The picture that used to be here -“Fiction, non-fiction, reference” – a larger than life mural hanging in MK Central Libraryby the esteemed Boyd & Evans , I’ve moved it to the bottom of this page. I got sick of the sight of it every time I updated the page and it didn’t deserve that. (Blogging verite – not many words have been changed in what is an historical document).
& whatever else I can bother to put in
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In what follows, the latest stuff is at the top
Discovered a couple of fun functions in PaintShop Pro:
December 29 This solstice yours truly was Little Johnny Jack in the Mummers Play; needless to say I was the tallest there. Bit of a stepdown from the Prince of Peace last year but there you go.
A short list of the films I have to watch through to the end if I catch them on the box, even though I’ve video’d ’em, got the DVD etc: Twister (fall in love with Helen Hunt every time), A fish called Wanda, The taking of Pelham 1-2-3, Blow up, two of which were on over Christmas. Oh, and Animal House. No, I’m not a film buff.
Watched Karel Reisz and David Mercer’s ‘Morgan: a suitable case for treatment‘ again; had forgotten how sad it was – and how funny. Classic mid-’60s zeitgeist, with David Warner and Vanessa Regrave positively iconic, it deserves to be more than the cult movie it is.
Bob Dylan reciting ‘The Night before Christmas‘ on his grin-inducing festive Theme Time Radio Hour was one of the season’s highlights, though the second hour of the show got a bit tedious. ‘Doctor Who‘ again scored high for its humanity, poignancy and its broadness of vision. With Catherine Tate as the vanishing bride it was her finest hour – normally I can’t stand her. Nor would I care if I never saw anything to do with Little Britain ever again – the perfect justification of the two series rule. Though I do quite like being able to see ‘Scrubs‘ again and often via even Freeview’s limited digital channels; come to think of it the two series rule only seems to apply to UK tv, with honourable exceptions, of course – The Good life, Only fools and horses, couple of others involving Ronnie Barker. Was glad I saw the Beeb’s excellent production of ‘Nicholas Nickleby‘ – Charles Dickens in fine critic of capitalism mode.
I read ‘The lost luggage porter‘ by Andrew Martin (Faber 2006), the third in what are now being marketed as his ‘Jim Stringer, steam detective’ series; as if there could have been any other kind in the first decade of the twentieth century, save that Edward Marston has beaten him to the ‘railway detective’ tag. Where the first Stringer was full of magnificent atmosphere (‘The Necropolis Railway’) and the second (‘The Blackpool Flyer’) was good on social background but the action was unconvincing, this third has hit a decent compromise and a nice stride. While I could easily believe there had been three different main characters with little connection save their name so far, it looks like he’s settled down and with his wife (“the wife” as he calls her when she’s not there) having suffragette sympathies all now looks well set.
And hurrah! – the goldfinches are back in the garden at the niger seed.
December 18 I see dead people. Oh no, it’s just the opening sequence for Hollyoaks, still mostly populated – the title credits that is – by those variously expunged from the script by violent death or dramatic exeunts from the scene. It’s the only soap we watch; no excuses really. It’s got a fresher sense of humour than the others though there do seem to be a larger number of bad people, or people doing bad things, than usual. One sincerely hopes bad things are in store for evil Claire and Justin, who looks like cricketer Freddie Flintoff (and vice versa) which can be confusing. Like, how come that’s Justin being interviewed about the Ashes humiliation in Australia. Don’t you get sick of sportsmen (and the managers of their teams) who’ve been through media training and all say the same supportive things at interviews in the face of utter defeat? It almost makes Mourinho attractive, apart from the fact that he’s not losing, which makes it disturbing for me to have to hope well of the fortunes of Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United team.
I read Clarice Lispector‘s short novel ‘The hour of the star‘ (Carcanet, 1986; Brazil, 1977). Would be easy to say it’s the self indulgent ramblings of a mad woman who’d lost the plot, apart from a big part of it is a meditation on a book’s plot and how it comes about. You’re drawn into the heroine’s wretched life and you’re going, come on Clarice (who annoyingly makes her author, the narrative voice, a man), give her a break. So it’s about writing and reality and writers and their sources, outside and in; you also get a tremendous sense of their (Clarice’s, Macabes’s) Brazil. Lovely piece of writing if it grabs you, though it’s easy to see how many would fall at the first fence. There’s no great complexity of thought to be found in Perry Groves’ ‘We all live in a Perry Groves world’ (John Blake, 2006), an irreverant footballing autobiography by the striker who since his appearances in the late ’80s and ’90s has become a cult among Arsenal fans. Booze (apparently despite what they themselves say, Tony Adams and Paul Merson weren’t alcoholics, just heavy drinkers, ho hum), birds (you wish he’d not been quite such a lad, really) but much entertaining banter – in the end you can’t help liking him. Thankfully no career statistics, but an unpretentious insight into the pre-Arsene Wenger footballing life. (December 18)
December 10 Hard not to use ‘evocative’ when describing Michael Frayn’s ‘Spies’ (2002), a rites of passage novel of growing up in the English wartime suburbs. It kicks off with the enticingly dangled “My mother’s a German spy” (it’s not giving much away to say she’s not) and is your basic bitter sweet coming of age novel with class at its core and personal tragedies driving the narrative as background mystery before they come to the fore. Posh Keith’s mum’s dignity and desperation and the sorry plight of the airman shatter the boys’ own adventure as Stephen, the narrator, struggles with simple promises made and a bigger more complicated morality. All this related by an old man revisiting his childhood haunts, a recherche du temps perdu with the privet hedge, misspelt pun and all, as the cake that opens up the memories. It’s all beautifully done, with a twist in the coda that I’m not sure about but can live with. And Victoria Wood (‘Housewife, 49‘ on the telly, set in the same war) has just had me lachrymose and thinking about my mum and dad and that war, the likes of which I’ll not know.
December 4 Seems a long time since I read a graphic novel. ‘Pride of Baghdad‘, with words by Brian K. Vaughan and art from Niko Henrichon (Vertigo, 2006) does what the comics format can do best – you turn over to a double page spread of some kind of revelation. This tale of a pride of lions set loose from the zoo when the American assault on Baghdad leaves them free to fend for themselves in the city works both as adventure, meditation on the notion of freedom and a never heavy handed commentary on Iraq and the war. I continue to be impressed with the work of James McMurtry, not least with the name of his band. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Heartless Bastards. ‘Live in aught-three‘ is a tremendous live album in the very best American guitar rock country tinged tradition, no less than the missing link between Neil Young and John Prine. (December 4)
November 27 Lot of things get put on the backburner when a new Rebus novel comes out and Ian Rankin’s ‘The naming of the dead’ (Orion, 2006) didn’t disappoint. Cynical and idealistic by turns, compassionate and well up to standard. Nice touch – among many – to have Cafferty, gangster of this parish, with a successful celebrity biography makeover.
And in this vegetarian household we celebrate the return to the kitchen cupboard of a stash of Heinz Baked Beanz Vegetable Sausages, which had disappeared from the shelves of the supermarket big boys, courtesy of the good old Co-op. Rejoice with a fried egg on toast. Laughed, nay guffawed, muchly at ‘Pulling‘, new comedy on BBC3. Bought the new Thomas Pynchon; it sits there formidably on the shelf, probably the thickest book I own. Experiencing a certain sporting deflation at events in Australia (am I sick of the cricketing barmy army as news story already? – oh yes) and at the hands of bastard Bolton Wanderers (beat Arsenal … again), who boast a splendidly traditional name at least.
November 20 Quite a weekend: ‘Cosi fan tutte‘ and the Kast Off Kinks. I know enough about opera now to know that you can trust Glyndebourne on Tour for a good evening and probably some wit and fun and an enticing visual experience. I no longer have fear of the trained voice and though we didn’t necessarily recognise any of the tunes in Mozart‘s opus, written incredibly a year after the French revolution started, he is free from the caterwauling and squawking that are there for the sake of it (a sort of Mahavishnu Orchestra equivalent) that crept into a lot of the Italian stuff that was to follow in the next century.
The annual Official Kinks Fan Club bash in North London on Sunday was the usual delight too, not least because the Kast Offs really came into their own, the pressure off Dave Clark to be both Ray and Dave, with sparkling versions of some material that was fresh to them and the tremendous presence on stage – moving great, sounding great, having fun, bouncing off each other – of two of the back-up singers from the ’70s Kinks shows. Take a bow Debi Doss (a regular now at this event) and Shirlie Roden (for the first time). An emotional ‘Everybody’s in show business’, a rollicking ‘Mystery train’ among the highlights.
And tonight, in a 3 day frenzy of culture, the very funny ‘Heroes‘ at the theatre, a cross between ‘Waiting for Godot’ and ‘Three men in a boat’ complete with stone dog but going nowhere ; Tom Stoppard had a hand in it. Art Malik, Christopher Timothy, Michael Jayston – a tremendous cast delivering the goods.
November 18 Raced through Richard Dawkins‘ timely ‘The god delusion‘ (Bantam, 2006). Timely? How have they managed to keep this nonsense going so long? Very funny in parts, not least on the Old Testament stuff (easy target, i know, but it’s how you tell ’em) and the Americans. The points he makes about the self serving use of ‘Christian children’ and ‘Moslem children’ rather than talking of ‘the children of Christian/Moslem parents’ and the privileging of religious faith in the discussion of ideas (faith somehow putting that discussion off limits) are crucial. Faith schools cannot be anything other than a divisive force and one despairs of Tony Blair’s championing of the concept.
Religious difference plays its part in the events driving William Trevor‘s desperately sad ‘The story of Lucy Gault‘ (2002). I picked this up after a discussion about books that made you cry on John Baker’s blog and it almost made it – definite moisture if not the full lachrymosa. You just want to slap them into their senses but you can see how the logic of the situation cannot be avoided. I found it hard to get on with Trevor’s writing – his actual sentence construction often jarred on me – but was drawn in nevertheless to the agonies and grace of various players as things pan out over the years in the scarred Ireland of the ’20s through to the mendings (in Eire, at least) of the ’50s. As it happens pretty much the same period (tag on some ’60s) that feeds most of the music in Bob Dylan‘s weekly Theme Time Radio Hour programme, which has developed from being a curiosity to being a real joy as the gruff old jokerman attacks his lines with relish, the Dance show a particular high. He’s even slipping us really good bad jokes. Something like, “I’ve got a friend who’s learning to be a ballet dancer. Seems they’re improving in leaps and bounds.” (November 18)
November 8 As well as being entranced, I learnt a lot from David Peace‘s compelling ‘The Damned Utd‘. Like Revie left Brian Clough with a team of relatively old men with no less than 6 contracts waiting to be negotiated, like Revie and some board members having given the deeply unpleasant Johnny Giles the impression he could be the next manager, like Clough’s otherwise successful Derby County’s awful record against Revie’s Leeds, like the parallels in Revie and Clough’s biographies, like his mum dying while all the carnage at Leeds was going on. The way the tale is told, day by numbered and desperate day, with a parallel recounting in an often insecure inner voice of Clough’s career from his serious injury as a player through to his managerial successes, reveals the logical inevitability of the tragedy – he had to take the job, couldn’t refuse it. The image of a drunken Clough’s distraught 2 o’clock in the morning plea to his old mucker Peter Taylor to leave the job he had honourably stuck with at Brighton will linger for a long time. Some nice period touches from Peace, too, in particular the underplayed nod to the Python’s ‘Life of Brian‘ (“How shall we live, Brian?”). Some excellent results elsewhere: the Democrats in the US, Southend beating Man U. (November 8)
October 29 Deeply enjoyable to spend some time with a double CD Elmore James compilation – without straying too far from it, a lot more than just ‘Dust my broom’, with a delightful lack of polish but a lot of relish. Disappointed by – how can this be so? – a football autobiography. A few years ago a celebration of Gordon Strachan‘s spontaneous responses to journalists made the forwarded e-mail rounds; you can see them on the ‘Bits and bobs’ page). Unfortuntately there is nothing to match them in ‘Strachan: my life in football‘ (Time Warner, 2006) where the dead hand of the ghost writer’s cliche (take a bow Jason Thomas) smothers all, even down to using asterisks for ‘bastard’ (which at least gets a couple of letters – b*****d, as opposed to ****). Absolutely pathetic. Although vaguely chronological it’s all over the place a lot of the time with no great sense of sporting climax and there is stuff here in speech marks which you can be sure was never said in those words. Which is a shame because Strachan would appear to be a decent man. At least he’s prepared to say he resented Ferguson’s treating them like children at Man U.
A relief then, to pick up ‘The Damned Utd: an English fairy tale‘ (Faber, 2006) by David Peace, a brilliant fictional recounting of Brian Clough’s 44 days as manager of Leeds United in 1974, full of real drama, morality and compassion. Read it and weep. Nor is the hero himself spared. Even after all these years I still hate them as much as ever and whatever else you can say about Clough, so did he.
October 22 While I struggled with – nay, gave up on – Louise Erdrich‘s previous book, I had a good time with ‘Four Souls‘ (2004). She’s a tremendous writer – calm, lyrical, emotional, exciting – and with this one she’s back with the native North American Ojibwe, weaving story strands and characters to great effect. The episode towards the end of the book where Nanapush goes to a crucial tribal council meeting drunk is a lot more than just a comic tour de force.
I’ve had Ulick O’Connor’s ‘Oliver St John Gogarty: a biography’(1964) on the go as the downstairs bog book for a while now. Gogarty’s was an extraordinary Irish life – racing cyclist, athlete, raconteur, poet, drinker, perennial medical student, republican activist, distinguished ENT surgeon (with organ flinging episodes out of ‘Green wing’), aeronaut, senator, friend of James Joyce (he’s Buck Mulligan in ‘Ulysses’), W.B.Yeats, Michael Collins & many, many more (including, as it happens, George Moore). I find it surprising that with all this there hasn’t been another bio in the last 40 years given how much has changed, both in Ireland and in the biography game. O’Connor is bashful at quoting the bawdy and we get to know practically nothing of Gogarty’s wife and marriage. Was still a fascinating read though, both for the sense of Dublin as special and for what I belatedly learned about Irish history and politics and the debates within the emergent Free State.
Musically the spell of ‘Modern times‘ has been broken by Scritti Politti‘s (Green Gartside’s) very different kettle of fish, ‘White bread, Black beer‘ (2006). Took a few listens for it to grab hold (I trust where the recommendation came from) but now some gorgeous melodic lines, harmonies and hooks have well and truly insinuated themselves. Not so much a collection of songs as an often reflective emotional ebb and swell with a great sense of musical magpie fun and some neat lyrics to boot. Reminded me a bit of all that I like about The Beatles’ ‘White album’ (of which there’s a fair bit I do not). ‘After six’ is a tremendous anti-religion song – “Please keep your love away from me / Jesus keep your hands where I can see” – another ally.
I’ve been yay-ing and laughing out loud reading Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God delusion’ (Bantam, 2006). We have simply been putting up with this nonsense too long. I’ve had an exchange with Neil, who says I have to give up on notions of ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ (and much of Dylan) if I nail an atheist flag to the mast of Darwin’s dangerous idea. To which my response was – and I was quite pleased with it as bon mot – “Which the baby, which the bath water?” Not sure that it means anything, but, you know, say no to skyhooks and this insidious notion of ‘intelliegent design’. And I happily chanced upon and purchased on impulse a bag of licorice comfits (Panda brand, only yellow white and green ones), a confection I’d not tasted in decades, and it was heavenly.
Late Sunday: Just watched the first two episodes of ‘Torchwood‘ on BBC3. Bloody brilliant – never a dull moment. The absolute best of Russell T. Davies’s Dr Who revival without the constraints, the baggage. Hocum, of course (and new baggage very soon, of course), but great hocum, and at its core a basic decency of feeling; the character of ex-copper Gwen, reminding them of what the bad things feel like, a masterstroke. Tremendous ensemble playing from the start. Just the fear that a Welsh accent is becoming almost, um, fashionable.
October 8 In the slipstream of the masterpiece of Dylan’s ‘Modern times’ (the jury is in) I’ve been catching up on Charlie Chaplin. I’ve never really ‘got’ Chaplin before, but I’m gettin’ there. His ‘Modern times‘ has its moments comic and poetic, and I shall be watching more; vis-a-vis the Dylan it strikes me that the end of the movie, as the tramp is walkin’ (not talkin’) down the road towards the horizon, walking cane in hand (“Hand me down my walking cane”) has a resonance that is more than coincidence, even if, as chum Neil suspects, the core narrative of the song comes from an episode courtesy St Paul in the New Testament. David Attenborough‘s movie ‘Chaplin‘ almost had me weeping – great and illuminating storytelling with Robert Downey Jr brilliant as Chaplin. Telly: thanks, but you needn’t have bothered, for another ‘Cracker‘ – it was alright, but hard to see the point, really. On the other hand, Jack Dee’s ‘Lead balloon’ threatens brilliance, not least the wonderful Raquel Cassidy, whose lovely face and timing are great comic instruments.
Was annoyed by William McIlvanney’s ‘Weekend’ (Sceptre, 2006), not least for the cheap trick of ‘revealing’ who’s writing the book at the end. How could she? Or is that meant to be part of it too, the conundrum of writing? So, on one level too clever by half. On another hand this record of a creative writing weekend in a big old Victorian mansion and its participants, men and women, young and old, made for a decent soap opera (and an interesting meditation on the Jekyll & Hyde and the Oedipus & Sphinx stories) which quite engaged. Apart from the terminally ill wife, a plot device (just like her only friend dying from TB in ‘Jane Eyre’) that I just see as cheating. And that thing about not identifying the different narrative voices until well into the passage; is it too hard (or simple) to use different typefaces? I could also say something about old men writing about young people having sex but I think McIlvanney’s contribution to modern British crime writing (‘The papers of Tony Veitch‘) doesn’t get the credit it deserves. (October 8)
October 1 Finished ‘Mason and Dixon‘. Hurrah! Bit of an endurance test really; it could have lost a few pages, truth be known, but still worth it. Pynchon goes unique places. Very moving wind down and coda.
Great night at the theatre with ‘Slava’s snowshow‘, huge fun and quite an emotional but especially physical experience with the wind, the rain, the cast clambering over you. An enchanting clown troupe out of Beckett, with tremendous music fitting the scenarios beautifully, if sometimes obtusely. The ‘Peter Gunn theme‘ has never sounded more exciting. I laughed out loud as much as I’ve done for many a moon. Good to find a couple of snow flakes in the car the next morning. (And, friend Sally, not childish at all, though the inner child was touched).
September 22 I watched the DVD of ‘Blind Faith: London Hyde Park 1969‘ and it was as big an anticlimax as the event was at the time. Had forgotten just how big it was, so no chance of spotting myself or indeed girlfriend Jill, in the background; we turned around for a split second, the crowd shifted a smidgeon and so we were literally lost to one another – no mobile phones then. Stevie Winwood excepted, the music is pretty awful; Clapton just doesn’t seem interested most of the time, while Ginger Baker was never the drummer they needed. Why on earth choose to do ‘Under my thumb’? (I just shuddered again). Hardly any acknowledgment of one another throughout, let alone a smile, even to themselves. No ensemble this, honed in the clubs: hubris, nowhere near saved by these, um, rock gods’ choice of a group name.
September 21 Still deep into Pynchon’s ‘Mason and Dixon’ and a way to go yet. Certain longeurs (almost a relief with all that energy) but there is so much in there – history, the late eighteenth century world with the nods and winks of all to come, science and religion, recognition of moments of change, slapstick (they’re a great chalk and cheese double act), longing, crudity and transcendance. Still hard to remove ‘Modern times‘ from the CD player or the car stereo. Can start looking forward to Match of the Day on the telly again after Arsenal‘s last couple of decent matches. Have liked the new series of Ken Stott as ‘Rebus‘ – they’ve finally got near the feel of Ian Rankin‘s books. The house has been invaded by daddy longlegs, whose only use, apparently, is to mate – they don’t even eat; annoying bastards.
Couple of other little things about Ireland. Liked the ‘Yield’ signs at the roundabouts (so there’s no excuse), liked the way they don’t take plastic bags for granted as gratis in the shops (which reminded me – with my green hat on – of the bins in Venice for used batteries: why can’t we have them in the UK?).
September 3 I read Mark Twain’s ‘Letters from the earth: uncensored writings’ (1962). More wit and wisdom and tales with a big dose of pessimism thrown in (‘The damned human race’ is hard to argue against some days). ‘Uncensored’ of the cuddly public image his daughter and literary executor laboured to preserve, there’s a sourness and sarcasm here which can only be valued – Satan’s postcards home to heaven from earth are very funny (‘they actually believe this!’), the piece on the Albert Memorial in London is salutory (“There must be a mistake somewhere”), should be better known in the UK. Good book to dip into.
Am now embarked on the good ship ‘Mason & Dixon‘ by Thomas Pynchon (1997). This is a book I was so keen to read I bought it at full price in hardback when it was published; it was going for a quid in the cheap shops before the paperback came out. I think Pynchon is a great great writer (I read ‘Gravity’s rainbow‘ about once a decade) but, owning it, I just never got around to it – a bit like videoing something and never actually watching it. News that he has a new book out this Xmas (over a 1,000 pages no less) was the spur and of course I should have done it years ago. Almost straight in we have old friend Seaman Bodine (first seen in ‘V’) making a welcome (eighteenthy century) re-appearance and there’s all the rollicking fun you’d expect (even a scribbler called O’Brian on the initial voyage). Pynchon has this ability to just go off on one, take off and fly, just surmising or moving the action, often hilariously and drunkenly, such that in the exhilaration you don’t really care about your sudden incomprehension – I have to go back and see what’s actually happened or where we’ve ended up a fair few times. He’s unique. And was a friend of a friend – Richard Farina – of Bob Dylan. Whose new album, ‘Modern times‘ has spoiled me for listening to practically anything else since the start of the week. What a great band, just for starters! Never mind the songs which continue to open up and reveal new (and old) riches and dimensions with each hearing. Like quietistic lines like, “The landscape is glowing / gleaming in the golden light of day” suddenly appearing in the hard rolling blues of ‘Rollin’ and tumblin”, making Muddy Waters’ song seem his very own because it so utterly changed without taking anything away. And so much prettiness in the album too. ‘Nettie Moore’ is a tremendous song.
August 23 Home again, home again, jiggety jog – have spent some time in Ireland. Liked it a lot when it stopped raining, which it did when it mattered mostly (a wedding, a grand one, good on you, James and Jane). Just a smattering of music unfortunately, traditional flute and whistle on a wet Dublin afternoon and a Django Reinhardt & Stephan Grapelli inspired quartet at the wedding, recruited apparently busking in Temple Bar (an Irishman, a Frenchman and two Poles); and something so special it’s ended up on the Glimpses page on this site. Then there were the hours or three spent in Victoria’s Way, just outside Roundwood in County Wicklow, which describes itself as a ‘sculpture & philosophy park’ and which – he said, casting for a phrase sharper than the frankly old-fashioned – messes with your mind. A set of magnificent sculptures set in 20 acres (which is quite a lot), the centre piece a whole musical band of big Ganeshas (one playing the Uileann pipes) in the Indian tradition
with a cartoon rat (drinking a pint of Guinness, using an Apple Mac, listening to a Walkman etc) perched somewhere round the back on each; another one kitted out with a Swiss army knife. And let us not forget the Buddhas – “I was wrong” it says on the plinth of one. Then there’s the more modern ‘Birth’, the disturbing ‘Split Man’ (the hands!), the haunting ‘Ferryman’ and a whole lot more. Like the good ship ‘No’ in the lake and the massive finger and the maze of messages. All of this accompanied by boards ‘explaining’ what is going on in the language of yoga and transformation mixed with computer programming allusions along with a witty streak of street. And meeting the owner/perpetrator/giant pixie (“Welcome to my home”) Victor Langheld – champion of Eve, enemy of St Augustine. Thanks, Victor.
In Ireland I’m driving a new and very quiet Fiat Punto Grande with incredibly light brakes, so I’m doing a lot of inadvertant emergency stops. A new appreciation of what a great piece of work is REM’s ‘What’s the frequency Kenneth?’ – those low staccato chords. A vision of hell at Ryanair check-in at Dublin airport coming back; nothing nasty just seeming total confusion & too many people. Back in the old car at home and it’s like driving a pre-war tractor (not that …) with no brakes.
Read and enjoyed ‘An experiment in love‘ by Hilary Mantel (1995) with some relish, the time shifts and twists and the unresolved questions and the way she never mentions her husband and the life after that first year in a hall of residence early ’70s in London. Some lovely glimpses of childhood life in a northern town at a certain time and student life with all the class nuances. And a nice phrase about a girl who goes around “carrying her breasts like the sufferings of young Werther” or something very similar to that.
August 7 It’s worth acknowledging the interesting programming BBC4 serves up, having just caught up with the fascinating Folk Britannica trilogy and enjoying Frankie Howerd in the ‘Up Pompeii‘ repeats. And a nod too, to Bunthorne, much cursed at Guardian crossword compiler who just died; you could appreciate him better if you cracked the big clue.
August 6 Not a lot to report. Started another big fat book but later for that. This week the printer said it was out of paper when the problem was I’d given it too much. Came out the other side with David Lynch after watching his movie ‘Lost highway‘ (1997); I just don’t care any more, the deliberate obscurity (“a mesmerising meditation on the mysterious nature of identity” says one website – oh sure) no longer compensated for me by those cinematic ‘moments’. Save for a rivetting sequence in the middle where the ageing mobster completely loses it when driving another car off the road and brutally beating up its driver: “I’m sorry about that, Pete, but tailgating is one thing I just can’t tolerate”. Well actually there are a few other things but, me too – hurrah!
July 31 Saw Rik Mayall at the theatre in ‘The New Stateman episode 2006: the Blair B’stard Project’. A play from the Beano school of political satire but that’s beside the point really – Mayall a comic genius of reaction and timing straight out of the best silent cinema, particularly with a phone in his hand, to which you can add profanity of the very highest quality delivered with style. Read my old school chum Tony Broadbent‘s latest ‘creeping narrative’, ‘Spectres in the Smoke‘ (Thomas Dunne, 2005), which certainly has its moments – good on post-war London, a fine leading man in Jethro the cat burglar pressganged into working for the secret service, and there’s some neat intertextuality – Jethro gets spying tips from Ian Fleming and David Niven and there’s a character called Hannay. The plot is pure hokum based on fact to do with far right wing politics (British Union Movement = BUM – aaarghh!), climaxing with a bizarre priapic masonic rally in a country house, but there’s plenty of entertaining action with (as per the first book in the sequence) a worryingly sadistic passage in which our hero suffers mightily. Methinks I’m not quite so sure about all that rhyming slang either, me old china.
‘Dispassionate’ and ‘unsentimental’ are two of the words Michael Palin uses in his introduction to ‘Mind the gap‘ (HarperCollins, 2001), Simon James‘s collection of photos taken on various journeys to the ends of the London tube lines. And unremarkable and even dull is how they can seem on flipping through, but he gets you in the end and you get more with each repeated reading. Not a lot of people featured, though the picture of the Socialist Worker seller at a crowded Brixton in the rain haunts, the paper caught in blurred motion. You’re drawn in, the fascination in the ordinariness, the notion of undramatic ends and journeys and stunning architecture and mundane architectural detail, a social history of the ordinary, but with the epic and a sense of beauty creeping in. So he can get away with, “Wimbledon: A District line train at Wimbledon awaits its signal to make the journey back to Earl’s Court” and its’s a full page of the interior of an empty tube train coach with the sun shining in through the open doors and there is absolutely nothing of Wimbledon there in the photo at all. Some interesting trivia too.
Just a part of – albeit the crucial part – of Joe Boyd‘s prodigious career is detailed in ‘White bicycles: making music in the 1960s‘ (Serpent’s Tale, 2006). For him the ’60s was the summer of 1956 through to October 1973. Dylan with the Butterfield Blues Band at Newport, the Fairports’ ‘Liege and Lief’, Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, the UFO club would be enough but there is so much more – great tales of drunken old bluesmen, the jazzers, rubbing shoulders with Scorsese right at the start of his career, the Incredible String Band, he even spotted Benni and Bjorn before Abba. So he cannot possibly exist, he’s a character out of a Thomas Pynchon novel. And so to Peter Robinson’s ‘Piece of my heart’ (Hodder, 2006), which has a 1969 rock festival and a band that’s an amalgamation of Pink Floyd and Fleetwood Mac with a dash of Led Zep at its narrative core. There’s not so much of his contemporary copper, Alan Banks, in this one, though he’s definitely souring on the young and the drunken Saturday night (and why not?). The denouement works well enough but the music and hippy pads seem flat to me, somehow fail to convince. The acid casualty recluse (hello Syd, hello Pete) seems too easy too, especially (though you can’t blame Robinson for the timing) in the light of of Syd Barrett’s recent sad death. His music with Floyd, the singles, ‘Piper at the gates of dawn‘, are an instant fully functional time machine but never just relics – ‘The scarecrow’ as moving, the other stuff as witty or exciting as ever, the second album dowdy and dull in comparison.
And briefly, a motoring coda: I drive out of practicality because it’s handy. I should actually walk or cycle an awful lot more and wouldn’t know what to do with a big or fast car (I have a Citroen Saxo for gawd’s sake) but I still find Top Gear on the telly – Jeremy Clarkson and chums – compulsive fun; I’d never make a point of watching it but have to see it through to the end when I catch it on – great ensemble broadcasting. (July 31)
July 18 I’ve just finished ‘Mark Twain: a life’ by Ron Powers (Free Press, 2006), a tremendous new insightful biography of – a lot of the time – my favourite writer. And what a full life it was, its hiatuses treated here critically and the highs celebrated as fits; his friendships are given their due, too. Powers employs enough Twainisms to deliver style and respect but not too many to annoy. His effective claim that Twain was America’s first rock star is not overworked either; it’s a good example of his skill in drawing modern parallels and showing how much of what happened in America can be first glimpsed in Twain’s career, not least, of course, that his was the first writing that established a unique American literary identity grounded in democracy. It is also a very good looking book, classic American book design with uncut edges, those edges being one of the great divides, like Marmite, in personal taste; I love the look and feel of them. The book is interesting for many things: the use of the word ‘absquatulation’ which I now earnestly look forward to finding in a crossword one of these days (it’s to do with decamping, quitting the scene); the way the Twain industry was being fought over even before he was dead, its bowdlerisation of the life and views on, for instance, American imperialism (he was agin it right from the beginning); the parallels with Bob Dylan – all my own work, this last bit – the failure to find definitive versions of the adoption of their pseudonyms, the blurring of fact and fiction in their lives, myths and works, the dark pessimistic late visions in their work.
