Home Up



Poetry in Deansgate
De Quincey

Disgusted of Gatley
Two Tribes

On Oik Writing


Poetry in Deansgate 

I think I saw Dent last night. Yes I know our names are linked on the opening page of the distinguished Penniless Press but I had nothing to do with that – protesting I was merely a web mechanic and computer geek with no editorial input. Nor did I want any. I felt, when it went up, rather like LBJ on the plane from Dallas. He obviously didn’t want to be sworn-in and later re-iterated this in his “I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party..”. “But surely…” I hear you say. No, it’s a fact, strange but true: I have never met Dent. The only picture I have is a tiny author’s mugshot from the back of his poetry collection When the Metro Is Free– and I couldn’t find that before I went off to the reading in Eliot House Deansgate Manchester on Monday November 22 2010 – a good eleven years since my first appearance in his magazine in 1999. 

The great Jim Burns had tipped me off about the reading. It was organised by John Lucas and featured Jim and two other poets Tony Roberts and Peter Street who were published by John’s Shoestring Press. I don’t normally go to such things but being an admirer of Jim and mindful of fact I was trying to badger him into allowing me to collect and publish (in my amateur fashion) several of his essays (those not appearing in his Beats and Bohemians) I thought I’d better turn up. It occurred to me on the way that Dent might also appear. He is a big mate of Jim’s and of John Lucas’s. Dent’s problem is transport. He has a car but can’t drive. It’d either be by train or courtesy of Madame Dent. So he probably wouldn’t be there. 

Years ago Dent had suggested a meeting in a restaurant after I’d praised the Casa Italia in Southport, but I’d turned it down – I suppose I’m really quite shy. I realised too that Dent wouldn’t recognise me either. He wouldn’t know me from Joe Shite or Jack Shinola. The only pic he had was an equally tiny shot of me in Paris c 1980 which I had grudgingly added to the back of my short story collection Nietzsche’s Birthday (current world wide sales – 0). I later re-jigged this cover removing even this vestigial trace. So Dent and I, on paper co-editors of the distinguished Penniless Press, could be in the same room and not even know it! 

I can’t say I remember much about how Jim Burns looked either even though I had visited him a year ago to drop off copies of The Penniless Press Reader an anthology from the first 25 issues (world wide sales – 18). I’d been invited into Jim’s house in Gatley and scanned his bookshelves while he rummaged upstairs and gave me a copy of his earlier poetry collection Laying Something Down and some issues of a magazine Beat Scene which he co-edits. Neither, come to that, did I know what John Lucas looked like – except that I had seen a program on TV in which he appeared with Eagleton and others in an attempt to destroy the reputation of Philip Larkin. John, in that, looked like an angry bear which has just had its cub snatched away – a wild, hairy creature with a menacing stare. One concluded the poet under consideration must have been a homicidal paedophile. I was glad Phil had died before it went out. I did guess which one was John when I walked into the Becker Room. He had the professorial white clipped beard matching short, curly white hair on his head – now more ovine than ursine. There were about twenty five people in the room, some mad old sods with wild eyes, rucksacks and thick soled shoes. I scanned first for Jim and then for Dent but not really knowing what I was scanning for recognised neither. 

I won’t bore readers with the details. Each poet read for twenty minutes from the book on sale. Peter Street (is this a nom-de-plume I wondered – Peter street is a manc thoroughfare, site of the famous Peterloo Massacre – but probably not since this Peter Street seemed quite apolitical and his whimsical collection was about plants). He worked like a stand-up comedian striding excitedly across the room making eye contact with everyone. I learned a few things about buttercups and knotweed. He was a squarish even squat bloke with a thick black woolly pullover and a wide grin, hypermetropic probably since his big specs made his eyes even bigger. An engaging geezer, but probably mad. Next on came  Tony Roberts. He wore an off-white jacket and had jet black hair parted in the centre like a 1930s football player. He didn’t pace – just read; quirky stuff perhaps a notch up on Peter. One poem described encounters with women in hotels who’d finished up sharing his wine – thus a rhapsody on both – interesting idea what? One stanza described Cotes de Nuits as “something with a bite in it” I thought this odd unless I’d mistakenly attributed a comment on his fellateuse. The final stanza enthused about Muscadet – a somewhat pedestrian beverage drunk in France only at the seaside. There were an impressive number of women, all with exotic names in places like Moscow, Paris and Prague. Who were these fleeting screws one wondered? Hos? Transients? Chambermaids? Then Jim. His was the most interesting reading but that may be just me – Jim’s of my era, class, region and politics, so what’s not to like. 

