New Year fax for Lord Byron

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The Independent Online
I'd thought, this year, of starting off in haiku,

since a few syllables would serve to show

the height and depth of British public life. You

know the drill: a grey old suit as hero

at the despatch box (not quite the full Euro);

scoundrels and morons, got up as MPs;

shitehawks and bletherskites on our TVs.

(TV, you'll need to know, is the new medium,

rich in "image", innocent of thought,

for scattering abroad the latest tedium;

a bit like Louis the Grand's rotten old court

except the plebs get in, and play at sport;

where "news", what's in and out, is disseminated

and global cleavages communicated.

This chiefly consists of murder, famine, pop,

in which the young howl out their ancient wrongs.

When not in bed, they're screaming with the Kop,

or amplifying chords, which they call "songs",

to combat acne and the lower pongs.

Meanwhile the oldies peg out hopeless hopes

or chloroform their sort of stench with Soaps.)

But I digress. And haiku just won't hack it.

(In English, haiku's for the Sunday bard

who's better left with a Woolworth's birthday card.)

I need a form that doesn't cost a packet

in blood and sweat, fit for the infernal racket

we made in anno domini '96,

with descants on our shameless politics.

I've got a list of headings: Newbury bypass;

woman shackled to herself in jail;

Prod marchers meet up at Pape suburbs: impasse;

Maxwells acquitted; water in a pail

for Yorkshire housewives; cows adjudged to fail

the sanity test by eating their own brains;

"Windows 95" buys up the Times.

The Scott Report - as though the English nation

would stoop to lies, and sell arms to Iran,

and give in to a Maxwell-type temptation

to juggle assets, when the shit had hit the fan.

It hit again, in a tragedy called Dunblane.

And now the land is filled with the greasy sound

of bad breath bleating for "high moral ground"

who wouldn't know a moral if it video'd

its private parts and sent them off to Murdoch,

or swung an axe at the crap in Carlton's studio,

the worse crap on the shelves of the corner shop

where "values" are sold off for a quick buck

and the liberal hasn't the time of day to see

the fascist leer on the lips of pornography.

It's "personal", so they often like to tell us.

And we mustn't, must we, practise censorship.

And we shouldn't spoil the laddish fun of fellers,

conceptually-challenged social scientists

and old-style hippy non-judgementalists.

And there's nothing, nothing at all to link the torrents

of nihilism with the death of Philip Lawrence.

Shop till you drop. Then laugh with Ian Hislop,

an intellectual giant of the age.

Nick Hornby's got his list of immortal BritPop;

Jancis is licking her tongue in the cellarage;

Trimble trembles with Presbyterian rage.

Half of the people is permanently pissed,

the other's your Johnny Fundamentalist

only too happy to chant The End is Near,

smug as the jowls of Howard or Lamont,

cute as the curl that tickles Bottomley's ear,

crude as the Ayatollah's fatwa stunt,

the bright new studs in the boots of the National Front.

Think private enterprise. Think public school.

Think this is dreadful. Then don't think at all.

In Mururoa, French atoms all went bust.

In Docklands, detonation of a powder.

Manchester too. The IRA's not fussed

exactly where it stages the next murder

provided bigotry sings, and sings out louder

(as Yeats said, apropos another distress)

for every tatter in its mortal dress.

Joe Heller nearly died, our own Yossarian

and Catch-22, the very best of catches,

witty as hell and palpably non-Aryan,

right up there with Wittgenstein's Tractatus

and Groucho and Woody's filmic apparatus.

War - who needs it? Peace - thy name is woman,

aka herstory, the feminist second coming.

Lucky Jim went the way of all comedians,

filed away in that library in the sky.

Kingsley became a subject for tragedians:

from Angry Young Man to Compleat Reactionary

in the twinkling of a rheumy Spectatorish sigh,

pop-eyed, pot-bellied, raging at death's door

at having to share the planet with the poor.

And then, O Lordy, there was Princess Di,

with eyes like Bambi's, doyenne of her sex,

announcing her divorce from the Most High;

And Fergie baring her all to Ruby Wax

(doyenne of bottom drawers, crazy as a fox);

two gels, or gals, who pack a royal wallop -

The Valley of the Dolls meets Anthony Trollope.

The Stone of Scone got piped across the border

with all due pomp, kilts hoisted at half-mast.

And a Scottish Catholic bishop gave his order

a glimpse into his polymorphous past,

old Adam panting, unpenitent, aghast

to think that a man's manhood, fine and dandy,

should be chucked out of the garden of houghmagandie.

Just one gold medal - and that for merely rowing -

at the Olympics! A nation hung its head.

But Damon's ghostly father kept him going,

while Ayrton Senna raced among the dead.

Henman had half a chance, the pundits said.

Frank hung his gloves up. Barring superstition,

football remained the national religion.

That and the lottery, a Tory winner

for taking from the poor to feed the rich folks.

The Chancellor likes a good joke after dinner,

the 1922 is stuffed with comics.

The tickle deep in trickledown economics

is known as freeing up the regulators

so little fishes can turn alligators.

Clinton got back, on a prayer and a hairdo.

His soulmate over here has watched him good.

The question now is: what will Tony Blair do

when the wine of Socialism turns to blood

and he stands to lead us out of the wicked wood?

I think of Moses, Attlee, and fair-do's,

but I fear we might be in for Blue Suede Shoes.

Still, better that than the Dalek voice of Major

marching a mile behind his mercenaries.

Not Pascal's but Portillo's prattish wager

on Little England versus its adversaries,

eg the Krauts and Frogs, the legionaries

of pan-Europe, besotted enough to think

statesmen might rise above the kitchen sink.

The British Library nears its completion.

Sam Wanamaker's Globe extends a bow.

The Euro's named: the Euro! - nomination

as vacuous as it is naff. But there you go

as Hamlet bellowed in the wooden O,

or would have, if the king of languages

had had our cultural advantages.

But we've got Terry Pratchett, Radio One,

The Archers, Stephen Hawking, Al Fayed.

We've got the modem, got the virtual gun.

We've got men in white coats inside our bed,

and girls in Wonderbras, sex in the head,

and selfish genes, black holes ... such Strangelove stuff

as suits our golfball hearts, lost in the rough.

With that, dear Wystan, dearer old Lord B,

I'll sign off quick, accept my marching orders

for this pastiche, where the metre's all at sea,

the grasp of meaning like a tape recorder's

and the rhyme approximate as Harry Lauder's.

That leaves me just two lines, a sigh as murky

as printer's ink on Sundays. Enjoy your turkey.