Sunday, April 3, 2016

Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood: From Unsung Hero to New Archetype






I shouldn’t say Catherine Cawood, the heroine of the BBC/Netflix series Happy Valley, is unsung, because literally she is sung in the opening theme song - “In this trouble town/trouble I’ve found.” written and sung by Jake Bugg. Maybe I’m old, but if you take the time to find Jake Bugg, he seems incredibly young; his youth and plaintive voice just make the words more poignant.

I want to talk about Catherine and the other characters in Happy Valley as characters, even real people, not as actors in a show, though, in order to talk about the show at all, I have to identify it. I want to talk about Catherine as we experience her.

When we first see Catherine in the opening scene, she is trying to talk down a despondent young fellow about to light himself on fire – “I’m Catherine by the way. I’m 47, divorced, I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroin addict. I have two grown up children; one dead and one who doesn’t speak to me, and a grandson. So… It’s complicated. Let’s talk about you.”

Catherine’s younger sister, Clare is Catherine’s caregiver. Clare is really the only one who reaches out to help Catherine. To hear Clare tell it, she looks to Catherine who “has been taking care of everyone” since Clare was 13 and Catherine was 15, when their father and mother died.

Clare does the cooking and housework, while Catherine fights crime. Clare also volunteers at a local mission. Catherine’s grandson, Ryan is a handful, often getting into trouble at school. Ryan is the child of the rape of Catherine’s daughter, who hung herself soon after his birth. Catherine is still mourning her. The rapist, Tommy Lee Royce is just out of prison for drug dealing, not for the rape. Catherine, and Happy Valley, are about to endure more pain and suffering at his hands. As it is, Catherine finds only one thing to be too hard for her – to remain happy for more than a few moments.

Have you ever seen a burned out woman weep? She sobs for three seconds, then she’s done. Just enough to let the pressure out.

That’s how Catherine Cawood cries. Not for herself, mind you, but out of frustration at not being able to help a victim.


I know that Catherine Cawood is more than a hero, more than a role model. If I had to search for a word, I would say, Catherine Cawood is a new archetype. But, an archetype of what? I want to say matriarch.

I will say matriarch. I don’t know if the producers of Happy Valley will find the term sufficiently sexy. Catherine is definitely sexy. Her blonde hair is tousled, though an attempt has been made to tie it neatly back. Her face is just barely hanging on to pretty. Her figure appears tall and full, long-legged. She’s indulging herself in a secret affair with her ex-husband. Attractive men from her past seem to react sexually to her presence, getting somewhat nervous and awkward when they speak to her up close.

Catherine strikes me as a kind of Amazonian Matriarch. Natural and powerful. When I watch her, I don’t get distracted by false eyelashes, ridiculously tight leather pants or voluminous hair extensions. When I watch Catherine Cawood, I think about what she is thinking.

Catherine is not a detective. She is a soldier. Not a foot soldier, a sergeant. We never see her posing with her gun because Catherine doesn’t carry a gun. She is armed only with her intelligence, her bravery, her strength, and, oddly, her vulnerability – oh, and a stick, a torch and a spray. She doesn’t want to be a detective because she doesn’t want to sit behind a desk, or leave the action of the street. I believe she wants, hands on, to take care of the people.

Catherine should be Queen.

Catherine is a good listener. She listens to everyone. She knows the truth can come from any random source, and usually does. Her sister has broken a case, her son has. Information has come to Catherine from all sides, and she has listened. And seen the connection. I love that about Catherine – that she can see connections where others can’t, usually her superiors. But, she isn’t rogue. And, man, is she quick! Tell her a thing once, and she’s off! Whether the culprit is a drunk police official in a traffic accident or a drug-dealer on an ice cream truck, Catherine doesn’t mind looking foolish or taking a beating. When she’s not in her uniform, Catherine tends to slouch. She’s not graceful, she’s a bit awkward, stumbling a lot, head down, watch cap, natty scarf, down jacket; Catherine holds her head up when she’s in her uniform. Her aging face is beautiful. But, she’s, to coin a phrase, “beat up.” Quite literally. When she appears at a party with a shiner, she mumbles proudly, “It’s just work.”

While Catherine is not unsung, she does remind me of all the everyday, unsung heroes: the nurse who delivered my daughter when the doctor refused to come down because a first time mother “couldn’t be ready yet”; the EMT who leaned over my wounded, bleeding husband and told me, “You have to be strong now. He needs you to be strong.” probably recognizing that I was about to cave, that I’d always relied on him for strength, just by one glance in my direction, she summed me up. Those are just two I heroes know of, two out of all the millions of women who do their job every day and night, helping people, saving lives, giving courage by grace of their own courage.

Catherine is not a superhero. She has no superpowers. She does not fly through the air, nor breath fire, or change the weather. She’d probably get a kick out of it, if she could.

But, Catherine is more than an everyday hero. She is an archetype. An ideal. In a way, she does have superpowers – her intelligence, bravery, strength, vulnerability, all mentioned before – and, her endurance. If she’s knocked down, and she’s been knocked down plenty, she just keeps getting up again.

Catherine also reminds me of the female Boston Irish cabdriver, who made an offhand remark that became famous while she remained anonymous, “Oh, honey, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” She declared this homage one night in the turbulent ‘60s, to her passengers, who happened to be Gloria Steinem and Fay Kennedy.

Catherine is capable of making such a remark, and forgetting it the next instant because she’s on to something else, something equally earth-shattering.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?
The world would split open.”  Muriel Rukeyser

I worship Catherine Cawood. If she knew me, she’d have none of it, for Catherine does not suffer fools, nor does she think very highly of herself. She’d say, “I’m just doin’ me job.” But, since watching Happy Valley, Season 2, I am in awe of her.

Here’s a wonderful exchange between Ann Gallagher and Catherine Cawood:

Ann: “I know I’m pissed [Pissed is Brit for drunk], but, do you know what I think God is? I think God is like this collective goodness that’s in all of us. In someone like you. It’s like you have so much of this goodness. This bigness. It’s like you embody what God is.”

Catherine: “Omnipotent and ubiquitous. God, I’m good.”

Ann and Catherine have a deep relationship, not a sexual relationship, more like the deep bond that arises between two soldiers in combat. I cannot elaborate further without giving away the story, but Ann has very good reason to feel the way she does about Catherine, and Catherine, about her.

Yes, I am in awe. I am transfixed by Catherine’s blue eyes, at the end of the last episode, gazing off into the future thinking, what? What is she thinking? Is she thinking about possibly killing her grandson, the one who broke up her marriage, drove her daughter to commit suicide, the kid whose dad is a deviant criminal still powerful and manipulating from his prison cell? Will she have to do what she just discovered her friend had had to do, assassinate her own flesh and blood because he turned out, finally, despite all her love and care and teaching, to be a monster like his father? Is that what she’s thinking?

Season 3. Please, Season 3.



©Patricia Goodwin, 2016

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Few Words About Bernie's Bird






Everyone is talking about the small bird that landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium in Portland, Oregon. Some people are saying, “It’s a sign.” A sign that Nature is voting for Bernie Sanders. (Let's face it, of the candidates, only Bernie would try to stop GMOs, fracking, pollution, global warming and save the bees!) Others are being silly, “Put a bird on it!” lighting up the Twitter feed, literally tweeting like birds. Still others are conjuring up animated birds to explain to them that while it landed on Bernie, it was still voting for Trump. Ha, very funny.

But only a few are asking, “What kind of bird was it?” Bernie himself called it – symbolically – a dove, come to tell us “No more war!” That message is wonderful, but I hope he knows it was not a dove. Really, Bernie.

A very informed young woman on my Facebook, concerned about our collective break with rudimentary Nature, said the bird was a female house finch. I thought it was a female house sparrow. But, no matter there. The distinction is moot. The bird was small, female, common, of the house, of the ground not the air, and in my view, represented the very people who champion Bernie Sanders – the workers, the everyday men and women, those who struggle, those who commute, who cannot afford the things they need, who try and try and try and sometimes win, and often fail to make life better for themselves and their families. The small bird, that maybe had learned that crumbs may accompany a water bottle, gave Bernie’s plastic bottle a peck, but mostly sat back on the sign “A Future to Believe In” and gazed right at the man.

The audience seemed to understand a few things about birds. Enough to revel in the odd behavior of this one. Small birds are skittish. They may enter a crowded building because they like to nest in the rafters, they may even fly down occasionally, but they do not get very close to most humans. Small birds do not stick around when things get noisy. The collective uproar from the crowd did not frighten the bird. It sat back – another odd behavior, as most birds remain perched somewhat forward when around people, ready to get going – and stayed looking up at Bernie.

I like to think the bird came to remind us about Nature and what we are doing to it. That we should treasure and protect all life. And, yes, I like to think the little bird is a sign of peace. As well as a symbol of joy in the little things.

I want to read a lot into this bird. I’ve been a believer in birds coming to us as messengers. I’ve experienced such visits, from a mourning dove and from a mockingbird after the death of a friend. One of my closest friends, after the passing of her mother, had several visitations from swans, one of which very deliberately turned to face her and stayed a very long time. My daughter was followed and befriended by a jay, not our large Northeastern blue jay, but a smaller, darker variety from a different part of the country. She’s a painter, and while she painted down by the pond near our house, he came and chirped, flew away, came back with a raspberry, chirped again, danced in front of her. We realized, after seeing him do the same thing in our yard, with our raspberries, that he had gone to our yard, taken a raspberry and gone back to her at the pond to show off. She named him Buddy and he stayed by her side all that summer.

I want to tell you what Bernie was talking about before he saw the bird.

Here is what is on the video that no one has yet mentioned –

"and if he or she does their school work seriously, does well, takes school seriously…" Bird enters.

Right now, in a last gasp campaign, Michelle Obama - who tried to tell us about organic food, but was silenced by the powers that be, began to reach out to children once again by surprise visits to local Washington D.C. schools that had gardens - and by this last ditch effort to help America’s children – “Let Girls Learn!”

When I wrote Holy Days, and in fact, when I LIVED Holy Days, I knew that the only thing we have going for us is education. My character Gloria Wisher loves to learn and that love is her salvation.

Education is all we have. Self-education is what Gloria turns to, as a poor child, she teaches herself – to read, to write, to cook, to sew, to ride a bike, to plant a garden – and further, to study and keep studying.

I think Bernie was about to say what I’ve always said, but hey nobody listens to me. Bernie has the podium and it has a bird on it – the education is there if you are serious, if you pay attention, if you take school seriously.

I always like to say, “No matter what you think of your teacher, no matter how lame or stupid you think he or she is, no matter how dull the lesson, keep learning! Use them up and take all you can from them, and move on to new studies and learn, learn, learn. The resources are all around you." I studied in a broken, abusive home, in a library where the rain dripped on the books and outside where I was stalked and bullied. I was literally beaten by the neighborhood kids every time I got an A. But, I kept on getting A’s.

My mother and I used to watch the sparrows take a sand bath in the twilight sun. The dust turned to sparkling gold, and the birds were ecstatic.

“Look how happy they are!” Mama said.

I learned from sparrows how to be happy with little. In America, being content with little is not considered admirable.

Perhaps, if Bernie makes it to the White House, we will learn a new lesson. Brought to us by a very small bird.



©PatriciaGoodwin 2016

Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.