News headlines- all genuine- all bizarre

“Puffin found at sex clinic dies “- BBC news

“Man hollows out wooden leg to smuggle iguana” – Independent

“Hens loose after crash” -Independent

“ Big knickers save house from fire” _ Yahoo

“ Runaway lawnmower kills Buddhist monk in Milton Keynes” – The Times

“ Prince Charles’ harpist denies burglary charges”- The Times

“ Grandmother on mobility scooter is savaged by ferret”- The Times

Who’s first on the desert island ?

UA Fanthorpe.

She didn’t like her first name, which was Ursula, and was hence always called “UA.” She taught English at Cheltenham College for 16 years and then left to be a secretary and receptionist at Bristol hospital. It was there that the patients, their anonymous suffering and  quiet lives, provoked her to write.

She writes about “ the permanently rickety, elaborate structures of living” which we all create to maintain our lives and relationships. Her style is modest ,deceptively  simple and shockingly powerful. She describes a life of out-patient appointments,visits to X-ray, family visits, and ultimately death- the last scene of all.

“…..there the actor lies

Alone, and in the long dim hours explores

Dissolving senses .”


“ Patient, she sat in a wheelchair

in an x-ray department waiting

for someone to do something to her”

Notice the ambiguity of “ patient”, the pause after “waiting” and the hopelessness of “someone” and “something.” And what about the simple language, which gives you just enough to see the picture, but leaves you, the reader, to create the emotion behind it.

But you would  be wrong to think that her work was relentlessly glum. She had a sharp sense of humour. She  inhabits other times and places, explores territory you think you’re familiar with, and gives it a twist, releasing something fresh and funny as she does so.

She describes Christ, frustrated at his dim disciples, trying to get them to understand what he means:

“I am tattooing God on their makeshift lives” he says, “ My Keystone Cops of disciples , always/ running absurdly away or lying.”

She conflates the Royal Family and the Archers:

“They’re loyal to their fans, they never stray.

Death changes the cast list, but not the play.”

And sometimes she writes something  so simple, so powerful, that creeps up on you and hits you in the solar plexus.

Have a look here.

This is one of her best. I challenge you to read it aloud without filling up

Step right this way, UA- the palm trees are over here.

Les choses sont contre nous


Which roughly translates as “ things are against us” is the central tenet of a European philosophy first put forward by Paul Jennings in the late 1950’s. It was, he said , developed by the French philosopher Jean Marie Ventre and  his German contemporary Martin Freidegg.Ventre explained that the inanimate world is in constant revolt against any kind of human activity. He noted that every time he reached out his hand to stub out a cigarette, the ash fell on his sleeve and not into the ashtray.Trousers, clearly marked with the correct waist measurement, were found to be at last two inches too big when tried out at home.


Freidegg ( no relation  of the German aristocrat Gottfried Freidegg-mit-Tschipps) demonstrated in a series of elegant experiments that a man painting a wall would inevitably end up with 51% of the paint on the floor, dustsheets, or himself, and only 49% on the wall.


This was echoed by  the Clark-Trimble Experiments of 1927, carried out in the Rutherford Laboratories in Oxford. Slices of toast, spread with butter and marmalade, were dropped onto a series of carpet squares, ranging from coarse matting to the most expensive Afghan carpet and the rate of right-side-upwardness was measure. When dropped on the matting, the toast fell right side up 87% of the time; on the Afghan carpet this fell to a mere 3.43%.


Resistentialism  can still be detected today. Consider the wayward “delete” key which will, on a whim,l destroy everything you have just written. It has been suggested that the email system, and not you, which decides when and where your messages are delivered.


If you have experienced resistentialist occurrences in your day to day life, please get in touch.


Making less mean more

You know the format. Which ( let’s say five) poetry collections would you take to a desert island ? And why ? Who are the poets who really matter to you ?

I’ll nominate my five winners in later posts. At the moment, though, I want to name three . who won’t be  spending their time with suntan oil and tall, cool drinks.

1.Ted Hughes.

Ok- he’s a great poet and “Thought Fox” is the best poem ever written about writing a poem. But  Ted doesn’t do cheerful, not even mildly optimistic. And he loves guts.

I once heard him read “ Crow” on the radio. It was past midnight, and the wind was howling outside. He scared me rigid. Woke up screaming for a week afterwards. Likes his viscera, does Ted.

2.Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Don’t jump down my throat- yet. I know he is a superb, spiritual poet. I can see that phrases like “ shining out like shook foil” are incredibly clever. But somehow they don’t bang my drum. I get it- intellectually. But not emotionally. Maybe he works too hard, but he leaves me cold- always has.

You want a good religious poet ? Read George Herbert. I mean it. Read him. He’s the best.

3.TS Eliot

I used to have endless arguments with a dear friend (long dead) about TSE. John said he had captured the very essence of the twentieth century, but I can’t help thinking that his style is deliberately obscure. Poetry should be difficult. You should have to work hard to understand it, because a poem says something about what it is to be alive, and that’s a complex business. However ,the trick lies , not in hanging endless footnotes from your poem ( “ The Waste Land”) , but, through skill and heart, making less mean more.

To be fair “ Four Quartets” is tightly written, complex and worthwhile.


But TS doesn’t get to go on the Caribean holiday.

Someone else’s good idea

Poetry, unlike chocolate, is for sharing. One poem can set you up for the day (John Donne, maybe) or make you laugh (Spike Milligan) – but suppose you could become part of the poem, rather than just a single reader…. that would be fun.

Well , British poet VC LInde ( see her website here :

has come up with a cracking wheeze. She has written a 400 line poem which she wants to share with you. She will send you a postcard with four lines from the poem on it. All you have to do is take a photo of you- and the postcard -and email it back to her. In the end she will have 100 photos, the poem will be , in a way, completed, and you will be a part of it. I was lucky-I got the first four lines, and I thought I would record them as well- so I did- and sent her the MP3.

And the poem itself ? It’s lovely- thoughtful, economically written- a piece everyone can relate to.

See the details here :

Seemples huh ?

A cold song for a cold night

Ok-  this week we’re going to the  Boss, the Top Banana, the Mensch- we’re going to look at something by William Shakespeare.

Arrgh ! No ! Not Shakespeare thingy  ! He’s old fashioned and boring and you can’t understand him and he’s like…just dull !

Silence oik ! And listen to this:

What do you think ?  Lovely reading but isn’t the poem a bit olde worlde ? A bit twee ?

A bit chocolate box ? Think again

Line 1 OK- I concede- an average opening line for a winter poem. We’ve all seen icicles

Line 2. Dick the shepherd tells us this a rural poem. Why is he blowing on his nail ? Because he hasn’t got any gloves ! Because he’s poor and cold and his finger ends hurt like hell.

Line 3. We get the first hints of a household here. There’s Dick the shepherd and Tom the servant- and Tom is carrying logs in because they’re going to be needed on the fire.

Line 4. It’s so cold the milk is solid. We’re starting to get a Breughel winter scene here.

Line 5. Key words are “nipped” -you feel as though the blood is freezing in your veins. And “foul” – the roads are impassable

Line 6. The owl. Not the most cheerful of birds- then why “ merry” ? Are we getting the feeling that The Boss is being a bit ironic here?

I won’t do a full line-by-line run through of the next verse. I’d only point out (a) the breathless use of “ and” throughout the poem. He can’t wait to tell the story of our house. (b) there’s a cast of characters here- the parson who can’t be heard because of the coughing, Marian, and greasy Joan- who’s probably the kitchen maid. And  why is she keeling (scraping) the pot ? Because she’s hungry and she’s scraping out the last bit of meat or dried on gravy, that’s why.

So the “merry note” of the owl isn’t so merry after all.

Far from being a jolly, rilly-me-dilly-me-and-a raspberry -o song, this is a harsh portrayal of a household on the breadline, in the middle of a filthy, cold winter.

Difficult ? Not really. Bland ? Certainly not.Powerful ? I think so.

There, that didn’t hurt, did it ?

A serendipitous error

You might wonder why the strapline to this blog is

“ Where poetry and Lego collide” or something such.

Well……I’ve got a bit of an apology to make. It was all going to be much more serious. The strapline was going to be”

“Where poetry and ego collide”

I was going to write this incredibly complex and exciting analysis of the way in which the ego ( and indeed the super ego) relates to the writing of poetry. Damn it ! I’ve got  a whole shelf of Feud’s books on the subject. Who was Feud ? Johann Sigmund Feud, who was the first man to explain the  symbolic significance of cigars.

Nothing to do with Freud. And certainly not a typo.

Glad we’ve got that cleared up.

Why is the blog called “ The Top Banana” ?

Easy. My grandad was a gangster in Chicago in the twenties.

Inhabiting the words

From ClipboardDid you see Obama’s inauguration speech ? What did you think ?

At first sight it was  tall man in a winter coat, reading to quarter of a million people from a teleprompt. But it was a lot more than that.

Think of the challenge. How do you connect to a huge crowd- with a nation behind them, watching on tv ? He did it in a number of ways. First the speech itself.

It was pared down, precise without being simplistic. He used “we” a lot. This meant every American alive now, every one who lived in the past and will live in the future. He was setting out the context.

He put forward a programme that no-one in their right mind could argue with-equality of gender and sexual preference, environmental awareness, health care , talking to your enemies before you start bombing them- all presented in a concise, unambiguous way. And he asked for support from the whole country; he was tapping into the essential compassion and common sense which is still  part of American society.

