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 The Scent That Captures That "1930s Moment"!

All material copyrighted to © 2014

or to the various credited sources © 2014



That once commonplace record shop His Master’s Voice,

Almost gone into administration, pops up now and again,

Sporadically, unexpectedly –like those baleful-eyed spikers under

The spell of Fenella the Kettle Witch, scourge of Chorlton

The ‘Happiness Dragon’ and the perpetually debating politburo

Of Wheelies –for temporary trade, punctuated by long periods

When the violet neon sign has suddenly disappeared again,

Like a ghost of the living, and the sealed-up windows

Of the exorcised art deco mausoleum has its porchway

Reoccupied by beggars with chicken-legged fox terriers

Cocking ears to hear their masters’ rasping voices hissing

Through mouth-formed gramophone-horns of chilblain lips,

Or, in miasmic summer months, taped-up with parched skin,

Pink-rusted, grime-encrusted, dried and turgid with thirst,

Stubble-cut and bruising like hircine strawberries in brine…


Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun…





The chilblain lips of the homeless man’s mouth

Have gone into administration

The melted eyes of the pavement strummer, his burnt rubber thumbs

Have gone into administration

The quixotic gent in the nicotine-coloured flannel suit, cancer and

                 hacking coughs catarrh-stacking against him

Has gone into administration

The bunches of greasy marigold curls clumped on the downturned head

                 of the addict girl grasping herself in the dark of a littered alleyway

Have gone into administration

As has the laugh of a trampled artist and all the cast-off canvases he hawks –

And the unloved boy with oblivion in his blood, emptiness filling his hood;

And the crumpled paper hands of the coat-hanger-shouldered, pony-

                                                                                       tailed origami man;

And the jocular local hobo who always wears the same pair of dirty

                                                                                       yellow trousers –

All into administration

All, everything, the whole kit and caboodle

Into administration


Like baleful eyes of street-slung beggars the shops lie empty.


Now we’re all feeling the pinch and see no end to austerity,

While it would appear the super-rich have to yet see a start to it…


Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the Big Society…



But O how that recrudescent scent helps us make the best

Of it: Odour of Devon Violet transports us back to more

Affordable days before the welfare, sweet mystique of milk

Shortages, bread and roses, inconspicuous consumption

Of the lungs; to slums and tenements, rickets for lack of calcium,

Mass unemployment, demonstrations, marches, strikes, industrial

Paralysis, before the Attlee Settlement, to the time of Public

Assistance, Parish Relief, the “Means Test”, “handouts”,

“The dole”, “the broo”, “the giro”, “Going on the old Lloyd

George” as the gutter press pejoratively ventriloquised even

Then through mouths of blue-collar babes, parroted by Disraelian

“Angels in Marble” (working-class Tories), and Janus-faced Liberals…





The deepening poverties of the interwar years –those shelving

Decades– collecting like coral reefs of squalor encrusting

This emerald isle, prompted the setting up of an Unemployment Assistance Board, in 1934, last Labourite act of James Ramsay

MacDonald, hounded by his conscience ever closer to being

Out of office after forming a National Coalition Government

With mostly Tories, his rearguard having melted away into

Opposition, undercut under anti-cuts Arthur Henderson –

And three years later, under steely Stanley Baldwin, or woolly

Neville Chamberlain (who at least protected workers’ conditions

In factories, and maintained rent controls –quite an uncommon Conservative), the able-bodied poor were absorbed into

The National Insurance Act, 1911… But O the Means Test

Was to become notorious for its penny-pinching intrusiveness:

Claimants cramming in large oak halls like courtrooms lined

With benches round sloping floors with drains at the centre,

Where these supplicants would have to go to the toilet in front

Of one another while waiting forgotten hours in thickening fetor,

A whiff like paddock-cramped horse-sweat –when, no doubt,

Economic squirts of DEVON VIOLET would do its bit to combat Farmyard odours with cheap scent… Drudge cleaners had to

Slop out the sloping drainage floor with brushes and brooms –

But before the budget judges permitted handouts to anyone,

They’d tell them first to sell all their possessions, and even after that, Would only give them vouchers for food and clothes; and shops

Would punch holes in any shoes they procured with those coupons,

So the footwear couldn’t be periodically parked at the pawnbrokers During sparser periods… Nevertheless, pawnbrokering was still

Big business, much in demand among those trapped in permanent Under-consumption (and, often, consumption, for lack of calcium

And roughage –meat and veg)… Another alternative for the cash-Strapped was the Provident Cheque, equivalent of hire purchase,

Or our ubiquitous credit cards, paid off in instalments plus

Interest, plus more interest etc. –Wonga of the inter-war years…

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