Caught sight of Davie McRobie bunking off school
while sitting at the traffic-lights,
Graham’s Road, saw his beatific face go from
shock to delight when I,
his social worker, crunched into the tail-lights of a
truck that had moved off
then stopped, saw the wee bastard tug his mate’s
coat, then run like fuck!
Mrs McRobie’d say: ‘Whit kin ye dae, Mr Findlay?’
Well, you might open the door
when I come up? – ‘Aye, right enough.’ She had five
more, lived on fags and beer,
and wore a constant peeny, cleaned half the office
blocks in Falkirk,
morning, noon and night – the Ice-Rink, Sheriff Court
the Broo and Polis Stations,
locations not unfamiliar to her clan and brood although
she never stole a thing in her life,
going from office space to office space like a coolie
and giving her great lump of a man her pay packet,
unopened: ‘sair hodden doon’
her doctor might say, but as she told me herself, Tam,
a liar and a thief,
was a bloody great lay! ‘Whit kin ye dae, Mr Findlay?’
‘Aye, Mrs McRobie, right enough.’
So they took Davie away, and she gret every single day
until they took him back.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
Dancing with Big Eunice is a furious, dismayed and compassionate collection. This is clearly a book that insisted upon being written, but there's more to the poems than their integrity of impulse. Findlay gives whatever and whoever he writes about the difficult respect of an honest treatment, and refuses the reduction of individuals to statistics or stereotypes. Now, these poems could easily have become a string of rants, but his assured rhythms hold back that weight of water, artfully and barely, which is just as it should be, perhaps.
In the Foreword to my first collection, Sex, Death and Football, Brendan Kennelly remarked that my poems evidence a strong desire to 'share vision' with the reader, and this is largely true. This poem comes from that period when I was writing very biographically – my past, upbringing, relationships, work (football and social work). In many of these poems I utilised the 'long-line' of C. K. Williams, a form I found particularly suited to narrative poems. 'Mrs McRobie', in revised and shortened form, now appears in my current collection about social workers and 'clients', Dancing With Big Eunice. The incident in the poem about crashing into a lorry while spotting a truant, and the mother's loyalty/distress are 'true' as regards that particular 'case', but the rest of the poem is an amalgam of half a dozen other similar families – the phrase 'sair hodden doon', for example. The poem, like the collection, aims to present a composite but 'true' portrait of social work practice, reflecting and recognisable to, local authority professional social workers – and feedback so far suggests this is indeed the case.