Month: July 2016

Conversations with a Taxi Driver, Falmouth by Tania Hershman

Politics? Bollocktics!” said the taxi driver when I told him I was studying the subject, back in ‘92; he then went on to berate a history of politicians in a way that made me believe he must be a ‘student’ of the game himself. His words could apply to a general feeling towards the people’s representatives some twenty four years later.

rsa cabbiesWhen I used to wait for my sons to come out of school, I was one of only a few men in the playground amongst the mothers and other female carers. There would be the ‘odd’ stay-at-home father like me, a granddad or two (usually with the wife), but the other men were mainly Bengali taxi drivers, whose shifts gave them the flexibility (or burden) to pick up their children. A study by the RSA showed that most taxi drivers do the job for their family, and thus for the money, as do most working class people.

Theirs is tough job, especially at night when the back of the cab may be filled with laughter, alcohol (aka motion) sickness, heavy petting, fighting, etc.. In Scotland, the advice given to one new driver was not to wear a seat belt, as you were likely to get strangled if the passenger decided to rob you. At the same time the liberalisation of the market with mini cabs and Uber, means it is a far more precarious occupation financially. Imagine spending three years doing ‘The Knowledge’, only to see the market allowing any person with a banged up motor to call themselves a cab driver.

Taxi drivers also spend a lot of their time waiting; hoping that the next fare doesn’t want to simply go half a mile up the road (only about a third of their working time is paid for). “When you get one [low-paying fare] after another, after another, you know your day’s wiped out.” But when the wait is over, their job is not just driving but also conversing with the punter, whether voluntarily or as part of the service. The one stereotype I do like of a taxi driver is them having an opinion about everything, whether they know what they’re talking about or not. They are not an uneducated group who ended up taxi driving because there was nothing else going for them. One bloke even won Mastermind one year.

IMG_2839Poets have often taken an interest, as they do with most things, in taxi drivers. Michael Symmons Roberts wrote a poem recently for Carol Ann Duffy’s Guardian poems on climate change (taxi drivers are ambivalent about it, as you can imagine when measuring it against their own income). And Tania Hershman does the same in Conversations with a Taxi Driver, Falmouth when ‘informed’ about Mirabella’s Mast; “the world’s largest, he tells me,/holds inside its vastness: stairs. Nor more scaling/rigging, a civilised ascent.” I like this taxi driver because although he wishes to impart his knowledge of the giant yacht, he also likes the mystery (i.e. not knowing) of its height. “Mirabella’s mast, he/tells me, is made of lead, MIRABELLA - From the Mastand we don’t know, he/says, why it is so tall. Just because it can be.” He then goes on to speak with pride about his son who’s in the army and is responsible for driving a General. This allows our passenger to imagine a link to the yacht and a relationship of power. “I imagine, as we go, the son, inside Mirabella’s/mast, leading his General by the hand.” This is a fascinating short poem because it leaves a lot to the imagination, allowing us to drift with our thoughts the same way a taxi driver must do when waiting on their next fare.


Tania Hershman is the author of a poetry chapbook, Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open (Southword, 2016), and two short story collections: My Mother Was An Upright Piano: Fictions (Tangent Books, 2012), and The White Road and Other Stories (Salt, 2008) and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, Dec 2014). A third short story collection and her debut poetry collection are forthcoming in 2017. Tania is curator of ShortStops (, celebrating short story activity across the UK & Ireland, and is working on a hybrid prose/poetry book inspired by particle physics for her PhD in Creative Writing.


Conversations with a Taxi Driver, Falmouth

Mirabella’s mast, the world’s largest, he  tells me,
holds inside its vastness: stairs. Nor more scaling
rigging, a  civilised  ascent.  Mirabella’s mast,  he
tells me, is made of lead, and we  don’t know, he
says,  why  it is  so  tall. Just because it can be. A
son, he tells me, drives around a General; he’s an
army man. David,  he says,  David is  treated well.
I  imagine, as  we  go,  the son, inside Mirabella’s
mast, leading his  General  by the hand. Where is
my  command? says the old man. Here, whispers

Stabberjocky by Steve Pottinger

ShelleyI can’t imagine there to be a poet who so enraged those in authority, that long after his death, his naked statue would have its testicles removed. Yet this was the lot of Percy Bysshe Shelley. As the late Paul Foot explains in his classic book, Red Shelley. “The naked Shelley was the subject of much sport each summer was at Oxford [University]. As a climax to what is known as Eights Week, the future leaders of the nation would mourn yet another disaster for the University College First Eight by squeezing between the bars of Shelley’s cage, and wreaking havoc on his statue. ‘We’ve got Shelley’s balls!’ was the plummy cry of triumph which would echo through the quadrangles at three or four in the morning.”

