He arrives too late to tell him how it will be.
Oscar is gone. Alone, he orders hock,
sips in the style of an earlier century
in glamorous mirrors under the clocks.

He would like to live then now, suddenly find
himself early, nod to Harris and Shaw;
then sit alone at his table, biding his time
till the Lord of Language stands at the door.

So tall. Breathing. He is the boy who fades away
as Oscar laughingly draws up a chair.
A hundred years on he longs at the bar to say
Dear, I know where you’re going. Don’t go there.

But pays for his drink, still tasting the wine’s sweet fruit,
and leaves. It matters how everyone dies,
he thinks, half-smiles at an older man in a suit
who stares at his terrible, wonderful eyes.

TO TELL THE TRUTH by Anna Smith (Book Review)

After reading Lin Anderson’s Easy Kill, where the easy prey are Glasgow’s multitudinous but totally unprotected prostitutes (unprotected in comparison with those of say Amsterdam or Paris) I slipped easily into Anna Smith’s The Dead Won’t Sleep. This was familiar territory. But this first book in the series is no “who-dun-it”. When the body of a fourteen-year-old prostitute and drug-addict named Tracy is washed up on the river shore, we already know who did it: a trio of corrupt and brutal senior police officers. The drama lies in the fight to the death – literally – between them and investigative journalist Rosie Gilmour, who is determined not to let Tracy’s death be covered up by the establishment.

Or the subsequent death of another prostitute, the only witness.

But it is in the sequel, To Tell the Truth, that Anna Smith really outdoes herself.

This time the setting is the Costa del Sol. I don’t know Glasgow, but I did know the south of Spain very well once upon a time, so here I really was back on familiar territory, except that now the whole place is seemingly owned and run by crime bosses from Russia and Albania. Along with one leering bastard from Glasgow, an old enemy of Rosie’s who had to leave the UK in a hurry after Rosie flashed his face on the front page of her newspaper.

In this book, believe me, no holds are barred.

The older man groaned as he spilled himself into the mouth of the teenage boy, who looked up with smiling eyes as he swallowed. He ruffled the young Moroccan’s thick wavy locks. ‘Taha. You are the sweetest boy,’ he said. Taha stood up, his naked brown body glistening in the sunlight. Then they heard the screaming.

A little girl, the daughter of two ‘Brits’ on holiday, has been kidnapped, just picked up and carried away while playing on the beach.

And the “older man” being given a blow-job by a Moroccan rent-boy on a balcony overlooking the beach at the time of the kidnapping was (why am I not surprised?) the British Home Secretary. His first concern, naturally, is to get well clear of the area before the police arrive and start questioning people. And if the boy, who might have been a witness, should turn out to be an embarrassment then his disappearance can be arranged by the billionaire on whose gigantic yacht the Rt Hon Home Sec is a guest, a Russian oligarch whose manifold business interests include trafficking girls in from eastern Europe for the straight sex trade and small children for the paedophile industry.

What we have playing out here in this story is the old vir and puer. For those of you without Latin, vir is “man” (but a real man) and puer is “boy” (though a slave would never be considered a vir; he would be called puer, “boy”, throughout his life) and you will find these words in English as the roots of ‘virile’ (manly, assertively male) and ‘puerile’ (boyish, childish, pathetic). Having his way with a boy makes an insecure but normally straight man feel manly. (And when I say “boy” I do not mean necessarily below the age of consent, I mean, as in the good old days, one who is totally at the man’s beck and call.) Very often these feelings of insecurity come from the man having to play the boy to real alpha males (be at their beck and call), which is exactly what happens here. In his own little world, the Rt Hon Home Sec is of course the master, but he knows all too well that his little world could come tumbling down at a snap of his master’s fingers. In his case the Russian oligarch whose arse he figuratively licks.

Interestingly, if the dominant figure in a straight man’s life is a woman this is likely to lead to him wanting to prove how manly he is not with a boy but with either underage girls or “working-girls” at the lower, more desperate, end of the sex-worker scale, using them and treating them with total contempt, just as happens in the case of boys in the hands of straight men. An adult form of bullying.

