The Things People Weren’t Allowed to Take on Aeroplanes – by Thomas Bunstead

Thomas Bunstead works as a video editor, subtitler and Spanish-to-English translator. After attending the British Centre for Literary Translation’s Summer School in July, where he worked with author Eduardo Halfon and translator Anne McClean, he was picked to do a mentorship under Margaret Jull Costa, which is currently underway. He has translations of essay-stories by Enrique Vila-Matas forthcoming on the Words Without Borders website and in the introduction to documentA‘s collection of letters between Thomas Mann and Theodor Adorno, and of a play by Puerto Rican playwright Luis Rafael Sánchez on the Out of the Wings website.

He has had short stories published at >kill author, Text’s Bones and The Lick and has recently completed his first novel, a work of historical fiction. He also contributes reviews and interviews to The Independent, the and the Paris Review.

The Things People Weren’t Allowed to Take on Aeroplanes

Jonny got a job. Good thing, since he’d lost the last one when his mate’s roofing business had gone bust just a month before the baby was due. The baby was three weeks old when Jonny came back from the jobcentre with the news: Airport Security at Gatwick. That made it two months all told he’d been out of work, because the baby had arrived a week later than the due-date, having to be induced – ‘swept’ they called it. You don’t want to know, Katy had said; Don’t tell me, he’d agreed. She said to herself that this was him being protective, this distance was his way of showing her how he really felt. He didn’t care – four weeks of training, funny hours – but then straight to it. Nothing to it. After six months, a pay review. Jonny had worked enough jobcentre-provided jobs that he knew not to get too excited. Katy didn’t know if she should be pleased he wasn’t getting too excited.

After his second day on the job, he came back with a six-set of fig-flavoured yoghurts and a pot of expensive moisturiser. Be good for, you know, down there, won’t it? he said. The yoghurt or the Clarins? Katy joked.

The next couple of weeks he came back with Marks & Spencer’s orange juice, plus other drinks, many of them unopened, a boules set (‘Potential weapons’), some marvellously sharp barber’s scissors, a hash-encrusted peace pipe (‘Seriously, that’s what the guy called it’) with faux Native American or maybe Polynesian designs along the sides, and various moisturisers and sun creams (‘Anything over 250ml. and we just can’t let it slide’). Be good for the baby, his cracked feet, maybe? I s’pose, said Katy, not totally convinced.

Do the people you work with take stuff? she asked, when he came back the next week with a spiky rolling pin-like implement: a foot massager, according to the passenger, potentially something to bludgeon people with according to the regs. Some of them, most don’t bother, he said. Seems like something to kind of welcome new staff, ease them into it – you go ahead, we helped ourselves when we started. And things only get chucked otherwise. Anyway, really nice stuff, things the passengers genuinely want to keep, if they’ve got time to queue all over again, they’ll go back and check them into the hold. This one kid had like a quarter-length samurai sword the other day, you wouldn’t believe. He was going nuts, his dad who looked like a Prime Minister or something, dripping in it they all were, he wasn’t exactly over the moon about the whole thing. Our line manager seemed like he might let it slide, but then the second the dad started giving it the whole ‘Do you know who I am?’ then there was no way they were taking that mini-katana on! I think the kid and his mum did go and check it in – just booked a later flight. Dripping in it. Katy nodded, picking the baby Geoff up out of the cot. He had started chewing his fist, which meant he was hungry.

One day, though, when Jonny came home he was really upset. He looked more than just tired, and not shrunken, not diminished the way people can do after a shock, but actually up-set – his shoulders were up, his eyebrows slightly, just-perceptibly up, like one of those celebrities from Katy’s magazines after not entirely successful Botox, lifted, alarmed, like an arch-backed cat and the wind had changed but, with it, terribly tired as well. Katy could have been imagining it but when he walked in the door, it looked almost as though his hairline had receded that one day.

It was horrible, he said. A Muslim woman, they had to arrest her in the end. She had all the robes on, the hijab is it, the burqa? I mean, it isn’t such a problem their faces being covered, but if you’ve got fifty layers it’s difficult for the guys with the hand-held metal detectors, and the people frisking you, right? You’ve got to let them do their job, right? We’ve even got a guy called Riad and this girl, Jamila, and they deal with Asians. Anyway, didn’t stop her from losing it. Ended up scratching this guy – Carlos, the seagull guy, you know? – right down the side of his face. It wasn’t even as if she didn’t have a command of English, she had some choice words for us, I can tell you! Right from the off you could tell she was ready for a ruck, even not being able to see her face you could tell she was uppity. I s’pose in a way at least it was only her; when the police came and took her off to one of the booths, at least there wasn’t some whole jihad of them, you know? The weird thing I found was, though, not long after, the passengers who were in the Customs Hall when it all happened, it wasn’t long before they’d all gone through; you know there’s probably like a hundred and fifty capacity in there, well, just like that, it felt like, they’d all gone. Then all the people coming in had no knowledge of what happened. Except us. The majority of the people who had witnessed it weren’t there any more, but the incident still was, in the air. There wasn’t a shift change for like another three hours, so all the staff carried on feeling the after effects – I mean, we’ve got an ex-sergeant major on our rotation, and you could tell even he was feeling it. We all got uppity! There were a couple of arguments, nothing too big, but everyone was just so on edge the whole time. Long bloody three hours.

Katy said soothing things. She knew it wasn’t the right time to agree that he looked bad, to make a joke of it. She gave him baby Geoff to hold. Then, a lightbulb lit up – he didn’t have to go in the next day, did he? He’d been there almost four months, not taken any time, never even been late. Prawn curry, she said, rubbing his arm, I can ring if you want. He had a bath, using the soothing eucalyptus bubbles he’d bought Katy when she was pregnant, and then seeing a break in the wet and windy autumn weather allowed himself a beer and a cigarette on the front step, and just rested in the fact he wouldn’t be going to work tomorrow, a whole wide day. God. He slept deeply, before waking at his now customary 5:45 am. Having slept so well, though, he decided he would go in, he felt more than up to it. He thought, other people might have had the same idea, of taking a day, and him going in would look good as he approached that pay review. He left a note and went and got in the car with his Thermos.

Driving to work the sky was full of dark clouds, so that the blue-white of the dawn only showed here and there. It was still stormy, and around Haywards Heath the Toyota was lashed for a full five minutes by a downpour. The unreality of the final stretch of the journey clinched it for him – the always-alight undulations of the M23 and those final few junctions on the M25, with the dawn over south-east England, the forests and the towns, now threatening more fully to break apart the storm – he couldn’t say what it was exactly, but Jonny felt changed, unmistakeably.

Soon, Jonny stopped bringing home the things people weren’t allowed to take on aeroplanes.

Three new songs from Mr Dupret Factory

Mr Dupret Factory is one of my very favourite songwriters, and he happens to have just put three new songs up on the ‘net. Listen now – they’re incredible.

The Venus of Willendorf

Dog Walker

Anthropocene Man

More on his Myspace site here

Two poems from Christine Webb’s Catching Your Breath

Catching Your BreathChristine Webb’s new collection, Catching Your Breath, is out from Cinnamon Press, and has its launch on the 20th of September as part of the Lumen Poetry Series. It’s also available from Cinnamon’s site. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Christine read some of the poems from the collection in the past year or two, and as the two below – taken from the book’s main, elegaic, sequence – demonstrate they’re deeply affecting, full of heart and craft. I’m excited to see them between covers and thrilled to post them here also.


That moment suspended in the dull room
above the streets of the January town

(a branch pecked on the window, but the curtains
shut out the garden of dead chrysanthemums)

– undressing for each other the first time
all I saw was lit up by your body,

its gold and ivory. Such knowledge to bring away,
to carry wrapped through the streets, past naked trees,

into the school where heating pipes clanked and gossiped,
where blackboards expressed decorous equations,

where at the corners of corridors we might breathe in
to pass each other, but did not speak or glance

in case the doorways should break into leaf,
in case the books we carried should burst into flame.

Inside the Mirror

Inside the mirror you’re settled for the night,
your head tucked into the dip of the pillow,

your hands drawn up, just touching your face.
The light that’s kept on for you all night, now,

falls on the curve of your shoulder, smoothing
its green cotton. I take off my shoes, lean

towards the mirror, achieve the exact angle
to hide your cannula, your oxygen tank,

the tackle of your survival. My fingers,
which are practised in touching your skin,

your sleeves – tender even towards your buttons –
undress me quickly: I don’t need to break

my gaze from that framed world where your breath
comes and goes, easy, as strong as mine.

