I am a young executive. No cuffs than mine are cleaner;
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I have a Slimline brief-case and I use the firm’s Cortina.
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In every roadside hostelry from here to Burgess Hill
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The maîtres d’hôtel all know me well, and let me sign the bill.
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(aabb 15 syllable lines)
You ask me what it is I do. Well, actually, you know,
I’m partly a liaison man, and partly P.R.O.
Essentially, I integrate the current export drive
And basically I’m viable from ten o’clock till five.
For vital off-the-record work – that’s talking transport-wise –
I’ve a scarlet Aston-Martin – and does she go? She flies!
Pedestrians and dogs and cats, we mark them down for slaughter.
I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.
She’s built of fibre-glass, of course. I call her ‘Mandy Jane’
After a bird I used to know – No soda, please, just plain –
And how did I acquire her? Well, to tell you about that
And to put you in the picture, I must wear my other hat.
I do some mild developing. The sort of place I need
Is a quiet country market town that’s rather run to seed
A luncheon and a drink or two, a little savoir faire –
I fix the Planning Officer, the Town Clerk and the Mayor.
And if some Preservationist attempts to interfere
A ‘dangerous structure’ notice from the Borough Engineer
Will settle any buildings that are standing in our way –
The modern style, sir, with respect, has really come to stay.
John Betjeman (1974)
This is a period piece clearly identified by those around in England in the sixties. I remember when the Ford Cortina was the latest and greatest. And having a slim line brief case was more important than any contents! (I joke).
There was a certain respect for the upper class even though this ‘yuppie’ is portrayed here as arrogant and boastful with superficial values and the need to keep up appearances – No cuffs than mine are cleaner – I also own a speedboat which has never touched the water.
A ‘yuppie’ is defined as a young urban professional. Note also that most people would work a nine to five day but this young fellow obvious enjoys his other life much more and manages to start at ten.
But not only does he suffer mockery, corporate speech and corruption take a light hearted beating too. P.R.O = Public Relations Officer and ‘integration’ the in-word in corporate development. And it is a case of knowing the right person and using such influence for personal gain – and is that so different from the way many people operate today?
The poem has well-constructed rhythm and rhyme which bounces the monologue before the reader. You can imagine the conversation taking place at one of the hostelries frequented by this person as he pursues his interest in looking for real estate opportunities. And the implication is that he does not pay his way easily – and let me sign the bill.
I like ‘Mandy’ as a choice of name – do you remember Mandy Rice-Davies and the ‘Profumo Affair’. Mandy would have such public association for those reading this poem at the time it was published.
Betjeman has been cited as a poet of nostalgia with a dislike of the modern. This is clearly evident in this poem. He certainly mocks the bull-nose development of his day and although it is period piece it also has a certain resonance with modern times.
John Betjeman was Poet Laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984. This link gives more detailed commentary on his poetry.
… and a link to John Betjeman on Wikipedia.