cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
Editorial Rick Gwilt
For Whom Do You Write? Bob Cooney
The Day of the Rat Jimmy McGovern
He Never Complained Ralph Peacock
Two Poems by Mary Casey
Running Early Mick Doyle
Before the Rape Arthur Adlen
Children's Corner: Would it Matter? Winifred Froom
The Tunnel Miners' Deaths Tom Durkin
They Educate Pete Relph
Those Were The Days Bill Eburn
Sunday Times Photograph Ouaine Bain
Pete's Misery Dave Barnes
A Debt Sue Shrapnel
You will not simplify me when I'm dead Paul E. Piggott
A Pair of Kings Ralph Peacock
Chewing Point (Four letter words) Bill Eburn
Poem to a Poster of Karl Marx Phil Boyd
Gay News Celia Roberts
Sticky Food and Starchy Grub Mike Rowe
Division Frances Moore
Epitaph John Breheny
Chile and the Scots Tommy Walker
Dog Days Joy Matthews
Inheritance Bill Eburn
Hello, Are you working? A Review Rick Gwilt
"Selling Yourself" Terence Monaghan
"Creeping Paralysis" Dickie Beavis
Today and Yesterday Henry Ashby
Rising Tide Bill Eburn
A Tribute to Jack Frost Jack Frost
EDITORIAL A PERSONAL VIEW
fool can get complicated. It takes genius to attain simplicity." This is in fact
Pete Seeger paying tribute to Woody Guthrie, but at times I almost wish we could
adopt it as a motto for VOICES.
There is a
healthy working-class tradition of calling a spade a spade. The middle-class
tradition might be more inclined to say:
sturdy, long, flat-ended rod,
with which he broke the unturned sod"
The latter is
doubtless more "poetic". Does that make it better poetry ? Or does its
pretentiousness make it ten times worse ? The answer will clearly depend on the
reader's class standpoint and sensibility as much as his or her literary taste.
distinctions between working-class and middle-class have indeed become blurred
and are rightly under debate, but it would surely be wrong to expect a simple
reflection of this at the level of culture. Even if the working-class is the
dominant force in a process of political change, it must consciously reassert
its own culture if this is to survive. Otherwise we run the risk that Lenin
towards the end of his life became increasingly aware of:
conquering nation is more cultured than the vanquished nation, the former
imposes its culture on the latter; but if the opposite is the case, the
vanquished nation imposes its culture on the conquerors."
As I have
indicated, this view is very much a personal one. Not everyone will necessarily
agree, the aims of Unity of Arts being pretty general. Some people may suspect a
sort of inverted snobbery, while others will no doubt be genuinely concerned at
the danger of throwing out the cultural baby with the middle-class bathwater.
But there are a number of practical implications in this argument for those of
us involved, in one way or another, with VOICES.
material, are we simply looking for "good writing" or for contributions to
working-class culture? When so much of our poetry is like fancy wrapping paper
with little inside it, are we even sure what we mean by "good writing"? What
price do we put on technical expertise in the hands of people with nothing much
VOICES, are we aiming at patrons of arts centres or working-class readers? If it
is the latter, then what are we setting up as models: pieces of "high culture"
which invite either derision or sheer wonder? Or pieces that will make people
say, "I've often thought that myself !" or "It's a bit like what happened to me
!" When readers start saying, "Hey, I could write something like that !", my
reaction is, "Great, why don't you ?" I got a 'phone call from a VOICES
subscriber in Wigan. "I was amazed," he said, "to see that story from Liverpool,
'I Fought Norman Snow', because, you see, I did." Now I'm hoping we're going to
get a sequel.
events, such as the Ben Ainley Memorial Evening in Manchester, the Strong Words
launching in Newcastle, and the "Pictures and Pints" exhibition in Glasgow, have
undoubtedly chalked up successes for working-class culture, even if they have
not always received due credit. For example, the Morning Star's report of the
Ben Ainley Evening referred only to a tribute from Frank Allaun MP, who was not
even at the meeting. In fact, the event consisted, not of speeches of tribute,
but of readings from Ben's memoirs and from VOICES. If this had been mentioned,
it would have turned the statement that "Ben's influence will live on long after
his death" from a cliche into a concrete reality. A short letter pointing this
out was not considered worthy of publication. Old habits die hard, I suppose And
yet there was a time when poetry was common in the workers' newspapers.
Communist Party, other sections of the labour movement have, on the whole, been
slow to take an interest, but there are encouraging signs. For example, an
informal meeting with members of the Manchester District Committee of the AUEW a
few months ago led to Ernie Howell taking on responsibility for VOICES there.
Ernie has already built up a guaranteed order of 25, which shows what can be
welcome more stories, poems, illustrations, photographs. Writers should send
copies of their work, not originals, as it takes some time for material to find
its way around the editorial collective. All material sent with s.a.e. will find
its way back eventually though. Everyone listed under Editorial Board has taken
part in producing this VOICES, although for practical reasons not all the
material has been seen by all the members. This editorial has been written in
the belief that our selection policy should be a matter for open debate, and we
hope our readers will write in with their opinions.
FOR WHOM DO YOU WRITE?
Tell Me Mr Poet
For WHOM do you write? For me?
If you'd write for me, I have something to ask of you
You see I am a worker, I do not move in poets' circles
Maybe I should - maybe I will - one day
But it is not easy
You see I am a worker - I am not dull
My perceptions are quick
They HAVE to be - or soon I'd be redundant
But I work Hard - I come home tired
And could sleep
But that would not be life
And oh how I want to live
To be a cultured man . you can help me Mr Poet - if you will
Lenin said: "Shall we make fine cakes for the few
while the masses still lack bread?"
I am hungry for the bread of culture
You can help me . if you will
Give me your message
Don't wrap it up in something miscalled "Style"
All tangles - knots and snarls
I try to undo the knots
And only hurt my fingers . and give up in despair
wondering if there is a content - or if you're selling
me some trick-parcel
Help me Mr Poet
Have your style
There's beauty in style - sometimes
Beauty to draw me on
And lead me to the truths that poets tell
Have your style - but let it be a BRIDGE -and not a barrier 'twixt you and I
Do you want to be immortal, Mr Poet?
You CAN be immortal - I will tell you how -Write for me
For I - and millions like me -are building a new world
All that we are will go into that world
And you will be part of me
THERE is your way to immortality
WRITE FOR ME
OF THE RAT
a 12-year-old remembers
the day we found the rat in Billy Carey's lobby. The rat was grey and wet and it
was moving its feet a lot and scratching the floor but it wasn't getting very
far. Black stuff was coming out of its nose.
went to Grammar School so we sent to his house for a ruler to measure the rat.
It was six inches long, but its tail measured seven inches, and Jack O'Reilly
said that if it had been another five inches, it would have been half a yard
long. Five inches didn't seem a lot so we always afterwards described the rat as
half a yard long. It wasn't a big lie and I always counted it on Fridays at
None of us
would pick up the rat. Gerry Rowan was the best at picking up because he could
pick up a cockroach. I was second best, because I could pick up wood lice, but a
rat was something else. It was a hundred times worse than a centipede (Gerry
Rowan said) and even worse than an earwig, which could run up your sleeve and
eat your eardrum away. In the end, we got some sticks and poked them at the rat.
It's funny you know. We were in Billy Carey's lobby so he ought to have been in
charge. Gerry Rowan said that Billy ought to charge our mates for having a look,
but Billy didn't want to. He was scared of the rat and said that if it had been
found in someone else's lobby, he would have enjoyed himself torturing it, but
he didn't like the rat in his own lobby. He said that he was going upstairs to
tell his old feller.
man worked nights in the bakehouse at Rose Place. Billy's main used to say that
she was proud of her husband working 84 hours a week on nights to keep her and
the kids, and my mam used to say that my old man didn't know there were 84 hours
in the week In any case, my main said, Billy's main was on the game.
Billy's old man fizzing away upstairs until he could get the words out, and then
he gave Billy a belt which we all felt. When his old man came down the stairs,
we were scared stiff because he had only a shirt on and he was scratching his
balls and we knew he wasn't expecting anybody to be in the lobby. We all spewed
it before he could get the words out and the next time we saw him, he was coming
out of the house with his clothes on.
him cross over the street and pick up a brick and then he went back to the lobby
and hit the rat with the brick, and all the black stuff splashed over his face.
Then he put the rat in his pocket and marched off down the street. Billy's mam
come out and folded her arms and waited for the neighbours to come out too.
We knew that
Billy's old feller was going to see the Snotty Bitch and we had to trot to keep
up with him.
