SHAUN BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

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The Rattle Bag

This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…

As Heaney said :
Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.

Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…

The Enemy Within – How Thatcherism destroyed the White Working Class

factory_map

Map of former Rover Car Plant at Oxford

Interesting and ground-breaking article from Paul Mason in The Guardian

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/04/the-problem-for-poor-white-kids-is-that-a-part-of-their-culture-has-been-destroyed

Excellent article by Paul Mason but calling for a ‘white kids community’ again in towns like my hometown of Didcot near Oxford where the ‘aspirant wide-boy migrant’ psychology rampant is harder to realise. These commuter towns were deliberately sold down the river to the highest bidder under Thatcher. This deliberately fragmented working-class communities with sale of council houses. Land deals in the mid 1980s also saw land transferred to global firms like BASF and Tesco which needed low-paid, compliant workforce hence the Oxford Rover Plant was sabotaged deliberately and dismantled as it a highly organised and trained workforce. Its replacement was the ‘temporary’ employees population or ‘service buddies’ which makes up over half of my hometown now. Thatcherism was a well executed plan. Lets leave Thatcher out of it it is a name. It is Neo Con Free market Liberalism imported from USA. It is now triumphant. It will take decades to turn it around.

I did some research into how land was being parceled up and sold off hence BASF quote. My father knew the local landowners who became millionaires because their land chosen to be the building sites of targeted global distribution networks…Tesco..etc etc .Very shady. Same time as I was a member of Friends of Earth so we uncovered various seedy things being literally buried in various locations after the demolition of Rover Plant. This included old gravel pits being used to bury car paint….

It is still continuing the recent deaths at Didcot A were because they hastily clearing old Power Station for profit as another node on that distribution site plan. The location bang central in UK with rail and road links hence it was originally a distribution depot at Milton in Wartime. My grandmother was a typist there and Bicester.

Look at who owns and profits from land and you see history being written.

1982 Cameron’s father offshoring his wealth under Thatcher. 1982 was year Thatcher removed support for grants at Royal College and I lost MA there. All fits. The working class was being villified from that date. Working class useful in wars and not much else syndrome.

My Uncle John worked at Rover Plant in paint spray booths. Horrible job but paid the bills. His son was a policeman who actively engaged in diplomatic protection and breaking up the miner’s strike (Police blockaded the route to Didcot Power Station). One side of a family pitched against another just like the Miners Strike. Red Robbo and other propoganda hid the truth that it was the destruction of organised large-scale labour in favour of smaller more ‘manageable’ units that required in Steel, Docks, Car production and Mines. The Mines was most visible but the long-term damage to infrastructure occurred elsewhere. We are paying a very heavy price now. No organised Labour to fight back of course and no manufacturing base. Let them eat cake and service industries….it all we have left.

Here a poem on subject…

rover

The Rover Man

He sat, firm and erect, on the park bench,
hands wrapped around his white stick
his milky eyes fixed on thirty years before
as we walked toward him.

He recognized my uncle immediately by voice
and smiled in our direction, gaze still fixed.
They’d worked together at the Oxford car plant
for almost twenty years.

My uncle blinking through the paint shop clouds
his gloves and goggles clogged with paint
whilst upstairs this man worked in admin.
below the ticking clock-tower.

He’d been enveloped in his milky world
since that day in 1943 when a german bomb
he was trying to defuse exploded
the flash burning out his sockets.

He had worked every day through strike
and shutdown, militants and shirkers, managers
and scabs. Had seen the business collapse
into a heap of mangled parts. Bust and boom.

Now the site is owned by BMW
and that clock-tower has collapsed into a heap of rubble,
that my uncle sighs as he drives past the
new industrial park landscaping and fountains.

An industry and a community gone in a flash.
The newsreels of the factory gates burn on the lens
as consultants ditch the site and reinvest
Money or bombs…it’s the same effect.

Backwater – New Poetry?

backwater-1

I have spent years listening to other people’s voices and learning ..now it is time to play..so here is the first product of my new ‘writing’ life….prose poem/short fiction who knows…This is a Berkshire boy rendering Raymond Carver’s ‘Deschutes River’ I make no apology for that. I cannot go round him so I will have to go through Carver he such a seminal influence.

It is the first draft of a new prose poem from hopefully a full new collection to be called ‘Backwater’…

backwater-745x1024

It started again……I last seriously wrote anything in 2006 so a big leap of faith or as here slide into the unknown again.

Written on an old Sharp electric typewriter ..I cannot write on a pcsharp or tablet.

 

Landlocked

LANDLOCKED

platform

Tied to a flat land
Of reclaimed pits and winding river
The railway has gone
Coal blackened tracks have grown over

Every wind caresses its absence
The silent factories know their part
But cannot speak, chains hold fast
Beyond pale gates and security huts

Poppies and cow parsley, ragwort and buddleia
A necklace of flowers around the empress lines
The slag of the steel rails is buried deep
Rusting wires rippling with plastic

Where prisoners of war once huddled
Now euro-workers assemble market stalls every Sunday
Chatter into cheap mobiles, pocket loose change
Against backdrops of power station, Tesco and trains

Midnight and bodies tumble from white van crates
In the empty parkway
Duck and dive and gulp clean air
Before swimming beyond the broken chainlink

The Shipstone Star

THE SHIPSTONE STAR
star

Red lead rain lashed to pink
hangs like a soviet star
on the left side of Nottingham’s tunic.
Always east facing, a towering symbol.
The dawn of a century personified, rusts
above a city of casual workers, bicycles
and the hard slogging dutiful dead
who fleck fields from the Rhone to the Rhine.

Never facing the river, that westward
leaches mud from peak and meadow.
The dried, limed stench of rutted tracks
lining the willow barks of Derby and Leicester.
Gables glossed white upon lace-curtained
suburban fuchsias, trimmed lawns and empty trailers.
Safety in numbers as the suburbs huddle
into its coat from Bramcote to Beeston.

Cattle slide into ditches, barges grind
at their moorings as floods flow on toward
dry fens gasping for this summer downpour.
The star remains firm, but tatty.
A remnant of a fading imperial industrial glory.
Cheap imports in containers trundle round the ring-road
headed for Poundland, Primark and Ikea.

We died for this, these rain-sodden shires
whisper the ghosts in the graveyards
as hooded boys on BMXs spin on street corners.
In a damp bedsit a shelf-stacker from Warsaw
lifts a Samurai Sword from the wall and mimes
the DVD still stuck on play on the monitor.
Star and blade flash for a second and are gone.

 
The storm lashes the window.
The Shipstone Star shines black on a white sky.

Downland Ballad I :Photo-disintegration

photogram4

Fully five acres further east
and fifty years on from Harwell’s neutron beam photo-disintegration
a clump of Queen Anne’s Lace* wavers like a bridesmaid’s posy
above the quarried chalk and flint of this erased line.
The track that gravelled and iron girded once
carried trundling freight to Southampton docks and salt air.

Like a distant memory of past expectations
I wander through past journeys, delineations
chew on the fresh air like a discontented Wordsworth
now free, free to roam where I will
But nothing is moving here these days, no air pulses
through the gilded corn, american maize is rigid

All rhythm, rhyme and reason curtailed
but for the hover of Kite and wizz of combustion engines
I’m left standing in a shower of butterflies,
climate driven, wheeling
baffling the constant walkers and their dogs with
showers of atoms, as they spin into extinction.

The land is porous, half soaked with the elixir
and charms of the abandoned plastic barrels concoctions.
A squadron of rooks bank and wheel in tight formation
land and beaks probe at all the matter before them.
Beady eyed they cannot count the consequences
of all that steel now disappearing from the horizon.

In a damp corner of a thatched cottage
an artist* peels Queen Anne’s Lace from the paper
Dips it gently into a brimming tray of liquid
and the fusion of paper and molecules of silver re-arranging
maps a negative of stalk, leaf and stamen.
Up north the furnaces fizzle and peak for the century.

Sheffield steel, Welsh coal, Cornish tin, the land exhausted
pot-marked and reclaimed in a thousand regeneration schemes,
The process of covering the tracks of a century of production
is taken up by rose bay willow herb, buddleia and oxford ragwort,
each seeking to mask the brick and fence beneath it.
In the laboratory the encased hand holding the uranium phial quivers

as an owl is lit by a police cars headlights on the perimeter.
Its flash of white against a wilderness of dark down-land
like that brief explosion, that jolt of life in a vacuum.
The century starts to implode
draws itself as a negative image, trickles, spits and fuses
the image of a landscape removed becomes these islands.

The bromide stains her fingers, the plant collapses into stalk and seed
as she raises its negative to the kitchen window.
She stands looking at it again in the porchlight amidst the blackout
realising that all this movement above and below, these planes, these tanks
hurtling towards the coast and far fields of France are dying already
A moth singes against the candle flame, erupts into vapour, darkness.

* local Oxfordshire name for Cow Parsley which it resembles

** Eilleen Sherwood-Moore artist of Blewbury, Berkshire (1909-1998) experimented with photograms

Harwell Neutron Beam 1959

harwell

a crow in barley

The wide white sky was gone. In its place, pale yellow stalks, dry cracked dirt and empty ears of corn. His world had spun seven times and on the eighth his face had come to rest here. He blinked warm blood as it trickled down his forehead and into his right eye. Already dust and flecks of straw were sticking to it. His face was pressed into a tractor track. The rows of v-shaped ruts ran off into the corn. He thought of counting them, then he must have passed out. He came round and the world was moving again. Something was lifting him and pulling him up like a plant as he was dragged free of the field. His bed of chalk, flint and straw fell way. The top of the crop dazzled him as he rode across it. Could have been the sun shaking under him. Then he crossed the remains of the wire fence. A stretch of ten to fifteen feet had been flattened by the impact. Some of the barbed steel wire had snapped and sprang loose in the air. There was a v-shaped swathe through the corn as if someone had taken a scythe to it.

That was where they found him. Later he was told he’d come down like a shot crow, his leather jacket scratched and scarred like his machine. He was covered in celandines and poppies that had tangled around him. Someone said he looked like an angel lying there. He remembered looking up at the sky as it changed from blue to the white of the ambulance ceiling. All he could remember later was white, white flowers, white sky, clouds rising higher and higher and really high up a pair of black wings hovering. A hawk watching the fields below and that ambulance’s shining roof and the black speck of a bike to its right and the figures moving. He wished he was up there too. Could just slip away from all this on a thermal. But things had a way of coming out. Like rabbits dashing away from a combine harvester. Or like the ash floating down on the town when the fields were burnt. It would be all over the place.

to be continued….

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