Jeremy Worman

Writer, Journalist, Teacher

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Shortlisted for a short story prize

In April 2016 I was added to the shortlist of four for the Jeremy Mogford £7,500 Prize for Food and Drink Writing.  I had a great time at the generous party and dinner in Oxford. You can read my story ‘Marlow Bridge in Summer’ here and there are photographs of the event, in The Oxford Times here.

Terry

(Published in Multi-Storey 2, January 2001. Broadcast on BBC Radio Manchester, February 2001. Winner of competition)

Terry from Papercasting on Vimeo.

When it rains in Salford I can taste salt in the raindrops, you know when you put your head up. I love sitting by the window in the front room in the dark. It’s started to drizzle and the days are drawing in. I think it’s the chemical factory, that’s where I worked since school, two A levels. Once I moved out of home for a month but something pulled me back, Mother I suppose.
I was always her little Terry, but sitting here I feel myself. Twenty-five-years a technician at the chemical factory isn’t everyone’s idea of an exciting life, but it suited me, all in all. I’m set in my ways, I know that. And since Mother died, two years this September, I’ve slowed up. I’ve done some tidying on the house, a Victorian terrace, otherwise I’ve been rather quiet.
‘Just do that for me will you, Terry love?’ Ooh, there was no end to it.
I don’t go out much, but I’m free inside now, that’s the difference. I get on very well with the neighbours. That’s Bola, she’s Nigerian. They moved in last year. I had a dinner round there recently, very interesting. And she wears the most lovely clothes, multicoloured material that wraps round and round. They brought some colour to the street.
Time I thought of something for tea. On a Friday I often have a takeaway, there’s a lovely Indian on the corner of Maygrove Street, but I’m feeling rather withered, you know. I might just take a mozzarella and ham pizza from the freezer and watch a video. Why not? I’m my own master now.
I love Marilyn Monroe. I’ll watch Some Like it Hot tonight, one of her very best, 1959. And all those cheeky chaps dressing up as women. Marlon and Clint, the budgies, are making such a racket behind me, but I’m very fond of them and they keep fit. We make each other laugh.
I’m going to Knutsford on Sunday, lunch with Veronica, my big sister. It’s good to get out. She was a dental nurse, married the dentist, Derek Palmer. His family are from Lytham, near the golf course. She must have given him laughing gas before he agreed. No children.
It’s a bloody ugly street, there’s no denying that.
‘Come fair bombs and fall on Salford.’
There were never much beauty in our family. Father worked in the power station, stoked boilers or summat like. He looked like a boiler too. Had this very loud voice and shouted ‘Hey up’ down the street to his mates. I don’t think he’d ever heard of art or films or film stars. He followed rugby league.
Every time he came back from a match, it was ‘Do you good, bit of rugby. You’re too soft, lad.’
I was always a thin boy, willowy, and I liked to wear my dark hair a bit long. I thought I looked nice when I smiled into the mirror after a bath, and held the little towel tight around my waist. I’ve hazel eyes and I’d pucker my lips like a film star.
If you sprinkle a little parsley on a pizza, it’s very nice. I’ll have a few glasses of Soave. Why not? I’m not short of a few bob.
I do water colours in my spare time. I might take it further one day. Dad smoked forty a day, drank stout. Over twenty-years-ago the old boiler just blew up, heat attack, Saturday afternoon, after his team Wigan had lost to St. Helens. It was a blessing, all in all.
Greta Garbo is my favourite, that feeling for the camera, those wonderful dresses, that face. Camille, Anna Karenina. I know every scene by heart. ‘You shouldn’t watch them so much,’ Mother used to say, ‘Get out more.’ But if I did she was the first to moan.
Just before Mother died I had trouble at work. Some of the lads started to taunt me. It seemed to be raining all the time and Mother had just been diagnosed. I’d got too friendly with Jimmy, a young boy in accounts. Made a fool of meself. I’d never encouraged that side of me before.
‘Quiet down, Marlon!’
I had this recurring idea that when God made the earth he gave Salford to the devil to play with, it was that ugly. I used to cry myself to sleep at night in the back room and imagine the clogs of the dead shuffling to work. And Mother used to stare at me.
Oh goodness! I thought I saw Mother coming down the street then. Sometimes I’m convinced it’s her, or me Dad – and then I’m so delighted it can’t be. Wicked, I know but she wouldn’t understand.
The doctor gave me uppers, I didn’t want to talk. On the way out, he said: ‘There’s nothing wrong, you know, your erotic feelings, nothing wrong at all.’
‘How dare you!’ I said.
But the doctor’s words kept repeating in my mind. What a nerve! When I got home I put on Anna Karenina to calm me down, and Garbo was wearing a long silky dress. I could almost feel its softness on my skin. Dad’s voice kept coming into my mind and I saw his image in the mirror: ‘You’re too quiet, lad.’ He was such a bully and everything about him was ugly, ugly, ugly.
It’s almost dark now, but I feel so bright inside me these days.
Anyway, after coming back from the doctor’s, I couldn’t settle. I went into the wardrobe where Veronica, my sister, had left a lot of her things. My heart was racing. I tried a dress, then a skirt and a slip. I felt so nice, so right, and I burst into a flood of tears.
I just sat there in front of the mirror, making up with a bit of old eyeliner and lipstick I’d found in the bottom of the wardrobe. Then I went downstairs and watched Anna Karenina all over again.
I’ll pour myself a glass of that Soave and sit here for another ten minutes before I draw the curtains. I’m going to paint the windows before the winter. I do it all myself.
After my first experience of dressing up, I bought a wig and other bits and pieces.
At the end of our street there’s a big billboard with Marilyn Monroe advertising cigarettes, and drinking a glass of champagne in the moonlight.
Oh, that’s lovely wine. I’m wearing my black cocktail dress tonight, blond wig, nicely made-up. I could almost be there, in that advertisement, drinking champagne. I’d call myself Jasmine.
When I’m like this, I’m me, only me. I’ve got no family, no Mother looking over me like I’m a bad smell. I’m just Jasmine and I don’t have any past at all.
It’s not a bad life, all in all, looking up at Marilyn. It’s started to drizzle. Marilyn’s lower lip is tilted upwards. I wonder if she can taste the salt in the raindrops too?

Jeremy’s poetry

Jeremy has written poetry for many years. Although not all are available to read online, here’s a complete list of his publications:

Anthologies
1 poem in London Rivers, a Paekakariki Press anthology (2011)
1 poem in a Cinnamon Press anthology, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (September 2008), p. 45

Magazines
1 poem in Manifold, 48 (December 2004), p. 16.
1 poem in Manifold, 47 (July 2004), p. 6.
1 poem in Poetic Hours, 22 (June 2004), p. 11.
1 poem in The Coffee House, 9 (July 2003), p. 1.
1 poem in Current Accounts, 16 (Spring / Summer 2003), p. 36.
1 poem in Poetry Nottingham International, vol. 56, no. 3 (Autumn 2002), p. 50.
2 poems in Breathe, 14 (September 2002), pp. 17-18.
1 poem in The London Magazine, [New Series] (June/July 2002), p. 23.
1 poem in Links, New Series, no 1 (Spring 2002), p. 8.
1 poem in Exile, vol. 13, no 2 (Winter 2001), p. 8.
1 poem in Purple Patch, 101 (December 2001), p. 1.
1 poem in Iota, 55 (August 2001), p. 37.
1 poem in Rising, 22 (April 2001), p. 18.
5 poems in Understanding, 8 (November 2000), pp. 118-122.
2 poems in Sheffield Thursday, 8 (Spring 1999), p. 91.
1 poem in Rising, 14 (August 1998), p. 12.

Performance, art, Pink Floyd and a QC

I am currently writing a few memoir pieces, set in late-1970s London, during the period of my life when I was involved with performance art. The artist was sculptor Paul Wright, who was also part of the design team for the Pink Floyd stage shows, and a QC, who was the ‘art object’, taken all over London in various disguises. The event was photographed and then recorded on a Rank Xerox colour copier, a new process at the time. I was the helper, sometimes writer of set pieces, and occasional performer. The QC, a good friend, is now dead, and the full story, which will reveal his identity, can be told for the first time. There will be a London exhibition of the work in September 2016.

Fragmented

Fragmented brings together short stories and sketches charting a personal journey from squatter and hippy in Seventies London to creative and stable middle age as husband, father, teacher and writer. Responding to and recording social change, often by seizing moments in the flux of city life, the stories are both self contained fragments and a cohesive narrative of a city as much as of an individual.

Many sketches are set in Hackney or Hornsey Rise – at one time the largest squat in Europe. Fragmented brings to life characters and places; examines the underside of London epitomised by outsiders, drugs, racial tension and crime, and explores deeper themes not only of childhood, family and relationships, but also of the nature of writing, political idealism, fear of oblivion and how we conjure and retain a sense of the past. The tone is variously reflective, nostalgic, critical, humorous and detached.

Available from  W H Smith, Waterstones, Gwales and Amazon.

Read Mark Hannam’s review here. Also published in Dream Catcher

and The Short Review here

and Islington Tribune here

and Hackney Citizen here

and East London Lines (the online newspaper) review here

and Gwales review here

and Amazon readers’ review here

and Waterstones readers’ reviews here

and Nick Sweeney’s review here

and a review from The Frogmore Papers (Number 78, Autumn 2011) by Jeremy Page:

For anyone who has walked the streets of east and north London, where most of these often very personal pieces are set, this is a fascinating collection. Many of them are very short – some barely half a page – but these are texts which have been lovingly crafted from experience that was not always so sweet. The Great Wen is hauntingly evoked, and the character sketches are expertly drawn. Personal favourites here include ‘Hackney Sunday’ and the exquisitely titled ‘Myfanwy, China, Harry and a Goldfish’.

My Greenwich Writing Group

This creative writing class runs every Monday at Waterstones Bookshop Greenwich, 5pm-7pm. Contact Jeremy Worman at talk21.com

A Book of Silence – Sara Maitland

(Published in The London Magazine, June/July 2010)

This lively book sets out to restore the importance of silence to our frenetic culture. Although classified as ‘Memoir’ by the publisher it embraces many aspects: autobiography; quest; discussion; history; polemic; confession; travel book. The author has written several novels, short story collections and theological works. She was also editor of the illuminating Very Heaven: Looking Back at the 1960s (1988).

For over twenty years, from the late sixties, Sara Maitland described herself as an ‘Anglo-Catholic socialist feminist’ (she is now a Catholic). She relished her ‘noisy life’ in London but in 2000 decided that a withdrawal from society would allow the expression of a deeper self. She asks why there is ‘a fear of silence’ in our culture and argues that in solitude we gain a sense of inner happiness that is not dependent on commodity culture. She travels to the Sinai Desert to research her premise.

The author is an Oxford-educated, upper-class bohemian: is she following an egocentric hippyish path to enlightenment? David Willetts’ provocative book The Pinch, about ‘the baby boomers’ (those born between 1945-1965) claims that they have ‘concentrated wealth in the hands of their own generation’. A corollary to this is the way in which this privileged group has assumed the right to sample any new experience – LSD, travel, psychotherapy, alternative lifestyles, the search for inner tranquillity – as a norm and a right. The sitcom Absolutely Fabulous illustrates such a way of life.

Maitland is one of those spoilt baby boomers, as I was, but A Book of Silence is far more than mere indulgence. The author is following in a long line of religious thinkers who have written about silence and personal liberation. Before the birth of Buddha, the ancient teaching of the Vigyan Bhairava Tantra Text was advising: ‘Toss attachment for body aside. I am everywhere. One who is everywhere is joyous.’ In 2003 Eckhart Tolle published the best seller Stillness Speaks. Maitland’s study is more exploratory, and original, in its aim to discover the importance of silence in various cultural contexts. The personal candour of the writer is refreshing, about her stay in a mental hospital, the personal changes caused by the menopause, her relation to her children and ex-husband. We side with her against the babble in the world and with her apoplexy that people even cheer at the funerals of heroes and celebrities. The intellectual energy of this study – about myths, hermits, the power ascribed to language – is wide-ranging and impressive.

But the heart of the writing is the search for ‘the bliss of solitude’ She also found that being alone for long periods could be psychologically difficult and the chapter ‘The Dark Side’ is a kind of manual for the negative fears one will come across, and how to defeat them. The underlying thrust of her argument is that ‘the modern boundaried self’ of Western culture is limited until silence is embraced when a radically different self is uncovered: ‘A whole world in and of itself, alongside of, woven within language and culture, but independent of it.’ What does this really mean and how useful is such a dimension for those working full time or bringing up a family? The author is clear about her intention: ‘I want to encode silence, so that out there in all that noise, people can access and love it. I am not sure that this it is possible, but it seems worth a try.’ Conveying the meaning of mysticism is a daunting task and this book is a valiant attempt to do so.

There is no manifest sense of a political perspective in A Book of Silence, which is surprising when the writer has been such an active campaigner on so many issues. Yet, in this exciting work, Sara Maitland remains a sixties girl in spirit as she makes a passionate case for silence.

Jeremy reviews – Virtual War by Michael Ignatieff

The opening chapters of Michael Ignatieff’s brilliant study of the Kosovo war deal with the situation at close range. His reportage from the Balkans includes interviews with key participants and moving reflections of the bombed Belgrade. The control of the material is striking.

The chapters that follow reveal Ignatieff’s moral thrust, as he explores the concept of ‘virtual’ war’, when only the enemy are killed, the Allied Command is in another continent and the media provided ‘a light show for Western TV audiences’ who’ve never had to face the body bags of their own sons and citizens. He deconstructs the rhetoric of the war — ‘precision violence’ — and convincingly argues that democratic decision-making was virtually bypassed (a theme taken up by Tony Benn, but few others).

The coherence of this multi-layered critique of ‘the first postmodern war in history’ makes Virtual War deeply disturbing and hugely impressive.

Jeremy reviews “Wainewright the Poisoner” – Andrew Motion

Thomas Griffiths Wainewright (1794-1847), the little-known subject of Andrew Motion’s intriguing book, was a significant figure in the London of his times: artist and writer, he painted Byron and was a friend of Fuseli and Blake. The form of the narrative is as beguiling as the subject matter. Eschewing straight biography, Motion writes the ‘Confession’ from the fictionalised first-person viewpoint of Wainewright.

At the end of each chapter, he adds ‘Notes’ — scholarly, biographical information about the real Wainewright. This ‘creates a fascinating alternative perspective to the vivacious but chilling story of the gentleman-dandy artist. After the suspicious death of three relatives, he was charged — though only with the forgery of life insurance documents and transported to Tasmania. Wilde wrote about him, spookily foreshadowing his own downfall.
This mixed-genre study produces a complex reconstruction of its subject, and reinstates Wainewright in his Romantic context.

Lanterns (For Alan Ross)

(Published in The London Magazine, June 2003)

Last Christmas I was told of your despair
And I saw in a dream you falling down
A dark valley bottom, but high above
On hills there were lanterns waiting for your
Return, keeping faith. A few months later
I read of your death from a heart attack.

But now, far clearer, I see you in a
Bright fishing smack coming into an island
In Greece, in the bluest sea at sunset
Steering with pride. The deck is full of live
And shining silver fish. You anchor, drink
Cold white wine and salute the harbour.

All along the hot, stony road from the sea
There are lanterns on the squat houses,
Each illuminates a cover
Of all The London Magazine you made.
Every lantern honours you.

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