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Can books change the world?

Personal physical change and negotiating life’s stages cannot be avoided. In pre-industrial times when the world altered little year on year, children still grew into men and women, they worked, married, reared children and became old. Most people lived briefly on the land, resigned to the rule of a remote hereditary monarch and his or her agents. In the eighteenth century, the population exploded and towns and factories dominated the landscape. Rational scientific thought and democracy underpinned how the country was organised. Britain changed at a massive pace and everyone, not just the ruling elite and the intelligentsia, became healthier and wealthier.

  Sudden change is hard to manage. Given time, powerful people can influence change. Power is the capacity to influence others to accept one’s own ideas. Hence it is bestowed, much like a gift. No acceptance, no power, just conflict. Strong belief, money and threats are powerful, but leadership and great communication are more likely to produce stable long-term change in supportive and inclusive cultures.

  The ‘generation gap’ is a great example of conflict between people and groups with differing power, in different stages of their lives. Strong parents, teachers, employers and governments, who foster the status quo, on the one hand, and relatively weak youth and young adults, who often try to undermine the prevailing culture on the other. It is a tension between the emotional needs of those who are building a life, constructing their identity and self-esteem, and the obstacles provided by their established and conservative elders’ intellect.

  Two writers illustrate the power of writing from within youth ideology. Stephen Spender and the poetry of the Spanish Civil War and John Braine along with the novels, popular music and film of the late 1950s and the 1960s.

  In the 1930s, Britain was relatively quiet politically, with a National Government following policies based on class and regional deprivation. The majority, who lived away from working class areas, were comfortable. The government tried to ignore the growth of fascism in Germany and Italy (Britain was officially neutral in The Spanish Civil War), until the invasion of Prague in 1939. There was a clear division amongst British writers. The older generation, Eliot, Lawrence, Huxley and Joyce, viewed events as a link in a long chain and whilst freedom and equality were all very well, standards must not fall. Spender belonged to a younger group which included McNeice, Auden and Day-Lewis, all from the privileged classes and educated at public school and Oxford University. They were left-wing anti-fascists whose writing did not fit with Britain’s comfortable majority.

  In the 1960s, Britain was stable politically and dominated by consumer-led affluence. Cars, home-ownership and foreign holidays were common and not restricted to the middle classes. Legislation relaxed the laws on homosexuality and contraception, and abortion and divorce became widely available. University places expanded. With the advent of education grants, young people were not constrained by work and could devote time and energy to the general issues of the day, for example, by challenging consumerism and protesting about nuclear weapons. This was the ‘permissive society’ which contained John Braine, a working-class boy from Bradford. He had a series of  dead-end jobs after leaving the local catholic grammar and then became a librarian. His first novel, in 1957 was Room at the Top.

 So the question remains – did Spender’s and Braine’s writing directly influence others? Did it have sufficiently powerful attributes in itself, or did it simply exploit the prevailing ideology of the time?

  Successful writers are members of the workforce. Basic talent needs training to produce the quality and consistency that earns a living. Whilst writing is one way of making personal sense of the world, constructing a successful commercial vehicle from these insights is an additional complexity. Writing for others, starting with commercially minded publishers, requires writers to be business-like as well as inspired. Widely read influential authors usually have an accessible style, with appealing or shocking content and strong messages can be passed to large numbers of people, hooked initially by a strong emotional impact.

  Spender, amongst many others, went to Spain to assist the Republican cause, only to return disillusioned. His poems from 1939, Two Armies and Ultima Ratio Regum, reflect this mood. In Two Armies, he describes how ideology is responsible for death, bullets being merely the method,

All have become so nervous and so cold

That each man hates the cause and distant words

Which brought him here, more terribly than bullets.

and in Ultima Ratio Regum (1939), he graphically highlights the power of money, compared to the value of a boy’s life,

The guns spell money’s ultimate reason

In letters of lead on a spring hillside.

Consider his life which was valueless….

Ask. Was so much expenditure justified

On the death of one so young and so silly

Lying under the olive trees, O world, O death?

Spender realised that influence comes from money and ideology, not writing. He was talented and well trained, but wrote against the grain of complacent middle England, about a distant conflict, in a format that was accessible only to a literary elite. Once public opinion had been sufficiently outraged, Britain went to war to neutralise fascism, and not because of poetry.

  Braine, on the other hand, wrote about Joe Lampton, who succeeds by marrying into wealth. Northern aggressiveness, political radicalism, rebellion, explicit sex and an overnight bestseller.

I felt sorry for her at that moment as if she’d been an ordinary girl and not 

the daughter of Harry Brown with a hundred thousand pounds as a barrier 

between her and real sorrow.

and,

I had no hope of marrying her; but I saw no point in letting her go. She 

was my weekly shilling on the pools, my selection at random with no 

hope of winning. And I suppose that to run two women at once tickled my vanity.

Braine was a working-class lad who learned writing through apprenticeship. Like Spender, he was left wing, and whilst the book hooks in the reader with raunchy language and content, his hero’s behaviour is a warning against materialism. It was successful because it appealed to the growing and increasingly affluent youth market, part of a popular culture which also covered real and serious issues, for example by the songs of Bob Dylan and films like A Taste of Honey.

  Writing on its own cannot make things happen. It is nevertheless a powerful tool. Personally, it can help make sense of the author’s world and perhaps the reader’s. Successful writing can also bring fame and fortune. For it to be influential however, it must be for or against something within a greater culture or ideology. Remote worthy writing is less likely to be influential than popular work that is appealing and captures the mood of the majority.

Spender and Braine both moved away from their early backgrounds and influences. Spender ultimately had a stellar career, a knighthood and professorships. Braine moved from Bradford to the south and joined the political right. Their needs as adults were thus met.

First thoughts on writing (2001)

The prospect of writing is rather daunting. There is a process for writing (poetry) – it doesn’t occur by growing your hair and walking through a bunch of daffs, and it’s fun. Much of this applies to the story also.

Finding a subject. I don’t have a problem, its usually the other extreme – too many subjects and interests that need a bit more focus. My writer’s notebook needs a bit more effort, but there are some entries which will be useful. I don’t see it as purely cataloguing ideas for poems and stories. I am using it to capture scenes and characters which could form part of bigger things. I have a massive collection of photos and stuff going back for ever. It’s all going on the scanner and will be additional material – using my memory of events and people.

Writing about it – let the words flow, capture background as well as the main events – emotions, voices, sights, events. I wrote initially that I needed to capture backgound more. In the short story I made a special effort to feel the background, sort of closing my eyes and being there. It helps that I’ve been there many times, but it’s done, another skill, harnessing things from my memory and subconscious. After all, even the wildest imaginative pieces must start from the author’s personal experiences. Doubtfire suggests that it’s unwise to write about places and people who we don’t know, whilst anonymising them.

What is the point?  This links to writing for self or others, and whether I am a preparer or I just go for it. My previous writing workshops have concentrated on getting a first draft down and worry about the point later, by revision. So is the first draft is a personal indulgence, a sort of therapy? My short story is a hybrid really. If I wrote longhand or used a typewriter, I might be a go-for-it person, but I correct the language more or less straight away on the word processor. I write in scenes, like the cinema, and so some reordering is still available, whilst the scenes themselves are complete. My story occurs over a six hour period, and contains seven scenes. These weren’t planned in advance, but the time period was the framework – the discipline of the piece.

I found Doubtfire’s little book very helpful – get your main character to have a problem on the first page, and make them both attractive to the reader. This was not done by revision, but was contained in the first draft – but I do wonder, in retrospect, whether there was a first draft in my head somewhere. The theme came in the first draft, once I’d given my main character the problem.

Do I think of the audience in advance?  I am still writing for me, but it  isn’t going to be enough. I would love to publish, but I suspect there is a lot more development and hard work yet. I enjoy the creativity, but embellishing simple notes about life events is maybe what I have really been doing up to now. The short story is crafted, but we shall see how it is received – my wife likes it.

What emotions am I trying to invoke?  I tend to be a reflective person, private for the most part, open enough with a few close friends. I am always learning, curious, puzzled. I wrote elsewhere, my identity is today’s version of my story, the previous drafts being memories, and I think my writing is like this, nostalgic, that’s how it is. So I’d like my readers to chuckle a bit, and think a bit, and not take life too seriously.

When is the bloody thing finished? I don’t know.

I put this down for a week, and two further thoughts arose as I was getting the portfolio together:-

The title.  This is important.  It can convey information that is then not required in the piece, especially and short tight poem. So ‘The Outsider’ and ‘A New Genre’ both got more space in the poem as a result of the title.

Having a rest. Putting something down for a while allows a maturation process, and often a knotty line or problem has sorted itself out. Also, after two weeks or a month, a piece is good or lousy, whatever I felt about it at the time of writing.

Have you started writing yet?

 

Writing stuff is not for everyone. Life can be difficult enough. Who remembers the 1950s primary schools and all the mistakes we inevitably made? Red ink from ‘Miss’ and red faces from us. So there is something to be said for a more flexible style of learning reading, writing and arithmetic. I hope less people today arrive into adulthood, scarred and scared to death of pens and pencils. Anyone recall that crucial transition into ink? I thought it was never going to happen.

The Outsider

Forever alone.

Schoolmiss kept him in pencil

When the rest were in ink.

This is a haiku I wrote in the 1990s whilst studying English at Huddersfield University. I managed one year before I had to return to the real world and earn a living.

  In defence of my primary school, I passed my eleven plus, a devastating lifelong failure for some if they didn’t. In addition, Miss Town read to us every Friday afternoon. Treasure Island had us all enthralled. And, incidentally, I played in a great school soccer team. And Miss Town would not forgive me for starting any sentence with ‘and’.

  So you survive the obstacle course called adolescence, college, first job and career, marriage and kids (there are plenty of variations on this curve) and if you are not already writing, then you might want to have a go.

  A diary can be a private start. A record of events, a breathing space for opening up concerns and their echoes (Seamus Heaney said he wrote ‘To set the darkness echoing’), and a glimpse of what might be different. Many of us have good friends who listen and that can be enough.

  I have recently had the privilege of editing the diary of the father of a friend, Arthur Hale (Another Barnsley Poet – in preparation). He was a newly-retired miner who only wrote for two to three years.



1988 Monday 14th November 

This week I reached my 65th birthday. It’s been a long time coming and I’m a little apprehensive. So I’ll go for my usual walk and try and get to terms with it. Weather beautiful.

Wednesday 16th November

No walk. The coke came – 9 bags. I had a couple to throw in as we’ve got a full coke hole. Bright and sunny again. Then went and collected my pension book. I came out of the Post Office feeling 94. It’s a psychological barrier, up to then it’s alright. You’re 64 and that’s okay. But getting the pension book does it, suddenly it’s there, you’re 65 and you’re Old. But it wears off after a time and you’re as old as you feel. I hope!

Thursday 17th November

My birthday, 65 today but no oobloodyray. Got my cards and my prezzies. Feeling chippy, think I’ll walk into town and get my bus pass, us pensioners have to watch the pennies. Call for May’s pension book at the social but it’s been posted. Walk back home, cold and dull for a change. That’s it then, dinner and settle down for the rest of the day.

May was Arthur’s wife and Annette, his daughter. In 1973, Scargill organised the miners’ strike that brought down the Heath Government. He led the union through the 1984-85 confrontation with Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government during which the miners were defeated. Coal mining has declined as a major British industry.

  The ‘Right to Buy’ legislation as passed in the Housing Act 1980. Michael Heseltine was in charge. Six million people were affected of which a third actually bought their house. Heseltine said the ‘Right to Buy’ had two main objectives: to give people what they wanted, and to reverse the trend of ever increasing dominance of the state over the life of the individual.

The phones were denationalised, becoming British Telecom (BT) in 1980. It was more or less independent by 1981. Privatisation of the Post Office was thought to be too unpopular.

Monday 12th December

Beautiful morning less windy but slightly colder. Went into town to draw £500 out of the Coop Bank, put £200 in the building society and fetched the other £300 home. Called at the Housing Advice Centre to see about buying our house in view of the fact that we can be put onto a private landlord’s list. Got the papers and information I required re same, and while in the building society I checked on a £5000 mortgage should I require it. Called in at the bus station for our Edinburgh tickets. Not bad for £13.50p return apiece. Dunt us pensioners get some perks? Can’t go for the pensions today as the post office workers are having a one day strike in protest. The governing body of the Post Office are after making 250 main post offices into sub-post offices resulting in the loss of roughly 3000 jobs. But it is only a token gesture, this government has broken the unions and we can do what we will this government and its satellites will just bulldoze their way thro anything and anyway, so long as it helps them and the bloody rich people who depend on them. But, and it may be sour grapes till the opposition parties put their houses in order and come up with an alternative policy I’m afraid the Conservatives are in for a very long term. No cohesion, in-party fighting is just up Maggie’s street. While they are squabbling there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance of any of them taking over and it’s a sorry state of affairs. Makes you think the conservatives have inflltrated all of the opposition parties with the expressed intent of keeping the ferment going and thus leaving the tories with a clear field in which to work.

Arthur had arthritis:

1989 Thursday 11th May

Went into the Swance? with the detector after dinner only stopped an hour, didn’t find anything. I think it’s just about been emptied because I know detectorists have been coming on for years. There isn’t a lot round Barnsley really for detectorists it isn’t a very historical place as such and what places there are have already been picked over by detectorists in the last twenty years. Haven’t heard anything about the fishing tackle or anything from the insurance, but it’s early doors yet. The backache’s still with me, this how I used to get it when I was cooling down at Barnsley Main. Could work all day on my knees but when I came to stand up OH BOY! crippled. I’ve seen me go to sleep knelt down in front of an easy chair with my body and head on the seat just to be comfortable, and never without a bottle of Sloane’s Liniment in the house. And I hadn’t the weight I have now. I was 11st 10lb for years with only a 28in waist what with being tall and slim and a waist like that. Dante my tailor use to keep saying you ought to be a male model, used to feel like thumping him, me a model and miner to boot, cause at that time all male models were (we thought) dead poofters. No we had to keep up our image the strong sturdy miner who wouldn’t be seen dead with an umbrella if it was raining like hell and had one offered. ‘Get sum sheep head broth and plenty of ale darn thi un tha’ll be reight’ towd uns used to say.

And then:

1992 29th January

No more I’m afraid. May passed away at 1.30am Tuesday morning the 5th November, Never thought anything could have hit me so hard. I find I’m still weeping twice-three times a day. It’s going to take me a long long time to get over, if I ever shall.

There are no more entries except for three in 2000.

  This diary in a fuller version makes up a third of Another Barnsley Poet. There is also poetry and some reflections on his early life.

  These extracts cover several life events and some political background from the late 1980s. It seems easy to walk in Arthur’s shoes.

 

 

14.2.20. Author John Cross presents the rogue curate – Edmund Robinson – to Holmfirth U3A

1

Holmfirth methodist church was full last Friday morning for a talk on the rogue Thongsbridge clergyman, Edmund Robinson. John Cross, author and historian, illustrated his presentation with images where significant events took place, such as Smithy Place, Thick Hollins and New Mill Club. There were also slides from further afield: House of Commons, Cambridge, Lancaster and Whitehall. The curate’s antics were noted in some very high places. He was executed for counterfeiting coins at Knavesmire, York.

John mentioned his book and his sources, and how he became involved through his passion for archaeology. He thought there might have been something to dig up.

The Holmfirth U3A have nearly 500 members who have lots of interests and activities. They are always open to new members.

The book is available from the author (01484666528), the publisher (01484683196) and Amazon. £9.99.

A plea for help – does anyone know the whereabouts of a New Mill family called Haigh who might have the rogue curate’s tools of counterfeiting in their possession?

12.2.20 The Curate and the King’s Coin – author presentation dates for your diary

John Cross has several dates for presentations:

1. Holme Valley U3A, Holmfirth Methodist Church Friday 14th February 2020, The meeting commence at 10,00 am with members taking refreshments first before the formal proceedings commence at 10.15 am. the presentation commences at about 10.30 am for a period of up to an hour. and the meeting concludes at 12.00.

2. Holmfirth History Group, Holmfirth Civic Hall, Lesser Hall, Thursday 19th March 2020. The proceedings should start at 7.30 pm, with the hall available by 6.45 pm.

3. Yorkshire Studies Group, Shepley Methodist Church Hall Thursday 15 October 2020.The meeting commences at 2.00 pmwith a break for refreshments at 2.45 pm, before recommencing at 3.05 pm.The meeting ends at 3.45 pm.

4. Honley Probus Club: Honley Community Centre, Stoney Lane, Honley, Holmfirth, HD9 6DY Talk Tuesday 16th March 2021. Start of talk 11.00am, finish 12.00 noon, coffee 10.30 ahead of meeting and talk.

5. Meltham Probus Club: The Liberal Club, Wessenden Head Road, Meltham. Talk Wednesday 24th  March 2021. Starting at 10.30 am. Tea coffee and biscuits available prior to meeting at £1.00. More information nearer to meeting.

 

 

The book is available from the author (01484666528) or the publisher (01484683196)

A rogue clergyman who gets his comeuppance.

A plea for more information

Stuartwhitwam@yahoo.com
148.252.128.29
In connection with counterfeiting and your book on coining, I am trying to find info regarding Felks Style

Rd at Crossland Moor.

Google has been useless in this endeavour.

 

 

Can you help please? Kind Regards

5.12.19 – Successful launch for ‘The Curate and the King’s Coin’

These strange souls inhabit my back garden, a tribute to older people everywhere.

Visit http://www.shallilo-foreveryoung.org if you wish to learn more.

 

 

28th November, more than 30 hardy souls pitched up to New Mill Club for a drink, a presentation and food.

John talked for 30 minutes, focusing on locations up and down the Holme Valley associated with Edmund Robinson, our rogue curate.

Well received and a fun night.

We have a query from Stuartwhitwam@yahoo.com – I am trying to find info regarding Felks Style Rd at Crossland Moor. Can you help please? Kind Regards.

One of our customers, from Meltham, has an ancestor (not 18th century) who was appointed warden at Holmfirth Parish Church ‘to keep an eye on the vicar’.

 


Our book is still for sale. £9.99

From the author 014846666528

the publisher      01481683196

Amazon please clic here

 

 

16.9.19 – John Cross – Shalliley’s new author

 

John Cross was born in 1947 at Clatterbridge, Poulton-cum-Spital, on the Wirral. He was educated at The Wirral Grammar School, and at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford. Having graduated in Geography, he then took a Certificate in Education at the University’s Department of Education. His first teaching post was in 1970 at Huddersfield New College, after which he transferred to the 11-18 Comprehensive sector. Having taught briefly at Honley High School he then became Head Of Geography at The Brooksbank School, a post he held for over twenty seven years.

Following his retirement in 2007, he retrained in Archaeology, with a qualification from the Open University, and from the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education. Practical experience was gained through the York Trust Hungate Dig, after which he was a volunteer working with The Durham and Northumberland Architectural and Archaeological Society, The North Pennine Partnership and the Dig Greater Manchester project. He has lived in the Holme Valley for over thirty years and is now the President of the Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society.

 

17.9.19 – New book from local author and historian – John Cross

The  flyer  is  self-explanatory  –  please  note  the  dates-  release  and launch

Honley Pavilion opens July 2017

Great turnout for the ribbon-cutting. After 5 years of fund raising, planning and building, the Pavilion committee proudly opened the renovated Honley CC pavilion. We contributed in a small way and sponsored a brick.

 

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