Last time I got my head cut open,
about the only thing I noticed
was the dumpy wooden swing doors
to the operating theatre.
They seemed to me splintery,
and on each was stencilled a quartet
of inscrutable, rune-like figures.

Set against the mint
and stainless steel of the rest of the place
the doors were incongruous, a hangover
from a previous age, when
surgery was performed
with rusty fire hooks
and zero anaesthetic.

I shuffled past in my disposable slippers. 



He resembles
a turgid bullfrog
biding its time at the shallows
for the next snack
to plop
its lap.
Ten feet from his desk,
I sense he will not help me.
I am correct.


Sexy Sue

Crosby, Boxing Day.

The beach is bitterly cold. Residents have seen to it that shops along the seafront are banned, and so there are none. Instead, a solitary chip van parked up on a patch of concrete is doing booming business. A card taped to a tip jar on the counter wishes patrons a Merry Christmas from Sexy Sue. When they finally come, the chips are steaming but soggy and we smother them in too-sweet ketchup from an oversized dispenser misleadingly labelled Heinz. A family of eight or nine has set up a ring of camping chairs, where they sit and sip on polystyrene cups of Bovril. Overhead, a drone buzzes.

A dozen memorial benches dot the waterside, some wreathed in holly or with rotting flowers disintegrating gently into their cellophane wrappers. Breathe in the ozone! reads a plaque. We eat our chips in the car.

On the drive out of town, we pass a tombstone shop, its lawn covered in gleaming black headstones, angels clinging to their sides.


Decent Breakfast

At the cafe.

The man and the woman sit side by side, laptops open. They mean business. They also mean mushroom pizza. She takes a bite.

‘The thing is,’ she says, between mouthfuls, ‘is that people want a decent breakfast. They will be extremely upset if they don’t get one. Can the hotel do that?’

The man licks the tips of his pudgy fingers and lowers them to the keyboard. He assures her that the breakfast provided will indeed be decent. Of this there can be no doubt.

‘Good,’ she says. ‘And the tour guide. We don’t want the same one as last year. Lots of our participants got bored and wandered off. And some of them are quite important, you know.’

He nods sagely. A new, superior tour guide is promised. He taps busily into the laptop. He slurps at his latte.

‘After all,’ she sighs, ‘we can’t have anybody stranded in Birkenau.’


Virgin East Coast

He’s tall, he’s irate, and the waistband of his combat pants rises to meet the fully aerated creamy cotton of his polo shirt somewhere around a solid little mass of belly. He flaps his ticket in the woman’s face and stabs at it with a hairy forefinger.



He, in fact, is the true and rightful occupant of the aisle seat! The correctness of this is irrefutable! The number and letter are there in black and in white.

The woman is forced to concede. As is her just and fitting punishment, she staggers down the moving train, rattling wheely case in tow. She must find a new place now.

Victorious, he drops his backpack onto her vacated chair and plonks himself down beside it. He sits as though enthroned, knees akimbo, feet planted squarely in spotless all terrain hybrid hiking trainers, one meaty arm to each rest. But now is not the time to relax. He cannot! For he has spied, further up the aisle, a trio of older ladies. These ladies are excited to be on their trip. These ladies point out passing cows to each other and giggle at the more amusing beasts and discuss the many and varied dispositions of their grandchildren. But this, we see him fume - this is the Quiet Carriage! Each and every window of the Quiet Carriage bears a small sticker portraying the unmistakable image of a mobile phone from several years ago with a bright red cross right through it! Up he leaps, and sprints to the ladies. Specialised rubber soles provide maximum motion control. He points to the sign and places a finger to his lips. He administers a scolding. 

Chastened, they fall silent. 

In and out of his seat he is, like a yo yo, or a coiled spring. Holdall down from the luggage rack, holdall back up to the luggage rack. Unzip rucksack, remove laptop, tap, tap, tap, put it back, zip up rucksack, unzip rucksack, pull out lunch, lunch is a Tupperware of malodorous brown mush, masticated at volume until it’s all gone, sides all but licked with leathery tongue. Slide Tupperware back into protective sheath, sheath is a tattered plastic bag which once held Hovis sliced white. Zip up rucksack, sigh, grunt, sigh. Unzip rucksack, reach in and grab a fistful of letters from the bank. Tear each to microscopic squares. Burp. Glare at lady trio in case they think to reoffend.

They do not.


Marmalade Eyes

She has a rare condition known only as Marmalade Eyes. The eyeball is held in place in the socket by that sticky orange preservative. It's not debilitating, only a little embarrassing in the summer months when the flies buzz around. But it's good to have her favourite condiment on tap at hotel breakfasts.



I saw a girl at the park today
chasing footballs, in white tights
she’d dirtied, green-grass-stained
at the knee

while her father, on the bench
(Dolores Stern – she loved this place)
chinwagged with his double, and
her mother, back home
busied herself at the hot plate.