»  Letter: Thursday, July 4, 1985

    Muriel Littlehales to John Derbyshire

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  Transcription of Letter

31,Prestbury Rd,
    Birmingham. B6.6EP.
        July 4th.

Dear John,

Two cups of tea, one cup of coffee, after reading your letter. Gosh, Phew, and how does one fume on a type wr writer  Oh: bother, I'm making mistakes very early on   I shall leave it. we can't all be clever.

On the matter of the miners[1] I will leave until last. I may have recovered by then.

Thank you and Judith for the card and birthday wishes  I reckon on another tweny at least, poor Fred. Not very much to talk about, we live a very quiet life as you know only the odd row with Atif, next door, not a real row, he is a bit too scared of the mem-sahb. I should think so too, until I'm dead this is still my country. Although we really live in little Pakistan[2] now. I found it very sad that after a dreadful war these people have done what Hitler could'nt do. Take over our country. Don't talk to me about politicians  ALL of them are crooks and backed by crooks. Give me the Mafia any day. None of them are in politics for the good of the country, just for them selves a nice house in the country or the Scilly Isles or somewhere pleasant. Not that people who do earn the soft life should'nt have all the nice things, WE should, but politicians are a race apart. Aurthur[3] for President., can't even spell his name. Bless him.

I'm sorry about your books[4]  I can't understand it as there's some awful rubbish being printed, Fred has a job to find a good book in the library these days. Why don't you let him vet it for you, he's quite brainy[5] you know but keeps mum about it in case he has to prove it. He has made a new gate and it's a super job. he can do anything he want's to do but preffers to do nothing, well not really nothing but has to think about things for a long time, that is what he says he's doing when sitting with his eyes shut.

Thank you for your description of London, I enjoyed it, I never did like it, we went years ago, never wanted to go again. I also went with a little boy a long time ago, not that we saw much of it then.[6] That visit put me off for good.

Trouble with the world is there are too many people in it, The herd needs culling, unfortuneatly the wrong animals get done it. Also people are on the whole too greedy and selfish, mind you I'm very selfish myself, but then I've earned it. The right to be selfish is a perk in ones old age. Not that I'm not concerned about the young ones and no jobs for them or much hope for the future. Change has to come but it's not much comfort to anyone out of work. I can well remember not having any money many times, and it's not nice. I really appreciate my home and it's modern comforts and a few pounds in my purse. It's very noisy and dusty out here, we are having new roads and footpaths made, very nice when it's done but a mess at the moment. We have wide flagged footpaths now with a tarmac shoulder for cars, the roads will be quite narrow to stop speeding and prevent the roads being used as main raods  some of them are one way, I wish ours was. Trees and shrubs are to be planted on corners, hope they will be allowed to grow. The Witton road is flithy, but the powers that be seem to be content to let it go, we think they have ideas for it as regards a rail service road, a lot of shops have been pulled down and the sites left, not very nice, but if it gets rid of the dirty Paki shops it will be O.K. with me.

I don't get a state pension as I have'nt ten years full stamps[7] paid in, when I was younger and having to keep looking after Mum and Dad I could not afford to get a stamp, well with no money how can you buy owt. I get something like 75p a year, for what I have paid in so you can image my paddy[8] in the post office one day when a young Asian girl collected over 100£s on old age pension books I was mad for hours. Correct that I'm still mad. They have not been in the country long enough to have paid it in. Around here they are still coming in one can pick them out easy, the women shuffling along behind the males, I can't call them men, they seem to be a weak kind of creature. Oh: shut up Mu you can't do anything about it, if you come across a politician brave enough to put a stop to it let me know so that I can vote for him or even she, and thats saying something as that awful woman has put me of voting for a woman for good. Yah:

This is all for today, time I sat out in the sunshine and fed the tortoise gang[9]  I expect Radish[10] will need rescueing from the lads. I'm back, thought you might like to know I've been down the garden and Shimin[11] is there with her feet in a bowl of water and the kids are being deloused. a waste of protien Fred calls it. Radish was stuck between two flagstones and looked the picture of misery  as soon as I had saved her she waddled of to the kennel  it's cool in there.

Before I go I must tell you this, the girls came from school to see the Mu for her birthday and told me about four Asiann girls whose parents kept them off school for a month because their taxi driver was a West Indian, he gave in and gave the job up, said it was'nt worth the hassle, what have we come to. we have moslems wanting the call to prayer to be sent ringing all over Brum[12] five times a day, bloody cheek. They have also asked for thousands of pounds to build mosques. I boil, not good for me in my condition.

Same day, but much later, two salad filled cobs, and a cup of tea later, I have gone through your letter again, and have decided to ignore your remarks re the miners you don't know what you are talking about, I have noticed all Tories are people who have not suffered real poverty, anyway the miners were not striking for more money, but to keep the pits going and in that, the life of the communities.[13]

These people are not offering anything else in place of the pit closures are they, rotten swines. How dare you allow a foreiner to critisice my country,[14]  on to the guillotine with you, and down with immigrants, from anywhere.

Fred says he can see me with my knitting, sitting in Victoria Square watching heads roll and the blood flowing down Corporation St. Up the Red flag.[15]

Nearly time to Take the High Road and Sons and Daughters,[16] my afternoon viewing. Known as light entertainment, but don't they suffer, and all it needs is a bit of commonsense, I suppose it wouldn't be very interesting then would it? I'm off again now, back tomorrow.


Going to Asda in a little while, but will start the saga for today, I's a dark morning with rain threatening, the walk across the park will I hope be damp and pleasant I can't stand the hot sunshine. Fred read your letter and sends you lots of rude messages, can't write them all. You will have to guess???
Now; re Mum, she will have to have her period of mourning John, she will miss Bob, and in all cases there are regrets, for things said, or not said, things done and not done, it happens to all of us, she will get better in time, as regards loneliness I don't think you can do any more than you do, she is lucky to have you and Judith and Tess @ Marcus. she realizes that, I know it's a long day, but it's something we all have to face up to. I'm sure she will be better in the future just give her time, as you say there's non so queer as folk, and non so queer as the Knowles clan.

I can't help you as regards the photograph of Bill's wedding,[17] for some unknown reason Doug does not love me anymore, and there's no communication between us, a great shame but I can't be bothered, I feel Fred put up with a lot from all of them during the long years we cared for Mum and Dad, very little help, or understanding of the troubles it caused with me spending so much time at Hednesford and money we could'nt realy aford, it's gone now, and although I would make any of them welcome I am not chasing after them. So there.

My favorite piece of music is Colonel Bogey. and the same to you.

I'm off to Asda now. Back later.

I've been sitting in the yard with a cup of tea and a salad cob, but the kids are home from school and the chappatis are burning so I've had to come in.

It was very pleasant in the park, just a few dog walkers, only the noise from the motorway a nuisance, I do like the world to myself, I think you do too.

The torties have been fed thers only Fred tonight to see to now the rest of the day is for Mu.

You will know Tess[18] is coming on Monday for a few days, she can stay as long as she likes, I'll see what I can do, we will have a nice time I know, natter, natter. Tuesday we will pay Win a visit, a surprise for her, as I have'nt let her know that Tess will be with me. I go every third Tuesday, and have a job to carry my bag, she puts all sorts in it, about six different choc bars, apples, bananas, Chipples crisps. she will do it.

I feel like a poor relation, I suppose it pleases her. Oh; Fred says why not ask that awful woman[19] to get your book published for you, she did it for her daughter, who wants a book on tennis players, I ask you. Silly overpaid creatures, like footballers, I think all sports players should have a job and play sports for the love of it in spare time, like my Dad and his mates, Saturday morning down the pit then football or whatever in the afternoon, and they used to play at night after a day down the pit. I can rember some super matches. At one match Snapper Evans (long gone) wore a pair of Mums drawers to play in, long legs, lace trimmed  Mum did the washing for them, and had left them in the basket  It cost Dad quite a few pennies to keep Jerry and me quiet, Mum would have been so upset had she known at the time, we did tell her years after when she was amused by it, Dad always said Jerry and I blackmailed him for years, as if we could, he was'nt that fond of parting with his pennies, often keeping us waiting until late Saturday for our Saturday Penny, wicked man, he said it lasted us longer.  UPT THE RED FLAG.

I feel better with that out of my system.

You won't expect this very often will you, it's a once in a lifetime thing. Unless you send me another surprise letter some-day.

Love, in spite of your queer ways, I suppose yuo can't help it not having pure Staffordshire blood.


        Mu and Fred.


        Down with the Thatchers.



  1. The great miners' strike of 1984-85 was over by this time. Auntie Mu was a fierce partisan of the miners. I was a Thatcherite. We had a number of arguments about the issue, sometimes heated but never so much as to cause a real breach.
  2. The Witton district of Birminham, where Mu and Fred live, became heavily Pakistani and/or Bangladeshi in the 1970s.
  3. Arthur Scargill, leader of the mine workers' union, hero of the pro-miner faction.
  4. I had written two books at this point but been unable to get either published.
  5. True. Uncle Fred is sharp-witted, well-informed, and a great reader.
  6. The little boy was me. Back in my childhood somewhere — I really have no idea, but I think I was eight or nine — I had stayed in Birmingham with Mu & Fred. Mu accompanied me back to Northampton on the train … except that she failed to notice the train arriving at Northampton station, so that we sat there all the way to Euston station (in London). We got back to Northampton somehow, but the incident was a family joke for ever after.
  7. National Insurance stamps, added weekly to your National Insurance card by an employer, who deducts the corresponding amount from your wages. These deductions drove the British social security system, though I suppose it has long since been all computerized. If not employed, or self-employed, you were supposed to buy the stamps yourself.
  8. "Paddy" = rage.
  9. Mu and Fred kept tortoises in their garden.
  10. Radish was one of the older tortoises.
  11. Presumably Shimin is one of the Pakistani neighbors.
  12. "Brum" = Birmingham.
  13. This was of course the cultural and emotional nub of the matter. Coal mining villages, like the Hednesford that Muriel grew up in, supplied the bonding and social familiarity that human beings naturally crave. When the coal is gone, however, or its extraction becomes too expensive, the economic point of the community is lost. This is the cruel dynamics of a free economy. All that can be said is that socialism is crueller — ask a Polish or Chinese coal miner.
  14. I think I had passed on some anti-miner remark made by a Chinese friend.
  15. I can't see Auntie Mu as any such thing. She is much too kind-hearted to make a good revolutionary, let alone a tricoteuse.
  16. TV soap operas — Australian, I think.
  17. I was collecting family photographs at this time, and very much wanted to get one that my mother told me about, a photograph of Uncle Bill's wedding, circa 1920. Pretty much the entire Knowles family was in the picture, I was told. I never did get hold of the picture, though I think Judith made some representations to Doug and Joyce on my behalf.
  18. Tess my mother, not Tessa my niece.
  19. I.e. Mrs. Thatcher.