I don’t suppose that the Notting Hill posh heads of Cameron, Johnson, and Gove are great fans of Shelley, or similar modern poets so resistant to their right wing elitist values. Well, fortunately their short-lived bubble of power (remember they were only solely in office for a year), has been self-punctured. However, there is little to celebrate from such a demise; the country is in its greatest level of uncertainty for many years with Brexit, and the grip of the Right is still vice-like, especially with the battle raging between the Labour People’s Front and the People’s Front of Labour.

Poets have begun to respond to this exit from Europe and resultant political dislocation, with online magazines and anthologies from the likes of Well Versed (as usual), The Stare’s Nest, The Bogman’s Cannon, New Boots and Pantisocracies, and I Am Not a Silent Poet. Steve Pottinger is a stalwart of political poetry, whether with poems against tax avoiding corporations, or as steve pottingerwith his poem here, Stabberjocky, holding power to account in the most surreal and satirical way. This reworking of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky is a real classic in the making. So much so, that if Steve was to ever have statue made of him, I am sure that descendants of Shelley’s stealers would be on the lookout for Pottinger’s crown jewels. (more…)

Like Mother by Nadia Drews


Image by G Travels

We are coming to the end of the school year; a year full of turmoil instilled by a Government who feels it needs to do more than tinker with the education of our children, treating them more like guinea pigs in an ideological battle to send us back to Victorian times. Both education Secretaries (Gove and now Morgan), seem to want a war with teachers with the proposed imposition of academy status for all schools (thankfully withdrawn), new SATs for Year 6 students, and the madness of testing those under the grand old age of seven.

Governments still struggle with mass education; with classes of upwards of thirty children, herded together like cattle despite their different needs and abilities and family circumstance, all with the sole intention of getting them to pass a minimum of five GCSEs. I know from personal experience with my son that this can be really damaging to their future; that if they don’t attain these grades they feel like a failure. It drains the appetite of learning right out of them. All done without the seeming understanding of both what the teachers need and what therefore is good for the children.

20160707_020819So, what then of the children both in school and then when they leave. Nadia Drew’s poem, “Like Mother,” shows us the variety of characters that can make up a class. “The flimsy, thin, sterling silver skin stinging slaps/The back of the class chatting up robbing from the stock cupboard smothered laughs/Julie, longing lashes, soft, leather wrapped in Frank/Debbie, bitty little. Biting lippy, outside the chippy/Gob full of fizz bomber jacketed hands jammed in high/Up in arms, sticking out like chicken wings, flapping/Clucking fuck this and fuck that.” Nadia poem looks at this from the perspective of a young woman’s rite of passage.

Having two sons of my own, I have felt that society is more set up for young boys; team sports such as football, rugby and cricket, and then when older the pubs with their own teams, are gendered to accommodate male activities and leisure. There is far less opportunity for girls and young women, “uniformly/Stubby short to skinny strip/Hanging from the tide marked neck/Now noosed round a reflection in a dressing table mirror/A face painted with disgrace/With no-one waiting till you washed it off/Full term came and went for some /An unmarked summer break becoming an endless spiral-bound roundabout/A mid-afternoon, windblown, swinging groan/With no bell ringing time to go home.” And then the child becomes a young adult, out of their teens and into a great open space of uncertainty. It is meant to be a time to be free to achieve those goals that were drummed into them.

Up to twelve years in an institution, getting them ready to earn and contribute, whether to parents with whom they still live because there is little affordable housing, or to society through paying taxes. But sadly, this is not for all. For example, not everyone can go to University, although the political mantra and investment has always been that this is what you should be striving for; the nobility of social mobility. “All your mates had to stay in evenings/Facing days framed by pram handles/And pacing familiar avenues/Dangling struggling little girls/Heavy with hope from the hip/Where you all used to stand about strangling laughs/Yanking tangles, swapping bangles.“

Everybody can be somebody’, is the Adidas-like mantra of my son’s school; well it all depends on how you define and measure what a ‘somebody’ is and whether you go on to repeat the life of another, ‘Like Mother’.


Nadia Drews was born in San Francisco and brought up in Greater Manchester. A Socialist mother with a suitcase of vinyl recordings by Leadbelly and Howlin’ Wolf and a well-earned Young Democrats badge led her to revolutionary politics and eventually to sing and write songs about changing the world first in the bedroom and then on stage. The stories of working class lives in the songs grew into plays and she left Manchester having written and co-produced ‘I Love Vinegar Vera (What Becomes of the Brokenhearted)’ based on the local legend of a woman that each Lancashire town seemed to have. Having moved closer to family roots in the East End of London in 2011 she began to perform poetry at the Poetry Cafe’s Poetry Unplugged night and then to become a Farrago Poetry Slam champion. Through this she has been able to start to find the ranting voice she was unable to achieve in the 80s. Thirty years of repressed rhymes mean she writes long poems…but she reads them fast.


Like Mother

Settle down, bottom set, poor concentration, what do you expect?
Failed tests, predictable results, staying behind red lines
Life viewed through windows in sticks, drizzling with tears of spilling piss
Clinging like dribble to chins of grizzling kids, you didn’t do what the other girls did
Tossed like crossings out on screwed up scraps
The Battersbys and the Bickerstaffes

The flimsy, thin, sterling silver skin stinging slaps
The back of the class chatting up robbing from the stock cupboard smothered laughs
Julie, longing lashes, soft, leather wrapped in Frank
Debbie, bitty little. Biting lippy, outside the chippy
Gob full of fizz bomber jacketed hands jammed in high
Up in arms, sticking out like chicken wings, flapping
Clucking fuck this and fuck that
Flicking V’s, not free to fly
Leanne, lanky, shrieking streak of ‘Miss!’
Witty, eyeing, disguised lined rims hidden behind
Sharp as a knife flicked fringe
Shading every ‘shameful’ cringe

All subjects of so much rigid invigilation
Tiddy-tipped, spit slippy, wetly dreamt of unplanned examination
Cupped like slurped chipped china cups spilled in saucers of your warmth
Held in belched petrol smells, cider swilled with fry –ups
Eyeing up, weighing out, measured in points for their pleasure
Stiff inches of sin counting you on scribbling fingers
Summing you up, in and out scratching walls
Hurtful mis-spelt spurting words
Running out and leaving
Stale-tasting tell-tale stained pockets of cock-eyed explanations

After all those years of teaching you lessons
Never reading your need to know
NO  …..NO…..NO
Minus one of them speccy gets noticed you go
Woe betide you’d ever forget it-they checked, uniformly
Stubby short to skinny strip
Hanging from the tide marked neck
Now noosed round a reflection in a dressing table mirror
A face painted with disgrace
With no-one waiting till you washed it off

Full term came and went for some
An unmarked summer break becoming an endless spiral-bound roundabout
A mid-afternoon, windblown, swinging groan
With no bell ringing time to go home
Down the dole to drum on doors hard
Then a card and a ticking clock
On the Verdigris, smocked copper bonnet, factory top
Making dull days, patinaed with wages
Catalogued to pay for life in reasonable instalments
24 or 36 weeks
Outfits in drips to disguise your defeat down the pub

Atmosphere thickly misted stinking with chart hits
Spewing what was up supped in the gutter
Up against a throbbing, glugging fug
Filling up belly-aching gaps, swallowing laughs, tapping off happiness
Getting ribbed, coins banged in avoiding trouble
Chasing, knocking back, seeing double

Others would try to get in the club
The price was too high for you to pay
And you were too old to run away again
All your mates had to stay in evenings
Facing days framed by pram handles
And pacing familiar avenues
Dangling struggling little girls
Heavy with hope from the hip
Where you all used to stand about strangling laughs
Yanking tangles, swapping bangles
Mixed up ten pence teeth sticking sweet dreams
Twisted in bags ripped from string
Escaping tear away paper thin lips
Skinned suckling pale pink dissolving flying saucers
Sore ochre cracked with sleeping smiles inside
That mithered mothers now bribe their daughters with
Outside Claire’s shop beyond the school gates when you were meant to stop

You paid your debts to Great Universal
Ticking the box to say you would no longer like to be a representative
And walked out in a patent leather patiently anticipated excellent value for you shoe
Through the front door this time
With your mum’s packed away sadness and matching set of unused suitcases for all occasions
Full of qualifications to be somewhere else
And you slipped into the empty seat on the empty bus
Like a popped in pear drop from a shared quarter
Passed between mother and daughter sat on the sofa staring at the blaring telly
Yelling jokes at soaps her stroking your hair and hoping.