“Maggie Thatcher You Can't Match Her” is railing on the jukebox for the fifth time that Sunday night, a time when the women are at home readying the kids for future failure or an early night at least kicking off their blankets and wetting the bed.
The old Paddies, full of pints & roasts, lost bets and building site widows, shout about the auld whoor and how she is ruining the country they came over to build when they couldn’t afford to build their own.
The young lads are all one-in-ten UB40s, gabbing about the football, fanny and who's next for a beating at pool. Signing away their life at the social, they can still feel the cane-lined education across their palms. Their days will lengthen across the decade like the grey shadow of a cloak soaked in the blood of industrial resignation.
Tommy’s sat amongst them. Once a scuffle of calcium, now a jenga of bones carved in the corner with smoke-gold fingers and no mind to argue with an empty glass. He’s beaten down by the interventions of time. Says, he keeps hearing things he’s never said, wants someone to call him a psychiatrist next week. Any day will do, except for the ones he’s dissolved in drink. He’s a packed diary. The lads tell him he’s got the experience but not the qualifications. It’s a joke he doesn’t get, but no-one makes the call either.
By the middle of the week Tommy's kitchen has music dancing off the walls without a guide rope. A few too many lines have been chopped out by himself. He’s shaking with uncertain psychosis, and is in need of the solitary confinement of weed. Takes off to the shop with the fairies, for fags and skins to roll a calm one. Then sits in the company of a pigeon decorating the bench with other white shit from the city’s indulgence. Tommy smiles as the Hail Mary Jane takes to playing him a soothing tune.
Meanwhile his muscle-in-residence anabolic neighbour turns up at the empty flat to tell Tommy he’s broken their keep-the-peace agreement hammered out at three o'clock Monday morning over empty promises and a full bag of Super Brew. Yer man spots Tommy's powder floured across the table like the extravagance of an apprentice baker. He jibs him to the beasts, but not before stealing a line or three for his own well-tunnelled nostrils.
So now Tommy’s bored as a spirit level in an IKEA showroom. Flat packed on the lower deck, in a 23 hour lock up. He listens to his top bunk’s bucket list for when the great outdoors opens once again. This lad is little more than an 18 year old roll up, a career choice cock up. A neck tat toe rag, useful as 90 pence in Poundland, he stinks of stale digestives. The lad needs crampons to cling to his delusion, instead of slip up plimsolls stolen from the pay-us-what-you-got shop.
Says he knows the inside of a car inside out, cackles like a cauldron stirrer, then shows Tommy his un-fathered hands. For the next six weeks he is nearly all Tommy will see, laid out on a diamond wired spring framed mattress, gabbing on like a trade description act in a six by ten picture frame for Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Tommy’s got his whole life behind him but he’s losing all feeling toward keeping another lad safe from a future stretched out dreaming at the ceiling.
Tommy finally gets to see the psych. They listen to music together with the door shut, in the prison’s excuse for a chapel. Strings and piano keys echo through the rows of empty chairs. Enough to make Tommy all calm. And so, for one hour a week at least, he's free of all those fellas jabbering away in his head about Thatcher, the horses, football and the fanny.
Peter Raynard is the editor of the online anthology, Proletarian Poetry: the poetry of working class lives (www.proletarianpoetry.com). His poems have appeared in a number of publications and his debut collection, The Common Five-Eighters will be published by Smokestack Books in 2018. He is also a member of Malika's Poetry Kitchen.