Friday, 8 December 2017

Short story: Street science

I met Carl in the city hospital's casualty department. He hobbled into the waiting area shortly after I had been abandoned by my wife to the mercies of the health professionals, such as they were.
I had broken my leg falling from a ladder while re-routing the satellite dish cable across the front wall of the house. Somehow this was my fault, she implied, forgetting that she had been the one who argued that me paying hard-earned cash to a spiv tradesman was a waste. She had her reasons, of course - if anyone was going to be spending my executive bonus on pointless fripperies it should be her. The house is one of the big ones on the hill, set back from the road with broad gravel drives. Apart from the cleaner and the gardener, we didn't mix with the lower orders on the sloping streets around us.
Carl was unexceptional in appearance at first glance, but something about him caught my eye - he was aware, watchful; his quick gaze around the room absorbed both geography and population; he headed over on his crutches and sat down next to me, groaning and tutting. He pointed at my leg.
'Snap! Or should I say snapped?'
I nodded silently.
'No worries,' he said, 'at least we'll jump the queue. Triage, you see.'
I was surprised by his elaborately French pronunciation of the word, and must have shown it, for he went on.
'I've knocked around Europe, all over. I can order a beer in ten languages, swear in more. Life skills.'
He sat back, grinning in pleasure. I realised he was cleverer, and more thoughtful, than he looked. I glanced at his injury. He shrugged.
'War wound. War of the bloody sexes, that is. Fell down the stairs while retreating under heavy fire - verbal mostly, a few shoes. Caught me off-guard.  A shame to my profession.'
'Which is?'
'Bouncer, or bodyguard, depending. I'm useful.'
He emphasized the final word to imply some unstated code, somehow managing to convey his judgement that I was, in those terms, useless.
'You must make a bit,' he added.
'I do quite well, yes,' I replied coldly.
'I can tell, you see,' he continued, steadfastly ignoring my tone. 'It's my radar. A scientist of the street, that's me.' He looked me up and down. 'So: winter ski tan, expensive watch, casual clothes with ironed creases, deck shoes. Simple.'
'And my accent, of course.'
'You'd be surprised -  accent's a difficult one. These days, especially. It's not so much deliberate gentrification, it's how we absorb what we hear - from kids, TV, music, mates. And in any case, accent is about class, where you came from; it's nothing to do with profession, or trade, or current status. Although,' he paused, considering, 'if your parents were poor, you'd have designer-label casuals, some gold rings or chains, maybe some tattoos.'
There followed a pause as we both looked around the room and silently classified its occupants.
The sign was still showing a three hour waiting time, but it wasn't long before I had been checked, X-rayed and partially encased in plaster. Carl followed me out, and when he herd me order a taxi, he asked to tag along. He only lived a couple of streets away, on the far side of the great social divide. It would have been rude to refuse, so we travelled home together, and I left him outside his house, tottering up the steps on his crutches.

The days that followed were a bit like Rear Window, as I was trapped upstairs with little to do. But it was more like watching Rear Window on continuous repeat. It is surprising how little there is on TV when it's your only option.
The practice nurse at the surgery pronounced herself happy with my progress, and a few days later an appointment card arrived from the physiotherapy department at the hospital.
When I arrived there, I saw Carl in the waiting room. A moment's reflection established that this was no more than logical - similar injuries, on the same date, would have treatment programmes that run in parallel.
He greeted me enthusiastically.
'I'm an old hand here,' he said with a hint of ownership. 'A regular, you might say. My body gets a bit of punishment, even when I'm dishing it out.' He cracked his knuckles. I asked how he as managing.
'I'm not working - I can't. You have to have at least the threat of force. I do some security work - watching the CCTV. Bores me rigid, though: I read a lot.'
We were called through to the clinic together, greeted by an impossibly young and petite nurse. We soon found that she was stronger and more forceful than she looked, as she took us through a long routine of exercises and performance measurements. Carl seemed to lose a little of his self-assurance, and retaliated by a stream of innuendo and banter that she steadfastly ignored. After half an hour we were exhausted, muscles aching.
'Now this is important,' she said. 'If you just sit around for the bones to heal, you'll be facing months before you rebuild your muscle tone. You need to keep active, even while the plaster's on - that way, you should be fully recovered in a matter of weeks.' She handed us a card.  'Here's an exercise schedule.'
As we hobbled out, Carl suggested we meet up to walk around the neighbourhood, and I agreed it sounded like a good plan.

