Thursday, 29 November 2012


‘They’ll be just the three of them today,’ he said, unflinching.
          ‘Oh right, thought Annie said it was five.’
          ‘It was five. But there was a situation last night. Now it’s three.’
          Though I felt warm sweat dripping under both arms – I wisely always wear dark shirts when working for Annie – I don’t remember projecting any kind of astonishment when he mentioned how there had been a situation last night. Guess I must have just done an amiable nod and carried on tuning up.
          He hadn’t introduced himself earlier when we met in the pissing rain outside the cage. Only that introduction above. But I knew his name was Gerry Castle. Annie had mentioned his name in the email along with the time I had to be here, a contact telephone number and the post code for Mapledune Secure Unit. The only other information – the workshop today was to last for four hours. She had sent me a text a fortnight ago asking if I was available for this job. I normally bite off her arm for work. But the job was one day in a secure unit. I immediately replied, expressing a natural concern. Nuffin 2 worry about they no me well just do ur usual ull b fine. i will email u details A x was the message concluding the deal.
          Annie had a scattergun approach to running her business. Her favourite three words to me have always been, you’ll be fine. I assumed all this today was part of a Silver Arts Award that she was presently running in this unit. But I wasn’t certain. That’s why I had been hoping to tease some information from Gerry Castle. But that prospect diminished fast.
          For a start, there were no handshakes when I got out of the van. He walked straight passed me, directing me round to the left side of the building, to the cage. A fenced in square portal, the place for me to reverse my silver Vauxhall Astra van into. Which I did. I think he grinned slightly as he locked me in and then vanished from view. I sat in the van for a good five minutes before he appeared on the other side, behind me, opening the rear of the cage, a tall gateway that allowed access into what looked like a regular school playground; there was a tennis court/five-a-side football pitch, two large wooden climbing frames, a basketball pole and net. I had to leave the van in no man’s land, in the cage, remove the keys, hand them to Gerry, and unload my equipment travelling diagonally across what I now appreciated was a bouncy tarmac playground; it was so soft underfoot, black marshmallow.
          I brought in all my gear without assistance. Gerry stood guard by my van and observed my nine odd journeys back and forth as I carried my own acoustic guitar and bass plus 35w amp and then all the junior size guitars and 15w amps, a mixture of bass and acoustic guitars all held by dangling arms and as much cradled under armpits as I could manage. As I thought I had five today I had brought along six electric bass guitars and six nylon string acoustic guitars. The aim as always is that the group get to experience the contrast between 4-string and 6-string instruments. I had brought along extra as no one with behaviour issues wants to watch me re-string a guitar should a string snap. All the while Gerry prevailed, leaning against my van, void of emotion, an unfriendly ghoul, watching me. I wasn’t exactly expecting a welcoming party, but I was understandably nervous about working in a Secure Unit for the first time and it was reasonable enough for me to have hoped for something more cordial than a creepy sneering. The room I was to run the workshop from was immediately adjacent to the playground. In truth I didn’t really take in too much of the surroundings or if anyone else was watching as I went back and forth to the van. It really did begin to rain again. Seriously piss down, hard and vengeful. A perfect gesture all considering.

