The biggest feast day in the Catholic calendar, Easter is marked by sacrifice, suffering and sadness – and, of course, salvation. In the period leading up to Easter: Lent, we had to give up something. Since I had no particular notable vices at this age, I invariably plumped for chocolate. It’s surprising how much chocolate a child can acquire without actually spending any money, much by way of grandparents. By the time Easter arrived, I had usually accumulated a sizable stash: Mars bars, Marathons, Maltesers, Freddos, Wagon Wheels and so on. I must admit the frustration of abstaining from these sweet delights was eased somewhat by the knowledge that I would soon be able to gorge on them to my heart's content. Apart from this relatively small personal sacrifice made in honour of Jesus, Lent also involved having to do the rather more emotionally harrowing Stations of the Cross. Fourteen in all, they are situated at regular intervals along the interiors walls of the church. Each station depicts a significant scene in the life of Jesus; from the moment he is sentenced to death, leading up to when he is laid in the tomb. In our church, these scenes attractively depicted in framed wooden carvings, with gold Roman numerals indicating the number of the Station. We, the class, would walk round the walls, stopping at each station where one of us gave a brief reading, describing the scene. We would say a few prayers, and then move on to the next Station. Apart from our young hearts being wracked with sorrow at the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, it was also a physically painful experience having to stand around for ages in the freezing cold church - you could see your breath. All in all, it was quite an ordeal, which I suppose is fitting regarding the subject matter.
She couldn’t quite reach the corners of the glass and was stretching on tiptoe across the dressing-table when Geoffrey put his arm round her shoulders. It wasn’t an accident; he was breathing too hard. She was about to shrug him away when she thought of Meredith.. Rehearsing with Geoffrey would make it easier when the time came for Meredith to claim her. Penetration, from she had gathered from library books, was inescapably painful unless one had played a lot of tennis or ridden stallions, and she hadn’t done either…She began to stroke Geoffrey’s harsh hair. It was a womanly gesture witnessed often enough on the screen at the cinema. She supposed it was maternal rather than sensual; it was what women did for babies, to make them feel secure and stop their heads from wobbling. Squirming, she left off cradling Geoffrey’s head and bought her hand down to separate her stomach from his. Something with the texture of an orange, peeled and sticky, bumped against her wrist. She couldn’t suppress crying out her distaste, any more than she could help envying Geoffrey his lack of inhibition. On occasions, when visiting the doctor for some minor ailment, she had even felt it immodest to stick out her tongue. She didn’t dare look down in case she glimpsed that object bobbing against her overall. It’s no use, she thought. I’ll have to practice on someone else. It would be fearful enough to be up against something as dreadful as that belonging to a beloved, let alone attached to a person one despised.
‘Monday night was bath night, because Monday was wash day. All the dirty washing went into Gran’s copper in the scullery; clouds of steam escaped every time she lifted the lid. The sodden clothes went through the mangle, then on to the lines in the back yard. In wet weather they had to be dried in the house, and that Robert Francis could not abide. He would wolf down his cold meat and bubble and squeak and escape to the flea-pit on the corner. He wasn’t keen on the pictures but where else? When the wash was done, the hot grey water was baled out of the copper and lugged up two flights of stairs, bucket by bucket. The bathroom was splendid, with double doors, a wide window bordered with stain glass, a bath with claw feet – but no plumbing. My grandfather liked the bathroom; he reared his canaries there…Caroline Emily brought me up as her own, though she was no longer young and there was still talk of a foundling hospital from time to time. Nobody saw much of the flighty one who had brought her trouble home. Aunt Carrie was good to me.’
The Life and Times of Molly Dodd
Oh, Ma! Don’t leave me at the poorhouse door;
It’s cold. I’m tired and me legs are sore.
I’ll be good. I promise. I’ll not cause you to fret.
Let’s go home right now, and our dinners I’ll get.
Stale bread and warm water like we always do,
And I’ll find a few carrots to make us a stew.
Oh, Misses! Don’t make me scrub the scullery floor;
Me knees are blue and me hands are raw.
I’ve worked this past month without one day of rest;
If it’s me soul you’re after you’ve had the best.
Me, I seem to get no joy out of life;
Despite me best efforts, it’s all toil and strife.
Oh, Mister! Don’t make me stand at the loom all day.
I work hard for you for so little pay.
The factory air is making me ill, and though
Me back’s breaking I work hard for you still.
There’s trouble brewing. There’s talk of a strike.
If it’s profit you want, you better start treating me right.
Oh, my dear! Don’t pester me to make love to thee;
I want you sure. But we got no money for three.
We said we’d wait for a bairn when we got wed;
In these hard times it’s best to plan ahead.
From hand to mouth we live each day, or else
We pawn and get on tick what we cannot pay.
Oh, daughter! It’s only the poorhouse. Don’t you fear.
It’s best this way. They’ll look after you here.
Your dad had a drink, and he beat me sore.
Out of work for months, and he couldn’t take it no more.
Where he is now? I just don’t know. Don’t fret,
I’ll come for you soon, luv. So... in you go.
I started school at the age of five. There was no pre-school or nursery school back then; you were just suddenly wrenched away from home and left alone in a room full of strangers. Mum promised she would be back later to pick me up - ‘When the big hand’s on the 12 and the little hand’s on the 3.’ For six hours a day, I sat watching the clock through a veil of tears, doing my best to ignore the unsympathetic, grey-haired woman who sternly insisted that I ‘go play in the sand pit’. The big yellow digger was the main attraction. Viciously fought over by several other children, I couldn’t lay my hands on it even if I wanted to. Tears and tantrums all day long. Class One - only Five more to endure. If I had any sense of temporal perspective I could have comforted myself with this knowledge, but at that age things seem like forever. For the first six months I was too traumatized to learn anything.
...Around this time I sold my motorbike and bought a three-wheeler Reliant Van. It was bright orange. I had already passed the motorbike test, and you were allowed to drive one of these on a motorbike license, which I always thought rather odd as it’s just like driving a proper car. Anyway, after a few hair-raising episodes I soon became a proficient driver; I just needed to remember not to take bends too fast or you could tip over (which I never did). It was great fun and a bit like being part of a club. Whenever you saw another one on the road, the driver would raise their hand to you in acknowledgement. At the time, there were a lot of these three-wheeler Reliants on the road; in fact, the local garage dealt in them specifically. They came in many different bright colours: orange, yellow, red, light blue - the forecourt of the garage was a proper picture to behold! For a while, I dated a fella who had one the same as mine, only it was brown. He was a bit of a hippie. He had long hair and a beard, and a soppy black dog. He knew about Bob Dylan. We went on a few dates to pubs by canals. He lived with his elderly mother. Unbeknown to her he was growing weed in a makeshift greenhouse in the back garden. I didn’t know about this until I visited his home. He proudly showed me his cultivated crop, and swore me to secrecy. I wasn’t impressed. I was more than a little apprehensive (i.e: apprehensive). I didn’t know about drugs. I didn’t want to know. I needed my wits about me, not off on some magical mystery tour. I didn’t tell anyone, but that was basically it as far as our relationship went. Coincidentally, I ran into this very same person just the other week. He’s married with a family now, and has had his own personal tragedies, which I won’t go into. The odd thing is he asked me if I’d written my book yet. After all this time that’s what he remembers me for! I said, ‘no not yet, I have to earn some bread man.’
Although similar in outlook, the terraced houses were distinguishable by the variety of small front gardens. Ours was enclosed by a red-brick wall of approximately adult waist-height. There was a light-blue metal gate, which was never closed - mainly because the hinges had rusted over - making it look like we had a continual flux of visitors who had inconsiderately neglected to close it behind them when they left. The garden part was paved with crazy-paving, which was just as well because my dad was never one for plants. This was evident in the virtual wilderness at the back of the house. Mum used to hack her way through the overgrowth and undergrowth, safari-like, to hang out the washing. I can see her now, teetering down the cracked concrete garden path - peg bag in hand, washing basket tucked under arm - swerving every now and then to avoid the dark-green nettles that seemed to maliciously stretch forwards as you approached. ‘If I’m not back in an hour send out a search party,’ Mum used to joke.
And while I'm at it Mike Oldfield's, Moonlight Shadow, just because it's great
Our house was situated on the brow of a gently sloping street called Church Lane, which got it’s name from the old church that discretely nestles in an undulating, hallowed, grassy reservoir at the bottom end. A remnant of times long gone, parts of it Norman, the church is unencumbered by the hustle and bustle of contemporary traffic which traverses the busy main road that separates it from us. It is a visually charming site to behold: cream-coloured stoney façade; stocky castellated bell tower inset with a large, circular clock face the colour of lapis lazuli. Gold-coloured roman numerals and decorative hands warn that time is ticking, and that it will soon be time you meet your maker. To some, it remains a seductive and insinuating reminder and that life is relatively fleeting, and that God is forever.
Our house was one in the midst of a row of other houses of the same ilke: red-bricked with two large square windows facing the road: one up - the master bedroom window, and one below - the front room window. Beyond the lower front window, the logically named ‘front room’ is situated. Here inhabited the wood-framed, chintzy, really uncomfortable, three-piece suite, that was generously commandeered by my mum on the death of my great-grandma. A shiny, oak-veneered china cabinet stoically leant against the back wall, presenting to the interested observer a blue, flower-patterned, never used, china dinner service; and several highly-valued (though probably relatively worthless) cape de monte figurines that mum couldn’t resist purchasing from a handsome, sweet-talking market trader one sultry summer afternoon when anything seemed possible, even the implausible rise in value of dodgy pottery purchased on Sunday markets. The front room was generally cold as radiators were only turned on during the Festive Season. Unfortunately, anyone who came a knocking at the front door at other times of the year were invariably ignored as we couldn’t hear them from the distant living room, where we usually reposed. Mum looked upon this as quite advantageous, as she generally wasn’t in the mood to receive unexpected guests.
At one point in my blog I quoted the wonderful French Feminist, Helene Cixous. Her words have become even more poignant since I started to write myself:
‘Woman must write herself: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies - for the same reasons, by the same laws, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text - as into the world and into history.’
‘And I was afraid. She frightens me because she can knock me down with a word. Because she does not know that writing is walking on a dizzying silence setting one word on another on emptiness. Writing is miraculous and terrifying like the flight of a bird who has no wings but flings itself out and only gets wings by flying.’
btw I once had the privilege of attending a conference given by the equally wonderful Luce Irigaray, another of the French Feminists. Afterwards, they were selling a selection of her texts books. For a small extra fee (a few quid as far as I remember)Irigaray would sign it for you (fair dues, fair dues). I have my signed text book in my bookcase at home.
To cut a long story short: