Who Will have Lost, Who Will Have Won?

Picture the scene – it’s two days before the 2019 General Election – never has more been at stake, at least not in my lifetime, and a man steps up to the microphone to speak in front of a crowded room…

Thanks to Scribal Gathering for the gig, thanks to the delightful Caz Tricks for the filming, the shushing and the general gobby agreement. Obviously things didn’t go quite as we’d hoped, but two years on, looking back, there’s not much that I wouldn’t say again in just the same way.

I Can’t Offer You Any Advice

12:53 on a warm Tuesday lunchtime
Tripping down memory lane
In Bletchley Topdiner, Sister and I
Slurping ice cream floats once again

Allowing the taste to awaken our memories
Thinking of childhood affairs
And that’s when the phone rings, the bank want to talk
Which is odd, as we’re on our way there

‘Ah yes!’ I proclaim, with a warm friendly tone
‘We’re due in to see you at one’
Which I added was only seven short minutes away
So I asked if something had gone wrong

I wondered why you wanted an executors account
Asked the voice on the end of the phone
Your bereavement team told me I ought to
Is there something that I should have known?

I’m not at all sure why you’d want one you see
So I wanted to ask just in case

But we’re due in to see you in six minutes time
Can we possibly discuss face to face?

The phone voice agrees that that would be ok
And I hang up and pay for our food
Unaware of the trials that will fill our next hours
As we struggle to maintain our moods.

A few minutes walk and we’re there at the branch
We’re here to see ‘name withheld’
She smiled and came over and ushered us in
As my spidey senses failed to be quelled 

I’ve not ever done one of these, she opines
And I’m really not sure why you would
And not for the first time and not for the last
We explain that they told us we should

Why don’t you just want a current account
What would be wrong about that?

And we’re clutching at straws as to what we should choose
And it’s starting to smell like a rat

You won’t get a card or a cheque book you see
With an executors account

So how would we get money out once it’s in?
‘I don’t know’ left us shrouded in doubt

Would we be better with a current account?
A reasonable question I’d say
I’m sorry but I can’t offer you any advice
You’ll have to choose your own way

I don’t know anything about them you see
But your bereavement team certainly do
And they’ve said that’s what we should get for ourselves
So that’s what we’re expecting to do

I’m going to turn on a voice recorder now
She said with obvious pride
So we’ve got a record of whatever we say
In a way that can’t be denied

So you want an executors account? She said next
Without a cheque book or card
We don’t know what we want any more
We weren’t expecting it to be this hard

What’s the difference between the two accounts
And why should we choose either one?
Well I’m afraid I can’t offer you advice you see
So you’re on your own on that one

Just hold it there, I don’t want your advice
But I do want some info, I shout
You’ve told me the account I was told that I need
Can’t be used to take anything out

Why do you want an executors account?
She asked again with brow raised
Because your bereavement team advised us to
As I began to feel even more dazed

I’ve never done one of these accounts before
Though I’ve been here since 92
So I wanted to know why you wouldn’t just want
A current account that’s easy to do

The thought that her not understanding it 
Might not be reason for us to change
Did not seem for even an instant
To seem to her a little strange

We have some cheques in his name which we’d like to pay in
Could we do that with either account?
Though they’re not really all that important 
As they’re only for tiny amounts

Well if you’ve got cheques in his name then I can tell you you’ll need
An executors account you can use 
But we’re not sure what the implications are now
So we’re not yet ready to choose

They’re just for a tiny amount, we repeat
So we’ll happily go either way
What’s the differences between the two accounts
I can’t offer you any advice I’m afraid 

My colleague has done lots of these before
Although she finishes at one
She has, but you haven’t, I enquire with a sigh
As the time is now 1:21

The colleague appears, and I feel some relief
As she instantly takes full control
An executors account is the right way to go
And we’re finally on some sort of roll

Name withheld reads out leaflets and websites aloud 
And shouts out to claim with some glee
You can have a chequebook with an executors account
So you can get your money out – see

I still don’t see why you’d have an executors account
She offers once more without thought
As she clearly knows nothing of what it entails
Her advice wouldn’t ever be sought

The next stage is odd, an understatement at best 
Going through motions at will
None of which serves any purpose at all
But we’re going to go through each step still. 

Signing me up for a current account
Reading out terms and agreeing
For the debit card, overdraft and internet banking
That we’ve established that I won’t be seeing

Then cancelling all of those bits they’ve just added
And adding my Sister too
Reading out terms and agreeing again
Even though we knew none of it was true

Then finally converting to an executors account
More terms and agreements again
But finally having completed the setup
I found a sense of relief from the pain 

If there’s anything else we can do, let us know
Name withheld asks, with no irony shown
And I bite on my lip to avoid being rude
And stifle an audible groan

I still don’t understand why you’d have an executors account
Name withheld said as we walked by
Well I’ve now got an executors account
Although I still don’t really understand why

I’m making light of it now and all of the frustrations it bought
Grateful that some time has passed
Were things more recent and raw since his death
Someone would maybe have been glassed

When they wonder why they don’t do many of these
My answer is easy to believe 
They clearly just send them to dear name withheld
And she frustrates them until they just leave.  

(c) Michael Gurner – July 2019

The 6:23am to Glasgow Central

Looming large through the early morning mist
The 6:23am to Glasgow Central 
Half-filled with the less than half-awake
Pulls in to platform 5

I take my seat and my ritual begins without thought
Case – up above, jacket – to my side
Ipad to the left, phones to the right
headphones plugged in to the ipad and my ears in turn.

Something is not right
Millions of years of evolution
Tells me instinctively that something is out of place
Though it is not clear at this stage what that is.

It takes me a minute, maybe two
To work out that, whatever it is, it’s something 
To do with the man in his fifties, sitting three seats up 
and the other side of the aisle

My eyes scan him briefly
His double denim apparel
His streaked silver hair 
His eyes, tired and bloodshot

But tired and bloodshot eyes do not make someone standout
Not even double denim
You have to remember that this is
The 6:23am to Glasgow Central

It’s not clear what I’m looking for
This isn’t a rational review 
My eyes scan him as thoroughly as they can
While still avoiding eye contact – I’m English after all

And then I see it – there on the table
White painted metal
Tall, slender, with hints of green
And flashbacks to less controlled times

And slowly it comes properly into focus
Slimline gin and tonic
In a can
On the 6:23am to Glasgow central

There’s a certain defiance – arrogance maybe
No attempt to hide
And I can’t work out whether that’s good or bad 
Whether I should applaud or condemn

There are other questions
Dancing around my mind 
Such as how do I recognise 
That shape so well

What does it say about me 
That I’m judging his beverage
As I pull at the ringpull
Of one my own many addictions

Knowing that, were the train 
To be going in a different direction
Albeit a few hours later
Those slender cans might be on my table

Why do I feel so smug
At his drinking slimline gin and tonic on the 6:23 am to Glasgow Central
When I would quite happily drink slimline gin and tonic on
The 3:17pm to London Euston

And I’m left with a single, disturbing thought. 
Do those eight hours
And fifty four minutes
Really make such a difference?

(c) Michael Gurner – April 2019

Life and Death in Our Hands

I remember that Saturday 
Bletchley – Queensway 
My memories of the street,
Hazy through the mists of decades of time
But the memories of that conversation
As clear as the wrinkles that now adorn this face of mine

We stood together, hand in hand
Father and son
Outside the post office 
Man and boy. As one.  
But then you leant your head towards mine 
And gently told
That I – Your son, 
Might be too old
For my hand to be in yours.

I have no idea what that felt like for you
And how or if you prepared
But at seven or eight years young 
I felt a little scared 
I felt a little hurt
I felt more than a little confused
But oddly grown up
Those big hands would no longer keep mine safe between them. 
Their warmth would no longer warm mine
But there was a sense of acceptance. 
This is what we did now.
Whether I was ready or not.  

Ours was not a touchy feely relationship 
You were not a touchy feely man
For thirty years,
As boy and man
As youth and man
As man and man
We barely touched
Except to shake hands 
Until the cancer came
As you slept in the hospital bed
I held your hand.
But only while you slept. 
When you came home, we hugged. 
And it was clumsy
And truth be told
It always stayed pretty clumsy
But it was still a hug
And it was our hug.  
There was a sense of acceptance
This is what we did now
Whether you were ready or not.  

Ten hugging years and then  
Sadly you got ill again
I sit by your hospital bed once more
Your hand in mine for days on end 
And your hand most definitely holding mine back
And there was a sense of acceptance
That this is what we did now
And that we’re both ready for it.  

I kissed your forehead
Warm against my lips
And said goodbye
That I would see you in the morning 
For what I thought may turn out to be the last time

It wasn’t to be 
Within the hour, the call came
We think he’s gone – the lack of certainty quite in keeping with recent days
I arrived and saw you.
I sat and held your hand
As I had done so many times in recent weeks
For the next hour
Maybe two 

That’s when it strikes me
Should your hand still be
So warm
I reach over
And touch your other hand
It is cold.  

Just as your hand, all those years ago, 
provided warmth and safety to mine
Until I was ready to let go
So the warmth of my hand
Brought warmth to your hand 
As your body chilled around it
Until I was ready to let go once more. 

And then
It is time
I kiss your forehead
Now cold against my lips
And finally, let your hand go
A sense of acceptance
That this is what I must do now
Whether I am ready or not.

(c) Michael Gurner – February 2019

8th October 2019

We didn’t win two world wars to be pushed around by a kraut? 
I’ve tried and tried to understand but I can’t work it out
Leave.eu?  Shame on you. 
Brexit party
Shame on you too
If you think maybe that’s just not nice?
Just google fucking Richard Tice.
Founder of one, chair of the other
Supporting one is supporting the other 
You are allowing this to happen.  

Two world wars and one World Cup?
Spouted again today 
One World Cup? 
I almost don’t know what to say   
Since the heady days of Hurst’s hat trick 
We’ve reached zero finals 
The Germans?  Six.  
What sort of boast is that?

Boasting about a single victory
From fifty five years ago
Just shows how much they’ve achieved since
And how far we’ve still to go

But it’s quite a good example I guess
Of how we’ve ended up in all this mess
Stupid attachments to former so-called glories
Fed out daily to wannabe Tories

Trump over the pond and Johnson here
Lying seemingly without fear
And yet they continue to get support?
They lie and they lie and they lie and they lie
Yet still in the polls they fly and fly

Make no mistake
We know how this ends
Blaming the ‘other’ 
Will hurt us all in the end

Watching the rise of the Nazis on telly
Seeing the jostling for power
Challenging status quo’s, laws and principles 
Dismantling structures hour by hour
Their names lost to history
Their games in the embers
Just paving the ways
For the names that we remember 

If you ramp up emotions against the other
You win
In the short term
But we all lose in the long term

When they get their way 
And things don’t improve 
Who gets the blame then
And how long before it’s you

Every line crossed, no longer surprised
No shamed resignations, no guilt in their eyes
But what makes me fear for the future my dears
Is I don’t have a clue where the fuck we go from here  

And hiding somewhere just out of sight
Is the unspoken fear at the rise of the right
That there aren’t any limits to what they’ll explore
And that soon we’re in Syria fighting Johnson’s new war
Flying the flag and killing for fun
Democracy lost behind the barrel of a gun
If that still seems unlikely, I’d say with regret,
You’re not really paying attention just yet

(c) Michael Gurner – October 2019

Look At That You Bastards!

I don’t want to sound mean or bitter
Come across like I’m holding a grudge
But those things are all true
So if I sound like I do
Please forgive me, and try not to judge

To the teachers at Denbigh who taught me
And threw up their arms in despair
Some things would be best
Were they off of my chest
So bear with me, and pull up a chair

I’ve spent most of my life, taking all of the blame
On young shoulders, now burdened with age
But I’m scratching my head
That maybe I’m misled
That my guilt could perhaps be assuaged

I know I was not a good pupil
And I’m sure I made your lives quite hard
A difficult child
Would be putting it mild
So I doubt I was the only one scarred

Why can’t you be more like your sister
She never caused us this grief
And I couldn’t explain
Which I found quite a shame
As I’d have probably felt some relief

But I was just a fucked up little boy
And you were the one’s so mature
For years you’d been trained
So I’d like to complain
‘Bout the beatings I had to endure

Agreed – I made stupid decisions
And that can’t have been easy to fix
But I’d have to oppose
The response that you chose
To repeatedly hit me with sticks

Hit me with slippers, trainers and canes
Again and again and again.
And then hit me some more
And then hit me some more
Expecting good things from the pain

I’m supposed to give you some leeway
That we lived then in different times
That I should let go
As you just didn’t know
And that I should leave all this behind

‘Never did me any harm’ is the line
That you hear with defiance and a twitch
Well it may not be yew tree
But those bastards hit me
Abuse or assault, not sure which.

‘Just act your age’ was the cry that I heard
In between those so regular shoe-ings
Which turned out to be tough
Ironically enough
As it turns out that’s what I was doing

If you ever delve into the science
Staged development of parts of the brain
The prefrontal cortex
And it’s calming effects
Makes my beatings seem quite inhumane

The part of the brain that says ‘let’s not do that’
Doesn’t work ‘right’ till you’re out of your teens
I couldn’t explain
Why I’d screwed up again
So to beat me seems a trifle obscene

Perhaps I was beyond any hope or redemption
That no motivation could have ever assisted
Or then and again
Something other than pain
Might have helped had you only persisted

I don’t understand how your mindset
Decided that that was the route
‘Just hit him some more
His performance will soar’
Your persistence at least I’d salute

Hope against hope to be sent to the head
Each time a beating was due
At least when he caned
He seemed genuinely pained
But the one who enjoyed it was you

Dunlop green flash – size eleven
I can see it and feel it today
Me bent over in front
You sadistic cunt
As you gleefully swung it away

Used to inflict as much pain as you could
They’d never been worn – didn’t fit
I knew at the time
That you wore a size nine
The elevens were bought specially – you shit.

While the welts and the weals faded slowly away
The shame and embarrassment remained
I just calmly observed
It was what I deserved
And that learning just wasn’t my game

Oddly enough, your motivation techniques
Didn’t transform my approach to my lessons
Felt I was no good
Left as soon as I could
And the impact it had never lessened

I’ve always been pretty successful in work
Positions of power – responsible roles
Never been unemployed
Had a career I’ve enjoyed
Fulfilled many professional goals.

I’d always thought I was quite clever
That I just couldn’t do it their way
But as I got older
That chip on my shoulder
Started gnawing and gnawing away

So I started to study, in my thirties, part time
And oddly enough, it was tough
But quite amazingly
I got me a degree
Leaving me feeling stupidly chuffed

So could I possibly go one stage farther?
Could I build even more in my plans?
Last weekend in Ely
Will live with me dearly
As I walked cross the stage and shook hands

So all that is left is for me to just hope that
You’re ashamed – you sadistic bastards
No thanks to you
With your canes and tennis shoes
Now I’ve gone and got me a masters.

(c) Michael Gurner June 2019