Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: If Alan Bennett had been a spy

Spectator competition winners: If Alan Bennett had been a spy
‘Vet, six feet two tall, brilliant/ Vet in all ways, blood tempering the mud…’ [Reg Innell / Contributor]
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In Competition No. 3247, you were asked to submit the reflections of a well-known writer on a career path they might have taken.

Most famous writers have had day jobs – Kurt Vonnegut sold Saabs, Harper Lee worked as an airline ticket agent, and Joseph Heller was a blacksmith’s apprentice.

But what about those missed vocations? Take a bow, Robert Frost, map-maker; Emily Dickinson, undertaker; Raymond Chandler, shrink. The winners earn £25.

I think I could have been a model censor of obscenity 

Admonishing the naughty and not ever granting lenity 

To crudity or nudity or any kind of rudery, 

Far bossier than Bowdler in my monumental prudery. 

How drastically I’d prune the books that might disturb or vex you all 

By dabbling in language that’s suggestive of the sexual, 

For such things could disturb you and you might well find it troubling 

If wickedness were hinted and entendres started doubling. 

 

Then should I maybe exercise the censor’s own prerogative 

Of pondering naughty pictures with a gaze that’s interrogative, 

And if I kept a few that were delectably collectable, 

Well, who’d impugn the motives of a censor so respectable? 

George Simmers/W.S. Gilbert
I think that I shall never write 

Some poetry that is not trite. 

I aim for depth, but what I get 

Is often barely worth the sweat. 

I have personified a tree, 

To wide approval. Lucky me. 

Yet might this versifying hack 

Have been a virile lumberjack? 

My avocation is to be 

In profitable industry, 

In heavy work with firs and pines, 

Not dribbling out the rhyming lines. 

I’d follow in Paul Bunyan’s tracks, 

Wielding the chainsaw and the axe. 

Poems are made by wimps like me, 

But lumberjacks can fell a tree. 

Basil Ransome-Davies/Joyce Kilmer
Mam pooh-poohed the idea, adamant eavesdroppers never heard good of themselves, but I always hankered after a career in espionage. Had she known I intended to spy for the Soviets, there’d have been a to-do. Naturally reticent, I simply waited to be contacted, signalling readiness by sitting in tea rooms looking pensive. I wonder now whether I didn’t miss my cue during a chance encounter with a man named Sergei in a Halifax Khardoma. It wasn’t the world of international travel and poison-tipped brollies that appealed so much as the prospect of swapping codified quotations from the Pylon poets with others who didn’t fit in. Hopeless at tradecraft – even now, I can’t video Songs of Praise for recording snooker – I nevertheless feel that, in Russian hands, my intelligence on goings on in Gloucester Crescent could, if not bring down, at least momentarily nonplus the British establishment. 

Adrian Fry/Alan Bennett
Vet, six feet two tall, brilliant 

Vet in all ways, blood tempering the mud. 

Dab hand from the Calder: hawk of eye, cold. 

Lugging greased lambs from the arse end. 

 

Or mooching in, all gas and gumption, 

Into the parlour, into the long barn, 

Mardy as owt but never a skriker. 

Medicine man in an old green Barbour – 

 

Myth in my wrists. Fettling the mare, 

Or the farmer’s wife, Monday mornings, 

All in these gumboots, flat cap balanced 

On my rich head of moorland hair. 

 

Surgeon to the tribe, bold as the rat 

Whiskering shadows by a concrete silo. 

Craggy of cheek, motoring up ancient lanes. 

Or else Abattoir Manager, Halifax. 

Bill Greenwell/Ted Hughes
To glove, or not to glove? That was the question. 

Would it be nobler with soft kid to cover 

Your thumbs and fingers in the mould of fashion, 

Or write with needle’s hand a whole world’s passion? 

Had I continued with my father’s life 

The glove that Troilus threw at death himself, 

The gloves that Portia wore for her love’s sake, 

The bloody gloves King Hal and Williams trade 

At Agincourt, had known my paring knife. 

When Romeo in darkling orchard says, 

‘O that I were a glove upon that hand!’ 

It had been mine, and with bare bodkin sewn. 

Gloves’ labours lost, I laboured long on love. 

Though every man has business and desire, 

I chose desire instead of business leather 

And seized in unglov’d hand the sharpen’d feather

Nick MacKinnon/Shakespeare
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a community possessed of various conditions is in want of a good grocer and at one time my hopes inclined towards that vocation. One half of the world cannot understand the minute pleasures of portioning and weighing but to me this was happiness. Not for the business of money-making did I endeavour to find reason to justify my hopes but for the close ties of local connection. No family can survive long without its allocation of flour or sugar or the small exchanges of private communication that cross the counter. It was always incomprehensible that anyone might wish for another life than the love of comestibles and how they reflect the private circumstances of each man and woman. More than being married, grocery offered an infinity of entertainment. Had my life taken that direction I believe I should have been most content. 

D.A Prince/Jane Austen

No. 3250: On the money

You are invited to submit a sonnet to Mammon. Please email entries to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 18 May.