Frank Bangay: Working class poems and survivor history - draft



And We Can Learn, like other poems relating to childhood issues in Frank Bangay's book [Naked Songs and Rhythms of Hope is a "fragment/snapshot". In it, Frank reflects on growing up in a working class area of London during the 1960s and looking at what was going on around him. It is a poem about prejudices or stereoypes we learn to accept, but also about how we learn to move beyond them and know people as people.

AND WE CAN LEARN
August 1996

Children playing in the street
On the common
On the bomb site
Cowboys beating Indians with cap guns
Reading war comics
And the Brits always won.

But there was always one of us
Who never fitted in quite right
At an early age we learnt how to stereotype.

"Come in at once; your dinner's getting cold.
Your father's got something to say to you.
He's going to teach you a lesson or two."

"But we are not like those people
Who live down the balcony
You can hear their father shouting, oh so loudly,
As he beat his children
And they started screaming."
Roger the Dodger sometimes seemed wise
With his philosophy on how to shirk and skive
But his father had a big moustache
A slipper in his hand
And his shirt sleeves rolled up.
No matter how he tried
There was one situation Roger couldn't get out of.
The early 1960's
A new council flat
More room here to swing the cat
A bath with water running hot and cold
It will be a few years
Before the cracks start to show.

And though we came
Up from being poor
We harboured fears of black people
And considered ourselves unlike those people
On the other side of the wall
The mental people is what they're called.

The mental people
The mental people,
I became one of them.


History note to And we can learn September 1997

This poem looks at the prejudices we learnt to accept. Many white adults of that period, having suffered through the Second World War, held the misguided view that they built this country up, so that people from the Caribbean could come over and take all the job opportunities (a view exploited by the racist parties), when in fact Commonwealth people were encouraged to come over by politicians like Enoch Powell, and used as cheap labour, as were Irish immigrants in the 18th Century. Some people from the Commonwealth fought for Britain in the Second World War, a not very well-known fact.

These prejudices were very evident at the Secondary Modern School I went to and the environment I lived in. On leaving school at the age of 15, I found this prejudice very evident at the Labour Exchange, where black people were discriminated against in work opportunities (crap as the work might be). At the same time, I faced a lot of contradictions because, despite a brief period in 1969 of being taken in by the snobbery of Progressive Rock (a lot of it soon became pompous), I liked the black music of that time, including the Ska/Reggae that came from Jamaica. At the same time I held the prejudice/fear that a lot of people had towards the Caribbean families who were moving into the area that I lived in (All this is subject matter for a future poem). In my early twenties, through looking for work I took on employment in the Health Service as a Hospital Porter, then as a Hospital Orderly. Here I worked alongside people from the Caribbean and got to understand how hard these people worked, thereby getting away from the myth I grew up with, that these people were lazy and scrounging off the Welfare State. During this period I also experienced depression and started taking tranquillizers, which later led on to a dependance on anti-depressants and seeing psychiatrists on a regular basis. This later led to a breakdown and hospitalisation. Through this I learnt what it was like to be prejudiced against and stigmatised. I started to meet more black people and while I don't want to be idealistic, I started to see things differently.