thatcher

A poem from “All Damn Day” by Jemima Foxtrot

25965646176_ae21edb384_z

 Image by Kevin Doncaster*

In 2009 two health experts published an influential book that resonated well beyond their field of interest; it was called The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better (the sub-title was later changed to the less strident, Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger). It argued that inequality has all kinds of negative outcomes on society such as erosion of trust, poor health, and encourages over-consumption. Like many provocations, it divided opinion; these accorded to the rigour of the analysis and unsurprisingly along political lines. Those critical of their argument, as always, didn’t tend to come from the poorer in society, and were bolstered by disingenuously wrapped up as being objective. Thatcher’s biographer, Charles Moore said it was “more a socialist tract than an objective analysis of poverty,” which give its greater strength in my book. And as the authors wrote in 2014, “It is hard to think of a more powerful way of telling people at the bottom that they are almost worthless than to pay them one-third of one percent of what the CEO in the same company gets.”

 

3773877034_9c312827f7_z

 Sourced from ADiamondFellFromTheSky

There used to be a term that described the wealth gap in society; “how the other half lives”. I have a book with that title by the photographer Jacob Riis that includes one hundred photographs of the slums of New York at the turn into the 20th century. I am not sure it has even been an equal split between the haves and have nots, but as the rich get richer, the politics of democracy has become more binary. The Yes/No paradigm we have today in the outcome of how we vote seems to be driven by the negative – an ‘us against them’, even though it is not so clear who either side is. Danny Dorling, who for many years has studied the effects of inequality on societies, published a paper showing that of the richest 25 nations, the UK and US were the most unequal. He concluded the paper by saying that if you don’t believe the effects this has on societies, essentially, “go see for yourself what it is like to live in a more affluent nation where people are more similar to each other economically. See how they treat each other, the extents to which they trust or fear each other. Spend a little longer living there and see how it might also change you. Explore!

 

img_7762For those of us not able to do so, we are very lucky to have the likes of multi-talented Jemima Foxtrot who in a poem from her debut collection, All Damn Day, does what a lot of great poets do, allows us to dream. She takes a somewhat Manichean outlook that fits with the division we all feel in what we would like to do: “A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,/breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits./Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year/on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards/to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,/precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.” However, such ‘rural and romantic poverty’ does not always fit with present circumstance, so we dream elsewhere. “If I were rich/I’d eat asparagus and egg,/in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast. Bad. Ass./You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,/wears a nice hat. That’s that. Bad. Ass.” And in this dream we may travel to such places as Dorling suggests, but Jemima insightfully shows what lies at the heart these ‘hypocrisies’ we sit in, and how a division of one half or another can lead us all to a false sense of what it is we are after. “Capital has split my dreams in two /like a grapefruit./And I want both.                    And I want both.”

Jemima Foxtrot was shortlisted for the Arts Foundation Spoken Word Fellowship 2015. Jemima performs extensively across the country. All Damn Day, Jemima’s first collection of poetry was published by Burning Eye Books in September 2016. Jemima has written many commissions including for the Tate Britain, the BBC, the Tate Modern and Latitude Festival.  Her poetry film Mirror, commissioned by BBC Arts as part of their Women who Spit series, was available on iplayer for over a year. She has also appeared on Lynn Barber’s episode of Arts Night on BBC2 and on the Tate Modern: Switched on programme on BBC 2 in June this year with a poem especially written to celebrate the opening of the Tate Modern’s new wing. Jemima’s debut poetry show Melody (co-written with and directed by Lucy Allan), won the spoken word award at Buxton Fringe Festival 2015 and was critically acclaimed at its run at the PBH Free Fringe at Edinburgh 2015, receiving several excellent reviews. Melody was runner-up in the Best Spoken Word Show category at the 2016 Saboteur Awards.

 

 

Untitled (from All Damn Day)

Capital has split my dreams, a grapefruit cut in two,
the separate segments of both lives glimmering
          like a new breakfast.

A half of me wants to exist in a tepee,
          breed children who can braid hair and catch rabbits.
Drink cocoa from half Coke cans twice a year
          on their birthdays, the edges folded inwards
to protect their sleepy lips, cheap gloves to buffer their fingers,
precious marshmallows pronged on long mossy sticks.
Wrap them in goatskin. Leave them giggling
                    into drowsiness beneath the pink sky.

A half of me wants to exclude myself
                    – me and some rugged, clever fella –
live in a converted, cramped van. Grow rosemary
                                      and only own two dresses.
Sandals for the summer, boots for the snow.
Pick mushrooms and save them to trip from in springtime.

          Oh, rural and romantic poverty!
Lobster pots, gas lamps, home-grown tobacco,
card games, pine cones,
mussels form the shoreline filled with grit.           This is it!

It has to be.        Or something close to some of it.

I live in London.

And so yes.

And so yes, still the other half appeals to me.

If I were rich
          I’d eat asparagus and egg,
in my Egyptian-cotton-coated bed, for breakfast.             Bad. Ass.
You’d find me in my limo, got a driver called Ricardo,
wears a nice hat.              That’s that.         Bad. Ass.

And if anything important breaks, there’s boy around to fix it.
I’d hire the world’s best campaigner
                    to make everyone a feminist.

It feels so much more comfortable to sit in these hypocrisies when
they’re quilted.

And I’m in my penthouse in the middle of Paris,
          or Tokyo, or Istanbul.
The list of places that I’d like to go is endless and still growing.
But I’m rich now so don’t give a shit about emissions.

I’d buy pink marigolds, plastic crystal on the finger,
fake fur around the cuffs, to pretend to my friends
          that – even though I’m rich now –
I still do my own washing-up.

Do I fuck.

My au pair’s name is Clare, she’s hilarious.
Clare’s on the pots, I’m in the hot tub.

Or on my private beach in Thailand
          or asleep in the Chelsea Hotel.

Quaffing fine white wine,
scoffing oysters and the choicest cuts of beef.
There’s never much grumbling going on.

Restaurants, day-spas, massages, culture, wish fulfilment.

After lunch I’ll take the glider for a fly or got out to buy
a massive pile of overpriced designer tat.

          That’s that.                         Bad. Ass.

Capital has split my dreams in two like a grapefruit.

And I want both.                              And I want both.

 

* Image by Kevin Doncaster

Work by David Cooke

fathers-dayAt the birth of my first son, after a somewhat traumatic first week of his life, my father said to me, in his dry wit, “You’ve a lifetime of worry ahead of you. When you’re 80 and he’s 50, you’ll still feel the same.” Now my father is in his 80s, for me the worry works both ways, to my teenage sons as well as my parents. The greatest parental experience I have had is becoming a stay-at-home/househusband/underling of my two sons some eight years ago. I was brought front stage on the gender divide of parenting; evidenced at first hand the plates mothers are juggling, as many of my new plates smashed on the floor.

The fluidity of parental roles is more dilute than it has ever been. This is most certainly a good thing, but it also leads to uncertainty as to the gender roles each partner should play, mainly because the ‘economics’ are still paramount, especially when women continue to be discriminated against.

After the Second World War (up until Thatcher), there was a general consensus across political parties as to the basic tenets of the country’s objectives for its citizens, one of which was full employment – a job for life. The first bricks were taken out of this wall during the 1980s, and those men, now well into their seventies and eigthies, were being made redundant some ten or more years before pensionable age.

David Cooke at beverley folk festx2My father was one of them, and so was David Cooke’s, whose father opted for retirement in his very early fifties, and is the subject of his poem, “Work”. His father was “a ‘man’s man’ my mother said, who needed/a joke to keep him going, and something to get him up in the morning besides/a late stroll to place his bets at Coral.” As a young son or daughter, the roles of your parents are defined by their actions; of what they do, and in them days it was the father who was out all day at work. So when he is made redundant, he is lost. “I’d learn that no one’s indispensable./So after he’d botched a shed, dug the pond/and built a rockery, the time was ripe/for change.” They had worked all their lives and didn’t want to lay fallow on the dole. My own father went on to do different jobs, as did David’s who “With a clapped-out van and a mate,/he started again on small extensions.

(more…)

The Coalmen by Patrick Barron

Coalman2Readers of this blog are well aware of the impact Thatcher’s policies had on the coal mining industry during the 1980s. There have been a number of poems addressing the experience faced by the miners in their fight to secure the livelihoods. However, the impact was much wider than just those working at the coalface (sic). Besides the local shops gaining from a miner’s income, there were also those who delivered the coal – the coal merchants.

Like many in the industry this was hard work, and given the fact it was most needed in winter, the delivery of coal was often freezing work. Delivery was the end point, there was much work to get the coal into the sacks; heavy shovelling and when frozen, the coal would come in great lumps that needed separating. Horse and cart made way for trucks by the middle of the 20th century. The ‘coalies’ didn’t have a uniform as such, but there was a dress code as they were dealing with the general public. They would wear leather backed hats, to protect their shoulders and head; they also wore ‘spankers’, which were straps just above the knee to stop coal dust going up their legs.

imagePatrick Barron’s poem “The Coalmen” takes the point of view of a young child looking out their bedroom window at these black and grey men, carrying huge sacks weighing up to 50 kg, “as if they were carrying their own mothers across a river.” There is something of the mythical about these men, as though they were in disguise, as though they weren’t meant to be seen, shadows almost. (more…)

Barnsley Chop and Seams by Kay Buckley

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.

Photo of Kay BuckleyLike 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 barnsley chopon 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.”’ (more…)