We made an odd couple, as we circled the streets, clanking on our crutches. It was an eye-opener for me to explore the intimate geography of the housing estate, its passageways, lock-ups, desolate parks, and glass-strewn playgrounds.
'Look,' he said, in a back alley, pointing up at a row of high garden walls. 'You can tell when they were robbed by the age of the protection.'
I looked along the variegated barriers - barbed wire, anti-vandal paint, cameras, lights, locks and chains.
'It's defending your patch, see. Round here, the public spaces are no-man's-land - even villains have right of way. So all you can do is look after your own territory. It's something of an arms race, too - thieves are lazy bastards. You don't have to make your property completely secure - just harder work to break into than your neighbours.'

Over time, our walking speed increased, and Carl's commentary shifted to the people we saw. We developed a contest - he would spot a pedestrian, and I would try to work out how tough they were. He relished these opportunities to demonstrate his superior knowledge.
'Nah, not him. He's not ripped, just fat. No stamina, see. Keep him arguing for a couple of minutes and he'll be puffing for air.'
'What about him?'
'See how he's walking - rocking from foot to foot, with his upper body straight. Boxer. Yeah, I wouldn't fancy taking him on.'
I learned a lot about tattoos, too - prison, gang, sailor, biker, fashion.
'That's gone to pot. I tell you, there was a time when they were like a badge for hard men.  These days any sulky teenager can get some Chinese gibberish on her arm. Ditto for piercings. That's without mentioning the gays.'
He spat the word out as if he'd never heard of diversity training, let alone had any. He wouldn't have lasted long in an office, as I realised when I returned to work on light duties. It was strange to contrast the dull complacency of my staff of middle-class graduates with his eager curiosity and energy. As I sat watching the rain spatter the window, the phone rang. To my surprise, it was Carl.
'Michael, mate, I need a favour,' he panted. 'I'm back at Casualty. Can you bring my bird in? She's stuck at home.'
I picked her up from outside their flat. Stella sat silent and prim in the passenger seat as I negotiated the streets and threaded through the traffic. I parked and she dashed ahead of me into the hospital. I followed after locking the car, and was directed through to the cubicles.
He looked terrible. He now had an arm in plaster, and his chest was dappled with purple and black bruises. His face was criss-crossed with black ridges of dried blood where cuts had been stitched. Carl nodded weakly to me, his movements restricted by a neck brace. Stella patted his healthy arm.
'Christ, love. What happened?'
'I'm alright,' he whispered, 'never you mind.'
After they had chatted for a while he sent her off to get a cup of tea.
'Cheers, mate,' he said.
'No problem. Someone caught you out?'
'Squaddies.' He winced. 'Three of 'em. You got to be careful with them - they know how to fight, and they don't hesitate.'
'What was the problem?'
'They didn't like my attitude,' he replied dismissively.
'Are you going to report them?'
'Nah, keep the filth out of it.'
'How bad is it?
'A few weeks off work again, I reckon. They keep saying that they're worried about my brain, but people have been telling me that for years!'
He chuckled softly. I heard the door open behind me. 'Nothing to her, mind,' he said, putting a finger to his lips.
Stella said she could get home under her own steam, and I left to return to work.

So I wasn't there to witness Carl's dramatic deterioration, the rush of the nurses, the clatter of equipment, the flimsy privacy of the screens, the bleeps and shocks, the 'bad news' and 'we did our best.'

I attended the funeral, feeling out of place in the swirling crowd of thick necks, shaved heads, and pumped-up limbs. There was some bitter amusement to be gleaned from the minister's awkward search for euphemism as he tried to summarise Carl's character. I hope I've done a better job here.

