Monday, December 31, 2012

Fatale by Jean-Patrick Manchette (NYRB Classics 1977)

"I am unarmed," said Lorque. "I want to talk to you. Listen here, I don't deserve to die. What have I done except follow the natural impulses of the human race? And even that is saying a lot. We are choirboys compared with our ancestors. Does the sack of Cartagena ring any bells with you? Some of Bléville's bold seafarers were there. I'm not talking about the first sack of Cartagena, that was Sir Francis Drake, but the second, when the French did the sacking. What I've done is nothing alongside the sack of Cartagena. Okay, so I worked a bit on the Atlantic Wall, I had to keep a low profile in South America for a while, then I came back and I've been giving employment to workers and making land productive. I've made my pile in the usual way. Just tell me one outrageous thing, one truly criminal thing, in what I've done, in what the baron had in his files, just name one!"

"I haven't read the baron's files," said Aimée. Lorque tensed and listened hard, apparently striving to determine the precise source of the young woman's voice. "I couldn't care less," Aimée observed. "Do you really imagine I'm interested in your crimes and misdemeanors? You must be joking!"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

In the Pleasure Groove: Love, Death, and Duran Duran by John Taylor (with Tom Sykes) (Dutton 2012)

Steve Jones is open about the influence Thunders's playing style had on him. In the documentary The Filth and the Fury, there is a hilarious sequence where film of the two guitarists is intercut, showing quite clearly just how much of Thunders's attitude Steve knocked off.

Something similar could be done with me. I would learn to take Thunders's signature slurs and guitar runs and transpose them to bass, along with the accompanying sneers. The first time I saw the Thunders's magic was on-stage at Birmingham  University. The opening act was a band I had not heard  of before, The Police. At that time I would sneak a cassette recorder into every gig I went to, and I set the machine to record when they began to play, even though I had no idea who they were. It was quite possible a band you had never heard of yesterday could become your favourite band tomorrow.

The singer with The Police also played bass, which struck me as quite clever and quite "un-punk." After the second number, he struck up a rapport with the audience of mostly students. A little too familiar, I remember thinking at the time, not knowing then that Sting had been a teacher and spoke "student" way better than he would ever speak "punk."

Sting: We've got the Heartbreakers coming on next.
(Cheer from me and one or two others)
Sting: They can't play, you know.
Me: Fuck off!
Sting: Who said "Fuck off'?
Me: I did. (all of this going down onto the cassette tape)
Sting: It's true. They're great guys but they can't play.
Me: Fuck off, you wanker!
Sting: You'll see. This next song is called "Fall Out"! 1 2 3 4 . . .

He was wrong about the Heartbreakers. They were awesome that night. At the BBC in 1993, filming "Ordinary World" for Top of the Pops, I was standing next to Sting watching a playback of our performance on a monitor. I thought to myself, I've got to tell him about that night, but before I opened my mouth he half-turned to me and said, "I wish I'd written that song."

Let's leave it at that then, I thought.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Put another bird on the log fire

I'd be a bit less humbug about Christmas if my secondhand paperbacks from Thriftbooks were delivered to me by the Hipster Portland Santa. Do the East Coast, Portland Santa. I implore you!

The Hipster Williamsburg Santa refuses to travel this far south in Brooklyn after that incident in 2009 on the B Train at Beverley Road. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Good Son by Russel D. McLean (Minotaur Books 2008)

Nearly a week before the night I found myself ready to kill a man in cold blood, I was angling for the security of a job that paid up front.

Which is why I was grateful for the business of any client. Especially the man who huffed his way into the offices of McNee Investigations.

James Robertson stuffed himself into the sixties-style recliner I'd picked up a few weeks earlier at the Salvation Army store on West Marketgait. He was sweating, even though it was a cool day. As if he'd swum across the Tay rather than taking the bridge. The handkerchief tucked into the breast pocket of his suit jacket looked damp.

I offered my hand. His was slick and threatened to slip from my grasp. 

It wasn't his size, even if he was a large man. No, the sweat came from agitation. Robertson was tense, his muscles practically humming they were stretched so taut.

Friday, December 07, 2012

FourFourTwo's Top 50 football books

I've got a soft spot for FourFourTwo footie magazine, subscribing to it when it was first launched back in '94, so their 2008 list of the Top 50 football books caught my eye recently when I was doing in-depth research into the man and myth that was Jimmy Sirrell.

As I'm going through a football book reading kick at the moment, I thought I'd use it as a meme for the blog. The usual ritual; if it's scored out, I've read it.

  • (50) The Fashion Of Football by Paolo Hewitt and Mark Baxter (2004)

  • (49) Out Of His Skin: The John Barnes Phenomenon by Dave Hill (1989)

  • (48) Steaming In by Colin Ward (1989)

  • (47) The Beautiful Game: A Journey Through Latin American Football by Chris Taylor (1998)

  • (46) Steak... Diana Ross: Diary Of A Football Nobody by David McVay (2003)

  • (45) Back Home: The Story Of England In The 1970 World Cup by Jeff Dawson (2001)

  • (44) The Way It Was by Stanley Matthews (2000)

  • (43) Barça: A People’s Passion by Jimmy Burns (1999)

  • (42) The Billy The Fish Football Yearbook Viz Comics (1999)

  • (41) Left Foot Forward by Garry Nelson (1995)

  • (40) Walking On Water by Brian Clough (2002)

  • (39) The Mavericks by Rob Steen (1994)

  • (38) The Story Of The World Cup by Brian Glanville (1980)

  • (37) Ajax Barcelona Cruyff: The ABC Of An Obstinate Maestro by Frits Barend and Henk Van Dorp (1999)

  • (36) The Football Grounds of England and Wales by Simon Inglis (1983)

  • (35) Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football by Phil Ball (2001)

  • (34) England v Argentina: World Cups and Other Small Wars by David Downing (2003)

  • (33) Kicking And Screaming by Rogan Taylor and Andrew Ward (1995)

  • (32) The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw: The Robin Friday Story by Paolo Hewitt and Paul McGuigan (1998)

  • (31) El Macca: Four Years With Real Madrid by Steve McManaman and Sarah Edworthy (2004)

  • (30) Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life by Alex Bellos (2002)

  • (29) Managing My Life by Alex Ferguson (1999)

  • (28) White Angels by Jon Carlin (2004)

  • (27) Ajax, The Dutch, The War by Simon Kuper (2003)

  • (26) Keane by Roy Keane and Eamonn Dunphy (2002)

  • (25) Tackling My Demons by Stan Collymore (2004)

  • (24) A Season With Verona by Tim Parks (2002)

  • (23) Passovotchka: Moscow Dynamo in Britain 1945 by David Downing (1999)

  • (22) Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Football by David Winner (2005)

  • (21) The Football Man by Arthur Hopcraft (1968)

  • (20) Dynamo: Defending the Honour of Kiev by Andy Dougan (2001)

  • (19) Football: The Golden Age by John Tennent (2001)

  • (18) Addicted by Tony Adams (1998)

  • (17) The Far Corner: A Mazy Dribble through North-East Football by Harry Pearson (1994)

  • (16) The Beautiful Game? Searching for the Soul of Football by David Conn (2004)

  • (15) The Boss: The Many Sides Of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick (2002)

  • (14) Only a Game? by Eamon Dunphy (1976)

  • (13) Niall Quinn: The Autobiography by Niall Quinn & Tom Humphries (2002)

  • (12) The Miracle Of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinniss (1999)

  • (11) The Glory Game by Hunter Davies (1973)

  • (10) Puskas on Puskas: the life and times of a footballing legend by Rogan Taylor & Klara Jamrich (1998)

  • (9) Football In Sun And Shadow by Eduardo Galeano (1997)

  • (8) Tor! by Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger (2003)

  • (7) Full Time by Tony Cascarino & Paul Kimmage (2000)

  • (6) Keeper Of Dreams by Ronald Reng (2003)

  • (5) A Strange Kind Of Glory by Eamon Dunphy (1974)

  • (4) Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius Of Dutch Football by David Winner (2000)

  • (3) All Played Out: Full Story Of Italia 90 by Pete Davies (1990)

  • (2) Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (1993)

  • (1) Football Against The Enemy by Simon Kuper (1994)

  • Only 12/50? This was one book meme where I thought I would be in the high twenties at least. I guess it's only me that holds the 1979 Shoot in such high esteem. I know I'm making a rod for my own back but by this time next year, that total will be at least 26/50. I set myself a target . . . and I fall short. Just like Celtic in the league this year.

    PS - Where the hell is Gary Imlach's 2005 classic 'My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes'? That should be on everyone's list.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2012

    Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery (NYRB Classics 1955)

    All this wasn't serious. El Kordi would have liked a people who measured up to him: sad and animated by vengeful passions. But where to find them? 

    His young blood boiling with impatience, he dreamed of being a man of action. This ridiculous job, which he did for starvation wages, wasn't designed to quench his thirst for social justice. He was so disgusted by it that most of the time he farmed it out to his more unfortunate colleagues - married men and fathers of numerous children - for a moderate payment. Thus, at the end of each month a paradoxical spectacle took place: the colleagues who had done some work for El Kordi came to collect their meager fees in a line before his desk. At such moments, El Kordi assumed the irritated air of a boss paying his workers. All the same, with the little money left over, he managed to survive. He led a life of extreme poverty, but decent and, he thought, very dignified. Keeping up appearances was his constant worry. For example, when he was obliged to live on boiled beans, he would tell his grocer that he was sick of eating chicken and that a common dish would surely excite his jaded appetite. The grocer wasn't fooled, but honor was saved.

    Friday, November 30, 2012

    Taft 2012 by Jason Heller (Quirk Books 2012)

    Secret Service Incidence Report
    Agent Ira Kowalczyk

    At approximately 1042, an oversized mammalian figure covered in mud appeared behind the White House South Lawn Fountain, approaching the press conference in progress on the lawn. It was unclear to me for several seconds whether the intruder was a man or a large animal as it lurched toward the crowd while moaning loudly. As the closest perimeter guard, I drew my firearm and ordered the intruder to halt while the executive guard secured POTUS. The intruder bellowed louder and attempted to proceed past the South Lawn Fountain in the direction of POTUS and the press corps. I discharged my weapon once, striking the intruder in the leg, and he collapsed against the fountain. I approached and saw that the water from the fountain, along with the morning drizzle, was washing the mud from the intruder’s body. He was a very large man, over 6 feet tall, probably 300 pounds, wearing a formal tweed suit. He had white hair and a handlebar mustache. My first thought was that he looked like some sort of deranged presidential history buff dressed up as William Howard Taft.

    From Taft: A Tremendous Man, by Susan Weschler:

    I’ll never forget the moment I first saw him on the television screen. Not a picture—him. There was no mistaking him. I’d been studying the history of the man who owned that plump, jowled, puffy-eyed face my entire professional life:

    William Howard Taft. Twenty-seventh president of the United States. Weighed in at 335 pounds. Worked with unceasing devotion to the job for four years—but was so honest a politician, he ended up infuriating every single interest group that had ever supported him. Lost his 1912 reelection bid in a miserable, crushing defeat. And then just disappeared the morning of March 5, 1913, the day his successor, Woodrow Wilson, was inaugurated. Taft was never seen or heard from again; his last known words, spoken right outside the White House just hours before Wilson took the oath of office, were: “I’ll be glad to be going. This is the loneliest place in the world.” After that sad utterance, Taft never showed up for the ceremony. Or anything else. Ever.

    Which meant the chaotic footage they kept replaying on CNN couldn’t be real. Couldn’t be him. How could he be here now, a century later, stumbling mud-covered into the midst of an unsuspecting White House press conference?

    And yet that was clearly no fake girth, no Halloween mask. It was either the oddest terrorist attack in history, the stupidest reality-show prank imaginable … or it was Taft.

    Sunday, November 25, 2012

    The Woman who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend (Penguin 2012)

    Eva was surprised but pleased that Alexander was here. She said, ‘Cutest?’ That’s not a word you use.’

    ‘But they are cute, Mum. And they’re so clever! They know reams of poetry and all the capital cities of the world. Alex is so proud of them. And I love his name —Alexander. He really is Alexander the Great, isn’t he, Mum?’

    Eva agreed. ‘Yes — but Alexander is forty-nine years of age, Brianne.’

    ‘Forty-nine? That’s the new thirty!’

    ‘You once ranted that nobody over twenty-five should be allowed to wear jeans, or dance in public.’

    ‘But Alex looks so good in jeans, and he did A level maths, Mum! He understands nonhomogeneous equations!’

    ‘I can tell you’re fond of him,’ said Eva.

    ‘Fond?’ said Brianne. ‘I’m fond of Grandma Ruby, I’m fond of whiskers on kittens and bright copper kettles, but I’m passionately in fucking love with Alex Tate!’

    Eva said, ‘Please! Don’t swear.’

    ‘You’re such a fucking hypocrite!’ yelled Brianne. ‘You swear! And you’re trying to spoil my relationship with Alex!’

    ‘There’s nothing to spoil. You’re not Juliet. This is not a Montague and Capulet situation. Does Alex even know you love him?’

    Brianne said, defiantly, ‘Yes, he does.’


    Brianne lowered her eyes. ‘He doesn’t love me, of course. He hasn’t had time to get to know me. But when I saw him struggling with that bookcase in Leeds, I knew immediately that he was the person I’ve been waiting for since I was a kid. I always wondered who it would be. Then he knocked on my door.’

    Eva tried to hold Brianne’s hand, but she pulled it away and put it behind her back.

    Eva asked, ‘And he was kind to you?’

    ‘I rang him three times on his mobile when he was on the motorway. He told me to go out more and meet people of my own age.’

    Eva said, gently, ‘He is right, Brianne. His hair is grey. He has more in common with me than with you. We’ve both got Morrissey’s second solo album.’

    Brianne said, ‘I know that. I know everything there is to know about him. I know his wife died in a car crash and that he was driving. I know that Tate was his family’s slave name. I know how much he earned in the noughties. And I know how much tax he paid. And which school his children go to, and what their grades are. I know his previous romantic history. I know he’s overdrawn by £77.15 and that he doesn’t have an agreed overdraft facility.’

    ‘And he told you all this?’

    ‘No, I’ve hardly spoken to him. I doxed him.’

    What’s “doxed”?’

