After I’d heard the whales sing I

deliberately started to

miss: I’d

aim too high, too low, to right, to

left, anywhere to avoid a

hit.  I

lost my job, of

course –

no-one wants a whaler who’s sentimental over

whales.  But there were others, more

useful than a whaler’s, to be

found.  Strongman, conjuror, guide, I

tried the lot, but most

of all I sought the winged one’s

company, for

she alone forgives my crime and comprehends my



PAUL18                           Paul in 1983, aged 18.  He is a milkman at the Co-op dairy and a member of The Molokos, a punk rock band.

JOHN18                           John in 1983, aged 18.  He is a milkman at the Co-op dairy and a member of The Molokos, a punk rock band.

PAUL50                           Paul in the present, aged in his fifties, a successful businessman.

JOHN50                           John in the present, aged in his fifties, a successful businessman.

JACKSON                         Mrs. Jackson, manageress at the Co-op dairy in 1983.

RENATA                           Renata, the typist in the office at the Co-op dairy in 1983.



PAUL50                           (TO MIC) It was 1983.  I was eighteen and there were three things I loved almost as much as life itself – being a milkman, Renata and playing bass guitar in a punk rock band called The Molokos.  Most of us worked at the Co-op dairy.  There was me, Paul.


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) And me, John, on lead guitar.


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) George on rhythm guitar.


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) And Albert on drums.


PAUL50                           (TO JOHN50) And the singer, don’t forget the singer.


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) Oh, yeah.  Janice.  She worked at the corner 10         shop.


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) It was love at first sight for me with Renata.


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL 50) It wasn’t for her, though.




PAUL18                           I’ve got a present for you, Renata.


RENATA                           What is it, Paul?


PAUL18                           Two hundred milk checks.


RENATA                           You’re weird.


PAUL18                           Why?


RENATA                           Getting up at the crack of dawn to ride round in a       contraption you could walk faster than to drop bottles of  milk on people’s doorsteps. 21


PAUL18                           I don’t drop them.  I place them, careful like.  And I have to pick the empties up.  And the milk checks.  And collect the money at the end of the week.


RENATA                           Like I said: weird.




PAUL50                           (TO MIC) Mrs. Jackson used to tease her about me. 


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL50) The manageress?


PAUL50                           Yeah.  Do you remember her?




JACKSON                         Loverboy’ll be here any minute, Renata.


RENATA                           He’s not my loverboy. 30


JACKSON                         He wishes he was.




JACKSON                         He’s here now.


PAUL18                           I’ve brought you another present, Renata.


RENATA                           Don’t tell me – more milk checks.


PAUL18                           How’d you guess?


RENATA                           I must be psychic.


PAUL18                           What you doing tonight?


RENATA                           Washing my hair.


PAUL18                           Why don’t you come to our band practice?


RENATA                           I’m washing my hair. 40


PAUL18                           Your loss.




JOHN50                           We all thought you’d never get off with her.


PAUL50                           I didn’t think I ever would either.  Anyway, forget about Renata for a minute.  I was unloading the empties in the yard one day and Mrs. Jackson comes up to me.




JACKSON                         Could I have a word, Paul?


PAUL18                           Yes, Mrs. Jackson.


JACKSON                         It’s 1983.


PAUL18                           I know it is, Mrs. Jackson.


JACKSON                         Things are changing. 50


PAUL18                           I know they are, Mrs. Jackson.  Mrs. T’s seen to that.


JACKSON                         Milk rounds are becoming uneconomic.


PAUL18                           Are they?


JACKSON                         I blame the supermarkets.


PAUL18                           They’ve got a lot to answer for.


JACKSON                         The fact is, I’m going to have to let you go.  Not just you.  All of you.  But you’re all young.  You’ll soon find something else.


PAUL18                           We won’t need to.  The Molokos’ll hit the big time soon.


JACKSON                         That’s what I like to hear. 60


PAUL18                           What about Renata?


JACKSON                         There’s no point keeping her on when there’s no milk checks to count.


PAUL18                           I suppose not.




PAUL50                           (TO MIC) That wasn’t the only shock that day.  It was a Wednesday, so we had a band practice that night.  (TO JOHN50) Do you remember?  We used that back room at Brightlands Workingmen’s Club.


