New year, old beginnings

I don’t normally take much notice of New Year, or bother to make any resolutions. But this January is a special one for me. It means that Edinburgh is the city I have lived in the longest as an adult – longer than Paris (10 months), Prague (3.5 years), Dubai (4 years almost exactly) or, finally, London (4 years 4 months). For some reason that freaks me out a little. It definitely doesn’t feel like I have been here that long. Which is probably related to the two years ‘on pause’ of Covid. In a way that makes me grateful because the city still seems fresh to me. Considering in most other cities I moved on after roughly 4 years, this freshness gives me hope that I might have a few more Edinburgh years left in me. But it does leave me with lots of questions about what I’ll do with those years. Will I be happy with the status quo? After all, I have a secure job, I’ve bought a flat, I’m in a long term serious relationship, I have a solidly established circle of friends. As I move into my forties, these things all seem more and more precious. I still yearn for more though, and it worries me that this is some symptom of capitalist consumerism – the desire for ever more, more stuff, more productivity, more recognition. In 2022 my debut full collection of poetry was published and didn’t really make any waves in the poetry world. I’ve almost given up writing as a result. It feels worthless, if you can toil away for over 14 years and have no impact in the circles which you admire. While I’ve lied to myself that I always wrote for myself alone, my lie is now exposed and I’m a sadder person for it. And that sadness incorporates itself into my daily life. I know if I started writing again I’d feel better, more alive but I need some hope to do that. I planned another book if I could get funding to focus solely on writing that, however having been knocked back twice for funding opportunities my enthusiasm for that project is waning. I wonder if it’s related to reading less, or less attentively – so much of my time is spent doomscrolling whereas when I was younger I always had a book in hand. This is all related as well to my arrival in Edinburgh – I came to complete a Masters in Screenwriting, with the hope of making a career change. However I quickly realised I didn’t have it in me to graft from the bottom up in such a competitive industry. Since then, professionally, I have been treading water, to the detriment of any corporate career I could have resumed. I tell myself I am happy with a lowly admin job, without the pressures of corporate management, but as the cost of living crisis rumbles on, I resent my decisions and think longingly of my inflated Dubai salary. Still again and again, I tell myself to be happy with what I’ve got, to practice gratitude and think of those less fortunate. It’s working for now, but I don’t know for how long it will, now I’ve passed this four year landmark which has typically meant restlessness for me. So if you don’t mind, say a little prayer for me – not all is as rosy as Instagram paints it.


What’s New, Pussycat?

So I thought I’d try and update this old site and make something shiny and sparkly new as I am trying to find a publisher for my next pamphlet. First order of business is the excellent news that I have four poems in the new Spring 2020 issues of Poetry Wales. Thanks a million to Jonathan Edwards for choosing them. You can pre-order your copy here:

What else is new? Well since, 2015 which is when I think my last post was, quite a lot!! I’ve moved to Edinburgh, done a Masters in Screenwriting and started a job at University of Edinburgh. It was sad to leave Dubai but it was the right time. I’ll never forget the great times I had in the sandpit.

In memory of Dubai, here is my poem We Live In Water, which was published in the now-defunct Hinterland magazine:

We Live In Water


Dubai is merpeople

in neon fringed bikinis


no tails required

slick-skinned revellers


flitting between pool and plage

to finish in chromy towers


where we swallow as much

as we swim in…


Don’t tell me you don’t want

our poolside passionfruit vodka


don’t tell me you don’t want

our beaches that turn to nightclubs


our limitless champagne brunch

I won’t believe you


I never believed you

that’s why I came

Gilead rising

Last night another excellent evening of poetry from the PUNCH collective, and this afternoon the horrendous news that the US House of Representatives has voted to pass a bill which would ban federal funding for abortions. Dubai is no liberal paradise, and it’s true here (more than ever after the Charlie Hebdo attacks) that one can’t speak one’s mind regarding religion or those things that religion deems sacred – which unfortunately seems to include ownership of women’s bodies by someone other than them. It’s equally true that in Dubai not only abortion but sex outside marriage is illegal. However, no one is holding Dubai up as an example of liberty and democracy. Land of the free and home of the brave it is not – and has never claimed to be.

The United States on the other hand does make this claim, frequently, loudly, and with increasingly little evidence to back it up. The erosion of women’s rights over the last year or so has been horrific. Can we blame this on Christian fundamentalism? Or can we consider it as a knock-on effect of the economic crisis? As unemployment continues to be an issue, is there the implicit idea that not only immigrants but women are taking jobs that should be the preserve of (white, straight) men? I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that women’s rights are once again in danger in the US just as racist anti-immigration policies rear their ugly heads all over Europe. They are the left and right hands of the same fear.

Going back to last night, one of the readers was the slam poet Sarah Saleh. I’m not always a big fan of slam-style poetry. When badly done it can rely too heavily on style over substance, and political pot-stirring merely for the shock factor, without any serious or novel engagement with the matter at hand. I’m happy to say Sarah’s well-constructed piece on violence against women avoided this hubris. One particular line really tore at my heart, and I’ll try and paraphrase it here (apologies but I can’t remember the exact wording): something like “when the War on Women is treated as seriously as the War on Terror”.

There is a war on women, on all women and it’s still going on, in developed countries as much as undeveloped. There are those who claim to wage war against terrorists in the name of freedom who are consistently eroding the freedoms of 50% of their population. Those in power want to stay in power – and whether the threats they perceive are internal or external, as today’s vote is just another example, they will act with the same ruthlessness against both.

One good reason

The most recent earworm that I picked up is Budapest, by George Ezra. I heard it first at a karaoke, but it’s one of those songs which you think you already know – it has a kind of timeless quality. I had a similar feeling the first time I heard Amy Winehouse. I thought she was some incredible singer from the 60s I’d somehow missed before. Well, George Ezra is no Amy Winehouse, but Budapest is a great song.

I have just one problem with it. Unfortunately said problem is the whole entire premise of the song.

He starts the song by talking about all these fascinating curious things which he has in his possession – the famous house in Budapest (shades of Grand Budapest Hotel here?), a treasure chest, a castillo… and then in the manner of lovelorn young men everywhere immediately declares he will give them all up for the object of his love.

It’s never quite clear exactly why he might be required to do so, though faint stirrings of familial discontent occur in a later verse. However, should the possessions he lists be heirlooms then it’s a bit cheeky to claim them from the get go as “his” when they might more properly be supposed to be expectations. And if there is no real requirement for him to give these things up, then what really is the worth of his declaration? If I had to I would but you know, theoretically.

But it’s his wanting to give them up which is so worrying. Assume that your partner has a house in Budapest, hidden treaure, golden grand piano… Wouldn’t you want him to keep them? Don’t they sound pretty awesome? I’d be all like, no mate, don’t throw them away. Actually you know what, maybe we can just be friends. But friends that go on holiday to Budapest and chill out with the treasure and the piano?

Maybe it’s because I’m so affected by my recent experience of unwanted sacrifice in relationships. Because let’s face it, what really happens when you give up everything to be with someone is suddenly they’re all like, woah, what happened to the cool stuff you had? What happened to all your friends, and your superhappy Bohemian lifestyle? Oh hang on, you gave it up for me? Er, well, I’m not so sure I want you now. Devotion is lovely but when that’s all there is in a person’s life, they can become, well, boring.

So George, if you are listening, this is the one good reason you should never make the change. Find a way to get the girl and keep the house in Budapest. She’ll love you more for it.

Diagram of me

So this is what I did today:


You can see the full infographic here, which contains slightly more info: 

I used the website Vizualize Me, which is pretty cool but mainly only for presenting your CV as an infographic. I had to pretend that the cities I’d lived in were jobs and the countries were companies to get that extra layer. But I still like the result. I’m going to try to find ways to improve it, adding poetry-related stuff and life-related stuff if I can.

On repetition, self, beauty and work

As an artist I am repeating myself. As a performer I am repeating this repetition, while also engaging in a further repetition of myself.

What duties does repetition comprise, in relation to the future society?

Repetition and learning.

Maybe all I am trying to say is that the self can be repeated.

If the self is repeated, it is also extended.

How is it that it is the self that is repeated and not an external content? (NB What is the external content of the self?)

Why is it good that the self is extended?

What can we consider a phenomenological good? Can we consider that, in fact, the extension of the self is the phenomenological good?

Social media and the repetition of self. Lol. Repetition of the self or construction of a resemblance? >> authenticity

What requires an artist to be authentic? >> if s/he is not, what is the repeated does not extend the self. In fact there is no repetition.

Repetition vs concretization.

If we consider repetition = concretization, this fails as each repetition differs. Hence we say extension.

How is the self constituted? From interaction with the repetition of other selves.

And what of beauty?

Beauty derives from harmony – either a physical harmony or the harmony of an idea (physical harmony is in fact one such idea). Harmony has as one part coherence, and as a second, the necessity of a whole. 

Beauty is a perception which derives from “fellow feeling” – as the self is coherent in its repetitions and harmonious in its extension.

When we grasp beauty we are grasping the nature of the self.

Is this to say, all awareness is awareness of the self? No, but it is to say all awareness is relational to a self which is capable of recognising its own nature.

When do we not repeat? When we perform incoherently. Incoherence is the antithesis of repetition.

Are selves who engage more frequently in repetition more capable of grasping beauty. Remember repetitions are not similar. They need not resemble one another. A restatement, not a copy.

Is creative work the only work where repetition occurs? No – I find even in mundane work the repetition of ability.

Is there beauty in ability? In the swift order in which the harnessed mind runs.

I find coherence. Do I find beauty?

Can we quantify the extension of various repetitions? Is it useful to do so? Are we prevented from doing so by their difference? I believe so.

You say burkini, I say bikini

I didn’t want to get out of the pool tonight. Then I got out and I didn’t want to go down to my apartment. The air on the roof was just perfect, warm and still. The call to prayer came drifting over. It’s so beautiful when you only hear it as music. 

Kate and I talked about this when we were in Jordan, where we heard it a lot. Jordan was a lot more Arab than Dubai. I guess I should have thought about that before I left, that in Dubai you are always surrounded by the expat effect. Not so in Jordan (though we met some very nice ones. If you ever go to Amman check out By the Lemon Tree – the macroeconomics over breakfast were illuminating). Amman was a place where I felt uncomfortable walking around alone with my hair uncovered. Of course, it’s different in different places and in the tourist parts, Petra, the Dead Sea and even Aqaba it was more usual. But in Amman, I arrived a few hours before Kate and went out alone to get some snacks, and I was a little scared by the staring and comments.

Could I have covered my hair? Probably. But while I try to be culturally respectful, I also don’t want my liberty to be infringed or to have to do something which I violently disagree with. At the end of the day, I understand that that is how these people live and I can’t change it. I can even understand that some women feel more comfortable covered up. But I don’t think that they should do. Women are not responsible for male desire, and I have a fundamental problem with the rules that apply to one half of the population and not the other.

Which brings us on to the fascinating subject of the burkini. We spotted many instances throughout our trip. If you don’t know what this is, have a look here

Even if I didn’t have a deep-seated love of frivolous bikinis, I could never imagine swimming in all of that. The weight of cloth, apart from anything. (Although in hindsight it would have prevented me from getting sunburn on my bum while I was snorkelling.) It makes me grateful that I was born in the time I was, in the culture I was. 

Yet what women’s equality exists, is relatively new and very fragile. The horror stories that are coming out of the States now about restricted birth control, attempts to ban abortion all prove that even in the western world, women still have to fight to have control of their own bodies. Christian fundamentalists are no less extreme. I vote for reviving the cult of Artemis. We need at least one religion where women are on top.

First toes in the sand

So I’m just back in my apartment after half an hour in the gym and twenty minutes in the pool, two of the insane advantages of my new life which I really hope I never get tired of. Coming back I was thinking, it’s Wednesday, it’s Wednesday, there’s something I’m supposed to be doing – which in fact normally there is. Wednesday evenings I have my French lesson but this week (which will be the last) we moved it to tomorrow.

It will be sad to say goodbye to Katia, my teacher. I hope we keep in touch. I was really touched when she said that she wanted to continue and finish off the course even after I moved away from Paris. They were already paid and we could have just agreed to laisser tomber but she said she wanted to follow my story at least until I was settled. We’ve talked an hour every week for the last 30 weeks. When you add up all that time it’s pretty impressive. When my ex and I stopped communicating, Katia was the only one who asked me about my day, my week, what I had been doing, what my worries were, and took the time to listen (I don’t mean this as a slight against other friends. It was a while before the full relationship difficulties got out into the open). And it was a real confidence booster that she found me funny, found my interests interesting. I know she was paid to talk to me, but she wasn’t paid to laugh – and she did. Our chats got longer and the actual lesson part got shorter as time went on, and we’ve finished by being friends.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to dive straight into that all too recent history. What I was going to do was talk about the poetry reading I went to last night. I saw it advertised in Time Out of all places but there you are, probably think people don’t have much else to do in Ramadan. Sigh. Now I too am adopting that “poetry’s boring, no one wants to see it when there’s more interesting stuff to do” attitude which I hate. Hopefully they just posted it because yes, it is a cool and (for some) unusual thing to do, or even because someone at Time Out likes poetry. Anyway. It was in a mall – first poetry reading I’ve been to in a mall? I think – which is very “Dubai” to my mind. In fact not just in a mall, but in a cafe in the middle of a section containing designer shoe boutiques. None of that Bohemian-artist-in-poverty vibe so beloved in Europe. Odd but refreshing.

