cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
Back in 1975, as VOICES was being transformed into the sort of magazine it is
today, the late Ben Ainley argued in one of his editorials that we should not
think of culture as simply 'a weapon in the fight for socialism', but that
socialism meant the creation of a new working-class culture. In other words,
culture is a bit more than the icing on the political cake.
The Worker-Writer movement that has really taken off over the last two or three
years has also embraced this idea of culture. For VOICES this has meant some
changes in the kinds of things we publish. A few years ago there were still a
fair number of 'clarion calls' for action - rhetorical poems that saved the
party or union stalwart the effort of re-thinking the things they already
believed in, while doing nothing to stimulate fresh thought by other working
people. The writing we publish now is no less political: the difference is that
the writers are more likely to be concerned with examining life as they
experience it, and drawing the political lessons from this, than with coining
Another change has been in the way that people write. A few years ago it was not
uncommon to find poems about factory work dressed up in the language of Shelley
or Keats. Today the poems are stronger for being written in the language that
the writers use everyday.
In short, the writers in VOICES today are discovering in their everyday lives
and in their writing the basis for their socialism.
A large part of this development can be put down to the growth of the Federation
of Worker-Writers. Through the detailed discussions and criticisms within the
many writers' workshops, and contacts between different groups throughout the
country, working class writing as a whole has been strengthened.
The paradox is that in this issue of VOICES there are only a handful of pieces
from the 20 or so member groups of the Federation (2 pieces if you take away
those by members of Commonword who are involved in VOICES). If we are to
continue to develop and build up a really national readership we need two
things. First, a steady flow of material from the Worker-Writer movement; and
second, distribution of the magazine in their own areas by local worker-writer
The summer of nineteen seventy two would not be something I would forget all
that easy. One night I found myself wandering round the concrete mass of Hulme
redevelopment for hours on end. Like the blues song says . . . . I was walking
the back streets and crying.
Must have been 2am when right bang in the middle of the crescent flats you come
out of the gents with your transistor radio and saw this tatty white boy slumped
there against a pillar. I pretended to be asleep. But really I was spellbound by
you, this old black guy doing some gyrating dance and fancy footwork to the
music on the radio. You could see I was depressed and blow me down if you didn't
come over and act the fool just to cheer me up.
You come to tell me of back home, the hurricane that nearly brought down Spanish
Town when you were a child. Your mum and dad had spent the whole night with
their backs leant against the front door. The corrugated iron roofing was
lifting up and down. You were only six years old and you huddled in the clothes
rack terrified. But the storm passed. Then you said how as a child you used to
chase the slow sugar train. The sugar canes would fall from the sides of the
heavy laden wagons and you would chew the sweet cane all the way home.
Then you said how you left home to work in the boiler rooms of the old steam
ships. And how one time you spent all your shore-leave in Durban gaol, South
Africa, for refusing to sit at the wrong end of their stinking trolley bus. And
about the boy who painted his own body red and white to get a job as a rickshaw
boy in the South African city. And as you told me, your rage rang out through
the Hulme night and lights went on for blocks around.
I mean I guess like you were telling me that one has to find a way to triumph
over adversity. You know, the mountain aint steep, the river aint deep. You told
me of the countless times the ship had left you in some foreign port. You were
always too late to up and dress out of some lady's bed. You wondered how I would
cope with being stranded in Rio or the like. I said that I didn't know.
I even come round your house a few times after that. Well, its like this: the
number of white kids that wind up in bedsitterville in Moss Side. And all we
really need is someone to talk to So we get hip into Soul MUSIC with our Black
Motown Detroit bob hats and the way we can northern-drawl a Jamaican accent
better than you can. Yeah but somehow as I was getting to see you everyday you
knew that this meant death by rumour for you . . . to be seen with one of these
very un-hip white kids. There had to be a way around it. So you introduced me to
Your beautiful wife, Rowena, with her beehive ginger hairdo, high heel shoes
with straps, and her painted toes. One evening she started up some West Indian
cooking, like you had taught her, and invited in me and Doris from nest door,
and Doris brought along her little boy. We all served each other big helpings of
stew and rice and sweet potato from big bowls in the centre of the table, and
watched John Conteh and Coronation Street on the telly. And after the plates had
been cleared away Rowena flashed round her Embassy cigarettes and sat back to
tell us all how she met you, Delroy, her husband. Rowena started up.
"Well, this was way back in 1945 and I'd never even heard of Moss Side, let
alone set foot here. I'd never even seen a blackman before. No, I tell a lie,
I'd been through it once on the tram when I was a very little girl and there
were these big houses, that's when it was posh, and some old run-down houses,
and there were little children running around in bare feet. In those days my dad
was a publican and we lived in this pub up Bury Old Road. And I was the apple of
my dad's eye. He spoilt me something rotten. You see, I was the only girl, I've
got five brothers.
"Well, I was turned twenty three and I'd never so much as dated a boy. Things
were different then, sex wasn't flung at you from every road hoarding. I was a
virgin when I met Delroy, in fact until we were married. If you made a mistake
in them days, you'd made a mistake, girl. (looking at Doris.) But I didn't want
to do it before I got married. Truth was I wasn't keen on doing it anyway.
Anyway one night me and Maureen from up the road decided we'd have ourselves a
secret night out so we went down the Barbary Coast, that's Cross Lane, a big
street of pubs and clubs that goes up from Manchester Docks to the centre of
"That was how I met Delroy, at the Casablanca Club. He was very nice and
handsome and he had all his hair, then. He came over with his ship-mate and they
asked me and Maureen to dance, in ever such a polite way. The way he held me was
like the way I'd seen Clark Gable in the flicks. I knew right then and there
that he was going to be the man for me.
"Listen: every time his ship used to be due in I'd be there at the dock gates;
and I used to sit home by the phone and I'd never let anyone else answer it. My
dad was mystified by the lovelight shining in my eyes. He kept saying how I'd
have to bring home my young man and winking his eye at his only daughter. And
you know, my stomach was in a knot. I couldn't bring myself to tell them. It was
like I wished I'd never even got parents. Cos I had to tell them. To be fair on
Delroy, I couldn't just have him standing there on the doorstep.
"Eventually my mum found Delroy's photo in my dressing table drawer and she tore
it up and called me some awful names. So I got the negative and got a real big
blow-up enlargement of it and put it in a frame on top of my dresser. And every
night when I got home, my mum had taken the picture and put it in the drawer. So
I'd take out his photo again and put it back up there where it belonged, for me
and the world to see.
"In the end I had to leave home because the pressures came too much. My father
wouldn't even speak. So I run away to Liverpool and waited for Delroy's ship.
I'd saved up some money and stayed in a beat-up hotel. At first Delroy called me
a fool for leaving my happy home, but we both knew that things hadn't been all
that happy recently. That same day me and Delroy got married in the Seaman's
Mission. A Nigerian seaman was the best man and a Gambian man gave me away. How
I cried for my mother and father.
"On the wedding night we went to this Somalie club where that wedding photo was
taken (pointing to the wall); (Delroy looks like a gangster in his baggey suit
and Humphrey Bogart hat; and Rowena is decked out in the "New Look" fashion with
a floppy hat and a veil. The picture is mainly tinted green and maroon by the
photo-artist, and the faces are tinted dark brown and doll-pink).
"Anyway, there we were celebrating in the Somalie and blow me down if my own
brother hadn't caught up with us and comes in the club brandishing his war-issue
pistol. Well, I had half a notion to faint, but I held fast. And our Frank
saying how he wasn't going to let his own sister marry a coloured man, and how
he had come to take me home. Well, I stood up, Lord knows how I did it and I
gave him a piece of my mind about coming in here calling folk, he wasn't even
fit to empty Delroy's piss-pot let alone lecture me on what I should do.
(Doris's little boy giggled). I honestly thought he was going to shoot the pair
of us but he was sort of stunned and Delroy and this other guy called Delroy got
the gun off him. And do you know, our Frank sat down, all shaken; and had a
drink with us. And we never had a better night. The way Frank and Delroy got
talking you'd have thought it'd been Frank who'd married him. You see, he'd
never met Delroy before. But once he'd got to know him. .
"So I come home with Frank and my marriage licence in MY BAG. Next I had to get
some place for me and Delroy to stay. And in those days you couldn't even walk
down the street with a coloured man .
(Doris's little boy asked, "Why?" and Doris said: "Hush love, and lifted him up
on her knee and wrapped her arms around him).
Then Rowena continued in a hushed voice about her miscarriages over the
worriness and how Delroy thought he was impotent and they were blaming each
other. And how they finally got this back-to-back house behind the University.
There they were robbed once a week and the police'd never do a thing about it.
Delroy suspected it was all a racist vendetta. At last Rowena gave birth to a
fine baby boy whom they called Leon. As a child Leon contracted T.B. And how can
anyone contract T.B. living right next to the University Medical School?
Leon had to spend half his childhood in Abergele Sanatorium and Rowena and
Delroy had to travel all the way to North Wales to see their little boy. But the
staff at the hospital were very nice and let them stay in a chalet at weekends
At that moment Rowena got all mad and vibrant and started talking about the
Fifth African Congress which was held in Manchester in 1947 and how she'd done
all the typing for Mr. Kenyatta.
"That was the congress that changed the direction for the African colonies;" She
shouted. "Away from colonial rule, towards self determination".
And she recalled how she met Mr. Nkrumah. "Who's Nkrumah?" asked Doris's little
boy, and Rowena said: "If you come in here tomorrow, after school, I'll tell you
all about Kwame Nkrumah and his dream:
Ghana; and about a Mister Marcus Garvey."
So now we are back in 1972, and you, Delroy, tell me about your fine son and how
he has lightened his skin and straightened his hair. And how his girl friend
Sarah has darkened her skin and permed her hair Afro. You tell me how you've sat
alone in the middle room for hours trying to figure out the younger generation.
And now at age fifty seven you walk down the summer-night Great Western Street
in a string tea shirt, jeans and barefoot open sandals, showing us all that
Black is Beautiful. A gang of partying brothers and sisters ride past in a
convertible Hillman Minx and hit on the horn and give Right On clenched fist
An orange and white 53 bus swings high-hat round our corner and shimmers past,
swaying from side to side like an illuminated galleon. It brakes at the traffic
lights and an old couple, one black, one white, get down from the centre doors
and cross the road to the Nile Club. It seems like the collage of integrated
life comes all together to create a euphoria in my mind like I've become a new
member of something. And I snap my fingers, move my hips, bend my knees real
low. Then leap up to touch the street wires. Aretha Franklin holds one long
note, then finishes the remaining song quickly as my feet come down to hit the
street like two deep concluding piano notes.
AGITPOEM No 24
EPITAPH FOR THE TOMBE OF THE UNKNOWING SOLDIER
He thought. for king and country, glory, Latin,
honour, medals, fame, applause.
He went: but never knew the cause.
He fought and died, in rich men's wars.
u stole our town
with yaw plans
made in shakes
& knowing nods,
built tall bridges
& stepped underpasses
so yaw cars
could move faster,
tore down our pubs
& our halls of laughter
left jus rubble
shoved uz in queues
at panda crossings
den told uz to vote
sayin each party
& will help t folk
to live better lives
under yaw lies,
but u r all t fucking same,
we it comes to decide,
t rich will have lair way
t rest go get hung –
& u dont pay yaw architect
to do bugger all
& we all know of t sidelines
dat draw u to power,
u dont do it for charity
but to line yaw pockets;
well u city shit-fathers
aint votein no more
den i know i aint to blame
for yaw greed,
& if u r ever caught
den i hope its t same
as i will get if i steal
but den u aint poor
& u aint black
so i suppose it will be
a tut here & there
den all will be forgot
as t next lot of robbers
cums singing blue notes
I know it's Winter when the papers report
the Queen is away on State business
somewhere near the Equator. When the T.V. news
shows film of a sunnier country
I know what's coming next, the Queen
being greeted at tropical airports by tropical
V.I.P.'s, she's a very busy woman is the Queen,
in Winter. I know it's Winter when
Princess Margaret is reported on a Caribbean
island, with or without some Roddy,
Reggie, Lance, Max, Em, Leeds Jimmy,
and the horn section of Syd
Lawrence Orchestra. I know it's Winter
when the papers throw up this garbage.
We meet for a drink here
because it is
the nearest thing to home.
We stand, each day the same,
staring across at ourselves,
at the day we all arrived,
exchanging one barrier
looking along calendar-rails
for a light,
on a hard investment.
We are a flock,
a bunched fist of dusty mechanics,
fitting the bits together,
chewing over bread crumbs of empty gossip
in a station
blown full of anxious people
away from each other.
We ( we Yugoslavs together)
we are chained
at the dry end of a railway tunnel.
Across the other side,
in the light of Yugoslavia,
on the bent backs of quiet villages,
it is raining,
watering the seed
we planted months ago
on home grounds
where our children grow
apart from us,
a mere train journey away.
You can frame with barbs and hooks
And constitutional safeguards
A form of words sufficient to your eye.
But time will teach you
(like many a fool before)
that a barbed wire fence
cannot check a tide.
The family-sized, prefabricated coffin, was one of a cluster of creaking
erections that huddled in architectural misery around a paltry square of garden
patches. In the centre of the asbestos group, the restricted parade-ground for
dustbins and children was sparsely green and over-populated with flapping
laundry. Living amongst these residential amplifiers, with their daily cacophony
of over-worked cisterns and citizens, was a kind of aural Bosch, an inferno of
sound. For the deaf, only the vibrations hurt. The strong could always beat
their wives and children. There were ample nails for the crucifixion of the
The buses loomed tall past the weed-high windows. Early morning top-deckers
regularly observed the stirring habits of the lesser Prefabricators - the queer
birds who were reputed to be related to the human species. More like rabbits
with their hutch accommodation and breeding habits.
In prefab number 10, Joe lay in bed with the bedclothes over his head. His
neurosis hurt. The dingy, box-like room offended his eyes with its squalor.
Everything visual around him emphasized his inability to come to terms with
economics. He couldn't work, or wouldn't work, or both. He could hear his wife
creaking about the kitchen, scraping together some kind of breakfast for him. He
could see the wanting numbness in her face, and closed his eyes under the
protective bed-clothes, to shut out the sight. The dry membranes of his
compassion rubbed together and hurt.
Reluctant to relinquish the womb-warmth of the bed-clothes, Joe reached out to
the bedside chair and captured the remains of a twice extinguished Woodbine.
Lighting the sparse, sorry-looking dog-end, with his head on one side to avoid
igniting his nostril hairs, he inhaled with the desperate luxury of poverty.
After a few courage-building puffs, he descended from the lifeboat of his bed
and pulled on his clothing. He had work to do.
Through some miracle of tenacity Joe still retained the residue of creative
desire. His untutored response to Degas and Rachmaninoff was unbelievably
touching. His knowledge of Wedgewood and Chippendale a profound paradox in his
bare, matchboard environment.
He loved the bold warmth and brilliance of the Impressionists. His grey life
responded to their sparkling message of light and colour. He had decided to
paint a Monet sunset. On an old canvas that he had acquired for a wheedling
sixpence, depicting a landscape with mathematically defiant perspective, he had
applied a layer of white undercoat.
He sat on the edge of the bed, with the canvas on the floor, and laid out his
pauper's palette of student oils and methylated spirit. With two lonely brushes,
and a biscuit-tin lid on which to mix his colours, he began to paint. The Monet
reproduction, on an old calendar, was all reds and oranges and evening shadows.
Joe copied it with great ease in two hours, hung it on a picture hook, packed up
his basic painting kit, and went back to bed. In the gilt frame that had
contained the original picture the cockney Monet glowed with authenticity. Joe
hung it, with mild satisfaction, on the bare yellow wall of the living room. Its
evening embers shone like a dying fire against the ochre background.
His wife, who was blind in one eye and had poor vision in the other, thought
that it was nice. His two youngest sons, who remained resident in the prefab,
agreed that he was a clever old sod. The picture graced the wall in solitary
splendour until the insurance agent, who called doggedly but without hope for
the accumulating arrears, chanced to catch sight of it through the open front
room window. He became excited over what he thought to be a genuine original oil
painting in an elaborate old gilt frame.
His relationship with the family was long-suffering, but sympathetic. There was
no great joy in his job. The pleasure of dispensing endowments was too often
counteracted by the grief of accompanying death.
The collection of premiums often aroused feelings of guilt when the money could
obviously be ill-spared. Never-the-less he had his own problems, and his sketchy
knowledge of painting told him that he might be looking at a fortune in oils.
Although he normally never entered the house he asked if he could come in and
see Joe. Thinking that he might get a fag out of it, Joe reluctantly allowed him
entrance. Accepting a cup of tea in the best cup, the agent sat down and offered
his cigarettes, Joe inhaled hungrily and waited for the catch.
"You might be able to do me a favour," the insurance man began casually. "I've
just decorated my front room, and I'm looking for a picture to hang over the
fireplace." He pointed to the pseudo Monet that radiated from the wall. "I
wondered whether you would sell me that one."
Joe looked at him in pity. An oil painting over the fireplace? He deserved to be
fiddled. Without any haggling the agent paid £2 and squared the insurance
arrears. He left with the treasure clutched excitedly under his arm. With the
proceeds, Joe treated himself to a bottle of cheap Spanish wine and ten
Woodbines. His wife spent the remainder of the money on much-needed groceries.
Opening the bottle, Joe retired to the bedroom. Lying on the bed he swigged and
puffed away in moderate contentment. How many pints of oblivion, he reflected,
would a real Monet buy?
He thought with regret of the wasted years of his life. The constant pain of
fear. His only gauge of happiness; degrees of suffering. That which hurt the
least was happiness. That which didn't hurt at all, ecstasy. There wasn't much
that didn't hurt.
The bellow of a radio from a neighbouring prefab twisted in his wounds. He
covered his ears with his hands.
When the insurance man called again, he asked to see Joe, who confronted him
with some feeling of apprehension and guilt.
"What do you want?" He asked guardedly.
"I just wondered where you got the picture," said the agent, very amiably.
Joe was very suspicious, and wondered what the penalty was for selling a forged
"Why do you want to know?" he queried belligerently.
"I'm just curious," said the agent. "It was so well done."
"If you really want to know," said Joe, with a touch of pride and defiance, "I
painted it myself."
The insurance man looked at him incredulously. "Did you really?" he said,
admiringly. He thought for a moment and coming to a decision, said, "Will you
paint me another half-dozen?"
Joe's bent back straightened perceptibly and his face creased with artistic
indignation. "What do you think this is, a bleeding factory?" he replied, and
with a disdain worthy of the great Monet himself, withdrew to his bedroom
Lining up behind the backs of unseen faces
In front of unknown ones,
Ready to sign the paper with a flourish
And resign myself to the facts,
Not wanted here or there.
The unknown hold time still
Like a Judge at court,
Wanting work and found wanting.
Waiting in line for the recompense.
Give us our daily giro.
The rumour of work scares the veterans,
The young grab with one hand in their pocket
Anxious to be rid of the smell of no work.
Today is here and tomorrow never comes,
Leaving us still waiting for the war to come.
MAD MAN SAM
Sammy was a maniac Mad Man Sam they called him. He was easy the biggest in
Eddie's gang. He was over six feet tall but he had tight curly hair, like a
negro's only bright red, and it stuck up so much that you couldn't tell where
his head ended and the hair started, and lots of fellers said that if Mad Man
Sam's hair was shaved off, he wouldn't be over six feet tall anymore, but that
didn't bother Mad Man Sam, 'cos he just asked them when they were thinking of
Mad Man Sam's mother was dead. She was an Irish woman so she had a good voice.
She died in Pat Moran's pub one night when she split her windpipe open on a
peanut, just as she was starting to sing "I'll walk you home again, Kathleen".
Everyone said it was a shame, it was such a lovely song. She was short, round
and fat and looked like a turnip, everyone said, but I think the people who said
that were only trying to be smart arses, 'cos everyone knew that Sam's father
was a Swede off a boat that stopped over in Liverpool one night. A lot of people
made jokes about a turnip, a swede and fuckin' big carrot. Behind Mad Man Sam's
back they made them. Still, it was funny to think of Sam as a fuckin' big carrot
and his main as a turnip, 'cos you saw them together a lot when she was alive -
like when Sam would carry her shopping bags and there she'd be, waddling along,
her two hands just meeting around the front of her belly, clutching this little
hand-bag, and next to her would lollop Sam, his carroty head on his big broad
shoulders and his arms dangling down so much that the shopping bags made tracks
up the street. Yeah, it was funny to think that way when she was alive.
'Round about the time that Mad Man Sam's mother died, and Mad Man Sam's
shoulders got bigger and bigger, and everyone stopped calling him Carrot Top,
and started calling him Sam to his face and Mad Man Sam behind his back - 'round
about this time, all the big lads started to wear winkle-pickers. But Mad Man
Sam shouldn't ever have worn winkle-pickers 'cos he had the widest feet you ever
saw and the only winkle-pickers he could get into were size twelves, and he took
a size nine really. When Mad Man Sam wore his size twelve winkle-pickers, you
could see a deep crease in each shoe just where the laces started and that was
where his real toes ended inside, the rest of the shoes were hollow - y'know,
the real pointy bits were hollow - and turned right up towards the sky. Someone
once said that Sam looked like a giant pixie in his size twelve winkle-pickers.
He fell over a lot when he wore them.
Mad Man Sam used to say that his feet were so wide he could walk on water. One
day someone else said that they weren't as wide as Mad Man Sam's mouth and Mad
Man Sam ought to put his money where that was. Mad Man sam replied that he
thought his knuckles were bigger than the mouth of the feller who'd just said
that but any minute now he was gonna make sure. That was pretty quick for Mad
Man Sam, so I reckon he'd heard it before. Then there was an argument. Our Eddie
ended it by saying how a bet was a bet and everybody went up the canal.
On the way to the canal, Mad Man Sam called in at his uncle's. Mad Man Sam had
been living there ever since his main had died. His uncle was five feet two
inches tall and he said he didn't really mind having Sam around. His uncle liked
breathing, everyone else said. When we got to the canal, Mad Man Sam took out
some water wings and blew them up and lashed them to his feet. Someone said that
that wasn't fair, but our Eddie said he was only talking through his pocket;
water wings were o.k.
Mad Man Sam took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and he looked funny
with his bony elbows sticking out like brush-poles and his arse sticking out
like he'd shit himself, as he stomped to the edge of the canal. Eddie and Tommy
took one each of his arms and there was another little argument about how long
Mad Man Sam had to do it for. Ten seconds they said in the end. Then they
started to help Mad Man Sam test the water. It was as if they were lining
someone up to be shot, it was so slow and exciting - with Mad Man Sam chattering
about they shouldn't count too slow and the feller he'd had the bet with
clapping his hands about once every three seconds, to show how long a second
The water was only inches down from the bank, and you could see rainbows on the
oily surface. Mad Man Sam stuck his left foot into the canal. It went under by a
few inches and then started scouting away from him as he put some weight on it.
He lost his balance a bit and started waving his arms around but Eddie and Tommy
got a grip of him and Mad Man Sam dragged his foot out of the water back onto
the bank, and the dirty oily water poured out of his half hollow winkle-pickers.
On the surface of the canal, where his foot had been, you could see a break in
the oily scum but it all sort of filmed over again a few seconds later. We all
started booing and slow-handclapping him for not going all in, and Mad Man Sam
was getting mad. Next time he put his right foot in and it went under and away
from him again as he put his weight on it. He dragged it back towards the bank.
We were clapping a bit faster now. The feller Sam had had the bet with was
shoutin that Sam shouldn't think we were clapping once every second, we were
clapping much faster than that. Some were still booing too and some were
laughing. Sam put his weight on tile foot again and again it shot away from him
but the laughing and clapping and booing must've got to be too much for him 'cos
this time when he dragged his right foot back he brought his left in as well. We
all stopped clapping and we all shut up and just for a split second Mad Man Sam
stood on the water, sinking a little bit, and then he whooshed over longways
away from the bank in a kind of semi-circle so that his head went in about seven
feet away from the bank and his short striped socks, winkle pickers and water
wings bobbed up about a foot away from the bank.
