Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition: a lecherous poet gets his come-uppance (plus: Gove’s rules)

 Spectator competition: a lecherous poet gets his come-uppance (plus: Gove’s rules)
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Given the kerfuffle caused by the recent publication of Craig Raine’s ‘Gatwick’ in the London Review of Books, I thought it might be interesting to invite competitors to compose their own poem about an encounter in an airport.

Raine’s poem brought the Twitter bullies out in force to broadcast their disgust at an elderly poet sharing his lustful thoughts about young women. Fiona Pitt-Kethley’s submission imagines a scenario in which one of them wreaks her revenge: ‘We’ll see whose arse is large next time he comes/ To my desk in the airport. I’ve got chums/ With latex gloves and penetrating ways,/ Prepared to hold and search for many days.’ Others who impressed in an entry that was a nice mix of the poignant and the comic were Roger Rengold, Brian Allgar and Jayne Osborn.

The prizewinners, printed below, are rewarded with £20 each. The bonus fiver is Chris O’Carroll’s.

Chris O’Carroll

I slide my belt free from its final loop

And feel my unmoored trousers start to slip,

Untie my shoes and hand them over, stoop

Again to roll my cuffs so I won’t trip.

A uniformed blonde tells me what to do —

Stand here with arms raised, hold still to be


My doubled cuffs obstruct the scanner’s view;

Her dark-haired colleague pats me down by


I didn’t think to fancy her while she

Was peering through my clothes with her device,

And his touch isn’t stimulating me.

Craig Raine’s Gatwick encounter had more


Have I dodged brickbats from the Twitterati

By not undressing her with my male gaze?

Played homophobe by rating him no hottie?

Air travel’s hazardous so many ways.

Basil Ransome-Davies

At Charles de Gaulle you might expect to meet

An ex or three, it’s such a busy hub

(The odds will narrow if you’re flying Club),

But at Bilbao, modest and petite?

We both were with our spouses, as we’d been

Ambivalently twenty years before.

Our eyes displayed the choices (smile/ignore)

Presented by a wanton time machine.

The moment passed but other moments came,

A slideshow of a guilty, loving past,

Pay-as-you-go, too marvellous to last,

Deceit and alibis but no real shame.

And so it goes... I spent the afternoon

Checking the software I was there to sell,

Then stood my memories a San Miguel

Watching the waves at Tony’s Beach Saloon.

George Simmers

We met in the Departure lounge

And we clicked, as folks sometimes do,

But I was headed for Stuttgart,

And she for Kathmandu.

In Stuttgart I rose in the company,

Doing better than most people do,

But I remembered her rich free laugh

And hankered for Kathmandu.

I chucked my job and I caught a plane

Heading East like the hippie-types do,

And all too soon I’d spent fifteen years

Doing not much in Kathmandu.

Now I’ve Googled her name and discovered

She’s prospered, as some people do.

Today she runs a bank in Stuttgart —

Oh damn you, Kathmandu.

D.A. Prince

Yes, I remember Gatwick, too —

the name, because that afternoon

a plane had left me stranded there,

unwanted, like a burst balloon.

The boards flicked. Something caught my eye.

A man (my left), and stuck the same

in sour Departures. What I saw

in Gatwick, then — his sorry game

of lonely fantasy and lust,

and youth long past and juice run dry.

No wit, less skill, and far less hair.

A loser leering on the sly.

And in a moment shrugged it off,

walked on, my footsteps breezier,

leaving behind me that poor sod

now wrinklier and cheesier.

Jerome Betts

I sat beside some sort of buyer

In Heathrow, (where the boredom’s dire

And summer heat makes all perspire)

A paunchy self-proclaimed live wire,

The kind all companies require

To set the business world on fire,

Red-eyed, a climate-change denier,

And anything-in-skirts up-eyer.

He boasted ‘I’m a one-mile higher’

(A club to which I don’t aspire)

With details one could not admire

So, as my brain began to tire

Of tales to spark disgust and ire

I wondered if I dare enquire

‘Are you the fabled frequent flyer

Or just an awful frequent liar?’

Michael Gove has urged civil servants to take inspiration from George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen and George Eliot when writing correspondence. But which well-known writer would you like to see Whitehall bureaucrats take their lead from? You are invited to submit a memo generated by either the Department of Education or the Ministry of Justice as it might have been written by that writer. Please email entries (150 words maximum) to by 29 July.