Ripping Yarns

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References to Peter Sutcliffe

The blog by @May_Matters is a great read that is enjoyed by many.  There’s been a wonderful addition to it with posts from her man, Mr More.  These posts evoke my memories of gritty experiences of the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The genesis of this post was a lovely tale, Take It Easy and the comment I put on it.  I found myself thinking about the pub I mentioned and its environs.  There are darker tales to tell.

A few years ago I was listening to a Monday morning office coffee conversation when one of them mentioned he’d enjoyed a weekend seeing family in Bradford.  My ears pricked up and I told him I knew the place well, I’d grown up on the outskirts and I’d spent my early working years in the grimier parts, working for people with links to the underworld.

This guy was shocked.  I’d moved north for this job after years of being down south and I typically remove the harder edges to my accent.  He’d assumed I was some sort of a soft, privileged southerner born with a silver spoon in my mouth.  That I knew the harsh realities of the streets more than he did, in a place he thought he knew brought him up short.

By the beginning of 1983 I was running a small satellite warehouse a few miles away from the main business and crucially it was close to the city centre.  The pub I mentioned in my comment was 200 yards away and not much further away was the road called Lumb Lane.

Bradford was a grim place.  The textile industry was in decline.  The whole place was covered in a century’s worth of soot from the mill chimneys.  Only some of the prestige buildings in the centre had so far been sand blasted to reveal their original glory.  The rest of the city hadn’t changed.  Most of the side roads were cobbled streets.  The slum housing of terraced one up, one down with outside toilets were being cleared, leaving barren scars on the ground.

Lumb Lane won’t mean much to 99.99% of readers.  It was about the grimmest spot in a grim city and it was the red light area.

From the car registrations, this picture from Lumb Lane is 10 years or so after my time there.

Some of the working girls would frequent that pub.  Not looking for business, this was time off to rest their feet or a break before starting / finishing a shift walking the dark pavement.

Shy as I was, there was occasional conversation with some of them.  Eye opening stuff that’s been the foundation of some of my views for a very long time.  Yes, I applaud the modern movement for sex workers rights and the new inclusivity that sees a whole range of sex related work regarded as one industry standing up for each other’s rights.  Back then I had the unusual experience of knowing sex workers as real people when the whorearchy was rigidly stratified and the general view of ‘decent society’ that prostitutes were not real people, the vilest of the vile and deserved everything they got.

However, there’s one piece of additional information I’ve left out about Lumb Lane.  Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper prowled that area and the girls I talked to knew some of the victims.  He’d only been caught 2 years earlier and the fear was still palpable after 5 years of terror in risking their lives out on the streets.

This is where my views on women’s rights come from.  Not from the academic feminists who loathed women at the bottom of the ladder for the choices they were forced to make.  Kate Lister a.k.a. @WhoresOfYore is a great example of what can be achieved when academia is prepared to come out of it’s ivory towers.

This is why I hate being called an ‘ally’.  Anyone can be an ally by virtuously posting a hashtag and washing their hands of meeting, knowing and helping real people.  It’s a term that’s become corrupted in our social media savvy world.  I can’t be an ally to everyone, what I can be is a friend or supporter of those I know, even if it’s just tangentially.  To me, an ally implies someone who employs vague and ill informed generalisations that help no one except their own smug conscience.

I don’t want to dwell on it, but Sutcliffe was a dark backdrop to my teenage years.  The police road blocks where they would turn a blind eye / nose to the smell of alcohol and let you drive on unless you were paralytic.  Being followed by police late at night – my father had this a few times walking to his office car park in the back streets next to the old football stadium.  And as we later discovered, Sutcliffe was born in the suburb town I grew up in.  The guy I worked for from age 14 was in the same class as his sister and knew the family.  The younger brother was known in the local “youth club” pubs for selling a variety of knives kept under his Mackintosh – opening it like a flasher to reveal the steel ranks hanging inside.  It goes on – I had an unusual childhood.

Given where I’ve ended up people find it hard to conceive that I’ve known and lived with the underbelly of society.  But then, there are more of us like that than you might think.

Ripping Yarns