At Stafford Services

‘…places of transit where we are aware
of a particular kind of alienated poetry’. 

– Alain de Botton

In the Wimpy Bar at Stafford services
I ask for ketchup. The girl gives me a sachet.
She seems nice, so I mention the red plastic tomatoes
That used to be on every table in the old days.
She has never heard of them. She thinks
Ketchup on the tables is a good idea.

The red plastic tomatoes, the formica tables
In the Wimpy Bar by Barnehurst bus depot
Where I went, aged thirteen, to smoke,
Drink coffee and feel sophisticated.
It was all so modern, so American, so young,
And a safe haven from parents.

Fifty years on I’m sitting in another one,
Drinking coffee and not smoking.
As the light fades the glass walls turn into mirrors,
Lending the place an air of glamour. I like it here.
I could be in an Edward Hopper painting,
A woman travelling alone on business.

No-one knows anything about me. Perhaps
I’m a high-powered executive with a BMW
Outside in the car park. Or some kind of artist,
A poet, maybe, scribbling in her notebook.
Dreams in a Wimpy. I finish my coffee,
Find my keys, and walk out of the picture.


from Family Values (Faber, 2011), © Wendy Cope 2011, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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