Woodland Before And After

1. Burning Brashing

Sat back breathing bark
Small insects crawl
Down tree stretched above
inhabit hair
Worn gloves
Bruised brashing branches firewood

Breathe wet peat,
Damp soil, leaf decay,
Autumn dead leaf dance,
Spring bluebell wend
Summer sacred stainglass canopy sunshaft flame play
Winter heavesnow clear paths

Sat back breathing bark
canopy leaf horizon
floats shimmers

Calm

Calm

 

2. Woodland Boxed

Lift small boxes wooden lid smell
Broadleaved woodland
Before Rail/Road

Press plastic button hear
Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Woodpeckers,
Before Rail/Road

Reach inside through rubber feel

rough bark, peaty soil, leaf texture

Before Rail/Road

Press plastic button watch
Videowalk ancient Beech, Oak, Birch
Before Rail/Road

Electronic Ringtone.
We would like to advise all visitors
The museum is closing soon.
Please exit through main door.
We hope you have enjoyed your visit.
Thankyou for visiting. Please come again.

Wombwell Ings

A quiet place
where swans come to rest
And horses graze

Villages sit
above flood waters
A prairie scene from a Western
But it is too green
disused railway
disused canal
parallel well used road edge
the quiet place

Men shirts off play cards
In caravan park
Where women check
Washings dryness

Karts distant revs
Climb green hill
Between green blades
Ground is slag

Horizons triangulation points up close
Plaqued monuments
To abandoned mine shafts
Nearby empty new industrial units

A woman holds a breadbag
for the horses to nuzzle

‘I enjoy feeding the horses
But they’re not mine.
I don’t know whose they are.’

A swan

A swan

Apprentice

Hels awake ••••
Drifting and voices.
“Greetings my dear friend ever yours faithfully”. He cannot remember
his name. The song comes. Derivation. Himself. Others. Pass by. Pressure. Depth. Density. Ashes. Corpses. Thoughts to be rearranged. Every desert stops somewhere. Hell. Never recognising himself In the mirror. Shadows. Wrinkles. The master who said “Hels only begun •••
a juvenile”. Puffs and sucks and rests his hand. “Few years experience. His Ideas’ II lave dampened.” Enzymes. Saliva In his mouth. Drying up.>. The chamber of digestion. Meat of animals, their milk and the forms
of plants wi I I not last. Feeding under pressure. Old system. Giving out pain when It does not agree. No room for argument. Nature. Thinking. “I derive” said the apprentice.
He’s intent and young •••
The easiest derivation. Himself. Language is too soft. He worries about his heart too often. He eats everybody. Everybody loves him.
The excess of youth. Shall they dance in the bed. He’ll have your swivel, If you take his screw. There Is more to this lIfe. Death ought to know. Perhaps, you’re a boy. Perhaps youlre a girl. Take him Into your gutter. He’ll be your rat, cat or anybody you feel like roiling
up in your cigarette dear.
The song goes.
The waitress laid his cup of coffee on the laminated surface. Slipping from daydream to reality was not easy for him. Whl+e noise gradually would become the rush of traffic and chatter of old men and old women.
“So and so went Into hospital today. So and so passed his exams. So and so Is finally gettIng married ••• “
All these people Involved In the Great Necessity. He wished to Just sit and listen and listen. He could not. Boredom would edge Its way In speaking of death and Inactivity. Daydreaming was for children.
Those without responsibility. Without a mother, grandparents, girlfriend and children.
22
His mother was In “The Groves”. The visit would take place when his wife returned from Marks and Spencers. She had to return some clothes that were too big. The honeymoon had been spoiled. He tapped his cigarette. Watched the ash roll and settle.
Romance Is the story of an elsewhere; a challenging escape. Not from reality but to a rearrangement of It. He loved rearranging reality, rearranging the ashes with his cigarette. ThinkIng of the perfec~ way to kill. The perfect way to love. The perfect way to live. Mere
conjecture. He stabbed his cIgarette Into the tr’av.
His wife surprised him. Tired. Wrinkles. He could not discern her. His mouth was dry. His wife was the woman who had decided to cope with his problem.
“Michael. I got them changed”.
“Oh good. Are we going then?”
He got up quickly. Took the bag she held. Strode purposefully out. Not waiting tor her.
Trees. Bushes. Gravel drive. Middle of a council estate. Secluded. Pass between two high hedges. Brushing the car. All green. Then the house. Assertive. Confident. Solid. Red brick and ashlar. Palatial. Columned. Resting place. A cat dashed. Leaving cream steps. Old house. Old people.
They were Inarticulate and III-informed. It was a new experience. What was to be obtained from It?
His mother was a child. A quiet child. She had come through her adolescent excess. Cutting squares out of new curtains with scissors. Speaking to nobody In the house. Wrapping newly bought food In paper
and placing It In a neighbour’s bin. Never acknowledging the work others did for her. Stuffing paper Into plug-holes and runnIng the taps. Flooding the house. They decided she would be better cared for In 8 home.
23
III:

pressure of responsibi lity. people. Alone. The Desert. other people.
“Are vou we II ? moTher”, he asked.
“Has Michael come veT?” she looked aT him.
“I’m Michael moTher!” he Took her hands to. his.
“You are. 0 Ves, hello Michael!” she felt for his face. “Hello mo+her , moTher!”
“Yes Michael, It Is Michael isn’T It?”
“This Is Julie, mo+her ,”
“Hello Julie. Is she your new girlfriend, Michael?”
“No mother, she’S my wife. Bemember the wedding mother? Uncle Albert
was there. He talked to you. Remember”.
“Uncle Alfred. Your wife. You learn something new everyday. Don’t
you Michael?”
“Yes mother”.
“I’ve been sick again Michael, last night ••• nurse cleaned it up. Can’t keep my food down like I used to Michael”.
She would be a corpse soon.
Pass between two high hedges. Remembering his mother, like daydreaming. Without the responsibility of the present. How she packed him off to _~ch’:Jc’. How much fun she was. Play I ng pooh-is+ I cks from the V!oc~:r.,(lden bridge. Down the path ful I of sunshine summer and green. Mere
conjecture.
“Out of it. Michael, face up to It”. His wife drove with precision, accuracy and confidence. “We’ I I visit her next week”.
Michael sometimes wondered whether the marriage had been a good Idea. Julie sometimes wondered about life married to a Daydreamer. Each could sense the hell in the others. Th.at limit to their Independence -, Always the other person to consider. The depths. The density. The The Great Necessity of coping with other
Where the desert stopped. The hell of
Drifting and voices. The song comes. People eating each other. The need to know. A fork. The need to keep secrets. A knife. Corr~spondence. A table. The children. Those who had to Ieern to cope with responsibility. On a separate smaller Table. Michael was among them. The apprentices. Trying TO remember names of people, of places.
Trying TO be responsible.
24
Otherwise. A wack across the ear. The steel spatula. The wooden spoon across cold bare le9s• Other people had to be able to Rccept you. If they did nOT. The system gave OUT pain. No room for argument. Michael derived pain from other people. It was easy to see the source of his life. Himself. Imagination. The song goes.
Julie drove up the drive. Stopped. Unlatched the door. Jangling keys.
Ashen faces stared out from The cafe with its laminated tables.
“Had a good day?” said a man dressed in white.
”’Fair to middling,” he said. ‘iHis mother was “alright.”
“That’s good. Now come on Michael”, the man said as he opened the
. door.
“My wife?”
“Now M I chae I • No more daydream I ng” • “Coming next week for him are we Julie”.
“Of course” she said. Closing the car-door. Putting the keys In the ignition. Leaving Michael with the man In white staring after her. The car dipped from the drive.
“That letter arrived, Michael. From Uncle Albert”.
The man In white led him into the building. Michael was stil I awake and intent.

The Day Grandad Disappeared

A knock at our front door. A Doctor has brought Grandad home. Grandad has gone into a Doctors believing he has an appointment.

Grandad goes for a paper, for the footie pages. As he does everyday, dressed immaculately, jacket, waistcoat, tie, black shoes shining.

Nana and he arrive a couple of days ago to help Dad again in caring for Mam, who is fighting Breast Cancer. Always a quiet man. Keeps himself to himself. Even when I am a child and we go to see the latest James Bond he says very little. He talks footie but I am not into that. He does Littlewoods Pools and Spot the Ball.

He comes in from sorting at the Post Office, walks through the lounge door, bangs the door with one hand as his other hand grabs his nose and laughs. He is good, we laugh too.

Grandad is very late. Grandad left three hours ago. Nana wants to call local hospitals fearing he has been knocked down. Dad drives around the village, pops into the newsagents. Grandad has not bought his paper.

My grandad suffers illnesses. Among my late Nanas belongings I discover a note he has written.

Ellesmere Port.    Pneumonia May     1942 Dec 1942

When I had been in the army a year my health began to deteriate  I had Pneumonia twice in six months The last time I almost lost my life They sent for my wife and sat with me alnight  When I was twenty two I had mumps in hospital again I was never rid of styes in my eyes having to go in hospital again as Both my eyes closed. Had pains in my Back although I didn’t go in hospital I was put on light duties for a fortnight When I was on leave I saw my own doctor who gave me injection in my Back I have a disabled Badge in my car and  am under hospital care as an outpatient for my stomach another specialist for my chest.

The note appears to have been written sometime later, perhaps as evidence for a new doctor.

In a 1993 poetry anthology ‘Rats For Love:The Book’ my poem ‘Bait’ describes the banter between Nana and Grandad. It describes how she felt about his forgetfulness before he was diagnosed:

Married forty years to the same man. Ate with her mouth open. Talked with her mouth full. Masticated his forgetfulness through two romantic lovers between the pages. Cut with some bloodless cold steel then tongued from cheek to cheek morsels of his past with her: Who lost his false teeth … … Ieft his pipe on the bin lid outside … kept new clothes unwrapped for years … did not like driving in the dark … ? She levered chewed events from good teeth, pushed them down to the acid below through shredding walls to feed blood and bile that formed into words goading him to grab the bait. And when he did she hauled him in to be filleted, iced and sold to others as good quality food to be eaten.

The title is a play on words that is not made obvious in the poem. My Nana is born in Sunderland and the North East dialect word for food is ‘bait.’

Especially after Mam dies of Cancer, Grandad gradually forgets how to care for himself. Nana looks after him until it gets too much for her too.

 Nana buys packs of incontinence pants as Grandad loses control of his bowels. She puts new ones on, bins the old. Grandad does not help, as on one of many occasions he gets into bed, soils himself, takes off the pants while in bed, and throws them on the bedroom floor soiled side down.

A large man Nana has to bath him, then try to get him out of the bath when he will not move.

He has spells in local care homes, gradually stays longer and longer. A respite for Nana.

Nana ensures he has what she calls ‘decent’ clothes in his suitcase, each piece of clothing painstakingly labelled with his name. When he returns home she is forever phoning the homes about someone elses clothes in the returned suitcase. On one occasion, Grandad walks five miles from Care home to Nana’s.

Last time I see Grandad my wife and I treat both him and Nana to a Sunday pub lunch at Knox Arms. A  stone built pub about two miles from Nanas.

Nana dresses Grandad immaculately, razor sharp trouser creases, spotless shirt, waistcoat, matching tie  Throughout, our visit Grandad never speaks. We order a Taxi to the pub. At the Knox, Nana tucks a paper napkin into Grandad’s shirt, and when it arrives cuts his roast dinner up for him. Nana talks throughout about daily problems with Grandads incontinence pads and staff in the homes, the uselessness of Social Services. On the walk home I notice Grandads waistcoat and shirt gravy stained and ribbons of carrot cling to the underside of his lip.

I search his eyes for recognition of who I am, from the time I say hello to the time I say goodbye to him sat in his favourite chair at Nanas. My Grandad has disappeared..

