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Mark Rickman Memorial Page

Remembering  author and Earlyworks Press Club member Mark Rickman,

who passed away in March 2011

Mark Rickman first came to the notice of Circaidy Gregory Press after his hilarious story Chicken Run came third in the Earlyworks Press Gender Genre competition. At the time, he said of himself: "On the subject of gender and pen names, I’ve been writing short stories and articles for more than twenty years and have been published by Woman’s Own, Woman and Home, Family Circle, Raconteur, and many other weekly and monthly magazines. My book ‘Sarah Fowkes’ was short listed for the Harry Bowling prize for novels about London. My short story titled ‘Alec’s Dog’ (about a man with severe learning difficulties), came joint second in the 2003 Allianz Cornhill competition, held at the Guildford Book Festival. My play, ‘The Day The Fish Walked’ won a third in the 2003 Sussex Playwrights one act play competition, and another play ‘Soliloquies’ had a short season at the Blue Elephant theatre in Camberwell..."

Editor Kay Green writes:

...and the list of accolades  he began above goes on and on. His motto clearly was 'keep going till you stop'. He regularly gave the Earlyworks Press writers a run for their money in the club monthly challenges and in the early months of this year received commendations from Cazart Magazine and Leaf Books. We thought he was an excellent writer and sharp wit when he first joined us and we thought he was going from strength to strength. The world has lost a lively mind and an excellent writer.

Mark Rickman with other Earlyworks Press writers at South Bank

Mark (centre front) with some of the Earlyworks Press writers at the South Bank in London

Photo courtesy of Pam Eaves

Historian Victoria Seymour writes:

I met Mark Rickman in the forum of Earlyworks press, impressed with his poetry. I came to know him better after reading his book Crazy Bear and exchanging emails with him. Although Mark would not have considered himself anything other than an adult when he joined the army there is no doubt that WWII had a huge effect on his young life. I invited him to contribute to my book Victory’s Children and the piece below is for the main part his own words. In common with most ex-servicemen, he was unwilling to go into detail about the more harrowing aspects of his wartime experiences. But in two of his poems, which appear at the end of this extract, he reveals something of the horrors of war. Mark joined the army in 1943 when he was 18 years old. 

“My first regiment was the Sherwood Foresters, where new recruits were told that when challenged with 'Are you Robin Hood?’ we had to admit to being Robbing Bastards. I said I'd bear it in mind. Because I was taught to climb a rope using hands and feet at school, I became a physical training instructor. I know it sounds daft but I was the only one who could carry equipment up a rope without falling off. I volunteered for the paras, did my jumps at Ringway, Manchester, was sent to India, put in gliders in the Army Air Corps and because there weren’t enough of them, became a section sergeant as part of the PBI (Poor Bloody Infantry.) 

“I left India on Independence Day, Aug 15th 1947, the day Pakistan came into existence and another war started over a line drawn across a map; all right, when it comes to borders I admit I have attitude. I got home to find I didn’t have one. My parents were divorced and remarried and fully occupied with their new relationships. I took my kit to the Waterloo Club, an army club near Westminster Bridge, listened to Big Ben, put on my grey demob suit and, knowing the area, found lodgings in Seven Sisters Road. There were lots of jobs about and because I didn’t care what I did to earn a crust, I found a job as a salesman in the Times Furnishing Company. By chance we loaned some furniture to the Finsbury Park Empire who were rehearsing a costume drama that included period uniforms. I had a word with the designer and began working on theatrical costumes. I had become interested in military history and uniforms during my period of service in South East Asia Command. This led to work on costumes and equipment for films and TV productions such as Beckett, A Man for All Seasons, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Camelot, Elizabeth R and Doctor Who. I worked hard because I refused to look back. Not at my parents, not at the war in the Far East. Not at the fact I never got the chance to kill Germans. Not at the dent in my head and not at the mess inside my head. What a time to get married! But I did and when I had too much to drink and began to rant, my wife, Dinah, threatened me with a bucket of water. Years later, she said I always asked if it was going to be cold or hot water and that saved our marriage. Thanks to her, I became reconciled with my parents and got rid of some of the angst I still carry but can switch off. Dinah died far too young but I had her long enough to restore my sanity; thankfully our two boys take after her.”

Retiring in his fifties, Mark Rickman wrote short stories and articles for family and writers’ magazines as well as plays, going on to be short listed and winning prizes in a number of literary competitions and gaining recognition abroad. He says of his poem “Wound Stripes”, later re-titled “Delirium” that he has re-written it a number of times. Mark explained that wound stripes were small, gold colour metal strips attached to the sleeve of the uniform tunic, concluding, with typical candour, “Big deal.”


WOUND STRIPE

I open one eye.
Above me shines a light.
The wrong shape,
wrong colour,
wrong intensity,
wrong memory.

I close the eye
and sink back
to exploded shell and
sudden lift from the Irrawaddy.

I fly and fall.
Fly and fall again
and again until
upon the river bank,
Mud is caking
whatever limp thing
is left of me.
My tongue
feels broken teeth.
A gob of blood,
while flies explore
the gape of my mouth.

I forget legs, 
I forget arms,
while bloodied fingers
claw me back.
In the river
I drift downstream
at one with broken weed.

Shells and guns
explode round me.
A voice says: 
Time to wake up.

I open one eye.
Above me is a face,
rosy red.
Her peeling nose
framed by cap and
loosened hair.

Sunburn, I remember,
is a self inflicted wound.
I could put her on a charge.
I try telling the silly bitch
but a dead fish floats by.

The nurse shakes my shoulder, 
pats down my pointing finger,
and tells the doctor I am delirious.

Of course you are, says the fish
as it bellies up beneath the weed.
That’s what you get for playing soldiers.

Mark says that “Sniper” was based on what the men were told while on patrol in Burma; 

he imagined the event depicted in the poem.

 

SNIPER


I stood tremble kneed, ankle deep
in rotting vegetation,
hearing the broken nosed sergeant,
who did not survive the action,
say watch the trees for snipers
who use their country’s flag
to tie themselves to the branch they sit on
while waiting for an enemy to kill.

What do they want to do a daft thing like that for, Sarge?


He pats me on the shoulder
In the hope that when it’s their time to die,
they remain upon their branch
and continue to serve their Emperor
by making us waste our bullets
and give away our position to their comrades.

Blimey Sarge, who’s going to fall for an old trick like that?


Me, of course.
Convinced the sniper’s eye was on me,
his rifle aimed.
I ignored the warning shouts and fired
and fired and fired again,
dislodging the weeks old corpse,
following it and its flag down through the branches
until it lay wet and triumphant.
Grinning up at me, while answering bullets
destroyed the platoon,
And the sergeant with the broken nose.

Everyone but me and the sniper’s rifle
Forever trained upon my chest.

 

John Benn writes:

I (we) ... Mutt'n me ... have just spent a day mourning the loss of an unseen friend, Mark Rickman, the original Crazy Bear. We walked miles. Along the beaches of Torbay. In brilliant sunshine. Had it been possible, I would have enjoyed that day in the company of a gentleman who made us all smile ... dammit ... burst out laughing. Mark had that rare gift of entertaining his readers and though we never got to meet in person, he became an Earlyworks Press treasure. Can you really feel such warmth for an e-mail friend?

We pigged a pair of Richard's fish-cakes, made on the premises on Seaway Road, together with mushy peas ... plenty of salt and pepper ... then walked another mile into Paignton to the Courtyard Cafe (behind the Post Office) to indulge in fresh strawberries and clotted cream, followed by a pot of tea. A real cracker of a day. Mark would've loved it, I'm sure.

The loss of good friends affects us in differing ways, but I walked along the beach 'cos I felt that if Mark had been there, he would've been thrilled to be part of my day.

Born in 1925, he eventually joined the army as an eighteen volunteer to fight the Imperial Jap forces as an infantryman. These were the days of The Chindits, the Burma Campaign and the infamous railway featured in the film Bridge Over the River Kwai. Things be as they are now, we need to show sympathy for Japan, so we won't say anything more.

At that time, Mark acquired a special interest in military history and uniforms and went on to write plays, articles and stories concerning his pursuits. He's been doing this right up to his sad loss at age 85, indeed, his contributions to Earlyworks Press were still on-going at the beginning of March, and the volume of his work has kept editors busy for three decades, even though he retired in his fifties. Fascinated by costumes - especially by uniforms - he worked on: Becket, A Man For All Seasons, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Camelot, Elizabeth R and Doctor Who. No wonder he knew so much about clothes and the rag trade.

Always funny, he knew how to entertain and everyone at Earlyworks Press looked forward to his latest tome, knowing for sure that we'd always get a good chuckle from him. 'Friends are the most important part of your life. Treasure the tears, treasure the laughter, but most importantly, treasure the memories.' From the depths of Streatham High Street - hardly a couple of miles from where I was born - the capital will be somewhat quieter now that Mark has gone home.

        From quiet homes and first beginnings,
        Out to undiscovered ends
        There's nothing worth the wear of winning
        But laughter and the love of friends. 


Requiescat in pace, Mark Rickman. We remember you with great sadness but also with a smile.