Lee Mattinson on Happy Meal

By: Lee Mattinson

Added: 06 September 2019

A few months ago I was asked by ‘Places of Poetry’ to facilitate a summer of writing workshops alongside Amy Golding (Curious Monkey) at Byker Community Centre.  

We didn’t know how many participants to expect, how competent they’d be with spitting their own rhymes or whether our introductory drama games would bore them to death before we’d learnt their names. 

Thankfully, we were to welcome scores of young people eager to play Shuffle Monster and brimming with so many ideas that to capture them all would’ve taken a decade of summers. 

We quickly decided that collaborating on a singular creation - a poem which came to be called ‘Happy Meal’ - would allow everyone to contribute anything from a single word to a spellbinding verse. 

By the end of our first session we had the spine of a potential narrative - a gang of cows who would be sprung from a secret cinema beneath Byker McDonald’s and taken on a tour of the communities most exhilarating beauty spots.

Whilst choreographing our own imaginary journeys, brain-showering words that rhyme with moo and debating whether or not there was space for a verse about killer clowns, we slowly unpacked the hidden heart behind the horror:

 The liberation of badly-treated cows became the search for a home.

Our three daft protagonists became humanitarian heroes in the own right.

And the hunt for joy became as simple as a trip to the swimming baths.

‘Happy Meal’ is a poem that was imagined and written collectively, with words and ideas from some thirty young participants aged six to twelve.  Enjoy.

Happy Meal

There’s three of us there

Rob, Charlie and me

We’ve come to McDonald’s for Rob’s birthday tea

We’ve red sauce and fries

Three shakes and Big Mac’s

All sat in this sweet little booth up the back

When all at once comes

This deafening roar

Deep down, out of sight, hidden low below floor

I look up to Rob

‘Did you hear that?’

Watch Charlie leap up in a lightening flash

We’re through a blank door

Descending dark stairs

Don’t know how to start to explain what’s down there

There’s hundreds of cows

In cinema rows

All sobbing their hearts out and blowing their nose

As old movies play

Their wistful soundtracks

Accompany clowns leading cows out the back

I think of my dad

Him saying one time

That ‘meat that’s felt pain tastes like meat in its prime’

‘Let’s start a revolt’

I holler to Rob

‘They’re making them sad to taste better in gob

Rip open those doors’

I call Charlie’s way

‘Me, you and these cows are all going astray’

Smash into the light

Cross motorway bridge

These four-legged burgers no longer for fridge

Let’s cheer them up

Let’s show them the wall

The good and the bad and the big and the small

The first stops the park

Where good times are rife

It’s slide catching rays of the sun like a knife

Rob directs the herd

Up colorful rungs

As bright yellow steps are turned dull brown with dungs

Four five-year-olds watch

Their eight eyes miles wide

As cow after cow slips tail-first down their slide

I clear my throat

And tell them in moos

This way, follow me, you, you, you, you and yous

The second stops green

Where animals roam

And pigs talk in French once the staff have gone home

The charity farm

Where cows can relax

Can put up their hooves and lie flat on their backs

Rob pulls them some grass

And Charlie some reeds

To chew as they lull in the shades of the trees

Until they’re attacked

By ants in their pants

And bees with a mean territorial dance

The third stops the best

Its back to the baths

Where me, Rob and Charlie have most of our laughs

Except we’re all skint

Admission’s not free

Between us it’s one astronomical fee

I go to the desk

I tell it’s blonde lass

I’m from RGS and these cows are my class

She scans one-by-one

Their black and white hides

Says, ‘go...but no bombing or running poolside’

Inside some cows sit

Some use the restroom

Some synchronize swim and some fly down the flume

Some happily float

Some wolf-whistle boys

Some tut at some girls making far too much noise

I look at the lads

Say, ‘look what we’ve done

We’ve taken their sadness and turned it to fun

It didn’t take much

Their joys not complex

What’s tricky is where they’ll live now, lads, what next?’

Rob goes, ‘you know what?

This maybes sounds daft

But just the idea’s come thick and come fast

Get out of the pool

And dry off your fur’

‘It’s leather,’ I tell him, Rob says, ‘I don’t care’

He leads us outside

And onto Shields Road

Where NE6 turns into other postcodes

We travel as one

A black and white mass

From Byker Bridge roundabout down to bypass

See Monument tip

See St James’ stands

See mother’s tight grip on their toddler’s hands

We come with such force

The Toon splits in two

Exalting, we’re bolting, revolting, we’re through

We hit the West Road

Rush up in a dash

Determined as Stag night lads out on the lash

Rob takes a sharp right

Says ‘almost there now

I swear I’d live here if I were a cow’

We make it and stop

See Town Moor green

See Rob’s master plan with its grass crisp and clean

The cows are all smiles

One breaks into skips

One dances so much she splits two others lips

We say our goodbyes

We make our way home

To streets good and bad, big and small, where we roam

Outside Maccy D’s

A sign’s up to say

‘Just fries and McFlurrys, no burgers today’

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