I don’t have time to write a full blogpost this month, as I have several BIG deadlines to meet in the next week, but I wanted to post something, even if it was fairly short.
So I hereby present you with one of my absolute favourite poems.(I saw James Fenton read this poem at a live event a few years ago and it was wonderful to hear it being read by the actual author). I love the subtle humour, especially the embarrassed-yet-defiant description of drunkenness and the author’s outrage at someone having stolen his life, despite the fact that he himself no longer wanted it! There’s something very human about his reaction there, with which I think pretty much all of us can identify.
“The Skip” by James Fenton
I took my life and threw it on the skip,
Reckoning the next-door neighbours wouldn’t mind
If my life hitched a lift to the council tip
With their dry rot and rubble. What you find
With skips is – the whole community joins in
Old mattresses appear, doors kind of drift
Along with all that won’t fit in the bin
And what the bin-men can’t be fished to shift
I threw away my life, and there it lay
And grew quite sodden. ‘What a dreadful shame, ‘
Clucked some old bag and sucked her teeth. ‘The way
The young these days…. no values……. me, I blame….. ‘
But I blamed no-one. Quality control
Had loused it up, and that was that. ‘Nough said
I couldn’t stick at home, I took a stroll
And passed the skip, and left my life for dead.
Without my life, the beer was just as foul,
The landlord still as filthy as his wife,
The chicken in the basket was an owl,
And no one said: ‘Ee, Jim-lad, whur’s thee life? ‘
Well, I got back that night the worse for wear,
But still just capable of single vision;
Looked in the skip, my life- it wasn’t there!
Some bugger’d nicked it – WITHOUT my permission.
Okay, so I got angry and began
To shout, and woke the street. Okay, OKAY,
AND I was sick all down the neighbour’s van
AND I disgraced myself on the par-kay
And then…. you know how if you’ve had a few
You’ll wake at dawn, all healthy, like sea breezes,
Raring to go, and thinking: ‘Clever you!
You’ve got away with it’ and then, Oh Jesus,
It hits you. Well, that morning, just at six
I woke, got up and looked down at the skip.
There lay my life, still sodden, on the bricks,
There lay my poor old life, arse over tip.
Or was it mine? Still dressed, I went downstairs
And took a long cool look. The truth was dawning.
Someone had just exchanged my life for theirs.
Poor fool, I thought – I should have left a warning.
Some bastard saw my life and thought it nicer
Than what he had. Yet what he’d had seemed fine.
He’d never caught his fingers in the slicer
The way I’d managed in that life of mine.
His life lay glistening in the rain, neglected,
Yet still a decent, an authentic life.
Some people I can think of, I reflected
Would take that thing as soon as you’d say Knife.
It seemed a shame to miss a chance like that
I brought the life in, dried it by the stove.
It looked so fetching, stretched out on the mat
I tried it on. It fitted, like a glove.
And now, when some local bat drops off the twig
And new folk take the house, and pull up floors
And knock down walls and hire some kind of big
Container (say, a skip) for their old doors.
I’ll watch it like a hawk, and every day
I’ll make at least – oh – half a dozen trips.
I’ve furnished an existence in this way.
You’d not believe the things you’d find on skips.
Actually, this idea of trading lives with someone else has reminded me of this gem from Jerome K Jerome’s “Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow”, which always makes me smile:
One wonders that fancy dress balls are not more popular in this grey age of ours. The childish instinct to “dress up,” to “make believe,” is with us all. We grow so tired of being always ourselves. A tea-table discussion, at which I once assisted, fell into this:—Would any one of us, when it came to the point, change with anybody else, the poor man with the millionaire, the governess with the princess—change not only outward circumstances and surroundings, but health and temperament, heart, brain, and soul; so that not one mental or physical particle of one’s original self one would retain, save only memory? The general opinion was that we would not, but one lady maintained the affirmative.
“Oh no, you wouldn’t really, dear,” argued a friend; “you think you would.”
“Yes, I would,” persisted the first lady; “I am tired of myself. I’d even be you, for a change.”
Hopefully I’ll be back with a ‘proper’ post next month.
Thanks for reading!