Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28


Published in Poetry


by Edward Mackinnon

From Daddy she inherited looted jewels,
an Empire that was still just holding its own
and teaching upstart subjects like the Kikuyu
to adopt a more deferential tone
and respect her uncommon wealth and virtue

As head of state of money havens overseas
she leaves her share portfolio to her son
with all due discretion and lack of fuss
while her blustering court jester Johnson
hands over his shitshow to Elizabeth Truss.

The Day and The Hour
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

The Day and The Hour

Published in Poetry

The Day and The Hour

by David Betteridge



What distinguishes the worst of architects from the best
of bees is this: that the architects raise their structures
in imagination before they build them in reality...
- Karl Marx

Where there is no vision,
the psalmist sang,
the people perish.

Has our vision retrospective scope, we ask,
with eyes in the back of its memory's mind?
No? Then it falls short, vulnerable from behind.

Has our vision close scrutiny of things
that may not seem at first significant -
things that are routine, or in the dark,
maybe at the head of leadership,
or in our ranks, or in the corners
of our unexamined hearts:
things that can turn to danger, quick as a wink?

Experience instructs us:
before we act, think!

Has our vision a future tense, keen
to look across to tomorrow's further shore,
to envisage what might be different from today,
and how, in our journey there, we might follow
the best-considered way?

As a sculptor sees the contours of a statue
already shaping in an uncut block of stone,
or as an athlete first conceives a lift, or jump, or throw,
or run, and holds it within the grasp of mind,
cherishing it even before the act begins,
so, as a wise saw says, each last one of us must think
and feel, even in the welter of our present woes,
as if we were already citizens of a better land,
in its early days.


What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying,
"We say no, and we are the state"?
Well we say yes – and we are the people.
- Canon Kenyon Wright

Purblind, some of us let a clown run rings
around us, unaware his circus act had allies
massed in his defence, brigade upon brigade
of adepts in the wars of both position
and manoeuvre, weaponised.

Not seeing straight, or thinking straight,
we set our sights on wrong goals,
and, forsaking loyalties
and purposes and roots, got bewildernessed
in ruinous wrong ways.

As the clown banged his tin drum,
even if we did not see the peril in its signs,
how did we not hear the horror
in its beat, its dead-march that betokened
the breaking of laws and lives,
as again and again has happened
in carnivals of evil down the years?
How did we not smell the reek
that our enemies' cruel arrogance exudes?
Why did we not sense earlier the creeping-up
and worsening of our fears?

Never as now have our enemies
so carelessly self-revealed
their empty souls and ravening greed,
their two-facedness,
their lethal recklessness in word and deed.

These hellish handcart drivers,
untroubled by any fear or shame,
these crass demolishers of culture,
these sociopaths in smart suits,
these devotees of global smash and grab,
ignorant or contemptuous of history and its gains,
these strangers to sanity and to truth,
these bringers of death,
see how they stand now: exposed as guilty,
red-handed, few options left, run out of breath.

Now's the day, and now's the hour,
Burns wrote, and sang.
Given our enemies are in disarray,
disuniting into faction fights, imperilling the safety
of the state, then we have one clear choice,
in fact it is imperative:
as one to make a stand, contesting the continuance
of their misrule, asserting our claim of right
to governance, at last, of this beleaguered land.


The most beautiful of all doubts is when the downtrodden
and despondent raise their heads
and stop believing in the strength of their oppressors...
- Bertolt Brecht

In a flash, in a flood, from memory's store,
from a remembered Bible story book,
a picture comes to mind:
Pharaoh's troops in turmoil, tossed
with their weapons and their useless chariots
by the Red Sea's power.

Like matchstick men they meet their end
as walls of water - that had parted long enough
to let Moses and his people through -
now thunder on their hostile heads.

Now's the day, and now's the hour,
for both the victorious living
and the disarmed dead.

Was this a scene that Brecht envisaged
when he wrote his poem praising doubt,
noting how "invincible armies" can be put to flight,
"headlong", while "impregnable strongholds" fall,
and ancient errors, valorised as truth,
are in the end put right.

In praising the doubt that tests decisions
"like a bad penny", Brecht dispraised the doubt
that is despair, that even under danger
asks too many questions, fearful to act,
opting out.

Divers exploring the Red Sea's bed found
shell-encrusted chariot wheels down there,
relics of an era's end and a bold new chapter's start,
when a page was turned, from foul to fair.

What relics from today's divisions
and impending shift of power will future history retrieve,
to put in picture books or heritage museums:
keys to safe deposits, maybe, and yachts,
and limousines, and other trappings
of a wasteful Few, juxtaposed with the sad remains
of a Many cast aside, like shards, in early graves
or battlefields, to be rendered back to view,
emblems of a time when a people
almost perished?

Best evidence of all will be,
growing from its early days to a mature peace,
a new-made land, negating what we now see,
living proof that where there's vision,
we, the people, flourish.


Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28


Published in Poetry


by Alan Morrison, with image by Martin Gollan

Let the bodies pile high!
Let the bottles pile high!
Now Boris hobbles off
With his Golden goodbye—

He's off to get his biog
On Shakespeare ghost-written
By Noggin the Nog,
Old Hamlet, & a kitten...

Let the bodies pile high!
Let the bottles pile high!
I'll be leaving soon
With my head held high

& so he will have to
As he wades neck-deep
Through the excrement
Of his legacy—

So he sloshes from office
To eye-watering offers
For after-dinner speeches,
& six-figure columns,

His hotly tipped memoirs
Already commanding
Advances of a million—
It seems remembering

Can be Boris's thing
If the price is right—otherwise
He forgets, or misremembers,
Or believes his own lies

Or has others believe them:
His fibs over Brexit,
& levelling up—
Porkies from the greased piglet;

O Boris's future
Is Golden for sure—
For his whole life's been Golden:
Raised for sinecure,

Through Eton, & Balliol,
& Bullingdon Club–-
Born with a runcible
Spoon in his gob—

Insubordinate, yobbish,
Boisterous, snobbish,
Blond mop of sophism,
Bluster & boosterism,

Kingpin of cronyism,
Sexism, narcissism,
Tsar of casual racism—
Letterbox & watermelon

Trumpety-trumps into orbit
To pen his political obit
(Though he's already planning
A comeback before going),

Hyperbolic cherrypick,
Pecksniffian panegyric—
Peter Piper Picked a Peck
Of Pickled Pepper lyric...

O the future is Golden for Boris,
But not, alas, poor Yorick—
That is, the scoured skull of Us:
His used-up soft-soaped put upon pot-&-pan-
banging hand-clapping bowl-scraping Public...

What Bloody Man Is That?
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

What Bloody Man Is That?

Published in Theatre

I received a letter the other day from a friend of many years, that still active volcano of political cartooning, Bob Starrett. As always, his letter was neatly lettered in italicised block capitals, a throw-back to his time in the painting and decorating trade. Sign-writing was one of the craft skills that he had to learn, and even now, in his eighties, Bob does not want to let that skill fall into disuse.

Included in his letter was a cartoon of Boris Johnson (above), in the wake of his being levered from his position as leader of the Conservative Party, while still hanging on as this suffering nation's Prime Minister. Down but not out, yet! Bob's cartoon shows Johnson in his self-appointed role as a Shakespeare scholar, combined with being both hero, in his own eyes, and fool, in ours.

The cartoon prompted me to have a look at a selection of Shakespeare's playscripts, and perhaps readers of Culture Matters might like to do the same, to see if we can find bits of The Bard that might help Johnson's project along, for him to weave into the text of the book he has a mind to write.

I began my search with Shakespeare's Scottish play. At the time of its writing, with King James VI of Scotland having newly assumed the English crown too, the matter of Scotland was seen as troublesome, as it is again now, for good reason. So choosing to write a play set in Scotland's Dark Ages gave Shakespeare the opportunity to be topical, at a diplomatic and historic distance, while also giving him a context for exploring such favourite themes as political ambition, treachery, scheming, extreme behaviour of various kinds, and regime change.

Choosing to extract quotations from The Tragedy of Macbeth gives us a parallel opportunity to be topical, as we live through the latest shenanigans that characterise England's sad slipping back into its own second Dark Ages:

What bloody man is that?
(Act 1 Scene 1)

I am such a fool, should I stay longer
It would be my disgrace and your discomfort…
(Act 4, Scene 2)

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other. . . .
(Act1 Scene 7)

Those he commands move only in command,
Nothing in love. Now does he feel his title
Hang loose about him, like a giant's robe
Upon a dwarfish thief.
(Act 5 Scene 2)

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill…
(Act 3 Scene 2)

There’s daggers in men’s smiles…
(Act 2 Scene 3)

Farewell to a Bullish Boris
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

Farewell to a Bullish Boris

Published in Poetry

Farewell to a Bullish Boris

a bilingual limerick by Limerick bilingualist Gabriel Rosenstock

We've had more than enough of your bull
Now we're all in need of a lull
So look for fresh pastures
Enough with disasters
You're full of it Johnson! Ff- full!


