Monday, 24 June 2013

Sinking Rainbows

The mayflies drip upon the film
Their corkscrews now unspun
Through mottled lateral lines we sense
Vibrations build and run

In tandem then we rise and fall
Breach tenderly in shade
As willow fronds brush summer on
And reed beds lie unmade  

Is now the time to gorge and dream
Of distant waters seething?
Of moments sped to nauseous tilt
Gills crimson, shallow breathing?

Such scenes defy Time’s devilish ways
No self, no arrow’s story
A billion moments all at once
The chaos spawns the glory   

Sunday, 20 May 2012

My Sculptures

Some of my plasticine sculptures, made in York, Newmarket and Singapore between 2007 and 2011.  

Music with the Garden

A music video I made for the track Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time by Los Campesinos! I wanted to explore predation, sex and death through the lens of a single day in a drab English garden.   

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

The Wire Man

My father was a military man who placed a tremendous importance on physical fitness. He abhorred technology and the perils of the modern world.
“Little of merit has occurred this century”, he would proclaim, “man is weak in the eyes of his creations”. I would dutifully listen to these oracular pronouncements, watching his frenetic and clichéd moustache by the light of a paraffin lamp. He was flawed. I believed in him strongly.
As part of my training, father would make me walk the full length of a Saxon earthwork five times a week. The earthwork had been built 1400 years ago using only hand tools. It was 8km long: “as long as Everest is tall”, my father would say, before invariably continuing “10 meters high, carved from the land by proud English men and women”. My father had been known to fight men in pubs if they repeated the oft-quoted myth that the earthwork’s ditch had been created by the tail of the Devil. He hated their glib and facile attitudes towards the Wonder. Each time I walked it he would escort me to the starting point in the village of Reach, have an ale, and then ride his horse to the woods near Little Ditton, where he would meet me at dusk.
It was during one of these walks that I first encountered the Wire Man. Snow had fallen and the glare from the bouncing sun was piercing. I stopped to catch my breath after ascending a steep crest of the earthwork. Through the silence and wet branches I saw a man. He stood in an adjacent field, echoing my stance, but quite alien to my senses. Black and metallic; amorphous, he would at one moment be made from fine chicken wire and the next from wrought steel beams as wide as railway girders. I did not panic. His presence seemed benign. I continued to walk, intrigued to see if he would follow. The Wire Man obliged.
Over the next few years the Wire Man was seldom absent from my walks. He would trek alongside me quietly, clambering over hedges as he passed across field after field. From my vantage point on the earthworks I could examine him, though I sensed he did not like this, as whenever I stared for too long he would develop bright fires in his empty head that would rage and grow until I looked away. The Wire Man did not conform to physical laws. He could be many sizes at once and did not always walk on the ground. I began to spot him everywhere. In towns he would dart behind walls to avoid people seeing him. On the train I would notice him running alongside; sometimes jumping up at the windows, sometimes a busy speck on the horizon.
The first person I spoke to about the Wire Man was a woman called Jane who I met at University. We had just had sex for the first time and I felt an overwhelming urge to build something concrete between us in place of the bodies we had recently cast aside. She suggested that I might like to talk to some of my friends about the Wire Man instead. My friends seemed interested, but they soon grew bored with the topic and began to exchange sinister looks with one another when it was raised. Dave was the exception. He was training to be a psychiatrist and took many notes. Years later, in a provincial library, I found a paper he had written about the Wire Man buried in the palsied pages of a defunct journal. Apparently, the Wire Man was my father. This did not feel right and I decided Dave was insane. Besides, my father died of pneumonia years earlier.   
I stopped talking about the Wire Man soon after university. Jane was now my wife and we had begun trying for children. I took a job at a local paper. The Wire Man was often a distraction. I would see him every day in the corner of the office, contorting into horrible shapes, eyes ablaze. Alcohol helped make his presence bearable. When I was drunk the Wire Man would shrink with the groaning clank of steel in winter. Years passed, I gained promotions and accolades, achieved goals and took up hobbies.  
Then one day I realized that the Wire Man no longer followed me. It had been a gradual realization, a growing awareness that flits around the margins of consciousness, yet when it finally landed I felt an incredible sense of loss. I did not understand my pain. It should have been a relief. Life carried on with all its myriad tribulations: the children were fed and grew, dogs arrived and left us for the vet’s needle, we bought and sold houses. I stood amidst this swirling activity and did my best to appear affected and engaged. My family believed in me, especially the children. They soon left home and had their own offspring. Over the years, Jane conducted several affairs to test if I could still be brought to agony. I dutifully wept. Eventually the act seemed unnecessary. I saw the other old people staring listlessly from windows and decided to drift along in the cover of their shadows. The margins grew thicker and darker. When the Wire Man did return I was long gone. He may have looked for me, I cannot say.


