This is my personal journey from my early years. After the first chapter, this story begins with me living as a long term unemployed single parent with two children with different fathers, never being married. I was definitely on the bottom rung of society. I lived in the highest unemployed town in the UK with the demise of its Iron and Steel, Chemical and Shipbuilding industries, thus experiencing years of poverty and ostracisation. This is the story of how, supported by a strong Christian faith, I deeply analysed and navigated my way through it all, to an absolutely fulfilling life.
In the light of what’s happening in this chaotic world today, I feel moved to tell my story with all its different facets, because my main hope is that the reader will see the human face of the marginalised. Then, hopefully, gain a more compassionate understanding of all those who live on the margins of society. I hope the reader finds clues on how to make connections with people different from them, or to change the top down competitive economic system so all people are justly valued whether they were in paid work or out of paid work.
I invite the reader to pick any chapter and, if it resonates with you, to organise a zoom working group in the New Republic of the Heart community to discuss and explore any particular issue or let it inform the work you are already doing.
I acknowledge that every single one of us has our own unique experience from our own unique perspective waiting to be heard and learned from. This is simply my experience. I’d love to maybe one day hear and learn from yours.
CHAPTER 1 ~ EARLY EXPERIENCE
As a child I had a recurring dream from between the ages of 2 and 3 years old until I was 19 years old. This dream only seemed to occur when, just now and again, I was feeling some negativity in my life. After the dream I always felt cocooned in deep love which lasted in my waking hours for ages after. Sometimes the dream came months apart, sometimes days apart, sometimes years apart. Throughout the dream over the years I stayed as a three year old child.
In my dream were two very high sand dunes…one on the right and the other on the left. The idea of the dream was to get from the top of the right sand dune to the bottom of it, and then up the left sand dune to the top. Once I reached the top of the left sand dune, I would finally see the ‘Beautiful City’. On top of the right sand dune was a shining bright white energetic figure. There seemed to be a silhouette of a long skirt-like piece of clothing and I thought I detected a shadow of a beard, maybe it was my child’s idea of God. But that was just a passing thought. Although I couldn’t make out a face, I always knew this shining energetic figure as ‘My Friend’.
My dream first began with me and about a hundred young children of the same age as me. We ran down the right sand dune, but would fall over. My Friend was there to pick us up. There was always a warm loving feeling when this happened. In my dream over the years, we got further down the right sand dune and up toward the left one. However, each time the dream occurred there were fewer and fewer children – falling down, yet being picked up by My Friend. Eventually, toward the last time I ever had the dream at 19 years old, I was the only child left to be picked up. I remember being sad about that. I remember I was nearly at the top of the left sand dune with great anticipation to finally see the ‘Beautiful City,’ but the sand was so soft that it felt like a much heavier climb. As much as I tried, I kept sliding down the dune and just couldn’t reach the final hurdle…. What’s more My Friend, for the first time, wasn’t around to pick me up. I felt absolutely alone and bereft. Suddenly My Friend appeared, took me by my right hand (I remember feeling its safety and warmth), and walked me up to the top of the sand dune. To my amazement all I saw before me were miles and miles, as far as the eyes could see, of more and more sand dunes! It suddenly struck me….It absolutely didn’t matter! I was with My Friend and that was ALL that mattered.
Over the years I’ve come to believe that my story you are about to read is that journey across that desert of sand dunes ominously stretched out in front of me. I was in the safest place I ever could imagine, traversing the storms of the changing dunes hand in hand with ‘MY FRIEND’.
I was born in 1946 in a north east of England working class family. An early memory was my biggest treat of creeping into Mam’s alluring bed when Dad’s inevitable ‘night shift’ cycled around yet again. His unsung long hard job at the ‘dragon’s mouth’ of the steel works allowed me to take his place cuddled up expectantly next to Mam, but not before peering over the heavy bedclothes, contemplating her perpetual reluctant routine of a tug of war with her armoured steel rod corset. It always astounded me how she got rid of this suffering crustacean, with rolls of excess fat popping like a bean pod over relieved hooks and eyes.
I was always glad when the final sigh of relief was gasped, a few ecstatic scratches and this ceremony was over. Lights out… and we’d kneel together to say our prayers. Mam always said hers in silence and it was always a matter of bewilderment and curiosity of how such an ordinary day led her to such a long silent conversation with God.
The stories could now begin.
