Browsing Category Englishness Poems

A poem about Jesus materialising in England

In Sir Stanley Spencer’s 1920 painting “Christ Carrying The Cross”, Jesus is shown walking down the main street in Cookham on Thames, Berkshire.

When Jesus Came To Cookham

When Jesus came to Cookham
he strolled down
the main street
for three minutes
one Saturday morning
without warning.
Mrs Hazlitt
from the bookshop
couldn’t quite
place the face.

When Jesus came to Cookham
no one knew
quite what to do.
One person gathered
in the church
where the priest advised
against a sacrifice
whether animal
or otherwise.

When Jesus came to Cookham
it took him
three minutes
to realise
he’d come too soon.
So he left
carrying a case
in the shape of a cross.

A poem about British sporting inferiority

This poem, broadcast on the BBC World Service in 2011, dates from a time when British tennis success seemed unthinkable  – but maybe it’s now relevant in another sport of your choosing!

A Briton at Wimbledon

you assert
he dictates
you go for the kill
he assassinates

he knows he will
you think you might
you say good evening
he says goodnight

he lifts an eyebrow
you’re known to quibble
he is a canapé
you are the nibbles

you are the liver
he is the pâté
he’s an espresso
you are a latte

you are a penthouse
he is a chateau
he’s at his peak
you’re at your plateau

you’re a repeat
he’s an encore
you are his battle
he is your war

he gets the cup
you get the mug
we shake his hand
but you we hug

  • Audio broadcast of the poem being read on the The World Today (now Weekend) on the BBC World Service on 26 June 2011:    


A poem about a hotel in Bournemouth

Some years ago, a slogan outside a two-star hotel in Bournemouth grabbed my attention: “Say Yes to the Yenton”. I popped in for a look and came away with its rhapsodic brochure (see below), which inspired the following (warning: long) poem. In fact, this was the first poem I ever read in public – in the poetry slam competition at Ledbury Poetry Festival.

Say Yes to the Yenton

So many reasons
to Say Yes to the Yenton,
the Hotel For All Seasons
where a trouser press
is available
on request.

Say Yes
to a warm greeting
from smiling staff
and award winning
central heating.

Say Yes to the Yenton,
a Piece of Country
in the Heart of Town.
Our rustic grounds
rolling down to the river
teem with wildlife.
Birds, for example
and squirrels
and insects
too numerous
to mention

Say Yes
to twenty two
well groomed bedrooms
our rustic grounds.
All equipped
with stylish
clothes hangers
of various shapes
to suit all tastes.

Say Yes to the Yenton
where well behaved dogs
are accepted
by prior arrangement
but not in public rooms
or rustic grounds.
And owners must pay
for any biting
or chewing
of soft furnishings
by dogs

or owners.

Many comment on
Restaurant La Yenton,
so romantic at night
its subtle lighting
gently falling
on Grecian figurines,
enviously eyeing
culinary delights
delicately prepared
by our chef de cuisine
who has visited France
three times.

Children may choose
half portions
or the Yenton
‘Juniors’ menu
for under eights.
Proof of age needed.

Why not say Yes
to a relaxing drink
after your meal
with friends
old and new
in Mac’s Bar.
our rustic grounds.
It’s spacious, elegant,
tastefully refurbished
in traditional style.
It’s an ideal spot
to contemplate
evening shadows
creeping over
our rustic grounds.

Say Yes to the Yenton.
We’ve spent an
awful lot of money
to keep it in peak condition
to your complete satisfaction
from fresh redecoration
in the low season
to minor daily repairs
as and when required.

Say Yes to the Yenton
according to
our visitors book
Twenty July
Nineteen Seventy Nine
Mr and Mrs
P Harris
had a really nice time.

Say Yes to the Yenton.

  • Some extracts from the original brochure:

A poem about an Englishman who emancipated himself

    This poem may or may not be semi- or fully-autobiographical.

The Day Mr Audley Decided To Become A Free Spirit

Got up lateish.

Had three cups of tea
instead of the usual two.
while waiting
for the eggs to boil.
Made a packed lunch
and wrapped it
in foil.

Donned sandals
and socks
and a loincloth
from M&S
which was decorated
with leaves
and berries.

Cut off the sleeves
of his anorak.
Painted a skull
on the back.
Put it on.
Finished the crossword.
And was gone.

At the press conference his wife
made a tearful plea
for him to return
and mend
the garden fence.

So he did.

A poem about a German pilot who came to tea

This is the poem displayed in the loo of a North London café that prompted a BBC producer to offer me a poet in residence slot on ‘Weekend’ on the World Service. The idea for the poem came from a press quote mentioned by Jeremy Paxman in his book ‘The English’.

On 14 August 1940, the Daily Express reported that Mrs Betty Tylee and Miss Jean Smithson approached a downed German pilot. They declined to shoot him and instead offered him a cup of tea.

Will You Shoot Me Now?

No, we don’t do that in England
said Mrs Betty Tylee
would you like a cup of tea?
Though one thing we do do
is put milk in first.

The military police
aren’t due until three
said Miss Jean Smithson
as she rummaged in
the biscuit tin.
Gosh, your Messerschmitt’s in
a bit of a mess.

Not to mention my garden
said Mrs Betty Tylee
Here’s a teaspoon.

Then she stabbed him with
her garden shears.