cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
Editorial Michael Rowe
Knowhow & Wisdom Mary Casey
The Clinic Vivien Leslie
The Better Half Maureen Burge
A Bag on the Beach Pat Dallimore
We Survive Keith Stephens
Where I am Coming From Lynford Sweeney
Skindeep Lynford Sweeney
No Fixed Abode Bev Shaw
Snowdrop Man Blackie Fortuna
The General Strike B. J. Hill
Winnie Be Damned! Sean Damer
To the Thirties Donald Bishop
Strike One! Stan Cole
The Subby Tommy Walker
The Class Game Mary Casey
Shift Worker's Lament William Hunt Vincent
Ode to Winter Arthur Adlen
The Last Shift Victor Irving
Factory Floor Poem No. 2 Victor Magor
When the Soldiers Came Joe Smythe
Bomb Disposal Phil Boyd
For Freedom R. Carpenter
The Psychiatric Unit John Gowling
Break for a Commercial 'Crispin'
Child Watching Joe Sheerin
The Good Old English Bobby Tony Chesney
Me Too! Bill Eburn
Free Speech Bill Eburn
Found Poem David Carr
the feedback we have had from the last few issues, our Readers seem to be of the
opinion that "Voices" is going through a period of change, for better or for
worse. As usual, our Readers are quite correct.
last eighteen months there has been a great upsurge in the Worker Writers'
movement, culminating in the Working Class History, Culture, and Community
Workshops around the country joining together in The Federation of Worker
Writers. "Voices" has played its part in the founding of the Federation from the
outset, and will continue to do so. Running parallel to this it has been proved
necessary that if "Voices" is to continue as a regular well turned-out
publication, the editorial and publishing must be run on a full collective
basis. Hence the new Editor for this issue and the new address.
"Voices" General Meeting on the 1st November 1978 a new constitution was
formulated, (see inside back cover), enabling us to function as a collective
without breaking the continuity that has enabled us to establish a solid
identity of "Working Class poems and prose with a Socialist appeal".
Readers will also notice that we no longer carry the "Unity of Arts" masthead.
It was decided at the above mentioned meeting that as "Voices" is all that
remains at present of "Unity of Arts", we should in future go ahead as an entity
in ourselves. Although we remain firmly committed to work for the implementation
of TUC Resolution 42 of 1960.
In the long
term we hope to be able to obtain funding for a full-time worker, thus enabling
the responsibility for each issue to rotate around the country.
departure of resident cartoonist Bobby Starrett to Italy for a year we are
running short on Illustrators. We'd like to hear from any Illustrators and
Cartoonists around the country who fancy getting involved.
we're hoping to get back to putting out four issues per year. It should go
without saying that we need feedback from our Readers to keep us on the right
course of providing an outlet for Working Class poems and prose, so let us know
what you think even if it isn't all complimentary.
KNOWHOW AND WISDOM
There is "knowhow" and there is wisdom,
these are worlds apart,
For "knowhow" lives within the head
and wisdom in the heart.
If the trees of science
are not tended with great care,
the bitter fruit of intolerance
will bloom profusely there.
Planners with great "knowhow",
will bulldoze the friendly street
replacing them with warrens
Tall towers of concrete.
Splitting friendly neighbours
into isolated cells,
Then bring in the psychiatrists
to hush the lonely yells.
they will gird the country lanes
into an asphalt yoke
isolating the country
from the country folk.
they will mix their noxious lotions
to further their own ends
polluting all about us
with their baneful blends.
They have tamed the mighty atom
and caged it just in case
they need its grim precision
to wipe out the human race.
The arrogance of "knowhow"
can crush the human heart
When knowhow rules compassion
wisdom will depart.
and the humble individual
will fall along the way
Mid data and computers
if knowhow rules the day.
parked her pram beside the dustbin, as far away as possible from the gleaming
chromium ranks that flanked the clinic doors. For all the hours of rubbing at it
with Duraglit, her coach-built monster never managed to take a shine a few
degrees above shabby and, she told herself, it looked more at home with the
dustbin than with its streamlined descendants. There was, however, nothing
shabby about its occupant.
twitched inside the bubbled wool of his pram suit. Nine months old, bonny to the
point of splitting his skin, he was just coming out of sleep with a gargle of
sounds that described his contentment. Tess kissed the child and bundled him up
in a cover before entering the clinic with him. Inside there was the usual
confusion of half-dressed infants and pin-biting mothers, interspersed here and
there with the dark blue authority of the Health Visitors as they ministered to
their prey. Tess could hear a shrill command above the conglomerate noise in the
assemble here, quickly now!"
as those summoned confirmed their status with awkward walks on chaffing legs,
clutching small bundles to their ballooned breasts as they assembled obediently
on the spot indicated. Tess took a seat beside the remaining women, the
initiated who wore their mystique with a conspiracy of mutual calm. She sat
David on the mat and loosened his covers. He grinned.
beside Tess were already deep into conversation, eyeing each others' children
with critical eyes, noting the squints and spots, weight and clothes, as they
talked. Tess could not interrupt. They were into a discussion of meals, meals
for husbands, and she had nothing to offer them. They knew, of course. In spite
of the amplified bellowing a thoughtful Health Visitor summoned her with,
lingering over the "Mrs" with deliberate emphasis, they knew she had no husband.
At first, they had tried to steer their conversation onto neutral ground for
Tess' sake, being kind enough and glad enough of their own situations, they had
shown some embarrassment at demonstrating their respectability in front of Tess.
After awhile, when Tess responded with less than gratitude for their generosity,
they had begun to ignore her. Tess didn't mind that, it was less piercing than
It was easier
for her to be solitary there, clutching her pride and independence to herself,
not letting them suspect her envy and loneliness. Kindness unnerved her and made
her rawly aware of her situation. Her solitude allowed her her fantasies, her
subjective interpretation of her problems and her secret distrust of their
babbling contentment. She sandbagged this artificial smugness with their cliches.
Unaware, they cluttered their chatter with rich finds for Tess' desperate ears.
There was a
scuffle at the door and their Health Visitor walked in, tossing case and coat
into a heap behind the desk, on which lay the files. "Afternoon mothers!" she
yelled and theirs was a dutiful response, ridiculed but made never the less. She
scanned the charts. "Jabs today," she announced with some enthusiasm that made
the mothers wince in anticipation for their smiling babies.
David's nappy covertly, suspecting and finding it soiled. She rummaged in her
bag for a tissue and wiped his buttocks clean. She was about to set him down and
go to the sink to wet another when the Health Visitor bellowed, "MRS Black!"
Tess hesitated and started to speak, to tell her that she wasn't ready but the
woman had already picked up David and was peering into his eyes in search of a
squint. "Come along, come along, MRS Black. No time to dawdle! Is he eating?
Sleeping? Crawling yet?" she fired the questions at the stuttering Tess, who
answered each and tried to warn the woman but she wasn't listening. She was
already unwrapping a syringe from the case and adjusting the dose of vaccine.
"He's got a
dirty bottom!" Tess had shouted to override the stream of feeding instructions
that rolled out of a practised mouth and had stopped just a second before she
shouted. Her voice rattled across the hall, drawing heads towards it. There was
a moment of silence while the Health Visitor stared in sudden alarm at Tess.
"Well, clean it!" she said, and shrugged an ear-high shrug that shamed Tess into
haste and she ran blushing to the sink and sprayed water all over herself before
she managed to control the jet and wet the tissue.
there was looking. Tess could feel their massed stare on her back and the
pointless humiliation brought angry tears to her eyes. She washed David's
upturned buttocks with shaking hands, clumsy in her misery she almost rolled him
off the narrow table and the exasperated sigh this brought from the Health
Visitor, shook her further. She could only watch in agonised sympathy as the
woman plunged the long needle into the child's thigh and wince when the
momentary lapse between contact and reaction had passed and the child howled
with shock and outrage. Tess held the screaming child to her, hiding her wet
face in his redraging one as she walked back to her seat. She sensed rather than
saw the shudder that jerked through the waiting women.
