cover size 205 x 295 (A4)
Old readers will notice a number of changes in this issue of VOICES, starting
with its new, larger format, but extending to a more varied range of contents.
In addition to the usual fare of stories and poems, we have a letters section
(to be swollen as the news gets around), more reviews (ditto), plus features on
worker writers in Liverpool and at the Northern College, and articles from
literacy students and the Northern Gay Writers. New readers, of whom we hope
there are more than a few, may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The changes have taken place as a result of long discussions within the
Federation of Worker Writers.
The idea has been to present some of the variety that exists in working class
writing which has partly been overlooked by VOICES in the past. We have also
made changes in the way the magazine is edited. To your left you can see the
increased number of names involved, and also a statement about what contributors
to VOICES can expect of us. We look forward to hearing from you what you think
about the new magazine, and ways it can be made even better (impossible!). In
addition to stories, poems, letters, photos and cartoons, we are looking for
articles on any aspect of working class writing and books to review.
NO LITERARY MERIT
In 1979, the Arts Council issued its
notorious judgement on the work of the Federation of Worker Writers: 'successful
in a social and therapeutic sense but not by literary standards.' No doubt when
this is recalled at the forthcoming Federation _ AGM, hackles will duly rise
followed by smiles of satisfaction at having finally screwed out of them some
The Arts Council changed its mind under duress. We secured the support of
recognised literary figures, space in the liberal press, and bandied about the
names of worker writer successes such as Joe Smythe and Vivian Usherwood
(temporarily forgetting that we weren't the launching pad for a few writers into
The turning point was the report the Arts Council commissioned by Blake Morrison
(among other things a reviewer for the TIMES, that well known champion of
working class struggle), in which we discovered that our work was of a quality
of 'any comparable body of work'.
But is it sufficient to have won recognition on their terms? After years of
public wrangling, we are no nearer to knowing what the difference is between our
own criteria and the Arts Council's.
THE FEDERATION LINE
The sorts of argument we have developed were outlined in the afterword of
WRITING: 'Increasingly many active people recognise that the essentially
economic struggle for equality waged by the unions and other political groupings
of the left - while crucial - is not enough.'
And: 'As we realise the gulf between the economic drives of capitalist society
and everything we can relate to in immediate terms, we seize the opportunity to
work at a local level.'
And, on the origin of the original Federation members: 'None of the groups
represented in this collection has grown out of an exclusive concern for
'literature', 'creative writing', or 'history'....'
And: 'Sales figures show healthy readerships in areas where book buying and
reading haven't appeared to be significant spare time activities.'
Various points become clear: a) a political justification and explanation of
working class writing; b) an emphasis on the local; c) the connection between
working class writing and life; d) the interrelation of different sorts of
writing: autobiography, creative writing, etc; e) the link between writers and
These arguments won't create waves within the Federation. From the other side of
the class barricade, however, read: 'useful in a social and therapeutic sense.'
GOOD WORKING CLASS WRITING
On standards, WRITING is more evasive: 'No attempt has been made so far to
define what is meant by working class writing ...... while we do not see good
bourgeois writing and good working class writing as utterly distinct,...we are
agreed that they are recognisably different. '
Some in the Federation believe we shouldn't make judgements: everything is
equally valid (as long as the writer can present impeccable class credentials).
But the fact is that we make judgements all the time about our own writing, and
while there are people who have only just started writing for whom ideas of
'literary excellence’ may not exactly be helpful, there are other, more
experienced writers who have very clear ideas about what they think is good and
bad. Nobody writes in a vacuum. If we are to progress as a movement some
discussion about a common approach is needed.
There are other difficulties. The range of our work is huge. How do you compare,
say, the work on the threat of nuclear war (see pages 6 - 9), with Alice
Linton's account of the National Hospital (p. 12). But avoiding the issue
creates (or covers up) problems. In my group, several people have expressed
hostility towards people's history (not enough writing about life today), or
work by literacy students (what have they got in common with us?). One purpose
of starting a serious discussion about standards would be to shed some light on
At VOICES, it has to be said, we rarely discuss standards. Our talk is usually
at the level of 'creaming off the best of the worker writer movement'. So, when
selecting work for the new VOICES we considered Mass Unemployment & Mothers in
Liverpool (page 19), while most of us thought it a powerful expression of
Marjorie Jones' experience, others felt that compared to some of the more
polished work on offer, it didn't merit inclusion. In the end none of us can
feel very happy with the compromise of publishing it simply because it
represents a type of work produced within the Federation.
Members of at least one Federation group have complained that we favour work by
middle class or educated writers over work by 'ordinary' worker writers. In this
issue the poems by Geddes Thomson or Cath Cairn-cross might be examples of this
sort of work. My feeling is that these poems read no differently from, say, some
of those from Northern College, and that it is dangerous to base our judgements
on the character of the writers rather than the writing. We should value all
work that speaks to working class readers.
And it has been suggested that because the editorial group consists largely of
people with a further education, our tastes are unrepresentative. Lately more
'ordinary' worker writers have been involved, including a Second Chance to Learn
group in Liverpool. Any difference in literary taste has hardly been noticeable.
Either the old editorial group had it right; or because there has been no
discussion of alternative standards, we all fall back on the same (middle class)
NOT AN ACADEMIC ARGUMENT
This lack of discussion has a number of results that makes this more than an
academic argument. We tend to play things safe, going for simplicity of style
and immediacy of subject. From one point of view it means that Our work is
accessible. From another it means that we are confined to a restricted,
conservative area where there is little room for experiment and the subjects are
limited to a statement of the 'issues' .that generally affect us.
We assume that the worker writer is always like the bloke (or woman: no sexism
thank youj) next door for whom writing is an extension of other parts
of their lives. In fact we all know that there are working class writers as
obsessed with their work as any middle class writer. Within the movement there
are undoubtedly both sorts. The danger is that the ones who see writing as the
main thing in their lives are alienated by our cloth cap image. At least two
working class writers have left my group feeling that the politics of the
Federation add up to an apology (sorry it's not very good, we're only working
class). For others who remain within the movement, there can be a feeling of
isolation and demoralisation when they attempt to break out of the mould of
We tend to concentrate upon the subjects and assume that good writing is just a
matter of finding the right turn of phrase. Lotte Moos, in a letter printed on
page 26, suggests a writer may dry up altogether once 'he has exhausted his own,
after all limited store of autobiography without having acquired an interest in
the business of writing.'
Earlier in her letter, Lotte deplores the lack of poems in VOICES with a clear
political message. Here I disagree. For me, a poem such as 'Hope Chapel' (p. 8)
speaks far more of the fears we all have of nuclear war (because it places then
in an everyday context) than the numerous other, more direct poems we received
with titles such as 'Jobs Not Bombs'. Good poetry is not produced by versifying
a political slogan or everyday experience, but by the use of words to discover
for the writer and suggest to the reader deeper truths and feelings.
Literary standards should be the product of serious and sensitive conversations
between writers and readers, designed not to make academic judgements, but to
enable individual writers to improve their work. The pages of VOICES are open to
letters and articles, but these are not enough. We need more direct contacts
between members of different workshops. The obvious place to start is at the
April AGM, but we need other, regular opportunities throughout the year,
something the incoming executive ought to make a priority of for this and a host
of other reasons.
This article is a personal contribution and does not necessarily express the
views of the whole editorial group.
THIS SIDE OF THE FENCE
A railway line, infinite twin
barriers, divided our group of houses from the rest of the village. A strip of
golf-course, with sand bunkers like scabs, cut us off from the sea. We lived
discreetly, near nothing, far from everything, isolated and neglected, in a
disused army camp, rows of abandoned tin houses, all curvy corrugated walls,
rats and stone floors.
When Ma and Pa were fighting, feuding about money mostly, hot angry words, long
sullen quiets, I'd wander off, forgotten, they would never notice, too busy.
Sometimes I'd lie looking down on the railway line, hear the early rumble
rumble, watch the confused faces skim by, going south, going north, far away,
fast. When the train yammered into the distance, near-silence would return,
never complete, there was always the sea, it was just across the golf course,
you could, hear it, feel it, taste it, always the sea-sound, that and the
sea-gulls. Mostly I ignored the trains, went to the golf course, on the other
side of the fence.
Ma would shout, nag about the golf course, you'll need to tell him, the boy'll
get into trouble going over there, always wandering off, you need to control
him, he never listens to me. Pa said, keep away from there, it's not for the
likes of us, you'll get hit by a ball, you shouldn't go there, those people are
not like us, keep away, they're different.
I used to creep, crawl under the fence, into another world, me and Ralph from
next door, into ferns and brambles, nettles and high grass, rough and green,
green and bright. Looking through the fence at the thin stretch of golf course
between us and the slate sea, looked like a picture, what television must look
like, we thought, then we slid into it, became part of it, breathed deep
exciting breaths. Even the air was different, the other side of the fence.
I'd scream when Pa hit me, cry and yell, it hurt. I told you didn't I, warned
you to stay away, you've no right in there, it's private, people like us got no
business in there, stay in your own bit, where you belong.
Ralph and me went to watch trains, nothing else to do, he'd been beaten too, we
didn't say much, just watched one train, chewed grass, waited, watched next
train, between times only the sound of the sea. The sea, just across the golf
We crouched under the front window of my house, listened. Can't help not
working, it's not my fault, what can I do, some people got plenty, plenty money,
keep it to themselves though, look over there and see, nothing to do all day but
hit a ball around a bit of grass with a stick, waste of time.
We left, no point in staying, we heard it all before, same at his house, and all
the others, nothing else to do, we went to the golf course, crept under the
Two of them were playing near us, talking, smiling, we listened, they used the
same words as Pa, like when he hit his thumb with a hammer, but they sounded
different, loud but not angry, different. I didn't understand them, they talked
very loud, laughing a lot, we hardly breathed in case they heard us, they were
not like us, they were different, like Pa said.
They went away, we found two white balls in the long grass, nobody around so we
went into the sand, like a beach without water, soft and dry. Together we threw
the balls into the sand, then one at a time, playing hunt-the-ball, nobody
came. Ralph plugged his ball in, 'deep into the scarred sand, then I threw
mine hard, trying to hit Ralph's ball, but he was in the sand. The ball hit
Ralph behind the ear. I watched, laughed a bit, shivered, as the ball bounced
into the sand, Ralph staggered like he was playing best-fall, his knees buckled,
he toppled down, slowly down to the sand, a red blotch spread over the dry
surface, he twitched then lay still. The blood ran down his neck, it was
bright red, I'd never seen so much blood before, except in the sheep got caught
on the barbed wire fence. Down his neck it ran, clogging his hair, staining the
sand, looked like the tide came in, the bloody tide. I dipped my fingers in the
blood, it was sticky as tar, it tasted like the sea.
Wiping my fingers on my legs, I cried, ran for help, shouting, crying like a
baby, Ralph's hurt, Ralph's hurt bad.
You shouldn't have gone in there, Ma said, knew something would happen, you'd no
right in there, you need to punish the boy, he needs to be taught a lesson, he's
got to keep this side of the fence.
Pa grabbed my shoulder, grabbed it hard, hit me, I cried with the pain, that and
the fear, made me cry and yell really loud.
Locked in my room, I shouted and bawled, face all tears and snot, I just let
them dry, nobody listened. I cried a long time before I shut up. I put my ear to
the door, could hear Ma and Pa shouting, arguing again. Ma said, I knew he'd get
into some bother, wandering off, why'd you let him, you don't care about
controlling the boy, just hanging around all day, let'n him do as he pleases,
he'll turn out like you, weak.
And Pa said, you're pleased something happened, you always want to be right,
nag, nagging all day, not my fault he went in there, the fence should be higher,
that would keep him out.
Ma said, he'll need to say sorry to Ralph, in the morning, need to learn good
manners, better not go over the fence again.
Next morning, knocked on his door, sorry Ralph my mouth said, he blinked from
below a white bandage, never spoke. I turned away, not sorry, I liked it over
there, it was different, not like this side of the fence.
James McCulloch was born in Ayrshire. He lives in Glasgow where he has worked
as a postman, in an animal house, and as a lab technician.
The Northern College writers group,
which has lately broadened its interests to take in other art forms, draws its
members from students who attend courses at the college designed to offer them a
second chance to improve their education. They are in the process of building
links with the local community.
And did these feet in recent time
Traipse around Gillibrands estate?
And was the wholly Out of Work
In peasant postures made to wait?
And did the Council cash design
STEP schemes upon our plundered hills?
And was the golf-course builded here
Among these dark redundant mills?
Bring me my bowl for begging dole!
Bring me my giros of desire!
Bring me my fear! O bills, untold!
Bring me my bike, a Tebbit flyer!
I will not cease from mental fit,
Nor shall my dole keep in my hand,
Till we've rebuilt Jerusalem
In Skelmersdale's unpleasant land.
Arthur Adlen is an unemployed pipe-fitter.
Heat white screaming blinding
sapping and searing
cowering and burning
gasping and shouting
stumbling and dizzy
cotton talisman grasped in teeth
curdling then browning
no sweat - no relief - no lessening
pride is grunting, straining and
wrestling, with heat
God's comfort, lighting and warming
malevolent steel, blooms, with ominous pace
to guns and bombs
to toil and death
heat for passion
to right the wrongs
moderate or militant
strike or work
Phil Wildin is an ex-steel worker.
Can you remember
When calculus grade one was sums
and IQ was mental arithmetic,
and essays were compositions,
And exams were tests,
And academicals were Scottish footballers?
You knew where you were in my day.
Can you recall
A pinta was Italian,
And milk came in basins,
And corned beef was offal?
When cigs were Woodbines?
You knew where you were in my day.
Can you remember
Cineplex and Cine one and two
were, Electra, bug hut, and Regal?
When stamps were green
or, was it orange?
You knew where you were in my day.
Can you remember
March, was a soldiers stroll,
or a windy month?
And a politician
was a red parrot?
You knew where you were in my day.
Can you remember
T.V. was Stanley Matthews' Final,
and an integrated steel conurbation
You knew where you were in my day.
Can you remember?
Oh! of course you can't.
But, supposing you could.
and nerve gas
were fairy tales?
You knew where you were in my day.
Death of a
Young Collier's Wife
Black earthworm, your black heart can show no feeling
At work: your lacerated skin shows black when healing,
In life: your sect is one, that always grits its teeth,
In reality: this world can't know what happens there beneath.
She's dead: so must you show how much you really cared,
Yours alone: remain the hard man, the one who always dared.
Don't cry: true grit and manhood must never be betrayed,
They're watching: stiffen your muscled shoulders,
they think that you're afraid
Drink hard: for that's the way colliers learn to lose,
Fight back: no soft touch, your class can't pick and choose,
Bite hard: your square cut jaw can take this extra strain,
Be manly: your heat is dulled to all this earthly pain.
What's death: another useless corpse incarcerated down below
Why mourn: in some black seam tomorrow you must go
You're together: come out unscathed from all things dark and shady
Stand proud: remember this, just once, you knew a lady
Brian Asquith is an ex-miner.
disarmament conference got nowhere was the general consensus of opinion. As was
expected. The delegates agreed to differ. Too much was at stake and the problems
seemed insurmountable. It was still a divisive world. But they had agreed to
meet again. That was at least something.
The sky was like a sea of blood that evening as the delegates left the building.
Setting western sun.
Exhausted though they were, the more sensitive of the delegates noticed it. The
others did not.
Security of course was tight but not tight enough as obviously it never can be.
Several young and disillusipned people fired their rocket-launchers all at the
same time in a murderous hail from the rooftop of a nearby skyscraper and then,
a few seconds later, leapt to their collective deaths.
At the end of the day the slaughter was enormous.
So said the newspapers.
The clock ticked remorselessly on.
I need you, said the young man to the fashion-conscious young woman, shortly
before he stuck the bread-knife deep into her soft body. I need you so badly
that I can't live without you. His eyes were wild and restless, his hair was
long and shaggy. But it's impossible, he went on. Impossible. And we both know
it. There is no hope for the world, or for me. There is no work to be had, no
house to be had. No future. I've failed my exams. I've been judged a failure. I
am a failure. I would never be able to provide for you, or for a family. I hate
this society and all it stands for, and where it's heading. Its values are not
mine. It is concerned about things and not about people. And the masses are
conditioned to it and love it. It's depressing. I see no way forward. Mediocrity
is paramount. I see darkness up ahead. I can't bear it. I must end it. So,
goodbye, my love. Goodbye.
Night closed in fast. The littered banks of the river were deserted. A dead cat,
blackened with oil, floated past, legs and inflated belly pointed obscenely to
No one heard the screams.
After he had pressed the button yet again, the bomber-pilot banked his plane
away from the scene of devastation and returned to base.
And so how did it go? asked his squadron-leader. Hmh? Maximum effect?
Not quite, replied the bomber-pilot. But near enough. Near enough.
Nothing untoward happened though? Nothing went wrong?
No, nothing went wrong, said the bomber-pilot removing his gloves. But if you'll
excuse me I'll need to go and wash my hands. They're filthy. Absolutely.
A jet blasted across the sky. No one seemed to notice.
They were hardened to it all by now.
No sooner was he released than the prisoner was back again in the courtroom for
robbing and murdering a wealthy businessman.
Twelve long years inside doesn't seem to have taught you a thing, said the judge
sternly to the prisoner. About discipline, decency or freedom.
The prisoner was silent.
It was as if he was not listening. His gaze was fixed on a blood-red rose.
It kept changing its shape.
In the fleeting sunlight.
Germ-warfare establishment. Outside the electrified fence. Two protesters.
"We're wasting our time. Getting nowhere..
No we're not.
Singing and chanting.
And ensuring that they know we object?
Observing the law. Being non-violent.
Which you obviously don't agree with, seemingly.
Yes, now I don't. Once I perhaps did but now I don't.
So what's your alternative?
Be as violent as they are. That's the only thing they understand. All this
Christian crap about love and peace gets nowhere. To them it's a joke.
Change at the point of a gun, eh?
That's fascist you mean.
Fascist? Fascist? Obviously you don't know what the word means. Go study
history. Or examine what's happening round about you. Or shall I tell you the
story of my father who was killed fighting against fascism?"
Lorry loads of police began to arrive.
And barking dogs.
The small army of protesters raised their voices in song. And their banners in
A man tied to a chair in a cellar.
At long last they remove his blindfold and he blinks in the glare of the lamp.
Masked figures beyond.
It is a nightmare, he thinks. His stomach churns. His body aches.
And they are still silent.
Psychological warfare, he thinks. A kind of menace. They are trying to break me.
They are monsters. Unhappy monsters. Political psychopaths. Destroyers of
systems. Malcontents. Ideologists. Misguided ideologists.
He is forced to talk.
Who are you? What is it you. want of me? My money? It is not my fault that I am
rich. The system allows it. It is legal. I'm a respected member of the
community. And a politician to boot, as you no doubt know. I care. Charity is
greatly indebted to me. It's down in the books. In black and white. Ask anyone
you like. And I help the church a lot. I wouldn't say I was a Christian but I
help a lot. I am greatly respected by the hierarchy. Most consider me their
friends. I am often overwhelmed by
their kindnesses. True Christians they are. True Christians, yes.
Bile rose in his throat. Sweat was icy on his spine. His legs were trembling
A gun was pressed against his temple.
Before shutting his eyes tight he saw a rat appear in a corner.
It was a nightmare.
The money was okay. He was being paid to kill. After a time it was quite easy
and you no longer thought too
much about it. The first time was the worst. After that it got progressively
easier. It was the bullet after all that did it and not oneself. Pressing a
trigger. Same as in the films. Dead easy, actually. Kids' play.
And besides they were terrorists.
He was no assassin.
It wasn't too bad a life, when you think about it. A man's life it was.
In the army.
Ultimately they got round the conference-table again. But this time on a boat in
the ocean. Greater security of course. Space had been considered but rejected.
Too remote from reality, they said. From our roots. -It would be thinking in a
void, something we must avoid. And besides, space would be impracticable.
It was too much of a risk.
Too many lives were at stake.
Absolute security was the criterion.
Despite the heavy swell and the uneasiness within, the delegates felt relatively
The sky and the ocean filled with blood in the setting sun.
Even before the bomb went off.
Few remembered when it happened, for there were few remaining and few had
understood in any case.
Kill, over-kill and saturation. A balance. Of terror.
Few saw it as a general sickness. The curtain had been a dark and heavy one and
most had hidden behind it.
And now there was oblivion. Only oblivion.
And wind and dust.
Jack Withers left school at 14 and has worked in a garage, as an electrician,
youth worker and librarian. He is active in the Peace Movement.
"Hope Chapel please driver"
Hope? Is there any hope?
I see your lined face lady
Line upon line upon line,
Row upon row upon row of
Tidy white graves.
Did you lose him at The First Call
Is he with the others
Putting substance in the soil of
Some distant foreign land.
I see your eyes lady.,
I see your eyes lady,
Was it that Demon Madman?
Did you lose him at the second call lady?
Is he with the others
Blown with the sands across the
I see your frail body lady,
Are you last of the line?
Or are there the children the children waiting for
The Third Call?
The Third Call?
There will be no hope then lady.
"Hope Chapel lady"
"Thank you driver".
