This Poem Is Not To Be Read In A South London Accent

A poem about poetry.

This poem is not to be read in a South London accent.

This poem will not begin by walking in a shoulders-dropped,

semi-hip-hop,

baggy-trousered swagger towards a microphone,

lower its eyes,

point its tattooed arm towards the sky

and after a dramatic pause

 

 

(which lasts for some time)

 

 

say “London!” or “Yo!”

No, this poem is not going to be like that.

This poem doesn’t roll that way.

 

This poem does not wear its origins on its sleeve,

Giving its home town a shout out at 2am from the top of a tower block,

Turning the place where a pirate radio mast once stood into a theatre of words

And sprinkling whoever cares to listen with magic urban dust and a beat

for the after dark warriors

that knew that the coolest city in the world was always theirs.

This poem might look out from a multi-storey car park in the middle of the night,

Looking down on nothing but taxi queues, pissed kids and the odd rat –

(Everything is shut

Everything is shit)

This town just gets deader after midnight

Apart from the odd fight that nobody can be arsed to break up.

Tell the world its name

And the response will always be the same:

“Where’s that, then?”

So this poem won’t bother wearing its home town on its sleeve – or showing it on a map.

 

This poem will not swagger through the mean streets

Watching the spray-paint Michelangelos turn the old warehouses into modern shrines,

But it might wander past pound shop after pound shop after pound shop

Where some kid wrote ‘I WOZ ERE’ in biro on a boarded up window

And maybe tagged the statue of the kid with the boat at the end of the high street in Tipp-Ex

This kid wasn’t making a statement, crying out for change,

Shouting out that the media is controlling our minds –

No, they were bored, and it passed the time.

 

This poem will not tell you of the philosopher with an addict’s face,

The bohemian who won’t beg but will write you a poem in exchange for a few quid

The people the city sweeps under its carpet and make the night more interesting.

We have the more prosaic sights:

The lady outside the post office,

Smelling of piss and not being sure it’s not 1956 –

Because her carer’s not been for the last six weeks

And there’s nobody to check since they cut back Social Services

But if she gets her slippers and her nightie on she might make it to town

Where the flags are still up from the Coronation

And nobody starts up a conversation.

 

No, this poem will not be read in a South London accent.

This poem will not be read or composed on the night bus.

(This poem will be shuffling slowly forwards in the queue for the rail replacement bus

Muttering to itself –

As it does every single day –

that it’ll all get better when Crossrail comes.)

This poem will not be fashionable because it exists.

This poem will not be cool because it was read by someone with an asymmetrical haircut.

This poem will not be read in an unnamed pop-up bar that was never advertised but is mysteriously full of people drinking imported craft beer.

This poem will not be followed by a DJ set.

This poem will not be broadcast on Radio 1.

This poem will not be filmed in the toilets of a bar in Piccadilly Circus and broadcast as a late-night filler on BBC 4 for National Poetry Day

This poem will not be adopted as a statement about the state of the nation.

 

This poem is not to be read in a South London accent.

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Somme

He’s sixteen.

Should be drinking in the park

Get pissed on cider from a neon can

Discussing which band’s good and which sold out

And scoffing at sad, bland pop music fans.

At least, he should be sneaking into bars

Where everyone can tell he’s underage

With fake ID swiped from his brother’s room

Or ordered from a magazine’s back page

He should be stacking shelves on Saturdays

And hiding his hangover from his mum,

Or playing sport, or in a band with mates

And feeling nervous when exam week comes.

That khaki jacket with its stains of mud –

It should be worn at gigs watched in the rain;

Those heavy boots should be a Camden thing

Or be reminders of some outdoor game.

 

But that is now. For times were different then –

They say –  concepts of ‘teens’ didn’t exist:

Sixteen year olds were practically men –

They say –  and all were desperate to enlist.

These pretty lies won’t mask the long-dead sounds

Of young men’s screams on bloody battlefields,

Won’t change the roll call of the millions dead,

The ‘shell shock’ and the wounded left unhealed.

 

And now he’s just a name chalked on a stone

Where annually people might convene

With well-meant ceremonies of regret

Young soldier – killed in action – aged sixteen.

Read about the ‘ghost soldiers’ project #wearehere  – a powerful and moving tribute to those killed in the battle of the Somme.

Referendum Groceries

We’ve had a lot of talk about the EU referendum in the UK of late, and much of it has been pretty nasty. Occasionally, when surrounded by argument, a person has to resort to a coffee and pastry to cheer themselves up: I did, and wrote this.

I’ve made a plan for this week, for this show-down’s not for me:

The bickering and posturing between rival MPs;

Mud-slinging in the media, both social and in print:

And prejudice from journalists once thought intelligent.

 

The Leave campaign yell: “If we stay, we’ll sink into the sea

Between the cost of membership and swathes of refugees

We’ll drown in Greek-style penury and then we’ll lose our jobs

Which will probably be taken by hordes of Turkish mobs

The politicos in Brussels will take our sovereignty

And force us to adopt the single Euro currency!

We’ll have no more such nonsense! And we strongly believe

We can pay for all our hospitals by simply voting Leave!”

 

And judging by their single bit of paper through my door

The Remain campaign’s main rhetoric is similarly poor.

“If you don’t tick the Remain box on June 23

Then our entire population will attempt to flee!

For businesses won’t deal with us: there’ll probably be war

Between Britain and the rest of Europe by June 24

There’ll be no more foreign holidays to Portugal or Spain

For nobody will let us in if we don’t vote Remain

The Scots and Welsh will both devolve and be off like a shot

And we hear that even Cornwall has a devolution plot

And lastly but by no means least – who do you want in charge?

Do you really want a country led by Boris or Farage?”

 

Meanwhile, arguments fly back and forth on Facebook and on Twitter

And many sound quite personal and not a little bitter

So I’ve made a plan for this week that will keep me quite objective

And ensure that I maintain a purely rational perspective.

 

I’ll start by having breakfast, and I know just what I’ll want:

An Italian espresso and a French almond croissant

Then I’ll stroll along the pavement in my shoes that came from Spain

(With my German car as backup in case of heavy rain)

On the way to work, I may decide to make a stop

And pick up my weekly shopping at the local Polish shop

I could buy olives (which might well be Cypriot or Greek)

Or a bar of Belgian chocolate to see me through the week

If I’m feeling decadent, Dutch waffles could be an idea

And for later in the evening, a Czech or Polish beer

And perhaps I’ll buy some port (exported by the Portuguese)

Which always goes quite well with slices of Danish blue cheese.

If I get a call, I’ll answer on my Finnish mobile phone

With a tune from Mozart (Austrian) as a tasteful ringing tone

My work will be obliged to let me leave when I am through:

Since the European Working Time Directive tells them to.

Finally, I might meet up for coffee with my mates

Who hail from all around the European member states

And as Thursday dawns, I’ll sink into my Swedish-made settee

And ponder what the EU has ever done for me.

Whatever your views on the referendum, please vote on the 23rd if you’re eligible – there is some impartial information out there. I found this lecture from the University of Liverpool very informative.

A Letter to the Education Secretary

My child is not a genius. He’s fairly bright at best,

He doesn’t have attainment medals glowing from his chest,

He’s pretty well behaved – at least, I don’t hear that he’s naughty –

He’s not a music prodigy, or known for being sporty.

He’s reading not too badly, can decipher what’s on signs,

His writing’s not too scrawly if he keeps between the lines,

He doesn’t have additional needs as far as I can tell,

And up to yesterday, I thought that he was doing well.

 

But then I got the test results, and thanks to you, I’ve learned

That instead of being proud, I really ought to be concerned.

A five year old that reads and writes seemed pretty good to me –

(Even though he gets confused between the letters B and D)

But it seems he’s way behind, and the levels that he meets

Only indicate a future washing cars or sweeping streets.

His spelling should be perfect, and he should be writing prose

That echoes that of Dickens’ or Edgar Allen Poe’s

He should know abstract maths and science, engineering too,

And write in perfect cursive – which I know that I can’t do.

