The only thing you can aspire to growing up in Essex is to be the barrowboy or banker, trading, raking it in, fingerless gloves in Romford market, salmon shirts in the City, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got to be trading, raking it in, making a living, earning your keep, working and working and working away.
But what are you supposed to do if you are a dosser at heart, curtains drawn at seven a.m., George Osborne tutting on the street below, and all you are good at is words, constructing words into insubstantial sandcastles, how do you, as a poet, make a man of yourself?
You’ve got to sell your wares:
Six and ha’penny worth of sonnets, Mrs Springtime?
Do you want some limericks with that?
Will that be open or wrapped?
They say, I’m not sure who they are, but they definitely do say that the poet should not compromise his vision, and I believe that to be true but not true in my case because my vision is already compromised, it is necessarily compromised by my need to fulfil my erstwhile Essex desires. So when TFL came to me and said, Richard, we want you to do positive poems about TFL and etiquette
(Me who listens to dirty, dirty hip hop on tube trains, it’s seediness leaking into the ears of poor uncorrupted children who might otherwise be listening to pure pop sung by cynical teens with perfect hair and an eye on the till)
I said, yeah, alright.
So, I went down to Croydon, well turned out in my blue suit, and I sidled up to the old ladies – they love me, old ladies, and I love them – and delivered my lines about all the evils that other people do and the old ladies nod, and they say, you are quite right, Richard
and it proves that if you rhyme nicely and throw a few puns in along the way, people will believe what you say
and the young people who would like to think they are immune, they are also susceptible, because poetry makes people realise
it makes them realise that life is all right. You can moan and caterwaul all you like, but in our much criticised social democracy where nothing is good enough, if Transport for London have enough courage to pay a few poets some money, some honest cash money, to roam over London spreading goodness, and allow the poet, for a week only, to pretend he is a real life worker, with dignity and all the rest, then it would be churlish to argue too stridently and unrelentingly about our imperfect state of affairs.