Home Up


JULY 2011

Crafty Beggars
Brett's Bedlam: A Sudden Efflorescnce
Working Class Writing - A Chimera?
Oik Contributors - For Further Reading


Crafty Beggars 

Begging is a feature of all big towns but the craziest example I saw was in Strasbourg where a quite competent violinist – I wondered if he was maybe the second fiddle of the Takacs quartet fallen on bad times – scraped away over a cardboard sign which asked for a bung to finance his opération ésthetique – a clue to the nature of this desired intervention was in the bandage over his nose. One hesitated to call him a liar or to snatch off the bandage. The original hooter couldn’t have been big since the site was quite flat – not a Semite then seeking beautification - a hole perhaps due to syph or leprosy or maybe a session of  too ardent nose-picking. I couldn’t help being exercised by this apparition but concluded that decadence really is upon us if beggars, in the capital of Europe, are demanding nose jobs. Where will it end? I’d be more inclined to contribute to young girls demanding breast reduction provided this corrective surgery was justified by an unambiguous display. 

Recalling my experience in Manchester (see Fish in the previous Oiklet) when an oik asked for money to get home having just been released from a police cell I should have said “Certainly mate. If you’ll come with me back to Bootle Street where you’ve just been let out and the filth confirm your account I’d be glad to give you a fiver.” Of course this would lead to a truculent confrontation “You calling me a liar?” Similarly if you were to offer the putatively starving oik in a doorway a cheeseburger instead of a quid he’d be outraged too and probably tell you to stick it up your arse. The more inventive mendicant would say he was a vegetarian or on a gluten-free regime.  

It’s a real problem. Appeals to Christian charity in real cases of need should be treated sympathetically but what the punter resents is being taken for an idiot. So we all become hardened cynics such that if we saw a blood-stained trouser leg and heard a wail of anguish we’d suspect some drug-addict had somehow got hold of a bottle of ketchup. The remedy is to tag kosher beggars. Not with a badge which could be forged or bought but with a chip embedded in his/her skull. Citizens would be given a gun which, when pointed at the chip, would download the beggar’s plight, confirm his status and give full medical history describing just when he lost that leg, arm or went blind. You can get vast amounts on a chip. It would also reveal his last donation and the sum total received since the implant. What could be simpler? No parasitic bureaucracies or expensive premises involved like with the Salvos or Oxfam or the withering obligation, having bought a Big Issue, to actually read that boring shite.

Brett’s Bedlam: A Sudden Efflorescence 

Four new entries to this bizarre corner of the site lead me to fear once more for this writer’s sanity. But this is after all The Crazy Oik and Brett is the quintessential eponym of that title being well nutty (if I might relapse, momentarily into the current demotic). There are too many points on which I disagree concerning his disquisitions on aesthetics, James Joyce, or economics but I fear a confrontation would precipitate and alarming confrontation (as with the truculent beggar – see above). Not that Brett is violent or even impolite, more solidly impervious to argument. One recalls doorstep barneys with Jehovah’s Witnesses when, as a passionate adolescent one had just read Russell and wondered how any sane person could disagree. But they did. I suppose the point isn’t Brett’s sanity (no medic would have him sectioned) but whether he’s entertaining. Well he can be – like a day at the zoo (or, of course, a visit to the Bedlam). He’s a positive gusher of weird shite and I encourage fleeting Oiklet readers to visit this enclosure occasionally. And remember, if you think what’s in there is mad you should see what I keep out. Click here to enter - Admission Free

Working Class Writing - A Chimera?

An interesting take on this perennial subject in this Saturday's Guardian. I extract from Susanna Rustin's piece some remarks by oik novelist Ross Raisin and academic Ian Haywood. Nothing very surprising but confirmation of the oik's dilemma. How to stay in touch with his material after becoming a successful writer. DH Lawrence and Alan Silitoe never managed it - indeed as I said in my intro to Oik 1 Lord Sillitoe actually rubbished the idea of a proletarian writer saying there were only good and bad writers and that the term "proletarian writer" was "an oxymoron which only a moron would use" an idea which Ian Hayward recycles below. To read the full article click on this link Class is Permanent.

He (Ross Raisin) suggests the lack of representations of working-class life is an English thing, and that Scottish and Irish fiction are broader. There has been no equivalent south of the border of James Kelman's powerfully influential use of Glasgow vernacular, while Scottish writers including Irvine Welsh and Warner, and Irish ones, including Roddy Doyle and William Trevor, have all written novels about what it means, and how it feels, to live nearer the bottom than the top of society.

There are exceptions. David Peace, who grew up two streets away from the 60s writer Stan Barstow in Ossett in the West Riding, has carved out a successful niche melding hardboiled American crime fiction with the northern working-class tradition with which he grew up. His trilogy about the Yorkshire ripper was recently adapted for TV. Nicola Barker won the Impac prize for her weirdly wonderful Wide Open, a tale of misfits and missed connections set in Essex.

Those who write about working-class life tend to be working class themselves. But as academic Ian Haywood points out, "the term working-class writer has always been something of an oxymoron because at the point at which this writer gets published, they must have moved away from their original circumstances." By the time Alan Sillitoe published his 1960 classic Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, he was hanging out in Mallorca with Robert Graves.

Inevitably, as the writer's economic position changes because of their education, their life experience changes, too. Livi Michael, who wrote three novels based on her experiences growing up on a council estate in Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester, says that once you become an author, "your class position is rather peculiar. I don't feel that I could write now with any authority about people living on big council estates, so I was looking for something a bit different." She gave up adult fiction and began writing for children. Similarly, Pat Barker wrote three novels about the gritty northern neighbourhood she grew up in, then moved on to write about the first world war.

Marie Feargrieve writes:

Dear Ken i read with interest your piece on working class writing and writers. The most poignant and painful account of true poverty i have ever read is a book by Helen Forrester called Twopence to Cross the Mersey. It was an account of the author's dreadful childhood in Liverpool in the depression years. She was from a middle class family from the Wirral who had fallen on hard times, her Father ex army officer class, who had a breakdown and lost the family money in a financial endeavour which failed. They found themselves in a terraced slum with seven children, both parents mentally unstable with stress and Helen the oldest child trying to bring up her siblings and actually suffering from starvation. I think most authors write about hard times and impoverished childhoods from the comfort and safety of "middle classness" because poverty was and is perceived as something shameful and they can only face it by saying "hey , but i'm a success now ". I think if they were still in the grip of it they would continue to hide away. It's somehow on the par with "the big c" and other non pc topics that we are reluctant to talk about.     Marie.


Oik Contributors - For Further Reading

 I update the extant works of several contributors and provide links to suppliers:

Tom Kilcourse has three new books now listed on Amazon:

Who Killed Clarissa  To Amazon

More Short Stories To Amazon

The Great Collapse To Amazon

Tanner's hilarious collection Dole Anthems is also available To Amazon

Nigel Ford's One Dog Barking is available as a Kindle To Amazon and also as a conventional paperback from his own publishing operation. Nigel explains:

I've started a venture in UK called Worldscribe Ltd. It has 3 sections:
Translations, Printing and Publishing. (I run a
translation agency in Sweden called MT International AB
The idea is for the Worldscribe Translation and Printing sections to support the
Publishing section. The latter will focus on off-beat literature.
We're hoping to publish 3 titles in spring 2012. If you or anyone else
associated with the Oik etc might be interested please contact
Info@worldscrfibe.nu and write  "att. Michael Edwards" on the subject
line. Michael Edwards (Ted) will then respond further instructions.