An interesting example of this might be the second sons in royal families. The Queen in the UK does not have total control over Prince Charles or Prince William: they are their own men, their positions assured as the direct heirs to the throne. However, she does have total control over the younger brothers, who have to shut up and behave themselves. They might react, as it seems Prince Andrew may possibly have done, by taking out his frustrations and anger on teenage girls (the Epstein scandal), or they might be saved, as it seems Prince Harry may have been, by another dominant woman who severs the threads by which the aging matriarch formerly held and controlled him.

But to return to the book (with due apologies to all and sundry) let’s just say that here, in this marvellous story. the super alpha+ male who, like God, has no master (even Putin kowtows to these oligarchs apparently) comes up against a thread-severer in Rosie Gilmour who literally does not know when (or how) to stop.

Compulsive reading. Perhaps the most impossible book to put down and go to bed that I have ever come across.

Climbing Boy (Trading Places continued)

I never stopped reading them.

But perhaps Lewis’s words only apply to those who actually grow up. (And a sign of growing up is stopping reading fairy tales.)

Either way, one of my favourite fairy tales has always been The Water Babies, and it is the world of that story which I would visit. (Yes, I’m back on Trading Places, continuing from here and here.)

When I was a child, I had a friend named Denny who lived a few doors down the road from us. She was a year older than me and although she was skinny like I was, she was much taller. But despite the difference in our ages and heights, we became friends when I first moved to Alton Sands and I saw her with her guinea-pigs and asked if I could stroke one.

At first my mother didn’t mind me being friends with Denny. I used to go to Denny’s garden to play, and that got me out of the way for a few hours. She would have minded though if she’d known that Denny’s favourite game was dressing me up as a girl and calling me Millie. After Denny’d been to the beach with me a few times (my mother thought I was in Denny’s garden, Denny’s mother didn’t mind us going) and she’d seen how much I loved swimming and how at home I was in the water, she gave me the name Millie the Mermaid from the title of a book she had which I loved – and also gave me the book.

My mother had a strict rule that I was only to read books about boys and she made me give it back to Denny, but I already knew the story by heart, and drooled over the pictures whenever I was at Denny’s house. And as my sister got older and started reading for herself – though younger, she was much quicker than me – I was able to read her books when no one was looking. All right, sometimes I got caught and was punished, but I didn’t mind, it was worth it, she had such lovely books.

Much of my time then, when I was eight or so, was spent outside because I was always “in the way” when I was indoors. Mum was teaching me how to help with the gardening, and I had to look after my guinea-pigs and my sister’s rabbits –  she had a big male one, Bobbie, which frightened me! – and an angry plucked chicken Denny had rescued and given me to look after. It always pecked at me and attacked me with its claws as if I was the one who’d plucked it! Mum said it looked ready for the oven, I said it looked better like that without all those dirty scruffy feathers, my sister said it must have hurt the poor thing being plucked and told me to be kind to it.

Sitting in the shed with the animals or up at the end of the garden where I couldn’t be seen from the house, I started reading The Water Babies, which Mum let me have because it’s about a boy called Tom. It was a children’s edition with big pages and big beautiful pictures and it soon became my favourite book – better even than Millie the Mermaid.

When I show it to Denny, she is less than impressed. But when I say, ‘I wish I was a chimney-sweep!’ that does make her sit up.


‘I said I wish I was a chimney-sweep.’

‘I heard you. And they’re not called chimney-sweeps. That’s the men. The masters. The boys who went up the chimneys were called climbing-boys.

In my book, Tom is called a chimney-sweep, but I’ve learnt not to argue with Denny. She isn’t a bully and she never really hurts me like Stephanie from across the road does, but she has bony fingers and sharp nails and a pinch from her leaves a nasty bruise and two little crescent-shaped cuts. I settle for, ‘How do you know?’

‘Because my grandfather and great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather and great-great-great-great-great all the way back were chimney-sweeps and they had lots of climbing boys. Some of them had been climbing-boys themselves when they were kids, that’s how they learnt the trade.’

