Mr Mensh

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

Sample Poems

Mr Mensh

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 Hem and the Toe Nail

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
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.

It Wasn’t Immigrants

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.