Meagre in build. Mouthy in nature. One good owner and pottery trained: Josiah “Totty” Minton is bang out of sick notes and harbouring a dream of a three-bed semi with bay windows, fully-fitted carpets and enough of a garden to stretch his legs. He’s had this dream for awhile though there have been other dreams. Simple ones. Pipe ones. Filthy ones. None of them ever come true. It’s why he’s pissed off. Why he misses the urinal and pisses all over the floor.
Set in modern day Stoke-on-Trent, an area created from the six towns which made up The Potteries, Sitting Ducks considers what happens to a place and its people when an industry is decimated.
The novel’s centred around three characters and childhood friends: Totty Minton, Malcolm Gandy and Frank Blatch. Totty used to make ceramics but he’s been out of work for ten years with little prospect of anything suitable. His mother, Constance, has been helping him to bring up his children since their mother first left. Stunted growth and not very bright, Totty’s struggled his way through life. As the book begins, he’s had enough and takes a claw-hammer to the wall in the Jobcentre Plus, encouraging worn down, dipsomaniac, Jobcentre Plus employee, Maggie Gifford, to help him out with a long-handed screwdriver.
Malcolm Gandy heads up a private property enterprise that buys and sells houses:
How he acquired his properties was an equally sketchy business. He was known to have deals in place with nurses. He visited the old and the really very sick; had a weekly catch up with the council; and rumour had it there was a butterfingered copper who lost the odd file on a man sent down. But mainly he repossessed, from the living, from the dead, often swooping before the body had gone cold.
Gandy’s bought up an entire road of houses, Bennett Road, to be precise, ready for development, but he’s having trouble removing the family in number 13, the Mintons.
Frank Blatch is the local Police Constable, a job he’s held for twenty years. Since his wife was mown down by a drunk driver five years previously, he’s not done much beyond paperwork, traffic monitoring and bailing Totty out whenever he gets in trouble.
Events in the novel take place over five days around the 2010 General Election; the point when the Conservatives returned to power, intent on finishing what Maggie Thatcher had begun three decades earlier. Blower weaves a teacher, social workers, a teenage drug dealer and a local politician into the narrative, showing how lives are linked in a small town. She demonstrates how those who should be better off are one step from the lives the Mintons are leading and that only the corrupt and moneyed survive in this society. However, she doesn’t paint the Mintons as saintly either, showing their neglect of the children and stubbornness with regards to moving out of their house – for good or ill.
Sitting Ducks is an impassioned response to the damage the Conservative Party has wreaked on UK industry and the many families whose livelihood depended upon it. It paints a bleak portrait of the destruction of community and hints at the level of corruption present in those state services upon which people should be able to depend. It reminded me of the excellent 1996 drama Our Friends in the North and is a worthy addition to the canon of working class literature.
Thanks to Fair Acre Press for the review copy.