John Osborne was an English playwright, screenwriter, actor and critic of the Establishment. The success of his 1956 play Look Back in Anger transformed English theatre.
In a productive life of more than 40 years, Osborne explored many themes and genres, writing for stage, film and TV. His personal life was extravagant and iconoclastic. He was notorious for the ornate violence of his language, not only on behalf of the political causes he supported but also against his own family, including his wives and children.
Osborne was one of the first writers to address Britain’s purpose in the post-imperial age. He was the first to question the point of the monarchy on a prominent public stage. During his peak (1956–1966), he helped make contempt an acceptable and now even cliched onstage emotion, argued for the cleansing wisdom of bad behaviour and bad taste, and combined unsparing truthfulness with devastating wit.
My father lived a simple life
But he was a man apart
With gentle ways and humble mind
And an understanding heart
He loved and cared for people
Helping those in need.
He strove to make folk happy
For kindness was his creed.
He never aimed for dizzy heights
Of luxury or fame
But where he walked and where he talked
With love he carved his name.
He was like a rock to lean upon
Each problem he would share.
He found his strength in his belief
And in kneeling down in prayer.
He loved his home and lived his life
With fullness to the end
He taught me much I owe him much
A father and a friend.
Death was peace and joy to him
It was no fearful thing,
His faith was simple and sincere
And God alone his king.
SEPTEMBER IS THE LOVELIEST MONTH
September is the loveliest month.
The sky is on permanent fire
The trees painted many colours
Burnished, it seems, with pure desire
In the park, ducks glide silently by
And the always busy seagulls
Coming in to land from on high
Whilst near the dozing oak tree
The squirrels nutmeg each other
Each acorn hoarded
For the soon-to-come cold weather.
Your arm in mine
We stroll down the park
Heading towards the sunset
Home before dark.
LOOKING FOR GOOGLE
Oops! mind that blind…
Oh, what the Dickens!
The lingua franca
In Google we trust,
In God if we must.
Look, no hands!
It’s not a boast
It’s a statement of fact,
I don’t drive, it’s all an act.
The phone on my table
Speaks in eighteen different languages if tasked
And can answer questions
(Sometimes before they are asked).
Now they have sent ten thousand
Helium balloons into the stratosphere
Seeking all the disconnected;
Wi-Fi for all – and soon
They could – in theory – I guess
Set up shop nowadays on the moon
This is their ‘toothbrush’ test;
“Focus on the user and all else follows”
Culture and success go hand in hand;
If you don’t believe your own slogan
You’re already in no-mans land.
The sun also rises over concrete
Over this puff-adder sky
And the pricked-up chimneys
Looking like piss-horns in the stark morning
There are no shadows yet
On this marbled plain
So tender in years
But so sparing with love
I shiver at the bus stop
Admiring this proliferation of granite;
So cold, so hard,
So like you….
SEX, CHOCOLATE AND STATINS
Want to lower your risk of heart disease and stroke?
The answer is to have more sex,
At least two orgasms a week.
This will reduce your risk of a cardiovascular event,
But only if you are a man.
For women – well, you have to take your chances!
Eating chocolate can also reduce your risk
As does listening to music
Though Nessum Dorma might be more beneficial than Taylor Swift.
Moving out of the city, living with others, having a good boss
But men with a high orgasmic frequency do best of all.
So forget about Statins;
Chocolates, Vivaldi, and bashing the bishop
Are much more beneficial
And a lot more enjoyable.
Wormwood isn’t here
The sign said, rather waspishly.
It wasn’t the Wormwood I remembered;
Scrubs Lane on a wet Sunday
The outback in West London
No buses, no cars, no people
Just limp grass, acres of the stuff
And, oh yes, the finest redbrick edifice
Victoria’s henchmen could construct.
No rotting bodies in here, my friend.
Not Newgate, not by a long shot
Though debts must still be paid
And some may still get laid
Lord Alfred Douglas lay here,
As did Charles Bronson,
Keith Richards, Leslie Grantham.
And George Blake
Scurrying along in his traitor’s gait
Till the day he pole-vaulted to freedom
More or less
Before waving goodbye
To his English life,
His liberty and his wife
And all those Wormwood scrubbers
I saw Christ nailed to a tree
In an East London churchyard
Weather-beaten from looking,
While the adjacent graveyard
Played host to a thousand
Sloping stone soldiers.
There, daffodils bunched together
And it made me wonder
Why the graveyard should display
Such a profusion of yellow
When the churchyard itself
Was barren of colour
LETTERS TO MOTHER AND OTHER DEAD RELATIVES – extract
There weren’t too many occasions when I pleased you in life. My fault not yours, because we both know that I wasn’t what you would call ‘a dutiful son’. I probably pleased you when I got married, and when I gave you your first grandchild, but I think I pleased you most when I became an Altar boy.
I imagine you saw it as a kind of status symbol: because when other mothers boasted ‘my son is going to De La Salle College’, or ‘has a place in the Christian Brothers’, you could now reply ‘my son is an Altar boy’ with a certain amount of pride. And there weren’t that many of us in the vicinity – no more than a handful – which made it all the more gloat-worthy.
Even the Master acknowledged our special status; taking us up to the church several times a week after school for rehearsals before letting us loose on our first Sunday. He took the part of the priest himself; although he didn’t ‘gown up’ for the role. But I guess Fr. Sinnott, the parish priest, would have viewed as sacrilege the idea of somebody rummaging around in his wardrobe. Still, we were put through our paces until we had mastered our roles; bell-ringing, bringing the water and the wine, and, of course, learning to chant the responses in the appropriate places. I can still recite chunks of Latin after all these years – and I still don’t know what they mean.
In due course I discovered the pleasures of wine-drinking. Thomas K and myself usually served together, and as altar boys were responsible for filling the jugs with the water and wine to be used during the Mass. When the parish priest officiated, very little water but nearly all the wine would be used. However, with other priests it might be the other way round, and we were often able to transfer some of the wine to a spare vessel we kept concealed in a recess, topping up the priest’s jug with water.
We returned later and retrieved the wine, then sat amid the gravestones drinking it. Sometimes it made your head spin, and when we added the occasional Woodbine that I had fecked from your box on the mantelpiece over the fire in the kitchen, everything started to revolve. Trees, poles, even the gravestones; whirling around so fast you had to hang on tightly to something for fear of taking off.
Being an Altar boy had other rewards too; particularly when we ‘officiated’ at weddings, funerals and christenings, where, afterwards, you could guarantee that several shiny half-crowns or maybe even a ten shilling note would be pressed into your greasy little palm. Not that I depended entirely on these fairly infrequent occasions; I quickly discovered that the collections during Sunday Mass offered a steady source of income. I am sure you will recall that when the filled collection boxes were placed by the Altar rail it became our job to take them to the sacristy and transfer the money into the bags waiting there. Once inside, I found it quite an easy task to deflect some of the coins into my own pocket. And afterwards I was able to stuff myself with Rollos, Crunchies and bags of Tayto’s on the proceeds. I wonder if it ever crossed your mind that your very own ‘God’s little helper’ had become a thief?
Not all special occasions paid off, however. Do you remember the time that M’s latest child was being baptized and she couldn’t come into the service because she hadn’t been churched? I always thought that being churched was the result of some serious transgression and for many years I wondered what M had done. It wasn’t until much later that I learned it was a purification ceremony that the church carried out on women who had given birth. This is what I read.
‘The woman who has just had a child must first stand outside the church door and only when she has been solemnly purified by sprinkling with holy water and the prayers of the priest is she led back into the church’.
Apparently it goes back to the middle ages when the church decided that women who had given birth were unclean and therefore had to be ‘cleansed’. I had often seen women before, dressed solemnly in black, kneeling in the vestibule at the back of the church after Mass, waiting for the priest to come and attend to them, but it never occurred to me that the church was punishing them for having children.
I still remember how ashamed you all looked when the priest said the baptism couldn’t take place until M had been purified, and you all trooped away to Cullinanes Pub to put down the half hour wait. I suppose you had ‘a small sherry to settle your nerves’.
I had the task of following the priest about with the vessel of Holy water. He placed a lighted candle in M’s hand, and recited the Gloria Patri and the Kyrie as well as the Our Father before sprinkling her with Holy Water and inviting her into the chapel with the words,
‘Enter into the temple of God, that though mayest have eternal life’.
However, he made sure she was veiled before letting her pass, and I have since read that women who refused to cover their heads were often ex-communicated.
I think this was one of the few occasions where no shiny half-crown changed hands.
I never stopped to wonder at the time why there were no Altar girls. I suppose it was to do with the Church’s attitude to women even then (this was the late 1950’s) as exemplified in the ‘churching’.
Thank God things have changed a bit since my youth.
Your loving son
available in paperback & ebook on Amazon
(written in a two-hour against-the-clock frenzy one summers morning in …. a long time ago)
Why is me? Why is god? Bad grammar I know, but syntax isn’t everything, is it? Syntax…must look that up, not too sure what it means. It’s as if this pen has a will of its own – I am merely sitting here watching it trace outlines on a virgin, amazed at what I am reading. I wonder if Trollope employed this technique in his writing? It sure seems like it; he wrote 3000 words every morning before work. But why go on about it….everyone knows that old chestnut. Duncan McDaid, who was he? A footballler in Askeaton? No, that was the McDaid clan from Northern Ireland. Good footballers, but hard to stomach. Shits, every one. Still, one humoured them. ‘Now is the summer of fucking content.’ Something like that would have suited the Bard better. ‘Not to be at all’ sounds better than the other one. It was a dark and dangerous hour…why do I keep changing the words before I write them? Good practice for later, I guess. Scott Fitzgerald liked to try this form of writing; get all this shit down on paper and see what resulted. Nothing much ever did. However, it’s a discipline that has got to be tried – see what comes out apart from shit.
Shall I begin a new paragraph? Go on, treat yourself. Buy a few pages of crap; spout it all out here at this end-of-page feeling. This life is but a dot on a far horizon…a blank dilettante….almost faltered there… doesn’t blank dilettante almost rhyme? – and if it doesn’t does it matter? Now this plate on my table stinks; old dog-ends mashed up in rasher grease, and outside cats-nip that some should nick. The old shed at garden’s end was nicked too. Oh, not in totality; but layer upon layer, chopped down with a buzzz-saw, and then nailed to the cross that bore it. What crap you say, and of course you’re write (right), but then you always are my dear. Never known to be wrong, for long are you crucified, eh? Maybe that is right too, but you hammered in the nails yourself. No martyrs for me, but you – you – you stood there screaming – it was him – him who brought the house down – stood there ankle-deep in shit telling everyone our secret. Secret? That was no secret; it was written in italics on every cinema wall in the state. She loves you but she daren’t admit it, not even to her fairy godmother, who happens – and this is true – to be the biggest fairy in dog-land. I don’t know where dog-land is, but by God it is rough. Ha Continue reading
Here goes, a poem in 5 mins.
I saw the gryphon again today
Walking in a rather peculiar way
It was goose-stepping instead of high-stepping
Hugh Granting when it should be Johnny Depping
It looked me directly in the eye
As it it shuffled-shunted to get by
Whispering hoarsely what it had to say;
I bet you don’t see one like me every day!