Stone 2: Striding Edge

Two stairs down from landing
Sister and I safe
Neither half up, or halfway..
Hill/Mountainside braced against icy
Gust Mam/Dad below igneous lava erupt at each other two hills supported us till now
Silence, lounge door opens Mam climbs
Stairs/hill/mountainside, and as she speaks ice encrusts solid rock expands
Rock falls away making valley sides
Sister and I stand on Striding Edge razorback, serrated edge five years later
Cold mist, prevailing wind, ice brings wet eyes
Skyblue Flying Monks Air Venture Scout Sweatshirts, black M superimposed over black F. bird of prey with divorced Dad hiking Helvellyn, sandstone step gingerly damp slips hands/boots, Kevin Keegan Afro black sheep fleece flops side to side
 hiking boot midair, sharp intake, drop down to Red Tarn somewhere in mist,
Somewhere in mist Sisters/Dads hand.
Manoeuvre frozen legs, up, over, round,
Shifting from one side edge to the other,
Weeks with Mam, Weekends Dad,
Careful what you say, interrogation from both. Mist clears enough for summit sight. Time away at college. Focus. Careful to have three rock holds. Focus. Remember once summit reached always another higher later. My hands support Sister/Dad/Mam when sides fall away.

Stone 1: Malham Cove

Aged 14, geography trip Malham Cove trip , as dry stone wall settles on the ground it strengthens itself and tightens up, stone language, harsh Millstone Grit to soft Limestone once coach underwater diving a new world, breathe easier
Gordale Scar, no bullying scar hurt glorious edge dried waterfall, hike to Tarn,  not Barnsley Tarn, Malham Tarn, buildings rare, no pubs, no roads, no red brick terraces here, only water. Water coursing
Clints/grykes, pavement lacking bins, lampposts, Zebra crossings. Water work
Underground, hidden rivers reverberated in me as memory then history. I took it back as new dialect.

Brimham Rocks (1972)

Small hands hang inside
Pale blue Ford Anglia window bottom
Watch hurried mares’ tails flick sky
As worsted jacket, waistcoated grandad drives over the sandy side road
Bare shorted legs dangle over Tartan picnic blanket/ car seat cover, let loose easy leap Millstone rock to rock, small hands, feet sure of themselves in youth, adventure dark hollows, Spiderman up weathered smooth sanded climb till Mam/Dads shouts call down for milky tea poured from top blue flask white plastic cream cup, coleslaw, crisps, cheese and cucumber sandwiches, then one last clamber before home snuggled into car seat blanket waft Golden Virginia grandads tobacco pouch, lullabied thud, engine rumble
Cradled to bed by Dads arms.

The Broken Watch extract early first draft of novel The Four Gifts

I talk to the dead.
They give better evidence than the living.
Especially when you’re dreaming. Let’s look the evidence. My father had just died at my sisters wedding. I was patrolling a closing pit, when this ghost starts speaking to me. Honest, no wind up. You hear all the ghost tales you want on patrol as a security guard but this is true. And it looked like our local grocer. Spoke like him too. He said

Sorry to put the wind up you, Jim. Just to say your dad’s OK. It was just Tracy saying I do after she’d told your dad that she were’ having a bairn. You get the picture.

, Now Jimmy Boy … · God I hated our grocer when he called me that. ‘Where’s you’re Dad ‘s pocket watch?

I searched my pockets. Against the cold I was wearing three coats, four pockets each.
Come on I haven’t got all day

I wanted to say why do want it. It hasn’t worked since the day the Red Elephant, (as my wife Mary called her father-in-law), died anyway. I found it. Handed it to him. It hovered in the air above his palm.