The World Cup seems along time ago (good riddance Sven); agree with the suggestion of some commentators that maybe the reason Owen Hargreaves was the only one playing out of his skin in that quarter final was that he’d never played or lived in England so wasn’t, um, infected. Was good to hear the fans (fickle bunch) ‘fessing up with “One Owen Hargreaves …” to the tune of Guantanamara. There’s very little on the telly. It’s too hot. But we seem to be a regular stop on a hedgehog‘s evening travels in the garden of late, a source of delight to Andrea, who has been gardening – no slug killer and plants that slugs don’t like – precisely to achieve this. Hurrah!
July 3 Slightly disturbing moment when, after Mickey’s – Rose’s ex-boyfriend – unexpected return to Doctor Who, he re-appeared again in goal for Brazil against the brilliant French. You have to acknowledge Zidane‘s performance; if there is hope it lies with the French. Nothing to say about the English failure really, save the lone striker is an impossible role for anyone to be asked to play, especially if the mid-field doesn’t turn up. Good for Owen Hargreaves, though – respect. Ian Shirley’s ‘Can rock & roll save the world: an illustrated history of music and comics’ (SAF Publishing, 2005) is obviously a labour of love, or, indeed, obsession. The problem is, though the two are obviously linked in many ways, they don’t necessarily bring out the best in one another. Hence a whole chapter is necessarily devoted to Gene Simmons and the ridiculous band, Kiss. The book has its moments – the opening chapter on British girls’ comics for one, Robert Crumb’s written answers (though he hates rock music) – and it is well illustrated, though I could have done with some explanatory captions in situ, rather than have the details hidden in Shipley’s frankly annoying wiseacre text, which reads like a tv documentary commentary too smart for its own good. Zipped through John Harvey’s ‘Darkness and light’ (Heinemann, 2006), especially once he got ex-detective Frank Elder out of his self-imposed exile in Cornwall and back in Nottingham; hope he stays there – the ending gives a hint that this may be happening. Harvey drives the narrative strands with great skill, adds a slice of D.H.Lawrence for dual – mind and place – thematic resonance. Some nice intertextuality too; one of the characters likes reading Ian Rankin and his original Nottingham detective, Resnick, has another walk on part.
I like and laugh out loud at Steve Coogan‘s new character, Saxondale, a philosophical ex-roadie feeling time’s winged chariot (though he still drives a Mustang) and running a pest control business. That hardly does the show justice; I can’t think of anything else on at the moment which packs so much into 30 beautifully paced minutes. Listening to Charlie Parker, a surprisingly melodious and refreshing change for this jaded musical palate, music from the time I was born. Slightly worried that my Bravenet log (thank you, Bravenet, for my free site visit counter) reports that a couple of people have found their way here from what is obviously a porn portal – Kinks/kink maybe?
June 25 Nature corner, show and tell. After months of blind faith and perseverence we’ve got some fine goldfinches regularly tucking into the niger seed, oblivious to anything else going on in the garden. Saw a heron catching and necking down a very big fish in one swallow at Walton lake, and you can never tire of the view, the flash, of a kingfisher in flight.
I may be wrong, and it’s not his fault, but I blame Alexander McCall Smith for the publication of softhearted ‘The mobile library: the case of the missing books‘ (Harper Perennial, 2006). Ian Sansom‘s starting premise is that the notion of a mobile library operating out of a small town in Northern Ireland called Tumdrum is in itself very funny. That and am awful lot of repeatition as comic technique in the description of the sub-sub-Lucky Jim of a librarian’s absurd situation as a North London vegetarian fish out of water. I could go on; it had a few moments but no guffaws for me. Jake Arnott is back on form with ‘Johnny come home‘ (Sceptre, 2006), which is practically a historical novel these days. Deft touches and tremendous dialogue throughout in this tale of glam rock (an old Brit rock’n’roller’s last throw) and a failing underground culture in the early ’70s make for a fascinating tapestry of a narrative, though he may well also make the short list of the Bad Sex Award this year. There’s still a fascinating book or documentary to be made breaking what strikes me as a strange subsequent silence about the The Angry Brigade and what became of them.
And after four red cards tonight in the World Cup Holland v Portugal (who have the best shirts) … Russian referees, eh? Deco, in particular – such a sweet player – never deserved that. And while we’re at it – Sven, why not play Frank Lampard in one half and Steven Gerrard in the other? With that understanding from the start, so they can both give that much more and not get in one another’s way or mis-shape the midfield? (June 25)
June 18 Jack Dee and Paul Merton riffing on Pot Noodle (‘How long have they been going?’ – ‘Since the year dot noodle’) on ‘Have I got news for you‘. A live ‘Sitting on my sofa’ from a for-the-occasion Kinks tribute band as part of Stony Live! Highly enjoyable evening. And thanks to my old chum Paul for getting me to a public lecture at the Oxford Playhouse on friday – Nobel Prize for Chemistry winner Harry Krito (‘I really wanted to be a graphic designer’) defending the scientific Enlightenment against the new rise of religion, with horror stories of the money and effort Christians are putting into university campuses in the US and the heinous rise of single faith schools courtesy of our Tone in the UK, never mind the Middle East and what’s going down in the name of Allah. Entertaining and judicious use of PowerPoint presentation. I was in brief conversation with Richard Dawkins at the end; “No” was his contribution to said conversation, with which I concur. I’d asked him if he thought the name ‘Brights’ would catch on for us atheists/humanists/rationalists/whatever fighting the good fight. Finished Dan Dennett‘s book (see below) on religion as a natural, evolutionary, phenomena; he’s happy being called ‘bright’ – I’m not, I just see sparkling teeth in a toothpaste advert. Dennett is looking to sift out and save what is good in religion if you ditch faith in unreason (so long as it is not babes and bathwater, which seems, given the competing claims, unlikely); seems reasonable, not least his notion (along with Dawkins) of how appalling a concept the notion of ‘Christian children’, ‘Moslem children’ etc is – they’re all just children, given the chance. And he quotes from Lyle Lovett. And there’s no diminution of the sense of wonder.
I’m impressed with the principles behind the World Cup refereeing, hope they’ll be carried over to the Premiership next season, which should see the end of Bolton’s spoiling tactics. And the second series of the revived ‘Doctor Who‘ carries on the good work, with Peter Kay as monster both scary and funny and a moving tale of lonely people coming together in tail too; that episode, with seldom a view of the Doctor and Rose, beautifully done with musical quotes (ELO!) and all. Juggling a couple of other books too, but later for them.
June 8 To the North Norfolk coast, which was cold, but I’ll go again; bright sunshine on the journey home, d’accord. Good beer though, not least from the micro-brewery attached to The Chequers pub – and a lovely sense of peace in the twilight up the road at Binham Priory. Could have spent a lot longer than we did studying the extensive wood carvings in the St Martin’s Church at Glandford, even though we stuck around to hear the hymn on the bells at mid-day, which we didn’t recognise.
Read Andrei Makine‘s new book, ‘The woman who waited‘ (Sceptre, 2006), and it’s up there with his best. I can think of no other writer who achieves so much in under 200 pages, who packs so much engrossing description and meaning and psychological movement in. Russia again – the weather, the landscape – but this time initially a look at the young intellectual rebels so/too desperate for western acceptance (here, I suspect, we see more than elsewhere in his work, the reason he actually split for France) played against previous generations still living with the devastating consequences of the Second World War. The woman at the centre of the tale – full of surprises – is unforgettable; the love story – ultimately unfulfilled but both liberating and desperately sad because disappointing, a flaw of the narrator – rivetting. There’s probably an allegory of Russia in there too. Tremendous writer, top class. And now I’m giving the braincells a workout with Dan Dennett‘s new book, ‘Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenon‘ (Allen Lane, 2006). Exciting stuff, throwing ideas up in the air, batting them about, thinking, asking you to think. Funny thing is, the more of an atheist I become, the more solace I get from religious buildings, the more I can lose myself in religious music. And I’ve drawn Togo in the World Cup sweep at work.
