don’t go barefoot to a snake-stomping!
loosen your wigs!
It’s no use hooking them both on the same circuit—
The English and American traditions.
It won’t take the play out of the loose eccentrics.
Cattlemen, sheepmen and outlaws, that’s American writing,
And few enough outlaws at that.
And it’s no use
For the lonesome radicals to raise up the ghost of Tom Paine,
Los Muertos no hablan
Them dead don’t walk, either.
No, ghost-eaters, they’d like
To cuddle up to the bourgeois liberal tradition—

These are lines from Tom McGrath’s poem Letter to an Imaginary Friend.footnote1footnote2I like to remember them because I’ve often wondered: Are the English and American traditions hooked on the same circuit? Tom and Edward were friends having met as comrades of war and comrades of the cp in 1946, they were radicals, they delved into their respective traditions. Edward sought ‘to rescue the poor stockinger, the Luddite cropper, the “obsolete” hand-loom weaver, the “utopian” artisan, and even the deluded follower of Joanna Southcott, from the enormous condescension of posterity’, and Tom said,

—I’m here to bring you
Into the light of speech, the insurrectionary powwow
Of the dynamite men and doomsday spielers
to sing you
Home from the night,
Night of America.

Each of the friends had set himself a redemptive, writing task on his respective circuit, and about at the same time. Letter was published in 1962 and 1970, while The Making of the English Working Class was published in 1963 and 1968. I looked at these books with considerable interest, since I am a person caught within these two circuits myself. My father was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma—not that he was a Wob but he had ridden bulls at the rodeo—and worked for the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square between 1947 and 1953 befriending the Labour opposition and Aneurin Bevan, while my mother who drank, smoked, and supported Spain came from a line of strong western New York women. I didn’t know whether to swing a baseball or a cricket bat. Like immigrants everywhere, I was confused by the experience—How to speak? What to say?—and for many years I sought a guide. When I came across The Making, and then Edward, I cathected politically and by feeling.

My first personal lessons (the official one in 1969 at the University of Warwick was stern: ‘Over here when we refer to Lenin, it is to John!’) were conducted on the road to his cottage at Hafodty, Llanfrothen, Penrhyndeudraeth, Merionethshire, north Wales. On the road he announced that this is where he gave intelligence tests. Yes, the gates across the roads, controlling the movement of the sheep and cows, had to be opened, the car driven through, and the gate then closed. The ingenious mind of the Welsh cattlemen or sheepmen had devised as many different ways of fastening gates closed and keeping them temporarily open as there were gates to open and shut. Worse, it was at night. Glee danced in Edward’s eye as he rammed the gear stick home, and impatiently lurched the Land Rover forward. Gate after gate after gate.