Menu Close


Thirty Bob a Week

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.

                                                I woke

                        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.

MLA citation:

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.