All these readers were competent and confident but gabbled a bit and made mistakes. Actors, on the other hand, would have been word perfect with a clear delivery but would have hammed it up. Is there a mid position? I’m not against emphatic incantation as such and like Dylan Thomas, Yeats and Tony Harrison. They incant and you’re in no doubt where the poem ends and the commentary begins – a distinction quite lost with the conversational rendering. Of course if the actual poetry is good enough you know about it with or without incantation. Think of Eliot, droning like a speak-your-weight machine or a low voltage Stephen Hawking, it’s still magnificent and, for me, edges out even good pro readers like Guinness and Speight. The poet reading is always definitive. Larkin’s low-key studio bound efforts are illuminating with nuances, irony and emphases you’d have to guess at if you had only the print. And while we’re on the topic, why would the emeritus professor of English at both Loughborough and Nottingham Trent flog up to Manchester on a cold wet night to sell maybe six copies to twenty five punters? It’s a commercial nonsense – but they’re not doing it for the money. This is art. Writers are a lonely, beleaguered species; they need to congregate occasionally to feel endorsed, admired, loved even. It’s the gathering of the diaspora of cultured souls in a desert of philistinism. 

I looked again for Dent. Surely he was here somewhere – perhaps he too was lonely, beleaguered, and in need of endorsement. Rosie pointed across the room. Nah! I said, that’s not Dent. A slouching figure of about fifty odd, in a beige suit and yellow shirt, grinned quite inappropriately and gave off an air both proprietorial and patronising. Proprietorial since Jim was one of his contributors (and also from Preston) and patronising since his smirk suggested that while his minions had done well, he, Dent, could do better – pedagogic would cover this, and Dent was also a pedagogue. Nah! I thought again – this couldn’t be the noble editor – why even his shirt flopped out fashionably over his pants. This strange fashion trope is now endemic from young royals to the prime minister. To me it’s a trope too far. Of no absolute importance of course; not a moral crux. Neither do I wear a trilby and a waistcoat like my dad (something of a dandy if his pre-war photos are anything to go by). I don’t wear gold watches on chains or even a ring. I’m a Jacobin puritan in such matters and expect all my coevals to be the same. Nah! That couldn’t be Dent; he’d have his shirt firmly tucked in. The danger with this fad is that any passing girl can reach out and before you know it touch your naked body. Then I looked at the seat next to him. This lady seemed of a similar vintage, well-dressed, well coiffed, glamorous but perhaps a little severe. She wore specs on top of her head; the look made famous by Jackie Kennedy. But what did it mean here? Look at my hair? Aren’t I a rebel? More like “Yes, I am short-sighted but there’s nothing in this room I want to see clearly”. Bored – she did look a bit bored throughout and that was another clue. I knew Madame Dent took little interest in Dent’s barmy hobby (ie tending the nation’s literary assets ) – she’s not quite Nora Barnacle but of that sorority. She worked in a solicitor’s office. She drove the car. She had her head screwed on. 

Were there any other pieces in this jigsaw? Next to Madame D was a young girl, perhaps twenty with black stockings, long straight brown hair and big eyes. Holding her hand throughout was her beau, a rather beefy chap to whom I paid little attention. Yes! It was all starting to make sense! Dent did have a daughter who’d just had a baby, Harrison, much loved by Dent – and they were all living together in Chateau Dent in Preston when Jim had rung up. An outing! Yes! Why not? Little Harrison was a slight glitch in this narrative – Dent would never leave him at home alone with the pet Rottweiler like some low-lifes. I guessed baby Harrison was in a buggy in some Eliot House toilet or perhaps stashed behind the receptionist under a shawl. Later, going home, I set out this train of deduction. Rosie wasn’t entirely convinced. “But what about Dent’s daughter’s boyfriend?” she asked. “Wasn’t that a bit strange?” “Strange? Why?” “He was Chinese” “Chinese!?” This aspect had escaped me. It did queer the pitch. Had daughter Dent miscegenated with such an ethnic the offspring would hardly be called Harrison – more likely Chang or Dong. Hmm..Dong Dent does have a ring to it. So maybe it wasn’t Dent after all. I’d have to make enquiries – of Dent – but by email since I’ve never spoken to Dent, even on the phone

