A Whistlestop Tour Of F**king Up Everything

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I found a notebook a while ago – still unpacking boxes in the little flat I moved into in July – with a few scribbled songs and poems in that I wrote when I was unemployed and life was, well, pretty crap. Hungry, cold, miserable, angry, crap. This was a huge punch in the guts to rediscover, especially as on a facing page were the benefit calculations the Government website said I should be receiving as a single parent to a then-two-year-old, compared to the payments that were actually going in (or not, due to delays, suspensions, recalculations, etc.) I wrote to stay sane, I wrote to purge, I wrote to rage, I wrote to communicate, I wrote because sometimes it feels like the only thing I can do.

This morning I was alerted to a blog post, about me, that can only be described as a horribly gaslighting piece of fiction. The line that stood out for me, however, was the implication that because I wrote songs and poetry, I could never have been properly poor. As though working class people do not have hobbies and interests. As though many of the greatest songwriters and poets of our time – to whom I absolutely do not compare – have not come from difficult backgrounds and don’t write about their own experiences.

So, in the spirit of turning something negative into something positive, I have decided to start sharing my poetry again. Yes, this is largely a recipe blog, but this forms the background as to why it’s here in the first place.

WHISTLESTOP TOUR by JACK MONROE

It’s October and I’m older
For a year out on the dole
Got a sweater on but the heating’s off
There’s a chill right to my bones
There’s no fairytale or wonderland
Here on the other side
Got a letter to David penned his PA will cast aside
Show me your broken policies and promises
And I’ll show you what it’s like to be unsurprised

Can you smell the salt and sugar
Of the obsolete fairground rides
Can you walk inside my shoes in dead straight lines
Could you be lonely all the time

Well welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to a week in the life of me
Don’t fasten your safety bars
Turn your heads or close your eyes
If you’ve any shred of decency
You’ll see a crooked house and you’ll be horrified

Oh welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to brave faces
In strange places
Raising families on the dole
In bread and jam and hunger pangs are people who’ll tell you how much you’ve grown
And how far you’ll go
Oh how far you’ll go…

Ive got an unelected leader says we’re in it together
He’s got four homes and a deputy
And you’re sleeping outside in all weathers
We tried to make it work the way they said it works
But I’m worked right to the ground
I can’t keep coming up again I’m pulled back down
Can’t keep coming up again
Believe me
Don’t leave me
I’m falling falling falling, down

And can you smell the salt and sugar
And all the about-turns and the lies?
Can you walk inside my shoes along the tide
Could you be lonely all the time?

Well welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to a week in the life of me
Don’t fasten your safety bars
Turn your heads or close your eyes
If you’ve any shred of decency
You’ll see a crooked house and you’ll be horrified

Oh welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to brave faces
In strange places
Raising families on the dole
In bread and jam and hunger pangs are people who’ll tell you how much you’ve grown
And how far you’ll go
Oh how far you’ll go…

Can you see the single mothers
With their buggies
Queuing for an hour for a box of beans and rice
Can you see the nurse behind them
With a coat over her uniform
Dispensing free advice
The students kick in windows
Screaming riots
And today all the schools are closed
Teachers and the doctors stand in pickets
Coz they’re sick of being quiet
And the coppers and the papers are all bought and sold

Oh welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to brave faces
In strange places
Raising families on the dole
In bread and jam and hunger pangs
are people who’ll tell you how much you’ve grown
And how far you’ll go
Oh how far you’ll go…

Yeah welcome to a whistlestop tour of fucking up everything
Welcome to not knowing when the story ends
Go pick up your banners
And stand in your lines
These are the things that were yours and mine
These are the things that we’ll tell our children we fought for once upon a time.

Jack Monroe, 2012.

Categories: Blog

35 Comments »

  1. that is amazing, and makes me want to cry. I think we need people’s thoughts and feelings like these out in the world calling us to think about what is being done in our names to other humans who have done nothing to deserve the struggle they are facing

  2. Some people take delight in putting others down – in my experience this is the only way the unaccomplished can feel tall. Pay no attention to their negativity and meaness of spirit. Many times “luck” is the product of very hard work and ability. You deserve any success that comes you way – enjoy it!

  3. Visceral stuff – sometimes words are the only thing we have and while they may not nourish the body, they nourish the soul.
    Thank you for sharing nourishment.
    Andrew

  4. I think probably the best songs and poetry are written in times of frustration and angst. Whether that be at a time of personal grief or society inflicted grief – they often go hand in hand. A piece of paper and pen can sometimes be the only (and cheapest) therapy there is. Thanks for sharing. I still feel the anger you’re expressing even though I am incredibly lucky that my life has turned out relatively well for a child of a single mother in Thatcher’s Britain. Thank you also for reminding me that my sense of injustice at the crap system we live in is still very much intact.

  5. I already glean that, as a poor person, you’re not supposed to own anything nice, have tattoo’s, drink, go out or indeed blog (as you shouldn’t really be able to afford computer or mobile phone), surely writing poetry is one of the few options left to you!

    Stick it to em.

  6. Anybody with intelligence above plant life knows that poets and songwriters, artists and writers come from every stratum of society. To say otherwise simply shows ignorance and prejudice by the writer of the blog, and the vast majority of people reading it will recognise this.

    Keep up the good work.

  7. Wow, this is incredible…and so sad that you were in this position to write it. Thank you for sharing what is undoubtedly a personal poem-I think everyone could benefit from reading this.

  8. What kind of ill-informed person thinks writing is “above” poverty. So much of our greatest unpublished literature has come from adversity. I work in the field of child protection. The writings I have seen by children and young adults who have experienced poverty and abuse are phenomenal. It touches the depth and heights of humanity. Writing is free, writing cam be therapeutic, writing can be the only way someone can tell you what is happening to them. It transcends class and wealth.

  9. Hi Jack, if you formed a political party J would vote for you. We need to get rid of deceit and corruption in society and you talk a lot of common sense. Good luck, Paul ( a 66 yr old humanist who believes in people over policies).

  10. One thing comes to mind when I read your introduction and poem: remember Charles Dickens and always speak the truth. Dickens, and others of his ilk, were responsible for bringing the plight of the working class to the forefront and to the eventual creation of the Welfare State. I don’t make this comparison lightly in that I believe the same kind of crisis is going on now. Please keep writing and shoving it in the inbox of Mr. Cameron!

  11. wow, Jack, that is so poignant – you are not only my food blog hero, you are now my favourite poet (after just 1 poem)! it is a very sad reflection of the lives of many, many people and i trust that people who can make a difference will get to see your writings…

  12. There will always be people who want to put you in what they think is your place, but your place is somewhere only you have the right to decide the way the journey takes you and where you stop. Some people spend a lifetime trying to live how others want them to, and others fight and shout and inspire.

  13. When reading your poem I felt the hungry, the cold, the miserable, the angry, and the crap. Fortunately I never been in that position but your poem was a perfect window for what it is like to be in that place. Poems or any other way of expressing ourselves (and to do the inner work that needs to be done) are not bound by how much money we have. It doesn’t make sense at all. If somebody wants to criticize another they will grab anything.

    And I totally love the mixture of a poet, song writer, recipe creator, campaigner etc.

  14. Keep your chin up high – you are an inspiring and valuable person. You bring warmth and hope.
    Thank you.

  15. this feels as if you HAD to write it. No choice. Post it as widely as you can.

    dear Jack I send you a motherly hug. I wish I could tell you that it will all get better

  16. Too poor to write poetry, I’m south African and our best poets came from and raged against poverty and injustice. Read James Matthews, over 80 and still writing and raging

  17. Reads like a song!

    I love the ‘poor people don’t get creative’ argument. Right up there with ‘poor people are naturally designed to have simpler needs’.

  18. There are very few people I’ve never met that I properly love, but you’re definitely one of them. I’m sure a huge number of people around the world feel the same about you. What you do, and who you are, is very special and important.

  19. Excellent. Thanks.

    On the point about the BBC removing their online recipes, there is Open Source and Creative Commons which allow other writers to be as generous as Jack is here, eg free textbooks movement in USA community colleges, to help students avoid debt for wanting to learn. example in Washington Post 16-6-2016.

  20. You’re a breath of fresh air.
    Sad that I missed your book.
    Trying to find a copy.
    My daughter would have loved you, maybe she did and forgot to share you with me.
    Sad about that too. Desperately sad.

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