Lies, economy with the verite and statistics

Governments, managers, advisors and consultants think like this.


George spends on average one and a half minutes a day putting on and taking off shoes and other footwear.


Over a year this amounts to nine hours, seven and a half minutes. That’s without allowing for the extra one and a half minutes in a leap year. So add on a third of that one and a half and in the average year, the time used up is nine hours, eight minutes. That’s without considering time taken in maintenance activities such as cleaning shoes and clipping toenails.


Recommendation: cut one leg off, saving four hours, thirty-four minutes minimum.





I said I might put out something about titles – not Mr, Ms or Reverend, but the titling of poems. This is a problem for some poets. Somehow the relationship between the title and the content for a novel seems closer and more evident – probably wrongly, as novels are often given titles to get people to buy them, whereas the title of a poem will not be the title of a book unless you want it to be. On one of the LinkedIn discussion groups I belong to, there was quite a long discussion about poem titles – whether to use them at all and if you did, how to find one.


Some short poems for which a title doesn’t come naturally can be titled with the first line. I’ve done that sometimes. I know one poet who just numbers his poems. That seems to me to be missing a chance to use the title to good, though it is similar to the numbering of works of classical music (and when those classical orchestral works are given word titles, they often seem grandiloquent – Beethoven’s “Eroica”, Nielsen’s “Unextinguishable” symphony, a title which always suggest “Undistinguishable” to me: it’s the Fourth and I prefer his mysterious, ominous, triumphant Fifth.


If I think about some of the titles of other people’s poems I most admire, most of them seem pretty straightforward: Ode to a Nightingale, The Wreck of the Deutschland, The Wild Swans at Coole, or the often long and chatty, but informative, titles used by the Metaphysical poets. Some are less obvious – for example Louis MacNeice’s “The Wiper” and “Bagpipe Music”. The former does concentrate on a wiper on a  car windscreen, but the poem is more about the car’s journey through night rain (and about our journey through life to death) than about the wiper merely. The latter? I’m not really sure why it has that title. There are Scottish references in it, but perhaps it’s supposed to be a song that could be accompanied by the bagpipes. Maybe someone knows? It’s a very pointed, funny and wry poem anyway, with those fantastic lines “The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall forever/ But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.” It sounds even better in a Northern Irish accent.


And Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” and “Byzantium”? Without the title, the second poem anyway might not be related to Byzantium, but Yeats’ Byzantium is more a fantasy world full of meaning than a historical empire. For the importance of titles, though, note that “Sailing to Byzantium” was originally titled “Byzantium”, but Yeats felt he hadn’t reached a satisfactory conclusion, just made progress on the way – to the second poem -so the new title was highly significant.


Some titles, then, direct your attention to a key part of the poem, or work as a kind of clue to a puzzle. Above all, whatever the title does – IT’S PART OF THE POEM.


This discussion has made me just a bit uneasy that many of my own titles are clever-clever, unnecessarily obscure. Let’s look at a few, obviously with the whole poem, so keeping the choice to shortish poems. Here goes.



Riding a jet-black steed
In snow-white armour clad
He aims for noble deed
In war of good on bad

He seeks the Holy Grail
In purity of thought
No failing on the trail
Will have him lured and caught

He’ll sacrifice his life
Or any other’s too
The outcome of the strife
Depends on being true

And noticing the stain
From some unlucky beast
Or villager’s loud pain
Would shamefully have creased

His shining banner and cause
So quickly he rides on
Ruled by his Order’s laws
But where the light has shone

It travels not with him
And all his noble death
It stays on blood and skin
Impure and loving breath 24



It is indeed about a knight in shining armour, on the face of it, so this title is quite straightforward, though of course the knight stands for anyone who is ruthless in the pursuit of high ideals, particularly of purity.