Saturday, 17 March 2012

Intoxication Fornication Regret

Snowdrops smell like all the best shower gel commercials from your childhood when you crush them with mad abandon in a provincial churchyard.   

Sam tries to convince me that she is human as a bulky wren crash-lands against a background of anemone-shaped clouds.

When I am forty-three feet high (and keen to dance on well-kept lawns and kick at koi ponds till the fish make squawking sounds midflight) I sometimes wonder how my massive form will be dissolved by this quaint land.   

A field of concrete barley. Four cannons positioned at each corner of the field bombard a quadriplegic scarecrow with neon flares. Knots of overhead powerlines writhe like tethered snakes.

My iphone chases sticks in a sundrenched valley.              

The separated ears of a hare. Those last few erratic rotations of a spinning top. Stained tarmac. A Nissan’s blue-grey belch. 

To the mystery of a lit cottage ten miles from anything as dusk enfolds the hay and there are five shiny cars on the drive and red faces at the window.

I tell Sam that sometimes when I look into her eyes I see a montage of war atrocities that last 57 minutes and features a voiceover by Kenneth Branagh.

Water slips as if captured with an achingly slow shutter speed. Floating leaves quiver with lost ants. Bramble trellises add a malevolent colouration to the proceedings.  

And now Sam the metallurgist from Fife is expatiating on her theory that patched gaps in hedges – the motorist’s inebriated folly – are portals to the only true regret in the universe.      

An old man’s olive green jacket hobbles past the post office. The sleeves get caught by a falling manhole cover. Nobody helps it get free. Civilizations rise and fall.      

Sunday, 10 July 2011

To Reason?

Here’s to the wretched! the awful and the stumbling
Who prowl our streets as most suck sleep into their pillows mumbling
They are the sick-stained remnants of ghostly buried youth
Who I will shame on office rocks attempting to sound couth
Yet I still crave the moonbeams, those light-fantastic duels
The knee-skin on the cobbles and the gentle crimson pools

And here is to the slut! that strapless, spindly ink
And cackles blue as the vodka, she drains to a glossy chink
Flung limbs connote salvation in fifteen minute slices
But knowing not her language I pamper other vices
Until in tearful reveries, I stalk, I stubbornly ache
And suffer passions mad and strange in that gaudy, perfumed wake

But mostly here’s to you dear friend, you terrible, stoic swine
Supping claret with the great and good, my my the greyness climes
This balance you speak of seems rich indeed – I almost dare not ask
But if life is such an adventure then, in whose light should one bask?

Saturday, 30 April 2011

The Island and the Eel

The boys, Si and Chris, are planning to go to the island tomorrow. I aint sure it’s, well, the best idea, but they told me about centre of the island and it’s bottomless pool; a pool full of oddly coloured water and even odder creatures. They told me how a while back a line was set; huge lead anchor, two-inch hook loaded with bacon and limpet flesh, just off the bottom to avoid the crabs. And as they pulled it up, having waded back at dawn, what should greet them but eight feet of conger eel, thrashing about grotesquely in the depths. There it hung, at their mercy for almost a minute, before breaking free and leaving them with nothing but the straightened steel of the hook. So naturally now they’re fixing to return and sit all day like a couple of pint-sized Ahabs. But I’m not certain they should. Clouds have been massing for a while. Gates been swinging above the sand, their knotted clasps chattering ceaselessly back and forth through the bore-holes. It isn’t safe. I ought to tell father. That crimson moon just keeps on swelling.

I ought to tell father, but he is seldom inclined to listen these days. Dave and Jean? they barely know who I am, and besides, to my mind they are both quite ridiculous. Perhaps, just perhaps, I should approach the wicker chair Sebastian always curls himself into - like a bejumpered turd - and whisper the entire plot. He took an interest in this sort of thing. Well, he took an interest before 9pm; before he began decanting gin to his mug, before he began surreptitiously fondling Jean whenever Dave was bested by his bladder and had to leave the room to grunt over the porcelain. Yes in summary I fear I am quite alone in the matter of the island and the eel.

The boys, Si and Chris, talk incessantly about the island - their island.  It’s not much of an island anyway. Just a rocky straggler. Part of the coastline. Flicked paint on a brooding canvas. Them taking it as their own is pretty stupid. Might as well claim Caernarfon bay, all Anglesey even. They’re upstairs at the moment. Snoring away those brothers of mine.  I tried to get some sleep earlier, but that Jennifer thing has a penetrating laugh and the floorboards aren’t up to the challenge. Which incidentally, isn’t the only problem with this house. The location for starters. Right on the cusp. Teetering over the shingle. I told father, told him the decision was foolish. “One black lick and we’re a gonna”, I said, “and if we aren’t carried clean away, then all the windows will be caved in. Do you want that?” I glared right at him, “starfish clinging to your fireplace hoods?” He didn’t say much as I recall. Smiled some and went back to teasing Jennifer.

In the months that followed us moving in I had concluded that the house was actually absurd; a big sweep of brick, coiffured from the prow of the land, its innards an amalgam of faux-Edwardian tat. Mum would have laughed I reckon. Laughed and called him “highfalutin” or some such anachronism.   They liked it though, father’s periodic guests. They gushed over the embossed wallpaper like flies at a ham unwrapping. And, lit by an innocuous coal fire, they could drink absinthe and forget the trials of city life; the school runs, the weekend clamour for babysitters. Check Chekhov, yeah - father’s misguided attempt to divert youth attention towards the dead Russian – had been published a decade ago, yet it’s pulped pages still garnered a certain cache at these monthly gatherings. This was - I deduced later – the catalyst for Jennifer’s unlikely seduction (she was only twelve years older than me after all). Of all his decisions - and there had been some preposterous jewels over the years – she was the absolute worst. This notion however, had not properly cemented in my brain until last January, when I accidently walked in on them at a most inopportune moment. They had commenced, I think, behind some fake Japanese panelling; though by the end their limbs had fully slid free and resembled spilled blancmange. Urgent it was. Inauthentic. Sort of mutually desperate.

I was always stumbling into situations like that. Last year, out on the dunes in a sandstorm, I took refuge in one of the craters. The wind was really something that day, kicking at the flanks of the land, winnowing dandruff from the coarse hair. I was glad to clamber beneath an overhang, let the rushing particles do their thing and lid me up. Then who should I see invading my shelter but Dave and that itinerant little slut DeeAnne. Well, she was clearly not having the best of times, struggling away beneath his clodding hands. They stopped their tussle and stared at me, their eyes accustomed to a trichromatic world of yellow sand, green grass, and grey sky. I was perplexing. Too real after peering into empty vessels. And it seemed for a moment as though my incongruence rendered me invisible. That feeling has festered over the years, but at the time I paid it no heed and merely melted to the storm. And Dave got back on it. Porcine this time; semi-consensual squeals, trotters to the sand.  

