Changing the world
We were going to change the world we happy few: several communists; two or three varieties of Trot (never confuse them with Communists – they’re easily offended); feminists (both socialist and radical); a solitary anarchist…
…and me. (Who went to church but didn’t really believe.)
I’d been brought up to believe. Mum and Dad were lifelong socialists and pacifists. (The kind of pacifists who hit their kids often and hard.) And I sort of did believe. I just couldn’t commit. Same reason I didn’t stick with the Cubs. I just wasn’t a joiner.
I’m still not.
Collectively we went under the name of Red Ladder Theatre Company. The idea was to take socialist theatre to the proletariat and thereby bring about the downfall of the reactionary right wing traitorous Labour government.
In that respect we were entirely successful.
Sadly, we hadn’t bargained for Margaret Thatcher replacing them.
But that’s to run ahead..
This was October 1977. I was 22. I’d just moved from London to Leeds to be the company’s musical director for a play called Taking our Time. It was about the Chartist uprising in 1848 along the Calder Valley.
The what? The where?
I was soon to find out. We opened the show at the Ukrainian Club in Tod, next door to the huge mill (which was still going back then). So our audience comprised mainly textile workers. Precisely the demographic we were aiming at.
(But who for some inexplicable reason, signally failed to rise up and throw off their chains. A year later the mill closed and they were all out of work.)
Nevertheless, the show was a hit. Standing ovations, great reviews, a BBC documentary. It could have gone to our heads. (Had we been the kind of bourgeois reactionaries that let things like that go to their heads.)
Later we played the Hebden Bridge Picture House and sold it out. After that Calder High School.
And it was that afternoon, whilst waiting for curtain up, that I found myself lying on the grass gazing aross to Cragg Vale and thinking the thought for the first time.
I could live here.
And in May 1979, a week or so after Thatcher’s ascendancy, I was doing exactly that. A little house in the warren of terraces behind Hangingroyd Lane. Me and my girlfriend. We were going to be happy forever.
A year or so later we split up.
Which had I known, was entirely to be expected.
For since then I’ve lost count of the couples I’ve seen arrive, convinced that this valley held the secret to reviving a flagging relationship.
It’s a magical place. But it’s not that magical.
Nevertheless, I’m still here. So’s the ex-girlfriend for that matter.
I gave up the theatre over twenty years ago when I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to change the world. And neither was anyone else.
It’s taken me thirty one years living here to realise that it changes all by itself.