Standard Class

William Stephenson is a Reader in English Literature.

Simon palmed me two caps when we shook goodbye

on platform three. The one-eighteen to Euston

on four hundred mills pharmacy-grade

Tolstoy. This would be an epic journey.

North of Preston, the fields shimmered, buzzed,

glared Siberian. God had upped the contrast.

The guard yelled Tickets! in Russian. My Evian

stung like vodka: the medicine was kicking in.


Our wheels sang, sonorous as an Orthodox cantor;

a bass so tectonic I felt my fur boots shudder.

Near Crewe, the lampposts sprouted branches,

furzy as the taiga: wolves sirened in the timber.

A troop of Cossacks kettledrummed past,

sunlight electrifying sabres . . . no, just aerials:

Skodas on a transporter, headed for Birmingham.

The Volga shrivelled to a canal, pines to pylons.


Simon, the miser, had cut my Tolstoy with Spender.

Still, he’d slipped me an extra: Try this, it’s fresh in.

Manley Hopkins, 500mg. Only as directed, blah.

I knocked it back with water, burst-bulkhead-

Wreck-of-the-Bastard-Deutschland, sprung-rhythm-

roll-me-to-bloody-London . . . Holy windhover.

Am I birth-crying or dying? Genesis or Revelation? 

Be cool: this isn’t an OD. I gasp like a drowner.


Christ for a bringdown. There: a Larkin pill,

cling-filmed in my wallet, for just such an occasion.

Masts and funnels poke above Watford Junction.

Seagulls; a niff of stale cod; it’s morphing into Hull.

I’ve grown a suit. I peer through NHS spectacles.

As lines converge, black embankments close in.

The cycle-clips round my ankles drag like shackles.

An arrow-shower batters the window, melts into rain.