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Caroline Gilfillan & Andrew Scott’s East End

January 14, 2021
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.

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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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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Gill Price permalink
    January 14, 2021

    Do we know anything about Catherine Gilfillan: our great grandfather was James A Gilfillan, born in the Westminster area. I wonder if she is related to us?

  2. January 14, 2021

    Very potent images and words.

  3. January 14, 2021

    It’s a daily joy to read your posts
    They feel like a treat and days when I have less time I miss them.

    I loved today’s poems and images from tte 70s – Gilfillan and Scott

    But everyday is enlightening and tender and gentle
    I shall buy your facades book when I get paid.
    Thanks x

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 14, 2021

    There are some wonderfully evocative phrases here – I particularly loved ‘the diesel clag of Aldgate’ and ‘the fish-mud breeze blowing up from Shadwell docks’.

    And the diminishing lines of the Mile End Automatic Laundry poem was a brilliant way to build up (or should that be down?) to the final killer phrase… genius!

    Thank you.

  5. Adele Lester permalink
    January 14, 2021

    The Laundromat poem, just read it three times. Especially love the last lines! Thanks GA for bringing this to us!

  6. January 14, 2021

    Thanks for publishing this. Fabulous words and photographs!

  7. paul loften permalink
    January 14, 2021

    Thank you for the photos which capture the down at heel nature of London in the 70’s. I would have loved a flat with that view of Tower Bridge.
    Speaking of the down at hill nature of London, where have all the Wimpy’s gone? They were such friendly places. I was once with friends in a slightly upmarket Wimpy in Oxford Street. My friend, Chris was in the middle of a Wimpy eggburger (Yes, there was such a thing), when a bearded gentleman sat down next to him and started to tuck into his egg. Fortunately for him, Chris was a gentle giant being 6ft4in at 16 years and still had a couple of inches to go, just sat there in amazement, whilst we were falling about laughing. I offered the bearded gentleman the tomato ketchup bottle, that was ever-present on the table but he declined and finished the egg.

  8. January 16, 2021

    Thanks for these lovely comments about the poems and photographs. Gill Price, my father was from the Scottish highlands, so not related to a Westminster Gilfillan, but great to know there was a Gilfillan there! When I lived in London in the 1970s I was the only Gilfillan in the phone book. I’ve been trying to find out if I’m related to the Reverend George Gilfillan, a renowned Scottish Victorian scholar and keen poet. It appears not – which is a shame.

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