cover size 210 x 148 mm (A5)
On being asked would I like to write the editorial for VOICES 27, I readily
admit I didn't feel over-confident. I realised I hadn't seen all the material
going into the magazine, but enough to tell me it would be interesting,
enjoyable and on the whole, widely representative of the worker writer movement.
The conclusion of Michael's Story is something many of us have been looking
forward to. There are some interesting women's pieces, and the Bristol worker
writers are well represented.
Women's writing is always a sore point with VOICES. Why? Because they never have
enough. I know there are excellent pieces out there, because I have seen and
read them. Working class women do produce good work. Is the fact that it is so
thin on the ground due to the pressures of this society, or is it that we lack
confidence in our own ability? I have to ask these questions in order to move a
little nearer the answers. The difficulty in maintaining balance in the content
of VOICES is increased by this ongoing problem: only women writers can relieve
To change direction a little, I feel I should mention that in April the
Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers held their annual general
meeting at Nottingham University. It was a lovely feeling having representatives
of so many groups under one roof. Worker writers from as far apart as London,
Bristol, Newcastle Manchester and Liverpool, all with a common commitment to
writing and publishing were there.
During the weekend people attended a wide variety of workshops but one in
particular was of great interest. The subject matter was VOICES, standards and
criteria. One of the many questions asked was, "How does VOICES choose or reject
material?" The answer to that question is as follows. Work sent in to VOICES is
collected into a 'fairly' neat pile. The members of the editorial group read
through every piece individually, marking the work as it is read. It is then
passed on to the next editorial member until everyone has read, commented upon
and given a grading mark to the pieces. At a later date the whole editorial
group come together to discuss and select
material for the magazine. The self selecting pieces (those having an A rating
plus glowing comment) take up little time. Pieces in the middle range are more
difficult and sometimes require much discussion, even argument. The previously
mentioned problem always arises: shortage of women's work. A great effort is
made to maintain the balance required for a magazine like VOICES for instance
women /men, social/political, home/industry etc.
Coming back to the discussion on standards, criteria, we all have our own
opinions. This is a healthy state of affairs, the arguments go on.
I speak as a working class women writer and say, we must continue to question
the word 'standards', not because we are not working towards excellence, of
course we are!, but we should ask, whose standards?
If taken to extremes is there not a danger of these same 'standards' destroying
the very thing we have created? What have we created? The right to have our
culture validated. The right to use our own language to describe our own lives,
to kill the myth, colloquial is quaint. I believe we have to be careful in our
selection of the criteria and standards we adopt. What could happen? We could be
swamped by the sophisticated, killed by the glossy finish and lose the rough
edges to our words that portray the rough edges to our lives.
Finally, read VOICES 27, enjoy the rough edges, alongside the sophisticated:
there is room for both. If you think this editorial is unpolished, well, I
didn't promise you anything of 'great literary merit', you have to take me as
you find me, 'warts and all'. I wish you all peace.
(Olive is the part time literature development officer employed by the
Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers).
Amidst Smoke and Curses
Outside in the dusk three sheepdogs wait,
One sitting, one crouching, one lying by the gate.
Inside is beer, talk and cards.
An endless troop of feet to the yard.
The world through misty windows fades,
As pipes and fags colour in the air.
The beer resigns itself to fate.
Down the pints as fast as you dare.
Plotting caps nod to the floor,
Fidgeting fingers have heard it before.
Next to the largest glass of gin.
An old man stirs the fire and sings.
Insults fly across the bar,
Domino players bang and curse.
Time sweep on and sweep out care,
And by sweeping on make these boozers worse.
If you're sure the keeper is in,
Leave by the back-slip the chain
Down the fields to the river-side.
Lift the fish collect it by night.
The landlord calls, the night is done,
Leave-taking takes us friends wherever.
In hazy mind the words did run
Please preserve this pub forever.
(East Durham Writers Workshop)
The Pit's Closed
Pit head gear, black girders
Haloed by the Moon,
Pulley wheels still, bereft of their steel ropes,
Useless, waiting for the scrap-man's cutting flame.
At bank, where once the "chuck" of kepps banged home,
The hiss of rams and rumble of the tubs,
The banksman's bells and swish of rope upon the shoes;
Silence, save for the wind-blown dust.
The gleaming cylinders rusted now.
Where steam its power played,
The big end poised, to work no more,
The drum its life-work done,
That engine house where men lived out their lives;
Quiet as the tomb.
And down that shaft, where cages rushed,
Another world lies still,
Not even one echoing footstep
Where once boots clattered;
Back-shift out, night-shift in.
Those ways to Hell:-
Straight South, North drift, and East if lot decreed,
No sound except the drip of water seeping through the roof,
While Mother Earth relentlessly reclaims her own;
No girders now to hold her back.
(East Durham Writers Workshop)
These girders hold up my world,
shot through with stout rivets.
An architecture of purpose
and specific design.
like the brain of a mathematician.
Row upon row of geometrically constructed beams.
A giant Meccano set
painted black to hide the rust.
A spider's web of iron.
A symbol of stress and distress.
Thick black lines
painted on a canvas of industry and labour.
(East Durham Writers Workshop)
If you can't manage the job
"Sorry Joe, your machine's broke down so you'll have to go on the
labouring gang for a couple of days."
"What?" asked Joe startled, hoping that he hadn't heard correctly but knowing
that he had.
Sid, the chargehand repeated the bad news.
"Er . . . well . . . what about the spare," Joe mumbled, "can't we use that?"
"No, that's knackered as well, and by the time they get it fixed it'll probably
be rusted bloody solid. But you'll be alright," Sid added, "It'll only be for a
couple of days, then I'll have you back on here."
Unable to think of anything else to say Joe stood there, looking at the broken
"We'll see you later," Sid said, giving Joe a friendly pat on the shoulder, "I'm
making a brew before the whistle goes."
Joe stood there alone staring at the machine. He felt sick. He'd worked in the
mechanised foundry for just over ten years now, and except for the first couple
of months, which he'd spent on the labouring gang, he'd worked on the core
plant. The job was boring, repetitive and unhealthy, but by mech. standards it
was a cushy number and Joe knew it. The jobs in the mech. varied from the bad to
the bloody awful, and on the labouring gang you could end up with any one of
them. It had been bad enough on the gang the first time; but now he was almost
sixty, and felt every day of it. Ten years on the core plant, breathing in the
fumes given off by the baking sand cores had made his already weak chest even
weaker. He'd lost count of the number of times his doctor had told him to leave
the job for the sake of his health. But where else could he get a job with as
good a wage, in fact where at his age could he get a job? Anyway, the work
itself was relatively light, it was only the fumes that bothered him. But. The
atmosphere on the core plant was like fresh air compared to that in other parts
of the mech. The very thought of some of the jobs scared him, he just didn't
think that he would be physically capable of doing them any more and he knew
what would happen then. The management here worked on the basis of the time
honoured principle: "If you can't manage the job get out." Still, it was only
for a couple of days ... he'd manage ... he'd have to.
There were only about five minutes left before the whistle and so Joe made his
way to the other end of the core plant to where the labourers gathered every
morning to be assigned to their various jobs. Six or seven of them were already
there, sitting or leaning on anything convenient. The whistle went as Joe
arrived; it was 7.45 a.m. Eight or nine others gradually arrived in twos and
threes to swell the size of the gang. They were mainly in their late teens or
early twenties, a few were older, but not as old as Joe. Some of the young ones
were laughing and fooling about reliving some of the funnier parts of their
weekend, but most were either chatting quietly with their neighbours or just
dozing, wishing they were still in bed. Joe was just about to begin inflicting
his problems on the young lad leaning next to him when Jimmy Walsh, the
chargehand over the labouring gang came around the corner.
"Everybody happy?" shouted Jimmy to nobody in particular, rubbing his hands and
"Get stuffed," one of the dozers replied.
"Right then lets get on with it," Jimmy said, still rubbing his hands and
smiling, looking round to see who had turned in and who hadn't.
As usual on a Monday morning quite a few hadn't; still there were enough to fill
the essential jobs. "What are you doing here?" he asked when he noticed Joe.
"Well don't worry about it," he said when Joe had told him, "I'll see you're
Joe was relieved, maybe things wouldn't turn out so bad after all. Meanwhile
Jimmy sent the gang to work, to casting, dressing, machine moulding; and some to
cleaning up in the black, dust-filled tunnels called the spillage that ran
underneath the foundry. In fact they were dispersed throughout the whole
mechanised foundry system.
"Well then Joe," Jimmy asked, still smiling, though his hands were now in his
pockets, "how do you fancy a day on the sand-wagon?"
A day on the sand-wagon meant that Joe would be working outside on what promised
to be a pleasant summers day. He would have to spade a train-wagon-load of sand
onto a conveyer belt which carried the sand to the core plant inside the
factory. And, although at first sight it might seem to be a lot, after thinking
it over for a split second Joe nodded, smiling back at Jimmy.
"Just the thing," he replied. Knowing that if he worked easily but steadily he
could have the wagon empty with at least an hour to spare before finishing time
at 4.30. Also, with a chest like his, a day working in the fresh air might even
do him some good.
Now if Joe had grabbed a spade immediately and run out to the sand-wagon as fast
as his legs could carry him, he might not have ended such a nice summer's day in
hospital. But since Joe was just an ordinary kind of bloke, unable to tell the
future, he didn't, and as a result he did. Because at that moment Harry, the
chargehand over the casting bay came across to Jimmy saying that he was a man
short, he needed a skimmer. At the same time Simon, the Deputy Manager on that
shift came round the corner.
"Everything all right Jimmy? Everything O.K. Harry?" he asked.
"No. I need a skimmer," repeated Harry.
"Oh well, we'll find you somebody won't we?" Simon replied, looking at Jimmy.
"What job are you on?" he asked turning to face Joe, who, as we have said, had
not taken his opportunity to run outside.
"I've put him on the sand-wagon," Jimmy butted in.
Simon looked over towards the small mountain of sand that was already stockpiled
inside the factory. "That can wait," he said. Then, looking at Joe again, "you'd
best go skimming."
Joe was speechless. Speechless because he was scared. Scared because he felt
helpless. The skimmer had to skim the slag off the top of a ladle full of molten
iron using a skimmer, a four-foot-long steel bar with a flat steel disc at one
end, much as you would use a spoon to skim the tea-leaves from the top of a cup
of tea. There were of course differences. First, skimming was hard work. The
iron was poured out of the furnace into the receiver, then into the ladles
suspended from an overhead rail. The skimmer had to pull the ladles from under
the receiver, push them to where he skimmed them, then push them round to the
casters, who in turn had to keep up with the track carrying the newly made box
moulds up from the moulding machines. Moving at a set speed the track rarely
stopped, so that the casters had to push the ladle and pour the iron at the same
time, often spilling it over the track and floor. The skimmer only stopped when
or if the track itself stopped. But worse than this was the heat. It burned your
face and hands, it made you feel as if your goggles were melting and your gloves
catching fire, while the rest of your body and clothes were drenched in sweat.
Yet worst of all were the fumes given off by the molten iron. Fumes that hit you
straight in the face when you pushed the ladle, that burned your throat leaving
even the fittest men gasping for breath.
It wasn't the thought of hard work that frightened Joe, it was the thought,
however much he tried to
push it to the back of his mind, that he wouldn't be able to do the
job because of the heat and fumes especially the fumes. There were days when
he could hardly get his breath on the core plant, days when he wondered how long
it would be before he couldn't even manage that job any more. But what option
had he got? He knew what the mech. was like, how many times in the past ten
years had he heard people told, "If you can't manage the job - get out." If he
told the Deputy Manager about his chest, he knew what the answer would be, "Go
home and come back when you're fit to work"; the problem was that he'd never be
fit for work like that again. Alternatively, if he simply refused to do the job;
he'd be sacked on the spot. There was no embarkation in the mech. Apart from a
few fitters they were all labourers and had to do whatever job they were told.
And Joe just couldn't afford to go on the dole until he was sixty five. All this
flashed through his mind in a couple of seconds. He couldn't do the job; but he
couldn't afford not to. He didn't know what to do. So he stood there speechless.
Jimmy Walsh had realised what Joe must bethinking. Jimmy had worked in the mech.
for over twenty years, during which time he had seen it all and grown both
mentally and physically hard.
He had little
sympathy for his own misfortunes and less for other peoples. But he knew that
although Joe was a willing worker, that he probably wouldn't last very long in
the casting bay. And he didn't see the point of giving someone a rough time
unnecessarily. Besides that he didn't like the idea of the Deputy Manager
shoving his nose in where it wasn't bloody well wanted, much less needed. So he
suggested that Joe change places with one of the young lads on the labouring
gang who'd been given a lighter, cleaner job, arguing that nobody would bother
about such a swap in this case.
Simon however wouldn't be moved. He'd given Joe a job and if joe wouldn't or
couldn't do it, it didn't matter which, he shouldn't be there. "You know what
this bloody gang's like," he argued with Jimmy, "let one turn a job down and
they'll all turn the bloody job down. Let one off because he's sick and two
minutes after they're all bloody sick. Joe's worked here long enough, he knows
the rules, you either do as your told or you go home. Thats all there is to
And that was all that there was to it. There was no court of appeal here. Simon
knew he was right. It was alright being soft, making allowance for this, that
and the bloody other. He wasn't being awkward for the sake of it, he wasn't made
out of iron. But they were a rough, troublesome lot here; give an inch and
they'd kick you a bloody mile; show that you were a bit on the soft side and
they'd play on it, they'd con you right, left and centre. He looked from Jimmy
who was unimpressed, to Harry, who wasn't interested, who had heard it all
before and who only wanted a skimmer; then to Joe who still hadn't opened his
"Come on Joe," said Harry turning to walk back to the casting bay, "I'll fix you
up with some gear."
Joe meekly followed and collected his protective clothing; spats, goggles and
gloves. "It'll soon be half four," Harry commented consolingly as Joe
unwillingly set off for the skimming area. He got there just in time to see the
first ladle being filled.
"Are you supposed to be skimming?" the bloke operating the receiver shouted at
Joe. Joe nodded. 'Then don't just fucking stand there, shift this bloody ladle"
Joe hurried under the receiver, adjusting his goggles as he went. He pulled the
ladle a little away from the receiver then changed sides to push it the rest of
the way. But he hadn't gone far before he was bent double frantically rubbing
his head. For a minute he'd thought that his hair had caught fire, since when
you walked near the receiver you walked into what appeared to be a firework
display, a never ending shower of sparks and spots of molten iron. Joe wasn't
used to this, it seemed as if the receiver was aiming at him personally. He'd
heard and felt the sizzle as spots of iron had landed on his hair. Even as he
bent over sparks continued to fall round him. "Here, put this on" shouted the
bloke on the receiver, short temperedly throwing a flat cap at Joe, "and get
that fucking ladle out of the way." Joe grabbled at the hat gratefully, jamming
it onto his head as hard as he could.
"Come on Joe," shouted the caster waiting for his ladle, "we've only got till
half past four," he added sarcastically.
Growing ever more confused, gasping for breath, Joe pushed the ladle to where he
had to skim it. Sweat was already running down his face and back, he picked up
the skimmer, but instead of holding it over the ladle to warm it up a little, he
dipped the cold steel straight into the molten iron. It spat back at him
viciously. Joe dropped the skimmer and clutched the side of his face where a
spot of iron had him him, sticking to his skin, sizzling.
"Shift this bloody ladle," screamed the man on the receiver.
"Go and get the next one," the caster told him, "I'll skim this." Joe did as he
On and on it went, for an hour, an hour and half, two hours, with the machine
moulders filling every space on the track. Round and round the ladles came, Joe
got no chance to rest, no chance to sit down, even for a minute to rest his
weary legs. He had to keep up. Somebody younger and stronger who could work
faster would have been able to get in front a bit and snatch a minute's sit-down
every now and then. But Joe was neither young nor strong, he had to drive
himself to the limit just to keep up. The bloke on the receiver, who did a lot
of shouting, had started to help him a bit by pulling the ladles a couple of
yards from under the receiver; and some of the casters would sometimes give him
a lift by skimming their own ladles. This gave him the chance to empty the wheel
barrow into which he put the slag; or to clean his skimmer, which became
progressively bigger and heavier as more and more iron stuck to it. Joe cleaned
it by swinging it over his shoulder and bringing it down like a sledgehammer
against an old anvil kept for that purpose. He always seemed to be trying to
catch up. He lost track of the time, moving more and more mechanically.
The noise, the vibration, the crashing, banging roar of the machinery seemed to
get louder and louder, forcing its way into his head, making his veins throb as
if they were going to burst. The heat had become a part of him, he was wringing
with sweat. It ran down his body soaking his clothes, his shirt, pants and socks
were saturated. When he was actually skimming his gloves started to smoulder,
his face and hands felt as though they were being slowly roasted; his goggles
felt as if they were going to melt and the heat from them burned his eyes making
them water. Spots of iron had singed his hair, burned his arms and face, found
their way down his shirt and boots to stick and burn into his flesh. The
strength seemed to have gone from his arms and legs long ago, yet they still
kept going, he didn't know how, he didn't think about it any more. Worst of all
were the fumes, no matter how careful he was he couldn't avoid them. They burned
his throat, stung his eyes, suffocated him, making him fight for every single
breath. He felt as though he was being crushed, his chest just couldn't cope
with the poison that filled it.
Joe couldn't go on any longer. The physical effort, the noise, the heat, the
fumes had taken what was left of the strength from his legs. Gasping for breath
he couldn't breathe, he was choking; his heart was bursting, his head was
spinning, the foundry was rocking wildly. He fainted; falling across the
wheelbarrow full of red hot slag, bashing his head against the wall. Two of the
casters were quick to pull him off the barrow and put his burning clothes out.
He hadn't been burned too badly and, though the gash on his head looked nasty,
"It could", as the Deputy Manager said, "have been worse." Joe was put on a
stretcher, carried to the first aid building, then taken to hospital. He never
went back to the foundry; in fact he never worked again. Who wants to employ an
old man with a weak chest, burned belly and a scar on his forehead?
Bristol Broadsides has now published ten booklets. Some of the publications come
from writers' workshops; others concentrate on people's history. In the four
years that we have been going we have sold in excess of 25,000 copies of our
books, locally and nationally.
We are beginning to make an impact on the way people see history and writing.
Memory and experience - written or tape recorded is now a crucial part of
local history; creative writing is becoming a vital form of self expression in
council estates and workplaces.
Bristol Broadsides operates as a co-operative, with one full time worker, whose
salary is funded by South West Arts.
We are an active member of the Federation of Worker Writers, and it is important
to our work locally that we are part of a thriving national movement.
For more details about Bristol Broadsides, contact us at: 110 Cheltenham Rd.,
Bristol BS6 5RW. Tel: (0272) 40491.
Children in the
"Out!" said Ma,
"You've gone too far.
I have to tell you
What you are."
"You're cattle on the high road,
Pebbles in a shoe,
Nettles in the garden,
Sugar in the stew
Or any other nuisance
I can do without
Children in the kitchen,
The Wedding Guest
Lil stood in her pew and looked round at the assembled wedding guests and
bride and groom. "Well" she said to herself, 'There's our Mabel all done up like
a dog's dinner. Whatever made her chose that terrible shade of pink. With her
complexion she looks like an underdone lobster and that chap doesn't know what
he's letting himself in for. Right little madam our Lucy, all done up in that
white dress and her no better than she ought to be, had more blokes that I've
had hot dinners. Takes after her mother. She was fast. Look at all them nylons
she got from the yanks. Didn't get them for nothing I know. Look at our Fred
in his morning suit, and he ain't got two pennies to rub together. Up to their
eyeballs in debt the lot of them. Still, the lad's got a good job and his
mother's a lovely woman. Works in that office block, cleaning, and cleaning's
summat our Mabel don't know much about. The state of her windows! You can't see
through em, and got the cheek to buy new net curtains. Thought they'd hide the
dirt I suppose. Cor, our Fred's gut, its obscene. A good days work and a few
less pints, he'd loose a stone easy. Vicar's looking old. All grey and lined.
His wife looks all right though, done up like a 41/zd hambone. That make up
looks like she slapped it on with a trowel. I love's this church, makes me feel
all holy and religious. Sort of good inside.
Blimey, they'm coming out the vestry and I never even heard em say their vows.
Better stand up or I'll be last out and miss the photos.
"Tell me Diana what grows in your garden?"
"Goosegogs and taters, please Miss".
"Gooseberries and potatoes, Diana".
"Collect the books please Jane"
"Pat's wearin' her Brownie uniform to school.
I'm tellin' Brown Owl of you".
"Jane loves Stephen.
He sent her a note.
"I've got a new liberty bodice,
it's fleecy lined with rubber buttons,
so the buttons won't break,
when Mum puts it through the mangle".
"Show off! show off!"
"My Mum says I'm not allowed ankle strap shoes they're common."
He knocked at the door.
"Come in, sit down.
Now what newspapers do your parents read."
'The Pictorial and the Daily Herald, sir."
"Who is your favourite comedian, boy?"
"Max Miller, sir".!!
'Tell us one of his jokes".
"I can't remember one,
but I can tell you one of Frankie Howerd's".
"What does your father do?"
"He's a docker, sir."
Each word a nail hammered his fate,
Their words, his words.
Not grammar school material, they said.
In a row of council houses.
Windows sparkling, clean white net curtains.
Hedges trimmed, bright green privet hedges
all one height.
There's a wedding
Happy people walk on a lawn
short grass, no brown mud patches.
Rose tree in centre, pretty rose tree.
One week later.
No green showing, a profusion of flowers.
Red roses, yellow daffs.
Pure white lilies, cards attached
Black edged, black print
In living memory, R.I.P.
There's a funeral.
Black suited men and weeping women
Walk through the pleasant garden.
Towards the hearse.
Two months on.
Dreary house no white net curtain
Empty lifeless windows.
Inside, bereft desolate women
Outside overgrown hedges
Grass lifeless, dull earth showing.
Straggly rose tree needs pruning
Unpleasant garden, deprived of care
like the women
The Gardener is dead.
Have you ever had that feeling,
you just can't go out?
Do your darling children,
make you scream and shout?
Or have you got a secret
you can't talk about?
Have you ever had that feeling
you're tired bored and worn out?
Do you stay in and moan
waiting for your old man to come home?
Have you ever had that feeling
while there's life, there's hope.
Your brain is not a cabbage
in life there is some scope?
Have you ever had that feeling.
Right! I'm going to start again,
to care about the world we live in
I'm going to learn again!
Now if you had those feelings,
then you're a lot like me
Remember life is for the living.
But you have to live it To be free.
Day of Rest
Sunday get up at eight, get the spuds out to peel
put the meat in the oven
shell the peas, put the cabbage on.
Children up for breakfast, washing on the line
time for coffee, feed the dogs, dinner ready
time to eat, wash the dishes, put away
work out what to have for tea
bath the kids, get the washing in
get things ready for school, no button on the shirt
its time for bed. Why am I so tired
on my day of rest?
I'll be glad to get back to work.
Full publications list:
A Bristol Childhood 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 00 7
Bristol as we remember it 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 01 5
Up Knowle West 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 02 3
Looking back on Bristol 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 03 1
Shush Mum's Writing 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 04 X
Toby 60p(+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 05 8
Arthur and Me 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0906944 06 6
Corrugated Ironworks 50p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 07 4
Fred's People 60p (+20p. p+p) ISBN 0 906944 08 2
Shush Mum's Writing Again 65p (+20p. p+p ISBN 0 906944 09 0
Down Trafford Road into Ashburton Road walked Alex Jones, his army gas
mask case with his sandwiches in, swinging at his side. He knew if he didn't
hurry he would miss the bus that went pass the gate of the factory where he
It was a freezing morning when he stopped under the bus shelter at the entrance
to Trafford Park, to wait for the fifty three. He stamped his feet, cupped his
hands and blew into them. "Jesus, what a morning, if only I had another few
pence I could have gone in the caff for a cuppa". He mind was racing as he
counted the coppers in his pocket without bringing them out. But no matter how
much he counted, he still had only his bus fare to work and back.
Just when he had made up his mind to spend his return fare on a cup of tea, the
bus came tearing around the corner and pulled up at the stop.
"Upstairs, upstairs, there's plenty of room on top." Alex tried to go inside the
bottom deck, "Hey mate, are you deaf? I said upstairs". Alex didn't argue as he
climbed slowly up to the top deck of the bus. Under his breath he cursed the
conductor, "Bleeding jumped up bastard, another of those give me the power, you
can keep the money type."
He settled into a seat next to an old man smoking a pipe. A shiver went through
his body as the warmth of the bus seeped into his cold bones.
A bell sounded. The bus started moving. The smoke from the old man's pipe
descended like a thick cloud around his face and head.
"What're you smoking, bleedin' socks?" he said turning fiercely towards the old
The man just smiled as he drew once more on the pipe, then said, letting another
trickle of smoke from his lips, "No son, it's a bit of twist I got from my paper
shop this morning, good ain't it?"
Alex coughed "I don't know about thick twist, it smells like thick shit on me."
For the rest of the journey they didn't speak. The old man sucked on his pipe,
while Alex coughed. Two more stops and the bus would be outside the main gate of
the aircraft factory where he worked.
For a fourteen year old lad, Alex had a good job. He was brew boy to the men in
the shaping shop, that was where the propellers of the aircraft were shaped from
planks of laminated wood.
The process started with paper thin sheets of wood stuck together with glue and
compressed to make planks, then the planks were cut roughly to the outline of a
propeller and then they too were glued together. The glued planks then went into
large ovens which quickly hardened the glue before finally coming into the
shaping shop. Rows and rows of joiners benches, on each bench a propel lor in a
different stage of completion.
This is what Alex saw every morning. He would walk down the rows collecting the
brew-cans that each man placed on the corner of his bench, with his brew of tea,
cocoa or coffee alongside it. Some of the men had two sided tins, one side for
the brew, the other for his sugar or saccharine, while others had neat newspaper
packages with the tea and sugar mixed.
Alex had his little book with all the men's names entered in it. Alongside each
man's name was either a tick or a cross. A tick meant that the man had paid Alex
three pence, this was the agreed price all the brew boys got. Of course, the
firm paid him wages also, so by and large Alex was on a fairly good wage. Apart
from this, during the week, a man may come to work without a brew, having
forgotten to bring it or because they had no tea at home. In either case he
asked Alex to make him a buckshee brew. For this favour Alex charged an extra
three pence, although to get the brew all he did was pinch a few leaves from the
other men's brews. If a man welshed on his payment, Alex would make sure that
his brew was the last to be made which meant either a cold brew or a brew with
the tea leaves floating thickly on the top of the can, and until he paid, the X
against his name would remain.
Alex alighted from the bus, tucking his hands deep into his pockets and head
bent against the wind, he started to cross the train lines which were between
the road and the factory entrance.
"Hey, Alex.. "
He turned and looked up. "Oh, it's you Jack. Hurry up or we'll be late and have
Greenie after us."
Jack was the brew boy for the lathe shop and Greenie was the foreman over the
whole bay. Both boys hurried towards the security lodge to clock on.
"Did you hear about that twit who brews for the night shift? he's got a raise
and been promoted."
"Who said that, Jack? I'll bet he won't stick at whatever job they've given him.
He'll be asking for his brewing job back."
"What makes you say that Alex?" He put his hand on Jack's shoulder, "It's bloody
obvious isn't it? We were all on twenty two and a tanner. Well, with say about
fifty men each giving him three pence, well he'd have to get a rise of twelve
bob a week and I can't see these tight bastards giving him twelve bob rise. Can
you?" Jack looked thoughtful, "No I guess you're right. What a silly bleeder.
He'll be sorry."
They both laughed Alex said, "I'll see you later in the brew house," as they
parted, each going to his particular section of the works.
When Alex had hung his coat up on the nail on the wall alongside the empty bench
he used for sorting his brewcans, he took out his book. Only three names had
X's. Two of them Alex discarded! one because Alex felt sorry for the guy, and
the other was Big Mike, an ex-wrestler who Alex got on so well with. He ticked
them both, but the third was Phil, this was a guy Alex was always having trouble
with and he hadn't paid for three weeks.