The queen has made a laurel wreath
For the new champion to wear
So he will not grow old and weak

The whisper of the brittle leaves
Is of a people falling down
And of a king that cannot breathe

The blue-black sloes have gathered round,
The blackberry and scarlet hip
They twine about the king’s own crown

Inside the castle nothing moves
The guests are frozen to the walls
And spears of ice hang from the roof

The withered wreath has taken root
And pressing through the embroidered cloth
Will resurrect the warmth and doubt.


It seems to me this case is rather similar to “The Wiper”. The sloes (fruits of the wild plum known as Blackthorn) are part of the poem, but I choose to draw attention to it.



I don’t say it’s a long way home
Because I don’t know home exists.
Wandering in forests, confused by mists,
I’ve heard that all roads lead to Rome:

Maybe that legend is a lie
And all roads lead to a silent shore;
But memories of a light, a door
Suggest there was a home, but why

The road to it will always twist
And turn away and run instead
Towards the city of powerful dead
I cannot say, but having missed

No pointing tree or flying crow,
No sudden cold or smear of blood,
No reddening sunset, opening bud,
Maybe I’ve found the home I know.

But carving on a rotten log
Tells of an easy way to rest
While still the broken branch points west
Over the river blurred in fog.


I’d say this title is similar to “Sailing to Byzantium”. My Rome is not the Rome of Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, not exactly, and not the Rome of the Vatican either, but more of a state of spirit which I characterise with reference to those two Italian Romes. But the title is a key part of the poem, hopefully helping with a fairly obscure poem.



A gentle soup is around you
You belong to a circle and beat
At an alarm you struggle
In time of peace you sleep

Now the world is warped by a warlike
Beat from a tunnel of change
And the light at the end of the tunnel
Is the light of an oncoming train

But if you can grab a handrail
Hold on to the train if you can
For the scenery’s into this world, and
You won’t get a ticket again


Now that was naughty. The “coming out” is not at all about revealing one’s sexuality, but about birth, which is, though, of course a “coming out”. Did I mean to cause brief puzzlement? To catch attention? Can’t remember.



Nobody gave me a choice
Of where I’d like to be born
Nobody set me a test
Nor asked me to swear allegiance
To a fixed smile in a dress

I feel as Irish as Scottish
I’m English and Welsh in the blood
How could they accept me as British
Who’d trade in the crown for the mud?


Obvious, straightforward, OK? It’s a thoughtful, irreverent poem about British nationality and my identity.



It will not be all new when we meet again
The blood will still be on the old stone steps
The man at the corner will still be glancing after
The drunken girl who retches beyond the railings.

We recognise the smears, you and I
We know the use of bleach on the grimy standard
Will wreck it beyond loving, and the raising
Of a pure standard is a call to killing.

But where the stray cat wolfs the fallen burger,
Where up the bloodstained steps you come by night
There is the cancer that will grow and scatter
The knowing of the dark, the love of light.



That’s less obvious. It refers to the start of the poem, the first line. The message of the poem, I suppose, is that things won’t be perfect but can get better and that grime and retching (as metaphors and as specifics) are part of life. Sounds trite now, doesn’t it? In my mind the title refers among other things to the idealism of the radicals of the English Civil War and Commonwealth with their bible quote “Behold, we are making all things new.”


I’d better stop there, because I’m churning out loads of words and just asking you to look at the first one or two. I’m somewhat reassured about my own titles, though.



Patient Pathway


The patient pathway now for Mr Edwards

Is on to a trolley down that long corridor

And into the morgue. With improved direction management

Attainment of his aspirational journey goal

Is 98.6%. After that there is a handover

And, being task-oriented, we move on

As, indeed, Mr Edwards does.

It used to be thought, by the way,

That he would be taken to the banks of a river

Or triaged for his final destination,

But we don’t think that way now.