When we got
there, Billy's dad was in the queue. The Snotty Bitch was going on about points
again and then she offered this woman a flat in Kirkby and then when the old
woman kept on asking for a house, the Snotty Bitch started to tap her pencil and
look sideways at her mate like she always did. We thought we'd have to wait
about two hours for Billy's dad's turn when, all of a sudden, he just marched up
to the counter. The Snotty Bitch asked him his present address and Billy's dad
tried to get the words out but he couldn't. He was banging his fists against his
legs but he still couldn't say anything and all the time, the people in the
queue behind him were shouting "Frigging cheek", and all that kind of thing. The
Snotty Bitch started to tap her pencil and look sideways and then Billy's old
feller let out a roar and started crying and threw the rat over the rail.
but at first she didn't know it was a rat and then when she saw that it was a
rat, she just gurgled and fell forward and her face smacked against the rat and
she lay there for about five minutes.
two geezers came out of the office and took her away and they phoned the Police
and the Ambulance, and then they took Billy's dad inside and told him to pull
himself together because he couldn't stop crying. I was glad Billy wasn't there.
after this happened, Billy's mam got the offer of a new house in Cantril Farm
and they took it. We all kept looking in the Liverpool Echo, for a report of
what had happened but we didn't see anything. My dad, who is very clever and
uses a lot of big words, said that the Echo wouldn't report it because of the
implications. "Implications" must be very important because all that week there
were lists of the names of the people who had been fined for not having a telly
licence, and a big picture of a man who had worked at the same job for fifty
years, but there wasn't even a mention of Billy's dad.
Road Writers' Workshop, Liverpool)
HE NEVER COMPLAINED
Bing Crosby is dead and the papers decree
He was fifty-two years at the top of the tree
Fifty-two years of fame and command
And his country's media in the palm of his hand
And he never complained.
He never complained to you or to me
About death or famine or poverty
He never complained to 'Uncle Sam'
About Bangladesh or about Vietnam
He appeared unmoved by the Kennedy's fate
(And Attica and Watergate)
He just never complained.
Jane Fonda can protest and Dylan can sing
But none of the problems ever touched Bing
Through the struggles and torments of Redskins and Blacks
He sang about Christmas and kept on paying tax
If this is a good man, I don't want to know
I'd rather have those who stood up and said No
Those who complained.
He lived with his family in comfort and ease
While Calley's men slaughtered the Vietnamese
And never helped in verse or in song
The people who tried to atone for this wrong
He never admonished Bob Hope or John Wayne
For supporting causes where no one would gain
No, he never complained.
And now that he's destined for heaven forever
Who'll move over ? Che ? Ho ? Martin Luther ?—Never!
They always complained.
TO THE MAN COMPLAINING ABOUT THE SMELLY RUBBISH
Will you stop your ruddy moaning
Get off your backside, please
And move the smelly mattress
Full of dogs disease
Hijack a Corpy muckcart
Dump all your rubbish in
Drive to the Lord Mayor's Parlour
And bung it in his bin.
HOUSES LIKE THEY USED TO
Why can't they build houses like they used to,
Houses like we had in our Street,
With three little steps to the front door,
Steps we could paint and keep neat.
Steps we sat on in summer
and chatted to the women next door,
While watching the kids playing hopscotch
We knew they were safe and secure,
A parlour where Grandda could live in,
When he became bad on his feet,
With his bed by the open window,
He could talk to the folk in the street.
Houses with long lobbies that ended
with a wooden gate "me da" had made
where toddlers could play with their "mo mo's"
away from the stove, when it rained.
Street flags for the would-be artists,
to play OXO and draw with some chalk,
Who worried about kiddies' graffiti,
that the rain would wash off the sidewalk?
Why can't they build houses like they used to
instead of flats, upon flats, and then more,
Where you can't have a "dog" if you want to,
And you're a stranger to the women next door?
The report of my running early
The report Sir, is quite true
For the draught that I took did me dirty
Worked at ten instead of half two.
My wife she has the experience
Of aperients and fruits that you stew.
So, when she passed me the glass that would clear me
I smiled and I said "here's to you"
The Yanks have a system of warnings
For each storm and each hurricane
I have but one system, a stomach
No man could imagine the pain
My face through a passing shop window
Like chalk, and sunken each cheek
If the Old Man was alive God forgive me
He'd shed tears of blood for a week
Sir, explain I can't any further
In relating I'm reliving the past
I'm sweating, though today it's like winter
And I'm damp where my pants touch the grass.
(Red Star Workshop, Liverpool)
BEFORE THE RAPE
Before the rape, when I was young
and Wales was magic miles away,
the childhood of our summers spent
at bargain prices by the sea,
and there below Talacre's hill
we knew each other differently.
The sun would sow a bright red seed
to grow in the rose-hung garden there
and after breakfast, freshly scrubbed
when face and ears were made to glow,
with dinner wrapped in grease-proof paper,
three generations we would go.
Down the road to the rock 'n' roll sea,
buying hats and spades from a white-washed shop,
there I was as green as grass
around the hilltops where I'd play
happy as a sand-boy on
the beaches the eternal day.
Later while the hills were singing
lullabies on a beery breeze,
light prayers were rushed to a holy moon.
The drowsy night would dream a train
and as I closed my eyes to listen
could hear it whistle again and again
In making now this fragile promise
a summer's night is veiled in mist
so suddenly I lose myself,
too changed by distance and a death,
in times I can't remember
but never will forget
CHILDREN’S CORNER – WOULD IT
mother told him they were moving his feelings were mixed. "We're going to live
in another house" she told him one night, as he sat taking big bites out of his
bread and butter. It was nearly bed-time, and they were on their own. Reg had
gone to the club as usual. A lot of the children had mothers and no fathers; Reg
wasn't his father he knew, but he didn't bother much about such things. Once he
had heard his mother talking to a neighbour.
"Reg is very
good to me" she had said, "He's part-owner of a club down town. They do very
well, but the hours are awkward. Still, you can't have everything can you ?" The neighbour
"No, you couldn't and it would be worse still if Reg was home all day and
out all night, like the other one".
came, and they packed their few personal possessions into the boot of Reg's car.
Inside the new house, his mother took him upstairs.
are Roddy", she said. "How do you like that? a bedroom all to yourself. Reg and
I are just across the landing". Roddy was rather glad to hear this, he wasn't
used to privacy nor solitude, but going upstairs to bed was fun, and he spent a
few minutes enjoying the sensation, on the uncarpeted stairs, until Reg told him
to stop making such a racket
Out in the
garden Roddy climbed a tree the better to survey the possibilities around him.
Fancy having a garden with a tree in it ! He wished all his friends from the old
street could come and climb it too.
On Monday his
mother took him down the road to the local school. Roddy studied the Headmaster
intently as he stood beside his mother.
he was saying. "This is a predominantly white area". And in the classroom his
teacher was glad to see most of the children accepted Roddy right away. Except
needs one" came a menacing whisper. But Roddy was unaware of any pitfalls in his
path, until Friday afternoon.
the children lived in the same road as Roddy, and they trailed along from
school, dropping off in ones and twos from the ragged queue. Roddy stopped to
peer over a garden wall, and the two boys in front stopped too.
live there" said one.
doing ?" demanded the other. Roddy's teacher would have recognised the "child
at the flowers" replied Roddy mildly.
them alone, they don't like being looked at by niggers". Both boys giggled and
continued up the road.
Roddy was quiet, so quiet, Reg noticed it. "What's a nigger ?" asked Roddy
Reg and his
mother exchanged a glance.
both started to speak at the same time. Then Roddy's mother continued alone.
some people call somebody who's black. Who's got a black mother and father" she
"One of the
boys in my class, called me a nigger on the way home" Roddy told his mother.
know any better" she said. "Anyway, you're not a nigger" adding "you've got a
"But even if
you were black, would it matter ?" persisted Roddy, and the man and the woman
looked at each other again. Later on when Roddy was asleep they referred to the
said Roddy's mother.
notice" said Reg.
didn't think it up for himself' pursued Roddy's mother. "There's been some talk
notice" repeated Reg.
right for us" said Roddy's mother. She was right of course. There had been some
speculation. There always was when a house fell vacant. The rest of the
residents always waited anxiously to see who moved in, although rarely voiced
we've anything against a coloured family" was the most they said. And how could
they have anything, anyway. They'd never met one.
vary" came a cautious rejoinder. But until they saw Roddy they had nothing to go
on. "The little boy's coloured isn't he ?"
parents are white"....
"If they are
doubt she's his mother"....
forwards over the garden walls the remarks were tossed, and inevitably the
children playing in the long summer evenings caught and held one or two. Most of
the chatter went over
and the children soon accepted him. All except Noel, who seemed to like making
him feel different.
man's not your father is he ?" Roddy looked at Noel. "How do you know ?"
remained silent, Noel followed up with another question. "Where is your father
then ? In a prison perhaps?"
forwards like the remarks made by the adults the words went amongst the
children. The majority soon forget, but Noel and a couple of his friends kept
alive the curiosity. Even so, it might have all died down if it hadn't been for
the disappearance of Mrs Peters' cat. Everybody knew Nero, the majestic black
and white cat, with the red collar. Mrs. Peters was devoted to him.
understands every word I say" Twice a day she fed him minced meat or fish, and
in between gave him milk to drink. They lived in the house next door to Roddy
and his mother and Reg, and
herself, Mrs Peters wouldn't have noticed her neighbours. She was too absorbed
in Nero and his welfare. So long as people didn't upset Nero, they didn't upset
But one day
Nero was missing.
"He must be
shut in somewhere" she said, and went up and down the road, calling him by name,
and listening. She asked all the children if they'd seen Nero, and they had, but
couldn't remember when. Except Noel.
sitting on the wall of the house next to you" he informed Mrs Peters, So as soon
as she got the chance she asked Roddy if he'd seen Nero. He was climbing the
tree at the time, and at first couldn't make out where the voice came from.
little boy". It piped from somewhere on a level with him, and then he saw Mrs
Peters calling him from the window of the small back bedroom.
seen Nero little boy" she said. "He was seen sitting on your garden wall
haven't seen him" Roddy told her. "Have you lost him ?" "He hasn't been home for
his tea or his breakfast today'
"He must be
hungry then" said Roddy, to whom all meals seemed long overdue. "Perhaps he's
shut in somewhere ?"
I fear" admitted Mrs Peters. "But the gardens are full of potting sheds and
outhouses. He could be in any one of them."
surveyed the landscape from his tree.
"I can see
about twenty from this tree" he announced.
the thought, Mrs Peters withdrew her wispy grey head. Roddy felt quite sorry for
afternoon he strolled up the road from school, looking not at the flowers in the
gardens this time, but the sheds and outhouses. Noel and his friend waited for
him to catch up to them.
you done with Mrs Peters' cat ?" asked Noel.
surprise Roddy looked almost guilty.
faltered. "Why ?"
time it was seen alive, it was sitting on your garden wall" said Noel.
looked at him hopefully.
surprised if you'd got it shut in somewhere", then letting his imagination soar
he continued, "I know you people. You'll probably kill it and skin it, and ...
and .. - eat it ..."
The two of
them strolled on up the road leaving Roddy standing still, unable to think of a
reply. Reaching his own gate he was glad his mother was out for once. He wanted
time to think, to think what to do, to prove his innocence. And the only way to
do that was to find Nero. Sitting on his doorstep he tried to get inside Nero's
skin as he put it to himself. What would a cat do, a well-fed cat, with a
comfortable home do for a bit of a change ? A bit of an adventure, another
interest in life .... Surely he'd try to catch a bird, or a mouse. Being summer,
most of the birds could fly by now, not like a couple of months ago, when
fledglings were falling out of their nests and being snapped up before they
could be rescued. But a mouse, there was no particular season for mice so far as Roddy knew, and by now he was quite well-acquainted with some of the families of
them who dwelt down by the compost heap at the bottom of their garden. He'd seen
them sometimes, before they saw him and vanished like thin grey streaks between
the heap and the old sandstone wall. There was an outhouse leaning against the
wall too. Although Reg said he thought it had been an outside toilet at one
time. The remains of a rusty cistern still crouched on a shelf above Roddy's
Roddy rose from the doorstep and going through the side door of the house, made
his way down the back garden path to the compost heap. He didn't know quite what
to expect, but you never knew. A faint mewing sound came from inside the disused
toilet. To make quite sure, Roddy stopped outside the sagging door, and
listened. Yes, there was a cat in there ! Usually the old door leaned halfway on
one hinge towards the compost heap, but today it leaned the other way.
effectively blocking any exist from the old toilet. Awkwardly, Roddy tried to
open the door, but it was too heavy. The only thing to do was to make it lean a
little more so that a gap widened between the door and the floor .... the next
thing was Nero pushing his way through the narrow space as if he were swimming !
But if it hadn't been for the red collar, Roddy wouldn't have recognised this
dusty, rusty, grimy, cobweb-clad animal as Nero. Neither would have Mrs Peters
cat could escape in the direction of its home, Roddy caught it in his arms. Here
was the evidence of his innocence in the matter of Roddy's disappearance.
Whispering endearments and encouragement Roddy made his way to the house next
door. As Mrs Peters' appeared on the doorstep, Nero leapt from Roddy's embrace
and flew into the house. It was his teatime ! Mrs Peters disappeared too, and
Roddy could hear the rattle of plates and saucers in the kitchen.
to do, he almost turned away, but Mrs Peters suddenly appeared again, and
wouldn't let him go until he had recounted the whole story of Nero's
never" she exclaimed. "So he was next door all the time ...."
She thrust a
block of chocolate into Roddy's hand, and excused herself.
if Nero's had enough to eat".
But later on,
when Roddy was having his supper, she called to see his mother.
"I just had
to come and thank your little boy properly for finding Nero" she told Roddy's
mother. "I shan't forget it, you can be sure Mrs .... Mrs ...." Her voice
"Oh, call me
Jenny" exclaimed Roddy's mother cheerfully. "After all, we're neighbours, aren't
Back in the
house, Roddy ate his bread and butter, thoughtfully, turning over in his mind
the events of the last few days. When his mother returned from her chat with her
neighbour he had finished his bread and butter.
to eat ?" she asked him.
said he had. Nero was still uppermost in his thoughts. Such a fine black and
white cat. Was it his mother, or his father who had been white?
Froom (Red Star Workshop)
THE TUNNEL MINERS’ DEATHS
The deaths of
four tunnel miners in early January at the Littlebrook Power Station serves to
again show the tragic and bloody toll industry takes daily of working men and
women, those who produce the nation's wealth. The four miners have left behind
them four sad and sorrowful homes and eleven children who will never greet a
homecoming father again.
Prior to the
four deaths when a lift cage hurtled out of control to the bottom of a 160 feet
shaft, there had been three previous deaths on the site and many injuries. The
call of the T&GWU, the workers on the site and the Greater London Association of
Trades Councils for a Government enquiry into safety hazards and conditions on
the site should receive the widest backing.
Almost at the
same time of the tunnel miners' deaths, John Laing, the boss of the giant
building and civil engineering firm, died quietly in his cosy bed in North West
London suburb, aged 92 years.
The extent of
the toll of working people's lives and limbs taken daily in industry is shown by
figures for 1974-the year of the Safety in Industry Act.
factories, docks, sites, mines, shops, rails and farms 745, over 2 daily.
Accidents and injuries of various kinds in the same period totalled 342,000 in
the bloody industrial battlefield.
STOP THE SITE SLAUGHTER
Four miners had been joking
As they stepped upon the lift.
None had the faintest inkling
That they'd never start the shift.
For the lift was all eroded
It was eaten up with rust.
And now had reached its breaking point
So crash it surely must.
Smooth it went for a little way
Then dropped with rocket speed.
Hurtling down the iron rails
The brakes it would not heed.
Down, down it clattered madly
Like some monster gone berserk.
A tangled mass of twisted steel
Encased them like a crude hauberk.
The joking men now smashed to death
Like human pulp upon the deck.
Mid mangled flesh and shattered bone
Their blood now dyes the rusty wreck.
Four homes left shocked and shaken
Eleven kids left stunned and sad.
With Mums who cannot stem the tears
Nor ever say "here comes your dad".
In pit and depot, dock and site
Each day exacts Its bloody price.
Of life and limb of working men
For every day with death they dice.
And little do the bosses care
For dead men's shoes they quickly fill.
There's plenty signing on the dole
To take the place of those they kill.
The building boss don't ride the lift
He's snoring in his cosy bed.
A Wimpey, Laing or Nuttall chief
You'll never find among the dead.
Past time to end this slaughter
This toll of life and limb.
For we're the ones who shed our blood
Amassing greater wealth for them.
It's time to build a better life
Where men are brothers all.
Where life and limb are sacred
And the weak don't go to wall.
Farewell then, brother miners
No more like a human mole.
Will you burrow beneath the river
And feel glad you're not on dole.
You've gone and left a sadness.
You've left us angry too.
Determined to stop this slaughter
It's the debt we owe to you.
Farewell, our lamented brothers
By your graves we make a vow.
To end these deaths and slaughter.
We pledge and mean it NOW.
The seasoned beech stave smashes flesh
and bruises bones
During the Forest night.
As two brute men in keepers garb attired
Exercise their feudal right-
The "guilty" poacher with one pheasant in his hand
Receives each traumatic blow and with each a lesson learns
About injustice, trespass and the sacred rights of property and law.
Beaten like an animal amongst the forest ferns
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
What I remember most
about our hospital
was the burning cauldron
jumping up and down in
their anxiety to get at you.
Perhaps it was hoped
that the mere sight of them
would cause rotten teeth
to leap from rotting gums
and pus from swollen thumbs.
SUNDAY TIMES PHOTOGRAPH
So another shutter goes down
On another tenement slum shot
Human habitations still
Though they've given up the ghost
Cliffs of crumbling sandstone
Grizzly old age. This full page spread
Puts it across.
You've given us
An expert exposure,
But damn you for your
Your-wide angle lens gives grace
To this doleful facade- The stylish sweep of a
Georgian terrace- There's a distracting
Symmetry in the stairway buttresses
And spindly rhones.
The eye travels up and away.
And your crafty artistry
You've made a village pond
Of this flooded back court;
Debris floats with serene reflection
Across your sensitive frame.
Shafts of sun are streamlined,
Tins and tyres make
A fine composition
In silver and black
And damn you, damn you
For that wee lassie
Leaning against a
Well-placed dustbin- The pathos is
You've made her look Compliant, damn you!
Ouaine Bain (Glasgow)
breakfast smells, fresh and crackling, spiced the morning as Pete passed the
last string of Cafes on the Woolwich Road before swinging right under the
flyover and up onto the motorway. Normally they acted as a spur, lopping ten or
fifteen minutes off his journey time, causing him to race across the City and
back in time to catch a breakfast before the dust and diesel soured his
appetite. But it was already dead. Numbed by a night of worry that had chased
him into the morning, nagging him all the way to work.
It wasn't yet
seven but already his hands were tacky against the wheel and his trousers
beginning to stick to his skin. Coming out of the tunnel north of the Thames he
blinked back a sudden flash of sun and crashed through the gears for the steep
incline galloping towards him. The cab shuddered, snatching at the trailer
desperate to haul it over the brow. Pete began to sweat, aware that the thick
plume of black smoke squirting from the side of the tractor would be leaving a
trail right back to the Police post at the mouth of the Tunnel. The Ministry had
slapped a GV9 on him already because of the smoke and he was starting work an
hour early each day in the hope of avoiding them. He had, of course, reported it
to the company, a small family concern, but the boss had nearly exploded when
handed the report. "What about the bloody Buses and Taxis", he roared, tossing
the paper aside. He had carried on to such an extent that by the time he had
finished, poor old Pete felt as if it was his fault the lorries weren't up to
Once he was
safely past Bow Station he relaxed. From here he would ease up on the throttle
and let the load gather impetus and push him down into Hackney. As the severed
city flashed by on either side he allowed his mind to drift back to his
problems. It wasn't so much his job that worried him, although if he kept on
nagging about the state of the vehicles he might soon find himself looking for
another, and if he tried impressing prospective employers with his concern for
the standard of his previous employer's equipment, he may well be knocking on
doors for months to come.
was his housing conditions that were really driving him up the wall. He rented
two rooms from a private landlord in a house that had seen the grander times of
a past age and was now rotting with decay and neglect.
"You see, you
haven't got nearly enough points. In fact, to be quite frank it could be some
years before we are in a position to offer you alternative accommodation",
droned the nice young man from the council.
around the office only half-listening. He'd heard it all before. Then
remembering the months of begging and scraping it had taken just to get this
interview, he was determined to have his say:
he interrupted, "There's four of us, two adults and two kids stuck in that poky
two-roomed hovel, where we've put up with leaking roofs, dampness and all the
rest for the last five years, and now you say we've got to lump it for another
five. You must be joking".
it's not a joking matter", smiled the man.
bloody right, it isn't", snapped Pete. "But then you and yours don't have to
live like the rest of us, do you
balked. He wasn't used to such abuse from his subjects. "Now it's no use getting
personal", he croaked. He thought for a second, then was struck with
inspiration. "What about the health department. Have you tried them ?" he
offered. Pete could hardly believe his ears. "Five bloody years", he stormed,
"and still the roofs leaking. They're about as useful as you lot". Feebly the
man tried another tack. He would try to reason with him, then once he got him
pacified he could make some excuse, terminate the interview and nip upstairs.
"Do you realise", he said, getting himself all puffed and important looking,
"that this borough have demolished more houses during the last year than any
other in the London area".
telling me", said Pete. "I think I'm living in one. Besides, what's the good of
knocking down all the houses when there's people desperate for a place to live".
indulged himself in an oily grin. What fools people are, he thought. "We do
rebuild you know, we rehouse people".
stormed Pete "you rehouse all the people whose homes you knocked down in the
first bloody place
The man was
crestfallen. He was surrounded by philistines who refused to be awakened by the
great and beautiful tread of progress. He moved to the window, his heart beating
heavenly throbs as he gazed out at the magic and mystery of his beloved Tower
heavy drops from the suddenly greyed sky intensified Pete's misery as his load
groaned and roIled across the east cross route through Hackney towards
Islington. His marriage was breaking up. The kids were always sick and moaning,
and talking to the council was about as useful as talking to the ducks in
Clissold Park; and now on top of it all was the worry of keeping his job and
more importantly his licence.
By the time
he reached the New North Road, the rain was pelting, isolating him in the
mistiness of the cab. The only sound he was conscious of was that of the tyres
sluicing through the water, lulling and detaching him.
At the last
moment he saw her, a tiny figure wavering halfway over the crossing. He stamped
his brakes and panicking threw his 'deadman'. The wheels locked, his mind saw
thirty ton of steel rushing from behind as the unit and trailer began to
hours before they pulled him from the cab. Half the people of London seemed to
be crowded around, pushing and struggling for a look. "It's alright", said one,
"you missed her, you missed the kid". "Are you alright", said another. Pete
glanced around, "I think so" he whispered. He started to shake and someone threw
him a blanket. He looked up to where his trailer lay on its side blocking the
road and realised with a greater shock than caused by the accident itself, that
he was finished.
Barnes (Hackney Writers)
WRITERS' WORKSHOP. The two pieces included here are from the groups anthology,
which can be ordered for £1.00 from Centreprise, 136 Kingsland High Street,
in Kirkby, a rough town, holding that reputation even in Liverpool which takes
plenty of risks of its own. It was built around the promise of work and space;
the work came and went away, taking with it several millions in tax concessions,
machine tools and used humanity, and the space, although heaven after a
tenement, was walled in by non-existent transport and unapproachable farmers'
the brick streets are still raw after twenty years, or rotting again already. A
woman once took me to her kitchen balcony to see a courtyard, eight houses
square, all tin, broken glass and ripped tiles, and the drying and playing green
in the middle lost under rubble, prams, dissolving plasterboard. But I heard
this story in a house with as much comfort as you get from any four walls, the
family and the dog all over the sofa, food and drink always offered, a house
where people stop to leave the children for an hour. Rose believes in God, in
human nature, and in the love of her mild husband and four strong sons, who
bring their friends home to laugh with her.
Not even so
are you guaranteed safety, of course. Jimmy, Rose's husband, was coshed for the
take on his milk float. And in the next street, a knock on the door let in to
the carpeted security a woman bleeding from a gash on the head, looking for help
for her husband left dying in the house opposite after she had clubbed at him
with a glass ashtray.
making tapes about Kirkby; we were going to talk about it on the local radio.
About the good of it as well as the bad, people kept saying. All you hear is
unemployment, vandalism, violence; let us tell about our children that we're
proud of, and the neighbours that are kind, and the laughs we have, and the
signs we can give that this is like any human place, making and continuing
social life and not at war with it. So that was what I had brought the machine
to hear, in Rose's back parlour with the household treading peacefully over the
lino in the passage, and in front of my eyes the sideboard with fluted glasses
in it, which I stared at as you do stare when your mind is somewhere else. It's
hard to remember now that what I heard is not what I was told. This wasn't what
Jean had to talk about; it came out bit by bit.
Rose's friend; like her, a quiet Catholic and a lover of family life, but unlike
her, childless. She's fostered children all her life, and this particular summer
she had five children who had lived with her for a long time, and two quite
young ones for a short stay. It happened that there was a strike at English
Electric, where her husband worked, and although he wasn't in the union on
strike, there was no work for him as a maintenance man. So he had a break from
scraping corrosion from the inside of hot boilers.
coming in, though, and they got an electricity bill for £25. They couldn't meet
it. The red reminder came in, and Jean went down to the Citizen's Advice Bureau.
She was seen by a woman who said, 'Well, Mrs Grayson, it's well into summer now,
you won't be needing the electricity that much!
children in the house ? And the hot water, and the ironing, and the TV-and the
reconnection charges? So Jean went to the Department of Social Security, 'Not
asking them to pay the bill,' she says, 'Just to see if they could lend us the
money till Tom was back at work'.
They sent a
visitor-a young man, about 22, flicking his hair out of his eyes and gripping
his briefcase. 'As far as I'm concerned, Mrs Grayson,' he said, 'your husband
has a job to go to-he'd better go to it, and not try to sponge off the state.'
She tried reasoning, but not for long. 'Who are you to come snapping and
snarling at decent people?' She saw him off. She's upset by her loss of temper.
was nothing for it but to get a job. Tom was fine with the children, and he had
to be at home all day anyway. So she set off round the industrial estate.
were on strike. Delco weren't hiring. Otis had no unskilled work, two other
factories had just closed. She went to Kraft Foods but the gatekeeper said, 'I
wouldn't bother going up if I were you, love-they won't look at anyone over
eleven stone'. She's a big built woman, and forty-three. In the end it had to be
Nelson's jam factory at Aintree, where the grandmothers of Kirkby remember going
for their first jobs when they still lived in the city. It meant leaving home at
five in the morning for a six-thirty start, and eleven hour days, and humping
bags of sugar up ladders to tip into the vats, and mopping and scrubbing and
rodding drains where the gluey waste collected. But the bill had to be paid.
been too well that summer; abdominal pains that had sent her to the doctor.
'Overweight', he said. She went again and told him she'd missed periods,
'Anxiety,' he said. He could see something, to see that seven children and a
husband laid off were facts in her medical history. But he didn't look far
enough. One Monday, Jean couldn't go to work; she was doubled up with pain; and
they took her to hospital, where this childless lover of children gave birth to
a six-months stillborn boy.
