My Secret Life: John Cooper Clarke, 64, poet

'I am the finest swordsman in England'

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The Independent Culture

My parents were… my mother was a barmaid when she met my dad. She also worked in the Manchester munitions factories making bombs. My dad was an electrical engineer.

The household I grew up in… looked opulent from the outside. It had flaking stucco and gargoyles. People would now say it was a slum. If you'd have said that at the time I would have hit you. It's only when I moved, I realised, really, I lived in a slum.

When I was a child I wanted to be… a private investigator.

If I could change one thing about myself… I would have immense physical strength.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at… I am the finest swordsman in all England. Once in a pub in Mile End, a guy drew out a pair of duelling foils. I challenged him. He was 30 years younger than me. I'm not saying I drew blood, but I did wear him out.

At night I dream of… rarely anything – possibly because I'm an insomniac.

What I see when I look in the mirror … a man who's lost his looks, such as they were. My declining allure is a source of great sadness to me.

It's not fashionable but I like... patriotism, manners and self-doubt.

My favourite work of art… Christ of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali.

A book that changed me… Against Nature, by Joris-Karl Huysmans – the decadent text book. It's a blueprint for how rock stars would act 100 years later. Now we live in a censorious age. People's idea of decadence now is kid's stuff. The level of decadence we once enjoyed will never return.

The last album I bought/downloaded... The last record I had bought for me was Tempest by Bob Dylan. Sensational.

My greatest regret… I don't know where to start. I would have done everything differently. Apart from the last 10 years.

My secret crush... I don't have secrets, my life's an open book.

The person who really makes me laugh… I crack myself up. Even I don't know what I'm going to say next.

The last time I cried… at the funeral of Mr Bruce Reynolds (mastermind of the Great Train Robbery).

My five-year plan… Christ, do you know how old I am? Any plans I've got are incremental. If I get through this year I'll be lucky.

What's the point? That's all there is. Your life doesn't belong to you, you can't end it. Doesn't matter how bad it is, it's a gift from God.

My life in six words… I have moved in many worlds.

A life in brief

John Cooper Clarke was born in Salford in 1949. Known as the "Punk Poet" he began performing poetry on the Manchester club circuit in the late 1970s and became a central figure in the punk movement. He spent much of the 1980s living in relative obscurity and developed a heroin addiction. Recovering in the the 1990s, he returned to touring. Interest in his works has since revived, with Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys citing him as a hero and inspiration. He lives in Essex with his wife Evie and daughter Stella.