Rough Breathing by Harry Gilonis: a review

Rough Breathing: Selected Poems, Harry Gilonis, Carcanet, 2018, ISBN: 978 1 784103 72 9, £16.99

I should begin this review by acknowledging two pertinent facts: firstly, Harry Gilonis’ first book, Reliefs was published by hardPressed poetry in 1988; secondly, I am the dedicatee of a poem in this Selected. The first of these facts is explained simply by saying that we published him because we found his work to be worth publishing, the second came as something of a surprise. In the 30 years since that first publication, Gilonis has produced a substantial body of poetry and critical writing, including some of the most important exegesis of the work of Brian Coffey, was a regular attendee at the SoundEye festival in Cork, run a small press, edited a journal, and held down a full-time job in publishing.

At the core of this activity are the key values that run through his poetry as collected in Rough Breathing. These are an emphasis on the role of collaboration as a key component in any act of making, an interest in political ethics, and a clear view of the importance of translation as a creative act.

Gilonis’ collaborators are many and varied, and include musicians, poets, both living and dead, and friends. Similarly, his approach to translation spans the arc from literal renderings of works in other languages through cultural borrowings to translations through time, so that, for example, Horace’s poems urging Rome to invade Arabia fold into Tony Blair’s Gulf War, to the credit of neither party.  At the back of this, although his politics and poetic voice are radically different, lies the example of Ezra Pound, whose Cantos were pivotal reading for the young Gilonis.
In much of the work collected here, all three aspects I have mentioned are apparent simultaneously. For instance, the sequence ‘from far away’ is a renga written in collaboration with poet and friend Tony Baker. It is a dialogue between London and rural Derbyshire, where Baker lived at the time, both sitting in the shadow of Thatcherite politics:

How long shall I hear the sighs and groanes

O Tythes, Excize, Taxes, Pollings &c

This government is firmly committed to


brute strength     hauled up

“dark matter”, undetectable,  nameless

names burnt against the wall

[the first stanza is by Gilonis, the second by Baker]

The folding of the 17th century English Ranter Abiezer Coppe into a renga with reference to Thatcher’s poll tax is precisely the kind of ‘cultural’ translation that drives much of the best of the work in this book. The Poundian injunction to ‘make in new’ includes the imperative to view time not as a straight line, but as a cycle of recurrence, so that apparently distant historic moments become contemporary with, and illuminate, each other, as the Ranters illuminate the need to protest the injustices of the now. This bringing together is evident again in his attack, via Horace, of those ‘liberal’ voices, including poets, who likewise enabled the Gulf War 2000 years later:

you white Spes at rare Fides

fraudulent friends    veiled cloth

houses share the suffering


nor quit ne fall / the state’s tall

liar an unpoetical word

like dried shit

[from ‘A Misreading of Horace, Odes 1.35]

Perhaps the finest work in the book is contained in the selection from NORTH HILLS, Gilonis’ versions ‘quite a way after’ old Chinese poems. In a note, Gilonis draws attention to the importance of syntax in Chinese poetry (an observation that holds good for his own work) and points out the impossibility of replicating the kinds of ambiguities achieved directly into a language like English, while charging his versions ‘to do just that’.

To achieve this aim, he provides two versions of each poem, and I want to look at how this method works by briefly examining his versions of Wang Wei’s famous ‘Lù Zhài’ (‘Deer Enclosure). Here’s is a transliteration of the poem, with some of the possible meanings of each character given beneath:

Kōng shān bù jiàn rén,

[empty/hollow/bare] [mountain/hill/peak] [negative participle] [see/observe] [person/other]

dàn wén rén yǔ xiǎng.

[yet/only/still] [hear/smell/broadcast] [person/other] [voice/language/words] [(make) sound]

Fǎn jǐng rù shēn lín

[return to/restore/reflect] [sunlight/view] [enter/join] [deep/very far/extreme] [forest/grove/surname]

fù zhào qīng tái shàng

[again/repeat(edly)] [shine/reflect] [blue/green/young/black] [moss/lichen] [on/top/send up]

Here is Gilonis’ first version:

Deer Park


no change on the hollow hills

sole solo voice duplicated

flickering light through trees

falls on blue lichen

The poem as rendered here brings out some of Wang Wei’s Buddhist mysticism, with its teasing out of the idea of the transcendent within the illusion of the sensible world.
And here his second take:

Deer Enclosure


wild sky | HILLS | unseeing people

still   conversation sounding

brightness moves into deep woods

again shines again onto green moss

The original impulse is still there, but given the translator’s interest in British political history, it’s impossible not to hear a very specific moment behind the word ‘enclosure’ and not to be taken to the world of the Highland clearances by the wording of the first line. In this reading, the deer become the property of the hunting, shooting and fishing classes who emptied the mountains for their own gain and pleasure, and the illusory Buddhist landscape becomes rooted in the context of the self-advancement of wealth, power and status. The price of the beauty captures in the second couplet, we are reminded, was the near annihilation of a people, a culture and a language. If the true end of translation is the renewal of the subject text in the target language, as I believe it is, then this version is as good an example of the art as you’ll find anywhere.

Gilonis has laboured away at the margins of a poetic culture for three decades now, and it’s nice to see that Carcanet have done his work justice in this well-edited and serviceably handsome book. There is so much more that could be said; for instance, I haven’t touched on the importance of music in Gilonis’ poetry, the strand of occasional poems that run through the book or the visual element that comes to the fore in the selection form Forty Fungi that is included here. You’ll just have to buy the book and read them for yourselves. You won’t regret it.


Desire Lines – Unselected Poems 1966-2000, Barry MacSweeney: A Review

Desire Lines – Unselected Poems 1966-2000, Barry MacSweeney (edited by Luke Roberts), Shearsman 2018, SKU 978-1-84861-579-3, £16.95

In Desire Lines, Luke Roberts and Shearsman have done readers of poetry the very great service of bringing together much of Barry MacSweeney’s work that was excluded from the 2003 Bloodaxe volume, Wolf Tongue: Selected Poems, 1965-2000. In a sense, the two volumes should be read in tandem to provide a broader view of MacSweeney’s breadth of achievement, but for the sake of this review, I want to approach this new book as if it were the reader’s first encounter with his work.

Fortunately, the selection begins with the entire text of MacSweeney’s 1968 debut The Boy from the Green Caberet Tells of his Mother alongside half a dozen other poems from the same period, so my imaginary reader gets to see the poet’s early voice emerge from a welter of influences and reading, including 19th century French Symbolism, the emergent Cambridge School of Prynne and others, Basil Bunting and, perhaps, the Liverpool/Mersey Sound poets. This early work is assured, inventive, somewhat of its time and very much taken up with the act of walking, and these walks become occasions of fine perception:

It is not

of fish,

the sea



it is not

of water.


What binds these poems is their regular prose syntax, even the title poem depends on semantic effects to achieve a sense of dislocation:

The mail coach upturned,

wheels spin like planets,

poems pinned to its shafts!

Dames, merchant, musketeer,

in the dead season.

This is apprentice work, albeit of a high order, the echoes of others running through the emerging individual voice of the poet. Within a few years syntactic and spatial disjunction found its way into his repertoire, especially in the 1971 sequence Twelve Poems and a Letter he co-wrote with his then partner Elaine Randell. here the words explode across the page in a more thorough-going open-field manner than he had previously employed. How much of this change is due to Randell’s influence is not something the reader can be sure of, but the immediate return to the safety of the left margin in the two longish and very personal poems that follow, Fools Gold (dedicated to Randell) and Dance Steps (For Paul). While these poems abandon open-field composition, they are open in other ways, open to the world outside and inside the poet’s mind:

by the river

eating snow

for breakfast

soaking wet

what a long winter

I photograph myself


then tear it up

for fun

Both these poems and the next work collected here, Toad Church, are dated 1972, a measure of MacSweeney’s virtue and vice of prolific abundance. Toad Church is one of the many abandoned longer projects that occur across his career, and it’s not difficult in this case to see why. It reads as a grand failed experiment, with the poet pushing his materials beyond the then limitations of his technique. This was followed by the more modestly ambitious Fog Eye, in part, at least, an elegy to fellow poet Mark Hyatt. Here the material and technique blend in a more controlled, but deeply personal, disjunctive conjunction that is moving without sentimentality:

An irrecoverable move not quite plume

or slow-motion wing-beat.

The bird, book, flower, man, all fold up

with the approaching cumulus sudden dark.

