Life is stranger than fiction or biography

stitched autobiog 001

(1) An autobiography in mixed media and stitch, January 2014, (believe what you want to believe!)

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful”

(Quotation borrowed from: George Orwell, Essays, 1968, 19. Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes on Salvador Dali)

(2) My autobiography, Part 2, (believe what you want to believe)

“I hate sewing. I shouldn’t sit here sewing. I should move. I should go out. I should have a life. I should get drunk. Even if it would take a long time because I only drink Lambrini. I wish I had a life……(three hours later)…..just a few more stitches…..”

My inspiration this week was an embroidery workshop at Number 10 Art Gallery, Baillie Street, Rochdale. Excellent tuition from Meg Starkie who is passionate about sewing. Also excellent afternoon tea by Chris who is passionate about good food.

Autobiography and biography used to be my opium and I kicked the habit a long time ago. However, as I am reading George Orwell this year, I’ve indulged myself by reading Bernard Crick’s biography of G.O.

Does a biography reveal a lot about the biographer’s personality? Yes, I think it does, even when the approach is very scholarly and virtually every assertion is qualified by footnotes. A large proportion of the introduction sets out Crick’s method, which is to avoid psychological guess-work. When every high school pupil these days seems to be able to analyse their parents (“You are not a risk taker, Dad”, for example; I won’t tell you what the little darling said about me) I find this very refreshing.

Of course, the average reader is more discerning than me. I’m only too willing to suspend my disbelief, believe the bits I want to believe and skip the rest. I probably wouldn’t have pondered the following paragraph if Mr Crick hadn’t set himself such high standards. On page 47, he discusses the marriage of George Orwell’s parents, his mother was 21 and his father was 39, he reflects that:

“Eric’s (G.O.) parents can hardly have been actively happy together but if it had been asked of either of them in the language of the day, ‘Were they happily married?’, the genuine answer would have been ‘Yes’.

(my italics)

As this is an anti-ageist blog, I feel duty bound to examine this statement. I feel that there is a chance that they were “actively happy”. I suppose it could mean a few things, but I imagine most of us think it means one thing in particular. In fact, they might have enjoyed each other’s company in an extremely active fashion for all I know. I’ll be keeping my research on this one to myself. My sources prefer not to appear in the footnotes. Like a lot of people, I’ve always refrained from considering the activity of my parents, preferring to think about other things. Now that I’m getting on a bit myself, I have, finally, accepted that they were probably “actively happy” at times. I’ve no way of knowing how much this has resulted in the development of my character or my literary style.

My petty musings should not put you off reading “George Orwell A Life” by Bernard Crick (published 1980). Once I got through the first few chapters regarding boyhood, parents, prep school and Eton, I found myself fully engaged with the subject. If there were any footnotes I didn’t notice them.

Moving on to life stories in the Rochdale Observer…

“Shelter for fragile lives,
Cure for their ills,
Rights for the weak,
Voices to plead the cause
Of those who can’t speak”

(From “Beauty for Brokenness” by Graham Kendrick, (Make Way, 1993))

Graham Kendrick’s words seemed an appropriate preface to the following news item that I have extracted from The Rochdale Observer, Saturday, 25 January 2014:

Due to pressure from the government’s back-to-work scheme, it is claimed that a woman with a long-standing mental health disorder, suffered a breakdown. It was necessary for her to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Subsequently, she had a heart attack and currently remains in a coma. Despite her serious condition, ATOS (a healthcare company working for the Department of Work & Pensions) have sent her a letter to assess her fitness to work.

Politics is not my subject, and I have no party political axe to grind. However, I am driven to write my appeal for Governments to treat vulnerable people with sensitivity. When bombarded with bills and official letters I myself have felt anxious. It seems to be the case these days that “computer generated” letters are pumped out to remind us of appointments, etc, before we’ve barely had time to read the first letter. Are we losing the human touch? I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who already suffers from anxiety and other conditions.

In this politically–correct world, when councils display their rejection of every ism on flags outside the town hall (certainly my local city council does), I find myself asking how far do the politically correct statements actually reach? When I hear the actions of ATOS discussed on the radio, the government always answer with statistics. I am not in favour of dishonest people claiming benefits to which they are not entitled, but the statistics do not justify insensitive treatment of vulnerable mentally-ill citizens. As this case illustrates, there is great potential for harm.

As it happens, I do know of another vulnerable person who found his benefits suddenly stopped. This caused him great anxiety. A friend of mine was most concerned for him and was able to direct him to the Citizens Advice Bureau. Though, in my opinion, he would struggle to hold down a regular paid job, he does manage a few hours in a charity shop and enjoys it. Where are these paid jobs anyway?

My next blog will probably be dedicated to the challenge of writing about a ramble, as yet to be trodden. Possibly a look at George Orwell’s Coming Up for Air and, you never know, maybe a mention of my forthcoming exhibition…..