Tess felt in
the bag for a clean nappy. It wasn't there. For a moment she sat in dumb
surprise, picturing herself laying it out. She looked over at the other women,
wondering which one would have a spare one to lend her and wouldn't tell. She
couldn't put David down to ask. He was still howling and flailing with his limbs
inside the cover. No-one was watching her. Tess slipped her head-scarf out of
the bag and quickly bound it round the twitching child's groin, pinning it with
one pin and pulling on the leggings of the suit in one furtive movement. She
held the quieted child to her as she waited for the rest of the inspection.
later, all the babies were shrieking: The Health Visitor had closed her case,
washed her hands and sat checking off the medical cards. She paused over two of
"I see baby
Black and baby Mitchell haven't been weighed for two months. Can we have nappies
off and onto the scale? Quickly please!" she said and pulled the scales out.
shuddered and panicked, aware of the eyes on herself and Mrs Mitchell, casual
eyes that merely followed the moving parts of the picture. She watched in awful
uncertainty as the Mitchell child was undressed and weighed, clutching the
snuffling David to chest as she wondered what to do. "Come along. Come along,
mother!" chided the Health Visitor, and beckoned to Tess with a hooked finger.
Tess ran. Out
of the clinic with neither bag nor cover. She fled round the corner and laid
David in the battered pram and set off down the drive at a half-run that bumped
the delighted child up and down, unheeding the dark blue figure that appeared at
the door and shouted her name after her. She walked half-way through the town
seeing only the necessary kerbs and turnings to keep her from walking into
traffic. She was still going when an old man stopped her.
lovely baby, lass. You must be right proud of him," he said and chucked David
under his chin. Tess halted and stared at her baby. He was beaming into the old
man's face, cheeks and nose lighted in the shape of his smile. The clinic was
far away. Tess looked at David, her beloved tormenter, and smiled back at the
"Yes, I am,
very," she said and let its truth in to heal.
THE BETTER HALF
I'm the little woman
who sits at home and waits
While he's out every evening
boozing with his mates
He thinks that I should be content
to stay at home each night
While he's off at his meetings
to set the world to rights
But just you wait I'll show him
He can't mess around with me
Yes just you wait until
I pass that G.C.E.
I'll get myself a bloody job
I'll earn a few more quid
Then we'll see who stays at home
and minds the bloody kids
A BAG ON
during the schools summer holidays, mother had taken my two sisters and myself
to Weston Super Mare for a days outing. We had been there all day. The three of
us girls had been swimming, had ate fish and chips and lazed around on the
beach. It was about six o'clock and we were still on the beach as though not
wanting the day to end. The beach was clearing of people, who were beginning to
make their way home. But we were still there. My mother would let us girls stay
for as long as she could, making the happy day last as long as possible. The sun
was going down in the sky, the dirty sea water at Weston Super Mare didn't look
dirty. It looked clean like a lake, peaceful with the sun shining on it as the
tide lapped gently in shore. Mother was sat in a deck chair with us three girls
sitting on the sand near to her. Then mother told us a story.
worked in Wills Tobacco factory, I got friendly with a woman there, her name was
Daisy. She was a nice woman, very quiet and refined in her ways. Daisy and I
would sit together when we had a tea break. It didn't take long before we became
good pals. Over a period of time we got to know more about each other. I told
her I had three daughters still at school, and that my husband was a docker.
Daisy told me about her life, how she was a widow. Her husband had been dead for
two years, that she had a son at university who was studying to be a doctor. One
day at work as we were having a tea break, Daisy said to me, "Nellie would you
like to come to tea at my house. There is something I would like to tell you,
something I have never told anyone. I want to talk to someone I can trust." So
we made the arrangements and on the Sunday, I went to Daisy's house to tea.
Daisy had her own house not a council house. It was a very nice house with bay
windows and a well kept garden. Daisy opened the red front door and in I went.
Oh she had it lovely, very nice, very comfortable with nice furniture. We had
tea and fancy cakes. Then we lit up our free issue cigarettes from Wills and sat
back in the comfortable armchairs.
"Me and my husband Sam were what you call childhood sweethearts. When I was
fifteen years old, Sam and I knew one day we would marry. Now Sam was an
apprentice plumber, and I worked as an assistant in a drapers shop. So me and
Sam, started to save for the day we would marry. We courted steady until I was
twenty four and Sam was twenty
six. Then we married, we had saved enough money for a down deposit on this
house, a nice wedding and a weeks honeymoon at Bournemouth. So Nellie, we had
our wedding and went off to our honeymoon. While sat on the beach at
Bournemouth, Sam and I noticed a woman sat opposite us. A big fat woman with
very black hair with it curled and permed. On her face was thick make up. She
had crimson lips and thin black eyebrows. But what me and my Sam couldn't take
our eyes off was the jewels she wore. Thick gold hooped earings, a necklace
which was studded with diamonds, and on her fingers were gold rings with
precious stones. You could tell all the jewels were real. On her lap was a big
brown crocodile skin bag. As me and Sam watched her we wondered who she was, Sam
said, "Its obvious who she is, she's a Jew." I agreed with him because she had a
big nose. Nellie, I have never seen anything like it - there she was sat there,
with all her jewels sparkling in the sun. After a while Sam and I looked away,
and watched the children at play in the seawater. When we looked again at the
woman she had gone. But at the side of her deck chair was the crocodile skin
bag. Sam got up and walked over to the deck chair picked up the bag, came back
and sat in his deck chair, and put the bag on his lap. "Oh Sam," I said, that
woman has gone off without her bag, quick lets see if we can find her." Sam
said, "No, stay where you are, if she wants her bag she will come back for it."
So we both sat there not saying anything. After a while I said, "Sam lets open
the bag and see what's inside it." Sam said, "All right." He undone the big
clasp of the bag, and we both looked inside and my God Nellie the bag was full
of money, one pound notes and five pound notes. Sam shut the bag quickly.
looked at one another but didn't speak. Then I looked out at the sea. I don't
know how long we stayed there without speaking but I know it was a long time.
Then Sam turned to me and said, "What I want us to do now is to go back to the
boarding house. Pack our belongings, pay for our keep, then get the train back
to Bristol." I said, "Why Sam?" Now Sam was a very masterful man when he wanted
to be. He said, "Because I have said so." When we got home to Bristol to our
little house I made a cup of tea. As we sat drinking the tea Sam said, "Now
look, this is what we are going to do. This bag is going to be kept upstairs in
the tall boy. We shall live our lives as normal, but what we are going to do is
this. Every time we have to pay on this house, we will take the money from the
bag. But we will live the same as everybody else, we will not tell anyone about
the money as long as we live. "0 Sam", I said. You see Nelly I was so frightened
I felt as though we had stolen the money and I told Sam how I felt. Sam said, "0
no we haven't stolen the money, its ours." I said "We should take the bag with
the money in to the police." Sam said, "I bet we bloody well won't. What do you
think the police are going to do with the money? I don't know how she got that
money. All I know is its ours now and it can do us a lot of good."
So over the
years if we had a bill we would get the money from the bag to pay the bill.
There was two thousand pounds altogether in the brown crocodile skin bag. Every
year we would go on holiday but of course we wouldn't go to Bournemouth. We
didn't go out boozing or have a good time. We lived our lives like people like
us would. I had a son and as he grew up the money in the bag helped us no end.
It paid for a second hand piano for our son, and so the years went by. Our son
passed the eleven plus examination for grammar school, the money paid for his
uniform and extra books he needed. We didn't abuse the money. Over the years the
money saved us a lot of worry and stress. One day Sam said, "Daisy, we have come
to the end of the money in the bag. Now don't worry, because of that money I
have been able to save from my earnings enough money for our old age. But it
wasn't to be. Sam died suddenly from an heart attack. So Nellie, my Sam passed
away and I know he wouldn't mind me telling you about the bag, for lately it has
worried me, us having all that money which was not rightly ours."
looked at us three girls and said, "That was a true story, and do you know what.
Daisy went into hospital a few weeks later for an operation on her tummy and she
died during the operation." Then mother asked, "What would you three girls do if
you found a bag on the beach full with money." We answered with one voice -
We survive from day to day
Our yesterday and tomorrow are the same
Hopes and desires like logs on a fire turn to ashes
No fire burn within
We are strangers in your land
Used and abused we cling to each other
Like lovers in each other
We find wells of contentment
A fire that smoulders and smoulders
Refusing to go out.
We survive from day to day
The future looks dim and uncertain
Without a solid foundation
Hopes and desires crumble
We will not be forever strangers
In your land
The scapegoat of your conscience
The under-nourished fire
That smoulder and smoulder
We survive from day to day
Past glories are nowhere recorded
No fire burns within
The hopes of tomorrow
Choked and erased by the prejudice of today?
The fire that smoulder and smoulder
Nowhere burst into a flame.
Steadfastly we hold to the belief
One day like the phoenix
The cold ashes will kindle a flame
That will warm the soul and set us free
Our yesterday will be a thing of the past
Never to be like our tomorrow
The glow of the fire within
Make of us all one people.
WHERE I COME FROM
I come from gullies
In the sister country
From coconut trees
And sugar canes
I come from the tree tops
In the jungle of pimentoes
From oranges, tangerines
And sour-sop fruits
I come from dusty roads
In gravel infested tracks
And chocolate plantations
I come from shop fronts
Where salt fish is sold
From digging up yams
And planting corn
I come from JAMAICA
Where freedom is a taste
Where dancing to reggae
Is the sweetest thing on Earth.
I am black
I don't need
NO FIXED ABODE
What can I do?
For I have no country to turn to.
Although I was born here
I feel as though I belong nowhere.
The English say,
Why don't you go back home?"
And I would if I could
But I have no home to go to.
My parents come from the West Indies,
But I can't go there,
Because I'm a British born black youth
And I don't belong nowhere.
My ancestors come from Africa,
And although I'd like to,
I can't go and settle down there
Because they'll say to me...
"You British born black youth,
You don't belong here."
So what can I do?
For I have no country to turn to.
of his hair,
I left school
when 13 years of age to work in a pawn shop for 8/- per week. My job was to
obtain the keys from the local police shop in Belle Vue Street, now the British
Legion Club, dash to the shop for the manager to open up. There was always a big
queue on Monday mornings and woe betide me if we didn't open up at 7am. Pledges
such as suits, boots, costumes etc taken out at weekends for one day's sartorial
splendour were the first things to be 'popped' and cries of "Hurry up you little
so and so. He is waiting for his dinner money" were mild compared to some. It
was late in 1918, the Great War was soon to be over and industry was sacking men
and women left and right, and my few months at the pawn shop revealed to me the
many hardships and poverty unemployment brought. I had three sisters doing war
work on the Great Central Railway and my eldest sister got me a job on the
railway as I had reached the manly age of 14, celebrated by my mother buying me
a new suit, my first pair of long trousers. Talk about walk tall, as I escorted
my two other sisters to the Palace Theatre as a treat. They had both lost their
husbands, killed at the Dardanelles battle thanks to Churchill and his
blundering. So here I was working on a main line signal box for £1.00 for a 48
hour week as a train register boy. You entered all trains and times they passed
your section, and I loved every minute of it. The signalman to whom I was
attached was a bearded Tom Griffiths, a Methodist lay preacher and city
councillor who used to rant and rave about the injustices of the capitalist
system, and as I was with him for four years he had me at it - tub thumping.
Bear with me.
I am coming to the General Strike and what it did for me. By 1926, I had left
the signalbox, for at 20 years of age I became an adult and was made a station
porter for £1/15/- per week. I was on the late shift finishing at 11 .30pm and
at midnight the General Strike began. What worried me most was the station cat
who was about to have her umpteenth lot of kittens and as she was a real station
cat, the station was her castle and many a dog has fled yelping during her
pregnancies. Also four churns of milk had arrived from Rowsley on the last
train, a regular thing to happen but with Kitty locked up in the cosy and warm
porter's room, as I locked the station gates, I remember thinking Kitty and her
brood will be OK for milk. The pickets were already at the station entrance,
watching me lock up, and just as I made to get on my bike I was handed a picket
armband and told I would be relieved at 6am the following morning. I was there
when the horse-drawn milk float drew up. Now this chap was built like a tank. I
told him he couldn't get his milk as we were on strike and the station was
locked up. I was expecting the roof to fall in, but all he said was he would
come back and as he turned the horse around he said "Give Kitty some milk out of
the small churn" He always had a tit-bit for her.
The time, 5
o'clock in the morning of the first day of the General Strike and as the
clip-clop of the horses hooves and the rumbling iron rimmed wheels died away, I
suddenly realised how still and quiet it had become, no factory hooters,
clanging tramcars, it was the stillness of a Sunday morning a hundredfold. As I
walked wheeling my bike home, the streets were empty, no shops lit for early
trade, it was ghostly, a grave yard, which it was to become, of jobs and hopes,
dreams and human endeavours. My heavy tread seemed out of place in such silence,
so I mounted my bike for the rest of the way.
When I joined
the railway I was told I had a job for life, which I had for the next fifty
years. There was a large number of neighbours children of my age. How they
envied me my job as one year led to another and still no work. The General
Strike affected lives so deeply that the scars are still there after all these
years. (Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, was spoken of on the Tele the other
evening and the way I went on about the b . . . my family asked me if I was
losing my marbles.) I could sing a bit in those days and I used to join the
pathetic little groups of Welsh Miners who had to resort to begging in the
streets, singing their hearts out in neighbourhoods that had nothing to give. It
was nearly two years before I went back on full time. Some of my mates never got
back. When the strike was over this was how we had to work: on Sundays with few
trains running, sign on, open station for ten minutes before train due, ten
minutes later, sign off on duty twenty minutes. This went on until 11pm, when
finished, total hours to be paid for: 6 hrs 20mins. for a day lasting from
5.30am until 11pm, a total of 1 7hrs. 30 mins. And we were glad of it!
Kitty had her
kittens. The milk churns had to be emptied in a hole we dug. The students whom I
curse the memory of, tried to play trains. What a mess they left with their
strike breaking efforts! Because there was little to do when we returned to
work, one of the jobs we had to do was tidy up this mess and two of us were sent
to clean the very signalbox where I started my railway life. How I loved to
polish the levers and instruments, scrub and shine. Two students had manned this
place and the sight that greeted us made me vomit, buckets used as toilets,
dozens and dozens of beer bottles, empty of course, fouled bedding, stale and
rotting food, and a beautiful Atlantic type steam locomotive off the rails and
on its side, wrecked. These engines were the pride of all of us. We nicknamed
them "Jersey Lillies" after the beautiful Lilly Langtry. This was an
unpardonable sin and here I am living through it all again though half a century
ago. I don't know if my ramblings are anything like what you want but it has
done me good to hammer this out with one finger although I am getting dirty
looks from my family as my click-click-clicking is spoiling the TV programmes
MR B. J. HILL
Rosie was an ordinary Scottish working-class woman, of Irish extraction (her
maiden name was Bannon.) A Tim, then, but proud of it. She was not a
suffragette, nor a labour militant, in fact she liked playing whist, later
bingo, and she was known to fancy a glass of Bell's. She certainly had never
heard of Rosa Luxemburg, although she was good on her music-hall numbers, and
had been a bit of a classy dancer in her youth. Or at least, so they told me.
What she was good at was taking the piss. She had a deadly sense of humour, of a
subtle, sly type, which she could put over with the deadest of dead pans.
One day, when
I was a teenager, I went up to see her in her tenement house in Glen Street,
Tollcross, in Edinburgh. There was nobody in so I guessed that she would be
doing her messages at the Co-op. I let myself in with the key hanging behind the
door, hooking the string with a finger through the letter-box, and made myself a
cup of tea. After a while, I heard her slow trudge coming up the stairs,
frequently stopping, and accompanied by bouts of coughing. She was, she said,
short of breath. I knew that she had severe bronchitis, and that she wasn't
helping it with continuous smoking, but it was just that the stairs were killing
her these days, she would say. I opened the door, ran out, and took her heavy
bag of messages. She looked at me, her face collapsed, and putting her hands to
her face, she began to sob. Completely bewildered, I helped her into the house,
stuttering half-questions, half-reassuring noises. When she had taken a sip of
tea, she stopped sobbing long enough to tell me: "Oh son, Winnie's dead!"
flashed up-and-down the stair, checking-off the female neighbours: there was
Bella, there was Maggie, there was - there was definitely no Winnie. I couldn't
think at all who she was and quickly my mind started a radar-scan of the
complicated network of my Grannie's friends and neighbours in adjoining stairs.
I still couldn't place Winnie. Totally baffled, I took a gulp of tea, and
re-started on pets, and I itemised all the neighbours' cats, dogs, and budgies.
No Winnie. So half-guiltily, I asked Rosie:
"Eh, I cannae think of who Winnie
is. Is it one of the neighbours?"
ceased momentarily, and her hand came away from her face. Her eyes were
glistening, but it was not with tears of grief. She jumped to her feet and
started jigging round the kitchen table: "Winnie's deid, Winnie's deid, that
auld Tory bastard is deid, hurray-hurray!" I sat dumbfounded. Winnie. Winnie.
Winston bloody Churchill, by Jesus, and she had fooled me again. Rosie by this
time was doubled up with laughter, her eyes streaming tears of malicious delight
- both at the death of the enemy, and at having taken me to the cleaners -
again. Still cackling, she went to the press and produced her half-bottle of
Bell's. With much of "oh you should have seen your face", and "here son ah think
you need this", we sat roaring with laughter and drank a dram to the eternal
damnation of the man who put the tanks into Glasgow's meat market.
TO THE THIRTIES
'The wasted year' they have called you,
'A low, dishonest decade'.
Yet you were the year I grew up in,
The time my first contacts were made
With politics, poetry and people,
The age when I first was aware
Of a world beyond parents and classroom.
Dishonesty? Yes, it was there:-
Non-Intervention and Munich,
Celluloid Paradise Isles,
Bromide Beaverbrook headlines
And Senior Ministers' smiles.
This was all part of your picture –
A low decade! For all that,
Men could talk about struggles for Freedom
Without being considered 'Old Hat'.
With eyes nearly fifty years older
I look back. What hues do I see?
The grey tones of B.B.C.
No. The blood-red hues of Vienna
And the cities and valleys of Spain –
I still remember you, Thirties,
With passion, pride and pain.
School sounded like an overactive beehive on that Friday in August 1934. The
"weskit" tearing slum kids from Tipping Street had just been informed that they
were to go to Heaton Park on a camping, educational holiday.
the bit of grass that was in Ardwick Green Park most of these kids, whose
fathers were on the 'cobba cole' P.A.C. or 'fiddling' for woodbines, and not in
the Halle! had never seen a bit of real country. Heaton Park could've been
Central Africa or the Amazon. But Monday was the big day. "Don't forget" the
sportsmaster told them, "A warm woollen jersey, a good pair of boots, a pair of
sports pumps and two pairs of clean underwear that can be worn as a football
dozen lads who had been dubbed 'the school hooligans' 'toughs' 'Tipping Street
Bracer Swappers' 'ineducable' stood in a corner of the playground close to the
'lay's' where they could nip in and share a woodbine if one of them was lucky
enough to have one. They looked scruffy - clean but definitely scruffy, tattered
jerseys with frayed striped tie, holes in stockings, galoshes as they were
called, well worn - some with holes in. "What a right bunch" Mr. Bowens the
sports-master was heard to mutter, "They'll all end their days in Strangeways or
cornerboys." Cornerboys was the term given to the unemployed men who used to
stand on the corner of the street because they had nowhere else to go, searching
their pockets to make up enough for three cigs, and a match so they could share
a smoke and discuss their hopeless future.
chance have we got" said Stan one of the scruffs. "I don't even wear underwear,
me main can't afford it." Tiny, Dutch, Scrapper, Stick and Gunga Din the rest of
the gang all agreed, somewhat crestfallen.
The way these
lads got their nicknames was rather amusing. "Tiny" 'cos he was as big as a
house and the teachers were scared of him. "Dutch" his second name was Holland,
and "Scrapper" used to pinch lead off the rooves and takes it round to the
scrapyard for a few coppers. "Stick" cos his name was Cane, Gunga Dun, his
father worked for the Water Board. Stan had various nicknames "Cobba" "Lumpa" "Pieca"
and "Nutty Slack". These lads were all considered educational write offs, and
usually segregated in a corner at the back of the classroom.
however, expressed a keenness and determination to get to the camp and get the
necessary gear if they had to 'knock-off' all the lead on all the houses in
morning they were all their with their little bundles of towel, soap, two vests,
two underpants, two pairs of socks, one pair of galoshes and the REAL PRIZE -
TWO HANDKERCHIEVES (Their cuffs would not be shiny for a while at least.
gave a look of despair when he saw them. "All right you lot, I want you at the
front of the bus where I can keep my eye on you, any trouble and you'll feel
this." He brandished a length of leather about eighteen inches long, about four
inches wide with six long slits down one end. They'd all felt its sting on many
occasions, so they were all aware of his threat.
nowt." the six chorused. "Just in case you are thinking of mischief" he
to Heaton Park went without the strap being used, there was only the noise of
excited chatter of kids from the slums who hadn't travelled so far, or seen such
greenery - they were all staring wide eyed out of the windows.
experienced hands had developed the camp site, and laid the bell tents. There
was a large marquee with tables and forms for eating, about six to a table, and
once you'd been allocated a table that's where you stayed, or got a "clip round
the lug hole."
As could be
expected the scruff were put together on the table nearest the flap where there
was most wind and teacher could keep his eye on them.
Mr Bowens was
overheard telling the camp organiser, another senior teacher, "Put that lot out
as far as possible, into the bush if possible." He laughed. "What a bleeding
great comedian, ought to be on the Hipp" commented Stan. Mr Bowens continued,
"They'll be less of a nuisance there, and if they make noises in the night
they'll not disturb the rest of us."
"I've a bloody good mind to go and disturb that bleeding comic now, not
tonight." "Leave it" said Scrapper "we might be able to knock off some grub,
we'll be better off with the 'toffee noses' out of the way." He could see there
wasn't much chance of a load of lead in Heaton Park.
For a few
days things went comparatively quietly, a few essays, a little drawing of
flowers, trees and birds - but there was a growing resentment from the Tipping
Street gang, they felt they were being isolated.
Gunga Din and
Stick were having a crafty 'woodbine' behind a bush, whilst the rest kept watch.
it on a bit thick lately" said Gunga Din. "The 'toffee noses' are all in a nice
cosy circle chatting about Nature and he sends us out here into the woods to
look at trees." "It's a wonder he didn't give us a banana each" laughed Stick,
grunting and scratching under his arms.
explosion came at tea-time on the Friday. The whole school of campers trooped
into the food marquee and took their places, chatting and grumbling about one
thing or another. At a sharp command from the senior master a whispering silence
was obtained, tea was slopped into mugs, stew was spooned onto plates, slices of
bread were issued, then the noisy rattle of eating continued for some time.
going round with second chunks of bread in a basket, when he came to the
"scruffs" table. Stan said "Can I have another piece, Sir?" he queried.
Contemptuously the chunk of bread was flirted onto the table, it fell into a
pool of tea, slithered across the table and fell on the grass floor. "Pick it
up" said Sir. "Not on your bloody life" Stan replied. "You flung it, you pick it
up and scoff it." The miniature rebellion caused a repressive silence - it felt
like the tent was about to fall down.
"You'll do as
you're told" said Sir. "You can piss off" replied Stan. The Dictatorial attitude
of Sir, and the obvious contempt for the scruffs as had been indicated by the
throwing of the bread, whilst the 'toffee noses' had theirs politely placed
before them, had united the table behind Stan. "Think we're sodding animals
because we're poor" he shouted and started to walk out of the Marquee, the whole
table got up and followed his lead. "Come back here and take your seats at
once," Sir screamed. "Bollocks" was the unanimous chorus.
were really confused by the united move of the scruffs the threat of "strap",
discipline - confined to tent - had all failed to bring them to heel.
The six lads
marched to their own tent and planned the next move, there was general agreement
that for some time they'd been unfairly treated, trying to make them eat bread
off the floor was the final insult.
"We can't go
back now" said Stan. "So what shall we do?" "Wait till it's dark and 'do' him"
replied Tiny angrily. "That'Il put us in the wrong" said Stan. "Let's piss off
home" burst out Stick. It seemed the best suggestion, so they all packed their
few belongings and started off. It was only when they got on the main road that
they all realised they had no food, no money, and not the foggiest idea which
way to go. By knocking on doors for drinks of water and 'butties' and asking
directions they were on the way. Fear was expressed about what the parents would
say - they might get a 'Belting' off the 'old fella' but at least they would not
be made to feel like something out of a cage.
