Nicky Nicholls & Elizabeth Sheppard (2018) Not a Proper Child

Graham Greene’s whisky priest in The Power and the Glory doesn’t drink whisky, but damnation. Author, Nicky Nicholls also drunk of damnation. She drunk so much she found it her only salvation.

‘Needing to drink like I needed to breathe air. A craving so total that there’s no space around it.’

Nicky Nicholls (aided by Elizabeth Sheppard) has all the elements needed to create a successful misery memoir or a work of fiction. In my unpublished novel, for example, (Grimms/The Cruelty Man) Angela’s grandfather was her father. She was raped at the age of five by Jaz. Tick, tick, tick. Here we have Nicky Nicholls mother Sylvia being raped by her father, Edwin, and giving birth to Nicky and leaving her baby, her daughter in a basket, with a note, outside Stoke football ground. Nicky is taken back to her grandfather rapist’s house, who abuses her, as does her stepbrother/Uncle Vernon. Grandad Edwin tells her he’s doing it because ‘She’s not a proper child’.

This is a great start to any book, as I know, because I too used it. But, in some ways, the authors of Not a Proper Child starts with the wrong hook for readers, elsewhere, on the Moors with Myra Hindley in October 1965.  Ian Brady had been arrested four days previously and there’s media coverage that it’s something to do with the disappearance of children.

Nicky Nicholls, who changed her name by deed poll when in the army, is 20, much the same ages as Hindley who is 23. Nicholls had a dishonourable discharge after falling drunkenly through a plate glass window at barracks had been arrested on a minor charge of attempting to break into a factory and remanded at Grisley Risley. Nicholls and Hindley’s paths cross briefly after Nicholl’s a prison trustee helps to prepare a cell for the Moors Murderer.

‘Hindley gazed through her, impassive. Though close enough to touch, she was nowhere at all. For a second, she looked into the dark.’

Nicholls knows what the darkness looks like. She has known little else but darkness. By the age of fifteen she judges herself to be the loneliest girl in the world. By that time her real mum (not her granny) Sylvia has come back to take her to live in London, in a nice house, far away from ‘buggerlugs’ as she calls Edwin her dad and Nicholl’s paedophile grandfather and his son. But Syvia is damaged goods. She beats Nicholl’s for infringement real or imagined and doesn’t let her stay in the proper house with her four other daughters, but keeps her apart with the housekeeper, Ms Anand, in the basement.

I’m not sure here whether Sylvia or the housekeeper, act together. Mrs Anand takes her to a different house. She’s six or seven and given orange juice which makes her eyes and throat smart. She’s got to drink it and is given a second glass. Men in suits come to use her before Mrs Anand takes her back to the basement. Later, she remembers a young boy was also there, bleeding at the bum. She doesn’t want to tell. Her mum beats her harder when she cries. When her mum breaks her foot and she can’t skip at school with the other girls, she knows her mum will get into trouble. She gets sent back to Stoke.

Years later the taste of gin sends her crashing back to the past. Drink destroys her, but it’s all she’s got to hold onto. In my novel Angel had a dog, Blodger. Here Nicholls has a dog called Dog. It’s her one true love. The one consistent part of her life. Blodger is hanged by Jaz and his mate. Here, Uncle Vernon drowns Dog in the canal after Dog growls at her uncle who is abusing her. Tick again.

Angel gets sent to jail in a trumped up charge of attempted murder. Nicholls is sent to prison for murder. Tick. Officers made her sign a confession. Even the governor of the prison she was later sent believed Nicholls to be innocent.

So here we have it, some things you can’t make up have already happened. The reader knows that Nicholls finds salvation, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to co-write a book.   Alcoholism, child abuse, Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder, wrongfully convicted of murder, mental-health problems and Myra Hindley.

The latter is a false flag, but the rest of the memoir works in the way it should. But it’s not all bad guys and evil women. For salvation Nicholls must find the true north of good friends. People that care and people that are caring. They are here too, but in a misery memoir, it’s the misery that foregrounds the book. For those that work in residential care settings this should be an essential read. It’s no big surprise that those from care homes and those from army backgrounds disproportionately fill our prisons. Most women in prison have been abused. Mad, sad, or bad? Nicholls was never bad. Society certainly wasn’t good to her. Mad and sad, absolutely and utterly—that’s where the drink comes in. We all know about that.  Read on.       

The Yorkshire Ripper Files: A Very British Crime Story, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, written and directed by Liza Williams.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0003m0l/the-yorkshire-ripper-files-a-very-british-crime-story-series-1-episode-3

Episode 1, Chapeltown.

We all know what happened to Peter Sutcliffe, dubbed in the late seventies the Yorkshire Ripper, he was arrested in January 1981 and sent to Broadmoor the high-security psychiatric hospital in Berkshire, for thirteen murders and eight other attacks on women. Although we sometimes hear in the press of him getting fat or going blind with diabetes or being attacked by other inmates – I can’t remember, whether he’s alive or dead, and I guess like many others, I don’t really care – case closed.

Liza Williams re-opens the case and looks at it through a lens in which journalist Joan Smith sum it up as ‘a conversation among men about dead women’.

Listen, to example, this conversation between Michael Greene, a senior officer in the investigation of the murders and a prostitute in Moss Side in October 1977, when at least nine victims have been linked with the Ripper. A police operation costing an extra two million has been given to the police and 150 000 car number plates logged, 4000 cars a night on Moss Side alone.

Greene with a film crew approaches a prostitute on a street corner and asks,

‘Are you on the game?’

The prostitute replies, ‘Yes, I am.’

Greene replies, ‘Don’t you know that’s silly!’

This sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but nobody was laughing. You can have your own opinion, but you can’t have your own facts, is one response to today’s political shenanigans. There was no amnesty for prostitutes. Arrests of prostitutes increased even as the murders continued. The idea of arresting kerb-crawlers was deemed unrealistic and impractical.

The murder of sixteen-year-old Jane McDonald in Chapeltown on 26th June 1977, we were told changed the mood of the nation. Here was an ‘innocent victim’. There was an open letter from Jane McDonald’s mother printed in the mass media asking Sutcliffe to hand himself in. It followed his usual pattern, hitting the victim with a ball-peen hammer to render them unconscious or incapable or both and stabbing them with a screwdriver and molesting them. This was regarded as an honest mistake.

Prostitutes weren’t regarded as innocent. A fat women from Chapeltown summed it up for viewers, there were bad men she said, but bad women…were a different breed. Them and Us. Jane McDonald was one of us. Everyone else killed was a prostitute and one of them.

Ironically, it was women jurors in the 1950s and 1960s that were far more likely to acquit another serial killer, Peter Tobin, for crimes of molestation, assault and rape, because he was clean cut and the woman brought it on themselves.

Fourteen-year-old Mary Browne was attacked by Sutcliffe at Silsden farm before he began his serial-killing spree. He hit her over the head with a hammer, but a car came over a hill, which disturbed him and her flung her over a wall. She gave a description of him as a dark-haired, with a beard and dark, dark eyes. Later she went to the police, again, after another victim had an identikit sketch of the Ripper and told the officer it was the same guy that attacked her. She was told it couldn’t have been. He only attacked prostitutes was the narrative and the police were sticking to it, regardless of the evidence. Another survivor, a black woman with learning disabilities lost her child after the attack, her description of the attacker was a white man with curly hair and a beard, but she was told she was attacked by an unknown black man.

Joan Smith managed to get a copy of the ‘Special Notice’ issued to other police forces out with Moss Side and Leeds by the police forces dealing with the killer. It was a fishing operation, to find out if other police forces had anyone they might know that committed similar crimes on their patch. Smith noticed a term that kept cropping up in the ‘Special Notice’ was ‘loose morals’. Olive Smelt, for example, a mother that went out to drink in a local boozer, could not be classified as a prostitute, but she had ‘loose morals’ because she was not at home.

One of the first victims Wilma McCann’s son, Richard, who in 1975 was just a kid of five, appears in the programme. One of the things he noticed was the black-and-white photograph the mass media used of his mother, Wilma, made her look like Myra Hindley.  For me that had resonance because in my unpublished novel (The Cruelty Man) one of the ways the press mocked the accused and inferred she was guilty was to make her look like Myra Hindley. Misogyny was meat and drink of the seventies cops and red-top newspapers. Innocent until you got your tits out for the boys. At least when we used to watch The Sweeney they got their man. Yet we know Sutcliffe was interviewed nine times by the police. Sutcliffe didn’t have to be very smart. The police just had to be incredibly dim.

The story Liza Williams tells isn’t a whodunnit, it’s a reconstruction of a different kind of misogynist crime, against women in general, in which women also play aid and abet the culprits. It’s a fair cop guv.

 

 

Born to Kill, Channel 4.

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/born-to-kill

This is the first episode of a four-part drama. I won’t be watching the other three episodes. I know the formula – a thrill at every advert break. So like Coronation Street or Emmerdale or whatever soap you watch something big is going to leave you wanting more than your cuppa and something small is left hanging during advert breaks to bring you back with a Kit Kat. Labelling theory contends that what people say you are, you end up ingesting that message and  being. If teenager Sam (Jack Rowan), a model school kid who thwarts bullies bullying another kid on the school bus and spends his time in the hospital reading to old codgers in the geriatric wing and telling them jokes, he’s obviously up to no good because he’s born to kill. Nature or nurture? Well, his mum who is also a nurse on a geriatric ward, Jenny, (Romola Garia) thinks he’s a good kid. Most mums do. Some scenes hint at a kind of incestuous relationship, but that may be how Sam is reading it, because he’s a psychopath. He’s born to kill. Empathy is not something psychopaths do, but they can learn to mimic being human, in the same way that the moron’s moron, Donald Trump can mimic being a President by blowing up the world. Born to kill. Jenny has the dim, dark secret beloved of thrillers and it’s not very secret, her ex-partner is also a psychopath, but he’s liable to come calling…advert time. Then there’s Chrissy (Lara Peake), the new girl at the school. She is grungy, not born to kill, but is an arsonist. She sets fire to the science lab, probably because she was bored and making a statement about moving house, going to a new school and teenage angst. . That’s the kind of friends psychopaths hang about with. Like attracts like. Jenny ends up getting detention for trying to burn the school down. As does Sam, who’s mum thinks he’s really a good kid, because he tries to take the rap for Jenny’s misdemeanours. Jenny’s dad, Bill (Daniel Mays) is a cop, a detective sergeant, so he knows if her arson attack had killed a classroom of kids, she was liable to get detention and lines, having to copy on the blackboard a million times ‘I must not kill my classmates or I’m a psychopathic killer like Sam, but it’s not my fault. I’m stroppy and misunderstood. An amateur. He’s the psycho’. Phew. I’m even tired after that. A bit of times tables tells us one psycho multiplied by another psycho, for example, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, Fred and Rosemary West, means a whole lot of trouble and more detention time.

You know how it goes, Born to Kill is a modern psychological drama starred a new and upcoming actor…must see…not for me.