Come Back Dad (Again)

Come Back Dad
And hide “British History For Boys”
Underneath my pillow while I’m asleep,
As a surprise coming home present;

Come Back Dad
And bring home
Mars Bars and eucalyptus sweets
On Thursday pay nights
For our weekly treat;

Come Back Dad
And tap the beer barrel
At 5a.m. on Christmas Day morning,
Exclaiming: “First one of the day!”

Come Back Dad
And put that “How to play Football” book
Under the tree
So I could learn to play just like you.

Come Back Dad
And make your own telly for the cup final again,
But this time it won’t blow up
Before our astonished faces;

Come back Dad,
And watch Remembrance Day
On a brand new bought telly,
And remember your fallen comrades,
With a tear in your eye;

Come Back Dad
And dig the spuds in on a bird-song Good Friday,
Out in the garden with your memories,
And then lead the sing-song round the Wheatsheaf.

Come Back Dad
And sing “Little Nell” with mum again
And let’s hear “The Sheikh of Araby” again,
Who else would have Christmas boots on kicking up the dust?

Come Back Dad
And sit me on your knee after the pub again,
And tell me about fighting the Japanese in the jungle,
Hearing their long night siren call:
“Come on Tommy. Look over here Tommy.”

Come Back Dad
And tell me one more time about Dixie Dean and Lawton,
And Matthews, Mortensen and Finney
And how much better they are than today’s lot.

Come Back Dad
And stub out your last fag of the day again
And put it behind your ear together with your pencil,
Senior Service ship-shape fashion for the morning;

Come Back Dad
And study the pools coupon by the firelight again,
While I read “Roy of the Rovers”
And dream of playing for England;

Come Back Dad
And pass the ball to me for just one more time.

Just like you do,
Every day,
And I’ll pass it back to you,
On every Christmas Day,
At 5 a.m.,
First one of the day.

My brother, Keith, and me, bleary-eyed, were once greeted by our dad tapping the barrel at 5 o’clock on Christmas Day morning with a jaunty: ‘First one of the day!’

The Anniversary of the NHS: Parity not Charity

Tucked between the Trinity Rooms and the Hospital we celebrated the NHS’s 65th birthday this week in the Pocket Park.
Built and given to the people in the 1880s, the Trinity Rooms acted as a ward in the First World War for troops, many, almost certainly, wounded on the Somme. The stone over the entrance of the hospital follows with the year 1919.
In the Pocket Park we reflected on the debts we all owe the NHS. James read words of the founding figure, Aneurin Bevan, whose friend, disciple, successor as MP for Ebbw Vale and biographer was a young Michael Foot.
Also reported this week is news of Foot’s statue in Plymouth, his home city, defaced and daubed with swastikas. He was born overlooking Argyll Park, the original ground of Plymouth Argyll, and he was a lifelong supporter on the terraces where Plymothians were always proud of him.

James Pentney

I was born at home in 1951
(Three years after the NHS came into being),
In a prefab, local authority council housing
Provided for WW2 servicemen and women:
It was the spirit of 1945,
The word ‘National’ was everywhere and on everything:
There was to be no return to laissez-faire,
There was to be no return to the 30’s and the Depression,
No return to the lottery of the market,
It was a thank you to the working class
For all the privations of six years of total war;

My birth wasn’t easy:
Dad rode out on his bike
To collect some gas apparatus
To aid my mother in her pain
And aid my passage into this world.

I dunno –
For all I know,
I might have died and mum might have died
Without the NHS and that gas apparatus:
I wouldn’t be able to remember those visits
To the NHS clinic for the free powdered milk and orange juice,
Or the visits to my bedside of refugee,
And survivor of fascism, Dr. Liechenstein;
And God knows what life would have been like for dad
And my sister and brother, without mum;

Granny and Grampy Butler came to visit me straightway,
For I was born on their wedding anniversary,
August 22nd;
Gramp was lucky – even though he was made unemployed
After WW1 and the family had to live in a Nissan hut,
He escaped wounding and trauma after four years at the front –
But in these early July days
Just after the centenary of the Battle of the Somme,
Let’s remember what support the wounded,
Traumatised and gassed veterans could obtain before 1948:
Patchy charity, the British Red Cross, the British Legion,
Poppy Day, nurses selling flags on the streets, cuts in the dole:

A true commemoration of the sacrifice of those soldiers at the Somme,
Would be the flourishing of a National Health Service in the 21st century:
No back to the future,
No flag days,
No war,
No charity,
But parity.

Memory Lanes: Brexit, Chartists, Chindits and Skylarks

The Stonehouse Brick Company’s Edwardian insignia
Are easy to miss as you walk past Spillman’s Pitch,
Where the cobbler sat tapping away, born in the Crimean War,
But still remembered by Irene, just a few years ago,
And where Old Tom, the delivery horse, trudged over the cobblestones,
Munching his way through front garden carrots,
Watching the deliveries of coal and milk and spuds and beer and bread,
And, the fishmonger, basket on head,
Listening to the housewives’ weekly question,
“What have you got for me today?”
While in the evening, tired out mill hands
Would take their beer jugs down to Vesey’s Offie,
Half way down steep Spillmans Pitch,
Getting some choc drops for the children,
Or those long liquorice bootlaces.

Rob and I talked of our teaching careers,
Nearly seventy years’ worth between us,
And that seventy years took us along the Nailsworth branch line,
To see the rusting mighty iron capstans,
One, now toppled, but one still firm and strong,
Once used for winching trucks down the gas works siding,
To a coal tippler (concrete remains there still),
Where a hydraulic ram tipped the trucks’ coal
Down a chute to a narrow gauge hopper,
And thence over two bridges and the Frome,
To its destination at Stroud Gasworks –
Spillmans in the 1920s must have been more
LS Lowry than rus in urbe:
Steam whistle hooters,
Gas hissing in mantles,
Rain streaking the windowpanes,
Flat caps bobbing in unison,
Stout boots clattering on the cobbles,
Bread and marg in your pocket,
A small army on the march,
Wife at the washing:
Spillman’s Pitch,
Another Monday morning;

We walked on through water time,
Streams and millraces and water wheels,
To reach Woodchester and Water Lane:
This canopied holloway takes you to the prehistory of Selsley Common
(And memory lane),
One of a number of ancient tracks
That would have interlinked the Five Valley burial mounds and barrows
On the hilltops and valley sides,
A Neolithic tracery, connecting sites at Randwick, Woodchester, Nympsfield, Minchinhampton, Avening, Horsley, the Stanleys, Uley –
Leading to the vision (and occasional roar) of the tidal, mystical Severn,
The sweeping light of sunset cloudscapes,
The silhouettes of the distant mountains;

I talked of my father’s Chindit war –
The Channel 4 programme the night before:
‘Every man who returned was a casualty’,
And how after dad’s funeral,
When walking with Trish on the common,
A skylark soared and sang high in the February sky,
And how I pledged that skylarks and memories of dad
Would be forever conjoined –
Just as I finished this monologue,
We reached the top of the barrow,
Where a skylark stood, staring at us from the ground,
While two others soared singing to the heavens;
I’m not a pagan, but it makes you wonder …

But we did not have long to muse on this:
Our stunned stupefaction was immediately jolted
By the arrival of different ghosts –
Thousands of working men, women and children,
Marching up to the hustings up on the common,
Bands playing, music flowing, banners streaming:
‘LIBERTY’, ‘EQUAL RIGHTS AND EQUAL LAWS’,
‘FOR A NATION TO BE FREE IT IS SUFFICIENT THAT SHE WILLS IT’ …
One Chartist told me how her newspaper,
The Northern Star was eagerly read and shared,
By the working classes,
With discussion groups in the home and pubs,
And how it would herald a new age of democracy –

I showed her the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun,
We told her about the referendum and the power and lies of the press,
And how referendums had historically been a tool of populist dictatorships,
Hitler used three, for example,
We gazed at the banner fluttering in the gathering breeze:
‘FOR A NATION TO BE FREE IT IS SUFFICIENT THAT SHE WILLS IT’.

When we turned back round to talk,
The crowds, the hustings, the banners, the bands,
The skylarks had all disappeared,
All that remained was the banner:
‘FOR A NATION TO BE FREE IT IS SUFFICIENT THAT SHE WILLS IT’,
And beneath its shade,

The headlines of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Sun.

We walked into the sunlight,
I showed Rob another headline:
‘As Farage looked on, Le Pen said;
“Look how beautiful beautiful history is …”‘

The Reformers’ Memorial at Kensal Green: A Stroud Connection

Allen Davenport – the son of Ewen handloom weavers, who taught himself to read and write near the infant Thames; then Spencean, Owenite, feminist, Chartist, writer and poet – is remembered on the Reformers’ Memorial at Kensal Green. The memorial is dedicated ‘to the memory of men and women who have generously given their time and means to improve the conditions and … happiness of all classes of society … The old brutal laws of imprisonment for free printing have been swept away and the right of selecting our own law makers has been gained mainly by their efforts. The exercise of these rights will give the people an interest in the laws that govern them and will make them … better citizens.’’

Here are a few of the 70+ names of the reformers, radicals and, yes, revolutionaries:

Robert Owen, Charles Kingsley, Thomas Spence, Allen Davenport, Francis Place,

Harriet Martineau, George Odger, Elizabeth Fry, Arnold Toynbee, Charles Bradlaugh,

William Morris, John Ruskin, Josephine Butler, Joseph Priestley, Thomas Paine,

William Hone, John Stuart Mill, Major Cartwright, Richard Carlile, William Lovett,

Henry Hetherington, John Frost, William Cobbett, Samuel Bamford, Henry Hunt,

Ebenezer Elliott, Richard Cobden, Robert Cooper.

This is august company for Allen Davenport. This is why we are undertaking our pilgrimage along the banks of the Thames – we’ll have to take a memorial for John Frost as well, perhaps. Someone needs to remember his selection as prospective Chartist parliamentary candidate for Stroud, up there on Rodborough Common on Good Friday, 1839.

The column stands next to a memorial to Robert Owen. It’s near the Ladbroke Grove entrance – a ten to fifteen minute walk from the station.