(working-class woman writing - don't be surprised if it does what it says on the tin - ha!)
I bought a horse. She was a 15:2hh three-quarter thoroughbred mare, brown coloured with a white stripe down her face. Her name was Molly. A good-looking, feisty horse is what she was. I got a bank loan to buy her. She cost £750. I was still working at the biscuit factory at the time, so I ended up doing the same routine as before only this time with my own horse: going to work, going to the stables and then going to bed for the rest of the day. The shift pattern worked so I got four days off on the trot (pun intended), so it was good in that respect. I did a bit of shopping around before I settled on Molly. I remember viewing a horse that had circular bald patches on it’s neck and body, which I immediately recognized as ringworm. I’d learnt about this at the first riding school I worked at, and knew it was highly contagious. The owner explained the hair loss as being due to the horse rubbing against the stable door. I was aware that this sometimes happened but the patches on this horse were too random, and besides there was another horse in the stable exhibiting similar symptoms. When I got home I searched the yellow pages for the horse vet in that area, and gave him a ring. I was concerned for the welfare of the horses, as well as the fact that this person was trying to sell them on; perhaps the next person wouldn’t recognize the symptoms. The vet said he knew the people that owned the horses, and that he would call round when he had time. So, I left it at that.
When I first got Molly, I found a livery yard that was in the same village as the small riding school where I used to work (they said I could to use their outdoor menage to do a bit of schooling). The proprietors of the livery yard would feed and water your horse if you were unable to get for some reason, which was reassuring. However, it turned out to be expensive, and I quickly looked around for alternative arrangements. I soon found a place. It was in my home village, not far from where my mum lived, actually. My mum lived across the road from where the old quarry used to be. A few years back it had been filled in and landscaped. It is now a hilly attraction, with meandering tree-lined walkways that lead to the summit. Next to this there is a public footpath about 4 miles long, which traverses several fields and leads right up to the monastery.
About half a mile along the public footpath you pass a small-holding type of place. (Allegedly, a member of the 1970s pop group ‘Showaddywaddy’ had lived there for a while.) The current owners had built a small block of five stables, and there was a barn and storeroom in which to keep your tack and food stuff. They also had two big fields adjacent to the stables, where you could ride and put up jumps. It was a DIY arrangement, and they didn’t charge very much. It was ideal for me. Subsequently, Molly and I moved home: me to my mum’s house and Molly to the new stables.
With reference to my last but one blog: on second thoughts, I was not sure whether molestation is actually a word, so I just looked it up! (This is symptomatic of my sometimes precarious relationship with the English language; I do tend to make words up.This is not acceptable, despite what your supervisor may tell you.)
But just to clarify: I do not have little fury animals living under my lawn. And to my knowledge, if I did, they are not particular where they dig their holes anyway.
Molestation: forcing undesired sexual behaviour by one person upon another.
Lawn update: after applying feed and weed lawn is looking healthy. However, vigorous raking has left it looking a bit patchy. It says on the box that the grass will grow back; nevertheless, I am contemplating putting some grass seed down. I did this last year, but it couldn't have been very good quality as lots of dandelions sprouted. I've seen some grass seed at the Garden Centre where every seed is wrapped in its own little moisture pocket, which apparently guarantees good grass growth. It's pretty expensive though. #sidequestforaperfect lawn
In other news: I see they're doing another Watership Down animation remake. I remember reading this book years ago. It's fantastically traumatic!
and...today, I am bored with writing about myself. I could go on forever...I probably won't.
My previous blog made me angry, does it show?
Spot any continuities with working-class women's experience? Molestation is one, ha. Class discrimination is another, haha.
So, today I am reading the autobiography of working-class suffragette and trade union activist Mary Gawthorpe, entitled Running up that Hill to Holloway (A Kate Bush inspiration perhaps) hehehe : )
I soon got fed up with exercising other people’s horses and having no money. Mr…’s daughter was the same age as me, but she didn’t work. She would just turn up at the stables in the morning if she fancied going out for a hack. She had a boyfriend and they would go off for days on end, to who knows where. I decided to get a job at the biscuit factory in the next town. You know, the one where I was going to work a few years back, but fate intervened. Well this time I ended up working the night shift. They were 10 hour shifts. A continental shift system was in operation, which meant you worked three nights on and four nights off; then four nights on and three nights off (something like that). I figured this would give me time to pursue my other interests, and more importantly the pay was relatively good - much more money than I’d ever earned before anyway. People had warned me against working at the biscuit factory, saying it was a horrible place and like slave-labour. But I thought if I didn’t like it I could just leave, so I gave it a go. I didn’t find it all that bad actually. Besides, I had ulterior motivation: I wanted to buy my own horse.
So, work at the biscuit factory: it was tedious and mind-numbingly repetitive, but doable. You had to stand facing a long conveyor belt down which travelled, at a fair pace, 8-10 rows of biscuits (I was on the chocolate biscuit line – yummy, and yes, we did eat them). As the biscuits went by, you had to take hold of a packet sized quantity and place them in the moving oblong metal slots of the wrapping machine, which was situated by the side of you. Basically, that was it. You did this all night long. But you had to do it fast, making sure you filled every slot, and with the correct amount of biscuits. If you didn’t the supervisor would yell: ‘Fill yer holes up!’ You weren’t allowed to talk, but that was pretty difficult anyway as the machines were loud and you really had to concentrate. Something often went wrong, such as the conveyor belt or the wrapping machine breaking down, or there could be quality control issues with the biscuits. When this happened we’d give a small cheer in unison and make the most of the momentary respite. We had 40 minutes break for dinner; the belt was temporarily stopped and we all marched up to the canteen. We also had shorter random five minute breaks which were called ‘nips’ - ‘Do you want to go for your nip, Sue?’ Here, someone relieved you while you went to the toilet or for a quick fag.
I did this job for about a year. During this time I left home again. I rented a room in a large Victorian house; mainly because it was conveniently situated just around the corner from the factory. There were two other women living in the house, including the owner, but I rarely saw them due to my unsociable working hours. By this time I had finished with Mr… and the hunters, but I was still exercising the big grey horse for the farmer. After work I would go to the farm and ride out for an hour or so, before returning to the house and going to bed for the rest of the day. However, this routine wasn’t to continue for much longer as something unpleasant happened down on the farm which made me not want to go there any more.
There were two young men who were farm hands. They were always friendly and said hello. One day one of them asked me out on a date. He was tall, burly, had mild acne and an aroma of cow dung about him, which was understandable under the circumstances. I didn’t really find him attractive, but he was pleasant enough and I thought he’d probably scrub up well, so I agreed to go out with him. His parents were holding some kind of a ‘do’ and I was invited to that. It turned out that they were quite well-off. Their home was an old converted something or other, to do with monks. It had beamed ceilings and about 10 bedrooms. I could tell his parents weren’t impressed when I told them I worked at the biscuit factory (I’d been there two weeks). I got the cold shoulder treatment. They obviously had high aspirations for their son; he was in the Young Farmers don't you know. Anyway, he wanted to show me around the house, so I tagged along. To cut a disagreable story short, he tried to molest me in one of the bedrooms. Like I said he was a big, heavy lad, and the only way I could get him off me was by telling him we’d do it another time, somewhere more private when his parents weren’t around. Just to clarify: I was lying here, I had no intention. Needless to say, shortly afterwards I departed that honourable abode, keeping my lips tightly pursed lest the words ‘yeah well rape won’t look too good on his CV will it?’ should escape and offend their discerning ears.
Round about this time I started exercising a big (16.2hh) grey coloured horse. It came about because one of my aunts was friendly with a local farmer’s wife. The farmer did a bit of fox hunting and cross-country, nothing very serious, just for the fun of it really, and he was in with the hunting crowd. He was looking for someone to exercise his horse and get it fit for the forthcoming season, and my aunty mentioned me. The farm was only about a mile from where I lived, so I agreed to do it. Basically, I had to go to the farm every morning and ride the horse for an hour or two. I didn’t get paid, but I was okay with that. I was able to ride all over the farm land and hack out around our village, and as the farm was situated close to the monastery I was allowed to go there also. (Remember, I said our village was quite rural - PAY ATTENTION DEAR READER I AM NOT DOING THIS FOR THE FUN OF IT - I seem to have spent a relatively large amount of time roaming around the countryside, which probably explains why cities freak me out somewhat.) It was a relaxed and enjoyable arrangement. I found the horse a bit hard going though, he was rather lazy and had a hard mouth, so once you eventually got him going he was hard to stop. I personally prefer something a bit friskier; something you have to hold back rather than kick on. But the horse was a safe ride and excellent in traffic. It was here that I got the opportunity to go hunting. The farmer, as a Christmas gift, let me go out with the Boxing Day Meet. I borrowed a black hunting jacket and a stock from his brother’s wife, who was about the same size as me. The hunt met in Loughborough, on Market Street right outside the Town Hall. There was a large turn out and a crowd had gathered to watch. It was quite a spectacle. Someone brought round a hot toddy, which went straight to my head and put an uncontrollable grin on my face. It turned out to be a magical day. This was before people became so anti-fox hunting: it is illegal nowadays, of course. At the time, I had heard of the hunt protestors but I never saw any. I went out ‘cubbing’ a couple of times as well. This happens in the autumn, pre-hunting season, and is a bit slower paced when the horses and hounds aren’t so fit. I have seen hounds catch onto a foxes scent and chase it, but I can honestly say I never witnessed hounds tearing a fox to bits or even getting hold of one for that matter. But that’s not to say it didn’t happen. I never did it for blood-lust anyway; it was just a great opportunity to have a gallop around the countryside with a few acquaintances, jumping over fences and hedges. The farmer himself was easy going and didn’t put any pressure on me; I suppose he was just grateful for someone to exercise his horse. He had a brilliant Border collie bitch, which was just so obedient and affectionate, and followed him everywhere. She had a litter of pups and the farmer kept one for himself - it was just the cutest little animal. I remember, one morning I went to the barn to get the horse ready, and found the farmer there clutching a small bundle in his hands. He was quite upset, and looked like he he’d been crying. He told me that the pup had been sleeping next to the horse; and the horse had inadvertently squashed it. The pup was dead. Awww - I was quite upset myself.
On the Dole postscript:
The thing with researching working-class women’s lives of the last century (and pre-Welfare State for that matter) - for whom many, unemployment literally meant starvation; homelessness; the poor house; and, for some, death - is that you do appreciate the social security system we have nowadays, and on a good day you count your blessings. However, the thing with being a politically aware individual is that you also appreciate that things could/should be much better: that there must be a better way of living than under a ruthless capitalist system that marginalizes and keeps a large percentage of the population living in relative poverty.
Moving On continued...
After a few weeks, I got restless and started to look out for jobs in the local paper and visit the JobCentre. I was still into the horsey thing and was thinking of getting more experience in another field (no pun intended); you know diversifying. I saw an advert for a riding teacher in the next village. So I went to have a look. The riding school was actually a family owned small-holding. They had an outdoor menage, a field, half a dozen stables and a few horses and ponies. They catered mainly for children. The position was just for weekend work. I can’t remember whether I got paid or whether it was voluntary. But it was fun, I was under no pressure and I enjoyed doing it. I also remember going for an interview for a groom position at a prestigious health farm, which was not too far away. The job involved looking after the horses (obviously) and taking clients out for hacks in the surrounding countryside. I was actually offered the position; I got the impression that they were desperate for someone to start as soon as possible. But entertaining wealthy middle-class folk did not appeal to me, even then, so I declined.
I got another position which was part of some kind of government scheme at the time, the Youth Training Scheme (YTS) probably. I got paid £25.00 a week which went straight into my bank account from the DHSS. I was quite excited about this job as it was working with hunters, which I had never done before. The stables were part of a sort of country house estate. The main house was a really beautiful old listed building, and as it was only about a mile from where I lived it was convenient. The owner was an elderly gentleman, he had a very posh way of talking - a kind of throwback to the landed gentry. He was a married and had a couple of daughters. The elder one was married and she and her husband owned the neighbouring farm. The younger one was about my age. I had little in common with any of them, but to be fair they were all really nice people. My job entailed helping to look after four thoroughbred hunters, which were kept for private use for the family. I say help because a little, lively elderly woman called Leoni was in charge. She had been with the family for years - a kind of throwback to the servant class - and she and her husband lived in a rented cottage by the stables. I got on with her pretty well, but she was hard of hearing so I found it quite frustrating trying to converse with her. The job was relatively easy and I had usually done by lunch time. Leoni had done much of the work by the time I arrived in the morning, so really it was just a matter for me to exercise the horses. Sometimes I had to ride out with Mr… and his daughter, but often I went out alone. The best part of this job was that Mr… had access to much of the farm land and private land of our village, so I was allowed to go where the public weren’t: where trespassers could be prosecuted! This was when I first realised that our village had its own reservoir. I also had to get the horses ready for the family on hunting days, and I sometimes used to follow the hunt around when they were in our area. However, they never gave me the opportunity to go out hunting myself. I did this at another place. It was quite enjoyable while it lasted, but I didn’t really learn anything new with this job and I was still getting paid a pittance, so I only stayed for about six months. Besides, I’d had it in my mind for quite a while that I’d like to buy my own horse.
A brief blog because I have to make hay while the sun shines. Well, to tell the truth my garden is not that big, and the grass cuttings will go in the green bin. Two weeks ago I put some ‘feed and weed’ down and it says on the packet to vigorously rake lawn in 2 weeks - good job I’m in the mood for a bit of vigorous raking, and nice of the weather to oblige. I just nipped to the Garden Centre and bought some plants (Alpines) on the spur of the moment - I’m not a gardener, but I like plants - so I have to stick those somewhere as well. Might get a spot of sunbathing in after.
(Autobiographical isn’t it)
I have never done nothing for very long. There have been periods of unemployment, but only for two or three months at a time. It’s not that I need to be occupied particularly – I can do that well enough without paid employment, in fact work gets in the way*– and it’s not that I feel some kind of moral obligation to pay my dues to an exploitative capitalist system. No, it’s because what they say is true; you just can’t live on the dole. Historically, middle-class forays into the territories of the poor and the unemployed usually engender some sense of empathy, sympathy even, towards those that live on the breadline. Some middle-class journalists have actually ‘had a go’ at living on subsistence level income for a while, and they are typically confounded by the challenges of having to make ends meet. On a positive note, at least these studies bring to light the difficult circumstances of the otherwise invisible and ignored members of society. But at the end of the day, the experiences of journalists and other types of middle-class researchers are superficial and temporary: over too soon for them to become immersed in the culture of poverty, or for the constant worry of how they are going to feed the kids and pay the bills to have a debilitating effect on their health and relationships - they know they are only pretending, and in a few weeks it’ll all be like a bad dream.
For me, life on the dole was a reality (and who knows, it could be again).* But since I have always been willing to have a go at most things, I have never stayed unemployed for very long. I have also spent a lot of my adult life in Further Education, which if anything is a great excuse for not having to get a job. (I did sign on for a while after I finished my PGCE PCET course a few years ago, and again more recently.) Anyway, I am going to write about my experiences of being on the dole, or Jobseekers Allowance as it is officially called nowadays. I will describe the process, how it felt and how I coped. Not here though; in the full text of my autobiography. I am going to write about it for posterity, in anticipation that it will be of interest to future readers, and even contemporary readers for that matter who do not know what it is like.
(ie. from my perspective)?
(NB to self: use as intertextuality in autobiography)
It has come to my notice that in my last but one blog I may spelled the word ‘hippy’ incorrectly. This was a genuine error and not a deliberate flouting of the established spelling rules. I will not lie, I am flipping mortified………..anyway……….over it!
(Us working-class folk have always had a notoriously uneasy grasp on spelling and grammar, not to mention the verbalisation of it, well I know I have. (At least nowadays we can read and write, in a fashion.) So, please look kindly on any further discrepancies. There are always some, no matter how rigorously one proof-reads.)
….Update – I have just done a bit of research and found that the word ‘hippy’ can actually be spelt either way! I am greatly relieved that I was right in the first place, but will keep the previous paragraph as I am making a valid point.
I work hard all weekend so’s I can do what I like during the week. Today, I am going to read the autobiography of this person and write a bit of my own…
I remember when I got sent to prison and they stuck a long tube my neck because I refused to eat. #crossedwires.
Last but not least:
'We must learn to speak the language women speak when there is no one there to correct us.'
We must learn to speak the language the others speak when there is no one there to correct us.
Idiot wind blowing every time you move your mouth…
You’re an idiot babe, it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.
(hahaha - immense. Bob Dylan's breakdown with his wife brought out some genius lyrics!)
Margaret Thatcher added to website here:
for the time being...
After I left the riding school, I had a bit of a rest. 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 licence, 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 accustomed to driving it, 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 quite a few of these three-wheeler Reliants on the road, in fact we had a local garage which specifically dealt in them. They came in many different bright colours: orange, yellow, red, light blue - the forecourt was a proper picture to behold! For a while, I dated a guy 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 and 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.’
But my love affair with my Reliant continued. I went all over the place, just for the sake of it most of the time. One Easter, my sister and I decided to go camping in Dovedale, Derbyshire. I threw the tent into the back of the van and off we went. It was Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was glorious and the tourists were out in force. Anyone who is familiar with the Peak District will appreciate how hilly it is. So, we got stuck in a traffic jam on a really steep incline. My van’s poor little engine started to clank and vigorously smoke in protest at the effort, and, embarrassingly, we had to get help to push it out of the road as we were causing an obstruction on an already congested highway. Thankfully, after a bit of a rest it was fine and we continued on our merry little way. I didn’t keep the Reliant for all that long, having aspirations for bigger and better modes of transport. However, I gained invaluable experience driving it around and when I took my car test I passed first time no problem. The thing with Reliants is that they have fibreglass bodies and don’t rust, and they generally keep their value, so I had no trouble selling it when I advertised it in the local paper…and I got all my money back. Nowadays, three-wheeler Reliants are a rarity on the roads but I occasionally catch sight of one and when I do it always brings a smile to my face.
I stayed at the riding school for just over a year. It was intense, hard work. I got hurt, physically and emotionally. But I learnt so much. I turned out to be a proficient horse rider and ended up teaching my own riding lessons for people of all ages and abilities. On Saturdays, a coach load of children would turn up for the day. They were split into three groups: novice, intermediate and advanced. I took the novice group. They were called novice but nearly all of them were pretty capable riders, able to trot and do a bit of cantering unaided. I would take them for an hour riding lesson or a hack out around the countryside, and then for an hour class-based tuition.. They would then help out around the yard, filling up water buckets, raking the muck heap, cleaning tack etc. Once we had an Open Day and the kids had to do a dressage to music for the public. I kept the routine pretty simple and picked Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene for them to do it to. It went really well and brought a tear to my eye. I have never been so proud.
However, there’s only so much you can learn. After a year I was still working hard, harder than ever really, but I was still on the same pay, which was virtually nothing. Like I said before, we were a close knit little community which made things more enjoyable. But as time went on people/friends left to go on to better positions and suddenly things weren’t the same. I decided it was time for me to leave. The owners did try to persuade me to stay - I suppose hard-working staff willing to work for next to nothing are hard to find. But I’d had enough. It was time to pack my bags. Looking back it was the best time, and a part of me wants to do that sort of work again.
I went home, to my parents’ house. Things were different though: I was different. This was no longer my world. I should be thankful that I did have somewhere to go, though. We should always have somewhere to go. I was a bit lost for while. The intensity of working six long days a week to doing absolutely nothing was a shock to the system. I suppose I needed to get acclimatized. You know, adapt, atune, adjust.
At school, we were TOLD in English not to use ‘nice’ in our vocabulary. Not withstanding, and characteristically, I henceforth like/d this word.
It can be used to appropriately encapsulate a certain sentiment – it’s not great, but it is more than adequate.
It’s effective usage is apparent in phrases such as: ‘nice one’, ‘have a nice day’ and ‘that’ll do nicely’.
The expression ‘Nice one’ became quite a fad in the 1970s when it was made famous in the unforgettable hit song ‘Nice one Cyril’ and then transposed to the Mothers Pride bread advertisement.
More recently, the word was wittily employed by lovable tv characters Frank Spencer in Some Mothers do ‘ave ‘em – ‘mmm nice’
and Onslo in Keeping up appearances – ‘Oh…nice!’
The next thrilling installing of my autobiography is currently undergoing excavation from the depths of my memory and will be blogged sometime, soon.
In the meantime, here’s the Stranglers to harmonize what I intend on doing this afternoon (ie: hanging around, not the bad bits).
(Btw: This blog is not as random as it may appear. It is full of cultural artefacts which can be woven into my narrative)
To cut a long story short: