EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
CORONATION STREET THE TRUE STORY – Brett Wilson
JOGGER – Dave Birtwistle
PHILOSOPHERS’ BRAINS - Ron Horsefield
TURKISH TICKET – Marie Feargrieve
GOODBYE DENMARK ROAD – Ken Clay
IN THE BEGINNING – Tom Kilcourse
THE NEW OIK – Brett Wilson
LIBERTY LARGO - Nigel Ford
OIKUS – Dave Birtwistle
MIRACLE IN MONTAUBAN – Stefan Jaruzelski
SATNAV – Ron Horsefield
MY LIFE IN PRINT CHAPTER 9 – Ray Blyde
WINTER WONDERLAND – Dave Birtwistle
POEMS – Bette Braka
THE ANDERSEN SHELTER – Bob Wild
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ULLA HOLMBERG? – Nigel Ford
The Oik intends to make you laugh. We’d offer a money-back guarantee if it weren’t for the fact that you might be a miserable sod who never laughs at anything and who just happened to be brooding over a pint when our Oik seller collared you. You might have thought it a charity rag, like the Big Issue, with the profits going to a leper colony in the Congo. Well there aren’t any profits and although we can imagine what it’s like being a leper, being unknown writers after all, we aren’t inclined to give a hand to any lepers (pun intended).
Perhaps this trivial aspiration (to have a larf) is more widespread than you think. Small literary mags want to change the world or épater le bourgeois (yes, we can do that too) or push back the boundaries; but to have a larf as a main aim? Well let’s hear it from Daisy Goodwin, Orange Prize judge:
"There's not been much wit and not much joy, there's a lot of grimness out there. There are a lot of books about Asian sisters. There are a lot of books that start with a rape. Pleasure seems to have become a rather neglected element in publishing."
Reading the 129 entries to this year's competition had sometimes driven Goodwin to despair, she said, as she revealed this year's longlist. "I think the misery memoir has had its day, but there are an awful lot of books out there which had not a shred of redemption in them. I'm more of a light and shade person and there does need to be some joy, not just misery. I was surprised at how little I laughed ... and the ones where there was humour were much appreciated I can tell you." She accused publishers of "lagging behind what the public want", of not getting that readers do want pleasure and do want enjoyment when they read. "There comes a point halfway through the process where you think: 'Is it me or them?' You just can't bear it anymore. And then you come across this joyful book."
And if we seem to be sidelining the serious business of perfecting the short story cop this from AS Byatt:
I am told by creative writing teachers that many would-be writers imitate that great short-story writer, Raymond Carver. This leads to an almost-rule — consider the fact that there are other ways of writing, besides Carver's. Read very widely, and all kinds of different authors. The American writer Michael Chabon has made fierce fun of that other traditional piece of short-story wisdom — that a story should show a single emotion perfectly and end in an epiphany. Chabon said rightly that a piece of short fiction could tell a story, could set out to entertain, could contain a helter-skelter of disparate things and happenings, and still be a short story.
We now learn that even Raymond Carver couldn’t write a Raymond Carver and that his iconic works had as much as 70% cut out of them by his editor Gordon Lish. It’s all getting a bit scholastic – these latter day Thomas Aquinases are draining the life out of fiction. But hey! Who needs fiction? What boundaries? Just chuck anything in there so long as it works. David Shields explores this idea in his Reality Hunger. Blake Morrison reviews it in the Guardian:
Shields's… loves cut-ups, mosaics, found objects, chance creations, assemblages, splicings, remixes, mash-ups, homages; the author as "a creative editor, presenting selections by other artists in a new context and adding notes of his own". The novel is dead; long live the anti-novel, built from scraps: "I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors-and-paste man," he says. Well, actually, he doesn't say it, James Joyce did. But there are no quotation marks to make that clear, and deliberately so: the book's premise is that "reality can't be copyrighted" and that we all have (or ought to have) ownership of each other's words.
Yep, it sounds like anarchy – and right up the Oik’s street. So don’t worry if you’re not Joyce or Chekhov, or even Gordon Lish. Feel free – just make it interesting…or funny even.
