Memoirs of a Breck Road buck

When Mr Carson came home he’d nailed his tin hat
to the pillar outside their newsagents shop,
an advert to the neighbourhood that he was back,
reclaiming his life and all that he’d defended.
They sold papers, and ciggies, and sweets of every colour,
my nose pressed against the shiny glass counter,
the smell of sweetness and temptation.
Then, one day, my mother said, ‘Rationing’s ended’.

Lying in bed on a Sunday morning,
one week when I didn’t go to mass,
his muscled arm wrapped gently around me,
warm as toast under the candlewick cover,
my dad’s beery breath a deep rhythm in my ear;
wondering when the others would be back,
the house sounded empty without them:
my mum, my nan, my sister and brother.

‘Cul de sac’? Ours was a dead end street.
The wall had been built at the bottom of a field,
part of an acre maybe farmed for generations,
now in two neat rows only families were grown.
We’d venture from our tribal domain;
caught, we might be tied to a lamppost
until you were rescued by mates or, worse,
shamed by your mother dragging you home.

Games handed down to us, games we invented,
we scattered and hid, ‘Coming, ready or not’,
were cornered and captured, ‘Done you, one, two, three’.
A warm Summer’s evening when I was just four,
we went wandering off to escape older kids,
down through town, out of Liverpool until,
admitting we were lost, we sat drinking cocoa
and our fathers came in through the police station door.

Light flickering on the silver screen
for hours diverted by slapstick and drama,
and, afterwards, back behind our houses,
with a penknife waved across the flames of matches
found in his father’s tobacco pouch,
we cut our thumbs and pressed them together
swapping our blood and swearing allegiance,
making us brothers like brave Apaches.

Things we got up to drove our mothers to distraction,
skipping leggers on lorries hanging on for dear life,
go out bellybanding across backyard walls,
and raid bombed out buildings for bonfire wood.
Our fire would blaze in the middle of the street,
burning what little tarmac we had,
half raw potatoes pulled out from the embers,
and a lad hobbled home with a nail through his foot.

We had parties at Christmas with everyone singing,
my dad telling jokes like they were true stories,
stood centre stage with his back to the fire,
a ciggie in one hand, a pint in the other,
‘warming the whole of my body,’ he’d say.
Just once, feeling grown up, I joined the congregation
that danced around the streetlamp to mark the New Year
then went home to bed, tucked in by my mother.

Brought up on tales of growing up and the war,
home and hearth, a sense of belonging,
aunts talking politics when they came on a Thursday,
the catechism and working class,
taught family mattered more than anything else,
that’s how my view of the big world unfolded.
And I never knew a day without love,
even those times that I might deserve less.

A few years later, before demolition,
that night I stood inside the emptiness,
three up, three down, three generations,
wondering how we’d all fitted in.
The cold wind of change blew through the house,
every shadow bringing back warm memories to cherish,
our history stretching forward in a common stream
from Breck Road where the hill ran down.

Arthur Adlen

Mike’s Gulag

People call this sweatshop the Gulag
Because it’s run on favours and fear
It’s more like a workhouse than workplace
But it’s all there is around here

Mike’s Gulag (Shirebrook)
to the tune of Red River Valley

The names coming over the Tannoy
of workers whose quotas are late
Are drowned out by the sound of an ambulance
Arriving once more at the gate

A woman gives birth in the toilet
A man has a stroke on the floor
Conditions are bad in this warehouse
Stay in line or they’ll show you the door

Six strikes and you’re out down in Shirebrook
Minute late and they’ll cut back your pay
Ask for water and you could get labelled
Answer back and they ruin your day

People call this sweatshop the Gulag
Because it’s run on favours and fear
It’s more like a workhouse than workplace
But it’s all there is around here

I’ve taken to wearing a nappy
Cos they told me I can’t go the loo
I was ticked off for “excessive chatting”
And was cautioned for being sick too!

We’ve to queue to get out of this hell hole
While they search us for hidden attire
I’ve heard that to give sexual favours
is the way to get ‘fixed’ up in here

I’ve walked 20 miles stacking shelving
For minimum pay, sometimes less
and I’m sick to my teeth of the pressure
I just wish that they’d give it a rest

200 workers were sacked up in Ayrshire
with only fifteen minutes to pack
The boss who has pocketed millions
Uses flimsy excuses to sack

The union exposed all Mike’s methods
But they’re legal, or so we are told
He will probably receive a knighthood
Cos he’s in the Sir Philip Green mold

Sports Direct is run by a tyrant
Treating humans like battery hens
While the staff are pushed way past the limit
He screws them again and again

Ritchie Hunter

Poetry and Politics – William Wordsworth’s Changing Attitude towards Slavery

As is well known, slavery was one of the major political issues during the lifetime of the poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy. As they were growing up, the issue was steadily growing in prominence, as increasing numbers of people began to call for the abolition of the slave trade. In 1787, the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed, and both lived long enough to see both the trade and slavery itself abolished. In this article I shall provide an outline of the attitudes of both the poet and his sister towards this issue and towards the abolition movement.

William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, the two most prominent abolitionist leaders, were lifelong friends of the Wordsworths. In September and October 1818, Wilberforce, his wife and children stayed with the Wordsworths at their home at Rydal Mount, half way between Grasmere and Ambleside. As for Clarkson, between 1794 and 1804, Clarkson (having temporarily retired from campaigning due to exhaustion) and his wife Catherine (née Buck) lived at Eusemere, where the Wordsworths visited them frequently: consequently, their names occur many times in Dorothy’s Grasmere Journal. Catherine Clarkson became a close friend and frequent correspondent of Dorothy, and two of Wordsworth’s children were named Thomas and Catharine, after the Clarksons, who were their godparents. It was while returning to Dove Cottage from the Clarksons’ house on 15th April 1802 that William and Dorothy saw some daffodils on Ullswater, prompting Dorothy’s description in her journal which in turn led Wordsworth to write “I wandered lonely as cloud”.

However, the Wordsworths’ relationship with Clarkson became strained in the 1818 Westmoreland election. In that election, Wordsworth vigorously (and ultimately successfully) campaigned for the Lowther brothers, the hand-picked sons of his Tory patron Lord Lonsdale, against the radical challenger Henry Brougham. Clarkson supported Brougham because, as Wordsworth explained in a letter to Lonsdale on 11th March:

“He [Clarkson], and all the other Slave trade abolitionists, consider themselves as under obligation to Mr B. for having brought in the Bill by which the Traffic in slaves was made felony. This disposed him to favour Mr B. – though he regrets much that he should have opposed your Lordship for whom he has the highest respect [Lonsdale had bought Clarkson’s Eusemere estate when Clarkson moved out of the Lake District].”

Clarkson wrote a letter of support to the chairman of Brougham’s campaign committee, printed in the Kendal Chronicle, which also backed Brougham, on 28th March. In response to this, Wordsworth wrote to Lonsdale on 23rd April:

“Mr Clarkson’s Letter went far beyond the worst of my apprehensions . . . no terms which I could find would be equal to express my concern that it should have been written, and my condemnation of such a writing being published under such circumstances.”

Despite this, the two men eventually reconciled, aided no doubt by the fact that writing the letter was Clarkson’s only contribution to the election campaign.

What were the attitudes of the Wordsworths towards slavery? When they were young, both William and Dorothy supported the abolition of the Atlantic trade. Dorothy was particularly passionate on the subject: on 8th May 1792, after the Home Secretary Henry Dundas had managed to delay abolition, Dorothy wrote to Jane Pollard:

“I hope you were an immediate abolitionist and are angry with the House of Commons for continuing the traffic in human flesh . . . I hate Mr Dundas.”

However, neither Dorothy nor William was active in the abolitionist movement. In a letter to Benjamin Robert Haydon on 10th September 1840, Wordsworth excused himself on this point by saying:

“I was too Little of a Man of Business to have an active part in the Work – Besides my place of Abode would have prevented it, had I been so inclined.”

As Wordsworth’s youthful radicalism fizzled out, however, so did his abolitionism: the house at Racedown where he and Dorothy lived from 1795 to 1798 was owned by John Pinney, a slaveowner.

In 1802, Wordsworth wrote a sonnet, “To Toussaint L’Ouverture”, dedicated to the imprisoned leader of the ultimately successful slave rebellion in the French colony of St. Domingue (now Haiti): however, the poem makes no mention of slavery or even of the rebellion. Instead it presents Toussaint as a passive victim of French tyranny, and it is probably fair to conclude that Wordsworth’s aim is to score points at the expense of Napoleon. Notably, in his implied contrast between tyrannical France and freedom-loving Britain, Wordsworth omits the fact that earlier in the conflict, Britain, in collusion with the planters of St. Domingue, had invaded the colony in an unsuccessful attempt to reinstate slavery (which had been abolished by the revolutionary regime that Wordsworth had so strongly repudiated, before being restored by Napoleon): Toussaint had then fought for France and driven the British out. In addition, Wordsworth urges the “miserable Chieftain” not to resist his imprisonment but to “Wear . . . in thy bonds a cheerful brow” – a very telling comment on Wordsworth’s opinion on how slaves should behave – on the grounds that he has “great allies”, viz., “exultations, agonies/And love, and Man’s unconquerable mind.” At about the same time, Wordsworth wrote another sonnet, “September 1st, 1802”, about a black woman whom he had met who had been expelled from France by Napoleon. Wordsworth portrays this woman in much the same way as Toussaint: “Dejected, weak, yea pitiably tame . . . Nor murmured at the unfeeling Ordinance.” From these two poems it can be inferred that Wordsworth (like many white abolitionists) preferred to see black people as passive, uncomplaining victims, rather than as active human beings who should resist oppression.

As Wordsworth grew older and moved further to the right, his previous opposition to slavery became much more ambivalent. Indeed, he went so far as to express approval of a monument erected in 1846 to Malartic, the former French Governor of Mauritius, who had refused to implement the abolition of slavery and other revolutionary laws: “Long may the finished Monument last as a tribute to departed worth, and as a check and restraint upon intemperate desires for change, to which the Inhabitants of the Island may hereafter be liable.” Most of the “Inhabitants of the Island” were, of course, black ex-slaves.

In a letter to Benjamin Dockray, in whose “view of this important subject I entirely coincide”, on 25th April 1833, as the Slavery Abolition Bill was going through Parliament, Wordsworth insisted that “no man can deplore more than I do a state of slavery in itself. I do not only deplore but I abhor it”, but in fact he spent more time criticising the abolitionists and expressing fears about the consequences of emancipation than on his professed hatred of the institution. He wrote:

“Those who are most active in promoting entire and immediate Abolition do not seem sufficiently to have considered that slavery is not in itself and at all times and under all circumstances to be deplored. In many states of society it has been a check upon worse evils; so much inhumanity has prevailed among men that the best way of protecting the weak from the powerful has often been found in what seems at first sight a monstrous arrangement; viz., in one man having a property in many of his fellows.”

However, Wordsworth did not bother to supply any examples of where slavery truly had served such a noble purpose: rather, the remark indicates his Tory paternalist belief that the rich have responsibilities towards the poor but the poor should not demand equality or equal rights, which also explains his fervent opposition to democracy. Additionally, according to the Wordsworth:

“By no means does it follow . . . that . . . the people of England, who through their legislature have sanctioned and even encouraged slavery, have a right to interfere for its destruction with a sweeping measure, of which an equivalent to the owner makes no part. This course appears to me unfeeling and unjust . . .

“What language, in the first place, would it hold out to the slave? That the property in him had been held by unqualified usurpation and injustice on the part of his master alone. That would be as much as to say, ‘We have delivered him over to you; and as no other party was to blame, deal with your late oppressors as you like.’ Surely such a proceeding would be a wanton outrage upon the feelings of the masters, and poverty, distress, and disorder could not but ensue.”

Quite apart from his concern for the rights of the owners who had whipped, overworked, tortured, killed and raped their slaves with absolute impunity for so long, Wordsworth, in blaming “the people of England . . . through their legislature” for slavery, ignores both widespread popular opposition to slavery in Britain, and also of course the fact that only a small minority of the population could vote in those days – indeed, Wordsworth had strongly opposed even the modest extension of the franchise in the Great Reform Act the previous year.

The Slavery Abolition Act came into force on 1st August 1834. Under its terms, all slaves in the British Empire were to become apprentice labourers – essentially an ameliorated form of slavery – for seven years. Slaveowners received compensation, as Wordsworth advocated, but ex-slaves did not. Abolitionists were not satisfied with this and campaigned for the abolition of apprenticeship, which was achieved on 1st August 1838, three years early. On 25th June 1838, Wordsworth wrote a letter on this subject to William Ewart Gladstone: the future Liberal Prime Minister was then a Conservative, described by Lord Macaulay (who was himself the son of Zachary Macaulay, a leading abolitionist) as “the rising hope of those stern and unbending Tories”, a group to which Wordsworth definitely belonged. Gladstone’s father John was a slaveowner, and consequently Gladstone had voted against abolition and would later support the South in the American Civil War: on 30th March 1838 he made a speech in the House of Commons opposing the abolition of apprenticeship. In the letter Wordsworth wrote:

“Many urgent applications are made to me to sign the Petition that went from Kendal and the neighbourhood, in favour of immediate abolition of negro apprenticeship – I refused to do so, and I am sure I shall never regret that resolution. Your own speech was masterly.”

Wordsworth’s attitudes towards slavery provide a very good index of his changing political views. Just as he moved from being a radical democrat to a reactionary Tory, so on slavery support for abolition gave way to a more ambivalent stance. Though, unlike with his views on democracy, he did not perform a complete U-turn (i.e. becoming an apologist for slavery) it is striking how his main criticisms were made of the abolitionists, not of slavery, and how his concerns were for the rights of the masters, not the slaves: even, as in the cases of Malartic and Gladstone, expressing admiration for anti-abolitionists. It is truly remarkable, in fact, that his changing stance does not seem to have affected his friendship with Clarkson and other abolitionists. Overall, Wordsworth’s opinions on slavery must be seen in the context of his opinions on other political matters: when he was a radical, he wholeheartedly supported abolition, but when his views on democracy and parliamentary representation changed, his view of slavery changed with them, along the same right-wing trajectory.

Liam Physick

The many stages of grief

Walking through the picturesque village of Port Sunlight on the Wirral, I noticed a well-dressed elderly man wearing a suit and tie, plus waistcoat and jacket, he was also walking his dog, this image portrayed a proud man, still enjoying life in beautiful surroundings, but today, I am visiting my terminally ill father, this historic village serves only to remind me of decreasing life.

My father is now very frail and at 74, is almost unrecognisable, even from 5 years ago when he would regularly drive his little car to Crosby with his friends or go to garden centres, an opportunity to leave the house and enjoy his retirement. But 5 years ago, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I distinctly remember at the time the nurse commented “you are more likely to die of old age”, but 74 isn’t old. 74 is the new 60, or even younger. My father has received all the usual treatments, particularly chemotherapy, which side-lined him for weeks at a time, resulting in a lack of appetite and eventually rapid weight loss. A few weeks ago, not long after my father was informed he was not allowed to drive any more, the consultants at the Linda McCartney centre in Liverpool, informed my six and a half stone father, that he wasn’t going to receive any more treatment for his cancer, another devastating blow, not entirely unexpected, but weakened his mental state rapidly.

Today, my father sits alone in his room in the nursing home in Port Sunlight, becoming more forgetful and confused, I don’t know if he is waiting to die, but the life is slowly fading from his weak body and fragile mind, a process that my father would rather increase quickly in my opinion. Visiting with me today was my father’s cousin, who could not restrain her tears once my father had left his room, the tears continued over a cup of tea in a small but quaint cafe opposite the train station and that is the grieving process regarding cancer.

Grief arrives in stages, from the initial confirmation that you have cancer, that chemotherapy has not been successful, being diagnosed as terminally ill and going to a nursing home because you are unable to care for yourself, then becoming forgetful and confused and suffering a lack of dignity as you need assistance in all aspects of your decreasing life.

The many acts of grief, the show needs to end. I prayed to God to release my dying Mother from her pain, I just hope that God shows my Father can the same grace he gave to her, so they can be reunited once again, free from pain and smiling, then the final stage of grief will start again.

Kevin Lea-2nd September 2016

Sir Philip Greed


Well some say that it’s enterprise, and some say that it’s theft
But I just know my job is gone and there’s no pension left
Sir Philip’s wife’s in Monaco and now she’s got our pot
And soon they’re off to Panama a-sailing on their yacht

Oh it is the biggest rip-off that you have ever seen
He’s just a greedy robber and his name is Philip Green

He was a top consultant for Britain’s Dodgy Dave
But overseas his factories sent children to the grave.
When workers died in Bangladesh, Sir Philip turned away
While using sweated labourers to make his business pay

He filtered cash from BHS and moved it all offshore
He represents an upper class that’s rotten to the core
He sold our firm for nothing and now it’s just a shell
And our new boss, another crook, is bleeding us as well

Tax dodging ain’t illegal, so says Sir Philip Green
It must be true, cos after all, he’s knighted by the Queen
Sir Philip and the filthy rich have worked the system well
We’ll put them all together and despatch them off to hell

Constant Changes

Actions cause reactions
Change is constant
Pain is relative
Taste before affects taste after
Conventions control

People react to what affects them
You can’t place yourself in another’s
Nature is a battle of opposites
Changing environments change people
Home is what it makes you!

The heart is our true home;
A place of changeless now,
no reaction, no fear;
Only love,love and LOVE.

home is where
the heart is-
but if I tried
the landlord
would probably- sue-
making a mess
on the carpet an-all-
so I will wear my heart
on #
my sleeve
as its more=
easy to
transport that way!

All is Connected:
Life is a Web
of Networks and Patterns:
The Whole is more than the sum of its parts.
Opposites are United:
We are all processes,
waves and dust of the Universe

Stable Models in universal time?
Roughly right but exactly wrong
Disregarding what you don’t like
Closed minds and filtered thought
Obsessed by the end

This was a group effort: Ritchie Hunter (verses 1,2 & 7), George Balmer (3), Rob Harrison (4&5), Sue Hunter (6)

Caught Between

In the bread-bin
you will find – photographs –
memories distilled.
Whilst in the fridge – love letters –
words of passion –
not entirely chilled.

Around the house,
messages to myself –
leaves flurry and drift.
Elusive in the gathering,
ruffle and shift.

Caught between then and now,
from another place
echoes resound.
Without bus fare
for the journey home,
no door key –
to be found.

Within and without mist swirls,
clouds the path I step along,
and hazy the gaze of passers-by,
cast aside or beyond.

Yet people drop by
bringing – stories,
interweaving strands mislaid.
And – in the thread of retelling,
forgetful – for a while,
to be afraid.

Jeanette Abendstern