Advice to a Conspirator
Monday, 29 November 2021 17:33

Advice to a Conspirator

Published in Poetry

Advice to a Conspirator

by Chris Norris, with image by Martin Gollan

You've told us lots of times 'it's do or die'
For you, this Brexit thing, so if the 'do'
Bit doesn't work, however hard you try,
Then don't despair: there's always Option Two.

I know you'll wriggle out of it, you'll lie,
Prevaricate, and bluster, but if you
Seek one good deed to be remembered by
Then it's that second choice you'll carry through.

If things go pear-shaped, why not be the guy
Who'd read his Classics, tried to stage a coup
Sejanus-style, but, when it failed, thought 'Why
Not play the Roman, pay the forfeit due?'.

At least you'd exit on a lifetime high,
A final act we plebs could cheer, not boo,
As you fall on your sword and groundlings cry
'Great Boriolanus dead? About time too!'

Note: Lucius Aelius Sejanus [20BC – 31AD) was a soldier who rose to become a powerful figure as friend and protégé of the Emperor Tiberius. However he soon made equally powerful enemies and, after standing in as deputy ruler while Tiberius was away in Capri, he was accused of sedition and executed.


A Very Eton Kind of Far-Right Coup
Monday, 29 November 2021 17:33

A Very Eton Kind of Far-Right Coup

Published in Poetry

A Very Eton Kind of Far-Right Coup

by Chris Norris

(to mark the event of an attempted UK far-right coup, August 28th, 2019)

 Not long since witty heckling might
Have stopped the bastard dead,
But we just thought 'it's not our fight',
And laughed at what he said.

Great thing, the wisdom of hindsight,
Stuff we now take as read,
Like judging when the time was right
To nail the lies he spread,

Take action, raise the cry: 'Unite
Against this knucklehead
Or watch the creeping fascist blight
Bring all the things you dread'.

O yes, we marched, we put on quite
A semblance of street-cred,
And told ourselves the plebiscite
Would soon be put to bed.

We cautioned 'Don't be fooled despite
The lies they parroted;
If that lot win they'll re-ignite
The fire the Führer fed'.

But some were fooled, some put to flight,
Some too compliance-bred,
And others apt to jump in fright
At each new watershed.

So when the crisis reached its height
They simply lost the thread,
Ignored ‘the doomsters’, and made light
Of what the papers said.

They thought 'it’s not so black-or-white,
Keep calm, don't be misled',
And then, lest truth reveal their plight,
Watched ‘Love Island’ in stead.

It’s fools and fascists take a bright-
Side view of what’s ahead
Although, god knows, the appetite
For hope’s our daily bread.

So if our warning-calls invite
The fascists to see red,
Just think: this one’s no proxy-fight –
Strike now, or that hope’s dead.

This poem is taken from Chris Norris's forthcoming collection for Culture Matters.

Waiting for Boris
Monday, 29 November 2021 17:33

Waiting for Boris

Published in Poetry

Waiting for Boris
after Constantine Cavafy

by Kevin Higgins

What are they waiting for,
the archbishops and casino owners
clutching their bags of cocaine,
the barman at Wetherspoons eyeing the clock,
and the little people who live
in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s top hat
who’ve been watching things
go slowly downhill
since thirteen eighty one?

Boris is to arrive today
in a chariot driven
by a man with syphilis.

Why so few new laws
up for debate in the House?
Why do the Lords seem happy
to lie about the place waiting
for aneurysms to take them,
without even the energy
to pay their assistants
to give them one last beating
with Daddy’s bloodstained walking stick?

Because Boris arrives today
wearing an eye-patch he borrowed
from Madonna.

Why should the Honourable Member
for Cambridgeshire South bother
crying her usual tears?
Boris, when he gets here,
will have everyone except himself in tears.

Why do the Chairs of Select Committees
race up and down Whitehall
wearing only ceremonial dicky-bows
quoting passages from the Magna Carta
and the new Ann Widdecombe cookbook
into the surprised faces of tourists?

Why have the Speaker of the House
and Lord Privy Seal exhumed
from Westminster Abbey the bones
of Alfred Lord Tennyson
and dragged them to a cheap hotel near Waterloo
to engage in a rattly threesome?

Because Boris arrives today
and approves of such things.

And why doesn’t the Office for National Statistics
give us the latest disastrous news?
Because Boris arrives today
and is bored by people who can add and subtract.

What does this sudden outbreak
of accountants and High Court Judges
vomiting on each other mean?
How grey their jowls have grown.
Why have all the escalators stopped moving?
Why all the red buses crashing into the Thames?

Because the clock has rung
and Boris is not coming.
Some journalists formerly resident in Hell
but now working for the Telegraph
have been sent from the frontline to confirm
there is no Boris.

And now what will we become
without Boris?
We must urgently set about inventing
some other catastrophe
to rescue us from ourselves.

Bojo: Night Thoughts of a Political Journalist
Monday, 29 November 2021 17:33

Bojo: Night Thoughts of a Political Journalist

Published in Poetry

Night Thoughts of a Political Journalist

by Chris Norris

 It's faults of yours in me that I most hate.
The mirror finds fresh features to despise.
How intimately known each odious trait!
No fault of yours I couldn't try for size.

I hear you bluster, bluff, prevaricate,
Twist questions round, give off-the-point replies,
Yet tell myself: let moral fervour wait
Till it's those mirror-faults that meet my eyes.

I note the long words, used to generate
A sense of gravity or advertise
Your cleverness, while hiding how you skate
Clean over awkward truths or proven lies.

I see you play the winsome reprobate,
The jolly rogue, Falstaff in modern guise,
Up-market yobbo, Bloke Who Tells It Straight,
And winner of the Fool-the-People prize.

I listen, wonder-struck, to each new spate
Of addle-pated verbal merchandise
And think again: what if I asked some mate
Of his and mine 'Look, who d'you recognise?'

It's us the mirror shows, journos who prate
Of how the rich thick idler always buys
His way to public office, how the state
Rigs all things in his favour, how the rise

Of toff-class populism may create
Just the conditions apt to catalyse
A fascist hate-crusade, and how a slate
Wiped memory-clean is where all freedom dies.

For it's us journalists who catch up late
With suchlike stuff, evade and euphemize,
'Protect our sources' (lest we alienate
The guys we ought to nail), turn dustbin-spies

In quest of stories, learn to contemplate
(Like them) all sorts of shabby compromise,
And keep them sweet by cutting off debate
When PR chaps suggest – word to the wise!

Oh there's no end of ways to compensate
When conscience pleads and small-hour thoughts chastise.
Turn mirrors round, let circumstance dictate,
And bid a glad farewell to those faint cries.


The Greatest Gift of Boris J: A New Dunciad
Monday, 29 November 2021 17:33

The Greatest Gift of Boris J: A New Dunciad

Published in Poetry

The Greatest Gift of Boris J:
a New Dunciad

by Christopher Norris

The greatest gift of Boris J
Was having lots of things to say
That sounded smart but very soon
Revealed him as a prize buffoon.
His father quickly saw the boy
Was most unlikely to enjoy
Preferment of the kind that came
Of native wit, since just the same
Perception had compelled his Dad
To say of him: 'a splendid lad
But thick as two short planks'. Still he'd
Got on alright, maintained the breed,
Produced son Boris, raised the kid
To do the sorts of things he did,
Like spouting nonsense long and loud
To wow the plebs or please the crowd,
And made of him, in short, a fine
Addition to the family line.

          But every idyll has an end,
And so the time arrived to send
This none-too-promising young chap
Somewhere to plug the three-year gap
Between school and whatever kind
Of job Dad's city friends could find
To put his way. In short, he'd not
The brains to mix it with a lot
Of clever kids from grammar-school
Or comprehensive whom he'd fool
With one of his set-piece displays
Of blustering, but who might raise
Some question as to whether he,
That loud-mouthed bully-boy, should be
Received amongst them in a place
Of higher learning. Such disgrace,
His father feared, could so affect
Poor Boris that it wholly wrecked
His chance of spending those three years
On sundry ways to keep his peers
From finding out the little trick
He'd learned for not appearing thick.

          So off he went to Oxford where,
Great tricksters all, they didn’t care
Too much about the curious lack
Of evidence with which to back
The perfect self-assurance that
Came of his having got off pat
The sorts of stuff that went down well
With tutors not allowed to sell
A place at college but inclined
To favor those with whom they wined
And dined. The trick: pretend that you're
A clever chap who knows the score
Alright, but just pretends he's dumb
For laughs, though really (as they'd come
To know if things went wrong) you played
The game of a buffoon who made-
Believe he’d brains enough to take
A jester's role. If he could fake
It well enough then soon he'd get
The hoi polloi onside and let
Them count him just a harmless clown
While commentators had him down,
Obligingly, as more clued-
Up inverse Coriolanus who'd
The vulgar turn of speech to bring
The mob on board but the true ring,
To ears attuned, of one whom it
Best suited now to play the pit
Against the gallery. He’d show
(For those onlookers in the know)
How the best minds could always hide
Their true intent or send us wide
Of it if we’re the sorts of folk
Not smart enough to get the joke.

          Yet knowing types were taken in,
Just like the mob, because their spin
Was one that opted to rehearse
The Boris line, not its reverse.


Else they’d have quickly found him out
A genuine fool (of this no doubt)
Though one who opted to regale
The world with an unending tale
Of follies that could only strike
His classy chums as too much like
Their own for them to think of him,
The Johnson chap, as simply dim.
That’s why their preferential view
Revealed a brilliant thinker who
Exploited every chance to sus
His various publics out, and thus
Did more than anyone to keep
The dogs of class-war safe asleep.

          His father realized early on
That fortune had not blessed his son
With brains enough to make the grade
Against those upstart sons of trade
Who nowadays aspired so far
Above their station as to bar
The Boris-types from grabbing all
The academic prizes. 'Call
Me prejudiced', Dad said, 'but I'm
Resolved my idiot son will climb
As high as I did up the tree
Of unearned wealth and stand, like me,
Foursquare on privilege and rank.
Not like those redbrick kids who bank
On brains to get them good degrees
Instead of knowing how to please
Some well-placed person who can tip
His friend the wink or quietly slip
A word into the Master's ear.
He’ll see exams don't interfere
With the arrangements put in place
To make quite sure we don’t debase
The currency by letting brain,
Not wealth, direct the gravy-train.’                                             


          Then Father, warming to his theme,
Worked up a further head of steam
As he recalled again how his
Own alma mater did the biz
For Boris, let him in with no
Hard questions asked, refused to toe
The line on widening access, and
Allowed him full scope to expand
His range, not of ideas or thoughts
But handy friends. They were the sorts
(His Dad reflected with a sense
Of grateful pride) who’d recompense
Their pal with favors far beyond
Whatever hike might correspond
To coming out with a starred First,
The prize for nerdy blokes who nursed,
So Dad assumed, some petty grudge
Against the rich. This made them drudge
Long hours in libraries instead
Of making friends, getting ahead,
And plugging any deficit
Of intellect or mother-wit
With smooth talk of the kind that went
A whole lot further to augment
The family fortunes. Yes, they still
Found a few scholarships to fill
With all those intellectual types
Or state-school kids. Whence all the gripes
About the sorts of rowdy stuff
That happened when the fights got rough,
Or when the Bullingdons decreed
Some hapless scholar had no need
Of trousers, books, or things defined
As smacking too much of the mind
In quiet revolt against the brute
Assertion of a creed to suit


That drunken mob. But it's a case,
Here as in all things, of 'the race
Goes to the fittest', which translates
In Boris-speak as: choose your mates
With care and then they'll help you fix
Things up – friends, enemies, odd tricks
To balance books, a bob or two
In leaner times, and chaps to do
The necessary when it comes
To stuff best handled by your chums
Like claiming debts, or settling scores
With bigger blokes, or routine chores
Like squaring chappies who don't quite
Latch on. Those chappies may be bright
Yet miss the finer points involved
In how such matters get resolved
Amongst the smart set who've received
Their drill in what to do when peeved
By such slight upsets. 

                              That’s the best
Thing about Oxford and the test
Of how much it can do to boost
Your real life-chances, get you used
To spieling confidently when
You’re talking utter tripe, and then –
Should some smart-arse presume to take
You up on it – get chums to break
A bone or two. They’ll help repair
The social breach lest more of their
Prerogatives be stolen by
Those pushy redbrick alumni.


Thus Dad again: 'Think, if you will,
How vain the effort to instil
Wisdom or knowledge in a mind
As primitive and unrefined
As that which he inherited,
My son, from ancestors long dead
And brought to that pluperfect stage
Where his meanderings let us gauge
How far it’s gone, our family tree,
In its decline to idiocy.
Those Oxford tutors know the ropes;
They get their share of wealthy dopes
And so adjust their teaching plan
To suit the individual man
(I'm told some colleges accept


Girl students now, but that's best kept
Well under wraps).

                 Where was I? Yes,
His Oxford tutors took a guess
That Boris likely wouldn't shine
In scholarship but might do fine
In other ways if they could build
Constructively on unfulfilled
Potential and so stretch his few
Poor talents till one hardly knew
How few and poor they were. The task
Was somewhat eased, in case you ask,
By his strong tendency to big
Them up and then, should someone twig
How perfectly absurd the boast,
Repeat it louder till the most
Determined sceptic had to stop
His ears and let the matter drop.

          That gift they cultivated, plus
His way of making a great fuss
About his always being right
On every topic. This despite
His almost always being wrong,
Which didn't much affect the song
And dance he made or help him learn
From his mistakes, unless to turn
The volume up and shout them down,
Which hugely bolstered his renown
Among the likewise challenged bunch
Of hangers-on. They had a hunch
That this might be their own best way
Of keeping mockery at bay,
This Boris-wheeze of talking crap
But getting everyone to lap
It up because he put in lots
Of pompous words and filled the slots
That English nonsense failed to reach
With foreign nonsense. This they’d teach
Him every day, his tutors, so
That soon he’d be prepared to go
Out in the world and not let on
How dense he was.

              The handiest con-
Trick was the schoolboy one that took
No more than a quick, furtive look
For Latin tags or quotes. These fall
Conveniently to hand on all
Occasions when one’s tried and failed
To think of something that availed
Last time to hide one’s total lack
Of gumption. Plus it takes a smack
At those who’ve missed out on the rich
And many-sided culture which
Lies open solely to the sons
Of privilege. For they’re the ones –
Contest it as you will – whose sense
Of taste and native competence
Allows them that especial ease
Of access that the legatees
Of vulgar ignorance should just
Accept since their condition must
Exclude them from the magic zone
Where class and classics greet their own.


            So thought his Dad, though that old block
The chip was off maintained his stock
Response whenever someone had
The cheek to call his son a cad.
Else they might raise the question why
He sounded such a clever guy,
With all those long words and his air
Of having such a natural flair
For languages, yet somehow got
Mixed up when faced with on-the-spot
Collocutors who went off-script
Or TV panellists who quipped
About him in satiric mode,
Thus disrespecting every code
Of media etiquette. This left
The poor lad totally bereft
Of words beyond the tongue-tied yawp
Or snorts of rage at which they'd gawp,
Those interviewers prone to think
Him super-smart since told to link
Up with his media-savvy team
Of PR heavies whose regime
Imposed strict limits on the scope
For doubt. For it's a slippery slope
From slight misgivings they might feel
To counting him an imbecile
And so thenceforth according scant
Attention to his mindless rant.

             All this his father deemed a mere
Reflection of the need to sneer
At intellects above their own
Among the rabble, or those known
As rabble-rousers in the crew
Of ex-chums. Must be that lot who
Spread all the nasty stuff around
Announcing that he'd now been found
A fool, an ignoramus, and
The kind of bloke they couldn't stand
To think they’d just last week embraced
As sharing their superior taste.

Truth is, Dad wasn't quite immune
To doubts on that score, but would soon
Suppress them when some cheeky cub
Reporter took his chance to rub
It in that his fine son was (let's
Say) just the sort of chap who gets
Thrown out of parties, or the sort
Who seems a few IQ points short
Of normal, or who, every time
He speaks, commits some hideous crime
Against the English Language. Still,
Though Dad had learned the put-down drill
To send them packing, he could not
Conceive what might have been his lot
In life, young Boris, had the fates
Withheld that gift which compensates
For defects of the mind or soul
With other benefits. These stole
A march on all the clever blokes,
Or nice-guy types, or other folks
More able but less well supplied
With skin like a rhinoceros-hide
And lacking his protective gift
Of being not the least bit miffed
At satire's barbs since wadded thick
So even the sharpest didn't stick.

            'Full many a flower is born to blush',
And all that, but before they rush
To judgment – so his father thought –
Perhaps those social levellers ought
To count the cost in man-hours spent
By Oxford tutors eminent
Enough to land themselves a post
At seats of learning coast to coast,
Yet now with naught to exercise
Their minds save trying to devise
New ways to keep a nincompoop
In check. Else he’d provide some scoop
For paparazzi keen to bite
The hand that any moment might
Give one of them a story sure
To hit the headlines and procure
Such short-lived fame as comes to those
Who hardly need to hold their nose
When tailing Boris. For the smell
Brings promise of more tales to tell
And lets them know, should any doubt
Remain, that they have all the clout
In market terms since no one reads
The nice stuff. Plus, raw sewage needs
At least as much disposal-care
As those choice items fit to share
With readers whose more sensitive
Olfaction means they’re apt to give
Both Boris and the hacks who thrive
On him scant licence to connive
At further lowering the tone
By any standard but their own.


          And so once more: ‘Where was I? Must
Have gone a bit off-topic just
When I got to that handy quote
From Gray, you know, the one who wrote
The Country Churchyard thing – but damn
Me, what a foolish chap I am
To keep on getting sidetracked. Three
Times now I’ve tried to say that he,
My Boris, isn’t half as bad,
As stupid, or as raving mad
As some make out, and every time
For some odd reason – one that I’m
Not up to sorting out – I veer
Off course and make the boy appear
A dunce, a cad, a perfect fool,
A dolt, a semi-witting tool
Of racists, and a chap you’d go
Long ways around to miss or throw
Clean off your trail. For should you meet
He’ll probably be quick to greet
You like a bosom-pal, until
You mention some outstanding bill,
At which he rings his city mates,
Informs them loudly how he hates
Your guts, then – like as not – just hints
He’d like to see your legs in splints.

          But that’s enough – can’t keep on track
As planned but will keep circling back
To all those things that I’d prefer
To brush aside yet still occur
Unbidden to me as I strain
And fail, and strain, and fail again,
Fail worse this time, to stick up for
That boy of mine and so restore
The family name. Truth is, it’s too
Much, even for a father who
Devoutly wishes to defend
His only son, this need to bend
The factual evidence so far
As to make Boris out the star
Yet helpless victim of a vile
Conspiracy with all the bile
That comes the way of anyone
As rich and famous as my son.

          But no, the truth will out: they're right,
And I'll acknowledge it despite
This vain attempt of mine to press
A case for the defence. Why stress
The soft stuff like paternal love
And private loyalty above
The rival claims of civic good
Or common decency that should,
So we're instructed, come to guide
Our acts and choices once untied
From those rogue impulses that rule
Our hearts and minds until we school
Them in more adult ways? Not my
Strong suit, this stuff, although I try
To take the Creon view and see
The problem with Antigone,
If you'll excuse the sharp descent
From their sublime predicament
To how I stall and beat about
The bush. Why can’t I come right out
With what I should have said straight off:
That Boris is the kind of toff
Who gets us fellows a bad name?

          Let’s face it, he’s the one to blame
If things go wrong with our old trick
For pleb-appeal. That lets us click,
Us Grade A types, with all those folk,
The Ds and Es, who like a bloke
Much classier than the Bs and Cs
Since quite at liberty to please
Himself in all he says or does,
Like setting lots of ears abuzz
With gibes about the middling sort
Of social climber. Why comport
With rules of decency or tact
Devised by parties to a pact
The main effect of which has been
To keep the have-nots off the scene,
As well as haves with wealth enough
(Inherited) to tell them: stuff
Your bourgeois virtues, stand aside,
And see us jump the class-divide
From A to E. But now he’s blown
The gaff, my wretched boy, and shown
That up as just the kind of ruse
That chaps like us will always use
To dupe the very folk who’d stand
To gain the most if our old brand
Of fake class-hopping were exposed
For what it is. So, chapter closed:
Just have to have to find another way
To con them, fight another day,
And forge anew the ancient bond
Of foule esclave and beau monde.

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