Friday, June 20, 2008

poem for my sister

Me, my nephew Lloyd, and my sister Lois, on holiday with us in Cornwall in 2006. They both live in Glasgow.


(rondeau redoublé)

My sister’s busy breaking in new shoes,
Teetering round her tiny flat all day.
She loves small treats, would hate a luxury cruise.
Search for her inner child keeps age at bay,

And the shy flirt G.I.’s fought for till D-Day
Is still here: for the shortest walk she’ll choose
A scarf to match her lipstick. But today
My sister’s busy breaking in new shoes.

A Sunday with her son cures any blues;
They’re soul-mates, tender, talkative and gay.
She thinks of him, and far-off Cornish views,
Teetering round her tiny flat. All day

She will anticipate the one Milk Tray
She’ll have while watching John Snow read the News;
Later, with Paxman, milky Nescafé;
She loves small treats, would hate a luxury cruise.

She’ll watch and re-watch DVD’s for clues
To Hugh Grant’s spiritual growth. She’ll say,
‘He’s sensitive, like me: we easily bruise.’
Search for her inner child keeps age at bay.

Deep into ‘Metaphysics’, she’ll enthuse
Over blue blinds, pink towels, red pantsuit –grey
Is not allowed near her. The caller who’s
In black can’t get an answer, limps away:
My sister’s busy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who gives a XXXX about a X?

German chancellor Angela Murkel said today: 'Hitler shed too much blood for us to give up our superstate just because of an X on a ballot paper. '
(Shurly shome mistake --ed.')
Ah yes, sorry, it was Mugabe. And 'we' instead of 'Hitler'.

Monday, June 16, 2008

abject apology

I know I've been 'going on' quite a lot in the last couple of days about the Irish referendum. Now I feel that I was quite mistaken in believing the EU should accept the people's will. I've been persuaded by the arguments of Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxemburg (which is somewhere near Holland or Belgium, I think), to the effect that the European Project cannot be turned aside by the mere vote of a small country. One has to listen to such a distinguished statesman --widely tipped to become either the EU President or EU Foreign Minister if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

two great EU chefs

German cook Angela Murky, here shown in Brussels with French cook Nic Sucpusi, ready to serve their fudge and sour grapes to an EU heads of state meeting discussing Ireland. Angela is an expert in fudge, having been an obscure sous-chef in the loyalist 'church in socialism' movement in the GDR. She says, 'I learned it's important not to stir until the right moment, when the pot is already boiling and bubbling. There's no point burning your fingers. .. My recipes are much too complicated for ordinary people to follow, but you can trust me.'


Congratulatons to Joan Bakewell, the 'thinking man's crumpet' (see photo), who has been made a dame for, um, being a TV journalist, a right-on feminist, fearlessly writing about her affair with Harold Pinter, supporting Labour, and being generally a good egg. A seat in the House of Lords would not go amiss.

Friday, June 13, 2008

defeated churchill declares victory!

June 13 1946, London. Winston Churchill who, despite losing last year's British General Election, continued to lead the Tory government, today lost a second battle in the changed version named the Westminster Election. He commented to BBC News: 'The Tories have not lost, there is all to play for; it is vitally important that we continue to govern the country and that is what we shall do. We must find out exactly why the British people voted No to us and Yes to Labour, and somehow find a way through. Maybe we can do something to make it alright for them. This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning. I doubt if many of those who voted No even read our manifesto. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in Brussels, we shall fight in Strasburg, and in Luxemburg, we shall fight in the expensive restaurants and in the air, we shall fight in the Accounts departments, and on Eurostar; we shall never surrender. Our programme will bring greater democracy; so therefore, to the people of Britain, I say Fuck you, you ignorant peasants, why won't you fucking agree that we know best? Maybe Napoleon and Hitler knew the only way: a United Europe through conquest, and--
(He is carried screaming and ranting from the studio.)

'dodo not dead'

Jose Barroso, pictured today in Brussels

Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Commission President, declared today, 'The dodo is not dead, it is very much alive.'

god bless the oirish, begorra!

What a wonderful day for democracy! What a lousy day for the political elite! Ireland says No to an EU Constitution, re-hashed as the Lisbon Treaty. It's the only EU country where the elites couldn't ignore the people.

The first sour grapes reaction I heard, from the pro- side, was on the lines of 'The people have spoken, and the people must be punished'.

Rather, given a little time, they will be bribed into a second referendum and voting Yes. Because the political elite never takes No for an answer. 'Vote often till you get the result you want, then stop.' Just like Zimbabwe.

But this result will cause our masters enormous difficulty, and attempts to get around it will make them appear even more corrupt and disreputable. Imagine a Treaty being brought in when the ONLY citizenry allowed a direct vote said NO to it! But that's what will happen, one way or other. Really they're shameless. Aux armes, citoyens!

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Week by week we have seen the sky unchanging,
Blueness everywhere, save perhaps for wisps of
Cirrus, distant, no more than flecks of egg-white:
That won’t threaten us, low on the horizon.

