Bill was born a little before the turn of the century— “Same year as Charlie Chaplin “, he would claim, as though in some vague, sad way he wished to identify himself with that symbol of the universal underdog. Orphaned very young, he eventually entered a naval training school, then, as sailor and musician, travelled the wide world for the better part of twenty years.

All the so-called virtues were inherent in Bill. He was healthy, honest, kind, dutiful, diligent and humble. “Life” to him was a clear cut issue of service to one’s betters, obedience to and unquestioning faith in “authority”. Of such stuff is capitalism made, and Bill was the last to question the justice or sanity of the social system.

Having survived the first world war-to-end-wars he chose civilian life and by the early twenties had settled in a London suburb to raise a small family. Trained to worship at the shrine of service and security he became a post office worker. He had served his king and country; he would now serve his neighbours in the role of conscientious workman.

Not that Bill thought all this out. As a propertyless member of society he was a “natural” prole; the kind of prole that any Blimp would give his left arm for (almost). But I digress . . . If, then, the social system has anything to offer its perfect proles one would assume Bill’s rake-off worthy of attention—certainly worthy of Bill. He worked hard, pinched nothing, acknowledged his “station”, doffed his hat to the vicar, was faithful to his wife and suffered children—his own and everyone els’s—with immeasurable patience.

Who better deserved the milk and honey of a world that sets so much store upon the worthy life? Here. I’m afraid, is the point at which, dear reader, you are in for a shock.

You see, with all his merits Bill was, nevertheless, a wage slave. Briefly, it amounts to this; that all the nice things he said and thought and did had a strictly cash value which, though renewed from Friday to Friday, left him not one wit nearer security or luxury. He earned 30s.. £2, £2 10s., £3 10s. a week, the figure rising as the years rolled on, but only in relation to the comparable rise in his cost of living. The only permanent factor in Bill’s economy was his inability to provide more than the minimum food, clothing and shelter for his family, an annual trip to the sea. with presents for the kids at Christmas and birthdays thrown in for good measure. True he squandered good money on ten fags a day. a weekly flutter on the Pools and a pint or two at the local on Sunday mornings. I leave it to you to judge of his extravagance.

Meanwhile his family grew up. H:s son came of age in a different generation with a different outlook. He did, in fact, challenge the status quo and put his findings to his father in no uncertain terms. Discussions played merry hell with the sanctuary of Bill’s apathy, but to no avail. Bill either wouldn’t or couldn’t see the point—or. more precisely, the pointlessness.

With typical humility Bill swallowed his pride when the second world war-to-end-wars blew up and his son contracted out of it. Discussions continued, mostly in letters or during their infrequent meetings when his son visited home while doing land work in various parts of the country.

Eventually a flying bomb blotted out a life’s work for Bill. His son. summoned by telegram, found him picking at the charred and shattered remains of his paltry goods and chattels. Between sobs he posed a question—not for himself nor merely for his family, but for his
kind . . .

“Why did this happen to us, son? Why, why, why?”

Bill began to die from the day the bomb fell. His hair changed colour overnight, humour drained from his personality. He was a man dedicated to his search for an answer to that anguished—Why? Three years later he was pensioned off as a worker. For five months more he “languished” on fifty bob a week, then died. The surgeon said he was riddled with cancer. His estate totalled £47.

Before the end he came very close lo his son’s way of thinking. They talked—no longer frittering time in argument—about capitalism, war, poverty, ugliness. man’s inhumanity to man and the way to resolve these social ills through Socialism. It could be said that Bill had to learn the hard way. but he learned in the end.

One might be tempted to dismiss Bill as a relic of the past, but nothing could be further from the truth. There are millions of Bills in the world today, all destined to receive the same treatment until they challenge and overthrow the system that mocks their every virtue as “good” human beings.

And Bill was a good ‘un. I ought to know—he was my father.

A. K.

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