cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
25 is traditionally a number that gives
rise to much back-slapping and nostalgia, and even if it seems unlikely that Her
Majesty will grant us all an extra day's paid holiday in commemoration of VOICES
25, why should that deter us from looking briefly at the ground we have covered
since our first issue and paying tribute to at least one of the people who
helped us arrive at our silver jubilee.
In Ben Ainley's first introduction back in 1972, he explains how the magazine
arose from an 'English class' he conducted 'to discuss literature on the basis
of a Marxist analysis and to encourage free and original expression by members
of the class,' He commends the magazine to the 'Labour and Trade Union
movement', and goes on to say a word or two about the choice of 'Voices' as our
title: 'We felt that we had not yet achieved a single purpose; our writing was
not yet a manifesto or a call to action, but a series of individual utterances.
Later perhaps a more unified and challenging character may emerge.'
The type of 'class' conducted by Ben has been to a large extent superseded by
the many writers' workshops that have developed over the past decade or so. The
fact that most of these groups have rejected the idea of a class and a teacher
in favour of a more democratic and collective approach is one mark of the growth
in self confidence of the worker writer movement. (The formation of the
Federation of Worker Writers & Community Publishers, now the magazine's
'proprietor' is another.).
And rather than the production of a manifesto or a unified call to action, we
have seen in the pages of VOICES an increase in the diversity of subject and
style of writing. In VOICES 25, we regard the inclusion, for instance, of the
second part of Mick Weaver's Michael's Story, dealing with the experiences of a
young Irish immigrant and based on Mick's own life, alongside Ante Natal People
by Vivien Leslie, dealing with an experience common to many women today as a
strength. Both pieces challenge us because they speak to us in highly individual
voices. What we have seen over the past decade is a shift from the idea that a
poem or a story should simply serve a political idea, to the idea that through
our writing we can explore the whole range of working class experience in our
society. In other words, the greater the variety of subject, regional accent and
humour, the nearer we get to understanding our world.
Of course, this change has taken place in a wider context. Whereas even ten
years ago the political arena was occupied almost exclusively by parties and the
trade unions, today we also have the experience of a strong women's movement,
black and gay organisations; we have seen young people develop a strong and
independent culture which in the case of the ANL, for instance, has had a
political dimension; and we have seen a growth in left wing and working class
cultural organisations such as alternative theatre, bookshops and the worker
writer movement. All these groups have in some senses fed off each other as well
as presenting each other with challenges to traditional attitudes. Another
feature has been the apparent crossing of traditional class barriers in a number
of cases, for instance within the women's movement.
In a discussion article in this issue of VOICES, Jimmy McGovern raises some of
this as it affects the worker writer movement. The editorial group of VOICES
disagrees with many of Jimmy's conclusions. In particular he questions the
admission of WOMEN AND WORDS, an all-women's writing group, into FWWCP which
VOICES supported at the Federation AGM. As we see it, many women (and for that
matter blacks and gays) are likely to see themselves in terms other than
traditional class ones. For this reason, to exclude an all-women's group would
be to exclude many working class women from the worker-writer movement. This is
in addition to the argument that women, or black, or gay writers are subjected
to restrictions similar to working class writers. Nevertheless, we do believe
that the central points of Jimmy's article need discussing thoroughly by the
worker writer movement. The distinction which he makes between FWWCP as a
cultural organisation and other organisations which are primarily political is
an important one. And the relationship between a working class organisation
which the Federation largely is, although its constitution admits socialist
groups, and other groups of writers is something that still needs to be thrashed
out. It is significant that the group which agreed most strongly with the views
expressed in Jimmy's article is the NETHERLY AND DISTRICT WRITERS WORKSHOP which
contains many working class women.
It may be that after some of these issues have been discussed further by the
Federation as a whole, that we will want to look again at our constitution. Some
of us at VOICES feel that the condition of membership of having produced or be
in the process of producing a publication actually operates against those
solidly working class groups who without the advantage of an experienced
organiser (a WEA tutor for example) are struggling to get themselves off the
ground at a time when membership of a national federation would be of great
benefit to them. We may wish to consider two categories of membership, as some
other organisations have, with full membership for those groups who meet the
existing requirements, and associate membership for other groups with whom we
have a lot but not everything in common.
Unlike the Royal Family then, VOICES is not afraid of controversy during its
silver jubilee. We hold to the old maxim that debate strengthens rather than
weakens. We hope that you enjoy this issue of VOICES which, apart from the
pieces already mentioned also contains work by the TOTTENHAM WRITERS WORKSHOP
which is currently applying for membership of the Federation and by WOMEN AND
Donny leaned back against the wall in Bride Street, his hands in his trouser
pockets, his eyes closed, and began his favourite day dream. The noise and
squalor of the street began to fade away, even the voices of his friends grew
quieter, as his fantasy world of the great pop singer took over. He saw himself
coming through the stage door of the London Palladium to meet adoring fans, and
even Rose, his current steady, had to join the queue to talk to him.
Suddenly his dream exploded and he found himself face down on the pavement. He
shook his head and started to get up, but just as he got to his knees he felt an
almighty blow between his shoulder blades. He first thought that one of his
friends had hit him, but now he began to feel frightened and thought that the
"Eagles" had arrived on their territory. He moved his head so that he had a
better view and saw not the gay threads of the "Eagles" but lots of blue clad
legs and booted feet. He heard a loud voice saying, "Get up you little bastard"
and once more he got to his knees. Suddenly someone grabbed the back of his
collar and dragged him up. He found himself gazing into the eyes of a
police-man. He was pushed back to the wall and found he was lined up with
several of his mates. Jono said to him, out of the corner of his mouth, "Lean
back against the wall and keep your hands over your belly" He started to ask
what it was all about, but as he opened his mouth he was pushed hard in the
stomach. He felt sick, and started to protest about it but Manny hissed at him,
He sneaked a sidelong glance at who else was in the line-up and saw that all six
of the lads that he had started the night with were lined up against the wall.
He was now good and mad and the frustration of not being able to shout and
scream out his anger was making him sick. He was just about ready to have
another go at demanding to know what was happening when the "paddy-wagon" drew
up. The coppers were standing around the group of lads. Each grabbed hold of a
Donny was grabbed by the big fella who had been standing right in front of him.
Donny squirmed in the copper's grip, but he was grabbed round the neck and he
felt his air supply being cut off. He was wrestled to the back of the wagon, and
the doors were thrown open. The wagon already had two occupants, both drunk, and
one of them had vomited on the floor. The sight and smells of the wagon hit
Donny as heavily as the earlier punch, and he reared backwards, but the copper
had a very firm grip on him and a second copper came and got hold of him.
Between them they threw him on to the floor of the wagon into the mess that was
Donny was so mad by this time that he was ready to take on the whole police
force. He began to swear and curse, but before he could get his hand on the
copper Manny and Jono had been thrown in beside him. They each got hold of one
of his arms and held them so that he wouldn't hit the jeering face of the
copper. The door slammed shut. The tears of frustration and rage were pouring
down Donny's face and Manny said to him, "You've got to keep cool man. The pigs
just love an excuse to beat you up. Don't give them one."
Donny said, "What's it all about. One minute we're standing on the corner
rapping and the next taking a ride to the Bridewell?" Jono said "We're busted
Donny said, "We haven't any," but Manny replied, "We will by the time we're
charged." The drunk in the corner began to sing, "I'll take you home again
Kathleen," and the bobby driving the wagon shouted, "Keep fucking quiet in
Manny carefully explained to Donny what the form was, that the coppers would
search them at the police station and probably come up with some weed in a screw
of paper. It depended who was on duty whether or not there would be any other
charge, but they must all keep their cool no matter what was said or done to
them or they would be charged with assault on the police.
Donny listened carefully. Manny had been sent down twice before and knew what
went on but he had never seen the inside of the Bridewell. Jono wondered if they
would get bail, but Manny thought it unlikely. Only then did Donny remember his
old lady. She would murder him. The thumps he had taken from the bobby would
seem like love-taps by comparison.
They arrived at the Bridewell and the backdoors of the van were thrown open and
Manny, Jono and Donny started to get out. The coppers made a grab for each of
the boys, pinning their arms and dragging them through the doors. The Sergeant
behind the desk grinned and said "You've got a good bag there. What are you
charging them with?" The copper holding Manny said, "Unlawful possession of
drugs for this one Sarge." Jono's jailer said, "Same here", but the one holding
Donny said, "Obstruction and assault on the police".
The sergeant said, "They don't smell any too good, so hurry up and let's get
this over". Donny heard with growing amazement the story that the bobbies were
telling the sergeant and was just starting to protest when Manny kicked him, so
he shut up. The Sergeant asked them each for their names and addresses. Manny
gave his sister's address, but Jono made up name and address. Donny was too
frightened of the whole scene so gave his correct name and address.
