Trouble at the barricades

I thought up a poem. It’s just that time of year I guess.



Riot Season

Rioting in primrose costume

bashing on the shields of equinox.

Looting fields of nesting fleece

from barbed wire frontier cops,

stamping territory on private keep out land.

Cuckoos scam my password secrets every time.

Mug – I click your link.

So hold it there.

Summer tempts you in with dreams

of permanence and power.

Hold it there

rock and youth in hand.



Anoraktic Relapse

1959 Mk 2 Zodiac: We dared to dream and dream we did. 

I really cannot help this but I do feel I left out a very important portion of my blog yesterday. There were no pictures of the Mk 2 Zodiac. My cousin Jeff had a mark 2 Automatic. Zodiac Executive in a maroon colour called “imperial red”. Oh yes – the Empire had not struck back in those days. The mark 2 Ford Consul and Zephyr range were distinguished by having a three speed gearbox when everyone else was moving to four. They also retained the vacuum operated windscreen wipers. These devices used the inlet manifold vacuum to “suck” the wiper first one way, then the other. This was great when the engine was cruising, but with a wide throttle position, the vacuum “inlet suck” was drawn into the engine leaving the wipers stranded like a Tea clipper in the Doldrums. Going downhill with the throttle closed would have the wipers oscillating like a Euro politico in a money crisis.

And before I do actually hang up my anorak, I do feel we ought to mention the Vauxhall Cresta PA.. This car was the vehicle as icon, an object of worship. It had more to do with possession and style than it did with transport. The guys who developed these cars understood the lure of bling long before the term existed. This was the high point of common taste becoming classic beauty – a bit like the American film musical.

A 1958 Cresta: Nothing exceeds like excess. 

The cars we drive hold up a mirror to the way we are. A glance at a 2010 car park in the UK would have shown nothing but grey and silver. I am beginning to note a slight move back to fun colours of red and yellow. If the two tone comes back it’ll be time to invest my friends. If I were world dictator I would be seeding the economies with two tone finned cars. In two years we’d be dancing in the aisles.  I would go on about the Vauxhall Victor but if you really care you can check out “Fashion Footwear” in my collection “I Threw A Stone”

If any of you guys out there are struggling with the term Anorak, here is a link. In a minute I’m going to take it off and go out wandering as a sensitive poet. I won’t even look at a car I promise. I’ll probably keep a piece of oily rag to sniff if things get tough.



My Name Is Oscar – I’m An Anorak.

A matchbox toy Zephyr 6 – as close as I’ve ever got to a Zodiac

Standard Vanguard

Years ago in the 1950’s folks were not very cool. Simple pleasures such as car spotting were enough to entertain a young poet such as me. In his “Prelude” Wordsworth talks about his young life with beauty and fear. As an urban Anorak child I would only be able to talk about the 1952 Standard Vanguard and also that day when I spotted an Austin Atlantic. In those days the motor car was still unattainable to most working class people. All the same they represented a dream of the future embodied in sculpture. The Vanguard and the Atlantic influenced my young malleable psyche but eventually fell away as the mass production of vehicles presented ever more objects of beauty.

Then, one day I came home from a day of car spotting to our artisan’s terraced home. In the road outside was a fawn coloured Mk.1 Ford Consul, registration number MCR 992. The year was 1955. My father had got a job that needed a car. I only had one thought which has remained unexpressed all these years. “Why Oh why could it not have been a Zephyr Zodiac?” OK – I knew we were plain folk who never expected to win – but a Consul was so close to a Zodiac that we could have crossed that divide. If we had had a Zodiac I would have had an Oboe Of The British Empire and been made Poet Lorry Park by now. That fawn Consul Mk1 set the limits of my aspirations.

Why could it not have been a Zodiac?

Ford Zodiac MK1. Straight 6 leading straight to the stars.

My 1962 Zephyr in 1973

For years this anguished disappointment has festered in the pocket of my anorak. Imagine then my mixed feelings when Emma Calin called me to say that she had book by Terry Ravenscroft called ” Zephyr Zodiac”.  The book is in fact a skilful look at British social attitudes and history from 1962 to 2012. It plots the history of a 1962 Mk 3 Ford Zephyr Zodiac as it passes through a succession of owners. Changing attitudes to sex, race, celebrity and work are interwoven with a series of short plays dealing with everything from teenage pregnancy, the police, retirement and gangsters. The events are often hilariously surreal, yet at other times touched with a sincere pathos and empathy. As an ex cop I did find myself laughing aloud at Mr Ravenscroft’s evident disdain for certain aspects of police behaviour. I would have to concede that he is spot on in his critique.