Catching Your Breath launch: Tues September 20, Lumen, 88 Tavistock Place, London WC1, 6.30pm. Read more from Christine here, including her Poetry London Competition winner, Seven Weeks.

Three poems from Joseph Horgan

Joseph was born in Birmingham and lives in Cork. He won the Patrick Kavanagh Award in 2004 and published his first collection, Slipping Letters Beneath The Sea, in 2008 from Doghouse and The Song At Your Backdoor with Collins Press in 2010.  He recently completed a residency in Achill, Mayo. I’ve been a fan of Joseph since hearing him read last year, and I’m delighted to post three poems from him today.


People in the city die
in complete silence.
A notice appears overnight,
the bare details
of an unimagined life.
House numbers go into the hundreds,
As and Bs and Cs.
An address that does not exist.
In the loving care

of the long streets.
Passing away again and again.
Not many left now
and in the end,
after all that,
their photographs come home.
A notice appears overnight.
People in the city die
near perfect deaths.

A Private Matter

This silent society,
a country, a fogbound airport;
for all our shouting on screen
a landscape
of private memories.
The faraway shifting of trains
and high walls topped with broken glass,
as if definition only exists
in the damp kitchens of the past.
In the new country there is no recognisable face.
A raised hand from a car,
putting a key to the front door.

Say small things often.
Shape silence
in order to break it.
We are who we are
when we put our colours on
and then we take them off again.
We wear our sponsors close to our heart.
So down in the woodshed,
a chisel;
in the disregarded air,
with no one looking,
we do our work.

When The Dancehalls Closed

It wasn’t those that stayed that built a country. It was those that left.
It wasn’t the calling. It was the silence.
It wasn’t the getting on a country bus. It was the boat.
It wasn’t the unformed queue. It was the line.
It wasn’t the perfidious. It was the faithful.

And if you are lucky, your way back with a shopping bag
along the streets, the widow or widowed,
the sideburned days and Sunday afternoon drinking gone;
a newspaper notice brings you home.
It wasn’t the country. It was the city.

Poem from Lydia Macpherson

The wonderful Lydia Macpherson recently came second in the Edwin Morgan Competition with this poem. She’s no stranger to being on the podium of the big competitions, our Lydia, and with good reason. Even by her own usual lofty standards this is a gem and I’m very chuffed to post it today.


And when his father left
he learned to carve, to whet the blade,
worn arched and thin by years
of Sunday lunch, against the steel,
the Bakelite handle gentled
as a bird cupped in his hand.
Then, to test it on his thumb pad,
drawing the finest wire of blood.

He found the easy slip in bone
and muscle, how to break
a woodcock’s leg and bring
sleek tendons out with the foot.
The lolling head, plucked back
to black-eyed fledgling, turned
in upon itself, the long beak
pinning the reed-fed breast.

Like marking former Soviet states
on maps, he portioned up a steer
in doodles on the fly leaves of
Philip’s Modern School Atlas.
On the way home, his dinner money
bought a whole ox-tail, a fleshy
jointed dinosaur dripping its trail
through his satchel’s hide.

It took a year of careful choice,
getting the right cut, saving
shoulder blades, ribs, hocks,
wishbones standing in for all
the delicate bits too hard
to find. The skull was worst,
a patchwork of chicken backs
and Christmas turkey leavings.

His father always said,
“if a job’s worth doing it’s worth
doing well”, and Dad would be proud,
he thought, to look under the single
bed and find, among the dust,
the furry sweets and Lego,
the bony keepsake, complete,
laid out upon the shagpile.

DOR E.P. 001 – Robert Selby – Nine Poems

In something of a first for the blog I’m thrilled to present Robert Selby – Nine Poems featuring poems by Robert Selby and illustrations by Catherine Williams.

Click to download Robert Selby – Nine Poems:

Sample poem:


I’m putting my pyjamas on
as you’re slipping yours off
in the dawn of Hong Kong.

Pink light licks the skyrises
where you are. Here, I write
night’s confessional diary

sleep-shy above the duvet,
as you apply green mascara,
fly into a new blue day.

