I’ve moved us away from ‘that London’ and back up to the North of England for two poems that tell a story of the town of Barnsley, through its ‘chop’, and in ‘Seams’ that of Yorkshire more widely during the 1980s.
Like Roy Marshall’s poem, ‘Meat is Murder’, Kay Buckley’s description of the butcher’s in ‘Barnsley Chop‘ is visceral and time-bound; ‘Back in day, when meat came in brown paper,/the blood soaked right through‘, and ‘those rubbery links hung like fat lips/from uppercuts on S shaped metal hooks‘. The ‘Barnsley Chop’ is being prepared for a visit by the Prince of Wales and comes to symbolise that mix of ceremony and tradition with a down-to-earth truth to self. So the meal is served on best china and the chop has ‘more meat than you can eat’, as though setting up the Prince (who is no ‘trencherman’) for a fall; and then the Mayor, ‘the host, ex-workhouse and a big union man./He didn’t stand on ceremony‘ with his stern humour when telling the Prince, ‘“If tha’ don’t eat that, I’ll tell thee mother.”’
On first reading, ‘Seams’ is a more relaxed family scene of a mother making clothes for her daughter, with ‘cotton lawn/pattern pinned for a skirt‘. But there is a reason behind the making, and we are given clues when the daughter says, ‘you wanted/me to look nice through it all./Those clothes you/made in the summer of ’84‘.
Say the year 1984 to someone from Yorkshire (but also in other industrial areas in the North and in Wales particularly) and we are talking the miner’s strike. The father of this family is a miner, on strike and the clothes are being made to save money. But at the end, the clothes and the mines come together, when she says to her parents, ‘those seams that/he picketed and you sewed.’
Much of what is often talked about with the miners’ strike is the political conflict between Thatcher and the Unions, and of course that is an important part of the story. But Kay shows us the other side here, of families struggling and how the role of women was crucial not only in sewing the family seams together but in fundraising and campaigning. This was most recently shown in the film ‘Pride’, where women in South Wales, made links with groups not traditionally aligned with the miners, in this case Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.
Kay Buckley was born in Barnsley and still lives there. She writes poetry in between working full time for Children and Young People’s Services. In 2013 she received funding for a Mentoring Programme run by Writing Yorkshire. Her poem ‘Huskar’ was overall winner of the 2014 York Mix Poetry Competition. Her poems have been published in magazines and anthologies including Butcher’s Dog, Brittle Star and The Darker Side of Love by Paper Swans Press.
Back in day, when meat came in brown paper,
the blood soaked right through. So you put it
on a white plate and there it used to lie
in state, until dinner time came round.
Then Albert Hirst was the best butcher in town –
he was known as the ‘Black Pudding King’.
Those rubbery links hung like fat lips
from uppercuts on S shaped metal hooks.
And his chop, four ribs cut thick, weight of it
was a pound and six ounces. Aye, it was for
them with plenty of brass the Barnsley chop.
A lamb’s saddle; more meat than you could eat.
I don’t know if you know this, when Town Hall
was built the Prince of Wales came to opening.
A spread was put on by Albert Hirst in
Mayor’s Parlour – snap fit for a King.
Herbert Smith was Mayor at time,
ex-workhouse and a big union man.
He didn’t stand on ceremony told Prince
to take, “thee coit off and sit thissen down.”
They talked football and weather as the chop
was brought in. Served on best china with
all the trimmings: potatoes, peas and good gravy,
with a boat of mint sauce in Sheffield steel.
The Prince, not a trencherman, pulled his napkin
closer to his stomach for England and St George,
as he grabbed his knife Mayor Smith piped up,
“If tha’ don’t eat that, I’ll tell thee mother.”
pattern pinned for a skirt
the sheared notes
of a heavy pair of scissors
cutting the grain line
against a wooden table.
Holding my breath
as you pin the waistband
the heads all point
downwards hovering until
I move and they
scratch into their groove
my hair is alive
as I breathe free of the lining.
Try it on,
I turntable to your smiles
me to look nice through it all.
Those clothes you
made in the summer of ’84
my pressed skirts
and Dad’s puckered bruises,
his spine a zip
you hook and Y-ed together;
those seams that
he picketed and you sewed.