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CARNATIONS ON THE ROOF (Pete Atkin / Clive James) Pete Atkin - 1973 He worked setting tools for a multi-purpose punch In a shop that made holes in steel plates He could hear himself think through a fifty minute lunch Of the kids, gas and stoppages, the upkeep and the rates While he talked about Everton and Chelsea with his mates With gauge and micrometer, with level and with rule While chuck and punch were pulsing like a drum He checked the finished product like a master after school The slugs looked like money and the cutting-oil like scum And to talk with a machinist he made signals like the dumb Though he had no great gifts of personality or mind He was generally respected, and the proof Was a line of hired Humbers tagging quietly behind A fat Austin Princess with carnations on the roof Forty years of metal tend to get into your skin The surest coin you take home from your wage The green cleaning-jelly only goes to rub it in And that glitter in the wrinkle of your knuckle shows your age Began when the dignity of work was still the rage He was used and discarded in a game he didn't own But when the moment of destruction came He showed that a working man is more than flesh and bone The hands on his chest flared more brightly than his name For a technicolor second as he rolled into the flame Though he had no great gifts of personality or mind He was generally respected, and the proof Was a line of hired Humbers tagging quietly behind A fat Austin Princess with carnations on the roof

    


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