FAMILY GROUP

FAMILY GROUP
There are so many doorways; there are so many entrances and exits and so many figures passing in and out of your life. Yet there is a need to refer to them from time to t914753_42410124ime. Who possesses this doorway? Who consolidates this space to show willing or are dragooned into it? Who is there? Who is standing next to whom in this hierarchy of kith and kin, height and generations?

Look! Not even the eye of the camera will frighten them away.

 

G.F. Phillips

THE WATERFORD TRAIN


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It was raining no harder than any wet evening in Wicklow, the late night lamps fuzzy as this little man lost. He saw a porter, a blessing in the circumstances, for sure. “The Waterford train?” he asked. “Waterford be blowed!” replied the porter, hurriedly, assuredly. “That’s a fine place to want to go to on such a wet night.” “But which train?” the man enquired further, somewhat dampened by the porter’s response, and shaking some persistent drips off his coat. “The train be over the far platform.” “Oh! I wouldn’t say that… No, it’s not due out till mornin’.”

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, 2010)

 

 

 

HOME TOMORROW

Mobs are indiscriminate. They’re no different in Mashonaland except they’re poor and war-weary. But no excuses: you either leave your farm or you don’t. But even though you knew they were coming, it didn’t make it any easier. Those vultures in Harare called it ‘the popular will.’ We called it ‘pigs’ swill’. Still, I knew a little bit about the art of survival. I had a smattering of Polish from both my parents. Yet Hebrew has given me an undying love for my father and the seven crops of his groves. And in the desert war of ’73 a pinch of Arabic taught me to always keep an ear to the ground, stony or otherwise. So now it’s good to be in England in this safe house amongst comrades – oh you’re so lucky to have a big guardian angel protecting you. Since their independence in 1980 I’d been a man of the soil again. My wife is from Mashonaland too; my two sons are a grateful harvest. I had one hundred workers under me. We were set up for life.

861926_45651909But mobs play it by their own rules. Over the years those vultures passed laws that gave them the right to grab their land back, anyway, anyhow. One day, last month, ten of them came and smashed down part of the wire perimeter fence. They chased away a few of my workers, breaking the arms and legs of those holed up in the sheds. The fear was if the other workers helped out the victims, they’d get the same treatment themselves. And your last breath is always your last breath. The screams and shouts were a warning to us all right. They’d come again, and most likely at night, when most bad things happen under occupation. We’d be the last to expect punishment; we were the owners and so a bit special. There was no choice. We left the very next day. But my right-hand man as chief guard was rounded up by the mob.

According to reports, the men came in an old Mercedes Benz into the farmyard. They abandoned it – how do you say? It was clapped out. They were all armed with catapults and iron bars, straightforward weapons, and most effective at close quarters. They stripped the place clean and then, no doubt, those vultures would sell the assets and in return feed off a few more dollars. As for our escape route, not even my right-hand man knew. So if he confessed anything under torture, it would be a lie. But he knew I’d go my separate way. But now I’ve got word that my wife and two sons have been tailed to South Africa. In the morning I am flying from Heathrow to Jo’burg. We must meet up, re-plan; start again. So I don’t know where home will be tomorrow or the next day or even the day after that … not when you’re on the run, and trouble always follows you.

G. F. Phillips

(Broadcast on listenupnorth.com in 2013)

 

 

BIRD MAN

Nearby, the watching birds, hanging upon the statue, immediately got the message, and went homing in on the straightest flight towards what was now their recognised target. They were the vanguard (mostly pigeons), swooping in to surround him. In the midst of these birds he was anchored to his chosen spot, his legs felt wedded to the ground, a cap rounded off his head. The fact that he was well-prepared suggested he had done this before. There was nothing like encouraging the birds, these infiltrators from sky to earth.

The stonework on nearby buildings had taken its toll of bird droppings. But he never thought of this end result in feeding them. His sense of giving was drawing a small crowd of onlookers, amazed at the number of birds in the vicinity. There were more pigeons flying in from all directions, rapidly increasing in numbers for their daily sustenance. There were now two swarms of feathery bodies, only the main flock concentrated solely on the bigger bits of bread, grabbing what they could, holding onto it; fighting each other off with an occasional peck or dive to try and frighten a rival away. He was well under siege. One pigeon flew up and took a bigger bit of bread from his right hand and flew off into a handy free space to gorge alone on its edible prize. Several pigeons circled around him to see what was left for them to grab. Come to me, he seemed to say. Such a solitary figure, with his clothed arms outstretched, and as still as could be, he could have been a tree in a former life.

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, 2015)

 

 

The Thorny Hedge

The Hot Blast:  On Blucher’s First Run, 25 July 1814.

