Tag Archives: London Underground

Tales from the Underground

A new lift at Tufnell Park Tube was broken last night, which made me think of a poem from Broken Down House

Cinderella in Repose

I’m slumped against the tube wall,
at 12 midnight.
Carriages turn into pumpkins,
and mice scurry about.
A man dressed in a tutu,
waves a silver magic wand.

Princesses go home with princes,
And the rest:
They fill the platforms.
They blink in the brightest artificial daylight.
They talk and jabber.
Or stand silently, or sway silently, or sing incoherently.

At 12’O one,
the last High Barnet train is gone.
The one I should be on.
Instead I lean against a fire-hose,
and watch Cinderella, in repose.



Notes from the underground #2

Django is the connecting poem to Pieces he will never play. Its title comes from the Gypsy Jazz guitarist Django Reinhart.

I based Django on a real person; let’s just call him Dave. Dave was my old college roommate; we shared the same space for not much longer than a term. I remember he was exceptionally shy, and never really took part in the usual student round of drinking, dancing and looking for love.

He was one of those people who, if he’d gone to parties, would have nestled quietly in a corner. One of those people who no one notices. His voice barely rose above a whisper. He was otherworldly. A ghost, almost.

As Django he played guitar in our room; he made eastern inflected music, that floated on air. I still recall him sitting on his single bed; body turned to the right, head down. His long bony fingers reminded me of a painting by El Greco. He was more Seventeenth than Twentieth Century.

Dave left halfway through the second term, he never returned.

Ten years later, I met him at Bank Station in one of those long tunnels that seem to go on for miles. I heard the sound of his guitar; those eastern scales that made me think of places like The Alhambra and Marrakech.  Then I saw his tall bony body, bent forward, like a figure of Christ.

I can’t remember what was said that day, and I never saw him again.

Django                                              March, 2013.

Django played in the tunnels beneath Bank Station.
He fashioned a twisted scale,
that drifted on the air.
And he made me think of Morocco,
and the sweet fragrant smell of Marrakech.

Django all awkward and angular,
with a mop of thick blond hair
Had large bony fingers,
that made  me think of Christ’s,
bending round the cross.

Django hummed as he played.
More moan than tune,
It sounded raw and real, and how he could feel the music.
And he made me think of the Mississippi delta,
and the wide expanse of river rolling along.

Django spoke silently to me,
 and I to him.
We acknowledged each other,
as familiar strangers do,
with a nod of our heads.

One Christmas,
he wore a velvet hat Trimmed with ermine fur;
and an Arabian cloak to keep out the cold.
And I though of Gold, Incense, Frankincense and myrrh;
and things like joy and goodwill to all like Django.

Django was the name,
sent telepathically to me.
And I thought of Django Reinhart,
and his paralyzed fingers,
and of those who are not as fortunate as he.

Django busked during the winter of 1984,
while miners struck and the GLC crumbled.
And the memory of him, brings into focus,
this current hard winter,
and how warm it is underground.


Notes from the underground.

Last year was the hundredth anniversary of the world’s first underground passenger railway, The London Underground. I wrote four poems for a website that never materialized.

Seeing that I’ve been traveling through those ancient tunnels for over thirty years; I felt myself qualified to make some observations. This one was inspired by the Kings Cross Fire of 1987. 31 people were killed and smoking was permanently banned from the underground as a result. Instead of trying to crystallize the whole event in verse; I focused on the aftermath.

The poem was suggested by the story of a musician, whose hands were severely burned in the firestorm. And while I have never suffered severe burns, I can now empathise with the man’s loss.

I used to run marathons, and recently found that my old 5K time put me in the top 1% to 2% of runners in the country. I exchanged my mobility for life; just as the musician exchanged his ability to play, for life.  I hope, like me, he found different ways of making music.

The Pieces He Will never Play              June, 2013

I imagine him standing in the Turbine Hall.
Playing an asbestos Violin,
connected to the loudest of sound-systems.

He’s dressed in a boiler suit.
That suits the buildings former use,
and a Station Master’s cap.

And despite the amplification.
Not a single sound issues –
from his violin.

Instead there’s a low hum.
Reminiscent of something moving,
at incredible speed.

Then silence.
Then pain.
Then nothing.

I imagine he wants to explain.
Why this cavernous space,
smells of smoke and burning flesh.

Why a carelessly discarded cigarette.
And a journey from Highbury to Kings Cross,
ended at Sodom and Gomorrah.

And I think about the pieces,
he will never play.
While cradling his silent violin.