Saturday, April 23, 2011

Studs Terkel: A Life In Words by Tony Parker (Henry Holt and Company 1996)

It didn't take her long when I asked her for her recollections about poverty and unemployment in the twenties to start in about the 1926 General Strike. She was in London at that time and she was a girl of twenty-five. And as she told it, tears started to run down her cheeks, real tears. She said "Seeing all those people standing at street corners, no work for them, no money to buy food with, oh it was terrible, it broke your heart, it was so sad." Then she said "Wherever you went in London on the buses you know, you saw it everywhere, north of the river, south of the river, in the West End and the East End, it was all exactly the same." I said "But how come you could see them in so many places from the buses, weren't the buses on strike too?" "Oh yes" she said, "only like all the other young people, you know, me and my friends, we all volunteered to drive the buses to keep them running. Everyone needed them to get around, you see, you couldn't just let London come to a standstill, could you?" And all the guys with me you know, the camera crew and the soundmen and the lighting guys, they're all trade unionists, aren't they? They couldn't work in those jobs if they didn't belong to the different technicians' unions: I don't have to look around, I could hear the sound of the hair bristling up on the backs of their necks. And there she is, still crying and sniffing into her handkerchief and saying: "Oh all those poor people, seeing them looking so without hope like that, it was so sad, so sad." . . .

Boy, you've heard the expression "dumbstruck"? Well, every one of us, every single one, were struck dumb. We filed out of there without a word, and with her "Good-bye. Good-byyyee!" from the bedroom getting fainter and fainter in the background as we went down the stairs. Whether the television company ever included that interview in the series I wouldn't know. I shouldn't think they did, what with my incredulous questions, and I guess the film shaking more and more while the cameraman was shooting.

Memories of England, eh . . . ? Oh boy!

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