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL50) I’ll never forget the landlord’s face when he told us.  (IMITATING THE LANDLORD) I’ve got some bad news.  It’s 1983.  Things are changing.  Mrs. T’s seen to that.  This’ll be your last band practice here.  We’re closing down Friday. 73


PAUL50                           (TO PAUL50) Then he gave you a note from Janice.


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL 50) That’s right.  (IMITATING JANICE) Hi, guys.  Going solo.  See you.


PAUL50                           (TO JOHN50) She was the only one that knew the words.


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL50) She was the only one who could sing!


PAUL50                           (TO JOHN50) Then who should walk in but Renata.




PAUL18                           Renata!  What are you doing here?  I thought you were washing your hair? 81


RENATA                           I changed my mind.  I’ve heard you’re looking for a singer.


JOHN18                           We are.  But you’re not a singer, you’re a typist.


RENATA                           Janice was a shop assistant.


PAUL18                           Do you know the words?


RENATA                           Some of them.


PAUL18                           That’s more than the rest of us.  (TO JOHN18) What have we got to lose?




JOHN50                           (TO MIC) It turned out she knew all the words. 90


PAUL50                           (TO JOHN50) And she could sing in tune.  (TO MIC) A few weeks later I saw an ad in the New Musical Express.  I quote, “Unsigned bands wanted.  Apply M. Eavis, Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset.” 


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) So we did.  It was 1983.  Glastonbury Festival wasn’t the monster it is now, but it was getting bigger.  Curtis Mayfield and UB40 were headlining.  A ticket would set you back £12.  Things have changed a bit since then. 99


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) Doing Glastonbury was the high point in the short history of The Molokos.  We thought it would get us signed by a major label.  It didn’t.  It didn’t even get us signed by a minor label. 


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) It didn’t get us signed at all.


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) After that we played a few of the workingmen’s clubs that hadn’t gone under, but the big time that I’d told Mrs. Jackson we were going to hit….well, we didn’t and the band started to fall apart.


JOHN50                           (TO MIC) George left first.  Went to the local poly, read Law.  He’s a solicitor now. 110 


PAUL50                           (TO JOHN50) Then you left to start your own company making computer chips.  The rest of us hardly knew what a computer was back then.


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL50) Your laptop wouldn’t work without the components I make now.  Or your phone.  Or your tablet.


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) Finally, Albert left.  Well, there were only the two of us left – him on drums, me on bass.  What can you do with that?


JOHN50                           (TO PAUL50) Drum and bass?  Not much. 120


PAUL50                           (TO MIC) Albert started his own drumming school – Beat It! he called it.  It did well, still does, except his daughter does most of the teaching now – Albert’s hands are riddled with arthritis.  As for me and Renata, we eventually got it together, got married and started a family.  We’re back in the dairy business now.  We run a chain of hipster ice cream parlours.  There’s probably one on a high street near you.  You can’t miss it.  Just look for the sign.  Moloko’s.

  It was a light bulb moment.  At least, it seemed that way over a few pints in the Fox and Duck.  Harry said he’d do the driving, him being an ex-Para and the only one of us who was still safe behind the wheel without a responsible adult telling him what to do.

  “What could go wrong?” he asks.  “It’ll be a piece of cake.”

  Yeah, right.

  “’Course, we’ll have to time it right.  Anyone got a stopwatch?”

  Stupid question.  What use would any of us have for a stopwatch?  We weren’t kids running round the school playing fields any more.  One of us never was.  I’m not saying who.

  “Let’s nick one,” says Fred.  That’s his answer to most things.  That’s why he’s spent half his life behind bars – the prison variety -, but Harry was having none of it, didn’t want to attract attention, see, so we all troops off to Decathlon and buys one.  A stopwatch!  I ask you!

  But hold on!  Why do we need a stopwatch and someone who’s still safe to drive?  I hear you ask.

  Cast your mind back to last year.  August.  Hottest day of the year.  Hottest day ever, they reckon.  Great day for a wedding.  Or not, depending on whether you like it hot or not.  And whether you like weddings, come to that.  Me, I can take ‘em or leave ‘em.  Phil had no choice, though.  His eldest was getting married and, naturally, he’d been invited – well, told he’d got to go, actually.  Daughter, sister, ex.  They’d all told him.  Only thing is, he’s doing seven years for armed robbery.  I say armed, but they was only rubber swords, just looked like the real thing, especially when he was waving his arms around like a windmill – no-one was going to look too closely.  Mr. Najjar behind the counter of his convenience store definitely wasn’t.  All he could do was empty the till and tell Phil he was disappointed.  Not half as disappointed as Phil, though, when the judge said that it was immaterial what the objects in question were actually made of, Phil hoped to give the impression that they were made from the finest Toledo steel, whatever that might be, so he had no choice but to send him down.

  Now, Harry – the one who’s going to do the driving, remember - spends most of his time when he isn’t in the pub watching action films, heists and the like, on Netflix.  He knows all the Mission Impossible films backwards, and, being an ex-Para, he still has a hankering for a bit of action himself, so he comes up with this plan to save Phil from having to go back to prison after the wedding.

  They were having it out Broadfield way in some swanky hotel, reception was going to be a barbecue, not that Phil would be allowed to go to that – HM Prisons are not that compassionate.  They’d let him go to the service at three o’ clock, but that was it – straight back to jail afterwards, no vol-a-vents, no chicken wings in spicy sauce, prison grub for him. 

  And, obviously, the prison governor wasn’t going to say to him, “Off you go, Phil, enjoy yourself, give my regards to the bride and be back here for tea.”  ‘Course he wasn’t.  He’d make sure he was in a prison van with some prison guard keeping a beady eye on him, which was why we needed a driver - for the prison van, see, once we’d got rid of the guards.

  That’s where me and Fred came in – getting rid of the guards, I mean.  Not in a nasty way, though – we’re thieves, not thugs.

  “Who’s the last person you’d expect to be a villain?” Harry asks.

  Me and Fred shrug our shoulders.  As far as we’re concerned everyone could be, given half the chance.

  “A bloke in a wheelchair,” Harry says slowly, as if he’s explaining the bleeding obvious to someone who’s not too quick on the uptake.  “And if he’s an old bloke with some doddery old carer - they walk out into the road in front of you while you’re motoring along, what you going to do?”

  “Stop,” Fred and me chorus.

  “Exactly.  Even prison guards are human.  Has anyone got a wheelchair?”

  “I have,” says Fred.  “Nicked it from a charity shop.”

  See what I mean?

  “Perfect.  I’ll book us a room at the hotel the night before the wedding and Bob’s your uncle.  Hope you don’t mind sharing.”

  “Hope you don’t mind me getting up every couple of hours to wee,” says Fred.  “But you still haven’t told us why we need a stopwatch.”

  “Because,” says Harry, still talking as if he’s explaining to a five-year-old, “we need to time the run from the hotel to the airport.”

  “Do we?” I ask.

  “’Course we do,” says Harry.

  “Why?” says Fred.

  “’Cos we don’t want to miss the plane,” says Harry.

  “What plane?” I ask.

  “The plane to Spain,” says Harry.

  “We’re going to Spain?” says Fred.

  “Only if we catch the plane,” says Harry.  “That’s why we need a stopwatch.”


  And we nearly did go to Spain.


  Me and Fred played our parts to perfection, even if I say so myself.

  This is the scene: the wedding’s over, Phil’s back in the prison van ready for them to take him back to prison, Fred’s in the wheelchair – it’s his wheelchair, after all –, I’m standing with him at the way out of the hotel car park looking as if I’m on my last legs myself, and Harry’s behind a tree pretending he’s been caught short.

  The prison van starts to move.

  “I hope Harry’s right,” Fred says.

  “About what?” I ask.

  “About prison guards being human.  I don’t want to end up splattered all over the road.”

  “Have you ever known him be wrong?”

  Fred doesn’t answer.  His knuckles turn white as he grips the wheelchair’s arms tighter.  He’s the one who could end up splattered all over the road, after all.

  The prison van squeezes between a Merc and a Honda, negotiates a tight corner, then comes towards us.

  I let it come a bit closer, then start to walk out in front of it, pushing Fred ahead of me.

