Working-class people have a reputation for thinking their lives too insignificant and/or too uneventful for them to write their life-stories. Case in point is when I asked my mum if she had ever thought about writing her autobiography, and she said she hasn’t done anything worth writing about. This is true - not that she hasn’t done anything worth writing about, because I know she has; she’s been married and brought up me and my sister, and she’s borne all the luggage that goes with that – what I mean is, my mum and I did have this conversation (I mentioned it in a previous blog). I made the comment ‘remarkable’ after her reply, and I was thinking objectively here, as someone who has studied working-class women’s autobiography in an academic capacity. In this sense, I know mum’s reply is typical and bares the mark of self-effacement: a quality commonly observed in working-class autobiographers. This means thinking that your story doesn’t deserve to be heard because in the scheme of things it doesn’t, and you don’t, matter. Well, I’m the opposite really, lots of things have happened to me and even the smallest happening has had its significance. Even the walk to school had its moments.
Our house was a three-bedroom terraced (allegedly haunted). Across the road, facing us was a large textile factory. You could hear the rhythmic whirling of the knitting machines during working hours (I like the continuity with my working-class women counterparts here, although the machines were electric not steam or water powered, and I never worked there). Ours wasn’t an industrial area by any means, more like a small rural village on the outskirts of the larger mining town. Anyway, somewhat incongruously, the factory was there, and we lived across the road from it. I started school at the age of five. There was no pre-school or nursery school then, you were just suddenly wrenched away from home and left alone with a room full of strangers for eight hours a day. I think for the first six months I was too traumatised to learn anything. The school was about a mile from our house. At first my mum used to walk me there, pushing my little sister along in the pram, until I was a bit older when I could make the journey by myself.
To get to school I had to walk down our street, cross the main road at the bottom and take an off-road footpath, which meandered downhill through what is called the Churchyard, due to the old Norman church and graveyard that is there. Tall conifers line the footpath, which make it somewhat dark and damp, even on the brightest day. The church is halfway down on the left-hand side. Parts of it date back to the Thirteenth Century. It is built of grey stone, which is blackened in some places and dark green in others due to centuries of weathering and various algae infestations. There is a stumpy square bell tower with a dark blue clock face, which if you time your walk just right chimes a death knell as you pass by. Numerous misshapen gargoyles strategically gurn at you from the church walls, and, beneath, lichened gravestones protrude from the ground at all angles, somewhat haphazardly as if they were lacking a sense of symmetry in those days. To put it simply it’s a spooky place, and my track record for attracting the other worldly made it spookier. I remember once, we had to do a school project which involved grave-rubbings, where you hold a sheet of white paper over the head stone and rub over it with a crayon so the imprint remains on the paper. Some of the epitaphs are really quite touching, but it wasn’t a poetry lesson it was a history lesson. It wasn’t so scary when there were other people around. Needless to say, when I was by myself I legged it past the church and the graves as fast as I could until I got to the old bridge at the bottom of the hill. It was harder on the way back, but it’s surprising what fear can do.
To cut a long story short: