The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

A Subaltern's Love Song
By John Betjeman

Miss J. Hunter Dunn, Miss J. Hunter Dunn,
Furnish'd and burnish'd by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament - you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father's euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o'clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light's in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing's the light on your hair.

By roads "not adopted", by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o'clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl's hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I'm engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.


A poem excerpted in Michael Dirda's review of A.N. Wilson's Betjeman: A Life in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "There should be a warning sticker on the cover of this biography..."Anglophiles Only!" writes Dirda, who likes Wilson's style and warns that the book "readily assumes familiarity with the Brideshead Generation of writers and eccentrics (Evelyn Waugh, Kenneth Clark, Lord Berners)" in addition to British television in the 1950s. "Sir John Betjeman represents a familiar type: a public nostalgist for a world we have lost. As a poet and architectural preservationist, he loathed our crass modern society's noise, vulgarity and gimcrack ugliness: 'The magic-lantern is broken and we laugh at the mission hymns,' as he wrote in one of his poems ('The Ballad of George R. Sims'). And yet he attained immense fame through his journalism, travel guides (sponsored by Shell Oil!) and frequent appearances on radio (735 times) and television (494 times). By the end of his life, he was not only England's poet laureate but also one of the most beloved public figures in the country, half Walter Cronkite, half Walt Disney."

Dirda cites "A Subaltern's Love Song" as evidence Betjeman's lack of concern that his poetry might be regarded as "little better than a nursery jingle or a Hallmark greeting" as well as "why it was so popular with ordinary people." (This poem, ironically, seems to go quite well with the movie I watched earlier.) Though a devout Anglican, and bisexual at least in his youth, he regularly fell in love with women and cheated on his wife, ending up having a long affair with a lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret and spending his later years with her.

Had a relatively quiet day indoors in the cold, with only a couple of ventures out to pick up lunch with perkypaduan (who brought me cock soup...yes really, though we had Thai takeout for lunch) and to drive son to Hebrew school. In between, perkypaduan and I watched Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors back to back, which is how it made sense to me to watch them since she had never seen either before, the former is pretty much a remake of the latter set in London rather than New York, with younger characters and opera instead of Schubert. I have written about this before for the Green Man Review, which I mention not only in case anyone wants to read it but to remind myself that I have owed perkypaduan a review of Happy Feet for that publication for weeks!

My editor wanted an article on Chris Doohan, James Doohan's son, begging and pleading fans on his MySpace page for a write-in campaign to get him cast as Scotty in Star Trek XI (note to J.J. Abrams: this casting choice is a guaranteed way to make me not see the movie). I flatly refused to write it and instead wrote two articles on two actors who are actually 1) working and 2) of interest to Star Trek fans: Alexander Siddig, who on top of 24 has signed on to a new movie (which starts shooting next month...does this mean he will not survive the season vs. Jack Bauer?), and Kate Mulgrew, who on top of appearing in the world premiere of a play next month is also doing a one-night Shakespeare reading and writing for a book on Alzheimer's. In fact, even the tragedy of the Hubble Telescope's main camera would be more relevant to Star Trek news than every child of a Trek star trying to make a buck off the franchise. And yes, that includes Eugene Roddenberry, Jr.

Guh. (ETA: Oops! Warning: Nearly naked Daniel Radcliffe. May not be considered work-safe, though is respectable source material.) *goes to Hell, goes directly to Hell, does not pass Go, does not collect $200* I will not be seeing that when I am in England in April, as I will have my children with me, but hopefully we will see the remains of an ancient village found near Stonehenge, since we will certainly be on Salisbury Plain. Also we are hoping to go to The Prisoner village in Wales, so we watched the first episode with the kids tonight -- it's been more than a decade since I last saw it, was most entertained -- and then Boston Legal, where one couple I adore got together and another hopefully will!

Bella shows up at Crane, Poole & Schmidt covered in paint, where both Denny and Shirley observe that she looks blue. She claims to have been attacked by vicious eco-terrorists who resent the animal experiments carried on by her company that markets makeup for robust women, which she says is necessary to make sure the makeup is safe for humans and these "psycho liberal thugs" are interfering. Shirley doesn't want to work with Denny on the case, leading Bella to warn that if she marries Denny, she'll get a stake in the firm, but Shirley says that's only if someone does not drive that stake through Bella's heart and Shirley firmly believes she could kick Bella's over-the-top ass. She does end up working on the case, however, after Denny learns that the opposition is being represented by Bethany, who asks the judge (Judge Poopycock) if he's an imbecile when he asks if she's a midget. Bethany is vicious in portraying Bella as a vicious torturer of animals, less because Bethany actually cares about the issues involved than because Bethany wants to hurt Bella because of Denny.