‘George Stephenson’s elder brother James was the first driver of the Blucher.  He seems to have followed George round the various collieries as George progressed over the years.  George named one of his stationary engines the Jimmy after him.  Like George, he lived in a cottage beside the Killingworth wagon way with his wife, a large, buxom woman called Jinnie.’  [He was also known for his colourful language].

Hunter Davies after Thomas Summerside, Anecdotes, Reminiscences and Conversations of and with the Late George Stephenson, Father of Railways (London 1878)

Jinnie lit the Blucher’s grate
as if it was her own
at four o’ clock that still dawn
of a July morning,
a well-chosen morning
with the sun up, the grate’s flames
soon raged as fiery as could be.

That big brute
was George’s doing,
iron-clad, a monstrous
fresh beast lodged
behind the cottage line
along colliery way
at once a  showpiece and anomaly.

O her Jimmy of wanting haulage
the lever pulled, in West Moor air
steam spat like fat from a boiling pan,
up back end to chimney
the hot blast made sure
the big brute’s long drag and grind
went over rails, back and forth:  trundled.

And yet so many times she heard
her Jimmy shout?  “Here, me lass,
come put your shoulder to her!
She’s hit a shit patch.
Come, shove!
She’s broken doon again
but she won’t break me bleedin’ heart.”

Momentously, awkwardly,
on the turn, just then
a baptism of throbbing erupted
to let Jinnie attend to her chores:
more floored grass was cut back,
squeezed it Jersey teats of white rich oil
came with the spread of trackside crowd.

G.F.Phillips
(Published in the North Tyneside Steam anthology, editor, Keith Armstrong).

Mr Footer’s Footloose Wanderers Verses

JOHNNY SPRY: GOALKEEPER FOR FOOTLOOSE WANDERERS

Johnny Spry’s between the sticks, his second name’s The Lynx,
He’ll prowl around the six-yard box then stares out like The Sphinx.
He’s great at making hefty kicks the ball he belts quite far
And when there’s nothing doing he’ll swing along the bar
Until he’s out to grab the ball that’s spinning through the air,
The way he leaps and soars is more than high jumpers would dare. Read more

OLAF FINNEGAN:  THE MAN FOR BOTH FLANKS

This winger is schizoid, but only in name,
He’s Olaf and Finnegan, half Celt and half Dane;
He’s blonde and his blue-eyed and he knows about rain.
And he’s nimble and speedy, he goes like the wind
And he’s known to most fans as The Flying Finn.
He’s a man on a mission when the ball comes to him,
And then
It’s RUN and CROSS, RUN and CROSS
When he can:  if he can. Read more

OUR BACK FOUR

Our back four have kick-off nerves,
Our back four haven’t played for a while;
Our back four have no tank reserves –
Too many nights spent on the tiles.
Our back four must keep it tight,
Our back four must hold their patch;
They’ll get stuck in and battle all right,
They’ll curse and swear all through the match. Read more

PABLO LORENZO:  THE FRONTMAN

‘Pab is the man – he’s fab.’

PABLO LORENZO he loves to turn solo,
He thinks the play revolves around him;
I don’t have to mention he loves the attention,
It’s a centre forward’s old thing.
He’s the one they most cheer when he’s called to appear
For the number 9 shirt claims respect,
And to lead from the front and be a great hunk,
It’s everything the fans expect.
And him they will flatter, buy the one shirt that matters
And the kudos he’ll get from it,
For he loves all this fuss and he can’t get enough
And his goals are all riding on it.  Read more

 

 

From a Weld

AMUSEMENTS, SPANISH CITY

‘The terrible thing is that the crowd that fills the street believes that the world will always be the same and that it is their duty to keep that huge machine running day and night.’
(Frederico Garcia Lorca)

Young toughs drifted here and there
among the twists and turns of amusements.
Back then, another twist and turn, a brigade
of men from seam and yard. A call-to-arms
on the brotherly circuit for the campo,
with the whirl and swirl of bringing in reserves.

Already set loose were brutal thugs
under many a white dome of a half-world to come,
guns blazing down the shooting alleys of prized streets.
Theirs was a blood feast of screams and cries,
what was music to their ears
on the merry-go-round of more pleasure.

G. F. Phillips
(Published in The Spanish City: The Heart and Soul of Whitley Bay in Words and Pictures, 2010. Compiled and edited by Keith Armstrong and Peter Dixon)

Out of Thin Air

A Man from Blyth

He always stood at the bar, standing shipshap
in his blue peak cap, retired, yet not from
teasing the barmaid with his pitch and roll
of a seaman’s yarn or two, such mischief.

