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On Radicals, Freedom, and the Need for Being Awkward - John Lucas
Cloth-eared Vulgarity - Sonia Treadgold
His Customary Carrot - Ken Clay
Memories of Empson - Ron Horsefield
Jaruzelski in Dordogne - An Anthropologist Writes - Dr John Lee
Two Items from Krakow - Dariusz Wasylkowski & Stefan Jaruzelski
Some Website Failings - Various
The Lodger - Sonia Treadgold

 

ON RADICALS, FREEDOM, AND THE NEED OF BEING AWKWARD

An Open Letter to Alan Dent by way of continuing the discussion..

Dear Alan, we'd agree, wouldn't we, that these are bad times to be a radical. Could we also agree that this ought always to be the case? And could we therefore further agree that E.P. Thompson, with his usual mixture of wit and pugnacity, spoke for us all when he said "One must, to survive as an unassimilated socialist in this infinitely assimilative culture, put oneself into a school of awkwardness. One must make one's own sensibility all knobbly - all knees and elbows of susceptibility and refusal." A good motto for the Penniless Press, even, though Thompson's words were written just over fifty years ago, at the moment when, following the Soviet invasion of Hungary, he had decided to leave the communist party, but to remain a committed socialist. One obvious token of this commitment was the founding of The New Reasoner. Another was the publication of his great study, William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. Morris was, of course, famously wry about the left's ability endlessly to fracture into schisms. As a sardonic political commentator once put it, in times of crisis the Right does Loyalty, the Left does Ideology. It sometimes seems as though for every radical there is a distinct ideological position which contains elements that are distinct from every other radical position, though to the naked eye these aren't even visible as hairline fractures. This readiness to fracture, which to bemused onlookers can seem like nothing so much as a wish for immolation, is known to the sympathetic as integrity, although a rather more caustic commentator might label it demagoguery, and it has to be said that Thompson himself, brilliant intellectual and historian and true radical though he undoubtedly was, possessed some decidedly demagogic talons, which, once unsheathed, were liable to rip the flesh of his political allies as bloodily as his enemies.

But internecine warfare seems somehow inherent in radicalism. "Up at the League, says a friend, there had been one night a brisk conversational discussion, as to what would happen on the Morrow of the Revolution, finally shading off into a vigorous statement by various friends of their views on the future of the fully-developed new society....there were six persons present, and consequently six sections of the party were represented, four of which had strong but divergent Anarchist opinions." This is how Morris's News From Nowhere (1889) opens, and its quizzical glance at "integrity" makes evident that although Morris thought of himself as a Marxist he wasn't greatly given to the finer points of ideology. His socialism is a cobbling together of what he had taken from the Communist Manifesto, together with Ruskin's Unto This Last and the section on the Nature of Gothic in the second volume of Stones of Venice, where Ruskin talks about the difference between work as fulfilment and sterile toil, plus various other radical writings on the effects and consequences of industrial capitalism: in particular the working class and the cities in which working men and women were forced to live. Engels' The Condition of England in 1844 remains the classic account of the new cities and their occupants, of class separation, of alienation of working men from their labour, of the terrible, heedless despoliation of natural resources, of indifference to communality. Morris was familiar with Engels' work, and its influence undoubtedly has a part to play in News From Nowhere. But there is a huge difference, and it's this. Engels, Marx's friend and partner, identified with the 1848 Manifesto's statement that "Previous philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point however is to change it", and even after that and the following year's setbacks, he was confident that revolutionary change would happen. Morris, however, projecting a Utopian novel of the future, an imagined England of the late 20th century, has to assume that the change has happened. The question is, when? And how?

Everyone who has written about Morris, including his most sympathetic commentators, have felt he goes wrong at this point. Well, yes, of course he did. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. As a Marxist Morris was bound to feel that history was on his side. Chapter 17 of News from Nowhere, where he tries to account for the revolutionary moment, is called "How the Change Came", and although I can't possibly quote all of it here, I at least need to say that Morris dates the change to the end of the 19th century, "When the hope of realising a communal condition of all men arose". This hope was opposed by the "enormous and crushing" power of the middle class, "the then tyrants of society." And these tyrants had to be put down not merely by strikes and lock-outs but by "actual fighting with weapons." Writing when he did, Morris might well have thought that he could detect enough signs of change to suggest an imminent revolution — or perhaps by his writing to help encourage one. (The great, and successful, Dock Strike of 1889 in particular seemed to promise that working-class militancy could prevail over the bosses. And there were anarchist incidents, there was the infamous "Bloody Sunday" of 1887, there was the Match-Girls Strike, and a good deal else beside.) History was on the move and the movement was in the direction of that Change which, after the inevitable struggle, would in Britain bring about a transformed society.

But it didn't happen. It didn't happen at the end of the 19th century, and it hasn't happened since. An orthodox Marxist would say that this was because it wasn't the correct "objective moment", which was after all what Marx himself had said about the Paris Commune and its violent suppression, hi an obvious sense, this is true, although it seems to me less shrewd assessment than the ultimate get-out. Hegel, on whose view of history Marx relied, was held to have argued that there was an inevitability about change-as-progress, but that the "cunning" of history often hid the moment when change would occur from those looking for its appearance. Marx said that the world should be changed. What happened when those who had most to gain from the change failed to change it? Simple. They'd misread the moment. Then turned out not to be the moment to intervene. Which rather begs the question, when exactly is the moment? "If chance will have me king, why chance may crown me without my stir." Macbeth's hope seems to me to point to a problem deep within Marxism: that of Agency. Either human action is effective or History decides. Marx didn't approve of the cult of Romantic heroes. Not individuals but larger groups, even societies, were the effective agents of change. You can see why from a Marxist point of view this must be so, and it leads to the idea of the "average" hero — the representative man — about whom Georg Lukacs wrote so persuasively in his studies of The Historical Novel and European Realism, In News from Nowhere, the man who conducts Morris through Utopia and explains how it came into existence, is both hero and ordinary Joe. (Dick, actually, but still....) But, Morris's critics argue, he is looking back on a change that had in fact failed to materialise. So sucks to his Marxism. He wasn't a revolutionary, after all. He was a Romantic dreamer.

I don't agree. Or rather, while I accept that no violent revolution brought about the Utopia Morris envisaged, I think that change had occurred, even if it wasn't the change Marx anticipated or wanted. But this is because I think change is always occurring, that it's often not the change we want, but that radicals have the responsibility of working for the changes they think desirable. They have to be agents. They can't leave it to history. This is what Morris also thought. We work for a victory, he said, and when it comes it turns out not to be the one we wanted, so we must work for a further victory — which will, of course, turn out not to be the one we wanted. In other words, to be radical is to be permanently dissatisfied. And this is how it ought to be. I was once told by a Greek friend that the reason why the future tense of the verb "to come" "erxhoumai" is irregular — "I will come" is "tha iltha" — is that it is derived from the same root as the word for freedom, "elefteria", and in Greece, my friend said, "freedom is always a state of becoming". I am reliably informed by another Greek friend that there's no basis in fact for this etymological assertion (speculation?), but it nevertheless seems to me a fit idea. Freedom is a state of becoming.

