Monday, 13 August 2012


This one was written to order for an issue of Streetwise, the magazine of St Matthew's church in Cambridge, devoted to the theme of television. I watch very little television -- a fact I was reminded of recently when a friend asked on Facebook whether watching the recent Olympics coverage had done anything to my figure. I had to admit that most of what I knew about the Olympics had come via Twitter, and that I'd seen almost no television coverage at all.

The poem appeared in Streetwise 62, Spring 2006, p. 8. My other contributions to that issue included a summary of John Naughton's Christmas 2005 talk to Cambridge librarians, entitled 'Life after television', and a review praising Steven Johnson's Everything bad is good for you: how popular culture is making us smarter.


That April night long, the Trade Justice vigil
at Westminster: candles to light
beneath the barricades, silence to keep,
then noise, whistle, bang, shout, to bruise midnight!
Our stewards' tabards to return, then hours
of night to fill, streets to trudge, finding all
shops shut but one near Charing Cross, St Martin's
through-the-night worship, walk back to Whitehall,
our 3 a.m., the planet most awake,
then streets and feet again, St Martin's queue
down steps, the coffee crypt, seats at a table,
then up to limp, the sky a paler blue
over the demo, numbers vastly more
than planned for, gathering light of the sun
to happen on the London Eye, the streets
where next thing is the London Marathon.
And others besides Wordsworth have said there
Earth had not anything to show more fair.

November daytime, the Trade Justice mass lobby
of Parliament: silence to keep, then shout,
whistle, bang, noise to bruise the early afternoon.
Over the river, the queue moves again.
Cold clouds. Cycle-rickshaws bring hon. Members out
to mud, fliers, questions and relentless rain.
Some in the rain, some in the lobby, space
like a great church. The organization
faultless, but fewer people than April,
MPs busy with the Terrorism Bill,
and news eclipsed by David Blunkett's face,
the story of his second resignation.

And then the January whale,
dark shape in water, nightmare flail,
Thames-bridge-bewildered, and undeft
in the mid channel, muddied left
and right, in front of Parliament,
with no petition to present,
no nourishment of her own deep,
no words to roar, no tears to weep,
no Jonah to denounce the city,
she dies in shallows, held by human pity.

The whale made headline news and died,
and passed into marine biology,
ecology and other human ken.
We lobby made a less splash than we tried,
and keep on plugging on.

You can have fun with Google or DuckDuckGo, or whatever, identifying the news stories referred to. The allusion to "others besides Wordsworth" means Roger Woddis and the readers of his (I think) Radio times poem on the London Marathon, which used the Wordsworth quotation magnificently as its final line.

Monday, 6 August 2012


This poem has me, in Norman Nicholson's phrase, looking back to looking back. It was written in 1994. I believe that the discovery that triggered it was made that same year, though a scan of my diary for the whole of the University's Long Vacation 1994 yields no reference to it.

The memo referred to was dated 1982. My thought on finding it was not "How far we've come in twelve years!" but "1982? Really?"

I have noted three publications of this poem: in Streetwise 17, December 1994 (p. 17), in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 39, Michaelmas 1996 (p. 8), and in Perimeter 8, July 2000 (p. 21).


The library where I work now quiet
(deep in high summer, a day in August):
weeding old files, I find a warning
to staff, twelve years back, on both sites,
about this man, dirty, mad, belongings
all rammed into a bag -- he's recognizable
indeed by the bag and the dirt --
the only one, it seems, in all the world....

I weed some more, watching out for the memo
permitting first names on Faculty premises,
or the schedule of words, with shillings off your wages
for saying them, or the statement
on isolated cases of divorce, reported
in other sections of the University,
that they should not give any cause for alarm.
But the files contain no more of the kind;
there might be something in the books.