Wednesday, 27 February 2008

"Do you miss any British food, living in Italy?" "Yes, curry"

I thought I'd share with you this rather physical (I can't bring myself to employ here the term visceral) about cultural machismo and the curious intersections of long-dead Empire, by one of my favourite contemporary poets, the Australian Les Murray.

Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil

The first night of my second voyage to Wales,
tired as rag from ascending the left cheek of Earth,
I nevertheless went to Merthyr in good company
and warm in neckclothing and speech in the Butcher's Arms
till Time struck us pintless, and Eddie Rees steamed in brick lanes
and under the dark of the White Tip we repaired shouting

to I think the Bengal. I called for curry, the hottest,
vain of my nation, proud of my hard mouth from childhood,
the kindly brown waiter wringing the hands of dissuasion
O vindaloo, sir! You sure you want vindaloo, sir?
But I cried Yes please, being too far in to go back,
the bright bells of Rhymney moreover sang in my brains.

Fair play, it was frightful. I spooned the chicken of Hell
in a sauce of rich yellow brimstone. The valley boys with me
tasting it, croaked to white Jesus. And only pride drove me,
forkful by forkful, observed by hot mangosteen eyes,
by all the carnivorous castes and gurus from Cardiff
my brilliant tears washing the unbelief of the Welsh.

Oh it was a ride on Watneys plunging red barrel
through all the burning ghats of most carnal ambition
and never again will I want such illumination
for three days on end concerning my own mortal coil
but I signed my plate in the end with a licked knife and fork
and green-and-gold spotted, I sang for my pains like the free
before I passed out among all the stars of Cilfynydd.

Quite by chance I find that this was among the works mentioned in one of Peter Conrad's 2004 Boyer Lectures on ABC Radio National, which is a kind of Australian version of BBC Radio 4, I suppose. The Boyer Lectures are a series of half a dozen or so talks by prominent Australian academics, scientists, historians, politicians or critics, presented each year in around November. Conrad was delivering his series when I was on holiday in Australia in 2004 and we listened to him in the camper van as we drove around New South Wales and Victoria, discussing Australia's relationship to the rest of the world in a series entitled "Tales of Two Hemispheres" which, I am delighted to discover, you can still listen to (or read, should you so prefer.)


Martinus Scriblerus said...

I am so glad that you like this. Les Murray knows what's going on. Check out "It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at 15" and "The Quality of Sprawl".

Richard said...

I don't think you should be allowed to do that to Fern Hill, and I don't like curry, so I have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to this entry.

Makes a change, huh.

I look forward to the post-mortem of Roma's title chances tomorrow, or whenever!

ginkers said...

A fine piece of work, I may pen something myself along similar lines about grappa!

Spangly Princess said...

The Quality of Sprawl was always one of my favourites, indeed. Though Dr P Porter's Murray impression also makes me giggle.

Martinus Scriblerus said...

Hah - of course! How on earth could I have forgotten?