HOWWE MET

MOLLY PARKIN AND FIONA PITT-KETHLEY
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MOLLY PARKIN: I first met Fiona Pitt-Kethley through her work, via the written word, which is a wonderful way to meet somebody. Sky-Ray Lolly, the first small volume of her poems, came out in 1985, and her second volume, Private Parts, came out in 1987, by which time I had got myself sober and had been given my own radio programme by BBC Radio Wales. When I was asked who I'd like to have on the show, I put Fiona down. The programme concentrated primarily on people with Welsh connections, and Fiona is Welsh - she comes from a very celebrated family of bards.

What I loved about Fiona's poetry is that she is very candid about sex and sexual parts. I think she's one of the best poets working today, though I think she's underrated. She's been pigeon-holed because she writes about sex. I saw her in the tradition of what I was trying to achieve with my comic-erotic novels. But I got pigeon-holed into being a pornographic writer, which was to misunderstand my writing, which is in a seaside postcard tradition of bawdy humour. Fiona was the only other writer I'd read who was working within that tradition.

When I met her, we had more in common than I'd imagined. I interviewed her in front of this live audience in Newport. She was slightly shocking because she wore this slippery, pink satin dress, from an Oxfam shop I'd guess, but put together with incredible flair, and it looked as if she'd appeared in her underwear in the middle of the morning. Her hair was all skewed up and she had the Cleopatra eye make-up which I have always favoured. She was distinctly odd-looking; and that was how I wanted to look, a little bit off-centre: I have a post-menopausal art student look.

But the programme turned out to be a disaster. I asked her to read one of her poems, and she read one from Private Parts called "Baby Doll", and it happened to have two words which seemed quite normal to me: "prick" and "piss" - two words which, as she pointed out, are both in the Bible. Anyway, I saw my producer go white, and the phone lines were jammed even before the end of the programme, and there were complaints to the Director-General. And we were both in disgrace then; her with the audience, and me with the BBC for not having checked which poem she was going to read on air. Just before she came on, there had been an interview by somebody else with a comic called Stan Boardman, and his stuff was so sexist, so racist - he was talking about "Pakis" - and the audience was laughing, and yet we didn't have a single phone call about that.

I applaud her attitude to sex. She is the only person who says it as it is. I certainly was not the only one who was living as a free spirit in the Sixties, which some people might call being promiscuous. Far from feeling used and abused, women like me thought it was the most glorious fun for eyes to meet on a crowded underground, get off at the next stop, consummate their mutual passions, then go their different ways. Fiona was the only writer I'd met who wrote about that. I've been divorced twice and had nine ex-fiances, as it were, but in Wales, that's nothing. These people up and down the road have been married six, seven times. They have this huge appetite for enjoying life, just as Fiona does. In that sense, she is my kindred spirit. Now, though, Fiona is in a steady relationship and she is utterly faithful to the man she's with. So we're a little bit out of kilter, because I'm not with anybody at the moment.

She's very intelligent, very erudite, she's got a great appetite for literature. Although she doesn't paint at the moment, she's a very good painter. Perhaps her painting will come back - I didn't paint for 25 years. I think that if Fiona and I do suffer in any way it's because we are in England. In Wales we're quite normal, but here, among the Anglo- Saxons, we are, in the end, Celts. Women like Fiona and me terrify the English. It's important for us to surround ourselves with like-minded people, otherwise spirits like ours can be dampened by this rather cold, English, public school reserve. I think that the people who are drawn to us and to our Welsh warmth are those rather upper-class characters - many of my lovers have been aristocrats, because they're comfortable with who they are.

There isn't anything that I don't like about her. I like Fiona's candour, her lack of affectation. I like her odd slant on things, which is utterly genuine. There is no artifice at all in her. And I love the simmering sensuality of her. Neither of us bothers what anyone think of us. Her life is an example of how glorious it is to be a free spirit.

FIONA PITT-KETHLEY: I met Molly in 1987, when she asked me to be interviewed on her Radio Wales radio programme. I was familiar with her reputation. I knew there'd be this sexy and slightly outrageous personality. It felt easy meeting her. When I went on Molly's radio show, I was wearing this black lacy number with pink satin underneath it. It's very seductive, in a cobwebby kind of way.

