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Old Scene

Hugo Williams, 22 February 1990

... Jim: No perfumes, nurse. These oils drown my head with their clamour of marriages and mourning, their oozy lava nibbled at by flies. My hair is no bunch of flowers stuck in a vase, exuding forgetfulness. It laps my body in hot smells, as if some animal breathed on me. I lie here stiff with horror at its caresses, while lions watch the listless wreckage of my innocence drop down through my eyes ...


Hugo Williams, 20 December 1990

... A last visit to the long-abandoned ‘Gosses’ on Harold Macmillan’s Birch Grove estate, soon to be levelled as part of the Birch Grove Golf Course. I apologise to the driver for the branches closing in, almost bringing us to a standstill. He doesn’t seem to mind. ‘I’m like you,’ he tells me, as we move aside a tree blown across the drive by the storm ...

When I grow up

Hugo Williams, 23 October 1986

... When I grow up I want to have a bad leg. I want to limp down the street I live in without knowing where I am. I want the disease where you put your hand on your hip and lean forward slightly, groaning to yourself. If a little boy asks me the way I’ll try and touch him between the legs. What a dirty old man I’m going to be when I grow up! What shall we do with me? I promise I’ll be good if you let me fall over in the street and lie there calling like a baby bird ...

Three Poems

Hugo Williams, 10 February 1994

... The Ghost of a Smile I looked up from my plate and saw the ghost of my father’s smile separating like milk across the dining table. I sat there as usual, a fork in one hand, a knife in the other, and neatly, precisely, divided myself in two. The Fall My father lived in the Garden of Allah, an exotic, bungalow-style hotel which Thomas Wolfe told Scott Fitzgerald he could not believe existed, even in Hollywood ...

Two Poems

Hugo Williams, 16 August 1990

... Post-War British Photograph Poetry Everyone screwing up their eyes as if they can’t quite make us out – Jim with his hair fully restored, Johnny with the Simoniz duster, polishing the Jowett Javelin to extinction as long ago as 1951. There’s no such person as Anne, but Gar is still there, looking quite like her old self again, and Mr Burns, none the worse for New Zealand, waiting for us to make up our minds: are we coming with them or not? The afternoon goes on like that until we are piling into the car, trying not to sit in the middle ...

Three Poems

Hugo Williams, 12 December 2002

... Walk Out to Winter Are we dead, do you think? I thought we were when I visited your art school annexe and saw your things all over the floor. Someone had nailed a dress to a board and thrown a pot of paint at it. We left the flowers on your desk and went for a walk near the reservoir. The different sets of broken promises lay in wait for us on the muddy path ...

Three Poems

Hugo Williams, 2 September 1999

... Bar Italia How beautiful it would be to wait for you again in the usual place, not looking at the door, keeping a look out in the long mirror, knowing that if you are late it will not be too late, knowing that all I have to do is wait a little longer and you will be pushing through the other customers, out of breath, apologetic. Where have you been, for God’s sake? I was starting to worry ...

Dear Room

Hugo Williams, 10 May 2001

... 1 Are you still Chinese yellow? Are your blinds still drawn against prying eyes on the tops of buses? How well I remember you, perched beside a traffic-light on the corner of Ladbroke Grove, our tree-house lookout post, shuddering and shaking all night to the jamming of gears, the headlights of cars kerb-crawling the platform where we slept. You held us suspended halfway between heaven and earth that year ...

Three Poems

Hugo Williams, 24 January 2008

... The Reading If I turn round now I’ll be back at school, arranging the chairs in the Library with Briggs and Napier. Briggs is chair monitor for readings. He’s flicking through a copy of my new book, ‘An Actor’s Life for Me’, and making animal noises. A display card on the table shows me smiling, holding up the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry ...

I Knew the Bride

Hugo Williams, 19 August 2010

... for my sister Polly 1950-2004 You had to go to bed ahead of us even then, while your two older brothers grabbed another hour downstairs. The seven-year gap was like a generation between us. You played the princess, swanning about the house in your tablecloth wedding dress, till we told you your knickers were dirty and you ran upstairs to change. Your hair was tied up in plaits on top of your head, showing the parting down the back as you marched out of the room ...

Three Poems

Hugo Williams, 3 April 2014

... A Boy Call The long cry of ‘BOY …’, falsetto, travels down two flights and bursts like a blow to the head through the last door on the left where I am struggling with my essay on the American Civil War. My room is furthest away from the Common Room. Only Barnes is behind me in the scrum of tailcoats and bumfreezers jockeying for position in the corridor ...


Hugo Williams, 5 July 2012

... I suggested a brave new form of entertainment, one based entirely on the emotions – hope and fear for example, the idea being to do whatever you want, then describe your feelings afterwards. My whole body tingles with excitement because it’s my turn to be ‘it’. Can you guess what I’m thinking? I open my wallet twice and look at my list of excuses ...

Tara Browne (1945-66)

Hugo Williams, 8 November 2018

... I read the news today, oh boy, About a lucky man who made the grade. The Beatles, ‘A Day in the Life’ If you’d apologised just once for green shirts and amethyst cuff-links you might have survived, but who would have believed that Irish-ironical ‘Sorrry, sorrry’ as you fell about laughing? You were only fifteen when we followed you across Paris after midnight, trying to keep up ...

i.m. The West Pier (1866-2003)

Hugo Williams, 23 September 2021

... Piers are stepping-stonesout of this world, a line of poetryflung out to sea on a whim,a dazzle of sea lightsglimpsed between floorboards.For 50p you can study eternitythrough a telescopeand never have to go there,only promenade to nowhere and backin an atmosphere of ice creamWe used to take the speedboat ridebetween the two piers,pulling the canvas up to our chinswhen the spray flew in our faces ...

Shelf Life

Hugo Williams, 4 October 1984

... 1 Above our beds the little wooden shelf with one support was like a crucifix offering up its hairbrush, Bible, family photograph for trial by mockery. We lay in its shadow on summer nights, denying everything, hearing only the impossible high catches for the older boys, their famous surnames calling them to glory. 2 Why did we take the bed-making competition so seriously? We were only nine ...

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