Alan declares that he thinks he should get a turn with Denise, leading Brad to call him a perv, which in turn leads Alan to tell Brad that he's not Denise's only friend with benefits. Naturally Brad suspects that she's sleeping with Jeffrey, and when Denise won't answer a direct question, he puts invisible dye that shows up under infrared light on Denise's hands so he can see where those hands have been on Jeffrey (though he has to get Jeffrey to step into the closet to use his special infrared flashlight, allowing Jeffrey to quip that he didn't know Brad had come out of the closet). Denise's hands have been all over Jeffrey, and Brad reluctantly tells her that he has to break off this friends with benefits arrangement because he's just too old fashioned.

Clarence asks whether Claire is one of the women out there who might go out with him, as she told him before there would be; then he puts a bag over his head when she doesn't answer right away. She agrees to go out with him, and when he says over dinner that he thinks they have a lot in common -- his hard shell is Clarice or Oprah, but she is just defensive -- she tells him that her father was physically abusive and she has never said this to anyone before who was not a professional therapist. He admits that he had imaginary friends as a child and asks whether he's too weird, but she says he's just weird enough. Meanwhile, when Vanessa the new lawyer asks Alan why he's always checking her and every other woman out -- "I'm sure there's a long very complicated answer" -- and he tells her a kind of long, pathetic (and not very satisfying IMO) story about not having been able to catch his idealized high school fantasy girl in a yellow dress at a dance, so now he looks for the one who got away.

Denny questions the man whose group is accused of dyeing Bella, pointing out that they've been charged with covering people in red paint just for wearing synthetic fur which the defendant says is because even fake furs encourage the fashion. Bethany insists that Bella isn't doing cancer research but making money, and when Shirley notes that Denny doesn't seem to care about winning the case, he explains that he's secretly still in love with Bethany and wants to break up with Bella. Soon after, Bella tells Shirley that she has never liked her because Denny always loved Shirley more, but now she wants Shirley's approval, in the hope that that will earn her Denny's approval.

When Bethany closes by noting that Revlon, Avon and Clinique have stopped animal testing but Big Bella is still torturing rabbits, Shirley offers a rambling closing about how people claim to love animals but have no qualms about racing horses whose bones can't withstand such a pounding and how breast and hair implants are our great passion as Americans. The bunnies died for their country, she concludes: "All we can really hope for at this point is to save face." The judge says he doesn't believe in this moisturizer poopycock, but the man accused of painting Bella must stay away from her; his group, however, can continue to protest outside her place of business, which makes Bella unhappy as well as upset that Denny didn't tell her Shirley was a communist. She's even more upset when Denny tells her that he's not over Bethany but says she will put her daughter's happiness above her own, asking Denny please not to hurt Bethany. With Alan's coaching, Denny then makes a speech to Bethany about his willingness to right his wrongs, declaring his love.

Paul has planned an office costume party to improve work morale, telling everyone to come dressed as someone they admire. He comes as Einstein, dancing with Shirley who comes as Diane Sawyer...though she is quite angry to discover that Alan has come as Shirley herself, even though she expressly told him not to. (Alan claims that in fact he's supposed to be the Shirley doll.) Denny shows up as Dick Cheney with Bethany as Danny DeVito. Clarence dresses as Oprah, but is forgiven by Claire who kisses him anyway after saying she should have come as Tom Cruise so she could go home and jump on his couch. Denise comes as Jenifer Aniston, stabbing an Angelina-as-Lara-Croft doll; Vanessa dresses in a yellow dress to play Alan's fantasy girl. Then Brad and Jeffrey arrive, having committed the ultimate faux pas: they are both dressed as Buzz Lightyear! For the rest of the night they argue about who is the better Buzz, and when the ejector wings come out, Paul forces them to take their duel outside.

On the balcony, Denny can't take his eyes off Alan-as-Shirley, despite Alan's repeated attempts to rebuff his interest in a quiet drink somewhere: "You're not getting in this outfit!" But Denny tells Alan how he knew Shirley was The One for him: one night while they were making love, she recited Proust to him. "I thought she was possessed." (Down far below at street level, Brad and Jeffrey are still fighting as the Dueling Buzzes.) Alan won't let Denny kiss him as Shirley but agrees to just one dance, so Denny can waltz down memory lane. They fight over who leads while "As Time Goes By" starts playing. Denny says that Alan is really very much like Shirley, only his lumps are in the wrong place, but Alan insists that the only lump in the wrong place at the moment is Denny's own. They wonder what people watching would think, but Alan says that if they're regular viewers, they're used to it. Now THAT is a perfect Alan moment, not some silly adolescent fantasy being blamed for all his angst and confusion with women!

Each year at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, a statue is painted and dressed to resemble the horse that won the Derby that year. I took this photo there last summer on our Penguin Tour of the Midwest. The horse is Barbaro, and the scoreboard behind him reflects the win-place-show standings and odds. There is also a statue dressed in the colors of jockey Edgar Prado, who rode Barbaro to victory.

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