The Undertaker and I

On Poetry Found

Whilst sorting though boxes during the lockdown, I picked up an old copy of Scratch magazine (Scratch 15, ed. Mark Robinson, Stockton-on-Tees, 1996) and found inside a poem I forgot I had written. Reading it, I found myself back on Twyford Down, as it was in 1992, when the razor wire was going up, prior to excavation work commencing on the cutting for the M3 motorway extension.

Later, thinking about the poem, I wondered if it had been this that provoked one of the Fatman’s more bizarre outbursts. In what purported to be a review of Jeremy Hooker’s The Cut of the Light, Hinton (Uberblimp of the South Movement) worked himself up into a frenzy and wrote this:

“. . . for whatever reason, Jordan threw in his lot with various then fashionable Northern poetry magazines and writers . . . This ended with one of them threatening me with a “good Yorkshire kicking”, and a series of vituperative and extremely negative attacks by Jordan, then ironically funded by Southern Arts, on both myself and David Caddy, culminating in a slur on my feelings after the death of my mother. This was enough to make me draw a line under my involvement with the poetry world, [and] resign as assistant editor of Tears in the Fence . . ."

(Published in Tears in the Fence 44, ed. David Caddy, Blandford Forum, undated, perhaps 2007 — the ‘resigning from poetry’ thing happened in 1996, not long after The Equiphallic Alliance & Poetry Field Club published its exposé of The South Movement and Wessex Poetry Festival in The Listening Voice 1.)

Now, let me make it plain that Southern Arts (“Keeping the Arts Middle Class”) did not pay me to kill Brian Hinton’s mother. Furthermore, I had nothing to do with her death. All mothers die, that is just how it is. I have no idea when his mother died. He instrumentalises unconsenting others, using them in the fabrication of his fantasy realm, and expects them to enquire about his mother’s health before they respond? I would say the onus was on him, who, I assume, knew something about the state of health of his mother, to desist from his trumpery, at least whilst his mum was poorly, just incase they answered him back.

Also, someone may or may not have offered Hinton a kicking, and no-one who has met him would be surprised if they had, but if such a thing occurred it was between him and them. I know no more about it than any random person you might approach on the street. That is, I don’t know anything at all. Never did. The only thing that connects the items in Hinton's curious list, some of which is made up, and the rest might be, is the corpulent combustible from the Isle of Wight.

“Jordan threw in his lot with various then fashionable Northern poetry magazines and writers . . . ” He doesn’t name any of them, of course, because there are none, but here is a poem in a magazine from the North, from that time, that might have stood in as a prop. Ironically, Hinton’s favourite arse for licking, David Caddy, had more poems published in Scratch than me, but the portly nutjob from Freshwater never let a fact get in the way of his self pity.

Security Guard and Ex-Miner

You set alight the snapped tree
and turn to identify
your self with a place:
razor-wire, trucks -
one working machine
cutting slabs of turf -
and more trees in flames.
Your face masked,
you know you are
being erased by defeat.
Here people shout,
''Scum, sadist, shit,
child molester, thief,
ignorant bastard,
bully, slave, nihilist;
subhuman cunt,
psycho, heartless thug,
beast, animal,
worse than the police.''
Stunned, you look from within
more ruin and loss
than those who shout
abuse at you can know.
You punch them and
why not? They insult
me too with their,
"All protesters are sheep,
what we say, they do."
You lost your place,
then you lost yourself,
but you know about
bourgeois socialists,
the liars and the rest,
and have your own view
of collectivist tradition.
So, who holds the high ground?
Is it the middle classes?
These narcissistic southerners?
Or the well-spoken travellers?
The chic activists
with paid for houses?
The process is mystified
enough for them to have you
carrying their failure.
You are stung by abuse
they should shout at themselves.

This is how it happened. Whilst doing the protesting, I had become curious about the security guards. Accounts published since the Twyford protests tend to stereotype the security guards as sadists, thickos and thugs. They are used as a foil to the selfless and heroic virtues of the protestors. Security guards, when encountered in such accounts, are folk devils, like witches in hard hats. In reality, very few were bad men. Most of them were like most protesters, there to make up the numbers. They stood and watched, didn’t get involved, probably felt a bit uncomfortable, as I expect most of the gawping passives did on the protest side. Most people keep a low profile most of the time. Most security guards were like that too.

One day, as was usual for me, I had drifted away from the other protesters and got stuck into the talking. I’d lose myself in this, it would just happen, and I’d had some success at talking waverers into resigning. I wanted a repeat of that. This distracted me and I didn’t take enough notice of who I was talking to. I misread the mood. Standing in the midst of a small group of guards, I went with abandon into my ‘why don’t you resign’ spiel. One, I hadn’t really noticed, flipped. Shouting, he pulled me to face him, his right hand up, level with his face, fist clenched. He was primed. I met his eye. We stood like that for a moment or so. His body was shaking. Then, in what sounded like northern to me, he said, ‘It shouldn’t be like this . . . we should be on the same side.’ And he lowered his fist.

These men, some amiable, some graven faced, were all ex-coal miners, from Nottinghamshire, and they had remained loyal to the National Union of Mineworkers during the miners’ strike of 1984-85. And so it was explained: ‘If I went home and told my wife I’d left this job she’d never speak to me again.’ He had bought his council house and they had a mortgage. ‘The worst thing I ever did.’ Before the strike, these men had been pioneers. They had been moving towards a new reality. It was almost within reach. “We were the vanguard . . .”

I learned of how they’d been amongst the first to lose their jobs; had ended up guarding stocks of coal that not long before they’d have been mining; had defended coal stocks from groups of unemployed men who would turn up at night, armed, with a truck, to break down the gates to take a load of coal; they had worked for next to nothing, fighting off the raiders with their fists.

‘See him,’ said one, pointing to a silent man who looked like he had never smiled. ‘We call him The Undertaker. If you’re wondering why, it’s because he likes laying people out. One punch and they’re down.’ The Undertaker studied me with grim intensity. He appeared to be made from imported stone.

Asked if they had assaulted any protesters, they said they had, one or two, for the first day or two, and had grown sick of it. In briefings prior to their deployment, speakers had focused on the wealth of individual protesters, the size and value of their houses. Wounds had been inflamed, suggestions made . . . But, having found their feet on Twyford Down, this group defined themselves by not doing what was expected. They were organised around an ethic.

After that first encounter, I looked out for them. If I needed to cross the construction site, rather than walk half a mile to the end of that bit of road building and then back up the other side, I’d find them and they’d see me across the secured bit in the middle. I was safe with them. On one occasion, I even made The Undertaker smile. ‘You fuckin bastard,’ he said, ‘I hadn’t smiled since I got here.’ I had told him he was a nice bloke.

All in a matter of seconds: in the dark inside a razor wire perimeter, in the midst of that day’s contingent of guards, around one hundred in number, the other two protestors present being punched. One lad held, arms outstretched, and punched. An enraged guard running towards me, shouting. Arms around my waist, holding. I thrash about. “Keep still yer fuckin bastard.” It is the man who’d nearly punched me. Another steps in front, I see his back. The Undertaker. There is one punch. The other guards back away.

‘Do you want to walk out or be carried’, I was asked, ‘it might look better if we carry you.’ No, I said, I will walk. And so they escorted me to the gate and I was happy to be seen thanking them. Virtue isn’t in how things seem. This is true, also, of ‘the poetry scene’.

Andrew Jordan, May 2020


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