Here we go:
I have added Hannah Mitchell to my list of working-class women autobiographers:
Remarkable story, inspirational woman, great quotations!
Back in the public library today. I'm actually sitting behind a real live poet. I know this because I can see his poems on the computer screen. They look pretty good! All about the clouds and sunlight and stuff. It looks like he's published some as well!
So, when I have got time I am going to write a poem.
My memory of looking for Thomas Hardy novels in my local public library has made me realise that my breadth of reading at the time was greater than I originally recall. I sell myself short! For instance, I can definitely remember borrowing Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway, and also George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I know this has to be true because I haven’t studied any of these specific texts at school or university. Little was I to know that years later these writers would inform and play a significant part in my postgraduate research: Woolf because she is a prolific writer and a feminist icon - who has not read ‘A Room of One’s Own’ in their first year as an undergraduate? - and Orwell for entirely different reasons, but mainly because of his non-fiction journalistic excursions into the lives of the lower classes in The Road to Wigan Pier and Down and Out in Paris and London. I also remember reading William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which coincidentally led me to read The Spire. I thought The Spire a great read, perhaps surprisingly as the subject matter does not indicate this, where the plot basically revolves around a priest’s personal ambition to erect an enormous spire on his church, which turns out to be too big: his ambition and the actual spire. Perhaps it was the religious association that first attracted me to this book, as well as the background presence of peasants and paganism which, for me, is always an added bonus. Well, I just couldn’t put this book down, and I ended up weeping for the protagonist even though he had not been very nice throughout the narrative. When I finished this book it stayed with me for days after. Actually, it must have remained lurking in the recesses of my subconscious, as years later my memory of it conveniently emerged when I was writing my MA literature project, ‘Women and God’. I needed a novel that thematically involved Christianity, which was about a man and written by a man in order to represent male-centred religion. Remarkably, The Spire fit the bill perfectly: at least, my reading of it made it fit the bill. I guess The Spire goes to show that a good book is a good book, regardless of the subject matter, and that good writers just take you with them and immerse you in another world/reality. I used to cry when I’d finished a good book, whether it was sad or not, just because that particular journey was over and could never be repeated.
Well, I have virtually finished with this particular section. I have shown that during my young life I was quite a well-read and literary individual, and that my reading was largely self-initiated and self-directed (and in the lap of the gods much of the time). All of which generally fits in with my working-class women autobiographer counterparts. Ha!
Okay, my next autobiographer is in the pipeline.
So many remarkable quotes:
‘Perhaps if I had really understood my own nature, as I came to do later, I should not have married, for I soon realised that married life, as men understand it, calls for a degree of self-abnegation which was impossible for me. I needed solitude, time for study, and the opportunity for a wider life.’
‘Nowadays when it is often difficult to persuade women to come out and vote, I think back …to the insults and humiliations we all endured, laughed at by the male elector, often chased away by the police; I wonder whether these women, like all electors today, who have had the vote handed to them on a gold plate, so to speak, would not have been just as well left among the ‘infants, imbeciles and criminals'.’
My interest in the novels of Thomas Hardy began when I saw the film, Tess of the D’Urbervilles on the television. Yeah, here we go: peasants, desolate landscapes, thwarted passions, brooding men and tragic heroines – right up my street – and Stonehenge features in it as well! As a child I had always been fascinated by Stonehenge, ever since the time we drove by it in the car coming back from I don’t remember where. I had not even heard of Stonehenge before, so you can imagine how enthralled I was to unexpectedly catch sight of the enormous Stones, incongruously erect on the flat landscape of Salisbury Plain. We pulled into the public car park, and treated ourselves to a flying impromptu visit. At the time, the public were actually allowed to walk around the site, and touch the ancient monoliths. There were lots of tourists, particularly Americans, who were posing for photos and playing hide and seek between the Sarcens, not to mention climbing all over the huge horizontal alter stone. I’m not sure whether this is permitted nowadays, or whether the site has been fenced off out of public reach. Anyhow, this film, Tess of The D’Urbervilles, inspired me to read the novel of the same name, and I consequently started to seek out more of Hardy’s novels, which were not difficult to find in the local library. In several of the novels, the protagonists are lower-class women, who generally desire something more than their impoverished backgrounds can give them, and they invariably meet a sticky demise. This sounds somewhat like a thematic precursor to my much later academic interest in working-class women’s writing; however, at the time I was merely reading books for pleasure. I did enjoy Hardy’s books: interesting story-lines and beautifully written narratives, but I did struggle in some places, such as the long, long descriptive passages which Hardy is so good at, but you can just skip these, right? This was long before I found out that Hardy is one of our greatest writers and part of the literary canon, which I discovered when I studied Return of the Native for my English Literature A-level. I can’t quite believe that I didn’t read that most popular and most brooding and tragic of all novels, Emily Bronte’s, Wuthering Heights until I did my undergraduate degree at University. Hardy also wrote fabulous poetry, some of which I’ve read, but I’ve never really been into poetry all that much. I do remember once writing a very long essay about TS Eliot’s The Wasteland. I’m the last person you would see carrying around a pocket book of the poets, as some of my working-class female predecessors were inclined to do. I used to think of poets sitting around for hours mulling over a word or two, or taking mind altering substances so they could write more interesting stuff, and this annoyed me because I thought they should be doing something more useful. Well, I used to think that before I found out about the women poets who would compose their verses while hard at work, such as Mary Smith, who composed hers while doing the household chores; and Ellen Johnston and Ethel Carnie who composed theirs while working the looms in the textile factories.