Ken Clay April 2010
Pump.Pump.Pump.Pump.Bump...... Pump. Pump... .The softly resonant but persistent, dampened footfall seeped into his unconscious psyche and brought him into that mysterious half world of waking-sleepfulness. The sound of rubberised grip-soled shoes rhythmically slapping the stone pavement entered his bedroom via the top opened window and hovered on the edges of his perception. At the back of his brain were memories of being a paper-boy up and about, whatever the weather, before the rest of the world was awake. When his bag was down to a quarter full he would take off and sprint the last lap and make it home in time for an extra slice of buttered toast. Now, every morning in spring and summer, he was accompanied by this gently muted thumping.
It began with his whole body at rest, his back and neck at ease and at one with the mattress he lay upon, his right leg touching the warm softness of his wife's thigh and his breathing slow and steady. The soft footfall would fade as the early morning runner padded down the street and headed round the block. As this became a familiar motif to his introduction to the day he began to count. It usually happened six or seven times after he first stirred around 5.30am. The only other early sound, except when it rained, was a single magpie's football-rattle squawk and the gentle breathing beside him.
He now had the routine and the timing off to a tee. Four minutes later he was up and peering through a crack in the curtains. Pad. Pad. Pad. Dum Dum. Dum. He opened the curtain slightly to get a clearer view. That lovely young girl from down the road, her short blonde pony-tail bobbing from side to side, wearing blue tracksuit bottoms, a T-shirt and white trainers, pounded along the pavement, arms pumping like Paula Ratcliffe. She looked young and innocent, alone in an empty world. On the surface everything seemed peaceful, serene. She had no idea how vulnerable she was, how appearances could be deceptive, what could be lurking in wait.
The idea came to him out of thin air although it must have been on his mind in some sort of subliminal way, and then triggered by that gentle, daily rhythm. All week he'd been reading about Philip and Nancy somebody and the woman who was abducted as a child in California, the sex-offender and his wife who'd kept her in tents and a shed in a secret garden, an encampment behind their house in San Francisco. Hidden from view, without giving the neighbours a clue or an inkling, she spent 18 years there bearing the captor two children. He discussed with his wife how on earth this could have happened and she was as intrigued as he was. It chimed with other cases they had read about and half forgotten. There was that little girl, happily on her way to school, about ten years ago in Austria. This Wolfgang Whatsimacalled grabbed her and kept her in a cellar for eight years, no school, no friends, no nothing. All that time on her own with just him checking on her. Then there was that Joseph Schnitzel or Fritter or Fritzell who had actually put his own daughter in a dungeon for twenty four years and fathered seven children by her. No-one had paid a blind bit of notice.
His wife had been the inspiration. They discussed it at length. They wouldn't dream of being nasty. They would be very nice to her, They'd treat her like the daughter they'd never had. They'd feed her well, keep her warm, buy her nice clothes, play cards with her, sit and discuss the things they read in the papers, eat together like an old-fashioned family.
The next day they waited behind the gatepost. It was duller than usual so they weren't unduly worried about being hidden or camouflaged and they let her run round four or five times so she'd be tiring when they stopped her. The footsteps came near. Pump. Pump. Pump. Bump. Bump. Bump. They stood up together abruptly. The jogger hit him so hard he went straight through the hedge. Then she broke his wife's collar-bone with one downward chop, effortlessly regained her stride and was off.
It changed their lives in ways they could not have foreseen. His wife got a job at the John Lewis partnership with shares, flexitime and long-term benefits whilst he got a job in the wine section at Tesco's, stacking shelves and putting sell-by date stickers on the Chateau Mouton-Rothschild.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ULLA HOLMBERG?
I am not loved or liked much either. I'm socially incompetent and my nose turns purple after a couple of beers, which is a shame, because if it didn't I might conjure up enough Dutch courage to be sociable. Needless to say, my relationship with my parents, who are of humble origin, has never been good. I featured neither the brightness nor the resolution to rise above my station, despite my educational advantages, and am therefore a disappointment. Obviously, my status with the opposite sex has always been low. I once had sex with a prostitute to see what it was like, but I was not impressed. The experience failed to "hook" me as they say. I resolved to stick to porn. However, I do have a dog who adores me unconditionally. His name is Nixon.
Recently, I had read an article about the courageous exploits of the Dippers Society in the local newspaper and been drawn towards their ideals. So much so that I had awoken this morning possessed by an irresistible urge to throw myself into the sea and to do so out of season. To be different, like they were. To return to my origins and submerge in the chilly green roil of my roots. I badly wanted to be able to grasp that freedom and shake it about, a symbol of rebellion and rude health. Provide my sorry character with a more heroic identity.
Taking Nixon along on that early spring morning was foolhardy; I hadn’t thought it all through, only the part about taking a dip in the cold cold sea. Having changed into bathers and spread a beach towel on the hard bumpy pebbles, I now faced the problem of what to do with him. I walk Nixon down to the beach regularly, and the option of not taking him along had simply not occurred.
Although a very loyal and trustworthy dog, he was a dog and he liked people and not all people liked dogs. He might approach someone walking along the beach while I was bathing, and his attentions might not be welcome. I contemplated the icy grey sea and the surf foaming and grating the pebbles, trying not to think about jumping in. It looked like soiled liquid ice.
Nixon was eying me quizzically, warm breath panting into my face. At this moment
I saw Ulla Holmberg walking carefully along the path that ran along the top of the beach, a favourite local walk, not least for locals with dogs. Some of the senior citizens in my community are kind enough to chat with me on occasion, being almost always eager for conversation, and Ulla Holmberg was one in point.
Nixon was bounding up to Ulla in no time. Ulla loves Nixon and they were soon making a great fuss of each other. Although Ulla is elderly, she is still robust and should, I thought, be able to dissuade Nixon from jumping on any passers-by. It seemed only natural to ask her to look after him while I took my dip.
‘Jon! How nice to see you! What are you doing here dressed like that? What a windy day! Surely you’re not going for a swim. Won’t it be cold? You youngsters!’
With her words came the realisation that I could not back down now if I wanted to. Face would be lost, our chats would never be the same again. I would risk losing one of my rare social lifelines. The pebbles gripped my toes, pitiless and unrelenting. ‘Hello Ulla. Yes, well, I would like to take a dip, but I was wondering what to do with Nixon. Could you mind him for a few minutes? I don’t suppose I’ll be long.’
‘I’d be delighted. You go ahead, although you must be potty.’ She grasped Nixon’s lead. ‘Come here Nixon, come on! There’s a boy!’ Then turned back to me. ‘Mind you don’t catch your death!’
It was cold, o my it was cold, but an exhilarating achievement. I could hardly believe I was in it, this chilled thick salt water moving me this way and that, pulling at my feet with small painful avalanches of pebbles battering my ankles. I managed three crawl strokes out to sea before the cold became too much and I stopped and touched bottom. Numbed from the waist down, I was standing in the tugging waters, pushing the hair back from my face, when I saw the other dog.
It was approaching along the path and towing what appeared to be two schoolgirl dog-watchers, who had to resort to a stumbling run to keep up. Ulla was standing watching me in the sea, back turned towards them, but Nixon was not; he had lost interest in my antics and was intently watching the other dog. As this drew closer I saw that it was a male. Galvanised into action, I began to wade ashore, my progress painfully slow and clumsy.
I was far too late. They did what male dogs do, they picked a fight with each other. Ulla, clinging heroically to the leash, was no match for the mighty Nixon with all his adrenaline flowing, and was pulled over to crash face down onto those pitiless pebbles.
There was a flurry of dismay, a brandish of mobile telephones, a reproach of dogs. Grabbing my jacket I rushed to Ulla’s aid and turned her over, wrapping her in my makeshift blanket. Her face, covered with blood, did not look good; an ugly gash ran along her hairline. The ambulance arrived briskly and Ulla was whisked off to the County Hospital amid a loud gush of sirens and a swish of blue lights.
I had to go and make sure she was alright. Having first taken Nixon home, I caught the bus along in pursuit.
The County Hospital complex is a daunting maze of random buildings of various ages that fit into each other. At the information desk in the hospital foyer, in response to my request for information as to the whereabouts of Ulla Holmberg, I was asked for my ID. ‘Sorry, I’ve no ID with me. I’ve only come to visit a patient. Bit of a rush.’
She shrugged her shoulders and pouted. ‘I don’t suppose it matters.’ She looked English, or American. Freckles, pink cheeks, and very pretty. ‘Your name please dear?’
English I deducted. ‘Pedersen. Jon Pedersen.’
I noticed she had trouble with the difference between Pederson and Pedersen. Foreigners often do.
‘Pedersen,’ I corrected her, with the emphasis on the “sen” part.
‘Yes. That’s what I said dear.’ She tapped her keyboard. ‘Who’s the patient you’ve come to see?’
‘Ulla Holmberg. She’s only just got here. By ambulance. She had a bad fall.’
She tapped the keyboard again.
‘Thataway …’ She pointed down a wide indoor boulevard, up and down and across which people in whites and greens were scurrying and people in civvies were walking, shuffling and hobbling, interspersed with those slow pyjama crawlers, pushing drop frames and festooned with tubes. Standing gazing at the crowd, I noticed a good many of the hospital staff were foreign looking. I had heard that this was so, but this was my first visit to a hospital, that I could remember at least, and I had not previously witnessed the phenomenon. ‘Follow the yellow stripe,’ she instructed. ‘To the left. This side.’ She shot her arm out to her left.
‘Right. Thank you very much.’
‘To the left. Have a nice day.’
I was aware that “have a nice day” is a standard phrase in America, and apparently, contrary to what I had learned during English lessons at school, among English people too these days, but nevertheless I found it comforting.
At the end of the boulevard I found two yellow stripes leading in opposite directions. I took the left hand stripe as directed. This was interspersed with arrows that indicated I was proceeding in the correct direction, and took me securely and safely up a long broad corridor full of harassed, darkly concentrated people moving with hurried deliberation, and then turned sharp left into a narrow corridor down which I confidently marched. It seemed very easy and no problem at all, a very efficient system of getting around, instead of giving people complicated directions.
Several other stripes had now joined the yellow stripe; a red, a green and a blue. The blue was indicating the same direction as my yellow stripe, while the red and green were pointing back the way I had come.
I reflected that this could be an interesting way to pass some time. To visit the hospital and follow one of these stripes at random, to see where it led. Like a treasure hunt.
Brushing this temptation aside I continued; my duty was to Ulla Holmberg. One by one the blue, red and green stripes led off into other corridors and I was left alone once more with the two yellow stripes.
Further on, the yellow stripe pointing back the way we had come made a sharp left, while my yellow stripe carried straight on. Not unnaturally, I found this disconcerting. With relief I realised there had to be a one-way corridor system. But why? I never did find out.
The single yellow stripe and I took another sharp left into a slightly broader corridor lined with myriad anonymous doors. Then a sharp right turn followed immediately by a right-hand fork.
We arrived, the yellow stripe and I, at a square where there were people sitting on mostly hard furnishings. The yellow stripe stopped. I walked across the square to the mouth of the opposite corridor, but there was no sign of any yellow stripe here. This then, I assumed, had to be my destination.
To the left ran a counter topped by a long glass window with two apertures. Behind each aperture sat a woman in a white coat tapping at a computer keyboard. A sign above the counter proclaimed “reception” and a smaller notice requested “please take a number and await your turn”. But there was no one standing at the counter so I knocked on the glass window beside one of the apertures and the white coated woman busy with her computer in there looked up at me and frowned. ‘Where’s your number, honey?’
American this time then. ‘I don’t have a number. I thought because no-one was standing here…’
‘You need a number, honey; you can get one from that machine there.’
‘I’ve come to visit Ulla Holmberg.’
‘The other people waiting don’t like it when you jump queues honey; that’s naughty.’
‘Just trying to make sure I’ve come to the right place.’
‘Just this once then, but don’t do it again! What’s your name honey?’
‘Pederson. Okay honey.’ She turned back to her computer and tapped the keyboard a few times and looked back at me. She was still frowning but the nature of the frown had altered; it had become one of concern. Her voice had softened too. ‘You’re in the right place don’t worry, honey. Take a ticket and sit down over there. Help yourself to coffee. Someone will be along to fetch you.’
‘Thank you very much.’
‘No trouble. Make yourself at home. And good luck, honey! Have a nice day.’
Her unexpected and sudden affection for me warmed my heart. I felt as if I had won a prize. Clutching my number 53, I sat down in a chair beside a table piled with magazines and used plastic coffee cups and watched the display, which showed the number 47.
A man sat down on the other side of the table. ‘It’s a damned shame, a thing like this happening don’t you think? You read about it, but you’d never dream it’s going to happen to you. Gunnar Dahl. Pleased to meet you.’
‘Jon Pedersen. How d’you do.’
‘What number are you?’
‘Could be ages yet. Probably gone for a coffee break. I’m number forty eight.’
‘But I was here before you.’
‘No, you came after. I’ve been to the lavatory. You need to empty before going in.’
‘You’d better do the same. They moan at you if you haven’t got it all out. You’ve plenty of time.’
‘I’m here to see someone else. Not here on my own account.’
‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a lot more common than you’d suppose. Although I’d say you were young to have it happen to you. It usually happens to men of a certain age.’
A doubt rose in my mind. ‘Excuse me!’ I called to a harried nurse carrying a clipboard.
She slid to a halt on the polished lino and turned.
‘Excuse me. I just want to make sure I’m in the right place. I’ve come to see Ulla Holmberg.’
‘What’s your name darling?’
English again this time. ‘Jon Pedersen.’
She was very attractive in her crisp green uniform and orthopaedic slippers. ‘You’re late, darling ……but that’s alright, we were running a little late too. I’m sure it won’t matter. Hang on just a sec.’
All this attention was extremely gratifying. It was years since I’d been bathed in such concern. I’d hardly sat back down again before she returned, in a great hurry, she was literally tripping along. ‘Come along darling, your turn!’
‘Here!' Gunnar Dahl had risen to his feet, face flushed. ‘I was here before him! I’ve got number forty eight. He’s got number fifty three.'
The nurse ignored him and shepherded me away. I was important, I was redeemed! I was above all, suddenly preferred! I was not sure why I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of such wonderful gifts, but I had no desire to break the spell.
‘Go into a cubicle and take everything off darling, except for your socks, and put on one of the white gowns and the blue foot covers. Please empty your bladder into the lavatory across the way here as completely as possible, if you have not done so already. Then knock on that door and we’ll let you in darling.’
I would put myself entirely in their hands I decided. I was feeding, I was a glutton for favouritism.
Having emptied my bladder to the best of my ability, I knocked on the door situated at the end of the corridor behind which voices could be heard. A different, larger nurse opened it. Very blond. Obviously not foreign. 'About time too Herr Pederson! I hope you’ve emptied your bladder to the best of your ability.' Even this admonition, I sensed, held a degree of comforting concern.
There were two of them in green overalls and a long couch with a television apparatus suspended above it with several other auxiliary appendages, one being a drop. The other nurse was the same English girl who had shown me to the changing rooms. She took my arm. ‘Lie down there please, darling. Make sure you’re comfortable, put your legs up there, push your bottom forward to the end, that’s right, well done, that’s absolutely perfect darling! Nothing to worry about, just going to give you a wash, I’m just going to put in a little local anaesthetic in here. It’s a jelly, stings a bit, but you won’t feel a thing. There’s a big boy.’
It would have been foolish to question it. After all, these were competent, professional people. They were looking after me, treating me like a precious object. My penis felt numb, not painful. It was very comfortable and soothing lying back with my legs up in the supports, putting myself in such caring and capable hands. I drifted off to be abruptly startled by a hearty voice booming in my ear: ‘Jon Pederson! How d’you do Jon? I’m Doctor Mossberg. Let’s have a look at you shall we, you can watch on the screen if you like, some people like to watch, some prefer not to. I’m just going to insert this little chap in here.’
‘That’s it; that didn’t hurt did it? Now I’m going to have a butchers.’
Best to come clean before I lost something essential. ‘My name’s not Pederson, it’s Pedersen. I think there’s …’
‘Nothing to worry about here as far as I can see.’
‘There must be some mistake, my name is not Pederson, my name is Pedersen. With a “sen” ” at the end, not a “son”, and I came here to visit a patient, Ulla Holmberg.’ .
‘Nurse! This patient is supposed to be Jon Pederson.’
‘It is Jon Pederson,’ said the English nurse.
‘It’s Jon Pedersen, I’m afraid, with a “sen” at the end, not “son”.’
‘Can’t you tell the difference between “son” and “sen”? Bloody foreigners!’
I heard the slam of the door behind him.
The English nurse fussed over me while unstrapping me and covered me with apologies. Once I was standing up she went so far as to hug me gently. The other nurse appeared to be busying herself with something in one corner of the room and had her back turned. She was ignoring us I realised, ignoring the embarrassing situation. An overwhelming gratitude welled up inside me. I would not have missed it for the world.
‘’bye darling. Have a nice day!'
I had been loved! I had been cherished! I had been paid undivided attention!
It was not until I was seated on the bus homeward bound, that it occurred to me to wonder what had happed to Ulla Holmberg.