November 17, 2010

I am The Enemy You Killed, My Friend

Memorial (11/11/96)

Around the village memorial
A local brass band is playing.
The duffle-coated, white-bearded bugle player
Does not really approve
Of tributes to men who line up
With medals on their uniform chests.
Just at the point where the heart
Should be hanging on the notes,
He jazzes it up,
Turns the Last Post
Into the Temperance Seventy.

I can smell the dead Autumn leaves
On the still air,
Incensing the pavements.
More distantly, I smell
A generation of condemned men.

You’ve opened the door of this cottage wide.
It's letting out all the heat
And, like the broken chairs your bulk entails,
It bothers me that this bothers me.
You're standing there with your wife
In the distressed brown leather jacket
You got on the insurance.
Your bullshit face
Is stunned with reverence.
You smoke,
Pause for a long time between puffs.

For an age, it seems that you feel too respectful
Ever to put the cigarette to your lips again

And when you do,
The fact that it's a roll up, like a soldier's,
Make it somehow right.

As so often, I hate
The person I am in your presence.
I'm in the middle of a story
Telling you about the bugle player
When your reverent abstraction
Silences me.

I'm fascinated
By the change in you,
Overcharged, overcharging
Child of the '80s,
From self to love.
I'm thinking
He's an old bollocks

But I love him.

Later you tell me, you were thinking
About your granddad:
If he hadn’t survived the trenches,
You’d never have been.

It’s the most awful thought in your pantheon.

Notes: Not just the eleventh hour but even later due to a PC crisis, I wanted to post this photograph from an extraordinary Norfolk graveyard that always seems like a dream once I've left. This is because, uniquely in my experience, it houses German WW2 Luftwaffe graves cheek by jowl with RAF ones, according each equal respect and honour for their sacrifice while somehow making it clear - in the accretion of deaths of airmen on both sides through the years 1939-45 - that this was no easy act of Godly detachment. After all, these ridiculously young Germans must have been shot down in flames onto the English soil they are buried in by enemies fighting bitterly for their lives, homes and survival - and who they were trying to bomb, including some of the ridiculusly young Britons buried beside them. And yet, in this area of land no bigger than the distance between the fron line trenches in WW1 (about 40 yards - 2 cricket pitches), this peace. There is more spirituality in the air and earth of that cemetery than almost every other area of 'special sancitity' I have been in the world put together. And it always seems to be both brilliantly sun lit and yet cool, serene. Even now, I wonder how it can be there.

The poem has no real connection with the photo except in its mood of vexed warfare between men who would love to love each other if they weren't so hell bent on killing each other. This is a very minor and subtle war - but in the end, it's the thin end of the vast black hole into the trenches and holocausts.

Two More Brockworth Poems

Bad Boy

Back of the class
By the bin.
Gleeful as sin.
Needle hair red
In the sinking sun
Of a late afternoon.
Taught lessons all day,
Last of the day
Wasting away.
Those aren’t kisses in your book you know!

No, I’m not laughing, I’m cross.
(Yes I am and no I’m not.)


Final Assembly

The unpurged images of term recede
And, hark, the herald angels with dirty faces
Sing in excruciation.
They get younger each year and I,
To serve them half my days resolved,
Get no younger with them.
The praised boy who fishwise leapt with joy
Five Christmas terms ago
Grins at the clapping school now, sardonic.
Where has he gone - are we going - so fast?

O Jesus! still these discordant Years,
That carping torn, that gong-tormented Sea.

Notes: These are two poems I forgot to include with my November of the Month celebration of Brockworth School's classes of 1981-86. Bad Boy was in 4 Leckhampton and first my ever CSE class (studying Lord of the Flies because even lower sets followed proper book-led curriculums then) and contributed amusing comments like 'Are you a bit an alky then Sir?' and when I reproved him for calling his House Head 'Boorman' with the teacherly 'MR Boorman to you' retorted 'Boorman to you.' I didn't laugh then but I nearly let the mask slip and I'm certainly laughing now. I wrote this poem for homework. Sorry it's late. The dog ate my markbook.
'Final (and in those days religious) Assembly' is my last ever public occasion with 5 Coopers - with whom I spent 5 years from 1 Coopers 1981-86 - and the 'praised boy' described (in case anyone wants to know) is Matthew Bunting, one of the first names called out from the twice-daily daily register. The poem is about all of them but it's his face I saw in that moment - or two moments, Christmas 1981 and July 1986. I felt sad because I was leaving Brockworth as they mostly were too and I assumed I'd never see any of them again. Little did I know...

Sir' looking supremely uncomfortable in this - my first Tutor group - picture and sidelined by the House Head too. Interesting how I move centre stage for the 2 Coopers pic and then get sidelined by the group itself in Year 5. They grow up and I grow sideways. But that 1 Coopers shot of me is truly horrible. I'm 24 and I look 68, in my wedding suit jacket donated by my father in 1979 and already looking as dated as Hitler's moustache. As Dylan once yowled, 'I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.' More school poems - including Brockworth ones - available in 'Exile In His Own Country' (Bluechrome, 1986, ISBN 1 904781942) and on my CD 'Marked For Life.'  By the way I hear Heather Roberts (see all three photos) is pregnant. Never thought I'd announce that. Congratulations, Heather! I'm glad the Sex Ed lessons finally worked out.

November 02, 2010

Not November Poem of the Month

First Year Drama

- Sir, Eric Osborne can't come,
He's got concussion!
- That's all right. What was he doing?
-Announcing, linking, Viking...
-What! Go and tell Mrs Britton
Quick. - Where is she, Sir?
-O never mind. I'll go myself.

- Right, that's settled. Now where's
Gwen? we're on in five minutes.
Dafydd, go and find her. Yes. Now.
The rest of you come over here.... Wilfred Saxon!
For goodness' sake, get your costume on! Now!
Ah, there you are, Gwen, we've been looking
For you.... All set then?.... Where the flap's Dafydd?
- You sent him to look for Gwenhwyfar, Sir.

- Shh. She's introducing us.
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh!
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh!
- Sir, I'd better.... - Shh! - I'd BETTER
- SHH!....What? I'll be prompting
From this. (Shh) Where the hell's the one
I gave you?....
- I left it in the Art Room. - Shh
- Can't I use yours, Sir?

Late summer in the year 539... - Get ready
Everyone. Shh. ...Hey, where's she going
With the book? - Out the other side, Sir,
She's a Villager next. - I can't breathe, Sir.
-Shh. Never mind. Lights coming up. Wait. Shh.
- I've bitten my lip, Sir. - Shh - Sir, I'm nervous.
- Don't be silly.... Right, on you go.
Not that way.... Where's Wayne?
- He's round the other side, Sir. - Shh. What?
(OI! YOU! SHUT UP!) - He's round the.... - Shh.
Never mind now. On you go, Shh. No! Let the
Others come off first! Shh! Shh!
- SHH! for goodness' sake....
-SHHHH! SHHHH! ... Ready for the chants
On sound effects, boys? Shh! - All set, Sir.
- Good. Now, John: just die once you've said Valhalla
O.K? Don't say "ow" .... Shhh!
Wait, Ceri.... Shh - Do I go on now?
No! Calm down! Wait for the chants....
Now, boys!....
NOW, boys!....

Notes: For the full set of Brockworth school poems go to Poem of the Month for November on my main website. Dora Brooking, a much-missed colleague in my first ever English department at Brockworth Comprehensive in Gloucester, did what my own school never did - she got me acting in school plays. Then she got me producing them, including this memorable - and near psychotic- episode. Another House play I wrote and produced was Telemachus starring someone or other- my first ever script. A few short years later, in my next school, I was writing and producing epic school productions and not long after that - inspired and supported by Dora's National Youth Theatre child star David Izod - I was touring the country performing my own stuff. Still am. So let's hear it for Brockworth.

November 01, 2010

Correcting The Guardian

From time to time I have to correct the Guardian's metrocentric mendacity (see letter published under that heading at towards Wales and the West and oh dear it happened again last week in their otherwise excellent cock and bull Brydon and Coogan article. Here's a correction letter they were too ashamed to publish:

"The first steam locomotive was actually in Wales not Manchester - Methyr Tydful downhill to Abercynon, 1804. And like most people educated in England, Coogan seriously underplays the leading role played by the mighty Welsh coalfield (the largest in the UK by some square miles) in the transformation of the world, including the construction of the entire iron railway networks of the USA and the USSR out of Blaenafon. We will grant him the Manchester Co-op and the North much else that is noble and progressive but there is no need to claim an offside goal against Wales to do it."

My readers will be relieved to hear that these hard facts are, because of my stint as writer and editor for Collins education, available to a generation of British and world schoolchildren in the pages of Aiming At Level 4 Reading (Collins Education, 2008) currently Isambard Kingdom Brunel steaming into classrooms all over the world. One can only hope that future editors of the Guardian will have been taught from these books.