Everyone started roaring. The feller Mad Man Sam had had the bet with started to
jump up and down. Where Mad Man Sam had gone in, the water was clear, and, even
though the scum was trying its best to knit together again, it couldn't 'cos Sam
was upside down in the water and thrashing about and making little waves all
I was watching Mad Man Sam in the water. His arms were going fifty to the dozen
and he was trying to bend himself upwards to get to the shoes and the water
wings. His hair didn't look red down there, more orangey, and it was funny how
slow it moved - curling and nearly straightening and curling again, really,
really slow when every other bit of Sam was going like the clappers. After about
a minute, bubbles started to come from Mad Man Sam's mouth and his eyes were
getting poppier and poppier and I could tell he was terrified. The others were
still laughing and wise-cracking and it was then I thought of the story of that
girl in New York - Kitty something her name was. She was murdered in the middle
of the afternoon in some room off a main street with thousands of people walking
past the room and hearing her screams. and not one of them going in to see what
the score was. And now, here was Mad Man Sam drowning in the canal with all his
mates laughing just a bit too loud and looking everywhere and anywhere except at
Sam. And then I knew why nobody helped that Kitty, 'cos I knew why nobody was
going to help Mad Man Sam.
I told Eddie that Mad Man Sam was going to drown if he didn't get him out quick
and I cried when I said it, so that Eddie could wait for a bit and decide to get
Sam out for my sake. "Su as not to upset the kid', he said. Everyone looked
better when Eddie said that and they all rushed to pull off Mad Man Sam's
squelchy shoes and water-wings. Sam came up coughing and sobbing about six feet
away from the bank and lunged toward the bank, still coughing up water, for the
others to pull him out. Sam didn't jerk anyone in as he was getting pulled out,
so I knew he was in a bad way. He flopped down on the bank with a kind of splat
and lay there on his belly, heaving and coughing and cursing as Eddie's mates
said, loud enough for Sam to hear, that they should've got him out sooner, that
it was dead brave of Sam to have tried it. that he was on top of the water for
about a second, that no, he was on top of the water for just on two seconds, and
the feller he'd had the bet with said that it didn't matter about the money
anyway. When the feller Sam had had the bet with said that it didn't matter
about the money anyway, everyone turned on him and said too true it didn't
matter about the money and Mad Man Sam was going to give him a good hiding
anyway no matter how much he tried to suck up to him and, what was more, if Mad
Man Sam was brain damaged, and couldn't give him a good hiding, they would, on
Mad Man Sam's account 'cos Mad Man Sam was a mate of theirs, and that's what
mates were for. Mad Man Sam just beat his fist on the ground and coughed.
For two or three days after that, the reddest thing about Mad Man Sam were his
eyes. The feller Mad Man Sam had had the bet with got off the hook 'cos Sam
claimed the bet and was paid 'cos everyone agreed that walking upside down in
the water for over a minute was miles better than walking on top, the right way
up, for ten lousy seconds.
CANADIAN WORKER WRITERS. "Quitting Time" is by Mark Warrior taken from a book by
the same title. The other three poems are from "'A Government Job At Last"
edited by Tom Wayman. Both books can be ordered from the Federation of Worker
Writers and Community Publishers, F Floor, Milburn House, Dean Street, Newcastle
upon Tyne, NF1 1LF.
we fall silent, watching
the smoke belch from the tower,
the rain stream
down the windows of the crummy.
the hooker butts his cigarette
and throws the door open.
"guess it's that fucking time again."
four hours till lunchbreak
as i climb over the pile i think
how after lunch i'll be waiting
out the four hours till quitting time,
at quitting time, waiting for sunday,
on sunday, for fire season or a strike,
after fire season, for the winter layoff.
at night i dream
of a vast, green
which is slowly filling with rain.
and as i drown
am angrily shouting
that i've been cheated, robbed
of the right to watch
my life pass before my eyes,
this life spent waiting
for the slack-off whistle to blow.
six down, forty years
to go: the rigging stops
and as i kneel beside
the windfall we left yesterday,
groping for the knob, cursing
this first turn which already
has me covered in mud to the elbows,
of the warmth
of the wash-house,
of dry clothes,
of lying on my bunk
staring at the smoke
from my cigarette.
jesus, eight fucking hours till quitting time
Not wanting to fuck a hungry woman,
I got a job.
Spent the day in a ditch with a shovel
and a little less dirt every minute.
Dragged my ass home
with a steak
to toast my woman.
The steak stuck to my tongue like dust.
Too tired to fuck a fed woman,
I slept. I woke at seven
and pulled myself out of bed
like a deep splinter.
The days go like this.
My hunger grows deeper with every cheque.
It rises from a hole on a shovel
and is dumped around my legs.
Some day I'm gonna stand up on my desk
take all my clothes off
and hurl the typewriter at your head
And I'll squirt gestetner ink
all over your board room
with its rosewood chairs
Some day I'll shove every paper clip
into the xerox machine
and set it at a million
And then I'll throw your file cabinets
on your antique carpet
and piss on them
Some day I'm gonna force you to lick
1000 envelopes cross-legged
with nylons on dear
And I'll make you chew three dozen
shiny new pencils
and watch you die of lead poisoning
Someday I'm gonna claim compensation
for mind rot
and soul destruction
And for sure I'm never gonna write
one folksy line about the heroism
of women workers
DO YOU LIKE MY
Do you like my hair?
I had it done today, got a new permanent.
I sat for two and a half hours with hot rollers
poking into my scalp and chemicals running down
behind my ear.
Do you like my new shoes?
I can't walk very well in them.
Do you like the book I just read?
I heard it was good, so I read it, and
I enjoyed it, but I wonder, do you like it?
Do you like me talking about books?
Do you want to go to a movie?
Do you like your coffee black?
Do you like being asked if you like your coffee
Maybe it's hard to know what you like,
when you're always being asked.
Maybe I should stop asking and just try to
figure it out.
Do you like me?
Do you like the dinner, and your shirts
the way I ironed them? Do you like our kids?
Do you like the way I look when I'm pregnant?
Well, O.K. that's not a fair question, but
I don't like the way I look because I think you
Do you like women with hairy legs?
Do you like the models in the panti-hose ads?
Do you like garbagemen and supermarkets and
Do you like women with minds full of garbagemen
and cleaning toilets?
Do you like the way the floor gets dirty when
the dog runs in?
Do you like making love with me on top?
I do, but I can't come that way.
Do you believe this poem?
I bet you don't like it. I don't like it either.
I can't help it though. Do you understand?
Do you get angry about women's lib? I do.
Do you get bored easily?
Do you think you should have an affair with
every person you fall
in love with? Do you think I'm easy?
Did you think that when we met?
Honest, I want to know, did you think that?
What are you thinking about now?
Do you consider me aggressive?
Would you rather I was quiet?
But would you be bored then?
Do you find me too smart or too dumb,
too pretty or too pale,
too much like a wife or too much a whore?
We know it's your choice, we know the rules.
If I stop playing, will your ego collapse?
If your ego collapses, will my ego collapse?
Will we still be together, two collapsed egos?
Or will mine get stronger faster?
Do you like women with strong egos?
Do you think this is funny?
THE IDEAL HUSBAND
Mrs. Kershaw has a wonderful husband, one who never interferes, makes a fuss
or gets bad-tempered. He sits by the fire, always immaculately dressed and
well-groomed. Reading his paper or watching television seem to be his favourite
occupations and he never gives his wife any cause to complain, but it was not
always so. Far from it!
Mrs. Kershaw was a spry little woman in her sixties. Mr. Kershaw was a little
older. He was seventy and had been retired for the last five years.
"And don't I know it?" thought Mrs. Kershaw plaintively. "I wish he would get
out of the house more often."
The truth was that Mr. Kershaw got on her nerves. He was in the way. During his
working life, he had hardly been at home at all. He had been an engineer's
fitter, travelling all over the world and earning good money, most of which he
had put away for 'a rainy day'. That day was now here or so his wife thought.
They had had no terrible misfortunes and they owned their little terraced house
with its tiny garden backing on to the main railway line between Manchester and
Leeds. People usually saved up for their retirement. Well, now they were
retired. She still did a bit of cleaning at the Doctor's surgery, but she would
have liked to give it up and enjoy a well-earned rest.
She sighed as she rang out the floor-cloth in the waiting room before the first
patients were due to arrive. The 'fly in the ointment' as they say, was that Mr.
Kershaw was so tight-fisted. Saving had become a way of life for him and without
her small wage, Mrs. Kershaw knew she would not have been able to treat herself
to a weekly shampoo and set at the local hair dresser's or buy more clothes than
were absolutely necessary to be decently covered. She had something to ask him
now but as it involved spending money, she had little hope of a favourable
It was raining in fact and not just proverbially when she stepped out into the
street and made her way home. It was not far and she was soon walking up the
gravel path which led to the back door of the house. The front door was hardly
ever used. The garden was neat and trim. The dahlias, the pride of Mr. Kershaw's
heart, held up their many-petalled heads to the rain. Mr. Kershaw might have
been in the garden had it been fine. Now he would be in her way again and she
would have to dust and vacuum round him while he read his paper, oblivious of
her efforts, but grumbling heartily if she suggested he might move out of the
Her step quickened. It was almost nine o'clock and time for her husband's
breakfast which was placed before him regularly at nine each morning.
"Is that you, Mabel?" she heard him call as she entered the house. She poked her
head round the living room door as she stood in the kitchen, having divested
herself of her wet raincoat and put her umbrella in the sink.
"Yes love," she said. "I'm just going to get you your breakfast."
The boiled egg (one rasher of bacon and a fried egg were luxuries reserved for
Sunday) was soon ready. It was just right. Mr. Kershaw ate alone, his wife
having breakfasted much earlier before going out to work. Mr. Kershaw liked his
egg to be boiling for three and a half minutes exactly and on the rare occasions
when Mrs. Kershaw erred in this respect, he ate the offending article (you can't
waste a good egg) but in sulky silence. Mrs. Kershaw didn't mind this too much.
It was her husband's obsession with petty economies which increasingly irritated
When he had finished his breakfast, he went back to his arm-chair by the fire
where he sat, without a tie, in his shabby suit and frayed carpet slippers,
reading the paper. The open fire looked very pleasant certainly, but his wife
would have preferred one of those modern gas fires which would have meant less
work for her. It was she who fetched in the coal and cleaned the grate. Even
now, in August, there was a small fire burning.
Mrs. Kershaw cleared the table and got out the vacuum cleaner. The badly worn
carpet had covered the floor for the past thirty years. Its original oriental
design of predominately red and yellow hues had faded into a uniform dirty brown
shade and the rag rug which had been in front of the fire place was now placed
strategically in the middle of the room to conceal a large hole. Mrs. Kershaw
would have died rather than allow anyone to see that hole. The possibility of
such a thing happening haunted her dreams. She had never liked the heavy
mahogany sideboard either, with its large ornate mirror. It dominated the tiny
room, enlarging it certainly by reflecting it in its entirety, but she resented
this duplication of its shabbiness which seemed yet another affront to her
housewifely pride. The sideboard had been bought years ago at a sale because it
was 'a BARGAIN' She covered the innumerable scratches, inflicted by her son's
penknife in his childhood, with a liquid polish designed for that purpose, but
her dislike of its gloomy bulk was rapidly turning into hatred. The old deal
table was shabby too and none of the chairs around it matched each other. She
would have loved to possess a modern dining room suite with matching table,
chairs and sideboard, but Mr. Kershaw said what did it matter, they weren't
living in Mayfair.
There was a large framed photograph of Peter, their son, on the sideboard, and a
smaller photograph of a family group tucked in the right hand corner of the
frame. Behind it were stacked the letters he had sent from Canada. They were
addressed as was only right to both his parents, but it was Mrs. Kershaw who
always wrote back and who awaited eagerly the arrival of the postman. Peter had
emigrated to Canada several years ago now. She had never seen his wife or her
grandchildren except on the little photograph. It was Mrs. Kershaw's dream to
visit them one day, but Mr. Kershaw said how could they? They were not
They had only the one son. No other children had arrived. Although she liked
children, Mrs. Kershaw had long since realised her good fortune in this respect.
She had seen neighbours, making themselves ill with worry, worn out with large
families and sometimes even risking back street abortions. Now people had
smaller families and many husbands helped with the housework when their wives
went out to work, but it was hard to keep up with some of the new-fangled
notions. Mr. Kershaw thought they were all crazy.
"Women aren't the same as men," he would say. "All this talk about being equal
just breeds discontent."
He would have been surprised to know just how discontented his wife was,
although she made the best of her situation. He was not a cruel man, just one
lacking in imagination or sensitivity. Call it what you will. The world abounds
with the likes of Mr. Kershaw.
Now, as she dusted the sideboard, Mrs. Kershaw was inwardly summoning up all her
courage to ask Mr. Kershaw's gracious permission to go on a package tour to
Spain with her widowed friend and neighbour, Gladys Buckley. It was one at
reduced rates for pensioners. They would be setting off in a month's time and
Gladys said that there were still a few spare places left.
"Fred," she said. She had finished the sideboard and was dusting the clock on
Mr. Kershaw did not look up. It was difficult to attract his attention when he
was absorbed in the gardening page of the newspaper. She repeated his name a
"Fred, Gladys is going to Spain and she's asked me if I'd like to go. I've saved
up a bit myself, but I should need a bit more. I'd be away for two weeks. You
could come too, but I don't suppose you'd want to.
Her husband looked at her in amazement. "What do you want to go there for?" he
asked cantankerously. "Everyone will be crowded on the beaches with no room to
move between the deck chairs. They just think they're enjoying themselves." Then
came the inevitable. "Besides we're not millionaires."
He re-immersed himself in the newspaper. He genuinely did not see why Mabel
should want such a holiday. It didn't appeal to him in the slightest. Mrs.
Kershaw did not pursue the subject. She had known it was hopeless and the
knowledge served to soften her disappointment, but just because they were only
ordinary folk did not seem sufficient reason for not being allowed some
enjoyment in life. Gladys Buckley was not a millionaire either, but she could go
to Spain. She had definitely married the wrong man. If only she had married
someone like Mr. Potter. Last year, the Potters had actually been on a cruise.
(Mrs. Potter had died earlier this year poor dear, but she had had her holiday.)
She had married Fred because he was the only one who asked her when she was
already getting on, twenty-five to be exact, and to be an old maid was
unthinkable. She had never stopped to consider why but prestige for her meant
being called "Mrs.".
Mr. Kershaw was glad his travelling days were over and never wanted a holiday
although the few visitors they had he bored to tears with the constant
repetition of stories about events, people and places abroad during his work in
foreign parts. A mate of his, a fellow fitter, had once remarked about Venice:
"It's nobbut like a town flooded' and Mr. Kershaw seemed to be of the same
opinion, but Mrs. Kershaw would have liked to have seen Venice. It must be so
romantic with all those gondolas and gondoliers.
When he wasn't getting on someone's nerves with his tales of travel, Mr. Kershaw
pottered a little in his garden but for most of the day, he sat as he did now,
reading by the fire. In the evening, he watched television (black and white of
course) and they always watched his choice of programme. He liked sport and
informative programmes of a technological nature which did not interest Mrs.
Kershaw in the slightest. At ten o'clock, he went down to the local for a pint
of beer which was, naturally, exorbitantly priced and vastly inferior in quality
to what he had known before the war. The thirties had not been a particularly
traumatic time for Mr. Kershaw. He had never suffered from unemployment,
although his obsession with thrift surely sprang from the fear, first
experienced in his youth, of pauperism and the workhouse.
Of course, one reason, money apart, for not wanting his wife to go on holiday
was that Mr. Kershaw would have missed his home comforts during her absence. He
had never had to fend for himself and she doubted whether he would have been
capable of doing so. As well as his breakfast, he always expected his dinner and
tea to be ready on time and, to give him his due, he was always punctual,
himself, turning up like clockwork at the appointed hour if he happened by some
remote chance to be away from home. Mrs. Kershaw shopped with care, contriving
somehow on a meagre allowance to produce tasty meals for her husband. After his
nightly visit to the pub, she made him apple fritters or chips or a boiled onion
with melted butter for his supper. Mr. Kershaw was leading the life of Riley.
True he did not have any great luxuries - his main pleasures were his daily pint
of beer, his weekly four ounces of tobacco and tending the dahlias in his garden
-but then he didn't want any. Mrs. Kershaw did. She would have liked to go
abroad or go on a cruise, to have a colour television, a new carpet and some new
furniture. What was so aggravating was to know that the money was there. Had
they been really poor, there would have been no alternative but to live in this
Her chores over for the time being, Mrs. Kershaw decided to go across the road
to see Gladys Buckley and tell her that she wouldn't be able to go to Spain. Her
friend was exasperated. When her husband had been alive, they had spent all
their modest income which didn't run to trips abroad, but Mr. Buckley had taken
out a small insurance policy and now his wife was enjoying the proceeds as poor
Arthur would have wanted her to. Mr. Kershaw had no insurance policy. He had
preferred to save his own money pound by hard-earned pound.
"You should nag until he gives in," she said. "You're too soft Mabel." Rumour
had it that Gladys Buckley had done some nagging in her time, but Arthur Buckley
had had a different temperament from Fred Kershaw.
"You don't know Fred," said Mrs. Kershaw. 'It would be no use.' The two friends
had a cup of tea together and then it was time to think about preparing dinner.
That afternoon, Mrs. Kershaw went into town to do some shopping. When she
arrived home, it had stopped raining so she was at first surprised not to see
Mr. Kershaw in the garden, but as it was past five o'clock, she said to herself
that he was probably watching television before his tea at six. Sure enough,
there he was in the old arm chair, but the television was not on. He seemed to
be asleep. His head had slumped sideways. She touched his shoulder. He did not
"Fred," she said gently and then a little louder, "Fred!"
There was no response. She drew back in alarm. He was quite dead, but still
warm. He must have died in his sleep just now. It gave her quite a turn to think
about it. He had not been ill. Indeed neither of them had seen the doctor for
years. It was sad, but to be quite honest, when the first shock had subsided,
what she really felt was a sense of relief. Now she would be able to do all the
things she had wanted to do. Perhaps it wouldn't look quite decent if she went
to Spain just yet, but she might even to to Canada eventually.
Ah, but he did look peaceful, sitting there. It seemed such a pity to disturb
him. She could not bear to think of him being buried in the cold ground or
cremated in a hot fire. No, she would have him stuffed! She could surely find
the address of a good taxidermist in the 'yellow pages' of the telephone
directory. There was no law against it as far as she knew. He was sufficiently
well-preserved not 'to constitute a public health hazard' - a phrase she had
often seen on notices in the surgery -and he'd look ever so nice in a new arm
chair on the new living-room carpet which she could already see in her mind's
The neighbours were thunderstruck at first, but now they are quite used to
seeing Mr. Kershaw, looking perfectly contented, sitting permanently by the new
gas fire, in the smart blue arm chair, standing on the bright new carpet with
its busy pattern of blues and greens, on which stands also the smart new dining
suite of highly polished walnut veneer.
The ideal husband, at last, he seems to Mrs. Kershaw to put the finishing touch
to her surroundings and, as she is sometimes heard to observe, "It's nice to
have a man about the house!"
a square woman with diamond arms
on big fleshy hips
red hair red face
red roaring curses from
the slash she snarled with
at the staggered kids
tied up in a pinny
the great splitting belly laugh
would jiggle her fat breasts
throwing the broad face
into sudden violent disorder
at something that amused her
NUPE recently ran a poetry competition in their union
journal which revealed quite a range of talents. Here we
publish a sample of their entries.
J. E. Adkin is a Caretaker at Portsmouth Polytechnic
Have I got a Daddy?
I often ask myself
And who's that in the picture?
Mum keeps upon the shelf
Not a picture of an airman
Or a deep sea diver
Oh! Mummy is my Daddy dead?
"No love he's a Driver".
J E Adkin
What are those people doing?
They are waiting.
What are they waiting for? a film show?
The number seven bus?
They are waiting to get on the Public Tennis Courts.
That can take a long long time.
One of them is very angry.
He will write a complaint to the Town Hall.
Or maybe the County Council.
No, he has decided to go straight to the top.
He is going to send a letter directly to Mr. Wilson.
Hmm, he's been waiting longer than I thought.
Our Mother which art in Downing Street
Margaret be thy name;
United Kingdom going,
We shall be done on earth and probably in Heaven;
Give us each our daily cuts
and forgive us our misguided confidence,
As we forgive them that speculate against us.
Lead us into a General Election
and deliver us from the folly of our ways
For this is the Kingdom - Power to those who have
and the survival of the fittest.
For ever and ever Amen.
NUPE Aberdeen No 1 Branch
SCHOOL MEALS BATTLE CRY
At National School Meals Conference
We heard a lot of common sense
The ladies came from far and wide
A course of action to decide
If meals at schools are to exist
The drastic cuts we must resist
So raise the NUPE banner high
Don't let our school meals service die
But rally round and heed the call
For school meals cuts affect us all
To fight the cause of malnutrition
Keep up the standards of nutrition
Some families are poor and need
The school meals dinner for a feed
And working mothers in the land
Are glad of school meals helping hand
So raise the NUPE banner high etc.
The school meals part of education
Will help to build a healthy nation
So ladies now we call to you
Don't leave the fighting to the few
If we are going to save school meals
Don't just sit back and cool your heels
But raise the NUPE banner high
Don't let our school meals service die
We'll rally round and heed the call
For school meals cuts affect us all
Morning Muriel, How are you feeling
Start the motor these spuds need peeling
Tank's overflowing looks like a choke
Grab a stick and give it a poke
Wash down the yard, clean out the drains
No need to do this if we only had brains
We are only antiques according to Smash
And those little tin men so bold and brash
Look at the peelings all over my feet
Can't stop to clean them here comes the meat
Stack in the cold room, oh! it's freezing
Now then "Albert" stop that teasing
I'll do the salads, you wash the greens
Then we'll start on those tins of beans
Must drain the sinks, you take the tea
I'll slice the beans while I'm having a pee
Tote that cabbage, lift that kale
Oh! how I wish that I was male
Dear oh dear my legs are sopping
Need the bonus for my Xmas shopping.
Bet and Muriel
Moonlit trees, pale shadows creeping across wide green
Quiet now little foxes, patiently waiting watching in
hiding, the quick furry rabbits,
Large badgers, padding around the out-buildings
looking in bins, delighting the patients!!
Small animals too, their white-striped, mask-like faces
Youngest of badgers, silently watching
Startling the night-nurse as she closes the curtains.
Mrs A Lowrie
ASPECTS OF LUNACY
to the sounds of sleeping children
I would my eyes would not succumb to dream
and make of this my light time
and reason watch me through this watching
but the full moon at my window
like a silver breast hanging on the torso of the night
seduces me to wild imaginings
in company of stars
in hopeless flying fancy
all His fair creation I would have my plaything
and I am crushed
before the magnitude of my task
to order such infinity
kneeling at the side of the fitting child
as, the storm abating
and peace restores her features to a smile
of one who has travelled, who returns
a light on this sad mask
to equal all that star shine
I rejoice to see
such fair infinity
taken in two hands
over tea and toast and marmalade
I study the aquarium
its refracted imagery
the little plastic diver lies beside the spanish galleon
strangled by his air line
drowned by the weight of his own boots
while angel fish nose the cask of gold
Time comes away in handfuls
how many hands have you
how much may be salvaged
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Two monkeys sat in a coconut tree
Discussing things as they are said to be
Said one to the other, now listen you
There's a certain rumour that can't be true
That man descended from our noble race
The very idea, it's a dire disgrace
No monkey ever deserted his wife
Starved her baby, and ruined her life
And you've never known a mother monk
To leave her baby with others, to bunk
Or pass them on one to another
Till they hardly know who is their mother
And another thing you will never see
A monk build a fence round a coconut tree
And let the coconuts go to waste
Forbidding all monkeys to even taste
Why! if I put a fence around this tree
Starvation would force you to steal from me
There's another thing a monk won't do
Go out at night and get in a stew
Or use a gun, or club, or knife
To take some other monkey's life
Yes! man descended the ornery cuss
But no emphatically not from us
Now you know why the monkey has such a sad face
He is sad, for the bad in the human race
But take heart, for the monkey who lives in the wood
Spoke only of bad, not seeing the good
For good there is, tho' at times hard to find
It shows here and there in the old daily grind
So carry on living and doing your best
Do what you can, for life is a test
And if you can pass it, and end with a grin
You might come back as a monkey and never know sin
Mr PT Adams
WE HAVE ALL MET HER
"Hello Mary, how's your Joe?
Haven't seen you since ages ago,
I've been to the butcher in High Street,
I've got a deep freezer it's such a treat,
It matches my washer, that's automatic,
We have a colour TV in the attic,
We got a new car, the colour grey,
Was there something you wanted to say?
Joe is dead! well not to worry,
I'll have to go I am in a hurry.
Mrs. Annie Parkinson
When I went tor seaside in 1934
Thar shood er seen me cossie
Thar couldn't ask fer moor
There wen't another lark it
Any weer at all
But I wus prowd ter wear it
Even though I wus quite small
It started as a jersey
An then it wer cut deawn
Then handed on till sleeves wus gone
and it were a faded sort o brown
Then me Main did make it
Into its present style
Ar didn't care how it did fit
Or who did care to smile
Ther wus allus this. Ar didn't beg
She had it sewed between the leg
And of that cossie I wus proud
As any kid could be
And as to my friends I proudly said
She made it just fer me
But only one thing nobody saw
It rubbed me flippin legs red raw.
Mrs. G. Kearns
Oh Lord the coming of the mowing season
increased concern and heavy workload
make stout our hearts, and strong our reason
and guide us on the troubled road
Deliver us from evil pests
crane flies, grubs and hornets nests
foul disease and fungus rot
damping off and dollar spot
Let not the committee thwart our days
spare us from their futile ways
help us start the mighty roller
pacify the impatient bowler
Weekends bring a muttered curse
with litter louts and even worse
bottles, bricks, and empty cans
scattered by the aggro fans
Anguish, gloom, and dark despair
the blasted worms are everywhere
divots, drought, and fairy rings
plus peculiar yellow things
Oh woe is me, alack a day
can't keep the seagull hordes at bay
moggies, dogs, and cursed hare
are digging up the cricket square
A groundsman bears a heavy strain
critics, torment, toil and pain
an epitaph could surely be
"THEY FOUND HIM HANGING FROM A TREE"
Reasoning why, that I rebel,
In this a life, I did not plan
For I am born
A working man.
I rebel against all kind
Who brake the workings of my mind
And let a lesser maker of idea
Guide them because of fear.
I rebel against a so called better class
Who say to me, don't be an ass,
Your people are not worth the trouble
Come with us, your wages we will double.
I rebel against my own
For a doctrine that was sown
of ignorance, and superstition
That grew to be our partition.
I rebel against the degradations
Of the people of all nations
Against poverty and distress
And apathy and idleness.
Against all these things
I must stand firm
If I would complete my life's term
Tho' sometimes I'll live in Hell
Even so, I must rebel.
SUMMER IN THE
In them days of a summer Sundy...
motor cars –
green and black and heather-blue –
clicked cool beneath the church wall
of early morning,
reflecting gargoyle children
in convex chrome.
till are doctor, striding outa Mass, boomed.
'Hul. . .lo, there, sunshine!'
In them days of a summer Sundy .
and boys huddled at the kerb,
picking bubbled pitch
between the setts,
moulding masks and men .
till this old woman screamed.
'Yous lot, gerroff the cart-road.'
In them days of a summer Sundy .
called from open doors
and through the garden
wafted smells of cabbage and hot ovens
and New Zealand lamb,
arresting time ...
till his band played:
'Some . . .body stole my gal . .
In them days of a summer Sundy . .
in belts and braces and voluminous pants
limped across cropped turf,
bent and bowled,
sweated and cursed
as woods cannoned from the green ...
till they seen us, and bellered.
In them days of a summer Sundy .
long-legged, lissom, blinding in white,
leaped and ran
after a ball,
lobbing it over the net
and into it ...
till one of 'em, turning, asked.
'Well, d'yer wanna photer or summat?'
In them days of a summer Sundy.
with greased hair and vivid shirts
roped boats together
in a line and sang
shanties on the lake,
mooring at the island .
laughing when this parkie moaned:
'Bleedin' young 'ooligans!'
In them days of a summer Sundy .
grouped at the bandstand
by the brook,
or climbed Angel Hill for free,
and listened to the band and hecklers
in the woodsmoke on the hill .
till this feller come up and grabbed one
'Clever lad!' he said. 'Be a big 'elp to yer
dad . . . when yer grow up.'
In them days of a summer Sundy .
single-engined like a fly,
droned above the wire works,
beating the bounds
towards a westering sun . .
till me main said:
'Yer tea's on the table, if yer wann it.'
TO SIR ANTHONY BLUNT
Sir Anthony Blunt, you have been
a traitor by your own confession.
They gave you a start at MI5,
but you brought only shame to that honest profession.
Your conduct was most ungentlemanly
to act as a talent scout for the Russians,
even if most of the old school team
were waving their rattles and cheering the Prussians.
Sir Anthony, you've had opportunities
that I've never had, to put it simply.
They kept you on at Buckingham Palace,
while, me, I don't reckon I'd get back on Wimpey's.
But did you spare a thought when you gave in your
for those of us out there still walking the line?
Sir Anthony, you have betrayed your class,
but, as far as I know, you've not betrayed mine.
A GALLERY OF HARLEM PORTRAITS.
Melvin B. Tolson. University of Missouri Press. £4.20 Pb, £11.40 cloth.
This is a fine piece of literature. The book is a collection of poems which in
such a combination creates chiaroscuros, silhouettes, etchings and pastels.
It is by this "Art Gallery" that Tolson captures the atmosphere of Harlem, the
views and attitudes and its inhabitants. The unique description of the
characters and their environment gives the work an extra dimension. It is raised
above the level of bland black on white, the people are real and the smell of
Harlem is ingrained on the pages. The smell of squalor, poverty, marijuana, the
smell of the nice rich people and their nice houses, the smell of the small
sweet shops in Harlem.
Tolson journeys through restaurants, newspaper offices, grocer shops, lovers
bedrooms, dimly lit tenement blocks, grimy lodging houses, the W.A.S.P. south,
sleazy speak easies, jazz and blues clubs of various reputation, distracting
churches, wartime France and West Coast of Afrika to find a vivid and true
picture of Harlem and her people.
An understanding of life is brought out in many of the poems. For example, the
black understands his role and the financial rewards he can gain by playing the
role well. The negro understands the thin cover of race pride, he sees it as a
facade. This has further emphasised the view that the big fish eat the small
fish and colour is irrelevant. A dying black compels white and black workers to
unite and explains that segregation is a tool of the rich and powerful. It is
also understood that black cops may make a black feel proud but they beat you
just the same as white cops. Then there is the father who is annoyed at his son
because his son hit a white lawyer in front of a white judge and jury down in
Tolson spells out in a number of poems and in varying ways the rank/colour
syndrome. Basically higher rank is occasioned to one whose colour is lighter. A
throwback is that the darker people enviously look at lighter skinned blacks.
Several of the poems look at the same aspect of black history in the U.S A.
Taken together, a composite picture of black history evolves, taking it from the
time of slavery, past Nat Turner, past the Civil War and Reconstruction. Lincoln
is remembered and revered, Sherman is remembered too, the Klu Klux Klan are
remembered as are the lynchings, murders and whippings.
A finer point of criticism is that black history is only passingly remembered.
However, I received the book well and spent many days reading it to myself and
aloud to my friends who experienced the interest and amusement while hearing
some of the poetry.
SHELLEY'S SOCIALISM: Edward Aveling and
Eleanor Marx Aveling and POPULAR SONGS, wholly political and destined to awaken
and direct the imagination of the reformers: Percy Bysshe Shelley. The
Journeyman Chaphook Series 3. The Journeyman Press. £1.50.
There were only twenty five copies of the original edition of Shelley's
Socialism a lecture that Aveling and Eleanor Marx gave to the Shelley Society in
1888. Although it has been published since (by Journeyman Press as recently as
1975) this edition, which includes a selection of the best of Shelley's
revolutionary poems, is a valuable addition to any socialist library.