And then we have what is one of the great recovered treasures to be found in this book, the 1973 sequence Pelt Feather Log. Although unfinished, there is not the same sense here of a work abandoned because it was outside the poet’s reach; the open-endedness is fitting to the open composition of the poem. In some respects, this is a variation on the classic trope of town versus country, with the dull routines and casual violence of the city being set against an almost Edenic vision of the rural. The poem opens in London, a place of


matic bovver boots, nuts

bolts gleaming oiled wrench

and rusty scaffold crown

and then moves from this site of strife to the reconciliation of the countryside:

after three stops

we reached the summit

behind the house

and all problems and heat

resolved in the sea wind

This rural location is specifically aligned with the biblical root of the country/town, nature/civilisation dichotomy shortly after this resolution:

mark the open branch pressed against the garden wall

this is your eden, among withered fruit

and is later further called out through the element of water when the purification found by standing under a waterfall is contrasted with the ‘wet oily dirt’ of city rain. Sadly, there is a snake in this eden, too, the inner demon that would haunt MacSweeney’s life and work until the end:

sad drunk self

mewing cloyed brain

tipping on desk

to write murder

in the vine.

In Roberts’ selection, this is followed by the distinctly ordinary Starry Messenger which in turn is followed by the quite extraordinary Black Torch (1978). This consists primarily of documentary poetry around the history of industrial unrest among the mining community in Durham. Drawing on first-hand testimony in the local dialect, it invites comparison with Jarrow March by Tom Pickard (to whom it is dedicated) which was broadcast on the BBC in 1976, and Bill Griffiths’ 1990s sequences drawing on similar source materials. One of the distinguishing features of MacSweeney’s work here is that it draws on the dialects of both the miners and the owners, so that we hear both groups in their own voices, with the warmth and humanity of the former highlighted by the cold calculation of the latter:

they fined him 3 and 6 for losing a shovel

yi can buy one for a shullin in the shop

ti put ya tally on the tub

ti tell wees done it

the keeker at the tub

i am a kind and indulgent master

they are infatuated with this union

it is a rabble

led by radicals and revolutionaries

should i speak with them

There are passages in this poem where the present and recent (relatively) struggles are placed in a longer temporal context, taking in the early history of the region, in ways that indicate that MacSweeney may have been absorbing lessons from the work of David Jones

Roman sentries dreaming of Naples

pulled down by long hooks from the wall

as Alaric approached the gates

of the seven hills

there have been straight roads through Newcastle

& household gods

In his introduction, Roberts discusses the impact of the election of Margaret Thatcher as Prime Minister in 1979 impacted on MacSweeney’s poetry, making it more overtly political and angrier. However, one of the main targets of his anger, corrupt, venal and ‘sell-out’ Labour politicians are already there in Black Torch and later on in the book Arthur Scargill (the trade union leader who lead the miners in a strike that broke both the unions and the existence of their employment) and Thatcher are given equal blame for what happened. The sad reality is that the political poetry he wrote through the 1980s and 1900s is generally dull, repetitive and difficult to read. This comes to a head in the 1998 volume Postcards from Hitler.

Discussing this later work, Roberts talks about the poet’s ‘pessimism and bravado’. For this reader at least, there certainly is pessimism, and some bravado, but these are drowned out by a great deal of self-indulgent name dropping and a bitterness  of spirit that gets in the way of the poetry, such as it is, with page after page of writing that displays the very worst of the Ginsberg/Blake inspired self-aggrandising litany:

I am Lucifer

little miss Froo Froo,

very Sixties white no-whats

ah-ha, Marianne Faithfull,

Give it to you Neil boy, Tony boloney,

let’s see what happens.

This also mars his variations on Apollinaire, Horses in Boiling Blood

Young poet Barry

only 20

Already you have witnessed the appalling world

What is your judgement on the adults who betrayed you

Try as I might, it is difficult to divorce this degree of self-indulgence from what Roberts calls ‘the terminal crisis of MacSweeney’s alcoholism’. There is a frantic quality to the writing that, married with lapses into deep sentimentality, that remind you of being cornered in a pub by a highly intelligent, extremely articulate, but ultimately dull stranger who insists on telling you their troubles.

It is then an enormous relief to come, at last, to MacSweeney’s final extended piece of writing, the prose-poem sequence Letters to Dewey, a warm, self-deprecating set of words of advice to the son of the poet and friend Stephen Rodefer.