Twenty-five minutes later in the dry I was sat in a very hot room on a chunky wooden chair tuning up the last of the acoustics; the bass guitars were all pretty much in tune and the strings required hardly any manipulation of tension. But the last acoustic I had was completely de-tuned. I knew the culprit. He was from my last workshop. A patch of white from the room lighting shone on Gerry’s small bald head. He had watched me set up in silence. I clearly wasn’t going to get a cup of tea. Gerry just stood there staring at me and not my parade of spectacular guitars, out of their cases, upright on stands, gleaming in the artificial light. The bass guitars are a mixture of red, black and blue. The acoustics, black and purple. Gerry was holding a fixed icy posture, one I understood so well from the short time I had been doing this as another means of earning money; the unfriendly teacher-like stance, the arms folded, not understanding or wanting to understand the good work I had been doing to have gotten this far in this job in such a short space of time. But I knew what the issue was. I was, in his eyes, like in so many eyes, a mercenary. Perhaps having a skinhead haircut did me no favours; even though many would argue I was more Jimmy Sommerville than Joe Hawkins. But I am in this for honesty’s sake. I like shaving my head. My new girlfriend likes the look too. I then wondered if his frosty vibe was because he was naturally bald and mine was by choice.
          With the last of the guitars in tune, I looked up and smiled into his miserable face, hoping the gesture would be returned followed by the offer of that cup of tea. But I was clearly not wanted here today. That was plain enough to work out and that’s all good but the fact translates as this: I am here today. I am here to do my work. This is a day’s money. Good money. Three times more than I get for sanding floors, slaving my guts out for Simon Quinn; my other line of work. And then he spoke.   
         ‘So you work for Annie then?’
          ‘Known her long?’
          ‘We’ve known each other a while.’
          ‘She’s not told me much about you.’
          ‘Hasn’t she? Thought she would have.’
          ‘Of course she mentioned that you’re covering for her today.’
          ‘Oh, right.’
          ‘That you do all this with the guitars, that you’ve had the odd success here and there in behaviour management.’
          Hold on a second. Odd success you say? Over twenty young students who have never had an opportunity in life or had anyone invest time in them before have not only all now got a Bronze Arts Award certificate further to time spent with me, but are also now working on Silver. And three of them I know for a fact – Ben, Azaria and Jack – are now avid bass players in the process of writing their own material and forming bands. I truly believe that they all now believe in themselves to the extent that they will keep to the path I have shown them is out there and that they will never end up in here.
          ‘Yes, I suppose you could say I have had some success.’
          My tone employed sounded very nervous. Gerry was not impressed. And waded in.
          ‘Listen to me. And listen good. We had a situation last night that became extremely unpleasant for all concerned. Extremely unpleasant. This is another level to anything that you have done prior to now.’
          ‘I know that.’
          ‘No, you think you know but you don’t know. You have got to lay down the law hard and instant. They will be waiting for one tiny spec of weakness and then you’ll be in pieces. They will tear your guts out and it’ll be us who has to clean up the mess. And I’m not in the mood for that again today. So make your mark. From the start. Go in firm.’
          I coughed because the air in this enclosed room was definitely lacking enough oxygen to share about. But I remained calm, my voice this time improved and committed.
          ‘Thanks for the advice Gerry but I have never gone in hard. I have my own considered approach that seems to work with all students. I will just go with the same box of tricks as I always use as it does seem to get me results. As the saying goes, no point fixing something that isn’t broke.’
          I was hoping with me now being all assertive that Gerry might at least loosen up, ask me about the workshop, what my approach was, the game-plan, relax and accept that I am more than accomplished in running a four hour guitar workshop in a suffocating locked room. Last night though, whatever had happened in this place, had clearly upset him.
          ‘Your box of tricks won’t provide magic in here. They’re not kids you know. Two are sixteen and one’s not far off that age. Firmness and order is what they will be expecting. Don’t give them false hope. They’ll break you if you don’t lay down the law from the start. If you'd been here last night you'd know full well what I'm on about. You have another twenty minutes to prepare yourself. We will be letting them out for breakfast the instant I leave this room.’
          And with that Gerry was out the door, the chunky wooden door then locked, me locked inside, sat on a chunky wooden chair nowhere to go. Facing me was a wall covered in influential people quoting handwritten famous lines out of inflated speech bubbles. All the usual suspects in this kind of environment. What they think will impress. These dead and living faces trying to inspire the misguided young. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill, Bob Geldof. Behind me was a locked door that led to a slightly larger room, an arts room. To my left was a large rectangular double glazed window that gave visual access to the corridor and eating area. To my right the same size window was replicated, a view of outside, the bouncy tarmac playground. To the far left of the window, the door I came in through. I found myself gazing outside at the black surface now getting battered again by pissing rain. You couldn’t hear the rain from inside. In fact there was no sound at all.
          So I just sat there, foolish, the last of the guitars I had tuned on my lap, eyes back in the room, staring into space until I was interrupted by commotion. Doors being unlocked, murmur of new day voices, birds flapping wings free from cages, instructions directed by heavier voices, then outside of the thick pane of glass, the corridor became of colour, of life. Three boys in dressing gowns, sky blue, red, pink. They were all taller than I was expecting and made their inspection of me as they strolled idly passed. I smiled at them all. They just stared back. The impression was one of disapproving. My heart sank. Go in firm or they’ll have you in pieces. Gerry had me doubting myself. Was I out of my depth here? Had Annie really thought this through when booking me in? Even dealing with Jacob and the brick he threatened to smash over the head of another boy in the corridor outside my workshop at a school in West London seemed nothing to this environment. And back then that was a pretty grim day. They’ll have you in pieces. It’ll be us who has to clear up your guts. No, I couldn’t allow that to happen. I began to gently pluck the nylon strings on the acoustic with my fingers. Resolute, but soft. All open E shape – G to F to E, G to F to E on and on, soon locked in a gentle trance, strumming infinity.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sick Music

