WonderkidAnd at that moment, I thought: “It’s a serious thing, to be the way Blake is.” Exactly that funny phrase: “it’s a serious thing.”

Blake Lear is one of the great fictional rock music characters.  Most rock novels – nay, most novels about artists and creativity in any medium – fail because they cannot compete with reality for invention.  I mean, consider Sir Michael Philip Jagger and Keef for starters – absurd, right?  Blake (not his real name) gets the bug age 12 with the Beach Boys 20 Golden Greats, a tennis racket and a mirror.  He grows up with the nonsense verse of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll, and then he sees Jonathan Richman interviewed by Tony Wilson on So it goes in tears, talking about William Blake’s The lamb.  So that’s where the name comes from.  This is in the ’80s when he’s still at school, but – fast forward to the serious music making, about which there is little description – I like to imagine shades of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the gates of dawn Syd era songs, but not the drugs (not yet, anyway).

At Cambridge doing EngLit Blake opts to do his dissertation on nonsense poetry:

Blake, to [his tutor’s] frustration, was prepared to stretch the definition of nonsense to the breaking point, happy to include poets and poems from which other minds derived perfect sense.
Blake preferred not to understand them – neither the poets, nor the minds […] Blake laughed at those who extracted deep meaning from Dylan’s lyrics. Agreed, the man was a genius, but only inasmuch as he was the greatest nonsense writer of the late twentieth century.
He viewed all poetry, all literature, through this prism. Auden, Bishop (Elizabeth), Empson, Smith (Alexander) – failed nonsense poets all. They didn’t have the nerve for it. What a waste! Beckett was the honourable exception: even his
prose was nonsense poetry. And Joyce had it in him … […] He thought of a name for the dissertation: ‘king Lear. […]
The fateful idea – formally interesting, philosophically unique, academically suicidal – was to write his dissertation about nonsense in the form of nonsense. […] Blake left Cambridge without a degree: the dissertation was, unusually, ruled ‘unmarkable’, thus nullifying other fairly good results across his exams.

All this in the first 20 odd pages.  The point about Dylan is expanded upon in a way that some may well have sympathy with.  The book holds many nuggets like this, and being (it has been said) a bit of a smartarse myself, I lap it up when capable road manager Mitchell says, of his sometimes heavy dealings with local promoters, “I think of Mamet a lot during these transactions.  The pauses.  I love them.”  Or when the narrator describes Blake’s situation, when he has pretty much disappeared from the scene but is slowly gaining legend status, as being: “like he was a cross between the Waldo and the Thomas Pynchon of Kiddie Rock.”

Ah, Kiddie Rock.  We’ll get to that.  So, an English band called the Wunderkinds, with and without umlauts, small-time gigging, making a demo, handled by Greg, an experienced English ‘character’ manager, all bonhomie and malapropisms.  By a bit of luck (the circumstances of which are laugh aloud funny) the demo cassette finally gets heard by someone (and more importantly his enthusiastic young son), who can do something about it.  A major American label takes them on.  The shift of gear is neatly summed up in the sentence: “It wasn’t like any meeting Greg had ever attended.  It was a business meeting.”  The Americans are excited by the concept of the now re-named (for American audiences) Wonderkids being “your child’s first rock band.”  Blake’s vision is only briefly compromised by this:

Yeah, we don’t really see it as kids’ music …” […] “… We see it more as everyone music. We see rock ‘n’ roll as everyone music.”
“YES!” whooped Andy. “It is Everyone Music!” The phrase, in his mouth, sprouted capital letters. “We’re gonna help the kids grow up and we’re gonna turn the parents back into kids again.”

Blake and his brother guitarist move to the US in late 1989.  The new management dispenses with the English rhythm section, other more interesting musicians get involved, they tour and record, become successful, and in doing so fall foul of the Parent Music Resource Centre.  Things build, the gigs start getting out of hand, Blake is losing it and they come to a spectacular fall.  It all ends in court and, for Blake, prison.  Time passes and, as seems to happen these days, their importance, their formative influence on a generation of kids, becomes recognised, and there is pressure to reform for an awards show.  No more spoilers, but it all gets very interesting and suspenseful again.

Scan WonderkidsWesley Stace‘s Wonderkid (US: Overlook Press, 2014) is a brilliant music industry satire.  Never mind your qualms about the notion of Kiddie Rock, think of it as Wonderkid‘s Lilliput or Brobdingnag.  But the book has a lot more going for it than just that.  At its centre, of course, there’s Blake’s heroic and ultimately honourable tale, the creative’s path, and how success can scramble it.  Then there’s what it feels like being in a band, and especially being on the road in a band – read the plaudits from musicians on the back cover like Peter  Buck and Roseanne Cash for how well that is done (click on the picture, then click again if necessary).   Here Wonderkid rides the stereotypes with aplomb; as the success builds the healthily New Age rhythm section demand and get their own bus:

Mitchell and I were the intermediate beings, licensed to float freely between Heaven and Hell. The stage was a safe haven – the show was sacrosanct […] but back-stage was a no-man’s-land with endless potential for practical jokes and small indignities.

And then there’s that ‘I’ in the quote above, the narrator’s tale.  Speed (that’s his name), living with stifling foster parents, first meets the band in England – literally bumps into Blake – when he’s 14 and a shoplifter on the run from a big record shop’s security man.  That quote at the head of this piece, they’re breaking into the cinema Blake works at part-time, hunting for a hidden stash of classic film posters he knows is there (how and why is another story, with some satisfying narrative ripples later).  One of the unspoken narrative threads is the power of contingency, how things can happen by chance: the occasion of Speed meeting the band, the ultimate success of the demo tape, various relationships.  So Speed grows up with the band, starts off running the merch table, is formally adopted by Blake so he can go with them to America and becomes a permanent member of the entourage, which paves the way for his own subsequent career in the industry.  His coming of age and rites of passage are not so much an engaging bonus as integral to the whole enterprise.

I enjoyed reading Wonderkid immensely.  It is a profound, intelligent, grounded, principled, and, at times, very funny novel.  I think it can live with the very best of the generally blighted sub-genre of the rock novel*.  In another life Wesley Stace was US-based English singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding.  A Cambridge graduate himself, he’s been performing and making records since 1990.  I’d not knowingly heard anything before but Spotify delivered; he is a better novelist than he is a songwriter.

* Seeing as you asked, in no particular order:

  • Roddy Doyle: The Commitments
  • Don DeLillo: Great Jones Street (an early novel of his, featuring Bucky Wunderlick)
  • Jennifer Egan: A visit from the Goon Squad
  • Iain Banks: Espedair Street (oft mentioned; must read it one of these days)

Owing to various mentions of Ray and Dave Davies and the Kinks in the text, Wonderkid also features here on Lillabullero on the The Kinks in Literature pages. 


