The big shop –

I helped carry the bags

which left my hands stinging,

red stripes across the palms.


Sometimes she’d leave me

by the check out,

while she dashed back

for something she’d forgotten.


As the queue inched forward

I’d stop breathing:

what if she didn’t get back in time

what would I say to the cashier?


But this time we were together

when another woman slipped in front of us.

My mother wasn’t going to let that happen,

complained loudly.


The woman shouted back :

Bloody foreigners  go back where you came from

and everyone looked down into their baskets

till we stepped back.

Bladdifor aynerr.

The grown ups would pass this word

between them like a novelty,

scoffing – something to get used to


like soggy sausages or smog.

I refused to go there again,

so my mother went on her own,

each week carrying all the bags home.


That is a poem I once wrote about growing up in the England, having arrived from Poland in the late 1950’s.

Today, in the light of the UK government’s recent decision to isolate itself from its own continent and connections and given the racism and xenophobia which the campaign to leave so cynically stirred up and exploited causing an increase in attacks on migrants both European and non-European – prejudice and hatred don’t follow any real logic – I’ve been thinking about those times.


Home Coming by Colin Grant (Jonathan Cape 2019)

I was reminded of them too listening to writer Colin Grant and photographer Howard Grey talking about ‘The Lost Images of the Windrush Generation’ at a Lewes Live Literature event recently. A welcome surprise at the event was the truly wonderful poet Grace Nichols’ reading of her poem inspired by the images. Colin Grant spoke so eloquently about the voices of that generation, while Howard Grey’s stunning, miraculously recovered, photographs showed the hopefulness on the faces of people arriving in the U.K from the West Indies. The scandal of how Black people of that generation were then treated in 2018 which continues with deportations on this very day, along with the creation of a ‘hostile environment policy’ by the government only adds to the poignancy of the images and stories.

Growing up there was much racism and sexism, but I was hopeful we could overcome it.  I’m still proud of the movements and organisations which I played only a very small part in but which my generation created. As a young Pole I was inspired by the work of people of colour who first coined terms like Black British. It made me feel Britain could be multi-racial, multi-cultural, inclusive, welcoming – where someone like me could be Polish British, somewhere that could be called home. Looking around today it seems unbelievable that after all those struggles we are where we are now. That feels very hard. After January 31st in the UK so many friends were in tears. We know what backward steps are being taken.

But I don’t think the answer is to berate ourselves with failure. Clearly we made/make mistakes – the terrible fragmentation not least. But I’m proud of the way my generation looked – still looks – at the world in collective terms, looks past our own individual or immediate concerns. I’m proud of alliances forged –  for example feminists and lesbians (among others) supporting the miners’ strikes of the 1980’s or fighting for contraception and abortion rights, proud that we Rocked against Racism and poked fun at gender stereotypes. Thatcherism has since destroyed so much of that way of thinking – of ourselves as part of a much bigger ‘we’. So it’s good to remember, reconnect.

What we’re up against is huge. It makes us feel small and helpless. Luckily there are both younger and older people who continue to stand up for the different, kinder, inclusive world we’ve always wanted and still want, yearn for, believe in. Looking around me : we may be hurting, but I don’t see any of us giving up.

So as, post-Brexit, we’re being told languages other than English won’t be tolerated…I’m especially pleased to be involved in a Polish/English as well as queer live literature production touring this very month, starting this week: Feb 13th, 18th, 20th , 21st and 22nd! You can find all the details here:












I’m also delighted to be compering a Brighton evening with 3 amazing poets, Seni Seneviratne, Sea Sharp and Naomi Foyle on Feb 19th:

and on Feb 14th in Brighton too reading Love Poems:


Fridays was originally published in Everyday Angels (Waterloo Press)