Gael Turnbull

Bedtime Story
Bosnia: the more the
No Assurance
Anniversary Greetings in Terms of a Car Boot Sale
Anniversary Greetings in Terms of not Taking Part in the National Lottery
A Lady of Pleasure, The Netherbrow, Seventeen Hundred and Something
For An Old Friend Beyond the Grave
Banking On It
A Memoir
Being Guided
A Spirited Lady
I Watched


Entitled “Now
and Always
and Only”, I’m an
open book for
your lips to read
with your fingers
turning the pages


Turns of the rack,
the more excessive
the screams, the
more extreme the
pitch, the more the
nerves of the ear
hear less and less


No assurance of baggage claim
at that or any arrival
so discard what’s not essential,
always more than you think, then
when they call your flight number
and you start for the last gate,
what you need’s safely with you.
The experienced travel light


“Time will tell” we
are often told as if that tells
us much, when what’s
untold perhaps
in the end is
the more telling


Recipe plus
plus care, all help
to that final
perfection, but
luck too, and flair


That you were unclaimed when we met
Just goes to show
how blind most of the punters
and You never know  


Why hazard elsewhere
when I hold
in our embrace
the winning ticket?



This drunken bundle of iniquity,

about fifty years of age, lusty and tall,

has followed the old trade since

she was about thirteen, and can boast

of being the natural daughter of a late

worthy Baronet who was a brave General

in the war before last, but

being a disgrace to her relations

who are among the best in Scotland,

she was sent to the north where she continued

her business successfully for a long time

before returning. She regards neither decency

nor decorum and would as willingly lie

with a chimney sweep as with a Lord,

and of a desire so undiminished

would think nothing of a company of Grenadiers

at the one encounter. Take her all in all

she is an abandoned piece."


You firmly held, to your parting breath,

that the spirit lives on after death

while my bet was for oblivion where

by definition none may be aware

and thus it seems your wager's best,

implying as it does this final jest:

that in heaven above or hell below

if you've got it right we both shall know

but with no shared laugh or rueful grin

if both unknowing I should win.


Once, when we arranged an event

in your honour, you said

you did expect

to attend, but

"Don't bank on it."

Later, refusing treatment,

and warned as a result

we might never see you again,

the reply was as ever

"Don't bank on it."

Now, when others

dismiss your work

as only transient.

I hear that same

"Don't bank on it."



Surviving many years of war, he saw and did much, and was wounded twice, but what troubled the most was one time when he'd had to use his bayonet and it jammed between the others ribs and as he put his foot on the fallen body to free the blade, the other muttered something but what that was he'd never know.

Among the first ashore in the assault and not expecting to survive he'd been struck blind in one eye by what he thought was a piece of shrapnel, and feeling a warm mess down his cheek reached up instinctively to wipe it away but it was only a seagull that had scored the direct hit.

Seeing a column of prisoners in the distance, he thought there was something odd about them, so went nearer

to discover that with hands behind their heads they were being made to march on their knees.

An underage volunteer, he remained firmly by his gun even when ordered to take cover

and dying with a bullet through his lung, looked up at his commanding officer: "I showed them I wasn't afraid, didn't I?"

Advancing through a field of wheat, he surprised an enemy soldier in a fox-hole, who dropped his gun and put up his hands but it was impossible to take the other prisoner or shoot him at once without betraying his own position

so as he waited for the next barrage to hide the sound of the shot, the other began to show him pictures of his wife and child.

Toward the end of the war, advancing under fire, he'd taken cover in a drainage ditch, and had fallen asleep

to be awakened by one of his own men urinating on him. "I thought you were a corpse!”

Far behind the front line, during one of the mass raids, bombs had fallen on a zoo releasing some of the animals, and soldiers ware scrambling among the collapsed buildings in quest of a baby rhino and two baboons

with the help of peasant women from a forced labour camp, supervised by an SS officer: ukrainian girls with brightly coloured kerchiefs around their heads who sang together quite spontaneously as if life were an opera.


at her side, he lies rehearsing past miseries, incompatibilities, things said in recent argument. Their separation is inevitable. He imagines the division of the furniture, the crockery being carried away by the removal men and even Starts to go over those things he would never agree to part with.

They breakfast in silence. He studies her face across the table and sees, above the cup as she drinks her coffee, a half smile that might be a glimmer of affection. Or just the satisfaction of a good night's sleep?


in another language, opened at random, of a village in the Haut Doubs. It is a spring evening, 1906, and a schoolboy fancies a classmate. He wanders past her house, dawdles. She comes out. "Where are you going?" "For a walk." "You wanted to see me?" He nods.

She goes on, "You're being silly, why didn't you come in? "Didn't dare. I'd no excuse." "You can always find that. Go on, have you finished your homework?" "Yes." "I haven't. You can help me."

The text continues "La phrase resta en suspens, mais les yeux parlaient . "The phrase remained in suspense, but the eyes spoke. The words hung in the air, but the look expressed.

The sentence lingered, the glance implied. So many possible translations, so many possible meanings, and all their lives to unravel.


through unknown country by a band of Indians, he could not escape watching them ambush and massacre a group of Inuit and saw a girl actually pinned to the ground with a spear through her lower body, still fully conscious and struggling but unable to get away

until he persuaded one of the Indians not to leave her in agony, and was much struck by the fact that, as the war club was raised over her head, she could not resist lifting her arm to protect herself.


whose marriage had never been consummated and who refused to ever throw out a milk bottle or believe that her husband was terminally ill, when he finally died was found in bed trying to warm up his corpse which had to be pried out of her arms,

then carried his ashes everywhere and when had up for shoplifting (‘It was only a present for my psychiatrist') unscrewed the top of the jar and threw the contents over the prosecuting policeman.

who during the most important years of existence had been a sort of outlaw from life so that his ability to feel much for others had withered, acquiring only that insight which age sometimes brings, and a toleration which is so often the offspring of indifference,

thus knowing few of those troubles which are brought upon us by those we love, for the most banal of reasons: that he had no one to love.


so sure of herself, deriding his concern, blowing cigarette smoke in his face, never walking if she could ride, indulging every whim, then flouncing out of his life,

that now, standing by her grave and given the last laugh, it's as if some final betrayal, missing only the bitter affection of her scorn.



I watched from the inner side of the barbed wire
as a new convoy of prisoners unloaded,
the guards chasing them to the gates of the camp
clubbing them down, laughing
making a game of it, until only two remained
running just ahead: a girl and a younger lad.

Then he stumbled, fell, waved her to go on
but she turned, tried to lift him.
Perhaps he was her brother and
perhaps she could not have escaped anyway
and perhaps...but she turned back.
I saw it all. And the guards reaching them

(after Jorge Semprun)