In the Beginning, there was the Novella

The Seal Club (London Books) is a collection of three novellas in 300 pages. Those Darker Sayings by Alan Warner, The Providers by Irvine Welsh, and The Beasts Of Brussels by John King, are neighbours in common, each with a narrative driven by disenchanted protagonists. Each story in turn driven by characters who possess a defiant humanity, pitting themselves against betting odds, familial friction, political forces and old enemies.

Those Darker Sayings is set within British Rail, its employees awaiting the arrival of privatisation. Not amongst train drivers, considered an elite – a labour aristocracy, but amongst passenger timetable staff, ground-crew on telephone headsets. Slorach is one such ‘whipped cream voice’, once trialled and failed as a station announcer after swearing and threatening a passenger who stood too close to the platform edge. He becomes the enigmatic centre of a small, close group, of mid-twenties pub tourists who outsmart quiz machines to hit the jackpot every time. With free rail travel they move from town to town, pressing buttons and bagging coins. Their crime is as impersonal as their living and hardly lucrative, but it bears the satisfaction of beating a machine. They can plan and execute the ambitious trips because they are walking timetables, reciting the sequence of stations like the long range weather forecast. Warner works with details, the set is perfectly dressed as early 1990s, we are there unseen, at the table with loquacious Slorach and his scheming crew. It’s a Scottish story, the humour is dark and unfussed, the scam seems hardly worth the trouble, it’s purpose is rebellion, mundane as it is.

If in Warner’s novella everyone is yet to achieve, in The Providers, everyone is past their best. It’s Christmas Day evening at Greg and Elspeth’s. The children are in bed, Elspeth’s mother, Val, is in the corner under a chemo wig, face behind an oxygen mask. It’s a dialogue heavy piece, a one-act play in prose. Enter Frank and Melanie. Frank Begbie is Elspeth’s brother, formerly of Trainspotting and a life sentence, he has just been released and reborn as an artist. Mel is an American art lover and she’s certain she knows the real Frank. The once dangerous brute is now tamed and cultured. Cue Val, with nothing left to loose but to disabuse Melanie of Frank’s blather. The text is awash with alcohol, regret and uncontained emotion. ‘Merry Christmas and aw that shite.’ Actually Frank drinks only tap water these days and his mother is affronted by this and his slim waist line. The dénouement begins with the arrival of Joe, Elspeth’s other, unreformed, unsuccessful and consciously uncouth brother. At times Welsh has too many in the room for us, too many unhappy voices to process and one wants more of his concentrated descriptive prose. But, he builds the tension, layer upon layer and we get the pay off we have earned at the end.

In The Beasts of Brussels, John King is back on tour with football hooligans. This time we’re with a firm of England fans in Brussels, post referendum but still in the EU, Remainers playing for extra time. Football is a hermetically sealed world for King’s characters, a place to go, and it is an arena for the author to represent and discuss much else: Thatcherism, neo liberalism, the destruction of community and class, to celebrate camaraderie and tribalism. Whilst the sport has moved on to the age of New Football, King’s firm refuse to budge from appointments for mass brawls and one to one clashes with like minded foreigners. They are viewed on TV screens, from inside Euro wine-bars, as another species, once believed extinct by the 1980s. The very sight of them testing the seams of an England shirt induces a physical reaction in Eurocrats. The firm are of as much interest to the media as the England team. ‘Football hooligans were good earners for publishers and journalists alike.’ King writes with fluency, the most refreshing element to this novella is though we recognise type in his characters, there is a depth that the reader doesn’t see coming.

‘Football saved your life. All you wanted was to be on your own for a few days, but not alone, because with England a lone ranger can travel freely, sleep on trains and linger on platforms and worry the vending machines, drink too much of the local beer and talk to strangers without being seen as a crank. It’s the best sort of holiday. You told Kelly at work that England is like owning a dog, that a four legged friend lets a man walk on the common or in the park without women looking at him and seeing a rapist…’

There is self talk, subconscious reveries and foul mouthed rants. It’s poetic in places and it’s a narrative in the traditional sense with events. Of the three, it is the one where I wanted to be, albeit on the side lines of the action, with the England boys ‘who were going to mention the war and piss in the fountain.’

