Rebelling against Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 15:43 20 September 2011 | UPDATED: 20:01 20 February 2013

Rebelling against Suffolk

Rebelling against Suffolk

Feminist journalist Suzanne Moore grew up in Ipswich, but couldn't wait to leave home. She tells Pat Parker how her teenage rebellion helped make her the outspoken columnist she is today.

Feminist journalist Suzanne Moore grew up in Ipswich, but couldnt wait to leave home. She tells Pat Parker how her teenage rebellion helped make her the outspoken columnist she is today.

Suzanne Moores house in Hackney stands out from the gentrified white and brick terraced houses in her street.

Hers is pastel-pink, complete with wonky front-door numbers, and a heart-shaped doormat. Inside, there is a quirky abundance of shocking pink and turquoise, candles, wind-chimes and buddhist statues, reflecting the left-wing journalists slightly anarchic individualism.

Suzanne herself is striking dressed in grey, her dyed-red hair piled loosely on her head in a fashion which Germaine Greer, in a stingingly vituperative attack, once likened to a birds nest. Shes friendly, frank and funny. And, despite years in London, you can still catch a trace of her Ipswich accent.

Now one of the countrys best-known journalists, with columns in the Guardian and The Mail on Sunday, Suzanne was born in Ipswich in 1958. As a rebellious teenager, she couldnt wait to leave. "I didnt have an easy childhood, and it made me want to get away from my mum, from Ipswich, from all of it," she tells me.

Her mum was a working-class Tory from Kings Lynn; her father an American stationed in Norfolk during the war. The couple moved to Ipswich, but divorced when Suzanne was five. Her father returned to America, taking her younger brother with him. Then when he started a new family, Suzannes brother was sent back home on a plane.

"I came home when I was eight and there was this American boy!" Suzanne remembers. "But within a term at school, he had a Suffolk accent. We had no more contact with my dad."

Both Suzanne and her mother were strong characters, and frequently clashed. It was a clash not only of personalities, but also of culture. Suzanne was naturally intelligent and read books. Her mother saw her bookishness as a sign of depression!

She passed her 11-plus and went to Northgate Grammar School for Girls. "When I passed, my mum just said: For Gods sake, that means Ive got to buy the uniform. She wouldnt go to parents evenings. When I came top of the class, Id get no praise. I think it was partly a class thing. Girls were just expected to get married, so their education didnt really matter."

Suzanne worked hard at school until she was about 14. Then, she rebelled in a big way dressing weirdly, acting wildly, playing truant, breaking all the rules. "Northgate was very formal I was just completely anti everything they did." Her political views became radically left-wing and anti-authoritarian.

"The views I formed when I was 13 or 14 havent changed much. Once you start taking drugs, reading alternative stuff like Black Panther material and early feminism and start listening to David Bowie and the Velvet Underground, you start to question authority. I didnt believe in God, so why did we have to sing hymns at school? I was anti-monarchy, so why did we have to sing the National Anthem? And you question not only your teachers, but your mum. What makes you rebel is when you think things youre being told are not as they seem."

Despite not bothering to do homework or attend many lessons, she had the knack of doing well in exams, and obtained ten O Levels. But when the school insisted she would have to do PE in the sixth form, she decided to leave.

Disappointed, her headmistress told her she had her earmarked to go to Cambridge. Suzanne replied that shed already been to Cambridge to see a gig. "No one had ever talked to me about university. Options like that had never been discussed at home, and I just didnt really know about it."

She left home too. The family had lived in a terraced house Foxhall Road for a while, but Suzanne found it claustrophobic. "However small the house, we had to have a three-piece suite and a table, so you couldnt move around."

They never stayed in one house for long, however. "We moved all the time. Id come home from school and my mum would be out on the street with a glass of scotch in her hand and the removal van outside, and shed go, Oh, yeah, were moving house. She didnt

At 16, Suzanne moved into a "horrible" Ipswich bedsit, working as a trainee audiologist at Ipswich Hospital, conducting hearing tests and making ear moulds. She remembers downtown Ipswich as "surprisingly rough."

"I saw so many fights. I saw people glass each other one boy lost his eye. Two boys I knew broke into the vets and injected themselves with drugs and died. But I also felt that everybody knew what you did, and was judging you. When I came to London I could be anonymous."

After working with epileptic children in Sussex for a while, she finally got a job in Tottenham working in a residential childrens care home. But she was desperate to see the world, and when she had enough savings, hitchhiked around Europe and then America, working as a waitress in Miami and New Orleans. She toured South America and India before moving on to New York, where she decided she wanted to become a psychoanalyst.

Realising she would need a degree, she returned to London, and persuaded Middlesex Polytechnic to accept her despite having no A levels. But she soon tired of psychology, which she saw as reinforcing gender stereotypes, and switched to cultural studies, including Marxist criticism and post-structuralism. She also became involved in left-wing protest marches and direct action.

Suffolk is a beautiful county. I just couldnt see it back then."

In her second year, she became pregnant. But she didnt let single motherhood deflect her from her studies. "I just went straight back and did my third year. I took the baby to lectures and carried on."

She achieved a First, the significance of which was lost on her mother. "She said, Oh, I always thought youd pass. It didnt really mean anything to her."

Suzanne embarked on a PhD, and at the same time tried her hand at journalism. Finding it difficult to do both, she finally abandoned the PhD, as the journalism was beginning to make money. She landed a job editing the culture pages of Marxism Today, and moved on to become film critic for the New Statesman.

She thinks the fact she was that relatively rare commodity a female journalist with outspoken views on politics raised her profile, and she went on to become a columnist for the Independent, and then The Guardian, during which time she incurred the wrath of Germaine Greer by unwittingly repeating false allegations about her fellow-feminist. Greer was furious, lambasting Suzanne for her cleavage, "hair birds-nested all over the place," and "f***-me shoes".

Suzanne says she never responded to the attack, and was shocked when it was gleefully depicted in the press as a feminist catfight. How does she get on with Germaine now?

"I dont see her. I bumped into her recently and had a perfectly normal conversation. But it was just one of those things that came out of nowhere."

Eleven years ago, she made the surprising move from The Guardian to the right-wing Mail on Sunday.

Some on the left accused her of selling out. "But then when people started to read my stuff, they said, Its still you, though, isnt it?"

The reasons she accepted were partly, she freely admits, the money, but also the attraction of writing for a huge readership. "I can get my views out to a lot of people, and I have huge respect for the editor, Peter Wright. He doesnt try to change what Im doing."

She also now writes for the Guardian again, which she says has a smaller, but hugely influential audience. "If I write something for the Guardian, Newsnight is more likely to phone me up."

Much of Suzannes early feminism stemmed from witnessing her mothers financial dependence on men. "My mum worked, but she married three times, and each time she was worse off. She felt kept. I learnt that it was not a good idea to rely on men to keep you economically."

Perhaps that is why Suzanne herself has never married, despite having had three daughters by different fathers. Scarlet, Bliss and ten-year-old Angel were born in three different decades. Was it harder to have a baby in her 40s than in her 20s?

"Its always energy versus money," she says. "When I had Scarlet I had lots of energy and no money, and when I had Angel, I had less energy and more money for childcare. I was very, very lucky to have Angel. Its been a joy. Im not looking forward to another teenage rebellion, but I just think, well, Ill probably have dementia by then!"

In last years general election, having become disillusioned with the Labour Party, she stood against Diane Abbott as an independent candidate in her home constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Labours first black woman MP was not best pleased. Lets just say Suzanne is unlikely to be on Dianes Christmas card list.

Suzanne lost her deposit, but won a few hundred votes, and says she approached it as an experiment in democracy. "I was driven by the fact that as this is a safe Labour seat, my vote counted for just 0.067of a vote. It was a return to my old anarchist roots, really. The theory of our democracy is that anyone can be elected, so I wanted to see if anyone can. But of course, in practice, no one can do it without the vast amount of money a political party gives you."

She also thought it would be refreshing to campaign as a real, flawed person. "I was saying, This is me. Im not perfect. Ive led this ridiculous life. Lets have some people in politics who are just normal, instead of people who have been to Oxford, who have to say theyve never taken drugs, and that every relationship theyve ever had has been perfect."

Suzannes mother died of cancer about 14 years ago and, during her illness, mother and daughter were able to settle several of their differences.

"I wouldnt say we resolved everything, but some things were sorted out, and I was able to say to her, You did the best you could, it was really hard for you."

She says she can still hear her mothers outspoken voice in her own writing. "I remember going to a Tupperware party when I was 12, and someone was saying how dreadful it was that someone had had an abortion. My mum stood up and said, Well, if I hadnt, Id have had a whole football team by now! She could be very funny. She gave me the ability to have my say, regardless of what people think of me."

Her views towards her home county have also mellowed over the years.

"People used to say to me, Oh, Suffolks really beautiful, and Id say, No, it isnt! But I remember going back a few years ago, and thinking, Oh my God, the things people said were true. There is a kind of green you get in Suffolk which you dont get anywhere else. And the villages around Ipswich are really interesting. Suffolk is a beautiful county. I just couldnt see it back then."

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