She said to
the nurse, 'I want to see him.' 'Oh no,' said the nurse, 'better not, it will
only upset you.' 'Bring him to me,' said Jean. So they brought the dead,
unfinished child, and a basin, and Jean touched him with the water and named him
talking about their experiences, not their opinions', I kept saying when we were
making the tapes. 'I've had enough opinions to last me a lifetime.' But people
must say what they want to say. To me, this is a story that carries and reveals
the structure of Jean's oppression. To her, it is not even a story; it may be
full of the incidents and circumstances of her life but it carries none of its
meaning. Its meaning is in the victories of decency, privacy and sober
enjoyment. We talked about how the burden of family life is shared between wife
and husband. She said: 'I obviously don't know this-that is something that goes
on within your own four walls--I haven't come across it much, that the wife's
tied in, or the husband doesn't care about the children, I've found that both
the parents-both father and mother- come along to the school to discuss the
child's work; and especially when they have a sports day, or if there's a fancy
dress parade, you'll find that the fathers that are on shift work, or through no
fault of their own are out of work, you'll find that they come along, even
though they're out of work and may be-you know-they feel ... inadequate, and
that, you know, they still come along and see how their children are going on,
and they do take an interest in their children. I honestly find this, anyway.
I've never found this any different.'
So people can
speak even when the war is being waged against them.
The £25 was
paid by the parish.
Shrapnel (Hackney Writers)
who has published quite a lot of my writings, has suggested that I submit to
your publication. I do so now, if not for the obvious reason; it might help to
define your 'thorny question' What is working-class writing?"
I am a
regular soldier. Have been for thirty odd years. Started as boy soldier and now
I'm a major. I graft with great pride in my profession not for reasons 'loyal
and blue' but because there is no better social fraternity than this service.
The loyalty and camaraderie, the sense of purpose and pride in our 'business' is
something we are losing rapidly in some walks of life. One day, when our
opinions and concern is represented, others may come to understand.
don't believe that anyone much cares about us unless they are in the shit. Oh
I'm a worker alright and so is any soldier worthy of his shilling.
If you want
to use this piece, please do so.
You have a
good magazine. Don't let go.
YOU WILL NOT SIMPLIFY ME WHEN I'M DEAD!
(Dedicated to soldiers who will die in Ulster)
I don't want you to remember me when I'm dead
I can't be simplified.
Nor can my actions be more basic than the bullet
Or whiter than the lily.
What I have been from womb to Ulster's bloody shop
Is not simplifiable.
Not that you will remember me.
My opinions did not matter to those who shaped them.
The struggle of those who murder me will be remembered.
Those who blasted their hate into granite epitaphs.
They will be celebrated for their reasons.
Kerb-stones will not acknowledge my blood.
I am too complicated to be simplified.
A poppy mass produced, in plastic, like memories.
You will not remember me when I'm dead.
You will not simplify me.
Paul E Piggott
A PAIR OF
I have often
wanted to write this down. It's not of any great importance but the very
different circumstances of the two incidents keeps them in my memory. The
incidents are the deaths of two of our Kings, George V and George VI. I must
have been only four years old when George V died but I can remember the day
clearly. I was playing in the back room of the basement shop my mother ran in
127 Buckingham Street, when a neighbour entered and with great emotion told my
mother of what was obviously a great and personal tragedy. I can still feel the
atmosphere in that room and decided that it would be better if I retreated to
some quieter place to carry on playing while the adults went through the ritual
of reminding one another what a fine person the man had been. My place of refuge
was under the table and cloaked by the draped table cloth, I sat there thinking
how sad it was, the sadness was deepened when the wireless was put on and a
dismal voice announced that owing to the terrible news that had stunned all the
nation normal service would be replaced by suitable music. The whole scene
depressed me terribly. The music, the mumbling adult voices, the gloom under the
table and the wondering where you got another King from. The whole neighbourhood
went into mourning. I realise now it was probably because we lived in the heart
of the "Orange Lodge" area and with all the tongue in cheek loyalty that goes
with that organisation they had to put a show on. This was January, 1936 and the
next time a person of equivalent rank died was fifteen years later, February
By this time
I was nineteen years old and in the army. Our base camp at the time was Hodgsons
Camp, a tented camp inland from Post Suez and on a point on the Post Suez-Cairo
road where the Jewish army and Egyptian army signed their last peace treaty. In
February 1952 the point where the army drew its water from was a large army
water works, run by civilians from UK and guarded around the clock by whichever
units were stationed outside the town. The road to and from the works passed
through very thickly populated areas of the suburbs, and the guards and
materials needed for running and security of the works were a common sight as
they passed in various forms of transport. The journey always interested me, the
multi-coloured houses and vehicles, donkeys , camels, hundreds of children and
men and women in garments that could have come from any century.
At this time
the "Moslem Brotherhood" party decided to remind the British that we didn't
really belong there and their method to me anyway, didn't seem too horrific but
just unpleasant. They used to throw cans of acid at the vehicles and into the
lorries from the upper windows of the buildings and threatened us with worse
attacks, but the reprisals of the army HQ made you think we had been atom
bombed. The whole area which surrounded the road, half a mile wide and three
miles long, was to be evacuated. There must have been thousands of people living
there, to say nothing of all the work places and shops they worked in and the
churches they worshipped in. But orders are to be obeyed and about two thousand
people and their belongings were forced out of their abodes. I never heard
anyone ask where they would live now or who would compensate them for their
houses and businesses and most of all their unhappiness. Sadly I was one of
those who never asked at the time. I thought it was exciting and the type of
thing you were in the forces for anyway.
I was in the
regiment who were given the job of occupying the area and making sure no one
ever returned. I with my corporal and three other soldiers chose a house by a
small square for our home and lived there for a month. We patrolled day and
night in turn with other squads and got to know the area quite well. Some nice
bars, churches, houses of a better quality than usual in Suez but, alas, all now
empty except for a few chairs, beds and odd items which the owners hadn't been
able to carry. In an off duty moment I was leaning against the door of our house
when a bren carrier on its way to the water works stopped by me, The driver's
head was level with mine and he said with no sign of tears or upset "the King
died today". I said "Did he", and that was that. It was then I first thought
what a difference it was from the last time I heard those words.
Next week the
whole regiment was called onto parade and told that there would be three days
drilling and then a remembrance parade for George VI. No excuses, everyone would
parade. Cooks, Petrol men, Clerks, Pay Clerks, the lot. We were going to show
these Arabs how much we thought of our King said RSM Greenaway. RSM Greenaway
was the most fearsome man I had met in my life and me and everyone else went to
great lengths to keep out of his way. He had the habit of screaming at anyone
whatever they were doing however much in the right they were. All this taken
into consideration the three days' drilling were absolute mental strain of
having this maniac shouting endlessly. At one time a man in the front rank,
Private White, was straining waiting for the word 'march' at the end of "open
order march" when Greenaway instead shouted "as you were". Everyone heard but
White, and being tall and long-legged he seemed to leap yards from the parade
into the wilderness of the massive parade square. The verbal battering he
received from the RSM must have frightened everyone present and convinced them
whatever happened in the future he wasn't going to have the chance to attack
them. I started hoping that the parade would be a smash hit and really show the
Arabs like the RSM wanted.
The great day
arrived. Every man of the first Border Regiment was on parade. Clerks, Drivers,
Medical Men, Cooks, all the traditional bad drillers of the battalion. We were
in KD and formed up along the side of the square ready to "advance in review
order" as the order states, that is three lines about three hundred men long
marching fifteen paces onto the square after the inspection. The band would play
the first fifteen steps of the "British Grenadiers". To show the importance of
the occasion we would drill with bayonets fixed. This is where the trouble
started. The man in front of me was the petrol storeman and he wasn't used to
drilling at all, never mind with fixed bayonets which tended to make the rifle
top heavy and wave a bit. This it did and it caused the bayonet to go up the
next man's shirt sleeve and come out the top of his shoulder on the order "slope
arms,,. Bad enough in itself but the arm in the skewered sleeve could not get
across to grasp the rifle which the man had already started to slope. In panic
he grabbed the butt, but the rifle with bayonet fixed fell forward and the
bayonet stuck in the thigh of the man in the front rank who happened to be the
same White who had suffered in the "open order" affair of the previous day.
Before anything could be done the parade began and much to the credit of the men
involved in this little group they all carried on. The petrol storeman looked
like a Siamese twin to the pay clerk. This was alright until the first about
turn when the trapped bayonet almost ripped the pay clerk's shirt off his back;
as it came free the pay clerk in turn was dragging his rifle behind him and
private White's thigh was bleeding like a tap.
At last the
parade ended and when I took a look around not one Arab had watched us. As RSM
Greenaway said: "Ungrateful bastards those Arabs. Don't know a good parade when
they see one." I remembered they had even complained when we threw them out of
CHEWING POINT - TO SWEAR OR
NOT TO SWEAR
citizen of another "One man, one vote. What does that mean ?" "Simple" said the
other. "One bloody man, one bloody vote." "Then why" asked the first, making the
obvious point, "doesn't it bloody well say so?"
how meaningless swearing has become. Or does it? I used to scorn drivers who
abused others. Now I join in and feel better for it.
people swearing is a habit, perhaps a necessary habit. Was it always so? Anyone
who has dipped into Partridge's "Shakespeare's Bawdy" will know that many who
swoon over him would have a fit if words carried the same meaning now as they
were unenlightened days. Is it really necessary to set down in public what we
say in private ? Can't the exact words be left to the reader to fill in ?
