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Shopgirls, a vivid, wide slice of social history

Dr Pamela Cox does a fine job of introducing this history of people we see every day – those who have worked in shops, department stores, supermarkets, boutiques etc. I suppose most of us have done time as one of this ‘nation of shopkeepers’, with many a fond or not so fond memory.

As a customer, however, this account, with plenty of archive, reminds us all that those who serve us, with a minimum of fuss, preferably, and without pretending to be particular friends (unless, heaven help them, their customer wants them to be, or the management does) deserve our respect.

There is a twist in this tale, however, as Dr Cox concludes her otherwise faultless account by citing Margaret Thatcher as ‘the most famous shopgirl ever’.

Ah well, I shall continue to check my change and spurn unctuous displays of friendliness, quoting Biba’s founder’s principle,  “Any assistant who addresses a customer with ‘Can I help you?’ gets the sack.”


Defence of Poetry 2

I admire poets who puzzle me

But I don’t enjoy being puzzled

Why mystify your readers?

To impress them?

Because you have a frame of reference known and knowable only to you?

Because the words keep coming to you

Inexplicable but somehow irresistible?

Because you don’t care if your words mean anything?

Because your are happy not taking responsibility for what you say?

A lot of poets hope their work will help to make them understood,

To give give their version of their story.

Perhaps what’s clear to them is something they want to explain?

Not everything I say needs saying to the world

Though one likes to say something

Even if it’s nought but the current trivia

Which may yet meet some choice reader’s criteria

Though it fail to achieve the truly superior.

Yet a sensitive sounding brass

Can’t help picking up the vibrations in the wind.

The prevailing tone needs to be tested and contrasted

Quizzed, parodied, protested, exposed, argued, echoed, celebrated

And if we don’t create the poetry of our time

We are condemned to live inside a dreary rhyme

Told what to expect at the end of each line

Not piercing through the crusty surface

Nor soaring past the prescribed agenda

But ground down and programmed

When we should be representing

The poetry in our lives.

Mystery Book Challenge

Have a look at this extract, and see if you can identify the novel it comes from:

Quiz extract

Defence of Poetry

Stop listening to the endless voice in your head

Let other people listen to it instead

Poetry for others

Poetry for myself

Poetry for art

Poetry for politics

Poetry for advertising building societies

Poetry for building society

Poetry for making sense

Common sense and nonsense


Poetry is for sharing what you notice

Poetry is for sharing what you feel

Poetry is the calm at the centre of the storm




I am honoured to be a part of this year’s LeftFest and can only reaffirm my determination to make each public appearance life changing for every person who attends, with the words,
“I mastered despair at an early age
But let my tongue become its slave
Jumping to the whip
Or paralysed in respectful fear.
My tongue is a wearisome headmate,
I must take control of this instrument
Mould its many harmonies into song.”


This Picture is not for sale

I wont say I’m a fan of this artist

Preferring to think of us as equals

Nevertheless,this work, though dashed off with her usual abandon

Shows a wit, a style and a charm, and tickles

A sweet memory of her that gives this bit of tat

Its true worth to me.


To me, not to you, though it’s probably just

Dropped on her ‘cutting room floor’

This sweet souvenir is all she’s left for me

So I shall keep it, though I should perhaps just throw it away

Not needing any picture, to see her every day.

Self Conversing

[Having been called out at work, not for the first time, for talking to myself, with the suggestion “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness” I set about considering this phenomenon.]

Talking to myself has always been a great source of comfort and mild amusement to me; the wit, the charm, the guarantee of understanding, have all combined to make me accept what some may regard as a bad habit.

I ask myself, naturally, what is the nature of my self conversing and is it entirely healthy? The results of my researches follow:

I shall write down anything I say aloud though alone, starting at 7:37 pm Sunday 22nd April 2018.

(And will try not to pull any faces, ‘mug’ – no mugging!)

7.33- “This is not…”

7.34- ‘Mugged while looking for cushion behind sofa.

[Note: Ability to remain silent appears good for concentration; in teachers as well as pupils/students. See my PGCE long essay, ‘Why did I shout?’

8.59pm “Sell it!” (advice spoken to owner of Lalique belt buckle on Antiques Roadshow, on telly..

9.05pm “I’m a sensitive soul.”(remark addressed to a necessarily absent friend.

9.31pm “What a surprise!” (sarcy remark directed at an unexpectedly absent friend.

10.47pm”Way over my head” (Affectionate tribute to Amy Schumer’s sarcastic humour and assumption that I truly understand it.)

10.54pm”Too late!” (ibid 9.31 pm)

Day 2

(A visiting friend noticed the change in me that has already occurred since this experiment began)

10.20am “Oh good” (Spontaneous exclamation when, having made a fresh cup of tea, I found I had a still drinkable cup of coffee)

11.50am”Advertising!” (Involuntary exclamation at something on the television).

[Talking aloud now confined to involuntary exclamations, which are accepted as ‘correct English’ if not too protracted.]

Success of this Experiment.

I discover that not talking aloud when alone is less lonely. It’s been an effort to not try dominating the immediate environment, take up all the available oxygen with spoken verbiage and failure to listen, to pay proper attention.

Next Problem Talking to strangers.

Talking to yourself aloud is acceptable English…

As an exclamation

As an aide mémoire, following or remembering instructions, recipes etc.

When composing a poem, speech, prose etc.

When singing? (Beware of allowing this to become another form of self conversing.)

When praying, if sure that it’s God you’re talking to, not just yourself again.

When “giving yourself a good talking to” (ref. Bob Dylan)

Keeping yourself awake/resisting sleep.

Wearing out excessive mental energy?

When having laughed in recognition of some truth illustrated by an insightful moment or line included in the passing stream. Acknowledge the insight, learn the wisdom, to be recalled at appropriate moments, if you continue to believe that your ‘lesson learnt’ needs to be shared!

Talking to yourself may be a healthy way of continuing the conversation contributed to by such inciteful moments?

Talking aloud takes less time than writing your thoughts down, and sometimes provides a first opportunity for your inner editor to exercise their right of refusal.

Reasons for not talking to yourself aloud:

Someone will be listening, recording and stealing your best ideas, even just for marketing. (cf. paranoia)

If you are lying to yourself (esp. when voicing others eg: “If I say this to so and so, she/he will say such and such so I will say that and he/she will be lost for words or otherwise respond satisfactorily”. (Note: This prepared dishonesty can create unreal expectations.) Imagining you’re addressing ‘your’ audience or auditor is a false trail because your lack of empathy is damaging your ability to engage a real person or audience. NB: not everyone you meet is your audience. Pick your moments!

Police Poems

New Scotland Yard

Image result for new scotland yard


Yeah, I’m always hanging around there

Sometimes by special invitation

With all the bells and whistles, you know,

Or, more usually, just because I like it round there

That splendid piece of modern architecture

On that particularly windy corner of London

To watch who’s coming or going in,

Sometimes it’s fun to play at being reporter,

To set up a protest there, big or small, loud or quiet

But I like it best when I slip into the background

In the corridors, the offices, the interview rooms

The labs and, of course, the Black Museum.


Love Tainted

Image result for captain cragen in jail

Captain Cregan in SVU

A lonely old geezer who loves poor little girls

Would do anything to preserve them

Even take them into his bed.

Recognise another cruel example

Of how the tenderest feelings of love

Are twisted by this cruel world,

Turned into a sad old joke, and then a scandal

Until their little world turns and this true love story

Ends in some minor, not unexpected tragedy

Or the world turns sunny again, in all love’s glory.

Self Analysis

Talking to yourself is a politically incorrect phrase

People not talking to themselves is much scarier

People alone not saying anything as if switched off.

Or does the brain function better when released

From the shackles of vocalised speech?

Or perhaps hearing one’s thoughts aloud

Enables correction and careful self analysis

A talking cure without a therapist?

Or is it better to keep silent and just dream?

A fool’s choice, in my opinion!

I talk to reach agreement, with myself if no one else.

Or is my rambling, relentless monologue so banal

So in need of further calculation

That even I alone should give it no further attention?

Future Travel

Perhaps it’s not surprising

That travelling to the future

Seems harder as one gets older;

Trips to the past, painful enough but comfortingly familiar,

While tomorrow’s business seems set by others

Tomorrow’s fashions designed to prove

That you, if you ever were in it, are out of style.


Yes, marvellous things will happen

New stuff, new amusements, solutions,

Wonderful ways to explore and travel

The steady motion that will always deny

The claim that things don’t change.


Life’s struggles will never end but I know I shall

And it gets harder to pretend.


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