Way down South, where looking up Is looking upside down – The Man in the Moon is wrongside-right, And the Plough ain’t even in town. The Dog Star sails above the Pup, Throughout the Summer sky, With Betelgeuse kept low at night And Rigel kicking high. To Northern eyes, where looking up Is looking strange and stark – The Milky Way us far too bright, The pole is far too dark.
The town where I grew up, Well, the nearest town I guess, Though still a dozen miles away – But I digress… It’s a pretty sleepy town That I left as quickly as I could, But in a funny way, I just Can’t quit for good. I’ve still got family living round, And school-friends I still see, So even though I left the town, It won’t leave me. Like when that sleepy town had raised A minor personality, A DJ with a surname that was known By the likes of me. Ah yes, I remembered That the same was borne by a kid at school – In my year, though I hardly knew him, Hardly spoke, as a rule. Nothing against him, but separate streams, A single mutual friend was all, And I hadn’t even seen him since, And could only just recall… Now he wasn’t the DJ (who was a she), But maybe his sister was…? My school-mates and family nodded, and set The rumour-mill a-buzz. Not that they knew him any better, But they do still live there, it’s true… And she’s only three or four years older, So maybe…? It’ll do. It was a tale for dinner parties, An anecdote for down the club, Or for singing for our supper, Down the pub. So then, a decade after school, A short-term job and an idle boast When she came on the office radio As the lunchtime host. She must have just played Ace of Spades With stuff to give away, When a co-working Swede saw a chance To make my bragging pay – “My colleague went to school with your brother” Her email to the station read, “So can I have a ticket please For Motörhead ?” In half an hour, the DJ responded, “I have no brother by that name !” By email – not on the air, thank god – But all the same… Well, I was in the doghouse for a bit, Though no harm done – But then that surname came around again, And far less fun… A few years back, an incident Brought unexpected high renown, And all the national news in packs To that sleepy town. Strange to see its familiar face, The scrap of grass where we used to lark That the sombre bulletins insist On calling a ‘park’. Two names leapt out – one victim With a last-name of a teacher I had, So of course I got to wondering, Was Sir his dad ? But the other…the other was a woman, A right-aged woman, a woman with a name. (She wasn’t the DJ, who wasn’t even mentioned, They clearly weren’t the same.) The grapevine rustled, the gossipers gabbed, With the same conclusion as before – I was wary, but I felt the weight Of local lore. My own connection, even if correct, Is incredibly slight It feels wrong to be probing it – Rather gruesome, certainly trite. But growing up in a sleepy town, There’s precious little going on – So ev’ry little chance at something more Is seized upon. And that kid, that brother, who won’t recall me, Now has a strange kind of fame – For I’m sure I’ll always remember him, Or at least, his name.
I remember Sunday afternoons And watching classic black-and-whites, Though not so much for giant apes, Or top hats, kanes or men in tights – But all my fascination fell On the opening seconds-worth, Wond’ring at that giant mast, And where its feet made earth – Novaya Zemlya first, for one, And Svalbard, I concluded, next, Then Ellesmere Island for the third, But the last one had me vexed… There’s nothing there but shifting ice, Though far more then than left today – It’s just as well they’d long gone bust Before the ice gave way.
Frost fairs upon the Thames, they never happen these days – Snow just once or twice a year is all we get round here. Curses to the Gulf Stream, damn your warming ways ! Snow just once or twice a year, and Spring is always near. And it’s shut down the town again, It’s shut down the town, my dear, Shut down the trains and the drains and the pier.
Nobody is ever ready when it comes a-falling, Never dressed for proper cold in proper Winter gear. Nobody is ever ready when the snow is balling, Before they’ve even had a fight, the flurries disappear. And it’s back to the rain again, It’s back to the rain, my dear, Back to the grey – and it’s here to stay, I fear.
Dark Age place-names, Leave-a-trace names, Honestly-describe-the-space names: Bearing no hyperbole, They simply stated verbally What ev’rybody thought the place was, Giving not a thought to status.
And so we find throughout the nation Sagebrush prison, Pighill station, Goatranch airport, Crowfilledwood, Watertown of the Sisterhood, Snotti’s Homestead, Northern Trading, Ladies’ Landing, Stags-are-Wading, Cheesefarm Green and Hillhill Hill – Names most Super-Mare and Brill.
But names can be the falsest friend: Like Middlesex and Lickey End, Or Swansea, Inkpen, Kentish Town, The many heights of Lower Down, Or Upper Slaughter, East Kilbride. Or Leatherhead and Barkingside. Nether Wallop, Ugley, Beer, Towcester, Staines and Wigan Pier
But meanings can survive intact, As more Bridgnorth than Pontefract: With Sevenoaks, we safely stand, And Newport, Battle, Westmorland. There’s Mill Hill, Highgate, Firbank Fells, The Mousehole Caves, and Bath, and Wells. The Otter river is no riddle, Unlike, say, the Ouse or Piddle.
And if I claimed I knew a place Called Kismeke Wick or Running Chase, Or Buttermouth, or Chattering, Or Shepherds Peak and Hattersing, Or Owland Buzzard, Wethergale, Or Buxham Hills and Settingsale, Or Swallow Spit, or Barnet Shears ? Would you believe your English ears ?
Did the Romans ever make it over Antoninus ? Did their legions hike the Highlands, past the cirsium and pinus ? Did they meet his high-king highness, In his fiery hair and golden torc ? And did they think this seaside caesar woaded-rogue or brutish-ork ? So did the Agricolan Fleet heave-to in Scapa Flow ? The orcas and the auks go by, but they don’t know.
Koala bears in woolly hats, Emus strutting in the snow Spruces march across the Outback – Let it go, Oz, let it go… I know you’re mostly immigrants From colder, Northern climes, But not all cult’ral heritage Will work in modern times. Ditch the chimney for a combi, Lose the furry robes and gloves, Let the gum replace the holly, Let the budgies play the doves. Embrace your new contrariness, Your world turned upside down – This Winter masquerade is not The only game in town. Santa chilling by the barbie, Kangaroos to haul the sleigh, Redback’s guarding Baby Jesus – Season’s greetings, and g’day.