When Librarians Go Bad

Here’s the latest episode of my podcast, Perpendicular. This week, a short story called When Librarians Go Bad.

Aviator

A few years ago I made an improvised poem to some music and I was very happy with the result. Alas I did not hold the copyright. Anyway, it’s taken a few years but I’ve remade it and added some footage I took on a flight a couple of weeks ago. Hope you enjoy this!

I remember the taste of destiny on the wind

Poem

I remember the taste of destiny on the wind,
Like the merest hint of autumn
At the end of a summer’s day,
When all of your friends have just left,
Their voices still ringing in your ears.

I’ve always thought myself a
Bright dancer,
Owning the very constellations
On which I moved most sensual.
Only a fool would deny
That fortune was my friend.

But seldom my bedfellow.
I may have been a lover,
A mate, a poet, a companion,
But I’ve also been alone.
The hours I’ve had of reckless abandon
Resulted just in abandon.
I didn’t waste the years.
I wasted myself.

And now I hold on to the present.
Another lonely night won’t make
The slightest difference.
My soul shakes so often
That I disregard it as a
Natural phenomenon,
Nothing to be scared of,
Like thunder.

I remember love as an oblivion,
Cancelling common sense and
Making me act so foolish,
Heart racing in the promise
Of pure physicality,
And I acted the fool,
And easy, and occasionally sleazy,
And thinking of this now
Makes my stomach queasy.

And that was living!
Grinning in the kitchen,
Tomfoolery with the fridge,
Waiting for the toaster with
Your arm around my neck,
Your tongue in my ear,
I never once got burned.
Japes in the bathroom,
Silliness in the hallway,
Falling on the sofa and it
felt so good.
How domestic we both were!

One of these days
I’m going to work it out.

Gaze into my eyes, you said.
We trekked for eight days across the scrub.
The princes in their castle one by one surrendered.
There was hail on the ground hard ice nuggets,
Limestone rock strata, fossilised sea creatures.

Gaze into my eyes, you said.

A silver locket with a small clasp of hair
Bound in ribbon
Honey from tropical climes
A flash of dark from the hypnotist’s cape
Mythic beasts a prowl in the night
There was no escape,
There was no escape.

One of these days
I’m going to work it out.
A splinter stuck under my skin,
One of these days,
I’m going to work it out.
A hard yell tearing myself from pain.
One of these days
I’m going to work it out.
A maniacal grin you’re the hooded fiend
And I fell at your feet
One of these days
I’m going to work it out.

Time passes.
Disco dancer laser baby,
A loose mover, a midnight groover,
How often do I get a chance
To become the disco king?
I move, though,
To forget
But it’s all in
Muscle memory.

Enough about me . .
Enough about me . .

A sunny morning red bright elongated shadows
On the pavement,
You hurried past and stopped,
We were both aghast,
Spoke of meeting up knowing
We never would.

And I felt that taste on the wind once more.
Another autumn breathing lightly
On a late night summer breeze.

The Office of Insignificant Events

I’ve started going through some of the hundreds of short stories I wrote over the years. I stopped writing them around ten years ago when I began performing poetry instead. I’m still really proud of them and I hope you’ll find them entertaining!

Here’s one.

https://soundcloud.com/robertdgarnham/the-office-of-insignificant

Branching out

(Here’s a short story I wrote almost twenty years ago.)