  The driver sounds the horn and slams the brakes on.

  Fred falls out of the wheelchair.

  I collapse, holding my chest.

  The driver jumps out and runs up to us.

  Harry was right – prison guards are human.  He comes out from behind the tree, goes over to the prison van and gets into the driver’s seat.

  Fred grabs the driver’s wrist, I grab his handcuffs and between us we handcuff him to the wheelchair.  You should have seen the look on his face.

  The guard who’s in the back with Phil gets out to see what’s going on, sees the game’s up and lights a fag.

  Me and Fred get into the prison van - it’s a funny feeling getting into one of those things voluntarily – and it’s Spain here we come.

  Or so we thought.


  Harry’s already timed the run to the airport.  He reckons it’ll take about an hour, give or take, depending on traffic. 

  We make a good start, tootling along the motorway at fifty MPH – we’re in a prison van, remember, not noted for speed.  But then just outside Spurfleet traffic starts to slow.  Then we see a sign – LANE CLOSURE.  Traffic’s crawling now.  Then, blow me, if Harry doesn’t see flashing blues in his rear view.

  “Expect there’s been an accident,” Fred says, hopefully.

  Believe me, when you’re in a van that by rights belongs to HM Prisons with an escaped convict in the back and you’ve left the rightful owners in a hotel car park, you definitely hope that the reason you’re seeing flashing blues is that some poor devil’s had an accident.

  When we finally get to the scene, we see what’s up.  It’s a breakdown, not an accident.  A mini-bus, to be precise.  The AA man’s there with his box of tricks and – get this – sitting on the grass verge, large as life, there’s half-a-dozen clowns dressed as bears, and on the side of the mini-bus it says The Teddybears’ Picnic – Children’s Entertainers.

  It would have been entertaining if the cop car with the flashing blues hadn’t pulled-up at the side of us and out steps our old friend D.I. Deadwood.  He’s had us all bang to rights at one time or another.

  Harry winds the window down and shouts, “We thought you was dead, Deadwood.”

  Deadwood smiles that wicked smile of his and shouts back, “You shouldn’t believe everything you read in The Beano.”

  “Not The Beano,” Harry replies.  “Police Gazette.”

  “Full of lies,” says Deadwood.  “Now, if you’d like to follow us, we’ll have you back in the nick in no time.”

  He says something to the copper that’s driving, then turns his evil smile back to us and says, “If only all criminals were as thoughtful as you boys.  Providing your own transport.  Exceptional.  You’ll be the talk of Strangeways.”


  So we never did get to Spain.


1. The thing about writing poetry is:

there’s never a need for a

plot.  Beginnings

and middles and endings you

need, but

a plot you do




are characters

required – good

ones, bad ones, central, or inserted for comic

relief, you can dispense with the




can forget about dialogue,

too.  No-one

need utter a

word; no-one

need be there to utter a



All you need do is to

write.  That’s

right: just write.  What

could be simpler than



2. The trouble with writing poetry

is: what do you do between

poems?  When

the feeling’s gone and you can’t think

of one, what do you do between

poems?  Drinking

is fine, and sex can be

fun, but

there’s nothing like writing a




can doodle, composers

conduct, but

a poet without poems is




the ending of one to the start of the

next, how

do you fill-in your

time?  Simply

wait, or go for a

walk?  Plan a meal?  Read

a book?  Just what do you do between



3. Are words worth investing

in?  I

like to think that they are: I’ve

spent my life collecting

them.  The

attic is full, the garage is,

too; the

conservatory’s getting that way.  My

partner has

left, my children will soon.  Thank

God that I’ve still got my words.



might go up and shares might come

down; prices

will rise, occasionally

fall: it

tells you as much on the



But my investment is

sound, my

stock is still

high, and I could always live in the



4. My greatest fears when entering a public

space are:

being caught on camera thinking of a

poem, security

watching, children

pointing, husbands nudging wives.


And so I dart from place to

place, from screen to flickering

screen.  “He’s gone!” they’ll cry.  “He’s

here!” they’ll call.  My collar up, my hat pulled

down, they can’t keep track of my

thoughts or see that my pockets are full of my