Friday, 27 March 2009

The Laureate and the Laptop

On the 19th May 1984, that great and (in my view) most English of poets, Sir John Betjeman, died. He was laid to rest in the quiet churchyard of St. Enodoc in Cornwall, a place he loved. Sir John's death came less than four months after the introduction of the Apple Macintosh computer. The 1980s saw great leaps forward in the computer industry; the inception of MS-DOS, the introduction of the floppy disc, and the launch of the Commodore 64, allegedly the best-selling computer of all time.

I'm not entirely sure that Sir John would have been comfortable with computers, had he lived to see their development and the development of the other technology that now surrounds us. I always saw him as a 'fountain pen' sort of poet; scribbling on sheet after sheet of paper, blobbing ink everywhere, scratching out the bits he didn't like...

But one thing is certain about Sir John. For all his apparent other-worldliness, he knew how his fellow-citizens ticked. His poems are full of the ordinary, the mundane, the trivial. How many other poets do you know that have written about the Metropolitan Railway? That's probably why I love his work so much.

I'm probably going to regret this. I've written a little poem in Sir John's style. It fondly imagines that he is still around today, and is (of course!) fully aware of the available technology and its importance to us. And, if you're reading this from somewhere, Sir John - sorry!

Janet, on the train to Ruislip,
Opens up her MacBook’s lid
Takes the dongle from her pocket,
Plugs it in and emails Sid.

‘Are you coming round this evening?
I’ve a brand new shoot-em-up.
And, if you bring round your X-Box,
We’ll replay the last World Cup.’

Sid is deaf to Janet’s missive;
(Hard drive’s melted like ice cream)
And he contemplates the message -
‘Fatal error’ on the screen.

Sadly, Janet, in her bedsit,
Eats a micro-meal alone.
Rests her MacBook on the duvet
Whilst she texts Sid from her phone.

Where are you, you lousy bastard?
Why are you ignoring me?
Sid replies with explanations.
Janet texts, ‘Well, I’m still free.’

But this evening must be fated,
Janet’s credit’s down to nil.
Sidney’s signal strength is zero;
He is angry, she feels ill.

Gentle reader, don’t feel sorry
For this quite unlucky pair
Sidney only lives two minutes
From young Janet’s pied-a-terre.


Raph G. Neckmann said...

Wonderful, Chris! And so true to life.

chris hale said...

Thanks Raph. I have to say I really enjoyed writing it!

Dedene said...

Very clever! Know I'm curious about your laureate.

mo.stoneskin said...

Loved it, and don't worry, I didn't feel sorry.

You like Wodehouse? For some reason I'm reminded of him as I read your words!

chris hale said...

Dedene - thank you. Betjeman was Poet Laureate from 1972 to 1984; effectively a government appointed poet. If you've never read him, I'm sure there's plenty on the web.

Mo - thanks to you too. To my everlasting shame I have never read anything by Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse; but now I shall! And as soon as possible.

Stevyn Colgan said...

Chris - A very tiny bit of genius was poking through thee. Tuck yourself in for goodness' sake. As for Wodehouse, I am a HUGE fan and have read them all several times over. A piece of advice? Start with the Blandings books rather than the Jeeves and Wooster stuff. But wherever you start, P G's wordsmithery is a complete joy. Who else could write a line like 'Her smile evaporated like breath off a razor blade.' Wonderful.

chris hale said...

Stevyn - did you mean to say thee? That's very archaic of you! Thanks to you for the PG tips - I shall storm Blandings Castle first.

Derrick said...

Hi Chris,

Thoroughly enjoyed this - and I'm sure Sir John did too!

chris hale said...

Thanks Derrick!

I've just completed the next part of the project. I hope Chaucer isn't spinning too fast in his grave!

Rob Inukshuk said...

Quite brilliant dear chap. So enjoyed and so like him.

chris hale said...

Cheers Rob. I once saw Sir John at Oxford Circus, wearing his familiar tatty raincoat and battered trilby. Oh how I wish I'd had the nerve to go up and shake him by the hand!