Wine and talk in the evenings; almost too much
Summer, so that I almost wish those wisps would
Rise and challenge the blueness. In an instant,
Clouds have covered the sun, our eyes distracted,
Grey at first, but then blackly massed all over,

What has been so serene has shrouded. Tropic
Rain is drumming in sheets, I doubt our house will
Stand much longer; you’re crying. Total chaos.

Then, by miracle, all the rain, the black Mass,
Passes, blue is restored; you risk a smile, it’s
Clear some well that had dried has been replenished.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

a sort of cricket poem

W.G.Grace (top) and Don Bradman, making a pull.

cricket lover
(rondeau redouble)

He feels it still, the stroke that brought his ton;
No matter if he’s reached his final score.
Though starting worse than almost anyone,
He must have had some talent at the core

As, round the time of Making Love not War,
Thinking, the light won’t last; good men have gone…,
He risked a pull that worked; then many more.
He feels it still, the stroke that brought his ton:

A rippling leg glide like a nylon’s run!
Some called his batting selfish and cocksure,
But he has entertained, like Pietersen.
No matter if he’s reached his final score,

Which is around, he thinks, 124.
His flashing blade that once outscored the Don
Now blocks. And yet, from Kingston to Lahore,
Though starting worse than almost anyone,

He charmed at every crease, and it was fun--
His old eyes twinkle at the metaphor;
But where’s the magic gift to stir and stun
He must have had? Some talent at the core

Glimmers, but like the sex life of a nun.
And is it true, that piece of cricket lore
Which says Grace touched him once? He nods: in sun-
Blessed Trinidad. A magic-spinning whore.
He feels it still.
The rondeau redouble (sorry I can't put the accent in) is a devilishly difficult form to write in. Only two rhymes, and the four lines of stanza 1 have to recur as the end lines of the next four stanzas. The final stanza concludes with a half-line from the start of the rondeau. Wendy Cope has written a brilliant rondeau redouble, beginning 'There are so many kinds of awful men - One can't avoid them all...' Here's one of them.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

smooching with princess margaret

It's almost sixty years since I was in love with Princess Margaret. At fourteen, in Melbourne, I wrote my first piece of erotic fiction: an account of smooching with the Princess in the back row of a cinema, kissing her, feeling up under her skirt, etc.. very masturbatory - even though I didn't know how to masturbate, and wouldn't for another five years. But that's another story.

My married sister found my bit of teenage porn, and charmingly read it out to her husband and my parents over a Sunday lunch. I fled to my bedroom in redfaced shame. She came some minutes later, brandishing a book called 'My English Garden', by Beverly Nichols. 'This is the kind of thing you should be writing, Donald,' she advised. Well, I never did.

During last weekend's Workshop here, I dreamed very vividly. In one of them, lo and behold, my old cinema-companion re-appeared. She was young, beautiful, dazzling with jewels, elegantly dressed, and with long lustrous curly black hair. I fell for her all over again. We were at some posh ball or banquet. She received some bad news, someone's death or illness, and she came to me and sort of cuddled herself into me, leaning her beautiful head against my shoulder, seeking comfort. Running my hand over her dress, I could feel the bump of a suspender. Ah yes, memories... I thought, she really is a nice woman, whatever people say about her. (I once heard a rumour that she liked my poetry: almost certainly a confusion with Dylan, but I'm disposed to think well of her.) In my dream I sort of accidentally put my hand up her skirt a few inches. She moved away, and I at once apologised; she smiled as if to say 'no harm done', rather sweetly. Nice lady!

It's curious, the way the fantasy of youth and the dream of age intersected. Margaret became, as we know, a raddled old lady. How did she step, young, beautiful and sensitive, into my dream? Perhaps my unconscious felt that I deserved to experience my long-ago fantasy in real life: or as close to it as a dream can be. It was so vivid, my dream, that I had a feeling of disappointment when I woke and found it hadn't happened. But I remember it now as if it really did happen. I remember the feel of her thigh under my hand. How embarrassing. But she dealt with it sensitively, lightly. Unlike my sister. Great gal, Margaret.

talking verse at 7.30 a.m.

Been reading an interview with the actress Andrea Riseborough in the 'Sunday Times'. She says she adores Peter Hall, because you can wake him up at 7.30 a.m. and he will talk verse. I spoke before of my 'secret companions' with whom I can quote poetry. It's great if you also can find living people to do that with.

I found one or two on our Workshop last weekend. I'd quote Shakespeare, say, and they could carry it on. And if they weren't sure, they'd instantly google the quote on their laptop. Quoting verse to one another is a rare experience these days, because so few people, even if they're readers, have learned poetry by heart. When you find someone who has done so --out of love for poetry-- it's a very heartwarming, intimate experience.

'Talking verse' also means knowing something about form and metre - which is rare too. It's fine gushing about a poem's 'feeling' or 'emotion' or 'symbolism'; quite another to be able to distinguish between an iambic pentameter and a trochaic tetrameter.

Though I'm a zombie at 7.30 a.m., I would talk verse with someone who could quote back at me. In my normal life I'm virtually a mute until about eleven, after mid-morning coffee. The only subjects I would talk about over breakfast are sex, verse, cricket, rugby and, er, sex.

So you've been warned if you ever sit down to breakfast with me.