Interview with Mark Burnhope and poem from The Snowboy

Mark Burnhope

Mark Burnhope’s debut pamphlet has just been released from Salt, as part of the Modern Voices series which has already published a number of fine writers. I first saw Mark’s poems on Dan Wyke’s excellent Other Lives blog, and was glad to discover he was making his bow with The Snowboy. To coincide with the launch Mark’s doing a little ‘tour’ of a few poetry blogs, and I’m delighted it’s starting today with Mark discussing some of the influences on the collection, followed by a poem taken from it.

A long-time favourite collection of poems:

In terms of the canon, the centuries, it might be William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. I started writing poems seriously during GCSE, and this one made me bite the bullet, thanks to my inspirational teacher Mr. Matthews, who spoke about it and read it as if it was written yesterday; it seemed urgent, relevant, not old and stuffy. I was fascinated that the book was split into two halves, and dealt with ‘faith like a child’ and faith from an older, wiser, disaffected point-of-view. Not all of the poems fit neatly into their allocated halves; that was interesting too, since childhood doesn’t withhold ‘experience’, and ‘innocence’ can be found in adulthood (peace-of-mind, contentment, etc).

As an adolescent, going through all the obvious changes, it was irresistible to read not conclusions, not ‘messages’ (I had those coming out of my ears), but evolving thoughts, changes of mind, even thought-provoking contradictions, within the same book. I loved the irony of the fact that these poems were (mostly) inspired by nursery rhyme, with all that simple readability and music. But on re-reading, they were also dark, serious, satirical, caustic, and often seethed under the surface with pain, anger, a desire for social justice. Finally, I was an obsessive artist. Blake became my hero for illustrating his own poems then publishing them himself. Far from being an old dead guy, he had a punk aesthetic. He was quite mad, and a maverick. If poems could be that, I wanted to get involved.

A recent discovery:

I could write about something actually new, but I can’t, because I’ve fallen head over heels for Larry Eigner. He does have a new entire Collected, which I’m going to buy as soon as I can afford it. He’s associated with the Black Mountain movement, whose influence was felt by several schools later on, most notably the Beats and the L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E poets. Larry Eigner had Cerebral Palsy, and that piqued my interest straight away because there are so few poets writing from within a disabled context now. But any interest couldn’t stop there; so gladly, it turned out that Eigner didn’t really write about disability at all (in fact, we always trip up when we try to say a poem is about anything, in a prosaic sense, don’t we?). Rather, he used his experience of disability to define his aesthetics.

His poems are most often about nature and landscape, but in a haiku-like way, never about sweeping vistas, always about the small shift of focus that the eye makes from one image to the next, over tiny distances. He struggled physically to write poems onto a typewriter. His speech was laboured, and speaking his poems was also a struggle (but to him poetry was an oral/aural form, so he did it anyway, and a few of his performances are on Youtube). His poems demonstrate those physical struggles by having short, fragmented utterances; no capitalisation or punctuation, just white space where speech is broken, and a pause for breath needed. That, I think, is an exciting way of imbuing the writing with a disabled viewpoint without the need to say ‘I am disabled’. I have no problem with explicit identification – I’ve done it – but it’s all about the writing. From where I’m sitting, no one understood that better than Eigner. I’d like to think I have my foot – footrests – in the doors of both experimental and mainstream poetry. I consider both absolutely essential. Eigner’s aesthetic, and the possibility of applying similar to new ‘disability poetries’, is something I can’t help but pursue further.

An album:

I couldn’t possibly come up with a single favourite album, but I’m a long-time Pearl Jam obsessive, so it would have to be one of theirs: Vitalogy, No Code, Yield, Binaural, Riot Act. I don’t know. They only have two slightly imperfect albums, in my opinion: Self-Titled and Backspacer. But every one is listenable. Other album favourites would include any of Wintersleep’s first three albums, anything by Sigur Ros (except Von), and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, whose best album must be I See A Darkness, closely followed by his collaboration with The Cairo Gang, The Wonder Show of the World. It doesn’t get much better than those.

