A roam around my books 8 – staying power

‘There were African’s in Britain before the English came here’ is certainly a great opening line, but for me there’s nothing like a good footnote. Peter Fryer’s Staying Power is packed with them, or I should say endnotes. One hundred and forty pages of signposts to more troves of hidden knowledge. Plus, there’s a whole section on Further Reading. It’s the book that just keeps on giving.

I bought this study of the black presence in Britain a few years after it was published while I was working in Liverpool. At the time I was intending to write a novel set in the eighteenth century port. I am not sure if the book inspired the idea for the story, or if it was acquired as part of my research. I still have a box containing the opening chapters and plan, plus notes and photographs of numerous eighteenth century Liverpudlian doorways in dilapidated buildings. I’m not sure how I knew where to find them, but I did.

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Georgian Liverpool photographed in the 1980s

I remember unexpectedly coming across a stray vessel from the tall ships race as I approached the waterfront one evening. It was twilight, the masts were silhouetted against the sky. Black birds crowded its rigging. It was dark and foreboding but majestic, too. A very powerful image, and I’m sure it would have demanded a paragraph in my never-to-be-finished historical novel.

Within Fryer’s endnotes were references to books that I would only be able to acquire some years later, once the Internet had made it easy to purchase out-of-print books and magazines. This included the work of Nigerian historian Folerin O. Shyllon. His books Black slaves in Britain and Black people in Britain 1555-1833, in which the Sons of Africa [1] are rescued from the “enormous condescension of history”[2] are a pleasure.

Finding the Country Life Annual 1967 was also a coup. G. Bernard Wood recounts local folk lore about the use of black slaves in the country houses and quarries of the Lake District and North Yorkshire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Another acquisition was the 1967 Country Life Annual. The article by G. Bernard Woods was the source for this story in Staying Power.

Other victims were the black children sold as house-boys in Westmorland early in the nineteenth century. The Liverpool merchant John Bolton would pick out young boys from his slave cargoes and transfer them to Greenodd. A local young man would smuggle them up to the Leven Valley to Windermere, where they were taken to Storrs Hall which Bolton owned, and sold to the local gentry. Other victims again were black youths who toiled in the marble quarries at Rigg End, near Dent in the West Riding, by Liverpool slave-merchant, Sill. [3]

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Storrs Hall near Windermere

The article also mentions some oral history tapes which were made in the 1960s by a Mr T Wray Milnes of Lea Yeat in Dentdale. Milnes was recording tales from local inhabitants – some of their grandparents would have been alive when the slave trade in the British Empire was abolished by parliament. Unfortunately I have been unable to track down these tapes.

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Dent, North Yourkshire

Some years later I also made contact with Kim Lyons, a local history expert of Dentdale.  She gave me a fascinating insight into local folklore about the slave trail in the north west. Slaves were brought into Whitehaven and auctioned in Kelleth Square. She had some very interesting stories, some of them chilling, but I think they are for her and her family to tell, not for me. Academic historians have dismissed much of this folk lore, but it is a verifiable fact that Africans were house servants in the grand houses of England, so there must have been the means to traffic them there.

Footnotes

  1. The Sons of Africa were black agitators against slavery in the eighteenth century. Their letters are reproduced in Appendix II of Black People in Britain. They were led by Olaudah Equiano a.k.a. Gustavus Vassa, associate of Thomas Clarkson and also Manchester’s Thomas Walker.

2. Quoting from E. P. Thompson’s  epic Making of the English Working Class

3. Staying Power, Fryer Peter, 1984. p 228 reference to footnotes 2 and 3.

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Peter Fryer’s Staying Power had recently been reissued. It was first published in 1984. My edition is the fourth impression 1989.

 

 

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Deluded, the gripping psychological thriller by Lynn Steinson

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Akala

When Akala was twelve he was in the top 1% of his age group in mathematics. That was almost 25 years ago and, in these times when political discourse is dominated by obfuscation and hypocrisy, his grasp of statistics and passion for evidencing an argument is refreshing.

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Akala at Waterstones, Manchester. May 2018

‘This is the only time I will quote Tony Blair,’ he says referring to  the New Labour mantra education, education, education. Hardly anyone who leaves university at 21 gets shot and goes to prison, he puts out. His thirteen year old peers are all in jail or dead.   42% of people in prison have been expelled from school. 24% have been in care. The statistics show where the problem lies and how resources should be targeted. It costs money to incarcerate people. Why not use the money to address the issue before it is too late?

Akala survived the dangerous teenage years to become an award winning rap artist, documentary writer, founder of the Hip-hop Shakespeare Company and now author. He is promoting his book Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, a study of how race and class shape lives and which reconciles the sweep of history with individual experience. He describes himself as ‘someone who barely went to college yet who has lectured at almost every university in the country. I come from one of the statistically least likely groups to attain five GCSE passes – white and ‘mixed-race’ boys on free school meals fail at an even greater rate than ‘fully black’ boys on free school do – but I got ten GCSEs, including multiple A* grades. I took my maths GCSE a year early and attended the Royal Institution’s Mathematics masterclasses as a schoolboy…. When I say I could have been a statistic – another working-class black man dead or in prison – people who did not grow up how we grew up probably think that’s an exaggeration. But people that grew up like us know just how real this statement is, just how easily the scales could have been tipped.’

In a GQ magazine interview with Eleanor Halls he says, ‘I think I was very lucky because I went to a pan-African Saturday school. I was taught a community vision of history that was different to the mainstream vision. Mainstream intelligence and mainstream society has a way of presenting itself as the norm. This is history, this is what happened. Any serious student of history knows it’s not exactly that simple, and even the mere act of writing a history book means you’re going to choose what evidence to include, what evidence to not include, what narrative to tell, and what narrative not to tell. It’s like editing a film – there are rushes that get left out. It doesn’t even always mean you’re deliberately being biased – just the act of creating a historical narrative necessitates a perspective.’

He quotes E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, Cheikh Anta Diop, Franz Fanon and Lao Tzu as influences but ‘I also read a lot of stuff I disagree with. I read a lot of Niall Ferguson. I don’t like his work, and I completely disagree with [his] historical perspective, but you can’t only read people you agree with, otherwise all you get is bias confirmation.’

On Windrush.

The government has turned British citizens who paid for themselves to come here into immigrants. Why would the Windrush generation register for citizenship when they are already citizens? Race and class are a way of playing people against each other.

On ethnicity

When they say ethnicity is the reason for crime it gives the police who are bigoted licence. Should the Prime Minister be ethnically responsible for white paedophiles who work at the BBC?

On violence

I have one request, going forward can we try to use the appropriate term #seriousyouthviolence rather than just ‘Knife crime’ – I know its a mouthful but ‘knife crime’ seems to have become a dog whistle that does little to encourage serious thought at this point…

Links

 GQ Interview with Eleanor Halls Retrieved 10:50 19/3/2019

Guardian interview with Owen Jones, 18/3/2019

Good Morning Britain interview with Piers Morgan,18/3/2019

Hip-hop Shakespeare Company Retrieved 10:50 19/3/2019

Roots, Reggae and Rebellion, Akala’s BBC documentary 2016 Retrieved 15:23 19/3/2019

Akala was speaking at a Waterstones event in Manchester on 15 May 2018. The review was updated on 19 March 2019 to reflect recent news.

 

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire

The paperback is available on 21 March 2019

 

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About Deluded, the gripping new psychological thriller

IMG_1880-300x216 About Deluded, the gripping new psychological thriller

If you are going to The Sun be careful who you might meet. Be very careful.

The secrets of four members of a pub quiz team are entwined with deadly consequences in this gripping new psychological thriller.

Lisa thinks she has it all – dream job, besotted boyfriend, loyal friends, even her pub quiz team might win. But she’s about to find out that things aren’t quite as they seem.

As Lisa pits her wits against charismatic Judith’s wiles her amateur investigations trigger a murderous chain of events. Who is Judith? And just who is deluded?

Buy DELUDED at the Kindle Store or as a paperback from Amazon 

FREE on KINDLE UNLIMITED

You can listen to the DELUDED playlist on Spotify by clicking this link DELUDED PLAYLIST.

 

 

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A Preston egg rolling ritual and a Manchester Passion

Easter Sunday, like Christmas and New Year’s Days, is unusual in that we can count on one thing – the supermarkets will be closed. Good Friday has, in recent years, escaped this consumer curfew and nowadays is very much like any other public holiday. It was not always so.

When I was a young girl Easter Sunday was just like any other Sunday. No shops, apart from the occasional sweet shop, were open – but Easter Monday was different to any other Monday of the year. Easter Monday was fun.

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Easter Monday fun at Avenham Park, Preston

In the weeks before Easter a satisfying display of chocolate eggs, gifts from neighbours and family, accumulated in the front room. They were routinely counted as each new addition, in its gaudy box, was added to the top of the bookcase. On Easter Monday I would carefully choose a selection of the Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s or Terry’s eggs to take on the bus into Preston for a family day at Avenham Park.

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Egg rolling, Avenham Park Preston, Easter Monday 2009

 

The park is a natural amphitheatre which slopes down to the River Ribble. I suspect we might have taken a picnic, but Easter Monday afternoon was all about one thing for me, and all the children in Preston who were also there with their families – chocolate.

As a brass band played and a steam engine shunted backwards and forwards over the railway bridge I would roll the glittery wrapped eggs down the hill and my cousins would roll them back up. Eggs which were divided in two and not stuck together were disappointing – flying apart in the air and losing their foil wrapper at the first throw. What was needed was a sealed egg which required some serious bouncing on the grassy hill before smashing, satisfyingly, into pieces. The manufacturers seemed to change their specification each year, so choosing the right eggs was always a risk.

I would like to remember these rituals as being performed on sunny afternoons but unfortunately they were often played to the accompaniment of a blustering wind or fine drizzle. As I got older we went for hikes to Brock Bottoms of Nicky Nook, instead, but we always took some chocolate eggs for rolling. I have rolled eggs in Essex, Norfolk and Yorkshire on Easter Monday. It’s a Preston tradition and continues on Avenham Park to this day, and wherever I am.

 

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Keith Allen, Darren Morfitt, Tim Booth and Nicholas Bailey
Manchester Passion 2016. BBC Photo


I have established some rituals of my own in recent years. I saw the Manchester Passion on television in 2006 and was spellbound. The city has always had a reputation for inventive TV. Granada was the flagship television company, but this ambitious live performance was broadcast by BBC3. The entire city centre was its location and members of the public were the supporting cast. Tim Booth of James was Judas and Bez, Tony Wilson and Chris Bisson had cameo roles. I found the You Tube video a few years ago and now watch it every Easter Sunday. LINK HERE

The originals of all the songs are by Manchester bands – from Joy Divison to Oasis and M People. You can listen to the playlist HERE

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Preston Passion. Good Friday 2012

Preston Passion. Good Friday 2012I had hoped to see something similar at the performance of the Passion at Preston Bus Station in 2012. Unfortunately, Fern Britton’s narration was no match for Keith Allen’s Pontius Pilate. Last year’s Manchester Passion in Cathedral Gardens was a traditional take with the cast dressed as if they had walked out of a traditional Christmas card. They were just missing the sheep. It was a worthy performance on a sunny day and attracted a large audience but the ambition of the 2006 version has yet to be surpassed.

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Manchester Passion, Cathedral Gardens 2018

egg-rolling-300x200 A Preston egg rolling ritual and a Manchester Passion

Manchester Passion 2017

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It’s more than reading and writing

The literary influences which shaped my writing are varied – from the weekly cliff hanger in the schoolgirl comics of my childhood to the great ladies of detective fiction – Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell. I loved James’ sleuth Cordelia Gray and always wished Christie had given Tuppence Cowley more mysteries to solve. I never guessed the ending of an Elizabeth George or a Ruth Rendell, but I never felt cheated either.cover-small-vengeance It's more than reading and writing

My influences extend beyond the crime/detective genre. I was hooked on Lionel Shriver’s ‘We need to talk about Kevin,’ engrossed in the twists and turns of the book and revelations which knocked me sideways – brilliant story-telling which pounds the emotions so powerfully I know I can never read it again. Audrey Niffinegger’s ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ never lost me as it jumped through space and time. I was entranced by every page of Kate Atkinson’s ‘Behind the Scenes at The Museum’. She writes with light humour, often juxtaposed against sadness and tragedy. The descriptions from the past reignited memories of my childhood and drew me into its pages. I had almost forgotten the plastic daffodils that came free with a brand of washing powder. I felt as if she was writing about my childhood.  Sometimes books we admire are chosen for us. Novelist Nicholas Royle recommended James Lasdun’s ‘The Horned Man’ as part of the reading list for MMU’s M.A. in Creative Writing.  I loved the tone of this novel, a compelling mix of humour and darkness. Unusually I have read it twice.

cover-small-vengeance It's more than reading and writing

The Horned Man by James Lasdun

We are a product of all our experiences, including all we have read – increasingly on social media – but also what we have watched in the cinema or on television, and even heard on the radio or itunes. So I also have to acknowledge influences beyond the written word. On television these include the quirky Ally McBeal and Alan Plater’s The Beiderbecke Affair. I liked the tone and pace of these programmes. Laurie Taylor’s Radio 4 ‘Thinking Allowed’  broadcast in 2013 reminded me again that I am also “something of a fan” of sociologist Erving Goffman. He  argued that society is like a theatre and that we are always performing our character, even rehearsing backstage to try to create the right impression.

In the psychological thriller, Deluded, my sleuths are Lisa Clarkson, a young advertising executive, and DI Calvini, a sexy Mancunian detective with Italian heritage. The main theatre is the pub quiz where the comedy of everday life is performed and from which emerges a dark, twisting story. Facebook is the tool used backstage to enhance the leading actress’s performance. It is a contemporary tale but not without some seventies nostalgia and a nod to the fairy tales and myths which permeated my childhood. I have mentioned before that music is the soundtrack to my life. Each chapter in ‘Deluded’ the name of a song title. The playlist for the Deluded chapters is here.

Download Deluded at The Kindle Store or buy the paperback  

cover-small-vengeance It's more than reading and writing

Reviews

Here are some reviews from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.au

An intriguing read, with some excellent twists and turns. The members of a pub quiz team each have their own secrets and, as the novel develops, their secrets start to become bound up with each other. It also offers an interesting take on the way in which social media can be used to construct – or change – the ways others view us.

Extremely enjoyable and well written psychological thriller. Interesting characters with lots of twists and turns which kept me guessing until the end. Highly recommend this book.

This is a book that lures you in quickly – I wasn’t able to put it down till I finished it. Great suspense with interesting characters. I’d highly recommend it!

This book is a great read. A psychological thriller that draws you in from the first page and keeps you guessing until the very end. Join the members of the pub quiz team and discover all their secrets. Very well written and listen to the playlist on Spotify. I connected to this book on so many levels.

I am currently working on a sequel, again set in Manchester, but during a long hot summer. No, I’m not deluded.

 

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A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the Nymphs

It’s Tuesday night at The Sun pub quiz.

‘Alfred, Lord Tennyson,’ Judith said, without hesitation. ‘I have a painting by John Waterhouse which is inspired by that poem, the Victorians loved all things Arthurian.’

She might have added Greek and Roman as well. The Victorians were steeped in mythology. In my psychological thriller, Deluded, Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott is displayed in a heavy gold Victorian frame at the bottom of the stairwell in Judith’s house. When Lisa sees it she is not impressed.

A red-haired woman dressed in cream medieval-style robes, her face a deathly pallor, was staring out of the painting as if in a trance. She was sitting in what looked like a grand canoe, drifting down a river.

‘Exquisite,’ said Lisa, dryly, ‘but very contrived, staged.’

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The Lady of Shalott — John Waterhouse

Waterhouse was not to Lisa’s taste. It appears that this aversion is also shared by Manchester Art Gallery’s curator of the exhibition themed In Pursuit of Beauty. She has described the collection as a cause for ‘embarrassment’. The curator decided to withdraw Waterhouse’s celebrated Hylas and the Nymphs from the display.

I have a special interest as a print of this painting has adorned my bathroom wall for many years, and I often visit the Gallery to ponder the Pre-Raphaelite  collection – I use the term loosely –  primarily to look at this picture. A Facebook posting revealed that the painting is well-loved by my female friends – one also has a print, displayed in her dining room. She loves it because the nymphs have ‘mystery and power’. I share this feeling. These mysterious young women have the upper hand, after all the temptresses are about to abduct Hylas – a rare case of the depiction of assertive women.

In the furore that followed the removal of Hylas and the Nymphs the Gallery’s action was justified as a means to prompt a ‘conversation’. I was in the museum on the Thursday following the picture’s withdrawal. The only suggestion of a ‘conversation’ evident was the curator’s tentative scanning of the public’s comments which were stuck to the now empty wall. The staff in the hall were not prompting actual conversations with any passing visitors.

shalott-300x230 A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the NymphsBy Saturday the painting had been returned. Although longer, typed arguments have been added to the mélange of post-it notes, it was still difficult to decipher many of the penciled comments. Let’s face it, a post-it note does not give too much scope to express an opinion, never mind a conversation. The curator had promised the painting would be probably displayed again but ‘hopefully contextualized’. That new context seems to be a sea of yellow post-it notes. Opposite Hylas and the Nymphs there is a portrait of a stern bare-breasted woman. A post-it is stuck to the wall next to it. ‘Don’t let them take me!’

shalott-300x230 A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the Nymphs

Hylas And The Water Nymphs. Henrietta Rae (1859-1928). .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever the Gallery’s motivation, removing a celebrated painting was misguided, smacking of censorship – and of all the paintings to choose it seems odd to select one of empowered women, if their rationale was based on the Victorian’s objectification of women. This Greek myth was a subject which appealed to both male and female painters. There is another portrayal of Hylas and the Water Nymphs painted fourteen years later by Henrietta Rae. However, it is only Waterhouse’s nymphs which, when Googled now, are associated with the headline ‘soft-porn painting’ and ‘offensive nymphs’.

shalott-300x230 A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the Nymphs

We can all read into the painting what we will, based on what we see, and informed by our knowledge of Greek mythology. I don’t think about the imminent demise of Hylas when I see it, just the women entrancing him. Other commentators have described it as the Naiads’ abduction or murder of a gay man – Hylas being the lover of Heracles. However, the mystery of the disappearance of Hylas was never solved. In my imagination he lived happily among the water lilies with the nymphs. In the end we can all see the same thing and see it differently, and that is partly the point of my novel, Deluded.

DELUDED, the gripping psychological thriller, is now available on Amazon.co.uk.

shalott-300x230 A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the Nymphs

 

Buy Deluded now!

shalott-300x230 A Deluded Conversation: Manchester Art Gallery and the Nymphs

 

 

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Deluded – the music

DELUDED, the gripping psychological thriller. 

Available now on Amazon.co.uk

Music has always been with me.

Radio, records, cassettes, CDs, MP3, streaming have all been part of the soundtrack to my life, and that of the characters in DELUDED, too. If you have the Spotify app you can listen to the tracks which headline each chapter by clicking this link DELUDED PLAYLIST. The full list is here, crediting the composers and performers.

Cry me a river, Arthur Hamilton, performed by Michael Bublé

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Oasis. Don’t look back in Anger

STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF LOVE, Holland-Dozier-Holland, performed by The Four Tops

One step beyond, Prince Buster, performed by Madness

Games people play, Joe South, performed by Joe South

Just to see her, Jimmy George and Lou Pardini, performed by Smokey Robinson

The prettiest star, David Bowie and Mick Ronson, performed by David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars

Stuck in a moment you can’t get out of, Bono and The Edge, performed by U2

PRIVATE INVESTIGATIONS, Mark Knopfler, performed by Dire Straits

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Charles and Eddie. Would I lie to you?

Would I lie to you? Mike Leeson and Peter Vale, performed by Charles and Eddie

We’re all alone, Boz Scaggs, performed by Rita Coolidge

Don’t let go, Ivan Matias, Andrea Martin, Marqueze Etheridge, performed by Strong Asian Mothers

Hanging on the telephone, Jack Lee, performed by Blondie

Don’t look back in anger, Noel Gallagher, performed by Oasis

Heroes and villains, Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, performed by The Beach Boys

Secret love, Sammy Fain, Paul Francis Webster, performed by Kathy Kirby

Ashes to ashes, David Bowie, performed by David Bowie

Do you really want to hurt me? Boy George, performed by Culture Club

Slider-Oasis-300x148 Deluded - the music

Strong Asian Mothers. Don’t Let Go

THE WAY WE WERE, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman and Marvin Hamlisch, performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips

Take on me, Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket, Pâl Waaktaar, performed by a-ha

I really didn’t mean it, Luther Vandross, Marcus Miller, performed by Luther Vandross

Man in the mirror, Michael Jackson, performed by Michael Jackson

It’s in his kiss, Rudy Clark, performed by Linda Lewis

Patience, Take That, performed by Take That

Queen bitch, David Bowie, performed by David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars

Love will tear us apart, Ian Curtis,  performed by Joy Division

Slider-Oasis-300x148 Deluded - the music

Debbie Harry. Hanging on the telephone.

