ISSUE 1 - 1972
cover size 330 x 200 mms
Autumn and Winter of 1971-1972, an English class met at New Cross Ward Labour
Club, which I conducted. Its purpose was twofold: to discuss literature on the
basis of a Marxist analysis, and to encourage free and original expression by
the class members. These aims are distinct, and are not easily brought into one
focus in a series of class meetings. The collection of writings by 20
contributors contains the work of 15 contributors who attended the class,
including me. Six other contributions have been included because we knew them as
the work of worker-.writers.
I can make no
great claims for these pieces, except that they are, it seems to me, varied,
interesting, freshly written, and in most cases the work of men and women taking
up a pen late in life; with some qualms, though with real curiosity as to how it
will turn out. We offer this collection to the Labour movement at large, but
especially of Manchester and district. We hope to produce another collection
towards the end of 1972, and will welcome any contribution from anyone in the
Labour and T.U. movement and we would also welcome criticisms and comments from
all who may feel able to make them.
A word about
our title, "Voices". We felt that at this stage we had not achieved a single
purpose; our writing was not yet a manifesto, or a call to action, but a series
of individual utterances. Later perhaps a more unified and. challenging
character may emerge in future collections.
Our thanks go
to Brian Ridgway, for the front-page design, to New Cross Ward Labour Club for
their hospitality, to Pauline Maher, Jean Schofield, Beryl Richardson and
Maureen Druker who did the typing and duplicating. We are also grateful to
Angela Tuckett, Frances Moore and Bob Cooney for their contributions. Robert
Fletcher has been dead. many years; his "Appeal" is plainly dated: but we
thought it witty and interesting and we have no fears of infringing copyright.
"Anonymous" is genuinely unknown to us. Many years ago a schoolgirl of nine at
Denton brought me this and some other poems of a boy friend to read. Shortly
afterwards I lost contact with the schoolgirl, and never met the writer. If by a
miraculous chance the schoolgirl of more than 30 years ago, or the writer of the
sonnet should read this, we hope they'll forgive the liberty we have taken in
printing it here, and will get in touch with us.
comments and criticisms or contributions to a further collection to me at 13
Victoria Way, Bramhall, Stockport. 8K7 lDE
There will be no time
And there will be
To call my own.
Within my lifetime the dry
The cold hearth and the
The trudge along the
Past those who stay with
The mushroom cloud and the
We'll not go dancing, you
Will there be no time
For me ?
And will there be
Carried along ?
Within my time the
Verses unwritten, voices
Always the human heart's
Still keeps in time with
Although I never write a
Yet every marching song is
There will be a time
Even for me ?)
The last to march join in
Their drum-beat heard
before their song.
Joyous, upon the plinth
I stretch out my hand;
Unseen, I clap our
And shout - with every
other happy ghost.
Finished! said the masters.
Broke! said the bosses.
Sack all the workmen and cut
No! said our lads and they
stayed in the yard.
We learned from our fathers
are more than a matter of dues
It's stand all together when
the boss plays hard.
Shorter hours and better pay
are won by workers the bitter
tighten our belts and strike
if we must
or the boss will bargain us
into the dust.
But we're not on strike said
It's human nature and human
not to give in without a
and U.C.S. at Clydebank
for the Hand' s right to use
for the right to work as a
A man has only his two hands,
only his mother wit
against these conquerors of
these rich men and their
They crush him if he tries to
and never notice it.
Odd workers are expendable
but they need a working
Our hands are indispensable
so when our interests clash
where they'd crush an
they have to heed our mass.
Our interests being opposite
create industrial strife
the boss invests for profit
but the worker works for
Which ever side may benefit
the other feels the knife.
The battle of the factory
expressed in politics
is the master's aim to contain
the worker's fight to exist.
But production Needs the
than it needs the
Works was now owned by the Co-op, purchased to meet the ever growing demand for
milk, jam and sauce containers. It had previously been owned in the old glass
blowing days, by Mr. Jones an important figure in the town, and a City
magistrate, who sold it for a sum reputed to be around £50,000 The co-op had
immediately installed three large, second-hand automatic bottle-making machines,
made in Cincinatti. So, whilst mountains of silver sand and soda-ash went into
the factory at one end, an endless stream of bottles and jars came out at the
other, an average of 20 a minute, off each machine, 24 hours a day, millions of
jars a year.
wondered, "who could eat all this jam? Even the Co-op couldn't surely be selling
all that much sauce." He had never worked in a place like this glass works. The
loud clatter of the machines, the oil and dust, the pungent smell of burning
lubricant liberally used to regularly swab the hot machines; the intense heat of
the large furnace operating at more than 1250O centigrade, with large annealing
ovens in close proximity to the machines. All made for almost intolerable
conditions in the heat of the summer but in winter it was warm and pleasant.
Above all the character of the men fascinated Johnny. They appeared to be
moulded by the conditions of manufacturing within the factory. He had found that
all the machine men and helpers were rogues, liars and thieves. He found to his
cost that anything of value, tools or materials mysteriously disappeared if he
turned his back or misplaced them. Nothing was sacred. There was no respect for
authority, no discipline, except that imposed by the machines, their speed
determining the bonus earnings. The supervisors and foremen were regarded
contemptuously as supernumeraries as far as the men were concerned, except when
the machines broke down or were held up for reasons outside the men's control
who as a result, lost their bonus. Earnings were high for 1936, in the region, a
consistent wage of £7 to £0 a week for 37.5 hours when generally a skilled
engineering craftsman received £3.12. per week for 44 hours. Thus any stoppages
were violently dealt with by the men and the foreman was suitably abused.
that when Jones the previous owner was a magistrate on the bench during the
First World War the culprits before him were given a choice of either a sentence
in the army in the mud and blood of the Flanders fields or to work in his Glass
Works. Most of those who thus appeared, being sensible men, preferred the
Glass-works to the Glass-house, especially as the slaughter in France was at its
just after the sale of his factory to the Co-op but he left all his money to his
secretary - not a penny piece to his wife. The lads told Johnny 'he did it to
spite his wife because she made scenes at the factory about his secretary. He
got on well with his secretary they said. 'Cow Elsie we called her'. She did
most of her secretarial work on the new couch in the office that Jones had
bought specially. We used to watch 'em from the stairs and she knew we were
watching. They were the rummest crowd that Johnny had ever seen or worked with
in his job as a skilled maintenance engineer.
'Mad Alf', a scrawny wisp of a man who had been in trouble with the law more
than once. On drawing his wage of £7.10/- he would separate £2 to give his wife.
'Is that all you are giving your wife out of that packet and you are keeping all
the rest for yourself?" "Course I am" said Alf, 'Don't forget, I buy my own
clothes out of it'
were the two brothers who had a tremendous reputation as lady killers. Many a
time a husband arrived at the factory enquiring with violence in his voice as to
the where-abouts of Dickie. Dickie was never around of course, but unfortunately
had his love life ruined later when somebody, either by accident or design,
dropped a blob of hot glass down his trousers.
After a while
Johnny came to realise that he had no longer to face hostility in his relations
with the men. They even returned his tools or materials that he had
inadvertently left on the machine floor. He had been accepted 'on all fours'
with the rest of the shop.
nothing these men would not do to help you once you had been accepted. Their
comradeship which was so tightly knit, was in fact Johnny came to realise,
directed against authority. This was their common denominator.
An example of
this was the occasion when a foreman nicknamed 'Knocker', (he was a joiner by
trade) had the gall to sit outside the main exit to prevent the men leaving
before their recognised meal-break at 12-30 Somebody, by arrangement, from an
upstairs window conveniently placed, poured a full bucket of water on to
Knocker. It was said by an eye witness that he received every drop in the
bucket. Every worker in the factory knew who had tipped the water. The
management however does not know to this day who the culprit was.
Alas, the old
glass works is no more. Its inadequate lay out and out of date machines proved
unable to cope with the expanding demands of new generations of bottled-food
eaters. Its workers scattered with their specialist skills to the four winds of
industry. New gigantic factories have been built to serve Co-op customers, but
where-ever the bottles were made, it's quite certain that the workers in those
factories will have the same disregard for authority as those employed in the
old Glass Works.
I want' to be
as a dream, to have no substance
consciousness looking in, life is hard and the
nerve 'and retain the interest Ė
And yet when
we were young 'with unarmoured mind
How blue the
colours, how bright!
Then was pain
delight, and uninformed love urges liquid light
Now at 40 how
I feel sere and yellow and wanting to give up the fight
To die, yet
live a little and feel no more.
Wandering on a wooded fell
I tried and stopped to sleep a spell,
And dreaming there I saw a bird
Sun-silvered in a tulip tree.
No song nor bird-like sound I heard
As silver-eyed it gazed on me.
And though I tried I could not rise
And to my lips rose soundless cries
And in my heart a growing dread
And my eyes on the dumb-bird lock'd.
Slow-winged it flew then tow'rds my head
Its glittering orbs my panic mock'd.
O, endless dark with silence wed!
House made of stone, brick and cement.
You give me shelter Ė
You protect the people from the cold, snow and rain.
But much more than that - you're part of living life,
You're 'the dwelling place where human beings, love hope and dream.
You're part of their feelings, conflicts and happiness.
You're the pride in the heart of the people ,
You're home,' home.
To a man I
did not know The common bond of Communism in each man - I recognise and
A heart is only so big, and. can only beat so long for the people, then it must stop.
You were a communist man, with a communist mind.
A mind that has felt the pangs of hunger and want, the cold. prejudice and injustices.
And yet, a mind that deeply heard the tears of pain of other people.
Struggle makes the man.
You struggled all your life for the highest principles possible,
that of man himself, in freedom, liberty and dignity.
Your class will always be proud of you,
Your manhood was a beauty -- a real deep beauty in action.
Action where you put your life on the line for what you felt was right.
And that is the most that can be given by a human being, his life.
Comrade your principles were high, your courage deep.
The world was that much better off, for you being on it.
We are born,
The in between we call life Ė
Hoping, desiring, thinking, reasoning the world about us.
Truth is nothing unless shared by others..
Prejudice, injustice obsessed by hate,
love of what could be.
Death is something we can -never experience, it is the unknown,
that can never be known.
We are part of the process of nature Ė
Millions before us - millions afterwards will follow this process
History is living men in action, struggling out of the age of darkness
Into the light of progress.
Martyr's scream out for vengeance - for the suffocating misery of people.
Human beings are not vegetables that grow unaware Ė
But become conscious of life - death and living people and the personal
honour of being one.
THE REASON FOR FREEDOM & THE FREEDOM OF REASON
If reason in revolt now thunders and emotion becomes
its-pupil in self control and clear expression.
This is not a subject for wonder.
Have we not all shared in the material plunder.
From countries near and far stolen from those who
have known exploitation, humiliation and fear.
Dictated by military laws conceived in power and greed still
we are denied the right to heed the calls of reason and freedom
from those Whose greedy hands are ever stretched to rob the living
and the dead.
In many ways this has been said in the hills, valley and the plains.
In the gaols and the concentration camps of Spain.
In Africa, Buchenwald and Ulster too.
And still we must unite the Black the Yellow and the White, the he
the She and the in between in our graduation from confusion to
We must rid ourselves of inhilation and inferiority if Unity
and Reason is to win for all our overwhelming majority - So
essential to human freedom.
Vincent O Donnell
metal-work class at our local night school opened a new and interesting world
The choice of
subject was limited, and the normal classes for ladies already had enrolled
their full quota of students, and I thought it wasn't too late in life to learn
new skills, so I found myself a middle-aged (well, elderly) lady in a class of
boys and men learning something entirely new.
Up till then,
my acquaintance with machinery had been limited to a sewing machine and a
washing machine, and now here I was in a world of lathes, borers, grinders,
I soon learnt
that forging had nothing to do with getting rich quick, a jig was not a dance,
and brazing had nothing at all to do with cookery.
was a kindly jolly man who welcomed me most sincerely; it was as much a novelty
to him as to me to have an elderly lady in his class. My class mates were most
interesting. The boys were mostly working for their 0 levels, and the men were
nearly always mending some household gadget or doing something for their cars,
that previously I would have regarded most of these boys as yobos, but in this
situation I found them very well mannered and quite likeable, and I looked
forward to my weekly two hours in their company. I know that when they offered
to help me saw through a piece of iron 14" x they regarded me as they would
their misguided grandmother, but they were very nice about it, and later when
they asked me 'what are you making, Mrs, ?' they had almost accepted me as a
hours in this new environment I would walk home in the sharp evening air in a
state of elation, with a blister on every finger and my rheumaticky shoulder
playing me up something awful and thinking poetically 'I too will something
make, and job in the making,'
masterpiece turned out to be a wrought iron coffee table. Its full of faults
that I know about, and probably many that I donít know about, but it stands
squarely on its legs, and the glass top doesn't wobble and its in regular use.
But my best moment is when my husband points out 'the wife made that.
From the mountains of our hurtling globe
The telescopes of science probe
And radio-ears to earth reverse
The secrets of the universe
A myriad silent stars we see
Are ghosts of long-dead galaxy;
Those silver lamps by lovers treasured
Mere spirit-beams in 'light years' measured.
This land on which we yearn to linger:
A cooling piece of solar cinder,
The sun itself a fragment from
A vast exploding cosmic bomb.
And all life-forms, including man,
have no more point or purpose than
Bacteria on a ball of earth
Perpetuating birth on birth.
IN DEATH'S DREAM KINGDOM.
(The 1st. stanza of a poem about 300 lines long)
Travelling back and forth and I heralding
another day's existence with silence
screaming through my eyes like tortured vehicles of misused faith;
Skies collapsing within
the framework of my mind
Trees felled by
Skeleton fingers aching round the bark.
Drift past motionless hours carry the testament of dying eclipses
through melting oceans
of sandpapered guilt.
I climbed past the raven's nest on
Macbeth's sanguine castle. Edging over
unlit rainbows, bathed in charcoal darkness,
Night was like a tombstone; the horizon,
a graveyard in the fleeting glimpse,
of a seagull's rain-chant eyes.
Transparencies, traces of unlit moments enmeshed on feverish indifferences.
Forests of wordless confusions....
In starship cathedrals
Find a zone
A silver second
In a timeless non-consciousness
Earthbound amongst cannon-songs
Drawing shop-window conversations
Through steel barriers and mindless tripods
To a desert scene
Where loaded insignifia
is the plenteous cactus plant.
brothers were so much older than I that they were demoblised from the army two
years before I even left school, which was 1922. Frank was ten years older than
I, John two years younger. Frank had been caught up with the propaganda of the
time and had joined the army two years under age at 16 and left just after his
21st birthday. Now free, he threw himself into everything, sports, girls, his
union and the Clarion. Cycling Club, and through the latter, his first real
Polisher like my father, he had made a friend of another in his Union Branch
named Jack Calder. The latter was a foundation member of the Communist Party and
a 0.0.0. enthusiast. Frank kept his socialist convictions to himself, for
although his athletics were with Salford Harriers, his swimming, dancing and the
Irish Clubs were all connected in some way with the Church. Deep down he
developed a growing hatred of religion which persisted through life. He was
learning for the first time how God was used by the clergy on both sides in the
war, no laughing matter to a man who had seen his comrades killed only too
often. I was quite unaware of his convictions. I saw him as tall, gay and
intelligent with a string of girls chasing him.
had come from Irish parents which was why we all considered ourselves Irish
"rebels" and it was natural on leaving school I would gravitate to St. Patricks,
joining the scouts and the swimming clubs, and making my pals there.
John was a
much quieter personality than Frank, but he also was mixed up with the swimming,
scouts (as a scoutmaster) and his Union. He was an upholsterer, in a different
Union than Frank and I followed him into the upholstery trade. It was John who
first followed me into the Party, for an unbroken membership through life.
upholstery trade was a hazardous business for the only shops open were the small
ones and this often meant losing a job in the summer months, I couldnít get into
the Union either, one had to be a bound apprentice or in continuous work in the
same factory from 14.
little of my Father. Older than my Mother, he died when I was 20, and in his
last years spent most of his time in a pub. He found it difficult to acclimatise
himself when the much older sons came home. My mother told me he was for a
period a Chairman of his Union branch and helped in getting his own shop
General Strike broke in 1926 I was working for a small boss on Stretford Road in
the Sale district. He didn't sack me for the summer and paid me wages even if
there was no work. A former worker himself, he put on his letter paper "Late of
Kendal Milnes" and it was very effective. He told me to stay at home while the
strike was on, and paid me arrears of wages when I came back.
My father and
Frank were both on strike, but I have only a few memories of it: a huge meeting
in Platt Fields made up of many platforms and of a speaker holding up a small
leaflet and saying "Behold the "Daily Mail!, one million circulation", of a
traffic jam in Piccadilly at the corner of Mosley Street that nearly crushed the
student "controlling" it and lanes of stilled traffic, and on the second Sunday
of the strike a leaflet handed to us as we left the Church. It stated this was
not a strike in the ordinary sense of the term, it was a strike against the
State, the State was the mouthpiece of God, thus it was a strike against God
himself and to take part was a mortal sin; it bore the name of the British R.C.
Cardinal. Like all similar propaganda, it never got off the ground.
morning of the return to work I stood dreamily at the tram stop. On the opposite
side of the road were the usual newsagents placards: "T.U.C. Surrender"
"Government Victory," and only the Daily Herald's "T.U.C. Victory".
the capitalist liars were up to their tricks again. Certainly I had a long, long
road to travel.
later found me working in my first large factory, Woodhouses. Its entrance was
opposite the huge side entrance of Strangeways Prison. I came to work one
morning and the workers were still outside, an execution was to take place,
eventually the prison bell tolled rather loudly and the stunned workers quickly
removed-- their hats, two warders- came out, pinned up a notice and went back.
The bell continued to toll at intervals, It seemed to me aimed at striking
terror into the thousands of people who could hear it and I wondered how the
prisoners felt. I felt appalled and it was a miserable day in the shop
was a piecework shop, and piecework was not recognised by the Manchester branch
of the Union. I was daywork, as all under 21s were. This firm had another
factory in London, and the E. C. and branches in London had a much more
progressive approach, where piecework shops were organised. The General
Secretary came down, a likeable person named Wilsden with whom I came on very
good terms a few years later. He was firm, either the new branch could change
its policy towards piecework or a new branch would be formed by the E.C., the
shop could not remain unorganised. In the event, a new Branch was formed called
Manchester No.2. I joined the old one then, I was daywork and my brother was in
it. I have pleasant memories of some the older generation in it but one stands
out, a woman well into her fifties, she came on her own. sat erect throughout
the meeting without ever speaking, and going home again. Her name was Miss
A year after
the war we called a "fraction" of upholstery boys of the two branches in
connection with some election we were preparing for, Imagine my feelings when
she turned up, she had joined the Party and was now nearly seventy
the Union I came out of the library with a book on Trade Unions by G. D. H Cole,
probably a short history. At the bottom it read, "A W.E.A. Textbook". Frank
picked it up and read it. He had once had a brief association with the N.C.L.C.
