From a creative point of view, it can be more interesting when things go wrong.

There’s wrong and wrong, of course. I don’t mean the kind of wrong that’s clumsy or inept. But maybe the kind of wrong where the idea or the method gets away. That’s interesting. I like the sort of poem that has a mind of its own for example, and seems to do something the poet didn’t (apparently) intend. Sometimes I like poems that go wrong better than poems that go right. 

This is perverse, isn’t it? But there you go. A pun there already. We celebrate mistakes instinctively. We make them the root of our jokes. Where would we be without jokes? 

I took the HappenStance Story Chapter 7 to the printer on Monday. I was in a rush, as usual, and so was the chapter. I mentioned this to Robert at Dolphin Press. Printers don’t check for proof-reading errors but I got an email message later from Liz (the other half), about a graphic and another small point: And on page 9 he wasnt sure if it was a typing error or not but on the 3rd line it says poets over 4 should that not say 40? Let me know’. 

Yes, it should have said 40. Here’s the context: “The majority of manuscripts I receive are by poets over 4. In fact, 40 is pretty young in my terms.” But isn’t it a wonderful mistake? I did correct it (thanks to Robert) but I was so very tempted to leave it.  Mistakes make good stories.

Cracked cup imageThe Bank of Scotland, about which I wrote recently, has still not unmangled the mistake they have made with my account. On Friday, which was day 21 of my not being able to pay cheques in, I reached a stage of mild fury. I had tried to get hold of my Relationship Manager, had been promised a call, had not had the call and had insisted on speaking to what I now know is called a ‘team leader’.

In the olden days, banks had managers. Now they have relationship managers, and their bosses are team leaders. Does this sound like banking to you? Nope? Me neither.

Interestingly, though, one of the relationship managers (all the ones I have spoken to have been articulate, charming, young-sounding men, who are clearly not managers, but minions, and my heart goes out to them) was able to give me a date. ‘Chris’ could see an indemnity arrangement, made on 25.05.2005. That was it. That was the permission to pay cheques in to the name ‘HappenStance’. 

However, although the indemnity arrangement is recorded, the nature of that arrangement is not noted. Back to the drawing board. Chris told me that talking to a ‘boss’ (the team leader) would not do any good. How right he was. I insisted anyway. I never insist on talking to bosses. I wanted to mark the fact that this was now a crisis. I wanted someone to scribble down, ‘Customer insisted on speaking to Team Leader’. 

The team leader, it was, who made me enraged. He was not rude, oh no. He jabbered jargon which I started to write down but it came so thick and fast, it was impossible. I had suggested I would complain. He said something about ‘making an official complaint that highlighted the official areas where the complaint applies’. It wasn’t even English! All he needed to do was listen and say ‘there, there’. 

I wish there were solutions to this nonsense. This is not banks making huge monies at our expense. This is huge organisations who are victims of their own systems and frequently employing people with no authority to take meaningful action or, in the team leader’s case, no skill with human beings. 

Another mistake then. Another mistake, another story. We haven’t reached the end yet but soon I will ask people to send money in paper notes in envelopes and I will keep the stash in the tea caddy. The risk of burglars is far less than the risk of the bank putting the whole business out of business.

Anyway, back to the migraine. It has been a migrainey week for me, though I’ve had much worse. I’m interested in migraine and what’s going wrong in the brain when they happen, interested enough to have read Oliver Sacks’ book on the subject (and it’s one of his hard books, not one of the readable ones). Sacks loves the excitement of malfunction. Often he demonstrates how it leads to creative perceptions you couldn’t get any other way. 

Every weakness opens us to strength. I am on number 56 of the 77 poetry submissions. (Next week I expect to have finished and report back). I have become, I realise, mainly a disappointment disseminator. This seems such a negative function, so fraught with guilt and responsibility and neurosis, that I frequently don’t like myself much. 

On the other hand, the nature of disappointment is fascinating and, in some contexts, funny.  I’m reminded of Nick Asbury’s Disappointments Diary, which I think so masterfully funny. Not everyone would agree of course, but I’m persuaded the friends to whom I gave it will share my view. On the promotional page, you can see one of the page headers: ‘Genius is 99% perspiration and you’ve mastered that bit’. Poetry becomes so intense, so delicate, so personal. What on earth are we doing when we write it? I don’t know. I never did know. I just find it interesting that people do it, that I do it. We are all mad probably.

Back to migraine. Lots of poets have migraine. I do wonder whether the best poems aren’t a kind of disruption of the brain. I think poetic form, whatever we mean by that term, can introduce disruptions that make something unexpected happen. Something unexpected should happen in a poem, shouldn’t it?

I wrote about Paul Lee in November 2011. Paul died before he was supposed to. He and I both had migraines and both wrote poems. We both even wrote poems about migraines, and swapped notes about this at one point.

In Us: Who Made History, Paul’s posthumous collection from Original Press, there is a marvellous migraine poem. It incorporates ‘the verb thing’ (one of the ‘flaws’ I keep going on about) but it is more than the sum of its parts. It is a strength out of weakness. I’ll stand by that. 


I will know light as camera flash
and breaking glass. Your consoling touch
will hurt, my flesh a ripe fruit bruising.

Noise will be a steady crescendo,
taste a meld of metal, eggs and bile,
smell a constant brink of gagging.

I can tell you that scotoma is a drift
of soot flakes across your vision,
a vision that fractures and scintillates

with an aura that bathes the world
in St Elmo’s fire, shot with blue or yellow
lightning flashes.
………………………This is not understatement.

There is also the fever and chills, like flu,
the nausea and vomiting. And the pain –
ah, yes, the pain – that mocks analgesics,

resists agonists: pain like a billiard ball
potted behind your eye, a red-hot toad,
a pyramid of razor edges and needle points.

My doctors shuffle their drugs,
discuss my triggers.
…………………….A healer once suggested
that migraines assuaged my need for pain.






I have only just reached 29.


That’s to say number 29 out of the 77 December submissions, and this is too slow for comfort. So no blog writing today, only writing scribbly notes on people’s poems between pencil sharpenings. (I have sharpened two whole pencils to oblivion).


There will be feedback on the process in due course—another couple of weeks yet.


Meanwhile, Chapter Seven of the HappenStance Story is just about ready to go to print. If you’d like a copy (we sold out of Chapter Six) and you’re not a subscriber, here’s your link.


We have no snow in this wintry corner of Fife—at least only a powdery dusting. Rather disappointing, even for grown-ups. Also no word from the Bank of Scotland. Please forgive me if you’ve sent a cheque in the last fortnight. I can’t pay them in. I can only sit and look at them. If the situation persists for another week, a new account will be opened.


Meanwhile, the last word is with Robert Nye’s poem ‘Winter More’, included in the HappenStance pamphlet anthology, Winter Gifts, right back at the beginning, in 2005.






When it was Winter what I saw
Was not enough for my heart’s claw.

I wanted the North Wind to blow
Like God the Father shouting No.

My heart was greedy for pure cold:
I wanted icicles of gold.

I wanted Taj Mahals of ice
And no mere Arctic could suffice.

Winter extreme, Winter complete
Was what I longed for in my heat

To reach an absolute North Pole
And know in body and in soul

Some more-than-polar vertigo,
The truth of snow on snow on snow.

This was my secret lust and lore:
I always wanted Winter more.





I have a Relationship Manager.


Everybody who does Business Banking with the Bank of Scotland has one, though I’ve never had to contact mine before. But I did this week, and we had a long chat.


‘Something has gone wrong with our relationship,’ I pointed out. ‘And the bank has caused the problem. Not me.’


We all know there are two sides to everything. And a problem shared is a problem halved. I still can’t, however, pay any cheques made out to ‘HappenStance’ into my business account. This situation arose nine days ago and is still some way from being resolved. Everyone knows it’s hard to stay in credit if your sales product is poetry. It’s even harder when you can’t pay cheques into the bank.


I’ll give you some bankground—I mean background. (As I write, it’s just started to snow. The Pathetic Fallacy rules OK.)


Just over a week ago, hoping to save myself a bit of time, I popped into the bank in St Andrews (not my home branch) to pay in the week’s cheques. The teller looked worried. ‘What does it say here?’ she frowned. ‘Is this word Happen . . .?’


‘HappenStance,’ I said helpfully. ‘It’s the name of the business.’


‘But the name of the account—’ she said ‘—is Helen Beaton trading as Helena Nelson.’


‘That’s right,’ I said. ‘Helen Beaton is my passport name. Helena Nelson is my penname. I’m a writer.’


‘But the cheques are all made out to . . . er . . . HappenStance?’


‘Yes, that’s the name of the business. There’s an Arrangement for cheques to be payable to that name.’


An ‘Arrangement’ is what the bank originally called it. I paid £30.00 for my Arrangement seven years ago, at the same time as all my order slips were printed saying ‘Please make cheques payable to HappenStance’.


She frowned and stared at the screen of her computer. ‘I can’t see any evidence of that Arrangement, she said. ‘I’ll need to see a manager for some advice.’


With that she disappeared and was gone for a considerable time. The woman behind me sat down in a chair provided for that purpose. I leaned on the counter and tapped my fingers.


Eventually the bank lady returned. ‘We have phoned the bank in Glenrothes,’ she said, ‘and they’re going to phone back. Could you hang on a little longer?’


I had been in a hurry to start with, which was why I made the mistake of going into the St Andrews branch. So I declined her offer and said I’d call into my own branch on my way home. She wasn’t pleased with me. She thought I thought she was being difficult.


But it wasn’t personal. This has happened before. The last time was a few years ago and it was in my home branch. One of the tellers had stared at the screen and said she couldn’t see my Arrangement and had had to go for help. One of her colleagues had then done something, and she could see my Arrangement after that.


So I was pretty confident that when I got to Glenrothes, all would be well. I was wrong.


Nicola Excellent in Glenrothes (they don’t have second names on their badges but customer ratings instead) could not have been nicer. In fact, she was excellent. ‘The problem is,’ she explained, ‘I’ve checked as well, and I can’t see any evidence of your Arrangement.’


‘How did you see it before?’ I said.


She looked blank.


‘I paid in cheques last week,’ I said. ‘How did you see it then?’


Perhaps I didn’t ask this precise question because I don’t recall that bit being answered, and I now know, after reading Oliver Sacks’ Hallucinations, that memory is not a question of accessing a factual store of information so much as a creative act. We did, however, discuss whether the changeover between Bank of Scotland and Lloyds might have had some dire consequences for my Arrangement, though that was not recent.


Worst of all, Nicola confirmed that she couldn’t pay my cheques into the account either, and since it was late Friday afternoon, she wouldn’t be able to follow up with Business Banking until Monday.


Nicola is excellent. She telephoned me on Monday afternoon, with embarrassment in her voice. ‘I’ve spoken to one of the relationship managers,’ she said. ‘They have checked both systems—the current one and the old one—and they can’t see any evidence of an Arrangement having been made.’


I was tense. Were they about to charge me again for a new Arrangement?


‘What we can do,’ she said optimistically, ‘is change the name of your account to HappenStance. It takes a couple of days but I have a form here and—’


‘But will I still be able to pay in cheques made out to Helena Nelson?’


‘Er . . . no, you won’t.’


I explained why that would prove inconvenient when it came to self-assessment at the end of each financial year, not to mention all the BACS payments. Then it occurred to me that poor Nicola was very much in the role of middleman. If I had a Relationship Manager (as all the business banking marketing documents continually reassure me) I should talk to them myself. She gave me the number and I promised to let her know what they said.


So I finished cleaning the bathroom and did a bit of weeding, while I thought precisely what I was going to say.


It took a long time to get through to a Relationship Manager because of switchboard problems. I timed it. Fifteen minutes.


This brings me back to where I started. I told Stuart (relationship managers don’t have second names) that our relationship was foundering, and explained why. He put me on hold (a painful metaphor in relationship terms) while he scanned both systems, the present one and the pre-Lloyds one. When he returned his voice was bleak. ‘I can’t see any evidence of an Arrangement having been made,’ he said.


‘It was made in 2005,’ I said, ‘and since then I’ve been paying cheques made out to HappenStance into this account every week. That’s seven years’ worth of cheques. And up to now the tellers seem to have known there was an Arrangement.’


‘Ah,’ he said. ‘Our system has just changed. Before they wouldn’t have seen it on the screen, but now they do. So they wouldn’t have known HappenStance was the wrong payee.’


‘But surely someone would have checked?’ I said. ‘Could I have been paying in cheques to the wrong name for seven years without someone noticing?’


‘That does seem unlikely,’ he said.


I pictured him with furrowed brow. I didn’t say anything because sometimes silence, in relationship problems, is the best bargaining tool.


‘There is one thing I could still do  . . .’




‘I could contact Blurdeblurgh (some place in England) for the archive, and go through it.’


‘What does that mean?’


‘Every paper you actually sign is kept, and they go into a box in Blurdeblurgh. I can search through it for evidence of the document you signed to put the Arrangement in place. You did sign something, didn’t you?’


I’ll stop replaying our conversation at this point because life is short and the snow is getting thicker. It transpires that if Stuart can find physical evidence of an Arrangement, he can reinstate it.


If Stuart can’t find evidence of the Arrangement, it’s no longer possible to have business accounts where cheques are payable to anything other than the name of the account. Should that happen, he is going to think carefully about other ways around the conundrum. He muttered about ‘possibility of two separate accounts’ at one point.


It may take a little while to get the box. Inside the box there will be documents dating back to 2002, when the account was first opened. I feel for him.


Stuart has my home number and my mobile number for Relationship updates. I’m thinking of changing my FaceBook status to ‘It’s difficult.’


Yesterday morning I had a circular from Business Banking offering me a preferential loan to expand my business.