futurelearn week 5

A Leader on the Docks

“A load of privileged buggers who’ve never done a days work in their lives,” said Cyril, “looking at the students protesting at us breaking the bus boycott. “Give them a couple of years and they’ll all be Tories and still calling us scum. We have to support our brothers on the buses.”

Cyril would have been offended if you had dared to call him a racist. He had, after all, supported all the independence movements across Africa and India. What he would not do was to allow black dockers because he saw them as a threat to the jobs of his union brothers. If the bus workers didn’t want black bus crews then solidarity demanded we supported them.

At the docks, Cyril became Uncle Joe. We all had a nickname. A lot of the blokes you only ever knew by their nickname. When Quickie died, nobody knew even though there was an announcement in the paper.

A hard man. An uncompromising man. A man you wouldn’t want to cross. Working on the docks made you tough and Cyril was as tough as they came.

“You’ll have to come round for tea, young Ladder,” said Cyril. “Meet the missus and kids.”

I accepted the invitation.

Drinking tea from a twee bone china cup was a new experience. I sat there scared that I’d drop it.

“There’s all you’ll ever need in politics,” said Cyril pointing to a bookcase full of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. “Read this,” he continued, passing me a volume that had been printed in the USSR.

On the opposite wall was a bookcase of all the best in the world’s literature, some of it bound in tooled leather.

“Music,” said Cyril, and we listened to the Red Army Choir singing Kalinka. “That’s not for relaxing, though,” he said and put on a record of Mozart piano music.”

Cyril’s daughter came in. A natural beauty and I fancied her, but I never had the nerve. What if Cyril didn’t approve.

Cyril was a man who would share his vision but he wasn’t that interested in the visions of others.

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