May 22 Have been away for a week or so. Hunter Davies may have, in his highly useful ‘The Good Guide to the Lakes‘ (6th ed, 2003), described Skiddaw – overlooking Keswick and Derwent Water – as a walk rather than a climb, but don’t underestimate it; it’s all relative and it’s still a mountain in cloud (or at least it was the day we almost got to the top). Had the good luck to be the sole early morning benefactors of a Dove Cottage tour (Wordsworth’s gaff in his most productive period); must have inhaled a molecule or two of air that had seen the lungs of the bard, his chums and sister. And lots of other stuff (I can sort of a mathematical proof if you need one, in the work of John Allen Paulos, about the molecules). Carlisle’s Tullie House Museum impressive in sound and structure and an interesting place to be when it rains; bought a copy of Jack Trevor Story’s ‘The trouble with Harry’ in the extensive 3 dimensional labyrinth that is Bookcase – splendid if a bit expensive second hand bookshop.
Nice cappuchino and vibe in the Grosmont Art Gallery & Jazz Cafe, round the corner from the northern terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (traction BR Standard classes, most impressive the big tank 80135 resplendent in classic BR green livery). If I’d had the odd £3K might have bought a thing or two; should’ve written down the artists’ names, long thin tapestry woodland scenes and a big bar scene painting. Read Samuel Beckett’s ‘Murphy’ (a surprisingly early 1938, so modern it feels). Great opening couple of lines:
“The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new. Murphy sat out of it, as though he were free, in a mew in West Brompton.”
It’s that ‘mew’ that clinches it. Very, very funny when I knew what was going on; classic Irish humour, but there’s a lot of dark in there too – one to re-read soon (with a dictionary to hand). Beckett as the only Nobel Prize Winner for Literature who’s played cricket at Lords – he represented Ireland pub quizzers – says it all. Holiday hits in the car cassette deck: Travelin’ Wilburys never fails, Townsend’s guitar on ‘Who’s next‘, how surprisingly tuneful (now) is Talking Heads’ ’77. (May 22)
May 8 Finished the Christopher Ricks Dylan book – previously mentioned in despatches – which finished wonderfully with the song ‘Eternal circle’. Wholeheartedly recommended in installments, song by song, the choice of which are featured being interesting in itself. ‘Not dark yet’ and John Keats’s ‘Ode to a nightingale’? Oh yes. Learned a fair bit about poetry in passing. Enjoyed Hunter Davies’s ‘A walk around the Lakes’ (I read the original edition, dated 1979); lovely inclusive tone (swears by wellington boots), and instructive on Wordsworth et al too. The ‘Also by’ page reminded me that Davies, who has landed the Wayne Rooney ghost writing gig jackpot, has actually featured signifcantly in my reading and viewing bio. The feelgood film made from his novel ‘Here we go round the mulberry bush‘ never fails to grab me on tv, an underrated encapsulation of what it was to be a teenager doing a levels circa 1965; the infextious soundrack capturing the months Steve Winwood moved from the Spencer Davies Group to Traffic. And Davies’s official, and the first, Beatles bio was a pretty good stab at the genre at the time. Similarly his book about Spurs, ‘The glory game‘ upped the stakes in that arena and is now something of a classic of social history.
‘Green wing‘ continues to shine on tv, and the second series of this millennium’s Doctor Who gathers pace and thematic content nicely – the loneliness of the long distance Time Lord. (May 8)
April 21 I don’t know much about modern art but I do know what I like and I quite fancied Roger Hiorns‘ old car engines, complete with dangling distributor cables and all, which had been suspended in a saturated solution of copper sulphate so were covered with lovely blue crystals. Nice. And the big metal totemic structures in the next room had an interesting presence about them too, but what gets me is what the exhibition guide from MK G has to say about them specifically:
“The sculptures’ formal quality, their geometric shapes and construction, is contrasted with the overwhelming scent of Dettol (a household disinfectant) that is emitted from the work. It is as though Hiorns appeals to the two sides of the brain simultaneously; one aspect of the work concerns the here and now, the other memory and recollections evoked by the smell.”
No, mate – it just made me think that someone had been sick and some other poor bastard had had to clear it up. Though I did get a flashback of ‘O’ Level chemistry class from the other room.
April 20 Was impressed by the ‘Manchester Passion‘ on telly at Easter, a reminder of what a real city can do. And I’m an atheist. The procession through the city streets, the music (tremendous basically enhanced chamber adaptions of a predictable but nevertheless impressive set of songs from Manchester druggies and hooligans among others, ‘Love will tear us apart being’ outstanding) and the sceptical tone of Keith Allan’s scene setting from the stage set up a moving passion.
There were a surprisingly large number Christians (mostly from out of town, it turns out) singing hymns at a distance under the eye of the police outside the theatre in MK for ‘Jerry Springer: the opera‘ on Tuesday. Inside it was a joyful evening, tremendous stuff. Great singing (from opera to musical) and hugely entertaining. You can see how the Christians might be offended by a literal representation of the baby Jesus as a grown man in nappies (and sexually deviant at that) but, you know, what the hell. God (fat, in Elvis Vegas gear)was great too, with a lovely tenor voice – “It aint easy being me” a showstopper. And the encores were something else – I won’t give it away. Go see – you won’t be disappointed. It’s an education too, in that it aids the better understanding and appreciation of structure in ‘real’ opera, and there’s a particular delight in opera choruses chorusing multiple obscenities.
No obscenities the previous week in ‘The best of friends‘ in which Patricia Routledge was wasted as a nun; if it had been on telly we would have turned over, though Roy Dotrice had his moments as Bernard Shaw. It was a three hander, the trio being made up with some old namedropper of a bore (“the first dead body I ever saw was William Morris”), with the dialogue mainly taken from their letters. Andy said it would have been better on radio, and, Lo! it turned out that was precisely what the Grauniad critic had said when it was in London. No fun. As opposed to …
The second series of ‘Green wing‘ takes off where the last one ended – very funny and a wonderfully absurd collection of over the top characters. All that and a reference to “the genius of the Kinks”. But my television enjoyment much jeopardised by the dropping of the Men and motors channel from Freeview. So no more of the excellent ‘Minder‘, and ‘Sweeney‘ and ‘Professionals‘ re-runs (good ensemble pieces all) interrupted by ads for soft porn mobile phone screen savers – do people – no, do men – actually buy that stuff?
I almost fell at the first fence with Iain Sinclair’s ‘Edge of the orison: in the traces of John Clare’s ‘Journey out of Essex” (Hamish Hamilton, 2005). Not the easiest of writers, and some would say he’s wilfully obscure and repetitive too, not to mention the return of all the usual suspects. But I persevered and you just get carried along easily and sometimes thrillingly enough if you accept you’re not going to get all the references (a bit like the nautical lingo in the novels of Patrick O’Brian). To my shame I knew nothing of the ‘peasant poet’ John Clare and his undoing and unravelling, but was also fascinated by the merry team’s searches for family connections in Whittlesey, where my mum came from, and the Peterborough surrounds. (April 20)
April 10 I bought ‘The socialist countess‘ by Horace W.C. Newte (Mills & Boon, 1911) for £1.50 for the hell of it last year in Michael Moon‘s amazing warren of a bookshop in Whitehaven – thought it would be amusing at least – and I’ve only just got round to reading it. They don’t publish novels like this anymore, or at least, not straight. Michael Palin’s ‘Ripping yarns’ spring to mind; PC hardly enters into it. There are some truly hideous passages – one reacts with disbelief to the passages mentioning ‘Hebrews’ in the East End. But although it is basically a romantic novel it is also a vehicle for political and social discussion with, in places, more than a hint of Dickens and the social novels of H.G.Wells. While the lower classes often function as a source of comedy, alongside the hilarious snobbery there is also an occasional compassionate exploration of hard lives and conditions born with a variety of dignities, a recognition that there is a problem to be addressed, and quite an astute grasp of, and meditation on, the nuances of class and status within and between the upper, middle and working class and the stratas within them. In these he sees problems for the establishing of socialism (he’s agin it, mind, can only lead to people getting ideas above their station), not forgetting the problem of some of the socialists themselves (some things don’t change). The romantic denouement is a disappointment – a complete cop out, with no transcending of the social barriers. Fascinating social document though. I’ve put some sample passages on the Bits & bobs pages here. (April 10)
April 4 Wales last week wetter than usual; have never seen a football pitch waist deep under water before. Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem’ (1994) an excellent read, pulling together Music Hall, Karl Marx, Leno et al rubbing shoulders in the British Museum Library, the Ripper murders (sort of) and the notion of celebrity – the twentieth century starts here, he seems to say, along with Alan Moore – and a twist at the end I have to say I didn’t see coming; tempting to just start over again – that good. Home in time for Arsenal‘s demolition of Juventus; it is still possible to believe in the beautiful game – thank you Mr Wenger, and European referees. And some more about how good ‘No angels‘ is on the telly. Without the sound the body language is wonderful; with the sound they have resurrected the fine art of the well placed and timed swearing. Lovely life affirming stuff.