(so it seems my autobiography is turning into a dissertation, old habits eh)
Totally enthralled by Cat Among the Pigeons, I subsequently began to make my way through the rest of Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries. I can even remember the title of the second one I ever read: Dead Man’s Folly. It is remarkable, and a credit to Christie’s writing, that I was never able to correctly guess who the murderer was, and it took great strength of character not to turn to the last chapter to have a quick look, before the culprit was elaborately revealed by the brilliant sleuth at the end. I am a big fan of both of Christie’s legendary sleuth incarnations, but I must admit I prefer Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot. I remember being totally shocked and somewhat disappointed when Poirot reveals himself to be the murderer in his last case. Fortunately, I read this novel way down the list, so it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of his other investigations. I particularly liked the Miss Marple stories when foul play occurs in the quaint little village of St Mary Mead, where she lives. Miss Marple seemingly innocently visits her unguarded neighbours and engages them in conversation, weedling out all the gossip and dirt on her fellow inhabitants, while all the time her detective-like intellect is taking it all in and is not being fooled by anybody. Before I discovered the Miss Marple books, I used to enjoy watching the old black and white films on television, such as, Murder Most Foul and Murder at the Gallop. In these, Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple wonderfully blusters and blunders her way to the truth, with comic effects. However, as the books are not funny at all, I was a bit confused at first as to whether it was the same Miss Marple. Fairly recently, there have been several interesting television adaptions of the Miss Marple books and she has been depicted in a variety of ways, ranging from tall, thin, and serious with piercing blue eyes to the more jolly and rounded, smiley and kindly type. But for me, none have managed to capture the essence and the charm of the Miss Marple of the books. I have also seen several Agatha Christie plays at the theatre, but I can’t remember them at all. I do remember the seats were very uncomfortable at one performance, and it was quite a challenge to go the distance of the play. However, one play I saw does stick in my memory. This is The Verdict which I saw at the small sea-front theatre in Sherringham. This play is memorable because the leading lady ridiculously over-acted, and as I was sitting on the front row I spent the whole performance agonisingly trying to keep a straight face (This is one of the reasons I no longer sit at the front when I go to the theatre). Of course, Agatha Christie’s most famous play and London’s longest running is The Mousetrap. I haven’t seen this yet, so I look forward to doing so sometime in the future. And I still have a number of Agatha Christie paperbacks on my bookshelf at home, so I also look forward to re-reading these at some point. I bet I still don’t guess who the murderer is!
Well, this ghost: it wasn’t like a malevolent manifestation (there was no moving of furniture or unearthly wailing (nearly put whaling, ha!)) it was more like a lonely spirit who wanted a playmate. Whatever it was, it certainly gave me the heebie-jeebies. Yeah, I’m sounding weird again. Nowadays, I don’t believe in the supernatural, I think everything has a rational explanation, and the mind can play strange tricks. However, at that time my child’s mentality basically perceived that I was being harassed by a ghost and I was frightened, so much so that I said prayers and read the New Testament in a desperate effort to ward it off. I try to take something positive from all my experiences, and I think I learnt two valuable lessons here: Firstly, The New Testament taught me that we all have our crosses to bear; and secondly, the unearthly entity taught me that we have to learn to live with our ghosts. Thankfully, that didn’t go on too long, and the problem was resolved when my family and I moved house (which had nothing to do with my spectre). This is the end of the story for this particular personal haunting; however, since we left I have heard of two separate significant events that happened to other residents of the house, which fit in well with my ghost story. I would like to elaborate but this is not the place. The house is still there and there are people living in it.
