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Torn Tickets and Routine Returns by Simon and Rusty Gladdish

TORN TICKETS AND ROUTINE RETURNS
BY SIMON AND RUSTY GLADDISH

DEDICATION

For my much–missed mother Enid
And father Kenneth (fellow poet),
My brother Matthew and his family,
My sister Sarah and her family,
And last but never least
Rusty’s charming children:
Laura, Kate and Aramis

TORN TICKETS AND ROUTINE RETURNS

‘A traveller’s amusement and ultimate acceptance of the hallucinating language and culture obstacles which surround the Englishman trying to do his job and simply be a good chap in the land of Abroad’.
(Dr Bruce Merry – Professor of English at the University of Kuwait)

BIOGRAPHY

Simon R Gladdish was born in Kampala, Uganda in 1957.
His family returned to Britain in 1961, to Reading where he grew up.
Educated at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, he trained as an English Language Teacher, a profession which enabled him to live for years in Spain, France, Turkey, Tunisia and Kuwait. He now lives near Swansea, Wales.
His poetry has been warmly acclaimed by other poets including Andrew Motion, the former British Poet Laureate.
He has published eight volumes of poetry so far: Victorian Values, Back to Basics, Images of Istanbul, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Original Cliches, Torn Tickets and Routine Returns and The Tiny Hunchbacked Horse and The Poisoned Tunic jointly translated from Russian with Vladimir and Elena Grounine.
His wife Rusty, a fellow English teacher, is a talented though hitherto unpublished poet with a considerable lyric gift. Hopefully this will be the first of several collaborations.

THERAPY

I was feeling really depressed
So I wrote myself a poem.
As I was putting the
Finishing touches to it,
I still felt fairly depressed
But the prospect of annoying
Certain editors with it
Had cheered me up considerably.

IRIS

The rainbow is so beautiful
It can’t occur by accident;
Its fluted columns must infer
The presence of an architect.

Its psychedelic arches stretch
A mile in diameter;
Its spanning spectrums silhouette
A heavenly geometer.

Throughout recorded history,
A solemn promise made by God
To use his coloured canopy
To save us from another flood.

The sunshine and the sparkling rain
Combine in perfect harmony
Until the leaden curtain falls again
On suffering humanity.

DOUG (IN MEMORIAM)

Doug is sitting in his usual place,
(I can see him through my bedroom window)
Gazing into a sun-filled space,
A secretive smile on his poor sad face,
Staring unseeing, unblinking,
What are you thinking of Doug?
Sifting through the back numbers
Of your brown-edged memories,
Turning over the long-lost leaves
Of the relics of your past.
Casting back through the cobwebbed hall of memory,
Cocking your ear to catch the lingering strains
Of a forgotten melody when the verdant valleys rang
With the timeless tunes of the male voice choir.
When the music swelled to a crescendo,
Spilling over and washing down the
Face of the honeycombed mountain,
But that was in the olden days.
And do you remember when we sang Myfanwy
Down in that dark, dank dungeon of a mine?
Buried alive boys, buried alive!
Buried in the bowels of mother earth!
Praying for a miracle of swift rebirth.
Ah! Those were the days, the drear doomed days,
But they’re dead and gone and there’s no more roving
Over those broom brushed hills.
(Rusty)

FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW

As another new day dawns, an arctic silence
Lies upon the frosted furrowed fields.
A bitter breeze blows through denuded trees.
A bunch of disillusioned crows sit hunched
Among frost-blasted branches,
Mourning for the summer days long past.
In the distant woods, a wily fox returning late back to his lair
Gives out a sharp consumptive cough,
A sinister sound, enough to set the huddled birds
A shuddering on their perches.
A wintry sun shines weakly in a blue uncertain sky,
Reflecting rainbows in the glittering crystals
Suspended like diamonds from the cottage eaves,
Trembling in Zephyrus’s icy breath.
A brazen robin trills his song, defying Death
Who masquerades in winter’s hoary mantle.
Across the bleak and whitened wastes of empty fields
The strident call of some triumphant pheasant can be heard,
Strutting proudly through the ploughed and furrowed iron ground.
A haughty bird who bears his noble plumage like a shield of honour,
A brightly feathered coat of arms.
But now the winter’s day is disappearing,
As Vesper spreads his cloak of gathering gloom,
And in a clearing through the snow clouds
Can be spied brave Hesperus travelling home.
(Rusty)

MORPHEUS AND REYNARD

Wrapped in Morpheus’s poppy scented cloak
Lost along the paths paved with unwanted dreams,
There came a sound so strange that broke
Into my unconscious, a lingering, chilling, sobbing scream.
The clock ticks on and you breathe easily beside me,
I lie awake, all senses straining in the dark,
Waiting for another sound to reach me,
Listening for the fox’s prehistoric bark.
Going quickly to the open window,
I gaze upon the silent and deserted street,
And suddenly I catch the faintest echo
Of Reynard’s snarling cough as he retreats.
(Rusty)

SANS TOI

It’s been a long weekend
Without you.
Time has telescoped.
Every second has flexed its muscles
Intimidating me with its presence.
To add insult to injury,
Watching the World Cup,
The television blew up
Just before the penalty shoot-out.
As soon as I took my eye off the ball,
England lost.
(Eat your heart out, Uri Geller!)
At night, unable to sleep,
Listening to Radio 2
Playing all their saddest
Most sentimental songs
I could hardly keep from weeping.
Still, you’re home this afternoon.
I’ve got to make the empty bed,
Hoover the food-stained rugs,
Wash the dirty dishes
And generally tidy up.
And just for once, just this once
It will be truly a labour of love.

COMMUNICATION

My wife and I
Have a mutually exclusive
Collection of obsessions.
I am concerned about
Getting my poetry published
And winning the lottery
Whereas she is worried
About her failing health
And our mutually mortgaged house
Disappearing before our eyes.
In fact,
If I’m perfectly honest
We don’t really communicate at all
In the accepted sense
Although in some strange unfathomable
Esoteric fashion
We definitely do connect.

