ginnels, snickets and twittens
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by Mike Hickman



Alternative Fillings as listed in the Margins of the Agenda


Praline, ganache, crunchy frog

Coffee cream, pineapple, ham hock

Polyfilla, putty, Everbuild One Strike

Strawberry jam, vanilla, Anything you feel like.


Timothy’s at it again, this meeting as much as the last.

Reminding us of our purpose in his opening broadcast.

We must not forget, he says, what is most important in all we do

As if it’s likely we’d forget; as if it could be anything but true.


These are people, he proclaims,

As if we’d missed it, somehow.

They have lives and needs and wants, he tells us,

And we sit there and take it, with nary a raised eyebrow.


And then out it comes, as it always does,

When my mordant margins are filled,

“We must never lose sight that we’re person-centred,” he says,

As opposed to what, though, is never revealed.




a line, (a short blue one)



Positively Perpendicular


Sideways Sam, they call him.

For he’s perpetually shuffling into the side-alleys, the side routes,

The ginnels, the snickets, and the twittens.

Not necessarily short-cuts.

Very often the long-cuts.

Because if there’s a straight line to be taken,

A main road or a direct route,

Sam’s off on the perpendicular,

90 degrees to the rest of us,

And then 90 degrees again,

As he tracks our route

A full block away.

As he takes in the meanders,

As he avoids the oncoming traffic,

As he keeps his head clear.


Sam can’t stand the agony of the oncoming gleam,

He’ll tell you,

If you think him capable of a straight answer.

And that goes for headlights or glasses,

The look of the steadily advancing pedestrian at the end of the road

The walk towards them, at whatever speed he can manage,

The agony of not being able to acknowledge them,

Even as it’s no longer possible to deviate from his path,

Because we don’t acknowledge each other,

Because that is just not done,

Even if you’ve been avoiding each other’s eyes for minutes

Until that moment you meet

And it would be such a relief to say,

I’ve been watching you grow in my field of vision

For half a sodding hour now

And that’s too much for someone to ignore.

Humans weren’t meant to blank people for that long.

What the hell are we doing to ourselves?


So Sam prefers the perpendicular.

He’s happier that way.

He says he’s positively perpendicular,

Which is fine for him, I’m sure,

As long as we don’t all give it a try.




a line, (a short blue one)



Telepathic Ted


It is a mistake to ask Telepathic Ted why 

Because it proves that you do not know. 

Because it tells him you cannot read him, cannot hear what he can hear, 

Or what he ought to hear behind your why. 

But, try as he might, he finds nothing there. 

He sees the badge, he sees the uniform, 

He knows you’re asking because of them, 

But in your head, he finds none of your interest, 

And all of your lack. 

There is no voice there, 

No curiosity, no attempt to reach him. 

And yet Ted is telepathic. 

He told you that. 

Because he had to. 

Because you did not know. 

He is telepathic and he hears nothing from you. 

Nothing of you. 

And so he doesn’t need to tell you why. 

He doesn’t need to tell you anything. 

And so he won’t, 

Right now, 

In precisely the way he didn’t need to tell the others. 




a line, (a short blue one)



Do-Do-one, Ron, Ron; Do-Do-one, Ron


It was too late to learn the lesson that the Rons don’t care,

But I’d lived a closeted existence,

Before I even knew what that meant,

And this was my first round.

The beer, lukewarm with a dishwater froth,

Was weaker than my resolve,

When Ron looked round the table

And picked on me as the next up,

Even though this was my first time,

And even though I’d been invited.

“Your round, son,” he said, filing his tenners away,

“I’ll have half a mild; best see what the others’ll have.”

And this despite me hardly knowing them,

Because this was – did I mention it? – my first round.

My first time with them, too, my new colleagues,

My – it was becoming obvious – temporary colleagues,

‘til I could find something better,

Perhaps with people nearer my own age

And financial limitations.

I spluttered a bit at the thought of the eight of them sitting there,

As I ran the mental arithmetic I knew Ron had performed first,

And I knew I needed to say something

About the unauthorised overdraft

And the likelihood of being turfed from my place at the end of the month

And the rest.

And I might have said something,

Thin as the beer,

Frothed as its head,

About being momentarily embarrassed in the moolah department,

Because I foolishly thought then that Rons might care.

And he blinked a bit at my words,

And he shook his head and he shrugged,

Because his rule book was clear on the matter:

When you’re up, you’re up,

No matter what the consequences.

Because men like him –

Which I, of course, must so very much have wanted to be –

Never talked about the consequences.

And that’s when I should have told him what really needed to be said.

That’s why, twenty years later, this piece is titled as it is.



a line, (a blue one)


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