture to

construct on their journeys?’ 10 for definitely, Zero for

not at all.”

‘Nine,’ I said.

On a scale of ten, do you think customers should be

supplied with the magazine, ‘Dairy Cow News’?

I said, ‘Nine’.

She said, ‘Why?’

I said, ‘Because when I was about ten years old I

developed a fascination with dairy cows. I could tell

the difference between a Dairy Shorthorn and an

Ayrshire. I think having a free copy of ‘Dairy Cow

News’ would be of great interest.’

She said, ‘The survey is complete. We give all the

people we interview a small gift. You have a choice.

Would you like a pen, a notebook, a tomato, a

holiday in Florida or a baby?’

I said, ‘I’ll take the tomato.’

Thursday, 16 October 2014

I had a dream Miliband said this...

"Tonight I want to tell you about a hoax. It’s a hoax invented by the Tories, aided and abetted by almost every news outlet. The hoax is called ‘austerity’ and it goes like this: we in the Labour government caused a terrible crisis for the whole population. We did that by borrowing too much money. The solution to this crisis is for everyone who earns a living from salaries and salaries alone, to have less money in their pockets; any form of service run by the government should be either cut or sold off.

Why is this a hoax?

It wasn’t Labour who caused the crisis. Whatever way we describe that crisis, it was caused by people who make a living out of lending money. They gambled with billions and trillions - and lost.

Then: austerity. Austerity says that the way out of the difficulties is to make the least well off in society worse off, and to make the services that they enjoy disappear - or become a means by which people can make a profit. Meanwhile, the richest people in society have at the very least stayed being very, very rich, or for them to become richer.

So, let’s be clear: this thing called ‘austerity’ has been a way in which rich people have stayed rich or got richer, while poor people have stayed poor or got poorer.

But all we hear is that the ‘economy’ is getting better. So we say, what does this mean? Surely what they saying is that the system is running just nicely for those with money. For all the people who earn money from wages and salaries only, it’s not very nice at all. This business of ‘getting better’ is really the business of ‘getting worse’!

So...what is to be done?

At the heart of everything is how do we make sure that everyone in society gets the goods and services they need. This government says that happens thanks to the market. But hang on, it was the market - the money market bit - which destroyed billions and trillions of money, which has had the knock-on effect of making poor people poorer.

Then again, when the market takes over public services, what happens is that billions that could be used for those services goes off into the pockets of the business people who run the services and often back to the people who run the money markets. More for the rich, less for the poor yet again.

So, what we’ve got to do, is start with all the basic utilities and services and take them into public control. This doesn’t mean that I or my colleagues in the Labour Party run them and get very rich in the process. It means that we have to find a way in which you run them for your benefit. It means that instead of politicians in Westminster doing it all, it means that the people who work in all those industries and institutions that provide the utilities and public services must have a way of taking part in running them. At the same time, the people who use those utilities and services must have a way of joining in that too.

This means a new kind of voting and elections. Not just this old business of voting for politicians who work hand in glove with the super-rich making sure that they stay super-rich. It means extending democracy into running the things we need. There’s been a lot of talk about Westminster being distant. That’s true. But it won’t be solved by sticking some other people into Westminster who for half a second seem a bit more chummy. It can only be solved by getting everyone involved in running the utilities and services we need.

Whenever people talk about this sort of thing, wiseacres chip in and tell us that what’ll happen is that all the rich people will take money out of the country and all the rich people abroad won’t lend us any.

Excuse me if this gives me a reason to laugh: it would be hard to imagine a situation in which more rich people’s money could fly out of the country than what happened in 2008. When we let the money markets do what they want, they do that sort of thing anyway!

Then, if you have elected us to do these things, we would be elected to have power over the banks. You the people would have given us the power to control what happens to the money in the banks. What’s more, just like the kind of democracy running the utilities and services, we could have something similar running the banks. As for money from abroad, well, that would all depend on whether this country can make things and service things in a way that people here and abroad find useful.

