Image © Copyright Amy Charles Media 2014

25 Dec 2016

The Yellow Bus


Blacked-out windows
on the battered yellow bus

may prevent pedestrians
from scrunching up their noses.

But for these girls,
those scrunches
are merely
the soundtrack.


Air strikes launched on the dashboard:
clumps of padding from the backs of the chairs

bouncing off the windscreen,
and nestling in the foot well.

A few foam missiles
aren’t much to have to deal with,
but when the air strikes are constant,
it becomes a different matter.


Mid evening in mid-August.
Sunlight glares
on the bonnets that we pass.
“Left before the lights,
and then pull over by the Off Licence.”
Another passenger
for the yellow bus
climbs aboard
and flashes a smile.

We snake through the pebbledash estates.
We’re in the suburbs of Newcastle,
but at this stage it’s anonymous:
Byker kids in Barça kits,
paddling pools and Union Flags.

(It takes me back to boyhood
on Old Crown Road.)

Radio 1 cranked up to eleven.
A three-point turn in a cul-de-sac.
Snapchat making animals
of adults unaware,
and Amber Leaf
being passed about
as air strikes reach
a ceasefire.

One of the girls on board
was kicked out on her sixteenth birthday.
Maternal doors slamming
since the scuffle in the hot tub:
booze and blood and broken glass
erupting from the bubbles.

The last thing that she saw,
as she peered over her shoulder,
was her tiny toddler sister
with her hands against the glass.

She could’ve done with the cash from babysitting
since they turned her down at Aldi.

She’s old enough to fend for herself,
but her little sister’s helpless.
Destined for evenings filled with:

Fish fingers,
Unwashed uniforms,
Candy Crush,
Krispy Kreme,

Amplified absences,
Leftover loaves and
Loathsome lovers.

But the atmosphere brings giggled gossip.
The news isn’t treated as traumatic.
And the girls take turns,
exchanging tales:
blissfully unaware of any scrunching.

The yellow bus
backs into a space,
and sunlight dances
on the North Shields quay.

The air around us is deadly still
as we step down to the concrete.

They head off in pairs.
You might think they’re conspiring,
but mainly they’re confiding.
Cigarette smoke rises
above every little missile
that’s been bouncing off their windscreens
since before they can remember.

I look around me.
I see six remarkable young women.
I hear six voices eager
with ambition and resilience.
I hear six tales, matter-of-fact,
and that’s when I scrunch up my nose.

They’re left to live and learn
in limbo.
Bars on windows,
padlocks on doors,
and paint that peels
amidst patches of damp.

Bereft of any sense of value.
Left without an open door.
Theft of a level playing field.

A system that’s stacked
for square pegs
in square holes,
square lives
and set roles.

Being average is a blessing.
Being normal is a virtue.
Being left behind is a one-way street,
and the postcode lottery
is a simple fact of life.

But they finish their fags,
flick through their filters,
and for the three hours that follow,
they fill a room
with laughter.


It’s infectious at the time,
but the streetlights blur with a tear.

First you hear hyenas,
then you see hedgehogs.

Limbs masked by Adidas
that quiver with anxiety.

These girls present potential
that’s been strangled at the source.

Fuck me, it’s frustrating.
A generation gargled.
And one-by-one, they wave goodbye
to the battered yellow bus.

14 Oct 2016

Midnight, Leeds Coach Station

It’s only midnight, but it feels much later.
Leeds coach station:
less for lost souls,
and more for rejected reels.
A man whose “s” makes a whistle
is demanding to go to Rotherham.
Meadowhall, 5 miles down the road,
will not suffice.
An oriental woman
in her well preserved 60s
circles the outer perimeter:
chuntering to herself
beneath the mist-like drizzle
as she waits for the 465
to London.
Arguments ensue over the functionality of the ticket machine.
I offer a sympathetic smile to the lime green tabard
and receive raised eyebrows in response.
He allows himself a smirk
as eyes slip out of contact,
before it’s back to the barrage
from Rotherham.
The coach to Meadowhall is at 00:20.
The coach to Rotherham is at 02:20.
Meadowhall is maybe a £10 taxi away,
or an hour’s walk,
but he’s insistent on direct travel.
My ticket to Wakefield cost £1.90.
My Tunnock’s caramel wafer cost £1.00.
The oriental woman checks the time again.
It hasn’t changed.
Off she chunters:
exchanging dialogue with the midnight air.
Another new shopping centre,
pregnant above. The Playhouse snoozes.
A trio of taxis contemplate turning in:
too expensive for this life.
The cash machine is out of order.
The toilet is 30p.
The city looks like a screensaver,
but still the sound of machinery
grunts from the shadows.
Mr Rotherham lights a cigarette by Bay 1.
He is not told to put it out.
Lime green tabard takes a carrier
to his navy Vauxhall Zafira.
It looks cheaper than 5p.
The machinery makes almost a dim ringing sound:
throbbing in the breeze.
On its arrival,
Mr Rotherham attempts to board the 465,
for which he did not purchase a ticket.
He pushes to the front of the queue.
You can’t buy tickets on board.
The closest stop
is Sheffield city centre.
He throws down his cigarette;
unsatisfied with the distance.
The man in front of me
is travelling to Budapest.
I am travelling 10.6 miles,
although I did start the morning
in Calais.
In a coffee shop in Euston,
I read ‘Howl’.
I worked through it slowly,
repeating each stanza.
I still don’t understand it,
but I like it much better.
The woman beside me
orders a taxi from Mansfield.
The reading light does not work.
This coach does not carry
wandering souls,
but rejected reels.
Some are between auditions.
Some will never be seen.

12 Oct 2016

On Arrival in Ibiza on a Wednesday in October

It’s 1am,
and I’m outside a café
in shorts and t-shirt.
I circle in the road
towards a shuffled approach.

The gentleman inside…
he has the spitting image
of a John Smith’s belly
and a ‘tache that’d fare well at darts.

He saunters across the tiles
and then starts collecting menus.

I enquire – half English, half Spanish –
and he welcomes – half smiling, half sighing –
and in walking towards the service point,
he beckons me inside.

In all his weary nights,
I bet he never deemed this poetic.

Aside from two locals on Coca-Cola,
I’m the only punter in sight.

I widen my eyes for a nod of approval
to reach inside the fridge:
grasping a beer, and 1.5l of water.

The bartender sails across her
freshly swept tiles
before leaning towards tiptoes
at the till.
I speak in Spanish,
and she responds in English.
This trend is never broken.

I gaze into the neon
as I suck on my Corona:
this morning I woke up in Grimsby,
so I’m struggling to adjust.

Black ashtrays, white tables,
black chairs and silent streets.

I manage to earwig
about 5% of their conversation.
I’m pretty sure
they’re slagging off the chef.

But as the hombre lobs his towel
over his shoulder,
the bartender hums to Manu Chao
as she skirts back over the tiles,
and I slowly peel the label
from my bottle:

all three of us are united,
and utterly alone,
in the most comfortable of silences
I think I’ve ever known.

15 Jul 2016

Overnight MegaBus (London to Leeds)

Where denim and leather sit side by side
and strip-lights sabotage slumber.
Strangers stretching blurry eyed,
non-nocturnal minds encumbered:
not through choice but desperate need,
the overnight MegaBus,
London to Leeds.

Where minutes match the miles on the motorway.
The strip-lights are surrendered,

leaving cricket scores in the Evening Standard
by midnight’s mask.
The old man squints,

with nothing but
the Butterscotch glow
from Finchley Road
to illuminate his wickets.

Bare feet stick out in aisles.
It looks like a cross between a bingo hall
and a morgue on wheels.
The stuffy air stands
behind the shoulders of your lungs:
forcing them to work for every breath.

The toilet is out of order.
The stench floats just above your nose,
like the Baileys in a Baby Guinness.
Whenever you lean back to rest your head
(which is fairly often at 2am),
it cackles
and catches you unaware.

And then you snooze for a bit,
with jacket between head and shoulder.
Trick your brain into thinking
there’s a duvet and a mattress,
until the booze morphs a mouth
that’s munched
a month’s worth of crackers.

The hot air stifles
and your forehead pounds,
but still…
three quid
from London to Leeds!

Look around: we’re winning at life.
We drop off at Rugby,
and Leicester,
and Loughborough
and Sheffield.

Sunlight creeps like a magnifying glass
on a coach full of ants
being dragged from the capital.

The particles of shit from the blocked-up bog
form a Morris dance pattern
‘round your nostrils.
The Services are always 25 miles away.
Jesus still loves us.
This billboard is still FOR SALE.

The cricket scores in the Evening Standard
have fallen to the floor.
The picture of the crease
all creased by his sandals.
The strip-lights fight for attention,
but they’re long since a formality.

The overnight MegaBus.
London to Leeds.

Blurry eyes now bloodshot.
Strangers carry awkward familiarity.
Snoring and sighs,
stretches and yawns:

cash is the Queen,
and we are the Pawns.

14 May 2016

22 Miles

It's sunny enough to squint
but there's a fairly decent breeze,
so I do take off my jacket
but I leave it on my knees,
and the lads are urging -
"pull up a stool!
Come sit down and eat."
I try to resist,
but a penniless host
will never admit defeat...

Jam baguettes and cigarettes
and milk in little cartons.
They ask which football team I support,
and grimace when I say "Blyth Spartans."
But still the conversation flows
on buckets, chairs and stools.
My only prior insight
being articles in vestibules...

After lunch we pass the time
with packs of cards dictating pride.
The sun retreats, the breeze persists;
we quickly scuttle inside.
I lose my boots
for this handmade house
as Ethiopians brag.
But the Eritreans take the lead,
as I find myself sitting

on a Bradford City
sleeping bag...

Claret and amber stripes
beside a cockerel.
The distance between my front door in Wakefield,
and Bradford City's stadium,
is 22 miles.
The distance between this front door in Calais,
and blissful British soil,
is 22 miles.

This lad beside me:
we share a birthday, a bed,
a childlike enthusiasm
for Leicester City's title chances,
and a deep disdain for David Cameron.

Yesterday morning,
I'd complained to myself
about the guy on the MegaBus
snoring for five whole hours.

The lad beside me
counts himself lucky
that it took him three months to get here:
most of which spanning
the Sahara desert
in the boot of a car.

Out there, on the strip,
it's a makeshift manmade Glastonbury.
Rows of businesses
from bookshops to barbers.
First Aid comes from caravans
with boxes of donations.

Every refugee you meet
appears cheerful, and generous.
Every freckled British face
is a volunteer.

Police patrol perimeters with guns that need
both hands,
beneath barbed-wire fences
that every language understands.
Barbed-wire fences
built by taxpayers
in Britain;
a message in a bottle
that doesn't need to be written.

Midway through this game of cards,
he taps me on my knee.
With eye contact,
I flinch through guilt
from everything I see.
He leans in
and he asks me
to gently justify.

The cards stop:
and everybody
waits for my reply.

The house succumbs to
He's not asking me as a reporter,
or a lawyer.
Just a person.

It's like Auschwitz has a waiting room.
human beings are graded
and these didn't make the cut.

These entrepreneurs;
these bold, brave souls.
Forced to flee from falling bombs
to sit and rot,
or gamble again.

I feel sick.
And the longer I sit silent,
the worse it gets.

22 miles.
Thousands of lives.
Zero answers.

7 Mar 2016

Pink Vinyl

I'm waiting, outside the Wetherspoon's,
at the bottom of Ecclesall Road.
Romance brews
beside a warmly lit room,
cheap ale, no music,
and the Tuesday night 'Steak Club'.

My new job pays 866 per month.
That leaves 416 after rent and bills,
which abandons me far too quickly:
especially in a new city;
when I'm 24,
and I'm single.

But still, I phoned Mercury Taxis,
dancing to the screech of the tyres:
leaping through the window
'midst a hand-break turn,
racing through Hillsborough
up the hill, towards the Uni,
over the top, past The Harley,
and across the Bramall Lane roundabout.

I urged him to rush:
shared the thrill of spontaneity.
Clutching a glossy white Chanel bag.
One of those jumped-up
cardboard carriers they give you,
which folk never throw away.
Inside was something far more special.

You'd told me how, as a bairn,
you'd sift through your old man's records;
and this one was always your favourite.
You didn't even like the song at first:
you just loved the way it looked.

Not seen it since.
Presumed it was hard to come by.
Yearned for it, for a moment,
toasted with
Strawberry Timmermans.
And now here I am
clutching it's designer disguise.

The glass exterior
renders Wetherspoon's a fish-bowl,
only... as if to magnify my circumstance,
they all gawp out at me.

There's a seated patio,
and I can feel folk watching
from the corners of their eyes:
using me as a marker.

"Was he here when we ordered?
How long ago was it?
Should I say something?
No, not about him... the steak...
it's been 22 minutes..."

Nervous girls arrive for
first dates,
catch my awkward eye,
as I scan like a lighthouse,
and breathe sighs of relief
on spotting dates inside.

Couples come and go,
as I exceed 45 minutes.
3-0 leads have succumbed to
4-3 defeats
in shorter periods.
The soaring high
precedes a crushing blow,
when you realise you'll never go anywhere
with centre halves like these.
Except, you never noticed them,
when you were cruising at 3-0.

We're opposite a roundabout:
connecting the city centre,
Hanover Way,
Waitrose, and Ecclesall Road.
Ecclesall Road leads to
Hunter's Bar,
Sharrow Vale,
and Nether Edge...

Car after car,
and none of them are yours.
None of them are your taxi,
your lift.
I almost wish that the streets were empty
to stop the flow of faces
taunting foolish hope.

Cars to the left of me,
Steak Club to the right...
here I am,
stuck in the middle,
with 'Cool For Cats' by Squeeze
on pink vinyl,
an exasperated text,
claiming misunderstanding:
with no kisses,
and no apologies.

You're at the other side of town.
You haven't eaten yet.
You're too busy now.
Too busy later.

"No man is an island,
but this woman is."

A huffed sigh slips my phone
into its denim holster.
Instead of a taxi,
I ride home with Davy Crockett:

arrows in my hat,
and pink vinyl clashing with
scarlet cheeks.

3 Mar 2016

Ferrybridge Services

Sat slurping black coffee
in the services,
gone midnight.
You almost kid yourself it's cinematic,
as lorries fly by
in the inside lane:

blurring with the reflections
from rows of seats
in the window.

Premier League highlights
on the plasma in the corner,
probably would've been omitted
from anything cinematic.

Ferrybridge Services,
from the inside, looking out.
You told me how,
when you were younger,
you and your mates
could see this spot;
watching down
from the Warwick estate,
as analogue eyes
sought mischief.

Dialling 999,
reporting bombs,
and then awaiting fleets of patrol cars
to frantically soothe your boredom.

So if this is cinematic,
I guess Shane Meadows might call the shots.
"Sing us some more sink estate sonnets!"
before a lingering frame
on your soya milk latté.

Fiddling with your Dockers,
scowling at the boom mic,
silently rolling a cigarette,
whilst West Bromwich Albion
celebrate in the background.