It is forty years since I started at university, If there was a single tune from the summer of 1979 that formed the background music to the time, to the transition from a provincial sixth form college to life at university in London, it was it was the social realism expressed in the song “Up the Junction” by Squeeze. The song drew its title from the 1963 book and 1968 film of the same name.
The song seemed to grasp the gritty social reality of big city life. I remember being determined at eighteen that I was going to take on the world head on; that the world of “Up the Junction” would hold no fears.
Of course, it never turned out like that. Far from facing “Up the Junction,” becoming a member of a conservative church in Northern Ireland, the most conservative part of the United Kingdom, meant a move far away from the reality painted by the boys from Squeeze. Of course, there was the occasional brush with grittiness, but churches by their nature were place where people were literate and who generally conformed to conservative social norms. “Good living” was the label of people who were especially religious (a label for which I never qualified); by implication, those who were not especially religious were bad living.
There was little real interest among church leaders in engaging with the Up the Junction-type realities on our doorsteps. In one town, a meeting convened to discuss the problems of intimidation and violent behaviour by a group associated with a local marching band and with loyalist paramilitaries brought the suggestion that if one of the band member became a “Christian” then the whole situation would be changed. There were nods of agreement from the others present and a realization on my part that I was out of step with the world; that there was felt to be no value in asking questions about the conditions in which the young people were growing up. There was no interest in asking where they learned the sectarianism that provided a motivation for terrifying neighbours and burning out those who did not respond as the youths demanded. There was no concern to deal with the routine bullying and intimidation that had become a feature of the town.
Moving south of the border in 1999, those who featured in the Irish equivalent of the world of ‘Up the Junction’ were nearly all outside our predominantly middle class community. Similarly, the farming communities among whom I worked in Counties Laois and Offaly were removed from gritty social realism.
Forty years later, talking to teenagers about sex and relationships and the problems of pregnancies, there is a sense of connecting with those who might have featured in the song.