In his new collection for grown-ups, Michael Rosen offers a view of the world based on some of the characters found at the kitchen table of a secular Jewish family in North London in the 1950s, like Mr Klutz (a fool), Mr Bubkes (who talks rubbish) and Mr Mommsers (you don’t want to meet him). Not forgetting Mr Kvetsh (who complains about the soup), Mr Shmalts (who dribbles soup down his shirt), Mr Shnorrer (who wants your soup), Mr Ganuf (who nicks your soup) and Mr Gantse Macher (who owns the soup factory).
Mr Mensh is a book about the absurdities of everyday life, soup, raspberry pips, toe-nails, warts and all. It’s also a book about the violent absurdities of everyday politics in the twenty-first century – the End of Austerity, anti-Semitism, Racism and Fascism. In this clever follow-up to his best-selling Smokestack collections Don’t Mention the Children and Listening to a Pogrom on the Radio, Michael Rosen again confirms his reputation as the heir to Jacques Prévert, Ivor Cutler and Adrian Mitchell.
Front cover design: Jeff Perks
I’m not sure that the estate of Roger Hargreaves would give permission but sometimes I lie in bed imagining a special series to go with the Mr Men books: Mr Mensh books, a tribute to my parents and all the words they called me. Mr Shlump – the guy who walks about in clothes he’s been wearing all week. Mr Shloch – the guy who walks about in clothes he’s been wearing all year Mr Mommser – the guy who you don’t want to know. Mr Shpilkes – the guy who’s always worried Mr Tsirres – the guy who’s got reason to be worried because he’s in trouble Mr Shtuch – the guy who’s also in trouble but it’s a bit more trouble Mr Dr’erd – the guy who’s in even more trouble Mr Mittandring – the guy who’s in even more trouble Mr Dreck – the guy who’s crap Mr Nebbish – the guy who looks like he’s turned everything nto crap Mr Varkakhte – the guy who looks like he’s crapped himself Mr Bubkes – the guy who talks rubbish Mr Pisher – the guy who is rubbish Mr Bubbele – the guy who is so much of a mummy’s boy he’s a grandmother’s boy Mr Shmerel – the guy who’s a bit of a fool Mr Shlemiel – the other guy who’s a bit of a fool Mr Shmendrik – and another guy who’s a bit of fool Mr Kvell – the guy who’s proud of his son for having made some soup Mr Kvetsh – the guy who moans about the soup Mr Chup – the guy who slurps the soup Mr Shmalts – the guy who’s dribbled the soup down his front Mr Shnorrer – the guy who wants your soup Mr Chap – the guy who grabs your soup Mr Chazze – the guy who can’t stop having soup Mr Shmooze – the guy who sweet-talks you to get your soup off you Mr Zhuzh – the guy who can turn a lousy soup into a good soup Mr Knakke – the guy who thinks he knows more than your son about how to make soup Mr Meshugge – the guy who talks nonsense about the soup Mr Kibbitz – the guy who wants to have a chat while you’re having the soup Mr Yachner – the guy who can’t stop talking about the soup Mr Gantse Magilla – the guy who talks about every single thing that’s in the soup Mr Gubba – the guy who tells you how to make the soup Mr Ganuf – the guy who nicks your soup Mr Shtum – the guy who keeps quiet about the guy who nicked your soup Mr Kishkes – the guy who says that soup gives him a belly-ache Mr Greps – the guy who has his soup and burps Mr Fotz – the guy who has his soup and farts Mr Gantse Macher – the guy who owns the soup factory Mr Bocher – the guy who’s reading book about the soup.
I was on New Cross Gate station and it was late, trains were being cancelled, there weren’t many of us waiting, some people had given up, gone back upstairs and looking for night buses, the lights from Sainsbury’s were being switched off, and I noticed some rats, they were coming out of a concrete ditch next to the platform and on to the platform itself, people said that’s what happens when people chuck their take-aways away, they end up in that ditch and the rats feed off it, and soon there were as many as ten or even twenty rats all over Platform 5 and some of them were bold enough to come right up to our feet as if our shoes were good to eat, and then this guy with coloured trousers standing next to me said he was starving, and I said, me too, though I’d just had a houmous wrap from the Beirut and he was staring at the rats, like he was jealous of them that they had plenty to eat and still no train came, and he groped inside his jacket and took out a kind of toasting fork, a long spiky fork thing and before anyone said anything he speared one of the rats. The rest of us looked a bit startled but covered it with shrugs and smiles and then he knelt down and killed it with a little penknife. He took a flattened tin can thing out of another one of his pockets, laid it down on the platform, filled it up with bits of stuff that I couldn’t quite make out in the dark, but he lit it with a lighter and laid a kind of grille over the top of it, and just as quickly and neatly put the rat on top. He was roasting the rat on platform 5 of New Cross Gate Station. The little group of us standing there were staring and there was one guy saying over and over again, ‘I don’t believe this...’ And still no train came and you could smell the rat cooking. I was wondering why he hadn’t skinned it before he put it on the grill but he had other plans because after a while, he used his fork to pull the rat off and he laid it down on a paper plate he had pulled out of another pocket and he started to skin it. Just then we heard the train coming and though I wanted to see whether he really was going to eat it I was pretty keen to get home, I had an early start in the morning and so I got on the train and as it pulled out, I thought I saw him, pick a bit of the rat up towards his mouth, but I can’t say I’m 100% sure of it.