    ‘It’s like talking to Neanderthal woman! I’ve read every document about him. If there’s info I want, I can find it on the net. I’ve mapped the story of his life, and one day I’ll be part of it.’

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    'To Hell with Culture': Anarchism in Twentieth Century British Literature edited by H.Gustav Klaus and Stephen Knight (University of Wales Press 2005)

    Anarchism, Litvinoff recalls, in his lovely East End picaresque autobiography Journey Through a Small Planet, was in his blood, was of the very atmosphere in the streets where he lived, in the whole quarter. He never forgot childhood stories of anarchist leaflet campaigns against the imperialist First World War, of followers of Tolstoy and Kropotkin chasing army recruiters away from Bloom’s corner at the end of Brick Lane – men who met to argue about the wisdom of political bombing at the Jubilee Street Arbeter Fraint house, the socialist/anarchist club for Jewish immigrants. In his autobiography he would go on to write marvellous, nostalgic stories about his childhood among Yiddish-speaking immigrant leftists in the broad church of radical East End politics (people like Mendel Shaffer’s atheist father, who joined the Anarchists and the Communists and the Buddhists and the Socialist Zionists); stories of his own youthful scuffles with Oswald Mosley’s fascists on their incursions into the East End in the early Thirties; and about his craving for the ‘female nood’ which took him to the art classes at the Bethnal Green Men’s Institute, in company with his vegetarian friend Morry Spitzer, who worked in his his father’s kosher butcher shop (an aesthetic pursuit, says Litvinoff, that was all part of being a ‘boisterous guerilla’), and about his profound distress over the unwanted pregnancy of Fanya Ziegelbaum, lovely seamstress, whom he kissed under the Whitechapel railway arches (dark place of dybbuk talk and rumours about Jack the Ripper): Fanny Ziegelbaum, deserted by Herschel Rosenheim of the New York Yiddish Theatre, who was playing Hamlet at the Whitechapel Pavilion – Rosenheim, red-haired, Chicago-gangster-voiced, his Yiddish Hamlet a far cry from that of Mr Parker, Litvinoff’s English teacher.

    From Valentine Cunningham's 'Litvinoff’s Room: East End Anarchism'.

    Monday, November 12, 2012

    Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin (Orion Books 2012)

    “Bert Jansch was dead, too. Rebus had seen him play a few solo gigs in Edinburgh down the years. Jansch had been born in the city but made his name in London. After work that evening, alone in his flat, Rebus played a couple of Pentangle albums. He was no expert, but he could tell Jansch’s playing from the other guitarist in the band, John Renbourn. As far as he knew, Renbourn was still around – maybe living in the Borders. Or was that Robin Williamson? He had taken his colleague Siobhan Clarke to a Renbourn/Williamson concert once, driving her all the way to Biggar Folk Club without telling her why. When the two musicians stepped on to the stage – looking as though they’d just roused themselves from armchairs by a roaring fire – he’d leaned in towards her.

    ‘One of them played Woodstock, you know,’ he’d whispered.”

    Wednesday, November 07, 2012

    Happiland by William Bedford (William Heinemann 1990)

    When his work was finished, Harry went down to the promenade and sat at one of the window tables in Brown's cafe. From the window, he could see the pier and the deserted shores, and the slipway where the inshore fishing boats would come when the tide began to ebb. Great banks of cloud were gathering at the estuary, and as he ordered a mug of scalding hot tea and a bacon buttie with onions, the wind howled and gusted along the promenade, whistling underneath the cafe door. He fed some sixpences into the juke box, selecting Rosemary Clooney and Tennessee Ernie Ford, Frankie Laine and Teresa Brewer, and then sat down to wait for his food. He had spent all day baiting the fishing lines with frozen bait, and now he was waiting for George Bainbridge to get back from his trip to see what fresh lugworms were required tomorrow. During the winter months, when the fairgrounds were closed, Harry's only money came from the casual bait digging he did for the inshore fishermen. In the summer, he worked on the fairgrounds.

    Sunday, November 04, 2012

    Jaggy Splinters by Christopher Brookmyre (Hachette Digial 2012)

    The Ball

    There is a variety of types of ball approved for Primary School Football. I shall describe three notable examples.

    1) The plastic balloon. An extremely lightweight model, used primarily in the early part of the season and seldom after that due to having burst. Identifiable by blue pentagonal panelling and the names of that year’s Premier League sides printed all over it. Advantages: low sting factor, low burst-nose probability, cheap, discourages a long-ball game. Disadvantages: over-susceptible to influence of the wind, difficult to control, almost magnetically drawn to flat school roofs whence never to return.

    2) The rough-finish Mitre. Half football, half Portuguese Man o’ War. On the verge of a ban in the European Court of Human Rights, this model is not for sale to children. Used exclusively by teachers during gym classes as a kind of aversion therapy. Made from highly durable fibre-glass, stuffed with neutron star and coated with dead jellyfish. Advantages: looks quite grown up, makes for high-scoring matches (keepers won’t even attempt to catch it). Disadvantages: scars or maims anything it touches.

    3) The ‘Tube’. Genuine leather ball, identifiable by brown all-over colouring. Was once black and white, before ravages of games on concrete, but owners can never remember when. Adored by everybody, especially keepers. Advantages: feels good, easily controlled, makes a satisfying ‘whump’ noise when you kick it. Disadvantages: turns into medicine ball when wet, smells like a dead dog.
    (from 'Playground Football')

    Friday, November 02, 2012

    Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division by Peter Hook (Simon & Schuster 2012)

    I’ve always read the Manchester Evening News cover to cover, ever since I was a kid. Don’t ask me why. Same with watching Coronation Street; it’s just something I’ve always done. Home is Becky and the kids, Corrie and the MEN.

    Reading the small ads in the MEN was how I found out that the Pistols were playing at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, 50p a ticket.

    Now my mates – and I mean this in the nicest possible way – have always been dead normal, so they weren’t interested. But I’d been going to gigs with Terry and Bernard and (apart from the infamous toothache incident) having a laugh, so I phoned Bernard up.

    ‘The Sex Pistols are on – do you want to go and see them?’

    He went, ‘Who?’

    I said, ‘Oh, it’s this group. They have fights at every gig and it’s really funny. Come on, it’s only 50p.’

    ‘Yeah, all right, then.’

    Terry was up for it too, so it ended up being me, him, Barney and Sue Barlow, who was Barney’s fiancé. I think they’d met at Gresty’s house when he was sixteen or so. They’d been going out for a few years and used to fight like cat and dog. With the possible exception of Debbie and Ian, they had the most tempestuous, argumentative relationship I’ve ever known in my life. And they ended up getting married . . .

    So that was it anyway, the group of us who went and saw the Sex Pistols at Lesser Free Trade Hall. A night that turned out to be the most important of my life – or one of them at least – but that started out just like any other: me and Terry making the trip in Terry’s car; Barney and Sue arriving on his motorbike; the four of us meeting up then ambling along to the ticket office.

