cover size 205 x 295 (A4)
This issue of VOICES was produced by Ruth Allinson, Mike Binyon, Ailsa Cox,
Ivor Frankell, John Cowling, Alf Ironmonger, John Koziol, Olive Rogers,
Bernadette Tweedale, Di Williams, Gatehouse Project, Scotland Rd. 84.
THROUGH THE MANGLE
The elderly woman pointed at the clothes mangle and smiled at me. "Bet you
don't know what that is, sonny." I felt obliged to shake my head and tell her o,
just to give her the pleasure of being able to explain its purpose to me. In
fact, my parents had one in the back yard and we were still using it in the
sixties. It was obviously a source of pride for the woman, though, to find this
ancient relic from her youth dumped here with all its associations of family
washdays and shared work.
Now, if I were to tell you that the elderly woman, the mangle and me were
standing in the middle of the Royal Festival Hall in London I suppose I'll have
to explain what was going on.
Exploring Living Memory 1984 brought together exhibitions and stalls from London
reminiscence groups and with the help of the GLC was able to stage it in the
Hall's main exhibition area. Much of the exhibition consisted ' of photographs
and accompanying text, but there was also video, live theatre and music (plus a
mangle). I was there with the Federation bookstall, containing stock made up of
a selection of our books.
Over the weekend we sold a lot of Federation publications, particularly London
autobiographies. We sold them mainly to people who had moved out of the inner
city areas long ago and gone to the new towns. The organisers of the exhibition
made sure that hundreds of people had been invited in groups and that these
were, for the most part, those who had lived in the areas represented. These
people had grown up in some of the worst housing conditions possible, and in
great poverty. They were born in bug-infested back-to-.backs and played in the
streets alongside rats and mice. Yet there was a celebratory feel to the event.
I don't think this was because they'd come to think of them as the 'good old
days' and I don't think they were smiling at the thought that they were lucky to
be out of it either.
The event reminded me of my own discovery of local publishing. During a period
of unemployment, I wrote several prose pieces and while wondering what to do
with them I stumbled over Centreprise bookshop in Hackney, where I had lived all
my life. In the clearly defined local section I found A License to Live by Ron
Barnes. It was the first locally produced autobiography I had read. The working
class had been talked about before but it was the other classes doing the
The book was a revelation to me. History meant the working class too. We were
writing about ourselves and reading about ourselves as well - smashing the idea
that only the famous had a tale to tell, a 'result’.
The structure of autobiography is really just a clothes horse oh which the
author hangs experience, knowledge and philosophy. It wasn't until I started to
put my own life on paper that I realised the importance of emphasis, selection
In practise, the Federation has never differentiated between autobiography/local
history poetry/prose and adult literacy. We have broken down the barriers that
elsewhere still exist between these written forms.
The people shopping at the bookstall at the festival were primarily interested
in the autobiographical and history publications. Some also went away with a
book of poetry as well, however, finding in a different arrangement of words an
expression of working class life as real and valid as the more clearly labelled
life histories. The Federation is helping to develop a positive attitude to
poetry and prose in a class that has been alienated from it in the past.
Likewise, more people are starting to see working class autobiography as the
vital act of creative writing that it is.
On the last day at the Royal Festival Hall as I was packing away the bookstall,
people were literally pulling the books out of the boxes again to buy them.
People are interested in themselves. Not in a selfish way - they want to share
their lives. Writing in all its forms gives us the opportunity to make sense of
Federation groups and publications give working people the space to speak for
themselves, the means of self-representation. What a clothes mangle does is
easily explainable; you put your soggy socks and shirts in it and it wrings out
the wet. What a clothes mangle might mean however is another matter, to be
interpreted individually according to the experience of the writer.
In all our hooks we are presenting admonishment and a challenge to the accepted
view of history and literature as a nuts and bolts twin tub machine, wheeled out
for inspection with a 'No Tampering’ sticker on the side.
Roger Mills is the author of A COMPREHENSIVE EDUCATION, published by
FIFTEEN MILES FROM GREENHAM
Menopausal disorder, never my friend, never shrug off the implications of
this woman's condition.
I had run the emotional gauntlet, been tender as a kitten, a real granny grimble,
fiery in my temper as a whirlwind, and as transient, all at the drop of a
hormone or two, metaphorically speaking of course.
My husband must have been hard pressed indeed to understand, and even in my
unstable emotional state I knew when he came home from his work, the momentary
pause would be there - what mood was I in? And I did try, really I did.
Nothing is forever. This cliché so well used is nevertheless true, and on the
Thursday I walked along the main road from my home to the Hut. I felt a need to
rejoin the human race, and the woman's group meeting that afternoon seemed a
good place to start.
I almost changed my mind about joining in with the small group of young women
sat round the table.
What did I have to offer? My friendship, interest - gently does it, I thought, I
mustn't be a knowall.
"Can I join you?"
I made some frivolous remark about being a granny rather than as they were, a
"Yes, come and sit down, course you can."
A chair was dragged a matter of inches to be nearer to the table by a young
dark-haired girl who used her foot, hooking it around the chair leg nearest to
her to achieve this movement of the furniture.
In her arms, her young son sucked at orange juice from his plastic bottle.
All things are, I suppose, as in the eyes of the beholder, like the ugliness of
a building's windows, shuttered against natural light with wood and therefore
vandal proof; the table's top surface, multi-coloured splodges of paint, a
permanent imprint left behind by some one seeking a kind of release through
artistic achievement. The baby's bottle was thumped down, finished.
A packet of cigarettes, a child's interlocking plastic toy and an upturned paper
cup, all on the table.
We had taken our time, just minutes in fact. Now we were relaxed and could talk.
Children playing, identifying, who was who's, isn't he like you?
"Two boys, other people minded more than me when I had another boy. But I
didn't care, they're alright." "Aren't people daft?" "Course, I live with our
mum now, couldn't stand my husband any more, you've got to live with them to
The pretty pregnant young girl who sat across the table from me had seemed so
quiet, in a half asleep retreat of her own created protection. Gradually she
joined the conversation.
"I knew my husband years before we got married, but once we did marry he was
"I'm back with our mum as well, but I want my own place."
This young woman impressed me so much with her brave yet realistic acceptance of
her situation, though I did give a thought to the parents of the girl with
grandchildren, nappies, all the disorder that must have returned to their lives.
Coffee was made, squash for the children. I wasn't sure that any of us really
wanted it but it was part of the ritual. One of the children spilt his drink and
it spread in map-like fashion to stain that part of the linoleum that still
adhered to the floor. I made a conscious effort to ignore its existence. I
didn't want to break our moment of shared yet somewhat fragile conversation,
especially as the young mother that I had been trying to draw into the
conversation began to tell me she hadn't been well since her baby was born.
"Women's problems" - she was shy, this girl, needing gentle coaxing, "go
to the doctor, don't be afraid, tell him."
I felt the harsh realities of life hurt some more than others and they are hurt
by their indifference to it.
I could go on telling of conversation where I mentioned THE PILL and they
laughed, "oh sometimes I forget to take it."
I asked, "What do you most want from life?"
"To be able to go out, just up and go, not to have to get the kids ready first.”
"No pushchair, freedom."
“I could walk with my hands in my pockets."
"But then I would have nothing to hang on to."
"No, I couldn't do without my kids really."
"No," I thought, "no, but one day!"
During all of this one little boy had been climbing on and off of my lap. I had
felt too tidy, somehow restricted by the neatness of my appearance, but this
child, uncomplicated in his trust, had recognised me even as a stranger and
called me Nanny.
I loved the baby warm smell of this child, and wanted with an uncontrollable
need to kiss the top of his head.
How I envied these mothers. '
But anger came too: "why do you come here?"
"Because it's free."
"What about the playgroup next door?"
"It costs too much. I got two children. I can get a loaf for that."
I was angry with the restrictions of poverty.
Angry with the ugly discomfort of a building considered good enough for these
Angry with the ones with knowledge to impart and the ability to recognise the
potential and need of these women with years of life before them and who weren't
Angry with myself, with an emptiness that stayed with me as I walked home.
I thought of those other women at Greenhan Common, free from one kind of
restriction to fight against power of yet one other kind.
And I wondered at the difference.
I went into my orderly little council house where I looked for washing to
put into my automatic machine.
But I kept on the clothes that held just a hint of the smell of baby powder, and
Kathleen Horseman is a member of Bristol Broadsides.
AND ANOTHER THING
The second collection of writing from Women and Words, a Birmingham women
writers' workshop. 56 pages. Price: £1.00, including p&p from Helen Pitt, 261,
Yardley Rd., South Yardley, Birmingham B25 8NA. P.O.'s and cheques payable to
Women and Words.
There was an air of nostalgia
in the long queue
at the local post-office, yesterday,
we were all there
dressed fop the occasion,
in our garb and finery,
the stoopers, the limpers,
those with some kind of cross to bear,
the sprightly, the unsightly,
the hold on to my arm dear tightly,
clutching our treasured passports
to modern world existence,
the long buff pension book,
there we all were, kids again,
bouncing down nostalgia lane,
of course the owld times crept in,
amongst us all,
"Remember in the Twenties, Jim,
"Aye a do an all, Alice,
t,owld penny rush,
at local picture palace,
the essence of it all
flowed amidst the post office queue,
and we wallowed in the gooey sentiments
for a while
Jack, Joe, Bill, and canny owld Sue,
laugh and tear and whimsical smile,
cough and splutter, guffaw, mutter,
all of us owld uns, and the odd young uns
caught up in that magical trap
the far, far off past,
getting our allotted pension,
and giving away free,
those owld memories, worthy a mention,
for them that wanted to grab them,
same nostalgic charade every pension day,
week after week,
a kind of senior citizen ritual,
so to speak,
"Aye, it's nice ter wander back,
wot der you think owld Jack?"
"Well a don't know,
past is past, an future's here ter stay,
owld rigmaroles dead an gone,
so a expects we've just got to carry on
an make the most a wots left fer us,
so lets call it a day,
see yer all next week God willin',"
"Penny for yer thoughts owld timer?"
"A penny nee good, my thoughts
a worth an owld, owld shillin',
an that were money in them days
when a was just a young un."
Standing at the bus stop
feeling the wind hating it
watching the traffic
driven by smug faces
glad I got that loan now
with eyes that know
flirt their ebony welcome
I'm nice and warm inside
but I will cost you
all your beer money for the week
lorries and vans
nor caring if they did
then the bus arrives
a bright green comfort
promising warmth and escape
"sorry pal, we're full up"
and it's back to the cold
and the wind.
TO CATCH THE POST
Helen rushes to the front door mat - two letters. She takes them into the
kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee - she'll need her drug before opening
them. The first is from the Dolly Girl Bureau, telling her that she hasn't got
the post as secretary to an accountant in the City. "You were their number two
choice because you didn't sell yourself hard enough," they helpfully tell her.
Helen could have cried - she remembers the last time she had.
She was so heart-and-soul determined to get this one, she had looked at
timetables to see what train she would get morning and evening, thought about
how she could take an active interest in the charity she would be serving and
had read its reports in the reference library. She had prepared for every
conceivable question, she thought, but some one else had come along who had
worked for a similar charity before, and experience counts for all in this game.
The pain of that rejection was so great that she decided next time to hold back
some of herself.
She hopes the second letter will tell her she hasn't got an interview. "I can't
take any more pain just yet." It is just as she feared and hoped - an interview
with another agency, leading to the insult of shorthand and typing tests,
followed by another interview at a firm, followed by another interview if she is
shortlisted, only to fail at the final hurdle.
Helen puts, on a fairly formal suit and tights (ugh). Will the interviewer be
man or woman (men are impressed by sexy scent, women repelled)? She arrives at
the agency fifteen minutes early - too soon to annoy them with her presence, too
late to get a cup of coffee. She wanders up and down the road, getting her hair
windswept and her tights muddy.
The young woman gives Helen a form to complete (number 41, she mutters to
herself) with far too much space for work experience and far too little for
education. "I'm really hoping to do something administrative," she ventures.
"Oh, you can't waste your secretarial skills," warbles the interviewer.
Helen hates servicing men but if she were to say so secretarial/ administrative
jobs would be barred to her from this agency if not all, so she keeps mum, and
the first barrier to communication is built.
"You don't mind taking a typing test, do you?"
"No," says Helen through grit teeth - she has a typing qualification which
proves her standard is far above what any boss could require, but the process is
a mindless machine which, once set in motion, goes on to the bitter end. She is
so angry and tense, her typing is full of mistakes.
"I'll have to take those off your speed, dear. It's not as good as you thought,
Thoroughly humiliated, Helen hangs her head and does not defend herself.
The next few days are spent in boredom and frustration - she daren't leave the
house for long in case she misses THE telephone call. Eventually it comes, and
she is invited to be interviewed by a group of holding companies with mines in
South Africa and Namibia.
The Personnel Department of Afro metal Holdings is concerned that Helen is over
thirty but has only three years' work experience (she had been "wasting" her
time in the thankless task of bringing up children). They think her shorthand
speed is not high enough - hardly surprising since she had escaped the cage of
secretarial work for over a year, and only the fact that her employers didn't
like her union militancy has driven her to the need to find work again. How will
she explain the year when her work was limited to routine office tasks because
she was being victimised? Come clean about her background and frighten off their
capitalist souls, or try and cover it and be totally unconvincing?
She meets her potential boss - middle-aged, humorous and friendly. The interview
is informal and Helen relaxes. She apologises for the folly of not finishing her
degree - "I was silly enough to get married and short-sighted in thinking I
would not need a career." (I can't tell him I left on the verge of a nervous
breakdown through depression. I'm sure 1 sound spineless and giddy.) He is
impressed by her personality and her confidence in dealing with important
people. He is amused at her feminism - just an eccentricity. She has re-assured
him that she is not REALLY anti-men or anything horrid like that.
As Helen thought, she did make a good impression and is told a week later that
she and two others are being invited back for a further interview with a
publishing company to do part secretarial, part administrative work. It sounds
more interesting, but she's put her heart into getting the job at Afrometals.
Still, she can't miss an opportunity so she accepts, knowing it will lead
nowhere as her mind will be preoccupied.
She has her period on the day of the third interview - she feels suicidal every
month since being unemployed: she never noticed periods when she was at work.
She arrives to discover that she will face a board of three men: her prospective
boss, his manager and the Head of Personnel. They sit in a row behind a table on
slightly higher chairs than hers so they can look down on her. As each asks a
question she replies to that one, aware that the others are scrutinising her
intently. She starts to sweat. Helen is at her best in informal situations but
this formality destroys her confidence (what little remains, that is after
twenty rejections). She is very conscious of her looks: mature enough? frumpish?
intelligent? or arrogant? How can she, a revolutionary, convince them she would
love to join their team exploiting the wealth of South Africa? They keep
returning to the question of whether she is over-qualified for the post. Far too
intelligent to be satisfied as a secretary she may be, but Helen knows she has
left it too late for a career and she would gladly settle for the relief of
having a permanent job for the first time in three years.
Helen leaves, dejected; she knows she didn't make the most of herself. "All that
emotional investment, and they still don't believe I really wanted the job.
Would I have got it if I'd lied about my education? But how would I have
explained what I did between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one? Or if I'd
prepared an answer to the question about where I thought my career would
develop? What career! If I'd had ambition, they would never have considered me
as a secretary."