He was  realistic. This won’t happen today. Some of it won’t happen at all. But we have to try. Small victories are still victories, and we must be grateful for them.

Then came the steady drumbeat of “ We, the people”- he meant the American nation now- the huge and disparate community which has such power in the world- but he was also reaching back to the American Constitution and that blaze of hope and optimism that flared up at the end of the eighteenth century.

It was a beautifully written speech- I’m sure he didn’t write it- but I’m also sure that he had a  big  hand in its creation.

The end was about oaths we take. Promises we make to each other.A  huge nation bound together by promises……

You could say “Sure- sounded great- so it should. He must have rehearsed it dozens of times” And I’m sure that’s true- but that didn’t make it any less sincere. He inhabited every sentence, every phrase.

The voice helped him- strong, calm- controlled. You always have the feeling that he’s holding something back.It’s taking an effort- but he’s not going to bleed all over the carpet. I like this because it’s a very British thing. Obama is master of the American Stiff Upper Lip.

And the silences. To start with, it’s a matter of politeness. Once you’ve hit a key line, then stop, and let the audience take it in. And that’s what he did. After each repetition of “We, the people” the silence got longer ,and longer. You could see the message soaking in.Us. We. The people…..

I’m a Brit, and it made me weep. It touched me in the same way that Shakespeare’s “band of brothers” speech in “Henry V.”

It was real. It was human.

It was poetry.

Through the labyrinth

Would you mind awfully ? Could I just…squeeze through…thank you so much…it’s not very wide, is it ? This digital superhighway….more like a drinking straw …now one more push and…there ! I’m through ! Let me introduce myself…no…that sounds like Saint Mick doesn’t it… let me explain…don’t get upset…’s perfectly normal…lots of people do don’t run away or anything, will you ? Now that I’m here. I read a lot of poetry. There, that wasn’t too much of a shock, was it ?

I write poetry as well

I’m a poet.

Come back ! Please come back ! It’s nothing to do with frilly shirts and daffodils, honestly..well there might be a daffodil or two…or a small plant…but not frilly shirts.I promise.

Thank you ! Thank you for coming back ! Both of you ! Let me explain.

I write poetry. I always have. And there are thousands like me, all over the world. We’re the ones who spend most of their time staring into space, then writing something in a notebook, then crossing it out. Crossing out is a big part of poetry writing. I’m very good at it.

I write poetry because I can’t NOT write poetry. It’s a way of making sense  out of my life, I suppose. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s hard to remember why I started doing it in the first place. To start with, I like playing around with words, moving them round on the page, on the line. That part of poetry writing is like doing a crossword puzzle, only you’re inventing the clues and the solutions at the same time.

Then poetry helps me to remember. It’s important to look after your memory ,because your memory is you. So when I set out to write a poem about my dad, who died half a century ago, I reach back – it needs a mental effort -and hear his voice again, and the way he lifted the end of each sentence.

I like making things. I’m no good at woodwork, and I’m barely able to re-wire a plug. But when I’ve finished a poem, then it’s there, on the page, and when I read it again the following morning, I can think “ Hey ! I made that. And it’s not altogether bad.”

“Not altogether bad” will do for me, because all poems are failures to some extent ( except for Shakespeare  who has a higher hit rate than is decent.) Bet he couldn’t change a plug though.)

LIke I said, there are  thousands of us out there who are involved, in some way, with the process of boiling experience down, and putting  it on paper.

Maybe we should get together.

This is the deal. I’ll put something up on this site once a week or so- more often if I’m feeling prolific, less often if I have a cold. It might be a poem I’ve written, or a review of a book I’ve read or a general rant about the state of my world.

Talk back to me. Tell me what’s happening in your poetic world.

Thanks for tech support to Alasdair Stuart ( Yes ! Him off Pseudopod ! We’re related, you know…boast boast



Will my unit work straight from the box ?

Short answer’s “ Yes”- the hardware is complete-

temperatures and pressures stabilised,

each circuit strictly tested and each switch.

However, leakage is a frequent glitch

straight after installation. This is normal

and the use of simple work-arounds

will solve the issue.

You will also find

mobility is a something of a challenge.

Motion sensors need some time to settle.

Control of movement takes about two years-

the same as language acquisition, then

the unit is completely functional.


What about the tech specification ?

You’ve got the largest Random Access Memory

that’s  ever been evolved. There’s room

for years of data at your finger ends.

Twin audio/video inputs guarantee

a world of sound and pictures in HD

It’s all so user-friendly. You’re the one

who matters here, and all of it is free.

No downtime, no screen freezes, always



Tell me, how long will the unit last ?

The Manual says  three score years and ten

is more or less the average length of time.

After that, the start-up menu slows;

viruses infect each crucial cache.

On the screen a cheerful caption glows-


You glimpse the Great Blue Screen of Death

and then you’re