SEX WAR

My wife has become
A real man-hater in her old age
Who is constantly going on
About how awful we all are.
And I have to admit
That when I see yet another newsreel
Of testosterone-crazed, gun-toting males
Running amok, massacring innocent civilians,
Even I don’t find it easy pleading
For my own guilt-ridden gender.
Eventually I concede:
‘Maybe men are bigger bastards than women
But they’re also greater geniuses.
Look at Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare,
Schubert, Beethoven and Mozart.’
Just when I am beginning to succeed
In hauling my (heavy) end of the sexual see-saw
Back towards the horizontal
We sit down (on opposite sides of the settee)
To watch the early evening news.
Apparently, a Colombian hombre (about my age)
Has finally confessed to slaughtering,
Raping and torturing around 150 school-children.
‘Alright. You win. I surrender.
It’s a fair cop. I’ll come quietly.’

WIND HAIKU

The wind rattled my letter box.
When I went to investigate
There was no-one there.

Later, the wind ripped the roof right off my house.
When it rained I suffered
Rather more than usual.

TWINS

They were like two carbon copies
Apart from a couple of moles.
Their bodies were identical
But they had different souls.

One was called Rebecca;
Her sister’s name is Ruth.
The body is the outer mask,
The soul, the inner truth.

They separated them at birth,
Soon after they were born.
They cut them up like paper dolls
Upon a paper lawn.

Rebecca was the younger one;
The one who failed to thrive.
Rebecca’s in the cemetery
But Ruth is still alive.

Their skins were white like ivory;
Their eyes were dark as teak.
Their bodies were identical,
Their destinies unique.

Ruth married an Englishman
And became known as Mrs Lister
But not a single night goes past
Without her dreaming of her sister.

She sees Rebecca waiting
In a garden filled with ferns,
A citizen of that distant land
Whence no traveller returns.

She awakens every morning
Feeling fazed and feeling faint
For she knows Rebecca’s waiting
With the patience of a saint.

They were like two carbon copies,
Apart from a couple of moles.
Their bodies were facsimiles
And they have similar souls.

FANTASY

Every so often you catch sight of a face
That hits you like a wrecking ball.
You stop what you’re doing
And stare like a cat.
You had that effect on me.
Although we’ve only just met
I know if things had been different
We’d be languorously making love
On a gently sloping hillside
Underneath the lilac trees
In the bosom of July.
The songbirds would be chanting
Against an azure sky
And the green grasshoppers chirruping
To keep them company.
Your husband scents danger
And pulls you away.

LANDLADY

The expensively dressed landlady
Met us on the steps of our new abode
And ushered us in. Playing with her pearls
She came straight to the point:
‘I want two months rent in advance’
Which we had ready. Eight hundred nicker
In brand new crispy twenty pound notes.
She carefully counted them out.
‘No’, she sighed, ‘I meant calendar months.
You owe me another fifty pounds.’
I emptied my pockets, my wife her purse
And discovered we had fifty-one quid exactly.
‘Now’, she said, ‘Did I mention a deposit on the phone?
I need a month’s deposit against damage.’
Taking our courage in both hands
We agreed to write her a cheque.
Finally she left us with a fifty pence piece
(For the meter) and a coffee cup half-full of coppers.
When we sure she had gone
We set about examining our new habitat.
Half the bulbs were blown,
There was no hot water,
Kettle, crockery, cups or cutlery
And the kitchen was literally crawling
With cockroaches.
Not to worry.
My wife is going to give her a ring tomorrow
If we can assemble enough change
For the public phone.

KITCHEN CABINET

We share our kitchen with
Cockroaches, ants at least an inch long, earwigs,
Centipedes, cockroaches (have I mentioned cockroaches?)
Millipedes and other mal-assorted fauna.
I wouldn’t mind but
They never contribute to the rent,
Do the washing up or
Generally lend a hand around the place.
What is really infuriating though
Is that when we retire to bed early
So we can get up for work the next day,
They stay up all night partying
At our expense on dainty morsels
We were too tired to clear away.
(One of the little blighters even had
The temerity to bite my finger recently.)
Freeloaders! Gatecrashers is what they are! Low-life scum!
They think that because we don’t
Kill them on sight we like them.
But we don’t. Oh no. No way.
Deep down we despise them.
We’re just biding our time,
Putting a little aside each month
Until we can afford the Rentokil man
Who will come with his shiny, genocidal equipment
And fumigate the flat from top to bottom.
Personally, I can’t wait.
That should wipe the smirks
Off their smug little faces.

PUB CONVERSATION I

I met this tramp in a local pub.
Scruffy food-stained beard,
Patches on his jacket. Stank.
You know the sort of thing.
I felt sorry for him
So I offered him a pint
Of Theakston’s Old Peculiar
Which he grudgingly accepted.
Reckoned he was a poet whose books
Weren’t selling too well.
As I got in the third round
The discussion turned to politics.
He announced he was a socialist
And began to berate me for being, he believed,
A fence-sitting, arse-indented liberal
Although he hadn’t even asked me
My political opinions.
Eventually losing patience I said: Look.
Philip Larkin was a right-wing, reactionary
Xenophobic racist and still a better poet
Than you will ever be.
That shut him up
Briefly.

PUB CONVERSATION II

I was having an argument the other day
With this bloke down the pub.
I reckoned pop stars were paid too much
Whereas he maintained they weren’t.
‘Pop stars give a lot of pleasure
To a lot of people’, he said decisively.
I replied,
‘So do postmen, prostitutes and ice-cream vendors
But we don’t pay them millions of pounds.
Your argument doesn’t hold water.’
His eyes swivelled.
‘Now you’re being stupid.
Arguments are either right or wrong mate,
They ain’t meant to ‘old water.’
I winced at his mislaid ‘h’ and glottal stop.
‘Arguments are sacred vessels containing truth.
Of course, they’re supposed to be water-tight.
Aristotle laid down in the 4th century B.C.
That a valid argument comprises a set of
Premises whence a relevant conclusion
May be logically derived or deduced.’
I didn’t see his fist spring out of the ether
But I felt a sharp sting
As my nose split apart like a kipper.
I learnt a valuable lesson that day.
Never conduct intellectual discussions
With large, violent people
Of the male persuasion
Except, possibly, by telephone.