Chris, the older brother, has a real thing for that DeeAnne now. Doesn’t understand why he likes her of course, but he’ll follow them brown eyes till he’s dead. She slopes up, black hair coiling on a translucent camisole, having spent the afternoon sinking Bacardi with the lads of Rhosneigr high-street. Teases him till it’s dark sometimes. Si can’t grasp his brother’s affliction. Doesn’t know why Chris doesn’t tell her to piss off when she steals from him, or cruelly pretends to meet them somewhere and doesn’t show for hours. Still, I’m sure he can tell he’s losing him. Losing him to that other world. The island is the only thing that gets them both excited these days. The island and the memory of that thrashing conger. Perhaps I shouldn’t ruin their plans. Tomorrow is their last chance to get back there and snare the beast. After that the tides will come and cut them off. Rush in and bisect understanding. 

Paintings by Matthew Snowden.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Undressing Existence

When we are crashed on hillsides drinking clouds
As wind turns pebbles from the ancient trees
Often my mind has cause to enshroud
The moment in bliss, till all memories cease

For we are the keepers of Time my dear!
Scorn death to a dream - and growing old?
Tis no more than chairs by the brink of a broken pier
As crowds blend to gulls, and horizons to gold

Yet even as binds release our form
Clouds unfurl and truth winks from afar
I remember the reason that we each were born
And clumsily fumble your bra.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Anti-Götterdämmerung of an Academic

Artlessly untitled [or something similar]  

Yosef Igneous Garrety (PhD) is consumed by his deliberately modest office. In front of him lies a stack of unmarked essays, the top most of which is titled: “Leaving the darkness: a psychosexual history of coal mining in the north of England”. The stack is bitten and coffee stained and rises from the general clutter of the desk like a pulpy stalagmite. Yosef peers distrustfully at the stalagmite. He has recently undergone a crisis of faith – he can no longer see value in Deep Freudian Historical Topography (DFHT). This is not the first crisis of faith in Yosef’s 35 years of plodding academia, but it will be the last. Yosef in fact had declared that very morning that he intended to “stop looking for sexual symbolism in the mundane and well, just ruddy live”. Nevertheless, on days such as these Yosef spends much time observing the walls of his office. Sometimes he thinks he can see them breathing; riddled with bronchitis and geologically slow. Other times he recalls how the walls looked before his pipe was confiscated on medical grounds (jaundiced, frankly) and how, sometime in 95, all that lovely character was destroyed as they were maculated with cheap cream from B&Q.

It is 5pm. The central heating has automatically shut off. Yosef’s screensaver of a fake office fire burbles pathetically away. He wonders if the current obsession with regulated, impotent heating might be some sort of reverse Promethean deification of the domineering modern Woman. He soon checks himself and instead examines the choppy grey sea of portacabins outside. He wants to go home, but it would be irregular to leave so early.

It is now 5:27pm. Yosef is unwrapping a toffee and wondering how the latest administration of radiotherapy will affect his wife’s tumour. A not insignificant part of him hopes it is hopeless. Beatrice has experienced terrible skin reactions.     

5:38pm and a homebound Yosef is disturbed by the weather. Stockton high street is remade. The cobblestones run with distilled exhaust fumes and buildings sport caps of filthy slush. Yosef considers the hallucinogenic grip of Snow. He tries to shake the idea. I am a conduit for experience, nothing more, he tells himself as he tramples a neon sign in a black puddle that reads: “Last Ever Golf Sale, Hurry”. Later, a homeless man mews painfully and Yosef hands him twenty pounds. A homeless man doesn’t know how to be grateful he thinks, before concluding out loud “the power structure in that moment is simply untenable”.

When Yosef gets home his shoes are both sodden. He crisps them on the radiator. As he is doing this he experiences an erection, which is mildly troubling because he cannot locate an appropriate instance of radiator masturbation from his early childhood. He sits in his armchair and relives the words of a student from earlier that day - “If willed memory was as visceral as the spontaneous variety we should never leave our armchairs”. Yosef gets out of his armchair with a start. He is again jealous of the young man. Not, incidentally, because of what he said. He had stopped bothering to interpret his student’s fetid attempts at insight a long time ago. No, it was the way Jill Mantle (PhD) - strip-lit by an unintentionally cracked door - had bucked beneath the student last Tuesday. Her mouth, or lipstick to be more precise (the image was seared in Josef’s brain), cavorted forever like kelp in a red tide. 

