In June this year, I will be presenting a play called “The Rising of the Moon”, about the Chartist uprisings in Bradford, as part of Bradford Festival. Part of the inspiration for this play, is to inspire and provoke people with different stories of what it means to be English, or, more to the point, what England has done to the English.
So, on St George’s day, here is a preview of the play:
“Its a shame you never met your grandfather. You would have really got on, like. He was a big man, like you. He was restless, didn’t get on with town. Wanted something different. Like you.
They threw grandfather down here a few years back. Not threw. Chased out like. It were the time of the blacking laws and the enclosures. You could be hung for blacking you face and going poaching so there was nothing for it. I mean, they’d already got us off the land years before. You can tell he had that land in him though. He had the sea in him.
I never knew it. But once, in the summer, he took us fishing. We walked for hours, out of the soot and the blackness and followed the stinking filth of the canal all the way out of the city. Right up the hill. We walked up and up and up. Your uncle Jack were tired. His feet hurt. So right there father picks him up. Puts him on his shoulders. I’d never seen him stand up straight like that before. Upright in the sun.
We run down the side of the hill. Run all the way to the little brook at the bottom. Jumping over a few steps we find a little break. Theres some little fish at the bottom. Dark and wriggly like the thick bits of filth that run through the beck. Like lice in your bed. I went to grab one and dad said thats not how it worked. He said I’d know if I hadn’t grown up in town. He took out some bits and pieces and he made himself a rod like. And we sat. You grandfather seemed so peaceful. You could tell this is what he wanted. He was back. He’d never left. He must have always been wishing he were a fisherman or a farmer or summat. You can’t farm or fish if the land and water have been sold from under you though, can you?
Me and our Jack were playing by the side when father pulls out this massive brown fish. Proper ugly thing. Wriggling and thrashing. He puts it down and we think its going to flip its sen right back into river. But father’s not worried. He holds it with one big hand and takes a rock. One blow to head and it stops moving.
When we get it home, mam tells us to leave her outside and get in the room. But father were teasing us. Saying we were too soft to see her gut it. So me and Jack tried sneaking a look. It wasn’t the guts or owt that upset us. It were the way the blood was black. I always thought that blood comes out red, but it don’t. Not if its fresh. It comes out black.
Anyway, sit down. This is, were, her church hat. Poor little mite never properly grew into it. Your mam always kept it at the bottom of the trunk. Daft, I always thought. You got to walk five miles in the snow in your stockings and we’re keeping a bairns hat. But I dunno. Im glad now. You can take it for daisy. She’ll look grand in it.
I’ll take her out walking one of these days. When my legs are up to it. I used to take our Joan out walking sometimes. On a Sunday right after church. We’d follow Wapping road right up to top and come right down again to Carverly. There was a little river. Sort of a brook. Her mam had made her a skipping rope out of cord, and she’d skip up and down the bank through the trees. The sun’d break out of the tree tops, and Bradford might as well have been the other side of the world.
I was watching the fish play, them little ones and thinking about the bigger tasty ones that might have swum there, if all water hadn’t been pumped full of mill filth. Joan was calling to me, showing off with the rope and suddenly. I see her slip. She bangs her head and she’s face down in the brook. She’s not moving. I run. I grab. I cradle her face and hold her head. She coughs. She smiles. She cries. I’ve never seen owt so beautiful in my life. I cradle her head. A little drop of Black blood seeps through my fingers.
Her mam gave me such a scolding.
Its different when you loosed a child to hunger, than when you loose one to the machines. Hunger is slow. You know its coming. The machines are like drunken thugs. You never know when they’ll lash. Or who they’ll take.
When it first happened your mam and me couldn’t eat or drink owt. For weeks. Every night we’d lie awake. Silent. Not a word. I wished I were there. I wished I’d dragged her out. I wished I’d stopped her screaming and cradled her head.
I’m an old man now though.
You learn summat about yourself by my age. You learn who you are and what you can do. I couldn’t have watched a seven year old like that. I couldn’t have watched that black blood draining out the workshop floor. I couldn’t have seen her like that. Kicking like a fish on a piece of yellow stone.
I’d have thrown myself under like.
Then were would your mam have been? What would have happened to you lot?”