SUN, EARTH, MOON, MAN

The sun is a bell
Ringing out light.
Earth is a hell,
Tasteless and trite.

The moon’s a balloon
Bobbing in space
And man is an ape
With a smirk on his face.

THIS WORLD

This world is
So unnecessary.

ARGUMENT FROM DESPAIR

Would a loving God
Create a world like this?
My friend, you have got
To be taking the piss!

NATO

To blot their weeping bruises
And drown out their tales of woe,
We shower them with cruises
At a million quid a throw.

We bomb the Serbians, then refuse
To house the refugees.
We pray for their deliverance
But never on our knees.

PHILOSOPHY

A friend of mine used to relate
That we’re a long time dead.
And what is there to say, he’d state,
That’s not already said.

Philosophy’s a young man’s game
(The sport of system building)
But everything remains the same
Despite the different gilding.

The enterprise is doomed to fail
(Like that of cancer surgeons)
The world, like an oblivious whale
Shrugs off the minnows at its margins.

We know not what awaits us when
We slough our mortal coil
Except the fact our cells return
To nourishing the soil.

CONCLUSION

After a lifetime’s philosophising
I have finally realised that
If you’ve got enough money
You can do what you want
But if you haven’t
Then you can’t.

FOR RUSTY

When you laugh
You sound just like a child
Who’s been given an ice-cream.
I love it
And you.

GOOD SAMARITAN

It’s odd how often doing others favours
Can leave us feeling wretched:
Give us, O Lord, this day, our daily bread.

EQUALITY

I’m sick to death of the rich
Who acquire even more
By deliberately pretending to be poor.

MASKS OF INEQUALITY

‘All employees will receive a bonus of ten percent.’
Ten percent of a lot is a lot.
Ten percent of sod all is sod all.
Ten percent of some thing is something.
Ten percent of no thing is nothing.
Ten percent for some equals luxury
Ten percent for others equals penury.
Ten per cent sounds fair but is not
So take care never to be fooled
By fictions, factions or fractions.

QUEUE

I must have made at least
A million mistakes in my life.
Even at the supermarket I always
Join the wrong queue – the long queue
(Ideal for snooker but not so good for shopping!)
When I switch to a shorter queue
It suddenly freezes solid and the one
I have just left starts moving
At the speed of light.
You can no longer identify individual
Customers, simply blurred shapes and
Streaks of psychedelic colour.
Scientists in white coats appear
Out of nowhere to weigh and measure
The extraordinary phenomenon.
When I rejoin my original queue
I too seem to be moving quite fast
Until I crash into a sharp metallic
Sign which says: ‘TILL CLOSED’.
Sometimes I feel that there’s someone
Up there who is seriously taking the
Mickey out of me -
Not that I’m paranoid or anything!

HOME ECONOMICS

They say the British economy’s booming
But I’m still skint,
Struggling to pay for
My privatised water, gas and electricity;
My income tax, council tax,
Television tax and V.A.T. (whatever that may be!)
They say the world economy’s booming
But whenever I turn on my taxed T.V.
I still see Bangladeshis with bloated bellies,
Indians with chronic dysentery and that
Perennial dark cliché – the starving African baby.
They say the European economy’s booming
But a billion humans are hungry
And a further two billion
Are forced to subsist
On less than a dollar a day.
They say the economy’s booming
But for whom?

HAITI

I watched a black man being bulldozed
Into an open grave
And although I’m white I thought
That man is me.
It’s true my father’s father
Was merely a wage slave
But we’ll be equally
Missed, mourned, forgotten or all three.
As soon as our bodies become a health hazard
We are buried like trash with the lizards and buzzards.

B.B.C

I always pay my licence fee
Although I seldom watch the BBC
Because I’m absolutely sure
The Tories would abolish Radio Four.

MISSING MANUSCRIPTS

I have written thousands of poems
In white ink on virgin pages
And now I’ve completely forgotten
Where I’ve put them.

POPPY PETALS

Poppy petals decorate my garden
Like a mud-cake landscape
Splashed with perfect pools of blood.
The wind whistles innocently.

WALES

A sheet of lead steals across a silver sky
Like the sliding roof at the Millennium Stadium
Leaving us trapped beneath a platinum ceiling
Before they turn on the sprinklers.

WELSH WIT

I was chilling in a pub the other day
And joshing with the barmaid, ’What’s for tea?’
In a lilting Welsh accent she responded
’It’s curry for nutters and your chips for free!’

POEME

Je connais bien
Le Limousin
Mais je preferais
Pas-de-Calais.

VALENTINE

Roses are red,
Violets are blue.
I enjoy self-abuse
Whilst imagining you!

PEEP SHOW

She danced.
She lit a cigarette.
Oh, she was wearing nothing
But a pair of dark stilettos!

BEE BLIZZARD

There were so many bees in the kitchen;
They were coming from every direction.
There were so many bees in the house
That I swear they were swarming
Straight through the glass.

PAXMAN

Paxo claims most modern poetry is crap
Which, ironically, has put it on the map
And though the things he said were fairly hateful
The majority of poets feel quite grateful.

Paxman the axeman
Has attacked a hornets’ nest.
Hornets are a nuisance
But poets are a pest!

JEREMY

O Jeremy
What was your intent
When you dared to criticize
The British Poetry Establishment?
You’re a much braver man
Than me.

COFFEE

Coffee makes you cough.
Tea makes you pee.
I think I’ve said enough -
So I’m off to climb a tree.

CLERIHEWS

Tamara Drewe
Was a damn good screw
But she couldn’t squeal
Because she wasn’t real.

Tamara Drewe
Was an ideal screw
Who made men swoon
Despite being a cartoon.

Thomas Hardy
Always wore a cardi.
H.G. Wells
Wore his in spells.

Somerset Maugham
Used his to keep warm
Whilst Gertrude Stein
Borrowed mine.

LINDA

I think she’s terrified of Linda
Although she pretends not to be.
Linda is an angel disguised as a devil
Who also petrifies me.

PAIN

The problem of living is pain,
So say it again and again.
The only way round it is through it
So if it is painful, then do it!

