cover size 205 x 295 (A4)
Literary merit? Don't let it scare you. When I look at the more tasteful
magazines - those which represent the flower of "our" culture - I feel proud to
be a part of VOICES. Not only because we care about what we have to say, but for
the sake of technical proficiency. Look at "Decline of the Hull Fishing
Industry..." in VOICES 26 or "Last Liner" (27).
Yet many of the best pieces in VOICES draw their power from a waning source.
Poems, in particular, are often farewells to a world their author knows is
dying. They describe an industry in decline, or they may dwell on an aging
workmate or relative.
Fewer and fewer of us belong to that world of traditional manual industry. That
doesn't mean we don't need to be told what it is (or was) like. But if working
class writers are to have a future outside of absorption into the "mainstream",
we must have more to show of ourselves. It may not be so easy writing about
slopping out bedpans on a hospital ward, or working on a checkout or taking
fares. Those kind of jobs don't have the ready made imagery of the steelworks or
coalmining or ships at sea - no fire or molten metal. Nor do the people doing
them have the confidence in their own experience that generations of trade
unionism have given men in heavy industry. Yet they are parts of our lives, as
are many areas besides what we're doing if we are at work at all.
I know there's lots of good writing that never turns up in the VOICES office.
I've heard people in my own group shy away, saying their work isn't "right" for
VOICES; or carefully select a piece of work they think will make the right
impression on the editors, even though it isn't really the best they can do.
There is an idea that something exists called "Voices material", which must be
about something obviously political, preferably to do with work, probably set
thirty years ago, and which proves the author's working class credentials before
the first sentence has finished. What this boils down to, is that people
submitting to VOICES are consciously or unconsciously imitating the rules that
we condemn in commercial publishing; they're fitting their writing to a
There is no one working class, any more than one writer's experience will be
identical to another's. There are working class people brought up in council
flats and gerry built private estates, as well as those well-known terraces.
There are teenagers and pensioners, women and men, black, white, Asian, Chinese,
gay and heterosexual worker writers. That's obvious isn't it - but that's not
always the picture in VOICES. We should take that variety as our strength. Our
strength consists of more than putting slogans into rhyme or spelling out our
politics in blinding neon signs. To me, working class writing is about making
visible the under-rated, challenging the assumptions in our own heads, as well
as the wicked "media".
So far as my own group, Common-word is concerned, I've always wanted us to
represent city life today and to find new ways of describing it, taking a pace
and a mood in the language from the experience itself. In VOICES, too, I'd like
to see work that is adventurous in style, yet loud and clear in its message.
More sanctified writers live in country cottages or academic suburbs; they don't
have our advantages. That's why they spend their time counting the pimples on a
toad's back for those other small magazines.
We should all know that this is the time, more than any other, when we need to
identify ourselves. The traditional rhetoric of the left has crumbled under
Thatcher. Images of our past have been tamed into nostalgia by the makers of
advertisements. We need new images and a new language as much as we need to find
new ways of fighting back.
This article is a personal contribution and does not necessarily express the
views of the whole editorial group.
DEAR GREAT GRANDFATHER
I have your marriage lines;
I hold them now
In my dying hand;
A yellowed leaf,
Folded, refolded, many times:
Henry Thomson, pitman,
To Martha McCloy, millworker,
In the parish of Dalry
In the county of Ayr,
This 26th of September, 1874,
James Armstrong, assistant registrar:
A fine official copperplate,
Neat as his pinned cravat,
To diminish your slow signature,
Howked from a difficult seam
With clenched fist, protuberant tongue,
Today as I scrape for the words
That might defeat the years.
Pen dried by the dross
Of worked-out sentiment,
I can think only of you and Martha
Wandering up the Linn Glen;
Sunday afternoons above the river,
Above the stour of pit and mill;
Clean and free, clean and free.
IT DON'T GO TO YOUR BOOTS
Food meant a lot to my grandmother, especially potatoes. After church, the
most important area in her life was the kitchen, and even in the most drastic
years of rationing she could turn out a meal that a first class restaurant would
have been proud of; but not even for Lent would she give up potatoes and she had
been known to give up every kind of luxury for Lent. We always said she had a
cast iron stomach and in middle life, when she must have weighed about eighteen
stone, the family lovingly called her "potato face".
Maybe it was the passion for that particular vegetable that was responsible for
her whim to visit the pie and mash shop or maybe it was the slightly sour smell
of the parsley flavoured "likker" as it was called, that attracted her. It
reminded her of the sour white cabbage soup that in Polish was called Capoosta,
which she made so beautifully. Whatever the reason, the next time she and mum
and I went down the market on a Saturday, she bulldozed mum into visiting the
shop for a "taster".
"Voss dis pie and mash I hear so much?" she asked. "Must be good, yes?"
She'd based this assumption on the length of the queues she always saw outside
the shop. The queue usually consisted of the shabbiest, most undernourished
looking women and children to be seen even in those days of austerity, but since
she'd long ago dismissed the English Cockneys as a godless, feckless lot, who
spent all their money on beer, lower in the social scale than the even scruffier
Irish, who were at least Catholic, they didn't in the least put her off. The
fact that many of them carried basins and saucepans in which to carry away the
delicacy only served as further recommendation for it.
My mother tried to warn her. It wasn't the kind of food she was used to, it
wasn't "our" sort of place, it would upset all our stomachs seriously, and so
on. Mum had some experience of these places. She was second generation Polish;
she knew, but Nanny was determined. So to my great delight, for it was my first
visit too, we joined the line. Like a larger version of the Queen Mother, in her
best pink coat and hat and pearls and smelling of Yardley's Lavender, Nan stood
sniffing with pleasurable anticipation, oblivious to the nudges and stares of
the basin and saucepan brigade, mum, head lowered and biting her nails, hid
behind her and I passed the time by exchanging kicks in the shin with the little
boy next to me.
"You vurry too much tcorka*," Nan told mum. "Alveys you vurry too much. I big,
grown up vooman. You just eat, eat."
My grandmother, with her unshakable faith in God, was nearly always serene and
unflappable, although on the rare occasion when she did lose her temper, all the
family ran for cover from those strong peasant arms. She held the firm belief
that everyone would be a lot healthier and all the doctors out of business if
people didn't worry so much. As she often said, shaking her head sadly: "It
don't go to your boots, you know."
Inside the shop and right up to the counter, her round face continued to glow
with anticipation, even when the half burnt pies landed heavily on her plate -
all three of them. It was when the mash was being dished up that she began to
frown. When she started tut-tutting, I knew immediately it was because of the
lumps in it. Nanny's mashed potatoes were always smooth and creamy. Mum, with
her superior prior knowledge, asked for hot eels, but I would settle for nothing
less than what Nan was having, even though I was only allowed one pie.
We shuffled through the sawdust on the floor to one of the wooden booths and put
our plates down on the marble table top. They must have had big women in mind
when they built those booths. I could never imagine my grandmother squeezing
into the seat of a present day Wimpy Bar.
"Be careful. Whatever are you doing '- you'll tip it all over the table," my
mother, on pins and needles shrieked, as Nanny tilted the plate over for a
better scrutiny of the pies submerged under the likker.
Slowly and silently, like a surgeon Nanny dissected the first pie, sniffed it
and peered inside.
"Green? Voss dis? Green?" she repeated. "Parsley inside also?"
She took a forkful of this olive-green meat and raised it to her mouth and Mum,
abandoning her hot eels altogether, covered her face with her hands. From under
them came a faint murmur:
"You're supposed to put vinegar on 'em..."
Too late Nanny had already swallowed a large mouthful.
"Vinegar? So sour already I should put vinegar...?" and her Slav cheekbones
slanted up at an even sharper angle in company with her turned up Slav nose. A
glutton for punishment, she cut into the pastry and concentrating hard, moved
her jaws up and down. She suddenly threw her knife and fork down so that they
clattered across the marble table top ending up in the sawdust. As she pulled
the mangled morsel from her mouth, she sloshed it down so hard into the likker
and mash that it sent spots of green and white up her pink coat.
"Pastry? Diss is pastry?" she demanded of Mum who looked like she was trying to
slide down out of sight under the table. "Can't chew! Like rubber dis!"
All this while her voice had been rising in pitch and volume until every face in
the shop was turned our way and the guvnor came out from behind the counter to
investigate the fuss. Sensing what was coming, I was shovelling food into my
mouth so fast I almost choked. I wasn't going to be cheated out of the treat I'd
craved so long. But then I was always a child who would eat anything.
"You got a complaint, missis?" the tough looking guvnor said, making it sound
more like a threat than a question.
At times like this Nanny fought a running battle with the English language. "I?
Me? I? A nicer vooman you couldn't vish to meet. Vid neighbours - no trouble'"
"Be quiet mother, people are looking at you," hissed Mum, tugging at Nan's
sleeve. They weren't just looking, they were muttering too, mostly about "bloody
foreigners" and "'oo does she think SHE is ?" which didn't worry me in the least
because I already knew we were bloody foreigners. I just carried on eating as
fast as I could, even ignoring the out-thrust tongue of a sticky-faced child who
was leaning over from the booth behind with her chin on Nanny's shoulder.
"So?" my grandmother shrugged. "I don't mind they look - they don't know no
better - and you - " she pointed her finger at the pie shop man. "You should be
in prison - take good money for bad meat."
'"Ere, I've 'ad enough of you!" "You swindler.'" Nan's face was scar-The guvnor
pointed to the door. "Go on, out," he said. "Bleedin’ troublemaker!"
"Chizzler," Nan shouted. "My boots I could sole and heel vid diss pastry."
"Out. Go on," and as the man moved menacingly toward the table, a cracked voice
from behind me said, "Must be a Jew!"
"You don't clear orf now, I'll 'ave the law on yer."
Nan shot up from her seat, sending the sticky-faced child flying over backward.
"Goot. I go vid you to police station - fetch a pie - sole policeman's boots
too. In prison they should put you."
By now my mother had succeeded in pulling Nan out of the booth and she in turn
yanked at my elbow, preventing me from consuming the last few sloppy spoonfuls.
"Come Helenka," she insisted, her colour already dying down. "Vee go buy Syrup
of Figs," she smiled at me. "Then vee go home and nanny make nice latkis*, eh?”
*latkis - a kind of potato pancake
*tcorka - daughter
IT DON'T GO TO YOUR BOOTS is the title story of an anthology of working class
writing published by THAP, price 75p.
All alone in an alleyway
walked an Asian man last night
Although he knew it wasn't safe
he thought he'd be alright.
The alleyway seemed quiet
cause he couldn't hear a sound
But hiding in their hide-outs
There were skinheads all around.
The Asian man walked quickly
And his footsteps echoed loud
Near the ending of the alleyway
There stood a skinhead crowd.
He could hear abusive language
And the sweat poured from his face
Then some one shouted
PAKI, you're one step out of place.
Don't hurt me please, he begged him,
I have nothing, can't you see,
What fun, what joy, what laughter,
Will you get by hurting me?
They took all that he had on him.
They also took his clothes.
He just lay there unconscious
And the blood poured from his nose.
He's dead, one of them shouted,
And it's no longer fun.
They threw the weapons down on him
And all started to run.
All alone in an alley
lay an Asian man that night.
Half dying and half naked,
That really wasn't right.
Far off in the distance
The skinheads run away
Who will be their victim
In another alleyway?
Painting my house
On Sunday, with the bells ringing.
A cheerful colour.
Still the old paint lifts
Even after two coats.
I did a finger painting of a finger
It was the finger of suspicion
That I pointed at you last night
With it I beat out a tune of hate
I was spelling jealousy in the dust
But the finger I painted belongs to you
Now it plays a silent symphony alone
With that finger you sent me away
The bacon slicer took it today.
There's a Turner sky
with a sun like a fried egg
in the fog.
On the bridge a bandy legged man
is walking in the wind
like an elastic nutcracker.
All the Thames is rushing off to Tilbury
in bunches of ripples
and glitters of furrows.
A lonely barge battles the tide
weighed down with ballast.
Under the floorboards
Under the floorboards
a girl watches the window
Sue May is a member of Hackney Writers.
MICHAEL SMITH - MI CYAAN
I saw and heard Michael Smith read at the event that closed the London Black
Book Fair of 1982. He had the effect on his audience that I have seen in other
places when performers put across the use of Jamaican or other Caribbean
language with an audience that is used to having their speech ruled out of
order; people gasped, laughed, applauded with the release of something
forbidden. The forbidden stuff was the meanings he expressed as well as the
words he used. Life in the ghetto:
Doris is a modder of four
get a wuk as a domestic
boss man move een
an bap si kaisco she pregnant again
bap si kaisco she pregnant again
an mi cyaan believe it.
The he-man response to these conditions:
Mi use to live ina one
Which part everybody
Think dem better off than de other
An di only thing mi could a do
Fi mek dem know dat mi nah
When de area ready fi erupt
Is fe mek dem know dat mi is a man
Dat will bun up harp and tear off
House top because I got some wicked toughts
Mi a tell yuh trainer.....
Michael Smith was killed in Kingston on 17th August 1983, an attack apparently
carried out by heavies associated with the ruling Jamaican PNP. He was
twenty-eight. The human and cultural loss of his death has not been recognised
enough in the British press. I cannot speak, as a white reader, for his value
for Black people in this country. I know he helped me, as a straight, truthful,
non-partisan, radical, witty voice of the Black situation; and he still helps
me, as a teacher, to argue that Black English as it is spoken is a real language
that can carry meanings that must be told.
If you want to hear and read his work, he has an album M. cyaan believe it on
Island Records, ILPS 9717, with the words printed on the sleeve. The record
tells you a bit about one essential
element of his work; that it was with and for and close to an audience that
doesn't care so much if something is labelled 'poetry' as if it is a sharp truth
they need to hear. Listen to him.
Some a guh call it awareness
An wi a guh celibrate it
With firmness while others
A guh call it Revolution
But I prefer liberation
Fi de oppress an dis-possess
Who have been restless a full time
Dem get some rest
It a come
Fire a guh bun
Blood a guh run
It goen feh tek yuh
Not only fi I, but fi yuh too.
Sue Shrapnel is a member of the Write First Time Collective.
THE LODGE LANE WOOD WAR
To us, bonfire night wasn't just bonfire night. It was the night which showed
which gang was the best. The night the winners of the wood war would emblazon
their victory in scarlet plumes, that would rise higher than the rooftops.
The outbreak of war would start with the usual stockpile of bangers appearing in
the shop windows, and our mums and dads promising to buy us some fireworks, even
though they weren't as good as the ones in their day. It was also the signal for
the collecting of wood and the volunteering to begin. Volunteering was when we
offered to go on messages, for anyone we thought likely enough to reward us with
a tip. The tips were saved for one thing. Bangers. The pride and joy of any
would-be army on the eve of bonfire night. They would become the badges of
bravery as everyone tried to prove how hard they were, by holding them longer
than anyone else. They also became the symbol of pain, for those foolish enough
not to be content with being second best. Bangers, squibs and rip raps were
always the best fun on the night. Bangers for impressing the girls, rip raps for
scaring them. And squibs, well, they were used for the more meaner type of fun.
Squibs were like miniature rockets with wings. Ideal for firing off window sills
and doorsteps or up the entries at courting couples. They also proved great
favourites for firing at crowds from a distance or at doors of neighbours you
didn't like. I remember I was mean enough to use one once. I aimed it at old
Bob's door across the road from where I lived. He chased me, a few days earlier,
for playing football outside his window. I lit the fuse and off it went.
Straight to old Bob's door. And then he opened it and stepped out. Old as he
was, I've never seen anyone move so fast. He went back inside with the door
shut, just in time to hear the squib thud against the outside. I didn't hang
about to commend him on how fast he was.
But what the wood war really meant was the gathering of wood for the bonfires.
It also included pinching as much as you could from the other gangs. In our
area, at the bottom of Lodge Lane, there were three gangs. The Mozart Street
gang, the Coltart Road gang, and the one I was in, the Handel Street gang. The
other two gangs were on either side of us, with us stuck right in the middle. We
were a bit like the Israelites, surrounded. To make matters worse, Mozart Street
had Dougie's, the little street shop that was our main supplier of bangers, and
Coltart Street had the debby.
The debby was the bit of waste ground that used to be two large houses. The ones
with toilets inside as well as outside, and a bathroom to boot. A lot of people
wondered why the council hadn't bothered to build new houses on the debby. Some
reckoned it was because it was haunted, but we didn't care. It was our
battleground and warehouse. You see, as well as splitting Coltart Road into two,
it was also our foothold into enemy territory. On it we would build our
barricades of wood, bricks and broken paving stones, and dare the Coltart gang
to chase us off it. They only did it once when, unknown to us, the sneaky Mozart
Road gang made an alliance with them and attacked us from behind. Mind you, we
soon sorted their alliance out, when we declared all out war on them. We caused"
them so much trouble with ambushes, something we were famed for, that they broke
their alliance with Coltart Road and made one with us.
We weren't all that keen on an alliance, but they came in very useful for
collecting wood for us, or so we thought. We found out later that they had been
hiding most of what they had collected in their own secret stockpile. We all had
secret stockpiles. The wood in them was only to be used when the firemen had
been and put out the fake bonfires and gone away. Then out would come this wood,
and the real bonfires would blaze away all night undisturbed.
Most of the gang wars were caused by bonfire night. It was because of all the
work that went into collecting the wood and other materials to be burnt. And
there were quite a few ways of doing this. One way was simply to knock on some
one's door and look sheepish, as you ask them for the roof off their backyard
shed. Another was to be cheeky and say, "We hear you're getting a new couch next
week, can we have your old one for the bony?" Most people gave willingly,
probably just to get rid of us, but others, they wouldn't part with a used
matchstick. We had to use more devious methods with them. One of us. would knock
on their front door and keep them talking, while the rest of us pinched whatever
we could from out of his backyard.
We used to have it all worked out, you see. We'd walk along the backyard wall
and over the toilet roofs, spying out who had what. Of course, the best and
quickest way of collecting wood was to find out where the other gangs' secret
stockpiles were. This was often achieved with bribery. A packet of sweets won
many a wood war on the day. When a hideout was found, we'd keep a watch on it
until all the members of the gang it belonged to had either gone in to watch
telly or to have their tea. Then we'd pass the word around and move in quick. It
often took days to build up a good supply of wood, only to have it all pinched
in minutes by another gang. But that was all part of the wood war, and we
Anyway, after a short confrontation with the Mozart Street gang, we got all our
wood back, and most of theirs in the process. In the end, we had so much wood
that we had three bonfires going on the night. We even let the Mozart Street
gang watch them with us, and it wasn't long before the Coltart Road gang
infiltrated their way in. Yeah, we had won the Wood War that time, but somehow
it didn't seem like a victory any more. It was more like the coming together of
the gangs. The warring was over and the bonfire nights that followed never
seemed the same again.
And now, grown up, married, and living on a new housing estate, I recall those
days with a smile. Of course, we didn't realised how dangerous the things we got
up to were, to ourselves and to others. But that's the way of life, isn't it?
It's only those who have lived through such events and survived to look back at
them, that realise how dangerous they really were. But at the time, they were so
And you know, it saddens me, not to have kids knocking at the door and then ask
if they can have our couch.
John Walsh is a member of the Runcorn Writers' Group, which is planning to
apply for membership of the Federation of Worker Writers.
HOW I BECAME A SHOP STEWARD
"There is a tide in the affairs of men" - so wrote Mr. Shakespeare, many
moons ago, and went on to explain how, by rising to the occasion, completely new
prospects open up.
Well, the tide occurred for me in the mid-thirties, when I was a poor immigrant
chippy, seeking the Holy Grail of work in depressed and slum-ridden England.
After months of searching, fortune smiled on me and I got a job.
It was a slave labour building site. Workers were being sacked at all hours of
the day and other unfortunates were ever ready to jump into their shoes. There
was a semblance of union organisation on the job.
The labourers' steward was a young and slightly built fellow, but what a brain
he possessed. There wasn't a thing about union history, structure and agreements
that he didn't know about. I often wondered how the head of any human being
could contain such knowledge, and expected that on a hot day it might expand and
explode like a bomb, scattering brains all over the place.
This day, the poor navvy slaves were digging a trench with water and sludge
almost up to their knees. The stewards asked the navvy ganger, an uncouth bully
and brute, to provide them with rubber boots.
"They're not here to picnic, but work," he roared, but later came back with a
load of old rubber boots, caked with mud and cement that had made the
acquaintance of many different feet in their time. "Get these on you, and lets
have some work, you pack of idle whores," he shouted, as he threw the old boots
on the bank.
The navvies scrambled out of the trench to put the boots on but the steward
intervened. "They are entitled to an extra penny an hour for wearing rubber
boots in water or concrete," he said to the ganger. It was as if he had asked
for the keys to the gold vaults of Fort Knox.
"A penny an hour more. Perhaps you want diamonds. Don't you know the jobs in
debt?" (That was the usual excuse in those days.) "They'll get no penny. They're
bloody lucky to have a job, and if they don't like it, there's no barbed wire
round the gate. There's plenty of good men outside looking for a job."
The steward told the foreman that the extra penny was part of the Working Rule
Agreement, and that unless it was paid the men wouldn't wear the boots or work
in the sludge. With that, the ganger, who was a strong arm merchant and had
.often previously lashed out at a worker, let fly a sudden right-hander and
flattened the steward in the mud. Then, like a mad beast, he bent over him and
tried to throttle him to death. He was plain berserk, and it took a couple of
the navvies to drag him off the steward, who was covered in mud with one eye
This was the spark that kindled the long simmering discontent. The slaves
rebelled and stopped work. It was about an hour to go before knocking off time,
and a meeting was held with the brickie steward, an old timer, taking charge.
No one really knew what to do next, and it was agreed that union organisers
should be called to the site for a meeting at starting time in the morning. The
brickie steward advised all trades not organised to hold meetings and appoint
stewards before leaving the site. The chippies held their meeting.
Many, like myself, were not in the union, and no one wanted to be steward, for
that often meant being first to "go down the road".
