An unseasonal mist hung at eye-level.
“Black cabs are everywhere now,” you said,
Staring vapidly at the one before us at the traffic lights.
“Not just London, and I’m not
Sure how I feel about that.
One of the many corruptions of Globalisation.”
With a curve of the neck, a roll of the eyes.
“Do you think if the country votes Leave
Tonight, the Black Cabs will be called
Back to being a thing of London?
Do you think that’s what they want, the Leavers?”
“I doubt it,” you said, “but the metaphor
is a powerful one.”
Those eyes again, sarcastic this time.
“Do you think the French will want
their baguettes back?” I said.
Such innocent times.
The door opened like a grin.
The voices and golden light within
Made it difficult to keep the ideas
Of time and place close to mind;
Everything was of a swirl,
Time back, time front, time as tool.
Timid, was the word you used,
Under your breath as you perused
The other guests and the layout of the place.
We walked through the hallway into the light,
You slinked your cardigan off your shoulders.
At the last party, the Scottish Referendum party,
They handed out badges, they asked
You on the door: are you for Liberty
Or Servitude? But that wasn’t
This party; that was two streets down.
That night’s host was here too,
Another academic in the village of the damned,
Still smarting, hoping for a UKIP
Army to deliver him an ugly reprisal.
You cocked your wine glass at him,
And he dipped his head back.
So many curious gestures;
A study in itself.
“I like his jacket,” I said; “I’ve been
Looking for a corduroy jacket. In Brown.”
“I don’t believe that is at the forefront
Of your mind,” you said. “You’re right,” I said.
“I’m nervous and when I’m nervous I talk about
other people’s jackets.
Tell me about the badges.”
“Even then it was a strange theatre,
Splitting us up the way they did. YES
And NO. The efforts of a corduroy
Academic to stir debate, like a parlour
Game, like throwing car keys into a fruit bowl
And matching up the salivators.”
“What if you didn’t care and only
Turned up for the wine?”
“It was heavily encouraged you take a side.
The funny thing was the YES badges
Were undersized, unreadable, malformed
Mockeries of the message they conveyed.
Feeble was the word and the word was YES.”
“Do you think it had an influence on
the result?” “It couldn’t have helped,” you said.
The food – the spread – was multicultural.
Small “m”, small “c”;
Pastry-wrapped insurgents of exotic rarities
Purchased by the armful from a high end highstreet
Supermarket, the waft of light panic and cardboard
Coming down from the world foods aisle.
“Is the wine a selection from around the continent?” I said.
“The continent as it still stands now, tonight, before
The votes are counted. European for the Remainers – a confident
Range of sweet German, effusive Bulgarian and nutty Italian?
And wine from the peat bogs of Norfolk for the Leavers?”
“I don’t think there are many of that sort here,” you said,
An air of disappointment to your voice; your lust for balance tempered
By your generosity of wit. You moved toward
A group huddled at a table in the corner, as I considered
What I had just said. Are there even peat bogs in Norfolk?
Am I qualified to vote on matters of our European future
When I know so little about my own country?
“Badges would have been good here,” I caught up to you.
“Leave spiraled into the rings of a spitfire wing, Remain
Tattooed onto the outstretched arm of an SS uniform.”
There is a delicate balance to getting the message right.
There were complaints in the Scottish Referendum
That the Independence movement had the upper hand.
They had commandeered the word Yes,
The word that brought John and Yoko together,
The word that split up The Beatles.
You don’t get much more British than The Beatles.
For the Independence movement in the end
It didn’t work, the positive campaign fizzled
And swamped and Scotland stayed tethered.
We will wait and see if what the Unified Kingdom does next
Will be as culturally significant as what the Beatles
Might have done had they stayed as one.
“How do you think the Beatles would have reacted to punk?”
I said to a grey-eyed professor with an Iris Murdoch haircut.
“It is quite impossible to suppose such things,” Iris said.
“There are so many variables. What influences
Would have turned them on in the five years
Between their breakup and the birth of punk,
Or wherever you decide to put that on your counterfactual timeline?
Are you sure punk would have even happened?
Are you sure The Beatles would not have collapsed
All musical form as we know it? Brought Stockhausen
Into the mainstream, like they almost did with the modal music of India?”
She looked up at me with the concrete of purpose.
“I think they would have ridden the wave,” I said.
She left, the professor, excusing herself for the pull of the spread,
And my attempts at stirring revolution in the room stayed flat.
No wine here older than three years. But vintage
Is largely a myth, a marketing term for misremembered youth.
Trust you to have found the strangest corner,
The surrealist secret in the Dadaist diorama.
A conversation in German, French, and Welsh,
Conspiratorial and sublime, probably avoiding all clichés.
It seemed an inconvenience for them
To revert to English for you, and I often
Think of this ragtail roundtable of non-binary academics
Now, after the vote, that foreign languages
Are forbidden on public transport. They huddled
Then, by the sliding doors, and they huddle now
By candlelight somewhere, iron in the soul, awaiting
The great purge of intellectuals and the firing squads
In the snow. “Remember those modern language
Professors at the Referendum party,” you will say,
And I will say that I do. “None of them have been
Seen since Tuesday.” And I will not say
Because it will not be appropriate, given the rumours
Of death squads, “Has anybody checked to see
If they’re huddled by the sliding doors?”
But I will want to say that, because
The Brexiters may rob me of my hope,
And they may deprive me of my humanity,
Make woodchippings of my resolve,
But they will not take my sense of humour.
There used to be a time when folk would gather
Round the wireless for occasions such as this.
A monarch’s address, coronation, abdication,
A prime minister’s suicide note, the odd jubilee.
The flat screen was on the wall, above
The mantelpiece, hung like a portrait, I switched
My weight from foot to foot, the chairs
Taken up by an eminence of professors. One of them
Examined the TV at close quarters with characteristic
Inquiry, bending his neck in curiosity to see the bracket,
As if searching for a hidden safe – the drawing
Room intrigue would not end there. Another,
With a pleased look, said, “It appears
The writing is going to be on the wall.”
You were the only one in the room not to laugh.
We talked about having t-shirts made: Flat Screens are for Scroungers.
You see, it was a mood of relaxed optimism,
Of a future bounding with good, the future
Like a Labrador puppy unraveling a toilet roll.
We had congregated to celebrate our souls,
To celebrate our inevitable modern mature defeat of stupidity,
To celebrate love, culture, truth, liberalism.
And then Sunderland fell.
The corduroy Scot stood to your shoulder
And breathed wheezily into his highball of stout.
“This will get colourful from here on in,” he said.
Essays were birthed with whispers, a few declared
With thunder and the pop of dawning grief.
The party was over before it began.
There was nothing left to say, other than that
The rivers run into the sea,
That hevel would be the theme of the summer.
You dropped me at the corner of the park;
I felt a walk some way would bear meaning,
At least as gesture if not as carrier
Of some Damascan fruit. The last
I saw of you, a Dutch portrait in the window
Of the driver’s side, you quoted Shakespeare
At me, which was out of character in that it was consoling
As well as four hundred years outside
Your academic field. I took this as a sign
The rules had changed that night with immediate effect.
If there be nothing new, but that which is,
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled,
Which labouring for invention, bear amiss,
The second burden of a former child.
“The new world is the old world,” you said,
Helping me along. As you drove off
Into the night, I thought of the Dadaists again,
That they knew all those years ago,
In the golden years of European fascism,
That a society is most clearly defined by what
It throws away. It will be a summer of meaninglessness,
A year of meaninglessness,
And as I walked through the park,
And the sound of your car rippled into the night,
I knew that nobody would ever get what they want,
And every single thing that happens in the world
Will be fully loaded with meaninglessness.
Gary Raymond is a novelist, short story writer, critic, and lecturer in English and Creative Writing. As well as a regular voice in Wales Arts Review, Gary has written for The Guardian, Rolling Stone Magazine, is a theatre critic for The Arts Desk, and is a regular commentator on arts and culture for BBC Wales. In 2013, Gary published JRR Tolkien: A Visual Biography of Fantasy’s Most Revered Writer with Ivy Press, and his novel, For Those Who Come After, was published last year (Parthian Books).
Banner & Author Image: Copyright © Jo Mazelis, 2016.