One Sunday afternoon in 1980, on our way from Coventry to see Black Uhuru in Brighton, the Bedford police stopped us on the M1 due to the fact that clouds of collie weed filled the inside of the motor. I have only been ‘put’ in a police cell on this one occasion. I was locked up for four hours, with two mates who had done a bit of time so thought this was a stroll in the park. They decided to wind me up by shouting at the beasts, ‘you’ll never take us alive copper!’ as they kicked the mattresses and banged the door, before falling onto the floor in a heap of laughter.
As a young adult in the 70s & 80s, the coppers were quite democratic in their choice of who to stop and search. Of course, due to the SUS laws, people of colour still out performed us in being selected for examination by our finest men in blue, but compared to my own sons’ experience we were stopped many times. Odd occasion they would beat one of us up. So, we had little trust in them, and when Thatcher came aboard, our ire turned to the whole political establishment.
Growing up in an Irish community, support for the Republican movement was strong. Regular volunteers would come to our pub collecting for the cause – ‘some money for our Troubles’. And at that age, we followed the war in Northern Ireland closely, especially at the start of the 1980s, when the hunger strike began, and people like Bobby Sands, took on an iconic status comparable to Ché Guevara. I’ve never been one for following leaders, but I did watch with fascination the events of the hunger strike unfold, with probably a little too much voyeuristic interest.
Saira Viola’s poem, ‘What about Bobby?’ evokes such memories very well, and what it really feels like to be locked up for a long period of time; both in the way the political prisoners were treated, ‘Bobby sat in a dun and fly infested hole/ With only a blood bitten thumbnail of hope’ and in how they responded, ‘Sewing together a daily excrement calendar/ Smuggling notes through his nose/ Inspired a traffic of dissension/ sprouting weeds of rebellion’. Incredibly, Sands became an MP whilst in prison, such was the support for him, as well as the disgust at the British army and authorities who had brutalised the Catholic community for decades. He died in prison less than a month later. There were a number of bombings that the I.R.A. did that I could not condone, but I can only imagine how you would act, if you saw your own community being abused on a daily basis, and the feeling of frustration and anger that builds up.
Saira Viola is a poet, fiction novelist, song lyricist and creator of sonic scatterscript. Applauded by booze bums, misfits, electric cool aid kids, old school hipsters, social pariahs, swanky pants literati and Hesperdrin, and a stray Siamese kitty. Viola’s work has appeared in lit journals like Literary Orphans, Push, Red Fez, Picaroon, Flatbush Review, Literary Heist, on bathroom walls in Vegas; and in counter culture magazines, International Times and Gonzo Today. Benjamin Zephaniah has praised her ‘ twisted beautiful imagination’ and Heathcote Williams RIP her: ‘hypnotic explosive writing style,’ Twice nominated for Best Of The Net (2017) Pushcart Prize NomineeRascal Magazine (2017) Poetry: Year of The Propaganda Corrupted Plebiscites Poetry Year Book 2018 (The New River Press) Viola’s debut poetry collection premiered at the New York Poetry Festival : Flowers of War (Underground Books) and her poem Flowers of War features on the Stop The War Coalition UK . Don’t Shoot The Messenger (Underground Books) Mini Rebel Chapbook (Underground Books), Fast Food and Gin on The Lawn Novel:Jukebox (Fahrenheit Press) Crack Apple and Pop (Fahrenheit Press).
What about Bobby?
Bobby sat in a dun and fly infested hole
With only a blood bitten thumbnail of hope
Sewing together a daily excrement calendar
Smuggling notes through his nose
Inspired a traffic of dissension
sprouting weeds of rebellion
Bobby never gave up
Sacrificed the beauty of youth
Fighting for the Maiden of Truth
Under a wailing blood clock
Played coffin tunes
A fist to the kidney!
A kick to the spine!
Tick Tock! Tick Tock!
Shit- can the needles of time
‘Bobby, we love you!’
Wrapped his loneliness in the sanctum of the stars
His shaking bones whisper behind iron bars
The morning light screams
Hot spangles of sun eclipse
black moon eyes
Clouds dressed as mourners, swirl across shriven skies
Bobby’s laughter lighting
the face of a new born Spring flower.