By Robert Grant
The first proper job was at the age of fourteen,
Too old for any meagre paper round.
I took the weekend work with the gangs
On the land. Picked up in an old van
On a Saturday morning at six.
We travelled, my few friends and I,
Mile after mile, into the fields
Until, finally, we’d arrive at a large factory,
(A huge tin shed), set apart from the road.
Whom we worked with, I don’t really know;
Most of their faces escape me now, but they
Were all grown men and women, bar us,
Working overtime for a measly wage.
The overriding feeling was fear — being lost
In a land that knew no pride,
Knew no friends but back breaking work.
I studied the women for signs of compassion,
Each ruddy cheek, each red, stubborn face,
Unapologetic and loaded with hate
For the work and the lives which they barely survived.
The work started early, factory rolling
Its conveyor belts to prep and pack
The greens; cauliflowers first, loaded in crates
So huge (a tonne each), that you had to
Dig your way in from the edges. Two men
Per crate, loading caulis on the conveyor belts
As fast as their bodies allowed. The pain
Soon became unbearable as the cauliflower
Flesh would sink deeper under our nails,
Making each finger bleed and sharply
Jolt on the nerve ends. Slipping over, inside
The crate, making dugouts and trenches
To load up the belts, you could see blood
And, sometimes, half torn shreds of nails
Amongst the vegetables. Bent over double,
The head between the knees, shoulders tight
And feet gripping on for dear life, it took hours
To empty the damned thing. Then, another.
Break time broke little of the monotony.
Those on the conveyor belts, sorting out
Stalks from leaves and florets would close
Their eyes and see nothing but broken
Pieces of white or green veg floating by.
And the clock rarely seemed to move.
A dirty sandwich, a drink and a fag and
It was time to get back to work. But, oh,
How the fingers kept bleeding and hurt.
For a full day’s work, (at peace-rate, no less)
Was worth a pittance after the gang master
Took his cut, then money for the petrol, the van,
The wear and tear of the journey. It wasn’t
Worth it. But, I stuck to it, on and off, for years.
Anything else seemed like a dream, a far off
Fairytale, compared to the easy, soul destroying
Lure of the land, where men and women worked
For their lives, as each of their lives was damned.
Eulogy for John
Uncle John never left Lincolnshire,
Was at home with the ripe smells and the stench
Of carrots, potatoes, cabbages and sprouts
And the uneasy immortality of the soil.
He’d ride his moped around, sat squat
Like a gnome on a bicycle,
From one council job to another,
Flat cap and boiler suit
Smiling all the while and chatting
In that unusual Lincolnshire dialect.
Interests in horses, never married
And always at home with his auntie
And the cigarettes they’d chain smoke in front
Of the telly. A lovely, lonely man,
And one for which this land was unworthy.
About the Author:
I’ve had two books published, ‘The Judas Tree’, (self published), and ‘Night Haunting’, (published by Creative Future and the Arts Council of England).
I am based in Brighton and read in the city. I also used to read my own work on the local community radio in Brighton and Hove. I took to writing poetry around ten years ago, after I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and fibromyalgia, which stopped me from working.
I have had a history of homelessness and substance misuse, (both now cured), which I sometimes write about.
To contact Robert about his work, you can email him at: email@example.com