Kieran lives in the Meadows in Nottingham with his mother, who he loves, a bully of a step-father and his waster son. Life’s not easy like that – his step-father orders him about, barely allows him to be fed and calls him a retard. The waster son watches violent stuff on Xbox all day and joins in with a bit of bullying on the side too.
It’s even harder if you are a bit different. When you’re a child whose favourite artist is LS Lowry, when you know the rules of grammar and your specialist teaching assistant helps you get by at school, but wants to know what is going on in your homelife. In the playground you learn to stay on the outside, to keep away but the bullies still find you. Your mum tries to protect you but even she loses patience sometimes, telling you she doesn’t have time for that when you have to make your special moves when you get near home. Kim never uses words like autistic, but Kieran’s problems are clear enough. The problems are other people.
The book opens with Kieran finding a body in the Trent, a tramp who the police, when they arrive, think simply fell in and drowned. The tramp’s friend, Jean, knows otherwise but nobody listens to her apart from Kieran. One of his obsessions is CSI so he sets out to solve the crime, which he does with the aid of his own drawing skills and the help of Karwana, a Ugandan boy who turns up at his school.
Kieran – the book is in the first person – feels the need to explain everything to you, and tell you the ways you can win, even when you are losing. Along the way he sets out to visit his grandma in Mansfield. She’s banned from the house because she took on Tony, the step-father so he gets a bus to visit her.
I sat near the back. It was 4.45 p.m.
I tucked the ticket inside my notebook and refastened my satchel.
At 4.45 p.m., I walked down the aisle to the driver.
It was difficult walking when the bus was moving but not as hard as you think it would be, because there are silver rails to hold on to, all the way down.
‘Are we nearly there?’ I asked…. ‘I’m worried the bus will go past my stop.’
There’s a lot going on. Kieran drops by the homeless shelter to seek clues and finds the security man acting suspiciously. Wasn’t he the one he saw speaking to his mum? Tony – the step-father is dealing rocks from home, and there’s Tony’s vicious dog, confined to a shed since he bit the wrong person. There’s hints that Ryan, the waster son, is perhaps not as bad as he seems. But if you are Kieran you also need to find the special pencil sharpener that vanished from the kit you won for your art. No other pencil sharpener will do. Finding a murderer might just be easier.
Smart is Kim Slater’s first book for older children. There’s two more I’ll be reading soon. Impressed.
Copies of Smart are available from £6.99 post free from Five Leaves Bookshop, 0115 8373097
This book is such a good idea, stills from the film of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with black and white pictures on the facing page of the exact same scene now in Nottingham.
In most cases the scenes are unrecognisable – Arthur Seaton cycling out of Raleigh on Faraday Road, now no Raleigh but plenty of student accommodation; Derby Road with a variety of buses, a trolley bus and a Ford Cortina, now the one-way system and a variety of hotels in view; Salisbury Road with cobbles and children playing in the street, now a weed infested car-park… So much has gone, though who wants to go back to having outside lavvies even if your kids could play in the streets and you could leave your door unlocked (because you had nothing worth stealing)?
It is 30 years since the end of the Miners’ Strike in March and looking back, for those of us who were involved, has been a mixture of being amazed by what happened during that year and being angry when we look around at the state of Britain in 2015.
Lisa McKenzie’s family were part of that struggle. She grew up in north Nottinghamshire, part of an honourable tradition of the mining community: she is from a family where generations were miners and during the 84/5 strike her mum was chair of the Women Against Pit Closures. In her new book she tells the story of the St. Ann’s Estate where she went to live as a single parent. We get an insider’s viewpoint of what life has been like for her community over the last 20 years.
“It is a story from the inside, but also one that aims to challenge the simplistic and uncomplicated way that council estate life is often represented.”
Like many working class people, including myself, she was brought up with a belief that she was just as good as anyone else; “I knew I was working class, and I had been taught that we were the backbone of the country, strong and proud, and it never occurred to me that ‘others’ did not think the same.”
Lisa left school at 16, became a single parent at 19, and later on went onto an Access course at the local college. “Like most working class women I wanted to do something more worthwhile with my life – I thought I could do more than make tights in a factory….I wanted to work in my community, to give something back.”
It was while she was at University she found out that her estate had been the subject of research in the 60s by Ken Coates and Bill Silburn (Poverty: the Forgotten Englishmen, 1970) and this led to her changing her study from social work to social policy. In 2010 she completed her PHD and in 2015 she published this book. “This book is the outcome of nine years’ academic research; it is the fruits of that labour, and the fruition of my goal, to tell my own story of council estate life.”
Today council estates are seen as the epitome of everything wrong in society and as Lisa points out: “The council estate appears to have become the symbol of the Conservative Party’s vision of what ‘Broken Britain’ looks like.”
She shows how the reality is that it is the consequences of long term disadvantage and inequality that has affected the lives of the poor and working class in neighbourhoods such as St. Ann’s. It is not just about the economic dimensions of inequality but the cultural dimensions of how people are looked down upon and the effect that this has on their lives.
The St. Ann’s estate is north of Nottingham. Nottingham has been until recently a thriving industrial city:built on the wealth of coal mining, manufacturing and engineering it attracted a new proletariat to work in the mills, factories and mines. New Town, or as it is now called St. Ann’s, was the place where these people went to live. Over the years it attracted people from all over the country, as well as immigrants from eastern Europe. Ireland, and Jamaica. Lisa says; “Very rarely is a city’s history mapped through the everyday lives of those who have gone unacknowledged for generations, and who are still barely acknowledged today, and even then only through reports showing their “lack of ” everything from education, employment, culture and morality.”
Getting By is a fascinating book because we sit with Lisa as she talks to individuals and groups of women and men about their lives on the estate. We discover what it has meant to women and men who are the descendants of Irish and Jamaican families, we learn about the lives of the men who no longer can be part of the workforce and how they deal with it, and the problems of money and drugs.
She has no problem in defining where the problem is – and it is not the people of St. Ann’s;
“What does exist here, in Nottingham, and within communities across the UK, where the poorest people live, are hardships caused by the consequences of structural inequality, a political system that does not engage those who have the least power, disenfranchisement relating to the notion of fairness regarding their families and their communities.”
Lisa is proud of her working class credentials and her academic career but she is firmly on the side of her community. In the General Election she is standing against Ian Duncan Smith, Conservative Party Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, one of the chief architects of the ongoing war against some of the poorest members of society. Let’s hope he knows what he is up against!
Bernadette Hyland (subscribe to her weekly newsletter – Lipstick Socialist)
Already a local legend on the performance scene, Mulletproof’s first full-length collection stakes an immediate claim to cool based on the cover alone. A striking image by Mark Dickson is capped with this quote from Jim Bob (of Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine fame): “Like finding a great lost Roger McGough collection in a box in the loft.”
It’s a good call: the poems on offer here are as grounded in reality and conversational in their aesthetic as anything by McGough. But the ghost of Adrian Henri suggests itself in ‘Wings’, ‘The Love Tree’ and ‘It’s No Longer Tomorrow, Yet…’ – the latter the most nakedly experimental piece in the collection. In fact, Light at the End of the Tenner is thronged with ghosts: Soviet cosmonauts, rock ‘n’ heroes, suicidal comedians, B-movie casualties, and Jimmy from Quadrophenia riding Ace Face’s Lambretta over the cliffs and into eternity.
Mulletproof’s subjects are certainly eclectic. From a geriatric Elvis swapping Graceland for a trailer park to deer armed with Kalashnikovs squaring up to their erstwhile hunters (“no more roof rack mortuaries / or tailgate processions // just the sun shot green canopy / and the assurance of a fair fight”), the poems bristle with attitude as they blaze their way through half a century of pop culture, span the globe and (quite literally) shoot for the moon.
But Mulletproof’s hometown is always the anchor. ‘Radford Road’ is an impressionist portrait of Nottingham in all its on-the-streets glory, while ‘Rammel Nitrate: Nottinghamshire Kisses and Laced History Lessons’ whizzes slap-bang through the county’s history, picking out a through-line of what made it the place it is today, while ‘The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Rumour’ sees Alan Sillitoe’s racing-throwing anti-hero eternally on the run.
Clocking in at a chunky 116 pages (steroid poetry in a culture where most collections barely tap out at half that length), Light at the End of the Tenner captures on the page what anyone who’s seen Mulletproof live cherishes about the man: flair, fury and flippancy in roughly equal measures.
Just round the corner from the Bookshop on Long Row was once the Long Row Picture House, opened in 1912. That particular cinema was one of the big two in Nottingham, with 600 seats, some of whose patrons paid a bit more to sit in the balcony. There was a cafe and a continuous programme from 1.00pm-10.30pm. Sadly the cinema did not make it into the era of the “talkies” and closed in 1930. The once beautiful building is now marred by a cheap and nasty sign saying Ladbrokes, but look up, the rest of the frontage is still beautiful. The other of the big two was the Elite on Parliament Street, which could hold 1,500. This cinema had a special floor in the foyer to minimise noise, an enormous electric organ, a full-scale restaurant, a gentlemen’s smoking room and a ladies room.
But you could start this review with many “just round the corner” lines as Nottingham – like other big towns – was packed with cinemas in the city centre and in the suburbs. Packed, I tell you. And they are all here in this book. With lovely photos, the stories of the cinemas, memorabilia. And on the cover is a lovely photograph of Broadway – an interesting choice given the range of historic cinemas inside. Broadway itself has some history too. I can remember its predecessor, the old Coop Cinema, a part-time enterprise where they did not so much advertise changes in the programme as changes in the audience as everyone there seemed to be regulars who all knew each other. Cinemas are not just buildings. This short, very attractive book will be a local best-seller. Well done, Michael.