Off he goes.


copyright Simon Banks 2014

An unseasonal poem


Well, the whole New Year mythology pretty much leaves me cold: 1st January 2014 is the day after 31st December 2013 and the next day is 2nd January 2014. By the way, most computers seem to try very hard to impose the American date system, which is bafflingly illogical: a date consisting of day, month, year is a combination of three measurements of which the day is the most specific and the year the most general, so there are two logical ways of presenting it – day, month, year or year, month, day. We Brits do it the first way. Americans set it out as month, day, year – a bit like an address going Bristol Road, 97, Gloucester.

That rant over – on to the next one. Supermarkets have many advantages, but the busy crowds and the noise (including tinny music too loud) make me want to get out of most of them as soon as possible. Over the Christmas period the music is dominated by a few Christmas songs we’ve been hearing dozens of times in a few days and in the rare event the song seemed good to start with, it sounds horribly trite the twelfth time. It’s interrupted by an announcement that starts by wishing shoppers a happy/merry Christmas before immediately suggesting they buy a lot of stuff on special offer. I suspect I’m not the only one to mouth something not very polite – not because I lack a positive attitude towards Jesus Christ, pagan midwinter festivals, wine, whisky and Christmas pudding (this ignorant spellcheck objects to WHISKY, which is the only correct spelling for the Scottish or Welsh stuff, and wants to change it to whiskey, fine if I was talking about the Irish drink) but because I sniff an intention of equating happiness and goodwill with buying their products, specifically the ones they’d hoped to shift days earlier.

So – am I a Scrooge? Judge for yourself (but the final decision is mine: after all, I take full responsibility for myself).


Merry Christmas, shoppers!

As usual there are brilliant special offers

Why not try…

Why not cry

The tinny music’s loud enough to drown, don’t fear,

An inconvenient noise amid Christmas cheer.

His Dark Refreshments


Here’s another old poem I haven’t posted before. This one is not very serious and it’s based on the experience of half-hearing an indistinct announcement on the public address system at a train station. Most of the announcements are rather indistinct and it’s easy to mishear. The language of these announcements is very stereotyped and stilted: for example, for example, passengers always “alight”, not “get off”. If you’ve got an imagination like mine, even if you guess it correctly, you toy with things you could have misheard it as. That’s what happens in this poem. There are references to Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials”.




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The next train to arrive on platform three

Will be the 9:07 to Liverpool Street

Cold snacks and light refreshments there will be

Available on this train


The next train to arrive on platform three

Will be the 9.07 to Liverpool Street

Hot slacks and slight refreshments there will be

Available on this train


The next train to arrive on platform three

Will be the seventh to a Liverpool tree

Hot snacks and dark refreshments there will be

Available down the drain


Provided by our dedicated staff

Of maddened macho bears, with great aplomb

And custard. In First Class there are installed

Facilities for gods to start a war


Or video conference while eating lunch.

The dragon next appearing on platform three

Will carry your liver up a poplar tree

Gold sacks and snide detachment there will be

Available in the rain. 

Now on the mystery lines: the last one was by William Blake and the clue “Innocent? Or experienced?” related to his “Songs of Innocence and Experience”.

Next one:

She dreams a little, and she feels the dark

Encroachment of that old catastrophe,

As a calm darkens among water-lights.

CLUE: Braveheart writing in the woods.

The Smiling Fox

How full of smiley faces our world is.

Advertisements sometimes amaze me.


Some are clever and amusing. We come across so many in the U.K. advertising no-win, no-fee lawyers for personal injury cases, that I had to laugh when football and acting hardman Vinnie Jones introduced an advert with “Had a work-related accident recently? Be more careful.” Mind you, I have no recollection of what the advert really was for.

A well-known beer is advertised with figures of smiling foxes dressed in human clothes. The beer is excellent, by the way. But this kind of representation of animals is very common, and not just for children. We show animals smiling and speaking when we’re selling their meat. Foxes are hunted. I’ve seen several representations of foxes as huntsmen. This is not a post against meat-eating or even hunting, but there is something in the psychology of showing a victim smiling that makes me curious. Here’s a poem about this.


