Cowards and Bravehearts

I went to the see the film, Precious ( Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire) last night. Not a great Saturday night feel good film, it must be said.
This was a harrowing story of a young girl who suffers sexual abuse from her father, physical abuse from her mother and societal abuse from anyone she happens to be passing. She is a sixteen year old, black girl called Precious, an overweight, illiterate teen, pregnant with her second child and has been invited to enroll in an alternative school in the hopes that her life can head in a new direction. It is all set in Harlem in the late Eighties. The type of film that generates Oscar nominations and has duly done so.
There is no doubt, that in this cruel world, the kind of hellish life that this young girl endures, goes on, although the diabolical events, relentlessly happening to one person, is the stuff of epics.
Oprah Winfrey/Harpo Productions vied to win the rights to distribute this film and one wonders about the scene where the teacher, on asking the class of girls, what their favourite colour is, whilst informing them that her own favourite was the colour purple. Was that a post production subliminal insertion by oor Oprah or coincidence?
This film, to me, had similarities to last years Fish Tank directed by Andrea Arnold, another harrowing story of abuse and dysfunctional family life.
Oliver Twist came to mind too. The famous scene of Oliver, with outstretched arms, saying, ‘Please, sir, I want some more.’ triggers the same emotional response, only in a polar opposite scene in Precious where she is forced, by her mother, to eat an obscene meal of hairy pigs feet/stodge as a punishment for not serving the meal in the right way, to her mother in the first place.
Abuse can take many forms and over the years in literature, theatre and film, whether it be in the workhouses of Dickensian London, or the streets of Eighties Harlem, to life in the underclass of the council schemes of Broken Britain. It is the stuff of great art.
But is that what we are taking about here, simply experiencing a harrowing extract from a painful reality, fictional or real?
Is it only an experience?
Unless it has happened to you.
Or do we come away with the inspiration to go interfere with this pain, to go do something about it, I do, but then don’t
In bookshops now, as well as the Mind Body and Spirit section, there are other areas dedicated to the real life stories of abuse. Celebrities too, are getting it all down on paper. That whole, A Child called It/ Tuesdays with Morrie/ Oprah Winfrey/Harpo Productions Powerhouse is built around abuse and emotional pain. It’s a money-making business.
Do you detect cynicism here. I may have had emotional pain in my life, that could be the material of a best seller, and call it ‘I Can Make You Cry’, but I doubt it.
It strikes me for example that Alice Sebolds The Lovely Bones was a best seller, and far more succesful than her own true life account of rape in the book Lucky, written before The Lovely Bones, and would suspect had more of a catharsis on her. Then what the hell would I know about that?
At last years Inverness Film Festival had Richard Jobson along and he presented a short film called The Journey.
It was another harrowing piece about sex trafficking of Eastern European women. It is a very graphic, and was produced by Emma Thompson, as well as being supported by Helen Bamber Foundation. It disturbed me, and as a man I felt guilt.
In all of the examples above men have been the perpetrators/source of the abuse and that is primarily the case.
In the words of Tom Waits, The only thing about Mankind is there is nothing Kind about Man.

On a lighter note and talking of Oprah and the fact that Braveheart was on the telly last night, here is a wee play what I wrote, inspired by Mr Gibson.

Collette and Pearl are two women in their forties. They are out for a few drinks to get away from the humdrum world of their domestic relationships.
They have found themselves in a Glasgow pub famous for folk music, poetry readings and the like and on this particular night the performing poet captures their attention because of his “modern man ” subject matter. As the poet, who is named Charles Fotheringham, begins his recital, the women are dismissive of him and make gestures indicating their cynicism towards him.
After opening each verse of his profound verse the women interject, themselves talking in rhyme, speaking of their views of men.
As they leave the premises, stating why they prefer the “devil they know “so to speak, Mr Fotheringham himself reveals his own goals from presenting his modern image.


CHARLES :Good evening ladies and gentlemen,
my name is Fotheringham, Charles Fotheringham
and welcome to the Clutha Vaults night of poetry.
Tonight’s poetry theme is “Changes in Scotland”.
If the ladies permit me to say this, but I like consider myself
to be a modern man, and a very tolerant one at that.
In fact I have long been and advocate of zero tolerance
and the like, and was one of the first men in my crescent
to encourage unisex cake decoration classes.
My first choice tonight is a poem I wrote recently reflecting
on the change in the Scottish man from the days
of the clans to modern times.
The poem is entitled
“Where do we go now, Mr Gibson”

Oh, What has become of the Scottish Man
With the swish ………

(Two women in the audience interrupt)

PEARL: Of the back of his hawn
COLLETTE: Hawdin his can
PEARL: Wantin tae gie me a slap
COLLETTE: An a hug tae his Gran

COLLETTE: Aye he’d barge in the door
PEARL: Cuff the wains roon the lug
COLLETTE: He’d whistle, He’d growl
PEARL: Then he’d clap the dug

CHARLES: What has become of that Scottish Breed?
That proud honourable……..

PEARL: He’s aye steaming drunk, his troosers aw pee’d?
COLLETTE: Denying aw knowledgeo’ the situation… Jist
PEARL:….Mair tears
PEARL:….Mair fear
PEARL:….Mair humiliation

CHARLES: What has become of that Scottish Warrior?
His claymore held fast……….

