The idea to ask for poems about HS2 came to me as I was listening on YouTube to W.H. Auden’s poem ‘Night Mail’, which he wrote to accompany a section of the terrific 1936 documentary about the London to Glasgow Postal Special directed by Basil Wright and Harry Watt (who described Auden as looking like a ‘half-witted Swedish deckhand’).
Not altogether surprisingly, the tone of the entry was less celebratory than Auden’s, with the notable exception of Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead’s prize-winning submission, written in the finest MacGonagallese. Her fellow victors are rewarded with £30 apiece and George Simmers snaffles the extra fiver.
There’s a thunder down the line at eleven fifty
And there’ll be another due at twelve o-six.
Yes, several times each hour a train of massive
Is hurtling busy townies through the sticks,
And leering through the glass of a window in
(At meadows trashed and woodlands bulldozed
Is a vicious tabby gent claiming dubious descent
From Skimbleshanks, the famous Railway Cat.
His moggy grin is mirthless, mocking dwellings
By the track that’s scarred the centre of the
Skimble Junior (‘Call me Skimby!’) hisses scorn
for every nimby
Who’s inclined to sob at rural devastation.
There’s no mercy in his features for otters or
Who have lost their fine and ancient habitat.
‘Businessmen demand a beeline!’ mews this
hard efficient feline,
Skimble Junior, the modern high-speed cat.
It’s as pointless as cheating at patience,
As cuckoo as ironing the cat,
A businessmen’s scheme, a commercial wet
In the shape of a formal diktat.
Though the magic words ‘northern’ and
Pronounced like a mystical spell,
Are combined to inspire, setting all hearts on
They exude a pestiferous smell.
Prepare for those time and cost overruns
As it links cities already linked
But at much greater speed, like a junkie in need,
All reason and judgment extinct.
Perhaps in some dim, distant future
A drone locomotive will zoom
Through environments grey with exhausted
And a dreamlike, Ballardian gloom.
This monster-clogging transportation
with costs outstripping past inflation,
loading despair on expectation
across the whole mistrustful nation;
this can’t be simply job creation
to give a workless population
something for hope and exultation
instead of permanent stagnation;
this hare-brained scheme is suffocation
of countryside and preservation,
revealing London’s concentration
on rural life’s elimination;
the HS2 is pure damnation
from birth to final destination.
And what would bring us some elation?
An end to this embuggeration.
All success to the project HS2!
It’s designed by Her Majesty’s Government for
people like me and you
Who want to get very quickly from London to
And be able to do so in great comfort, all built
on the proceeds
Of enormous private investment and revenue
(’Tis one of the Department for Transport’s
Which is very good news since it looks as though
it’ll cost dear
And George Osborne hopes that China will see
its way clear
To stump up for some of those three hundred
and fifty one miles of new track
Which will pass through, under or above several
beautiful places, to which some cry ‘Alack!’
These high speed trains are most beautiful to see
And may possibly prove quite handy for people
like you and me.
Well, here I am, in keen anticipation
Of travelling on the splendid High-Speed train.
Gone are the days of feckless cancellation
Provoked by fallen leaves, or heavy rain,
Or unexpected sunlight on the rails,
Or snow, or fog. We’ll soon be setting off…
But shouldn’t it be here?
The speaker wails
And crackles into life; a furtive cough,
A disembodied voice: ‘Regrettably,
For passengers who’ve booked with HS2,
The train that was announced on Platform Three
Is cancelled. We apologise. It’s due
To fallen leaves and snow at Watford Junction
And unexpected sun in Kentish Town,
Which caused a massive system-wide
And brought our whole computer network
Your next challenge is to submit an acrostic poem containing some predictions for the next decade, in which the first letters of the lines read NOSTRADAMUS. Please email entries, wherever possible, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 30 December.