Sunday, 26 June 2016

The European Onion

I’ve always wanted to rhyme ‘onion’ with ‘union.’ It looks like such a treat on the page, and sets up all sorts of fun… you get Student Onions, Christian Onions, and the Trade Onions Congress to play with. As a left-wing loony, I should know my onions; however, you won’t get me: I’m part of the Onion.

Joking apart, and puns aside, the events of the last few days have made me – and lots of people who share my political views, and many who don’t – very angry indeed. I have made a plea to all my Facebook friends, most of whom are artists, to utilise their creativity to tell truths about the current situation.

In other places, I’ve railed against people using poetry to bang right on about left-wing views, but I think at the moment, banging on is the only way: loud and strong. That said, I think that art, whether it be performance poetry or high literature, should be entertaining and uplifting in some way.

So, I have written a poem which I’ll perform at various venues in the coming weeks as we watch the aftermath of this disastrous referendum unfold. I hope there is humour and – despite the doggerel – a degree of craft in here.

It will come off better on stage than on the page, since I can apologise for the dreadful rhymes. But ‘onion’ with ‘union’ – come on, this is my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Then again, so was the recent referendum. Britain, you little idiots: you fucked it up. But first, from the writer of that awful poem, If


I could not dig; I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?



In Scotland we had a simple choice
with which to exercise our voice
and participate in democracy
with pretty scant bureaucracy:
a positive ‘Yes,’ or apologetic ‘No’
to retain the so-called status quo.
Of course, there was some controversy
and the usual lack of transparency
that comes with political machinations
concerning divisions of the nations.
The ‘Yes’ was based on a game of chance
that played on public ignorance;
the ‘No’ was a flimsy ‘we’re better together,’
as predictable as Scottish weather.

And yet, with the European Union,
the game was a similar peeling of onion;
Each layer of ignorant bullshit revealed
more false information as it was unpeeled
and thrown into the melting pot to sweat
in the hope that everyone would forget
the promises made, or the lies, told
to lure in the bigots, racists or the old
folk (apparently they’re in the same boat –
but, fuck it, everyone needs a scapegoat!)

So we had the usual play on words
that in politics always sounds absurd
(okay, as a poet, I like a nice pun,
but at least it’s only good, clean fun)
On one side we had the ‘Vote Remain,’
as if everything would stay the same:
a sort-of "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it"
was their reason for resisting an exit…
but we all know that’s not entirely true;
despite the gold stars on the flag of blue
there are many divisions within Europe
between right-wing greed and left-wing hope
(Yes, Hope and Europe rhyme on the page –
it looks better on paper than spoken on-stage)

As for the ‘other side’ – where do I start!
Being a wordsmith, I haven’t the heart
to call those idiots ‘the Brexiters,’
We’ll refer to them now on as 'Bullshitters.'
There was Boris the Bullshitter – what a buffoon
(don’t laugh – he might be Prime Minister soon)
who bandied his lies, damned lies and statistics
with abandon, using them as his shit-sticks
for stirring up bigotry, bullshit and hate:
don’t vote for this fuckwit – oh no! – too late.

There’s Farage, who defies the description
of Bullshitter; in fact, I’d like to question
if he’s actually a real human being:
but I can’t say the following without seeing
Cameron’s cock stuffed in Nigel’s face…
Farage is a racist pig! Ew. Regarding race,
Farage has made all that’s offensive
seem acceptable, and racism, normative;
he made the fake issue of migration
divide an already-intolerant nation.
Does he garnish his xenophobic sandwich
with derogatory names and offensive language?
No. No he doesn’t – he’s smarter than that:
he’s a Prime Bullshitter, and a fucking twat.

Then there’s the muppet-faced Michael Gove,
an Expert Bullshitter, who barely strove
to present information formed from fact;
his Bullshit was based on how to react
to the man-in-the pub, whose ‘expert’ opinion
was another layer of the Ignorance Onion
since the British electorate, easily swayed,
care little for how the facts are displayed.
It’s only when, the morning after,
they google the EU and find the disaster
that voting Brexit – er – I mean, Bullshit
has landed us all in. Ignorant fuckwits,
you could call them, and yet this story
is always the same for those who vote Tory.