It is 6pm. Yosef peers through the wastes of his semi-detached garden. Beyond the fence (last plied with creosote – 23rd of May, 1992) lies the quarry. The recurrent freeze and thaw has sent tumbles of limestone onto the stiffened brambles, leaving them crushed and awkward in each other’s company. Yosef considers, as he extracts a fibrous blackhead from the side of his nose, whether the garden started decaying before or after Beatrice’s little romantic transgression. He wanders through to the living room, auto-piloted by the wear of the carpet. Here his attention is marshalled by his wife’s embroidery. It hangs above the plastic fireside, gold on navy blue: “Carpe Diem”. Yosef is disgusted. If it was a real fire he would unquestionably send the stitching to the flames. Instead he imagines seizing a pillow and pinning it to his wife’s face. The clatter of stainless steel amidst spilled IV fluid sends a pulse of pleasure from his back to his groin. Yosef suspects that he will be punished for this.

After tossing a couple of fried eggs between toast slices and washing it down with strong coffee, Yosef is ready to drive to the hospital. It is Friday and he reasons that if he spends two or three hours with Beatrice, he can safely keep the rest of the weekend for himself without condemnation from the children. The car follows its own black tracks out of the driveway. Manchester United vs Bayern Munich: European cup, quarter final kicked off at 7:45pm. The roads are silent. At 7:55pm it begins to snow. Yosef has ingested too much caffeine. As he hurtles through the night he imagines that he is parting the legs of a vast woman made entirely of his wife’s flaking skin. So strong is the melding with reality that five minutes later he mistakes the rear end of a lorry for the woman’s pudenda. As the Volkswagen enters a fatal skid, Yosef sees not his entire life, but merely strands of stinking egg yolk. And Symbolism oozes unhatched.     

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

By the Pool in the Woods

Soft milk beneath a dying star
Rests long amongst the Beech
Oh silent tangled banks, how far
do roots of charcoal reach?
What pure intention drives them forth,
that I may once have known?  
And can these deeds upon the earth
In surrender be unsown?
Oh roots clasp me with inky arms
And plunge my shallow form 
Into the ashen catacombs
 So I may be reborn
Reborn above this tawdry rhyme
A little fist of light
Who can but burn, immune to Time
Abstract from former plight

I wrote this about a year ago. The poem came very naturally - I think because I was in one of those weird transition zones between emotions that refuse to be labelled. Anyway, what interests me now is the focus on beech trees. Beech, along with Oak, is a great giant of southern English woodlands. But unlike Oaks, which often appear dilapidated and haphazard, the really old examples of Beech (300 + years) maintain their elegant, sculptural quality. And by moonlight their bark is wonderfully transformed; they tower over the rest of the forest like Daliesque, burnished elephants.

Beech trees migrated to England around 4000 BC via Stone Age settlers who ate their seeds. Beechnuts in fact remained an important rural food source into the modern period. Yet the Beech was never domesticated, due mainly to its extended lifespan (Some trees don’t flower for 50 years). It’s fascinating to consider that prehistoric humans may have therefore collected and distributed the seeds, knowing that only their children, or perhaps even grandchildren, would reap the rewards.           

Thursday, 10 March 2011

True Life

This is a piece I wrote ages ago for a friend’s magazine. It’s meant to be some sort of absurdist take on our plastic culture, written in the confessional, semi-illiterate style of tripey women’s magazines. I totally nailed the semi-illiterate part…