"What about you Pat?" said one of the chippies, pointing to myself. Then some
others joined in to put poor Pat in the hot seat. "Jaysus, what do I know about
being a steward, sure I'd only be a great omadhaun" (a gaelic word for a fool) I
answered, as scores of eyes focussed upon me.
"Go on Pat, have a go, the ganger won't try to lay a hand on you, 'cause you're
too big," they said by way of encouragement. "Jaysus, sure I couldn't make a
speech of nothing and anyhow to be a steward here would be like putting the
noose round my own neck. I'd be down the road on the very first day."
But it was no good resisting. Through a combination of praise and flattery and
opinions that the ganger was just a bully and coward who would be too scared to
raise a hand to me, I was press-ganged into becoming a steward.
On the way off the site, the brickie steward asked me what the chippies had
decided to propose at the meeting in the morning. I said that they had decided
nothing, only that I should be steward. "You must be on the platform in the
morning when the organisers come to report on the chippies meeting," he said.
"Holy Jaysus, sure I've nothing to say. I never spoke at a meeting in my life.
I'd only make a fool of myself," I answered, as the enormity of my
responsibility hit me and the thought of not coming in the following morning
began to take root. I was torn between the temptation to bale out so as not to
make a fool of myself, and wanting to back the steward that the ganger bully had
On the way home from the site, my mind was in turmoil. I knew I would have to
say something at the meeting. I cursed myself for being such a thick and
inarticulate idiot and for all the time I had wasted in the village school when
the master, John Igoe, tried to knock some knowledge into my wooden head.
"You're as thick as the nine folds of a sack. If you spent less time blethering
and playacting, I might be able to knock something into your thick skull," he
would say as he belted me round the lugs.
Suddenly an idea occurred to me. I would go into the public library near to
where I lived and ask if they had any books of speeches made by stewards at site
When I asked the library attendant, she looked at me in amazement, so I blurted
out my problem. "I have some books on public speaking. They might help you, but
as you're not a member you can't take them away. If you wish, I will let you
have one to study in the reading room," she said with some sympathy.
Desperately I leafed through the book, but there wasn't a single speech in it
made by a steward on a building site where a navvy ganger had beaten some one
up. There were plenty of speeches suitable for all kinds of events such as
elections, public meetings, dinners, conferences, birthdays, marriages,
funerals, in fact for every conceivable occasion except a site meeting.
Many of them began with "my lords, ladies and gentlemen; your excellencies" and
similar phrases. I felt they would be somehow unsuitable for the building site,
and handed back the volume, which was written by a gentleman named Theodore
Arnold Cowes-Blake, DPh, OBE, who apparently forgot to include stewards'
addresses at site meetings.
I think I spent the most tortured night of my life mulling over what I should
say in the morning. I recalled the labourer steward always starting his speech
with the phrase "Worthy Brothers," which sounded very impressive.
But what to follow, that was the question. I was like a man who had never
climbed more than a little hill setting out to tackle Everest.
Like a man in a daze, I mounted the canteen platform in the morning with the
organisers and other stewards present. Every pair of eyes seemed to be staring
directly at me, waiting with sadistic expectation for me to make a fool of
The brickie steward opened the meeting and introduced the organisers. Then he
called upon the aggrieved labourers' steward to recount the previous day's
experience. He started off as usual, "Worthy Brothers", and without a single
pause or hesitation told about the conditions of the trench, the boots, the
extra penny an hour as laid down and how the ganger assaulted him. He had by now
a real shiner on one eye, which was almost closed, and this aroused much
sympathy and anger.
Then one of the organisers spoke, condemned the ganger's vicious attack, and
went on at length to refer to early days of trade unionism, when men were
attacked, thrown into jail, transported in chains, worked all the hours of the
day, had no rights until they began to form unions. "If the ganger gets away
with it, we'll have those days back again. We mustn't allow it to happen. We
must make a stand now," he concluded. We all listened to him with rapt
attention, and I thought that this speech surely merited inclusion in Theodore
Arnold Cowes-Blake's book.
Then the chairman said, "The chippies have appointed Pat here as their steward
and he will report their views to you." I was dumbfounded. I stood there and
opened my mouth, but no words would come. My mouth felt as dry as a straw rope
on a hot summer's day. "Jaysus pity me and give me a few words to say," I
Then I blurted out, "Worthy Brothers." It seemed so strange and artificial in my
mouth, while it sounded like music when spoken by the labourers' steward. "What
are we going to do? What are we here for?" I shouted out desperately.
"Hanging is too good for the ganger. He tried to kill the steward just because
he asked for an extra penny for the navvies working almost up to their necks in
water. He should be drowned in the trench like a rat. If he raises a hand to me
I'll shear his lugs off with my axe. I won't stand any of his bullying capers.
Jaysus, I won't. The steward was speaking up for us all, so he was, and well
able to do it he is too. I don't know why he works here at all with all that
education in his head. He should be a professor. The bloody ganger is pig
ignorant. He doesn't know his arse from a hole in the ground. Lets all go into
the office and demand the ganger be sacked for attempted murder. Lets bring our
shovels and hammers in and wreck the office if they don't sack him. The firm
should be proud to have a man like the steward working on the site."
The chairman was looking at me as if I were stone bonkers, and said, "Thanks
Pat," to shut me up before I would try to send the workers on the rampage around
the town. But a lot of the workers cheered, although they didn't agree with my
mad proposal. A few of the firm's stooges began to sneak out through the back
door so I hollered out, "Look at them slimy bastards sneaking out to tell the
site agent what we're saying. We should run them off the site."
Following on my wild outburst, there were a few restrained and statesmanlike
speeches made by others, and it was agreed that the stewards and organisers
should go to the office and demand the removal of the ganger from the site.
The management refused to remove the ganger, who claimed that the steward was
rousing the other men against him and trying to humiliate him with big words and
quoting agreements. He came out with the old tale about the job being in debt
and in danger of closing down. Then all would be sacked and far from being a
bully he was really a benefactor. He kept harping on the steward using big
words. "What's wrong with him using big words? Are you afraid he's going to wear
them out? You've got no words, only swear words and abuse," I shouted at him.
After a lot of wrangling, for almost two hours while the men sat in the canteen
playing cards or drinking tea, the ganger agreed that he had lost his temper and
apologised to the steward. It was also agreed that the labourers would get their
extra penny for wearing the boots in the sludge and while levelling concrete and
that other problems would be discussed at a later date. We hadn't a snowball's
chance in hell of getting the men paid for the time lost in the stoppage.
When the officials reported the result in the canteen, there was a great cheer
of relief. One or two said the ganger should be sent down the road and that he
was certain to try his rough stuff again. "If he does, let him not try it on me
or he'll have no lugs going home," I shouted out, but the chairman curbed me,
saying "Leave well alone, Pat, we've shown some strength today because we've
stood together. That will make him more cautious in the future. Unity is our
best weapon, lad, as you'll learn with time."
All the doubts and misgivings of the previous night had now evaporated. Here I
was, a steward and feeling ten feet tall. "You're a wild bastard from the bogs,"
said a few of the others to me afterwards, and I realised that there was a lot
to learn in the business of shop steward. I am still looking for that book of
speeches by shop stewards. Perhaps I'll get down to tackling it myself one day.
Tom Durkin is secretary of Brent Trades Council. He has had other work
published by London Voices.
At first there was sympathy, the "I'm on your side..." manner. Then
impatience crept in. And a certain desperation. "On the books please," but no
money ever changed hands, so the shops stored less and less, selling things
singly. One candle, one egg, two ounces of tea. "Sorry, money down. We too must
live, you know."
The coalman "forgot" to call, the breadman rode past, the milkman paid delivery
boys in milk and orange juice. Vegetable gardens were ransacked, wild plants and
herbs bravely eaten. Stews made over low fires with scrubbed peelings and the
odd skinny rabbit from the sparse hills. Clothes were mended and exchanged.
Shoes stuffed tight with cardboard.
The word would pass along the houses. "The rent man" or "the insurance man", so
women hid and shushed babies, while rumbling turns gave them away.
Like black ants on the slag tips, children made pickings for the fires, proudly
carrying home the spitting fuel. A nightmare was the white, uncovered face
buried under a wall of shale, the little bag of fuel still in his small fist.
And a mother howled, shawl over head.
The men held meetings in the pub, totting up beer on the slate. Feelings ran hot
and high, and deadly tired women bore the weight of many a fist. Beer on an
empty stomach, and good money spewed into the gutter while women wept. The
doctor's surgery was packed with bruises, and terror in the guts, causing pain
"Have you eaten, cariad?"
"Well, of course boyo, no good waiting around for you, is it?"
And sunken, hungry eyes watched each forkful stuffed into her man's mouth with a
sort of wistful satisfaction.
Grandma's on the pension saved oranges and home-made goodies to be stuffed under
their daughter's apron. "I'll eat it later mam..." (to be saved for the children
Skinny, shabby women with haunted eyes, ballooning with yet another pregnancy,
watched for the gas and electric vans, surrounded by small, clinging, silent
kids. Writing apologetic, painful letters, pleading, tongue between teeth, nose
to paper, head-office jokes. A swallowing of a pride far bigger than their
swollen bellies, smacking children who felt their fear, wearing leaden weights
about their hearts.
The chapels filled. A good hymn made lighter the day, for entertainment at home
was the beer-sloshing bellies against their own and yet another mouth to feed.
There was always gossip, with the true story-telling of the dramatic Welsh.
Sitting on the doorsteps, babies in shawls tied tightly under limp breasts.
The abuse grew.
"Get yer loafin' man back to work, missus!"
Daily were the fistfights of the men and the shrieking, no-holds-barred, of
women. With their hair unpinned, rolling in the mud, as wide-eyed children
watched in wonder.
Dog fights were betted on in fag-ends. If a maggotty sheep or two went missing,
blame it on the black, watchful crows, but good was the smell that arose from
the black pot bubbling on the hob. And mouths watered, dribbling.
The nights were split by quarrels.
"Come on girl, you 'ad the family allowance today an' my blutty slate is
The few shillings already filling their stomachs and the purse empty and flat.
Morning brought out the cut lips, the purple, swollen eyes - then the men would
say, "She spent the lot, the bitch.'"
Sympathy brought full, foaming pots for a while.
Later, desperation faced the pickets and were well beaten back. Windows smashed
and doors daubed, "Filth," "Blackleg," "Scum", "Traitor", all equally cursing
the unions inside, paid and smug they were.
The final wage increase did not cover the idle weeks. And so it went on and on,
never quite getting it straight. The men celebrated, but the women wept for the
debts of those lost weeks.
Joan Batchelor was born and bred in South Wales, where her father was the
village policeman. She has had a book of poems, ON THE WILD SIDE, published by
CAR FACTORY MUSIC
Shut up your noise, listen to us.
Watch our wheels keeping time,
pouring the parts out to the cars,
even flow, steady feed.
We are the ones set you the beat –
stick with us, play our notes,
rhythm to fit - why d'you complain?
Just comply, take your wage.
Point of the job? Let it alone.
Method, speed? We decide.
All of your lives, same as in here,
drawn on boards, made to type,
live in the ways all of you know.
Why invent, dream to change
what you'll achieve? Keep to the plan,
run like us, screwed on base.
Yes, we'll oblige you, yield while it suits,
we're live machines locked to your hold,
bend at the rate the dials have set,
all tuned and timed, fitting your pace,
follow and serve as long as we're switched,
with wages' force opening valves.
Money'll suck our energies out,
and pipe them up, blend them with yours,
set them to work, and filter our choice
and push our thoughts covered from sight
-most of what's living carried below,
compressed and sealed, cramped in the gut.
Out of the gate our wages'll bring
some room to move, free of the clock,
time to uncan our life from the tin,
and pour it out, filling a glass.
Every container shaped like the next
I'll hold it safe, hidden till then.
Workday after day, fixed on an unchanging track,
rammed in a routine, twitching in the moves it set,
limbs worked and our brain slept.
Suddenly a stock injury, a common wrong
flashed across the stale gases of the choking hours
stored up through the long year.
Now we've come awake, shaken by the blast, we'll fight,
shatter every bolt, loosening the rigid rails,.
spring clear onto free ground.
Out of here we live, breathe,
weigh moves, can pick out a path,
his or that. We start, stop,
turn, linger, follow it through,
loose a while, to change speed,
clear space and level our way.
Watch between the piled bricks,
blocked concrete, traffic and gas,
trees against the grey walls
sprout leaves and shake in the wind,
spread towards the sun, teach
men, too, can branch in the light.
Racing horses, caged dogs,
bolts, drawn, ‘ll break from the start,
rush and jump. Their stored strength,
freed, flies through gates to the course.
We're like that at day's end,
cramped minds uncrease in the air.
Long as we're here, we're clamped, bolted,
tied, there's no choice taps our energy,
nothing'll use our minds, carry
current away, make or build with it.
Strike, then - we'll jump the gap,
leaping across, fuse machinery,
smash all the blocks they've laid, leave them,
cut all the rules, ropes to tangle us,
fight while the flame's still high, push them
back with our strength, fill the
Michael Butler is a former worker priest. He has worked as a
labourer in France, Portsmouth dockyards and in North Acton.
Write About It
I've been looking at the August edition, and it seems that Mike Kearney's review
of the WRITE ABOUT IT anthology from South Wales might deserve some reply.
Firstly, as Mike quite rightly points out, the funding of the project was
assembled from a variety of different sources by Sue Harries on behalf of the
Welsh Academy'. He complains that there was no 'political strategy'. I think it
requires considerable ingenuity and a very sharp strategy indeed to raise money
to run writers' workshops for the unemployed. Funding bodies in general are not
particularly interested in funding the revolution - at least not in this part of
The initiators of the project recognised their lack of experience from the
outset. That is why they wrote to Ken Worpole who suggested that Ian Bild and
myself might be asked to help them out. lan and I were able to introduce a
number of modifications to their ideas, to bring the workshops more in line with
normal Federation practice. However, the idea never was to produce 'socialist
working class literature' as Mike expresses it. The project was not set up for
that reason and we would have achieved nothing if we'd attempted to hijack it.
Finally, I'll come to Mike's rather abusive tone. As far as 'unemployed military
with ingrained reactionary prejudices' go, I should have thought that quite a
large proportion of working class men fall into that category - or is Margaret
Thatcher only a figment of my 'middle class jerk' imagination? One of the most
interesting political phenomena of this end of the 20th century is the
increasing politicisation of those 'petty bourgeois' horrors the white collar
workers, who are in the process of realising that even nice people get thrown
out of work. So far, none of the South Wales groups have affiliated to the
Federation. If they read Mike's review, they probably won't. That's a terrible
shame. I found it a privilege and a pleasure to work with them.
DAVE POLE, BRISTOL BROADSIDES
The third of a series of one-day regional meetings between South Western member
groups of the Federation and other writing groups in the area, took place at the
Women's Education Centre, Shirley, Southampton, on Saturday 24th September.
Apart from the hosts - members of the Women's Education Centre who have produced
various publications but do not currently have an active writing group -those
attending were from Bristol Broadsides, Word & Action (Dorset) and a writers'
circle from New Milton in Hampshire.
The arrival of this latter group led to some interesting exchanges of ideas
concerning the Federation's approach to writing and publishing as a locally
based, community activity, and that of writing with the intention to be
published in national magazines and the like, earning an income.
The morning was spent with the thirty or so people at the meeting reading from a
variety of work of an impressive range and quality. In the afternoon we divided
into three workshops to discuss approaches to criticism of one another's work in
writers' groups; the value and experience of women writers' workshops; and the
general subject of poetry.
The next of these meetings will take place in Dorset at a date yet to be fixed.
Although a number of other groups in the South West had been contacted with
regard to this meeting, disappointingly, none of them came. If any readers of
VOICES in the South West are interested in coming to the next meeting, contact
myself, Dick Foreman, or Stewart German at Word & .Action (Dorset).
Finally a word of thanks on behalf of everyone attending to the Women's
Education Centre for organising the meeting and providing excellent
food throughout the day.
DICK FOREMAN, DORSET
MYTH & REALITY
You may remember that in your number 28 you published a letter of mine on a
writer's commitment. I've been doing some additional thinking since then.
Like, I believe, a lot of our writers, I find myself in a kind of cleft stick: I
want to latch onto things as they are (well, some of them). I don't want to
derail into fantasies. At the same time, 'things as they are" at the moment are
not exactly edifying, and it's very easy to turn into a bitter, purely negative
writer or into a facetious 'wit'.
I've just finished writing, a very short story about a happening I witnessed: an
old man, suspected of begging, being thrown out of a caff. And only after the
third attempt did I realise that I'd hit on where it's 'at': the gulf between
the poor and the not-quite-so-poor. But, to set something against the sheer
immorality of indifference, I found myself falling back on moral values that
would still find a resonance in our imagination. I made the old man 'look-alike'
God-the-father (as in popular pictures). But it might just as well have been
Odysseus disguised as a beggar, being pelted with bones, or Harun-al-Rashid, or
any other myth that uses the expedient of disguise to by-pass reality and get at
our pity and guilt.
But has our imagination been so flattened and cheapened that one has to fall
back on these ancient tricks? Of course, I could have twisted reality and
introduced a Robin Hood figure (the only anti-hero still living in popular
imagination). But that would have been a twist. True, I may have chosen an
unsuitable background - a caff in London NW1. But would matters have been
different in a Durham working men's club (where they don't admit coloured
workers)? No wonder the two most powerful protest works in recent years have
been steeped in mythology: Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and
Rushdie's "Midnight's Children".
Anyway, going through with this very short story has made me realise:
One: the need to get hold of and grow clear about where it's 'at', where the
shoe pinches, however painfully and shamefully.
Two: though we can't have recourse to any ready-made myths, we still have to
weave our stories between what is and what could, might, should be - to affect
LOTTE MOOS, HACKNEY
After several group discussions, we thought it about time that some one said
something about the logo design which appears on the back of the journal. First
of all, the dog strikes us at a glance as being overly aggressive and ferocious.
Perhaps this is designed to lure the public into purchasing a copy of VOICES,
but the message could easily be read as "subscribe or else". Secondly, ferocious
dogs in many people's minds, mine included, are associated with fascist
symbolism (i.e. the Nazi's use of Alsatians and the National Front's use of the
bulldog). Last, and perhaps more peripheral, is the issue of the use of
Alsatians which has accompanied "community policing" in Hackney. I think that
what this adds up to is the employment of an illustration which represents the
opposite of what the Federation stands for. I think that such a drawing has no
place in VOICES. I haven't come up with any specific alternatives, but I'm sure
that with a little imagination a logo which is more representative of the
ideology and aspirations of working class writers could be devised.
on behalf of Hackney Writers' Group.
My son Ian wrote this poem after being
on the dole for a year.
Ian is twenty-four now, and the eldest of my four children. He was always very
class conscious at school because although my husband has always been in full
time employment the children were all entitled to free school meals.
This meant standing in a separate queue so that everyone knew who the kids were
from low income families. Nevertheless, Ian regarded education as a right for
everyone, and went on to gain a B.A. degree.
Unfortunately this did not help to get employment. The D.H.S.S. were continually
on his back, and in desperation he has accepted a teaching post in Algeria. It
was his request for some "revolutionary poetry" which led me to the DAYS OF HOPE
bookshop in Newcastle, where I found some suitable material for him (and me!).
The assistant was most helpful and I look forward to returning for future
Yours sincerely, Mrs. C. Colley
Letters have all been cut this time, due to lack of space.
Who are the spongers?
You sit there in your knife-edge security
and talk knowingly of false claims.
They, the state, have claims,
they rule you they fool you,
they shoot you "they feed all"
If you let them.
They, the poor, have claims, they need food, houses, lives.
If that's all right with you
who don't like their faces.
You have claims, you claim to be a worker.
All your life you have generously worked for
some one else,
and given them your hopes.
Now they have given you claims as your thro-away
rooms send you out to work in the approved manner,
Will you reclaim your life?
Is it for this labour martyrs suffered and died?
You, a reasonable, sensible chap, will report
to the appropriate office and give
box numbers and particulars,
You won't make any false claims now will you;
I will try to explain what being part of Commonword means to me and what it
could mean to you who are writing and doing as I did, before finding
Common-word, putting your work into plastic bags or cupboard drawers.
We are comprised of several writers' groups, mixed, women and gay.
When I first came to Commonword to read my work, I was brought face to face with
the simplicity of my writing and my inadequate use of language. After three
years or so with the help and constructive criticism of other writers, my
writing has greatly improved.
I belong to the Monday night group, which is a mixed group of men and women. We
read our work, then discuss it, criticise it and if it's good enough publish it
in our magazine WRITE ON. The other groups are run in much the same way. The
groups fluctuate in size but there are new faces at most meetings.
The standard of work is quite high and many of us have already had work
published, either in VOICES or WRITE ON. We have also published many books of
individual writers and several anthologies. And, as if this isn't enough,
readings are organised throughout the Manchester area.
If you are interested in reading more of our work, or joining one of our
writers' groups, contact us at COMMONWORD, 51, Bloom St., Manchester M1 3LY.
Alf is an ex merchant seaman and steel erector. He started writing after he
finished work, following an industrial accident. He's been a member of
Common-word for five years, and serves on the executive of the Federation of
Worker Writers. 4 Community
DEATH OF THE HOBOES
They rode the rods
The silly sods
Across the Nullabor plain
They didn't know
They'd never see
Old blighty once again
The stones jumped up
From the tracks
Scarring their poor
For them it did
The yard dogs
With rope and chain
Knocked their bodies flying
Beneath the wheels
Of the train
They lay there
Taken from Alfs AN
AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL, 60p +
20p postage from Commonword.
I got the idea for this story from a newsreel on Poland, but reflected it
back to my own life, relationships at work, and the economic depression in
England and Wales. I feel that both nostalgia and change are double-edged
You are awoken by the pigeon as it flutters off the wire which is attached to
your bedroom veranda. The wire starts to whistle as you open your eyes to focus
the condensation on the window.. The train rattles past, then moans up to the
terminus at the end of the street. The thought enters your head that it was not
yesterday but merely hours before that you drank with you brother and his
friends at the bar. You are still heady from the beer and although it is a
geographical fact, in itself each new day is no longer a revolution, it is a
part of a continuous term, a sentence for each life, ending in death.
Your hair in the mirror - the front parts are grey, the parting recedes exactly
like those men you'd observed as a youth. Today's preparation consists of a
swill under the tap, a glass full to bring the body back and generate the first
gut action of the day. And the clothes that don't smell too bad, but are already
ruined, they'll do you for work, they still wear quite hard.
So relock the padlock, descend to the street, and wait for the tram. Observe the
broken lino of your lobby from across the cobbled street; the porch door is left
open for the bread-man. Your tram rattles up like three broken food cupboards,
or old redundant wash boilers. Climb up its slimy running boards to aside the
driver. Bend your card and clip it into the machine -National Strip Card,
interchangeable for one week. It makes you no less guilty - punching it
correctly, the driver looks over his shoulder to check everyone is not cheating.
A conformist or ritualist is no less a cheat for it is he who will expect
something, some order, some inner peace, for following the rules. As the tram
pulls off, the clatter becomes the varnished woodwork, the seats tired past
splintering, which will become soft and sticky in the hot afternoon, but now are
hard and fresh like this morning's newspaper stories as the economy slides from
worse to a new level of coping: it is the food, producing the food, the wines,
the beers, the medicine, the stones, the bricks, the roofs; it never changes,
yet the coping becomes bolder as things slip from bad to worse.
And now at the coalyard, the heap of dusty trains, you ash out the boiler, cough
but the pains. And spit clear of the rust, for you don't have to be told this
machine has got to live out its redundancy, like the towns and the fields, and
us. And heap up the ash, don't look over your shoulder, don't listen for him,
he's come soon enough. Close your ears to his sickening yawn. Swallow, don't let
him know that he makes you feel sick. Don't even smile, you know he can't abide
creepy behaviour, just work on in silence, and stubbornly reach for peace. A
moan of recognition from deep in your throat tells him you can work, but quiet,
alone. And tip out the ash to the barrow on the track. Sweep off the muck from
the footplate round his feet. Pull out that little tin of wax from your back
pocket and wink to him as you pull out the rag to rub that little hole of rust
round the top of that huge armchair shape that holds the coal.
Leningrad Street Scene
Chugging through fields, pushing two coaches up front, shovelling in silent
obedience. He hardly needs to speak, just to gesture. Rarely an emergency alters
the pattern. The railway and engines are hardware like the fields and factories,
should outlive this century and our lives. They are too expensive to replace,
and besides, they are so simple that there is nothing to go wrong. They were
built to perfection at your grandfather's works. They are cast and remoulded
until finally their frames break of fatigue. And you hating the driver 'cos
you're past understanding, you know it's just him and that's how he is, and like
you, he'll never change. A working relationship where novelty was brief, and
touches and smiles and seriousness and times, times between stations and times
in the yard and times of bereavement, and hands on hands, and foreheads on
hands, and tears on hands, and hands on rags which polish the grime, and time.
And marriage and christenings and times of change, and time didn't matter 'cos
it all stayed the same. His whistle on the engine, his whistle on the street.
And times at your flat and his rows back home. And like the smoke from each
bridge that hung in the cab, it never changed. And now like each morning how you
never speak 'cos there's nowt to discuss and it's all been said before. The
silence maintained till twelve o'clock in the middle town when he brings out his
curry butties, his voice like the train, a lifeline in time.
And there's flags and there's signals but there's only one train, that's up on
the down line and down on the up. You know, you could win a considerable amount
of money by suggesting they tore up one line. But with one line would go half
the jobs and all your friends. The train wears the lines in trim for better
times, but we've all got a job so there's no point to change.
And now there's the town at the end of the line - just a heap of old bricks
redundant in time. Time grown tired at the heart of the vale, resigned and
fateful, in a nutshell; stale, just waiting to die. Just an old square of
buildings trim round a church, with fears of abortion, sex, greed and sin; a
town full of drop-outs who never dropped in.
A town in which at a quarter to two a dog sleeps on a doorstep and waits for a
train that pants and heaves up the line bringing roof tiles and grannies, a one
train a day train.
John's gay novel, MARSHALL'S BIG SCORE, has just been published by Commonword,
price £1.20 + 30p postage.
Living up here on the fifteenth floor
I'm supposed to be lonely and sad,
But I have to admit that I like it -
No! I'm not completely mad I
Of course it's no place for children,
For mums at home all day -
Growing limbs need fresh air
And plenty of space to play.
But I'm not a house-trapped mother,
My family is full grown.
I look out on the spacious Pennines
And at last my soul is my own.
It's only a background to living
And most of my life's elsewhere,
But it's good to come home of an evening
And have time for myself to spare.
I used to be forever working -
Domesticity, garden, career -
Till I decided I'd had enough,
Packed suburbia in and came here.
Perhaps when I'm old and tired,
Feeling sedate and sane,
I'll leave the crazy heights of the
And come down to earth again.
Ruth Allinson is a Tightfisted Poet (see p. 23)
Your talk was bluff, everyday stuff.
The little shackles of marriage
Were rattled with the semi-whine
Of rueful complacency,
The identifying accent
Of the married man.
I made the appropriate noises
In the small spaces provided,
All the while wondering
Whether your wife had a name.
Titles she appeared to have in plenty;
Cook, Laundress, Housekeeper,
Mistress, Nanny, Mother -
But no name;
"Typical," I was thinking,
Then he walked by.
Young, lusty, long-legged,
Unaware of his earthy effect.
Your voice wavered,
Then regained its strength.
Naked at the windows of your eyes,
Your soul looked out
From its prison.
Tommy is a member of Northern Gay Writers.
Both girls smiled at Monica from across the damp
"Why don't you put your umbrella's up?"
Each teenager gave a knowing, slightly embarrassed look to the other. Monica's
daughter smiled and cockily answered: "It's only a bit of rain."
"Where are you going?" Monica asked.
The two girls looked at each other, gave that smile, and her daughter replied:
"Oh, just out, I'll be back for half past nine."
"Think on then, 'cause I'll be back for nine thirty too."
Both girls looked across at Monica as she put her umbrella up. Immediately they
burst out laughing. Monica smiled then shouted: "Why y're laughing?"
"Have you seen the sight of you umbrella mum?"
"What's up with it?"
"Look at it, it's broken."
"It's not bad, it keeps the rain off. Do you want to borrow it?"
The girls smiled and burst out laughing. As Monica was walking away, they
shouted, "Wouldn't be seen dead with that umbrella."
Monica smiled to herself as the girls passed on. Her umbrella only needed two
bits of material fastening onto the spikes. But this mattered to them. She felt
a gap growing between herself and her daughter, yet she had enjoyed seeing her
with her friend, seeing that youthful vitality brim full. But as Monica walked
to her evening class she began to visualise her daughter's face. As the picture
became clearer, she saw that her daughter was wearing make-up. Well, that's
youth, they've to try things out. But why make-up? Well, she's fourteen, lads
will come into her life now.
Monica really enjoyed the evening class and what made it more enjoyable was that
she could go out now and leave her child - teenager - without feeling anxious
and then guilty. It was the beginning of a new freedom for her. Even other
nights she could go out now to see her friends or go to the community school
meetings that she was beginning to enjoy being involved in.
As Monica returned home she noticed that there weren't any lights on in the
house, and her daughter left lights on as though it was Blackpool illuminations.
Anxiety began to creep through her as she found all the rooms empty. Fears for
her child shuffled through her mind. She didn't mind her daughter being a bit
late. Remembrances of her own teenage years came back to her. Nearly always late
home. Always the question: where've you been, you're late. And always the
excuses. Her Carl-ton days, shocking pink layered net underskirt, pink skirt and
bright green ankle socks, jiving with girls to Buddy Holly's music, but always
with an eye somewhere else. Talking to her girl friends, yet waiting for
something. That waiting was a transition - a gap between child and youth. The
something became clearer to Monica. It was part of the waiting in transition to
the something - boys. Was her daughter ready for this?
A fiddling, a key. The front door opening. Her daughter entering the room, all
vibrant. Fears slithered from Monica's mind.
"You're a bit late luv."
"Oh, me and Sue walked back from Alison's."
"Well, try not to be late again. I get a bit worried for you."
After supper was over and her daughter had gone to bed, Monica pondered over her
daughter's reason for being late. Was she seeing lads? Was she alone with lads?
Was her daughter ready for lads? Monica didn't like this at all. Her daughter
might not have been at Alison's, might even have been with lads. Yet Monica
accepted her daughter living her own life. She's a teenager, she should have
some freedom, just like me. But Monica did not like these strange feelings.
Perhaps she should insist that her daughter be home for a certain time. And
should she find out who the friend was? No, she didn't like that. It was prying
into her daughter's personal life. A life that her daughter was starting to
live. She must trust her. But still.....
Early summer with light, warm evenings. Monica loved these long evenings in the
garden. She loved looking at and tending her plants that she had grown from
seed. She watched them thriving, stretching themselves into the air, their stems
and leaves haughtily, healthily green. She passed by these to the flowers. Her
young lupins she'd grown from seed three years ago glowed pink and deep blue,
full of vitality in their flower. She felt so pleased and satisfied with
herself. It was demanding work, growing plants, but it was worth it for her to
see them thrive. The evening began to cool slightly as dusk filtered the air. It
was peaceful, just lingering there at the start of dusk. Minutes passed. Monica
stirred herself, looked around and gathered up her gardening tools. Quite
satisfied with herself, she went into the kitchen, unscrewed the top of a bottle
of damson wine, poured herself a glass and sat down in an easy chair in the
living room. She sipped at the wine, lingering over each sip. Until... She began
to feel uncomfortable. Surely it was getting late. It must be half past ten by
now, and her daughter was not back yet. It dawned on Monica that her daughter
had said she was going roller skating with her friend Sue. Monica searched for a
clock. Twenty to eleven, it's too late for her to be out. She hoped that nothing
had happened. But she began to get worried. She forgot her wine and stood
looking out of the window, out onto the street, then at the clock. Five minutes
had passed by, but it seemed ages. Monica turned and walked away from the
window. She didn't want to be seen watching for her daughter to come hone, it
didn't seem to be fair somehow.
Another five minutes gone. Monica sat in the chair, drinking. She looked up
through the window onto the street and saw her. The relief, the subsidence of
fears, raced from her. Her daughter came into the room, looking bright, full of
"You're late tonight. I was so worried. Why are you so late?"
"Me and Sue went to the chippy and then walked back with some friends."
"Who were the friends?"
"Oh, just some friends from the roller rink."
Monica dreaded this, but asked, "Were there some lads?"
Her daughter looked at her with a half-concealed smile and questioning glance.
"There may have been."
"I do get worried for you, you know. I wouldn't like anything to happen to you.
But mum, I can look after myself, I'm not stupid. I'll try to be earlier next
Monica smiled at her daughter, looked at her young, lithe body in the fitted
denim jeans. Her eyes moved up her tee shirt onto her daughter's mall breasts,
then to her lightly made-up face, her brown, sparkling eyes. Yes, her daughter
was growing up. Jo looked at her mother smiled and passed by into the kitchen.
More damson wine and hours later into the night, Monica sat there thinking She
loved those moments in the evening - seldom now though - when her daughter came
and sat on the settee with her They'd talk, her daughter would nestle up to her.
Monica's arm would stretch onto her daughter's shoulder and her fingers would
start playing with he: hair. But a cold, hard feeling nun Monica now. What if a
lad had done that to Jo, and Jo had accepted, liked it even? That couldn't be.
Not her daughter.
It was painful for Monica. She'd never thought of this before. But her daughter
was growing up. Why shouldn't Jo want this? She was the same as other girls. It
hurt Monica, though, to set a picture of a lad's arm over the shoulder of her
daughter. She fought on through the pain, saw sex, dismissed it, realising her
daughter wasn't read} for this yet. Monica now saw Jo as she had seen her
tonight, vibrantly testing tasting, exploring her own persona] life. That must
be, Monica thought, One day, sometime, she knew that Jo would talk about lads as
well as girls, She'd have to accept and wait for thai something to happen.
Bernadette is a member of Womanswrite.
There was no rain
and graffiti sat like a pain,
chained to red walls
and all the calls of a stillborn night,
faded to jaded hours
when everything was alright.
Black boys turned to black men
grown lithe again
to a hybrid beat of cushion feet
when thicker lips whispered ‘neat’
complete with eyes of another light;
that burned when everything was alright
Bastard children flickered fixed smiles
on shattered aisles
as midnight whiles through Babylon's stone parks
where, in a new dark
kid rockers ran thin fingers through a culture,
Like vulpine vultures, perched in the lowest heights
where khaki skin pierced like a pin,
everything that was alright
Now the quiet cars are purple with a sleepless haze
And a rusted memory of days raised from a grave
of paving and doorways
where towering dreams died in ugly ways
that was colour etched on stretched senses
staring through glass fences
left - then right,
land Babylon station burned tonight.
All hour every hour radio
smashed the repeated video
a hidden dream ridden video
where mono, stereo and quadraphonic sound
treads deep steps through shoe-box chasms
and rhythmic spasms call the shots,
when dawn is hot with a chilling blight
singing dumb songs that say alright.
Words pushing now like unconscious drums
beaten with tired thumbs
on an empty glass that was once stale wine
that passed heavy lidded time
when the light flamed too-too bright
and Babylon station burned tonight
ORPHAN IN THE HYPERMARKET
"Put her head between her knees."
"What good's that supposed to do?"
"A slap between the shoulderblades.." So it was true. Here I was, flat against
some grey and slightly muddied linoleum. Apparently I had lost consciousness. I
opened my eyes on the world,, and the world made itself known to me - the world
of Nescafe, Weetabix, Bird's Eye and Winalot, as seen through thin wire mesh. A
trolley. My trolley. "It's alright," I said, propping myself against the wire.
Of course. It's always alright.
An eager face appeared before me. "Anything I can do? I used to be a nurse.
"I'll just sit here for a while."
"It's hot in these places, isn't it," she said, a handsome woman, strongly
lipsticked and on guard for necessity.
I kept still and safe.
"Not pregnant, are you?"
"Oh no." Of that I was, for no clear reason, absolutely convinced.
"Funny how it happens. Just lucky that I'm in the right place. Same thing
happened last week, you know. Poor girl had a miscarriage, right there at the
bacon counter." She looked at her watch. "Will you be alright now?"
"Yes thank you."
The huddle of well-wishers released me. I made myself at ease with my discomfort,
thighs stuck to 'the cold floor. It was summer. I was, it seemed, awake in the
centre of an enormous and ornate clock. Caught in the peace that comes with
rhythm, I observed towers of baked bean tins, empires of toilet rolls, and
nugget upon nugget of frozen vegetables, ice cream, beefburgers and cod. Each
detail was carved in full precision, for my ears in the ringing of till bells,
the clarity of muzak and mutter; for the benefit of my eyes, in the crystalline
colours of metal, glass and plastic. This was my cathedral, my civilisation -
whoever I myself might be.
"Security." Another face broken into orbit. I looked from the tight, grey
features to my own human hands. "What's the trouble?"
I was brought water, cold and clear in its triumphant nothingness.
"On your own, are you? Feeling better? Can you get to your feet?"
"In a minute."
He waited for a minute. "What can I do for you, love? How do you feel? Do you
want some one to fetch you?"
"I feel alright," I told him. "But I don't think I ought to leave until I've
remembered who I am."
"What do you mean by that, dear?" The more anxious he became, the more
affectionate his manner. "Shall I ring home for you?"
"Home." Did nothing for me.
"What about your husband?"
"Husband." Nothing connected. Yet, if not a husband, I was sure that there were
some others somewhere. Tinned pudding, fish fingers, streaky bacon, instant
whip, marrowbone jelly, marrowfat peas, all rose revolting in my stomach. There
was scarcely an item I had paid for that I wanted for myself. The evidence spoke
of definite others, offering varying clues as to the male or female, adult or
child, human or animal components of the other beings.
"What's your name pet?" I smiled. I knew that I was good at smiling; there are
some things that you always remember. I could see my face muscles lifting,
golden as battery eggs and farmfresh crusty hothouse bread. I felt appetising.
"What about a purse - library card - driving license?"
I watched the other shoppers, wondering which of them was me. Young couples in
matching sweatshirts pushed D-I-Y accessories through the checkouts; the tills
clocked through sagging women with tubs of margarine, frozen peas and coca-cola;
partygoers with gallon tins, crisps, peanuts; the well-organised, bearing
cartons of catfood or a year's supply of sliced bread; the confused, who only
wanted a packet of tea - and one of them were me. Or perhaps the clues were all
false. "How would you describe the ordinary shopper?" I asked the security man,
whose job, I remembered, was mainly to catch thieves.
"Has this happened before?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"Come on, there must be something you can do. You can't sit on the floor all
day. I've got my job to do."
"There is something - something in the back of my mind - a phone number. It's -
" There was something there, I could see a knife, a fork, a large bottle of
tomato sauce - "my husband."
"That's a good girl. Can you remember it for me?"
"Ah no, wait a minute. That was my first husband. Now my second husband must be
"Mum. What are you doing at your age..." It was a young girl, something like I
imagine myself to look, but I don't. Straight as a reed, clear as a bell. "What"re
you doing on the floor?"
"What are you doing?"
"What do you think?"
"Don't your teachers tell you, never answer a question with another question?"
The young woman who claimed to be my daughter cast a sympathetic look at the
security man. "There's a simple answer," she said. She took my arm, pulled me
with a squelch of flesh from the floor, and packed my goods into two carrier
bags. So it was that I was delivered from this glorious factory of people-making
back into weather and time.
"When did you grow up?" asked her.
"I see you've forgotten my ice cream," she replied.____
Ailsa Cox is a Tightfisted Poet and nember of Home Truths.
I am a mermaid in a fairy tale
My fishes tail went for legs
To find my prince. It hurt
Walking on land. Like needles
Through my thighs. What prince
Is worth such pain? I sacrificed
Myself for his dear sake, happy
With another beloved better
But a little fondness left over.
In my own story I go
To the public swimming pool
And kick against the water which
Resists and does not resist
My own shape is not too bad
Until I get out walking
Again on these painful legs.
Sarah Ward is a Tightfisted Poet.
THE HAND THAT FEEDS
Next week won't be like
that - trapped by circumstances,
financed by a relationship,
Waiting for that green
Cheque - to pay the others back.
Dependent on a lover
to feed you, losing all
won't be like that.
Humiliated by the mouth
that feeds you.
Angry at yourself.
No amount of consolations
will make this money stretch.
Wanting but never having
never gaining things
I keep thinking
next week won't be
Elaine Okoro is a member of Commonword Northern Gay Writers.
Scotland Road 83
This is the first in a series of articles in which
different members of the Federation put forward their views on the position of
"separatist" groups (i.e. women, black, gay only groups etc.) within the worker
At our last executive meeting, somebody made the point that, we, the National
Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers (FWWCP), like certain
political parties, spend most of our time keeping people out rather than in.
However there are historic reasons for this. We can only speak for Liverpool but
we believe that what goes for Liverpool goes, too, for other major cities. Many
working class movements in Liverpool, for example the worker writer movement,
have sprung from direct political action, more often as a reaction against
certain events than as a means to a positive end. Often, they attracted
publicity. More often, they attracted one or two middle class intellectuals.
Invariably these intellectuals were of great value to the movements: they had
contacts and they had organisational abilities; with -out them, several of the
movements would have floundered. Unfortunately other middle class people, less
altruistic, appeared on the scene with notebooks and gusto, threw themselves
into the fray, picked, in the process, the brains of hundreds of working class
people, then retired to universities and polytechs to write their PhD's. One
day, though, the working class people, whose sweat had given birth to these
movements, woke up to what was going on, and decided that no longer would their
achievements become easy pickings for middle class joy-riders. This particular
type of infiltration or entryism was to be stopped.
It was with that kind of history in mind, that we helped write the constitution
of the NFWWCP:
1. The Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers is open to groups
and organisations in Britain that are engaged in working class writing and
2. The purpose of the Federation shall be to further the cause of working class
writing and community publishing by all means possible....and it is with that
kind of history in mind that the constitution is so jealously guarded.
History gave birth to our constitution, but we also had the future in mind when
we framed it. The Federation was to grow and strengthen - and to do both is
difficult: there is always the temptation to dilute and spread, thus giving the
impression of growth whilst in reality thinning and weakening. Rather, we
decided, we were a few working class writers' workshops and community
publishers, and we had to attract other working class writers and publishers to
our ranks. The feminist movement had been doing something like this for years.
They had seen the dangers of dilution and spread and had kept their movement -
and access to their magazines - exclusively female and feminist. The gay
movement had done likewise - several publishers had come out that were,
exclusively for gay writers. The black movement similarly - indeed many black
workshops had declined our ill thought-out offer of membership of the Federation
on the grounds that their concerns were, quite rightly, exclusively black whilst
ours were, quite rightly, exclusively working class. All these sister and
brother movements have seen that dilution and spread lead to weakness, to a lack
of direction, to a loss of common purpose. Yet there are still those in NFWWCP
who argue for such a dilution, who argue that we should invite those groups
mentioned above, those very groups who guard their own exclusiveness so
jealously, to join the Federation. We in Liverpool
support those exclusive groups; we admire what has made them strong; and we
follow their example by saying that we do not welcome them as members.
Of course in our movement we have individuals who could belong to any of those
other movements. There are gays, blacks and women; there are gay women; there
are black women; and there are gay, black women. We welcome them all as
individuals and we value what we can learn of their oppression through their
writing. But all these individuals are aware that what unites us is class; above
all, they are working class women, working class gays and working class blacks;
and they are aware that if they wish to develop their writing with other women
only, with other gays only, or with other blacks only, then there are magazines
which will cater exclusively for them outside the Federation. Working class
people, however, only have one outlet: the Federation; and we will jealously
guard it. We -will not stand by while some form exclusive groups and ban other
working class people from membership and use the one medium that those working
class people have and publish material that could just as easily appear
elsewhere. Nor will we deny ourselves the opportunity to learn about sexual and
racial oppression from those who suffer it. Nor do we understand why those so
oppressed should, by their exclusiveness, decline an opportunity to educate
others. Membership of a writers' workshop is cultural, but it's educational too.
