We called them tramps in those days, dossers or, with condescending
And ironic respect, Gentlemen of the road.
For they were all men, of a certain age, certain smell,
Clutching their plastic bags, with coats tied round with string, or rope.
They walked the land, in laybys, country lanes, from King’s Lynn
To Bury St Edmunds in search of a meal, the next doss-house in which
To lay their “lazy” bones. One I remember well, Mr Ealing,
Who called at our doorstep once a month, in search of food,
A chat, a listening ear. A vicar’s house is always a good bet
So he’d appear, usually wet, and I would make a thick
Cheese sandwich, mug of steaming tea with four sugars, choosing
My mug carefully, not one of our best. My, he could talk,
Streams of words, his stories, thoughts, his life
Came pouring out with anxious fears, to which
I would try to respond with sympathetic ear,
But looking for a chance to shut the door,
Leaving him in the rain at our door, no more
Could I listen, as he stood there, in tears-
Him, not me, double checking on the latch.
And at school, keeping my head down,
Lest you could be singled out as being
A spas, a mong, thicko or fit for the loony bin.
Tapping my hand on my wrist soon became
A source of much regret as singled out
By the ruthless mob, mocking the unusual, weird
Or anyone who didn’t match the grey uniform and Salford drizzle.
Turning attention to the kid who always did
His best impression of a chicken or charging bull,
Mockingly accepted as fool by the crowd for giving
Distraction, diversion, a scapegoat… of being thick.
And for the girls, the endless trick
Of being frigid, easy or a bitch,
A bit of skirt, great tits, a slag, tart or slapper,
Bit of crumpet, fit… to have for supper.
Devoured by builders’ greedy eyes
Eyed up by men in suits and chat show hosts,
Or laid like cards, in pubs as lads would boast.
Or chased through fields in skirts and bra
By Benny Hill, in search of new, cheap and sordid thrill.
The poofs or queers got it worst, the nancy boys
“Ooh you are awful”… the high pitched noise,
“But I like you” or with a flicked wrist, “Shut that door!”
Non white kids chased by hounds, bananas lobbed on football grounds
Or ridiculed for different accents, smells or food.
How could we treat people in that way?
The fascist singling out of difference
To divert attention from our own quirks
In the true jungle of the playground,
Where malice and abuse still lurks -
With new names, special needs, adopted,
Non binary, on the spectrum, additional
Learning support needs or easily triggered.
Identity now seems much more open,
Badges worn with pride, and medals shared on forums,
Facebook groups, chat shows, special awareness training,
But beneath the new labels, and always simmering
Ranting man in the street child in the playground sniggering.
What will we in future years cringe to recall?
The hidden tears will seep out to shame us all.