Monday, September 05, 2022

Goodbye to Bo through the Medium of Jake Thackray’s masterpiece (not a book review)

 I keep saying goodbye to Bo(ris Johnson), most recently here:

I said goodbye using the final poem of my ‘English Strain’ project, which consists of between 250-300 transpositions of canonical sonnets, about half of which (I guesstimate) mention Bo in one way or another. (Or maybe it’s only in one way, the satirical, except when he was in hospital and I prayed he wouldn’t die and ruin my book.) Three hundred! That’s more than enough. ‘Enough is enough’ as the contemporary campaign against the ‘cost of living crisis’ has it (but which is really the continuation of austerity, The Age of Immiseration as I call it).

The beginning of ‘the English Strain’ is best described here ( ) : that’s the first hundred, in the book The English Strain. Then here: - that’s Bad Idea, another 80+ sonnets (and another book). You can buy both books together here:


That leaves God knows how many poems in part three, British Standards, not yet a book, but finished (almost exactly 6 months ago today, as can be seen in the first link above). But also see here: They are all versions of Romantic Era sonnets, Wordsworth to Coleridge (Hartley, that is). Hardly, that is.

So how to say goodbye to Bo (if not to Boris Johnson, they are not the same)? It’s tempting to write about his final weeks (telling us to buy a kettle, turning up at police raids, throwing grenades ineptly, not flying an RAF fighter) or about the The Daily Telegraph rumours that, once he’s made some money, he’ll be back at the helm, like Trump). If not that, then I thought that I might just present links (Lord knows, I overdo that already!) to all the online poems that feature Bo, but I think the links I’ve offered above do that pretty well, and I’ll let those of you who are interested follow the clues. In any case, buy the books! But here’s just one link, to stand for all the others, to three poems which are versions of sonnets by John Keats, with videos of me reading the text that is also published there. It’s not from this blog, but from (on) the wonderful online magazine Parmenar: here: It’s a trailer for British Standards.

Enough is enough about me. I have been reading Beware of the Bull: The Enigmatic Genius of Jake Thackray by Paul Thompson and John Watterson, a new biography of its subject, a long time interest of mine (though I only have one CD, with another in the post). In this brilliant book (which I don’t have time to review, unless somebody pays me, like they used to at New Statesman or the TLS) they refer, in their very title, and in the text, to Thackray’s masterpiece Beware of the Bull. Patricia and I watched this video on Friday night, into the night, and I declared, ‘This is how I’m going to say goodbye to Johnson!’ I have no need, no desire, to say “Hello” to his shoddy successor, who is just another bull, even if it is nominally a lady bull. WATCH IT:


See what I mean? It also tells us to beware the next bull. 'Meet the new bull: same as the old bull,' as The Who didn't sing.

You may buy the book direct (forget Amazon, Jake would have hated it!): here:

This isn’t (as I’ve said already) a review of the book, but I want to record a number of things that occurred to me as I read it. I realised, indeed, how literary a character JT was, from English degree through to losing all his precious books to the taxman, from translating George Brassens (in not a dissimilar way to my ‘transpositions’, it strikes me now), from his own early poems to his late Yorkshire Post columns (worth collecting in book form I would have thought, hint hint). From references to Coleridge in his letters and references to Paul Valery in his unpublished essay on the very literary Brassens. I was left wanting to know more about what he read (other than Adrian Henri, mentioned once) or where a few of his early poems were published in small magazines, but I realise that’s only me. I’m grateful to read three of his poems here.

The book is otherwise rich on the cultural contexts in which JT … I was going to say ‘operated’, but that’s the wrong word; his career was almost accidental. He makes Scott Walker (whose use of Brel is directly parallel to JT’s use of Brassens) look like a socialite, particularly thinking about JT’s later semi-reclusive years. Both fought a battle with drink, of course, and I like the fact these authors call that an ‘illness’. It is. However upbeat they are, and they are, they cannot disguise the decline and demise of their hero. I read the book slowly, staving off that final sheepcounted chapter. But, he was a good, funny, fucked-up, cleareyed, hopeless, brilliant, shy, public, private, Catholic, Socialist, Yorkshire, European, loving, man.

Reading Beware of the Bull simultaneously with the poems of Mary Robinson was an interesting experience. I am editing an edition of her Selected Poems and I found myself more able to take on board her lighter poems in ‘Lyrical Tales’ if I thought of them (and their verse forms) as analogous to JT's narrative songs of lovers, liars, fantasists, diabolists, bus passengers, nuns in disguise, great apes, doggies, cats, and a mythical Jake Thackray and his ‘family’.

See my first encounter with Mary Robinson (part of British Standards) here: Pages: My Transpositions of Mary Robinson's sonnets 'Tabitha and Thunderer' are now complete (hub post) (

A fascinating thing that isn’t explained in the book is how quickly he learnt to play the guitar, in just two years (from bedroom to BBC). In subtlety, he’s on a par with Joao Gilberto (that’s a weird analogy, but it’s one my fellow Lowry enthusiast and Thackray scholar, acknowledged in the book, Mark Goodall would get, I think).

There, that’s not a review, is it? It’s a farewell and good riddance to Bo (and no wishes for his return, when he’s earnt some money, writing his shit book on Shakespeare).

Thanks to Paul and John and Scratching Shed Publishing for this great book on Thackray and the odd things it’s taught me (above the obvious).  

[There was even a horrible chance of Bo returning to power in October 2022. I was ready, as you'll see here: Pages: The Horrible Thought that Bo mioght be back: only The Bard could save me now! ( and am ready, should he ever dare!]