Joe Ayre (b.1910): Habits, Cultures and Beliefs

Joe’s extraordinary life took him across Britain, Canada, and America. Knowing this one would assume he would have had the opportunity to experience a variety of different cultures. The post First World War years were also in theory a great time for social activity as ‘technologically-advanced industries were mushrooming’ (Morgan, 2000, 26). Of course this is only on paper, and life isn’t lived on paper. By Joe’s own admission his life ‘wasn’t all play by any means. I had my work to do’ (40). The truth is that Joe spent most of his life either working long hours or homeless, situations which dictated he had little time for social activities. Harsh reality dictates the supposed boom in leisure activities was often benefitted the well-off far more than the poverty-ridden working class. Despite this, Joe had his fun. My posts so far on Joe’s life have been rather poignant, however exploring Joe’s habits and social activities is much more pleasant reading. At times, The Socialist is a celebration of just how much fun one can have, with life’s simplest gifts.

Charles Dickens’s classic Oliver Twist

Due to Joe very rarely attending school, he did not have ample opportunity to make friends. His elder brother Bill is seemingly his best friend throughout his life, but due to the pair’s heavy workload and migration even they could not engage in much social activity together. These circumstances would suggest Joe had a rather dull childhood, however a comment Joe makes in passing seems to allude to the fact that he enjoyed reading. When describing his manipulative stepmother Joe asserts she would put ‘Charles Dickens’s Fagin to shame’ (18). Joe’s reference of Oliver Twist’s notorious antagonist implies Joe read and enjoyed the classic. He later references how even when living as a hobo he would take time to visit libraries and ‘memorized a number of the poems’ (81). This is not befitting of a working class homeless man with very little education, but it appears reading offered Joe a temporary escape from his troubled life.

Joe’s migration to Canada did not help his issues surrounding isolation, however as he grew up in Canada his experience began to change. His heavy workload certainly had the potential to hinder his ability to make friends and he admits ‘there wasn’t much time for socialising’ (37). But, surprisingly, labour soon became Joe’s chance to engage more with others. Despite their difficult position, Joe found a strong sense of camaraderie amongst his fellow workers. This was likely born from the mutual respect they had for each other and the job they were doing. With strong bonds formed Joe and his work friends would seek out social activities, navigating their substantial lack of money.

Joe recognised that leisure and fun could be free, and some of his happiest memories revolve around the weekly visit to one of his work friend’s house for ‘square dancing’ (64) and happily he recalled how after sometime ‘we became pretty good square dancers’ (64). Often after the dancing the friends would stay and ‘all the gang would gather around and sing’ (65). Joe and his friends enjoyed life’s simple pleasures and each other’s company.
These years were the ones Joe recounts most fondly. He happily states ‘we had lots of social activity’ (66), going into depth on the canoe club he attended with his work friends. His description of the summer time sail out onto Ottawa River is almost cinematic. In good company Joe would ‘hang paper lanterns on the poles illuminated with candles’ (66) as another friend played the guitar. This is the last story Joe tells before embarking on the bleak tale of the 1929 stock market crash, maybe because memories like this would help him through this difficult time.

Canada’s Ottawa River

Joe and many of his friends would lose their jobs as a result of The Great Depression, however Joe’s spirit never seems to break. Neither does the camaraderie he shared with those in similar positions to himself. He visits his friends across Canada, and builds relationships with fellow hobos, coming up with ways to torment the abusive police officers. Joe found his fun, and did so smiling with his fellow man.

Although Joe admits to enjoying the occasional trip to the ‘cinema or watch a ball game’ (55), his main joy was clearly social interaction. Having not regularly attended school and spent much time as an outsider in his early years in Canada this is no surprise. Kenneth O.Morgan reasons this was the case for many as there was a ‘warm solidarity of the working-class world which generated its own values’ (2000, 29). Jordan Walker, a blogger I recommended on my twitter feed (@LJBeightonLJMU), proves Joe was not a unique case. Jordan notes his author John Edmonds, despite his poverty ridden background, sought fun rather than wait for it to find him. Passion to make the most of one’s situation regardless of the circumstances is one of the values Morgan celebrates. Another of these values is comradeship. As Joe learned himself he never had nothing, he always had his fellow working-class to help him through and help him enjoy.


2:29 AYRE, Joe, ‘The Socialist’, MS, pp.178 (c.43,250 words). Brunel University Library.

O. Morgan, Kenneth. Twentieth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Walker, Jordan. John Edmonds (1911-1984): Habits, Culture, and Belief. 23rd April 2018. Writing Lives. Web Accessed 26th April 2018.


Oliver Twist –

Ottawa River –

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