(First published in 1985 in volume 2, p. 80, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
Unbelievable But True!
Clarence Muff. (Occasional Local Publications No.6, City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, Libraries Division, 1984). 95p
Clarence Muff's vivid account of life in the rough, tough Mount Street district of Bradford is appropriately free from grammatical fussiness and conventional restraints. On one occasion at least, the reader needs a strong stomach, but there is nothing new in that these days.
This is a written form of recorded speech, and just the kind of history the Bradford Heritage Recording Unit is also seeking to promote, through the experiences of 'ordinary people', although Clarry Muff is no very ordinary person. He has a prodigious memory, and reminds us of many forgotten things - those we have loved and not loved, including visits to the pawnshop, which some families made every week as soon as the washing had been ironed; the knockers-up; the 'jordon' cake (which I recall as being rather 'sad' stuff); the fish and chips, always served in newspaper, and Charlie Chaplin in 'The Kid'.
There is much here to laugh at, but cause for tears, too, as when a hoarding fell down on his mother, breaking her back and killing her three month old baby. Mrs Muff was given up for dead, but how she came back! Clarry's return from Sheffield, penniless after buying two meat pies, tramping footsore and weary through the snow, is a remarkable tribute to the family spirit. 'I never knew there were so many ways of carrying a suitcase', he said.
Much of the story is concerned with betting, boxing, boozing and borrowing, by Runyonesque characters such as Joe Race and Kid Choc Melgram, but there is 'real history', too. We hear about enlistment during the First World War and, most interesting of all, the inside story of the Low Moor Explosion, told by his father, who was one of the Yellow Men who worked there. The forty-eight pages are packed with incident of one kind or another, and just when we are taking a breath Clarry says, 'Now I'll go on to boxing'.
I enjoyed this book. It really is unbelievable.
© 1985, The Bradford Antiquary