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8

Dum de dum de dum de dum

de dum de dum delight.


The Brentford Poets.

Founded sometime back in the early 1980s, by some local author, whose name no-one ever remembers. It might have been P. P. Penrose, creator of the world's greatest private eye, the now legendary Lazlo Woodbine. But of course it wasn't P. P. Penrose, because everybody remembers P. P. Penrose.

As to who it really was, it hardly mattered. The Brentford Poets came into being. An entity. A reality.

In 1982, Time Out wrote of the Brentford Poets, 'This is London's largest weekly poets' get-together. And possibly the strangest.' What was meant by the latter remark was lost on the good folk of Brentford. Poetry can be joyous. And joyousness rode high in Brentford's saddle, even back in 1982.

Kelly arrived a little after eight. She was impressed by the look of the Waterman's Arts Centre. It looked modern.

This wasn't because it was modern, it had been constructed sometime back in the early 1980s. It was just that it looked modern. Because the current vogue in twenty-first century architecture was for an homage to the early 1980s. It's a good word, 'homage', and for those who don't know its meaning and can't be bothered to look it up, it means rip-off!

The plain folk of Brentford, who never took to change, had not taken at all to the building of the Waterman's Arts Centre. It had been built by out-borough contractors with out-borough money upon the site of the old gasworks, prime riverside land. And the plain folk of the borough considered this 'a bit of a liberty'. There had been some peaceful protestation against the development. And this in turn had led to the forces of law and order employing small measure of response. Water cannon, CS gas, the reading of the Raot Act, rubber bullets, baton charges, helicopter gunships and finally the passing of a special Act of Parliament, which sanctioned the use of the nuclear deterrent, if the peaceful protestors of Brentford did not stop blowing things up and burning things down and return at once to their houses and stop being such a bloody nuisance.

On this occasion, it seemed to the rest of the world that the plain people of Brentford would definitely lose their struggle against the forces of change. Although it had to be said that they weren't going down without a fight. In fact, so great was the amount of night-time sabotage mounted against the Arts Centre during its construction, that the contractors were forced to erect fifteen-foot-high electrified perimeter fences, topped with razor wire and watched over by guards in raised sentry posts equipped with searchlights and General Electric Miniguns. The building work was delayed again and again, the costs overran, the council (held for a while at gunpoint in the famous Siege of Sydney Green Street, when it was discovered by the plucky Brentonians that council members had not only backed the scheme but put in money from the local coffers) pulled out their financial support, the building conglomerate backing the scheme went bust and everyone involved in the project who hadn't either committed suicide, been fire-bombed, or threatened with hideous death, gave the whole thing up and abandoned the scheme. Leaving the half-built Arts Centre for the people of Brentford to do with as they wilt.

A meeting of the Brentonians had been held in the town hall (in Sydney Green Street) to decide the fate of the half-constructed Arts Centre. Many suggestions were put forward as to how it should best be demolished, but then a voice of extraordinary reason spoke up from the back of the hall. It came from Professor Slocombe, a venerable ancient, considered by many to be Brentford's patriarch.

'Why destroy what you have been given?' asked the professor. 'It is yours now. Why not make of it something that reflects the greatness of the borough? The borough that you all love so dearly. Raise a temple wherein to offer praise to the artisans of Brentford. Has Brentford not given the world some of its finest artists, its most gifted musicians, its wordsmiths and scholars, its craftsmen, its poets, riverdancemen and its makers of macrame plant-pot holders and personalized lavender bags?'

There was then a bit of a pause.

Then, 'No,' said a small voice near to the front. 'None at all that I know of

'Exactly,' said Professor Slocombe. 'Because Brentford never had an Arts Centre before.'


Well, it certainly had one now. Every resident of Brentford was a shareholder. Each had paid for and laid one brick, which possibly accounted for its 'modern' look.

It is true to state that the bastions of High Art and Literature had not been taken by storm by the Brentford Set. And the makers of macrame plant-pot holders and personalized lavender bags slept easy in their beds, free from the worry that the superior artisans of Brentford would presently usurp their supremacy.