The Sergeant asked if they had been searched and the copper who still had hold
of Jono said, "Just look at the state of them. I don't fancy doing a proper job
until they have cleaned themselves up, but we frisked them on the street and
here is the cannabis we found on them". Just as Manny had said two small screwed
up pieces of paper were placed before the Sergeant. Manny looked at Donny and
grinned, and Donny realised that he was standing with his mouth open.
The Sergeant sent them into a cell, and some woman armed with a bucket of water
and a cloth and another bobby followed them in. She pointed to Donny and the
bobby said, "Stand up son and the matron will sponge down your clothes". He did
as he was told, and he heard Manny start to giggle. The bobby told him to shut
up. The woman started to sponge down his trousers, but in doing so she put her
hands between his legs. He started to pull away from her but the bobby shouted
for him to stand still. Manny was holding himself and tittering away. Jono was
sitting poker-faced but Donny could tell he was laughing too. Donny had never
felt so dirty in his life. She finally told him to sit down and motioned to Jono.
He stood up with legs wide apart, grinning at her. Manny was by this time
helpless with laughter, and Donny was torn between wanting to belt him or belt
The bobby began to get real mad at Manny, "Shut up you dirty little bastard",
and then Manny got mad: he had a thing about being called dirty. He moved
towards the bobby who smacked him in the face and cut his lip. Finally they were
all cleaned up and the bobby told them they would be searched.
The search was carried out in a rough and rude manner, Donny didn't think
anybody could have been submitted to such indignities, but he managed to keep
his cool, he got nods and winks from both Manny and Jono which helped. They were
fingerprinted and photographed and put back in the cell. Manny said, "They must
have had a good night tonight to leave us together." Just then they heard the
most terrifying screaming coming from the next cell. Donny jumped up but Jono
said, "Sit still man", and turning to Manny he said, "Now you know why we have
been put together. They needed the spare cell. Some poor bugger's getting it."
The screaming stopped and a bobby came into the cell and said to Donny, "Hey
you, your Ma's come for you," and led Donny out of the cell.
His mother looked hard at Donny and said, "You're coming home with me now son."
Donny couldn't meet his mother's eyes, he was too embarrassed by the night's
events. His mother signed some papers and they were shown out of the station.
His mother said, "What did they do to you son?" Donny couldn't answer her, and
she didn't press him.
When he got home he pushed past his sister as she opened the door, and ran
upstairs to the safety of his bedroom. He locked the door and threw himself face
down on the bed, where he cried out all his frustration, rage and fear. He
didn't hear his mother or sister knocking at the door.
Donny was standing against the wall with his arms folded and his eyes closed
dreaming his favourite day dream, the sneering face of a copper was at his feet
and he was kicking it.
(Liverpool 8 Writers'Workshop)
Ceri Price Married mother-of-two. Got most of her education "from being with
people and helping with their problems." Currently writing an Everton-based
Tottenham Writers Group
Tottenham Writers' Workshop was started by the local branch of the
Workers' Educational Association two years ago and meets weekly at the Drayton
Community Centre, one of many evening activities for members of the local
The Writers' Workshop gives opportunities to 'ordinary' people to learn from
each other and publish their own writing. Since its inception the workshop has
involved various people with connections in Tottenham. The age range is
considerable and the group shares a wealth of experience from house-wives,
teachers and senior citizens. The majority are women.
Our first major publication 'Slices of Life' reflects this variety. The
anthology consists of short stories, poems and other kinds of writing which are
based on observations made from our experiences.
Mother and Child
The mother built a wall
To protect her child from the world
The child peeped through
And one day broke away.
'Why did you stifle me, stop me from learning?'
The angry silent question from child to mother.
'Four your own good,' the unhappy reply.
The child grew up and built
A wall of silence
To protect the mother
From what she couldn't bear.
'Why don't you talk to me, tell of your life?'
The mother's pain vibrates the silent air.
'For your own good,'the child's unspoken reply.
(Tottenham Writers' Workshop)
'Well whatever you say' she said taking the paperback from her sister.
'It's Woolf's ability to understand human emotions. That's what gets me. It's
the way she translates all that essential alienation into the poetic form.'
Debbie paused for a moment lighting a small brown cigar.
'I suppose so,' Linda said taking a mouthful of lager 'it was just a bit long
winded for me.'
'But then' Debbie smiled 'Literature never was your bag, was it? That reminds me
have you heard that the Women's Action Group are setting up a lit course? You
know all the great plus a few newies. Just up your street. Just the thing for a
'Well it's just the time thing you see.' Linda said.
'I'd do it myself Debbie leaned back in her chair 'But I've got my feminist
meditation class on a Tuesday. That's the thing to get into Lin, whenever it
gets too much just sink inside and forget it all.'
'I suppose so. Have you seen Carol lately?'
'Saw her last week at the nuclear demo. Different bloke. Well let's say new
bloke. No different from all the rest. You know smooth, pseudo type, real ale
drinker. Just like all the rest. Calls himself a socialist.'
'What did he look like?'
'Why should that matter? God Lin you've got to get away from this looks
syndrome. It's not what people look like that counts. It's what they're like in
here that matters.' Debbie pointed to her rib cage. 'Anyway' she said 'He was
just like all the rest except not quite so spotty.'
'Mind you Carol was never short of a man.'
'Yeah, but she gets them all from the same factory. Men this Men that. Christ
and she calls herself a feminist. Never reads anything except her knitting
patterns. She still thinks that The Women's Room' is a place that you go for a
'Yes, well I always liked her. That time when I was in trouble and you were away
at university, it was she who helped me out. Kept it all from mum. I don't know
what I've have done.'
'Oh anyone could have done that. It was just a shame that I was knee-deep in my
thesis or I would have come home.'
Linda emptied her bottle into her glass.
'How the hell can you wear those shoes? Don't you worry about deforming your
'Oh they're quite comfortable' Linda said tucking her feet under the table.
'And that stuff on your face.' Debbie lifted her arm in the air The money they
make out of people like you, it makes me angry.'
'Well it's just that I look so pale without it.'
'You're just perpetuating an image of women. Just what they want you to do. I
wrote an article for 'Women's Journal' a few months ago on that subject. I'll
fish it out for you.'
'Oh thanks, only what with my studies and everything I don't get much time to
read for pleasure.'
Debbie sat looking at her younger sister and broke into a slow nod, 'Anyway' she
sighed 'How's the nursing going'
'Oh it's hard work' Linda started 'But I like it. There's always so much going
on. It's the dealing with people I like. You meet so many . . . '
'It's that whole set up I don't like. That uniform. They just make you into a
bunch of glorified maids. Not good enough to do anything in the world of real
medicine. Dressed up looking like extras in a porno film.' Debbie stubbed her
cigar out. 'So. Think you'll stick it then?'
'Yes. As I said it can be interesting sometimes. You know sometimes.'
The two girls sat in silence.
'Oh how's that guy you were seeing. You know the one with the sense of humour?'
'Oh him' Debbie looked up 'Laughing himself all the way to his trendy detached
in Upper Putney for all I care.'
Debbie began to dismantle her beer mat. 'Defined by a couple of erogenous zones.
That's our plight. Well I soon gave him the push. Spent weeks unpeeling that
smooth exterior only to find an empty space inside.'
'Well that's a shame. I thought he liked you.'
'Oh he liked me alright. It was his wife who wasn't so keen.'
'Oh never mind Lin. You've just too innocent for this world. Anyway, how's mum?'
'I think she'd really like to see you. It would do her good. She gets so lonely,
especially when I'm on nights.'
'It's the time. I just don't get the time. I'm so busy with everything. There's
so much to do Lin. We've got to keep on fighting or we'll go under. I'm at
meetings most nights of the week. I mean I've even got one tonight.'
'I know that and so does she. She's proud of you. I heard her talking to Mrs
Cleary the other day saying that her daughter was one of these university
lecturers who was always arguing and fighting for people like her. You remember
Mrs Cleary, mum's old mate from the club. Well her old man's been knocking her
about a bit. Anyway, mum said I'll ask our Debbie, she knows all about that law
stuff. She always talks about you.'
'I know, I know Lin. Look I'm sorry .do you mind if we make a move. I've got to
be at the community centre by eight.'
'It's just that she gets so depressed.'
'Well it's only to be expected. Any woman who has devoted her whole life to
raising her kids is bound to feel a void when they're gone. It's a perfectly
natural reaction. Only the other day I was reading an article on it by Joyce
Green, you know that woman who wrote the piece on menopausal depression' Debbie
looked to Linda for some kind of affirmation, 'Well anyway you should read it
sometime. Look, tell you what, I'll get hold of it and sent it to mum. At least
she'll know then that she's not alone. I mean that's the main thing Lin. When
you're-part of a movement at least you know you're not alone.'
The pub door swung lazily to and fro after the girls had left.
A Formula for Sleep
Daylight, the thin
dead light of pessimism.
Levels and spreads through the colourless curtains.
The bedroom slowly becomes familiar
Like a polaroid photograph taking shape before one's eyes;
The chemicals of light have brought this room
Into being again. Too soon, too soon.
Put back the clock, please put back the clock,
Stop this unwinding of night into day.
The clock will not stop.
It taps on the scented air monotonously.
Through a crack in the curtains
The sky makes its first choice of the day from a wardrobe of
Exiled from the others in this house
I want to reach the country of oblivion before full light.
What spell can I cast?
What formula is there for sleep?
The light switch in the kitchen, with a click,
Restores the blackness of the night outside.
In the children's room two small people sleep
Yet move like broken trees
Floating down a river:
In the morning they will come to rest.
Back in bed I shift and dream uneasily
Until this log body unjams
I break free of the land and reach
The beach of morning in a dreamless sleep.
(Tottenham Writers' Workshop)
Burning the Dead Leaves
Light as memories
They lay around us
Fragments, rusted away
Dropped at the end of the season
Unfit to plead, these leaves
This year's golden sweepings
Look how they've caught the sun!
Ready for the autumn bonfire
Let's burn them down
In one sweet-scented fire
Burn them down to solidity
And dig them in
Deep as experience
(Tottenham Writers' Workshop)
(from a long time ago)
Shahida entered our life in the middle of a music lesson. We had been acting in
our usual manner, and Miss Mankovitch was acting in hers, the combination of
which would result in one more teacher having a breakdown.
Recorders in mouth we continued blowing, a strange and horrid sound above Miss
Mankovitch's hysterical pleas to 'STOP ....... STOP :......' which we took as
the sign to continue.
Only Miss Tibbs visitation could have stopped us, which it did. Miss Tibbs was a
force above all human experience. We all stumbled to our feet with trembling
eyes at this stiff holy figure. She walked over to the transfixed Miss
Mankovitch with Shahida trailing at her side.
It was only after Miss Tibbs left the room that comments about this new girl's
appearance came tumbling forth. This was someone indeed different to us. Her
black heavily oiled hair was pulled severely back in a long plait, revealing
glittering stones in her dark ears, and under her gym slip hung long silk
pyjamas. She cut a sharp contrast to us, too sophisticated for gym slips in our
navy skirts, and our sometimes successful attempt at boufonting our hair. I knew
before it happened that Shahida would be sat next to me, Pauline my best friend
was away ill, and well ... I just knew it.
She had to share my book to sing Nymphs and Shepherds. Shahida wasn't to know
that no-one ever really sung, it was left to Miss Mankovitch to enthusiastically
pound the piano and sing, while we passed round notes and sweets, giggled,
opened our mouths up and down a bit, and occasionally might join in the chorus.
Shahida actually sung. I felt embarrased for her, but when she sung 'In tis
grove, instead of 'In this grove I felt angry with her, for a start she
was enjoying singing such a crummy song, and she couldn't even get it right. Yet
when I saw the other girls nudging and laughing at her, I felt so sorry for her.
Shahida was unlike us, she was .... well .... innocent.
Shahida followed me around like she was my pet puppy, and my feelings about this
were very mixed. I resented her tagging around me she seemed to highlight the
fact that I too was different from the other girls. I didn't want to be isolated
like her. Yet she was company for me, she fascinated me in a way, her life was
so different from mine. Yet she also annoyed me, surely she realised that by
always giving her homework in on time, and wearing the babyish school uniform
she wore she set herself apart.
She actually talked about school work, which was of course a taboo subject.
Everyone else talked about boys, films, music, clothes or hairstyles. One
evening after the bell had gone I went into the cloakroom to see Shahida in the
middle of a group of girls. Shirley and Carol were doing most of the talking.
Everyone else in the class looked up to these two and tried to be like them.
Have you started yet, they said to her.....
Shahida didn't answer.
But she doesn't know what we are talking about ... do you Shahida?
Still no answer from Shahida.
What do you know Shahida, how do babies come?
Other voices joined in to taunt her, girls were laughing and seemed to be
closing in on her.
Shahida never played P.E. like us, and therefore we had never seen her in the
navy knickers and blue tea shirts we all were exposed to.
What's wrong with you, why can't you get undressed, why are you so different
One girl pulled up her gym slip to reveal the full length of her silk pyjamas.
Shahida looked terrified, she looked at me. I knew I should have shouted at them
to stop it or call someone, but instead I grabbed my beret and raincoat and ran
as fast as I could away from the school.
The next day Shahida didn't come to school. Miss Sidebotham, the deputy head,
told us in a very severe manner, that Shahida would not be coming back, and that
we should all be ashamed of ourselves. I am sure many of the girls were, because
none of us ever mentioned Shahida again.
I didn't even mention the incident to my mother. My mum was always doing battle
with everyone, the milkman, provident man, stall holders. We were Jewish and she
was always going on about:
'leaving others alone it wasn't that long ago that we came over on the orange
No, I certainly couldn't have told my mother. She would have demanded to know
what I did about it, and I would have had to explain that I did nothing when
Shahida needed me most. And you see, if I was being honest it wasn't just
because I was scared of the others. I have to admit it in some ways I was glad
they picked on Shahida, because when they started on Shahida they left me alone.
(Tottenham Writers' Workshop)
The old women
in the nursing
and floral nighties.
They have been
for most of their lives.
Until their babies
They are left
by loved ones
to be cared for
(Tottenham Writers' Workshop)
New Song for an Old
The Woodhead road was yellowjack
blown in with the rain,
The Woodhead road was tommy-shops
gouging us for gain.
We knew the bitterness of death
from bitterness in life.
Angels in a digging hell
past hope of paradise,
We're headed for the Yorkshire side
of somewhere deep below
Infernos we've accomplished,
devils that we know.
The loud militia held us to
our contract with the line.
How many miles to heavens gate
Serving Old Nicks time?
Ours that wrenching railway
from hand and sweat and gut,
The makers and the murderings
in Godley churchyard shut.
There was no other way out. He knew now, whatever he did or thought no longer
mattered. Try as he may, he would never get away. He was surrounded, all doors
closed. And milling around him were humans all in the same terrible situation!
It was hopeless. He shivered. He would be too late! He clenched his teeth, to
stop his anger and anxiety. No use. In a couple of hours it would be all over.
Even in the cold building he sweated. Perhaps one more try? At last, with one
superhuman effort he was free! The great doors slid open.
He ran the rest of the way, hands wet with sweat, keys slipping from his hands.
Cursing, he snatched them up. Then, bursting into the flat door, shedding his
clothes as he went, he shouted, "Is the match over? That bloody lift jammed
Mrs. M. Pendragon.
A Letter From Jimmy McGovern
Several years ago the National Federation of Worker Writers and Community
Publishers was formed because some already well established, viable
working-class writers' workshops thought it a good idea at the time. The history
is well documented; you'll find it in journals like New Statesman and New
Society typical working-class reading. The workshops, you see, made the
Federation, not vice-versa, and some of our comrades seem to have forgotten
The Federation exists to give working-class people access to media. As soon as
the Federation fails to do this it will die, so all our efforts must be directed
at this fundamental task. Therefore we cannot cater for middle-class writers
because: 1) there are thousands of journals already doing this; 2) to do so
would destroy the very reason for our existence.
Which brings me to Feminist groups. A few years ago a handful of working-class
women in Netherley established the Netherley Writers' Workshop. (They've no paid
workers; they're unsubsidised, but they'll be around longer than most). That
workshop was the subject of a report on page 18 of the November 1979 edition of
Spare Rib (an excellent edition; get it if you can) in which the following
About your magazine, Spare Rib. I get the impression that those women are
writing with their heads in the sand. They're not aware of what we're living.
I've often thought, how many of those women have ever been married, or divorced,
and got any kids. Because then they'd be more down-to-earth people. I think
Spare Ribs very middle-class.
It's about a sort of liberation that we haven't reached, and will maybe never
get.... like "liberating your sexuality". Although we'd like that very much,
it's like saying to us: you've got no legs now you're going to run along the
top of that mountain. It's still abstract.
There was a Reclaim the Night March here in Liverpool, against men hassling
women, but from the publicity we thought it was against prostitutes. This girl
we knew who'd been on the game asked us, what about the women who are going out
tonight to get shoes for the kids? And I thought, oh well, frig that, I'm not
going marching to stop their business.
Last night I read this article in Spare Rib on lesbianism and I'm none the
wiser. It's just these bloody big words that go right across the page.
And that's another way of making a working-class woman feel even worse. She's
already feeling frustrated, she knows that she hasn't had the best education,
and then she picks something up supposed to be about her oppression 'and
it's written so that she can't understand it.
So for Christ's sake, Franny, you've got to write something for women from your
class (my emphasis) and of your sexuality ....
Obviously there's a deep mistrust, in the above, of the Feminist movement and
the apparently middle-class women in it. Therefore to admit Feminists per se is
to risk alienating people like Maria, Franny and Olive, genuine working-class
women, vital to the Federation. In any case, there already exist several
journals for women committed to feminism; the Federation should concern itself
with the issues Fran, Olive, Maria and Helen raise issues of sex and class.
Incidentally, in the light of Franny's and Helen's final words above, would
VOICES readers believe that at our recent Nottingham A.G.M. about one hour of a
very well attended workshop was given over to a discussion of Lord Byron and
heroic poetry? Several well-spoken people paraded their wide reading .....
Anyway: if, by admitting Feminists in general rather
than specifically working-class feminists such as the women from Netherley we
undermine our movement, why do we do it? Well first, it has been said that our
constitution demands it. This, in fact, is incorrect: nowhere in the
constitution is there a mention of feminist groups and clause 3 of the
constitution seems actually to debar them By 'working class writing' we mean
writing produced within the working class and Socialist movement or in support
of the aims of working-class activity and self-expression. (Agreed constitution
of A.G.M. 1978 distributed Hulme Library 1979. Also reproduced in recent VOICES
But second, there is the undeniably irresistible appeal of "unity", a unity of
oppressed groups everywhere, and many Federation members see the worker-writer
movement as this sort of political weapon.
Now, this is worth looking at. Take the feminist movement, for example. It
undoubtedly is, has been for some time, and probably always will be, a major
political force superficially a fine addition to the worker-writer ranks. But
feminists would view the Federation as only a second or third string to their
bow (excuse sexist metaphors), their primary concern being feminism. And it is
precisely because feminism has been their primary concern, it is precisely
because they have been so exclusive in their movement (viewing men with
justified suspicion, "positive discrimination" in Spare Rib) that their movement
has become so strong. So to all comrades who see the Federation as a political
weapon I'd say: learn from the feminists, keep the movement exclusive; ban all
non-working class groups and so ensure that we have the necessary sense of
direction, the necessary common purpose, to use the resultant political clout.
Finally, this piece has discussed non-working-class groups. Non-working-class
individuals have been invaluable to the Federation and of course they should
stay within our ranks as long as they recognise the Federation for what it is:
a Federation of working class writers and publishers.
(Scotland Road, Liverpool).
Women and Words
Women and Words, the Birmingham Writers' Workshop, was started as a WEA
class by two of us who wrote ourselves and wanted to share our writing because
we were sick of hiding it and feeling stupid and embarrassed about doing it. We
believed that other women had the same experience. The decision to make it an
all women's group was assumed it followed from our belief that there are
things (including writing, no matter what the subject of it) which we need to
discuss, initially, in a space apart from men. We took a more conscious decision
to make the group a locally based one, rather than setting up meetings in
central Birmingham which would be accessible mainly to women with cars and the
means to travel.
We began, in January 1980, with a pub reading by writers from the Netherley and
Bristol Broadsides groups, and our first session attracted women of all ages and
of a wide range of jobs, politics and experience. One of the most exciting
moments was sitting in that first meeting, in the community room of a local
school, listening to the other writers talking, all for the first time, about
the fact that they did write, about how they'd never shown their writing to
anyone, and about what a big step it had been for them to come to the workshop.
Since then we have met every week. We began to be asked for contributions to
local papers and to the WEA Women's Studies Newsletter We have given readings
at women and children's groups in the area, and in pubs; and in November 1980
we published a selection of our writing in a book called "Don't Come Looking
Here". We now have between thirty and forty women from all over Birmingham who
are interested in the group, and between 8 and 12 who come regularly, some of
them having to cross town on two buses to get to us.
We applied fairly early on to join the Federation, seeing it as being about
helping to give access to writing and publishing to groups in society who are
generally barred from those areas, and about breaking down the notion that a
writer has to be a solitary genius with a mystical gift. We wanted to be in
contact with other groups who were also trying to write and publish their
writing, and we felt that that contact would help us, not only in our immediate
aim of becoming more powerful and courageous in our writing, but also in the
more long-term one, of trying to reach other women in Birmingham who haven't
been able to get to the present group though they do write. Some of our original
members have had to stop coming because of pressure of work, or because of
problems over childcare or transport. Other women we've met when we have done
readings have said that they did write but couldn't get away in the evenings,
and so we have formed a day time group with a crθche, and some of us who live in
other areas are thinking about starting workshops nearer home.
We feel very strongly that Women and Words has made a difference in our lives
through the confidence that has come from speaking out about our writing, from
the pleasure we've got from writing more and having an interested audience for
our work, and because it's been a space for us away from the demands of work and
family. And we believe that that kind of possibility should be open to everyone
who wants it.
Once Upon a Time
Once we would enter without knocking
Come together without a greeting
On parting not need goodbye
That was once.
Now, we observe the conventions of social intercourse.
You say you are changing cities
And will be only a train time away.
"That will be nice," I say.
Please don't misunderstand.
No regrets for the space that shimmers between us now
Oh, I realise everything changes
Strange friends into friendly strangers.
But after all the permutations
The juxtaposition of relations
Wearied years of trying hopeful (or hopeless) combinations
Never again have I been anywhere close
To the way we lived, you and I, once.
(Women and Words, Birmingham)
Have you ever wondered
What Enid was doing when
Virgil was churning his sagas out?
While he was vicariously living out
Heroic battles on alien soils
And wending his way across
What was she doing then?
While he cavorted with Dido
In the equatorial sunset,
and was alternately Boy, Lover, Warrior MAN?
What satisfaction did she get?
The satisfaction of knowing she
was stoking the genius' furnace?
The smug, cream-lapping comfort of
being the power
Behind the throne.
Content to nurture another's amibtions
To furnish the stuff that dreams are made of
To be alternately supplier, support, supplicant
While Virgil was keeping the lads on tenterhooks
About the fate of the 'J.R.'s' of his day
And in between hoisting a few jugs of ambrosia,
Did something in her stir?
And did she go to the bureau
And take out pen and ink
Or rescue a piece of charcoal from the grate
And scrawl the very first graffiti on the kitchen wall!
"NO MORE VIGILS FOR VIRGILS!
ENID WAS HERE!"
Sue Learwood (Women and Words)
Don't Come Looking Here
Don't come looking here
For strong words
Or images to pull you through or shore you up.
Don't come looking here.
This is one of those end of the line,
Face in the gutter,
No more for no-one, nowhere poems.
It's about defeats,
It's a finished, washed-up, strung out poem.
It's a poem about what men do to women
And what women do to themselves.
But it isn't the only poem
And it doesn't come last,
It comes first.
Rebecca O'Rourke (Women and Words)
My daughter glances up.
I fall back through her eyes
into my childhood.
Sylivia Winchester (Women and Words)
Michael's Story (part two)
The following morning, John took his brother, Michael, out with him to
the job on which he worked, which was making a branch railway line from Park
Royal to Ruislip. It was rough, dirty, slaving work, but it was better than no
work, or so those who worked there thought.
In those days, civil engineering contractors chose their gangermen and walking
gangermen they whipped up the gangermen with great care. Only those who
looked like scoundrels and behaved like bullies were considered. Anyone with
even a speck of human compassion in his make-up had no need to apply for the
job, for even if he got it, he wouldn't last long.
The contractors on this Job were Wimpey & Co., and the ganger-man under whom
John worked was known affectionately as The Dog' Brennan. He was called numerous
names as well, such as the 'Screech', the 'Shout', the 'Mouth', and a host of
other less complimentary ones. But he liked being called The Dog', for he
thought that boosted his reputation with the contractors and made him sound more
frightful to his workmen.
"This is the 'Screech' now, "John whispered to his brother as a burly man with a
huge, blue-red face ambled towards the knot of talking, jesting men who stood
waiting for him. As soon as he appeared in sight, all jesting and talking
stopped, and everyone looked a bit awestruck.
To Michael the man looked fearsome. He wore the typical ganger-man's uniform:
moleskin trousers, hobnailed boots, a black cardigan underneath a heavy, black
jacket, a black shirt, a black scarf tied in the usual round knot and the ends
cast over one shoulder and a greasy cap slung on the side of his head. He rolled
so much when he walked that often he looked as if he was going to topple over,
and the outward swing of his free hand the other was always tucked down in his
trousers pocket appeared often as a guard against the fall.
"Right, blow up!" he roared before he came nearer than ten yards to the knot of
workmen, and his voice was hoarse and rumbled with deliberately cultivated
Michael momentarily jumped with fright and slid behind his brother.
Scarcely had the scream of the gangerman died down when every workman except
John was scurrying for the toolshed, which the gangerman had unlocked. John
waited behind, but he appeared a bit uneasy.
"This is the young fellow, just come over, no cards or anything, think you could
start him?" he asked tremulously. Just perceptibly the gangerman nodded, and
John waited for no other sign, but scurried to the toolshed as the others had
"Hello," Michael greeted, but the gangerman didn't reply. If anything, his scowl
deepened. Then he said out of the corner of his mouth:
"Wait here 'til I put these men to work," and he rolled away after the hurrying
men, one arm swinging straight out from his body, the other thrust deep into his
pocket, his shoulders hunched and his head switching from side to side in the
manner of a Stpnewall Jackson.
More than an hour went by before the gangerman appeared on the horizon, and
during that time, Michael allowed his thoughts to run loose.
