EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
A COMMUNIST ODYSSEY – Jim Burns
OIKU: GUERILLA ART - David Birtwistle
A COUPLE OF QUIBBLES – Alexis Lykiard
NOT MADE FOR NORTHERN WEATHER - Maia Nikitina
PER ARDUA AD ASTRA –John Lee
OIKU: LEGACY - David Birtwistle
40s NOIR – Ken Champion
INLAND BEACH HUT (3) - David Birtwistle
AL CAPONE’S BAT – Andy Smith
NORMAN – Tom Kilcourse
EMPLOYMENT – Tanner
STACKS - Ken Champion
PRE MOBIES POST “JOB SEEKERS” – Tanner
THE BODY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THE MIND (2) – Youssef Rakha
A NAZI HELMET – S. Kadison
BIRKENHEAD MARKET BOGS – Tanner
THOMAS AND ROGER’S STORY – Peter Street
OIKU : KINDER SCOUT - David Birtwistle
HAIKU: OBJECTIVE BURMA – Alexis Lykiard
FLAMOUS – Chris Carr
Hungarians – what are they like? I used to work with one – Ivan de Nemethy. His dad, a minor aristocrat, brought him out of the Commie paradise in 1956 in a handbag. Years later he got young Ivan a suit on appro for his Oxford interview. Ivan got in, the suit back went back the next day and then he did nothing for three years but tinker with his motorbike. He came out with a third (nobody actually fails at Oxford) and joined us. We soon realised the truth of the old joke that a Hungarian can go into a revolving door behind you and come out in front. Ivan lasted a couple of years and then, disgruntled at not being CEO, joined Black and Decker as the top dog’s PA. Soon after they were both out of a job when B&D went bust.
Pogány sounds similar. Jim Burns’ account of this commie conman fits the stereotype. Josef Pogány “one of the most insolent and totally amoral climbers that the revolution threw to the surface” could just as easily have been a rich capitalist. The Yanks loved him. But he wasn’t really a communist, or a capitalist – he was a Pogányist. The odyssey came to a typical end. Joe got shot.
Youssef Rakha describes another revolution; the Arab Spring which seems to be taking a fresh turn in Egypt with Morsi’s claim to be supreme leader. Robespierre made the same mistake. Youssef’s analyses will be published next year by Penniless Press Publications. He writes fluently in English being a graduate from Hull University. Two other Hull graduates also feature in this issue – John Lee and Tom Kilcourse. Librarian Phil would have been proud – or, more likely, be turning in his grave.
John describes the horrors of life in the RAF as a trainee defender of world imperialism. Tom, as a temporary diversion from his life story, has a snipe at creative writing with his account of Norman, a colossal egocentric bore (perhaps a Hungarian). The Oik website has enough already on the creative writing industry so we won’t go into all that again – except to quote a letter in a recent LRB “It’s odd that so many students told ‘find your own voice’ so often find the same one”
No such boring conformism in the Oik. To cite only one example: Tanner’s front-line despatches from the great dystopia which is Liverpool recall the obscene yet hilarious energy of LF Céline (of whom Tanner is a great fan). Our other oik contributors, we hope, display a similar quirky oddness – the kind which would get quickly removed by the conventional creative writing pedagogue.
So, as the early Pogany might have said “Death to the Imperialism of Literary Conventions!!” (thunderous applause) . Later his slogan would have become: “Fill Your Boots!” “Long Live the Booker Prize!!” “Never Start a Sentence with And!!!” And that’s our last word on the subject
Ken Clay Jan 2013
Norman habitually delivered didactic platitudes to shadows. He addressed anyone he encountered as an object of his own imagination, a stereotype constructed with minimal reflection. He advised on all manner of things without troubling to ask beforehand about one’s experience in life. Any attempt to debate a point with him, or to suggest that he had misunderstood a concept, was met with raised eyebrows and a pitying shake of the head. Norman responded to what he thought one meant, rather than what one said, and his interpretation of meaning sprang from the stereotype. He saw himself as a polymath and invariably opened any conversation with the information that he was a member of MENSA, the association for eggheads. Many were impressed, initially, but familiarity with the man tended to erode any favourable perception. One mutual acquaintance suggested that in Norman’s case MENSA stood for My Ego Needs Stroking Again, a cruel, but shrewd observation.
My house faces onto a small park in which benches are spaced out along winding gravel pathways. From the bay-window I sometimes watch my neighbours strolling in the sunshine, or seated on one of the benches exchanging small-talk. Norman was a common sight there, ambling through the park with hands clasped behind his back, eyes sweeping the terrain in the manner of a general surveying a parade ground. As he approached, local people could be seen to rise hurriedly and walk briskly away. Even the arthritic elderly managed a sprint towards the park exit as Norman neared.
Should someone remain seated Norman would halt before them, raise his eyes to the sky and make some prediction about the weather. He believed that all Englishmen broke the ice with comments on the weather, and Norman considered himself the embodiment of all that was English. Having engaged the other in what passed for conversation he would take a seat and launch into his lecture of the day. To Norman, discussion was an alien concept. His delivery would be unbroken save for the occasional brief pause to check that his audience remained awake. Any attempt to respond was seen as an unnecessary interruption, and possibly impolite. The tiniest detail of whatever event he was describing would be explained as if the whole would be rendered meaningless if the most trivial item was overlooked. The only reasonable response was to stand up and walk swiftly towards the park gate.
Some people were reluctant to adopt this tactic, fearing that Norman’s feelings would be hurt. They presumed a sensitivity that he failed to display. The man was impervious to any alternative ploy, be it attempts to change the subject, affected yawns or one’s eyes glazing over. I confess though to my own reluctance on the one occasion that he caught me unawares. I learned then that Norman knew no embarrassment. Nothing was too personal or banal to escape mention as he revealed that his marriage had broken down, his wife having run away with a speedway rider. A rough type, apparently.
As he psycho-analysed both his wife and the type of man she seemed to prefer, there was not a word of contrition or recognition that Norman might have had the teeniest bit of responsibility for his wife’s departure. I was assured at length that she would soon regret her error and recognise how preferable life was with a cultured member of MENSA. Nor was there any recognition that I may not wish to hear the ins and outs of his marital problems. I eventually made my excuses and escaped, swearing never again to be caught out. He had not asked a single question throughout the encounter.
Imagine my despair therefore when I attended a meeting of my local Writers’ Circle one evening only to find that Norman had joined. When I entered the room he was in full flow to the Circle’s secretary bemoaning the decline in appreciation of English grammar. The secretary’s expression displayed signs of mild panic. She sighed in relief when time to begin the meeting gave her an excuse to move away. Norman immediately looked round the room for another ear. I lowered my head to avoid eye contact.
The circle met fortnightly with a different member on each occasion reading aloud from their latest creation. At the end the rest of us would offer what we believed to be useful feedback, always conscious of the need to encourage a fellow member and of our own exposure at future sessions. Such restraint seemed beyond Norman’s grasp. Throughout the reading he appeared not to be paying the slightest attention, looking round the room sighing and giving the occasional shake of the head. When the Secretary invited our opinions Norman delivered his critique from the paternal heights in tones of a tolerant master addressing a clumsy apprentice. The word ‘patronising’ does not nearly convey his manner.
As it happened, the reader on that first occasion was far from being the Julian Barnes of our little group. Susan French was enthusiastic, but her prose lacked depth. Therefore, we thought that perhaps Norman’s criticism was understandable, though harsh and insensitive. We were wrong. Norman’s behaviour was identical during four consecutive meetings, even when the reader was Toby Nash, generally regarded as the master wordsmith of our circle. That session degenerated into a confrontation between the two men, with Toby becoming heated in the face of Normans unwavering censure. The rest of us sat in shocked silence. Attendance at our meetings began to fall.
By the time Norman’s turn to read came round our numbers had dropped to single figures, nine. I attended the meeting filled with curiosity as to how the self-professed oracle would perform, half expecting a master-class but hoping for a debacle. My hopes were fulfilled. Whereas other members read their stuff while seated, Norman stood, holding a paper in his left hand while the right waved around or stabbed the air to give emphasis. His usual monotone was absent, giving way to dramatic verbal switches between a near whisper and something approaching a shout. The whole effect was most theatrical. As for the writing, clarity had been sacrificed on the altar of cleverness. It was the product of a human thesaurus, meant to baffle rather than enlighten. People began to leave. By the time Norman finished the audience comprised the Secretary, myself, and Toby Nash openly laughing.
Norman never attended the Writing Circle again, nor did I see him in the park after that evening. What happened to him I cannot say, but if you encounter a tall, sombre figure who announces on meeting that he is a member of MENSA, I advise rapid withdrawal.
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Dmitri Moor 1920