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Thursday, 29 November 2012

England, My England

Grew up a child of the Welfare State,
got my free school milk
and had plenty to eat;
had the doctor come calling
with his black bag and hat;
had him sit by my bed
and thought nothing of that.

Didn't know back then
just how far we had come
since they handed out votes
in exchange for our guns;
didn't know how my grandma
blacked grates and scrubbed floors,
with half a day off one Sunday in four;
or how my old grandad,
a boy of fourteen,
survived the Great War
to be packed off again
to fight for his country,
to keep Britain free;
or how, in the end,
he was fighting for me.

I never suspected
when I went to school
how lucky I was
to be going at all;
or how much depended
on me being bright.
'Just do your best,'
was what they said,
'and everything will turn out - alright'.
But, on the day,
I knew they'd lied
and I was sick with fright.

Grew up a child of the Welfare State;
have to admit that it's true:
I did have the world on
a paper plate;
the family silver still belonged to you.
I had my eye-sight tested, yes;
and my teeth were drilled and filled;
the nit-nurse came to check my hair,
and not one drop of my blood was spilled.

I didn't scrub; I didn't fight;
and it's true I didn't die;
but I did take and cherish
the dreams they dreamed,
believing I understood why -
why  they scrubbed and scraped and bowed,
and why they fought, and why they died;
but now they are dead and so are their dreams.
Someone somewhere lied.

© Abigail Wyatt

Beveridge report: From 'deserving poor' to 'scroungers'?


  1. Great poem Abi. From the other side of the world I can recognise a lot of my life in this.

  2. Nice one, Abi. And still, the lies come...

  3. I like your line, 'I did have the world/on a paper plate'. Says it all!

  4. Thank you, Abigail; this struck a chord with me, too – the school milk and eye tests and dentist drills and nit nurses.

    With Christmas fast approaching, and having decided I really ought to before being compelled to watch a Disney version, I finally read A Christmas Carol for the first time the other week, and as I sat in its warm afterglow, found myself wondering if 21st century China, as she rises rapidly through the callous and unfettered ‘robber barons and Satanic mills’ stage of capitalism, might give the world a literary giant of Dickens’ calibre. But reading your poem and de Castella’s article has suddenly made me wonder if I need to look so far from my homeland. Perhaps England’s regression will all too soon give rise to a neo-Dickens as she passes China on her way down the ladder of social justice...

  5. Love that! Jane Slavin