It was then I noticed.
He was dressed odd. Leather aproned and shoed like a blacksmith. He held an flat metal object with holes in it. The holes went from large to small. Suddenly my skin prickled with heat as if from a furnace and he seemed to glow with a gold aura.. I saw him take a long piece of hot metal and pull it through one of the holes so it became thinner. He pulled it through smaller and smaller holes till it clicked what he was doing. He was wiremaking. He opened the back of the watch and removed a piece of wire. He replaced it with the bit he’d just made. When he handed it back to me the watch told the right time and ticked. I remembered I’d arranged to meet Mary after my shift. Part of our agreement when she found out I had a mistress called Linda.
‘Now you can you do something for us. Find out who killed your best schoolfriend’
Said the Grocer-wiremaker, bringing me back.
LOZZY!’ says I, mouth open, drooling at the watch. You get the picture. ‘Ay,’ he says cool as cucumber.
‘Any time to … ‘ ‘Yes or no.’
‘Yes. ‘ I said without thinking. Letting myself into God knows what. , You know don ‘t you?’
‘We still do jigsaws in heaven.’ he said and disappeared.
At three-thirty in the morning my eyes start going. I stumble round the pit in the cold. It’s only the cold that keeps me awake. As it is my stomach feels queasy and my throat is swollen with caffeine. About now I daydream.
Time passes.
Always in my mind is a broken frame in broken house in a desolate garden. The broken frame is that of a sepia photograph on the dusty floor showing nobody I know. The photograph is escaping its frame. It is lit by dusty light from a window, also broken. The white window frame paint is peeling. Tiny holes like pin-pricks, like the wood has been punctured by a hypodermic needle too many times dot the white wood. A used red shotgun cartridge is asleep on the window ledge.
I remember the eaten front door Lozzy and I had to shoulder charge. As we climbed the ‘wooden hill’ of the stairs I recalled the carpeted stairs of my ~ parents I was told to go up when they started shouting. I entered my room as I enter this one. I feel at home in this broken house, this broken room. I look out of my window at the black spot of the motorway crossed by the wobbly metal bridge. We look out of this broken window and see the ivy breaking up the red bricks. We see the weeds crossing paths. The garden is ill. Tall weeds hiding the shape. It had shape once, this garden. It was once cared for. There are strawberries, there are roses, redder perhaps, because they are wilder, like blood. We shout into the garden and nobody answers. Our voices are breaking.

Time passes.

I like light to come to my eyes gradually. I would stand on the slagheap at midday and watch the fleeting clouds pass their shadows over the pit built solidly below. It reminded me of wind gusting through cornfields. White clouds moving over hills in the Lake District or the Peak. I sat on the edge of the manmade hill and saw the different shadows ripple over the great washer building, over the cylindrical slurry tanks, move flat across the concrete bunkers where lay the remains of unused sand, gravel and lime. It reminded me of the darkness a few days before when I was on nightshift at this place. Freezing till the veins of my hands stood up purple and ice encrusted in tlie ground made the concrete more hurtful when you fell like when I delivered the post one Christmas in Royston and shipped, the weight of the bag hauling me down to push and prise open the sprung letter boxes put the letter. through so your whole hand went inside the house and then quick out for the lid to slam shut in your face. The shadows were never what they seemed and as the long night became morning without getting lighter you imagined bushes were people: old men slumped down after working the pit, gentlemen in cloaks, or women in jeans so during the day real people seemed like those shadows. Never what they seemed. I always thought whoever I met wanted to hurt me.

The brash people are like lights snapping on. They hurt my eyes. They frighten me. I want the darkness again. And yet the darkness always makes them what they are not. I imagine shapes that revealed in the spotlight of my hat lamp are not what I imagined. My father hit me when I was nine in a room whose electric brightness was too much for me. It even invaded the darkness behind my wet eyes when I closed them. My mother tried to hug me but she was ironing her dress for going out. She was in her bra and panties. She hugged me to her and all I could see was the bright light, blinding me. I turned away from her, away from the light. Used my own body as a shield for my eyes. Electric light reminds me of grief and tears.

The bulb was especially bright the night my mother told me that .dad and her were divorcing. It had been too bright all the evenings they were arguing themselves into it. I learn gradually. I think in cliches because it’s easier. The light dawns. When someone tells me something I look bemused because it takes a long time for the light to dawn. I have no flashes of inspiration. My intuition is gradual, cumulative. People shine bright lights in my eyes when they try to hurry my thinking along. Because I do not think as fast as they would like me t9. My thoughts are the clouds passing over the redundant pit and this is my life as far as I am concerned.

My last mistress Linda, used to dim the harshness of the lounge light before we had sex on the couch awaiting her son, whom she said did not know we slept together, call ‘Mum. When you coming to bed?’ I always waited half between awake and asleep for his call like a harsh light in the eyes to come and alter the situation, for she always went upstairs and I was left to sleep alone and in comfort the rest of the night.
How do I explain why I went with Linda to my wife, Mary? How would
I explain myself? I looked at my mended watch. Maybe it was a good sign.

A DOG CALLED DEATH

‘How s Martha?’ I said to Mary there in the pub before I arrived. I thought I’d ease the way into talking about US’.
Mary smiled dangerously and looked at me with those white blind eyes.
‘Dreaming again.
I could never tell whether she was talking about me or Martha. I sat down with the words
‘God its brass Monkey weather! ‘She’s been telling me her dreams. I ‘Martha’
‘She thinks her dreams led to Arthur’s death.’ ‘Yeh.
Well, it had been a weird shift so Life may as well be consistent.
Mary went on to tell me that she’d persuaded Martha to bring down from her son Lozzy’s bedroom his box of favourite stuff and from her dressing table her box of memories. She placed her box nearest as if looking into Lozzy’s was too much to begin.
I asked Mary if she wanted another half She said:
‘Just shut up and listen!
I sat back down. No way was I going to tell her about my grocer ghost. ‘Martha took a photograph showing Arthur on their wedding day out of her box’ After a moment when all Mary heard were cars up and down the street, Martha told my wife her ‘first river dream.’

The dream had come to her, unexpected, after Lozzy’s death two weeks previous. Beside the River Dearne some of her furniture was laid out in a field as if it was still in her house: a pair of chairs, a sofa, a dining table, a radio, a dog bowl. She had gone up to each of them and felt forced to ask the question:
-Tell me what makes you you?
To which all of them had answered -Ask another.
She was confused.
Then she felt a wetness touching her leg. She looked down and saw a dog.
It looked familiar, like a greyhound, but not quite. And it spoke:
-Hi! I’m Death. How do you do?
She was too stunned to answer.
-1 understand it must come as bit of a shock to find Death in such beautiful surroundings. 1 met your son Lozzy at the same place. I’m not aware of the Lord of Dreams telling me you would be arriving.
Now Martha knew this dog could give her information on how Lozzy -had died. She woke up, and began to cry. How could she tell Arthur, her husband, that she knew where Lozzy had died and could fmd out why through a dog called Death in her dreams?
‘Weird’ I proffered finishing off the dregs of my pint.. ‘Like me and you’ she said.
‘Eh!’
‘You used to notice me more. My new dress. I’m the one who’s blind. You’re like Martha A world outside and you can’t get beyond your own selfishness. ‘
‘Mary. 1 did not come here to be insulted. I ‘No. You came here to justify lying to me.’ Now listen to another selfish man.
As soon as Martha told Arthur about her dream he said:
– There is no reason to this! Lozzy died. That’s it.
Arthur stood up from the table leaving her to clear the pots.
-And what’s this nonsense about a dog called Death in a dream ? In a dream telling you where and why our son died. Wake up woman!
-1 knew you’d be like this Arthur …
She held a handkerchief to her watering eyes.
-1 knew once 1 told you …
-Nonsense!
Arthur opened the back door and strode the path to his garden shed.

-Please Arthur? There are more things on earth than …
-No! A dream means nowt!
He slammed the shed door.
Just like us’ said Mary.
‘Eh!’ I proffered again, gobsmacked.
Mary said Martha continued:
While Arthur chewed on his anger in the garden shed, I cleared away the pots. I decided to get on his good side and cook his favourite meal. Anticipating his reaction to my news that I could learn about Lozzy’s death through a dog called Death in me dreams, I’d bought a chicken. Arthur liked white, succulent breast with sprouts.
‘Where’s this tale going, Mary? Make sense, lass! ‘Patience, Jim.’
‘Bugger Patience!’
‘Watch your language. Listen and learn!’
Under the bloody thumb again left me looking forward to a pint that evening with Bill my brother-in-law.
Mary continued:
Martha said she binned the giblets and prepared the chicken. It would sit in foil and oil. It’s fragrance would drift out of the kitchen window into the garden shed. Arthur would water at the mouth.
The way to a man’s heart.
I placed the sprouts in a pan, preparing a cup for the green water. Arthur always said:
– Green Waiter is good for thee. Puts hair on thee chest.
Arthur had a bird breast himself All small and hairless.
As I checked the whitening chicken spitting in the oven, I thought of the blackness of the dog called Death. As I turned the sprouts down I thought of the green of the grass by the River Deame where Lozzy had died and Death had stood.
Soon I heard the shed door softly shut, the pad of Arthur’s shoes towards the kitchen door as I drained the green water into his mug. As usual Arthur knew when the chicken were ready.
‘Alright, alright. What’s the point? What are you getting at?’ ‘You can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. ‘
‘No I can’t! I’m a typical man beaten into submission by a superior woman.’ ‘Don’t you dare patronise me. After spoiling our marriage. After lying to me and then having the gall to keep on seeing her.’
‘Look what’s this all about? Explain to me then we can both go.’
‘We agreed to these meetings for a reason. I’ve got no explanation from you as
far as I can see as to why.’ ‘Why?’
‘Give me strength! Why you preferred her company to mine. Wasn’t I good enough for you? Didn’t I fetch and carry enough for you?’
And I stomped out like somebody had set my arse on fire. I wasn’t sitting there to be insulted. I got back from a pint with Jim to find she’d phoned and said she’d see me as usual the following week. The cheek of the chuffmg devil. Also Linda had phoned. She wanted me to come for a meal on my next evening off.

THE HIDDEN RIVER

If I tell a bad tale, I’ll get ‘em in. all right ,lads!
Bill was centre of attention again, as usual, surrounded by his cronies.
River Dearne never follows a straight course. Meanders, like our Tracy’s mam who’s in a home. Deames supposed to start at Birds Edge, up Penistone wqv. Well, 1 stood at the Edge, But 1 couldn’t see or hear owt.
‘Hidden’, that’s what you said it means ‘Deame.’ Didn’t you Jim?
In Old English. A nd he should know ‘cos he’s been to college. A nd he’s not codding. Gonna and me spent yonks finding the right road what River Dearne starts from. It were like me trying to find summat after the Wife’s cleaned up. According.to Jim, the road we were on were made 6y a lad last century called
‘Blind Jack of Knaresborough for four hundred odd pounds.
Anyroad me and Gonna found the right road latter end of the blazing morning~ It were on a cart track past some rich buggers house. He had a spanking BMW parked outside and 1 Jelt a right one frogging past with Gonna pulling at the ‘leash. 1 felt there were these eyes burning into me, saying
‘What you doing here? You’ve no right to be walking down our drive.’ Scream ing like lhe wife does.
As Bill rambled on I suddenly thought what the grocer-ghost had said:
Now you can you do something for us. Find out who killed your best schoolfriend. ‘
and the wife saying:
Martha knew this dog could give her information on how Lozzy had died.
A wow bit of detective work eh! So all I had to do was get the wife to tell me more of Martha’s dreams. It meant spending more time with the wife, but who am I to gainsay a ghost!
Anyroad once we got past the house all we had watching us then were cows. 1 kept looking for horns but they didn’t have none.
Jim told me to do these walks ‘cos he’s educated. He said I might learn summat. 1 did that. 1 learnt to look where 1 was going. Took me hours to clean the shit of me boots. Any road 1 couldn’t see owt of river. It were really hidden. Jim told us to look for the source. Told us to listen for the sound. 1 told Gonna to do so to. He were more interested int bloody cows and their shit.
Going down hill toward Denby Dale I could hear a gurgling. Like our Scott, poor ‘bairn, when he’s asleep and dreaming. I were walking through an orchard that changed to a road after skirting another posh wooden house. The road was through a forest. The light was different. It were all half light. Like it were coming morning and not near lunch like it were.
Jim told us the Dearne used to be covered in trees and that’s why it were probably hidden. The gurgling got louder till it were a gush like our tap gone wrong.
‘Ducking stool. ‘ A – voice behind me said. I turned round slow. I feared I’d strayed on somebody’s land and gone wrong road. It were an old man with a crook and flat cap.
‘W hat. ‘ I said.
‘Sorry, laddo. Didn’t mean to startle thee. See the name of yon road.
I had a gander. It said “Cuckstool Road.’ ‘AY’
‘Well it were where witches were put on a ducking stool to see if they’d live after being submerged under the Dearne. Didn’t tha know that, {ad’ He said
smiling and sauntered off. .
I think- yon wife’s a witch. ‘
I took Bill to one side to ask about Lozzy. He said
Age makes a difference, like when our posse went too far with that old tree.
The posse was a gang called after U.S. Rappers who took it from cowboy films.
You remember posse found the tree down Lovers Lane, overarching the canal: full of old bedsteads and wheeltrims. Over a fag scratched our names in it, dint we, shinned and slung a rope round a branch overreaching the water.
Remember we had competitions seeing who dare swing furthest without getting wet, and Lozzy were really good at it.
Then fatty Buff had a go. Expected happened, the limb snapped
and he told his mother he’d slipped in a puddle when we’d a ‘drought a week.
Later; some of us, like me and Trace, the wife, courting down the canal, would boast of these cracks. Even then the tree looked sorry for itself, dint it.
A II wrinkly and scabby wounds. Still, some of them, sap’ bleeding all over, hacked their names with ‘LUV’ imbetween or an arrow through a heart.
Then fatty Buff overreached himself with a joyride. Took a collectors Chevvy, down Smithies, dumped and set a light to it. Bugger had it too close!
Bill’s angry now.
Our childhood tree went up.
Lately, me and Trace, take steady strolls by the water find younger couples
carving Lovers hearts in what’s left on it.. ,
Why did everybody I asked about Lozzy ramble on about something else entirely? I was beginning to think that the only one I got a sensible answer from was Grocer-ghost. And that putting all this together was like doing a jigsaw. Only I didn’t know how many pieces there were and what was a comer and what was an edge. I knew little bits of stuff about Lozzy, like I knew little bits of stuff about local history. What I needed was an idea of the big picture.

MEAL IN A BREATHING PLACE

Striding up to Linda’s my head was full. Her eleven year old son, Ben, was playing soccer outside in his Man. United shirt. I waved to him, but it was dusk already and he was too absorbed with his mates.
Linda let me in and dashed upstairs again with the words:
With you in a minute, love.
I looked out of her new window at the moors and remembered how we’d
met. We were both on a writing course. I’d admired her from a distance for weeks. One older gent who didn’t know I was married said ‘Get thee sen in. If she sqys no won’t hurt any.’ So I did. We went for a drink and got really absorbed in conversation, as you do, missed the last bus and stayed the night at hers with a brief call to Mary to say I was staying over at a friends who’d had some bad news and was in a bad state. The conversation continued till three in the morning and ended in me massaging her neck, which led to a kiss. I wrote a series of poems about her and me called ‘The Breathing Place’ and four short stories about the group we went around with called ‘Laced With Bingo’. She doesn’t want me to publish them because she says it’s private.
She’d gone to town as usual. Four courses. Rosties with herbs, chicken drumsticks, and creamed carrots. All to go down with Liebfraumilch. Then she said:
You’v’e seen her again, haven’t you. No.
I know you have. Your usually talkative. A lots been happening.
Seeing ghosts again are we?

Game

Some fruitcakes call me tart. Bitter. Sour maybe but
I’m not … I was just sat.
Sat like any normal fruit.

He picked us up. All three. Easy for him he was ambi dextrous. He knew a thing. Took us to his flashing

lights. His mobile disco at this evening wedding do. Took us into the dark behind the doings. Larked

with guests. Saying it’s all a game. Not obscene at all. . He’d had a word”. The bride on the quiet OK’d

it. Disco said “Can I have … ” Dont remember exact.
I dont. He had ‘three girl fun. He wanted three to come

up to his three chairs.
Three chairs. I tell you there he’d put three chairs outstretched in a line. The girls sat on edge

on them. They had to ask out three men. Not their shouts. men they fancied. They did. Disco played ‘The Stripper’ and

turned it off. Unfinished. And threw us to fingers. The girls. Then we did it. We didn’t ask for it.

The girls-pushed-us-up the menstrouser legs-stone washed denims. I could smell his hot cobs dripping off of me. His spots.

His legs. Rough. With blisters. Football. Squash. Little cists. All bony. Sticking me. My rind broke, bleeding. His jeans bound
tight.’ My zest wept and blebbed. I-feel-vio-Ia-ted. His lace crutch tickled then. He had girls panties on.

Kinky bastard. Scab. Just brief it was. Then she squeezed me down his other one.
My juice filling a long

bruised scar on his thigh. Were injury or other.
Pressure went. I plopped out to laughter and her smart

hands, threw me back. Missed by feet. Picked us up off of the-meat platter.Back to Disco’s grin.
One press stopped me bleeding.

Manhandled to the bar
they squashed us in this crap, wasted buffet. Now so
spoiled they dont want to know.

Manhandled to the sink bar cut us for a drink:
One tasty cocktail slice. One tainted lick of spice.