Scribal Dec 14At the December congregation of the Scribal Gathering, Mr Stephen (“that’s with a ph”) Hobbs delivered the Top of his Poetry Pops for 2014 oration, assisted nobly in this endeavour by Mr Philip “PowerPoint Presentation” Chippendale, Bard of this parish.  As the countdown proceeded in the manner of the BBC’s lamentable/late-lamented (delete as applicable) popular music charts rundown programme Top of the Pops, Mr Chippendale, on this occasion paper-free and unplugged, was required to provide acapella the catchy opening riff of popular beat combo Led Zeppelin’s early opus Whole lotta love, which Mr Hobbs had transcribed as “Da da da da dan, dan dan.”  As things developed, Mr Chippendale was joined in desultory fashion by some members of the audience.  Here, almost verbatim, is the text of the oration, though not, you may be pleased to see, in the Comic Sans font Mr Hobbs provided.  (Oh, and Close Encounters/Brief Encounter – anyone could do it.)  Lillabullero is honoured to be featured at No.13; other events of the evening will be mentioned in despatches at a later date.

Hello Poetry Pop Pickers!

This is the Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014.  Da da da da dan dan da.
[This refrain will now be taken for granted for the duration].

In at Number 20!

The 4th Bardic Trials in January 2014! Despite being match fit with 6 gigs in two previous weeks Stephen Hobbs was knocked out in the semi-final with the Bardic Crown going to Phil “Pyrophoric” Chippendale. Pyrophoric – an ancient word meaning “How the fuck did he DO that?”. [Stare at Phil]

At Number 19!

At An Evening with the Bard in June Bard Chippendale demonstrates his Bardic credentials by imitating an agitated methane molecule followed by a four-apple juggle in the courtyard. The audience agrees that this transcends poetry.

At Number 18!

Richard Frost’s final Scribal Gathering before flouncing off, despite Stephen Hobbs’ heartfelt poem imploring him not to go:

And give a nod to the Scribalman’s trick
Of putting the dick into Bardic!
But much much more is owed
To the Scribalman who sowed
The poetry seed that fell on stony ground
But flourished all around.
And whilst this metaphor
May not make us feel better for
The frost that kills these plants
We’d rather take our chance
And keep his capability to help us grow.
Richard Frost – please don’t go!

But Richard went…..so much for the power of poetry.

At Number 17!

Naomi Zara Wilkinson’s breathtaking Naked Zoom at “Stony Live!” A powerful confessional narrative of poetry and drama which deserved its sell-out audience.

At Number 16!

Danni Antagonist’s debut poetry collection Empty Threats sells out its first printing! Hooray! Danni orders a second printing with “additional swear words”! A great stocking filler at only £7.

At Number 15!

The first two printings of Steve Allen’s debut poetry collection Forbidden Fruit are now sold out; but it remains the only poetry book to have been sold at The Stables! What a trooper and still no television!

At Number 14!

John Cooper Clark at The Stables. The man who invented performance poetry back in the 80s. Even then he looked like a walking cadaver. I expected a greatest hits dawdle and went to pay my respects to the Mick Jagger of performance poetry. What I got was fire and brimstone from a man clearly at the height of his indignation. Wonderful, and life-affirming.

At Number 13!

Dave Quayle’s blog Lillabullero – tintinnabulation in a humanist key from a Kinks fan which is always the first go-see after a Scribal night or indeed any happening in Stony Town. We all say we don’t care what Mr Tintin thinks about our performance, but we do still like to take a peak and get a tad miffed when we are not even mentioned. You will have to forgive all the train and Kinks stuff (we do not watch Brief Encounter for the trains) but you will find gold and inspiration in them thar hills. [Aw shucks – ed]

At Number 12!

Stephen Hobbs finally wins a poetry slam. Having first ascertained that both Mark Niel and Richard Frost (infamous slammers) were out of the country. He even “forgot” to tell his poetry chum Dick Skellington in case he should take it from him. Three times he denied his conscience! But £30 AND a 30 min headliner slot in November? Come on?

At Number 11!

The Echo Chamber BBC Radio Four Sunday afternoon at 4.30pm. At last a poetry programme that isn’t poetry easy listening aka Poetry Please. Shame on you Roger McGough! Paul Farley’s new programme is all muscle and sinew. This is what poetry is really about. Glorious!

Da da da da dan, dan dan: At Number 10!

Peter Ball’s spoken word programme The naked word on the radio on http://radiomk.co.uk/. It’s ostensibly an extended interview with local arts folks but there’s a hint of Kirsty Young and Desert island Discs about our Peter. This is in addition to his writing, his poetry, his music (fiddle, melodion, keyboards, vocals) and his painting! There’s a lovely two hour chat with the late Dick Skellington which is worthy of your attention. [Here’s the Mixcloud link for Dick’s appearance: http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/the-word-02-sep-2014/ ; other show featuring some Scribal regulars can be found at http://www.mixcloud.com/radiomk/]

At Number 9!

The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Let me repeat that: The 30 minute headliner slot in November at Pure and Good and Right in Royal Leamington Spa – Slam Winner Stephen Hobbs. Yes, I know that Slams are trivial and demeaning poetry events: but just occasionally, once in a Blue Moon, just for a change, (nobody gets hurt) it’s so nice to be asked if everything is all right and knowing that no one has a stopwatch on you. Stephen Hobbs is working on his rider.

At Number 8!

Being the Value Added Poet at Coco Comedy (twice)! It’s a neat trick of the AntiPoet to stage comedy nights in Croxley Heath for a fiver where you also get a free Value Added Poet whether you wanted one or not. What poet could resist? To add insult to injury poets are then paid a tenner – half what the comedians get.

At Number 7!

Memories of Dick Skellington who died in September. He was also knocked out of the Bardic Trials in the semi-final along with Stephen Hobbs. He called us the Nearly Bards. He curated a performance of First World War poetry, which after his death had 4 performances of varying length throughout Milton Keynes. Back in the 1970’s Dick spent a night in prison for throwing a tomato at the Minister for Education, one Margaret Thatcher. He missed! Dick Skellington – a true friend of Scribal but a lousy tomato thrower.

At Number 6!

The people who somehow find their way to Scribal and then discover their inner poet. The scribbled scraps of paper, the moleskin notebooks, the printed sheets, the smartphones and the iPads. It may have been a dare, a bet, or even half-acknowledged therapy. It can’t have been for the lollipop! Long may this curious process continue.

At Number 5!

Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. Let me repeat that: Poeterry guest comperes Scribal. POETERRY GUEST COMPERES SCRIBAL. Whilst his poetry carers despair; Poeterry demonstrates that rules and conventions are for mere mortals, and that the true spirit of poetry will not be constrained. Terry, we love you! Me done!

At Number 4!

Richard Frost sneaks back to Scribal Gathering after his “hiatus”. It’s a partial open mic-er return in October, followed by the Full Monty compere thingy in November. It’s a dream evening. Frost gets his mojo back and all is well with the world.

At Number 3!

Not strictly poetry but any performance from Terrie Howey (aka Red Phoenix). Who can forget her bloody porridge, her Death scrumping pears, or her acorn up the anus actions. Her Crown of Feathers & Fins was the great under-rated event of “Stony Live!” And she directed and shaped Naomi’s Naked Zoom. A truly magical weaver of words and emotions. At last we have a true artist living in the Frost/Phoenix household. Terrie’s even got a Churchill medal; and surely due a second one for sharing a hearth and home with ex-Bard Frost!

At Number 2!

Any AntiPoet gig. The Chinese have a saying: Today is the best day for business. And so it is with the AntiPoet. It’s always “Yes” – worry about the actual gig later on. It’s always 100% and it’s always as if it’s the very first time or the very last time they’re doing that material. They never cruise or just go through the motions. Watching the AntiPoet has taught me that if you don’t love and cherish your own material, then why should anyone else? Faced with a poetry dilemma I do ask myself “What would the AntiPoet do?” This year it’ll be over 250 AntiPoet gigs and that’s in a rest-from-Edinburgh year! So to the Antipoet I say thank you Ian, Paul, and Donna. Mwwaa mwwaa.

Da da da da dun, dun dun
At Number 1! The Top of My Poetry Pops for 2014 is ……

Scribal Gathering! In February next year Scribal will celebrate its 5th anniversary and its 50th gig! It is a curious beast and for its continuing survival we must thank Richard Frost and Jonathan Taylor with, of course, special thanks to their respective carers Terrie and Jill. Scribal has come through that difficult fifth year; and I would like to acknowledge the quiet, unassuming, but vital contribution of Jonathan Taylor. Would Jonathan and Richard please step forward to receive “The Top of My Poetry Pops” award for 2014. [Present giant lollipops] Thank you.

And step forward they did.  And those lollipops were enormous.  And so say all of us.  Normal service will be resumed shortly.


LFG GOT 14La Finta Giardiniera

Going to the opera it helps to know the story.  When, like one of those Shakespeare comedies, it’s a tale involving hidden identities, you can still get lost, though.  Glyndebourne on Tour‘s production of the young Mozart‘s La Finta Giardiniera did it’s best to help with some very distinct costumery for all the characters and I did pretty much keep up with what was going down.  Always helped, of course by the surtitles, the lyrics projected above the stage as they are sung (as opposed to subtitles on the bottom of the telly).  These are another reason it’s better to be in the circle than in the stalls (less strain on the neck looking up and down), as well as you get to see a lot more of the theatrical ‘business’ going on all over the stage that is always such a bonus in a Glyndebourne production, and if you’re near enough to the front of the circle you get see the orchestra too.  La Finta Giardiniera is a tale of loves thwarted (misunderstandings, the small matter of a stabbing, mixed messages, that sort of thing) and then unthwarted.  It was still something of a surprise, though, when the words “All men are bastards” appeared on the surtitles.

In between the losing and the regaining and realignment, we have love as source and cause of madness, the visual metaphor in this production being the cast physically tearing down parts of the civilised urban edifice that was the set, which was simultaneously falling down around them and being lifted away to reveal the wild forest behind.  When a scenery malfunction meant this didn’t quite happen as planned (it got stuck) it took nothing away – became almost a bonus, in fact, an I-was in-the-audience-when tale to tell – it only added to the warmth of the reception the company got at the end.  Without any of those Bravos! and people getting up out of their seats (as they do) the applause did not flag for as long a time as any performance I can recall.  It was most satisfying theatrically and musically, as well as being great fun.  There were no standout voices in the small cast – all seven sang beautifully (not that I can bring any technical knowledge to the table) – and the orchestra were superb.

Young MozartIncredibly Mozart wrote the music for this, his first opera, in his late-teens and even a classical music pleb like me was fascinated, could hear it was bursting with ideas that would see later fuller fruition.  And while we’re on fruition, there’s a reason that title La Finta Giardiniera doesn’t get translated.  Even Babelfish doesn’t try.  All I’ve found trawling away have been The pretend garden-girl, The false garden-girl and The phony gardener - none of which exactly have a ring to them.  Not that she exactly gets her hands dirty.  Just saying.

Scan JungMeanwhile, back in the tub …

I’ve been slowly working my way through my 1978 Picador paperback of Man and his symbols (1964), a book, it says on the cover, ‘conceived and edited by’ Carl Jung.  I say slowly, because I’ve been reading it in the bath.  A word about reading in the bath: you really shouldn’t.  Especially with new books, which swell up like some weird chemical reaction, and never, never, ever with library books.  However, Man and his symbols is one of a number of books I’ve bought over previous decades that have survived house-moving and other assorted charity shop culls that I have never actually got round to reading and as such, are – never mind slightly foxed – desiccated to the point where a little bit of moisture in the air is not going to harm them.  Falling asleep and dropping them into cooling water is another matter – a real danger here, as it happens – but my conscience is clear.

Anyway, I’ve always been interested in Jung’s ideas, especially his notion of archetypes and the mythic narratives of the collective unconscious, and it would be nice to think these could be seen as having evolutionary relevance in human (and indeed, personal) development.  I’d say the man himself, in the general introduction to his work here, broadly hints at this as being worth pursuing, but I’m not sure the big name disciples who contribute more detailed chapters – M-L von Franz, Jolande Jacobi, couple of others I’ve not encountered before – are that interested, and a lot of von Franz’s concluding chapter, Science and the unconscious – written 60 years ago, when the scientific study of consciousness was in its infancy – is the stuff of fantasy and dead-ends.  And as for the chapter on now well dated modern art, well … extemporize, why don’t you?

So you can say I was disappointed at the vagueness  – phrases like ‘tends to suggest’, verbs like seems employed overtime to move arguments on, and so on – and plain gobbledygook I found here, particularly on the formation of the psyche (whatever that is).  Given the stated proviso that there is no general formula and that each individual has to be treated, um, individually, it just struck me that all this dream analysis is effectively making it up as you go along, a close relation to the psychic’s cold reading techniques, though I’ll willingly concede that it can be useful for some of the individuals involved (like the poor sod singled out for the chapter featuring an analysis – after 35 sessions over 9 months).  And I thought I might actually get out of the bath for the satisfaction of throwing the book back into it on reading this passage, courtesy of M-L – who is good on fairy tales, you can’t take that away – on the subject of The process of individuation (p168):

For example, Jung once told a group of students about a young woman who was so haunted by anxiety that she committed suicide at the age of 26.  As a small child, she had dreamed that “Jack Frost” had entered her room while she was lying in bed and pinched her on the stomach.  She woke and discovered that she had pinched herself with her own hand.  The dream did not frighten her; she merely remembered that she had had such a dream.  But the fact that she did not react emotionally to her strange encounter with the demon of the cold – of congealed life – did not augur well for the future and was itself abnormal.  It was with a cold unfeeling hand that she later put an end to her life.  From this single dream it is possible to deduce the tragic fate of the dreamer, which was anticipated by her psyche in childhood.

Really?  And I’ve always liked the idea of synchronicity, Jung’s “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle“, or “meaningful coincidence.”  I can imagine Douglas Adams coming up with it for its humourous potential, but to use as a significant example Wallace and Darwin  discovering evolution at roughly the same time is pretty desperate, as opposed to Marshall McLuhan’s (remember him?) “it steam engines when it’s steam engine time,” never mind simple, um, coincidence.  I prefer my mate Neil’s rather poetic explanation that it’s the universe giving you a nudge.  Like Charlie Resnick listening to an Eric Dolphy album in the recently read John Harvey’s Darkness, darkness and, in the wake of David Bowie’s new ‘song’, someone saying Bowie once told him as a mod he’d tried to like Eric Dolphy but couldn’t quite manage it, which lead me to dig out that vinyl album bought for a 50p in a Record Exchange many decades ago and give it a spin; and it was good.

Switch on 2014What it says on the poster

Upstairs in the library, as part of the lead-up to the annual lantern parade and the switching on of the town’s Christmas lights, to the strains of ’50s and ’60s pop classics coming from the dodgems outside, all the fun of the wordfair.  And a full-on visit from the Stony Stratford Mummers.  Just as well there were no-shows from five wordsmiths (for the record, for future historians: NB, TK, CT, PB, P) because somehow everyone and everything else was made to fit in.  The oddness of daytime poetry out of school … and given Father Christmas was in the children’s library downstairs, no (well hardly any) swearing, even from The Antipoet, no strangers to Lillabullero.  Some fine contributions from the Cambridge contingent (including the previously mentioned in despatches quiet power of Fay Roberts (not so quiet in harness with The Antipoet)) and ex-Laureate of the Fens, Leanne Moden, who I’d like to hear more of; her mesmeric and action-packed remembrance of shared youthful emo-days and long term friendship celebrated at a gig years later was stunning (I asked, and wish I could remember the name of the band), while her anti-deforestation defence of natural vegetation was a delight.  And so after the ever-willing and magnificent Antipoet out into the lights …

Danni Antagonist sparkles.

Danni Antagonist sparkles.

Leanne Moden in action.  Hard left is the current bald-head Bard of Stony Stratford, and next to him the hirsute bookie's favourite for the position next year.

Leanne Moden in action. Hard left is the current bald-head Bard of Stony Stratford, and next to him the bookie’s hirsute favourite for the position next year.

(Photos above cropped from Fay Roberts’ originals.  You can see Fay in action and a lot more by visiting her website at www.fayroberts.co.uk); you won’t regret it.)

Cryptic crossword clues of a cultural bent

Been over a year since I last did anything like this.  Cryptic clues, this time of a cultural bent, from the Guardian that have tickled my fancy.  What qualifies is wit, zen, bad punning and doh! moments – a certain kind of cleverness.  Take heart: Morse would not be impressed.  First is the nom de guerre of the crossword setter, then the clue and (non-cruciverbalists if you’ve got this far) the number of letters in the answer.  Answers and explanations appear below my photo of a packed Stony Stratford Market Square just after the 280 lanterns had trooped in and the Christmas Lights got switched on and the PA had no chance of carrying The Bard’s recitation of his poem for the occasion (and before the giant snowman went on a rampage).

  • from Arachne: Tom Sharpe employed them (9)
  • from Paul: Director hit the water with last of Bacardi (7)
  • from Philistine: Haven of Love by Status Quo (5)
  • from Shed: Female Ibsen character embracing male one of Dostoyevsky’s (7)
  • from Pasquale: Derek, an artist, establishing wine stores (7)
  • from Paul: As a baby, Victor introduces himself? (8)
  • from Picaroon: Appropriate introduction from Ezra (7)
  • from Philistine: Artist picked up according to girl (7)
  • from Puck: Strictly does it for Rambo – LOL! (8,7)
  • from Picaroon: Folk gathering mostly jeered Mary Poppins? (10)
  • from Brendan: Conduct oneself in original duets from Beethoven, Handel, and Verdi (6)

Stony Lights 2014

Crossword answers:

  • from the pen of Arachne: Tom Sharpe employed them (9): Metaphors (anagram of author Tom Sharpe, whose Wilt books are still some of the funniest I’ve read)
  • from Paul: Director hit the water with last of Bacardi (7): Fellini
  • a beauty from Philistine: Haven of Love by Status Quo (5): Oasis (O-as-is)
  • from Shed: Female Ibsen character embracing male one of Dostoyevsky’s (7): Gambler (Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler)
  • from Pasquale: Derek, an artist, establishing wine stores (7): Bodegas (you know, older males: Bo Derek – the 10) [a very crossword word]
  • Ezra Pound in 1913: quel dude; shame about the politics.

    The poet Ezra Pound in 1913: quel dude! – shame about the politics.

    from Paul: As a baby, Victor introduces himself? (8): Immature (ancient film actor)

  • similarly from Picaroon: Appropriate introduction from Ezra (7): Impound
  • I do like this from Philistine: Artist picked up according to girl (7) Cezanne (says Anne)
  • from Puck: Strictly does it for Rambo – LOL! (8,7): Ballroom dancing (an anagram: the letters of ballroom … dancing about).
  • from Picaroon: Folk gathering mostly jeered Mary Poppins? (10): Hootenanny (hooted)
  • lastly, a very literal one from Brendan: Conduct oneself in original duets from Beethoven, Handel, and Verdi (6): Behave

And I leave you with the light and the dark side of the mighty Antipoet (always depending on where the window is, of course):

Blimey.  Done more this last week than since the last time on holiday.  So the intention here is for whistle stops, and given that brevity has been conspicuously absent from Lillabullero for some time now it should be good training.  Let us first bring on the books …

Scan heft front Scan heft backHeft

First thing to say about the edition of Liz Moore‘s Heft (Hutchinson, 2012) I read is: What a great cover, reflecting as it does beautifully the house in which a lot of the novel’s action takes place; and I love the steps leading up to the barcode on the back – take a bow Nathan Burton.  Click on the back cover and you’ll get some specifics, but without giving too much away – it says it’s ‘restorative’ on the cover – I’ll just add it’s a story of four lost souls, vividly told alternatively by two of them, one of whom rather annoying never spells out ‘and’, which is represented by an ampersand throughout his testimony.  The one who doesn’t make it, a particularly significant one, we only meet by hearsay and in her letters.  I zipped through Heft, engaged and moved by their various wretched situations; I don’t think the teenage boy would be out of place in a Donna Tartt novel.  It’s a really good read, the more so if you don’t think about it too hard; it suffers, this cynic would say, for all its contemporary New York locale, from a touch of that good ol’ American (modern Dickensian) sentimentality.  I read it because it was a Reading Group choice, but I liked it well enough, have no regrets for the time spent.

