My name is Joseph,
and I’m a joiner.
My daughter stops
her mouth with hermit crabs.
We work together, in a veneer
factory (no, really!) near an
old warehouse, where they
teach circus skills,
around the corner from
Hoxton Square, where
We can show you grief
in a door; a sandalwood panel
crammed with sadness,
regrets stacked like vinyl.
My name is Lesley,
and I am dismantled.
Unhinged and rehung,
I let in a gale.
I make things: I make things up
(don’t we all?)
I have found some truth
in the precision of a corner.
I was in a vile mood when I arrived at Wild Hall and the sight of Tony Rind bending over a raw chicken did nothing much to improve things. He was in the kitchen, criss crossing extra thin streaky bacon over the plump breasts with such precision it made my skin crawl.
I knew if I looked over my shoulder into the fruit bowl, there would be six grapefruits. So I didn’t look.
“What’s for dinner Rindi?” I asked. Rindi had used a comb in the last ten minutes because I could see the furrows in his black hair. The sleeves of his pale blue shirt had been folded backwards, way too high above his elbows. It looked obscene. I thought of Rindi down in the basement of Marks and Spencer in Marble Arch choosing grapefruits, checking circumferences and pore size and scrutinizing each one for blemishes and I felt like a louse. I wanted to be kinder to him. The thing was I didn’t know how.
“Good to see you Rindi,” I said putting my bag on the high stool. I lent on the black slate where he was working, and leaning on my elbows, looked at myself, distorted in the polished chrome tap. I sensed Rindi flinch slightly but I didn’t move.
“They’re all down by the pool,” he said. “It’s the home team.”
It sounded false when he said, home team because it wasn’t his home team, it was mine. They were all my friends and if it wasn’t for me he wouldn’t have a houseful of guests and we both knew it.
I was about to say something but he interrupted. “And don’t worry if you’ve forgotten to bring your cossie, there are plenty down there to choose from.”
The Secret Life of Joseph B
We found his body in November – a neighbour worried by a
surge in flies had called the police. The space he lay is marked
with chalk. The curve of where his spine would be is scuffed, a
fading question mark.
The funeral was brief – a hand of earth, a hurried prayer, with
a priest and six mourners drummed up from the faithful. None
could tell me what he did. None had met him while he lived.
His home is filled with treasures – doors swing to reveal other
doors, rooms within rooms open in a mechanical puzzle. Here
is a floor devoted to wood – mahogany, beech, rosewood, oak
and all the tools of marquetry.
A cupboard holds a row of dolls’ heads, mouths parted for
milk. Their arms are on a lower shelf with a chemist’s vials
and tubes. A dragonfly is pinned in lacy elegance. A case is
filled with corvid eggs, blown and labelled.
An open drawer reveals a rook, a king, a pawn, the resin for a
virtuoso’s bow, the fine tooth cogs of broken clocks. Here is a
lens to magnify a startled eye and a tin of stamps from small
Pacific islands. We wonder who he wrote to in Bora Bora,
Kiribati or Tuvalu.
A chest contains photographs of dead friends or relatives
only he could name – a sepia smile caught and given second
life in memory, to die again.
There were rumours – a year of Blackshirts marching, a
building collapse, a wife or two and then a fire, but nothing
more and we are left with who was Joseph B?
The surname GLASS and four Christian names appeared on the grey granite headstone. Weathering alongside many others in the tree filled. Almost indecently lush cemetery in South London. Only one date of death was shown, 24 July 1985.
Stephen aged 70 mowing the grass with his Flymo, Christine 68, opening the oven door of her new dual energy Flavel cooker in her small narrow kitchen, Josephine, 28 , putting her hair into Carmen rollers, and Gerald 26 sat before his computer finalising his sermon. All had been electrocuted simultaneously as a freak bolt of lightning hit their large Victorian home, causing the electrical supply to short.
The only surviving member of the family, Frances, 23 ha collapsed when told the news, and had soon been admitted to a nearby psychiatric hospital. Emerging several months later she returned to the family home, to live amongst her memories and he comfort she found in the collection of clothes, still hanging in the closets, and tucked into tall chests of drawers.
She revelled in the tang of tobacco clinging to her father’s tweed jackets, the waft of Coty L’Aimant from her mother’s Jaeger costumes, the heady smell of the Ambre Solaire bottle in her sister’s room and the remnants of Old Spice her brother’s favourite aftershave. She longed for them to return, to feel again their touch and to be a complete family again.
In February 2000 Streatham and district residents were enthralled and incredulous to read the headlines of the Streatham Gazeteer “Forger/Drug Runner/ Murderer/Conman and Porn Queen exposed”. Suspecting a scam or a printing error many moved on to another item, but those who persevered were regaled by the staggeringly complex web woven by one woman, Frances Glass aka Steve Wood, Chris Stone, Jody Steel and Gerry Glazier whom, for several years had been responsible for a one-woman crime wave, assuming various identities based on those of her tragically dead family. Wearing their clothes, she had subverted their names and turned their respectable lifestyles into blatant criminality.