MOON

The moon has a definite face.
Whether he is male or female
Doesn’t matter. She has seen
It all a million times before.

INDEPENDENCE

This is the house that I call my own -
Every sodding stone.
I’ve paid off my wife and I’ve paid off the loan
And now I live here on my own.

THEOLOGY

You believe in your god
And I’ll believe in mine
And we’ll find out who was right
At the end of time.

WAITRESS

I wouldn’t say she was ugly
As she handed out our plates;
She was actually rather bubbly
Like a rattlesnake on roller skates.

ORIGINAL

I don’t believe this poem
Has ever been written before
But I’m going to include the word
‘Sesquipedalian’ just to make sure.

OBJECTIVITY

I read your hagiography
Written in haste
And the thought that assailed me
Was ‘scissors and paste.’

I admit that the pictures
Were fairly amazing
But all I could see
Were the cuts and erasing.

The tone of your argument
Is totally martial.
No-one could accuse you
Of being impartial.

The losers have rights
As well as the winner.
Your body of evidence
Could not have been thinner.

You set yourself up
As a sound academic
And then vomit out
A lousy polemic.

I don’t blame your publishers;
They’re out to sell books
But you know what they say
About too many cooks.

I’ve filed your pot-boiler
In a basket marked ‘waste’
And I’m sharpening the scissors
And wetting the paste.

LITERARY ADVICE

Jorge Louis Borges counselled
That if you have a bad experience
You should imagine
It happened a long time ago
To somebody else.
This is a wonderful piece of advice
And would be even more perfect
If it actually worked.
Instead we thumb the pages of our lives
Too slowly to erase the stains.
We ignore our few triumphs
And dwell on our many failures.
Leo Tolstoy announced that in a long existence
He had enjoyed less than a week of happiness.
He said the secret of happiness was engraved on a green stick
Hidden in a primeval forest impenetrable to mortal man.
(Mind you, if he were alive in Russia today
He’d be far too busy trying to survive
To find time to be miserable.)
On the other hand, Tolstoy sired thirteen children
And died an octogenarian
Which is more than can be said for Borges
The blind bachelor Buenos Aires librarian.

FOOLISH PROVERBS

It is said that
If the fool were
Sufficiently foolish
To persist in and with his folly,
He would, in the fullness of time
Become wise.
That’s nice.
There’s no fool like an old fool
And, unlike heads, one fool is better than two.
A fool and his money are soon parted
And this is one of those poems
I wish I’d never started.

FRENCH GIRL

At the beginning of the lesson
She unselfconsciously peels off
Her purple pullover to reveal
A taut white T-shirt emblazoned
With the French flag.
Her nipples are pointing straight at me
Like firm fleshy arrow-heads
Holding me hostage.
I ought to look away
But I can’t;
I’m impaled on her poitrine.
I’m supposed to be teaching the lesson
But I can’t remember where I was.
She smiles coquettishly at me
And I grin sheepishly back at her.
With a supreme effort of will
I turn my attention to a
Flint-faced youth
And ask him a deeply Freudian question.
His Gallic incomprehension
And sharply shrugging shoulders
Are, for once, a welcome distraction.
I beam benignly at the class.
Sixteen is such a sweet innocent age
Surtout pour une femme.

SCHOOL REPORT

David’s dextrous,
Sean is shoeless.
Roger’s restless,
Colin’s clueless.

William’s witty,
Walter’s waxy.
Petula’s pretty,
Sonia’s sexy.

‘Simon’s sick;’
So writes his mother.
Arthur’s thick
And so’s his brother.

All these kids
Have driven me spare
And come next term
I won’t be there.

I’ll be in the Bahamas
Lying on a beach
Or orbiting the moon
Miles out of reach.

I’ll be camping at the North Pole,
Cold and cursed
Or wandering in the desert
Dying of thirst.

I’ll be pacing Piccadilly
In my threadbare socks
Or trying to grab some kip
Inside a cardboard box.

When my money runs out
I’ll break the law
But I won’t be going back
To school no more.

NEARLY

Whenever I toss a screwed-up ball of paper
Towards the waste basket
It invariably hits the rim
And bounces out again.
I realised after a while
That this was a metaphor for my life.
Always so near and yet so far,
Narrowly missing the target
And winning absolutely nothing.
Losing the lead on the final lap
And getting stuffed in a photo-finish.
An also-ran who ran his heart out
And still didn’t quite make the frame.
Always the second best man
And never the glowing groom.
Always the bitter bridesmaid
And never the blushing bride.
Always stuck in the slow lane
In a clapped-out conveyance
I can hardly afford to maintain.
Starved of sunshine;
Sated with rain.

BRAIN

I often brood about my brain
And all that it contains.
The cameras and chambers,
Locked closets and trap-doors.
The semi-permeable windows
And somersaulting synapses.
The languages I speak:
Interlocking colours in a painting
Bleeding and blurring
In a psychedelic abstract.
The damaged suspension
And uncoupled couplings.
The levers, ropes and pulleys
Dusty with disuse
Or worn out from overwork.
The funnels, pipes and pumps
Pulsing blood around like water.
The open house of a drunken revel
With its piecemeal broken shards
Of memory.
The angry, jagged zig-zag of a headache
And the closed shutters
And drawn curtains
Of a dream.

PIG

The pig is very greedy.
He’s fatter than a tank.
His proclivitities are seedy
And his face is rather blank.

His nose is somewhat bloated
And his nostrils over-prominent.
His skin is usually coated
With some other porker’s effluent.

His house is quite untidy
With nothing in its place.
I’ve no wish to be snidey
But it’s often a disgrace.

The pig is full of mischief;
He loves to fool and frolic
As a smokescreen for the private grief
Of a secret alcoholic.

The pig’s rather intelligent
(He usually wins at cards.)
I know just what George Orwell meant
When he called him ‘the philosopher of the farmyards’.