Darkness darknessDarkness, darkness

I’ve missed Charlie Resnick so it was good to see John Harvey had bought him back for a final fling with Darkness, darkness (Heinemann, 2014); Harvey’s other lead characters never came near Resnick’s resonance.  No longer a copper but working as a humdrum civilian investigator in the police service – “keeping the stairlift away” – he gets actively involved in a case again when a body is found in the process of a street demolition in an ex-mining village.  It’s a case going back to the dark days of the miners’ strike, a political milieu full of perils for the fiction writer which Nottinghamian Harvey treats even-handedly – and cites sources and contacts in an appendix to this end – while hiding nothing:

‘There was a lot of what we did that wasn’t right,’ Resnick said eventually.  ‘A lot we should have done differently or not done at all.  And a great deal of what happened locally, well, that was taken out of our hands. Not much of an excuse, maybe, but there it is.  But I met some good people, no mistaking that.  Either side of the picket line.’

Scargill’s tactics – how things could have been different in the Notts coalfields – get a critical airing too.  The scars of the conflict are still there as the investigation proceeds three decades on, with the women’s part in the strike an important element of the plot.  Chapters describing events concerning the murdered woman at the time of the strike cut intriguingly into the main investigation narrative.  The outcome is a long way from what might have been at the start, with the crucial intellectual breakthrough in the case down to Resnick’s passion for jazz, which also gets a familiar airing in passing throughout.

Darkness, darkness is a worthy coda to the canon.  His personal situation – ageing, wearied, crotchety, grieving, still interested – is affectionately and adeptly handled, and, fans, rest assured: he doesn’t die.

Pedant’s corner: in the ongoing query as to what editors and proof readers do for their money these days, how do you flick your headlights at someone “waiting patiently to overtake”?  And would a pro-strike miner get away with making a speech criticising the “false promises” of the NUM rather than, as it should obviously read in context, the NCB (p221 in the paperback)?

xoa-coverlores1Anais Mitchell

Saw Anais Mitchell at a stupidly un-sold-out Stables on Monday – the side seats were empty – but if anything that added to the intimacy.  Support and occasional accompanist Rachel Ries opened with a set of songs that kept the audience fully engaged, and – nice touch – was joined by her friend Anais for her last number.  Anais came out and was stunning from the outset.  She’s a decent singer, with a neat inflection, and a fine acoustic guitarist with a folksy presence that belies the power of her compositions.  She has an endearing habit of – standing with her guitar throughout – fidgeting about on her feet, (mostly softly) stamping or shuffling, the tour de force being a natural/naturalised balancing on one leg temporarily resting the other on the calf of her standing leg.  Her voice is much stronger live than heard on previous records, and the spare unaccompanied performances of songs from Hadestown and Young man in America (especially an intense Why we build the wall from the former, where opera-style, it’s sung by someone else, and the title track of the latter) really gripped emotionally; both are on Xoa, the fine new album of re-workings illustrated here.  Young man in America is a devastating, concerned song, looking into the void.  If she weren’t a song writer she’d be a writer, no question.  Wearing pretty new H&M dresses – I’m only telling you this because she told us – she and Rachel, when the latter came out again to add harmonies or piano, towering I guess a foot over Anais, were enjoying each other’s and our company.  It was a great night and, icing on the cake, for an encore, lovely touch, unplugged and un-miked they stepped in front of the monitors and gave us a thoroughly acoustic little country ditty.  Refreshing (well I’ve not seen it done before) and so satisfying.  Audience exit smiling.

MK Rose Nov 11Scribal Armistice

Tuesday was Armistice Day and we joined a small group of MK Humanists joined local worthies and other members of the public at the secular civic act of Remembrance at the MK Rose.  A bit blowy, but it was a relief it kept dry.  Not exactly massed ranks but everyone pleasantly surprised at the size of the turnout, a genuine gathering, the feeling being that this was now an established event in the civic calendar.  A feature of the ceremony, along with all the usual – the Exhortation, Last Post, Reveille, the laying of the wreaths and the Kohima Epitaph – was the reading of Day of names, an apt poem written by MK Poet Laureate Mark Niel for the occasion.

Scribal Nov 2014And the theme continued in the evening, with the November Scribal Gathering featuring a moving 20 minute reprise extract from The hell where youth and laughter go, the World War 1 commemoration in poetry put together earlier in the year by the late Scribal regular (and many other things) Dick Skellington.  Remembrance of one sort or other became something of a theme as the evening progressed with Alzheimer’s the topic of a Caz epic and touched on by others.   Couple of notable first time poets of distinction were blooded (rotten metaphor for a vegetarian, I know, but it is a rite of passage), while Mr Gurner performed a Japan classic, solo on the modern equivalent of Sparky’s Magic Piano, and Mr Frost was back in charge of proceedings (though, if memory hasn’t failed, sans chapeau.

Terror and wonderLondon libraries

And so to London for a celebration, but first Terror and wonder at the British Library.  A wide-ranging exhibition sub-titled The Gothic Imagination had me absorbed for a couple of hours or more.  Always a favourite place to visit in London, I was enticed this time by Andrew Graham-Dixon’s three parter on the telly, which for the first time seemed to make sense for me of the relation of Gothic architecture to all the horror stuff, from John Ruskin to The wickerman in easy stages.  Not so much of Ruskin and the general architecture here, but there was plenty else to take in.  Like Castle of Otranto author Walpole’s Strawberry Hill villa (hence Strawberry Hill Gothic as per Stony’s St Mary & St Giles Church) and Dr Dee’s obsidian scrying mirror that was part of Walpole’s collection.  Indeed, many things; I’ll just point at random to a goth adaptation called Jane Slayre (there were more); an aged cabinet housing a similarly aged but impressive ‘Vampire slaying kit’ (no example found older than the early ’70s);  original illustrations from Patrick Ness’s A monster calls (which Lillabullero raved about this time last year); and as part of a photographic essay of a goth weekend at Whitby, a goth football team (or is it even a goth football tournament as part of the entertainments?)  For the first time in my life the thought occurs that I might actually read Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Different kind of horror show at the 50th birthday ‘celebration’ of the iconic Swiss Cottage Library, which just happened to be the first port of call of my 40 year library career.  Missed the first introductory bit because Transport for London deemed it necessary to close Swiss Cottage station for the brief time I needed to use it so had to walk back down the Finchley Road (and nearly got run down by a honking taxi – one forgets about London traffic), but I was reassured later I’d missed nothing.  Then a rambling interview all about the building with a surviving member of Basil Spence’s architectural practice, and absolutely nothing about how it was a beacon in the library world for a decade, about the good old days of a thriving library, no recollections of how it felt to use it or work there.  Then some sort of performance art/mime performance that nodded to all the library clichés (“shhh…”) while most of us nodded off, culminating in a less than rousing ‘Happy birthday’.  Orange juice and crisps!  Good to see old colleagues, though, and even better, old friends in the pub afterwards.


Photo taken from the MK Gallery website http://www.mkgallery.org/exhibitions/ where there is a lot more information.