Around the same time as the ‘haunting’, I was rooting around the closet one day when I found some of my mum’s old possessions. I found a red and cream Dansette mono record player, and a red leather bag crammed with single vinyl records (45s they were). I digress, but I have to mention this because I spent many a happy hour playing it: Cliff Richard (Summer Holiday), Elvis Presley (Anne-Marie’s the Name), Tommy Steele (Little White Bull), the Everley Brothers (‘Till I kissed you), Little Eva (The Locomotion), Connie Francis (Lipstick on Your Collar), and many others. All classics and greats!! Where the hell is it now? I, unfortunately, have no idea. Back in the day, my mum and dad were rock n’ rollers. I have seen them rockin’ and rollin’, to my acute embarrassment, but I guess they were quite good.
In the closet I also found a blue coloured hard-backed book, entitled ‘Five on a Treasure Island’. I read it and loved it. Consequently, my Enid Blyton phase begins. I was lucky in that this volume is the first in the Famous Five series; you know the one where siblings Anne, Dick and Julian first meet their tom-boy cousin George and her dog Timmy. They all drink lashings of ginger beer, and go off and have their very first adventure together. After I had devoured all the Famous Five books, I went on to the Secret Seven series. After this, to my even greater pleasure I discovered Blyton’s books which are set in girls’ public schools, such as the Malory Towers and the St. Clares series: wealthy, angst teenage girls; midnight feasts; and lacrosse - what’s not to like! At the time, my mum got her housekeeping money from dad on a Friday afternoon, after he finished work. Once she had been able to drag it out of him, we went to do the weekly grocery shop at the Fine Fare supermarket in town. To my delight they sold paperback Enid Blyton’s, so every week my mum would let me put a book in the shopping trolley. This really was exciting for me, and something I looked forward to every week. That is, until one day my aunty mentioned that she had a book about a girls’ school and I could have it if I wanted. I wasn’t very hopeful, but I thought no harm in having a look. As it happens, it was about a girl’s school, but it was also a murder story; it was Agatha Christie’s, Cat Among the Pigeons! Goodbye Enid Blyton, hello Agatha Christie.
Rupert Bear, The New Testament, Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Thomas Hardy, Graham Greene.
Anyone who has read my MPhil, ‘Working-Class Women’s Autobiography’, will have noticed that the authors (the ones I highlight, at least) are generally well-read and love books, particularly during their childhoods. Hence, the reading list at the top represents my own childhood texts, and they are in chronological order. Perhaps the discerning reader will note the dearth of canonical writers and books. Well, frankly, my family was lacking in literary or bookish people in any shape or form, so there was no one to encourage or direct my reading in order to cultivate my knowledge and intellect. On the other hand, no one was actually against my reading, as is apparent in the young lives of some autobiographers. It was just something I did.
I do remember my mum reading me bedtime stories when I was very young. There was one book in particular I wanted her to read over and over again. (Unfortunately, I don’t recall the title. I’ll enquire of her if she knows).
Rupert Bear: Every Christmas I would get a Rupert the Bear annual. I loved them: hard-back covers, beautifully illustrated pictures, and stories in rhyming couplets. At one point I had quite a collection. I recently saw some similar editions at a toy fair, which were fetching around £200 each! A similar thing happened with my Action Man collection. My grandmother (nanna, as she was more commonly known) used to work at the Palitoy factory in Coalville. Consequently, my sister and I would be showered with a plethora of fantastic toys at Christmas, including the aforementioned Action Man: talking ones, ones with gripping hands, ones with ‘real’ hair’, ones with beards, etc., not to mention a multitude of Action Man accessories: carded outfits, helicopters, tanks, jeeps, rafts, etc. - you name it we got it. A few years ago, I noticed that original items like these had multiplied in value. Thereafter, I recovered a few of the childhood treasures from my dad’s loft, but unfortunately he had given most of them away. I racked my brains and had a good think about what sort of current toys might be the antiques of the future. As a result I gathered a small collection of gaming consoles: Telesports (2 rectangular bats that move vertically up and down the telly screen), Sega Master System, Sega Megadrive, PlayStation One and Two. I still have these; patiently waiting for them to become antiques; however, I am aware that I may be dead by that time, and therefore unable to reap the fruits of my foresight.
The New Testament: I started reading the New Testament at primary school age. We had visitors to the school and they gave each pupil a red, leather-bound Gideons New Testament pocket Bible. However, I didn’t read it because I was instructed to do so, nor out of religious Catholic devotion: I read it in bed under my sheets at night because I thought our house was haunted, and I was scared shitless.
to be continued...(this is about an actual ghost, real or otherwise, you know what I mean)
okay so yesterday i says to me mum why dont you write yer autobiography. well she says i aint done nothin really and me writin aint all that good. remarkable says i. (hello mum!)
okay, so I thought I remembered reading the newspaper to my dad when I was young - all about the miners' strike. Then I realised it was Elizabeth Andrews who did that. I just read her autobiogaphy ha.
Just added Elizabeth Andrews to working-class women writing page.
Okay, I have done a section entitled, 'My Vehicles.' I'm quite pleased with it. I'm not posting it though, it'll be in my book.
On the whole, I'm quite pleased with how my autobiography is progressing. It is remarkable how memories are triggered, and how one memory leads to another quite disconnected in time and place. I'm confident I can write a book: on me, yeah. Although, I think I need to throw in a few landmarks: song titles, tv programmes and events. e.g. Something Better Change, Watch With Mother, The Miner's Strike.
Yeah, it's looking pretty good, and I've not even touched on the interesting bits . Words like 'discrimination', marginalisation', and 'alienation' haven't yet entered my vocabulary. But, in the (not so) great working-class tradition, they will.
Okay, so I remember when I broke the rules.
I will come clean. I have been to court. I have been in that dock. Guilty as charged, my Lord.
My crime? A driving offence.
I bought an old Triumph Spitfire for £300 from a friend. It was off the road and needed some work doing, which my friend couldn’t afford at the time: a new exhaust, a bit of welding on the sills, and there was a tear in the soft top. It was dark green. It was love at first sight. I quickly got the repairs done (I paid someone to do it, I didn’t do it myself, important to get that straight). I had to get it MOTd, so I booked it in a local garage. I had to drive it to the garage, but I had to get some fuel from the petrol station first. As it happens, a police car pulled in at the same time, and they noticed that I wasn’t displaying a tax disc. Of course I didn’t have insurance or MOT either. Hence, I’m in court, in the dock. They were hard on me. They were hard on me. I got a big fine, which took me about two years to pay off in installments. I sold the car for £500.00.
I am now thinking of other vehicles I have owned. It has been an eventful and at times traumatic relationship, so much so that I’m going to devote the next section to it.
Is this weird?
Someone is sitting in my place today. This pisses me off, greatly. It has put me in a bad mood, frankly. This will surely seep into my writing, so don’t be surprised if my tone is somewhat vitriolic. Also, I must stop chewing on apples, it only brings trouble. Out of the corner of my eye, I spy the security man doing his rounds. I quickly chuck the apple in my bag. I recall a previous occasion when I was caught eating here. I was devouring a massive scrambled egg baguette actually, the precariousness of which can only be appreciated if you too have attempted to do this secretly and in a confined space. On that particular occasion, the security man gave me a right lecture, his anger building to an crescendo as he went on about the importance of rules etc… Well to be fair, each study booth bears a concise notice at eye-level, blatently laying them down: ‘no mobile phones, no food, no drink allowed’. I have no excuse. I am ashamed. I am sorry. However, his somewhat melodramatic response to my little misdemeanour leads me to assume that he harbours a grudge, and sensing that I was some kind of bourgeois student he grasped the opportunity to vent his spleen. God help me, I can’t go through that again. But he hasn’t seen me, phew.
This episode prompts me to think about other occasions when I have flagrantly disregarded the rules. Hmmm, no, that’s about the worst thing Ive ever done. Really?..
It is apparently the day they test the fire alarm. Apart from just nearly giving me a heart-attack, which I have dealt with, there is now a fault and the alarm keeps going off every few seconds. I know this because they’ve just been announced it over the tannoy: Well it’s too late, I have been disturbed. And all this talk of food has made me hungry, so I’m outta here, for now.
To cut a long story short: