Well, at least one of the three is touched upon here below. “Death. Literature. Or ducks” is taken from the eminently quotable Chapter and verse. Ivan Connor, the character who says it, is confessing his ignorance of said trio, which is a shame given he’s a once successful literary novelist. But later for him.
This year I resolved to take full advantage of Stony Live! – the local annual music bonanza. Or at least go to at least one gig a day and stay for at least one pint, and I almost made it. Highlights for me were:
- the Stony Steppers Roadshow‘s nicely titled One step beyond – “a whirlwind tour of percussive dance traditions linked with the social history of the British Isles … and beyond” – was a grand evening’s entertainment. We had hornpipes, flamboyant Appalachian stepping, music hall and vaudeville styles along with, among other things, the usual dose of the Steppers’ fine Lancashire clogging. Music was good too. I certainly wasn’t expecting the haunting First World War tableau when it came, but it worked. Nor was I aware there was a Welsh clog variant, though – to tell the truth – for these eyes it would have been hard to tell apart from the costume.
- as it happened, there was a another Welsh moment at An Evening with the Bard next night when the quiet power of Fay Roberts held the audience entranced with a poem in Welsh – apparently explaining why she doesn’t write poetry in Welsh – and the language has never sounded so seductively sweeter. Fay was in good and playful form, as was Danni Antagonist – the Bard of Stony Stratford herself – especially when augmented with the guitar stylings of own MK’s Laureate, Mark Niel. Steve Hobbs and the acerbic Paul Eccentric made us laugh too. A good evening, should have been more there to enjoy it.
- the Concrete Cowboys did a sublime lunchtime set on Saturday in the Fox and Hounds, singing and playing songs from the classic bluegrass repertoire and beyond. If there were to be a heaven, one part of town would be singing along with a couple of beers to The battle of New Orleans and the Cowboys’ adopted theme song – You aint goin’ nowhere. A class act; as well as the stand up cardboard John Wayne they now boast a blow-up cactus to enhance their visual presence.
And, lo and behold, the weather held for Sunday’s Folk on the Green. What are a few spots compared with last year’s community spirit enhancing drenching downpour. The Cuttings Family did a fine and varied set ranging from hand-cupped-ear traditional song to a lovely version of Mark Knopfler’s Why worry – great song. And how good was it to see the reformation of The Cock and Bull Band in their latest guise? Pretty good, actually, and it’ll get better. T-shirt of the day has to go to Sean, the tall bloke from Stony Steppers, for his ‘Who let the clogs out?‘
Onto the books. Reading Thomas Hardy‘s Selected shorter poems in the bath as you do (chosen and introduced by John Wain: Papermac, 1966) I was struck by how suitable some of his stuff – amazingly now only a century old – would be to a folkie concept show or album – after all, he was a fiddler himself. Has it been done? It also struck me there is a place (somewhere) for the verses’ recitation against hard slow electric blues guitar – late Muddy Waters, say – riffing, an interesting juxtaposition, because as a bit of a misery a lot of the time, he certainly did appear to have the blues. Don’t know where that second thought came from.
I do know where this came from though:
Ultimately, when stubborn historical facts had dispersed all intoxicating effects of self-deception, this form of Socialism ended in a miserable fit of the blues.
Never mind, which form of Socialism (sic), isn’t language, shifting language, a wonderful thing? It’s from the third section of Karl Marx & Frederick Engels‘ Manifesto of the Communist Party (the 1888 Sam Moore English translation: Progress Publishers, 1952). That’s my sticky back plastic covered well-biro’d (mass market magic markers didn’t exist then) copy in the picture, purchased in 1966. I’m reading it again as a consequence of an ongoing discussion with an Idealist friend ( that’s Idealist philosophy) – Hi Neil – wherein I have been making claims for its wit and continuing perspicacity. The book hasn’t changed so I guess I and the times have. How pathetic – even when I bought it – now seems the ‘end times’ notion – thought still trapped in its religious ancestry – of the final conflict betwixt proletariat and bourgeoisie. But a lot of the historical analysis still stands, and you cannot take away from the power of some of the prose about the progressive modernising character of capitalism:
All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and relations with his kind … [and a little earlier] … The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage-labourers.
The consequent state of contemporary publishing, where marketing is king and the genuine writer a hindrance, is one of the things Colin Bateman is complaining about in his very funny Chapter and verse (Headline, 2003). If you can get over a major plotting flaw (concerning the obvious identity of the sender of the email that sets the whole adventure up) and ignore the dubious idea that the content of the book at the centre of the prank could have that reaction (though it is nicely absurd) this is a splendid comic romp that touches on many serious issues, like how a writer uses his life for literature, how a writer can delude him- or herself and what exactly is great literature. There are some great comic characters at play in this wide ranging and full-blooded farce, complete with some recognisable Bateman traits. Set in London, Chapter and verse has scenes in an independent bookshop and plays with the idea of poetry, while our hero, a once promising writer who has been dropped by his publisher, is a bit of a failure, not least in marriage, lives with his mum, holds joyfully expressed deep resentments, gets drunk – you get the picture. I think it ends weakly (deliberately?) but I wouldn’t let that put you off. I could quote many bon mots but I think I’ll leave it at Ivan’s answer to the writer’s heart-sink question as to where they get their ideas from – “A little shop in Covent garden” – and that he’s “… as good as gold, although of course the value of gold fluctuates.”
I need to thank esteemed blogger rthepotter for bringing Sally Swain‘s lovely Great housewives of art (Grafton, 1988) to my attention on her intriguing Minutiae blog. It redresses the balance of the subjects traditionally treated by the great painters by restoring housework’s import in the great scheme of things. I’m going to respect copyright here and not do any scans. That’s Mrs Degas Vacuums The Floor in the photo of the book’s cover at the head of this post and there are others similarly subverted, like Mrs Monet Cleans The Pool, but my favourites come from the more abstract realms: Mrs Pollack Can’t Seem To Find Anything Any More and the wonderful (and Rothko is a favourite of mine) Mrs Rothko Scrubs The Carpet.
Even as a toilet book Winifred Coles‘ collection The art of the put-down (Omnipress, 2011) tires quickly. There are plenty of terrific – if oft quoted – examples, obviously, but it’s like those old football videos with titles like 501 great goals – so relentless that you get a loss of the put-down’s power, the goals’ greatness. She chooses to divide the book into ‘Cruel Britannia’ and ‘Scorn in the USA’ but a lot of the American stuff is just smart-ass one-liners with no specific point. I’m not sure it belongs, but how pitiful is it, Zsa Zsa Gabor saying, “I never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back” – on so many levels?”