There'd been this stand-up comic on before me making awful jokes about "Pakis" and what-have-you, and the audience were lapping this up, and then I came on and read a poem which I thought was harmless. It contained the words "prick" and "piss" because it's about one of those dolls which could wet itself, and those are pretty basic words which the BBC in London certainly doesn't object to. And they're both in the Bible. In the Book of Kings, or maybe Samuel, there's some regulation about soldiers not pissing against the wall, and there's something about St Paul not kicking against the pricks, which schoolchildren might take in a naughty way. After that, Molly and I kept bumping into each other. We ran into each other again on a Kilroy show about swearing; she was anti- at the time, and I was all for it. Now, luckily, she's gone back to the sex and swearing, which I think are the least destructive things in life. The art school background has fashioned both our characters. It means we are not shocked by eccentricity and sex and nudity. I wouldn't call it exhibitionism, just a need to go a bit further than other people.

Molly's a very brave person. After the radio programme, I learnt that she's deaf in one ear. She was wearing the earphone in her only good ear, taking instructions from her producer, and she was doing the interview with me by lip-reading. That's one hell of a risk to take. She's full of ideas. Once, she was talking to the photographer Michael Woods, and he was complaining to her that he hadn't been paid by a newspaper for something he'd done. She told him that he should go to the newspaper office with a packet of sandwiches and sit there until they paid up. Shortly afterwards I had a similar situation with a magazine, and I thought I'd try this stunt. I went in with muesli bars and a Trollope novel and sat down on their floor and said that I was staying there until they paid me. It took me four hours, but they paid up in the end, so I was grateful to Molly for that.

We both think promiscuity is fine, as long as you don't hurt people. I'd say I've had about 100 lovers; Molly may have had more - I doubt that she'd have counted. I think we are both capable of seeing a good opportunity and taking it. I don't think we're unusual, but we are unusual in that we admit it. I know lots of young men who'd fancy their chances with her because they think she's interesting. I think she's prepared to go in any direction prompted by her soul. She believes in getting as many like- minded people together as possible. One of the interesting things is the way Molly spans age groups; one of her best friends is about 93, and she also gets on terribly well with children.

There's nothing I don't like about her. The only criticism I'd make is that shortly after I met her, she had a face-lift. She did it as an article for a magazine, and she looks wonderful, but I think she looked fine before. When I'm with her in public, I can see people who don't know her looking at her, because she does look extraordinary. I've never seen her do anything outrageous: I've never seen her swoop on some man and perform oral sex on him in public, but then I didn't know her in her alcoholic phase. I met her at a time when she was reassessing her life. The freedom I see in her is in the speech. I like the way she talks, her freeness with ideas. I think if she were in a Rider Haggard or EM Forster novel, she might well get worshipped as a local divinity. Basically, what I like to feel is that in Molly there's another person out there working for freedom, and I find that reassuring. !

BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS

Molly Parkin

Molly Parkin was born in Pontycwmaer (?) in South Wales, in 1932 and went on to study art at Goldsmiths and the Brighton College of Art. After a spell teaching art in a secondary modern school in South East London, she became a professional landscape painter. After her divorce from the gallery owner Michael Parkin, she went into jounalism and was an award- winning fashion editor on Nova, Harpers and Queen and the Sunday Times. She later married the painter Patrick Hughes and wrote 10 comic-erotic novels. Now single, she paints, writes and broadcasts and spends every winter in her house in southern India. She has been a recovered alcoholic since 1987. Her autobiography, Moll - the Making of Molly Parkin, was published in 1993.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley

Fiona Pitt-Kethley was born in Swansea in 1954, and was educated at Haberdasher's Aske followed by the Chelsea School of Art. She has been a full time writer since 1978, and her first major collection of poetry, 'Sky-Ray Lolly' came out in 1987, and her latest, 'Dogs', was published last year. She lives in Hastings with her mother.

ends.

Molly Parkin, 63, was born in South Wales. After studying art, she became a painter and later a fashion editor on Nova, Harpers & Queen and the Sun- day Times. She has written 10 comic-erotic novels, as well as an autobiography. Divorced twice, she is a recovering alcoholic and lives alone between southern India and London.

Fiona Pitt-Kethley, erotic poet, was born in Swansea in 1954, and was educated at The Haberdashers' Aske School and the Chelsea School of Art. She has been a full-time writer since 1978, and her first major collection of poetry, Sky-Ray Lolly, came out in 1986; her latest, Dogs, was published last year. She lives alone in Hastings.

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