"My family say I’m unholy, but you can't put a price on true love"
After Keith dumped me I used to just sit around watching Cash in the Attic, spooning tub after tub of ice cream into my hopeless throat. I was so unhappy with the way my body looked. It seemed like my dream of being a model would never come true. “Get yourself together!” my mate Kathy would say, helpfully tilting the sofa until I fell to the floor in a ball of realisation. I needed to do something, but in truth my ankles were all wrong and I had a back like a bad cathedral.
I’d never even thought about getting any plastic surgery till I saw a billboard in town with my mate Beth on it. It was an advert selling clocks to wives and Beth looked dead glam. I called her up that instant, and after the usual half hour of veiled criticism, we got round to chatting on her new look, which she explained was the work of a certain miracle doctor.
Dr Grampton (or Dean as I would come to know him) was not what you might call imposing. He couldn’t have been more then five feet tall and his limbs were all bunched up, as if trying to escape the world. I noticed his unusual facial spasm straight away, like a lizard snatching flies under strobe lighting -  I didn’t care though, he had gentle eyes and a gruff, kindly laugh reminiscent of Garry Bushell. We decided that I should have a total skin peel and some of the excess flesh taken out of my leg to let the femur breathe. At the end of the consultation I plucked up the courage to ask him out.
Later that night we got back to my flat and Dean began to gently caress my face. He told me I was a precious flower bud and that he was the sun, before disappearing to the toilet for several minutes. I set my Febreze plugin to ‘Cleansing Rain’, dimmed the lights and waited for him to return. The sex was fantastic and Dean treated me like an absolute goddess.
After my first operation, Dean still wasn’t pleased. He decided to make my shoulder look like Johnny Borrell and wanted to place several major organs facing outwards. Dean certainly took care of me, whispering beautiful things as I recovered from the anaesthetic such as “getting there” and “definitely an improvement”. Sure enough the job offers started to pour in from all sorts of lads' mags: Scrot, Tish, Geeza and Flaps all wanted to splash my charms across their centrefolds. It was every girl's dream, and what's more, Dean just couldn’t keep his hands off me.  It was like going out with a 14 year old or something - he was absolutely insatiable. Sometimes it did cause problems with the dressings and the healing process in general; I remember on one occasion it got quite bad.  Dean just smiled at me.  "You’re a bloody mess,” he joked, removing the wrapper from a Milky Way he had stashed in his jacket pocket.
Yet more procedures followed: a cluster of eyes in the armpit, chapped lips crudely stapled on the knee, a car battery dangling from the guts. I decided it was time to tell my parents and took a taxi to Newham to visit my dad at the bacon factory. Inside, the air was heavy with the smell of pig fat and disdain. When my dad finally saw me he just stared blankly, as David Gray’s Babylon seeped from an old transistor radio.  “Daddy, it's me,” I remember calling out, but to no response. I turned round and ran, past the greasy leering faces and out of the factory.  Later, I found comfort in Dean's words. He had such sweet little nicknames for me, like his “tiny chimera” or “Mrs Insideout”. Consoled, I felt ready to take on the world.  
Nowadays I do get loads of attention - people staring at me in the streets, that kind of thing. I think basically people are just afraid of what they don’t understand. Sometimes they will shout things out like: “I can see your lungs” or “you're dripping bile”. I remember one old guy renounced the Holy Trinity after knocking into me in the Camberwell Happy Shopper, which, despite the inevitable leakages, I felt was an overreaction. I know Dean has other “pieces” as he calls us and sometimes when I’m all clogged-up I do think about, you know, ending it all. But then I remember how caring he can be when he’s sober and how great the sex is.

Pillbox Thrillbox

March now, but still contorted to my post I rest
Ash-dusted dunes a bitter host
And the clouds confess –

Cancerous light envelops, entangles brown sea
And spreads its dirty lies.
Oh that I could sculpt the scene -
 White sand, white sheets and nuzzling thighs,
Not fear-hung waves ever fucking Time,
Trapping fish with dinner plate eyes.

Down telescope the wreck yawns statuesque.
But lifting metal scrapes wet skull
 Till thoughts of a dawn are paste
And dull salt-smattered gales taste so silent
Beside mother’s vicious siren -
That goose-stain from the mud-flats - grotesque.

I’m intrigued by these odd little beachside ornaments. Venturing into pillboxes sometimes evokes notions of simultaneous deep-time; WWII terror, modern littering and fornication coupled with some faint trace of an awful future use.