“The society which has abolished every kind of adventure makes its own abolition the only possible adventure.” Paris, May 1968

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Getting free from Accrington.

I could weep for the unhappy, abused children of the world but I know that there is little that I can do about their lives. When they grow up a few are able earn money by unburdening themselves in an autobiography and good luck to them. But misery-lit as it's known in the book trade is not my cup of tea; there is a whiff of voyeurism about the genre. Having said that, I have just finished reading Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and although it would be hard to describe the author's childhood as anything other than miserable to categorise the book as misery-lit would be to do it a grave injustice. Winterson writes compellingly about love, adoption, politics and mental illness but what really gripped me was her description of Accrington in the 1960's. She could just as easily have been writing about the 1930's, or the 1860's. In the 50's we too shared an outside toilet but there the similarity between Leyton and Accrington ended. Up north, grim or not, it truly was a different world.

1 comment:

d said...

Yes, misery lit is not my cup of tea, but the story of Accrington prompts me to share a tale. I grew up in a coal area, a couple of miles from Llay Main Colliery and Gresford (most of the left will have forgotten that disaster) and after expulsion from school and one day in a mine I chickened out after seeing a lad with his legs crushed. So I became an apprentice plasterer. We did regular contract work for a greedy landlord who owned a row of thirteen houses - none of which had water - just one outside tap for thirteen houses. The toilets were across the shared backyard and the buckets were emptied once a week by the council 'muck cart' as we called it. The day came when my boss had a contract to fit water toilets and, as there was not much plastering to be done, I was sent to help the plumber fit them. He was known as a randy old bugger, and on arrival at the houses he lined all the women up for their bottoms to be measured for the new toilets. My job, as a fifteen year old lad, was to write their measurements down in his note book. The women cooperated, having been told that it was better not to tell their husbands as they would benefit from having a size to fit them. I don't think they believed him but went along with it and joined in the merriment as the old bugger groped his way down the line, calling out with ribald comments about each others measurements. It has to be a case of historic sexual harassment, but I guess most of the women have passed on along with the dirty old plumber. That was how we lived. Obviously there were lines that could not be crossed and God help him if he crossed them. Remember, there were thirteen women and one male plumber plus a lad. But the lines were drawn up by our people, not by graduates in the media.