Tag Archives: words

Weathervane: Notes from People Watching

Stood, looking half bewildered to the world surrounding his existence, a Pep Guardiola lookalike. Slightly dishevelled, thinner. His nervous twitch holds a thousand transactions with the bottle. Pep anxiously riffles through the loose change in his palm. People flow past him, and like me, are ignorant of his true story. He looks broken. 

I order tea. It is quickly dispensed into its disposal cardboard cup, the tea bag hoovers on the surface, “Say when”, the guy says as he pours the milk. “When,” I reply. He lifts his head. We capture one another’s eyes for a millisecond, and a distant sigh reverberates in our collective subconscious.

Stepping from the trailer and gripping the paper cup at its brim, I befriend an aluminium framed seat and its identical table where I place my tea and mobile phone.

25-years since I landed in Bristol. This is the place I have frequented, on and off, over those years. A tea/coffee trailer, adjacent to the Watershed, which also serves a delicious banana and chocolate crepe if you find yourself in the vicinity,

As then, and as now, it’s the perfect place to people watch. We mortals tend not to look up anymore, fixated by our devices. Connected to distance and not our immediate surroundings.

Groups of schoolchildren jostle, call each other names beyond my recognition and brag about things schoolchildren brag about. It’s all posturing, but there is the quiet one struggling to fit in and harvest a sense of belonging. An awkward shyness and sense of inadequacies. Seagulls hanker and cry for crumbs, and a wasp threatens occasionally. A guy in a leather motorcycle jacket on the next table sits back and stretches his legs out. Drawing deeply into his lungs, the cigarette smoke.  

A momentary break in the traffic, pedestrian crossing beeps announce a new flow of passer-by. A young lady, early 20s stops abruptly, combes long hair with fingers. Tilts her head slightly to the left, raises her mobile, sucks in her cheeks like a pouting trout and snaps a selfie and walks on. 

The Pep Guardiola lookalike is now loitering close to me, picking up random cigarette butts. A message appears on my iPhone 12, advising me to buy a new iPhone 13.  I sip my tea, gaze up at the Weathervane, and before I notice, the Pep Guardiola lookalike has vanished.

Clash with a Titan

I must confess that upon relocating to London from Bristol in the late 90s, like a child playing with an oversized train set, I loved using the London Underground system. I never entirely understood the wails and grunts from work colleagues as they arrived at the office first thing each morning.

Accepted, it was not the best place to be on a hot day between Brixton and Vauxhall. Especially in an over-crowded carriage, waiting for the light to change and drivers unintelligible announcements.

Donning my headphones and observing the subterranean world become one of my little daily pleasures. Witnessing the solemn faces of passengers navigate the unwritten constitution, which governs the use of the underground with an iron glove:

Do not acknowledge other people
Pretend to read something essential.
Do not disturb.
Do not invade space and avoid all physical contact.
Do not intervene in other peoples misdemeanours.
Learn to pivot and balance against gravity.
When the occasion arises, gawk at your reflection.
Rush hour: Be a complete and inconsiderate tosser.

The practice of social distancing, before it became a necessity. After a period of using the same route a small acknowledgement, a nod of the head would be exchanged between familiar faces.

One particular day, it was my first week of employment at Lambeth Council. I was still coming to terms with the kaleidoscope of new names and faces, and I jumped on the system at Brixton Underground.

The carriage was pretty full, but not overcrowded. As the carriage pulled away, I noticed one of my new work colleagues down the other end of the carriage. I looked him in the eyes and gave him a firm nod of acknowledgement. He looked down and did not respond.

A few moments later, he lifted his head and looked my way. I gave him a smile and reaffirmed my acknowledgement. Once again, he looked away only this time a little more uncomfortably as if he was being tested by a psychopath. He tried to move behind somebody close to him, but I could see him looking at me through the reflection of the carriage window. I gave his reflected stare an acknowledgement, and he shuffled behind this human shield again.

