Email. 31/08/2005

Dear Yorkshire TV,

Having seen a trailer for the new ITV celebrity reality show ‘My Fair
Kerry’, featuring showbiz chav Mum, ‘jungle’ celeb and former manufactured pop warbler Kerry McFadden’s hilarious attempts to become an Austrian princess, I began to think of possibilities for other life-changing reality formats featuring celebrities.

My idea for the format is essentially a flip take on the well-trodden principle of the Cinderella story. That is, rather than rags to riches, riches to rags. The concept is for a six week prime time, 45 minute run called ‘The house that Charlie built’ featuring a fly on the wall look at HRH The Prince of Wales’ efforts to be come a hod carrier in Sheffield.

After a brief prologue showing the Prince on his Highgrove estate, discussing his hopes and fears for the next six weeks, the series would start in earnest with HRH thrown in the deep end, working on the new regeneration project in the cultural area of Sheffield. He’d be assigned a mentor or ‘foreman’ – some big burly Yorkshireman with loads of tattoos and a beer gut the size of Barnsley – who shows him the ropes and drops in the occasional bollocking. First off Prince Charles is taken shopping for jeans, a slogan’d up T-Shirt (something humorous and genitalia related) and some ‘rigger’ safety boots, his Saville Row suit stripped off and he’s kitted out in traditional builders attire – plenty of arse crack shots. Then his first day on the site where he’s run ragged carrying big hods of bricks up and down all day, whilst encouraged to wolf-whistle at passing office girls. Mentor encouragement along the lines of, ‘Look at t’arse on that splitter, Chaz!’ And, ‘Keep movin’, you jug-eared twat!’ We then see him that night in his Park Hill flat absolutely knackered, speaking into his camcorder in the bath as he necks a bottle of Stella.

Albeit we’ve missed the boat for Prince Charles’ own wedding, one programme will feature him visit Prague on a stag weekend for one of the other builders (plenty of cross class interaction, vulgar laughs and violent arguments). We would take him to the strip bars and get him to indulge in some naked dwarf tossing. Blasted on Pilsner, living on kebabs, tucking his Coronas into G-Strings like there’s no tomorrow. End the evening with him chucking his ring in Wensclaslas Square and copping off with a Bulgarian good time girl in company with Jimmy, the site’s obligatory Irishman.

These situations would easily fulfil reality TVs necessary quota of schadenfreude. I think we might even take him to Devil Bitch tattoos in Cudworth, Barnsley and get him branded up. I think you have to agree, that would make for quality viewing.

Obviously, the series needs some central aim in order for it to evolve and to carry both HRH and the audience on a journey leading to the final episode. For this reason the team should be building something worthy, but not too distressing – so that the viewers aren’t put off or upset. Say a hedgehog sanctuary. E.g., voiceover (I can hear Sean Bean doing this): ‘The team have only two weeks left before the hibernation period kicks in and the hedgehogs start to feel the chill of Autumn, Prince Charles has to shift two thousand house bricks a day while struggling with a 16 pint hangover to keep up. The pressure’s on…’

As for availability, I’m sure if YTV offered a bung to the Prince’s Trust HRH’d be up for it. Just remember it’s a ‘Royal Knockout’.

I think it’s a winner.

Let me know your thoughts. I can source a decent mentor for a few pints.

Yours in expectation,

Guinnessorig

> From: “Rachel Mathers, ITV”
> To: guinnessorig
> Sent: Thursday, September 01, 2005 12:14 PM
> Subject: RE: Thank you for your feedback
>
> Thanks for your feedback that’s brilliant
>
> regards
>
> Rachel
> News Assistant
> Yorkshire Television
> Leeds
> LS3 1JS
> 01132228700

Diary. Monday 23rd July 2007

I hate local councils. Robbing bastards. At the moment I’m aggrieved because this year I’ve been forced by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council to pay for new turf to three – count ‘em three – five aside football pitches in Worsborough. I’ve forked out for a skate park in Grimethorpe. Dug elbow-deep into my apparently depthless pockets and stumped up the cash to fund a resource centre for alcoholics in Athersley. Paid the rent for five thousand job shirkers throughout the borough. And no doubt before the financial year draws to a close I’ll be handing over my hard earned money for dinghies in Low Valley and Cliffe Road at Darfield in order to give past and potential flood victims an alternative mode of transport. Bloody speedboats probably. Do the worthies up at the Town Hall think I’m made of money? How much of it is going on Brasso for the Mayoral bling? And what do I get in return? My maggoty bins emptied once a fortnight. A broken streetlight. Some grit when it’s minus 10. And now the Council is proposing a 3.9% rise in my tax. I’ve read the leaflet that came with the letter. They reckon I can afford it. And it’s all worthwhile. I’m pitching in the extra wedge for the needle exchange and some new posters about littering.

