To drop a silver penny
Into the memory machine,
Out on the arcade
Wooden arms strutting
As viscous white gulls sqwark,
Old dogs hang like wet rags
Over the iron balustrade,
And weak youths fall between
Wet wooden planks,
Their fathers, grey lean men
Skinned by tuberculosis,
Quietly playing the metal arm
Of the memory machine.
Spar, Best Value, Happy Shopper, tins of slop lining bright bleak rows of shopping aisles like the ghost of Warhol, hanging ashen and lifeless, truly disconsolate. Ex-warriors of the armed services bend double over walking sticks, ornately crippled, shuffling slowly along the concrete conveyor belt, bad acid, grotesque apparition, no one beats death in the same way death wins, despite countless minor victories.
Regional radio provides localised hope for an ambitious world - a sea of blue green crystals, fresh fish from tidy seafront shacks, healthy rubbery abs - an eco system of polite English smiles - bright blond families healthy in tight wet suits, striding perfectly along the pebbled beach. Pop songs and modern classics in the wide tanks of the family automobile, the background of localised living - our island, our home - Johnny foreigner and his mates welcome but only for a visit.
Lamp posts with faded stickers from the national front, (black kids called Chalky) - hungover from the 80s, distrust, envy and fear lurking from the tops of lampposts like vintage nooses, sepia, sickly, collectable. The faded relics of fear suggest the timelessness of violence, raw and uncontained - a steady flow of blood deep in subterranean sewers, stainless steel taps and electronic coffee machines above.
The seafront houses are aspirational. They have modernist windows north facing gardens and three gleaming cars shine in the driveway. University challenge, radio times, self made men, self aware, hiding the daily mail with boxes of pornography. School kids, well bred with bad hair, daddy's in the services industry, mummy bakes cakes, owning a home, baby blooming, lilly of the valley rotten with secret sin.
The other side, where the WASPs buzz in swarms feeding from the nector of pride, St George's cross wrapped round pink biceps and white thighs, red and white flags high up on home made masts fluttering in gardens overlooking railway tracks. Codes of ritual humiliation, affection is working class banter - gags, jokes, embaressment, dead arms, salt of the earth, five kidneys on your plate.
Weekends of purple-eyed girls and pale faced boys, adolescent cherubs made up with the orange glow of a red light doll. Nightclubs of vocoda hymns, smoking terraces, ash trays brimming with wet fag ends. 18 year old cannon fodder dancing to fuck,“l love killing rag-heads." The defunct shopping centre by the taxi rank, queues of tarts and chancers, a 12 inch subway smeared around the jaw of some bruiser or other. Deep black shadows lurking down narrow flint-walled-alleys. Seething violence in silent midnight parks. Dog shit and shattered vodka bottles, abject diamonds lining the merry-go-round.
What is England? A sad grey wet oath, the arrogance of centuries of wealth, commerce, progress, democracy, culture?
A man on the underground, red-faced and bloodied - decades of booze and mind bending hangovers. His sharp handlebar moustache like a distant relation of Lord Kitchener's - an ex serviceman - grimy hands palm up asking for money. A lady with a dog collar spoke to him with kindness and grace - the comfort of god. She gets off the train, head in heaven, a homeward angel - good mattress - clean sheets - gentle dreams.
The man next to me, legs crossed with intelligent self importance. IPad, emails, office, disdain for the inconvenient and reckless cruelty for the unimportant. 40p drops into a chewed polystyrene cup, a guilt abator, the gift of cash to cleanse the mind. The single reality of his gesture, is disdain, disgust and a latent creeping sadism. My mind wondered off to the plausibility of a violent act - a throat slit, the feeding of silver coins through a bloody lesion, aorta spewing up life, Patrick Bateman grinning, turbo lust for gore, apologies, regrets, schizo- understanding. Apathy is the body that bloodies the bed.
What is England when we're eating a big-mac, watching the talent show submerged under a glacier? There's oil under both poles, let it melt, the teflon surface of things, billions of defunct laptops, the touch screen messiah - let us drown the poor and wash ourselves with ignorance and apathy in designer soaps made from the kneecaps of the needy. (Cartilidge makes great comfort food).
What is England beneath an immense grey cloud? The opaque playground stupidity of most politicians - grand speeches sung tuneless long after the day of its death - frogmarched through ideology - a grinning spectre more terrifying than Blair's smile.
We shuffle around the edges of the coast, Penzance to Worthing, Suffolk to Sheffield, Liverpool to Doncaster. Civilisation burning bright, a furnace of aspiration and reward. England is work hard and be rewarded - own a home, raise a family, love a woman (but a man should be left for the metropolis). England is rows of sodden trees lining avenues of the dead, England is hamlets for the blind and cul de sacs for the deaf, England of retail parks, drive-ins and high sugar salads, England is monstrous public art - the high elitism of culture through the cultural intoxication of the poor, England is the pastoral morality of the haywain reproduced on a tea cup. England steps over the homeless, praying for them once safely inside the church door.