Sunday 31 July 2016

I went looking for Corbyn but found Christ and Coca-Cola: a report

The Blue Carpet has seen better days. Thomas Heatherwick’s  Blairite folly outside the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle still curls up wittily when it brushes the corners of the buildings that surround it, but the blue chips which gave it sparkle have worn away over the years. Increasing footfall to the gallery has eroded the artwork outside it, as people step over the fading tiles to see Isabella and the Pot of Basil or John Martin’s Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Newcastle is a city at war these days, a city of conflict between the incoming and the established, the old and the new, the haves, have-nots and never-wills. War is written into the fabric of the city, in the names of streets and tower blocks, the plaques on buildings, the collective memory.

Ride through Sandgate, up and doon
There you'll see the gallants fighting for the croon
And all the cull cuckolds in Sunderland toon
With all the bonny blew caps cannot pull them doon.

It’s all there, even the use of ‘cuck’ as an insult.

I came to the carpet to report on the war, but by the time I got here the troops had moved on. Difficulties with the Metro ticket machines mean I am forced to entrain without a ticket and disembark at Jesmond, the nearest station to the City Centre where I stand a decent chance of getting out without having to remonstrate with an angry revenue inspector. From there I have to walk to the Carpet via the campus of Northumbria University and John Dobson Street. By the time I arrive the carpet is empty. An old couple sits on one of the curving branches used as ramps by skateboarders, but the Keep Corbyn rally I was planning to get a look at has already decamped – to Leazes Park, I’ll find out later, but my initial instinct is that they must have gathered at Monument, the City’s main contested space.

At first I think I’m on the right track. I pass by the new Central Library, the glass and steel building that replaced the old Brutalist fortress, the black knight’s visor lowering over Princess Square, with a structure which makes a fetish of openness, a viewing platform with novelty Big Brother chairs, the stacks hidden away in a white cube halfway up the building and the bookshelves tucked away at the back of the ground floor.  I can hear noise, groups, chanting. 

I pass the MakerSpace and bookshop on New Bridge Street, the basement theatre where, almost a year ago, I asked my friends to throw rice and fake blood at me while I stood on stage and talked of love. The noise is louder now but it seems wrong. No megaphone, no samba bands, no sound system, no they say cut back we say fight back. The voices seem different. And here’s why: this is not a political crowd but a confessional one, a crowd of black people, probably from some evangelical outreach initiative, hallelujah-ing while stalls emblazoned with the red and white banner of Coca-Cola distribute free samples. As far as I can tell the coke and Christianity are not officially connected, but it sure looks like a land grab to me. I wonder if the ticketing problems on the Metro were deliberate: not just to stop me, but to thin the numbers of people coming in for the rally. But why? What’s the motive? Cui bono?

Try this for size: the Metro is a German-owned company these days. Corbyn has said we need to invoke Article 50 as soon as we can. Thinning his crowd is a bulwark against continental financial catastrophe. Or this: the Metro recently had an industrial dispute with its cleaning staff. Corbyn wants to stand up for the workers. Thinning his crowd is industrial relations by other means. Or: Corbyn is Christ and the Devil Himself fucked the ticket machines up out of spite. Or Corbyn’s the Devil-turned-Roundhead and in protest the Metro will only accept payment today in tiny pictures of the Queen.

It’s ludicrous, but we know conspiracies exist. The existence of the plot against Wilson was once thought colourful fantasy. We moved on pretty damn fast from the general threatening a coup if the current Labour leader was elected, but I’ve seen bumper stickers emblazoned with Support the Troops – we’ll need them to get Corbyn posted online. The Deep State abides, shuffling personnel as needed, sweeping BoJo into office at the moment the banks all collapse, a handy man for Diamond Bob to have inside the system.

The square around Monument is overlooked by bastions of conspiracy. Here: HSBC, the bank that broke bad, laundering Mexican drug money to bolster its liquidity. There: Pret a Manger, the chain whose management impose a Maoist cult of good cheer on its staff, surveilled by mystery shoppers, the secret policemen of consumerism, lured in by the promise of free goods. (Full disclosure: I’m partial to breakfasting on a Pret filled croissant, but I’ve never received one of the free coffees the staff are empowered to give. Come on, guys, I compared your management to Mao!)

And here, in what used to be a bookshop, Byron burgers, the company which recently conspired with the UK immigration authorities to deport 35 workers it had employed for years, working 50-70 hour weeks. The company asked no questions and enjoyed its lowered overheads, but turned grass to dodge fines and branch closures. Staff were invited in for ‘training’ on the dangers of cooking rare burgers, only to find out it was their goose that was cooked. A ‘quirky’ toy cow sits on a shelf behind the counter; a sandwich board outside advertises ‘The B&A Burger’. They need to add ‘UK’ to that, I mutter. 

Saturday 30 July 2016


‘Fucking grotesque’ – message on dating site from ‘marcus69shh’

Grotesque does not mean
ugly: it means hybridity, incongruence,
the sickening in league with the sublime,
the jolie laide, the Baywatch-bodied mantelpieces,
manticore, chimera, cockatrice;
means beautifulmonstrous

and I do not know

which              which

part                  part

of                     of

me                   me

you                  you

find                 find

beautiful          monstrous

but I hope

everyone          everyone

that                  that

you                  you

find                 find

beautiful          monstrous

treats               is treated

you                  like

like                  a

a                      beauty


and you learn the hard way what the word embodies
while never finding just the word:

a champagne bucket serving as a pisspot;
a quick douche between clients
in a bathroom at the Ritz.

Wednesday 27 July 2016


I met a traveller from an antic land
who said: 'A solitary baseball cap
lies in the crater. Near it, on the ground,
the wreckage of a portrait lies, whose frown,
absurdist wig and perma-blasted tan
show that its painter caught well how grotesque
life has become, when such unlifelike things,
mocked as they were, beguiled us to elect
this squamous filth which fattens on our fear.
The psychopath we welcomed as our King
brought ruin to his kingdom in a year,
and with it went the world. No things remain:
on every side the line of sight lies bare.
Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair.'

(after Percy Bysshe Shelley, fairly obviously)

Monday 25 July 2016

A Second Coming (2016)

(fairly obviously after W.B. Yeats )

Turning and turning in the media cycle's
Discordant broadcast vortex,
things fall apart; the centre has to fold;
evil banality at large within the world,
the Trumpblessed tide unleashed, and everywhere  
the sometime sense of decency  is drowned:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
surely the Second Coming is at hand.  
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
when a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert  
a shape with sealion body, head of man,  
gaze blank and pitiless as the Sun,  
is moving his slow thighs, while all about him
reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.  
The darkness drops again; but now I know  
that twelvescore years of mission creep
were hexed in primetime by a Shepard’s fable:
What rowdy zeitgeist, des Zeit nun gekommen
Kreucht, um geboren zu werden, Bethlehem zu?

Saturday 23 July 2016

At War with a Waltish World

Time was, a fella knew he knew the score:
knew what was kosher, spotted what was bobbins.
but who's to say what’s Waltish anymore,

now kids hold phones out, trying to catch monsters
and graduate to flying robot bombers,
pushing buttons, racking up high scores

for killing human beings, not orcs and goblins?
One click, one kill, the birds can have the bodies.
Who’s to say what’s Waltish anymore,

when toffs write figures on the side of buses,
then, smiling, say they never meant those numbers?
Tap your nose, make out you know the score,

then learn new steps to dance to what that score is.
The word they use is sprezzatura. Nonces.
There isn’t time for thinking anymore.

Be used for what they use you for down here,
Where sellouts prosper, and the good are punished.
Time was, a fella knew he knew the score:
Now, who's to say what’s Waltish anymore?

           *           *         *

A lot of slang comes from the military: some crosses over into general usage, some doesn't.  The UK military coinage 'Waltish', meaning unbelievable, dodgy, etc (think Mitty), while being a phrase I'm fond of, hasn't.

I've been experimenting, over on Incidents of Trespass, with writing in different voices. With the release of the Chilcot report I began thinking about military registers,  and had the idea of writing something somewhat after Kipling, a barrack room ballad for an era of endemic duplicity. From then it was only a short step to the notion of Waltishness and hence the poem you just read. Something of an oddity in my output, but I had fun writing it anyway. It's good to experiment!

Friday 15 July 2016

Bastille Day, Nice

We were building perfect prisons while pretending we were free.
We were making boys fuck German Shepherds for democracy.
We all voted for the man who said he’d close Guantanamo:
we were suckers for a winning smile, a poster captioned HOPE.

We were killing from the comfort of a luxury hotel,
paid for on the credit card. Don’t ask and never tell
was how it worked. Submitting our unitemised receipts:
everyone was doing it. We ought to have a piece

of all the new prosperity, the end of boom and bust.
History had ended: in the Market we would trust.
The few who might object would catch a bullet from our drones:
we’d tut and say ‘the future, eh?’ Then back to Game of Thrones.

It never would have lasted. For a while we thought it would.
We took their money, did their work, pretended we were good.
From the Southbank Centre balcony we’d look across the Thames
and see a world that worked. We will not see that world again.

Saturday 2 July 2016

PTS Been There, Done That

‘[Bank of England governor Mark Carney…] discussed uncertainty and what he termed “economic post-traumatic stress disorder” among households and businesses.’ The Guardian, 30/06/2016

Why do you complain? You were always ahead of the game:
if the whole world is yearning to go down the hole
that you’re only emerging from now, why complain?

When they suggest the gestalt’s in traumatic paralysis,
unable to act while compulsive analysis grips it,
accept: you were always ahead of the game,

if they’re going where you’ve been since August
last year, if you shudder to know all that
they’ll have to fear, then why do you complain?

You’re in on the ground floor, already embedded:
you know that it only hurts when you let it,
but you know they will, because you’re ahead of the game.

You know the flashbacks are hard to resist.
You’ve scratched calendars into the back of your wrists.
You know nobody sane’s looking forward to this,
but you know you’re no longer what they would call sane:
so why would you complain? You were always ahead of the game.