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Coffee House Culture House Daily

Spectator competition: provide snippets of misleading advice for British tourists travelling abroad (plus Margaret Thatcher’s secret love poetry)

2 August 2014

9:30 AM

2 August 2014

9:30 AM

The recent challenge to unmask a secret poet among well-known figures from 20th-century history produced a postbag full of politician-bards, which included poignant lines from the pens of Edward Heath and Michael Foot.

The real life poetic efforts of politicians such as Jimmy Carter have not gone down well with the critics. Harold Bloom branded him ‘in my judgment literally the worst poet in the United States’. I’m not sure that Bloom would have been any kinder to the winning entries below — or to Adrian Fry’s John Prescott. Here he is, just getting into his stride: ‘Don’t call me unsophisticated, I’ve been to Villanelle,/ I know me assonance from elbow, I’ve a cracking tale to tell…’

Honourable mentions go to Sylvia Fairley and W.J. Webster. The winners earn £25 each and George Simmers takes this week’s bonus fiver.

George Simmers/Margaret Thatcher
No, I must never let this menace
My relationship with Denis
(Such a help-mate, though at times alas a bore),
Yet sometimes I am able
Underneath the Cabinet table
To play footsie with a man who’s much much
       more.
Norman Tebbit! Norman Tebbit!
My emotion will not ebb — it
Floods my being and it rages like a storm.
Darling polecat, my heart’s yearning,
And I might just be for turning,
Oh my lovely Chingford Superman, my Norm!

Brian Murdoch/T.S. Eliot
It’s always been my wish to be a poet.
OK, I published stuff like ‘The Waste Land’,
But that’s pretentious twaddle, and I know it!
I want to write things folks can understand.

They say I’m up there in the avant-garde, but
You can’t fool all the people all the time.
To write in metre I’d be pretty hard-put,
Besides, I’ve never really got the hang of rhyme.

An evening’s like a patient on a table?
Come on! And all that guff in Prufrock’s Song!
I know my images are pitiable;
You can make that stuff up as you go along.

I wish I could do daffodils, or seasons!
What kind of poem needs annotations to it?
I wish I could do things with rhymes and
       reasons.
I’d really like to be a proper poet.

[Alt-Text]


John Whitworth/Tony Blair
I’m Tony Blair the winner.
I’m Tony Blair the tops.
I’m Tony Blair. I float on air
And sell in all the shops.

I’m succulent and sexy.
I’m never namby-pamby.
I’m fresh and fair and debonair,
I’m cuddlesome as Bambi.

This one-time special offer
Can never be repeated
I’m keenly priced. I’m Jesus Christ
And cannot be defeated.

So hurry, hurry, hurry
And buy me while you can,
Full guarantee and odour-free,
I’m Tony. I’m your man.

Max Ross/Tony Blair
How do I love me? Let me count the ways:
With admiration knowing I’m the guy
To earn a nation’s gratitude and praise;
With wonder at my power to prophesy,
For one day I’ll make Labour something new,
A cosmic force of which I am the centre;
I love the modest way I’ll join the few
Who changed the world — a genius, an inventor.
I love me with the knowledge that my God
Diverts my steps from all things sinister;
I love me for the way folk will applaud
When Fate ensures I am Prime Minister.
And as a youth invested with a power
To rise above the evils of despair,
I love the way I march towards the hour
When all the world will welcome Tony Blair.

G.M. Davis/Albert Camus
Some say we’re ruled by providence,
But that’s a stupid word
For human life, which makes no sense.
A better one’s ‘absurd’.

You roll that rock right up the hill.
The stone rolls back again.
It’s rock ’n’ roll non-stop, a drill
To drive a man insane.

And that’s the crap I daily face,
Small wonder my malaise;
While Jean-Paul Sartre’s on my case
Re ‘Algérie Française’.

Sometimes I wish Jean-Paul would shut
His existential gob.
I try to be authentic, but
It’s not an easy job.

Alan Millard/Harold Wilson
From Huddersfield I hail and, determined not to
       fail,
I shot to fame and fortune like a rocket.
Being wily and astute — an economist to boot,
I’m sounder than the pound that’s in your pocket.
What a poet I’d have made for I call a spade a
       spade,
With a pipeful of tobacco and a pen,
If I had to write a sonnet you can bet that I’d be
       on it
And I’d finish it before you’d count to ten.
It’s true, I envy Mary. She can make her verses
       vary
Writing villanelles or pastorals at will,
But she’ll always be my guide and I’m certain, if
       I tried,
I could write an Ode or Elegy to kill!
With the Scillies as my muse, I’d be headlines in
       the news,
Have a plaque in poets’ corner on display,
Be the bard of Number Ten, as I might be if and
       when
This poem ever sees the light of day.

This next challenge is an old favourite but I haven’t set it this way round before. Given that the holiday season is upon us, you are invited to provide snippets of misleading advice for British tourists travelling abroad. To give you an idea of what I am looking for here are a selection of winning entries from when competitors were asked for misleading advice for tourists visiting Britain:

The middle lane on British motorways is reserved for foreign visitors.
London cab drivers prefer to be paid with an Oyster card.
Wherever you go, you will find the hip, creative, boho crowd at your local Wetherspoon’s.
(Basil Ransome-Davies)

Visitors from Greece should avail themselves of free bed and breakfast at The Athenaeum.
(D.A. Prince)

Foreign visitors are always welcome to stroll through Buckingham Palace, and the Queen herself will be delighted to pose for a photo-shoot. If anyone tries to prevent you from entering, simply say: ‘I’ve come to shoot the Queen.’
(Brian Allgar)

Tipping Customs and Immigration officials as you enter the UK is not mandatory, but is a standard courtesy. Fold the banknotes inside your passport and offer the document with a friendly smile and perhaps a small wink.
Nude sunbathing along the Serpentine in Hyde Park is permitted only on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays.
(Chris O’Carroll)

Please email your snippets totalling a maximum of 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 13 August.

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