Sovereign House, Norwich
Why would the Queen need a building
that looks like a mutant slug
had mated with a spaceship,
in Norwich, to store her paper clips?
Well, it seems she doesn’t, and she must be holding
them instead in a lion-and-unicorned silk bag,
because Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
has for twelve years been a postmodern cave,
a plywood-patched leviathan of an edifice.
I yanked up one of its mutant glass eyelids
and then, fingers gripping the groove
of a filing-cabinet the size of a milk-float,
levered myself into a room where solids
Walls holes that spilt foam.
Dead bullets frogspawned about the carpet.
Had the Queen’s own frogs leapt around
these corridors, spitting the words “room clear”
across walls after stabbing them to dust-coughing death
with a sledgehammer and a breath
of royal gunfire?
Outside a paper-storage cupboard
a blue biochemical bodysuit adorned
the floor among pigeon skeletons and
silence, limbs splayed like a chalk outline.
Sun-bleached little cardboard signs jabbered
“Occupants evacuated. All suspicious items
removed” in a Cold War typeface.
Evacuated how? With boots in their scrotums?
And then a room full of rickety hospital
bedframes in echoing shivering
silence. A key with a tag saying “Biological
Anatomy – Annie”. A glass case
with three taps, ‘water’, ‘air’
and ‘nitrous oxide’. Isn’t that laughing gas?
From a cobweb-curtained graffitied fifth-floor
window, watching Norwich go about
its trolley-trundling mustard-bottling
yellowgreen-taxied business, I stood
swaddled in graveyardish air and industrial hum
until, brain rattling,
fear ticking like a time-bomb,
instinct screaming get out get out get out,
visions whistling through my head
of nuclear apocalypse,
of zombies jack-in-the-boxing out from behind mossy desks
gushing blood over pin-prickled maps
of East Anglia and wall-planners deadlining dead tasks,
I panted past the uprooted coffee-machine,
weaving round nooselike electric cables
and a mound of floppy disks,
back over the filing-cabinet and then
free, comforted by baubles
on the forecourt of a greeting-card boutique,
heart hammering like a woodpecker’s beak.