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Jernigan

david-gates-jerniganIf I only had one word to describe David Gates‘s novel Jernigan (1992), that word would be sour.  With the amount of alcohol consumed Peter Jernigan has to be that literary beast the unreliable narrator, but at the end we find there’s even more to it than that.  Still makes for a compulsive read though, and I might just read it again (it’s relatively short, 238 pages) some time.  Naturally he’s an anti-hero, albeit with a nicely sardonic sense of humour and self-knowledge – “I had my usual thoughts about everything being debased” – when he’s not being a complete arsehole; not so much a bad man as one circumstances and life choices have made less than good most of the time.  At least he isn’t physically violent.

Jernigan is a tale of the American suburbs.  It tells of a massive bender, its pre-history and its consequences.  After a family tragedy, and engineered by his somewhat problem teenage son and his even more damaged girlfriend, Peter Jernigan moves in with her mum, Martha.  Who has a secret that blows up in her – in all their – faces one nightmare Christmas Eve, which sends him off on a desperate lone drunken drive to a remote cabin in a snow storm, said adventure proving near fatal.  Before he sets out, Martha has offered:

‘You believed exactly what you wanted to believe, Peter,’ she said. ‘Did you actually think there were all these nice wholesome families just ready and waiting for you to come along?  You’re a drunk whose drunk wife killed herself.  And you want to know something really pathetic?  You looked good to me.’

Cheerful, eh?  Somewhere in it all there had been some good intentions – and actions – on both sides, a dab of compassion here and there.  A previous argument, after he’s lost his job:

‘Peter, my only vision was that whatever you did you might get some enjoyment out of your life for a change.  I should’ve – I mean, everything I knew was literally screaming that you were incapable of any sort of joy whatever.’
Should I say figuratively?  Better not.  ‘A trenchant analysis,’ I said.
‘Fuck you too.’
‘Trenchanter and trenchanter,’ I said.  ‘Repartee City around here this morning.’

Ah, that job.  Taken as a short-term measure after graduation and an interesting student existence all those years ago, and challenged about it by his father, an artist, the last time he saw him before his death, to:

… tell me what the hell you’re doing as an assistant vice shoeshine boy at some outfit that’s doing its bit to help squeeze the working man out of New York City.  Not to mention the painting man.’
‘The money is fine … it beats junior professor money.’

OK, his father, who is interesting:

I mean, he was Francis Jernigan and everything, but the real money got made off of stuff he’d let go for a couple of thousand dollars in like 1952.  My mother split in 1956, he boozed from then until ’64 or ’65 … You know, what can I say?  By then it was all Andy Warhol or something …

Peter makes a sort of pilgrimage with his son to the deeply rural location where his father had lived (and died in a fire).  His alcoholic lack of self-worth is relentless:

It amounted to a moral failing not to have learned the names of trees.  It amounted to a moral failing, too, that this landscape looked dead and tattered to me, instead of sternly beautiful.

At a certain point he puts a bullet through the webbing between his own thumb and index finger.  He tells us:

That’s Jernigan all over: first you swallow a bunch of drugstore anodynes and then you want to feel something and then you bitch and moan because it hurts.

Jernigan is – for all its pain and misery – a sustained, unrelenting and compulsively readable literary tour de force.  I have barely scratched the surface of its characters or hinted at the intriguing cultural breadth of references.  It is only in the last couple of pages that the occasion of its composition – of how and why Jernigan is writing it – is revealed, involving a small act of rebellion that one cannot help but acknowledge and semi-reluctantly cheer; I’m not giving anything away.  But so absorbing was Jernigan to me that that ending was an inducement to start all over again.

Where Richard YatesRevolutionary Road documented the sterility of the ’50s American suburbs and signalled the necessity, the inevitability, of the social changes of the ’60s, David GatesJernigan inhabits the toxicity of the same locales in the decades following on after, as Neil Young so eloquently put it, the goldrush.

I may or may not thank David Gates for bringing Wallace Stevens’ long and at first glance difficult though intriguingly titled poem The comedian as the letter C to my attention, and I’ll willingly admit to never having heard of the country singer Webb Peirce, mention of whose music crops up every now and them.  Don’t let this put you off:

Words and music
closer to home

aortas-sept-2016scribal-sept-2016poetical-vaultage-sept-16Conjunctions of the planets in the night sky excite astronomers almost as much as astrologists (or vice versa), but the vagaries of the calendar meant the three premier Stony open mics all happened within the space of 5 days.  Warning: may contain in-jokes.

And now a diversionary dip into cultural archaeology.  I was going to say I was going to do a Friends on this one, you know, the way they gave each episode a title that started either ‘The one where …’ or ‘The one when …’ or ‘The one with …’ but I remembered that maybe that wasn’t necessarily the provenance.  It was a device that Bobbie Ann Mason had used in her memorable In country novel of 1985, about a Vietnam vet travelling across the US to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, when they were talking about episodes of (was it?) M.A.S.H.  (There are always some books you live to regret including in the charity shop cull, aren’t there?).  And it had occurred to me then, when I’d first noticed what they were doing with the Friends episode titles, whether someone involved in Friends had read In country and nearly a decade later thought Yea, let’s go with that.  (Did I mention it’s a powerful novel?)  I’d like to think so, rather than the more mundane explanation that that’s just the way people talk about show episodes anyway; though kudos for adopting it anyway.  It’s just that I like to see the connections.

So, AORTAS – collage ©Dan Plews – mostly the usual suspects (no bad thing), but distinguished by being (at greater length than the classic form): the one when the dog disgraced itself; the one when we had fun at the back injecting the word ‘chainsaw’ into song titles (“For the times, they are a chainsaw”); the one where Stephen Hobbs performed a story about a parsnip (and people listened).

Scribal Gathering: the one when Jonathan was stuck on the M25 and Mark had to kick things off totally acoustically; the one when both members of the Straw Horses managed to be in the house at the same time (exquisite and immaculate harmonies); the one when Ian Freemantle returned to fight the good fight of the working men of England, rhythmically and righteously in his own distinctive way; the one when Stephen Hobbs explained why for him August is the cruellest month and moaned about not getting a mention lately here on Lillabullero (but I’m not falling for that one, oh no) (though the temptation to spell his name wrong is great); the one that finished with the accomplished James Hollingsworth delivered a mesmerising and rousing paen to Thomas More’s Utopia (another 400th anniversary of 2016) aided by a tape delay (or was it just a big echo) on his guitar.  And that wasn’t all; yes, it was a good one.

The Antipoet at Vaultage was always going to be interesting.  Fully costumed bassman Ian striding down the High Street double bass in hand in his high-heeled platforms evoked a cheer from some builders on tour before he’d even reached the Vaults. “We’ve done these all better,” said a ‘slightly tipsy’ Paul Eccentric (I’m quoting the Antipoet management here) through the giggles at one stage.  Not exactly entirely their usual crowd  but they had a good time – “an audience you want to take home with you” (ibid) as did we.  Raucous, anarchic, with a skillful element of crowd control on display.  Ian in full gimp mask for the start of Sign of the times, which must have been hot.  Stony Bard Vanessa Horton stood in for the ailing Fay Roberts (archivists please note – get well soon, ma’am), with her own salty set, then adding a fresh contribution and slant to the annals of the Antipoet’s I like girls.  Hot and knackered I’m afraid I left early – apologies to those performing after the Lads.

Sunny Afternoon

sunny-afternoon-programmeI’ll take it as read that Sunny Afternoon is this hugely enjoyable and successful award-winning musical, that it’s much more than just juke box theatre, and that it is performed  superbly by a multi-talented cast.  What we have here is ensemble playing at its best, full of energy, emotion and period feel.  (And of course there had to be dolly birds).  I’m taking the Kinks history for granted too.

So, I record just a few things here that occurred, after watching the touring cast at Milton Keynes Theatre, to one who has (for his sins) read all the Kinks biographies and was championing the songs long before the cliché of Ray Davies as ‘national institution’ was a given, before that soubriquet started being attributed liberally to any old Tom, Dick and Harriet.

Obviously much had to be telescoped into or left out of this telling of the story, but I thought the crucial dramatic band episodes were mostly nicely handled and worked well as theatrical moments too, in particular:

  • the ousting of co-manager Robert Wace as singer; ’50s crooner blown away mid-song by Dave’s blues guitar
  • the full enactment complete with legendary insults of the Cardiff incident where Mick Avory thought he’d killed Dave on stage in mid-show with a drum pedal
  • a collage of the all action run-ins with the unions and other awkward Americans leading to the band being banned from the States for 3 years.
  • (although I have to say, as a veteran reader and listener of the Kinks story, I thought the partial destruction of the Little Green Amp section a bit hammy, to tell the truth)

I particularly liked the way the songs were chosen and used, not necessarily chronologically, and not necessarily exclusively from the time frame of the show (1964-69), with some put into unexpected mouths as the story unfolded:

  • so Days is started by posh-boy managers Robert and Grenville when they’re given the boot; a lovely and powerful acapella spell cast over the audience as most of the gang join in
  • Pete Quaife’s exit to A rock’n’roll fantasy, the latest song in the canon featured, from 1978’s Misfits album; one of my least favourite Kinks songs, as it happens (but let’s just leave it as that being my problem for the time being).  (A friend with his own Kinks website describes “Dan is a fan” as the worst line Ray ever wrote; it has also led in fandom to disputes as to who Dan was, with pathetic claim and counter claims).
  • remind me, was Dead End Street, featured early in the show, sung initially by Ma and Pa Davies?
  • that passage in the play a lot of reviews mention, when Ray is calling wife Rasa on the phone from America, he singing Sitting in my hotel, and she the sublime I go to sleep as counterpoint; and yes, you really could have heard a pin drop.  Extraordinary moment.  I seem to recall she did a touching Tired of waiting directed at Ray as well.

A few other things less easy to categorise:

  • I was never a fan of the phenomenon, but that brilliant and witty drum solo at the start of the second half, after one had got over the initial shock of its unexpectedly being there at all, had me (and the audience) engrossed; I think it must have been a particularly good night because I thought I saw some congratulatory banter from the non-acting musician tucked away at the back of the stage.  Proof positive, I would say, that Ray does not share Dave’s famously derogatory opinion of Mick Avory’s skills.  Andrew Gallo take a bow.  (Have to report, too, a certain bewilderment for me that he was a spitting image of my niece’s husband; kept thinking, What’s James doing up there?)
  • the recreation of the genesis of Waterloo Sunset in the recording studio was beautifully done
  • Ryan O’Donnell has to get a name-check here as entering fully into the spirit of Ray; while Mark Newnham actually looked like Dave (but had a better voice).  The whole cast was tremendous (with the bonus of  Grenville and Robert being proficient on trombone) and their CVs refreshingly free of the usual Casualty, The Bill and Midsomer Murders credits.
  • a lot of football metaphors thrown in, but I thought they made a bit of a rush job with the collage of Sunny Afternoon, the show’s title song, and England winning the World Cup
  • Class: in the US Ray and Dave play up as working class socialists, and it is made quite clear that the touted classless society of the early ’60s was, if not an illusion, a very short-lived phenomena
  • a couple of neat ‘time traveller’ jokes
  • is Sunny Afternoon set to be the middle part of a very broadly defined trilogy?  I wonder this because of the way it ended, with Allen Klein reintroducing them to the American stage.  So we’ve had the Davies family background in more detail with the earlier rather fine but never made it to the West End Come Dancing musical, albeit with a fictional plot overlaid, and Ray is talking about “something epic” when the Americana – the what came next – CD is released?
  • so Allen Klein: I must admit I hadn’t realised that it was his team that cleared the legal or bureaucratic decks that allowed the Kinks to work in America again, and although there was the dramatic moment in the show when Ray made sure they didn’t sign another damaging management deal with him after he’d sorted a few things out (unlike the Beatles and the Stones), Klein’s voice announcing their return to a big New York venue seemed an odd way to end the narrative.  As if “the rest is history”, except for most people, it isn’t.  Apart from Lola.
  • indeed, I have to say I thought the admittedly joyous singalong clap-along audience on their feet finale of Lola was a bit of an artistic cop-out, a populist failure of nerve, seeing as the song Lola – the one, of course, the whole world knows – had no point of reference with the basic narrative in the show that had gone before.  Don’t worry, I was up on my feet with the rest of the audience, but I’d have preferred a reprise of Sunny Afternoon.
  • Great night, nevertheless!  I think I can see why a few of my Kinks fan community friends have seen the London cast show many, many times.  At certain times, excitement revived, when the lads picked up their instruments you could close your eyes and …  As well as all the fun.

shakespeare-circleMeanwhile, 400 years earlier …

Exactly 400 years had passed between his birth and the start of the action in Sunny Afternoon and You really got me being released, but there are still many things that are unclear about the life of William Shakespeare, born 1564.  Friday before last (Sept 2), in the local library in Stony we had a couple of world-class superstars of Shakespeare biography introducing their book The Shakespeare circle: an alternative biography (Cambridge UP, 2015).  The need for “Imaginative biography” is the phrase they used, if I remember correctly.  It was a fascinating evening, all done without the help of  a ss-shak-400PowerPoint presentation.  Paul Edmonson and Stanley Wells made for a fascinating double act, a splendid mix of wit, friendship and scholarship, their depth of knowledge staggering (but then this is what they’ve been doing for most of their adult lives).  Here’s the publisher’s puff, because I feel like being lazy:

This original and enlightening book casts fresh light on Shakespeare by examining the lives of his relatives, friends, fellow-actors, collaborators and patrons both in their own right and in relation to his life. Well-known figures such as Richard Burbage, Ben Jonson and Thomas Middleton are freshly considered; little-known but relevant lives are brought to the fore, and revisionist views are expressed on such matters as Shakespeare’s wealth, his family and personal relationships, and his social status. Written by a distinguished team, including some of the foremost biographers, writers and Shakespeare scholars of today, this enthralling volume forms an original contribution to Shakespearian biography and Elizabethan and Jacobean social history.

All great fun, honest.  50 years ago, in year 2 of Sunny Afternoon, I did a sixth form project on the question of ‘Who Wrote Shakespeare?’ prompted by John Peirce, an inspirational English teacher who knew of my keenness for Mark Twain and guided me to a late work of his, published 1909, Is Shakespeare dead?  (Here’s a link to the Wikipedia entry).  There Twain details humourously and not unseriously the known facts of the actor William Shakespeare’s life and compares them with the width and breadth of knowledge displayed in the plays, and promotes a conspiracy theory that has been repeated over the decades, invoking various other writers for any number of reasons, as the true authors.  All nonsense, of course, and research has found a lot more about the Bard in the century hence.

No-one directly brought up the question of authorship, but one of the questions from the floor invoked the supposed “missing years” in the documented life of Shakespeare, which some have used to reconcile the mismatch Twain highlighted – did he go to Italy, for instance, and pick up all the knowledge thereof that’s there in the plays?  Apart from the fact that London was a major cosmopolitan trading port where all sorts of things could be picked up in bars etc., Wells and Edmondson said that many of Shakespeare’s contemporaries also have big gaps in their documented existence, indeed one would expect it, given the times.  Anyway, mention of ‘the missing years’ reminded me of John Prine‘s rather wonderful part-song part-recitation  Jesus the missing years, which I leave you with here, to enjoy:

Spent some time in Nantwich, Cheshire, a week or so ago.  Fine little town, a proud Republican stronghold back in Civil War days.  Still lots of timber framed buildings like this independent book shop and coffee-house:

Nantwich book shop

I always feel guilty about not buying something in an independent bookshop, but we did have a coffee.

And in St Mary’s a four-star, Grade 1 listed,  church:

Nantwich St Marys writing on the wall

The writing on the sunlit walls in St Mary’s, Nantwich. [Click on the photo then click again to read it]

There’s a charming little museum, too, where I photographed this photograph:

The caption reads: "Christmas cheese train of 1907, carried the gold medal challenge cup cheese. the train carried 18 tons of cheese."

The caption reads: “Christmas cheese train of 1907, carried the gold medal challenge cup cheese. The train carried 18 tons of cheese.”

Went on a mini-pub crawl one evening – such a choice – ended up in the fine old Black Lion, on Welsh Row, happily on the night of the Norfolk Mountain Rescue Team‘s Americana session – a session of 8 years standing – a repertoire including some Credence and that break-neck rendition of My grandfather’s clock that someone recorded a few years ago.  And while we’re talking of pubs, the best pub fish cake I’ve ever had (was it smoked haddock?), topped with a perfect poached egg, surrounded by ‘heritage’ tomatoes and some green stuff with an enchanting herbal dressing, in the Dysart Arms in Bunbury (a place I’d always thought was fictional).

