Days fall into
Weeks fall into
Months fall into
Time passes in the blink of
The laughter, smiles and tears.
We wander through our lonely lives,
Struggling to achieve,
Knowing what we think we know,
Believing what we believe.
But still we try and halt it,
Keep it from its goal,
It still will take its toll.
But that's because life is
Such a precious, short-lived time,
And short & lonely though it is,
It's all I have that's mine.
I pondered which blog post to write today. I saw Man of Steel recently, and loved it. I saw Bon Jovi in concert and liked it. I saw World War Z last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Two days ago, however, I was at Humberston Academy to talk about poetry as part of their Festival of Literature. In the midst of the films and music, I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful children, and so, it's this that guides my hands across the keys today.
In my last blog post, I mentioned I was nervous and unsure what to talk to them about. Right up to the last moment, as I walked up to the front, this was still the case.
You know, I really should learn to have faith in my power to waffle. My wife tells me I can talk to anyone. It seems I can.
I was nervous, I will admit. Not as nervous, by any means, as the last time I was invited to the school, but still, my stomach was dancing like Travolta on a Saturday night. I needn't have been at all, of course, but tell my insides that!
Last year, we were in the library, I think. This year, I was led into a hall. Miss Palmer was handing out drinks to a variety of children. I'd been told there'd be primary school pupils there, but I hadn't twigged this would mean FOUR different primaries! Not only that, but also some of the students I'd met last year were acting as learning mentors, and a few who had actually left and come back just for the sessions.
I have to say, it was lovely to meet them again. Not only those I recognised, but also some new faces alongside the older ones.
Miss Palmer was the same warm, welcoming woman who'd made me feel at ease before and it was clear she had a great rapport with her students.
Then the bell went. Then I was up...
I'd taken a collection of my books. There was Sin, as I was to be reading an excerpt. Now to choose something from a paranormal thriller that was OK to read to a group of ten to eleven year olds wasn't easy. Not because Sin is gory or overly frightening, but I wanted them to understand the language and references. That the children at Humberston are bright, goes without question, it's just that I wanted to read something that would appeal to them.
As such, the passage I picked was quite obvious.
I also had Dark Places with me. As well as the thirteen stories in the collection, there are thirteen poems. This was a poetry workshop, after all.
Firstly, we had the excerpt from Sin. I told them that it was a little bit gory (in fact, it's about the only part that has any actual 'gore'). Far from cringing, they cheered. That's what I expected - my daughter, who's ten herself - told me this was the perfect section to read. That's what she'd want to hear. I wandered the hall as I read, and, when mentioning maggots and such, I looked them in the eye. Some smiled, some winced. Perfect, like my daughter said. When I'd finished there was a round of applause, not entirely, I think, merely polite.
The excerpt from Sin:
I looked up. The trunk was obviously not as smooth as it had first appeared. Knots as big as fists were digging their knuckles into my back and no amount of squirming on my part could ease the discomfort. Even so, I didn't bother standing or moving away. I supposed I could have lain on the ground, but I knew I'd have felt exposed. With my back against the bark, as much as the bark tried to put me off, at least I felt I had some protection. Protection from what, I didn't know. I was fairly sure that, if I didn't know where I was then Dr. Connors and the rest of the 'sane' world wouldn't know either. That was unless they'd subcutaneously implanted a tracking chip somewhere on my body and satellites were currently spinning across the sky, homing in on my location so the hounds could come a-calling.
Oh my, wee doggy, what big teeth you have!
All the better to tear you limb from juicy limb!
"Always one for melodramatics, eh?" Joy commented. Her voice was like warm chocolate, velvety and smooth and, no doubt, high in calories.
"Oh," I said, smiling, "you know me. Why make a molehill out of a mountain?"
Joy was standing in front of me, looking much the same as the last time I'd seen her. Her hair was just past her shoulders, brown with blonde streaks that were not-so-fresh out of the bottle. Her eyes sparkled their usual green, smiling even when her mouth frowned. She seemed taller than I remembered, but then I was slouched against a tree that was doing its best to make sure I never stood straight again, and she was...
... She was dead.
"You're dead," I said, matter of factly.
"You're not looking so good yourself, mister," she said. "At least I can make a clean job of it, not like some I could mention."
I assumed, by that little comment, that she meant me. Joy had a habit of, where I'd make jokes, she'd make jibes. Usually it was all in good humour, just a different slice of the funny pie to the one I tended to munch, but I couldn't always tell if she was being serious or not. She looked fairly stern right at that moment.
"Hey," I defended, "I tried. It's not my fault I didn't end up where I wanted."
It sounded like I was sulking - a petulant child with my bottom lip dragging the floor. I knew Joy was only teasing, but I couldn't help it. Perhaps I was just pissed off with myself. Perhaps I was just pissed off with the world.
"Anyway," I said, picking my lip off the floor in case it got dirty. "You're dead. You don't have an opinion."
"Who are you to say what I can and can't have?" she huffed. "You're still, even after that mightily pathetic attempt to do otherwise, alive. You don't know the first thing about being dead, so I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself, thank you very much."
"Sorry," I said, dropping my lip again. I was angry enough at myself, not least because a seagull and boy were gone thanks to me. Having my own sister picking on me was a shiver past too much.
"Sin," she said, the melted chocolate back in her voice, "Get a sense of humour."
I looked up at her again. She winked and I realised what I should have known anyway - she was teasing.
"So," I said. "Death hasn't dulled your edge then?"
<I jumped from here to the ‘gory’ bit…>
"This is a strange dream."
Joy smiled. The dimples in her cheeks made her look, as ever, like a mix of cute and sultry, carrying her smile up to her eyes.
"Who says you're dreaming?" she asked.
How did I know she was going to say that? I felt like I was in the middle of a horror movie, where I knew I shouldn't go down into the cellar - especially with the light not working - but I was going to go anyway.
"So, I'm awake and you are really my dead sister's ghost, come to haunt me?"
"What makes you think I'm a ghost? What makes you think I'm haunting you at all? Just because I'm dead doesn't make me a cliché, you know."
Fair point, I thought.
"Well, if you're a zombie," I pointed out, "you're not baying for blood and you haven't got half of your head missing. I know you don't like horror films, but remember when we watched Dawn of the Dead together?"
"That was Shaun of the Dead, and if you'd prefer I look the part just to convince you, then I suppose I could play along."
As she spoke, I noticed movement in the corner of her eye. At first I thought it was a tear forming and was going to ask her why she was crying, but when I saw it wriggle and plop out onto her lap, my mouth dried up. There on her tan coloured trousers, creamy and bulbous, was a maggot. I stared at it for a moment, my usually smart mouth staying dumb. When it was joined by a second, equally bulbous cousin, I looked back at my sister's face.
Or what was left of it.
OK, so her roots needed touching up before, but now they were a mass of movement as maggots swarmed across her skull making her look like an adolescent Medusa. Sections of hair, along with the skin it they were attached to, slid down across her face leaving streaks of red and brown. Carried by the added weight of the larvae, they dragged over her still sparkling eyes until they reached her jaw and fell onto her lap. She smiled again and a cockroach worked its way out of her mouth, all spindly legs and antenna at first, then seemingly all body, hard, black and glistening. The cockroach joined the scraps of head and crawled over the writhing maggots until it fell onto the ground and scurried away, thankfully in the opposite direction to me.
One shining eye bulged outwards at me until I thought it would explode, spraying me with gloop and cornea. Instead it popped out and hung by its optic nerve, swinging lazily on her cheek. It still sparkled, even though it was now bloodshot and yellowing.
She raised one hand. The hand was missing its flesh. Skeletal, with withered tendons struggling to stay attached, it pointed at the remains of her face.
"Is this better?" she asked. Her voice oozed from between decayed lips, no longer velvet but slime, still smooth but bubbling slightly and on the edge of coagulating in her throat.
I regarded her for a long time as the maggots feasted on her flesh and wriggled into her ears and nostrils.
"Nothing a bit of foundation wouldn't fix," I said.
She laughed, spraying blood and teeth on the ground between us. A molar landed on my foot and I picked it up and handed it back to her.
"You dropped this," I said. Whether Joy was a ghost or not, this was a dream, so there was no point in being disgusted or frightened. None of it was real.
"That's the Sin I know and love. Thank you Doctor for injecting some humour back into the old misery!"
This was how I remembered our relationship. We always seemed to bounce of each other, sometimes like Sumo wrestlers but more often than not like two balls in a Newton's Cradle - tick-tack-tick-tacking, trading funny little comments with smiles on our faces - what was left of them in some cases. I relaxed and Joy's face returned to its normal pretty self. She picked up the sections of scalp off the grass and laid them back on her skull, pushing her eye back into its open socket. I'm sure this was more for theatrics than necessity as, when she opened her mouth all her teeth were back in their original places, lined up on parade for inspection, Sergeant. The maggots were gone, though I didn't notice them disappear and the bloody streaks across her face faded to nothing.
"Ugh," I said, pulling a face. "You can take off the Halloween mask, it's not for a couple of months!"
"Oh, funny boy," she smirked. "You should be on stage."
Then we moved onto poetry. Now, when I was at school, I seem to remember poetry being boring. I loved the stories but the poems... I didn’t see the point.
Now, of course, I do. Poetry, for me, tells how I feel. In Dark Places, I was in – strangely enough – a ‘dark place’. My poetry reflected this and was well suited to a book called exactly that. Though the title comes from one of the stories therein. I wanted the children to realise poetry doesn’t need to be like that. It can be enjoyable.
Oh, and it doesn’t have to rhyme.
I began with a couple from Zits’n’Bits. Firstly, there was Spider on my Ceiling and And So On...
A Spider On My Ceiling
There’s a spider sat on my ceiling.
I’ve watched it all day
And I’ve watched it all night.
There’s a spider sat on my ceiling
And I’m not letting it out of my sight.
This spider sitting on my ceiling
Hasn’t moved since
I saw it there.
And, as there’s a spider right there
On my ceiling,
I’m not moving either.
I just don’t dare.
I’m watching this spider,
Sat there on my ceiling,
In my bed, on my back.
And I’m sure that this spider
Sitting on my ceiling,
Watching me back…
And so on…
Who was a witch
Who had a little itch
On the bottom of her right big toe
When was an elf
Who lived up on a shelf
And followed Who wherever she would go
A leprechaun named What
Had got tied up in a knot
When a spell he’d cast just didn’t seem to work
And the goblin called Why
Pretended to be shy
But that was an excuse to sneak and lurk
Where was an ogre
Who picked each up by their leg
And used them as soldiers
To dip into his egg!
There was nothing they could do
Being stuck in the ogre’s tum
And they thought, to pass the time,
They’d try to have some fun
And so they had a party
And began to dance and sing
So much so that poor old Where
Thought he must have wind!
The ogre moaned
The ogre winced
Then let out a mighty burst
Then Who, When, What and Why
Flew out of him, head first!
They landed in a heap
And Where tried to grab them back
But they ran out of the kitchen door
Straight into How, the cat!
Now Where, the ogre’s, hungry
He hasn’t had his tea
And Who, When, What and Why
Are no-where to be seen
And How, the cat,
Just sits outside
(Where won’t let him back in)
But at least he isn’t hungry
He just licks his lips
I spoke to them about how, though I may be an adult, I'm not necessarily a 'grown up'. Hence the silliness in the Zits’n'Bits poems. They were fun and not to be taken seriously. Well, they do have titles such as Fartz, Brian the Bog Monsterand My Cat, the Vampire...
We also discussed inspiration. There's a great many companies where I work and, one day, I saw the name of one. Watson Nory. Straight away, my Muse picked it up and ran with it. Watson Nory had a story, he had a tale to tell, of how, one day, he angered a witch and she put him under a spell...
With Spider on my Ceiling a good few hands went up when I asked how many didn't like spiders, and how many would be in the same situation - not daring to move or blink in case the spider vanished...
Then, I moved on to the serious works. How poetry doesn't need to rhyme. How it doesn't even need to tell a story, but can simply describe a feeling. I read them The Sea, and I read them once from my wife's book.
I love the sound of the sea. The crashing of the ways, the sweep of the water. The Sea (the poem) describes exactly how the sounds make me feel. When I was on holiday, recently, I recorded the sound. It's almost as therapeutic as writing as Sin...
To finish, I had to give them something to smile about. These were ten to eleven year olds, with some fifteen to seventeen’s thrown in for good measure. There was only one choice.
Some people call it
A Bottom Burp,
Some people call it wind.
Some think it is
Oh, so funny,
And others believe it
To one it might be
Called a Pump,
While another might say
The proper name for
doing a trump,
‘Letting one go!’”
Some are silent,
As quiet as a mouse,
While some erupt
Almost shaking the house!
