Posted by: David Harley | July 7, 2013


School was the first test,
first through the gate
with an apple for Miss:
mustn’t be late

for the nursery school rat race,
the maze of jigsaws,
struggling with Book III
when the rest were on Book IV.

New satchel and cap
for Secondary School.
New classmates and teachers,
stricter rules

“Get on with your algebra.
Don’t play the fool.
Get some diplomas to paper your room
or you’ll finish your life at the end of a broom.”

Turn off that TV:
get on with your homework.
It’s time for bed
and you’ve all that to do…”

“Please, mum, I’ll never finish it now.
Can’t you ring in tomorrow and say I’ve got flu?”

“How do you think
you’ll get through your exams?
Where will you end up?
I can’t understand
why you can’t knuckle down
like anyone else:
don’t you want to make something
of yourself?”

“Is this really the job you want to do?
It’s not that we’re unimpressed with you
and your three CSEs
but we think you’d be overqualified here.”

“Do you have a degree?
No? Oh dear….”

“We only take school-leavers at sixteen.”

“You seem bright enough, but so young:
well, I mean,
we want people who’ve seen a bit of the world.”

“Sorry, we really wanted a girl…”

Still, things picked up at the next interview:

“Good morning, young man:
how do you do?
I see you did quite well at school.
Not quite enough diplomas to paper a room.
Still, I’m sure you’ll do well here:
here’s your broom.”

I got on well enough there,
at least for a time:
I was sure I’d make maintenance chief
by and by,
till the Time and Motion people came round
and by and by the news filtered down…

“You’ve done pretty well here:
don’t think that it’s you.
You’re neat, and punctual,
and willing, it’s true.
It’s just that Top Management have the idea
that we don’t really need full time maintenance here.
There are agencies now, with skilled men and machines
to come in twice a week and keep the place clean.
We’re sure you’ll do well:
you’re hard-working enough
and we wish you success
at finding a job.”

A nod’s as good as a wink
to the most willing blind horse:
in time I found a place
on a government-sponsored course
in Advanced Machine Minding:
the machine being King
the future must belong
to the man who serves the machine.

And the training centre bosses
were very good to me:
they found a job for me to go to
with free overalls and tea
and when the work’s a little slow
well, they’ve given me this broom
so I can make my contribution
where machines refuse to go…

The soldier dies behind his gun
defending his homeland:
John Henry died beating the machine,
his hammer in his hand.
But I’ll tell you this for free:
I’ll burn this factory through and through
Before I let myself go under
Still pushing this damn’ broom…


This was loosely based on an idea by Brian Radstone and was performed by Brian and other members of the cast in the revue “Nice… if you can get it”, directed by Margaret Ford, and for which I wrote some of the dialogue and most of the music. Subsequently published in Suite in Four Flats (and a Maisonette), 1985. Copyright David Harley, 1982.


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