(Labour Colleges), who hated their "state-granted" rival, the Workers'
Educational Association, he told me if I felt that way I ought to take the
N.C.L.C. correspondence courses which were free to Union members, he suggested
starting with Economics and I did.
I had no idea
then that I was taking a small path that would lead me to a main road leading to
an adult, better life. In fact early on I had some small misgivings. I had taken
a second subject called European History. The third or fourth lesson dealt with
the power of the Church in medieval times, amassing its riches and being a
ruling power in feudalism. I had been to a catholic school but had never known
this. I had some minor doubts, but the subject was dealt with quite factually,
and the remainder so interesting that I did not want to drop it. The text book
was by Maurice Dobb, and even to-day it is
so interesting that it remains in my bookcase, old and tattered, but the one
that was "never lent"!
I stuck at
it, taking one subject after another for about two years. When I was about half
way through Frank asked me if I would like to go with him to some Irish Club in
Hulme. It was a dance, I hadnít learned to dance, - but when it was over about
five or six of us went into a parlour of a small house in Rusholme Road, at (the
Oxford Road end, where we could have cups of tea in a small parlour and a talk.
A chap named Atkinson was more or less dominating the discussion and at one
stage mentioned Marxism. I chewed the bait and talked with him about the Labour
theory of value.
I would have
forgotten the incident except that I didn't go again and Frank once asked me to
but I refused with some excuse. Atkinson was tall enough to be a policeman and
had a very English name and accent. I had a suspicion that the Irish Clubs
teemed with spies and there were frequent police raids for drinking after hours.
Many years later I walked, into the Party rooms in Fountain Street and Bill Rust
was talking to - Atkinson he didnít recognise me and we did not speak; but for
my romantic ideas .I might have -been in the party much earlier.
continued in the scout movement, we were in the senior section called Rovers,
mainly because it was the centre that kept us together, I kept dropping out and
was appealed to to come back. Three years later I had a letter printed in the'
Manchester Evening News, at that time a very "Liberal" paper, attacking the
scout movement as being anything but peaceful, printing my name but, customary
at the time, not my address. A number of people replied, for and against, one a
"Scoutmaster" who thought it plain I didn't know what I was talking about. It
stung me into replying about games like "stalking the enemy" and other examples.
The Editor conveniently wrote underneath "This correspondence is now closed." I
was quite thrilled about this first incursion into the press, the inspiration
coming from one course on English and Article writing.
This was the
last Course I took, the remaining subjects, like Esperanto, having no appeal.
This tutor had never put name or initials on any lesson and I asked him his name
in the last lesson. The final subject had been an essay on some aspect of Marx
and Engels, finishing half way down the page and he wrote underneath, "Glad you
have discovered Marx and Engels Now get on to Lenin Then you won't need a tutor
(only don't shout about it !) T. A. Jackson." Marx and Engels were underlined,
but Lenin three times ! I didn't shout about it.
this Course ended the NCLC wrote me asking if I would like to train as a tutor
with the local College. I was unaware one existed and agreed. The Course was in
the Organiser's house, in Winton, Eccles, and lasted two years except the summer
months, involving weekly visits, "home work" and considerable practice as
tutors. Finally we were tutors and could take classes, an easy thing after our
experience, single lectures even easier, I can't remember all the classes, but
Irlam, Rawtenstall, Bolton and Levenshulme come easily to mind. I cant remember
my first, certainly Levenshulme was my last.
or eighteen months of the Strike my father died and John married and when I was
21 my brother Frank married too. My mother and I lived with them for a brief
period in Tipping Street, Ardwick. It is all now covered by the Mancunian Way. A
small communist meeting took place thirty yards away from us at the corner of
Union Street. The speaker was young and clearly dressed, spoke eloquently and
with a deep sincerity. I don't remember what he said and was not impressed - -
except that he was a decent type. Years later I caught a glimpse of him at some
meeting, but never saw him again. My mother moved to Harpurhey with me, leaving
behind Frank and his wife, and it was mainly from Harpurhey that I began to
function as a tutor.
Moving and bright days.
Days that sing themselves.
Through sunshine into lengthened shadow. Happily,
happily I live through them taking now
the whole sweet taste of them into my mouth,
Like grapes, the skins sucked dry, and then outspat.
Boys comrades. girls, friendship that gives me gladness,
Friendship that stabs me with its sudden daggers,
Failed friendships. realised joys, realised sorrows,
Neither ideal joy with bronze sun smiling,
Neither ideal sorrow, glassy-eyed, trembling,
But grand reality, incorporate, grasped,
And joyed in, and enthralling, being grasped.
I face my life. It stretches out before me,
Glad days and bad mad days. Tension and looseness.
My mind tomorrow a fine white wire of purpose;
My mind next week a dull brown stretch of country;
My mind this instant a coloured Japanese lantern;
My mind some day haply, a smoking extinguished candle,
Smelly, stuffy, with only a red spark to it
My friends; and some will be not true to me
My friends, and some will go away from me,
My friends, and some will come, knowing me, to hate me,
Because I am what I am, neither a wise man,
Nor yet a fool, but both by turns, both gladly.
Always, and I made part of it, revolt.
My fellows, my comrades, the workers, shaking from them,
As suddenly conscious of being strained by them,
Their chains and links of servitude ...
How many things are happening? Tomorrow ?
Today is eternity being realised
And I shall go to bed tonight alone,
Inviolate, virginal, a boy, a baby,
Philosopher, communist, a thinking engine,
And a dreamer of tender dreams. In bed alone,
Thoughts will be moonbeams in my darkened room,
Cold moon, my mind with silver light will burn,
And tomorrow, after warm body is sunk in sleep,
Tomorrow, awakeness, joy, rebirth, the rendezvous
with every day's eternity. And hedged about
with much that's not significant, by thoughts,
Aches, penny troubles, newspapers, torn boots
Letters not written, trivial stupid worries,
Sometimes a luminous thought, sometimes realisation,
Sometimes sheer gladness in a girl's caress,
Sometimes great pride in work for the revolution,
In the thought that in slight ways, one man in millions,
I have taken my conscious part with comrades in the fight.
Sometimes a starry night, and long long talk
And the urge and emotion of struggle our heritage.
Comrades this me, unmoralist, this me,
Baby I said, philosopher, nay soldier,
Worker-soldier for communism, this me
Unsurrendered, a person, a protoplasmic
Complete determined entity, this me
Loving poetry, loving life, loving a gay girl,
This me faces existence. Sees these things,
Blinks not, forgets not, emptiness, recurrence
Knows man a little, knowing myself a little, -
Knows children much, seeing them, knows their weakness
Their link, my own, with our humanity.
Unsurprised by passions, emotions, jealousies, littlenesses,
Taking them, embracing into myself, and laughing
Even at contemptible self, grovelling yesterday,
Because a gay girl didn't write a letter.
Thus at the beginning of February
Month purficatory, so the old Latins styled it,
Facing endeavours, struggles, trials, movements,
Most glad, most glad to be alive.
Ben Ainley,. 1925
The moon came up the sky that very night,
And all the while we quarrelled, yellow rays
Fell on her hair, her dress, and on her face,
And passed around slowly from left to right.
All this I noticed with especial care,
Though her small face was flushed with anger, pain;
"You must not come, you must not come again;
You shall not come to me; you would not dare."
I listened never speaking: On the road
behind me, a tram passed, and passing clattered,
stopped near us, then went on. A Shelley ode
Came to my head, and "When the lamp is shattered"
I murmured to myself, and for a second,
Black night around, this passionate angry girl
Once intimately my friend, a far past beckoned,
And parting was great sorrow In a whirl
of thoughts thus warm and tender, a strange thought
Move icycold came to me, and I said:
"Spare all your tears, for if we both were dead
your anger and my indifference would be nought.
But as it is, since you live, and I too,
It needs no words to tell me not to do
What, for weeks I have had no impulse for."
Then she spoke, wept, grew angry, stamped her foot,
For many minutes she spoke, her voice was shrill,
Subdued yet shrill, her face was drawn. I cut
Across her angry speech with cold cold words,
And when the dawn came up, the sky, grey, leaden,
Sharpened the treeshapes round us and it met
Her face , pale cold, and filled with ashes, yet
Not colder, than my own mindís emptiness
Ben Ainley 1922
OF THE GENERAL STRIKE.
In another 4
years and a few months, 50 years will have passed since the General Strike of
1926.My memory is not the best in the World. In fact I have a struggle
remembering what happened last week, yet some of the happenings that took place
during and shortly after the General Strike are as clear to me as if they had
I was 16
years old at the time and worked for the L.M.S. Railway Company, and I was
considered to be fortunate in having a job that brought in regular wages and
holidays with pay. Very few people had holidays with pay in those days.
Strike itself only lasted. a few days, and during that time every town and City
in the land had it's march and demonstration. The march that took place in
Manchester culminating in a huge meeting held in Platt Fields, seemed and still
seems to me to be the greatest march ever held. Never have I had the feeling of
excitement that I had that day. Maybe it was because I was very young and this
was my first march and everything was very new to me.
along with my young workmates and felt as proud as Punch. It seemed to me that
all the world was marching that day.
policemen everywhere, almost one policeman to each row of marchers and their
normal duties such as traffic control etc. were taken over by the Special
We saw many
of these Specials on the march to Platt Fields and booed and catcalled every one
of them with great enthusiasm. We, the young ones really enjoyed it all.
reached Platt Fields, where platforms had been erected and speakers were already
addressing the huge crowds round each platform.
particular platform we arrived at the speaker was describing how God had made
the world. Eventually he reached the point in his speech of the last and lowest
form of life God had made - a jelly fish. He paused and then apologised to his
audience, "I am sorry," he said, "there was something he made that was lower
than a jellyfish, he made a scab." This got a great cheer from the crowd. and a
man standing near where I and my workmates were standing, shouted in a loud but
most beautiful Oxford accent, "Hear, hear, Oh hear, hear." We had never heard
this form of applause before, and we nearly died. - it bowled us over
It was a huge
scource of fun to us on our walk home, each of us every few minutes would mimic
the man in our best cut glass accents.
was my first industrial and political commitment and it made a great and lasting
impression upon me,
Strike was ended, partly because of the disorganisation to industry, and partly
I think for punishment revenge not all the strikers were taken 'hack
immediately, Each day a list of names was placed in the window of the lodge
naming the men who had to start back the next day and I was out of work for 5
weeks before I started back This long wait to start back was the cause of some
concern to my mother, who badly missed my wages and was convinced that I would
never start back again.
anger and bitterness of the men after this Strike was really astounding to me. I
have never encountered it in such a widespread manner since.
remember that I was only 16 at the time and all this was new to me and I didn't
fully understand what was happening around me. It was impossible not to overhear
the men talking and arguing and you couldnít avoid this intense anger, it rubbed
off on one.
One man, who,
it was said had been a warder at Strangeways sometime in his life and who had
been a blackleg during the Strike, was given regular work, whilst many of the
strikers still remained unemployed. Although this man had. never worked on the
railway before the strike. The men felt that this was another way of rubbing
their noses in it, and were not prepared to stand it.
It was with
great difficulty that the Union Officials at the station prevented them from
going out on strike again.
this man a terrible time, he was constantly in arguments and fights until one
day he never came back. I don't think the Management sacked him, I think he left
of his own accord.
Strike our strike headquarters were in a room over a coal yard To reach this
room it was necessary to climb several steep wooden stairs which finished with
small platform surrounded by a handrail. This led to the door of the room where
the strike committee met every day and all day,
It was the
habit of the Chairman of the Union branch, who was also the Strike Committee
Chairman, to come out of this room, stand on this platform and give us the news
of the strike or read out a telegram to us, This he did several times a day.
One day when
we were all standing about in the yard waiting for news of the progress of the
strike, he came out of the room and stood on the platform We all looked up
expectantly and immediately it was obvious that he was drunk. he stood there for
a couple of minutes swaying and then shouted down to us "Stand firm and
solidarity", and then fell from the top of the stairs to the bottom and lay
He was a big
man this Chairman, and was popular and well liked by the men.
months or so after the strike, he was offered a Foreman's job by the Management
and he took it. The. anger and bitterness of the men hadnít abated very much and
they took this appointment very badly. he was a traitor and they did everything
possible to make his life a misery.. This attitude of his old comrades was too
much for him.
him shrink visibly and after about 13 months as a Foreman, he died. "They" said
it was with a broken heart, whatever that may mean.
years afterwards, you would hear the men talk about others who had played a bad
role in the General. Strike, with the same viciousness and contempt that
Irishmen are able to put into their voices when they talk about the "Black &
I think that 1926 was the nearest thing to Revolution this country has been in
my lifetime and I can't help wondering how different the situation would have
been if the Government hadn't had the foresight to imprison some of the Left
Wing leaders in l925 and to keep them in prison during this confrontation of
And so I
could go on with many more memories of the 1926 Strike, but that would make a
book and that is not what was asked for.