"He looks like Old Nick," he remarked. "Jesus, I bet he drives men something
shocking. They all seem afraid of him, anyway. Ah, but sure, if a man does his
work, what can he do? And I'll do my work, no doubt about that. I will that. By
Jese, I'll stick it so how bad he is," and with these thoughts Michael consoled
himself until the gangerman was quite close. Then he turned all attention to the
man and listened very carefully to everything he said.
"So, you have no cards, have you?"
"N.n.no," replied Michael. "Sure, I can't play anyway, only snap."
The gangerman turned away in disgust and scratched his head.
"Hee, hee! you bloody goberloo!" he bellowed. "Hi! do you want a start, or don't
"Oh, Jesus, aye, 'course," replied Michael enthusiastically.
"Well, then, you want a set of cards, don't you? Insurance, hah?"
Michael nodded indecisively.
"Never mind, I'll get you fixed up. Eh, I don't know, what I do for you 'greesheens'!
Michael followed the gangerman who had started walking in the direction from
which he had come that morning.
"Now, I'll get you fixed up with a set of cards, I will, then, now, well, ah!
The rest'll be up to you, won't it? Won't it?" he asked a bit more aggressively
over his shoulder.
"Oh, aye, fair enough, fair enough, sound, sound!" agreed Michael as he hurried
"Never mind that friggin 'greesheen' talk," admonished the ganger-man. "Smarten
yoursel' up a bit. You're here now, not driving neddy to the bog. Come on!"
When they arrived at two small, green huts that nestled against a huge
embankment, the gangerman knocked boldly on a square, green-shuttered window.
Almost immediately the shutter slid up and a young voice asked from inside:
"Yes? Hello? Oh, hello Mac, what can I do you for?"
The gangerman stroked his chin and asked politely: "I wonder if you'd do
something for me?"
" 'Course, anything, what is it?"
Still stroking his chin, the gangerman continued apologetically: "Well, now,
see, I have a joker here with me an' he's just docked. I'd, like to start him,
but he has no cards. Think you could write a letter that he could give to the
labour exchange and get some?"
"Oh, good man, good man."
"No trouble, where is he?"
"He's here. Hi! Come up here, you bogdale stump! Jesus, I'm all right with a set
of grogeen-builders like you lot, I am. Up here! Talk to that man there. He'll
show you how to go about getting a set, a set of cards. Phew!"
"Yes, good man, sound, "Michael replied as he hurried to the window.
"Name?" the clerk asked with poised ballpoint."
"Who! Who what?"
"Ah, I don't know who you're talking about at all."
"What's your name?" the clerk emphasised, "your full name? N.A.M.E."
"Oh! Oh, Michael McWanted, yes, Michael McWanted, ummm!"
"Yes, Michael McWanted," the clerk repeated as he wrote. "Yes, address? Hi,
'Mac! Haven't we a McWanted working here? Isn't there one on your section?"
"Aye, me brother," replied Michael with a definite ring of pride in his voice.
"He's me oldest brother, that one, he is, indeed."
"Oh, now, indeed, he's there," sneered the gangerman, "but for how long, now!
I'm going to do a bit of weeding one of these days. Just the right weather, too,
for a bit of weeding. Well, that's how you get a good crop of turnips, so they
tell me - thinning 'em out," and he laughed vindictively and shook his head. "Ara,
great crack altogether!"
The clerk smiled knowingly and shook his head slowly before continuing with
Michael. "Address?" he asked a second time. Michael hesitated.
"Where do you live?"
"With me brother."
The clerk flung his pen down on the table. "Where?" he demanded impatiently.
"In London, here."
The clerk walked away from the window, then laughed loudly at the ludicrousness
of the reply and the silly posture of Michael, who stood with his mouth open,
not knowing what was happening. When the clerk had overcome his bout of
laughter, he tried again. "No, I mean where do you live. What's the name of the
street you live in, and what's the area?"
By this time Michael was totally confused. "Jesus, I don't know the name of it
at all, but it's not far from the pub. You turn up to the right. It's a short
street. Mind you, it's not all that short, but it's shorter than the long ones."
Again the clerk burst out laughing, while the gangerman looked savagly from
under his obliquely hanging cap. Then he walked to the window, roughly pushed
Michael out of the way and said to the clerk:
"Ara, put any address at all down. What does it matter? Sure he won't be here
all that long anyway. Put anything down," and he turned away sharply.
"Okay, replied the clerk, picking up his notebook and retiring to the interior
of the little hut that was being used as an office.
In a few minutes he was back and handed Michael a sealed envelope. "Now, you
take this to the labour exchange," he explained "you hand it in there and
they'll provide you with a set of employment cards. Okay?"
"Yea, okay, great, thanks," said Michael, as he took the envelope and turned it
over a few times in his hand.
The clerk slid the shutter into position once more, but Michael remained
standing there, looking once down at the envelope, then up to the
green-shuttered window and uncertain of what to do.
The gangerman watched him with a look of evil amusement on his blotchy,
beer-reddened face. "What are you going to do with that now?" he barked, hoping
thereby to increase the lad's trepidation.
Michael thought, then held out the form in his trembling hand. "Give it to you,"
"Awoo-woo!" screamed the gangerman, stomping away from the lad. "What in the
frigging hell do I want it for? To wipe my frigging kuyber with it? See, I have
my cards, so I'm all right. I've not just left the hob, you know. You as wants
frigging cards." He walked back to the lad again and with the index finger of
his right hand began to draw imaginary diagrams on the half-open palm of his
left hand. "See, here. Now listen, you take that thing there to the labour
exchange, give it to them there, and they'll give you a set of cards.
Michael nodded, but looked more disconcertedly at the envelope.
"Know where the labour exchange is?"
"No," replied Michael, now completely rattled, for events of the past hour or
two had not only frayed but scalloped the outer edges of his earlier illusions
about England and the Irish and life in general.
"Boo-hoo!" snorted the gangerman, puffing out his beer-bloated cheeks in feigned
agony. "Well, I'm all bloody right here, I am" Then he spied a lorry standing in
the nearby yard with the driver sitting comfortably in the cab.
"Hi! Mac!" he called to the driver.
"You what, mite?"
"Will you be going anywhere near the labour exchange today . . .
"Yes, going right past it now, why?"
The gangerman rolled towards the lorry and spoke to the driver in a quiet,
sweetly-toned manner. "Oh, good man, good man. Think you could do me a favour,
"Yea, certainly, anything, what?"
The gangerman stroked his face as if hesitant to ask. "Well, you see, I've a
joker here I'd like to start, but he has no cards. Think you could drop him near
the labour exchange so that he can get some,
"Yea, certainly, mite, why not. Without stopping, if you like,"
and the driver laughed peevishly.
The gangerman also grinned and showed his nicotine-stained front teeth. "Oh,
now, well, indeed you could do worse, you could."
"Okay, where is he?"
"Here. Hi! Come up here, you heydog, you."
Michael hurried over to the lorry.
"Now," began the gangerman in his usually hoarse, biting voice, "this man'll
take you near the labour exchange and drop you off there - head first, I hope -
and give them that form and they'll give you cards. Think you can remember all
"Yea, 'course, great, sound," Michael replied with obvious relief.
"Well, jump in, then. He's not going to wait all day for you. Jump.. . I"
Michael's actions had become so erratic and disordered that he gave a
jump, cracked his head on the top of the cab door and nearly knocked himself
unconscious. Both the driver and the gangerman laughed heartily at his
"Straight from Mary Horan's, is he?" asked the driver sarcastically.
"Oh, now, where else. By Jesus, she keeps dropping them and shipping them
across. And everyone's worse than the one before. Eh, I dunno!"
"Starting for you, is he, Mac?"
"Starting, oh, aye, he's starting. I'll have him, but as McGreever said; 'I
won't keep him long! Now, see, you lahwohle! Be out here first thing tomorrow
morning, and grease them elbows of yours tonight, for by Jesus, you'll need to
have them greased, 'cause I'm going to knock some work out of you, or knock some
savvy into you, I am that."
The driver laughed again, waved good bye to the gangerman who didn't bother to
return the gesture engaged the gears and let the lorry slide forward.
The gangerman rolled back to his own section of work. "Jesus, this is great work
altogether," he told himself. "Jesus, a man can have a great crack with these
lachikoos that are coming over now, ha, ha!" and he hurried his steps to bring
him more quickly to the core of his section of work, the work he loved, the work
that transformed his inferiority complex to a superiority one, by affording him
an opportunity to make people squirm before him, and he vowed as he walked along
that before that day was out he would make a few more squirm, make a few more
realize who was king and who had the power in that area of life's activity. The
thought titivated his sadistic nature, and the imbecilic smile of a drunken man
creased his beer-blown face. He spat out a load of catarrhal phlegm, settled his
cap at a more rakish angle and exaggerated his roll even more as he headed for
his own midden.
The driver of the lorry and Michael didn't communicate until the lorry screeched
to a stop.