Thanks a lot, BMBC. Twats.

Another thing that really and deeply pisses me off about local councils – shamefully, hospitals are in on this one as well – are parking fees in municipal car parks. It’s not that I’m opposed to paying a fee, it’s more the way that the council stage that fee. Because it’s always “1 hour for £1.10” or “£1.20”, “2 hours for £2.10” or “£2.20”, or some similar sum. NEVER an equal figure. NEVER “1 hour for £1.00”, “2 hours for £2.00” or such like. And the machines NEVER EVER EVER give change. I mean, the one in Graham’s Orchard in Barnsley now SPEAKS. Talks to you. A honey’d voiced female croaks from inside the machine, tells you to stow away your valuables and enjoy your time in the town. But the smug fucker doesn’t give you change back, does she? Crafty, sneaking, devious, deceitful bastard.

g_orchard

So, has some accounts boffin – housed deep in a windowless office in the bowels of Barnsley Town Hall – worked out using a calculator and several pieces of scrap paper, some long division and a devious use of pi that the maintenance cost on a car parking space at Graham’s Orchard car park in Barnsley town centre breaks down to exactly 109.76 pence per hour? Taking into consideration the upgrade needed on the bay markings each year, refuse collection from the litter bins, wages for the parking enforcement robot who scrutinizes the windscreen for a sticker/disabled permit, CCTV coverage…? No. Not at all. Basically the scamming buggers are playing on the fact that most people don’t carry bags of shrapnel about with them. You park up… You search your pockets… You don’t have any 10 pence or 20 pence pieces. Just pound coins. You’re running late… Bugger. So you put £2 in the machine or perhaps you’re lucky and have a 50 pence piece so drop £1.50 into the box. The sticker delights in telling you: ‘This machine does not give change. Please use correct fee.’ What?! No change?! NO CHANGE?! NO BLOODY CHANGE?!!! Are you telling me that in this day and age of technology – when we can supposedly put men on the Moon and construct artificial pets that run on two Duracell batteries – Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council can’t get parking ticket machines that are capable of spitting out the change for two £1 coins?! Bollocks. It’s no wonder the Mayor can fork out for a private registration plate for his shiny petrol-guzzling black saloon. What’s it to him if he has to shake a few leprous hands down at the ‘Barnsley Rough Sleepers’ Hostel’. Have his gibbon grin all over the Barnsley Chronicle as he hugs rescued donkeys and plays charity cricket with limping OAPs. Opens the new single mothers’ drop-in centre and licensed bar – that I bloody paid for!!! He’s raking it in!!! For a start this afternoon he’s just had 90p off me for officially doing NOWT!!!

Shopping for women’s clothes

Diary. Friday 4th January 2008

‘If it was me, I think I’d go for a skirt and a jumper,’ I hear myself saying.

I’m stood in the women’s clothing department of Marks and Spencer in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. A grey and drizzly morning. The Ridings Centre. The New Year’s sales are heavily underway with the Christmas trimmings just about clinging on to the dyspeptic memory of 2007. Shoppers like thirsty water buffalo gathering at the swollen river. And I can’t believe those words have just left my mouth.

The truth is that I have a long history of shopping for women’s clothes. And I’m not scared to admit it. I have spent afternoons in the dry atmosphere of River Island, Top Shop, Next… fingering racks of challottes, picked my way through double breasted winter coats, selected shoes to match handbags. I’ll even confess to having a secret penchant for handbags. The colours – I saw a glossy purple one in River Island earlier. With shiny designer tags. No big deal. Modern man. It’s the new shape for the Nineties…

But now my brain registers my mouth uttering aloud, in public, those appalling words: ‘If it was me, I think I’d go for a skirt and a jumper.’

Have I reached a crisis in my masculinity? Looked at in the context I’ve just put myself in with those few words, do they indicate that there is some deep seated, vestigial need for me to wear women’s clothing? If it was me, I think I’d go for a skirt and a jumper… Put simply: am I a cross-dresser?

Turning to a full length mirror I suddenly looked at myself… I was browsing women’s clothes, haphazardly carrying a handbag, now stood by the queue for the changing rooms with a black woollen turtle neck sweater in my hand. It’ll never fit, I could almost hear the woman behind me mutter. Sceptical looks of mild disgust. Not with those shoulders.

Shaking my head slowly at my own reflection, I turned, assessed the other shoppers heading into the privacy of the changing cubicles. The old woman, heavily made up, with the hairy mole on her top lip. The well-groomed, forty-something yummy Mummy. The linking school girls with slabs of foundation cream masking their true expressions like actors in a Kabuki theatre. And surreptitiously they were looking back at me. Assumptions were being made… Or so it seemed. Or maybe I was becoming paranoid? I looked around, sweating. My clothes damp, but at the same time my skin dry and prickly. The piped seasonal music of Shakin’ Stevens and the cloying atmosphere of the air conditioning. The maze of racks. If I was becoming paranoid it was understandable. I was in a foreign country. Parachuted into occupied France, 1941. All around were hostiles speaking a foreign language with phrases like ‘cup size’, ‘drop’, and ‘gusset’ that held only a shadowy meaning to me. We’re not in training now, soldier.

For a man, shopping (either with a woman or more dangerously for a woman) for women’s clothes is akin to the Native American skull ritual. It is Richard Harris suspended by eagle claws in A man called horse screaming at the sun and wishing it all over and done with. A trial. A test of strength. A rite of passage. Like River Phoenix losing his virginity in Stand by me. But Luke Skywalker, raising rocks with Yoda on the planet Dagobah by the sheer exertion of will alone, has nothing on the man who stands in the ladies underwear section of BHS helping to pick out plain, flesh-coloured bras that won’t show nipples through thin t-shirts on holiday. This is, quite simply, an ordeal by fire.

A man in these trying circumstances is like a travel weakened Gazelle, separated from the herd, limping across the burning sands of the Serengeti under the shaded, watchful eyes of a Lion pride. You’re trespassing and you know it. A New York gang member staggering into a rival neighbourhood. The Warriors mooching nervously through the neon midnight of the Five Boroughs, desperate for the Coney Island safety of the TV & media section at House of Fraser. Mmm… quadraphonic… The discomfort crawls over your skin. Shivers in your bones. You’re not happy. You’re vulnerable. But the thing is, you daren’t switch off. Can’t afford to think of other things. Daydream your way through the experience imagining yourself on the back nine at Sandhill golf course with Tiger Woods and Diana Dors or speculating on Barnsley FC’s chances (slim to zero) in the cup. Because if you do the next thing that happens is that you slip into a Zen state of trance and find yourself staring blindly at a sexy knicker and suspenders set draped on a well-breasted mannequin. Thirty seconds later you’re suddenly aware of disapproving looks from matronly shop assistants. Pervert! they holler telepathically. Deviant!

It’s not easy. And, let’s face it: it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Because there are the moments when you’re asked for opinions. What do you think of this…? Would that suit me…? Too low…? Too high…? Minor but far-reaching predicaments. Moments to be handled delicately if they’re not to be thrown back in your face unexpectedly three weeks later. They need a deft but steady touch. But don’t just offer a bland opinion. Don’t simply nod. It’s not enough to be a yes man. You’re not looking! These are dangerous waters to be swimming in.

But the worst time comes when you’re abandoned by the changing rooms while the principle shopper goes behind the magic curtain to try on an armful of stuff. Leaving her handbag and the items she’s already selected for purchase with you for safe keeping. This is where I am now. Acutely conscious of my own presence and the turtle neck sweater in my hand, the handbag looped over my forearm. At these times I have the ploy of always picking the worst item of clothing in the store to stand next to while I wait, thinking that no one will come near. They’ll leave me alone. A quiet space amidst the madness and determined chaos as they grub about for bargains. I mean, who in all that’s right would want a halter neck top in vituperant pink with what looks like a rat drawn on it in sequins? But they do. Always. Each and every bloody time. Without sodding fail. Old women truffling through gaudy racks of velour and bry nylon for diamante spangled cocktail dresses, heads down, shoulders set to ‘stun’. Office girls draped in black, eating crisps and ‘Fruit corners’ as they cruise for velveteen cat suits. Housewives with toddlers scouring the sale bins for cheap platform sandals. And so I shuffle from place to place, afraid to wander too far from the changing rooms in case she reappears, demanding an opinion. So I’m shunted by colour-blind bargain hunters until I fall out with them all. Because there’s no peace. No zone of demarcation. No neutral country.

And so we come back to those awful, shivering words of crisis: ‘If it was me, I think I’d go for a skirt and a jumper.’ I’m stood there, my own words accusing me. The experience bearing down heavily. I hesitate. Look around. The shop assistant with the blue rinse and the land sliding chest is looking at me speculatively, walking over. Papiere, bitte! Sod it, I decide, Steve McQueen firing up the motor bike, leaping over the rows of silk scarves and panty girdles. It’s time to check out the 96 inch flat screens.

Look for the flag mark

Diary. Friday 4th April 2008

I’m standing in the cooked meats aisle at Tesco’s, Stairfoot, Barnsley. It’s just gone noon, busy. Feral children beanoing about like they’re in an adventure playground while their parents shop, oblivious to the anarchy.

I’m studying the packets of meat. The selection is wide. Spiced meat, smoked meat, plain meat, meat in bread crumbs, stuffed, rolled in spices, ham, pork, beef…

I pick up a packet of thin sliced Schwarzwälder Schinken, succulent Black Forest ham from Tesco’s finest range.

I’m examining the sell by date when a voice says at the side of me: ‘We fought them, you know?’

I turn to see an old fella, blue blazer with brass buttons, his left breast loaded down with ribbons and shiny silver and gold medals. Regimental tie, beige chinos and bulled oxblood Doc Marten’s.

‘Sorry?’ I query.

The old bloke nods to the vacuum sealed pack of German ham in my hand. ‘T’Germans, we fought ‘em. Two world wars.’ He shook his silver head sadly. ‘And here they are selling their spicy meat in our supermarkets.’ He tuts. ‘Makes you wonder what we fought for.’

‘Well,’ I began apologetically, ‘it goes well with crusty bread.’

The old man fixed me with a steely gaze. He said severely: ‘Tell that to the lads on the Normandy beachhead. Operation Market Garden. Dunkirk. North Africa. “Here, Bert, don’t worry about your ultimate sacrifice, hard luck about your missing arm and the shrapnel chunks in your arse, sixty years on the Nazis will be turning out some nice spicy ham that goes well with crusty bread”.’

I examined the pack of meat, feeling embarrassed. My lips punctured in a sigh. ‘I suppose if you put it like that,’ I said, replacing the ham.

I looked along the chiller cabinet, my stomach grumbling.

I picked up some Salami.

The old man altered his stance, getting a better angle on my face. ‘Are you having a laugh?’ he demanded. ‘Are you trying to get a rise out of me?’

Stuttering, I said: ‘I thought maybe a bit of cheese…?’

‘One word: “Mussolini”.’

I felt my brow furrowing. ‘Mussolini? Is that that unpasturized crumbly goat’s cheese?’

The old man sighed. ‘Fascists? Black shirts? Anzio?’ His shoulders slumped impatiently. ‘Have you not seen The World at War

I shrugged. ‘Bits,’ I confessed. Carpet bombing Dresden. Churchill with a Tommy Gun. El Alamein. Lawrence Olivier’s voice rolling over the narrative like old brandy and chocolate.

The old man took the Italian sausage from my hand. He shook it in my face. ‘Every time you see this think, Monte Casino. Hand to hand fighting. The freedom of Europe. Eating this meat is to eat the rotting corpses of brave Italian partisans.’

I puckered my face. ‘Not very appetizing,’ I agreed.

The old man tossed the packet back into the chiller with disgust. He looked along the shelves and then smiling, nodded to himself. ‘Here,’ he said, pulling down a dark brown packet of meat. He threw it into my basket. ‘That’ll put hairs on your chest.’

I glanced into the wire basket. Yorkshire Black Pudding.

I looked back up to the old boy. ‘I don’t like black pudding,’ I said.

A stern look gathered in his face. I watched his hands, prepared for a commando knife, some cheese wire. ‘And I suppose you don’t like Yorkshire either, do you?’ he barked.

‘Well… I do actually.’

‘And do you love your country?’

I rubbed my head, unsure how to answer that.

He leaned his face closer. ‘What was that?’ he demanded.

‘Well, yes, I suppose I do,’ I admitted. With reservations.

The old man said: ‘Love Yorkshire, love England, love it’s black pudding.’

I thought about it before nodding. ‘OK,’ I agreed.

