Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ivor Cutler/LIFE IN A SCOTCH SITTING-ROOM, Vol. 2


I was saddened to discover earlier this year that one of my oddball literary favourites, the determinedly eccentric Scots performance poet and occasional singer (usually self-accompanied on an asthmatic harmonium), Ivor Cutler, had died in 2006. He was a lifelong schoolteacher, who turned to writing - and found fame through radio performances in the UK - relatively late in life. He'd been a favourite of mine for 30-odd years. The man collected ivory cutlery, as a concrete pun on his name - how can you not love that?

So - since I haven't quite finished my current book yet! - I thought I'd review my favourite of Ivor's books on here. (This is a book I love so much, I never like to be without a copy, wherever I am in the world. And I have quite often bought it as a present for friends. Can there be a higher recommendation?)

"Life In A Scotch Sitting-Room, Vol. 2" (there was no Vol. 1!) is probably his finest work. It's a sequence of grim, quirky, often surreal prose poems forming a fictionalized 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 almost entirely on a diet of herring and 'grits'; and liver vein is prized by the children as "chewing gum of character"!). These strange, macabre, oddly beautiful little stories are complimented by the highly distinctive, nicely grotesque line drawings of the great English cartoonist Martin Honeysett.

Each of the 21 'episodes' is only a page or so long, so it is a very short and easy read - but it is quite haunting. The observation and the use of language are often just exquisite - a joy to be treasured and shared down the years.

If you'd like a taster, I have put a number of excerpts from this on my blog over the past year - most recently here.

No comments: