Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Product review: Lush 'Experimenter' bath bomb

The Experimenter
Habitual readers of scientific journals – the kind sold in newsagents and marketed at the non-academic, armchair-bound hoi polloi - will occasionally find themselves regaled with fanciful descriptions of distant planets. These florid accounts of alien geography, assembled from bland screeds of data, cribbed from the fuzzy, monochromatic images of intergalactic majesty harvested by isolated space telescopes, and subsequently imparted in the style of a Thomson's holiday brochure, speak in wide-eyed tones of vibrant pink and green skies dappled with clouds of hydrochloric acid the size of continents. They wax lyrical over sparkling, crystal-clear turquoise lakes of liquefied copper sulphate that will strip human flesh from bone within seconds. In these off-trend, far flung worlds, that are seemingly destined never to be troubled by the ruinous bootprint of humankind, anything is garishly possible; the only constant being the corrosive nature of the elements making up the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. If there is a conclusion to be drawn, it is that man was not meant to live anywhere that is too colourful.

In recent years Lush – the bath and shower cosmetics chain, whose high street outposts frequently elicit a barrage of sneezes from olfactorily-sensitive passersby – have carved an idiosyncratic niche for themselves as a producer of bath bombs that mimic a strain of alien geology last seen on the set of the original series of Star Trek.

The Experimenter, in name alone, conjures an alarming mental image of a disturbing sex toy designed to boldly go where no man has gone before. Thankfully it resembles something liberated from the semi-precious minerals exhibit of a natural history museum that exists entirely inside the over-stimulated head-space of a two year old child, whose recent exposure to sugary fruit squash and colourful plastic blocks has conspired to induce an entry-level acid trip. It is in appearance a mottled, brazenly-hued hexagonal polygon, speckled with glittery deposits that catch the light in a pleasing manner.

Described in the accompanying hyperbolic bunf as “your own bathtime motion picture” and by me as “in this regard not as good as Mad Max: Fury Road, but about on par with Jurassic World,” it is also said to comprise “vibrant colour, popping candy and comforting Fair Trade vanilla.”

While the ephemeral snap and crackle of the popping candy is well and truly drowned out by the thunderous sound and fury of the hot tap, the vanilla scent lingers pleasantly on the skin. Whatever your opinion of the Experimenter, you will emerge from it a more fragrant human being than you were beforehand.

Upon introduction to turbid water the bath bomb immediately jettisons its colourful outer layers; an effect reminiscent of a poster paint explosion inside a primary school art supply cupboard. Swirling, iridescent tendrils of pink and yellow infuse the clouded surface with a glittery shimmer as the decomposition of the bomb settles to a gentle ferment.

In stark contrast to the sparkly, two-dimensional cords of rainbow-tinged suds, the water beneath assumes the leaden pall of a rain cloud. Upon immersion into the bath the foam quickly disperses. Whether it is absorbed into the skin or seeks shelter inside one of the bodily orifices I cannot confidently say.

With the initial riot of colour now thoroughly dispelled, one is left marinating in waters reminiscent of the bleak Manchurian skies that inspired the music of bands such as Joy Division. Anyone entering the bathroom at this juncture could be forgiven for assuming that you had spent the previous hours lying underneath an ailing motor vehicle.

Maybe we are being taught a lesson – one that resonates particularly strongly around this time of year, when the initial burst of bright colours that accompany the Christmas period abruptly fade, leaving us to face January poorer in pocket, somewhat unwell, and harbouring the nagging suspicion that we have displaced more bathwater than we would have prior to the festive orgy of over-eating and general self-indulgence.

The Experimenter (final form)

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The story of the Little Drummer Boy doesn't hold water

The Little Drummer Boy, following his fatal overdose at the age of 27.

The Little Drummer Boy was a liar; his claim to have met Jesus an outright fabrication concocted to raise his fading profile as a drummer, and to extend the lifespan of his flagging celebrity moment beyond its allotted 15 minutes.

This brazen opportunist, recognising that the public had grown weary of his monotonous pitter-patter, fastened himself to the coattails of our Lord Jesus Christ - a gifted illusionist and anti-establishment figure, who lived fast and died young in a sexy, rapid-paced era of chariot races and gladiatorial games.

For such a pivotal event in the Christian mythos, the birth of Christ is dispatched with alarming brevity in the scriptures: The nativity as we know it is spliced together from the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Of the pair, St Luke's account is perhaps the more comprehensive, incorporating the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the birth in the manger, and the visit by the shepherds. The book of Matthew introduces the three wise men and is otherwise a smear piece directed against King Herod, who is portrayed as an inveterate baby killer.

The gospel of St Luke contains passing references to characters who have been written out of contemporary retellings of the birth of Jesus: A just and devout man named Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had laid eyes upon the messiah, and Anna - “a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Ase.”

Given the Little Drummer Boy's profession, a Beatles analogy seems apt: Together, Anna and Simeon are the Pete Bests of the nativity; their positions usurped by a ghastly chocolate box confection of questionable ability, but with better hair – the biblical equivalent of an unloved CGI character, inserted by George Lucas into one of the updated versions of the Star Wars trilogy.

In the carol it is strongly implied that the Little Drummer Boy has a chance meeting with the magi who are on their way to the stable in Bethlehem with their “finest gifts.”

Finding himself with nothing to present to the baby Jesus, the young percussionist serenades the saviour of mankind with a drum solo – the curate's egg of live musical performance. This is where the narrative begins to crumble:

The “Parapa pum pum” rhythm of the carol, which is clearly intended to mimic the drumming style of its protagonist, is plodding and ponderous, in a manner that even Noel Gallagher would consider lethargic.

Despite the prosaic, flat performance, the reaction, according to the unreliable narrator, is favourable:

Mary nodded,” confirming her status as an insufferable hipster. Although the song doesn't specifically mention it, I am guessing that she wore a plaid shirt and kept her arms folded throughout the entire set.

Implausibly, “the ox and lamb kept time,” like a fucking Disney cartoon.

However the most damning evidence is the reported reaction of Jesus:

Then he smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.”

Smiling in babies occurs approximately two months after birth. Yet the festival of Epiphany, which celebrates the visit by the magi, falls on the 6th of January, not even two weeks after the arrival of Christ.

Jesus never smiled at the Little Drummer Boy, because he would have been too young to do so, but more pointedly because the Little Drummer Boy was never present at the manger scene. Like one of those people who claim to have witnessed The Sex Pistols' performance at the 100 Club, this shameless self-promoter inserted himself into the nativity at a later date. If he had really been there, then St Luke or St Matthew would have made record of his attendance in their gospels.

The Little Drummer Boy is the Walter Mitty of the New Testament. Nothing that he says can be taken at face value. He did not play in a band with teenage Jesus and they did not have crazy rock star adventures together on the road.

The carol itself is a travesty, even when David Bowie performed it with Bing Crosby.

Despite his manoeuvring the Little Drummer Boy never had another successful song. All that remains of this self-aggrandising one hit wonder is his minor revisionist take on the birth of Jesus, where the messiah is relegated to secondary importance, and the image of his body, dead from a heroin overdose, at the age of 27, in a hotel on L.A.'s Sunset Strip.

The Little Drummer Boy

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Jessica's Ironing Tutor

The Great British Ironing Circle... It's on the BBC... I don't know, six o'clock? I watch it on my tablet on the commute home. I have to sit in the spoiler carriage on the train so I don't ruin the ending for anyone who hasn't seen it...

...but that's what I've been saying. Everybody has an ironing tutor. It's the in thing.”

A repetitive beeping sound heralds the departure of the elevator. The bulky, dented silver doors slide shut slowly, as if mired in discarded chewing gum, gradually screening off the small ticket hall of Gloucester Road underground station.

Look, I've got to go mummy.”

Jessica ends the call. Some of the other passengers in the lift look down at their feet attempting to stifle their laughter.


The alfresco dining area outside Sheridan's.

Daisy takes a sip of Shiraz and then keeps the wine glass up by her mouth. with the rim resting on her curled-over bottom lip and the blackcurrant-coloured contents lapping at the curved interior.

The three-way conversation is like parallel railway tracks that occasionally criss-cross.

Clarrissa - “Mmmm, I'm getting really good at that rectangular pleat you get in the back of men's shirts.”

Jessica - “I mean I like Carlos, but I'm effectively paying him £30 an hour for me to iron his clothes. I'm starting to see the same pairs of pants.”

Daisy - “Is it really necessary iron pants?”

Clarissa - “You know what, darling: Have you shagged him yet? Grind a few buttock-shaped dents into those bed sheets of yours. Give yourself something challenging to iron.”

Jessica - “No, I forget to tell you, I'm back with Anthony and we're both trying to be good this time.”

Daisy - “No gak binges?”

Jessica - “We both still do coke. We do it as a couple on Sundays after we've visited one set of parents. So it's like our reward...”

Jessica - “...You know, I do like it when Carlos stands behind me with his head over my shoulder and guides my hands.”

Smirks all round. And Daisy finally puts down her wineglass and checks something in her handbag.

Clarrissa – “I think you might found my happy place for later, you know when John is flopping about on top of me...”

Monday, 19 October 2015

“Did you just call me a cunt?” - A valediction for uncensored, no-holds-barred, on-campus debate

Lay to one side any academic qualification that a person might obtain from spending three years at one of the UK's fine higher education establishments, and consider for a moment the kind of individual these faculties will eventually unleash upon the unsuspecting world.

English universities have long been places where young men and women, who have mastered the art of passing A levels, are granted an opportunity to slip free from the shackles of parental expectations, along with any dismal real-life persona they developed during seven concurrent years of puberty and secondary school. It's a period of experimentation - a time for trying on new and colourful identities, prior to settling on a less-grating personality - one that won't get you punched too frequently after you graduate.

On campus, hilarious stereotypes abound. I used to walk to lectures from my hall of residence, my footsteps dogged by a female black metal fan, whose smudged corpse paint, which covered her entire face, left her resembling an undead panda. You don't get that quality of individual in the dreary world of minimum wage 'work-till-you drop' jobs that I now inhabit.

