The Gift of Fire

THE GIFT OF FIRE
Their sheets were silk like mine were linen. Their mattress soft like mine was hard. They had room for two but I had only one. Theirs was the blue quilt all sharp and ironed and clean. All fluffed up like it was green hills that at any moment the yellow sun would rise over. Not a flat grey sheet that breathed in the frost except where dust and paper gathered, like a deserted street blown away by a harsh wind.
It had begun when I least expected it. Snug in the City of Cardboard that stretched for miles, I was made homeless. The Officials came to take your box away and never said why. I wandered up and down the grey streets and looked through cardboard windows and watched families enjoy their food, while the biting wind whipped around my body. Meals of honeycomb and ale, while mine was any insect crawling the streets. Soft cushions to· sit on, while my arse bruised against concrete. The stippled concrete stretched for miles. I had grown up on its surface. Lingering scabs on my flesh. My friends used to compete as to who could have the worst. I’d never been outside the ci ty. I always had a cardboard box. But since the Officals came even my best friends didn’t want to know. They said ‘You’ve no box. It makes you a Traveller. We don’t talk to Travellers.  was always said that when you became a Traveller you could see what boxfolk had.
My feet were all I had left, so I walked. All I could see were rows and rows of cardboard boxes. And when I looked up I saw the endless grey that legends told to me as a child was as solid and unforgiving as the ground.
As I walked and walked and walked my cardboard shoes tore to shreds. My eyes became heavy. My limbs even heavier. And still there were more boxes to pass. I thought about what they had done to me.
As I walked and walked I got hungrier. I began to fall and my scabs took longer to heal. Still there were more boxes to pass. I decided to take my revenge.
And I walked till I began to see honeycomb and ale on little tables with a family beckoning for me to sit and eat with them. Till I began to see my own box every time I passed cardboard. And suddenly there was all this whiteness about me. It made me feel warm and blinded.
A figure came out of the Whiteness. It said ‘I am a Traveller too ..’ and I no longer felt alone. The Traveller took me to one side and said:
You have come home. Your eyes will get used to the blue sky and the green grass. Here eat this bread. Here drink this milk. And I no longer felt heavy. The whiteness resolved itself into the blue above and the green below. I saw how the fire kept the Traveller warm and how it hurt when you put your hand in it. The Traveller said’ Stay. ‘
But I had got used to walking. When my feet had healed, my stomach was full, and I had enough of company I walked and walked and walked because there is no home for a Traveller: I will take this fire that burns as a gift to my boxfolk. They have treated me so well.

4. The Home Help: You Gave Me A Mountain

INTERVIEWER’S NOTES LINDA’S BIRTHDAY
They enter the pub in dribs and drabs. They look at one another as if surprised. As if each have led separate lives for the last few months. They greet me as a stranger. I have not seen them for a month or two myself.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER

When Ben’s old enough I’d like to sell up. Sell this house and use the money on a trip around the world. Would you come with me, darling?

INTERVIEWER NOTES

I heave the speakers through the pub door and onto their stands. There is no Buff. Neil plugs in the appropriate leads. He plays Neil Diamonds ‘America’ to test the sound levels. He does not check the sound is right with the group. He has a beard.

KATH TO GROUP

The group’s dead. I said at the wedding you’d all leave me, and I was right.

INTERVIEWERS NOTES LINDAS BIRTHDAY

Neil is getting a beer belly and his notes keep failing.
He sang Linda’s favourite song. ‘You gave me a mountain.’ by Marty Robbins.

Born in the heat of the desert My mother died giving me life.

 Deprived of the love of a father,

blamed for the loss of his wife.

The rest of the group joined in with Linda for the chorus:

This time, Lord you gave me a mountain to climb A mountain that I can never climb.
It isn’t a hill airy longer.
You gave me a mountain this time.

WEDDING GUESTS CONVERSATION

– You know the first dream Martha had about her son Lozzy’s death had a talking dog in it.
– A dog!
– Ay and it were called Death.
– Death.

