Long Weekend

The rush hour is over, now the street
Belongs to those whose purpose is to play,
The accountant has left his balance sheet,
The filing clerk deserted her in-tray,
The shop floor and the executive suite
Stand empty over the Bank Holiday;
The West End seethes with life as twilight falls,
And its sweet Siren, entertainment, calls.

Many and varied are the crowd’s desires,
Some seek escape in film and fantasy.
Some of them have commuted from the Shires,
And some are tourists from across the sea,
Regulars drink with friends around log fires
In Soho taverns where the talk is free,
A few come hoping to be led astray,
But most to flee the pressures of the day.

And what pressures! most people’s lives are hard,
The nurse and doctor under constant stress,
The kitchen porter held in low regard,
The navvy on the road gang even less,
The clerk endlessly sorting file and card,
The sales rep striving always to impress;
Spare too a thought for those who serve us here,
And tip the waitress when she brings your beer.

The garrulousness of the patrons leaves
The false impression of gregariousness,
The stranger in the wine bar who believes
He’ll find someone to share his loneliness
Might just as well seek honour among thieves,
He’ll surely win a little more success.
If you want company in the West End,
(Unless you’re female) best come with a friend.

The temperature has fallen, smiles are scant,
Find somewhere else to sink that second jar,
Drink up and leave the lawyers to their cant,
Wink at that feisty brunette by the bar,
Applaud the drunken actor’s noisy rant,
This is the only place he’ll be a star,
Then join the crowds again out in the street,
They’re thinner now, and like you, they must eat.

The fast food takeaway, American-style,
Thin french fries, burgers, saturated fat,
You strike up conversation for a while:
A young Swiss with an "I Love London" hat,
She practises her English, kills your smile
Returning where her jealous lover’s sat.
You meet him eye to eye, misread his stare,
Wave goodbye and go walking round the Square.

It’s not your fault, but neither is it theirs,
Such superficial friendliness is best,
They’ve troubles of their own without your cares:
The way of the world is self-interest.
Tonight though, all the others go in pairs,
Or so it seems; you grow absorbed, depressed.
The mild Spring evening suddenly turns chill,
More drinks, but this time shorts, and by the gill.

Last orders, please! Out in the street again,
And sober as a judge despite the drink;
The crowds now very sparse, it starts to rain,
Back to the Square, you see him and you think,
Think of his face, grown old and drawn with pain,
His matted hair, hands stained with Indian ink,
He beckons to you, but you draw away,
And duck into the Underground subway.

But riding home, your mind turns to the tramp,
Each time you visit the West End, he’s there,
Crouched in a doorway, hungry, cold and damp,
With beckoning arms and haunting, lifeless stare.
Why such disgust? He’s further down the ramp
But is yours a less tangible despair?
Beneath the facade of your bedsit room
There lurks the portent of your certain doom.

No, not a physical death such as his,
For every player holds a different hand,
The meths drinker on the Embankment is
Part of the same design, a different strand,
But there is no escaping such as this,
Perhaps deep down inside you understand.
You gave the tramp no pity or compassion,
But why should you? Like love, they’re out of fashion.

You flick the light switch, scramble into bed,
Another empty day has run its course,
Clean sheets around you, feathers ’neath your head,
But as you doze, comes a twinge of remorse:
You could be on the Embankment instead...
Cease man! What profit comes from this discourse?
In any case, what could you do for him,
Toss him a coin to sate his drunkard’s whim?

Now think no more of this unfortunate,
Or the countless millions who share his plight;
Rejoin the hunt, perhaps you’ll find a mate,
If not tomorrow, maybe Sunday night;
Leave luxuries like conscience to the state,
Don’t brood on wrongs which aren’t yours to put right.
No one will lose sleep over your failed quest:
The way of the world is self-interest.

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