cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
By now an edition of Voices should need little introduction and in that way I
could be stuck for words. I've always been an admirer of Voices, its real down
to earth nitty gritty literature, not a bit high flown or pretentious. And in
this way it shows the great potentials of British working class literature.
The thing which gives Voices its personality and character is the fact that it
is written and put together by working folk. To say these people round Voices
and the Worker Writers are ordinary folk seems an underestimation of the amount
of time they put into their literature after they've not only come home from
work but tended to their families. It shows the power of the working people that
we are capable of this.
Voices and the Worker Writers movement have stood out as an alternative to the
career writer, the hobby writer, and consumerised and glamorised friction.
We've seen writing as an area of self help. And ourselves, our workmates and
neighbours are our market, if market is not too vulgar a word.
Our alternative is to see writing as integral to our everyday lives. We are not
divorced from what goes on around us, we do not isolate ourselves to write and
thus become hermits, neither do we write because we are hermits. We live and
experience our lives to the full and then in our spare moments we write it all
down whether as poetry or prose. In this way art belongs to the people and comes
from the people. Our art is not as divorced from real life as say the
all-American car chase. Through our work we can draw on much more real and
interesting aspects of our lives than the fictionalised cop and robber
shoot-outs which popular commercial fiction relies on. We do not try and
oversimplify life but find romance, humour, emotion and consolation in our
If our writers are amateurs they are not amateurish, but are like amateur
sportsmen, musicians and entertainers. They (We) aim to win through. As an
alternative to the conventional media we are no soft option, the writers here-in
have worked very hard to make sure they communicate, no matter how many
preconceptions of what previously constituted literature they've had to push
aside. They've edited their work, they've rewritten, they're grouped their ideas
into paragraphs; and discussed their work in workshops up and down the country.
They've struggled to recapture moods and by-gone eras. Their work has been the
reason behind domestic arguments and giggles at work; and most importantly their
work is the product of much encouragement from their families, friends and
fellow writers. These writers are as everyway fanatical about their work and
probably a darn sight more enthusiastic about it than those who are lucky enough
to make a career out of writing.
Inside and outside of Voices we have been saying for years that in Voices' pages
we want to see more writing on the Nuclear Threat and more writing by black and
women writers. We can only express and reflect the entire spectrum of our lives
if black conscious and feminist writing appears in our pages; and to this aim
Voices does discriminate in favour of black and feminist writing. We want no-one
to be looking at the mainstream of working class writing through rainy windows.
So Voices belongs to all of us.
The first and foremost story in this edition is the first instalment of a four
part serial by the late Michael (Mick) Weaver. He is well known for his
political and trade union contributions to the life of the South Lancashire
mines and community. May we thank his widow Molly for enabling us to enjoy what
must be one of the best stories Voices has ever had the joy to publish. The best
way to ensure you get to read all four parts of this serial is to take out a
We also carry tributes and poems in this edition, on the deaths of worker
writers Mary Casey and Vivian Usherwood. Also it is with much sadness that we
must report the recent death of Ray Mort, a Commonword Writers' Workshop full
timer. He wrote plays, had been a teacher and was a plumber by trade. He will be
remembered for the great encouragement he gave to a great many writers in
Manchester and surrounding country.
In closing my editorial may I thank all of the people who make Voices possible,
especially the readers; and particularly Rick Gwilt the editor who keeps Voices
together so admirably, and has shown sufficient confidence in myself to push me
to edit this edition.
Breaking the Silence
I'm writing this as a result of attending my first ever Voices editorial
meeting. At the end of the evening we had chosen 14 pieces for Voices 24 2 by
women. When we looked back to material submitted there was the same pattern.
Why? Well, I think Wendy's editorial in the last issue of Voices spells that out
very clearly. I, too, feel that the editorial page of Voices should be used to
examine the debate on women's writing within the worker-writer movement but,
equally important, that women's writing appear in Voices to be read.
A recent study of the history of women in literature in this century came up
with the figure of "one-out-of-twelve" writers of achievement being a woman. A
similar ratio in Voices was quoted by Wendy.
In past issues the editorial group has shown its awareness of the need to
change, and the worker-writer movement must be seen as playing a large part in
that "moving away from propagandist writing (Editorial Voices 22) and towards
writing in which people draw more directly on their own experience." It's now up
to women writers to put Voices to the test.
The American writer, Tillie Olsen, speaks of how "we who write are survivors"
and goes on to spell this out as bearing witness for those who founder; trying
to tell how and why they, also worthy of life, did not survive; and passing on
ways of surviving.
Voices is offering women writers the chance to break that silence.
(Gatehouse Project, Manchester)
Introduction by Molly Weaver
In 1917 on December 23rd in the home, Michael Weaver was born in the Republic of
Ireland, in County Roscommon, in a small village at Calvagh, at the home of his
grandmother, Margaret Sherlock, with whom he lived until the age of fifteen,
attending school, and helping to farm the land for the livelihood of himself,
his grandma, and his dog.
At this age he was compelled to come to England, as work in Ireland was
non-existent. He did this rather than stay behind for a college education since
that was only designed in a way which he would have had to become a priest. This
was not his ambition, having seen quite a great deal of struggle in the country,
resulting from the terrorist regime of the Black and Tans. Having landed in
England he joined the growing masses of the unemployed. He searched the country
far and wide for work on the farms, roads or land, until he obtained something
steady on the London underground. From there he moved onto quarrying, then to
In 1941 I met Michael for the first time at Chequerbent, between Bolton and
Westhoughton. His work at that time was heading a gang of men on a construction
Later that year Michael went mining at Mosley Common in South Lancashire. He had
applied for the Royal Navy but they had not even acknowledged this. From going
in the mine he was in a tied job for the duration of the war. He made up his
mind right from then that he would be settled for the rest of his life. He was
already a member of the Communist Party and a close friend of Jim Hammond,
miner's agent of the day.
Michael was on the branch committee of the NUM and in a few months of joining in
meetings he was voted delegate to represent his colliery at area level, then
voted to executive committee level delegate. Soon after the committee had him
voted part-time union secretary.
In 1956 he opposed the then union secretary William Birmingham for full time
union work and swept the board clean. He took to his new job like a fish takes
to water, with a determination that miners must be respected for the loyal
service they give to his country.
He forwent much free-time to ensure they got their rights, he battled for
concessionary coal, visited homes taking statements from sick people at
weekends. In order that I myself might have the pleasure of his very magnetic
companionship, and the need I had to be with him, I would go to these sick and
sadly injured people, seeing and sharing their suffering.
I think in some way I helped, at least I hope, to keep him together. Michael
will be remembered for a great personality as well as the work he put in. In the
late years, I cannot give a date, but Michael was invited to visit China,
looking for knowledge and their mining methods. But the Republic of Ireland
would neither give him a passport nor a reason for this. In 1961 he went through
the same channel with the same negative result. This time he wanted to go to
Russia. He thus had to choose, his application was made and granted through the
British Embassy. So he went to Russia for almost a month.
Michael travelled the mining villages of this country as mine after mine was
closed following this up with TV confrontations with our so-called experts on
how oil would replace coal.
He saw into the future, the disasters these closures would make, and all honesty
his predictions have come true. Then in 1968 they sank Mosley Common I think it
was then that Mick Weaver Union Official Unique began to die.
He had stood for parliament and only failed to get there because of his
communist beliefs. He was no short cut man and he never went back on his
He took up writing when he could no longer work, as he became really bad with
arthritis, he wrote for five years. His life ended very suddenly on Thursday
29th January 1976 at 1.50 p.m.
He left a legacy of love ... his wife, his son Michael; two daughters Eileen and
Joanne; and our daughter-in-law Penny.
Molly Weaver With love to Michael
John McWanted was a small farmer in County Mayo, Ireland. He was a hard,
uncouth, stern man, merciless in anger, but not unreasonable when in a good
humour, which didn't amount to much, anyway, because it was very seldom he was
in a good humour. He had never been to school a day in his life, for when he was
a boy, authority did not provide schools for peasants' children.
He had four sons, the youngest of which was Michael, and long before any of them
had reached manhood he had all their careers and obligations mapped out for
them. The eldest, called John, would go to England as soon as he turned sixteen
years, earn money there any way he could, and send most of it home to help bring
up the rest of the family. The next two would also go on reaching sixteen years
of age and the youngest, Michael, would stay behind and inherit the place, just
as he, John McWanted, had inherited the place from his father, being the
youngest son of his father's family.
In the west of Ireland this was a tradition that had become so ingrained in the
pattern of peoples' behaviour that each member of a family accepted without
question or fuss the tasks and obligations that fell to him or her by the
accident of birth and tried to perform those tasks and discharge those
obligations dutifully and honourably. John McWanted had no reason to assume that
his sons would behave any better or worse than his own brothers had done, or
that the sons of thousands of small farmers had done, so he actually looked
forward eagerly to the day the eldest of his sons could emigrate, which would
ease the burden of poverty he carried, and to later days when his other two sons
would join his eldest in England and make things easy for himself and his wife
in their old age.
His eldest son's birthday fell on the twentieth of June, nineteen-twenty-nine,
and first thing in the morning, with a song in his heart as tuneful and
exhilarating as a yellowhammer, John McWanted set off walking to the local shop
to buy a suitcase. That night, he packed all his son's belongings in the case
and made all preparations for the big event the following day.
