Back to the familiarity of night coaches:
Crumpled limbs, creased necks,
And the wide-eyed hours - either side of border controls.
The enforced suddenness of waking,
Blinking at the alien symbols of ticket machines,
And the taste of sleep and metro-dust -
Fumbling through darkness.
Rising from night to dawn and that first
Lungful of a new country.
Our emergence was to an unruffled Seine,
Ripe in morning glaze,
And to bridges that we passed over like echoing whispers;
And to a Notre Dame blessed with the freedom to breath:
Its desertion conjured a stirring of the places where tears are born.
The electric silence of the homeless on benches,
Toe to head like East-Indian hammocks
Creaking in the breeze, beneath branches of pink blossom.
Paris was waking like a reluctant student:
Cafés wore their doors half-open like blurry eyes;
Tables still snuggled like the lovers they intimately knew.
An unmapped zigzag to Montparnasse followed:
Through the Luxembourg jardin (tourism was leaking through the cracks)
And on to Baudelaire’s grave, where I should have stayed longer,
And will one day.
Autumnal red smeared the shutters and roofs.
The paths were alive with soil when you scuffed them,
And we listened to the musical lilt of Eluard and Verlaine.
Then back, back to a Notre Dame, submerged under teeming:
Magnificence bled with the horror only we knew.
On a sardine-coach we shuddered towards Beauvais and its airport:
Those briefest of moments when the onrushing world brings
Death so close to my eyes, yet life so rich in my chest -
The roaring of tarmac a modern necessity
For the experience of life.
Down, down, down.
We stepped out into Madrid heat.
Then three Parisian-esque metros screamed us
Into the night, and Sol, and Anton Martin,
The Plaza Mayor, and cobbles and tapas,
And the narrow, sloping, tributary paths;
Then midnight, and preparatory voices and chants reaching through the night:
A gentle running through of lines,
A speculative stretching of a neck,
The singer’s gargle of salt-water.
To the hostel: a cheap beer, a mixed fourteen-bed dorm,
A Brazilian girl with extraordinary opinions,
And Jimmy from Finchley –
Then eight grateful hours in a top bunk.
A sugary croissant, orange juice, and a coffee.
The ticket trembled my hand,
And seared the leather folds of my wallet.
Sun beat like a tribal drum, and
Skin resounded like hide stretched
To soak the delicious pounding.
Hello! Hello! We are the Tott’nham boys!
Hello! Hello! Bemusement halted the locals.
Cerveza began its flow to brains – everywhere.
A paella lined the stomach.
The table scorched like a pill.
Norf’ Landon was basking!
Oh Ledley, Ledley,
He's only got one knee,
He's better than John Terry,
Oh Ledley, Led-
The forehead sweat, and the icicle drips of beer.
For me, each sip of each litre was the curling of toes on caramelised sand.
The high blaze spread herself like a pregnant throbbing of dazzle and blue.
And the music of the masses:
Tottn’ham at the Bernabeu,
Ars’nal watching Emmerdale.
Veins began to float with the glorious pounding of life.
Come on you Spurs, come on you Spurs!
Like wandering Hampstead with weightless lips again.
…We are Tott’nham from the Lane!
There was so much life there. Beer dregs from the thousands
Flung in riveting throttles of spray,
And the sound… oh, the sound. From the gut,
From where tears brew,
From the furnace of carnal music:
Five, seven, ten and more thousand
In one adrenalised drench of tone and colour.
If you don’t want to know you won’t understand.
And soon we were alive on the metro.
Oh when the Spurs Go marchin' -
Into the Basilica of modernity we went – pulsing.
In the home end though.
Fear, a little.
Behind enemy lines.
Face doused in a mustering of neutrality
As my heart whacked me with musical thumping:
Heavy, breathless, riveting.
We’re old school. We’ll take care o’ ya, they nudged.
One with a cockeral stabbed into his head,
Like an ultimate sacrifice.
I felt safer.
Seeing the grass was like art:
A thick, intimidatingly pure smear of colour.
So dense a shade that the roots must have chewed to the
Bowels of the earth’s crust.
In the blur of the ninety thousand,
And the beer in my brain, I drifted…
To that first game:
From the turnstiles to the stairs, to that magical needle-sharp green:
The first glimpse of the sloping turf.
Like stepping on stage, I suppose,
With that instant fizz of static,
and the sudden plunging-rush of caffeine.
Theatre. Real theatre. True thespianism. Love.
A goal, and a silence in a terrible roar.
Not him - not fu- not Emmanuel Adebayor!
Like a dartboard I felt it. Shit. Stab.
Then Crouchy saw red.
Half-time clawing on with nails and shoulder sinew.
Howling from the soul.
Two, three… Four.
My own hands seemed to have to hoist me
Like the pincers of a hammer
To the outside world.
And I sank at the foot of a turret
As the home congregation dissolved with their blessings,
And as I waited I dwelt…
Dwelt on unconditional love.
An empty journey to the hostel
Where sleep was the drowning of sorrows.
The morning blinked to two angel-sisters from
Michigan who had blown in with the night,
And who enjoyed self-deprecating humour –
Particularly the elder.
But time had an eagle’s griff around my wrist…
And I parted with only a smile.
A sugary croissant, orange juice, coffee.
We flew and landed with a
Little more of a bump, and a hollow rattling of luggage.
The air, and a coach, and silence, and thought.
The French sky knows my heart, I wrote.
It stunned me with an embroidered drapery of western gold,
And brought me closer to something.
Here I am. Twenty-two.
And following the paths of instinct.
Passion is clawing at me,
My heart is abrim,
My eyes are welling…
But all I ask for – please –
The only thing for which I ask is crystallisation.
Like sketching out life in pencil:
A fear of ink indelible.