Happy childhood memories were of Mam always singing around the house. She always saw the funny side of any negative situation. I used to watch Dad sit silently by, watching her in admiration. Mam was terrified of thunder. If ever it thundered in the middle of the night on Dad’s night shift, she would wake up my three brothers and myself to all sleepily go downstairs to cuddle up on the big brown leather arm chair for Mam to tell us true funny stories about the ‘olden days’ until the thunderstorm was over. Every story was always peppered with laughter. I loved thunderstorms.
It wasn’t until years later when I realised who the dower faced men were who sometimes came to see Dad. They occasionally gathered in the parlour away from us kids. Apparently Dad was a union leader and was holding union meetings, sometimes taking the men out on strike fighting for ‘justice’ and better working conditions. I always thought I took after my mam with her storytelling, but realised as my life evolved just how much I had my dad’s blood in me too. Dad died six weeks before his 65th birthday and because he didn’t reach 65, after working in the steel works since being 14 years old, Mam only got half a week’s widows pension.
Being the only female sibling among three brothers, a slow realisation taught me that I was at the bottom of the pecking order. Dad’s word was law and then came my brothers in order of age. Mam was never ‘allowed’ to go out to ‘paid’ work. Her job was the home and family, and whose designated sole purpose in life was to serve us.
William Beveridge, significantly a man and a British economist and Liberal politician, was a progressive, a social reformer, and the architect of the post-war welfare state. He advocated for adult women to normally be economically dependent on their husbands. His ‘norms’ legitimised the status quo. They revealed the power relations in society and were a post-war basis for poverty and oppression for women.
Throughout childhood, the patriarchal ‘high’ Church of England compounded my situation. Men made the decisions and women made the tea. There was always a man in the pulpit. The disciples were men. God was a man? Jesus was a man. The early Christian Fathers were men. The stories in my head around biblical women were that of the temptresses Eve or Salome, or the woman being stoned for adultery. The positive stories of women in the bible were subtly hidden, and only revealed to me 40 years later at theological college. I could see myself being subtly groomed for ‘serving’. This didn’t always come without any contention from me. I didn’t mind serving now and again, but why always me and never my brothers?
“The family becomes the nucleus of the patriarchal relations in society. To that extent parenting language for God reinforces patriarchal power rather than liberating us from it.”
R, Radford Ruether. 1983: p.70.
As a child, I was in constant conflict with the interjections, “You have to do it because you’re a girl,” or “You can’t do it because you’re a girl.” With such acute low self-esteem compounded by this subordination, being pure and clean to emanate the Virgin Mary solely for a potential future husband was my only pathway to heaven. If I wasn’t, it would be a pathway to hell.
This feeling of subordination led me in 1972 to leave my home and family at the age of 26 to emigrate alone by ship to Australia on a government £10 emigration passage.
FROM ENGLAND WITH LOVE
England sends a fond “Goodbye”
Belated, but indeed sincere.
Dear child borne under England’s sky
She hopes your thoughts are sometimes near.
Maybe your thoughts will sometimes stray
to raindrops on a window pane,
When cold, grey mornings of the day
gave hope that sunshine dried the rain.
Please think sometimes of English hills.
Of ever changing shades of green.
And smell the salt sea air that fills
a memory of coastline scenes.
And England’s folk have said “Goodbye”,
Remembering the good times spent.
Old friends and new still wonder why
you packed your bags and why you went.
England, she must admit, is sad
Maybe with you she failed to show
the warmth and feelings to be had.
She failed and so you had to go.
She failed to give your deepest need
to find yourself, but England knows
to find oneself one must succeed
to live, no matter where one goes.
This land regrets she can’t compose
an easy way to free your toil.
But, like the English Summer Rose
Please…Find contentment in your soil.
Linda M Granville
Emigrating alone on MV Ellinis to Australia on a ten pound passage. 1972
Just before the ship departed the quayside leaving Southampton and trying to get a glimpse of Mam waving goodbye above the crowds, I took myself onto the empty upper boat deck and found myself utterly alone. I suddenly realised that I was leaving the whole of my past behind and my future was completely unknown. This was the first time in my life when I was fully aware of experiencing the ‘Present Moment.’ I resolved to continue on this present moment journey armed with a pocket size New Testament (Gideon) Bible with the question, “What would Jesus do?”
The Gideon Bible given to me years before at school was perfect. It had a resource in it that pointed me to any passage to read when I was feeling in different moods.
Four years later, I returned home by ship in the other direction because sadly my dad was dying. I had travelled around the world by ship. I stayed in England for a year working as a hotel receptionist then returned to Australia, overland on a Greyhound bus as far as Nepal then on completely alone to Australia. I slept in a tent for most of the way without a sleeping bag. (I had forgotten about it in England and couldn’t afford a new one.) I travelled on an absolute shoe string. I had many, sometimes scary adventures, but all with the support of my constant companion, my pocket sized New Testament Bible.
All this showed them what a girl could really do!
Before leaving the UK in 1972, three months before starting my nine years of travelling, I was raped. This was the greatest, but by no means the final, humiliation of male dominant power over me. The patriarchal system had already, since childhood, very subtly taken over my mind and now it blatantly took everything else.
I felt I was nothing. I was a clod of dirty clay, which was more or less what some projections from the pulpit told me in the first place.
Martin Luther said, “God creates out of nothing. Therefore, until a man is nothing God can make nothing out of him”. I would argue ‘her’ too.
Nine years after the rape, I returned home from my many travelling adventures. Before coming home I had become pregnant by my boyfriend in Australia. After a three year, sadly very negative relationship, my resolve to return home alone to have my baby in England was confirmed. In 1981, I became a single parent living in a society advocated by William Beveridge.
In retrospect, to understand the world I was returning to as a single parent and society’s ingrained psyche about the moral issues about the nature of the family unit and how the state supports or undermines it I look to the historical structures .
“In late nineteenth century Britain, under the poor law, widows…perceived as the most deserving, had to work to support one or two children with some outside aid. Remaining children were taken into ‘The Workhouse’. Deserted wives were denied any relief for a year to test their destitution. Unmarried mothers condemned as ‘morally reprehensible were offered no relief for themselves or their children outside the workhouse”. (Lewis.J.1992 p33)
This condemnation did not take into account William Beverage’s dictum that adult women should be economically dependent on their husbands. This one act gave men unprecedented power over women. Inevitably many men abused this power and was the reason why many women preferred to live alone with their children.
Three years after the birth of my first child, at the age of 38, I became pregnant again by a man I thought I loved. He told me he’d had the ‘op’ and could never have children. However he got somebody else pregnant at the same time as me. I was left alone now with two children with both fathers never making any attempt ever to contact their children or pay toward their upkeep. I gave all the information I had to both my children if either of them wanted to contact their father, however, so far my children have shown no interest.
Mixed with interjections from my childhood, my one concern was God. God couldn’t possibly love me now. I could be forgiven once, but couldn’t possibly be forgiven a second time. I knew that absolutely empty feeling of utter desolation. I truly felt I was completely without God. However, three weeks after I found out I was pregnant with my second child, it was my turn to read in church. By this time the whole congregation knew about me. I didn’t at all feel worthy to go to church or even face their potentially judgemental glances, but even if God didn’t want me, I needed God. I didn’t look at the bible passage to practice reading it beforehand, so when I finally read it in church, a major miracle happened. It was Romans 8: 31-end:
“If God is for us…who is against us?”… It continued….”we are treated like sheep to be slaughtered”…..and finished…”For I am convinced that neither death… nor life… nor angels… nor rulers… nor things present… nor things to come…nor powers…nor height…nor depth…nor anything else in all creation… will EVER be able to separate ANY of us from the LOVE of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I broke down in tears of joy.
From that moment I knew I was stood beside and loved, warts and all. And just as importantly, so was every other sentient being. So then, to give back which I had so generously received, my one pathway forward was LOVE.
But, what was LOVE? 1 Corinthians (13: 4-end) from the Bible told me:
Love is patient
Love is kind;
Love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
It is not irritable or resentful;
Love keeps no record of wrongs
but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Faith Hope and Love Abide these three and the greatest of these is LOVE.
This became the narrow path where I often fell down, but tried to walk for the rest of my life.
Meanwhile nine months later I was contemplating on a cedar tree outside my kitchen window and was inspired to write the following poem:
However, even though I knew I was completely loved and I also had two wonderful children and we love each other to bits, it was obvious society and maybe even some of my family still had their doubts.
This was my first sadly shocking revelation I had of a palpable deep feeling of society’s ingrained, learned judgemental psyche against me and other single parents, judged by their levels of acceptance.
This was a continuous cloud hovering over my head. However, I held a great secret. I knew … that the sun always shines above the clouds. And I could feel it’s warmth.
My home town of Middlesbrough once boasted two ICI Chemical plants, Iron and Steel Industry, and a Shipbuilding Industry. They were all disappearing before my eyes, with tens of thousands of people out of work. Some housing estates had 80% unemployment. We earned the grand title of the highest unemployed town in the UK.
Middlesbrough was also the town with the highest level of drug abuse, the highest level of heroin users, and the cheapest heroin in the country. A slightly higher percentage of women were in paid work than men. One of the reasons for this was because employers could take on women at a much cheaper rate in pay. Another reason was that men would not take the ‘softer’ part time or temporary jobs available, deemed only for women. This was a painful transitional period for thousands of men who had once worked in those heavy industries. Their deep psychological role as the ‘breadwinner’ (put onto them by William Beverage) was now taken away from them. This didn’t always contribute to happy family relationships.
I was living at the beginning of an 18 year, unemployed single parent poverty trap.
Unpaid home-work is oppressively undervalued. This was proved by the first act of the newly installed labour government when they cut single parent benefits. Today, help with childcare (working tax credit) is only linked to (paid) work. Single parents, dependent on benefits and who for one reason or another have to stay at home to look after their children, are among the poorest in society. They’re labelled ‘dole scroungers’. Gender reinforces poverty.
Years ago, I took a part time cleaners job. I wasn’t allowed to earn more than £15 per week. One woman colleague in Teesside was only earning £1 per hour, because she desperately needed the job and there were loads of unemployed people to take her place. Also, if she earned more than £1 per hour, it would affect her measly, but regular benefits. When the minimum wage came in, it took me over the £15 a week I was allowed to earn without losing benefits. I asked my employer if he could reduce my hours from six to five. He refused, so to keep my job, I had to take home less than the minimum wage. The alternative was for me to break the law. There seemed no comeback to the fact that he was breaking it by paying me less than the minimum wage.
Many women were exploited in this way. We couldn’t take another part time job, because the only place in the area without having to pay extortionate bus fares out of this very isolated housing estate was the local supermarket. A part time job there meant that, although it was part time, employees had to be available for work morning, afternoon or evening. or whenever they were ordered to come, which couldn’t guarantee being home for children. It also stopped any woman from getting out of the poverty trap if they wanted to take another part time job at the same time, or wanted to enroll in regular education courses.
With the cleaners job, two people were sacked and I was given their work cleaning urine and vomit in men’s toilets, without any change in pay. Sadly, I had to leave my children with my mother one Christmas night so I could go to work on Boxing day. To spend Christmas night alone without your kids is a miserable experience for any parent. When I finally trudged a mile to work on Boxing day morning in deep snow, I was the only person to turn up. All the rest of the staff, including the manager, had a hangover from the Christmas staff party the night before. This was a party that I was not even asked to attend. However, I was only left to clean up their mess afterwards. (It looked like they had a good time!). I was a ‘non person’ yet again!
At the same time and over the years, apart from doing a hard job bringing up my two children, I was voluntarily running a teenage drop in centre, helped people with learning difficulties, and had a weekly column in a local newspaper to write about good community initiatives around Teesside. I taught English to Asian women a few times with only £1 in my pocket. I often wondered if I should feed my children, or pay for bus fares to teach English alongside somebody else with the same TESOL qualification, but who was earning £28 per hour. Later, I worked with the homeless, counselled rape victims as well as people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. All this voluntary work had flexible hours which enabled me to care for my children. Even though I was fully trained in all these areas of work, nobody was able to pay me or offer me enough paid hours to get out of the poverty trap. Yet I allowed myself to be grossly exploited for the sake of £15 per week which was all the government allowed me to earn without losing benefits.
Where was the justice when for a few years my children and I had to depend on charity food parcels to survive over Christmas?
This ‘non person’ oppressive experience was the catalyst to encourage me to find ways to value all people in or out of paid work. Luckily, or maybe it was providence, I was introduced to a very ‘person centred’ voluntary ecumenical church organisation called Respond!’. Respond! Was set up in 1986 as a ‘Faith in the City’ response to the demise of the Chemical, Shipbuilding and Iron & Steel Industries in Teesside. It looked for more holistic ways of valuing all people in or out of paid work.
The Aim of Respond! was to facilitate the discovery of practical new responses to the social and economic crisis that embraced the spiritual, physical and wealth-creating potentials of all people.
The people of Respond! stood beside me, listened and accepted me without judgement. They trusted my opinions and enabled me to think. It had four overview groups: European and Economic, Spirituality, Grassroots, and Communication. I joined all four of them. Ten years later, I became its voluntary chairperson for a year before I left to go to college.
Keith Lindsey was the brilliant person-centred coordinator of Respond! He encouraged us all to call each other by our first names in any Respond! meeting, whether we were unemployed, a bishop, a politician, employed, or even a single parent such as me. We always sat in our meetings in circles so there was no hierarchy. Keith had a knack for making sure every boy’s voice was heard and equally valued. Regular training in ‘listening and group work skills’ were ongoing events. We were able to bring face-to-face those of us who were experiencing the brunt end of the economic system with those politicians who could make a difference. The unemployed gained so much confidence and self worth, and felt our voices were heard. I felt that one of the main reasons our groups gelled together so well was because at the end of every meeting we would have a quick round of how people felt in the present moment. This was always a chance for people to voice positive and, just as importantly, any negative thoughts (only if they wanted to). This stopped them from going home with the negative thoughts still in their head and not returning. Those thoughts then could be picked up by the group coordinator and dealt with positively between meetings.
We learned that a good group had three overlapping circles. The Task, The Group and The Individual. Every one of the circles had to work . If any one of them didn’t, the whole group could collapse.
With Respond!, together with National Church Action on Poverty, I listened to other unemployed people experiencing the brunt end of the trickle down system, both locally, nationally. And with meetings with the ‘European Contact Group’ in Bonn, ‘Kairos Europe’ in Strasbourg and ‘4th World ADT’ in Brussels, I listened to the poor European wide. We all were the experts on economic systems that didn’t work. Respond! resolved to believe that jobs should be for people and not people for jobs.
However, in 1996 Respond!, as it was, had to make big changes. Keith left to get married and live in Germany. A new coordinator was appointed who, to my chagrin, absolutely refused to even contemplate talking about ‘feelings’. She suggested that they took up too much time in a meeting. However, I agree, sometimes they do take time, but in my experience they often bring clearer and positive ways forward for the whole decision making process.
At the same time, Respond!’s funding was completely cut when, in 1995, the Barings Bank collapsed. This affected the local County Council who received funding from the Baring Foundation to support good local community initiatives, including Respond! Respond! had to whittle down its wider work and ended up, now with fewer resources, supporting a poor and deprived area in Stockton.
“Nicholas William Leeson (born 25 February 1967) is a former English derivatives broker notorious for bankrupting Barings Bank, the United Kingdom’s oldest (and one of the worlds most stable) merchant banks. He was a rogue trader who made fraudulent, unauthorized, and speculative moves, and his actions led directly to the 1995 collapse of the bank, for which he was sentenced to prison.“
This opened my eyes to how crazy the world economy is, to depend on gamblers gambling the stock market and the drastic negative far reaching consequences when just one gamble goes wrong.
After leaving Respond!, the United Reformed Church paid my three year college fees to study for two Diplomas in Contextual Theology and Community Development Work to become a Church Related Community Worker (CRCW) . I was also in the last year of finishing a four year diploma Course in Person-Centred Counselling.
This course was another brilliant foundation for me. Before I could become a counsellor to others, I had to work with deep issues within myself.
Carl Roger’s book ‘On Becoming a Person’ was the basis of our ‘person centred’ approach. At the end of the course, I wrote a poem to celebrate, finally letting go and watching that continuous hovering prejudicial cloud …disappear …
A grey lingering shadow
chokes deep within my soul.
Shrouding my secret past,
In silent coverup.
Till someone listens.
Grey shadow… settled … dormant
I resign myself.
Aware of your ‘Pulling Power’.
But I’ll compromise with Trust to rise above you.
Grey lingering shadow, disturbed by precious communication,
While I give my pain away
To people I Trust,
Make room for Self Esteem!
And in the Trust and in the being heard,
Some are listening to my soul.
And I practise being Real.
Like I’ve not been Real before.
Now … Empathy … Non Judgemental Love …
And Genuine Regard.
Tools of Liberation!
FREE AT LAST!