Monday, February 28, 2011

Crisis? What Crisis?: Britain in the 1970s by Alwyn Turner (Aurum Press 2008)

When the Ropers were given their own series, George and Mildred, they moved out of their Earl's Court home (compulsorily purchased by the council) and bought a new house in the distinctly middle class Hampton Wick, despite George’s misgivings about suburbia: 'All BBC2 and musical toilet rolls.' A new element was added to the existing mix in the form of naked class war between Roper and his next-door Tory neighbour, Jeffrey Fourmile (Norman Eshley). 'I’m working-class and and bloody proud of it,' declares George and the resultant tension between his determination to cling to his class roots and his wife's desperation to escape hers provided many of the series' sharpest lines. When Mildred tries to persuade him to join the Conservative association - in the hope of getting a cheap holiday - she insists that the Tories are essentially a social organisation who just organize events, at which he spits, 'Yeah, whist drives in aid of the death penalty.' Meanwhile the estate agent Fourmile was sitcom's first overt Thatcherite; 'Socialism: The Way Ahead,' he says, reading the spine of a book as he sorts out a stall at a jumble sale. 'Hmm. put that with the fiction, I think.'

Despite his protestations, it's not hard to see Roper secretly putting his cross on the ballot paper for Thatcher, nor to see him joined in the polling booth by Garnett, Fawlty, Rlgsby and even perhaps Eddie Booth. Alongside them would have been not only Fourmile, but also Margo in The Good Life and from Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? - Bob Ferris, an aspirant member of the middle class who might have voted Liberal in 1974, but would surely have opted for Thatcher in 1979. Against these massed ranks, British sitcoms in the '70s could offer few genuinely left-wing characters, possibly Wolfie, the parody of a revolutionary in Citizen Smith, certainly Mike in Till Death Us Do Part, who would ostentatiously read copies of the Morning Star, Milltant and Workers Press in front of Alf Garnett, but there were very few others.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Vintage Crime 2005)

"A left-wing magazine."

"That depends on how you define the concept 'left-wing.' Millenium is generally viewed as critical of society, but I'm guessing the anarchists think it's a wimpy bourgeois crap magazine along the lines of Arena or Ordfront, while the Moderate Students Association probably thinks that the editors are all Bolsheviks. There is nothing to indicate that Blomkvist has ever been active politically, even during the left-wing wave when he was going to prep school. VVhile he was plugging away at the School of Iournalism he was living with a girl who at the time was active in the Syndicalists and today sits in Parliament as a representative of the Left party. He seems to have been given the left-wing stamp primarily because as a financial journalist he specialises in investigative reporting about corruption and shady transactions in the corporate world. He has done some devastating individual portraits of captains of industry and politicians-which were most likely well deserved-and caused a number of resignations and legal repercussions. The most well-known was the Arboga affair, which resulted in the forced resignation of a Conservative politician and the sentencing of a former councillor to a year in prison for embezzlement. Calling attention to crimes can hardly be considered an indication that someone is left-wing.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game by Marc Bennetts (Virgin Books 2008)

While the Soviet economy may have been falsified, its football, according to Utkin, was somewhat cleaner. 'In the Soviet era,’ he said, pausing to gaze at a group of model-type Russian girls giggling on the first floor of the restaurant, ‘the stakes in the game weren’t so big, and there wasn‘t really the material incentive to fix matches. Then, it was more of a political thing. Making sure that the Moscow teams did well, that the Ukrainians were kept happy with a cup or two, and so on. Anyway, that’s not really the main point. It’s difficult to compare the two. Soviet footballers weren’t paid anything like as much, and even if they did get some money there was nothing to spend it on. They played for honour, for their team, for the political or social structure it represented. Basically, comparing Soviet football and Russian football is like comparing a Dostoevsky novel and a modern-day bestseller. The first was created with love, out of the sheer pleasure of the act itself, the second is a commercial thing, with financial concerns behind it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shakespeare Wrote For Money by Nick Hornby (Believer Books 2008)

Robert Altman's Nashville is one of my favorite films - or, at least, I think it is. I haven’t seen it in a while, and the last time I did, I noticed the longueurs more than I ever had before. Maybe the best thing to do with favorite films and books is to leave them be: to achieve such an exalted position means that they entered your life at exactly the right time, in precisely the right place, and those conditions can never be re-created. Sometimes we want to revisit them in order to check whether they were really as good as we remember them being, but this has to be a suspect impulse, because what it presupposes is that we have more reason to trust our critical judgments as we get older, whereas I am beginning to believe that the reverse is true.I was eighteen when I saw Nashville for the first time, and I was electrified by its shifts in tone, its sudden bursts of feeling and meaning, its ambition, its occasional obscurity, even its pretensions. I don’t think I’d ever seen an art movie before, and I certainly hadn’t seen an art movie set in a world I recognized. So I came out of the cinema that night a slightly changed person, suddenly aware that there was a different way of doing things. None of that is going to happen again, but so what? And why mess with a good thing? Favorites should be left where they belong, buried somewhere deep in a past self.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A Man Called Jones by Julian Symons (Pan Books 1947)

The tone was masterful, and one would hardly dare to say, Bland reflected, that it didn't suit. Was this perhaps still the captain of the cricket team regarding Bland as a boy trying, not very successfully, to bowl leg-breaks? Or was this the real and characteristic Sinclair? As these questions passed through Bland’s mind Sinclair smiled again, and said, ‘Think I've changed? Without waiting for a reply he went on, ‘I have, you know. In one way at least. I aspire to be an author. Detective stories. Tell me honestly, now, what do you think of them?'

Bland picked tentatively at half a lobster in its shell, and put a piece of firm white flesh into his mouth. ‘Delicious,’ he said, and then, ‘Not very much like life.’

Sinclair pointed with a fork. His face was bright and enthusiastic. ‘Exactly. The essential thing about the detective story is that it’s not very much like life. It doesn’t set out to be like life - that isn’t its function. The detective story is decidedly a romantic affair - something that brings a world they don‘t know, a world of romantic violence quite alien to their own lives to the sickly young men who spend their days in front of a ledger, the overworked and underpaid shop girls, the colonels in the clubs and the dowagers in their boudoirs. It isn’t reality that these people want from detective stories - it’s fantasy. The future of the detective story is in the field of fantasy!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

'77 Sulphate Strip by Barry Cain (Ovolo Books 2007)

The Jam

Royal College of Art, London

It's a godawful small affair . . .

Stage as long as Platform six at Victoria station. Baggageless porters The Jam 40 feet apart and monitorless. Full house. Lights! The Tyla Gang before and the Cimarrons after.

An artless audience at the Royal College of Art show their appreciation of the white-soul boys up there on the stage with the huge Union Jack backdrop depicting the three moods The Jam take you through at a gig - red hot expanding into white heat, contracting into teenage blue.

In case you’ve forgotten, guitarist Paul Weller, bassist Bruce Foxton and drummer Rick Buckler are The Jam. They are not, I repeat not a recycled Who. They write concise, contemporary songs like ‘ln The City’, ‘Bricks & Mortar' and 'I’ve Changed My Address’ enhancing the overall effect with a shrewd selection of old material 'Batman’, ‘So Sad About Us’ and ‘Midnight Hour'. The result? A well-equipped show; incisive, dynamic, piebald. Black suits, white lights, black ties, white shirts, black thoughts, white rock. They won't blow it now.

The Jam always come across as much younger than other bands, like Brian Kidd in a team of Bobby Charltons. They have the pace and the sneer - Paul Weller could hardly be described as ‘this smiling man’. He drinks but refuses to take drugs on the grounds that they are immoral, debilitating and, well, uncool. Drug-induced confidence is unnecessary for the cool dude that's Paul Weller. But he gets more hangovers that way.

Paul is cool because he's a man with a genuine talent who hasn't quite realised it yet. And that's when the good stuff comes.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson (Black Swan 2004)

His father always told both his sons not to follow him down the pit but it was hard to get away from mining when it was the only industry in town. Jackson never considered the future but he thought being a miner looked OK, the comradeship, the drinking - like being in a grown-up gang really - but his father said it was a job that you wouldn’t make a dog do, and this was a man who hated dogs. Everyone voted Labour, men and women, but they weren’t socialists, they ‘craved the fruits of capitalism' more than anyone, that’s what his father said. His father was a socialist, the bitter, chip-on-the-shoulder Scottish kind that attributed everything that had gone wrong with his life to someone else but particularly ‘capitalist bosses’.