‘And the others?’

‘Boys who are naturally big don’t make good climbing boys. They used to start boys off when they were five or so. Big boys are already too big at that age. They took boys who were still tiny when they were between four and six – often the boys didn’t know how old they were – and kept them the size of a six or seven-year-old for as long as possible.’

She ran to the back door. ‘Mum! Mum!! … How much did a climbing-boy weigh?’

‘Thirty-five, forty pounds. Fifty pounds, they’re too big, get rid of ’em quick before they get stuck somewhere and you have to tear down a wall to get the body out.’

Denny was still standing at the door, looking back at me and talking to her invisible mum. ‘You remember that?’

‘Lived with climbing-boys when I was a kid, didn’t I. Course it was already against the law here in England by then, before the First War, that was, had been for some time. But the toffs turn a blind eye, don’t they – it’s their chimneys in them big houses they need boys to clean!’

Denny came back to me where I sat nursing one of her beautiful Abyssinian guinea-pigs. ‘You heard that. Any idea how much you weigh? You look about the right size to me.’

‘I know, cos I’m changing school, going to Thorpe Park, and they measured and weighed us.’


‘I can’t remember.’

She laughed. ‘Oh, you’re so stupid. I don’t know why I bother with you. Listen, I’ll find out some more from my mum as you’re interested, like why people thought it was such a horrible job – she doesn’t agree, she says that was all nonsense. She’s got some pictures, too – old postcards and that – and you find out your height and weight. Are you going to the beach in the morning?’

‘I think so.’

‘Well, come round the back way any time, see if I’m here. Okay?’

* * *

I found Denny next morning and she took me into her house. This was unusual, because her mum didn’t like me, and her dad boxed my ears for me every time he saw me, even when I wasn’t wearing a frock, which made my ears ring and my eyes go all funny and gave me a headache. When I asked Denny why, she just rolled her eyes and said ‘Must think you need it. And ’cause you’re a sissy. No one likes sissies.’

Anyway, now they were both out, thank goodness.

‘My mum says I mustn’t take these pictures out to the garden, so let’s  look at them here.

[These pictures are not of course the actual pictures Denny showed me that day, they are ones I’ve found on the internet, but they are very similar and I think a couple are actually the same. Naturally I only remember the gist of the conversation, so I am improvising – as always with these memories of my early years back in the 1940s.]

‘This first one,’ Denny was saying, ‘is a picture of a chimney-sweep and his climbing-boy taken not long ago. Mum saw it in a magazine and cut it out. Can you tell me what’s strange about it?’

I studied it.

‘The boy looks happy.’

‘Why shouldn’t he look happy?’

‘I don’t know. I just thought – ‘

‘Look again.’

‘The ladder’s really small. What use is that?’

‘It’s the boy’s ladder, and that’s why he’s carrying it. If you’re a climbing-boy, you have your own little ladder. It’s to get up into the flues. You stand it in the fireplace – those big old ones we’re talking about – and climb up into the chimney, the flue. They all have one. Look at this New Years Card.

‘Mum says they put pictures of climbing-boys on greetings cards ’cause they’re lucky. Really! There’s things wrong with this card – he’s a bit too clean and pink and that brush he’s carrying is ridiculous, but he’s got his little ladder, you see? Dad was there and saw this card and he said it was Christmas so the boy wasn’t cleaning chimneys, he was delivering birch-rods for Christmas presents for naughty boys. He’d been collecting them in the wood and that’s how he made a bit of extra money. Then Mum said if they’re birch-twigs for making birch-rods, then probably his master had sent him to collect them and they were for using on the poor boy himself. Only she didn’t say poor, she thought it was a very good idea. What do you think?’

‘I don’t know. Did climbing-boys get a lot of beating?’