Alex's face was stern as he tapped the book with his pencil. He spoke aloud to
himself while tapping. "Right you bastard, I'm going to give you one more
He walked down the row of benches until he came to a bench where a small man
with a large hooked nose was.
"Have you got my money for brewing up for you?" he asked. The man turned his
"Are you talking to me?"
Alex opened his book,
"You owe me three weeks and I want paying."
"You cheeky young bleeder, you get your wages for brewing up don't you? now piss
off before I put my boot up your arse."
From one or two of the benches around came shouts of the men there, "Pay the
lad." "You tight bastard." "Give him his money."
Alex stood waiting until Phil the man at the bench moved in his direction in a
threatening manner, then he left saying, "Don't you ever ask for a brew when
your old woman runs out at home, because I wouldn't give you the snot out of my
The man chased after him, but Alex darted in between the benches and escaped.
Later that morning Alex collected all the brew cans and went into the brew
house. He always made a point of getting there first so he could fill all his
cans one after another under the tap from the boiler.
Only one can sat alone on the side waiting to be filled after he had finished.
His friend, Jack, had brought his cans in while Alex was filling his. He said,
"Hey Alex, You've forgot one." He handed the can to him.
Alex took it off him saying,
"Leave it until the last, he likes cold tea, the
guy who owns that. At least I think he does because he hasn't paid any tea
"Whose is it? He'll bleeding kill you."
Alex shrugged his shoulders,
"I can't help it if the water is cold now can I,
All the cans were on the bench near the door. Alex placed them in two rows so
the men could pick their own can easily. Right at the tail of the back row was
Phil's can. Alex waited. Each of the men came and took his brew to his own
particular bench. Phil was always one of the first to get his can. He sat at his
bench, opened his package of sandwiches then took the lid of his can.
"You bleeding whelp, wait until I get my hands on you!" He charged down the shop
in pursuit of Alex who as soon as he heard the shout had taken to his heels.
The men were laughing and shouting encouragement to him as he dodged in and out
among the benches. He stopped now and then to shout to Phil, "Pay me my money
and you'll get hot tea!"
Phil gave up the chase. Alex sat with his feet on Big Mike's bench. "Where is
he, can you see him Mike?" Big Mike stood up. Because of his size he could look
down the full length of the shop.
"I'm afraid you're for it kid, he's gone in Greenie's office with his brew can."
Alex was busy collecting the cans for washing when Greenie came behind him and
tapped him on the shoulder.
"I want to see you in my office." Alex continued collecting the cans. "NOW!"
Inside Greenie's office Alex listened to the foreman's ranting, about how he was
paid to brew up, not have the men chasing him in working time. Then he calmed
and said, "I've put you up for promotion, maybe when you get a responsible job
you'll be better. Now go and behave yourself or there'll be no promotion."
Alex walked from the office in a daze, "Bloody promotion more like bloody
demotion!" He had to do something and fast, or he would get an Irishman's rise,
a bloody drop in pay. This was all that bleeding Phil's fault.
Lunchtime came, every brew can was steaming, including Phil's, and when Phil
took his can to his bench he looked at Alex, smiling a self satisfied smile, as
though he was saying "I got you now, you little bastard."
At just before the break in the afternoon, Alex had just gathered the cans when
Big Mike shouted to him,
"I see your mate Phil's gone home sick." Alex smiled,
"Yeah! It must have been something he drank."
Big Mike's face broke into a grin as Alex explained how he had doctored Phil's
tea with half a dozen Bile Beans.
It wasn't long before the story of the Bile Beans travelled round the whole
shop. Alex became a kind of hero figure with most of the men.
When Greenie heard he sent for Alex to tell him that because of his pranks there
would be no promotion for him.
Notes Towards A Poem
Red star night.
A badge in the sky.
Banners at the cross-roads.
Oh Mother Russia,
your past bleeding,
we are driving to the future
in a black limousine.
in the lift
an atlas in microcosm,
all telling us,
by their accents,
that they were born in.
In the Ukraine Hotel,
the bathrooms drip
and many tongues
with the last words of the day
melting away on their lips.
Vodka is as warm
as a kiss.
It thrusts a burning finger
down your throat.
After a few,
Our arms surround
Warm Russian that he is,
Igor kisses me.
After fish and caviar,
He signs away his writing:
who is both happy and sad.'
spurts into a dream.
In and out of trouble,
people will always
TO A FELLOW WRITER IN RUSTAVI
Last night we swopped our shirts.
They didn't fit our bodies too well
but they fitted our mood exactly.
The huge spread of Leningrad.
Cold courtyard heart.
The winter is hard,
but the nights are turning,
from black to white,
to red and back again.
and I'm dazzled;
not by the slender sway
of the supple trapezist
but by the spotlight
of a girl's blonde hair.
Shining from the audience,
and all Russia smiles at me.
Such tricks in this moment.
I know I'll never see her again.
All the wailing
behind fine railings.
The seminary domes like suns
catch the sun
and priests, with long nights in their beards,
sound out the walls
as a rocket
glints in the sky.
It's hellish hot in here.
Beneath the Earth,
men and women
Steel bars for prisons,
steel bars for playgrounds.
It's hellish hot in here.
Like a heart,
Three swaying silhouettes.
Along the street,
they joggle towards us.
In their cases,
they carry documents with drink
seeping between the lines.
And now they are laughing,
and now the words are laughing.
They are peace documents.
Meant for bottles,
meant for oceans.
Behind bolts and books, Mayfair, school desks, truth crouched:
Cowering, flowering under the table;
Afraid of himself and the class-room's touch.
Running scared on the spot from the Gay label.
In pubs and playgrounds and class-rooms truth lay hid
Beneath a cover tasteless joking, anti-Gay.
Bad Faith in person. Who was he trying to kid?
Himself? His friends? But too late, it happened yesterday.
He stabbed himself so others could not see:
Have you heard how many queers it takes to change
A light-bulb? Four; one to change the bulb, and three
To share the experience. Stabbed himself; strange .. .
And then off home to carefully hide Cover Girl
And Penthouse in obvious places to be found
By Dad. And all the time, the Gay flag furled,
Rolled up inside him. Dad found the mags; he was proud.
His son was growing up to be a real man;
Went out drinking, played snooker, darts, read mags:
Strange how kids never change, from tiny babes to football fans;
From string to johnnies in their pockets, and fags.
Then the strain of existing two lives,
Turning to fags to ease his mind and kill time.
He didn't want to think just survive
His feelings. Why was it such a fucking crime?
Incomprehension. What was it the World so feared?
Him? Flights of fantasy ran through his brain
In bed. The only time he ever lived was here.
Masturbation kept him sane, relieved the pain.
Masturbation, the under-cover living
Out of life as he wanted it in day-light.
And now he wanted light with no misgivings.
The time had come to tell the World. And he was right.
When I was little, this was in Reddish where we moved, Mrs. Middlewich from the
fish and chip shop a couple of streets away from us, her little girl died. So
she adopted a little black boy.
Now his real name was Steven but the older kids called him by an evil name; "Sam
Spade." And what's more there were a lot of older kids up Thirlmere Crescent
where he lived. So Steven used to come and play near us.
Actually he was in Mavis's gang. Mavis was a very big girl and she had a two
wheeler scooter with pnuematic tyres. So everyone who had a scooter or roller
skates was in her gang and she was king cos she had the best scooter. Mind you
she was always scrapping with the Rices because they had roller skates but
thought Mavis was a creep. Besides they could outskate and outscoot anyone,
I longed for a scooter so I could be in Mavis's gang. They always seemed so
clanny and so occupied and intelligent. They were always busy meddling and
meeting in each other's back garden sheds. The rest of the kids were stupid in
comparison to them.
I had a three wheeler bike so I played with the Stanleys who were just loud
noisy kids. Mind you, once all the Stanleys' tribe got mumps altogether and it
was then that I had to play in Mavis's gang. But Mavis took it philosophically
and let me join in.
So we used to play house behind the Jones's motorbike shed. And Mavis and Steven
were always mother and father on account of them being the tallest.
Now Steven had two handicaps: the first was that he was so tall and broad like
Mavis; the second was that he was adopted by the Middlewich couple. They were in
fact quite old and acted like children in order to make their child feel at
home. For example both Mr and Mrs Middlewich read kids' comics and were avid
viewers of cartoons. With Steven they would sit in front of the fire with bags
of crisps, chocolate chewey bars and fizzy pop and their house was full of
imaginary characters added to which there was Billy the Kid: Steven: Banjo Bill:
Mr Middlewich: and Sciatica Nell: Mrs Middlewich. And they would go on all night
like this in the chip shop with the TV full blast.
Consequently when we were all playing house the Jones's shed was full of all
imaginary knocks on the door and strange "who-done-it" conversations with
Now Steven used to wear long trousers which was quite unusual for children under
the age of thirteen in the nineteen fifties, but even the long trousers only
came to the top of his ankles on account of his legs being so long. We all
longed for a pair of long pants too, and eventually my mum gave in and bought me
a black pair of playing-out jeans with green stitching.
As soon as I got the pants, I wanted a pair of baseball pumps like Steven's too.
They were canvas with little rubber ankle bumps and I'd seen them in Woolworths
for nine and six. But my mum looked horrified and said, "Oh no, only darkies
The effect on my image of Steven was as if I'd seen a bus inverted in a shop
window. I'd come to see him differently or maybe it was the way he really was.
It suddenly seemed to me that Steven belonged in a group which were wild in
Tarzan films and naughty in Noddy books.
Mind you, so what... it was nothing to do with us in Reddish and Reddish
stretched till eternity, even if you went as far as the Bulls Head or
Houldsworth Square I found it astonishing for my mum to keep insisting that we
were still in Reddish. So what if it meant being like Steven if I could wear
baseball pumps, it would be great.
But one day after I come in from playing I heard my dad telling my mum,
don't make such a fuss over it, Winnie."
To which my mum said:
"Go on, you tell him, go on."
My dad started hesitantly:
"Your mum and me think its high time you stopped
playing with Steven. He's not like us. He's different in ways you wouldn't
understand. It's alright you all playing together when you're babies, but its
just not done for older kids to play together. When you grow up thing'll be
different. And Steven won't understand why and neither will you."
So it was OK if I played with Mavis and the rest of the kids but not Steven.
That Sunday morning Steven knocked on our front door.
"Hey," I balled to my mother, "It's Sam Spade."
"Shut up For Gods Sake," she balled. "Look, just shut the living room door and
wait till he's gone. You can play out in half an hour."
Anyway, when I went out they were all there on the corner of Thirlmere Crescent.
Mavis balled out: "What yer called Steven" Sam Spade" through your letter box
for? Look at him, he's been crying."
Steven was rubbing his eyes. "I'm not, I've not been crying at all."
Knowing I was sticking up for my mum and dad I started skipping round the five
of them and singing, "Oh yes you have. Sam Spade's been crying. Sam Spade, Sam
Spade." And then I turned to the other three, Trevor, Raymond and Eric; and
said: "Hey lets run away from Steven. Mum says they're not
like us, pick their noses and eat bubblegum."
With that the four of us ran off and Mavis shouted after us, "Fartin' Martin,
your momma's done yer partin'."
Then Mavis got on her sturdy scooter and gave chase on us with us laughing at
them. But you could tell by her face that she was furious. I got frightened and
my legs were like jelly. I fell behind the"others who'd run down the bin tunnel
of the prefabs.
I couldn't stop in time to make the bin tunnel cos Mavis cut me off, but I
continued running up the street with Mavis at my tail. She overtook and got hold
of my hair and rammed my face into the concrete lamp-post.
My eye and cheek started to swell with the grit and the bruise and I ran home
crying very loud with Mavis shouting after me, "I didn't mean it Martin, we was
My mum who heard the howling ran to the front door and Mavis shouted, "I didn't
mean to push him Mrs Golasowski. We was only playing."
I tore past my mum and up the path into our house and buried my face in the
living room settee. My dad who was having a shave to go to the pub at dinnertime
said: "Now whats up."
I said, "It's that Sam Spade, he's thumped me in the eye, he thumped me."
My dad said, "You big bar faced liar. I bet that big girl pushed you. You big
sissy letting yourself be pushed by a big girl. Why you all have to play with a
girl I don't know. You're mard, you want to stick up for yourself."
Well, I couldn't play out for the rest of the day on account of the big black
eye swelling up and leaving me near blind. I stayed off school till the
Wednesday when my mum sent a note saying I'd walked into a lamp-post.
With that, the gang got back to normal and everyone was friends again and my mum
let me play with Mavis and Steven on account of her being too afraid of it
getting back to Mrs Middlewich and there being a street raising row.
But as I hung round with Mavis and the others, Steven went to play with the
Stanleys' cos his mum wanted him to catch mumps and get it over with. So we
never saw Steven much after that. His mother had got all over-protective too and
since the incident had started vetting his friends. We only went to their house
when his mum was down the other shop on her own.
I remember another incident when Hilda Platt put her head over our fence and
started nattering to my mother. Steven's mother had adopted another little black
boy four years younger than Steven, and Steven was showing the estranged little
lad round the streets'. Hilda whispered, "Ah, don't they look nice playing
together. They don't fight like our kids. If I had a three bedroomed, I'd adopt
one, a little girl."
My mother guiltily saw this as a poisonous poke and retorted, "Ah, yes; they
might look nice now when they're children but you know what they're like when
they grow up."
Curious but innocent I butted in, "Why mum, what they like when they grow up?"
My mum turned to Hilda with the dry look of having the situation under control
and said, "I'll have to go in now, Hilda, I've just remembered I've got Fred's
overalls in the boiler."
With that she walked up our lobby and enticed me inside the kitchen as if she
had a secret goodie surprise for me. When I got inside the kitchen she pulled
the door closed behind me and slapped my face, muffling the sound with her
apron, for showing her up.
TEN YEARS LATER 1968
It was when we were all teenagers and some of us were working and Steven stayed
on at school to do his A levels. My mum was sewing and whispering to my dad
about Steven's first girl friend and how she was white. I felt quite rebellious
at this, "Yeah, but you married my dad and he's Polish, think of what we could
have gone through if the neighbours had the mind to be nasty."
My father looked very philosophical in his reading glasses and slippers, and
said, "Very true, Martin. I share your sentiment in many ways. When I was your
age I had passions too. But its not quite the same."
My mother piped in, on a point of clarification, "Listen Martin, when you're on
the dole and you go for a job and there's a queue of black lads wanting the same
job, you'll think the same as us when you don't get that job."
I flew back, reminded that I had passion, "Yeah, but I've got a job. Steven
couldn't get a job like us, our time round cos the bosses don't want to know;
just the bus company. So he's got to stay on and do his A levels so he can get
the same job as us who've only CSE's.
My father piped back pessimistically, "Isn't that what I said, I told you. Now
maybe you can understand." He stuck his pipe back in his mouth and smoked it.
But the most upsetting incident for me was yet to come. It happened a few months
later, like this. I had been to my new workmate's like every Thursday night. He
lived in the flats on Stockport Market. We had been swapping our Motown records.
I came to catch the last bus to Reddish from Mersey Square.
By the time I got to the "Bear Pit" all the buses were lined up for the
inspector's final whistle at twenty past ten. I jumped on the 17A to the sound
of the whistle and the sliding door shut behind me as I ran up the stairs.
Towards the back of the upper saloon were that gang of skin-heads from up
Thirlmere Crescent. I didn't know any of them by name. Just as a gang of
cretins. As I walked past them they were laughing at someone.
There was Steven slumped across the back long seat, stone drunk and asleep to
the world. I wanted to undo his collar to let him breath but I didn't have a
nerve cos they were shouting him to his nick name "Sam Spade." As I got near him
they called me a puff, thinking I was going to help him. So I spaced myself two
seats in front of him.
As the bus chugged up Lancashire Hill they continued calling him. Then as the
bus coasted round into Sandy Lane it started its usual slowly caressing every
bump and rut to gain full effect.
We had just climbed the bridge to Houldsworth Square when the conductor came
upstairs and walked to the back. He shook Steven but he didn't respond. The
conductor shouted in a loud voice, "Hey you, pull yourself together, wake up; or
we'll drop you in at the Police Station on the way to the garage."
I was terrified but Steven was out cold to everyone.
The conductor turned back up the bus and said to us,
"Is there anyone of you
know where he lives that can get him home?"
I just sat there minding my own business, scared of the gang. They were laughing
at "Sam Spade" ending up in clink. I was frustrated that I wanted to do
something but I was afraid of them calling me or maybe the two of us getting
done over. So I just sat there.
Between the Essoldo and the Emporium the faceless gang went downstairs to get
off. I breathed a sigh of relief. Just one more stop to go.
There was just me and Steven left upstairs when it turned into Longford Road
West and the roof started hitting the leaves of the low trees. I wanted to drag
Steven to the stairs but I was scared he might wake up and think something bad,
and scared if any of the neighbours might be downstairs and see me.
I had dithered too long and now it was my stop. I got up with my Motown LPs and
run down the stairs just in time for the door to slide open at our corner.
As the bus wobbled off over the canal brew I kicked myself. I had not acted on
my passion. I had not done what's right. I was Judas. Just afraid and weak and
comfortable to shut my eyes on the world, hoping it would wobble off over the
canal brew. But alone now I was alone with my wretched self. Alone with
uselessness. I now wished all the stupid people alive would laugh at me for
dragging a blackman down the stairs of the bus; or even hauling a cross between
the useless buggers.
I waited on the opposite corner for the bus to come back the other way. Maybe I
could flag it down. Soon the non-lit double decker raced back up displaying
"DEPOT" on the front light. It might have just as well said "POLICE STATION."
I stood out in the road but it just overtook and raced past, a limp brown hand
wobbling back and forth in the back upstairs window.
I wanted to swear, if only I could, that this would be the last time I'd betray
anyone. But gutless and ashamed at my shortcomings I didn't even have the sense
to go round to Steven's mum and say what'd happened.
I told no-one about this. And since then whenever I saw Steven on the street I
looked down or away, afraid to meet his eyes for fear of accusal. For fear of my
St Lucia is a tiny island in the West Indies. In London where I used to
live, the white population considered all blacks to be Jamaican. But as a matter
of fact it is further from Jamaica to St. Lucia, than from Liverpool to Warsaw.
I can imagine what a Liverpudlian would think if he went to live in Africa and
everyone thought he was Polish that the natives were bloody thick. Luckily,
the people of St. Lucia are more tolerant.
Angela came to London from St. Lucia when she married a man who'd been recruited
by London Transport. Angela came from what we might see as a rather upper class
sort of family and, labour being cheap there, her family had had servants. So
cooking and cleaning were just two of the totally new experiences offered her by
London life. I think Angela's parents may have been rather shocked by her new
husband taking her off to the mother country. No doubt however they didn't quite
picture it the way it was. They pestered her for pictures of the house, but she
couldn't very well send a picture of the walk-up flat, 1926 corpy style, for
them to show around at home. So she sent a picture of the local Catholic Church
instead, as St. Lucians are nearly all Catholics.
You had to know Angela a long time to find out these things, because she was a
quiet, shy girl. Her husband had not adapted to the strains of the new life and
had left Angela, after producing four children. So Angela buckled down to
cleaning and canteen work, so as to scrape out a living. She was stricter than
the average mother of today, and as a result her four children were very demure
and well behaved, a fact admitted even by some of the more bigoted tenants of
Although she could feel proud of her children, Angela couldn't prevent being
overwhelming with bouts of deep despair from time to time. Looking around at the
damp, decaying blocks and the surrounding environment, no-one could feel that
they, or their kids had much of a deal. When she got despairing, she would go
more silent than ever. She hadn't many friends work and four kids took up her
time and somehow England had taken away her previous devotion to the Church,
leaving her with little consolation when depression struck.
One day her youngest came back from a message looking really upset. Accustomed
as they were to abuse in the school playground, and on the street, to National
Front propaganda through the door, and to insulting jokes on the T.V. at night,
someone must have said something exceptionally nasty. Eventually they said who.
Angela went straight out and demanded decent treatment for her children, to whom
England was their only home. After an argument, eight stone Angela ended up
throwing herself at the man. This meant a broken finger and a night of terror in
the police cells, terror on account of her kids, that is. But the eleven year
old put them all to bed, and then sat in the chair waiting for her return. Her
mother found her there asleep, when she was let out, uncharged, early next
After that, she used to get regular calls from a local policeman. He said he
thinks there shouldn't be black people in Britain, but offered his sexual
services in any case, as he told her that 'Jamaican women were alright. Once
black, never back.'
I know she'd have smacked him in the mouth too if she hadn't dreaded the thought
of being taken away from her kids for a long spell inside.
Well, you can't expect even St. Lucians to tolerate everything.
Caroline Williams (Liverpool)
Extract from Back Home
I remember when we first came to England, everything was entirely different.
People passed by without a word. Everyone walked about on the narrow concrete
pathway with the busy roadway on its side. It wasn't at all a free world as you
had in a village where there was all open field and pathways. In England
everything so compact, people walk with their own partners, minding their own
business, no-one to talk to except our own family at home.
Sometimes I would cry for I knew on-one. All we were was one small family in the
home my father bought when he first came to England on his own. There were a few
relations lodging upstairs but still there wasn't enough of us. Not like it used
to be; a big house where you could wander all on your own and a great big farm
you could visit every few minutes. All we had in England was a small garden and
no veranda, everything shuttered, houses with sloping roofs and surrounded by
wall inside and outside. Everything here was full of privacy.
Even though I was only 5% years at the time the memories lie deep inside and the
older I grow the more vivid they are.
Sometimes today I say to myself: "Oh brother, if only you hadn't died we would
never have been here, it's not a safe place to be in." It didn't really matter
when we first came to England but from today onwards things will get worse.
People don't love one another as they used to back home in our village in India.
There's so many problems you face in a world where there's different people from
yourself. You don't feel this at first but as you grow older you begin to
understand the environment you live in and its prejudices.
Even our relations who once lived as one big family have split up into their
small families in their own homes.
As I grow up I realise the cause of all this. Everyone in England works as an
individual and therefore keeps everything in private which wasn't at all the way
our grandparents brought us up. We were lucky in India not to have to face such
things. It is not at all a free world, everyone cares for himself and not his
Well anyway I suppose there is always one place you have in mind that you always
want to be in and I would always want, if I could choose, our village just the
way it used to be with a full house on each corner.
Now that we are in England, I suppose this place is meant for us, for there's
never been a time yet, during the last 13 years, for me to return to India, even
for a holiday. So all I have in mind are those old memories of childhood. Who
knows what I'll think of it when I return to see it again.
The Ballad of
Young Cuthbert Crout was a naughty lad
Of just ten summers he-
Each day his mum cried,
"Cuthbert! Don't dip biscuits in your tea!"
He would ignore her frequent pleas
And dream of goals to score.
He'd think of fishing with his mates
And cricket on the shore.
While he viewed the soggy heap
Of wet tea-dipped delight,
A rebel crumb fell in the drink
And soon was lost from sight.
He grimly scanned the murky depths
To try to glimpse his prize.
And bravely plunged his paw right in:
An act that was unwise.
For, though he thought he'd caught his crumb.
His hand was tightly held.
He silently began to sink
To where the biscuit dwelled.
The tea like quicksand sucked him down,
And Cuthbert screamed his plight.
His mother sat and sweetly smiled,
And said, "It serves you right!"
Cuthbert and his crumb were lost;
With tea leaves washed away.
So don't dip biscuits in your tea
For you may drown one day!
Michael's Story -Part 4
When two weeks had gone by, Michael had grown accustomed to shopping, eating and
sleeping alone, doing everything for himself and having no one to talk to until
he went to the pub at night, where he had met a few Irish lads about his own
age, with whom he had struck up a firm friendship. Gradually the pub became a
very important factor in his life. It broke the terrible monotony of the life he
led and it helped him to forget about work and the insults and taunts the
'mouth' constantly slung out, as a fruit sorter slings rotten apples. But even
more gradually, yet more irreversibly, grew his liking, even longing, for beer,
and it was this off-shoot of his character which grew and flourished at the
expense of all other facets, like the sucker shoot sucks from the shrub a
disproportionate share of the sustenance garnered from mother earth.
One day as Michael was laying pipes, watched hawkishly by the 'mouth', the
walking ganger came along. He was also Irish, but one who tried to project a
different image from the run-of-the-mill Irishmen who followed up civil
engineering. He wore a neat, though well soiled, steel grey suit, brown shoes, a
collar and tie and a pork-pie hat, set squatly on the top of his head.
"Good morning Mac," he greeted the gangerman in his well cultivated sycophantic
way, a characteristic of all civil engineering bosses above the rank of
"How-awo!" growled the 'mouth' in return.
"Yes. Aye." He looked all round. "Yeah. How are you fixed for men today, hah?"
"Oh, now, I want a few, down on the tip, yes, I want a few."
"Sent a few tapping, did you?" and he laughed in a fawning, sickening manner.
"Oh, now, I'm telling you, I made a few dig out, I did that."
"Well, good on you Mac. Never let it be said! Oh, you're a hard man, Mac." and
again he laughed in a forced, deceitful way.
"Oh, now, I'm telling you, I'll not let 'em get bedded in, I'll not."
"Now, why would you, Mac, why would you. Keep them moving. Don't let them get
cold. Keep them on the move," and he laughed again unnaturally.
"Oh, I will, I will, have no fear of that. Now, I'm telling you, I'll see that
they don't get the crippage. I'll give 'em plenty of exercise. Haaa!"
The walking ganger smiled and shook his head in feigned admiration. "So, I best
send you a few up, then, haa"
"Oh, now, indeed, you can send 'em all this way. There'll be room for 'em all,
and sure if there isn't, I'll soon make a bit of room. I will that."
"Lord, you're a hard man, Mac. Right then, I'll send you a few up."
"Do, as many as you can."
The walking ganger shook his head as he strode away to the next section, while
the 'mouth' watched and added another dimension to his slope in the belief that
he had proved his value as a gangerman.
Michael had heard the conversation and remembered what John had told him about a
man's 'turn' coming along, and decided that he'd be ready for that event when it
came, although he wasn't going to seek dismissal. But he was determined not to
be walked on either, for he had well and truly grown out of that state.
Next morning Michael was on the job at the usual time, and the gangerman came
rolling along in his usual way, accompanied by four new starters, all of whom
were middle aged and wore typical navvys' uniforms.
"Blow up!" yelled the 'mouth' before he had come anywhere near a knot of waiting
workmen. They scurried in all directions, but the four new starters stood in a
huddle nearby as the gangerman opened the toolshed door.
Michael was there immediately and took out a pair of rubber boots, as he had
done every morning since he had started on that job and as he had been so
unceremoniously ordered to do that first morning.
"Where are you taking them?" the 'mouth' asked scathingly.
"I'm putting them on," replied Michael.
"Who said you are?" sneered the gangerman.
"You" replied Michael without a quiver in his voice.
"Me Why, you stinking little liar, I've never talked to you today yet. I've just
left the office, what are you talking about?"
Michael stood rock still. Instinctively he knew it was his 'turn', and he was
determined not to show any signs of annoyance or distress. He dropped the boots
on the floor and looked the 'mouth'
straight in the face. "You told me the first morning I came here to put them
boots on, and I've been doing that ever since."
"You have! Well, by Jesus, it's awful when a shittin' 'greesheen' like you can
have boots and an extra penny an hour, just like a right man."
"I never had an extra penny an hour," Michael returned.
"I never knew anything about that. This is the first job I've worked on."
"Aye, aye, aye, but it won't be the last. Haaa! 'cause you'll soon be . ..." and
he simulated knocking with a clenched fist, ". .. . on that green window."
The four new starters became interested in the argument, but didn't take part.
"And should I have got an extra penny an hour?" asked Michael.
"Haah?" screamed the gangerman. "Should you . . . . ? You're lucky to have been
paid at all. Sure, they should make a stupid 'greesheen' like you pay to be
allowed to work."
"Now, I'm telling you, if I'm entitled to that, I'm having it, whatever you say,
'cause I'm jacking now."
"And isn't it about time, too. Haven't you been here twice too long, you have.
Off you go. You lads, get some tools out of this shed and come down here with me
and I'll show you where to go to work."
The four men looked at one another, but didn't move immediately.
Then they did as they had been ordered they picked up a pick and shovel
apiece, slung them on their shoulders and ambled carelessly to where the
gangerman was waiting for them.
When Michael knocked on the infamous green window of the shabby little office
that snuggled into the huge embankment, the young man who had given him a letter
that first morning to take to the labour exchange to obtain insurance cards
"Yes?" he enquired.
"I jacked this morning," Michael told him.
"Ah, you've been working for Brennan, haven't you?" said the young man, screwing
up his eyes to concert his memory.
"That's right," replied Michael, "and I jacked this morning, now."
The young man looked round quickly before he spoke again.
"Hi!" he beckoned Michael. "Here. Don't say you jacked or you'll get nothing for
today. Say he sacked you and then you'll get an hour's pay for this morning.
See?" and he winked meaningfully, confirming the confidentiality of the advice.
"Give's your note."
"Note? He didn't give me no note."
"He didn't! Well, he should have." He turned away from the window and spoke to
someone whom Michael could not see. "Hi! one of Brennan's men's here and he's
not been given a note."
"He's not? Has he been sacked?" asked a husky voice from inside the little
"Oh, yes, he's sacked him, but he's not given him a note."
'The stupid idiot, he's always doing that lately. Tell him to go back and see
that ass, Brennan, get a note off him, bring it here and we'll pay right up to
that time, plus one hour."
"Hear that?" the young man said, turning once more to Michael. "See Brennan, see
that he writes out a note, bring it here and you'll be paid right up to the time
you arrive back here and one extra hour. Okay?"
The young man was just about to close the window when Michael spoke, "And
there's something else."
"Well, I've been wearing rubber boots all the time I've been here and I've got
nothing for it, and I've been told today . . . well it was the 'mouth' who told
"Brennan, you mean?"
"Yes, it was he as said I was getting an extra penny for that, and I wasn't, and
I didn't know anything about it, and I was wondering if a man does get paid for
"Wearing rubber boots? Yes, a penny an hour extra. Hi! hear that? The lad's been
wearing boots and hasn't been paid for them."
"Oh, what's his name?" asked the man with the husky voice.
"Michael McWanted, Michael
"Oh, yes, there are two of them. Wait a minute."
"No, the other was John, my brother and he left, oh, more than two weeks ago. My
name's Michael and I've ..."
"Just been sacked," added the young man precautionarily.
"See, he's never booked that in," remarked the hidden speaker.
"Oh, now, someone'll have to have a word with this idiot. He's not fit to be a
gangerman. He books in nothing at all, nothing at all. We have to straighten out
his books every time. Well, I'm doing it no longer." A wrinkled, grey face
appeared at the window and spoke vibrantly to Michael.
"Tell Brennan that he must give you a note and that he must write on that note
that you've been wearing boots all the time you've worked here. Okay? I'll see
to the rest," and he snapped the window shut.
Michael walked back again to where he had worked since he had arrived in London,
but the gangerman had gone down to the tip, which was a good distance away.
Michael decided to follow him down there.
The gangerman saw Michael coming and went to meet him. "Yes, what is it you
want?" he asked in the mildest manner Michael had ever known him to employ." I
thought you jacked, eh?"
"Yes, but they said I had to have a note from you. Yes."
"Oh, did they?" the gangerman asked in a manner more like his usual cynical
"Yes, and they said as well that you had to put on the note that I was wearing
boots ... all the time I worked here."
"Oh, aye, and who are they?"
"And they said as well," continued Michael, "that..."
"All right, all right, for Jesus sake, I'll give you a note. Anyone'd think to
hear you that no one ever jacked before.
Sure, they're jacking and being sacked here every day in the week. Sure, I might
be after you, what are you snivelling about?"
Michael waited patiently while the gangerman raked his inside pocket, produced
the grimy notebook and pencil stub and began to write laboriously, wetting the
pencil end in his mouth after completing each letter. He spoke as he wrote."
'Pay this man of. He as wearing boots since he come. J. Brennan ganger man.
'Now, will that do you?"
Michael took the note, acknowledged its contents with a nod and turned to go,
just as the walking ganger and a companion arrived.
They didn't notice him, and as he brushed past them he heard the walking ganger
tell his companion: 'This is your section, now, from that point there, just past
where those men are emptying wagons to the point I've shown you the other side
of that little toolshed. Right?"
His companion hitched up his moleskin, touched his cap, raised one shoulder and
remarked: "Oh right, right, sound affair."
"Well, now then, there you are, and never let it be said, and go to work now in
His companion gave his trousers another hitch, touched his cap another time,
raised the same shoulder again, and with a half-smile, half-leer replied: "Well,
just right, mate, just right," and he rolled away towards the men who were
"On, here a minute, Mac.," cried the walking ganger.
The 'mouth' stuffed both hands in his pockets and casually rolled towards his
"Now, damn me if I'm not sorry about this, Mac., but the old agent, old Hoppy,
McQuade you know, he's been going through the books these last few days and he
reckons that your section is woefully in debt. So he's left word for you to pick
up your cards today."
"The gangerman's contorted, blotchy face tightened a little, but in no other way
did he show the least sign of surprise or annoyance.
"Right then," remarked the walking ganger, relieved at having discharged that
duty, and he brushed past the then ex-gangerman without a flicker of emotion.
"Right now?" he called to the new comer, but kept going hurriedly to the next
"Oh, aye, right, sound affair," replied the newly appointed king of the section
(until his 'turn' came, of course), and hitched his trousers up once again,
touched his cap, raised a shoulder and pushed further out his beer-bloated
The dethroned gangerman picked up a blade of grass and chewed on it meditatively
as he stood rooted to the spot, his eyes flirting alternatively from the back of
the departing walking ganger to the exaggeratedly upright stance of the new
gangerman. What puzzled him most, and annoyed him a bit, too, was the fact that
he hadn't a clue that it was his 'turn' to go. He spoke closely to himself.
"Jesus, I wonder how I misjudged that, hah? Sure, I thought it was only 'greesheens'
that stopped on a job 'til they were sacked. Ah, now .... but what harm. Sure if
no one jacked or no one got sacked there'd be no work for on one else. Aha, to
hell with it, let it go."
He slung the half chewed blade of grass, gave a farewell sign to the man who had
just replaced him, for there were no hard feelings with respect to these
happenings, waited for the return gesture, then turned awkwardly and began to
push his heavy-clothed, heavyweight body wearily towards the green window, a
journey on which he, in his time, had sent many a man reluctantly trudging, just
to frighten others; a journey on which he was then being sent trudging in the
most humiliating way and at the most inopportune time possible, also in order to
And still it never dawned on him - perhaps because he didn't want it to, because
of the conscience guilt it would arouse that he was just one more victim of
that barbarous system of sacking one man to intimidate another which civil
engineering contractors had evolved; a system which he and his like had so
sedulously upheld for so long; a system which was bound to turn on themselves
eventually, for as the hungry wolf will devour its own young, and the
treacherous shark will turn on its own mate, so civil engineering contractors,
being carnivores, will turn on their helpers whenever they run short of other
victims. And anyway, why should anyone expect civil engineering contractors to
discriminate between one victim and another, when one victim tastes as succulent
as another, supplies the same need and fulfils the same objective?
During the next six months, Michael flit from job to job with no more concern
than any other Irish navvy. Sometimes he was sacked and sometimes he jacked and
forestalled the sack, often maybe by only hours, and in this, too, his behaviour
pattern was no different from that of other Irish navvies, who demonstrated
their defiance of society's perverseness by refusing to remain on any job until
their 'turn' came, but who built up amongst themselves a fatal idolisation of
that futile practice of jacking, which gained so much ground in those hard years
that it became as much a part of their characteristics as their dress, their
walk and their detestation of the new arrival.
Michael differed from most of his compatriots in one thing only: he was content
to stay in the digs he once shared with his brother, while most Irishmen changed
digs as often as they changed their jobs.
During this six months, the landlady became very attached to him, and despite
her fast failing health, tried to be helpful. And, allowing for the natural
repulsion of youth for the old and the sick, he grew fond of her, although he
often said quietly to himself: "Jesus, she's a grand old lady, that. Aha, but
she's awful ugly, though. As ugly now as mortal sin ..... with a hump on her
back like a dog licking a pot ..... and a snout out on her now like a cat going
visiting. But, Jesus, she's not bad. Ara, she's all right, sound."
But the landlady was far from being all right. Every day the strain of trying to
live with the degradation that poverty brought drained a little more strength
from her weakened, emaciated body. Daily she sunk a little lower and became a
little more desperate, until finally she gave up the unequal struggle. Then
Michael had to look for fresh digs.
The cheapest place to live, he calculated, was in a dosshouse, and the day after
the landlady's funeral he moved into one in Hammersmith. This proved to be the
Life in a dosshouse at that time meant a consubsistence with the old, the
helpless, the disabled, the destitute, the wretched, the sick in mind, the sick
in body, those with no hope, those with no pride, those with no future, those
with a past they wanted to forget, the dross and bile that the sick society
disgorged daily into those human sewers, each dollop nudging along the dollop in
front to the filter beds, and it was in this crucible of human insult that young
Michael's character was compounded. It was kneaded into shape out on the navvy
jobs by gangermen who were themselves insults to humanity. So, Michael's
training, though maybe not good, was thorough and bound to leave a lasting
imprint on the man who would follow the youth.
As thousands had done before him, and as thousands have done since, Michael
sought refuge and solace in the public house. At first he convinced himself that
he went to the public house mainly for the company he met there, and that
drinking was incidental. But it wasn't long until he had to concede even to
himself that he went to the public house to drink and that it was the company
that was the incidental. So, as often as he could he got drunk, because the
booze transported him into a world of unreality, which was what he wanted
because the world of reality at that time was indeed a harsh one. He was twenty
years old when he moved north to work in Lancashire at Euxton, but by this time
his behaviour pattern had been too well honed and ground in the mill of
experience to admit change easily, so he stuck with the dosshouse, the public
house and the navvy job. In fact, it was in a dosshouse the police found him and
picked him up for army service.
Despite all the drill and discipline and polish, the army forged no great change
in him. It merely interrupted for a few years the regular life he had become
hardened to, the only life he could remember since leaving his father's house, a
place he had completely forgotten.
So, the day after he was demobbed he was drunk in a dosshouse.
Honeymoon -Logan Rock
Creased as brownpaper, last-stand rock
Sops the shoving tide.
I thought I would lose my rings here,
Yanked down gulleys where foam
Chokes like a throat.
This far out the grass is blanched by salt.
Ash-birds flake off a quenching sea,
And crickets rattle the heather.
This far out there is feeling,
Close as your move for my hollows
Like the sun on that crashed colour.
Already painted out Manchester Zeal
but embossed letters visible in relief stand
shadows of the red vessel. Today (matt-black)
she recalls Sea Hawk Singapore astern,
just flat white stencil (that says it all).
Mac, showing me around the last Manchester liner,
dry-docked prior new ownership
said it was a good film anyway.
For some reason PIL was painted on the funnel
we tried to bribe the painters to put LOCKS on
the other side, they didn't want to know,
he would have adopted Shite Hawk on her bow
still no go you can't blame them with three million
on the tiles and chances are
the joke would be lost to chinamen.
Gloom in the engine room Mac's pride a mess
of trailing cable on littered steel walkways
and dirty grease on her brass handrails
and everywhere Manchester Zeal Lancashire Dynamo
Crossley Diesels Openshaw twelve cylinders that clanked
some pints down Ashton Old Road
but that was the sixties when Best, Charlton and Law
were doing it down Trafford Park Road
and Nobby dug his heels in the hallowed Wembley turf
and just wouldn't withdraw defeat
from jaws of victory.
From his cabin the deck extends an
even tenor to the far cry of gulls
perched on the foremast. Mac complained containers
were usually so high piled that all he saw
was a wall on sailing bit like a view of and
from the two up two downs along Regent Road
they're gone too and the dockers they
conceded containerization and the fleet's gone origami
can't compete. Next time we see Sea Hawk
she'll be unloading Taiwan shirts, bought cheap
at Asda by unemployed millworkers an
atmosphere of plaiting sawdust settled.
We had an export lager (and that says it all).
People don't ever go to Manchester these days
they to to the Arndale all those fashion shops
selling identical stuff a city where
we track pubs like prairie buffalo
all save the celebrated
Shambles that ruin
they ruined restoring it.
All this fine development yet the sewers
are knackered and everywhere's one way
going down. That says it all,
yet there's nothing to be said,
this that can be shown
cannot ever be said.
Dry-dock is not a precise term
for the gates leak and water runnels
in the dock bottom. Hourly a watchman
enters the pump-house
having levered his needles from horizontal
coughs out the offending slime. So men do work.
Contained within vee's the bottled ship
declines elegantly in wood a patient drift
on a trestle bed. Mac cracked another
and explained about anodes
zinc elements placed carefully on her body
if you imagine fuses
small weaknesses that spare a larger pain.
Soon a series of gates within gates
open as veins a gradual blood
letting her life back in.
Uncontrolled it would wash her from the blocks
and break her a little
then a little more
will lift her trembling to the brim.
Last, having unbuckled all tenderness,
fresher for the paint,
she will hoot her discharge (and this goes without saying)
disperse her weeping gulls to the still, sad channel
arseholing down to the sea.
THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS
Comedia/Minority Press Group.£2.95
THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS is the history of the Federation of Worker Writers. It
looks at the growth of working class writing and community publishing over the
last few years, carefully analysing those beliefs and practices which have
become our common assumptions. It starts well with an assembly of quotations
about writing. Good use is also made of a whole range of writing from the
Federation, which illustrates the struggles the authors have gone through, as
well as their more than competence. But no attempt seems to have been made to
ask permission of these people. Maybe not everyone would have been traced. But
our writing is important, it belongs to us, and it matters what use is made of
This was my first feeling of doubt. As I read on, I began to feel that the book
was dominated by a fairly narrow purpose: to justify our existence, firstly to
disbelievers within the established literary/academic world, and secondly to
those elements in the labour movement who think writing's irrelevant to
politics. Because of this there was a lot of over-simplification.
It's true that everyone has their own story to tell, and that one of the reasons
federation groups exist is to give voice to those stories, but it isn't true
that most of the authors whose work appears in this book are merely "people who
sometimes write" (p.58). We aren't ordinary people! Most of the writers in my
group are very peculiar people, I'm glad to say. The fact is, you can be working
class and peculiar! If we pretend to be simple working folk with an interesting
hobby, we aren't much better than the community arts people who get so much
stick in the book.
Great stress is laid on the autobiographical basis of writing from the
Federation. While that emphasis is accurate in the sense that all of us are
trying to pinpoint some truth that's evident in our own lives, rather than
following commercial or literary formula's, it's misleading to suggest that our
work can be categorised as straightforwardly autobiographical.
The authors do say "the use of the autobiographical mode has recently generated
strenuous debate" (p.91) but I never found out what this debate is! Clashes of
interests and ideology within the Federation are glossed over. Not only the
obvious ones feminism, class identity but the conflict between lifelong and
new writers, autobiography and realism and experiment. I should have liked a lot
more about what goes on in various types of workshops, rather than the continual
shadow boxing which annoyed me particularly in the chapter about the print
unions. In the age of the new technology, printing workers have got better
things to worry about than small fry community publishers. There's a big hole
where VOICES should have been, (it gets one sentence). VOICES could have been
used to say more about the problem of how and whether to define working class
writing; and how and whether to establish our own standards of excellence. These
are not internal arguments, but crucial debates that are going on throughout the
THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS was produced in an amazingly short time eighteen
months for such an ambitious undertaking. From time to time it shows. ". . . .
Very few of the Federation's groups have their own press (possibly only
Commonword and THAP)" it says (p.50). POSSIBLY? We're in the middle of a complex
and ever-changing movement. It won't stand still long enough for anyone to take
a completely accurate picture. But it is out history, and we should be certain
of our facts. THE REPUBLIC OF LETTERS is often illuminating and inspiring.
Because we take it seriously, we should be critical of it.
Ailsa Cox (Commonword)
THE PENGUIN BOOK OF POLITICAL
I have always been an avid enthusiast for the art of comic-strip and have
collected them in all forms for years. Recently there has been a fair amount of
books on the subject of cartoons and comics and Kent University have even set up
a department to collect and study the best examples of the craft by British
artists. In Tolention in Italy they have a museum of international cartoons that
is visited by thousands of tourists each year.
Why should this poor relation of the fine arts be attracting so much attention?
My own view about it is that societies, by trying to project their good points
and omitting the negative features, create such an imbalance that the people
become rightly cynical. It's a bit like the posh restaurant keeping their trash
cans well out of sight. Consequently in such a climate of mis-information,
graffiti flourishes. It fulfils a very real need. Comics being visual graffiti
are therefore becoming increasingly popular. That being so, Penguin Books have
launched a bright, glossy "BOOK OF POLITICAL COMICS" by Dutchman STEEF DAVIDSON
I found the collection a bit unbalanced, most of the work coming from sources
that could be termed 'underground' from both Europe and America. The politics
are fairly infantile with simple solutions to complex problems. Indeed there is
one comic telling you how to make your very own Molotov Cocktail. The name
underground is a bit of a take-on as the examples featured have in the main come
from legitimate publications that have been produced in countries with press
The tone of the collection is set by the author and compiler, who is a well
known figure in radical circles in Holland. He was a college drop-out and provo
in the 60s and I feel the audience he is aiming at is one that has duplicated
his own experiences and there seems to be a lack of confidence in the organised
Many areas of struggle are not included and it's strange that there is only one
comic from Ireland and that is an anti- IRA strip. Other omissions are the
excellent stuff from Amnesty International. And where is the work of the
feminists that you can see in 'SOURCREAM' and 'HEAVY PERIODS'? As a real
reflecter of populist culture Trog's 'FLOOK' (Daily Mail) should have been
included, but isn't.
The art work of the comics is of a mixed standard, some being so badly drawn
that I wondered if it was intentional. The words in the balloons are at times so
infantile and esoteric that I am reminded of the new wave singers who everyone
tells me are sheer 100% revolutionaries. Their lyrics are political dynamite
they claim, but the lack of diction renders any message incomprehensible.
That being said however, this is a very valuable book and a valued contribution
to our knowledge of what is happening in our world. That after all is what our
culture should be about.
We know more about everyday life in Pompeii through looking at their graffiti
than by studying their 'official' art.
We should always be wary of the official handout, be it from HMSO or the Moscow
Publishing House, and for that fact alone this book is most welcome. It is very
much a critique of the consumer society and in the coming years will be a
valuable aid to anyone who wants to know what life today was really like.
The book is political alright, but so well presented that it will be sought by
the unpolitical, just for the sheer fun of it. Yes, it is good fun and in these
grim days that can't be bad.