In 1988, one of Thatcher’s dying policies to keep the working classes ‘happy’ was all day drinking. At the time we loved it. For me personally, working in the bookies, it meant not having the 3.30 pm spill out of drunks rushing the counter with bets. Needless to say my boss wasn’t happy with the loss of losers. One thing that became a fixture when the novelty wore off, was The Monday Club, the counterintuitive antidote to a weekend binge – drink all day on the Monday. Good times, good times.
Anyhow, the first line of today’s featured poem by Raymond Antrobus, really hit home (Wetherspoon’s on a Monday morning is like a retirement home). For many this goes beyond the simile. This poem is a wonderful divide between Ray setting the scene, (no-one takes off their jacket/they won’t admit how comfortable they are) and the verbatim story of the man’s life (Home is complicated now because I know too many places that it might be and not all of them exist). And there is the mix of nice humour (it’s hard to be honest in the same country you do your taxes) and the sad (it’s hard to love someone when you know them too well). But this is a poem about place and identity; of where you come from, where you live, where you would like to live, and therefore the importance of place in identifying who you are.
The poem comes from Shapes and Disfigurements (published by Burning Eye Books), and includes conversations with Grandma, an anarchist, a strawberry seller and a taxi driver from South Africa amongst others, as well as Ray’s stand-alone poems.
Ray blogs at http://raymondantrobus.blogspot.co.uk/ and I urge you to read it as it covers his life, and his many activities from being a teacher, a Keats House poet, and organiser of ChillPillUK. He recently received an MA from Goldsmith’s with distinction, which in his own words is, “Not bad for a Hackney boy with 3 GCSEs.”
Conversation with a Man in Wetherspoon’s
Wetherspoon’s on a Monday morning is like a retirement home
people drink for hours at the bar
no one takes off their jacket
they won’t admit how comfortable they are
where the air is anxious with the smell of cigarettes
and clammy microwave heat.
I walk past men at the flickering fruit machine and sit at a table
behind a man in a black flat cap, his dark skin shiny, his face,
I guess he’s Caribbean, in his fifties, gold ring on all fingers, he
has the hands of mechanics, hands I imagine in a factory or a side
street garage. He asks if I’m going to the bar, I say I am and he said
order me a double whisky, then he leaned in and whispered
fill my glass with lemonade – it’s 10am and I don’t want people to think I
When I came back with his drink
I’m too honest sometimes, it’s hard to be honest in the same country you do your taxes. I really want to go to Russia, I understand Russia, it’s easy, all you got to do is stand in the snow with a bottle of Vodka. I’d drink until I feel the things I’d rather feel, you can only numb yourself for so long… I’m only joking about wanting to go to Russia, what the hell would a black man do in Russia? I’d find no bit of music about me there. Then again I could’ve said the same about England when I was young. If the sun is a therapist then the one in England is shit. I’m broke, I left my wife years ago, it’s hard to love someone when you know them too well, but my heart knows that failure is the worst thing that could happen to it and I have not failed and that’s the only reason I’m still alive, drinking lemonade. Home is complicated now because I know too many places that it might be and not all of them exist. They call me “salt penis” because I have one foot on one island and the other foot on another while my penis dangles in the ocean.