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Nick Burbridge

England, My England


The resting actor meets his stooge  

in the new coffee shop

decked with abstract photographs –  

two flapjacks, latte and soy cappuccino –  

to run through the canine pageant

in the local park.


Six months in the coastal village

and his face has made its mark;

some remain suspicious

(he played brutal killers

in so many television thrillers)

but, as he hoists his briefcase

packed with bills and posters,

tethers his Rottweiller

and takes a presidential pose,

his companion, briefly heedless

of his carpal tunnel syndrome,

strokes his Dachsund with a touch of awe,

sure the desultory windswept farce

he organised last year will not recur.


Expertly assembled images of hounds

with keenly pointed snouts and upright tails

set against the croquet lawn

emblazoned with fluorescent font

pass smoothly through his hands;

he sees himself in lightweight suit

spinning risqué joke and anecdote

as he comperes proceedings with aplomb.


And so he misses the main moment

when an inner storm, like petit mal,

fills the actor’s eyes with black.

If he was questioned by police

he could state he had no clue

the man had been so crudely struck;

or he was locked

in his own daydream now,

turned to Andreas Baader

in a Berlin teahaus forty years ago;

his coloured flyers to be plastered

around trees and lamp-posts

with appeals for violent disorder;

his dry palm, under his jacket,

pressed against a Walther automatic;

they had met together,

not to plan the annual menagerie

but the brutal execution

of a super-rich tycoon

in the lock-up by the meeting-hall.


As the villager at last looks up      

he sees only the well-practised smile

his partner uses as a key

to any needed explanation:

too much method acting in his youth

has left him prey to moments

of strange disassociation,

inconvenient and stressful,

yet they bear a kind of truth;

for, though he is, at rest,

a safely grounded citizen,

they offer some expression

to the otherness he has to let

engulf him when he works.


No need to fret.  

Breed shows, races,

behavioural contests.

They shoot through

the carefully prepared programme,

pray the weather holds;

while in the actor’s inner space

all visions of heroic comrades

plotting mayhem

to arouse the proletariat,

and smash the capitalist system

vanish with a whiff

of honeysuckle from

the hanging bush outside.

Nick Burbridge is an Anglo-Irish poet, playwright, novelist, documentary, short story and song writer. His plays include Dirty Tricks (Soho Theatre Company), Vermin (Finborough), Cock Robin (Verity Bargate Award Runner-up/Brighton Festival), Scrap (South East Arts commission/Regional Tour), and double bills Neck/Cutting Room (Bright Red Theatre) and Acts Of Violence (Brighton Actors’ Theatre). For many years he ran his own fringe company, Tommy McDermott’s Theatre.  BBC Radio Drama productions feature Grosse Fugue (Monday Play), Rites Of Passage (Afternoon Play), and several short stories. As a novelist, he had Operation Emerald (Pluto) published under the pseudonym Dominic McCartan.  He collaborated with Captain Fred Holroyd on War Without Honour (Harrap/Medium), a non-fiction work launched at the House of Commons. His short stories have been printed in literary magazines, and Arts Council anthologies. He has written three collections of poetry: On Call (Envoi Poets), All Kinds Of Disorder, and The Unicycle Set (Waterloo Press), and a fourth, Undercover Work, is scheduled; while poems have appeared in major periodicals, including Acumen, Agenda, Ambit, The Rialto, Stand etc. As a singer/songwriter, he has made seven albums with his band McDermott’s Two Hours -The Enemy Within, Live At Ferneham Hall, World Turned Upside Down, Claws And Wings, Disorder, Goodbye to the Madhouse, and Anticlockwise.  - recorded in collaboration with The Levellers, who also covered his song 'Dirty Davey' on their eponymous number one-selling album, and who feature him on their live DVD, Chaos Theory. An acoustic album, Gathered, made with multi-instrumentalist, Tim Cotterell, won him the Spiral Earth Best Songwriter Award, 2013.

Only he knows,

since he’s found a new disguise,

how he will be called to act,

though, God forbid,  

dog pageant should transform to massacre

or village green to feature set.

He turns away, muttering

a mantra learned by heart:

I’m good.  I have identity.

Disintegration is a feature of the past.  

We are safe in the lap

of the local bourgeoisie.

There will be no revolution

in the neighbourhood.

Documentary Evidence

(Dispatches from The Royal Earlswood)



Simple to explore the snow-filled compound

where naked forms were put as punishment,

or follow shuffled tracks along bleak corridors

until your hidden camera fixes

on the blue-blood imbeciles you search for,

stationed in frayed armchairs,

victims of sensational neglect,

so righteous fingers point at all of us

who left their broken ones in limbo

when there seemed no other course;

for we were taught this to expect.


Visions of enlightenment.  Take two.

Pious voice recites hushed platitudes

across excited shouts from a suburban house,

one of thousands cheaply poached

by health-care traders, bidding

for new-liberated stock like lots.

Home in on a lame circle, gathered

in a neatly furnished space

for tea and cakes, French windows open

on a garden filled with unheard birdsong.

Follow their bent figures to the seaside.

Crowd shots to highlight how the touched

are readily absorbed – or not.


Leave no lens live one winter night

on a lone worker at a long week’s shift

slumbering across the kitchen table

by the swirl and tumble of soiled sheets.

Or mount the stairs and hesitate

as a fire-door opens from within,

to fix on a still figure, wedged

between flower-papered wall and bed,

in the aftermath of a fierce fit –

though falls observed on those reviled wards

had only ever left him scars that slowly healed.

Pan out instead on the apartments

the asylum has become.  

Cut back to the house

and a new circle of pioneers.

Lay over quotes from earnest privateers,

family equipped with joyful tales;

testaments from model clients          

with the brain cells to articulate.

Fade down to a neat commissioned score.

On no account explore unravelled figures,

interview a single witness who might tell what is

from what it seems, or follow trails to littered fields.

Please don’t catch me at my brother’s grave.

Poor Doors
Sheriff Stars

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle
bedroom tax
Disrupt and Upset
bedroom tax
Sheriff Stars

thistles stretch their prickly arms afar

Black Triangle
Disrupt and Upset

Militant Thistles

prickling the politics of "permanent austerity"

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