Friday, 19 August 2011

Call them all wilderness…

I've just received a first edition of J. B. Priestley's English Journey, his 1934 equivalent of Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier. In a sense, they're similar - both authors are sympathetic but critical, alive to the misery caused by industrial capitalism, but also to the joys of urban working-class culture.

Priestley isn't interested in the pretty bits of the country - that's for H. V. Morton - and he visits a lot of the places with which I'm familiar. On the Midlands:
Industry has ravaged it; drunken storm troops have passed this way; there are signs of atrocities everywhere; the earth has been left gaping and bleeding; and what were once bright fields have been rummaged and raped into these dreadful patches of waste ground.
The places I saw had names, but these names were merely so much alliteration: Wolverhampton, Wednesbury, Wednesfield, Willenhall and Walsall. You could call them all wilderness, and have done with it. 
As for West Bromwich - here's something for David Cameron to read:
a picture of grimy desolation… If you put it, brick for brick, into a novel, people would not accept it, would condemn you as a caricaturist and talk about Dickens. The whole neighbourhood is mean and squalid… I could not blame them if they [some urchins] threw stones and stones and smashed every pane of glass for miles. Nobody can blame them if they grow up to smash everything that can be smashed. There ought to be no more of those lunches and dinners, at which political and financial and industrial gentlemen congratulate themselves, until something is done about Rusty Lane and West Bromwich. While they still exist in their present foul shape, it is idle to congratulate ourselves about anything. They make the whole pomp of government here a miserable farce. 
The delegates [parliamentarians] have seen one England, Mayfair in the season. Let them see another England next time, West Bromwich out of season. Out of all seasons except the winter of our discontent. 

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