    There to greet us was Malcolm McLaren, dressed head to toe in black leather – leather jacket, leather trousers and leather boots – with a shock of bright-orange hair, a manic grin and the air of a circus ringmaster, though there was hardly anyone else around. We were like, Wow. He looked so wild, from another planet even. The four of us were in our normal gear: flared jeans, penny collars and velvet jackets with big lapels, all of that. Look at the photographs of the gig and you can see that everybody in the audience was dressed the same way, like a Top of the Pops audience. There were no punks yet. So Malcolm – he looked like an alien to us. Thinking about it, he must have been the first punk I ever saw in the flesh.

    Wide-eyed we paid him, went in and down the stairs into the Lesser Free Trade Hall (the same stairs I’d laid down on many years before). At the back of the hall was the stage and set out in front of it were chairs, on either side of a central walkway, just like it was in 24 Four Hour Party People – although I don’t remember many sitting down like they are in the film. I don’t think there was a bar that night, so we just stood around, waiting.

    The support band were called Solstice, and their best number was a twenty-minute cover version of ‘Nantucket Sleighride’. The original, by Mountain, was one of my favourite records at the time so we knew it really well, and we were like, ‘This is great. Just like the record.’

    Still, though, nothing out of the ordinary. Normal band, normal night, few people watching, clap-clap, very good, off they went.

    The Sex Pistols’ gear was set up and then, without further ceremony, they came on: Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook. Steve Jones was wearing a boiler suit and the rest of them looked like they’d just vandalized an Oxfam shop. Rotten had on this torn-open yellow sweater and he glared out into the audience like he wanted to kill each and every one of us, one at a time, before the band struck up into something that might have been ‘Did You No Wrong’ but you couldn’t tell because it was so loud and dirty and distorted.

    I remember feeling as though I’d been sitting in a darkened room all of my life – comfortable and warm and safe and quiet – then all of a sudden someone had kicked the door in, and it had burst open to let in an intense bright light and this even more intense noise, showing me another world, another life, a way out. I was immediately no longer comfortable and safe, but that didn’t matter because it felt great. I felt alive. It was the weirdest sensation. It wasn’t just me feeling it, either – we were all like that. We just stood there, stock still, watching the Pistols. Absolutely, utterly, gobsmacked.

    I was thinking two things. Two things that I suppose you’d have to say came together to create my future – my whole life from then on.

    The first was: I could do that.

    Because, fucking hell, what a racket. I mean, they were just dreadful; well, the sound was dreadful. Now the other band didn’t sound that bad. They sounded normal. But it was almost as though the Pistols’ sound guy had deliberately made them sound awful, or they had terrible equipment on purpose, because it was all feeding back, fuzzed-up, just a complete din. A wall of noise. I didn’t recognize a tune, not a note, and considering they were playing so many cover versions – the Monkees, the Who – I surely would have recognized something had it not sounded so shit.

    So, in fact, sound-wise it was as much the sound guy who inspired us all as it was the Sex Pistols, who were, as much as I hate to say it, a pretty standard rock band musically. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing that they played straightforward down-the-line rock ‘n’ roll, but it didn’t make them special.

    No. What made them special, without a shadow of a doubt, was Johnny Rotten. The tunes were only a part of the package – and probably the least important part of it, if I’m honest. Close your eyes and like I say you had a conventional pub-rock band with a soundman who either didn’t have a clue or was being very clever indeed. But who was going to close their eyes when he, Johnny Rotten, was standing there? Sneering and snarling at you, looking at you like he hated you, hated being there, hated everyone. What he embodied was the attitude of the Pistols, the attitude of punk. Through him they expressed what we wanted to express, which was complete nihilism. You know the way you feel when you’re a teenager, all that confusion about the future that turns to arrogance and then rebellion, like, ‘Fuck off, we don’t fucking care, we’re shit, we don’t care’? He had all of that and more.

    And, God bless him, whatever he had, he gave a bit of it to us, because that was the second thing I felt, after I can do that. It was: I want to do that. No. I fucking need to do that.

    Tony Wilson said he was there, of course, but I didn’t see him, which is weird because he was very famous in Manchester then; he was Tony Wilson off the telly. Mick Hucknall was there, and Mark E. Smith and everyone, but of course we didn’t know anybody – all that would come later. The only people we knew there were each other: me and Terry, Barney and Sue. I don’t know what Sue made of it all, mind you; I’d love to know now. But me, Barney and Terry were being converted.

    The Pistols were on for only about half an hour and when they finished we filed out quietly with our minds blown, absolutely utterly speechless, and it just sort of dawned on me then – that was it. That was what I wanted to do: tell everyone to Fuck Off.

    Thursday, November 01, 2012

    How to be Good by Nick Hornby (Penguin Books 2001)

    I am in a car park in Leeds when I tell my husband I don't want to be married to him any more. David isn't even in the car park with me. He's at home, looking after the kids, and I have only called him to remind him that he should write a note for Molly's class teacher. The other bit just sort of . . . slips out. This is a mistake, obviously. Even though I am, apparently, and to my immense surprise, the kind of person who tells her husband that she doesn't want to be married to him any more, I really didn't think that I was the kind of person to say so in a car park, on a mobile phone. That particular self-assessment will now have to be revised, clearly. I can describe myself as the kind of person who doesn't forget names, for example, because I have remembered names thousands of times and forgotten them only once or twice. But for the majority of people, marriage-ending conversations happen only once, if at all. If you choose to conduct yours on a mobile phone, in a Leeds car park, then you cannot really claim that it is unrepresentative, in the same way that Lee Harvey Oswald couldn't really claim that shooting presidents wasn't like him at all. Sometimes we have to be judged by our one-offs.

    Saturday, October 27, 2012

    Doors Open by Ian Rankin (Orion 2008)

    Mike saw it happen. There were two doors next to one another. One of them seemed to be permanently ajar by about an inch, except when someone pushed at its neighbour. As each liveried waiter brought trays of canapés into the salesroom, the effect was the same. One door would swing open, and the other would slowly close. It said a lot about the quality of the paintings, Mike thought, that he was paying more attention to a pair of doors. But he knew he was wrong: it was saying nothing about the actual artworks on display, and everything about him.

    Mike Mackenzie was thirty-seven years old, rich and bored. According to the business pages of various newspapers, he remained a “self-made software “mogul’, except that he was no longer a mogul of anything. His company had been sold outright to a venture capital consortium. Rumour had it that he was a burn-out, and maybe he was. He’d started the software business fresh from university with a friend called Gerry Pearson. Gerry had been the real brains of the operation, a genius programmer, but shy with it, so that Mike quickly became the public face of the company. After the sale, they’d split the proceeds fifty-fifty and Gerry then surprised Mike by announcing that he was off to start a new life in Sydney. His emails from Australia extolled the virtues of nightclubs, city life and surfing (and not, for once, the computer kind). He would also send Mike JPEGs and mobile-phone snaps of the ladies he encountered along the way. The quiet, reserved Gerry of old had disappeared, replaced by a rambunctious playboy—which didn’t stop Mike from feeling like a bit of a fraud. He knew that without Gerry, he’d have failed to make the grade in his chosen field.

    Friday, October 26, 2012

    To Glasgow and back: the view from the road by Ian Walker (New Society 21 May 1981)

    To Glasgow and back: the view from the road
     Ian Walker talked to the out-of-work, the students and the lorry men. Daniel Meadows took the pictures
    The road begins at Brent Cross, gateway to the M1. Five people have got lifts in the last hour. There are twelve of us still waiting, this windy Monday. Mostly they are students. But there are two down-and-outs who say they don't mind where they go. One of them bums a cigarette off me. He says he left a whole carton on a French truck last night and now he's clean out.