‘Some boys needed more than others, I imagine. If you were a climbing-boy you’d need a lot, at least till you got used to the job. Now look back at the first picture. What’s strange about it is not that the boy is happy, it’s that he’s not hidden away out of sight. Here in this country climbing-boys are banned, so no sweep can walk around openly and happily with one like in that picture. Mum thinks this picture was taken in Poland or Germany or one of those countries where they don’t have that stupid law. Course it’s a dirty job, and sometimes dangerous, and in the old days many master-sweeps didn’t look after their boys properly, but that was no reason to ban it completely. I remember my granny talking about that. She said all they had to do was make a few rules to improve things for the boys. Anyway, here’s another card, a Christmas one.

They’re never allowed inside a house, of course, even at Christmas, they’re far too dirty for that – always black and filthy – but they sang Christmas Carols outside and people threw them coins or scraps of food.’

‘They’ve all got their brush and their ladder, too, look.’ I liked that.

‘Here’s another real one of a master-sweep with his boy. Mum thinks this picture was probably taken somewhere like Poland, too.’

I didn’t like that one so much. The man was holding the little boy by the ear and he seemed to be angry with him.

‘Mum says he shouldn’t be wearing clothes. All the best masters made their boys buff it – that means work naked. It was much better for the boy, she says. You slither up and down the chimney more easily, and – most important – garments can snag on something and in a very narrow flue you won’t be able to get your arms down to release yourself. You’ll be jammed in the chimney. But at least he’s got bare feet. Now one more picture. This is my favourite. This one belonged to my granny. Just look at their faces! And the big boy’s been greedy – look at his fat tummy – and now, though he desperately wants to stay, his master’s telling him to bugger off.’

‘Why is he carrying the little ones like that? And why don’t they have brushes and ladders and – ‘

‘This is an old cartoon, from – I dunno – a hundred years ago or whatever, when they first began making these laws, and they said climbing-boys had to be at least fourteen. Which was just stupid. Climbing-boys started at four to six and finished when they got too big. A few might last till twelve, even thirteen if their masters were hard enough on them – only a tiny amount of food every day, and absolutely no handouts from kind people or other children who felt sorry for them. Ordinary children thought there was something magical about them. They couldn’t ever play with a climbing-boy or invite one into their home – they shouldn’t even speak to them! – but because they were such outsiders other children considered them like something out of a fairy tale. You can see a bit of that in this picture here.’ She turned to another page in what was obviously her mother’s scrapbook.

‘Look, it’s winter and snowy and the other children are inside in the warm, and they’ve just had a nice dinner, and later they’ll have jelly and sweets, but the little climbing-boy has to go to work in the snow and he’s had no breakfast, and won’t get anything till he gets home – well, not home, the master’s house – where he’ll get a cup of cold broth and a crust of bread if he’s lucky.  And they’ll sleep in their beautiful beds and he’ll sleep among the soot-bags out in a shed in the cold.’

‘Wow . . . Just like Tom, in The Water Babies. And he’s got his ladder and brush and rope.’

‘Yes, but look, he’s wearing blue socks and has long blond hair sticking out from under his hat. It was never like that. It was like in the other picture, this one, where the master is carrying the four little ones. Aren’t they sweet? And they’re the real thing. But they’re supposed to be hidden in the sacking because he’s not meant to have them, but they’re peeping out – falling out! Their ladders and things will be coming separately on a cart, Mum says. They’re probably going to a big house house with lots of chimneys and the boys will all be sent up different flues and be sweeping at the same time.’

‘In that other picture, the one where he’s holding the boy by the ear – yes, that one – it looks like he uses his ladder to get up onto the chimney.’

‘Yes, sometimes they go down from the top, from the roof, not up from the fireplace at the bottom. That’s what the rope’s for. You saw they all carry a long rope, too? Hey! Someone’s coming in the front door! You want to escape out the back way?’

I scamper out out into their garden, leaving her laughing at my terror of her father, and over the fence and across an allotment and over another fence and along a narrow path between rows of back gardens then over our fence into our garden. The “back way” in and out.

It must be about midday, but there’s no one around. Then I remember they all went shopping this morning – that was why we didn’t go to the beach – and maybe Mum decided to have some lunch out.