Some will accept these points, but go on to argue that women, gays and blacks
need the company of other women, gays and blacks in order to talk and write
freely about their lives. A minority of women, say, amidst a majority of men
would feel too embarrassed to discuss, say, menstruation. But menstruation has
been discussed and written about in the Liverpool writers' workshop, and men
have been grateful for what they learned. Sexuality and race too. We feel that
reticence is often
a personality trait and it is glib to put it down to sex, sexuality or colour.
Indeed, the women in Netherley Writers' Workshop have had wide experience of all
women's groups (and more limited experience of all black and all gay groups, so
far as one or. two members are concerned) and they have testified that working
class women are more reticent there than in mixed working class groups (see
SPARE RIB Nov. 1979 and VOICES 25).
Liverpool, then, simply reiterates the criterion for membership of the NFWWCP:
class; every member-group has to be a working class group and no other criteria
whatsoever - be it sex, sexuality or colour - can supersede this. The
constitution demands it.
However there are member groups of the Federation undergoing changes in their
organisation. This has to happen for evolution is inevitable and healthy. Some
specific changes though are not. Recently we have seen the appearance of
so-called "umbrella groups": that is to say that member groups of the Federation
have split their members into subgroups and the criterion for membership is not
class but sex or sexuality. Other members of not of that particular sex or
sexuality are thus debarred from membership of the sub-group. These sub-groups
are therefore unconstitutional (for the reasons given above) but still claim
membership of the Federation through their parent group and occupy valuable
space (as a sub-group) in VOICES, the only magazine we have. Normal conditions
of entry, of course, do not apply to them: all other prospective member groups
have to undergo a fairly rigorous examination before membership is granted by
the Executive and Annual General fleeting. So-called "umbrella groups", though,
simply evade this procedure and gain entry through the back door. Clearly this
cannot be allowed to continue. As stated, there are lots of other magazines
catering for these separatist groups and the Federation was not designed for
them. What happens, though, when we say this? The parent group, for example
Commonword, simply replies that under the constitution all member groups are
autonomous so it can do what it likes; we must keep our noses out, thank you.
Well, if this reply is taken to its logical conclusion, there is nothing to stop
a group, once accepted as a member, from forming a sub group devoted to say,
fascist verse. Obviously it is a nonsense, and where sub-groups are formed under
a criterion other than the working class one enshrined in our constitution, the
Federation must act. Any member group can organise in any way it wants so long
as no part of that organisation debars a working class person from membership.
Anything else is unconstitutional and the member group must change or leave.
In raising these issues, we in Liverpool have been accused of racism, sexualism
and sexism. They are glib, vulgar and simplistic accusations which don't deserve
an answer. One thing must be said though: if you remain quiet because you are
frightened to offend and frightened to offend because the person with whom you
sincerely disagree is black or gay or a woman, then you are truly racist,
sexualist or sexist.
One final general point: so far, we've discussed constitutional issues, but we
don't want to be narrow and dogmatic; we simply need the constitution, for the
constitution enables us to stick to our aim - the encouragement of working class
writing. Now the working class are not all intellectual socialists; they are not
all socialists; they are, unfortunately, multi-prejudiced. However, we still
have to attract them to the movement and hope that, through the movement,
through the shared experience of workshop writing, they will lose these
prejudices. What we cannot do, though, is impose our own enlightenment upon
them. If we do that, they will never join us in the first place.
There were four of us in a room
he says, This interview here in Black Player
With a Cuban soldier in Africa
Is really very good,
she says, Is that all that's very good...
You're not interested in the models?
he says, No, not primarily,
I read Black Player primarily for the articles
she thinks, What's this..."not primarily"?
Does he mean
That the women posed
Backside in air, pubic hair,
Posed for his entertainment,
Do not interest him?
Or that they are of secondary interest,
Like say the dessert after the main meal?
she thinks, What kind of diplomatic reply is this
From you my revolutionary man?
You're not opposed,
You're just not "primarily interested".
she said nothing
She read the interview with the Cuban,
It was good.
She looked at the women.
None were bleeding.
Or breast feeding,
Or middle aged,
pimples, spots, moles, "unwanted hair",
or dry skin.
They stared out from the page,
Legs spread wide,
Inviting men inside.
She looked and knew
She wouldn't always be able
To prevent them
Her and how she saw herself.
She also knew
That she would sometimes fear
That the pornographic peep-show
Would enter into the heads
Of either him or her
When making love.
But that evening,
she said nothing
she said "I find it really sick
That magazines like these, for men,
Offer radical journalism
Assuming that the really "turned on" guy
Will be into both."
(You notice she didn't make this personal.)
he said Yes, Black Player has got really
He bought Playboy...for the articles.
Her conclusion is
That it's not her problem,
But it could be his
To figure out what he means
When he says
He reads Black Player
Primarily for the articles.
Her problem is:
All the time
At the time,
On the spot,
Face to face,
On the line
With the man,
With the men,
With the sys-tem,
That deals with her.
Anne Johnson is a founder member of Commonplace.
I went to a luncheon group meeting where the Chief
Constable for mid-Bedfordshire was talking about the role of the police. The
luncheon group is only on invitation - very private meeting. It's a way of
getting to know other people who help the community. You pay about sixty pence
for a cup of coffee, sandwiches and apple. The meeting goes on for about an hour
The group consists of people who represent the people in the street, e.g. social
workers, health visitors, heads of schools, teachers, WRVS, clergymen, literacy
tutors and organisers plus many more, basically people who have contact with the
people in the street. One of the things said by some one in the group was: the
police should be more hardline on everything because it would make people think
twice before people do anything wrong. The group overwhelmingly agreed with that
person and the Chief Constable said "I'm glad to hear that."
Should the police be more hardline towards people on the street? Is this what
the people in the street would like?
The only way the police could keep that up (with the number of police they have)
is by using guns. But the police seem to do alright in the city areas by
over-policing areas and using the special patrol group (SPG) in their riot proof
vans full up with police.
I feel very frightened when the SPG goes by with the police looking at me when I
am just walking down the street. Or when two or three groups of police in fours
and threes are walking down the other side of the street with their riot helmets
on and this was on a weekday. I do not think the members of the group have ever
been in that situation, even as mild as that. I felt that the majority of the
group had never experienced being threatened by the police, so how can they
relate to the people they're helping? When the members of the group hear of the
police badly treating some one they just cannot believe it happens, or do not
want to believe it goes on.
I thought as well that if the luncheon group was open to anyone and not just
invitation only perhaps the people at the meeting would not have been so open in
what they said to the Chief Constable. In fact the group was more bothered about
kids riding their push bikes on the path and not having lights on their bikes.
The police, they say, should do more about this.
I don't think they have heard of Brixton, Moss Side and Toxteth where they could
have used the Chief Constable's time a lot better by asking what the policemen
on the beat thought about the riots. What is the attitude of the policemen on
the beat? Are the members of the police in Brixton, Moss Side and Hackney
sympathetic with the British Movement or is the Chief Constable racist? Because
he makes the decision about the future of people. Well what he thinks goes down
It was a Sunday morning ritual, to pay a visit to my
grandparents' home in Ancoats, Butler Street. It was a small house, with a
cross-latched front door.
As you entered the front room, there was a huge, stuffed dog's head, perched on
a sofa. It was so realistic with its bared fangs and glaring eyes, I was
terrified of it; I would fly through to the back room, breathless.
Grandmother would be sat in her rocking chair - fingers interlocked, twiddling
her thumbs in rhythm to her rocking.
She was a tiny woman, piercing blue eyes, very strict (speak when you were
spoken to type).
Her home was spotless, gleaming brass and steel ornaments filled her highly
polished Yorkshire Range.
Reluctantly my brother accompanied me under protest as it was an ordeal; sitting
on a horse-hair sofa, which prickled my bare legs, it was our task to make paper
spills for my grandfather's pipe. We were given strips of newspaper, which had
to be twisted round the finger, resembling a tube, a twist at the end secured
We dreaded this job. I just could not make them, my grandfather stood over us,
bellowing instructions; I think it was this that made me nervous.
After the usual enquiries as to my parents' welfare, we were given a halfpenny
each, and made our escape, running all the way home, our outlet, I suppose.
WHERE WILL IT LEAD?
Where will it lead
Endless days, all the same
Melt away, lost for good
Carry on without aim
Plod, plod, plod and no further on
When I look back
To see what has gone
All past years, maybe just one.
So hard to tell
For time does not linger.
Is The Music To Blame?
And so the music played,
for another night.
Everybody says their styles
are so right.
In walks Ben, cool as hell,
ten of his mates here as well.
So no one takes offence
at the slogans on his back.
The music spoke of war boys rock,,
three snooker balls in a sock.
Smash all the windows,
have a good time,
lets all swim in lager and lime.
Paul's here looking for Katy,
she's on the Ml doing about eighty.
Got to get away from this
war torn club,
Paul's brain ticks, thinks of bricks
Thinks Ben's been inside Katy's knicks.
So the room is hot,
So the room is hot,
the music's the same,
What would you do in the
Go in head first,
or go on vacation.
Is the music to blame,
for this love, blood and pain.
I'll blame it on you
if it's all the same.
Good luck in this crying game.
So the knives come out,
the gangs get ready,
the scar faced bouncer
walks out the door.,
he's had enough,
seen it all before.
Some one dials 999,
but they can't come,
already in a fight.
Before this one began.
But it's too late,
one kid's already at Hell's gate.
Must have been
the machete he ate.
Is the music to blame,
for this blood and pain.
Kit Sollitt: MAN OF
STEEL Sheaf Publishing, £2.75
This is first and foremost a "good read". We follow Michael Moore from his birth
in Sheffield in 1915, through his childhood and early manhood to the outbreak of
the second world war, until, by the end of the novel, the war is over, and
Michael has settled down at last - or has he? One of the things I liked about
this book is that the reader' is given leeway to surmise what happens next, even
though I suspect that this was not the author's actual intention.
Here we also have a valuable source of social history. I was fascinated to read
about the female neighbours helping out when Dora cannot feed her baby. I was
aware that the rich put their babies out to wet nurse, but had not realised that
this was a way in which the poor helped each other. Later, Dora allows two of
her children to leave home and be brought up by cousins, comparative strangers,
who are financially much better off. Again, I am reminded of upper class mores.
Jane Austen's brother was adopted and brought up by wealthy cousins, and in her
novel, MANSFIELD PARK, the heroine, Fanny Price, is sent to rich relations where
she can be brought up in better circumstances. It is interesting to learn about
people of humbler origins resorting to the same measures, which I think would be
frowned upon today, with our emphasis on the "nuclear family".
Then there is the episode at school, when Michael is given a pair of "charity
boots" because he comes from a one parent family, and is caned for refusing to
wear them. The descriptions of men working in a steel foundry are fascinating.
Kit Sollitt herself worked in the industry during the war and she obviously
draws amply on her own experiences. One or two things puzzled me, and I should
have liked some explanation of why Michael was not called up at the beginning of
the war. If this was because he was needed for important work on munitions, I
still find it strange that this is not mentioned. Also, I should have thought a
young man of his type might have wanted to be "where the action was", but there
is no suggestion of this. There were expressions which I did not understand.
When the little girl wants a "dip" from her father's tea, does this mean a sip
of the tea, or does she want to dip her bread into it? I should have liked a
description too of the "tossing ring" where the men gambled away their wages.
The characters are well portrayed. Of the minor ones, I found Fred Moore,
Michael's father, particularly interesting, because he is, like us all, a
mixture of good and bad, and therefore thoroughly convincing. He is often brutal
and unfeeling towards his wife, and yet I do not find it difficult to believe
that they cared about each other. There are four women in Michael's life - his
long-suffering, hardworking mother; Lily, who is frail, sweet and gentle; Ruth,
down to earth, but gentle too; and Pat, who is, I suppose, an example of the
"new woman". Of Michael himself, I am not so sure. It almost seems as though his
purpose is to act as a foil for the other characters around him.
The sex scenes are interesting, as the author avoids the explicit descriptions
so often found in contemporary writing, but there is ample suggestion and
certainly not a trace of prudery.
This is not a feminist novel, but Kit Sollitt shows some understanding and
sympathy for women's oppression. Dora has to seek help from her neighbours to
feed her child, but she dare not tell her husband. The fact that he approves
when he does find out does not alter the fact that she is afraid of him and that
he sees her as being to blame for her physical weakness. We are told of Dora's
relief after recovering from the initial shock of her husband's death. She
"faced the fact that she liked life a lot better now that she wasn't at the
receiving end of a man's demands." There is also sympathy for Ruth's ordeal when
she first goes to work in the factory, but I detect a resigned tolerance of
men's reactions to the sight of an attractive woman. At the end of the novel,
Pat, the inde -pendent woman who has made a life for herself, is presented as
hard and bitter. It would appear that the author wants a certain amelioration in
the lot of women, but she does not challenge the status quo.
At the back of the book, we are told that MAN OF STEEL is a "down-to-earth novel
about working class life in Sheffield, which vividly captures the flavour of the
City in the 1920's and 1930's". That really is fair comment.
Kit Sollitt is a member of Heeley Writers' Group.
ASYLUM by BIDDY YOUNGDAY Published by Commonplace Workshop.
After reading the book, or rather short story, 'Asylum' by Biddy Youngday, I
just had to re-read the Introduction again to remind myself about the writer's
background and her horrific experiences in Nazi Germany. This places Asylum in
perspective, and enables me to fully appreciate the horrors she went through in
an Asylum. The writer's traumatic experiences leading up to being placed in a
mental hospital, and the events once inside are very movingly told, yet in a
very straightforward, and honest manner.
The beginning of the story is quite disconnected. There is so much movement from
relation to relation and place to place. Yet I find myself saying that these
pieces can't really be placed neatly together because of the trauma Biddy was
starting to go through.
Although the story is written by a middle class woman, her description of the
other women patients is classless in the sense that all the patients are
deprived of their identity. The only hierarchy is that of the hospital staff.
Biddy takes us along with her on her horrific journey through her illness and
vividly depicts the horrors of her experiences shut inside, and very effectively
compares this to Hitler's Germany, "they put me in a side room without windows.
It seemed to me just like Fascism again." The horrors culminate in her
description of solitary confinement when she is shut up in yet another room for
three days and nights with her "frightful memories." The bare, bleak, deprived
life of the hospital is well described, "The patients who were in bed were fed
with tea in a plate, with bread soaked in it."
The strength of the story I find is that the writer kicks against the whole
system of institutionalised life.
Compassion and understanding is expressed by Biddy as she establishes
relationships with the other women patients. The expression on one woman's face
"was such that I could see in her mind she was passing through the worst."
It seems a little sad to me that the ending is so abrupt. It lacks details
leading up to the writer's freedom, and I'm left with the question: how did she
The one thing that leaves me puzzled is that there is only one mention of her
children and relations whilst she is in hospital. There is no explanation of how
she feels about this. I don't know whether she is bitter about her relations, or
whether she didn't think of these things because getting well again was more
important to her.
The author writes of her experiences in a very direct way as it happens and
affects her. I'm sure that it's through her own struggle to get meaning from her
illness, and her resourcefulness in fighting it that she sees the outside world
again. It's a book worth reading, but I find the cover price very steep for
REGO AND POLIKOFF
This facsimile songbook, complete with foreword, woodcuts, a photo and cartoon,
even a union advertisement, makes quite a document.
The songs were written cooperatively by strikers in 1928/9, who were clothing
workers in East London. They sang to raise morale and funds, marching to other
factories and gaining such support that they became known as the "singing
strikers". Help was much needed, as there was not official recognition of the
strikes by the Tailors' and Garment Workers' Trade Union - later used to break
The foreword claims that the Rego strikers, mostly young girls with little
experience of trade unionism, "sang themselves into victory" after a twelve week
"unofficial" strike. The Polikoff strike, after the organiser of Rego had been
dismissed from his union and formed the new "United Clothing Workers' Trade
Union" had less success, but did a lot towards recognition of this union,
despite pressure from the original union's leaders. The rousing effect of the
songs used to lead off a march can be guessed from lines like "We are the Rego
girls!" and "Who the hell d'ye think we are? Strikers!"
Their impact would probably be increased by the use of tunes already well known,
popular songs of the day, marches and, of course, the occasional re-worded
hymn's mockery. In this they are not unlike songs of the American "Wobblies" -
the Industrial Workers of the World, also singing against scabs and unfair
profits - and one of the I.W.W.'s choruses, "Solidarity for ever", is used in a
Reading the book today, some of the songs hold their message still. Others are
not so memorable. There seem to be many on a few basic themes, possibly rousing
the spirit by their music more than the words. This is fine for us recognising,
say, "Bye-bye Blackleg" as "Bye bye Blackbird", but it is a pity that many of
the popular songs of the time are not known now. (In our folk club, at least, we
couldn't remember many between us.) There are also some people described who
would be familiar only to them, in the 1920's, and for us the unknown initials
may stop the meaning getting through at first. There are some gems, though,
brave for their time:
Poli wants the TUC.
He can HAVE the TUC.
It's no damn good to you or me;
It's not our weakness now!"
But as a record of the songs that took people through two strikes, of the words
used to try and educate others in the possibilities of power through strikes and
solidarity, it makes interesting and cheering reading. I note that in the union
advertisement, the economic position of women seems to go unchallenged:
"Contributions: MALES from 8d. FEMALES from 3d a week." Times change?
DI WILLIAMS, Commonword.
Pam Bailey: GRAMPY Word and
"You can't tell a book by its cover."
No indeed, but I would suspect that the people directly involved in literature
marketing would repudiate this statement. The cover of Pam Bailey's book, GRAM-PY,
does credit to G. Hill, its designer. The semi-stiff texture was for me like a
full stop at the end of a very definite sentence, the photograph exact and
careful in its reproduction.
On opening the book, I quite expected that the paper would be more shiny,
thicker perhaps, and not so dead white. However I firmly reminded myself of
limited budgets, costs, and the very real efforts of community publishers. That
I found the book hard to review perhaps says it for itself.
It is a family partial history with "Grampy" as its central character; also, it
is a record of social history. Each part is supported by the other, or could it
be diminished by it. By my own efforts as a worker writer with Bristol
Broadsides, I can understand the sheer hard work and dedication that Pam has put
into her work, that she has. done it with fond family pride is to her credit and
the comfort of her family. The construction of the chapters, the underlining of
headings at the start of a line, emphasising their importance, all very well
executed. The use of language with which Pam Bailey has told her story is very
correct, sometimes I feel, rather too evenly modulated (dare I say, middle
Of the story itself, so much of our social history is there, and I need no
diagram to see Laurel Cottage, rather the written words, plus my own
imagination, enabled me to recognise "Grampy"'s sheer guts and. determination in
making better his own lot, simply by his own effort.
Can any woman read of wash day (p.15) without casting a grateful glance in the
direction of her washing machine? How many of older mothers remember the anxiety
of getting all important school clothes dry when the rain was pouring down
outside, and money would not allow for a second pair of school trousers?
I have no wish to point out this or that part of the book because, as I hope
that I have illustrated, to read it evokes personal recognition and thought,
sometimes having no need to categorise. To read GRAMPY is to remember a time of
personal effort not just by him, but of so many who would wish to improve the
quality of life. The distance of time can in part dull and subdue what is known
of a person's character. This combined with the writer's own personality left me
of the opinion we had only glimpsed at the man who is "Grampy". The Sidney James
Frampton is a man of dignity and honourable determination I have no doubt.
I make no apologies for any criticism made, only apologise for default through
my own ignorance. To Word and Action, always'
I hope that you will be able to help those like myself who may feel the
restriction imposed by the use of formal language. And to my fellow worker
writers, keep writing. There is still so much more to be told.
KATHLEEN HORSEMAN, Bristol Broadsides.
From a women's W.E.A. class in Peterlee, Co. Durham. Several of the poems and
stories are about trying to write in itself - or simply about the use and misuse
of language. It is very much a book about women, with self portraits as sharp as
the character sketches, which include punk rockers, battered women, nosey
neighbours and best friends.
FROM COALFIELD TO
- THE ROAD TO DUNKIRK REMEMBERED. Pit Lamp Press, 53, Twizell Lane, Beamish, Nr.
Stanley, 'Co. Durham. 1.00
Four Chester-le-Street miners tell their wartime experiences in Geordie style.
NO EASY ANSWERS:
Prescot Writers, Merseyside.
Mainly poetry, with portraits of Prescot and its inhabitants as well as several
SHOTTS STORIES. Shotts Writers' Workshop, Shotts Community Edn. Centre, Kirk Rd.
Some strong declamatory verse in the left wing Scots tradition; plus slices of
life and a couple of more reflective pieces.
ANNA TO ZOULA. Centreprise, 1.00.
An ABC colouring book, produced by Hackney schoolchildren. Multiracial,
non-sexist - and very much a child's view of the world.
Prices given for books where available.
Twenty-three years driving a blinking van
Outward from Essex, stopping first
For the quick cup and a scan
Of the morning rag for the new girls,
Home at night to Mavis and the telly.
We moved house finally
Closer to her work - a high rise flat
Walled up, windowless, next door to a den
Of layabouts who drank and sat
Up all night to play the gramophone
Loudest just an hour before the clock
Battered the two of us awake
And I'd jump up to find the bathroom light.
The wife? These days isn't too fond of me,
Thinks now my son is working it's his right
To make decisions for the family.
He never said much until he knew I was
111; now he has his say and throws
His paypacket down for Mavis to pick up.
The neighbours are in it too, with the police.
I sit down for a cup
Of coffee and the laughing starts, like geese
Cackling - I hear it through the wall.
It's been like that for months. That's about all
I can tell you, Doc. You'll want to get the wife's side
Of the story, and my record. Twenty-three blinking years]
Why should I worry? There's not much there to hide,
But sometimes I find myself running down with tears.
Thinking how long it is before I retire
And of all the years after I retire.