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The Manchester Émigrés (For Uncle Roy)
31st July 1928 - 11th May 2014

60 years ago heading out to Toronto,
He was 26 or so,
Restless for a better life,
A job, a house, a wife, better pay,
Night school study, saving money,
Leaving Oldham to be somebody,
The Manchester émigrés.

Goodbye to cold dirty rain,
At the Roxy they're playing 'Shane',
Dark mild at the Valley,
Stray dogs on Briscoe Lane,
Chain smoking in the dark,
On the '25' past Brookdale Park,
To get to work to weld with lead,
Planning escape in your head,
The bookies, butchers and Belle Vue races,
Crowded spaces,
Matchstick men with sad pale faces.

From the crowded council house of eight,
Now stood alone at the departure gate,
Nervous of his first flight,
Mouths a silent prayer,
The bitter- sweet farewells last night,
Explorer and betrayer,
'I'll pay your fare once I'm there,
I'll be back for the next Whit walks,
I might not stay, I'll call everyday',
Conciliatory talk.

But in a family with loyal ties,
There's a part of him that dies,
The sadness in his mothers eyes,
What was it like Uncle Roy,
Did second thoughts make you cry,
Did the air hostess wonder why,
With a heart of stone and feet like lead,
That much baggage in your head,
Did you fear the plane might never fly.

The years passed by, a better life,
A job, a house, a wife, better pay,
Florida for a holiday,
Spending money, he was somebody,
The Manchester émigrés.

He kept in touch but not that much,
A clutch of air mail with words packed tight,
Short- long distance phone calls late at night,
A cheque at Christmas for something nice,
In all our minds but out of sight,
Until this stranger stayed the night,
Back in his family council home,
I recall my childhood fright,
His face white with shaving foam (boo !),
Staying long enough to win our hearts,
Then the escapologist departs.

The years rolled on this way,
Becoming overweight and grey,
His ageing failing health,
Guilty regret came by stealth,
Body and mind would not obey,
Then one day some old news came,
He had already passed away.

Along with grief came the why's,
Questioning the family ties,
The mystery of why he didn't try,
Out of time, left behind,
4000 miles confined to die,
Five weeks left of life in pain,
But I know why he could not explain,
He couldn't find the words to say,
He couldn't bear to say goodbye,
And leave us all alone again,
The Manchester émigrés.