I sit in the shed with the pets. Denny’s plucked chicken glares at me but doesn’t attack me. It isn’t kept caged like the rabbits and guinea-pigs, and usually it darts at me as soon as it sees me. It may have no feathers but there’s nothing wrong with its claws or its beak.

I take out Blackie, my favourite guinea-pig and sit down on a box with her on my lap and stroke her. She makes that guinea-pig brrr-brrr-brrr happiness noise, which always made me feel happy too.

* * *

That night, when Mum came up to tuck me in, as always she checked what I was reading. I made sure now I was never caught reading a girl’s book or comic. Did she realise? Looking back, I’m sure she must have.

‘You like that story, don’t you.’

‘I love it! I wish I was a climbing-boy!’

She laughed. ‘Really? I’m sure you wouldn’t if you knew more about them. It’s a horrible job. Don’t tell me Tom likes being a – what did you call him? Climbing-boy? I always thought they were called chimney-sweeps.’

‘It says chimney-sweep in the book but Denny says they’re called climbing-boys. And Tom doesn’t mind being one.’

‘What does Denny know about it?’

‘Her mum’s family are sweeps – her grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great – ‘

‘That doesn’t mean Denny knows about it.’

‘Her mum does. When she was a girl she lived with climbing-boys.’

‘But using boys to clean chimneys was made illegal long before Denny’s mum was born.’

‘They still did it, she says.’

‘Hmm. Actually, that doesn’t surprise me.’

‘She’s got lots of pictures. Some of them are New Year Cards, thing like that. The boys seem quite happy. Just different from all the other children.’

‘I know, yes. They considered chimney-sweeps lucky. But you didn’t answer me about Tom in your book. Well, you said he didn’t mind. But I thought the whole story was about how he ran away because his master beat him too much and the job was so hard and so awful.’

‘No, he ran away because he came down the wrong flue by accident and found himself in the bedroom of the most beautiful girl in the world. Look – here, in this picture:

‘She woke up and saw him, and she screamed! Well, of course! So he ran! And everyone ran after him thinking he was a thief or worse. But up to then he’d been quite happy in his job, really he had. He was used to his master, he was at home up chimneys, he – ‘

‘Listen, I have to go now. You can dream about being a – a climbing-boy.’ She laughed. ‘And about the most beautiful girl in the world. Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight, Mum.’

* * *

It was Denny who brought the subject up again, some weeks later. She was chattering away about dressing up for the Carnival Parade, what she might go as this year when she suddenly shrieked ‘A climbing-boy!’

I hadn’t said a word. As usual when Denny was talking I sat on the ground in front of her nursing one of her guinea-pigs and gazing up at her. Now, though, I repeated, ‘A climbing-boy? You?’

‘No, you, stupid! I’ll be Ellie, of course. The girl in the bedroom. Why? You want to be Ellie? Well, of course you do, but you can’t. I’m Ellie. you’re Tom.’

And there it was. Not difficult to organise for people like Denny and her mum, and although we didn’t win a prize everyone said how beautiful Denny was and what a cute little chimney-sweep I made and a few people laughed and said what a pity it was they didn’t have real chimney-sweeps any more, it was the perfect job for unwanted brats and gutter-snipes and the only way to get the chimneys in some of these old houses really clean . . . Then Mr Poshrat, the local chimney-sweep, who lived in our road just a few doors up from Denny, spotted us and came over. ‘You want a job, boy? Come and see me – but quickly now, while you’re still small.’

He was joking, of course, as Mum said – using small boys as chimney-sweeps had been illegal for years. But what if it hadn’t been? What if he hadn’t been?

Yes, I would love to spend a day as Tom – but, please, let it be that day: the day Tom meets the old Irish tinker-woman and talks to her on the road, then gets lost in the maze of chimneys in the Manor House, then comes down in Ellie’s bedroom and she screams and he runs for his life across the fields and through the woods pursued by men and dogs and just when they are going to catch him he reaches the river and dives in and – becomes a water-baby.

Trading Places

Continued from my previous post What Did I Want . . .

Let’s start by saying that there is a world of difference between “Which fictional character would you like to be?” and “Which would you like to be just for a day?”

In the first case you would live that person’s life, die that person’s death – end of story. So I would definitely choose someone whose story was not finished yet (I do not want to know how and when I am going to die), rather than one of the immortal dead such as Helen or Paris, or Rosalind/Ganymede, or Mika Waltari’s Sinuhe or Anna Karenina

Vivien Leigh as Anna Karenina

or Catherine Earnshaw or Hester Prynne or Maisie Dobbs or Ayla (in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children series) or Regeane (in Alice Borchardt’s The Silver Wolf) or Darley in The Alexandria Quartet. A weird selection, yes, I know – and mostly female, yes, I know that, too – but all characters I would love to have been, though I would not wish to be them now (dead), and nor would I wish to be one of them for a day. (Well, perhaps Ayla. And perhaps Sinuhe, but not for only a day, for at the very least the whole wonderful time he was with the beautiful Cretan bull-dancer Minea.)

But they have all long passed away and so have the worlds they lived in.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long, on the contrary, never dies, and in Methuselah’s Children I do most definitely identify with him, so why not be him? Well, one “why not” is that in other books featuring him, starting with Time Enough For Love, and then most especially in To Sail Beyond The Sunset, I always find myself identifying not with him but with his mother, Maureen Johnson – who also never dies.

So, yes, perhaps I would swap lives permanently and for ever with Maureen.

But when it comes to being someone else just for a day, much as I would like to spend a day as, say, a mermaid, or a vampire, I would in fact choose to be Tom the chimney-sweep in Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies.  I’ll explain why in my next post HERE.

ROBBIE FRAZER: 192 miles with Carla

I put my signboard in the back seat
and we tacked through the fleet of trucks
in the parking lot and onto the
hot open road. She looked dry.

Where you goin’?, she’d asked;
lips and beef jerky: I’m Carla!
Her jaw, blade straight, softened in powder,
her earrings swinging, one-handed.

Her face was smooth and pale, no hair;
her colours borrowed from elsewhere,
she smelled of meat and sweet freesias.
Pleased to meet ya, she said,

her voice crunching under the wheels.
You looked like you need a ride and I
need to hide myself from sleep you see.
She drove in bare feet.

Hon, get me a cigarette? She pointed;
I rummaged around and found a penis in a jar…
Oh right, she said, that’s weird, I know,
but that’s the worst I have to show you.

Whose is it, I asked – It used to be mine, she said.
It’s in a jar, I said – I had nowhere else to put it…
In twilit silence we slid northwest.
The sun was the colour of a two-bar heater,

switched off and still warm. Taking me back to
distant days huddled in layers
of endless tea and jazz in my fuggy room.
The window’s gap sucked on her cigarette,

licking it clean of ash, blushing the tip.
She smoked like she knew what she was about.
The hairs on her left arm were vermillion,
soon to be lost to the door’s shadow.

She treated her hair like a sleepy toddler
slung this way and that, stroked and tolerated
but her eyes, hazel?, were made for the haze
of a long, long road. She seemed to have no edges.

I’m throwing it from the Golden Gate, she said.
I rested my hand on her shoulder,
the strap of her top under my fingers,
we drove into orange darkness.

I treasure this poem because it reminds me of all the weird people who have given me a lift at various times in various different countries. Many of them were lovable and doing me a kindness. Some of them not so much. But Carla – how I would have loved to accompany her on that ride! (Perhaps only in America …)

Paradise Mislaid

To Claudia (a French girl who had once been a boy – I met her when she was dancing professionally at a bar in Casablanca back in the 70s)

I had known and loved him when I was a man –
not macho-hairy, no, (and I had lovely eyes)
but the testosterone
still flirted with my bonny cheeks and chin –
and for him, for love of him, jumped ship on Paradise,
this ½G heaven for connoisseurs of the erotic,
of moulded flesh, and laughter, passion and pain;
and xillionaires.

At Immigration, I was tried and not found wanting –
there’s a certain something
only the soon-to-be-ex-male can bring to musilove –
and sent on through with a list of specialist clinics,
all on the house – SUN BANK Glinc (Solar United) –
and in thirty-one hours (our day here)
was out and wandering, crotch no longer cluttered,
and no-longer-wistfully wondering what outfits to buy,
what angel-hair, sundals, lotions and lucians,
atomic cosmetics and nuclear luminants,
mascellulages and …

with golden hair and lowered melanin
(I’d nearly gone for a silver aphro and dark blue
eyes and raised my melanin – would tomorrow – WOW!)
I floated and flowed on a cloud of Spartan Miss
with astrophire toe-rings and spinning-gold anklets
into a floating – gravitfree – palace
that caught my eye in second sunset.

Musilove’s fun
and I like it all, singing and dancing, laughing,
entrancing, regaling and loving them, some in the gardens,
some in the sun, some at night in the cool and the dark,
grok the silence of rooms
with their own pools and bars
and rollers and beds, some
the black stabbing light-beams and sound-beams and crowds
of the musilove caverns midday and midnight …

Liked it all.
Till he came. On leave from the ship.
He couldn’t afford very much – not ten minutes of me –
but he didn’t know it was me and after an hour or two
he didn’t know it was him any more, either,
or that I was doing the paying as well. He’s so old-fashioned
he’s earthly.

The only way I could get his attention –
back on the ship, that is, in the good old days –
was to sing – but not just for him! – to sob out
the old polite-ical songs of my home planet,
La Dorada, the songs of the mine-men,
little white mine-men (“voters” they called themselves),
all Sky and Sigh and Fly,
and Die,
and Sky again,
and if they were brought up and saw the sky, these voters,
they cowered and hid their faces and eyes, and it wasn’t
the sun they feared, it was night sky, feared it
and loved it, it comes up in all their songs … and so
do I, but the fear is awe, and I sing in the night
with my skin softly lit and the tips of my nails
aglow as I dance. Now. Then
I sat and sang with my guitar for him alone …

Most men, all the Bosses, the clients, all
the Besses that go for girls too, all the connoisseurs,
they all like the idea that we used to be boys, say boys
make the best girls, and the Besses
get the besst of both worlds as always (there is
no more conquered, broken male than one of us, ha ha)
though I’m so feminine they say they don’t believe me:
my voice – I mean it’s still hardly soprano – these big
fat Bosses say “Hi there” in piping electro-bird tones
and I say “Hi-eye” like an intergalactic cruiser’s
hydrogen-fog horn and they say they’ve had wives
with deeper voices than that, and it’s true, but … not him.
He thinks we’re all women, and that I especially am
all woman, and I wasn’t about to disillusion him.

He said that after me
he’d never be able to look at another woman.
And I heard later he’d meant it, palled up with
a ship-mate, sharing – his-and-his, not hers –
the same tiny cabin we had shared, but sharing it –
sharing and daring and caring at last. Ah well,
if I get too sick of love I can always have another op,
and join the mers.

A bit more on political correctness – and a poem: Hamdullah

A bit more on political correctness (see my previous post HERE yesterday).

Obama Says He Will Stop This Candidate If They Win The Nomination

ran a headline on my monitor this morning. As happens all too often these days I was left wondering who “they” were. The Democratic Party? That didn’t make sense. I read on:

President Barack Obama has threatened to intervene to stop a particular candidate if they win the nomination. That candidate would be Bernie Sanders.

So they are Bernie Sanders. And that last sentence should perhaps read “Those candidates would be Bernie Sanders”.

In fact this blatant misuse of the word “they” as a singular pronoun is so widespread that I have more or less given up reading books written after the year 2000 as the authors seem far more concerned about so-called gender-neutrality than they are about the Queen’s English (or The President’s!)

