GROTTY AND THE QUARRYMAN by Barry Tebb
(To Paul Sykes, author of 'Sweet Agony')
He demolished five doors at a sitting
And topped it off with an outsize window
One Christmas afternoon, when drunk;
Sober he smiled like an angel, bowed,
Kissed ladies’ hands and courtesy
Was his middle name.
She tried to pass for thirty at fifty-six,
Called him "My Sweet piglet" and laid out
Dainty doylies for his teatime treats; always
She wore black from toe to top and especially
Underneath, her hair dyed black, stuck up in a
Bun, her lipstick caked and smeared, drawling
From the corner of her mouth like a
Thirties gangsters’ moll, her true ambition.
"Kill him, kill him, the bastard!" she’d scream
As all Wakefield watched, "It’s Grotty,
Grotty’s at it again!" as pubs and clubs
Banned them, singly or together and they
Moved lodgings yet again, landlords and
Landladies left reeling behind broken doors.
Blood-smeared walls covered with a shiny
Patina of carefully applied deceits! "It was
The cat, the kids, them druggies, lads from
Football", anyone, anywhere but him and her.
Once I heard them fight, "Barry, Barry, get
The police," she thumped my door, double
Five-lever mortice locked against them,
"Call t’ police ‘e’s murderin’ me!" I went
And calmed her down, pathetic in black
Underwear and he, suddenly sober, sorry,
Muttering, "Elaine, Elaine, it were only fun,
Give me a kiss, just one."
Was this her fourth or fifth husband, I’d
Lost count and so had she, each one she said
Was worse than the last, they’d all pulled her
Down, one put her through a Dorothy Perkins
Plate-glass window in Wakefield’s midnight,
Leaving her strewn amongst the furs and
Bridal gowns, blood everywhere, such perfection
Of evidence they nearly let her bleed to death
Getting all the photographs.
Rumour flew and grew around her, finally
They said it was all in a book one ‘husband’
Wrote in prison, how she’d had a great house,
Been a brothel madame, had servants even.
For years I chased that book, "Lynch," they
Told me, "It’s by Paul Lynch" but it wasn’t,
Then finally, "I remember, Sykes, they allus
Called him Sykesy" and so it was, Sweet Agony,
Written in prison by one Paul Sykes, her most
Famous inamorato, amateur boxing champion
Of all England, twenty years inside, fly-pitcher
Supreme, king of spielers; how she hated you
For beating her, getting it all down on paper,
Even making money for doing it, "That bastard
Cheated me, writing lying filth about me and
I never saw a penny!" she’d mutter, side-mouthed,
To her pals.
But that book, that bloody book, was no pub myth,
It even won an Arthur Koestler Literary Award
And is compulsive reading; hardly, as a poet,
My cup of tea but I couldn’t put it down.
Paul Sykes, I salute you, immortaliser of Elaine,
Your book became and is my sweetest pain.