But the Arts Centre had spawned something: the aforementioned Brentford Poets, of which Time Out had taken note and written up in their pages.

'Every man and every woman is a poet,' wrote the magus Hugo Rune. 'Though none are ever so great as I, and most are just plain pants.'

Rune had once made a memorable appearance at the Brentford Poets. Clad in his famous five-piece suit of green and chequered Boleskine tweed, wearing his famous ring of power and carrying his famous stout stick, his famous shaven head decorated with an elaborate henna tattoo of two nuns fighting over a BMX and his infamous size ten feet encased within complicated holistic footwear which smelled strongly of creosote and trailed tiny sparks as he walked. Rune recited his famous Hymn to Frying Pan. A five-hundred-and-eighty-nine-stanza epic verse dedicated to himself. He was accompanied by his acolyte, Rizla, who filled in Rune's pauses for breath and frequent visits to the bar with melodic renditions on the swanee whistle, ocarina, kazoo and bicycle pump/armpit.

All who witnessed the performance agreed that it had been a unique and moving experience and many converted at once to the Church of Runeology and remained Runies for the rest of their lives.

Others protested that there hadn't been time left in the evening for them to recite their poems. Hugo Rune had dealt justice to these philistines with his stout and famous stick.

But Hugo Rune had long ago shrugged ofFhis mortal form and joined the choirs eternal. Whom he no doubt entertained with his Hymn to Frying Pan, with fill-ins by Rizla on the armpit.


So thus it was that the Waterman's Arts Centre came into being. But, one might be forgiven for asking, HowSo The Brentford Poets'?

Good question.

It is a fact well known to those who know it well (and Hugo Rune would probably be amongst these), and curiously it runs in verse:

Wherever you find a poet

You'll find another near

And wherever you find two poets

You'll find they're drinking beer.

On the opening of the Waterman's Arts Centre, an affair almost as memorable as Hugo Rune's reading of Hymn to Frying Pan, although few there are, with the possible exception of Old Pete, who would remember it today, there hadn't been a Brentford Poets.

There had only been a Writer in Residence.

And this the long-forgotten author.

The long-forgotten author had been given quite a remit. Found a poets' group, it said. The long-forgotten author, bereft as ever of ideas (he was the kind of author who specialized in an homage) put an advert in the Brentford Mercury:

Poets wanted to perform at a weekly poets' get-together at the Waterman's Arts Centre. A free pint from the bar for everyone who reads an original poem.

The bar ran dry the first night. It was remarkable just how many drinking men of Brentford felt the muse so suddenly arise in them.

But the reviewer from Time Out, who happened by chance to be there for the Busby Berkeley Retrospective [7] showing in the Arts Centre cinema, was so impressed by the enormous turnout (he never even got close to the bar himself) that he gave the event a write-up.

Numbers began to drop off a bit when the Writer in Residence decreed that pints should only be awarded to poets reading original poems which had some degree of artistic merit and ran to more than two lines inevitably terminating with the words, 'Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen and mine's a pint of large, please.' Many thirsty minimalist poets left the Arts Centre, bitterly complaining as they did so.

It finally worked its way down to a hard core of dedicated poets. They self-published a monthly magazine, The Shorter Brentford Book of Verse, early copies of which are now believed to be collector's items. And the event remained. Wednesday night at Waterman's was the Brentford Poets night.

And as tonight was Wednesday, this was what it was.


Kelly saw Derek waving to her from the bar. She threaded her way between the poets and the appreciators of poets and those who had come along just to see what was going on and those groups of pimply young men who always turn up to such events, because a mate of theirs told them that poetesses were easy lays and they'd actually been daft enough to believe him.

'I got you a glass of red wine in,' said Derek. 'I hope that's OK.'

'It's OK,' said Kelly. 'Thanks. It's pretty crowded in here. Do you always come to listen?'

'Listen?' said Derek. 'I come to perform. That's a stunning frock by the way. What kind of fabric is that?'

