Kerry Hudson (2019) Lowborn

lowborn.jpg

Perhaps we should start a  book review by stating the obvious about God, everything and nothing. Books are holy to me, a companion to reality as I experience it. Entertainment and ecstasy, from the Greek, meaning a going out of ourselves, while actually staying in with a good book as long as it’s not fake, middle-class wordplay, wankery. Kerry Hudson book is a good book. She is one of us, working class, but I don’t like the title, Lowborn.

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had. And add some extra, just for you.’  Philip Larkin in This Be Verse, sums up the Kerry Hudson dilemma of not repeating maternal history. Some birds fling their chicks out of the nest, but only humans bring them back to fling them out again. I was lucky, working class, never really liked my Da. Ironically, now people say that’s exactly who I’m like. In later life, understanding yourself, teaches you to be kind to your former self and those that have gone before you.

This book has that. Like Kerry I recently found a tenner on the pavements. It’s been years since anything like that happened. I didn’t leave it on the pavement for someone more needy to find, as Kerry did. But in the same way I regularly loss money, ten or twenty quid out of my pockets and I hope somebody that really needs it, gets it. There is a deep irony that a working-class woman is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, because the status-quo is based on that lie, the exception to the rule, is the rule. Rich, white men in politics, publishing and the media can point to her and say, there she is, you lot just don’t work hard enough.

Kerry tackles that lie. She has a list of her own. Those in the shitest jobs always work hardest. I’ve found that too. Men don’t care what age you are. And drunk is never too drunk for sex. Raped, bullied, beaten. She’s lived life where those knocked down, often don’t get up.

And like Kerry, something else resonated, both intellectually and emotionally.   The Jeremy Kyle Show offended me at a deep level and I couldn’t stay in the same room in which it was on. Mary, my partner, used to laugh at me, say it was only a stupid show. For me it was emblematic of the propaganda war that us, poor people, lost. I’d read about one of the tick-box tests of whether the subject could consent to being on the show was dependent on what medication they were on. I wrote a couple of stories about it. They were meant to be funny stories offering some deep insight, but didn’t. In terms of doing unto others what you’d do to yourself, the Jeremy Kyle show, like all those shows with the tagline, before or after them ‘Benefits’ was deeply sacrilegious. It wasn’t just a case of those that lacked nothing baiting those that possessed nothing and expected nothing it was a destruction of a damaged person’s psyche. It led to suicide and poor Jeremy, whose accumulated millions, being binned. A Pyrrhic victory of sorts.

Kerry Hudson understands that innately. It was part of her. We can read about experience or we can experience experience. Hers was both, being also from an early age a voracious reader. Libraries were her church.  With that comes compassion for her childhood self and others like her. If we talk about spectrum, The Jeremy Kyle Show and his ilk (they’re searching for the next,  more sociably responsible, Jeremy Kyle, perhaps they’ll hire Prince Harry) are at opposite ends.

I wanted to try and  understand the motivations and hardships involved in such a complex situation [childhood poverty, being pushed from pillar to post, and taken into care].

But then there was that child. And I realised my childhood made itself known to me every single day. In the way I engaged with others, when I slept, when and what I ate. In the thought patterns seemingly designed to undermine me, to make me feel whoever I was interacting with, which made me beg in all sorts of ways for their approval. In the deep loneliness, the way I often said I was a ‘black hole for love’ no matter how much I had been and was loved in my adult life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences questionnaire asks ten questions to measure childhood trauma and each affirmative answer gives you a point. Research has shown that individuals with an ACE score of 4 or higher is 260% more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease than somebody with a score of 0. 240% more likely to contract hepatitis, 460% more likely to experience depression and 1220% more likely to attempt suicide. I scored 8.

One of my favourite lines in the book comes early. She’s talking about her granny, who spent her whole life working in fish houses. I spent a few months working in Clipper Seafoods in Aberdeen, roundabout 1980, which has a chapter to itself. I know that boom town. Her granny worked filleting fish. My mum’s sister also worked filleting fish. It was one of those jobs that women could make a decent-enough-living because it paid piece-work. If you were quick with the knives, you made more than the run-of-the-mill.  Hudson’s granny was young and quick and pretty. But she wasn’t a soft touch. You need to be hard. That’s part of what this book is about. Hard on yourself, hard on others. Take nae shite. So when somebody called her granny a cunt, she held her knife to her throat.

‘I’m a good cunt, a clean cunt, and I care a cunt for no cunt, right cunt?’

Speak so I can see and all that jazz. The angel’s choir surrounding God couldn’t have put it better. Kerry Hudson was thirty-eight when she wrote this book. Newly married, she hoped to have a kid. I wish her well and all kinds of well. She’s one of us, speaking out of the wilderness where we’ve been cast down by the money men.  Lowborn? Not in my book.

 

Damian Barr (2013) Maggie & Me

damian barr.jpg

I enjoyed this memoir. It reminded me a bit of Kerry Hudson, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma. Only it wasn’t Tony Hogan that stole Damian Leighton Barr’s mum but Logan the plumber. Glen is one of those taciturn men that does twelve-hour shifts in the Craig (Ravenscraig Steelwork) and says things like ‘make your bed and lie in it’.  He makes good money and they are one of the first in the street to own a colour telly. But the colour telly is in 25 Ardgour Drive, Carfin, with their Da.

‘It’s the 12th of October 1984. I am just eight years old. Me and my mum are stuck to the BBC Nine O’Clock News in the strange new flat.

…Flat 1, 1 Magdalene Drive, Carfin.

My wee sister, Teenie, has cried herself to sleep in my mum’s lap. Our old life is crammed in the cardboard boxes bursting all around us.’

Mum is pregnant with Logan’s child. Make your bed and lie in it. Or use terms like *Spoiler a middle-class convention to alert the unwary reader to what-the-fuck?

Spoiler, Maggie Thatcher survives the Grand Hotel and Brighton Bombers. “‘Shit disnae burn, Maggie won’t,’ says my mum.”

Spoiler, Logan disnae burn either, but he really should.

Spoiler, Damian is gay, or even homosexual. In the working class community around the Craig that’s a worse offence than making your bed and lying in it. Or being a smart-arse, both of which are true of Master Barr.

Damian Leighton Barr I admire your wit and wisdom. Margaret Hilda Thatcher I hate you with a passion as hot as the ovens of the Craig that you cooled. Making 85 000 miners unemployed was a masterstroke. Fossil fuels are killing the planet, but, of course,

‘There are individual men and women and there are families…There is no such thing as society’. Margaret Thatcher, 23rd September 1987.

Spoiler, aye there is.  They fuck you up, your mum and dad. So do working-class communities. So does society You’ll find it here in this memoir. Now fuck off and read it. Or don’t. I don’t really gie a fuck.

Kerry Hudson (2012) Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float before he Stole my Ma.

Kerry Hudson thanked me on Twitter for saying how much I loved her book.

She said something like ‘thanks guy’ (she probably wasn’t sure since I’ve got a picture of a koala bear on my profile and unless they turn round it’s often difficult to tell the male from the female. Even Koala’s make mistakes, but unlike me, they never blog about it. So although I look like a koala, don’t be fooled by the furry face and benign smile).

I think Kerry read my blog. At least she said she did, but she might just have been tw0-faced. You decide.

It’s a catchy title that titillates. You know when you open the pages it won’t be like wading through text book squiggles of grey snails lining up to teach you something meaningful about the author’s life that you don’t want to know. It won’t try and regress you or teach you that God is on your side if you can just [well, fill in your own bit here].

To begin with Hudson’s book disappointed me. It has been described as autobiographical. Here,  the narrator Janie, describes her birth: ‘“Get out, you cunting, shitting, little fucking fucker!” were he first words I heard.’ Janie’s Ma is prone to these sudden attacks of verbosity. Janie develops a similar foul mouth, ‘filthy temper’ and stubborn streak associated with the Ryan woman.  Her little sister Tiny has a different Da, one that filled the familiar pattern of fucking, fucking it up and fucking off. Janie’s Da was an older married man in London. Sometimes Janie’s Ma made the decision to move on — they, for example,  went looking for Janie’s Da, described as an American —  and sometimes the decision was made for her. Tony Hogan pulled her earrings out of her ear with a yank, but he wasn’t an American. He was a low-level gangster and drug dealer her Ma had hooked up with. He took care of Ma so well she was hospitalised and Janie taken into care. Ma survives on Crisis Loans from the DHSS, Giro payments and Housing Association homes that fleas wouldn’t live in. Worse though was the slum landlords that rented out Bed and Breakfast, locked them out during the day and asked for extra in cash. Mrs Sheathes had a number of houses in Canterbury, such a pretty city, but it could have been anywhere, Aberdeen, even fucking Airdrie which was supposed to be Glasgow or Great Yarmouth, that wasn’t so great.  By this time Janie is pregnant, being viciously bullied at school and is threatening to follow directly into her mother’s footsteps of anywhere but here.

‘I stood up and she did too. I was an inch, maybe two, taller than her, even barefoot, but she got right into my face, pushing my head forward into the space between us so she was shouting into my mouth: “Do you know what I’ve done for you two? What I’ve been through? You’ve no idea! I sacrificed my whole life so you an’ Tiny could have a good start. So don’t call me a bad ma”’.

The reader does know what sacrifices Ma has made. The problem of the omniscient baby narrator grows long enough legs to support the narrative. And you’ve got to love Ma and Janie, Tiny and Findus Crispy Pancakes. Remember them?

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole