The Usher

I found this lurking in a disused folder on my laptop. I wrote it during the 2015 Labour leadership campaign for the Homework event at The Edinburgh Book Festival.

The Usher

I’m early. Bus gets in just after five.
But once I’ve walked, it’s only half an hour.
I used to love to get a bit of time
just on my own. I read a lot. But, well …
I’ve become a martyr to that bus,
its timetables and whims. A passenger.
And time is not your own snatched here and there.
Not really anyway. I find my bench:
my usual place, a little square of grass,
a kiddies’ playground. Funny really but
I miss those places now. Oh, it was dull,
dull at the time. The best years of my life
spent pushing screaming kids on bloody swings.
And time’s … not your own then either, is it?
Always wanting something: mainly food,
well, that and love. I’d rather they were here
to take my time away than work. Cos time
is really not your own at bloody work.
Eight hours a day you’ll never get again.
I read somewhere we spend ten years at work.
That’s through your life: a solid decade.
Well probably less for me. I struggle now
to get the bloody shifts. The politicians
argue about it: zero hour contracts.
Nothing ever changes for the better.

We’ve got one here tonight: a politician.
It’s that one that’s causing all the fuss:
the beardy one, um, Corbyn. He looks like
this fella Harry knows from down the ‘llotment.
He’s posh, well sort of posh, this mate of Harry’s,
not like Rolls Royce posh, more Volvo posh.
I’ve seen him down there, sitting with his Guardian.
He seems nice enough, do-gooder type.
And so I’m curious about this Corbyn.
My dad was a Labour man through and through.
Printer he was. And big into the unions.
It’s bad but, well, I didn’t vote last time.
If he were here my dad would go ballistic.
Harry voted UKIP. Lots of folk
round here did. I just couldn’t. Nigel Farage
well, he’s a Tory twit, if e’er I saw one.
My Harry’s not a massive fan but says
he’s right. About the immigrants, and well
here I am struggling for shifts. We’ve lots
of them, from Poland and Slovakia.
The new girl’s Spanish, and please don’t get me wrong
they seem perfectly nice, I like them all,
but, well, there ain’t enough to go around
so surely then us Brits should get first preference.

It’s mostly conferences and work dos here.
There’s weddings too, but, well, it’s pricey and
it’s not really what I would call romantic.
All that money people spend on weddings.
Mad! And then they get divorced, most of them.
Alright for some! It’s not a thing I’d do.
Well, how could we afford it anyway?
Look, I’m not saying marriage is all good.
Harry and I have had more downs than ups.
but it’s for life. And things have got to mean
something. These people these days think they’re free
to do exactly as they bloody please.
And are they any happier for it?

There’s people everywhere when I arrive
they’re queuing round the block to see this fella
Corbyn. Young. They’re so young and excited.
It’s nice. They buoy me up. It’s hectic too
but I don’t mind, less chance to think about
that time that’s not your own. We usher people
in and point out loos and all that stuff.
Apparently we spend some ninety days
just sitting on the loo. Three bloody months!
I reckon Harry’s spent more like three years!
He disappears for hours in there, heaving.
I dread to think what his piles must be like.
But still, I haven’t been down there for years.
This article said fourteen days spent kissing!
Well, I certainly have not spent fourteen
bloody days of my life kissing! Fat chance.

He’s not exactly charismatic, Corbyn.
Geography teacher, the paper said.
Well, maybe at the sort of schools they went to.
The bloke who taught me geography was huge,
great burly thing he was. Big ape arms
with matted ginger hair on them. And bald.
And bloody cross. Ex-army, well a lot
of them were army men back then, weren’t they?
This Corbyn wouldn’t last ten bloody minutes
in a war! Well, not that that should matter.
Blair went off to war and look what happened.
Oh, the pictures on the telly of those children.
Poor things. Apparently it’s ten years watching
telly too. About the same as work.
And watching what? Poor little mites with arms
blown off, pot-bellied little black kids bloody
starving. That, and all the drivel! Well, I’d rather
read, but Harry likes the telly and,
well, watching it together means we talk.
We saw this thing the other night, um, Goggle Box?
It’s people watching telly. That’s all it is.
What utter rubbish. What have we come to?
Watching other people watch the telly!
But nothing else was on and so we sat there.
Just saying that aloud … how sad that seems.

This Corbyn’s not like Foot or Tony Benn.
My goodness they could talk. Well, even Blair.
Of course he seems so slick and smarmy now,
I guess he always was, but I was sold.
I voted for him, twice. And there was hope.
Such hope. That awful song, um: Things can only
get better. Well, you believed they would.

I’m listening to him and yeah, I really like him.
He’s honest, that’s for sure. The opposite
of Blair. I didn’t like that last one either:
Miliband, well, he was sort of wet.
It seemed as if he didn’t know his own mind.
Oh Lordy, when he did that interview
with Paxman and he said: “Hell yeah, I’m tough
enough”. Except he said it: “tuss enough.”
Oh, like some little boy who’s lost his mum.
Who’d vote for him?

But Corbyn’s not like that.
He’s not exactly tough, but, well, he’s hardy.
Been around the block. But, so have I.
Perhaps that’s why I like him. Good to have
a person more your own age for a change.
I can’t stand being lectured to by someone
half my years. But all around this room
they’re glued to him and like I said before
they’re young, not all of them but lots of them.
They gaze at him. I know that look, that’s hope.
And when he’s done they’re on their feet and clapping,
cheering, hollering like there was no tomorrow.
Or rather like there was. A better one.
I must confess, I’m swept up by it too.
I’m thinking yes, I’d vote for you, I would.
And still I’m clapping, clapping, clapping!
My hands are red and sore but I don’t mind,
it’s like I’m not myself, well, yes I am
but more than that, I’m him, and all of them
as well.

And afterwards he’s so polite.
He thanks us all. And you can tell he means it.
We pack up, do the bins, the lights, the locks.
And though the work is boring, no one minds.
And now I’m waiting for the bloody bus
again. They say he’ll never win. Not this,
the general election. That he can’t
because he’s too left-wing. What does that mean?
I don’t think people really care about that stuff.
Not normal people anyway.

The bus is late.
It’s cold, it gets like that sometimes in August.
I can feel the autumn coming, crouching
just behind the trees. I think about the people
in the hall, that sea of hopeful faces.
Hope. It picked me right up and spun me round.
It took me out myself but now I’m waiting
for that bus again, well, nothing’s changed.
I know that sounds silly, ‘course it hasn’t
But, it’s like I said before, it never
does. Well, not for me. Obama won
and everyone was hopeful and excited.
Blair and Foot and Benn and Mrs Thatcher
Halls and halls of people on their feet
for years and years and all with hopeful faces,
being taken out themselves, set free
by plans and promises and pretty speeches.
I’ll still be at this bus stop if he wins,
if any of them win. I’ll still watch Harry’s
drivel on the telly, struggle for my shifts,
and miss my boys. We’re hopeful cos we think
they have a map, they say they do, they know
the way and all we have to do is vote
to let them take us somewhere bloody better.
But can they? Can they really if you can’t
work out where it is you want to go.

The bus is here at last, I shuffle on
and let it take me slowly home again,
shuddering down the dark familiar streets.