Jackson had no idea what capitalism was and no desire to know. Francis said it was driving a Ford Consul and buying a Servis twin-tub for his mother and Jackson was the only person who knew that when Francis had become part of the first generation of eighteen-year-olds to vote last year he had put his cross next to the name of the Tory candidate, even though ‘he hadn’t a fart in hell’s chance’ of winning. Their father would have disowned Francis (possibly killed him) because the Tories wanted to wipe the miners off the face of the earth and Francis said who gives a fuck because he planned to save enough money to drive a Cadillac across the States, pausing only to salute the King at the gates of Graceland and otherwise not stopping until he hit the Pacific Highway. Their mother died the week after the election so politics weren't on anyone's mind for a while, although their father tried hard to find a way of blaming the government for the cancer that ate Fidelma up and then spat her out as a shrivelled, yellowed husk to die on a morphine drip in a side ward of the Wakefield General.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Drama City by George P. Pelecanos (Phoenix Books 2005)

Lorenzo was intending to go to the Tahoe, radio in, and check on the status of the MPD when he saw a man and a young man coming toward him. He recognized the older of the two and tried to place him. As he was doing this, Lorenzo realized that he had been leaning against the silver BMW. He moved off the car.

The two got nearer, and it came to Lorenzo who the older one was: Melvrn Lee. Lee and Lorenzo had both come up in Park View. Lee had worked for Deacon Taylor, done time, come uptown, and was rumored to be workrng for Deacon again. Lee had made himself a rep when he was young. But looking at him now Lorenzo realized that prison had broken him, even if Lee drd not know this himself. Lee and his running partner stopped a few feet shy of Lorenzo.

Lee was all arms and legs wrth a small torso, as if God had run out of the right size the day he'd made him. Lee's head was tiny, and his eyes bulged slightly. He looked like something that crawled up a wall. He wore a baseball cap cocked sideways on his head. He wore the oversize jeans. He was trying for that youth thing but it was never going to work for him again. Man his age to be dressed that way, it was just pathetic. He was going for down, but the vibe he put out was defeat.

The boy standing beside Lee had slack posture and nothing eyes.

Dubbed Twist and Crawl

And with this, it was nine.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Clandestines: The Pirate Journals of an Irish Exile by Ramor Ryan (AK Press 2006)

The modern history of Mayday in Berlin follows this model. Mayday is a ritualistic confrontation between rebels and authority. As West Berlin became a haven for those avoiding the military draft, so an oasis of civil defiance, a pirate utopia, a quilombo of sorts was created by the dispossessed youth and the resident bohemian artists. The theatre of confrontation became Kreuzberg, traditionally a workers’ and migrants’ neighborhood now colonized by a multitude of politicized squatters. Anarchists, autonomes, punks, Turkish, and Kurdish youth fought pitched battles with armies of riot police. Burning barricades, tear-gas-filled streets, fierce combat, mass arrests, and police brutality became standard fare for Mayday in West Berlin.

So this day in East Berlin, the conflict has kicked off early. As the convoys of police vans descend on the park to witness the smoldering ruins of the burnt-out carcass of this dead beast, we have all already taken off. Now is the hour of the Black Bloc, the insurrectionary anarchists, the Maoists, the Trotskyites, the political hooligans, the casares (a reference to French rioters) and the drunken punks.

Mayday and I, aligning ourselves with one of the above categories (not sure which), cycle down to Oranienstrasse, the heart of historical Kreuzberg. There is a full-scale riot in progress and we arrive on the wrong side, behind the police lines. The sky is filled with flying objects raining down upon the besieged police lines. lt is a truly astonishing sight as paving stones, bottles, cans or whatever beat down like a medieval barrage. The lines and lines of riot cops are under intense pressure and occasionally one cop or another is carried behind, nursing an injury. "A handful of skilled stone-throwers can fend off a whole battalion of cops” explained Ringrose my elder sister’s boyfriend, years before when I was still a kid. He was of the earlier generation of Berlin Anarchists, who had raised the stakes in the early 1980's by taking to the street with combative resolve. And today, years later, his words resound as we witness maybe 50 stone-throwing militants holding off this street-full of riot cops. The tight street is a chaotic boiling pot of bedlam and as usual, the press is out in force, cameras everywhere, vultures stealing images to sell.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin (Back Bay Books 2003)

Jack Bell nodded, and the two men's eyes met for the first time, then both heads turned to face James, who was seated across the table.

"Well, James?" the lawyer said. "What do you think?"

The teenager seemed to be considering the offer. He returned his father's stare as if it were all the nourishment he needed and he had a hunger that would never be stilled.


Oh to be a fly on the wall in the home dug out at St James Park right now. 15 minutes in and 3-0 down. Love it.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Democracy Live

Happening now. It's like '68 but this time in colour.

Does it make me a centrist if I could say - hand and heart - that I could support all the motions listed?

(See 'labels' for an explanation for this post.)