CROCODILE MAN

Last night I dreamt of a man
With a crocodile tail,
A slime-green panoply of interlocking scales.
I woke up screaming.
He loved his mother, liked his music,
Played guitar and had a nervous tic.
The sight of him made me feel physically sick.
But why?
Was it an atavistic fear
Of deformity, enormity, non-conformity?
He looked like a cross
Between a foetus and an Egyptian god.
I fumbled for the dream dictionary
And finally found the following:
ABNORMAL: ‘To dream of anything that is not normal
Means that you will shortly have a pleasing
Solution to your problems’.
I hope so. I sincerely hope so.

STRANGER

I dream about him every other night
With his braided, black hair,
Heavy brooding features
And piercing brown eyes.
He frightens me to death.
He’s always running after me
Trying to catch me.
He chases me up mountains
And along valleys,
Through cities and across plains.
Although always gaining on me,
He never quite manages to reach me.
I don’t think he wants my money
(Though in dreams money is easily manufactured)
Or even my body
(Though that would be evil enough).
No, I think he wants something far, far worse than that.
I think he wants (I can hardly bring myself to say the words)
I think he wants, I think he wants, I think he wants
To be my friend.

CAN’T

I’m hungry but I can’t eat.
I’m angry but I can’t hate.
I’m zealous and a bit strange.
I’m jealous but I can’t change.

I’m a brute like my close kin.
I’m astute but I can’t win.
I’m running up hill and down dale.
I’m cunning but I can’t prevail.

I’m broken like a rusty can.
I’m a token of a healthy man.
I count the recalcitrant hours
That calcify my fading powers.

I’m tired but I can’t sleep.
I’m sad but I can’t weep.
I’m told that it is wrong to lie.
I am old but still too strong to die.

HEATWAVE (TALES FROM TUNIS)

It was so hot
It was like living inside a kiln.
Great wodges of tarmac stuck to our feet
And a fat film of sweat clung to us constantly.
The air conditioning went on strike
And the fans felt too lazy to rotate.
Ice-creams melted before we had a chance to eat them
And water evaporated before we were able to drink it.
Hyenas were filing emigration papers
And vultures were going absent without leave.
Mosquitoes were knocking off early
And flies were stumbling around like drunkards.
The cicada’s buzz had turned into a death rattle
And the call of the camel had become a lament.
Flowers were attending their own funerals
And the trees were in mourning.
People were suffocating in their front rooms
And the skeletons in the cupboard
Were the apartment’s previous occupants.
All in all it was a pretty hot summer
That August in Tunis.

LIVING ABROAD

You have to cope with different
Customs, cultures, currencies and climates.
You have to guess what’s going on
Due to your imperfect grasp of the language.
You have to deal with reverse racism,
Truculent attitudes in shops and bars
And with being routinely ripped-off
In restaurants and cafeterias.
You have to adjust to having
Your universe radically redesigned
And all your assumptions subverted.
You have to overcome
Homesickness, bureaucracy, hostility, hypocrisy;
Not to mention things like diarrhoea,
Upset stomachs and undrinkable water.
So why do we travel thousands of miles
For the dubious pleasure of living abroad?
Basically, I suppose
For the same reason that people go bungee-jumping;
Because every day is a brand new adventure
When you cease existing and start to live.

LANGUAGE BARRIER

I like the language barrier.
You can talk loudly in front of people
Without them threatening
To punch your lights out.
You can ignore them without feeling guilty
Or stare at them without being embarrassed.
You can make politically incorrect jokes
Knowing that they are probably doing the same.
You can enjoy the shared intimacy
Of your linguistic community
Without fear of sudden intrusion.
You can speculate openly about people’s private lives
Unperturbed by the prospect of apoplectic contradiction.
When a foreigner unexpectedly
Breaks into passable English
The hypnotic spell is almost always
Shattered into shards, fractured into fragments
And we are never quite as pleased
As they expect us to be.

TUNES

Tunisians are colloquially known as Tunes.
Unsurprisingly, this gives rise to a number of bad puns
Such as: ‘Name that Tune.’
‘Tunes help you breathe more easily.’
‘Looney Tunes’. ‘Change the Tune.’
‘The Libyans are less important than the Tunes.’
‘Many a fiddle played on an old Tune.’
Plus plenty more that I can’t even remember.
Like most things in life it is basically boring
But it does help to pass the time.

TRAM

The great green tram slams into town
Up and down, up and down
Into the crown of the city.
Apple green, pea green,
Sea green, tree green,
A sort of human soup tureen.
A turbo-charged snail
Rattling its tracks,
Its antennae
Spot-welded to the overhead cables,
Its clear shell humming with its heaving human cargo.
Businessmen and women,
Merchants and traders,
Soldiers and sailors,
Pickpockets and thieves.
Perverts rubbing up against schoolgirls,
Prostitutes rubbing up against the police,
The police rubbing everybody up the wrong way.
Am I carried away? Of course I am!
Everyone is, aboard the tram.

TRAM TRIPPER

There’s this nutter in the Avenue de Paris
Who keeps trying to trip up the trams.
The other day I gave him a dinar
And some heartfelt advice.
I told him that if he wanted to increase
His life-expectancy he should
Limit himself to spitting at passers by
And pushing people off their bikes.
He listened attentively and bowed respectfully
Before limping off to his new life.
I hope and pray he doesn’t go back
To his bad old ways.
The straight and narrow is fine in theory
But extremely dangerous in practice;
Particularly when there are trams on it
Hourly shunting back and forth.

MOON AND VENUS

Tonight the moon and Venus were conjunct
In the constellation of Cancer.
You could see them above the sunset
Sitting together like old companions.
A bat and ball, a toy car taking a curve,
A white peach rolling into a shallow bowl,
A snowberry sidling up to a banana
In a strange cocktail bar,
A comma and a full stop, a semi-colon;
A cosmic augury of peace and plenty,
A precise promise of better times to come
And see for yourself. They are still there.

THE MOON AND TENPENCE

The moon was full tonight.
We stood on the roof
And held hands, holding a small (tenpence) piece
Of silver each in our unheld hands
And made a wish.
Rusty wished for World Peace
Whereas I wished for a substantial
Slice of luck in Saturday’s lottery
So that I could make a personal contribution
To World Peace.
That’s the trouble with women –
They’re just so impractical.