I’m sure now that it wasn’t Dent but then the mystery remains – just who the fuck was it? And will they sue? We don’t want another Godfrey Wheelhouse debacle. My next email from Dent didn’t mention any of this but did announce the end of the Penniless Press (after a long illness as they say). A replacement is mentioned. I am invited to continue to run the PP website as a museum; more of which below.

Confessions of an Omlette-on-a-Bap Eater

Eddy was huddled over his halogen heater. It was a cold day – less than zero. No punters in the unit. The old structure had a low ceilinged  brick back bit which you could warm up. Eddy would peer out of it over a half-door, like the ones in stables. In an alcove in this brick womb was a shelf with a TV on which he’d watch the racing. The number of times Eddy has forgetfully failed to back the long-odds winner are legion. The window in the brick back bit looking into the rest of the shop was plastered with foreign banknotes. He even had one of those billion Mark notes from the Weimar republic. Many asked if they were for sale – they weren’t. The new unit, courtesy of the city council, was a much posher affair with an elaborate, high convex roof, like an upturned boat. Eddy’s office was in a corner and about the size of a large shower unit. Like a shower unit it had no roof of its own – so heat just rose into the attic latitudes instead of building up in that small space. Some geezers had passed through a few weeks ago and given their opinion on a fix. What was needed was an internal roof – perhaps a few sheets of 8 x 4 chipboard – then Eddy’d be snug as a bug in a rug.

I knew what I wanted but was briefly detained by several cartons of history hardbacks – all fairly recent and as new. I noticed two volumes of Richard Evans’ classic on the Third Reich but not the rarer middle one; a big book on Mussolini and Mazower’s highly rated work on occupied Europe. A young bloke turned up and rummaged in the boxes emerging with Marx’s Capital Vol 1 a fat Penguin paperback, probably a tenner on Amazon – Eddy asked for five, pointing out, as he did, the publisher’s price of £18. I’m not sure if Eddy doesn’t know about the discounted book trade or simply thinks the punter doesn’t know. This punter grudgingly agreed and Eddy, again as usual, rapidly closed the deal with “Wanna bag?” This suggests the vendor is offering you a freebie while at the same time locking you in. If you say “Yis” or even “No” this indicates that both of you are beyond the haggling stage of the transaction. Remember this if ever you open a bookshop.

After he’d gone I mention that in another box there were Capital Vols 2 and 3. Eddy is consternated. He’s keen on sets and not breaking them up. He imagines that Capital Vols 1,2 & 3 would sell for more than three times vol 1. I try to disabuse him of this misconception pointing out that Marx published only vol 1 and that vols 2 and 3 were lashed up by Engels (whose biog I am currently reading) from Marx’s almost unreadable notes. And that anyway no fucker I know has ever got to the end of Vol 1 and is therefore highly unlikely to come back for more. But on the knottier question of sets I recall he had the rare set The Blitz Then and Now, an incredibly detailed survey of EVERY damaged site in Britain. I learned more about the bombing of Warrington from those books than from my own relatives who lived through it. Eddy had the three volumed set. I had Vol 1 so declined his offer (not cheap). I’d look at these longingly each time I visited. Then some thieving sod pinched vol 1. I alerted Eddy. He was incensed. “It’s damaged goods now Ed” I said “You’ll never get rid of just vols 2 & 3. In fact” I went on, tormenting him “If I wasn’t an honest mate you could almost believe I’d pinched that Vol 1 so I could get Vols 2 & 3 cheap!” Ed’s eyes bulged, for a minute there I think he almost believed me. I got the 2 vols cheap, but not dirt cheap.

As one does in bookshops one often cops a desirable item and resolves to pick it up later. Nine times out of ten it disappears in the interim. But this is Eddy’s stall not some Charing Cross emporium frequented by metropolitan intellectuals. Yes, it’s still there, more or less exactly where I left it last week; De Quincey’s Reminiscences of the English Lake Poets a 325 page hardback (paperbacks of this selection go for almost £20) but because it’s relatively small format and an Everyman edition (but this is no big fault) Ed offers it for £2. And no, Eddy I don’t wanna bag. Eddy asks me to watch the shop while he heads into the Arndale for an omelette on a bap. That might sound wholesome – I mean what can you do wrong with an egg and a bap? Well just try one.

Back home I’m bewitched by De Quincey’s extraordinarily supple, sinuous style – quite out of fashion these days. I have several De Quincey works but selections are quite heterogeneous – you can never be sure what you’ll get without a good look. Where, for instance, would you find his hilarious essay “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant”? So this book filled a gap. I offer Oiklet readers a quote just to give you the flavour. It’s from his essay on ST Coleridge. Not only is the prose miraculously fluent but the sentiment might appeal to modern oiks too.

Certain I am, from the lively esteem expressed towards Coleridge at this time by the people of Bridgewater, that a very large subscription might, in that town, have been raised to support him amongst them, in the character of a lecturer, or philosophical professor. Especially I remarked that the young men of the place manifested the most liberal interest in all that concerned him; and I can add my attestation to that of Mr. Coleridge himself, when describing an evening spent amongst the enlightened tradesmen of Birmingham, that nowhere is more unaffected good sense exhibited, and particularly nowhere more elasticity and freshness of mind, than in the conversation of the reading men in manufacturing towns. In Kendal, especially, in Bridgewater, and in Manchester, I have witnessed more interesting conversations, as much information, and more natural eloquence in conveying it, than usually in literary cities, or in places professedly learned. One reason for this is that in trading towns the time is more happily distributed; the day given to business and active duties—the evening to relaxation; on which account, books, conversation, and literary leisure are more cordially enjoyed: the same satiation never can take place which too frequently deadens the genial enjoyment of those who have a surfeit of books and a monotony of leisure. Another reason is that more simplicity of manner may be expected, and more natural picturesqueness of conversation, more open expression of character, in places where people have no previous name to support. Men in trading towns are not afraid to open their lips for fear they should disappoint your expectations, nor do they strain for showy sentiments that they may meet them. But, elsewhere, many are the men who stand in awe of their own reputation: not a word which is unstudied, not a movement in the spirit of natural freedom, dare they give way to, because it might happen that on review something would be seen to retract or to qualify—something not properly planed and chiselled to build into the general architecture of an artificial reputation.


How mags die. Dent informs me that The Penniless Press is defunct and that Issue 28 (July 2010) was the last. He hopes to relaunch something similar MQB (Mistress Quickly’s Bed – no, me neither) in the new year. Just why PP died is something we can only guess at but I imagine the main reason was a declining subscriber list. Dent hopes the new incarnation will re-invigorate the project – just as companies suffering a catastrophe change names (BP thought of it) hoping the punter won’t notice – and generally they don’t. 

PP started out in Autumn 1995 as a quarterly (like the Oik) but soon pushed out to twice a year by Spring 1999. After November 2007 it appeared once a year. Naturally Dent adjusted the subscription – a year’s sub (£10) covered four issues no matter how long you had to wait. And I guess subscribers didn’t mind the wait since the standard was very high with a galaxy of respected contributors. But subscribers may have lost track - my mate Bob Wild was a good example – he’d think he wasn’t getting PP coz his sub had run out. Several times I had to stop him sending Dent another tenner (sorry Alan).  

Dent is a phenomenally hard working editor and virtually a one-man band, but he had other projects (translations) and a full-time job. Yes, my name appeared on the front of later issues but that was simply a gesture to recognise my efforts on the website and help with general computer issues. A description of Dent's modus operandi might illuminate the problems. His only computer is a laptop. Into this he typed every submission and emailed it to me to set up the whole issue. I suggested a scanner and although he did get one it never read text. In the later stages I realised I could digitise images which he attached to emails. Handwritten stuff, of course, had to be typed. All this is laborious. But it worked. In the early days he would set up an issue page by page on A4, print it in 14pt text and hand the complete set of about 80 pages to a commercial printer who would photographically reduce them to A5. The printer would make sure he got the sequence right. Creaky but do-able.  