 

And since he can’t, say experts, then the problem lies with me:

I clearly feed him crap and let him watch too much TV

I believed it when the experts said I ought to give him space,

To let him do the things he likes and learn at his own pace,

I didn’t teach him how to read before he started school,

Because they said I’d do it wrong and he would look a fool,

I don’t know what the others did, but rest assured, I see

That my five year old’s a failure and the fault is down to me.

 

You told us in the news last night that kids need to be smart,

To concentrate on SPaG and STEM and not on books and art,

Our children should learn more and more, enjoy themselves far less,

And the best way to ensure this is by giving them more tests.

Well, Education Secretary, I guess I don’t agree

For knowledge for its own sake’s an important thing for me

I want my son to love to learn, be curious, be keen –

Not just be another product of the UK’s test machine.

 

So when my son looks scared at every piece of work he gets,

When he only reads and writes under the greatest of duress,

When his teachers are burned out and stressed with no time to inspire,

And you tell the schools they’ll close unless results keep getting higher,

When all the joy of learning’s gone and there’s no time for fun –

That’s the kind of education you’ve created for my son.

Parenting manuals part 1

This of course bears no relation whatsoever to the numerous pregnancy manuals out there – honest…

YOU’RE PREGNANT!!

Two lines on a stick – you’re feeling all aglow

A little overwhelmed, since there’s so much you need to know.

You’ve never had a child before, and don’t know what to do –

Well, help’s at hand! This little manual is just for you!

I bet you think you’re fat – You don’t?

Well, that will all change soon

When your belly starts to swell like a gargantuan balloon

Your boobs will hurt, your ankles bloat, you’ll have a double chin

You might as well throw out the clothes you wore when you were thin

You’ll feel so sick and miserable, it won’t be any fun:

But isn’t it the most fantastic thing you’ve ever done?

Have you seen the midwife? Well, you’d better get there quick

There’s much more to being pregnant than just peeing on a stick

You’ll need plenty of advice so that you know what to expect

And of course, you’ll need a birth plan that the hospital can check.

First, let’s look at your diet. Time to shop for healthy things:

For Baby won’t do well on burgers and fried chicken wings,

Or tomatoes, peanuts, oranges, hot chilis or white bread,

Or onions, garlic, pâté, fish or cheese – eat grapes instead!

Fruit juice is a no-no since it gives you diabetes,

And as for tea and coffee – well, they’re just as bad as sweeties!

(and you can’t have those either..)

Try some gentle exercise like walking or a swim:

For Baby won’t be happy if you’re sweating in the gym

And as for weights, or five a side, or going for a run

You must think of the baby – now’s not time for having fun!

Have a nice lunch with your girlfriends or some me-time just for you:

But don’t forget your partner, cause it is his baby too!

He can decorate the nursery in shades of blue or pink –

He’ll feel better if he’s useful while you’re puking in the sink.

Why not take on a project like a scrapbook or a rug

You can do it while in labour – much more natural than drugs!

You might find yourself with cravings – these might be just what you need

If the craving that you have is for a toasted sunflower seed

But as for all the others – no! That chocolate just won’t do

Your body is just kidding when it wants what’s bad for you.

Make sure you have a bag that’s packed and ready in the car

For the mad rush to the hospital while hubby’s in the bar

Now’s the time to think of nappies (cloth) and breastfeeding (essential)

For when the baby’s here – cause any choice will drive you mental

Just follow all of our advice and we can guarantee

That you will be the finest Mum that anyone can be!

Built-In Obsolescence

My phone broke!80s phone

What a bloody joke!

I hadn’t had it long.

Spend fifty quid on phones, you don’t expect them to go wrong.

I hadn’t stamped upon the screen or flushed it down the loo,

I hadn’t done much with it, except make a call or two.

I know it’s not in warranty, I know I’ll have to pay

I know I won’t get cross if I’m without it for a day.

I had visions of mechanics with tiny phone sized tools

With HNDs in phone repair from specialist phone schools

Who could put it on a platform and take it all apart,

And replace a mini cam shaft to make its engine start.

