SHAUN BELCHER

A working class hero is something to be

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My Father’s Things


The series of illustrated poems titled ‘My Father’s Things’ are complete. They include ephemera related to the objects. The whole sequence are the first time I have attempted to deal in writing with the loss of my father aged 72 to pancreatic cancer in 2004.

I was infuenced by my reading of Richard Ford and Blake Morrison’s memoirs of parents. I also produced the original drawings last year at a period of crisis in my relationship with my now ex-wife who was suffering from mental health issues related to late stage alcoholism.

My Father’s Things: The Watch

The Watch

My Father’s Watch

A gold Limit Silhouette watch leather strap hardly worn
A dress watch for a man who never dressed always working
Most times he didn’t carry a watch as it would be get damaged
or snagged whilst working..too dangerous…

A man who cheated death twice..first a burst duodenal ulcer
I remember him being taken in the ambulance
It was touch and go. The Radcliffe saved him..the surgeon
told him later he found carrots before cutting him to save him.
Convalescence in Didcot Hospital..now housing..long gone

Later a wall collapsed on him he was two feet away from death
Was catapulted out of the way just in time..battered and bruised
He joked about it later..even the Lotus Elan that smashed into him
Or the spinning car in the rainstorm that missed him and Uncle John

Neither made a dent but then his luck ran out at 70
A soreness in his stomach was scanned..revealed pancreatic cancer
Too advanced for surgery..he grew greyer and weaker..could no longer
Get into the garden..chemo making him vomit black bile
He died in the extension we built in that last year defying the odds

to the end..he died on a bed in that building…almost perfect

like that watch stopped at 9.05 but hardly used

He died at 7.10 a.m.

The time he left for work every morning rain or shine

Kept perfect time until the end.

First type-written version 21.8.2019


My Father’s Things: The Optical Level

The World Turned Upside Down….

I am currently working on a project called ‘My Father’ s Things’ which is a series of drawings I did last year to stay sane amidst the chaos of my life then..don’t ask…the chaos has departed and is now far away.

This is the first draft of the first poem that I plan to attach to the drawing above. The entire sequence will eventually be published in a pamphlet hopefully through the Carousel as a riso printed publication.

The sequence of drawings and writings will be exhibited in September as part of Castle Ruins III at the King Billy Pub Nottingham.

https://www.facebook.com/events/508541923226021/

The Optical Level

Gun metal grey-green, heavy in the palm
My father’s optical level
The metal worn through use, a record
of my father’s presence as is the smell
of leather case and faint aroma of tarmac
as if his hands sunburnt and grimy with tar
still waved at me on thsoe frosty mornings
I helped him set levels somewhere below the downs.
A ritual since the age of 14 as I earned pocket money
holding the levelling rods, red and white striped
icy cold that stuck to my fingers as I held them straight
waiting for the hand raised, a signal that he had the reading.
Then another wave to move back up the slope and start again
tied together by the upside down image of cross hairs
rising and falling on my hand then the rod
like a bomb aimer looking for a target

One morning we are out early.
Steam rising from the power staton cooling towers.
Stood in early morning sun on a former airfield at Harwell.
The airfield the Dakotas lifted off from before dawn on D-Day.
Carrying the last memories of men destined to fall
caught in the cross hairs of German gunners.
The rattle of munitions cascading from a thousand guns
blurring the coastline and making the earth move.

Turning the world upside down.

Like the poor pilot spinning out of control
trying to bring things back to a level.

I stare through that old telescope and call to him.

Right, right..back a bit.

That’s it we’re level now.

Roll out the string and mark the foundations.
Knock in the pegs and start to build again.
A nation fit for heroes on a sunlit morning
when the smoke had cleared.

We heard birds singing.

‘My Father’s Things’ based on this by Waits..



Two new poems

A Tiny Spider

A speck
crawling from under Acrimony
seen under the spotlight

A metaphor
for the last ten years
crawling down the hard shoulder

A tiny spider
picks its way through books
and is gone

I stare at the rain
The stationary cars
The Middle of England

Wonder how she’s doing
What webs lay ahead
What sticky yarns

The Lost Decade

Travelling on the Manx electric railway
In Fog
One minute coasting
Could see to Ireland
The next all blank like a page

Then a screetch as foot on brake
Bad news from abroad
Then silence
Mist rolling seaward
Beginnings and endings
A horse on a cliff
Cold black sea

The line ended
We sat silent
At a Victorian station
Overhead cables fizzing in the rain
Then a tired horse pulling
Us along the esplanade

Ten years before dirt rained down
On your sister’s coffin
Even then I felt the cold wind blow
In from the Irish sea
Eating into our bones
Then into our souls
Until we could not find our way home

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….

© 2019 SHAUN BELCHER

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