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Vol. 7 No. 12 · 4 July 1985
Poem

The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper

Blake Morrison

The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal ...

Edgar Allan Poe, ‘The Masque of the Red Death’

I were just cleaning up streets our kid. Just cleaning up streets.

Peter Sutcliffe to his brother Carl: Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son by Gordon Burn

Ower t’ills o Bingley
Stormclouds clap an drain,
Like opened blood-black blisters
Leakin pus an pain.

Ail teems down like stair-rods,
An swells canals an becks,
An fills up studmarked goalmouths,
An bursts on mind like sex.

Cos sex is like a stormclap,
A swellin in thi cells,
When lightnin arrers through thi
An tha knows there in’t owt else.

Ah’ve felt it in misen, like,
Ikin ome part-fresh
Ower limestone outcrops
Like knuckles white through flesh:

Ow men clap down on women
T’old em there for good
An soak up all their softness
An lounder em wi blood.

It’s then I think on t’Ripper
An what e did an why,
An ow mi mates ate women,
An ow Pete med em die.

I love em for misen, like,
Their skimmerin lips an eyes,
Their ankles light as jinnyspins,
Their seggy whisps an sighs,

Their braided locks like catkins,
An t’curlies glashy black,
The peepin o their linnet tongues,
Their way o cheekin back.

An ah look on em as equals.
But mates all say they’re not,
That men must have t’owerance
Or world will go to rot.

Lad-loupin molls an gadabouts,
Fellow-fond an sly,
Flappy-skets an drabble-tails
Oo’ll bleed a bloke bone-dry:

That’s ow I ear em spoke of
When lads are on their tod,
An ow tha’s got to leather em
To stop em gi’in t’nod.

An some o t’same in Bible
Where Paul screams fit to bust
Ow men are fallen creatures
But womenfolk are t’wust.

Now I reckon this fired Peter,
An men-talk were is goad,
An culprit were our belderin God
An is ancient, bullyin road.

No, Pete weren’t drove by vengeance,
Rountwistedness or ale,
But to show isen a baufy man –
But let me tell thi tale.

* * *

Peter worked in a graveyard,
Diggin bone an sod.
From t’grave of a Pole, Zapolski,
E eard – e reckoned – God,

Sayin: ‘Lad, tha’s on a mission,
Ah’ve picked thi out o t’ruck.
Go an rip up prostitutes.
They’re nobbut worms an muck.

‘Streets are runnin sewers.
Streets are open sores.
Get in there wi thi scalpel
An wipe away all t’oors.’

Pete were pumped like a primus.
E felt is cravin whet.
E started cruisin Chapeltown
But he didn’t kill, not yet.

E took a job on t’lorries,
A Transcontinental Ford.
E felt reet good in t’cabin.
E felt like a bloody Lord.

E’d bin a bit of a mardy,
Angin on t’old dear’s skirt.
E didn’t like folks shoutin,
Or scraps wi lads, or dirt.

E’d watch is dad trough offal –
Trotters, liver, tripe –
Or pigeon scraped from t’by-pass,
Or rabbit, ung an ripe,

An all e’d felt were babbyish,
A fustilugs, alf-nowt,
An wished e were is younger kid
Tekkin lasses out.

But now e’d started truckin
An ropin up is load
An bought isen a Bullworker
E swelled up like a toad,

An stuck is ead in motors
An messed wi carbs and ubs,
An drove wi mates to Manningham
An other arse-end pubs,

Or sometimes off to Blackpool
To t’Tower or lights or pier,
Or waxworks Chamber of Orrors –
Aye, Pete were allus theer.

E met a lass called Sonia,
A nervy type, a shrew,
Oo mithered im an nattered,
But Pete, e thought she’d do.

She seemed a cut above im,
A teacher, arty too,
Oo wanted summat more’n kids.
Aye, Pete, e thought she’d do.

Cos Sonia, she weren’t mucky,
Not like yon other bags,
Them tarts in fishnet stockins,
Them goers, buers, slags.

* * *

Voice said ‘Lad, get crackin:
Ah’ve med thi bombardier.’
Pete blasted red-light districts,
Eight lasses in two year.

E slit em up on waste-ground,
In ginnel, plot an park,
In cemetery an woodyard,
An allus after dark.

Is tools were ball-pein ammers,
Acksaws an carvin knives,
An a rusty Phillips screwdriver
Oned for endin lives.

Cops dint fuss wi fust three,
Paid to out on street,
Though e blunted blade on is Stanley
Deguttin em like meat.

Nor minded marks on fourth lass,
Ripped up in her flat,
Wi both ends on a clawammer,
Split-splat, split-splat, split-splat.

But Jayne MacDonald were a shopgirl
Sellin nobbut shoes.
Pete, e killed er anyway
An now e were front page noos.

They appointed a Special Detective,
George Oldfield e were called.
E looked like a country-bumpkin,
Puffin, red, alf-bald.

E fixed up a Ripper Freefone,
Leeds 5050,
An asked Joe Soap to ring im up
An ‘Tell us what you know.’

An folks, they giv im names all right:
Cousins, neighbours, mates,
Blokes what they didn’t tek to –
All were candidates.

But Pete, no e weren’t rumbled.
He moved to a slap-up ouse,
Pebbledash an wi a garden,
An utch to keep is mouse.

Cos Sonia, though she nittered
An med im giddyup,
Were potterin too long in t’attic
To mind that owt were up.

An she went so ard at paintin
An scrubbin on ands an knee
She nivver noticed blood on trews
An t’missin cutlery.

* * *

Two weeks afore they’d folks roun
To drink to movin in
Pete ad topped another lass
An not a soul ad sin.

Now, after tekkin guests ome,
E went to t’mouldy corpse
An slashed it wi a glass pane
An cerrated neck wi saws.

E were a one-man abattoir.
E cleavered girls in alves.
E shishkebab’d their pupils.
E bled em dry like calves.

Their napes as soft as foxglove,
The lovely finch-pink pout,
The feather-fern o t’eyelash –
E turned it all to nowt.

Seventh lass e totted
Were in Garrads Timberyard.
E posted corpse in a pinestack
Like Satan’s visitin card.

Eighth were a badly woman
Oo’d just come off o t’ward
O Manchester Royal Infirmary
An went back stiff as board.

E id is next on a wastetip
Under a sofa’s wings.
E stuffed her mouth wi ossair.
Er guts poked through like springs.

An wee Jo Whitaker, just 19,
An Alifax Buildin clerk,
Bled from er smashed-egg foread
Till t’gutter ran sump-dark.

There were lorry-oil inside er,
An filins in each pore,
Which might ave led to Pete, like,
If police ad looked some more.

But Oldfield, e weren’t tryin.
E’d ears for nobbut ‘Jack’:
Some oaxer wi a cassette tape
Ad sent im reet off track.

Voice on tape were a Geordie’s,
A tauntin, growlin loon:
‘They nivver learn, George, do they.
Nice chattin. See you soon.’

George fell line an sinker,
A fishook in is pride:
‘E thinks e’s cock o t’midden
But I’ll see that Jack inside.’

Aye, George e took it personal,
A stand-up, man to man,
Like a pair o stags wi horns locked
– But Ripper offed an ran,

An wi George left fightin boggarts
E struck again like bleach:
Bang in t’middle o Bradford
E wiped out Barbara Leach.

Then Marguerite Walls in Farsley,
Strangled wi a noose
(A change from t’usual colander job,
None o t’normal clues).

Everyweer in Yorkshire
Were a creepin fear an thrill.
At Elland Road fans chanted
‘Ripper 12 Police Nil.’

Lasses took up karate,
Judo an self-defence,
An jeered at lads in porn shops,
An scrawled stuff in pub Gents,

Like: ‘Ripper’s not a psychopath
But every man in pants.
All you blokes would kill like him
Given half a chance.

‘Listen to your beer-talk –
“Hammer”, “poke” and “screw”,
“Bang” and “score” and “lay” us:
That’s what the Ripper does too.’

Aye, e did it again one last time,
To a student, Jacqueline Hill,
In a busy road, wi streetlights,
In a way more twisted still,

Blammin er wi is Phillips –
But rest o that ah’ll leave.
Out o respect to family
An cos it meks me eave.

Now cops stepped up on pressure.
George, e got is cards.
Files were took from is ands
An put in Scotland Yard’s.

They talked to blokes on lorries
An called at Pete’s ouse twice,
But Sonia allus elped im out
Wi rock-ard alibis.

It were fluke what finally nabbed im.
E’d parked is car in t’gates
Of a private drive in Sheffield
Wi ripped off numberplates.

Lass oo e’d got wi im
Were known to work this patch.
Cops took em both to t’station
But adn’t twigged yet, natch.

Ad e meant to kill er?
E’d brought an ammer an knife
But maundered on alf evenin
Ow e cunt stand sight o t’wife.

Then lass passed im a rubber
An come on all coquettish.
But still e didn’t touch er.
It were like a sort o death-wish.

E managed to ide is tackle
Sayin e wanted a pee.
But later on is ammer
Were found by a young PC.

So cops they lobbed im questions
Through breakfast, dinner, tea,
Till e said: ‘All right, you’ve cracked it.
Ripper, aye, it’s me.

‘Ah did them thirteen killins,
Them girls live in mi brain,
Reminding me o mi evil
But ah’d do it all again.

‘Streets are runnin sewers.
Streets are open sores.
Ah went there wi mi armoury
To wipe away all t’oors.

‘Ah were carryin out God’s mission.
Ah were followin is commands.
E pumped me like a primus.
Ah were putty in is ands.’

* * *

This were nub o t’court case:
Were Peter reet or mad?
If lawyer could prove im a nutter
E’d not come off as bad.

Were e bats as a bizzum
Or t’devil come from ell?
Choice were life in a mental
Or a Parkhurst prison cell.

E sat in dock like a gipsy
Wi is open sky-blue shirt
An gawped at judge an jury
As if all t’lot were dirt.

Defence called up their experts,
Psychiatrists an such,
Oo sed Pete weren’t no sadist
An didn’t rate sex much,

That e’d suffered paranoia,
Allucinations too,
An killed cos is mind ad drove im –
So t’gravestone tale were true.

But t’other lot med mincemeat
O those who’d bin Pete’s dupe
Showin ow e’d outflanked em
To get isen from t’soup.

Cos why, if e were loopy,
Ad e allus killed on t’dot,
Friday nights an Saturdays,
In cold blood not in ot?

An why, if e weren’t no sadist,
Ad e left girls, more’n once,
Wi a hundred stabs in t’breastbone
An planks shoved up their cunts?

An ad he shown repentance
For t’lasses or for t’oors?
As for t’religious mission:
E’d med it up, of course.

(All through this Pete’s bearin
Were cold as marble slab,
Ard as a joint from t’freezer,
Slant as a Scarborough crab.)

Counsels rested cases,
Jury reasoned it through,
Judge said: ‘How do you find him?’
‘Guilty – ten to two.’

They oiked im off in a wagon
Past lynchers urlin abuse
An placards urgin t’government
‘BRING BACK CAT AND NOOSE.’

They took im to Parkhurst Prison
To serve is time an more,
An folks said t’other inmates
Would know to settle t’score.

But when is face were taloned
Wi a broken coffee jar
It weren’t for rippin real flesh
But nudes from prison Star.

An meanwhile rest o t’Sutcliffes
Spent up their Fleet Street brass,
An put the boot in Sonia:
‘Job’s all down to t’lass.

‘Our Pete were nivver a nutter.
E’d allus a smile on t’face.
That Sonia nagged im rotten
Till e killed oors in er place.

‘Cos that’s the rub wi women,
They push us blokes too far
Till us can’t be eld responsible
For bein what us are.’

* * *

So tha sees, nowt’s really altered
Though Peter’s out o t’way.
Mi mates still booze an charnel,
Weather’s same each day.

Ower t’ills up northways
Stormclouds thump an drain
Like opened blood-black blisters
Leakin pus an pain.

An death is like a stormclap,
A frizzlin o thi cells,
A pitchfork through thi arteries,
An tha knows there in’t owt else.

It meks me think on Peter,
An what e did an why,
An ow mi mates ate women,
An ow Pete med em die.

Ah love em for misen, like,
Their skimmerin lips an eyes,
Their ankles light as jinnyspins,
Their seggy whisps an sighs,

Tiny tarn o t’navel,
Chinabowl o t’ead,
Steppin cairns o t’backbone,
An all e left for dead.

An I look on em as kindred.
But mates all say they’re not,
That men must ave t’owerance
Or world will go to rot.

An Pete were nobbut a laikin
O this belderin, umped-up God,
An served is words an logic
To rivet girls to t’sod.

An I don’t walk appily out no more
Now lasses fear lad’s tread,
An mi mates call me a Bessy,
An ah dream of all Pete’s dead,

An ow they come again to me,
An we croodle out o eye
In nests o fern an floss-seave
An fillytails in t’sky,

An ah mend em all wi kindness
As we kittle out on t’fells
An learn us t’ease o human love
Until there in’t owt else.

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