EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
THE BEAT YEARS – Ken Champion
BONNY SCOTLAND – Tom Kilcourse
MUMMY’S NEW BOYFRIEND – S. Kadison
ST MACHAR’S BAR – Matthew Baron
HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY – Zohar Teshartok
THE GOOD FIGHT - Tanner
REDEMPTION – Bronwyn Wild
LAITHWAITE’S SPIN – Brett Wilson
SIX OF ONE AND HALF A DOZEN OF THE OTHER- Dave Birtwistle
THREE UNEASY PIECES – Marie Feargrieve
MY LIFE IN PRINT : CHAPTER 14 – Ray Blyde
FOR ME BOSS - Tanner
DIFFERENT STROKES – Brett Wilson & Marie Feargrieve
HAUNTED – Tom Kilcourse
IMAGINE – Sean Parker
THE GREATEST SEX PERVERT EVER – Andrew Pidoux
ACTRESS PART 2 – Nigel Ford
SALAMMBO – Ron Horsefield
THE ODD COUPLE – Marie Feargrieve
You may think this issue of the Oik should appear in a brown bag on the top shelf at a filling station. But I suppose if you do you’d have stopped reading the Oik long ago. We make no apologies for drawing readers’ attention to a great English artist many of whose works are in North West galleries. The Sirens is a recent addition to Manchester’s Moseley Street while the Lady Lever at Port Sunlight holds many more (see Ron Horsefield’s account on page 92). Well not quite a recent addition since it’s been hidden in the basement for the last 150 years. One wonders why.
William Etty, (1787 – 1849) described as a shy bachelor, persevered against parochial prudery, became an RA and got rich. His speciality was the nude and he spent some time in Venice much influenced by Titian. They say he couldn’t draw; they said that about Titian too, but he was a genius at rendering flesh. A mate of mine quietly ogling Andromeda in the Lady Lever, was accosted by a scouse philistine who proclaimed it “pornographic”. What a compliment. Bill would have been proud. But decide for yourself at the great Etty exhibition on at York until January 2012.
This intro may seem off the point for a literary mag but the Oik seeks to widen your horizons – to become more eclectic. To this end we have Brett Wilson introducing us to the ideas of that crazy electrician Eric Laithwaite (Newton was wrong said Eric) and then collaborating with Marie Feargrieve to explore the mysteries of art authenticity – particularly apropos the Greenhalghs, Bolton oiks who managed to fool many in the art establishment. Mysteries? Hardly; it’s what happens when rich git meatheads scrabble for a unique object. Among others the Greenhalghs fooled the Wildenstein Institute with a fake Gaugin. As I write this a Monet, agreed by all the top jockeys to be the real thing has been given the thumbs down by the same institute. It was on TV (Fake or Fortune BBC1 June 19th) Are they discredited, shamed, exposed? No. Seems like the art industry is as corrupt as banking.
Elsewhere, in a purely literary vein, we have great stories by Ken Champion and S. Kadison and two new crazy oiks Andrew Pidoux and Zohar Teshartok. Sean Parker, much mentioned in the Oiklet as the distinguished author of Junkyard Dog, shows us a mode unlike his usual Raymond Chandler and Bronwyn Wild turns in a sensitive piece on the Holocaust. The Wild family now have four contributors. Stalwarts Dave Birtwistle, Tom Kilcourse, Tanner and Nigel Ford prove there’s no lack of authenticity here. Ray Blyde’s autobiography is nearing its end – the next chapter will be the last. Ray himself is in fine fettle but shows no inclination to pursue immortality any further.
Every April in the late 1960s a group of easy-going teenagers from a little, industrial Lancashire town took off for St Ives, found jobs and rooms and stayed till the end of September. During the winter they hunkered down in the northern cold and damp, lived with their parents, worked in shops, offices, factories, on building sites and met up a few times a week to reminisce and plan. Most of them were run-of-the mill youngsters, but two were out of the ordinary: Meg Park who could sing like a diva and Jem Illingworth who drew beautifully and fluently. Meg sang outside The Sloop, on Porthmeor Beach in Fore St among the holiday crowds accompanied by one guitar player or another and Jem drew portraits which he sold to the subjects for half a crown. They were the only two who didn’t need to work and the others who did split shifts in hotels, bars, restaurants and cafes admired and envied their talent and income. They were all trying to be bohemians, but serving egg and chips on rainy lunchtimes or changing beds in a little guesthouse were serious dampers on the sense of living beyond the customary routines and values. Of course, there were the beach parties, the little fires lit at balmy midnights, the cannabis and the sex. The idea of free love was in the background like a tiny cooling breeze on a sultry day, but they paired off and felt reassured by faithfulness. It was only three or four summers. Jobs and marriage broke the group up. But it was something to look back on, something not to have missed.
Meg Park married a fireman and sang in pubs until her daughter was born and Jem Illingworth went to art college only to find there was no work afterwards but teaching. Teaching art in schools he couldn’t think of: he was too gentle to discipline children and his own schooldays had been marked by resentment of teachers who threw their weight around. He couldn’t see why school shouldn’t be voluntary, which made him an outsider. He freelanced a bit as a teacher of drawing and then uncomfortable with squatting in his parents’ house took a job as a draughtsman for an engineering firm so he could afford his own flat. He disliked the routine and found his colleagues frosty. He liked them as people and tried to get on with them, but as employees they were wary of him. His attitude wasn’t right: they were trying to make careers and he was trying to enjoy life. One of the other draughtsmen said to him:
“We’ll never make the big time working here.”
“Maybe not the big time, but a good time,” said Jem.
The restless months went by. He drew and painted in the evenings and at weekends; he met up with the old crowd and relived for a few hours the atmosphere of heedless enjoyment and anticipation of a different world. But Monday morning soon came round. He was at the bus stop at seven thirty. He’d come to rely on the salary. The months became years and somehow it seemed life had slipped away from him.
He was twenty-seven when he met Louise.
She wasn’t arty, rebellious or restless; she worked at the Town Hall in administration. She’d started there at sixteen and being intelligent, diligent and ambitious had risen to a senior post. But Jem didn’t think about that. She was pretty and charming and after years of come-day-go-day relationships it was a delight to have someone he could feel committed to. She complained his flat was messy and she didn’t like him spending long, intent hours drawing but she was so touchingly slim and shapely and they spent such carefree evenings and weekends together, he shut out all thought of anything negative and let himself enjoy the ecstasy of new love. She was twenty-seven too and eager to start a family, so within a year they married and bought a little house in the quiet suburb where Jem’s parents lived. When she became pregnant Jem was thrilled and watching his little daughter come into the world, seeing the woman he loved sweat and strain and grunt and tear to deliver this wrinkled little package of joy was the best and most transforming experience of his life. That everyone on earth had come into the world in the same way meant nothing to him; it was newness. He was a father. He was lifted out of himself and Holly became the centre of his being.
When dark clouds began to assemble in the sky of his happiness he ignored them. All his life he’d ignored unpleasantness: violence, greed, exploitation; they weren’t part of his sensibility. Oh, they were real enough, but he had one life and couldn’t change the world, so he made a small enclave of generosity, friendliness and tolerance and felt that was the best he could do.
“It’s too small,” Lousie began to say.
“It’s fine for three of us.”
“But what if we have another? Or two more?”
“We’ve got three bedrooms.”
“Look at the size of them.”
“Who needs a big bedroom? All you do there is sleep.”
She threw the comment back at him and they didn’t have sex. His sweet, joyous satisfaction turned into dismal misery and on the long walks he took alone by the river to calm his frustration, he realised how he’d let his happiness depend fundamentally on their intimacy, her generous opening to him, and for that he’d been willing to treat her materialist conformism as a midge in summer. He agreed to moving house and increasing the mortgage. She wanted him to push for promotion. They needed two cars. Her friends all had more than one holiday abroad. She wanted a new bathroom and then a new kitchen.
“What does all this stuff matter?” he said flopping onto the sofa and opening a book about Goya.
“It matters more than those books you’re always reading.”
Had it not been for Holly, he’d have cleared out, gone back to a little one- bedroomed flat and pseudo-bohemian relaxation although there was no bohemia in this little place. He realised they’d been trying to do the impossible. The conditions that sustained alternative communities were being wiped out. He’d been sucked into a system he despised. What kept him going was his love for his daughter. That outweighed the irritations of conventional marriage by far. Louise, he realised, wasn’t relating to him. He was husband. He took on in her Catholic mind the characteristics a husband must have. She spent more and more time at her mother’s. They went shopping every Saturday. They came home and talked about what needed to be done around the house. Louise made a list of things he should be getting on with: the bathroom tiles, painting the kitchen…..He found a quiet corner and read about Chagall.
But the hours he spent with Holly were bliss. At home together he read to her for as long as she liked. He drew for her and showed her the rudiments. By the time she was six she could sketch impressive cats, tigers, rabbits, robins, daffodils, trees. He smiled to think she might have his talent. He took her to the best parks, the library, the nice old Italian café which served home-made ice-cream. She held his hand as they walked through town and he imagined everyone must look at them and be charmed by the bloom of their simple mutual love. And the child did love her father. She climbed on his lap and snuggled to sleep and then none of the cares of his life counted for a fig.
Shortly after Holly’s seventh birthday Louise announced she was going back to her mother’s and taking the child with her. He remonstrated and pleaded the girl’s well-being but she insisted she couldn’t live with him: they were incompatible; the marriage was a mistake; she didn’t share his values; she wanted to find someone like herself and be happy again. She went. The house was sold. He got his portion and moved into a little flat where he could do what he liked. He saw Holly every Tuesday and Thursday evening and every second weekend she came to stay. He tried to make things just like they’d always been. But little by little he noticed changes in her he couldn’t fathom. She was less affectionate and responded indifferently to his suggestions for fun. The hours went by so fast he’d hardly time to start getting on the old footing than she was away. One Saturday she said to him:
“Mummy’s got a new boyfriend.”
“That’s nice,” he said. “What’s his name?”
“Is he good fun?”
“Mummy says we’re moving.”
“Does she? Where to?”
He put the plate he was wiping in the drainer and turned to the window. His heart was thudding to break his ribs.
“I don’t want to go to Spain, daddy,” the child said and started to cry.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” he said, picking her up. “You don’t have to go. You can stay with me. We’ll have great fun, eh?”
When Louise came to collect her he said:
“What’s this about Spain?”
“You’ll find out. All in good time.”
“Holly doesn’t want to go.”
“She’s a child. She doesn’t know what she wants.”
But when they were alone he lost his temper:
“For fuck’s sake, Louise. I’m her father.”
“So she needs her fucking father. Children need fathers.”
“I think so.”
“Are you sure it’s not you who needs a daughter?”
“Well of course I need her. She’s my fucking daughter. It’s my place to bring her up.”
“She’ll be fine. She’ll have everything she needs.”
“Except me. Don’t you think she needs to keep her relationship to me?”
“No, I don’t, Jem. Frankly I think you’re bad for her. She’s a bright girl and she needs to be pushed. She can get on in life. All she learns from you is how to sit around reading and drawing.”
“Picasso spent his life sitting around drawing.”
“At least he made some money from it. You don’t make a penny. It’s a waste of time. I don’t want her to grow up like you. I want her to get on.”
“You should want her to be happy.”
“Oh, happiness. You don’t live in the real world, Jem. Everybody manipulates everybody to get what they want. Don’t you understand that?”
He couldn’t answer. His nerves were badly shocked. This pretty, apparently charming woman he’d loved was a monster. He was bereft of means to make contact with her.
He discovered Colin owned language schools in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao, employed young linguists with TEFL certificates and made a fortune. He went to a solicitor to see if he could stop Louise; it cost him thousands to lose the case. The arrangement was he would fly out to see Holly once a month. She would stay with him for a few days at Christmas and for a week during the summer. He comforted himself with the thought of his monthly visit. He booked no frills, stayed in a cheap hotel, explored Madrid with her. But a visit was cancelled because they were going to Malaga and another because she was to stay with Colin’s sister, then he was ill, he didn’t have the money. Three months went by and he didn’t see her.
His little flat was full of pictures of her. He sent her sketches of birds, flowers, trees, people. He recorded messages on tape telling her all he’d done and everything that was happening and asked her to do the same for him, but nothing arrived. He wrote to Louise to protest she was turning the child against him. She didn’t reply. One wet, windy October evening he followed the swollen, swirling river to the old, wooden tram bridge. Through the gaps in the boards he could see the mad water smashing its head against the pillars and the white crests rising up defiantly, falling back to join the next surge. He jumped up onto the barrier, stood still for a second then launched himself headfirst. He was swept fiercely away and his body jammed against a pillar of the next bridge.
They resuscitated him but knew he had brain damage. He was unconscious for three weeks. When he came round, the doctor was surprised he could speak. She asked him what year it was. He had no idea. Who was Prime Minister? He said Harold Wilson. What was his phone number? He didn’t know he had a phone. His physical recovery was relatively rapid. He was able to walk around the grounds, his appetite was good; be when he was taken back to his flat he didn’t recognise it. A clinical psychologist worked with him for months and little by little he pieced together a picture of who he’d been.
“Who is this child?” he asked holding a picture of Holly.
He shook his head.
Going back to his job was impossible. He’d accumulated a little pension and with benefits had enough to exist. Every day he went for a long walk by the river and once, coming back through the town, someone he didn’t recognize stopped him on the street.
“Jem! How are you?”
He smiled and shook the proffered hand.
“Vic. Vic Toulmin. We used to go to St Ives together. I played guitar for Meg Park. Remember. We shared a room one year.”
Jem looked into the man’s face and in his head there came a series of images: a beach, breakers rolling in beneath a blue sky; a fire at night; a girl on the street singing; a young man with long hair in torn jeans and a t-shirt sketching holidaymakers; a pretty girl with a slim waist; a birthing room and a baby’s head stretching the lips impossibly to force its way into the world.
“Vic?” he said. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t remember.”
He let go of the hand and walked on.