Her arist father Stephen had transmuted into a forger, Steve Wood, her mother. Known for her warm caring nature had morphed into drug dealer Chris Stone, Josephine an accomplished photographer had become Jody Steel, a porn film maker and her priest brother, a conman, Frankie Glazier.
Neighbours interviewed by the paper reported they had not been aware she lived alone.
I meet my old Glynne’s Bank colleague, Carina. She’s red-faced and gabbling fast. She’s wearing an old brown coat with two buttons dangling loose. Bought from her local charity shop perhaps? Her hands, feet and knees jerk. Her hair, shorter than I ever remember, is stuck up in wonky pyramids, as if she’s been running her hands perpetually through it.
I’m stunned. She had always been so sleek, assured. Long shiny hair, that looked as if she ironed it every day. Words as carefully chosen as her expensive, city-worker clothes.
I know she’s had a life-changing experience, she told me on her i-phone a month ago, before she quit. Her father, she had just found out, was not her real biological father. That was her father’s old friend and he never tried to see her and had jumped in front of a train at Mortlake ten years ago. I can’t grasp the shock of that. I don’t know what to reply, so I let her keep talking on and on. I tune in and out.
She’s saying, ‘….What’s true? What false? I don’t know any more! Don’t believe anyone!’
We are looking for lunch and pass a place called Nusa, with eleven people queueing outside in the cold.
‘Shall we?’ I urge, since my tummy is churning. ‘If that many people queue for it, it must be good!’
‘Don’t be fooled.’ She says, ‘I’ve done it before, queued for ages with other fools who believe the word of some restaurant reviewer, then find the food is bland, cold, poisonous! Haven’t you?’
We are passing a shop with the Charleston playing in the background. Solid, old-fashioned boots with false snow sprinkled on them are on the doorstep. There is a cosy feel that starts to draw me in to spend my Christmas present money on a tweed hat, an authentic Scottish woollen waistcoat, or patterned jumper. But Carina snarls, grabs my arm and marches me past this shop and the next one with crystals hanging in the doorway and books propped up with titles such as ‘Dragon stones: the art of prediction.’
She wants the solace of the lunch time recital at St George’s Church, but even this place makes her angry:
‘This place is supposed to be protestant and plain with no distractions, but look at that elaborate chandelier – its floor to ceiling in the middle of the nave and glinting gold wherever you look. Then there’s that ghastly statue of Mary and Jesus. The colours seem to have been chosen from a B & Q colour chart. And,’ she said, swivelling me round, ‘Do you believe the notice on the font? “Anthony Trollope was baptised here.” Someone could write Mick Jagger or Charles Dickens and no-one would question it!’
We go and sit at the back at last and listen for two minutes to some Bach, before she points up at the three marble figures (two of whom are allegorical) above an elaborate testimonial to a dead administrator who died over a hundred and fifty years ago.
‘Do you believe that man ever existed?! I’ve never heard of him and he sounds too saintly to be true. If he had transformed India and the Scottish Highlands to that extent we’d all have learnt about him in school!’
This time I take her arm and lead her off to the Yorkshire Grey and buy us both a drink. ‘Skol!’ I say raising my glass to hers.
‘Skol?’ she says, spitting out some of her whisky. ‘That’s not cheery and warm. It’s what the Vikings said when they drank out of their enemy’s skull!’
‘Sorry Carina,’ I say slowly sipping my Rioja, feeling guilty that I never consider the origins, or deeper meaning of words, or think much at all.
‘I thought you were on the wagon?’ I’m surprised by the way she tosses back her head and empties her glass in seconds.
‘No, never again,’ she replies. ‘Do you know where that came from? Prisoners were ‘on the wagon’ when they didn’t get off the cart for a last drink before being hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn! Not good! They might as well have got drunk. It might have damped down the pain.’
‘You’ll be very hung over tomorrow,’ I warn as, she flops her head down on her folded arms at the table.
‘Like the people offered a free drink after watching executions then! That’s where that…that’s where that say…..’
She’s silent now and I sit back in my seat, stretch out my legs and savour another sip of wine. I close my eyes and think of Carina’s explanations. Dozens of men and women are jumping wildly down off wagons to drink wine out of skulls with red winking eyes. I shake myself fully awake again and seeing Carina’s soft cloth bag has fallen into a wet beer patch on the floor, I bend down to retrieve it. There is a motto printed across it: ‘The man who does not think for himself, does not think at all. Oscar Wilde.’
‘That’s all right then,’ I say quietly to her, not wanting to wake her up. ‘I’m a woman.’ I stagger to the bar for another Rioja.
The Enigmatic World of Joseph B
Everyone has a story and lives a double-life which is both internal and external. We archive experience on a cerebral google map in our heads where memories link to the unconscious and fuse with feelings which enable us to revisit them, embellishing them in the retelling.
In my memory box are old diaries,notebooks,many photos of my children,
family and friends; a clay whistle; old pieces of mum’s jewelry which I never wear: a collapsed french toy given to me by Chantal my lovely french penfriend.
