Module One, Workshop One.
The George Garrett archive Course got off to an excellent on Monday for the first workshop of the opening module, A Stoker With Punch. The room was packed, with 17 people attending; a diverse group of participants with all age groups represented and an almost 50/50 split of men and women. We were also pleased to welcome four members of the Garrett family on to the course. Mike Morris, WoW’s project manager introduced the session by explaining how the project began when George’s Grandson, Michael, brought along a suitcase full of George’s belongings, including original manuscripts of his short stories, his discharge papers and birth and marriage certificates. The tutor, historian, academic and writer, Tony Wailey, introduced the workshop, taking the group through a brief history of George’s early life; being educated at St Vincent’s RC school after his catholic mother won out over his Orange Order supporting father; his radical ‘christening’ when he was on the end of a baton charge at the Bloody Sunday demonstration during the 1911 General Strike, and his first experience of being at sea when he stowed aboard a ship bound for Argentina in 1913 at the age of 17. Why did George Garrett ‘disappear’?, was the first question out of the bag. As Tony explained, this is something the course, and the whole project, is designed to answer, and to also try and redress, bringing to George’s life and work the recognition we feel it deserves.
It was the sea that shaped George’s life from the outset, but there are clear hints in one of the extracts from his work we discussed, The Apostate, that give a clue to the strong sense of social and personal justice that was constantly demonstrated in his personal activities and within his writing. A young boy, ‘Cuff’, forced to wear ‘Dees clothes’, the Police issue hand-outs reserved for the poor, finally plants a detested clog in the face of the priest who is threatening to beat him and his aid the teacher. He escapes to the sound of the other boy’s cheers and the futile threats of the adults. A short extract from his fragmentary biography, Ten Years on the Parish’, reflects on his own escape to sea as a stowaway, and gives a glimpse of the world opening before him as he stealthily boards on of the many ships that lie along Liverpool’s seven mile dock-road, ‘ships whose ports of call touched every one of the seven oceans’. Each one of the groups that we broke into to discuss the handbook questions seemed fascinated by the extract from his short story, Letter Unsigned. A ship is sinking (something George Garrett experienced on more than one occasion), and, the narrator, much to the astonishment and even annoyance of his shipmates who are also drowning in their bunks, strives to write, to get his thoughts down on paper. He states that he ‘belongs entirely’ to the letter he writes, feeling that it is keeping both him and his fellow sufferers alive. With little hope of rescue his asks, ‘…what else can I do but what I am doing: write on?’. He imagines his writing, set to sea in a ‘dixie’, being found one day by some swimming boys upon a shore. ‘What a find for them!’ he exclaims, and what a find for us this has been, and with so much more to come last night’s session really did feel as though we have become those on the shore, discovering his work for the first time and taking the story forward for others to hear.
The workshops are free and open to all. We meet every Monday, 6-8pm in Liverpool John Moores University’s Aldham Robarts Library, Maryland Street, L1 9DE (off Hope Street).