We seem to be
very good at this. 'Water closet' has in turn been elevated to 'lavatory',
'toilet', 'loo' etc. etc. and no-one is in doubt what is being referred to. The
fact that the offending word is changed so often would suggest that any
resemblance between what is named and the object itself is offensive.
But so long
as we live in an artificial world in which animals 'sweat', men 'perspire' and
young ladies 'glow' it may be that we sometimes need to remind ourselves that
man born of woman, neither beast nor god, is essentially human. So long as he
kept his feet on the ground Anteus, the mythical Greek hero, could never be
yet turn out to be man's instinctive urge to retain a hold on reality.
POEM TO A POSTER OF KARL MARX
Yeah, I read your book
- y'know, the big one
the one your mate completed
after you'd passed on
And I was impressed
But then how could I fail to be
when you ran such rings
round Smith and Bentham and the rest of them
- who I've never read
Tell me, how does it feel
to write a bestseller ?
- quite a feat when you write
such lousy prose
And now the band-wagon's rolling
and all the zealots have climbed aboard
was it worth it ?
You know your trouble, don't you ?
You look like a bloody saint
or an Old Testament prophet
with your white hair swept back
and curling round your ears
and your beard
bushing out from your chin
and your forehead so high and clear and creaseless
- was writing it really so effortless?
and your eyes staring serenely through me
into the future
You're a ready-made icon
a natural superstar
that's what you are
Why the hell weren't you born a hunchback?
With a birthmark blotched across your face ?
- but you'd look like a martyr
with your bloody stigmata
and that'd be worse
You see, you make it all too damn easy.
Why was your logic so impeccable
the force of your analysis so unstoppable ?
but then if you weren't
you'd be another Bentham
and I wouldn't be having this
with your picture
on the wall
You tried to unravel the strands
that tied the workers
to the bosses
but you ended up writing a Bible
You're too bloody great
that's your trouble.
We couldn't follow you
so we learnt you off by heart
and when we had to think for ourselves
it went wrong
most of the time
Why don't you say something ?
Why don't you tell me where we went wrong ?
But maybe it isn't your fault ?
You likely didn't want to be there
on the wall
And maybe if I met you in the street
and called you 'sir'
and then I'd understand
He came over and parked his trim
But ageing body next to mine
As I sat typing
"I've just been speaking to that boy", he said
Looking over his shoulder
And down his nose at the same time.
I saw the young boy working in the corner.
"I went to have a word with him about
Last month's sales batches.
And suddenly he starts enthusing over
Some slick guy he met at a party.
Says he's been off women since he broke up with Andrea
And is thinking of giving men a try.
He went on for half an hour
On what he did and what he said.
I've heard him giggling over the 'phone to him
Making a date".
He turned his body as far away from the corner
As he could without falling off his chair.
"It's all so sordid and disgusting. I won't go near him again."
"But you're gay yourself', I said puzzled.
"Yes," he replied indignantly,
"But I don't go round enjoying it."
STICKY FOOD AND STARCHY GRUB
reasons known better to herself, Trudie wants to wind me up, all she has to do
is remind me of one of the two following facts (a) I'm getting old (b) I'm
putting on weight. The former I can't do much about. After one passes
twenty-five, all one can do is resign oneself to growing old gracefully. (Who am
I kiddin', I'm determined to grow old, permanently in BAD grace.) But the latter
I can do something about. Like I can stop consuming sticky food, and starchy
we had a strike over the heating conditions. It was bloody freezing in the Main
Shop, although it was OK in the Auxiliary Shop where I work, as all the heaters
in there were working.
Stewards' Committee had made several requests, throughout the summer, to the
management regarding the repairing of the hot-air heaters in the Main Shop.
management kept assuring us that 'They'll be ready for the winter switch on.'
But they weren't. It was a very cold November, and there wasn't a heater
working. The lads stuck a week of it and then they asked the Steward to call a
dinner-time we held a full meeting in the canteen. It was really grim in the
Main Shop, and some of the lads were getting a bit paranoid about being attacked
by Polar Bears. We decided that we'd done enough futile requesting so we voted
to down tools, and out, until the heaters were repaired.
As we were
trooping out through the factory yard we passed one of the Directors getting out
of his Rover.
you lot going ?" he asked.
We set up the
strike headquarters in the Transport Cafe at the bottom of the road from the
factory. A lot of the lads used the cafe at dinner-times, so the proprietor was
co-operative with us. I myself never used the cafe, as I once had occasion to
take dinner there and found it extremely greasy, and unpleasant. However, whilst
the strike was on, I made a habit of getting there early in the morning, so that
I could play a couple of records on the juke-box before the others arrived. (One
thing in the proprietor's favour, he kept a good juke-box).
On the second
day of the strike we decided to call the General Secretary of the Union in. When
he got down to the cafe, he told us that we had acted 'rather hastily', but
seeing that we were in no mood to go back to the Antarctic conditions, he
suggested that we should aim for a speedy settlement.
and the Steward from the Main Shop, went as a delegation to see the management.
They were back inside half-an-hour. The Managing Director had put a flea in the
Secretary's ear for not keeping his minions in order. He also told them that
nothing would be done on the heaters until the men went back to work.
was blazing mad at the rebuff he had received. He told us that if we recommended
the men to return to work he would call the Factory Inspectorate in, as he was
sure that even the most incompetent of Factory Inspectors would slap an
immediate 'Improvement Order' on the heaters.
We told the
Secretary that no-one was stepping back inside the Factory until the heaters
were fixed, and asked him to call the Factory Inspectorate in anyway.
Inspector came after dinner. He went to see the management first, then he came
into the cafe to see us. He declined my offer of a cup of tea, with a wave of
his hand, and sat down on the end of the table we were sat at.
he started. 'I've been into the factory and checked the temperature, and apart
from the Main Shop everything seems reasonable.' 'What's the temperature in the
Main Shop ?' one of the lads asked, before he went any further.
eight degrees Fahrenheit.' he answered.
I already had
the Factories Act out. 'So, they're breaking the law then ?'
replied, shaking his hands. 'They would be if people were working in there, but,
as no-one's working in there, they're not breaking any laws.'
'But it was
as cold on Monday, and we were working in there then,' moaned another of the
'But I wasn't
there on Monday, so I wouldn't know, would I returned the Factory Inspector.
'So,' I said,
'If we were to go back to work, they would be breaking the law?'
'Ah !' said
the Factory Inspector. 'If you were working on the machinery in there they would
be, as by law the area around woodworking machinery has to be at least fifty
five degrees Fahrenheit. In the rest of the shop there is no minimum temperature
set by law. Although the Factory Inspectorate Commission has recommended that a
temperature of around fifty degrees should be aimed for.'
? What does that mean ?' I asked.
says.' he replied. 'It's a recommendation.'
nothing backing it up in law ?'
unfortunately, there's nothing to back it up, only commonsense.'
won't get much of that out of our management !' the main Shop Steward butted in.
'Anyway, what's the management said about fixing the heaters ?'
'He said that
if you all went back, he'd have them fixed.' 'But if we all went back, we'd be
working in unlawful, to say nothing of exceedingly dangerous conditions.' I
been saying that he'll fix the heaters for the last twelve months,' chipped in
the main Shop Steward.
Inspector stood up. 'But if you all went back to work, I could serve him with an
order to fix the heaters, and also I could recommend him to maintain a permanent
temperature of fifty degrees in there.'
we were all beginning to get pissed off with the guy, I asked if we could confer
between ourselves for a minute, and we gathered in a huddle around the juke-box.
We had a
quick discussion amongst ourselves, and decided that we weren't going back until
the heaters were fixed, the temperature was up to fifty five degrees around the
saws, and a thermometer was installed in the factory so that we could all know
the temperature all the time.
announced our decision, the Secretary went off to see the management, and the
Factory Inspector went home, telling us to phone him when we were back at work.
proprietor, who had been sympathetic to our cause all along, offered the four of
us free dinner apiece. Everyone accepted, excepting myself, as I still
remembered the memory of the last one consumed there.
An hour, or
so, later the Secretary came back in with a broad smile on his face. He told us
that the management had agreed to call in a firm of Maintenance Engineers, who
were going to work on the heaters, day and night, until they were fixed.
Thursday we went into the factory with a thermometer and checked out the
temperature in every nook and cranny. We found it to be satisfactory.
We were back
in work again on the Friday. We lost a nice few quid in wages, but hopefully we
won't have any mither over the heating again.
that the Health Inspector had a surprise swoop on the Transport Cafe, and shut
it down on a number of counts.
They make us scrap and scratch
whom nature draws together,
fomenting us to fratch
while tightening our tethers.
We're separated still
from workmate and from neighbour
according to what skill
the boss exploits as labour.
