Friday, March 23, 2007

First fruit

I was saddened to discover recently that one of my oddball literary favourites, the determinedly eccentric Scots performance poet and occasional (usually self-accompanied on an asthmatic harmonium) singer Ivor Cutler, died last year.

One of his finest works is "Life In A Scotch Sitting-Room, Vol. 2" (there was no Vol. 1!), a sequence of grim, quirky, often surreal prose poems forming a memoir of his between-the-wars childhood in a Glasgow slum. Rather as with Monty Python's 'Four Yorkshiremen', he often gleefully exaggerates the squalor and privation, having fun with stereotypical images of the Scots and the poor (for example, the family allegedly subsists entirely on a diet of herring and 'grits'). These strange, macabre, oddly beautiful little stories are nicely enhanced by the grotesque illustrations of the English cartoonist, Honeysett (alas, his website,, seems to have become defunct very recently).

The one below, Episode Eight, is perhaps the best of the lot. I shared it recently with my friend The Poet, having been reminded it of it some months back, when, at a writer's group we both attend from time to time, a local friend shared a very similar recollection of her family's ceremonious sharing of their first ever can of Coca Cola when she was a child.

I will do my best to root out some more of Ivor's work to share with you over the next few months.

[The picture, by the way, comes from a website kept by a couple of young photographers working in Toronto, Istoica; they try to post one new image a day: some nice stuff, mostly portraiture. If you browse through their back catalogue you can find a picture of the gorgeous and talented Mr Sam Javanrouh (and also of his even more gorgeous wife, Talayeh), the man behind the Daily Dose of Imagery photoblog which I recommended over on Barstool Blues a little while ago.]

One day Father returned with an orange. It was our first glimpse. We queued up to finger its texture and inhale heavy Mediterranean odours. That evening, after herring, we gathered round to watch. It was glorious to see how fastidiously his knuckled fingers cossetted the glowing orb. He knew by touch how deeply he could penetrate, and as he circumscribed with the kitchen knife, we were mesmerised by the alien tang; our mouths ran with spit. My chest hurt with excitement.

Slowly he stripped away quadrant after quadrant of peel, to reveal dense juicy segments, crouched towards the centre in anticipation of their imminent rape, white threads of pith hanging in torn agony.

"O juicy fruit, pray be delivered to my mouth soon," I prayed.

"See who can swallow theirs first," whispered my sister, who loved masticating with her mouth open. My childish mind, shocked, found no words. How can a girl be so coarse? A quick second of pleasure, a tiny after-taste, and nothing - barely a memory. Is this how one should taste? Was I missing something? Should Life be gulped down? There was always plenty more.

But these thoughts reached the surface only as a faint uneasiness, an attempt by my sister to put her heel on the tender sensuous flower of anticipation. Father inserted his thumb at the top and wrested apart the leaves. There was one for all bar one. Mother shook her head with a smile, to our relief.

"I'm a little loose," she murmured.

I laid mine on the sill, tore the skin open with grey nails, then slowly, one at a time, sucked the oblong globules. Someone was standing behind me, sucking their fingers. It was my sister, smiling, hovering, teasing. With a cry of despair, I gathered up the remains and swallowed quickly, fear killing the pleasure. Then I fell to the floor, crying bitterly. I felt violated, and mourned lost innocence. My brain registered that all future pleasure should be given and taken with love.

Ivor Cutler (1923-2006)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

sitting on the edge of my seat
mouth watering
eyes greedily digesting every word, wanting to go faster, forcing myself to slow down
finger hovering above scrolldown button on mouse

The first fruit - I love it, love it, absolutely!

Thanks for sharing that.