A WINNER’S END – Tom Kilcourse

A FUTURE BECKONS - David Birtwistle




ANZACS – Ron Horsefield

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN –David Birtwistle

CROSSWORD - David Birtwistle




THE TRIP – Nigel Ford

OLYMPIAS – John Royson



Stefan Jaruzelski 

HARRY – Tom Kilcourse




My dad was a great reader but when, as a kid, he was caught in this unsavoury practice, his mum would snatch the paper out of his hands and tell him to stop lazing about and make himself useful. That’d be the normal oik response in those days. Nevertheless, even though I grew up surrounded by library books the family holdings comprising six or seven volumes published by the Daily Express were kept out of sight in the wardrobe under blankets. Those were the years of dearth; books cost money as I discovered after the dog chewed the library’s copy of Hakulyt’s Voyages.

Are Oik autodidacts an endangered species? Their rise and fall is well tracked in Jonathan Rose’s The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes. He writes in 2001 and sees a decline. Some oik writers too see reading as a distraction – the canon is too vast – who can read all that stuff – who’d want to? This debate sprang up on the website in Oiklet 3 so we won’t go over it again. I’m puzzled by this since I believe reading is the essential trigger and that those who write unaffected by the tradition, like Jackie Collins or John Grisham are after something quite unliterary – loot, celebrity, influence, power. Toni Morrison gets back to the primary urge:

Writing for me is just a very sustained process of reading. The only difference is that writing a book might take three or four years, and I'm doing it. I never wrote a line until after I became an editor, and only then because I wanted to read something that I couldn't find. That was the first book I wrote.

There’s much on the website about creative writing and although some writers think it can be taught others advise simply reading: 

Barthelme, asked by a student how to be­come a better writer, suggests reading the entire history of philosophy 'from the Pre-Socratics up through last semester'. The student worriedly replies that Barth has already advised his class to read all of liter­ature, 'from Gilgamesh up through last semester'. 'That too,' Barthelme agrees, and adds: 'You're probably wasting your time on eat­ing and sleeping. Cease that, and read all of philosophy and all of literature. Also art. Plus politics and a few other things. The history of everything.'

Quite, Don – good advice. Are there any contra-indications? Well Hitler wrote a best seller and was indeed a voracious reader but I doubt he’d have got in the Oik. Crazy yes – but what a bore: 

"Books, always more books! I can never remember Adolf without books," Kubizek recalled. "Books were his world." Another early Hitler associate, Rudolf Hausler, who shared quarters with Hitler in Vienna and later in Munich, recalls his roommate reading dense tomes until two or three in the morning. According to Kubizek, this passion for books had nothing to do with leisure or pleasure. It was "deadly serious business." From my own conversations with surviving Hitler associates, it appears that Hitler's nocturnal reading habit was still in place decades later. Margarete Mitlstrasser, one of Hitler's longtime housekeepers, recounted a nightly regimen that included his reading glasses, a book, and a pot of tea. Hitler read intensely, even fiercely. The Berghof estate manager, Herbert Doring, recalled an evening when Eva Braun intruded on one of these late-night reading sessions and was dispatched with a tirade that sent her hurtling red-faced down the hallway. Doring himself exercised extreme caution. Each night before closing the Berghof, he would walk outside to wait until Hitler's reading light was extinguished. On more than one occasion, dawn was breaking on the horizon. Anni Plaim, a Berghof maid, remembered a sign outside Hitler's second-floor study that read ABSOLUTE SILENCE.


My gran would probably have snatched Schopenhauer out of his hands and told him to go and do something useful – like invade Poland. So it’s not just what you read but how you read. As Lichtenberg says: A book is a mirror; if an ass looks into it you don’t expect an apostle to look out. 

Ken Clay December 2010


Tom Kilcourse 

Harry was never a pretty sight, even before the pit-prop altered his face he resembled a damaged Picasso. The accident simply enhanced the impression of menace, the little hard-man. He was small, standing about five-six, but he projected a sense of threat sufficiently strong to deter anyone who might cross him. The hardness was more than skin deep.

My workmate lived in a two-up, two-down terraced house in Hulme, one of Manchester’s rougher areas. The front door opened straight onto the pavement, there being no space for a garden. Harry lived there with his mother and his brother, when the latter was not residing at her Majesty’s pleasure. Harry worked down the pit, and his mother earned her living selling newspapers in the centre of Manchester. The family had acquired a television set, black and white in those days, and Harry invited me round to watch some event, a football match, I think. This was in the fifties, when very few people had televisions, and even fewer actually bought one. Renting a set was the norm for most.

