Lost Nottingham: Picasso’s Peace Train

PICASSO’S PEACE TRAIN

 

The black clouds had been building up all week

Thunder rolling down from the Peaks on Nottingham,

Grey drizzle trickling from the glass roof at Marylebone Station

Dripped on to Pablo Picasso’s neck as he boarded the train to Sheffield

Monday 13th November 1950 early morning the train’s steam billowed

Through the suburbs of London as it swung left at Lords, headed north.

 

Adjusting his pale blue tie and the beret on his lap

Pablo gently rolled his cigarette in his hand over and over

He turned to Gilbert his ex-resistance bodyguard, drew fire

His dark eyes flashing with mirth as they discussed the papers

The lies and distortion and the statement by Clement Atlee

Who stood by Guernica in 1939*, clenched his fist for the I.B.**

 

The heavens were opening all across the Midlands

The boiler hissing, the firebox at 2500 degrees C, half a Hiroshima

They hurtled down a line 50 years on from the dawn of the century

Carrying a card-carrying Communist spy according to the Herald

To a Peace Conference in Sheffield that would ‘paint the town red’

As the first U.S. troops brought their atomic bombs to defend us.

 

From arts council genius to pariah, Pathe News mocked his arrival

The only artist let in as Robeson and Neruda were denied visas

The Korean War on the back burner, the cold war freezing

Like bad weather the post-war storms kept blowing in

Pablo’s second and final visit to England and the first beyond London

In Sheffield the chrysanthemums and the banners were wilting.

Rugby, Leicester, Loughborough flashed by between grey sodden fields.

Then the train swung right into a Nottingham damp with rain and coal dust.

Crossing at Wilford Picasso caught sight of the Power Station

Huge dark rain lashed walls by the Trent, chimneys belching sulphur

The thunderclouds swirling beyond the steam out the carriage windows

On Wilford Bridge he turned and said ’Rain, Steam, Speed n’est-ce pas’?

 

Down a modernist line that lasted barely a century they drew into Victoria Station

Sliding through the tunnel at Weekday Cross and into the platforms

He stared at the tunnel ahead, like the gates of hell or a Minotaur’s lair

His impression of Nottingham some posters, a W H Smith, huddled travellers

Then darkness and rails rumbling beneath Mansfield road, light then dark at Carrington

 

He drew breath, then continued northwards mouthing the words of his speech later…

‘I stand for life against death, I stand for peace against war’

His hand constantly drawing the symbol of the dove against his trouser leg

Remembering the heat and light, the warmth of his father’s hand in his mind

The doves he grew up with jinking and turning against a blue sky.

 

At the exact spot where a year later the first Rolls Royce Avon prototype Canberra bomber***

crashed on Bulwell Common station….

 

References

*   Clement Atlee spoke at the Whitechapel Gallery in front of Guernica on tour January 1939.

** International Brigade Spanish Civil War.

*** Atlee’s Labour Government decisions 1944 and 1947.
Our first tactical nuclear strike aircraft….designed to deliver a ‘British Nuclear deterrent’

 

 

 

shaun belcher

Poet, painter and songwriter originally from Oxfordshire now living in Nottingham.

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