A non-poetry book:

I remember reading John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in my early teenage years (13? 14? I can’t really remember). I only barely understood the words, but I was straight away attracted to allegory: the naming of characters based on their traits, and their purpose for the narrative. It seemed to be somehow more realistic than life. We put so much stock in arbitrary names and labels, I remember thinking; it’s funny how people are defined by tags imposed upon them, rather than what they did, what they thought, the part they played in history. In terms of faith, it was the first time I was introduced to the concept of journey: that faith and trust was about negotiating a path through life, developing our thinking through relationships and conversations, not about bowing down to prescribed beliefs or ticking doctrinal boxes.

Another influence on the pamphlet:

The book which pushed me to deal openly and honestly with questions, myths and experiences around disability was Laurie Clements-Lambeth’s Veil and Burn. What excited me was that some poems delved into sex and intimacy through the lens of the physically disabled body, but in a straight-forward, totally non-aggressive way. At the time, I’d written a few very clumsy efforts, and was getting frustrated by just how difficult it was to do. No poem about love and intimacy is complete without the context of a real, lived-in life, difficulty and conflict; I knew that, and yet I struggled to deal with that without putting off the reader. If I expressed shyness, embarrassment or frustration, it looked like a journal entry written for my own catharsis (!), or an angry political soapbox rant, or – at best – it didn’t look like I enjoyed sex very much. But if I wrote an exuberant poem about a perfect rough-and-tumble, it was generic, and not in any way illuminating about particularities (a good poem is always built of particularities, not generalisations; especially love and erotic poetry – make a love poem generic, cliché, vague, abstract, pornographic, and there’s a good chance that your jotting is Dead On Arrival).

Clements-Lambeth’s book showed me that a poem from disability could be beautiful, gentle, yet refreshingly honest and seething at the same time. Human bodies aren’t perfect or imperfect, they exist in a spectrum, a kaleidoscope of broken colours; these poems were painted with their own colours. The other aspect of this poetry I took on was the aesthetic of transformation. There were mythical poems in which animals, particularly horses, were used as icons, embodiments of the strong yet vulnerable body. Other bodies changed and morphed, particularly in the marvellous ten-poem sequence ‘Reluctant Pegasus’. In this sequence, Clements-Lambeth uses the imagined idea of her metamorphosis into Pegasus to confront the issue of stereotypes, disability myths. She uses mythology in order to question which societal labels she may or may not be prepared to take on; she is a ‘reluctant’ Pegasus because society will, by its very nature, see her body as in some way mythical; that attraction is there, but it’s also dangerous – we are not ethereal myths but physical bodies. The sequence is soft and lyrical but also philosophical, full of debate and insecurity about the question of which ideas we accept about ourselves; which stereotypes we allow others to entertain. It worked in a similar way to the metaphysical conceit, an essay not disguised but brought to life, by necessity, as a poem.

Find more on Mark’s pamphlet The Snowboy and buy it from Salt’s site

The Ideal Bed

Double bed which shouldn’t look
like this: so skewiff but no one on,
I can’t even stand to smooth its sheet.
I try to circle round it, but my wheels
won’t fit down the right side, the one
which, incidentally, I try to imagine hides
who we were five years ago: you standing
heaving the bed to and fro, trying to catch
our south-facing garden’s light
(the bulbs were always blowing)
and me laughing; then afterwards
us, falling bed-long into this
self-same undividable iron maiden.
My nurse has just replaced our mattress
with a manmade, farcical memory-foam
thing: cures pressure sores faster.
You’d laugh if you could be here.
Remember shopping in IKEA,
wondering what kind of carpenter
constructed, folded, boxed and sold our bed?
Hardly an artist, probably couldn’t
have given an actual fuck, you said.
When we got home the bed refused to stand
up in the room we’d meant for it. In its form,
we saw the ideal parts to shed:
a little off this surface, that corner.
We grew hungry, desperately so
pushed it against the larder door
so neither of us could hoard
when the waves crashed hard. Its back
was flimsy chipboard and would give
out in the year’s most unnewsworthy
quake, if the front of the frame stayed.
So you sanded back for days, weeks,
months; pored over cookbooks,
catalogues and promotions; reclined
on the mattress like an ocean, faced
me and my canvas, and said, Draw!
(But the kitchen bulb was dying.)
Hardness the Lord made then tore:
the one you pushed aside to get past
the fact we never found
the perfect light to lie in.

See two more poems from the pamphlet at Peony Moon and visit Mark’s own blog, Naming The Beasts