Thursday, 17 March 2011

At Lunchtime by Roger McGough (Charmaine's)

by Roger McGough
When the bus stopped suddenly
to avoid damaging
a mother and child in the road,
the younglady in the green hat sitting opposite,
was thrown across me,
and not being one to miss an opportunity
i started to make love.
At first, she resisted,
saying that it was too early in the morning,
and too soon after breakfast,
and anyway, she found me repulsive.
But when i explained that this being a nuclearage
the world was going to end at lunchtime,
she took off her green hat,
put her busticket into her pocket
and joined in the exercise.
The buspeople,
and there were many of them,
were shockedandsurprised,
and amusedandannoyed.
But when word got around
that the world was going to
end at lunchtime,
they put their pride in their pockets
with their bustickets
and made love one with the other.
And even the busconductor,
feeling left out,
climbed into the cab,
and struck up some sort of relationship with the driver.
That night,
on the bus coming home,
we were all a little embarrassed.
Especially me and the younglady in the green hat.
And we all started to say
in different ways
how hasty and foolish we had been.
But then, always having been a bitofalad,
i stood up and said it was a pity
that the world didn't nearly end every lunchtime,
and that we could always pretend.
And then it happened . . .
Quick asa crash
we all changed partners,
and soon the bus was aquiver
with white, mothball bodies doing naughty things.
And the next day
and everyday
In everybus
In everystreet
In everytown
In everycountry
People pretended
that the world was coming to an end at lunchtime.
It still hasn't.
Although in a way it has.

Target level: Sec 4 Express
Clip to let students listen to the poem aloud:

1) What is the poem about? Explain why you think this is so.

This question is targetted at the students recognising the strange episode that is taking place in the poem - that strangers are making love with one another, a very intimate interaction, on the bus, a public place and at a very unlikely time, lunchtime.

2) In your opinion, why do you think the poet has chosen to combine the words "nuclearage", " busticket", "buspeople", "shockedandsurprised", " amusedandannoyed", "busconductor", "younglady", "bitofalad", "everybus", "everystreet", "everytown" and "everycountry"? Try reading these words out loud and compare them with how they are read when they are separated.
This question is targetted at helping the students to realise that a mere absence of the space between 2 words would cause the words to be read faster. With this realisation, it is in hope that students deduce that the episode on the bus is taking place very fast (comparable with the speed with which they read the combined words). Society is progressing at an increasingly speed.

3) Based on your reading, how would you describe the personality of the character in this poem?

Students should be able to tell that the persona is impulsive and reckless, yet anxious not to lose out in what he deems as the pleasures of life should the world end. It is in hope that the students are able to determine that amidst the speed at which society is progressing, people fear losing out on opportunities, thus they impulsively engage in activities which they, from a moral standpoint, should not.

4) Why does the poet say that "in a way [the world] has [come to an end]" though "it still hasn't"?

This question aims to show students' that in light of increasing immorality in society, moral degradation has done much damage to the world such that it's moral standards have seemingly come to an end.

These 4 scaffolded questions aim to help students attain the thematic concern of the poem - that there is increasing moral degradation in society today.


  1. A very interesting and funny poem, Charmaine. Howvever, I don't think that the poem is about moral degradation at all! If anything, the sentiment of the poem seems to be close to the common saying, "Make love, not war". You could also say it's a poem that imagines a society without inhibitions. Whatever it is, it's funny so it's not really about something serious like moral degradation. I like question 2 but do note that there is no one reason for the joined words. Different effects are created depending on which combination we're talking about.

  2. Just a "quicknote", nothing happens at lunch time, not even the end of the world! It all happens in the mornings and in the evenings!