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Three Day Week / 30 April 2014

A Speckled Wood butterfly photographed in Pleasley Park Wood, Nottinghamshire. Photo © Richard Longstaff

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I could have fallen of my chair. There is the chairman of British gas trying to explain why his company need to keep making such profits and warning that if they are capped it could lead to black outs and a loss of supplies. I would have laughed but it so reminded me of a period from my childhood that my mind focused in on the past and I turned the TV off.

The year was 1973 and the country was in a state of melt down, well that's what the adults were saying. The three day week, no power and candles. I was a small child at the time and thought it was great fun. I remember sat with a jigsaw and candle light, my brother sat with me and the crackle and hiss from our coal fire.

Coal was king in our house. My father was a miner like most of the other men in the village. We had to be grateful that we were warm, gas had no future he would say. He would sit and shout at the TV, the prime Minister, Edward Heath was the target of his venting spleen. We, the rest of the family would laugh behind his back.

They often say that the nineteen seventies were the grey decade. It felt that way to me. Winters seemed to be year long. Northern Ireland was constantly on the news along with picket lines and civil unrest. Of course it was like any other time, good and bad, wars and peace.

This poem is the second in a short cycle I have written about my childhood, the first being Mad Dogs. Each time I dip into that time I expect one thing and find another. What you plan to write always comes out completely different.  It is strange to look back, to re discover little nuggets from the past and turn them into poetry. It is also very rewarding, nearly as rewarding as the profits made by energy companies. From somewhere up North, love, peace and poetry to all. Richard.

Three Day Week

Refusing to take the rubbish was the straw that
Broke the headmasters back,
Wearing his grey suit and five o clock shadow
He swore.
We all told our parents, he used the “S” word
We said,
Still my mother pleaded provocation and admired
Him from a ever closing distance.

Two died in Belfast honey trap, thick and sweet
As the news cut off,
No nationwide, candles out and a short speech from
Edward Heath roundly booed by me father.
Praise a higher being that we have coal, gas will not
Last, it has no future,
Reports of rats in London prove it’s a dirty city and
Nothing more.

Call in the troops, berets pulled into odd shapes and
A green goddess to save the day,
Fat delegates in smoke filled rooms play the workers
Hand to great effect.
Grainy picket lines of woolly hats and bright flames
With calls of “Go on lads”, dregs of tea,
In the coming years we shall all live out our bitter
Winters of discontent.

The Summer brought news  six pounds a week
Council rent,
Ten bob went on a colour TV and the question up
For debate was “Where will it all end?”.
Long hair and platforms hold people back in life
They said, nothing to be proud of,
The sick man of Europe had coughed, spluttered
And the lights had gone out.

© Richard Longstaff