The Verb

The great Paul Muldoon was on ‘The Verb’ on Friday (10pm Radio 3; available on iplayer for another 4 weeks). He began answering a question from the poet Bernard O’Donoghue (he is from Cork; Muldoon is from Armagh) thus: “Well that’s a very Corkian question”. It is worth hearing just for that.

This is called Advice to Parents (by me, not Muldoon)

They say that playing Mozart to a child

Will help him to grow up healthy and wise.

He or she will have a higher IQ

And, who knows? Even grow to like you.

      I’ve been told that the music of Frank Zappa’s

     The stuff to get him sooner out of nappies

     The more you play him Bach,

     The sooner he’ll read a book.

     If you graduate to Schubert, he

     Will cope much better during puberty.

     By the time you’ve got him on to Shostakovich

     He’ll know everything from what causes frost, a clove hitch,

     To algebra and a hundred other things

     And all because he hears the music sing.

Poetry I suppose can be just as effective

But I think you have to be selective

Perhaps cut out the racier bits of Chaucer

Until he can manage a cup and saucer;

And some of Byron, well, perhaps his entire oeuvre.

To read that to your child would take some nerve.

And maybe Paradise Lost, Beowulf, Morte d’Arthur

Isn’t quite the stuff for starters.

But coming back to Mozart- Don Giovanni?

The Requiem? Maybe not

Until they’ve got past the nappies and the snot.

But my advice is, nevertheless, a piano sonata

Will make your child ever so much smarter

And reading him Alfred Lord Tennyson

Will make him more of a genius than Einstein or Thomas Edison

Happy New Year

My friend Mark, with whom I once worked, used to tell me off for continuing to say Happy New Year to people well into January and even February. We were in the same office, so he heard me saying Happy New Year to someone or other during about the first fifty days of the year. Whenever he complained, I told him that you can wish people a Happy New Year as late as you like, as long as you are not still doing it after the beginning of Lent.

After a few years, Mark moved to Reading…

So, a Happy New Year to all of my readers. I bet that what you would most like to hear about is a writer who is anxious that he has ‘writer’s block’.

I am standing in my kitchen

Thinking about what to write

When I have one of those frozen moments

When I cannot think of anything at all

Not a line, not a word, not even a subject

That will get me started

Only that one line-

I am standing in my kitchen wondering what to write



I remind myself that there are so many things about which to write-

Love, time, memory, nature, everyday life, anything you like

But I can’t think of a line to follow

That single one I have-

I am standing in my kitchen wondering what to write.



I look around me, panicking almost;

And my eye lights on my potato-peeler

Which is lying on the chopping-board

The pity is it doesn’t work very well-

Unless you have a huge, perfectly round potato to peel

It’s too fiddly and clumsy

It’s easy to become impatient

And then you find you have peeled your fingertip

And there’s blood on the potato and on the peeler

And, if you’re not careful, on its beautiful pearwood handle.

It cost me £3.42 so it wouldn’t be the end of the world

To buy a new one, one that works properly-

Even if it doesn’t look so good-

And throw this one away;

Better still, put it on display-

I could begin a cabinet of curiosities-

The potato-peeler with pearwood handle

Put it alongside the narwhal tusk

The bat skeleton, the 19th-century diving helmet

The piece of stained glass from the derelict church

The decorative tile from the derelict pub

And now the potato-peeler with the pearwood handle

And the curved blade

No need for anyone to know or guess that it cost just £3.42.



But this is getting me nowhere

I am standing in the kitchen wondering what if anything I can write

The potato-peelings sit on last week’s local paper

And I look at the sodden headlines for inspiration

Folkestone woman wins 47m in Euro Lottery, it says

I can’t think of anything to say about that

Lower down it says Dead Man Found In Graveyard.



One day years ago I was at work one Monday morning

And met in the corridor the porter who,

Dressed in overalls and thick gloves,

Wheeled a cage in which he loaded

Yellow sacks of contaminated waste.

I asked him if he’d had a nice weekend.

He had tired grey hair, a stubbly face and he said:

I went to see my girlfriend

Found her with another bloke, shagging her like

So I left her. That’s not a girlfriend is it? Can’t be.

That must have been a shock, I said.

Words aren’t enough; they have to have meaning.

I’m standing in the kitchen mashing spuds.