Worker and worker's wife,
whose miseries are common
fall into bitter strife
between the man and woman
Our fraught disparity
prolongs their master hour
would hustle out of power.
(A TRIBUTE TO A MAN AND HIS WELLIES)
BENEATH THIS STONE, ABOUT SIX FEET DEEP,
LIES A CONCRETER,WHO IS FAST ASLEEP.
DISTURB HIM NOT BUT LET HIM REST
WITH SHOVEL AND TAMP UPON HIS CHEST.
HIS COLUMNS FILLED, HIS KICKERS TOO,
INTERESTED NO MORE WHETHER THE LEVEL IS TRUE.
HE CONCRETED MANY A WEARY METRE
AND NO MAN LEVELLED A SLAB ANY NEATER.
IN THE DRYING ROOM ON A NAIL HUNG HIGH,
HIS VIBRATOR-SPATTERED PANTS PUT THERE TO DRY.
AND ON THE FLOOR BENEATH THE SEAT,
HIS WELLIES TOO STILL SMELL A TREAT.
NO MORE ON ARNDALE WILL THIS PROUD MAN ROAM
HE'S GONE ON HIGH TO A BETTER HOME.
FAREWELL DEAR THOMAS A FRIEND SO TRUE,
THE ARNDALE CENTRE WILL NOT FORGET YOU.
BECAUSE E AT NIGHT WHEN THE LIGHTS ARE OUT,
ON THEIR OWN,YOUR WELLIES WALK ABOUT.
John Breheny (Manchester)
Everything you always wanted to know about building sites but were afraid to ask:
TAMP: a roughly constructed long-handled plank for levelling concrete.
KICKER: a wooden frame for pouring concrete into.
VIBRATOR: a pneumatic poker for shaking air out of wet concrete
CHILE AND THE SCOTS
No skirl o' pipes or swinging kilt
could rob you of the badge of guilt
that stained football and brought to shame
the honour of auld Scotland's name.
Oh ploughboy restless in your grave
your talent and your pen I crave
that words may form like shafts of light
to penetrate the darkest night.
No! not for pleasure now you play
the Tyrants gave the game away
Amusement now is screams of pain
as one by one they go insane
They tell me I have Scottish blood
I wish it on no other
my eyes are downcast at the thought
No-one would call me brother
Make sure that you enjoy the day,
for fate has yet its game to play
In history you will have fame
as Judas of the football game
Your sentence will go long and hard
your names ne'er be forgotten
A sour note from every bard
A place with all that's rotten
At this late hour of you I beg
Keep football just for pleasure
of brother man who loves you most
not tyrants at their leisure.
"Why do dogs
sniff each other's bums ?" I asked Father, who was taking us for our usual
tell you" replied Father, swishing his walking stick and beheading the stinging
nettles, on each side of the path. "Many years
ago when the world was new, or nearly new, all the dogs everywhere had bums they
"All dogs ?"
Father. "Every living kind of dog."
?" asked my youngest sister, "and coyotes and dingoes ?"
"All dogs Father has
said," I chanted dancing up and down. Father smiled and went on.
"It was to be
a special occasion. A party for all the dogs in the world; in honour of a
spaniel named Bess, who had after much heartache produced her first puppy. The
dogs hired the biggest hall in the world.
came, large and small, all different kinds. They each bought a present of either
a tree to pee upon, new bones with plenty of meat on, old bones with no meat at
all. But as the spaniel said 'It's the thought that counts'.
"As it was
the custom in those days and considered good manners, all the dogs unzipped
their bums and hung them neatly on the pegs in the cloakroom.
"But at the
party was the usual practical joker, a spotted Dalmatian named Dick, who mixed
whisky in the fruit punch."
very naughty" said my sister.
"Yes it was"
agreed Father. "Because all the dogs became very drunk. The party
finished in great disorder and the dogs got ready to go home. But because they
were so sloshed"
said my sister.
"You know" I
said impatiently, "drunk, sick like Uncle George'
"Oh I know"
said my sister.
they were sloshed" went on Father "they each picked up the wrong bum. And it was
not until the following morning, when the dogs awoke with aching heads and dry
throats, they realised their awful mistake. So since that terrible day all the
dogs everywhere are looking for their own bums. That's why they fight each other
sometimes. One dog thinks the other has his bum and fights to get it back."
"I like that
story" said my youngest sister.
"So do I" I
said, and we went walking down the chalky lane. And Father swung his stick.
"No sense in
said my old man;
"they'll still be here
when I'm gone."
now neglected garden
I glance heavenwards.
"You can say that again."
HELLO, ARE YOU WORKING – A REVIEW
about this book-it's 100 pages long, and once you pick it up you'll not put it
down again till you've finished, so leave yourselves time.
autobiography is not automatically good or interesting. At one extreme there is
a sort of socialist evangelism or "preaching to the converted". At the other
extreme it can be just plain boring: the interviewer-editor imposes his or her
own conception of neutrality on the proceedings and the significant is submerged
beneath a mass of incidentals. Some recent examples of this approach might well
have adopted as their motto: "The politicos have already tried to change the
world; the point, however, is to talk about it." But there is none of this
faffing-about in this latest publishing venture from Tyneside, which is perhaps
why they call themselves "Strong Words".
Armstrong and Huw Beynon have successfully avoided the pitfalls of both
extremes, largely because of a commitment to the working-class that has none of
the ambivalence of the Orwells of this world. The working-class is seen as a
subject for liberation, not an object of intellectual fascination.
Men and women
describe their recollections of the 1930s in the NorthEast, often recalling
minute detail and exact conversation, and yet nothing in the book is trivial.
Every personal memory is related to an awareness of society. The sixteen
contributors are clearly all very different individuals, with varying opinions
and levels of involvement in trade union and political activity, and yet overall
a clear sense of history gives the book an immediate relevance to the present
editors observe, "Unemployment, the talk of 'scroungers' on the Dole, of Social
Security 'snoopers' and the threat of fascism and the National Front are all
important reminders of a past that will not stay locked away in the cupboards of
like Hilda Ashby, tell their stories simply in everyday language, without any
attempt to reach up to the "high shelf' in search of a literary style:
I was going
to the grammar school at Blaydon during the 1926 strike. We had to walk to
Westwood Station to catch the train, and I can always remember sitting in the
carriage full of girls -we were all miners' daughters. I was twelve and we were
all talking about the strike and one of the girls said, 'I hardly dare tell you
this ...' And we were just getting to know where babies came from and we said
'Are you going to have a baby ?' And she said, 'No-my father's going to be a
blackleg.' Very shamefaced you know. I remember running home to tell my father.
'Mary Wilson's father's going to blackleg,' and my father saying, 'By he's a
card joker, he'll get nae coal oot.'
'Upstanding'-that was the thing. 'Upstanding jobs', you know, where you had your
pay if you were off sick. Oh, that was it, that was the Mecca. I lived in
Chopwell right through the 'thirties and all the colliery houses there had earth
closets (a hole in the wall where you threw all your rubbish) and the Council
men had to jump in there and then shovel all this out. Well, you had to be in
the know to get one of these jobs. To have a Council job-oh, that was something
! In Chopwell they had a Labour Council and they had this scheme where you got
your turn at ten weeks' working on the roads. Ten weeks when you knew you were
going to have a pay. That was a big thing.
different contributors arrive at the same theme from different directions. Many
relate how the Means Test broke up families:
the Means Test there were men who were leaving home to live in sheds in the
allotments in Cornforth-in order to get the Dole (George Bestford).
weeks on unemployment pay one had to apply to this dreaded court. They would
inspect one's belongings: piano, watch, all had to go before one was allowed a
few shillings ... A great many young married couples had the terrible ordeal of
having no money offered but only two tickets-one for the male workhouse and one
for the female workhouse (Charles Graham).
Edmondson adds a sharp reminder that the 'Thirties did not just end with the
immediate post-war years I was a member of the National Insurance Tribunals,
being a trade union nominee. Those who had been unemployed for twelve months or
more were interviewed by the Tribunal to ascertain that they were co-operating
with the Employment Exchange to obtain work. Frequently men over forty years of
age would appear and it was evident when they entered the room that they were
suffering mental anxiety, fear could be seen in their expression. They had the
fear that it was a return to the conditions of the 'thirties when their only
income could be taken away from them.
with encounters of not such a close kind:
pit twenty-one tubs was the score. We always had to put (Or fill) twenty-one
tubs for the score-twenty tubs and one for the royalty to the Ecclesiastical
Commissioners ... Lord Londonderry and the Bishop of Durham and people like
that had a very good living, all the money that really should have belonged
to the miners.
for a weekend school at the University of Durham. Up in the Castle there.
And in the Hall was a big painting of Lord Londonderry. And I looked up at
him and thought, 'Ah, you bugger.'
'thirties, Hello, Are You Working? was the normal greeting. It expressed
people's way of seeing things in their own words, which is what this book does.
It is not just an attempt to teach workers history. It is an attempt by workers
to understand history through their own lives and words. It might also be seen
as a step towards re-discovering the lost art of popular story-telling. As
creative writing, it certainly raises questions about more famous writers who
have been called the voice of the 'thirties: whose voices were they, and who
were they speaking to?
