Colour blind

Meet me on the South Bank
By the yellow concrete stairs
I’ll be waiting for you there

Wearing patent leather shoes
Handsome in sharp blue
I’m just the man for you

You’ll love my red handkerchief
Be dazzled by my straight white teeth
I specialise in stress relief

I work out down the gym
It’s guaranteed to keep me slim
Did you know, my real name’s Tim?

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Seafood Ciabatta

Tate Modern Members’ Bar, Bankside 14th March

If my younger self could see me now
Sipping Fentiman’s Cola
And nibbling gently
On a Seafood Ciabatta

What would he say?

You’ve done well, Andy
Having the cash to splash
Eight pounds, 15p
On a coke and tuna sarnie


You mug
You dick
You spendthrift

But I’d like to think
He’d be happy for me
Sitting here

In the company of artists
Their magical world
Transforming the walls

He might say

You’re happy now
Taking the time
To please yourself
Mr Middle Class man

How you always
Hated that term
Neither here nor there
It sounded so bland

You’ve changed, Andy
But don’t fret, my son
Just swig your posh cola
And munch your over-priced bun

You dick

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Gap Man

Clarence Street, Kingston 1st March

Call me Mr Bland, I don’t mind. You see, fashion’s never been one of my strong points. This used to bother me, but thinking about it, I was at my happiest sartorially where style sucked.

This was during my time in Israel in the mid-80s; living and working on Kibbutz Grofit in the Southern Negev Desert. There, we all wore the same standard issue blue clothes. It was hardwearing work gear – very Maoist. The only distinguishing feature was our individual laundry number. We were all suitably ragged but happy to have escaped our 9-5 jobs. We picked melons and dates to earn our keep. There was a tremendous sense of community and purpose. You didn’t have to worry about what you looked like, your rent, or your food. We ate communally in a large light-filled hall overlooking the Jordanian mountains. Every evening they turned a brilliant fiery red as the sun sunk in the West over the Sinai. We could have been living on Mars it was so different from where I grew up in the Home Counties.

There, I used to make a vague effort to keep up-to-date on the fashion front. But shopping trips to Watford always ended up with me spending my spare cash on books, records and cassettes rather than clothes.

That was a long time ago. But recently, I found myself wandering into Gap. I bought one pair of navy blue, boot-cut jeans. The sort I always buy. They fit me well, but they’ll fade, and won’t look that great after five or six months’ wear and tear. It’s a false economy, I know, but I can’t bring myself to spend £110 on Diesel jeans that will look better but won’t fit as snuggly as my Gap pair. I also bought one long-sleeved white top, plus a green and blue checked shirt. Last year I went a bit crazy and went floral, but now, in my 50th year, I’ve gone back to safer territory.

I came out the shop happy, but slightly conscious of my bland Gap string bag. It didn’t say: I look sexy and different. It said: I look safe, ordinary, and comfortable. I didn’t care. I thought back to my workaday kibbutz clothes, and realised I’d bought the uniform of a happily married, middle-aged man. Content, not smug, and truly thankful that I’m exactly where I want to be in life.

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This is not the end, my friend

Twigs and stones_opt copy

Kingston Cemetery on a bright, sunny winter’s day. I feel alive. An electric current surges through my veins. I stumble upon a gravestone, covered in twigs and small hailstones. I can’t read the inscription. The carefully carved characters have all faded away, just like the life down below. ‘Don’t you worry’, I say, ‘you’re not alone. I’m here for you… for now.’

This is part of 12x12x62, a Storygraph project by Richard Pelletier. The idea is to take one shot on Instagram a month and write a 62-word sestude inspired by it.

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Jousting on the 65

Bus from Nightingale Lane, Richmond to Kingston 1st March

‘It’s technically a ticket’, she says, ‘so it doesn’t count’. ‘But I paid the fare’, I point out, ‘and this is what the driver gave me. It’s a receipt.’ This is a typical argument. No heat or malice – just a desire we both have: to be right all of the time. I think it sustains our marriage and keeps us both on our toes. It’s mental jousting. Of course we have our proper scraps, but there are kisses in the kitchen, tender smiles and incidences of hand holding in public too. Like on the walk we did today: heading out from our house around 3, up to Kingston Gate, then right across Richmond Park.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, the sunshine casting a dream-like, soft-low winter light. Long shadows from thin branches formed spider webs on tree barks. Deer looked on nervously as we beat a path right through them, heading for two small wooden goal posts, marking a bridge across a narrow gulley. The kids got nervous as the deer peered at us. Was that strong smell deer-fear, or just deer-dung?

We wandered on waterlogged muddy paths. Headed through ancient woodland and came across a long, high fence protecting a tree plantation. We found an entrance through an old iron kissing gate. Then worked our way along a mysterious, winding path. I was getting fed up of all the twists and turns and wanted to get out. ‘In cavemen days’, said Hazel, ‘there were forests everywhere. You can understand why monkeys got fed up and started swinging through trees so they could travel in straight lines.’ She studied biology at school, so I didn’t disagree.

Charlie was happy getting muddy. He still jumps in puddles aged 12. I guess he always will, he’s that sort of boy. Leaping into life whole-heartedly with gleeful abandon. Not worrying about the practicalities and mundane realities of a 40-degree wash. Soon we left the plantation, but were not as far across the park as we thought we’d be. We’d been going for an hour and Millie wasn’t happy. She doesn’t like mud but makes a wicked Victoria Sponge. Gender stereotypes are alive and well in our house. She’s more critical than Charlie. Knows her own mind and is happy to share her point of view. ‘We could’ve been here ages ago if we’d followed the road,’ she moaned. ‘Sure’, I said, ‘but that’s not the point, we went on an adventure.’ And so we did in our own small way.

We left the park and strolled past languid drinkers at the top of Richmond Hill. Lounging in the sun, supping pints or sipping on chilled white wine, overlooking one of London’s finest views: The river slowly curling like a cat’s tail before heading upstream to Ham, Twickenham and home.

We headed down the hill, halfway to the Hollyhock Café, our final destination and favourite place: a bribe to be honest, but an effective one. We swigged our drinks as the sun went down, it was nearly five now and time to head back. Winter was nearly over, springtime only a blossom away. We walked down the rest of the hill and waited for the No 65 bus back to Kingston. The girls had remembered their Oyster Cards. Charlie and I had forgotten ours so I paid the driver our fare. He gave me a ticket… or was it a receipt? I think it’s both actually. Marriage is a compromise after all.



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A Single Espresso

Starbucks, Gordano Services, M5 South 15th Feb

I feel bad. I’m boycotting Starbucks you see. Don’t like them. They don’t pay their taxes for a start. And they’re ubiquitous; sometimes you’ll stumble upon two or even three in spitting distance of each other. Smaller independent coffee shops find it hard to compete. But mainly, it’s simply because their coffee tastes so bad. It’s too milky and bland, so what’s the point? But I’ve been driving for more than two hours now, there’s an hour to go until Exeter and I need a pick-me-up. I order a single Espresso. It’s £1.80 – that’s not bad for a service station where simple Egg and Cress sandwiches go for £3.89. But it’s not good – it’s burnt and bitter with an awful after taste. I don’t complain because I’m British. Instead I drink it down as fast as I can. It serves its purpose. As we head down the wind-battered, rain-soaked M5, the girls’ breathing slows and one by one they all drop off, but I’m wide awake. I feel mildly heroic – I’m acquitting myself well. Maybe that Espresso wasn’t so bad after all…

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Guatemalan Elephant

Whittard of Chelsea, Unit 96, The Bentall Centre, Kingston 31 Jan

I buy it for the name, it sounds exotic and manful. I think – these beans will give you balls, boy. I’ll feel strong and powerful. I’ll get high. Get a short buzz. But these babies will give me super human strength too. I’ll clear virgin jungle with my bare hands. Lick sap; the spilt blood of broken trees. Smoke big phallic cigars. Gamble through the night with hard-worn, swarthy locals; their dark, sullen eyes reflecting the Halloween light thrown by gas lamps hissing like snakes. Win their daughters at Five-Card Stud. Drink Old Friend Tipo Whiskey till dawn. Wake with dead mosquitos entombed in my nostrils, dried dribble in my beard. My newly acquired wife sweeping up broken pots and burnt pans. Rustling up sea turtle scrambled eggs. Grinding my beans. Smiling. Serving me the finest coffee known to man: Guatemalan Elephant, medium strong roast, available from Whittard of Chelsea – the natural choice of coffee connoisseurs throughout the Home Counties.

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