Inside Information: About Me, HMV and My Cosy Igloo

by Ian D Smith

It’s terribly sad news that 4000 jobs are “at risk” due to the demise of HMV.

BBC Radio 4 ran an early bulletin explaining (patronisingly) that HMV have “succumbed to online competition”, which isn’t strictly true. HMV has been replaced by Amazon which has a monopoly after the demise of There’s nothing fair or “competitive” about it at all, and there will be no memorial service for the thousands who’ve lost their life chances through no fault of their own.

“Succumbing to online competition” sounds like the BBC still thinks it’s covering the Olympics, but there’s no level playing field about this. Even their daily service, which usually sends out prayers for missing children or the victims of natural disasters, sent out no prayers for this disaster of capitalism. You’re on your own, guys.

I feel all this badly because I was an engineering student in the early 80s, and with each of Geoffrey Howe’s slash and burn budgets, another public works was axed, along with my life chances. The Manpower Services Commission ran retraining courses, and I was lucky to gain a place on one. I was even luckier to choose the right one. So a career I started studying for in 1977 ended in 1985 when I jumped ship. Fortunately, I can write poems about it, such as The Igloo, which I’ve just salvaged from the digital sump of my hard drive.

The Igloo is a poem about my struggle to make sense of the world, and to claim my place in it. It was a particularly freezing two weeks in north Yorkshire in 1981 and I was on a surveying field course. I was an engineering student and therefore burdened with a sense that the world was going to pot. There I was, stuck up to my neck in snow, trying to establish curvature of the earth to the millionth decimal place (recently achievable in 81 thanks to the increasing power of the computer). There were no positives, and the futility of it all stuck with me forever. The message is in the igloo. Start building your igloos, metaphorically speaking of course.

The Igloo

The surveying field-course, and Malham Tarn

Was frozen flat and snowed on,

A deep lagged mass that was warming for spring

And breathing at its edges.


We set up tripods and pointed laser beams across the ice.

We derived a number called curvature of the earth.

We cut blocks of ice and built an igloo

And warmed inside while waiting for the transit.


Months passed before I returned again in early summer

To where the ice-shell home was soft brown lake water,

And a ring of snow survived in the grass

To puzzle walkers, and feed their children

Late summer evening snowballs.


First published Aabye’s Baby 1998