It follows that freedom is unattainable. But this is too abstract. Freedoms are daily won, threatened, taken away, fought for, recovered. I want to touch on two, as I think, contrasting moments in the 20th century over which the brooding shade of Marx might well have murmured "not the correct objective moment", but which are instructive to radicals and their necessary dissatisfactions. The first is that period which Robert Graves dubbed "the long weekend," the years that stretched between the two world wars, during which fascism and Marxism emerged as opposing forces with something like the aim of world domination, and which ended with the defeat of fascism, though not the triumph of its enemy, a matter of the bitterest disappointment among those who fought against fascism in the confident expectation that they were helping to change the world, were in fact agents in the work of bringing about a new, socialist society for which the USSR could stand as model.

Among them was my dear friend, Arnold Rattenbury, who died in April of this year. (2007.) Arnold was in the same class at Methodist public school as Thompson, and they became life-long friends, a friendship that began when the two of them - together with another classmate, the future great Shelley scholar and poet, G. M. Matthews -- tried selling copies of the Daily Worker in their dormitory. The friendship continued through their war experiences -- as soon as the Ribbentrop—Molotov Treaty collapsed they all volunteered for active service, and it was strengthened in the postwar years that, for all of them, I think, were years of disillusion, of the erosion and disappearance of their early hopes. Too young to fight in Spain, (Arnold, born in 1921, was 15 when that war started), they nevertheless glimpsed its significance, which was a good deal more than the majority of their countrymen did — or dared to admit to themselves. But we should never forget that Franco's invading forces were aided by Hitler and Mussolini, and abetted by European nations such as the UK and France who chose to remain non-combatants. (Franco himself had flown off from Luton airport to gather the Falangist army together prior to his invasion of the Republic.) One result of the non-interventionist policy was that the British navy blockaded ships trying to get arms and supplies through to the Republicans while waving through those arriving with help for the Falangists. British volunteers fighting for the legitimate Spanish government were thus shot and bombed by arms that had been given safe passage by the British government and navy.

Whose side would you have been on? I don't mean you personally, Alan, because I k now the answer. I mean more generally the question needs to be asked because so often in the years since then, wiseacres have spoken with amused disdain of the misplaced "idealism" of the left at that time. But those who were for the Republic were mostly children of a generation that had been caught up in and by the Great War - a war many of the selfsame generation of wiseacres had helped to promote. In my book The Radical Twenties I have tried to say something about the anger, disillusionment and even contempt for western liberal democracy that were features of those growing up in the aftermath of the Great War and who rightly feared that "the war to end wars" had in fact made further wars inevitable. Here, I will say only that I see nothing to apologise for in the commitment of those who went to fight for the Spanish Republic, and who, having been on the losing side, had then to fight all over again, this time against a far more powerful and evil enemy.

Evil. Now there's a word must give us pause. For wasn't Stalin's rule every bit as much evil as Hitler's? So speaks the voice of disdain. And wasn't the naive idealism of those who supported the Communist cause hopelessly compromised by their refusal to recognise Stalin's readiness to murder millions of his fellow countrymen on trumped up charges, above all the accusation that they were enemies of the people? (We wouldn't have lasted long in Stalin's Russia, Alan.) Cue Orwell's attack on "Mr Auden's brand of amoralism [which] is only possible if you are always somewhere else when the trigger is pulled". Well, again, whose side would you have been on? (And again, the question is a general invitation to consider.) I am not suggesting that to be a communist in the 30s and 40s was a matter of grim choice between two evils, because I don't think those who joined the CPGB saw matters that way. Perhaps they should have done so. In 1935 at the Paris Writers Congress, E.M. Forster remarked that as far as he could see, the distinction between communism and fascism was that the former did evil that good might come, whereas the latter did evil than evil might come, but his was a lone voice. It is hardly fanciful to imagine Forster speaking from the only occupied seat in Thompson's school of awkwardness. And his remarks meant that he was condemned on both sides. It is therefore worth noting that Forster went to the aid of communists who lost their livelihoods when they were banned from working for the BBC at the outbreak of war. He organized meetings, spoke on public platforms and shamed the BBC into giving people like Alan Bush their employment back. (His reward was further vilification by communists at the end of the war.) Forster was in other words an upholder of those freedoms and that liberty which Morris wanted for his Utopia. This is important.

In many respects, perhaps in most, Forster's is an invaluable voice for freedom. But I can imagine that had I been a young man in the later half of the 1930s I would have thought change required the acceptance of harder choices than he spoke up for in his essay "What I Believe". That promoted private virtues. It seemed to ignore or anyway turn its back on public responsibilities. And those who were on the left like Arnold were, I think, aware of a responsibility to the future which entailed making amends for a past that included the horrors of industrialisation, of competitive capitalism and, most recently and appallingly, the war and its aftermath. The war was a triumph of a modernity in which men were ruthlessly fed to machines. Even if you put their position of Arnold, Thompson and thousands like them at its most reductive and say that they made a pact with the devil of Stalinism, it remains true that their opposition to Fascism and the supine liberal democracies of Europe was principled and in some ways mightily effective. I put this as tentatively and modestly as I can. But the fact remains, that Fascism was defeated, that in Britain a great, reformist Labour government came to power, and that as a result the lives of millions of people were decisively altered for the better. 1945 didn't usher in Morris's dreamt-of Utopia. But nor did it mean a reversion to a pre-war England where, in Graves's despairing phrase "it still goes on", where "it" means the survival of all that the events of 1914-18 ought to have discredited and brought crashing down.

Of course, the changes weren't enough. Of course, there was compromise. Of course, every victory achieved turned out to be different from the one envisaged. But I'm damned if I'll have it said that the causes Arnold and Thompson and thousands like them committed themselves to ended in failure, even though they ended in that dissatisfaction which is integral to radicalism. "We are not what we are but what we do", Arnold remarked at the end of one of his poems, and for him all action --whether making a poem, staging an exhibition (at which he was a genius), or simply going about his daily tasks — was part of his socialism. Politics couldn't be put on hold while he did some living. And if you think that this must have meant that he was some sort of boot-faced, unsmiling apparatchik, then you never knew him. He was endless fun to be with, and as well as being the wittiest man I've ever known, was probably the most inventive, with in addition a full share of that "insatiable curiosity" he attributed to Gilbert White of Selborne, about whom he wrote in one of his magical Mozart Pieces. Often enough I have complained that the dissenting spirit sits deeply and depressingly within much English radicalism. There's a kind of collective killjoy atmosphere about it, a joylessness, as though pleasure is somehow irresponsible or an attribute of the right. (Hawthorne's great story, "The Maypole of Merrymount", though set in American New England, perfectly registers the unease with joy I have in mind.) But Arnold bubbled with delight at the things of this world. I think he'd probably have agreed with Kant that out of the bent timber of humanity nothing straight can ever be made. His exhibitions of Clowning and Bicycles were wonderful precisely because of his exuberant relish in eccentricities of all kinds. This relish also fed into his poems about 'Trigger Makers", the working men and women who made lovingly crafted and entirely useless objects for their own and others' delight. No wonder he so valued Dickens, the supreme poet of "bent humanity".

But this raises a problem. After all, if what is bent can't be straightened, can't "bear to rule" to use Dickens's phrase, doesn't this mean that it ought to be sacrificed for the greater good? Certainly, Eric Hobsbawm thinks along these lines. For how else explain his horrific statement that the deaths of 20 million people would have been justified if it brought about the desired change of an ideal communist society. What: 20 million enemies of the people? Surely a number like that suggests that the are the people. I'm reminded of Brecht's poem about replacing the voters in order to get the government the government wants. But that wasn't meant to be a satire on Stalin, was it? Quite apart from the moral contradiction involved in sanction being given to legalised murder as a way to achieve the society from which legalised murder will be banished, such a statement gives all the ammunition needed to those like John Carey who bang on about left-wing intellectuals containing a mixture of fanatic and dreamer with absolute contempt for the very "people" they claim to champion. I have some sympathy with John Bird, the Editor-in-chief of Big Issue, who wrote to the Guardian after Hobsbawm had there repeated his appalling pronouncement, to ask: "How do we encounter the future when most forms of progressive thinking and action have been undermined by Stalinism? The confused left and the myopic liberalism of today owe much of their crisis to what Hobsbawm and his ilk contributed to the 20th century."

Against this, however, we need to remember that Hobsbawm "and his ilk" have produced outstanding historical accounts of modern European history, persuasive in their Marxist-inspired analyses of how and why societies developed as they did. And that the "history from below", rightly associated with the communist historians group — Thompson, Raphael Samuel, Hilton, Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill etc — will always matter because it uncovered and so recovered the lives of "the poor stockinger" and his ilk, and so made them individuals rather than statistics. Which of course then makes nonsense, to put the matter no more strongly, of Hobsbawm's readiness to turn them back into statistics.

If we ask what made him so able to think and speak in so brutal and dehumanised a manner, the answer must, I am sure, be ideology. Anthropologists argue that truth becomes myth once that truth is exposed as untenable. Marxist ideology was once young. Now it is old. It was once truth, now it is myth. This doesn't affect the brilliance of Marx's historical analysis. It is surely instructive that a Radio 4 "Today" poll — was it last year? — put Marx top of the list of the world's most influential philosophers. I'm pretty certain that those who voted for him were thinking less of Comrade Stalin, Chairman Mao or Pol Pot — or of course Fidel Castro, for whom a case can be made as benevolent dictator — than of Marx's account of the discontents of capitalist society. There, he is for the most part unassailable. But the "objective moment" of change. Ah, there he is altogether more vulnerable. Nor can we dodge the issue. To repeat a point made earlier, though in slightly different terms -- if change is inevitable — is the proof that history is a progressive if locally unforeknowable unfolding — do we all roll over and let it happen, or are we required to assist in bringing it about. And if the latter, are "we" — the progressives, the radicals —agents of change? And if so, is it inevitable that "we" must be ready to murder thousands upon thousands of those who are in their different ways preventing change? Yes, an old-style Marxist would say, as, if it comes to that, would any sufficiently impelled idealogue: fascist, islamicist, Christian.... the list is a long one. History is full of examples of massacres committed in some cause or other. And has it ever brought about the desired change? No, never. You can't get to heaven on earth by first making a hell on earth. To think in abstract terms, the terms of ideology, is to deny individuality. And to deny that is to make impossible the existence of frigger-makers. The stupid, amoral and utterly trivial post-modern take on this is of course to assert that a belief in individuality is anyway ridiculous. The very idea of selfhood is a discredited liberal concept. We are not so much divided selves as multiple selves. The end game of this position, which I have heard argued by an academic, god help me, is that we are all possessed of "multiple personality disorders", so can't be held accountable for "our" actions. "Did you commit this murder, Lucas?" "Not I. Or rather, it may have been one of my many selves but certainly not the one you've hauled in for questioning." This isn't to deny that at different times we think and act differently. Pessoa's "To be one self is not to be" seems to me obviously true. But this ought not to be news. It wasn't even news when Pessoa came up with the epigram early in the 20th century. There was Jekyll and Hyde, there was Prufrock's "You and I". There was Graves's question, "Who was that I whose mine was you?" But what is new about post-modernism, what makes it so much an expression of the capitalist view of the world it would probably try to deny or treat with a knowing wink, is its habit of avoiding or simply ignoring matters of moral, social or political responsibility. "Hey, aren't we getting a little heavy here. Lighten up. Chill out. Whatever. It's all style, man." It's therefore a piquant reflection that as far as I know none of its ardent champions is content with being anonymous. All press their claim as individual authors of this or that argument. And it's a reasonable guess that if ordered to jump aside from a runaway vehicle, none of them would ask which "self was being addressed. Faced with the kind of reality they try to shrug off as irrelevant, they exhibit the same urgent egotism as "One of those old-type natural fouled-up guys."

Ideology — even the ideology of post-modernism — is endlessly upset by the collision with empirical reality. This is why, in instructive contrast to those who fought in Spain, the ideologues of the Left who enthusiastically welcomed the evenements of 1968 were so wrong and so quickly discouraged. Events having failed to go their way, they mostly retreated behind the walls of academe where they fashioned ever more abstruse, mind-numbing ideological explanations for 1968 not having been the correct "objective" historical moment for the change they had confidently predicted. But not one, as far as I can see, kept faith with an empirical socialism, a way of working to make change happen. They deserved all the obloquy Thompson threw at them in his essay on "The Poverty of Theory".

I am with Thompson, though I am even more of an empiricist. I distrust idealism, whether philosophical or otherwise. In a famous essay in which she championed realism in fiction, George Eliot argued against idealising human beings. Idealisation leads to sentimentality which means lying. You can't straighten wits any more than you can straighten noses, she says. Agreed. But as an example of what she wants, Eliot says that it is "important to accept the peasant in all his coarse apathy." And I think, suppose George Eliot, having laid down her pen, went for a walk and by chance bumped into John Clare. A peasant in all his coarse apathy, hi other words, her realism turns out at least occasionally to mask a kind of absolutism which smells to me of anti-empiricism. And though she would never be like those medieval Schoolmen who not only argued about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin but who decided that without going to the horse's mouth they could establish how many teeth it contained, there is an element of inflexible determinism in her generalisations..

This comes from her commitment to Positivism, and like Marxism Positivism sees history as progress. Human history moves through three stages: from the theological to the metaphysical to the Positive. According to Comte, Positivism's founding father-philosopher, the 19th century would bring about the arrival of the Positive age, in which true altruism would replace the different kinds of largely egotistic preoccupations that had hitherto motivated people — and which had first prevented and then held back those changes needed to usher in the Positive Age. This would now be made possible by "Saints of Humanity", by the actions of those agents who resolutely set themselves against the distracting allures of the personal life (marriage, children, etc). Saints of Humanity are to all intents and purposes secularised servants of god: and there is a good deal of foggy mysticism in Comte. No wonder Marx thought he was "theoretically utterly backward." Still, peasants in all their coarse apathy have had a hard time of it under Marxist orthodoxy, and at least Comte didn't think it alright to kill however many millions of them might have to be wiped out to bring on the ideal society. And even when they have been deified — think of Mao's cultural revolution or Pol Pot's mass murders of intellectuals — they have been equally seen in abstract terms.

