Striped Tigers in Harrogate

Every time I visit Harrogate I worry the Border Police at the train station won’t let me in. It is a well-heeled place, and usually riff-raff like me are kept out. I am an imposter. I live in a place where at the supermarket you have to dodge the six-fingered banjo players buying vodka in their pyjamas. (Actually, this is better now that Tesco’s have a sign on their front door prohibiting entry to those in night attire, and hired bouncers to enforce it).

Such things do not perturb me greatly. I grew up on a council estate near Birmingham so am used to these shenanigans. It feels normal. Harrogate feels other-worldly. It also closes every day at 6pm sharp, after which the streets are deserted.

The trouble is that I went to University at Oxford, which was a culture shock of Herculean proportions. I had to learn to fit in. I have all the trappings of middle class respectability, but in reality don’t give a crap about any of that. I harbour a residual coarse core. Last year I went along to a Real Ale Appreciation Group a few times. I was the only attendee without a local accent, which I didn’t notice, but others did. Eventually someone asked what a “posh” bloke like me was doing at a place like that. Dear God preserve me.

Post-graduation I wound up in London, which is where everyone ends up when they don’t belong anywhere else. I stayed ten years before relocating north. It’s not a bad place where I eventually landed, but I’m still not sure that it is home. If I ever find such a place, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, forgive me if I wax lyrical about the poetry of immigrant Trinidadian Londoners like Vahni Capildeo.

Yesterday I quoted some ASJ Tessimond. My book of his collected works has a foreword that describes his poetry as “approachable”. In some circles this is probably an insult, but it shouldn’t be. It’s good stuff. One of his more famous poems is this.

If men were not striped like tigers

How much simpler if men were not striped like tigers, patched like clowns,
If alternate white and black were not further confused by greys and browns,
If people were, even at times, consistent wholes,
If the actors were rigidly typed and kept their roles,
If we were able
To classify friends, each with his label,
Each label neat
As the names of cakes or categories of meat.
But you, my dear, are a greedy bitch, yet also a sad child lost,
And you who have swindled your partners are kind to the cat,
And, in human beings, this is not this nor that quite that
And the threads are crossed
And nothing’s as tidy as the mind could wish
And the human mammal is partly insect and often reptile and also fish.

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