Chapter 3: A Plate of Chicken
- 19 January, 2020
- Linda Brogan
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It felt like time to tell you how the project came about. I'm attempting a formal book-length memoir: serialised weekly here. This is chapter 3. Chapter 2 was last week's blog. Chapter 1 was the week before. Also we launched our podcast this week, examining the project so far: who we were, who we are now, where we are going. Hosted on Anchor, we are on iTunes, and Spotify amongst others. Link at the bottom of the page.
Why do I write?
I’ve always been an observer. I am never actually in the scene. That’s what probably makes me a writer. That’s what I have in common with most other wannabe writers. Even the other day when I was leading a writing workshop both participants agreed. It actually came out of their mouths. ‘I’ve always been an observer.’ I’ve never quite got the sociable scene. I’m great at one-to-one. I’m actually shit in a crowd. I don’t get small talk. I stood way, way back on the edge of a huge stream of ice in Claremont Rd Primary School. All the other kids were having a ball. Skidding. Sliding. Getting up. Falling down. Then on the other hand, I over empathise. I remember the Lyons boys coming back covered in iodine. Impetigo. I felt well sorry for them, and deeply ashamed of their butch mum in her donkey jackets. I wasn’t exactly ashamed of her. What was I? I just knew they were having a hard time. And if I could I would protect them, from the evil crowd who are enjoying the ice, now pointing at the Lyon brothers, pointing and laughing. I have most definitely laughed at people. But never completely. I am always aware there is another side to their story. I laugh because I don’t want people to laugh at me.
In primary school I was a terrible liar. ‘He’s a doctor,’ I once said. The teacher asked me again, because obviously it was impossible in 1965. ‘A doctor. My dad’s a doctor.’ All the kids didn’t actually laugh at me. The teacher asked me again. ‘My dad is a doctor.’ I then unrolled the beautiful project I had done on the Romans. Come to think of it I was probably trying to explain the reason why I could do such an amazing project. The other kids had one piece of sugar paper with their Roman project on. I had a whole wall, including close ups of the Coliseum. I can see it now, a whole classroom wall, much like this project it just kept growing and growing. I just kept researching and researching. I was 6 or 7. I was books and books ahead of the other kids. I had at least 25 gold stars and they had around 5. I observed my mum, my dad, my aunts, my uncles. I knew their secrets. I knew that Jean hid the sweets in the drawer. But I kept it to myself. My mum would have ripped the throat out of her.
Belonging and a sense of place
My mum has pissed herself. Look at her flat, dark ginger fanny hair. Where are her knickers? She is lying on her back across the corner of our bed. He is looking down at her. I have managed to get her girdle off. Where are her knickers? Where are the other kids? They are stood behind me. On the floor are her photographs. The ones she keeps at the bottom of the wardrobe. One is of Angie, her oldest. The child she left at 12, the one that followed her here to Manchester, as soon as she turned 16. The picture of her Irish husband, and his 2 brothers, yeah, you can tell they’ve got a few bob. Their 1940s suits have got a few bob. They’re in a department store doorway. ‘You only had to hand over a docket, and he would bring home shoes.’ Mr Stanners. Her father-in-law, the department store manager. When department store management was something. The picture of the big house she used to live in with a black grate, cast iron, that takes up the whole wall. There is a table that can seat 12. Sat at it is Angie’s aunt, Madeline, who Angie went to live with when her and my mum’s other Irish kids were sent back to Ireland, when my dad ran off with my mum, when my mum ran off with my dad. Madeline remained a spinster all her life. The wall-to-wall grate is polished. ‘They made bread in it too.’ I always listen.
‘Oh Danny Boy, the pipes the pipes are calling.
From Glen to Glen . . .’
She could have been a real singer if she didn’t strain. But, today it’s different, it’s really low.
‘The summer's gone, and all the roses falling,
It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.’
He walks off, back into his bedroom. He gets his radio, I hear it reporting cricket as he takes it downstairs. It is too early to go to bed. It’s the middle of the afternoon. It must be the hols, because I never take a day off school. The picture of him is beside her on the bed. It’s on the floor, now she’s moved her hand.
‘It's you, it's you must go and I must bide.’
The photo of my dad, looking like a movie star, is on the floor by the tiny cast iron bedroom fireplace that he lights every night to make sure we are warm before we go to bed, when she has gone to work cleaning the hospital, as he comes in from the railway where he makes the iron bits that the sleepers fit in. His beautiful picture is on the floor. I go to move it but you’re never sure it might, you never know when she will go on the turn. It’s almost the end. Her voice is harsh, lush, calling us to listen to us.
‘But when ye come, and all the flowers are dying,
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
You'll come and find the place where I am lying,’
He’s long gone. His lace-less shoes, his slipper-shoes, reach the bottom of the God awful blue and gold stair carpet. Her ballad stops. Look at him, his trilby pushed back. He’s laughing his head off. His eyes are twinkling. Anyone would fancy him. And Brother Lee looks starched not crumpled. I’m smiling. Peggy’s only ally, Brother Lee. And Esmee is gorgeous. The black woman, Brother Lee loved. All 3 are in suits. All in Windrush suits, at the Bowling Green bar, looking like they are starring in the Big Sleep. I pick it up. She’s passed out. I put it back in the box. She never had a hat box. I put it back in the shoe box, with Angie in her dark Edwardian pram, and Fonsi, and his 2 brothers in their Irish quiffs and expensive suits. I put them back in the box beneath the white leather shoes with the knot on the front that her swollen feet will no longer fit in, and the costume jewellery he bought her, that I will wear one day. I move her polyester clothes to one side in our wardrobe to put her box back.
Past, Present, and Future
The thing that is interesting about a play is not the play itself. It’s being in the rehearsal room. Actors are fucking fabulous at telling you about themselves to identify with the character. They are great at confessions. They do mini memoirs. The other day, Thursday, in our first true episode of our new podcast, One Conversation Please, check it out, we discussed the Reno memoirs. Everyone is surprised about how much everyone reveals. Maybe I picked up the interview skills in the rehearsal rooms I’ve been in. It’s about trust. People actually like to tell you their truth. You just have to show interest. You have to ask questions and listen. Satsang: the company of the truth. In a rehearsal space everyone has to get in line with the truth for the play to work. The actors have to touch the truth in them to touch the truth in the character to touch the truth in you. It is a long process.
Polly got back to me a few weeks later. She asked me to co-write another play, Not Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A dramatization of the Silent Twins, two real black girls, twins, who burnt down their school in 1981. No one was in it. It was in the evening. They were sent to Broadmoor. The Moors Murderer Ian Brady was in there at the time. The racism is obvious. I watched a fascinating documentary about them with Tom, when I was married to Tom, years before. I am honoured to be asked. Thrilled. Excited.
‘I dunno,’ I am playing hard to get.
‘I will come to Manchester.’
‘I’m not doing someat box ticking. You’ve got to understand you don’t have a clue what they were thinking.’
‘You’re the person with the expertise.’
I go in off the balcony, ecstatic that Polly thinks me worthy to woo.
‘You’re not gonna fucking believe it.’
‘What?’ Louise had baked me one of her luscious lemon drizzle cakes. I must be 2 stones heavier than I was with Tom, by this time. But being with a woman is less incriminating, less body conscious. Plus, I’m probably in denial. Unless I try to wear my favourite denim dress.
‘I’ve never seen a dress so tight.’ Louise’s goddaughter remarked.
The following Sunday, Louise bakes us chicken for lunch. She shreds what is left for my Monday meeting with Polly. Polly has been ringing every day. ‘You’re the only woman for the job.’ I am nervous. Big posh white woman is coming to our flat in Hulme. White, working class playwright, Louise is also nervous. She’s going out. ‘I’ve left it under a plate.’
Every time my hand goes to the plate I take the grizzly bits of chicken. Every time Polly’s hand goes to the plate she takes white fluffy bits of chicken. Never once does she put her fingers near a grizzly bit. And even though I am observing this, fully aware of this, my hand refuses to stop taking grizzly bits.
‘It is 1981. July the 12th 1981. It's not just because they've suddenly gone fucking insane. The riots are raging across Britain. June and Jennifer Gibbons burn their school down because they want to be part of the riots, but they live in the sticks in Haverford West in Wales.’
Polly’s eyes light up, she stops shovelling in white fluffy chicken, ‘that’s a real breakthrough. That's proper insight.’ She carries on eating the white fluffy chicken.
2009. My past, present and future are in that action. But I won’t know how to articulate any of it, until I live the next 10 years. Until now.
Our podcast link. We'll be concentrating on an different project topic each week, evaluating the past to work out how we move forward into its new phases. This is the overview. Our pilot.
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