"Sure, we'll soon be on a pig's back," he said to his wrinkled, headscarved wife
as they sat by the fireside that night. "Sure, in another couple of years,
there'll be another one ready, and two years after that another. Ara, devil a
one of usll feel a thing now 'till they're all away, and then all we'll have to
do every week is change the cheques." He laughed closely to himself while his
wife contended herself with nodding agreement, and fixing more peat-sods on the
fire. "Ara, they'll sink the old boat with all the money they'll shove over when
they all get going," he continued. "Jesus, you know they're great lads. Sure
that John can do more work than any man now, and he'll get better all the time.
He will." He eased out his legs, drew heavily on his pipe and looked at the few
ornaments that adorned the wooden mantelpiece over the fireplace. "Wasn't it him
made that?" and he pointed up to the mantelpiece with the stem of his pipe. "Twas,"
his wife replied, then sniffled and sighed. "Sure that's a fine piece of work
altogether. Sure a man that can do work like that'll get on anywhere. Ah, we've
nothin' to worry about now, nothin' at all. The money'll start coming soon,
The following morning, John McWanted walked proudly to the nearby town and
carried his son's case. At the railway station, he paid the lad's fare, gave him
an extra pound just in case something unforeseen happened, and with a broad
smile, a warm handshake, and a final goodbye wave, he launched his son on the
journey to England, another 'Spolpeen' to swell the ranks of Irish immigrants
there. He walked home more slowly, still with joy in his heart and a sense of
great expectation pervading his mind, for he felt that all he had to do was wait
a little longer and then the money would start rolling across the waves.
But the money did not come rolling across the waves, for in nineteen-twenty-nine
England was experiencing a serious economic slump and work was very hard to come
Of course, John McWanted made no allowances for that, for he never would accept
excuses for anyone else's misdeeds, that is. So he heaped all the blame on his
son, and every morning when he asked his wife:
"Any letter from the quare fellow today?" and she told him:
"No," he became ever more sullen and bad tempered.
"Ara, sure I knew well that fella'd never come to nothin'," he told his wife.
"Sure, he never thought of nothin' but himself. Nothin' in the world. He's there
now beyond in England, drinkin' himself stupid every night and not a thought in
his head for us here at home. Ara, may the devil whip him, sure he's no good for
nothin'. Now we'll have to wait 'til the next one's ready. See what sort of job
he makes of it."
His wife didn't speak, just nodded dutifully and got on with her housework.
"You know, I think meself the next one'll be better. Ara sure he has a great old
head on him, a great head altogether. Sure he's twice the man the other fellow
was." Again Mrs. McWanted merely nodded, for she knew she daren't cross her
husband when he was in an angry mood, and he was in an angry and recriminating
John McWanted's second son was ready for dispatch in nineteen-thirty-one. The
same ritual was observed, the same expectations cherished and the same result
ensued no money, for unemployment still raged in England and wages were so
savagely depressed that single men could just pay their way when in work, while
men with families merely lived.
Once more John McWanted's disappointment was enormous and his anger fearsome. "Ara,
wasn't that the bad arab all his life," he snarled to his wife. "All his life,
he was." Uneasily she tried to get out of his way and out of reach of his
penetrating stare, for although she did not agree with him, she dare not appear
to disagree with him.
He continued cynically between puffs on his pipe.
"An' the, the old gleck of
him, like a right man. Haa! two nice yokes, the pair of 'em. We have only one
left now, and if he doesn't do something, we're buggered. We are, buggered. But,
what am I sayin', won't it be two years yet before he can go. That the devil
whip the pair of them beyond there in England! Weren't they the bad rearing!"
The third son left Ireland in nineteen-thirty-three and John McWanted's wrath
became pathological. "I've a good mind to kill myself," he often murmured.
"Sure, I'm 'shamed to show me face at the chapel gate a Sunday morning, with me
having three sons beyond in England, and me still wearing the same old suit I
wore ... Jesus I don't know when. I don't know where they took this drinkin'
from," he remarked angrily to his wife. "It must be from your side, 'cause it
wasn't from mine. Jesus, my side were great people altogether. Sure, they'd kill
their own ... well I won't say it, but they'd commit murder for a penny, they
would. Sure them old dowderies on your side were no good for nothin'. No good
for nothing!" and as he whipped himself into a frenzy, his wife quietly slid
away, lamenting the fact that she didn't know where her three sons were, how
they were faring, or anything at all about them. And she was often heart-sick at
her husband's rantings, but she had to hide her feelings. That was the hardest
part. She begged God in her prayers to urge them to write to her, even if they
had no money to send, but she feared they wouldn't do that, for she had no idea
that all three thought that an empty letter would not be welcomed in County
Mayo. And, indeed, it would not be welcomed by John McWanted.
Things became worse for the Irish small farmers. The 'Economic War' hit them
savage blows. The price of everything they had to sell hit rock bottom, while
the price of everything they needed to buy remained stable or increased. So
finally, the last of John McWanted's family, Michael, decided to emigrate to
England. This time there was no fuss over the leaving, no proud walk into town
and no sitting back with mounting expectations.
The morning Michael left home his father acted normally. His mother cried
silently, inwardly, but Mr. McWanted sat coldly smoking his pipe as his youngest
son, carrying a small suitcase, left the house. The year was nineteen-hundred
and thirty-five and Michael, still little more than a boy, considered himself a
man and was determined to behave like a man, work as hard as he could in
England, save up like hell and send as much money as he could home to his
stricken father and mother. He had been listening so long to his father's
rantings about the awful drinking habits of his elder brothers that he had begun
to believe them, and vowed that he would not be like that. He vowed that he
would avoid drink at all costs, and he renewed that vow before he left the small
railway station at the nearby town and several more times on the journey to
Michael McWanted arrived at Euston Station on a chill, wet, October day. He had
nothing to eat since he left home, so he was tired and hungry, but the only
money he had was a pound note his mother had cabbaged from her housekeeping
pittance and had slipped into his pocket unknownst to his father.
When Michael got off the train, his eyes fairly bulged with surprise at the size
of everything. "Jesus, it's bigger than Dublin," he muttered to himself. "Jesus,
it's enormous!" and he looked all round, his eyesight diffused with wonder.
"God, I bet a man'd soon get lost here, if he didn't know where he was going.
And sure I don't know where I'm going, so I must be lost, then, so I must." and
he walked out through the huge columned archway.
Outside on the street, he stood for several minutes undecided which way to turn.
Then he remembered the tales he had heard about the wonderfully helpful English
bobby, and he decided to ask the first one he met. He didn't rightly know what
to ask, but he thought that the bobby, being wonderful and helpful, would know
how to help him. With his suitcase held limply in his hand he approached a bobby
who happened to be a man who was on his way to take up his position on point
duty - and he stammered out disjointly and hoarsely: "P.p.please sir....
p.p.please ... ?
"You what, mite?" the bobby barked angrily, and scornfully eyed Michael all
"P.p.please sir, could, could you tell m.m.me where I might meet some Irish?"
"Yes, mite. Get back to fucking Ireland where you fucking well came from." He
brushed past the bewildered Michael and shouted over his shoulder as he went by:
"And take a half a million of those fuckers here with you, too. You can drop the
bastards off half way there if you like."
"Oh, God save us all!" moaned an astounded Michael. "Sure, he wasn't friendly at
all. Not a bit friendly, he wasn't. Aha, but maybe that's the way they have here
of telling a man they don't know ... or something. I bet it is." He turned to
his left and began walking casually along the street.
Coming towards him was a man wearing a moleskin trousers, a heavy pair of boots,
a long, thick, black jacket, a khaki shirt, a black scarf wound carelessly
around his neck with both ends flapping over one shoulder, and a cap set at a
rakish angle on the side of his head. He rolled from side to side as he walked
and Michael immediately concluded that he was Irish, for he had heard that
Irishmen who had lived in England a long time and had worked on very big jobs
dressed that way and walked in that manner.
"Jesus, this fella must've been here a shocking long time," he told himself as
he looked at other passers by. "Jesus, he's been here longer than anyone else,
and he must'ave worked on some quare, big jobs, too, to wear that lot. So, he's
sure to know."
As the weird-geared one rolled closer, Michael hung out his most pleasant smile
and began hesitantly, but not nearly as hesitantly as when he had addressed the
bobby: "Please, mister, could you tell me where I could meet some Irish blokes?
Ara of course, you can. Sure why wouldn't you!"
The weirdly-dressed never stopped but snarled out of the side of his mouth: "Get
fucked, you stupid greesheen, you. Get back to the bog where you came from!"
Michael's mouth dropped open with astonishment and his eyes followed the
mole-skin clad legs along the street until they were out of sight. "God bless us
all!" he expostulated, still looking after the weird one. Then he dropped his
head to one side and murmured to himself: "Sure, Jesus, I bet everyone here
talks like that now, the Irish and all, well, them that's been here a long time,
anyway. God, your man there must've been here a shocking long time all right.
But, be Jesus, it's a quare way of talking, just the same. Ah, but... what harm.
Sure it must be the right way or they wouldn't all have it. Be Jesus, I better
start talking like that, too. Ara, why wouldn't I. Jesus, sure I know all them
words right well. 'Course I do. I will."
So resolved, he turned to continue his journey, and as he did so, he swung his
suitcase out and accidentally struck a passing woman a painful blow on the knee.
She sucked in her breath quickly, scowled fiercely at Michael and released a
shoal of words which he didn't understand, but which he thought had a ring
similar to the words used by the other people he had encountered.
"Ah, now," he reflected, "by Jesus, the women talk that way, too, here now. Ah,
now, I'll have to talk the same way, too. Sure, a man'd look a proper gobshite
if he didn't talk like everyone else, sure he would. Oh, now, indeed, I will. Be
Jesus, though, I bet they're grand people if a man knew them properly, so they
are. Hah? Ah, but damn me if it isn't a quare way of talking, just the same. Ah
... well ... what harm. I'll do it, too sure."
A little further along the street he saw a man who appeared middle-aged coming
towards him. The man wore heavy boots which were bleached white-brown with clay,
but he didn't roll when he walked and he didn't wear moleskins or a scarf and
his cap was straight on the top of his head.
"Ah, he won't be long here," Michael told himself," and he won't have worked on
any big jobs either. But, be Jesus, he might be able to help me just the same.
Jesus, I'll chance him anyhow, but this time I'm going to talk right to him.
When the older man was within a couple of yards of him, Michael stood still, put
both heels together and shouted at the top of his voice: "Scan, could you
fucking well tell me where I could meet a few fucking Irishmen in this man's
"Bow-wow!" barked the older man and staggered back as if he had been hit in the
face with a brick. He eyed the young stranger carefully, paying particular
attention to the lad's clothes, his demeanour
and the suitcase which dangled loosely from his hand and caused passers by to
veer one way or the other in order to avoid being hit by it.
"Just come over?" he asked cautiously.
"Oh, now, just, just pulled into the fucking old station there."
"Shush!" screamed the older man, grabbing Michael's arm and snatching him
quickly to one side. He glanced quickly over each shoulder before he spoke
earnestly to the young lad.
"See, you mustn't talk like that here in the main street or they'll have the
bobbies on you."
"Bobbies?" enquires the confused Michael. "Is it the police you mean? Sure, damn
me wasn't it a f...."
"Such will you!" roared the older man, fretfully glancing once more over each
shoulder. "Now listen, you must not talk like that here in the public street, or
anywhere else in public, for that matter. Now, at work everything goes, but on
the street ... no. Someone'll set the bobbies on you, you know."
"They bloody well will."
"Sure damn me wasn't it a policeman I first heard talking like that, and wasn't
the next one an Irishman, and one that'd been here a long time at that."
"Now, now, listen," warned the older man, "you must not use that sort of
language here in the streets. Only old tramps use that sort of language here."
"Be Jesus is that true? Well damn me isn't this a marvellous country. They have
tramp bobbies here. Hee, hee"
"No . . . Hah? Ah ... now . . . well," continued the older man, unsure what to
say, "never mind that, now, where are you headin' for?"
"Damn me if I know properly," replied Michael. "I have three brothers here, but
I don't know where they are, and, Jesus, I bet it'd be awful easy for a man to
get lost in this f........"
"Haaaaaa!" coughed the older man as loudly as he could hoping to drown out the
young lad's swear words.
"Christ, have you a bad throat, or something?" asked Michael.
"No, but you have an awful tongue. Now, unless you stop that, I'm telling you,
the bobbies'll have you. Now, I'm telling you."
"Jesus, do you mean it?"
"Do I mean it 'Course I mean it. Now, where did you say you're
"Sure I don't know. Sure, I have three brothers here and I don't know where one
of 'em is. Do you know?"
"Ara, how the hell would I know where your brothers are? Sure you haven't told
me who you are yet."
"Oh, be God, no, I haven't. Michael McWanted, that's me. Well, that's me name
"McWanted," browsed the older man, rubbing a grimy, stubbly chin with a dirty
hand. "Did you say you have brothers here?"
"I have, indeed, three, but....."
"Jesus, I work with a McWanted. You're not from Killoween by any chance?"
"Oh, now, the very place, the very place."
"Jesus, the bloke I'm working with might be your brother, but he's a lot older
"It'll be me oldest brother, that's who it'll be. A big bloke with fair hair and
a grey, striped suit. Ah, but sure he might have bought another one since then.
His name's John."
'The name's John all right," the older man said, "but he's not all that big,
though. Oh, but, a handy bloke, a nice handy-sized bloke. Jesus, he could be
your brother all right, 'cause his name's McWanted and he comes from Killoween."
"Oh, he is, he is, he is, no doubt about it at all," enthused Michael. "Jesus,
where can I find him, tonight? Now? Hah? Jesus I hear he's a bugger for the
The older man shook his head, for Michael's artlessness was becoming perplexing,
and he kept swinging the suitcase about as he spoke. "Hi! keep that old bag
steady, will you?" warned the older man. "You'll knock some one's chips out..."
"Yes, sure, sure, sound" Michael assured him, and he managed to hold the bag
steady for a while, at least.
The older man spoke again: "Now, well, if that's your brother .. "
"Oh, it is, it is, no doubt about it," Michael interrupted.
"Can you tell me where I can see him?"
"Wasn't that what I was trying to tell you, but you wouldn't listen."
"Oh, I will, I will, definitely. Scan, sound!"
"Right then. Well, now, if that's your brother, you'll find him within in
Hammersmith 'cause that's where he lives."
"Hammer who?" Michael enquired earnestly.
"Jesus! who in the world's that?"
"Who! it's a place, not far from here. You can take a bus there. I mean, you can
catch a bus here that'll take you there," he added just in time to prevent
"Phew!" he exhaled loudly. "You catch a number .... but what in the hell's the
use telling you that. Sure, you'll end up in Smithfield if you're left on your
own." He pondered everything lengthily and then said, as though inspired:
"Tell you what . . . but first let's get rid of that bloody case, for Christ's
"Get rid of it," exclaimed Michael. "Sure, this is all I have in the world."
"NO, I don't mean that. I mean, put it somewhere."
"Sure, if I put it down, won't someone pick it up and walk away with it? And
won't I be buggered then altogether?"
The older man sighed deeply, for the situation was becoming impossible and
Michael's gullibility unbelievable. But, the nobler nature within him stirred',
and he decided not to leave such an ingenuous, unsuspecting, young lad to wander
the streets of London alone, a prey to all the guiles of the very dangerous
people who abounded in every side street at that time. Yet, what to do was the
problem. "I think ..." he began but broke off without saying much. "What time is
it?" he looked up at the station clock and saw that it was half-past six.
"Christ, two hours yet. See, he won't be out for another hour and a half, maybe
two. But let's get rid of that bloody bag..."
"Now, now. Say nothing, just come on," and they began walking towards the
station. "See, there's a place here where you can leave it. It'll cost you
twopence or maybe threepence, but it'll be safe, and it'll be there where you
want it. See? Oh, give's the bloody thing here, for Jesus' sake!"
The older man snatched the case from Michael, walked straight to the left
luggage department, put the case on the counter and asked the attendant: "Twopence
"Two, mite?," replied the attendant, picking the case off the counter, stacking
it with many more on one side of the compartment, and writing out a receipt.
The older man paid the twopence, took the receipt, then handed it to Michael.
"Now, isn't that better?"
"Oh, great, great, sound!"
"Well, you won't hit anyone in the cod fillets anyway."
"Now, now. It'll be there when you want it. All you have to do is hand that
receipt to the bloke there and he'll give it to you."
"Oh, great, great, sound. Jese, thanks a lot. Be God, I never asked you your
name, have I?"
"No, well, don't. Just keep it that way. Come on," and as they walked away from
the left luggage department, the older man talked confidentially with his
younger colleague. "Now, let me give you a bit of a tip here."
"Yes. Well, it's not a wise thing to start bandying names about all over the
place around here just now."
"No. See, the bobbies are awfully keen around here just now. What, with this
'Economic War' and that, a man's a lot better to keep quiet. Know what I mean?"
Although Michael had listened very carefully, he didn't really understand what
his older colleague had been trying to tell him, but he replied as if he had.
"Oh, yes, 'course, sound!"
"Tell you what," continued the older man, "call me Jack. How's that?"
"Oh, fair enough, fair enough."
"That'll do for now, won't it? Well, I'll come for it anyhow, so what more does
a man want?"
"Oh, no, nothing, fair enough, sound .... Jack."
Then they both laughed and that was the first time Michael had heard anything he
thought worth laughing at since he had left home.
"Right, now I'll tell you what," suggested the older man as they left the
station. "I have a bit of an old room up the road here a bit. Now, we can go
there now, have a drink of tea and a bit of grub, if there is any, then after
I've had a shave and a change out of this lot. I'll have a run into Hammersmith
"Run!" Michael expostulated. "Jesus, sure I don't want to start running..."
"Now, now, will you! I mean, we'll catch a bus to Hammersmith, how's that?"
"Oh, powerful, powerful, great, sound."
They didn't speak again until they arrived at Jack's lodgings. It was a small
room which Jack rented. There was a single bed under the window and a small
table in the middle of the floor with two cane chairs tucked underneath it. The
table was covered with newspaper and on it stood a motley of knives, forks,
spoons, greasy plates, a teapot and a tea-stained mug.
"Sit there 'till I get something ready," Jack instructed, setting one of the
chairs near the empty fireplace. Michael sat timidly on the chair, but kept
looking round the room, for it was not the kind he had expected to find in
London, and certainly did not accord with the splendour of Euston.
Jack put everything on the table into a tin basin and carried them into a
kitchen which he shared with other boarders. Then he brought back some clean
newspaper and covered the table with it. Next he brought two mugs, two pairs of
knives and forks, two plates and a loaf of bread. "Hah! well, we'll have a bit
of grub whatever happens, even if the sky falls," he joked and skipped nimbly
into the kitchen once more.
Michael rubbed his palms together vigorously in anticipation, for he felt like a
spent salmon, and the gastric juices were gnawing at the linings of his empty
Not long after that Jack was back with a huge frying pan in which he had cooked
bacon and eggs. "Hah! a bit nearer," he said as he left the pan on the table and
hurried into the kitchen once more.
The smell of the cooked bacon nearly drove Michael to distraction and he had to
struggle with himself for all he was worth to stop himself from attacking the
food. The battle for self control was at a critical stage when Jack returned
from the kitchen carrying a teapot. He divided out the bacon and eggs, cut
several slices off the load and dropped them on the table centre and poured out
"Right me son!" he shouted "up to the manger."
The words had hardly fallen from his lips when Michael was at the table, having
dragged his chair behind him. They never spoke during the meal, but once or
twice Jack looked across at his colleague who was eating like a semi-starved
"A bit better?" Jack asked, when they had finished eating and were languidly
"Better, oh, what!" Michael replied.
"Well, a bit tighter, anyhow. Well, now, I'll tell you what we'll do well, in
a few minutes, I mean, when we've finished this drop of tea. I'll have a shave,
change out of this habit and I'll run into Hammersmith with you, and we'll see
the quare fella. Hah?"
"Run!" Michael exclaimed, then remembered and a vapid look spread across his
face. "Oh, you mean .... bus."
"Yes. That's what I mean. Yes .... Oooh!"
"Oh, good, great, sound that. Jesus, we'll meet the quare fella tonight. Think
we'll find him?" and for the first time while referring to his brother a hint of
doubt dimmed Michael's exuberance.
"Find Him? 'Course we'll find him. I know right well where he'll be, no fear of
"You do? Oh, Jesus that's great, great altogether."
"I won't be long," Jack explained as he left the room.
"There's an old evening paper there you can have a look at while I'm getting
"Right, right, oh great. Jesus, you're a sound man."
Jack hurried up the stairs, and Michael sat by the table stock still, while in
his head fear and intrepidity, disappointment and exultation regularly changed
When Jack came back into the room, he was clean shaven, wore a fairly well
preserved blue serge suit, a white shirt with a collar, a blue tie and looked,
in Michael's eyes, several years younger than he had looked before he left to
change his clothes.
"Jesus, man, you look powerful, now, powerful altogether, you do," Michael
exclaimed with the utmost sincerity.
Jack smiled amiably as he fixed on his head at a jaunty angle a dark, pork-pie
hat. "Right, now, scan, ready?"
"Ready? 'Course. Well, damn me if you don't look powerful.
"Right then, come on, we'll go."
As they were going out. Jack squinted at a clock in the kitchen and announced:
"Just eight now. Nice time. We'll be there for half-past, with a bit of luck.
That's when the quare fella comes out."
"Well is it?"
"Yes, not a minute before, any night."
Jack locked the door and they walked steadily, shoulder to shoulder up the
As they entered the public bar of a public house in Hammersmith, Michael fairly
oogled with surprise.
"Jesus, this is an awful big place," he said, scanning every corner of the room.
"Big?" remarked his colleague. "Not it."
"Is there ones bigger than this?"
"Bigger than this? Ger away! Why, they drink out of glasses bigger than this in
"Jesus, they must be fantastic glasses. Can you see the quare fella at all?"
"See him? Isn't he there fornint you."
Just then a slightly built man in a grey suit that hung loosely from his
shoulders turned from the bar and when saw Jack exclaimed: "Why, hello Jack.
What's brought you to these parts?"
"Hello John. Oh, be Jesus, I thought I'd have a run in here to have a look at
you. See how you're all managing in these wild, uncivilized parts, that's all."
John McWanted laughed and showed a clean, even set of well-preserved teeth. "A
pint is it. Jack?"
"Yes, a pint, John, but I brought someone to see you. See, here, see if you know
John McWanted looked at Michael, shook his head and smiled at Jack. "No, but no
matter, two pints," he told the barman without waiting for consent.
"Hi!" demanded Jack. "Look again. See if you think he looks like anyone you
John McWanted looked at Michael again, again shook his head and said: "No. But
what the hell does it matter, anyhow?"
"So, you're sure you don't know him out of anyone?" John smiled amiably this
time at Michael who was beginning to feel despondent, because if that was really
his brother, he had changed completely from the picture of him Michael had been
carrying around with him in his mind for several years. Michael was only ten
years old when his oldest brother left home, and Michael always pictured that
brother as being a very powerful young man and very stylish. But the man in
front of him wasn't like that at all. He was slim with a wrinkled neck and wore
a suit much too big for him. Still, he was friendly, laughed continually and
that sat Michael's mind at ease.
"Well, this is great," remarked Jack as John paid for the beer. "Now if you come
from County Mayo, from the village of Killoween, and your mother never took in
lodgers, this is your full brother, Michael."
"Hah!" shouted John. "Me brother?" and as he turned excitedly from the bar, he
spilled some of the beer.
"Oh, for God's sake," admonished Jack, "don't spill the holy water whatever you
do. Lord save us," and he took a pint glass from John and quickly sipped out of
"Jesus Christ, it's not our Mickeen," John exclaimed and thrust out a washed,
but gnarled hand.
"That's me," Michael said exultantly and eagerly grabbed his brother's
Within the next few minutes, they shook hands more than a dozen times, while
Jack looked on from the outside, yet not feeling an outsider. For a long time
the two brothers talked about Ireland, about their father and their mother and
how difficult it was to make a living there then. Occasionally John deliberately
turned to Jack and tried to involve him in the conversation, but Jack understood
and was content to drink and listen to the two brothers exchange words and
thoughts and attribute, for Jack was one of the very few mature Irishmen who
liked young Irish lads who came to London. Most of them regarded the new
arrivals as unwelcome competitors for the little work that was available. In
fact, they often looked on those young lads as undesirable intruders, and
scoffed at them and mocked them, especially when they showed innocent and
unsophisticated attitudes to the harsh reality of living in economic-torn
Britain. But Jack was not one of those. He would help a young lad anytime, and
he knew he was doing exactly that when he was standing aside and allowing this
young lad to talk freely with his older brother.
Eventually John turned from his brother and addressed Jack: "Damn me, do you
know, I've a good mind to bring him out on the job with me tomorrow morning,
hah? See what the 'screech' has to say about him, hah? What do you think? Hah?"
" 'Course, 'course, do, why wouldn't you."-
"By Jesus, I will."
"Aha, but what about digs for the lad first," Jack reminded the older brother.
"He'll want digs you know."
Ah, Jesus, he'll be all right that way. Sure he can delve in with me for the
time being anyway. I was just saying to Jack here; you'll be all right for digs,
for a bit anyhow. You can stay with me for the time being."
"Digs!" Michael shouted. "Did you say I can dig in with you?"
"You can for what it is, like. The devil kill me if that isn't a good way to
describe them, too diggin in."
"Oh, well, be Jesus, if I can dig in with you, sure I'm made altogether. Sure
that's powerful altogether. Jesus, amn't I a lucky joker to meet two sound men
like you two, hah?"
Michael's enthusiasm was becoming so riotous that his brother was about to
intervene to calm the lad down, but Jack advised against that.
"Ara, leave the lad alone," he counselled, "Sure, what harm's he doing? Ara,
isn't it soon enough he'll know the other side. Sure, let him have his way now
while he has the chance. You know yourself, he'll meet the other side before
very long. Let the lad have his fling," and he drank deeply from his glass.
John nodded agreement. "I will, I'll do that. But damn me if I amn't thinking
about bringing him out there with me in the morning, what do you think?" Let's
see what the 'mouth' has to say, eh?"
"Course, why wouldn't you. Sure, he can only say no. But I won't be there
myself. I jacked this afternoon."
"Ara, I did. Ara, sure no one could stick that animal out there."
"Jesus, what was he on about today?"
"Well, be Jese, he never spoke to me today, but I was going to jack anyway.
Sure, animals like the 'shout' out there sack so many men every week, or make
them jack. That's how they keep their jobs. And everyone knows it's going to
come his turn one day. So, I didn't give him the chance to get round to me, I
jacked. Mind you, I had seen this bloke last week-end, and he's working in the
tunnels, widening that one that's going out to Morden. Ah, it's near enough sort
of work. So that encouraged me to jack, anyway." "And are you starting in the
tunnels, then?" "Oh, aye. Oh, Be Jese, the job's near enough." "Oh, sure, that's
great work altogether. Sure, a man's made when he gets in work like that."
"Aye. Well, there's one thing about it; a man won't have to put up with animals
like the 'shout'."
"Are, I don't suppose his type'd be any good at all in that sort of work."
"No, an' I'll tell you something else them blokes wouldn't stand him five
minutes. They would not, indeed."
"They wouldn't, I suppose."
"They would not. Ara, they're nearly all cockneys, regimental sort of men. Now
they wouldn't stand the likes of the 'shout' very long. I'm telling you. Another
thing; a man won't be bothered too much about the weather. He won't, as the man
says, he won't be listening out for a bray from that ass, anyway, raining men
off. He won't. But, you were saying, you're taking the young fellow out there in
'Yes, I was. Think it'd be wise?"
"Well, what can you lose? Nothing. And damn me I've heard that that animal isn't
bad with young lads."
"You've heard that?"
"I have, on my oath."
"Well, by Christ I'll test him in the morning, I will that."
"Do, of course, why wouldn't you?"
"I will. I was just telling Jack here that I'm taking you out on the job with me
"Jesus, out on a job tomorrow!"
"Yes, think you'll be all right?"
"All right? Jesus that's powerful, powerful. Jesus amn't I the lucky man. Jesus,
sure I never thought England's be as easy as this."
Jack and John smiled slowly and prudently, for they suspected Michael's optimism
would not be long lasting. They nodded meaningfully to each other indicating
that they were anxious to let the lad have a good fling, because they suspected
that the harsh reality of life in a country torn asunder by an economic slump
which deepened and widened class divisions, sharpened class antagonisms and
extended class hatred to its extreme racism would soon shatter his first
impressions and premature illusions.
Despite all Jack's coaxings, Michael steadfastly refused to have more than one
glass of beer, so Jack eventually ordered just two pints and during the
remainder of the night, he and John drank steadily. Even when the barman shouted
'time', Michael had a half pint that he couldn't drink. He placed this on the
bar and the barman instantly whipped it off, together with other glasses. The
three men then walked leisurely into the street and stood on the pavement
outside the pub talking earnestly but quietly.
John thanked his colleague. Jack, over and over again for all he had done that
evening and night and vowed that he would return the compliment in full one day.
Then, after exchanging no end of 'so longs' and 'goodbyes', they went their
separate ways home John and Michael on foot to John's digs, which weren't far
away, and Jack by bus to the area in which he lived.
Michael had a terrible habit of talking very loudly, and despite his brother's
pleas to keep his voice down, absentmindedly he often lapsed into his old habit,
and then his guttural enunciations bounced like sponge balls off the walls of
the terraced houses that lined the streets of that area of Hammersmith.
On these occasions, John clapped his hands over his ears and ducked his head,
not that his brother's brogue was unbearable to him, but because an Irish accent
was not appreciated around those parts at that time, and John hoped that by
blocking and ducking he would avoid all consequences, as a little boy believes
that when he shuts his eyes, he can't be seen.
Outside John's lodgings they stopped and John fumbled in his pocket for a key,
while Michael began to whistle a jig.
"Shurrup!" roared his brother as thickly and sibilantly as he could.
"For Christ's sake, stop whistling those stupid old tunes here on the street."
"Jesus, sure that's not an old tune, sure that's a new one."
"Well give over. See, you're not driving the ass down to the bog now, you know."
"Jesus, you have an awful memory. Sure I told you our bog was up ..."
"Right, up . ..! Jesus, it's awful," and John fumbled so hectically in his
pocket that he ripped the linings.
"See, the best thing to do when you're here," John advised, "is do the same as
everyone else. Don't act like as if you were over there. Know what I mean?"
"Oh, yea, yea, sound, sound!"
"Yes." He opened the door gently and whispered to his brother. "You stay here
while I make it right with the landlady. Right?"
"Stay here? Can't I come in with you?"
"No, you wait here. I'll make it right with her and then I'll come out for you.
"Yea, right, right. Don't be long, will you?"
"No, I won't be long, wait here."
Without hesitation, the landlady accepted John's brother as a lodger on
condition that they shared the same bed, to which John immediately agreed. He
came out and beckoned Michael.
"Right, come in. Don't make any noise whatever you do. If you as much as sneeze,
she'll be on to you like a ... She's a bit of an old bitch, you know."
"Jesus, is she that bad?"
"Shush! Come on."
They crept upstairs, John first.
"No supper?" Michael asked.
"Shush! No, no supper."
"Jesus, sure a man'd starve without a supper."
"Shush, give over! No supper here. You have your dinner in the evening and
"Jesus! Now, I bet if she was Irish, we'd have a supper. Maybe she'd make one,
"Isn't the old bitch Irish. Sure some of them are the world's worst."
"They are?" Michael exclaimed as he groped in the dark in an attempt to follow
his brother. "Jesus, you wouldn't think they would."
John sniggered cynically. "Ah, you've a lot to learn, yet about Irish and that."
"No, and don't talk so loud."
Michael remained quiet after that. He pulled off his clothes, groped for the bed
and dragged himself into it. Scarcely had his head touched the pillow when he
was fast asleep. He didn't hear his brother come to bed.
Michael (Mick) Weaver (Bolton)
Ode to a Politician
Or Are Extramarital Relationships Dangerous for the Older
We have to meet in secret, it's always been the same
For not a breath of scandal must ever touch your name
You tell me that you love me but that's not true I fear
Your one love is advancement in your political career
You must preserve your image, the world must never see
You out in public places with a nobody like me.
You're always making headlines, your name's a household word
So you must be above reproach which makes it sound absurd
That tomorrow I will share your fame
Of that there is no doubt
For tonight whilst in our act of love
Your heart has given out!
Me breddas dem ah dread,
While I an I stay crazy ball-head.
Dem likes fe shuffle dem feet,
An move to de reggae beat.
While I an I stay cool.
All I man check wid is school.
Me beddas dem ah laaf,
An ah say I man musy daft.
But I an I know de rule,
Me affe stay in school.
An when time comes fe leave,
Me breddas look pan me wid disbelief.
I come out dere wid three A's an five O's,
Ya know, I man really 'ave something to show.
But I an I can't get a job.
Dem tell me,
"It's not the colour of your skin,
It's just the situation that this country is in."
Now I an I turn dread
No more crazy ball-head.
Now I an I shuffle I feet.
At least now
I get something to eat.
(Commonplace Workshop, London)
I was thinking of my father
As I stood aside the lock
And looked far away out to sea
To the lighthouse and the rock
My eyes they met the rolling waves
And focused white frothed foam
I heard echoes from
the off shore breeze
Pray bring my father home
He'd sailed about a week ago
Wi' his trawler, A wont say the name
To bring the silver harvest
To this Port of fishing fame
Its a rough life, he'd tell me
I took his words as bond
The rising storms and turbulent seas
With fishing grounds beyond
I was thinking of my father
Fish and what it cost
When I got the message
All hands lost
Yes I was thinking of my father
Fish and what it cost
Agitpoem No 32
Shoot-out on Little Earth
The president was the meanest sonofabitch
that ever hit the trail
and the president toted a warhead or two
and he reckoned they couldn't fail
he reckoned they couldn't fail.
Now, the president clinked to one end of the world,
he aimed to maintain the law.
He was the sheriff of the capitalist west
and he was quick on the draw
he was quick on the draw.
Then, Commie the Kid came out the saloon
at the other end of the street.
His missiles was loose in his holster.
It was noon, in the dust and heat
it was noon, in the dust and heat.
The president had sworn he'd make first strike
and he guessed he knew its worth,
so he told the Kid to reach for the clouds
at the shoot-out on Little Earth
at the shoot-out on Little Earth.
Then, the president thought he wouldn't trust
the Kid (he was trigger-happy as well)
so half of Asia bit the dust
when he launched his bit of hell
when he launched his bit of hell.
I can tell you the Kid wasn't slow to reply.
His nuclear subs was triggered
and the whole of Europe went up in flames.
It was more or less what he'd figgered
it was, more or less, what he'd figgered.
Next, the president loosed his projectiles,
each from an underground launching site.
When they hit their pre-planned targets
you couldn't tell day from night
you couldn't tell day from night.
It was empty saddles in the old corral
way down to the middle east
and the fall-out lay thick on Africa
and the fire-storms never ceased
the fire-storms never ceased.
But before radiation reached his bones
the Kid had some time on his side
and his pre-aimed rockets found their marks
and the North Americans died
the North Americans died.
The Pacific Ocean seethed that day.
South America waited for death.
Humanity was headed for the last round-up
that there'd be on Little Earth
the last on Little Earth.
(For My Grandfather)
The bent nails that you straightened
were stored in hand-made boxes
of beaten aluminium,
cold to touch. A useful smell
rose out of dark, dank corners,
where feelings could congregate.
Maggie scraped the potatoes
as you struck the bright metal
into heels and soles, nursing
each nail between careful lips.
A handy world, where objects
would find their missing partners
and become whole: "It'll come in
handy". And it always did.
I have the last you used, with
the words 'Blakey's-Registered'
in cast-iron on the side.
A rough, uneven surface,
and rusted where boots would rest,
it feels strange and alien
as I balance its cold weight
here, inside this unskilled hand.
(Jarrow, Tyne and Wear)
Granny lived in one room
in a grimy back-to-back
with a bed, table and comfy chair.
Gas light poked it eerie finger
into every rancid corner,
and two ugly brown clogs,
which had gone to pot
guarded the Yorkshire range.
She had a garden
with rows of broken flags,
a full-grown outside lavatory,
and a flourishing midden top,
upon which tatty cats perched
and sang for boots and
a little water.