    A tall thin boy walks up to ask if I would mind him hitching in front of me? He is going back home to Sheffield after a weekend spent camping in the New Forest, an extended interview for a job as courier on a big camp site in the south of France. He has been out of work since Christmas. He says it's bad in Sheffield. And it rained a lot in the New Forest.

    He worked in a travel agent's for two years. He learnt to speak French by listening to French radio stations, taping the news broadcasts and learning them off by heart. If he gest a left, he says, he'll ask if the driver will take me, too. I say I'll do the same.

    A police Range-Rover pulls up, and we are all told to move down from the hard shoulder. This happens every 20 minutes or so. We pick up our bags and walk down to stand in a cluster right on the edge of the roundabout. When the police have gone, we walk back up again.

    I've been here now an hour and a half. A red BMW stops for the boy from Sheffield and, after a ten-second conversation, he beckons me over. The driver, a fruit farmer from Kent, is going to Leeds and he can drop me at Watford gap services. I get in the back seat.

    The fruit farmer has to be at Leeds market at five tomorrow morning. He hasn't got anything to sell, but he's going to chat up a few of the wholesalers who will maybe put a bit of business his way. The recession, he goes on, has hit the fruit business. He used to sell a lot of strawberries to Germany, but now the pound is so weak against the mark it just isn't worth the effort. He's avoided laying off any staff so far. He is, he tells us, a great believer in expansion.

    It starts raining hard about ten miles from Watford Gap, by which time I know that the fruit farmer's daughter is doing sciences at Oxford, that he knows the editor of the Telegraph, that he is a governor of Wye College (the agricultural branch of London University down in Kent), and that he is very concerned about the cuts in higher education. The BMW drops me right outside the service station cafe.

    "Is your back still playing up, love?" one of the cleaners inquires of another, moppig the floor here in the cafe. Travellers sit silent on the wet-look blue seats, and look out of the window at the premature grey afternoon. I walk out, past the exclamations of the Space Invaders, and find another cafe, for transport workers, round the back. Here they serve the tea in mugs, and with two spoons of sugar, unless you speak up fast.

    Paul Smith, a truck driver from Bristol, is depressed. He flicks through the Sun, the Mirror and the Star in turn. "It's my birthday and my wedding anniversary today," he says. "You picked a good time to talk to me. I was just sitting about and trying to read these papers, and wondering what she's thinking."

    He said goodbye to his wife and three children this morning at 4.15, and drove from Bristol to London, where he had to start work at eight. Paul only gets home at weekends. During the week he sleeps either in the cab, or in his London digs. Today he has to pick up a load in Northampton and drive it to Carlisle. He'll finish tonight at around nine.

    "Thirty seven today," he says.

    I talk to Paul for almost two hours. He always wanted to be a journalist when he was at school. He went to see the editor of the local paper, who told him to go away and write a composition.

    "I wrote this fabulous composition on football, 'A Day at the Match.' I didn't hear anything; then a month later, it was the day we were moving house, a letter came saying. 'You got the job.' The old man wouldn't have it, wouldn't let me take the job. 'You're not stopping,' he said. I was 16 and this was 21 years ago. Wasn't the thing to leave home young. Time I did leave home I was 21. I needed a job, and I didn't have any qualifications. Here I am. A lorry driver. I get very angry when I think about it now."

    He goes up for his second mug of tea, comes back, offers me a Woodbine. "I was talking about this with a bloke the other day," he says. "I mean I did English GCE, used to be great with pen and paper. But now . . . Other day I had to write a letter to a firm. Had a job to even put the letter together. I doubt if I write more than three letters a year, and you lose it."

    It's getting dark outside, and busier in here. A continuous procession of drivers coming in and having a laugh with the women behind the counter, supping their tea and walking out. I ask Paul if he wants to get back on the road. He says not.

    His kids bought him a pair of size eleven training shoes for his birthday. He takes size nine. He runs a hand through his thick brown hair. You got me on a bad day. Do you think I should be home?"

    I suppose it would be nice. But these are hard times, and I expect he needs the money. He nods. Without overtime, the money's crap, 80 quid a week, and who can raise a family on that? He needs all the overtime he can get, he says, but there are so many regulations these days. He can only do 60 hours' driving a week; that is a ministry ruling. And not more than 281 miles in any one day.

    By January next year, all trucks will have to be fitted with a tachograph (the equivalent of an aircraft's black box). It records time spent driving and idle, speeds kept, total mileage done. Tachographs will replace logbooks, which are too easy to cheat on. To Paul, the tachograph is a mechanical spy. "No trust," he says.

    "It's to do with the EEC. Everything's to do with the EEC. Only thing that's not on a par with the EEC is the wages."

    Two more teas, 19p a mug: all the drivers hate the motorway services. A big clock hangs from the cafe ceiling. Paul glances at it now and again.

    "Where you going?" he asks me.


    He winces, and tells ne about the juvenile protection rackets that operate in places like Glasgow and Liverpool. "Kids come up and say they'll look after your cab for a half a quid. If you say no, then you get your tyres slashed and everything. If you hand over the ten bob, it gets looked after okay. If it wasn't so funny, it'd be sad. Kids of nine and ten years of age."

    I say I've heard stories, too, about prostitutes who operate on the road.

    "I don't bother with 'em. It's as simple as that. On this firm you get sacked for carrying your wife in the cab."

    His firm is Laing's, the builders. He drives an artic. "I don't like rigids. Can't drive the bloody things." He says he would like a job "driving continental," but they're few and far between. "The good jobs, there's a waiting list as long as your arm. And the cowboy jobs aren't worth a light anyway."

    Paul keeps saying he has to go. It's almost 8 pm. But he carries on talking. He tells me about a bad accident he had once, involving a motorcyclist.

    "He locked his front wheel and dived off. They say he was dead before he hit me. But I didn't want to drive then. I packed it in for about a month, looked for another job. But if you haven't got a skill, it's very hard. So I went back to work. You don't forget those sort of things. But it's things that happen. On the road all day. More chance of things happening."

    He looks up at the big clock.

    "Christ. It's gone eight. I'm stopping here now for something to eat." He returns with sausage, egg and chips. I sit with him till he's done. And then he has to go south, and me north. We shake hands and wish each other luck. I walk out, my hand going into the canvas bag for the M6 sign.

    But it's too dark to use it. Drivers can hardly see me, let alone the pathetic sign. Three other men are hitching. Two of them, travelling together, carrying big rucksacks, don't look too friendly. The third works at the Walker's Crisps factory in Leicester. He comes from Luton, but he had to move a few months ago to find work. He's been back home for the weekend to see his parents. He couldn't afford the train.

    I get the first lift, at about nine, in a rigid truck. I avoid the eyes of the other hitchers on the way out. This driver is short and fat and embittered. "Were those two blokes hitching together?" he asks me. I say they were.

    "Fucking comedians."

    Everyone on the road, apart from himself, is a "fucking comedian." He uses the phrase a dozen times in the first ten minutes. It's pouring with rain, and the "fucking wind" is blowing us all over the lanes like a bit of paper. The short fat driver from Woburn Sands, who hates driving nights and hates this stretch of the M6, bounces up and down in his seat, wrestling with the non-power-assisted steering.

    It's an old truck. You have to shout to make yourself heard above the din of the engine and the trad folk music on Radio Two and the tea-making Primus rattling in the glove compartment. The Primus belongs to his mate, the driver says, who is "too fucking mean to buy his tea." He tells me to stuff a rag in there to muffle the noise.

    He has to drop his load of rubber windscreen parts in Liverpool, doss down in the cab for a few hours, and drive home early tomorrow morning. He takes home 88 a week. I ask him what he thought of the budget?

    "Not a fucking lot."

    His head is already nodding a bit. He says he got no sleep today and watched the late film on TV. So I have to keep him talking. Hobbies? Crown-green bowling and darts and reading, he says. Reading what?

    "Every fucking thing. Got millions of fucking books."

    Unaccompanied warblings on Radio Two about tragic love and war and bright spring mornings. A strange soundtrack to this bumpy grind along a windswept M6 at night.

    About ten miles before Sandbach in Cheshire, the driver suddenly looks almost content. "This is how I like the motorway," he says. "Nothing in front and nothing behind either."

    At 9.45 in the Roadchef cafe, Sandbach services, 20 truck drivers sit watching a repeat of The Sweeney. It's a bad night for hitching now. I try it for ten minutes then call up an uncle who lives in nearby Congleton. He works as a rep for BP. He comes over to pick me up. At his home we drink half a bottle of scotch. We talk about the Social Democrats and nuclear war.

    Day two

    A nightmare. Get back to Sandbach at 10 am. Wander round the car park, trying to get a lift. A truck driver sits reading the Sun in his cab. I rap on his door, and shout that I'd like a quick chat. He stares at me pityingly, then a minute or so later he slides across his seat and slowly winds down the window. "Nothing left to say," he says, winding the window back up and returning to the Sun. It starts raining. I go inside, and gets a 28p cup of coffee.

    I wait an hour and a half, thumb hanging out, till a lorry driver from West Bromwich pulls up. He is going to Bury to get loaded with Ford parts. He can take me as far as Knutsford, the next services up the M6. Anything for a change of scenery.

    A big man with a big beard, this driver looks like a rock climber. He's been driving over 20 years, and he's had this Atkinson truck (he calls it "an Akky") for three. It's a modern cab. Sprung seats and large wrap-around windows.

    "The British lorries only started getting comfortable, with decent seats and power steering, when the continentals came in, the Scanias and the Volvos and everything. If they hadn't, I'm sure British lorries would be the same as they always were. Cold and uncomfortable."

    He asks me where I'm bound. I tell him. "I used to do the Scotland run twice a week," he says. "Very tedious." He tugs on his beard, his eyes swivelling from road to wing mirrors and back.

    Knutsford is desolate. On a sunny day it's ugly enough. This grey Tuesday lunchtime I walk across the litter-strewn car park and join the ten other hitchers, who all look glazed, as if they've been standing here a week. I get my pitch, in front of the Fiat billboard, shiny and red. HANDBUILT BY ROBOTS.

    A Rolls-Royce glides past, and the glazing breaks for a moment as the hitchers turn to smile at each other. Every hitchhiker has heard "The Day I Got a Lift in a Rolls" story. Not this time.

    A man in a tartan scarf, carrying a red guitar case and a rucksack, arrives after an hour. He's a mature student at Kent University, and he is on a visit to his home in Glasgow. Kent has gone right downhill, he says. They've even got British Movement skinheads on the campus. And the union is dominated by the Federation of Conservative Students. "I don't go to student union meetings any more. Waste of time."

    After two hours of thumbing, I need a break. The Quasar and Astro Wars machines are right there in the middle of the self-service. Ping. Crash. Shakooh. Pish. A fat middle-aged couple tuck into their microwave pizzas, beans and chips. Girls in white Top Rank dungarees and caps rush round clearing the formica tables.

    Back on the road, the only people getting lifts are those men carrying red-and-white tradeplates. They deliver new cars. The deal is that they buy the truck drivers a meal. Or something. It's starting to get dark. I've been here four hours. The sweet smell of diesel, as the trucks rev up down the slip road, has got almost pleasant.

    The boy who slouches across the car park to the slip road has scared eyes and carries no possessions. He looked about 15. He's wearing a dirty blue anorak. I try talking to him, but he runs off. I remember Paul Smith, at Watford Gap, telling me about kids you got on the road these days. They just live on the motorway, not going anywhere in particular. Bumming coffee, meals and cigarettes from the drivers. Paul said he'd given one of them a lift just last week.

    A blue Transit, with a TRUCKS ARE BEAUTIFUL windscreen sticker, sweeps past. The Glaswegian student says he's had enough. He's going to cross over to the other side of the M6, try and get back to Sandbach services, and then see if he can catch a lift going up north from there. He says if either of us ever make it to Glasgow, he'll see me at a pub on North Street called the Bonne Accorde.

    Half an hour later, a buddhist monk stops. But he's not going my way. I have been here nearly five hours when I get out of wretched Knutsford in a beaten-up Cortina. The driver is a Manchester University student, on his way home to Wigan after a job interview with a firm of financial investigators based in Yeovil. "Nice place to work," he says brightly.

    He thinks the interview went pretty well, and the starting pay is six thousand something, so he's pretty pleased about it all. He used to be a regular at the Wigan Casino northern soul all-nighter. We talk about northern soul for the half hour or so it takes to get to Charnock Richard services, near Lancaster, where a big coach party of suntanned schoolchildren are all nicking stuff from the shop, and flirting with each other.

    I get sausage, egg and chips in the transport cafe, and sit reading Truck magazine, which is a flashily designed job packed with full-colour pics of masculine new trucks.

    Charnock Richard at 9 pm. I've been on the road all day, and so far I've travelled two service stations up the motorway, about 40 miles. There are a few other people wandering round the dark car parks, who look like hitch-hikers, wearing backpacks. But they don't seem to be bothering to try and hitch.

    After ten minutes I'm joined by a British Rail guard called Justin, who works in Stratford-on-Avon and is going up to see his parents in Kendal. I thought British Rail staff got free travel?

    "They do. But I lost my pass."

    Justin wears John Lennon spectacles and baggy frayed jeans. He has a red star on a circular badge pinned to his navy greatcoat. It is a poorly-lit slip road. Drivers can hardly see us, and we can't see inside the vehicles either. But Justin can't understand why the truck drivers parked right next to us, who've watched us waiting here 20 minutes, don't take pity on us.

    Finally, we both get a lift in a white Transit, driven by two students, who say they've just been down to the midlands and bought this van for 3,000 for Sunderland students. Their story sounds a bit odd. I say they can drop me at Buton West services, and five minutes later Justin says he'll get dropped there, too. When we get out, he says he didn't fancy being on his own with those two. You develop an instinct, or a paranoia, about these things when you're hitching, particularly at nighttime. 

    "I never said it was scampi," says the woman behind the counter, in the small cafe at Buton West, just before Kendal. "I said it was like scampis. I don't know. I'm not sure what scampis are." The man taking his food back must be some kind of nut, to expect scampi in a late-night motorway cafe. Justin goes off to phone his mother.

