‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’
The old man had used Naughton as a parable
Not ‘Alfie’ (a slight, commercial piece
ask the remake’s Jude Law
and his comical hairpiece) but ‘Rafe Granite’.
Father in novel is Bolton Devil
But on stage murder-scowl was rearranged
to knowing grin, to winking wiseman
to teacher of tough but necessary lessons.
‘See,’ the old man said, or implied,
‘A soft lie is easier sold than a hard truth.’
The old man worried a great deal
about money when young,
so when old paid overmuch
to avoid having to think about the stuff.
So where would the gold have gone
if he had sold his seam of truth?
Yes, a man of bodily comforts,
of good soap and razorblades,
of mid-shelf port and tweed and tobacco
And yes, a man of records
and especially of books
but was utterly ungrasping beyond that,
no Fagan box of jewels under floorboards
or dreams of a two-bed buy-to-let
somewhere nice in South Hampstead
He was no monk –
ask the late-night arms
of postwar Pimlico
or the lone surviving pimp
of 1940’s Belfast.
Nor did ambition dim
to the end he held a sometimes green flame
for gaining late name in life-extending print.
But for this he lacked the earthly guile
Chose wrong helper-pupils
Could not sharpen elbows
Nor seep sufficient grease
He was too messily full of Life –
of love and bile and play
of truth and warmth and fight,
too fatally full of generosity and of spite