Running from the Spills
A Manchester Childhood
By Andrew Barton
Matador/Troubador Publishing – £7.99
Many would describe 1960s England as an incomparably molten, if not fantabulous, golden period. So golden, that the decade was deemed to be swinging. Swinging to the cathartic brilliance of The Beatles and The Who, Carnaby Street and George Best, not forgetting Bobby Moore and Co. They who held the World Cup aloft amid such tumultuous, albeit temporary confidence – that ever so fleetingly put the Great back into Britain.
But beneath the ringing endorsement of ‘I Feel Fine,’ lurked a recurring dark side to the country. The recurrence of which occasionally reared its ugly head to such devastating effect, that it almost altered society altogether. Especially in the North of the country, Greater Manchester in particular. To be sure, Ian Brady and Ira Hindley, whose horrendous contribution to British society will forever be known as the ‘Moors Murders,’ had such a profoundly negative effect throughout the city, that the devastating trajectory of their vile accomplishment injected it with a poisonous paranoia.
The very families of those who lost a daughter, a sister, a brother or a son, weren’t the only ones riddled with grief, worry, anguish and hurt. The entire community was somehow affected, and it is this surculose, symptomatic, almost funereal persuasion that Andrew Barton’s Running from the Spills – A Manchester Childhood convincingly and wholeheartedly addresses.
Sandwiched in between the here and now, the book’s protagonist, twelve year-old Michael, narrates a year of his life. And what a (clearly seismic) year it is too. Without wanting to give too much away, the book is not only anchored within the terrible quagmire of the aforementioned murders; but its 319 pages dissect the foibles of family, and the degree to which said institution can, and quite often does, negatively influence the rest of our lives.
With regards arguing parents for instance, I can imagine everyone being able to relate to such fraught design as the following (written in the chapter, ‘The Moors): ‘’My Dad went quiet, his mouth set in an angry, resistant snarl, and that was as ominous as when he was shouting. But if my mum saw these as warning signs she chose to ignore them. She wasn’t finished. I wanted her to stop, to let go, but she was like a dog with a bone. Our George, hearing the noise had come down from his bedroom and he stood there in his pyjamas, shivering tears, understanding like I did, that this row was even worse than all the others. ‘’Stop, please stop,’’ I begged them, but neither of them could. They were drowning in a flood of recrimination and were past saving.’’
Drowning in a flood of recrimination and being past saving, is about as tantamount and common to everyday life, as those ever so over-rated, flippant, borrowed words ‘’I now pronounce thee husband and wife,’’ and Barton espouses (t)his fraught experience throughout. In fact, Running from the Spills reads as if the author had no choice but to come to terms, but to reason, but to be perplexingly philosophical.
This is very much in evidence when he harrowingly, yet somehow brilliantly, describes his attendance at the funeral of someone far too close for me to reveal in this review: ‘’But I knew that inside that wet, black earth, the box would rot, then the worms and the maggots would eat him and his bloody suit, and then his skin would go and those muscles that he had been so proud of would rot away over weeks or months, maybe even quicker, so that quite soon there would be nothing left except dust, as that vicar was trying to tell us, and it would be almost like he had never been […]. It pissed down with rain and I was pleased about that. I would have hated to have seen him leave a blue-sky world, with the sun blazing down, like being made to go to bed with the curtains drawn on a summer’s evening, when there was still so much left to do in the day. Being put into the rich, black Manchester earth and having your light turned out forever didn’t seem so bad on a day with one big grey cloak of rain hanging over it. On a day when nobody could do anything, except feel sad, and lost, and dead too in their own way.’’