Hell No, We Won’t Grow : On Strike In Leicestershire

I’m afraid to say that this month’s Stump Watch has had to be called off due to industrial action.


So here, instead, are a few snaps of the march and rally in Leicester.  I have to say that, as someone who’s never been on a demonstration in my life before, that I found it all rather bracing, and I’d quite like to do it again.  And no doubt I shall have to.

Here are some fat public sector cats “itching for a fight” –


And here is a young teacher (whose name I didn’t make a note of, unfortunately) addressing the rally in the Athena Theatre.  As you can probably see, the theatre was all done up for some kind of ice-themed Christmas event, which created the curious impression, as we were going in, that we were going in to meet Father Christmas (probably not G. Osborne in disguise).

And last on the bill  – by which time, I’m afraid to say, almost everyone had sloped off home or to the pub – the Red Leicester Choir, with their ever-popular rendition of “The Internationale“.  A bit cheesy, but rousing …

The Victory Ball, by F.W. Skerrett : a Poem of Remembrance

My latest find at the Harborough Antiques Market, which seems to have the wonderful knack of providing me with things I didn’t know I needed, is this volume of verse – Rhymes of the Rail by F.W. Skerrett “The Locomotive Poet“, published in 1920 by Goodall and Suddick of Leeds.


I thought, from the cover, that it might be some collection of whimsical verse recalling the great days of steam – right up my street, or siding –  but, in fact, it is something quite different.  Skerrett, it appears, was a driver who operated out of Manchester, and was a keen Socialist and Union activist (with ASLE&F, the train drivers’ Union).

The verses, which are Kiplingesque in style (his epigraph is from Kipling, and he includes a pastiche of If  in praise of ASLE&F) are propagandist in intent, and were written to be to be recited.  In his foreword the Secretary of ASLE&F J. Bromley writes

“Those who attended our 1918 and 1919 Conferences, and heard some of Mr. Skerrett’s poems rendered at the concerts, knowing the beauty of them, will welcome this little book.” 

I’m not sure about beauty, exactly, but the poems certainly provide some interesting insights into the working life of the train driver, and the bitterness of the sentiments expressed lend them a good deal of power.

This particular poem, which I thought might be appropriate for Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, is an example of that.  I think it must have been occasioned by the Peace Day celebrations of 1919.  Although the Armistice was announced on 11th November 1918 the negotiations at Versailles did not conclude until the following June, and it was decided to celebrate the formal declaration of peace with a Peace Day on 19 July.  Lord Curzon (who was in charge) originally proposed a four-day celebration, but this was felt to be a little extravagant, and it was scaled down to a single day.

Even so, there was considerable feeling against the event.  A letter to the Manchester Evening News put the case –

I am sure the title Peace Day will send a cold shiver through the bodies of thousands of ‘demobbed’ men who are walking about the streets of Manchester looking for a job. Could a term be found that would be more ironical for such men. Perhaps, after the Manchester and Salford Corporations have celebrated this ‘Peace’ and incidentally will have wasted the thousands of pounds which it will cost, they will devote their spare time to alleviating the ‘bitterness’ and ‘misery’ which exist in the body and mind of the unemployed ex-soldier.
It is high time some very forcible and active measures were taken. Many Manchester businessmen refuse to employ the ex-soldier on the grounds that he has lost four years of experience in this line or that line of business through being in the army. What a splendid and patriotic retort to make to the men who were chiefly instrumental in saving their business from being in the possession of the Hun.Manchester Evening News July 10th 1919

Elsewhere, the Norfolk ex-Servicemen’s Association formally boycotted the event, and, most dramatically, in Luton, protests culminated in the burning down of the Town Hall (a story for another day).  

Skerrett puts the case against in verse (it might help to read it in the voice used by Stanley Holloway for Albert & the Lion).


The Victory Ball

The fighting was finished ,

And peace was declared;

The crowd idly gathered –

As crowds do – and stared

At a building illumined

With a great brilliant light

Whence the music proclaimed

Of a gay festive night.

By motor or carriage

The dancers arrive,

Their adornments denoting

E’en on war some will thrive.

The crowd stands amazed

At the sight of it all:

‘Midst their suffering and loss

‘Tis a Victory Ball.


A demobilised Tommy

Stood by in the crowd,

And when asked his opinion,

He spoke it out loud:

“Why, Guv’nor, this here’s

Just an insult and crime

‘Gainst the lads buried there

‘Midst the mud and the slime.

Work they refuse us,”

He bitterly said,

“Yet for them and their kind

We have fought, aye, and bled.

They may want us again –

Let them want, that is all –

To ‘ell with the lot

And their Victory Ball.”


To this sad-faced young widow,

With babe at her breast,

The scene must recall

Thoughts of him she loved best;

And his last parting words

Ring again in her ear:

“If I fall in the fray

They’ll be kind to you, dear.”

Thus their kindness is shewn

To that poor aching soul;

Their’s is riches to flaunt,

Her’s a pitiful dole;

They in jewels arrayed ,

She an old tattered shawl –

Christ have mercy on those

At that Victory Ball.  


(Thanks to this site for the letter to the M.E.N. – Aftermath).

More Debris : Ronnie Lane

Apologies to anyone tuning in hoping to hear an up-to-the-minute report on last week’s match between the frankly rather slumbering England Lions and Bangladesh.  My tip would be that, if you’ve got tickets for the Sunday of this week’s Test Match, you might like to start thinking about what you’re going to do with the refund.  And the less said about Leicestershire’s three day defeat by Glamorgan (which is where I was on Monday) the better.  Some light shed, though, on the Taylor question (is there one?  do I have an answer to it?), so I shall return to that in due course.

But now, though, another musical interlude.  I read in this morning’s newspaper that The Faces are planning a reunion, with Mick Hucknall in place of the absent Rod Stewart.  This makes sense of a kind (decent singer with a dubious lifestyle, questionable political views and, by some accounts, an unsympathetic personality)  but I’m afraid I don’t think I shall be there, and neither -more importantly – will be the man who was the best part of The Faces (as I think he was the best part of the Small Faces), Ronnie Lane.  Lane provided the pathos, the humour and the wist (and, if there’s one thing I feel is generally wrong with today’s music scene it’s its wistlessness).  If Wood and Stewart always seemed to be hankering after the Big Bayou, or the bright lights of LA, Lane would be yearning to drag them back to the Wapping Wharf Launderette.

This also follows on quite nicely from the previous item.  It was originally released in 1971, on the album A Nod’s as Good as a Wink, and has something of the same 1971 feeling of an older world giving way reluctantly to something harsher and uglier.  It took me a long time to work out that the song is actually about his father, rather than a girlfriend.  His father is on strike, which is why he is looking for bargains on the Sunday morning market, rather than it being some Bohemian whim.  I also bought the Blackpool programme on a Sunday morning market, so – d’ye see? – it all coheres, in a way. 

Who the General Workers’ Union are, by the way, I don’t know.  Perhaps the General Municipal and Boilermakers’ Union wouldn’t have scanned. 

This is a solo rendition by Lane and his band Slim Chance, from the period when he had left the Faces and was touring the  country in a caravan accompanied by a circus (and, on occasion, Viv Stanshall).  Apparently (as I’ve learnt this very day from Uncut magazine) he used to limber up before going on stage by sinking a few cans of barley wine (that potent brew), and perhaps that it is a little visible here.  The saxophone player (who I’m not sure really adds all that much) apparently left the tour, tiring of the whole circus concept, leaving a note saying “Goodbye cruel circus, I’m off to join the world”.  Very droll.  

Anyway, it’s a very lovely song, and it’s Debris –