Tuesday, 25 August 2015


Gruts - Ivor Cutler

Although Ivor Cutler has long been a favourite of mine it has been of his recordings rather than the written versions of his work. When I saw this in the children's section of a local Oxfam store for €1.50 I had to have it. The pieces within it are the scripts for radio broadcasts from 1959 to 1963.

And I was not disappointed. These pieces work just as well, if not better, on the page. Cutler's quirky, sinister, humourous flights of fancy beguile in both formats.

No matter how strange these stories get, whether it is the cold potato man throwing his goods to a woman at a window on the twelfth floor or a man leading another to the top of a hill to show him the way, waving his arms and taking off, the stories all have a conspiratorial tone that seems to say "They won't believe it was like this, will they? But you and I know better."

I have been trying to think of meaningful comparisons for Cutler and the two writers who come to mind are Roald Dahl and Flann O'Brien, particularly under his other pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen. Like Cutler, many of na Gopaleen's pieces (they were a newspaper column) were twisted around by the last sentence, from which it became clear they sprung. Like Dahl there is fantasy, cruelty and laughter in equal measure. You know there are hard times under the skin of these tales. Something of Tony Hancock's glum jowls lurks in the mix, too.

The title story, Gruts, tells of a son who mutinies. His father always brings Gruts back for tea. Gruts are rather what you imagine them to be, I guess, some kind of indeterminate junction of gruel and guts. But this time the son is adamant in his refusal to eat them. It strikes me as the humour of tenement life, even if Cutler himself came from a middle-class background. A particular favourite is the tale of a man who is selling old cups of tea at a market. "Well, when they've poured out cups of tea they don't use we buy them from them, and if you can get a cup of tea that's still a little warm we're going to charge you a penny-ha'penny for that; and if it's gone cold but it's fresh, then we charge you a penny and so on, right down to the free cups of tea. We don't mind giving people free cups of tea because it gives them such a bad taste in their mouths that they're only too pleased to buy one of the better ones."

The Way

The book is illustrated by the whimsically grotesque pencil drawings of Martin Honeysett (apologies for the poor quality of the scans) and they complement the words beautifully, with something of the tone of threadbare fantasy that runs through the book.

It seems to me criminal that Cutler is relegated to the fringes of respectability in an overcoat labelled humourous verse and a cap with Cult Figure stitched into the rim. He is a stylist and has polished this genre of his own to near perfection. There is something here of escapism, but also a strong immanent feeling of the pressures from which you might need to escape.

If it weren't for a cruel twist of his patronomy his name could become, like Joycean or Kafkaesque, a badge to indicate the originality of his unique style. But that's forking knife. (sorry, couldn't resist..)

Fish Fright

Click here for my brief obituary for Ivor Cutler.

More Cutlery here - THIS IS A LINK


  1. Wow, these are good. Never heard of Cutler.

    1. There's lots online Tom. Have fun discovering him. I envy you his novelty.