UP ON THE ROOF

Last night it was so hot
We slept on the roof under the stars
For the first time since I was homeless.
We felt like children again.
Orion climbed his heavenly ladder,
The better to keep a paternal eye on us.
Diana the huntress
Gatecrashed our private party
And was extremely full of herself
Although, to tell the truth,
We half expected her to be round.
Incestuous Zeus arrived with his delightful daughter Venus
Who was warily keeping her distance from him.
The lion, bear, bull, goat and ram
Roamed their uncluttered pastures
Marking out their celestial territory.
In the morning
Swallows flew overhead in a V formation
Sluggishly followed by wisps of cloud
Which didn’t pause long enough to pass water.
Rosy-cheeked Apollo mounted the marble steps
Of his pale-blue palace
And peered over the balustrade.
We realised that it was time that we too
Shook ourselves free
From Somnus’s seductive embrace
And began to make a move.

TUNIS INTERNATIONAL RADIO

On Tunis International Radio today
There was a British woman
Who sounded like a guest on Woman’s Hour.
She was a cartoon, copybook feminist
And part-time freelance journalist.
Politically correct to the point of imbecility,
She was pontificating about the plight
Of Tunisian women
In the towns and in the country,
At home and at work
In offices and shops
Or harvesting the crops
In the fields and in the factory.
(None of which I would necessarily disagree with.)
Then the interviewer asked her how long
She had been in Tunisia and she admitted
She’d only been here a week.
I didn’t know whether to be horrified
Or admire her cheek.
I opted for the latter course.
These days you don’t actually need to know anything
To get on in this God-forsaken world,
You just need to be bloody pushy
And shout yourself hoarse.

COLLEAGUE

The first night he negotiated
An expensive round of drinks in the Africa hotel
Then made sure he was hiding in the toilet
When the tab arrived.
The second night he jumped into our taxi
On a long ride home and leapt out
Without offering a contribution.
The third night he turned up unexpectedly
Just as we were sitting down to supper.
Now he’s talking animatedly about
Meeting up for another meal next week
But unfortunately I very much doubt
That we’re going to be able to make it.

INTERNATIONAL HOTEL

Last night we had a drink
On the tenth floor of the International Hotel,
A rooftop bar with a fairly low surrounding wall
And fantastic views over Tunis.
We were on our third round and
Thoroughly enjoying the craic as the Irish say
When a highly agitated Arabic man leapt from his seat
And ran towards the wall.
Upon reaching it he stood on tiptoe
And leaned over as far as he possibly could.
My beer started to taste stale and the tonic
Went flat in Deborah’s mouth.
Then he dragged a white plastic chair
Towards the wall, the better (it seemed)
To propel himself into oblivion.
I thought:
‘If he jumps and I can’t save him, I’ll never forgive myself.
But even if he doesn’t jump he’s still being a bloody nuisance.
(What a selfish swine you are for even thinking such a thing!
The poor fellow is evidently deeply disturbed.)’
We called the waiter and explained the problem.
‘Don’t worry’ he reassured us (in French)
‘I know him. He’s not going to jump.’
The waiter had obviously never read Bertrand Russell
Or even Jean-Paul Sartre.
I argued ‘Is the past necessarily a reliable guide to the future?
Is the fact he’s never jumped before any guarantee
That he won’t jump tonight?’
The waiter looked worried.
‘Je ne comprends pas’, he said.
We decided it was time to leave and left
Our undrunk drinks warming slightly on the white table.

LEAVING THE DOOR FOR DEBORAH
(FOR MIROSLAV HOLUB)

I’ll leave the door for Deborah.
We might get a burglar.
We might get a cat.
We might get a badger
Or a curious rat.
All the same I still aver
I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a pigeon.
We might get a dove.
We might get a smidgen
Of reciprocal love.
Which is why I quite concur
To leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a vagrant.
We might get a tramp.
We might smell the flagrant
Smoke of his lamp.
None of this will me deter;
I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might get a donkey.
We might get a dog.
We might get a monkey
Or even a frog.
All of which makes me infer
I’ll leave the door for Deborah.

We might hear the melody
Of a telephone humming.
We might get nobody;
She may not be coming.
But none the less I still prefer
To leave the door for Deborah.

ROMAN COIN

I bought myself a rusty Roman coin
Under slightly dubious circumstances.
I was in Carthage
Haggling over the price
Of a plaster head
When the wizened guide suddenly
Plunged his hand into his pocket
And produced an off-white handkerchief
Replete with Roman coins.
I eventually purchased one for twenty dinars
(Around eleven pounds.)
It wasn’t cheap but I would have paid
Much more. I wanted it so badly.
I’ve no idea if it was genuine or not
But I sensed it was.
About the size of a halfpenny,
It was very poorly pressed
With the obverse upside down.
The face showed a Roman emperor,
Caligula perhaps or Nero
Staring imperiously at the letters of his own name.
Judging from the dirty green patina
The coin was struck from copper or from bronze.
Every time I picked it up
I felt I was handling over two thousand years of history.
I dropped it into my shirt pocket for luck
(Which in the light of hindsight was a bad idea.)
Yesterday evening I was clumsily fumbling for cash
For the Tunis tram. When I got home I clutched
My top pocket and counted my change.
My Roman coin was nowhere to be seen.
It was back on the streets of Tunis where it belonged
And I was left howling at the moon,
Utterly beyond consolation.

CARTHAGE

Phoenician faces, almost Grecian
Stare in wide-eyed wonder
At the weary twentieth-century traveller
As he blunders through the arid ancient sites
Cowering under Apollo’s blistering gaze,
Eyes screwed tightly shut against his piercing rays.
Peering intently, almost touching the sun-baked mosaics.
Cheek to cheek with the Phoenician sailors
As they glide in their golden galleons
Across their stony ocean.
Dark eyed Numidian nymphs in secret trysts peep shyly
From underneath their black-fringed lashes,
Frozen in stone, blasted by the sands of time;
Locked forever in another dimension
Like dragonflies in amber.
Knowing how long they’ve waited there
We kneel and stroke their matted hair.
(Rusty)

JASMINE

The smell of jasmine fills the air;
Its lingering scent is everywhere.
The cloying fragrance fills my nostrils
As the perfume seeps from every petal.