A SONNET WITH
You say you would be different. I can see
You will not say what other people say,
Nor wend your life along the common way.
And yet your goal is theirs; that you agree.
Think not I understand not. You are free
Your head's dictation to obey, until
Your heart shall vindicate me; as it will
Some day when you read this and think of me.
I will attempt not now, then, to dissuade.
Yet you, whom things material cannot mar,
(You disregard them) must see what you do
Is less important; always it must fade
Into a shadow beside what you are:
Rare, fresh, unchangeable. And you are You.
Satin words of purity
In the midst of decay
In the golden sunrise
The light of a dawning day.
My eyes alight with passion
As forgotten dreams of freedom
Are blazing in my mind
I collide with my memories
I jump to the sky
As the clans of insanity
Are lost in the tide.
Exultantly I run
Into the glittering sea
And I see my reflection
Forming in the waters
Of past glory
And future promise
As a bird flying freely
I laugh in the wind
I float to the sun
And my heart opens to sing.
No man is free
Till the chains of his wrath
In the fury of the ocean deep
Where the sea
Pounds and beats
At his lost sadness
Till the peace of night
Buries the storm of hatred
And is lost forever
In the fathoms of the deep.
A distance from me
You are saying
Dreamy priests drift
With smiles and gentle nodding
While I sit
Thick summer hangs
The dust a slow car swirls
As fingers wave
A weariness away
Your lips are moving
On a hot day.
brown and indifferently painted
Opens and a child
Carrying a cat
Appears a tall man
Follows with an umbrella
They pause and close
The door. The man
The moon balled cat
Mews and leaps
The child watches
But the man continues
In the direction
Of a tree lined avenue
Shadows formed by trees
Dapple the pavement grey
It is afternoon
The boy sits
And rolls with the cat
Ahead the tall man
Turns concerned and shouts
The boy to come
What does he want
The boy thinks and catches
At the cat who claws
his face the man impatient
To continue grows angry
But the boy cries
And goes to the door
The man turns
And walks the door
Opens and the boy
disappears the cat
stretches in a patch of sunlight
SAVIOUR WITH LOVE IN HIS HEART,
What gentle saviour with love in his heart,
For his creatures could plan such a road,
There disease, earthquakes and fangs rip apart,
With suffering's terrible loads.
The wonder is how through all this gore,
Can emerge a heart that is kind,
Like a Snowdrop peeping through winter's floor,
Blooms this jewel, the reasoning mind.
SUCH AN HONEST STARE,
Brown eyes, such an honest stare,
Shines warmer on me than any sun,
When they peep 'neath auburn hair,
At me when day is done.
However dreary the toil of mine,
How many times at some behest,
More sure to you at evening time,
I hurry and feel refreshed.
Strange when in mood I think,
That one can cause such joy in me,
Strange that worlds apart distinct,
Dwell behind the lockturned key.
And strange that through the passing years,
A freshness from you never fades,
Some say Youth's gone as time measures,
Yet still you're sweetest, maid.
I've said it
before, I like going to night school. At this point, however, my rheumaticky
shoulder persuaded me against embarking on some new handicraft, but there was
nothing wrong with my feet, so I joined the dancing class -Old Time-Modern
Sequence. I had discovered what must be the most delightful, varied, friendly,
egalitarian form of exercise there is. That so many different combinations of
movements and rhythms can be made during the course of sixteen bars of music
never fails to amaze me.
long you realise you have acquired a considerable repertoire, and almost learnt
a new language:- chassis, step-through, scissors, lock, turn and lock, chassis
step through scissors, lock, turn and lock, lady under to centre, balance,
quick, quick, quick, tap to wall, quick, quick, quick, tap to centre, swing out
and lock, feet together, there; you've done the Balmoral Blues, and added one
more dance to a seemingly endless list of tangoes, waltzes, blues, saunters,
quicksteps, ad almost infinitum.
favourite lady partners will have saved me a seat. There's Clara, rising 80, a
born dancer and a stickler for getting it just right, - "I'd be quite happy to
die dancing" she says. And Bertha, 74, "It keeps me nimble; besides, if it
wasn't for this class we'd never have met" she says, and Bill, "Let's get in't
middle o't floor where there's plenty o' room and put a bit o'style in it!"
Being a CLASS
you see, it's alright for anyone to ask anyone to dance, and a lady can ask a
gent without losing face and it's very sociable. It's grand to see so many of
our senior citizens, who comprise about half of the class, merrily negotiating a
new sequence, but the teachers are working hard, and before very long we can all
do it, some quicker than others of course, but that's what's egalitarian about
it, vie all start together. And the names of the dances are so delightful,
Forget-me-not Waltz, Midnight Tango, Tango Solair, Mail Swing, Esso
Blues(popularly referred to as 'paraffin dance'), Waltz Katrine, Dawn Waltz, I
could fill a page and not mention them all, and all different.
forward to my 60th birthday, when all night school fees will be waived. Come on,
it's th'last Waltz.
Get rid of your depression, man
go clockwork like I am.
Mow the lawn once a week
Get your 'aircut on Saturday.
Regularity, that's the key, boy,
Now, take my bowels
Well, all right, don't take them.
But you've got to listen to me, son,
I've got things to tell you
About life, an' all that.
Did I ever show you my wounds?
Got'em in the war, you know.
Here, look at this
Copped that at Dunkirk.
Retreat? Well, we went back
And sorted the bastards,
Didn't we?A land fit for 'eroes to live in
That's what we were promised, lad.
You wouldn't know that, of course,
But you ask your Dad.
Fools? Yes, we were to swallow that guff,
A land for the young to be arrogant in,
Would be nearer the mark.
Yes, we were fools right enough!
We should have known that one
Has to lie and to lie to get on,
And the higher you get,
Why, the more you've to lie!
Even God has 'is tongue in His cheek
Half the time.
It's Him that shows you the world from the hill
"All this I will give you, young man"
Says the Lord.
And there's hope in your soul for a week.
If you'll only be good
All the world will be yours.
What's the use of the world
when you're too old to care?
Death's a friend when you're worn,
But, meanwhile, there's the lawn
To be mowed, oh, aye and me 'air
To be cut;
Today's Saturday, you see.
Norman were talking - "How did you get on last night?" Norman asked. How d'ye
mean?' replied Sam. "With the Bird", "All right", said Sam. "All right!',
exploded Norman. "Did you, or didn't you?" "Course I did", said Sam. "All right,
eh", giggled Norman. "Not bad", said Sam - weakly, I thought. I carried on
straightening a pillar that carried the hand rail round the boiler. "Love 'em
and leave 'em, I do", said Norman. "I'll ditch this one", said Sam. "She' s a
widow you know, got a seven year old boy. I got what I wanted." Sam is about 40,
very thin. I was shocked. I liked Joan. She was a welder about 35, matronly and
handsome. Sam, I always thought of as a nice fellow. He had a pencil moustache,
and dark, but oily wavy hair.
I was just
past 16 and feeling very mature I warned Joan off. A couple of hours later Sam
confronted me - "A great mate, you", he hissed, "You really put the spoke in."
He was bitter, hurt and angry. Myself? I have never experienced this before. It
was like a melting of my very core, and such an ache. I could not answer him,
and I felt shame too for I realised then that his words to Norman were just
bravado. Sam was a nice fellow. Next morning crossing the loco shed Sam glared
at me, balefully. "She won't even talk to me", he said and passed on. I went to
the welding bay resolved. "Hello Joan", I said. "Hello Pete, how's Sam?" "Oh,
he's O.K." I answered. "Joan, I have to tell you what I said is untrue. I made
it up. I was jealous of Sam, because I couldn't have you - didn't see why he
should, but it was wrong of me and I'm sorry." She smiled beatifically, "How do
you know, you never tried?" I left her. I was sweating a good deal. It had been
a terrific strain on my nerves. I was watching the locomotive being pulled out
of the erection shop by the capstan when Sam came along. Before he could say
anything I said "Sorry Sam, over what happened." "That's all right", he said
"congratulate me, we marry in July"
Men are attacked for stating facts
In all climes and religions:
Tho' no Palme Dutt, I well may put
The cat among the pigeons.
Who is to judge, far less begrudge
What joy's derived from drinking,
Yet one pint less per month I stress
Can save our Fund from shrinking.
This must be said, the' on my head
Descend a thousand furies,
More must be given to Barbara Niven
And less to local brew'ries.
Not mine to spoil for those who toil
Some slight relief from tedium
But please forego one cinema show
Or the price of ten Players' Medium.
And those who lay a bob each way
Avoid this snare of Satan
Let Conscience' voice dictate your choice:
"Get thee behind me, Cayton".
If this my verse make some folk curse,
Set trigger fingers jerking,
Shoot, if you must, my half-bred crust.
But keep "The Daily" working.
A DYING ART
February, a cold, damp morning and a colleague was to pick me up in his car to
attend the funeral in Wilmslow of one of our workmates, a nice and well
At any time,
and particularly on such a wild day, these are not the kinds of functions one
likes to attend, but a compensatory factor was three hours paid leave from work,
a warming thought even on such a day. Promptly at 10.50 a.m. my companion called
for me, and it was decided to take the longest but nicest way into Wilmslow and
on the journey after a few perfunctory remarks on the coming event conversation
soon changed to a much happier theme; like the merits or demerits of City and
On arrival at
the cemetery with about fifteen minutes to spare, we met several other friends
from the various offices in and around Manchester whom we had not seen for some
considerable time, and although the conversation was 'sotto' voice, it was
animated and full of anecdotes and the few minutes left at our disposal were
soon dissipated in a happy and jocular fashion.
cortege arrived and a respectful silence fell upon us all, and as we followed
the mourners to the graveside we fell in dutiful line, the senior execs at the
front and the minnows in the rear. The sermon was most depressing. Weeping,
heartbroken relatives clustered around the grave and as the mournful
incantations of the professional preacher broke on the still air, and the body
lowered into the wet earth, a feeling of revulsion swept through me at the added
suffering of the bereaved caused by the prolongation of this pagan practice.
relatives had left, several of us broke up into small groups, ours to adjourn
for sustenance, and away from the commitments of respect and duty, and, under
the warmth and conviviality of food, drink and companionship a new atmosphere
was engendered, and our departed friend was forgotten, as we all recounted
incidents involving characters and humorous situations connected with work. The
time passed quickly, and as more barleycorn was imbibed, so did the company
expand, and I began to wonder if I had been to a funeral or a wedding, but
whatever it was, it was a good do.
Work for the
rest of the day was out, so I decided I would walk the few miles home, and as I
wandered through the lanes I meditated on all that had (gone on that day,
starting out to pay respect to a friend and workmate, finishing up slightly
inebriated with not a thought of Bill, and in between all this the grief and
sadness of the close Relatives, the hypocrisy of the prayer man, spouting
sermons with as much feeling as the girl at the airport announcing the next
flight up there. What a cruel and barbaric act is the Christian burial: surely
something more decent and humane can replace this outmoded, painful and
expensive charade. The real and deep sorrow must be when the beloved takes his
last breath and the eyes have ceased to see, the lips will smile no more, and
the farewell can be taken in private.
even intelligent people and advanced Socialist States are all subject to the
never dying of the dying industry and it is from these people a lead should be
given to ensure that something much better should be found when we have played
me, anything but this hocus pocus, and if my friends are still around, dispose
to the knacker yard my decaying flesh, and then away for a good jug up and a
laugh. These would be the best farewells.
AN AULD MAN
CAM' TAE HEAVEN' S GATE
An auld man cam' tae Heaven's gate
An' loudly tirled the bell
"Come let me in" he tauld St. Pete,
Pete answered "Gang tae Hell".
"Itís plain you don't know who I am,
The auld man cried in pique."I ken ye fine wi' that cigar
An' a' that brandy reek.
"Then you should know I won the war
And saved Humanity".
"Man hauld your tongue-ye're gaun too far
Wi' sic profanity".
"Wars, ye should know are NEVER won
Except by profiteers
An' politicians like yoursel',
Demagogoes an' Leears.