Níl ionatsa, Boris, ach tarbh
Magarlán mioscaiseach garbh
Mo thrua an bhó
A bheadh agat is ló
Nó istoíche – b'fhearr a bheith marbh!

To the Lukewarm
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

To the Lukewarm

Published in Poetry

To the Lukewarm

'So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth'.- Revelation 3:16

by Christopher Norris, with image by Martin Gollan

Let hate, like love, burn steady, fierce and clean.
No time for cooling passions – keep your flame
Turned up, spot on: oxyacetylene!

Try this: the man has lied, shifted the blame
To hapless functionaries, fled the scene
Of every crime before some reckoner came

To call him out, obstructed justice, been
Lead player in each tabloid-sponsored game
Of rabble-rousing, skulked behind a screen

Of bluff and bluster when a one-time tame
Investigator spilled the final bean
On some new crime-in office, staked his claim

To rank with Nero in the epicene
Dictator league, got press-hounds to defame
A judge or two, rejoiced to vent his spleen

On those reporters rash enough to name
A host of scattered offspring or umpteen
Past mistresses, let slip that his chief aim

Was scrapping any pesky law they’d frame
To oust him, have the Met latch on he’s keen
To hush their findings up, revealed that shame

Or honour have no place in the latrine
Of quick-flush conscience, and displayed the same
Old Eton-bred contempt that’s let them preen

Themselves, those would-be monarchs, on their fame
For all things bad, like this one and his queen
Whose sins, Macbeth-like, darken each je t’aime.

Stewart Lee is a Snowflake!
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

Stewart Lee is a Snowflake!

Published in Life Writing

Michael Jarvie reviews Stewart Lee's show, Snowflake Tornado 

Stewart Lee is the undisputed master of anti-comedy, or, if you like, meta-comedy. Drawing on Bertolt Brecht’s theatrical technique, which in German goes by the name of the “verfremdungseffekt” (alienation effect) he antagonises his audience in order to elicit a response, like the archetypal mad scientist engaged in some Pavlovian experiment, or better still, a guest conductor coaxing an orchestra to give of their best.

Condescending and narcissistic, exposing the artificiality of his stand-up routine by reading aloud from prompt cards extracted from his jacket pocket, he treats the majority of his audience as if they were an unnecessary irritant, unable to appreciate his lofty genius. But it’s all done tongue in cheek, accompanied with impromptu sound effects, especially when he grabs a metaphorical trombone from the brass section of the aforementioned orchestra and performs some fart-like raspberries down the microphone. And I loved it. At one point in Act Two, I was crying so much with laughter I thought I might keel over from a comedy-induced heart attack. I suspect Lee would have carried on, regardless.

A red neon Tornado sign and red curtains adorn the stage in Act One. Lee begins by telling us how the Netflix platform erroneously described his act in terms which clearly reference the film Sharknado: “Reports of sharks falling from the skies are on the rise again. And nobody on the eastern seaboard is safe.” He naturally speculates whether they described Sharknado as alternative comedy on the same site. We must bear all of this in mind, since the set will meander through various detours before returning triumphantly to the same subject matter, like the recapitulation section of a piece of music written in sonata form.

During the course of these mental peregrinations, he mentions a review of his work by Alan Bennett published in The London Review of Books. This allows Lee to mimic the famous Yorkshireman’s voice to good effect, and he explains that the pandemic has enabled him to perfect his mimicry. He now knows “All the impressions. Alan Bennett. [dramatic pause] All the impressions!” Bennett seems to think that the Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman would have liked Stewart Lee, as would J. L. Austin, the British philosopher of language, most famous for his theory of speech acts. As for Goffman, “He’d have been flailing around in a tsunami of his own urine by now,” comments Lee, before turning on the venerable old man of British comedy: “This is the kiss of death, this Alan Bennett review. I hate Alan Bennett!” With that, Lee is swallowed by a fake shark at the rear of the stage and the curtain falls on Act One.

Act Two, by contrast, offers us a blue neon sign bearing the word Snowflake, and a similarly coloured backdrop incorporating a snowflake design. Having changed costume in the interval, Lee is now wearing a powder blue jacket, several sizes too big for his frame, together with a snowflake-themed T-shirt. After all, he admits, he’s let himself go during the pandemic. Now that he’s hit fifty, he’s a candidate for some chair-based activity in the local leisure centre.

