Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September 1979

Sitting on a sloping wall opposite the public toilets, I watched two men emerge from the Lion Yard shopping centre, bumping awkwardly together as they approached. I remember thinking that they could be students at the university.

One of the men was holding a microphone above his head, swinging his elbows whilst he gathered up a cable connecting to what I surmised to be a tape machine being carried by the other, taller, man. The shorter man wore glasses. He noticed me and led the way over to where I was sitting on the low wall.

"Hi there."
"Wotcha", I replied.
"Do you mind if we ask you some questions?"
"I'm waitin' for me sister."
I had lived in Cambridgeshire for two years, but my Basildon accent remained strong. The tall man lifted the shoulder strap and set down the silver reel-to-reel recorder beside me.
"It won't take long."
"OK", I said.
The shorter man was scrutinising me now, in a way that suggested he was having doubts, but this determined me to acquiesce.
"How old are you? We would like you to read out a poem for us, do you think you can do that?"
I told him I was 3 years older than I was. He handed me a piece of paper, and putting the microphone close to my mouth told me to read the four lines of verse. I did this.
"How does it make you feel?", he asked.

The verse seemed highly sissy to me. As an 8-year-old accustomed to anthropomorphising in an American accent when making my toy cars converse, I felt greatly embarrassed speaking such an effusion. My face was burning. "I think it's rubbish", I said defensively. The men looked at each other, and then again at me, and the short man, apparently seeing no irony, and without humour, redrafted his question, to which I replied, "Well, it''s just rubbish."

Now I really wanted them to leave me alone, but they asked me to say another line. They asked me to repeat it quickly, over and over. The line was: "They don't want your name." They left shambolically and umbilically, following the curving declivity down to the lower level, before my sister came out of the toilets. I don't think I mentioned it to her.

Early the following year, I saw a video for a song by a band called New Musik. I recognised the singer and the bass player, and I also recognised one of the sampled voices in the song as my own, in the penultimate bunch, the last voice saying, exasperated, "They don't want your name."

Cynically fermenting exasperation with a form I came to embrace,
They furnished their song with apposite insistence. Waiting now at St. Boniface,
Like I waited for my sister, alone, opposite, yet reconciled to the form,
I read lines for Farkhunda at a distance, null, no one here to see me perform.
Tonight, I will throw a bottle into the bay, take honeyed Horlicks by the fire:
Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, I desire; O glowing range, let me reacquire

My taste for sweetness, shyness to read, sensation in the groin when climbing a rope.
I shall write prologue poems, to pioneer, that make me feel agency and scope,
Upbraid the Hungarian police who wear surgical masks as the refugees
Filter, forlorn, into a maize field. Secreted in the attic, where no one sees,
I shall hear the raindrops tapping in the eaves, and hide from the Nottingham Knocker;
As the pluralist transporter of readers' emotions, sound the owlish glocke
By pulling its cord in the dark.