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Then, Now

IMAGE: A collage of a woman with a Princess Diana hairdo

Summer 1976.

Tina’s sixteen and the Pentagon Shopping Centre’s all shiny and new.

Inside she hangs out with her mate Nadine, in platform shoes

and bell bottom jeans.

Nadine’s got her head in The Charts,

Jimmy Saville has her heart. Best DJ ever.

Best singer? Gary Glitter.

They’ve been to see him.

Scarves wrapped around their wrists

screaming for blood, the pair got pissed on Cinzano & Lemonade.

Just about made it onto the last train,

before walking home, alone.

Tina met her boyfriend, Paul

at The Court School of Ballroom Dancing.

Sounds crass in the 21st Century,

but everyone went to The Court back then.

A waltz and a Wimpey. That was the highlight

of a Saturday night in Chatham.

Taxman takes thirty five percent of Tina’s wage.

She does her shift at Betabakes.

Paul’s at the dockyard.

A job for life, that’s what the careers teacher said.

He’s nineteen, already wants to marry her.

But he’s got a problem, her ex-boyfriend, Dave.

Tina’s parents have never taken to Paul.

They’re religious. He’s not.

Dave’s a better catch.

It doesn’t matter he’s twenty-two and lapsed.

He’s the prodigal son they never had.

They don’t know he likes to drink.

Tina’s quiet about why they split.

She kept the bruises hidden.

Paul lights Tina’s ciggy.

She’s been smoking since she was twelve.

Her eyes look beautiful in the matchstick flame.

“I love you babe” he whispers.

“Yeah. Me too” she smiles.

Zoom forward forty years and what have we got?

The Me-Too Movement.

Perverts and bullies held to account,

people shout about injustice.

They’ve cottoned onto the mighty who lord it over the rest.

Tina’s parents should’ve relied less on God to protect their daughter.

They should’ve seen the bruises on her wrists,

smelled the alcohol on her breath.

Dave’s doing a stretch on Dartmoor.

They found his wife’s body under the shed.

She’d been dead for twenty years.

The Dockyard closed in ‘84.

Paul got made redundant.

Interest rates were sky high then the economy burst.

Negative equity done him in. Still, the building society were kind,

added the debt onto his new mortgage in Manchester.

Chatham’s different today.

Dockside’s stolen all the trade.

Empty doorways have become home to the homeless.

Tax rates are very low, but the poor have to go to food banks for help.

Tina and Paul split.

She got sick of life at home.

Got herself a grant, trained to be a nurse like Nadine.

They married each other in 2014.

Retired last year but came back to help in the pandemic.

Denied proper PPE they caught the virus but, they were lucky.

They’re out again on the frontline.

Proper heroines.

We’ve come so far yet stepped backwards at the same time.

Who knows what the future holds?

Dave’s due for parole, but I doubt there’s much chance of that.

They’ve found another two bodies behind the fireplace.


Artwork by KAZ WARD

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