At the dentists today he sang Randy Newman’s Short People, he did the German tongue-twister: ‘Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid und Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut’ told me that he was friends with Meryl Streep’s double – who was Maltese and who was in some kind of trick that the Daily Mail played on the Sunday Times where the Sunday Times thought they were interviewing Meryl Streep but they weren’t and just the other day he met Cat Stevens’ brother in a cafe who was with the bloke who played Romeo in the Zeffirelli film. I said that I had had a dream about Meryl Streep when I said to her that she was really good in that film where she was in a raft going over the rapids with Sam Neill and she said thanks. He told me not to chew on the crown for 24 hours because the glue is in the second phase.
I was doing a history exam on the Tudors and Stuarts and there was a question on whether the Justices of the Peace in Tudor times were central to how the Tudors maintained power and while I was busy answering it, I glanced down at the exam paper and there was a question I hadn’t noticed. It said, ‘If you had to choose between three different types of toothpaste what would be the criteria you would use to determine your choice?’ Then it had some qualities of toothpaste and you had to tick in whichever boxes mattered to you the most. There was: ‘the toothpaste claimed that it would whiten your teeth’; ‘the toothpaste claimed to freshen up your mouth’; ‘the toothpaste would help your gums stay healthy’ and ‘the toothpaste would help you see in the dark’. I ticked the one about the toothpaste helping me see in the dark because I thought that would be very useful, particularly some time when I was in the bathroom and the light’s not working, not even in the little glass wall cabinet where I keep my nail scissors and indigestion pills, not that I’ve had indigestion for some years now.
I was being executed the other day. Just as the axe was hovering over my neck, a very nice journalist stepped forward and removed a mosquito from my arm. 'You don't want to get stung,' he said and the axe dropped and killed me.
The design of the inside of the bottom of a trouser leg seems to involve – more often than not – a hem... which is good because this prevents the bottom getting frayed and no one wants a frayed bottom unless it's the style which of course it has been with plenty of trousers having frayed bottoms. However: back with the hem. If you put a hemmed trouser on without wearing socks, this brings your big toe nail into direct contact with the hem. Usually this results in a blockage, jam or impasse as the toe nail reaches the hem. No matter how much you bend the toe or the foot, or shake the trouser, the blockage remains. The only immediate way out of the problem is to bend down and release the hem from the toe-nail. Inevitably, the same will happen with the other toe-nail and the trouser hem on that other leg. The solution is, as I have suggested, put on socks first. There is a problem with this, though: it does mean standing around for a few seconds in your underpants and socks. I'm not saying this looks ridiculous but it possibly is.
I remember my dad reading George Macbeth’s poetry textbook for 6th formers: ‘Eliot’s antisemitism was customary for the time.’ ‘It wasn’t ‘customary’ in our house,’ my dad said.
For Labour MPs going in hunt of votes by raising fears about 'non-British workers' It wasn't immigrants who crashed the banks. It wasn't immigrants who said we had to tighten our belts. It wasn't immigrants who cut a million jobs from the public sector. It wasn't immigrants who slapped on the wage cap. It wasn't immigrants who stoked up the housing market. It wasn't immigrants who stopped building council houses. It wasn't immigrants who cut the budgets for schools and the NHS. It wasn't immigrants who closed down Fords Dagenham. It wasn't immigrants who hide billions in tax havens. It wasn't immigrants who spend billions on bombs. Pointing the finger at immigrants is several times wrong: it's scapegoating the ills of capitalism on to people who are victims. We'll never build a better society by singling out people on the basis that they've moved country, are born somewhere else, or speak languages other than the ones of the state they find themselves in. Capitalism runs the whole system, and this produces people who suffer one way or another. We build a better society by linking up those who suffer and those who sympathise with those who suffer. Meanwhile the system can move its wealth wherever it wants by pressing keys on a keyboard. Those who suffer and those why sympathise with them must have the right to defend themselves and one way is to move. The moment we hoist barriers to moving, we hand more power to those who are running the system which causes the suffering, and we create elites and persecutions amongst ourselves. There is no hope for us to build a better society on that basis. What the poem also suggests that part of scapegoating is a system to invite us to blame the wrong cause. I've listed reasons and ways in which people's lives have been substantially harder as a result of explicit government policy and/or the actions of extremely wealthy people. These causes for people's suffering are nothing to do with the movement of people. The sum of the factors in my poem far, far, far outweigh any apparent or so-called disadvantage accruing from the movement of people – and let's not forget the millions of Brits who move at the same time, to places where they become migrants. 'Mass' migration works in all directions, with people with different needs, skills and abilities trying to find places where they can make a living under a global system that they don't own or control. Even the phrase 'putting pressure on public services' trotted out by Tories and Labour is obscene in its deceit. The greatest pressure on public services comes from decades of underfunding and cuts and privatisations done so that – in theory – capitalists could have a bigger freer market. For what? Who's benefited from that? The great struggle that capitalists are involved in is competition with each other. They will take any steps necessary to win those competitions, all the way to war. Our job is to unite those who are exploited, those who suffer, those who are oppressed, those seeking to defend themselves in order to lessen the burden in the short term and to built a better society in the long term. Any scapegoating will make that job harder, or worse: it builds a lop sided society in which some are more equal than others, just as George Orwell said.