I have sat immersed in Shelagh Delaney for weeks. I re-read Sweetly Sings the Donkey and A Taste of Honey. I watched Charlie Bubbles,The White Bus and Ken Russell’s film Shelagh Delaney’s Salford. From all these things I wrote a letter to Shelagh, in the style of the missives she published in Sweetly Sings The Donkey. I have written my own words and included her words and words from the letters (in Italics).
I printed pictures of her and taped them up while I wrote it. I was thinking about the Benefits Street/benefits cheat programmes that are on the box at the moment, about the female athletes who received written abuse on Twitter… I was thinking about home and of London and asking the question, since A Taste of Honey was written in 1958, has anything really changed?
I am here, I am safe and I am sick of it.
Not much changes. That’s the secret to it all. That’s the realization that they know you will get to, but still, somehow, you never see coming. But they know it all along. So all our daydreams, backroom and frantic, are tolerated until it hits. Because they know it will. And you will bow under the dull ache of disappointment, and you will remember only that dogs bark, backstreets, rainfall, short summers, shit job, good job, get money, no money, boy-meet-girl-meet- boy… You wake up; you sleep; wake up…
The young are restless, they want to go. They are embarking on their careers. The old have given up. Their restlessness is over. In between, you get this chaos of middle age, where you don’t really know. It’s too late to start again yet you’re too young to give up. It’s sad. The cinema has closed down. Streets are going or gone. I’ve got nothing. You’ve got nothing.
How do you get something? Have you got something I can have? Who are those people in the magazines, the ones with something? She has got something.It is something, right? She must have done something. Somebody said that she did something. I bet it was her.
Please Miss Delaney, I beg you, don’t tell a soul of my letter to you. Please treat it with every confidence.
Living here is a peculiar thing. We are so restless. What do we do? There are three choices, you can stay and compromise. Or you can fight it, get away from it and finish up in London. But we’re just as lost. We are just as lost when we fight as when we give up; untamed we stand up and try to take them by the throat.
Wet eyes. Deepest sympathy. Silence. Whispers.
We spend our money on cigarettes, fish and chips and the cinema. We are rough and we make them despair. We see our kind on the television and coil like snakes, spitting venom on ourselves. Somehow we just can’t be better. They won’t let us be better. They clear the streets for new estates and new flats… the grey slate rooftops of the north of England. We met outside the theatre on the first night and deplored the whole thing.
Red-walled towns cast in Accrington brick. Cobbled streets lie beneath tarmac, melting in the summer, bubbling and fluid under foot. Our own words for our own things, beautiful and vibrant and alive, while they think us grey and dead and useless.
I think you must be extraordinarily clever and your success well deserved. You are the true Lancashire type.
A notice in the newsagent’s window: A sophisticated West End audience was apparently fascinated, like students of insect life looking under a rock for the rst time.
Benefit Street, benefit cheats, bad kids sad kids… A school in the North, they swear and cry. A family with knives, the poetry stripped out. Without the words there is no play, just a day out for the posh: an afternoon at the zoo.
This is the class we come from; it’s a stubborn society. Old habits die hard. We stay lost.
Miss Delaney, I do most sincerely hope that you forgive so great a LIBERTY in writing this humble letter to you like this. I am forty years old and I play the harmonica.
A Taste of Honey is now running at the National Theatre.