cover size 205 x 295 (A4)


Editorial Ailsa Cox 
Dear Great Grandfather (Poem) Geddes Thomson
It Don't Go To Your Boots (Story)   Jean Archer
The Asian (Poem)      Julia Isaac 
Belfast (Poem)  Bronwen Williams 
Fingerpainting (Poem)  Chris Darlington 
Vauxhall Bridge (Poem) Sue May
MICHAEL SMITH:Me cyaan believe it. (Article) Sue Shrapnel 
The Lodge Lane Wood War (Story) John Walsh
How I Became A Shop Steward Tom Durkin 
Strike Joan Batchelor 
Car Factory Music Michael Butler
Write about It Dave Pole 
SW News Dick Foreman 
Myth & Reality Lotte Moos 
Bye Bye Fido Colin Samson 
My Son's Poem Mrs C. Colley 
Claims (Poem) Ian Colley
Death Of The Hoboes Alf Ironmonger 
Why Change !     John Gowling 
High Living  Ruth Allinson 
Staying In    - Tommy Barclay 
Letting Go Bernadette Tweedale 
Babylon Station Carl Holt 
Orphan In The Hypermarket Ailsa Cox 
The Hand That Feeds Elaine Okoro 
The Mermaid Sarah Ward
SEPARATIST GROUPS (Discussion)  Scotland Rd '83 
Not Primarily (Poem) Anne Johnson
My Police Robert Merry 
Where Will It Lead  Stella Ford 
Sunday Morning Kathleen Judge
Is The Music To Blame (Poem) John Mullen
Man Of Steel  Ruth Allinson 
Asylum Bernadette Tweedale 
Rego and Polikoff Strike Songs  Di Williams 
Grampy Kathleen Horseman
Shortlistings        . Ailsa Cox 



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 preconceived market.

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.


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.

Jean Archer


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.

Julia Isaac

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?

Bronwen Williams

In sunshine
Painting my house
On Sunday, with the bells ringing.
Careful preparation.
A cheerful colour.
Still the old paint lifts
Even after two coats.

Chris Darlington

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.

Sue May

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
doors open

Sue May is a member of Hackney Writers.


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
Little yard
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
Skin up
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
Sue Shrapnel is a member of the Write First Time Collective.

John Walsh

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 accepted it.

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 much fun.

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.

Tom Durkin

"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 almost closed.

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 laid low.

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 meetings.

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 myself.

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 prayed.
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.

Joan Batchelor

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 and discomfort.
"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 after school).
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 full..."
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 Commonword.

Michael Butler

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,   power
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  vacuum.

Michael Butler is a former worker priest. He has worked as a labourer in France, Portsmouth dockyards and in North Acton.


Write About It
Dear Voices,
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 country!

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.


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.


Dear Voices,
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 the; imagination.

Dear Voices,
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.

Dear Voices,
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 issues.
Yours sincerely, Mrs. C. Colley

Letters have all been cut this time, due to lack of space.


Ian Colley

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. Tel. 061-235-2773.


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


Alf Ironmonger

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
Aching back
For them it did
Not matter
The yard dogs
With rope and chain
Knocked their bodies flying
Beneath the wheels
Of the train
They lay there
Slowly  dying

Taken   from   Alfs   AN   AUSTRALIAN   JOURNAL,    60p   + 20p postage from Commonword.

John Gowling


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 swords.

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.

Ruth Allinson

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
fifteenth floor
And come down to earth again.

Ruth Allinson is a Tightfisted Poet (see p. 23)

Tommy Barclay

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.
But fleetingly,
Naked at the windows of your  eyes,
Your  soul  looked  out
From its prison.

Tommy is a member of Northern Gay Writers.

Bernadette Tweedale

Both girls smiled at Monica from across the damp road.
"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 youth.
"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 time."
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.

Carl Holt

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

Ailsa Cox

"She's fainted."
"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.

Sarah Ward

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.

Elaine Okoro

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
Thinking...next week
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 desire
I keep thinking
next week won't be
like that!

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 writer movement.

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 community publishing....
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.

Anne Johnson

One evening
There were four of us in a room
Two women,
Two men,
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 pregnant,
Or middle aged,
Or old,
Or fat,
Or thin.
None had
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
Getting inbetween
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

Next day
she said    "I find it really sick
That magazines like these, for men,
Offer radical journalism
Alongside pornography,
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 pornographic.
Next day
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:
To deal
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.

Robert Merry


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 or two.

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 the line.

Kathleen Judge

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 it. 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.

Stella Ford

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?
John Mullen

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
and sticks,
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
same situation?
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.

 BOOK: 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 get out?
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 twelve pages.
Bernadette Tweedale.

Centreprise, 50p.

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 strike.

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 Polikoff song.

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 Action, 1.50.

"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 class).

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.

- 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 anti-nuclear pieces.
SHOTTS STORIES. Shotts Writers' Workshop, Shotts Community Edn. Centre, Kirk Rd. Shotts. 65p.
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.

Anne Rouse

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.