"There it is, mite," said the driver, leaning over Michael's knees and pointing
to a big building that stood a few yards back from the pavement. "That's the
entrance, there, see."
"Oh, good man, ta, thank you very much," said Michael as he prepared to get out.
"First job is it, this?" asked the driver.
"Yes, first job. I only came here yesterday. Me brother works for this man."
"Yea, well, best of luck, Paddy."
"Sure Michael's my name."
"Yea, well, best of luck anyway, mite. Tra!"
"Oh, tra! Thanks a lot." Michael jumped down from the cab "Thanks....."
But before he could finish the lorry lurched forward and was soon out of sight.
Michael had no trouble at the exchange. A young lad dealt with him, at first,
then an older man came along. After smiling amiably, he sat on a seat on the
other side of the counter, right opposite Michael and began to write. "Sign your
name there, he said eventually to Michael, turning a sheaf of papers round and
indicating with his index finger where he wanted Michael to append his name.
"Yes, that's all right," he said after examining Michael's signature. "Now you
want a green card. Oh no you don't. It's not green-card work, that. You just
want employment cards. Okay." He took a buff-coloured document from a drawer on
his right, copied into it from the sheaf of papers in front of him, then threw
the buff thing to Michael. "There you are, those are your employment cards. Good
"Oh, thanks, thanks a lot, smashing, great, soun . . . . " But the man had
vanished before Michael could conclude his appreciative remarks.
Michael put the cards in his pocket and walked out. A warm ray of happiness
raced through him. He was in England, had lodgings, a job and was with his
eldest brother. What more could he want? He started whistling, but stopped
abruptly when he remembered his brother's admonitions, and walked along the
street with his head down.
Time dragged terribly as Michael moped along aimlessly, looking into shop
windows, reading advertisements and always making sure that he didn't roam too
far, just in case he found difficulty in returning to the digs. By the side of
the road, he saw a wooden seat and he eased himself on to it and allowed his
thoughts to wander aimlessly to County Mayo.
"Jesus, I'm lucky," he said to himself. "I have a job now and everything. Jesus,
I'll be able to send the old fellow and the old girl a few quid soon, maybe next
week," and he rubbed the palms of his hands together with glee. "Jesus, I wonder
what they'll say when the money drops out. Hah?"
He began to imitate his overweighted, stiff-backed mother reaching for a letter,
laboriously opening it, seeing the money fall to the ground, shouting anxiously
and excitedly as it did so, then stooping slowly and painfully to pick it up.
"By Jesus, I told you he'd make the best man of the lot, didn't I?" he said in
the rough squeaky voice of his father.
"You did, he is," replied the mother. "By Jese, he'll show the other scuts up,
he will, hah?" He nodded heavily as he thought his mother would do. Again he
rubbed his palms together vigorously.
The sharp bark of a dog roused him from his soliloquy. When he looked round, a
man was standing a few feet away with a very puzzled look on his face.
"Awright, mite?" the man asked. "Aw . . . Yea, yes, yes, great, sound," Michael
returned. "Great, sound," repeated the man as he began to walk past. "You didn't
sound so great to me. Sounded like you were ready for the skin suit. Could De
Valera not find you a job over there?" "No, now, no job," returned the ingenuous
Michael. "No, we have to, though. I know what I'd do with you," and he walked
off, whistling up his dog as he went along.
By mid-day Michael was very hungry, but he thought he dare not go to the digs
before his brother came home from work. He had nearly a pound in his pocket, so
he decided to look for something to eat. Several times he passed a small cafe
before deciding to go in. At last he ventured in.
"A cup of tea and a currant bun," he ordered from the man
behind the counter.
"You what, mite?" the man remarked. "You've go' a curly bum?" "No," Michael
explained as best he could, "a bun with currents
"Goh, blimey!" scoffed the cafe proprietor. "Go' above!
Well, I've heard of 'em wi' buttons on, but never wi' currants in 'til now. Gooo!
They don't come any better, do they?"
Michael stood for a few minutes aghast, for he hadn't a clue what the cafe owner
meant. Then, as the man made no attempt to serve him, but just kept on laughing
more and more hysterically, Michael walked out and decided to wait and have
dinner with his brother.
He waited near the bottom of the street in which the digs were situated until he
saw his brother coming towards him. Then he walked forward impetuously and showed
his brother the buff cards in the inside pocket of his jacket. He was smiling
happily. "Right now, amn't I?"
John nodded as they walked side by side towards the digs.
"How did you get on with the 'Shout' out there?"
"The gangerman? Oh, Jese, he was great, sound, great."
"Oh, he was, damn me, sound."
"Now, don't forget," John warned, "take off those boots before you go upstairs,
or that old witch'll jab herself up the arse with her broomstick."
"Take 'em off downstairs?"
"Yes, that's it."
"And walk up in bare feet?"
"Yes. No, you keep your socks on."
"Jesus, it's awful."
"Yes. Now, just do as you're expected to do and leave it at that. Right?"
"Oh, right, right, sound."
After having had a good wash and having changed into clean clothes, John and his
brother came down to the kitchen, where the landlady had a cooked meal on the
"By heck, tell you one thing," commented Michael.
"This old girl knows how to feed a man. Jesus, you can tell she's Irish by the
feed she puts before a man. Jesus, she knows how to feed a man."
"You what?" asked his brother.
"She gives a man a good dinner, anyway, whatever about a supper."
"She gives a good dinner! Sure that old hag wouldn't give a man the toothache.
She may give a man the hiccups looking at her. Gives a man . . . . . Sure, isn't
it I buys all the grub. All she does is cooks
it." He examined some slices of cooked lamb on his plate." Or half cooks it. Tct,
When they had finished eating, Michael said gleefully: "Well, this time tomorrow
night, I'll have earned my first day's wages in this man's country," and he
stretched and smiled to himself.
John smiled back, but made no comment.
A few minutes later the landlady poked her long face round the door jamb and
yelled: "Now then, you two! This is a lodging house, not the House of Commons,"
and with that she switched off the light "Stay yacketin' there, you would, worse
than a crowd of crows. Must think no one pays for light in this house. Come on."
John and Michael groped their way upstairs.
Michael lay on the bed, looking at the ceiling and thinking, while his brother
began getting ready to go out.
"Are you not getting ready to go out?" he asked Michael eventually.
"No, out where?" enquired Michael.
"Out where! Well, the pub is the only place I know of."
"Jesus, sure a man can't go to the pub every night, hah?"
"Well, it's either that or going to bed, 'cause keep-death-off-the-roads
downstairs'll put those lights out now any minute. Come on, or you'll be groping
about in the dark. Get up."
"Jesus, sure a man'll save nothing if he goes to the pub every night."
"Hi! never mind now about that, come on, get ready."
Michael yawned and stretched lazily, but a frantic screech from downstairs
brought him suddenly to his feet beside the bed.
"Hi! you two up there! These lights are going out any minute, so make up your
minds. Are you going out or going to bed? I can't afford to have lights going
all night just to amuse you two. Hi!"
"Sorry missus, won't be a minute, missus, just getting ready, missus." John
replied. "Hi! Will you for Christ's sake hurry."
"You can have another minute and then that's it," came the landlady's final
"Right, missus, we're nearly ready now. Come on, hurry."
Michael quickly brushed his hair, slipped on a pullover and jacket and followed
his brother downstairs and out on to the street.
"Jesus, this is awful," he remarked to John as they walked side by side towards
the public house. "Are all landladies like that?"
"No, some're worse," remarked John offhandedly.
"Ara, Jesus, how could they be worse?"
"Well ..... ah, never mind. You'll find out before you're here very much
"Find out what?"
"You'll find out that the only time a landlady wants to see you is Friday night,
when you're giving her the shillings. Then she doesn't want to see you again
'til the next Friday night. And they're all the same, Irish, Scotch, English, no
difference, all the same."
"Jesus, you know, a man'd be a lot better off in a bit of an old room," Michael
"A room?" His brother pondered that suggestion. "Tell you what, with two of us
living together and sharing the one bed, we just could be better off in a room."
" 'Course we would," Michael waxed enthusiastically. "Sure, if a man had an old
room, he could sit in by the fire at night and read an old paper, or something,
instead of going out every night drinking. Jesus, I hate that old caper
drinking every night."
John had been watching his brother sternly, but didn't interrupt him. When he
had finished, John reminded him hotly. "See, you're in England now, and the
sooner you forget all those old tales you've been told, the better it'll be for
yourself. Jesus, you'll have everyone laughing at you if you keep on like that.
Sure, whether you're in digs or in a room, no one'll let you keep a light on all
night, these days. Sure, no one can afford to burn lights all night, these days.
Sure, no one has any money these days, what are you talking about?"
"Has she no money, the old hag we're digging with?"
"Money! Well, not enough to open a shithouse door. Ara, where would she get it?"
"Money! Sure her husband isn't working at all. Sure all she has is the miserable
bit she makes out of keeping lodgers."
"Haa, but I bet that's a tidy old slice, too, hah?"
"Nothing! Nothing hardly. Sure those poor devils are just like ourselves
scraping along best way they can."
"Jesus, you know, I never thought things were like this in this country."
"Well, no you wouldn't listening to all the tales they tell over there. Sure,
don't they sing songs there about picking money up on the streets here. By
Christ, then, they have a big shock when they come here. They soon find out that
there's not much money on the streets here, not even when you're digging the
By this time they had arrived at the public house, and as John was pushing open
the swing door, Michael announced:
"Jesus, I don't think I'll have any old beer tonight."
John allowed the door to swing back into position again.
"What are you going to have, then?"
"Ara, Jesus, I don't think I'll have anything. I think I'll just sit there,
"Now, get this straight," his brother began earnestly," no landlord is going to
allow anyone to doss in his pub. You either drink beer, or something else, or
you get out. Anyway, you're living here now, and you have to live the way you
have to live, that's all. So, forget all the ideas you came here with, or what
people over there told you. You're here and you have to live same as everyone
else," and with those remarks, John vigorously pushed the swing door open,
walked in, looked all round, them stomped to the bar. "Two pints of Walker's
Main Line," he ordered from the barman who merely nodded in recognition, no
"We'll sit over there," he said to Michael and pointed to an empty space on a
wall seat between two tables, around each of which sat men playing dominos.
Having paid the barman, John picked up his glass and beckoned with his head to
his brother to do likewise.
Michael picked his glass up and followed. They sat between the tables and nobody
spoke to them, and they spoke to no one either.
Michael sipped from his glass and pulled his face as if he had tasted gall, but
his brother drank as if he liked the stuff, then placed his glass on the floor
"Jesus, you don't like this stuff, do you?" asked Michael.
John lifted his glass up to the light, inspected it carefully and asked in turn:
"Why not? It's all right, isn't it? I think it's the best of the beers around
"No, I don't mean that," asserted Michael. "I mean, do you like drinkin' beer? I
hate this old caper drinking beer every night. Ach! No good to no man."
"Hee, hee, you've something to learn," his brother scoffed. "When you're not
able to buy a pint, that's when you'll worry."
"Me? No, I won't worry. I wouldn't care if I never saw a drop of the stuff. God
above, it's awful."
"Yea, I heard that before," John scoffed and took another drink from his glass.
Michael ventured another sip and again pulled his face grotesquely. "Aha! You
know, this is a funny old country, too, this is."
"Why is that?" asked his brother.
"Jesus how do I know that, sure I've only just come here."
"Now, you don't need tell us that," his brother sneered.
"Tis, though," continued Michael. "See, those men there. They're not talking to
one another. No one here talks to anyone, hah?"
John jerked his head first one way and then the other. "Will you for Christ's
sake watch what you're saying here, will you?"
"Why, what's wrong?"
"What's wrong!" Again John jerked his head sideways.
"Well, for one thing you're here now, and you don't talk here the way you did
when you were going down to the bog."
"Ara, Jesus, wasn't our bog on top of a big hill. Didn't we go up to the bog.
Jesus, you've an awful short memory."
"Right, up to the bog then," John snapped impatiently.
"Yes, that's it. Well, that's what everyone had to do round our place. Ah, God
surely you remember that?"
John sucked in his breath quickly and made a low whistle.
"Well, may bad luck to that bloody hen," he muttered.
Then he spoke calmly, emphatically, but in a low voice: "See, a lot of people
round here don't like the Irish. Shush, will you!" he warned hotly, just in time
to prevent Michael from saying something. "For Christ's sake, listen, and don't
make an ass of yourself all the time. Well, it all started with the 'economic
war' well, that made things worse."
"What war's that? Jesus I never heard of no war." "The tariffs, then, the
tariffs, but they call it here the 'economic war'. Now do you see?"
"Ha, Jesus, them tariffs are awful," remarked Michael.
"Sure they've robbed nearly everyone round our place. Sure you can't sell nothin'
now. That old De Valera wants shootin' 'cause he's made it awful bad over there
"He's made it bad here as well," John added, stretching again for his glass."
But, then, our own don't help shouting and roaring, drinking and fighting all
over the place. They'd sicken you," and he drank deeply, then replaced his glass
on the floor." Then, be Christ, as soon as things get a little bad, they swarm
into London like a lot of bees. You can't stir for 'em, never mind get a job.
They're coming over now faster than ever. Every day Euston is flooded with
"And sure what can they do? Sure, no one can make a living over there now."
"I wish half of them'd jump into a boghole and get drowneded," John sneered.
"Christ, it wouldn't be as bad if they spread themselves about a bit and some of
'em went somewhere else. But no, here, London all the lot. And all they're doing
is making it bad for everyone. Thousands of blokes who've been here years, and
thousands of people born here are out of work now because cf them. Still, over
they come, drove after drove. It's no wonder the people don't like 'em. They
can't," and his top lip curled up into a venomous grimace, proving the fact that
the smallest speck placed strategically before the eyeball obscures all the
imperfections of the world from the affected viewer.
"See, that man we live with?" he asked after having a nerve-relieving sup from
"Jesus, didn't I think she was a woman," replied Michael.
"Tct, tct, tct! Her husband, I mean. No, you haven't seem him. Well, he worked
in a factory 'til lately. Now he can't get a job. So, what's he going to think
when he sees the rake of suitcases arrive every day at Euston? Trouble is the
ones that've been here years suffer as well as the latchikoos that've just come
over." He emptied his glass and held his hand out for Michael's. "Finishing
"Oh, Jesus, no. Sure, this'll do me now, right enough."
John rose, walked to the bar and ordered another pint for himself.
"And what can they do, they who've just come over?" Michael asked his brother as
soon as he returned to his seat. John didn't answer.
"What do you think?"
"I think same as nearly everyone else thinks there're about twice too many
Irish in London now for all the work there is. But if they'd go somewhere else
for a change, it wouldn't be as bad, but no, here, every bloody one. They'd
really bloody sicken you, they would."
During the course of the night, John drank three pints, but Michael contented
himself with just one, although he did empty his glass before closing time on
this occasion. Then he and his brother began the journey back to the digs.
It was obvious that Michael had listened and noted his brother's warnings, for
not on a single occasion did he raise his voice above normal during their
John opened the door as noiselessly as he could and both groped their way to the
bedroom. Michael never mentioned the word 'supper'. Scarcely had either one's
head rested on his pillow when he
was asleep, and both remained in that helpless but blissful state until the
small alarm clock awoke them next morning.
Michael was so tired that he couldn't believe at first that he had been asleep
all night, but the thought of working, of earning money spurred him on, and he
soon forgot his tiredness and even urged his brother to hurry. He wanted to get
to that job, and as the minutes ticked by, a thousand disconcerting thoughts
flashed across his mind and unnerved him more than he already was.
But his brother was understanding, at least about that. He knew how the lad felt
and he knew how to assuage the lad's fears and anxieties.
Michael (Mick) Weaver
Thought for Today
The police may protect us
from the mob,
but who will protect us
from the police?
In Ayrshire Now
In Ayrshire now the pit-bings
Are covered with grass and trees.
Those bings are mysterious
As ancient burial mounds
To the children who play there,
Whose grandfathers would pull
Bunches of fresh sweet grass
For the ponies under the ground.
The ponies would neigh with delight
When they smelt the fresh grass
And clatter their hooves in the dank stalls.
When a pony fell and could not work
It was winched up in a strong net.
It lay blind at the pithead
And trembled in the sunlight,
Then neighed with delight as it
Smelt a world of sweet grass.
These ponies were fed to the hounds of the gentry.
V. supposed that the nursing staff were proud of their efficient and
mechanical organisation of the clinics, but there was little doubt that the
forced marches from toilet to desk, carrying the metal jug and brimming test
tube, and the single file queue that stuttered at regular intervals over the
weighing machine, had its ridiculous aspect, especially since the uniform pear
shapes of the marching women added an unintentional facet of regularity to the
proceedings. The whole process was carried out with extreme gravity on the part
of the nurses and it was only occasionally that one of the patients, less
respectful than the others, would pierce the shuffling sound of slippers with a
"Christ, I've pissed on me slippers!"
The hospital seemed to have a superfluity of doctors employed or merely
interested in maternity cases. V. thought that she had never seen the same
doctor twice in the eight months she had been attending the clinic, but only a
succession of strange faces above open white coats, some in colourful saris and
others, the rare male ones, in shirt and trousers. They moved around her,
bewitched by their own knowledge of her. Sometimes they mumbled strange words,
medical terms she supposed, as they prodded at her abdomen which, in the later
months, had rippled obligingly for their eyes and amusement. Once, they had hurt
Rolling her over on her side, they had approached her from her back and taken a
cervical smear test with the cold tool without warning so that she had stiffened
and closed over the metal with the muscles in her vagina. They had patted her
and said, "Relax", but the tears had come before she could and they had not time
for her to pull herself together in the half-privacy of the booth. She had been
pitched back into the crowded anteroom, her sense of violation exposed to the
curious eyes of the other women and she had been unable to stop her crying even
after she had left the hospital and was walking home.