In the introduction to the lecture that Frank Allaun first wrote for Leslie
Prager's edition in 1947, he quotes Marx as assessing Shelley as essentially a
revolutionist" and grieving that he died at twenty-nine because "he would always
have been one of the advanced guard of socialism". This opinion is confirmed by
the analysis of Shelley's work in the lecture.
It is probable that the ideas in the lecture owed more to Eleanor Marx than the
scientist, Aveling. She was involved in discussion of literary values many times
in the Marx household.
The lecture contains a note or two on Shelley and his personality as it bears on
his relations to socialism. It analysed his thinking and those who had
influenced him in that direction and then looks at his attacks on tyranny, his
support for liberty and his clear perception of the class struggle. There are
quotations from his prose and poetry to support the contention that Shelley was
not only a convinced socialist but that he consciously set out to teach it in
The value of the lecture is that it not only gives a lead to a study of Shelley,
but also provides insight into the way of thinking and method of analysis of
Aveling and Eleanor Marx at a time when they were in touch with Frederick Engels
and many other friends of the Marx family, and it was only five years since Marx
The Popular Songs, which are prefaced by Mrs. Shelley's notes on The Mask of
Anarchy, written in the immediate aftermath of the news of the Massacre of
Peterloo, are an added bonus. They include the Ode To Liberty, The Song To The
Men of England, The Mask of Anarchy and a ballad rarely published before, which
describes a Parson who while feeding his hound with bread refused it to a poor
woman beggar whose child was dying of starvation. The sting is in the end when
he realises that the dead child was, in fact, his own.
Not only has the Journeyman Press provided a tool for modern socialists to use
in their own daily lives - a tool for personal replenishment of revolutionary
fervour, but also a tool for use in discussion and argument. Few people would
fail to be moved by such rousing words as:
"Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?
Sow seed, - but let no tyrant reap,
Find wealth, - let no impostor heap,
Weave robes, - let not the idle wear;
Forge arms, - in your defence to bear.
The production of the chapbook series is excellent. It looks and feels like a
privately printed press book, a connoisseur's delight, but at £1,50 it is
available to all.
Edmund and Ruth Frow
ARTHUR FRANCIS (Tonbridge, Kent) is a long-term member of the T&GWU and Labour
Party. He has served on Dover Council. This story first appeared in the T&GWU
NICE OCCASION, SAM
Sam Brown was going to a do. The Great Day had arrived. With the compliments of
the firm's profits he was to dine in celebration of the company's hundred years'
gain from people like old Sam.
Not that Sam understood economics. True, he was a genius on making-do on his
small wage. 'The wages of sin', he would laugh sweeping round the factory mess
that his workmates left him."
'You're not going to Buckingham Palace to be kissed on your backside', suggested
his wife, sorting out his best pair of socks.
'Steady Joan, I am going to show the stiff shirts that even a sweeper can look
tidy on occasions'.
'What an occasion!' roared the gay wife. 'A bit of turkey, or something in the
dinner hour, why, it is not even an evening affair. the old man going broke?'
'It's a big firm, Joan. It would be difficult to have a big do with guests
invited. Fair's fair.'
'Not what you said when you first heard about it.'
'Now look here me old ducks, I don't often go places. You often say I should mix
a bit. This can help'.
Sam touched his wife's shoulder as if to bless their thirty years' marriage. Her
fifty-six-year-old brown eyes smiled. His blue - a little older optics - smiled
'I'll go and get the best shirt you silly old blighter. About time you showed
yourself in something decent.'
The sun was fighting to make day on that October morning. Sam watched the
struggle from the kitchen window. Brown leaves danced from the lofty trees and
hit the cold ground.
What a mess the world was in. People dying of starvation in those far-off lands.
Stuff advertised on the telly to tell you how not to get fat. Old folk in the
grand old United Kingdom being found dead in unheated rooms. Two years' waiting
list for a new Rolls-Royce. Rich Arabs buying crates of ladies' knickers in the
West End of the cradle of democracy. And...
'You'll be late for work,' called Joan. 'Come and put on your clothes, your
Sam retired from the problems of many things and lands.
'I'm going to put my clothes in a bag and dress at work'
There was a clatter of footsteps down the stairs.
'You're going to do
'Put my best clobber on at work, don't think I m going to wield the broom in my
best suit, do you?'
Joan Brown knew it was no use debating the point. Sam was a man of resolution.
'Please your ugly self,' sniffed Joan.
'Glad the parcel from Transport House came in time', said Sam between a slice of
'Come on, get you ready, soon as you're gone I can get on with the washing up.'
The bag was packed with Sam's best. A cold wind met his race to labours. One
ugly bang on the clock card. What-yer-calls and Co. had him for another day.
With a free meal: perhaps honest Abe Lincoln had ended slavery after all.
'Going to the dog's dinner, Albert?' called a workmate.
Albert leaned on his broom.
'Now that's an interesting question.' Then swept his
It was getting near the one o'clock event. Sam was scheduled at the third
sitting. Such a large factory could not do it all in one blow-out.
In a dark corner of the factory Albert replaced his rags for gladder things. One
brown suit. Two brown shoes. A nice Joan-knitted pullover. Over the head with
the clean shirt. No, take the pullover off first. NOW the shirt.
Mr. Samuel Brown became very much unlike the sweeper. Few recognised their
sweeper as he hurried to the canteen. Those that did wondered if the outspoken
Sam had got the push after all.
'Hello, Mr., er, over there, er, oh yes,' said the highest man of the factory.
Strange how one only meets on retirement day. Or such occasions.
Sam scanned the merry faces of office and shop floor heroes. He made for Sally
Sally was a pretty little young lady. She often wished Sam greetings on her way
past him to other great offices.
'My majesty, I am going to sit with you without the squire s permission,'
laughed the smartly dressed subject.
'Certainly my Lord,' smiled Sally.
'What will you drink, er Sam, er Mr., er.'
'Lemonade without.' ordered the sweeper.
To make it a jolly affair the members of the Board were serving. After all, they
were all of a team in the factory. True, income differed. So did perks.
As Sam sipped the soup he watched his fellow sufferers. There was old Bugger
Face. One big gate - big enough for a bus garage. Look at old Rat Ears. Head of
Seven Department. Trying to look as if his car was paid for. Silly . . . well,
never matter. Enjoy the grub.
Those ties. Many Company ones. Different colours for decades of service. Old
school ties. Badges from "That's That' to 'I'm It'. False laughter from the many
who were nervous that their eating may not offend higher beings.
How modern production had made charts of people and not for them. Work and be
contented. Pretend what you never can be. Celebrate the century of the Company.
May it still be long after ones weary labours are done.
Sally enjoyed Sam's jokes. The gentleman of Four Department tendered his
'Nice occasion, Sam.'
Sam blinked. Not often old Rummy Guts spoke to him. A chance was taken.
'Yus Guy, shan't have to trouble my Joan with her home cooking today.'
Guy tried to look as if he employed a cook. Quite old boy, by the way where have
I seen you in the factory before?
(Leaning on a broom guy.)
'Ha, ha,' laughed Guy. What a funny man Sam was.
All good things come to the common end. The hundred years' celebration was over
in that half-hour's sitting.
'Hope you enjoyed yourself, Mr. ER, er.'
'Yes thank you, and my best wishes to our Company,' braved Sam.
The high man agreed and they left to their allotted grounds. Sam to the floor:
Mr. Er to the office and unpaid coffee.
Sweeper Sam undressed and placed the best clothes into the bag. Work clothes
were adorned. A broom placed in the sturdy hands. Lips twisted to the tune of
the Red Flag.
'Did it go down well?' asked Joan.
'Very well old girl, treated like a lord.'
Sam climbed the stairs and placed the clothes into the wardrobe.
The tie was given special care. It had been the only trade union tie at the
event. His Transport and General Workers' tie represented a half-century of tears
and struggles. Of bosses' injustice. Hate and inhumanity.
Just one more look at the badge he he'd worn on the coat. TGW:
'I've done a fry-up,' called his life's partner.
'Coming Sister Joan Brown,' joked Sam, wiping his left eye clear of dampness.
INCH BY INCH
Inch by Inch
Step by step
the great machine forward
drops of sweat
fall from your brow
your muscles tense with strain
comrades drop at your feet
exhausted by the effort
the young take their places
Oh when will our powerful machine
get in gear
fast and proud
down the road of