Now feeling somewhat offended, I thought, fuck it, you miserable sod. The carriage pulled into Stockwell Station. I watched my supposed work colleague take a quick glance, again through the reflection in the window. I looked away in disgust. The driver announced the closing of the doors, next stop Vauxhall. In the blink of an eye, my work colleague jumped from the train onto the platform, leaving me with no time to join him.

With great stature, he stared directly at me, as the carriage slowly started to move. His eyes shouted out to me, “who the fuck are you?”

At this point, I realised my work colleague was none other than Mick Jones, guitarist from The Clash. Our paths were never to cross again.

We need to talk about Peter

I want to share an experience I had quite recently and in doing so shine a small light on the discourse, which is happening in communities and neighbourhoods across the UK, in the US, and further afield. It’s about perception, personal accountability and the duplicity that some people choose to live. It’s about how we communicate and engage with one another as we flip between our real day to day lives and the virtual world we increasingly inhabit via social media platforms. Moreover, it’s about how a person you think you know in one world is not the person you know in another world.

However, mostly it’s about preying on ignorance to deliberately fuel hate and toxicity between people something that has seeped into our cultures, reflected and used by politicians. In his classic novel 1984, George Orwell introduced us to the concept of “doublespeak.” When Big Brother says, “Love”, he means to hate. When Big Brother says, “Peace”, he means war.

When my family and I left Salisbury after seven happy years and returned to Bristol, we left behind a network of friends whom we value to this day. People who have enriched our lives and sincerely hope will continue to do so. I must stress at this point that our neighbours and vast majority of  Salisbury people whom we came to know did nothing but show us kindness and make us feel welcome.

During our time living in Salisbury Peter would become a regular and welcome visitor to our home, he undertook paid house repairs and socialised with our families. Even Poppy, our pet dog, would dance a merry dance on hearing his voice. He was ‘just there’ when we needed a helping hand. In our interactions with him, we believed there was not a bad bone in his body, which was vital given we were new to the city with a diverse family (immediate and extended).

When we finally settled in Bristol and started to hook up with our friends back in Salisbury via Facebook a startling and unpleasant realism dawned on us. As if from nowhere hateful articles and images began to appear on our Facebook updates from extreme rightwing groups. Often this was beyond the shock-jock humour and rubbish we have sadly become accustomed too and occasionally, this would include images from groups with known violence towards people.

The source of these posts was Peter.

After a run of rather ugly posts, including Peter’s obsession with wanting to reinstate the Golliwog as a reflection of his Britishness, my wife parted ways with him by writing a considered and heartfelt message to him concerning his behaviour. Peter simply liked the message with a thumbs up, no replay and carried on regardless.

After discussing this, I decided to stay the course and challenge his behaviour. I was under no illusion I could ever change his bitter and offensive stupidity I could at least plant a seed of doubt into his followers and family who must have been watching the on-going war of attrition taking place between the both of us.

It’s was not surprising to discover that when directly and calmly challenged hateful people quickly run away, tails between their legs, but then reemerge when they believe the coast is clear to carry on with their vile, ugly and horrid behaviour. This was our experience of Peter’s behaviour.

A few weeks ago he must have started to realise the dwindling number of likes he was receiving for his posts, so he went on the offensive by starting to post his views on my page. It has been said before, and I’ll repeat here again. Not all people who voted for Brexit are racists, but an am very confident that all racists voted for Brexit. Peter is, of course, a passionate advocate of Brexit, UKIP and Trump style politics and watching him stumble, clunk and pathetically wallow around when challenged by my friends on Facebook has become one of my moments of the year.

Things took a further turn recently. Upset by the recent poor news coverage concerning Brexit we went on a somewhat bitter sad and bitter ranting episode during the Remembrance Sunday ceremony trying to score cheap and nasty political points. I merely asked him to show some respect and not use the memory and the commemoration of brave people who have paid the ultimate price to further his hatred of people.