An-My Lê

Went back for a second look at the An-My Lê exhibition at Milton Keynes Gallery.  As a child she was airlifted out of Vietnam near the end of the war to settle in America.  Was really impressed with the Events ashore sequence of large colour photographs in the Long Gallery.  Her subject is war and the military but she’s not a war photographer; rather she, to quote the leaflet, “explored the myth and memory of war.”  There a some stunning compositions here – like the hospital ship in the accompanying photo, and the medics awaiting casualties – beautifully composed in both sense of the word.  There is quietness, stillness, vehicle patterns in the snow and other seemingly set pieces, but such is the subject matter there must always be the unstated implication you cannot escape, even in the missions of humanitarian aid, of potential violence, the uniforms, behind the picture.  It’s an extraordinary feeling, not so much alarming as haunting.  Thought the video installation worked too – on one wall black and white close-ups and middle shots of troops in training being instructed, filmed movie quality; on the adjoining wall at right angles, long-range, less focussed film of a landscape in which a training exercise battle is taking place, the soldiers like ants.

Further musical adventures

Hey, and Saturday the awesome energy of women dancing at a party (happy birthdays L & S) with three bands – The Outside This, The Box Ticked (Waterloo!), and the impressive Fear of Ray.  Which gives me a chance to introduce events the next day with …

… but there was no fear of Ray at this year’s Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention at Tufnell Park’s Boston Arms.  And indeed, Ray Davies did turn up briefly to wish us well and lead us through a truncated You really got me (50 years old this year, same as, I suddenly realise, Swiss Cottage Library).  Now in the past I’ve given this escapade a big write-up and it’s got flagged in the splendid Kinda Kinks unofficial website and I get more visitors here at Lillabullero in the next couple of days than I get in a month.  But  I can’t see that happening this year.

Waterlow Park 2014.  Not the usual autumn leaves pic.  Something more reflective.  Oh, and Where's Wally?

Waterlow Park 2014. Not the usual autumn leaves pic. Something more reflective. Oh, and Where’s Wally? (Click and click again to enlarge).

But first, the annual pilgrimage to Highgate’s Waterlow Park, where I spent many a pleasant hour when I first moved to London.  And down Dartmouth Park Hill to the Boston with cranes much in evidence on the London skyline.

The thing is, the Konvention used to be special.  But for the Kast Off Kinks these days it’s … well it’s not quite just another gig, because (apart, of course for Dave) they’re all there, including Deb and Shirlie, and this is hard-core Kinks fans, who come from far and wide.  Now they’re regularly gigging throughout the land, not much new is happening on stage.  Not that they do not put on a decent show, but the sound is crap.  The bass, with either Nobby or Jim playing, is – there’s probably a technical term for it, but – too fucking loud an awful lot of the time.  No, I don’t swear very much on Lillabullero.  The bass coming out of the speakers is at times serious industrial noise pollution rather than music and it drowns out Ian Gibbons’ fine keyboard tinklings when he hasn’t got said keyboard functioning as an organ – his swirling away behind certain songs was a musical highlight for me.

KOK Phil Anthony WardDave Clark (the other Dave Clark, the one who’s still alive) puts in his usual sterling performance in the Ray and Dave roles (though thankfully not fighting among himself) and the others were fine.  I dunno.  Maybe it’s the familiarity, and/or I’m getting old and jaded.  Also, there were (no bad thing in itself) backing singers – here’s photographic evidence.  I certainly saw three young Swedish women trot through the crowd onto and off the side of the stage more than once, and heard them introduced, and Deb and Shirlie were there too, but apart from the latter two’s solo spots I never heard any of their contributions.  The sound improved for the closing rock and roll sequence and the final rousing Louie, Louie was great as ever, with Ian’s percussive Hammond-setting extemporisation outstanding.

And another thing …  Oh yes, it was too crowded – uncomfortably so; to quote one of Ray’s songs, “too many people.”  To be honest I have to say that the not necessarily worthiest part of me says I preferred it when Ray Davies was an unacknowledged national treasure.  Still, you have to pay tribute to the hard work that goes into this shindig, so again, thanks OKFC.  It’s always good to greet old friends and Kink community acquaintances.  But next year can we have raffle tickets that don’t change colour under the UV lights, please?

Dodo Bones by danni

Percussionist hidden, not a 4-legged Robbyn Snow. Photo (c) Danni Antagonist

The Konvention is an afternoon gig, so I’m back in time for the excellent Dodo Bones at the Old George.  Robbyn Snow has an extraordinarily expressive voice – country-tinged soul (maybe) contralto is the best I can describe it.  Tonight as well as regular partner, guitarist Stephen Patmore – they often gig as a duo – they are more than ably accompanied by Ian, the one in the Antipoet with the double bass, and the augmented – bass drum pedal attached and one-man band cymbal on the other foot – cajon percussionist hidden in the picture.  And a fine time was had.  Their own more than decent songs were interwoven with some craftily crafted self-confessed “cheesy” covers.  So you suddenly realise it’s a countrified Let me entertain you, they’re playing, and it works beautifully – a better song than you expected.  Specific lines in a raunchy Rihanna track with lyrics approaching the status of an instruction manual is greeted with laughter; “I am so pleased you laughed at that,” says Robbyn.  Spoiler alert: they close with Hey hey we’re the Monkees.  A delightful evening.

 Actual dodo bones

Dead pass

Fire and brimstoneHey – the author previously known as Colin Bateman, who took the contemporary r and b one name route a few years back  and became Bateman, has now become the author previously known as Bateman, because he’s got the moniker his ma and da gave him back: so Colin once more.  Still good as ever though – the usual sharp characterful mix of low wit, ingenious plotting, acerbic social observation of contemporary Northern Ireland, pain, soap opera, occasional brutality, oh, and high humour.

The Dead Pass (Headline, 2014) picks up where the last Dan Starkey – Fire and Brimstone – left off.  It’s not crucial to have read the earlier novel first, though if you have you will get more out of the New Seekers sequences, and the soap opera aspects of Dan’s domestic set-up.  Dan used to be a crime reporter but is now a bespoke private investigator, albeit one who “still found it quite hard to tell anyone I was a private detective without grinning stupidly.”  He is, says Sara, “a perfect example of the punk rock generation gone to seed.”  (His punk credentials are tested by a priest at one stage: What’s the b-side of The Clash’s White riot single)*.  Sara Patterson, who has a very bad time of it in The Dead Pass, is a crime reporter who is, in finest Raymond Chandler homage,  “young enough to be my protégée, and old enough to not take me seriously. We had a flirtatious relationship. Mostly I flirted and she rolled her eyes. I couldn’t quite tell whether she enjoyed the mild suggestiveness of it or found it slightly creepy.”  The New Seekers (yes, indeed) are a fast growing Christian cult run by a strident Protestant demagogue who recognise a teenage messiah, Christine – “funny and charming and charismatic, all the things you’d generally expect of a clued-in, savvy teenage Messiah” – who is mates with grounded cool uncle-substitute Dan.  It’s a glorious set-up.