The old man smiled. ‘Good lad,’ he said, patting my back. He inspected my basket. ‘What else have we got in here?’ He pulled out a carton of orange juice. Tesco’s smooth. ‘Well that can go for a start,’ he said.

I asked why.

He looked at me with an expression of disbelief. ‘Spanish oranges,’ he explained. ‘1588, the Armada. War of Jenkins’ Ear. Gibraltar… Bloody hell, what do they teach in schools these days? How to put a condom on and the best way to fill out your benefits claim form?’ He delved into the basket again and took out a packet of bacon. ‘Nope,’ he commented, throwing the packet over his shoulder.

‘The Dutch?’ I asked, watching the bacon land on the tiled floor with a slap.

‘Four wars, dominance of the sea and their blocking of our trade ambitions in Japan by some very unpleasant means in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.’

I took his word for it.

The purge continued. We got a trolley.

Half an hour later we were stood by the checkout.

The old man looked in my trolley with pride. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘doesn’t that feel better?’

I examined the items as I placed them on the rubber belt. A pack of Mars bars, a rack of British beef, some milk, Dale Farm yoghurts, a party pack of Seabrook’s crisps, three cauliflowers, some carrots and a tin of cocoa…

I was still pulling the produce out, Union Jack stickers everywhere, wondering what I was going to cook for my tea.

The old fella was working the self service till, some ‘Drum’ tobacco, a copy of the Radio Times and a four pack of Tetley’s.

We paid, collected our Club Card points and walked out together, through the automatic doors, passed the man from the RAC, the bloke doing dent repairs and some old sort collecting for the donkey sanctuary. A cheery wave as the old man marches away whistling ‘Colonel Bogey’ and I head off into the car park to load up my boot.

I’d just managed to stack the turnips alongside the some Lancashire organic radishes and the six bottles of Worcester sauce I’d been pressured into buying, when a car horn pipped cheerily behind me. I turned. It was the old bloke.

He drew up in his car, winding down the electric window.

I stared in surprise. I could feel the air trapped, stunned in my lungs. He was driving a new Volkswagon Golf.

‘What…?’ I said, gesturing to the shiny silver metallic paintwork. ‘What happened to buying British?’

The old man looked at me, a weary smile on his scrubbed, pink face. ‘A British car?’ he said, with a laugh. He pushed the stick into gear. ‘I’m not that bloody stupid.’

David Peace

Diary. Thursday 26th February 2004

David Peace is in Waterstone’s Book Shop on Albion Street in Leeds reading from his latest novel GB84, a day-to-day, diary account of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike interspersed with Peace’s signature political paranoia and layered, elliptical prose. Peace has flown in to the UK from Japan where he now lives to promote the books release. There are a fair few people in the store, surrounding the author who is stood before some promo blow-ups of the cover with a stack of copies piled up before him.

Peace, dressed in black, seems to be taking it in his stride, answering questions and looking like a literary version of pint-sized eclectic dance music guru Moby. Shaved head, introspective and slightly geeky.

He was born in Ossett, West Yorkshire in 1967. At an early age he became obsessed with the Yorkshire Ripper to the point that he had dark suspicions about his own father being the serial killer and would constantly listen to the ‘hoax’ tapes of the media dubbed ‘Wearside Jack’ who claimed to be the Ripper, taunting West Yorkshire Police about their inability to catch him. Following a prolonged period of unemployment, Peace came through the other side, got published and now lives in Tokyo with his wife and kids.

As a novelist, Peace’s Red-Riding quartet (the novels ‘Nineteen Seventy-four’, ‘Ninety Seventy-seven’, ‘Nineteen Eighty’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-three’ – published by Serpent’s Tail each year between 1999 and 2002) is an achievement of planning and logistics in itself. Four novels that take real crime – including Peace’s early fascination with the Yorkshire Ripper – as their pivot, though detection is not necessarily their main focus, with a timescale stretching over a decade and a half with four key years, a wide range of conflicting storytellers and their fractured, often fragmentary, viewpoints.

The novels are all written in the first person with the narrative handled by two main voices per book, and the baton of protagonist handed over successively between four very different sets of men through the series – Eddie Dunford the ambitious journalist, Jack Whitehead the established journalist starting to lose it (‘Crime Reporter of the Year 1969 and 1971’ becoming his mantra of decline), Peter Hunter the bobby who investigates bobbies, and finally the beer, kebab and casual sex-loving solicitor, big John Pigott. These voices are then surrounded by others – the shadowy Reverend Laws, murdered prostitute Janice, and the rent boy BJ who acts as a catalyst for much of what happens. Themes, storylines and characters overlap throughout the books (and sometimes within a single Joycian block of text), and the plot arc over the length of the series largely follows E. M. Forster’s rule of ‘always connect’. Unexplained and half mysterious happenings and seemingly disparate characters and events in the first novels are seen from a fresh perspective in the latter novels with a realization that everything fits together (almost – there are frustrating issues that remain unresolved), engendering in the reader the same feeling as when you get a piece of sky from a jigsaw to finally slot into place after trying to hammer it into the sea for two days. Even if you don’t like the picture you end putting together.

The hallmarks of Peace’s distinctive writing style in the novels is the brevity of his sentences and paragraphs. Punchy and concise. Add to this strong imagery and a poetic structure to the chapters, and it’s all slick and very modern. The poetry sections of the prose are largely good, and reasonably accessible, occasionally veering towards the psycadelic, and every now and then slightly annoying. Large chunks of text are frequently repeated as refrains, sometimes embellished as the story progresses (chronologically or not), other times not. These constant refrains can get wearing and occasionally serve to dilute the thrust of Peace’s narrative, but in other instances the repetition chimes back in like a chorus and underlines what’s happening and who it’s happening to.

Where Peace scores big time is in applying this tight style in his fictionalisation of real people and events. The (West) Yorkshire references are excellent with the sense of the past and reality tangible. Anyone who was brought up in the West Riding around that time (as I was) can identify with what’s happening and how it relates to real life. And Peace curiously ennobles the depressing landscape, the smoke-blackened houses (always that sad yellow stone in West Yorkshire), the weather frequently raining, and the largely faulty people struggling through the economic depression of the 70s and 80s. There, looming over it all, is the shadow of the Yorkshire Ripper, the bogeyman from Peace’s childhood. Peace takes this reality and shared past and then shapes it and the people involved to his own purposes. This is a chronological conjuring trick that he shares with Jake Arnott and his time-hopping gangster tales from the Smoke.

Through a subtle use of popular culture touchstones – the Ford Cortina in the drive, the Bay City Rollers pumping out of a transistor radio – Peace creates a sense of the past and peels back another layer of interest for the reader by them being able to identify with the places and the dates. For anyone who’s interested in tracing the footstep of the books many of the places are still there. The Griffin Hotel that features heavily in the novels is even more decrepit. You can still see the old hotel name on the clock face three storeys up, looking down on Boar Lane like a housebound old bloke, the ground floor’s now a down-market bar for scuffers with some kind of citrus theme; the Strafford just off the Bull Ring in Wakefield’s still a pub (I expect they had to change the carpet upstairs after the massacre), so is the Horse and Jockey further up the road across from the Army recruiting – it always looked a dive. This weight of cultural and social expression is remarkable and a great literary achievement.

However where the series seriously falls down for me is in its almost total lack of humour. Says Peace: ‘Crimes happen in actual, specific places at actual, specific times to actual, specific people. Crimes, their victims and their perpetrators, sadly define the times in which we live. There is no puzzle, only pain. No humour, only horror.’ Hmmm. I don’t agree with the last part of this statement at all. Yeah, fair enough, crime fiction should do more than simply entertain (though I’m quite up for being entertained every now and then) and create more than a written version of Cluedo, and real crime is dark and often heartbreaking and frequently makes you fucking furious. But if you’re going to write about crime and the people associated with it (on a professional basis, at least) – coppers (and by extension, journalists) – and in this aim for realism, then you have to realize that, understandably or not, they don’t (ostensibly) take everything to heart that they encounter in their working lives, and that while yes the police force can be a cesspit of politics, twilight morals and compromised half-measures there is also a strong seam of camaraderie between clutches of bobbies who go about their jobs with pragmatism and a sense of ambivalence about the way people live their lives and the weirdness they deal with. You shouldn’t expect your characters to sympathise with your personal perspective on the world and follow the route that you would take in the same circumstances, which ultimately Peace seems to. Jack Whitehead becomes David Peace rather than David Peace becoming Jack Whitehead, same with Hunter, Dunford and Pigott. You’re shit, I’m shit, we’re all shit, so why should I fucking bother? That seems to be the basic philosophy. Each one of the main voices is totally buggered by the end of their particular book and the general landscape is grim and pessimistic. Nobody laughs – ever.

This lack of balance is highlighted by its contrast with one shiny golden nugget of humour in a passage that says more to me about life under Thatcher than three pages of cut and paste stream of consciousness. It comes in ‘Nineteen Eighty-three’ thanks to the warping mind of John Pigott (not that I think much about the moral rectitude of defence solicitors) and leaps from the page in a way that would have made the rest of the books so much better:

The drive out in the rain –
The deserted spaces as depressing as the houses and buildings between them –
Jimmy Young kissing Thatcher’s arse on the radio, the cum drying in his Y-fronts as members of the Great British Public call in:-
‘Wurzel Gummidge?’ (referring to Michael Foot) repeats Jimmy with a snigger. ‘That’s not very nice, is it?’
‘No, Jimmy, it’s not,’ you shout alone in your car. ‘And neither are you, you thick greedy old cunt. But we’ll not forget you and your cruel ways, not when we’re ‘round your house to do the Mussolini.’

Quality.

Back in Waterstone’s, Peace is now reading out a section about Orgreave, the coking plant by the M1 between Rotherham and Sheffield where Miners’ fought a pitched battle with the police on 18th June 1984 . I listen to the Mohammad Ali prose and I’m wondering what someone from West Yorkshire has to say about the strike. The county is after all – second only to Nottinghamshire – Scab country. More than half of the West Yorkshire miners went back to work long before the NUM had called off the strike, crossing the picket lines in order to pay for the new Vauxhall Chevette, their wives’ permanent waves and the holiday in Benidorm. Peace’s characters are being chased by the police, portrayed as Thatcher’s thugs – which, of course, they were. An illegal use of force for political ends.

I watched them grab this one lad. I watched them beat him to ground. I watched them jump up and down on him. Big black boots on his chest. Up and down. Up and down. They were animals – Let loose by government. Free to do what the fuck they wanted – They had got away with every single thing they’d tried. There’d be no going back now – No rights for ordinary folk now.

Margaret Thatcher initiated the end of the coal industry in Britain, leaving the coalfield communities like Wild West post-gold rush shanty towns in her wake. The arrogance of that government is well summed up in Bernard Ingham’s response to how he thought Conservative policy had affected South Yorkshire two decades after the year long dispute: ‘Well it’s certainly greener than it used to be.’ Twat.

GB84 is constructed in two sections. A day to day diary charting the consciousness of two striking miners and then the main narrative, which is split into the free indirect thoughts of various other players on both sides of the dispute. Scargill, McGregor and most of the factual characters make appearances in one ‘occult’ form or another. It’s not an easy read. Peace’s prose style doesn’t facilitate a great deal of rapid page turning. Heavy in imagery and clipped sentences, it has the flavour of modern poetry about it. Even the long descriptive narrative parts. Which can get a bit tiring, and in such heavy doses sometimes weakens its impetus and doesn’t convey as much as it could. Anyone looking for Keith Waterhouse novel brought through the Miners’ Strike and written for the 21st Century will be disappointed. In many ways Peace’s the plotting and purpose of GB84 reads like a Frederick Forsyth thriller; black budgets and conspiracy. The title declares its real interest – the machinations of Right Wing forces which shadowed Harold Wilson’s 1970s government (David Sterling’s GB75) and those forces operating in the dark corners of the Thatcher regime. For me these are the least convincing parts of the book and the real closeness to the Strike comes with the diaries which chronicle the experiences of ordinary miners. Aside from a sense of treachery that the rest of the book conveys, it is these diary sections that, for me, are the novels main strength. The other characters – Terry, Neil, the Mechanic etc – remain shadowy, I don’t care about them or for them. They’re cogs, that’s all. Peter and Martin, on the other hand, do matter for me. That’s what I read it for. They’re the mulleted men in donkey jackets that I remember from my childhood.

The last fifty pages or so of the book are far and away the best. When the plotting starts to hit home, and what defeat means becomes palpable – particularly Peace’s portrayal of National Union of Mineworkers’ leader Arthur Scargill.

‘When history examines this dispute,’ railed the President, ‘there will be a glaring omission – the fact that the trade union movement has been standing on the sidelines while this Union has been battered.’

Good as it is in many ways, I’m not sure GB84 manages to do what Scargill envisioned.

All quotations in this article are for the purposes of review, study or criticism.