Archive for the ‘Crosswords’ Category

20150815-KFK-unplugged-posterClissoldNo, it’s all good …

Standout performance for me at Kinks Night at The Clissold Arms “unplugged” session was a storming Twentieth century man.  When Geoff nailed the bit where the organ sweeps in two young men next to me – mid-20s? I’m not good at this – punched the air and cheered.  (Take a bow, Geoff Lewis).  I’d been talking to them earlier – favourite album Muswell Hillbillies (so men of taste) – and they got no kicks from modern groups at all.  With audience participation expected, these young lads knew all the words, on some songs better than the performers.

It’s a fascinating phenomenon, the way the musical generation boundary lines have faded.  At the annual Official Kinks Fan Club Konvention in November – a shindig graced on stage by a full cast of the Kast Off Kinks, with sometimes brief appearances from Ray Davies (though never Dave) – attendees’ ages range from teens to late seventies at least.

The Clissold Arms in Muswell Hill is where the Davies brothers had their first public performance, in late 1960, over the road from where they lived.  It now houses a room dedicated to The Kinks and their works.  The Kinksfan Kollektiv‘s Clissold sessions had their origins in an evening before the Konvention singalong and grew in scope from that to almost a military operation.  This summer special, outside the usual season, came about because of the vacation arrangements of Jim Smart, over from Hawaii, one of the original movers and performers of the fan sessions.  Was a good evening, heartening to talk to someone you’ve only previously known over the internet (hi Jim).  But … London prices: £4.40 a pint!

Cloud atlasCloud Atlas

Book Group book for August was David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas (2004).  I’d read it when it first came out and been impressed enough to give it a re-read.  I wasn’t the only one in the group, this time around, to subvert the subversion of the novel’s original unorthodox format.  It consists of six novellas, all relating to one another by various gestures, arranged like an onion with its layers, as if you were boring through to the earth’s core and then out again on the other side.

The initial nineteenth century diary of an eventful Pacific voyage cuts off suddenly and we’re into an epistolary account of an entertaining scoundrel of an English composer on the run in Belgium in the 1930s, wherein a purloined first (and only) edition copy of that diary figures in one of his personal fundraising schemes.  We move from there to a stylish fictional thriller novel set in post-Three Mile Island America, which breaks off at a genuine cliffhanger, into a very funny comic novel concerning an English publisher, whose experience publishing true crime has him on the run too, set in the present.  Then we move into the future, for a future archive interview concerning the development of artificial intelligence in cyborgs until we hit the core of the book, another kind of science fiction, a (not too difficult) dialect record of life when hi-tech civilisation has collapsed, into which an anthropologist from a surviving remnant of civilisation is allowed to stay for study purposes.  And then we are out the other side, in reverse order, with more links between them floated as the narratives develop, and the eighteenth century diary entries constitute the final part of Cloud Atlas.

But, as I say, this time I ignored the splits in the individual narratives and read each one straight through.  And the links between them became more obvious.  All are fascinating in their own right; he takes you into the working mind of a composer of music, for instance.  And it’s a lot funnier than I remembered and – definite shades of Thomas Pynchon – still just as seriously prescient a decade later.  Beautifully written too, an impressive fluidity of style.  It’s a meditation on human nature, really.  What drives us, makes us great, is what is also likely to be our undoing: “human hunger birthed the Civ’lize, but human hunger killed it too“.  Simple yes, but ultimately there is hope.  Near the end, our voyager comes out of his shattering experience, vowing, “A life spent shaping a world I want Jackson to inherit, not one I fear Jackson will inherit, this strikes me as a life worth the living.”  So over to us.  I thought the notion of a ‘cloud atlas’ was very Yoko Ono, and it turns out Mitchell got it from an actual piece of music composed by her first husband.

Vaultage late Aug 2015Music closer to home

No August open mic hiatus for Vaultage nights in the Vaults, which Pat and Lois have established as a more than dependable full music night out these past few months.  Featured act at the last Vaultage were VHS Pirates,  who describe themselves on FaceBook as, “a new uplifting exciting band from Northampton who play a mix of frenetic Folk Ska with a sensitive sprinkle of 80’s pop.”  Not to mention the unlikely sight of a banjoist supplying the rhythm on the up beat, the owner of one of two fine voices, a subtle keyboardist (the sprinkle) and original material of wit and no little invention.

Meanwhile, over at Aortas in the Old George a sparsity of performers on Sunday gave the bonus of what turned into featured sets from Dan Plews, Naomi Rose, an angry Mark Owen (his driven Getting away with it, a take on the Rebekah Brooks saga, given fresh venom with the news earlier in the day she was getting her job back), and comic verse from the poet Hobbs.  Would have happily paid to see that.  Earlier in the month stand-in host Pete Morton had led what turned out to be a decent night with his own songs and some well-chosen covers, in an evening also notable for an older couple leaving the pub muttering ‘Shouldn’t be allowed’ at Naomi’s most miserable song, Permanent blue.


Keelertornero: Heads of assembly at MKG

MK Calling 2015

This summer‘s exhibition at MK Gallery featured selections from an Open Call for work from local artists, amateur, student and professional.  I went along with someone whose default position on a lot of contemporary art is disparagement, but she stayed the course well enough.  It’s a varied and interesting exhibition.  My favourite piece was Head-of-Assembly-KEELERTORNERO-2014-Vinyl-records1Chin Keeler and Emma Tornero’s Heads of assembly (2014), hanging from the ceiling of the Cube Gallery.  You have to be there: these are heads made from moulding vinyl records over mannequins’ heads, with the labels still in place.  The programme notes suggest the artists deal, among other things, with ‘unkempt fantasy‘.  Here’s an individual head, image filched from the internet (probably their website); click and click again for an enlargement.

Crossword clues I have loved

Can’t do cryptic crosswords but can appreciate a bad pun when you hear or see it?  Then you’re in with a shout.  Some favourites of old from the Guardian – an occasional series here at Lillabullero – with the compilers credited.  Zen punnery & thinking out(or well in)side the box.  (Crosswords are printable for free from the Guardian website.)

  • From Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4)
  • From Paul: One’s days are numbered (8)
  • From Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5)
  • Paul again: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7)
  • A favourite of mine, from Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8)
  • More from Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3)
  • Arachne spinning: She’s over-groomed (8)
  • From Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8)
  • From Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6)
  • One more time from Rufus: A loaded statement (8)

Solutions under this picture of some frogs ©moi:


  • Rufus: Space for army manoeuvres (5,4) Elbow room [arm-y]
  • Paul: One’s days are numbered (8) Calendar
  • Pasquale: Call at table, suggesting preference for sirloin or T-bone? (2,5) No trump [not rump][a bid in the game of bridge][a US election slogan?]
  • Paul: Most adventurous combination of underclothes (7) Bravest [Bra vest]
  • Paul: Bad quality expensive jewellery? That’s clumsy (8) Bumbling [Bum bling]
  • Rufus: No beer left? That’s the limit! (6,3) Bitter end
  • Arachne: She’s over-groomed (8) Bigamist [women can’t do it too?]
  • Picaroon: Celebs ill-equipped for dinner parties (8) Notables [No tables]
  • Chifonie: Space traveller posed on vessel (6) Saturn [Sat on urn]
  • Rufus: A loaded statement (8) Bulletin [Bullet in]



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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):

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In the days before the internet I was puzzled by a line from Trouble in these fields, a song on one of Nanci Griffiths’ fine early albums – “And if we sell that new john, dear” – until I happened to drive past a John Deere dealership on the road into Carmarthen one day.  A minor mondegreen, then.  I learnt a lot more about tractors returning to Marina Lewycka‘s very funny comic novel A short history of tractors in Ukrainian (2005) for book group last week.

SHOTIUkIt’s an easy read but it certainly bears re-reading and I wasn’t alone in appreciating aspects of the book that were missed in that first rush (for it is a book you get a real rush from).  For me it was darker the second time around, in particular the back story of the Ukraine under Stalin, then under Hitler, the family’s escape to England.  Black humour then, a neat mix of Charles Dickens and Kurt Vonnegut no less.  As well as the witty portrayal of waspish sisterly differences, reflected in a broader view of two Englands – “See how we grew up in the same house but lived in different countries” – we get the agonies and absurdities of old age,  loneliness, post-Communist emigration and a whole lot more.

The old man at the centre of the dramas toys with the readers’ sympathies throughout – an old fool but also not without an eccentric occasional valid dignity – “I am not sick … I am poet and engineer” – and the conclusion of the story his marriage to the grotesque money grabbing younger country woman at the heart of the novel is beautifully worked out to one of the more unlikely happy endings I can recall.

Marina Lewycka is a writer with a lovely touch when it comes to the art of picking words.  Here the younger daughter (and narrator) is wondering how her dad got himself into this situation:

How does she persuade him?  Does she cradle his bony skull between her twin warheads and whisper sweet nothings into his hearing aid?

And I found his book about the history of tractors fascinating too, an interesting parallel history of the first half of the twentieth century.

On falling out with Alison Graham

For a long while I have felt I could trust Alison Graham‘s previews in Radio Times.  As a bonus to the wit of her writing, if she said something was rubbish I didn’t bother.  Hence I’ve never watched Luther, despite her promise of hidden delights for July 16 – This is the most unintentionally hilarious hour of the week” – which was followed the next week with:

I’ve decided that the best way to approach Luther is as if it’s a black comedy, where everyone behaves like an idiot and is devoid of even the merest smidgen of common sense.

And then there’s her recent take on The White Queen, which she warmed to, though I couldn’t be bothered.  Nevertheless for the August 11 programme I appreciated

The White Queen‘s King Richard III isn’t the foul hunch-back’d toad of Shakespeare – he’s a hunk who bears a passing resemblance to One Direction’s Harry Styles.

followed the next week with, “Give that man a horse.”  But lately I have been disturbed by her take on two recent supposed comedies.  After watching Count Arthur Strong she says she laughed

so helplessly at this episode that I had to re-apply my mascara, and I was still chortling on my way out of the office and on the train home.

I didn’t, and I wasn’t, and not just because I don’t do mascara.  I gave the show more than one chance (Alison likes it) but couldn’t actually bear to see it through to the end, so much did it creak.  And I haven’t even said anything yet about one of the worst dubbed laughter tracks I can recall, so bad I wouldn’t be surprised it was done by someone on work experience.  There is something badly amiss with BBC1’s comedy output.  Still, Alison pleaded for David Walliams’ Big School on August 16:

So please give Big School a chance. It doesn’t ooze sophistication – it’s pretty silly. But it has a great cast and I heard myself laughing out loud in places. […] A sweetly old-fashioned sitcom – in a good way.

I couldn’t last 5 minutes.  And Euan Ferguson in the Observer described it as consisting as

too occasional mini-smiles leavening a fast succession of stereotypes, interrupted by a lazy cliché or three, shot through with embarrassing pieces of slapstick.

Oh Alison.  What happened?