Ethereal as a whispered prayer,
A girl winds jasmine in her hair.
A boy binds a bouquet behind his ear
While a child begs her mother for some to wear.

WASH YOUR STEP

Today I watched a Moslem woman,
Wrapped in black from ankle to crown,
Methodically washing her step.
Wiping and waxing, scrubbing and rubbing,
Pushing and pulling, warping and wefting,
Making the dull red clay
Sparkle like marble.
Suddenly she became aware of me,
Hurriedly finished what she was doing
And rapidly retreated inside
Clanging the beautiful blue, ornate iron gates
Closed behind her.
I felt strangely sad, realising
That this was yet another
Human Being on planet Earth
With whom I would never communicate.

THE CACTUS TREE MOTEL

At the Cactus Tree Motel
With its cool marble mosaic floors
And ever opening and closing doors,
And voices echoing along the halls
And bouncing off the blue-tiled walls
And soaring up the galleries.
Above the prickly cactus courtyard
A velvet canopy is spread.
Now there’s only Jack Orion
Gleaming mutely overhead.
But down on earth the patron shuffles,
Wearily dragging his feet;
Lagging behind him, his over-weaning,
Obsessively cleaning wife,
Her cloth crown awry,
Wielding her restless ever-moving mop,
Fearing to stop even for a moment
(In case she has to think
Or pour herself an alcoholic drink.)
(Rusty)

LE PATRON

I remember the fat git even now
(Hardly surprising really –
It only happened a week ago)
Moaning and groaning, mumbling and grumbling,
As he collected the breakfast trays,
The sweat stains spreading steadily under his flabby arms.
The pension was pathetic.
The rooms were small and stuffy
And sleep was completely out of the question.
On the third day,
Dehydrated and exhausted,
We begged the patron for the use of a fan
Which he grudgingly supplied.
That night, for the first time since arriving
We actually managed to capture
A few hours fugitive kip.
The following (final) day, refreshed and in fine fettle
We wolfed our meagre breakfast
And bade the patron a heart-felt farewell.
All he said to us (in French) was:
‘You owe me five dinars for the fan.’
Five flaming dinars for a frigging fan!
Rusty and I held a hurried consultation
Before paying him in full.
Some people are just sent to try you
Aren’t they?

SEASCAPE

Indigo nights succeed blue butterfly days.
The gleaming waxing moon turns the waves to purest silver.
The stars sparkle in their infinite firmament.
Zephyrus holds his fiery breath
And stillness captures the azure evening.
Selene’s platinum smile gilds the cobalt ocean
Whilst we, prisoners of the purple sea
Track the floating fishing boats
Parading in slow motion.
(Rusty)

TOPLESS WOMEN

The first day I felt embarrassed
And didn’t know where to look.
The second day I thought ‘Sod it!’
And stared like a prawn at
Every pair of breasts
That blocked my path.
I was amazed by their
Distinct shapes and sizes,
Their startling tones and textures,
The infinite variations
Of natural selection.
The women didn’t seem to mind
Or even notice my minute examinations.
In the end it almost became boring.
Almost but not quite.
Other people’s bodies are rarely really boring,
Especially those whose contours
Are different from our own.

WATERMELON

I bought a watermelon from Mohammed,
Our local greengrocer in the adjoining street.
I was really buying lemons at the time
But couldn’t help remarking
The gigantic greenish gourds
That he had gathered round his feet.
‘What are they?’ I asked in French.
He answered in Arabic.
None the wiser,
I indicated I desired one.
It was so heavy, he had to
Hoist it onto my shoulder.
I staggered home.
I knew it was a melon of some stamp
But wasn’t sure exactly which.
I seized the most vicious looking knife in the kitchen
And stabbed it mercilessly.
The green skin split and the roseate blood
Began to flow.
I ripped apart its flesh like a crazed serial killer.
My thirst was tormenting me. My throat was on fire.
Soon I was spooning handfuls into my arid mouth,
The rich blood dribbling down my unshaven chin.
Meat the colour of rare roast beef
With pips as big as pebbles.
Pure heaven.
The heat here is so hostile and the air so heavy
You could hang your hat on it
But the saintly watermelon is filled to bursting
With sweet soft succulent flesh
And refreshing fragrant juice
Which smoothly overflows
The ragged contours
My greedy spoon creates.
If the watermelon is not conclusive proof
Of the providential bounty of a superior being
Then I am a banana.

MARCHE CENTRAL

I’ve only been
To the market twice
But here’s the benefit
Of my advice.

Local food
Is fairly good.
Imported stuff
Is naff.

So buy your fromage
And frogs’ legs,
Your turkey breast
And chickens’ eggs.

Buy your wine
And watermelons
With skins as tough
As eagles’ talons.

Don’t put on
Your smartest suit
To get your
Vegetables and fruit.

Buy your spuds
Of various shapes,
Your green and red
Delicious grapes.

Buy your apples,
Peaches, pears
And pack a change
Of underwear.

SOLAR ECLIPSE 1999

I was up on the roof in my Ray Bans.
The eclipse was scheduled for
Eleven minutes past eleven on the eleventh of August 1999
And I wasn’t going to be the sucker who missed it.
The sun was beating down with his customary ferocity
And I was very wary of staring directly at his face.
Finally I screwed up my eyes and courage
And chanced a glance.
I was instantly blinded
And rewarded with a free fireworks display
Complete with sparklers, Roman Candles and Catherine Wheels.
I risked another furtive peep;
The same thing happened.
There did seem to be a second celestial body up there
But it could equally well have been the bird-shit on my sunglasses.
I essayed a final look
And saw every colour of the rainbow
But no hint of the moon’s shadow.
I blinked furiously in an effort to focus on my watch:
Twenty past eleven. I couldn’t believe it.
I had been waiting patiently on the roof
In my straw hat, shorts, sandals and sunglasses
For nearly an hour
To witness at first hand
This incredible event
And had still somehow contrived to miss it.
Never mind. I’ll catch it on the news tonight.

