EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
DENYS VAL BAKER AND ST IVES – Jim Burns
EULOGY– Alexis Lykiard
NOT IN THE BOOK - Alexis Lykiard
EIGHT HAIKU - Alexis Lykiard
CREEPER – Aubrey Malone
THE IRONED MAN – Tom Kelly
BODY IN THE ROAD – Mark Ward
BOTTY-BOUND IRONY THROBS – Tanner
GEOGRAPHY – Ken Champio
PHYLLIS DIXEY IN BURNLEY 1959 – Keith Howden
THE ONE-EYED MAN – John Lee
SMOKE – Andrew Lee Hart
PICTURES IN NARRATIVE – Nigel Ford
AFTER THE FALL – Pete Farrar
THREE PERSONS OF INTEREST (3) – David Birstwistle
MISS AITKEN – Bob Wild
MY EXPERIENCE WITH ORAL HISTORY – Fred Whitehead
THE WORKING OIK – A DYING BREED?
Fred Whitehead (Kansas) writes about his collection of radical oik interviews (see p 98). Sam Goldwyn might say such oral histories aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, but I disagree. It sounds a fascinating project. The hard part would be getting these things into print. And if you did want to hear the originals you could easily slip a CD into a pouch on the back cover. Print (pace Socrates) must be the superior medium allowing rapid access, searching and indexing. There’d be pauses, repetitions, redundancies, coughs, burps etc but they could be edited out. We look forward to Fred’s transcriptions and would be keen to publish these as a PPP book.
The authentic voice of the oik is an elusive chimera – we see it The Crazy Oik in the pieces by Tanner and some contributions by upwardly mobile oiks who have obviously long since left the workshop (if they ever inhabited one). John Lee spent a few weeks delivering coal for dad before settling into a job lecturing at Manchester Uni (call that a job?!). Likewise Bob Wild’s anecdotes of a deprived working class childhood and a short stint as a printer also morphed into a job lecturing on Sociology and Printing (Call that a job too?!) Ron Horsefield seems to know a bit about oik lifestyles in his descriptions of workshops and oik habitations but his translations of Proust and Leautaud – even if hesitant and faulty shows the crazy sod has obviously struggled with original texts to which no true oik would give houseroom.
Work seems to be an important metric. As I said in my intro to the Voices website (www.mancvoices.co.uk)
Yes - Voices was different; no doubt about that. And the search for a named slot for this stuff was a pointless distraction. We should have been celebrating its range and variety. Where else would you read a first-hand account of the General Strike, a description of Communist Party activity in a wartime engineering plant, an extended, funny satire on the plight of Irish builders in London? Middle class explorers had occasionally visited this heart of darkness but even the best of them didn’t get it quite right. George Orwell’s Wigan Pier could just as well have been called My Day at the Zoo. Then suddenly the natives were piping up and telling it like it really was.
However, these days, it looks like work – the ennobling struggle with the practico-inert infused with the camaraderie of fellow toilers – is disappearing. Can you get inspired to write about your job as a call-centre helot or an Amazon warehouse box filler? I went on to say:
Work is an oddly neglected area in English fiction (I guess we can leave out what goes on in Universities). Workers must have believed that what they did was somehow unworthy of notice. Philip Callow was an authentic voice but he obviously detested the factory and quickly emigrated to Bohemia. Alan Sillitoe was another who caught the true spirit of the proletarian outlaw but his short time at Raleigh’s didn’t equip him for a deeper investigation of work. But Voices, like life, was full of work.
We might add to this list Peter Currell Brown’s Smallcreep’s Day, surreal and funny but very acutely observed, anything by Sid Chaplin or Barry Hines. And as for specific oral accounts we’d recommend Ronald Fraser’s two volumed Work Penguin 1968 and Stud’s Terkel’s Working Penguin 1985.
But maybe all this is simply nostalgie de la usine, as pointless as bewailing the demise of the village blacksmith. Shouldn’t we be looking forward to a life of creative leisure propped up by our citizen’s wage or permanent furlough? Yes, we should – but don’t hold your breath.
Ken Clay July 2020
THE IRONED MAN
He was a Brother of the Church who went around the parish visiting the elderly and infirm. I tagged along listening to tales of how life was too brief and the past was nothing short of golden. I said little. What could I add? Twelve-years-old, wearing a jacket with frayed elbows and trousers that fitted me a year or two previously. My clothes, like the parishioners’, had seen better days. The Brother of the Church was stoic. He listened. This is what people seemed to crave.
One couple were different. The man had been a Headmaster. He stood ram-rod-like and every part of him seemed as if it had been pressed by a very heavy iron. For whatever reason, he did not smile. His wife was stooped and said little, but did smile as if to compensate for her husband’s inability in the smiling stakes.
The Headmaster was revered by my father. I visited this couple on a number of occasions and each time closely examined the unsmiling and incredibly ‘ironed man’ for reasons why my father thought so highly of him. My mother, who could be cruel and extremely funny when diagnosing anyone, said nothing of the ‘ironed man.’ It was a secret she saved.
Each visit became, for me, an examination, ‘What did he talk about?’ my father would say. A few words of our conversation seemed to satisfy his thirst. He asked if he ever spoke of him. My answers were brevity itself. Generally, of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ variety. I must, however, have sated his desire for knowledge as he headed to the bar with a broad smile.
I would sit in the ‘ironed man’s’ council bungalow; I felt I knew the word ‘council’ intimately as it was one of the few the wife repeated. She said it looking to her husband and that was the only occasion he would remain silent. He side-stepped her glance deftly as Fred Astaire, telling us of college days. The Brother of the Church smiled and looked towards me and I felt we had shared a secret handshake. We were allowing this man to rejoice in his past.
I told my father the story of his rise to become Headmaster: the opponents, a priest who preferred another candidate and eventual victory. At the end of the story, with legs apart, he was king of this particular castle smiling for what seemed nothing short of an eternity.
His reverie was cut short by his wife telling a brutal story with a smile, ending with the harsh words, ‘And now will you tell why the Headmaster and dear wife ended-up in a council bungalow that is so small? And we have had to sell all but what we stood up in.’
As she spoke small red patches appeared on her cheeks. The rouge she used to give her pallid face some colour could not disguise the stigmata of anger. Perspiration deftly followed the contours of steely grey hair. She surprised me by moving quickly round the room, not once looking at her husband, who now sat silently on the high-backed chair. He did not move as his eyes bore into the heavy curtains; I noticed for the first time they were too long and lapped along the thread-bare carpet.
We were judge and jury, this was her summing-up speech. Words she must have garnered over years, vitriol dripped from her now thin lips. I was embarrassed. Sweat ran slowly down my red face. I did not move. She went on and on. Her husband’s anger was tangible yet was stuck in his throat. A bad smell seemed to pervade the room.
I began to capture her words as if they were printed on the dark heavy curtains. The Headmaster had invested all their savings and pension fund into stocks and shares. A man had advised him. Her husband was impressed. She described this man. His movie star moustache, blue pin-striped suit and love of ‘flowery language.’ She underlined this phrase scornfully. Language, with quotes from Shakespeare, won over the Headmaster. Money was transferred to the ‘quoting man’s’ bank account. The man disappeared as did all their savings.
The red mark on her cheeks subsided. The Headmaster stood up slowly. The Brother of the Church nodded to me. We began to leave this domestic storm. The atmosphere was akin to a melancholic Angelus Bell. I didn’t tell the story when dad left for the ‘ironed man’s’ funeral, when I saw him cry for the first time and had me so upset, I held a knuckle in my mouth, not wanting anyone to hear my sobs in the ice-cold toilet.
My mother told me she knew the Headmaster’s story. She thought it best to stay silent. And added, ‘ignorance is bliss.’ After the funeral when dad left for the bar, she held my arm tightly, smiling through near-clenched teeth saying, ‘I have not told your dad. It would break his heart.’ She made me promise never to tell my father.
I remained silent that day and it is only now with dad dead over twenty years I tell the tale of the ‘Ironed Man,’ without hurting him: something I would never do.
The Leader - Conrad Felixmuller