UNDERGROUND MOVEMENT – Tom Kilcourse
MEMORIES OF EMPSON – Ron Horsefield
MY LIFE IN PRINT CHAPTER 4 & 5 - Ray Blyde
HAVE YOU EVER – Ray Blyde
CULTURE SHOCK - Ken Clay
DIANA AND THE ELDERS - Dave Birtwistle
MAD MAX Maxime du Camp (tr Ron Horsefield)
INTENSIVE CARE - John Royson
THE PROBLEM OF IDENTITY - Ralph Bundlethorpe
A MUSICAL INTERLUDE - Bob Wild
AN INCIDENT IN SAINSBURY’S - Gilbert Harrington
THE AWAKENING – Steve Howorth
TOM AND HARRY - Tom Kilcourse
MYRTLE & REG - Rosemary Evans
DOSTOIEVSKI IN SOUTHPORT - P. Myshkin
BIGGLES PULLS IT OFF..Stefan Jaruzelski
Some readers of previous prole lit mags complained they were mostly about blokes banging on about work. The Crazy Oik has avoided that snare up to now but, then again, work is an important part of oik life, almost a defining characteristic, so the Oik welcomes such excursions and makes no apology for leading this issue with Tom Kilcourse’s fine memoir of mining. Remember that when old Etonian George Orwell went prole hunting in Wigan he didn’t join the writers’ circle, he went down the pit. And surely if he hadn’t been distracted by the Spanish Civil War then offered a desk job at the BBC he’d have stayed down there. What larks they must have had in that dangerous darkness! Such illuminating accounts of real work could never arise from the desultory pecking at some professional writer’s keyboard.
Anecdotal autobiography is another oik trope. Yes it can feel like being trapped in a corner by the pub bore if the narrator sticks to the facts and fills in the life history of every fleeting actor. But childhood is a rich lode since it’s here the young oik runs into authority and sex. Ray Blyde struggles with the arcane rituals of the print industry and courting while Steve Howarth renounces nooky on the advice of his priest. Bob Wild relives the wounding rejection of his music teacher and retaliates by desecrating some of our best loved hymns. All true no doubt and not without a certain grisly fascination.
But the true crazy oik is contemptuous of facts – they’re for sociologists. Reality is just the starting point for his mad imaginings. He’s a deranged EA Poe (as if the actual one wasn’t deranged enough), a bogus Borges. This issue’s best example would be John Royson’s bizarre excursion up country with a Spanish chambermaid; written in matching style like something by Sir Thomas Browne on acid. I diffidently suggested he’d had recourse to Roget to which he riposted, unanswerably: “Yis! So what?” We have similar difficulties establishing terra firma with Horsefield’s account of a meeting with Empson (although the letter looks authentic) Likewise with Aquinas and the dustman – such a conjunction is surely preposterous. Bundlethorpe’s wrestle with the problem of identity manages to avoid the analytical aridities of AJ Ayer but seems, somehow, to be blind to the subtleties of the arguments put forward by his cousin’s distinguished tutor Ludwig Leavis. As for the frankly incredible events in An Incident at Sainsbury’s, verification is demanded. I think our readers should be told exactly where this branch of the superstore is.
Translation can be problematic and it is with some diffidence we include an item by the well-known Polish plumber-poet Stefan Jaruzelski. He claims Biggles Pulls it Off was printed originally in Polish and dropped on the Lodz ghetto from a Lancaster in 1943 to boost morale. We can find no reference to this particular item in the WE Johns archive at the Bodleian library, but grudgingly concede that Stefan has transcended his normally fractured pidgin and produced a quite Johnsian rendering. With French we feel on firmer ground having ordered many café au laits in that country. Du Camp may well have been an anti-clerical but we are suspicious of this violent attack on monastic routine. A corroborative visit to the universite de Eurodisney is indicated.
Finally P Myshkin is obviously a nom-de-plume but here at the Oik we don’t demand I.D. The poor devil may well be a regular at Southport’s excellent bookshop just off Lord Street and would certainly be persona non grata were he to be outed.
Ken Clay July 2009
Nothing that he experienced on the training face adequately prepared Brendan Kelly for the Roger seam. The contrasts could hardly have been more stark. It took little time for Brendan to appreciate that the training face had been a playground, a well lit, cool, spacious area where he could pretend to be a miner. There, under the scornful, watchful eyes of Les Tobin, he heaved stones into the wall of the pack, set props, and learned to handle a spade without overloading it. When Tobin’s great bulk waddled off to some other part of the face, Brendan and his two fellow ‘packers’ rested, joking about the old deputy’s weight and his loud, foul mouth. Their banter, and rest, would be disturbed within minutes by roars of contempt for their idleness emanating from Tobin’s tobacco stained gorge. Between gasps for air, the fat deputy would apprise the young men of their chances of ever being miners. “You wait, you idle little bastards. Just wait until you get on a real face. You’ll wish your mother had kept her fucking legs crossed”.
Brendan would have thought it bizarre then if told that he would shortly wish himself back in Tobin’s care. Yet, such were his thoughts before the end of his first shift on face number five. The day began well enough. Eager to lay claim to the collier label he climbed into the top deck of the four deck cage, to be dropped with seventy-nine others down the thousand yard shaft. This was no new experience for someone who had worked down the pit for two years as a haulage hand. Nor was the mile long walk to the brow. The training face was a roughly equal distance from the shaft bottom. Only upon reaching the brow did novelty intrude. There, with the collier to whom he was assigned for a short apprenticeship, he climbed aboard the trams, a line of low four-seater bogies attached to a steel rope. By this they were lowered down the brow, a thousand-yard long tunnel with a one-in-four slope.
Dismounting from the trams the men walked in line for another half mile before reaching the top of the face. By then Brendan was dripping with sweat, his shirt and jeans wringing wet. The draught coming up the face was like a desert wind, warm and heavy. The young man followed his collier's example and shed his shirt and jeans. He stood for a moment, feeling ridiculous, his underdeveloped body appearing frailer than usual with the broad leather belt strapped round his waist and the heavy battery resting on his buttocks. The collier smiled, holding out a piece of ragged cloth. “Here son, stick this under your battery, or you'll end up with acid burns on your arse”. Brendan took the offering and tucked it under his belt to protect the threatened cheeks. Then, stooping, he followed the collier onto the oven of the face, descending the steep slope for forty yards to reach their stint.
The older man probably found his apprentice more of a hindrance than a help, but he did not complain or chivvy the young man when he made a mistake. Old enough to be Brendan's father he probably had teenage children of his own, or so his patient manner suggested. He made few demands on the youth, other than asking him to help lift a bar or set a prop. Only once did he ask the lad to hammer home a wedge, but then took the tool from him when it became apparent that those thin arms lacked the power for such tasks. Nevertheless, when half way through the shift the pans stopped and the face fell silent as men squatted to eat their snap, Brendan was exhausted. He sat on the ground beside the stationary pans and opened the lunch tin his mother had filled with cheese sandwiches. Placed over a bar at the beginning of the shift, the tin had lain in the hot air for some three hours. After taking a couple of mouthfuls Brendan laid the food aside, finding the warm cheese inedible, and far too much in quantity. He must remember to ask his mother for a smaller pack tomorrow, and not cheese. The lad lay back on the rough stone floor, loose pieces of coal that had spilled from the pans digging into his naked back. Despite such discomfort, he drifted into sleep and failed to waken even when the pans again screeched and clanged into raucous motion. What returned him to consciousness was an insistent tapping close to his head. It was the deputy's stick, and the recumbent youth woke to see the supervisors scowling face. “Come on lad, this isn't a fucking dormitory.” As the deputy continued on his rounds Brendan jumped to his feet, banging his helmeted head against a bar. Picking up his spade, he joined the collier in shovelling coal onto the pans. The man patted his shoulder. “Sorry about that son. I left you to sleep for a bit and didn't see George coming.”
As well as contrasting his new location with Tobin's kingdom Brendan compared it with the Oak, the pit in Oldham where he had been sent for his initial training. There the shaft was no more than 300 yards deep, yet it terrified him in the beginning. He recalled the first time he passed through the air lock at the pit-head to see the inch thick steel cable disappearing into the large round hole in the floor. That his life depended on that metal thread frightened him, and had there not been two other youths starting that day he would have turned back through the doors. Had one of the other lads funked it Brendan would probably have followed, but he was not prepared to be the only one to chicken out. But all that was history now.
During the next couple of weeks Brendan became accustomed to the heat of the face and learned much from watching his collier. He quickly realised that sandwiches were not recommended fare in such conditions, and copied Norman in confining snap to an apple or orange. He learned also to conserve his water. On the first day he emptied his eight pint, metal canteen a good two hours before the end of the shift, gulping great drafts of the tepid water at each quenching. Norman showed him the wisdom of taking just a mouthful and swilling it round the gums before swallowing..
Having learned what he could about working a stint, Brendan was placed on the night shift to work under the supervision of one of the packers. Ivor, a small, wiry Welshman who moved like some demented mouse around his pack and in and out of the gob, that area between packs where the roof is left unsupported and allowed to collapse. Ivor took little interest in his trainee except as an extra pair of hands. His aim was to complete the pack as quickly as possible and leave the face for the coolness of the brow bottom. Packers built a wall, a three sided box that abutted the pack built the night before. They used stone that had fallen from the gob roof, and filled in the box with smaller stones to form a solid pack between floor and ceiling. The coalface was like a tunnel, a hundred and forty yards long, that moved sideways into the seam. On one shift colliers would load coal that had been cut, drilled and blasted beforehand, supporting the newly exposed roof with metal or timber bars held in place by pit-props. Later, fitters would dismantle the conveyor and reassemble the pans in the space left by the colliers. On the night shift, packers extended the packs into the space previously occupied by the conveyor. Packs were several yards long, with pack and gob alternating the length of the face.
At the end of his period on packs, Brendan found himself working with a gang of rippers. As the coalface moves sideways the tunnels leading to it have to be extended. The tunnel along which the coal was taken from the face on a conveyor belt, and provided air to the face, was six feet higher than the face itself. Therefore, as the face moved forward large amounts of stone had to be 'ripped' so that steel arches that support the tunnel roof could be inserted. The ripped stone was used to build a pack in the sump, a few yards of face that ran beyond the tunnel. Building that pack was a particularly arduous task because the inflow of air from the tunnel turned up the face, leaving the sump hot and airless. It was the usual practice for the men to take turns at working in the sump, changing over every hour. Unaware of this, Brendan did not argue when, on his first day at the rip, he was sent into the sump for the whole shift. It was a cruel joke.
A shift in the sump was a picnic though when contrasted with a later situation in which Brendan was placed. His training officially completed he continued working on the face while waiting to be given his own stint or pack. One week he volunteered to work overtime on Sunday night doing some work in the lower tunnel, when the face would not be running. On reaching the pit bottom the group was told that there was 'weight on face five'. This was a normal occurrence, though infrequent. As the face advances the packs cannot possibly provide support as firm as the removed coal did. Their purpose is to allow controlled collapse into the gobs while stabilising the rock strata above. Eventually though, the packs prove inadequate and yield to the weight above them. On these occasions the roof of the face begins to press down towards the floor.
Brendan knew little of this as the group took to the trams and descended the brow. At the bottom they split up, Brendan and the deputy taking the upper tunnel to obtain tools, while the other three went to the lower tunnel where they were to work. At the tool-tub the deputy told Brendan what tools to bring, and carried on to inspect the face. When the young man followed his boss there was no sign of the deputy at the face. He could see metal props bending under the increasing pressure, and here and there were piles of fallen rock. Fearing that the deputy was trapped Brendan continued onto the face and started a crouching descent, calling out as he did so. After scrambling a few yards down the slope he could see that just ahead the roof had come down almost to the level of the pans. He stopped, squatting on his haunches to consider whether or not to continue. Just then, a nearby timber prop some eight inches thick broke like a matchstick with an enormous cracking sound. Moving with surprising speed on bent legs he raced back up the face to the safety of the tunnel. That breaking prop probably saved his life. When he eventually rejoined the group, having walked the long way round along the two tunnels, he learned that the deputy had descended the face safely.
Through such incidents Brendan learned to look after himself down the pit, shedding his naiveté. Experience hardened him, so that eventually he not only endured the cruelty that can exist in pit humour, but was able to dish it out. About a year after he finished his training he put an end to the antics of Roy Stevens, a shot-firer. Stevens' job entailed moving around a great deal and he was noted for taking sly swigs from any unattended water bottle. He carried only a one-pint bottle on his belt, quite inadequate on the hotter faces. The men tended to hang their eight-pint bottles from a prop, and Stevens would take great gulps of their water when he thought them inattentive. As a result men occasionally found their bottle exhausted before the shift ended. Deciding to be a victim no longer, Brendan hung a water bottle where he knew Stevens would see it, but the water was heavily laced with laxative. Stevens must have gulped a good half pint before he noticed the unusual taste. He was not seen for the rest of the shift, for the rest of the week indeed. It is said that he had to travel to the surface alone as no other miner would get in the cage with him. Brendan won friends for that prank, which was talked about for some time. Another of Les Tobin's 'idle little bastards' had made it at last.
Brendan worked for twenty years down the pit before it closed. Among those made redundant he was lucky in finding alternative employment. Later, earning his crust in the physically undemanding role of a security guard he heard it said that the closure of the pits was a good thing as men should not have to work in such conditions. Yet he remained filled with nostalgia for his years working with men whom he trusted and respected, cruel humour or not.
Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth DSO, DFC and bar looked out of the window of his Douglas DC3 Dakota and saw an endless carpet of green unrolling 20,000 feet below. The forests of the Belgian Congo were an unexpected sight considering this was 1943 and that he was one of the best pilots in the RAF. His was a special mission to bring vital supplies from Angola to the beleaguered island of Malta. The mighty Pratt and Whitney R-1830-S1C3G Twin Wasp Radial engines droned reliably.
He turned to his navigator Ginger Hebbelthwait.
“What’s Algy up
to back there?” he drawled languidly lighting a Woodbine.
“What the devil
are those two up to?” Biggles muttered angrily. “Better go and find out for
myself”. The Dakota didn’t have an autopilot but Biggles had rigged up his own
version by lashing the control column to a strut with a spare pair of braces. He
pushed through the cabin door and saw an astonishing sight. Algernon Lacey had
his trouser fly undone and was rubbing his erect member while gazing fixedly at
something lying on the sack in the middle of the hold. Ginger, standing behind
him was similarly occupied. Both were groaning loudly and seemed oblivious to
said Algy, “Couldn’t help myself. I was leafing through this copy of the
National Geographical magazine when I came across this picture of a Watutsi
maiden suckling her baby. I mean sir - just look at her! She looks like a dead
heat in a Zepplin race!”
“No. Do you think they hang weights off it sir?”
Biggles decisively “I know these long haul freight operations can be tedious and
that boredom inevitably leads to…erm…So let’s get this over with as efficiently
as possible. Form a circle round the sack and reach round to grasp the todger of
the man in front. Hence I’ll pull off Algy, Algy can deal with Ginger, and you
Ginger can give me a good seeing to. Got that? Right ho! Trousers down”. Soon
the three of them were grunting and groaning in ecstasy while the mighty Pratt
and Whitney engines continued to drone reliably over the endless green of the
Congo. After reaching a simultaneous climax and ejaculating noisily into the
sack which comprised the cargo they fell back exhausted onto the floor.
“Squadron Leader Bigglesworth” the voice rasped harshly “Are you receiving me! This is Air Commodore Foreskine-Knobworthy speaking from Valetta control tower. That sack of fresh coffee is required for the prime minister’s breakfast tomorrow. I trust you are still on schedule. From what I overheard on the radio it sounded like the lot of you were tossing off in the cargo hold.”
“Bigglesworth, Foxtrot Alpha Golf, to Valetta Control. Everything in order sir. We had a slight problem with the seminal fluid pressure which was getting dangerously high. We’ve sorted it out now sir. E.T.A. Valetta is 1830 hours.”
“Don’t try and
bullshit me with that techno nonsense Bigglesworth. I’ve been on enough dreary
cargo flights to know what goes on. How are your mighty Pratt and Whitney Twin
“Good man. Look forward to your arrival. And close that radio channel. If Goebbels gets to listen in there’ll be hell to pay. Over and out.”
“Damn fine show Bigglesworth. Winston was delighted with the coffee. Said he’d tasted nothing like it since 1933. Said it took him right back to his days at Harrow. There was a flavour he couldn’t quite identify but he finally decided it tasted just like a young boy’s cock. So well done. There’ll be a gong in this if I’ve got anything to do with it.”
“Thank you sir. Perhaps the contributions of Hebbelthwaite and Lacey could be recognised too.”
tosspots? I doubt it. By the way, somebody took off in a MkVII Spit early this
morning. It came back with the guncovers shot away and later the navy reported
three German planes in the sea. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you
The sounds of grunts, groans and ejaculations resounded through the throne room. The King went even more pale, snapped shut the jewel case and said:
hear an air-raid s..s..siren? P…p…p…perhaps we’d b..b..better postpone this
award to a m..m..more convenient time”