'It's a polyvinylsynthacottonlatexsuedosilk mix.'

'Nice,' said Derek. 'And I love those shoes too. They make you seem'

'Taller,' said Kelly. 'They're the latest Doveston holistic footwear. Triple-heeled with chromium love-turrets and inlaid frog-mullions. Each rivet hand-driven in by a vestal virgin at the temple of Runeology.'

'You're having a laugh,' said Derek.

'Derek,' said Kelly. 'Fashion is no laughing matter.'

'No,' said Derek. 'I mean, no, but you are, perhaps, and I mean no offence by this, slighdy overdressed for the occasion.'

It is another fact well known to those who know it well, that poets are very seldom fashion-conscious.

When talking of poets' attire the words scruffy, wretched and downright foul are oft-times brought into usage.

Only very few poets have ever cut a dash, as they say, clothes-wise. Amongst these must rank Sir Johnny Betjeman, stripey-blazered and all-round eccentric wearer of the old straw hat. And John Cooper Clarke, [8] whose dress code, although natty, sadly owed an homage to a chap called Bob Dylan.

Kelly gave those round and about a cursory glancing-over. 'Well,' she said. 'They are a scruffy, wretched and downright foul-looking bunch. But I didn't have time to change. I've been up west.'

'Chiswick?' said Derek, mightily impressed.

'The West End,' said Kelly. The head office of Mute Corp.'

'You didn't actually get to see old man Mute?'

'No,' said Kelly. 'Sadly not. Apparently he lives upon a luxury yacht, the location of which is only known to a select elite. I don't think an interview with him is on the cards. But I do have a bit of news for you and I don't know how you'll take it.'

'Go on,' said Derek.

'I'm leaving Brentford,' said Kelly. 'Tomorrow.'

'What?' said Derek. 'Already? But you've only been here a couple of days.'

Kelly sipped at her red wine. 'I've been offered a job at Mute Corp. I took the liberty of taking my CV up with me when I went. A very nice man called Mr Pokey, who wore a beautiful orange suit and who couldn't take his eyes off my breasts, offered me a job.'

'Oh,' said Derek and a sadness came out all over his face. 'I suppose he would. I suppose any man would.'

'Don't be downcast,' said Kelly, finishing her wine. 'I only wanted to get inside the organization. We'll still be working together on the investigation.'

'Ah yes,' said Derek. 'The investigation. I've been thinking about that.'

'Thinking what?' said Kelly.

'Well, it's just that with Mr Shields banged up in the hospital, he seems to be in a bit of a coma by the way. The doctor said something about repeated blows to the head. With him in hospital, I have been put in charge of running the Mercury and head office has sent me all these memos about co-operating with the representatives of Mute Corp over the Suburbia World Plc business.'

'What?' said Kelly, startling several poets, a lover of poetry and a pimply young man who'd been taking a lively interest in her breasts. 'You Judas!'

'I'm not,' said Derek, crossing his heart. 'I'm not, I'm not, I'm not. I don't want to see the borough turned into a theme park, but what can I do?'

'You could refuse,' said Kelly.

'They'll sack me,' said Derek.

'Then you can do the decent thing.'

'Resign? No way.'

'Not resign. Do what you told me the people of Brentford do, practise inertia. Appear to co-operate, but don't actually do anything.'

'Just do what I always do.'

'You're very good at doing it.'

'Fair enough,' said Derek. 'Another glass of wine?'

'It's my round, I think.'

'Oh yes, it is.'

'But don't let that put you off". Buy me another glass of wine.'

'Oh, all right,' said Derek. 'Any crisps?'

'Do they serve bar snacks?'

Derek chewed upon his lip. 'There is a menu,' he said sadly. 'I think they do the surf and turf.'

'That will be fine then, I'll have one of those.'

Derek sighed. 'Well,' he said. 'As it is your last night here.'

Kelly smiled.

Derek hailed the barman. 'Barman, barman,' he hailed.

'He won't listen,' said an ancient sitting at the bar. 'If you want to get his attention, you should speak in Runese.'

