Bernard Hare (2005) Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew.

I picked up this book and put it down a few times. I doubt if I’d have read it, but for one thing—it was Bob’s book. He carried it around like a lucky rabbit paw in his rucksack (not so lucky for the rabbit) Mostly in the first 150 pages of the book, around the middle of the book, Bob scribbled messages to himself in biro He underlined words like Urbie and wrote things like ‘Visible From Space So We r Told’. Adding a tick mark to quote from the narrator to Sparky, ‘Here, who you calling a cunting heretic?’ I don’t know if Bob finished the book. I guess I finished it for him.

Mad, Bad, or Sad?    1990, According to The Guardian headline, Five ‘cold-hearted and evil’ teenagers, from Skelton in Leeds, tortured and killed Angela Pearce, aged 18, who suffered from schizophrenia. The three girls and two boys showed no remorse when they were led away from the dock. Bernard Hare, the middle-aged narrator, known as Chop in the book, and his adopted son given the name Urban Grimshaw, visit the shallow grave where Angela Pearce was buried and leave a memento, a gold locket, at the site. Recognition that could have been them that did the torturing. Them that was tortured.  

Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew—his brother Frank, Skeeter, Sparky, Sam, Pinky, Theiving Little Simpkins, Trudy, Cara, Molly, and Pixie with the exception of the Tyson, the dog, who was sold by Greta his mum for a fix, where mad, bad and sad. As we all are. We’ve gone to the dogs is the message of the book. It’s almost 20 years since Angela Pearce’s murder and Chop gave himself grief. He saved himself and the adolescent boys and girls that looked up to him for some kind of parental guidance.

 Hare/ Chop is initiated into the Shed Crew and becomes one of them. Their unofficial leader and guru. I wasn’t overly convinced by the screeching tyres and stolen cars and the way they’d outfoxed the police. I was convinced the girls were sexually abused by nonces and the boys were thugs that stole and did whatever they could to stay one-up and alive. Hare, for example, has the reader believe, a fifteen-year-old Sparky, who was ‘built like a brick shitehouse’ and sets up home with Natasha, a schoolgirl who needs a good shagging and is straight out of the pages of Trainspotting, somehow also reads the collected works of Shakespeare for fun. Quotes, verbatim, from The Merchant of Venice, ‘do I not bleed…’. That’s just clichéd shite with a coating of literary havering.   

And I certainly wasn’t convinced that twelve-year-old Urban fell into a sewer, then into the canal and Chop dived into save him and Tyson bit him. They both survived. Covered in pish and shite they went to Urban mum’s house, because it was closer. Chop also knew not much would be said. He’d been shagging his mum, Greta. And had taken the boy out to help on a few of his jobs, delivering stuff. Man and van. Man, van and boy, made a more interesting story with a moral punch. Urban was street smart and he’d warned Chop, because he liked him to stay away from his mum, because she’d destroy him.

Here was have the shtick:

He was twelve going on thirty-seven. Oddly enough, I was thirty-seven going on twelve. Maybe that’s why we got on so well.

The road trip from Leeds to Aberdeen is believable, as is the glue, butane sniffing, boozing, drug taking, and even the code of conduct. The 101 houses that Greta inhabits. Her madhouse where her children and their pals go to take drugs. Chop goes too. But he also offers a safe house for the kids to decompress and teaches them to play chess and be still. To be children for a while.

Hare is making a call to arms. He’s saying this shouldn’t be happening. We all know that. Just think what low-life David Cameron was thinking when he made that speech at the Conservative Party Conference telling a wailing audience of yahoos that he had a list of families in London that were costing the country millions. His solution, their solution, of course, was to cut them off. Cuts, cuts and more cuts. To make the poor pay. Chop does that too. Goes on mad rants, usually about Thatcherism and the empty promises of consumerism. We’re kindred spirits. The world he wants is the world I want. For those not in the know, this is a book worth reading. For the rest of us, a reminder how far we’ve fallen.  Allegedly, the sixth richest nation on earth and we can’t even feed our children. Fuck, right off. You should be fucked off too. It’s not a read it and weep book. It’s a read it and understand, but as I said, I’m not sure Bob did read it. He was fucked up in so many ways and so wanted to be normal. Viscerally, I’m sure he understood.  That could have been him. That was him.   

This week – last week

peace in paris

This week I’m reading about the attack on Paris. I don’t need to tell you about it. The media is full of front-line news on continual loop. It’s got that feel of 9/11 about it, but closer to home.

Last week I was reading Reportage, Cemetery of Lost Souls, photographer Giles Duley on the Greek Island of Lesbos, where many refugees end up on the beach. Some die, as the image of the Syrian boy that went global show. Perhaps it softened Western European perceptions of refugees a little, and for a short time, but most live. On that day 3rd November 2015 an estimated 7000 men, women and children had landed. Two men and two children had drowned. An Afghan father, with baby in arms, tries to find a place to for his wife and child to sleep. Here we are in the familiar world. When the father asks at a local hotel for a place to stay it wouldn’t surprise us if he’s shown round the back to a stable and a couple of guys riding camels appear with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. That doesn’t happen. The proprietor explains there’s nowhere left. Families are sleeping where they fall and they can’t even offer blankets. The father’s response is poetic, ‘Touch me, am I not human too?’

The answer of course is he’s not. Shylock says much the same thing to Salerio in The Comical History of The Merchant of Venice (although I can’t say I see much comedy):

   I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?

Solerio describes Shylock as, ‘A creature that did bear the shape of a man’. In the same way David Cameron, accidentally, on purpose, described refugees across the channel as ‘a swarm’. Swarms aren’t human, but something that needs to be contained. Shylock is a creature that is kicked, spat upon, and beaten. Shakespeare understood power. There’s been a shift in power and perceptions of what needs to be done. The disturbing news that Isis terrorists posed as refugees, at least one with a Syrian passport, passing through the Greek island of Leros in October and from there into mainland Europe, is a godsend to the far right. Overnight Angela Merkel and Germany’s humanitarian response to the movement of three million refugees is called into question, as is her leadership. Razor wire and border controls are the new real-politik. Poland’s new right-wing government have refused to play by the rules and take the 160 000 refugees that were to be re-located in their country as part of a pan-European agreement. As all those tens of thousands refugees hunker down in whatever shelter they can find tonight they will find that the Muslims are the new Jews. In this more bitter world, right-wing voices demands its pound of flesh. They will pay and keep paying, because what other choice do they have?