Here’s a gift for science fiction writers (if this theme – a sort of update on A chronicle for Liebowitz – hasn’t been tried before). What if included on the Voyager Golden Record that NASA blasted out into space in 1977 to give any intelligent life forms out there some idea of what Earth was all about, along with Chuck Berry‘s Johnny B.Goode and the UK’s sole representative – an early music piece called The faerie round – was something from the repertoire of Les Dawson at the piano? And that was the one that did it for them. (I could go on; his music of the spheres was a fulfillment of a prophecy, he’s proclaimed a deity etc.).
They still crack me up every time, Les Dawson‘s flawed performances at the pianoforte, often attempting at the same time to get the audience to sing along. It was an accomplishment admired by ‘real’ musicians recognising the skill of his wrong note selection and its execution. Louis Barfe gives pointers to a couple of the best in his The trials and triumphs of Les Dawson (Atlantic Books, 2012). Here’s a link to one from a Michael Parkinson show of 1976, the musical director practically ROTFL, and with some great repartee at the end. It’s an absorbing tale told well. A working class Salford lad, born 1931 who never forgot where he came from – could they ever have met? – he had various jobs, the longest as a vacuum cleaner salesman, while trying to establish himself as an all round entertainer – a few songs, the odd joke or monologue – coming out of ’50s variety scene and earlier music hall traditions. He even went to London to make it under the aegis of Max Wall just when Wall’s career took with a dive with a divorce ‘scandal’ that wouldn’t make the front pages these days. Dispirited he returned north.
It was his wife had to chivvy him to apply for Opportunity Knocks, a popular talent show on recently established commercial TV. He swept the board as a northern comedian, and the rest – if you know it – is history. If you don’t it’s well worth investigating. He was a natural comic whose talent, it could be said, was wasted on the formats given him and not helped by his self-imposed hectic scheduling. He died at 62, in 1993, a phenomenal drinker but never a drunkard. An autodidact who could hold his own off-stage with intellectuals, among others he worked with John Cleese and … Lulu (see what I mean about formats?) and published several novels across the genres. There was so much more to him than the mother-in-law and wife jokes that for some defined him – never, though, delivered with malice, and enjoyed by his actual mother-in-law.
It should go without saying that he could be very funny, his monologues veering all over the place (a conversation between him and Paul Merton would be a very strange ride). I could have done without the gurning, but that was straight Lancastrian music hall legend Rob Wilton. He was mean with his money – waiting for him to get his round in was not really an option – but he was incredibly generous with his time. A decent man, loved by those he worked with, his mantra to make the world a better place was a simple one : Be kind.
I never really ‘got’ Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline when it first came out as a prose novella aimed at the teenage market in 2002. I was disappointed. I’d been entranced by his astonishing earlier Sandman 75 issue sequence of comics – a work of genius – and was wrapt by American Gods (2001), his exciting and impressive long novel also woven around the same sort of landscapes of archetype and myth – presented pretty much as a road novel. Coraline went on the win prestigious Hugo (Best novella), Nebula (best novella) and Bram Stoker (Best work for young readers) awards, so what did I know? I just couldn’t get inside the pure fantasy horror genre, I guess.
I picked up the graphic novel version in the library on a whim and appreciated it more. Nice to be reminded too of the unique qualities the graphic novel can bring to storytelling with its flexible page panel arrangements the action grows or slows, the effects colours can bring, the drama of turning the page to something wonderful (I’m assuming quality here but there’s a lot out there). Coraline: the graphic novel, adapted and illustrated by P.Craig Russell (Bloomsbury, 2008) took away what must have been the tedium of the house’s description that I might well have drifted off in. I still find it hard to transcend the basic silliness of the situation: big house in the middle of nowhere, retired thespians on the ground floor, Coraline’s mum and dad glued to their computer screens one floor up, with a mouse circus trainer in a dirty old man mac at the top; and a whole equivalent ‘other’ house inside the walls of the house (the people with buttons sewn in their eyes, rats upstairs) trying to take over. What?
Coraline’s courage, cleverness and patient resolve come through though. It’s a nice touch that it’s only the evil ‘other’ tenants can get her name right (“It’s Coraline!”) but the pièce de résistance is the cat, her confidante with his own philosophical positions (cats don’t need names) who straddles both worlds at a distance, and who talks in one but not in the other (actually he talks in the ‘other’ but there’s no rhetoric in that). It’s a nice piece of work altogether, and I get to see the Gaiman qualities I missed before coming through.
Bit of a change from the usual at MK Gallery for a brief show up for just a month going under the title Hemmed in: Embroidery and Needlework from MK and beyond. Colourful, intricate and stark and all stations in between, figurative and abstract, imaginative and inventive, beautiful work there is up there on the walls. Changed my take on needlework for sure. It’s a tripartite, wonderfully curated exhibition.
The object on the left is probably the most extreme on show. It’s from Severija Inčirauskaitė-Kriaunevičienė, a Lithuanian stitchist, entitled Way of Roses, from 2007, which is a work of “cross-stitch on metal (found car door)“. Meanwhile British embroider Sarah Greaves’ Bath Tub, crafted 2011, is “hand embroidered bath“; minimalist, contemplative, fascinating, made by drilling small holes in a bath then threading through them spelling out a few relaxing bathtime thoughts – it worked for me. Both of those are in the Long Gallery, an exciting collection featuring very recent new wave work, some featuring cult and pop culture icons. These were selected by Mr X Stitch, Jamie Chalmers, an “active leader in the online stitch community” and “‘fibre arts’ blogger” no less. The Middle Gallery features work from the MK Embroiderers Guild, some of it featuring aspects of MK. Their Milton Keynes in an eight inch square project displays many inventive approaches. The Cube Gallery features a small collection of more traditional – though it’s all relative – works from the Embroiderer’s Guild National Collection dating from the ’30s to now; I’d like to see more. The exhibition is an eye-opening delight, all the more satisfying for the local involvement. Good on yer, MK Gallery.
- Friday night dinner – yay! (Even a partial redemption of the Mark Heap character, who was getting on my nerves)
- Outnumbered never lets you down
- Dr Who d’accord
- The news that some people have been claiming their whole Christmas has been ruined by what happened in Downton Abbey is another highlight for me – nobody to blame but yourself for getting involved with the old snob Ffellowes’ work in the first place.
- didn’t even consider The Royle Family after the last two disasters. Another BBC scandal: isn’t there someone there who can just say, not good enough? Without the loving glue of young Anthony – the Ralph Little character – the whole concept was gone.
- and while we’re at it, how soon the charm goes from Miranda …