The First Time She Saw A Ciabatta

(Reflections on Brexit)

The first time she saw a Ciabatta
Was on one sunny springlike day
In a snack bar, by the meadows
Sometime round ‘92 I’d say.
She stopped and gasped, ‘A Ciabatta?
I never thought I’d see the day.
A ciabatta, here in Edinburgh.
And look – so casually displayed
Just tossed into a world of pies
Like some cosmopolitan grenade.’
And as she saw it something shifted
A feeling she can still recall
It opened her up, that Ciabatta,
Like knocking through an adjoining wall
She thought,
‘Maybe I’m not so far from Europe
Not so far away at all.’
She thought, ‘Perhaps I can be Scottish
In ways I have not previously been
Still Scots, yet firmly in the mainstream
Of European snack cuisine.’
And looking back that ciabatta
Did seem to herald Tony Blair
Her first espresso, Purple passports,
Easy-jet, mens’ facial hair
The fad for purple sprouting brocolli
Cafes playing Nouvelle Vague
Bulgarian country wine from Oddbinns
Scottish plays peformed in Prague
Belgian crash dance, Spanish Football
Surprising Czechoslovak beer.
The internet, the Bosman ruling
Dirty films by Lars Von Trier
Direct flights to Barcelona
Direct flights to anywhere.
One day a hole beside the castle
The next, a Traverse builded there.
It felt to her a time of blossom
And something else felt very clear
That just as she was going there
‘They’ were also coming here.
And each new voice, each new arrival
Seemed to enlarge, infinitesimally
The space she had to be herself in.
‘We’ no longer felt so wee.
She felt as if she’d been invited
To a party in the sun
But her name wasn’t on the invite
She was the UK’s plus one.
It’s very hard to explain how closed
That Scotland of the eighties felt
After a failed referendum
The awful feeling, we’d been telt.
It’s hard to explain the sense of being
A million miles away from hip
A rusting skiff attached to Britain
Tethered to a rotting ship
Scratchy jumpers, B.A. Robertson
Thatcher just wouldn’t go away
Selling rockets to Saddam and guns to
General Pinochet.
You were amazed when something scottish
Appeared among the headlines list
Sitting pointing at the telly
‘Look, it’s Scotland, we exist!’
Usually it was for a murder
Or the derailment of a train
Or the closing of a factory.
Or Glen Michael’s Cavalcade again.
And always, always the assumption
If she’d had the least ambition
She would, of course, end up in London
And then one day a ciabatta…
And the thought perhaps she could be
Made up of more than one identity.
Not riven like a stick of rock
One slogan through it’s length imbued
But like a coastline, complicated
And containing multitudes.
And yes, it partly came from privelige
This sense of European-ness
No doubt it’s far away from many
Those with less, might feel it less.
But what a gift that she was given!
Looking back at what it meant,
The sense she was more than just one thing
The sense she was a continent.
But here we are now, party’s over,
Husband’s kicked the canapes
And punched the waiter, after pissing
On the silver service trays.
‘Fuck your vol au vents!’ He’s shouted
‘Fuck your wine, and fuck your books!
We don’t pay you all that money just to get your snooty looks!
When I first came you all laughed at me
Yes you Madame, yes you – Frau,
You said I uncouth and arrogant,
Well you’re not fucking laughing now!
So fuck the lot of you we’re leaving.
We don’t need you, we’ll survive
Get your coat your dear, stop fucking crying.
Here’s the car keys you can drive.’
And now the headlights cut the darkness.
As she drives the autoroute
Husband dribbles, drunk beside her
In his double breasted suit.
‘You don’t need that world my darling,
I am all the world you need.
Aren’t you glad we’re back in Britain
Aren’t you feeling very freed?’
And now the head-lights cut the darkness
As the Pas de Calais comes
Husband’s on his calculator
Working out the currency sums.
And now the headlights cut the darkness
As she drives away from Dover.
Husband humming Rule brittania
Now she knows it’s really over
‘Why’re you crying, silly darling’
Silly petal, what’s the matter?’
‘I’ll tell you why I’m crying Nigel
You shat on my fucking ciabatta.’

Comments (6)

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  1. Bryan Weir says:


  2. baronesssamedi says:

    good but way, way too long.

  3. Douglas says:

    Excellent David, thanks, great stuff.

    A reply from the great Catalan poet, Salvador Espriú (1913-1985)…

    ” We will say the truth without repose
    For the honour of serving, under the feet of one and all

    We detest big guts and fancy words
    The indecent glittering of gold
    The badly dealt cards of fate
    the thick incense of the powerful.

    Now the nation of the Lords is vile
    It hangs its head in shame and barks far off like a dog
    And yes you can use your stick,
    on the muddy road to death

    With the song, in the darkness, it is enough:
    high walls of dreams we will build.

    The sounds of night come be heard on all fronts
    But let us close the gate on fear…”


  4. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:


    Can’t come soon enough!! Thank you, David.

  5. Justin Kenrick says:

    Inspiring outrage and hope

  6. Henry Holland says:

    A moving & engaging poem, which at times so deliberately slips into bathos that the reader can only imagine this is intentional. Take the line, “The sense she was a continent”, as an example. Who honestly has had a ‘sense’ of being a continent? Perhaps mock epic genre of poem is fitting way to mock the Brexiters delusions of British grandeur. Danger of this genre choice is limitation of how seriously we can take the poem’s statements. Is the subtext, that the Europeanness many in Scotland enjoyed over this 25 year period was actually shallowly anchored? With how many people born in Scotland can you have a conversation about a single one of the European books the poem references? Seriousness about European project would mean compulsory European language teaching for all kids at Scottish educational institutions from age 5 to 21.

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