Let us be quite clear about this. The pronouns “I’, “You” and “We” are of course gender-neutral. However, when we come to the 3rd Person Singular we find ourselves, these days, faced with a choice: (1) My father is a poet. It lives in London. My mother is a painter. It lives in Paris. (Or 2) My father is a poet. They live in London. My mother is a painter. They live in Paris. (Or 3) My father is a poet. He lives in London. My mother is a painter. She lives in Paris … For hundreds of years speakers of the English language have recognised that one’s father is unlikely to be gender-neutral; the same goes for one’s mother. I am with Professor Peterson on this – and with all the poets and novelists who agree with him and studiously avoid all hint of “gender-neutralism” in their writings.

A propos. here is a poem of mine where I touch on the subject:


Aisha’s brothers
hauled me up to the top of a block of flats
and chucked me off the roof.

Half way down
I was hailed by the Angel Gabriel.
Hi, I said,

not being the Virgin Mary –
or any other kind of a virgin come to that –
and imagining we were just passing.

But no! My luck
had changed! They plucked me out of the air
(Sorry about that “They” –

I chose to use
a gender-neutral pronoun as Gabriel was definitely
gender-neutral. I have never

used “they” as a singular pronoun
before in my life and I never will again, I promise.
Okay? Now back to the story.)

Angels? Angels?? I must be dead –
must have died of fright before ever reaching
the ground! But she was speaking.

(I’ll call him her from now on.
Gender-neutral or not she looked more like
Wonderwoman gone blonde than Superman.)

Come, little mermaid,
she said, this is no place for you,
this wind-blown city on the edge of the desert,

and she flew with me
out over the great grey-green Atlantic
and dropped me in. Be happy!

Aisha’s brothers
found no body, said the dogs had eaten it,

ROGER E. NAYLOR: Pan and I Met One Hot Night in July

Pan teaching his eromenos, the shepherd Daphnis, to play the pan flute, Roman copy of Greek original c. 100 BCE, found in Pompeii

Pan and I, one hot night, met in a tent in a forest glade
It must have been our fates
He drenched in perspiring sweat in 100-degree heat
I barely able to breathe, so close was he
Mad hysterical laugh of the wood nymph
And I was his at first sight,
Delight of moonshine smile and wild-man craze
A bit rustic and unkempt mountain man,
In idyllic rivers of midnight haze
Pie-eyed and wired on coffee
This mad mystical being
Only calmed by a gentle forehead peck
And he was a man again
Gentle and quiescent spirit of the forest
Off to sleep in Never-Never dreams.…


County map of England showing Middlesex


There lived a small hermaphrodite beside the Silver Brent,
A stream meandering not in maps of Surry, Bucks or Kent;
Yet jealous elves from those sweet parts, this tiny mite to vex,
Would tease, torment, and taunt, and call him, “Master Middlesex!”

He lived on acorns, dewdrops, cowslips, bilberries, and snow –
A small, shy, happy, tuneful thing, and innocent of woe;
Except when those malignant imps, his tenderness to vex,
Would tease, torment, and taunt, and call him, “Master Middlesex!”

He ran away; he went to sea; to far Peru he came.
There where the Ataquipa flows and odorous cinchona blows and no one knows his name,
He nests now with the Humming-bird that sips but never pecks;
And silent slides the Silver Brent, and mute is “Middlesex”.

C. P. KAVAFY: Days of 1909, ’10 and ’11

Portrait of Cavafy by Nikos Engonopoulos, 1948

(Translated from the Greek of C. P. Kavafy)

The son of a dirt-poor and put-upon sailor
from some island in the Aegean,
he worked for a blacksmith, his clothes in tatters,
his work-boots torn open,
his hands engrained with rust and oil.

In the evening, when the smithy closed,
if there was some little thing he longed for,
an expensive tie,
a tie for Sundays,
or if he saw and fancied
a lovely blue shirt in some shop window,
he’d rent his body out for a few drachmas.

I wonder whether ancient Alexandria
in all its glory ever saw a boy more exquisite,
more perfect – lost though it was.
I mean that we have no statue of him, no painting.
Stuck there in that ghastly blacksmith’s workshop,
overworked and abused, and given to cheap pleasures,
his beauty soon wasted away.