Then shortly afterwards he returned to his old obsession with his beloved Golliwog. I rechallenged him on the Golliwog and why it’s us both offensive and ugly. In true 1970s sitcom style Peter replied that he had none white friends with children, so this proved he was not racist. To which I merely replied, “So you would have no problem in buying them a Golliwogg’s for Christmas then?” An implosion occurred. The results of which I am unable to report given Peter blocked me.

Peter is what George Orwell describes as practising doublespeak. What he says and what he does are two completely different things. The articles and images he decides to publish via Facebook are products of rightwing groups who feed them to him, and he shares them. He chooses to associate with these groups, and so they become part of him, a reflection of him and he a representation of them.

So why am I posting this? Firstly, I’m genuinely relieved that Peter is no longer a part of our lives. Secondly and far more critical. We live in dangerous times when decency and moderation seem out of fashion as some seek answers in the shadow of reactionary, nationalist and racist politics.

They are not the mainstream and never will be, but those who know better need to stick together, calmly resist these people and push them back under the rocks they have scrambled from underneath. Have the confidence to challenge those who ultimately mean you harm regardless of who they are and remember the words of Bill Hicks would say, “Love all the people all the time.”

Another Day Another Year

Today (3rd May) is one of those days. A marker in one’s life where I take time to pause and reflect on those people who have given me the foundations to build my life. As I write this, I do so with a gentle glow of pride that Janet (my sister) and I had two amazing parents who both passed away on this day 12 month apart. Today marks the first anniversary of a year without them physically in our lives. The tears have subsided, the photographs make me smile, the space they left remains, but their presence is strangely stronger. I see them in the day to day behaviours of individual family members (yes sister you have mums fire burning inside). I hear them in the causal talk of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I often see them in my mind’s eye when I ask myself, “what would they think?” or reflect on a memory.

As my parents entered the last phase of their lives and with their blessing, I took an assortment of photographs. I also had the fortune to talk about my parents on national radio via Lauren Laverne’s BBC 6Music’s regular slot Memory Tapes, which judging from the feedback I received reflected the thoughts of many people who heard it. My mum passed away shortly after I took this photograph, which captures their last kiss.

Today, I write these words and share this image after careful consideration and talking to my sister partly to help break-down any fear we may have in discussing death, to offer support to those who may be facing similar circumstances and reassure you that there is light after the darkness. But more importantly to celebrate the beautiful cycle of life. If you are fortunate to have parents like me and my sister, they teach you how to live, love and ultimately how to die with dignity. When all is said and done can a child ask for anything more from their parents? Love all the people all the time.




The Last Flower

Somethings have explanations, some things take belief, while others just leave you pondering for a rational reason for them to exist. They capture a moment, like stars when they align. On this damp, chilly September morning in the corner of my kitchen, a corner where the plants do their best to thrive, of all these days, a blooming flower stretches out seeking the sky. It’s the last flower, my father planted before he died on the 3rd March 2017, which is exactly, to the day, 12 months after my mum had passed away. The significance of this solitary flower that blooms on this damp, chilly September morning is what causes the pause, as I make a breakfast tea and say happy birthday to my mum.

Stanley’s Magical Rose

2nd week May 2012Silence. The fragility of stillness is like numb and paralysed limbs void of energy, redundant. Disturbed only by the rhythm of breathing. Life’s ever-decreasing cycle, unachieved ambitions. Closed eyes and memory flickered dreams projected like old camera films on stained wood chip walls. The taught rituals of work from the first day to first weeks pay. Good days, the bad days and the in-between days, but always the grind. Homemade sandwiches, canteen-banter. Dirt pitted hands, stewed tea, page 3 and practical jokes. Dust in the hot foundry that told no lies and hid no secrets. Shudders and cries of sweat covered men as splashes from molting metal discovered unprotected skin. The cranking cogs that churn day in and day out. Sulfated sands. Weakened lungs are wheezing accidental poetry. Now speeches are made, and words evaporate from unintended lips. A £250.00 gift voucher. A shake of hands. A promise of continued friendships followed by a thoughtful,“ goodbye.”

