Either I am becoming immune to Richard Allen’s writing style, or this one is actually better than the others that I have read. For some reason this one passed me by when I was young. Maybe I never saw it in the remainders section in Woolworths where I used to buy all my books, or maybe it just didn’t appeal to me because it was about girl stuff.
I’m not saying it is great literature, of course it isn’t. It has all the usual Allenisms you would expect – racism, sexism, homophobianism (?) – along with the usual clunky dialogue and somewhat strange idea of what skinheads did to pass the time.
But this one seems more plausible than the others. A young skinhead couple, married in their teens, live in a dingy bedsit with rising damp. They both have dead-end jobs, and struggle to make ends meet. They can’t afford to buy clothes or go out much, so they stay at home and watch TV. It’s told partly in first person perspective from Ruth’s (the married woman’s) point of view, and then switches to third person for flashback scenes. The flashback scenes are all aggro-excursions, and were probably out-takes from the Joe Hawkins books inserted into the main narrative in a similar way to the ones in Trouble for Skinhead.
Joe Hawkins himself also gets a few mentions, as apparently Ruth used to know him. And during one of the flashbacks her skinhead gang go to Brighton to beat some hippies up and rape them because they heard how much fun Joe Hawkins had doing it the previous year. During that flashback, Ruth is forced by her boyfriend to kiss one of the hippy women, and then obviously starts to worry that she might be turning into a lesbian. She has similar fears when a lesbian acquaintance of hers touches her bottom. But luckily for her husband, those fears prove to be ungrounded.
This book also introduces something new to the Richard Allen Skinhead mythos – skinheads that actually listen to music. They all like soul and reggae, which seems odd given the standard token-racist-character-traits Allen has injected them all with. Ruth herself blames Jews for her lack of social mobility, for example. And yet when she moves into a more up-market flat she herself is the subject of discrimination as her middle-class neighbours snub her. This would have been an ideal opportunity to make a statement about the logic of such blind discrimination based purely on the way someone looks or dresses, but it was glossed over within a couple of sentences. A shame, really.
Another thing of note – we learn that Ruth’s favourite book is Skinhead by Richard Allen. This being the book in which Joe Hawkins and his gang beat up and rape a few hippies at Brighton. So perhaps rather than knowing Joe Hawkins in real life, the flashback scenes are just fantasies she has of her fictional skinhead heroes to compensate for her somewhat mundane real life? And she takes part in these imagined “aggros” as a form of therapy, using them as revenge-fantasies against people who have wronged her in some way in the past? Perhaps she sees the Joe Hawkins character in her favourite book as a role model and needs to invent for herself a violent past so that she can deem herself worthy of calling herself a skinhead?
This would make sense, as despite being still in their late teens she and her husband do nothing in the way of “aggro” in the mundane day-to-day world she inhabits during the main storyline of the book. The closest they come to any form of criminality is absconding from their bedsit still owing rent on it. They even pass up on the opportunity to take their rented TV set with them out of fear that the TV rental company might find out where they have moved to. And with no disposable income to spend on other forms of entertainment, “aggro” would be the only thing they could really afford to do together.
Another thing which would support this theory is the name of the person responsible for the dastardly plot to turn Ruth into a lesbian – Ian Donaldson. Not a lot of people know this, but Ian Donaldson is actually a real person and at the time of Ruth’s story he was in a band called The Tumbling Dice. While The Tumbling Dice were from Blackpool and Ruth herself is from London, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that The Tumbling Dice played in London at some point in their history. It is also possible that Ruth may have offered herself to Ian Donaldson as a groupie. If Ian Donaldson refused her sexual advances, this would then explain why Ruth portrays him in her fantasies as an evil lesbian-maker.