The three novellas concern not the marginalised, but rather the self exiled and whilst we might not recognise ourselves on these pages we appreciate how the characters that are there, might regard us. Novellas are traditionally high on symbolism, focused on a single event, over a short period of time and, under 40,000 words. We read fewer of them these days, perhaps because fewer are written, perhaps because the publishing market can’t sustain their economies of scale. Binding them together in two’s and three’s as London Books have done might be a financial solution. Novellas got off the ground in the Renaissance, predating the longer form. Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, Animal Farm, War of the Worlds are among the most enduring. They require an intensity, a concentration of forces and I do wonder if the word processor, has let us run away with ourselves a little.

What is the Point of the Labour Party Now?

The reason why the Labour Party cannot come to terms with its catastrophic election loss is the reason why it happened. They continue to believe their own propaganda – a narrative that exists not for the electorate but for its own membership, from cadre to foot-soldier.

‘It was the media’. The media cut the Labour Party a lot of slack, particularly over its NHS claims and the majority of complaints to the BBC have been about bias against the Tories. Since the 2016 referendum campaign BBC Brexit coverage has consistently been framed through a Remain lens and they have shown themselves to be wholly hostile to Boris Johnson, a mouthpiece for Tony Blair, and Andrew Neil apart, tolerant of Corbyn and over indulgent of the Lib Dems and the Greens. But the underlying assumption of the accusation is that the plebs can’t think for themselves – that voters are a suggestable mob prey to slogans on the side of a bus or a Russian bot. The respectable well-worn term here is ‘populism’ but if you look through it at the 2019 election, the more populist party was Labour with trillion pound promises the electorate wasn’t buying. Furthermore, despite or rather because of the relentless pro-Remain media campaign for the last three and a half years, in 2019 just as in 2016 the electorate made up their own minds. In the UK it is not so much the voters who are volatile as the political class.

At the end of it all Labour tried to wash their hands of any Brexit policy. John McDonnell appeared at the end of his drive in the early hours of the morning inside a luxurious cardigan to regret that ‘we just couldn’t get past Brexit’, as if someone else had parked a second referendum in his manifesto. He reasoned that Labour had tried to respect both leave and remain voters, a position which Blair described as ‘comic indecision.’ Except it wasn’t. Rhetorically Corbyn pretended to be neutral this time, in reality everyone knew Labour was for Remain and their duplicity, their political cowardice was a major cause of their defeat.


The party is now undertaking ‘a period of reflection.’ From The Guardian manifestos we’ve seen up until now the most far-reaching conclusion likely to emerge will be ‘if it hadn’t had been for Brexit….and if it hadn’t been for Corbyn, we would have won.’ But the decision to support a second referendum  (according to Steven Kinnock MP ‘the worst policy decision in the history of the Labour Party’) and the huge support for Corbyn inside the party were not aberrations, they were historical outcomes decades in the making and very in much in keeping with the Labour Party that emerged post Blair. Corbyn was elected leader twice; on the second occasion by a greater margin. The party wanted him, many adored him and significantly many still do. His support from those in the party is only matched by the antipathy from large swathes of the electorate, particularly working-class voters. Likewise, the decision to support a second referendum was in keeping with its largely millennial, metropolitan, graduate membership – folk who see any alternative to open borders as racist – who’s politics are more utopian than pragmatic, who are uncomfortable with the notion of national identity let alone sovereignty. The support for globalist politics in the supposedly left membership is matched by the right in the PLP in the shape of Hilary Benn and others. Labour is increasingly estranged, not just from its former heartlands but from much of the electorate; it has a one member one vote system and an activist membership. The next leader will have to appeal to that constituency – and consequently it is unlikely that they will be electable to the wider public, more crucially – the new leader will be unable to undertake measures to make the party electable, for Labour have made for themselves a social and intellectual base that effectively imprisons the party in opposition.

The end of the miner’s strike in 1985 effectively meant the end of the labour movement as a national force in British politics. It took a decade for the penny to drop and there were further skirmishes but most knew it was all over. Blair’s Labour came to terms with it enthusiastically whilst Corbyn’s Labour runs on rage and pity about long ago lost battles that never were. It’s not an attractive look unless you are embittered which shows in the temperament of many of Labour’s new recruits. In the wake of the election Kier Starmer and others have made public statements about how desperately sad they feel for working class people who will now have to endure a Tory government – one that many of them in previously rock-solid Labour seats, former mining seats even, voted for. Starmer is oblivious at how insulting his patronage is indeed there is a wider routine lack of sensibility or dignity even amongst current Labour politicians. Another leadership contender Jess Phillips recently tweeted a photograph of her child nephew dispensing alms to a homeless man in Birmingham.

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Feeling sorry for people as a political drive leads to virtue signalling as a political strategy resulting in the crass exploitation of those at the bottom of the pile. My guess is, many people find this repellent and one cannot imagine Johnson or May, Cameron or Miliband behaving like this – it came with Corbyn and should leave with him. It has to be said that bestowing victimhood on the working class is decidedly un-Marxist; they are the agent of change in the supposed march of history and Engels famously said The emancipation of the working class is an act of the working class itself, not … an act of bleeding hearts. Labour’s silence on the year long protests and now general strike in France is telling. Likewise, Labour’s appeal to people as members of ‘oppressed groups’ with unique grievances fosters social division when the abiding hunger is for social solidarity. The labour movement once called itself ‘the hope of the world,’ now it’s an ever growing sub divided list of separate identities.

In the meantime Corbyn has announced that Labour will act as the ‘resistance’ to the Tory government. On election night he defiantly announced to the cameras ‘our time will come’, a republican slogan usually asserted in the Gaelic ‘Tiocfaidh ár lá.’ Corbyn’s Labour is keen on the toy soldier vernacular and they are not shy on the language of physical force either. It accompanies their fantasy that we are now living under a far-right regime, that Brexiteers are racists if not fascists and it is only they – the thin red/rainbow line – that can save the planet. They are not about persuading they are about combating, so banning speakers, verbally and otherwise attacking opponents fits the bill. Many in the Corbyn camp do not expect electoral success – are reluctant for office. They see the system as too rigged and it’s not the point of their involvement anyway. It’s this logic that enables Jezza to declare ‘we won the argument’ even though we are back to the 1930’s in terms of seats. Whilst they persist in appealing largely to students, ethnic minorities and the metropolitan middle class they are likely to remain in this territory.

What is to be Done?

Stephen Kinnock has suggested that Labour admit the second referendum policy was a mistake and apologise to Leave voters. They won’t. And Leave voters won’t forget and forgive the calumny as easily as Labour imagine. The next leader of the party should not be from Corbyn’s inner circle; again this is unlikely and the reason why Corbyn is delaying his departure. The internal organisation Momentum needs to be removed from the party. However, if anything Momentum will be instrumental in choosing the next leader. It is more nebulous than Militant was in the eighties and I think will have more longevity. I left the party four years ago and I’m still getting texts from them. It has support on the NEC and among some MPs.

Rather than embracing woke politics Labour should begin to distance themselves from this tribe who are not as large as they seem to be. Class is no longer an indication of how people vote, culture is and Labour need to pick up the flag they planted in the camp of those who are between unpatriotic and hostile towards Britain and plant it among those who have affection for the country and its traditions. They must seize the national narrative. They should hang on to their ambitions regarding taking into public ownership transport and utilities.

We shall see how one nation Boris Johnson’s government turns out to be. What the UK doesn’t need is to be a one party state, it needs a competent opposition. I spent New Year’s Eve round a table chatting to a former printer – one time the youngest SOGAT father of the chapel on Fleet Street who went through Murdoch at Wapping – or maybe it was the other way round. He said he thought that the Labour Party was an institution that had outlived its purpose. At the time I thought that was true for his generation but not otherwise. The response of the party to its electoral defeat thus far has made me wonder.

The Labour Party is in trouble because it’s relationship with the people who it was created to represent is broken. Despite or rather because of its mass membership it will find it difficult to rebuild trust in many communities or even convince sufficient numbers of voters that it values democracy. It is an institution that has existed since 1905 and it has been a vital part of British history. Although twice as many men have walked on the moon than have been Labour prime ministers, people not just in Britain are indebted to its past achievements. It is not excessive to suggest that its achievements of office might henceforth remain in the past.

English Drama and the English Civil War

My Sky Arts commissioned play on the English Civil War, The Battle of Heptonstall opens on February 28th. Research for the piece led me in a number of directions and recently out of interest rather than necessity, to looking at what happened to English drama in the period and why, considering the magnitude of the historical events, the English Civil War continues to be so seldom dramatised on stage and screen.

 Publike sports do not well agree with Publike Calamities, nor Publike stage-playes with   the Seasons of Humiliation…it is therefore thought fit and Ordained that stage-playes     shall cease.’