A van in Nottingham bearing the legend “Robin Hood’s Jacket Potatoes” is the first in the firing line. Given that the legendary outlaw is thought to have lived in the latter half of the 14th century, this fact is not lost on Lee while he waits patiently in the queue. As he smugly explains, the potato wasn’t introduced to this country until the end of the 16th century, which means the whole naming convention behind the business is based on a chronological error. Ever the know-it-all, Lee succeeds in making the woman cry.

A quick detour to London follows, to the Comedy Club in Soho, where his career as a stand-up comedian began. In those far-off days, Lee recalls how the male strippers from the nearby Raymond Revue Bar would maintain their tumescence, though not full erections, by sitting together in chairs and masturbating. Lee helpfully provides the legal definition of an erection. It’s apparently 45 degrees of elevation. He wonders if, as a result of Brexit, we are no longer burdened by red tape when it comes to such matters.

Throughout the show, comedians get it in the neck, none more so than Dave Chappelle, who we are told, insisted that the hundreds of white light bulbs in his London dressing room must be replaced with red ones and that a rotisserie chicken should also be provided for snacking purposes. Lee, by contrast, claims that his needs are much more Spartan. All he asks for is a pork pie, some Bovril and an unpublished Franz Kafka manuscript.

Ricky Gervais, Tony Parsons, and Stew's nan

Ricky Gervais’s Afterbirth series (Afterlife) is then characterised as an orgy of wank crying. Lee goes on to demonstrate how a Gervais routine might unfold if he really was prevented by the agents of political correctness from uttering any forbidden phrases, which tend to be a staple of his one-man shows. We now understand why, in Act Two, there is a lectern on the stage complete with a bottle of beer! After several failed attempts, all that Lee can manage are a few grunts and howls. Dropping back into his own curmudgeonly character, he points out that a contributor to the internet forum Mumsnet claimed the present routine went on for far too long. But how can you quantify just how long such a routine should be, adds Lee? He’s got a point.

Tony Parsons, writing in GQ magazine, stated that Stewart Lee represented “the rancid tip of a cesspit” for his use of the c-word in connection with women. But as Lee pedantically and gleefully points out, cess doesn’t have a tip. It’s flat. Then, in an attempt to expose Parsons’ hypocrisy, he reads out another quotation from the same author about bananas. Parsons states that he likes the flesh of his bananas to be firm… just like he does his women. What’s more, he certainly doesn’t like them bruised or damaged. Oh, dear, the words pot, kettle and black come immediately to mind.

Next up is Lee’s nan, whose voice is rendered in her characteristic Brummie accent. At the chiropodist’s, she’s offered some broth by a member of staff. However, she’s told that the hot broth can’t be served at any of the workstations, only in the waiting area. In the words of his nan, “It’s political correctness gone mad, Stew!” Lee, however, demurs, and suggests it might have something to do with the Health and Safety at Work Act.

His nan, though, is unimpressed. She belongs to a demographic that would have used an electric fire in the bathroom had they so wished. In fact, they’d have put it in the bath to keep warm, suggests Lee. As a final contribution, his nan exclaims, “They’ve banned Christmas, Stew!” In Lee’s version of this triumph of the woke brigade, visitors to the Pallasades shopping centre in Birmingham are no longer regaled with Christmas carols playing over the tannoy, but instead are subjected to the phrase “Hail Satan!” repeated over and over and enjoined to “piss in the eyes of the infant Christ!”

At last, we reach the Sharknado reprise where Alan Bennett makes a welcome reappearance, for it seems that he has written a new play in which Sharknado is relocated to Dewsbury and Leeds! As he reaches the conclusion of his narration, Lee berates an unfortunate member of the audience for leaving moments before the climax.

The show then draws to a close with a story about Lee being bitten by a false widow spider, only to meet a man with a false leg at the doctor’s surgery who has also been bitten by a false widow. He’s about to introduce the wife of the man with the false leg when the anecdote peters out.

He then follows this up with three Boris Johnson jokes, which essentially use the same material, musing on the fact that Johnson happens to be the real mayor of London, not a clown mayor, which means that Ken Livingston is not the real mayor, locked away in a shipping container. Move forward a few years and he uses exactly the same language when Johnson is appointed Foreign Secretary and then later becomes Prime Minister. As a final flourish, fake snow falls while Lee plays acoustic guitar and sings a song about being a snowflake, in other words an individual with a sensitive nature.

All in all, the Darlington show was a thoroughly entertaining evening for those who like that sort of comedy. I understand you can catch a version of Snowflake Tornado, filmed in York, on the BBC sometime in the autumn of this year.

