My toe nails are longer than they should be. From a societal perspective. From a personal perspective they’re not too bad. There they are at the end of my body, doing their thing, accumulating sock fluff, incrementally lengthening, building a bridge to the toe cap beyond the River Styx. It’s a myth that the toenails continue growing after death; the skin dehydrates and shrinks away from the nail, giving the ready illusion of growth, but in actuality the nail, like the corpse, is as dead as a pork scratching, as dead as, well, a door nail. And yet there is something about toenails that is definitely “other”. A curious adornment to the body, like an architrave or a skirting board in an otherwise functional room. And, like the Outer Hebrides, or the Northern Shetland islands, they’re far enough away to be foreign without being a foreigner, biding their time on the outer limits of the archipelago of British disinterestedness that is my body. And hell its such a voyage to get down there and spruce them up. I mean we’re talking the whole length of my torso and then some. There’s no finesse in toenail cutting, all gutso and noise and bravura, all crimping and cracking. Far better to let them grow and watch from a distance, like a judge gazes down at the gallery, like a Mafia king surveys his underlings, like an Indian chief sizes up the unknowing tribe in the valley. Their time will come. We all have to be cut short one day. But for now let them eak out their long summers in the dark cave of my shoe. Scratching at the toe cap like the entombed.
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When I was eight the big deal about swimming in the local baths was not about swimming in the local baths it was about the vending machine. The Metal Emperor of chocolate. The Metal Mickey of salt.These push button vending machines were the pin ball machines of the future. Not the push and shove mechanisms of the early seventies and sixties. Oh no. We’re talking plastic keypads and corkscrew plastic. In the vague emotional places of childhood, mostly unreachable, there is one plastic button labelled “A10.” That button that leads to the “Wagonwheel,” the marshmellow and biscuit snack five times rounder and larger than a small boys mouth. “A10” was a time when the mystery of letters and numbers had yet to be explained. When it was supernatural that ABC and 123 added up to the sweet and now. And if I want to conjure up the excitement of a humid lobby, the sting of chlorine, a five pence piece in a five pence hand and the anticipation of chocolate and wafer not yet coal tar on the tongue, I think “A10,” and slowly, inexorably, the memory unwinds from the dark reaches of the unknown past and lands with a satisfying “clunk” in the out-tray of my heart.
Now when I go swimming in the local swimming baths I never go to the vending machine. I tried it. They had a different numbering system, no letters, no Wagonwheels. Every single item was available to me. The whole machine could have been mine by extending my credit at the local cashpoint and topping up my rucksac. There was no single button labelled “A10” there was just one large dumpertruck labelled “Everything”.
So I carry around “A10” in the inside pocket of my life. At train station platforms, at hospital foyers, at ferry port terminals, the glowing maw of the “other” machines beckon. But I know there will be no button to the past. I know that “A10” is best pressed with eyelids closed, best tasted in dreams unwoken, best thought of when sliding poetry books under unmarked doors.
Vending machine technology didn’t change that much. But they went and changed the goddam letters. And now everything can be bought with a language that makes far too much sense.
All those comics and sci-fi books were right. Machines did take over the world. And they just keep on selling. Selling. Selling.
I’m hanging on to my five pence piece. It’s mine. Mine you hear me. Burning hot silver in my ungrown hand.
Somewhere there is a bicycle graveyard. Where the bones of old bikes go. They say the elephant graveyard is the place where the old elephants go to die. They know it. Like they know the nearest watering hole. Like they know the man with the gun is not their friend. They know it deep in the back of their elephant bones. “This is where I go when I die.” They are borne with the knowledge of death in their calcium and cartilage. And they begin their slow trudge away from the herd to die alone.
Whenever I see an old bike, beyond repair, embraced by ivy, nustled by holly, chin bopped by bluebells I’m not sad for the old bike. There is nothing more peaceful or pretty than a rusting bike being slowly embraced by the nature that once lifted it up.
“Come home to mama,” the dandilions are saying. “Rust into the earth,” the slow raindrops say. The resprays, despray, to show the pastel colour of the frame underneath, back to the steel core
And like the aging elephants they know they need no compass, no Ordinance survey, no Garmin GPS. No brain on a stick. There is no rider steering them into the final descent. These bikes know when the game is up, when the air will no longer sustain their tyres, perished and unperfected, when the saddle seat post, rusted into the seat tube, will no longer trombone to meet its owner, when the gear cables, long since bled their oil, hang like wicker willow.
In the dark of the pre-dawn. Four am. When the straights are in deep sleep and the party heads are too pissed to notice, they creak through the streets, riderless. From their skips and ditches and unchained bike stands. To the bicycle graveyard. Come home to mama. To the deep dark earth. To the quiet stillness of the end of the road. I love the smell of their musty brakepads. Like mushrooms in the shade.
Not the hot kind, not the crisp kind, not the burn your tongue with vinegar and ting kind. I like cold chips, the morning after the night before chips, lieing around in the chip wrappings like slobs at the seaside chips. Big fatty bertha chips. Big fatty bert chips. Lathered in the sunscreen of yesterdays fat chips, fruitlessly suntanning in the overcast memories of the kitchen of the night before chips. Sloppy, impotent chips, waning in an eclipse chips, bowed between the sliding grip of thumb and forefinger chips. Guilty chips. Chips that should be binned chips. No way jose for the refuse men chips. Rescued from the horse feed chips. Clagging up the inside chips. On an empty stomach after you’ve brushed your teeth half way out the door chips. Swallowed undisturbed into the safe house of the pot belly dark. Skinny hairless runts come home to the nest that borne them. I like em. Cold chips. Prodigal tatties. Laid to rest. One hand tenderly cradling the stomach of their departure. Digested. Cold chips. Hot at last.
Issue 16…Has it been that many? I’ve written for every one now except the first.
It always astonishes me how natural it is to write about bikes and cycling, as if the bicycle itself is a separate dialect through which anything can be expressed. Whenever I look at my old touring bike now I see not a truck on two wheels but a language of rusting words. Give me a bike and I will give you the world. Or at least an oily phrase book with the corners furled up like an old man’s eyebrows, Denis Healey style, for those who like to cruise Google images for mementos of old school socialism. Those half forgotten moths.
Audio interview in which I bumble along on my trusty steed being interviewed about cycling, cows, songs, mind, body, Dervla Murphy and hot pasties.
I’ve lost my lens cleaner, that blue silky slip that comes with the newly folded receipt and the unscuffed glasses case. They tell me I can use washing up liquid and a hand towel. But I would never stoop to that. I want my lens cleaner. I want to rub the bevel of ground glass between thumb and forefinger. Wouldn’t you?
Want to rub the ground-glass bevel with the blue silky slip that comes with the newly folded receipt and the unscuffed glasses case?
“Yes I would, Jet, despite your poky one syllable name, want to rub the ground-glass bevel with the blue silky slip that comes with the newly folded receipt and the unscuffed glasses case.”
And so, with your rhetorical support, you find me, stubbornly, adverbly, with due disregard for the kitchen towel and the gut punched fairy liquid container, staring out at the world though today’s salad cream and yesterday’s sneeze. This world is no better or worse, it is only less than.
It is <
A ducks beak. A muted ducks beak.
And yet with one rub of my blue silky slip I would see those ducks up high, see so much more than these lopsided lenses. With my blue silky slip I would see those ducks migrating in a squadron shaped >
The clear eyed one at point.
I did have a beard you know. It was a good one. I liked it. It was good to rub. Now its gone.
It wasn’t a purposeful robbery. There was no broken glass, the Chubb lock was unbothered, the cat flap unflapped. And when the men in white boiler suits came round, when they dusted the chin with a soft brush and peeled off the tape, the only prints they found were my own rubbin.
I don’t blame myself. I probably had to do it to pay for drugs or something. Maybe one day I’ll get it back. I keep checking gumtree and the small ads but no ones sellin. They’re probably fencing it to a middle man. My beard. Probably loading it into a lorry with some middle ranking oil paintings to offload to private collectors in Scandinavia.
It’s not the money you know. Easy come, easy go. It’s the memories. You can’t buy back the memories. Sure you can delete the blog posts but you can’t buy back the daydreams; the curious fingernailing of the deeper tundra, the knuckle rocks in the shrubbery of a good think, the beardy mid winter kiss, the Frostie crystals on the wispy bits above the scarf.
Maybe I’ll get a “fresh” one. But it won’t be the same. A “fresh” one. It will be far too young, no root structure. New turf on old hard core.
Shame on you, razor.
You flinty vagabond.
I jumped, I shot, I popped ’em in the hoop.
“The Engineered Soul” appearing in a raucous rail rattling anthology of train stories “Rustblind and Silverbright” by Eibonvale Press
Launch for “Rustblind and Silverbright” is at the Peckham Review Bookshop Thurs 4th July
“Cookie” appearing in “Astrologica” an anthology of star sign tales by Alchemy Press.
Back on the court now. Bouncing my ball, passing to Obama, him passing back with talcum powder hands, me taking aim at the hoop net, thinking better, bouncing the ball, marking time, crouching, leaning back, getting ready to heft those words into the hoop…
What I like most about five a side football is slumming in goal. When it’s my go I like to lean my tall back against the low crossbar, rest my arms either side, like a man about to launch into a swallow dive, and stare at the sky. The rest of the team don’t appreciate my Zen moment. “You are meant to try and save the ball Jet.”
But slumming on the goalposts is one of the simple and indulgent pleasures that highlight my week, like picking out the sugared raisins in a bowl of healthy muesli. It is purely because the rest of the team are so energised, trying to score goals, that my lack of commitment to saving them is so satisfying. I’m not a defeatist, I do want to win. But amidst all the winning and ambition there is a safe house of nonchalance There, in goal, I’m trapped within the game, thirty minutes each way. I can’t check my texts, write another short story, write another song, cycle to the shops, buy that thing, hop that scotch, deliver that important news. All I can do is wait in goal till its someone else’s turn to wait in goal. And it is a profound waste of wastefulness to let that moment pass unwasted. So what I do is I stare at the clouds. I’m not seeking meaning in them or some wacky abstract shape I’m just looking for the sake of looking; worthlessly, sensuously. In the dodgem car hustle of existence, this is the glorious second before the coin rolls into the slot and we zap about the funfair, ramming into our fellow man, like so much masochistic fodder.
Of course the rest of the lads don’t see it that way. They’ve started firing long range shots that ram straight into my body and not the net. And, well, we are there to play football… If I need a Zen moment I suppose I should lie in an empty field with the bumble bees. But the point is there are no goalposts in an empty field. And you need somewhere to rest your arms as the balls fire under your armpits. And your heart goes thumpety thumpety thumpety thump.