#109 Clowning Around In Camden Town

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Phone video footage is circulating of an altercation between police and a young black male car driver in North London.

It’s ridiculous – the fresh-faced police officer acting like a juvenile delinquent, except the term itself’ s too old for his tender years.

First pulling at the car window then hitting it; stepping back screeching before taking his truncheon to the windscreen.

A dozen blows to smash about a quarter of the screen; a tantrum that shocks because it’s bathetic.

And all because the kid behind the wheel won’t get out of the car; ‘kid’ because the 25-year-old driver who’s locked in and refusing to come out, still contrives to speak youth so the grown-ups can’t comfortably understand.

He needn’t have bothered. On this showing, the adult world just isn’t there to hear him.

Never mind misread him.

#108 Thinking Behind Mindless Killing

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

The Catholic church around the corner is dedicated to a Portuguese peasant girl whose visions of the Virgin Mary prompted the following declaration of her faith:

My God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love you. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love you.

These words are addressed not only to God himself, nor are they simply an intercession on behalf of those who lack faith in him; the girl’s prayer is also a personal statement of her self-belief.

Our Father who art no more nor ever was.

They would say that, wouldn’t they? I mean the teenagers who’ve been hanging round The Stow, the post-war shopping precinct in Harlow, chalking up plentiful police reports of anti-social behaviour (month after month, and for so long the original cohort must have moved on and grown up by now).

Surely they would say something like this, if disposed to speak of the faith and the self-belief that’s been disposed of (behind their backs, without them knowing, despite them trying to appear all-knowing all the time).

Are you kidding? Is this a gang of juvenile Kierkegaards, struggling for belief in a God of Uncertainty. Nothing could be further from theological discourse than the killing of 40-year-old Polish factory worker, Arkadiusz ‘Arek’ Jozwik, who died in hospital two days after he went out for takeaway pizza….and took a blow to the head instead. The only Sorens are the ones who were arrested.

Or, maybe that’s how they vented it – their aggravated sense of loss, and hating themselves for failing to locate, locate, locate anything other than their own paltry existence.

Chunky chap, low centre of gravity – can’t have been a complete pushover. Four years in the meat factory since he came over from Poland, whereas you’re not sure you’d last four minutes before running a mile.

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# Pointing Towards Syria

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Honey on the elbow – try sucking and you’ll see.

Though even this prospect ‘s worth more than you or me.

Yet we are here, present and correct, while peace in Syria’ s

But a sweet smear; a smudge on the lens of war-past-war.

Was it ever thus? Is this still politics continued by other means?

In Geneva the protagonists play on, much as they always might

They are the high and mighty, after all.

In Aleppo young men with mortars play out their immortality to the last drop

You don’t have long, lads; aged 27 it turns sour, anyway.

But who knows what the people think? People more partisan

With every falling shell…or past caring whatever it was they once cared about?

Man in gown, transgender pink, not in the ballroom as you might think.

Admitted to hospital suffering from the effects of chlorine inhalation,

Brought on by a barrel bomb – no barrel of laughs in the swimming pool.

The hospital has moved above ground again. Back to normal? Only that the ground floor and basement are now full to overflowing, forcing the reclamation of upper storeys where the ‘walls are open’. Intentional or not, the Syrian doctor’s turn of phrase is undoubtedly poetic. She says again that ‘everything is not enough’. From her lips this is by no means a statement of infinite entitlement. According to another doctor, a Syrian-American who recently returned to the United States, they don’t even have painkillers. In which case the miracle is that people keep on coming.

And the point of pointing this out? The point is to point. Addressing atrocities in terms other than the immediate, means calling to you, dear reader, across the wasteland. It’s important, you see, to retain the capacity for we, renewed by reference to things more important than you and me. And if this makes us ambulance chasers or even vultures whose collective existence feeds on the dead and dying, let’s hope the true nature of our dependence, depends on what we go on to do with it.

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#106 Slippery Customer

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

O Vaseline! Were you never true? Seems you’re always slip-sliding through.

Keith Vaz MP has resigned as chair of the parliamentary Home Affairs select committee after the Sunday Mirror showed him consorting with male prostitutes. For two days following the tabloid revelations it seemed that even this story might not stick to the ‘Teflon politician’: Vaz, a former Labour minister also known as ‘Vaseline’ for his ability to slide away from successive financial scandals, maintained he was entitled to a private life and he had not done anything illegal. But on Tuesday 6 September he bowed to pressure not least from members of the Home Affairs committee who were threatening him with a vote of no confidence, and stepped down.

Was it just another move for you to make? From family man (wife and two children) to punter with poppers and boys on rent. In and out of Teflon-style hotels, bills assigned to the owner’s personal account. Glass, chrome, marble, so nothing soaks in.

Moving through, is what you do. Before the portly, bald guy (59) with lemon ties, there was smiley Keith, plenty of dark hair but already it’s wispy, whose first name had even been Nigel (had to go), radical lawyer, one of the first four black MPs elected in 1987 – that’s what non-white meant back then. But it was only skin-deep, this radicalism, soon to be peeled off when you learned how to operate in the Palace of Westminster.

Pleased with your progress up the proverbial? You’ve been singing Sade to yourself all these years, haven’t you? Suits you, Sir. Tones in with the anodyne dinner you ate before one of your assignations: lemon sole, still water and a J&B Rare (not so rare), signed for by the hotel owner.

Staff were told Mr Vaz was using the room upstairs to ‘wash’, allegedly. But it won’t wash, will it, Keith? For all your former usefulness as a go-between, going between cricketing Cambridge and cricket with the Indian Workers’ Association, between Bernie Grant and Hugh Grant, from the social conflict in politics proper to a simple case of snouts in the trough (with all the complications that entails), now you’re just the goner whose family hails from Goa: the Anglicised Indian via Aden (still a British colony when you were born there); compromised and not only in ways expected of you.

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#105 Mothers’ Day

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

‘Gentle as a dove, cunning as a snake.’

Popeye for the ‘poorest of the poor’,

Saint Mother Teresa was canonised today.

She played her innocence impeccably, implacably.

Now her vow of poverty is upended in papal pomp and ceremony.

Beautifully…he went home to God,

She said of the beggar who’d told her

(Quoted in her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize),

‘I lived like an animal in the streets but I am going to die like an angel.’

I know it’s churlish of me to ask,

But does it have to be ambrosia?

Is there no mezzo soul food to sup?

Neither scraping and foraging

Nor brutalised then flipped into blind faith.

Away from playing Mother to the Squeezed Middle,

The Other Theresa is hanging on in Hangzhou.

Despite the measured tone of her contralto voice,

At the G20 summit Britain’s position is vulnerable:

She could be squeezed until the pips squeak.

This Mother Theresa must forage in foreign affairs,

Calling in favours, hoping to scrape by.

Closer than she’d care to think

To the man of the streets who reportedly died in a state of grace.

Note that neither Mother has so far managed

To speak to us in a language we could call our own.

#104 Sketches From The Silly Season

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

By now his foot is in the rescue boat; his Europe starts here. Part-lifted, part-pulling himself out of the overcrowded inflatable. Fine features, full lips, corkscrew hair. Eyes closed perhaps out of modesty – no self-respecting young man should be seen succumbing to the embrace of the broad-shouldered Spanish coastguard. No worries, though. Only the same as hand-on-head whenever a perp gets into a police car.

Still sitting in the dinghy that’s just far enough off the Libyan coast for a credible distress call, among the many, far too many tightly packed in, two men next to each other, one grinning, the other grimacing as they watch the younger man going aboard the Spanish vessel. There are hundreds more migrants to be carried over before their turn comes.

Sitting, squatting, hardly anything to eat, doing nothing except trying not to get sick. For the ones that didn’t get away, every wasted day in Libya’s internment camps, surely seems interminable.

Would-be escapees hidden in warehouses and farm buildings. Valuable human cargo, although from the smugglers’ handling, you wouldn’t think they’re worth more than 10 cents.

Perhaps a quarter of a million trying to get in; or maybe as many as 800,000 (least conservative estimates from the most conservative sources). Either a Carthaginian army set to invade Rome; or the population of a small city, lying listless in the sun like elephants with their tusks removed.

Blocks of seats in the civic sports centre painted in different shades, giving the fleeting impression of a stadium filled with spectators sporting opposing team colours. But this is China’s New Ordos, rich in resources including rare earth metals, the ‘ghost city’ built for a million Mongols to live in but only a hundred thousand turned up.

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#103 Approaching The Earthquake In Italy

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

The room has been turned inside out

As if all set for a well-made play.

But this is a scene from Amatrice,

Venerable town unmade into rivers of rubble.

Only a handful of party animals

Heard the ‘evil murmur of moving walls’.

Most residents were asleep in their beds

Until the beds rose up and cast them out into chaos.

Things we had thought…that ought to stay

Put, striking out on their own behalf

Implacable as toys turning murderous at midnight.

But must we resort to fables and nursery tales?

Or shall I compare thee to the movement of migrants,

Relentless as dust, or the Euro-Border-Crats

Careless of casualties, dismissing fatalities,

Tossing back refugees like so many sticks of furniture?

#102 Memo To An American Police Officer

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Was there a moment of shock when it came to you?

A sharp intake, the rasping breath of realisation?

Or simply relief at surviving your rookie shifts,

Then boredom and danger cocktailed into queasy routine.

So you wanted to be a police officer.

Protect and serve; defend and provide for.

If it’s not changing the world, you said to yourself,

At least I’ll be putting the bad guys away.

Instead all you Blues were recruited to the war on drugs.

In designated neighbourhoods your new assignment is to enter

As many perps as possible into the judicial process, if only

For possession, leaving little time for traditional policing priorities

Such as catching killers. In these districts nine out of 10 killings

Now remain untried and unpunished, unless you count

The unlawful acts of recrimination which have all but replaced

The intervention of the state in the expectations of local people.

Of the three guys on the corner, you’re the only one

That ain’t got his own. Dealer knows his job. Users, too,

Have a particular role to play. But you’re the little lost boy

Whose dotted line went off in unexpected directions.

Within your ranks there’s a hard core who might have done it

Anyway, at any time. But the not knowing who you are,

Not exactly sure what or who you’re there for

Must have been a factor in some of your folks not knowing

How to react, therefore emptying the magazine as if that means

Rubbing out a few pages instead of tearing into the flesh and bone

Of a fellow human being. Who knows whether all those ID checks would have

Gone so badly wrong if the policeman’s lot had not been re-cast without telling him?

#101 Drowning In Aberdeen

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

Mother and her six-year-old already on the slab, their lives

Laid out in tribute to the granite sea. Outside,

Shrieking wind and white stripes of sunlight, nailing slates of cloud

Late that summer’s unforgiving afternoon.

Above the beach along the boulevard – some locals have the front

To call it that – the flotsam and jetsam of emergency response:

Extra ambulances, police cars and people in uniform, washed up here without

Purpose, now all’s been said and done, and said and done again.

Why in the world do they come, these further bods and plods?

Why stand in clusters not talking, dark mirror

To earlier frolics on the sand, solemn projection

Of processions to follow the procurator fiscal’s report?

If not gratuitous nor ghoulish, then keen to offer order

Perhaps to supersede the senselessness of drowning in sunlight

But the dead are beyond our ordering: nature trumps character;

Their bodies brought inside is as far as we can bring them back in line.

#100 Mo Farah: Poetry In Motion

Andrew Calcutt News of the World

For each swift step along the Rio track, a full training day away from home and family.

So many miles on the clock, if he were a car you’d have to scrap him.

But work, work, work means Mo owns the starting line and the finishing, too.

Though low key on TV, his interview persona masks a desperate man.

Desperate to win, is desperation still. Now another medal’s near promised

To his youngest, Farah’s just another father with something yet to prove.

When victory comes, biting on gold as if Olympic medals are the chocolate coins

Other kids must be content with. And the door of his Home Counties home

Chiming ‘Westminster’ in a silly suburban echo of Big Ben.

Out of everyday particulars, close to banality (even if it’s rude to say so),

This way comes the sublime, attacking line that is Mo Farah on the move,

Defeating all contenders and condemning these words to doggerel by comparison.