The Anti-Social Conscience

Fear of flying
In the Erica Jong sense
Is not wrong – even for hardcore feminists
We are all intimidated sometimes
When faced with the prospect
Of successful seduction
In an post-AIDS era.

Fear of flying
Bugs with the power to infect
The next generation with long-term consequences
Is a logical response to a natural phenomenon
So we avoid the tropics, where possible
And wear trousers, long-sleeves
And poisoned perfume.

Fear of flying
To exotic climes
With local customs
Hostile to strangers
Would appear an acceptable
Response to the xenophobic
Fury of others – so unlike our own.

Fear of flying
Seems perfectly reasonable –
A socially acceptable phobia for a reduced carbon footprint
Unless, of course the sufferer happens to be
The passenger in the next seat (adjacent to me)
Quaking in their Birkenstocks,
Passing gas, and sweating cobs.

Feathered Misfortune

What came first, the bird, or the egg?
Well, I spotted the dead pigeon on Monday night
As I was walking down the embankment
Trying not to breathe too many fumes
Still shivering from an over-chilled office
And shocked at the sight of mangled grey feathers,
A broken neck and damaged wings
I wondered if it had been hit by a vehicle
Or disorientated, had flown beak-first
Into a mirrored tower block
Before plummeting to the pavement below.
I had no answers. Nor did anyone seem
Too interested in the fate
Of an earthbound, flying sky-rat.
I walked home, pondering
The funeral rites of a feathered pest.
The next day, passing the other way
I saw it was still there.
Must have been missed by the road sweepers
Or deliberately ignored as someone else’s problem.
That evening, Tuesday after work
I felt sure someone would have mentioned it
And had the bird disposed of
But no.
Nudged off the pavement into the gutter
At the side of the road
Still a crumpled heap. Grey feathers dirty
From the road dust and oil residue.
I walked on.
By Wednesday evening, the bird was gone.
This morning, I took a different route to work
Staying on the bus to the museum
Then walking the few blocks North to the river.
As I passed under a bridge, I saw an egg
Shell cracked, yolk scattered on the ground
Dirty down feathers floating
While trains rattled above, shaking the shadows
A lone pigeon fluttered overhead
As if mourning their loss.

Flounce, Fluff and Flattery

There is a world of difference
Between those who seek the
Company of women
To bask in it
Hanging on their every thought
As one transported
By the beauty
Of a strange and fantastical mind
And those who fancy
A quick in-and-out
Ego-boost before
Zipping their feelings,
Upping sticks and moving on
To the next conquest.

The difference is obvious
Even to the most casual observer:
One is the stuff of
Fantasy and freedom
Of late-night talks
And deep discussions
Long philosophising over
Personal projections
Maybe with a bit of
Barefoot dancing
And a casual pinch of laughter
Thrown in for good measure.

On encountering the other,
I will take the lonely
High road to nowhere
Hiking in stupid, pretty,
Too-tight shoes
Risking my own skin
To preserve sanity
Rather than share transportation,
Food or drink
In exchange for temporary
Flat-footed flattery
With bondage-grade
Strings attached.

I enjoy womanisers
Who enjoy women
In all their complexity,
But have no time
For bed-notch chasing
Egotists with
Straw for brains
And cloth for ears.

For Harry Rabinowitz

My grandfather died last week at the age of 100.  Unfortunately, thanks to the French law requiring cremation within six days of death, and to generally poor timing, I, along with several other members of the family can’t get to the funeral.  Only a member of my family could manage to die in the middle of a European football tournament, my cousin’s GCSE exams, immediately prior to the collective insanity of our EU Referendum, and find his funeral being scheduled abroad at the whim of a disinterested foreign bureaucrat, on the day of a national transport strike.  (To explain my mild cynicism, another member of my family was once genuinely late for their own funeral when the hearse got lost… some days my more theatrical relations do seem to be living in a situation comedy.)

As I cannot be there in person tomorrow for Harry at his final send off, I wanted to write something expressing what it meant to me, growing up, to have this person in my life.

“Not everyone can be bothered to charm a child. For someone who loved an audience, Harry was, rare in a musical obsessive, also someone who knew when to be quiet.

I have fond memories of long walks in the woods with a battered basket, hunting for edible mushrooms, my sister getting her wellies stuck in a bog and needing to be rescued, then watching in fascination as he insisted he cook and eat what we had picked. Other adults wringing their hands, forbidding us from partaking, convinced he would suffer the consequences of his own stubborn refusal of natural caution.

I remember piggybacks and very serious games of pooh sticks using the stream at Hope End. I remember visiting Mr Pumblechook, looking for sweets in hollow trees, and I remember my earliest form of musical education, when Harry used to ask me to help him find all the Cs on his piano.

A lot of people knew him as a serious, charming, professional musician. I knew him as the charming joker who taught a shy, seven year old girl to clap polyrhythms and tend bar, and who preferred his favourite music, clothing and even footwear to be loud.

He surrounded himself with laughter, and enjoyed wine, women, and orchestral music wherever such delights were to be had.

Little doubt that he will start organising some sort of a gig surrounded by friends, old and new. Woe betide the third desk violins if they miss the F sharp in the third bar of the second movement. The maestro’s grimace will not balk at halos.”

Harry’s obituaries can be found on the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, the Classic FM, and the London Symphony Orchestra websites.

