The Skinny magazine, issue 73, December 2005
EMOTIONAL AND PHYSICAL
NEGLECT AND SEXUAL ABUSE
by Alison Young
not Janey Godleys life story thats almost beyond belief,
its that shes still alive and kicking, and not drugging
and drinking. Comedian, playwright and now author of her autobiography, Handstands in the Dark is the story of growing up in Glasgow
under circumstances that should have turned her into one of the citys
many drink or drug casualties - some of which were family - whom she
tells of acquainting in her time as a pub landlady in the East End.
themes are as dark and grim as the landings of the tenement in which
she was raised in Shettleston in the Sixties. Despite the poverty, those
tenements are not necessarily always places of despair and heedlessness;
much depends on the mettle of your mammy. Janeys mother,
troubled and inadequate, cant provide the care and protection
that her child needs, especially one in such an environment; her father
has a drink problem.
this is no story of an in-face-of-all-the-odds, happy and close knit
family with jeely pieces descending from heaven into the back court.
Janey's story is one of loneliness, emotional and physical neglect,
and sexual abuse, this latter at the hand of her uncle Percy. Eventually
telling her mother of her uncle's crime, she is scolded to never speak
of it again, lest she might break-up the family... it's no small wonder
that their feral family dog seems more trustworthy than the adults in
the Seventies, smart but ashamed of her shoes, she walks out of
full-time education and into a job at an East End gangsters discotheque,
where she meets and marries one of his six sons, Sean. While Sean attempts
to distance himself from his familys criminality and they begin
running a pub in the Calton, he isnt without his own problems,
and Janey regularly finds herself running away from his violent temper.
Janeys mother is found dead in the Clyde; her brother becomes
a heroin addict and is diagnosed with HIV. By now Sean and Janey have
a daughter, the main tie that binds them.
all this embitterment and tragedy, Godley has left all the degradation
and filth of her past in an attempt to start over. Part of Janeys
new life has been to bring about the prosecution of her abuser, David
Percy, and to see him imprisoned for his crimes. She has also kick-started
a career as a stand-up comedian, and has been writing plays for schools
about the dangers of heroin addiction. A very important part of her
healing has been to waive the right to anonymity in Percys prosecution,
to have written this book, and to refuse to be shamed by the actions
of others. Most of all, shes put her heart into bringing up her
daughter with the love and security that she herself never had.
was the kid that other mothers would warn their own young ones - those
with the clean socks and pants - against associating with,
in case they got nits. This was no euphemism; in the tenements it was
accepted shorthand for a home that was out of bounds. Her fireside memories
are of picking the lice out of her hair and throwing them on the fire
to hear them crackle and pop. Her mother laughed, her father turned
his head away.
Written with less gloss-it-over Glasgow patter than might be expected, and with an astonishing generosity towards so many, this is a disturbing, moving and authentic book, which can demand to be read in one sitting. Janey Godleys story is of someone who didnt turn her head away; someone who tried to laugh more than cry; the story of someone who still misses her mammy.