Chucking Away John Betjeman…

I’m here to declare victory over the assorted clutter. Not that the stuff is completely vanquished as much as stacked neatly in various corners. Much of it is the kind of stuff I know I should throw away but, at the same time, wonder if I might need it. For example, I have a dock for 5.25 inch hard drives. I only keep it because I also have various 5.25 inch hard drives knocking around. I’m sure there’s work on there that I might want at some time or perhaps never. The point is, I keep it. Add to the pile of equally pointless things.

The old mantra about throwing away anything you’ve not used in years never works in practice. A book of John Betjeman’s poems, for example. I don’t read Betjeman and, honestly, these days I don’t read poetry. I occasionally see some modern writer produce something that piques my interest but I don’t have the time. So why the hell don’t I throw it? Because it’s a book? A nice edition? Because I have some dormant sensibility that might re-emerge in a few years when I might go back to writing poetry of my own?

Yes, I used to write poetry. I probably did it since my teenage years but kept it quiet. Even when I was studying poetry for my PhD, poetry still didn’t feel like a legitimate use for my time. I guess that’s why I turned to writing deliberately bad poetry that my alter-ego Stan would send to Poetry Review… I used to send the poor buggers some truly awful stuff. One of my favourite bad poems was called ‘Thrombosis Trombone’ for no obvious reason. It’s the sort of vague posturing I used to hate most in modern poetry…

Thrombosis Trombone
by Stanley Madeley

Soft spoken Odin, highest of Gods,
In a breath before the vestal lake
Calm was made rugged by malevolent
sandpipers, nesting by the water’s edge.
Clipped on idle wing and skipping waves,
Sparrow, starling, variegated tit
Or cormorant proud like Stalin.
Across the land, whispering sand,
He spoke his refrain:
Thrombosis Trombone.
Thrombosis Trombone…

Yes, it’s terrible but I suppose there was always something in this where I was also trying to be poetic. Sometimes I would try to be “proper” but it fever really sat well with me. I have to clown even when I’m being serious. While I’m about it: an example of my pretentious period where I was trying to be poetic… Recovered from a long-forgotten blog I briefly wrote…

A Cyclist’s Phobia
My nerves squash flat when cycling in the dark,
Along wet lanes, dimly lit, and catching glances
Of toads, frogs, the glutinous mess of what
Is left when cars meet nature lying in wait.
It is always the same on those lonely roads,
Where street lamps give out and life slips out
To stand open mouthed to the rain.
Pressing feet to the fore, backs arched, frogs
Gasp in delight, freed from the hedgerow fence,
Indifferent to what approaches, as if they’ve
Chosen to make a stand and damn all consequence.
Across the tarmac they play out their festivals
Of instinct, unreal as the rude expanse
Compares with damp logs, grassy pond, river bank.
While I, in my small undignified way, intrude
Into all of this, riding, white knuckled, fearful,
Of what catches in my bicycle’s beam –
The eyes that watch me, the innards that gleam –
And I can only do my best to catch my breath,
Keeping my tyre balanced between life and death.
Maybe I should throw the book away…

Anyway, cleaning my office has been a particularly psychological operation. I wanted to get away from the news and the way that science continues to be portrayed as a political position. I’m tired of explaining that science doesn’t know politics. Science is really a methodology that aims at establishing some kind of notional objectivity. I only qualify it with “notional” because I’m not entirely sure how we escape from our subjectivity. This gets deep into philosophy which I barely understand so I stick “notional” there. Deep down, I believe that science is objectivity.

What I guess I mean by this is that science provides the evidence of, say, viral transmission. It can model potential outcomes. We learn so many things about it which might or might not be politically convenient. And that’s why science is confused with politics. It’s down to the politicians as to how they interpret it and what measures they put in place. Sometimes they (and we) might not like the answers that scientists give. But it’s nothing personal but that’s how too many people seem to read it.

I don’t, for example, think that Boris Johnson is a tyrant who is subjecting us all to some kind of martial law. I obviously think he’s a deeply flawed man – I said that before he was elected and had hoped that Jeremy Hunt would win – who is now in an impossible position. He might want to do the right thing but the Tory party is in thrall to the libertarians who are really just Thatcherites in a new guise. It’s all about “freedom” when they barely understand what freedom means.

The libertarian view that we should be able to choose as to whether we wear a mask or not is rendered meaningless given that most of us don’t have the freedom to choose if we do or don’t catch this damn virus. Then there’s the blasé attitude of many who seem ignorant of what coronavirus does to the body. I saw Kirsty Alsop (who?) on Twitter boasting some figures that show how many people survive. Whoop-de-doo! The children’s author Michael Rosen then tweeted his experience and the way he’s still struggling to over come it. The CNN host, Chris Cuomo (brother to NY governor Andrew) talks about his experiences as fit relatively young man and how he’s still struggling.

It makes me weep, it really does. What would these chancers have been like in the war? They like to portray themselves as though they’d have been the last line of defence but I wonder if they wouldn’t have been quislings, recommending some quick settlement with Germany so long as it didn’t interrupt trade.

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It’s a cool domain name and it was available. Yes, I know. Available. Crazy, isn’t it?


Yes. It also helps that it’s also my favourite satire written by Alexander Pope, one of the most metrically pure English poets who also knew his way around a crude insult or two. If you’ve not read it, you should give it a try.

So this is satire, right?

Can’t deny it. There will be some. But it’s also an experiment in writing and drawing, giving work away for free in order to see how many people are willing to support a writer doing his thing. It’s the weird stuff that I wouldn’t get published elsewhere in this word of diminishing demands and cookie-cutter tastes.