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Julian Barnes

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Short Cuts: Five Victorian Marriages

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Society as a Broadband Network

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Indefinite Lent

Thomas Jones

In 1348

James Meek

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Secrets are like sex

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At the Foundling Museum: ‘Portraying Pregnancy’

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Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor

Rupert Thomson

Revism

Joe Dunthorne

Poem: ‘The Reach of the Sea’

Maureen N. McLane

Diary: Where water used to be

Rosa Lyster

How to set up an ICU

Lana Spawls

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Near Luton Airport

Its crest should bear a drinker kneeling,
weeping in an hourglass: The Wigmore Arms
is not convivial;
its smeary panes admit October sun. On the wall,
a picture of a tree whose earth is ceiling.

Was it spite? Revenge? Or for a laugh?
Simple inattentiveness? Or was his face on
upside down,
the man who screwed it there? frown!
you are on camera! ‘A member of our staff’

has brought the food. With a matey leer,
gluing plate to sticky tabletop, he calls me ‘Squire’
and asks with pomp what sauces I require.
Horses, on another wall, are galloping through surf.
Or is it beer?

Not a soothing place. A thumping something roars
and through it you can hear a whooping luck machine
disbursing zero. In an atmosphere of kerosene
and febrile cheer and smoke, I rotate my jaws

on something crisp and fat. A dark brown cup
of Christmas jollity is clinking on a poster.
Through the window, browning green forever, sits an Asda.
book now! At least the fir tree’s right way up.

Taking refuge in a middle stall of three
where silence magnifies my urination
I piddle like a monk and think about my nation,
my thoughts entranced by liberating pee.

‘What’s that mean Squire?’ It’s what it means –
no more no less. Sorry if my words compose
involuntary ordnance of the brain that blows
your shoddy camaraderie to smithereens

as a mighty flushing of the whole urinal
provokes a backward leap, though much too late.
Do thoughts deploy the legs of fate?
With dampened trouser-cuffs, I go to face my wall.

O tree – you have a bottom and a top.
Nature clearly marked your north and south.
Upside down you grow a bearded likeness,
nose and mouth
stopped up with earth, unable to say stop.

Politics

This is the castle. My tower
is round, a bastion. I’m putting
a horse in the bedroom. Now
how did it mount

the winding stair?
I’m putting a woman
in a boat on the lake – a woman
breasted like two swans

gliding side by side toward me.
There’s a dragon on a hilltop
thumping its tail. Earthquakes.
The ground is vibrating.

Ah, my psychiatrist.
How elegant you are in your
white linen suit, sir. I’m putting you
in a submarine and pulling the plug.

This young fellow who’s been
watching me so anxiously – I think
I’ll invite him up to see the horse.
We’ll play a few games.

The Prime Minister is orbiting
in the night sky. Through my telescope
the boy will watch that distinctly
cheesy flapping of the arms.

I put him up there, I’ll say.
He won’t get down until
he confesses the error of his ways.
Then I’ll kiss the boy on the lips.

The horse will drop dung
on the floor of the bedroom. The moon
will hiss through my window embrasure.
In the moat, enormous pike will hunt.

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