Letter to Alfie
On a beach in Alicante,
a hundred days and a thousand miles from Whitby,
Mummy will read the vampire story she just unwrapped.
Because it’s nice to get away once in a while.
Daddy’s eleventh Playfair Annual
is already out of date. Kindle saw to that.
Nights with the boys are scarce these days
and trivia yellows in the sun, unpursued.
Put them both on the shelf, there’s a good lad.
Next to Jamie’s fine.
Careful, though – don’t break the spines!
Don’t crease the covers!
Don’t fold down corners because
sometimes you read when you’re drunk
and remembering a three-digit number
is just too much hassle.
OK, you’re too young to get that.
I’ll explain when you’re older.
Meantime, if you ever need a bookmark,
I’ll take you to the Railway Museum.
Put them on the shelf, thassit.
Treat them nice. They’re Presents.
This little thing with a picture of a Tyger on it,
This is a book.
This is your book.
And because it’s your book,
you can chew it, swallow it, digest it,
cover it with the endless snot from your nose,
leave chocolate footprints on its pages,
take it in the bath with Mr Matey,
stuff it into satchels, into rucksacks,
the pockets of blazers,
and the first leather jacket you’ll ever own.
(Don’t try that with Camus.
It won’t impress girls as much as you’ll think it will).
Don’t get prissy about your book.
It’s tougher than you think.
It can take every crease and wrinkle in the plates;
the cherryade splashes from your seventh birthday party;
the black thumb-smudges dark as printer’s ink;
the underlines, sidelines, headlines, bylines,
and little annotations you thought would make you sound clever.
It can handle the mud from six different festivals;
the pages crinkled from lashings of beer and dew;
even the dodgy stain from where you projectile vomited
at seventeen and nothing in your room stood a chance.
Even with a broken spine,
your book will still function.
Your book will grow with you,
and you with it.
And when the ghost of a small triangle
haunts the corner of every page,
and the leaves are thinning like Daddy’s hair,
take a fat crayon, and write your name in it.
Then, leave it at a train station
near where the charter’d Thames does flow
and walk away
singing The Verve.
Andy Bennett is a poet and comedian who hates writing his own bio. So if you could all imagine a bio here that would be grand. Think a 21st Century Lord Rochester with no money and you’re pretty close.
The year he got his model train
he hardly got up from the floor
while three trucks trundled round and round
the clack and clatter sounded real
The year she got her house for dolls
she was hardly off her knees
to move the tiny furnishings.
The chairs and crockery looked real.
The year that both of them got bikes
they could hardly stay indoors
but cruised past frost-soft holly hedges.
When they tried to ride no-hands
the prickles proved quite sharply real.
As adults they can be embarrassed,
looking back on all the presents
many children never got.
Nostalgia can feel tissue-thin
beside brown-paper wrapped regrets.
Old tangled string still fastens parcels
and our hope of someone knowing
what it is we really want –
then giving it. No disappointments
and no tricks that bite or sting.
Michael Bartholomew-Biggs (http://mikeb-b.blogspot.co.uk/) is poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip. He is also a co-organiser of the Islington reading series Poetry in the Crypt. His next collection is due from Shoestring Press in 2013.