Anne Thomas is a bus driver & a member of Bridgend CND.
morning and I'm looking out of my upstairs bedroom window at happy neighbours,
who are cleaning their cars or hanging out freshly washed clothes to dry. And
some have already put neglected lawnmowers to use. One or two look up, and
seeing me, they wave, and then shrug their shoulders when I fail to return their
waves and go back to doing whatever
they were doing. The sun is shining and its rays blanket the area into instant
summer, making the red brick houses reflect a comforting glow of warmth. A
nearby canal pretends to be made of glass. A winding mirror snake and on its
skin floats a wooden rainbow, moving with the grace and smoothness of a skilled
THREE MINUTES TO GO:
More people are appearing now, pruning themselves, straightening ties and hats,
grouping together then setting off for church. Watching them are happy children,
until bored with the spectacle, run up and down the road, kicking a ball and
chasing a dog. Smiling. Laughing. Getting dirty. Oblivious to the gleaming cars
until a shout limitates their playground. 'Hoy, get off that car, I've just
washed it. '
TWO MINUTES TO GO:
Across the road, a car draws up, stops and spills out its passengers, who fall
into handshakes and hugs, 'out of town friends on a visit, long time no see'. It
made me wonder if any of my friends were at this very moment travelling to visit
me. Someone else has just come out to sunbathe and another has turned to the
first page of a new book. While up above the clouds paint white Picasso's onto
giant blue background, and the bright colours of our feathered friends skim
below its canvas, in search of food or perhaps a place to rest. I always
wondered if the noise they made as they flew over my house, was an argument over
food or just simple conversation, that only they can understand. I watched them
zig-zag on invisible rails of force, circle and then finally dive and dart out
of my sight and into someone else's.
Suddenly, a radio bursts into life, making some neighbours retreat indoors
mumbling quiet curses to themselves. At the same time the radio influenced
others to accompany the broadcast and to sing along with the melody. Their out
of tune voices crippling the original harmony into a subdued background noise.
Land of Hope and Glory will never sound the same again. An angry shout and the
radio is silenced. It's funny how time seems to go slower when you're watching
it, waiting. Drifting voices from passing strangers mention my name. "A writer
lives there, have you read his book?" "Yes, I have as a matter of fact, and I
believe he's starting on another one soon."
Huh, another book, how? When I have no pen in my hand, no ideas in my head and
no time to think. What's wrong with the world? Have they all gone mad? I mean,
they all must have heard it. Surely they must know what's happening. What's
going to happen. Why do they pretend, disbelieve, ignore the obvious? It's over.
Everything is finished. Forget your gardens and your dirty cars. They are not
important now. Nothing is. It's too late for church and praying. We should have
prayed years ago.
It's too late to do anything. Can't you understand? Didn't you hear? Do they all
seriously believe it's a practise, or worse - a joke? God, how I wish they were
all right, but I know they are not.
Am I the only one frozen in fear? Unable to speak. Unable to move. Unable to
Am I the only one who heard the four minute warning or have I imagined it all?
Yes, that must be it. I've imagined it. There has been no warning. Why else
would everyone appear so calm and normal? I've been imagining the whole.....
from the 'Sun' newspaper.
Regulars in two village pubs knew exactly what to do when a siren
signalled the start of a nuclear
war.......they went right on drinking.
The four-minute warning, howling accidentally from a siren at a top-secret Army
weapons range, did not even cause a rush for last orders.
True, there was a moment's hesitation over the pints at the White Hart
in Great Wakering, Essex..... until someone suggested it was a burglar alarm.
Up the road at The Exhibition, landlord Terry Harding said: "No one paid any
attention, even though it was a bit deafening."
Parish Councillor Edwin Adcock said: "People round here don't scare easily."
NEWS FROM THE FEDERATION
Northern Gay Writers
is a gay group, therefore vaguely something to do with the sexual origin of why
folk meet, there seems to be much consternation in the material over who not to
go to bed with, with the bisexuals trying to defend their ground, and the
'all-gays' now saying it's not enough to be 'bisexual', that's a cop-out.
However despite debit side the group is worth while if only cos TV and movies
Whitehouse and darling friends do nothing for us, apart from suggest we molest
children. Gay people HAVE TO read to READ their culture or discover their lack
of it. There is a big big space where POSITIVE GAY WRITING should be.
Secondly, positively, our group is one of the few non-alcoholic, non-commercial
gay groups in town, and is a big chance to talk about your experiences and your
life. I mean so what you have to do it in from of men, women, bisexuals5 but one
thing's for sure we are altogether because we are gay, like black people have
something in common with each other.
I am sceptical to the extent that I would see the group as consciousness
raising, you know either for gays or wider society. Naturally we do want other
views of life other than of factory floor white guys, but the aim of the group
is not so to be a peep zoo or to create a highly politicized elite, nor to do an
acrobatic stand between the polarisations of bisexuality, gay men and lesbians.
Manchester is a good place for Northern Gay Writers, it's 40 miles from
everywhere up north and about half the population of Britain live in 100 mile
radius, I'd guess. On the gay scene too it's a regional capital, with all its
commercial gay scene.
I feel the group is going fine, as a group of writers writing about their
experiences at the hands of a homophobic society. We have thirteen members, two
envelopes of material going round between Manchester, Bradford, Leeds,
Sheffield, Chesterfield, Oldham, Stalybridge, Leigh; and we also have five
Manchester members, attendance at fortnightly meetings runs between three and
five people. This really is a sufficient workable number for writers at any one
time I feel, whom unlike musicians and actors do not need the whole damned cast
or orchestra there on the night, every workshop.
During August we have read to Manchester Gay Centre (40 people) and Manchester
Gay Workshop (30 people) (they chat about issues affecting gay people ie drink,
police harassment, more drink, sexual politics, gay writing, and more drink). At
both readings we quit the floor about nine o'clock had a discussion with the
audience about what did they think of the writing and what do they think about
how gay writ should be, how it could be tailored etc.
In February and March would like to tour Yorkshire and Lancashire to the small
town gay groups who hold coffee evenings, and club nights; and we would read to
them. We all want to conduct our book sales in clubs and pubs, I mean you’ve got
to go where the people are and it's this therapeutic side of our writing which I
see crucially important. Most writers, outside of worker-writers are too damned
aloof, they think they have a God given right.
We do not like overtly sexual material, though inadvertently we've got served up
with it, but there's rubbish like that being served up without us having to leap
on the cart; but instead over the last six months since July we have insisted on
writing about gay themes, so that we are not merely duplicating Commonword's
work, we did not want to become a gay tea and bun group, that met to discuss
water colours or bird watching, we wanted our writing to have some
'consciousness raising' quality. Also it's a matter of market. You may be able
to sell Shirley
Bassey in a gay pub but poems on tenements or vases of daffodils is unlikely, so
we have had to tailor work.
For our anthology we have a story from Sheffield about the difference between
being gay and just being homosexual, one about when Leeds gay group unwittingly
attract a hustler (I'd have straightened him out); some celebrations of being
gay/ infatuation from Chesterfield/ Bradford; picking up the gay pieces after
married life (Tame-side).
Our group includes one writer who has had a book published by Gay Men's Press
down south, we have no qualms about links with established 'come-out' gay
writers, cos gay writers certainly need solidarity and to be in a group support
situation because publishing 'gay' in this society of ours (better than some
others) is, to be quite frank, more suicidal and dangerous than deep sea diving.
Our future plans (money, honey) include:
* gay anthology
* writing tour of gay north
* encouraging bisexuals
* encouraging women
* starting our own newsletter
* cracking other publishers ie
* Gay News, writing competitions, Mancunian Gay, Gay Men's Press;
* being nicer and more reassuring to one another
* having our next Manchester get together
* bringing more gay writers out of isolation in the big, big north.
In October in Manchester five of us attended a gay writers national conference
in Manchester, you had to pay three pound to get in, for two days.
Northern Gay Writers was started by members of Commonword Workshops. An
anthology of their work and a novel by John Gowling will be published this
summer. See page 31 for a review of 'Alienation' by a member of the group.
You say you want to know me, no not me my sex-uality
is the affinity between you and me
You say you want to support me, no I but my anatomy
You don't want to know the inside of me that still
cares for people not sex-uality
and if I decide to go to the never, never land
and decide to take a man
will you still want to know me or my sex-uality?
Suffering in Silence
write First Time
is reprinted from WRITE FIRST TIME, the national newspaper by and for Adult
There is no average age for people who come to literacy projects, which shows
that the problem has been around for a very long time.
With the start of adult literacy programmes in the last few years the problem
has been highlighted. Most of the people who come forward are from working class
backgrounds. The problem is not just confined to the working class but the
middle class seems to be able to overcome it with more opportunities. This
highlights the double standard in our education system.
Here are the attitudes of three people attending one literacy project, the age
group is mixed.
"Looking back, I had problems changing over from the i.t.a. system of English at
the age of 8. Living in inner-Liverpool, the houses we lived in kept being
demolished and I kept changing schools. There seemed no overall planning of my
education. I seemed to have no contact with my teachers."
"Coming from a large family, my main problem was whether or not I had shoes to
go to school. There was no communication between my family and school. We had an
average of 45 a class and the teacher could not keep control of the class, never
mind teach. I feel very bitter about the waste of my ten years of what was, to
"At 11 we were segregated; all the bright kids went to colleges, the rest were
left in a rundown school with bad teachers. We spent the next few years at the
same desks doing nothing. I would have accepted this in my ignorance, but the
last year we moved to a newly built school and then it dawned on me - seeing all
that I had missed out on. At 15 I left, hating all the bastards that had closed
The double standard in education that applied to us as children is still with us
now as adults. It is easy to go to a night class for painting, woodwork, car
maintenance, cookery and other hobbies. Why? Local Authorities are willing to
pay teachers to take night classes like these. Yet with so many unemployed
teachers no one is willing to pay for one-to-one basic education and they drag
their heels forming small classes. We don't want a hobby or a pastime. What we
want is our right - to be able to read and write in a literate society. Is this
too much to ask? Because we lack the basic skills we don't have the work
opportunities that others enjoy. Yet there are several million of us paying
taxes and rents. Why are individual tutors not paid when they are needed so
It is a great step to come out of the shell of ignorance seeking help. Why
should we then have to wait for tutors because of the shortage of trained staff?
Those who suffer in silence continue to suffer.
THE NATIONAL HOSPITAL is an extract from Alice
Linton's autobiography, NOT EXPECTING MIRACLES, published by Centreprise. A
review of the book is contained on page 31 of this issue of VOICES.
THE NATIONAL HOSPITAL
When I was nearly thirteen years old I became very
ill. They thought it was flu but it turned out to be Rheumatic Fever. Mother had
the doctor, she could only afford to have him once because his visiting fee of
two shillings was very hard to find. It was only a shilling if you went to the
surgery. Father at the time was suffering from tuberculosis - or consumption -
as it was then called. He had contracted it while working in the T.N.T.
department of the Woolwich Arsenal where they filled the shells with gunpowder.
There was no compensation as such.
I can still remember the awful pains in my head as I lay in bed with this fever.
I spent many hours alone while mother was at work. Father would be out trying to
get odd jobs although he was a sick man. When I began to feel better father
thought he would give me a treat on a Saturday night and take me with him to his
Working Men's Club. On Saturday night they had variety turns and some were very
good comedians. The pains in my head were excruciating, as I tried to laugh.
After a few weeks, when they thought I was better, I went back to school.
I was only back at school for a few weeks when peculiar things seemed to be
happening to me. I couldn't control the movements of my hands. Teacher grumbled
at my bad writing and at home I was always getting into trouble for dropping
things. I was also suffering from dreadful headaches, and as I sat in school I
kept wishing that someone could remove what felt like a heavy brick from my
head. It was my teacher who first realised that there was something really wrong
with me and she sent a note home to mother, suggesting that I should see a
doctor. The doctor suggested that I should see a specialist. This wasn't very
easy. At that time one could always get treatment in the Casualty department,
but to have a consultation, unless you could afford to pay, you had to get a
special letter from either the local Vicar, the Mayor, or someone of importance.
These people were allowed a limited number of letters each year. Father managed
to obtain a letter from the Head of the Working Men's Club.
Mother took me to Bartholemew's Hospital, which was only a penny tram ride from
where we lived. The waiting hall was crowded and mother was worrying as to how
long they would keep us. She was hoping to be able to get back to work in the
afternoon, otherwise being 'piece work' she would lose quite a lot of her wages
and she needed them badly.
At last I was taken into the consulting room where I was examined by a very
pompous gentleman with a grand manner of speech. He evidently had no idea how
the other half of the world lived, or else he had conveniently forgotten. He was
surrounded by a large group of students. Each one tested my heart beat both in
the sitting up and lying down position. Then he questioned each one as to what
they discovered. Apparently my heart was affected by the fever. I can remember
how terribly embarrassed I felt, having my newly formed bosom exposed to all
these young men. After, there was a long discussion in which I took a great
interest and tried to understand a little of it, and in spite of feeling nervous
I was quite pleased to feel something of importance.
My mother was then brought in and the grand gentleman proceeded to give mother
instructions as to my treatment. In his cultured voice, he told my mother that
my heart was affected and I would need months of complete rest. I would have to
be kept in bed for about six months, have good nourishing food. I was not to
have too many visitors to excite me, not to read exciting books, and not to
stretch or bend over to retrieve things dropped from my bed. It was plain to see
he had no idea as to mother's circumstances or how impossible it was for her to
carry out his instructions.
Mother went home in despair. I realised now that she felt that I really needed
to be kept in hospital. My home might be a poor one but it was where I belonged
and felt secure. The hospital seemed austere and rather frightening.
After a week or two worrying what to do mother went to see our Vicar. She had
been told that it might be possible to see another doctor at the National
Hospital in Queen Square, where they specialised in my illness, but it meant
that she would need another special hospital letter. Fortunately the Vicar had
one to give my mother and she took me there the next day.
The moment I had dreaded had arrived. Mother took my hand reassuringly as we got
off the tram. I looked around at the great tall buildings. Had it been a
different occasion I might have been impressed by the fine buildings that
Bloomsbury possessed, but today my mind was filled with fear and dread of the
As we walked along together I gripped mother's hand more tightly. It was only a
short distance to Queen Square, and my mother might have to leave me there. All
too soon we reached the Square. A disturbing sight met us. It was a sunny day
and a number of patients were being exercised around the Square. It was 1921 and
several of the patients were dressed in the blue uniform worn by invalids of the
1914-18 war. Nurses pushed limbless men around in wheelchairs, some were badly
disfigured. Others with lesser disabilities were pushing their pals along so
that they too could enjoy the fresh air. It was wonderful to see how cheerful
they all were though they must have suffered for so long since the war ended.
Mother's heart sank. She looked at all those very sick people, then looked at
me. I really looked fairly well and she felt that the doctors would never
consider that I was ill enough to be kept there as an in-patient, even though
she had been told that I needed special care.
We entered the large waiting hall which was crowded with people. It looked as
though we would be there for hours. We sat on long forms and as patients were
seen to we moved up on the form. Some of the patients looked dreadfully ill as
they sat patiently waiting. We had not been there long when we heard a young boy
sitting at the end of our form give a terrible shriek, and then collapse on the
floor. He lay there, his body writhing and jerking in a very distorted manner.
His eyes were rolling until only the whites showed and he was making terrible
grimaces. I was petrified. I had never seen anyone in an epileptic fit before. I
was also worried, because no one was doing anything. They just left him there. I
didn't realise that so long as there was nothing near to hurt him and his head
was in a position where his tongue could not slip back and choke him, there was
nothing you could do, and the spasm would soon pass.
We sat on and on and only moved along the form toward the consulting room very
slowly. It was after we had been sitting there for some hours that a nurse came
to tell us that the doctor was unable to see any more patients that day. We must
come back the next day. That meant that mother would have to lose another day's
work and pay that she could ill afford.
The next morning mother and I started off early and were thankful to find that
we were among the first of the patients waiting to see the doctor. When it came
to our turn to go in we were both relieved to be seen by a kind and
understanding doctor. He listened to all that mother had to tell him and after
he and his students examined me, he told mother that he wanted to take me in
straight away. Mother was very relieved to think that I would now be given the
treatment I needed, also she would now be able to get back to work for that
I was inwardly terrified. A nurse came and took us upstairs to the ward. In a
flash nurse had taken all my particulars from mother, and with a hurried kiss
and "Be a good girl" she vanished.
As I watched mother disappear through the door of the ward I suddenly felt lost
and abandoned. I had been warned that I might be kept in at the hospital but I
hadn't realised just how terrible I would feel. I wanted to rush out after
mother, but the nurse smiled at me and taking my hand she said, "Come along
Alice I will take you to the bathroom, and then I will introduce you to the
other two girls who are here. They are both about your age."
Seeing that she had addressed me by my Christian name somehow reassured me. As
we walked down the long ward I gazed at the endless rows of beds stretching down
on either side in perfect straight lines, each one covered in a spotless white
quilt. A strong feeling of awe, and orderliness mixed with the powerful smell of
disinfectant completed my desolation. Nurse began chatting to me and told me her
name was Nurse Webb. Some of the patients gave me a friendly wave as we went by
and I began to feel less frightened.
As we entered the bathroom I was struck by the vastness of it. The huge bath in
the centre of the room looked large enough to drown me. I compared it in my mind
to the old tin bath that mother had used on Saturday nights, in front of the old
kitchen fire and was afterwards kept hanging on a large hook embedded in the
wall of the yard. The old stone copper built in the corner of the kitchen would
be lit an hour or two earlier and mother baled the hot water out and poured it
into the bath. It was lovely and cosy.
Nurse Webb began to turn on the huge brass taps in the bath and the water rushed
out with a roar I I began shyly to undress. I was rather sensitive about my
clean but shabby underclothes. However, the bath felt warm and refreshing as I
floated in its large interior. I was not allowed to use any exertion in washing
myself but Nurse Webb washed me very gently, chatting to me all the while. She
told me that she had only just started working at the hospital, and it was all
very new and strange to her also. This comforted me that she had a fellow
feeling for me.
Alice Linton was born in Hoxton in 1908. 'Not Expecting Miracles'a, her
autobiography, from which this extract was taken, is reviewed on page 31 of
The old men built a shelter
Where they could sit and talk
And watch the Western S.M.T. buses
Throbbing through towards Kilmarnock.
They made a good job.
It was trim and snug
Against the Ayrshire rain;
Adaptable too, when daylight faded,
And courting couples used the facilities.
'You'll not find me in there,'
My grandfather sneered.
'That's for men who're going to die.'
And he went out to see
A man about a dog,
I remember the day of his funeral
(Low grey clouds drizzle from Baidland).
As the hearse purred past the shelter
The old men stood straight,
Bonnets doffed, for a departed friend.
Geddes Thomson teaches English in a Glasgow comprehensive school.
He was born in Ayrshire where his father was a farm-worker.
A WET SUNDAY IN MAY
I wake to the sound of rain
And listen to the swish swish
On corrugated iron & plastic bags
Dustbin lids have a chorus
Of tinny repeated overtones
"dustmen on strike, dustmen on strike"
London feels damp & overpowering
As I lie listening, the bed
Adopts the insistence of a morning train
"gotto get up, gotto get up"
Every day the same old rigmarole
Kettle on, wash cups, toast on grill
But today something was different
Waving at me from the kitchen window
And suddenly in the rain, SPRING was dancing
A green velvet carpet
Glistening with raindrops
Covered the filth of winter.
Sally Flood is a member of Basement Writers who have published
two collections of her poems, "Paper Talk’ & 'A Window on Brick
OLD SAILOR BOYS
Old sailor boys with drunken boots
Sport plastic bags
court ancient hags
on the brown rat's pier
Their memories of sailing barques
and ballroom larks
and arguments with wages clerks
no longer clear
almost ghosts in overcoats
mouthing endless anecdotes
they wander to their dormitories
like boats with ruined steering gear
Keith Whitelaw comes from Liverpool.
WORKING CLASS WRITING IN LIVERPOOL
At present there are, in Liverpool, four writers
workshops (members of the FWW&CP) (Liverpool 8. Scotland Rd. Old Swan &
Netherley Writers). While each workshop is autonomous we maintain very strong
links, that is why it seemed sensible to show a cross section of work being
produced in the city, rather than featuring one workshop.
Workshops in Liverpool grew from the roots of struggle, one reason why there is
often an aggression present in some of the writing which causes people to take
one step back, that is, until the honesty grabs them. If you are afraid of the
ugliness of reality, you may turn away from our words, we hope not.
Reading us will not tell you what makes us tick, but possibly cause you to ask
the question, "Why do you tick so loudly?" Simple, WE wish to be heard, like
every other group ir the Federation we believe we have something worth saying.
I should add there are many worker writers both individuals and groups in
Liverpool who are not yet members of the FWW&CP, time and friendly discussion
should remedy this.
The history of the Liverpool workshops is long and interesting unfortunately
there is insufficient space to cover it, if readers want more information, let
us know we will do all we can to supply it.
WHAT A PIECE OF WORK IS MAN
There's a young man from the Shaw Street dosshouse
champing in the corner of the doctor's waiting room. Grease thickened hair
drools down his forehead like lard on a cold morning plate. With nearly closed
eyes he looks down his nose through the grey portcullis of his chin and lives
only in the narrow arc around his chair. He sits huddled, one leg crossed,
shoulders forward there, as it to unfold would send a vapour of urine and
diseased sperm steaming from his damp thighs. There is a shoe clinging to the
toes at the end of his twitching crossed leg. You can see a patched hole in the
sole - cardboard from a Quaker Oats packet.
There's a hole too in the heel of his dirty yellow nylon sock and all around the
hole yellow is giving way to brown.
He coughs and you hear the catch of phlegm in his throat and see his cheeks puff
out to spit - a flicker of the webby lids - and you watch his jagged adams apple
through the stubble and you see him swallow the phlegm. He has a stump to smoke
so he clears his nose - a thumb up to cover one nostril as he blows, blows,
blows through the other and hears the rattle of an air hole at last. Then he
lights his compressed ciggie.
With one leg still crossed he takes an ecstatic drag from the stump; then his
head goes forward bobbing up and down like a strutting cock busily seeking his
feed in the arc.
Crouched forward, head bobbing, had in an unlined pocket, he sits there, playing
with himself, a battered hulk of rattling snot.
Jimmy McGovern is a member of Scotland Road Writers Workshop.
Bate Us For Years
THEY BATE US FOR YEARS
IN PRISON CELLS.
AND IN BACK OF VANS
THEY LASH US.
WE WAIT WE WAIL
SO WE GO BEAT THE PIGS
BE NIGGER NO MORE.
Maria O’Reilly is a member of Netherley Writers-
We have our own house now,
It's up in Hunts Cross.
Did I tell you that Bill
Has become his own boss?
We have a new car,
Two phones and a bar,
Two lovely gardens,
One front and one back.
Oh, sorry to hear
That Joe got the sack.
Are you still in the flats?
Is there no sign of out?
Is he still next door?
That big idle lout.
By the way what do you think
Of the riots and mobs.
Bill said it won't help
To bring in new jobs.
Oh I nearly forgot
We are going to Spain,
Well I must be off
I'll see you again.
Stan Clare is a member of Netherley Writers.
A Letter To Jo One Year After
I shouldn't have been aware of the sounds, after all, it was
finished; the job was done, but the clock kept ticking, the fluid kept dripping,
the box kept buzzing, the wires were still in place.
I tried so hard to love you but you'd become detached from me, four minutes
earlier we'd both been happy, together.
It was a strange feeling looking at your face, I liked it, I knew it was a nice
face, everything was there, a nose, two eyes, just where they should have been.
Ten fingers, ten toes, elbows, knees, I re-checked, yes you were complete.
Then they grabbed you, put you in the box, turned the heat on.
"We'll make him nice and warm". That's what they said. They treated you like a
turkey being got ready for Christmas. That was the moment of realisation, if
there had been any feeling there at all, it was now all over between us.
I was a robot, that' s what they saw me as, a reproductive robot, wired up.
You were the product, the only thing they weren't sure of, was what to do with
the product. You weren't like all other products, not a game, not food, not a
piece of furniture and your great difference changed nothing, you got thrown in
a box just like any other kind of product does.
Later on, the one who put you in the box came back to me.
"Put that child down, don't you know it's against the rules to walk around
holding him, it's positively dangerous".
Couldn't she see how hard I was trying to make it work? I couldn't tell her how
I felt, it would only have made it more difficult for me. I put you down, you
cried out, it was as if you knew, as if you found it hard too, we both wanted it
to work but they wouldn't let it.
They didn't come much in the night, I thought we would be able to spend some
undisturbed time together but on the second day they started to take you away at
As I was leaving the hospital, the nurse insisted on carrying you to the
doorstep, as if to say: "He still belongs to us, even though you're taking him
away". They were right, you did belong to them, as much as I tried, I couldn't
see you as mine.
For the first few months, I breast fed you, I thought it would help me to love
you, make me feel closer, more attached. It didn't work, it was painful, my
breasts felt sore. When you were four months old I put you on a bottle, I'd
I questioned myself, why didn't I love you? was I a bad mother? who did you
really belong to? At the time I didn't know the answer, which made the problem
worse, because without the answer, I couldn't possibly solve the problem.
When you were eight months old, I took you to the clinic, the doctor wanted to
examine you, I hadn't, taken a nappy with me, so on the discovery of a dirty
bottom, I found myself at a loss for anything to change you into. The pram sheet
was clean, I'd only put it on the pram half an hour before coming to the clinic
so I dragged it off the mattress and proceeded to put it on you instead of a
nappy, only to hear horrific screams coming from the nurse.
"You can't put that on your child's bottom, that's been on your pram". I told
her that I didn't have much choice, she didn't listen, she just kept repeating
herself. I didn't put the sheet on you very well, my hands were shaking, I was
The event at the clinic made me realise what was wrong, I'd been trying to match
up to the standards of doctors and health visitors, instead of trying to do
things in a way that suited me and you.
The thought of getting you adopted had often crossed my mind. I'm glad I kept
you and worked on the relationship.
The love is there now. Now you know how it started. Let's work on the future in
our own way, not in anyone else's way. Let's make it work for both of us.
Kim Rogers is a member of Liverpool 8. She now has a second child.
You say Mr. Clause
that when you returned
your sleigh had gone
the bridles were missing
and the reindeer's antlers and hoofs
had been stripped down –
what did you expect?
all you do
you venture forth
from your safe suburban mansion
and stuff a few gifts in their pockets
a youth club
a community centre
a home for the homeless,
the hungry, the sick,
the criminal, the insane,
then you vanish
over the rooftops laughing;
around here they gave up
believing in you
a long time ago.
Tom McLennan is a member of Liverpool 8.
MASS UNEMPLOYMENT &
MOTHERS IN LIVERPOOL
I would like to explain in my own words what effect the
unemployment is having on the mothers of the young, unemployed in Liverpool.
There are not many homes who have not got one or two young ones not
working, and it's Hell watching them trying so hard and getting
We have tried our best to help them get a better education than we had,
believing they would get a better job in life than what we had if they had
qualifications. We also told them (not in so many words) we expected big things
from them because they had all the chances we did not get.
We believed they had the chance to try for what they wanted to do and to find a
job and profession they would be happy at doing. We told them they would have
many years working so to choose something that they liked doing (that was the
biggest joke of all).
We have now had to change our tune and tell them they must take any job going if
they like it or not and be thankful if they get one. It doesn't matter how good
an education they had. Is it no wonder there's a hell of a lot of mixed-up and
frustrated kids around.
Lots of mothers, fathers and families are keeping their young ones subsidised to
help them survive on the dole or Social Security money.
My son, who is twenty-one years old, gets nineteen pounds thirty pence to live
on. He is supposed to pay his keep at home, put clothes on his back, try and
have a night out, and pay bus fares and stamps to try and get work out of that
amount. They are supposed to be the best years of his life or so he was told to
My son is a proud lad and he hates to take anything for nothing even from his
mum and dad, so we have to try and get the extras to him without him feeling he
still owes us, and it's hard work.
Some people will say we are lucky to be able to do this for him. Yet he wants to
be independent from us and pay his own way and get on with his own life and let
us get on with ours, which none of us can do at the time and about the future.
We have to believe there is a job for him somewhere, even after he has tried for
five jobs in the last few weeks and had five refusals and feels like there's
something wrong with him and it's not the situation he's in.
My son is one of the lucky ones. He's had two jobs after he left the Technical
College he was at. Some of my friends' young ones have never worked since
leaving school. It is now eighteen months since my son worked. I have suggested
to him to go back and get more education but he feels he has had enough. He
wants to be part of the working world of adults. They feel once they get this
they have got their rights and are treated like adults and are not looked down
upon by some stupid people who think because they are out of work they have no
rights and are just "no marks", one of my son's expressions.
When my son loses hope and is really down at rock bottom we have to pick him up
again and make him fight back once again for survival. We smile and laugh when
our hearts are broken. Most mothers I know cry an awful lot when their kids are
not around, then we wipe our tears and pretend we're not worried. Our kids are
going to make it. If we did not portray this to them they would lose their
confidence and God help us when that happens to them.
They have got no future our children today; they cannot think of courting or
getting married. What have they got to offer each other? It takes them all their
time to survive themselves. It's only their loved ones who keep them going. My
heart goes out to the young ones who don't have parents who understand.
I believe it's my son's right to be independent. I object to the state having to
give my son money to live on, as much as he objects to having to take it to
live. I told my son when he was young it was his right to have his independence.
Will someone please tell me what to do. I tell him today he has no right to
Marjorie Jones, Old Swan, has just completed a New Opportunities for Women
Course, after working as a dinner lady, for a pools firm, and running a charity
JUST ANOTHER DAY
A swift glance at my old watch tells me it's time for my
fortnightly right-hand exercise, time to go off and sign on the dotted line.
Gratefully acknowledging the fresh air I stroll, but still find I'm early again.
After having my scrawl frowned upon by Hitler in drag, I move from the counter
to the latest vacancies board. As usual unless you want to make conversation
with a typewriter all day or serve meals to three hundred of the 'bowler hat and
brolly' brigade, there's not a lot you can do, besides which I never measure up
to their standards anyway. Either I'm too young or too old, or not enough
qualifications, or I've got enough but not in the right subjects.
"My Guardian Thunder Cloud accompanies me to the bus stop, hovering just above
me all the way. I turn to the corner and see my bus pulled in at the bus stop.
Now here I am faced with two alternatives:
(1) walk quietly up and catch the driver unawares, then hop on;
(2) start running now, hoping he doesn't see me.
Number two seems the most reasonable. I start running. Just as I get to the
backend, he sees me, shuts the doors and drives off, eyes streaming with
laughing. People waiting for other buses stare (God! How embarrassing). There's
only one thing for it - keep on running past, they they'll think I didn't want
that bus at all. I crash out knackered round the corner three streets away.
After getting this far I may as well walk the rest of the way home.
One and a half hours later I stagger up to the door and just about manage to
muster the strength to push the door bell. The door flings open and I'm greeted
with open arms and roses. Actually the last sentence was a lie. Really Karen
opens the door with her little finger because the rest of the hand is taken up
by a butty and the other hand holds the phone. Fulfilling my promise never to
make a mess on the carpet, I crawl straight out into the garden to die.
Distant "mmm's and she didn't even.....no", roll to my ears.
Nearly an hour passes and presently I feel more able to manage a small amount of
sustenance, say a Ling Wow's special, consisting of three sausages, two portions
of chips, peas and coated in gravy (in turn the gravy is coated in dust).
The phone returns to its former resting place and Karen presently looms in the
door frame. What manner of gracious welcome shall emanate from her delicate
lips? I wait with baited breath,
"What's wrong with your gob?"
(It wasn't worth waiting for)
"I'm hungry," I say pitifully.
(The pity doesn't come)
"Come on then. We'll go to the chippy."
She helps me up, picks up her jacket and we set off down the avenue, Karen ahead
and me limping pathetically behind. The smell of chips spurs me on and I soon
"Two specials please?"
Mr. Wow looks up incredulously wondering if we're strangers in town, but he
doesn't care and puts them in to be warmed up.
We arrive home ready for the ensuing battle. Karen sets the table: knife, fork,
ant repellent, salt and
vinegar. We sit down, take off the wrappers and the battle begins. On Karen's
plate I'd say the ants just about got the better. On my plate I am the only
victor. Satisfied we crawl to the lounge to sleep it off.
Presently I regain consciousness so I go and make us some coffee. Obviously the
effects of the special haven't worn off completely because I keep missing the
cup with the spoon. At last it's ready and I go to revive the "Sleeping Beauty".
She unfolds like a butterfly and swears like a trooper.
She begins to look more human with every mouthful of coffee.
"You know I've just had the weirdest dream."
(I'm amazed. We haven't had conversation for at least
"Yeah war was declared and there was only you and me left on earth."
I'm sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for her to carry on, but she doesn't
seem to be going to. She's just sitting there staring, so I ask:
"Well how did we survive?"
"We didn't. We died. It was really funny."
"Pardon me if I don't laugh."
I look around expecting boredom to set in like rigor mortis.
"Come on. We'll go for a jog."
"Oh Tracey you're not serious are you? I mean remember last time. I was so
"Well we might get a different ambulance driver this time. No, seriously we just
won't go as far. It'll do us both good. Just round the block."
We go upstairs to get changed and ten minutes later emerge from the house more
like lumpy spuds in sacks than humans in tracksuits.- We jog out of the gate and
head up the avenue. We seem to be a little better this time. Well at least we
haven't gone into oxygen debt by three doors up. Continuing this nice slow,
steady pace we reach the main road, although it's now nearly six-thirty the
roads are surprisingly empty. We peep around the corner to make sure nobody's
watching. What cars there are are too busy trying to hit as many old ladies and
dogs as possible to notice us, and there are no people at all. We jog on.
We're still jogging five minutes later when Karen utters famous last words:
"I feel great".
O God here it comes! Bang and down she goes.
"Karen get up someone might be watching."
"It's no good. It’s happened again. I can't move my legs and I’m not
going back to the be laughed at again."
"Well try and move then."
Her face begins to go with the strain.
"It's no good, I'll just have to sit here for a while until my legs get going
"We'll have to move over and sit on a wall then, because I think we just might
look conspicuous sitting in the middle of the pavement." There's a garden wall a
further on so with a struggle we get there and sit down. After a while she tries
again to move her legs but they still won't go. Just then a voice shouts:
"Oy, sod off you hooligans, geroff me wall."
If we tried to explain he probably wouldn't believe us anyway, so I begin to
drag her off.
"Look stoned," I whisper, "it won't look so conspicuous."
The possessive wall-owner goes back to his house muttering under his breath. We
sit down further up the road, this time under a tree. Visions of us sitting
there in pitch darkness begin to loom up, thus we get to the drastic measure.
"Give me the keys to the house." "Why? What are you going to do?" She looks
worried as she hands over the keys.
I shout back as I'm running off. I don't think she appreciated the humour.
Ten minutes later I return accompanied by the wheelbarrow from the back garden.
"Oh no! No way. I'm not getting in that. There's still manure in it anyway."
"Be realistic dear. You are sitting under a tree and there are a lot of dogs in
"O.K. I'm convinced, but empty it out first please."
"Great. Hop in."
"Oh come on. Leave out the jokes. Give me a hand."
After a struggle we're finally ready to set off. All I've got left to do is to
muster the strength to get us both back home, when the inevitable happens. Now
men, especially young teenagers, have the most annoying habit of mocking the
afflicted with gammy legs, and I was afflicted with Karen, so we definitely
"When you pick up manure you're supposed to leave the pig behind luv."
I grabbed hold of the handles and ran. They were only just beginning, but I
didn't want to stick around for the finale.
With good wind and luck we finally made it to the front door. Karen hops out and
begins to open the door.
"What are you doing?"
"About half way home I realised my legs were all right again. Come on, I'll make
you a cup of coffee."
She walks off into the house leaving me dumb-founded at the front door. Still
standing there I walk after her.
"Well you could have bloody told me."
She doesn't make it any easier by shouting back:
"Well I was tired. Come on, it's nearly ready."
Later that night when we're tucked up in bed, I glance over at Karen, fast
asleep in her Micky Mouse pyjamas, a thought begins to bloom between my ears.
One day I'll have to write this down on paper.
Only trouble is nobody would believe it.
Tracie Heaton is 19, unemployed, and a member of Old Swan Writers Workshop.
TO THE UNWRITTEN POEM
I tried to write a poem about my fantasies, producing three
lines which were at the least erotic, at the most pornographic. I scrapped it:
it wasn't me, or people's picture of me, and so came...............
I started on an age old theme,
That moved within me like a stalking beast.
Discarded the written orgasm, with a yawning thought.
It's not the way they see you, with their limited vision
I started once again, but shocked myself.
How dare I conjure up such wanton dreams.
The very one who blushes at a trifling remark.
And still prefers her sex without lights.
Is capable of adding up the shopping list
In time with the rhythmic bumps of married bliss.
Reverting to type, paper crumpled to an
I toss away my sensuality
with the rest of the household rubbish.
Olive Rogers, Liverpool 8,
is a part-time worker for the Federation of
GIS A TISSUE
Gis a tissue will you? My nose and eyes
Will give away the fact that I cry.
Gis some love will ya? My heart is broke.
My eyes and nose will give away to people passing by, I cry.
Gis some pills will ya? Then I can walk
Among the crowds with my head held up high.
Gis some hope will ya? That I can work again
And fill my days with company, hard work, a sense of gain.
Make me bionic will ya? So I don't shed no tears,
Or never feel no fears. Not hate or love, cause God above"?
The misery it is to love, and hatred in return.
Gis some respect will ya? For colour or for creed,
White or black, what do we lack.
Is money what we need?
Gis some money will ya? A house in Bebbington where people scrape
bow - you never worry any more and rats and rates are second place.
And all the people that make hate will never matter now.
Deirdre Hanlon is a student on a Second Chance To Learn course.
This is one of her first poems.
I loved me gran,
Me dad's mam,
She was different from me mam's mam,
Me other gran,
She always baked cake with currants in,
Her hands messy with flour,
She wiped on her pinny,
Before she sipped her Guinness,
And gave me some,
She had a budgie,
Always sitting on the sideboard mirror,
Droppings dropping into a saucer ashtray.
Just missing the only photo of me Grandad,
With his cap on the side of his head,
I used confetti once,
To try and clean it,
But it bit me finger
Still I loved my gran's budgie,
And I loved me gran even more,
That's me mam's mam,
Me other Gran,
She chased me with a poker,
And shouted and swore at me,
But that must have been,
Because I was cheeky,
She had a dog called "Where are yer"
It was looked after better than me,
She'd put its dinner out, and shout,
"Where are yer"
And this dog would come from nowhere,
I stood on its paw once,
It bit me,
And left a tooth in me leg,
I had to have a needle,
I cried again,
I went back to kick it,
But I didn't
It might have left all its teeth in me,
But I did throw stones at it,
She never had a photo of me other Grandad,
I never saw him,
Maybe she chased him with a poker.
Chris Darwin is a member of Scotland Road Writers Workshop.
THE BEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE
Right, you fatherless sons and daughters who call yourselves
teachers. I've just got into grammar school..now tell me that I'm a 'stupid
heathen' once more.
The time is 1948 and the war is over. But, we had our own private little war
right here, didn't we? The weapons were a bit onesided, canes, black-board
rulers, no sexual discrimination though.
True masters in the art of humiliation, mental torment and brain washing. The
Gestapo missed out on you little lot didn't they? A right frustrated lot of SS
'heavies' the lot of you.
There we were, at school to learn. Brave indeed was the idiot who asked a
question and brought ridicule upon his tender head. Sadists. In your element by
twisting our innocent years into a living hell. A good education? Like hell..I
even thought the II plus was just one more of your little twisted jokes, it was
so easy. You sods, all those days and nights of terror for what was a bit of
Mr. Jones, I'll never forget you. I was about to have the cane, as usual, when
the headmaster burst in. He held the 11 plus results in his podgy paw. "Spare
her," he cried, "Spare her from the rod. She's passed". Dramatic fool. Mind you,
that cane on the tips of my purple, swollen finger tips again and I'd have
puked. (I'd only whispered 'shaddup' to the girl behind too. Oh, I could smack
her face". See, this aggro gets to us all after a while.) Well, I'd passed,
Mister bloody pig. I just wanted to break that size three cane over your bald
pate as you stood there gaping like a fish out of water. I hadn't needed you to
tell me that there were three sides to a triangle and one to a circle.
Well, now I'm sitting here, at home, and thinking. Looking at the smart, new
uniform my mother struggled so hard to buy...and I can't forget. About the time
that I was so terrified in your class that I got mv hair ribbon tied just above
my knees, firmly knotted tight. Of course, you had to demand that I go and write
on the blackboard, "You," you said, "Here..." nice to have identity isn't it? I
tried to stand, then I tried with ten sweating thumbs to untie the knot. I
watched your fat grin start, like a cat at the cream.
Of course the other kids laughed, glad and relieved that it wasn't them being
tormented for once.
You led me, as I was, through every classroom from infants up. I still burn to
remember the laughter. I was too tall and skinny, and very shy. I was so
mortified that when the headmaster, after much debate, cut the ribbon, I fainted
and struck my head on the edge of his desk. Who was mortified then, Mister
Teacher? You had to take this scruffy kid home in your precious car. My poor mam
was torn between her own fear of teachers and her concern for me.
But my dad wasn't scared was he Teacher? He had nearly become a teacher himself,
instead he was army boxing champion and a policeman. Cringed didn't you eh?
There had been a time in the past, when he had wiped your smile off your face.
Remembered it then didn't you?
Not long before a lad had pinched yet another of my hair ribbons, and you had
made me go and look for something to tie up my long curls. I remember that mam
had scrimped and saved to buy me a good, winter's coat for school. It had to
make do for my sisters after me. Well, I looked everywhere, terrified I was and
crying, not a pretty sight, all snot and sniffles and white faced. I couldn't
find a shoe lace or even a bit of string. So I tore the lining of my new coat to
tie up my hair. "That's better" you had sneered. Our mam didn't half cry, and my
dad gave you 'better'. I was ten years old then, Mister teacher, yet I had gone
through the bloody war and knew what it was like with no money and three kids to
feed and clothe.
Well, I'm not so stupid now, mister teacher. I'm in grammar school. And I'll
make pretty sure that no one will ever walk all over me again. No sir!
Joan has a collection of poems, 'On The Wild Side' published by Commonword.
These letters were sent to VOICES . in response to a questionnaire sent to
all members of the Federation about the magazine.
Voices In Decline
I'm sorry to see VOICES in a decline. I know there were problems pre-FWWCP
days, but it seems to me that it had a clear reason for existing to
sell and distribute clearly political creative writing to a distinct
audience, the 'Labour movement'.
When we offered it to FWWCP, I think it might have been a case of recommending a
medicine the patient then secretly threw down the loo.
I'd hate to see VOICES disintegrate, because of my previous involvement and
commitment, and I also feel sad to see its political image diluted; but if it
can't continue on the old lines, which presumably it can't, we ought to be able
to assess what - if at all -the Federation needs a national magazine for. It
doesn't seem like there is a real, genuine need.
The only real reason to me, might be to circulate FWWCP news-reports of
interesting meetings etc., national news of interest to worker-writers and
community publishers eg conferences, progress with Arts Council etc., and some
of FWWCP groups' work, although it still might be best to leave it to individual
response from writers in each group. I suppose I'm thinking of something like an
in-house or trade newspaper/ magazine, something like a folded A2 sheet - though
it's painful to think of VOICES ending up like this! (Come back Ben Ainley, Rick
Gwilt...why end there, why not Robert Tressel etc. etc.)
Perhaps it really does need a drastic re-think without memories of how it used
to be. But then it would have to be like a newspaper with someone like a
reporter to collect it all...difficult. And in the end, who reads factory
in-house magazines anyway - all photos of directors shaking hands and
offering/receiving cups and awards.
I personally would be interested in receiving news and writing, but then I loved
the old VOICES as well, so perhaps I'm not the typical 'questionairer
VOICES welcomes letters by readers about the magazine and any other aspects
of working class writing.
VOICES gives the impression, gives out the miasma (only too well-known by people
who've lived under a totalitarian regime) of being a censored publication.
Self-censored, that is. Not in a directly political sense; on the contrary, in
an apolitical, anti-political sense. The far-and-between 'Agit-Prop' poems, for
instance, Bob Dixon's in No. 21, or 'THE SONG OF THE WHEEL" by Savity Hensmal in
No. 26, are refreshingly direct, make sense and you know where you are. While
with some of the other 'personalized' contributions you also know where you are,
but in a round about way and you feel ' got at'.
Having given proof of their 'authentic' working-class subject, some of the
contributors (not all, far from all working class) seem to feel absolved when it
comes to proving their genuineness as writers. So you get this kind of thing:
"She poured the tea. It slopped into the saucer. He" (usually meaning 'I')
"picked up the cup. He took a few sips. He put the cup down."...
Reading this kind of thing in, say, Salinger's description of some rich bitch in
Florida polishing her nails, you know it's satire. But this sloppy writing isn't
meant to be satire, on tea drinking or beer swilling (never!) but written, it
appears, under the impression that realism (Socialist realism?) consists in
driving the reader to scream with boredom while burying, fudging the underlying
relationships, the entailed issues, under a heap of details - while, all the
time: nudge, nudge, nudge.
Moreover, the lack of interest in writing discipline and skill may carry the
risk than once the worker-writer has exhausted his own, after all, limited store
of autobiography, without having acquired an interest in the business of writing
(his own and other writers'), he may stop writing altogether.
Might one suggest that these 'realists' look at books like Ron Barnes' 'A
LICENSE TO LIVE', whose author managed to combine class authenticity with a
genuine need to write and write well.
Hackney Writers Workshop
THE WIDOW OF A FAMOUS MAN
CONVERSATION OVERHEARD ON HOLIDAY
1st man: "I went to see Keyne's widow the other day and was shocked to hear she
hadn't read ————"s biography of her husband.
2nd man: "Really.....Did you know so and so's widow lives here too?
1st man: "Amazing (laugh). You can imagine driving around one dark night and
nearly knocking over some tottering old woman and then discovering horrified
that it was old so and so's widow.
The widow of a famous man,
Parting layers of thick curtain
To find out who she is
Behind all those names that were his.
And she sits in her quiet room
Disturbed by the feet and words
Of visitors who’ve come to see,
Not she, :but the woman that was his.
And they stare and pry around,
Searching for a breath, a sigh, a sound,
That will tell them
That his spirit is still living.
They see the seat where he sat,
The books and fireside mat,
And her, his widow,
Do they see that she's still living?
And they raise their eyes in wonder
When they hear she hasn't read
The latest book on the man
She ended marrying.
No, they see a shadow or a shell.
They think without the man
She might as well
Begin to think of dying.
But she's only just begun.
Her song's yet to be sung.
Her secret song
That you've not succeeded burying.
Anne Johnson is one of the original members of the Commonplace
Workshop in Ealing.
The night caves down
on Belfast. Street lamps
have been toppled
by troops, wrapping the dark
around them like a blanket.
Warmed by home-made wine
the four of us laugh
defiance at the tall office-block
standing like a vacant-eyed
guard by the city's centre.
Her eyes are needles threading
through the streets, towards
a No-Man's-Land, where the Loney's
once huddled, conferring terraces
have been crumbled and flattened to ground.
The brittle lights of Divis Flats -
the charred walls where children
made a suicide-fire
burning the heaped rubbish
so flames were open veins on windows.
A road block looms out of the night,
the soldiers' soot-smudged faces
from a saracen make her brake sudden,
aware that a few yards could set off
one of the devices planted in their brains.
Guns hurry our answers out of breath –
we're glad to drive off and talk again,
hoping that words will be silencers
on distant gunfire. Doors and windows
kidnapped by a wire mesh of fear.
Mike Jenkins comes from Merthr Tydfil where he hopes to start a
writers groups for unemployed people. He lived for a year in
Stop A While
Stop a while in spirit,
turn the face
to feel the gentle
that first delicious chill.
The wind, soft surf
in the trees,
and birdsong, now clear
in the evening air.
Be not ashamed of
a little sadness
for a summer
the frightened sense
of quick September,
for the chances
are not many.
Dave Hutchins is a maintenance fitter in a chemical factory in
They died in the slate mines
And in the trenches,
At their mothers' breasts
And out at sea,
On the beaches at low tide,
In the arms of lovers,
And I have put away the photographs
Which my mind cannot destroy,
And kept myself well in hand
Until I turn the lock at six.
And in the insane, dropping silence,
Have found myself,
Cath Cairncross is a member of Home Truths, a Commonword
Reviews are a popular feature in VOICES, and we plan to have a good selection in
future issues. Priority will usually be given to community publishers.
Occasionally, we'll make an exception when a commercially produced book raises
issues directly concerning the worker writer movement.
This has happened in the case of UNION STREET, which has been a best seller for
Virago Press. Some have heralded the writer, Pat Barker, as a new champion of
working class literature, in the tradition of Robert Tressell and Walter
Greenwood. Others have rejected her rather less than rosy vision of modern city
life, as a slur on the kind of people that she has tried to portray. Here we
have three views on the book from readers in Manchester. Ruth Allinson gives an
overall reaction to the book; Ailsa Cox discusses the accompanying publicity;
and Phil Boyd takes a look at how the male characters fit into the book's
politics. We very much hope that this will start off a correspondence on the
book, which we'll publish in the next issue. In particular, we hope that readers
from the North East, where it is set, will respond.
"Union Street' is not really a novel - rather a collection of seven stories, or
perhaps character studies would better describe them, of working-class women
living in the same street of a northern town in 1973, the year of the miners'
strike, although there is some interconnection between them. We are told on the
back of the book: "Here is the grit, the humour, the reality of working-class
life." The grit is certainly there along with compassion and understanding for
the harsh life of these women who are neither, as so often depicted by men,
heroines nor monsters, but creatures of flesh and blood, fighting for survival
and forced to endure the indignities of a life of deprivation. But I do not
detect much humour in these stories, except perhaps in the description of firs.
Harrison in the back alley, collecting condoms with sugar tongs to start the
Mission fire. She tells the Pastor "It's man's energy goes onto that fire!" She
isn't afraid of catching any disease because "George is the one for sugar in our
house." Humour is undoubtedly an important dimension in people's lives of
whatever class and fortunately hardly anyone's life is one of unrelieved gloom.
It seems Pat Barker received a rejection slip from a male publisher who told her
to "Cheer up - life isn't really so depressing!" He is wrong and yet he has a
While it seems to me that the lack of humour is a serious omission, I can
understand the writer's anger at the suffering brought on by poverty and perhaps
she did not wish to run the risk of trivialising it by depicting it as humorous.
She has lived herself among these people and distancing herself (she now lives
in Durham, the life of a professor) has not blunted her awareness of the
appalling conditions - material and spiritual - in which they lived. I was moved
by the beauty of the writing and the strength of feeling behind the descriptions
of the characters, but I cannot help feeling that, while it is certainly not
easy, it is easier to write about extremes. Here we have stories about people
almost at the bottom of the social structure. Their experiences are extreme. To
make us aware of the humour and pathos in the lives of average men and women
would, it seems to me, be more 'real' and a greater achievement. For instance, I
was more moved by the account of Jo and Ken's lovemaking which 'never brought
them closer' than by the lurid account of an abortion. Having said this, it is
refreshing to have the lives of the working class, and working-class women at
that, given prominence without their menfolk being treated as one dimensional
causers of all ills. We are shown that everyone is a victim.
Amongst the minor characters, I liked particularly John Scaife, the husband who
cannot read and his "clever” son, Richard. Undoubtedly, the most successfully
realised character is Kelly Brown, the young girl who is raped at the beginning
of the book. In this incident, Pat Barker attempts, successfully for me, to
present us with the character of the rapist - a man inadequate and
The birth of Lisa's baby is moving and totally convincing. I was less impressed
by the description of Brenda's abortion. It is as though the writer felt duty
bound to include such an experience. Neither was I convinced by the story of
George and the aging prostitute.
The book ends with a beautifully worded description of an old woman, Alice Bell,
at the end of her life and we realise that the child she talks to as she sits on
the park bench is Kelly Brown. The first story is thus linked with the last. Pat
Barker is undoubtedly a gifted writer and 'Union Street' is a book well worth
reading, but I think that to make extravagant claims for it as a "working-class
masterpiece" as some critics have done, is to detract from, rather than to
enhance the book's undoubted merit.
Ruth Allinson Commonword
"Here is the grit, the humour, the reality of working class life. But more, in
telling their own stories, these seven women remind us that their story is a
Like the black and white photos in Sunday supplements, Virago's patronising
blurb promises the titillation of Real Life. At the same time it reassures its
readership that of course, it does contain "universal" themes - the sort of
themes you'd find in an ordinary, middle class novel.
Virago is a feminist publishing house, with a reputation built on re-issues of
earlier twentieth century fiction. Its interest in contemporary writing is far
smaller. UNION STREET is only one of two first novels by British writers, out of
seventy new titles in the 1982 catalogue. (The other is by an established TV
writer, and is linked with a Play for Today.) Evidently Virago picks its titles
with care. In this case it has decided it is marketable to a middle class
audience, who are suckers for Northern Grit.
So far as the book itself is concerned, the cover blurb does it a disservice. It
does indeed tell a story for each of seven women, from adolescent to pensioner.
But by basing its attractions on the vibrancy of the characters - "Lisa, mother
of two, pregnant again....Dinah, knocking on sixty but still on the game" - the
publicity trivialises the author's intentions. There are some flaws in the
writing. Pat Barker has a habit of wandering off into too many heads at once,
instead of concentrating on the consciousness of each major character. Still,
she has written more than a soap opera. Her characters all have several sides to
them; both good and bad. The problems of poverty don't override the emotions,
but are inter-related with "universal" pre-occupations. I especially liked the
way in which childbirth was presented, in various ways, as a central experience
in women's lives. (Though not the way the Tory party imagines it!)
In tackling themes of sexuality, daughterhood and motherhood, Pat Barker goes
some way towards avoiding the stereotype of writing about working class life -
that it should stick to the hard facts of toil and poverty, told in a
documentary style. This is a problem that VOICES has tried to overcome, by
looking for work with more than one dimension. The book is set during the 1973
miners' strike - a pretty arbitrary choice, since no real use is made of it
apart from reference to the cold. Some of the details seem dated to me - such as
the haglike backstreet abortionist. But at least we're a step further towards
establishing that there's plenty to write about life today. Working class
literature doesn't stop at the hungry thirties.
As long as publishers produce mainly novels of middle class life, assuming a
middle class readership, working class subjects will always be presented as
freakish. The pity of it is that a publishing house with an awareness of how
women have been stereotyped in fiction should be so insensitive towards working
class subjects. Next time it publishes a black woman writer, will it publicise
her innate sense of rhythm and happy-go-lucky style?
Ailsa Cox Commonword
The best thing in Union Street is the portrayal of the feelings of the
central women characters. For instance the relationship of the victim of a child
rape and her mother, or the ones between the women on the conveyor belt at the
Unsurprisingly, men do much worse. There are the ineffectual types, Arthur and
Wilf; the child rapist; the beer drinking, wife-beating types. Or, more
sympathetically, Joss the dwarf, confidant of two of the women; John, dying,
illiterate, able at the end to express his feelings about his son; or old George
who has a thing or two to learn of the ageing prostitute.
Either they have their health in which case they are monsters, or they are
powerless, old, dying, deformed, or children, in which case they are granted a
little, sentimentalised humanity. Violence against women is the final and
logical expression of men's exploitation of women. But what is missing, among
the stereotypes of working class man here, is an attempt to deal with the more
subtle forms of male power. Where, for instance, is the 'decent’ working class
bloke who hands over his pay packet, doesn't beat the wife, even takes an
interest in the kids, but still oppresses women? It's a bit like trying to
explain the complexities of state power by reference only to the use of plastic
Phil Boyd Commonword
PASS THE VALIUM MARTHA
Liverpool Worker Writers
Community Print Aid 0.75p
14 Castle Street
A collection of stories and poems from Merseyside. That's something to look
forward to. Liverpool's carried the flag for the worker writer movement. We've
felt the Liverpudlian bite both in the material their workshops have produced,
and in what they've got to say about working class writing. This book is quite
Well, it's not bedtime reading. Its subjects are unemployment, loneliness, inner
city decay, suicide and the threat of nuclear war. The style is short, sharp and
nasty. The longest piece is less than 1000 words long, and most of the verses
and anecdotes pack their anger and disillusionment pretty tight. There is some
sentiment memories of grandmothers, a little romantic love. Plus some
beautifully written memories of childhood and the war by Mary Casey, Brian Anson
and Tommy Delaway. But, on the whole, it is a bleak kind of book. The humour
when it comes, is bitter:
"People say life's
A wonderful thing, too,
But it's not
When you're giving birth..." (K. Mogen: Birth)
The politicians are mocked by their own pawns - without much hope of change:
"We march, petition, demonstrate,
Of no avail, and then - the hate.
Oh when will they take note of us,
I know! Go out and make a fuss.
Oh what a fuss the town is wrecked,
bedecked all sides in hopelessness.
'This violence can't be condoned'
Cry those who put it in our Bones."
(Mary T. Brennan: Lend us Your Ear? For we are here trapped in the Inner City
Throughout the book, there are strong feelings about the dereliction of the
writers' surroundings that reveal themselves in the descriptions of buildings -
tower blocks, prison walls or, in the case of Agnes Graham's "The Green Grass of
Liverpool", a dead Liverpool, deserted by its inhabitants, with the grass
growing over the landmarks of the town.
Maybe I'm reading too much into the fact that authors aren't listed on the
contents page, next to the titles. Maybe there wasn't the space 1 But it is a
fact that there is virtually no background information to individual writers. I
should've liked some clues as to why some of the writers wrote about particular
experiences, and how they connect their writing with the rest of their lives.
That said, the impact of the book is a collective one. The pieces are well
chosen, in just the right order. Credit should also be given to the excellent
presentation, including some apt photography from Art in Action.
Ailsa Cox Commonword
ALIENATION Ian Everton
Gay Men's Press
Gay liberation has been a long time coming to the British novel, Ian Everton's
"Alienation" suggests this may be because of an identity crisis caused by the
liberating influences of the last ten years.
Peter and Jon meet in a motorway cafeteria; Jon has lost his memory; Peter,
driving back to the North from London has given a lift to an American couple who
ask him to impersonate a woman. Elements of mystery are presented, making the
first chapters the best part of the book. Jon and Peter become lovers. Jon
regains his memory, rediscovers his identity and rejects it. Peter, an isolated
writer searching for a gay identity, is unable to find one in the gay group that
forms the background to the story. The group's struggles against homophobia
(queer-bashers, sexist husbands) and the problems of people whose only
similarity is their sexuality give Ian Everton the opportunity for caricature.
Some of these are quite well done. The two middle-class civil servants, for
instance, cruising the gay club, not rocking the political boat for fear of
their jobs. A welcome sign is the author's sympathy with the women in the group,
though the characters are still rather flat.
Unfortunately, the standard of writing is mixed. Despite poetic moments, such as
the description of music at the end of Chapter 2, my interest flagged because of
some poor writing and disbelief in key events in the narrative. But we should
not seek perfection in our first novel. lan Everton is to be congratulated on
having the courage to write a book that asks uncomfortable questions about gay
Northern Gay Writers/
NOT EXPECTING MIRACLES
As a worker writer (Bristol Broadsides) I hope the reader will excuse my
inexperience with regard to my review of this book.
My first impression was obviously one of how the book looked, the title
expressed a familiar sentiment that had for me a reassurance.
I wasn't quite sure about most of the photographs being together in the centre
of the book but after reading the book it did in actual fact seem right.
I suppose that "The Introduction" follows a prescribed format but for me it was
an intrusion, a prejudgement almost, that I would rather have read as a
conclusion after Alice's work had made its own statement.
Alice has committed to print a way of life that is now part of our history and
although I was born in 1933 Chapter One page 1 was familiar to me; I felt some
confusion with regard to "time-dates" in Chapter One "Mother was Born" page 3.
The war was over on page 9. The 14-18 war?
I am purposely trying to be critical for I have to keep faith with the
Federation's" work and all it stands for.
The more I read and reread Alice's book I have not a doubt that we should
remember the then and now, Memory Recall must be affected by time especially
emotional involvement of the time.
While I feel bound to say that I found the first three chapters structurally
bitty I have no doubt about their authenticity.
Chapter Four really for me made Alice's story come alive "Thank God for the
We should not be allowed to forget the politicians, the men and women who worked
for improved quality for the lives of ordinary people.
This is the statement that this chapter shouts out loud and clear.
The underlying controls of the working classes (page 24 move along the form).
The submission of character (page 25 sensitive of poverty, shabby underclothes).
The then acceptance of a them and us situation, I cannot really pick out one
sentence or description for the whole says it all.
In Chapter Five we get a picture of the sub-culture that "The Church"
perpetuated, the glimpses it allowed of "The Better Life".
Question - was it reward for compliance to middle-class values?
Rev. Darlington (page 56) had a beautiful Oxford accent (did he just) and was a
The magnanimous Guide Captain, the school teacher (page 60).
The clean fresh middle class beauty, against smoky old London.
The ritual of high tea, the ordinariness of fish and chips.
Hop picking left me unimpressed, work was as expected. I myself am working class
and so descriptive ordinary happenings have no real affect on me but underneath
the system that determines Quality of Life this has been there for me to read
Present day "Women's Movements" should read with interest of mothers'
matriarchal role, mother gave out punishment, (page 71) shows how even after the
birth of her baby she managed to give orders and keep control, being "Churched"
and now we have "The Natural Childbirth Trust".
Question? Has modern society created the need?
How much food for thought from simple words, having (I think having met Alice)
once at a "Federation" get together, I can't really think that there was not
just a little more romance in her engagement or in fact hope for the future.
ONE LIFE IS NOT ENOUGH
Lore Wolf, People's Publications,
Originally published in Germany in 1973, this autobiography chronicles Lore
Wolf's struggle against National Socialism inside her own country, in exile and
in prison during the last four years of the war. It's partly a memorial to those
of her comrades who did not survive Nazism; it also describes her personal
reactions to living under the threat of extermination for her beliefs.
Particularly moving are the descriptions of her feelings as a mother living
through the possibility that she will never see her daughter again.
FAR CRY FROM 1945 - Alan Hayton
(Pertinent Publications, 52 JBranchal Rd., Wishaw, Scotland)
As the title suggests, this collection of poetry is a lament for the values and
ambitions of post-war socialism. The work isn't quite as dry as that description
sounds: the poems are lyrical in style, often expressing the author's thoughts
through weather and landscape.
DIARY OF A DIVORCE - Wendy Whitfield (Commonword)
Poems and cartoons in which the author records the breakdown of her marriage and
building up of a new life. Personal change is set against changes, in social and
LEFT IN THE DARK - Eden Grove Women's
Literacy Group (Islington A.E.I., Ringcross School, Eden Grove, Islington N7)
Eleven women's reflections on the theme of women's health, expressed through
poems, memories and short articles. The subjects range from childbirth, abortion
and contraception to breast cancer, the change of life and children's health:
all of them linked by an awareness that good health isn't just a matter of luck,
but is connected with the whole of our lives. The sections on herbal medicine
from the West Indies were something new, to me at least. All over the country,
there is a growing movement of women taking control of their health; women's
health courses are flourishing - and not just attracting trendies, either. This
book is clearly and powerfully written, nicely illustrated and well presented.
With a bit of luck, it'll sell like hot cakes.
AVOIDING INSTITUTIONS - James Nelson,
Andrew Sternberg, Eddie Brindley (Nelson's Column publications,, 44A Shenley
Rd., London SE 5) £1.45
A users' history of Camberwell Resettlement unit, combining writing from a
resident with a very thorough compilation of facts about the lives of homeless
people and the history of the place itself (known as the "Spike"). James Nelson
will be known to some readers as the author of "No More Walls".
THE LIGHT OF EXPERIENCE
Invoking the prerogative of age
To speak, his years masquerading
As wisdom, charm masking
Senility, he seemed a sage
Time-taught, deserving of respect,
So I, unbled and knowing
Nothing, nodded agreement
But rising in the 7 A.M. cold, shorn
Of sleep, confronted with the 8 hour eternity
That flays senses with futility,
Drugs, hope with narcotic repetition,
I remember his pontification and curse
Him with a clear-cut certainty
"Dignity of work" my arse
Since first I signed that endless sentence,
weeks have idled into seasons lost
in a blur of hope and non-events.
Winter, nor its cruel frost,
cannot offer recompense
by shortening the unused day.
Dark afternoon after dark afternoon,
the world and I, quiet, waste away.