Listen With Others

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin

Imperial Age by Stick Insect

Posted by shirleycurran on 23 Dec 2022

With a sigh of relief, we download a puzzle with a short preamble. That bodes well – no complicated endgame and hours of head-scratching after the grid is filled (at least, we hope there will be none). Stick Insect has been producing Listener crosswords regularly since 2010 so I clearly do not need to check his right of entry to the elitist oenophile Listener setters’ outfit (but I do scan the clues anyway and find that, although concise and with some fine and entertaining surface readings, they are a depressingly sober lot – but see later!)

We solve steadily – at least, the other Numpty does. I find it difficult to see solutions appearing in the grid when a letter is missing, OPEPRISOS, for example, for OPEN PRISONS (‘Porpoises smashed looser cans’ with an omitted couple of Ns and an anagram of porpoises’). However, a description of a work is steadily appearing, and its writer’s name is being spelled out almost simultaneously. WARNING FIRST SEEN IN THE LISTENER SIXTY YEARS AGO and JENNY JOSEPH.

I was a student when this amusing poem appeared and remember that well, but I wonder how many of us knew that it first appeared in the Listener magazine (that to us was a somewhat highbrow publication) and I remember it with that wonderful first line “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple” – not with the title ‘Warning’. It takes a visit to our loyal stand-by Wiki to confirm the theme.

We find there that this was identified as the most popular postwar UK poem in a 1996 poll and we also read the first line: “”When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me” and I am able to shade the unclued entry purple, of course, but also add the RED to the HAT on the head of the purple JENNY JOSEPH – well there had to be a hint of wine somewhere.

But, wait a minute, we read on:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.But wait a minute, we read on:

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

© Jenny Joseph, SELECTED POEMS, Bloodaxe 1992.

– and what do we find? She’s spending her pension on brandy and hoarding beermats – making up for the sobriety of her youth. Well, cheers, glasses of brandy raised, Stick Insect, and thank you for a most enjoyable puzzle.


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