On a train this morning
a famous person sat
next to me yawning
it was a bearded
Jarvis Cocker
the pop rocker

Jarvis did not pretend
or condescend or
preach or judge
or make aloof criticism
regarding mistakes I have
made my prevailing failure
I will not derail ya

he could’ve said

Jarvis definitely made
many deliberate points
to negate away
from prickly joints
my cul-de-sacs of gloom

I eventually found
the inner strength
to show my appreciation
for the concise length
of this intelligent sensation
his non judgmental indulgence

Here now follows that exchange:
Are you Jarvis Cocker?
eventually one nod
what you up to me old mocker?
I didn’t think he would reply to that, stupid me:
same as every Sunday
oh yeah, what’s that then?
6 Music my friend
sick music?
that’s the one

Fucking legend

Sunday, 11 November 2012


‘Ants, they were butchered like ants.’
          Mad Terry had been ranting on about his disgust of the First World War and how it’s so fucking incredible for him right now to lay on the top bunk while trying to fathom how so many innocent young boys, gangs of mates, were so easily tricked, encouraged to sign up then shipped out to meet with the kind of brutal endgame that nightmares are made of. Terrified young boys blown to pieces.
         ‘You had all these stinking rich pissed-up ex-public school giant devils pouring boiling red sauce over a battlefield stew with a herb of hate sprinkled in to taste,’ continued Terry. ‘Chucking it all over the enemy but splashing our own boys into the bargain, and as I keep saying, all these kids were butchered like ants.’
         Fuck it, thought cell mate Alex, the mad one’s going right into one again. Alex was understandably disheartened. There was no way right now that Terry was going to let him maintain any casual afternoon porno imagining. Not now Mad Terry’s clearly enjoying the sound of his own voice and leaning down into the bottom bunk. Mumbling on about insect mass murder. Speaking at a hundred miles an hour and now he’s insanely ranting on about the insignificance of man and the time prevailing pastime of small boys in the street butchering insects. Especially ants.
         What the fuck is he on about? Saying how he used to do it all the time. Upsetting a discovered nest, treading on them, hitting them with fists and big rounded stones, smiling, setting fire to the nest after feeding dry grass into the exposed opening, bringing out a kettle just boiled when mummy wasn’t looking, destroy, destroy the mini kingdom, doing in the small fucking insects. Tiny cheap mass murder that never had a court case pending.
         Mad Terry pauses for breath and then explains how he has just been reading about an ant killer who went to war in 1915 when he was seventeen and his name was Will Carter. Will Carter and his close friends often killed ants and other insects when they were kids and it was the height of summer. But bad karma was at work to haunt them once the boys had partially grown up and were now just like helpless insects themselves as they got butchered in numbers in the mud while the rich gentry sat well away from the cold and the gore. Sat well away from the cold and the gore and the despicable horror while devouring the very best prepared food and drowning on the most expensive wines the world could offer. Your Country Needs YOU! What scum to make such wicked feelings of guilt upon the masses. The scum from higher circles, who seemingly had to carry the weight of the world on their tough shoulders. The privileged of society voicing how quite naturally they had to keep things in order. Nature’s choice of selection. A cool experienced head in a crisis. The top of the ladder doing their own bit for the cause and also needing to unwind during such a damn bloody horrible war! Getting pissed on wine and brandy and self importance. Preserving their own self righteous lives while irresponsibly plotting more disaster and manslaughter out on the corpse strewn battlefield. Your Country Needs YOU! TO DIE.
        Mad Terry pulled himself back onto his bunk and facing the cell ceiling then said:
       ‘The great Harry Patch had it right when he said that the politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns to settle their differences instead of murdering our young. Legalised murder he called it, legalised murder.’
        Alex had tried his best to comprehend what he was being told, pretending to nod convincingly, that he was genuinely interested in insects and war and taking all of this in. But the reality was, that as Terry continued to go on relentlessly about this battle and that battle, the young dead here and mutilation over there, back to more comparisons to insects and the tragedy of the lost forgotten dead, Alex saw his moment and grabbed it. With Terry now out of view he returned to a previous scene, his face being choked by the bald crotch of Linda Feltham, her small thighs compact so tight either side of his face ensuring Terry’s continued words of war and death were obliterated as she got on with the job, her continued ride to glory.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Clock chucked at wall. Time to rise. Throbbing head reminds of the red wine at bedtime. Take two co-codamol for instant boost. Drink tea out of a Never Mind The Bollocks mug. Can’t remember who bought me that. Listen to Shaun Keaveny.  ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’. Eat a slice of strawberry jam on seeded toast. Due to savage cuts in funding I have been lacking match fitness. Seems so long since I was last in a unit. Try to focus on today’s game-plan. Should I just stick to my usual box of magic tricks –  Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Dance Wiv Me’ meets Sham 69’s ‘Tell Us The Truth’ and garnished with a sprinkling of Bolan Boogie – or go with that new idea I have been tinkering with?
            Get distracted while contemplating the Funkadelic idea. Rattling letterbox. Homemade leaflet from local Labour representative on doormat. In bold capitals a headline screams YOU MATTER. Can you just imagine what carnage would prevail today if I said that in a desperate moment. I would never be forgiven. Another reality check. How I really did have so much work when Labour were on the throne. Think about Celia from next door and her daughter’s painting of David Cameron burning on a stake at Tower Hill. Smile then sigh, shave, shower and dry. Then dress.
            Work clobber suspended on hangers from bedroom door frame. Conservative lower deck: black trousers, black M&S shoes. Cool upper deck: white Fred Perry with claret and blue trim. Then. Bollocks. The Fred needs ironing. Don’t have time. So black polo instead. Not Fred, George. Must stay focussed. Normally always wear dark shirts anyway. To hide sweat marks.
            Tune and pack guitars into their respective zipper bags. Panic: have I got enough plectrums after last time. Relief. I got a new batch over the weekend. Appreciate how many will go missing in action later.
            Think about those two all important returning factors about today. Remember you were their age once and how your thought process used to be back then and is it really appropriate to always say this when a new group of abandoned students walk into the room: don’t be afraid of the guitars, they’re more afraid of you. Got away with it so far. But will leave on the subs bench for now.
            Been told today’s wild bunch are truly uncontrollable. Will test you even if the workshop is going well and they are responding to gentle guidance. Yes, been repeatedly told today’s wild bunch are uncontrollable There’ll be no angels in waiting. Make sure you get a good nights rest. Maybe, she said, maybe this might be the day when I finally meet my match, my reputation toppled. I know she’s just testing me. Ensuring I do not underestimate the job. Think about my lack of match fitness again then realise I am always told all this in advance. I rewind and replay my track record as I load the van with Ampeg and Belcat amps, guitars and stands. Grab the box of headphones, leads, straps, spare strings, plectrums and latest CRB check. With the motor loaded I put on shades and ‘1970’ by The Stooges. Head off into the not so rising winter sun. Another moment to be claimed.