Canal strolls, taking in where the road has to be lifted for the boats to get through on the Llangollen.  Shame no boats came along:

Llangollen Canal crosses the road

Another day, a climb up to Beeston Castle, from where you can see for miles and miles, the distinct ellipse of the Jodrell Bank telescope clear as a bell:

Some nifty brick and stone work and (probably) some Welsh hills at Beeston Castle

Some nifty stone work and (probably) some Welsh hills at Beeston Castle

Belle

Thanks to my pal, Sal. And my new friend Belle.

Why the salt title for this piece?  Nantwich is a town, figuratively and literally, built on salt and the salt industry, and it gives me an excuse to allude to and air this lovely piece of work from Ron Sexsmith, from – can it really be so long ago – 2002?

Pigs in heavenand somebody says, ‘Oh, that’s a great one, did he get hit by the train yet?’ “

It was only when I was trying to see if there really was a place called Heaven in Oklahoma that I became aware that Barbara Kingsolver‘s Pigs in Heaven (Faber, 1993) was actually a sequel (to 1998’s The bean trees), though it was her breakthrough book.  It’s great.  It’s where my opening quote comes from, but – no other spoilers, but, rest assured, nobody gets hit by a train.  I read it slowly so as not to miss a single delightful nuance in the prose.  Like:

  • His idea of marriage is to spray WD-40 on anything that squeaks.
  • Alice wonders if other women in the middle of the night have begun to resent their Formica.

and that’s just the first two pages.  Then’s there’s the description all tied beautifully in, like this on the same page as the Formica:

The neighbourhood tomcat, all muscle and slide, is creeping along the top of the trellis where Alice’s sweet peas have spent themselves all spring. She’s seen him up there before, getting high on the night perfume, or imagining the taste of mockingbird. The garden Alice wishes she could abandon is crowded with bird music and border disputes and other people’s hungry animals. She feels like the queen of some pitiful, festive land.

Pigs in Heaven is concerned with many things: family, belonging and commitment; the survival of the Cherokee Nation, mixed race adoption and child custody.  It is also a classic American road trip (on the road but not for the buzz of it), a tale of fateful twists and contingency, it’s full of conflicting good intentions, of youthful idealism and an older wisdom.  The main players are all women, but the men have their uses in the end.  (“She feels she has died and gone to the Planet of Men Who Cook.”)  All are interesting at the very least.  Turtle, an abandoned (that happened in The Bean Tree) and damaged 6-year-old is the plot driver, but unlike a lot of fictional children, she’s not annoying at all.  There’s even a decent fictional musician (his band the Irascible Babies break up, but here come Renaissance Cowboys).

So many passages I’m dying to quote.  Like Cash, doing traditional Cherokee beadwork for tourists, to earn a spare dime:

… but since he started putting beads on his needle each night, his eye never stops counting rows: pine trees on the mountainsides, boards in a fence, kernels on the ear of corn as he drops it into the kettle. He can’t stop the habit, it satisfies the ache in the back of his brain, as if it might fill in his life’s terrible gaps. His mind is lining things up, making jewellery for someone the size of god.

Or a short-term travelling companion who’s “accepted Barbie as her personal saviour.”  Prompting the thought:

Like Lucky Buster, Barbie doesn’t strike all the right chords as a true adult. Taylor wonders if this is some new national trend like a crop disease. Failure to mature.  Taylor matured at age nine, she feels, on a day she remembers …  You don’t have to talk to her, that’s the cleaning lady’s girl”

(I find myself saying, “Grow up” at the television an awful lot lately.)  Or the poetry of:

Along the highway the cornfields lie newly flayed, mile after mile, their green skin pulled back to reveal Oklahoma’s flesh of orange velvet dirt. The uncultivated hills nearby show of a new summer wardrobe of wildflowers. The massed reds flecked with gold are Indian blanket; Cash recalls the name with pleasure, like a precious possession lost and retrieved. He fixes the radio on the sweet, torn voice of George Jones and breathes deeply of the air near home.

I’ve not the time for much plot here, but the book is a delight; I loved it.  And although the Native Indian experience is significant – and the ancient and modern ritual Stomp Dance is a riveting episode near the end – there’s also a broader canvas drawn – Americana, no less; it made me think of Bob Dylan‘s Basement Tapes, of that ‘weird, old America’ it summoned up even in the mixed-up confusion of the modern world.  Like this song (a version here by two of the Roche Sisters):

And another tune that I couldn’t keep away, James McMurtry‘s awesome Choctaw Bingo.  The climax of Pigs in Heaven takes place in a meeting room where there’s a poster advertising a debate to be held in the same building, as to whether or no the community should adopt the Choctaw Bingo route to financial security.  What the song describes mostly happens off-page in Pigs in Heaven, but it’s undeniably there at source:

Meanwhile, backtracking …

Illyria's arrival

The arrival of the Illyria Theatre Company to Linford Manor.

… old news, a stomach bug and a vicious summer cold ago, Illyria came to town.  Arrived late to cheers and applause on the back of an AA transporter and proceeded with great dedication to erect their stage on the lawn in front of Linford Manor and get right on with a performance of A midsummer night’s dream only an hour and a bit late.  Luckily the weather held though it got a bit chilly towards the end.  Great little company, obviously full of talent, versatility, energy and commitment.

