Like Jane Commane I was born in Coventry; my parents came to the city in the late 1950s from Glasgow and Gateshead as part of one of the biggest internal migrations of the post war era.
So I count myself as being one of Jane’s Midland’s Kids, who ‘grew up on the back seats of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing‘. Our first car was a second hand Wolseley, which was so big its backside stuck out of the garage. Not one for patriotism, we nonetheless bought Midland made cars thereafter – the ones ‘slightly crap even new‘. Coventry was a car park, like lots of Midlands cities, and there was many a child left on back seats, particularly in pub car parks, brought out pop and crisps, whilst Daddy had a few jars for the road.
All of my Dad’s friends thought he was mad when he didn’t take a job in one of the car factories, opting instead for electronics firm General Electric Company (becoming Marconi). But all his friends were made redundant long before he was. It showed the way in which capitalism works, particularly from the 1980s with a heavy concentration of investment, pushing workers to limits, and then withdrawing, when it became cheaper to invest elsewhere paying well below a living wage.
And Jane takes us there, onto the production line, where ‘Those people who we once thought to be, misplaced down the gap/in the back seat that so ingeniously folded forward‘ ended up without jobs for life and who vanished from view like ‘the legendary square steering wheel of a paintshop-fresh Allegro.’
Jane Commane was born in Coventry and lives and works in Warwickshire. Her poems have been published in Tears in the Fence, And Other Poems, Iota, Anon, The Stare’s Nest and the Morning Star and collected in Best British Poetry 2011 and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets for Oxfam. As well as writing poetry, she is editor at Nine Arches Press and co-editor of Under the Radar magazine.
we were raised in cars, grew up on the back seats
of the long-gone marques of British manufacturing,
Morris, Austins, Rovers and Talbots, slightly crap even new,
third or fourth hand, pockmarked and in summer
distinguished by the waft of hot leatherette, the oil-black
tang of four-star fumes and the rust-red frothing of a had-it
head gasket that had sent the radiator broiling over.
Those people who we once thought to be, misplaced down the gap
in the back seat that so ingeniously folded forward, or left
tucked like secrets in the chrome pop-out passengers’ ash trays;
just as each promised holiday and magical-mystery-tour silvered
in the wing-mirrors momentarily before vanishing far out
on the hot horizon, like the car plants, company overalls, jobs for life,
the legendary square steering wheel of a paintshop-fresh Allegro.