From File Under Fiction

(C) Martin Locock 2017

Friday, 27 January 2017


Martin Locock grew up in southwest England moved to south Wales in 1991.  He is a landscape archaeologist by training, but has also worked as a project manager at the National Library of Wales and latterly at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.  While at the NLW he was part of a series of literature mass digitisation projects.  He has published numerous academic articles on archaeological topics and the books Meaningful Architecture: Social interpretation of buildings (Avery Press 1994) and 10 Simple Steps to Better Archaeological Management (Carreg Ffylfan Press 2008).

He has been writing poetry for many years, developing a characteristic style of precise observation, clearly expressed.  His previous collections are Carefully Chosen Words, Removals and The Thought of Fresh Rain.  He also edited the anthology Poetry from Strata Florida, arising from his work on the monastic landscape of the Cistercian Abbey.

He has published two collections of haiku, Travels with a Notebook and Bright Silence: A month in haiku, and has taught managers to use the form as a reflective practice (The Flow of Thought).

He has written short stories and radio drama scripts, and is currently working on his first novel.

He is a member of Lampeter Writers and the Red Heron performance group and has performed at PENFro Festival, Cellar Bards, Carmarthen Old Town Festival, Verses in Vino, Penned at the Bont, Poems and Pints at the Queens and Mad As Birds.

He runs the Spoken Word Wales website and records interviews with performers and writers for the Spoken Word Wales podcast.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Bright Silence- a month in haiku

February was National Haiku Writing Month, setting a challenge to write a haiku every day.  I took part and posted the resulting poems on Facebook.  The 28 poems have now been collected into a short book, available from Carreg Ffylfan Press for £4.

The collection takes its title from this haiku:

The felling of trees
leaving stumps as vivid scars
bright silence and ghosts

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Poetry readings- The Thought of Fresh Rain on tour

I'll be reading poems from my new collection over the next few months at various events in Wales:
2/5/14 Cellar bards, Cardigan (with Samantha Wynn-Rhydderch)
3/5/14 Laugharne Festival Poems and Pints
2/6/14 Red Heron reading, Welsh landscapes, Dylan Thomas International Summer School

Get in touch if you have a venue or event.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Blog Tour - writing

Thanks to Sue Moules for tagging me with some questions about my writing.

What am I working on?

Too many things!  I am currently promoting my latest poetry collection, The Thought of Fresh Rain.  I am really pleased with the poems in it and as an object.  I am also trying to find opportunities to read poetry in public- this is something I have only been doing for a couple of years and I want to improve.  I've written a few poems that will be going in my next collection.  And I keep thinking about a short novel about lost love which I want to write.

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

A lot of poetry is about creating stories using techniques to add drama and interest to the sound of the words.  I don't really do this - to me, poetry is a kind of speaking thoughts out loud, and I like to try to capture that single moment of insight, using a few simple words.

Why do I write?

I'm not driven to write, but on the other hand, it's not hard.  I find that I can move quickly from having a thought, recognising that it is interesting, and then putting it on paper.  I suppose my mission is to show that even a quiet and gentle life can produce work which speaks to others.

Writing prose, I do find tough.  I like outlining but hate the filling in.

How does my writing process work?

I'm open to ideas at any time.  I find driving and walking to be activities with the right combination of new things to see and lack of distractions to set me thinking, and every now and then I encounter something that strikes me as interesting or profound.  I write quickly into a notebook, not worrying about the words, just trying to get the thought down; often I have no clear idea of how the poem will develop or end.  Then once it's finished, I set to work on editing it down to the pure essence, chopping out unnecessary words and lines, and trying to make the phrases sing.  Rewriting is quite brutal - a 10-line poem I wrote in January is now down to a haiku.


Fallow days
between years
time to pause

I'm passing on this Blog Tour to Caroline Gill  and Madeleine Sara Maddocks.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Workshops and other services offered

  • Creative writing workshop  to introduce people to writing poetry in a variety of forms including haiku and cinquain
  • Poet in residence and poetry readings
  • Chairing and hosting literary events
  • Tools for critical reflection
  • Project management 
  • Stress and emotion at work 
  • Self-publishing: a realistic and practical view
I am happy to develop bespoke programmes to fit the client's needs.