Awaken. The first sense is confirmation of surrounds. Open eyes. Traffic was passing without intent. A chilly June morning beckons as the 6 am alarm sounds. The first domino of the day falls for Stanley, and the momentum starts anew. A routine of acceptances had to be maintained. A deceiving Sunbeam has penetrated the gaps of his faded paisley curtains. Across the polka dot duvet, it searches up the chimney breast, glancing the photograph of his parents who offer warmth in returning judgments.

The bookshelves constructed while listening to a transistor radio and interruptions from his mother with offers of tea,  one sugar, tuna fish sandwiches, and a custard cream biscuit. The shelves crammed with diaries, poetry books, autobiographies, George Orwell novels, photograph albums and the occasional treasure discovered in second-hand bookshops. A shower and piss down the plughole. Watching the yellow whirlpool dilute and disappear.

Dressed, tea, two pieces of toast. Stanley stands by the front door, pauses, inhales a profound conscious breath, turns the lock, and opens the door and steps outside. The housing estate is quiet. It’s young inhabitants whose lives seem full of noise and disputes sleep, recharging their batteries like the mobile phones they possess on pay as you go contracts with unlimited texts. Stanley stands motionless. The bus is late. The glass panels of the shelter lay shattered and, like the fragmented lives, he witnesses on most days nobody was keen to pick up the pieces and put it back together again. Warm breath lifts like clouds. The shattered glass grates under his feet as he steps onto the bus. He nods to the driver who nods back; no words are exchanged, none is necessary, and the bus pass is presented.

Faraway places were to remain distant places for Stanley. Although he envied those who travelled he was not bitter, he celebrated their fortune and sought any opportunity to find travellers to discuss their experiences. Often disappointed with tales of cheap alcohol, crowded beaches, and industrialised hotels. Since his redundancy from work five years ago Stanley had been volunteering three days a week at a local charity bookshop. The shop had become his universe where he learned and explored faraway cultures from abandoned books delivered to the stores from house clearances after an elderly death.

2nd week in May 2012, It was 3 years ago when cleaning old stock from the dark basement that he came across a book entitled ‘Physic Transformational Meditation, as Practiced by the North Korean Talesi Monks.’ Little is known of the Talesi Monks, and it was the only book Stanley discovered on the subject after extensive searches of local libraries, the Internet and retail bookshops.

Feared by their Japanese rulers in the early 1900s and the secretive North Korean regime all Talesi monasteries had been systematically destroyed, their practices outlawed, old monks sent to isolation camps and the separated young to state re-education programmes. The book brought instant warmth to his hands when he picked it up, which had encouraged him to set it aside. Upon opening the book, he discovered a small white-foiled package, which was acting as a bookmark for the section entitled ‘Teaki the practice of dreaming and dying.’

The little white-foiled packet contained a single seed. An individual child Stanley was born to parents who were much older than any of his peers. By 15, he became the part-time carer for his aging parents. His parents had both died while Stanley was in his 50s. Now he found himself at 71 years old living alone in the house where he was born, brought up and no doubt one day would die in. Reflecting on his circumstances, he knew his choices, which he had made without regret.

To avoid the constant disputes between neighbours, children beavering away like a colony of worker ants intent on dismantling the housing estate brick by brick and the regular intrusion of police raids seeking to extract the latest suspect for questioning Stanley timed his arrival home in the early evening. It was March when Stanley planted the seed and placed the small pot by the kitchen window. He had tendered to its every need with daily dedication. When the foliage was about 2 inches long, he feeds the plant a high nitrogen food to encourage foliage and stem growth. When the stems started to elongate, he had decreased the nitrogen feed to promote a full bloom. During late May, the buds began to open and expose the delicate dark red petals.

The following morning Stanley had followed his routine. With a spade in one hand and potted rose in the other Stanley made his way to the large grassed common area that lay in the centre of the housing estate. In the heart of the common area, he dug a small hole, knelt down, planted the rose and stood back. Immediately the sun’s rays broke through the morning clouds. A tender, sweet smell emerged from the rose and entered Stanley’s nostrils. He stood perfectly still. It was one hour before his neighbour Angie Ward, who had been peering at Stanley for 45 minutes through her bedroom curtains, came over to see what he was doing.

