The poetry of Birmingham writer Michael Richardson
Birmingham writer and artist Michael Richardson began writing during the 1990s when failing eyesight affected his ability to paint.
His first novel, The Pig Bin, was published by Tindal Street Press in 2000; in 2001 it won the Society of Authors' Sagittarius Prize for best first novel of the year (Senior Section). Its sequel, Careless Talk, was published in 2007.
He's had short stories, articles and poems published in, variously, The Sunday Times, Mayfair, London Magazine, Private Eye and Raw Edge.
A completed third novel awaits publication and at present he is working on a book of related short stories.
Here is a selection of his poems:
I used to be partly Irish.
I nurtured it a bit;
I banked with Allied Irish,
sometimes bought the Irish Times,
put it about that I found Ulysses penetrable;
and talked about Irish affairs - in a very English voice, of course.
I was careful not to be too Irish, you understand,
just enough to give my Englishness a certain rakish edge.
Sometimes when I managed to say something
particularly amusing, outrageous or apt,
people would smile and nod and say,
'Ah, that's his Irish coming out.'
Which was highly satisfying.
Then a genealogist investigating my line of descent,
discovered that my maternal grandfather
(he to whom I believed I owed my Irish portion)
was actually the son of Jewish émigrés from Latvia.
'So how come he was a Catholic called Paddy
who worked on the buildings, then?' I blurted.
The genealogist shrugged.
'A Catholic by conversion: it is not unknown.
Paddy: probably a mere nickname: an ironic reference to his new faith.
As for his working on the buildings, it is neither here nor there.'
'But I'm all tooled up for being partly Irish:
how on earth do I tell my friends?'
'I do the research: how you cope is outside my sphere.
Perhaps a psychiatrist . . .'
The psychiatrist said, 'You are what you are: accept.'
Or words to that effect.
So now I am partly Jewish -
though only half as much as I used to be partly Irish;
So I have to work on it just that bit more -
buying both the Jewish Chronicle and Quarterly;
occasionally munching a bagel on the bus.
And it's not so very different from being partly Irish.
For example, when sometimes I manage to say something
particularly amusing, outrageous or apt,
one or two of my new friends already smile and nod and say,
'Ah, that's his Jewishness coming out.'
Which is highly satisfying.
FIREWORKS FOR CATS
In the cat section of Pet World
they have everything imaginable for cats.
For example, there are eight types of cat flap;
some manual, others magnetic or electronic -
two with remote controls.
We chose an electronic with remote control
in burnt spice to match the back door.
Waiting with this
and other cat purchases at the checkout,
I suddenly exclaimed,
'Gosh, look, they're new;
what will they think of next?
They've got special fireworks for cats over there!'
My wife and half the queue eagerly rushed off
leaving me feeling rather foolish
as I'd only said it as a joke.
The notice above the urinal said:
'Now wash your hands.'
But as there was no one else around
to set a good example to,
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECTI practise being old
while I've still got the energy
as I want to be perfect
when the time comes -
it isn't long now.
So I drag my foot
and occasionally stumble;
puff and pant a bit;
squint and peer,
and pretend I can't hear too well.
But I frequently forget
and vault a stile
or sprint like mad to catch the bus,
hear things from the next room
not meant for my ears;
and clearly see things I clearly shouldn't
through a narrow crack in the curtains across the street -
if I move my head about enough.
ACTION VERSUS ACTIVITY TROUSERS
In the window of the Outdoor Leisure Store
were a magnificent pair of action trousers.
Inside the shop I counted eight pockets
with three zipped, and two pleated with flaps.
And if that wasn't enough, the label said: Designed in USA.
They were, I believe, the most serious trousers I had ever seen,
built for off-roading and/or survival, no doubt.
I was tempted.
But in purchasing them I risked superior smiles and smirks
as it is well known that I do neither of these things.
Although . . . I could always start.
But common sense prevailed,
and in the end I settled for the activity trousers
displayed on an adjacent stand.
They were a much more gentle trouser with just five pockets.
In these you could confidently do folk art stencilling
Without anybody raising an eyebrow.
IN OLDEN TIMES
When I was a little lad,
computers were huge -
ours filled up half the parlour;
there was hardly room to move.
(made of aluminium, ply and Bakelite)
clattered and squealed continually
and set your teeth on edge.
And our mobile phone
(we only had the one)
was so heavy and cumbersome
my mum and I had to lug it
around in an old pushchair;
and when it rang,
ask a passing bloke
to help us pull the aerial out.
But we were happy.
In Town today five people
asked for my autograph
thinking I was Hugh Grant.
It is always happening.
My wife is sceptical.
'But you are totally unlike him
in every possible way!'
That's exactly what they say!
More or less.
They say, "Gosh, you look totally different
from when you're on the telly:
must be down to special lighting,
'Warrow, Roy, got a new stapler?'
'Yeh, went in for this Meteor DX4
with adjustable paper guide - in the finish.
'Nice one! I like the contoured handle -
that's seriously ergonomic, that is.
No messing with you, Roy.
What'll it do?'
'85 sheets - with your 14 mm-leg staple, like.'
'Wow! Mind, that's with your thin stuff, though?'
'Well if you call 80 gsm stuff thin, then yeh, okay.'
'No, no, that's really something.
What's its loading cap, then, Roy?'
'Oh, usual - for its class - hundred. Heavy-duty, mind.'
'Well, that's enough for anybody, Roy:
Never could see the point of any more.
Do they all come in Metallic Burgundy, Roy?'
'Well, yeh, really, but I'd have chose Metallic Burgundy,
Anyroad, even if there'd been a choice.'
'Yeh, you can't beat Metallic Burgundy, Roy.
Bet it put you back a bit.'
'Twenty-eight, ninety-nine - plus the VAT.
What about you, then?'
'Well, you know me, Roy,
Still soldiering on with the old Midget II.
Twenty-five sheets max. but it does me okay.
It'll see me out all right, Roy.'
Amsterdam is plentifully supplied with McDonalds'
with helpful signs on every lamppost
directing you to where they are.
There are also several Burger Kings.
There is only one Laura Ashley, though,
which you could easily miss
If you weren't looking for it.
Waterstone's and Tie Rack are of about average size,
Marks and Spencer's is disappointingly small,
Though to compensate, the C&A is vast.
The City boasts a Mothercare and six Irish pubs,
a Blockbuster Video is to open shortly,
and wherever you are you are never far from a Spar.
There are many historic buildings.
but without the Waterstone's.
Roughly similar to the above
but with far fewer historic buildings.
The instructions with Dave's ink cartridges warned:
Never touch the electrical contacts of the cartridges!
Underneath was a diagram of a man's hand touching it.
but a big cross was superimposed
to show that he shouldn't.
Dave developed a sneaking regard for that reckless man
whose hand it was.
One day when his wife was out
and he had nothing left to print,
Dave impulsively brushed his finger
across the electrical contacts of the cyan cartridge in his printer.
He applied more pressure - nothing.
A dud probably.
He did the same to all his cartridges
first just touching then pressing and rubbing hard.
But next morning there was a transport strike
that paralysed the whole of France.
Aren't things relaxed and informal
at the doctor's nowadays?
Our new doctor insists I call him Ken
and he always calls me Baz -
although actually my name's Frank.
But you don't like to waste NHS time splitting hairs.
And isn't it refreshing
that they don't blind you with science any more:
Just use everyday language.
And this new preventative medicine,
stopping things before they start.
Whatever I've come to see him about,
Ken always asks when I leave,
'And no problems to report
with the old waterworks, then, Baz?
And no screaming abdabs doing your head in?
No, right, still, we'll stick with
Both lots of tablets just in case.'
It's reassuring, isn't it?
Although I've never been troubled
with either of those things
and now, touch wood, probably never will.
Gridlock . . .
And everywhere you look there's a McDonald's.
The world's become a hostile, alien place.
You think too much,
I told myself,
All you need is a pint
With your mates
In the Duke of York.
But the bar, the snug and the lounge have gone;
So have my mates;
So has the Duke.
All there is
Is Donovan's Bar.