A-Midsummer-Nights-Dream-IllyriaShame about the production, then, which was … shouty.  If you’d closed your eyes and didn’t know the play it would have been hard to distinguish which of the three kingdoms of the play – the nobility, the rude mechanicals, the Faeries – were on.  And I couldn’t get behind a twitching Puck with ADHD.  Shakespearista friend left more than tutting at half-time.  Shame.  That said, the children in the audience were obviously enjoying it greatly so, regardless,  some sort of win for the bard.  And there was some tremendous acrobatic physical humour in the second half.

Magdalen FayreSame weekend, Medieval stuff.  Bigger and better than last year, so building nicely.  Actual full-gear – an illuminating demonstration – combat (no, not really real, but it looked tiring enough), so what with that and the return of Robot Wars to television later that evening, a touch of Sunday ultra-violence to see out July.

Have I got anything to say about the Olympics?  Not really, though I watched a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally watch.  Liked Mark Cavendish’s interviews, was moved by Michael Johnson’s mini-essay about Jesse Owens, got sick of Phil and his microphone.  And not just him, but that question: “How does it feel?”;  and that answer: “Unbelievable”.

 

Peter Robinson - When the music's overMemo to whoever signs off the book jackets: Alan Banks has been promoted (he had to choose at the end of the last book – it was either that or retirement) and is now a Detective Superintendent – a DSI.

Last Book Group meeting we had an Ian Rankin Rebus and a couple of the women who watched crime on TV but didn’t read crime fiction opined for a detective who didn’t have problems of his own to anguish over.  In Peter Robinson‘s When the music’s over (Hodder, 2016), the 23rd novel in the sequence, Alan Banks, single and not particularly bothered, seems to have reached that plateau in his personal life, and, following the trend of the last book, DI Annie Cabbot takes on both more of the foot work and some of the angst.

At the end of the day, once Peter Robinson‘s customary narrative drive kicks in and picks up the pace – after a tedious conversational trudge through an idiot’s guide to the ins and outs and why and wherefore of historical celebrity sex abuse cases – When the music’s over can be said to be a another successful outing.  Even after we have to go through the same educational exercise concerning sexual grooming gangs (Rotherham et al) and multiracial policing in general.  It has to be said the enterprise is creaking somewhat as Robinson seeks relevance with, not for the first time, the 1960s looming large in the background.  But the bad guys get their deserts, one way or another.

So there are two major crime strands, and the two featured victims are the most interesting characters in the book; Banks is on the backburner.  There’s Linda Palmer – unorthodox survivor of childhood rape, award-winning poet Banks’ age; her memoir of the rape – five episodes covering 23 pages in a sans serif font placed at intervals as the investigation unfolds –  contains the best writing in the book, and she comes alive in conversation with Banks; indeed Robinson dangles out the prospect of romance at the end.  It’s a quote from her at the head of this piece.  And then there’s the unfolding back story of Mimosa Moffat, the 14-year-old whose dead naked body is found on an isolated Dale at the start of the book, which is sensitively handled (with Annie to the fore) within a standard lumpenproletariat setting.   Danny Saxton, the accused in the first case, is an amalgam of Savile et al; his first wife’s and his unwillingly complicit assistant’s stories add texture to that side of the case.

So what of the regular features that make the Banks books so interesting to some of us?  The geographical range is tighter: Yorkshire Dales mostly, of course, but also the North-East and, historically, Blackpool.  Banks is drinking less – no whisky other than anecdotally – even the odd Coke when he’s driving.  He’s (as it happens) working his way through a chronologically arranged anthology of English poetry that he bought in a second-hand bookshop; there’s a lot of poetry name dropping.  The burgeoning music, and indeed books references, are increasingly used as signifiers for other characters as well as Banks, and his tastes continue to be eclectic with no over-riding theme, though he has got me worried when he admits to listening to Elvis movie soundtracks ‘now and then’ (where does he find the time?).   Longtime work buddy Annie Cabbot, now in her early-40s, still frustrates; as the child of a Cornish artistic bohemian community, I’m afraid if she’s to figure larger in the future I expect more from her than talking about ‘fit blokes’ and having a bare-chested Daniel Craig as a cultural touchstone – after teenage reaction to your upbringing surely you backtrack a little?  She’s struggling with the move from police force to police service, worrying about having to be ‘delicate’.

Overall I’m intrigued what can happen next with the soap opera aspects of the whole Banks saga.  The books are increasingly too long, padded out by hackneyed description of, for instance, walkers in the Market Square, or superfluous meal listings.  Robinson’s juggling of two cases at once still drives a good story once he gets going, and there are still some decent plot turns.  But I can’t really see Banks in a New Tricks role (the show gets the nod seemingly obligatory in every British crime novel I read) and retirement (though not actually mentioned) still looms.  As does, with him as a Detective Superintendent, a vacuum.  We are left with mutterings of a potential disciplinary hearing, even though this time he played it by the book.  The two potential civilian women in Banks’s life – the folksinger from previous books pops up again near the end – are much more interesting as characters than the three women in his team, none of whom have really been developed; Annie might be going backwards.  The dialogue is sharper the shorter the sentences, the longer ones often bearing the weight of narrative or background explication of one sort or another.  If I picked up When the music’s over as my first Banks novel would I pursue him further back, explore the earlier books?  I can’t realistically say, but I shall still definitely be looking out for the next one.

An awful lot of the traffic here at Lillabullero comes because of the increasingly systematic treatment given to the DCI Banks sequence of novels here.  (Click on the underlined words for a link to the whole sequence).

Briefly, catching up, top of the pile has to be:

  • The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    The artist saying a few words amid her creation,

    Anna Berry‘s wonderful 2-hour pop-up guerilla art installation Fake plastic trees: a memorial to the Midsummer oak.  It felt good to be a part of this critical celebration of place, and of friendship.  The grand old oak was

    A l;ittle bit of magic in the wet early evening

    A little bit of magic in the wet early evening

    engulfed by the Shopping Centre extension – the bit that MK dwellers still call ‘the new bit’ despite its having had two official names so far – the extension, as I was saying, to the original Grade II listed building (oh yes), and though the tree was retained as a feature, over the years it died a slow – painful to watch – death.  Anna created “a magical forest of memories” in an underpass, but let her tell you all about it (and see some better photos than mine) at: http://www.annaberry.co.uk/3-2/installation-pieces/fake-plastic-trees/

  • Stan and NanSarah Lippett‘s graphic novel Stan and Nan (Cape, 2016) is a lovely piece of work – poignant, illuminating and profound.  I struggle to find the words to describe the artwork – far from crude, certainly not childlike, maybe outsider (yet it started as an art school project) – and will have to settle for economic and stylised.  While she can be quite busy when it helps, Stan and Nan is a prime example of
    Taken from the Guardian's review.

    Taken from the Guardian’s review.

    the less-is-more principle of storytelling.  The spare use of muted colours is at times dazzling; in no other form can you quite get spectacle, the delight and surprise, of simply turning the page and getting a glimpse into something bigger.  Stan and Nan tells with a deceptively light touch the story of Sarah‘s Nan and her man Stan.  The first half gives us their courtship and life together until his sudden death, with a glimpse of his artistic talents; the second starts with her funeral and unfolds with the tales told and the story of her days without Stan, including her close contact with Sarah.  Here are unsung superheroes, living out the days of quietly momentous lives.  It was an interview in the Guardian about how it evolved that led me to the book; go there to get more examples of how it works its magic: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/09/who-was-the-creepy-man-in-the-family-photo.

  • Rankin - Naming of the deadInteresting Book Group for July: Ian Rankin‘s The naming of the dead (2006).  A re-reading for me.  That’s the Rebus one taking place during the fateful early days of July 20015, with the GB meeting at Gleneagles, the Make Poverty History mobilisation and concert in Edinburgh, and the 7/7 bombings in London; it stands up well as a social document.  John Rebus’s take on the grander stuff? – “All he could do was lock up a few bad people now and then. Results which didn’t seem to change the bigger picture.”  Several of the Book Group don’t normally read genre fiction; one, disappointed that, as cream of the crop, Rankin wasn’t a better writer, had to be re-assured how bad some of his successful contemporaries are at putting a sentence together.  Another made a really good point when she said, disregarding the somewhat convoluted if intriguing plot (maybe serial killer mixed with maybe military-industrial complex skullduggery and more), that it was basically a novel about relationships.  Yes, there are indeed plenty of those, familial and professional, with, classically, Rebus and younger colleague Siobhan at its heart (and in this example also a prime example of Rankin’s most annoying stylistic habit, of unnecessary adverbial qualification or thesaurus haunting in the matter of speech):

‘ … your mum says she’s not bothered who whacked her. Nobody seems worried about Ben Webster’s death. And yet here we both are.’  He lifted his face towards her and gave a tired smile.
‘It’s what we do,’ she replied quietly.
‘My point exactly. No matter what anyone thinks or says. I just worry that you’ve learned all the wrong lessons from me.’
‘Credit me with a bit of sense,’ she chided him, putting the car into gear.

  • Couldn't manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    Couldn’t manage a decent photo of the Burne-Jones window but the unstained glass offered up instant Monet

    A day trip to Cromer, the weather just right – hot enough, sweet breeze.  Nice lunch at Browne’s round the back of the Parish Church (thank you TripAdvisor) – excellent veggie sausage and mash, while Andy and pal sampled the celebrated local dressed crab.  Into the church of

    PaintShop Pro One Step Phot Fix gives us the blue sky of another era's postcards

    PaintShop Pro One Step Photo Fix gives us the blue sky of another era’s postcards

    St Peter and St Paul with an extremely tall tower and a vibrant Burne-Jones window, then sea-sidey stuff: the promenade, the Pier, the ice cream, the beach.  As Swinburne wrote, now embossed in metal and embedded on the esplanade, “an esplanady sort of place” – what a lovely word!

  • IF programmeSummer cold and/or chronic hay fever and the excessive heat meant I didn’t see as much of IF – the biennial Milton Keynes International festival – as I might have, though to tell the truth I couldn’t get that excited about the 2016 edition.  Went to the opening biggie – the largest bubble on the programme cover – the truly international Voalá: Station.  Without being really spectacular it was worth the crick in the neck.  I’ll let the programme do the talking: “Four suited and booted businessmen are swept up into a world of magic, distracted from their daily commute by a mysterious woman who unleashes four sirens who transform the men’s evening into an unforgettable and magical ‘flying’ performance.  Weaving together aerial acrobatics, music and colour, and played out above the audience” … in the Mini-Bowl at Willen Lake.  The mysterious woman had a powerful singing voice but I wish there’d been more of the accordion than the booming modern stuff.  The fireworks were interesting, not your usual, with some lovely blues if I recall correctly, but you had to be in right part of the Bowl to fully appreciate them and the action at the same time.  From others’ enthused reports, I wish I’d drag my blocked nose and sorry body out to see the Station House Opera: Dominoes event, the collapsing dominoes even going up and down the stairs in the Theatre on their route around the city.
  • Arabian tent IF

    The Arabian Bar Tent: roof detail

    Also part of IF, took in a couple of performances on the Stables Sessions Acoustic Sessions Stage in the Arabian Tent: the ancient rural seasonal reflections of the immaculate Straw Horses, and the fragrant Naomi Rose doing her greatest hits (plus an intriguing new song) – such originality.  [http://soundcloud.com/naomi-rose-2]

  • Scribal July 2016July Scribal Gathering was suffering a bit from the post-Brexit blues, the audience energy-sapped.  Shame it was this one had to be set up as a comedy themed night.  Slight of frame Muslim stand-up Zahra Barri had a wealth of decent material from her Egyptian/Irish upbringing, but it never really caught fire; shame.  Philfy Phil, singer of inventively witty dirty ditties, tried to get away with not doing his rewrite of The boxer (“Dali died” etc.).
  • Vaultage early July 16Vaultage mid-July 16What else?  A couple of Vaultages, and an afternoon’s music in Wolverton’s  Secret Garden the Sunday before last, with the ubiquitous Mark Owen, the angular funk and Jo Dervish’s distinctive vocals from Screaming House Madrigals (with a TOT WMGtouch of reggae) and  quirky compositions of some wit from The Outside This (as featured in this photo from my crappy phone).  Nice relaxed community event, and it hardly rained at all.

DG1I’ve known David George over four decades, which is a sobering thought.  Not that there were as many of those back in the day.  I first met him in the mid-70s in London when his girlfriend (and long-standing wife, who features in what follows) replied to one of those flat-share adverts in Time Out and she passed whatever tests we’d set.  They were  students at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.

NT 84 CoriolanusSince then Dave has played many roles.  Equity rules forced him to become Lewis George and as such he trod the boards at the National with Ian McKellan: First soldier & First watch in a celebrated Corialanus, peasant (and understudy to McKellan) in Wild honey.  He’s been in a Guinness ad, and stopped at many other stations along the way; I was surprised eating my muesli the other day to see him in a late-series Minder as a smooth criminal (or at least smooth enough to con Arthur).  He has NT 84 Wild Honeybeen a London cabbie (the Knowledge – the real thing) and toured North America as the one in the wheelchair in a Flanders & Swann tribute act (although after much discussion, not performing in a wheelchair).  He’s been a social worker, an independent Ventnor councillor, a youth worker and probably a couple of other things I’ve forgotten or didn’t know about.  Many times I’ve told him he should write an autobiography. He is a Nottingham Forest supporter and a keen angler.

These days David George is a film-maker.  With an impressive client list, Utility Filmsclick here for the website link – named after a Jeremy Bentham quote, specialises in information films and documentaries.  You can watch Better shed than dead, a film about DIV titlethe Men’s Shed movement here.  In 2009 they made a feature-length movie for an expenditure of £2,000 pounds.  The splendidly titled and very funny Death in Ventnor was an occasionally dark crime caper that lived up to the wit of its title and then some.  Here’s the trailer:

It really should be better known. 

Here’s what I said at the time:

DIV

A still from the opening long slow pan along the sea front in Death in Ventnor. Some kinda cinematic homage.

April 22 And so to the Isle of Wight last weekend for, among other things, no less than a film premiere. Old friends Dave & Jill George’s ‘Death in Ventnor’ – how can it fail with a title like that? – was made locally for £2K (and they say most of that went on catering), and a lot of goodwill. It’s a huge achievement – a lot of laughs, some great dialogue and a whole slew of tremendous performances. There are lines and scenes that stick in the memory still – the early morning bagpiper is a stunning off the wall image, the post office raid pure Ealing, the lobster named Derek, I could go on. A lot of cinema homages going on too. Fascinating to have been close to the making of the movie; there was a hilarious scene involving a pensioner, a Zimmer frame and a drug dealer we saw in the early rushes that had to be cut, for example, and you could see why but … bring on the outtakes! The night itself was a triumph, a real community event with over 300 people at the Medina Theatre, Newport. A delight.

Anyway David had a bit of a health episode not so long ago, and here he is to tell you all about it (© David George 2016):

 ♥♣♦♠

 

The Cardiac Hotel
by David George

Every seven minutes someone in the UK has a heart attack. That’s around four hundred a day. On Dec 13th 2014 at 2.30 in the afternoon it was my turn.

I have to be honest about this. I was asking for it. 61 years old, smoked profusely, and was going to live for ever. Well that perception changed quite quickly.

I was in the back garden, digging the vegetable plot. And smoking. Of course. A lot of people have asked me “This heart attack, what did you think? What did you do?” What did I think? I thought “Oh shit”. What did I do? I did the only sensible thing. I rang my wife.

A word or two about her. She’s a very highly trained nurse, working for the NHS. The NHS? I don’t need to waste time explaining that – it will soon be history.  But for me it came in handy.

So my wife.  She’s from the tough love school of nursing. You have flu? – two paracetamol.  Broken leg? – two paracetamol. You’re dying? Two paracetamol.

Listen I think I’m having a heart attack”. A long pause.

Why do you think you’re having a heart attack?”

Because my chest hurts, and I really don’t feel at all well.”

I’ll come home.”

Now, we’re lucky, we have stethoscopes and a blood pressure monitor lying around the house. She arrives and we sit on the sofa playing patients and nurses. She looks at me:

St Mary’s. It’s probably nothing, but they’ll check you out”

Now I know I’m dying.

The car journey is interesting. I didn’t realise she could drive this fast, nor did I realise she could shout so loudly at ageing pedestrians dawdling on zebra crossings.

If you carry on like this I’ll have a heart attack”

How we laugh.

I live on an island, but we do have a hospital. In Accident & Emergency things get worse.  Much worse.  Of course she works there, so everyone seems to know her. As I sit down struggling for breath all I can hear are voices saying “Hi Jill!” “Hiya!” “How’s things?” “Oh fine!”.

I don’t know what light-hearted fripperies are exchanged with the triage nurse but I’m pretty quickly installed in the re-sus room.

Another nurse.

Hiya!”

Hiya!”

It all starts moving quickly. I’m wired up to monitors. More nurses.

Hiya Jill! How are you?”

Excuse me … I mean why do you keep asking her how she is? I mean . . .”

Shush.”

The doctor arrives with a print out.

Hey!”

Hi.”

Erm … don’t I know you?”

I dunno.”

Yeah . . . you . . . you . . .”

Delight at a dawning revelation:

You made that film here . . . a few years ago . . . here in A&E.  I was in it, I was in your film. Yeah, that’s right I remember you! How are you?”

Well I er . . .”

Yeah well . . . anyway, great to see you again. By the way you’re having a heart attack; helicopter will be here in five minutes.”

Helicopter?”

Yeah we can’t do what you need here. You have to go to another hospital, on the mainland.”

What do I need?”

It’s called an angioplasty.”

What’s that?”

Erm” He points to a nearby nurse “She’ll explain”, and then he rushes off, presumably to recognise someone else.

The nearby nurse is about to become my new best friend.

Does it hurt much?” she says.

Well . . .”

On a scale of 1 to 10?”

4?”

So I’m going to give you something to take that away.”

Paracetamol?” I ask.

No, morphine. You might feel a bit sick.”

I glance over at the wife. This is more like it. Morphine.  And its intravenous.

Whoosh! Within a minute, I feel very relaxed. I don’t feel sick. Actually I feel, how can I describe this? I feel great! If there are any opiate addicts out there, I really do understand.

More medics pile in. A nurse who looks young enough to be my daughter’s daughter zips me up into what feels uncomfortably like a body bag.

It’ll be cold in the helicopter”

The wife takes my hand.

How are you feeling?”

Great, that morphine! Wow!”

You’re not supposed to be enjoying it, dickhead.”

Another nurse arrives.

Hiya!”

Hiya.”

How’s he doing?”

Just showing off.”

I have a terrible feeling she means it. I’m trundled out to the helicopter. It sits on the pad like a small yellow wasp. There’s a crew of four; pilot, paramedic, doctor and nurse. And the cargo. Me.

Everyone gathers round to load me in. Jill steps alongside me and takes my hand again. There’s no room for passengers. This is the Brief Encounter moment. I realise if this goes wrong we may never see each other again.

The crew have been here a thousand times before. Everyone stops talking, I look at her, she looks at me and she says:

I’ll see you on the other side”

The silence is intense.

The other side?” I croak.

Of the Solent.”

This naturally cracks everyone up. I swear the paramedic and the doctor are holding onto each other helpless with laughter. I want to say something like:

Well it’s great that my last few moments down here can be spent with such a wonderful audience,” but I just grin my stupid opiate grin and very soon I’m up, up and away in more ways than you’d imagine.

The angioplasty was simplicity itself. Unless you happen to be the guy doing it and then I imagine it’s pretty complex. A wire goes into an artery (either wrist or groin – wrist for me please if that’s OK) up across the chest and into the blocked area of the heart. A balloon inside the wire expands and opens up the restriction, leaving a stent behind. My artery was congested like the M25 on a Friday night.

The surgeon said, “Are you a smoker?”

Not anymore,” I replied.

Good”.

They wheeled me into a room in the Cardiac Care Unit, plugged into a lot of equipment that bleeped soothingly. Jill arrived. She came over and stood by the bed, she began to speak but I held up my hand.

I know, I know. I love you too.”

Actually,” she muttered “I was going to say if you don’t stop smoking I’ll fucking kill you”.

I try a brave, tremulous smile.

And stop smirking. The kids are coming in the morning. I rang Ned in New Zealand. He loves you.”

I love him too. When do you have to go?”

Don’t worry”, she says “I’m staying”. Magically the door opens and a mattress is brought in.

The Cardiac Hotel,” I say. “I’m tired.”

Me too.”

Later we lay quietly as the machines whirr and shimmer above our heads.

My hand, bruised and taped with tubes and plasters, finds hers in the dim half-light of the quiet room.

I’ve stopped smoking.”

I know.”

But I’ll never stop loving you.”

I know.”

With all my heart.”

© David George 2016

A musical PS

Between David sending me this and me asking if it could be a guest post here on Lillabullero – for which thanks indeed – and me getting my arse into gear to actually put it up, his son Tom, who did the music for Death in Ventnor, borrowed the title The Cardiac Hotel for his forthcoming second LP/CD.  Tom George is the up-and-coming singer songwriter who, both solo and with a group, performs as The Lion and the Wolf.  “Genre crushing melancholy” is how he describes his music on FaceBook, and he has a nice tag line in “Bring on the sad” though he’s essentially an eminently happy chappie.  Here’s a link to his Bandcamp pages  – http://thelionandthewolf.bandcamp.com/music – and you can find more on YouTube.

My father's eyesWhat David describes above was happening while Tom was playing his last gig of the year he took the plunge and gave up the day job.  The haunting My father’s eyes was written as a consequence of the events described above.  The original is there on the Bandcamp page, but here’s a lovely version recorded with a full band in a Ventnor church:

 

 

 

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