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U3A Writing: The Well: 5 - Jack

So many horses crowding the streets
Men are employed to sweep a path
So ladies may cross free of dirt.
After dark lights in glass balls
Seem to burn air;
There's a full moon's worth of lighted windows...

Jack arrives in London.

Paddy Webb continues the story of her great-grandfather

London is a flock of starlings
Coming in to roost; noise and
Jostle and argument, wheeling, turning
Never still yet each in its place.

So many horses crowding the streets
Men are employed to sweep a path
So ladies may cross free of dirt.
After dark lights in glass balls
Seem to burn air;
There's a full moon's
Worth of lighted windows.

There are pie stalls, jellied eels
Bell swinging muffin men,
Carts selling milk, barrows of fruit,
Whole markets of meat and fish,
Shops piled high with butter and tea
All to be bought, even flowers.

Ladies wear such skirts they seem to float
With every kind of colour and cloth, while
Gentry have great tall hats and long coats.
There's busy folks, nursemaids, cabbies and clerks.
Then there's others, flitting in and out of dark
Alleys like rats, begging, stealing, fighting,
Women standing on corners. If our Sarah
Stood like that
Mum would slap her face.

I wandered through the streets like driftwood on a stream
Pushed here and there, twisting and turning.
I found the river, but it was not our friendly
Sunbury Thames with cows up to theirknees in cool water
And the gluck of rising fish.


One night I slept on sacking under a stall
Another in a doorway.
Then Taz found me
Said he'd been watching me, fellow feeling.
He lived with a woman called Annie
Who took an interest in boys like us.
Would be glad if I went home with him.

The small square had a foul air
Of rot and rubbish, things unspeakable.
Around it rose small tenements
Pockmarked and patched, where drunken
Chimneys leaned perilously over drunken roves.
Windows of grimed glass leered, or patched
With sacking like pirates' eyes, waited.

In the corner, where a ray of sun
Struggled through the smoky gloom, sat
A vast woman, brooding like a huge
Spider surveying her web, her face
Half covered by lank dark hair,
Her body enveloped in tattered crimson,
Dirty and ragged at the edge.
As she heaved to her feet there came
A cloying scent, part gin, part lack of care.
And from a depth of chins her husky voice
Wheezed and rasped.

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