The figure is of a standing fox,

Smiling, in huntsman’s jacket and cap.

The bloody hunt is turned to laughter.

The fox can ride, the fox can talk,

The pink pig smiles above the pork,

The smiling baby needs a nappy,

We should all buy, and will be happy.

The guards on the computer screen

Were much too slow, and they have been.

We zap the losers, keep a score,

The country’s power’s the country’s law.

The fox can ride, the fox can talk,

The pink pig smiles above the pork,

The smiling baby needs a nappy,

We should all buy, and will be happy.

The soil is falling from the rocks,

the wood is crumbling from the sap,

And what was now, and what is after?

The fox can ride, the fox can talk,

The pink pig smiles above the pork.

The smiling baby needs a nappy.

We should all buy, and will be happy.


Copyright Simon Banks 2013

Book Review: Will Self, “The Butt”

No, this is not pornography or a learned American treatise on the gluteus maximus. The butt is a cigarette butt. The book is a kind of dark if sometimes funny fantasy, but with the realistic elements stronger than in much fantasy. Apparently it’s won a humorous writing prize. I didn’t laugh a lot, but it is very well written.

The story starts with Tom, a middle-aged tourist in an imaginary country, deciding to give up smoking and throwing the butt of his last cigarette from his hotel balcony. Unfortunately it lands on the head of an old bald man below and medical complications follow. It turns out that the old man, though an “Anglo”, had by marriage become a member of a tribe whose traditional law was based on the idea that nothing happens by chance – so whatever ill the old man suffers, Tom is fully responsible.

Will Self is a British columnist on a British paper, so I initially assumed Tom was British, but a few things such as a mention of a “cell phone” in his conversation with his country’s honorary consul made me think he was American. After a while that didn’t seem to quite fit either. Tom is from an English-speaking rich country with a Western culture, but we’re never told which. We’re never told his job either, just some of his family relationships, which include a marriage which seems to be struggling and a withdrawn, computer-game-obsessed son.

The country they’re in is a strange mixture. “Anglos” are one ethnic group among many. The law of the land incorporates various traditional tribal laws. It’s fervently anti-smoking except that some tribes in the hinterland allow smoking. There is an insurgency going on in the hinterland but most people seem to ignore it or take it for granted. It isn’t a realistic land, but if you suppress disbelief in the original premises, things follow quite credibly.

The case against Tom goes on and on. The rest of his family go home. Tom finds himself having to journey into the interior, into the area of the insurgency, to pay reparations, guided by messages from his local lawyer and the honorary consul (neither of whom he trusts), a fellow offender called Prentice and a wordy anthropological tome by a German father and son duo.

Some of the physical description – of scenery, of illness, of squalour – is altogether brilliant. Self also handles descriptions of violent death in a way which emphasises the pointlessness and gracelessness of it. Various strange things happen which make Tom – and the reader – wonder if things are really as they seem. As with a detective story, we start to look for clues to some hidden motif. There is indeed one, and it’s clever and nasty.

I have to stay vague to avoid giving too much away, but the thinking behind the book is strong on philosophy. The politics is totally incredible – some things just wouldn’t work – but I said you needed to suspend disbelief.

The blurb said the book would grip me. It didn’t, though I was interested. I think the reason why I stayed detached was that I couldn’t quite believe either in Tom or in the country he was stuck in. The fantasy fell somewhere between the total fantasy of, say, Gormenghast and a realistic if unlikely thriller. But the bigger problem was Tom. He was a credible character – a little self-centred, mainly well-intentioned, decidedly passive – but I’d have liked to have a real nationality for him, a home, a profession. After all, he has to stay ages in the country and he’s worried about money yet we’re never told if his absence means he’s lost his job. He could have been more grounded and realistic and then his stepping into nightmare would have meant more.

