Some Pictures Of Some Blokes

In 1995 – or whenever it was –
you could get other things
for 25p – or whatever it was –

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but what could you want more
than a thin paper packet
with some pictures of some blokes?

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These were not just any blokes, they were
the superstars of the new Premier League,
their portraits worth every sweet penny,

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they sat stacked in your hand like business cards,
got lost in washed shirt pockets like phone numbers.

Though now
they do just look like pictures of blokes,
some blokes you might work with

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or who you might meet in the pub
or who you might get to fix your boiler
or who might advise you on a mortgage.

Tell Me About It, Brother

They had taken him to the party because they wanted him to be happy and they thought that being home alone would make him sad, whilst being out and socialising with them would make him happy; though actually being out at the party and socialising with them was making him feel heavy with a sadness he couldn’t shake, and had he been home alone he most probably would have been feeling quite happy.  So he was sitting on the floor (there were not enough chairs) and, as he was not really talking, just sipping away too easily at his drink, he was becoming drunk quite quickly.

He had one other friend and he started to send him a text message –  I hate whoever came up with that phrase ‘It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch’, whoever said that first, I hate them.  They spoiled being quiet for anyone who just wants to be quiet – because someone else had just nodded at him and said, in relation to some subject to which he had not been paying attention, ‘It’s always the quiet ones…’

His phone beeped and he took it from his pocket, clumsily clicked the button to open the reply.  Tell me about it, brother.  And he laughed because the tone of the message was so atypical for his friend, and he liked to guess that he too was sitting half drunk, avoiding engaging with people at some other party somewhere else.

Day #11755

I haven’t finished reading a novel since early March.  I have however, in amongst reading about beekeeping and computer networking, been getting through approximately 1.3 short stories per day, on average.Donald Barthelme is so good – inventive and funny and weird.   Here’s the beginning of his story ‘The Great Hug’:

At the last breakfast after I told her, we had steak and eggs.  Bloody Marys.  Three pieces of toast.  She couldn’t cry, she tried.  Balloon Man came.  He photographed the event.  He created the Balloon of the Last Breakfast After I Told Her – a butter-coloured balloon.  “This is the kind of thing I do so well,” he said.  Balloon Man is not modest.  No one has ever suggested that.

-The Great Hug by Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories.

His writing is quite difficult to analyse, difficult to explain what his stories are about or what they make your brain feel – which is why I put in an example.  You should read him.  Read some Donald Barthelme.  I’ve just finished his Sixty Stories collection, but his Forty Stories collection is good also.

I’ve also been reading The Penguin Book Of The British Short Story, backwards (I do usually read books forwards).  This is because it is arranged chronologically and I wanted to use it to travel back in time, so I started with Zadie Smith and ended up back at PG Wodehouse.  This was Volume 2 – Volume 1 then continues back (if you are, like me, reading it backwards) from John Buchan to Daniel Dafoe.  I was going to pick out some favourite stories and write about what the do, but I think that might dwarf this post so maybe another time.

There is one story in Gerard Woodward’s new collection Legoland that I think would fit seamlessly in at the end of The Penguin Book…  The Family Whistle is the kind of perfectly weighted story, with the reveal so carefully and subtly done, that it seems like the kind of piece of work you might show students as an example.  I would recommend checking it out.  And whilst I enjoyed the rest of Woodward’s collection, there was something about it that just didn’t live up to his best piece – too often he would start with bright, strange ideas that just didn’t finish with any punch.

I am currently enjoying Joanna Walsh’s collection Vertigo, and of course The Penguin Book Of The British Short Story, Volume 2.

Notes On The Texture Of

The teacher took out a carry case and set it on the desk, whilst the whole class crowded round.  She undid the catch and opened the case to reveal lots of compartments.  In each compartment was a different something.

“This is my collection of textures,” she told the class.

Scrap of binbag.  Twist of wire.  Bread.  Mould.

The class looked but-  “Can we touch?”

“That’s the idea,” she said, “that’s how you learn about texture.”

So they touched binbag and wire, the feel of the thing felt against their fingers.  There were all different things.

“What’s that one?” asked one child, pointing but not touching yet, because this was a something he didn’t recognise.

“That’s an idea,” the teacher told the class.  That made it the most interesting-looking thing in the box, so they all took turns in feeling its texture.

“And this one,” said another child, getting the hang of it now, setting her hand on a thing, “what’s this one?”

“That,” said the teacher, “is [insert idea for a texture here].”

The children all oohed and wanted to feel it for themselves.

One of the children had a different thought about the textures. She said:

“[insert your own idea for an idea here].”

The teacher was pleased.  “Yes, you’re getting the hang of it now.  Well done.”

They all touched some more textures, including [insert your own idea for a texture here], [insert your own idea for a texture here] and [insert your own idea for a texture here].

“[insert your own idea for an idea here],” said one of the children, and the teacher agreed.

The lesson had gone well.

[insert your own idea for a sentence here].  [insert your own idea for a sentence here].

“So class, that was textures – well done everybody.  Now tidy your things and you can go out to play.”

They all cheered.