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Caroline Gilfillan & Andrew Scott’s East End

June 6, 2015
by the gentle author

It is my pleasure to present these poems by Caroline Gilfillan with photographs by Andrew Scott – dating from the early seventies and encapsulating that era when Caroline & Andrew were squatters in the East End, they are published for the first time today

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Spitalfields Street Sweepers

Council issue donkey jackets slung over saggy suits,

the street sweepers get to work,

broom heads shooshing over concrete and tar,

herding paper and peel and fag ends into heaps,

.

strong fingers grasping the broom handles,

knuckles big and smooth as weathered stones

moving easy in their bags of skin, watchful eyes

on you, your finger-clicks, your lens.

.

.

Aldgate Gent

Shoes shined, trilby brushed, ears scrubbed

clean as a baby’s back, he chugs through the

sun drops and diesel clag of Aldgate.

No crumbs in his turn-ups, no fluff in his pockets:

the wife, at home in one of the new flats

over by Mile End, keeps him spruce.

.

He’s on his way to meet Solly at Bloom’s

for gefilte fish and a chinwag. We flew

past him in a dented van, croaky from

last night’s pints, hair in need of a good cut

and ears a good wash behind. And No,

we didn’t notice him, but he was a good

father to his sons, if inclined to sound off.

.

His wife went first but his sister cooked for him

after, and the nurses at the London

did him proud when the time came.

Us? We played our gigs and tumbled on,

leaving scraps of quavers and clefs

scattered across the pavement, the kerb,

the bang, rattle and clank of Aldgate East.

.

.

Stoneyard Lane Prefabs

Two ticks and the fixer of the Squatters Union

has done the break-in, courtesy of a jemmy.

The door creaks in the fish-mud breeze blowing up

from Shadwell docks. Here you are girls.

Faces poke, glint through curtain cracks.

.

A man comes back for his hobnailed boots. Stands lit up

by orange street lights, his meek face

breathing beer. We got behind with the rent, he says,

muddy laces spilling over knuckles.

Thought we’d leave before the council chucked us out.

.

The next morning two hoods from the council break the lock,

bawl through the drunken door, Clear out or we’ll

board you in. Bump-clang of an Audi brings bailiffs.

The fixer flies in, fists up to his chin.

Has words. We hunch on the kerb with our carrier bags.

.

.

Mile End Automatic Laundry

Natter chat, neat fold, wheel carts of nets, sheets, blankets, undies, pillow-slips,

feed the steel drum, twirl and swoosh, dose of froth, soaping out the Stepney dirt.

Say hello to the scruffs from the squats off Commercial Road, more of them now,

breaking the GLC doors off their hinges, and I don’t stick my nose

where it’s not wanted, though you can tell a lot by a person’s laundry,

can’t you? That girl with the hacked-off hair, no bras in her bag, and no

fancy knickers, though the boy brings in shirts, must go to work

somewhere smarter than the street where they live and that

pond-life pub on the corner. Speaking of which,

walking home the other night I heard music,

a group, with drums, guitars, the lot,

so I peeped in and there was

the girl, earnest as a nun, singing

You can get it if you really want

and I thought

just you wait

and see.

.

Poems copyright © Caroline Gilfillan

Photographs copyright © Andrew Scott

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13 Responses leave one →
  1. June 6, 2015

    Eloquent words and depressingly accurate photos, which show how life was at that time for many people. If British Land had had more sense and vision instead of greed a lot of the East End that has now been destroyed could have been restored and saved. Valerie

  2. kristine dillon permalink
    June 6, 2015

    I could not help but notice a similarity between the poems written by Caroline Gilfillan and those written by one of our famous poets here in the States, Carl Sandberg. Each of these poets convey such clear, visual images of the cities and streets they inhabited and observed. Thank you for this lovely post.

  3. June 6, 2015

    Transported by these poems and images back to the London of my teens in a magical way.

  4. Helen George permalink
    June 6, 2015

    I love waking up & checking my emails and there in among the endless ‘offers’ there’s your post like a message from a friend – golden nugget! I never know what it’ll find when I open it, this was a real treat I especially loved the poem about the launderette. Thanks to you all.

  5. June 6, 2015

    Great combinations

  6. June 6, 2015

    Great poems and photographs. I especially liked the poem about the woman in the launderette. Plus, the gentlemen with the beard, long coat and brimless hat is my husband’s doppelganger.

  7. June 6, 2015

    Terrific poems, Caroline: tough, assured, clear-eyed. Loved the Aldgate Gent. How about publishing a book illustrated by Andrew’s poignant photos?

  8. Eastendbutcher permalink
    June 6, 2015

    Fantastic photos of a London that I remember so well from my teenage years. The combination of the sharp and gritty poetry makes the whole thing come alive. Terrific subject!

  9. Margaret Nairne permalink
    June 6, 2015

    Thank you for featuring these touching poems. Brought back clear memories of staying in a squat in Chalk Farm where my much older sister lived. She burned her bra in the early ’70s and, amongst other things, founded the Women’s Free Arts Alliance and, I understand, sometimes roadied for the band, The Stepney Sisters, in her pink painted lorry which said “Serendipity” down the side! Perhaps this is the band referred to in the poems.

  10. Caroline Gilfillan permalink
    June 7, 2015

    Margaret, how lovely to read your post. The Stepney Sisters is indeed the band referred to and I have vivid memories of your sister and her Serendipity van. The gig at the Women’s Arts Alliance was memorable for a number of reasons: I think that was where a speaker fell on a borrowed guitar and broke it. Benni created a sculpture of kitchen implements, too. I’m writing a collection of poetry about those times and that gig must find its way in there.

  11. Caroline Gilfillan permalink
    June 7, 2015

    Nicholas thanks for the thumbs up. Andrew Scott and I are putting together a collection of poems and photographs and looking for a publisher. I’m sure it will happen.

  12. anna coburn permalink
    June 8, 2015

    Liberation and bra burning in the early 70′s.
    You were on the road, singing,
    being serious about feminism.

    I was just starting the married road.
    Spare Rib.
    Their message made me feel guilty.
    I was to be a wife, a mother.
    My decision.
    These were the different roads we took.
    I don’t suppose either of us regrets our choice.

  13. susyhogarth permalink
    June 8, 2015

    love the photos and the poems of Caroline Gilfillan.

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