A few crossword clues …

… that tickled my fancy earlier this year in the Guardian and Observer.  Politics, culture, a couple of bad puns and perfect Spoonerisms.  Answers under the photo of the frogs.  Prepare to groan:

  • from the Observers’ Everyman: Vote against party? (6)
  • from setter Rufus: A time when the populace is at cross-purposes? (8)
  • from Chifonie: Major was once a skilled craftsman (12)
  • from Everyman: Which dear French PM? (8)
  • from Rufus: Fail to draw positive conclusions from Dante’s work (7)
  • from Araucaria: People like Lolita – it’s a difficult thing to do (3,7)
  • from Paul: Reproduce artist, say, for the royal issue (8,4)
  • another from Paul: Cassius claims Van Gogh’s surgical instrument possibly makes things tidy (6,4)
  • from Paul: By the sound of it Richard has overcome King Edward the Tyrant (8)
  • from Puck: Pirate can’t do this with mermaid, as some may ‘ave said (11)
  • from Pasquale: Spooner’s Sunday clothes? Not what would normally be seen in the pub (5,4)
  • from Arachne: Spooner’s to kill writer and collect £200! (4,2)
Froggy went a courting

Froggy went a courting (Yes, I know this is not how they mate but an irresistible caption, surely)


  • from the Observers’ Everyman: Vote against party? (6) Beano (Be a no)
  • from setter Rufus: A time when the populace is at cross-purposes? (8) Elections (X)
  • from Chifonie: Major was once a skilled craftsman (12) Cabinet maker – (John Major – PM)
  • from Everyman: Which dear French PM? (8) Thatcher
  • from Rufus: Fail to draw positive conclusions from Dante’s work (7) Inferno
  • from Araucaria: People like Lolita – it’s a difficult thing to do (3,7) Sex kittens
  • from Paul: Reproduce artist, say, for the royal issue (8,4) Princess Anne (Print Cezanne!)
  • another from Paul: Cassius claims Van Gogh’s surgical instrument possibly makes things tidy (6,4) Clears away
  • from Paul: By the sound of it Richard has overcome King Edward the Tyrant (8) Dictator
  • from Puck: Pirate can’t do this with mermaid, as some may ‘ave said (11) Counterfeit (Count her feet)
  • from Pasquale: Spooner’s Sunday clothes? Not what would normally be seen in the pub (5,4) Guest beer (Best gear)
  • from Arachne: Spooner’s to kill writer and collect £200! (4,2) Pass go (Gas Poe! – Monopoly)g


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House of meetingsMy title (or at least its first four words) is borrowed from Martin Amis‘s novel,  House of meetings (Cape, 2006).  He has a nice way of putting words together, does Mart.  It’s a book I’ve struggled and failed with before, but I persisted this time and don’t regret it (though, even so, I doubt his Yellow dog will get another chance unless I’m desperate).  He makes you work hard initially to get the context and what’s going on in House of meetings; little is spelt out to help navigate your way through the rich and sometimes too nuanced multi-layered text – there’s an awful lot going on in 196 pages.

Another narrator and player with no name takes us through it.  At the age of 86 in 2004, as returning Russian émigré tourism opens up, a bad tempered and high tipping “gulag bore” he’s on “the gulag tour“, returning to the scene of his imprisonment as a post-war ‘political’ in a brutal Soviet slave labour camp in Siberia.  In the zona, as they say, one of the locations where a love triangle involving him, a woman called Zoya and his half-brother Zev is played out; nothing is said regarding this one letter difference, so we are left to ponder on this count (or just let our imagination do its stuff regardless).  It’s not a pleasant tale and it ends badly for two of them (that’s not giving much away, there are hints from the start).  There’s a mcguffin of a letter from Zev written in 1982 that has remained unopened up until this time.  The meeting house of the title is where formally applied for conjugal visits from visiting-from-afar wives can take place after Khrushchev’s political thaw; it’s not a happy place.

So there’s the broader picture, of life back then in the camps under Stalin and later – our man is there from 1946, sometime poet Zev a couple of years later – is of unrelenting misery, absurdity and dehumanization.  Its social hierarchies are depressingly detailed and the two brothers’ differing attitudes to their situation – Zev maintains his pacifism – is interesting.  And then there’s the broader context of Russian history, before and beyond the communist experiment as well.   And further, the mysteries of young people in America that the narrator struggles to understand.

Because the book has been written for the sake of Venus, the narrator’s ex-anorexic step-daughter in the US, where he’s made a successful life for himself after having become “a tolerably big cheese in Russia” with the closing of the camps.  It is in this struggle to make sense of what he has encountered in America that the few glimmers of humour – though still seriously with the idea of ‘closure’ – are to be found:

Your peers, your equals, your secret sharers, in the West: the one Russian writer that still speaks to them is Dostoevsky, that old gasbag, jailbird, and genius. You lot all love him because his characters are fucked up on purpose.

For this is a deadly serious book, written on the tails of Amis‘s brilliant book about Stalin – Korba the Dread – and Experience, his memoir of his father Kingsley, a self-confessed (and hard to credit now) “Comintern dogsbody” until 1956.  The narrator’s conclusion?  “Russia is dying. And I am glad.

Which is a conclusion I would not be surprised to hear echoed from writer Andrei Makine, whose latest book is waiting for me at the local library, a prospect I’m practically salivating over even as I type.  As well as being one of the great writers of this or any age, Makine is a bit of a phenomenon, a real Russian émigré who writes in French but had to pretend his first novels were translations from the Russian before French publishers would take him seriously.  The hero of his last book – The life of an unknown man – was an émigré returning to Putin’s ‘new’ Russia and, no communist apologist he, nevertheless despairing at what has been lost, what has been taken from the people.  His subject matter may not have strayed far from the matter of post-war Russia, what Amis’s narrator describes as “the death of the Russian experiment,” but he can still conjure up people who can shine, who sing.  You should try him; they’re not big books except in spirit.  I introduced his A life’s music to my book group –  they’d never heard of him – and they were blown away.