There are common pairings too – certain types of people who seem preordained to be friends with each other. One half of an on-campus bro-mance that I used to encounter regularly was the young man whose recently-grown, shoulder-length hair, and newly-acquired leather jacket, hinted at clumsy exploratory forays into the world of goth metal, and possible ownership of a Type O Negative album. Riding on the rebellious vapour trails of this proto-edgelord would be his lanky, wire-haired, ginger-bearded sidekick – who had confounded society's expectations of lanky, ginger-headed men by opting for a degree in the soft humanities, as opposed to, say, Geology or Archaeology.

One morning a small group of us converged around four pushed-together tables in a room adjoining the corridor that comprised our university's Philosophy Department.

The younger, slightly more twattish, version of myself, who was fond of quoting Rimbaud and, when drunk, randomly bellowing “PARKLIFE!” at the top of his voice into the ears of unsuspecting strangers, had just concluded what was, as I recall, a masterful summation and critique of selected passages from Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

That was when mock-Goth boy chimed-in:

The gist of his counter-argument was unremarkable enough to have been lost in time, but I do remember its conclusion where he summarised my presentation as “a load of old cock-swallow.”

I felt a boiling tide of anger rising inside me. My knowledge of Aristotle had been openly challenged in front of people who I hardly knew and barely respected.

How dare this cretinous streak of piss with the ginger-headed best mate disagree with me.

- This contemptible archduke of wank, clad in a leather jacket that now bore Tipp-Exed quotes from Milton's Paradise Lost.

- This human skid mark, whose key to unlocking the underwear of impressionable female students was the one song he had mastered on his acoustic guitar, which he would play incessantly. That song was Under The Bridge by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers. 
This was nothing better than a playground scrap re-contextualised in a peer-reviewed setting, among the stunted, swamp-bound spires of Reading University. 

Fortunately for me battles in this environment are won and lost, not with flying fists and off-balance attempts at roundhouse kicks, but with finely-nuanced rhetoric, forged in the molten crucible of minds honed from four years of GCSEs and A Levels. A world of the intellect where witty and insightful rejoinders spring readily to the tongue:

Did you just call me a cunt?”

We were in an educational setting so the words came out in dressed in academic vernacular – 'Sir, either by design, or through your pitiful intellectual shortcomings, you have grievously misunderstood the tenor of my argument. The statements that you have made in support of your rebuttal are flimsy in construction and unlikely to stand up to the crushing weight of my response,' etc.

None-the-less, the underlying meaning of my reply was clearly evident in my tone of voice.

Rising to the moment, I continued, stabbing at the air with my finger as I launched into an impassioned speech that would have dazzled the Roman orator Cicero with its power to sway the hearts and minds of my rapt audience. I began by positing the hypothetical scenario upon which I intended to construct the arguments that would utterly demolish my opponent:

What if an alien from the planet Cock-swallow were to venture down to Earth...”

Others in our small group, sensing that civilisation was about to disappear into a gaping sink hole, began to wade into the discussion with their own inane theories and opinions. This was no longer a finessed debate – the exploratory back-and-forth of two duelling fencing masters, each feeling out the other's weaknesses, always meticulously plotting two or three moves, or counter-moves, ahead of their opponent.

This was a 'post-five-nil-at-home-defeat-at-the-hands-of-the-shittest-team-in-League-Two- full-on-pub-brawl' with students chucking bits of Platonic dialogue and Aristotelian maxims around like empty Grolsch bottles, while figuratively kneeing each other in the bollocks.

Spirited discussions like this are what I miss most about university. They were safe spaces where you could argue vociferously, and sometimes crudely, back and forth without fear of any long-term consequences.

Many of us were from middle class backgrounds. We had been told, almost as a matter of routine, by our parents that we were brilliant, and had experienced very little adversity in our lives. Being thrown into a situation where an essay that you had worked hard on would be openly challenged and torn apart by your peers if you didn't stand up and fight your corner, bred within us the resilience and the reserves creativity that we would tap into in the face of future adversity. 

These bare-knuckle scuffles made me come alive. I am sure that I was wasn't the only person to leave the room at the end of a debate riding high on a crest of Adrenalin and exhilaration.

Two decades on, safe spaces mean something different. Cultural paradigms in academia have shifted alarmingly in the direction of political correctness, which has taken a hammer and a chisel to free speech, with potentially damaging long-term social consequences. 

Sanctions for perceived misbehaviour on campus have, at some higher education establishments, become draconian and out of step with wider society. A student must now consider not only the strength of their argument but the way they express it and whether this will cause offence or contravene any university policies on free speech. The young man who, in the early 1990s, glibly referred to my presentation on Aristotle as “a load of old cock-swallow” could, in 2015, credibly find himself suspended for sexual harassment, or for triggering a student who found his off-kilter terminology offensive.

I never graduated from university but what I did learn there was invaluable in preparing me for the harder world that awaited just off campus.