    Justin's mother was fed up, he says. She's watching When the Boat Comes In. She told him to try hitching for half an hour, and she'd come out if he had no luck. "It's pretty rainy and empty out there," he says. We have another coffee.

    Two truck drivers sit talking on the next table. I ask if either of them are going to Scotland. "I've broken down, And he's finished for the night," the Cockney driver says, winking at his mate as he gets up to go. A French couple come in, and the serving woman speaks to them slow and loud. Blobs of rain are dripping down the windows, blurring the headlights.

    Justin says he has been working on the railways for two years now, and he's had enough. He was very excited, he says, when he was made NUR branch secretary. But it was depressing because no one ever showed up to meetings. He thinks he might go to college, and try to get some A levels. I get a lift into Kendal with his mother, who runs an antique shop, and check into a hotel. I get a drink in the cocktail bar.

    A Geordie businessman expounds his theory of life. "Only one reason I work. Is that." He rubs his thumb on his index finger to indicate money. "That's all there is, isn't there? It'd be a great society of it wasn't. But it will never be. So why bother?" The businessmen at the bar nod in stolid agreement, and pull on their pints. 
    21 May 1981

    The second part of Ian Walker's journey to Glasgow and back will appear next week

    Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Under Contract by Liza Cody (Charles Scribner's Sons 1986)

    "Think of the overtime. I dunno," Anna sighed, "why does everyone slag everyone off so much? I've never come across such a slagging match."

    "You've never been security on one of these tours before, have you?" Dave looked down his nose at her. "You'll learn. It's because there's a lot of vultures on only the one carcass - not enough to go round and everyone's hungry."

    There was some truth in that, she mused on her reluctant way back to the dressing rooms. Only who were the vultures and what was the carcass? Fame and fortune was the simple answer. But what about Shona who had achieved it? She had stood in front of thousands of screaming, applauding fans and yet she still needed Anna's few distracted words. And now the fans themselves needed to be noticed. Look at me, look at me, no - look at me, seemed to be the cry in every throat. I could look like that if I had the right make-up . . . I could do that, if only someone'd notice me. Fame and fortune were only by-products in the universal need to be seen.

    Friday, October 19, 2012

    Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby (Penguin Books 2009)

    When Ros stopped by to find out whether they’d made any progress with the photographs, Annie still had the website up on her computer.

    “Tucker Crowe,” said Ros. “Wow. My college boyfriend used to like him,” she said. “I didn’t know he was still going.”

    “He’s not, really. You had a college boyfriend?”

    “Yes. He was gay, too, it turned out. Can’t imagine why we broke up. But I don’t understand: Tucker Crowe has his own website?”

    “Everyone has their own website.”

    “Is that true?”

    “I think so. Nobody gets forgotten anymore. Seven fans in Australia team up with three Canadians, nine Brits and a couple of dozen Americans, and somebody who hasn’t recorded in twenty years gets talked about every day. It’s what the Internet’s for. That and pornography. Do you want to know which songs he played in Portland, Oregon, in 1985?”

    “Not really.”

    “Then this website isn’t for you.”

    “How come you know so much about it? Are you one of the nine Brits?”

    “No. There are no women who bother. My, you know, Duncan is.”

    What was she supposed to call him? Not being married to him was becoming every bit as irritating as she imagined marriage to him might be. She wasn’t going to call him her boyfriend. He was forty-something, for God’s sake. Partner? Life partner? Friend? None of these words and phrases seemed adequately to define their relationship, an inadequacy particularly poignant when it came to the word “friend.” And she hated it when people just launched in and started talking about Peter or Jane when you had no idea who Peter and Jane were. Perhaps she just wouldn’t ever mention him at all.

    “And he’s just written a million words of gibberish and posted them up for the world to see. If the world were interested, that is.”

    She invited Ros to inspect Duncan’s piece, and Ros read the first few lines.

    “Aaah. Sweet.”

    Annie made a face.

    “Don’t knock people with passions,” said Ros. “Especially passions for the arts. They’re always the most interesting people.”

    Everyone had succumbed to that particular myth, it seemed.

    “Right. Next time you’re in the West End, go and hang out by the stage door of a theater showing a musical and make friends with one of those sad bastards waiting for an autograph. See how interesting you find them.”

    Sunday, October 14, 2012

    Crying Out Loud by Cath Staincliffe (Severn House Publishers 2011)

    Strangeways is just north of the city centre, a couple of minutes’ drive from Victoria train station. The tall watchtower is Italianate in style, a landmark I could see as I drove closer. It’s a familiar feature of the city skyline. The building is Victorian Gothic – red and cream brick, and the main entrance boasts two rounded towers and steeply pitched roofs. The prison was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, the same man who had done Manchester’s town hall. Strangeways is a panopticon design: the wings run off from the central vantage point – like spokes from a wheel.

    They don’t actually call it Strangeways any more; it was renamed HMP Manchester in the wake of the riots that destroyed most of the original buildings. The worst riots in the history of the penal system. On April Fool’s Day, 1990 it all kicked off. A group of prisoners had decided to accelerate their protest against inhuman conditions: the rotten food, men held three to a cell (cells twelve foot by eight and built for one), the degrading business of slopping out, the lack of visits, of free association, the racism and brutality of many guards. The ringleader, Paul Taylor, spoke after Sunday morning’s chapel service and when guards intervened, the prisoners got hold of some keys. Taylor escorted the chaplain to safety and then declared it was time for some free association. It lasted for twenty-five days. The leaders of the riot spent much of the time up on the high rooftops, communicating with the press and waving clenched fists for the photographers on board the helicopters swooping above them. Iconic images.

    I remember the sense of dread and panic as the early reports came in: stories of prisoners being torn apart, of twenty dead, of people burnt alive, of hundreds of inmates breaking into the segregation unit where the paedophiles and informers were held, hauling them into kangaroo courts where summary justice was doled out, victims castrated and dismembered in orgies of operatic violence. The men on the roof had hung out a home-made banner: a sheet with the words No Dead daubed on it. Among the clamour of moral outrage and lurid speculation one or two more measured accounts were heard; the local journalists built up a rapport with the protesters and made every effort to give an accurate account of events. There was great sympathy for the prisoners’ cause in the city and beyond. And the eventual truth was that two men had died. Both in hospital, not in the prison: a prison warder who had suffered a heart attack and a man on remand for sex offences who had been beaten. No one ever stood trial in either case. The prison was effectively destroyed and when it was rebuilt along with the new name there was a change in conditions.

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    The Ghost by Robert Harris (Simon & Schuster 2007)

    I opened the envelope and took out the photocopies of Lang’s membership card and the articles about the London elections. I slid them across to her. She crossed her legs at the ankles, leaned forward to read, and I found myself staring into the surprisingly deep and shadowy valley of her cleavage.

    “Well, there’s no arguing with that,” she said, putting the membership card to one side. “That’s his signature, all right.” She tapped the report on the canvassers in 1977. “And I recognize some of these faces. I must have been off that night, or campaigning with a different group. Otherwise I would have been in the picture with him.” She looked up. “What else have you got there?”

    There didn’t seem much point in hiding anything, so I passed over the whole package. She inspected the name and address, and then the postmark, and then glanced across at me. “What was Mike up to, then?”

