God save the queen
She ain’t no human being
And there’s no future
In England’s dreaming.
God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols.
On Thursday evening I was reminded that sleep and dreaming has been a recurring theme when describing England, more specifically Southern England. The trigger was Republic Birmingham’s second poetry evening. This event contained a twist as it started with a debut standup comedy routine from Pete, a new member of our group. Sadly, due to traffic congestion I missed the first part but the ease with which he took the interruption of my late arrival completely in his stride belied his inexperience. A unique and valuable comedy talent in the making. Then on to the main event, Spike the Poet making a return visit to our evening. Once again he did not disappoint with an intelligent mix of humour, passion and biting comment on the farce of monarchy. Some wonderful anecdotes by way of background to a few of the poems reflected the depth and complexity of human relationships in the modern world. Find out more about Spike on his Facebook page.
My contribution was next and eschewing my beloved Shelley I read a poem (abridged for length) by Chartist Gerald Massey. My choice, Tradition and Progress, written in the mid 19th century, intertwines republicanism and anti-war protest with rage at the poverty experienced by many working people. You can read more about Massey in an earlier post.
So what about the dreaming? The last item was a prose reading by Alex Simpson. He chose the last paragraph of George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia which recounts Orwell’s experience in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. In my Orwell readings I had not got around to this book so the tract was fresh and had impact. Having returned to England Orwell despairs of the complacency he perceives, concluding:
Down here it was still the England I had known in my childhood: the railway-cuttings smothered in wild flowers, the deep meadows where the great shining horses browse and meditate, the slow-moving streams bordered by willows, the green bosoms of the elms, the larkspurs in the cottage gardens; and then the huge peaceful wilderness of outer London, the barges on the miry river, the familiar streets, the posters telling of cricket matches and Royal weddings, the men in bowler hats, the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, the red buses, the blue policemen–all sleeping the deep, deep sleep of England, from which I sometimes fear that we shall never wake till we are jerked out of it by the roar of bombs.
From Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Orwell and the Sex Pistols are simply two of many, poet Philip Larkin a notable example, who have used sleep and dreaming imagery to describe the state of England. With a ramshackle constitution, increasing intolerance, and a seeming acceptance of ever more authoritarian inclined politicians talking of Empire 2.0 we are still sleeping and dreaming – and jeopardising our future!
Give a wrong time, stop a traffic line
Your future dream has sure been seen through.
Anarchy in the UK – The Sex Pistols