Obituary: Arthur Callard

D.A.Callard 1949(?) - 2006

by Mat Hilton
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

I first met Arthur when he and a Canadian writer called Rob Powell came up as day labourers to dig our fishpond at Shroggs on the hillside running back of the railway line between Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge. This may perhaps have been as early as 1978.

We caught fire instantly, sharing as we did so many cultural references and a displaced, somewhat mordant, view of the world.

It was to his house on Stubbings that I removed a couple of years later at the time of my divorce.

David Arthur Callard was born in Cardiff into a family who had been part of the rural exodus, from Devon, in the nineteenth century.

He proved to be a bright child and despite the emotional check suffered at finding his father hung, and the indifference of his family to intellectual pursuits, he achieved a degree in American Studies at Cardiff University, efflorescing there in small magazine poetry.

Sometime in the mid 1970's Arthur was in a car that crashed in Ireland. The event left him with an impaired speaking voice and the need, as he put it, to practice the art of "verbal economy".

With the compensation money he bought the bottom end house of the terrace facing out to open ground, between the river and the canal at Stubbings. I believe he came to the town through Manchester connections.

Besides menial, indeed distasteful, work at Fielden Hospital and summer path making under the banner of Job Creation Arthur continued to write poetry and short stories.

He got his lucky break sometime in the early eighties. In the junk shop run by Ronald Orr-Ewing at Charlestown he found manuscript material relating to the enigmatic American writer Evelyn Scott.

He realised that his gifts could focus in biography. He had the benevolent regard of a first class mind for the follies and contradictions of the lives of those unwilling to bear the piercing regard of self-honesty.

For some reason in those years the mixture of the in drifting and native populations of the Calder Valley townships produced a rich crop of people everlastingly in scrapes, or flaring luridly for a while around the rainy back streets.

Arthur's own scrapes were mostly alcoholic. Tumbling asleep to the floor wherever he happened to be, returning to the innocence of the sleeping babe. Latterly I understand he became a sometimes troublesome overnight guest.

After Pretty Good for a Woman: The Enigmas of Evelyn Scott (Norton 1987) he wrote, The Case of Anna Kavan: A Biography, (Peter Owen 1992) another "missing" woman.

Where Arthur got his taste for viragos, or as he put it "difficult women" I do not know but he was a keen observer and friend to many of the plucky and spirited women who made much of the running in the Hebden Bridge of those days.

He was acutely sensitive to duality of any kind and showed infinite wisdom and charity to the bundle of jumping fibres that arrived in my shape at his house in 1981.

I would sleepwalk from Stubbings round the corner to Aurora Wholefoods to sweep the floors as penitence for my divorce, my desertion of my children.

I got as far as making glasses from bottles in the attic and interfering brusquely in the meetings; time to move on.

I moved from Arthur's to Unity Street and in fact eventually, in 1987, away from the Calder Valley.

I lost touch with Arthur. He stole my girl whose ambition was to make him cry. Then we made it up and corresponded a couple of times a year, taking it in turns to send each other a fiver on "loan" in remembrance of The Albert.

I heard that he'd moved back to Cardiff and was working on the biography of Rhys Davies, a neglected working class welsh homosexual writer of immaculate short stories.

Then I got a letter from Luxor in the spring of 2005, from the Sheraton Hotel.

Arthur wrote in French (I had moved to the south of France) telling me of the deaths of Jeff Nuttall and Steve Mallatratt and how he, Arthur, was making his way round the world while his sight lasted - "mes yeux sont presquement foutu".

He included a Cardiff address, Riverside. I wrote to it.

I got a card from Uzbekistan - Arthur still going east aways.

I got my letter sent back - not known. A hard, homeless summer went by for me and then I wrote care of the Society of Authors. It was they who told me, in February 2006, what they'd heard from his bank. No details.

When you hear of the death of a contemporary, of someone with whom you've fought the battle of life, its as though the current has been switched off in a wing of memory's mansion, I lay down these few words as a rough and ready flare path for others, better informed, to land on.

Mat Hilton
France 11200


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