I wonder what impact the neutered debates that increasingly characterise the modern university experience will have on the current student cohort as they leave education and enter the workforce.

Thursday, 8 October 2015


At the age of 41 I found myself sleeping rough on the streets of London, ironically with 41 pence to my name.

Wherever I slept I would awaken at four or five am, with the coins scattered around me, having worked themselves free from my pocket during the night. I imagined them as rats fleeing a sinking ship.

When I eventually returned home I had lost most of the feeling in one half of my right hand (although there has been some recovery my little finger is still partially numb). My first couple of weeks back had the quality of a waking dream where familiar settings such as my bedroom assumed monstrous and unfamiliar appearances. I expected at any moment to open my eyes and find myself back on the streets.

During this time I wrote down lines for a poem on scraps of paper.

I returned to these notes a few days ago and decided that I would work them into something for National Poetry Day.


by Mark Sadler

A cast-off from
the railway station,
who slipped free from
the end of the line
and was caught in
the purposeful eddies of
the evening rush-hour foot traffic,
is swept into the dingy corner
of some forlorn cul de sac
with soaped-up windows -
A heaped, vaguely human form
obscurely contoured
beneath a soiled blanket

A former climber
who in reduced circumstances
maps his ascent
on the horizontal plane.

In his sleep he claws
at the paving stones
in an attempt to gain
purchase on a handhold

or crushes against himself,
and holds his ebbing warmth
close to his chest
like a cherished treasure
that he will die to protect.

In the bleary, diesel-scented fog
of a grainy pre-dawn
supermarket delivery
he makes his own re-acquaintance,
recovers from the pavement
the small change
that migrated from his pockets
during the night.

The coins that flee his possession
in anticipation of a
greater tragedy to come
assume a tarnished constellation
around him.

Fallen stars
dimly recast in dulled metal
pressed flat beneath
the crushing gravity
of the world above his head
as he slowly sinks into two dimensions.

They resist his trembling attempts
to prise them from the
cold stone.

In the fading darkness of
another London night
where the foundations of sleep
have been restlessly sketched out
on a scrap of dirt
in an unlocked churchyard
a body in rehearsal for death
assumes the foetal position.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Musings on Kanye West and his role in preserving the English Folk Music Tradition

On our boisterous return journey from the all night garage we call out as one for the Southampton boiler-maker, turned Working Men's Club crooner, Joel Martin.

Play Permutations of Idle-Minded Whimsy!” we demand with raised voices.

Joel Martin does not hear us. He is resident in France and is retired from the music business.

Instead we turn our attentions to the contemporary guardian of the English folk music tradition, Dr Kanye West.

In particular we pay careful consideration of his 2010 long-player - My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy which is a concept album about a young farmer's attempts to out-race a tractor in a ploughing contest.

Who Will Survive In America concerns a family of poor Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine in their home country, while entertaining lingering doubts as to whether there will be enough potatoes in the nascent United States to meet all of their requirements.

Hell Of A Life is about growing up as the youngest child in an extended family of loom weavers in 16th century Newcastle.

The first time I played this track my hearth rug caught fire and the isolated one-room stone cottage that has sheltered sixteen generations of my family was reduced to naught but smouldering rubble.

In the year 2012 AD I asked an apparition of Dr Kanye West that had appeared in the vestry of my local church whether he would sign the turnip that I had purchased on Ebay.

When he kindly acquiesced I gave joyful thanks to our God in heaven in the highest. I made the turnip into a wholesome stew that kept my family nourished for three days.

It is in accordance with the diligent worldly labours of Dr Kanye West (now unanimously crowned Lord of the Summer Barleycorn by our grateful village) that folk music not only remains a viable music stream, but actively thrives upon this verdant isle that is Greater England.

God Save the Queen!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

(SATIRE) Line manager's “downtown like Ruth Brown” threat proven to have no historical basis

Threats issued to employees at Wrenn's DIY & Hardware by line manager, Susan Handfield, have been proven to have no historical basis.

Work at the Pitsea branch of the troubled hardware chain slowed to a standstill following the discovery by staff that Handfield's oft-touted threat that she would take anyone who stepped out of line “downtown like Ruth Brown” had no grounding in fact.

The Ruth Brown threat was the second thing that Susan said to me after I was mandated by the Jobcentre to work a 37 and a half hour week at Wrenn's as an unpaid apprentice,” said former bank manager, Clive Judd (54).

In my mind Ruth Brown was an ogreish woman, possibly an Elizabethan tavern wench, who kept her unruly clientèle in line by bashing their heads together and thumping them with her enormous meaty fists.”

Claire Lee has worked at Wrenn's for 27 years, during which time she has watched it slowly transform from a family-run business into an asset-stripped chain of 127 outlets, operated by a skeleton staff.

A tearful Lee recalled:

When I was young my priest, Father Pearson, warned me about St Jennifer's pet dragon who would descend from the heavens and cleanse my body and soul with holy fire if I was ever suspected by God of dabbling in Buddhism. Later I came to realise that the name of this dragon was Ruth Brown.”

Handfield's reign of terror was brought to an end after staff researched the mysterious historical figure of Ruth Brown and discovered that she had never existed:

The closest person of significance we could find was a timid churchgoing spinster who turned down a damehood for her fears that she might faint in the presence of Queen Victoria,” said Judd.

In a hastily issued statement, Handfield has claimed that Ruth Brown is “more of a composite character comprising a number of historical figures who you wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of.”

However, industry experts are already questioning whether she can continue as Manager of the Pitsea branch of Wrenn's without the ability to strike fear into the hearts of her workers.

She's finished,” said Wall Street Analyst, David Blackshaw. “The lesson to be learned here is do your homework or somebody else will.”

Clive Liborbung of The United Kingdom Association of Ethical Businesses (UKAEB) said:

Handfield's case highlights the dangers of citing historical precedent as a means of keeping rank and file workers in line.

What managers must remember at all times is that nobody's historical reputation is unassailable. All that it takes is one televised documentary narrated by Lorraine Kelly revealing that Ivan the Terrible was kind to kittens and your notoriety as a cast-iron ball-breaker is on the line.”

This morning, staff at Wrenn's were celebrating their freedom:

It was all lie. I feel like a crushing weight has been lifted from me,” said Judd.

The nightmare is over,” added Lee. “Ruth Brown can't hurt me now. It turns out that she never really could.”

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Gathering Autumn at South Henns

Gathering Autumn at South Henns


The hilltops mottle
and moult their
Summer pasture

The soil-shed July grass
- spent blades of an
army in scattered retreat -
is carried downwind
on erratic gusts
into the widening valley
greening the ravelled currents
of the Gribb

The river that now
surges with reaffirmed urgency
on its three-quarter mile
homestretch towards
an inundated coastline.

For a few days
the shingle beach
resembles a freshly cut lawn.

The North Sea floods the horizon.


The olive groves
that line both sides
of the B road
in and out
of South Henns
begin to ripen in June.

The smooth pale bark,
thin enough to be peeled
with a fingernail, exposing
damp fibrous green wood,
darkens with permanent shadow.

By August the swollen crop
has turned violet.

Bill Crane, who since
his stroke last March,
can no longer raise a
water glass to his lips
without spilling the
trembling contents
down his immaculate shirtfront,
coordinates the harvest
through his proxy
- 28 years married this October.

Most of the yield is
pressed to make oil,
bottled in slender
lilac-tinted glass
manufactured in Tuscany,
and straw-packed
in wooden crates.

In September the lorry
from the supermarket
inches between the
towering inclined hedgerows
that trench the lane.

The seventh pressing
is held in reserve
for the last week of October
- dutifully set ablaze
in ironstone burners
that date to the 1700s.

A ring of flickering beacons
circling Drew’s Spinney
radiates a lingering
blue-grey oil haze
that stills the trees
and calms the hives.

The spirit that dwells
within the heartwood
will not quiet itself
says local legend.

The PhD student
who visited in 2008
and camped for two months
in the divoted paddock
at the foot of the graveyard
claimed this rite of appeasement
contributes to a
derangement of the soil
and denigrates the natural order.

I saw him last
standing at the bar
of The Plough
(named for the constellation)
draughting home-brewed cider
in long gulps
- opaque clouds, the
colour of bruised pear flesh,
circulating with the
ponderous looming threat
of an impending stormfront
from behind the raised porthole
of a glass-bottomed pewter tankard.

For the duration of his visit
the dulled stein dangled by its
exaggerated ear-shaped handle
from a loose hook
pitched 45 degrees forward
in a worn-out nail hole
bored into 16th century timber.

The sour alcoholic fruit fug
that loitered around the place
overpowering the smell of beer
recalling its local origins
as a cascade of rust-tinged windfalls
lock-stepped in creeping ferment,
shoring-up one corner
of the wood store
at Lingard’s Farm.

Gathering punch drunk wasps
around the rotten keyhole
that staggered in mid-flight
weighted down in
the cloying miasma.

Carried with the
bucket din of the
hourly church bell and the
endlessly wheeling birdsong
on the sweet ash of dusk
that dims the heads of corn
and unifies the tarnished crop
in silhouette

- a solid swaying mass
harbouring a sound
equivalent in volume
to its acreage.
The surface hiss grounded
to a deeper earthbound rumble
of root and stem,
flattening under its own weight,
pressed into two dimensions
like turbid water
running on the spot.
The steady low roar
of an approaching wave
that never breaks.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

One Sunday in London

One Sunday in London

by Mark Sadler

In the doldrums of
a June weekend
I spied through the
stretched-out dregs
of a foamy lace-work
clinging to the interior of a pint glass,
the remnants of a Sunday carvery -
a slender side of beef
too narrow to stand upright,
it's rough-hewn upturned face
a sunburned pink
with the texture of abraded rope.

The landlord, who had a
predilection for fanciful re-tellings
of London history,
that elbow-nudged his establishment
towards the centre of things,
was idly boasting
to a foreign tourist
drinking at the bar:
This is the oldest pub in the city.”

