author bio

Caligula on ice poster/flyerCaligula on Ice

Tim Turnbull 

The hype machine goes into overdrive;
  I tell you it will run for evermore.
A world cup won at home could not contrive
  felicity so great, nor a foreign war
raise up the nation’s spirits half as much
  as this. There’ll be, at first, a few nay-sayers
but they’ll be roundly scorned as out of touch,
  perhaps be forced to join the cast as players

and there before the baying crowd,
  weeping and naked, cold and cowed
    be offered up as sacrifice
  to give the mob their money’s worth,
    at the greatest, ever, show on earth –
            Caligula on Ice.

The greatest, ever, show on earth, bar none
  and you could be stakeholders from the start.
Private boxes, programs with your logo on
  and kudos as a patron of the arts
are yours for a small fee. And once secured
  it’s safe, for if it all goes up the spout
this project’s so prestigious, be assured,
  the government will have to bail it out.

So fill your boots with cut-price shares,
  we’ll soon be multi-millionaires.
    It’s gilt-edged, guaranteed advice.
  Underwriters will protect us.  
    Have a peep at the prospectus
            for Caligula on Ice.

First, watched by some D-list non-entities,
  a grand parade of beasts, all cloned in zoos,
(elephants, tigers, hippos, chimpanzees)
  is hacked to bits to keep the herd amused;
and clowns do the dispatching; for the kids,
  to see them slip in gore’s such merriment!
McDonald’s remove the meats and fluids
  to make way for a martial re-enactment:

Vimy Ridge or the Basra Road –
  real soldiers die, real tanks explode.
    But this is no contrived device,
  no tittilatory tactic.
    It’s entertaining and didactic –
            Caligula on Ice.

Next there’s a fanfare and the crowd all rise
  as into the rink the insane God-King comes
on golden skates. His earnest, puppy eyes
  and gladius gleam as a roll of drums
announces his opponents have been brought,
  the fuddled cancer patients he will face,
and single mums and pensioners who ought 
  to lose but have been hobbled just in case.

It’s over soon, a dismal rout,
  then on to the first ranking bout.
    With greatest purse and highest price,
  the Murdoch-Berlusconi fight
    for international broadcast rights
            to Caligula on Ice.

There - bloody and savage beyond belief -
  they claw like hellcats round the arena,
each laying in with fists, feet, nails and teeth,
  so that it’s hard to judge which one’s the meaner.
This round’s brought to a halt for a respite
  when they both slump together, brow to brow,
the combat to resume again next night,
  though it’s always going on somewhere, somehow,

say, handing out emoluments
  to buy up supine governments
    for whom the spectacle’s a spice,
  a voter-stunning opiate,
    the best that’s been invented yet –
            Caligula on Ice.

An intermission follows, during which
  titbits are served to savour or endure -
endangered species for the very rich,
  reconstituted vermin for the poor - 
whilst a batch of felons is done to death
  in ways both cruel and unusual –
muggers mangled, pimps impaled; TV chefs
  roast murderers alive. The daily cull

delights the Telegraph and Mail,
  slashes the numbers held in jail,
    deters delinquency and vice,
  and, even more importantly,
    provides this public service free.
            Ah, Caligula on Ice.

The Emperor ascends and takes his seat,
  a marble throne with silks and velvet drapes.
He waves and simpers, toadies at his feet.
  Half-feral magnates mill about the place,
pour flattery and poison in his ear
  while his castrated rivals wait attendance.
He signals silence so ’s to better hear
  The Cain Dingle Pub Rock Experience.

As in-house pop group for the games
  they can, so their publicist claims,
    whip up a dirge in half a trice.
  It’s guaranteed to raise a snore,
    a droning, soporific score
            to Caligula on Ice

and inauspicious start descends to farce:
  the Dingle brothers, it’s their fatal defect,
brawl to prove which one’s the bigger arse.
  This cheers rival band the Mockney Rejects
but even as the hackneyed feedback fades
  a swish is heard, a hiss, a rush, a roar
and lasers flash on breastplates, helmets, blades
  as through the gates a thousand athletes pour

the entertainers who will strive
  until just one is left alive.
    Their motto’s pithy and precise:
  ‘Abandon hope all ye who enter
    the National Exhibition Centre
            for Caligula on Ice.’

And so the gladiators take their places;
  dragooned in from the lively arts and sport.
They wait, (some tremble, fear writ on their faces,
  while others, bloodlust rising, stamp and snort),
in line. They have been seeded first, of course,
  matched by weapon-type or branch of showbiz –
retarii against the secutors,
  the chorus-line of Cats against Lez Miz

for it’s the only game in town,
  all other shows have been shut down.
    What substitute could now suffice?
  The theatres fold, no longer needed
    their entertainments superseded
            by Caligula on Ice.

Now Caesar stands to signal start of play
  but Arsenal and Man U both jump the gun,
as tunnel spitting leads to a mêlée.
  The punters howl and, not to be outdone,
Kelly Holmes puts Paula Radcliffe’s eyes out
  with a spear; the Royal Ballet corps accost
Leeds Rhino’s with a trilling battle-shout;
  Ant and Dec fall, wolf-like on Kate Moss

and Armageddon then ensues.
  With death the wage for those who lose
    the frenzied fighters hack and slice
  as fans drown out the screams with cheers.
    The claret-sodden climax nears
            to Caligula on Ice.

It’s unsurpassable, has upped the ante
  for all celeb-humiliation shows.
It’s Ragnarok, like watching scenes from Dante
  (well, who ever gets past The Inferno?),
the Chapman brother’s Hell, a Bosch incarnate
  whose deafening, discordant soundtrack sings
and nauseating stench evokes the Pit.
  It will out-gross, ten-fold, Lord of the Rings

and that’s not counting DVDs
  or endless cable repeat fees
    and think of all the merchandise
  the giant pointy-finger gloves
    and scarves and hats the read, I ©
            Caligula on Ice.
You see by now we have a sure-fire smash,
  a certified blockbuster, knockout hit
that’s next door to a licence to print cash.
  Cautiously, I’d say put your shirt on it,
your house, your mum, whatever you can hock;
   melt down the family silver, liquidate
your assets and convert them into stock.
  In six months, Croesus-rich, you’ll celebrate,

among the frocks that look a fright
  and blinded by the blinking lights
    (it’s paparazzi paradise), 
 with champers and a catamite,
    a star guest at the opening night
            of Caligula on Ice.

© Tim Turnbull  2007

A signed and numbered limited edition of Caligula on Ice, with a cover screenprinted by Liam Relph, is available from Donut Press on

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Author Bio

Tim Turnbull

See author’s websites:

and in TBR: Four Poems (including audio readings of ‘I Eat Raw Horse’ and ‘Popular Culture’)



September-October 2007 #60