But I’m running ahead of myself.

Let’s just stick to the things we can do first. Let’s remind ourselves what we mean when we say ‘wealth’. To listen to the Tories talk, you’d think wealth is something that rich people earn by being terribly clever or terribly wise. No, wealth is something else altogether. Wealth is the combined power of our minds and bodies. Or put another way, wealth is what we are capable of when we can put our minds and bodies together to make the things we need and to carry out the services we need. At the moment, wherever I go, I see millions of people using their minds and bodies - yes - but over and over again, the result is that very rich people make off with a vast portion of the money made by all that work. Billions of that money is not used in order to improve the standard of living of the majority of people, nor is it used to make goods and services more and more useful for every single one of us.

So, we’ve got to move towards a society where we get this ‘wealth’ thing right.

That’s all I’ve got time for just now. In the meantime, I hope that as many of you as possible will work on ways in which you can defend the services you need, and your standard of living. Only when you all do that, will you have the will and the power to run them yourselves."

New Poem: Hand Dryer

It was late and before going home I thought

I’d nip into a cafe for a cup of tea and a

sandwich. I found one down an alley near

the station. They had run out of pretty nearly

everything but I got a tomato sandwich

and before I ate it, I went to the toilet.

I washed my hands and turned on the

hand dryer. What came out was a pretty

poor flow of air. Coming out in short bursts.

And it wasn’t very warm. And actually, it was

a bit damp. I was just about to leave the toilet

when I heard a cough. It seemed very near.

Like from behind the wall. Or in the wall. As

the cough came out, a bit more of the dryer

blew air. Then stopped. I thought that was

odd and I looked more closely at the dryer.

I touched it and it wobbled. So I got hold of it

shook it. I don’t think I pulled it but it came

away in my hands. I had the whole dryer in

my hands. On the other side of the dryer, in

the hole left in the wall, was a man. His face,

that is. The man’s face. He was standing

behind the wall, or in the wall, with his face

behind the dryer. All I could see of him was

his face. I said, ‘Did you just...’ And before

I could finish, he said, ‘Yep, that was me.’

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

New Poem: Ticket

I once had a job at a cinema and I had to check

people’s tickets. I was standing at the barrier one

Sunday and people were coming through all the

time with their tickets when a woman came up

with a piece of paper and handed it to me. I could

see straightaway that it wasn’t a ticket. The tickets

were all on white pieces of paper and her bit of

paper was light green.

I said, ‘I’m sorry, but this isn’t a ticket.’

She said, ‘I don’t think you’ve looked at it.’

I said, ‘I don’t need to look at it, it’s green.’

‘Look at it,’ she said.

‘OK, I’ll look at it,’ I said.

It was folded over. I opened it up. On it was

written, ‘This could be a ticket.’

I said, ‘This isn’t a ticket.’

She said, ‘Read it.’

I said, ‘I have read it.’

‘No, read it out loud,’ she said.

I read it out loud: ‘This could be a ticket.’

‘There you are,’ she said.

‘No it isn’t, ‘there you are’.’ All it says, is ‘This

could be a ticket’. It doesn’t say that it is a ticket.’

‘That’s because that would be a lie. Obviously,’

she said.

‘Right,’ I said, ‘It isn’t a ticket. Look there are

people waiting to come in,’

‘No, no,’ she said, ‘the point is, it could be a


I said, ‘Yes, yes, it could be, but it isn’t.’

‘But what it says there is that it’s possible.

It’s not impossible. There is a chance that it

could be.’

‘I’m supposed to let you in, on the

off chance that this is a ticket?’ I said.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘you don’t want to be in the

situation where it really was a ticket and you didn’t

let me in. You’d be in all sorts of trouble.

Lawyers, police, stories in the papers.’

I looked at her. I looked round to see if my

manager was there. She wasn’t.

I said, ‘OK, go in.’