Walking down Renshaw Street from ‘Rumpelstiltskin’
at the Unity then along Bold Street,
with its strolling crowds and varied eateries,
to Central Station, thinking of spinning gold
from straw, we pass beggars in doorways.
‘What are they doing?’ our granddaughter asks.
We explain. ‘Why don’t they get jobs?’ We explain.
My mother would tell me how, when she moved
to London before the war to be a nurse,
she was appalled by the rough sleepers
on the benches along the Thames Embankment.
In the depressed provinces presumably
there were enough workhouses to hide them.
There being no workhouses under Thatcher
and too few shelters they were everywhere
from twilight onwards, androgynous bundles
in the world’s fifth largest economy.
Now they have returned exactly like
their forebears in the largest empire since Rome’s.
They are dragon’s teeth. Where is our shame, our fear?
The gusts of wind, that fling the scattered rain
against the panes and flail the apple tree –
which jerks as if a frantic, shaken doll –
are lowing in the chimney like an owl.
I draw the blinds as the twilight goes,
switch on the laptop and begin to write,
thinking of those who are without – homeless,
hungry, thirsty – no more than a mile
let alone a continent away.
Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor, Idleness –
Beveridge’s gargantua – are alive,
well, and stalking in our city centres,
in run down estates with abandoned gardens,
in bed-and-breakfasts in cul-de-sac towns
with shut-up shops and rusting factories.
Spin as we may, stamp as we might, marvels
and wonders outsmart facts. ‘The needy
and the poor have only themselves to blame,’
say the sassy and the rich. Our consciences
have fallen among thieves.