The Strange Feeling Of England
Am in England for a short story festival in Sussex and once again contemplating the strangeness of my home country. I therefore post a poem I wrote after my last visit here to describe this feeling, at the centre of which is the invisible "they" who are the subject of so many sentences spoken here. Abstract and unidentified, vaguely benign and yet menacing too, "they" seem to make all the decisions, and the human being seems to invoke "their" name as the only way of naming the forces that make the world.
They’ve painted chevrons on the road.
You keep two
between you and the car in front
so the traffic doesn’t
bunch. It’s a little difficult at first, but
You soon get used to it,
Safety needs improving:
You always need a new version
They said it
Will be fine tomorrow. Cold, now: the vapour
moon already, and
A hundred aeroplane tracks:
White powder marks of the sky’s nails
Meshing the evening and dispersing
Into unreal clouds
Not cirrus nor cumulus.
It’s amazing how fast they work. I remember this place
before, and now look
A hill of mud with the lanes
already marked out, fluorescent plastic sprouting,
the exhausted machines silent at this hour. I suppose it
Will cut down journey times when it’s
The forlorn larch.
Those words came into my head – there’s something
sometimes about our countryside, when you drive through it.
The way the moss covers the winter effigies
of trees, and turns velvet-green
their elbows, demented against the watercolour
sky, the crows flapping too slowly for real
flight, as if in the after-age. I look at those things, sometimes:
a dead tree can stand for years, an elm
with ivy over; and the poplars inching towards the sky,
cell by cell, clear of purpose.
Look how he drives, he better
Watch himself, get a stiff
fine for that kind of behaviour, and rightly so
He’s a menace!
They need to do something:
Just read the papers
People round my way
Things have changed.
You see it on the news, the morality,
the values. I have my own ideas what
They should do.
They sent me two water bills, both the same.
One had my name spelt wrong
By one letter.
It took months to sort that out.
They’ve put up a new McDonald’s,
And that office block
Wasn’t finished last time I passed.
They said peanuts are good for you, I think,
On the radio,
and also broccoli.
Perhaps I should eat some broccoli.
Forty-six miles I should be home
That beetle’s done a complete tour of the car, I should think,
that ladybird. It’s walked across the dashboard twice already.
Nothing for it in here.
Can’t put it out the window though,
At eighty miles per
It will bounce and smash
like on the BBC, in slow motion.
(How do they do that? Where do they put the camera?)
I’ll wait till I arrive and we can find some greenery to let it out on.
That will be nice.
All this countryside, and just the radio to keep you company.
They are saying China will be big. So funny when you think about it,
all the poor countries catching up, getting like us.
I just hope they do it right, with the right standards and everything.
Over here they’re so professional the way they run things.