REQUIEM, Guiseppe Verdi, performed by Lynne Dawson and the BBC Singers

Don’t dream it’s over, Neil Finn, performed by Crowded House

Suspicious minds, Mark James, performed by Fine Young Cannibals

Watch that man, David Bowie, performed by David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars

Love that girl, Raphael Saadiq, performed by Raphael Saadiq

Say it isn’t so, Daryl Hall, performed by Daryl Hall and John Oates

(What’s the story) morning glory? Noel Gallagher, performed by Oasis

Into the valley, Richard Jobson, performed by The Skids

Fool (if you think it’s over), Chris Rea, performed by Elkie Brooks

Make you feel my love, Bob Dylan, performed by Bob Dylan

Slider-Oasis-300x148 Deluded - the music

 

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A roam around my books 7 – studying the historian

I often use Wikipedia, but a search for its entry on “history” reminds me how dangerous that lazy habit can be. History is “the study of the past as it is described in written documents”. Really? Even a check of the sources referenced in the piece do not support that argument. History is the study of the past, certainly. However, it’s evidence is found not just in written documents, but buried in landscapes, engraved in buildings, in the brushstrokes on canvases, in the verses of rhymes, the taped reminiscences of ordinary folk and so on.

To quote E.H. Carr, “Study the historian before you study the facts…by and large the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation”. The history books I have assembled on my book shelves inevitably say a lot about me, although rather an incomplete portrait, as many books are absent, discarded after being read.

The amber brackenish fells, bleating Herdwick sheep, dancing daffodils and rushing waterfalls inspired the Lakeland poets, and me. My first book on the Wordsworths was bought in Grasmere to pass a rainy day when the there was a low mist. My fascination for the intersecting lives of the Wordsworths, Hutchinsons, Coleridges, Southeys and De Quinceys has resulted in a small collection of books on the romantic poets and their families. My latest acquisition, Kathleen Jones’ “A Passionate Sisterhood” entertained me over Christmas in Ambleside. A good read.

poets-300x201 A roam around my books 7 - studying the historian

A later fascination with the radical movements of late eighteenth century England, and the north-west in particular, added new tomes to the bookshelves. Anti-slavery was then at the centre of radical agitation. Those prominent in the fight for parliamentary reform, like Mancunian merchant Thomas Walker, were also prominent in the campaign against the slave trade, organising petitions and sugar boycotts. Walker and Thomas Clarkson were both outspoken in their initial support for the French Revolution and, as the situation in France turned bloody in 1793, both were tainted with the label of “Jacobin” which signified traitor. Facing condemnation at home as supporters of the revolution they were surely tormented by the brutal deaths of fellow radical thinkers like the Saint Domingue Deputy of Colour, Vincent Oge, and Brissot the Girondin whom Clarkson had met in Paris during the heady early days of the revolution.

Financial ruin and threats of violence hung over both men and their families. In 1792 Walker had defended his home and warehouse from being pulled down by King and Country mobs. Rumours of his treacherous activities circulated the following year. Clarkson made a covert visit to Manchester in November 1793 to support him. Both men, their health poor, considered emigrating to America, like fellow agitators Thomas Cooper and Joseph Priestley, but stayed. Walker was tried the following year for conspiracy to commit treason, the trial was abandoned and he escaped the very real threat of the hangman’s noose, but he was financially ruined and his commercial reputation was in tatters.

To my surprise I found that Thomas and Catherine Clarkson were lying low in the Lake District sipping tea with William and Dorothy Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge in 1799, during an eight year break from anti-slavery agitation. They had moved to Pooley Bridge at Ullswater in 1796.

Clarkson lived to see the end of the slave trade and slavery in the British colonies but had to defend his own historical legacy when William Wilberforce’s sons wrote a biography which deliberately set out to belittle Clarkson’s role in the anti-slavery movement. To quote Marx,

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past”

and, I would argue, they cannot influence how that history is retold to future generations.

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A roam around my books 6 – the die is cast.

My academic books were purged shortly after my finals and the losers traded at the university book mart. The survivors, including those which have never been opened in the intervening years, have not been threatened since. They are pillars of my bookcase, as safe as the fading photographs in rarely opened albums, repositories of memories created decades ago. I often see them on the shelves of university contemporaries, representatives of our shared student experience.

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast. Some language books have sneaked alongside the text books, a reminder of an alternate life path which was scuppered when I had just turned seventeen. At the time I had mastered Corneille, Molière and Henri Troyat’s existentialist roman, La Tête sur les Épaules, all in their original French. I needed a good grade to read languages. French and Italian would have been my choice. I knocked on the staff-room door and asked Mrs Harrison if she thought I would get a B in French at A level. “No.” And so the die was cast. I applied for social sciences on my UCCA form.

I did get a B in French and over the years have attempted to learn Italian and German on many occasions. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes, and I seem to default to French whenever my brain is telling me to speak Italian or German. I probably accepted my French teacher’s assessment too quickly. Although I was torn between my love of languages and passionate interest in politics, I suspect I readily accepted her judgement because of fear. I can still remember the trepidation I would have felt as I imagined leaving my yet-to-be-made new university friends to spend a year in a foreign country as part of the mid-course year abroad which all language students took. I would have conjured up an image of a lonely garret in a world where everyone else knew and understood each other.

Before the Internet and Facebook leaving school at 18 was a daunting prospect. I still have a horde of letters I received from old school friends written from their colleges around the country in our first year away. Certainly we all found new circles of friends very quickly, eased into adulthood by a benign college or university environment. I’m not sure if subsequent letters were destroyed, but I suspect by the second year we no longer felt the need to spend hours writing letters to school friends when we could be drinking coffee with new friends, or perhaps trying to interpret Marx, Marcuse and Gramsci was taking up too much of my time.

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.The book that stands out for me is Erving Goffman’s ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”. This has been re-read since university, and many times. Goffman analyses social encounters from a dramaturgical perspective. We are all players on the social stage. Back stage we rehearse our front stage performance. Here we are alone, our authentic selves. On the front stage the actor uses impression management tools to manipulate the audience, to present an image, a pattern of behaviour that is contrived to achieve a goal. The argument in the book influenced my novel, the psychological thriller, “Deluded”.

 

PERFORMANCES


BELIEF IN THE PART ONE IS PLAYING

When an individual plays a part he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. They are asked to believe that the character they see actually possesses the attributes he appears to possess, that the task he performs will have the consequences that are implicitly claimed for it, and that, in general, matters are what they appear to be. In line with this, there is the popular view that the individual offers his performance and puts on his show ‘for the benefit of other people.’ It will be convenient to begin a consideration of performances by turning the question around and looking at the individual’s own belief in the impression of reality that he attempts to engender in those among whom he finds himself.

            At one extreme, we find that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When his audience is also convinced in this way about the show he puts on – and this seems to be the typical case – then for the moment, anyway, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the ‘realness’ of what is presented.

   At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine. This possibility is understandable, since no one is in quite as good an observational position to see through the act as the person who puts it on. Coupled with this, the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of his audience only as a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception that they have of him or of the situation. When the individual has no belief in his own act and no ultimate concern with the beliefs of his audience, we may call him cynical, reserving the term sincere for individuals who believe in the impression fostered by their own performance. It should be understood that the cynic, with all his professional disinvolvement, may obtain unprofessional pleasures from his masquerade, experiencing a kind of gleeful spiritual aggression from the fact that he can toy at will with something his audience must take seriously.

It is not assumed, of course, that all cynical performers are interested in deluding their audiences for purposes of what is called ‘self-interest’ or private gain. A cynical individual may delude his audience for what he considers to be their own good, or for the good of the community, etc.

Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Everyday Life, Pelican 1974, p 28-29

 

la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2017 Lynn Steinson
la-tete A roam around my books 6 - the die is cast.
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