Some are a hiss,
A mere escaping of air,
While some are like thunder,
Almost curling your hair!
Then there’s the other feature,
Not pleasant at all.
A feature that’s been known
To make the strongest man fall!
The smell, the stench,
The pong, the reek.
It turns your stomach,
And you can’t even speak.
And though you might hide it,
And not make much of a fuss,
And say “I don’t do that!”
Well, EVERYONE does!
And it may not be pretty,
And it may not be art,
But, come on, really,
It’s only a fart!
I have to apologise to Miss Palmer for stopping at the 'curling your hair' part and pointing out her own curly hair... The children thought it was immensely funny, so it's only a little apology...
From then on, I gave the pupils a task. Write a poem. I wanted them to have fun, so I gave them one rule. Make it silly.
And they did. As I walked around, dipping in here and there to help, ask or chat, they seemed to be having a great time making poems about chicken or pigs or left toes. One came up with the excellent idea of writing down a list of random words and then putting them together. Others were laughing and joking - but all were working. All were creating.
I was surprised to have a conversation with a certain young man - Bailey - about subliminal suggestion. This particular boy had a group of older students in his grasp, calling them his Judi Dench gang (I asked if that made them 'Dentures'...). They were to have t-shirts and a hideout. Our conversation then moved onto Dame Dench's merits as 'M' in the Bond films (in my opinion she's been the best 'M' to date). I wasn't expecting this from one so young. And he said everything with a cheeky smirk on his face.
I was very pleased to meet Jordan. He was one of the new faces, but one of the school leavers. He’d chosen to join his friends for the day. He had a journal filled with various pieces of poetry and prose and showed me some. I was very impressed, indeed. I believe Sin has spoken to him, in fact, regarding being interviewed on this very site (though I don’t always get told what Sin has in store for me – isn’t that meant to be the other way around?).
After a time, we had some of the children read out their creations. Many came to the front of the hall and proudly (rightly so) recited to everyone their poem. Each earned applause in turn. A couple were a little embarrassed or had someone else read their poem, but no-one had seemed reluctant to either join in with the poetry class or with clapping for their peers.
I finished by saying that, as I’ve said, I wanted them to see how poetry can be pleasurable. Yes, it can be serious. Yes it can be meaningful. Much of my own falls into both of these categories. But, above all, I wanted them to see that poetry can be fun and as enjoyable as their favourite book, comic or film.
I didn’t want the day to end. I was having this thing called ‘fun’ myself. I wish I had their talent and drive when I was their age. Perhaps I did, I don’t recall. I did have a teacher similar to how Miss Palmer appears. And Mr. Staniforth, as many of you probably know, is the reason I can not only talk to you, but why I am honoured enough to be invited to workshops like this. I hope some of these children become as inspired as I was.
I was very pleasantly surprised when Miss Palmer told me she’d like to see me again next year, and the year after that. I’m honoured to be asked!
On a closing note, whilst there, they had a book exchange. A number of volumes were laid out on tables for the children to take. Everything from the Twilight trilogy to Don’t Wipe Your Bum With A Hedgehog.
I saw a copy of Bridgette Jones Edge of Reason on a table and asked the school leavers whose it was. One laughed and admitted, sheepishly, that it was hers. Another held Jane Eyre, and was almost apologetic for doing so.
I told them not to apologise or be ashamed. Any book can be enjoyed by anyone. Every person has the right to like or dislike the Bridgette Jones’, the Jane Eyres, even the Sins, as they see fit. Each to their own. It’s better to read and dislike it than not bother and miss the chance to lose yourself in a story that might really move or inspire you.
I knew someone who admitted he’d never read a book in his life. Why bother when you can see the film?
I don’t think I need to say anything more on that.
The work produced will be displayed on this blog from tomorrow. I’ll add more as often as possible. Please return to see the excellent work the children produced. Remember, last year’s Asylum workshop is showcased on Sin’s blog, on the Humberston Asylum page.
I’m extremely grateful to the staff and pupils of the schools that joined in the fun. They were a delight to work with.
Middlethorpe Primary: http://middlethorpeblogs.net
Cloverfield Primary: http://humberstoncloverfields.co.uk
New Waltham Primary: http://www.newwaltham.net
And, of course, those from Humberston Academy’s own primary. You were all wonderful.