I had been a bit nervous about going but I thought, fuck it, you have to start somewhere. The meetup group which I’ve been going to on Saturdays is fun but mostly geared to prose and not at all geared to performance. Happily I ran into Rewa Zeinati, whose pamphlet had been pressed upon me by Dylan Harris of Corrupt Press at the Grand Slam Festival in Paris the other month (that is a lot of exposition, amirite) and which I had enjoyed reading with real admiration. She was lovely and welcoming, and we had a nice chat, and she persuaded me I should sign up for the open mic, which I duly did.

The reading was run by an energetic young poet called Farah, whose spoken word style reminded me of someone and I could not work out who, except maybe it was a young Josh Idehen, which tells you how good she was. She read in Arabic and in English. One poem in particular was really well put together, I think called The Dinosaur, which was all about the Palestinosaurus Rex. In fact (and I guess that it’s not uncommon for the region) almost all the poems had a background that referenced wars, conflicts, Arab identity, the idea of a lost homeland. I guess it’s everyone’s minds right now because of what is happening in Gaza (there were many Syrians there as well, displaced by the recent conflict. A seventeen-year-old gave a very passionate account of how something as simple as a chocolate cake can be a symbol for an entire lost way of life). I’m sure people in London feel strongly about it as well. But not in a way that is so utterly involved and bound up in their beings.

I also felt the difference not just in the subject matter but the way of describing it. The poems that I heard were very emotive. Ok, so I know in spoken word this tends to be the case more than in what one might call a “regular” poetry reading, but I got the feeling that this is more acceptable here. Anyway, one person read what I would have, had I been in Europe, described unreservedly as sentimental drivel. But she was clearly speaking from the heart, and the power of her emotion was respected. Perhaps the reason that more overt sentiment is respected is because the subject matter is so moving that it can’t be approached drily. Because it touches everyone present. No one is an observer in this conflict.

Except me, the European minority. I think it was the first time in my life that I have felt racially in a minority (not the first time I’ve felt in a minority at a spoken word reading, but that’s another topic!). It really made me wonder, not a little guiltily, about all the things I take for granted. Like, I have absolutely no worries that my homeland is going to bombed/invaded any time soon. The last time we were successfully invaded was nearly a thousand years ago. That’s a hell of a lot of time to become complacent. I don’t worry that I might never be able to go home. I am an expat through choice, not necessity. I don’t worry that my native tongue is going to die out. English is more and more bastardised, but it’s going nowhere.

It also made me worry though how I am going to connect with people here. I read my short love poem and wasn’t sure how it went down. I guess that’s another difference, mine was the only love poem to a person. Everyone else’s was about love of country. I should save a last word for Rewa’s remarkable poem though about her beautician. She nailed (ha) exactly for me the feeling I’ve had here when people do things for you, taxi drivers, concierges. Because here, unlike at home these people aren’t the same as you. They are a different race and they live a different life. They are indians, filippinos. Your barman at your local is not going to became your mate. You are not going to go to the pub and bump into the guy from the cornershop. I’m still waiting to see how much this disconcerts me as I continue living here.

Anyway, I have to go now and make supper for myself and my two flatmates, who consist of a tiny stuffed tigresse and a slightly larger stuffed chiot. Tigresse is getting sick, which she informed me entirely due to all the nightclubs being closed because of Ramadan. She is a party animal and used to sneak out all the time in Paris. I think she is going to try and steal away in my suitcase when I leave to go to Jordan. Chiot is having some trouble with the heat so I have left the AC on for him the last two nights and he seems much better. He could probably do with a break from his boisterous girlfriend so maybe I will take her on holiday after all. He will be very good at guarding the flat in our absence.