(This happens concurrently at multiple locations across the capital)

Miles away,
unnoticed by the endless footfall
on the Charing Cross Road,
a tarred shadow, infused with the totality
of night that has steeped for hours
in its own fermenting darkness,
was leaking from the black-washed walls
of a guitar shop
out through the open doorway
where it obliterated
the pale mid-afternoon shade
that laid delicate, faint overlapping patterns
of roving legs and static street furniture
onto the paving slabs.

In the square mile
the mirror glass of the tall buildings
captured blurry fragments of the surrounding skyline
as indistinct as the outline of a distant
hedgerow draped in morning fog

and the open columned steeple
of a city church put stone bars
across a rectangle of blue sky

and on the cornice stones of bridges
small trees slanted towards
the nearest unobstructed source of light;
scouted out small speculative territories;
poised to reclaim the city.

Far away
at the Southernmost
extremities of the Northern Line
a man reached from his
hospice bed to brush
the white-washed wallpaper
of an unfamiliar room
with his finger tips
as if the embossed pattern
were Braille

The randomness of
the bumpy texture
matched perfectly
the shifting patterns
of small wavelets
on the choppy surface
of the river Thames.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Poem written after listening to 'Coming Up' – the third album by Suede and some other songs by Suede

A half-empty packet
of smoky bacon
flavoured crisps
flutters from the window
of a high rise block of flats,
raining greasy crumbs
of fried potato
over Suede world,
where the pigs don't fly

And where a man called Terry,
silhouetted in soft focus
behind flimsy 
flesh-coloured curtains,
sits alone in his one-bedroom flat,
naked but for a
synthetic feather boa
purchased from the Pound Shop,
eating cold Happy Shopper
baked beans
straight from the tin.

Down in the forecourt
Jane sells the Ford Focus
where her boyfriend died
on the back seat
from auto-erotic asphyxiation
after wrapping himself
in cellophane that
he purchased from
an all-night garage
beside a motorway
in Suede World,
where everyone is frankly
a bit tired and sore
from all the rough sex
they are having,
and the street drugs
they are constantly taking,
and the looming threat of
impending nuclear war,
that weighs heavy
on their minds
like a Monday morning hangover
from the early 1980s.

Far away
in leafy North London
Brett Anderson
stands before his Argos
flat-pack wardrobe,
selects from the rail
the shirt with the most
man-made fibres,
pulls it on
but leaves it half-unbuttoned,
steps out into the feral darkness
of Hampstead. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Product review: Lush 'Big Blue' bathbomb

If Big Blue were a planet it would be an ocean world, capped with ice at its northernmost pole.

When introduced to actual water the reaction of this crumbling, spherical cake of blue and white bath crystals is impressively volatile: The lively 360 degree fizz propelling the fast-disintegrating, cratering nugget from one end of the bath to other, ejecting in its wake what appears to be a trail of fat grass cuttings and opaque, powdery blue clouds that resemble the ink jet defence of a fleeing cephalopod. Clearly this is the James Dean of the bath bomb world, hell-bent on living fast, dying young and leaving behind a tub of warm, sapphire-blue water that gives off a strong antiseptic bouquet, reminiscent of dental surgery mouthwash.

The grass cuttings (actually seaweed clippings) strewn across the bottom of the tub momentarily take on the approximate shape of a dragon's head, provoking a dash across the corridor to the nearest computer to consult a website on tea leaf reading. Here we are informed that the appearance of a dragon signifies “great and sudden changes about which there is an element of danger.” I privately resolve to take great care when getting in and out the bath.

One detects a nautical theme buried in the list of ingredients: Coarse sea salt and two different types of seaweed - Arame (Elsenia Aborea) and something called Seaweed Absolute (Fucus Vesiculosus) which I desperately want to be seaweed vodka. This coupled with the strong medicinal scent gives the false impression of Big Blue as a tonic aimed at addressing lingering health concerns, as opposed to being an aid to relaxation. If you told me that the dual purpose of this clear azure water was as a delousing agent and stimulant, mitigating the effects of scurvy on sailors following long sea voyages, then I would probably believe you.

You will emerge from the bath infusion smelling like you have recently been intimate with a dentist. A suitable gift then for the kinky, erotically-inclined oral hygienist in your life. 


Friday, 27 March 2015

Product review: Lush 'Golden Egg' bathbomb

What manner of animal might hatch from this glittering, somewhat elongated, golden egg?

In the search for an answer one naturally consults with those younger members of the family and their friends, who are willing to humour such a question with a serious and thoughtful response.

Suggestions range from the prosaic (a golden goose) to the fanciful (a unicorn - a patently ridiculous suggestion; anyone with a basic knowledge of Linnaean taxonomy knows that unicorns are mammals from the Equidae family and give birth to live young). The most promising and plausible hypothesis is also the most disturbing: “A Crocodile and when it hatches it says “Kill me,”” (apparently in the voice of a dying sheep).