The Master of the Atmosphere




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You may recognise some phrases in this poem that are shared with “We have Changed War”. I suppose it’s taking the ominous irony of that poem a bit further to imagine (or how far is it real?) a power that pretends to the reach and rectitude of God. Is that power external, or do we participate in it? Is it the limitless power of Man (humankind) and should Man’s power be unlimited?

Some phrases are borrowed from religious, especially biblical, sources – for example, “there will be no more sea”.



I am the master of the atmosphere

Here in a glass case

Is the stuffed falcon that rivalled me.

I plan the growing of the trees.


I can tell you what you will want to buy

I can enslave the free and tell them why they’re happy

I am the ever-watching beacon.


When I have tidied up the awkward interface

Between the land and sea, an inconvenient place

There will be no more sea but what I make to flow

Truth is what I make it. I make history.


If out beyond the reaches of the last gaseous particles

Another law, another pattern rules, another right

We’ll soon change that. This is the longest day

But after day comes night.

Copyright Simon Banks 2013


We Have Changed War



“We have changed war,” she said

“No longer push of pike,

The intimate connection by a hooked iron blade.

We can destroy our enemies on computer screens

They look like simulations of human beings

Until they are wiped out

We make our own truth, we make history.”

How truth got in the programmes is a mystery.


If poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world, maybe that’s why you keep on finding the same old things recycled over and over again


For a while I was reposting some poems already on this blog with a bit more discussion or explanation. Then, because I was posting two or more often three of these poems at once, I found myself catching up with the first posts of poems. So I stopped the reposting. Now the gap has widened enough and I’m going back to it. Here’s three old poems.


If you are short of a principle

Or two or three or more

Principles for Men will fit you out

They won’t be demanding

You won’t have to shout

Or break the law

If you’re inclined to change your mind

If the conclusions it has come to

Aren’t for you

Go to the MIND shop, it’s no bind,

Address the crew

And say “I want to change my mind.”

If your account is in the red

The creditors in ambush wait

To Body Shop repair

Say “Out of stock – or am I wrong?”

In the van over there

I’ve got six bodies for a song!”

If something seems a little flat

A little empty

Don’t worry. Tesco’s is at hand

Seek out computer games and shoes

Join the happy band

There used to be just booze.

This is a wry look at “consumerism” – maybe it should be called “producerism”, or better, “vendorism”, always pelting us with messages to buy something. It’s also playing with words. PRINCIPLES is a clothing store for women and the male-oriented version is PRINCIPLES FOR MEN. But that sounds as if the shop is selling principles, presumably tailored to fit individual consumers: “here’s three principles just right for you sir – sound good and not too demanding.”

MIND is the U.K.’s biggest national mental health charity, so a GOOD THING, but one way they raise funds is through second-hand shops called MIND shops. I can never pass one without thinking that should mean they sell minds – and presumably you could go in there and change your mind.

Body Shop is a leading ethical business that sells skincare and other body care products. It does not, as far as I know, sell bodies, but that’s what the name suggests.

Tesco’s is the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain, known for its aggressive approach to local councils which decline to approve planning permission for a new Tesco’s superstore.

There’s nothing very deep here, but you may deduce some resistance from me to marketing messages. If you are an advertising worker – try harder – or give up.



Here between the tumbled stones was the door:

Tired men passed seeking warmth, hot broth or a spade

Woman with a sickly baby in hope

The occasional visitor for a dram and stories.

Now the tourist wanders inside

The wet wind flails without a whimper.


They eat a little slowly, staring a short way ahead

To the battle they will lose tomorrow.

Each man prepares to do his job

The hidden guest at the meal is hungry.


The Beast was last here eighty years ago

That is the print of its foot in the crushed house

It has returned a hundred times, they say;

Your office is to be prepared and wait.

These drawings ought to help:

This one is by the man who saw it last

This reproduction of a temple frieze

Is thought to be the oldest: all the others

Are in between. I’m sure you’ll notice

Nothing is common to them but the size

And a certain presence. Maybe you’ll spend your life

Waiting for an enemy that never comes

And maybe for an enemy that comes.


I saw her turn a corner from the alley

At that old inn she left a note on the board

I thought I heard her when the rainstorm rattled

The window sashes and the wood outside

Chattered and sang to the rhythm of the rain.


The man I think you know took us into the room

I happened to pass a mirror, turned and looked

And saw an old man with a bloodstained baby

But when I wanted to show it to someone else

Instead a woman was singing very quietly.

The doors when opened led to other doors

The drawers pulled out to infinite other drawers

You sought an explanation but the man had gone

And then we couldn’t agree his height, his age,

If he was bald, the colour of his jacket

And if he ever was there at all

And then you did not know me any more

And I did not know you except as a light

I had seen seeping under a door on a dark night.


I am alive in the stone field

We are the rising of the moss

On fallen stones that lie like the last army;

Hint of salt in the wind over sandpaper desert

Light in the dark, dark in the light will nestle

Something in the fallen leaves rustle

Though they begin to rot; in the black lake

Stars are revealed; the star-warm sky

Rises to meet us, to repair the break.

A very different poem here – serious and mystical. Crofts are the traditional small dwellings of Scottish Highland farmers. I start by wondering about the people who lived in the now ruined croft (nearly all of them are ruined now). Then I move to a scene of soldiers eating the night before a battle, a bit quietly because they know this may be their last full day. The hidden guest at the meal is Death. The next scene – GUARD – introduces a figure I’ve used several times, a mysterious destructive beast that appears periodically. The guard is trained to be ready for it, but the information about the beast is very vague and he knows he may well never meet the thing. For me this recalls among other things the end of Camus’ “La Peste” (The Plague) where he says the bacillus never dies and we always have to be ready for it. SHE introduces another recurring image, of the female figure always just ahead, leading on. The speaker is led. ENTRY describes a disintegration of understanding, of intellect maybe, of everyday certainty. It sounds a bit like “The Matrix” or “The Prisoner”, but also like confused old age. THREAD is the most lyrical stanza (or whatever these bits are). There is a series of images of decay, death, lack of life – a fallen army, stones, desert, dead leaves – but at every point life is reasserted and the tone is set by the first line – “I am alive in the stone field”. At the end a break is repaired.

Now the big question – what if anything unites these mini-poems? Sorry, I’m not sure, but they seem to hang together. They’re about life, death, duty, incomplete perception and rebirth.


The leaning tower pisser is abroad

So is not here. The bugs are all in bed

Recording everything the Inspector said

The bet had strings, but we have one accord

If I can pirouette around the fire

My foil-flash clothes may glint like real gold

Though I am spotted, I am not yet old

Perhaps the fiddle is the ultimate lyre

But if the clothes reflect the dying light

And if the flames have fallen into charred

Parodic branches, there is one more card:

The glow is in the dark, the dark is bright.

And finally another humorous one with a serious message (but don’t let that put you off: the serious message is detachable and you can add another of your choice). The poem works through a series of puns and double entendres: the Leaning Tower of Pisa/ someone pissing from a leaning tower; something is abroad (it’s got out, it’s around)/ it’s abroad, so not in this country; bugs as insects/ bugs as recording devices; the bugs are in bed (they’re not asleep – they’re bed bugs); the bet had strings = conditions, qualifications, commitments attached/ strings in the literal sense, punning with cord in accord; I am spotted (= I am seen)/ I am spotted in my skin as a sign of age; fiddle as musical intrument/ fiddle as fraud or deceit; lyre as musical instrument/ liar. But there’s something frenetic about the desperate joking: I want my foil-flash clothes to be gold, but they aren’t. I’m trying to postpone the inevitable. But while the fire that makes my clothes glint is dying, new light is emerging in the darkness.

That’s it, folks… for three days or so.

All posts copyright Simon Banks.