Derek glowered towards the ancient. Then he said, 'How did you get on with the over-eighties backwards walk from Kew to Richmond?'

'I came first,' said Old Pete (for who could it have been but him). 'Bit of healthy competition this year. I had to nudge at least three wheelchair cases into the Thames. Three's a record, I think, it was only two last year. And that nun, but she was cheating, riding a BMX.'

'Barman,' hailed Derek. 'Barman, please.'


Old Pete didn't read any poems that night. He wasn't much of a poet, Old Pete, even in the holy cause of the well-won-fine-free-pint. He knew his limitations. And anyway, he was busy tucking into the free champagne that the Arts Centre was dishing out to him to celebrate his win in the over-eighties backwards walk.

Old Pete's chum, Old Vic, was a poet though. And a mighty one to boot. Old Vic had been a prisoner of war. In a war that few remembered now, but they still made movies about. Mostly inaccurate ones where they got the hairstyles wrong, but as that is Hollywood tradition, it's neither here nor there.

Old Vic was first up upon the rostrum to recite his latest poem. Old Vic always received a standing ovation, even from those who remained sitting down, for, after all, he had been a prisoner of war. Hands clapped aplenty, fingers were stuck into mouths and whistles were blown out between them. Certain hats were cast into the air, but these were those of visiting poets who came from strange lands to the South where poets always wore hats.

'Thank you,' said Old Vic, waggling his wrinkled hands about to staunch the outpourings of welcome. 'I've had to have a bit of a think this week about what I was going to write about. I thought I might do a poem about bream. Lovely fish the bream, very silvery. Quite unlike the perch, which is fatter and has green and reddy bits. Or indeed the dab, not unlike the bream, some might say, but a slimmer slippery fellow and one liable to make his escape through your keep-net if you only have thirteen-gauge netting, rather than a ten-gauge.'

There was some laughter over this from a group of local anglers. Imagine anyone being daft enough to put a dab in a keep-net with thirteen-gauge netting. That was a good'n.

'Bravo, Old Vic,' called anglers, raising their glasses and making rod-casting motions with them.

'Careful,' said a pimply young man. 'You're spilling your beer on me.'

'Ssh,' went the anglers. 'Listen to Old Vic. He was a prisoner of war.'

'Cheers lads,' said Old Vic, tipping the anglers the wink. 'But I decided not to write a poem about bream this week.'

'Aw,' went the anglers. 'Shame.'

'Maybe next week lads. But this week, not bream. I have to say that I toyed with the idea of writing a poem about muleskinning.'

A cheer went up from a group of muleskinners over from Cardiff for the annual muleskinners' convention that is always held at the Function Rooms at the Station Hotel.

'Evening lads,' called Old Vic. 'Good to see you here again. I'll pop over to have a word later, I need a new eight-foot bull whip, I wore the last one out at the Easter fete.'

'Three lashes for a quid,' said Derek. 'He always gives good value. The money goes to charity of course. Small and shoeless boys in search of a good hiding, or something.'

'Eh?' said Kelly, tucking into her tucker, which had lately arrived at the bar counter. 'Could you pass the cranberry sauce, please?'

Derek passed the cranberry sauce.

'Now,' Old Vic continued. 'I must confess that I didn't write a poem about muleskinning.'

Kelly looked up from eating. 'What a fascinating man,' she said in a tone that was less than sincere. 'I've no doubt that he's about to tell us that he didn't write a poem about unicycling vicars either.'

'Let the old boy have his say,' sshed Derek. 'He's a venerable poet. And he was a prisoner of war.'

Kelly said, 'Pass the ginseng dip.' And Derek passed it over.

'Any unicycling vicars out there?' asked Old Vic.

Another cheer went up.

'Sorry,' said the ancient. 'Maybe next week.'

'My money is now on Yugoslavian junk bond dealers,' said Kelly to Derek. 'Or possibly Venezuelan gorilla impersonators, deaf ones of course.'

'So,' said Old Vic. 'I considered all and sundry, but I've decided to do a poem about the time when I was

'A Prisoner of War!' chorused all and sundry, except for Old Vic.

'Ah, I see,' said Kelly. 'It's a running gag.'

'It doesn't work if you don't come every week,' said Derek.

'I'm not altogether certain that it would, even if I did. Pass the crow's foot puree, please.'

Derek passed the crow's foot puree.

'I was once a prisoner of war,' said Old Vic. 'You won't remember the war in question. It's the one that they make movies about, although they always get the haircuts wrong.'

A group of visiting English hairdressers who worked for Pinewood Studios cheered at this.

'I call this poem "Blood and snot for breakfast again and only human finger bones to use for a knife and fork.'"

Kelly choked on her surf and turf and a small fight ensued between pimply young men who wanted to pat her on the back.

Old Vic launched into his poem.

'We was up to our eyes in pus and puke

There was only me and Captain Duke

Who could still stand up on where our legs had been

Which were oozing mucus and rotten with gangrene.'

Pimply men took turns at Kelly's back.

'We boiled up some phlegm to make a cup of tea

In the skull of the corporal from the infantry

Captain Duke drank the lot and left none for me

But I didn't mind, because I'd spat in it.'

'All right,' said Kelly. 'Stop patting my back or I'll break all your arms.' The pimply men stopped patting and Kelly sipped wine and tucked once more into her tucker.

'I spread some bile upon my maggot-ridden bread'

'Pat,' gagged Kelly, pointing to her back.

Old Vic's poem was only seventeen verses long and when it was finished it drew a standing ovation even from those who remained sitting down.

Kelly heard the cheering, but she didn't join in with it. For Kelly was in the ladies, bent rather low above the toilet bowl.

'Are you OK?' asked Derek, upon her return to the bar.

'That wasn't funny,' said Kelly, who still looked radiant, as only women can, after a bout of vomiting. 'That was disgusting.'

'Perhaps the mandrake salad dressing didn't agree with you.'

'I'm going,' said Kelly. 'I don't want to hear any more.'

'I'll be on in a minute,' said Derek. 'You wouldn't want to miss me, would you?'

'Do your poems involve any pus or mucus?'

Derek thought for a bit. 'No,' he said. 'They're mostly about sex.'

Kelly stared at him. 'And what would you know about sex?'

'Oh I know a lot about it,' said Derek. 'It's just that I don't do a lot of it.'

'I overheard a pimply bloke saying that poetesses are easy. Surely if you're a regular performer you get your end away every once in a while.'

'Don't be crude,' said Derek. 'But actually it is true, poetesses are easy. Well, at least the fat ugly ones with moustaches are.'

Kelly gave Derek another one of those looks. 'That would be the fat girls are grateful for it theory, would it?'

'Listen,' said Derek. 'I'm not fat, but I can tell you, I'm really grateful for it.'

'Whose round is it, then?' asked Kelly. 'If I'm staying, you could at least have the decency to buy me a drink.'

'I think we'd started buying our own,' said Derek.

'No, I think you were still buying mine.'

'Barman,' hailed Derek. 'Barman, please, barman.'


Next up upon the rostrum was a poetess. She was not a fat moustached poetess who was grateful for it. She was a young and beautiful and slim poetess who could afford to be choosy.

She recited a poem about her cat called Mr Willow-Whiskers. Who was apparently her furry little soulmate.

Kelly was forced to return to the ladies and lose the rest of her supper. At length she returned, still radiant, to the bar.

'That's definitely enough for me,' she said. ' "Mr Willow-Whiskers with his soul of crimson sunset". That was enough to make anyone throw up.'

'The pimply youths seemed to like it,' said Derek. 'They're asking for her autograph.'

'I've never been comfortable with poetry,' said Kelly. 'It's either well meaning, but bad, or beautifully constructed, but unintelligible. I quite like limericks though, have you ever heard the one about the young man from Buckingham?'

'I have,' said Derek. 'It's truly obscene.

Well, I'm off. Enough is enough is enough.