The disconcerting prospect of some reptilian organism, hitherto unknown to science, hatching in the bath, baring a mouthful of needle-sharp teeth and, in the voice of the aforementioned dying sheep, demanding that an entire block of cheddar cheese be grated onto the surface of the water to satiate its enormous appetite, turns out to be unfounded:

The bath bomb placidly dissolves in a fuzzy white cloud of its own gentle effervescence. This rather tame dissolution is accompanied by a steamy understated scent informed by notes of the olive oil, sweet wild orange and gardenia extract that I am, at this precise moment, reading about in the accompanying list of ingredients.

Unfortunately the pleasant olfactory appeal of the bath bomb is undermined by the visual transformation taking place beneath the gentle pummeling of the hot tap. The egg slowly uncoils leaving in its wake a translucent yellow trail, that is disturbingly reminiscent of a toddler weeing in a swimming pool. A minute or so later and one is confronted by what, at a glance, resembles a bath tub brimming with unusually fragrant piss, with the melting kernel of the bath bomb floating at the far end – a brilliant saffron-coloured emulsion, like an egg yolk, fringed with white foam.

Thankfully by the time the egg has completely dissolved the water has changed hue from bright yellow to a vibrant lime green that is enhanced by a pleasant twinkling effect caused by the suspended particles of glitter.

One emerges from this garish perfumed soup in the manner of a camp male stripper, smelling somewhat more pleasant than usual and liberally speckled with gold body glitter.

Laying aside my initial reservations about the colour of the water, this is the most interesting of the Lush bath bombs that I have tried so far.

Friday, 20 March 2015

The Unusual And Inspiring Quality Of The Light

This is a poem that I wrote about the eclipse this morning.


The Unusual And Inspiring Quality Of The Light

A man from the BBC -
a reporter from a
regional news program -
called at our place of work
with small film crew
in tow.

With one eye downcast
upon the makeshift pinhole cameras,
fashioned from teabag boxes,
that bobbed like shipwrecks
atop an overflowing
waste paper basket
in our lobby,
he enquired as to
our impressions
of the recent semi-eclipse.

We each thought back
to the muted gloom
of 9:30am. 
An overcast sky
like the inside
of a cataract
that revealed nothing.

And silently we pondered
and searched for the words
that would not mark us as liars
nor as failures, unable to find
anything profound in the
in the understated
magnificence of creation.

Sheila, as always, spoke first:
It was,” she said,
a bit like last Wednesday.”

Then Daniel, who
does watercolours,
remarked upon the unusual
and inspiring quality of the light.

But later he confided
that the light was poor
and he would never
have painted in it.

Agatha said that there
had been a cold wind.

While I, standing
behind and to one side of
the young researcher,
watched her write down
'cold wind?' in a notebook
as if awaiting confirmation
of this detail
from other sources,
possibly next door
at Abigail's Tearooms.

As the film crew
were getting ready to leave
Colin told them that,
on the way into work,
he had seen on the back
of a flat-bed lorry
an escalator
like the ones you get in department stores”
wrapped-up in plastic

The young researcher dutifully wrote
the word “escalator?” in her notebook
and they politely thanked us
and went on their way
and we never 
saw them again 
or our faces on
the local news.

But a few days later
in the free local paper
I saw a photograph
of an escalator
rampant on the
back of a truck

The picture taken
from a crouched position
at the foot of the
frozen metal stairs
with the camera pointed upward
towards the mid-morning dimness
where the sun
should have been.

They had captioned it
'Stairway to heaven'.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Moving a wishing well

Minutes of a Strawford-on-Tarr Borough Council meeting to discuss the proposed relocation or demolition of a local wishing well


  • Councillor Dorwood
  • Counciller Sisson (Chair)
  • Councillor Bagley
  • Councillor Fribbins
  • Councillor Neary (Dead since January but still technically in office. He was represented at the meeting by his hair brush which, along with other personal affects, was generously donated by his family for a proposed John Neary Museum)
  • Councillor Vickerstaff

Julia Catchpole-Midwinter (Minutes)


Councillor Stapleton (Still marooned on a raft in the centre of Peary Pond)


Larby Homes Ltd have applied for planning permission for a residential development on the corner of Dellow Road and Rawley Way. If approved the development will consist of a single block of 43 flats. These will comprise a mixture of social housing, rented accommodation and properties to buy. There will be four retail units on the ground floor facing onto the street.

Planning permission is conditional on Larby Homes Ltd funding the construction of a community centre in the St Steven's Ward of Strawford-on-Tarr. On three previous occasions when Larby Homes has promised to build similar venues in other towns, the company has eventually reneged upon the original agreement. The council fully expects Larby Homes to do likewise in this instance. There exists an unspoken accord between Larby Homes and the council that, when the deal to build a community centre falls through, local politicians will kick up a fuss but will seek no remedial action in the courts. As a concession Larby Homes will agree to partly subsidise renovations of the dining hall at Ruskins – currently the formal residence of the Lord Mayor of Strawford-on-Tarr.

The site of the proposed housing development is classified as brownfield and is currently derelict. Previously it was occupied by The Perry Brothers Magic Sparkle Happy Fun Time Kingdom. The unsavoury actions of the Perry Brothers have left a mark upon Strawford-on-Tarr that will stain the good name of the town for decades – a notoriety that has been bolstered by no less than three salacious TV documentaries and an episode of Panorama, all chronicling events at the theme park. It is thought that it will be better for the image of the town if something goes up on the site sooner rather than later.

The only remaining structure on the land is a wishing well. This pre-dates the Perry Brother's theme park. Although the well is not in the way of the proposed apartment building, its presence on the site is an issue: The Location of wishing wells and enchanted streams act 2007, specifies that residential developments must be situated a minimum of 50 feet away from a wishing well.

For the Larby Homes development to proceed the well must either be demolished or relocated. The purpose of this meeting is to formally discuss the available options.

(i) Councillor Dorwood excused himself from the discussion citing a conflict of interest: In 1983 the well granted one of his wishes. This resulted in charges of electoral fraud against him being dropped after vital evidence was unexpectedly eaten by a powder-blue unicorn draped in a gold silk sash that read 'Miss Anglesey 1997'. The unicorn was, for a time, the star attraction at the Strawford-on-Tarr Porcupine Sanctuary and Petting Zoo. It sadly passed away in 1997.

(ii) Councillor Fribbins gave a lengthy and detailed account of the history of the wishing well, which was a major source of income for the town in the years immediately following World War II. Many landmark buildings in the town are the result of community wishing exercises. The most notable of these are the Strawford-on-Tarr Orangery which was opened by the late Queen Mother, and the Museum of Ploughing.

(iii) Councillor Sisson recounted an anecdote in which the late entertainer and former game show host - Larry Price - was arrested after he was caught urinating into the well. Councillor Sisson said that urination in the well continued to be an issue. Last year seven people were arrested. Six received fines while another was judged to be in breach of the terms of his parole and returned to prison.

Councillor Bagley asked whether excessive urination might affect the well's potency . Councillor Sisson said that no studies had been carried out locally on the effect of urination, however studies undertaken in other towns had found no evidence that large quantities of urine undermined a wishing well's ability to perform its stated function.

Councillor Fribbins reported that last summer a sign was erected next to the well pointing in the direction of the nearest public toilets which are located a minute's walk away. However he acknowledged that “people are still pissing in it.” It was noted that there are currently four videos on YouTube showing people urinating into the well. There was some discussion as to to whether efforts should be made to identify these individuals with a view to 'naming and shaming'.

(iv) Councillor Vickerstaff asked what the current revenue from the wishing well is. Councillor Sissons said that figures for the first three quarters of 2014/15 stood at £43.16. All councillors expressed concerns that the loss of this income along with the wishes provided by the well would put a significant dent in the town's finances and necessitate cuts in local services in order to rebalance the budget. Councillor Fribbins said that the income from the well could be increased if the mechanical coin retrieval system was repaired. Council workers are currently forced to remove the deposited coins using shrimping nets which is ineffective and time consuming.

(v) Councillor Bagley requested information on the quality of the wishes provided by the well. The well is subsidised by tax revenue and, as such, must represent good value to the public.

Councillor Vickerstaff said that she had recently received a complaint from a resident who had wished for a motor home and subsequently won a second-hand caravan in a church raffle.

Councillor Fribbins remarked that people had higher expectations and a greater sense of entitlement than they did in the past. He cautioned that we must be realistic about what the well can deliver.

(vi) Councillor Sissons rambled at length on whether moving the well would have any effect upon its power to grant wishes. There is a theory that the well derives its wish-granting power from an enchanted stream. If this is true would it be possible to do away with the well altogether? Selling the bottled “wishing water” could provide the town with a new stream of revenue and bolster the reputation of Strawford-on-Tarr globally as the place “where dreams are made reality.”

(vii) Councillor Vickerstaff was told by her grandson that there are goldfish living in the well – Is this true? (Councillor Vickerstaff has previously stated for the record that her grandson he does tend to make a lot of things up). If there are goldfish in residence then what is to be done about them?

Councillor Fribbins confirmed the presence of the goldfish. Nobody knows whether they were put there by a member of the public, or if they were wished into being. Since their arrival the fish appear to have made a number of wishes of their own – mostly for ostentatious miniature castles which now clutter the bottom of the well.

(vii) Councillor Bagley wondered whether it would be possible to wish the well out of existence or to a new location. This would reduce the costs associated with demolition/relocation during a time of cuts and austerity. Would any negative repercussions arise from following this course of action?

(viii) In the open public session of the meeting, local resident Leslie Gayle stated that he had recently purchased a detailed model of the well for his scale model railway of Strawford-on-Tarr. He asked that, if the well is demolished, whether the council would reimburse him for this purchase.


The minutes to this meeting were found partially embedded in the muddy embankment of a drainage ditch bordering farmers fields. In the centre of one of these fields there is a small dilapidated well that is thought to date to the 15th century. In 2007 the well was found to contain a small population of goldfish.

There is no record of any town called Strawford-on-Tarr having ever existed.