ISSUE 2 - JANUARY 1973
cover size 253 x 204 mm
This is the second issue of 'Voices'. Whether it marks an improvement on
the first, the reader must be the judge. There is more prose here,
and I think that an advance, though there must be poetry or there will be no
vision. The political content is clearer, as more writers write and
those who have written before mature. We welcome contributors: poetry,
prose, fiction, reportage; we exercise no censorship except such as the
limitations of our space dictate. We would like to appear four times a
year but this depends on the support we receive. We would welcome reviews
in Union journals, the progressive press. If a score of Unions would
circulate 20 to 50 copies among their members, to bring 'Voices' to their notice
they would help. Is a publication like 'Voices' worth keeping alive?
You must decide. Send contributions, orders, queries and maybe
donations to me at 13, Victoria Way, Bramhall, Stockport SK7 IDE, Cheshire.
TRIBUTE TO GEORGE JACKSON
Hurt me, imprison me, shoot me, kill me,
Only the best of men fight and die for the wrongs they
see around them.
George Jackson the prison walls could not stop your
developing mind - a freedom of mind your guards or
oppressors would never know or understand.
They tried to dehumanise you with filth and dirt, in
pain and hurt - till at last they shot you from this earth.
Involvement made you, involvement graved you.
In death as in life you gave meaning to be free -
In dignity and honour of-
being a man.
Your bones and feelings have gone out of this existence yet your courage lingers
You have helped us all George Jackson to be that much more free
AN IDOL WITHOUT FEET OF CLAY
Lenin, Stalin, Pollitt and Robeson, these men I placed on a pedestal, but
another idol of mine is a man of much smaller stature who brought a lot of
happiness to hundreds of youngsters.
As a boy of 10 or 11 years I had a deep passion (no, not a dame, that came
later). My passion was sport.
In the poor, rough district of Hulme there was no running track, no river for
rowing, not even a park, so our games were played in the street.
Cricket, a piece of old wood fashioned into a bat, the lamp post for the
wickets, so your offside strokes were limited, and a rubber ball, likely as not
nicked from Woolleys or collected for with odd farthings or halfpennies we had
managed to acquire. Football was played between two entries for goals, there
were no bounds, and only throw-ins if the pill went up someone's lobby or down a
grid. If no ball was available one was made of rag tied with string
and if the street was wet the rag became a soggy mass, covering us with damp and
Another pastime indulged in was to march down Foster Street that linked St.
Wilfs and City Road where gangs from each school would engage in a battle royal,
“Cathy Dogs v Proddy Dogs".
This was 1920 and some of the younger teachers from both schools were returning
from the Army, and, unknown to us had got cracking to form the Hulme Schools'
League for football and cricket, the games to be played on the Barracks, City
Road; this was being evacuated by the Army and taken over by the
corporation, with the lovely title of "St. George's Park”;, a mass of shale and
chippings. The league was to consist of all the Hulme schools, two
Catholic, three Church of England, and three Elementary schools, and when the
news filtered through excitement knew no bounds.
Our teacher, who was one of the moving spirits, was young, tall and well built,
and the forerunner of Cary Grant. They were dead ringers for each other; he had
been wounded in the war and to add to all this he could crack a ball with both
feet. He had been an amateur with 'Spurs whilst at Winchester, at cricket
he could sling a nifty leg break and could bat a bit so he was a natural for our
His enthusiasm knew no bounds and our first match was against St. Wilfs,
Saturday morning, kick off 9.30. At 8.30 he and Pop Doyle, of Wilfs,
brought a bag of sawdust from a nearby saw mill and with the aid of kids marked
out a pitch, and pitched some wickets for goal posts.
He had scrounged a strip of black end white shirts, some of us had football
boots, but others only had one on his best foot with a shoe or-clog on the other
and as the shirts came over our wrists and up to our kees we must have looked a
pretty rum bunch, but boy! we were proud.
Charley, that was the Christian name of our idol, taught in 6B, and most of us
hoped we would duck the exams and be sent to B not 6A, for not only was he
tolerant but helpful and thoughtful. He encouraged us and in some cases
drove the backward and lazy, and showed no favouritism to any.
When I was 12 I played for Manchester Boys Juniors and we won the Lancashire
Cup. He was chuffed that two boys from Hulme were on the team and just
before the next season started the boys considered likely for Manchester Boys
Seniors went to a weekend camp at Strines. Twentyfour boys and eight teachers
all from various schools around Manchester. And during a trial game some chaps
from the village came and claimed the pitch. The teachers reasoned with
them and the upshot was a challenge between us and them, our team consisting of
five teachers and six boys.
They were duff, we hammered them 7-2, and Charley got four.
As we were leaving the pitch a big lout of about 20 gave me a dig for something
I said to him and immediately Charley was over remonstrating with him. The
local took a swing, this was parried and my hero flattened him. You can
guess by playtime on Monday morning he had scored six and seen three louts off.
That year I was lucky enough to be selected for the North v South of England
trials and it was Charley who brought me the news and for the first time he
pulled my hair and I could see he was proud of me. I felt great!
Years later he was given a headship at a school in Levenshulme, and I heard that
on his retirement not only pupils but parents subscribed and gave him a great
He is not around any more but it is never too late to say "Thanks for
everything". An idol without feet of clay.
The unknowing victims
the old men
who are pursued by no hunter
sit in tight circle vision
and sigh memories
personal things and happy
to tell a meander
of once people
we cripple we maim
because we are afraid
and of the aged
The rain comes
across the roofs
disturbing the waking birds
the window limits the world
and encloses reality
the rain marks the window
distorts the view
the last of the birds
listlessly circles and falls
and the rain comes.
Out in the sunshine. Whispers.
Run. Along the roofs
and walls. Whispers Archimedes
A MEETING IN THE NIGHT
The building was old; it stood back off the road. It had once been an inn.
I walked towards the door, conscious of the low rumble of thunder and the leaden
clouds. I pushed at the door; it swung loose on its one hinge and
almost collapsed. I paused while my eyes became orientated to the gloom.
Remnants of twilight, filtering through the doorway, revealed one large room
that ran its length from where, I stood to some impenetrable region of darkness.
The low ceiling was heavily timbered, and the floor, although solid, gave off a
musty, unhealthy smell of rotting wood. I stood a moment, wondering if I should stay. Then, a louder peal of
thunder erupted into the silence, and whiplashes of rain, like the patter of a
thousand feet, began beating a furious dance upon the tiles.
I moved further into the room and paused as I heard something. A rat disturbed
by the rain? Some other creature? Or a…? A match hissed into life on
my right. I turned. Framed in the rugged circle of light was a man.
He was standing behind what appeared to be a long bar-counter. He was tall
and angular, with a narrow face as pale as a butter bean. He must have been
hidden in the shadows, watching me. He applied the match to the stub of
candle and came towards me,
"Who are you? What do you want?" His tone bit like acid.
"Shelter....from the storm" I said, startled. "I've been here before".
"Ah!" He thrust the candle forward, so near my face that I shielded
my eyes. "You're one of them tramps that keep coming in here then -"
"No.....I'm not a tramp, I'm a traveller".
He laughed in his throat. His voice edged with sarcasm, he said - "That's
a new name for a vagrant.....where you from then?"
"Woodhallow" I said
He moved the candle aside. Our eyes met. His were black and
unfathomable, like pools of darkness. He rubbed at his chin with long,
"Woodhallow" he mused. "I know everyone there. I haven't seen you
"And I've never seen you" I remarked.
There was a little silence as he screwed up his eyes in thought. Then he
said "You say you've been here before?"
I nodded. "Several times".
He laughed, sending fingers of breath towards the
flickering flame of the candle. He said, almost choking,
"Well, you won't be able to come here again".
"Because it's being opened up again. Then the likes of you won't be
His words stunned me. It was some moments before I could make comment.
Then with some difficulty I said, "You mean that there will be people here, and
lights and music?"
He gazed at me for several seconds. A superior smile sat upon his lips. He said
with some shade of malice, "That's right, and that'll keep the likes of you out
"But I'm not a -"
"-tramp" he finished for me. "Then what are you....dressed that?"
I looked down at my clothes. They were old and thread-bare. I
tried to think of something to say.
He grunted in triumph at my obvious discomfort. Then he said "I'm
surprised at you wanting to stay here anyway.... seeing that the place is
supposed to be haunted."
I said nothing.
He gazed at me with the meditative stare of a butcher weighing meat. He said "I
suppose you know about it don't you?"
"And it doesn't frighten you, that right here someone was stabbed to death a
hundred years ago?"
I shrugged. I said "I know all about it. Everybody does where I come
from. I don't mind staying here."
He looked disappointed. His face seemed to come to pieces for a moment. Then he
said viciously "Well you can just clear off. I don't think you're! from
Woodhallow at all."
"But I am" I protested.
He reached out and grabbed my shirt. He seemed to go rigid. His face contorted
into a grimace. He let out a horrible, unearthly sound; it was a strangled moan
that began in his throat and lingered on his breath, until it became
intermingled with the varied utterances of the wind. He withdrew his hand.
We both stared at it. It was covered in blood.
I said helpfully "I'm from Woodhallow cemetery".
He drew back and dropped the candle. And, with a scream as excruciating as
a knife drawn across glass, he ran crying into the night.
Frederick G. Walker
In moments when the routine of Committee
Circles, and idle comrades, pencil in hand,
Propose, Amend, Adopt, or sketch their witty,
Amusing cartoons on agendas, and the bland,
Somnolent air is filled with drone and chatter,
Reports of sub-committees, delegates, fractions.....
The secretary reads a circular letter
Giving instructions to Labour Party factions......
In moments such as these I have sensed a grim
Tension in twenty faces - the Committee
Becomes a sacramental pact, and dim,
Almost unheard, a voice speaks, without pity,
Without emotion, telling of great events,
In Germany, of Lenin dead, the new need
For proletarian leadership; my sense
Of all that's noble in us being freed -
Lenin is dead, draw closer, closer, comrades,
Tomorrow in Germany ten thousand comrades
Wait with white lips and stiff chins certain death,
Tomorrow, we, maybe, idle and wearied,
Will draw quick breath, sensing a sudden zest,
A sudden peril joining us in endeavour.
It comes, flickers, goes, and the minute after,
We hold up our hands, negating a resolution,
Making a feeble joke to rouse fleet laughter,
Holding the passion of our minds in thin solution.
Ben Ainley (1924)
ON SEEING THE PITHEAD AT ABERFAN
Working for Arthur Jones. April 1972 - Rhonda Valley.
Miners married to old hills of rubble
Tied to the filthy holes in the ground.
Tired from the toil of tearing but treasure,
Made move mountains of wealth for the wealthy.
Lost their health making wealth beyond measure.
Young miners married to, the whore with deep pit.
The old men know her well.
They've paid their price in sweat and blood.
Lived on their knees, crawled in the mud,
Tearing black babies out of her womb,
Matching her hiss with a cry and a groan,
Choked with her gas and left all alone,
Their lungs full of dust,
The old prostitute's still full,
ONE MILLION PLUS ONE
As is my wont, day by day since 6.45 on Tuesday morning, I had been putting off
the ugly moment.
It is Friday now and I must procrastinate no longer. Get into your best
suit Sam, I have heard tales! But first you must try your last gambit.
Bang me knuckles on Boss-Brother's door.
"What do you want?"
"I want some money, I need..."
"Get your body out of here or I'll call the Police!"
So I went to the office, took my cards and P.45 and went. Now for the real test.
The Labour Exchange - or is it the Department of Social Security? I was
here fifteen years ago with my friend Terry Ward. Took a snotty bastard
clerk to task to no avail. Couldn't get his money, so I had gone to speak
on his behalf
Nobody with me today.
"I am without a job, unemployed."
"What did you do?"
"I managed a glass factory."
And that was a lie. For the last few years I had managed nobody but myself
- a one-man band. Cut the glass to shape, bevel, polish the edge and then
put on the fancy design.
"A manager, will you please go..."
I was removed from the long straggling line of saddened workless workers to a
much nicer place upstairs, with chairs.
"Good morning, sir, how can I help you?"
I'm glad I am clean shaven and in my best suit.
"I am unemployed, without a job."
"Have you been here before?"
"When did you start this job?"
I had worked out this by starting at my birth in 1923 and adding 14. My
eyes filled and my face screwed up by itself and I filled out a form, wiped my
eyes and went out.
Because pay day is Wednesday at this place, and because I had asked for money, I
was given a sealed envelope to hand in at the local office in Chorlton.
Because my queue was twenty strong; because at the rate they were being
processed I would be there for the rest of the day, and because the toilets were
locked and I would have to ask for the key at the desk, and because my wife was
working, I stood up and walked out. I think I said "Shit on the bastards,
I'd rather starve."
"Have you filled out the dependents' allowance form?"
I looked blank.
"It's a little white form."
"I'll see if it’s here" and I began to look through my little file of papers;
put ever so recently by my wife in this folder with 'Israeli Discount Bank Ltd,’
in gold on the front. Where the hell did she get it from? Anyway, for some
obscure reason I cut the 'Israeli’ out.
"There it is - fill it out now". '
I could see a space for the date of birth of my children. Perhaps I am too ready
to be ashamed, but shame was on me now and I covered myself with anger.
"I don’t know the exact date" I nearly shouted -
"Kathy is eighteen and David sixteen. I can give you the year."
"It must state the day and month"
'Why' I said to myself - "three times I've been here and I've not had a bleeding
penny". I was aware I was swearing - even though I had promised myself not
to do so.
"It's not my fault; if you fill in the form you can post it."
"I will post it then".
There were tears in my eyes; again I turned away quickly. This asking for money. Akin to begging.
I hate it. ...
Bad enough when I have worked for it -but when I have done nothing?
I can't stand with my hand out. No hand-outs!
No money! No need for it. Thus token of exchange. Back to exchange and
barter. I will give my labour for food and clothes and a little warmth.
This shame - this guilt has been a long time with me. I can remember the
guilt I felt when I asked my mother for a penny. I can remember my mother.
See her on her knees, gripping brush and soap. I can remember the smell of
the hot soapy water in the galvanized bucket and I can't remember the birthdays
of my children - what's wrong with me?
I can remember - standing at the iron railings of the concrete veranda of the
'buildings' in Knowsley Street. High up, too high up this prison faced
block - too high. Fear, flight. I wet my dark pantaloons and stand there
till they grow cold. My mother - her hand touches the wet and she is not
repelled. "Oy" - and I am stripped and changed and warm again.
At the railings of Greengate Elementary School I stand and watch and smell the
toast that the other boys' mothers bring at playtime. Where is my mother?
Where is my toast? Where is my dole? Where is my job?
When I was in work, this and that little shitty shop-owner would say to me "Sam
-how would you like to run my place for me eh? It would be a good job -
and well paid!"
A good job hmm?
More than you're getting now
So now I say to them "Well?" - and all I get is a million 'ums’ and 'ers’ and no
Hell, I wouldn't work for them if they got on their hands and knees, like my
mother scrubbing the floor, and begged me.
All I could see was the little golden magindovid. This shiny Hebrew
symbol. This shield of David - one triangle set on another - this Jewish
cross. Say something! for Christ's sake say something!
She did say "I'm very pleased to meet you" and it did sound as if she meant it.
"What a small smooth hand she has" said my big rough worker's hand - and it was
warm, like mine.
If only Tschaikovski had been here. I bet he'd have clapped his little
hands off when he heard her play his violin concerto.
"I'm Sam Cohen". Sam - that's Jewish enough. Like her. She
looks Jewish. Well - she does have that magindovid hanging on its thin
gold chain from her neck.
Simpatico - I'm like her. She's good. Did you hear her play? Maybe she
didn't hear, "I'm Sam Cohen - a sculptor - I would like..." God, I would
like to see her face. Look up man, look! She is beautiful. Damn that
glittering gold sign. It's blinding me. It's noisy down here, underneath a
thousand people; standing at her dressing room door and all I can see "Sculptor
- and I would like to make your head". Make your head! What a bloody
awful way to say "I want to be famous like you". No - I want to be good at
making heads. No, not that either. I want to be a sculptor - a famous
sculptor, skilful, wanted; people should say "You're good, do me, do me!"
"I will pay you - you won't go hungry whilst you're doing it".
It matters not now, A wasted favour Ron the manager had done. Sent
me round to the stage door. Who to ask for, taken underground to this
Sylvia - this wearer of a little golden magindovid that shone.
Sylvia Markovici - I bet it was Markovitch! She wasn't going to be here
long enough; off in the morning, this twenty-year-old beauty. And
one day the whole world will know her and love her because she is good and
skilful and they will say to her "Come and play - for me - for me -for me!
IF YOU WANT TO GET AHEAD, GET A HAT
This slogan was better known in Denton during the years between the wars than
the town motto.
Felt-hatting was the principle industry of this small Lancashire town where I
was born. In particular the production of high quality fur-felt
hats. The wearing of the local product was taken so seriously by
hat-masters and workers alike that although I was never employed in the
industry, it would have been unthinkable for me to go out dressed up without a
hat. My father would have considered me to be indecently dressed.
Many a Denton man has been seen walking along Blackpool prom, during a heatwave
in gray flannels and shirt-sleeves with his fur-felt trilby or bowler hat
clamped to his head like a limpet.
Of course the workers in the industry could buy slightly imperfect hats at a
very cheap price because the employers were well aware that the best
advertisement for their hats was that they should be seen to be worn. This
fetishism led to some incongruities. When I was a teenager I have
gone out at night wearing a peach-bloom fur hat that Royalty would have been
proud to wear, but with hardly enough money in my purse to scrape admittance to
the local cinema. And I have seen men queuing for the dole wearing Anthony
Eden hats of a quality and shape like works of art.
When I think about what happened in the industry I feel sure that this deep
craft pride was one of the factors which led to the decline of hatting in
Denton. Unionism was very strong especially amongst the journeymen. But it
was a craft Union first and foremost with all the weaknesses which that implies.
For instance, hatting was considered to be a seasonal trade and the Union seemed
to accept the principle of a fair day's wage for a fair day's work for only part
of the time. With the general slump conditions and a rapidly shrinking
market a situation was reached where short time working and unemployment far
exceeded the seasonal boom. But when one of the bigger manufacturers
bowed to the inevitable and began to produce the cheaper, poorer quality wool
felt hat, many craftsmen felt that a canker was eating into the heart of the
industry. When Luton began large-scale wool hat production the death knell
was sounded for the fur-felt industry. The advent of the last war
delivered the final blow from which the industry has never recovered.
Small pockets of the craft still exist in Denton, but the former glory has gone.
This is not entirely a bad thing. No community should have to be so
dependent on one industry.
But sometimes I can't help feeling saddened when I realise that generations are
growing up with no knowledge of the skill and craftsmanship with which their
forebears were so well endowed and I hope that some day when we have a stable
socialist society and the dictatorship of commercialised fashion has been
removed, we may see a little resurgence of this old craft in my home town.
Surely then there can be no objection to the production of a thing of beauty
just because it is also long-lasting, hard-wearing and useful?
THE ENGINE ROOM
The hiss of steam as pistons pound
The rumble down the tunnel as golden blades
churn the sea
The engine dances merrily away
Auxiliaries sing in an appropriate way
The warm air kisses the engine man's cheek -
The sweet smell of warm burnt oil
The slumber up above as crewmen sleep -
Gauge glass brass gleams with brilliant lustre
Dials and faces peer down to say
The moment's news at that hour and day
"Pressure up as oil is down"
Pistons pound and rumble on
SANS ALMOST EVERYTHING
While in the Health Food shop the other day, I saw something that I hadn't
seen since some time during the war - Soya Flour. I tried to remember what I had
done with it or used it for but I couldn’t.
I knew it was packed full of goodness, and recently I had heard on the radio and
seen on the tele, -that some very clever food manufacturers/chemists were doing
something with it to make it into mock steaks or what the Americans call
Perky-Jerky; Anyway, I thought, I am sure to have a recipe somewhere, so I
bought a pound.
I searched through all my post-war cookery books, but there was nothing on soya
beans, so I looked up some wartime cookery books that I had saved. There was
nothing on soya beans there either, but turning the pages I came across a recipe
headed "Chicken sans Poulet".
One had to be resourceful in those days of dried egg and household milk (what
was that?), but "Chicken sans Poulet" - the mind boggled; it had a kind of
genteel euphemism with a hidden threat.
I don't know any French, but I know a bit of Shakespeare and all those sans's, -
sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything. It didn't take me long -
chicken without chicken. It had been broadcast by the B.B.C. on the 3rd of
Nearly thirty years ago, and wartime, but was it really necessary to kid us to
that extent? Surely, if there was no chicken we could have faced the fact and
gone on living. Or was it kindly meant like those hearty jokes to help us
through with a bit of self-delusion?
Actually the dish can be made with sausage or rabbit.. Now I remembered what I
had used the Soya bean flour for -Almond Paste - Almond Paste sans Almonds.
It's not a hobby, it's a disease. Once the tendrils of absorbing interest have
gripped you there is no escape. Your house becomes a cross between a public
library and a museum. Decorating assumes monstrous proportions and even a
relatively simple matter, such as catching a mouse, is fraught with danger. You
learn to live a sedate life stepping gingerly round the precariously perched
pamphlets and controlling your instinct ,to throw things in case you hit a
Mind you, there are compensations. Holidays take on a hew meaning when each
visit to a bookshop might bring a find of real value; a forgotten text or
little-known item that throws light on one of the dark ages of our history. The
occasional telephone call may be a stalwart, anxious to unload his collection of
priceless ephemera, painstakingly gathered throughout a lifetime of service to
the movement. The postman's knock may bring a catalogue which has an item of
rare and absorbing interest Every moment of every day can be filled with the
demands of the books and before you know where you are you are hooked. Your life
is forfeit. You are diseased.
Having admitted our weakness, we ask in all innocence, can you think of a better
way of killing yourself? Think of the joy of being buried beneath the weight of
several tons of rare volumes when the floor finally collapses. Think of the
pleasure to be had from breathing in the dust and dirt of ages while grubbing
through the dark corners of a bookshop. Think of the bread and cheese eaten for
breakfast, dinner and tea, because you have spent up on buying some costly item
too good to miss. Think of having no television because you have no wall left to
put it against.
Before you become too sorry for us, we must in all fairness point out that book
collecting is one of the most rapidly expanding growth industries. It used to be
said that diamonds were a girl's best friend, but today, the careful father
invests in a library or two in the certain knowledge that when his daughter
reaches years of indiscretion there will be a greatly enhanced nest-egg to deal
with the inevitable crises. The price of books has increased by leaps and bounds
in the past twenty years. The education explosion, while it may have had dubious
effects on the recipient has certainly provided grist for the booksellers1 mill.
So much so, in fact, that today's bookseller is rarely the rheumy-eyed, gnarled
scholar of absent-minded aspect which is the traditional picture in fiction. He
is far more likely to be a bright young man with a large overdraft who expects
and sees that he gets a high percentage profit on each deal. He does not live on
the shop premises among the damp and faintly musty books. He shuts the shop on
the hour and drives to his modern semi in suburbia the same as other
Although some of the uncertainty has been taken out of the business by the
modern methods of the bright new boys, one can still spend many happy hours
browsing round a remote shop, find a bargain at the end, wake the proprietor to
pay your ten pence and be home in time for a wash and late tea.
"But what is the use of all those books?" you may well ask. It's all part of the
class war really. If you know your past and use the knowledge intelligently, you
can chart the future. That is basically what Marx and Engels did. They read the
works of the economists, the philosophers, the historians and the idealists and
from their reading, compiled s blue-print from which the workers can build a
society suited to each country's particular conditions. Lenin did just that for
Czarist Russia. We have to get down to the job of building.
If anyone would care to try, the theory is all here in our house. It only needs
someone to translate it into practice.
Edmund and Ruth Frow
In the hurrying workshops
where men and women sweat
harder and faster
harsher than winter weather
our characters are set.
The urgencies temper,
the hurry and worry and fret
bond us together.
In this lies our strength.
Alone each is nothing
except as of use
to help create value
which sold could produce
profit perhaps -
profit for bosses!
If not, cut their losses
and labour is scrap.
Nothing but hands.
But many together
to work or to stop
we are lords of the shop.
Let the boss go play
To another place -
who misses his face?
But let us go away
and everything stands.
Lesson by lesson
life hammers it home,
each is nothing alone,
but working as ONE
we are essential
to all that is done.
We who are makers
of city and farm
maintainers and takers
from hither and yon -
not the graspers who squat
spiders in office
accounting the lot
in language of profit -
we whom they manage as
dulling with carrots and blows
WE are the not to be done without
and we are beginning
to fathom it out!
THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS?
Who are the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists? This question tantalized me for
years whenever I considered the bizarre possible answers to it. I was aware that
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was the title of a book, but that was all I
knew; the question remained: who are they? It was only very recently that I
discovered that the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - far from being, as I’d
speculated they might be, a band of altruistic tramps or a society for hard-up
humanitarians - far from being any of these things, were well known to me. So
well known in fact that in a very real sense, I'm one of them!
Robert Tressel coins his novel's title "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists" to
describe the working class who "sweat and toil at their noble and unselfish task
of making money for their employers." More particularly though he is talking
about the workers of his day (at the beginning of the century) and especially
those employed in the building trade.
The story is set in the town of Mugsborough (another sly, ironic dig at the
Ragged Trousered Philanthropists) and centres on the lives of a group of
painters and decorators, property repairers and their families. Also taken into
account in the story are the notorious "sweat shops", corruption in local
Councils and the rottenness generally in the structure of the town. Mugsborough
can and should be taken as a microcosm of the whole of Britain at that time.
I don't intend here going into detail about the unscrupulously mercenary and
merciless employers that live in the book and doubtless existed in real life.
Let the names Tressel gave to them suffice: Rushton, Grinder, Sweater, Makehaste
and Sloggit, Bluffem and Doem-down, Snatcher and Graball, Smeeriton end Leovit,
Pushem and Sloggem, Doger end Scampit, and so on. Nor am I going to use much of
his description of the neat-starvation which existed among their employees as a
consequence of their ruthlessness, for there will be plenty of my readers who
have experienced conditions as horrifying as those that Tressel describes (I use
the word "describes" rather than "writes of" because Tressel says in his preface
that he "invented nothing"; everything he speaks of - he witnessed.) For my own
part, I can corroborate much of what he says about near-starvation from my own
experience in the thirties. I remember for example, the "shopping" expeditions I
went on with my grandmother to Smithfield market, where, instead of purchasing,
we picked up from the gutter where they'd been tossed to await the refuse
collector, bruised and faded fruit and scabby-looking vegetables. Memories, such
as that of our school teacher dividing her lunch sandwiches among the
half-starved children in the class - a practical example of the loaves and
fishes feeding the multitude, but without the miracle of multiplication.
Memories of the joy we felt on pay days after father had managed to get
temporary work as a labourer on a council building site. Apart from the penny
chocolate bars he always brought home on these occasions, it also meant that
we'd have something more substantial, for the weekend, at least, than the bread
and dripping or the bread and diluted milk pottage. For those readers too young
to have such beautiful memories, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is
essential reading and I urge them to read it at once.
Rather than mull over these atrocities I would prefer here to examine the causes
of this heinous poverty, causes which are pin-pointed and scathingly analysed in
this novel. It is important to say right away that although Tressel expresses
hatred for the employers and all those instrumental in upholding such a brutal
society, he did not blame them: "They (his employees) all hated and blamed
Rushton. Yet if they had been in Rushton's place they would been compelled to
adopt the same methods, or become bankrupt: for it is obvious that the only way
to compete successfully against other employers who are sweaters is to be a
sweater yourself. Therefore there is no upholder of the present system who can
consistently blame any of these men. Blame the system."
But an inanimate thing such as is a system of running society cannot really bear
the responsibility for its own being. So Tressel's thesis of blame becomes
twinfold. Whenever he speaks about those with whom the real responsibility lies,
at, any rate the great bulk of the blame, his language contains words like
"imbecility", "contemptuous", "stupidity", and "degraded". Words which most
people would think much worse if applied to themselves than "hateful", "wicked",
"cunning", or "aggressive". Who then are the people who inspire such feelings of
contempt in the writer? Who then, are these contemptibles who are responsible
for the iniquities of the Capitalist system? The high ranking Tories? The
pastors and masters? The Capitalists themselves? Well, judge for yourself from
this extract from the book -
"As for these people (the workers), they vote for what they want, they get what
they vote for; and by God they deserve nothing better! They are being beaten
with the whips of their own choosing and if I had my way they would be chastised
with scorpions! For them the present system means semi-starvation, rags and
premature death. They vote for it all and uphold it. Well let them have what
they vote for. let them drudge - let them starve!"
Although this is from the lips of a disenchanted Socialist, one who had his head
almost, stoved in by a rock thrown by one of the jeering crowd of workers as he
tries to address them; although this is out of the mouth of a bitter man who has
just witnessed the same crowd cheer him as he spoke to them (disguised with a
beard) as a paid orator for the Tory candidate, in essence and in tone it is the
same kind of statement that Tressel makes himself through the narrator of the
story or through Owen and Barrington, two active Socialists. He does not of
course conclude with the same sentiments but there often appears to be a kind of
self-struggle to remain committed to the Socialist cause. Barrington undergoes
this struggle, this revulsion of feeling following the scenes he witnesses at
"The blind, stupid, enthusiastic admiration displayed by the philanthropists for
those who exploited and robbed them.., their callous indifference to the fate of
their children, and the savage hatred they exhibited towards any one who dared
to suggest the possibility of better things, forced upon him the thought that
the hopes he cherished were impossible of realisation."
But his anguished
feelings toward the children of the workers, "his younger brethren",
save him from total disillusionment
"He felt like a criminal because he was warmly clad and well fed in the midst of
all this want and unhappiness, and he flushed with shame because he had
momentarily faltered in his devotion to the noblest cause that any man could be
privileged to fight for - the upholding of the disconsolate and the oppressed."
The same kind of see-sawing of feelings is witnessed in Owen, the chief
character in the novel. Articulate, clear-thinking, and level-headed - if angry
- Owen expresses most of Tressel's views, experiencing a curious love-hatred, of
more accurately a compassion-contempt as he looked on these "little children in
men's bodies", the same paradoxical feelings that Tressel must have felt, for
he, like Owen, worked all of his life among them. "Thousands of (these) people
like himself dragged out a wretched existence on the very verge of
starvation...yet practically none of these people knew or even troubled
themselves to enquire why they were in that condition! and for anyone else to
try to explain to them was a ridiculous waste of time, for they did not want to
They did not want to know; yet this did not stop Owen from spending most,of his
spare time and money (on pamphlets) in doggedly trying to force them to become
aware" of their condition. As also, we can surmise, Tressel must have
done. In Owen we constantly witness the struggle between these two
antipathetic states of mind and of feeling towards his fellow workers; feelings
that we can be sure the author also fought with. But with Owen, as with Tressel,
compassion and reason always triumph over revulsion and contempt. He knew the
reason for this despicable lack of self-respect, for their abysmal ignorance and
for their servility. He understood what made them roar with admiration as their
betters fed them rhetoric, and what made them hoot with rage whenever anyone
tried to show them the causes and the cure for their poverty, for their
degradation. For the chains Karl Marx spoke of bound, not their wrists or their
ankles, but their minds. "From their very infancy" says Owen, "they had drilled
into them the doctrine of their own mental and social inferiority, and their
conviction of this doctrine was voiced in the degraded expression that fell from
their lips so frequently when speaking of themselves and each other . The likes
It is, I think, worth repeating here the same statement of fact, but more fully
developed, as spoken by Barrington to the renegade socialist, towards the end of
"From their infancy most of them have been taught by priests and parents to
regard themselves and their own class with contempt - a sort of lower animal -
and to regard them who possess wealth with veneration, as superior beings. The
idea that they are really human creatures, naturally absolutely the same as
their so-called "betters, naturally equal in every way, naturally different from
them only in those ways that their so-called superiors differ from each other,
and inferior to them only because they have been deprived of education, culture
and opportunity - you know as well as I do that they all have been taught to
regard that idea as preposterous".
It is worthwhile also to listen to the renegade's answer, in order to see how
once again Tressel balances one thought against another so that the facts of the
situation continue to see-saw relentlessly in objectivity and truth.-
"Go and undeceive them...go and try to tell them that the Supreme Being made the
earth in all its fulness for the use and benefit of all his children. Go and
explain to them that they are poor in body and mind and social condition not
because of any natural inferiority, but because they have been robbed of their
inheritance. Go and try to show them how to secure that inheritance for
themselves and their children and see how grateful they'll be to you".
Of course the constant repetition of these two facts: the infamous treatment of
the majority, the working class, by a minority, the established rulers, and the
insane way that majority will insist on the privilege of being so treated, these
two facts are not intended to be taken merely as a diatribe either against the
working classes or against the rest of society. In the "loafer" classes, Tressel
no doubt wanted to sow the seed of their guilt, and perhaps (but he hasn't much
faith in this happening), spontaneously cause them to restructure Society more
fairly. But most of all it is clear that his prime object was to stir the
workers into awareness of their own shameful mental stultification; to show them
themselves, as in a mirror, so that they might stiffen with horror at the
sickening apparition that they perceive. And then, realising it is indeed their
own image reflected there, be shaken to their roots with self-revulsion that
will compel them to stiffen the sinews, summon the blood, disguise ugly nature
with hard-favoured rage (to paraphrase Shakespeare^ Henry V) and then do
something about their "heritage".
The "pull" of these two facts: an intolerable system and the paradox of the
people who incredibly (to Owen and the socially aware), and degradingly tolerate
that system is felt throughout the book, and provides the extraordinary force of
the message. And although Tressel may play upon the emotions of the reader like
an inspired musician plays upon his instrument, he never indulges in
sentimentality! he is always scrupulously fair in his judgement and in his
apportionment of the blame, and scathingly, almost brutally frank about the
character of the people whose rights ,he champions. It is this determination on
the part of the author not to let his political bias cloud his judgement that
gives his assessment of the state of society at that time its ring of truth, its
powerful impact and its claim to greatness both as a political indictment and as
Desire that troubled me, that harried me, pricked
My body with pins, and made my mind a fire,
How you have wronged my thought austere and strict,
Which asked for beauty cleansed from vain desire.
I have passed girls at night, my heart has ached,
Little red flower faces nestled on glistening furs,
I have groaned in an anguish of urgency unslaked,
And goaded my futile passion with cruel spurs.
Factory girls, shawled laughing girls that passed,
Arm in arm, down the street, and girls more prim,
Looks of desire furtively, I have cast
Out on you as I walked down town streets dim.
How many times in sweat and strain I have spent
In passionate thought for girls I have not known,
I have loved you all as silently past I went,
Possessing you in secret though I walked alone.
Yet in calm moments and glad I love you truly,
Dear comrade girls, to walk with you and play,
O because I am washed in water of vision newly,
I ask your forgiveness, comrades, I ask you to stay
By me: I am wise too, for I plainly see,
You too are troubled by that same which troubles me.
ON RETURNING HOME AFTER A LONG ABSENCE
The lights of New York City and the luminous chains of cars on the Long Island
expressways ore far below and behind me now, fading into the past. Beacons of
America, now claimed by the darkness, I watch them disappearing, until my 747 is
itself swallowed by cloud. No friendly, floppy-eared jumbo this, but a cold,
impersonal juggernaut. It’s only a couple of hours since I was saying 'goodbye’
to a beautiful lady with dark, sad eyes. Now I feel only the emptiness, and
perhaps a dull pain, which could be just fatigue - or maybe the birth pains of
I am awakened as the plane lands at Heathrow on a dull, rainy English morning.
Walking stiff-legged through Customs and corridors, bustling and lonely, and
finally out into the rain. Catch a red bus and on underground train,
Through a long, long tunnel and out again. That's London, that was.
I call to see a stranger who is my brother. He talks about football, and I
realise he means soccer. Something I used to be interested in. His accent
belongs to London now; mine lost its allegiance somewhere between Manchester,
England, and California; our conversation is trite. We do not touch, or show any
warmth we are very polite.
Hitch a ride to the edge of the countryside, make a phone call and walk down a
road. A small, family car slows to a halt beside me and a strangely familiar
man, plump and ageing, opens the door for me. He is making an effort not to be
too solicitous. I am making an effort not to be too casual. There is no doubt
that this man is my father.
He shows me round his house. Impressions of rooms, clean and tidy, register
momentarily, while psychologically we are jockeying for position: we are trying
to get on the same side as one another, but first we must find out which side
Meanwhile, back in the little market town, a middle-aged woman, wearing
brown-rimmed glasses that make her look strangely severe, is waiting on the
pavement. She peers short-sightedly and sees us, but is not sure that she has
seen us, until after we have passed and turned around. She runs up excitedly and
climbs into the back seat, rushing in mental circles around the main question,
fastidiously trying not to appear fussy. This woman is my mother.
So Dad goes off to buy the bacon. He always was the one who brought home the
bacon. Mum hopes she has time to run to the library, heels clacking anxiously on
the flagstones, anxious in case he should return first and be annoyed, anxious
Tea-time is for lighting a fire and crooking a meal. Evening is for sitting
talking. Building little bridges across great oceans, like jetties on distant
shores that never look like meeting.
And tomorrow it is time to move on. Afternoon sees me in Manchester, back at my
grandmother's. Where I came to when I left home - a long time ago now.
She's my best friend, really, but the generation gap seems to be wider now,
I start to collect her aphorisms, as if they are the most accessible part of
that wrinkled exterior. Kind old lady, rather settled in her ways now, probably
forgotten more than I ever knew, and no way to explain it to me, except in bits
and pieces. And now she looks so much older, as though she is slowly turning
into a gargoyle on the church that is humanity, and I who am only concerned with
the theology of the matter, I am powerless to reach out and save her.
Monday means looking for a job. Going round the sites, trying for a start.
Most have "No Vacancies" signs up if you're lucky you can fill a form in.
On to the Labour Exchange; "Listen son, there's 6,000 men looking for a job in
Manchester right now, and 250 of them have been in before you today". So
it looks like the old story again - queue up and sign on. Don't know why they
don't call it the Department of Unemployment. A man runs into the building,
holding his prick in his hand, heading straight for the toilets. If you're on
the dole long enough, you stop caring about yourself, you can't even be bothered
to go for a piss until you've left it too late. I've no regrets about going
abroad to seek my fortune, even if I never did find a rainbow's end.
Monday also means looking for a place to live. Walking round Moss Side, looking
for the cheapest bedsitters. Watching the people who have lived for so long
under dirty Manchester skies: white women with their pallid faces, almost
anaemic; West Indian women, growing plump as they lose their youth, but
seemingly never losing their cheerfulness. And all around them, so many
demolition sites; a little, children's playground, empty now, looking
incongruous at the corner of one great block that has been razed to the ground
to form a playground of rubble, a playground by default. So much demolition;
how long before it starts to breed derelict people? Questions, that still hang
in the smoky sky, as once again I move into an English slum district, this time
in Rusholme. Just a city street, a street for kids to smash bottles on, and for
dogs to shit on.
A couple of weeks and I've got a start - only a mile or so away. Heaving and
hammering until six o'clock in the evening all for 42.1/2 p an hour. And a man
who is earning a lot more than me says, "We're all part of a team here", and
gives me a copy of the Company booklet, which bears a photograph of someone else
who is in the team and earning more in a fortnight than I will in a year.
But having sold myself, I know I have to knuckle down to it. When your body is
vibrating to the rhythm of a concrete-breaker you don’t do too much thinking.
But when you're digging a trench in a remote corner of a building site in some
forgotten port of the city, you become very conscious of the sky. You
leave your shirt off in the hope that the weak sunshine will preserve the
brownness of your skin. You look up sometimes and to the east is Japan and to
the west is California, and beyond that the sky goes on forever.,. .
At lunch-time you can walk around the city, but it seems that here in Manchester
nothing moves in freedom. Car doors swing open, but always remain on their
hinges. Buses ply the thoroughfares, but always return to the garage at night.
Lorries deliver, salesmen travel, housewives shop, but by evening all have
returned home. Young people emerge from boutiques with the latest trendy clothes
and unisex hairstyles, and for lack of the real thing to measure against this is
mistaken for progress. Except for momentary aberrations, the faces are
expressionless, like the faces of pawns in a game of chess. Maybe that's
why I feel like the only living boy in Manchester - I seem to be the only pawn
who doesn't accept the rules of the game, and I'll do my best to change them.
Failing this, I shall show that I am not a flat-bottomed piece controlled by
some alien power - I shall fly away. Would that make me an emancipated pawn or
just a flying zero? Perhaps life should be a balance between, on the one hand,
trying to enlist the aid of the other prisoners in breaking the encircling walls
of that zero, and, in expressing ourselves, ceasing to be mere pawns, and
becoming human, and, on the other hand, making sure that one'a own wings do not
become weak from disuse. And the people who have never fought or have given up
fighting for either of these things, they are the zombies I see around me,
thronging the streets of Manchester.
One evening I bumped into Ted, a close friend from the old days of playing
football and going to watch United. We sat talking for a few hours without
communicating. He seemed to be playing the role of a rock, pretending that
individualism is his fortress, when deep inside he must know that loneliness is
his prison. Ted, who is adamant about the necessity of winning every game,
irrespective of why it is being played. Ted, who concentrates his attention
fiercely upon each trick, never looking beyond the edge of the tables Ted, who
went off into the night, returning to University to be the ambitious Law
student. Ted - someone else I used to know.
Another evening, I called to see a friend working at the local Youth Club. He
was having a spot of trouble with a few of his young members who had been trying
to wreck the place. Afterwards, someone asked if it didn't make him feel like
giving up. His answer was "No - these kids are the product of a society that is
itself destructive, and so they try to hurt those who are most vulnerable -
those who are trying to help them. And the people who control this society think
that all we need is more 'law and order.!" They feed us on violence and when we
shit they wonder why it isn't love that comes out!
A week or two after starting work, I heard about a Building Workers Conference
in Birmingham and decided to hitch-hike down there. Although I had neither
credentials nor Union card I was welcomed into the hall, where there was a
tremendous atmosphere of unity. Those speakers who were less certain of their
way were helped onwards by the men on the floor.
If they stumbled, we were there ready to help them get their ideas out. We were
there to understand each other's meaning, not put each other on trial, for all
of us, there was the knowledge of strong solidarity to take from that hall. And
for me there was the knowledge that I am not the only pawn who does not accept
the rules of the game.
On the way back a driver commented "I bet half of them were Communists where
you've been to". I wondered if that was supposed to be good or bad.
In the weeks that followed several people at work told me that I was a
Communist, I was always unsure whether or not to argue, until I solved the
problem - by joining those pawns who are fighting to change the rules of the
Sometimes an older worker - a joiner or a steel-fixer, will say to me, out of
the blue "You’re wasting your life away, young man". But after a while things
become clearer to me, and I no longer feel so powerless at work. I start to
realise that a lot of orders are given by a foreman just for the sake of
asserting his authority, and that, if you have the confidence, you can make a
job much more satisfying by taking the initiative yourself. And a lot of the
mystification is removed. And when a worker ceases to believe in his own
inferiority, when hd ceases to believe what he reads about himself, he can start
writing his own story. Amilcar Cabral, some of Whose thoughts on the liberation
of Africa could not but find their way into an article on the liberation of
Manchester, England, has been assassinated since I wrote this piece. And so I am
dedicating it to him, as a way of saying that "you can kill a revolutionary but
you can't kill the revolution.
The boy, tall and slender, with grave face, had hurt his foot. Vigour had
gone, with pains coming. He sat on the green form, amidst the cacophony of
shouts and screams from the crowded swings; alone.
At nine, we are afraid, of many things. Not of the dark, but of the shadows from
stray rays of light. Of bigger boys; bully boys. Exuberant, in their assertion
of their rights, won by trial of strength. Of adults, clumsy, capricious,
improvements of our mind or manners. Of lack of love.
Unhappy when bored. Mischievous and a devil. An angel, when sitting now,
brooding in a flood of pain. His mate, solicitous, has been and gone, swinging
high on the bright, mauve plastic seat. A few words. "Are you alright?” No
reply. Not able to cope with an adult's field of assurance and re-assurance. He
wanted his Mam. She would have scolded him for being clumsy. Rubbed his foot,
Kissed him, and said "Go on now, don't be a baby. You’re a big boy now.”