Having said that, the actual plot of The Dead Pass is concerned with a disappearance and murder (the body thrown off the Peace Bridge) set against the background of post-Peace Settlement IRA gangsterism and convoluted politics in Derry, or Londonderry as it is alternatively called throughout, and well out of Dan’s Belfast comfort zone.  It’s fascinating stuff, involving control of a lucrative interactive internet porn business, with a side order the teenage messiah going AWOL.  There’s drunkenness, hangovers, a punk musical called ‘It makes you want to spit’ and a whole lot more going on in passing.  But the crucial thing is, it could easily stand on its own perfectly well as a first-rate crime thriller.  There are plot twists and action in abundance, but what makes Bateman special – I’ve previously called him the British Carl Hiaasen – are all these savvy bonuses.  And, for all the darkness, the fun.  Like, in the past, the murderee “had been shot three times by a loyalist death squad that had not lived up to its name.

Then there’s the sardonic nuances of the Northern Ireland situation, so:

“Okay. Is he or has he ever been part of an illegal organisation?”
“Yes, the IRA, the original version, not those … boys who call themselves the Ra these days.”
“Okay,” I said. “And nowadays? Gangster, community worker or politician?”

And how about this for a bit of scene setting?:

A little to my right was the city’s orange-hued Guildhall, where Derry Council met. It had been the venue for the pre-Jimmy Savile Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, two hundred million spent to discover the bleeding obvious. We were a crazy, mixed-up, contradictory province of a fading colonial power but still largely intent on resisting the lure of the leprechaun.

Or a lovely reworking of an old Belfast (atheist) chestnut, when Starkey, in a taxi, suggests to the driver

… that he get with the spirit of Christmas and he said it was more than a month away yet, and besides, he was a Muslim. I asked if he was a Protestant Muslim or a Catholic Muslim and he said he didn’t understand what I meant, that such a thing was impossible, and I said, there in a nutshell, was the problem with the Middle East and he said What? And I said ‘No sense of humour.’

I could go on with the pop culture references, the one-liners sprayed liberally about, but I think I’ll leave you with the teenage messiah:

They wanted her to preach in their church, which was her church, and bless them and lead them in the Promised Land.  But she wanted a Pot Noodle and to hit the road.

Oh yes, and the hardback has wonderfully big print.

*1977.  He got it right.

Poems cryA few months back, seemingly out of the blue, a friend asked what poems made me cry.  I wondered where that had come from.  I demurred, offered Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach as a poem that had moved me greatly, but not to tears.  Off the top of my head: novels – yes (A farewell to arms); music for sure (Elgar’s Cello concerto, Bob Dylan’s Dream/Lord Franklin); plenty of films (even Russell Crow’s demise in Les Mis).  But poetry, no: desolation maybe, bleakness, quiet revelation, beauty, compassion, contemplation, engagement, a glow; but I can’t recall more than the hint of a younger self-pitying sniffle (La belle dame sans merci).

That’s what some of the contributors to Poems that make grown men cry: 100 men on the words that move them (Simon & Schuster, 2014) admit too.  The publicity surrounding its publication is where my friend’s query came from.  Edited by père et fils Anthony and Ben Holden for Amnesty International, the book features 95 poems (5 were selected twice), 12 of which are written by women (2 of those from Elizabeth Bishop).  Arranged chronologically, which brings a nice touch of serendipity to the proceedings, the twentieth century accounts for 75% of the poems.  The majority of those doing the choosing are British, but there is a significant sprinkling from further afield.  About 50% of the contributors are writers of one sort or another (including 17 poets, some Booker winners), while the linked worlds of theatre and cinema provide another quarter, aided and abetted for the rest by a few polymath celebs, a handful of human rights activists and the odd architect and archbishop.  Not much pop culture spice: Nick Cave, Barry Humphries, Benjamin Zephaniah.  It’s basically a posh variant of those charity celebrity recipe books.

What of the poems, then?  On the back it claims to be “a collection unlike any other“; presumably because of all the “prominent figures” involved.  They introduce the poems, give their reasons, some mercifully shorter than others (and, to be frank, I’m not sure I wanted to be invited into the personal grief – suicides, the death of children – involved in some of the choices).  I first skimmed and, a fair amount of the time, in the best traditions of reverse snobbery, scorned it.  Philip Larkin’s jibe in verse about Frank Kermode (rhymes with ‘toad’) – “just a jetset egghead, TLS toff” – rather hits the spot here, even if Kermode posthumously (it’s a long story) chose Larkin’s Unfinished poem (or one of them).  But I did give the collection more time and consideration and, yes, there was some – undiscovered for me – not so obvious gold in them thar hills.  Not that any made me lachrymosal, mind.  Anyway, a few thoughts:

  • AudenTop of the pops is W.H.Auden, with 5 poems, and I’m not going to complain about that.  Ex-ArchB of Cantab Rowan Williams’ choice of Friday’s child gave me pause; as reasonable a profession of faith as this atheist can understand.  In my ignorance, I was surprised to discover that in a few month’s time I will have lived longer than the bearer of that iconic wrinkled old face – not so ancient after all at 1907-1973.
  • Tie second with 3 poems each: A.E.Housman, Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin.  While the first two strike me as somewhat sentimental choices (bunch of wusses – no, I jest) it’s the glow I get from that miserable old “sack of meal upon two sticks” that shocks.  So thanks to Simon Russell Beale for Larkin’s I see a girl dragged by the wrists (no – it’s a good, fun, dragging): “Damn all explanatory rhymes! / To be that girl!
  • Forbidden songstwo (count ‘em) of the best poems chosen have been featured on albums by late lamented singer-songwriter and poetry champion Jackie LevenJames A.Wright‘s A blessing is on Forbidden tales of the dying west, but you can also find his lovely accompanied recitation of it on YouTube.  Robert Bly reads Antonio Machado‘s eco-hymn The wind, one brilliant day - also his selection here – to Jackie’s music on Defending ancient springs.
  • Poems that make grown men (PTMGMC) cry follows the rule that any general anthology published in the last 20 years must include Adlestrop (Simon Winchester, émigré), and probably Dulce et decorum est (Christopher Hitchens); Benjamin Zephaniah surprises by contributing Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night, wishing his father could have been a worthy recipient of that sentiment
  • Was it them in Men behaving badly who used to mock sneeze and say “Tosser” into their hands or handkerchiefs?  I tired of some of these ‘prominent figures’ who either explained their choice at length and/or chose some of the longer works.  So take a bow: Kenneth Branagh, who is allowed to get away with a four page sermon extracted from a verse translation of a play; and also, for messing with the ‘rules’, Craig Raine, who is allowed to offer two excerpts from different Pisan cantos (by Ezra Pound, writing in prison) in reverse order and bridged by reference to another couplet therefrom quoting Chaucer.
  • Having moaned about length, I have to say one of the pieces that I was most grateful to PTMGMC for making the acquaintance of was Elizabeth Bishop‘s 6 pager, Crusoe in England, Robinson looking back, dealing with his legacy and the death of Friday from measles in England after the rescue, was the closest to a tear-jerker I found in these pages (and the lines were relatively short).
  • Another poem that made me sit up was, by contrast, one of the shortest – Randall Jarrell‘s The death of a ball turret gunner:

From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

  • Then there’s a strange poem by Gabriela Mistral (not her real name, I thought, and no, it’s not, but she’s a big deal – Chilean, first Nobel Prize for Literature from Latin America, and a career besides).  God wills it is not exactly a title to win my godless sympathies, but nevertheless, as a profession of love is not “Earth will turn against you / If your soul betrays my soul / A shudder of anguish / will run through the waters” (and it gets far worse over 21½ pages) emotional blackmail in spades?
  • I could go on, good and bad, but I won’t.

