Dialling 1996

A poem for the New Year by William Scammell
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The Independent Online
"Do not pick up the telephone" - Ted Hughes

Pick up the telephone

and punch some numbers, Ted.

It summons up the living

via the static of the dead.

Dante needed Virgil to

get down among the shades.

John Major sticks to Margaret

and his O-level grades.

One way and another

we subscribe to our fiercest dread.

Click clack. Brrr brrr.

Pick up the telephone, Ted.

Speak. Why don't you speak

the word within a word?

Suit yourself if it's modernist,

alliterative, or absurd.

It's deep as England, I believe.

It likes a pint of beer,

but since the end of Suez

it's come all over queer.

Unimaginable pathos

and fiercely wounded pride

of the telephone as suitor

and the telephone as bride.

I picked it up. I held it close,

close as a crystal ball,

and a voice came out of the ether

saying I shall tell you all!

You want a lottery number?

You'd like a date with Di?

You need to know exactly

when your end is nigh?

The multitude assembles

hungry for a fix.

Muse! bring on the loaves and fishes

of 1996.

v v v

Great Satan points his camera at the globe.

His linkmen simper from the burning lake.

The bodies draw on their climactic robe

of death, and little deaths. One last, slow take

will linger on the pathos of a dead

man's heavy boots, pointing up to the skies,

or zoom in on an orphan's curly head

as she learns the ABC of human lies.

Cut to the gameshow, or Ms Pulchritude,

having it off in her technicolour figure

at a million dollars an hour for going nude

and another couple for pulling the hero's trigger.

The body count is endless. Bang bang bang.

The kids line up for their daily dose of crap.

All hail the joys of the auto-erotic gang,

where the banker smiles, and no one can add up.

November: budget bribes. Then the election,

when men in suits, chancers right from birth,

up the arse of their own circumspection,

promise we shall inherit all the earth.

I see the King of Hopes, the Queen of Hearts,

eating their own quite separate jam tarts.

I see the rich and their security guards.

I see the poor scratching at their scratch cards.

Take one prime milker, kill it, then preserve

in a glass case; likewise with its calf.

No wonder Damien touched a national nerve.

I see a jaded country cut in half.

A pity we can't pickle Auberon Waugh

and a few of his ilk, in fox's blood and plonk.

Let's make an installation of the editor

of The Sun at his one and only bonk...

Harrison Birtwistle may find a tune,

real life break in and wake up Martin Amis.

Sky Television signs up the sun and moon.

Christie's auctions "The Knickers of the Famous".

Geneticists grow ears on mouses' backs,

spare parts in pigs, the surgeon's ultimate thrill.

Just wait till they refine their new techniques

and cross an abattoir with a hospital.

v v v

You'll watch more heaving bosoms on the small screen

translated from Jane Austen's elegant pages.

Brussels' tower of Babel will start to lean.

Africa will stay in the Middle Ages.

Our very own barons will carry on "rationalising"

their businesses - big rats eating small rats.

The government will go on economising

on truth, health, education and the arts.

Saudi Arabia's six thousand royal princelings

will oil autocracy with guns and gods,

much like Israeli settlers, who'll label quislings

those in their midst who talk with "towelheads".

The United States'll be strong and brave abroad

and lurch back to illiberalism at home.

Japan will go on kissing history's rod

while Russia acts out the last days of Rome.

The two isms - my country and my race -

look set to run and run, like Tweedledee

cutting the nose off Tweedledum's dear face,

howling side by side in fearful symmetry.

Bigger and bigger bucks for sporting jocks

(cut-price religion for the doleful masses).

Ms Cartland swoons, in one of her tastiest frocks,

and's found shrunk to a teaspoon of molasses.

No jobs - unless you knock up zimmer frames

for Mick and Bill, George and Paul and Ringo,

or mock up ever duller computer games,

or train for a consultancy in bingo.

Ulster says No! It's never quite got on

to words that have two syllables or more.

No matter. The new Pres, Van Morrison,

is rolling his rockers well away from war.

The Pope says yes to families of ten,

or twenty for the peons, who daren't stop.

Hawking takes up intergalactic Zen.

Eric the Red reads Rimbaud to the Kop.

Two rival courts set up, a royal schism,

nay cleavage, Venus' mount, a cock and bull

repository of purest tabloid jissom

guaranteed to fill the vacuum with a fool.

The Scots will haver. And the Welsh talk reams.

The boffins harness mind-waves to the sea.

England will overdose on bogus dreams

of country cottages and "decency"

spelt with a strangulated middle vowel,

the sort that greases M Portillo's quiff,

and City types, and Maggie's middle bowel

will go on farting pottyloads of "If"...

Howay! I'll stay oop North, and leave you in

the imploring hands of Westminster and Brussels.

There's nothing like a bit of rack and ruin

to brace the mind, and tone up all the muscles.

The glass is clouding over now. Some sort of fog,

some diminution of my psychic powers...

Likely it's Sellafield, the hair of the dog,

or Ted on hold, with his Ode to the Cloud-Capp'd Towers.

One last Miltonic word winks up at me:

"Beware of Pride. Pride goeth before a fall".

England! a fearful tribe hath need of thee.

And a very happy new year to you all.