In 1925, the newly installed Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill, linked the pound the gold standard in a vain attempt to boost a dying empire. This led to an economic catastrophe and the now famous General Strike of 1926. Always one for war war as opposed to jaw jaw, Churchill advocated troops firing on strikers. So to stop him from inflicting such harm, he was assigned the editorship of the British Gazette, the government’s propaganda machine during the strike. The paper ridiculed the strikers and claimed they were a direct threat to the country’s democracy.
The media has continued with this tradition of ridiculing and demonising the working classes. During the Miner’s Strike of the 1980s, Thatcher wanted to take a very similar approach to Churchill, with a secret plot to use 4,500 troops to crush the miners and she had the backing of the right wing tabloids of the day. The Sun tried to run a front page of a straight-armed Arthur Scargill (he was mid-wave) under the heading, “Mine Furher”, but the print union (who knew if the miners lost they’d be next) refused to run it so the paper had to back down and run the alternative (see right).
However, the focus of today’s media demonization is the out-of-workers; those on benefits, who we are told have too many children, are promiscuous, criminal, and feckless. These types are paraded on the screens from Jerry Springer to Jeremy Kyle, with characters like Vicky Pollard and Frank Gallagher, and are regularly on the front pages of the tabloids. It feeds into politicians’ minds and speeches; in the UK election the focus is very much on hard working families, who can only be helped through cuts – cuts which implicitly will affect those on benefits. So if you are unemployed, disabled or unwell, elderly, you are seen as a drain on the state. All this, despite the fact that many “hard working people” are in poverty and rely on benefits and food banks. It is a classic divide and rule strategy.
How does one deal with this? One obvious way is with frustration, anger, protest, and voting against those propagating a perception that disadvantaged people are the problem. The other way, which Steve Pottinger has done with great wit in his poem Birmingham to London by Coach, is to write about it in a satirical way; turn our perceptions around, make us think differently about the current demonization of a class of people, who somehow hold little power and little money, and yet seem to dictate the policy of the main political parties. I know, it’s fucking bizarre!
I have taken this coach journey many times from Coventry but have never sat among the characters in Steve’s trip, but I wish I had, although the bit about waking up in Southampton is a bit worrying. Enjoy!
“Steve Pottinger has gigged the length and breadth of the country, in pubs and clubs, at poetry nights and festivals. But that doesn’t really tell you anything. He loves words, loves people more, and enjoys poetry which makes him smile, or think, or want to man the barricades. When not standing behind a microphone or in front of an audience, he can often be found down the pub. He hopes you enjoy his work.”You can find out more about Steve at http://stevepottinger.co.uk; twitter @BigStevePoet. The poem Birmingham to London by Coach is from Steve’s latest collection, “more bees, bigger bonnets”.
‘Exceptional.’ Louder Than Words Festival.
Steve is a great performer. So before his poem, here he is with Let Us Pretend, a poem which was included in the anthology ‘for the children of Gaza’ by Onslaught Press
Birmingham to London by Coach
The kids are high on sugar
their dad is high on crack
ten minutes out of Digbeth
you wish you could turn back
their baby’s filled its nappy
there’s a foul and evil smell
you’re on a National Express bus ride
with the dysfunctional family from hell.
The eldest daughter’s sodcast
is ringing in your ears
she’s necking vodka red bull
while her boyfriend chugs on beer
they’re en route to heavy petting
with a stop at Milton Keynes
this is going to be a journey
where you find out what shameless means
their mother’s wearing jeggings
the material’s stretched thin
bits of her are poking out
she should be keeping in
her attempt at keeping order
is shouting Wayne! You little ****!
at her lad who’s gobbing greenies
on the windows at the front.
Something snaps at Coventry.
By Rugby you think Stuff it.
The daughter passes round a joint
you join in and you puff it
her dad offers you a cider
he’s a very decent fella
his name is Brian, he’s chopping out
a fat line of Nigella
he’s a lecturer in politics
his son does engineering
the daughter works in mental health
they’re really quite endearing
but they like to let their hair down
when the working week is done
and now, it’s Friday evening
and they’re out to have some fun.
Soon you’re sipping Chablis
with his sultry sweetheart Sue
she’s a psychosexual therapist
who started life in Crewe
she says wine and kundalini
are the cure to all our ills
then somewhere just past Bedford
she offers you some pills
by the time you pass through Watford
you’re coming up so strong
that you’re flinging off your clothing
and bursting into song
the driver barks Sit down sir!
in response, you shout out Choon!
you’re chewing gum for England
and grinning like a loon
you’re telling Brian I love you
That’s me, that’s not the drugs.
I really really mean it.
Then you give the bloke a hug
by the bottom of the M1
you’re having the best time
you even dance to dubstep
Dolly Parton and some grime
the coach pulls into Victoria
the party doesn’t end
you’re making big and little boxes
with Sue and Brian and friends.
You wake up…
two days later…
In Southampton, in a park.
You don’t know how you got there
your skin is pocked with marks
which look disturbingly like love-bites
there’s a number on your chest
a scrawl reads
call us soon we love you xxx xxxx
your chakras have been plundered
your underpants are gone
parts of you are tender
the rest of you is numb
dressed in lipstick smears and jeggings
the material’s stretched thin
bits of you keep falling out
although you tuck them in
you stumble off in search of water
you’re not feeling very well
you’re the victim of a bus ride with
the dysfunctional family from hell
a small voice suggests that next time
you should maybe take the train
but you know come Friday at 5 o’clock
you’ll be at Digbeth once again
because sobriety is admirable
moderation is all very well
but you’re for the life of excess
on a National Express
with a dysfunctional family from hell.