Saturday, July 31, 2010

Smoking In Bed: Conversations With Bruce Robinson edited by Alistair Owen (Bloomsbury 2000)

How to Get Ahead in Advertising might almost be the modern equivalent of a satirical pamphlet by Swift.

I think there are elements of that, because being a pamphleteer was the most immediate and accesible way of communicating one's outrage and a lot of people did it. Every day you pick up your Guardian and there's a Steve Bell cartoon about a serious subject that can make you laugh out loud. Comedy is the greatest weapon there's ever been for dealing with politicians. I'd be sitting there with a boiled egg, saying, 'How can people not see what's going on?' I thought I was looking at reality, and I suppose I wondered why no one else was. If you rant and rave like I used to and you haven't got an outlet for it, people think you're a nut. That's when they say, 'Just lie down. A little bit of the old liquid cosh and you're going to feel much better.' I don't do that any more. Sophie says the first time I took her out to dinner I made an hour and a half speech about Margaret Thatcher. That was our first date. She told me that after twenty minutes she just cut off and nodded. And that's what became of the film: most of the audience cut off and nodded.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Damned Utd by David Peace (Faber and Faber 2006)

I get on the coach last and make Allan Clarke shift so I can sit next to Billy Bremner again. I try and make chit-chat. To break the ice. But Billy Bremner doesn't give a fuck about President Nixon or George Best. He's not interested in Frank Sinatra or Muhammad Ali. He doesn't want to talk about the World Cup, about playing against Brazil. Doesn't want to talk about his holidays. His family full stop. Bremner just looks out of the window and smokes the whole way down to Birmingham. Then, as the coach pulls into Villa Park, he turns to me and he says, 'If you're looking for a pal, Mr Clough, you can count me out.'

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Business Growth in Conflict With the Environment

Film of a Socialist Party talk given by Glenn Morris in London on the 3rd July 2010. You can access all five parts of the talk here.

Being Emily by Anne Donovan (Canongate Books 2008)

Declan had got a book of baby names out the library and he and the twins were falling about laughing over it.

How about Boniface?

If it takes after its ma it'll be moanyface.

Very funny.

Hey Fiona, guess what your name means? Comely, fair.

Aye, right. What are you thinking about calling the baby anyway?

If it's a boy, Connor, and if it's a wee lassie either Siobhan or Grace.

I hope it's a girl, then. Connor O'Connell?

The baby's name won't be O'Connell - it'll be Connor Anderson.

You don't have to give the baby Declan's name.

He's the father. You're no gonnae gie us wanny they feminist rants, are you Fiona? I've heard it all fae Janice.

Well, it's true. It's dead sexist that folk assume a baby has to have the father's name.

Yeah and look at Janice's poor wean wi a double-barrelled surname naebody can spell.

You could give the baby your name.

My name'll be the same as Declan's soon enough.

You're changing your name tae Declan's?

We'll be gettin married.

You still don't have tae change your name. Anyway, you're no even sixteen.

I will be in December.

You're no serious, Mona.

Course. Once the baby's born and I'm sixteen, we'll get hitched. A lovely white wedding and I'll be Mrs Declan Anderson. It's nice tae be traditional.

I don't want to shatter your illusions, but it's traditional tae wait till after the white wedding afore you have the baby.

After they went out I sat down on the settee. They'd left the book of baby names lying, spine bent backwards. I started tae flick through, no really expecting to find it, but there was a section on Asian names. Amrik: God's nectar. That figured. Sweet as honey. But don't try tae live on it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hillbilly Women by Kathy Kahn (Avon Books 1972)

When all this murdering and killing happened over at Evarts, that was when the coal company hired gun thugs and they met up with the miners that was out on strike. Well, Dad took the blame for those killings. Course, he'd been a coal miner all his life and they'd worked him day and night in those mines. And he worked with the union to make things better for the people.

But Dad wasn't at Evarts when the killings happened. He was out robbing the commissary. But Dad's brother, Sam Hicks, was there at Evarts. I think he was the one that had the machine gun. But all this time, Dad was robbing the company store.

I think it was in the spring of the year, long about '31. Dad and the other miners had come out on strike and the gun thugs were after them.

I remember Dad coming to the house and getting the shotgun and a lot of shells. He made us all get under the floor and told Mommy to keep us barricaded under there and not let us out. And I remember Mom a-beggin' him not to go out. But they had been working him hard in those mines, night and day. So he went out and joined the other miners on strike.

so anyway, this night he come in after the shotgun, that was the night before the killings at Evarts started. But Dad, the reason he wanted the gun was some of the miners and their families was starving and they needed some food. He aimed to get it for them.

Dad went up to the commissary and took about five other men with him. He went into the commissary and held his shotgun on the company men. Then he told the miners to fill all these bags full of food. They filled hundred pound bags of beans, sugar, lard, coffee, and taters. While he was holding the gun on the company men, Dad said what time he was around organizing with the union there wasn't going to be no people going hungry . . . The men took the food out and distributed it according to the size of the families that was out on strike.

Wyoming Wilson speaking to Kathy Kahn.

If I Was . . .

. . . ever to go down the tankie lane, I'd like to think that I'd adopt 'ErnestoW_Honaker101婉菁8' as my Party name.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Two Way Split by Allan Guthrie (Polygon Press 2004)

Banging. Robin glanced at Eddie. More banging. Regular. Insistent. Someone pounding on the front door. Their visitor, the concerned citizen. Robin couldn't tell how Eddie was reacting behind the balaclava. More banging. It stopped and a muffled voice said, 'I'm coming in.' Silence. A shout accompanied by a screech as the wedge under the door was driven back a couple of inches. Robin set down the bag as a hand reached round the gap at the side of the door and sent the wedge tumbling across the floor. As the door swung open, Hilda dashed forward. He caught her by the wrist and dragged her in an arc straight into his arms. She wriggled until he rested the blade of the knife against her lips. She was panting heavily and her hairspray ticked the back of his throat.

'Let her go.' The man who spoke was inappropriately dressed for the cold weather in a white t-shirt and black jeans. He stood in the doorway, chill air gusting in from behind him.

'Who the fuck are you?' Eddie said.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Football Man: People and Passions in Soccer by Arthur Hopcraft (Penguin 1971)

In the final at Wembley on 30 July 1966, England and West Germany met in circumstances of barely tolerable emotional tension. I have earlier described the closing minutes of this match. But I want to refer to something in its atmosphere which disconcerted me because of its inappropriateness to the game as a whole: the measure of chauvinism which was divorced entirely from what took place in terms of football, on the field.

I watched this game not from the Press box but from a seat in the stands, and I was struck well before the game began by the unusual nature of some of the crowd around me. They were not football followers. They kept asking each other about the identity of the English players. Wasn't one of the Manchester boys supposed to be pretty good? That very tall chap had a brother in the side, hadn't he? They were in their rugby club blazers, and with their Home Counties accents and obsolete prejudices, to see the successors of the Battle of Britain pilots whack the Hun again. Some of them wept a bit at the end, and they sang Land of Hope and Glory with a solemn fervour I have known elsewhere only at Conservative party rallies. I suspect that if they had found themselves sitting among a crowd of real, live football fans from Liverpool they might have been amazed by the degree of treacherous support available to Jerry. Some football fans prefer even German footballers to plump-living countrymen exercising the privilege of money to bag a place at an event thousands more would have given their right arms to see - and understand. I much prefer Abide With Me at Wembley. Its connection with chapel and pub identifies it with the England which nurtures its football.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

If I Was . . .

. . . the Daily Record's sub-editor, 'Murray's Prayer' would have my back page headline for this wee bit of transfer news.

I'm away to put the kettle on whilst you, dear reader, tries to work out what I'm wittering on about.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark (Penguin Books 1960)

'In feeding the line!' Dougal said

'In feeding the line,' Mr Druce said. 'As I say, this expert came from Cambridge. But we felt that a Cambridge man in Personnel wouldn't do. What we feel about you is you'll be in touch with the workers, or rather, as we prefer to say, our staff; you'll be in the know, we feel. Of course you'll find the world of Industry a tough one.'

Dougal turned sideways in his chair and gazed out of the window at the railway bridge; he was now a man of vision with a deformed shoulder. 'The world of Industry,' said Dougal, 'throbs with human life. It will be my job to take the pulse of the people and plumb the industrial depths of Peckham.'

Mr Druce said: 'Exactly. You have to bridge the gap and hold out a helping hand. Our absenteeism,' he said, 'is a problem.'

'They must be bored with their jobs,' said Dougal in a split second of absent-mindedness.

'I wouldn't say bored, ' said Mr Druce. 'Not bored. Meadows Meade are building up a sound reputation with regard to their worker-staff. We have a training scheme, a recreation scheme and a bonus scheme. We haven't yet got a pension scheme, or a marriage scheme, or a burial scheme, but these will come. Comparatively speaking we are a small concern, I admit, but we are expanding.'

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre (Abacus 1996)

'My grandfather always maintained that where there was muck, there was brass,' Parlabane said. 'If you're not afraid to get your hands dirty and put your back into your work, you'll get a fair reward. However, throughout the tenure of our present government, I discovered a valuable reciprocal to be true: where there's lots of brass, there's usually muck, and I've made a career out of looking for it.

As Michael Portillo fearlessly said, in this country, as opposed to those wog-ridden foreign sties - I'm paraphrasing here, although only slightly - if you win a contract, it's not because your brother is a government minister or you blatantly bribed an official. Of course not. That would be corruption. In this country, you win contracts because you are "one of us", you went to the right school, give money to the right party, and have awarded an executive post to a member of the cabinet's family, or have promised a seat on the board to the appropriate minister when he resigns to spend more time with his bankers.

'We don't have anything as vulgar or primitive as a bribe. It's a matter of trust. For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction. For every contract, there's a kickback. It's more noble, more gentlemanly. A matter of mutual understanding. And very, very British.'

Sarah stared across, unimpressed. 'Once again, hot-shot, this much I know. Not an exclusive. Cut to the chase.'

'Fair enough. I got a bit of a reputation for myself through in Glasgow, sniffing out scams, investigating dodgy deals. But what I really wanted was to go after the big game down south, and I was head-hunted by one of the big broadsheet Sundays. I thought it would either make my career or turn out to be the worst move south by a promising young Scot since Charlie Nicholas. In the end it was both.

Friday, July 09, 2010

I Love Me (Who Do You Love?) by Gordon Legge (Polygon Press 1994)

'Captain what?' said Neil.

'Captain Trip, best band ever.' Deke switched on the machine and the music came out of the speakers: muffled tribal drumming; mumbled tribal vocals; a really loud guitar that sounded as if it was recorded best part of half a mile away; and a bass that appeared to have been set up all of two inches from the mic.

'Fucking brilliant, eh,' said Deke.

Neil gave a serious nod like he was into it and said, 'Bit like Can.'

'One of our influences,' said Deke. 'Mostly we just made it up, though. Well, us and the drugs, like.'

'Listen,' said Gary, coming in at just the right moment so at to drown out his famous missed beat, 'we've got to do something and get this thing going again.'

Deke shook his head. 'Nah, it's gone, Gary, finished. Had to be of its time. Let the bastards catch up and then we'll fucking show them.'

'Oh, come on,' pleaded Gary.

Deke turned to Neil, though. 'Listen to this,' he said, 'just listen to this, listen to it. This was a 12" before there was a 12", this was rave before there was a rave, this was baggy before there was a baggy. Listen. Telling you, I'm hearing all this new stuff, and it all sounds fucking familiar to me, you know, and I just goes back and plays the old tape, and, bang, there you go, there it all is, it's all there. Listen to this bit.'

Neil listened. 'Nirvana?'

'Exactly,' said Deke. 'We were Nirvana,, we were Nirvana years ago, years ago, we were doing all that grunge stuff years ago. We were Nirvana before they even knew they existed, and they've made millions out of that, by the way, millions. That three and a half seconds there, that's their fucking career. Hold on, this bit?'

'My Bloody Valentine?' said Neil

'There you go. More fucking millionaires. Telling you, you want to have seen the reactions we got when we were on stage. The kids just loved us.'

'Mind Kirkcaldy?' said Gary.

'Mind it? Come on, how am I ever going to forget Kirkcaldy?' Deke turned to Neil again. 'You ever heard of anyone getting themselves a life-long ban from the Kingdom of Fife? No? Well. wait till you hear this one . . .'

Hearing his past so gloriously described almost made Gary forgive Deke for not wanting to get the band going again. Maybe though it was for the best to consign all this to the past, not to want to recapture it but, like Deke said, to move on, to go for the future.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sacred by Dennis Lehane (Avon Books 1997)

Four years ago, after a particularly lucrative case involving insurance fraud and white-collar extortion, I went to Europe for two weeks. And what struck me most at the time was how many of the small villages I visited - in Ireland and Italy and Spain - resembled Boston's North End.

The North End was where each successive wave of immigrants had left the boat and dropped their bags. So the Jewish and then the Irish and finally the Italians had called this area home and given it the distinctly European character it retains today. The streets are cobblestone, narrow, and curve hard around and over and through each other in a neighborhood so small in physical area that in some cities it would barely constitute a block. But packed in here tight were legions of red and yellow brick rowhouses, former tenements co-opted and restored, and the odd cast-iron or granite warehouse, all fighting for space and getting really weird on top where extra stories were added after "up" became the only option. So clapboard and brick rise up from what were once mansard roofs, and laundry still stretches between opposite fire escapes and wrought-iron patios, and "yard" is an even more alien concept than "parking space."