KARMIC CURSE

To those who don’t believe in fate,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who deny destiny,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who doubt the efficacy of curses,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who discount the existence of karma,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who dismiss coincidence,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who feel bad about themselves,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who need to believe
That power and wealth are not everything,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who question whether truth is stranger than fiction,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who are searching for a subject,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who want to write the great American novel,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those whose lives are hanging by a thread,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who are slow to count their own blessings,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’
To those who are tired of living and scared of dying,
I say ‘Look at the Kennedy’s.’

HASSAN II

If my French is correct,
Hassan the Second of Morocco
Died yesterday of a heart attack
With pulmonary complications.
He was over seventy.
There will be three days of mourning.
Fine. But why all the funeral music,
The dirges and threnodies?
Why not some dance music,
Reggae, rag-time, rock and roll,
Northern soul and Nat King Cole?
Why not roll out the red barrel
Along with the red carpet?
Hassan lived life to the full,
Married several wives
And died peacefully in his sleep.
We would all do well to follow his example
Instead of squandering our cowardly lives
And flinching away from the final lift
In the long black taxi.

A NIGHT IN TUNISIA

The band was diabolical
And the karaoke was cruel and unusual punishment.
The Master of Ceremonies was fluent in
English, Spanish, Double-Dutch and Gibberish
And the pizzas tasted of papier mache.
The sense of boredom amongst the punters was palpable.
The British were foul-mouthed and boorish,
The Germans glum and gluttonous,
The French and Spanish lethargically latinate
And the Italians irritated and irritating.
I was consulting my watch every ten seconds
And discovering that the hour hand had gone into reverse.
The one person who looked remotely happy was the owner.
Never mind the band’s baleful bum notes,
The only sounds that really mattered that night
Were the constant crying of the cash registers
And the metallic clanking of the coins
Into the waiters’ outstretched palms.

LEFT

When I left Tunis
I nearly left my poems behind.
I had no energy left
And my left hand didn’t know
What my right hand was doing.
(Just as well!)
Then I fell to wondering
If it would have made any difference
If I really had left my handiwork
To the tender care of the caretaker,
The janitor, the refuse-collector,
The city cleansing supervisor?
After a lengthy internal inquiry
I decided it wouldn’t matter a jot
Even if the British Library burnt down.
The sun would still rise every day,
The moon would still dance in her orbit
And the stars would still twinkle benignly.

GRAVY TRAIN (After W.H.Auden)

This is the gravy train crossing the Border
Bringing the spiv and the prison warder.

Shares for the rich, nothing for the poor,
Parcels for the bitch and letters for the bore.

With the Liberals on board this audacious crime,
The public’s against it but the bill’s on time.

Past privatised cities and moorland boulder,
Shovelling shite right over her shoulder.

Snorting heavily as she passes,
Calling in favours and kissing fat arses.

Citizens cannot turn her course,
The railways were bad but this one’s worse.

In the farm she passes no one wakes
As the heart of society slowly breaks.

This is a fragment from a longer story
And the moral is ‘Never ever trust a Tory!’

DEISM

I’ve no desire to gloat
But God is distant and remote.
I wouldn’t say He doesn’t care;
It’s more as if He isn’t there.

Don’t forget, He’s lived alone
For millions of millennia
And people who live on their own
Are prone to persecution mania.

So when you’ve influenza
And pray to lose your cough;
Ignore the ripple in the ether
That sounds a bit like ‘Bugger off!’

LIGHTNING STRIKES

Woken up by lightning streaking across my eyes and lighting up the gloomy night sky with an eerie glow. A violent wind came roaring in from nowhere pinning the cypress tree outside to the wall as torrents of rain finally unleashed, lashed the cobbled courtyard and turned it into a fast flowing stream. Thunder cackled like a maniac and rolled, vibrating round the forest. The house rocked as the thunder crashed against its ancient masonry as Simon and I took shelter and trembled together underneath the covers.
(Rusty)

ALEPPO, SYRIA

I saw the pictures in Paris Match.
The elderly victim was bald, bearded
And clearly terrified in his striped red shirt.
The young executioner was almost trendy
With his beret, Ray Bans, trainers and Swiss watch.
His left hand wielded a butcher’s dagger
And his right a blunt rusty scimitar.
It took several goes to cleave the
Blindfolded head from the writhing body,
The crowd growing wilder with every blow.
Afterwards the excited spectators tossed the
Severed head, like a bloody football, to and fro.
And these are the teams that Cameron
And Hague are trying to support.
You couldn’t make it up unless
You had a particularly sick imagination.
In the twenty-first century
Have we really sunk so low?
This is hell -
Nor are we out of it.

BOUGAINVILLEA

Don’t think that I’m assuming
I know any more than you.
The bougainvillea’s blooming
In pink and white and blue.

Another war is looming
As I pour us both a drink.
The bougainvillea’s blooming
In blue and white and pink.

The mortars begin booming
As the day sinks into night.
The bougainvillea’s blooming
In blue and pink and white.

The two of us are rooming
Amid the carnage and the stink.
The bougainvillea’s blooming
In white and blue and pink.

I supervise your grooming
Before turning out the light.
The bougainvillea’s blooming
In pink and blue and white.

MISTRAL MISCHIEF

The Mistral has been blowing hard for three days now. The children of l’ecole enfantine are running helter skelter round the playground and refusing to obey the teacher’s whistle calling them into their lines.

People are driving their cars erratically. jumping the red lights and speeding foolishly on the radar camera roads which flash like sheet lightening each time a car exceeds the speed limit.

The air seems as heavy as lead and fallen leaves flutter listlessly like broken butterflies. The grey clouds are racing across the skies driven by the hot winds and every now and then we get a tantalizing glimpse of bright sunlight bursting through that grey gloom.

On the upside though the washing dries in less than an hour!
(Rusty)


(Copyright: Simon R. Gladdish & Rusty Gladdish 2000)

The right of Simon R. Gladdish and Rusty Gladdish to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988.

Torn Tickets and Routine Returns by Simon and Rusty Gladdish

Rusty  Gladdish

Swansea, United Kingdom

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

A collaborative Collection of Poems by Simon and Rusty Gladdish

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