Cable Street – David King

Cable Street

Custodian of the Cable Street branch,
old Mr Grossman, hunched shoulders,
diminished frame, squints
through Ronnie Barker glasses 
at whatever papers librarians
are obliged to shuffle 
in this pre-computer age.

Card indexes, rubber stamps,
postcard reminders of books in or due,
the printed word supreme,
intrusive voices rarely heard;
an institution still respected,
yet to be rebranded.

Tuesday afternoon my roster at the outpost,
not looked forward to;
a 15 or 23 then a brisk walk,
with closing time at eight a long way off.
A dull stretch with little to do,
shelving returns not the best exercise
for an agile mind,
decoding for diversion jacket semiotics
a decade before I knew the word;
colour and typography, 
the gun, the girl, the film noir still,
and noting names of authors not yet met:
Heyer, Cookson, Pearl S. Buck,
and others now forgotten.

The clientele, old mainly,
time to kill though no funds to burn,
in for their weekly ration 
of westerns, thrillers and romance;
survivors from a harsher age,
children in Harlow or Billericay,
but themselves staying put
among the old memories
and truncated streets leading nowhere;
a light and bitter for him,
a Mackeson for her 
an occasional evening relief.

Unable now to change,
out of their element,
stranded like fish when the tide withdraws
or changes direction;
nowhere to go for this redundant class,
soon to be swept aside 
by the eastward flooding tsunami
of easy city money and public funds,
docklands pointless now 
in this airborne age.

Old Grossman, prickly and brusque, 
prepares to shut up shop; 
a veteran of campaigns,
he knows what persecution is; 
threw a brick at Mosley in ’36.
Puzzled then by leftist splits,
I asked which one was his:
“Oh, Kosher CP!” came the testy reply,
the detail trivial in the bigger picture.
Priorities readjusted,
I hoped the brick had found its mark. 

David King