Old Bailey

(Summer, 1971)
Felix Dennis
August 31, 2007
Mandalay, Mustique

For me, there is only before
And after— after the slam
Of the Bailey’s iron door,
Where the jackal lies with the lamb,

And men sit slumped in a row,
Staring or reading The Sun,
Where the lags and toe-rags know
What others have only begun

To accept— their guts in a knot,
Cursing and spitting and spent,
Excavating their snot—
Beginning to learn what is meant

By a ‘jolt’ or ‘toad in the hole’,
By ‘Baron; or ‘dint’ or ‘dunt’,
By  ‘bird’ or ‘a nice jam roll’—
When a con from the National Front

Snarls ‘Sod it!’, his eyes like slits,
And the cage is suddenly hot
As he turns: ‘I see these poncey gits...’
He nods, (eyes slide to us), ‘have got

Just what they fuckin’ deserve.
One thing I hate,’ his voice beer flat,
‘Is bunkin’ with a bleeding perv’
Who messes with kiddies an’ that.’

And the room grows stiller than ice,
And my face is a mask of snow,
When a drowsy Irish voice
Purrs: ‘What would an arse’ole know

But what he reads in the news,
(Which I learned to read in school)
Or the lies we’re fed by screws?
And these ain’t pervs, you fool,

Read this!’  And he folds the rag
And slides it across the floor
And winks while I hand him a fag.
For me, there is only before...

And after— after the raid,
Where coppers as bent as a hinge
March in and bellow their trade:
‘We’ve come for the drugs and minge!
‘This is the Dirty Squad!
Stand up when I’m talking to you!
You’re in fer it now, by God!
If only you bleeders knew!’

And ten of ’em, count ’em, ten,
Of Her Majesty’s Scotland Yard,
Red-nosed and warranted men
Who think themselves ‘well ’ard’,

Harder than coffin nails,
As hard as Desperate Dan,
Bundle our office files in bales
And lug them out to a van,

And call the secretaries sluts,
And help themselves to tea,
And use our phone, no ifs or buts,
And turn to Kenny and me,

And warn us, there and then,
That ‘a nudge is as good as a wink
To a blind horse, g-e-n-t-l-e-m-e-n,’
As they toss the cups in the sink,

And trash the coats on the rack,
And force the lock in a drawer,
And vanish, yelling ‘We’ll be back!’
For me, there is only before...

And after— after we learned
What I guess we already knew,
That as far as the law is concerned,
There is no such thing as ‘true’

Or ‘false’— there is only ‘the norm’,
And the stick-brittle words of a judge
With his ‘duty to perform’,
(Serving a politician’s grudge),

With his wig and his worldly squint,
Spouting his sanctimonious bile,
Happy to see his face in print,
Smiling his dry-lipped crocodile smile,

Explaining away, with shop-worn mirth,
To twelve good men and true,
Just what ‘the evidence’ is worth
Of a man like me or you,

As he bends and buckles to fit
Some Cinderella’s pump
On an elephant’s foot, the crafty git,
And gives the bench a thump

As he waffles and witters away,
Hinting between the lines
That a judge knows more than he can say
(Or cares to share with Philistines)

But he knows when ‘a thing is lewd!’
And brings himself up short,
Then sends the jury out to brood
And toddles off for his port...

While lawyers we can’t afford
Caw like a murder of crows
That ‘his Lordship’s summing-up was flawed,
But that’s the way it goes...

Most helpful on Appeal...
Quite frankly, a disgrace...’
And leave us to toy with our meal
Knowing we’d lost the case.

For me, there is only before
And after— after the slam
Of the Bailey’s iron door,
Where the jackal lies with the lamb,

Where the lags can make you a cutter
With fags and matches and soap,
And trusties shuffle and mutter,
(One with a telescope

Concealed in his wooden legs).
Where screws are as thick as a plank,
And the cries of a man as he begs
While they cut his balls with a shank

Are drowned in the clatter and roar
Of piss-filled buckets and pails—
Carried from each cell door
To a place where all hope fails,

Where men are buggered and reamed,
Their bodies bruised and numb,
And those who scuff are double-teamed
While playing deaf and dumb,

Where a squealer finds ground glass
Has sweetened his morning brew,
‘Now shut your effin’ mouth, you arse,
There’s nuffink you c’n do.’

And nor there is— you understand?
Not in the bowels of the law,
Not in the jails of this fair land.
For me, there is only before

And after— after the key
Had turned on a sliver of doubt,
As word came down from the powers that be
To let the buggers out.

And a Law Lord let us go,
And the free air tasted sweet,
But there wasn’t man who didn’t know
He spoke for Downing Street.

And I swore myself an oath
That if wealth and clout would serve,
Then I should apply myself to both,
To hold them in reserve

In a world where the rules are clear:
That only the rich have wings,
And the one beast all such bastards fear
Is coin, and the power it brings.

OZ was a ‘counter-culture’ magazine of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Originally founded in Australia, it was launched in London in 1967 by Richard Neville.  I joined the magazine in 1968. Then came Ted Heath’s government in 1970.  The OZ offices were raided again and again by Scotland Yard’s so-called ‘Dirty Squad’, officially the Obscene Publications Division of the Metropolitan Police.  Eventually they charged three OZ editors, Richard, Jim Anderson and me, with a serious crime, using an archaic law: Conspiracy to Pervert the Morals of the Young of the Realm. This led to the longest conspiracy trial in British history.  We eventually beat the ‘conspiracy’ rap but were sent to prison for two minor charges tacked on as an afterthought.  The public outcry was so great we were swiftly released (highly unusually, it should be noted) prior to our successful appeal and after serving time in Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth prisons.  Later, the ‘Dirty Squad’ was discovered to be institutionally corrupt and many of its officers were sent to prison and the squad disbanded.  It emerged they had targeted OZ because they were taking so many bribes from pornographers they suffered from a poor arrest record.  The 1970’s today seem as remote as the Middle Ages, but I would make three points:  When you hear the word ‘conspiracy’ in a court of law, you can be almost certain there is monkey-business afoot.  Secondly, prisons in Britain are overcrowded because we imprison more of our citizens than all but a few countries in the world. Many of these prisoners are mentally ill.  Lastly, the judiciary in Britain is deeply flawed.  More than one senior barrister refused, against their sworn oath, to represent OZ, probably because they felt that to do so might harm their career.  (We were fortunate that John Mortimer finally accepted our case: he cared far less for his career in the law due to his growing fame as a playwright). Our own trial judge was so eager to convict us that his summing up has become a byword for incompetence and bias.  And the judiciary’s political masters, including the Home Secretary and others, were involved in the whole shabby episode up to their wattled necks.  No system of law can be perfect and I have heard it argued that much has changed for the better, judicially speaking, in recent years in Britain.  Maybe.  But I doubt it.  I very, very much doubt it.