Rag & bone shopLadies, if you’ll excuse such a dated mode of address, Poems that make grown men cry is not without its merit, but if you’ve a real hankering to put an anthology of the poetical kind in the Christmas stocking of the man or men in your life, might I suggest the splendid volume pictured here on your left.  It’s been out a while now, but The rag and bone shop of the heart (Harper-Perennial, 1992) is a treasure trove not often found on the shelves of general bookstores.   The splendid title is rescued from The circus animal’s desertion, by W.B.Yeats, who does not feature at all in PTMGMC save in Auden’s majestic In memory of W.B.Yeats; in his poem the actual line is, “In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

Poem that exampleTypographical rant of a footnote:  As a posh variant of those charity celebrity recipe books, it’s not so much the concept that makes me uneasy, but rather the page design that seems to follow, the clumsy way the poetry is belittled in the book’s layout.  Never mind the choice of typeface – it’s printed throughout in a Bodoni style font (flat unbracketed serifs, extreme thicks and thins) that I think is rubbish for text, have a look at this sample double page, chosen for its conciseness.  Poem title in biggest font size – fine – and smaller capitalised poet with his or her dates.  Two asterisks.  Then we get the larger capitalised selector, and their reasons for selecting that particular poem; good on Colin Firth for his brevity here (“I’m reluctant to talk across this poem“), because, as stated earlier, some of them do go on.  Then we get the actual poem, looking almost like an afterthought, especially now that the title is repeated in bold on top of the poem with no line space between the title and the first line of the poem itself.  Two asterisks.  Then brief career resumé.  Look, I know it’s for charity, but it’s a poetry anthology.  Those personal statements should come after the poem, as reflection and explanation rather than the trumpet voluntary they are as it stands, and they should be distinguished typographically in some way too; give the poem room to stand by itself first, please.  Typography matters.  Not that impressed by the book jacket either, while we’re at it.


Westward Ho!  Not wholly literally, but, at least, a weekend spent in Bristol and Cardiff.


“Fellow citizens”: This is what the British super-rich used to do with their money – Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Didn’t have the time to do all of the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery on Friday, and, to tell the truth, I can’t remember much about the paintings or the pots on the second floor, but I’d go again; Alfred the gorilla, the gypsy caravan and the dinosaurs on the first floor fare better with the memory cells, and it’s as good a colourful collection of stuffed birds as I can recall seeing.

TeasmadesWe had practical reasons to visit the Clevedon Craft Centre the next morning.  Where we did espy a small garden of dead Teasmades at Clock Repairs & More.  Click on the link for the proprietor’s entertaining take on Teasmades and his chosen life path.  Shame about the Teasmade; we had one once.  If only they could have cracked the milk problem.

Oakham treasures

And so to Oakham Treasures, just off the M5 at Porterbury, near Bristol.  This wondrous collection of old domestic and retail tat and ephemera (and some bigger stuff) from the last century is a crammed and endlessly surprising collection of memory triggers of staggering proportions.  Here’s a link to the website.  Never mind those period shops in York Castle Museum (or, indeed, more locally to Lillabullero, Milton Keynes Museum), here are aisles of shelves and counters of multi-decaded emporia – groceries, sweets, hardware, booze and fags, chemists’ stocks, cameras, shaving mugs, post boxes … I could go on.  With an accent, I guess, on the central decades of the twentieth century (though I saw my first mobile phone in one of the displays).  Filled, un-cashed in books of Green Shield stamps, anyone?  Then there’s that barn full of tractors – well over a hundred of them – and an overpowering aroma of pneumatic rubber; would you believe a folk art of decorated metal tractor seats?

Navy CutHappily Oakham Treasures is not overburdened with captions and explanations detailing time, place or significance.  Nor is there any attempt at chronological arrangement.  The material is allowed to just be there, broadly themed, so memories are organically sparked.  I’d forgotten my dad used to cut out the iconic capped and bearded sailor roundels from the Players Navy Cut cigarette packets that cost him a lung and use them creatively – just about the most artistic thing he ever did – though nothing like on the scale of the picture here.  Hard to remember just how prevalent smoking used to be.  All the men were hooked, so they had to get to the women.  So-phisticated:

CapstanGold Flake woman

 And the times, they were a’changing:

Fab Eve

Lord of the Flies

lord-of-the-fliesAnd so, on Saturday evening, to Cardiff Bay, to Canolfan Mileniwm Cymru – the Wales Millennium Centre – for Matthew Bourne‘s New Adventures dance company’s production of Lord of the Flies, from the William Golding novel.  Wow.  Even without a show the venue is impressive, even from the back outside.  We were in the Circle on Level 4, and the climb was an architectural treat in itself – beyond the atrium the lettering on the front of the building (there’s a photo below) is actually window space – while the auditorium roof is an elegant, clean, warm wonder in wood just considered on its own.

The performance was, as you’d expect from a Matthew Bourne production, a total experience.  Loud, exciting, bold, involving … just stunning.  There was so much going on among the cast, the bare permanent scaffolding set was inventively functional, there were moments of great beauty just from the lighting effects, while the cello-based music was intriguing and driving, intrinsic to the drama of the whole.

The story is basically a bunch of boys left to their own devices on a remote island (an extreme reality tv scenario if you will).  The sweet dulcet tones of the stranded boys’ choir of the opening sequence is soon forgotten as the power struggle of reason and brute charisma develops and practical survival becomes the issue.  It’s been a long time since I read the book; that will now have to change.  And though I wasn’t quite there with some of the finer points of the narrative all of the time, the gradual descent into savagery was all too understandable.  It’s not the most optimistic of works, whatever the format.

I won’t go into great detail about the project – a team of 8 professional dancers and a 20-plus volunteer ensemble of young men and boys initially recruited as their introduction to dance – but you couldn’t tell where the one group ended and the other began.  Brilliant night’s dance, brilliant night’s theatre.

Wales Millennium Centre: "In these stones horizons sing" it says, in English and Welsh.

Wales Millennium Centre: “In these stones horizons sing” it says. In English and Welsh.


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