I'm up next,' said Derek. 'Please stay until I'm done.'

Kelly smiled. 'And your poem will be about sex, will it?'

Derek grinned. 'I've been working on my delivery. The way I see it, with performance poetry, it's not so much what you say, as the way you say it. My poems aren't actually rude, but I inject into them a quality of suggestiveness which gives them the appearance of being extremely risque.'

'Derek,' said Kelly. 'We're friends now, aren't we?

Yes,' said Derek nodding. 'I think we are.

Then as your friend, allow me to say that you are a complete and total prat. No offence meant.'

'And none taken, I assure you. But you just wait until you hear my poem. It involves the use of the word "plinth", which as everybody knows, is the sexiest word on Earth.

Plinth?' said Kelly.

'My God,' said Derek. 'Say it again.'

A round of applause went up as Mr Melchizedec, Brentford's milkman in residence, concluded his poem 'Oh wot a loverly pair of baps'. It didn't include the word 'plinth', but as his style of delivery owed an homage to the now legendary Max Miller, the two Olds, Pete and Vic, were now rolling about on the floor, convinced that they had just heard the filthiest poem in the world.

'Check this out,' said Derek, grinning at Kelly and pushing his way through the crowd towards the rostrum.

Kelly yawned and looked at her watch. She'd let Derek do his thing, then she'd get an early night in. She wanted to look her best for her first day at Mute Corp, tomorrow.

Derek mounted the rostrum and smiled all over the crowd.

The crowd didn't seem that pleased to see him, although Kelly overheard a fat poetess with a moustache whisper to her friend, a poetess of not dissimilar appearance, that 'he looks like he's up for it'.

'Thank you,' said Derek, to no-one in particular. 'This is a poem dedicated to a lady. She's a very special lady. She doesn't know that she's a very special lady, but to me she is.'

'What's her name?' called out Old Pete, lately helped up from the floor.

'That's my secret,' said Derek.

'I'll bet it's this bird here,' said Old Vic, pointing towards Kelly. 'The bird with the nice charlies.'

Kelly glared pointy daggers, Old Vic took to cowering.

'The poem is untitled,' continued Derek.

'So what's it called?' Old Pete called.

'It doesn't have a tide.'

'A poem should have a title,' said Old Vic. 'Or at least a rank. We all had ranks in the prisoner-of-war camp.'

'Yeah,' called a pimply youth. 'You were all a bunch of rankers.'

The barman (who had been conversing in Brentford Auld Speke to a wandering bishop, down from Orton Goldhay for the annual congress of wandering bishops that was held in the function room above the Four Horsemen public house) shouted out, 'Oi! We'll have no trouble here.'

'It should have a title,' said Old Vic. 'It should!'

'All right,' said Derek. 'It's called "Sir Untitled Poem", OK?'

Kelly looked at her watch once more. Perhaps she should just go.

'"Sir Untitled Poem,'" said Derek, launching into 'Sir Untitled Poem'.

As Kelly had feared, 'Sir Untitled Poem' was pants. It was one of those excruciating love sonnets that lonely teenage boys compose when all alone in their bedrooms, and then make the mistake (only once!) of reciting to their very first girlfriend on their very first date.

It would, however, possibly have ranked as just another poem of the evening, had not something occurred during its reciting.

It was something truly dire and it put a right old damper on the evening. So truly dire, in fact, was it, that the wandering bishop, who had been chatting with the barman, found himself very much the man of the moment, several pimply youths found themselves in the loving arms of fat moustachioed poetesses, and Old Vic finally found another subject worthy of a poem.

Not that he would recite it at the Brentford Poets for a while. What with the Arts Centre being closed for extensive refurbishment, what with all the mayhem and destruction and suchlike.

But before this truly dire event occurs, as it most certainly must, it will be necessary for us to take a rather radical step and return to the past, so that the truly dire event might be truly understood.

We must return to the evening before last.

To the cottage hospital and the bed of Big Bob Charker.

The time is eight of the evening clock.

And Big Bob isn't happy.


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