Thursday 1 September 2011

Middlesex by John Betjeman

Gaily into Ruislip Gardens

Runs the red electric train,

With a thousand Ta's and Pardon's

Daintily alights Elaine;

Hurries down the concrete station

With a frown of concentration,

Out into the outskirt's edges

Where a few surviving hedges

Keep alive our lost Elysium -
rural Middlesex again.

Well cut Windsmoor flapping lightly,

Jacqmar scarf of mauve and green

Hiding hair which, Friday nightly,

Delicately drowns in Drene;

Fair Elaine the bobby-soxer,

Fresh-complexioned with Innoxa,

Gains the garden - father's hobby -

Hangs her Windsmoor in the lobby,

Settles down to sandwich supper
and the television screen.

Gentle Brent, I used to know you

Wandering Wembley-wards at will,

Now what change your waters show you

In the meadowlands you fill!

Recollect the elm-trees misty

And the footpaths climbing twisty

Under cedar-shaded palings,

Low laburnum-leaned-on railings

Out of Northolt on and upward
to the heights of Harrow hill.

Parish of enormous hayfields

Perivale stood all alone,

And from Greenford scent of may fields

Most enticingly was blown

Over market gardens tidy,

Taverns for the bona fide,

Cockney singers, cockney shooters,

Murray Poshes, Lupin Pooters,

Long in Kensal Green and Highgate
silent under soot and stone.

No lawns, honey, vicars or crumpets. Bejteman is lamenting (in 1954) that Middlesex, once rural or semi-rural, has been suburbanised. Elaine is lower middle-class - she says "Ta!" or "Pardon!" for "Thankyou" and "Excuse me" (nobody does any more). She wears a Windsmoor mackintosh and a lurid Jacqmar scarf, and washes her hair in Drene. (The upper middle classes think they're above brands and brand names and never mention them - or they didn't then.) And yes, women washed their hair only once a week!

Betjeman contrasts this neat, polite, genteel girl with the louche Edwardians (now gone) who strolled through the fields, now built over. Murray Posh and Lupin Pooter are two dudes from George and Weedon Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody; Kensal Green and Highgate are London cemeteries.

See also Betjeman's poem about Miss J. Hunter Dunn, and Phone for the Fish Knives, Norman.

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