Julia Webb

because my home town has a hand between its legs by Julia Webb


Image by Aslan Media*

Testing, testing, one, two three. Here in the UK (and elsewhere I am sure), we are in the testing season; ‘tis the season when the educational lives of teenagers (as well as pre/post-teens in many cases) are put under scrutiny to ‘determine’ their future. This ritual, particularly written timed exams, puts huge pressure on young people, often when they are at a critical time of their emotional development. A survey in 2016 carried out by ChildLine, found a 20% increase in the numbers of children needing counselling, because of fear of failure, wanting to please their parents; that triggered eating disorders, anxiety attacks, depression and inability to sleep. The Conservative government has even increased the type of written testing that causes this worrying increase in stress for young people.

The second decade of a person’s life is one of the most important; it is when they move from dependence towards independence, before in later years hopefully moving to interdependence in their familial relationship. And of course, with the Internet their lives are displayed on social media – their peers can amount to thousands of people. It is when the extremes of experience are at their height – when they are doing many things for the first time (sex, drink, drugs, travel, voting, working).

julia authorJulia Webb’s poignant (and wonderfully titled) poem ‘because my home town has a hand between its legs’, encapsulates this precarious, exciting, and frightening time from the perspective of girls/young women, “we spend too much time in public toilets – /smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,/rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.” We all remember hanging out on the streets, when there may have not been a youth club, and the pubs were beyond reach. “Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,/the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.” And sadly, the vulnerability and dangers that one can be open to, “make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.”

This all makes me wonder what decade is the most satisfying, rewarding, of our lives; is it those teenage years of first-time experiences, the independence of your 20s (and30s if you’re lucky), or the later freedom of old age if you have made it that far with your suitcase of faculties still intact?


Julia Webb grew up on a council estate in Thetford, Norfolk. She graduated from UEA’s poetry MA in 2011. She has had work in various journals and anthologies. Her first Collection “Bird Sisters” was published by Nine Arches Press in 2016. She is a poetry editor for Lighthouse.



because my home town has a hand between its legs

we spend too much time in public toilets –
smoking, scratching boy’s names onto cubicle doors,
rolling clear lip gloss onto kissable lips.
Imagine the shock of touching an unexpected pickled egg
buried deep inside his hot wrapper of chips.
No myths here, only rumours, streets you can’t walk down
because you have been warned off, boys it’s best not to look at
if you want to avoid the girl with frizz-hair and her pummelling fists.
Spaces find you: the concrete slope under the road bridge,
the shadowy space beneath the walkways at the bottom of the flats.
You’d rather lie through your teeth than confess your sins –
you might get a good hiding or your friend stops being your friend?
There’s a spyhole in the wall of your best friend’s bedroom
through which her brother watches her get undressed.
Shake the boy on the pushbike off at the entrance to the estate,
make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.


*Image by Aslan Media


Friday Night Kings Head by Julia Webb

glasgow menIn the late 1940s, my father and his friend (both aged 14) were sitting in a pub in Glasgow. Two middle-aged drunk men were sat at the bar; they were well known local gang leaders from the notorious thirties. One of the men turned to other: “I dare you to stick this glass in my face,” he said in a fading act of bravado. “No, I dare you to stick it in my face,” replied his sparring partner. So the first man did. Blood burst from his face and the stools went over. But instead of going at each other, they left together to seek out the nearest hospital (Try reading No Mean City for more on Glasgow in the 30s).

Pubs used to be (still are?) notorious for churning out drink-fuelled violence, which often took place in queues – a queue at the chip shop or taxi rank with a ‘you pushing in mate’, or ‘you looking at my missus’, etc. But pubs have long been the social hub for the working classes that didn’t just involve fighting or getting so pissed you start dancing with a table. As I have written before, when featuring Daniel Sluman’s poem Barmaid, my friend married the barmaid in our local and many of my lifelong friendships were forged there. The pub was divided into three parts – the bar, the smoke, and lounge. The bar was where all the older men went after work, and where they would take their girlfriends or wives at the weekend. The lounge was for families. Then there was the smoke, where at one end the oldies gathered (we called it the death end), then the other end where we were – a panoptican of faces spread round the pool table. There were very few women. In fact there wasn’t even a women’s toilet for many of the first years I went. They would have to go round to the smoke or lounge; this meant going outside, which in the wet cold winters was not an attractive option.

Sadly, pubs are in decline. I don’t really put it down to the smoking ban, it was more a result in the rise in property prices, the financial crash in 2008 resulting in the heavy debt of the pubcos who sold the pubs on. Ironically, they are often turned into residential dwellings, with only 10% remaining as pubs. At the current rate of closure (around 30 a week), there will be no more pubs by the middle of the century.

julia authorBut let’s forget about the pubs’ demise for now and engage in a bit of nostalgia with Julia Webb’s funny and riotous poem, Friday Night King’s Head. This is a pub you would love to go to, if only to be a fly on the wall. “Some girl is pulling another girl’s hair and screaming, and some other girls are in the loo skinning up, and Andy is trying to force his way into the Ladies with his watery eyes, wet lips and flat cap.” Pubs are more than their insides, especially in the summer, when people spill out into the car park, the garden or the wall. “there’s a row going on outside, a Cortina is revving its engine, and someone is laughing, it sounds like a tree full of monkeys, but when you go outside it’s just the usual crowd sitting on the wall around the tree smoking.” (more…)

Redcastle Furze by Julia Webb

The teenage years are those where you spend most of your free time outdoors. Having spent the first twelve of them corralled in parental protection, you are finally allowed out with your friends. And what does society have to offer you? Well, not very much. You can’t go to the pub (not until you’re at least five foot ten with a fake I.D.), the gym isn’t exactly welcoming or cheap, and having been in school for the day, ‘organised’ activity has limited attraction.

teenager walking 1

image by amanda tipton*

This is why teenage children have always been great walkers. With nowhere to go they end up wandering aimlessly into town, looking furtively at other girls and boys, going into the shops and not being interested in very much. Then when that gets boring they go further afield; into other areas where they find ‘secret’ places – a disused shed in a wood or allotment, deserted school playground, or a house party on the other side of town, where they finally get to experiment with all the things they are not meant to, both human and chemical. Before facing the long bedraggled walk home to that porch light which they hope signals their parents are asleep and not waiting on the sofa in the dark.

julia webJulia Webb’s poem Redcastle Furze is a wonderful evocation of one those journeys; on this mini travelogue you will mix the urban with the rural, “down St Martin’s Way/under the crags/and/overhangs/of the industrial estate/to the place where yoghurt pots/spill their raspberry guts across warm black tarmac.” You will encounter waste alongside nature, “past the tip/spewing doorless fridges foetid carpets/then on down the hill/past/the Edkins/the Snows/and the Tockers    /and into the woods    /through the thick smush of lilac.” And not forgetting the famous landmarks, “spy hill where only the bravest climb,” “helicopter tree corner,” “Witchy Waghorns,” past “the old police house.” As is often said in another context, ‘you couldn’t make it up’. The detail is magical and clearly unforgettable. (more…)