Cleopatra dropped a pearl in vinegar To win a bet, And watched her bead dissolve away to nothing Without one regret – Although in truth it must have fizzed a day or two Before it’s done And in that time she’d lost her land and lost her life And lost her son. And Rome, while once her lover, saw her lustre tarnish Bit by bit – For strip away her cultured beauty, And she’s just a speck of grit.
Think right, say right, Keep it careful, keep it kind – Keep a clean and healthy mind That wants no truck with spite. And yet, that inner voice Who always loves its little games, Who always knows the nasty names, Will whisper up its choice. It knows they’re wrong, and that’s the point, It’s daring us to shout them out Because they’re wrong and still have clout Because they’re out-of-joint. It’s bating us to say the word – It wants to make us take the blame For ev’ry hurtful hateful name We’ve ever heard. But these are not our whole – These shall not define or break us, Just stray thoughts and troublemakers – We are in control. It only loathes itself, infact, But we can still refuse to sink – Let’s judge us not in what we think, But how we act.
When I talk with my lefty friends On art and architecture, They all are oh-so-modern in their taste. And so I have to talk to them On anything but architecture, All to keep things sweet, if rather chaste.
So what’s this style that they’ve embraced ? A smashing of the ruling class ? A break with endless cut-and-paste, debased In choc’late-boxy quaintness ? So is a love for steel and glass A love for unconstraint-ness ?
But when I talk with the lovers of The column and the arch, We have to keep the topic to the stones, For stray to social policy, And progress on the march, And I quickly learn they’re Tories to their bones.
So what’s this style they’ve seen replaced ? A harking back to Empire ? Of seeing Albion defaced, disgraced, Encased in brutalism ? So is a love for dome and spire A love for old-time feudalism ?
On one side are better lives in ugly buildings – On the other – palaces, but for the rich. And yet the latter need what brother-artisans are skilled in – Frescos, gargoyles, heraldry – the very things we’re told are kitsch. But have we really got no use for them ? Can we not have our peace and rights and social care, And still have ornament to spare To build our new Jerusalem ?
Blockbusting, balls-walling, entrepreneur, Overman-achieving and Sorbonne-viveur, Moving-and-shaking and never-make mistaking – God, I could never be so bold !
I’m the one who failed to get to know you, I’m the one it’s easy to say no to, Nobody’s enemy, nobody’s go-to, And always the last one to be told.
I know that you work hard, but always with results, You go the extra yard, but you don’t do nuts-and-bolts It’s down to me to tidy up and lock the doors at night, While you’re off making masterplans to set the town alight.
I’m not like you, off to change the world again, The hero of the story, the driver of the train, The leader and infallible, the oysters and champagne, The charismatic marvel to behold !
We cannot all be actors, we cannot all be confident, We cannot all ignore the inner voice that never gives consent. I guess I don’t blame you, when your talents are so rife – And when even I would toss aside the novel of my life.
You’re the exception, but you think that you’re the mean, It’s only for your eyes that the world is bright and keen, While I’m drowning in the wake of wherever you have been – But hey, that’s just the way the dice were rolled.
I know it doesn’t feel like it, Especially on the news, But the world is getting safer all the same. Wars are killing fewer, Though it’s hard to spot the clues In the endless rounds of jingo, spin and blame. But there, buried in statistics, Proof is waiting to be found That murder, rape and violence are down. We’ve never had a world so good As this world here, right now – Better than our hope could dare allow.
It never was forgone, It’s taken so much hard work to achieve – Work we never knew that we could do, Was going on. So ev’ry time we heave, It seems we get a little calmer, And we get a little kinder, Though we need the odd reminder to believe.
And yet, We know it doesn’t feel like it, Especially on the news – For all this peace, there’s not that much about. We’re killing people daily, And ev’ry time we do, we lose – So war is down, but war is far from out. Our angels may be better, But our angels still fall short of best – The world is getting good, but not yet blessed. Our progress may be progress, But it’s coming far too slow – We cannot wait for fairer winds to blow.
It never is forgone, And all this work could quickly fall apart – The darkest days of our old ways Could yet be set upon. Let’s hope that we are smart – We haven’t time for shock and awe, We haven’t time to settle scores – We need to stop the wars before they start.
Come and join the army, Risk your life each day, Occupying deserts For below the av’rage pay. Politicians praise us, They’ve always got our backs, But then they go and pay us all Just 19k less tax. Come and join the army, Buzz off all your locks, See the world, then shoot it, And spread about the pox. Tabloids love us, lefties hate us, Locals gun us where we stand – Hire us cut-price killers, For a mere 19 grand.
In 1911, in Britain, the dockers walked out – And sailors and railwaymen too, across the nation. Union membership soared, and so did the shout For something more than this endless pent-up frustration. A growing awareness had bloomed in the men – They were no pack-mules who just bleat and cower. These literate workers had realised then That labouring hands now held all the power. The following year, the miners struck – A million men refused to duck When facing-down bosses for pride in the pocket – They wanted a minimum wage – and they got it ! What did they care of the Kaiser ? Why did they go ? Ev’ry November, I wonder. I think I might know –
In 1914, in Britain, the soldiers marched out. Many were raw volunteers – no draft had been called. Some were patriotic’ly spurred, I’ve no doubt, But shoring the empire must have left others appalled. Yet the labourer’s life, while improving, was hard – The same old drudging as yesterday. Who wouldn’t swap for some public regard In a smart uniform, with travel and regular pay ? They trusted their orders and killed as commanded, So can I be angry, if I must be candid ? I don’t know. It was lots of things bound-up together – So either I wear the poppy, or the white feather, And honour those scabs who refused to be naive or quailed. Perhaps. But why hadn’t they joined-up, those Glorious Jailed ?
Look, we get it, you’re still young and brash With passion and guile of a sort we remember From out of our youth, from cutting a dash, When the world was in Spring and our credit in cash, And watching you now, we still feel an ember From deep in our hearts that we thought were but ash.
For we are the empires who strutted before you, Who drank the same honeydew now on your lips – With vassals and tributes to praise and adore you, And patience and prudence to hassle and bore you, So manifest destiny festers and grips – And no wonder it finds you when none can ignore you.
We’ve all been there – we British and Roman, We Persian and Aztec, we Mongol and French – We each were as mighty, who answered to no man, From horseback and gunboat, with longsword and bowman, And bloodlust and mistrust we never could quench, And the cripple’ing burden of being the showman.
It never quite goes away, of course, As our never-set suns stop their beaming – The memories built up in temples and wars Which we cherish in secret, still keeping the scores. The dreams we’re still dreaming at twilight’s last gleaming, So some day shall all this be yours.