In 1642 playhouses were closed. They were to stay closed for the next eighteen years though no one foresaw that at the time. There was not one order issued by parliament but rather a series based on reports and complaints and the reasons for the closures changed with the progress of the Civil War. In 1642 it was about the need to pray rather than play. The wording of the order invited the public into common cause with parliament, to set sport and leisure to one side at a moment of unprecedented crisis shortly before the war began. The major concern at the time was invasion by an Irish army. After the rising of 1641 coastal areas were rife with rumours of invasion. London was in political turmoil inside and outside parliament, Christmas of 1641 was punctuated by rioting in Whitehall and the breakdown of links between London and the King. The order of 1642 is passed on 2nd September, the very cusp of war; on the 9th the Earl of Essex takes command of a parliamentary army to confront Charles I.

An order of 1647 contrastingly emphasised suppression and punishment of offenders, it gave sheriffs jurisdiction to arrest actors and ‘imprison rogues’. Eventually in 1648, with the puritan revolution in full vigour an order was issued to pull playhouses down. Just as the Civil War had its roots in the years prior so did the suppression of theatre. In 1639 a play was produced in London, The Cardinal’s Conspiracy which satirised the clergy and resulted in the arrest of the actors. If theatre had a side in the period, it was by and large royalist. Imaginative spectacle never sat well in the puritan psyche that in the end banned Christmas and maypoles and had boys whipped for playing football on Sundays. Theatre responded to the suppression by working at the edges and by going underground. Short plays known as ‘drolls’ popped up in taverns on the outskirts of towns. There is evidence from pamphlets that street theatre takes on a new significance whilst mainstream plays that would otherwise be at the Cockpit or the Salisbury Court are performed in private houses. What emerges in 1660 is Restoration drama, defining itself as a rebellion against the interregnum.

The best-known fact about the Restoration drama is that it is immoral. The dramatists did not criticize the accepted morality about gambling, drink, love, and pleasure generally, or try, like the dramatists of our own time, to work out their own view of character and conduct. What they did was, according to their respective inclinations, to mock at all restraints. Some were gross, others delicately improper….The dramatists did not merely say anything they liked: they also intended to glory in it and to shock those who did not like it.

From George Clark’s The Later Stuarts 1660 – 1714.

The new drama is more commercial, playhouses that are built are smaller than those of renaissance theatres and women are not only on stage, they are writing plays. Charles II not only brought an entourage over France he brought cultural influences as well and one of the most successful women playwrights of the Restoration dramatist Susannah Centlivre made a career of adapting French theatre for the English stage.

What is there in the way of contemporary drama about the Civil War? By way of the theatre, there is Light Shining in Buckinghamshire by Caryl Churchill (1976). More recently Howard Brenton’s 55 Days. In film, there is a biopic of Cromwell, of Winstanley, and more recently To Kill a King. On television, By the Sword Divided from the early eighties, more recently Peter Flannery’s excellent The Devil’s Whore. There are one or two others perhaps: A Field in England and Witchfinder General which use the war as a back drop but the specific dramas are not that hard to bring to mind. In comparison with the ubiquitous Tudor’s there is relatively little. And yet, more people died per head of the population than in any other war in our history, including the First World War. Ireland suffered a loss of up to 41% of its population. Putting these numbers into the context of other catastrophes helps to understand the devastation to Ireland in particular. The Great Hunger of 1845–1852 resulted in a loss of 16% of the population, while during the Second World War the population of the Soviet Union fell by 16%. Those two events are burned into the psyche of the national narratives, the Civil War is largely absent from England’s.

It is admittedly a difficult narrative to dramatise. It’s a complex if not complicated subject. It was not a class war and though the completion of the reformation, it was not protestants versus Catholics either but rather many persuasions of Protestantism against Catholic affectations. Furthermore, it is not a pretty sight, particularly if you’re English. English writers find it easier to write about the Spanish Civil War, a subject best avoided in Spain. Perhaps we want to be reassured by history; that it’s composed of an inevitable continuum that leads to here, the right path. The Civil War was a detour that no one had a map for.

The fact that artistic expression during the period was so meagre hasn’t helped subsequent representation. There is Milton of course and there is Andrew Marvell but I know of no outstanding drama and the novel has not yet emerged. The theatre director Max Stafford Clark said that the closure of theatres during the interregnum created the space for the development of the novel, but Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is not published until 1678 and Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe is 1719. The novel begins when you can read them. There are few literary and no particular dramatic style from our period that writers can draw from.

When dramatists do tackle the subject they often go in through the door of the revolution, the latter stages of the conflict and the Levellers. Playwrights mostly shoot from the left and one of the consequences of this is that the Levellers are framed as proto socialists which in reality they were not. They were of their time and if one has to, and I don’t think we should interpret them in terms of today they are classical liberals committed to the rights of the individual. There is no doubt though, that the demand that they raise at the Putney debates of 1647, universal male suffrage more or less, is revolutionary. It’s an extraordinary moment as Cromwell describes it in The Devil’s Whore, “a form of government unknown on this earth.”

 ‘I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under.’  

Colonel Sir Thomas Rainsborough, Leveller and MP for Droitwich, The Putney Debates.

The Brutish Multitude

The Brutish Multitude

Rehersals with Sky TV filming

In Heptonstall in 1643 there are no Levellers, victory is up for grabs, the King could have easily won the day and I have gone in through the door of a man who wants to avoid the conflict. John Cockcroft is as was said at the time like most men in England, ‘neither hot nor cold’.  But he knows it will destroy his livelihood, already at risk because of his failing eyesight and his feckless son. He does what he can to prevent the war entering his family’s life but fails, which he has to because otherwise there wouldn’t be a play. I have entered the national conflict through the personal lives of characters, it lays its eggs in a love affair between the weaver’s son who does not want to follow his father and an orphan girl Rose, who lives with two other women upon the moor, independently of men. And it had to be a community play. One could with the budget from Sky make a play with half a dozen professional actors but I felt a community play is much more apposite to the context and the timing and indeed what happened here in 1643. For the battle, the skirmish here, involved people of the village, and the war, as wars do impacted on those who wanted no part of it

The Battle of Heptonstall St Thomas the Apostle Church, Heptonstall 28th Feb – March 2nd, & Saturday March 9th Halifax Minster. Tickets £10 at










‘Tommy ow’s yer soul?’ Broken Soldiers and Soldiers’ Children

I’ve been working with soldiers and their children for the last few years, as a researcher and as a writer. It has been instructive, about the world I live in as much as the one they do. For a year I worked as a researcher for a university, part of a team that evaluated a drug and alcohol recovery scheme run exclusively for ex-service personnel. It meant travelling around the north interviewing mostly former soldiers who had significant problems with alcohol abuse. Many had been through other programmes that hadn’t worked and most put it down to civilians’ lack of understanding of their experiences and culture, the absence of the camaraderie that soldiers possess, people asking them questions such as Did you ever kill anyone?

Though many had left the army years before the soldier was still present and their continued drinking was testament to that. Most said the army had taught them to drink from a young age, from their twelve weeks basic training. To not go to the bar each evening, to not even drink copiously, would leave a recruit open to ridicule, to bullying from the outset, and bullying in the army isn’t like bullying at the council. People spoke of drinking rituals, one involving a glass boot filled with three different coloured liquors.

‘There were people no one wanted to run behind the next morning because they were bound to puke.’

There was for some veterans a trigger, a particular experience, usually during combat that intensified their drinking. One man, whose drinking had cost him his family, spoke to me about his experience in Basra, Iraq.

‘Nothing could have prepared us for that. For what happened. The training we did. Running round the Brecon Beacons with a pack on your back? I was put in charge of  prisoners and I couldn’t cope.’

For others no one incident was cited but there was the obvious sustained stress of tours in Northern Ireland, or in Bosnia, Iraq etc.

‘Ireland, seen a few killed. Falklands, seen a lot killed.’

As well as combat fatigue there is also combat regret. One veteran began an interview by stating, ‘You wouldn’t like me if you knew what I’d done.’  Another,

‘In the last five years…it’s been coming back to me, what I did, and why I didn’t question it, but that was your military for you. It’s later on in life I’ve learned to question what actions I did when I was a lot younger, then the dreams started coming.  Think the spring just broke.’

A recurring theme was how little preparation there was for life after the army. The army breaks down the civilian to create the solider but not the other way round. Most expressed disappointment and antipathy with the individualism of civilian life. There’s no respect, no discipline, no camaraderie, it’s all backstabbing. The discreet programme they were part of was comparatively successful because of the values that the army had taught them. They supported one another to a degree they would not have done had they not been former soldiers. They organised their own events and each local group had their selected champions who seemed akin to corporals. Their humour was predictably tough, their outlook more stoical than most, as one veteran remarked,

‘In the dictionary the word sympathy is somewhere between shite and suicide.’

They talked a great deal about the strength of comradeship amongst soldiers about friendship, pals, having one another’s back in general and specifically on patrol; how much they missed those bonds. They disliked the boastfulness, the shallow egotism of civilian life. At the conference to launch the report’s findings, an employment worker remarked that one of the problems that former soldiers had in finding work was their reluctance, their refusal even, to sell themselves. Sadly true perhaps, but for me that was an asset that they possessed and the rest of us didn’t. Even though during that time I was the paid observer and they the problematical subject, there was some things about them I envied.

A year prior I was commissioned to write a play for Burnley Youth Theatre to commemorate the First World War. The project would also involve working with children from Preston Barracks, home of the Lancashire Regiment. My first thought was, how am I going to do this without derivation? After Oh What a Lovely War the most well-known stage play concerning WW1 is The Accrington Pals, the story of the Lancashire Regiment at the Somme. So I went to Gallipoli, to Cape Helles where six Lancashire fusiliers won VCs on the same morning and I went to an imaginary munitions factory. The young people from Burnley Youth Theatre were terrific as I already knew, the children from the barracks, who had never been in a play before, also. They had taken the greater step and soldiers and family members from the barracks attended the shows and I sensed there was more than family pride at work, both in the performances and in the audience. A little later an army welfare worker contacted me to say they wanted to make a film about the impact of soldiering upon soldiers’ children. It wasn’t something that Arts Council England was going to throw money at so it took some time to raise the money, but we’ve recently started work on the project.

The barracks have a youth club and it is there that I work with the children to devise, to write dialogue and poetry for the film. A few things have struck me at the outset. Firstly, how much their education is disrupted by families repeatedly moving home. An eleven year old I spoke to was currently on her sixth school, starting a seventh in September.  This is not unusual. Also, the number of children whose fathers had experienced combat.

‘My daddy was shot and he almost died but’s he’s better now.’

‘My dad was in Afghanistan and in a jeep behind another jeep and a boy came up to the one in front and blew himself up and my dad got out to help the people that were injured.’

‘I’ve seen some medals round the house, I don’t know what he did for them, but his knee doesn’t work properly now. He says he won’t have me joining the army because it’s dangerous and he’s thinking about getting out.’

Children are without their fathers for long periods of time during which their fathers are in harm’s way. The children talk a lot about missing friends they made at previous postings. A couple of children said they were frightened of terrorists killing their fathers in the UK. One lad said he was getting in fights at school because his father was a soldier but wouldn’t say exactly why. And there is also resilience and pride. One youngster said that moving around the UK and abroad was interesting and she was smarter and stronger for it. Being an army kid is special and early days it may be, but there is agreement that whilst the narrative of what will probably be a twenty minute film, will deal with separation and anxiety, the tone will not be one of pathos but rather validation if not celebration.

During the Blair years there was an overt attempt to promote the armed forces in the context of the unpopular war in Iraq. Soldiers seemed to be popping up at presentations at half-time, Crufts and elsewhere, a tin rattled for Help the Heroes in every shopping centre. The veterans I spoke to during the research project wanted no part of that but neither did they want the grief they got from the Stop The War crowd on Poppy Day. They desired a degree of respect and meaningful employment. The employment they had come from had been overwhelmingly physical, the terrain of work beyond it, increasingly non-physical, requiring ‘soft skills’. Like a lot of working class men in mid-life, they don’t fit in any more.

More than anything they wanted what is increasingly rare in Britain today: solidarity at work and in their community, which is why they hung out with their old comrades, drinking or struggling not to drink. Many of them were in the process of repairing relationships with their own children. Former soldiers are far more likely than other occupations to commit crime, in particular violent crime. They are more likely to become homeless and experience poor mental health. Assisting veterans adjust to civilians life isn’t just about putting them at the front of the job centre queue. It might be about recognising that they have different values, values that should not be seen as redundant or to be mocked even, but might in fact be worth learning from.


He meets his regiment mates every week,
not at the Legion – not no more after what he said
to a former officer there.

They make plans over pints to occupy themselves,
short hikes and long distance footpaths
days plotted from a to b.

He’s worked out how to go from Sheffield to London by bus,
the routes, times, numbers all listed,
he briefs them on the expense the excursion will incur.

Under his shirt his back wears a relief map
of burns where a petrol bomb splashed across him
one Saturday in Derry.

They sit at the back of the bus sipping cans,
talk about the coppers coming
for something that was done in Ireland,

what that Asian lad said to him on Poppy Day,
about six am on the parade ground
before he became someone else’s job
and had to rely on people who don’t show up on time.