Working Men’s Club, Barnsley, 1968
I enter the W.M.C. under false pretences;
I am not a working man, for a start.
I am an eighteen-year-old schoolboy,
only here because my best friend’s dad is here.
My best friend is the same age as me,
but his head is full of intelligence,
ambition, French, Spanish and Latin.
My head is full of fuzziness,
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,
and Jethro Tull on Top of the Pops.
He is just about to start
a languages degree at Bangor University;
I’ve had to re-sit my “O-Levels”.
Fast-forward four years, and he’s
living in Seville, teaching English;
I’m struggling to be Assistant Credit Controller
at F.M.C.(Meat) in Sheffield.
I hate the W.M.C. The gassy, fizzy beer,
the loud music, the Barnsley dialect,
which I don’t speak; my mum thinks
it’s “common”, and has brought me up
speaking “proper” English.
A lot of the men in here are miners,
or ex-miners. They are real men; hard men.
I am soft, and fuzzy at the edges.
We sit down next to my friend’s dad
and a few of his friends. I don’t know
these people; don’t know what to say.
With most people, alcohol liberates
the tongue. With me, it impedes it.
Knowing I will stutter if I speak, I decide
it is safer to sit in silence, and smile.
My friend’s dad is a Dracula-like figure;
unnaturally pale skin and glossy, black hair.
His glittering, dark gaze fixes upon me.
“Don’t say much, do you.” I sit and smile.
“What are you smiling about?
All he does is smile. Look at him!
Cheese! Say it! Cheese!”
I’ve never felt so alien. Never felt
such unease. I wish him death
from some deadly disease.
Leave me alone, I silently plead;
Leave me alone! Please!
“Here he goes again! Cheese!
Say it! C H E E S E!”
I seem to be going through a phase, at the moment, of recollecting moments from my early life, re-visiting them, mentally, and trying to write poems about them. Working Men’s Clubs were fairly popular in South Yorkshire, at the time when I was going through my teenage years, and this poem recounts an episode that I found excruciatingly embarrassing at the time, but now, in hindsight, seems more amusing than anything else.