Posts Tagged ‘Colin Bateman’

The strings are falseOne …

This one‘s a cracker, a gem of a book before we’ve even opened it.  Not only does poet Louis MacNeice look like he’s on his way to a local jump-up folk gig, but that cool photo was taken by his mate, W.H.Auden.  The strings are false: an unfinished autobiography (1965) was written in the ’40s but not published until 1965, two years after his death.  It’s a mash-up of three documents, with an appendix featuring extracts from the letters home of a friend of his at school and uni giving a fuller picture of aspects of the man not so evident in his own engrossing text.

It’s fascinating.  Born in Belfast in 1907, the son of a Protestant vicar with Irish nationalist sympathies (not necessarily a contradiction in those days), he’s sent to Sherborne, an English prep school, and then Marlborough, a public school in Wiltshire, where he’s big mates with then modernist champion (and now Fifth Man) Anthony Blunt, joining his vaguely subversive Anonymous Society.  Appendix A – Landscapes of childhood and youth – is a lovely piece of writing giving us the flavour of the natural setting of those places.

At Oxford in the late ’20s – “the only serious activity was poetry” – he’s mates with the left-wing poets of the time, and while a fellow traveller, his scepticism about middle class Communist perceptions of the working classes and the struggle makes for an amusing read.  There are spells as an academic in Birmingham, where he sees respectable working class aspiration first-hand, and in the US.  We also get the story of a tangled courtship and failed marriage, and a distressingly morally muddy propaganda visit to Spain during the Civil War.

What particularly struck me was both how dated it feels – those letters of friend John Hilton’s in Appendix B are to Hilton’s father – and yet how in many ways how the characteristics and feel of cultural change (‘the Art School Dance’) and radical politics transcend time.  I didn’t, as is my usual wont, take notes as I was reading  (this was my bath-time book) but for what it’s worth, this quote stuck in the craw:

From the British public schools come the British ruling classes.  Or came till very lately.  it is from the public schools that our Governments caught the trick of infallibility.  The public-school boy (sic), after a few years of discomfort, has all the answers at his fingertips; he does not have to bother with the questions.  It is only the odd public-school boy who thinks there are any questions left.  This is why the public schools will die like the dinosaurs – from overspecialisation and a mortal invulnerability.

Some hope.  I enjoyed The strings are false immensely.  It is beautifully written, variously funny, bracing, elegiac and thrilling.  I’m guessing the title is a refutation of the ideas of Freud and Marx – puppet strings – that energised the times, though I can’t also help thinking of ’80s bands and the ubiquitous synthesizer*.  Because it’s one of my favourite poems, here’s link to Louis MacNeice‘s cheery An eclogue for Christmas: http://poemplume.blogspot.co.uk/2010/12/eclogue-for-christmas.html.

*Sorry, but sometimes it is hard to resist saying something like this.  Especially when you then read William Empson‘s Preface to the 2nd edition of his Seven types of ambiguity (1947):

To be sure, the question how far unintended or even unwanted extra meanings do in fact impose themselves, and thereby drag our minds out of their path in spite of our efforts to prevent it, is obviously a legitimate one …

PapercutsMystery manTwo …

So … with Paper cuts (Head of Zeus, 2016) the author previously known as Bateman (himself the author previously known as Colin Bateman) is back being Colin Bateman again.  I’d say it’s a shame, really, but it’s his prerogative – he’s also got a play up and running, and an important film script in production – so the withdrawal from the manic Mystery Man series of novels is understandable; the author must have feared repetition, and I for one found it hard to distinguish them from those equally wonderful later books in the Dan Starkey sequence.  Lillabullero has already chronicled its love of both series’ boundless energy, sharpness and wit, the endlessly quotable smart-ass one liners, the slapstick and acute social observation, the stark, violent, pacey and painful thriller action driving them along; quite often all on the same page.

In as much as Paper cuts is a retreat into the more conventional comic novel genre those quotes on the cover are a bit of a cheat.  I was disappointed, and it would be interesting to know how someone coming fresh to Bateman appreciates the new book.  It’s a bit corny if the truth be known, the stuff of, in different locales, more than one old movie, and television series.

Rob, a biggish shot Guardian journalist on gardening leave (itself a bit of a mystery, ultimately a bit of a damp squib) and with marital difficulties, goes back to Northern Ireland for the funeral of his mentor from the start of his career in Belfast, who ended his career as editor of an ailing small town local paper.  Proprietor gets him drunk, persuades a reluctant Rob to give the local paper a shot before he probably closes it down.  Cue lots of office politics, some decent office banter, and a potential romance.  Various stories follow, he softens to the place, proprietor learns to love the buzz of local papers & so on.  There is an effective action climax, but, in the fashion of a big American tv series finale, another big plot line is left hanging; so I guess there’s a sequel in the pipeline.  (I had to take some stick on Colin Bateman’s FaceBook page – not from him, I hasten to add, he was suitably droll – for querying whether I’d been lumbered with a faulty copy of Paper Cuts because pre-publicity suggested it had 400 page whereas it only has 375).

There are saving graces.  Bateman‘s spirited prose is still in evidence:

Pete was comfortable and dependable, a worker, a toiler behind the scenes, he believed in family and the church and a quiet life, none of which prevented him from being a two-faced shit-stirrer with a bitter streak; but nobody’s perfect.

… though without the quick-fire rapidity.  Where many authors will give a wise quote before the action starts, in Paper cuts we get:

Johnny Cash shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.
Rob Cullen bought curly kale in Tesco’s just to watch it wither.

There’s a nice running joke of his new colleagues not getting Rob’s allusions from popular culture (“ ‘It’s not a conspiracy,’ said Rob, ‘it’s Chinatown.’  ” ‘It’s wah …?’ “), and there’s a useful and sobering reminder that, once upon a time, before the Troubles, there was a Civil Rights movement that pre-dated the IRA really taking off, and it wasn’t just Catholics.

Three O’clock …

Luckily for the hat-trick conceit, one of the standout performances for me at the Arts Gateway MK’s Spoken Word Extravaganza, held on the occasion of World Storytelling Day (March 20) and World Poetry day (March 21) was Liam Malone‘s cri de coeur about the plight of the middle-aged man trying to buy a pair of ‘ordinary’ jeans in Top Shop.  Not only was Liam born across the Irish Sea (and, I’m pretty sure, north of the border) but he also – back to where we started – sports a cap not dissimilar to that featured on the head of Louis MacNeice on the cover of The strings are false and, indeed, wears it in the same fashion.

Much to value from the mixed band of poets, storytellers and comedians who also performed, but it was a long time ago now …  Though I will mention Elsie Bryant‘s intense and thoughtful tour de force testament of social, political, emotional  and intellectual development, delivered kinda rap but with rhymes that actually made sense beyond the rhyming dictionary.  Bravo!

The Extravaganza was held at MK11, an excellent licensed small venue with a proper stage and an ambitious programme of all sorts of musics ongoing.  And an undistinguished entrance from the car park, a door that reeks (metaphorically) of speakeasies in prohibition days.






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Dead pass

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes, and the hardback has wonderfully big print.

*1977.  He got it right.

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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 EngelsManifesto 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?”


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And so to the theatre, there to be entertained greatly by Lucy Bailey’s highly inventive staging for the Royal Shakespeare Company of the Bard’s problematic old chestnut, The taming of the shrew.  Period dress, but the period was circa late ’40s Italy, working well.  Lisa Dillon played Katharina as an out of control hard-drinking Courtney Love, while sister Bianca could have come straight off the set (or album cover) of Dreamboats and petticoats, and David Caves as Petruchio was a study in intelligent mocking brash.  His great height and hard-hinted Northern Irish accent and Katherina’s short stature made for some good moments.

The set was interesting even before anyone stepped on it, even more so when it became an integral part of the business and fun that kept everything beautifully in motion.  It consisted of a mound covered by a huge sheet, rising to a classical wall full of shuttered openings that functioned variously as doors and windows, the occasional comic use of which recalled Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (the ancient groundbreaking American TV comedy that some of you will remember), the sheet performing a number of roles as the action progressed, not least as a bed.  There was a fair amount of farce in the mix, particularly with the supporting cast and plot-lines, with some great comic characterisations drawing on half a century of popular culture, but there was some terrific acting going on too.

The actual taming – the route march – was a brutal display of brainwashing.  The Prologue, or Induction, was not dropped, so the action was framed, giving us the play-within-a-play get-out for Shakespeare‘s pronounced misogynist streak in this text.  Before delivering the notorious acquiescence speech at the end, Katharina lit a cigarette and continued smoking throughout, a sign, maybe, that she was still holding something in reserve.  Much was made of the drunken Christopher Sly character, a comic tour de force from the substantial Nick Holder, who gave a woman a couple of rows back in stalls a shock at the start that she’ll be dining on for a few years hence, I’ll wager.  The audience came out buzzing.

I didn’t get the joke in the title of Bateman‘s The day of the Jack Russell (Headline, 2009) until I went looking for the jacket illustration to lift on Amazon (think Frederick Forsyth).  It’s a splendidly plotted crime thriller overlaid with (at times, one would have to say, overladen) with some great comic writing and dialogue.  Be prepared: relentless gagging is in play.  For years I’ve wished there was a British Carl Hiassen, and Colin Bateman (or simply Bateman as he now advertises himself) is the closest we’ve got.  And although he’s missing the underlying seriousness of Hiassen’s ecological concerns, along with the Floridan’s ability to strategically rein himself in to good effect at times, he’s pretty good at doing what he does and is very funny in his own farcical – I mean that kindly – way.

This is the second of his Mystery Man novels.  The main man, who does a bit of private eye-ing on the side, runs a bookshop straight out of Black Books, but specialising in crime fiction.  This allows for some nice digs and asides on the topic of crime fiction and its readers, like the Christie-like denouement (or not, as it turns out) which Bateman places mid-service in a crematorium.  Mystery Man – “I’m pretty good at reading people, although better at books” – is a chronic hypochondriac self-medicator and man of excuses who is systematically and rigorously working his way down the menu at his local Starbucks; along with many other such prejudices he holds a particular grudge against personalised car number plates.  The supporting cast, not least his girlfriend, Alison, all make their contribution, though I’m not sure his mother quite needed to have had an Alison-induced stroke (though, to be fair, I haven’t read the first book).

My doctor says I’m the first patient he’s had with Seasonal Affective Disorder who gets depressed by all four seasons.  He says his nurse calls me Frankie Valli.  […] I tried yoga once, but got tendonitis.

Undemanding he may be, but I shall be reading more in the future, I’m sure.

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Can you call this graffiti?  So good to stumble upon Hope on the horizon by the artist Heks on a perambulation of Willen Lake in Milton Keynes recently.  His canvas one of the oh so grey concrete supports of the bridge carrying the H5 grid road – Portway – over where the North and South Lakes divide.   Long may it survive.  Saw some gadwall ducks nearby.  Further south, on the approach and under one of the arches carrying the H6 – Childs Way – a more transitional work from the same artist:

Not defacing property ...
And above, from the impossible-to-photo-from-that-angle, detail you can’t see on the approach shot:  “I’m not defacing property, I’m painting a face on it.”  I hope it’s not rubbed out; a nice walk improved.

Meanwhile, in the author-previously-known-as Colin (but is now just) Bateman‘s latest novel, Nine inches (Headline, 2011), the street art is on the cusp of becoming a heritage attraction in post-peace process Belfast.  The setting, is, as I say, post-peace settlement Protestant Belfast, where the para-militaries have demilitarised into pretty much routine violent gangsterdom.  Bateman is the by-blow of Raymond Chandler and Californication (the TV show, not the CD); you can throw in some of Ian Rankin’s take on corruption and some decent stand-up.  His main man, Dan Starkey (not his first appearance between the covers) is Philip Marlowe crossed with Hank Moody ie. he has a sex life and a touching and touchy on-off relationship with his life partner.  If the pace – as a thriller – slackens, it’s a worthwhile detour; it’s nothing but character driven.  Nine inches is compassionate, cynical, gruesome and laugh-aloud funny.  Starkey’s office is situated above a Shankill butcher’s shop; that’s a real butcher,  actually one of the good guys, who used to live in the Shankill, and not one of the characters of recent legend as featured in the Decemberists song.  Try this, from near the end:

So they went looking for him, and that left me with toothless Bobby and four corpses for all of about five seconds, until the cops came storming up the stairs, armed to the teeth and screaming at us to put her hands up.  So I did, but Bobby said, ‘I can’t, I’ll fall over,’ and it was all the funnier because he was pasted in blood.

At this point you probably need to know that 14-year old X-box playing drug dealer Bobby only has one leg (the legacy of a gang knee-capping); the false leg also plays its part in the narrative.  Another page on, still part of the same incident, gives more than a clue where Bateman is coming from.  Trish is, of course, the love of Dan’s life.  She has had no idea what he’d hidden in her car:

The cops were too busy with the carnage in the church, while the people of the Shankill had no further use for her now that they had picked her car clean.  Not only was every twenty-pound note gone, but the cocaine with it; not content with that they’d stolen a family bag of mini Mars bars from the dash, and rifled Trish’s multi-CD player, removing Van, David Gates and Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest hits.  For some strange reason they left behind my sole contribution to her playlist, the Ramones’ It’s alive, even though she pursued them up the street offering it to them for free.

As it happens I was drinking one of the brewer Bateman’s products – their tasty Veto Ale – in a busy Wetherspoons just off the High Street in Southend-on-Sea on Saturday.  Went down to the bottom of the road to see the sea but didn’t venture further down the cliff to the seafront – cold, grey and windy if not – yet – wet.  I can now say I’ve seen Canvey Island, if not been Down by the jetty.  We were there to see Crewe take on Southend United (nickname: The Shrimpers).  A disturbing sight before kick-off: running around in a pointy headed costume featuring the colour pink quite strongly, one of the Southend mascots – dressed as a shrimp.  Not the most distinguished of matches, Southend didn’t look anything like the top of the table side they currently are and that The Alex deserved the point they didn’t get was down to some dodgy refereeing.  “All we want is a decent referee” to the tune of Yellow submarine.  Out of a crowd of 5645, we were 3 of the 188 Crewe fans, a small but significantly vocal section of whom did no-one any favours by chanting “Gypo” every time Bilel Mohsni, Southend’s tall pony-tailed French-Tunisian striker, touched the ball.  So it is with a certain satisfaction that I report it was indeed he who scored the winning goal and good on the lad for his raised arms, relaxed clenched fists and proud smirking (but not smug) response to the away end at the final whistle.  The least said about having to listen to Arsenal’s demise against Sunderland on the car radio on the way back to MK the better.  (Thanks Mark & Sal.)

February’s Scribal Gathering was its second birthday.  The Cock Hotel had managed to double book the room and only told the Scribal team that very morning, which you have to say is impressive, but the Bull stepped up to provide a more challenging last-minute venue, but all was well in the end.  Another fine night – has to be with Badger kicking off the open mic.  Featured artistes were The mighty Antipoet (just for a change) who did what they do, and Kate Lucas a young comedic chanteuse of attractive and innocent demeanour, with a touch of the verbal dexterity of a Tom Lehrer delivered in a pleasing voice displaying the mind and mouth of Joan Rivers not having a particularly good day.  Maybe a little light would have gone a long way, but … Great stuff, and I certainly will be a lot more careful about not – not that I do, but, you know – leaving toast crumbs in the butter in the future.

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Next to being a famous and rich writer, instantly recognised on the streets by your gold bicycle, acclaimed in public places, lionised by ladies and bowed to by posh people, much nudged about, next to all this the perennial juvenile dreams of some quieter status; of finding his name listed (not vulgarly, right at the top, but certainly not at the very bottom which is also too conspicuous) and among the significant literary figures of the century.

Thus Jack Trevor Story‘s hopes when reviewing someone else’s book in … I know not where because the rag-bag collection of pieces I’m quoting from – Jack on the box (Savoy Books, 1979) – unfortunately doesn’t give any original publication details.  A not unreasonable aspiration, nevertheless, given that JTS is one of the great English novelists, comic (which he certainly is) or otherwise, and when, in particular, his Horace Spurgeon Fenton trilogy is a bildungsroman of the writing life in his auspicious times.  But it’s a hope dashed even posthumously as far as John Sutherland‘s Lives of the novelists: a history of fiction in 294 lives (Profile Books, 2011) goes.  You’re in decent company, Jack.

Here are just some of the writers who, in no particular order, didn’t make it in either:  Doris Lessing, Thomas Pynchon, your mate Michael Moorcock, John Cowper Powys, Jack Kerouac, Kate Atkinson, Philip K. Dick, Joseph Heller, Philip Pullman, Michael Ondaatje and P.G.Wodehouse.

I mean, we all know how meaningless ‘greatest’ lists of anything can be.  But this is not one of those;  what it purports to be is history of the whole field, including the popular genres, seen in the lives of its significant players.  That list does give cause for serious pause.  Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating overview in many many ways, and I’m still ploughing my way through.  There’s a particularly interesting sub-plot which must reflect Sutherland’s experience of the rise of the feminist wing in the groves of academe in the last 30 years of the twentieth century; how exactly he suffered at their hands one can only guess, but the scars are there for all to see.  More about Lives another time, and the same goes for Jack (“Writer, Artist and Yearbook“) Trevor Story; and indeed he who is up next.

I’ve also got on the go the new book from the author who chooses simply to be known as Bateman these days.  Very funny man, some great lines, and here are just two of them, which are even funnier if you know the context but still work quite well enough if we let them stand on their own here:

‘And how is the poetry business?’
‘Cut throat’

And so to Stony Stratford’s fiercely fought Bardic Trials, held last week, where, in the final, the diminutive (in stature, in stature) Danni Antagonist narrowly – three votes in a crowded room – took this year’s crown in back room at The Crown.  Splendid night, finished off by another storming performance from (yet to be discovered national treasures) The Antipoet.  Double bass and far-from-beat poetry, on this occasion ably augmented by a bongo-ist.  (There’s plenty of previous evidence on TouTube)

Not has Stony got (to the James Brown backing track) got a brand new bard,
but Danni’s got a brand new blog
here at http://stonybard.blogspot.com/

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