Here, at the end, the self-absorption gives way to a genuine interest in another human being, and sentimentality to deep feeling. There is a sense that MacSweeney may have a sense of his own possible failings as a parent, but these are subsumed into a drive to pass on experience in a way that is shot through with humour and warmth:

Listen Dewey, I am a common man. I am as common as muck. I am the original muck-spreader after farmers Noble and Nicholl who built their ginormous leeks up here in the high grounds and we all sat around and read Zane Grey when the fires died and we were dead asleep until the lentils and the beasts the next dawn.

Being a common man is most special.

What you have to do is turn it.

So, what would my imagined new reader make of MacSweeney based on this book? My feeling is that she would be impressed by the notion of a poet of rare gifts that were all too often unfulfilled, largely through the circumstances of his personal life. However, the cumulative effect of the early work, Pelt Feather Log, Black Torch and Letters to Dewey should be enough to convince her that at his best, he was a poet of real and important achievement. Those of us who value poetry should be grateful for Roberts for bringing this work back into the public domain and to Shearsman for publishing the fruits of his labours.

Ravenna Diagram by Henry Gould: A Review

Ravenna Diagram, Henry Gould, Dos Madres, 2018, ISBN 978-1-939929-92-1, $25.00ravenna-diagram-cover-428x642

Henry Gould’s Ravenna Diagram is, to quote the introduction,

‘a long poem which follows in the vein of ‘Leaves of Grass,’ ‘The Bridge,’ ‘Paterson,’ ‘The Cantos,’ ‘A,’ and ‘The Maximus Poems.’ It is an attempt to come to new terms with old epic and visionary traditions, epitomized by Dante and Milton, and carried on by Hart Crane, H.D., Louis Zukofsky, Jay Wright and others. The poet aims to take up the primordial challenge of bridging heaven and earth, the spiritual and temporal, in a new voice. There is a special affinity with the Acmeist movement of Russian poetry and Osip Mandelstam—tracing to Dante, toward the end of his life, in Ravenna, completing his Divina Commedia under the clear shadows of Eastern Orthodox mosaics. But this is an American poem, and a work-in-progress—juxtaposing Dante’s spiritual “vertical” with the vast “horizontal” of colloquial, pilgrim American time and space.’

Well, there’s an ambitions statement of intent, if ever you saw one.

Unlike most of his cited American antecedents, Gould’s method is formalist, with the poems in this 400+ page series being written in quatrains, mostly seven quatrains per poem, but with some of 14 or 21, and an occasional aberration from the rule of seven. For the most part, the quatrains rhyme, more or less fully, ABBA, although again this is fluid. In fact, fluid is an apt enough adjective for Gould’s formalism.

Metrical variation is also the order of the day, with a disjointed syntax driving line length and stress patterns, including lots of cross-line and cross-stanza enjambment. The result is a rich, sometimes challenging, always delightful verbal music. A typical passage, if such a thing exists, might go like this, from about a third of the way in:

……………………….. This great nation


that wum nursed wim fingerpainting

– “Dang George’s fault – that bad,

mad King – we all been had!”

squished into gouache, wid fingerpointing.


Like a rain-map by John the Daubist

of Ethiopia,

the cornucopia’s

lost tramp-vein – 50 states list



Gould’s wordplay reads like a cross between late Joyce and even later Zukofsky, and is in deadly earnest, like all good fun. Puns and other verbal echoes serve to weave themes and motifs into each other, as in this early passage:

A sort of green eye on Green

Island (bordered by sand

and ocean). Unmanned

bee, beneath ziggurat (unseen,


see) – this mound (sounding beyond

Ursa Minor). By Jimini!

(cracked the barrelly,

garrulous wheedler) – yer mind?


–  ‘s gone!

Where images of America as both Dante’s Eden transplanted weave into Old World splendours, with ziggurat and mound representing a continuity of habitation with hints of the funerary, where we shall unmanned be(e) under the eye(land) of the green-eyed god. And one of the poem’s great figures, Ezra Pound, sneaks in the door (the truncated stanza at the end contains a reference to Cathay).

In fact, Pound is an almost ever-present presence, frequently paired with Apollinaire, whose name suggests an Apollonian counterpoint to Ezra’s Bacchanalian madness. Of course, in Gould’s fluidity, nothing remains the same, and at almost the exact mid-point they swap roles, when on facing pages (210/211) we read ‘Apollinaire’s//the latest Dionysus’ and Pound’s Apollonian, paradisiacal ‘Don’t move,/let the wind speak’.

These poets are just one among the poems multiple pairings, axes on the graph that plots ‘heaven and earth, the spiritual and temporal’. Another such pairing is Dante and Henry, the latter being the poet himself, John Berryman’s anti-hero and Dante’s great failed hope, the emperor Henry VII, whose ‘rocky throne/stands empty now’, as does his golden one in Dante’s vision.

Another crucial pairing starts with a cousin glimpsed in childhood via some old Super-8 film:

you hop off the see-saw, Juliet


sans warning – take me by surprise.

I land on my little ass

Whose suicide by drowning links her to Hart Crane, and whose proximity to a ‘brilliant golden spider’ pairs her with another recurring figure, Ariadne/Arachne, weaver goddess and wife of Bacchus, as it happens, and so round we go, all things connected.

An inchworm dangles calmly

from green thread; she

might be Ariadne’s cousin, gone


to ground

At the heart of Gould’s explorations is an imminent move from Providence, where he lived for many years, back to his home town of Minneapolis. This pulls together an interest in American place names as marker of the disjoint between the world views of the First Peoples and the Christian settlers, the latter sometimes lending names that reflected their utopian projects, sometimes borrowing the older names, and sometimes, as In Minneapolis (the town of water) combining the two.

And the two cities have much in common. Both live on and by water and both were established by a process of fair dealing with the aboriginal inhabitants. Indeed, Roger Williams, the religious free-thinker who established Providence is among Gould’s heroes, again often paired with Coke and Blackstone, jurists, in a distinctly Pounding grounding of the ideal city in the rule of law.

immaculate origin of Providence.


I see her hero stepping through the gate

of stone, one hand held out

on a wave of love. Light

scout, scouring the root of hate –


defanging that lamprey of predatory

malice, hostile cruelty –

injustice clamped on history.

With Coke & Blackstone whispers: Now be free.

There are a lot more threads that run through this weave: The figure of Olson’s Maximus; the Old Testament and Jewishness; the goddess Isis (with attendant, more recent echoes); Venn diagrams and catenary curves; Eeyore; the Matter of Britain and matters of Ireland. There is one remaining pairing that remains absolutely central; the raven, bird of ill omen, whose name echoes Ravenna and whose symbolism includes the picking over of dead bodies, and its complement, the dove, bird of peace. These are Noah’s birds, harbingers of the promised land, whose physical manifestation is repeatedly the American landscape:

The soft Bruegelish colors here

at India Point, at the end

of October. Moist diamond

apex of the bay, calm mirror


of gray sky… jade, orange.

Moss, oak leaves, quiet

water. Still boats, nets.

Strange silver vortex…

The dove recalls, memory being key to all things, Cavalcanti’s great canzone ‘Donna me prega’, with its insistence that love resides ‘dove sta memoria’, where memory is.

And so, we return to Cavalcanti’s friend Dante in Ravenna, hell and purgatory behind him and heaven almost completed, building to the great final silence:

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,


l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

In the love that moves everything, which is also the final goal of Gould’s extraordinary poem, driven by memories of a dead cousin, Juliet, by Pound’s prompting to make things cohere, by the riven, unfinished history of America, a vision of justice not fully achieved, Ravenna Diagram finds a resolution. Unlike the Cantos or Maximus, and Like ‘A’, this is not an open-ended epic. But unlike Zukofsky, Gould does not close with a grand chorale, but on a quieter, but no less satisfying note:

The King of Milk is by the riverside.

He washes memories

like Papa’s hand – a breeze

murmuring. Everything’s OK. I sighed.


A child is comforted. The Earth

will be. Like Magdalen

or Beatrice – when the sun

colors a morning cave (in Nazareth).



Heavy Years, by Augustus Young: A Review

Heavy Years, Augustus Young, Quartet, 2018, ISBN 9780704374478, £20.00

Heavy Years is Augustus Young’s most recent volume of autofiction, or fictionalised memoir, following from his highly praised Light Years and the more recent Brazilian Tequila. In this book, the unnamed narrator is a medical graduate, not quite a doctor, from Cork who moves to London to work for the NHS as a freelance researcher/process improver. He’s an idealist whose philosophy is summed up in a quote from Rudolf Virchow that serves as an epigraph to the book: ‘Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing but medicine on a larger scale.’ The arc of the book describes the journey from this belief that the NHS and the politicians whose role it is to fund and nurture it should be focused in health rather than illness, prevention before cure, through a slow absorption into the status quo to a kind of resignation and the ‘redemption by default’ of early retirement.

Our narrator is employed on the recommendation of a senior consultant called Mal Combes whose intention is to use his protégé as a constructive disruptor who will challenge established patterns of behaviour within the health service to the benefit of patients. It’s a job he takes on with initial enthusiasm, and in the process he constructs a map of the NHS hierarchy, from ’the mandarins’ at one end to ‘the humans’ at the other, and decides to focus his efforts on the front-line staff who, he feels, are most likely to share his view of the proper role of medicine and less likely to be involved in politics for its own sake. All of this is accompanied by a Greek chorus consisting of the talking in his head.

He decides to use his outsider status as an Irishman to his advantage:

What could be seen as a disadvantage was an asset. I could use my Irishness, and English colleagues couldn’t. at least not directly. I did not disguise my accent, but spoke very distinctly (like my mother on the phone). I decided it was a magical weapon like Fionn MacCool’s gae-bolg (spear). It entered my enemies like a javelin and its barbs opened up inside.

[It hardly detracts from this to point out that the gae-bolg was Cuchulain’s spear.]

On balance, things go pretty well at first, until the election as Prime Minister of the woman he calls Mrs Sybil, known in the real world as Mrs Thatcher. The new, market driven, politics before health means he has two options, unemployment or compromise, and he settles for the latter. He had, in any case, begun to have doubts about Virchow’s ‘big idea’, having come to the conclusion that sickness, at a certain point, is inevitable as we grow older and that the inevitable outcome of a health-focused policy would be an aging, ill population. And so, he moves on to the ‘little idea’ of removing the patently incompetent from the system through a series of disciplinary proceedings. This, while generally effective, is unpopular and ultimately induces a kind of paranoia in the unnamed one as the higher powers in his hierarchical tree begin to take more interest in his actions. It also leads to a sense of change without progress, and as he moves closer to the higher powers in the system, his idealism is further diluted.

In a sense, this is close to the character of another Young doctor, Pedrinho Diaz, whose transformation from idealistic young medico to corrupt politician is at the heart of Brazilian Tequila. This, of course, leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that the NHS jungle is very much like the Brazilian rainforest, at least where the integrity of medical administration is concerned. It’s a conflict that also resonates through another recent book by Young, The Invalidity of all Guarantees: A Conversation between Bertolt Brecht and Walter Benjamin, where Brecht’s pragmatism is set against the purity of Benjamin.

Alongside this tale of woe, we see glimpses of the Irish wing of literary London, the scene of Young’s earlier autofiction Light Years. This mostly revolving around pubs, with some interesting sightings of the near-legendary figure of Donegal poet and aspirant bag-lady Madge Herron. It is in these low relief passages that Young’s characteristically rambunctious style is most in evidence:

She was built like a chick albatross, and her vocal range was that of a starling, calls varying from chortled warbles to alarming squawks with tender little trills in between.

It is also here that the elements of the Venn diagram that links the narrator, his inventor Augustus Young, and Young’s inventor, Dr James Hogan fully overlap, bringing the nature of the autofiction into focus. Hogan, after all, was a consultant epidemiologist in the NHS and, unlike the lone bachelor narrator, a married man. And so, the story takes on something of the nature of that most particular genre of fictional distortion, the fable. But what, if any, is the moral? Here is the tale of an Irish doctor working for the NHS in London inspired by the work of a German thinker and, in real life, whatever that is, retiring to writerly seclusion in the South of France. It is, in short, a European fable. Given the post-Brexit prospects for the NHS, the following passage seems particularly prescient, whether intentionally or otherwise (I suspect the former):

Newly formed companies were scrambling for consultancy work. Interest in the American health system included exchanges of visits by professionals. I could see on the horizon competitive tendering by multinationals for service takeovers. The talking shook its head sadly, ‘How long, O Lord, how full of cant you are. A nation of shopkeepers is never going to go global.’

Which is, of course, exactly what said shopkeepers and their customers, behind a tattered banner unfurled on the playing fields of Eton, now intend to attempt.

And so, for all its playful poking of fun at human and organisation foibles, Heavy Years is, in the end, a deeply serious book, a story of idealism broken on the wheel of power, but also a finger pointing at the anti-moon of a post-Brexit privatised health ‘service’ whose reality draws ever closer. It may be too late to undo the referendum, but the moral of this fable is that the NHS must be defended at all costs.