Having mentioned, in previous posts, that I come from South Yorkshire, I now have to be specific and say I was born and brought up in Barnsley. Yes, that’s right, the place famous for having produced – among others – Michael Parkinson, cricketer Geoff Boycott, miners’ trade union leader Arthur Scargill, cricket umpire “Dickie” Bird, comedian Charlie Williams, and, as it happens, a well-known poet called Ian McMillan.
My poem “Barnsley Bitter” is, partly, a reminiscence of my teenage years, familiarising myself with the pubs of Barnsley and the locally-produced ale – the Barnsley Bitter of the title. A feeling of bitterness can also be detected, referring to the way the town was stripped of its main industry by the ruthless policies of the Thatcher government.,
The years have rolled by, and when I go to visit family and friends in Barnsley now I see a place transformed from how I experienced it as an adolescent. Many things have changed for the better, although it still struggles from the loss of its mining heritage. As for me, the gloomy conclusion of the poem is not really justified: despite enjoying the pleasures of alcohol more than most, I stoutly deny being an alcoholic.
Barnsley was still a mining town
when my first pint of bitter went down.
A pale blonde nemesis, by the name of Thatcher,
was earning her corn as an aspiring milk-snatcher.
A man’s drink, was Bitter. It washed away the dirt,
rinsed off the pit-dust, slaked your thirst.
Dimly recalled now, the pub, the bar there.
A bit like Manet’s ‘Bar at the Folies Bergere’?
Busty barmaids, iconic bottles of Bass.
Too-revealing self-portraits, mirrored in glass.
Jostling hubbub; lights shining bright.
Darkness outside; town built on anthracite.
Blessed amber fluid. In its head of white bubbles
I drowned my anxiety, forgot all my troubles.
It liked me too much, this Lethe-born brew.
I floated, ecstatic, but deep within, I knew.
By the time the third pint had been drunk,
my fate was sealed. Like the town, I was sunk.