For fellow younger anoraks who may not be aware of the Zodiac, this vehicle was the top of the range Ford in the UK from 1950. It had four separate manifestations, the best of which were the Mk 2 and the Mk3. The Mk 4 was an ugly brute and for me was not in the same spirit at all. I began work in a Ford dealership in 1964 – the year they introduced the Mk4. My bread and butter work were the Mk 1,2 and 3 cars. Sadly body corrosion was an issue and I have lost count of the number of welding jobs I have done of the sills and front suspension strut mountings. I would have to point out that beyond the Zodiac was the Executive – some options including gold hub caps and bumpers.

Tail fins to beat the Reds

I have owned one Zephyr in my life – a 1962 Zephyr4 – a poor substitute by comparison. It did have a four speed column change gearbox, bench seats and fins. And fins is what the whole concept was about. Was it a coincidence that it was in 1965 that development of the F15 fighter plane began. Just as Ford scrapped the Zodiacs, McDonnell Douglas hit on the design to defeat Communism and the Russian Mig jets. Just check out the photos. It is obvious to me that the Ford Zodiac led directly to the triumph of the West  by inspiring the twin fin back end.

F15 inspiration

And finally – guess what has been on my desk these last 25 plus years. The only 6 cylinder Zephyr I have ever owned. It used to belong to my son but he had no respect for it and I had to repossess it. Now that is sad is it not!

If you are any sort of petrol head or just have a memory of the last fifty years, check out Zephyr Zodiac by Terry Ravenscroft.

Being some kind of poet I cannot leave this subject without a short poem about cars with fins. It is called Independent front suspension strut.

Beatle songs and whitewall Nation

with column change sophistication,

We had arrived in Telstar space,

where there was no welded place

beyond the strut type front suspension..

Yes – the last finned cars were the end of history. Post modernism and sociology began with the Mk4 Zephyr.  I do know that the above is a exceptionally naff poem, but when you are hoping to be the poet Lorry Park you just have to churn the stuff out.

Wounded Soldiers

self portrait of a wounded soldier

Who do you truly know? It would be no good starting with the self would it? So many motivations are buried. Many times in my life others have had more insight into me than I have had. Bank managers, teachers and literary agents have formed a faithful triumvirate of judgement. All the same I’ve been broadly undamaged by my life. We know often enough that this is not the case with everyone. The damaged individual can change the course of history with some awful spectacle or simply self destruct from self loathing, fear and confusion. It is not my place to reflect upon current affairs. However, uniforms can create a notion of certainty and predictability. The truth is that you just never know the inner workings of an individual, a friend or close colleague. Exposure to extreme events, horror and fear will have effects. Many know far more of this than me. Quite often the mentally wounded soldiers (be they office clerk or Rambo) will hide their suffering in macho bravado. Whether it is a concern that we fail to detect so many or a small triumph that there are so few I do not know. My highly personal guess is that our modern grasping life with lack of time for loving kids will fuel sufferings for many years to come.

I do not come from any special place on this. I was a South London cop and worked in the coroner’s department. I attended the suicides and the murders. I talked casually to child sex offenders as if comparing shopping lists. I was in fights and riots and I lost nothing but half a tooth and my sense of moral outrage. I drank beer and wrote poems – although in the macho culture I kept quite about the poetry. Not everyone was so lucky. I’m not sure what a genius is but during that epoch I think I may have known one. He died quite recently amongst the wreckage of his life. This is what happened.

He was a young guy – sensitive, well educated and kind. As a student he had developed a bit of a drink issue. Nothing in his life had prepared him for constant hostility and a strange kind of feeling which is halfway between fear and excitement. Everyone wanted to be in the action, the hero cop…..well that’s what everyone said. It’s like bungee jumping. You can do a few jumps and then one day it goes cold and you see risk and the humiliation of not being able to jump. You know something has changed inside but bungee jumping is within your control – you stop doing it. Half way through a shift on a patrol car you may already have been tested – perhaps some incident had not gone well and you feel a bit low.

Then comes a call – serious disturbance in the street, shops being looted etc. He arrives with a colleague and a petrol bomb hits the car. A mob starts to overturn the vehicle and he flees with rioters gouging and pulling at his face, trying to push their fingers into his eyes. The heat from the burning car pushes back the mob and he ran. In his heart he never stops running – not until the end of his life. In the burning car his colleague kicks out the windscreen and runs just as hard. There were not too many choices. By bed time the other guy was over it. The guilt driven soldier added another deep cut to his list and went home to pour some more lonely vodka into his wound.

