It was Larkin who famously said in his poem Annus Mirabilis: “Sexual intercourse began/ In nineteen sixty-three/ (which was rather late for me) -/ Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/ And the Beatles’ first LP.” Teenagers for the first time were heard and given a glimpse of freedom, which as teenagers are wont to do, grabbed it by whatever they felt in reach, another person’s body, music, protest, and drugs of course. When I think about the first portrayals of the working class in the early 1960s in books and films, they are often rites of passage, where there is a clash of ages, with authority, and opportunity presents itself to our young confused adult protagonists.
Billy Liar does his eponymous best to escape the drudgery of northern working class life by playing on the fields of his mind as well as women he is in sentient contact with. Bumping up against his parents, grandparent, and boss, the wonderfully named Mr Shadrack. And at the end of the film, we so want him to leave with Julie Christie and go to London, but at the same time know that would undermine the film’s premise. Similar stories are told in such films as Taste of Honey, where Rita Tushingham fights with her drink-happy mother, gets pregnant by a black man, and is looked after by a gay man, which given the fact this was first written in 1959 by an eighteen year old Shelagh Delaney, four years before sexual intercourse was said to have begun, is remarkable. There is a wonderful line in the film from Murray Melvin, her ‘gay saviour’, when saying: ‘You need somebody to love you while you’re looking for somebody to love’. (more…)
A family we know have just had their lives changed irrevocably. She worked as a school administrator, had been there for fifteen years. He was a sparky who ran his own small business with his son as an apprentice. Last summer, he had a massive stroke; he is unable to move one side of his body and is having to learn to speak again. He is in his forties. She had to give up her job to look after him, and their son has to find a new job. They are not well off, they don’t own their own home. Their future will be a struggle, and for the first time they will have to engage with the welfare system.
I fear for them therefore, because the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is, unsurprisingly, falling well short of people’s ability to manage on the financial assistance provided. A survey has just come out from a national coalition of disability organisations, which shows that two thirds of claimants, not only felt they were not being given enough to live on, but that because of this they were falling ill. Of course, this creates a vicious circle because they then need medical assistance. The government denies this; their own survey found that 83% were satisfied – but even if we split the difference, it still means around 40% of people are struggling. (more…)
The warming of the sea is a waking beast; and so, the main effects of climate change are being felt by small islands and those on the coast, particularly in developing countries. I am currently reading Richard Georges’ forthcoming collection ‘Giant’ for a review for the Poetry School. The collection, which focuses on Georges’ home the British Virgin Islands is riven by fragility. Here in the UK, we often talk about the weather – a day of snow will make headline news. We too are an island, but are world away from the experiences of those whose coasts have always been open to the whims of nature, and now compounded by the impact of human consumption. And as I’m reminded by today’s poet, as a colonial power the UK was instrumental in sucking out the resilience of island populations through the extraction of natural resources. (more…)