Rules for Beginners

They said, “Honour thy father and thy mother.
Don’t spend every evening at the Disco.
Listen to your teachers, take an O Level
Or two. Of course, one day you’ll have children.
We’ve tried our best to make everything nice.
Now it’s up to you to be an adult.!

She want to all the X-films, like an adult.
Sometimes she hung around the Mecca Disco.
Most of the boys she met were dead O Level –
Smoking and swearing, really great big children.
She had a lot of hassle with her mother.
It was always her clothes or her friends that weren’t nice.

At school, some of the teachers were quite nice
But most of them thought they were minding children.
“Now, Susan,” they would say, “You’re nearly adult –
Behave like one!” The snobs taking O Level
Never had fun, never went to the Disco.
They did their homework during Listen with Mother.

She said, “I’d hate to end up like my mother
But there’s this lovely bloke down at the Disco
Who makes me feel a lot more like an adult.”
He murmured, “When I look at you, it’s nice
All over. Can’t you cut that old O Level
Scene? Christ, I could give you twenty children.”

He had to marry her. There were three children –
All girls. Sometimes she took them to her mother
To get a break. She tried to keep them nice.
It was dull all day with kids, the only adult.
She wished they’d told you that, instead of O Level.
Sometimes she dragged her husband to the Disco.

She got a part-time job at the Disco
Behind the bar. A neighbour had the children.
Now she knew all about being an adult
And, honestly, it wasn’t very nice.
Her husband grumbled, “Where’s our dinner, Mother?”
“I’m going down the night-school for an O Level,

I am!” said Mother. “Have fun at the Disco,
Kids! When you’re an adult, life’s all O Level.
Stay clear of children, keep your figures nice.”

first published in Unplayed Music (Secker & Warburg, 1981), from Poems 1968-2004 (Bloodaxe, 1981, © Carol Rumens 1981, used by permission of the author

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1Soho Square, April

2Baby, Baby, Baby

3Over the Bridge

4Rules for Beginners

5The Hebrew Class

6Star Whisper

7Women, Veiled



10The Grandmother’s Tale

11White Night

12London Stone

13The Death of King Taharqa

14Walking on Hail-Stones

15From a Conversation During Divorce

16The Things he Liked

17Doubled Solstice

18Sessanta’s View

19Rigor Mortis

20The Lightest Dancer

22A Singer too Soon

23Prayer for Belfast

24Canto 27 (Dante, Purgatorio)

25Beware this Boy

26The Deluge

27The Reddish Wheelbarrow

28Hamlet (Pasternak, Dr. Zhivago)

29A Christmas Tangerine

21Song of the Gsohs