cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
VOICES 22 marks our first issue since we were formally "adopted" by the
Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers at its AGM at Nottingham
in April. VOICES, from its fairly orthodox labour movement origins, and the
various worker-writer groups, from (their backgrounds of community politics in
one form or another, have long been on converging paths. Since fairly early
days, VOICES has been national in scope without ever evolving a structure to
match its content. The Federation of Worker Writers represents possibly the
biggest single new contribution to working-class culture in recent years -
certainly in the field of literature - and yet, despite a wealth of occasional
and local publications, it has never had a regular national mouthpiece. The two
organisations already share a common perspective; now VOICES has a ready-made
management group and the Federation has a ready-made publishing group, which
will continue to be based in Manchester.
So before any regular readers go scurrying for their back numbers in an attempt
to spot the difference, I should emphasise that continuity will be the keynote.
We have been given a clear go-ahead to carry on with our own mixture of
dependability and unpredictability without becoming anyone's "tame mouthpiece".
We are publishing the Federation's letter to the Arts Council not least because
we consider it important from the point of view of both working-class culture
and public policy towards the Arts generally. But we continue to give space to
material sent in by isolated individuals as well as members of worker-writer
groups. If we can overcome the organisational and financial difficulties, we aim
to establish a nationally representative editorial board eventually, but at the
moment it is as much as we can manage not to sink completely beneath the
existing workload, while attempting to return to regular quarterly publication,
I do not see "continuity" as meaning that we stand still. Over the last few
years we have been changing steadily, moving away from propagandist writing and
towards writing in which people draw more directly on their own experience.
Blake Morrison, in his unpublished report to the Arts Council, has noted this
with approval: ". - . The weakness of the magazine has been to print bad poems
and articles simply because they express "good", be. politically acceptable,
opinions: shallow and overt propagandising has been more common than work of
literary merit. - - - I noticed a definite improvement both in the contributions
to, and the production of VOICES between the first issue of 1975 and the recent
On the other hand, I know there is a feeling amongst one or two of our
longstanding supporters in the labour movement that VOICES has "gone soft". I
feel that people who are adding the weight of supporting VOICES to other trade
union and political commitments to be faced after a hard day's grind are more
entitled to their criticisms than most: a satisfying, well-paid lob as an
armchair critic would doubtless make most of us more tolerant - and more
tolerable. And of course, under a Government that is already hitting most of us
with financial hardship, not to mention the threat of extinction, the call to
"art for art's sake" is bound to sound even hollower than usual. But I also feel
that such criticisms are misplaced. Banging the drum as loudly as possible is
not always the best way to get people dancing, even if the Dave Clark Five did
get away with it for a while. Bert Brecht once announced to the bourgeois
theatre that its entertainment was no longer instructive and the time had come
to see if there was anything entertaining in his kind of instruction. I think
the time has come for worker-writers to say to much of the Left, and certainly
the left press: "There is no longer anything entertaining in your kind of
instruction. Let's see if there is anything instructive in our entertainment."
The question of "obscenity" and "bad language" remains a more difficult problem
for the editors to deal with. To some extent I feel that the offence is in the
eye of the beholder, but as a magazine that actively encourages readers'
criticisms we can hardly turn round and ignore the views of the "beholder" - and
we don't, Personally, I use swear words sparingly in my own writing and advise
other contributors to do the same. But I do not regard people's natural
functions or their sexual activity as unspeakable or unprintable, and I would
not like to see contributors discouraged from venturing into more personal
matters rather than sticking to "safe" political themes. Too many of our heroes
of working-class literature make only brief reference to the wife who
mysteriously fails to understand their political commitment.
When I was a lad, I remember the TV newsreader announcing, with a suitable
expression of disgust drawn across his face, that the sick comedian, Lenny
Bruce, had been refused entry to the country. At the time, I was too young to
know what sick humour was, and my parents were too old to tell me. Nowadays
there are things I do regard as very sick, but Lenny Bruce isn't one of them.
There is a more general problem for the editors which arises out of certain
types of criticism. For example, the cover illustration for VOICES 21 aroused
strong feelings both for and against: people either loved it or hated it. Do we
censor such a cartoon in deference to those who may be offended, thereby
depriving many readers of a great deal of pleasure? Do we print only those items
which we feel sure will offend nobody? The problem is much wider than one
cartoon: most of the cartoons in VOICES 21 have met with strong criticism from
some quarters, as have many of the best stories we have printed over the years.
When we get letters of criticism, our policy is to print them, space permitting.
Perhaps because we are an unusual sort of magazine, most criticisms tend to
reach us by word of mouth, in which case we try to pass the criticism on to the
writer or artist concerned, who must then decide whether to reject the criticism
or to accept it and take account of it in future work. Over all I feel VOICES
must continue to risk controversy and hope that our supporters will stick with
us even though they don't approve of everything we print. The alternative would
be to be as bland as the proverbial frankfurter sausage, and I don't think any
of us would want that.
Sometimes it seems that the pressures on a magazine like ours grow greater the
longer you keep going, which is perhaps why a literary magazine running to 22
issues is such an uncommon achievement. An irate contributor once described us
as "a bunch of f---ing amateurs". I think this was intended to be
uncomplimentary, but it is also quite factual. We are all running VOICES on top
of our work and family commitments, so we hope that all those waiting patiently
for a letter, return of material, or simply the next "quarterly" issue, will
bear with us as we soldier on, determined that whatever else happens VOICES is
not going to fold under the pressure like so many magazines before us.
COME BACK JACKIE BROWN
Once you could ring a bell on Oldham Road
and boxers would come sparring from every pub,
dodging drays with broke -nose adroitness,
right-crossing traffic lights, uppercutting constables,
feinting a right-hook for a straight-left,
gay as cauliflowers, familiar as mastodons.
It was a long time ago. Today I saw
an advertisement for professional boxers,
as if that breed had merely moved away
not vanished with the years they flourished in,
hungry as danger years, raged-at years,
it was a long time ago. Today I saw
an advertisement for the good old days,
crafty men with knowing wallets placed it.
CARTOON FOR THE
We said to you - you wouldn't heed –
we said to you: 'Be careful'.
You said: 'There isn't any need,
They're learning to be gentle'.
We said: 'They're of the tiger breed
and waiting for their chance'.
And here they are in word and deed
preparing for a pounce.
You can't put tigers on a lead
and train them to the house.
DANGER MEN AT WORK
If Albert Broome had worn a beret and khaki shorts and been seen occasionally
with his head sticking out of a tank he'd have been indistinguishable from field
marshal Montgomery, And, to complete the comparison, if the field marshal had
worn an oily, brown boilersuit and flat cap and worked the drilling machine in
the Inorganic Section fitting shop he'd have been a dead ringer for Albert
Broome. Like the great general Albert had sharp, ratty features, fans of fine
wrinkles at the corners of his eyes and a back so straight it was almost a
military caricature. The other quality he shared with the hero of El Alamein was
the same expertise in the practice of drilling.
For forty years Albert has been attached to engineering like a half-sucked
humbug is attached to the inside of a kid's pocket - loosely, neglectedly and
collecting a mass of woolly debris from his immediate environment. Concerning
the simple craft of drilling itself he'd learned next to nothing. He could
cheerfully watch a series of sixteenth drills churn laboriously through a brass
bearing at two hundred revs a minute before breaking in half, or, with equal
insouciance, attempt to push a monster inch and a quarter through stainless
steel at ten times that speed and marvel at the noise and smoke. Harry Furneval
had been told to keep an eye on him and change his gears when necessary. The
grindstone had been off-limits since he'd reduced half a dozen high-speed
Dormers to what looked like king-sized toothpicks.
Broomie's real genius was for scavenging and today had already made a very
promising start. As soon as he got to his machine he noticed a pound note
sticking out from under his rubber mat. A big shot of adrenalin jerked him out
of his early morning torpor. If he could just keep at least one of his size
nines over it till the other greedy bastards left the shop he could clean up
quietly and avoid a riot. After a lot of surreptitious shuffling he managed to
cover it with a six inch flange. And, if that wasn't luck enough, Barrow had
brought a jacket in from the shop benefactor Arthur Broadfield. Arthur was on
holiday but Barrow had seen him in the pub the night before and the precious
brown paper parcel was in the back of Barrow's car right now. He'd be sneaking
it in later; sneaking, that is, because of Horace Walmsley who was in
competition with Broomie for these handouts. Strictly speaking it was Horace's
turn and Albert had been warned to keep it hidden till he got home. His daydream
of riches was suddenly disturbed by a muffled rumble from the amenities area. An
agonised bellow followed: young Ronnie Cornes had opened his locker and nearly
got knocked over by a bouncing deluge of old rubber boots.
"The phantom strikes again!" somebody shouted. For Ronnie it was a re-run of one
of the great mysteries of the universe. It had happened first three months ago
just after he'd joined the shop. He'd unlocked his locker one morning and found
an enormous pile of junk - screwed elbows, joint rings, stud couplings, valve
bodies, gland packing, pump impellors all stuffed into that vertical,
coffin-shaped container which normally housed only his personal effects.
Somebody obviously had a key. He bought another padlock, a real Castle
Frankenstein job with a hasp on it half an inch round. Incredibly it happened
again! And this time the dirty swine had included a dead hedgehog! Ronnie was
furious: he saw Blinston the foreman. Nothing was missing though and Blinston
just issued a vague, general caution. Then Ron fitted the Ultimate Protection. A
month passed, the device remained unbreached, Ronnie began to feel secure. . .
until today! Again!! But how? A small crowd was already winding Ron up to new
heights of rage.
"How's he getting in Ronnie?"
"He must be a bleeding genius!"
"I reckon he's got a master skeleton key." The notion was taken up.
"Of course! A master skeleton key!"
"Bloody skeleton key?" shouted Ron on the edge of a tearful hysteria, "How could
he?" Ronnie opened his hand to reveal, to those who pretended they hadn't seen
it before, the Unbeatable, the Impenetrable, the Unpickable.
"It's a bloody combination lock!" There was a brief silence while they gave an
excellent imitation of hard thinking.
"He must have hit on just the right combination Ron" said Barrow pursuing the
problem with remorseless logic.
"With five soddin digits?!" Ronnie was doing HNC at night-school. He rarely lost
an opportunity to display his superior learning. The lads realised he wouldn't
be with them very long and did their best to make his stay as interesting as
possible. And, to be fair, serious, studious, young Ron always did his best to
enlighten their ignorance. Hadn't he spent all one afternoon trying to explain
to old Barney that screw cutting a left hand thread in Australia was no
different from doing it here?
"That means one hundred thousand combinations" Ronnie went on, "Who could
possibly try all those positions?"
"I've only managed forty eight myself" said Ernie Hardman.
"Have you tried lying on top of her?" said Owen.
"Christ no! Forty nine!"
"If you set one up every fifteen seconds" said Ronnie ignoring this diversion,
"it'd take four hundred and sixteen hours to try them all." Ron knew these
things; he'd worked it all out just after he'd bought the lock.
"That's over seventeen days. twenty four hours a day!" Another stunned silence
was followed by the final, killing comment on this statistical analysis.
"Well how's he getting in then?"
Ron clenched his teeth and started to chuck out the remaining boots. "I'm blowed
if I know" he said, pressing the steel sides yet again in search of a sprung
seam. "But I'll find out if it kills me!"
As they drifted off to work Barrow took an acrobatic dive over Broomie's flange.
"Aaaaaagh! Jeezus Albert, that's a flamin hazard that is! Nearly had a lost time
accident there!" He made a move to pick it up but Broomie was out of the
cupboard so fast he banged his head on the doorframe. "Its all right Alan. Leave
it there will you."
"Dodgy Albert, we cant have flanges lying about everywhere, Blinston will do his
nut. Here, I'll give you a lift with it on to the bench." Broomie hastily trod
"No, you get going Alan; I'll see to it. You'll be down on bonus messing about
Barrow moved away but before he got to the door Albert remembered something.
"Ey! This job you left me" he pointed to an angle iron bracket all marked out
and inscribed with the instruction: 'Drill four holes 16/32" diameter'
"I can't find a sixteen thirty two drill, will fifteen thirty two do?" Barrow
"No sixteen thirty two drills!? What's this place coming to?"
"I can't find any. I've been right through the cupboard - twice."
"Do them half inch then Albert" said Barrow.
Soon the place was empty; they were all out on the plant. Broomie walked to the
door as if taking the air, looked round casually then dashed back to the drill.
The exposed corner did have the familiar green whorls and bulges and even what
looked like a picture of the Queen; the rest of it, however, shouted in big red
and yellow letters: 'Win a thousand pounds in the fabulous Nescafe Grand Prize
Towards the end of the afternoon Barrow and his team, Owen the labourer and
Trellie the apprentice, came out of the Benzine Hexafluoride and passed through
the Bagging Plant on their way to the Brewtime A-Go-Go. The Bagging Plant was a
cavernous steel-framed building with high grey windows. Sparrows flitted in its
vacant upper regions. Down below forty massive stitching machines clattered and
whirred, each one operated by a woman in a blue smock. They were young, old,
fat, thin, pretty and ugly; a really exciting collection if you weren't too
squeamish. Big Irma was middle-aged, fairly fat and pretty ugly. They collected
a parcel which Barrow paid for by going into an enthusiastic clinch. Irma's
vast, rubbery lips jammed up against his like a plumber's squeegee while
Barrow's grimy hands sank into her bulging buttocks. Pandemonium, a human
cacophony, rose above the mechanical din. Trellie, feeling like general Custer,
looked round for something to back on to. Was this Pompeii just before the
volcano blew? Barrow had warned him never to go through here alone; he reckoned
they'd have his pants off. The embrace collapsed with great stagey gasps on both
sides. Cheering ensued and Owen and Trellie moved on in safety while Barrow went
over to a young redhead in the corner. The ribald rowdiness subsided and
although there wasn't an eye in the building which didn't glance over that way
the illusion of discreet privacy was preserved.
By the time Barrow arrived Owen was stretched out in the cosy gloom of that
rarely frequented site hut while Trellie poured tea from a big vacuum flask. The
Brewtime A-Go-Go was the Inorganic workshop's private staging post; a cedar wood
storeshed at the far end of the works. Anyone up that way was entitled to take a
break in it. As with finer spirits, moments of elation produced in Barrow an
inclination to declaim verse. It could be Wordsworth or Keats but today it was
that great proletarian poet Anon. He burst through the door intoning:
"She stood on the bridge at midnight
Throwing snowballs at the moon.”
His filthy tin cup looked as if it has been filled with dark mahogany woodstain.
He poured in some condensed milk and three spoonfuls of sugar. This glutinous
fluid was gulped greedily.
"Gettin anywhere with that one?" asked Owen.
"Getting anywhere? Am I getting anywhere? Just ask me if I'm getting anywhere."
"I reckon I've cracked it Owen luv!"
"Not before time either. You've been working on it for months."
"Worth waiting for though. What a body!"
"Has she got a sense of humour though?" asked Trellie, "Can she cook?"
"Unfortunately Trellie, in my experience, good cooks with a sense of humour
usually look like Fanny Craddock."
"What's been the big delay anyway?" said Owen.
"Its her old man; mad jealous he is; never lets her out. But he's also crackers
about fishing." Barrow gave a great, cackling laugh and rolled over backwards
along the bench. "And tomorrow night. . .him and his mates. . . are driving down
to South Wales. . .for their once a year. ALL NIGHT SESSION!"
"Jammy sod!" said Owen.
"What if he comes back?" said Trellie.
"And are you definitely on?" said Owen, "Round there? Straight on the job? Up to
the maker's name?"
"Hell no! She's a nice girl Owen, not one of your Cock and Trumpet scrubbers.
We've only known each other thirteen weeks, four days, nine hours. I merely find
myself in a position to take her out for a slap up nosh in one of the district's
most expensive restaurants, and afterwards. . .inflamed by our brandy liqueurs.
. .who knows?"
"What about the missis?"
"No, I'm not taking her as well - be too expensive."
"Well I hope you've got a good story."
"Do they let people in overalls in the Woodlands at night?" said Trellie.
bring my best gear in won't I, pillock! Change in work. You'll call on the way
home won't you Owen? Tell her I'm tied up on the evaporators; could be in all
"Certainly Alan. I'll tell her you're working like a dog - a thoroughbred stud
"What if he comes back?" said Trellie.
"You could leave your stuff in Ron Cornes' locker" said Owen. They laughed.
"That's really weird" said Trellie, "How is all that junk getting in there? I
helped him to go over it again this morning - couldn't find a thing."
"Christ Trellie! I thought you knew!" said Owen, "Its this crazy sod here." He waved his
cup at Barrow.
"Hell!! I might have known. But how?"
"There's my key." Barrow fished out of his toolbag a ground down nail punch.
Trellie examined it critically.
"You could pick a cheap padlock with it, but how do you get round a combination
"Yeh! That combination lock!" said Owen with ironic awe.
"You don't even touch the bleeding lock" explained Barrow, "you use it to knock
out the hinge pins."
"Jeezus! The hinge pins! If you could earn a living practical joking Barrow
you'd be a millionaire!"
"That reminds me" Barrow picked up the parcel and unwrapped Broomie's 'jacket'.
It must have been just about the filthiest coal sack in the works; damp, black
grit was compacted into its foul smelling fibres. Irma had cut a hole in the top
and two in the sides and, as a nice afterthought, stitched a label just below
the neck which read, in beautiful embroidery: 'Specially tailored by master
craftsmen for Albert Broome Esquire.'
The lads had all been tipped off about the great jacket joke so it was only
Broomie's eyes which nearly fell out of his head when Barrow came into the shop
with the parcel bulging blatantly out of the front of his overalls.
"For God's sake keep it hidden" he whispered melodramatically.
"Into the cupboard quick!" said Albert looking round for Horace.
"How will you
get it home? You can't go on the bus."
"Christ no!" Broomie and Horace were regulars on the half past five double
decker. They always sat together, even got off at the same stop. ''I'll walk
"That'd be best Albert. Pity its started raining."
Albert got drowned but reckoned it was worth it. When he got in he took his
boots off, shouted excitedly for a pair of scissors and, with his wife looking
on expectantly, opened the parcel on the spotless kitchen table.
At night-school, in the corridor, Trellie bumped into Ron. He couldn't help
explaining the hinge pin trick. It was a rare pleasure to have his brainy fellow
apprentice hanging on his every word. They had a long talk about Barrow, about
his Bagging Plant conquest, about the great jacket joke, and all his other crazy
exploits. They agreed he was a bit of a nutter and wondered why nobody had ever
done him in return. Ron promised to give the subject some thought in the
forthcoming lesson on hydraulics. The bell went.
There was a lot of shouting next morning as Broomie struggled into his overalls.
Remarks about the jacket; a real, withering barrage. Someone handed him a coal
sack tie to go with it. Albert just kept his trap shut as if they were all
beneath his contempt. The shop emptied as usual; only Ron hung back. He fitted
new, extra-long hinge pins and mushroomed over their protruding ends, then had a
chat with Albert. The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Barrow had a strange
call from the Glauber Salt fridge set building but when he got over there nobody
knew anything about it. It was nearly half five anyway so he didn't hang about.
Soon he was back in the shop, alone in that echoing void of steel and brick. As
always when he stayed late he plugged in the kettle for a final brew. It gurgled
to a climax as he slipped into his finest white shirt with the frilly front and
put on a magnificent yellow silk tie. He imagined the two of them sweeping into
the Woodlands; with a figure like hers she'd look sensational dressed up, the
perfect complement to his own svelte neatness. Bending slightly he combed his
glossy black hair in the mirror taped to the wall. One last admiring glance then
he straightened and took a swig. Strange! He scarcely got a mouthful. Puzzled,
he tipped the half-pint cup even further. Then he felt, with growing rage and
horror, the spreading warm wetness of a huge patch of tea on his chest. Before
he pounded the cup flat with a nearby seven pound sledgehammer he looked in
amazement for its secret. Just under the overhanging lip, on the mouth side of
the handle, somebody had drilled, with loving precision, four adjacent one
By that time Broomie was miles away, on the bus as usual; next to his old mate
Horace, front seat, top deck. He looked more like Monty than ever, bolt upright,
staring straight ahead with a new hint of perky aggression. He could have been
rattling into Tobruk on top of a Churchill. His lips were slightly pursed.
Horace could just hear, faint and low pitched, the sound of Colonel Bogey, that
jaunty symbol of the rebounding underdog.
I asked them what they were digging
The two young labouring men
And they laughed and they joked and they jeered
As they leaned on their spades and said
We're digging for England mister
That's what they said
I'm digging a grave for the blacks, mate
And I'm digging one for the reds.
Their other companion joined in the jokes
Smiling down from the edge of the grave
And over his shoulder he carried a gun
While the other two wielded the spades.
And the labourers joked and they jeered
As they swung their spades over their heads
Throwing the brown earth skywards
Working for England they said.
And as with backs bent they completed
The grave for the blacks and the reds
The gun of their companion now pointed
At the back of the gravediggers' heads.
We were parting
for the first time,
she to parents
and I to mine,
for a brief spell
too long by far
so we smiled to
conceal our hurt,
and as the train
drew us apart,
I ran to catch
some small crumb
for comfort when
she was gone;
what she said is
all I heard was
-"and turn off the gas."
Gillian Oxford writes:
One rewarding way of expanding interest in working-class poetry is by following
the example of London VOICES Workshop. The group collaborated with Sue Challis
who edits the lively journal of NUPE in organising a poetry competition. Six
gift tokens were awarded to those considered best, but many other poems were
published in the NUPE journal during the course of the competition. Twelve of
the poems sent in, including the six winners, were published in the last issue
of VOICES. The total response was unexpected and very encouraging in its size
and quality. About 60 people sent in poems over a period of three months and Sue
still receives the occasional unsolicited poem. She is considering running
The TUC Arts advisory committee has been pressing the Arts Council to take the
worker-writer movement seriously as a developing expression of the culture of
working people. VOICES, now the official magazine of the Federation of Worker
Writers, is an ideal vehicle for the expression of working people's experience,
especially at a time of huge anti-union treatment by the media.
Trade union journals who want to interest their readers in a new line of
communication as old as the hills should contact VOICES or London VOICES Group
(address below). Anything could happen. Mass poetry meetings might become vogue!
70 Holden Road
London N12 7DY
Sean Damer writes:
Dear Friends and Comrades, I am writing as a reader, supporter, and sometime
contributor to VOICES to
protest strongly about the inclusion, of the 'Ayatollah' cartoon in the last
issue of the magazine.
I take gross exception to this cartoon on two grounds: (i) it is racist; (ii) it
indulges in the "cult of the personality" Let me expand. In the first instance,
the cartoon is aimed at the Ayatollah and by extension, the masses of Iran whom
he represents. The bourgeois Press of this country, which I do not have to
remind the Board is also an Imperialist one, continuously delights in portraying
the Ayatollah Khomeini and the Irani Revolution in as negative a light as
possible. The former is represented as a nutter, while the latter is represented
as some kind of inexplicable Mickey Mouse phenomenon. I argue that this is
racist precisely because the people of Iran are Muslim as is their culture. It
is easy to make out that the Ayatollah is mad if he does not conform to Western
(capitalist) criteria of what constitutes a responsible" leader. Now you may
argue that it was all light-hearted and that I am being too heavy, etc., etc. I
don't buy that. The cartoon was a cheap-skate attempt to play on the undoubted
racism which is unfortunately endemic in the English working class. It should be
the role of a magazine such as VOICES to actively expose and attack such racism
rather than promote it. Your cartoon would not have worked if you were talking
about, say, a leader of the Provisional I.R.A., or of the Trade Union Movement.
It is in this sense that it is racist. Let me make it clear that I am not
uncritical of the Ayatollah and the course of the Persian Revolution. But I am
critical of attempts to deride the achievements of a man who after all, drove
the Shah out of the place.
The second ground for criticism must be self-evident: who cares about Rick Gwilt
in Iran? It is the role of all People's Artists to retain a suitable modesty:
they are not immune from the criticism and contempt of the working class.
Doubtless Rick will know Brecht's poem: "Why Should My Name Be Mentioned?" I
hope he has as good an answer as Brecht.
Rick Gwilt replies:
I don't accept that Bob Starrett's joke at the Ayatollah's expense was racist.
It made fun of the man's particular brand of morality, which is highly
oppressive, especially to women. The man is a butcher, and the fact that he is a
Muslim doesn't make him immune to criticism any more than the rulers of Saudi
I suppose Bob could have been asked to substitute "the VOICES Editorial Board"
for "Rick Gwilt", but of course the Board is equally uncared about in Iran. The
absurdity is the same in either case and is deliberate. The difference is
between a fairly crisp cartoon and a distinctly soggy one.
I appreciate Brecht's poem, even though my own preoccupations tend to revolve
not so much around whether my name will be preserved for posterity as whether it
will still be on next week's payroll. But I do see certain dangers for us lesser
mortals in this kind of self-effacement. The Joe Stalins and Ayatollah Khomeinis
of this world have a habit of riding to power on the back of it, and once they
get there they tend to make sure that theirs is the only name that's mentioned.
I find this kind of "cult of the personality" much more dangerous than any lack
of modesty that I may well have been guilty of by not censoring Bob's excellent
They took the least line of resistance. Seeking out the weakest link in the
chain and subjecting it to pressure. She was that link. And she was fragile
enough to yield under the pressure. They used methods of fear and intimidation.
And although they used violence, this violence was considered to be negligible
and so therefore permissible. They needed a signed statement if they were to
have any chance of convicting Johnny. And she was the only person capable of
supplying them with one. The fact that they themselves had written the statement
did not unduly concern them. It was what they wanted and once they had obtained
what they wanted, they discarded her onto the street again. And her loneliness
and her pain were something they chose not to see.
She moved along the street easily. Lamplight reflected in her hair. Heels
tapping lightly on the broken paving stones beneath her feet.
She did not hear her name called at first so did not stop but continued on her
way. Carefree. Happy within herself.
It came again. More loudly this time. "Carrie." The green mini van pulled onto
the kerb. The driver climbing from his seat and coming to stand beside her.
"Vice squad," he told her. "We're going for a ride." And that was all he said
before taking her by the arm and roughly manoeuvring her into the passenger seat
of the van.
They drove in silence. Through the dark and deserted streets. Drove that way for
what seemed to be several minutes but which she knew to be much less.
In time they arrived at their first destination. Not the police station however,
but the car park behind the football ground.
A sign read: Turnstiles F & G. Adults five shillings, children two shillings.
Fear moved within her.
He leaned towards her but did not speak. Clutching the soft flesh of her leg
above the knee, causing her to shrink into the furthest corner of the seat and
to begin fumbling desperately for the release catch of the door.
His hand tightened warningly, painfully, and she became still. "That's better,"
he told her, transferring his hand to her chin before continuing. "I need
something from you." And then deceptively, "Just a little something."
The night closed in around her. Her mouth became dry and her throat constricted.
She longed to speak but could not. Words would not form themselves into sounds.
Her heart pounded and breathing itself became something difficult.
And then she saw the contraceptive in his fingers and fear completely
overwhelmed her so that she screamed at him. "Why! Why!" And in a sudden panic
lunged at his face with her nails.
But he had been prepared for this and calmly, deliberately he struck her a
stunning blow with the heel of his hand, high on the head. Above the hair line
where it would not show.
Afterwards she only vaguely remembered being charged and the contraceptive and
her money being taken from her handbag and both being confiscated. She had no
recollection at all of the statement she signed and which was produced in court
claiming that Johnny had lived off her immoral earnings for twelve months. And
her own appearance in court the following morning and her ten pounds fine were
more of a dream than a memory.
She remembered always, however, her feeling of desolation when she had returned
to the flat and learned that they had taken Johnny in the night. She remembered
it always. Except for those times when the wine or the drugs brought oblivion.
They broke him in the end. But they had always known that they would and somehow
the breaking meant nothing. Not a victory. Not really even an accomplishment. It
was just something that they had decided needed to be done. And after it had
been done, they drove it from their minds and forgot their guilt. "Just another
job," or, "The black bastard's better off behind bars," they said. And in their
own way they had almost believed it.
They had broken him and forgotten about him. Passed him through the courts and
the law machine. Through the long hours in the dock and all the degradation -
until the silent prison claimed him and he was lost.
They left the new brick and glass building of the Crown Court. Left it behind
them, his mother and younger brother, and made their way across the paved
pedestrian square before it. Glad in their different ways that the trial was
over. The wind stood up and walked beside them. Through the city.
"Johnny diddun do nothing, man."
"Shush, I know."
Bits of paper round her feet and ankles.
"I know," she said again.
The wind moved the clouds and made the cold sun shine down on them. Together
they walked in silence. Hand in hand down the long grey streets. Moving between
the people and the tall cold buildings. Thinking of different things.
She counted the days into weeks and months. He counted the cracks between the
paving stones. There were so many! So many that you lost count and had to begin
again and you kept wondering if you ever really would know just how many of them
there were or if they never ended but just went on and on for ever.
If you tread on a nick you'll marry a brick.
They said if you behave son, you'll be out in two years.
The clouds were black now and angry looking. The wind became restless and ran in
and out of the bus shelter where they now stood, stinging her legs through the
cheap nylons she wore. She buttoned her coat up to the collar. A thin blue coat
that couldn't keep the cold out and if one looked closely enough at the hem, big
black stitches showed where it had been taken up.
"Upstairs, Main! Let's go upstairs!"
Slowly she followed him up and walked down the empty upper deck to the front so
that he could hold the rail and drive.
The big red bus stammered and squealed before gliding out into the traffic.
"The park gates please."
He gave her change of a two shilling piece. Dirty finger-nails. Broken.
"Looks like rain," he said, not even looking out of the window at the sky. A fat
man in a greasy uniform, shiny at the cuffs and pocket flaps. His hat balanced
precariously on the back of his head.
"Yes," she said.
Back along the bus and down to the long seat next to the platform. It would have
been someone to talk to, he thought. And took a crumpled cigarette stump from
behind his ear. The buildings looked smaller, dirtier, more plentiful. Huddled
together side by side and back to back. Smoke makes the sky black and there were
rats in the cellars. A maze of little streets and patchwork houses. A whole
section of the city going to ruin. In decay. You could feel the dust in your
throat on a warm dry day, feel it in your eyes. You could almost taste the stink
of rotting people.
They said the rats ate a Paki's baby half to death.
The thunder growled and the lightning flashed. Bright and blue. Rain swept the
city clean. He held his mother's hand and stamped through the shallow puddles
making black spots appear on her nylons. She didn't seem to care and he didn't
notice that she was crying with the rain in her face and the wind in her eyes.
Johnny they didn't have to take you.
They hadn't known when they had locked out his day that shadows would creep into
his mind or that dreams would make his eyes blind to the dreams of reality. And
even if they had known, would they have dared to change the order of things?
They made him strip and pass his clothes piece by piece through the gap in the
side of the open-fronted cubicle in which he stood and, when he was naked turn
around and raise each foot in turn to ensure that he was not concealing anything
between his toes. Then he was given a towel and told to take a shower.
He moved as if in a dream. Oblivious to the water's warmth and the muted droning
of the prison warder's voice from beyond the shower room. His actions
unconscious. Automatic. Deliberate and slow. Already resigned to the weeks and
months of meaninglessness that stretched ahead of him.
The prison had absorbed him. As it had absorbed thousands and thousands before
him. Some struggling. Others passively allowing themselves to be controlled by a
word or gesture from another. Incapable of challenging the hold which the prison
sought to place over them.
Finding that their self-belief and confidence had been stripped from them along
with their clothes and possessions, they would close their minds in a reflex
protective action against the harshness and the hurt and enter into a state of
shock and non-awareness. Until, the period of vulnerability having passed, most
would gradually return to something approaching their former selves. Would
slowly make their way back to a strange but no longer terrifying environment.
But there were also others. Those who would never completely re-emerge from
their catalepsy. Who would withdraw too deeply to be able to find their way back
again. Or who would find that within the deeper regions of their minds there
existed a freedom different from any that they had ever known before A freedom
which made no demands upon the individual. At least no demands comparable to
those which reality could and would place upon them in such a place.
After he had showered he was issued with coarse grey clothing and a pillow-case
containing all of the articles that he would need and told to check its contents
against the list on the blackboard at the far end of the reception room.
When he had done this he took his place alongside the others at the tables
provided. He spoke to no-one and neither did they attempt to speak to him -
respecting his silence and understanding his need for solitude.
He thought of many things and yet somehow contrived to think of nothing in
particular. Sitting there staring blankly into emptiness. Time had no real
significance. Passing unnoticed. Unmeasured despite the clock on the wall.
Eventually however they were told to stand and collect a bed-roll of blankets
and a chamber pot each before being shepherded into prison proper.
Here, there were four wings built to a starfish pattern. Each tentacle radiating
from a round central body. Each wing consisting of four landings with wire
safety netting strung across the lowest level.
They were brought to the centre circle with its large hexagonal grating
blackened and polished and made to stand in a semicircle around it. Their
bedrolls at their feet.
Here at the heart of the prison there was a strange tranquillity. Almost a
cathedral-like atmosphere, created by the high domed ceiling and the dim
recesses only faintly illuminated by the candlelight effect of the old fashioned
gas lamps which hung upon the walls.
A few of the prisoners began to talk quietly among themselves, heads leaning
together and - hearing their whispers - he momentarily came out of himself into
an awareness of the prison and its uniformity.
His eyes followed the cell doors along each landing. Painted pale blue. Brass
handled. Every door with its peephole and two large bolts. Every cell with the
occupant's card at eye level giving details of age, sentence, religion and any
special notes concerning diet. Every landing with its catwalks and metal rails.
And as he saw these things and understood their implications, he let his mind
drift back again. Along all of the cell doors and the landings and the rails and
into the centre circle with its heavy metal grating and the new prisoners each
being led to different cells in different wings. And still his mind drifted
back, back beyond the prisoners and the prison. Beyond the world of time and
place. And finally beyond himself.
Until he was locked in his cell and there was nothing again.