After that, she watched their movements around her with suspicion, clutching her
discarded pants in one hand, but they did not need to carry out that particular
test again and the worst she suffered from them was the ritual blood tests, not
drops, but a syringe full of the deep red liquid. They drew it off with loving
care. V. found it easier not to watch them. Sometimes they asked her questions
and she felt strangely guilty for her lack of symptoms and therefore interest.
She felt sick in the mornings, absolutely normal, they said not in the least
interested, but that was the sole occurrence that marked her pregnancy. Her
blood pressure was a bore, her legs did not swell, her urine stayed sugarless
and her breasts filled at the correct stage of her pregnancy. V. never lost the
feeling that she was regarded as a waste of the doctor's time and their casual
handling of her body confirmed their attitude, since they hardly looked at the
hardening bump under her breasts. They told her nothing, but played a malicious
game with her case notes, shielding them from her eyes as if she was marked down
for the mortuary. She could see the slyness in their eyes.
The other patients were more interesting. V. fought a losing battle with her
imagination when it insisted on transforming her surprise at some of the older,
uglier women being pregnant at all, into lurid scenes of their conceiving. Then
she thought about all the middle-aged men she knew and answered her own insolent
question. Just the same, some of the other women seemed to have embraced their
pregnancies with slovenly habits exaggerated to the point where they wore
stained slips and grubby brassieres to the clinic and almost dared the rest of
the patients to notice them. V. found it hard not to stare, more in awe of their
righteous unconcern than through distaste on her part. V. had always found
herself impelled to embark on an orgy of washing and scenting before she put on
clean, and always white, underwear, on clinic days.
In contrast, there were the women who wore their pregnancy like a fashionable
hat, posing their bellies against their straight backs to best expose their
bottom-heavy curves in a manner that declared the bulges to be temporary
deviations from flatness. There was a great aura of scent around these women and
they wore clothes edged with lace or frills and bows in an effort to emphasise
even more their undeniable femininity. V. thought them indulgent, almost
decadent as she watched them acquire the bloom they believed they should have at
such a time, and she had been unable to conceal a smile when one of them had
involuntarily farted during the weighing process and marred her veneer.
The women V. observed most carefully were the rare individuals who seemed to
have absorbed their pregnancies into their whole being so that they appeared to
her to be intelligent, serene and lovely, all without physical emphasis or
verbal mention of their condition. V. concluded that these few were the women
who were deliberately pregnant. She watched them moving around the hospital with
admiration rather than envy. They hardly talked about their symptoms, progress
or fears but V. could sense their dense and rewarding anticipation flowing from
their magnificent bodies. They were the least pretty and the most feminine of
the patients there, and V. wished them perfect babies with a fervour that sprang
from an awed knowledge of what a still-birth or deformity would do to their
The worst of it was the waiting. Not the time involved, for that was pleasant
enough. To be sitting in the warm ante-room with a book and footstool, nurses on
the spot and tea brought to their chairs after the inspection, was appreciated
by all. It was the ceaseless laywomen's discussion that ricocheted around the
group that unnerved V. most of all. She could have been forgiven for thinking
that most of the women there had spent their lives either having babies or
watching other women have them, and always in the most painful manner possible.
She heard so much of women bearing babies in gardens, cars, shops and friend's
houses that she began to wonder if any women had reached the security of the
hospital before delivery. Medical complications fascinated the company. It
seemed that they all knew of someone who had had to be operated on for
collapsing wombs, lodged placentas or worse, lodged babies. Though most of it
sounded highly exaggerated to V. their very intensity of interest exercised a
horrible attraction over her, so that she too, began to listen and believe.
There was a general acceptance of what V. thought of as the mythology of birth,
the predictions flowed fast and definite over the sex of babies lying in
position A, B and even C. Heartburn meant curly hair, backache meant a big one,
carried to the back was a boy, sideways a redhead, none of it logical and all of
it revered. V. stopped herself from examining herself for such signs but she
noted just the same that according to the ritual, she was going to have a curly
headed, red headed big boy. How awful, she thought.
She began to notice the signal absence of the largest bumps in the company only
when remarks like, "I see that big dark girl's not here," were made and
enquiries made to the nurses revealed that the big dark girl had given birth to
a healthy girl the week before. It became a fascinating game to V. to make
secret bets with herself over which women would be absent the next week. Of
course, she was sometimes caught out by a premature birth or a woman at full
term who looked slimmer than she should, but she became adept at calculating the
identity of the missing women and she became so interested in the game that she
forgot to include herself in the runners right up to her last week there. It
amused her to think that she herself must be the favourite for the next week if
anyone else whiled away the time with such idiocies. That final week, she took
leave of the hospital with a warm regret that surprised her. She had been teased
by the nurses who had told her they didn't want to see her there again, and even
the doctor, another stranger, had said he looked forward to inspecting the
results of his, and here he had laughed, labours. V. walked down the road in a
quivering limbo, between ante and postnatal, remembering the awful stories and
the faces of the women she had admired unable to believe the former or trust the
latter. So much waiting, she thought, and the child pitched inside her.
(Castle Douglas, Scotland).
CRACKS IN THE IMAGE GAY MEN'S PRESS £2.50
Anyone who loves reading and writing will cherish this book of sixteen
easy-to-read short stories about the gay scene. I know it's really written for
gay men, but you don't have to be black to like the blues, so why not. It rivals
the worker-writer stuff on slices of LIFE with flying colours.
BLIND DATE by Peter Robins is the best "Tales of the Unexpected" you'll ever
read. CABARET by Martin Havens (a bus driver) is about a show of defiance
against the exploitiative and often meagre commercial gay scene. THE DANCE by
Sam Green is about oppression up north. ONE OF THE RISKS by David Rees; and ME
AND MR MANDEL by Eric Pressland show how gays who care for your fellow man is
oppressed by our society, a form of oppression quite different from the usual
ways we consider ourselves screwed up.
TROUT DAY by Alan Mars Jones is a celebration of the gay scene even though it is
forced underground. THE DOOR INTO THE ROSE GARDEN by Barry Nonweiler deals with
a true gay political event through the eyes of a gay activist whom feminism has
helped philosophically. He also mentions the dissolution of separateness between
black and white on the gay scene; and as with his other story here: BECALMED,
mentions the tranquility he finds through finding someone to love.
SWITCHBOARD by Eric Pressland highlights folk whose first admission they are gay
comes through a gay switchboard. This also deals with the heartlessness of folk
who louse it up with obscene and hoax calls, and the futility of COMING OUT in a
town as small as Oxford. (I'd say: "Pack your bags and move to Manchester or
If you can't get this book through your local community bookshop (I should think
you can) you can order through Gay News, Gay Writers down south try Gay Author's
Workshop, 79 Mitcham Road, London E6. Anyone up North, North Wales, and
Scotland, interested in a Gay Writers Workshop contact me care of Commonword,
same address as VOICES.
ANGELA'S STORIES by Angela Scott
It is natural, in these days of violence, that much has been written about
Shankill that is depressing. Depressing more so; because we are not able to
lessen or help the situation. It was refreshing to read this small collection of
stories by a single parent of two children.
I found the book easy to read, and it's charm is in its simplicity, with
everyday situations taken and woven into a story that is interesting and often
This is the kind of book that parents will enjoy reading to their children as
much as children will enjoy reading it themselves or listening to. They prove
indeed that beneath all our humdrum, ordinary lives are stories of great appeal.
Every street, in Ireland, England, Wales or Scotland, has its own Tom, Betty,
Billy, Mrs Trimble, Sadie . . . and all the other characters you will find in
this book. It is a book about people, not politics of any kind, nor religion but
ordinary people leading ordinary lives . . . our kind of people. I recommend
ANGELA'S STORIES to both young and old alike ....
BRAINCHILD by Eve Croft. ONLYWOMEN PRESS, £2.95.
It's not often that the feminist press brings out a new British novel. It tends
to stick to reprints of neglected classics or to foreign writers. So a nice
chunky novel, describing life in 1980 is extremely welcome. BRAINCHILD is all
about Ginny, a working class and city bred woman, who dropped out of grammar
school when she got pregnant, got out of marriage when she started thinking too
much, and is now working out a life for herself on the social. Over-honesty is
her downfall, and her sharp tongue gives the book a cynical tone which I like
Lots of the book will ring a bell for many women readers the descriptions of
courting in the late fifties/early sixties; the changing relationship with her
mother; feelings towards her own children. But I would've preferred it if the
author had kept her attention to one or two of these areas, instead of covering
Ginny's entire life history. The book seems scrappy at times; I don't think Eve
Croft succeeds in bringing to life Ginny's group of women friends or the reasons
for their independence of men. Sisterhood's one of the hardest things to write
Having said that, I'd recommend anyone to read this book. Not only is it about
the lives that we are leading now; it also is an attempt to create a new and
vivid style that makes sense of it all.