NEIL
I’m sorry lad for having a go at thee. I know, now Linda’s had a word, that you can be trusted.
I’ve heard the aggro and hassle she gets from Buff. You can’t trust him, you know. He’s even tried it on with me. I couldn’t laugh at him, kid, but I came close, and we always thought he had such a good heart, you know.

WEDDING GUESTS CONVERSATION


– And it were going to tell her how Lozzy died, but she woke up.
– Is this supposed to help us cope with Ernest’s death? ‘Cos it aint.

MAGGIE TO INTERVIEWER

I don’t want Linda under Kath, like me, love. She’s got to get some other life.
Kath took me in after my last husband left me for dead.
Kath couldn’t do without me. I’m’ The One Who Did’ for her: washing-up, washing, cleaning her house, cooking her meals.
She’s mostly on the phone organising Charity events for poor sods like the one who suffered from leukaemia, remember, she asked us to go at the wedding. Anyroad she also takes in troubled young ‘uns. She used to record other acts with Buffs video camera and send them to television and radio. But now-she’s seen Buff’s true colours she’s caught betwixt and between.
I’ve got a large family. Three teenage daughters with husbands and children all in and out of our house. I’ve got five other children as well. I couldn’t cope with Kath and The Family. I thought I could. lowe Kath a lot for bringing me back from a brink. But I’ll never tell her it’s too much, even when she don’t visit me when I’m ill. I was wasting away but she still kept ringing, asking me to do stuff for her.
I don’t believe in Linda’s God. I can get out of this myself. I admire Linda. I love her as a friend. She’s someone I can talk to. She’s cleverer than I am. More intelligent. Education’s not for me – All that bookwork, I can’t concentrate for long. I’m only a housewife.
Linda and myself have false teeth. Our real ones were knocked out. You can guess by whom.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER

I’ve missed my period for a few weeks, kid.
If I get a child I won’t abort it. You’re going to think I’m crazy, mad or summat, love. You won’t tell anybody, will you? Promise me! I had an abortion after Ben. The baby we were going to call Scott appeared to me in a dream and asked me “Why didn’t you want me?”
I couldn’t answer him. That’s why.
The problem might be my age, I know. It happens in your Forties. The change. Of life, love. You wouldn’t understand would you? I thought not, kid.

WEDDING GUESTS’CONVERSATION

– Marthas never going to come out of herself while she’s still grieving over Lozzy’s death. And then her husband Arthur weren’t no help, dying too. Would you credit it!
– We all have a time to go, ~
– Ay. When it’s gone its gone. History.
– Live for the present. Bloody useless dwelling on past,
– Ay don’t make a mountain out on a molehill. ‘Notherpint to wash sorrow down?

INTERVIEWER~ NOTES LINDA’S BIRTHDAY

You know Lord I’ve been in a prison for something I’ve never done.
It’s been one hill after another
And I’ve climbed them all one by one.
The rest of the group joined in with Linda for the chorus.’
This time, Lord you gave me a mountain to climb A mountain that I can never climb.
It isn’t a hill any longer.
You gave me a mountain this time.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER

I’m working now, you know. Making umbrellas in this sewing factory. My first husband got sick of Child Support on his back, so he drives me up there. Luckily, they’d just laid off a lass. I promised myself I’d never be in one of them factories again, kid.
It’s given me back my dignity.
Don’t get an ore than on Social, though. They’re a good crowd, the lasses.

Kath arranged this Do, and now she’s asking us to pay for the sandwiches! I’m sick of this group. Neil always sings the same songs. Same people, same places. 1 don’t ask for much. A bit of variety, that’s all. I’ll still keep in touch with Maggie. We have a lot in common. False teeth for one.

INTERVIEWERS NOTES

Neil sings The Best’ by Tina Turner. None of the women get up and hold hands and dance to it as they used to.
Linda tells me Neil and Kerry are divorcing. Maggie has a new boyfriend, so she can no longer spend as much time with Kath and her house as she used to.
Linda’s toldMaggie ‘Be careful.’
And Maggie’s told Linda I will never trust another man again. No worries.’

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER


Linda dressed in a new cream jacket with her ubiquitous black leggings crosses her legs away from me when she sits down. She has bought her own hill! lager.
I’m trying to stop smoking and cut down on the drink. I’ve started putting too much weight on. Look, a tyre .
. Kath’s not really clairvoyant, you know. She changes her opinions of people. Tells me they’re the one for me, then when I meet her next she’s telling me ‘I should-watch him. He’s-no-good for you.’
Some of the lasses at work go to rock concerts and discos. My kind of night out. They hold intelligent conversations, you know. Talking about what’s happening with the Bosnian refugees. Talking about issues in the news. Stuff like that.
I’m taking an 0′ level at college. What course? psychology.
It’s bad of me, I know, but I been reading my Bible lately. He wont be pleased with me, will he?

INTERVIEWERS NOTES LINDA’S BIRTHDAY

My woman got tired of the heartache Tired of the grief and the strife. So tired of working for nothing. Just tired of being my wife.
The rest of the group joined with Linda for the chorus:
This time, Lord you gave me a mountain to climb A mountain that I can never climb.
It isn’t a hill any longer.
You gave me a mountain this time.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER

I agree with you. Everyone in the group has limited horizons. Maggie is just happy to go out drinking and dancing and a bit of sex here and there. Buff always repeats himself and is very immature. Kath is too taken up in herself to be interested in anyone else. 0, dont get me wrong. I know I wouldn’t be the way I am now if it weren’t for them. They brought me out of myself. I was quiet as a mouse. Like you, now. They learned me not to care what other people think.

LINDAS CONVERSATION WITH MAGGIE

LINDA: At least Kath’s not going ‘Shush, while turns on.
MAGGIE: hush, while turns on
I believe in respect and good manners.

Both women collapse into laughter

1. The Mother, The Best

LINDA APRIL 20TH 1993 </p>

l owe Kath a lot, kid, but there comes a time when you know nothings changed, that you want more.

I think it was the night of her birthday that did it for me.

LINDA NOV. 18TH 1992
~ Doesn’t the bride look beautiful? Ehl Why’s everybody got sad faces? It’s a wedding isn’t it? Her dad’s died! Poor soul. I don’t know why you want to interview me. I’m just an ordinary
housewife. Kath? Move over and I’ll tell you about her. You’ve got a tear in your jeans. Eh! Watch yourself, kid. Half a chance I’ll have ‘em off.

Kath. You won’t tell anybody will you? Will you? Kath took me in when I needed. it. I went to the football club and her son Neil was performing. There wasn’t any seats but she ushered me over and said ‘No need to be on your own lass. Sit with us.’ and I did.
I enjoyed the company, kid.
I told her my name was Linda and she said I know.
0, sorry, kid. I’ve got this habit of touching people when I’m chatting. It doesn’t mean owt.
Anyway I was shocked that people had been talking about me. Did she know something about me? Had she contact with my husband? You know the worries, But she said Don’t fret lass. I’m clairvoyant.
That was a relief.
I told her this night was a one off; that I was more used to sitting on the edge of the bed every .night and not venturing downstairs. Going out rare if ever. This night was a one off when I’d arranged a baby-sitter for my little boy, Ben – You don’t mind children do you, kid ? .. I’d just started one day a week in the market and got some extra cash. Then she told me more about myself than I thought nobody else knew.
When my husband was threatening me .. we’d separated- Kath said Ben and me could stay over at hers. Where do you come from?

KATH INTERRUPTS:- Don’t talk while turns on.

INTERVIEWERS DIARY NOV 18TII 1992 WORKING MEN’S CLUB-SCENE OF KATH’S BIRTHDAY AND WEDDING RECEPTION OF TRACY AND BILL. Decor reminds me of the film ‘Kes’. That scene in a working men’s club. Purple upholstered chairs. Backdrop of the stage like silver tinsel around Christmas trees. There’s gold tinsel too. Neil, the singer and Buff, his technical help have been heaving the speakers onto the raised wooden stage. Neil checks the sound system and his tapes. He’s been asked to perform at the reception. Likes Neil Diamond: sings ‘Crackling Rosie’ and asks us if the sound is O.K. We say yes. Kath his mother and organiser of the group I’m recording is talking business with the management, She dresses in black, as do the rest of them. Accepted hanger-on wear. (The rest of the group agree with hers and Henry Ford’s notions on the appropriate fan’s colour.) She also wears a jewelled butterfly brooch. Just talked to Linda. She laughs easily and has the kind of smile that makes me weak at the knees. She’s stunning in black leggings and black silk jacket. Would you believe she’s forty? Buff is very protective of her. He moved to sit with us when I introduced myself. He is BIG. With a little encouragement from Linda (She hugged his arm and made it into a joke) he reluctantly agreed to be recorded.

My name? is … er … Buff. Do? Help Neil set up.
Kath? At one of Neil’s gigs. He’d been coping by himself. I think … yes … at the Pheasant. I got up to give him a hand. Been with him since. Kath uses my video and tapes to record Neil on stage.

Linda and Maggie? I go out with them on a Tuesday night. Make sure they don’t get any hassle.

Live? With my parents. Work? Various, checking pipes under houses. Various. Drink? Yes,
It’s a whisky. Linda and Maggie worry I drink too much.

Girlfriends? Once. Not saying.
I’ve got a recorder like that. Let’s have a look.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER
Kath’s got a dog you know? Haven’t you Kath!

KATH:  Linda, I believe in respect and good manners.

LINDA (whispering to Interviewer) Kath doesn’t like us talking while Neil’s I was saying about Smudge.

– Shhh. While acts on. (Kath smiles while she says this.)

INTERVIEWERS NOTE
The air is cold. Kath greets no one when she enters with Neil and Kerry, his wife· When she sits down she refuses a drink. Everyone says ‘Hello. Happy Birthday.’ Linda introduces me. Kath gives me a cursory glance then she gets up and goes to talk to the Bingo caller.
I ask Linda “What’s wrong?”

She says “Ignore it. Kerry bought Linda something for her birthday she didn’t like.” Kath’s son Neil is all apologetic to his mum but he knows he has a show to put on.

INTERVIEWERS DIARY newspaper extract, wedding photo and piece.
Pictured after their wedding at Barnsley Registry Office are Tracy Lister and William Widdop. Tracy is the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Lister, Green Lane, Gawber and William the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Michael Maudslay, Skinpit Close, Darton. The couple held a reception at High Green Working Men’s Club, High Green, and spent their honeymoon at Mablethorpe.

LISTER, Ernest –
Precious memories of a loving Husband, Dad, and Grandad, who died on November 18 at the Wedding of his daughter.
Words are few, thoughts are deep, Memories of you will always keep.
-From loving wife Ann, daughter Tracy and Bill, son Jim and Mary.

EAVESDROP RECORDING OF WEDDING GUESTS CONVERSATION:

~ What’s to do? We can’t celebrate when her dad’s just died at altar.
~ Be respectful. All we can. Congratulate her and him on their wedding but sympathise at the death of her father .
• When Martha’s son Lozzy died he had a dream. She dreamt that she was the best at growing lilies but they overran her house
~ She’s weird anyroad. Staying in all the livelong …

LINDA NOV 18TH 1992

0, God. Neils playing this again. I hate dancing to this , you know. Be back soon, kid. And don’t watch me dance. I’m awful. You don’t know this, love. You’ve led a sheltered life, kid. It’s called ‘Running Bear.’ Kath likes us to dance it together. All girls, you know.

INTERVIEWERS DIARY NOV l8TIf1992
NEIL ON STAGE

‘The next song is for somebody very special to me. My mum.
There is a ripple of applause as Kath stands prompted by Neil. It’s her birthday today.
The applause gets louder.
We hear the introduction to Tina Turner’s ‘Simply the Best’ and when Kath gets up to dance for the first time that evening all the lasses get up. Linda asks me whether I mind. It doesn’t make any difference to me and I am surprised that she’s asked such a question. We are not that close yet.

I call you, I need you,
My heart’s on fire.

Neil is looking at Tracy, the bride. Kerry dancing with the other girls acts as if she hasn’t noticed. I glance over at Buff who leans over as if I’ve given a sign I want to talk to him. Tracy is dancing without Bill. She’s dancing with her girlfriends. She smiles at him and whispers something into her friends ear. They giggle.

You come to me, Come to me, Wild and wired.

And all the girls in the hanger-on group are making fists and pushing out their pelvises while pumping their elbows behind their waists in unison as in ‘The Timewarp. ‘ Maggie puts a lot of oomph into it. Linda looks across at me and makes it look as though she is only doing it because the rest of the group are.

Oh, come to me,
Give me everything I need.
Give me a lifetime of promises, And a world of dreams.

Linda is looking straight at me and smiling. Kath whispers something to her. Linda gives me a glance as if to say, ‘Kath’s at it again.’

Speak the language of love, Like you know what it means.
It can’t be wrong,
Take my heart and make it strong, babe.

And all the girls in Kath’s group join in the chorus holding hands and looking at each other. I feel apart from everybody’s warmth and desolate inside, as if this companionship is something I’ve always wanted to be a part of. Then I quickly remind myself that I am an Interviewer and can allow myself these feelings so long as they don’t affect my work. I have a job to do.

You’re simply the best, Better than all the rest, Better than anyone, Anyone I’ve ever met.
I’ve stopped on your heart,
I hang on every word you say, Don’t tear us apart,
Baby I would rather be dead, You’re the best.

Tracy bursts into tears and runs out the room, closely followed by her mother.

it’s in your heart, It’s in the start, Of every night, And every day.

EAVESDROP RECORDING OF WEDDING GUESTS CONVERSATION:
– Would you credit it? Wedding and bloody funeral same day!
– Decorum please. Just got to treat it right. Like Martha did at Lozzy’s, Though she went a bit crazy after. She was the best mother a lad ever had. Some say he was adopted.
– And seen the groom, Brought his greyhound along. I ask you! A dog at a wedding!
Who’s club act? That his mother over there?

INTERVIEWERS DIARY NOV 18TH 1992
In your eyes, I get lost,
I get washed away.
Just as long as I’m here in your eyes, I could be in no better place.
Each time you leave me, I start losing control.

Kath takes up a position dancing in the eye-line between Linda and myself.

You’re walking away,
With my heart and my soul.
I can feel you,
Even when I’m alone.
Oh, baby, You’re my goal.

LINDA TO INTERVIEWER
Kath has been right about all of my relationships with men. She warned me about my last husband,
‘Watch out for him lass! He will want to control you’.
…. Then he was violent to me. He tried to make my mends hate me. Told them lies. Said to them ‘She’s told me “I don’t want anything to do with them.” Then he tried to take Ben away from me. She told me my last boyfriend was a drunkard. She was right. He tried to make me sen my house, to him! You’re not like that are you?

Don’t let Kath get her claws into you. Yes, you’re right. Once she’s got a lever on you she’ll use it. She invites me to Sunday lunch and the following day gets Buff to phone me up, to ask me if I want to see Neil perform again. And because she’s given me lunch I feel obliged. Don’t let her get her claws into you.
She’s spoilt Kerry’s evening. In the toilets Kerry told me Kath has told her ‘If you want to stay with my son pay more attention to my likes and dislikes, madam. ~ Reduced Kerry to tears.

INTERVIEWERS NOTES
At the end of the evening Neil has to do three encores. One of these features ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’ by Bette Midler. Linda asks me up to dance this one slowly with her.
As we are all putting our coats on, Kath says to the assembled group,
” I am putting a charity gig on for Thomas Darfield, next Sunday. He suffers from luckaemia. You will be there won’t you?
Neil will be competing”
Linda smiles at me and says “Do you want to come back for coffee?”