The day was spoilt. Only healing balms of sleep would help. He sat on. At one,
with bruised grass and broken twigs. Just barely into consciousness, but new
sensations, new knowledge, etching in the mind.
He tried the foot out. Gained confidence. Went homeward bound. Slowly, through
the wicket gate. Along the path, between park, and school playing field. Kicked
stones. Picked them up, and shyed at pigeons, sparrows, pecking in the grass.
Found a stick, and machine-gunned the air with vibrations from the railings. His
hurt forgot, but his spirit still dampened.
His mate, comes running up; hard; to emphasise the difference, The boy, races
him, to show there is no change.
At the road, between cemetery and school, large hoppers form collecting points
for rubbish outside the Council Parks' Committee yards.
They delve. Wondering at engine parts. Broken pans, A once super toy. The sad
remains of a doll. Down the quiet road, a hop, short run, a stone to shy.
Thinking. Of food. What's on tele? Tired. For it's been a long day. The road
they ran along before seeming endless. Plodding now. Steps slow and slower.
Reaching Manor Road. Turn left.
The pace quicker here. Cars whizz past. A motor boke, a bus. Clinging to
railings on low wall. Progressing hand over hand. Jump down. The slow plod to
horticultural hall. Past the little new-built houses, faced by the newly crested
garden on the opposite side of the road. Roses against the crumbling, former old
mill wall. The new placed turf showing the lines, separating one piece from
another. Looking over the canal bridge. Underneath - a road. The water gone five
years past, and mountains of rubble. Around the pharmaceutical works, always
smelling of vinegar. Up High Street, over Hart Street, and home.
He had many charges levelled at him. He was dirty. He was late. His mate's
mother was looking for him. He had missed his tea. Everyone worried to death.
Water off a duck's back. He had heard it all before. Look at those hands. Wash
before you eat. All that off. Better have a bath. Go on, while I make your tea.
Orders. Instructions. A clatter across the head. Even a dig in the ribs. A flip
across the bottom. What is it all about? Adults. For no apparent reason being
angry. So often upset.
Moods. They have moods the little girl said as they swung, aide by side. "Can
you do this?" standing on one leg. "Course" he said. "My Mam's having a baby. I
heard her and my uncle talking when I was in bed." "Isn't that lovely?" "I hope
it's a boy like you". "Why?" "So he can live with me, Mum’s always leaving me. I
don't like being on my own. Doesn't your uncle live with you?" "Oh no. He
visits. Mum says I'm hearing things. She says there is only her and me. But I've
seen him through the window." "Where does he live then?" "I don't know" "Does
she shout at you?" "Who?" "Your mum". "Sometimes when I'm naughty". "My mum's
always shouting at me. You shouldn't be naughty. She shouts at me for nothing."
"Mine doesn't. I like your mum" "I like yours." "You don't know her". "I like
her because I like you". "Girls are all the same always talking that way." "What
way?" "About liking people" "I like liking people". "It's soppy". "What's that?"
"It's daft". "It's not". "It is". "It's not'.
Eating, in front of the tele. Sitting on the rug. Hardly stirred by the guns,
and drawling threats. Interested in the fist fight. Amused by the adverts.
Frightened by the proximity of death, ad adults, twelve inches high, kill one
another away from the romantic confines of the west. In a room like this one. In
clothes like these. Going up the stairs, in the little room. Still aware of the
tiger who might still roam the landing as he did only a few years ago. But more
sophisticated now. There are ghosts. There are monsters. Tyranasaurus Rex is in
the garden. You can see him. Lurking near the fence. Under the tree. I won't
sleep. I never go to sleep. Not for a hundred years.
Holidays in summer are a generation long. Unpunctuated by the ritual stops and
starts of school term. Are as one day, in their continuity. To the boy, one day
became as another spent in killing time. In dream. In play. Eating and sleeping
and continuous complaint of having nothing to do. Halfway through; boredom; as
insidious as asbestiosis, turns all the boys to paired and gang fights. Mostly
with stones. And great arguments. A noise as of starlings, twittering. There is
hurt. There is anger. Tears flow. Children are just like adults. They feel. They
have hopes. They need love, warmth, companionship. They know misery. Can feel
ignored and forgotten. Can almost hope to die from hurt pride. And can burn with
shame at the mocking laugh and ill-considered word.
The childhood game is fast. Torrential. Played on a cliff edge. With minute
experience, every day now. The hurts, exquisite pains on so raw nerves.
And social pressure, parental prejudice, teachers imparted knowledge; shapes the
clay. To make the future man and woman, leaving derelicts - it's failures.
Rejects. Piled high along the way.
She is a descendant of Eve
Half-contesting Adam's property rights.
Sometimes, with a borrowed sense of importance
I try to stand her up,
But she always seems to lie down again,
And I wonder,
Does the doll's house
With the endless Punch and Judy show
Exist outside my mind?
She's my arena;
She's where I battle and wait
For opponents yet to arrive.
But my shadow gives me a hard fight;
I always emerge bruised and bloody,
Extract wild eulogies
From the spectators of my mind
While marking time
And awaiting a challenger
Last night's bout was rough,
Its dialectics skilful,
Until midway through the third
(With my shadow ahead on points)
A strange thing happened.
The arena stood up and the ring tilted
Toward the sky. I spun,
Endlessly, clawing for the ropes,
Searching for my shadow in the darkness.
And the arena spoke and accused me
Of scuffing and skipping upon her
And a lot of other things
That were true. Now my doll's house
Is in revolt. I have lost
My rhythm and the white canvas that
I always cast my shadow on,
And the championship series
Is threatened with cancellation
On grounds of absurdity.
The city's continual roar
eases to an occasional croak
massed on rubbish dumps
hoarse gulls sleep fitfully
is an undertaker's parlour
but the moon
refusing to be a corpse
slips its tattered shroud
and on a graveyard world
pours rivulets of sickly light.
Presently dawn comes
sublunar bones stir
rattling around their coffin houses
knowing not how dead they are
rattle rattle rattle and aing
flock to the charnel ball
watch as they rattle, rattle and fail
cadavers dancing on profit's string
dance rattle and fall
No God will tell them
no God will say
that they could be here tomorrow
that they're gone today
wake then wake!
your freedom beckons
IF OO COULD, OO WOULD
No gracious house was this
An old black-leaded fireplace glistened
Its own light cascading
From the great sideboard's mirrors
The gas light half turned on
Whether from hatred of the post
Or fear of the future
Beneath at a table sat an old man
One that a soft wind could blow
Reaching high he pulled the chain still lower
Till only the flickering fire
Lit his crevassed face
Sitting up he swelled his chest
Like threatening man, as if it gave him greater authority
And began to speak
"Nar Ellen" he said "tha's bin gone some time
And a miss thi sommat terrible
Tha were a spiritualist all thi life
And wi often argued
Thee saying tha were a Lord
An a life hereafter
Me tha were nowt, if oo could let
Little childer suffer
Tha often prayed
Fu one thing at tother
Which I thought seemed daft!
Fu he already knows what tha wants
Better than tha does thisell
And anyway tha never had so much
If ar childer kept asking us for summat
Like some do to him above
A'd think we wernt bringin them up reet
Tha often said tha'd come back
And prove me all wrong
A wish tha would
A hope thaft reet
A'm waiting nar
But one thing A do know
If anybody can come
Thor would if tha could
Again he sat down and mustering all
His feeble energies
"Fa the last time Elin!" he shouted
That made him cough and splutter
To crack like a suffering tenor.
He waited a little, his hands
Pressed over his eyes as if
To blot out this most certain of all plagues
So near him.
His beliefs were false
There was another world
Another life he wanted to believe
Where truth justice
The love of fellow men
Where the real jewels
Not the money-lending muck heap
Where greed, gain, selfishness
Is rewarded, nay worshipped.
In loud guffaws, Virtue scorned,
From gold-plated mouths,
He wanted to see his mate again
Everyone, his brother Richard
Drowned in a Haslingden lodge
Last century, a speck of light
Snuffed, choked, throttled
Mother in factory
Big door key round his neck
On a string
Suffer little children
To come unto me.
Then there was silence
The ticking clock
Seemed to emphasise its depth
Tick, tock, tick, tock, it seemed endless
On the walls in the flitting firelight
Patterns seemed to appear to merge
Farming pictures of all
The previous occupants; some I knew
Who grimaced, gesticulated, gibbering,
With beckoning fingers for me
To come and join them
In their silent nebulous world,
I shook my head wildly
Gripping the chair arms
Shouting "no, no, no, never"
Which must have stirred the old man.
To come to him I'm sure he meant
And I wondered with not a little awe
As to how men o f his day
Mostly undernourished, undersized
Could lord it o'er their women
With such a confidence,
"Thi father's coming" she would say
"Canta hear his clogs" as if the Lord Almighty was
Perhaps it was the many children
Almost yearly wives had then to bear
This normal sequence of the wild
Became their bondage
To their breadwinner
"Nar am gooing to shout three times,
Perchance tha't walking somewhere
For a have heard nowt yet
So a hope tha’t listening"
He summoned what was for him a deep breath
And nodding his head as a beat
Shouted "Elin can ta hear me?"
It sounded and was a long lost cry
Of a man wandering in the wilderness.
He waited a little, then,
Slowly raised his eyes towards the ceiling.
They circled the room,
With his hands he cupped his ears,
Cocked his head on one side
Adjusting like a miniature Jodrell Bank,
But there was nothing, only silence, a deadly silence.
Again he braced himself,
"Elin" he shouted "this is second time."
Just then a newspaper placed near the door
Protecting some mopping lifted
Glided a little, rasping
As it settled on the oilcloth.
"Is that thee?" he cried
Defying his age he ran to the door
Snatched it open, into the kitchen.
The outer door was ajar
As if someone had fled
Into the- yard he hurried
Then into the lamplit street
Peering up then down Into the swirling gloom
Returning he was shaking his head
Mumbling "It was nobbut wind, nobbut wind.
A should a known better
Fa it allus does that when't wind
Blows fra yon chimney"
He got to his feet
And like the housewife
Palms her crumpled tablecloth exclaimed
"Tha's nowt, tha’s nowt, tha's bugger all
For if oo could a come, oo would a come, if oo could".
MISSIN’ THE CLUBMAN
Get toft front room winder - keep a sharp luck-out
Try not to miss the clubman, this week 'e's gettin' nowt
Don't move t'bloody curtain – jus’ see that yer can see
Wen ‘e calls we mus’ be sure we're quiet as quiet can be
I've paid th'rent an't telly, an' also't Provident
This week we'll miss th'insurance, 'e can't 'ave wot's bin
‘Cepf’ my bit fo't Bingo an’ a pack o’ fags
There's nowt left to give 'im (can't do wi'out me fags)
Ma! 'E's parked 'is car now, down at th'end o't street
Mekin' sur ‘E's locked it, 'e mus’ wanna keep it neat '
E’s called at Mrs. Jones's, 'er that's like a mouse
She don't pay - ‘e sheks 'is 'ead an’ lux towards our 'ouse
Keep behin' the door clear - 'e may use the flap
I'd rather do it this way than talk a load o’ crap
Rat-tat the thin door trembles - Now don't mek any sounds
‘E'll soon get tired o' knockin' an’ go on, on 'is rounds
Get to't front room winder, tell us wen it's clear
Mek sure 'e doesn't see yer!! - d'yer want some tea m'dear?
I was born under a shooting star,
Within the sound-wave of the smash,
When V-for-Vengeance from afar
Came buzzing with the fly-bomb's crash.
This was my earliest lullabye:
"Rockabye, baby, do not cry!
You're not the only one to die."
My mother rocked me on her arm,
Knee-deep in glass in the market-place,
In time to the wailing siren's alarm,
With shell-shocked eyes and blackened face,
Rockabye mammy, do not cry!
Men of science will tell you why
Some of your children may not die.
My daddy won a Purple Heart,
And H-for-Horror-Bomber's star;
Before his mind went, he was part
Of the crew that bombed Hiroshima:
Rockabye daddy, do not cry!
Nowadays even pigs can fly,
You won't be first nor last to die.
These are some of the reasons that
Today we stand up where we are,
Defiantly wear a funny hat,
Rock'n'roll with n cha-cha-cha;
Rockabye babes with fall-out hair,
Rocking into Trafalgar Square,
Rocking you mad lot out of here.
WARTIME IN FORDS
"A" Site was a very large factory, specially designed and built to make
aero-engines for Rolls Royce of Crewe. The plant was more than half a mile in
length and half as wide. Inside were four rectangular buildings called A, B, C,
and D, with cross roads between as straight as a Roman fort. In addition there
were smaller buildings outside, the tool room section previously mentioned, and
towards Urmston, the "X" and "Y" sites of assembly.
I had heard and read about Fords. One N.C.L.C. Course had dealt with the
American variety of "Fordism", the massive quantities of machinery, breakdown of
operations and skills, speed-up and an enormous increase in production. They
hated Unions in Britain and would sling out a worker simply for Union
However, this wasn't operating here. The headed paper on all the notice boards
announced "Fords" in large letters, while underneath in the smallest print read
"(Under the auspices of the Ministry of Aircraft.)" As always, it's the small
print that counts, but Fords had the freedom of production management, and they
were certainly production-conscious.
I had come into Fords prematurely. The factory was not ready for production and
only a skeleton number of (mainly skilled) people were around. I had been
grabbed because they wanted to train enough men in preparation for production.
There is a world of difference between a lone trainee and one among hundreds. I
was soon accepted, helped by my admission of being one. The Government had
agreed with the Unions that Trainees would leave the industry after the
My first friend from the first day was an engineer about 45 years old named Jack
Cottriall. A fine trade unionist, he had been a ships' engineer and had the
unmistakeable roll of the seaman. Once he found how much we had in common he
became a key in popularising me with other engineers. He became a shop steward
later and was my first recruit in the factory.
He could tell a fund of stories without repetition. One was about the old-time
engineering factories where a man wouldn't be employed if he wore spectacles for
fear he would read a micrometer incorrectly. The older ones would look round and
if the foreman was out of sight, get out their glasses, adjust the 'mike’ and
put them back again. This trick was wholesale. He had learned a great deal in
his travels. When in a Soviet part he made for the workers' clubs where foreign
seamen were welcome. He came back boozed and happy; those chasing women were
glum and sour. He got me interested in Shakespeare where no professional teacher
could. His quote of Hamlet "Now could I drink hot blood" was frightening! Years
later, when the effects of overwork passed, and I was on a train to London, I
looked up what was on at the Old Vic. If a Shakespeare play was on which I had
not seen, I made the effort.
A few months before I entered Fords, Churchill had ousted Chamberlain, become
Prime Minister and formed a sort of Coalition which included people like Bevin
and Morrison. The latter had become Home Secretary and only two or three weeks
before I started in Fords had banned the 'Daily Worker’. Jim Hewitson, the
factory convenor, asked me to lie low for a while on Party activity. I would
have done so anyway. The factory was in an embryonic stage, militants could
easily be found simply by discussing the need for a 100% union shop, and that
time I had my hands full as a Party Secretary in the Platting area.
Around this time I went to a meeting addressed by Pollitt; it was either an
aggregate or an 'active’ and well-attended. A hurricane of anti-Communist
propaganda was having no noticeable effect on the 'public’. The recent pre-war
years of anti-fascist work by the Party was now proving what an ally it could
be, but the propaganda continued. Pollitt was concerned that some members were
almost welcoming an ides of underground work. He gave us an idea of what this
meant in reality, concluding with an intimate appeal that was unique to him:
"You know comrades, in the middle of war, you are lying on a bed of roses" and
added it was our duty to preserve the legality of the Party.
I received an invitation to attend another meeting in June, an Industrial
Conference on a Sunday morning. We were already on overtime, and I stayed in bed
till the last moment, swallowed some breakfast and dashed out. The meeting was
somewhere in Moss Side and I was lucky to be only fifteen minutes late. A number
of comrade were leaning over the table which was to serve as a platform. I
assumed some factory urgency had arisen. I sat down on a form and waited. A
comrade sat beside me and asked what I thought of it. He must have seen a very
blank face and explained that the Sunday papers carried the news of the Fascist
invasion of the Soviet Union. I realised now that Pat Devine had gathered around
him the District Secretariat. It was the Industrial Conference that never was.
The whole day's discussion centred on the complications involved, and decisions
could be crystalised in its final slogan: "All Aid to the Soviet Union!" A Party
aggregate later in the week found that the Lancashire District had been closest
to the line of the Central Committee. I could take no credit, but I felt taller!
That weekend I spoke at a specially organised meeting in Platting on the Albert
Croft. I gave it all I could! When it was over the "political 'tec" came over
and congratulated me on my speech. I was puzzled and reported it to the
Manchester organiser. This had been happening at other meetings too.
In time, the factory began to fill up, at first a trickle, then a flood, people
coming from Scotland and the South, though most of course, from the wider
Manchester area. Among the first trickle in our department were two girls who
started together, Rae Cohen and Jean Taylor. We were not on production and had
time to gossip. I told Rae I was an upholsterer and had worked with Jewish
people. She asked me if I knew Joss Davidson. When I said he was a close friend
she followed up with the casual remark that she had two brothers, Jud and Manc.
She knew how to go about it! I could have kicked myself: her face would have
convinced anyone she was Manc's sister.
Now we had three party comrades in our building, the other being Charlie Wellard
from London, who had started before me, highly skilled and working as an
Inspector. He seemed to me to know the interpretation of the A.E.U. Rules to
perfection and was later a powerful adviser in our stewards’ work.
Shortly after, Rae could tell me that Bella Kline had started in "B" building
and that another YCL girl - Gussie Howard - had started higher up in our own.
Three YCL girls, none over 24. They were to play a major part first in the
recruitment, and later the development of the party in the factory.
Our early party meetings started small and weak. Hewitson, Wellard, three 'shy’
YCL girls and myself. We were later joined by Leah Cohen, Rae's sister, in "Y"
site, where she was badly needed in later stages. Jim Hewitson almost dominated
the first meetings around the subject of a hundred members on paper (he had
names and addresses) who were supposed to be in the factory but could never be
traced. They were written to but no replies. We never did find them either.
I don't remember why, but Jim Hewitson resigned as group leader. Later he
deserted his wife for someone else, left the party and in the end, the factory.
I never heard of him again. His wife worked in the factory in the same building
as Bella Kline and continued till the war finished. Her son started there and he
too joined the party. To this day she retains her membership.
I was elected as a group leader. I felt we were wasting time chasing names on
paper and suggested that we start from bottom building a new one. I was relieved
to find that all comrades had the same approach.
We had some advantages over most factories; one was a lack of tradition leading
to 'sects'? another that the factory, in closing down at the end of the war
meant no future, no inhibitions to keep a job (though in fairness, this didn't
seem to count so much even in places like M.Vs), but the most important was the
inexperience of the Ford management, three of whom had been 'imported' from the
U.S.A. A worker could not be sacked for being a trade unionist, a militant or
even a communist, and this was the only weapon in Britain they had ever known!
At first they tried to persuade people not to join a union. A rumour was spread
that the high wages would cease and drop to the minimum if it became a union
shop. The party scotched that one by getting stewards to explain that a strongly
organised shop would get better, not worse wages and conditions than a divided
one. The management then said they would negotiate with the stewards but not the
union. A little later they were willing to negotiate with the union but not the
stewards! They didn't know how to turn and must have made many English
Their next step was to try 'discipline’ in an isolated corner of our building,
in the first bay as you entered. During the morning round of the tea trolley a
pompous commissionaire came in, stopped someone eating a sandwich, saying they
could drink but not eat! If he caught anybody again they would be sacked on the
spot. He came in again the same time next morning. Everybody immediately grabbed
their sandwiches and began eating. He walked the length of the bay as red as a
beetroot and out the other end. He never came again. I found out the
sandwich-eating had been organised by a person named Joe Topping, a brother of
Dick Topping, and I didn't know he worked there, nor did he know there was a
party in the place either, but Joe, a former builder's labourer, didn't stay
Perhaps the story passed on to me by Jack Cottriall put the tin hat on the lot.
When we started we were given a numbered badge which we ware supposed to wear on
entering and leaving the site. Many were reluctant, saying they were human
beings and not 'numbered prisoners'. One morning, a doorkeeper called after a
man not wearing one, but he blissfully went walking on into the factory. He was
chased and turned round. The man gave him a real punch, knocking him to the
ground. He was then surrounded, taken into a room and the Police called. When
they arrived, and before anyone could speak, the man informed the Police that he
had been assaulted and compelled to defend himself, and that he wished to make a
charge. They had touched upon a skilled engineer who also understood something
about law! The case concluded with the firm giving him a humble apology. As far
as I know, that was the last of the pinpricking.
It was in this spirit of collective and individual militancy that we set about
our party work.
Whether 'under the auspices of the Ministry of Aircraft’ someone whispered in
the ear of the Ford management - The A.E.U. had been involved in the assault
case - or the firm realised their limitations and concentrated on the main aim
of production, I don't know, but Fords ceased their provocations until they
finally closed down. A wave affected the workers after the June ‘41 events which
was a mixture of patriotism and international class solidarity with the Soviets
that lessened the need for an imposed discipline, in spite of nerve-wracking
situations created by unceasing overtime and shift work.
Before the first .'trickle’ into the factory commenced, we were split up for the
coming operations. Jack Cottriall told me one day I was to work with him and he
had insisted on this with the departmental manager, Charlie Feeley. The latter
was an old Ford staff man with a grim face, but completely fair with the
workers, and you liked him the more you knew him, but except when everyone spoke
up, as they did in the petitions against Mosley's release later, he kept all his
opinions to himself.
I was very well placed for the job of a group leader, right at the end of the
line near one end of the bay entrance. Every bay ran across the width of every
building with two open ends, each clearly numbered, and as you came out you came
into the wide passage way running the length of the building on both sides.
Anyone could come and talk to me and go away again. No-one ever complained, we
coped with our work and the lower the management, the less they wanted to know
as long as the work went through.
I was also helped by Charlie Wellard in a quiet but bold manner. I have
mentioned he was highly skilled and an Inspector. Some time after the June
events he was called into the main offices and offered the job in charge of
inspection for the entire building. The subject of his party membership arose.
I'm not sure who raised it though I have the impression it was Charlie himself.
I remember that Charlie made two things clear; one - he was patriotic, two -
(pointing to his chest) his political beliefs were firm and unalterable. The
reply was they were not concerned with his politics; their information was that
he was the man for the job - would he take it? In those circumstances, Charlie
Charlie paid me occasional visits ostensibly to buy party stamps - he could
easily have got them elsewhere - and would stand talking to me in his spotlessly
white coat for a considerable time. No staff man would offend so highly placed
an Inspector. Charlie was demonstrating to whom it may concern that I was a
sacred cow not to be touched, as well as his own loyalties. He remained until
about twelve months before the war ended, when he went back to London. I met him
again at the Battersea Congress in 1956, and by then he had his own small
engineering place. That was the last time I saw him. Jack Askins now tells me he
has had to give the place up.
Jean Taylor, the girl who started with Rae, also came on our job later. She told
us that in the pre-war days, her father bought the Daily Worker whenever he
could. Jack got a mate to start and come on our job who later joined the party,
so that we could have two on each shift and all reliable and safe for anyone.
Rae Cohen once explained to me the difficult position girls were placed in. A
man could move around without hindrance. A girl would be quietly pounced upon by
a charge hand.
Imagine the position of Bella Kline in "B" building. All the workers in her bay
were women, and she was in the middle unable to move. The party was weak there,
the only other being Mrs. Hewitson. The only one able to move around was the bay
foreman. Like most of the skilled engineers, he was a good union man. She got to
work and a few weeks later I had his registration party card! His name was
Arthur Davenport, In no time he was chasing all the left wingers he knew in the
building, recruiting and the recruits recruiting others, I could never dare to
be without a stock of cards.
This kind of thing was the usual pattern in party building, though it required a
party comrade to start it. I suspect there were pockets of left wingers willing
to join if someone would take the plunge but in other cases not knowing whom to
One large section where we had no contact whatever was the large polishing shop
in our building, until one day a newly arrived comrade introduced himself to me.
I deeply regret I forget his name and even his Lancashire town and he had
started in polishing. He was a jewel. Not only did the recruits come in, thick
and fast, but when November came round, he told me it was no business of mine to
enquire how, but he had got bottles of whisky, rum, sherry and port which he
wanted raffling in the building for Xmas! These poisons were unobtainable. We
had unbelievable success and for once we may have achieved our 'quota' to our
Gussie Howard did her job in holding and developing comrades at the top end of
the building and was the pivot of the organization there, but the strain of
overwork hit her hard. She developed T.B. and had to go, but at least she has
now recovered and is happily married.
*Recent published papers by the Cabinet of the time now show that Morrison was
for banning the Party, but the majority view was a fear of the Party's influence
in the factories and unions.
People watching, people listening,
See the crowds, all around, everywhere you go.
Faces viewing other faces,
Looking for the secret of the universe.
Minds like little droplets measured into little boxes of
the same viscosity,
Separated by the boxes, so they cannot flow.
Drop your guard, human man.
You, human women, let me in, let all the world in.
Let us through your portals, climb your ivory stairs,
See your pictures on your cerebral walls.
Hear your music, dance your steps, in mind's fantastic
Hear the old salvation cry, come and join us by and by,
Bring your family and your dreams, in sound or rhyme, or
glowing pictures on a canvas,
Or a scrawl on paper to match mine.
Conquer inhibition. Don't you know, you have inherited
You are Shakespeare, Michaelangelo and Pope, Shelley and
Robert Tressel's hopes.
You have company distinguished, everywhere you go.
Brave men from Tolpuddle, John Ball and Wat the Tiler,
Galileo, Isaac Newton, Harry Pollitt
Countless past and present, from Christ to Luther King,
Spartacus, and Che Guevara, all the known and unknown
for the working class.
And, today, we poise, a limitless future, unbounded
A multitude of galaxies to survey from this earth,
And through the empty skies, whole nations can
Worlds enough for everyone on earth today.
To win for mankind, and its human talents, that unity of
A STRANGER IN
American man you have eyes - you cannot see.
American man you have ears - you cannot hear.
American man you have feelings - you can not feel the
The suffering, the murder you bring.
American man you came to kill - you die.
American man you came to conquer - you enslave yourself.
American man the war machine sends you - you obey.
You fly, so long, so high, so far.
Your bombs of Freedom kill - we die.
You talk of peace - the strangest lie.
The will of the people can never die.
Oh American man with blood on your hands.
Be part of the solution and understand
The Vietnamese people are in their own land.
Freedom, liberty, will be theirs in the end.