I might even get a coffee, if they smile at me and say,

“It’s quite a quick repair, love. We’ll soon have you on your way.”

But though I looked around and trawled the Internet for ages

There isn’t one phone garage listed in the Yellow Pages.

I consulted all the paperwork, which said to make a call

To an 0800 number listed somewhere in Bengal

Except there was one problem, which you’d think they might have known:

You can’t exactly make a phonecall if you have a broken phone.

There was only one thing for it. I wandered into town

And picked out a likely phone shop from the thousands all around

A twelve-year-old approached me and he asked if he could help.

I said “I’d like my phone fixed, please,” and then he gave a little yelp.

“Repairs?” he said, in tones reserved for dog shit on the floor,

“I didn’t think that people bothered with them anymore!

No, it’s much better for you to invest in something new:

Take this one, for example. Let’s see what it can do.”

He held up a bit of plastic that looked much like my old phone:

“If you purchase the right add-on, this one turns into a drone!

The basic pack allows you to watch films and browse the net,

It takes selfies, does accounts and tracks appointments with the vet,

It has email, Facebook, MySpace, Netflix, Windows version 10,

And you can use it as a notebook with a phone-adapted pen!

If you already have a contract – and I assume you do –

You can purchase it today for ninety-eight pounds ninety two.”

“But what about my old one?” I asked, “Where will it go?

I’m sure there’s not much wrong with it, for someone in the know.

It seems a shame to chuck it out, when we hear every day

That we really should recycle rather than throw things away.”

He looked a bit bamboozled and then he shrugged and said,

“I fear environmental stuff’s a bit over my head.

You could always check our website and drop Management a line,

I imagine that they deal with questions like this all the time.”

And so I thanked the twelve year old – though I declined the sale –

And went home to compose a suitably insightful mail.

I told them my dilemma and I offered a solution

Which might reduce their costs and offset much of their pollution.

“Just offer to repair your phones, and everyone will see

How ecological a manufacturer can be!”

They did reply eventually. They said it was a shame,

But repairs don’t turn a profit if you’re in the mobile game.

And so I have a broken phone. I’m not too sure what’s next,

But forgive me in the meantime if I don’t return your text.

Laundry

10th October is World Mental Health day. Depression is something that many of us will experience at some point in our lives, but is still something of a stigma, with many people feeling they need to manage on their own. I’ve tried to encapsulate a little of what it feels like.

You ought to know I put the washing on

In those few hours when you both were gone

And I, left in my usual cocoon –

The emptiness I craved, my cosy tomb,

With none to disappoint or to offend

None to stand screaming devil tears

When I’d forgotten something never said,

A friend uninvited, a party not arranged

For not-your-birthday, for failing time and time again

To bear you a living playmate like the rest,

And never knowing how to treat a guest.

None to set a stony face, resentment showing clear

That belies the words – “Your mother’s not herself,”

Oh you try, you try:

But I can feel the hollowness of the words I hear

And wonder if you really believe them.

And none to scold me gently on the phone:

“I haven’t seen you, it’s a shame,”

A clumsy ‘how are you’ that sounds like a j’accuse

And I retreat with some mumbled excuse.

No people to offend, stand in their way,

Park badly in the next-door parking bay,

Miss their invisible disability

Or fail to know they’re worthier than me.

No-one suffers the fact that I exist.

And so you went, left me alone

Gave me the space I begged for

“You don’t have to do anything”

And I can’t believe that either:

Or bear for to see you paper calmly over the cracks

To do the Herculean tasks that I can’t face,

And all without an effort, without sound,

While selfish me lounges tearfully around,

Too lazy to know what brings me to this state.

And so I did the washing, proved my worth,

Put towels on the line, and rinse, repeat,

Made beds with laundered, fresh-air-smelling sheets

In the hope that it might, just perhaps, atone

For all the hours I have been undone

And answering ‘What’s wrong?’

With ‘I don’t know’ –

Small gratitudes that your clean T-shirts show.