Daily Archives: August 21, 2007

Death on the South Coast

Arthur found himself taking part in the drama of history: he was on duty with the British Army during the partition of India; he fought in the Korean war with the ANZACs; he was on the streets of Belfast when the Troubles started. After spell as a teacher, he came to Brighton to start a new life, and wrote about it years later in Deckhand, West Pier.

In my spare time in the QueenSpark Books office, I helped Arthur make a book of his short stories on a primitive Mac with a mere two megabytes of ram. The book was called How We Were and How We Are Now. I wrote a foreword in which I lauded Arthur’s vision of the past fifty years as a brave alternative to the pornography of the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the end of the second world war. It was all about the writing.

The last time I heard from Arthur, I was working at the BFI. He sent me a postcard with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward on it.

The drink did for Arthur in the end: they found him in his flat. At the crematorium we joined hands in a circle around his coffin and cheered. The tang of smoke was in the air, but we smelled burning again when we left the wake. Hurrying down to the sea we saw it was coming from the West Pier: a fire started the previous day had sprung to life again, at more or less the exact moment Arthur’s body was shunted into the flames.

 

I couldn’t really call Debo a close friend. I think we grated against each other, we weren’t the same kind of person. She was a poet, and I was an aspiring poet: she convened a weekly writing group under QueenSpark’s auspices called Club 94, which I went to when I was unemployed; she didn’t teach the group, but facilitated it: the atmosphere was serious without being unsupportive. It was all about the writing.

I have two small volumes of Debo’s work. One, Small Pitch, is hand-produced, typed on hand-dyed paper, stitched together into a tiny A6 chapbook. The other, Who Broke The Weather, is posthumous, professionally printed and bound. I think I like the first one better, though it always annoyed me the way that Debo omitted articles in her poems – I felt that language worked better with the natural bounce of language as it was spoken – but I did like the way that she put the titles, right-aligned, at the end of her poems, like punchlines and revelations all at once.

Debo once said that she’d met a man at a festival who used to be a poet, but had abandoned poetry altogether. She was an evangelist not only for her own work but for all poetry, and she’d tried to persuade him to start again, but even then I remember envying his status: ex-poet.

Debo was beaten to death by a man who then set fire to her house. She met him in a nightclub two stories below a flat I’d lived in four years previously.

 

I met Steven when I came back to Brighton after some time away. Jackie thought we’d have lots in common, and she was right: an intense but brief friendship blossomed. We were both unemployed, and had a lot of time to spend together, talking, thinking, walking around town. We were just getting into computers: Steven made montages, and for some reason, his clip-art assemblage of a business presentation littered with out-of-scale female figures labelled ‘Little ladies on the table, see’ is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. But words were the thing: we worked for QueenSpark, planned a literature zine called Dust (which never happened), swapped ideas. It was all about the writing.

It bothers me slightly that I can’t quite recall how we fell out in the end. I think Steven said something that really did offend me, pushed it too far, but that was my problem rather than his. I heard of him, and I was jealous when he published a novel.

Everyone has a favourite story about Steven’s hilariously warped sense of humour, and this is mine, even though I wasn’t there: when he worked at American Express with Nathan, he discovered how to use the network’s messaging system to make messages pop up directly onto people’s screens. Attempting to send a message to Nathan, he got the address wrong, and the message ‘You are gay’ popped up on an unsuspecting and unrelated woman’s screen. She was, of course, upset, and Steven got in trouble, but he kept his job.

Steven killed himself, in Birmingham. But his ashes were committed to the sea in Brighton, by the West Pier, now a stark scaffold of rust and burnt struts.