7-6 The tie break is fast-food tennis. Must have been an American invention. It saves time (it's money), lets the impatient crowd savour the tension. You can win a set at a canter or by going through grief and heartache after a six-all tie. It's worth the same. That’s what's hard to take. For instance, if you're Krajicek at the US Open playing Kafelnikov and you lose two sets on tie breaks and what pisses you off after you've won two with ease 6-3, 6-1! is that the tie break comes into play for the final set too, for this is America, and you can't say But I've won more points and games, I've served a record number of aces damn it I've broken service five times to his one, let's slug it out let's grand slam it not another tie break, please! Because rules are rules. And cruel. The tie break is the moment of ironic truth in the dead-endedness of a duel At Wimbledon, against Stich, Edberg also lost three of them, won one "regular" set. At the press conference he was a man looking for a hole in the net. He'd finished up as loser with service unbroken. The serious Swede philosophised about freakish fate. In his way the Swede was seriously traumatised. With good reason. He would have to think all night about two shots he'd fluffed. But at the end of the day he'd simply been Kafelnikuffed. Or Stiched up, in his case. It happens to us all. Life finds out our flaws and though we demand our portion of justice, life has inexorable laws. Some seem to rise above them. Sampras has known almost nothing but glory. Though once, at Wimbledon, he was Krajichecked. But that's a different fate, another story.
GOOD RIDDANCE ( 1999) How you said GOOD RIDDANCE to the eighties, Hugh, On New Year's Eve of eighty-nine, and how It struck me as odd is what now comes to mind. Odd to look at time, whose passing we tend To regret, in that way. But you were saying A silent valediction to something Broken, I believed, while outwardly bubbling With hope for the future, fired up and babbling Like a prophet of a new dispensation, The New Year's Janus face of negation And affirmation. Our slates were wiped clean In the year's first cold light. Brush and pan Got rid of breakages, while the dynamics Of social change would sweep Reaganomics Into the same rubbish bin of history As the fallen dictators. All so easy. Easy to say. A marriage on the rocks, That was hard. You'd had your share of bad breaks, But disdained to look back, as now I do too. This year of ninety-nine's fit only to throw Into the memory's recycle bin. And I'm not talking about the millennium And all that madness, but the mutilation Of life and language, the coronation Of madness, madness to the nth degree Of laser precision. You know the country I'm talking about, for I know you once had A friend from Belgrade. Didn't she go mad, Long ago, long before that communique, That apotheosis of perversity With its sick, rehearsed alliteration, Confirmed our century's degradation? A country that didn't exist any more, Fated for something that resembled a war And if it was in our own back yard, that war, So what? Nothing can surprise us any more. Hugh, ten years on. if was just one among many At the dead end of our compliant century. What can we say of them, if not GOOD RIDDANCE? There's nothing else between screaming and silence. Nothing can strike us as odd, nothing amazes, As this year ends and the century closes.
UNIMPEACHABLE The discordance of public discourse pains. We know too well the rogues' fine suits and furs hide stark naked untruth. But we're bound by chains of office they wear. A vague protest stirs inside us. We realise that the non-sense loosed on the land is the language of the pricks. But console ourselves that however dense its structure, we can dismantle the bricks to reveal a bedrock of mendacity. We miss the point. The distinction between fact and fiction is no more. Their capacity for self-serving is nothing but an act, consummately performed. This art's protection from all probings. We ask what's hers, what's his. Is It possible to make a connection? They answer: It depends what you mean by is.
THE GATEWAY Beneath the impassive gaze of the Madonna of Porto Salvo bunches of carnations lie withered and dusty. If you can believe the media, the island has been taken by storm and the sea is full of corpses. There's a restaurant owner (speciality: couscous) who wants the harbour cordoned with fishing boats. The smugglers talk to their cargo. They say: Think of this island as a gateway. It's true its waters are lagoon-blue and the sand on its beaches is white, but it has no refrigerated morgue. The first time, local people brought them clothes, blankets and hot drinks. Now they segregate themselves from the tourists. The man who dug with his bare hands received no official thanks. He put up crosses for people presumed to have been Muslims, not knowing any other way to do it. He said: "No. 6 was a very beautiful woman, very tall. She was dead on arrival".
LETTER TO HIS MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT. 2005 He writes to his M.P., the Rt Hon etc., to tell him, as the country prepares to go to the polls - it's already gone, he says, to the dogs - that he's offering his services – but first, by way of a preamble, he asks the Rt Hon etc. to remind the Royals, with whom the Rt Hon etc. mingles etc., to be more mindful of their manners, viz. Prince Charles's habit of shaking hands ‘s truth, with his left hand in his pocket, and otherwise generally to brush up on their English usage (examples quoted)- his services in the unlikely event of the Rt Hon etc.'s party winning the election, which Bomber Blair's bagged already, and deigning not to repeal the ban, his services, free of charge, naturally, as a fox (he has red hair), adding that, despite having passed 60, he has oodles of stamina and could easily set a trail across the Sussex countryside for die-hard foxhunters who after all only want a bit of outdoor excitement. Last year, he says, he ran all the way to the top of the Cheviot — about four times as high as Ditchling Beacon — up in Northumberland, which the Rt Hon etc. has no doubt heard of.
RES PUBLICA (During a minute's silence to mark the death of Princess Margaret, a Scottish football fan shouted Vive la republique!) Ejected and banned for life for a breach of the deathly royal hush, and what's more in perfect French. Who remembers the score? The red-carded fan was man of the match.
OPIUM FLOWER All around us the sigh of the unblessed the oppressed creature. Almost inaudible. Everywhere. And still at the very heart of the matter the soulless conditions, the heartless world. The red poppy still adorns, wherever we look, the numbered dead who have no name. Wherever we look away, it doesn't fade. Bless them, Lord. I'm a non-believer. I've seen the light of the heartless world, know the power and the glory of reason. Bless them and let them not be forgotten, the nameless dead without number. They believed in you for the most part. In their heart of hearts. What else was there?
THE WAGER For Jeff Sawtell You're colour- and steadfast, Jeff. True to red, a real punter, putting through its paces a worn-out but stubborn old thoroughbred. It's good to see you're still at the races. We now admit the horse we backed was lame and had always been a rank outsider, was an ageing charger with a noble name, nobbled by enemies, failed by its rider. In the coat you refuse to turn or pad, right next to the heart, where you feel the chill, you keep the tattered betting slip. I'm glad. We know what won but wait to see what will.
CALIGULA He's a punky drunk who's got his crude little act together - His tongue leaks oil, but he's working hard on his body language: executions as a backdrop to banquets He doesn't just roll in heaps of gold, he had a pontoon rigged, three miles long, to show whose boss He's honed his oratory on oleaginous snails The obsequious Senate has been trained to shit itself For show he'll listen to a child babbling about a pet goat or caress the soldier's boots he wore as a kid He wants to drown all human history in the beneficent blood of the present Wishes his enemies had but a single neck His bedrock: all is well in Rome, and there's not a corner of the world where Roman values are not under threat He has appointed his horse to high office to ride roughshod over the dumbstruck Those who lack schooling in meanness call him insane He's offering his own infinite justice in his own lifetime
COUPLETS The lesser evil In times like these, when it goes to the wire I prefer unfriendly ice to friendly fire The Afghan Recipe All this country needs is a few Mr Karzai’s to teach it to cook its own goose with our freedom fries United Nations The shit's going to hit the fan if she won't support this war- get that damn cleaning lady in., what d'you think the Third World's for? Divine plan What you sow you shall reap also ? So all will be well- the dead Bush and Blair will get a roadmap to hell The Prince 's faux pas Natives and Colonials: the theme of the fancy-dress bash. So why did he wear a swastika and not an orange sash ? The two of us Mind and body must learn to share the after-burden of this sad affair. The Stockwell Eight Face down, he got one bullet in the shoulder, seven in the head. Than cold one can be colder ? Subcutaneous Blues Inglan is an itch. My mistake was to scratch her Under Tony Blair's skin I found Maggie Thatcher. Loyalism The missive to their foe comes back, marked return to Sender. The IRA's gone away, but still they won't surrender. Appearances Naked you come to me, and without shame, in my deepest sleep You're shameless indeed, you're not really in deep. Worth more than a thousand words The smirk ‘n' sneer on the dumb imposter’s face is eloquent testimony to the world's disgrace [Untitled] Prince Harry, Lord Archer, Sir Mark Thatcher What a country ! Who can match her ? Sewers again Come on, you soldiers^stop felling for imperialist's lies. Can't you see it's just Eden in a populist guise ? Rivals Fire-red sky,deep in November, in the late afternoon and, luminous,the early silver-white moon Values Don't misunderestimate him, the smirking little figure of mirth He was the family's no-count. But he knows what the family's worth Economic fundamentalists They prove only that all gods are risible by worshipping the market and a hand that's invisible Accessory before the fiction The jackstraw lies low, he has a great little wheeze: let Powell spin the story about WMDs Hey Mr Lingerie Man Alas, Bob, the times are a-changin' indeed. The world really sucks since you jingle-jangled for Victoria's Secrets and Starbucks Alternatively Let's put it nice and simply for all me pricks: Either you're with Chickenhawk or with the Dixie Chicks Sunset Mackerel sky with underblaze of dramatic red. In an instant I review my life —I'm not yet dead. Vague report from the front line While anti-war poets rant about how many have died, Paterson "flirts with real dangers" (unspecified) Baghdad Bob gets serious A figure of fun - Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. he called Blair a tragedy for Britain. That was no laugh. Terr'ism Tell you how easy it is to stop it? Shall I? When the biggest terr'ist is your biggest ally? A poet's wish In life's unfair race I only wish I’d won more. I could have done so much with Helen Dunmore. Another angle They're in deep now and mere can be no going back to when they merely tilted towards Saddam and Iraq 1,000 civilians die in 2 weeks: Negligible by the standards of war, says this Journalist (fairly accurate by the standards of his Economist) A problem for believers The map of the world was drawn by God's hand So how did our oil get under their sand ?