Harry’s mother was out when I arrived, and we settled down in his front room while the television warmed up and flickered into life. Some five minutes later there was a loud rapping on the front door. Harry made no move. The rapping was repeated twice, each occasion ignored by my host, who sat with eyes fixed on the screen. Perhaps the accident had turned him deaf. ‘There’s someone at the door, Harry.’

‘Aye, I know.’

It was then that a face appeared at the window. Some bloke wearing a trilby was standing on the pavement, a hand edged to his forehead as he tried to peer into the room. Harry ignored the vision. The man tapped on the window. Harry’s eyes never left the screen. The man tapped again, with more force. I was now riven with curiosity.

‘Harry, who’s the bloke at the window?’

For the first time, my mate looked up. ‘Aw, it’s just the twat from Newday Electrics, he wants his telly back.’  He resumed his viewing, and the man eventually left, after pushing a note through the letter box. Newday Electrics rented televisions, and offered a rent free trial for a week as bait. Harry had taken up the offer, two months earlier.

We first became friends when working together on the early shift down Bradford pit, a long departed coalmine located where Manchester City now has its ground. At the end of each shift, Harry and I would share a shower, scrubbing each other’s back, then dash to the pub across the road to down a couple of pints before closing.

At that time, the two mates I had knocked about with in Newton Heath had become serious about their girlfriends, so I was at a loose end. So was Harry. We drifted into the habit of meeting up at the weekend, usually in Newton Heath, sinking a few black and tans, and then swaying our way to fish and chips at a supper-bar. God knows what we talked about, but life was a laugh and we were happy in each other’s company. This pattern continued after I left Newton Heath and moved to live in Davyhulme.

We rarely bothered chasing women on these occasions, which was fortunate, given that no self-respecting female would be seen dead with two pissed miners. The one exception that I recall simply underscored the point. We had gone into Eccles town centre for a change one Saturday night, visiting several pubs. By closing time we were well away, and staggered to a bus shelter to await our transport home. There were one or two people already there, some of them having emerged from a dance hall across the road. In the midst of these sober souls was an attractive young woman.

Feigning sobriety, I engaged her in conversation. Her response was friendly, and we followed her onto the bus to take the seat behind. I was working the chat for all it was worth and eventually she agreed to meet me the next afternoon at Davyhulme Circle. Harry paid little attention to our conversation, but stared bleary-eyed out into the dark night. My satisfaction at having won a date was destroyed instantly by an explosion of vomit from Harry’s gorge, some of which splashed onto the back of the young woman’s head. Like a prat, I still turned up the next day at Davyhulme Circle and waited for an hour, sheltering from the drizzle in a shop doorway.

Harry married eventually, and I met my first wife. We also left the pit, Harry to train as a newsagent with one of the multiples in that business while I went onto Stockport buses. Naturally, we saw much less of each other, but maintained loose contact. Passing time mellowed us both, although Harry did not lose the impression of hardness. That served him well when he obtained a house on a council estate. The semi-detached stood on a circle at the end of a cul-de-sac. The neighbours were quiet, well behaved people, with one exception. Harry learned quickly that the chap living opposite him had a reputation that cowed most of the people in the street. My old mate’s reaction to that knowledge says a lot about him. He simply crossed the road and knocked on the front door of mister hard-case. When the gentleman appeared, Harry told him quietly how he and ‘our kid’ might react if provoked. Peace reigned thereafter.

The last time I saw Harry was in the sixties. Several years had passed, during which I had gone to Ruskin College, and he became employed by the multiple news agency, acting as a holiday stand-in at various locations. After that one occasion we lost touch.

It was late in the seventies, when I was living in Sussex, that I felt an urge to resume contact. I wrote to his employer, giving my address and telephone number to pass on to Harry, wherever he might be. Some weeks later the telephone rang, and I recognised at once the Mancunian accent and Harry’s manner of speech. I was delighted to hear from him. The intervening years seemed as nothing, and we chatted amicably for several minutes. He told me which town he was in, with his own business, but not his address or telephone number.

After reminiscing for a while Harry mentioned that he now belonged to his local golf club and played there every weekend. This was so alien to the image of him I had retained that I burst out laughing, and began to pull his leg, using the kind of expletives once common to our exchanges. His silence said at once that I was in error. Harry made his excuses, and we hung up, never to speak to each other again.

The years were not ‘as nothing’, but had changed us both and put our relationship beyond recapture. I hope that he remains happy in his new, more respectable life. Not all oiks wish to be reminded of times past it seems.