Harry’s Desert Island Discs episode can be found on BBC iPlayer Radio here.

Calais

Sangatte to Jungles
Our government mumbles
Responses to nations’
Incoming migrations

Now paperwork hoarders
Are challenged by boarders
In Eurostar tunnels
And motorway funnels

They’re stoning the crowd
Burning tyres, leaping loud
Until lorries are loaded
All holds are allowed

This stowaway stream
Set on chasing a dream
Shows no signs of slowing
Or stopping, but growing

Their numbers increasing
To challenge policing
We’re caught at the port
Over which we have fought

Now our tourists are static
Behind much stacked traffic
They’re losing their reason
In holiday season

As cars packed with kids
See their fun on the skids
With the clock ticking down
Mum and dad due in town

Though we hoped to ignore
Swimmers washing ashore
Counting costs in big bribes
And the loss of small lives

In a bid for asylum
We’d like to deny them
Perhaps we may find
What they’re leaving behind

Something to declare

They’re closing the borders
And checking for crime
We’ve signalled our orders –
Each kiosk; its sign
For twenty-one days
On the honour of those
Running far from the virus
No quarantine slows
Here’s the health of a nation
Held palmed in your hand
Shaking; quaking relations
That no one can stand
Find they’re no longer welcome
While terror’s abroad
Though the shape of their income
Is what we applaud
It’s a risk to our public
Unhealthy and pale
No banana republic
With goodies for sale
Will be bribing their way
Past the guards on the line
Who know only to say
“Gosh, yes, everything’s fine!”
Though you’re likely to bring
Things that may cost the Earth
Still we can’t let you in
More than our job is worth
As the siren is sounded
The gates clang at last
All asylum for hounded
A thing of the past
We suspect you of sheltering
Dangerous germs
So we’ll lock down the sweltering
Under our terms
No sex, please, we’re British
The same goes for fun
And in case you seem skittish
I’m holding this gun
With no end of compassion
Our hearts on our sleeve
We’ve resources to ration
So, kindly, just leave.

A Capital Man

Our bold Mayor of London
In spite of his burdens
Has chosen to cross
To the North bank again

The party political
Must have been calling
For stickier wickets
Inside number ten.

Conservative tastes
And the right education
Would make him a candidate
Proud to display

Strong family values…
Unchecked dedication
To national causes
That brook no delay.

He plots to return
To his life in the fast lane –
Trade in the bike for a
Chauffeur and Jag

No skimming the fine print
For that would be cheating
And soon on the map
He’ll be planting his flag.

Alas, the election
Requires some sacrifice
Two hefty titles
To shoulder at once

But that shouldn’t be hard
For a Machiavellian
Spinner of dreams
Used to acting the dunce.

So he’s setting his cap
At those hard-to-reach voters
More mums on the run
Far too busy to check

If this scruffy buffoon’s
Just an overgrown schoolboy;
The first among men,
Or a knife to the neck.

Two cigarettes

17:23

Fingers shaking, she fumbles to light it
Lips quivering, cornflower eyes over-large
Underlined, ringed in runny mascara
Bronzer and orange paint

Long blonde hair fashionably streaked
Hanging down like a dingy waterfall
She clamps her clutch beside her
With a slender elbow, shivers

At unseasonal weather in a short skirt
Trying not to cry, this nymph
Ankles wobble on the too-high heels
Waiting for a bus in the rain

Sucking in gasping lungfuls
She smokes her sadness
Twisting suffering to submission
In a single cigarette

18:02

His rumbling growl is subsiding now
The stream of curse words unbroken
Since he staggered down the aisle
Pushing past each passenger

Heading for the back bench
Of the almost empty upper deck
Something inside him is angry
It cannot keep still or quiet

A familiar double click precedes
The billowing clouds of calm
He thunks a window shut
Clad in a cloak of smoke

That may obscure the world
Of see-through stickers
With their pious proclamation
‘No Smoking’, red ring, slash

Identity Crisis

The boy on the bus
Was a scared little man
With his feet on his bags
And his mind on The Plan

The boy on the bus
That I left undisturbed
Though his nervousness made me
Uneasy, perturbed

The boy on the bus
Blew his nose, picked his ear
Buried face in a book
To pretend no one’s near

The boy on the bus
Didn’t flinch, looked away
When the hipster beside me
Screwed his top off to spray

The boy on the bus
Caught in bubbling splash
Of cool mineral water
Dripping seat, cuffs and lash

The boy on the bus
Friendless did not react
Kept his mind on the journey
To survive it intact

The boy on the bus
Struck a chord when I saw
How he treated the paperback
New from a store

The boy on the bus
Had I seen him before
On the flickering screen
Or in newsprint galore

The boy on the bus
That I couldn’t be sure
Was the one some authorities
Were searching for

The boy on the bus
Unremarkable, odd
With the face of a saint
Knelt in fear of his God

Losing the car at Marble Arch

Pea souper tales of the grey 1950s
With masts in the fog made of railings and glass
Warmth of a carriage with walkways still wooden
The press of the crowd only elbows, not arse

How different impressions can build from a picture
When tickets were paper and seating less sparse
Too dense in the telling, our brains overburdened
The same seven carriages rattle and pass

I sit on the carpet and help with the jigsaw
My grandmother’s fingers too stiff for the card
The story is telling, the fifth time we’ve heard it
She’s losing the car in the fog by the Arch