Snakes and Boilers

When we last left our unlikely hero, he was stepping out of the pub with a spring in his step and a reporter from the BBC. He’d just read a poem to a man who calls himself The Captain, though he admits freely that he isn’t a real captain and that he just enjoys sailing boats and drinking heavily. Rowan McCabe also calls himself a captain and enjoys drinking heavily, although he cannot sail a boat. Find out what happens to him in the next installment of ‘Rowan McCabe: Crap Captain’…


Captain’s Log 21/11/16 15:09

dsc00172I say goodbye to Lisa Shaw on Bensham Road, she has enough material for the radio. But I’ve told Derek I’ll be over at his by half 3 at the latest, so I start the ten minute walk over to Alexandra Place. By now it’s absolutely lashing it down. I’m drenched. My head is wet and cold, I’m scared my hat will blow off if I put it on. I knock on Derek’s door and a woman with long brown hair about half his age answers. “Is Derek there?” I ask.
“What is it regarding?”
“My name’s Rowan, I’m a Door-to-Door Poet.” She fixes me with a look of suspicion and utter confusion, like I’ve told her I’m selling custard radios. “I’ve wrote a poem about his son and I’ve come to drop it off,” I add. She looks even more confused now. “If you tell Derek I’m here, I’m sure he’ll know what I’m talking about.” She goes to get him.

Derek comes to the door.
“The thing is,” he says, immediately. “I’ve got to go and pick up the grandkids soon.” I tell him the poem lasts about 30 seconds. Derek invites me in out of the rain and I walk down the hall into his sitting room; he stays standing up in front of the sofa, so I do the same. I search for the poem out of a big pile in my bag and take far too long to find it. I must look pretty annoying right now, this long haired man, dripping water from every item of woolly clothing, rifling manically through bits of paper. Eventually, I find the poem. I read it to him. He nods and chuckles politely.
“Thank you,” he says. He doesn’t have anything to add. I know he’s in a hurry, so I don’t hang about.

dsc00160As I walk back down the road, I realise that, at 79, Derek is the oldest person to ask for a poem so far. That in itself is quite incredible really. I imagine, when you get to that age, going about your day starts to get a bit harder; the world could seem like quite a threatening place. But Derek was happy to invite a 26 year old stranger into his house while he was alone. I’m really pleased I had the chance to write something for him and to keep my promise. That said, there’s no denying that, compared to someone like Alan Crawford Wallace Campbell, Derek’s response was a bit less enthusiastic. This is the first time I’ve dropped off lots of poems in one day. It really shows how the amount that people want to be involved in this can vary massively. Some people will think you’re the absolute knees, others will politely take the poem and head on their way.

Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine. I’m not expecting anyone to bow down and treat me like some kind of messiah. But it makes me think how bloody grateful I am to the Arts Council for my grant. It’s given me the chance to take time out of other work, to write all these poems in one go, to deliver them at once. I think back to being in Byker, how it took me a month at a time to get one finished. How annoying must that have been? 6 months down the line, why should anyone still want me hanging around their door, like some kind of creepy poetic stalker? I try Masima and Michelle’s house but there’s no answer. I walk to the bus stop, rain sodden and cold, but feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot today.

To a Son

Your Dad, Derek, wants to say:
“Have the perfect wedding day.”
He loves your wife-to-be a lot,
even if she is a Scot.

She’s kind and wise so, naturally,
he’s pleased she’s in the family
and wishes you as many years
together as your parents share.

He’s got one golden rule for you
to help you make this dream come true:
Don’t ever fight, don’t ever bicker,
always just agree with her.

Captain’s Log 24/11/16 12:36

dsc00182I knock on Michelle’s door but there’s no answer. I post her poem about The Crown through the letterbox and head over to Masima’s. I spoke to Masima by text last week; she turned down being on the radio but said she definitely wanted to hear the poem. Then I got a text from her on the night of the 21st, asking if I could post it through the door instead. I don’t really know what made her change her mind, I put it down to just being busy.

Those who read the first Bensham post will remember me offering to write about the mundane theme of preparing your house before you have a new boiler put in. I was wondering at the time if anyone’s ever wrote about this, or whether I’d be the first. Well, maybe someone will do it one day and, if they do, I’ll take my hat off to them. After having a thorough crack at it, it just didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Who would have guessed? I did have a backup though, one about Masima hating snakes. I even said this to her at the door, that snakes would be the backup (I’ve never mentioned a backup to anyone before and I wonder if, subconsciously, I’d already decided the boiler thing wasn’t going to work). Masima never really told me why she hated snakes, so the poem talks about this. As I post it through the door, I imagine her opening the envelope, wincing before laughing, as she realises I’ve went for snakes instead of boilers.*


All the world’s creatures are perfect
and each has their own special gift,
from seals on the beaches
to black slimy leeches,
we need them all here to exist.

The fabric of life is close-woven
and everything’s tied up together,
you pull one thing out
all the rest could fall down
like a natural tower of Jenga.

Without spiders you’d have loads of maggots,
without wolves all the deer overtake.
Yes, each creature is critical,
except one individual.
I’m talking, of course, about snakes.

Oh snakes, oh snakes, those cold-blooded losers,
they’re scaly and hated by everything else,
they even begin
to shed off their skin
when they can’t stand the sight of themselves.

I’m sure you know snakes swallow food whole,
they’re able to unhinge their jaw.
Do you know why they do it?
They could easily chew it,
it’s just their way of saying “Up yours!”

There’s some that say snakes can be friendly
and sleep with a python in bed,
you can’t go to their home
or reach them by phone
cos all of those people are dead.

Oh snakes, oh snakes, they abandon their eggs.
They can’t even be nice to survive!
Don’t doubt their persona
just look at a cobra:
You only see hate in its eyes.

From huge anacondas to threadsnakes,
put every last one on a plane
and have Samuel Jackson
fly up and gas them,
no one will ever complain.

Rowan McCabe

*I got a text from Masima on the 25/11/16 to say the poem had indeed “put a grin on my face.”


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