COLLETTE: Aye, tightfisted awright, always a borrower
PEARL: He theives frae ma purse, tae pay aff his debt
COLLETTE: Canny buy cones fur the wains
PEARL: But can afford cigarettes

CHARLES: Please, please ladies, you’ve got me wrong,
I am on your side, just listen to the poem,
I recognise your plight, have faith, men are changing,
Believe me, think about it, can you not look back
and see any change in men, I know I can and have

COLLETTE: Naw bit dae ye think he’s right, could they change they?
CHARLES: Yes , The Caledonian native ?
PEARL: Aye, Ah suppose……could he be mair….


PEARL: Mair…..
CHARLES: Artistically Creative?

PEARL: Maybe he could change
CHARLES: That Man of the clans?
COLLETTE: If only one morning
PEARL: He’d pit oan clean underpants?

COLLETTE: No tae call me an eejit jist Darlin or Hen
An say we are equal
CHARLES: Get in touch with his Zen?
COLLETTE: No more Darts or Doms, six nights a week
PEARL: Then spend wan night with me
COLLETTE: Tae catch up wae his sleep?

PEARL: He’d cut oot the fags, and take up the joggin
Start brushin his teeth
COLLETTE: So his breath’s no so boggin?

COLLETTE: Take a turn at the tea noo
CHARLES: Make something with Pasta?
PEARL: Mine’s still canna make mince, the stupid wee bastard

COLLETTE: He’ll cut oot the drink next, go twice a week to AA
PEARL: And at the end o the night, he’ll make us aw pray?

COLLETTE: He’d start aw these projects, aboot the hoose
CHARLES: And the finished article?
PEARL: Nae bloody use

COLLETTE: An then he want me tae huv the perfect orgasm
An aw thon fancy positions
PEARL: Thon puts ma neck in a spasm!

COLLETTE : Naw, but I’d tell him see if he starts
Given it Oprah the night, We’re goin strait oot
PEARL: We’re no listenin tae that shite

BOTH WOMEN: Naw we’d rather they stied, the wie that they wis
You know where you are, when they’re oot on the piss

PEARL : Aye hen, A’m gled we goat dolled up
An came oot furra bevy
COLLETTE: Aye them an their new man stuff
Is jist gets too heavy

CHARLES: So there they go now la Madame a l’Ecosse
But history shows, without us they’re lost,
You see, I can be the modern man they expect
As long as it ends, with me getting sex.


4 thoughts on “Cowards and Bravehearts

  1. I saw “Precious” a while back with Gloria, a dear friend who is a successful, smart and gifted Black woman who came from a Philadelphia neighborhood like Precious’s Harlem. During our post-film deconstruction, we ended up focusing not so much on the unrelenting abuse as what it takes for the rare few to break free. Almost always there is a mentor who offers an opportunity, and more importantly, there is an ineffable *something* in the individual that rises to the opportunity and accepts.

    John, your short play is wicked funny, and it hits on this same topic. When offered something different, the possibility of a new way of being, they can’t accept. Not the women – or the man. When Gloria was well situated in Boston she offered her youngest brother an opportunity to come live with her. She would pay for his college, his food & housing, but he would need to work to earn spending money. He didn’t accept. He told her he couldn’t work and go to school at the same time.” Of course he could!”, she told me,” But he just lives in a world of ‘I can’t’.” Maybe it’s the 80/20 rule again. No matter the cost 20% will accept, and 80% can’t, can’t, can’t.

    The story from yesterday, “Say Something”, like the movie, “Precious”, has stayed with me. I went for a long walk after reading it, have had a night’s sleep and another long walk. I think that I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t make any criticism, constructive or otherwise. But I do want more!

    The thing I love about good fiction is that you feel it. You know it. It’s true. In most non-fiction you are reading *about* something. There is a distance, a barrier from the thing. In good fiction you are *in* it! I was living “Say Something”.

  2. Michelle, thanks for your comments. I am so glad that Say Something had an ‘effect’ on you. I read a book once called ‘A Scots Crisis of Confidence’ by Carol Craig. Its a fascinating read, non-fiction, about exactly that dynamic you describe above, where the Scots are mostly lacking confidence and resent success, or rising above your station. Alisdair Gray, the great Scottish writer, is quoted in it as saying, and I may be paraphrasing here,that the the thing that mostly holds back progress in the West of Scotland , is the wee Glasgow hardman.

  3. Thanks John.

    That’s what I was trying to say about Precious.

    Where Do We Go Now, Mr. Gibson made me laugh. I must have identified with it somewhere along the line.

  4. Thanks for this treat John. I have thought about Precious and don’t have any experience like Michelle but felt the production was brave in its attempt, most especially the acting, but was not right somehow. It left me upset (I haven’t seen Fishtank, although I would like to now)but not satisfied in that I felt manipulated and annoyed. I’m glad I’ve seen it as I said on Saturday night but once was enough. It did not ultimately succeed. Your comparison with Dickens is interesting. Although he is a great storyteller he was an activist for change and often this gets in the way of best writing as he can be maudlin for just the same reason – his characters are caricatures and he attempts to extract tears from a popular audience about unpopular subjects. Good intentions probably but money making too. I didn’t even notice the Colour Purple reference.

    On your play and story – I enjoyed both tremendously. I think your dialogue is strong and true. Very West of Scotland so it’s great to know it translates to Michelle.

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