Archive for April, 2010


The Lenin Statue, the new FSB (aka Cheka, NKVD, KGB) HQ  and a new church supported, in part, by Mars pet foods. ©SCES 2000

The Lenin Statue, the new FSB (aka Cheka, NKVD, KGB) HQ and a new church supported, in part, by Mars pet foods. ©SCES 2000

We remembered the newsreels with Uncle Joe

aka Koba the only one in grey,

so expected a black and white city.

But the colours astound us, beguile.

From our apartment – which used to be bugged –

we overlook what used to be October Square.

The monumental bronze statue –  of Lenin, V.I.,

with assorted comrade soldiers and sailors set to march,

by Gorky Park, over the Crimea Bridge,

toward the Kremlin – is intact.

In May, parties of veterans queue to see Lenin

(erstwhile Ulyanov, V.I.) preserved.

Behind the Mausoleum, in the garden

of remembrance, is a bust of Stalin

(erstwhile Djugashvili, J.V.). Always,

fresh roses surround it. However,

in the Sculpture Park, the Great Helmsman,

in red granite, has had his nose knocked off.

Putin (sic), V.V. is crowned in the Tzar’s Cathedral,

the Annunciation.  The double-headed eagle flies.

Like his forebears, he takes the salute in Red Square.

They are all dressed up in the uniforms

of the Great Patriotic War – and the troops

(not a tenor  amongst them) greet their  little C in C

with the time dishonoured and oh

so genuinely moving: “Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!”

Sometimes, that spring, when we opened the windows,

we thought we smelled tundra, sea and ice.

Opposite the Lenin statue, outside the Metro,

an elderly woman, in a worn, quilted coat,

sold wild hyacinths. We did not understand

the price.  She fluttered her hand above her heart.

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A skyline as idiosyncratic

as Manhattan’s,  Chicago’s – its totems

of wealth, faith and dominion – belies

the city’s cruelty: fortunes from famine,

despotism, slavery; licensing

of squalor, bigotry and despair.

In the park where the Orange Lodge drummed out

The Twelfth, a rape was immediate headlines –

white girl, black youths. In Toxteth – its decayed

squares and terraces built on molasses

and cotton, some street signs repainted green,

gold, red, the colours of Rastafari –

was daubed, ‘Vote ANC’.

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‘Two bald men fighting over a comb…’ José Luis Borges

Almost always, winds blew – over heath and sheep.

Seas swelled southward – to ice, minerals.

Mapped, the islands seemed like green spume: a tattered

standard blown west. That bleak solitude

was Arthur Ransome country – The Camp,

Tumbledown Mountain – naive, single minded,

like the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck…

Larger than Greenland, smaller than India,

Argentina did not exist. Beyond

the cricket pitches was a wilderness

imagined, and illusive Indians

– ersatz Europe: anti-semitism

without chamber music.

HMS Ineludible sailed south,

Ward Room loud with rugby songs and Mess Deck

with obscenity. The glass was falling

and we were united in delusion.

The oligarchy of the point-to-point,

the clubhouse autocrats – stalking, for

decades, the welfare state – was seeking now

its last refuge. (Donkeys braying again

at the Menin Gate). Demagogues and

dockside farewells touched – a nation’s wishful,

seductive balm – like rhyming ‘liberty’

with ‘country’, ‘duty’, ‘butchery’. There were

real wounds and they festered.

And afterwards, on fenced-off heath, HMG

buried abandoned Argentine corpses

in some corner of andsoforth. Each cross

was patriotism’s benchmark: rejection

in defeat, in victory, a dutiful

compassion – or propaganda? Dead ground

marked the frontier between humanity

and cant. Widows from Rio Negro, mothers

from Buenos Aires were unlikely

to visit or invade.

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Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is

somehow very ‘Thirties: lots of chaps in

the dark behind high walls; much shadow-play

with unidentifiable voices;

belated, blinding suddenness of light.

The decade’s putative worthies (who all,

by the way, seem to have been chaps) go forth

unknowingly in parallel: e.g.

Hitler in Berchtesgarten, Wittgenstein

(Adolf’s erstwhile peer from Linz) in Cambridge.

Did Wittgenstein walk with Blunt, Philby,

Burgess and Maclean as the fifth man?

Meanwhile, elsewhere at Trinity College,

A.E. Housman tutored Enoch Powell: two

classicist lads from the West Midlands – and

the land of lost and wistful laddishness.

Our Enoch giving chase

Our Enoch giving chase

Our Enoch  – the wife’s second cousin twice

removed – although he always acted the

philosopher-king, indeed believed it,

in Parliament, in uniform, in the

groves of academe – appeared to labour,

tormented, in the dark, poor soul. Always

a solitary, he was chained to the

metaphysics of empire, protocol

and tribe: from the ‘Rivers of blood’ to ‘No

Surrender!’, preferring voluntary

exile to certain public failure. Yet,

see how, the fluent theme has become a

continuo – ‘influx’, ‘deluge’, ‘flood’, how

his acolytes have grown, like dragon’s teeth,

loquacious prisoners in Powell’s teeming,

booming cave of phantasmagoria.

18th century phantasmagoria

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For Mark Chapman, PPC

So well is our real government concealed, that if you tell a cabman to drive to ‘Downing Street’ he most likely will never have heard of it…It is only a ‘disguised republic’, which is suited to such a being as the Englishman in such a century as the nineteenth.


HM’s Garden Parties turn the Bagehot trick,

showing GB as it really, really is:

the Law, the Cloth, clerks, hacks, uniforms,

diplomats, local government officers

and the odd charity bod – some wearing gloves!

Strangely, though there are two regimental bands,

there aren’t enough chairs, the ice cream runs out

and so many guests leave early – out

into London’s levelling traffic.

Fresh from the slaughter at Culloden,

the Duke of Cumberland’s men created

Virginia Water, a little bit

of highland wilderness in Surrey

– the land, a gift from the Duke’s grateful dad,

Her Present Majesty’s great-great-great-

granddad, for stuffing the Scots for good.

And it’s still in the family – with all

those acres and paintings and pottery,

liveries and lackeys, vanity and greed.

How well they obscure where real power lies!

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