Saturday, 18 April 2009
From Working Class Hero to...
Entertaining tonight so just a brief venture into the jungle that is Stoke, where the natives "are never far from home" because "they are reminded of the city whenever they're in a public convenience and see the word Twyfords stamped on the pissoirs and the basins". You suspect that "public convenience" and "pissoirs" may not be everyday Stoke usage, or if so they might be edged with a little distance and wonder whether it would be interesting to check, say, Alan Sillitoe's books for the occurrence of the word "pissoir".
This is how the book begins. We sense we are already beyond Stoke. But then we "spot a fellow Stokie" and are back in Stoke again, especially when we compare "proper crockery" with "some imposter rubbish". And then, hey presto, we're out once more, leaving Stoke, which is, says the author, "a crime I exacerbated by flitting off down south". It is, we understand, albeit in a slightly ironic way, "a crime" to leave, to leave your roots, to betray your quintessential identity, to let down your parents and your mates, to "flit" like someone absconding illegally, without proper payment.
All this in the first paragraph. The first divide, we learn, is between North / South, a serious divide in England, up North being where it is traditionally grim but honest, down South being where it is soft and dishonest, the line between North and South, being assuredly below Stoke, which is "closer to Manchester than it is to Birmingham".
But then, having remained true to our roots, we read that "Leaving is the signifier of a couple more associated personality faults" and know that talk of signifiers is itself a signifier of tertiary education.
So there is a complex mixture of terms to indicate or foreshadow the passage about to be undertaken. Leaving is a crime. Leaving is also a signifier. "Leaving is wrong". Leaving is guilt. But the trail of guilt is to be resisted "precisely because the place is a dump full of people like them" [people who express opinions like that.]
And they never go. They cannot go. They stay in your bones and slop about in your marrow. And you cannot disown them. That is the human pathos of it, even before you start.
Reading this - and it is a pleasure to read as a kind of semi-improvised memory, a memory like a travelling case covered in labels and stuffed with language from here and there - I think of the notion of community, of the settled community of workers in industrialised England, father and son hurrying to the factory hooter, to the pub, to the dinner table. As if for ever. But then only to the early or mid-eighties or so, which is, after all, where this story begins.