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.

 

Advertisements

Richard Holloway (2018) Waiting For The Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death.

last bus holloway.jpg

Psalm 90:10 King James Version (KJV)

 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

 

Richard Holloway is in his nineties, a bit older than the biblical fourscore years and he’s still waiting for that last bus. It’s a regular service. If he misses it, another is sure to follow. Life may be an unequal race, but in the end, we all end up  in a dead end. Holloway is agnostic, which means he’s just not sure and if it really matters. I guess that matches my own inarticulate beliefs.

Holloway when he was around my age was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and even then he wasn’t sure he believed in the risen Christ, or the idea of God. He had doubts, as all good men had. It’s all there in his marvellous biography, Leaving Alexandria.

And he’s written a stack of other books about morality and religion and dabbles in poetry and music. His muse is his life and reading and ‘The Last Bus’ is an extension of Leaving Alexandria, the postscript before he becomes a postscript.

He talks about the faith he had in the pills advertised in Church Illustrated around 1958 that cured baldness, which he purchased, but went bald anyway.  The only known cure after than was combing back to front and trusting in a fair wind and the myopia of others. There’s a metaphor and lesson there somewhere and it is this, the human animal is cursed and blessed with self-awareness and self-consciousness. The secret is acceptance.  The consolation is as we get older ‘vanity and self-consciousness fade away’.  That’s the theory.

More difficult is when we can see the last bus and knowing there’s only one stop ahead of us, there’s no future in front of us and our past is behind us. He quotes Philip Larkin:

‘And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true’.

Holloway calls for gratitude, not for death, but for life and the beauty of the world. His polemic extends to the medical profession who keep us alive when all joy is gone.

When in doubt, make a documentary about is as Louis Theroux does in the state of California and the land of the free, in Altered States, Choosing Death.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bshjrp/louis-theroux-altered-states-2-choosing-death

Here we have a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. We have a man who is grateful for the life he has lived and chooses death and takes the lethal overdose a doctor had provided. He dies with his family beside him. A terminally-ill woman does not take the lethal overdose but dies of natural causes, in other words, cancer. Whether that a better end, who knows?

The ugly face of death is here, in a group called Exit. This is something Holloway recognises in his long years of religious life and strive, the fanatic, who is always right. Theroux follows this man and woman as they prep an elderly woman in a wheelchair about the best way to kill herself. She is terminally ill and has early onset dementia, her life partner, her arms and legs, her quality of life, had died with him.

Theroux is too smug to be a devil’s advocate, but here I felt there were more push factors than the pull of death. She didn’t want to lose her house, she couldn’t afford medical care and her arguments were about money.

Nobody really cares said the Exit advocate, apart from the immediate family of the dying. And he was right, I agreed with him. She’d end up living in a twelve-by-eight room with another resident if she was taken into state care. There’s a lack of light here, but no lack of clarity. His co-Exit partner agreed with him. Her argument was that was just the way it is.

We know that over 600 000 people in the United States last year were made bankrupt because of their medical bills, but that’s when the bad becomes the sad and we’re in the slippery slope argument beloved of fanatics of a different sort. I’ve been reading about how euthanasia programmes in Hitler’s Germany were first set up in hospitals by Himmler and rolled out across the conquered nations for ‘mouths unworthy of life’. This is a dilute Exit version in California and here is the evidence, when we start talking about money, we’re taking about empty mouths. Let’s not kid ourselves and call it something else. Certainty is man’s most dangerous weapon.

But certainty, like black holes and religion is plural and not singular. Holloway quotes the French mystic, Blaise Pascal.

FIRE: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars.

Death’s imperative does not go away and it’s always personal. We’re all waiting for that last bus, if we don’t get hit by a train first. Too late, too late, our regrets take us places we don’t want to go. Holloway quotes the words of the poet A.S.J. Tessimond god, or the ultimate reality will meet us wherever we are and however we have made of ourself.

He gives you time in heaven to do as you please,

To climb love’s gradual ladder by slow degrees

Gently to rise from sense to soul, to ascend

To a world of timeless joy, world without end.

 

 

The Breakfast Club written and directed by John Hughes. Film 4.

the breakfast club

It’s been thirty years since I watched The Breakfast Club. I truanted from real life and took a step back into Shermar High school where it’s always Saturday detention in 1984. The Simple Minds hold play with a number one both sides of the Atlantic, Don’t You Forget About Me?  The only thing I could remember about the original was Molly Ringwald and one of the other detainees admitted they didn’t need to be in detention but they’d nowhere else to go. That was Ally Sheedy.

There’s no point in telling you the characters’ names or who they portray. It’s more like archetypes. Molly Ringwald is the beauty, with luscious lips like pumped up pears and more teeth than a shark. And she’s a ginger, but she is young, perhaps the youngest of the Bratpack. (For example, Demi Moore another member of the Bratpack, but she is not in this film, is more of a conventional beauty and a lot prettier.) But back then I’d hair. Everybody had hair. They probably had to have an extra hairdresser for every young budding star. Ally Sheedy is the bag lady, to Molly Ringwald’s queen bee, of those serving time in school detention. Ally’s hair is mushy and brushed down over her face. Molly’s hair is shiny as copper coins. They’re as far apart as Alaska to Easter Island. But after they do a bit of bonding the brains of the bunch, Anthony Michael Hall, asks if we’ll still be buddies on Monday, when school goes back. Molly strikes him down, puts him right. Of course they won’t. How could they be? But then we get the classic cliché of transformations and school maggot turning into a butterfly. Usually, the girl is transformed by taking off her specs and putting her hair up. Ally doesn’t wear specs, because the conventional film formula is only geeks like Anthony wear them. But Molly shows her how to be a woman. She does Ally’s hair, puts a little blusher on and does her eyes. Voila, the unveiling.

She doesn’t look that much different to me, but eyestrain and specs have taken the slack in life. The guys on set are keyed to say, whoa, we never knew she was so hot. Sporty, Emilio Estevez, gets her in a strangle hold and kisses her so passionately her hair straightens. Who can blame him? She’d got nice hair and that hairband does wonders for a bag lady.

The big and bad true romance is between beauty and the beast. Judd Nelson has the longest hair. He’s a rebel with a criminal past. In his locker he’s got dope. Just don’t look at the finger glove he wears.  After one squiff, one sniff of dope, and the music is on full blast, Sporty does a few star-jumps to show how athletic he is, Brains dons a pair of sunglasses and shakes his head like Stevie Wonder and Ally beetles about making strange squeaking noise. I didn’t think the music then was that great either. I can’t remember what the criminal mastermind does. I guess the camera spent much of the time on the beauty bopping about like a person with only one hip that kept knocking her sideways. You know the criminal and the beauty are going to hit off each other and fall into a conventional relationship. He’s shown her his flick-knife and he’s seen her knickers (white and clean, or so it seemed, I looked discretely away, of course). For god’s sake she even said ‘I hate you!’ It couldn’t be more obvious if she’d a big love heart tattooed to her forehead.

Start with I hate you and work your way to I love you, but Mr and Mrs I didn’t really understand the real you. The connecting thread is Phil Larkin, This be Verse. ‘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’. All of the detainees in their own way admit this truth to one another. They are more the same than different. Judd the criminal brains does a cameo of the academic brain’s sparkling home life, with his dad and mum asking him if he wants to go fishing and compares it with his own. Brains big secret is he’d a gun in his locker. Nothing much in America really changes. Every kid seems to have a gun in his locker. It’s an American right. I enjoyed this. But I won’t be looking back again – not for another thirty years. By that time I’ll be so old I’ll forget what I’m not looking at. Oh yeh, Molly Ringwald.