The pandas are glum Pierrots;
They're huddled near the shelter's door,
Locked out for us. Tiananmen
Is next. Our guide doesn't mention
Recent events. Why? Someone's theory
Is that it's more than his job's worth.
Maybe, But the smile-lines around his eyes and lips
Seem as accurate as the street maps
We've bought. And there's a sense of pride
When he lists what will fit inside:
"Your Wembley, a liner, two Jumbos."
Amazing what this square can swallow.
We visit Mao's mausoleum,
Feel sure he's wax. They've covered him,
From the neck down, in a flag. Plump
And small, he's like a brat tucked up
For the night; it's as if the hundreds
Who pass each day with bowed heads
Are shuffling through a dream he's having,
Are the details that, come morning,
He won't recall. Sobs from the Chinese
Echo, sounding like the cries
Of trapped birds; it is a sadness
That can't migrate. Outside, from us,
Comes the click of Kodaks and Fujis:
The cluck of a different species.
Cup tie Man U v Sunderland,
Tickets a treat for me, my dad, and dad in law.
The temperature is near a record low
But I'm warm enough squeezed between them
Here in Old Trafford's north stand.
The crowd's still mainly men
Despite the club's new family image.
I imagine admitting
I've been feeling queasy in the morning,
Sharing her craving for pickled red cabbage;
Imagine all 40,000 chanting to me
Something about being a fucking pansy.
As if I'm another away supporter
They're goading into a scrap.
At half time, buying the Bovril,
I spot a pair of black ski gloves in a corner.
Probably dropped by mistake; or perhaps
From some defiant fan
Whose mum insisted that he wrapped up well.
They look like a gorilla's severed hands.
CAR BOOT SALE
The rain slackens off, then stops. Plastic
Sheets are removed from stalls. The bloke
Selling LPs sticks one on.
It's the Beatles'
Here Comes The Sun.
He taps his foot, but can't keep time.
You can find better rhythm
In all the stuff they're flogging here;
Find line upon line of neat metre
Hiding in disorderly junk:
Knocked off Hi-Fis, old toys, a bike,
Stuffed birds, whodunnits, Tupperware,
Chipped plates, car parts, a pair of flares...
This is a place of promises:
They'll claim that all the jigsaw's pieces
Are in that taped-up box; the telly
Works, honest; And they'll guarantee
The shoes and suits (that never seem
To fit anybody) aren't from
Dead mens' wardrobes. A smell that's like
A dream of warmth comes from the kiosk
Selling burgers, especially when
(Harder now, almost hail) the rain
Returns. They start packing, raising,
As it were, the white flag,
Which is, they'd no doubt tell you,
So white it's nearly new.
It was the first time that I’d heard dad swear.
It had snowed heavily the night before.
With forty miles between us and home
He'd decided to stop at an old farm
That did B and B. As we went in he said,
"Don't forget your pleases and thank yous, lad.'
He was always one for politeness, manners,
And swearing was definitely out. My ears
Were often being clipped for it. Spilt tea,
Stubbed toes- those words lust blurted out of me.
We hardly spoke that night. Mum wasn't there
To start up a chat. His test match down under
Held no interest for me; he felt the same
About my pocket electronic games.
The next morning, the snow was a foot thick
On the fields and farmyard. Our car got stuck,
Its back wheels spinning, sending up a fountain
Of flakes, like sparks from a firework. That's when
It happened. "Shit, shit, shit !' He told me
To get out, push a bit. Soon we were free,
On clearer roads, snow piled up near the pavement.
Dirty stuff. Grey and Brown. Not the pure white
I'd seen earlier. But that didn't matter.
At least now we were moving, getting closer
My dad is near the front. his whites blood-stained.
He wouldn't let his mum touch that shirt
Or those trousers. "Souvenirs." he said. Salt
And cold water would wash it out, she reckoned.
Spectators still mention the day he ruined
His whites. He was in the slips. One run in it.
He caught the ball, even though it hit
His face and burst his nose. Howzat' A legend.
The best I managed was reserve at school.
I never got to play, of course. I'd sit
Beside the pitch, amongst the long grass.
There, my hay fever was terrible.
My nose dribbled onto my top lip.
Sometimes I'd lick it, taste the saltiness.
Brian delivered the firm's internal mail.
His pace had got him nicknamed "Brian the snail".
He complained of an aching back
From pushing the mail trolley. Sore feet too.
"This place is too big for one man. I should claim for shoes."
Our office would tell him to try for better jobs.
Sometimes we'd ring those in the firm's vacancy sheets.
Always upper-management or departmental chiefs.
Done just to hear him read the job description,
Brag he could do it standing on his head, eyes shut
But didn't come cheaply. "I wouldn't do it for that much."
As soon as he was out of the door, we laughed.
Many in the stores thought we were mean.
She's read about Brian's kind in her Woman's Own.
The problem page: MY BIGHEADED BOYFRIEND....
He covers his sense of inadequacy with boasts.
She felt sorry for Brian. "Poor bloke."
Her boss cut our conversation short,
Threw her some order forms, the stuff needed by three,
Said she was paid to give out stationary, not sympathy.