The latest challenge was to provide a poem about passports.
While the news that British passports issued after October of next year will be navy blue rather than burgundy was heartily cheered in some quarters, others — like Nicola Sturgeon, who denounced it as ‘insular nonsense’ — weren’t so delighted. And others still wondered what all the fuss was about.
The full spectrum of opinion was reflected in a small but punchy entry, and in the winning line-up. Commendations go to David Silverman’s ‘Jerusalem’-inspired verse, and to Frank Upton, Sylvia Fairley and Fiona Pitt-Kethley, who also shone.
The winners printed below are rewarded with £25. Basil Ransome-Davies pockets the extra fiver.
I got my first at age eleven,
A ticket to another land
Guaranteed by Ernest Bevin.
It felt like freedom in my hand.
I saw the Rhineland’s saddened state
Six years after the war we won;
My passport meant I couldn’t hate
The fallen enemy, the Hun.
A dynasty of documents
In midnight blue (or black) unbent
Any contorted inference
That Englishness was heaven-sent.
My present one is burgundy.
The face in it is bald and lined.
Old Ernie Bevin’s history.
But passport-wise, I’m colour-blind.
Dear kind Britannic Majesty, I write
Most humbly, as I’ve done throughout your reign,
Imploring you to use your royal might
To get me out of trouble once again.
Although my passport’s British, here’s my plight:
I find myself unfairly stuck in Spain,
Imprisoned out of anti-British spite.
The charge? A mere three kilos of cocaine!
So please remind these chaps that you request
Indeed, require! That’s admirably bolder —
That I should freely pass at your behest;
No hindrance for a British passport-holder.
Your words upon my passport should prevail,
According to my Spanish-speaking lawyer;
But if your royal eloquence should fail,
Please send a Navy gunship or destroyer.
I met a traveller from an antique land
who said: I know you think it’s set in stone
some proud blue British passport in your hand
will charm away the threat of foreign frown.
You think it gives priority, command
and status — something you can take as read;
that you can stroll through barriers and things,
not wait where lesser-passport folks are led.
But lift your eyes: though circling stars appear
they do not beckon you. Those starry rings
welcome those others. Look! and then despair
the wreckage that has brought you this decay,
and how your love of boundaries means you’ll
this long and weary queue, stretched far away.
We’re travelling to the past by train
To bonnie Aberdeen
Where Salmond’s shooting Sassenachs
And Nicola’s a queen.
The Bruce is still at Bannockburn
Awaiting young King Eddie.
We’re coming to the border so
Our passports must be ready.
The land o’ thistles got its way
In referendum eight
And Caledonia became
An independent state.
We’re stopping now to let the guards
Inspect our English train,
And having had our passports stamped
We’ll venture north again.
When I consider how my life was spent
In business travel all across the earth
And, as I bore the proof of British birth,
Respected highly everywhere I went,
This royal coat of arms for decades meant
I was indeed a document of worth,
I thought that I would never see a dearth
Of welcome visas to each continent.
But now I lie abandoned on a shelf
Beneath some old Spectators, such is fate!
This photo shows a distant, faded youth,
With none to care about it but myself.
I’m useless now and blue and out of date,
I can’t pass anywhere. Life’s final truth.
Ring in a passport that will please
And make us proud of who we are;
A passport that proclaims afar
This was the land that ruled the seas.
Ring in the tough, unyielding blue
The sign that British stands for best;
A land that towered above the rest.
Ring in the nation that we knew.
Ring out the limp, lacklustre red
The symbol of a servile state,
Branding our country second rate.
Ring out the woes to which we’re wed.
Bring back the passport we withdrew
When we abandoned being great.
Ring in a document of weight
Crowned with a crown, in navy blue.
Your next challenge is to provide a poem entitled ‘The Love Song of [insert name of a well-known figure, dead or alive, here]’. Please email entries, Eliot-style or otherwise, to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 7 February (16 lines maximum).