How, then, shall we take this thing forwards?
I don’t think my ranting on with more words
is going to solve the mess we’re in –
but I’m just a poet, not a politician.
Yes: poets are prophets, visionaries, seers –
we’ve plied our rhymes for years and years.
You can’t accuse us of hypocrisy: ‘cant’ –
as Byron once said – is now stronger than ‘cunt.’
(Okay so his rhyme wasn’t a strong one…
at least he didn’t shoe-horn a rhyme with ‘onion.’)

So here, for those who don’t have a clue,
is a simple suggestion of what to do
when discovering that, in years to come,
all the lies that were peddled by Tory Scum
have sold your country down the river
with promises which they failed to deliver;
If the money turns out to be anything less
than the millions pledged to the NHS;
If your rights, your social security, sick pay,
maternity/paternity leave are taken away;
If you think Brussels was full of bureaucrats
but Britain is run by a bunch of fat cats;
If the referendum was, in truth, about greed,
leaving the disenfranchised in more need;

If immigration has actually gone up, not down;
If the markets have plummeted, and the pound
has no more value (or less) than the Euro;
If unemployment rockets, because we have no
expertise among our untrained workforce;
If, thanks to your vote for this messy divorce,.
our nation has split up, and of all its children
are caught in a bitter tug-of-love; if you, then,
at the next election, don’t know what to do:
vote the Bullshitters OUT – they lied to you.

While we’re at it, a couple more poems. First, I’d like to point out that asparagus is being farmed in Englandshire at this time of the year. At any other time, whether in or out of the EU, we don’t need to ship it from fucking PERU!

This is a Local Shop

Dear Tesco/Tesco Metro:
why on earth do you sell
asparagus shipped from Peru?

I’m fully aware – and so are you –
this stuff grows perfectly well
in the fields of Kent.

If you went there
to purchase your produce
it would not only reduce

your carbon footprint
but also, by dint
of boosting the country’s economy –

which is better for you and better for me,
and benefits everyone globally –
would bring down the prices on every shelf.

And, as we both know, every little does help.
So why sell Peruvian peas and asparagus?
It’s better for them and better for us

and certainly more beneficial to you
to sell broccoli, sugar-snaps, and mange-tout
that comes from the Garden of England.

Or better still, grown here in Scotland.

And second, a poem about greed. ‘Suilline,’ from ‘swine,’ pertains to pigs, – although this isn’t really about pigs, as you’ll see. It takes as a starter George Orwell’s Animal Farm. When the pigs learn that Farmer Jones is dead, they announce ‘the only good human is a dead human.’ This poem rather turns that notion on its head.

Suilline Greed


Let others say his heart is big –

I call it stupid of the pig.
                                                OGDEN NASH


Ogden Nash, if I’m not mistaken,
says that a pig supplies sausage and bacon;
to which he might well add pork and gammon:
the pig produces plenty of mammon.
This you will know – at least, if you’ve bred one –
To humans, the only good pig is a dead one.
That’s why the pig has a slot in its back:
a piggy-bank’s always kept in the black.

You don’t have to be Scully or Moulder
to work out that a piggy’s shoulder
doesn’t come naturally sausage-shaped,
or that gammon is salty before it is smoked.
The sort of pork people dislike the most
is the leftover carcass at a Hog-roast;
the pig, to the average British Shopper,
comes without snout or tail or trotter.

This is why bacon’s so popular,
because it’s imbued with faked flavour;
whether it’s streaky or collar or hock,
grilled or pan-fried, gammon or back,
people prefer meat in fillets or strips,
and very few meat-eaters come to grips
with the fact that they’re eating animal-flesh
if it’s cooked in a casserole or a pie-dish.

We like our pork seasoned on polystyrene,
and clinically packed in neat cellophane;
cured, marinated, ready-to-fry
or whack on the barbecue – it’s never dry –
or slap onto a pre-heated George Forman Grill:
half the fat, half the taste, and half the thrill.
Bacon crisps are as flavoursome
as the chemicals pumped up a chicken’s bum.

Food must be trendy or sexualised:
pork only sells if it’s been pulverised,
pulled to pieces, shredded or diced,
pre-masticated, minced, ready-sliced.
Sainburys, claim as a ‘local’ shop
are keeping their customers on the hop;
as are  Morisson’s, Waitrose, Aldi, and Lidl:
a ‘local’ con is a corporate fiddle.

To bring home the bacon (or the pork chop)
it doesn’t matter where you shop,
surely, as long as it’s British
and not from Parma, or even worse, Danish:
that’s like buying lamb from New Zealand –
we’ve thousands of lambkins here in Scotland.
We’ve Aberdeen Angus and fresh fish of course, 
and in Tesco Lasagne, a wee hint of horse.

The reason why dogs always get given bones is
to bribe loyalty, and keep up with the Jones’s;
but piggies happily off in their pokes will
be content with mud, scraps and swill.
The pig is of little good use on the farm
(but unlike the carthorse, he’ll come to no harm.)
He snorts and squeals, grunts and snuffles,
and does the odd stint of sniffing out truffles.

The pig will eat any old crap that you give ‘em
(the same, then again, could be said of the human.)
If gammon is pumped up with sugar and water
we don’t give a fig if we think it tastes better.
Boiled or roasted, barbecued, grilled,
it makes no difference how the pig’s killed
if it gives you escalopes, spare ribs, or pizzle:
for farmers, it’s quids-in; for piggies, a swizzle.

For sure, you’re rewarded with pork medallions,
or if your prefer, with pork chops or loins;
from its innards, liver and kidneys are drawn,
and then there’s the pig’s head, a.k.a., brawn.
To market this little piggie goes smiling: may well he;
he gives us his spare ribs, his back and his belly.
There isn’t an inch of the pig that gets wasted –
you can puke it out if you don’t like how it tasted.

And finally there is the poor pig’s heart –
now used in humans as a spare-part –
the ultimate in personification
exemplifies this greedy nation.
For the filthy pig has now come to pass
as an object of mirth to the privileged class.
The sow’s ear is now a silk-lined purse; 
its streaky benevolence, a suilline curse.

This poem’s not about pigs, but greed;
exploiting the lowly and those in need.
Subverting four legs good; two legs, bad
it’s a diatribe, demonstrating how badly
we treat the subservient, yet notoriety
seems to be glossed over in Big Society.
“Let others say his heart is big” – well said!
You’ll be fucking the whole pig, not just its head.

Finally, to reiterate my pledge made on Facebook, to fellow creators: Make Art.

It might not be worth much in economic terms – nor should it be. It might not reach a huge audience – but who cares as long as it tells the truth.
It’s only through creativity that we stand a chance of fixing our broken world.

Create “…in an age of mediocrity and shattered dreams, images of abounding, generous, exuberant beauty.” (Michael Tippet, 1974)

Friday, 17 June 2016

Re: Cycling (Part One)

Edinburgh is a great city for cycling. Actually, forget I said that: Edinburgh’s dreadful for cycling. It has difficult hills, cobbled streets, roads pocked with potholes and perilous tramlines. Then there are the trams themselves, which are almost as treacherous as general traffic… but not a patch on taxi-divers whose universal disdain for the cyclist makes sharing a road with them a dangerous and unpleasant pursuit.

As ‘professional’ road-users, taxi-drivers show the least aptitude (not to mention, courtesy) in their manoeuvring skills; they indicate their intentions simply by whacking on the hazards. No, Mr Taxi Driver: putting on your hazard lights and stopping dead in the road does not indicate that you are pulling in having checked your mirror. It simply means that you are a HAZARD.

We have a nod towards priority areas at junctions, although these are largely ignored (especially by drivers of BMWs, who I'll come onto later.) Cycle-lanes are shared with buses with ‘Don't pass on the left’ stickers on the back – a patronising instruction as pointless as ‘Baby on Board’ signs when it comes to drivers’ behaviour improving accordingly.

There is a pretty good network of cycle paths formed out of former railway lines, wittily named the Edinburgh Innertube. The down-side of these is sharing them with dog-walkers and blackberry-pickers, more perilous than toddlers whose parents are quick to yank them out of the way. Dogs, however, whether on the leash or not, are usually as daft as their owners.