A truly exceptional pint of Caledonian Deuchars ICA at the Junction Tavern in Tufnell Park on Friday – nectar. But before that, ‘Gothic nightmares‘ at Tate Britain. Have to say what I found most interesting was James Gillray using the images for his political cartoons. But I was impressed by Chris Ofili’s ‘The upper room’ which I stumbled upon by luck as much as anything else – a gallery come chapel within the gallery, just walking in along the patterned wood corridor was a pleasant experience, then a muted but spectacular splash of colours from the thirteen similar but wonderfully different in colouring and modestly sparkling ritualised images of a hanuman monkey, six along each side with a matt golden one on its own at the far end. Worth being there. And later too, having walked along the Thames, in the shadow of the Eye, a sunny relaxed early spring early evening, with the human statues performing to just enough tourists, a busker of quality, older side of middle aged black guy, playing Dylan, Marley and other stuff. Easy to just stick around, a nice – as we used to say – and unexpected – vibe.
Lost my Wagner virginity on Saturday. Two hours twenty minutes without an interval as, apparently, originally intended. So a bit gruelling really, but it didn’t seem quite that long. Welsh National Opera Touring Company doing ‘The flying Dutchman’, albeit set in outer space rather than at sea in a sailing ship, with a stupid and overcomplicated set and staging and a crew of Russian cosmonaut clones out of a French bande dessinee I seem to recall. Some good use of projection (no stars or solar winds instead of the waves, mind) but with so many references to the sea it was too clever for its own good. Detracted from a nice plot – one man’s eternal misery or another bloke’s losing in love – which would you choose to end? Great music and singing; so Richard W can’t be easily crossed off the list.
March 20 Finished the bestselling ‘London Bridges‘. Ludicrous. 124 chapters in 307 pages; attention span? Frogspawn in the pond, but the daffodils still refuse to flower. Roll on spring, please. A thumbs up for Tetra Pond’s AlgoRem green water treatment, which has worked like a treat; gone the pea soup, we can now see more than the frog’s heads. Funniest thing on tv at the moment, Channel 4’s ‘No angels‘ – NHS nurses – some lovely ensemble playing, like ‘Teachers‘ at its best. (March 20)
March 14 Arsenal perked up a bit then (Real Madrid, Liverpool) and that first goal against Liverpool a pass to treasure. 3 frogs in the pond last Wednesday but no procreative turbulence as yet, though we did see a couple of robins shaking a tail feather this morning. Finished Ackroyd’s ‘Blake’. Liked the idea of ‘Poor William’ chatting away to an angel who tells him he’s been painted by Michaelangelo. Tremendous book but I feel the time now calls for something lightweight. Like James Patterson’s ‘London Bridges’ (Headline, 2004) – short chapters (some shorter than some of Ackroyd’s paragraphs), lots of dialogue, pure corn and hokum, sentimental with it, but it makes a change – which has somehow won over that 700+ pages Wordsworth biography that sits forbiddingly on the shelf for my attention. Just immersed myself in Keith Jarrett’s ‘Koln Concert’– something I’ve been intending to do for decades and will now do with some regularity I’m sure. It felt good, like meditation. Prompt there was Rachel Whiteread (thanks Rache) on Desert Island Discs, the only radio programme I make a point of regularly tuning into. But wasn’t Terence Stamp a bit of a bore?
February 28 A couple of quotes:
Foreign Legion commander: Well you certainly are a sorry looking pair.
Oliver Hardy: We’re not sorry.
Stan Laurel: No sir, we’re just discouraged.
So, I have finally managed to be more than mildly amused by Laurel & Hardy; seems I just started in the wrong place. That’s from ‘Beau Hunks‘ and engagingly odd (you need to see it as well). But there’s not much funnier – and more enchanting – than the dance sequence in ‘Way out west‘ – priceless.
The other quote:
“this land is your land & this land is my land – sure – but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway”
Bob Dylan, in ‘Tarantula‘, no less, one of the many gems mined in Christopher Ricks‘s dazzling ‘Dylan’s visions of sin‘. Some of the word play is thrilling and who’d have thought the song ‘Handy Dandy’ held so much meaning, whether or not it is just throwaway album filler. the book is a real tour de force. Likewise Ackroyd’s ‘Blake’. Poliakoff’s ‘Gideon’s daughter’ another tremendous tv occasion too; has Bill Nighy ever been in anything less than good? Seems I’m on a bit of a run, culturally. Shame, then, about Arsenal‘s away form in the Premiership. (Feb 28)
February 23 A good reception most places for Ray Davies’s ‘Other people’s lives’ (2006) and it’s deserved – it continues to grow further on me, with none of the tracks palling.
“I shouted to the heavens
and a vision appeared
I cried out “Can you help?”
it replied “Not at all”.
Great stuff. Laughed out loud at some early Laurel & Hardy – the first half of ‘Beau hunks‘. Started on Peter Ackroyd’s ‘Blake’ (1995); it’s only been sitting on the ‘to read’ shelf for a couple of years. (Feb 23)
February 16 Saw Fairport Convention last week. They started off with a storming ‘Sir Patrick Spens‘ and that most unlikely looking of musicians, Simon Nicol, (neat beard and hair, from-another-time quiff) did a tremendous music hall vocal on ‘Matty Groves’ which put a bit of distance between him and Sandy Denny; was a good evening.
Read Mat Coward‘s new crime novel ‘Open and closed‘ (Five Star, 2005) with much chuckling. It’s the fourth in the Packham & Mitchell sequence; they’re not the greatest of books but I love reading ’em for the asides, the odd bits of knowledge shared en passant and the unmistakeable aroma of chips on shoulders and (old time socialist) prejudices proudly displayed. This one is dedicated to “the library workers of the world – on liberty’s front line”. Cheers, mate. Read another book on Marie Lloyd, Richard Anthony Baker’s ‘Marie Lloyd: queen of the Music-halls’ (Hale, 1990). It’s shorter and less arty than the Midge Gillies I read earlier this year, more of an enthusiast’s rendering and not without its own merits, detailing the gruelling schedules and her charitable generosity, and giving more of the song lyrics. But there has to be something wrong with a book that subsumes the Music Hall artistes’ strike of 1907, in which Marie was, in a chapter titled ‘A Paris debut and a transatlantic tour’.
I’ve started reading Christopher Ricks’ ‘Dylan’s visions of sin’ (2003), a book I’d previously shied away from because of its EngLit connotations, but so far it’s tremendous – some lovely wordplay, bobbin’ about, and a welcome introduction to Philip Larkin’s ‘Love songs in age’ in the discussion of the difference between song and poetry. I’m looking forward to more such surprises and being educated.
And I’ve been trying hard to find Laurel & Hardy funny and mostly failing. There is something about the timing of their expressions, their interaction, but it’s hidden so deep in the redundancy and plain silliness of much of the humour and mundanity of the ‘plots’ that I’m losing the will. But there is that thing Stan Laurel does scratching his head (I can’t resist it), the extended bout of jacket ripping on a train and a wonderful boiled egg visual gag.
February 5 I laughed out loud reading Barney Ronay’s ‘Any chance of a game?: a season at the ugly end of park football’ (Ebury Press, 2005). Seems not a lot has changed since the late seventies, when I turned out for a Sunday team (oh all right – Camden Libraries) in a league that boasted a team called Nine Elms Dynamos and the National Theatre, who were all backstage crew of the heavy lifting variety and thuggish. Could have done with a bit more about the actual (hungover) Sunday morning activities – a selection of matches in his last season are sandwiched between chronological chunks of a footballing life almost from his very first kick – but it tastes right enough. My career ended when the new season beckoned and I took my boots out of the plastic bag they’d been in since the last game of the previous season, played in a semi-bog, and there was more mould than boots and it hardly seemed worth the expense of a new pair any more, given I was still aching on Wednesdays in season. I quite enjoyed David Winner‘s meditation, nay entertaining meander, on the nature of British football culture, the wonderfully titled ‘Those feet: a sensual history of English football‘ (Bloomsbury, 2005) despite its containing the most glaring error I’ve ever seen in a hardback book, for which I dearly hope an editor at the publisher’s was painfully sacked (and pillaged) because it can’t have been the author’s; Rodney Marsh was never in the 1966 World Cup squad. One of Winner’s problems is he can’t decide if it’s British or English football he’s pontificating on, but he’s good on the origins of the modern game and its class aspects, Victorian sexual anxiety (another theme I’m discovering in the history of Music Hall with the National Vigilance Association also mentioned here) and the defining influence of boy’s stories over the years – he even comes across various unrelated Roy Keanes, for instance (with spelling variations) in those yellowing pages. He’s convincing on the dangers of nostalgia and the seemingly ever-receding (and false) golden age and the lost limb of Empire, that bedevils the culture – and not just in football. The chapter on humour (‘It’s cold and we’re rubbish’) doesn’t sell its subject short either. But I’m not sure, really, where, say, Rio Ferdinand sits in all this talk of fair minded, tough, honest toil and grace. There, I’ve written more than I intended, which in this instance counts as praise.
Much taken with Peter Ackroyd‘s three part series on ‘The Romantics‘ on BBC2 tv. I’ve never really ‘got’ the Romantics before – I feel an exploration coming on. Shelley on atheism that long ago (1810) a surprise. Time to come off the fence, I think, for militant atheism. With a pagan accent, of course. (Feb 5)
February 3 OK. More things to be annoyed by in the writing of Sebastian Faulks. Why does the husband, an English diplomat, have to have a surname like ‘van der Linden’? And that’s just in the opening sentence. And what was all that bollocks about in Moscow towards the end of ‘On Green Dolphin Street‘ other than dragging it out? She’s a good character though, he writes well on love and the photo on the cover of the hardback – slightly fuzzy dancer in empty room with in focus chair, stillness, grace, movement – is great. But why, if he’s 5 years younger than me does he write like he could have been from a previous generation like Amis fils and Barnsie never happened? And the only time he’s written about now – and even then it was only late 70’s – in the intervals and outro of ‘Birdsong’ (no complaints about the World War One stuff) I’ve found the least convincing of all. Enough.
Got to the end show 17 – of ‘The prisoner‘ and it was even weirder than I’d remembered. If indeed I had seen it before, or just read about it. Too early to have any real conclusions (Hah!) but ‘All you need is love‘ coming out of the jukeboxes was a lovely touch. A trawl of the websites beckons, I fear. Liked the final episodes where they started really mucking about – the Western, the Fairy Tales, lady Death in the pleasure park.
Music: no disappointment or emperor’s new clothes with the Arctic Monkeys album, the Fall with a human face among other things (a priceless ‘It’s all gone a bit Frank Spencer’) and that great Sheffield accent. Ray Davies’s ‘Other people’s lives’ a permanent fixture in the car, no shine coming off at all with familiarity. Also besotted with an ancient version of Lennon’s ‘Norwegian Wood‘ by the Buddy Rich Big Band, an energetic triumphal joyous take on the melody.
Saw the Mighty Dons beat a very ordinary Nottingham Forest on Tuesday night, was good to be there and part of football crowd again; both No.5s were called Morgan. And I’ve been reading a couple of football books and getting something from both, not least a taste of the Proustian cupcake, evoking muddy knees and frozen and later aching limbs. Of which probably more later.
January 22 Nice space to be in – Pae White’s installation in the Long Gallery at MK G. Three shimmering fascinating pieces – mobiles hanging from the ceiling, thousands of coloured paper petals suspended on coloured nylon strands – a peace. Reading Sebastian Faulk‘s novel ‘On Green Dolphin Street‘ (2001). He’s a writer who frankly annoys me; ‘never a wasted word’ is not the phrase to use, and I’m not convinced by a lot of things. JFK’s election is the basic setting, which is not without interest, the title is a jazz reference and there’s period stuff I can’t be bothered to check because it just gets in the way. That said it’s emotionally powerful and I am anxious to see how it all turns out.
Wasn’t disappointed by Stephen Poliakoff’ s ‘Friends and crocodiles’ on the tv. Visually sumptuous and narrative genius at work – the main man’s hair changes a wonder to behold. (January 22)
January 14 Re-read Ian Rankin’s ‘The Falls’ (2001) in the light of Ken Stott’s tv portrayal of Rebus (of which … now that ‘s more like it). Great book, very little to do with the tv adaption, which it’s best to view as just separate. Got me back to the book, which was better than I remember, and I’m a fan. Rankin is one of the few writers for whom I just seem to drop practically everything else to finish. Need discipline not to go on a binge. Speaking of the like of which, working our way through a dvd box set of Patrick McGoohan’s ‘The Prisoner’. Intriguing still. We crash our fists down on the table in unison with that long intro to every episode. Must be like Kafka’s ‘The trial’ I guess – the prison is life and life only, and we are all (our own) spies? (14 January)
January 10 If someone had given me The Bob Dylan scrapbook 1956-1966 (Simon & Schuster, 2005) for Xmas I wouldn’t have sneezed at it but it’s not exactly crucial to the cause for this semi-hardened Bobophile (and I aint goin’ further for that way a kind of madness lies). Nice object though – a copy passed through my hands at work – full of facsimile ephemera. I learnt a lot from Midge Gillies’ ‘Marie Lloyd: the one and only’ (Gollancz, 1999), not least that Music Hall was the old rock and roll. Moral outrage, the decency brigade up in arms, the start of all the celebrity nonsense, real working class heroes meeting early bad ends, the whole caravan of fun. Money taking over and a move to respectability, Royal Variety Shows, but also, interestingly enough, an artists’ strike in 1907, with Marie, George Robey and Little tich on the picket lines. Music not that far removed in spirit, really, from Madness‘ tremendous first album ‘One step beyond‘, purchased, along with The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Greatest hits’ (Jump! Slow hand!) in Woolworth’s sale courtesy of a gift token; with a bag of mint imperials to make up the full amount.
January 1, 2006 Here we go again. Wish there was an alternative to Jools’ ‘Hootenanny‘ for New Years’ for us stay-at-homes (or other people’s homes nearby). Having said that I am now in love with KT Tunstall, something about that big guitar and her small body and the pleasure she gets from the music. Saw a sparrowhawk on the garden fence this afternoon; I’ve always missed it before.
Who’s that lady?
Here’s a treat – a new one for 2006