Him, taking his time, the slowest drinker
toasting the days with some old comrade,
telling her the same again and as she pressed
the keg’s button and watched the liquid squirt in  Read more

BOARDROOM CRONIES

There’s always an unconscious bias
around the boardroom table.
Where are the women? “You try us!”
says the pretty face out in the hall.
But more often than not for these yes men
it’s nearly always the same
their few bald heads won’t soften towards them
for it’s Julian in and not Jane.  Read more

Tango for Two

Under the glass ceiling of sounds
among male reps in A & R
she was and unknown quantity, non-star.
“So are you a singer?”
the big boss asked –  Read more

The Village Schoolroom

A Poem on the 150th Anniversary of the Hartley Pit Disaster, 16 January 1862 with

the loss of two hundred and twenty lives
After the engine beam split
and iron had crashed in-by,
down the one and only shaft it smashed
upon the backshift’s unsuspecting men.
And here the pit hierarchy moved in,
an unplanned requisition,  Read more

Double Exposure

Fresh Contours

The raised landfill is all rump and scraggy
in that gap in the country called nowhere,
free to spread within its wilderness

new filth and mulch, a rich lingering tang
over brick and track, right of way to fields.
Enclosed, long buried brown sludge, trash-mountain,

it’s where seagulls fall in line behind truck drops
and diggers uproot to heave and pitch
crammed folds, life’s wrappings, loose, so hit and miss.

G. F. Phillips
(Broadcast on listenupnorth.com audio website)

Dodgem Cars

Too busy chasing others
caught in the spurt
of circuit.

Next time round
we’d make a better effort
and quell made-to-measure screams.

So we shoved
others aside at random
then got ourselves cornered.

It was all that temptation
in not having
to play the game straight.

G. F. Phillips
(Broadcast on listenupnorth.com audio website)

Poetry

Overnight Raid

In October 2002 builders unearthed a 1000 lb World War II bomb in the Hendon area of Sunderland. It was thought a German bomber dropped it in an air raid in 1940. Sunderland police imposed an exclusive zone affecting 4000 residents and many local businesses. The poet spent a few hours skirting the exclusive zone allowing him to observe the situation and catch pieces of dialogue that took the form of the resultant poem. Read more

Floaters

As time went by they had to work for the dole
in Whitehall’s appointed zone: the bleak railhead
near Brandon where men from terrace were dragooned
upon the heath – it was new to them.
In tented beginnings their eyes caught blown sand
off Thetford Chase, its choking bracken,
hearing the strange accent and theirs
that summer of 1936. Read more

 

From the Testimony of an Otherwise Citizen

For Colette Anderson

‘I find it impossible to be ‘objective’ in my approach to the joys, desperation and terrifying fear that the peoples of Burma experience. It is the indomitable spirit, their kindness, determination and humanity that motivates me to persevere with my documentation of these people’s endless suffering.’

Dean Chapman

Read more

 

 

AT THE CLIFFS EDGE

Everyday the couple look across their disintegrating territory to see what’s changed, what can be salvaged from sunken and fallen ground. He stands now at the jagged cliff edge, its renewed border, where once stood their washing line.

17268-cliffs-by-the-ocean-pvEmpty rusting canisters lie against the only surviving and battered stretch of outer wall. Some twisted roots of their old apple tree loosely grip the red sandstone. Everywhere has been softened up or pushed back somewhat; the couple, too, have retreated. Their prefab now holds everything they own. They are hanging on, she gutting the smallest of fish in the faint light shining through the window, a TV aerial on the rooftop shakes with every sea breeze, seagulls squeal overhead, as if in a warning of danger.

Squat as it is, the prefab is a little way back from their former cliff-top house. The council has given it twenty, perhaps thirty years of survival, enough for them to see their life through. But does it gratify them to live beside the sea, with that tendency to want to stop and scan the horizon, just because it is there? All they know is they are being overrun by every raging storm, each succeeding onslaught; regardless of its intensity, it has penetrated deeper and deeper into the shifting landscape, eating away at their very foundations.

Theirs is a half-breached habitat. Its centrepiece is still the stairs, now open to the sky, the wounding salt and the vagaries of the weather. It is not much comfort that from there, high up, they can view the whole scene of destruction in one grand sweep; even further along the cliffs edge, where the bay juts out, the other cliff-top houses are under attack from the malicious waves below.

But they were always the newcomers who thought it would not happen to them. Different, they were not. By staying on, they have not only drawn attention to their plight through a local newspaper report, they have drawn attention to their selves as well. However, to admit now that they should not have come here in the first place would be even more unbearable.

(Published in And Then magazine, New York, February 2010)

 

 

 

SEASIDEOLD

SEASIDEOLD

Along a beach over-laden with sun worshippers, a mother and child file0001557734235have settled on what was left of a vast desert of captured sand. This was the same sand as in the mother’s childhood: fickle, pliable and reconstituted. Here the child could run around as fresh as the sea breeze, leaving her footprints to be washed over by the incoming tide. But her mother wanted to be anchored to this spot in this pleasurable heat. It was like all the long hot summer’s days she had ever known.