2nd-week June 2012When Angie Ward caught a smell of the tender fragrance she too immediately stood still, relaxed, let out a deep sigh and closed her eyes.Next, it’s was Tom Ridbridge, the neighbourhood thug who was to succumb then Jenny Heartbelt, one by one this reoccurrence was maintained until 11.45am. By this time every resident of the estate was standing in a large circle 100 people deep, in a state of total bliss and calm.

By 12noon the police were in attendance, but were powerless due to the numbers and density of the residents they could not access the centre of the circle to ascertain the cause nor were they able to smell the fragrance of the red rose. No matter how many times they demanded information the residents did not respond and only continued to remain silent, head slightly bowed, as if in deep sleep.

TV crews from the local media arrived. Politicians, who had not been seen on the estate for many years pronounced theories and point accusations at their opponents. Noble people from the town hall held discussions into the phenomena, which was taking place in their jurisdiction and without their consent. They passed emergency resolutions demanding the residents to disband and return home, but to no avail. As the day slowly became, night police helicopters hovered above with piercing searchlights scanning the crowd below. Barriers were erected to prevent people from entering or leaving the estate. At 11 pm the chief of police Edmond Clarke addressed the residents through his standard police issue loudhailer, “I have been ordered to disperse you all from this unlicensed gathering. I will give you until midnight to do so. If needed, I will use force, so please disperse peacefully now,” but no response was forthcoming.

At 11.55pm, Stanley opened his eyes, bent down and removed the red rose from the soil and placed it back into the pot. He stood up and like a regimented army his fellow residents slowly came to their senses, smiled, turned and calmly started to make their way back to their homes in silence.

10 am the day after; Stanley was sitting in his front room enjoying a cup of tea when he realised a calmness he had not felt for a long time was emanating from the streets outside. Calmness he had not experienced since before his parents had died. He glanced at the rose, which he had placed on the living room table. Its colour had drained. Leaning forwards Stanley took a photograph with his Polaroid Camera and wrote a single word and the date on the photo.

He sat back, closed his eyes, inhaled gently, smiled, and exhaled a deep sigh followed by a low murmur. His hands relaxed and opened on each arm of the chair. His body eased into the contours of the seat. A warm glow appeared in front of him.



Nothing but innocence

I am your innocence
Bring the broken bones
Wrapped in woven sack
Tied then opened
Released and spread out

Assembled they are a body
For you to collect again
To gather and place back in woven sack

Placed on shelf
Amongst the past
Awaiting to be opened
In candle light

The footsteps at the door
The handle slowly turns
Take me to your factory
Spread me on the floor
Tell me you understand
For I am nothing but your innocence
I have nothing left to hideImage

Butterfly Wings

So colourful.

Amazing reds and yellows merge with satin black to make such a beautiful camouflage. To conceal, disguise and yes deceive, although without malice intent but survival in mind, for the butterfly life is short.

How can something so beautiful, so bold be so delicate as butterfly wings? Becoming disabled and unable to rejoice in the freedom of clear blue skies when touched by my mere human hands.

Drawn by a naked flame, captured in their beauty, distant within their vulnerability. Hidden beneath your camouflaged heart, I find your butterfly wings. Enslaved within a prism, darkened by a reluctant essence.

Your buttery wings when open display a world so fragile and innocent, when closed they attempt to conecl your natural wonder, beauty, your inherent power.

While walking along unblemished river banks, drifting through feral grass from the corner of my eyes, I see your butterfly wings. Gently they glide, hovering, capturing sunbeams and occasionally stopping to rest and gather valuable energy from wildflowers.

Then gone.
Leaving only flighting memory.
A moment captured in time.
Now so different.
As winter exhales her chilly breath.
No fantastic reds and yellows merge with satin black.

On these insular riverbanks, I await a warm breeze.
Blue skies.
Chrysalis Birth.
Your butterfly wings.