Occasional verse, said Goethe, is the ‘highest kind’ of poetry. For Hegel, the relationship between poetry and the world was ‘revealed most fully’ in pièces d'occasion or gelegenheitsgedichte. George Jowett is certainly an occasional poet. He only writes occasionally, he has published his work on only a few occasions (this is his first full-length collection) and he is happiest when writing about the ritual occasions of love, middle-age, sex and death. Using metrically precise, traditional verse forms including ottava rima, Pushkin sonnets and the Burns stanza, The Gyspy and the Candy Floss Queen addresses an unsolved 1970s murder mystery and the rise and fall of a 1980s Teesside boxing legend, royal divorces, Milton, Larkin, pantomimes and funerals. Occasionally very good indeed.
‘It was only a gypsy A ragged, shaggy blackguard of a didecoy Up to no good I did what I should A little physical persuasion and he passed on by...’ Jake Thackray Part One 1 It’s six a.m. The day’s beginning. A man is walking up the lane. Inside the hedge songbirds are singing. He sniffs, he stops, then sniffs again. Can he smell smoke? To be explicit A bonfire? The allotments, is it? Well something’s burning, and he’d say It isn’t all that far away. His pace along the lane now quickens, He turns the corner, sees the blaze, The pall of smoke, the shimmering haze. The sight before him shocks and sickens -A burning Morris motor car. Its blistered paint begins to char. 2 The heat’s intense. He can’t get nearer To see if anyone’s inside. He squints, he peers, but gets no clearer Impression so he then decides He’d better summon some assistance. Recalling passing in the distance A phone box in the empty street He turns, and now on hurrying feet, Heads back towards the village running. Just minutes later, panting, hot, He stands inside that very spot, He gasps for breath, he’s all but done in, Dials 999. ‘Which Service, please?’ ‘The Fire Brigade and the Police…’ 3 The fire at last has been extinguished And a discovery’s soon made. A smell like roast pork was distinguished As the fire crew worked. Some, dismayed, Said, ‘I swear that’s a body burning!’ Grim-faced and with their stomachs churning They peer into the smouldering car. ‘Aye, look, I told you. There you are!’ All black and burned. Could it be human, A body as it is alleged, Between the back and front seats wedged? The youngest takes a look. ‘It’s true, man.’ He pales then retches. ‘Oh my God, What should we do?’ ‘Wait for the Plod.’ 4 Now at the lane end, like a sentry, A constable stands at his post. The lane’s been closed off. There’s no entry. It’s now a crime scene it’s supposed. The firemen stand on one side waiting While officers investigating The facts try to establish who The victim is. They have one clue. Still legible, the registration Of the car is radioed in. Police enquiries begin. The search for any information Is underway. Soon, slow but sure, A team will go from door to door. 5 The Murder Squad has taken over. The victim’s been identified. It didn’t take long to discover Who she was, but why she died (For that’s in fact their stated mission) Could be a different proposition. One thing is crystal clear at least, Miriam Culine, the deceased, Had led a colourful existence, Or so the rumours would suggest. With Youth and Beauty amply blessed She’d got herself, with their assistance, A husband older than herself, One quite well off, but in poor health. 6 At seventeen, a pastor’s daughter, She’d run away and joined a fair, Worked on the show grounds. There they’d taught her To run a stall. She’d learned to share The lifestyle of the travelling showmen, And like lots of attractive women She hadn’t even had to try To catch the fairground boss’s eye. With her he’d soon become enamoured, He was besotted, taken in, Her beauty had him in a spin. His old heart in his chest had hammered As, helplessly, beneath her spell, The fairground king, Fred Culine, fell. 7 His Queen of Candy Floss he’d call her. She laughed at that, so Fred began To woo her, hoping to install her As queen too in his caravan. At first, resisting him demurely, She shook her head, but slowly, surely, As Fred continued his campaign With flowers, chocolates and champagne, He overcame all her objections, Convinced her it would be alright, And finally, to his delight, He’d won a place in her affections. Yes, she’d agreed she would move in, Their life together could begin. 8 ‘The old fool!’ as response was standard. ‘Never? He didn’t? What, they’ll wed?’ ‘He’s old enough to be her grandad!’ That’s what a lot of people said. But others laughed and thought it fair dos That young brunettes with bouffant hair-dos Should use their charms and all their art To do well in the marriage mart. Fred’s family weren’t pleased or cheerful. His grown-up nephews, fearful lest By his wife they’d be dispossessed, Behind his back, gave her an earful. ‘Gold-digger! Mercenary cow!’ They’d never get Fred’s money now. 9 And if they could they would have stopped her. They couldn’t, and the couple wed A while ago. Now someone’s topped her Those nephews who all wished her dead? They’re in the frame there’s no denying, But so’s the man they’re notifying As next of kin of his wife’s death. Poor Fred, who’s old and short of breath, Insists, although they’re separated And she has her own caravan, She’s still his wife, he’s still her man. Whatever’s been insinuated He loves her and they get on well. But is it true? It’s hard to tell 10 Fred Culine could have killed his missus. Why would he tell the cops the truth? The Chief Super remains suspicious, But knows he hasn’t any proof. The argument keeps on revolving. The Chief’s no closer yet to solving The mystery of why she died. Forensic science has supplied The hard facts. She’d been knocked out, senseless, Then stripped, not bare, but to her bra, Shoved in the back seat of her car And left, unconscious and defenceless. The killer then set it alight And disappeared into the night. 11 Not Fred perhaps. He’s old and ailing, Incapable of such an act; He’s doddery; his health is failing Too frail to hurt a fly in fact. But if he didn’t kill her, who did? The suspects on the list included The show folk, all who’d worked for Fred, For knowing he would wish her dead One of them might, to curry favour Or do himself a bit of good And guarantee his livelihood, Have done her in. A thought to savour For the Chief. Possible? Well yes, But likely? He can only guess. 12 There’s lots to look at; facts to order; New angles to find out about. His focus keeps on getting broader And each new lead needs teasing out. And so enquiries continue. The Murder Squad strain nerve and sinew Re-covering the same old ground, Collating everything they’ve found; Re-interviewing friends, relations In search of the one break they need, The crucial clue they hope will lead Them to the final revelation And in the end provide the key To the killer’s identity…