Just about 100 percent autobiographical – it’s a revised version for my book’s 2nd edn.
A dismal claque of catcalling delinquents dogs my steps.
A surly black dog pack with curled cup-handle tails
Snarling and hissing at my heels.
Cockroach scuttling to the shadows
When I turn to face it,
Re-gathering when my mood is down.
A mewling, half-dead,
Runt of the litter
Squats within me.
It may have crept in when I was newborn
And my guard was unformed. Who can say?
Or during a noisy bash,
My mother thrashing me for soiling my pants
Caught short at age three – stuck up a tree.
Or in the melee when my father, biological,
Tried to strangle us as we kicked him away
The best we were able, from our refuge,
Beneath the prefab kitchen table.
The Buddha-bellied mastiff scoffed voraciously,
Feasting five years at a red-brick home counties grammar
Where I was outpaced by middle-class achievers
With eyes firm-fixed on Oxbridge Honours
And failure compounded failure.
Inky hands and blotted copybooks
Showed I’d never go better than the school’s predicted,
‘Amounter to not very much’.
Mum and Dad loved The Generation Game – but only with Brucie.
Cuddling on the sofa watching Alf Garnett and Reg Varney – all smiles,
Shouting, “open the box!” at Take Your Pick with Michael Miles,
And wrong answers at Hughie on Double Your Money.
It was rarely quiet on our Essex front.
My parents’ non-stop phoney war
Brought purpose to their humdrum lives,
While the cur within me thrived.
The Sunday Night Palladium truce –
Coincidentally, Brucie in charge there too –
Ended the moment the stage stopped revolving.
Curses, cups, fists, and once a clock,
Were thrown and hits recorded.
Each blow forensically reciprocated,
Knife for knife, eye for eye,
Slap for slap, plate for plate.
In a regular hokey kokey predating ‘Strictly’,
Step-dad packed his once-pristine suitcase
And made another dramatic exit.
Those peaceful interludes were the best.
Mum would light a fag. Act all nice to us.
We danced around the room with her
As she sang pop songs from her past:
“Shrimp boats are a’comin’ there’s dancing tonight… ”
“… Life could be so sweet, on the sunny side of the street…”
And didn’t slap us for slurping our ‘consolation’ sweets.
Step-dad crept back by bedtime.
Tail between his legs. Begging yet another chance
From Mum, imperious on the sofa,
And so ‘la lotta continua’.
At an amphetamine fuelled ‘Flamingo All-Nighter’
Self-consciously bopping to Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
A blonde, pretty, sashayed my way.
I could see she fancied me.
She stared me up and down.
Curled her lip, shook her head, and said,
“You think you look good dancing… but you look stupid,” instead.
The mastiff stirred, licking its jowls.
I never danced again.