They called him Mad Johnny, now, Johnny because that had been his name for as
long as anyone could remember - and Mad because since his release from the
prison and the hospital there was really no other way to describe him. But
no-one feared his madness. No-one feared the violence that his body was capable
of. Even after Winston had pushed him from the cafe and threatened him with a
knife causing Johnny to butt him in the face and knock him almost unconscious
-still no one feared his madness. And that was as things should have been
because Johnny was not a violent man. Was not someone who needed to be feared.
The sun threw shadows upon the wall. High above his head dust motes floated
silver bright in the shafts of sunlight. He rose from the floor of the derelict
cinema in which he slept and made his way into the alley at the rear to urinate.
Weak sunlight bathed him and he laughed aloud and delighted that the damp patch
he had made upon the wall should resemble a running horse because today he too
would run - as he often did. Run through the empty streets and along the
parkway. Around the park itself and then back into the quiet streets, deserted
except for the odd person making their way to work.
But as he ran his happiness slowly evaporated. Deep and dark thoughts came to
trouble him. Images of long ago. Faces that he had forgotten appearing like
ghosts from the past. Insistent. Haunting. Forcing him to reluctantly
acknowledge that he had known another life and with this involuntary admission
came other images. And the pain which he had so long kept submerged.
- They had come into the cell silently. After his anger had spent itself, and he
lay on the cell floor bleeding from a self-inflicted head wound. Two prison
officers and two medical orderlies. He had offered no resistance as they had
stripped him of his clothes and shoes and fastened him into a straight-jacket.
He had been oblivious to all that had happened to and around him. Then they had
led him from amongst the debris of broken furniture and glass that littered the
floor and had taken him to the hospital wing where he had been placed in a
His feet beat the pavement rhythmically as he ran effortlessly through the early
morning city. Sound reached him. Traffic and birdsong. But his brain did not
interpret these noises. On he ran. A flood of thoughts filling his head.
Hurting. Hurting in the heart of him. Seeing little. Recognising even less. And
still he ran.
- He had wept and become incontinent. Cowering in the corner of his cell. Unable
to move his arms. Knowing only fear. Fear of things that he did not understand.
Screaming in his confusion. Yet no one had come. Screaming until he had
whimpered. And still no one had come.
-Thoughts, images, pictures tumbled into his mind. A speeded up still-movie projector focussed on the borderline of delirium. Sweat sprang from his
forehead and rolled down into his eyes. Blurring his vision.
- And then they had come. And then he had slept. -"No," he cried aloud, "No! No!
No! No! No!" His legs were heavy
now and tears and sweat stung his eyes until he could no longer see. And still
he ran. Forcing his legs to move ever forward. Seeking to escape the pain which
exploded within his head. But there was no escape. And so he stopped running and
- They had asked him questions. Questions which he had been unable to answer.
Sometimes had never heard even. But they had still asked them. Until eventually
he had withdrawn into silence and had not heard at all. When that had happened
they had sent him to a place where he had been safe and happy. And then they had
returned him to the world. And he had become frightened again. -Pain and
confusion filled his mind to overflowing. His thoughts were no longer coherent.
No longer tolerable. Past and present were inextricably woven together in
strange and terrifying patterns from which he sought desperately to escape. But
he was already without the strength of will and personality required to effect
such an escape and so, in an alarmingly short space of time, the suffering which
his brain was unable to handle or to understand reduced his body also to
ineffectiveness and immobility and he sank onto the grass verge between the four
lanes of early morning traffic.
Later they were gentle with him. Not truly understanding his anguish or its
cause but recognising and responding to another's need. And so, draped in a red
blanket, they guided him into another phase of his life. One which has to know
We couldn't afford dog
but we kept him anyway,
liked the company.
Till one day catcher
took him away
cos we couldn't afford collar.
OLD MAN AT THE BUS STOP
After I'd been talking to an oldish man at the bus stop, and him and his tool
box had got on another bus, an old woman in a green hat came up to me and said:
"Isn't it wonderful, 62, had two heart-attacks and still works every day on a
building site!". Funny I thought, the old bloke had just been saying that you
get bugger all when you sign on the sick.
TIME TO WAIT
night before exam results came out,
I sat and wondered,
how many unemployed had been told,
get your exams, and everything'll be all right?
WHEN YOU GET YOUR
My old man had said:
Lad, when you get your degree
and become teacher, you'll not want to
speak to likes of us miners.
Now he sends me five pounds a week
to supplement social.
HOURS FOR SALE
(Or the Blues on Monday Morning)
I sell my life in handy slices;
Portions wrapped in treasured hours.
School prepared me for the vending;
Nurtured all the budding flowers.
Portions vary in their value.
Some command a higher rate.
I was issued with a contract
To weekly sell just thirty-eight.
Some sell skill or powerful muscle.
Others, injured turn to vice.
Rich men use the toil of others.
Manipulation their device.
Am I not worse than those sad ladies
Who sell their bodies for 'the meat?'
I sell my brains's cool calculations.
Is mine success or theirs defeat?
Sold or forfeit to sleep's numbness,
Portions dwindle and are gone.
My life is sold to finance living.
My allocation dearly won.
Pauline A Wolfenden
(Irlam nr Manchester)
IS SHE OR ISN’T SHE?
Is there an excuse
For the halfhearted meals
The missing sock.
The eager hand that
Stops the song of
The singing clock,
The odd curse
And four letter word
The wished dead dog
And the missing purse.
The woman who went out
And returned like the bacon
And cried when she was
Because she hadn't seen
The other side of the moon.
If there's an excuse
Or the lack of applause!
Or the menopause!
into the dawn
our eyes walk
to the smeared white
around sunrise hills
to the silhouette fern
& heavy black rocks.
'Here is our home'
u say, your cold tears
breaking the dust-breath
onto the lorry road.
I laugh at your sentiment,
& u seeing no rusting mines
no broken voices of coal-dust men
nor lost bones from songless chapels.
there was no dawn
only black rain
from freezing of winter
only the soot
from your midnight cough.
OPEN LETTER TO MELVIN BRAGG
Melvin Bragg esq., Barbara Shane,
Chairman, Literature Panel, Chairperson FWWCP,
Arts Council of Great Britain, 123, Logan Towers,
105, Piccadilly, Liverpool 5.
Dear Mr. Bragg,
We are once again approaching the Arts Council Literature Panel for money for a
national co-ordinator and literature promotions worker. In spite of past
refusals - based we believe in error and prejudice rather than in malice -, we
do not yet despair of receiving fair treatment at your hands. In fact we hope
that you will take the opportunity of correcting an injustice that has lingered
over two years.
As is now well known the Federation is a national organisation which has grown
to comprise some twenty-four writers' workshops and community publishing groups
concerned with furthering the cause of working class writing and community
publishing. The focus on working class writing - a term broadly rather than
narrowly interpreted - has frequently been explained and was a response to the
serious neglect of the literary creativity of a very large section of our
population. We note, as you must have, that it has given no grounds for disquiet
in a specialist adviser commissioned by the Arts Council itself. We note too
that the neglect of which we complain (and about which we are trying to do
something, not without success) was tacitly acknowledged two years ago by the
Arts Council in its decision to grant £2,000 towards the publication of our
first anthology, WRITING.
It is also well known that the post of national co-ordinator is an integral part
of the Federation's structure. It is through the co-ordinator that the often
financially frail workshops and publishing groups are kept in touch with each
other, provided with an information service, advice and support. It is through
the national coordinator that new groups are identified, advised and brought
into the supportive framework of a movement. It is through the co-ordinator too
that groups and individual writers are brought into touch with opportunities for
furthering or developing their work.
The success of the Federation as an organisation for helping working class
writers does not seem to be in dispute. In recent years nearly 200 titles have
been offered to the public with sales somewhere in the region of half a million.
Public readings have been held, meetings and conferences organised, radio and
television programmes made. Partly for this reason the Gulbenkian Foundation has
been willing to give generous financial help, including the underwriting of the
coordinator's salary for a year on the assumption, which regrettably turned out
to be incorrect, that the Arts Council would match the contribution.
The Federation's success has been recognised within the offices of the Arts
Council itself. Mr Charles Osborne, Literature Director, commented in December
1978 on the "growing strength and scope of community publishers and writing all
over the country". And Mr Blake Morrison, a Poetry and Fiction Editor for the
Times Literary Supplement, who was commissioned by the Arts Council to give an
objective assessment of, inter alia the work of the Federation, has quite
unequivocally described it as:
A useful co-ordinating agency in one of the few growth areas of contemporary
and has urged the Arts Council to consider "with greater thought and care" than
hitherto subsequent applications for funds.
Reasons for the Arts Council's resistance to the Federation applications are
something of a mystery. In a letter of December 1978 already quoted Mr Osborne
wrote in somewhat patronising terms to say that the Literature Finance Committee
was not convinced that the Federation's productions were of "solid literary
value". This judgement was repeated in much the same terms after Federation
representatives had met the Literature Finance Committee in March 1979. The
committee, apparently unanimously, decided that the Federation was 'successful
in a social, therapeutic sense, but not by literary standards". What these
literary standards are and who is applying them and whether they are always
applied (or only to some organisations) remains obscure and there is a suspicion
that standards and the aesthetics underlying them are not much debated in Arts
In fact the only person connected with the Arts Council to make clear the
assumptions by which he judged the Federation's work has been their specialist
adviser, Mr Morrison. Mr Morrison's report on the work is admirably thorough. He
finds it of varying standard but is in no doubt that a great deal of it displays
sufficient merit to deserve Arts Council support.
Mr Morrison's report with its essentially favourable judgement on the Federation
and its member groups has not yet been published. We find this strange given the
debate over standards currently taking place.
Mr Morrison is not alone in finding literary merit in the output of the
Federation's members. For example, in a recent article in The English Magazine,
Mr Gerry Gregory of Shoreditch College applies traditional literary-critical
standards, and comments:
while you will find much that is dull, flawed and frankly poor, you will also
find as much to admire as in any other reasonably comparable body of writing.
There is no space here to provide examples of a sufficient length to demonstrate
this - and fragments do not meet the case. However the Arts Council of Great
Britain verdict must surely surprise anyone who has read, say, Joe Smythe's poem
"When the Soldiers Came" (Voices 19), Ken Clay's short story "on the Knocker"
(Voices 15), the Strong Words' documentary publication Hello Are You Working?,
much of the work that has emerged from the various projects within Centerprise
(Hackney), and practically anything produced by the Scotland Road Writers'
And Raymond Williams, writing in the Times Literary Supplement of 6th June this
year has this to say in a piece, "The role of the literary magazine":
What has been happening for twenty years in the geographical area that we call
the British mainland has been the
emergence of some new kinds of writer and writing: for example, among many
others, the Lifetimes pamphlets, the Centerprise publications, the Writers and
Much of this work is still finding its way; in some cases literally finding,
trying to find its forms . - - - The most important function of literary
magazines, within the existing and increasing cultural hegemony, is to provide
many openings for experiments, for first attempts, and then for collaborative
exchange and experiment: the processes from which real identities, as distinct
from the competitive shortcut to a market identity can come. Thus I would rather
see a hundred magazines of this kind - and really a useful number would be in
the thousands - than three our four new London or axis glossies
Instead of this producing a change of attitude by the Arts Council, it seems to
have led to a new excuse for rejection. In a recent letter to a Federation
member Sir Roy Shaw has argued that the applications were “rejected not because
our literature advisers thought that none of your members capable of writing
anything of merit, but because the need for someone to be engaged at a fee to
stimulate people into writing was not regarded as valid."
Yet the Arts Council has spent considerable money on schemes aimed at
stimulating people into writing: what else are the various writing grants,
projects for writers in residence, writers in schools and the National Poetry
Secretariat all about, to name but a few? Sir Roy also gets wrong the functions
of the national co-ordinator who was not employed to stimulate writing where the
impulse was weak but rather to assist working class writers of strong impulse
and few resources, by providing advice, support, opportunities for readings, and
contact with other writers, publishers, persons and agencies concerned with
publishing and distributing new work. However we are intending to appoint a
literature promotion worker. The reasons for this appointment will be evident
from the enclosed job description.
Later in the letter Sir Roy argues that the problem in Britain lies not in
getting people to write but in getting people to read, a formulation also
popular with Mr Osborne who astonishingly wrote to another of our members in the
It may seem to you unfair that some people are more talented than others, and
indeed it is unfair; however it remains a fact that talent in the arts has not
been handed out equally by some impeccably heavenly democrat. You are right to
think that the Arts Council views itself as a patron of the arts. This is indeed
our function. It is important that we do all we can to increase audiences for
today's writers, not that we increase the number of writers. (Our italics)
Not only does this miss the connection between creativity and consumption
(writers are readers) but it ignores the extent to which the Federation has
opened up markets for not only its own work but literature (and theatre) in
We feel obliged to point out that we have patiently been seeking assistance from
the Arts Council since the first half of 1978 and that in that time have tried -
at some expense - to meet every request for information about our organisation,
for examples of our work and for submissions and resubmissions. We have no wish
to quarrel with the Arts Council but its response to us seems to have been
evasive and patronising throughout: as we meet each objection raised, another
seems to be found. We are forming the impression that the real objection to us
is not based on the quality of our work but on the fact that we are concerned
with working class writing and that our methods of encouraging writers are based
on workshops and collectives rather than on the traditional concept of the
artist-in-a-garret. In reply we quote your specialist adviser, Mr Morrison once
FWWCP's attachment to 'working class writing' has, I know unsettled at least one
member of the Arts Council's literature panel, who felt that this was a sign of
political rather than literary ambition. I do not think that this distinction
holds. To encourage the growth of literature in a section of society which for
various social and economic reasons, has not yet made a proportionate
contribution to literary culture - this is a literary as well as a political
We find it rather disquieting that the decisions taken to refuse us funds are
seemingly arrived at by a very small group of people. We have a certain amount
of evidence that very few judges of literature in the Arts Council have had a
chance to assess our work - in spite of our willingness to make it available. We
have all along made it clear that we are willing to debate - in private or in
public - the quality of our work and the principles of our organisation.
In conclusion we would say this in great good faith: surely the time has come
for the Arts Council to put aside the past, to act in the spirit of its
specialist adviser's report and treat us justly in the way we ask? Surely there
can be little objection to giving a few thousand pounds for a few years to an
organisation which is demonstrably enriching and widening participation in
literary culture on a variety of levels? We can understand, though we do not
approve of it, the kind of thinking which has traditionally made the Arts
Council the patron - with a few exceptions – of a generally privileged minority,
the talented middle class and its societies and institutions. We would not
trouble the Arts Council if we had other sources of funds. But we don't and our
financial position is parlous. The Gulbenkian Foundation which has so generously
assisted us for years can do so no longer. The working people of this country
are the major contributors to the financing of the Arts. We ask that some of
their money be used for them.
(for Jack Davitt)
Welder! Welder! burning bright
On the scaffold of the night,
What immoral company
Dares write off your poetry?
For what wages or what prize
Burned your cheeks or dimmed your eyes?
With what needs did force conspire
To bind your hand to seize the fire?
And what promise or what art
Could stop the knowledge in your heart?
And when your hand began to write,
What hard graft? and what hard fight?
What the jobs? and what the men?
In what piecework was your pen?
What the fumes? and what the sweats
Ne'er forgives it nor forgets?
When all the Tyne is closing down,
And no more the buzzers sound,
Will they cost you one more laugh,
Commissioning an epitaph?
Welder! Welder! burning bright
On the scaffold of the night,
What immoral company
Dares write off your poetry?
There was still half an hour of the F.A. Cup Final left as Tommy pushed his
way through the crowd to the nearest exit. Although there was no score, it had
been an exciting, fast flowing, end-to-end game, with plenty of near misses by
both sides. But Tommy couldn't concentrate on the football. His mind was on
other things. His thoughts were full of jellied eels, fish roes, and frog spawn.
He had been warned about having the prawn cocktail travelling down on the
British Rail Football Special, but, full of high spirits, he had devoured the
noxious substance with scant regards to the consequences.
He made his way to the flight of steps leading down to the toilet and bars
underneath the main stand.
How he managed to struggle through the massed throng he didn't know. He found it
extremely difficult to keep mind and body together. His thoughts kept shooting
off on strange tangents, rushing so fast that they were scarcely registering.
He took a deep breath, and tried to estimate when the horrific effects of the
prawn cocktail would begin to wear off, but time, as he vaguely sensed he once
knew it, somehow no longer had any meaning.
He stood at the top of the stairs, looking down into the pitch darkness below.
The steps seemed to lead down for miles, right down into the bowels of the Earth
He gripped the handrail tightly, and gingerly descended the steps.
At the bottom he rested against the concrete pillar that he took to be holding
up the entire Universe.
I wish I'd have stayed at home in Huddersfield and watched it on television, he
thought to himself, as he stared at the group of penguins standing at the bar
dropping miniature icebergs into their glasses of sardine juice. He closed his
eyes to blot them out.
The acrid smell of camel dung burned his nostrils as he walked through the
turnstiles leading out of the stadium.
The rattlesnake with the Traffic Warden's hat perched upon its head hissed
threateningly at him as he walked down Wembley Way. He scurried quickly past it,
giving it a wide berth in case it should decide to sink its venomous fangs into
his exposed lower thigh. He mentally chastised himself for being so foolhardy as
to have worn his safari shorts for the trip down from Huddersfield.
'An-i-muls! An-i-muls!' He found himself involuntarily shouting at the two
hyenas in police uniforms. The hyenas paid him no heed. They were far too busy
moving on a herd of water buffalo who were causing an obstruction on the
opposite side of the road.
Deciding that the- safest place would be home, he made his way to the elephant
He wearily climbed the platform, and mounted a vacant elephant. 'Home Jumbo, and
step on it!' he told it. The elephant set off at a brisk pace in the general
direction of the Ml.
Tommy was feeling a little better as the elephant pulled up at a set of traffic
lights on Wembley High Street. He was now regretting leaving the match before
the final whistle, but he appeased himself with the thought that there are some
things a mere mortal has no control over.
'How did the Cup Final fish up?' He called down to the wildebeest selling
newspapers on the street corner.
'Why don't you buy a paper and find out, Bwana?' The wildebeest shouted back at
Before he could think of a suitable reply, the traffic lights had changed to
stickleback, and the elephant had galloped around the corner.
Tommy's heart sank as they came to the traffic jam. The road was full of rhinos,
packed solid nose to tail, impatiently stamping their feet and honking their
'There's nothing else for it,' Tommy said, 'we'll have to fly the rest of the
The elephant flapped one ear in preparation for a vertical take-off. It tilted
'Both ears, you fool,' Tommy screamed, as he slid down the side of the elephant
and pitched headlong into the gutter. The elephant responded immediately. Tommy
sat on the edge of the kerb, and watched it fly off over the rooftops.
'Bloomin' cowboy elephants,' Tommy muttered to the rhino who pulled up alongside
him. The rhino snarled at him. 'How did the match crow?' he asked, changing
tack. The rhino turned towards him, lifted its nearside front leg, and made to
bring it crashing down upon Tommy's unprotected head. Tommy shut his eyes, and
froze in sheer terror.
A mighty roar caused him to open his eyes. He-found himself leaning against the
pillar beneath the main stand. He looked up to see four blue-and-white-scarved
Town supporters, arms around each others' necks, staggering down the steps
'Eel-eye-haddocko, we've won the chub,' they were chanting in unison
Tommy let out a sigh of relief. The heady effects of the prawn cocktail were
wearing off at long last.
'How did we go on then lads?' he asked, as they brushed past him.
'We won 3-0. Didn't you see the match?'
'Had a bit of toilet trouble,' Tommy said, holding his stomach with both hands,
'I missed the last half hour. Who scored the goals then?'
'Shark got two, and Sturgeon got the last with a penalty,' the lad called over
his shoulder, as he staggered towards the bar.
Another loud roar went up.
Tommy raced up the flight of steps to the bowl of the stadium. He was just in
time to see the Prince of Whales presenting Jimmy Herring, the Town's kipper,
with the F.A. Cup.
Facing the crowd, the popular veteran balanced the cup expertly upon his head.
Almost every one of the hundred thousand seals throughout the stadium barked
their approval, and smacked their flippers together in sheer ecstasy.
Tommy felt a lump rising in his throat, and tears welling in his eyes. It was
the proudest moment in his whole life. They'll be cracking open the prairie
oysters in Huddersfield tonight, he thought to himself, as the victorious team
dived into the moat to begin their lap of honour.
On Fridays, when he feels rich
Has renounced the muck and aching limbs,
The tedious shifts of another week, he
Lurches in, fumbling for the porch switch
Drunk as an empty sack,
With bits of old songs to let drop.
His escape is crumpled, short-lived;
A wife has prepared for the coming back.
She exhumes his dinner at the double
Has hid the children in their beds and
Wrings out safe reproaches in a dishcloth
While he shovels and spills every mouthful.
She, with frantic chores, tries to avoid
The sight of him, hunched and staring,
Forearms clamped upon the table and
The thickness of his breathing to dread,
For soon the overtures will be clumsy;
What used to be breathless and mutual
Will be a dumb struggle,
An intrusion without apology.
(Basement Writers Stepney London)
THE NORM FORCE
The police are appealing for information on people who
are seen to be acting oddly
(You know the type)
make love in business hours,
sing in the Bank,
dance to work,
stand naked in the dole queue.
touch the person in the next seat,
sit in the wrong corners,
stand on seats,
stand in the stands,
steal so they don't starve,
shout angrily at the rich,
break down and twitch in public,
swim in the Tyne,
drown in the Tyne,
get drunk at the wrong time,
sleep when they should be awake,
undress when they should be dressing,
eat when they should be drinking,
drink when they should be eating,
wear no underclothes under their uniform,
refuse to wear a uniform,
call a weed a flower,
listen to bird-song,
drive to drink,
grow hair and grow young,
try to fly,
laugh too much &
make beautiful and useless things
(That type of person)
Based on a seam of banded ore
and the sweat of migrant labour, -
Motherwell, an industrial hell,
where livings are muscled from men;
Warrant sales to chequer behaviour
wages arrested in front of the mates,
rackrented by worry, reckless of danger,
workers of iron foundered in debt;
wracked by the working in man-made infernos
teamers cast ingots, diced daily with death,
tin pocket labour mouldered in squalor
Founding the Brass of industrial magnates;
Searing flames rendered tough mettle,
flame-dressing flaws from untempered labour,
bringing to boil reluctant soup liquid
Tungsten iced steel wilted distressed;
Steam, oily with venom, hissing in hatred,
scalded the lives of mill operatives,
driving the hands of the light rolling section
banking the forges in Threadneedle Street;
Rollers relentlessly pressing out 'H' beams
taking the joists from our very bones,
taking the bloom from blossoming youth
bankrolling stockholders in metal exchanges;
Yes the coloured motif of a graftin' town
belies a grim existence,
by 'Hand and Brain' the motto proclaims-
a 'Freedom through Work' invitation;
A Pick an' Shovel when the pickings gone
invite to scratch a living,
Obituary columns of clinkered slag
symbolic of debased existence.
THE FRANKLIN STORY
She lifted up the packed briefcase and looked around for what was next on the
list. It was a self-imposed busy-ness: she needn't have taken a job but her day
at home with the child was too much for her. She had to have more stimulation
than that. He was a beautiful child -. friendly, responsive. He stood there now
looking at her with wide blue eyes, playing at the moment with some bricks he'd
found on the floor.
"Oh, what next?" she said, looking around in haste; the busy-ness almost
continued in order to dispel the emptiness about her that even he didn't fill.
The post rattled through the letter-box. She'd just grabbed the door-handle,
about to load his kit and the green pile of marked books into the car. She
stopped for a moment. There was a letter from Chile. She'd have a look. Things
ceased whirling and a cold fear stopped her and numbed her as she kneeled down
to pick up the blue envelope and deposit her load. It was only ten days now
since the news of the coup. She opened the envelope, realising that it was in
Rose's handwriting and read the short note inside. "Franklin was shot, with his
family, early yesterday morning."
She began to cry. Tears streamed down her cheeks though she tried to keep quiet
because of the child. He came toddling round to have a look.
"It's nothing! It's nothing!" she said.
"Mummy! Mummy!" He didn't know who the letter was from even.
"It's nothing, love, it's nothing! I'll be all right in a minute."
He didn't seem to worry much. Mum and Dad scarcely ever let their emotions get
the better of them in front of him. His world was one of peace, at home at
least, though the nursery, to which he was about to set off, was full sometimes
of the anguish of lonely children, dumped sometimes for three times as long as
She pulled a large handkerchief out of her pocket and scrubbed at her face with
it. Tears kept squeezing themselves out.
"Oh, God!" she said, "Oh, God!"
Visions came into her mind of the young man who stopped with them the year
before: a quiet, olive-skinned young man. He'd come to England to improve his
English studies, get a work-permit, enjoy English culture, or so he hoped.
Unfortunately his information about England had been conveyed to him by many of
the English textbooks he'd learned from, in which you packed your suitcase to go
away to school.
He'd come to stay with them for a month or two, not used to looking after
himself or to being on his own in the house during the day without his many
friends or "surrounded by the beautiful girls of his native land" as he'd
laughingly said. He was a quiet presence in the house. They'd managed to have
long conversations with him about books, people and politics - and families.
He'd drifted along quietly, enjoying the occasional visit to a stately home or
to the theatre. They had tried to make spaces in their busy lives for him. She
had been in the early stages of a second pregnancy and unfortunately sick much
of the time but had roused herself.
The child had liked him too, bringing him a stream of apples off the vegetable
rack when he came down to breakfast, and placing them carefully one by one
beside him. They couldn't converse. The child explained his doings eagerly and
almost incomprehensibly: Franklin's easy and quiet listening won him acceptance.
He hadn't been involved in politics. It had been a world beyond the student
world he belonged to. It would come later perhaps. His' brother was involved.
His father always had been. His mother was involved on the community level: an
intelligent, respected woman, active on the local committees that were being set
up to redistribute food amongst the poor and helping them to organise
He was a happy youth with a family he adored and a country he loved too. He
didn't like England. It was cold - it was a very wet summer that year. The
people mostly not wanting to know about Chile - didn't even know where it was,
or seem to care. Except for a few. He spent a Saturday afternoon, shivering,
watching a local cricket match after a kind neighbour had invited him to see a
bit of this English culture. He came back bored stiff, frozen and incredulous
that this was the way a developed country could pursue its pleasures.
He seemed to be filling in time till he could go home again, to those student
friends, to his old house, to his father and, most of all, his mother. Then a
phone call had come, unexpected. He was out. His mother had died. The illness
that she'd had when he left Chile had deteriorated rapidly and unexpectedly. How
to tell him? His father wanted him home. Yes, the youngest son, the mother's
favourite. His father wanted him home.
They'd told him that night. He'd half-expected it; had rung his father straight
away. His gulps of desperate sorrow, overheard as they quietly tried to prepare
tea in the kitchen and restrain the child from going to greet him, were horrible
to hear. He spent much of the evening in his room. They could hear his sobs
through the thin ceiling.
She got her cheerful mother-in-law to come round to help the evening through
because the bouts of nausea were worse than ever. One would have thought that an
effort of will might have driven them away, but the power of the body was too
strong. They took him a meal and got him to eat it at last at about 10.30 in the
evening. He talked a little, would talk more the next day, but was now set to go
home, to recapture what he could of what he left behind.
They didn't really expect to see him again except that there was always that
dream in the back of their minds that they might go out to Chile when the
country had been recaptured from the Generals. It had all happened so suddenly.
It seemed impossible that it wouldn't end suddenly and that the country could
proceed on its way to socialism again. It had seemed so sensible to the Guardian
writers at the time and now they were left with nothing to say.
All they had left of him was one photo. He was crouching, with the child, by the
car in the small front garden with his wide, white-toothed grin; the child
prattling away as usual in front of his calmness.
And she'd lost the baby too but that was later, after he'd gone.
Through sobs she briefly told her husband. He was shocked but took it quietly to
himself as he always took things which racked her. He could always think clearly
immediately. She put the phone down.
The child was talking to her: talking about his teddy which was tucked under his
arm. The little voice rippled on. She cupped his face between her hands, aware
of his beauty, reminded poignantly of Franklin's beauty, even at twenty with the
same youthful glow upon his face, the same look of being at the beginning of
"Come on, love," she said, gathering him up, her mind already slotting back into
routine thoughts. Has he wet his pants? Have I got Sue Grainger's book? Did I
remember the newspaper cutting?
Once at school she was aware of the two worlds again: the political world she
inhabited so much of the time, and the other world. Who could she tell? They
were all tied up with their own preparation, their own family problems, their
own jokes. They wouldn't have noticed the news about Chile. Later she would put
up a petition about Chilean prisoners and talk about it more. But now there was
too much to say; she might simply weep before they understood why.
She got through the first lesson. It was tied closely to a book, tied closely to
their CSE essays; children finding it difficult to concentrate, wanting
attention, wanting reassurance. Break time came. A cup of coffee, smiles, chat,
messages to pass on. And then the fifth form: a pleasant lot, a delightful lot
in fact; who tried; who considered, who discussed. She was enjoying teaching
them. "Money for jam, they oughtn't to pay you for doing it," she sometimes
grinned to herself. But she didn't feel she could reach them this morning. She
could feel her eyes still red-rimmed; her mouth still taut, holding back the
memory, holding back the picture that kept forming of people standing in their
garden and then torn, splattered with machine-gun bullets from men who had never
known them and left, the blood seeping into the earth.
"I'm sorry," she said after a while, aware that she was on edge, irritable, that
they weren't finding a link this morning with her. "Look, I shall have to tell
you why I'm like this today." She could see their eyes slide away from her own,
not at the pain she was describing, but because they had "switched off". She was
solely a person, not the teacher, now, talking about things they didn't
understand. They weren't sure they wanted to look inside at this strange other
life of hers spread before them so frankly.
She was aware that they didn't feel with her. There was a silence. No questions.
No comments. Eyes looking down. Eyes looking out of the window. Eyes looking
beyond her. Two or three she knew might catch a glimmer of what was going on,
who could relate the teacher in the classroom by the blackboard on a Tuesday
morning with the TV pictures of sprawled bodies lying on a pavement halfway
across the world.
She pulled herself back: back to "The Merchant of Venice". There had to be ways.
This was what she should be teaching. This was education. By various means, by
poems, by books, by discussion, one could test the ripples, dip their feet into
the water, even though it boiled from time to time. And one day the burning
would help them learn, before it was too late for them as well.
ELEVEN V THIRTEEN
The two old men were sat facing each
other across the pub table. Suddenly one of them flung down the paper he had
been reading and growled, "Bloody footballers, it in't a spoort these days it's
just bloody big business Just look at this." He pointed to the Sports page
headline, "£500,000 Record Transfer fee", and continued, "There's no man worth
all that bloody money. I wukked ower fifty years an' reckoned as one ut best
fitters int' trade, but no boss ivver offered a £500,000 transfer for me. Onny
road I don't think in all them years I made gear worth all that money an' I asks
yer how much does a footballer mek
The old man opposite pulled at his pipe and exhaled smoke, saying, "Well tha
knaws, Willie Headitt is a great centre forrard and they must think he's worth
The other snorted and said, "Tell me what use would he be if he hedn't ten other
men 'elping 'im?"
"Aye, it's reight enough what tha says," replied the other," and wheer would
they be if they hed to mak ther awn booits, jerseys, knickers, ball and the lot?
Aye it's big business all reight. 'Tin't what it used to be when I wor a school
kid. Ah've seen many a grand game in school football".
"So've I" said the first old man," Ahr remembers t'end ut fust World Warr atween
1918 an '1919 when t' School Football League was restarted, ant' school ahr went
to hed best teeam int' League".
"Which school wor that?" queried the other.
"High Road Council school," was the reply.
"Well it can't a'been t'best cos the school I went to beat 'em in't cup final
The first old man said, "Tha's talking a baht St. Peter's Catholic School in't
tha? Well let me tell thee summat. Ahm a few years owder than thee an' I wor
theer at that match an' I reckon tha warnt, else tha'd er knawn t'High Road
eleven lads wor playing 'gainst 13 from St Peter's".
"Aw come off it!" exploded the other. "Eleven players to 13 wouldn't be allowed
in a cup final"
"Well ahm telling thee, that tha weren't theer an' ahr wor. Dos tha knaw St.
Peter's browt their priest wi 'em, an' just afore t' kick off he went an' picked
t'ball up from t' spot, and kissed an' blessed it for St Peter's ter win? At afe
time it wor nil-nil an' afort' St. Peter's lads came back on t'field priest made
'em all kiss his crucifix and say a prayer ter God to help 'em ter win.
"Their prayers wor answered, cos onnly a minute ertwo afore t' whistle wor blawn
for time, Larry Dooker o' St. Peter's kicked t' ball up in't air an' it musta
been God who shoved it or blew it past Dickie Loveland, t'High Road goalie - he
didn't hey a chance, and that's 'ow it wor. So theer tha hes it. St. Peter's
eleven plus one priest an' God meks thirteen, agenst t'High Road eleven lads on
ther awn, just relying on theirselves an't yer can't deny that."
Slowly they both rose, glared at each other and without another word made their
exit through the pub door.
VOICES the magazine of new working-class writing has got better and better It
now bids fair to fulfil its potential as a national magazine in its field.
Putting It another way, a good half of its contents, visual and written, are now
well worth the attention of readers whether or not they have a political
commitment to working-class literature.
The range of issue No. 22 is impressive. Fiction ranges from Ken Clay's "Danger:
Men At Work," a well-observed, funny story about practical joking in an
engineering shop, to Kevin Otoo's "Mad Johnny," a terribly poignant and saddened
story about a black man ruined by being framed by the police and jailed.
The visuals range from Bob Starrett's cartoons (above) to Brian McGeoch's
scarifying linocuts from his series " Blast." In these he has become completely
incisive and clear, no longer prone to mere deformities, yet still nightmarishly
disturbing. The weakness remains the poetry. Only Keith Armstrong's "The Norm
Force" strikes me as being at ease in the style chosen. It might be a good idea
if the editors broadened the range to include songs with their music.