Working-Class Boy: In a vivid essay, bashed out on a typewriter in June 1972, Norman Kirk recalled his early life in the working-class Christchurch suburb of Linwood during the 1930s.
IN MY LAST POST I made reference to the passage David Grant read out at The Kirk Legacy seminar. Composed by Norman Kirk himself it astonished the audience not only with its content but also for its literary quality. I have since discovered that Mr Grant gleaned this extraordinary insight into “Big Norm’s” character and world-view from Margaret Hayward’s Diary of the Kirk Years. According to Ms Hayward the piece had been typed out on “the other typewriter” in the Leader of the Opposition’s office in June of 1972. “He didn’t stop to think or even hesitate over a word. When he finished he glanced through the two pages of typescript, altered a few words with his pen, handed it to me, said ‘That’s the start of our book’ and went back to the House. A few days later Ms Hayward attempted to return the typescript to her boss: “Today I tried to give it back to him but he told me I must keep it. ‘Whatever happens, this is for you,’ he said.”
IT WAS A SHORT STREET. Short and drab. There was no beauty. The corrugated ribs of the road stuck out through its thin skin of stones. Weary rows of drooping poles clutched sagging and fraying wires in blackened finger-tips. A sulking ooze lay in the bottom of the gutters.
Smoke-grimed houses stared vacantly through the half-shut eyes of drawn shades. Here and there a small flower struggled for life, an abandoned orphan among the clods and weeds.
The footpaths were never walked for pleasure. They led to school, to the shop; or for the lucky to work. Only for children was the road a pleasure. They played there not because they liked it, but because it was forbidden. It was not a bad street. It was not a good street. It did not lead somewhere. It led nowhere.
It did not brood. It had no character. Instead it conformed. The people were drab. The street was drab. The people were poor. The street was poor. It was there because it had to be. It had nowhere else to go. Neither did the people. It did not inspire. It was a sponge. It soaked up hope. And at night it counted its people like a warder counts his prisoners.
As a street it was not exceptional. There were hundreds like it. They criss-crossed and cut into unimaginative rectangles that filing cabinet of humanity – the working-class suburb. Each street garnished with the name of a duke, a poet, a land speculator of earlier times, a city father, a publican or some other nobility, bestowed in a moment of parochial statesmanship by a body that found it easier to name than number.
It was here in such smothering, dulling and joyless circumstances the working men and their families lived.
In these streets they begat children, acquired mortgages, landlords, illnesses, fought among themselves and with others, saw their children grow to be a mirror of themselves, and then weary of it all slipped quietly away almost unnoticed. They came into the world unknowing, when they went out they went unsung. When a house was left empty it quickly filled. The names changed, the people remained the same.
Sons followed their fathers into industry. Daughters their mothers into matrimony. Their station in life was preordained. Time passed in weeks. Monday was for washing. Friday was pay-day – if you worked. Saturday afternoon was for the back garden or the pub. Sunday was for silence – partly because the religious liked it that way, but mainly because the thought of another week was enough to intimidate even the hardiest soul.
As the sapling is bent – so grows the tree.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.