When she was old
and could not walk
she did not want to leave
her nightmare paradise
and live with us
in our sunny spacious house
with slippery bathroom,
and electric this and that.
But she did
and died after seven belligerent years.
R. J. Pickles
Once a week, when I was nine,
I went to an isolated hut
on the outskirts of a woollen town.
I dressed in green and became important,
because my uniform changed me
from snivelling education fodder into Superman.
The wind whistled through the walls
as we wrapped ropes round each other
and tied incomprehensible knots.
Sometimes we went outside to play,
each with his green and gold cap
firmly clamped on his boyish head.
The clouds raced by
and boys chased them
like demented mountain goats,
and shouted in terrified glee.
I was frightened by the bleak moors
and the deep brown quarry nearby.
I wanted to float away on the wind.
Suddenly our leader would call us
and make us crouch in a circle
and cry like moorland birds into the biting air,
'Dib, dib, dib,' and other incantations
and that was my only experience of witches.
R. J. Pickles
Sing little bird in your cage
You and I are so alike,
Bounded by four walls
Longing to be free
But even if the door was opened
Could either of us flee?
Iris Warburton (Liverpool 8 Writer's Workshop)
A Housepainter Remembers
His Swinging London
The outlook seemed a lot brighter for the young housepainter as he read
the letter he had just received from his native Glasgow. He was like many before
him, trying to 'make it' as it's called, in London. He had arrived in the Big
Smoke a few months before, and his confidence and youthful optimism was by now a
bit tattered and shop-soiled. London was just too big for him and he knew it.
The papers were full of the Swinging London thing. Lord Do-Nothing was opening a
disco somewhere and Lady Do-Nothing was modelling short skirts for some
jumped-up Cockney with a camera. It was all 'happening' the newspaper said. If
it was, it wasn't happening to him, so he had written to his mates suggesting
that they join him. The old strength in numbers story. He painted a rosy picture
and as his mates read the same papers, they couldn't get south quick enough to
get their share and so they had written confirming that they would be arriving
He looked again and again at the scribble across the sheet of paper to make
doubly sure that his eyes weren't tricking him. It was true alright his mates
were coming to join him. He couldn't relax for a second. He was too busy
day-dreaming about what it would be like with his fellow Glaswegians. He
wouldn't be so provincial now. One of the gang had been away from home hundreds
of times before, a bit of a tearaway. He was a gifted patter merchant and could
get all kinds of birds with his persuasive tongue, it was said. He put the
letter carefully on the bedside table to be re-read later, in case he had missed
something the previous twenty times. "Look out London!" he nearly said out loud,
as he switched off the light.
In the morning he went as always to the nearby cafe and got his usual slice of
toast and mug of tea. It was by no means part of the swinging London scene, and
wasn't the cleanest place in the world either, but he felt he could hide away in
the drabness of the place. He could relax here among the rest of the customers
who in the main, were like him, in rooming houses and kept themselves very much
to themselves. He soon discovered the reason for the large sale of newspapers in
the Capital. It wasn't primarily for reading, but for something to be propped up
in front of the silent eaters to tell others to keep their distance. He always
sat at the same table - the one furthest away from the glare of the neon strip,
above the serving counter and ate in silence, pretending to read the
advertisements surrounding him. He read them every day and knew them word
perfect. "Things go better with ..."
He was interrupted by the girl who worked there speaking to him. He waved her to
take the seat facing him, guessing correctly that was what she had said to him.
He was thrown out of his stride and had difficulty in communicating at first.
But the girl had long since lost count of the customers she had seen in her time
just like him. She knew his story by heart. Another northerner seduced by the
myths of the media. He looked at her pale smiling face that hadn't seen too much
sunshine and at the dark greenish, black rings under her eyes where the brutal
neon strip cast its shadows. Her most outstanding feature was her superb Roman
nose hooked, yes but not entirely ugly. She was friendly and indicated by a
sign that she wasn't hungry and promptly put her slices of toast in front of
He mumbled his thanks and proceeded to dispose of them quickly. He was painting
on the nearby building site and had a formidable appetite. She repeated the
gesture every morning and he began to feel more optimistic. She fancied him
that was clear but he wasn't in a position to show his feelings. Not yet
anyway. Maybe when the rest of the boys got here and some of their confidence
rubbed off on him, he'd be in better form. But not now. So he never let his
feelings be known to the girl. He thought of her giving him the toast and how it
would impress his mates. Aye, even Billy, who had been around himself.
More and more he thought of her during the days he painted and he was amazed to
find her large nose was getting smaller daily. He was no stranger to the saying
that love is blind, but having never been in that condition, and not knowing if
he was in it now, he didn't want to think too hard about his position. But one
thing was certain he liked her more than he'd admit to anyone.
Only a few days more and the rest of the team would be here. He was looking
forward to taking them into the cafe and having them witness the performance
with the tea and toast. That would show them. If he could make contact with a
real Londoner, and a girl at that, all by himself, what could they accomplish
together? Another thing played on his mind. He hoped that they would find her
attractive without the toast being considered in the valuation.
At last they were here. All night they spoke of Glasgow and what a dump it was,
as if to convince themselves that there was no going back. They asked him a
thousand and one questions and he loved the role he was cast in. The queries
about work he answered easily enough. The ones about the Kings Road and Carnaby
Street, he replied as he did with others about where the 'scene' was. When they
asked the inevitable about the birds, he could truthfully say that he had got
himself fixed up, and he enjoyed the thought. In the morning, when they were all
hungry and he was asked did he know of anywhere to eat, he couldn't hide his
excitement. He was secretly delighted, as he proudly led the way into his second
home and was looking forward to ordering and showing how well he got on with the
waitress. Billy especially would be impressed by this, being a great one for
chatting up girls in bars and cafes, and showing off his wit.
The girl approached the table with her order note-book in hand. Billy was up in
an instant. Out to make a show.
" 'Ello, alright," he said, in the Glaswegian's imitation cockney. "Bring up
five cups of tea and a load of toast luv."
She smiled at the group and the young housepainter was bursting with pride that
Billy was flirting with his girl-friend. He would have liked to have broken the
news to them then, but he thought it would be better when they finished their
tea. The waitress was still smiling, maybe waiting for the painter to mention
their relationship, when Billy said it. In a hard Glasgow delivery, he said:
"Where are yer wings dear?"
"Why, do you think I'm an angel?"
"Naw, I do nut!" he retorted. "Ah just couldnae see them giein' ye a BEAK like
that, and no' giein' ye the wings tae go wi' it!"
The girl was mortified and near to tears. The boys roared in approval. This was
Billy at his best. Nothing could stop them now. London would be theirs. Only one
of the group didn't join in the laughter he felt sick inside. It was so
obscenely cruel. The Scots boys all swaggered out of the cafe with their new
found confidence. If they all stuck together and had wisecracks like this, they
could be unbeatable.
None of them looked back at the girl in the cafe doorway, but one wished he
could find the courage to do so. To his shame, he didn't, and he followed the
rest along the road with his heart heavy as lead.
If this was the only way to 'make it', then he couldn't care less.
Bob Starrett (Glasgow, Scotland)
Epitaph for Two Angels
No hogs left on Market Square.
No smokechoked backrooms
in main street pubs.
Built like a brick shithouse.
A grinning deaths-head worn
garish on his door-bread
back, with a flaring
black beard bristling brillo pad
defiance at those who feared
Miners blue tattoos screaming
swastikas and hate from his
bared on purpose
Wrestling a train and laughing
as it carried him the first
hundred yards on his own,
long awaited, ultimate
His days of running ending in
the pain of brain burning
The juke box of memory still echoes
to Dylan's truth and Rolling
nights are long
memories a thousand miles in the past.
As dead now as
The whip-thin weapon with nine lives.
Each gambled gleefully on Lifes
Dangerous Corners. Cashing in
his last under the wheels of
a Welsh bound Artic.
Signing out his life in blood and bone
on the tarmaced river of the Menai
His Beachboy dreams of T'Birds
drifting smoky from his dying brain.
Living out his grinning life
in the shadowed wings of a
lost Youth Rebellion.
Now the wine bottle stands empty.
The chapter scattered.
Dylan's truth echo's
in wiser heads.
No hogs left on Market Square.
On the building site at mid day.
We sat round a packing case
And played cards while the tea brewed.
Paddy and Tiny White and Neverfuck and me.
We laid down the cards, one by one,
Each card a day's life.
And tight in our hands we held the rest of our days.
Red days and black days were scattered on the box.
Put down softly or carelessly or with a bang:
And Paddy is crushed between a truck and a wall,
And Tiny White is unemployed and bitter.
And Neverfuck a sour wizened old husk.
And I have smooth hands and a soft job,
For so the cards were dealt and so they fell.
Perhaps with luck it could have been quite different:
Paddy happily drunk in a pub in Sligo,
Tiny in a suit taking home real money,
Neverfuck happy in some peculiar way,
And for myself no need to feel a traitor.
That is how I would have dealt the cards
If I had known and if it had been my deal.
But these are the cards, smeared with thumb marks,
Torn corners, hard used every day.
Like Paddy, Tiny, Neverfuck and me.
And this is the game, and this is the building site,
And these are the dirty times we live in,
And if we are going to change our luck and win
This is where we must start.
