First Prize, Nathan Carr Milivoy Webber writing competition 2021

Sauce or Gravy by Jeff Gallagher

‘His preference for sauce to gravy’ (Philip Larkin, Mr. Bleaney)

The future will see greater social mobility
A yearning for privilege and a lack of civility.

But remember, we will never, in each act and expression,
Have a second chance to make a first impression.

People will either lap you up, spit you out,
Or ignore you, once they sense what you’re really about.

So here’s some advice if you’re starting with nada
And want to climb up our society’s ladder.

It begins with your parents and the genes that they carry:
You’d best hope they chose the right person to marry.

Of course if you’re savvy, you can learn to be posh:
Just drive a Mercedes and have plenty of dosh.

And yet it’s quite hard to be properly accepted:
So here’s what to do to avoid being rejected.

Are you not quite the thing, nor the cream of the crop?
It may all come down to the place where you shop.

Insist upon Waitrose in your most strident voice,
Then sign up for prep school: it’s much the best choice.

And Jack Wills or Hollister - what will you wear?
Sailing or skiing? Chamonix? Val d’Isere?

Then fit the obligatory braces, of course -
So you won’t look too much like your favourite horse.

And now come the choices that really create us
And determine your rung on the ladder of status.

Benenden? ‘Mall-borough’? Harrow or Eton?
Just say the right word and you’ll never be beaten.

Comprehensive or grammar? It really is vital
If you want to meet people with influence and title.

St. Andrew’s or Durham? Redbrick or Russell?
How much will they add to your job-seeking muscle?

And going to parties? Sloppy toff or posh pleb?
Cocaine-sniffing totty or cross-dressing deb?

And Fulham or QPR? Sarries or Quins?
Your career advancement may depend on who wins.

We hope you’re not one of those dull Northern chaps -
Unless you’re from Yorkshire? Or Scotland, perhaps?

Your ambition is to sample life’s caviare when you
Peruse your genetically predestined menu.

For you are what you eat - and no matter how polite,
You’ll fall off the ladder if you don’t get this right.

Fish pie or bouillabaisse? Chicken or beef?
And milk first, or tea? What particular leaf?

Roast dinner with trimmings or just Sunday lunch?
Take away pizza or hangover brunch?

At Burns night they like to sup haggis and whisky -
But don’t get too drunk or excessively frisky.

Mayonnaise or salad cream? Fruit first, or cheese?
Best to choose guacamole and not mushy peas.

And your knowledge of wines must be twenty-four carat:
How well do you know your Bordeaux from your Claret?

Mr. Bleaney chose sauce over gravy, my dears,
Which cemented his status for the next forty years.

But you’re here, with a suitable husband or wife,
You’ve struck it quite lucky, you can map out your life.

Your friends on the boundary will be like your brothers
And will help you invest in the misery of others.

Play golf at the weekends, commute to the station;
And one night a year, create the next generation.

The motor’s arrived, filled with blankets and hampers:
Let’s eat lots of canapes and drink too much champers.

You’re portly and balding, but you’re rather a swell:
You’ve chosen the gravy, and it’s served you so well.

You’ve chosen the gravy, and it means you belong:
A prosperous retirement, and maybe a gong.

The grandchildren’s school fees are all guaranteed
So their choices are easy and their journey agreed.

One of you’s businesslike, sociable, canny,
While the other is the county’s most shaggable granny.

The gravy is flowing and soon there’ll be oodles
Of tortoises, horses and black labradoodles.

While those who chose sauce must acknowledge their station
And never ever be allowed to govern the nation.

And as you grow older, you’ll be glad to relate
You chose gravy, not sauce, to embellish your plate.

Then, when your larder is empty and your tummy is heaving,
You’ll sit down on the toilet and simply stop breathing.

And which energy provider will you choose to cremate
Your last sad remains beyond the cemetery gate?

And you’re finally judged on the choices you make
By how many celebrities come to your wake.

The path is not straight - but each sidestepped trap
Confirms your position on the great social map.

But since I’m unlucky, I think I will maybe
Make do with the sauce, ‘cause it looks like they’ve run out of gravy.

Jeff Gallagher’s poems have featured in publications such as Rialto, Shooter, Dreich, Littoral and The Journal. He has had numerous plays for children performed nationwide. He has been a teacher of English and Latin. He also appeared in an Oscar-winning movie. He has no handles.