A Fish Rots From The Head
Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

A Fish Rots From The Head

Published in Poetry

A Fish Rots From The Head: A Poetic and Political Wake is a flash anthology of poetry and artwork, by around 100 poets and artists from England, Scotland and Wales. It expresses the fury and betrayal felt by working people about the leadership of this country – the mendacity, selfishness, corruption, smears on opponents and disregard for the general public shown by leading figures in the Johnson government.

This collection of images, parodies, rants, squibs, and full-on poems, put together in less than three weeks, is just part of a tide of satire now sweeping across Britain. It challenges, satirizes, despairs, and even dares to laugh at the venal moral hypocrisy of our leaders, whose malignant mixture of callousness and ineptitude has never made life so hard, in so many ways, for so many working people in this country. Through its demonstration of compassion for the suffering of others, and its protest against wrongdoing by those in high office, this collection of poems and artworks provides a very necessary space and inspiration for solidarity and resistance. Let's hope the removal vans come soon!

A slightly amended second edition of the book is now available below, following over 800 downloads of the first edition. Feel free to download it and share with your friends and networks. You are also free to make a donation towards our costs, as much as you like, using this button or the button below:

We are also hosting an online launch event on the 20th March, see here.

A Fish Rots from the Head: A Poetic and Political Wake, is selected and edited by Rip Bulkeley, ISBN 978-1-912710-45-4

Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28


Published in Poetry


by Jim Mainland

See yun whit’s-is-name,
Jacob Rees Morgue?
Weel, him.
Wha does he pit dee a mind o?
Lang face, sleekit doon hair?
Stick a toothbrush tache on da upper lip…
See it noo?
A stretched oot version?

An his pal, Jobbo –
tak awaa da hair
an he’s da spittin image
o da idder fellow.
Kinda roond an bombastic,
aye makkin an erse o himsel?
An aye keen ta dismantle
wir ‘democratic structures’?

It’s no sae far-fetched, believe me.

Dey aa thowt ta begin wi da first twa
wis joost a pair o hermless fules.

Sunday, 21 April 2024 09:28

Rule Britannia and the shameful arrogance of right-wing class politics

Published in Music

Stuart Cartland criticises the jingoistic response to the BBC's decisions about Rule Britannia. 

If as a nation we are to be serious about addressing racism and legacies of oppression then the recent furore about the possibility of dropping Rule Britannia from the BBC's Last Night of the Proms is a very serious indication of how little change has been made and how far we have to go.

Let’s be absolutely clear here, a song that glorifies empire and the systematic subjugation of millions of people should not just be viewed as outdated and distasteful but instead as shameful. Indeed, it should be viewed much as Deutschland Über Allës is viewed within Germany, the outrageous racial connotations it implies and the shameful nationalistic context it is from.

The problem here is that those on the right have always viewed Britain and its related traditionalism as being an exception. Empire and colonialism are part of the very qualities that many conservatives and nationalists are proud and boastful of however this jingoistic facade is untenable especially as these very qualities directly include the slave trade and the annihilation of millions of subjugated peoples around the world who were in the vast majority had brown skin.

Again, Rule Britannia is not just an outdated, ill-fitting song for the twenty-first century that jingoistic nationalists and traditiono-philes might point to when imagining a sense of a mythical past of British greatness, it is a song that actually refers to slavery, this is within the context of the pioneering world slave trading nation – Great Britain! This is ‘not just a song’ a ‘bit of pomp’ or harmless, this is a cultural and political barometer. 

Of course, this has been an absolute boon to the right-wing press and the political populism of political-correctness-gone-mad. However what this does is actually uncover how the mainstream right and Tory types like Boris Johnson really feel in terms of a cultural reckoning in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, beyond any superficial tokenistic slogans and PR induced platitudes.

Indeed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson publicly stated in response that:

it’s time we stopped our cringing embarrassment about our history, about our traditions, about our culture, and we we stopped this general fight of self-recrimination and wetness.

Of course it is easy for him to make these crass claims when it is his sense of tradition, culture and history under the spotlight – but this is partly the point. This shameful arrogance of class and racially based identity politics, situated within a history or exploitation, subjugation and a misplaced sense of glory and pride, is woefully outdated and shameful – but also deeply offensive.

It shows how much of Britain is still unwilling to fully comes to terms with the reality of empire and move away from the tired and inadequate conservative right-wing narrative of pomp and glory.

If we are to be serious in confronting social and cultural oppression in its many forms, then what better way start than confronting a sense of self-inflated nationalistic sense of arrogance and entitlement. Of course, the problem being here is that these are exactly the qualities of those who are in power in this country and those that are controlling the narrative on this very issue. Until then songs that glorify empire, subjugation and oppression will have a place in twenty-first century Britain.

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