Thirty Bob a Week
By John Davidson
I COULDN’T touch a stop and turn a screw,
And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth — I hope, like you—
On the handle of a skeleton gold key.
I cut mine on leek, which I eat it every week :
I’m a clerk at thirty bob, as you can see.
But I don’t allow it’s luck and all a toss ;
There’s no such thing as being starred and crossed ;
It’s just the power of some to be a boss,
And the bally power of others to be bossed :
I face the music, sir ; you bet I ain’t a cur !
Strike me lucky if I don’t believe I’m lost !
For like a mole I journey in the dark,
A-travelling along the underground
From my Pillar’d Halls and broad suburban Park
To come the daily dull official round ;
And home again at night with my pipe all alight
A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.
100 Thirty Bob a Week
And it’s often very cold and very wet ;
And my missis stitches towels for a hunks ;
And the Pillar’d Halls is half of it to let—
Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, the wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.
But you’ll never hear her do a growl, or whine,
For she’s made of flint and roses very odd ;
And I’ve got to cut my meaning rather fine
Or I’d blubber, for I’m made of greens and sod :
So p’rhaps we are in hell for all that I can tell,
And lost and damned and served up hot to God.
I ain’t blaspheming, Mr. Silvertongue ;
I’m saying things a bit beyond your art :
Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung
Thirty bob a week’s the rummiest start !
With your science and your books and your the’ries about
Did you ever hear of looking in your heart ?
I didn’t mean your pocket, Mr. ; no !
I mean that having children and a wife
With thirty bob on which to come and go
Isn’t dancing to the tabor and the fife ;
When it doesn’t make you drink, by Heaven, it makes you
And notice curious items about life !
I step into my heart and there I meet
A god-almighty devil singing small,
By John Davidson 101
Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
And squelch the passers flat against the wall ;
If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
He would take it, ask for more, and eat it all.
And I meet a sort of simpleton beside—
The kind that life is always giving beans ;
With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
He fell in love and married in his teens ;
At thirty bob he stuck, but he knows it isn’t luck ;
He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.
And the god-almighty devil and the fool
That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
Are my good and evil angels if you like ;
And both of them together in every kind of weather
Ride me like a double-seated ” bike.”
That’s rough a bit and needs its meaning curled ;
But I have a high old hot un in my mind,
A most engrugious notion of the world
That leaves your lightning ‘rithmetic behind :
I give it at a glance when I say ” There ain’t no chance,
Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind.”
And it’s this way that I make it out to be :
No fathers, mothers, countries, climates— none !—
Not Adam was responsible for me ;
Nor society, nor systems, nary one !
A little sleeping seed, I woke —I did indeed—
A million years before the blooming sun.
102 Thirty Bob a Week
I woke because I thought the time had come ;
Beyond my will there was no other cause :
And everywhere I found myself at home
Because I chose to be the thing I was ;
And in whatever shape, of mollusc, or of ape,
I always went according to the laws.
I was the love that chose my mother out ;
I joined two lives and from the union burst ;
My weakness and my strength without a doubt
Are mine alone for ever from the first.
It’s just the very same with a difference in the name
As “Thy will be done.” You say it if you durst !
They say it daily up and down the land
As easy as you take a drink, it’s true ;
But the difficultest go to understand,
And the difficultest job a man can do,
Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
And feel that that’s the proper thing for you.
It’s a naked child against a hungry wolf;
It’s playing bowls upon a splitting wreck ;
It’s walking on a string across a gulf
With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck :
But the thing is daily done by many and many a one….
And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.
Davidson, John. “Thirty Bob a Week.”The Yellow Book, vol. 2, July 1894, pp. 99-102. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/YBV2_davidson_thirty/