Friday, November 27, 2009

The P.E. GCSE That Never Was

The punishment
for my
physical education
was to ban me from taking
my GCSE.
“Rachel it says here,”
Miss Hitch says with a flurry of papers,
“That you got UNGRADED
in your mock P.E. exam.
Would you like to tell me
just why that is?”
I kick my Doctor Marten shoes around
on the dusty floor.
“Erm,” I try,
searching the inner recesses of my brain.
She glares,
I go red.
“Go back to your classroom.”
She says it with such a bitter bite,
like I’ve been found doing something
utterly shameful in the locker room.

My classmates are brandishing As, Bs, Cs.
I slope about, pretending I don’t give a shit.
When, hang on a minute,
in reality,
I don’t give a shit.

My hairy-eared BFG form tutor takes me aside,
breathing sour coffee breath
we used to think was whisky,
and says
“We need to talk about your PE grade.”
So solemn,
so despaired.
What they decided
was that they didn’t want a fail
on their league tables,
so asked me if I wouldn’t mind
not taking the GCSE.

For two terms,
two hours a week,
when my friends donned their
scratchy PE knickers
with names sewn in red cotton,
I roamed the library
in search of new adventures.
“You will use this time
to complete your English coursework,”
they sternly chirped,
unaware I had already finished it.
(I was a bit of a goody two shoes, then.
Um, I am now as well.)

I scoured the shelves
for Nancy Mitford
and her sister Jessica,
tales of upper classes,
mad Uncle Matthew
and poor old Linda
in Love In a Cold Climate.
I fed on strange new terms like
“Balling the jack” from
Jack Kerouac,
ached to go on the road
and explore the unknown.
I found Holden Caulfield deeply irritating
and wished I knew what the fuss was all about.
I dived into the Dewey Decimal System,
filing my schoolfriend’s outside glares
away from view.
I devoured Jane Austen’s heroines,
tried Jane Eyre on for size,
wished that I knew someone as great
as Rob from High Fidelity.
I disappeared into Kate Atkinson’s
strange and hostile pet shop,
in Behind The Scenes At The Museum
and felt a burning desire to write.

This wasn't the staid and structured reading
of SATs papers and coursework,
the lack of choice on what we read
in class,
this was freedom at last.
I couldn’t have been more pleased
to shelve those hours of netball,
cold knees,
the shame at forgetting to shave your legs,
the out-of-breath heaving
and tennis racket bruises,
the sporty girls laughing,
me edging to the back
of the High Jump line.
I kept the reputation of
the school’s P.E. examinations intact
and found my own world
on the library mezzanine;
between the pages
I had come home.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Station Life.

Based on Fenchurch Street Station.

The once-golden sheen
of hopeful charity collectors
shaking buckets
of dirty coppers,
pulling on the strings
of hurried consciences.
The loneliness of
food concession workers,
one by one,
selling solo
Chat magazines,
fruit Polos,
£2.95 disgraces of sandwiches.
The hostility one can feel
towards a so-called
tuna 'salad' sandwich
is remarkable,
eyes narrowing
at the three limp lettuce leaves
bruised and saddening.
The power play
of ticket barrier men,
who let through the mums
and buggies,
but tut and sigh
at those with a really big bag.
They wink at scraped-back city girls
in city heels
and cast frustrated eyes
over anyone over sixty.
Never has 'seek assistance'
been met with such dismay.
Stairs are carpeted
with Evening Standards,
Metros, Suns,
move up the steps
in swarms
don't look back,
don't fight the tide.
Crowds move
like those flocks of birds
that instinctively follow one another;
Fly towards Platform 3,
The train at this platform
Will call at Limehouse,
and all stations to Shoeburyness.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


One girl,
big gob,
One man,
fat tie
strike up chat
just like that
outside of West Ham.
"Where you gaan New Year?"
"Ah, mate, gaan up London."
"Yeah mate. I know. What. a. touché ."
He drags out the words,
diction clicking,
tripping off his tongue.
She nods
Sauvignon Blanc-addled brain thinking,
New Year up London is well touché."
Touché, really?
Call me an
English lit, post-grad twat
but do you mean
a fucking cliché?
What exactly do you mean?
Small exchanges
between two strangers,
their bond
the London commute.
Alight at Benfleet:
Please mind the gap.
This station is Benfleet,
change here for bus links
to Canvey Island.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I love it when there are
folded blankets of mist
hanging two feet from the dewy
moored and bobbing like
starched underblankets,
a child's chalk line in the air.
Spiked grasses fail to puncture it
and saturated moss
has never been so protected,
sleeping underneath.
A burnished sun fights for attention,
touching the cold morning
with gold, forgiving fingers
reflected in the hungry eyes
of twenty-six reeling gulls,
spinning their way
towards Pitsea landfill site.