George Eliot wrote her essay partly in order to criticise what she saw as Dickens's undue "idealising" of peasants and working people. But Dickens seems to me infinitely greater because he refused to accept the kind of social determinism that is overt in Positivism and which disfigures most Marxism. It's there from the beginning and not merely in the mystification — as it surely is - about the nature of change and the problem Marxism therefore has with Agency. The Condition of the Working Class in England, great work though it is, nevertheless takes for granted the brutality and "atomisation" of industrialised society, and for Engels, as for Marx, class-consciousness can be formed only on the factory floor. Not the home, not, please, the public house, nor the music hall, nor popular theatre — none of those places where the atomisation of society into separate units which he brilliantly analysed, no doubt about it, is replaced by cohesion, togetherness, communality.

With atomisation it becomes fatally easy to take for granted individuals as statistics. Marxism theoretically sets itself against reification, against turning a person into a "thing". Reification is the prime evil of capitalism. Men become "hands" or "operatives". But surely something analogous happens when they become peasants? Or enemies of the people? They can become then things to an end. Objects to fulfil someone else's purpose. What after all is the essential difference between the British transporting convicts to Australia to create the new world and Stalin sending millions to Gulags to build the new Russia? When in Our Mutual Friend Bradley Headstone encounters by chance Rogue Riderhood, he thinks "here is an instrument. Can I use it?" And throughout the novel, people are turned into objects to be used by others as they wish. The novel's linguistic riches, its almost inexhaustible imagistic power, take us to the heart of Dickens's angry realisation of what was happening to a society in which people were, as they still are, harmed and indeed wrecked by forces that took for granted, even took for good, the unimportance of individual lives. That is what we need to change.

A last point, if I may. You were kind enough to speak well of my poem "Meet the English" when you reviewed my last collection, Flute Music. But to be honest, I don't think it's the poem you took it for. At all events, it certainly wasn't meant to be a satire on English snobbery so much as a wry observation on the ways in which "we" determine matters of nationality and then history — change— undoes all those determinations. I'd been reading David Crystal's The Stories of English and was struck by the fact that when the Normans came they brought with them their names for the farm animals they would slaughter for food. The natives who served them kept their names for animals. And so: "I herd cows./They broil beef." But in the early 21s century those Norman invaders have become more English than the English, given that many now eat international food and holiday abroad. And so: "They grow kale./I order sushi." The poem is meant as a squib against claims of national "purity", against, therefore, a form of ideology which deals in abstractions and mystifications. But then all ideology, once it's known to be ideology, seems to me both anti-empiricist and dangerous. (Dangerous because anti-empiricist.)' "A nation?, says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place." That'll do.

 

With best wishes and, as old socialists used to say, fraternally,

 

John Lucas

 


 

CLOTH-EARED VULGARITY 

Dear Alan Dent 

I must deplore in the strongest terms that farrago of cloth-eared vulgarity Goodbye Denmark Road which appeared in Penniless Press 22 masquerading as an homage to the superb Lindsay Quartet. The writer admits he can’t read a note of music and adds to this impertinence quite disgusting vignettes of hard-working academics. I feel especially besmirched since I am, I believe, the Rita Hayworth look-alike of the back stage. I did often gaze over Robin Ireland’s head towards seat CC5 and now recall the disgusting old pervert who sat in it – usually fiddling under his mac which one on occasion slipped to reveal something red and tubular.

I am slightly acquainted with the eminent Professor Kemp (now retired) and intend to draw his attention to this dreadful libel. I shall also write to the distinguished poet Geoffrey Wainwright, professor David Fanning and Tony Harrison. The poor, vilified unfortunates who occupied the seats behind the author must make their own arrangements.

As for the deceased, the idea that the country’s greatest composer, Benjamin Britten, would have cavorted with Peter Pears and Morgan Forster in the manner suggested is both incredible and deeply shocking. It is quite beyond belief that the queen would award the Order of Merit to such an unprincipled advocate of unbridled homosexuality.

I have seen earlier odd copies of your once excellent magazine, left by my cleaning lady. I recall a worthy and even noble organ of adamantine radicalism. With the introduction of pieces such as this, however, you are turning the Penniless Press into a tawdry simulacrum of Viz magazine. Cyril Connolly once famously observed that little magazines rarely lasted longer than ten years. Yours is now eleven. Far from a decline into a dignified decrepitude we are witnessing a gibbering, obscene senility. In God’s name stop at once.

Ms Sonia Treadgold (B.Ed)

Flat 6, Ravenswood, Spath Road, West Didsbury, Manchester

 

HIS CUSTOMARY CARROT 

Dear Alan 

Thanks for passing on Sonia’s complaint. It’s not strictly true that I can’t read a note of music. There were distractions during my early education on the recorder – head lice, compulsory sour milk, power cuts, powdered egg etc (I won’t bore you with the details) – but later I did apply myself and I recall an evening in the pub a few years back when a sceptical mate challenged me with an unseen score. I played, as I remember, a halting, but accurate, version of ba ba black sheep on the kazoo.

The larger point surely though is what’s so important about score reading? Wittgenstein was a clever sod by anyone’s standards, and was a good sight reader too, but he soon gave it up and whistled instead. Friends report he could whistle, note perfect, the complete St Anthony Variations by Brahms. Also you won’t find Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia peering at grubby sheets. They can read but they’d rather not.

The definitive rebuttal of score reading fetishism surely comes from the Guardian of October 26th which describes the methods of Sir Paul Macartney - some say the greatest song-writer since Schubert – to write his oratorio: 

"When I say 'write'," my friend said, "I use the word very loosely. A whole army of people were flown out to his place, and found themselves staying up for 48 hours at a stretch while he wandered around, humming. It was their job to turn this total arse-dribble into a score for chorus and orchestra. He seemed quite pleased with it in the end. Of course, it's never been played since.

Sonia should really get up to date. To insist on score reading would be as barmy as suggesting good writers need to learn spelling, punctuation, grammar and vocab. You’ll find the top jockeys in this area, Jackie Collins and Jeffrey Archer, don’t bother with such nonsense – they just have good ideas. 

Concerning the red tubular object I have to confess this was my customary interval carrot which had been jabbing in my groin. Professor Wesley Sharrock (Sociology), a fellow subscriber in row CC, had circulated a manuscript - Influences of Common Fruit and Veg on Aesthetic Response. He championed the carrot for most 20C works but thought Wagner best accompanied by the Senna pod. In the whole of Tescos he’d discovered nothing to make Hindemith tolerable. A few believers would meet in the foyer crunching communally. We usually huddled in a corner - even by the standards of Denmark Road carrot crunching was considered somewhat eccentric.

Wes remarked that Rita was looking quite horny that night, better than Buffy the Vampire Slayer (he has the complete DVD boxed set). Professor Kemp, holding his carrot quite low, wondered of she’d be interested in his new sonata for pink oboe. Suddenly Wes’s eyes widened. I turned round to see Rita emerging from the toilets. The door crashed noisily, her bag gaped open and disgorged an empty half bottle of gin which clattered on the floor. The crowded foyer fell silent. Rita lurched unsteadily towards the auditorium. As she turned to push open the swing doors we could see that the hem of her beautiful, pleated A line dress was still wedged into the top of her knickers. “Poor cow!” said Wes “By the time the second half starts she won’t know Scheidt from Shostakovich”.

Ken Clay

Grappenhall, Warrington

 


MEMORIES OF EMPSON

Dear Mr Dent 

Our Charlene is doing English at Manchester University. She was briefly under that Dr Hicks and I said I was going to report him but she said the conjunction was of no consequence; she wasn't sure that penetration had been achieved since Dr Hicks had mumbled something about Percy not coming out of his overcoat. Anyway the poor old sod was nearing retirement and she didn’t want to jeopardise his pension. Last week she was rooting about in Broadhurst’s of Southport when she came across a first edition of William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words 1951. In it was a letter from the sage himself. I thought I would draw your attention to it.

But first some background. I met Empson once in Sheffield round about 1969 – the date of the letter. No I wasn’t at the University – what would I be doing in that emporium of tosspots – No I was at the railway station coming back to Manchester after visiting my auntie Elsie who’d just had both legs off on account of smoking. I’d eaten an awful pie and decided, feeling a leak coming on, to descend to the Gents. There was a bit of a swell round the blocked stalls so I pushed open a door to one of the traps. In there was a spiky little geezer with a tache kneeling on the floor in front of a big, bald bloke with thick specs in a dingy mac and wearing bike clips. The little geezer was fumbling with the big bloke’s willie. He turns to me – shocked like – and says “my colleague has trapped his privates in his zip and can’t extricate them himself on account of his arthritis. Perhaps you could help..” It looked like Empson. I'd seen his face in the Sheffield Argus only the day before welcoming some poncy Hull poet to the University. His utterance was somewhat incoherent since he had no teeth in. One might easily jump to the wrong conclusion in the circs but I later read that he’d occasionally lecture his students oblivious of this prosthetic deficit. I believe his talk on Some Solecisms in Siegfried Sassoon was virtually incomprehensible. I didn’t recognise the big bloke and thought he was just a piece of rough trade till I noticed his exquisitely tailored pinstripes. Empson introduced himself and his companion as Bill and Phil. I declined his offer to help untangle the swollen but now flaccid hampton since it was a bit crowded in there. Whereupon Bill offered to take me back to his place to have a crack at his missus (or more accurately “miffif”) provided he and Phil could watch. I was about to accept this invitation being somewhat hornier in those days when there was a clattering of hobnails on the stair. Phil, in a sudden remission of joint pain, quickly pushed in the supposedly trapped member and zipped up his pants. Empson jumped up off the floor and the pair of them shot off up the stairs, past Plod descending, like a couple of rats up a drain.  

These events came back as I read the note. Charlene thinks it could be valuable and might even warrant inclusion in the OED as the first appearance of the f word in official academic correspondence. Yis, I know it’s commonplace now and on the telly almost every night. Throughout society too; I wouldn’t be surprised if HM the Queen didn’t call Phil the Greek a clumsy f***** when he treads on a corgi. But in them days? In an official letter? Well both Charlene and my wife Enid think it would be worth at least a monkey if not an archer. And this is why I am writing to you with a copy of the note enclosed.

Enid is a cleaner and does for a Ms Sonia Treadgold (B Ed) of Didsbury. They get on coz they both come from Catford – as indeed do I. Usually when Enid turns up at Spath Road there’s nobody in so she pours herself a large gin, gets a fag on and settles down with Sonia’s latest issue of Penniless Press. So great is Sonia’s consumption of these narcotics that Enid’s depredations go entirely unnoticed. Anyway Enid says there’s at least two profs of English writing in your mag and they’d be certs for buying Empson’s epistle. Therefore I propose an auction (with a 10% commission to your good self natch) conducted through the pages of your organ or its forthcoming website.

Finally I’d be interested to know if any of your professor mates could confirm that A.P Riley got the job? 

Yours truly, 

Ron Horsefield  6 Rushford Avenue Levenshulme Manchester

 


 

JARUZELSKI IN DORDODGNE – AN ANTHROPOLOGIST WRITES

 

Dear Mr Dent,

            I live in a wood, on a hillside, in a small hamlet, outside a rural village in the south west of France so that  you can perhaps imagine my astonishment when on recently paying a visit to the village dentist I discovered a jam and olive oil stained copy of the Penniless Press sandwiched between a copy of  Le Monde magazine and the Follies de Bergerac. Though the  dentist welded all my back teeth together this was nothing compared to the  shock and trauma  of discovering myself portrayed,  some might say even pilloried, in the letters of Jaruzelski contained in that particular copy of  your magazine. Those letters have caused a surge  of interest in this region both  from local residents and foreign tourists.  Four  Polish restaurants have recently opened in the village and the rue Paul Schmitt has been reopened by the mayor and retitled ‘the Jaruzelski way’. But not all the consequences of his visit have been beneficial and it is this fact together with the besmirchment of my reputation in those letters (whether this was intended or  otherwise,) which has led me to write to you to give some detail of, and an alternative perspective on, the visit of  this  renowned  poet, plumber and philosopher to our corner of the world.

I would at the outset like to make it clear that it is not my intention to try to diminish his reputation – I bear him no malice or ill will. Instead it is my desire for the sake of truth and history to provide some correction to the picture he painted of myself, of himself and of our village. Of course I make particular reference to his claim that I am “not a real doctor” and that I indulge in disgusting and unsanitary practices such as cleaning the toilet waste masher on the dining room table. Such claims have clearly affected my status amongst my peasant neighbours and are bound to have an unfavourable consequence for my anthropological studies of yokels. Also in view of Jaruzelski’s recent application to extend his plumbing expertise by applying to study brain surgery at the Black and Decker surgery dept of Eccles University, I feel that  any detail  which gives further light upon his character should be made public.

     J’s first visit to our village, seemingly following his employment at the Jagger mansion, first came to the notice of  the mayor when he arrived on the village camp site in a canary coloured van on which were painted in red the words “Jaruzelski  bestest plumber and poet extrordinaiere by appointed to lord Mick –Consultations.”  The mayor acted promptly and gave him the commission to stop the flow of chlorinated water from the village outside swimming pool into the nearby river – a problem that had led to reports of serious pollution and dead fish. It is true that after only two weeks the overflow ceased and were it not for the fact that the swimming pool is now brimming with carp, roach and pike J’s first work in this region would be considered an unqualified success. As it is the town has accrued certain benefits from his plumbing masterstroke in that this pool now hosts the south west of France Angling championship.  He probably takes pride in the fact that this competition is referred to throughout France as “The Jaruzelski.”

However it is often the case that his reputation grows for reasons somewhat tangential to his professed aims and intentions. He was strong in claiming an adherence to Trotskyite principles which he claimed had helped to sustain him in his Polish guerrilla underground struggles against Hitler and the Pope. Yet along with his new Polish philosopher colleague, Schevcheck, the local photographer, he helped to form the west village branch of the Front Nationale.   It might be said that this was probably not his fault as the original meetings held at the village hostelry were in fact meant to be the meetings of the Wine and Pastis Appreciation society of which Shevcheck was the chairman.

Of course it is always easy for foreigners to confuse Socialism with National Socialism. After all it has been reported that during the war some local people sometimes confused the Maquis with the local Nazi supporting Milice and joined the wrong group.  Anyway it was at these early meetings that J invented and developed  the now popular “ Bordeaux, Vodka, and Pastis Split,” and in the heat of philosophical  discussions of  the relationship between Wagner and Heidegger it is easy to see how abstract metaphysics could become embroiled with practical political  activity.  This is  especially true given that  the local bar had  only recently been the forum for  a series of seminars on the subject of “How to drive the bleeding gypsies out of the Perigord.” (This is of course my translation of the Patois in which language these seminars were held).

The library-study-distillery at 4 rue Paul Schmitt

     It was because of my own now past association with Shevcheck (we were  members of  both  the Wine Appreciation and Pig Sticking societies) that I first encountered the great Pole. They both paid me a visit to give me plumbing advice and to borrow my copy of Max Weber’s Economy and Society. Jaru has his own theory concerning the Origins of Capitalism and said that  he wished to publish an article suggesting that Weber’s great treatise had understated the importance of the migrant Polish worker. The discussion which flitted between classical economics and the merits of Yorkshire Joints  made obvious the sense in which he could be considered as a kind of renaissance man. What I had not bargained for was his knowledge of wine Le Gout du Plonk as he put it – though because this was said like most of his pronouncements in an obscure Polish dialect I cannot always be sure that I have rendered it faithfully. He suggested that the St Emilion that I drink as house wine was too low in alcohol (“Piss ob de badger,” as he put it again in Polish) and he proceeded to show me the  techniques of blending which he said he had learned from the famous oenologist Emile Pernod whose outside loo he had just been repairing. The blend appears to involve 3 parts Bordeaux to 7 parts surgical alcohol.  He had acquired the later from Madame Grunge the local chemist in order to make the Vodka which he sells to the gitanes. The result was certainly a transformation, though whether it took away the alleged roughness which I have never detected and which he alludes to in his letters, I cannot remember.

I am however not of the opinion that Shevcheck’s addition of half a bottle of Pernod improved either the bouquet or the body though J seemed to think it did and approved greatly. Anyway it was in the course of such scientific endeavour that he made it clear to me that he would help me with my plumbing . This clearly delighted me though in his next five visits,  always in the evening, he confined himself to philosophy and wine tasting and whilst my knowledge of Wittgenstein improved considerably my bathroom remained dry and free from water pipes. Apparently Wittgenstein who had taught him the rudiments of engineering and lead plumbing had also taught him that the secret of his philosophy was contained in the phrase “let eet orl ang out.”

     So I was happily surprised when one Sunday afternoon at “l’heure des Aperos,” and just before “l’apres midi du saucisson ,” he arrived sporting a gas burner, a bar of solder and hundreds of copper pipes. These he soldered together at a breath-taking speed though he did refuse to use my right angle joints as he made it clear that socialists such as he would only feel happy with left angles. It did not matter that I did not understand the distinction as he proceeded  where necessary to bend the pipes over my Louis Quinze harpsichord  stool. It was whilst he was so doing that a neighbour Madame de Mounet entered as she usually does via the kitchen window that leads on to the pathway to her ancient dwelling. She and he  “hit it off” immediately and thereby started a series of literary discussions which might remind one of the salons of the Belle Epoch in years gone by. I could not myself follow these disquisitions as they went on late into the night with him speaking his Polish dialect and she the Langedocian Patois. They seemed to understand each other with no difficulty. In fact the languages were so compatible that each was able to speak continually to the other without the necessity of turn taking which of course is customary in the speaking of both French and English.

He told me that their discussions ranged far and wide and that she was highly informative as to the French literary scene. Frankly this surprised me as she had told me that she was raised on a pig farm where she spent her childhood in the years immediately prior to the Second World War. It was however a wonderful surprise that this Gaulois-smoking, hard-drinking, chicken-feeding old crone possessed reserves and depths which were  well hidden from the surface. But this was by no means all.

Apparantly, or so he said, she had a secret which it had been important for her to keep from the world of letters. He told me that she had explained that she was actually Proust’s daughter and that Albertine her mother had not died in a riding accident. He said that she had laughed when she told him that her mother was a rodeo class horsewoman so that the idea of her falling was ridiculous. Her death, she said, was all Proust’s invention because he wished to appear to the world as an “invert”. His subtle hints that Albertine was a male would, he thought, make his work acceptable and publishable to and by "the shirt lifters that run the French literary trade." Apparently it was done to gain the approval of Glide who, when he thought of Proust as just a “normal”, had refused to accept his manuscript.

    The relationship between them seemed to breakdown following his promise to turn her old fashioned thunder box toilet situated at the top of her garden into a water closet. He told her that if she would dig the trench he would look after the piping. It was amazing to see this eighty year old lady dig a trench thirty metres long which would have not have disgraced the  strongest of Irish navvies. Unfortunately on seeing the fosse so sculpted J. pronounced it “uphill!” And said that “any fool knows that water won’t flow up hill” and he went to the bar with his literary associates. Madame de Mounet was not pleased and had to pay her son Michel de Mounet to commission the gitanes to fill it in again.

This Michel, himself a minor aristocrat, and man of letters despite the fact that he was born with a hole in the brain had not taken to J in the first place as he was under the impression that J was “humping” his mother (again a word difficult to render into contemporary argot). But he also suggested that J was not to be trusted as he was spreading rumours about me around the village. For instance the young aristocrat said “It was he that told the mayor and your next-door neighbour that it was you that cut down his fig tree”.  This did not please me as I regard J as being responsible for the entire incident in the first place. Whilst recuperating one afternoon in my garden he had pointed to a straggling half tree  in the next door garden close to my fence and said “That’s a Polish giant hogwood tree the fruits of which were used to kill the last King of Poland.” As I could see round purple bomb-like fruits in danger of falling and possibly killing my neighbour I, of course, cut it down for safety’s sake. Following J’s revelations I tried to explain to my neighbour but now when he sees me he makes the sign of the cross  and incants “Fou! fou!fou!.” One has to take into account the superstitious nature of the country folk who live around here.

     Another reason for Michel’s dislike of J is that in his view J is not an ecological plumber. To explain this one has to understand that the young aristocrat likes to feel at one with nature and claims to spend whole evenings with the wolves that live in the wood. He is unapologetic about the incident that led to his being banned from local society. Apparently he was invited to the local count’s for a banquet evening meal and on his arrival he presented the countess (La femme du con as Mick pits it) and presented her with a gift of two road kills, a thrush and a blackbird that he had found on the road to Parizeau. He was asked to leave the gathering which he did with alacrity dismissing them with the words –“Les bourgeoisie ils sont comme les cochons.” He was, I think, thereby repeating the immortal clarion call to the barricades uttered by the poet Andre Chenier at the commencement of the French Revolution. I later learned that the source of the offence was not that the birds were not fresh enough but rather that he had presented them in a plastic supermarket bag. I have never sought to enlighten him on this matter as I believe that my position as an anthropologist should involve strict neutrality in all such matters.

     That is of course why I am so upset that Jaru has disseminated to all and sundry the information that I ate the goldfish . This again is an incident for which I hardly feel responsible. One evening the young Mounet brought me a  bucket containing what he said were carp of the lake that he had caught as part of his outdoor activities. He assured me that even though they had definite reddish tinge that they were edible carp and that the locals ate them as a delicacy with mustard sauce for breakfast. I believed him then, and I believe him now. So the following morning against the ignorant protests of my wife and child who don’t understand the significance of the proverb - “when in Rome,” I  rolled  half of them in flour and ate them with garlic and onions for breakfast as I think Elizabeth David might have done. I must say that I did not find them delicious and the bones stuck between my teeth so I put the other half still living in the garden pond where they looked well though the large green one with the long nose and extraordinary teeth was anything but beautiful. I explained all this to J and he agreed with me that “If you don’t try these things you remain ignorant.”

This is why I felt deceived when I heard the rancorous whisperings in the village suggesting that I am the Englishman who eats the goldfish. It was even worse when entering the boulanger’s. I was spit upon by a woman who called me a cannibal. I said “No Madame a person who eats goldfish is not a cannibal but a fish eater,” but nothing was settled by this and she grabbed her poodle saying something to the effect that it was not safe with me around and left the shop. Whilst I am sure that it could only be J who told the story of the goldfish I cannot say with certainty that he has also accused me of cannibalism. It was however certainly not his fault that I now enjoy a bad relationship with the neighbours on the other side of the wall. But again nor was it mine. It came about when in full view of several villagers  that their cat, a particularly ugly and aggressive beast that I had already set the dog upon, came to drink at my garden pool. Suddenly the big green fish which had grown enormously leapt out and of the pond and dragged the cat in where it proceeded to eat it.

     Events such as these are part of the natural tos and fros of village life and would eventually fade from the memory were it not for someone such as J and yourself publishing and thereby giving them a permanent status. I did not clean the toilet brewer on the dining room table it was in fact the coffee table which I had taken the trouble to protect with a copy of the local Church Times. Anyway that toilet macerator is now defunct, in my view, as a consequence of being jammed with all the peach and cherrystones that emanated from J’s own waste products. He constantly raided my orchard to feed himself. I have mounted that now defunct grinder on a pedestal in front of my neighbour’s balcony so that it is available as an icon and memento of J’s visit for all the tourists who walk the Jaruzekski Way. Yes! I recognise that he is a famous poet and have read with pleasure his Icelandic style saga of how Warsaw castle was rescued by the Polish maquis from the Arabs who occupied it in the 14rth century. However I am sceptical of his claim that it is based upon fact as I am of the opinion that the Arabs never in fact reached Warsaw though I am prepared to be contradicted on this matter. On the other hand I should like to draw any reader’s attention to the closeness this work bears to the story told in Ernest Wilde’s famous 2000 page saga of the Alhambra of Granada, part of the monumental series of Prestwich novels which I believe that you are about to publish. It also needs to be born in mind that when I asked him if the story of Beowulf had influenced him his reply was to the effect that he did not believe in those tales of how men turned into wolves at night.

     So you will see Mr Dent why it is important that I write to communicate these facts not all of which are palatable it is true. You will perhaps now see how my status as a writer and anthropologists can be damaged by the letters that you have published. Perhaps you could make amends by publishing my manuscript here enclosed. As you will see it is designed to further knowledge and good relationships between civilised people such as ourselves and the less fortunate who live in rural France. We need to correct the scurrilous portrait of the aborigines of this region by such as Mayle in his despicable best seller “A Year in Provence”. I wish to call my book “Three Peasants in a Muck Cart.”

Dr John Lee, 4 rue Paul Schmitt, Haut Plančze, Neuvic-sur-l'Isle, Dordogne, France

 


TWO ITEMS FROM KRAKOW


WARDYNSKI & PARTNERS

ADVOCATES AND LEGAL ADVISERS

ul.Boleslawa Prusa 30  m.2
Krakow 30 -177
Poland

Phone (48-12) 427 23 98
Fax (48-12) 427 32 74

website www.wardynski.com.pl
email warsaw@wardynski.com.pl

 

2 maj 2007

 

 

Mr Alan Dent
100 Waterloo Road
Ashton
Preston PR2 1EP
United Kingdom

 

My Dear Dent,

I write to inform you that my clients, the former president of the People’s Republic of Poland, General Wojciech Jaruzelski and his son Stanislaw Jaruzelski, intend to sue for defamation of character. They maintain that the family name and all who bear it have been grossly libelled in your magazine The Penniless Press. Even though the magazine now seems to be defunct the libel continues and is aggravated by the website www.pennilesspress.co.uk.

Stanislaw is the only son of Woijceck Jaruzelski and has no cousin named Stefan. He believes that Stefan is a mischievous invention of a disaffected former CPGB member designed to blacken the name of Poland, the former Communist government, and, through the subsidiary persona of Wislawa Jaruzelski, Polish womanhood itself. The idea that a graduate of the Warsaw Institute of Plumbing would stoop to prostitution in Greek Street for a few million zloty is deeply insulting. As is the notion that a nephew of the former President would be employed as a menial by the degenerate troubadour Lord Jagger – whose songs are still banned here in Poland. The idea that such an upright Polish craftsman would permit his reproductive organ to be fondled by the even more disgusting pervert George Michael is also a shocking libel.

Stanislaw, a bachelor, is respected youth leader and has weekly sessions with Krakow boys in large hut with blacked out windows. He is assisted by local Catholic priest Jacek Bondarewski. They play many games like piggy back rides and hunt the sausage after which communal shower and some rounds of PUTSYS (Pick up that soap you slag). Jacek has just returned from visit to England. He stayed in Manchester at Rembrandt guest house in Canal Street – or perhaps Anal Street since sign is different at each end of street. Many friendly fellows there – perhaps some suspect Jacek is East European gangster since one fellow ask “are you a receiver of swollen goods Jacek?”  Jacek learn much about perverted customs of West which all fellows in Rembrandt also deplore. He learn many new technical terms to describe degradation and pass them on to Stansilaw and myself.

So, to continue, turd burgling prohibited here in Poland under enlightened reign of Jaroslaw Kaczynski unlike England where it is compulsory in Navy, Prisons, Public Schools and anything to do with the arts. I wonder if you too are not chocolate chimneysweep and if Madame Dent and daughters are not rented from Gayboy Times small ads. Stanislaw worried that his unmarried state might be misconstrued especially after obscene story Biggles Pulls Them Off attributed to Stefan on website. Stanislaw, aged 55, insists he well up for it but has not yet met Miss Right although search is still on. He wants slim girl with no tits or arse and legs which don’t meet at the top. Short hair also desirable feature – and perhaps moustache.

To conclude: my client, ex president Wojciech Jaruzelski, feels his resurgent political career has been badly damaged by the false allegations in PP23. He denies he had a hotline to Moscow consisting of a large red earpiece, that he dressed in furs on hot Polish beach because it was minus five in Leningrad, or that he built a Jacuzzi for the camp guards in Siberian Gulag. He spends much of his enforced retirement watching DVDs of Sopranos while waiting for the recall of a grateful nation. He asks me to say that you are cock-sucking mother-fucker and a fudge-packing fenook and if he don’t get 50 big ones (and we’re not talking arse wipe zlotys here – pounds sterling) he will personally have you seen to by faithful old CPGB hard knocks who will make sure you sleep with the fishes in the Ribble. His son Stanislaw would settle for ten grand, a retraction in your magazine and on website, all expenses paid trip to Rembrandt guest house in Manchester and lifetime subscription to Gayboy Times (in order to ensure no more libellous entries by Stefan)

 

Yours litigiously

Dariusz Wasylkowski (senior partner)

 


 A POSTCARD FROM STEFAN

 

Esteemed Editor Dent

I visit my cousin Stanislaw here in Krakow. He is sad old shirt-lifter. He much impressed by Wislawa’s earnings in Greek street and also by my new status as great poet in Penniless Press 23. He ask if Alan Dent also rich proprietor of magazine like dirty digger Murdoch. Yes, I say, Dent very rich and next year he will get 200,000 zlotys from Tony Blair who will pay him to stop teaching. Stani much puzzled by this and say that Uncle Wojciech would not succumb to such bribery but simply lock Dent up under Article 58.

Yrs

Stefan


SOME WEBSITE FAILINGS

I’m blinding down the M6 at 90, late for a sales meeting, (yis, you can just about get away with that) mobile held up to my right ear while my left hand is jabbin at my laptop trying to find Jim Burns’ latest essay. Suddenly an old fart in front, wearing a flat cap, swings his caravan into the fast lane. I looks up – but too late. Huge bang. The caravan is matchwood, twelve months’ back issues of the Pigeon Fancier are strewn all over the motorway, along with cans of baked beans and half a ton of teabags.

The Beemer is well trashed. The air bag whacks me in the face. Christ! I thought, that’s going to cost at least a grand to replace.

And why? Coz it’s a hell of a job finding new stuff on your site. Is Jim’s piece in Comin Up? Prose? the Archive? The Annexe? Or God knows where?. Somethin’s got to be done. My boss says we could sue.

Gordon Turnbull – Krohne Measurement and Control NW Area Rep

 

Gets this poor sod in the back of the ambulance. He’d banged his head slipping on some vomit outside the Cock an Trumpet. Thought he looked a bit dehydrated (booze does that to you) so stuck him on a drip. Goes back to poking at me laptop trying to find Jaruzelski’s latest analysis of the French Pension regime when I hears a horrible croak. Suddenly the bugger yells and sits bolt upright. His arm has swole up like a balloon. I’ve bin so distracted trying to find that piece that I’ve only bin and gone and plugged him into the fire extinguisher. Then the poor bugger dies. He probably would have died soon anyway since he was well over fifty. All the same – it’s not on is it? You should make things easier to find. You may finish up in an ambulance yourself one day.

Harold Higginbotham – Paramedic – Swindon Ambulance Station

 

Were coming into Jakarta airport on a short jag from Bankok. It’s one of them second hand Tupolev Tu 154s  flogged off cheap by Aeroflot after it’d failed their stringent safety check. It's the monsoon and you can’t see the ground. Still I’m used to the approach so I try and get up Smallcreep’s Day to have a bit of a larf. We’re descending nicely when the co-pilot suddenly shouts “What the fuck Roge!..” yanks the control stick back and puts full power on all engines. “Wot’s up Nige?” I ask. “You forgot to put the undercart down Skip”. “Oh that” I sez “Yis. It’s this bloody website. I read chapter 7 last night but I’m buggered if I can find the rest of it. I’ll send an email to that Dent when we get down. If we get down.” Admittedly it wouldn’t have been too serious – they were all Asiatics in the back – plenty more where they came from - but still…

Captain Roger Smethurst – Nirvanah Airlines – Phuket

 

I’d insisted all my students tune in to my live broadcast. It was advertised prominently in the Radio Times:  “Some Interesting Reactions by the Ituri Pygmies to Isaiah Berlin’s lecture on Montesquieu”. Before the broadcast I felt an urgent requirement to micturate and wandered down the labyrinthine corridors of Broadcasting House. I chose a cubicle rather than risk an embarrassing propinquity to an in-house degenerate. Whilst relieving myself I got out my laptop and tried to find that rather stimulating piece on Freud by the excellent Paul Vinit. I quickly became entrapped in the thickets of trash and trivia which surround your few nuggets. I refused to give up, however, and before I knew it my scheduled talk time had passed. The producer was quite understanding: visitors often get distracted in the gents. He’d substituted an archive item – Jade Goody reading Boule de Suif in French.

However, I feel annoyed at this omission and hope Chief Unbutu wasn’t also tuned in to the World Service on that occasion. Can we have a little more rigour and structure in your somewhat anarchic offering?

Professor Rupert Wright-Toessa – Dept of Sociology – University of Southport

 


THE LODGER

Dear Alan Dent

I feel impelled to write to you once more after being presented with a quite disgusting document by my cleaner Enid Horsefield. Her friend, Mrs Crabtree, has a student lodger who reads your magazine. One might think this organ an improving influence containing as it does elegant articles and poems by professors Burns, Lucas and Craig. Recently, however, I note these sages have been displaced by the vulgar rants of the yobbish Tanner, a favourite of the lodger. Enid has passed on a quite reasonable list of instructions from Mrs Crabtree which has been horribly defaced by the lodger and left on the kitchen table as a riposte to her attempt to civilize her domestic arrangements.

Both Ron and Enid Horsefield were as shocked as I was by this epistle. They have just returned from a visit to Eurodisney and report that such things are unheard of in France. Ron had a most stimulating conversation with a young French student of English in nearby Fontainebleau. He asked the student, dining on the next table, what epinards were and why reference to an air-to-sea missile should appear on the menu as an accompaniment to cod. The student soon put Ron right and then gave most instructive talk on French history and poetry. Ron visited the recommended sites the next day and pronounced the palace almost as good as Eurodisney.

Ron, Enid and I are puzzled by the disparity between the boorish English hooligan and his typically polite French equivalent. The credit crunch afflicts both countries equally. We conclude that there’s something wrong with our educational system. New Labour’s attempt to winnow this proletarian element from the student body by the imposition of fees is worthy but ineffective. Ron’s daughter Charlene reports that such repellent oikish behaviour is common among both the University staff and her classmates. I believe  our cultural infrastructure is partly to blame – which is why I pass this on to you hoping for some contrite reformation on your part. 

Sonia Treadgold (B Ed)
Flat 6 Ravenswood, Spath Road, West Didsbury
 

Mrs Crabtree: Leave a note each day to inform me what time you want your tea 

The Lodger: TAR – BUT FUCK OFF 

Inform me by note if there is anything you particularly want to eat or for me to get when I shop 

TAR BUT FUCK OFF 

When I am in the house keep to another room – preferably your bedroom – (you have one not two

FUCK OFF 

You may use my shower but do not move anything that does not belong to you. Don’t touch anything in my room or use my phone in my bedroom. 

GET FUCKED 

You may help yourself to food at any time but do not reorganise my fridge 

TAR BUT FUCK OFF (ALDI CRAP) 

You may use the washing machine 

TAR 

Do not speak to Anne unless you can be civil to her – do not use any kind of foul language to her. 

FUCK OFF (SAD GIRL WITH NO LIFE) 

Do not exhibit any type of unkindness to the dog and cats 

FUCK OFF CATS SHOULD BE OUT AT ALL TIMES 

Do not disturb others with your music or alarm clock 

FUCK OFF. YOU ALL NEED WAKING UP AND YOU ALL NEED MUSIC IN YOUR LIVES SO FUCK OFF

I COULDN’T GIVE A FLYING FUCK, SHOVE THIS SAD NOTE UP YOUR ARSE TILL YOU TURN AN ILL LOOKING GREEN COLOUR AND THEN PLEASE CHOKE AND DIE – NEIL

HOPE THE THREE OF YOU ARE HAPPY TOGETHER.