christopher james

Poems and prattle

Month: May, 2014

The Garden Party


I am inside the walls of the palace garden.
A quiet path is lined with flowers; a policeman
takes my papers and peers into my face.
London’s only heron guards the branch of a tree.
A cardinal, a general and a Buddhist monk
confer on the corner, sipping lemon barley water.
We join them and stare at the back of the palace;
as if being allowed to peek behind a magic mirror.
The summer house floats on a sea of grass.
Inside a Corgi made from wicker bathes in sunlight.
The ghost of Queen Victoria moves from guest
to guest, listening quietly, her shadow flitting
from group to group, admiring the hats and frocks.
The Beefeaters appear in yellow and scarlet
with pikes and flowers around the brims of their hats.
They stake out the grounds and divide the crowds.
Two brass bands compete from opposite ends.
they alternate like the two parts of a Swiss clock;
When one finishes, it lowers a flag; the other
raises theirs and strikes up the National Anthem.
A lady made from paper and lace sings along
in a whispered contralto. Rick Wakeman bows
his head then looks up, scanning the skies for rain.
The Queen is tiny, but beautiful in purple and pearls.
She watches the crowd without a smile, thinking
of the distance between the steps and her tea.
The Duke wears an old smile and a pink carnation.
He returns a grey top hat to his head. We take tea:
mint and cucumber sandwiches; chocolate squares
with a coat of arms on a chocolate button. A teacher
wraps hers to show the schoolchildren the next day.
We stand on the steps, as if at the end of a wedding day
warming the flats of our hands on the stone wall.
To my left, Edward VIII, looks out at the garden,
a silver shadow of himself, as if he has stepped
from a news reel, thinking of everything he must
give up; how love has made him a ghost of history.

Chris and Maria - ready for the Palace

How the Morris Saved England

When the last Spitfire was shot from the sky
and the defences at Dover overrun,
they sent for the Morris: the men
of Upton Snodbury, the mixed side
from Hinton in the Hedges; the dancing
squires of Oddington and Wheatly.
They came in their thousands, a carnival
of tatter-coats and top hats, bell-pads
and baldrics, wielding handkerchiefs;
they leapt to a cacophony of jigs.
At the head was the fool of Ducklington,
in a yellow frock and a mug of ale,
bearing his whiskers, flowers in his hat.
They swept through the invaders
breaking open the lines of tanks:
a cavalry of hobby horses; Midlanders,
with the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance
bewildering the commanders, bewitching
their artillery. Their gunners would not fire,
seeing the distant cousin of the Schuhplattler,
the mountain dances. They returned
to the beaches, decamped and put to sea
while the Morris folk lined the cliffs,
in blue breeches and white stockings,
their neckerchiefs flapping in the breeze.


Winkleman’s Broadwater

Winkleman’s Broadwater
is an ale of rare perfection:
It opens with toffee and walnut
notes, crushed gooseberries
and limes; the hops come through
with the bitterness of beeswax.
Appearance is a jar of honey,
left in sunlight; an amber pool.
At Winkleman’s we mash
in a tun like a king’s bathtub.
Fermentation is our holy art,
where we bless the wort
with yeast in six silver vessels.
It is bottled in thrice blown
brown glass and ferried each day
to our dealers in the back
of our patent yellow Land Rovers.
Each morning here at Winkleman’s,
we abandon the brewery, dress
in striped Victorian bathing costumes,
and head down a ladder to the sea.
Lunch is a feast of shrimp, dressed crab,
crusty bread and two pints
of Broadwater for every employee.
In the afternoons we drift off
to the sound of Debussy, Chopin
and the gentle brass of the brew kettles.
Every evening is a special evening
at Winkleman’s, when we gather
beneath the glass roof to write
the tasting notes: our eulogies
to the grains, our elegies to the vines.


Joking apart – Boo Hewerdine live at Haverhill Arts Centre

Boo Hewerdine tells a joke. In facts he tells plenty tonight (and sings one) along with a shed-load of music industry anecdotes at Haverhill Arts Centre – on the first stop on his My Name in the Brackets tour. He reveals that he took ‘between 11am and 12 noon off’ between the end of his tour with Eddie Reader and the start of his new solo outing. As one of the hardest working song writing and touring troubadours, Boo’s work ethic is beyond question.


Boo is an imposing presence. His fabulous support act, Icelandic songstress Hafdis Huld, stands a clear two feet below the mike set up for Boo and she is equally glowing about his talent – singing beautifully on their beguiling, Icelandic fairy tale ‘Wolf’ from her latest solo album, which she co-wrote with Boo. Her own songs, especially Queen Bee and Lucky are sublime.

The idea behind the latest tour is showcasing some of the songs Boo wrote for others, along with new work. These include the Eddie Reader hits ‘Dragonflies’ (they go nuts for this one in Ireland) and most famously ‘The Patience of Angels’, which is still a powerfully affecting tale of a struggling young mother and sung with urgency this evening (although possibly to get it out of the way?). The Girl Who Fell in Love with the Moon is a lovely, lilting classic, given sensitive treatment and added poignancy by the fact that co-writer Jacob Eriksen recently passed away.

His reading of My Last Cigarette, penned for K.D. Lang is masterful, showcasing his pure vocals and impressive range. He is no three chord trickster on the guitar either; his jazz chords look like a spider doing the splits and the descending chords progressions add an engaging counterpoint to his classic melodies. It’s old fashioned song-writing that sounds perfectly contemporary.

Boo’s shtick is that life has been vaguely disappointing and perhaps a little unlucky. For example, The Bible’s (Boo’s 80s outfit) big song ‘Graceland’ was released on the same day as Paul Simon’s Graceland. His trousers nearly fall down while playing live on Wogan. A meeting with Elvis Costello leads to an altercation over a cheese sandwich. His laconic, dead pan delivery is perfectly suited to these hilarious misadventures.

The song ‘Joke’ and all time classic ‘Honey Be Good’ are filled with punkish energy, perhaps propelled by talk of Mr Costello and the Sex Pistols. ‘Bible Papers’ meanwhile (nothing to do with his old band) is a lament for the Tommies who rolled their fags in the trenches with the thin pages of a Bible, made all the more impressive by rhyming ‘Deuteronomy’ with ‘they’re out to get me.’ It’s riveting stuff.

The evening is given an added edge by the fact that Boo has never performed some of the new songs live, which leads to an amusing false start and even the appearance of a crib sheet – but they are as muscular and perfectly crafted as the old; ‘Snowglobe’ is a neat trick and the nostalgic and slightly accusative ‘Amazing Robot’ is a wonder – especially with its refrain ‘Spin me, spin me, spin me.’ Heard on record, it gives the eerie impression that the CD is talking – like the bottle in Alice in Wonderland that says ‘Drink Me.’

Perhaps Boo deserved to be massive, playing stadiums and ten straight sold out nights at the O2. But then we wouldn’t have nights like this, at Haverhill Arts Centre, with candlelight flickering from the tables, humour, humility and magical song-writing bringing cheer to the rainy streets of provincial England. There’s nothing funny about that.