Back with Amis‘s narrator again.  His diagnosis:

You know what I think? I think there must have been a developmental requirement that Russia simply failed to meet … Russia learned how to crawl, and she learned how to run. But she never learned how to walk.

Which given their dubious democracy, Putin, the stance on Syria, the continuing attitudes towards homosexuality, and the heavy-handed persecution of feminist punk band Pussy Riot, makes perfect sense.

Glastonbury (with a slight return to Russia)

There was a moment midway through Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds‘ powerful set on Sunday at Glastonbury that had me unashamedly lachrymose at the computer on Monday morning (thank you, BBC).  From what I’ve watched this was the standout performance of the weekend and yet I don’t think I’ve seen or heard any mention of it on the telly or in the broadsheet reviews.  Never mind Mumford & Sons expressing worry about following the Stones from the previous night, I would have thought following straight after Nick Cave – a committed artist at the height of his powers – on Sunday would have scared them considerably more.  After the carnage of Stagger Lee Nick sat down at the piano and did a solo People just aint no good, a plaintive and beautiful song I wasn’t familiar with, and had enough of the crowd singing along, eyes closed, lost in the sadness of the tale, for them to be heard as a choir.  It was a lovely timeless moment; I’ve still got the tune running in my head.  You can sing along like that to Andrei Makine‘s books about his homeland, a poignancy light years from – impressive though it is –  Martin Amis‘s tuneless House of meetings.

Which is a link so decidedly corny that I feel duty bound to leave it in, given that The Rolling Stones pulling Two thousand light year’s from home from their decidedly patchy psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request was for me by far the most interesting song in their set – more than going through the motions.  The overextended and dated guitar noodling of Mick Taylor left me cold on what used to be the frightening Midnight rambler (though it was a nice touch to see him), while singalonga-Sympathy for the devil made me shudder for all the wrong reasons.  Suzanne Moore had it right in the Guardian: “heritage rock“.  These songs used to have edge.  Nick Cave‘s still do and he knows how to move with dignity (though I guess you have to admire Jagger’s prancing stamina).  “Some people say it’s just rock and roll,” goes a line from Cave’s new song, Keep on pushing the sky away.

Intuition pumpsWithout quite leaving Glastonbury, I’ve started on Daniel C. Dennett‘s Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking (Allen Lane, 2013).  Well over 400 pages and heavy, man, I may well flag and not manage to see it through to the end, though a few more footnotes citing Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory might keep me going for a while yet.  Dennett is fiercely intelligent and writes with deeply serious intent, but ever with a twinkle in his eye.   In his introduction he claims Aesop’s Fables as pumps and this passage about The fox and the grapes in that collection strikes me as fitting in the light of the critical response to Mumford & Sons well-considered closing Glastonbury set on Sunday:

Look how much you can say about what somebody has just said by asking, simply, “Sour grapes?”  It gets her to consider a possibility that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and this might very effectively inspire her to revise her thinking, or reflect on the issue from a wider perspective – or it might very effectively insult her.

(It’s worth noting Dennett alternates the gender pronouns as a matter of policy.)  Given all the shit they have to take (Guardian – two stars) I can’t see what the Mumford‘s have done to attract such sneering critical opprobrium.  They may not be all that original, the words may not hold up to close scrutiny (hey – rock and roll), but there is an emotional swell and drama to their music that I find hard to resist.  That they are obviously popular – as far as CD sales go, apparently, they are the major winners from Glastonbury – derives at least in part from their building a following up from small venues and scenes just like in the old days rather than just floating on hype.  Marcus has a distinctive voice and they read proper books.  It is not their fault they had a favoured education, they appear to be wearing their success well and as far as the authenticity to play the music they like goes … the Stones were once a (very good) blues tribute band.  For what it’s worth I also enjoyed the Arctic Monkeys set – I doubt Alex Turner will ever need an extended walkway stage – while visually the white suited guitar playing smile-resplendent Niles Rogers and those two vocalists moving together were a delight to behold.

Musically cryptic: Their satanic crossword clues

And seeing as we’re lost in music … just a few clues that hit the note from the Guardian’s compilers.  Answers after the photo:

  • from Rufus: Determined to produce two notes on old instrument (8)
  • from Paul: Stone deep in earth kids played with (5,8)
  • from Gordius: Frank offence at Royal Academy (7)
  • from Philistine: Cockney tried to let one in at a leisurely pace (6)
  • from Everyman: Singer songwriter is merry, and so sad (9)
  • from Paul: Rock guitarist’s assistant always into R&B (6)
  • and from Orlando: Art of jazz – change backing endlessly (5)
Poppy fightback

The poppies fight back: the Northampton side of the Great Ouse near Stony Stratford

Crossword answers

  • from Rufus: Determined to produce two notes on old instrument (8) Re-solute
  • Paul: Stone deep in earth kids played with (5,8) Keith Richards
  • Gordius: Frank offence at Royal Academy (7) Sin-at-ra
  • Philistine: Cockney tried to let one in at a leisurely pace (6) Adagio (‘ad a go+i)
  • Everyman: Singer songwriter is merry, and so sad (9) Morrissey (sad as anagram indicator)
  • Paul: Rock guitarist’s assistant always into R&B (6) R-ever-b
  • Orlando: Art of jazz – change backing endlessly (5) Tatum (Mutate reversed, losing the e for jazz pianist Art Tatum).

And with a drum roll and a cymbal crash Lillabullero is outtahere.

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If this winter was a cricket team it bats a long way down the order, it’s got a long tail.  And spring is going to have to draw on the sort of recovery the England Test Team is currently showing in New Zealand if it’s to live up to its name and put one back in our step when we venture outdoors.  In the meantime, luckily we have the arts to keep us warm.  Nevertheless, the car was iced up all over when we emerged buzzing from the theatre on Wednesday night.

RSC - Winters Tale The winter’s tale

The set of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The winter’s tale was intriguing from before the off – a video backdrop of mediterranean island coastline and sparkling sea, lots of sea, a bit like one of those screen saver animations that had their moment a few years ago. When the action started – the party goers waking up – I thought, blimey, that makes a change: Shakespeare done in your actual traditional Shakespearian costumery.  It was only on starting to read the programme the day after I discovered that this was not actually the case.  So I stopped reading the programme as not to cloud my impressions of the night until I finished this.  Act 2 and they’d gone all eighteenth century Lutheran bureaucrat until the emissaries to Delphi appeared in Ripping Yarns (or was it cod Victorian) explorers garb, while the shepherd arrived tooting the horn on an upright Edwardian bicycle.

This is a photo of gas holders for younger readers who are wondering what on earth I'm talking about.

This is a photo of gas holders for younger readers who are wondering what on earth I’m talking about.

Following the interval it got even more postmodern diverse, but that was after the famous ‘Exuent pursued by a bear‘ stage direction moment in which a giant bear emerged from a turbulent video sea in some sort of transmutation from a sea monster and the veranda/ramparts centre piece up to then of the stage had been inexplicably lifted up as if it rested on top of one of those old gas holders that used to dot the urban landscape as the gas holder refilled.  After the interval this structure, turned around, was revealed as some sort of steam punk industrial interior cum helter-skelter ride at the Donald McGill postcard people populated seaside complete with pier on the video backdrop (not forgetting the morris dancers).

The winter’s tale is oft described as one of the ‘problem plays’ and it’s an odd one.  I crammed the plot and skimmed the play before going, as you do, and didn’t get the usual frisson of recognising book titles drawn from the text; indeed, that ‘Exuent pursued by bear‘ seemed to be it.  And with director Lucy Bailey’s inventive take on the play the schism between the straight jealousy plot and the light interlude of the sheep shearing festival/seaside holiday episode was all the more disjointed by Pearce Quigley‘s show stealing comic turn as the pickpocketing con man (and here also beach entertainer extraordinaire) Autolycus;  Bohemia had become Blackpool, but this small time rogue is tellingly the crucial link in the play’s happy ever after resolution.

I loved the whole show and gloried in what I thought was this glorious a-historic anarchic mix; though I’ve still got doubts about the gas holder’s rise, it’s innards were brilliant.  I’ve never been convinced by Othello‘s jealousy – oh come on, man, don’t be so bloody stupid – but the passage in Winter’s Tale where Leontes tells the audience of his growing suspicions, delivered here with his wife and brother (innocent, but adulterers in his eyes) bathed in a red spotlight and moving ambiguously in slow motion, was a fine example of the imagination on display in this enervating and entertaining production.  The music, scored by Bellowhead’s Jon Boden judiciously and atmospherically helped the action along and was a delight in itself beside the seaside, beside the sea, too.  ‘Twas a good night out, well spent.

(From what I read of the programme before I stopped, the production was set in the 1860s, the Pre-Raphaelites and all that – well they painted scenes from Shakespeare in trad costume – so the seaside 1880s (there is a 16 year gap in the action of the play) was yer first generation proletarian holiday makers courtesy of the railways.  I think I prefer my jumble.)

As a bonus on the first night in MK, the Stony Steppers clog dance side were performing in the theatre entrance as the audience came in.  The marble floor and the atrium acoustics made for a sharp variation to their usual sound.  Sad the sight of the lanky Nureyev of the troupe, Shaun Lambley, ankle in plaster in a wheelchair.  Get well soon.

Scribal Gathering

Scribal March 2013The March Scribal Gathering was a belter.  Freezing on the walk there, I could swear it was the temperature had risen outside by the time we going home.  Warm-up act was three-quarters of the featured band The Screaming House Madrigals – great name, great band – and when just half of them launched into a rousing take on The Civil Wars’ Barton Hollow we had lift-off in the room from there on in.  With the addition of a cellist in the bass role the full band’s main self-penned set was a performance of subtle power and rough beauty (not to mention the occasional vice versa), post-Zep folk blues with jazz infusions.  Rapunzel-haired charmer Jo Dervish can go from blues shouter to a hint of Billie Holiday in the space of a song’s line; an extraordinary voice, delivery of which is enhanced by an elegant range of hand inflections that could stand on their own as mime.


Poeterry by Ant Smith (on another night)

Featured poet was the immaculately suited Poeterry, who was, as ever, in fine form.  Poeterry – “Wycombe’s finest romantic poet” it says on his rrrants page – is a phenomenon, a presence, great fun.  Chocolate daddy, The masterpiece …  lust and love, so concise: “And I thank you,” as most of his pieces end.  High standard of both regular and fresh open mic performers too, except for a rancid reworking of the Bee Gee’s po-faced New York Mining Disaster 1941 (with its ‘Mr Jones’ chorus line) boasting of cuckoldry.  Good shout for the choice of a song that deserves a going over, massive shame about the manner of so doing;  Billy Paul’s Me and Mrs Jones it was not.  Pat Nicholson – beer had been taken – saved the day with his blazing harmonica.

Crossword clues of distinction

Interviewed after he had revealed he had cancer of the oesophagus in one of his regular Guardian crosswords, John Graham aka Araucaria, doyen of the setters, said, “I have a vague picture in my mind of an idealised solver, who is a combination of everybody I’ve loved.”  That makes me feel good.  Lovely man, lovely interview (click for the link).  Here are a few that I’ve appreciated lately from his colleagues:

Clue me three times

  • from Pasquale: Merriment authentic in cathedral? It’s without joy! (10)
  • Paul: Mountain meat and drink for man at top (5,4)
  • Gordius: A pious type, Winston, fit to move the queen (10)
  • Picaroon: Shakespearian warrior reportedly gave battle wearing ladies’ lingerie (10)

Missing letters

  • from Brendan: Doing crosswords and so on? Not I – I’m a philosopher (6)
  • Brendan: Things scheduled apart from hospital, for famous doctor. (6)
  • Rufus: Cut, cut hard (5)


  • from Paul: Kaleidoscopic expression coming up now certainly – ouch, that’s horrible! (12,4)
  • Tramp: Fish catcher? Source of the runs around India (4)
  • Crucible: Smell ship’s captain (4)
  • as opposed to Paul’s: Reserve suggesting no need for deodorant (4)

Just groan …

  • from Araucaria: Having a strong local accent? More or less (7,8)
  • Puck: Drinking session to make Scrabble player’s day? Just the opposite. (5,2,3,5)
  • Crucible: Some say stain leather in compound (7)
  • Orlando: Fussy car rental (4,2,6)
  • Pasquale: Defiled building looked over by Indian musician (8)
  • and timely from Rufus: Doesn’t include signs of spring (6,3)

You can find answers and workings out under these pictures of an unlikely candidate to appear in our latest seasonal wine box.  Had to be a spicy shiraz.  Not exactly a ballbreaker, didn’t set me on the highway to hell, certainly not a whole load of rosé, no let there be hock, cue whatever other bad puns to be found in the AC/DC discography.  Was OK, pretty tasty actually.

Back in BlackBack in black - B side

Clue me three times

  • from Pasquale: Merriment authentic in cathedral? It’s without joy! (10) Funereally
  • Paul: Mountain meat and drink for man at top (5,4) Alpha male
  • Gordius: A pious type, Winston, fit to move the queen (10) Churchgoer (Churchill is fit so he’s not ill)
  • Picaroon: Shakespearian warrior reportedly gave battle wearing ladies’ lingerie (10) Fortinbras

Missing letters

  • from Brendan: Doing crosswords and so on? Not I – I’m a philosopher (6) Hobbes  cf Hobbies
  • Brendan: Things scheduled apart from hospital, for famous doctor. (6) Watson cf What’s on
  • Rufus: Cut, cut hard (5) Sever cf Severe minus the e


  • from Paul: Kaleidoscopic expression coming up now certainly – ouch, that’s horrible! (12,4) Technicolour yawn ( it’s an anagram)
  • Tramp: Fish catcher? Source of the runs around India (4) Ibis
  • Crucible: Smell ship‘s captain (4) Boss
  • as opposed to Paul’s: Reserve suggesting no need for deodorant (4) Book ie bo-ok

Just groan …

  • from Araucaria: Having a strong local accent? More or less (7,8) Broadly speaking
  • Puck: Drinking session to make Scrabble player’s day? Just the opposite. (5,2,3,5) Night on the tiles
  • Crucible: Some say stain leather in compound (7) Dioxide (Dye ox hide)
  • Orlando: Fussy car rental (4,2,6) Hard to please
  • Pasquale: Defiled building looked over by Indian musician (8) Ravished
  • and timely from Rufus: Doesn’t include signs of spring (6,3) Leaves out

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All things consideredI’ve been dipping into a collection of G.K.Chesterton‘s essays.  It’s always fun.  Yes, he was a High Church apologist who converted to Catholicism and he suffers like Kipling from being a man of his time (the occasional dreaded ‘n’ word etc) but his appeal transcends narrow loyalties.  Contrarian, paradoxian, he delights in messing about with serious intent.  Thus:

I Have received a letter from a gentleman who is very indignant at what he considers my flippancy in disregarding or degrading Spiritualism. I thought I was defending Spiritualism; but I am rather used to being accused of mocking the thing that I set out to justify. My fate in most controversies is rather pathetic. It is an almost invariable rule that the man with whom I don’t agree thinks I am making a fool of myself, and the man with whom I do agree thinks I am making a fool of him.

That’s the start of a piece entitled Spiritualism collected in All things considered (Harrap, 1908).  In what follows the subject of spiritualism is peripheral and neatly wrapped up briefly in the final couple of paragraphs with a lovely agnostic flourish.  Meanwhile Chesterton concerns himself with the correct way to discuss serious things:

When I was a very young journalist I used to be irritated at a peculiar habit of printers, a habit which most persons of a tendency similar to mine have probably noticed also. It goes along with the fixed belief of printers that to be a Rationalist is the same thing as to be a Nationalist. I mean the printer’s tendency to turn the word “cosmic” into the word “comic.” It annoyed me at the time. But since then I have come to the conclusion that the printers were right. The democracy is always right. Whatever is cosmic is comic.

[…]  Why is it funny that a man should sit down suddenly in the street? There is only one possible or intelligent reason: that man is the image of God. It is not funny that anything else should fall down; only that a man should fall down. No one sees anything funny in a tree falling down. No one sees a delicate absurdity in a stone falling down. No man stops in the road and roars with laughter at the sight of the snow coming down. The fall of thunderbolts is treated with some gravity. The fall of roofs and high buildings is taken seriously. It is only when a man tumbles down that we laugh. Why do we laugh? Because it is a grave religious matter: it is the Fall of Man. Only man can be absurd: for only man can be dignified.

G K ChestertonAnd so it goes.  Apparently as well as being a novelist of some distinction and significance in genre fictions (the Father Brown stories, which I’ll read one of these days,  the splendidly titled The man who was Thursday and  The Napoleon of Notting Hill)  and serious non-fiction (like Orthodoxy, which I am never likely to read), GKC was an eminently dependable newspaper and magazine hack who was famously able to bash out stuff of real quality at the drop of a hat.  I’ve long suspected this side of his work was a closely guarded trade secret among working newspaper and magazine columnists and the like.  Regardless of subject it certainly makes for a fine template, this rolling out of a quirky logic with an entertaining manner.  And hey! – the first piece in All things considered is The case for the Ephemeral:

I cannot understand the people who take literature seriously; but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this book. It is a collection of crude and shapeless papers upon current or rather flying subjects; and they must be published pretty much as they stand. They were written, as a rule, at the last moment; they were handed in the moment before it was too late, and I do not think that our commonwealth would have been shaken to its foundations if they had been handed in the moment after.

Their shapelessness is debatable.  And they do still have much to say.  But all the above has been prompted by my having one of those out-of-place-words moments in the article Humanitarianism and Strength:

Somebody writes complaining of something I said about progress. I have forgotten what I said, but I am quite certain that it was (like a certain Mr. Douglas in a poem which I have also forgotten) tender and true. In any case, what I say now is this. Human history is so rich and complicated that you can make out a case for any course of improvement or retrogression. I could make out that the world has been growing more democratic, for the English franchise has certainly grown more democratic. I could also make out that the world has been growing more aristocratic, for the English Public Schools have certainly grown more aristocratic.  […]   I can prove anything in this way. […] But in all cases progress means progress only in some particular thing. Have you ever noticed that strange line of Tennyson, in which he confesses, half consciously, how very conventional progress is? –

“Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.”

Even in praising change, he takes for a simile the most unchanging thing. He calls our modern change a groove. And it is a groove; perhaps there was never anything so groovy.

and there we have it.  Improbably way ahead of his time.  Not that I or any of my friends of the age have ever called anything – or felt – ‘groovy’ (even ironically) in our lives; and I’ve never understood why people find the Austin Powers films funny in the slightest.  But nevertheless, Badada-daa-daa-daa-daa.  And to give him some credit, Paul Simon does at least call his song – all well under two precious minutes of it – The 59th Street Bridge song with Feelin’ groovy in brackets.  And I’ve just learnt that Simon & Garfunkel used Dave Brubeck’s rhythm section on the recording; not exactly the perfect match to these ears, but I still feel the better for hearing it again.  (Phew.  Just about managed to stop myself going into a Bridge over troubled water rant.  Instead …)

Alison Graham rules

At her finest – she is so right.  From Give it a rest, Sue (Radio Times, 2-8 March):

My first act as world leader (it won’t be long now) will be a simple one. I will snip A Question of Sport from its moorings on BBC1 and tow it into the middle of the Atlantic. There I will scupper it before detonating the whole creaking structure and sinking it forever. Then I will declare a ten-mille exclusion zone that will be ruthlessly patrolled by helicopter gunships so no one can go near the wreckage ever again.

This week A Question of Sport celebrates its 1,000th episode. Is that right? Are we sure it isn’t 1.000.000, because it feels like it. To me. […] I remember Emlyn Hughes as a team captain and how “everyone” went bananas when Princess Anne threatened to hit Emlyn with her handbag. “Everyone” thought this was hilarious. We were a simple people back then, and easily pleased.

[…]  But make it stop. It’s a dead horse that’s been flogged and made into a lasagne. Its useful life is done.

Briefly, away with The Railwaymen

Crewe AlexandraAnd an away win for Crewe Alexandra it was too, 1-2.  Without us there would only have been 3,082 at Colchester United‘s chilly Weston Homes Community Stadium to watch an undistinguished game between two underperforming teams.  Not the noisiest of home support one has encountered – at times it felt like a ghost stadium; their drummer only started drumming for the last five minutes.  All a bit clueless, really.  From where we were sitting only Byron Moore seemed to have any guile for Crewe and a little variation in carrying the ball out of defence (as opposed to the big hoof, every time, from goal kick or open play) might have spiced things up a bit, though the pitch didn’t look to be in great condition.  Decent pub lunch though.  Thanks Sal, Mark.

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Jackie Leven & Michael Cosgrave 2The title of Ian Rankin‘s new novel – Standing in another man’s grave (Orion, 2012) – is a mondegreen, a mis-hearing of a lyric, of a Jackie Leven song.  (There’s a certain satisfaction, given both are men of Fife, to be had from knowing the origin of the word mondegreen comes from a mis-hearing of an old Scottish ballad, the Boony Earl O’Moray.)   Rankin dedicates the book to Jackie, his friend and sometime collaborator, who died just over a year ago.  I miss him; the year somehow doesn’t seem complete without a new Jackie Leven album to spend time in wonder with.  The song is the exquisite Another man’s rain from, as the man himself would say at gigs, his “fantastic” album Oh what a blow that phantom gave me from 2007.  The album’s title is taken from an anthropologist’s memoir; it still blows me away.  Here’s the Spotify link for the album.  If you don’t know it (and for sure, not enough do) there’s a brilliant version of I’ve been everywhere you would not believe and a poignant tribute to fellow maverick Kevin Coyne (Here come the urban ravens) among the other pearls and moving delights.

Another man’s rain is a stunning piece of work, a thing of great beauty, a perfect example of Jackie’s poeticism (he was ever a champion of poetry), his lyrical inventiveness and, as it happens, his genius for musical quotation (go listen).  It contains one of the loveliest quatrains anywhere in popular music:

Every man has his flower
Though he knows it or not
From the mighty old English rose
To the humble forget-me-not

Here’s the specific Spotify link for the song.  Performed live it developed a life of its own, especially when he could play with Michael Cosgrave.  Here are a couple of YouTube links – sorry, I really should upgrade my WordPress account so I can embed stuff like this – both from Dutch gigs:



standinginanothermansgraveThe big news about Ian Rankin‘s novel is, of course, that after three without him he has brought back Jackie Leven-listening Scottish detective John Rebus.  And crucially not just Rebus but his long-suffering and sometimes soul sister and partner Siobhan Clarke, though this time he’s working to her since post-retirement he’s been recruited to the Cold Case Unit as a civilian.  I know, CCUs have fast become a bit of a cliché in crime fiction, but if it means we’ve got Rebus back I’m not complaining; we also get a serial killer and child abuse in the mix too, though in Standing in another man’s grave there’s a neat undercutting plot twist between the trigger that catches Rebus’s interest and the smoking gun.

I think Rankin is pleased to have the old guy back.  There’s a comfort and a touch of humour to the writing and the reading that was missing without him; not, I hasten to say, that I’m suggesting anything too comfortablewe’re still spending time out on the edge.  In a recent edition of Alan Yentob’s Imagine tv show – Ian Rankin & the case of the disappearing detective – Rankin says he still hasn’t seen any of the Rebus television series because he doesn’t want his hero contaminated by an actor’s characterisation in the way that Colin Dexter admits his writing of Morse changed in the light of John Thaw’s portrayal.  “I want him to change for other reasons.”  Nevertheless – no bad thing – it’s hard not to see and hear the masterful Ken Stott in Standing; less so Siobhan.

Naturally there’s plenty more music – mainly ’70s – most obscure being probably Michael Chapman (has to be Fully qualified survivor?) and Scottish dialect words (someone is huckling for a move, it’s hard not to imagine what a dreich weekend is, someone else’s place is a bit of a guddle).  There’s a nice running joke of Rebus referring to Siobhan’s boss James Page (“a suit and bean counter”) by way of Led Zeppelin song titles.  Rebus is smoking and mindfully drinking a little less (though one evening he “emptied a fair amount of Highland Park into himself“).  As he drives up and down the A9 he encounters old-style but “venerable” petrol pumps (fine word!).  In talking about the old days and ways of policing (of hunches rather than computer probabilities) Siobhan tells him, “You’re vinyl, we’re digital” but she’s not necessarily knocking it.

With the changes in retirement age legislation it seems Rebus can reapply for a job as a serving copper again, and he’s thinking about it.  I always drop most other things to read a new Ian Rankin at a pace and I’m hoping Rebus (or Siobhan with him as at least armchair adviser) can be  around for the next few.  (One demurral here: I’m still a bit puzzled as to why the photographs? … but I don’t want to spoilt it for anybody.)

CrosswordsAnd now given that a rebus is a puzzle

Let’s get cryptic:

… just a few more crossword clues that have tickled my fancy lately, courtesy of the Guardian and Observer (Everyman) with some tipsy toilet humour, not a little cleverness and a couple of real ‘Ouch-es’:

  • from Everyman: How Monopoly starts, as it always has (4,3,4,2)
  • and: Marksman notes owl (12)
  • the first from Paul: Distribute the report of a yobbish baker? (4,3)
  • from Shed: Being one of 12 getting hurt (6)
  • Paul again: Fugitives wary as unprepared (8)
  • from the mighty Araucaria: Copy concerned with backing Mussolini (9)
  • a couple from Paul involving real people: Savage going after wild animal, a bloomer (5,4)
  • and: Toms Cruise, Selleck or Courtenay, but ____ , I don’t want them! (2,6)
  • from Gordius: Ointment for a Frenchman round the bend? (7)
  • and Philistine: Trouble in the loo (13)
  • Arachne: Rendered incapable (9)
  • Bonxie rolls in with: Mean drunk provides watery food (9)
  • and seasonally, from Rufus: They lead the way in the present transport system (8)

Answers appear after this latest instalment of Alison Graham doing what she does best in the Radio Times – trashing the trash.  (And though as far as The hour goes Andrea and Val disagree, I still trust the woman implicitly):

  • Bomb girls ITV3 10 Nov 2012: “… you can always admire the lovely cardigans.”
  • The Hour BBC2 14 Nov 2012: “It is still hard to fathom whether there remains less to The Hour than meets the eye.”
  • Hunted BBC1 15 Nov 2012: “I don’t think Hunted is ever going to end. It will just go on and on for ever in a parallel universe where it actually makes sense. Back here in our world, people keep kicking each other while more characters who are never explained keep popping up. And everyone in the wretched thing is horrible […]  Meanwhile other people look enigmatic at railway stations, get shot in the head, and in one horrible sequence, are suffocated with a plastic bag.
  • but she’s made her mind up about The Hour (round-up Dec 1-7 2012):  “The Hour wears me out. In between yelling at news producer Bel Rowley, “Call yourself a journalist? You couldn’t uncover a duvet,” I project my own emotions on to it, just to liven things up a bit.  [… ] Creator Abi Morgan … tries … to convince us that Bel and reporter Freddie burn for one another. But there’s nothing between them. They are two fan heaters set on cold.”

Crossword clues – the answers:

  • How Monopoly starts, as it always has (4,3,4,2) From the word Go
  • Marksman notes owl (12) Sharpshooter
  • Distribute the report of a yobbish baker? (4,3) Dole out (Dough lout)
  • Being one of 12 getting hurt (6) Injury (Ouch)
  • Fugitives wary as unprepared (8) Runaways (anagram)
  • Copy concerned with backing Mussolini (9) Reproduce !!!
  • Savage going after wild animal, a bloomer (5,4) Tiger lily
  • Toms Cruise, Selleck or Courtenay, but ____ I don’t want them! (2,6) No thanks
  • Ointment for a Frenchman round the bend? (7) Unguent
  • Trouble in the loo (13) Inconvenience
  • Rendered incapable (9) Plastered
  • Mean drunk provides watery food (9) Shellfish (selfish drunkenly)
  • They lead the way in the present transport system (8) Reindeer (it’s Christmas)

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