We exchanged holidays as teenager. She came to Clacton where we shared a caravan during a chilly fifties summer. I returned with her to the middle of Paris where I first learnt to smoke pretty Sobrani ? ciggies; to drink wine with a meal and not get drunk; wear “Le Train Bleu” cat pee perfume; hear “wolf-whistles” at me – where, in fact, I grew up!
In unlabeled boxes are some creepier memories that seldom get an airing except in nightmares.
Artful, skillfully made sculptures,
intriguing, mysterious, boxes &
shelves, 3D constructions,
tempting to prize open,
see into small drawers,
peep behind shelves,
spy on creepy bits of dolls,
photographs, bits of jewelry,
buttons, shells, wire,
thread, cotton, wool.
Glass, metal, wood, anatomy,
energy in wood, metal, glass,
plastic, science, medicine, time.
Reminds me of Louis Bourgeois,
The Surrealists and Peter Blake.
The Enigmatic World of Joseph B
I emerge from Old Street Station, Exit 2, Old Street East South Side. My sense of direction tells me it’s the right exit, which almost certainly means it’s the wrong one.
This is foreign territory.
I’m early and I need sustenance. There must be a Costa or a Pret or a Starbucks nearby. None to be seen. There’s an Eat. I’ve never been in one of those before but I take the risk. The cappuccino’s good. I study the map. Yes, Old Street East must be right.
I start walking. But where’s Holiday Inn? The gallery’s only a stone’s throw from there. I look around hoping to see another member of the group. No. But maybe if I go back into the underground I’ll spot a familiar face.
I go back. I’ll try Old Street West. I head towards Exits 5 and 6. A young man sits between the exits, an empty paper cup at his feet. He says something to me. I don’t catch his words, I assume he’s asking for money.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Can I help you?’
I think it’s unlikely he can, but I say, ‘I don’t suppose you know where Holiday Inn is?’
‘Yes,’ he says, and begins to give me directions. He sees I’m confused.
He gets up. ‘I’ll show you.’
He leads me back to Exit 2 and up to the street. I’d been right in the first place after all. He points. ‘Holiday Inn’s a bit further along on the left.’
I thank him very much for his kindness. I’m conscious I only have a £20 note in my bag. I feel bad, not giving him anything. But I feel better for having met him.
I enter the enigmatic world of Joseph Boshier, whose tortured soul rings so true, riddled as it is with contradictions, his work reflecting his tangled mind. He’s so real …
… and then suddenly, he’s not. There’s no such thing as real, truth is an illusion, a deception.
I leave the gallery bewildered. I go back to the underground and down the steps. I have to look for the young man. Will he still be there? First, I need to change my £20 note. I see a bookshop with a special offer of three William Morris cards for £5. That will give me a £10 and a £5 note. I feel a tap on my shoulder. I turn and he’s standing beside me.
‘Did you find Holiday Inn all right?’
‘Yes,’ I say. I ask him where he’s going. He says he’s returning to his earlier place by the exit. I ask him if he’s had any lunch and he says no.
I offer to get him something. He says he’d like a cup of tea with milk, and a bacon sandwich. I tell him I’ll bring them to him.
I buy my cards, then go to a snack bar for the tea and sandwich. I take them to him and ask him why he’s there. He tells me his mother died three months ago, and his wife has cancer. He’s not homeless but he needs money for the electricity. He had a job, something to do with recycling, but he was made redundant and he’s unlikely to find any work now till the New Year.
I know he’s telling the truth. I give him a £5 note as I leave.
I believe in him. As I believe in Joseph Boshier.
Dedicated to the famous Joseph B
I’m standing in the centre of a wooden construct. It’s something I’ve made. I learned so much of this from my father. If I had to describe the piece to you in words, I’d say that it looked a bit like the wooden game Jenga. But if you stand away you might mistake it for marquetry. It’s full of secret drawers, little compartments of my life. I’ve crafted the centre so that I can stand in it comfortably and look outwards at the reactions of people looking inwards towards my world – although they don’t really know that I’m in here. There are vents in the top and a large secret drawer. When the time comes, I want to be buried in it and take my world with me. And all my special things – just as the ancients did.
People are peeping, looking at pictures of my family and my collected treasures. Sand crabs collected from a day at the beach. A packet of Navy Cut. My mother’s diary, from the days at the jam factory. Pictures of the buildings they think I designed. A book of Edwardian stamps. A skeleton leaf painstakingly dried. A skein of wool I picked up on a school trip to a farm. My memory’s in in a box. I’ll protect it from decay and preserve it for the love of my mother.
Sometimes, I’d show her what I put inside the secret drawers and she’d smile in complicit approval. She didn’t know about the flats, though. I think that “Chesney Court” as a piece of fiction would have disturbed her, if she’d understood.
But here I am. The Artist, closeted away in one drawer of the building of my mind. It’s our opening night. No longer Lesley, I’m Joseph. I’m enjoying in advance my own successful retrospective. Ivano will open the drawer soon and I’ll come out.
I hear him announce me.
“And may I present the artist – Joseph Boshier!”
At that very moment, I should appear. But I find myself unable to do it and retreat into the labyrinth Jenga. This is the world I know and I want to stay here. Let them peer and admire but let me live here, in the corridors of my tower.