I could get political about this and talk about various ‘BUGS’ (Bicycle User Groups) and lobbying parliament to improve the cycling infrastructure, but this 2-part post is about cycle-parking. Recently there has been an increase in ‘Sheffield stands’ and 'cycle-hoops' (some, cutely heart-shaped) around the city. Perhaps the most twee are the designer bike-racks by the Parliament building.

It riles me that supermarket cycle-racks are placed in the open air, while smoking-areas are under cover. At my local Morrisons, no-one uses the useless ‘toaster’ racks, but instead use the yellow handrails – one of which has recently been wrenched out of the concrete. But look at the smokers in their cosy doorway!

But my biggest bug-bear is these signs…

If railings are private property, this is fair enough; or where there are safety or access issues this makes sense. However, the attitude that bicycles make the place look scruffy is absurd. In Part 2 of this post, I will tell a story about someone who was sorely offended by the presence of bicycles.


But to end on a lighter note, here is a tale of two bicycles.


Three years ago I took part in a poetry slam run by Inky Fingers, in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling (EdFoC) which is currently running. I decided to take a story that I’d written (and been invited, by Edinburgh City of Literature to read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival – my debut appearance!) and turn it into a three-part poem.



Part 1

Just like me, she was orange.
Brightest orange – not yellowy-red,
or the colour of leaves on the turn. 
Nor what those humans call ginger, copper, auburn,
or burnt sienna.  She was orange
the colour of, well, an orange! 
Though I’d seen others of similar sheen,
she dazzled with metallic luminosity. 
I figured it unlikely that I’d ever see
this gleaming creation again. 
Her chrome was grubby,
her chain a little rusty,
but she had a lovely frame,
just the right proportions. 
Sparsely adorned; no extraneous
markings, frivolous additions
or pointless accoutrements –
she was, you might say, quite au naturelle. 
If you don’t mind me saying,
she had a damn fine rack
of gears on her – front and back. 
She might have spotted me
as I free-wheeled round the corner,
but we were likely to be
ships that passed in the night –
or bikes that peddled by in daylight. 
Cycle-romance is only fleeting.
People think we’re chatting
when we’re chained in bike-sheds,
or touching tyres along the railings .
Do our owners suppose,
when they jam us up together
on the bike-rail outside Tescos,
we talk about our favourite cycle-paths,
or moan on about dog-walkers
on the Leith to Newhaven inner-tube?
Perhaps they fancy the idea
that we enjoy a little frottage, or
for all our revolutionary fervour,
we play ‘footsie’ with our pedals.
The idea that we talk is fantasy –
what humans call ‘projection.’ 
Even when we’re made to touch,
through careless application of a D-lock,
our sole communication
is when we clash together. 
It is, for some, the briefest spark;
a momentary silence, broken.
But for most of us, we leave whatever
could be spoke, unspoken.

Despite leaving a cliff-hanger, I wasn’t sure if I would make Round Two, as there were other, far more worthy poems about cycling. However, it seemed both audience and judges approved, and I was through. So my story continued…


Part 2

As I was saying, a bicycle tryst
is a fleeting thing; a momentary jar;
a clash of antlers some might say,
or for us, a clash of handlebars.
For some, a courteous ‘hello,’ suffices;
those with heavy chains mutter, Oi, watch out;
The rusty, trusty roadsters keep their silence,
While the angry mountain-bikers tend to shout!
I’ve had some clashes in my time, but only one
resulted in this love-at-first-kiss thing.
I saw her once again, my orange twin,
shining like a spangle in the autumn sun.
I was innocently drifting along a former railway line
that naively skirts the Seat of some archaic King;
How do I remember it was autumn?
because my owner kept on swerving
to avoid the brambles, prams and dogshit
and, in addition to ramblers, blackberry-pickers
who have a terrible habit
of walking backwards into the path
with their tupperware boxes and Tesco carrier bags.
There’d been no rain for three days,
but still the tunnel was dripping and dank
as Glasgow’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ subway.
The wind, if not the gradient, was in our favour;
He pushed against my pedals with some fervour;
And as my rider and I were about to emerge, 
the light was blinding, and that’s when I saw her;
Or at least, that’s when I felt a momentary surge.
My owner, being more careful with his money
than his cycling, hadn’t switched my front light on. 
As we drew closer to the exit, dazzled by the sun,
he didn’t see this woman enter the tunnel. 
She was negotiating her (my dreambike) through
the railing stopping us from hurtling into the abyss. 
We clashed – smash – with a cracking embrace. 
The gentle ‘ping’ of her bell said all
that needs to be said in a bicycle tryst.
Her basket impaled itself on my handle-bars. 
But like all such encounters, it was short-lived. 
I could feel us both saying, deep in our well-oiled
sprockets, to our respective owners:
come on, this is it!  But they blew it. 
Each said to the other: are you okay,
yes, I’m fine, are you, no really, I’m sorry,
oh no, it was my fault, no mine, you sure you’re okay,
yes, no really, I’m sorry – and so on.  Pathetic! 
Off we rode – or more accurately, were ridden –
in opposing directions of opportunity unbidden.

 As Harry Giles, the compere for the evening pointed out, this was a canny tactic for a poetry slam. “But will there be a Part 3,” said he. Only if I got through to Round Three would the audience find out! Luckily, I made it: I was up against the laconic Max Scratchman – and the audience vote…

Part 3

The shop-bell of the newsagents broke me
out of my reverie; I was back on Easter Road. 
There, on the other side of the street stood she,
my lookalike, dream bike, un-ignited flame. 
I wonder if my owner saw me looking. 
He unchained me, clearly teasing, pushed
me to where she rested waiting for her owner. 
He stopped an obvious while, looking her over. 
Who owned this splendid thing, this ‘his-and-hers,’
this other half of a matching pair? 
She may have been thinking the same. 
I hope she wasn’t disappointed. 
It was for me, in bicycle-terms,
the eternal question. 
But it wasn’t the end of the story. 
Believe it or not, we met once again! 
This time, my owner attached me to the same
post.  We had that moment when our frames
were jostled together, a brief conversation;
a touching of souls that spoke of our inner desires
(which, for bicycles, is all about the air in our tyres,
not our hollow hearts.)  Then I noticed something
that made my gear-cables quiver. 
My owner had inadvertently
(what humans would call, Freudian)
slipped the chain through her frame. 
We had a connection! 
What if her owner came back
and, unable to remove her bike
became frustrated, angry, or worse still, violent? 
Would he return before her and, disengaging us,
leave all they might have spoke unspoken? 
Could it be that our owners might
return to their bikes at the same time? 
If so, would it be a polite greeting,
a shared recognition, or (this was my fantasy)
a discovery of the self
for which each had been searching? 
A part of me (that over-active imagination
with which some bikes are saddled)
wondered if my owner was lurking
in the shop doorway until she returned. 
Then he would appear and unlock
far more than a combination. 
I couldn’t see him – my view was obscured
by my companion’s fulsome panniers. 
Instead, as time ticked on,
I started to form my freewheeling
fantasy of who she might be.
Was she a ‘Cycle-Chic’ type who, refusing to wear
travel-appropriate clothing preferred
to look trendy and seasonal as she pedalled
through The Meadows?  Would she be dolled
up with high-vis jacket and cycle-clips,
sporting one of those helmets
that look more like tin pots than head
-gear?  My owner wouldn’t be seen dead
in one of those.  By the look of her tread
and her mud-spattered saddle,
I figured this owner had ventured no
further up a mountain than a brief spin
around Calton Hill or Arthur’s Seat. 
As time ticked on, I felt increasingly deflated. 
What did my conjoined friend think? 
Then, as slow as a puncture, my owner returned,
like an un-oiled chain with a missing link. 
And as we were untangled from that glint
of once-shared orange light,
we both might well have said, I love you. 
But in fact, the clash of conversation
amounted to no more than:
I’m sorry; no really.


Talk about ending on a downer: the sad conclusion of unrequited bicycle romance would surely leave the audience deflated? But no: I won the applause, the slam, and the tee-shirt!

Tune in next week for the second part of this bicycle-rant.