She could, of course, comfort herself with lies. "I'm blacklisted. It's because
I'm such a threat to capitalism that I can't find work" but no, she believes
other myths: "I'm a complete failure. Nobody wants me because I'm just not good
enough." How many like her believe that unemployment is their personal problem
rather than the fault of a system that throws women and men on the scrap heap
for the sake of profit; that doesn't recognise child-rearing as useful labour?
She has a job now - working full time against the system that spat her out like
a bitter pip. She lives under a plastic sheet outside Greenham Common airbase,
building a community with women and children that is not based on privilege or
profit. She campaigns against male violence - nuclear weapons, rape,
exploitation - and dreams that her daughters may one day work using their
abilities not their feminine wiles.
Liz Verran lives in Gillingham, Kent. She works as a secretary to a trade
I am jobless, I am worthless, I am homeless,
And you are not.
I am desperate, I am desolate, I am separate,
And you are not.
I have torments, I have troubles, I have trepidations
And you have not.
I have uncertainty, I have unhappiness, I have uneasiness,
I have understood,
And you have not.
I am angry, I am unwanted, I am dangerous,
And you don't care.
I am without hope, I am without a future,
And you don't care.
I would like to change the system, and you would not.
I would like to change you, and you would not.
I am the surplus pool of labour.
I am the meat in the sandwich of capital and technology.
Hurrah for the brave new world,
Electronic gadgetry, video illusions,
Micro trickery and computerised trading,
Automation and Robotation,
Concentration of Investment,
For the elimination of repetitive, boring
Manual and semi-skilled occupations,
And the maximal, optimal production output,
With the least number of hourly paid operatives.
Welcome to the High Tech Age, full of rich enjoyment.
Begone you waged labour man, begone you full employment.
See the dancing robots, automatons at play,
Sweeping all before them, I am swept away. .
I am redundant, removed and retired,
I am dismissed, relieved and fired,
I am disheartened, discarded and disgraced.
I am the meat in the sandwich of Investment and Science.
Hooray for the Micro Way, Hooray for the Bright New Day.
Tell me of the pleasure, and tell me of leisure,
For I am the relic of boom time measure.
I am not old, I am not young,
I am the heart, and the brain and the lung,
I am the army of surplus labour,
Shedding its blood on the technocrat's sabre.
I am myself or any other, uncle, father or my mother,
I am me, I am them, I am those, I am us,
I am you or your brother,
I am the work ethic, I am the workforce, I am the worker.
WE ARE THE MEAT IN, THE SANDWICH.
I wish to appply for the job as secutory to your firm, I no& i have not no
exberiance like an yet i feek i am jut the man, person for the job, uno- I can
use all tge bin words neaded, e.g. 8Situationwise, outputs i dont know whar they
meen of corse but then i dont surppose you do neither cock, Whom ever you enbloy,
i am sore it qill bee someone of my bavkground, after all cock, you need us
grityy workin class, its us wholl pur you in strikes and expose any sandles
between you and your female staf, we all nos what gos on do we in thuse big
ofesis do we gaffer, go on bang yout fuvking fist afaindst your oficse drinks
cabernot and ahad mit it, you ned someone lije me as your secadery, can you do
without my talent you wanker? i an sure we8ll have a @appy and long relanoshilxp.
i am 3x: 56 and livbig in the simon hostol and atdenig the alco ospatele so tou
see don8t yer mate, i am the right basterd for the porshition eh cock?
Terry Cuthbert will be known to readers of past issues as Blackie
A sample from bloody L.I.A.R.S., a sketchbook of poems by Michael Rosen,
cartoons from Alan Gilbey and press cuttings from everywhere, including MILITANT
and MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES IN GREAT BRITAIN. £1.50 + 50p postage from 11, Meeson
St., London E5 OEA. Cheques to Michael Rosen.
Conjure up the images:
Glossy, stylish, upmarket.
You've either got it or you haven't:
classy little number.
I'm not talking about that.
I'm not talking about
"a structural relation to the means of production"'
Which isn't to say that I don't think
some own the means
and some are the means.
Because that's true.
I'm trying to talk about history.
My own years of it.
This country's one thousand, nine hundred and
eighty odd years of it.
I'm trying to talk about a relation
about ways of life.
I understand when you say
we're all people
I don't believe in class.
I understand, too, when you say
middle class has become a term of abuse.
If we can't all be socialists
I understand that,
I've got my state education too.
Middle class is more than a term
it is abuse.
It's a relation,
a way of life.
And I'm implicated in it -too.
It seduced but didn't marry me
Doesn't house me, inherit me.
If I want it,
I want it out of lack.
I want 'middle class'
because, 'middle class'
is talking nice
and I can do that too,
Because it's warmth,
cars and carpets.
Middle class isn't
cold water taps
sliced white bread
second hand clothes
second hand furniture.
Middle class isn't
shoes that rub.
Middle class isn't
gangs on the street
wild time and the coppers round the corner.
It isn't shared beds
Middle class isn't
being told not to presume
being told to work hard
in your secondhand school uniform
and non-regulation shoes
with your cheap pen
that leaks all over the page
and stains your fingers.
And you must be grateful girl
and think of god.
Aspiration is what it was all about.
If you will talk like, look like,
think like us
We'll let you in
When I was eleven
I lost all my friends. !
They didn't make the grade.
Six of us from a final year of eighty-six
passed a test we didn't know we were taking.
And it took three years
to make some' more.
It took getting quiet
and talking different.
It took scandal
When my father made it
by the front page of our local newspapers
by being sent to jail.
And when our headmistress,
most holy Sister Francis,
explained she couldn't ask me to leave,
But if I was to say
I thought it better that I did
they could arrange it
I was the centre of attraction.
And I dug
my worn down heels in
and thought I'd try it their way.
But you don't forget.
The 'O' levels and 'A' levels
and grants to go to university
don't mean a lot
in Chorlton and Hulme and Stockport.
They mean something
they mean getting out
they mean a crack in the sky.
We were all schooled in Macmillan's forcing house.
Get a degree, they'd say
Don't live like us, don't die like us.
Great aunts, uncles, the first to go
from little houses in Leigh and Wigan
and diseases of the lung.
Yes, they all smoked,
but some of them worked the mines.
And, more recently,
Dan and Tom and Steven and Pat,
leaving widows and children, some of us
with our bits of paper
A different way of life.
But families are strong
and you don't forget.
Pat worked in the fifties
erecting pylons across the country
And when that was done
and electricity lit the nation
He found a dark little corner in the docks
pleased that in the sixties they'd dropped the tally
and you didn't have to fight for work.
I remember him as a child
coning home to Russell street
and eating huge meals of soup and bread.
I remember a tin horse
he gave me, and walking back from Alex Park
how he bought a whole quarter of chewing nuts
just for me,
something else in his pocket for Kevin and Susan.
I didn't visit him in hospital
dying of stomach cancer
This huge huge strong man
who'd frightened and fascinated me.
I was at the funeral,
out of place.
Talking to Steven, dead a year later.
And Dan, before him, in Belfast.
Both dead of heart attacks.
Before they retired, all of them.
A life of work, for the likes of me.
And I can't easily
with this heritage, with this knowledge,
accept comfort, security, progress.
I can't define my interests and my needs
separately from those
of the class that made me.
Because all that I've had
I've seen paid for,
life by life.
I've seen the loss at which I got my gain.
Nothing slips down easily:
not my past,
in which ashamed of where I lived
and what my father did,
I've denied it
pretended I didn't have a brother or a sister
My past in which I lost myself
Class is about conflict
it grieves me that a woman I like
is so removed from me.
Feminism doesn't seem to make it easier
at times like this.
I know, you know
we share, as women, much that is common.
The way we're treated
what we can and can't do,
We find unity in that
but whole areas of experience and expectation
clash between us
when we try and talk of class.
And we're not just talking it:
we're living and have lived it.
You've never told me
and I've never asked you,
what it was like,
A strange land lies between us.
If we are ever to traverse it,
or even map it out
for future reference
we must first make the journey back ourselves.
I would hardly know the way.
I remember signposts, crossroads:
eleven plus failure
These mark my way:
I need to rediscover all the roads I didn't take.
I don't know what guided me;
mistakes my mother had made perhaps.
But I need, for her,
to make a more courageous stand.
To say, yes,
the violence, the fear
the terribleness of it all marked me
kept me on the narrow path
to independence and success. '
But more than that.
I have to give them their due
for every time they told me off
when I said I couldn't be or do something
I said I wanted |
because I was a girl or we were poor.
Mum and Margery with their friendship
and their strength
taught me women don't need men
in order to live and be happy.
And ray dad taught me about socialism
in practical ways
by being generous and good
and showing me which books to read.
I cannot trace out
the way they formed me.
But I find myself now,
uncertain of the future,
uncertain of the past
with some small strength.
I believe in a basic goodness
about the way
we think to live.
I don't deny your sisterhood
or your comradehood.
I recognise that we are here, together,
separate in our histories,
separate in our reasons
And I do not deny that we look to the same future
We could be dead in five or fifty years
It's important to me
that we don't waste the time.
There is nothing we can do to change the past,
maybe even the present,
but we must be together in the ways the future asks.|
I want to know
where it was and wasn't the same.
I want to know the difference.
It has to be the first
THE OLD COUNTRY
A now familiar envelope
Arrives each year from Ireland
Or Eire, as the postage stamp
Reminds us in runic lettering
On a small green square,
Like a lonely headstone or deserted obelisk.
The address is wrong, meant for next door,
It is not our letter but each year
We hesitate and open it and,
Unsurprised, read the familiar card:
'To Hughie and Bridie, always in our thoughts,
From Eamonn and Kathleen in the Old Country'.
They've been dead five years at least,
Hughie and Bridie, she followed him in weeks;
Their flat's been lived in twice since then,
Re-decorated twice, no one would know
They ever lived here, the old couple,
Except for the Christmas Card which
Brings them back to life again each year
Like a resurrection, a second life,
Which they in fact believed in,
Though they left no forwarding address.
Textured glass: rust, amber
and cinnabar smouldering, melded
slab to slab on slick lead:
lights on water; you cannot see the oil spilled
Silhouettes of cranes
support the low cloud, cross-members and stays,
dense and delicate, drinkers of light,
nodders of stiff heads; not threatening
nor making statements.
And the warehouses do nothing,
leaning together like burnt-out
trolley-buses. They do not moralise
this urgent groping at cold bodies
under coats and sweaters in unlit
Couple; part; and re-arrange
your clothing. Smoke.
A youth with string and a woollen hat
quarters his rounds,
gathering newspapers for his night's
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are bullets in your speech.
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are guerrillas on the beach.
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are black birds lying on your bed.
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are soldiers firing in your head.
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are children starving in your stomach
Don't say it's nothing to do with you-
there are lies in the words you vomit.
Their life's habit
Wasting away my lungs
With unquestioned taint
Relaxing, making my ruin
Hovering grey white
This bluey dense poison
Before my sight.
Stumped there dead
Feeling sick, turning red
I'm looking slightly pale.
Now with belching cough
Wheezing until I'm tired
Then feeling rough
With fresh air desired
Breeding me a cancer
Here in this room
Making a failure
In slow dying doom.
How you seek the blue sky
gliding through each others' subdued and endless path
Finding no more, no less but a hiding place
alone; above a hill's wintry white cloth
With the wind your master of high and low
Your distance goes.
Over and over you roll;
Slowly, dreamily as I gaze up, here below.
Away and afloat you pass by on a swollen lake
Fresh wind swept mountain sides.
As you navigate through jagged surface rock
of glistening snow covered tops.
Get your books ready now 4c.
And Maria it's time for Mrs. McFee.
A jury of eyes are scorning at me,
Convicting an idiot...ILLITERACY.
Slowly I rise avoiding smug stares,
And head for the door with uneasy flair.
Bag on one shoulder, I'm told not to chew.
I spit out the gum and utter "Stuff you."
I head for the room with thicko's and dims,
Hearing arch angels practising hymns.
There sit the rejects, all solemn and still
Each in their own world, intent on the kill.
War of the words, battling books.
The general enters, I'm sure the floor shook!
The onslaught begins and so does the sickness.
Line by line, "I'm not feeling well Miss."
The rigorous pages are mapped alphabetically.
Counting my classmates, attacking strategically.
Plotting planned paragraphs that I'll have to stutter.
I turn to a neighbour, "What's this say?" I mutter.
Remembering long words and guessing the short.
I'm bullshitting on and haven't got caught.
Odd words I don't know the general obliges.
On into darkness, my heartbeat rises.
The beetroot sits down in relief that it's over.
"An improvement, well done." The thick cow, I loathe her.
The end of the lesson and certainly hopes.
I'm told I can read, I can't but I'll cope.
Trapped in deceit, so I'll lie till I'm rumbled.
Crying I'll giggle, though I feel I might crumble.
I'VE HEARD IT
The end of your sentence - you're over the moon,
This time will be different - we'll be married soon.
You know who your friends are, you'll happily say,
The one who stood by you while you was away.
"Just you and the kids, love, stuff all my mates."
That's what you said as you walked out the gates.
But both of us know that within a week
You'll start to ignore me each time I speak.
You must think I'm stupid, believing your lies.
Well, stupid or not, a time will arise
When you will need me and I won't be there.
Where will your friends be - do you think they'll care?
It happens to everyone - you'll get what you earn.
The next time you're nicked - this worm's going to turn
LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
name GRAHAM PATRICK ANDREWS
born 19 FEB. 1961, MIDDLETON ON SEA, SUSSEX
doctor martin boots TWO PAIRS
I leave my P45
and my UB40 cards
to the government
as a celebration
of my wasted youth
I leave my empty
to the chairman
he can keep
all his spare
MUMMY I WANT
Sunday afternoon was showtime at the Elm Tree Children's Home. All the
children who were offered for fostering or adoption were scrubbed clean, dressed
in snow white rompers and laid on long brown tables. Like roses at a flower
show, we all had our names strapped to us. Babies who threw up on the floor or
wet their rompers were whisked away to some unknown destination and promptly
replaced by a dry substitute.
At 2.00 p.m., the doors were flung open. Hand in hand, couples came rushing down
the aisles, searching for the best babies. Babies screamed when prospective
parents tickled their turns to the rhythm of "citchy citchy coo". The whole
event was conducted like a church hall jumble sale. Being the only non-white
child on display, I received most of the attention. Couples crowded round just
to have a look; to most, I was a bit of a freak, like a five-legged dog or a
A middle-aged couple showed a lot of interest in me. They had a spotty-faced,
nose-picking three year old with them. When she saw me she clapped her hands and
gasped, "Oh. Just the little thing we were looking for." She went on to tell
matron how she had had her son late in life and she could have no more children,
so she wanted something nice for Billy to play with. If I could have spoken at
the tender age of eight months, I would have suggested a box of soldiers or a
teddy bear; but since I couldn't, I just had to gurgle contentedly and play with
It looked like I was going to join the Clayman household, but after a few more
visits to Elm Tree Mr. and Mrs. Clayman had second thoughts. They tried to get
Billy to have a big-blue-eyed blonde-haired little girl, but Billy firmly stood
"No mummy, I want that one" he said, pointing at me. I felt like a cheeky but
lovable sad-eyed mongrel dog.
So, after a chat to the matron and welfare department, the official
paraphernalia was signed and I was their foster child and they were my legal
WHA' HAPPEN BLACK GIRL?
Wha happen black girl
You know here about family planning
how you just ah' breed so
And you Mr. so call black brother
Me know you believe in spreading the seed
but what life can you offer to the girl
that you just breed
Poverty and misery
Huh' but nourished with fools love
you think that you can support even the
And when the children grow up
Ma what you gonna tell them
Dem papa was a sailor
He was more like a tailor
You know see him sew up your life good
The work by Mike Lynch and Angela Mars in this section is
taken from AS GOOD AS WE MAKE IT, a collection of work from the
Centreprise young writers group.
ME AND MINE
About the age of nine, Christopher noticed there was another new baby, just
arrived from the baby shop, so his mum said.
This really annoyed Christopher, because he was only just getting to like his
younger brother Ray, who had suddenly started school.
The funny thing about Ray was he used to like his bottle - a hard habit to
Instead of being on milk, Ray was on the hard stuff - tea. He used to hide his
bottle up his jumper when anyone came in.
He also hid it under the cushions on the sofa. Christopher knew this because he
never missed much.
One day Dillis, the local nosey parker, came in to see Christopher's mum about
something. Ray hid his bottle then hid behind the armchair. He only came out for
meals or the adverts on T.V., which were his favourite things on T.V. at the
Halfway through a cup of tea and a gossip, Dillis and Christopher's mum were
interrupted by a loud scream. It was Christopher dancing up and down, waving
Ray’s bottle in the air. Poor Ray went red and didn't know where to look.
Ray came from behind the chair and kicked Christopher on the shin then ran into
the back kitchen.
The new baby, Shirley, was no trouble, except for the pile of dirty nappies she
made every day. Having no washing machine, the kitchen sink got blocked up a
lot, which annoyed Christopher's mum.
Christopher tried for a number of jobs, he finally got a job as a chain lad. He
was to get fourteen pound a week.
For this he had to stand in two foot of mud and knock six foot wooden stakes in
with a hammer he could hardly lift.
The continual swearing of his boss, plus the other heavy duties and dirty jobs
he had to do soon made him decide he didn't like this job, so he gave in his
notice. One of the funny things that happened to Christopher while he was there
was one of his wellies got stuck in the thick mud.
His face was a sea of mud. The world was black - well, dark brown anyway.
The boss stood there red-faced and shouting, then the boss slipped on his
backside in the mud.
The next job Christopher got was a car park cleaner. The wage was £8 a week. He
started that Monday morning: they didn't give you a brush or shovel. You had to
use your bare hands to pick up everything, from fag ends to dog dirt. All they
gave you was a plastic bag, which came out of your wages.
They also had nowhere to go to the toilet or to wash your hands. You'd eat your
dinner walking about, in your twenty minute dinner break. That evening,
Christopher was getting fed up. Some of the disgusting things found on a car
park floor defied description.
Worser was to follow, as Christopher was getting his coat on his boss told him
he was nightshift tomorrow.
So they only expected him to work seven to eight hour shifts for £8. Christopher
stormed into the manager's office and told him where to stick his job.
What Christopher really wanted was a shop job. Though low-paid, he liked it. It
was a great feeling - hard, honest work.
He tried everywhere, but his appearance put people off. He couldn't afford new
Christopher only got £3.50 from the youth employment office. He gave £3 to his
mum; that left ten bob to last him two weeks.
Eventually, after he'd been called over to the social security three times
because he'd been out of work two months, he was soon broke.
The old man over there looked through all the papers and made you go for every
job, whether it was low paid, or even if you weren't qualified for it.
He didn't think about the wasted time or where the bus fares came from.
Eventually a miracle happened. Christopher was granted an exceptional needs
grant to get a suit or to try, with the princely sum of £14.
Even then, most suits were £25 to £30, for the cheapest, that is.
My dad worked in a slaughter house
Stale blood on his boots smelled for miles
I thought what a cruel job he had
He was chief eyeball exploder.
For hours I used to watch over him
I sat staring at his eyes,
In case they exploded,
While he slept.
You in the black leather jacket,
with a single earring!
What keeps you warm inside
on a cold street corner?
Love, friendship, humour or
As the rain sweeps past your view of massive concrete
courtyards and buildings, and of nothing else;
and an emptiness in the air, in the whole formation
of the world outside yourself
inviting you only to despair, grow empty too:
the corruption of a system blocking all alternatives
having done its best to narrow you
to drugs, mind-blowing decibels at discos,
space invaders, star wars; cynically
offering you nothingness as life itself.
Hang on to your hopes, your loves, your passions anyway,
and the warmth in you. Believe
in a time that's better, in a warmth beyond yourself,
that's shared. This ice age is a fraud,
the fabrication of a dying class. And there's
a life and future that's worth fighting for;
just around the corner.
Alan Hayton's book of poetry, FAR CRY FROM 1945, is
published by Pertinent Publications, Scotland.
I'll be no weeping woman here
Hiding behind a man to mask my fear
Taking those kisses tinged with frost
And watching eyes shielding love long lost
I'll be no weeping woman here
Holding my man with a rope of tears
Clinging to memories best forgotten
I'd rather be dead and buried and rotten.
They called her an alkie , me mam
Playground taunts and gossiping cows,
"Never walks straight, smelt her breath
I pity her kids, God help her husband,
He's a good strong father a lovely man."
Outside, pity they never knew him inside.
They called her an alkie' me Mam
"Don't talk to her, don't play with her kids
And how does she cope, such a lovely man
He's a walking saint, a saint, you know
And she's a sherry stinking drunken bitch."
Outside but no one knew her inside.
They called her an alkie' me Mam
Said she didn't clean us, couldn't be bothered to feed us
Said she was a whore a tupence ha'penny scrubber
Said she only kept us for state allowance,
Said she didn't care just staggered round the street
But they only saw the outside, never saw the inside
They called her an alkie', me Mam
They called him a saint, me Dad,
But they never saw her crawling kicked to the floor
They never saw her vomit in naked waiting fear,
And they never saw him punch her like she was a man
You see them outside, they never saw the inside.
Write About It
As an ex-secretary of VOICES, Scotland Road (VOICES 30) depress me, since they
cannot find a space for black, female or gay exclusive groups within the
Federation of Worker Writers. I left VOICES to form Northern Gay Writers two
years ago. In the five years I have been at Commonword, I have co-produced
twenty-nine worker writer publications, only one of which has been exclusively
gay; and my own Commonword 'gay' novel is in fact for the most part a working
class, black, immigrant and homeless gay journal. My five years have been spent
editing VOICES, WRITE ON and other projects such as a battered women's handbook
and the autobiographies of unemployed and retired working people. I have spent
many years encouraging black and prison writing.
But without the support of a gay writing group, which in turn has the support of
Common-word, I would have left the FWWCP when I left VOICES, the
reason being that I am not prepared to serve on a working class committee
as a minority of one, the token gay, the
stereotype gay treasure. Nor do many women fit the mould of
(1) silently taking the minutes of a loud, male dominated meeting, nor (2) being
elected the first and hoarse woman chairperson. Blacks
and Asians do not cherish being patted on the back as if they were a token, an
exception or futuristic trend nor it being inferred that as a minority versus
majority decision, they have a chip on their shoulder. But this
inevitably happens in any organisation; it can only be countered by
black, women and gay exclusive groups interacting with other groups.
Writers' workshops which are predominantly white, male and
heterosexual may only at the most hopeful be 5% black, 5% gay and 15% women. No
doubt the interests of the 75% will predominate.
Cynical, rude and offensive I am, but I can assure you that there is a lot more
to people's politics and liberational writing than throwing every writer through
the same mould. I'm not going to apologise to the FWWCP any more for the fact
that I am different, yet still socialist and working class.
Similarly I would hope that the FWWCP would find it in their hearts to encourage
more exclusive groups, i.e. prison writing, unemployed, gypsies, homeless and
single travellers, agricultural workers, council tenants, psychiatric patients,
Otherwise I feel our organisation can only help writers develop until they wish
to specialise. Perhaps on specialisation writers should leave.
Also I consider the type of person who feels he has a right to sit at any group
or family table in his town or country is not particularly sensitive to
the needs and feelings of others.
The oppression of race and sexuality is, and always has been, fairly universal;
in fact it predates and shapes class politics. Sexual and racial divisions of
labour and property started economic class.
I remember being asked "How can you be a writer and be working class?" Now I can
also add to the list: "How can minorities and women form their own groups and
still be in the FWWCP?" Doubtless we know of the demagogy and purges of Stalin,
McCarthy, Hitler and public spending. This battle is being fought. This time
don't let humanity be the loser
JOHN GOWLING (Commonword)
When the American vocalist Joe Hill
was being beaten up in a prison cell by the reactionary bastards (there were
more of them then) he sent out the words: "Don't sympathise, ORGANISE." He then
belonged to a very courageous trade union called the I.W.W.
The advice I give to all organisations connected with Voices. Within reason. If
you get cash from new subscribers, acknowledge or you could lose such important
As for writing, stop having post-mortems with every issue. Just keep going. The
results so far are good, damned good, when you consider the poor educational
background of most. To hell with the Arts Council cash. We'll get by without it.
Others, in the past did it before the Arts Council was formed.
Remember, we have a lot to learn from middle class writers some of whom have a
general sympathy with our clan. Where is there a better description of fear of
poverty than in Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage? Or of problems of a long
strike than in Germinal by Emile Zola? Keep reading and writing.
PETER KEARNEY (Glasgow)
We're sorry we can't acknowledge every subscriber, or keep contact with the
huge number of people who send material. We're a small, struggling group and
hope you'll be patient with us.
- VOICES editorial group
AN AUDIENCE WITH THE GOVERNOR
The Governor must reckon that I'm not a full shilling. He had me up in his
office yesterday just before finishing time.
"I don't know how much this means to you," he said, "but it means a lot to me -
the Company is on the verge of securing a large order. You can tell the lads on
the shop floor their jobs are safe."
THE GOVERNOR'S GUESTS
It was bloody freezing in work today. At ten o'clock The Governor and two other
Suits were walking around the factory; having a good butcher's at all the
different operations, weighing everything up with eyes like ferrets. The
Governor nodded briefly as they passed my bench. All three of them had thick
FIRM BUT FAIR
C.W. Warrington-Dolby, Managing Director, The Governor's boss; his name carried
a rare majestic elegance, even when rolling off a tongue as rough as mine.
Before I ever set eyes upon the bloke I had built up a vivid impression of him,
solely on the basis of his splendid name.
C.W.T. Warrington-Dolby: ex-Guards Officer, Old School Tie Brigade; tall,
portly, of jolly disposition - firm, but fair. Old Man Gross, the Company's
founder, could undoubtedly rest easy in his grave, knowing he had left the
business in such capable hands.
C.W.T. Warrington-Dolby turned out to be nothing remotely like the above. He
inherited the Company by sheer default, being Old Man Gross's only remaining
relative. He was small and thin, with a black wafer-thin moustache and greased
back hair. On the occasions that sight was caught of him at the factory, it
would be a very fleeting sight indeed. He would climb out of his Rover and
scuttle across the courtyard towards the Company offices as fast as his little
legs would carry him; his head down, eyes glued to the ground, studiously
avoiding eye-contact with any of his employees whose employment necessitated
their presence in the courtyard at the same time as himself. He left the
day-to-day running of the Company to The Governor, preferring to oversee
operations from the sanctuary of his golf club bar.
Most of the Company's employees refer to C.W.T. Warrington-Dolby as "Dolly";
some of the younger shop floor workers call him "The Rat" on account of his
facial features; The Governor talks of him as "Himself", I myself go along with
the Rat contingent; although, I feel obliged to admit, this inclination is
mainly due to the obvious deficiencies of the other two contenders: I've seen
dollies, C.W.T. Warrington-Dolby looks nothing like one - and the mere thought
of the term Himself being employed in such a manner causes my scrotum to tighten
The Governor must reckon that I'm not a full shilling. He has a point, I
suppose, after all, it's him who's wearing the thick overcoat.
I'm bringing my woollen gloves tomorrow.
OLD MAN GROSS
The longest serving Company employee is Louis the Storekeeper, he's got
forty-odd years in. Louis openly admits that he's very lucky to be still working
for the Company. Throughout the fifties and sixties Louis was in the habit of
sneaking out to the transport cafe down the road at 10.05 precisely each
work-a-day morning, for a mug of tea and a bacon sandwich.
One particular bright summer's morning in the late sixties, unbeknown to Louis
at the time, Old Man Gross didn't happen to be feeling too good. At 10.10
approximately Old Man Gross called for his faithful Chauffeur, Spencer: "Take me
home, Spencer, I feel unwell."
As Louis was coming out of the transport cafe at 10.20 precisely, who should he
see riding past in
his Daimler but Old Man Gross - and, as these things go Old Man Gross had
spotted Louis too: he stared directly at him, "An icy stare chilled my bones to
That night, when Louis returned home, he told his spouse to prepare for the
worst; "Tomorrow I shall most likely be out of a job."
It was with a heavily furrowed brow that Louis clocked in at 7.30 the next
morning. Upon starting work he found it near impossible to store-keep in his
normal efficient manner; he found himself staring fixedly through the Store's
window at the Company car park, anticipating the arrival of Old Man Gross's
At 8.45 Louis saw the Works Manager's car draw onto the courtyard, a good three
quarters of an hour earlier than usual. The Works Manager, Arthur Wardle - it
was well before The Governor held the position - called for the Foreman, as soon
as he got into his office.
On his return to the shop floor, some ten minutes later, the Foreman summoned
the entire workforce around him; within a couple of minutes he was confronted by
a semi-circle of forty or so curious workers. The Foreman got straight to the
point, endeavouring to keep the loss of production down to a minimum; he told
the assembled group that Old Man Gross had passed away in the back of his
Daimler on his way home the previous day.
Now and again, to get out of the cold, I go into the Foreman's office for a
quiet smoke. The Foreman, Nobby, obligingly lets me use his office to collect my
thoughts. In return I pretend to be his friend - his only friend. Nobby is
despised, at best, and hated, at worst, by both management and workers alike -
but somehow he manages to survive. As the shop floor workers whisper among
themselves when the job has Nobby under severe pressure, "You can do it Nobby!"
ROUGH AND READY
The Governor is a rough and ready, up and at 'em, take me as you find me sort of
bloke - but he always' wears a smart suit. He is tall, tubby, broad-shouldered,
clean shaven, with fair curly hair and bulging eyeballs. It is undoubtedly this
last characteristic that inspired a renegade contingent, Johnny-come-latelies
for the most part, to ignore his official nickname and refer to him instead as
The Governor is of that rare breed of people who assiduously work their way up
from the shop floor to a position in middle management. He started his career
with the Company straight from school at the age of fifteen. The older workers
on the shop floor, who remember him as both a raw Apprentice and, later on, a
young Journeyman, recall that he was "a right lazy little bastard."
The Governor's Father also used to work for the Company, he was a Progress
Clerk. It was his Father who secured the Governor his Apprenticeship to the
THE FORTUNE HUNTERS
I get paid weekly, very weekly. I cannot manage my home and affairs on the
weekly recompense I receive, though there are some who continually remind me how
lucky I am to have a job. All my workmates are in the same boat as myself; that
is why the majority of them are always willing to work overtime at the drop of
The Governor's hat. I think it would be fair to say that all of the shop floor
workers are only in it for the money; with one exception, Nobby.
Nobby conducts himself as though he would be perfectly willing, if required, to
lay down his life in service to the Company; that is why he is despised, at
best, and hated, at worst, by both management and workers alike.
Were Nobby to be served notice of the Company's intention to dispense with his
services, I am quite sure he would no longer be willing to die in the execution
of his duties and beyond - and I am equally sure he would amend his behaviour
accordingly, his work effort would slacken off appreciably; he would betray
little - and, depending upon the skill of the pumper pumping him, large -
confidences, formerly shared by himself and The Governor. This situation has
been known to occur from time to time - Foremen are generally easy to replace -
such a dramatic abandonment of loyalty is known affectionately in the trade as
"When rogues fall out."
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
"I wonder what the Suits who were walking around with Golf-ball Eyes wanted?"
"Perhaps they're here to place a big order?"
"Or to shut the place down."
"The Governor had me up in his office yesterday, just before we were going home.
He reckons the Company are about to secure a large order; he said, "Tell the
lads their jobs are safe."
"Oh yeah! I've heard that one before! They told us that at the last place I
worked - a couple of days before they made us all redundant."
"Aye, I suppose you never know, the state the trade is in nowadays."
"I'll tell you one thing, I kept my eyes on my tools while they were hanging
about - they looked the type of blokes who'd prise the shite out of a dog's
arse, given half the chance."
"It's funny you should say that. I noticed one of them weighing up my hammer."
"It's cold today, isn't it? I'm bringing my woollen gloves tomorrow."
WE'LL NEVER BE SLACK AGAIN
Nobby had a quiet word in my ear as I was putting my tools away at finishing
time. He told me that the two Suits who were walking around with The Governor
were at the factory to place a big order: "We'll never be slack again," he
You can do it Nobby!
Mike Rowe makes packing cases in Manchester,
If you've enjoyed Starrett's cartoons in VOICES, you can novi buy a book of
them, from Ferret, Press, 10a, Queen Margaret Drive, Glasgow 12. Price: £2.75.
His targets include bigots, capitalists and warmongers. His heroes are the
EMPIRE OF SMOKE
Inside the house, the sideboard glistened
like cut coal, the dust was embarrassed
and hid its face below the carpet.
My mother fussed around making slippered
and comfy comments, blessing the house
with a cloth to anticipate his homecoming.
His spade-wide hands with coal-dust
mapping out wrinkles like a chart of aging,
turning over the egg and bacon
as if he were revolving a globe.
Canaries still whistled like old boots
in his talk and pit ponies stampeded
like Derby Day: images snatched from the dark.
In the park I saw the parrots gossip,
their plumage the colour of her bright lipstick,
preening themselves like her feathered fancies
in front of every mirror. At night I heard
the jackdaws' rock-fall: his voice croaking
from their throats, dry as a swarm of dust.
These sounds were almost suffocating.
And then, hypnotised by my sister's success
framed, in pride of place, above the fire,
they talked of London as if it were Lord
of the Manor, deeming to greet them from behind her face.
They were escaping the church clock's spying gaze,
the weather-groans raining from mouths.
I walked out into the infirm landscape.
Skull empty. Brainless
too little, yet too many thoughts within
no crimson heart beating
no murky brown liver churning and lurking
no magnolia, intestines digesting
no inside, completely void
A fragile china doll ready to crack open its
already broken frame
Just skin and skull, only bones and flesh
stomach maybe present - when hawking and
but never felt
Body rocking - mind heaving and heavy with
heavy footsteps trudging up and down my
So kick it - I thought - kick the habit!
Completely. Totally. Have strength
No strength. So hard. Too bloody hard!
Withdrawal - must have withdrawal
Calm. Calmer now.
Must keep taking the pills
till sweet sanity resumes its beautiful
Addiction too horrendous to give words too:
words alone seem too silly
Oh how beautiful it will be
When I'm not addicted anymore!
and my whole nervous system will heal
like a grazed knee.
A HACKNEY MEMORY
CHEST George Cook, Centreprise
A friend of mine who spent her childhood hiding from the Nazi's in occupied
Poland has, in an attempt to block out those hideous years, completely forgotten
Polish - her mother-tongue until she was thirteen, when she finally left Poland.
I spent most of the year 1953 suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis at High
Carley, a sanatorium near Ulverston on the edge of the Lake District. an
experience which I found traumatic and on my return home I did my best to forget
it, which had the effect of dulling my memory as regards the happier times which
With greater courage than either of us, George Cooke delves deep into his
memories of a time spent suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis in 1940, and
these in turn lead him back to recollections of his childhood growing up in a
Hackney working class family in the thirties. The author is only .five or six
years older than myself, a relatively prosperous working class child (my father
was an artisan) growing up in Lancashire in the thirties and contracting
pulmonary tuberculosis in my early twenties, so this book is of great interest
to me as I compare my returning memories with his.
Leaving aside this personal interest, however, A Hackney Memory Chest is an
excellent book, conjuring up both the indignity and the joys of working class
life as experienced by a man. As Rebecca O'Rourke points out in the
"Men rarely write about their personal lives or publicly accept those intimate,
tender sides to their nature." This book is welcome on that score alone.
I particularly enjoyed the author's recollections which match my own of the 'Bisto
Kids', the 'bobbies' or "coppers ', the horse and carts used for milk
deliveries, street games, the seasonal ones particularly, like 'whip and top',
the Saturday cinema shows for children in Hackney known as the 'Tupenny Rush'.
Later, like me, he enjoyed the heart throbs of the day - Norma Shearer, Joan
Crawford, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, Ronald Colman, Clark Gable, Spencer
Tracy and the singers Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy. We are also told about
the 'peasouper’ fogs, the radio series 'The Man in Black' with Valentine Dyall
telling spine-chilling tales, moonlight flits - the list could go on and on.
The latter part of the book deals with George Cook's experiences in the
sanatorium. In the same way as mine, his tuberculosis was discovered by a
compulsory check-up. I understand only too well what he means when he writes:
"It seems odd, but I must have grown with the disease in the .respect that I
never realised myself that I was ill". There is an amazing account of his
undergoing major surgery in the form of a thoroco-plastic, which at that time
had to be completed in three separate stages under local anaesthetic. Thirteen
years later, I was to find myself with a scar of over eighteen inches long which
traversed my shoulder blade on the left side like a railway line with a minor
branch line branching off at the junction lower down, but my operation required
only one stage and I never had to wear a surgical belt as George Cook did to
support his weakened side.
There are lively descriptions of the patients and staff at the sanatorium, some
funny, some sad, and overall this is a book where pleasure and pain are
intermingled. The hardships endured by working people are not sentimentalised,
but neither are the worthwhile parts of their lives denigrated. A Hackney Memory
Chest contains many interesting photographs and is a valuable social document of
the recent past.
MARSHALL'S BIG SCORE
John Gowling, Commonword, £1.20
Marshall's Big Score is the worker writer movement's first gay novel. An
achievement that might embarrass some, or feel like a contradiction in terms to
others. "Can you be gay and really working class?" seems to be one of the
questions at issue in the recent debate about Northern Gay Writers, and I think
for some people in the Federation the answer is yes, but only if you keep quiet
Keeping quiet has never, thankfully, been one of John Cowling's strong points. I
have always enjoyed his writing in Voices, Write On and Nothing Bad Said. Part
of the attraction has been the vivid, racy description of a time and place I
grew up in. I think we all find it very powerful to read about where we've lived
our lives. It validates these often unremarkable places that have rarely figured
in print. Growing up in Stockport, it never occurred to me that anyone could ever
write about the place. It, like our lives there, wasn't what literature was all
The other reason that I respect and enjoy John's writing is that I admire the
courage and honesty with which he writes about his own sexuality. Homosexuality,
in John's writing, is never the be all and end all, and Marshall's Big Score
isn't an argument for homosexuality, a coming-out novel or a defence of Gay
Rights. Being gay is simply there, as it simply is there for gay people. Except
of course that its being there can create a whole set of problems - yours and
Quite a lot of Marshall's Big Score, the account of the progress of a love
affair from the summer of 1976 to June 1979, deals with those problems. But,
again, as he writes of the problems around housing, families or jobs, it is as
much an account of working class experience as it is of gay experience.
"We had this old TV with a coin meter, which Jimmy had also tore off. The telly
had meant that we had money for food, for a night of good shows on the box would
keep us out of the pub. On top of the box we had a green lamp which made the
black and white screen less dull and more toned; and as its light reflected our
actions in the inky green-black window, it made it appear as if we too were on
T.V. It brought the programmes into our room so to speak." .
Through his love affair, Martin grows to a sense of awareness about himself, his
needs and rights in the world which are part of, but much wider, than his
sexuality. On the way to this, we travel with Martin through a variety of places
and situations - Liverpool dock-side, gay squats in London, bedsits and squalid
flats in Manchester, all described in that graphic, bitter lyricism that is
characteristic of John's writing. As you would expect of a first novel, the form
isn't perfect. Sometimes it seems we are moving jerkily from one fragment of
life to another. This is partly, I think, because some of the novel has already
appeared as short stories in various places, and I came to know it first as
episodes. But partly I think it is the nature of the situation and life-styles
he describes that they are episodic, fragmentary and often at a tangent to
themselves. In this sense, the form is appropriate to his subject. There is also
the problem we all know, of how to carry in our heads that sense of characters
and action developing and being sustained over a piece of writing of novel
length when we have to scratch around for the odd hour here and there for our
The novel has a lot to say about a lot of things, but inevitably it will be
mainly read and judged by what it has to say about being gay. For me, one of its
main values in that respect was that being gay isn't sensationalised or
presented as the preserved of over-indulged, aristocratic boys and girls. You
can be - are - gay in unromantic Reddish, and that matters; not just for people
growing up gay in that, or any other, working class area in this country, but
also for people growing up heterosexual too.
REBECCA O'ROURKE (Centreprise)
Election, Keith Armstrong Robbie Moffat
"After the Election" is a tape of poetry by Keith Armstrong, founder of the
Tyneside poets, and the Tyneside writers. The reverse side features Glaswegian
Robbie Moffat. Listening to poetry on tape, as an alternative to the all
pervading "music" is an enjoyable and reflective experience.
I appreciated hearing the poet speaking his own verse, as one does in the
worker-writer groups. However, being robbed of vision, I did wish for a little
variety of voice once in a while. I should love to hear "The Jingling Geordie"
set to music-it almost took off anyway. The "Pub Poem", told at speed, might
improve with a change of voice. "Pierced Silences", a less characteristic,
rather sad and lost love poem, full of lovely beach images, could have been
shared with a female voice perhaps. Certainly a female voice somewhere on the
tape wouldn't have been amiss.
I enjoyed all the poems - although I had my favourites -
both for the broadness of interest, and for the skill in
poem-making. They range from "The Florist" - which manages to move from a
description of a flower seller to a philosophic whole view of "This Island" (of
Britain) - to a lamenting verse of solidarity "sung" to the people of El
"Hieronymous Bosch" starts with a description of his paintings, which almost
comes alive, and ends envisaging a modern, peopled Bosch scene-"They're building
the greatest nightmare ever around you, but your hands have grown too stiff to
paint.". As with the other poems, I liked this one at first hearing, but the
more I put my earphones on, the more the images in the poem became complete.
"To My Father And My Mother" is a moving dedication to his parents for bringing
him into being, bringing him up, and for continued support. The poem makes it
clear that in his background lies Keith's source of real wealth, and his depth
Many a poem had lines which I wanted to memorise for their "universality", even
as the rest of the poem receded. "Sounds In the Night" ends with the lines "no
one is ever self-taught, there are millions of people in every single thought."
The "Jingling Geordie" is a brilliant description of a poor, working class
caricature of a man, "made a fool of the stumbling system, emptying my veins
into a rich man's palace."
"After the Election, the title piece, has an air of not surprising depression,
with images of cages, people on the dole with nothing to do, hardly venturing
out of their box homes; "around a cricket field three times a day, a sad man
walks his dog." The starting poem "Map of the World" in contrast, exudes the
excitement of visiting unknown countries, of crossing boundaries and finding
things out, and then returning to well-known "home truths".
Robbie Moffat's poems on the other side of the tape, are full of lighthearted
visual accounts of his travels, particularly in India, but also in his native
Gillian Oxford (London Voices)
HORDERN MINERS RIOT - People's Broadsheet no.
1, 30p. MINERS’ WIVES and HORDERN MINERS - both 40p. All from East Durham
Community Arts, Community Cente, Eden Lane, Peterlee, Co. Durham.
When the wave of rioting occurred a few years ago, I was helping clear out a
dozen Lucas Car Spares Shops, which had been closed down. I remember arguing
with the team of management types that these riots weren't anything new, despite
the newspapers' screams of outrage. Riots like this are inevitable in the social
system that produced them. The Broadsheet, reproduced from a 1962 newspaper,
does little more than describe the riots in Hordern in 1910. Poverty,
unemployment, poor housing - these seem to be the ingredients that some chance
spark - allegedly a stevedore at the company-owned social club had insulted
miners' children - ignited into violent eruption.
The broadsheet does not preach, or explain the rioting. It simply presents it as
an historical incident - one of many which do not feature in most of the
sanitised official history we are taught. History - the process of examining the
past and relating it to specific views rooted in the present is something that,
like Art and Culture, can be owned. In this society, it is 'owned' in a way that
denies any view other than that of massive impersonal forces or of 'great men1
manipulating those forces. When you read books like the ones containing the
words of the Hordern miners and the Hordern women, you realise that there is
also a history belonging to those people, a personal history that is also
universal because it is class history.
It is apparent in MINERS' WIVES that it is a history of struggle, not just
struggle centred in industrial confrontations but on a day-to-day basis, a
struggle to live.
All the women tell how hard it was to see to a household where several men would
be working shifts: "When they were on a split shift, I used to get up to see
them on, first shift, and wait for them on night shift. Good job I wasn't a
Most of the women accepted a subservient role, partly because of economic
hardship: "if there's a shortage at all you see to the children and the one
that's working, don't you?"
It becomes clear that labouring in the house was no escape from the paid work
all had done before marriage.
In contrast, the men did have some sports and amusements after the hard work
down the mine. They describe the hard play of men who have worked hard,
pleasures like the "rabbit sweeps' which seem brutal to us. Nonetheless, in
Ralph Porteous' account of his father winning groceries by performing comic
songs in competitions in the accounts of handball and footracing, there is an
evident zest for life he still possesses: "I like a bit of fun, I like a bit
daftness. I'll go anywhere, I'll sing a song anywhere."
The women, too, are not crushed by experience. All see some improvements in
their lives, though there were some good things about the vanished past. "I
wouldn't want those times back, I wouldn't wish them on anybody," says Mrs.
The two books are worth reading together, showing the contrasting lives of
miners and their wives. These short oral histories give concise statements about
what people felt and remembered from the period, something usually left out of
the overviews of history.