Book Review: The Life And Times Of Fishgate Billyboy

Posted: March 2, 2020 in Chat
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The Life And Times Of Fishgate Billyboy, by Fishgate Billyboy. Published by arlecchino press, 2020. £12.00
Copies available from arlecchino press, 6/1 Jamaica Mews, Edinburgh EH3 6HN. Scotland, UK

A biography is as much an historical document as biographical. It need not be chronological; indeed some of the best ie most revealing of their time and subject, have been thematic. With a biography we get a slice of time, era, a contexualising that broadens as far as the subject’s interactions with events and peoples demands. 
To impose a narrative on events, for readability, say, is the easy way, of course.


What of autobiography? We have there the added psychological dimensions, in themselves a deepening of one’s interactions with one’s time, responses to events and people, beyond the scope of biography. We also have a narrowing down of viewpoint. What we can know of our moments of life, and how reflection views them, are two very different aspects, and often create tensions seeking resolution.

So, what of a fictionalised autobiography?
Fishgate, surprise-surprise, is a pseudonym. The writer has changed names, rearranged the course of events at times. The main substance is, we can assume, as it stood for the writer. In other words, other aesthetic and psychological factors have come into play in the structuring of the book.

The story begins for the writer in 1944. Other factors and events occurred to lead up to this, and have great impact on events.
How did young people cope with young families, having lost husbands in the War?

In the 1950s and 60s in the UK on the big stage, we saw the implementation of the national Welfare system, the creation of safety nets for inequality in the economic structures then in place. We saw the growth of the National Health Service, of the Social Security and Benefits systems.
There are always those who fall through the gaps, the sink holes, the blind-sides, of systems. Then, as now, they tend to be either the very young, the old, or those who struggle to understand what the majority take for granted.
Fishgate fell through the gaps early on in life.

It makes harrowing reading to witness someone so lost to the world we know. The writer makes no big rumpus about that period of his life; indeed it set the course for some of the more eventful later episodes. To have no home base, was also to be freed from the crippling static lives many were caught up at the time in 1950s, early 60s, UK.

This is a book about the growth into self; about the uncovering of one’s own identity amidst the burgeoning cultures, influences and pressures of one’s time. It is a document of the gay experience. Really? No, it is a document of one man’s growth into his gay self.
This needs noting because the writer takes nothing for granted from the reader; his coming to realise and then acceptance of his nature are played out, not glossed over with cliche.
‘Identity’, also, would seem to suggest an element of choice.
And with this he developed a keen political sense. The political challenges of the 1970s and 80s were sufficiently forceful to create and engage people from all backgrounds.

It is also a chronicle of the growth and development of a writer.

That last point is very important. This book cracks on at a great pace; the writer has honed his skills, and learned techniques, to create a great read. He does not dwell – that is to say, he does not interrupt his book’s pace and become trapped in the emotional landscape he takes us through. He is unsentimental towards his own failings – and maybe a little too humble over his successes.

And there are many successes.
Academically, he grew into himself as an educated person, taking his BA as a mature student at the justly famous Newbattle Abbey Academy, Dalkieth, Edinburgh. The MSc, well, those who know will certainly empathise here. What is an education, unless it has application? So once again he side-stepped the obstacle (– like Peer Gynt with the formless dark on the mountain road – ) and went into the new growth field of EFL teaching.
There begins another huge period of travelling, adventures, friendships.

All this while he was also establishing a position within the writing networks, with readings and publications. Later was to come his wonderful Chanticleer – Ole Chanty – poetry and writing magazine.

If you are at all curious how other people live through their time, then this book could hold you, and leave its mark.

If you enjoyed this book, you may also like:
Incidents in a Crowded Life, by John Howard

https://www.amazon.co.uk/INCIDENTS-CROWDED-LIFE-John-Howard/dp/1910406724/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=jon+howard%2C+incidents&qid=1583065797&s=books&sr=1-1-spell

Comments
  1. Daedalus Lex says:

    Sounds good. I remember hearing WWII stories from my uncles in the 1960s. First time I hitchhiked around your lovely England (1979? 1980?), asking directions often got me a long walk with a nice old lady who would often share a wartime story.

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