EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
A FINE ROMANCE – Stefan Jaruzelski
A DAY IN DA LIFE – Beyoncé White
AWAY THE LADS – Marie Feargrieve
OIKUS – David Birtwistle
BLACK HUMOUR – Tom Kilcourse
TRAIN MAN – Brett Wilson
JIVING JIMMY – Rosemary Evans
SUITED UP – Nigel Ford
CROSSING THE LINE – Ken Clay
TWO POEMS – Bette Braka
NEXT DOOR – David Birtwistle
MR ASKEW’S WAR WORK – Bob Wild
MY LIFE IN PRINT – Chapter 10 – Ray Blyde
ADIOS ZAPATA – S. Kadison
The Crazy Oik’s assumption is that there’s good stuff out there which doesn’t get through the establishment screens. This publishing mafia, the one which knocked back Beckett forty times, is more concerned with finding the next JK Rowling or Jackie Collins. I suppose it should be called, antonymously, the sane bourgeoisie. I guess they have to make money somehow but why not just work in a bank?
Two 18th century outlaws show the way round this block. Rétif de la Bretonne, a French pornographer, and William Blake, an English mystic are now firmly in the Pantheon. No publisher involved. How did they do it? They were printers – and we can all be printers now. Neither was entirely sane – which must have helped. They were archetypal crazy oiks. Blake was a marketing genius too flogging his engravings from a tray round his neck – a technique copied much later by Walls Ice cream in the Odeon and the Ritz.
Oikitude implies a certain naivety, an untutored raw energy. This is a bit more problematic as far as writing is concerned. Naïve artists are common – one features on our cover. There can be naïve composers too – think of Lord Paul Beatle, rated by some as the best song-writer since Schubert, who can’t write or read a note (thank Christ Schubert could). But writers, particularly writers of extended prose (which lets off freaks like Rimbaud) seem to need long immersion in the canon. A first class hons Eng Lit from King’s Cantab must surely be a big help but does the lack of this condemn the crazy oik to dumb introversion?
Well, up to a point – but consider the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamson, winner of the Nobel prize (admittedly he was playing at home – he’d never have got it if he’d been a Jap). He spent a total of about 250 days in school and read virtually nothing, preferring to glance through books which he claimed to absorb intuitively. Ranting was his normal mode such that even Hitler didn’t want to meet him a second time. He gave his Nobel medal to Goebbels who was a great fan. Yep, Knut was a Nazi and as crazy as a coot. But there’s no gainsaying his literary talent – he’s credited with delineating urban alienation. He had his finger on the pulse. He was in touch with the zeitgeist (yeh - and so was Hitler).
So it can be done with the most unlikely resources. We appeal to all English (K)nuts to persevere no matter what Faber and Faber or professor Amis might say. Just get it down and send it in.
Ken Clay June 2010
“You dinna want to go spoiling the bairn with fancy stuff like bloody strawberries hinny. Your nivver made of brass yus knows. Give him a piece of stotty cake man.” This seemed strange to me! Were strawberries very expensive in the North East then? I didn’t want bloody Wimbledon’s quota, just a small punnet. But this was Tyneside between the mid seventies and eighties, a weird and wonderful wacky place.
“The baker will be round soon”, announced Annie my mother in law. On cue the van pulled up outside the front gate. Annie shambled out in her outsize men’s brown slippers.
“Hiya Jacko how yer doin?” she greeted the bread man in his mobile shop. Loaves of Mother’s Pride, packets of Rington’s tea, and trays of luridly coloured cakes filled the shelves.
“Eey Jackie lad these cakes are real little miracles, they’re luvlie like.” They were indeed miracles. As I looked at the stodgy, sticky buns, I could see they were miracles of monosodium glutamate or whatever the confectionary equivalent was. I didn’t say so of course or I would have been viewed as a weirdo, something worse than a vegetarian!
Catapulted into the heart of Tyneside at the age of seventeen from leafy Cheshire, I entered a hard but gut achingly funny world. Geordie jargon alone was a whole new world. It was like learning a foreign language. To be asked “Do yer wear your galooses ower or under yer ganzie?” opened up several wild guesses as to the meaning. Added to this was the strong possibility that it signified nothing at all! They were possibly taking the piss! It did however translate after a lot of ribaldry to “Do you wear your braces over or under your jumper”, which by now I really wanted to respond “Fuck off and mind your own bloody business!” Away the lads and Newkie Brown I soon got the gist of. The chant of football crowds for their team and the swilling of the local beer were the easy bits.
Smoky, grimy coke ovens, mines, shipyards and vast council housing estates made up a grim urban melee, but the humour and wit and survival instinct of this Geordie crowd made an eradicable imprint on my memory. It was an out and out chauvinistic society where “our pet”, knew her place and didn’t really kick up a lot about it. Yet the woman was the mouthpiece of the domestic hearth and was as loud as a foghorn on the Tyne.
“If yer tek me last fag man I’ll cut yer bleedin fingers off.” Annie slept with her woodbines under her pillow and God help Harry if he so much as put a digit near her feather bolster before he left for work in the local foundry at five in the morning. Never a word of endearment between them, but a marriage that lasted the best part of sixty years. It was the biff, bash, boff of aggressive repartee that kept the old buggers going.
I learnt a lot very quickly up there. An especial piece of sound advice was not to put a newly made trifle on the winder ledge. Why you would want to do this anyway evaded me, but hey I was slow to catch on: It was because a lot of the households didn’t own a fridge. So you avoided putting it there because it would get covered with soot from the coke ovens. To make this mistake was a sure sign that you were a feckless hussy and no mistake! Added to this I was a Mancunian and for this I was damned from the start! I was a bloody foreigner man, what could you expect? The girl’s a bloody galoot!
Harry’s flesh was pitted and scarred from the sparks and flames of the foundry that he sweated in for forty five years. Despite this, his favourite sitting position was on the hearth rug in front of the coal fire.
“Move yer arse man. Sit in a chair. Yer not the bloody cat.” Annie had the tin teapot in hand. She had picked it up off the hearth where it sat stewing to a thick treacly brown consistency.
“Hush yer whisht woman and pour the blash”.
Annie moved over his bare shoulders with the brimming teapot. Suddenly a shout went up from the vest clad, crouching Harry, scalding liquid dripped onto his bare flesh.
“You bloody gorm woman, what the hell yer doin?”
He jumped up and ran off to the scullery to douse his burns with cold water. Huge blisters the size of a fist ballooned up immediately. Me being a soft southern nancy, I suggested a trip to casualty ….maybe ….possibly?
“Are you barmy hinny, I donna want to go mithering the doctors, it’s nottin man. Annie get the butter I’ll put some of that on.“
The rest of the family sat around hollering with laughter. It was no big deal and Annie carried on pouring the ‘blash’.
Regardless of the blisters Harry and the rest of the clan were down the working men’s club at half past six to get seats. They didn’t want to miss the “go as you please”. This normally consisted of old fellas playing the spoons and doing a sort of soft shoe shuffle. There was always an Elvis with a strong Geordie accent and a variety of comics with a patter in varying shades of blue verging on black. Black in other ways too, as they were unselfconsciously racist. I was a Mancunian which was another race to them. I’d felt their jibes so knew that.
A great night was had by all, apart from the female of the species who had been left at home, knitting and blowing soot specks off the trifles. There were compensations mind. The men had called in at the local chippy on their way home and staggered in after midnight with lukewarm bags of chips and bags of batter bits, greasy but tasty and cheap. Harry came in, mouthy with the drink on him.
“You’re drunk man. Stop your blether”, announced Annie.
“Give ower woman. You don’t know how good I am to ye. Get yer scratchings down yer gob”. Annie scooped up her vinegar drenched bits and scowled a gummy scowl.
Another purely male arena was the allotments on the edge of town, where the men gathered at weekends and on summer evenings. They were madly passionate leek growers. They tended them like mothers with their babies. They were fed and tickled and measured constantly. Sabotage had been known to be committed, especially if the leeks were good enough to be entered into the local fruit and veg show. Many a morning the cry went up, “Me leeks ‘ave bin bloody knobbled!” This would cast a strong, macho man into a depression or a murderous rage for weeks on end.
“Aw bugger yer stupid leeks man. Pass the peas pudding over.” The Geordie wife’s sympathy knew no bounds. “Av bin in agony all day wiv the tooth ache. Canna be bothered with yer bloody veggies.”
“Yer don’t need that tooth woman. An it’s loose anyways. Come ere, I’ll pull it for yer”.
Two fat nicotined stubby fingers were thrust into Annie’s gob. The wobbly molar was grasped and sharply tugged and the last tooth in Annie’s head popped out!
Crude but effective action.
“Stick it under yer pillow wiv yer fags, hinny. The tooth fairy might tek it and leave yer twenty woodbines” Always a quip, always the banter.
The North Eastern spirit really came into it’s own on New Years Eve. Neighbours roamed up and down the closely packed streets. It was open house, relative strangers could wander in, have a drink, a bit to eat, a bit of chat and move on to the next house. Around eleven thirty, serious discussions took place as to who was going to be the first foot. It had to be someone dark haired and swarthy skinned. God knows why?
“How’s aboot our Les? He’s a lucky bugger.”
“He’s an ugly bastard lets have our Norm.”
The first foot brought luck and prosperity to the household for the year ahead. So, in he came at the front door with a lump of coal and a bottle of whisky to toast in the New Year. What normally happened was that someone knocked on the door at midnight, drunk as a skunk, bald as a coot, minus his coal and with a can of Newcastle Brown clasped under his sweaty arm. But sod it, he would have to do.
It was a good year when the sixties style Formica topped table collapsed under the weight of the booze. It was a lean year when the booze ran out before midnight. It was a memorable year when Ma Harrison delivered another neighbours’ baby in the back bedroom and when a few months later that same neighbour delivered Ma Harrison’s twelfth.
Piss poor, hard working, hard playing people were these Tyneside communities. Raw, gritty, funny people. Rough justice was administered inside the home and out and they got into my foreign, Mancunian psyche. The coke oven fires may be extinguished but when the smoke clears and the angel of the north looms large, these characters traipse across my mind. I can hear their voices still: Aw yer talking shite man, shuddup. So I’ll shut up and call it a day. The girl’s a gorm anyways. “Away the lads”.