• Roy Merchant

Packit Eena Mi Han

Updated: May 16


We came over to England to help the mother country get back on her feet after her war with Germany. Our mother was waiting for us with open arms. At least that’s what we were told. The reality was a little different. This poem is dedicated to all those young men and women of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who could not find a way through the silent but deadly racism and one particular victim still haunts me. I first met him in 1965 at the Labour Exchange in Spurstow Terrace in Hackney. He was playing the fool and making a lot of noise as he waited to collect his unemployment benefits. He was young and life was in the future and he was just doing this until he got a job. He obviously could not live on the pittance he was handed out. He could only afford chicken back with that, but he was OK, living at home with Mum and Dad and no bills. I was lucky, the Royal Navy came to my rescue and I did not see him again until 1973, when I came out of the Navy and went to the Unemployment Office again to sign on. He was still making the same noises and I realised that this place was contaminated and if I stayed I too would be stained with the lethargy and hopelessness that I witnessed there. I never went back. In that stark moment I realised that Britain give you the pittance to stop you being a nuisance and if you could reduce your spend to the point where you could live on the benefits, then the children of the wealthy could carry on eating steaks and drinking champagne and you would carry on blaming yourself for your continued failure. Out of that moment of truth and a walk down Ridley Road market one day, came this poem: “Packit Eena Mi Han”. It is in heavy Jamaican patois because that’s who we were and deep down who we are, where we all started out, so let your mind focus and concentrate. The understanding will come.

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