Branching Out

There has been much said and written about the following subject in the academic community, it seems almost superfluous to add my own comment to the wealth of material already published on this topic. And yet the story itself seems somewhat compelling, like all good mysteries, and more so because it is, quite defiantly, true. The fact that a senior practitioner in literary matters has attested to the honesty of all involved adds a touch of authenticity to the whole situation, and who are we to argue with the judgement of a colleague so esteemed as Professor Zazzo Thiim?
‘They were branching out, pure and simple’, he told me, one charged evening at the local pub. He leaned back in his chair and seemed, just for a second, incredibly tired, as it the events of the previous week had drained him of energy. ‘I first heard it reported to me by one of my younger students, a naive fellow whose panicked account seemed ill-judged and unworthy of comment. But then other students and colleagues began attesting to the fact. They, too, had heard and seen with their own eyes, that the local skateboarders were quoting from Alfred Lord Tennyson. I knew immediately that I would have to probe deeper’.
The old man leans forward across the table and interlaces his fingers. ‘I started that very evening. With a flask of cocoa and a pair of opera glasses, I went down to the local skate ramp and watched them from the bushes. I felt like a television botanist watching the mighty gorillas of some dank, faraway jungle. How incredibly amusing their mannerisms, how obvious the social gradations and rank within their clique, that they might defer to the most able of their group, and lend advice to the weakest. I would surely have watched longer had not I felt a sudden hand on my collar and a policeman inquire as to what I was playing at. ‘We have a name for people like you’, he told me. I can tell you it wasn’t a comforting situation, but when I told him the reasons behind my being there, his face relaxed. ‘Ah yes,’ he said. ‘The poetry thing. We’ve been racking our brains over that one, I can tell you. Come down to the station’.
‘Why?’ I asked, ‘Am I under arrest’.
‘Not at all’, he replied. ‘We’ve just found one of them trying to break into the library. Perhaps you might like to have a quiet word with him’.
The lad in question was a poor specimen, I can tell you, a pathetic, individual whose half-hearted attempt at perfecting the skater-boy look was almost laughable. On being asked exactly why he was breaking into the library he denied all knowledge that it had been such a building, that he was under the impression more that it was the off licence. When the constable slid a copy of Tennyson’s poetry across the table towards him he made a frantic attempt to grab it from his hands, only for the book to be snatched away from him. ‘Not so fast, sonny’, the constable said, in his laconic, laid-back voice. ‘First we need to talk terms. We can help you get your fix, but first you must help us. We need your skateboard’, he continued. ‘You see, there’s a little mystery here, and we need it cleared up’.
The Professor lets out a laugh. ‘I cut quite a figure on the skateboard ramp, I can tell you. Sure, I fell off a few times, but I soon won respect from the posse not only for my aerial acrobatics but also for my detailed knowledge of Romantic-era poetry. Indeed, things were going along quite fine. How glad I was to see that the stories were true – a particularly athletic turn at the board would be greeted with the words, ‘At Arthur’s ordinance, tipt with lessening peak!’, or a bad fall decorated with the expression, ‘lay low and slay him not!’ I must say, I quite enjoyed my spell with the lads, and at no time did they twig that I was a seventy-four year old academic professor, except when I passed around a packet of sanatogan in the mistaken belief that it was a bottle of alco-pops. ‘A fine pinnacle!’, I yelled, heading up the ramp at great speed. ‘And made as a spire to heaven!’ Brad was especially vocal and conversant in Tennyson’s later works and at times he would exclaim, ‘Sluggards and fools, why do you stand and stare? You are no king’s men!’, or even the ultimate insult, ‘Let this be thy last trespass, thou uncomely knave!’ As the sun started to set, the dusk spread out her silken fingers and seemed to caress the shapely ramps, and in the encroaching dark came a camaraderie I have not yet ever felt, not even in the throes of really good group discussion on Hemingway. Joining in with their masculine bravado, I put up the hood of my jacket and, feeling somewhat exuberant, shouted, ‘While Jove’s planet rises yonder, were now to rage and torture the desert!’ Oh, how absolutely wonderful I felt!
The effect, though, was immediate. The skaters stopped in their tracks. One skateboard, bereft of its rider, swung to and fro on the ramps before it, too, fell silent. ‘What was that?’ Brad asked. Flustered, I repeated my quotation. ‘You’, he said, breathing harshly through quivering nostrils, ‘Are an imposter!’
The rest of the group crowded in on me. I stumbled, and tried to make some kind of retraction to my earlier statement, but the damage was done.
‘That was Robert Browning’, Brad pointed out. ‘What are you, some kind of freak? Who quotes from Browning at a skate ramp?’
‘Yeah’, someone else piped up. ‘What kind of a sicko are you?’
I don’t mind telling you that I was scared. I escaped with my life, and for this I am monumentally thankful.
Naturally, the trouble vexed me for ages. Back at the department I toiled at my desk and tried to read into the whole episode some kind of reason, some kind of explanation behind the adoption of Tennyson. I looked at his rhythms, I looked at his metre, I looked at his rhyme scheme, but none of them matched with the rhythms I had heard on the skate park ramps. The content of his poems were also barren in their significance. I could see in his metrical skill and his lyrical genius no link to the satisfactory clatter of skateboard on concrete, no link between his romantic inclinations and narrative expression to the wearing of a hoodie. Late one night, though, thoroughly tired and dejected, I found the skateboard that I had borrowed that night, and the more I looked at it the more I could see that there was, however slight, a connection of sorts. Four wheels, I told myself, and one standing platform, just like the four isolated tenets of romanticism, the stylistically gothicism inherent, the reaction against enlightenment, imagination, vision and idealism, mixed with the surface and sureness of Tennyson’s reign as poet laureate – surely, this was what the skaters were alluding to in their adherence to his work? How relieved I was to get to bed that night’.
The Professor frowns and he lowers his voice. ‘I wrote up my report the next morning and submitted it to the head of my department. That lunchtime I felt free. In the Spring air I could hear the clatter of a distant skateboard and I nodded, knowingly, to myself. The world seemed right, somehow. The world seemed a better place. But that afternoon I received an anonymous letter.
How horrendous the news that it contained! It came from an ex-skater, whose adherance to the poetry of Tennyson had been questioned by some members of the group. He said that the skaters were not quoting from Tennyson – oh no – they were reading. There was a book stuck in the overhanging tree, he explained. And to prove their dexterity on the skateboard, the skaters in question would attempt to read a line at random as they were suspended in mid-air. If it had been a crisp packet, the anonymous writer concluded, then they would have read out the ingredients. There was no mystery.’
The Professor drained the last of his wine and made to stand. ‘The department has been embarrassed by this whole episode,’ he said, ‘As you can probably imagine. I would be grateful if you could not mention some of the more lurid details of this story’, and with that, the old man was off.
I followed a few minutes later. It was a dark night and there were a few stars hung in the sky. As I walked back to my car I was overtaken by a child on a unicycle, and he was quoting Oscar Wilde. But then, it could have been the drink.

The latest from WrinklyTown

One of the joys of spending my weekends in Brixham is catching up with all of the latest gossip from the neighbourhood where my mother lives. The main talking point around town at the moment seems to be the idea that the local tourist industry have had to place a bell in the harbour which rings every time the tide comes in or goes out. As yet, residents are unsure whether the bell rings just once, or just carries on ringing, like those annoying wind charms that the house next door have hung up from their washing line. The Muv opines that a series of bells ringing through the night might not be the sort of the thing that would be welcomed by the various hotels and bed and breakfasts around the harbour area.

The other talking point is that the local harbour authority have agreed to accommodate two large barges for the winter in order to make some money. They will be attached to the sea bed, the Muv says, all of a sudden an expert in maritime technology, with four legs on each corner, so they’ll be towed in, kind of like an upturned coffee table. With the tide bell ringing away and the two barges, it sounds like the town is becoming something of a boom town.

The other talking point is the cancellation of the annual trawler race. This has been done, apparently, on health and safety grounds. The annual trawler race has become a tradition, a celebration of trawlers and everything trawler related, and a chance for the town to let its hair down, like it usually only does at Christmas, new year, bonfire night, the pirate festival, the music festival, the biker festival, the harvest festival, the midsummer festival, the beer festival, the food festival, the air show and Easter. It really is a shame and I asked the Muv, who seems to be an expert in these matters, whether perhaps some of the trawlers have become a bit feisty hence the need to concentrate on safety.

‘Well according to my fiend Martha, who’s son works on one of the trawlers, they used to replace the fish in the holds with ice and crates of beer and then take to the high seas crowded with friends and family and drink as much as they possibly could. Remember Rodney? He needed his stomach pumped after the last one. He was off solids for months. But no, I have no idea why it’s been cancelled on health and safety grounds’.

The Muv is currently in the final preparation for the annual craft fair. I do love the way that this small port has its own culture and tradition, and the craft fair is one of these. ‘My job is to show one of the judges around’, she said. ‘But what we didn’t realise was that the two judges hate each other. Apparently, they used to be good friends and would work together and one judge would go round the other ones House every day for coffee. But then one day she asked why it was that whenever she came round for coffee, she was made to sit in the conservatory. Anyway, since then, they’ve hardly spoken to one another ‘.

One of the fiercest competitions during the craft fair is the annual cake contest. Now I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but last year there was a big controversy and cover up when one of the cakes at the end of the contest was unclaimed by its owner. With the town hall needing to be handed back to the council, the decision was made to carve up this cake and pass it around the craft fair organisers. The next day it’s owner inquired as to where it was, and this is where the cover up began. People denied knowledge, and rumours were purposefully spread that a homeless man had snuck in and put it under his arm. All knowledge of the whereabouts of the cake were denied. Should the truth ever come to light, it’s probable that the chair person herself would have to stand down. So you haven’t heard this from me, right?

Two years ago the Muv spent the summer working on a knitted representation of the children’s television character Bagpuss. She created her own pattern and worked tirelessly, making this knitted Bagpuss, and entered it in to the Knitted Character section of the craft fair. And then in comes Deirdre with a wheelbarrow containing a knitted representation of every member of the Brixham Male Voice Choir, intricate down to skin tone, individual clothing and hair colour. Mum’s knitted Bagpuss just didn’t stand a chance. This year word has got out that she is working on the nativity scene, and yes, I did urge the Muv to perhaps consider knitting the feeding of the five thousand for next year, but she would have to start now and perhaps carry on knitting right through the year, but she didn’t seem keen on the idea. I think she is looking at doing Kermit the Frog.

I’m off back home tomorrow morning, and as ever, it’s been like being delivered straight into a Victoria Wood sketch. People ask me where I get my strange ideas from in my poetry, and really, I don’t know. I really don’t know.