(after Horace, Epode II, Beatus ille)
“ It’s a lucky man who can follow
his dad into the works,
tread in his footsteps, use his know-how
and not get into debt.
Why would you need an education
or little bits of paper?
You won’t be buying and selling shares
or knocking at Number Ten.
No, you’ll be hammering at white-hot ingots
welding them to each other
dirtying your hands; doing something useful
making the sparks fly,
or you’ll shovel the crackling, curled filings
to decorate fences,
or store them for another blast,
or sweep them into heaps.
When the final buzzer of the week sounds,
anointed with your sweat,
you’ll clasp your pay packet; the fruit of your graft,
rip the top off and pocket the small change.
You will be king of the bar, ruler of the snug.
In The Burton, or in The Commercial,
your homage to the bitter god will know no bounds.
You’ll love leaning your elbows on the smooth, hard wood;
resting hob-nails on the kick-rail,
watching while pumps keep the amber liquid flowing
and cares start drowning in the foam
and worries pop like bubbles on your lips
and every swallow means a deeper sleep.
When the low siren of Monday’s six-till-two
calls workers back again,
with a billy-can hanging from your side,
you’ll march off towards the furnace,
or run, so you won’t be quarter-houred;
earning every halfpenny.
You’ll pull your oily cap down over your eyes
and clock on – save your pay.
In the middle of such manly pleasures,
you’ll forget your problem love life.
But if you find a nice girl, get married
have a couple of kids, settle down,
someone like your Mam to look after you,
a lass who’s not afraid of hard work,
she’ll put a nice little home together,
have your meals ready on the table,
there’ll always be a clean starched shirt for you
and the cupboard will be full
There’ll be a bottle of brown ale waiting,
maybe a little rabbit pie.
I’ll tell you this, if I had going what you’ve got,
I wouldn’t bother with the fancy food
even if it was handed to me on a plate,
offered completely free of charge.
Nothing complicated, exotic or foreign flavoured
would pass across my lips,
or taste as fine as good old fish and chips
from Tubby Turnbull’s chippy
or twopenny ducks from Metcalfe’s butcher’s shop
or thickened, home-made chicken broth, pearled with barley
or pigeon freshly trapped and wrapped in brown paper
or ham bones from Bob Bartley’s.
What a fabulous spread all that would be for me.
How good to see your children thrive,
your wives, up to their elbows in the flour bowl
counting out the fadgies
while little ones buzz round them
waiting for ‘tasters’ straight from the oven.”
When landlords said all this to Trafalgar Street men,
pretending, trying always to be one of them,
they’d call in all their dues; the arrears,
and on the first of the following month put the rents up.