EDITORIAL - Ken Clay
FRIDAY EVENING W2 –John Royson
PAMPERS AND LEOTARDS – Marie Feargrieve
THE GREEN SOCK – Ken Clay
SANDRA PULLS IT OFF – Stefan Jaruzelski
WADER AND BADER – Nigel Ford
OIKU – David Birtwistle
AN ITALIAN JOURNEY – Ed Hernandez
BLUE MONDAY – Brett Wilson
NOTHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT – Bob Wild
IN THE KEBAB SHOP – Ron Horsefield
OIKUS – David Birtwistle
THE FIND –David Birtwistle
OIKUS – David Birtwistle
THE WINNER – Tom Kilcourse
MISS NAOMI CAMPBELL – Bette Braka
UN CHEF-D’OEUVRE INCONNUE – Ron Horsefield
MY LIFE IN PRINT – CHAPTER 11 – Ray Blyde
YOUR MUM – S. Kadsion
BONER – Ewan Kerr
A FRENCH OIK MASTERPIECE
The Ideal Palace
I want to live and die as a son of the country, to prove that there are geniuses and energetic men in my class also.
An Italian professor of architecture, visiting Liverpool in the 1950s, asked “Where do you get all this black stone?” Later, confronted by the Albert Dock, he remarked “That’s what you get when you give a lot of money to someone with no imagination”. What would he have made of the Ideal Palace – an extravagant construct lashed up by a French oik with no money and too much imagination? Postman Cheval’s route was a 35 kilometre trek round his hometown of Hauterives just south of Lyon. One day he tripped over a stone which he thought weirdly interesting. He collected more stones and decided to build. For 33 years between 1879 and 1912 he worked alone and tirelessly on this mad project. The neighbours thought he was insane. He was the classic crazy oik – and, even rarer, a crazy oik architect.
The palace resembles Angkor Wat although Cheval could never have seen it, except perhaps on a stamp (Cambodia was a French colony). But it’s not Wat more What-not. Coincidentally the Palais Idéal was singled out for preservation by de Gaulle’s culture minister André Malraux in 1969. Malraux had seen Angkor Wat and was so impressed he pinched bits of it – but got caught. Breton and Picasso were also fans. Today the site is a tourist hotspot getting millions of visitors.
Cheval’s mode d’emploi seems to me essentially gothic. This surely is an oik characteristic – the piling up of interesting accretions without too much concern for the structure. Cathedrals are all much the same shape but it’s the detail, particularly on the west front which stops you in your tracks. ‘Gothic’, and later ‘Baroque’, were originally terms of denigration implying a barbaric departure from classical perfection.
In literature too I’d put the two greatest novelists of the last hundred years – Proust and Joyce in the gothic camp. Ulysses may look well built but it’s really a rag-bag of fascinating fragments (Lawrence called it old fag-ends and cabbage stumps) distributed almost arbitrarily in a handy set of pigeon holes. Likewise a la recherche du temps perdu just grew like knotweed with Proust gluing new bits into the text right up to his death till it quite burst the original plan. Neither were oiks but that mode suits the fanatical obsessive – ie your typical oik.
When I visited the palace a few weeks ago I was struck by how many of the punters seemed mentally defective – blank, long stares, twitching, hunching – I looked around for nurse Ratchett. A coach I suppose. I guess they felt endorsed. Yis, I thought, if the Crazy Oik ever had an AGM this’d be the place. The interior spaces are small and stygian and hold no more than six – perfect.
He was tall and dignified with grey hair, a straight back and a far-away look in his eye. Old Mr. Jackson hadn't yet spoken to the newcomer except for an odd ‘Howdo’ when the new arrival found out that the old man was moving. His wife had been gone for over a year and the general feeling, as far as he could gauge it, was that the old man was grieving, drawn in on himself, simply pretending to get on with life.
Then the newcomer met him in the pub one night, out of the blue. The old man was sitting there on his own, staring into the middle distance when the newcomer came in. The younger man ordered a pint his gaze attracted to the crackling coals in the fireplace when it suddenly dawned on him there were only three other people in the pub besides himself. The farmers didn't arrive till 10 o' clock. A couple were in deep conversation down at the far end of the room and the old man was sitting there on his own, just behind him to the right. 'Hello' said the younger neighbour in a polite tone of voice. ‘Howdo’ said the old man, adjusting the cap on the back of his head.
He thought that would be that. The old man would sit there in his own world, unforthcoming, wrapped inside his grief. So he sipped his pint and looked out of the window. A storm was brewing. Outside the night sky was turning purple into black as it did in that neck of the woods. The wind was beginning to rise over the top of the moor. The moon was hidden behind low cloud and flecks of sleet began to tap the windowpane. It was a cold place in wintertime up here. The single row of cottages down the hill had been built to tuck in and huddle up against the blast. At least the walk home was short and downhill. Even for the old man. He took a good gulp of the pint this time. It was good. Cold, bitter, hoppy. Something about a coal fire on a night like this brought that extra flavour out in the beer, he thought. But you needed the fire to enjoy it to the full.
"Tha’ knows this weather?" He was taken by surprise.
"It's not looking so good" he replied. .
"Snow's on the way," said the old man.
"As God is my judge. It's going to be a rum winter, this one." He'd never seen the old man as talkative as this. The younger neighbour adjusted his seat, faced the old man, gave him his whole attention. "You know all this damp and sleet and rain?"
"Yes I do," he replied.
"Well how many of these bones of mine have rheumatism? Go on, guess. How often have I suffered from that arthritis?" This whole area, open, exposed, the moors, the mist, the cold and the damp seemed a breeding ground, the definitive environment for degenerative bone disease. Most older people were crippled with it. "Dost know how old I am?"
"No, Mr. Jackson, I don't." He was suddenly conscious that this was the first time he had ever used the older man's formal name
"Well. Now then. I'll tell you. I'm seventy six next February." Before he could work out some sort of reply, the old man went on. "Do you know how I've managed to live up here in all this and not have an aching bone in my body for all that time?"
"No. Tell me."
"Nettles," Mr. Jackson said.
"Twice a year, as God is my judge. I stand in the bath. Naked. And I flay myself with a switch of nettle leaves. All over. That keeps rheumatism at bay. Mind you, my eyesight's not what it was." He paused and looked away. "That was the last straw I think. That's why the wife left. She thought it was unnatural. God bless her, wherever she is."
Two weeks later he was gone, Moved to the far side of Preston someone had said. It was a cold winter, living up to all the old man's prophesies. Snow piled in drifts on the fields then melted into the long-dead grass. The bus service became erratic. Sheep died out on the moor. The fires were kept in for weeks on end. By December, the newcomer had established himself as a regular. He was an outsider perhaps to the ‘hidden’ part of the village, the chapel-goers he'd seen on Sunday mornings, but he was now a regular, someone you could talk to in the pub.
A couple had moved in to the old man's house and they just took it for granted that he was a part of the furniture. This feeling of belonging was unexpectedly reinforced when three strangers took lodgings and set up a base. They were from the university at Manchester, the Archaeology Unit. They would be here for six months to look for evidence of Iron Age settlements on the moor. They were going to do surveys and dig. Almost everybody had a keen interest in local history and folklore was a common reference point in conversation hereabouts.
The long, winter nights were now more enjoyable than ever. Whatever the weather he would trudge his way up to the inn with an increasing sense of anticipation. Sometimes just the older farmers would be there and he listened to the tales of sheep and dogs and cattle and dry stone walls and who owned which land and who had married whom. The accents and the dialect made the stories come alive and the crackling fire, the wind outside and the isolation on the moor took him into a world he imagined it was like before radio and television had turned conversation into a thing of the past.
Twice a week the bearded trio from the university would be in there when he arrived. Occasionally they would sit in the comer and pore over sheets of computer prints and talk almost incomprehensibly about geological data. The newcomer wanted to be instrumental in bringing them into the fold, as it were. The farmers began to use him as an interpreter. They were intrigued but unsure as to how to speak to the university types. "I don't know how tha’ manages it lad. Half of what they say is gibberish to me."
To start with the newcomer gleaned only bits and bobs, specklets of information with not much meaning to them. But the picture the archaeologists were building up began to fill itself in. He discovered that the old caves up on Gaulkthorn Heights were occupied at one time during the Upper Paleolithic. He looked that one up. It meant during the last Ice Age. A tribe of hunters came up in the summer months and searched for food on the edge of the glacier which gripped the higher ground. The scientists determined this by the discovery of some disintegrating bits of bone and antler, probably an elk, they said, and two arrow flints which had been embedded in its flesh. This really livened the farmers up when the newcomer reported back.
"Elk? What's that?”
"It's a sort of large deer. A moose. With big horns." he said.
"Get away with you! Up here? And whose arrows were they anyway? Red Indians? Up here?"
He enjoyed exercising his patience and re-interpreting the evidence for them.
"They were a tribe of Stone-Age hunters. Our ancestors. They used to come up here in summer when all this was ice."
"Ice? Summer? You mean these lads were relatives........of ours?”
"Black Jack's grandad more like."
And they would rattle on and speculate and wonder what these primitive peoples looked like and who in the village most resembled them.
"I can just see Beetroot Bob in a tiger skin, howling and shouting and dancing round a fire with a bone through his nose."
He would leave the pub after a lock-in till well past one o'clock, filled with a sense of the span of historic time. The farmers would leave filled with a confused sense of wonder and dark suspicion.
The next week he sat with the three bearded men as they poured over sheets of figures and tables he could hardly fathom.
"What's that?" he asked again.
"It's the pollen profile. It’s the only way we can date activity when it's up to 3000 years old"
It showed that there had been cultivation of crops, a more settled society once the climate had warmed up.
"What we have got here is forest clearance and the beginnings of agriculture."
They were looking for something substantial like a neolithic burial mound or other hard evidence but so far they had to make do with microscopic information like this and a few old bones.
It was enough to get the farmers going again.
"Farmers. Up here? How long ago did you say? Three thousand years. I thought everyone were on t' ark in them days."
"Is ther nowt to suggest they supped ale back then, or what?"
"I bet some of them lads could sup seven miles o' canal after chasing them elks o'er t' moor!"
"What do you reckon them women were like wi’ just them tiger skins on?"
"Black Jack wouldn't kick one o' them out o' bed."
"Black Jack'd shag sheep!"
"I've seen him staring at yon Jacob's tup wi' a right funny look in his eye."
The newcomer was beginning to get the hang of the way they spoke and he tried a few expressions himself. He used 'Hey up' and 'Howdo' quite automatically now as he entered the room. He felt almost one of them. It excited him more than anything else he had done. The dark nights up on the moor, huddled round the fire, discovering magical things about the past. It felt like a conspiracy, a huge secret which he shared with a chosen few. He felt special, he felt wanted and he felt at home for the first time in his life.
The work on the survey was slow and exacting. The information came only in dribs and drabs. When direct evidence was unforthcoming the imagination did the rest and triggered the debate well into the early hours.
"You reckon them lads had more than one wife?"
"They'd have four women in that bear-skinned hut and cuddle up in a heap."
"By the left, some o' them lads'd be well tired out."
"Send the women out to work and stay in all day and recoup."
"Mind you, I don’t suppose they had a Mirror to read in them days."
At the end of January came a find that electrified the Manchester men. They had seemed so calm and methodical. The one who spoke had the face of a startled gazelle. There were only four items but they seemed to hold exceptional significance. The 'mad scientists' as the farmers called them, became very animated and very difficult to understand. The newcomer was now addressed as Tom' even though his real name was Peter. He assumed that the farmers had deliberately chosen the name because he reminded them of someone who used to live round here and had either died or gone away. Trying to find out who it was, was impossible so he simply accepted it and beavered away at his task.
"They've found a stone axe going back thousands of years. And they've dug up a scraper and two flint knives. They think this is really important."
"Stone axe? Flint knives? Sounds like they were all going about coshing people's heads in!"
"Sounds more like a black pudding shop to me. Tha Knows. Smack 'em over t' head, gut ‘em and drain ‘em and boil 'em all up in a brew. Tha knows”
"Paleolithic? asked one of them, ominously.
"These lads are getting to know their onions at last," thought Tom, He was calling himself ‘Tom’ now.
February had come but there was no letting up with the cold. The survey team were still in thermal underwear and one of them spent each day in his eskimo gloves and waders up to his thighs. The low, cold sun allowed them to work from nine o'clock in the morning till half past three when cloud blotted out the remaining sparks of winter light. They had set up what they called 'base camp' at the old quarry near Iconhurst, the oldest farm on the moor.
"Nowt doing for a bit now."
"No," said Tom, "Nothing exciting this week."
"No women's clothing or owt like that?"
"Interfering wi' women's clothing is all you think about."
Then came the big find. Digging among the rushes and the peat on a curiously flat step of the undulating moor, in a field too wet even for sheep, they found a body. For three days they didn't tell a soul until they'd checked and dug again and analysed. Then the day after they told Tom the local press were given the briefest details.
"A three thousand year old corpse?" said the farmer.
"Murdered," said Tom. "The chemicals in the peat preserved him. They reckon he was hit over the head, had his throat cut, then thrown into the bog. They reckon he was sacrificed. An Iron Age victim," Tom added.
Fourteen miles away, George Jackson read only the first few words in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph. 'BODY FOUND IN LOCAL VILLAGE’. He stopped to check only the name of the place and went straight round to the police and gave himself up.
"It was me. I buried her in the cellar and concreted her in. I did it. As God is my judge."
Four farmers, Tom and the three men from the survey sat dumbstruck round the fire in disbelief. That evening's Telegraph lay on the table beside them. Only the headline and the first paragraph had been read. 'Local man admits to killing wife'
Police were already working in the house. Two bodies in a week! It was a good ten days before any of them could find a word to say.