You Working ? needs and deserves an enthusiastic response from the labour
movement. We are printing three short extracts below. The book itself is
obtainable at 50p (plus 2Op p&p) from:
Publications, 10 Greenhaugh Road, South Wellfield, Whitley Bay, Tyne & Wear.
As soon as
I'd finished serving my time as a fitter I was out of work. When I was about 22
years of age I got employment with Electrolux and underwent a week's training to
sell water softeners. It was something that extracted the chalk from the water
supply. The cheapest one was about £8 or £9. And people hardly had money for a
loaf then. Well anyway, you had to knock at houses. And you had first of all to
go to the public library and you had to procure from there the voters' register
and you had to get all the names and addresses to cover enough streets for you
to canvass in a week. You went to the door and you knocked at the door and you'd
say 'Mrs Nugent' or 'Mrs Monaghan' and immediately it broke the ice. But they
didn't know it had been preconceived, that you'd been to the public library. You
got no wage. Only commission on sales and a stamp on your card. Now, it must be
remembered that after a certain number of stamps on your card you were in
benefit again. So it was important for you to get these stamps on by hook or
crook. Business was bad. People hadn't money for bread, let alone the luxury of
a water softener. Sales were not up to expectations and a circular was
distributed throughout the Newcastle area for all personnel to attend a meeting
in the City Hall at a certain time and date. I attended and the room was very
full of men, covering all age groups from early sixties to early twenties. When
everyone was settled a very big man stood beside the blackboard. And he said
'Now this is what I think of you gathered here.' And on the blackboard he wrote
in very large letters in white chalk the word 'SHITS'.
around the room and not one moved or uttered one word of protest. Not one word.
Not one man stood on his feet. The men of that period were completely
demoralised. Needless to say I informed the office in leaving that I knew we
were down but there was no reason why we should also be kicked, and I would be
handing in my demonstration gear the next day. The speaker was a big chap whose
name was Mr Bullen. I've never seen him from that day in the early 'thirties
till now but if I had ever met him, no matter where, I would personally assault
the whole assembly for lack of sales. Not enough drive. Not enough canvassing.
We were not pulling our weight. We'd have to do something about it. He was a
very tall, burly man, impeccably dressed, and looked well fed. Some of the men
in the room didn't look well fed.
The men were
very demoralised during the 1930s. They had stood together in 1926 and held out
for almost a year but they had to go back to longer hours and huge debts. The
older men would never again trust anyone. It was as if they lost faith. And from
then onwards Durham became politically dormant. Creeping paralysis I've called
When you look
back the union was very weak in the pits. They were more like collaborators.
Looking back now I wouldn't tolerate them for a moment. They were all 'yes men',
more liberals than anything. They seemed to be a cut above you. They didn't like
to be interfered with. When I started to go to the Lodge meetings I used to ask
questions. I remember one day this chap said to me 'Oh-you're the little fella
that dared attack Joe Sutch' because I had dared to stand up and criticise the
outstanding Lodge Secretary who was a very prominent person at that time I said,
'I didn't think he was right, that was a11 I used to shout my mouth off I
demonstrations against unemployment in Durham though. And one of our outstanding
leaders at the Dean and Chapter - a lad called Billy Todd - was active in the
unemployed movement. He was leading a demonstration and he was attacked by the
police. I've talked with some of the lads, who were at the head of the banner
and all the parading police said, 'That's him there !' And Billy Todd was struck
down-it was a peaceful march. And they say it was from that blow -the
repercussions afterwards- that he had died in 1946. They will always believe
that it was that blow that led to his early death.
We used to
talk about all those things though. At the shaft bottom, the men from all over
the pit, may be a hundred and fifty men, would meet at the end of the shift at
what they called 'the steps'. They would sit there and put their clothes on and
wait for a few minutes before getting in the cage. And that's where the
different men would argue and put the pros and cons of this and that. I was
discussing this day with an old Welsh man-Teddy Jones was his name-I always
admired him for his views; he was a very straightforward man. And I said to him
'What's your opinion of Ramsay MacDonald? What did you think when he turned away
and went on to the National Government?' And he looked at me and he said: 'He
should have been hung on the back of the Brockwell cage and sent up coal work.'
And those words are as true today as ever they were.
something different now amongst the trade unions and that. I think they're more
united than what they were then. During the time after the strike in 1926, the
leaders were victimised. But now if you have a dispute the men will stand by the
leaders and if the leaders are sacked on some pretext the men will just down
tools. The management can't pick the ring leaders out and give them the sack
now, with the ease that they could in those days. Management could always find
some fault with a worker and use it as a reason to give him the sack. And do it
with impunity. But they can't do that now. He'll think twice if he knows the
whole lot will stop for a week or two.
Many a time
during the 1930s I'd look at the rent man with dark thoughts in my mind. But I
never did anything, nor did other people. There was very little robbery during
that time, but I'm sure there would be now if people were reduced to such a
state. People today just wouldn’t stand for it. Life is better now than what it
was then. We can live a normal life now as pensioners while, then, anybody in
our position, who had finished work, could hardly live. People have struggled
for this, we don't just get these things given to us. My father worked down the
pit until he was fifty and he had rheumatism, he couldn't work any more. He was
on the sick, and his sick benefit was 15/- a week. After he'd been on it for a
certain time, it was reduced by a half to 7/6d a week. And that's all my mother
had to live on for the rest of her life. Seven and six a week. He had a few hens
and a couple of gardens. Without that he wouldn't have survived.
sit and read and sleep. About eleven o'clock at night I think about putting on
my pit clothes and going off to the pit. I think I don't have to do that now. I
used to be a stone man and you had to get the face ready for the hewers to come
in. And it was all so arranged that you had to work like hell right to the last
minute to get the face ready for the next shift For the wages you got when you
finished, I choke when I think about it. I used to say 'We must be mad, nobody
with any sense would do this I' Lying at the face, about two foot high in the
wet with all the water raining down on you. Soaking wet and working like mad.
three men in the pits-brothers-they were great workers. The colliery manager
used to say 'If I had a dozen like them I could close the pit.' I was working on
this face one day, it was about one hundred yards long and these brothers used
to put the machinery up. And this particular place was only about eighteen
inches high and the rain was falling down. So this fella was coming along. You
couldn't creep, you just had to pull yourself along on your stomach, ease
yourself along. Well, he was coming along, water was streaked down his face,
like little streams. And this was in 1940 and they had a big campaign on 'Send
your sons into the mine; make mining your career'. And his face came up to about
a foot off mine and he said: 'Send your sons into the mine. Make mining your
career'. I'll never forget that Asked him once 'If you had your time to begin
again, do you think you'd go down the mine ?' And he said 'If I thought I had to
go through all this again I'd cut my throat now !'
came the sea,
where it made entry.
quiet and still
it chuckles at the thought
of the oncoming gale
Or the next day
it will return
with renewed energy,
and every barnacle
will be swept clean
into the ocean
TRIBUTE TO JACK FROST
Brougham, Jack Frost’s sister writes:
My brother was writing this verse
over a period of forty years, inspired during the years from 1920 to 1961, moved
by the hardship and suffering in the days of depression.
He was a man
with a strong sense of humour and a ready wit, but also a sense of pathos. He
reached the heights of experience and emotion but also suffered and was engulfed
many times in the depth of depression because of lack of appreciation of his
But he was a
Marxist and Communist. Such philosophy enabled him to climb out of his sadness
and fight in rebellion against a system which created conditions of frustration.
He was an
artist in every sense. Despite having many friends, he was essentially lonely,
restless because he was forced to earn his living as a Grocer. Instead of
training in Art School he could only give expression to his talents by being
moved around various branches of his firm, in demand for window dressing, sign
and ticket writing.
person reading this collection of his verse will I am sure have some deep
feeling and some understanding of the kind of man Jack Frost was.
tragically from lung cancer at the age of 56.
In stinking pomp the King rides past,
and addle-pated watchers cheer
And rent the air, "Long Live The King",
-I have no words-tis not his bier.
"I wandered lonely as a cloud"
Your Wordsworth was a jester.
He never saw a lonely cloud,
At least, not in Manchester
(famous last words)
"Up boys and at 'em"
The brave old warrior spoke:
"Up boys an ATOM"-
And all went up in smoke.
A worker, I conceive no learned ode,
No song of famous Greece's Ancient lore,
No fairy tales of elfin sprites' abode,
No tale of fond Leander's native shore.
Of these fair themes, and others I could tell
Pens, greater than my own crude thing, I have told,
But were they sung again, aye ! thrice so well
Their sorrows and their joys would leave me cold.
If for a theme you songsters bold should seek,
Then leave the dead to settle in their graves,
Renounce your ancient gods-forget your Greek-
And teach my class to scorn at being slaves.
Sing songs of factory workers, and their lives,
In words that burn into their very heart,
Sing of the chains 'gainst which the toiler strives-
Till dropping-old-yet fighting from start.
Sing songs of struggle, songs of toilers' might,
Not in the past or in the days to come
But now ! SING NOW I Sign of the workers' fight
The fight that MUST and WILL be fought,