I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The vulgar tongue

Daughter Professional Bleeder and son Ian are staying. They arrive from Luton by bus, a great source of blogging material.

Sitting close to Ian a man, apparently Russian or possibly Central European, opens an exercise book which 6 ft 4 in. Ian scrutinises without any problems. On one side of the page are English slang phrases, on the other rudimentary transcriptions:

The dog's bollocks - An expression of something good.
Badgering - Pestering.
Bat out of Hell - Something travelling very fast.

Ian, always difficult to impress, quickly loses interest and falls to inspecting the head of the person in front.

Later, helping me consume a bottle of not very fizzy prosecco, Ian passes on this experience. As ever there’s half a short story based on a first outing of one of the phrases, preferably the first. The second half is harder to come by.


Joe Hyam, my late mate, confidently believed I would in the end get the hang of poetry. In honour of his memory I intend to choose extracts and respond to them as best I can.

A circle swoop  and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air,
A dip to the water.

Reasons why. It's a bat, not a swallow, but the rhythms and varied line lengths capture the fast, random but guided changes of direction of both types of flight. The poem deliberately uses the inarticulate "of a thing" to refer to an object not yet positively identified. Light, the stronger force, "pushes through" the arches at dusk.

D. H. Lawrence. Source: The Poet's Tongue. Anthology chosen by W. H. Auden and John Garret. The poems and their writers' names appear separately to bypass reader prejudice.


  1. I hope you will explain many more poems. I like that you show the reasons why it works, the skeleton structure, the use of components to flesh it out, tell it better. This is educational, of great interest to me. Thanks for this, Robbie.

    Joe was right about you, but I think "the hang" was always there, just denied.

  2. "Light, the stronger force..." ?

  3. The Crow: Joe loved embarrassing situations which caused me to shudder and turn away. I make this point in one of the vignettes in Joe: Goodbye Exhilaration 2 (March 12); see the dreadful tale of the louche woman with the green contact lenses. I felt that the most telling tribute I could pay him was to expose myself to the possibility of further embarrassment with this series.

    MikeM: Than the onset of dusk.

  4. I wonder where he got those idioms from, were they ones he'd heard and asked to have explained, or were they presented to him in a course of study, or what? Quite a high level anyway, graduating from pestering to badgering. I like the word badgering.

    And I like your Joe's nudge, I too hope you do more. Lawrence could be a terrible prat but in his poetry he often worked quick sharp marvels like that, when he didn't go on at too much length, because he didn't edit so it was make or break. The vivid observation is appropriate for Joe.

    Thanks for the e-mail, I'll be on it later, I want to check something in the podcast though.

  5. Even rearguard skirmishing is faulty perception based upon false hope and bright uniform. Light never wins at dusk.

  6. In response to Mike's second comment, if you don't mind, Robbie:

    Light might never win at dusk, but there would be no dusk without it. Dusk is a time of light, not an hour of the day. Light provides the color and spectacle, the holy contrast, the grandeur, of dusk.

  7. Lucy: It's the accidental way these facts swam into Ian's ken that makes the story. If we knew chapter and verse we wouldn't have opened the book. My imagination roves. I see the Russkie coming upon "the dog's bollocks" and deciding - in a moment of despair - to give up on English altogether. But being forced to reverse his decision for financial reasons,

    Are you familiar with The Poet's Tongue? Having to search in a separate index for the author's name is an excellent idea. It puts you on your toes.

    MikeM: 'Tis not my job - nor the poem's - to explain the universe. One example springs to mind immediately; the moving surface of the river catches light from many sources and reflects it upward into the arches.

    The Crow: And in the blue corner...

  8. Oops! Too much, Robbie? Sorry.


  9. On a second look, the three idioms could perhaps describe the arc of a love affair...

    My instant verdict on DHL does rather substantiate what you say about prejudice, but it was in fact refreshing to have the extract without immediate attribution. The light pushing through seems to be about negative shapes, the gaps of the arches would normally be seen to recede, and the form of the bridge be the thing to push out, but the dusk inverts that, making the lighter shapes come forward. And I like what you pick up about 'of a thing', a bat at dusk is vague to our perceptions like that, a bird in the daylight usually isn't. It's really very good isn't it?

    I remember sitting by a river, the Usk near Abergavenny I think, at dusk, and gradually the swallows just shifted themselves into bats, one didn't see the changeover.

  10. Oh, that last sentence Lucy wrote gave me chills of the most delightful kind.

    Good poetry is the dog's bollocks!

  11. The hindmost part of the day. You know I'll be liking that.

  12. Lucy: "arc of a love affair" You do this kind of thing but never attempt fiction Why? You know I'd be kind as you've been to me. Four such ideas, interspersed with some carefully considered dialogue, and you'd have a 1000-word short story. As to the harvest, think of all the displaced Brits you've met - the story twisting this way and that until it arrived at the reason why they're where they are.

    DHL novels. I've tried, oh how I've tried - the ghost of FR Leavis poking at my backside. But they seem so risible. This poem and the one about the snake have all the tautness that the novels lack. Glad you noted "of a thing"; my first reaction was "He's broken the rules", poems aren't about generalities. Then I looked for a reason

    Your last para. You've read the rest of the poem, haven't you?

    RW (sZ): See my last sentence above. "Bollocks" - you're into your stride. Perhaps the guy on Ian's bus was one of your relations.

    MikeM: You're in a puckish mood, MikeM. Definitely puckish. The hint of an Irish cadence.

  13. S'fun here today isn't it?! Seems a pity to have to move on really, we don't have to yet do we?

    That lovely Irishism of Mike's, future continuous, always a slightly recherché little number, with a verb we're always taught to teach shouldn't be used in a continuous at all, delicious! I love the English tense system, even if I'm rubbish at teaching it.

    No, I hadn't in fact read the poem, or not to my recollection. So now I have, it's kind of a bit disappointing, I wish he'd got a bit past his revulsion about them, or just left it off; it keeps bringing the poem back to him. And it surprised me a bit that it was a cityscape, I'd imagined a quieter scene, probably because of my Usk at dusk memory. But it is a good cityscape, and it's got lots of other great bits, like

    ' Swallows with spools of dark thread sewing the shadows together'

    and that thing about 'missing the pure loop', that is how you can tell them from swallows, and the line about the obscure Arno which sound like it ought to be a translation from Dante or something.

    I agree about the risibility of the novels, once one gets past humourless and overwrought adolescence anyway, and Leavis's support of them always makes the latter's cleverbuggery reassuringly suspect to me. I like a lot of his poems though, at least the ones when he knew when to stop, and I think perhaps some of his travel writing might be worth a look.

  14. I was trying for gangsta jive without employing any offensive spelling alterations. My grandmother, nee Mulligan, enjoyed Uncle Remus stories.

  15. Oh sorry Mike, that was completely lost on me, I am utterly uncool and lack the terms of reference. Glad to hear Granny was a Mulligan though.

  16. I am sooooo ashamed to confess that this entire post plus comments is lost on me. It's ok though. Made my brain work.

  17. PS Yes, it's the same Ellena. She is getting smaller and smaller
    in the presence of you people but not complaining. The children will be able to choose the smallest urn available.

  18. Oh don't worry Ellena, and please don't go; the host's left the room and I'm shooting my mouth off and conducting tangential conversations in his absence, I'm normally a much better behaved blog guest than this. I'm sure he'll be back to restore order soon

  19. Lucy: I get all fidgety - Usk is just down the road and is memorable for its narrow causeways. Now I know about your experience I feel I should revisit the place to see whether I'm susceptible too.

    I only glanced at the rest of the poem and didn't guess at the author - had to use the index as Auden intended. Knowing when to stop (with a poem); now that's a lot harder than I ever imagined, the impulse to continue is almost tangible.

    The same happens when you decide to use an extract (as I am just about to do). I won't break here, you say. And then I've transferred the whole poem - as the author intended.

    MikeM: I too enjoyed Uncle Remus stories. But then I'm more of an age with your grandmother than with you.

    Ellena: It's OK to admit to ignorance at Tone Deaf. MikeM, for instance, has been running rings round me for some time; all I can do is play the host and take the hits. If you really feel left out why not try including epigrams in Cyrillic or some such (I've never been entirely sure about your background). Go to Character Map in Windows, do Make Shortcut and drag the shortcut on to your desktop. After that you can walk superior with such things as: Щбйфд to the bafflement of all.

    What a fraud you are, E. Putting yourself down, then there's that bit about the smallest urn. During the war you'd have been known as a Q-ship.

  20. You are closer to my mom's age, R, my grandparents were born in the 19th century.

  21. What the heck is that picture? Looks like a running tiger...