I Beg to Apply for the Post by Catherine Graham

Catherine Graham

Catherine Graham

Jack Common. Heard of him? I hadn’t, which is why I am so pleased to be doing this project and to have poems such as this that introduce me to working class lives I had not come across before. I am not going to give you Jack Common’s history because that will take away what Catherine Graham has done in tribute to the writer once feted by George Orwell.

I Beg to Apply for the Post is much more than an autobiography. It tells of the stages in life that many working class people go through, from a start (‘our doorstep was donkey stoned’), to the barriers put in place (‘my school was tough, the teachers weighed in’) and how still they carried on being true to themselves with wit and irony (‘I know my place but I don’t like to boast/I beg to apply for the post).things I will put in my mothers pocket

Catherine Graham grew up in Newcastle on Tyne where she still lives. Her awards include a Northern Voices Poetry Award. Her chapbook Signs (ID on Tyne Press) was one of The Poetry Kit’s top five recommended books for 2011. Her latest book is “Things I Will Put in My Mother’s Pocket.” Published by Indigo Dreams, 2013.

I Beg to Apply for the Post

My school was tough:
the teachers weighed in,
tipping the scales with their red pencils,
their toxic, chalk dust.
I beg to apply for the post.

Like you, my father learned shorthand;
attended evening class at the colliery.
A cacophony of skills, don’t you think?
Like my mother, singing opera in the scullery.
Beware of the man who wants marriage,
isn’t that what you told your readers?
My father taught me to ride a bike
and not depend on stabilizers.
He hated smarmy men the most.
I beg to apply for the post.

No silver spoons in our house.
Our doorstep was donkey-stoned.
We refused to be shoved into snobbery,
refused to give up the ghost
when they refurbished The Dwellings
and named it Millennium Court.
Ashes to ashes, communities to dust.
I beg to apply for the post.

I’ve never failed to fit in,
never lived in a ‘culture vacuum’.
Why, our backlane was a canvas
to the local graffiti artist.
I beg to apply for the post.

Brought up on Dickman’s pies
but I never mince my words.
I don’t give anything I don’t want to.
I don’t go about hard-faced.
I’m not fighting any class-war
in silk-lined, kid gloves:
I have a voice, I haven’t lost faith.
I’m taking on life bare knuckled,
this kiddar’s luck has changed.
I don’t believe in the twaddle
I read in most of the papers.
I know when to tell the truth;
when to spout the necessary lie.
I learned all this at my cost –
I beg to apply for the post.

I would supply references
from my previous employer
though, fair to say there was no love lost.
He had ideas above my station;
his wife was all fur coat.
More edge than a broken piss pot.
I beg to apply for the post.

I pride myself on being punctual;
always on the dot.
I don’t pretend or hope to be
what I’m definitely not.
I tick all of the boxes –
I call salmon paté, salmon paste.
I know my place but I don’t like to boast.
I beg to apply for the post.

(after Jack Common 1903 – 1968)

This poem first appeared on UnisonActive


  1. I enjoyed this poem so much and thank you for using so many references to my Grandad Jack’s life and works. It was lovely to read. I’m glad you have been affected by his writing such that you wrote this poem. Any writer wants their works to impact on others. I’m sure he would have been pleased.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you ever so much Denise – how kind of you. I’m hugely proud of my working class roots and proud too to be inspired by and to celebrate your Grandad Jack Common’s work in my poem. All Good Wishes, Catherine Graham.

      Liked by 1 person

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