The Dictionary

The Clash “London Calling”

Released in 1979 this seemed, at the time, as a call to action and a portent of what was to come. There was a darkness to punk that the Clash reflected. I think their music and politics was summed up by critic Sean Egan when he wrote that the Clash were exceptional because: 

clash“They were a group whose music was, and is, special to their audience because that music insisted on addressing the conditions of poverty, petty injustice, and mundane life experienced by the people who bought their records…”

I liked the Clash and in particular the album “London’s Calling” I have spent a great part of my life visiting London either because of work or to meet up with friends and family. It is a sprawling place were even the smallest journey seems to take a life time but it has an energy and vitality that is difficult to beat. Much as I love my home town of Newcastle it can’t rival London for sheer variety and originality. 

Over forty years ago I remember travelling from Hackney to Stepney on a bus late at night when I fell in to conversation with the conductor (this was in the days when you had a person separate from the driver who would collect the fares). He was reading a dictionary and we talked about words and language. English was not his first language and he was fascinated by the sheer number of words in the dictionary. The words had a magic quality to him and I loved the delight he took in discovering new words. Something I still find today, 

My problem was always not the words but the spelling of them but now thanks to software it no longer troubles me since I discovered computers, spellcheckers and word processing software.

This is an old poem of mine from my first collection called “Doors” but it’s a long time since it saw the light of day and finding it was like meeting up with an old friend.




My father gave me a dictionary

Full of words I did not understand

And could not pronounce

Every vowel was a brawl

Every consonant a skirmish


I learned to love the words

That I could not spell

To explore their meanings

Taste their sound on my tongue

Prising them apart

Stitching them back together


In my head I wrote poetry

Furtive words about secrets

Never daring to put pen to paper

In case my words would be mocked

And ridiculed

Geordie boys don’t write poetry


Thirty years ago

On a Routemaster bus in London

Going from Hackney to Stepney

I shared a dictionary with a conductor

We drooled over the pages

Like schoolboys ogling porn


I realised, I was not alone

This was not a fetish

Just a fascination for phonetics

Now, I let the software

Worry about the spelling

While I enjoy creating the lines


© Jeff Price August 1998

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