Sunday, 4 November 2012


Mum always talked
on the phone to
her big family in
Derry on a Sunday

normal Sunday
4 me was bath &
in bed by 7 cos
got school etc etc
but not that Sunday

got out of bath
no mum with towel
(think heard phone ring while
wearing bubble bath crown)
dad now talking from landing
you got a towel in there?
yes dad
thats good

directed downstairs
mum sat at bottom
sound of tears
then silence as I
was lifted by dad &
my left foot struck her ear

immediately looked down
hoping I hadnt hurt her
but mum never seen me
travel gently overhead
like a smiling red robin

think I said hello mum
but she had the phone
over her ear &
the cable wrapped
around her other hand
fist clenched
but not like to punch

go in there son
watch the box with me
do not go out into
the hall let mum be
dad says all that

something happened? i say
at some point like im dreaming
everythings fine dad says
lets have a teacake
he then ideas
we have teacakes

mum still crying
out beyond the closed door
whats going on?
mums okay &
no she won’t want
a teacake dad says

i watch TV late into
the night with dad
he often leans into TV
pressing channels
like he has gone mad
we dont want the news
he smiles each time

feeling strange
cos is strange
me up so late
as mum still hides
all night on the phone
& I also cant help thinking
this as it gets to nearly 10
& this staying up moment
all so new to me –
if only Match of the Day
was also on on a Sunday