Hidden behind the hoardings
From genteel shoppers' eyes
But open to the council houses;
The filthy bomb site lies
Over this acre of jumbled rubble
The tatty-headed thistles rise.
On the rusty wire, the chaffinch
Surveys his private paradise.
Soaring serenely over slums and villas
The Kestrel carefully scanned the ground,
Till he reached the trees by the reservoir
Where magpies rose like a mist to meet him.
Like mad things they mobbed the murderer.
Climbing and diving, like spits on a Heinkel
Their caws and claws weaving a deadly quadrille
At which the wind walker wavered
Plummeting down like lead.
Flying fast and low over the water
The luckless hunter fled the slaughter
Gulls now ringing his head.
You work all day
And evening too
To keep them fed and clothed.
Mummy, daddy, I want this,
I want that one too.
You shorten the rent to provide
But they don't care to thank you.
They are sixteen now
And you need help.
But will they help you?
No, they are leaving home this Easter.
Sylvia St. Luce
Long Black Overcoat
It had been a week since Billy had first spotted the long black overcoat;
lording it in the junk shop window, strung up above the heaps of yellowing
books, piles of broken records and a multitude of assorted rags and junk. The
tail end of a freezing December blustered about the emptying streets. People
scurried to and fro swaddled in scarves and collars, their noses pressed to the
ground like so many tracker dogs hunting out the warmth of pub or home.
Billy, having no collar in which to swaddle his nose, was tormented by the sight
of the coat as he passed each day to and from work, with only a short woollen
zipper to protect him from the sharp lick of the wind, and barely the price of
his fares and food to cheer his pockets.
And now, blustery and bitter with its streamers, balloons and holly, its forced
cheeriness, and the sharp tang of drink coming in quick successive blasts from
the swing doors of crowded pubs, Christmas had at last arrived. Billy hesitated,
dominated by the coat strung up on the other side of the glass. He was two weeks
wages: ninety pound the richer; yet still he was reluctant to push inside.
Eventually torn between what he guiltily felt was extravagance and his own good
sense, he entered the shop.
A wall of suffocating heat was thrown up by a battery of oil heaters scattered
around the shop, yet Billy still shivered against the wind rattling at the door.
He stood for a while, peering through the gloom as if allowing his eyes a browse
among the heaps of assorted junk; a huge mountain of stuff tipped and scattered
all about the place.
Embarrassed at being in such a shop in the first place and feeling about as
vulnerable as a pauper in paradise, Billy shuffled towards the owner; a man who
bore a striking resemblance to a ferret, beavering away among his pile of rags.
"How much for the coat," Billy asked, pointing.
The junk man had sized him up at a glance when he had first entered the shop.
Poor? Yes of course! Summer clothed in December marked him as that. But
destitute? No, far from it. He would have money, not much, but enough. The junk
man ran his long thin fingers lightly along the sleeves of the coat, up and
down, as he spoke:
"Its a good bit of gear, son! Used to top a collar and tie this is, belonged to
an office waller, didn't it! But then you can see that for yourself, can't you
He paused looking slyly up at Billy, now more than ever like a ferret;
"More money than sense getting rid of a good bit of gear like this, and he
didn't give it away either, son."
Billy ran a glance over the coat. At close quarters it looked worn and
threadbare, more used to flaunting the by-ways of Euston that the ordered
elegance of the City. Yet the longer and closer that Billy inspected the shabby
garment, the more committed he felt to actually buying it. Not that he didn't
need it, shabby or not.
"How much?" Billy repeated.
By now as the result of a few deft manoeuvres on the part of the junk man, Billy
had the coat draped across his arm as if he owned it already. However the junk
man wasn't ready yet to commit himself to a price.
"You know what son? If this shop was better situated, I could ask fifteen maybe
even twenty nicker for a coat like this."
He watched Billy carefully as he spoke and noticed a slight drop in his
expression. He moved in quick, almost in panic:
"But here, right here and now, well I'd say, em, give me a tenner. Yes son, a
tenner would be fair, very fair indeed, son."
Billy swapped the coat from one arm to the other. The junk man thinking that
Billy was refusing the coat, pounced:
"Its worth twice that;" he insisted, forcing the coat back onto Billy
challenging him to deny its worth. Billy muttered something to himself offering
the coat back. Not actually refusing it but merely passing it back in confusion.
The junk man raised his hands effectively blocking the coat;
"I know I could get more. Of course I could. But still, ten I said, so ten I'll
take. I did say ten, didn't I."
Billy nodded approval.
"Well, if I say ten, then ten it is; I'm nothing but a man of my word, son."
By now Billy was beginning to panic. He felt both confused and committed to
buying the coat. Suddenly he realised a hundred and one things of more pressing
need to himself and his family than the luxury of a rotten coat he could ill
afford. Yet he already had the coat. He was practically wearing the damn thing.
He felt in his pocket for his money, conscious of the junk man's yellowing
ferret eyes watching his every move and expression.
"Perhaps you would take something in part exchange," Billy asked, as he
desperately rummaged around in his mind for what saleable item he possessed,
small enough to be sneaked away from the house.
"Perhaps a radio or something" he asked.
The junk man hovered in despair. He arced his arms to take in formidable mounds
"Look at it," he accused; "Junk, junk, junk. Everywhere I look piles of bloody
junk. This place is locked solid with it. Its the same every Christmas;
everyone from miles around treks here to flog me their rubbish. Do you think I
need it?" He demanded; "Like a black eye I do. But I buy it. Like a fool every
year I buy junk nobody wants so as perhaps the people can put a chicken on their
tables. But what about me," he wailed: "I've got to eat as well. No, no, no," he
protested: "No more junk. Enough is enough. The price is ten. Take it or leave
Then suddenly as quickly as his ranting had started, so his mood now mellowed.
"Okay, so you're cold. Its Christmas and I'm a fool; give me eight quid and take
the damn thing."
He threw down the coat with contempt and melted away to the rear of the shop,
from where he eyed Billy intently while resuming his rag picking.
Eight was the price, nothing lower, no offers. If the punter didn't pay, no
matter, he would hold it till January, hope it snows and maybe have a sale and
flog it for twelve. However, he had played his game well. Billy was both
desperate to escape the confines of the musty shop and obliged to buy the coat.
Besides, outside the shop the weather beat fierce and cold bitter. Billy took
the coat and reluctantly paid the price. The junk man peeled off his change,
somewhat surprised at the twenty pound note.
"Maybe you want a scarf or cap to go with it. Cheap, cheap as charity."
Billy backed away!
"No, no scarf, no hat."
Trudging home, Billy trod heavily under the weight of his long black overcoat.
He felt almost guilty being so warm and cosy at last, whilst others he passed,
hurrying beneath the first fall of snow so obviously cold.
Dave Barnes (Hackney Writers'Workshop).
Remembering VIVIAN USHERWOOD
The first Centerprise publication of work by a local writer happened in 1972.
The writer was a young West Indian boy, aged 12 then, and the book was a
collection of his poems.
It is sad to report that Vivian died in a house fire on Boxing Day in Stoke
Newington and was buried on the 9th of January at Manor Park Cemetery. He was
only twenty-one when he died.
The publication of Vivian's poems was significant for a number of reasons. It
showed for example, that the work of a young writer was just as worthy of
publication as that of the professionals; that much of what school children
write has a greater potential audience than simply the readership of one or two
teachers. For there is no doubt that Vivian's poems, because they were so good,
quickly achieved enormous success. They sold in their hundreds during the first
few months of publication and they have continued selling to this day, more than
ten-thousand copies in all. This ironically made Vivian one of the best selling
poets in Britain during the 1970's ... not that the national media ever noticed
It also encouraged Centerprise to think seriously about becoming itself a
publisher of local people's writing, something for which it is very well known.
Vivian's little book started that part of Centerprise's activities. His poems
were widely used in schools and inspired many other people to write themselves.
Vivian's poems remain to remind us of the very bright and inventive young person
he was, as the following two from his book illustrate.. .
The Sun Glitters as
You Look Up
The sun glitters, is shining bright!
The sky is blue!
The clouds are no longer there:
It glitters as I look up!
Bright, it is as bright as my sister's face:
The sun looks like a face without a body,
Just round, with a nose and two eyes.
If only that beautiful face would come down
It will be mine,
And I shall shine with it.
As dim as I am now I will be brighter,
Even brighter than the sun itself.
So it shall be.
And I shall be as dim as ever.
For it shall stay there for many years to come.
Rich Men & Poor Men
The rich man lives in his house
With thousands of houses he goes to.
The poor man stands at his gate
Begging for money!
The rich man passes the old man
without giving a penny
And he has diamonds and money
in his pocket.
A young lady passes and gives what she had;
which was one pound and that is how much
she had for the rest of the week
That is the world we live in:
What a mean and miserable world.
Vivian's poems are still in print and can be bought in most
radical bookshops or from Centerprise directly or by sending 30
pence plus 25 pence postage.
Remembering MARY CASEY
Mary Casey was a writer and a poet. For most of her life she wrote
secretly, her work was known only to her family. Like most working class writers
Mary had no idea that her work had value. She hoped that what she felt and
thought and wrote was worthwhile, but she had no way of knowing this until she
came to the worker-writer movement. It was with the support of her fellow
worker-writers that Mary's confidence blossomed and this gave her the confidence
to submit her poems to magazines such as Voices.
