The Hole

Or, Dig Lazarus Dig.

Being a faithful rendition of events that occurred following the appearance of The Hole.

By K. Starling

The Hole appeared one morning in Todmorden, a small town on the ragged margins of West Yorkshire. Dug within spitting distance of the popular Golden Lion public house, it quickly became a focus of interest, speculation and occasional derision. Why was it here? Who was responsible? How long would it remain? These questions were asked of the men seen sitting in The Hole, or standing around its edge, but they gave little in the way of explanation. Their ‘hi vis’ attire signalled some sort of status but no-one could determine what the precise nature of this authority was.

A sense of unease started to spread amongst The Lion’s regular clientele. The Hole was positioned in such a way that made it visible from every part of the pub. It didn’t seem to matter whether you were drinking in the bar, outside in the beer garden or upstairs in the private function room. The Hole was always there. It was always with you; either in full view or hovering at the periphery of your vision. Late one night the regulars began to eye The Hole with suspicion and whisper the accusation – undercover. The landlady feared a loss of custom. A Thai woman of frank and vivid expression she communicated her fear that actual customers may be lost. “What if someone is totally off their tit, goes out into the darkness and gets eaten by The Hole?”

The regulars knew her to be sincere. Each day they watched as she knelt by the plastic alter to the left of the bar, lit incense and made offerings of food to the ancestors. The altar faced the main door. It stood as a line of spiritual protection for the pub and all who drank there. As last orders were called the landlady and her regulars resolved to address the situation at opening time the following day.

It was mid-morning when the landlady and a handful of early lunchtime regulars received unexpected news regarding The Hole. The easy chatter and light dusting which characterised this point in the day was interrupted by a young woman desperate to off-load a bunch of flyers. She spoke in a voice that lacked any discernible accent, making it impossible to place her anywhere specific, and she sported a t-shirt with ‘follow the signs’ printed across the chest. The Landlady pointed to a table by the door, an established resting place for leaflets, flyers and posters (lost dogs, rooms for rent, clairvoyance and jumble sales all found space here). Lion regular Billy Sticks wheeled himself over to examine the huge wedge of new flyers. Seconds later he spun around, raced back to his companions, reached up and slammed a flyer on the bar, “I knew it” he cried. The Landlady stopped dusting and turned to see a red-faced and slightly manic Billy. She was not alone in wondering whether he had missed his morning medication. “It’s The Hole” he said, “It’s not real!”

Billy Sticks was not given to Philosophic or Esoteric explorations of reality. But (like many local people) the true nature of The Hole was a topic that had somehow worked its way to the forefront of his mind. The flyer declared The Hole was on tour, and included photographs of the exact same hole (was it?) taken during its appearance in other Northern towns. The Hole was described as ‘socially engaged practice’ and an example of ‘art as disturbance of the social fabric’. Sponsors logos gathered like bar-room sweepings at the bottom of the flyer and the body responsible for the ‘piece’ went by the name Cultural Cohesion & Regeneration Unit.

The revelation that The Hole was in fact Art caused a great deal of head scratching and disbelief amongst the local community. The arrival of a small TV crew outside The Lion seemed to dispel claims that this was some sort of student hoax. As a keen supporter of the arts, the Landlady welcomed the project and was filmed delivering a Thai mixed platter to the men in The Hole. The Landlady’s clientele included a clutch of women named Nicola (Nic, Nick, Nicki, Nick-Nack) and, as expected, ‘been there done that Nick’ addressed the camera saying she’d already seen The Hole some months back, in Salford, declaring ‘It was a much bigger production when I saw it’. A passing elderly curmudgeon sucked his teeth, shook his head and challenged the interviewer, ‘Art my arse. You’ll not make a monkey out of me’. These vox pop responses to ‘the piece’ were aired during a feature on the early evening news. They were followed by a longer interview with Potter Bonar, a ratchet* of a woman identified as ‘project lead’.

{* ratchet, noun. a device consisting of a bar or wheel with a set of angled teeth in which a pawl, cog, or tooth engages, allowing motion in one direction only}

Ms Bonar blinked slowly and delivered strap-lines about art & inclusivity, improving the local offer etc. Regulars watching in The Lion struggled to stop their attention sliding. They knew The Ratchet’s words were as authentic as Ray-Ban’s bought on Rochdale Market. But The Landlady, a woman who delighted in abstraction and random assemblies, tuned into The Ratchet’s evocation of art without ownership. The Ratchet’s final lines spilled over greasy lip-stick lips:

“The Hole opens-up a space, literally & metaphorically. It’s an invitation to the local community. It’s a place-holder so to speak, for local people to be artists. We are all artists.”

Following the news report The Hole received an influx of visitors. Some came to scorn, others to take selfies with The Hole, and a few came just to stand at the edge, contemplating the meaning of existence. Standing respectfully by The Hole, they gave the impression of mourners at a funeral. Indeed, a practice emerged of tossing a handful of earth into The Hole, as is customary with graves. This development stirred a protective instinct amongst some locals. Rev. Jocasta Hing, the local Anglican Minister saw The Hole as a potential Spiritual Awakener, and began to chide the muck-throwing visitors, ‘There won’t be a Hole if you keep doing that you stupid fools’. At this point Tie-Dye Tony, a local bongo aficionado and chaos Magi stepped-up: “Back off Rev. That’s not your muck they’re slinging, there’s nothing to say it’s God’s hole”. Some by-standers were left pondering the mystery of God’s hole, but this brief spat between Christ and Anti-Christ hinted at a coming storm that would engulf The Hole.

By mid-week The Landlady’s fears became manifest. Lion regular Mr. Pugh left the pub at closing time, stumbled and fell into The Hole. Despite the noise he made crashing through the hazard warning barrier, his predicament went un-noticed till the following day, when a ‘hi vis’ workmen associated with The Hole discovered a sleeping Mr. Pugh. Awakened and hoisted back to the surface he reported feeling sprightly, even regenerated by his experience. Moreover, he did not return from the depths empty-handed, for he clutched a small piece of pottery, retrieved from his bed of soil. Enjoying his Prodigal Son moment at the bar with a free drink Mr. Pugh cleaned his treasure and revealed what looked like part of a small figurine – the part in question appeared to be breasts. He handed the item to The Landlady who declared “No wonder you’re OK, you landed on some tits. That means it’s definitely a Lady Hole.”

Bob the Builder (whose stone mason ancestors built much of the town, including the monument of Stoodley Pike) suggested the artefact be taken over the road to the Free Library. The Library held artefacts from Blackheath Barrow, a local Bronze Age burial site, and obviously had expertise is such matters. Mr Pugh took some persuasion but eventually handed the ‘tits’ over to the Librarian and asked for a receipt.

Lion regulars awaited news from the local Archeology Unit but rumour spread quickly and by mid-afternoon Random Pagans began to appear, hovering about The Hole and waving burning twigs. They claimed the ‘tits’ were from a Bronze Age fertility icon, a version f The Sacred Mother. The Hole was now a ‘site’ rather than a ‘piece’ and as the Lion’s open mic night crawled towards its first guitar solo a thrush of Astro Feminists declared themselves Guardians of The Hole of The Goddess. By morning The Guardians were in a hostile stand-off with the ‘hi vis’ workmen. Warned they were stamping their Patriarchal hobnail boots all over a sacred site, the men beat a hasty retreat to the safety of The Lion.

As the day rolled-on The Guardians erected a makeshift camp around The Hole, with pop-up tents, a camping stove and sleeping bags. The air outside The Lion was heavy with the smell of incense and burning twigs. By early evening the Todmorden UFO Society assembled in the function room for their monthly meeting. The UFO crew had no stake in The Hole and even those members who were deep into Earth Mysteries expressed only a mild amusement at the latest developments outside The Lion. The exception was Tie-Dye Tony. Tony fancied himself as a Lord of Misrule. This desire tended to manifest itself simply as a need to be contrary; he was argumentative rather than Anarchic and he spent the evening muttering in corners, generating a new narrative for The Hole.

Experiences were shared and a belief that ‘we are not alone’ was collectively re-affirmed as the UFO crew departed after last orders. The Landlady wasn’t pleased with the camp that was now established outside the pub but she remained hospitable as ever. She offered The Guardians a last chance to use her facilities before she closed the doors for the night. The women accepted and came indoors to fill water bottles and visit the toilets. The Landlady insisted they leave the burning twigs with her at the door. As she waited for their return she spied Tie-Dye Tony poking about to the left of The Hole where the hazard barriers had been dumped in a pile – haphazardly.

Things came to a HEAD the following day, in more ways than one. Everything seemed to happen all at once. Tie-Dye Tony conjured his own Pagan Initiative to counter The Guardians. His three Initiates worked with him to clear the pile of hazard barriers and reveal The Mound, a small hill of earth removed during digging of The Hole. According to the Initiates, one of their number had discovered a small stone head of a bull in The Mound the previous day (oh yeah?). Bowing to Tie-Dye Tony’s superior knowledge they now believed the ‘site’ to be a Temple of Mithras, an exclusively male cult which arrived in Britain with the Roman Occupation. Fierce arguments ensued, with The Guardians ridiculing what they saw as a Patriarchal attempt to hijack The Hole, accusing The Initiates of forging artefacts.

A Community Police Officer, a small TV crew and The Ratchet arrived on the scene. The Police Officer was forced to stand between the warring Pagan factions as The Landlady did her best to update the TV crew on developments around The Hole “Someone found old tits in The Hole, so the women came to worship the tits but the UFO men say they found a bull’s cock which means it’s a Man Hole.”

The situation at The Hole was a long way from the Community Cohesion outlined in the arts brief and the media were keen to question The Ratchet. She slid in front of the camera and spoke in perfumed words: “Well, it is common for people to experience a sense of reverence in relation to this ‘piece’. During the tour some people have brought flowers and other offering to The Hole. To my knowledge this is the first time The Hole has generated its own offerings.” The interviewer responded swiftly, “Did you get clearance from the local Archeology Unit to dig The Hole?”

At this point The Librarian trundled across the road. Oblivious to the Pagan kerfuffle, he approached The Landlady and Mr. Pugh announcing “I’ve spoken with our Archeologist.” This news silenced the assembly, including The Ratchet. The Librarian handed the ‘artefact’ back to Mr. Pugh and asked him to sign a receipt saying the goods had been returned: “It’s nothing of significance and it’s not even a pair of breasts. Apparently, it’s a bottom from a human figure that was once the handle of a Victorian novelty chamber pot.”

The Initiates of the Mithras Cult began to laugh and the laughter spread throughout the crowd. Tie-Dye Tony was beside himself, “It’s not tits, it’s an arse.” The Astro Feminists tried to remain dignified and Spiritual. The leader made it known that their response was based on an innocent mistake whereas the men had planted evidence and created a Bullshit Cult. The Landlady sought to pacify the situation: “So, it’s Bum Hole. Everyone has Bum Hole. That means The Hole is non-gender specific. It’s Trans Human, because every creature has Bum Hole, we all need to take a shit – so everybody chill out.” She turned to The Librarian, “Where can I buy the comedy shit pot?”

Arguments and laughter continued as the TV crew tried desperately to wrap-up their report on The Hole. The Ratchet smiled slowly and told the interviewer “The Hole was a great success. People responded to its open invitation. In a creative place like Todmorden The Hole was simply not big enough to hold the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the local populace. A fact which demonstrates the urgent need for projects such as this.” Her pitch-perfect spin on The Hole was interrupted by Red Rose, a local activist.

Rose (real name Rosa Luxemberg Clegg) was a middle-aged woman, the daughter of Frank Clegg, a one-time regional organiser for The Communist Party. She was a familiar face in Todmorden and often seen regaling folk with tall tales and radical visions. She was a jolly sort, despite a childhood in which her Christmas present was the same each year; another plain volume from Lenin’s Little Library. The gifts changed when she became a fashion curious teen and Comrade Santa brought her something nice in Clerical grey. Many of The Lion’s regulars were familiar with her tales of valley life in the 1970s, especially the episode where a member of The Red Army Faction stole her buss pass.

Fixing The Ratchet with a determined eye Rose cried “Where’s the money?” Todmorden folk are known to be financially cautious and mention of money was a sure way to attract the attention of the crowd. The Ratchet raised a perfectly pencilled eyebrow and looked perplexed by the comment. Rose pointed to the ‘hi vis’ workmen, ‘These men were made to volunteer for this nonsense. If they refused they risked losing their benefits”. The Ratchet maintained her composure but Rose had more information to share with the crowd. “You were given close to £200 grand for this ‘project’, so where’s the money?” The crowd were dumbstruck by this figure and many wondered if they themselves might be eligible to apply to The Arts Council.

Cracks began to appear in The Ratchet’s polished exterior. Rose addressed the crowd, saying she now had a new tale to tell ‘How to hide money down a hole’. It seems that The Cultural Cohesion & Regeneration Unit was a one-woman show, operating out of The Ratchet’s back bedroom. The workmen were unpaid, the young intern delivering leaflets was unpaid and the leaflets were paid for by the local council. Rose was now in full flow and the crowd alternated from anger to hidden admiration at the cleverness of the scam.

The TV crew, The Guardians and the Initiates of The Mithras Cult crowded around The Ratchet demanding answers, money, a criminal trial and cameo roles in the docu-drama that would surely follow. The Community Police Officer struggled to protect The Ratchet and Rose entered full Dennis Skinner mode, a vocal epiphany unique to Left-Wing Radicals born in the days of The Welfare State:

“The Labouring Classes are denied honest work, but made to Perform a Play of work, a Spectacle to divert the masses. The Middle Classes are publicly funded to Play at work. THERE IS NO WORK. THRE IS NO WORK. There is only one CULT and its name is Capitalism. Break free brothers and sisters, break free…”.

At this the ‘hi vis’ workmen were gripped with something approximating solidarity. They grabbed their spades and working silently in unison, they filled The Hole.

The End (possibly)

Kelly Starling, September 2017.