Things got more complicated when the old printer packed in and the new one insisted on digital MS Word submissions. I would set out the entire mag, pages 1 to 80 on an A5 format. This was readable on the screen and you could page through it sequentially no problem. But the printer would be printing two pages on one A4 sheet and then stapling and folding the complete set. This got complicated. I now had to set up an A4 landscape sheet with a two column display – one column would be a complete page – but its neighbouring column wouldn’t be the next page it’d be the one which needed to appear in the right place in a stack of folded A4 sheets. Hence p1 would be on a sheet next to p80 and page 2 would be alongside p 79 etc. As if that wasn’t brain-burstingly finicky enough an added complication arose in the transfer of MS Word files into the printer’s software package. They were never an exact fit, so no matter how careful you were adjusting the margins and text blocks by the time it got printed the formatting was all to hell. What appeared on your screen bore little resemblance to the printed page. The solution to this, I was informed by my own printer expert (John Payne) was to convert to pdf. We never got to this stage – but the sheer aggro of setting up the final text may have been a factor in PP's demise.

Then there’s the economics. Commercial printers won’t do 50 or even 100 – they generally want runs of 250+. They can do this cheaper than self-publishers like Lulu but you risk getting stuck with unsold copies. I suggested that we went down the Lulu route – advantages; no formatting problems, no unsold stock, a better looking end product but Dent was committed to keeping the price down. I don’t know the exact figures but a sub of £10 for four issues with postage these days at about 80P an issue means that even if the printer could do 250 at £1 each you’d have to sell at least 190 to break even after an initial outlay of £400 (which is about what Dent told me an issue cost). So if subs drop below 190 you’re losing money. This trap vanishes with on the Lulu model – there you only buy what you can sell. The actual mag from Lulu is around £3 but there’s no unsold overhang. The downside is that, with postage, it’d cost the reader £4 instead of £2.50.  

Dent wants the PP website to carry on. I designed it as an archive and aimed to get everything that had ever appeared in PP on it. Don’t laugh – I did this for the proletarian lit mag Voices which ran for 31 issues between 1972 and 1984. It is possible. The danger with a live magazine, however, is that readers may not subscribe knowing they could get everything for nothing on the web. Of course you don’t put up stuff from the current issue but still there’s the free-rider problem. Dent plans to avoid this pitfall by having no web presence for the new entity. Worth a try. 

No-one in their right mind would prefer a computer screen to a bound paper book. This may change with tablet PCs like the iPad but right now I’d say the book is supreme. Web based presentation has some massive advantages which I think most people aren’t fully aware of. First: unlimited size. We realised early on that for no extra cost we could put up whole novels on the site. And we did just that with Peter Currell-Brown’s Smallcreep’s Day and Philip Callow’s Hosannah Man – both hard to get and very expensive even if you could find one. Dent’s view, and mine at the time, was ‘fuck copyright’. We guessed rightly that no publisher or copyright holder would take us to court – they’d just say take it down. Which is exactly what they did. Smallcreep’s Day is now available in a new edition and Hosannah Man will be re-published after 50 years in limbo, next year. Lots of other stuff went up on the site too. There is now more additional material on the site than has ever appeared in the paper PP. It’s a cornucopia. Or as my old workmates would say a cornu-fuckin-copia!! And readers? The site gets over 3000 unique visitors a month. We could safely guess that more people read the PP website in a month than have read the magazine during the whole 15 years of its life on paper. Graphics are another plus. Paper PP had none. And hyperlinks – you can zip round the whole site and even get directed to other sites at a click – these advantages are well known. 

And yet I for one still prefer the paper entity and consider that manifestation the higher form. It was a notch up if you got into the paper PP. So I regret its disappearance (but can hardly urge Dent to subsidise my preference). Cyril Connolly, editor of the wartime Horizon, famously said that small literary mags had a life expectancy of no more than 10 years. Well Dent has exceeded that 50%. We shouldn’t be moaning “Why did it fail?” more like celebrating its long and distinguished life – an asset to the literary community.


HOO? Who? HOO! Who Hoo? Well enough messing about. These are Horny Old Onanists and by a stroke of luck I stumbled across five issues of their favourite magazine Health and Efficiency at Eddy’s Emporium. They were from 1942 to 1945. Below is the December 1945 issue. I think they’ll be a rich trove of Oik snippets – the adverts are quite bizarre. I wasn’t myself a horny old onanist in 1945 but I do recall many of my childhood chums who very keen to join the naturist movement in the late 1950s. What they wanted was to wander about these idyllic locations conversing with unclothed ladies but at the same time without having to divest themselves of their own fair-isle pullovers and short pants. I am passing this collection on to the only H.O.O I know – Ron Horsefield who is commissioned to write an article on pornography and naturism for Oik 8.


Another surprise at Eddy’s was the appearance of crime writer Sean Parker (a pseudonym). Many distinguished writers and artists turn up here (if Eddy is to be believed). I can confirm that John Ellis – military historian – author of the acclaimed world war one classic Eye Deep in Hell pops in occasionally. Eddy says that noted NW painter Geoffrey Key also visits. I shall not say too much about Sean since he fears being tracked down by manc criminals whom he has described in his book The Junkyard Dog – available on Amazon at


When I got back I immediately, well almost immediately after checking my H&Es for stains (some copies had pictures cut out) ordered Sean’s novel. Copies were available for as little as 1P – a common occurrence on Amazon – the vendor makes his profit on the £2.78 postage. It seems the unsigned copies are quite rare but mine will come signed. Who knows perhaps Sean will write for the Oik.

Disgusted of Gatley

Brett Wilson writes in oddly old fart mode to describe the joys of Radio Four and the shocking decline in aesthetic standards of modern hoi polloi. This may sound disingenuous from one who only a few weeks ago slagged me off for suggesting he read books of more than 50 pages with no pictures in them. Still one must welcome this belated conversion, if such it is, while declining to loan the new-born culture vulture one's three volume Pleiade of A la recherche. Can it be long before this great cultural critic is ranting against dog shit on our pavements?

Late Night Aesthetics 

I often find myself listening to Radio 4 in the evening, usually in the car, sometimes in bed. It’s a great pleasure, because some of the best programmes are reserved for this time. It’s the crème de la crème of serious radio. Last night we had a panel discussing the effects of programmes such as X-Factor. I’ve never watched X-Factor all the way through. I confess I’ve only watched 10 minutes. But I know it has had an impact on people around me. Like some of the panel, I would prefer it if people were inspired and enthused by Richard Wagner, Caravaggio and Thomas Carlyle, but instead they want to feed off pratfalls, exhibitionism and the narrowest emotional range possible.

The panel agree that cultural relativism has done lasting damage (I agree, but more later), that we have trouble separating aesthetic values from popularity, and that commercialism has run like quicksilver, filling any gap that the aesthetic lapsarians have left unguarded.

It is important to understand that in principle we live neither in an elitist nor a dumbed-down society. We can listen to Madonna or Mahler with a click of the mouse. We can read Andrew Marvel and marvel comics if we wish. But the worry is that the kids listening to 50 Cent will never try an opera and never hear the Bard’s words spoken, because no one will urge them to try. If children are not taught that Mahler is better than Moby then why should they? But let me qualify this with an observation on cultural relativism: CR’s original impetus and power derived from its vitalising effect on the universe of aesthetic value, and as such was necessary. You may think that this weakens my argument but read on…. The problem with values is that they tend to rigidify. This does not halt change, but delays it. There are times when modification is needed but is void, followed by periods when radical overhaul is unavoidable. When CR came along in the 1960s, it had been recognised that a form of cultural imperialism of western values could no longer be assumed. There has been a lot of tearing down and rebuilding in the fifty intervening years. Now we tend to think of ourselves as postmodern, prepared to raid the store cupboard of the past, so long as it is valid. It should be something we proclaim, but instead we tend to hide because the terminus of this adjustment is that we should not be afraid to acknowledge that an African tribal mask is not of the same value as a Vermeer.

When I was a kid, I used to listen to my Dad reciting passages from Macbeth. He wanted to play the lead but had to settle for witch number three. My Mum told me that Michelangelo was a genius and that ballet was high art. I believed he. I still do.

Low culture with its mix of the bubble gum flavoured and inspired is now pressure injected with soft porn, misogyny and homophobia. It’s been decades since soft violence in films gave way to hard core. Peripheral TV channels revel in repetition. Perhaps the acme of this nadir is the tape loop delivering garbage. Talking of dross, how about the spectacle of dross talking? We have the Gerry Springer clones and the cultural sump that was Big Brother exploring the lowest common denominator of low culture aspiration: the desire for celebrity for celebrity’s sake.

But the problem with high art is that it’s a long way to the top. Aesthetics is the knowledge of what is valuable and it has taken centuries of experimentation and invention to understand how the medium of art is able to mofify consciousness. I know that a pop song might be a revelation to a fifteen year old because the idea the song expresses is new to them. It should be the start of a long journey that will sometimes require moral fibre to eschew the alluring dross that is all around.

In the post modern age artists like Beckett and Barbara Cartland cannot live on the same plane, and the young must make a choice which to follow (and there is no upward path to the mountain from Cartland). But some artists were able to inhabit both high and low. Shakespeare wrote plays for the masses, but sonnets for the gentry. JS Bach considered himself a craftsman, and he had to compose a weekly cantata for his church. These quotidian tasks can sometimes produce the sublime. There is no reason why this cannot be done again.



 Two Tribes

Like most big cities Manchester is divided by football. City fans like to think they’re the authentic mancs and that United are supported mostly by outsiders – southerners and even wogs. Since both sides are now owned by foreigners and boast wog stars this distinction seems hollow. But tribalism does not bow to logic. And this state of affairs isn’t new. Gibbon describes factionalism and riot in Constantinople thus: 

A secret attachment to the family or sect of Anastasius was imputed to the greens; the blues were zealously devoted to the cause of orthodoxy and Justinian,  and their grateful patron protected, above five years, the disorders of a faction, whose seasonable tumults overawed the palace, the senate, and the capitals of the East.  Insolent with royal favour, the blues affected to strike terror by a peculiar and Barbaric dress, the long hair of the Huns, their close sleeves and ample garments, a lofty step, and a sonorous voice.  In the day they concealed their two‑edged poniards, but in the night they boldly assembled in arms, and in numerous bands, prepared for every act of violence and rapine. Their adversaries of the green faction, or even inoffensive citizens, were stripped and often murdered by these nocturnal robbers, and it became dangerous to wear any gold buttons or girdles, or to appear at a late hour in the streets of a peaceful capital.  A daring spirit, rising with impunity, proceeded to violate the safeguard of private houses; and fire was employed to facilitate the attack, or to conceal the crimes of these factious rioters. No place was safe or sacred from their depredations; to gratify either avarice or revenge, they profusely spilt the blood of the innocent; churches and altars were polluted by atrocious murders; and it was the boast of the assassins, that their dexterity could always inflict a mortal wound with a single stroke of their dagger.  The dissolute youth of Constantinople adopted the blue livery of disorder; the laws were silent, and the bonds of society were relaxed: creditors were compelled to resign their obligations; judges to reverse their sentence; masters to enfranchise their slaves; fathers to supply the extravagance of their children; noble matrons were prostituted to the lust of their servants; beautiful boys were torn from the arms of their parents; and wives, unless they preferred a voluntary death, were ravished in the presence of their husbands. The despair of the greens, who were persecuted by their enemies, and deserted by the magistrates, assumed the privilege of defence, perhaps of retaliation; but those who survived the combat were dragged to execution, and the unhappy fugitives, escaping to woods and caverns, preyed without mercy on the society from whence they were expelled. 

What prose! One is loth to stop or cut it short – but if you feel like more read Decline and Fall Chapter XL part II. Strangely the only big city sides in the UK to sport green and blue are Rangers and Celtic in Glasgow. During the troubles Rangers fans chanted “Do you want a fish supper Bobby Sands?” at derby matches (I think the tune was She’ll Be Comin Round the Mountain). They’re even more tribal than Manchester – it’s religious. An early note from Brett on the Sharston Bookshop in Northenden reminded me of a foray into this vast, but sterile barn on an industrial estate in South Manchester. Acres of dross are dispiriting but I did come across some fifty year old Rover comics and reprint below two features on Manchester football clubs which may entertain old fart locals (perhaps like Tom Kilcourse who came from Newton Heath). My own appearances at Old Trafford were very infrequent – in those days you stood up throughout and someone might piss down your leg – but you did get to see Bobby Charlton and George Best. A recent reminder of this antipathy was at Eddy’s where crime novelist Sean Parker (see above) pressed on Eddy a glossy red wallet containing United DVDs and artwork. Eddy looked unenthusiastically at the prize (his normal attitude to prospective sellers) until Sean remarked that he didn’t want anything for it – he just wanted it out of the house, being a City fan. Yep – that’s what they’re like.

On Oik Writing

Tom Kilcourse recently sent me a short story which had me convinced it was autobiographical. Bit of a cheek on my part since it described a teenager having sex with his step-sister (Is this illegal?). It wasn't autobiographical as it turned out but it's a tribute to Tom's talent that he had me fooled. Thomas Hardy used to get his plots from West Country newspapers, Flaubert got Madame Bovary from an account of adultery in the nearby village of Ry and then there's Stendhal who wrote "Every day the court reports bring us four of five Othellos".

Tom is quite right to reject the "Oik writing" straitjacket - the Oik isn't a journal for testimonial accounts by horny-handed workers. And, to chuck in another authority, Alan Sillitoe no less, denied there was any such thing as a "proletarian writer" - just good writers and bad. And when you think of it you could hardly get away with calling someone a talented black writer these days since the colour of the author is of no significance as far as the quality of the work is concerned. Empathy is a great virtue in these matters and Tom's wide experience gives him a head start in nailing both nobs and low-lifes - these characterisations always seem spot on to me but it is a popular fallacy to imagine everything comes from an author's direct personal experience. I don't, for instance, imagine Shakespeare was an anti-Semite, a murderer or misanthrope.

An open letter to the editor, 

I “think this autobiographical strain (I presume it is all true) your best mode - rich, honest, moving….” Receipt of this kind remark caused me to do something I rarely indulge in, to take my writing seriously enough to ask why I write what I write. What follows is my feeble effort to answer that question. 

Whether the ‘autobiographical strain’ is my best mode I shall leave for others to decide. If it pleases people, I am delighted, but I believe that to confine my writing to myself as the subject, would be to focus too narrowly. Interest would be lost, if not for the reader, then certainly for me. I am happy to accept the Oik label, and to tell tales from my manual working-class experience, but I last worked in a manual occupation, bus driving, in the sixties. Life did not end when I left Stockport Corporation. Indeed, it was enriched by exposure to Oxford, to University, and on into managerial and intellectual labours. That exposure brought worlds and characters to my attention that I could not possibly have imagined from the confines of Newton Heath, or even Manchester. My writing about this later period increasingly focussed on observation of others and the creation of fictional characters, rather than on my own activities and emotions. 

Novels apart, much of my short-story output would have been impossible without that latter-day experience. It was in Oxford that I observed people who displayed some of the characteristics of ‘Cornflake’ (Sir Edward Kellogg), or Ferdinand d’Aubin of ‘Fair Trade’, it was while working for Sheffield Council that I came upon characters who populate ‘Shamfield Socialist Republic’ and the ‘Principled Feminist’. In my view, my written observations on these characters still merit the label of Oik writing. 

I once remarked that I am not an erudite man, by which I meant that my reading of literature, or fiction generally, is very limited. That is no more than the truth. There is not a single author, other than the philosopher Isaiah Berlin, that I could quote from memory. My taste in reading has always been catholic, embracing books on philosophy, history, physics psychology and anything that caught my interest. Presently, I am re-reading a critique of Islam, written by a Muslim feminist. Note the lack of literary classics. 

I don’t think I have ever read a detective novel, or a piece of political fiction, other than some that purported to be biographies. So, why write a detective story?  ‘Who Killed Clarissa?’ grew out of a short story that I had written, ‘Grains of Sand’. I wanted to develop the characters further, and to see where it led. I found the creation of believable characters, such as the despised Communist mill worker, the children in the boys’ home, the director of that home who leaves his wife for another woman, and the narrow minded bigots of the town, a wonderful intellectual experience. So too was the challenge of developing the plot and sub-plots through many twists and turns to the surprising conclusion: a surprise to me in the beginning. I found this much more absorbing than doing the daily crossword. 

I could go on, but the answer to the question is already apparent: I write as I read, for my pleasure, and about whatever grabs my interest. If what I write pleases others that is a bonus. Not all Oik writers will share my views on this, but such philosophical differences are permissible among friends, perhaps even necessary. 

Tom Kilcourse