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The obituary of Betrand Zelwig

by Ro 

Posted: 09 April 2005
Word Count: 739
Summary: Fictional Obituary

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Obituaries: Bertrand Zelwig.

Bertrand Zelwig, who has died aged 83, wrote out of a wide-ranging learning and a passionate belief in the importance of putting words on paper. His enthusiasm and influences ranged from Plato to the Sufi’s, from Hemmingway to Haliwell. He translated to English from all the major European languages including Australian, Indian, Chinese and Scottish. He was the first to translate to english Irvine Welshe’s Trainspotting.

His writing was various in theme and form, but always full of text. Zelwig wrote some beautifully musical sonnets profoundly resonant in their use of traditional symbols, such as vowels and consonants which he would cleverly string together to form words and sentences in a manner learned from Shane McGowan. He was a master of poetry which he wrote throughout and in spite of his poetic career – which began with "Chocolate on my sleeve" (1941); and continued through to "Has anyone seen the one where..?" (1995). Some of his best work is collected in the epic "Gently miss my trousers" (1998).

Zelwig’s later sonnets contain a wonderful record of the physical and spiritual experiences of old age. "I’m sorry but I’ve just…" tells of his stifling battle with a weak bladder. In "I’m not talking to that Spear Thrower" he describes his struggle to adapt to a new multi ethnical society. He also wrote a series of impressive prose, many of which are published together in "The North London Phone Book" (1981). These best sustain his anarchic claim in a 1992 lecture that " Writing in its sublimest conception is the printing of text onto a readable surface."

Born in Bristol and educated in a classroom, Zelwig turned down a career in unemployment to read natural sciences and a "no cyclists or dogs allowed" sign at King’s College, Cambridge. In 1939 he volunteered for the Royal Artillery and served as a hat stand in India and Burma, eventually rising to the rank of coat hanger. After the war he studied his naval at Queen Mary College, London. He left without taking a degree, explaining that he feared he might become educated. From 1946 to 1958 he was the driving force behind the periodical Periodical, which published works by Erza Pound, T.S. Elliot and Jackie Collins.

From 1958 to 1963, Zelwig ran antique shops in Wessex, Kent and London. Hardly a natural business man he found his stock was mostly "brand new", and he was declared bankrupt in 1963, after which he moved to Paris, Munich, Stockholm and Venice. Settling eventually in Wales, to teach and study at the prestigious Imperial Academy of Academic and Imperial Prestigious Academia. A lack of prestigious academics however forced the closure of the academy, and in 1983 he was forced to move to a remote dog kennel in the mountains of Salerno, where he lived simply and alone, almost always without companions or the company of other people. The kennel contained almost no furniture but was overflowing with dressers, wardrobes, beds and kitchen stools. Despite having practically no money Zelwig managed to maintain a healthy supply of cigarettes, champagne, rich foods and a stream of leggy French prostitutes and he continued his subscription to the magazine Smash Hits. Writing of this later that "I may have been alone but I always kept abreast of what Kylie was wearing."

Luckily the year 1985 saw a change in Zelwig’s fortune. An upcoming publishing house Miss Print bought the rights to his work. The publication of "I always block mine up with cardboard"(1985) attracted a good deal of praise, and Zelwig was once again in the limelight. He gained an increasing number of readers from the illiterate and blind community and his work was awarded several prizes. Admirers nominated him for the Booker Prize shortly before his death but he was pipped at the post by ex Coventry City footballer Alan Ball’s excellent autobiography "It’s all in the game." Of this disappointment Zelwig commented "well at least I was beaten by a real pro."

In 1999 the American poet and critic Benjamin Fulcrum described Zelwig as "the most inexperienced plumber I’ve ever hired." In 2000, Maurice Shock had said of Zelwig that "his free kicks weren’t up to much but he had a marvellous left foot." But it is perhaps in his own words that he is best described when he said of himself "I was only in it for the money."

Bertrand Zelwig, 1922 – 2005.

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Comments by other Members

scoops at 10:34 on 11 April 2005  Report this post
Ro: I love your blokey humour. This is a witty piece that reads well on its own, but I can equally well imagine it part of a radio 4 evening skit. Have you turned your hand to more sustained writing? It will stretch you more to try pacing that style over a longer narrative, and I suspect you'd be rather good at it:-) shyama

crazylady at 15:18 on 28 April 2005  Report this post
I liked this.
Plenty of smiles, a couple of outright laughs(hat stand & hangers).
Clever stuff, Loved his book title too.
Very satisfying.
I could hear this being read with great aplomb as a piss-take of a serious radio show.

Neezes at 14:38 on 02 November 2010  Report this post
I like the humour, well done.

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