cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5) x 2
Memoirs Ben Ainley
Fish in the Grass John Koziol
Them and Us Mike Rowe
The Day Andreas Baader Died Phil Boyd
Reading About Life Syd Jenkins
Tea Break At Blakey's Derek Lee
The Truth Aboot the Waall Jack Davitt
Geordie Boy Bound Keith Armstrong
Geordie's Bonanza Jack Davitt
The Price of Coal Bill Eburn
Whitechapel Spring Charles Poulsen
Talking to the Wall Chris Darwin
Cry Soweto Arthur Clegg
The Potty and the Puddin' Vivien Leslie
Impregnation Vivien Leslie
Chewing Point Four Letter Words Ted Morrison
Chewing Point Four Letter Words Roy McIlvern
Culture for the Workers Christopher Harris
Good Old Albie Jimmy McGovern
The Nine O Clock Brew Alf Horne
Going to Work Jimmy Barnes
A Poem for my Sister Wendy Whitfield
A Kind of Achievement Andy Darlington
Aunty Daisy Celia Roberts
The New United Rick Gwilt
Editorial Rick Gwilt
The Dear Departed Bill Eburn
BEN AINLEY, founder and Editor of VOICES, died following a
long illness, shortly after publication of our last issue. For a man who had
devoted so much of himself to providing a means of expression for others, we
felt that the most fitting tribute would be to let him speak in his own words.
The two pieces which follow are taken from a 300-page autobiography written in
1969, during a breathing-space between Ben's retirement and his increasing
involvement with Unity of Arts. Those readers who would like to subscribe to the
publication of a limited edition of this autobiography should contact Sol Garson
(28 Hathersage Road, Manchester, 13. Tel. 06 1-224 7728). The two extracts
printed here offer some insight both into Ben's ideas on literature and society
and into his own tenacity and fighting spirit. And perhaps this helps to
explain, for those of us continuing his work, how such a small man could leave
such a big hole to be filled.
FROM CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR
I would like to look afresh at the years I have covered in
this fragmentary survey of my lifetime. The squalor of Ancoats in my childhood
was as real as my own love of its associations. Barefoot children walked the
pavements, and many must have cried themselves to sleep many a time because they
went to bed hungry. I never suffered hunger, but I have seen old men and women
for whom life must have been a heartbreak unless they developed calloused minds.
And if the Ancoats I knew has largely disappeared, there are still some ugly
lumps in Manchester, dirty, rat-ridden bug-infested, damp with a squalor of
surroundings which imparts a squalor to the minds and bodies that grow up there.
I saw last night a film version of How Green Was My Valley
and heard that the film had collected a number of Academy awards. Many years ago
I read Llewellyn's book but I remembered nothing of it, even when I saw the
The background of life in a Welsh valley, with its deeply
moved miners, singing their heroic or comic hymns and songs, with majestic
mountain scenery for their backcloth, and the slagheaps and the huts and
cottages for their home, the backbreaking toil of getting coal with the periodic
siren blasts that tell of tragedy striking in the mines-this is conveyed in the
film, and one sees this aspect of the human scene in its background-luxury,
refinement, the arts, good living at one end, and at the other, drinking,
chapel-going, hard-headed lads driven from home by unemployment to seek jobs in
But the presentation of the film-and I pay tribute to its
artistry-I was deeply moved by the small events that tug at human feelings-had a
hollowness sometimes which hurt me. A parson, a priest of the Methodists who at
one time says to the beautiful miner's daughter that he's dedicated to his work
and therefore can't indulge himself with love and marriage, and on another that
he won't marry her because it would drag her down to his own patched and
penny-pinching level. The parson performs a touching miracle in the film-he
brings a small boy paralysed by infirmity to walk literally by faith. The parson
takes the side of the newly formed Trade Union of miners, but warns them not to
reply to injustice by injustice. The injustice they have banded against remains
at the end of the story. But the parson leaves the valley in a flurry of
self-righteous anger because the people there have joined a
character-assassination gossip-mongering directed against the pure girl whom he
had himself been unwilling to marry, but who continued to love him through an
unhappy marriage with the coal-owner's son, and her subsequent divorce from him.
The minister of the gospel, presented as a saint and
self-sacrificing martyr to his work in the valley, goes out with a set speech in
which he denounces hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness, lack of faith in his community.
It is true to say that their faults are his failure-but this is presented not as
the truth, but only as a further indication of his saintly self-criticism.
It is films of this kind which really corrupt values,
refusing to face honestly one of the many problems they present.
Hardly a year has gone by since I was born in 1901 without
a war: tens of millions of people have been killed, and to the cannon and
machine gun of my boyhood have been added atomic cannon, atomic bombs (dropped
on Japanese towns), flame throwers, napalm, lazydog missiles, blockbuster bombs,
chemical and biological weapons which will spread disease more widely than
Jehovah's plagues on the wicked Egyptians of bible times. The sum of human
misery, the streams of human tears, the throes of human agony, the swollen
bellies of starved children, the distended flattened breasts of mothers aged by
hunger and want, the bilarzia, scropula, typhoid, trachoma and a thousand
tropical diseases-this today, is part of the reality and a large part of the
reality of our world. Vietnam, Biafra, these are the latest of the consciously
enacted crimes of our society.
There is enough tragedy in the human condition without the
piling up of horror by men who sit in offices, over maps, a thousand or more
miles away from where the blow will fall to decide to wipe out a city or blot
out the growing crops of a thousand helpless villagers.
Is the world a better world than it was when I was a boy ?
In spite of a whole spectrum of new modes of inflicting death and disease
undreamed of in my childhood, I dare to assert that the world is a better world.
Cruelty and cowardice, tyranny and injustice, tears and pain still exist,
multiply. But there is more conscious revolt against it, less resigned misery,
and men are learning to meet their tormentors upright instead of cringing to
FROM CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT
It is a truism in the working-class movement which nobody,
not even the Harold Wilsons and the Barbara Castles will deny, that the
privileges the working-class enjoy, the right to organise in Trade Unions, the
right to organise political parties, the right of free speech, the right to
vote, compulsory education, national insurance, the national health service
etc., were all won in successive struggles by the people -sometimes of course
fierce, bitter, protracted, conscious struggles of the working-class.
When those freedoms therefore are displayed (often by the
people from whose forbears they had to be wrested) as if they indicated the
above-class character of our society, it is only necessary to point to the
historic circumstances from which these freedoms have come about, to prevent any
misconceptions from arising.
It is true that in Western Society too, the emancipation of
women (not of course by any means a completed fact even in 1969) moved forward
rapidly in the first thirty years of this century, and was won by a revolt
largely of propertied women, and educated middle-class women against the
degrading inequalities-of which the lack of the franchise was symbolic-they
suffered and working-class women, and the Trade Union Movement came later into
this fight. But the fight had to be fought.
Similarly with the artists. The fragmentation of art, the
refusal of artists to accept as patrons the arms manufacturers, the
international bankers, and the values of a society as wildly competitive and
cutthroat as Capitalism, led us to a deep division generations ago between the
artists and their cultured clientele (not always a wealthy clientele) and the
Philistines of Matthew Arnold's definition, the people for art, like the caress
of a woman, and the whisky and soda and agar, were the superadded refinements to
be enjoyed after the heat of the day, and having nothing in common with that day
except to bring it soporifically to a close.
The revolt against philistinism, the angry disgust of the
artists against the nineteenth century patrons was a healthy revolt. It took the
form of poking fun at the establishment, at ridiculing respectability, at
discrediting the existing values-whether they were merely bourgeois, or dried up
reminiscences of the values of an earlier age. The artists wield a tremendous
power: but they are not necessarily informed with an ethic, an aesthetic. They
are angry, disillusioned, and shocked with what is flabby in our society. Their
response is negative and vitriolic: they are like the anarchist politicians of
What should a socialist society say of western art?
How-should it evaluate western art ? The negative revolt of the artists, the
students, who want to lash out at the bourgeoisie, but in doing so want to lash
out at all which is socially valuable in our society, has to be welcomed, for
what it is, revolt-refusal to accept the rat-trap into which they are born,
refusal to be bound by conventions which are manifestly out-of-date, refusal to
worship mammon, success, the lies and the lying values of a corrupt age. So far
we applaud and value revolt. But when it sours, when it rejects, not merely
values of the bourgeois society, but all values, all social values, when it is
ready to spit at humanity and despise it, when it glorifies a Nietzschean
super-ego above all morality, above "the herd", unwilling to live in society and
conform to, and contribute to a decent society, non-exploiting society, then it
is not fit for society to accept. If a man preaches murder or the return to a
slave society or the right of a sadist to inflict his bestialities on others, or
the right of a robber to rob, then his preaching is openly to be rejected by
society, and society has to work hard at his rehabilitation for he is a case for
Now some (by no means all, by no means the greater part,
possibly only a fringe element) modern art has these basically Fascist,
basically backward-looking theses. And it is against these elements in Western
art that we should be, and Socialist societies are in revolt.
FISH IN THE GRASS
That garden is like a bloody jungle
I think weed-killer might do the job
the grass will grow back
even if you use a whole can
the grass will grow back
the planes rained poison
on the jungle
technology ate the leaves
The guerrilla was a fish
in the sea of the jungle
destroy the jungle
and he would sprawl naked
For months it rained filth
and the trees died
But the guerrilla
did not reel forth
from the dying jungle
he was in his real sea
and the fish
swam over those who would catch them
And the grass grew back
I was sat up in my bedroom sewing away at my denim jeans.
The idea was to transform them from navvie's overalls into rocker's drainpipes.
It was about that time that I realised there were THEM and
US. THEM were those who were satisfied with life, or, if not satisfied, would be
with slight improvements. US, although I personally knew no other US but myself,
were those who hated the whole stinking lot. Those out to destroy.
US to me were the Teddy Boys in the papers, who hurled
half-bricks through shop windows.
I desperately wanted a Teddy Boy suit, but my parents
would. never allow it. I had only just talked them into letting me wear denims.
I had to point out to them that none of my mates were wearing short trousers
anymore, and that the baggy things my dad wore were a thing of the past for most
I read in the Manchester Evening News (that squalid rag of
reaction) of a young lad in Court found guilty of burning down the place where
he worked in Stockport. When the judge asked why he did it, before sentencing
him, he replied 'I didn't like the place.' He got two years in borstal. He was
my hero for ages.
I liked anyone the older people hated: Oswald Mosley, Bill
Haley, Little Richard, Chaz Boon (The Biggest Teddy in our School).
I finished off the jeans. I squeezed into them and rushed
off out to listen to the older lads swearing, and talking about sex, on the
The bigger lads would take the piss out of me, but I didn't
mind. I cadged the dimps of their cigarettes off them, and sometimes when there
were only one or two there, I would get a full ciggy off one of them.
Sometimes I tried to tell dirty jokes that I heard at
school to them, but mostly I kept quiet, just soaking in their talk.
At school they used to back-chat teachers that my year were
feared of. One of them, Billy Reilly, once stopped a prefect from caning me for
being late back from dinner, by threatening to do him over outside school.
I was sure Billy was one of US, but I never dared ask him.
THE DAY ANDREAS BAADER DIED
The day Ulrike Meinhoff died
French gendarmes rifled shanty-town dwellings
And hauled off their inhabitants
Who were Greek
Attending on the needs of the French economy
Until one day it was discovered that they were no longer required
And the leaders of the shanty-town dwellers of South Africa
In the fortified prison on Robben Island
And the rest
Languished a day in an eternity of penal servitude
And broke stone the purpose of which was to break minds
And at Brokdorf, German paramilitary police
Brought to bear on the heads of the comrades who had assembled there
The full weight of the State's might
And they were photographed
And tear gassed
And baton charged
Because they protested at the siting of a power station there.
According to the Nazis, the Jew was
Exterminator of the Aryan Race
And so was himself exterminated
According to the Western Powers, the Terrorist is
Or South Moluccan
Or Latin American
Or some such
Who by means of intimidation and crude force
Took Vietnam from the French and Americans
Aden from the British
Angola from the Portuguese
And has resisted for more than fifty years in Ireland
A blind, irrational madman, killing for kicks
A mastermind, the Jackal, an arch-conspirator
A cheap and common criminal
A politically motivated fanatic
And to Jimmy Kruger is
A man or woman committing 'any act' in word or deed
From composing a speech
To 'obstructing the movement of any traffic'
That may be deemed prejudicial to the State
The day Jan-Carl Raspe died
In South Africa
Steve Biko had been laid to rest
And the rest
And denied a trial
In France immigrant workers were
And had visas stolen
And were deported
The day Gudrun Ensslin died
Telegrams of congratulation were sent by
Governments to their associates in Bonne
And telegrams of condolence were sent by
Governments to the widow of a former Nazi
The day Andreas Baader died
The German working-class through
And opinion polls
Applauded the resolve and determination of Herr Schmidt and the Federal Government
The day Andreas Baader died
The words of Lenin
Terror is a means of struggle used by the petit bourgeois
bound to put the masses to sleep by making them believe
that the arm of a hero can bring liberation
SYD JENKINS (Manchester) was for many members an active
member of the ETU. His brother Mick was always the writer in the family, but
since Syd's retirement he has been studying English at his local college of
adult education. These recollections of his youth represent his first attempt at
creative writing and, although Syd has been a reader of VOICES since it started,
this piece only emerged through Common-word, originally as an anonymous piece of
writing until the author was traced.
READING ABOUT LIFE
I had been working for about twelve months, as an
apprentice electrician, when one Sunday morning, I was having a chat with my
older brother about things in general, and I told him about a job I was going
to, in the morning. He explained that he was just finishing a novel, which he
thought would interest me, and that I should read it. It was an old trick of
his, to get me reading books. In later years I discovered that to get people to
read a particular book, he would say, "I have just finished or finishing read
the book' giving the impression it was a marvellous book specially for you.
The following morning I reported for work. The spark I was
working with was told that it was a big mansion being turned into a number of
flats. He was given the plans and told to go there, weigh up the job and decide
the type and amount of material needed for the job. He took me along with him,
as I would have to get the stuff from the stores.
The place was a huge building with about twenty-four rooms,
stables and yard, situated on open ground, called Kersal Moor, about three miles
from Victoria Station. To get to it, you travel up Bury New Road which is a
continuous climb for two miles and then turn left into Kersal Road. When we got
there, the place was in a turmoil, bricks, mortar, wood, and paint, ladders,
planks, everything under the sun was lying about. Inside the building, there
were labourers knocking walls out, brickies putting walls in, joiners taking
floors out, and other joiners putting floors in, plasterers plastering the new
walls, labourers taking the old stuff out and bringing the new material in, the
chargehand of each trade going around giving instructions, the noise and din was
terrible. On top of all this was the general foreman creeping around trying to
catch any of the men smoking or wasting their time. One of the labourers was
building a fire in the yard, getting ready to brew up tea, in a huge cast-iron
pot, and also to warm up any of the men's food. After assisting the spark to
measure up the rooms for the material necessary for the job , as. he was having
a smoke, I went roaming through the building, finally landing up in the attic,
looking through a small window in the roof across the Moors.
For about five minutes my mind wandered. I imagined I was
on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, walking over the Moors with my friends, the wind
blowing in my face. Suddenly I awoke to where I was, by hearing someone calling
"Syd", realising that my mate had finished his smoke.
The remainder of the day was spent in marking out the work
in different rooms, leaving about 4 pm as we were allowed travelling time back
to the workshop. In the evening after tea, I asked my brother for the book.
I will give it you later he said. About 10 pm I started reading the book called "The Ragged
Trousered Philanthropists". It was not long before I was completely absorbed in
the story, mainly because I was involved in similar experiences at work.
The following morning I placed the book in my jacket
pocket. It was a small paper-backed pocket-sized book. Arriving at work, I got the handcart out, placed a couple
of the smaller trestles on to it, then a couple of planks, pair of steps, a
portable vice, on a platform, tubing, cable and many other things needed on the
As we were going out of the yard, the foreman came over to
us, and said to the spark
"You better go ahead and prepare the work while Syd
takes the cart up". I looked at him - it meant I would have to push the cart up
the hill for two miles on my own. I won't write about the sweat, aches and
pains, the stops and rests I had on the way, suffice that I arrived on the job,
just before lunch-time.
The men on the job had already decided that being the
youngest on the job I should be the brew boy which was generally accepted on
these types of job. Being dead tired and aching in every bone in my body, I told
them where to go in workshop language and brewed my mate's and my own tea, then
took it upstairs to the attic, having told my mate that I was going to have a
After having my sandwiches and tea, I got my book out, and
thought I would read for about half-an-hour. The book was an eye-opener, the scenes, actions and the
attitudes of the foremen and men were very vividly pictured, particularly as I
had, and was, experiencing it myself. It brought out most clearly the working lives of the
people, the oppression and corruption of the system.
The plasterers competing, one against another, to get the
particular wall finished first because they knew that at the end of the day one
of them would be sacked, or the painters would try to get a good finish with
only two coats of paint instead of four, because the foreman would take the
paint of one coat for himself and tell the builder (BOSS) that "he" had managed
to do the job with three coats of paint.
The joiners were also told to do the same thing, use the
old wood taken out of the building, and would indent the amount for new wood. Suddenly whilst reading about the brew boy washing the tea
can out, I realised where I was; looking through the window I could see the
clock in the tower on the stands of the Manchester race course which was five
minutes to four.
I put the book in my pocket, and dashed downstairs.
the b.... 'ell have you been?" said my mate, and before I could answer him, he
said, "The gaffer's here. I told him you have gone for cigarettes for me . Don't
forget you've been for my smokes. I'll deal with you later".
I had been reading the book from 12 noon to 4 pm. When I got home for tea I did not put the book down till I
had finished it.
TEA BREAK AT BLAKEY’S
At first the endless bike ride through the fog
to punch the foundry clock at seven thirty;
and there we mustered, shivering and spitting,
stamping our feet like broken marionettes.
Then we forgot the January cold,
among the dirt and fumes and burning steel.
But, come eleven we returned to men,
and that is when I best remember them:
Charlie the West Indian, all smiles and overalls;
young Pete, the first and the last of the teddy boys
and Joe, turned seventy if he was a day-
face all seams and hands all knuckles-
who squatted on an old five gallon drum,
hugging a scalding mug and talking about Mons.
THE TRUTH ABOOT THE WAALL
It was built for the Romans, way back in the past;
They built it with stone, and they built it to last.
Quite a change for the locals from digging for coal
And it kept a large number of men off the dole.
It was the Emperor Hadrian who started it all
When he ordered the peasants to build him this waall.
Just what it was for there was neebody sure
And the reasons he gave were a little obscure.
"This waall," said the Emperor, rubbing his chin,
"Is to stop aall the Picts and the Scots getting in;
Aa'm used to the Geordies, Aa knaa aall their tricks,
But Aa just cannit stomach the Scots and the Picts".
They started the Waall on the banks of the Tyne
And they tried very hard for to keep a strite line.
There were thoosands of Geordies with shovels and picks
And the rate for the job was eleven and six.
The stones for the Waall came by bogie and barrow;
They were cut from the quarries at Hebburn and Jarrow.
They floated them over the Tyne on a raft,
(Them owld fashioned Geordies could certainly graft).
They travelled to Byker with nivver a spell
But they stopped for a pint when they reached the "Bluebell".
Then on across meadow and valley and dyke
With nivvor a murmur of trouble or stike.
Onwards they went, heading West all the time,
Still trying their best for to keep a strite line.
In summer they struggled through bracken and heather
And they plodged in the darts during inclement weather.
They laid the last stone on the second of June
and Hadrian said, "Lads, Aa'm ower the moon,
Aa would like you to knaa that Aa'm proud of you aall,
And Aa thank you aall kindly for building me waall".
A big celebration was held at Carlisle;
They had a grand neet and they done it in style.
The picks and the shovels were aall put away
And the workers were given an extra week's pay.
The Picts and the Scots were a little bit vexed
And voices were raised and muscles were flexed.
But their yelling and shootin' did nee good at aall;
It takes more than taalkin' to get past a waail.
And that is the story, believe it or not,
Of how they defeated the Pict and the Scot;
How the Waall was constructed for one man's enjoyment
And the North-East was rescued from mass unemployment.
GEORDIE BOY BOUND
Lifting a glass;
lipping the rim that defined the narrowness
of your boyhood,
the night before Belfast
you drank yourself dry
to soak up the uniform fear inside
Never ever had a chance.
Never even been
across your City to the East before;
spent out your meagre force
on games in the feudal West
before the khaki money bound you
South before Belfast.
Never had a chance.
the anger of a real gun;
shot with your lips
or with a kick against
the slumped walls
of an empty street.
Never had a chance.
except to school;
trailed your slackened shoes
through the litter and the mingy fog
to a cold assembly line.
Never ever had a chance.
Never really knew
sprayed your revenge from a modest can
or scratched a protest on a flash-car body;
the kind you'd dreamt of on a screen.
Never had a chance
Never had the sense
to really love;
mouthed a dull lust across the Bar
at naked calendars of dated women
or sank your teeth in a pillow.
Never had a chance.
Lifting a gun;
limping along a street like your own,
last night in Belfast
you died, dead scared,
to hide this riddled ignorance in blood.
Never ever had a chance;
never, bloody well, had a chance.
ERDES DUN PUBLICATIONS (10 Greenhaugh Road, Whitley Bay,
Tyne and Wear NE25 9HF) have been responsible for much of the working-class
writing to emerge from the North-East in recent years, under the editorship of
The poems here by Jack Davitt (alias Ripyard Cuddling) are
taken from his booklet "Shipyard Muddling" in this series. Jack was born in 1924
in a Newcastle colliery village and works as a welder at Swan Hunter's Wallsend
shipyard where he served his time. Until about 15 years ago he did not keep any
of his poems, but then he began to duplicate them and circulate copies to his
fellow-workers throughout the Tyne shipyards.
ERDESDUN have recently launched a new series, STRONG WORDS,
the first of which, "Hello, Are You Working", consists of memories of the 1930s
in the North-East. Both the booklets mentioned are obtainable at 50p each
Just off the coast at Seaton Sluice
A drilling rig struck orange juice
And all the locals clapped their hands
And queued with bottles on the sands.
An expert from the USA
Took samples of the juice away
And after scrutiny and test
Declared it was the very best.
From miles around reporters came,
The North-East coast was tasting fame,
They said ten million barrels lay
Between the "Sluice" and Whitley Bay.
A group of local leading lights,
Well versed in verbal brawls and fights,
Decided that the time had come
To pluck this unexpected plum.
They reasoned that, with Geordie backing,
Support for them would not be lacking;
They'd keep the juice and then demand
Home rule at once for Geordieland.
But, though their banner fluttered proud
And Geordie voices clamoured loud,
The government was not amused
And Geordie claims were all refused.
A million Geordies homeward trailed,
Their spirits low, their mission failed,
No traces of their former glee;
Home rule alas was not to be.
Defeated in their final fight,
And just when things had looked so bright
Their show of strength had been no use;
They had to share the orange juice.
But Geordie don't abandon hope;
You mustn't sit around and mope,
For better things may come to pass;
They're drilling now for North Sea Bass.
BILL EBURN (London VOICES Group) is a former boy-messenger, postman,
civil servant and trade unionist, now retired. As a prisoner-of-war in the hands
of the Japanese, he found himself put to work down a coal-mine.
THE PRICE OF COAL
We were quite at home
in the mine, the descent
no worse than a swift drop
in an office block, the main artery
an Underground Station;
but as arteries gave way
to small and smaller veins
of coal and stone picked out
by the light of our helmets
we crawled like maggots through
the entrails of the earth.
Yet safe it seemed
as though the giant
was sleeping still
until, on a black day,
a prop toppled, a beam
fell out of the ceiling
and like a pack of cards
thrown down in mute challenge,
the rest followed.
In our world there was nothing to show when the winter ended.
No grass. No trees.
These were things you saw on an outing.
The dark streets grew warmer,
The gutters dried earlier,
The horse-piled ordure put on a golden nimbus
As the sun poked dusty fingers into our ravines.
The vagrant cats grew earnest and mysterious
Stalking as if they carried important messages,
Bearing fresh wounds like heroes, neglecting dustbins
Filling the nights with songs of strange desires.
They alone saw the world spinning into the equinox
Grudgingly dragging Whitechapel around with it
As a cripple limps from his cellar into the sunlight,
Dragging his scabby foot.
Still there was nothing visible that changed.
No sign in the streets. Never a symbol of spring
In the small houses blinded by blistered shutters.
But one night at home you would see, from a crack under the ceiling,
An elderly bug emerge, bloated and crusty,
To gleam like a clouded ruby there in the gaslight
And ooze himself legless and delicate past the damp patches.
And then you would know it was spring in Old Montague Street.
TALKING TO THE WALL
Hey, er listen ... listen. Do you mind if I talk to you,
you don't mind do you. You see, someone said to me "If you talk to the wall
you'll get more sense out of it, it won't answer back", so that's why I'm
talking to you. When they said that to me, I thought, "I must do that. I'll find
myself a nice little piece of wall and I'll talk to it. So I'm passing by here
and I just happened to notice you, you looked very nice to talk to, I mean
you're old and dirty, you're full of cracks and loose bricks, you know there's a
lot of character about you. So you must have seen a lot of life passing by here
in your lifetime. I bet you've had a few laughs hey. My dad passes by here
sometimes so you must have seen him. He's a good laugh isn't he. He's what you
call a streaker. He runs up and down this street chasing pigeons with nothing
on. The pigeons are covered in feathers. He's the one with nothing on, and
sometimes he goes down the Pier Head streaking.
How about that dog too, the one with big ears that looks as
though it could fly backwards. You know the one, it walks around here in its
bare feet and chases policemen. Does it cock its leg up against you ? No I
shouldn't think it does. I can't see any streaks on the floor. You know those
widdle marks the dogs leave. Ooh, look at this. You've been giving yourself a
transplant, haven't you. You've got grass growing out of you just there. You're
a bit vain aren't you doing yourself up like this to look nice at your age.
You're nice without it. Mind you, having a second look at it, it does show you
off a bit. Yes, grow a flower there as well and you'd really brighten this
corner up. Kids, do you have much trouble with the kids climbing all over you?
No I don't suppose you're really worried by them are you? I bet you feel like a
grandad when they sit on top of you. Better than having those cats sitting up
there at night crying their heads off. Look at this. You've got dandruff. Oh no,
you haven't. It's the birds. The dirty buggers, they'll do it anywhere. Never
mind, it'll be good for your grass. I bet you could tell a few stories about the
vandals around here, especially the car thieves. I reckon the police should talk
to you. You'd make their job easier.
Listen, do you hear the screech of car wheels. I'll bet
that's a stolen car coming this way. There we are. I was right. Look at it
swerving all over the place. They'll do some damage. It's coming right at us.
It's it's. Get over that way you mad .... get over .... Quick get out of the way
... Oh no, you're mad. You're crackers. Come here you. Got you. You're not
getting away from me after what you've just done. Killing a friend of mine. Yes
you have. You knocked down that wall and that wall's a friend of mine Yes you
have. You knocked down that wall and that wall's a friend of mine ... I'm mad am
I? Right well I'm giving you to the police and I'm going to take you to court
What for, for loss of companionship that's what for. Loss
of social life that's what for and anything else I can think of in the meantime.
With the likes of you around the streets it's no wonder that the likes of me is
going round the bend, cracking up, losing our screws. I'm glad I got that off my
She was black
her breasts budding
kopjes tinged at the tips with red
she was the springtime
of the world
and New York
in well-appointed buildings
round oblong tables
Youth is a time
to tackle obstacles
the chains of servitude
a fuller life.
She and her friends
stretched out their hands
to seize it
and New York
an avaricious tooth
the oblong tables
ever hungry mouths
They lined up
to demand rights
in the front
of the world
There are profits in South Africa
at a price
The price is guns, force, murder
pay that price
they pay that price
and close their eyes
when it comes
to pulling the trigger
fit for humans
at the first burst
of police firing
into the earth
Surely there is a great cry going round the world
THE POTTY & THE PUDDIN'
to find her workbench framed in rubber-finger stools, each partly filled with
water that stretched the end into a veined bulb. They bobbed slightly in the
air-conditioned breeze and Jean regarded them with carefully planned
resignation. There was an eruption of giggles from behind the bench and half a
dozen grinning faces appeared over the top. "Today's the day, Jean. Hope your
knickers are clean on !" one of the girls warned, and the others laughed,
nodding their heads in anticipation. Jean smiled at her friends and ran one
finger along the row of wobbling finger stools, making them jig about all the
more. "It comes to us all", she said with affected patience, and then someone
asked her if everything was ready for the wedding and they all fell to sharing
Jean's excited plans.
she was plagued with tricks. They sent her units wired backwards, obscene notes
on job cards, posies made out of coloured leads and once, a fragile silver foil
wedding slipper, all crinkled and reflecting the light in every angle so that it
seemed to glitter as it appeared moving slowly towards her on the conveyor belt.
The incongruous vision of the pretty tokens set beside the efficient starkness
of the unit parts on the belt only warmed Jean as she lifted both work and
playthings off the belt without a word. By lunchtime she had accumulated a
seatful of messages and jokes and creations, something that the supervisor shook
her head at and then helped load into Jean's basket. These things were sacred,
protected from the usual rule about factory property. No bride's basket was ever
checked at the gate for no gateman had ever been able to reach a bride through
the busy rows of her handmaidens as they left.
lunchtime hooter went Jean's heart lurched wildly as she watched her friends
walking towards her, excited and gabbling, their baskets carefully draped with
scarves and coats. She could see in her mind the tins of talcum powder, the
screws, the magic-markers, the ribbons and lipsticks that she knew were in the
baskets. They took her arms, exchanged glances and then one said "Lunch first",
and the pressure on Jean's arms fell back to that of companionship as they
walked to the coffee bar to eat. She ate nothing, being safe with her rolling
stomach, but chatted and laughed with them and at them, receiving and thanking
the many shouted good wishes shouted across to her from people she knew around
the factory. Some shouted ribald remarks and these Jean accepted with laughter
and a real blush when the storemen began to join in with loud envy for the
bridegroom. The coffee bar was festive and happily tense, waiting for Jean's
friends to march her out and on to the floor. Jean watched the clock hand
stutter over the minutes and when it was just ten past, she felt the arms upon
her once more and was glad.
in step, two beside, two behind, the rest in a stamping fan around her. Their
feet attracted the attention of everyone sitting around the factory floor who
rose and began to form a chanting crowd behind the formal party. "Jean's getting
married Jean's getting wed ! Jean's got a man that she'll soon have in bed !"
When they reached the entrance to the girls' toilet they turned her and the
whole following crowd whooped with joy and funnelled into the small tiled
washroom in a rush to get seated on the sinks and see better. Jean's other
workmates were already there, theirs the privilege of performing the act upon
They laid her
down gently, she did not struggle as they pulled her hair into tiny bunches all
over her head and threaded ribbons around the quiffs. The others had her shoes
off and were sticking paper hearts and bells all over them. She was dusted with
three tins of talcum powder, every blot in the tins was tipped down her jumper
and into her trousers and then patted gently to make the fine dust rise all
round her. When they started to draw on her stomach she began to laugh, trying
to see what they were writing and being ticked by the felt marker. They drew in
red and black JEAN LOVES TOMMY once across her stomach and twice down her back,
at which point the heat and closeness of so many people began to make her pull
away. They only set to with greater zeal for it was good to catch a flying arm
and trickle lipstick along its length, fine to sit on her feet while your friend
looped coloured ribbons around her knees and thighs, great fun to hold her down
while someone else delicately traced circles on her cheeks. Then they let her up
and she recoiled from the sudden sight of herself, ghastly with the white talcum
dust, in the mirror. There was a great cheer and then she was hauled away and
sat in a plastic bucket mounted on a trolley and pulled at a run all around the
factory floor accompanied by the washroom crowd, and everyone near breathless
with laughter and dust. For a moment Jean saw the startled faces of two very new
girls, their overalls with tell-tale fold marks still sharp, as they saw the
pagan ritual. One of them had blanched as white as Jean herself and Jean made a
note to find the girl later and explain. It must look so awful, she thought.
her out in front of a line of girls and she sat on the floor for a moment not
caring for long lost dignity but only welcoming a chance to breathe for a
moment. Then the line of girls parted and her foreman, outlined in his navy
suit, was beaming at her somewhat painfully as he sought to shield the sight of
the china dinner set from her at the same time as he beckoned towards her with
one arm. She got up, embarrassed now, and walked, red with sudden shame towards
him. Everyone fell silent and listened with prickling eyes to his speech. He
recovered himself well and talked warmly to the apparition in front of him about
how happy everyone was for a bride, and especially this one who we know so well,
about how she was going to be missed, and there were happy sobs dropping into
the flow of his speech now, and how with great pleasure, he wanted to present
Jean with this small token of their esteem and good wishes. She cried with
reaction, and everyone thought it was lovely. The dinner set was translucent,
delicate and rose tinted and Jean was bruised and tired, loving them all and the
hideous dinner set. She was surrounded with patting hands and a glut of warm
wishes. A middle-aged woman said it was awful to treat a lassie like that and
was howled down by the young handmaidens. A fifteen-year-old belt-feeder offered
to pack the dinner set away for her and was swollen with importance when Jean
said she could. The lunch hour ended with the wheezing hooter and Jean walked
back to her bench for an afternoon's respite before the evening's dose. She sat
down and reached for the first unit but it was a card that arrived. Printed in
coloured felt tips it said: "Maisie did your afternoon target. Relax and think
sex !" Their generosity staggered her. Maisie had been absent from three dinner
hours. Maisie had done her afternoon work in three dinner hours. She left her
bench and went to Maisie's. "You're a darling", she said and hugged her. Just
the same she would have welcomed the time-passing routine of work and the
afternoon was long and broken only by quick visits from people who had missed
their chance to greet her before, and who arrived for a quick word and a smile
and a wary eye out for the foreman. She did not wash her face or touch her hair.
Either act she would have seen as an act of withdrawal. As it was, the sight of
her dusty face and cork-screwed hair renewed the girls' laughter every time they
looked at her and everyone that passed her pulled a sympathetic but approving
face at her. It was as it always was.
Then it was
ten minutes to finishing time and her handmaidens were rushing off, not very
secretly, towards the supervisor's desk where they pulled out a large plastic
bag and a basket that jingled. Jean, watching them, prepared the way for them by
slipping her overall off and loosening her shoes. She tipped her belongings into
her basket and tidied the screwdrivers and pencils on her bench. She was just
straightening the last notebook when they arrived beside her, newly refreshed
for the final ritual.
It had been a
coat, the thing they drew out of the plastic bag. It was still coat shaped but
whatever material it had once been was overlapped by crepe paper frills, silver
foil slippers and bells, light long ribbons of red and deep blue, milk bottle
tops strung in dozens and bangles of washers and bolts on wire. Out of the
basket came the hat, a picture hat tied and tied again with more ribbons and
frills, a row of milk bottle tops around the brim. The shoes had been sprayed
silver and threaded with red ribbon. In the bottom of the basket sat the potty.
The potty was
an insignia, always trimmed with the same strange and customary things even
though few of the girls understood their significance as symbols. It was enough
that they sensed its importance, and went on laying the bed of salt, propping
the largest white meal pudding they could find into the gritty base, spraying a
few copper coins around the pudding, adding the dummy tit and trimming the pot
with coloured paper. Jean's pudding was a whopper, ten inches at least, but she
smiled at the sight of it and could not find it obscene for she knew its purpose
was celebration and not mockery. The pudding's forced tumescence was a promise
and no-one raised an eyebrow at its superficial hint. Jean was dressed very
quickly and stood quietly to receive the last hurried visitors and their good
wishes as the other girls put on coats and shoes for the walk through the town.
Maisie had the school bell and began to ring it the moment the party was out of
the factory door. The others sang and shouted as they moved in a group up the
Jean through the High Street, taking up the pavement and a bit of the road and
the people shopping moved good naturedly out of their way and joined in the
cheering. Cars slowed without tooting their horns once they saw what was
blocking their path and drivers leaned out of windows to add their whoop of
encouragement. Jean walked proudly, holding the ceremonial potty high under her
breasts, grinning back at the laughing faces they passed, and her coat of many
noises jingled and rustled as she moved. She caught a fleeting glimpse of one
shocked face, a face above fur emerging from a bank but it disappeared behind
her followers and there, at the next corner stood her sisters and more friends
who greeted the party with a deafening chorus of football rattles and tin horns.
They moved towards the bus station trailing a festival air behind them so that
people began to smile at nothing in particular. The party commandeered the bus,
infecting the other passengers with the strength of their gaiety and even the
tired conductress managed a laugh as she whirred out the thirty-four tickets in
a coil of beige paper that curled around her legs. They pinned the ticket roll
like a toil onto Jean's bottom and sang their way through the three miles to her
house. The conductress yelled "Good Luck, hen !" after Jean as she left the bus
and they made their way up the street
In the Three
Kings, not three miles away, Tommy fidgetted in his seat. The sawdust in his
groin was raising a rash, he knew, and it would be a few baths before it was all
gone. They were on the fourth version of "The Wild Rover" and the table was like
a collapsed chandelier with beer glasses in a finely balanced heap, kept up by
the knees of those present. "Give a song, Billy !" someone cried, ''The one
about the whore and the sauce bottle''. Billy sang
One of your seed is still in me
Granted an undetermined extension on its lifespan
Given correct development
Its fellow travellers are all dead and flushed away
Coffined in rainbow tissues
They met a watery death
Down the pan
This survivor makes me sick
Morning and night I vomit the truth of it
The dance it performs with the giant egg it inhabits
I testify to life with every heave
My full womb and empty stomach
FOUR LETTER WORDS
It's bandied around by the kids for a lark
It's put into practice as soon as it's dark
It's done every night by the rich and the poor
To do it is worse than to say it I'm sure
Connolly has observed, "swearing is nasty. Everybody hates it and everybody does
it-for some obscure reason" Up till now, VOICES has had no definite policy on
the subject of swear-words, although some strongly differing views clearly exist
among our readers and contributors. It has even been suggested that the use of
such words in VOICES represents a sort of "slumming" or "writing down to the
working-class" so that the writers can pose as "working-class blokes"
themselves. This particular criticism (made two or three issues back) surely
depends on the extent to which the writers can be said to be working-class
themselves. Anyway, we have taken up Sid Booth's suggestion of initiating a
serious discussion on the subject, starting with the following two contributions
which have been heavily censored (but only because of space). Replies of up to
500 words are invited.
words, like obscene statements, are obscene because they refer directly to
either sexual or excretory matters. It is this directness that is offensive
rather than whether they may be out of context or whether they are used as terms
of abuse. It is also true that in using such words out of context, as
'swear-words' or for emphasis, we reveal the fact that we feel that what the
words refer to is obscene. This sense of the obsceneness of sexual and excretory
matters is the motive-force behind both the recoil from and the use of obscene
D H Lawrence
believed that this loathing sprang from a maladjustment in the social
consciousness, and strove all his life to remedy it through his writings. His
novel, 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', provides the most notorious example of
Lawrence's approach, and about which he said:
with Lady C to make an adjustment in consciousness to the basic physical
realities ... it is just the awful and truly unnecessary recoil from these
things that I would like to break. It's a question of conscious acceptance
and adjustment-only that.
adjustment in public consciousness was to be brought about by writing about the
'basic physical realities' as though the taboo on doing so didn't exist. People
would read this 'tender phallic' novel and the process of adjustment would
begin. This of course didn't happen. People - or rather the censors - read the
novel, were outraged and 'savagely suppressed' it. Editions were later printed,
but all the official ones were expurgated. Thus the whole point of the novel was
in Lawrence's shock tactics is simply that such an approach to obscenity is only
feasible if people first understand that the roots of obscenity lie in a
habitual way of seeing sexual matters and are willing to begin to make an
adjustment. But not only in consciousness. The change has got to take into
account an adjustment to the way in which the basic physical realities
themselves are approached both at the individual level and socially. Such a
change must begin from an understanding that obscenity lies in perception, in
the way in which we see sexual and excretory matters. And when this
understanding has begun, it is the willingness to make changes in laws and
social and economic institutions which reinforce these ways of seeing that will
ultimately banish obscenity and its twin, pornography, from our consciousness.
meanwhile, until debate is publicly under way, until in fact the way in which
society as a whole perceives sexual and excretory matters begins to change,
those writers whose job partly is to reflect the social consciousness must also
continue to reflect its outward form. Which means that they must continue to
show that both being shocked by and using obscene words proceed from a social
consciousness which sees sexual and excretory matters as obscene.
Out of all
this, certain questions arise. How should a writer deal with obscenity ? Should
he act as censor and 'clean up' the language of his characters ? Or should he
faithfully reproduce in fiction the obscene ?
I think the
prose in VOICES, although good and varied in content, often lacks form and is
too wordy. Much of the prose seems to be short stories and I suspect the authors
have little regard for form and are solely concerned with content. (It may well
be that there is no longer any objection to a story having a number of themes or
additional ideas which do not help it along, or a rambling style.)
If you are
writing verse, it forms and rhythms force you to be reasonably economical in
words and to search for the most suitable ones for what you want to say. The
short story does not force you to do this but is most effective if the writer
disciplines himself to use only the most suitable words and only those ideas
which will help the story to its conclusion without delay.
For me too a
short story must work its way to a climax either in action or psychologically
even if I do not appreciate all its subtleties. Some of the writing in VOICES
which is written as short stories seems to have so little story line that I
wonder if the content would have been better suited to another form of prose
writing or even sometimes expanded into novel form.
language". I have no objection to it if it forms a necessary part of the story;
if the story can't be properly told without it. But this is really only fitting
it into the economy of words which I've been talking about. I have no strong
feelings about it as such. Like repetition generally and unnecessary adjectives,
it tends to be boring and, if used frequently enough, meaningless.
I am aware
that in civilian life and outside work it seems to be used more frequently by
both sexes, and if certain teenagers I know are speaking truthfully it is common
in their families, nothing barred. If this is so, presumably we shall continue
to have it in literature. It is presumably the "in thing" so we may mercifully
be spared the boredom of it when something else replaces it.
the piece in one issue (VOICES 3, also FIREWEED 8 Ed.) called "Nietzsche's
Birthday" ? In this one character treats us to some crude obscenities. We've all
met such people but in real life we usually know other and more admirable sides
to their personalities, and these leaven the obscenity if it is distasteful. In
the story however, we know nothing more about him and distaste becomes disgust,
no doubt, for many readers. I think obscenity should be treated sparingly and
again only as a necessary part of the story.
becomes less and less secretive perhaps obscenity will become anachronistic-it
may be already with the younger generation.
CULTURE FOR THE WORKERS
The worker puts pen to paper
He writes of life today
Expresses workers' power
Solidarity, his words say.
The worker becomes an orator
He speaks of life today
Speaks of class struggle
Tells us to make them pay.
The worker becomes an actor
He acts Out life today
Acts plays of revolution
Scenes that show the way.
The worker becomes an artist
He paints about life today
Paints working-class people
Models our strength in clay.
The worker becomes a dancer
He dances life today
Dances the dance of victory
Creates the workers ballet.
The workers develop their class
They live the life of today
They develop their own culture
They now practice all they say.
even the things that started off really frightenin' usually ended up dead funny:
like when the owl fellers came out the ale house and some of them would start
fightin' but they'd only push each other around as if they were scared of hurtin'
each other and afterwards me and me mates would take them off, sort of take the
piss out of them, saying things like, 'Who are you shovin' ?" and "Just you try
it", to each other. Even when the women came out fightin' over the kids, and
your stomach would go all cold and sick if it was your main, even then it could
be a laugh: like when me main and Mrs Roach were shoutin' and some feller from
the tennies came down with one of those megaphones and gave it to Roachie's
main; well her and me main couldn't keep their faces straight then and though
they tried to carry on, like, it was no good and they went inside and pissed
But here in
Crosbie Heights It's not like that any more. Even those same fellers who
everyone called shithouses, the ones who'd only shove each other, now they go
chargin' into each other kickin' and buttin'. And the women too, those ones who
used to come out every mornin' and sandstone the step and scrub the tiles and
next door's too, well they just don't give two fucks any more and they just ram
their bins into the chute no matter how blocked it is, and leave trails of beans
and greasy gravy all down the wall.
and Tommy Taylor used to live in Greenside. Their family was the biggest in the
street; there were millions of them; but Albie and Tommy were grown-ups like and
they weren't 'arf big, about six feet tall and dead fat. They used to work on
the buildin' but I always remember them laid off and just sittin' there, the two
of them like, on the step. They'd 'ave the "Daily Herald" open at the racing
page and if I walked past they'd start talkin' to me dead nice and ask who I was
playin' for now and how much was it in the boys' pen these days and all that
toffee. I knew what was coming like. Then they'd ask me where I was
goin'-"Ciggies for me mam"-and then they'd get their packets out and scrape ten
Woodies together and sell us them tuppence cheaper. They'd charge over to the
bettin' shop and I'd see them about two hours later. They'd give me threepence
and send me into Coxhills for loosies 'cos they didn't like goin' in
themselves-for loosies like. They'd got skint y'see.
and Tommy and all the Taylors moved into Canterbury Heights a few weeks after we
went into Crosbie. They were on the ninth floor, same as us, and we could see
across into their flat; they always left the light on.
moved in Albie just seemed to get bigger and fatter and everyone got to know him
and like him and even the ones who didn't like him were scared of him. He used
to take his old feller down to the Bent's House at the bottom of Willy 'Enny and
Albie would just stand there at the bar makin' faces at people he knew and now
and then he'd spit into his ale to fill it up a bit and everyone would laugh 'cos
they all liked
Albie. When he was really pissed he'd put his arm around his dad and say in a
dead loud voice 'ow much he loved him and sometimes, if he'd had a touch on the
horses, he'd buy all the owl women (they wore those black stringly shawls and
just sat in the corner eyeing everyone up) a Guinness and they'd take it and
talk about him through the froth on their little wispy beards. Even when he was
skint Albie would still get his ale; he'd put the arm on someone goin' for a pee
and the feller would look up at Albie and shrug his shoulders and make like he
was skint too but Albie would just nod kind of impatiently and pull a face and
the feller would always cough up. I used to love seem' Albie. He was probably
the biggest tea-leaf around there, and he always knew where there was any gear
goin', but I always felt safe when he was there-and happy too I suppose.
I used to
feel like that with Tommy too but he didn't 'arf change after they moved into
the Heights; he didn't get fatter like, just thinner and every time I saw him he
was moanin' about somethin' or other: like the kids on top of the lift or the
chute blocked up or old ma Hodgkin's alsatian which was always goin' for him
across the landin'. He stopped knockin' around with Albie as much as he used to
but even when he did you'd see them bump into a mate and Albie and this mate
would start laughin' and jokin' but Tommy would just stand there fed up. Then
Albie would get to feel a bit awkward and say 'tarra' to his mate and then
they'd walk off, Albie talkin' away, his arms goin' fifty to the dozen, Tommy
just mopin' along beside him, his hands in his pockets or behind his back and
his eyes cast down on the ground.
himself a year after they moved into the Heights. It was June and we were all
playin' out between the Heights; we were slidin' down this kind of paved hill on
some old chrome trays and the noise was just bouncin' off the walls and all the
owl women had been out shoutin' at us to 'f' off. I don't know who saw him first
but in a few seconds everyone on the ground was quiet and lookin' up but I think
there was a woman in Crosbie Heights shoutin' somethin' like "O Son, O Son".
Tommy only seemed to wait till everyone was lookin'; then he bent his knees and
jumped. At first he started to call out somethin' - I think he meant to shout
"Timber" but he stopped at "Ti..." and the rest was just a kind of sob. It was
probably the wind rushin' through him that stopped it but someone said
afterwards that when you fall a long way all your guts are forced up to your
throat so you can't scream; you just choke and you're dead before you hit the
floor. Just like if you're in the lift and it breaks and falls, the top of the
lift will crash against your head and kill you before you reach the bottom. It's
no good thinkin' of jumpin' up and down in the lift and hopin' you're in the air
when it touches. When Tommy was in the air he looked as though he was tryin' to
land on his feet but he came down backwards and his head and shoulders hit the
concrete first. It's funny to say this, like, but when he hit his head I thought
of Easter eggs and the way they smash open when you drop them.
Some of me
mates went to get Albie from the alehouse and the rest of us just milled around
Tommy's body, watchin' the blood seepin' out and the flies already comin' down
and flyin' away and buzzin' then comin' again; you kind of expected Tommy to
move his hands and brush them away but nothing moved, just the flies. Some of me
mates were gigglin' and whisperin' to each other about how wet his kecks were
and had he shit himself as well on the way down.
Big and fat
and surrounded by kids and his arms chug chuggin' away, and his face drippin'
with sweat, Albie came up the square. He turned round the corner like he meant
business but then the wind and the sight of Tommy lying there hit him and his
legs began to wobble a bit. One hand went up to his throat and he put the other
against the wall and kind of felt his way back around the corner. Then he put
his back against the wall and just lolled there looking up at the sky, his hands
on his throat sobbin' and half chokin'. We tried to get him to come and look at
Tommy but he didn't budge, didn't say anythin', just slouched there lookin' up
at the sky, out of the wind, away from his brother. This copper came then-only a
young one-and old ma Hodgkins said it was touch and go who looked worse, the
copper or poor Tommy. He tried to move us away, like they always do, but we kept
comin' back and in the end the copper gave up, just looked at us all and said a
few things to nobody in particular and looked at the flies roamin' around in the
wind. "Tell them to buzz off", Roachie said and we all said that that was a good
go to the alehouse that night-as a Mark of Respect, someone said-but he was seen
at the bottom of the Heights, painting something on the ground where Tommy
landed. The next day we saw what it was he'd painted: a black figure of a man
and next to it he'd written KILLED BY THE COUNCIL in big red letters. Albie gave
out that if anybody touched it he'd touch them. It stayed like that for about a
week but then someone must 'ave sneaked up to it in the night 'cos one morning
there was a twelve inch cock and a pair of balls spray-painted on to it-in
purple. Well after that some of the women started to call it "obscene"-you
couldn't miss it like 'cos it was just outside the entrance-and they started
sayin' that it should be moved but no one was going to move it, least of all
their husbands 'cos they didn't want to be touched by Albie.
A few weeks
later we were all playin' out, tryin' to set fire to the see-saw again, when
this geezer in a suit went over to the picture. He sort of walked around it two
or three times and then he wrote somethin' in his book and he wrinkled his nose
up as he looked up and down the two Heights-like Important People always do. But
then Albie's voice came boomin' out: "Just you try it, mate; that's all; just
you try it" and Albie was leanin' over the balcony and shakin' his fist. The
Important Person shut his book and put his pen in his inside pocket and
straightened his tie as he looked up at Albie. Then he walked away.
came down then and a few of the other women too. Someone said there was gonna be
Hell to Pay and someone said there was gonna be 'Igh Ding Dong and someone else
said she'd only come down to see what's what and wouldn't the sun be crackin'
the flags if they weren't all cracked already. Me and me mates said there was
gonna be Lumber. In about an hour the square was chocker-l'd never seen so many
people there, apart from that day when we 'arf-inched the earth mover. But it
was a good few hours till the fellers from the Council came.
they did come it was a bit of a let-down like 'cos we were expectin' land rovers
and black marias and everythin' and all we got was this battered old van
clatterin' up the square and one feller wearin' glasses and another feller
wearin' overalls and carryin' one of those yard scrubbers, a tin of scourin'
powder and a bucket of dirty water. The feller in glasses didn't need to ask who
Albie was; he just walked up to him and smiled and took him by the arm to one
side and started talkin' quietly to him. I could hear words like "Sympathy" and
"understand" and "predicament"-y'know those words they use. Albie stood there
noddin' like he always did. Roachie said that one of those nods was gonna go
right into four eyes face but I was reckonin' on him using the knee-on account
of the glasses, see. All of a sudden the council feller sort of rolled his eyes
to the man in overalls and made a face tellin' him to get started but all the
time he kept chattin' up Albie with "sympathy" and "embarrassment" and all that.
Old overalls dipped the scrubber into the dirty water. Some of it slopped out
and started to seep into Albie's paintin'. Albie was standin' on its feet; he
had his hands in his pockets and his pot belly was hangin' out. There was a
button missin' at the bottom of his shirt so you could see his belly through it,
all creased, and some of the hair was kind of spiralling through the gap as
well. He just stood there and his big baggy eyes were wet and tears were slidin'
down his sweaty face.
quiet now and expectin' Albie to do somethin' but he was still just stood there,
lookin' down at the grey scum that the water and the scourin' powder and the
black paint made. At the end of the scum you could see a thin line of purple
startin' to run into the grey and the whole lot was lappin' around Albie's
shoes. Everyone was lookin' at good old Albie-Go 'ed, Albie; give it to 'im,
mate- and then one by one we just kind of bowed our heads to look at the scum as
Albie started to blubber over and over again, "'E was our kid, y'see, our kid",
and the yard brush went scrub-scrub, scrub-scrub on the concrete.
THE NINE O'CLOCK BREW
Like chickens on a roost
Sat on tool boxes between the vices
Eating sandwiches from bread wrappers
Drinking tea fresh brewed in the mug
All aware that the bell that started and ended brew time
Knew no friends gave no favours
10 minutes every morning precisely allocated
Hot tea, sandwiches, soccer results, news headlines
Gulped down quickly.
But today Allan sang "Mammy" and did the soft shoe shuffle
His mates watched
The electric treatment hadn't worked
Now the tablets were working too well
Allan had gone over the top
The second bell rang and the foreman's office opened
The men slid from the benches as he walked nearer to them
But Allan, knees on the ground sang 'See Them Shuffling Along"
Grabbing the Foreman's overalls as he passed
"For Christ sake get off your arse"
He said, as he always said at this time of day
And as sullen mugs were washed
Papers folded in overall pockets
It was rumoured that the foreman didn't know his arse from his knee caps
GOING TO WORK
I drift into reality about six forty five
Then the alarm drills a hole in the head about
I kill it and lie there thinking
My little friend stirs a little
and pulls half the blankets onto her side
I think of the factory in all its drabness
Then I look at her, so soft and cosy
Like a lamb draped in her mother's fleece
I get up, make the tea, get dressed and scratch
As a thrush sings to a virgin sky
And the milkman says hallo
I get me bike out and try to tell myself honest I really try
That it's worth creaking off on that heap of scrap
And not going back to where it's all warm and cosy
But she's brighter than the manager
And not petty like the foreman
She's bonnier than the chargehand
And the timekeeper, let's forget about the timekeeper
But, by that time I'm nearly there.
A POEM FOR MY SISTER
She is small, my sister
And fair of face and feature
But always she looks straight ahead
and rarely a smile to lift
the corners of her mouth.
And yet one night when we were dancing
to the music of her youth,
and friends around us
drinking in her home,
I saw behind her face
So small she looked
so dainty and delicate.
How she danced this tiny girl-child,
and with what softness she caressed her dog
as though it was of herself.
And at ease there in the massive armchair
she looked to me for all the world
a small child.
She opened up before me,
and showed me inside to where her joy and
and laughed and her eyes lit up,
and how her face did play
I had never seen
this tiny child beside me
Such a softness
inside that hard outside
pressed on her by life.
She had said so many years before,
my daddy does not want me any more,
Well, if he won't play,
then neither will I
And she locked away her games
and threw away the key,
for many years.
And she lived alone
and walked with one hand
on the warm arm of her consort,
and never looked behind or aside,
and trailed her childhood in the dust
like fading robes behind her.
Always he is there, like a guardian,
her constant companion
in her otherwise aloneness.
Look inside yourself, sister,
A KIND OF ACHIEVEMENT
seemed to attract attention.
Started on a small scale.
Two inches of column depth
in the local newspaper edged
in black rules, his age (15)
in parenthesis after his name
among those of his friends,
neatly encapsulated under
the heading 'Vandals Fined'.
He didn't stop there though.
Not much later he was
one of the faces in the
sullen crowd filmed for a
local TV slot. He stood,
slightly bewildered behind
the spokesman who urged
Government subsidy for
Three years after that
he died in Belfast, half-tone
blood on half-tone uniform
-but it made the front
page of the nationals
and the lead story
in at least one
When belts and pads are supplied
Now that womanhood's arrived,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
When the streptococci start to breed
As the womb begins to bleed,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
When monthly blues make you moan
And the greatest need is to be alone,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
When little brother starts to bleat
About strange stains on the sheet,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
When strangers start to gaze
On shapes a bodice can't erase,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
When the fingers start to explore
The new curves more and more,
"Wash your hands" says Aunty Daisy.
Only time passing makes you wise
Now I can say to my surprise
"Stuff you", Aunty Daisy.
THE NEW UNITED
The evening headlines read
Not Marx or Brezhnev or Carrillo
But McGarry indeed
Newcastle once again
Train threading past chimney pots
Picks the most unlikely way to cross the Tyne
Trying to work a flanker on the Scots
Twelve years ago, St James's Park
Peanut husks and Denis Law flying through the air
And bombs in Vietnam no doubt
Though at the time I neither knew nor cared
1965 and the US Marines
Firing their shells where the guerrilla wasn't
And at my end of the park David Herd
Thumping the ball where the goal wasn't
1977 and big centre-forwards
And B52s find it harder to score
Crowds getting restless on the terraces
And Uncle Sam has lost the war
Now there's concerts for Vietnam
in Manchester Cathedral
And Cloughie and Jackie Charlton have
joined the anti-fascist scene
And walking down the street I'm wondering
"Is this it ?-
"Is this the new United that Bill McGarry
ON OUR WAY TO WHERE?
could be taken to mean that we don't know where we're going, which is both true
and not true. VOICES has certain broad, but specific, aims which, apart from
distinguishing it from other publications, help to give it continuity and
direction. However, the extent to which we can fulfil these aims (ie where we
are going in practice) will be determined ultimately by those actively
involved-writers and readers, subscribers and sponsors, editors and critics,
convenors of writers' workshops, people involved in production and distribution
of the magazine. For all of us, a brief look at where VOICES has come from is
probably both useful and necessary.
different ways of telling the same story. A more practical person than myself
might have started with Ben Ainley's classes on "Literature and the
Working-Class", held at New Cross Labour Club, Manchester, in the winter of 197
1-72; or perhaps with the first AGM of Unity of Arts Society, held in a
condemned warehouse in Back George Street in the centre of Manchester in
September 1969. On the other hand, I would be tempted to look back to the
picture of Robert Tressell, dying of tuberculosis as he completes the task of
writing "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists"; or to around the year 1950, when
two young Communist artists, Sol Garson and Brian Ridgeway, would have been
working together in Manchester's Unity Theatre. But I shall start with
Resolution 42, brainchild of Arnold Wesker, adopted by the 1960 Trades Union
recognises the importance of the arts in the life of the community especially
now when many unions are securing a shorter working week and greater leisure for
their members. It notes that the trade union movement has participated to only a
small extent in the direct promotion of films, plays, music, literature and
other forms of expression including those of value to its beliefs and
considers that much more could be done and accordingly requests the General
Council to conduct a special examination and to make proposals to a future
Congress to ensure a greater participation by the trade union movement in all
1960-67 were the years of Centre 42, Wesker's ambitious project for a national
cultural centre to serve the labour movement. Centre 42 was also the only
concerted attempt to put Resolution 42 into practice. To Wesker, "the artist
co-operating with the trade unionist could easily prove a meeting out of which
is built the new tradition." On the face of it, Centre 42 died a failure, and
its most obvious legacy was the Roundhouse, a monument to that failure. Wesker's
book, "Fears of Fragmentation", records both the unsuccessful struggle and more
importantly, the ideas behind it.
It was in
this context that in 1967 Sol Garson (sculptor) and Brian Ridgeway (painter)
decided to broaden out their plans for a studio. The fourth floor of the
warehouse on Back George Street became a studio with keyholding membership, and
a group centred on art classes developed into Manchester Unity of Arts Society
under the guidance of its first chairman, Sid Booth, artist, active member of
the AEU, and former International Brigader. By November 1969, Unity of Arts had
called a conference at the AEU offices in Salford to discuss how Resolution 42
might be implemented "with the help of the labour, trade union, co-operative
organisations in the area". One of the new recruits was writer Frank Parker who
came along as delegate from the AEU District Committee and has remained
Treasurer of Unity of Arts to the present day. In this period, Unity of Arts'
biggest achievement was an art exhibition sponsored by the Bury District of the
AEU. Its biggest failure was perhaps its inability to fulfil the offer of an
exhibition at Congress House made by Vic Feather.
of Arts as a whole was suffering from organisational problems and loss of
premises, Ben Ainley's literature classes were going from strength to strength.
Ben (a retired teacher with 50 years of activity in the NUT and peace movement
behind him) made it a central part of his classes to encourage workers to start
writing for themselves. By early 1972, although the art and cinema groups were
no longer meeting, and the plans for music and theatre sections had never
materialised, the literature group were ready to go into print for the first
time. Of the title, VOICES, Ben Ainley observed in his editorial: "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." This quality was perhaps reflected in the fact that not all the
typists were on the same wavelength-and so VOICES 1 is made up of a mixture of
quarto and foolscap sheets stapled together, at a price of l5p. The present
editor started writing for VOICES soon after, having been introduced to Ben as a
young building worker by union official John Madden.
slowly relying heavily on donations-and Ben Ainley's perseverance, bringing out
five issues in the first three years. May 1975 marks the start of regularity: a
smaller, neater A5 format; a price of 30p which we have managed to maintain
until now; publication at quarterly intervals; and a sub-heading which remained
for some eight issues: "Working-Class Poetry and Prose with a Socialist Appeal."
with this motto was that it was open to a wide variety of interpretations (to
judge by material received) that were not always too close to the aims of Unity
of Arts (now reprinted on the inside cover of each VOICES). Much of the material
was still too esoteric to be enjoyed, or even understood by the non-literary
reader (to judge by criticism). There has been a growing awareness of the need
to publish work which is a more faithful reflection of working-class experience
and which is more accessible to a mass readership. This move away from the
poetry of metaphysics and abstract ideas (to which VOICES has in any case always
been less prone than other publications) has been made easier for us by the work
of writers' workshops such as Commonword (Manchester), Scotland Road (Liverpool)
and London VOICES group.
Now VOICES is
in a stronger position than ever to challenge some of the most commonly held
illusions about working-class writing: the idea that to appeal to a non-literary
readership it is necessary to resort to the techniques of the "popular press";
the assumption that committed" writing has to be didactic or polemical-the moral
fable or the hymn fervently reaffirming one's faith; the feeling that
working-class writing is an area of inferiority where marks are awarded for
"trying", or that it occasionally turns up something "good enough to go in
'Readers' Digest "'.
working-class writing is different, both in style and in content. Which is why
our motto now reads simply, "working-class stories and poems". Someone asked me
recently, "How do you decide who is a working-class writer? Do you use a means
test ?" The answer is, "No", we read what they've written. We now have the basis
of a broad, active editorial collective for the first time in VOICES history, so
that decisions will hopefully not be too subjective.
At the same
time, we have raised our print order from 1000 to 1500 copies and are now
available to all progressive bookshops through the Publications Distribution
Co-operative. But above all we would like to increase our sales to people who
seldom go in these bookshops.
So if we are
asking, "Where do we go from here ?" it is on the one hand from a position of
strength that we do so. It is because we welcome the opinions of worker-writers
and people in the labour, trade union and co-operative movement. But it is also
because we want more practical involvement. We hope that by VOICES publishing
work from the various writers' workshops, each will be helping the other. We
hope that our contributors and supporters will take copies of VOICES (at a
reduced price) to sell to their workmates and friends. We hope that trade
unionists will take VOICES into their branches, district committees, trades
councils and possibly get standing orders for VOICES. Even at the new price of
40p we are still dirt-cheap compared with other publications.
In the short
term, then, we aim to provide a link between worker-writers and the organised
trade union movement. In the slightly longer-term, by also developing links
through Unity of Arts with people in other branches of the arts, perhaps we can
help to reopen discussion on Resolution 42 within the labour movement.
Today, as I
write, the prospects look mixed. On the one hand, the Labour Party has recently
brought out a new policy document on the arts, among its aims "to make the arts
available and relevant to all people". The Communist Party has organised two
"People's Festivals" (in London and Manchester) which have brought together a
wide range of progressive artists this year.
On the other
hand, Conservative Party control of local government is already threatening
community theatre groups. In Manchester, "NorthWest Spanner" have had their Arts
Council grant cut off for what appear to be purely political reasons. In
London's East End, it appears that "Wilton's Music Hall", which in the hands of
the "Half Moon" group might have become a living community theatre, will now
become a national theatre of music hall; instead of a theatre for today, we will
have a glorified museum, a never-ending obituary to an age which is dead and
gone (but which some would dearly like to bring back).
British film industry is dead. Ironically, it was the cinetechnicians union,
ACTT, which proposed Resolution 42 to the TUC back in 1960. Which reminds me of
something Arnold Wesker wrote in the Unity of Arts programme in 1969
remains the same in this life for very long-you either grow or you rot-and this,
I believe, is the challenge of being alive ... Some things in life carry on in
their own natural way - the forest
grows and dies, animals come and go, but other things need our attention. The
crops need attention or they'll wither and produce nothing, a soup needs an
occasional stir or it'll burn. Certain things need some agitation, enlivening,
stirring-and this principle applies with equal force to the human spirit. The
human spirit either thrives or disintegrates - it can't stand still ..."
As long as we
fail in "stirring the human spirit", it means others are succeeding in crushing
THE DEAR DEPARTED
Some said how
he had been
to the deserving poor,
some said what a sod
he must have been
to leave all that