Helga's Chickens

Helga's Chickens take the floor
around eight thirty every night.
Could anybody ask for more?

Perhaps some spotty troglodyte
would rather hide away and write
computer code, but that's a bore

and hardly likely to delight
Helga's Chickens. Take the floor
for instance - even if it wore

a carpet of a lurid white
our eyes would still be on the door
around eight thirty. Every night

the Paranormal's heaving. Quite
a crowd prepares for what's in store
and brightens as they dim the light.

Could anybody ask for more
than Helga and her brood? Before
you rush to call her 'parasite'

or breathe the appellation 'whore',
perhaps some spotty troglodyte
will rush to her defence and cite

an evening back in '94
when he succumbed, gave up the fight
and sang - O come let us adore
Helga's Chickens!

measure me

and measure me where skies are blue
  and life is a designer brand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and cultivate the favoured hue
  preferring what they understand
    and measure me where skies are blue

and winter warms me through and through
  like summer from another land
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and have you night enough for two
  to dim the bleak beyond that's planned
    and measure me where skies are blue

and high apartments block the view
  of sand and sand and sand and sand
    and rrussian girls go how arr you

and how are you my darling do
  you feel a hardness in your hand
    and measure me where skies are blue
      and rrussian girls go how arr you

The Model and the Miracle Man

I only ever performed one miracle..

and that was ten years ago. It changed two lives forever, mine and someone much more famous, though her fame was to come later. I remember it vividly; how could I not?

I'd just arrived back in London from a six-month tour of duty in Saudi Arabia and was in need of three things: a bacon sandwich, a beer, and to see some women wearing less than the Saudi norm. Much less, in fact. And of course I knew of a pub that could provide all three, with knobs on. I'm telling you this to dispel any illusion that I'm setting myself up as some kind of holy guy. I'm not. I'm just another engineer who happened to work a miracle, once.
So, duly sated in all departments, I'd left the pub and was walking East along Pentonville Road, enjoying the normality of a bright sunny day after the searing furnace of the Middle East. I wasn't consciously thinking of anything in particular, but there was nothing at all wrong with my world. It was good to be back.

The best thing I ever did

was have my agent send my African photo-shoot to Benetton. I was just starting out then but I was like, why not aim high? My dad always said if you don't ask you don't get. We heard nothing of course, but I was doing OK. No big breaks but plenty of steady work. Magazines and a few TV commercials. That was before my accident...
It was my own fault for stepping off the track. Crazy that answering a call of nature can cost you half a leg. I'd been too long away from Eritrea and was only thinking about seeing my family again. Land mines were the last thing on my mind. The rest you know. I'd rather not talk about the worst times.
But I wasn't going to let it beat me. If I was to have half a leg, so be it. I'd wear an athlete's prosthetic, bare titanium and carbon fibre, and wear it proudly, with short skirts and one thigh boot on my good leg. That was my style and I was sticking to it.
And the work kept coming in. Folk don't realise that a lot of modelling work is face, hair, upper body, sometimes just hands. It's not all about the cat-walk.

It's not something I'm proud of

but if she hadn't been drop-dead gorgeous, and a far cut above the bar girls in every way, nothing would have happened. Something about my overnight flight, the beer, the bright London noontide, her physical perfection, my heightened appreciation of all things non-Saudi, perhaps even the bacon sandwich - all these came together in the moment our eyes met and we both knew, without even looking down, what miracle had taken place.
I panicked. I pushed past her and ran for my life, for my sanity.
The next time I saw her was in a cinema ad for the United Colours of Benetton campaign, on the cat-walk. Of course she's a household name now, a supermodel, and could buy and sell me twenty times over.
it isn't all about the catwalk
it isn't all about the catwalk

I was feeling pretty good

about life that day. I'd had lunch with my agent and she had a new offer for me. A shampoo commercial. Prime time, so good money. But that wasn't the best of it. She'd been contacted by none other than Benetton. Someone had found my old photo-shoot and wanted me to audition for a new worldwide campaign they were planning to launch. Of course they didn't know about my accident. OK, it was never going to happen, but it made me feel special to be asked.
After lunch, I was walking up Pentonville Road, near to The Angel, and there was this guy walking towards me, kind of staring. I'm used to that of course, but this was different. He seemed to look deep inside me, almost through me. It should have been scary but wasn't. In fact I've never felt so calm in my life. I suppose he was some kind of faith healer? I don't know. It just felt completely natural to have two good legs again.
And then he ran away!

And that's the story

I don't pretend to understand how it happened. I certainly don't claim to be able to work miracles to order, nor am I any kind of magician. Nothing like it has happened to me or anyone else in my circle, before or since. In fact, I'm very careful who I mention it to. All I know is at that moment I was the instrument or conduit of some power, and no doubt so was she. It has all but destroyed my sanity. I used to joke about this very subject. I'd say, why do faith healers never heal amputees? I notice they still don't, but I hold my peace.
Why did I run? Because I could. I'm running still.
Thank you for reading

Predestination - Believe it or Nuts!

As good a place as any to begin

Halfway through the fourteenth bar of Tárrega's 'Recuerdos da la Alhambra', Michael's 'A'-string breaks at the bridge. The sudden crack and the sharp squeak of spiral-wound silver against skin stirs not a few of the audience into rapt attention. Novelty, after all, and perhaps another's discomfiture, can more than make up for a temporary glitch in performance.

Peter, realising a short break is inevitable and conscious of his pre-concert beer, excuses himself politely and negotiates the eight knees and thirty-nine toes (Ms. Jessica Armstrong had a childhood accident involving a bacon slicer) separating him from the aisle.
Joe, on the scaffolding, applies himself to the rotting soffit board. Too far gone for patching and filling, this is a full replacement job. He hooks the claw-hammer under the board's lower edge and jerks the shaft sharply downwards. The decayed timber cracks and splinters. Eight hundred and seventy three out of eight hundred and seventy four tiny fragments miss his eye. In a way, that's lucky. He drops the hammer and swears.
Standing at the porcelain, half finished and already quite comfortable, Peter, on a whim, grabs the Victorian brass handle (with his free hand) and throws open the frosted glass casement. Joe's liberated hammer, now approaching thirty miles an hour, strikes the top corner of the cast-iron frame with a loud report. Understandably, Peter drops his penis and swears. Shaken but unhurt, he recovers from his fright, inspects his trousers, and swears again, this time with feeling.
Joe, with the corner of his handkerchief and much grimacing, succeeds in de-splintering his eye. Thus relieved, he looks around for his hammer, remembers dropping it, spots it five storeys below on the pavement, says 'bollox', then (wrongly) 'but no harm done' and sets off down the ladder and out of the story, another innocent emissary of Providence.
The rest of the concert no longer an option, Peter slinks out of the hall by a side exit and proceeds homewards by the back lanes, oddly bent, and with inturned toes. Such attempts to avoid human gaze are always futile and he soon collects three small boys, excellent mimics all, and paramount among them, one Josie, shock-headed, bold and gallus.
'Haw Mister whit's up wi yer legs - canny walk right?'
Silence - the wrong response. Emboldened, Josie picks a lump of moss from a crack in the wall. Moss that's only growing there because fourteen years ago Sammy Gow had a minor stroke and afterwards never quite got around to clearing the gutters. These last two years before he died, well, the wall got a bit wet and, anyway...
So Josie chucks the moss and catches Peter behind the ear. He ignores it and keeps shambling on. Again, the wrong response, because the next missile is a small stone. Then a bigger one that hurts. Peter spins round and Josie's in his element:
'Ye canny walk - ye canny run - ye canny catch me!'
Josie's pals take up the cry. It's a good one, after all:
'Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me! Canny walk, canny run, canny catch me!'
Now under a hail of moss and stones, Peter loses the place and charges at Josie...
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
jonathan livingston calvin (another emissary of providence)
Seagull 'A' still has the herring but seagulls 'B' and 'C' are gradually wearing him down. With his beak clenched on the fish, his oxygen intake, essential for power flying, is impaired and, though bigger and stronger, he can't shake them off. He drops his quarry and, beak agape, wheels right, breaks free and swoops back towards the harbour...
Josie skites on the new-fallen herring. Peter trips over Josie. Both set up a roaring and a door flies open.
'Maw - this auld man's chasing me' Josie starts up, but she skelps him on the ear and says 'Aye, cause ye're throwin stones again. How many times huv I telt ye...'
But now she sees Peter's wet trousers and her face changes:
'Ye dirty wee pervert wi yer filthy breeks, chasin' wee boys, see if ma Joe wis here, ye're deid meat. He's a scaffolder'
Peter doesn't bother to argue the non-sequitur but beats a hasty retreat and runs the last mile home. Safe at last, washed, changed and comfortable, he sees it's only 9 p.m. He's home a full hour earlier than if he'd stayed for the whole concert. Never one to waste the gift of time, he opens up the laptop to do an hour's work on his latest article:
There is no such thing as chance - he types - all that happens, everything that moves, breathes, waxes, wanes, is merely enacting God's perfect plan, set forth at the dawn of time. when there was neither heat nor cold, light nor darkness. Praise be to God. Even the humble seagull...
Thank you for reading!

Knees, Plungers & Aliens

The old way

A long time ago, I studied photography. I used a manual SLR camera, took light measurements (incident and reflected), applied filters, adjusted focus, aperture and exposure, developed my own negatives, mixed my own chemicals, did my own darkroom work and, occasionally, achieved some pretty creditable results, none of which appear on this page.

I did all this because I wanted to be in complete control of the image, from inception to display. But recently, because of my traveling lifestyle, my photography is reduced to quick snapshots with a mobile phone - low quality, granular, soft, flared, shaded, blurred - but fun and immediate. And you know, I'm thoroughly enjoying it. But there's a special class of picture for which the mobile phone is second to none - the complete accident!
what plungersome thing art thou?
what plungersome thing art thou?

Exterminate... Exterminate...

The phone rings, you fumble it out of your pocket, press a couple of keys by mistake, and click - another random picture for the archives! This one could almost be a wounded Dalek, its infamous sink-plunger attachment sadly limp. Or maybe Davros has put it on floor-sweeping duties as a punishment for failing to exterminate the Doctor, yet again. Or it could just have fallen downstairs of course. The Daleks would hate Lisbon. Stairs everywhere. They'd be completely scuppered. Rome isn't much better. The Spanish Steps. Daleks top and bottom and the girls would still be selling flowers on every tread. The human spirit triumphs over technology again.

being a triptych

the knee
the knee
the alien
the alien
the peak
the peak

Sights unseen

Sometimes, body parts feature. Here is the right knee, mine, and seated, if knees can sit. With a crease that wouldn't shame Beau Brummell. But what about the other leg? Not mine. The turned table-leg, emerging from, or perhaps disappearing into, the Stygian gloom. Its machine-cut concentric rings flashing wan highlights through the knee-lit murk.
- o -
When they come, they will not be green. They will not speak with human tongues. They will know you. They will know you. They will know you. And then you'll say - is someone there? Your voice is all the sound you'll hear. And still they know you, know you, know you.
- o -
Though you bind me, even to my face, I will break free. For through the tightening shroud, will there come no light? I am no wrapped parcel for your friends' amusement. Are their teeth as white as mine? From the strained peak shall spread cracks. As Prometheus, as Samson, even as the Phoenix, I shall rise again, and sing of things untold.
That third picture in the set of three - the one I called 'the peak' - has me completely baffled. I have absolutely no idea what the phone camera was seeing. That's the joy of accidental photography.


where there is life
where there is life

And finally

After so much surrealism, let's close with something less outlandish. This accidental phone-snap has four people in it, one relaxing, three going about their business. The guy mostly hidden by the chair he's sitting in is Croatian. The walking girl in blue is Filipina. The man in the distance is Syrian, and the one standing with clasped hands is Tunisian. And that's one of the things I love about the Middle East - a genuinely random accidental photograph catches four different nationalities in one place. It's a privilege to live and work here among people from all over the World.
I hope that, after reading this, you might look again at some of your own happen-stance pics, before automatically going for the delete key. You too might have some hidden gems, or even the seeds of a flight of fancy. Thanks for reading my nonsense. Click, click!

Bull-neck and the Blue Lagoon

More random photographs

We can't be serious all the time. What follows is my latest selection of wholly accidental phone pictures, usually taken in the process of fumbling the phone into or out of my pocket. The descriptions probably say more about me than about the pictures, but I'll leave others to judge.


bull-neck and the blue lagoon
bull-neck and the blue lagoon
"Without prejudice" mutters Bull-neck, apparently to himself, lost on his mission to pass through life unencumbered, even by clothes. The almost apologetic bolt from the blue makes no impression; if he so much as notices it, he gives no sign, but blunders on, looking forward and down. Always down. His early baseball cap years have taught him there is no sky, no stars. Now sure in this knowledge, he has no need to shade his eyes. There is no light.
memories of a copper still
memories of a copper still
The roof is long gone. The malting loft has crumbled and fallen onto the the stills below. Rats have ravaged the barley sacks and mice gleaned their leavings. Wind, rain and time have stolen the last vestige of brewing aroma, leaving instead dankness and mildew. But the gleam of copper, caught in a wet Hebridean sunbeam, still speaks of uisge beathe, the water of life, and of death. 
the farm of dragonhide
the farm of dragonhide
The Farm of Dragonhide is where the lines are straight and all that is green is painted.Clapped out tankers pass for tractors for nothing is sown, nothing grown and nothing harvested.

Dragonhide Farm mattered once.No-one remembers why.

the lady in purple mohair
the lady in purple mohair
And if I see you when the rowans are ripe, walking alone by the mill stream, will you remember two younger people, eager and a little scared, talking of blackbirds and finding new ways to hold hands by accident? Will you know me still, or see only a worn mask? And will you be wearing that purple mohair, the one that smelt of spilt Guinness and Hartnell's 'In Love', the best a student could afford? 
the shining ones
the shining ones
This is the cavern and council of the shining ones. This is their forum. They are their own light. When they meet it is always in splendour. The golden ones are first among their kind, their radiance of a higher order. They do not speak in words. There is no need, as they come together in perfect agreement, and their will is done. They know us, know our ways, and wonder. 
the nevada desert highway
the nevada desert highway
This picture is a complete mystery - a fortuitous combination of colours and camera movement conspiring to create a highway crossing a red sandstone desert. It's one of my favourite random snaps. One I'd have been proud to have created deliberately. Suffice it to say it's indoors, in Doha. I've been to Nevada, but this wasn't it! 
hey mr dreamseller
hey mr dreamseller
Come buy, come buy! The shrouded dreamseller rattles his wares, with promises of a chemical future. Come buy! He needs your love, your, trust, your money, as all his own is gone. His face, too, is gone, with the last of his humanity, He who should have died, remains to kill. Come buy, come buy!
By now, if you've read this far, you probably think I'm quite mad. But I'm not. Not quite :)
Thank you for reading! 

Big, blue and very long

bullnose mercedes truck - blue to boot
I don't expect everybody to share my enthusiasm for the bullnose Mercedes, but bear with me while I explain why this one is special. It's blue. (They are nearly always orange or grey/green). It's articulated, while most of them are rigid 10-wheelers. It has a white painted exhaust stack, nothing short of an affectation. It even has some tread left on the tyres. And it was there, waiting for me.
and articulated, and long

this week's favourites

this week's pageviews