Sunday, June 17, 2007

I never took the advice in that book

A couple of weeks ago, and apropos of nothing as far as I know, M asked me about the T-shirt that's been hanging on the wall since we moved into this house together in 2001. It's a badly-made, once-white garment bearing the following message (hand-painted, in block capitals):

"Don't saddle me with your ideals
And spare me all your guilt"

What *is* that quote, he said, and what did you mean by it? And why is it hanging on the wall?

I was hungover and sitting on the loo at the time, so it took me a while to explain. But the basics are as follows: it's a line from Billy Bragg's I Don't Need This Pressure, Ron -- one of the B-side tracks on 1985's Days Like These 12". I can (and did) quote the entire song by way of big-picture context, but that line was the one that I cared about most. 'Don't saddle me with your ideals' is a fairly obvious teenage feminist statement: I don't want to be part of your world, and watch me not be. 'And spare me all your guilt' is a bit harder to articulate. I'm still not sure what BB meant by it, but I'm not sure that matters. What *I* meant by it is perhaps best expressed by something Yoko Ono said on this week's Desert Island Discs: "My life is not about appeasing other people. My life is about being myself."

I painted it onto a T-shirt when I was about 17 because I wanted the world to know that this was how I felt. But it never really worked: every time I wore it out men would read it and say something along the lines of 'I wouldn't mind straddling you'. No, I would say, you haven't read it properly. So then they would stare at my breasts a bit harder. V quickly I realised that this T-shirt would only bring me grief, and I stopped wearing it. But I could never bear to part with it. I created it with the best of intentions. And it's hanging on the wall 20 years later because it's still true.

Fair enough, said M. I thought there must be a story behind it. I felt warm inside.

A few days later, I was sorting through photos upstairs when I heard Scholarship Is the Enemy of Romance playing loud downstairs. This could only be C, our new housemate, who has a sticker on her bike which says 'I'd rather be listening to Billy Bragg'. I've never lived with a Billy Bragg fan before. I grinned like a lunatic, knowing which track was coming up next, and ran downstairs to catch it -- I have it, obviously, but I don't think I've played it for about five years. 'So don't saddle me with your ideals, and spare me all your guilt', I sang from the middle room. 'For a poet with all the answers has never yet been built', she sang back from the kitchen.

Truth is stranger than fiction.


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Blogger tatton said...

How come there's no comments to that?

7:57 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

No one comments on Sundays...

10:25 pm  

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