"Let's tak this war o' which ye spoke
How came about this war?
Let's just consult the minute-book
For 1924.""That year in Rome ye did abide
Consortin wi' the deil.
Wi' Mussolini by your side
Ye gied a little spiel."
"Ye there addressed the serried ranks
O' Blackshirts - coarse and vile,
An' publicly ye geid them thanks
For crampin' Lenin's style.
"The chicks then hatched cam' hame to roost in 1939.
This war that gied thy fame a boost
was caused by thee and thine."
"At Dunkirk time, we thought perhaps
You'd dropped your knavish tricks
But then ye lapsed tae wicked ways
At Fulton, '46."
The wicked ranks, ye chose yoursel',
So now I must command ye,
Henceforth ye must in hades dwell
- That's if wild Nick can stand ye".
was spent in a two-up and two-down terraced house with my father, mother,
younger sister and three brothers. We played most of our games in the dirt
street we lived in and when we were tired we used to sit on the low garden wall
in front of our house.
Our next door
neighbours were a family called Roberts, who seemed to have their front door
open most of the time when weather permitted. The living conditions in these
houses were so cramped that the front door opened directly onto the living room,
which was also the dining room and my sister and I saw a lot of little comedies
and dramas as we sat on the garden wall.
I remember on
one occasion Mr. Roberts, who was a night watchman, decided that he would have
porridge for his tea before going to work. A plate of porridge so thick that it
resembled castle ramparts was placed before him, flanked by a dish of treacle
and water and a dish of milk and water. He would scoop up a spoonful of
porridge, dip it into the treacle and water and then into the milk and water
mixture. This fascinating performance was always enhanced for us when he put the
spoon into his mouth and his Adam's apple would bob down and than come up like a
was unusual in the sense that the mother was the irresponsible member of the
family. In particular she was a heavy drinker and a poor domestic organiser. But
although she never failed to spend some time in the pub she would practice
strict economy in the matter of food. It was not unusual for her to rush home
from the pub at dinnertime with threepennyworth of pie pieces she had bought on
the way home. These would be boiled in a pan on the open coal fire with a few
potatoes and a pastry crust put on top of the lot. This was called Sea pie and
was always decorated with specks of soot from, the chimney.
daughter was a star-crossed girl who always seemed to be in the throes of a
broken love affair. On one occasion she was breaking a slice of bread into
cheese dip at teatime and weeping copiously about her latest let-down.
"She wants to
give over skriking into that cheese dip", said my Mother, knowledgeably, "It's
watery enough." Mrs. Roberts always made her cheese dip with water instead of
We have had
many neighbours since those days who have been steadier and more worthy people.
But, perhaps because there was no garden to place an artificial barrier between
us, perhaps because the economic conditions drew us more closely together or
perhaps because I saw them through the uncritical eyes of a child, I remember
the Roberts, with warmth and affection.
WHY I DON'T
dangerous. Commit your ideas to paper and you stand committed - condemned. How
can I after 50 years of silence expose to all and sundry my loves and hates ?
Ideas that have for so long been personal and private and secret ? Things to
play with in oblivion, like the little smooth stone in your pocket. Nobody can
see when you hold it in your hand in the dark. Judging by my output they are
going to remain secret
wonderful ideas for a 'good' story when it is practically impossible to sit down
and write. At work with wet sharp heavy glass in my hands I can see in detail
every phrase of the most important work on the lack of dignity of labour. The
complete absence of dignity in labour when it is not of one's own choice and how
few of us are lucky enough to do what we enjoy for a living ?
It's easy to
write but it's easier to talk oneself out of doing it.
clearly how I sidled up to the long green Counter of the Popular Cafe. I felt a
complete stranger there and all eyes seemed to be staring at my dirty and torn
dust coat (well-named). God knows why I should have felt so. That's the other
side to my character. Now it's my home. I go there three times a day and know a
goodly share of the names of the regulars - Harry, Arthur, John and so on. On
the other side of the counter are Andrew, Eileen and Liz. I know a lot about
them all because not only do I talk a great deal, but ask many personal
questions like "How much do you get?" and "Why did you leave your first wife
because the 4-seater tables are quite small, I cannot but fail to hear what the
two opposites are saying. Even before Ben Ainley's evenings I wanted to commit
to paper all these stories, but having heard these four you can understand my
hesitation in doing so.
I go there at
10, 12.30 and 3.30, and it always tickles my imagination why some people are
eating their breakfast or dinner at 10 in the morning - likewise dinner at 3.30
and so I ask ! There is a betting shop next door and several pubs within
spitting distance and I'm sure these produce many of the flamboyant, grotesque,
wonderful, and saddeningly belligerent clients of our Cafe.
Fascist - you're calling me a Fascist ? I'll stick this bloody knife in yer",
said the man who had been going on about Jews running the country. Mind you I
must have provoked him by saying "Shit and nonsense - that's Fascist talk-talk
brother". Oh yes Ė and I did start by saying "I'm a bloody Jew. And that's a
good one because I'd shed my last drop of blood to defend Atheism".
to leave me. I'm sure of it", the young man opposite said to his friend beside
him. They were both clean, and Burton-dressed -office workers. Try as he might
the good sympathetic ear could not smooth away the wrinkles that should not have
been on that sweet young brow. He was going to lose his young wife and he did
not know why. How he had tried to please her. For a year - all their married
life - he had been her slave. He was going to cry. I looked at my dinner. He got
up and went to the door. My eyes followed. His shorter leg was slightly bowed.
He opened the door and went out.
Arthur is a
surly-faced bastard. Had many a good row with this one. After all the Popular
Cafe is my stomping ground. This is where I propagate the faith. They know I'm a
Communist and still talk to me. In two years I've had dinners, teas and toast
and one recruit, but that's another story. Today was no different and neither
was Arthur. This mealy mouthed manager, self-styled and really a fucking foreman
- or perhaps not. He looked so sour I had to ask once again why didn't you get
married ? "I did have a girl for six years once" he replied. "She tried to run
my life for me. Made a list of people I could not see and have a beer with -
and my brother was on the list. So I said put your name on the list darling and
walked out". Arthur's stiff face began to crack. "I heard she married a Scot who
didn't know the difference between the toilet and the front room carpet. He was
drunk most of the time and kicked her out once or twice, I believe she's
divorcing him". Arthur laughed - loud and long. I've never seen him even smile