Mary would be the first to agree that she was no great literary stylist. Her
poems were not always grammatically correct and her lines did not always scan.
But the message that she conveyed with her writing was clear, direct and
powerful. Mary was a compassionate woman and this quality and her care for her
fellow man glowed through her work.
Mary came to the worker-writer movement in middle age. The release of her
pent-up creativity was a great liberating force in her life. Unfortunately her
health, never very robust, declined and she died in December 1980. Her death has
made a gap in the worker-writer movement which will not be filled. Her tragedy
is that the realization of her poems came so late and were for so long
(Scotland Road Writers Workshop
A skein of geese flew over the city,
I watched them etch a path o'er the blue,
Craning their necks in arrow formation,
Cresting the currents, forward they flew.
Hooting great hoots of wild ragged marshlands.
Daring my soul to join in the chase.
Filling my heart with an aching nostalgia.
To be up there with them, in that vast open space.
Up in the heavens the wide spread yonder.
Beating my wings without worry or care,
Leaving behind the dullness of labour,
Feeling the clouds brushing my hair.
Fly, fly away you grey feathered dusters,
And take me with you through the cool azure sky,
Lend me your wings, the wings of your freedom.
Grey heralds of winter, teach me to fly.
(Scotland Road Writers Workshop)
DON'T COME LOOKING HERE
Women and Words
The title of this anthology by the Birmingham Women and Words group warns us
that what we get from their writing we take on their terms. And what we've got
is a breadth of material, reflecting the group's own range across age, class and
race. Not only that, of course; there are eleven writers, at different stages in
their work and with different approaches to the subjects that concern them.
There are some contemplative, carefully observed poems, and there is also a
great deal of work which is mischievous and wry. Several women have also written
down direct experiences from their own lives growing up in Ireland, memories
of parents, queuing at the DHSS.
It's exciting to read work from a group which is obviously so keen to explore
its way forward; I get the feeling that many of the writers are testing their
skills through this first work, and that this is only the beginning for them. I
hope that as more work like this is read we can destroy the myth that there is
something called women's writing which is rather precious and closed in on
itself. On the other hand, I do think that this book is representative of
something special in women's writing groups a throwing away of apologies and
inhibitions, a sense of coming together after years of isolation, a feeling that
we are uncovering experience. The excellent introduction tells us that "Women
and Words is founded on two principles; the right to write about everyday
experience in the language of everyday life, and the right to write for
ourselves." Most worker writers will be aware of the conflicts between those two
principles, but somewhere there must be an overlap between them. Women writers,
who can't help but be aware of the connections between politics and personal
life, fact and fantasy, outer and inner selves, are trying to close the gap.
Both women and men will have something to think about after reading this book.
Ailsa Cox (Commonword, Manchester)
SLICES OF LIFE.
Tottenham Writers' Workshop. 50 pages. 75p (plus 20p by post from Drayton
Community Association, Drayton School, Gladesmore Road, London N15.)
This is the first major publication by the Tottenham group, who are in the
process of joining the Federation of Worker Writers. An unusually mature
first-time effort, with some excellent short stories, most of its contributors
are women. The feminist influence is strong, without monopolising the book, and
some of the stories carry a moral for all political animals. I particularly
liked Anne Gebbett's story about the activist who is too busy to visit her sick
mother. A deep concern about real people and what makes them tick is the common
quality to be found in stories by Laureen Mickey ("Shahida" about an Asian
schoolgirl is very good; as is "Solid Reliable George", the father who thinks
kids need a tough approach, but who can't relate to his own daughter), Mary
Bailey ("Rose", an old lady who still values her independence, and "Crisis",
which turns a sympathetic eye on a petty bureaucrat) and Janice Day ("Mr P" and
"The Animal Lover"). Laureen Mickey's "Thank Gawd For The National Health" takes
a vigorous swipe at the NHS and its treatment of women, but does not quite solve
the problem of how to write about something irritating without writing an
irritating story. Would it still be realistic if the doctor got his comeuppance?
Perhaps there is a fault in reality, do not adjust your story?
The book will probably add fuel to the debate within the Federation as to the
compatibility of working-class, feminist and socialist currents within our work.
Nothing in this book reads much like working-class writing to me. On the other
hand, the example of writing by working-class men does not seem to have drawn
out much of the experience of working-class women. If the writing of other
women, whatever their social and cultural differences, comes closer to that
experience than we men do, then they may well succeed where we have largely
AMERICAN WORKER WRITER REVIEW
(various pamphlets and booklets received by Voices)
QUINDARO No. 6-7 1980 Similar in style and content to Voices five years ago this
has a variety of styles and levels which is refreshing and similar to our own
stuff. WORTHWHILE. Address: QUINDARO, P.O. Box 5224, Kansas City, Kansas 66119.
Send an enquiry first re price, paper-weight and postage.
STEEL DESTINY Poems by Fred Whitehead WESTEND PRESS 1979 $1-50. This is by the
author of Quindaro magazine (above). He is a university graduate from a working
class family, eventually worked as a welder. Poems are very working class
conscious, politically and are of a high standard. He has obviously put the
benefit of his education back into the working class. Available thro' WEST END
PRESS BOX 697 Cambridge MA 02139.
THE DODO BIRD a play by Emanuel Fried. Labor Arts Books $1-50. This feller's an
ex-union official and now a creative writing teacher. The play is set in the bar
opposite a steel works where 3 workers swear and recuperate between shifts and
home. If you like Voices and industrial shop-floor stuff you'll go crazy over
this easy-to-read short off-beat drama. Language a bit "choice". Available thro'
Labor Arts Books, 1064 Amherst Street, Buffalo NY 14216. (Labor Arts also have a
mailing list (worth getting). They also run workshop activities, as a matter of
WOMEN ON.THE BREADLINES & SONG FOR MY TIME $1 & $2-50 respectively. By Meridel
Le Sueur. WEST END PRESS address above. She's a short story writer of the 1930's
who has written for Communist reviews; was blacklisted in the 1940's and
rediscovered by feminists in the 1970's. She is now in her 70's. The work is
immensely rich. The first book is taped stories of how women survived, found
politics, or went under during the depression. There are written in a strong
class-concious style and are not depressive. The second book - SONG FOR MY TIME
is 1940's creative writing, seven stories. In one story ERODED WOMEN a
politicised young woman visits a village mining community in the hills. It is
torn with strife and ruined by a corrupt union. She meets an old woman who lost
her husband to the pit and her grown-up son has been beaten up by a rival union.
Both books definitely recommended.
SPEAKING IN SIGN Poems by Teresa Anderson $1-50 WEST END PRESS 1979. A young
conscious feminist , some of this transpires in her poems. A free readable
style. She explores human emotions, the way people, the seasons, the landscape
are. She is refreshingly descriptive.
DREAM OF THE HIGHWAY - KANSAS & MISSOURI POETS $1-50 WEST END PRESS 1979. Poems
of stock-yards, boxcars and frame-houses; they are of a high quality, in
clear-cut style. However the bland realism and imagery seems to restrain the
possibilities and capabilities of these poems. Similar to Alien Ginsberg and
WEST END MIDWEST PEOPLE'S CULTURE ANTHOLOGY ISSUE 1978 VOL 5 No. 1 $1. If
writing to WEST END ask if you can still get hold of this one. Its a worthwhile
pamphlet of poetry, an interview with Meridel Le Sueur, and literary notes on
FACTORY POEMS JIM DANIELS 1979 enquiries to Jack In The Box Press, Alma College,
Alma, Michigan. A small run-off of a pamphlet of ten "car workers" poems.
Convincing and worthwhile but he only got his shop-floor experience working his
end of terms. So though he enters the spirit of things I'm tempted to say this
is not the real McCoy.
MIDWEST ALLIANCE VOLUME 1 No. 1 $2-50 1978 Arari two' Midwest Alliance 1145
Jackson, Wichita, Kansas 67203. Contains lectures at People's Culture by Meridel
Le Sueur, Emanuel Fried and Jack Conroy and a fine selection of poems by amongst
others, Fred Whitehead and Mark Pawlak.
THE BUFFALO SEQUENCE - Mark Pawlak $3-50 1977 Avail through. Copper Canyon
Press. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA. 98368. In the level of Alien Ginsberg. A
college poet who studies yoga. OK but I wouldn't say they were our scene. They
are not transcendental etc but not worker-writer either.
EARLY WARNING - JARED CARTER - The Barnwood Press, Co-operative, Dalesville,
Indiana (No price given). 9 Poems. Sufficiently good to have been printed in
other magazines first. Quite pleasant poems of the countryside. In one poem
there's a pitched battle between Catholic baseball lads and the Klu Klux Clan.
In another a tornado liberates a mill of battery chickens.
To conclude, from the material I've read here I'd say that the American
worker-writers are less trade-union, and local work-shop based and more
post-graduate based. I realise this may not be a diplomatic notation on account
of the British Federation's up and coming tour of the U.S.A., nonetheless I feel
this criticism to be true. There is not the variety of styles and backgrounds;
nor the working class roots evident as much as in say Voices or Commonword.
However the message is still strongly working class and socialist even if
EVERYBODY is not contributing. But also worth noting there was no work by black
writers in this otherwise fine collection of material.