In the summer of 2014, Boris Johnson announced he would be running at the next general election to become the MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, having been selected by the constituency association to do so. This was significant for several reasons, not least being the fact that the then London mayor had promised several times during his campaign to be re-elected in 2012 that he wouldn’t attempt to run for parliament during his second term. So much for Boris Johnson and campaign promises – although this almost certainly wasn’t the first example of him trying to have his cake and eat it too.
I commemorated the announcement back then with a poem written using the cut up method, first made significant use of by William S Burroughs in the early 1960s. Essentially, you take several different snippets of text from varying sources, mush them all together and hope something profound comes out the other end. I cut together Boris Johnson’s statement signifying his intent to run for parliament, the first half of Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech from 1968, a random section of text from Marcel Proust’s À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu, and to round it all off, what was then the “Top 10 Things to Do in London” list that sat on the visitlondon.com website.
I was reminded of my 2014 poem this week for two reasons. One is that Professor Chris Prendergast of King’s College Cambridge, while doing a podcast promoting a new book he has out entitled Living and Dying with Marcel Proust, kindly mentioned it in relation to the current Number 10 crisis and of course, Proust himself.
The second reason is that what with the birthday cake story beautifully dovetailing with Johnson’s “cakeism”, not to mention linking it via baked goods with Proust’s madeleine, the time seemed right for another cut up poem about Boris Johnson involving a section of A La Recherche du Temps Perdu. For those of you unaware, the narrator in Proust’s classic novel bites into a madeleine and it instantly brings back scores of memories from his childhood, the taste and sensation of the cake instantly summoning up a plethora of images from his past.
In response to all of this, I’ve written a new cut up poem about Boris Johnson, this time incorporating:
- The section of A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu detailing Proust’s narrator biting into the madeleine.
- Random sections from Marina Hyde’s article, “Boris Johnson has finally gone full Marie Antoinette – only he’s hogging all the cake” in the Guardian.
- Snippets from Boris Johnson’s interview with The Sun in 2016 in which he described his approach to Brexit cakeism.
- A random recipe for a birthday cake, taken from the BBC website.
Here it goes. Is it a profound exploration of the Britain of today? Or random artsy fartsy gibberish? I leave it to you to decide:
Fluffy. Add the cream cheese and the power of expansion which would have memory returns. Quite how long Conservative MPs are willing to bake in two batches, time can only tell. Put so richly sensual under its severe, religious folds, we were either obliterated or have been liberated to champion free trade round a deal that is exhilarating for this country. A shudder ran through me and a circle covering the whole world of cake tins went in lightly around church time. “We are all him”, the parliamentary party answers.
Boris Johnson promises you “global such and such in the interval, without tasting the sponge, it springs back when you press it,” and Europe becomes gloomy. The forms of things, including the only one who actually gets cake in Downing Street’s version of Marie Antoinette’s ridiculous little scallop-shell of pastry, electrically whisked (note: use a table top mixer) until pale and illegitimate. Add that their image has dissociated itself from the batter.
My aunt Léonie used a deal that liberates us to eat cake, one that just drags everything down to his level. “We are pro-secco, but the cooled blob of icing that sits in the cabinet won’t fully incorporate”. Reality seems to sit soft on the sponge’s top, covering the whole base. You can have your cake and eat it, but only if you press it lightly. “Lightly,” he whispers again to the Downing Street junior press officer.
Oh, to make Britain once again be made of pastry, the slight of the round world, where the only one who actually gets cake is him. I wanted to say good things about all three layers, scattering over some extra sprinkles in the interval without ever tasting them, on the trays that have lost the power of expansion which would have made the great motor of free trade buttercream purr. Meanwhile, indulge him that other matter, the one where Realism appears to you as “Global Britain” but in icing shapes. By beating the butter, you put it out of its mind, nothing memories, so long abandoned and trade I don’t recognise this day in her. “The spoon is in the icing” says the lonely cabinet member to no one in particular.
Boris Johnson promises sugar until combined and fluffy. Fluffy, once again. Add the cream cheese and “The People’s Government” but you then get the Downing Street version put out of mind, nothing now survived, everything scattered; we were either obliterated or had been so long dormant back then. Circle covering the whole base. Then serve.