The guy I am talking about was the funniest man I’ve known. He had a dry cynicism which he delivered with immense compassion. He knew people made mistakes. He had a totally surreal vision of the possible. He wrote poems and did paintings. He kept a python in his room at a police lodging house. Eventually, the authorities turned their back on him and threw him out. His life staggered along via broken relationships, vagrancy and alcoholism. I met him again in the last couple of years of his short life. He had a big project to open people’s lives to the notion of possibility. He built little doors to fit into the roots of trees so that a passer-by might smile, believe in fairies or mentally open that door into imagination.

Wounded soldiers come in many shapes and sizes.

An Absolute Gentleman

The death of Davy Jones – lead singer of the Monkees was sad news to me this morning. As a young man I used to help out at an evening club for handicapped kids. There were those who would join in and those who were too nervous to dance and sing along. Two songs never failed to get them up. “Daydream Believer” and “I’m a Believer” conquered the inhibitions of the shyest kids.

Several years later I was a cop on the streets of South London. As a result of a traffic accident a short youngish guy with kind brown eyes found himself being interviewed by me. He was humble polite and charming. He told me about his work on American TV and his identity came to light. The traffic matter was fairly banal and in those days cops were not that fixated on motorists. I thanked him for for the music and he thanked me for my attention. There will be all manner of obituaries and the memories of  showbiz stars in the media. I just wanted to say my own tribute. He was an absolute gentleman.

A letter arrived at the poet’s cave advising me that it was about time I started to think about sheltered housing for the elderly. I filed it next to two letters from the Health Service inviting me to provide samples of unspeakable body products so that I can be screened. A glance at the Newspaper revealed separate articles revealing the two greatest threats to these Sceptred Isles. 1) We are living too long and they cannot afford us. 2) We are still drinking and smoking too much and dying too young. Sometimes I just do not know what to do for the best.

Front-line 2011

Here in the UK the news is that the news is about what happened 30 years ago. Government papers from 1981 have been released and we can see all the secret memos between ministers and know all the things we did not know at the time. 1981 was the year of the riots as all the major cities were swept by mob violence. In London huge fires burned that were clearly visible from Westminster. Mobs looted shops and houses. The Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Police constable L368 was an unknown poet called Oscar Sparrow, stationed at Brixton. One of the main bus routes was and is Railton Road. It was called locally “The Front-line” to denote it was a social frontier. It was never dull. In the picture above the poet is the second cop about to walk into a lamp post if he doesn’t pay attention. I never put on that uniform without feeling that I was in fancy dress.

I have several observations about civil disorder and rioting. It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure for both the good and bad guys. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. Despite all appearances, most people are just helplessly stuck in the middle. Nearly all these folk are poor and have very little themselves. After a while everyone wants it to stop. Then it stops and people turn up at the police station to say they found a wallet or lost their dog. It is not for unknown poets to pontificate on the politics or the social dynamics of inequality, race, unemployment and urban alienation. I could, but it would add nothing to all that has been said since and doubtless will be recycled when, inevitably, it will all re-run for a newer generation. If I were a modern day cop I would almost anticipate a mob throwing iPads, being filmed by officers with smart phones. Alternatively both sides would turn up with such an array of filming equipment to capture one another’s brutality that nothing would happen, except maybe a few aggressive zoom sequences.

I know I should not appear flippant about such serious affairs because people do awful things. There are rapes, murders, ghastly woundings and arson. I was far less of a revolutionary once I had sampled just a little of its flavour. A mob running wild is awesome, but if the batteries on the remote are low, manual control is bruising. The best rampaging mobs are on TV. Petrol bombs burn you. Large fellows with swords can make one very aware of one’s sphincter. 2012 approaches and one can sense certain straws in the wind. We never learn you know………

I was a cop because it was a job that I thought would give me stuff to write about. I loved Brixton and South London. It was a cacophony and a choir, a rhythm and a rag-bag. It was a fist in the face and a handshake. I wrote a poem at that time and it is in my collection “I Threw A Stone”

You can hear it here and read it below:

Frontline ’81

Red London buses
blood corpuscle bustle
past a drinking club
which is a terraced house
with fifty men,
one hundred whites of eyes inside.

Drinkers piss al fresco unperturbed
on pavements trod with butts of blow.
Dead cans of Red Stripe
barber pole along the dismal gutter.
Ragged Bee- Em- Dub-Yews cruise,
boozed bleached whore-cats
pussy sway to reggae beat
subliminal in chest and throat.

On a corner an ambulance.
White cop say
“How d’ it start?”
Black girl say
“Wid slave-ree”.

In the alley a trembling bitch
fucks a pack of sperm rage dogs.
A circling runt denied, accepts.
Sirens down the Brixton Road
announce aloud a further haemorrhage.

By Oscar Sparrow