    She opened the neck of the envelope and held it apart with her thumb and forefinger, and peered inside cautiously, as if there might be something in the padded interior that could bite her. Then she upended it and tipped the contents out over the table. I watched her intently, as she sorted through the photographs and programs, studied her pale, clever face for any clue as to why this might have been so important to McAra. I saw the hard lines soften as she picked out a photograph of Lang in his striped blazer on a dappled riverbank.

    “Oh, look at him,” she said. “Isn’t he pretty?” She held it up next to her cheek.

    “Irresistible,” I said.

    She inspected the picture more closely. “My God, look at them. Look at his hair. It was another world, wasn’t it? I mean, what was happening while this was being taken? Vietnam. The cold war. The first miners’ strike in Britain since 1926. The military coup in Chile. And what do they do? They get a bottle of champagne and they go punting!”

    “I’ll drink to that.”

    Monday, October 08, 2012

    Maigret at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon (Penguin Books 1931)

    When Maigret came back into the kitchen, Monsieur Oscar was ostentatiously rubbing his hands.

    ‘You know, I must say that I’m enjoying this… Because I know the ropes, of course. Something happens at the crossroads …There are only three sets of people living here… Naturally you suspect all three… Yes, you do! Don’t play the innocent… I saw straight away that you didn’t trust me and that you weren’t keen on having a drink with me… Three houses… The insurance agent looks too stupid to be capable of committing a crime… The lord of the manor is a real gent…So there’s nobody left but yours truly, a poor devil of a workman who’s managed to become his own boss but doesn’t know how to behave in polite society… A former boxer!… If you ask them about me at the Police Headquarters, they’ll tell you that I’ve been picked up two or three times in raids, because I used to enjoy going to the rue de Lappe to dance a Java, especially in the days when I was a boxer… Another time I gave a poke in the kisser to a copper who was annoying me…Bottoms up, Chief-Inspector!’

    ‘No, thanks.’

    ‘You aren’t going to refuse! A blackcurrant liqueur never hurt anybody… You know, I like to put my cards on the table… It got on my nerves seeing you snooping round my garage and looking at me on the sly… That’s right isn’t it, ducks? Didn’t I say as much to you last night?… The Chief-Inspector’s there! Well, let him come in! Let him rummage around all over the place!… Let him search me! And then he’ll have to admit that I’m a good chap as honest as the day is long… What fascinates me about this story is the motors… Because when all’s said and done, it’s all a matter of motors…’

    Sunday, October 07, 2012

    Pet Shop Boys, Literally by Chris Heath (Da Capo Press 1990)

    Someone mentions the reviews. Neil says it was stupid to invite the press to an added, unsold-out show. 'They all had to gleefully mention it wasn't full, but no matter. It was a major PR mistake but to be honest,' he laughs, 'tough bananas.'

    'A lot of people went home very happy and that's what counts,' says Carroll. 'It's very expensive. They make a choice sometimes between buying the tickets and paying their bills. It's a great honour.'

    This is said with such honesty and feeling that you can sense everyone present drawing breath, taking stock, storing this away.

    Neil reflects on the Daily Telegraph's comments. 'It was written from Olympian heights. It was so patronizing. They're jealous. And of course the reason is because I'm a journalist . . .'

    'Tossbag,' mutters Danny, succinctly.

    Carroll begins once more. She says that these people are stupid, that they've no idea why people do these things. They're always looking for stupid motives. 'They think you do it for the money or something. The reasons are obvious,' she declares. 'You do it for entertainment and self-expression.'

    This statement, casually tossed out to a half-drunk, back-of-the-bus rabble, makes a lasting impression.

    Friday, October 05, 2012

    Maigret and the Yellow Dog by Georges Simenon (Harcourt Brace 1931)

    “Yes. We have to go around the harbor. It should take half an hour.”

    The fishermen were less interested than the townsfolk in the drama going on around the Admiral Café. A dozen boats were making the most of the lull in the storm and sculling out to the harbor mouth to pick up the wind.

    The policeman kept looking at Maigret like a pupil eager to please his teacher. “You know, the mayor played cards with the doctor at least twice a week. This must have given him a shock.”

    “What are people saying?”

    “That depends. Ordinary folks—workers, fishermen aren’t too upset… In a way, they’re even kind of glad about what’s happening. The doctor, Monsieur Le Pommeret, and Monsieur Servières aren’t very well thought of around here. Of course, they’re important people, and nobody would dare say anything to them. Still, they overdid it, corrupting the girls from the cannery. And in the summer it was worse, with their Paris friends. They were always drinking, making a racket in the streets at two in the morning, as if the town belonged to them. We got a lot of complaints. Especially about Monsieur Le Pommeret, who couldn’t see anything in a skirt without getting carried away… It’s sad to say, but things are slow at the cannery. There’s a lot of unemployment. So, if you’ve got a little money… all those girls…”

    “Well, in that case, who’s upset?”

    “The middle class. And the businessmen who rubbed shoulders with that bunch at the Admiral Café… That was like the center of town, you know. Even the mayor went there…”

    Wednesday, October 03, 2012

    Favourite quote of yesterday . . .

    A day late but worth taking the blog out of the mothballs for:

    "So Ed Miliband wants a return to the ideas of an influential mid-Victorian political thinker, based in London in the 1840s, who came from a Jewish family that converted to Christianity? OK, but at least he could pick the right one ..."

    Dave O over at Facebook reflecting on Ed Miliband's Labour Conference speech yesterday when Red Ed invoked the spirit of Disraeli's One Nation Toryism (in all but name).


    Dave O expands on his pithy comment in a blog post here.

    Back for Good

    Just drenched the computer screen with spittle after reading this.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2012

    The Old Dark House by J. B. Priestley (Harper and Brothers Publishers 1928)

    'Why, am I bitter?'

    'I think you are,' she told him. She appealed to the Wavertons.

    'I know what you mean,' said Margaret. 'It's not perhaps the exact word but it will do.' Then she addressed herself to Penderel: 'Yes, you are bitter, you know.'

    'Of course you are, Penderel,' said Philip heartily. 'You're one of the worst post-War cases I know, a thundering sight worse than I am. Come on, admit it. You're the sort of bloke they denounce in little talks in Bright Sunday Evening Services.' He grinned and pointed his pipe stem across the table. 'Stand up to your question and explain the wormwood.'

    Penderel made a little comical grimace. 'Well, I never knew I was so obvious. I suppose I shall have to explain myself. I went into the War when I was seventeen, ran away from school to do it, enlisting as a Tommy and telling them I was nineteen. I'm not going to talk about the War. You know all about that. It killed my father, who died from over-work. It killed my elder brother, Jim, who was blown to pieces up at Passchendaele. He was the best fellow in the world, and I idolised him. It was always fellows like him, the salt of the earth, who got done in, whether they were British or French or German or American. People wonder what's the matter with the world these days. They forget that all the best fellows, the men who'd have been in their prime now, who'd have been giving us a lead in everything, are dead. If you could bring 'em all back, fellows like Jim, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of 'em, you'd soon see the difference they'd make in the place. But they're dead, and a lot of other people, very different sort of people, are alive and kicking. Well, I saw all this, took an honours course in it, you might say, for it was the only education I got after the fifth form.