It took them
all night and nearly all next day to reach their homes in Tipping Street, and
what a panic! The police had been searching for them, the parents were naturally
worried, some tearful, but all were glad to see the lads, there were millions of
questions, explanations, hot cups of tea and jam butties.
to be an enquiry after the holidays in front of the whole school" which there
was. Explanations again, Sir was slightly admonished, and was heard to say as he
was leaving the head masters office
"I DON'T KNOW
WHAT THE KIDS OF TODAY ARE COMING TO, OR WHAT THEY'LL TURN INTO."
Subby with a seven one four
Trowel, spot and labrador
One thousand bricks to drop each day
Sod the irons, make it pay
Walls like Pisa, out of plumb,
Down the face the mortars run,
The cavity is full of shit,
Jerry built I've done my bit.
Three plank scaffold, no guardrail,
More than that at Walton Jail,
One false step, you're on the trap
Grasping Plunging through the gap.
Pouring rain, no guarantee,
Protective clothing, not for me
Rheumatic twinges, aching back,
Don't stop, shift that other stack.
The canteens filthy, minus sink,
Never swept, the wellies stink,
No heat, its a mucky digs,
Only fit for dirty pigs.
Death benefit, now what is that,
Gimmick of that Union brat,
Thinking of his wife again
The stupid dick has gone insane.
Holidays! what for I say?
I can't afford, I get no pay,
Free enterprise, this trails a kick,
I hope to christ I'm never sick.
Union men will show my lad,
The tricks, the trade, not too bad!
When of age He'll come with me,
Fully trained, and all for free.
If I'm alive at forty five,
On Union rate I will survive,
So think of me and up the rate,
I like my goodies on a plate.
THE CLASS GAME
How can you tell what class I'm from?
I can talk posh like some,
With an 'oIly in me mouth,
Down me nose, wear an 'at not a scarf,
With me second hand clothes.
So why do you always wince when you hear
Me say "Tara to me Ma" instead of "Bye Mummy dear"?
How can you tell what class I'm from?
'Cos we live in a corpy, not like some,
In a pretty little semi, out Wirral way,
And commute into Liverpool by train each day.
Or did I drop my unemployment card,
Sitting on your patio (we have a yard)?
How can you tell what class I'm from?
Have I a label on me head, and another on me bum?
Or is it because my hands are stained with toil,
Instead of soft lily-white with perfume and oil?
Don't I crook me little finger when I drink me tea,
Say toilet instead of bog when I want to pee?
Why do you care what class I'm from?
Does it stick in your gullet, like a sour plum?
Well mate! A cleaner is me mother,
A docker is me brother,
Bread pudding is wet nelly,
And me stomach is me belly
And I'm proud of the class that I come from.
SHIFT WORKERS LAMENT
Shift work is the curse of life
I'm feeling blue
Worse than a naggy wife
Constant with you
Six till two you're three parts dead
Two till ten life's spent in bed
Night shift is what we all dread
I'm feeling blue.
I'm on the six till two
My week of play
Tired and feeling blue
Yawning all day
Dancing through the club door
I could not ask for more
Remember, I rise at four
I'm feeling blue.
Two till ten's a hermit's game
I'm feeling blue
Life becomes a crying shame
Smiling is taboo
And suitable propriety
For an outcast from society
I'm feeling blue.
I'm at war with the kids
They make my heart leap
When they bang the dustbin lids
As I try to sleep
Working while the stars burn bright
My poor stomach's in a plight
Through eating at the dead of night
I'm feeling blue.
On this bonny spinning orb
A dawn will surely break
When factory, machine and job
Are run for mankind's sake
Gone the sleepless nights we dread
The social patterns of the dead
The lustreless road that we have tread
Goodbye shift work blues.
WILLIAM HUNT VINCENT
ODE TO WINTER
Winter has arrived on site and turned in early
to catch us, trapped behind the yawning gate.
The change of wind has set our faces surly
against the wicked season workers hate.
The felt's blown off the cabin roof, the window's broken,
no fire to warm our boots and fingers by.
A cup of tea to stop the smokers choking,
then out into the world below the sky.
I waded yesterday through mud, now frozen dark and
jagged waves, the ice belies the depth of hidden ponds,
and on the walls where rain has dripped and hardened
hang icicles like summer's thickest fronds.
Here are men who summer like Olympian Greek gods
fallen to earth, victims of some elemental curse;
so now they scrape the hoar-frost from the handles of their hods
and pray the weather doesn't get much worse.
Yet in the midst of sorrow, cold and freezing,
there is still beyond the colours of the season,
reflected something I can find so pleasing
to echo Nature's dialectic reason.
White lime on bricks against the grey of mortar,
the scaffold that has browned to deeper rust,
a block of wood green in a pool's iced water,
and working hands as red as robin's breast.
Tea-time's still no nearer, and I'm sinking
more into my mood, pensive on the beauty and the pain;
but some-one bellows louder than I'm thinking;
"C'mon yer scabby get, gerrout the rain."
It had been
raining on and off for the last two or three days. The -women of the village
were, as Mrs Evans from No 49 put it, "Fed up I am with this rain, can't get any
of my bedding out to dry, so near Xmas you see and so much to do." It was
Saturday morning and the wind blew the rain down the street at the, same time
nearly blowing out the three street lamps which did their best to light up the
village street at 4 o'clock in the morning.
Day Davis at
No 23 awoke with the sound of the rain and wind beating hard on the bedroom
window. He rolled over in bed, cuddling up closer to his wife, thinking to
himself it was far too early to get up as the alarm had not gone off: he would
try and go back to sleep again, which he did.
It seemed to
Day that five minutes later the alarm sent out its shrill ring to let Day know
it was 5 am, and time to get up and off to work. He put out his hand from the
bed and turned it off, and got settled down in the bed again. 'Another five
minutes and I'll be up' thought Day. His wife, however, was already up and
putting on a rather shabby dressing gown, drawing it up tight around herself as
if to keep out the rain and wind she could hear on the windows. It would be very
nice if it was Sunday so that Day and herself, Gwynn, could have a couple of
hours in bed. The thought passed through her head as she went down the stairs to
the kitchen cum living room to get Day his breakfast ready.
come along. It's quarter past five and you're going to be late for your shift"
Gwynn called softly from the bottom of the stairs. She did not want to wake the
kids up at this time of the morning. She waited at the bottom' of the stairs and
called again, "Day Davis, will you get out of that bed. You know very well you
have to get up and go to work." Gwynn heard the bed creak and also Day softly
swearing to himself. Gwynn smiled and went to see how the fire was in the
kitchen grate. Day was coming down the stairs still swearing to himself about
what a way to make a living, what a bloody morning it was with the rain and the
cold wind. Gwynn took no notice of Day. She had had this since she first got
married to him and that was over ten years ago. Mind you, his mother had
forewarned her, but coming from a family of five brothers and her the only
daughter and the youngest, she was quite used to men and their ways. It was no
good being otherwise, being married to a miner and sister to five more.
his hands and face in the back kitchen, dried himself on the spotlessly clean
towel, combed his fine head of hair and went and sat down in the kitchen with
his back to the fire and had his breakfast. Breakfast in the late 1920's in any
mining village in South Wales did not run to eggs, bacon and so forth: no,
Day sat down
to hot toast and dripping and a pint of hot tea made with condensed milk to
sweeten it. His wages did not go as far as having a good breakfast every morning
before going down the mine for ten hours or more each day.
his breakfast and lit a woodbine, enjoying the warmth of the fire on his back.
Gwynn had already put his Jack Box and his bottle of tea and also two more
woodbines on the table. He smoked one going to work and the other coming home.
After his smoke he put on his big, heavy boots. Gwynn handed him his coat, scarf
and cap which she had been warming for him in front of the fire. Day nodded his
thanks to her. It was enough for Gwynn. Day was stood near the door ready to go
to work when he said to Gwynn, "You have forgotten Blodwynn this morning, girl.
She will be very cross, you see, if I don't take her a couple of apples. I can't
have her being upset all the day can I now, see girl". Gwynn went back into the
kitchen and returned with two very large apples saying to Day, "At times, Boyoo,
I think you care more about that damn ol' pit pony than what you think of me.
Blodwynn must have her apples every day. Can't upset Blodwynn. I wonder how many
other miners take apples and a bit of cake for the pit pony?" Even as she made
this statement, she remembered her mother and her five brothers, her mother
leaving extra food near their Jack boxes, cake, home made bread, apples, at the
same time saying to her sons, "It takes me all the time to feed you lot without
your silly old ponies.
I'll have to
take more money off you if I'm expected to feed those animals as well." The five
sons would stand and laugh at her saying "Hello our Main's at it again over the
pit ponies." Gwynn walked to the door and stood near Day. The rain had stopped
but it was still very windy and cold. Day put his arms round Gwynn and held her
close to him as if he was going to tell her something, but changed his mind, and
let her go saying he would be home in the afternoon to have his bath in front of
the fire, then take the two children to his mother's house for an hour as he did
him join some other miners who greeted him with "It's a bloody cold one this
morning. Wish I'd stopped in bed with the wife instead of walking to work like a
bloody silly fool." Someone at the back of the crowd shouted. "You may as well
go to work Harry, you know you're getting past that sort of thing these days. I
should leave it to the new Tally man. They do say he's a rum un with the women
and he's due on Saturday mornings." This statement brought forth a burst of
laughter and other remarks about Harry's sex life. Even Harry had to laugh.
While Gwynn stood at the doorway watching the men go to work, one miner shouted
out to her, "Morning Gwynn, you alright girl?" She looked up and saw it was one
of her three brothers all working the same shift as Dav. The other two went on
work as soon as these three came off. Each brother called to her a kind,
brotherly remark, asking how was our Gwynn and the kids this morning? Had she
managed to get Day out of bed on a cold morning like it was? See you Sunday at
down the street with the other miners, only half listening to the talk on
football, who should win, who should score. He had meant to say something to
Gwynn, something that had been on his mind for a very long time now. The trouble
was he did not know just how to tell her. How would she take it? This thought he
had had some time ago seemed at the time so silly and impossible. The more his
mind thought about it with all the ifs and buts; the what about this and the
what about that? What will people say? Are you sure you're doing the right
Day had never
liked the idea of spending the rest of his life working down the pits. To his
way of thinking, the idea of son following father down the pits was wrong. Even
in the late 1920's there must be other ways of making a living without going to
work in the dark. After all, not everyone worked in the pits. There must be
other ways to make a living, even working on the land in the fresh air. Day was
cutting coal on the face one day when this idea came to him. Emigrate to New
Zealand, Canada. Why not? Others had done it from what he had read in the
He had read
the papers about men working in the large forest part of Canada, cutting down
and trimming the huge trees ready for the paper mills, it would be hard work and
long hours, but he was quite used to hard work and long hours. Day had been
thinking along these lines for a few weeks now. There had been many times he had
sat after a meal looking into the fire as if the answer to his thoughts was
there. Gwynn, his wife, she had many a time had to say to him when he was
looking into the fire "C'mon Boyoo, come back, you seem to be many miles away.
I've spoken to you twice but you didn't answer me."
By the time
Day 'had got to work at the pit head, he had made up his mind to have a good
talk to Gwynn over the weekend, explain to her what was on his mind, listen to
all her ifs and buts - which, knowing her as he did there would be plenty of.
Day, while at the pit head with the other miners, turned out his pockets for the
odd match, each miner doing the same and trusting each other never to take the
odd couple of matches down the pit to have a quick smoke. A lot of the older
miners knew that a quick smoke down the pit had many a time cost lives. When the
cradle had stopped at the pit bottom, Day and the other miners walked the half
mile or so to their place of work. They walked in twos and threes, breaking away
from the main group and going to their own places of work in the pit. Day along
with Ted, his wife's younger brother, after ducking their heads and at times
almost bent double, got to the coalface and made ready to start the last shift
before the Xmas holiday.
Both Day and
Ted worked on at a steady pace. They worked with each other as a team, each one
knowing he could depend on the other man no matter how hard work was. Now and
again Ted would burst forth into song while he was working. He had quite a good
voice and at times he would sing on a Sunday night in chapel. It had been a
standing joke when one day Day had said on being asked what he thought about
Ted's voice, "Ted's singing? Why man, Ted's got a voice like a bird, a bloody
minerbird." Sometimes while Ted was singing in chapel on a Sunday night, Day
would try to get him to look at him. If Ted did look at him, Day would raise his
elbows up and down like a bird in flight. Ted would turn his head away to stop
It was well
after snap time and the two were at work again. Day had given Blodwynn her two
apples and some of Ted's food. Day had said to Ted that he was putting on too
much weight so he should give some of his snap to the pit pony.
heard the far away muffled sound of the explosion. They stopped working and
looked at each other. Ted said "They must be blasting at the far end, you know
where I mean Day, the North end." Everyone had stopped working. The mine was
very still. "Funney" said Day, "No-one has been along to forewarn us about any
blastings in this shift. We should be told about these things at the start of
the shift, not half way through it."
explosion seemed nearer and louder. "I don't like it. C'mon, Ted, let's go and
find out what the bloody hell is going on down there."
making their way along the narrow passage that lead to the main tunnel when the
third and fourth explosions came. For an instant Day looked back. To him it
looked as if a powerful pair of hands had pushed the whole of the coal face
forward in very large lumps of coal, rock, bits of wooden beams: the explosion
with its overpowering colour scheme reminded Day of the time he had spent in
France in the War years. When he had first gone to the front he had been amazed
at the colours of the big shells as they exploded. He had soon learned to duck
his head as the shells came over. He felt himself being lifted up. He felt the
blast of very hot air. It seemed to burn into his half naked body. He heard a
scream, heard his name being shouted. He felt as if his body was being picked up
and thrown from one side of the pit wall to the other, picked up again and
thrown against the walls, and again. Day's body, not being able to take any more
of this uncontrollable power, hit the floor for the last time. He fell to the
floor of the pit badly burnt and broken. At the same time his mind quickly
slipped into a blessing of blackness.
It was 10.30
am when the alarm hooter at the top of the pithead sent out its fearful call to
the village below. Everyone in the village just stood still as though unable to
move. Some of the people of the village had heard the sound many years ago when
the old queen was alive and it brought back many bitter thoughts. Everyone
seemed to be running to the pithead at the same time, the women putting on their
shawls, the men their caps and coats. Dr Jenkins was busy along with his wife
putting medical items into his old Austin Seven.
Soon the pit
yard was full of people all wanting to know what had happened. The pit manager
was stood on a box outside his office trying to get a bit of order. He could
tell them very little at present: Dr Jenkins and a rescue team had gone down so
they would have to wait until one of the rescue party returned to inform them.
They waited and waited and at the same time hoping that it was not their man who
might be hurt or dead. "Let's hope its not my man or my sons". You could see
this in the eyes and on the faces of the people who waited and hoped.
The wheels of
the pit turned and the cage drew level with the yard. Two of the rescue party
stepped out and walked across to the pit manager's office. He came out and stood
on the box with a piece of paper in his hand and started to read from it. The
pit foreman had sent up the note stating that there had been three small
explosions and one very big one. It was this last one that had done the damage
and the injuries. He went on to say that there were still 47 men missing and
here were their names . . . . Ted Evans, Day Davis . . . . Gwynn stood and
swayed while Mrs Evans held onto her.
The old army
lorry pulled into the pit yard and stopped. A young man who was a doctor, and
two nurses wearing spotless white dresses with a large red cross on the front
jumped down from the front seat and went into the office. From the rear of the
lorry men were jumping down, some were dressed in their best suits, some were
dressed as if they themselves had just come from a pit, wearing their helmets
and pit clothes. The doctor and nurses came out of the office and with the men
from the lorry carrying rescue equipment all walked to the pit cage.
The people of
the village still waited. The cage was going up and down more often now, as if
the rescue parties were finding more of the missing miners. Each time the cage
came up, the pit manager would look at its ghastly load and call across the
yard, "Jack Lewis, dead. Ron Ford, dead. Tim Jones, badly injured " and so
the roll call went on. By 10pm the crowd had thinned out. The list of missing
men had been cut down to nine. There was no point in waiting when after a name
was stated came the word 'dead'. Some of the women followed their dead men-folk
to the school some went home; others just stood there not knowing what to do.
They were stunned by it all. It had to be a bad nightmare. It had to be
It was 1.30am
and the wheels were turning again. The pit manager called out the names. The
list was cut down to the missing four. Gwynn and her mother still waited. One of
her brothers suggested that they go home for a while and have a hot meal and a
drink. The two took no notice.
At 2am the
wheels turned again but this time it was the two nurses along with some of the
rescue party. Gone were the spotless white uniforms with their bright red
crosses. The nurses were covered from head to foot in coal dirt. The uniforms
were torn. Their shoes were broken. Their fancy little hats had gone, exposing
their hair, full of dust and dirt from the pit where they had spent so many
nurses and some of the rescue party went into the manager's office, closing the
door as they went in. The people could see them stood talking and looking grim
by the lights that had been set up in the yard. They saw the pit manager and the
rescue party looking at pit maps on the table. After a while, the manager came
out of his office and asked the small group of people if they would go into his
office as he had something to tell them. " and I am sorry to say that
there's nothing more that anyone can do. The gas is coming in so fast that it
has already passed the place where the last miner was found. As for the four
missing men, they must be further along the pit. I should think by now that they
must be dead, I'm very sorry to say. He spoke to the doctors, nurses and rescue
party. He thanked them for all their help in their hour of need, adding it was
pointless to try and do any more. Everything had been done that could have been
Day Davis lay
in the pitch blackness, his body broken and badly burnt. The only sound was
himself fighting for his breath, turning his head this way and that trying not
to breathe the gas that was filling the small space. He thought of Gwynn, his
wife. He thought of his two children. His mind was thinking of all sorts of
things, things he had never given a thought to for years. It was getting harder
to breathe. The small space was filling up. There was very little air left now.
Gwynn. The kids. Gwynn, Gwynn . . . . He lay there thinking of Gwynn, the kids
and himself. What would it have been like in Canada? He lay there, knowing he
would be doing what he never wanted to do and that was to spend the rest of his
life in the pit
FACTORY FLOOR POEM NO.2
The floor creep truckled to the charge
for the gen: annual bonus; canteen; 1/4 hour.
Scabs scurried first; then, the union faithful.
Red buttons halted jostling tins
on spirals overhead.
Their subsidised meal well nudged down
couples stood about –
enrolled into shop faction by rival rankings.
The manager signalled with his memo pad
"all hands assembled".
Mr. Arnold Stubbs hawked the financial year.
A cough like a pub comic's curtain raiser
Arnold Stubbs was a natural conserver,
mostly of his own talents.
"Overtime payments have severely taxed
liquidity," he began,
production has fallen off . . .
The assembly closed up to shoulder
his shafts as he higgled away
at their silent "how much?"
"Twelve pounds cash each," he'd said.
"Twelve pounds! For a year's work."
WHEN THE SOLDIERS CAME
When the soldiers came
Wasn't I in the bath with no clothes on,
Wasn't I just getting out when someone
Handed me the towel and there was
Six grinning Brits at all me attractions
And me just seventeen never been kissed
Except by me Ma and Da and Billy Mullen
Once at the bus stop outside Donnely's
Wasn't I that shocked I dropped
the towel and hid myself behind the door?
They laughed and left me there, didn't
I hear them clattering in all the house,
Throwing down drawers, beds, books, letters,
Lives, didn't I?
None of us were beaten, none taken away,
Yet, huddled behind the door, wasn't I
Something beaten, something taken away, forever?
I watched you
the other night
on the Tele
huddles of boy soldiers
with raw scrubbed necks
and ashen cheeks
across the faces
I watched you
crammed into doorways
or prostrate behind sandbags
as the experts from the squad
attempted by robot
to defuse it.
I read in your faces
the look of men
with so many questions unanswered
that they no longer ask why.
Robert Emmet warned you
but you hanged him
James Connolly told you what would happen
but you shot him
A million and a half peasants screamed out to you
but you let them starve.
So still you cannot see
that sooner or later
it's going to explode
in your faces.
'You're first on the list',
Said my S.A.S. friend,
As he nodded to the left.
'We'll be knocking up you
In the dark of the night',
Smiling at one of the guests.
The party was noisy,
We stood in a corner,
Drinking and talking away.
'I learnt it in Ireland,
To spy on my friends,
It's a gamble I have to take.'
'All that shit about freedom,
And brotherly love;
It's a joke to me, and my mates.'
He knocked back his whisky,
Then went for another,
Smacking a girl on the rump.
'We've a list for your lot,
Just for round here.
Commies and Lefties and that.
We're all over the place,
In civvies or out,
Waiting, and willing, to shoot'.
His expression grew sombre,
He looked in his glass,
It was emptied again, in one go.
He said, 'You know Ireland?
Divis street flats? Shot
A man from the roof there one night.
He was just going home,
But I felt like some fun,
So he died on the pavement below'.
He refilled his glass,
Twirled it round in one hand,
Downing it with a grin.
Wiping his lips, a drink in his hands,
He turned round to me, yet again.
'Those U2 batteries you use in a torch,
You can use them as bullets, you know'.
He paused, and then said,
No trace of a smile,
'I'll be glad when you fuckers are dead.
It ain't nothing personal,
To me it's my job,
like One day in Belfast,
They ambushed my mates.
Killed Charlie, shot in the head.
So, we picked up this Paddy,
Bleeding, you know
And lay him down in the truck.
And we said,
"All right mate, we'll get you out,
Just hang on a while till we go'.
But we didn't you know,
We just left him to die,
God, the blood in the back of that truck'.
I left after that, He lay slumped in a chair.
His glass tilted down to the floor.
As the lift took me down,
I recalled in Malaya,
How the bodies of S.A.S. soldiers lay there.
Forgotten by most,
Recalled by a few.
And as one of these said,
A hard bitten bastard, he was,
'For what? For nobody
Now, at all'.
looked at the polystyrene dragon one more time. It was hideous. And in this
effigy was proclaimed the whole sum fears of all the patients that had passed
through this establishment and the intended serenity of its walls. Iron bars,
iron cots, hot water pipes and iron radiators. A nurse watching to see you
hadn't stole a patient's razor, or was hanging yourself with the wet towels in
After 3 weeks
here, the causes of George's compulsive sleeping were still unidentified. But he
sensed that he was constantly being watched as he squeezed his blackheads out in
their mirrors. They were too blatant, no amount of tranquilisers could keep
their note-making and spying from him.
All life here
was the same game of chess with the same missing pieces, the same afternoon that
had lasted three weeks now. You just kept going back to it and people got fed up
with it, and you'd find other people to play it with, and it wasn't the people
it was the pieces, cos you never played to win and they were too drugged to
recognise or they were making allowances. Or they were taking notes.
One man here
had gone crazy, like a rowing boat on an ocean, after he'd left prison. They
said that he would do anything to go back to a nice warm cell. Another had
merely gone "nuts-whole-hazel-nuts" on valium and alcohol. A boy of 19 had drank
weed-killer after his girlfriend had aborted their child.
evenings a week there would be a whist drive with the women from Psychiatric 1.
Unmarried mothers, battered wives, teenage girls. One fat spinster in a
wheel-chair was legless from her suicide bid on the Birkenhead subway. She was
there. An evening of this was enough to drive the sane to escape. But known
escapists were given a syrup which caused vomiting on contact with alcohol. So,
30 minutes later, Joe's Bar would be on the phone, and the ambulance sent out.
They'd be spending the next two days in the freezer, then a week in pyjamas
After the tea
break George was led to the art room by an older O.T. lady who didn't try
anything. They walked down the fire escape, well armed with her bunch of keys.
She spoke to George as if he were all of 26 and had just been on a visit to the
school dentist. They watched a masked man spray the underside of a hoisted
ambulance. It was occupation day and the O.T. lady asked George if this was a
job he would like to do: to steam-spray the underside of an angel of mercy,
capable of doing 120 mph on open motorway, but held a torturing 6 ft from the
ground, caressed by the man in blue overalls. She asked George if he would like
to stand and watch, but left it at that. Clean clinic cream. Half empty milk
bottles turned green. Was she taking notes? Was she waiting for him to comment?
Would she mark in her notebook when he tried to change the subject. . . What?
art room was a young woman modelling pottery. She wore an overall and had her
hair poneytailed in an elastic band to avoid the flying mud from the clay
abortion. Distractions, that’s all the world played on. Why did everything in
here play-up sexual? When were they taking notes and when were they blind
withdraw and say absolutely nothing to no-one ever again. But they'd use more
drugs to loosen your tongue. If you went even quieter they'd use more drugs, and
you'd never get out, never, ever. Or you'd say something dirty and they'd give
you Electric Convulsive. That's it, they were just waiting for you to say
"Now draw a
picture." "Oh, anything. The first thing that comes into your head." (What does
every guy look at first?). George held the dreaded pencil which committed him to
doom. A still life, that'd fool them. No, they'd analyse the shapes, the curves
would give you away. Draw something, anything. Quick, she's watching you
hesitate, she's writing out the form for more drugs. I know "I don't feel
like drawing anything today, I've got no ideas in my head."
BREAK FOR A COMMERCIAL
Break for a commercial,
They tell you "beer is best"
What to do on your holiday,
what to do with your money.
How to gain in confidence
how to grow in stature.
Break for a commercial,
They tell you "bread is good",
Once it was "A bank manager in your cupboard"
Today it puts "the umbrella of insurance over your family".
Break for a commercial,
They tell you how "to shop in style".
This is "Your life"
This is "Opportunity knocking"
This is the culture of "Coronation Street".
This is the intruder in your home.
Today you Pay, they profit.
Today you buy, they sell
Today you ''want
Break for a commercial,
Hear the cash register jingle.
If they ask us why we kept silent say
We did it for the children. Certainly
We knew about the locked wagons, the night
Visits, the panicked scream, the bruised faces.
It wasn't right, but you don't muck up
Your career for some black Mick McJew.
When we saw the small fist of protest, I
Whispered that they had a point. You
Agreed. Only for the children we might
Have joined, risked going on file, risked
Mockery, risked the commitment that the
Poor must give; total. No way back.
When we joined the celebrations we did
It for the children. We bought balloons,
Candy-floss, tossed skittles, guessed the
Weight of the pig, had a go at the hoopla.
We listened to the band and at the end remarked
The soldiers looked smart with their stub guns.
Round, dark eyes follow me inside
And out. I wish they'd go away.
THE GOOD OLD ENGLISH BOBBY
It was a hot
summer day in August 74. Hundreds of men and women were gathering into a march.
They were marching to picket a factory in Tower Bridge in support of fellow
workers. There were people organising the marchers into an organised column. My
job was to see that reporters didn't talk to people in a way that may trick them
into saying things to put a bad look on the march. In the past reporters have
got marchers unknowingly to say something detrimental against the object of the
started to the factory, people laughing, singing and shouting. The sun was
shining. The march was in a good mood. The marchers approached the factory
shouting slogans and singing. There were police all around the front of the
factory. The whole street was full of marchers. We were there for about half an
hour when a policeman who looked like a doorman spoke on a loudspeaker. "You all
must get on the pavement", he said, so we all got on the pavement, everyone
squeezed together. The object of this was to show that this mass picket was
peaceful. Then the police said, "You must all move out of the street."
were pleased to see the pickets march away. But what they didn't know was that
it was worked out with a bit of luck and a lot of good judgement: if the
marchers walked four abreast, we would be able to completely encircle the
factory and still keep on walking. I was still doing my job with the reporters.
My thought at that moment was, I knew that it was possible I could get a beating
from the police, because I felt a funny atmosphere.
There are two
things that can happen on a mass picket, and they are: you can win peacefully,
or lose violently. But I had in the back of my mind that it wouldn't go that
far. In fact, if you looked around, mostly all the pickets were family men and
women; that sensible age, all peaceful and well organised. Walking right around
the factory was good tactics, and the pickets were winning peacefully. When the
pickets turned the corner for the third time, the police were all across the
street. They must have cut off the tail enders. They stood there twenty deep, in
front of the factory, and more in the side street. So it looked like a violent
ending. The pickets came right across the street and began to march towards the
police; then the police linked arms and they began to walk towards the pickets.
The feeling was exciting and frightening.
I was in the
third row. We walked slowly towards the police .they seemed massive in size. My
heart was beating hard. I looked around at the pickets; they were men, not young
lads on a hit and run attack. This was it. These pickets were not going to be
turned away easy. The women were pushed to the back. I couldn't visualise what
was going to happen; my heart beat faster. This was all over one man, the
factory owner, and the police were protecting him. The police were family men,
and their earnings were less than mine, their conditions worse than mine. Why
were they protecting him?
I clenched my
fists. I thought, "If one of those policemen hit me, he'll kill me." The pickets
and police came together chest to chest. Both sides started to push the police
were pushing hard. More police came from the side streets. Then we pushed back.
It was a stalemate. We stood there pushing; so did the police. Then I heard a
call: "Truncheons out and clear them!" I could see about the fourth row back on
the police side. They had their truncheons out in the air; the police in the
front couldn't get theirs out, because they were so tight packed together. The
ones at the back were jumping up and trying to hit the pickets. The police were
winning. The pickets were dropping back; a call came from behind, "All sit down
in the main road!" Some of the pickets behind dropped back and sat down.
there pushing, the pickets in the front turned and pushed with their backs, so
that they would not be punched or kicked in their fronts. I pushed with my hands
on a picket chest; then a policeman lent over the picket's shoulder and punched
me right on the nose. The chap whose chest I was pushing turned and hit the
policeman full in the face and knocked him out. The policeman went down like a
sack of potatoes. I, who didn't want to see no-one get too badly hurt, said
"Pick him up, or he will be trapped to death!" As I said that, he disappeared
under the other policemen's feet.
believe it. Then the police broke through. It was a terrifying sight~ punching,
kicking and truncheon hitting everyone. The pickets were coming off worse. They
were being knocked to the ground, and as they fell the police trampled over
them, and the police at the back finished them off. The pickets sitting in the
main road came running back. It was frightening to be in the middle. The police
coming swinging their truncheons, and the pickets running, screaming and
and police came together with a mighty thud. We started pushing again. The
street was made up with houses on the right and a corrugated fence on the left.
There was a drop of about ten feet behind the fence. I could see the fence being
pushed down on the police side. Someone jumped onto a wall and shouted: "Push to
the left!" The fence began to fall quicker, and you could hear the screams as
police fell. The more the fence fell, the more police disappeared. I didn't
think policemen could scream; but they can - and very loud too.
suddenly, everybody went quiet, and the pushing stopped. The pressure came off
my back. We all stopped, and just looked. There was no noise, except for the
cries of the policemen.
broke. The police started fighting. They were like animals. Systematically, they
knocked people down, men, women and onlookers. We moved back to the main road,
and they still kept coming, hitting and arresting anyone that got in their way.
They were like mad dogs. Halfway down the main road we slowed down; so did the
police. I thought it was all over. The police walked back and stood in a group.
There were only a few pickets standing talking. The police started running down
to us with their truncheons waving. I had a bloody nose and a few bruises, so I
turned and slowly walked on the pavement. I could hear the thundering of their
boots coming behind me. I reached a lamp-post where an old lady was bent behind
it, as if she was hiding.
She was very
small and thin. She must have weighed about six stone. I went up to her and
said: "You'd better get in that shop", then walked away from her. I must have
taken two steps when a policeman poked me in the back with his truncheon.
on", he said. I turned.
"Mind that old lady", I said. Then another one came. He
hit me across the back.
"Run, you bastard, run!" he said. A third came, but he
came around the lamp-post. He knocked the old lady down to the ground. She was
rolling in the gutter. I stopped.
"Look, you have knocked the old lady down", I
said. Then the third hit me, so I put my hands up and started towards the old
lady. As I did, I said,
"All right, lads, you have won, let's help the old
The three of
them stood around me with truncheons at the ready.
"The old lady, she's in the
gutter, let's go and help her", I said.
"Let her lay there", one of the
policemen said. I didn't believe that the good old English bobby could say or do
such a thing. I saw red. Then the three policemen used me as a punch bag.
His Lordship was noting
for the record
the exact words
used by the accused:
"I wish... ." he spelled out,
an eye on the Jury,
"I wish I had never been
to fucking Shrewsbury."
"So do I my Lord"
observed the prisoner
with deep feeling;
"My Lord, so do I."
* John McKinsie Jones was one of the
Shrewsbury Three. He was sentenced to 9 months.
I write boldly
on a piece of flimsy
"Smith" (our Foreman)
"is a bastard",
I flush away,
content at last
to have had my say.
(heard on train)
"There's only one way
t' stop all this violence, mate:
bring back the birch!"